Archive for January, 2013

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Del Pratt

January 31, 2013

Del Pratt

Del Pratt

1. Derrill Pratt was born in 1888 in South Carolina.

2. In 1902 his family moved to Alabama.

3. He attended both Alabama Polytech (now Auburn) and the University of Alabama, playing both football and baseball.

4. In 1909 he led the Alabama baseball team to the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (now the SEC) championship.

5. Upon graduation he studied law, but gave it up to play baseball (and avoid countless lawyer jokes).

6. He spent 1910 and 1911 in the minors, making the St. Louis Browns in 1912.

7. Known primarily for his fielding he played second base and led the American League in assists, putouts, double plays, and range factor a number of times. He led the AL in RBIs in 1916, his only major hitting title.

8. With the team 36 games out of first in 1917, the owner accused the players of “laying down” against the Red Sox. In 1917, “laying down” was frequently a euphemism for throwing a game. Pratt sued the owner.

9. In 1918 he was traded to the Yankees, where he remained through 1920. In the latter season he generally hit fourth behind Babe Ruth.

10. He spent 1921 and 1922 in Boston, then finished his Major League career in Detroit in 1923 and 1934.

11. Out of the big leagues he both played and managed in the minors. In 1926 he won the Texas League hitting triple crown. He remained in the Texas League through 1932.

12. Between 1910 and 1920 he spent the off-season coaching a variety of college football teams.

13. He died in 1977.


Big League, Small Town

January 29, 2013
Troy, New York

Troy, New York

Did you ever notice how Major League teams gravitate toward big cities? There simply are no teams in middle-sized towns. Those towns are reserved for the farm teams. That wasn’t always so. Way back in the beginning of professional baseball, medium-sized cities also played Major League baseball. For instance, there was Troy, New York.

Troy was founded in the early 1700s, grew up during the 1830s and by 1860 was a prosperous industrial town just north of Albany. By 1860 it had a population of 39,000 (56,700 by 1880) and was becoming a hotbed for baseball.

In 1860 the Union club was established. It played at a high enough level that it soon gained the attention of the powerful teams that played in Brooklyn, New York City, and Philadelphia. They played games against the teams from the larger cities and held their own through most of the 1860s. By 1869 they were part of the National Association of Base Ball Players. They participated in 21 championship games going 12-8-1, good enough for fifth place (The Atlantic of Brooklyn won the pennant). In 1870, they were 11-13-1, again good for fifth place in a fifteen team league.

In 1871 the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed. Troy was one of the teams joining the first fully professional league. They managed a coup when they picked up perennial all-star Lip Pike to both play and manage the team. Pike led the National Association in home runs, extra base hits, and finished second in a number of other categories. Unfortunately for Troy, he wasn’t much of a manager and the Haymakers, as they were now called, finished 13-15, eight games out of first and good enough for sixth in the nine team league. The next season the Haymakers finished fifth (of 11 teams) with a 15-10 record. Pike, their best player was gone, and despite a winning record, the team wasn’t making money. At the end of the season the team folded.

Troy was without a Major League team until 1879 when a new team was formed. The National League had replaced the National Association and was looking to expand. It chose Troy for one of the teams. It might strike us odd today that Troy was getting a team while both New York and Philadelphia were shut out of the NL. It was personal. William Hulbert, founder of the NL, was angry at both cities for failing to complete a western swing in the inaugural NL season of 1876. He vowed never to allow either city back in “his” league. When expansion time came, Troy was close to New York City so it became a chosen team.

The new team was called the Trojans (although some news accounts still refered to them as the Haymakers). It played its home games at the Putnam Grounds, then moved to Haymakers Grounds in 1880. It remained there until making a final move to the Troy Ball Club Grounds (which was in Watervliet, not Troy) in 1882.

They finished dead last in 1879, going 19-56. They did, however, produce one good player. Future Hall of Fame first baseman Dan Brouthers made his Major League debut for the Trojans that season. He hit .274 with four home runs.

The 1880 season was better for Troy. They finished fourth at 41-42. Much of the increase in wins can be attributed to the rookie campaigns of Roger Connor, Buck Ewing, Mickey Welch, and Tim Keefe, all Hall of Fame players. In 1881, they were back to fifth and had lost Brouthers to Buffalo. The 1882 season saw the team continue to plunge, this time finished next to last.  Despite the record, the team drew moderately well.

