Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

The Negro Leagues Become Official

December 17, 2020

Finally, the Major Leagues did something they should have done a long time ago. They decided to declare the Negro Leagues “Major.” Damned nice of them, don’t you think?

As usual, I have a number of questions. The obvious first is “what took so long?” I know it’s something of an unfair question because it took until the 1970s to decided that Negro League players of officials could take a spot in the Hall of Fame. And considering how long segregation went on 50 years (from the 1970s) isn’t really all that long. I admit to being of two minds about this. I’m very happy that guys like Dick Lundy and Heavy Johnson are now considered “Major Leaguers.” But I wonder if it will diminish the uniqueness of what happened to them. Remember, integrating the Dodgers in 1946 drove a stake through the heart of the existing Negro Leagues, leading ultimately to their demise. I wonder how much this decision will simply fold the Negro Leagues into the larger embrace of the other Major Leagues and they will be seen as a curiosity rather than as something that was separate by design. I hope it will inspire a new spate of Negro League research. I hope the Hall of Fame will enlarge their display at Cooperstown. I don’t know that it will, but I can hope.

There are a couple of problems that arise from this. First, MLB decided to include those leagues (eight of them) that existed from 1920 on and left out all the leagues prior. That doesn’t do much good for players like Bud Fowler or George Stovey who were done in the Nineteenth Century. At least Frank Grant managed to make the Hall of Fame without playing in the post-1920 leagues. I wonder if the black players, like Fowler, Stovey, or the Walker brothers, will now be totally forgotten except by a handful of screwballs like me who study them.

Also, I wonder how or if they are going to integrate the statistics. Just to give you two examples to chew on I present Larry Doby and Minnie Minoso. BaseballReference.com gives Doby’s total number of Major League hits at 1515. Seamheads (the best available spot for finding Negro League stats) gives him 180 hits in the Negro Leagues. The 1515 makes Doby tied, on the Major Leagues all-time hit list, at 626. Add in 180 and he stands at 1695, good for 469th all-time. For Minoso the same numbers are 1963 and 158 for a total of 2121. Currently, Minoso stands 303rd on the MLB list (in a 3 way time). The number 2121 moves him to 223. So how is MLB going to present this? Will there be one combined number or will they retain two separate numbers? And don’t forget that the Negro League numbers stand a good chance of changing, sometimes significantly, with further research. As statistics mean so much to baseball and to fans, MLB needs to decide how they are going to handle this.

I feel this was way overdue, but I acknowledge that there are problems that will develop in doing this. I’m sorry the second is true. I’m glad the decision was made.

“That Which We Call a Rose…”

December 14, 2020

would smell as sweet.”–Shakespeare (“Romeo and juliet”).

So I see the Cleveland Indians are about to become the Cleveland something elses. I suppose it’s about time. I don’t know too many Tribal Americans (my phrase for what we call either “Indians” or “Native Americans”) who liked the name, but most I know are more concerned with other issues.

All this gives us an opportunity to decide “what’s in a name?” (the earlier part of the quote above). There are several choices, and if you’ve read much of what I write, you’ll know I’m not about to pass up a chance to tell you what I think of each. So here goes.

Rocks: I’ve seen this posed a handful of places. It’s in reference to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame being in Cleveland. Sorry, but when I hear that I’m always reminded of the phrase “dumber than a whole bag of rocks.” Well, maybe that does fit for the Cleveland ball club.

Cleveland Baseball Team: A play on what the Washington team did in football. Actually, it’s not a bad idea. First, you use the name, sell a bunch of jerseys, then change the name to something else and sell a ton more jerseys.

Spiders: This was the name of the 19th Century team. They folded after the worst won-loss record of any major league team in 1899. I guess it’s been long enough that no one except a few die hard baseball fans even know they existed, but somehow Spiders don’t inspire loyalty (a shudder maybe, but not loyalty).

Forest City: This was the original name of the first professional Cleveland team in 1871 (And, yes, it was singular, not plural.). Does anyone today think of Cleveland in the forest?

Buckeyes: This was the name of the 1940s Negro League team that played in Cleveland and won the 1945 Negro World Series. It should be the favorite because baseball owes it to the Negro Leagues (Kansas City did something like it when they became the Royals, a tribute to the Kansas City Monarchs).

