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Watching Football + A Lovely Celebration of Richard Wyands's Music

Pro football's Final Four is now set.  The Green Bay Packers held off a furious Seattle Seahawks second-half rally led by former Wisconsin Badger quarterback Russell Wilson to become the fourth team to make the AFL and NFL championship games next Sunday Jan. 19. 

 

I'm not really a big football fan because the game is increasingly brutal. More and more people are now aware of the chance of permanent injury from lingering concussions and other malaises. Statistics seem to reveal that youth participation is dropping.  

 

Yet I do think "good clean violence" has a place in society. Channeling the innate aggressiveness in human beings through sports and games has a place in my opinion. 

 

The one-sided victories on Saturday were not memorable. The Tennessee Titans did pull a surprise by easily defeating the Baltimore Ravens.  Derrick Henry, a huge swift running back and former Heisman trophy winner, and a top-notch punter Brett Kern will make the Titans a worthy opponent in the march to the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.

 

The San Francisco 49ers handled the Minnesota Vikings easily in the other Saturday game that I did not watch - a good meal with a beloved was far more important.

 

Sunday's matchups were far more exciting. The Kansas City Chiefs overcame a 24-0 early deficit to win going away over the Houston Texans. Quarterback Pat Mahomes, whose father also named Pat used to pitch for the Mets and other MLB teams, excelled.  He has the little boy persona that makes him lovable and already a commercial pitchman. 

 

Green Bay used QB's Aaron Rodgers' clutch passes to Davonte Adams and Jimmy Graham to hold off spunky Seattle. Rodgers has long been a commercial pitchman and now he has another celebrity relationship going on with retired race car driver Danica Patrick. 

 

(One New Year's resolution for yours truly - try not to care about the celebrity lives of our athletes.  All I should care about - and you too! - is: do they play hard and smart and well on the field?  And not act like boors like Rodgers' defensive teammate #55 S. Smith!)

 

Russell Wilson was glorious in defeat.  I'll always remember him fondly for leading my Badgers in his one season in Madison to the Rose Bowl. He still has a lot of football left in him and he will certainly go down in history for pioneering in two important areas:  (a) using an extra year of eligibility after graduating early at NC State, and (b) showing that a NFL QB can run effectively as well as throw.  

 

As the days slowly grow longer, it means that pitchers and catchers will report to spring training in about a month.  An Oriole fan has little to hope for in 2020 with a pitching staff made out of bailing wire. And not much else either on the roster.

 

I feel insulted that they are even talking about two Rule 5 picks from the draft of six-year minor leaguers making the starting rotation.  The offense is not exactly brimming with possibility.  At least they did avoid salary arbitration and sign Trey Mancini, the one proven run producer in their lineup. 

 

I don't think you want to hear and I don't want to write these totally negative thoughts. So let me close with an elegy to a great jazz pianist Richard Wyands who was saluted in word and music before a full house at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in the Citicorp Center on New York's East Side on Monday night Jan. 6. (The so-called Jazz Church east of Lexington Ave on 54th Street.)

 

Wyands lived to be 91 years old, a cause for celebration in itself whenever a jazz musician lives that long. Wyands made the most of his time on this earth.  Born in Berkeley, California, he graduated from San Francisco State U. with a degree in music.

 

He became the house pianist at the Bay Area's legendary Black Hawk jazz club. He played opposite such piano greats as Erroll Garner and Art Tatum and also accompanied jazz singer Dinah Washington.

 

(Richard loved sports and I'd often see him on the subway coming back from Yankee games with another neighbor of mine, the great drummer from Detroit, Eddie Locke.  I never talked to Richard about Dinah Wash's husband Dick "Night Train" Lane, the Detroit Lions's defensive star, but I would guess he must have met him.)

 

Wyands relocated to the Big Apple in 1958 and he made the Upper West Side his base for the rest of his life. He toured with mellow jazz guitar great Kenny Burrell for ten years but decided to choose family life over incessant travel. 

 

He was beloved for his able and gentle musicianship. When a young bassist once asked him that he would like to try a solo on a tune, Wyands responded, "Are you going to TRY it or are you going to PLAY it?"  His daughter-in-law summed up his essence in a poem with a recurring litany - "He was cool - so cool." 

 

Fortunately, Richard Wyands lives on in our memories and in several trio recordings he made in his last decades.  They include "The Arrival" (1982), "Get Out of Town" (1996), and the best named of all, "As Long As There's Music" (2002)

 

That's all for now.  As the last of the Christmas trees are ready for compacting on many a street corner in my neighborhood but the light in days is increasing, do remember:

"Take it easy but take it."

 

 

 

  

 

 

  

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Good Things Happen To Those Who Wait: Ted Simmons Makes The Hall of Fame + David Lamb's "Stolen Season" Sheds Light on Importance of Minor League Baseball

I never get deeply involved in arguments about the Hall of Fame because the voting always comes down to a popularity contest.  Ted Simmons even admitted as much when he spoke publicly on Monday Dec 9 after his somewhat surprising election to baseball's Cooperstown shrine.