But it wasn’t enough. By 1883, William Hulbert was dead, the American Association was flourishing and the National League needed teams in New York and Philadelphia in order to compete. The team in Worcester, Massachusetts (which finished last in 1882) was dropped. A new team was established in Philadelphia. Now only New York needed a team. Troy was closest, it was also falling in the standings, but it had a number of good players. The NL decided to drop Troy and set up a new team in New York. A number of Troy players, including Connor, Ewing, Keefe, and Welch, ended up with the new team (now the San Francisco Giants) and Troy was done as a Major League town.

The town continued to provide good quality Minor League teams and players. There is still a team around today. But the experiment of Troy as a Major League city was over.  

Buttercup Dickerson while a member of the Troy Trojans

Buttercup Dickerson while a member of the Troy Trojans

The Emporer Nails It

January 24, 2013
Arthur Soden

Arthur Soden

One thing I’ve learned over a lifetime is that there is great truth to the old saw “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  Consider this little gem from De Pretiis, the edict on prices promulgated by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in 301 of the common era:

“The only desire of these uncontrolled madmen is to have no thought for the common welfare, for with them the immoderate and unscrupulous is almost a creed.”

Diocletian would have understood Arthur Soden.

Soden was born in Massachusetts in 1843.  He had a job in pharmaceutical supplies when the American Civil War broke out. He was drafted into the 22nd Massachusetts Infantry in 1863, rising, because of his experience with pharmaceuticals, to hospital steward in 1864.

Out of the army, Soden ran a roofing company and became a baseball fan. In 1874, a group of ball players, joined by several fans, toured Britain giving exhibitions. Soden was one of the fans and actually played in one game (This is not the more famous Spaulding tour that went around the world). Back home, Soden bought three shares in the Boston National League club (now the Atlanta Braves) for a total of $45 (or $15 a share–try that today).  With the team floundering after the 1876 season, Soden, joined by William Conant (a hoop skirt maker) and J.B. Billings (who ran a shoe factory), bought the team. Soden became team President with the other two becoming secretary and treasurer.

Initially the team did well, picking up pennants in 1877 and 1878, but problems were developing. To put it as bluntly as possible, Soden made misers look good. He rented rundown hotels for the teams on away trips, cut meal money, used the players as a grounds crew. The players were required to launder their uniforms at their expense, wives were charged full price to watch their husbands play, and the team offered incentives (I’ve been unable to find exactly what, but it must have been something odd.) if a player could make his shoelaces last two years. Then he cut salaries, going first for future Hall of Fame shortstop George Wright. That brought complaints from both team members and the shortstop’s brother, manager Harry Wright. The upshot of it all was that Harry Wright was fired and the team began to flounder.

Here’s a list I found for the period 1875-1880: clubhouse upkeep dropped from $$1626 to $551 per year; travel expenses went from $4000 a season to $2813 a year (reference is made here to the rundown hotels); and payroll dropped 20% to an average of $1377 per player. Meanwhile Soden and his two cronies were making salaries of $2500 a year. Unfortunately for the players, the penny-pinching worked. The team was turning a profit by 1880 and to be absolutely honest, Soden cared only about the profit margin. He admitted on more than one occasion he was in it for profits, not for love of the game.

This sort of attitude caught the attention of another team leader that Diocletian would have understood, National League President William Hulbert. Soden became one of Hulbert’s most trust advisors (birds of a feather, you see) and when Hulbert died in 1882 Soden was chosen interim President (he served for only a few months). While President he managed to return baseball to both New York and Philadlephia, each of which was banned under Hulbert’s Presidency (another story for another time).

Back running the Boston franchise, Soden was one of the leaders in attempting to break the first player’s union in 1890, an organization his actions had done much to help form. For one of the few times in his life he was generous, loaning money to other teams (at interest) to help them weather the Player’s League storm. He was instrumental in forming the reserve rule and ruthless in dealing with players who rocked the boat.

He also had the endearing habit of ignoring his players. He felt that owners and players were of decidedly different social class and shouldn’t mix. He didn’t travel with the team (but did attend home games). One player speculated Soden didn’t want to be seen in the flophouse hotels his players were forced to call home. Catcher Boileryard Clarke played for Boston two seasons. He once commented that he never spoke with Soden and was reasonably sure Soden never knew Clarke was on the team.