Fire Rivers: This is my favorite, and they’ll never use it. Remember back in 1969 the local river caught on fire? Well, it did. I can think of no better tribute to Cleveland than Fire Rivers. It even sounds tough.

Feel free to add your own favorites.


Adios, Bob Gibson

December 1, 2020

This one took a while to write. Bob Gibson was one of those larger-than-life heroes you develop when you’re younger (I was a teen). Now he’s gone.

I was a Dodgers fan, but Gibson was special. I never saw a pitcher more able to impose himself on a game the way Gibson did. It was different that others like Sandy Koufax or Tom Seaver. They were simply better than their opposition and went out and proved it. Gibson was also better, but there was an attitude that struck me as more dominating. Both Koufax and Seaver could win a game and be elegant; Gibson was never elegant. He leaped at batters with his follow thru, he snarled on the mound. His eyes bored into the heads and souls of batters and probably scared them at least a little (I doubt anyone ever scared Frank Robinson much).

He was a joy to watch in a way that contrasted with Juan Marichal or Koufax or Seaver. They showed excellence, Gibson showed power. Don’t get me wrong, he was excellent also but there was an overt power the others didn’t show. And I, and a generation of others, loved him.

Now it’s RIP, Bob Gibson. We who saw you know what others missed. And we thank you for the opportunity to have watched you perfrom.

Good bye to the Chairman

November 24, 2020

Whitey Ford

During all the problems developing in my life I failed to note here the loss of “The Chairman of the Board.” Whitey Ford died recently. He was the last great link to the New York Yankee dynasty of the 1950s and early 1960s.

Of the great pitchers of my youth, Ford was unique. He was the only one in the American League. Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, and Juan Marichal were all National Leaguers. And before them so were Warren Spahn and Don Newcombe. I really don’t remember Bob Lemon and Early Wynn was always, to me, an afterthought. Ford, on the other hand, was impossible to miss. Back in the mid-to late 1950s there were two games on Saturday, one on CBS, the other on NBC. You could almost guarantee the Yankees would be on one game. That meant your chances of seeing Ford work were pretty good.

He thrived under two managers who used him very differently. Casey Stengel, his 1950s manager, tended to hold Ford for big games rather than establish him in something like a modern rotation. Ralph Houk, on the other hand, put him in the rotation and Ford began putting up “ace” numbers (wins, innings pitched, strikeouts, etc.) and eventually picked up an early Cy Young Award (1961-back when there was only one award, not one in each league).

He was also unique in another way. The Dodgers were are great team in the 1960s because they had Drysdale and Koufax. The same was true for the Cardinals and Gibson. Marichal was part of a trio (Mays, McCovey) that made the Giants contenders. Ford, on the other hand, was part of a machine that spewed talent in every direction. That made him, in some ways, less renowned. He was just part of the Yankees. That’s kind of a shame, because he was more than “just part” of the best team of his era.

He made the Hall of Fame in 1974, along with Mickey Mantle (who overshadowed Ford because he Mantle). Yogi Berra was already enshrined there. It was a fitting conclusion to his career.

So adios to Whitey Ford, who, as “Chairman of the Board,” had one of the great nicknames of the era. RIP.

Finally

November 23, 2020

Well, I’ve been out of the loop for a while. In my defense, it’s been a lousy couple of months. So bear with me a moment.

First, my wife ended up in the hospital (non-Covid) which scared the heck out of me. Now she’s back home, well, and the normal pain-in-the-neck she usually is on a given day. My health took a tumble for a while, but I’m back to something like normal; at least what passed for normal for me. Then the Great Central Oklahoma Ice Storm of 2020 hit. We took major damage to the trees, the fence is a disaster, a water main broke, and the power was out for a week (along with the WiFi).

The power went out Monday night about 20 minutes after the Senate confirmed the latest Supreme Court Justice. The Senate Minority Leader warned us that confirming her would lead to disaster. Guess he was right (at least in the short term). Worse was that the power was still out on Tuesday night and I couldn’t find the World Series on a battery operated radio. I had to text my son the next morning to find out the Dodgers finally won one.

