Monthly Archives: March 2010

For No Reason

But really, why do I need a reason? Here’s one of the great baseball poems – although there aren’t that many great poems, not like songs of which there are many great ones – Casey at the Bat:

The Outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that –
We’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And its likely they’d a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.

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Even More Fun with Numbers

My last couple of blog posts have gotten me thinking a little bit more about baseball numbers. My present thought is about what, exactly, the most important numeral in baseball is. I have a lot of thoughts, and so have decided to compile another random list. The only rule here is that any number counts. I’m not referring to anything specific like stats or uniform numbers, any number will do. Here we go:

#9 – 3

We begin with Babe Ruth’s iconic #3 (why we begin at #9, I have no idea). So worn because he hit third in the Yankees’ batting order, the image of the New York slugger’s back is as recognizable to me as anybody who’s had a back, that number 3 always standing out. This came about in the earliest days of uniform numbers, and we’ve never had another one more memorable.

Realistically, 3 should be a lot higher on the list. It’s the number of strikes before a batter is out. It’s the number of outs in an inning. 3 is probably the most important number in the game, but if you asked 50 people what the most important number in the game is, I doubt more than maybe 2 people would say 3, so it’s banished to number 9 on this list.

#8 – 1.12

Something tells me I should have put this higher, but while the record might be incredibly impressive, I’m not so sure that the number is as iconic as some others that I have further up on the list. 1.12 is of course the earned run average of Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson during the 1968 season. This may be the most impressive season for any pitcher in the modern era, and that includes the dead ball days. Gibson pitched 28 complete games that year on his way to a 22-9 record. How he lost 9 games I’ll never know, but he won the first of his two Cy Young Awards this season and also captured the NL MVP.

# 7 – 4,256

Pete Rose finished his career with 4,256 hits, a record that will likely not be broken any time soon. It took 57 years for anyone to pass Ty Cobb’s 4189, but Rose did so at the age of 44, securing his place in history with one of the most important numbers in the game’s history. At least he’s got something to be remembered by because it doesn’t seem like he’ll have a Hall of Fame plaque for that purpose.

#6 – 2,130

The first number to reach the list that isn’t actually significant in any way, 2,130 used to be a record, but today means nothing. This is the number of consecutive games that Lou Gehrig played in, an all-time record until Cal Ripken, Jr. came along and shattered that record, playing in 2,632 consecutive. He broke Gehrig’s record in 1995, and I think the number that really sticks out to me is the big 2131 out in right field at Camden Yards when Ripken set the new record. Nevertheless, Lou Gehrig’s mark, which stood for 6 decades is still the most memorable number in the whole situation. Maybe we should give Ripken another 50 years or so.

#5 – 500, 300 and 3,000

I’m calling a tie here for the three most popular landmark statistics, maybe in all of sports. 500 home runs may not be quite as impressive now as it once was due to the steroids era, but it still is considered the Hall of Fame lock. 300 wins and 3,000 hits are as impressive as ever and both are rarer now than they were several decades ago. Those numbers also will put anyone in the Hall for sure.

#4 – 755

Another one that no longer stands as anything, this is Hank Aaron’s career home run total. Although Babe Ruth’s 714 may be even more notable, this is still the record aside from a juiced Barry Bonds. I debated with myself about whether the 755 was really bigger than the 714, but throughout my youth, this was the number everyone was chasing, the number that everyone strove for. So for me, this is the number that will always be the most important.

# 3 – 42

Babe Ruth’s uniform might be the most memorable, but the most important is definitely Jackie Robinson’s 42. On April 15, 1947, Robinson broke into the league with the Brooklyn Dodgers and broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier wearing number 42. Exactly 50 years later, Bud Selig made arguably one of the only good decisions he’s ever made, announcing the retirement of the number throughout the entire league.  Now, any stadium throughout the majors features a 42 hanging somewhere in the park, making it easily the most ubiquitous uniform number in baseball history, and in my mind, the third most important number in the sport.

#2 – 61

Another number that has no actual meaning, 61 is still the most iconic home run total there’s ever been. Much like Hank Aaron’s 755, Roger Maris’ single season home run record has never been passed up by any non-steroid users. Babe Ruth’s previous record of 60 stood for so long and was so impressive that Maris’ 61 in ’61 will probably always be considered one of the great individual feats ever. There was an asterisk in the record books next to Maris’ 61 because he played in a season that was 8 games longer than Ruth’s, but so many people now consider 61 to still be the record. It’s been bested over and over by juiced up sluggers, and many people feel that those should have asterisks too. I don’t think you can do that. The home runs were hit just as clearly as Maris’ were, whether the hitters had help or not. The real tragedy lies in the fact that the numbers mean so much less now than they once did. Children in the next generation will never look at the 61 the way I did as a kid or the way my parents’ generation would have. To me, there is just one number that purely represents greatness in baseball, a record that may never be broken:

#1 – 56

I wish I Had Him Breaking Thriough the 56 Banner

Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hit streak in 1941 may be as close to an untouchable record as there is in sports these days. In the nearly 70 years since his accomplishment, the highest anyone has reached is Pete Rose with 44, and even before ’41, only four people ever reached the 40 straight games mark, with Wee Willie Keeler’s 45 (44 in one season) at the top of the list. It seems to me that when people think of baseball streaks or records, this is always the one that pops up first. And perhaps most importantly, this hit streak has inspired two Talkin’ Terry blog posts so you it must be good.