But you can’t make a profit with a losing team. By the late 1880s, the Beaneaters (Soden’s team) was making money, so he was able to invest in better quality players. He picked up Hall of Famers King Kelly and John Clarkson in the late 1880s and by the early 1890s his team was in contention. They won pennants in 1891-1893, and again in 1897 and 1898. the 1892 season was a split season with Boston winning one half and Cleveland the other. In the first split season playoff ever, Boston won the championship. In 1897 they won the last ever Temple Cup.

But Soden was in trouble. Although his team was successful, the players still hated working for him. With the arrival of Ban Johnson and the American League in 1901, the Beaneaters were decimated. The team fell off rapidly. The new team in Boston, the Americans (now the Red Sox), were drawing fans in droves and the Beaneaters were dying at the gate. In 1906, Soden sold the team for $75,000 which he split with Conant (Billings had sold out to the other two in 1904). Retired from baseball, Soden continued working (he owned, operated, or was co-owner in a number of businesses). He died while on vacation in 1925.

Because of the way he treated his players, it’s difficult to like Soden. There is a ruthless streak in him that Roman Emperors would have understood but that strikes us today as overboard. It’s fair to say of Soden that he was no worse than many of his contemporaries. It’s also fair to say that in many ways the road from him to Marvin Miller is a reasonably straight line. That Diocletian would never have understood.

Diocletian (follis)

Diocletian (follis)

Cheap Pieces of Cardboard

January 21, 2013
1957 Don Kaiser Topps card

1957 Don Kaiser Topps card

On another blog site (The On Deck Circle–see blogroll on right) there was a wonderful article on your individual Hall of Fame. It asked who were those guys that made your personal Hall of Fame. They didn’t have to be great players, only players you remembered fondly from your youth. The reason didn’t matter, only the fact that you remembered them. One of my choices was a totally obscure pitcher named Don Kaiser. Why him? Well, simply because his was the first baseball card I ever owned.

In the town where I grew up, the elementary school was six or seven blocks from home and I would walk to school daily. Yep, I’m one of those geezers who walked eight miles a day to school in the snow in July, uphill both ways. Well, maybe not quite like that. Back then, most small towns in my part of the world, at least those with which I was familiar, had a small neighborhood store located either across the street from the elementary school or at the corner of the same block. You might remember these. They were mom and pop operations with a store in the front, a few rooms in the back where the family that ran it (usually an older couple) lived. The place sold all manner of items, from soap to motor oil to candy. They were the convenience stores of their day and they were quite popular with a community where the automobile was just catching on. By my time they were fading, but the one near my school still operated. It was universally called “The little store” to set it off from “the big store”, the large franchise grocery stores that were just then invading the landscape. Because they were bigger and nationally backed, they were cheaper and the day of “the little store” waned quickly in my part of the world.

I had an allowance and was not a great financier. In other words, I spent the money. One habit was to stop in “the little store” once a week and pick up some candy or bubble gum with a nickel (you could actually buy something with a nickel back then). In April of 1957 I stopped in looking to feed my face with something sweet, sugary, and totally decadent. The candy was up by the main counter where they kept the comic books, the aspirin, and all the tiny things that were easy to steal. There was this big, old-time cash register where the guy had to ring up each item by hitting keys with numbers on them. Beside it was this box of shiny packets that said “Topps” and “baseball cards.” I’d never heard of such, but it sounded interesting. So on a whim I bought a pack, expending my entire nickel on this new and maybe dubious item.

I got outside, and being a methodical sort, I looked the packet over carefully before opening it. The pack had a ballplayer sliding on the top, said “Topps Baseball Gum” and 5 cents. There were five cards in the pack (you could feel them though the waxed paper) and a piece of gum. Now that meant six items and I’d just put out five cents, so I was getting five cards and a stick of gum for less than a penny each. So I turned the pack over, opened it carefully. The gum was on the bottom so I took it out, stuck it in my mouth, and after a couple of chews realized I’d overvalued the gum.