 
"I knew everybody on the [14-man veterans] committee and they knew me so I thought

I had a chance," he said on MLB TV.  It is actually more surprising that Simmons got less than 5% when he was first eligible on the regular ballot in the 1990s.  Because his vote total was so low, he was removed from the ballot until some veterans committees gave him extra chances.

 
Certainly Simmons's numbers are impressive:  21 seasons, 13 with Cardinals, 5 with Brewers (where he made his only World Series appearance in 1982), and 3 with Braves.

Lifetime stats:  248 HR, 483 doubles (indicating that he had significant power in the gaps), 1,389 RBI.

 

And for someone at times maligned for his defense, he threw out 34% of runners attempting to steal. On ESPN.com's list of best catchers in MLB history, he is tied for 10th place with Hall of Famer Gary Carter.  And everyone above them is enshrined in Cooperstown except for still-active Buster Posey of the Giants.

 
Ted Simmons will be one of the most original and intelligent members of the Hall of Fame. I had some memorable encounters with him in the 1980s.   


He liked my first book, co-authored with former major leaguer Tony Lupien,  "The Imperfect Diamond: The Story of Baseball's Reserve System and The Men Who Fought To Change It."  I was flattered when I learned that Simmons had told his Brewers teammate Paul Molitor to read it.

 
Simmons is part of my book because in 1972 he almost became Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally three years before impartial arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled they were free agents because they had not signed their contracts in 1975 and thus the reserve or renewal clause was no longer valid.   

 
Simmons did sign a rare two-year contract in the middle of the 1972 season, becoming probably the first player in MLB history to start a season without signing a contract. 

The dispute was about money, not a principle, Simmons refreshingly told future Hall of Fame sportswriter Bob Broeg in an incisive June 1973 "Baseball Digest" article.


The piece was called "Losing Drives Me Crazy" and Ted declared, "Everyone strives to win, but it's 10,000 times easier to lose."  He also cited the wisdom of one of the great Cardinal minor league instructors George Kissell: "When things go wrong, check your own closet first."

 
Congrats again to Ted Simmons, the onetime University of Michigan speech major who never played for the Wolverines because he started his MLB career as a teenager. Not surprisingly, Simmons said that he is honored to go into Cooperstown with players union leader Marvin Miller who he served vigorously and effectively as a player rep.

 
A CLOSING NOTE ON THE MLB-MILB IMPASSE

As of this post goes up at the winter solstice of Dec. 21, the dispute continues between MLB and the officials of Minor League Baseball.  The majors are proposing the elimination of 42 minor league teams including some entire rookie leagues.

 

If the snafu is not straightened out, there will likely be law suits from some of the municipalities who have invested millions in improved facilities. As J. J. Cooper suggested in the Dec. 14 "Baseball America" post on line, MLB's master plan may well be that by the 2021 season, a whole new landscape will be in place with MLB controlling the teams in almost every lower league. 

 
Compromise has never been MLB's strong suit, but as someone who loves baseball on the lower levels, I sure hope some reconcilation happens early in the new year. For a body that endlessly intones the phrase "growing the game," cutting forty-plus teams seems very odd.

 

Coincidentally, I recently re-read a wonderful 1991 book, David Lamb, "STOLEN SEASON: A Journey Through America and Baseball's Minor Leagues." It is a lovely paean to the importance of a special American institution.  The book may be technically out of print, but I think an internet search can find a copy or I sure hope public libraries have it.


The late David Lamb was a foreign correspondent for the "LA Times" who needed a break from covering the wars in the Middle East.  The opening sentence of the book drew me in immediately:  "This baseball journey was born in the rubble of Beirut while some maniacs were blowing away my hotel with tanks, chunk by chunk."

 
So at the age of 49 Lamb decided to re-connect with his baseball-loving youth when he was such an ardent Boston and Milwaukee Braves fan that he wrote for their fan publications.  The Wisconsin team liked his work so much that he was invited to spend a week covering the team as a fully-credentialed teenager. 

 
Lamb's wife endorsed his mid-life crisis trip as long as he didn't come home chewing tobacco.  Hilarious and prescient insights like this one fill the book. He captures the joy of seeing baseball in small towns and meeting the local characters that make the game so unique.

 
Names of future major leaguers dot the pages of the book such as infielder Ron Washington who wound up managing the Texas Rangers to a World Series and told Lamb that every AB is an opportunity. We discover that the double play combination in Stockton California was Charlie Montoyo (now Blue Jays manager) and Pat Listach, who made The Show with the Brewers.

 
Lamb's visits to the Milwaukee heroes of his youth are revealing - among them: frank Eddie Mathews, thoughtful Warren Spahn, analytical Del Crandall, utility man Chuck Tanner who found far greater success as a MLB manager, and Bob "Hurricane" Hazle, the unheralded minor leaguer who rallied the Braves to their 1957 pennant but only received a 2/3 World Series-winners' share.  Now just "a backwoods whiskey salesman," he's more philosophical than embittered about life. 

 

I wish the prestigious Random House publisher had included an index and that Bill Bruton's and minor league flame-thrower Steve Dalkowski's name had been spelled correctly. But STOLEN SEASON is a most worthy read.  

 
Keep the faith, dear readers, in both baseball and the USA though both are certainly going through difficult times these days.  And always remember:  Take it easy but take it.

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