Anyway, those are just my opinions on the greatest numbers in baseball. I’m always open to suggestions.

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Lot of Frowns Here

I just wrote 1100 words for the site here, but then the computer crashed and I lost 500 of them. So now since I’m upset, I’m just going to post this thing with a bunch of pictures of baseball people who look like I feel. I’ll finish up that other one later this week. Also, there’s a video in there for good measure. The minor leagues are crazy.

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More Fun with Numbers, or Something Like That

Today we tackle another number, but it isn’t one that can be worn on a uniform. Scratch that, it can be worn on a uniform, but that’s not why it’s notable. No, today we look at the number 56.

I’m sure I don’t need to say anything more about that number because it speaks for itself.

Alright, I shouldn’t have started writing if I was just going to make glib comments about whether or not you know about the number 56. Sure, it’s a pretty number, but what’s it all about? Well, here’s a song that will fill us all in.

There are other good versions of that song on youtube that you can check out, and just for good measure, here’s Joe’s appearance on What’s My Line.

Yes, that was some kind of hit streak that Mr. DiMaggio put up, but I’m more impressed by the song. I think the point of this writing is to highlight two great things about the game of baseball. Arguably the two greatest things: 1) Numbers. For the second straight day, I was able to produce a blog about numbers, even though they feature two totally different subjects. It’s just such a numerical game. 2) Baseball’s got some great songs associated with it, hasn’t it? I’ll have to bring more of that to the forefront later. For now, though, I’m off to bed.

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Number 10!

All right, friends. It’s time for another very important discussion. This one is about uniform numbers. More specifically, it’s about the number 10, and who was the best ever to wear it.

Since uniform numbers didn’t exist until the 1920’s, it is unfair to assume that Ty Cobb or Cap Anson wouldn’t have ever worn number 10 if given the chance. Let’s all keep that in mind as we move forward in this analysis.

Well, I can’t find a better place to start than in my own backyard. Nearby, at Wrigley Field, there is a flag blowing off the foul pole waving that glorious number 10. The number once belonged to Ron Santo, the greatest non-Hall of Fame third baseman. Santo was a nine time All-Star and a five time Gold Glove winner, and he did it all wearing the good ole X on his back. Something tells me that he would still be wearing that fabulous numeral in the broadcasting booth if he could.

The problem is that early qualifier, “non-Hall of Fame.” I can’t go for that considering some of the other all-time greats.

Sparky Anderson was a 10-wearing Hall of Famer. But he did that for managing. He only played one season, and that wasn’t even in the right number.

If you’re looking for Hall of Fame players, there are only 2 choices. The first is Andre Dawson, a very recent selection. Though not technically a Hall of Famer yet, his numbers are certainly impressive (and not just the 10). 438 career home runs, 8 All-Star games, 8 Gold Gloves and the 1987 National League MVP award. His stats probably put him ahead of anyone else ever to wear the number. There’s just one problem. Dawson wore number 8 throughout his Chicago Cubs tenure. That takes away 5 All-Star games, 2 Gold Gloves, 174 home runs and his only MVP. Suddenly he’s pedestrian.

That leaves us only real choice for the number 10 crown: Phil Rizzuto. Rizzuto certainly wasn’t the most impressive player ever, but he did have the good sense to play for the Yankees. OK, he was a pretty good player too, and he’s got the 1950 AL MVP award to prove it. He played in 5 All-Star games and took part in 7 World Series victories, a number that may have been higher had it not been for his service in World War II. For what it’s worth, Rizzuto is also one of the all-time great baseball announcers (and it’s worth a lot!). So let’s all raise our glasses and offer a toast to the greatest number 10 of all-time: Phil Rizzuto! Cheers

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Baseball and Hugs

Sports in general produce some weird celebrations, and baseball is surely no exception. After home runs, after wins, and generally whenever the players feel like it, they put together some crazy antics.

By far my least favorite celebration is the walk off home run. Everybody gathers around home plate and hops up and down about three times before wandering off. I don’t when that started or where it came from, but it is beyond stupid an I don’t like it.

One cray ritual that is not exactly a celebration is the pregame handshake. I don’t know why they call it that because there is very little actual handshaking going on, but the players all seem to have their weird routines down.

As the history of the game has shown, you don’t want to put too much emphasis on a celebration because you will get hit in the head on your next at-bat. My reccommendtion is just not to stand and stare at anything after a home run. That’s a good way to get yourself in trouble. Just run to first base. Thank you.