The cards were facedown in the package. I could make out the gray background with red lettering. There was a cartoon up in the corner and a line of statistics, most of which meant nothing to me. Then I turned over the card and there was Don Kaiser, my first ever baseball card (see the picture above). I’d never heard of him but it didn’t matter, there he was and I could make out his face and see the “Chicago” on his uniform. He never did much, lasting three years in the Majors and a handful in the Minors, but I always watched for him on the TV, listened for him on the radio, looked for his name in the box scores in the paper. Because I picked him up first, I’ve always considered him my first card.

I looked at the others. To this day I remember which players were in the pack: 

1957 Foster Catsleman Topps baseball card

1957 Foster Catsleman Topps baseball card

Foster Castleman was next. He was another journeyman that I’d never heard about. As with Kaiser I watched, listened, and searched the box scores for him. OK, he played for the Giants, which was bad, but he was still suddenly a real person to me.

Gil McDougald 1957 Topps card

Gil McDougald 1957 Topps card

Gil McDougald was in the middle of the pack. I’d heard of him and hated him. Actually I didn’t particularly hate McDougald, but he played for the hated Yankees and here he was in my packet of cards. What the heck were the baseball Gods thinking giving me a Yankee? I wasn’t sure what to do, but I kept him anyway and quickly he became a favorite of mine, even if he did play for the evil, awful Yankees.

1957 Stan Lopata Topps baseball card

1957 Stan Lopata Topps baseball card

Next came catcher Stan Lopata. I think I vaguely knew who he was, but I wouldn’t want to swear to it. The Phils were OK by me, but nothing special and for some reason I never followed Lopata much.

Carl Furillo 1957 Topps baseball card

Carl Furillo 1957 Topps baseball card

And then I turned over the final card and there he was: Carl Furillo. I knew in that moment that I was in love with these cheap pieces of cardboard. Here was one of my heroes. He played for the Dodgers (my team), he was good and now I could actually see what he looked like. Back then the TV cameras seldom zeroed in on a player close enough you could see his face, but now I knew what Furillo looked like and, well, the day just couldn’t get any better. Well, maybe, but there was no Duke Snider in the pack.

I went home, pulled out the cards, showed my grandfather, and watched him look them over carefully. He congratulated me on the purchase, hoped I’d find a few Cardinals next time, and didn’t raise my allowance.  He did begin to explain to me some of the stats on the back of the card and that meant quality time with him and it also meant I was learning something new about the sport.

Well, even without a raise in allowance, next week I’d have another nickel and another package of cards. The store was still going to be there and surely there were enough packs that at least one would be left. There was. I have no idea who was in the next pack.

Stan the Man

January 19, 2013
Stan the Man

Stan the Man

I knew someday I would have to type this. I admit I didn’t want to, but still I knew I must. Stan Musial died today. He was 92 and the hero of every male in my family older than I.

It’s difficult to know how to define a legend. Is it the 3630 hits? Is it that he got 1815 at home and 1815 on the road? Maybe. Is it all the batting titles (7)? How about the 1599 walks versus 696 strike outs? That’s part of it. Could it be the 6134 total bases? Or should we talk about the 177 triples, all after 1920? That’ll work.

He was the consummate player. He was a quiet man who led by example. He supported Jackie Robinson and helped Bob Gibson and Curt Flood ease their way into the Cardinals clubhouse.

He led his team to three World’s Championships and a fourth National League title. And he did it with the most unorthodox stance anyone ever saw. He hurt his arm in the minors which cost him his pitching career (he started as a pitcher). He moved to the outfield and became a  star.

He played the harmonica. He won the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was the greatest Cardinal ever.

Carl Erskine told a story about how to pitch to Musial. He said you threw your best pitch then went to back up third. Preacher Roe liked to say that your best bet was to throw four wide ones then try to pick him off first. That’s real respect.

I have no idea if there is an afterlife or not. I have no idea what it’s like if there is one. But if there is one, I’m sure that Musial is already giving batting tips to the men in my family because I know they were at the gates of whatever whereafter there is waiting to greet him.

He was so good that the fans in Brooklyn used to complain “Here comes that man again.” That got him the nickname “Stan the Man.” That he certainly was.

RIP Earl Weaver

January 19, 2013
Earl Weaver

Earl Weaver

Just saw that Orioles manager and Hall of Famer Earl Weaver died yesterday at 82. His team won the 1970 World Series and participated in three others. RIP, Earl.