I suppose that’s just as well. Had I watched the game I might have jinxed the Bums, or worse, had a heart attack when they actually won the Series. After all, I’ve deteriorated in 32 years. But now at least I can tell my son the Twins fan that my guys have won as many times in his lifetime as his guys (2). I’m still looking to find the game on MLB network and will at some point.

Now Clayton Kershaw has a ring. Good for him. It’s nice to see him get the proverbial monkey off his back. I’ve never looked up the origin of that cliche, and will have to at some point. Now, if he can just win two more he can finally be compared to that other Dodger lefty whose last name begins with a “K.” And it was nice to see, in the age of social consciousness, Dave Roberts win the World Series as a manager.

I also missed commenting on the death of both Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford. They were two of the great pitchers of my youth and it reminds me of my aging. Now only Juan Marichal and Sandy Koufax remain of the great pitchers before I left High School. I read on something that the Hall of Fame lost six members already this year. With a month and a half to go, let’s hope that number doesn’t change.

And Yet Another Loss

September 8, 2020

This is getting awful. I have another loss to report. Glen Slater died on the 1st of September. He was 60.

Now Glen wasn’t some famous ball player, nor a great educator, nor one of those people who changed the world overnight with some special invention. Glen was simply someone I considered a friend. He was an early reader of the stuff I wrote here and was generally encouraging of my stuff (which may say something about his mindset, but I’m not sure what). He had his own blog that produced some of the funniest humor on line. He had some trouble finishing a story, but then so do most of us. But what he wrote was wonderful; full of life, fun, and a certain amount of tragedy.

I got a note from his sister this morning telling me he was gone. That in itself is a tragedy. Certainly it’s terrible for his family and my wife and I give our deepest condolences to his sister and her family. But for the rest of us it’s also horrible. Glen was fun, a heck of a person to know, even if it was only over the ether and through something as ephemeral as a blog. I will miss him, his intelligent commentary, his humor, his down right endearing humanity. Beth, I’m sorry for your loss. The world is a poorer place now.

So I’m heading off to lift a glass of wine in his honor. Somehow, I think he’d understand that. RIP, Glen, we will miss you around here.

v

Another RIP

September 8, 2020

Lou Brock with his Hall of Fame plaque

With the last entry here being a farewell to Tom Seaver, I hoped I wouldn’t have to write another one of these. But then Lou Brock died. So here we go again.

Brock was never as special to me as Seaver, but he was also a great player. On that Cardinals team of the 1960s, I gravitated more toward Bob Gibson, Roger Maris, and Orlando Cepeda. But Brock was one of the stalwarts of the team and a clutch World Series player (except for one non-slide). He’s known today for two things: base stealing and lousy fielding. Both are true. He was a superb runner whose percent of successful steals was around 67%. That combined with 486 doubles (tied for 77th all-time) meant he was in scoring position a lot. But as stolen bases have a limited value (the caught stealing and dying at second because no one else gets a hit can cut down their value) he only shot above 5.0 WAR three times (1968 being the last time) and was at 4.2 once (1965). He had trouble in the outfield, another reason his WAR is low. He could have a lot of assists (peaking at 17 in 1963), but also could commit a lot of errors (19 in 1966). No body cares much about fielding percentage anymore, but .959 isn’t very good.

In retirement he did a lot of things, including run a florist shop which seems to have been very successful. He made the Hall of Fame in 1985, had some health problems and died this week. RIP, Lou.

Now, I need a favor from whatever great spirit there is. Don’t make it necessary for me to do another one of these for a while. Deal?

RIP Tom Terrific

September 2, 2020

Tom Seaver

Just saw that Tom Seaver died at age 75. He was a great, great pitcher and, apparently, even better human being. He was a personal favorite of mine, and I suppose, of most people who watched him pitch. Although I was a huge fan of the great pitchers of the 1960s (Koufax, Drysdale, Gibson, and Marichal) if I were a manager and needed one pitcher to pitch one game for me, I might just pick Seaver over all of them.
RIP, Tom Terrific

60 Games

July 23, 2020

So it’s opening day, is it? I’m supposed to be excited. I’m not. Opening Day is in April, not July. The season is 162 games, not 60. All the teams in the National League are supposed to play all the other teams in the league. What’s wrong with this picture?