I apologize for the rather lifeless post and all the potential spelling errors. I am typig on the worst keyboard in the world and it is really bringing me down.

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Baseball and Drugs

In honor of Ron Washington’s admitting that he tested positive for cocaine a year ago and his subsequent admission of drug use as a player, I decided to look back at a few of my favorite baseball drug moments.

I start back in 1992, though I’ll eventually go further backwards. In May of this year, trainer Curtis Wenzlaff was arrested for steroid distribution. It was 13 more years before fans seemed to make the connection that players might be using steroids. Wenzlaff later admitted to helping Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, among others, obtain illegal drugs.

As long as we’re on steroids, how about that Barry Bonds? Ha ha ha. What a goofball.

In 1970, Jim Bouten released his book, Ball Four, a book that contained descriptions of the widespread use of amphetamines in baseball. These had apparently been a problem since the days of World War II, when soldiers were given them to remain alert. Use of greenies has continued in baseball probably through today.

My favorite quote about drugs in baseball comes courtesy of Tug McGraw, when asked whether he preferred grass or AstroTurf: “I don’t know, I never smoked AstroTurf.”

Seriously though, what’s the deal with Ron Washington? He tried cocaine once last year, tested positive, and has been clean since. This is a bizarre story.

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One More Thing

Alright, I swear that the reason I haven’t posted the last few days is because I’ve had very spotty Internet, not because I couldn’t think of anything I like about baseball. I’m not quite that negative.

So here’s one more thing I enjoy: The infinite nature of the game of baseball. When there are two outs in the ninth inning of a game with the road team winning by 15, it’s not over. The home team always has a chance until that ast out is recorded. In a basketball game, you’re sure not going to come back from a 15 point deficit in 10 seconds. Ditto for football and hockey and soccer and most other sports.

Baseball games might never end. I certainly hope they do. And I much prefer when they go quickly, but that doesn’t change the fact that they don’t have to. In this game, you always have a fighting chance as long as you still have some fight in you.

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Green Zone

I’d wake up at night with the smell of the ball park in my nose, the cool of the grass on my feet… The thrill of the grass. -Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams

No, I sure wasn’t kidding yesterday when I said I was blogging about grass today. One of my favorite things about baseball is the greenery, one of the many reasons Wrigley Field is so great. Walking out to the field on a nice spring or summer day and just witnessing the vivid colors of the field is a wonderful experience.

Some people think that astroturf or this artificial grass is acceptable, but you don’t get the same feeling walking out on that rubbery or rock hard stuff. You don’t get the beautiful smell of a freshly groomed field, you don’t even get the chance at the satisfaction of pulling the tarp out onto the field.

Most fields these days have strange patterns in them, though I’ve never been quite sure why they need to get so fancy. It’s not necessary, but a well designed field sure does look fine from overhead. That said, mowing logos or pictures into the outfield seems pretty unacceptable to me. I don’t want to see any more of that.

Anyway, as to the point at hand, people tell me that there are benefits to using artificial turf. For one thing, you don’t need to water it or maintain it or anything. But that’s not baseball to me. It doesn’t have nearly the same feel. Besides, if everyone had artificial grass, what would be the point of groundskeepers? And everyone loves a good groundskeeper.

So here you go, I’ve found two things I like about baseball. I knew I was keeping this blog for some reason. Can I find a third thing for tomorrow? I guess we’ll find out.

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Something Positive for a Change

While briefly flipping the TV to the Bulls-Magic game tonight, I realized that Orlando was wearing their “old” jerseys. I mention this because in baseball, and other sports as well I guess, throwbacks always seem to be a big deal. In basketball, however, every time I turn on ESPN to see a game or highlights, teams are wearing different uniforms than the last time I saw them. Maybe I’m wrong, but there doesn’t seem to be any real uniformity in what the teams wear at all. Jerry Seinfeld famously joked about the high turnover rate for players of sport, saying that fans are really just rooting for laundry. But if a team changes their uniform every game, the  fans can’t even rely on that, can they?

At this point, I begin to hope that you haven’t read the title of this post yet, because you might be disappointed. I guess this is about as positive as I get.

What I really got to thinking about was why uniform changes are so much more noticeable (to me at least) in baseball than in basketball. The answer is the regularity of baseball games. I’ve decided to start something new. I’m going to start posting about things I actually like in baseball. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s exciting post about grass!

One thing I really enjoy is the day in and day out grind of a baseball season. If you follow a team closely, they’re like your extended family. When you’re watching a game every single day of the summer, you know much more than you should about the players, both on and off the field, and every move that’s made within the club has some sort of impact on you. Including a change in uniforms. There are probably some teams that have too many choices, but they’ve all got a rotation of between 2 and 4 or so working. And I love that about the professional game. I love being that close to a team that such a thing would even matter.

I can’t say that about other pro sports because even if I’m talking about a basketball or football or whatever else team all through the week, if they have a few days off, I’m not watching them play, and that creates a little distance between us.

And if that’s as positive as I can be, then so be it.

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