The Babe Ruth Story: A Review

January 16, 2013
William Bendix getting batting tips from some extra

William Bendix getting batting tips from some extra

It’s been a while since I took a look at how Hollywood deals with baseball, so it’s time to do it again. This time I’ve chosen one of the all-time stinkeroos to review. Yep, it’s the 1948 flick “The Babe Ruth Story” starring William Bendix.

The movie is basically a hymn to Ruth. His shadow alone can raise a sick child, he can call his shot in the World Series, he can hit a home run for a sick child (apparently this one he can’t raise from the sick-bed), and he’ll miss a game to help an injured dog. Everyone of these things happen in the movie. In the end Ruth is carted off for a special operation that will help all mankind (not just kids this time). For some reason they didn’t play “The Star Spangled Banner” in the background as he was wheeled offstage.

The cast includes William Bendix as Ruth. Bendix was a major comedic character actor of the 1940s and 1950s. He was getting an unusual starring turn in this flick and actually does a fairly good job. Bendix was right-handed, so they had to sew Yankees on his uniform backwards (seekanY) then reverse the film. They used the same technique with Gary Cooper in “Pride of the Yankees.” Bendix was an avid baseball fan (he also did a movie called “Kill the Umpire” in which he played a fledgling ump) who enjoyed getting the role. Legend has it that in one of the scenes he actually hit the ball over the fence for a home run. They kept the scene in the movie and the joy on Bendix’s face was real. No one seems to know which scene it is, so it may be legend.

Claire Trevor plays Ruth’s wife Claire (guess that made it easy for her to know when she was being called to the set). She does a good job, arguably the best in the movie. The next year she’ll win an Academy Award for best supporting actress in “Key Largo” (which has nothing to do with baseball).  Charles Bickford plays Brother Maththias, Ruth’s mentor, confidant, and friend. William Frawley (of “I Love Lucy” fame) is Jack Dunn and does a good job playing mostly a straight man rather than his normal comic turn. And Matt Briggs plays Colonel Jacob Ruppert, Yankees owner. He was mainly a Broadway actor and is probably best known to movie fans as the judge in “The Oxbow Incident.” Joe Flynn, of “McHale’s Navy” has a small role (his first) and Mark Koenig is the only actual ballplayer with lines.

The movie is utter nonsense. Ruth’s upbringing is misrepresented, his relationship with Miller Huggins is left out, and most importantly his first wife (and daughter) is totally ignored. The scene where he meets Claire is more likely to have been when he met his first wife (try to imagine Claire Ruth in a honky-tonk).  Having said all that, I can’t help but like it. It’s so much fun. Bendix is having the time of his life and it shows. It represents Ruth as simply an overgrown kid and that’s how most of us really, I think, want to see Ruth. The warts aren’t pleasant and are ignored in the flick.

I suggest that if you want to just have a fun hour and a half (the movie runs 106 minutes and is in black and white) with a bag of popcorn this is as good a way as any. Just make sure you don’t believe a word of it. I understand it’s available on Netflix.

Finally, Ruth was given a screening a few weeks before he died. Claire liked the movie a lot. At least the Babe got to see Hollywood’s version of his life.

Doing My Mayor Daley Impression

January 10, 2013
Daley Campaign Poster

Daley Campaign Poster

When I was growing up, Richard J. Daley was Mayor of Chicago and the best known city politician in the US. He was larger than life and incredibly powerful. He was also most famous for allegedly “fixing” elections to ensure that both he and his cronies were returned to office. So in my best Mayor Daley mode, it’s time for me to, all by myself, fix the Hall of Fame voting.

I’ve said for years that the Hall vote is broken and doesn’t work as  well as it should. In the post just below, I commented on the most current Hall voting and mentioned a few “fixes” I’d seen online. I mentioned that I thought each was flawed. With a couple of caveats, here’s a few “fixes” I think would help.

The late character actor Paul Fix

The late character actor Paul Fix

Let me begin by admitting none of these ideas individually, nor all of them together, are going to completely fix the problems with Hall of Fame voting. Second, although I think it is important, especially financially, for the Hall of Fame to elect a fairly contemporary player yearly, I recognize that sometimes such action will lead to utterly idiotic choices (ala the Veteran’s Committee occasionally). So the idea that whatever happens somebody, anybody has to get in must be abandoned. In looking over my post from yesterday, I note that I possibly appear to support such an idea. I don’t. I was pointing out one of the plans I read made it required that a player be elected. Having said all that, here we go.