Having said all that, there are things I look forward to seeing this season. Here’s a few:

1. Mike Trout has played nine seasons. He needs one game to have 10 seasons in the big leagues. Ten seasons can get you a free trip to Cooperstown. So just one game cements his place in the Hall of Fame. And before you complain about “one game?” I’ll remind you Dizzy Dean played only one game in his first and both his last two seasons. If it’s good enough for “Ole Diz,” it’s good enough for Mike Trout.

2. I want to see how much the short schedule helps older players like Albert Pujols or Clayton Kershaw. Will the shorter season keep them from tiring in the last couple of months of the season or not? I remember Roger Clemens in his last few years, would sit out April and May and start pitching games in mid-season. He seemed to be about as strong in September as in June. Wonder if that will work for others?

3. Speaking of Pujols, this pretty much guarantees he doesn’t get to 700 home runs. He might not have gotten there anyway, but with only 60 games this season and, at most, 162 next, he’s probably going to be short. He should move passed Willie Mays in home runs, and maybe passed him in hits and beyond Alex Rodriguez in RBIs, but he should come up short of Babe Ruth in RBIs and just short of a top 10 spot in hits.

4.  I want to see the DH in both leagues. I like the DH. Nobody goes to a game to see the manager strategize (at least almost nobody) and few pitchers can hit the floor if they fall out of bed. I particularly want to see how National League rosters reconfigure to add in a DH.

5. I think the new man on second to start extra innings rule is gimmicky, but I’ll be interested to see it in action.

So bring on the season, what there is of it. And I’m already practicing my “Wait ’til next year” line if the Dodgers blow it again.

 

Oldies

June 21, 2020

1950s umpire’s attire (from the Brooklyn Public Library collection)

I miss baseball. I miss it a lot. So I’ve turned to new ways to get a “fix” on the game. One of the things I’ve started doing is looking at MLB Network. They are, among other things, running a lot of old games during the day (and occasionally in prime time). Most of these are fairly recent (1980s through 2019), but some go back into the 1960s (game 7  of the 1965 World Series) and some even further. I finally got to watch the complete (sans the first inning) game 5 of the 1956 World Series (Larsen’s perfect game). I’d gotten home from school in time to see the last one or two innings on the television and found out from my grandfather what a “perfect game” was (I’d never heard the term).

The oldest games I’ve run across are games 6 and 7 of the 1952 World Series (Yankees over Dodgers). I’d never seen either, even I’m not old enough to remember them (I was not yet in school when they were played) and we’d only had a radio at the time anyway, so it was interesting to watch them. In doing so, I noticed a number of changes in the way baseball was played in the 1950s from how it’s played today. In no particular order:

1. I noted how high the catcher sat up. Modern catchers are low in the strike zone, but the 1952 catchers (Berra and Campanella) were setting up much higher, especially Campy. Maybe it was the pillow mitt, but it was noticeable.

2. The umpires still wore suits and the small billed cap that has now disappeared (look at the picture of an old umpire shown above to see what I mean). And the home plate umpire still had the outside pillow protector. It really looks odd today.

3. Pitchers seem to pitch longer. In game 6 of 1952, the Dodgers Billy Loes was in trouble late and stayed in to face what would eventually be the critical at bats that cost Brooklyn the game. In today’s game, Loes would have never gotten to the eighth inning.

4. The male fans wore suits and ties and the announcer had to tell them not to hang their jackets over the railing in the outfield. Don’t see that much today (and I’d never heard the announcement about the jackets before).

5. There didn’t seem to be as much stepping out of the batters box as today. Now they’d edited the game for time purposes, so they may have cut out a lot of that, but it certainly seemed less.

6. The main camera was purchased high behind home plate, making it easy to see the pitcher, but difficult to make out the batter’s stance or where the ball hit the mitt when pitched. The center field camera is much better.

7. Not a helmet in sight.

8. You see many more of the outfielders going down on one knee to field a ground ball hit to them. Don’t see that technique much anymore.

9. And it was wonderful to hear Mel Allen and Red Barber call the game (they worked together). If I could put together a Mount Rushmore of play-by-play men, they’d both be there, probably along with Vin Scully and Jack Buck (sorry, Diz, but you’re not in the category).

If you get a chance to take in one of the games, especially one of the 1950s games, do so. Odds are you’ve never seen it and you should. Enjoy.