1. If a voter does not return the ballot, that voter is stricken from the list of voters and may no longer receive a ballot.

2. If a voter returns an empty ballot it does not change the voter’s status as a voter (sometimes there just isn’t anyone the voter wants), but the blank vote does not count against the percentage of votes a player receives. I don’t want to see someone fail make it into Cooperstown because of blank ballots.

3. Do you know it takes 75% of the states to amend the US Constitution and 75% of votes to be elected to the Hall of Fame? I’m a huge baseball fan, but I recognize that the Constitution is much more important? Shouldn’t it be harder to amend the US Constitution than to get into the Hall of Fame? Lower the percentage for admittance. Try 60%. I looked over the last five years ballots and the only change at 60% would be the early election of a few players and the additions of Jack Morris and Craig Biggio. I don’t think this is unreasonable (although some of you undoubtedly will). I also wonder if the voters, knowing it takes a smaller percentage for enshrinement, wouldn’t begin culling their own ballots more which might make the move to 60% something of a non-factor.

4. Dump the “vote for not more than 10” rule. Let a vote pick as many or as few candidates as the voter wants. This will stop the voting for one person in a particular year then leaving that person off the ballot the next year because there are 10 better candidates the second year.

5. Expand the voter base. Let in broadcasters and play-by-play men. Let in some SABR people (maybe the executive in charge or all the officers). I’m a little afraid of this idea because I really don’t want to expand the voting base to an even larger pool. I think that will make it even harder to reach 60% or 75% or whatever percentage is chosen.

6, Get the Hall to define terms. Give a written definition of “sportsmanship” etc. Too many writers claim (and I think they are lazy in doing so) that they have no guidance about what is expected (use your conscience, fella; if you have one). So give them a definition.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, there are other good ideas. I’d like to hear some of them. Feel free to add your own in the comments section. We gotta fix this, team, if for no other reason than to keep me from commenting over and over about it (and you having to keep reading about it).

“They Make a Desert…

January 9, 2013
Cooperstown's number one attraction

Cooperstown’s number one attraction

…and call it peace.”–Tacitus

This marks the first year since 1996 that the writers elected no one to the Hall of Fame. No one, not one single person. I’ve said before it’s time for a change before the desert the writers made broadens.

I’ve had enough of writers sending in blank ballots and of not returning ballots at all. I’ve had it with writers who haven’t covered the game in years getting to decide who makes it to Cooperstown and who doesn’t. I read a rather prominent writer who said he wasn’t going to turn in a ballot this year because he just couldn’t vote for the steroid guys but didn’t know how to deal with it. In the same article he acknowledged having voted for some players remaining from the 2012 ballot, but this year he didn’t feel like sending in a ballot. So tell me, Oh, Great Sage, how the hell did the guys you voted for last year suddenly get bad enough you couldn’t vote for them this year? What number exactly was it that changed? What character flaw did you suddenly notice?

Another writer says he sent in a blank ballot to show is disgust. Again, he admits to voting for people last year who didn’t get in and who were still on the list. Same questions to this idiot. Exactly how could you vote for someone and then not do it again the next year? Were you just a fool last year? If so, why the heck did you accept a  ballot this year?

Another writer explained his ballot by saying he hadn’t covered the sport in years, but still got a vote and intended to use it. Him I’m a little less upset with. My question is why does the Hall of Fame send a ballot to someone who admits he doesnt’ cover the sport anymore? Habit? Negligence, maybe?

I want peace in the Hall of Fame voting, but I’m afraid the writers have already created too much of a desert for them to continue making this choice alone. I’ve seen a number of different proposals for change. One suggests letting the writers vote for whoever they want on the ballot (no 10 vote minimum), then take the 10 players with the most votes and have a specially selected panel of experts (Expert–a combination of “ex” meaning  a has been and “spurt” a drip under pressure”) vote for the 10 candidates surviving the writers vote. At least one player (and ties) must be chosen. Not a bad idea, but it has a number of flaws. First, a lot of writers are simply going to vote for the steroid guys whatever they really think and just pass the mess along to the expert panel. Second, who determines who the damned experts are?  And just what exactly makes an expert? Me? Hell, yes, I’m an expert; just ask me. The fact that no one else seems to notice is their fault, not mine.  Finally, although the idea of chosing no one is what set off this post, I do recognize the requirement to pick someone can lead to some silly choices (this year would not have been one of those times). But I also understand that the Hall makes a lot of money on “Hall of Fame Weekend.” I’m glad Deacon White’s great grandchildren will get to see his plaque added to the pantheon, but I have a feeling that few others are going to show up to commemorate the Deacon. And all that means a lack of funding coming in to buy more memorabilia and add to the exhibits.

Other proposals leave out the writers step and go directly to the panel. Still others propose culling the writers to those who actually cover the game. And yet more suggest expanding the voters to include other media types like broadcasters, sports reporters who work on TV, bloggers (Hey, there’s me again).

I don’t know that any of these is exactly right, but I do know that we have a desert out there. Somebody’s got to fix this mess or there will be no peace. Not a lick.

Sometimes You Just Gotta Take the Money

January 3, 2013
Brooks Robinson in the field

Brooks Robinson in the field

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been conned a few times, usually for something like who drives or who buys the beer. And I’m also basically an honest type so I don’t do a lot of that kind of thing myself. But sometimes you just got to take the money.

Way back in 1970 I was in the US Army and stationed in Germany. It was October and my interest turned to the World Series. For those of you too young to remember, that’s the Series that cemented Brooks Robinson’s reputation as the greatest gloveman of all time among third basemen. He won the Series MVP and the Baltimore Orioles rolled over the Cincinnati Reds to post Earl Weaver’s only World Series victory. And every bit as important for my purposes is that the Series was still played in the afternoon. That meant that I got to listen to it during the overnight period (I worked the graveyard shift), then could go to the enlisted  club and watch the tape-delay game in the afternoon without having to worry about who was going to win. I could just watch and enjoy the great (and not-so-great) plays.

But we had this guy, he was fairly new, who just simply didn’t understand what was going on. He never quite understood that the game had been played the previous night (our time) and that if you listened to AFN (Armed Forces Network) radio you already knew the score. It just never seemed to make sense that if you were watching a game being played in the daytime, it just couldn’t be daytime where we were.

With the Orioles up three games to none, a bunch of us sat down to watch game four.  The dolt mentioned above was one of them. He began by telling us “his” Orioles were going to sweep. I told him Cincy was going to win game four. He told me I was crazy. I told him the score was going to be 6-5 (I looked the score up on Retrosheet a few minutes ago). He laughed, informing me that Palmer was going to close out the Series.

“No, he isn’t.” (All conversations cleaned up from GI English and after 40 years, approximated.)

“Sure he is. Wanna bet?”

“Why not? Five bucks?” OK, so I’m a jerk, but sometimes you just can’t help yourself. Let’s face it, when someone is being that willfully stupid you just gotta take the money.

“Deal. Two to one.”

“OK by me.”

So I handed a five to the bartender, he gave the bartender a ten, and the rest of the guys at the table snickered. Well, sure enough the Reds won 6-5 and I picked up an easy ten dollars. The other guy was  stunned. We tried to explain to him about tape-delays and listening to the game in the middle of the night, but it just didn’t sink in.

The next night, Baltimore wrapped up the Series, Brooks Robinson was named MVP, and we all met in the afternoon to watch the crowning. Of course the guy was there, ready to put up money again that this time Baltimore would win it all.

“No bet, slick, because you’re right, the Orioles are going to win (9-3 according to Retrosheet). By the way (we wouldn’t have dared to say “BTW” back then), Brooks Robinson was the MVP.”

It seems he didn’t understand the nature of the past tense meant by the word “was”.

“That makes sense, but I’m not sure it won’t go to Blair (Paul).”

“Trust me, Robinson wins.”

Here came the deathless line again, “Wanna bet?”

Well, now I’ve got this terrible dilemma. What do I do? I’ve taken the poor fool’s money once. Do I do it again? You know the answer, don’t you?

“Sure. Five bucks again?”

“Deal, but no two to one.”

“Fine by me.”

So the bartender got two fives and we waited. The O’s won, Robinson was MVP and I was fifteen total dollars richer. I don’t know that he ever figured out how the turning of the Earth and tape-delay worked. I had a few months left and he had a couple of years to go. I was gone before the Super Bowl, but, geez, I wish I coulda got a bet down with him.