May 29, 2009

Tags: SCOTUS Justice Holmes, Branch Rickey, SCOTUS-nominee Sotomayor, Curt Flood, Marvin Miller

Stories about Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s saving baseball have been inundating the media since President Obama nominated her on Tuesday to SCOTUS. There is no doubt that her ruling in supporting the National Labor Relations Board's request for an injunction was crucial in April 1995 because replacement players (or scabs if you come from a union family) were ready to take the place of the regular major leaguers as the August 1994 strike spilled over into spring training.

Today May 29th is the anniversary of another big moment in baseball labor history. On this day in 1922 Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled for a unanimous court that baseball was sport and not commerce and therefore was entitled to an exemption from anti-trust laws. (more…)


May 28, 2009

Tags: Baltimore Orioles, Dave Trembley, Nolan Reimold, Branch Rickey, Bob Feller

When I became an Oriole fan in the early 1970s there used to be a billboard advertising Oriole baseball as an exciting drama in 18 acts, at least. On Wednesday afternoon at Camden Yards before a small matinee audience those half-innings turned into 22 acts with the final one being as dramatic as it gets. (more…)

Maybe No June Swoon This Year in Charm City

May 27, 2009

Tags: Baltimore Orioles, Andy MacPhail, Jason Berken, Matt Wieters, David Price, Ben McDonald, Steve Bechler, Branch Rickey, Paul O'Neill, Doug Melvin

Entry of May 27nd
People often ask me: Why am I such an Oriole fan? Well, as one of many New Yorkers who could never root for the Yankees with their fans' outrageous sense of entitlement, the Orioles began to attract my interest when they started to beat the Yankees regularly in the 1960s. (more…)

Thoughts After Memorial Day Weekend

May 26, 2009

Tags: Joaquin Andujar, Cleveland Indians, Babe Ruth, Mickey Cochrane, Willie Mays, Joe Adcock, Fay Vincent, oe Maddon, Tampa Rays, New York Mets, Akinori Iwamura, interleague play, Branch Rickey

I’ve always believed with pitcher Joaquin Andujar that there is only one word you need to understand baseball: “Youneverknow.” I like to think I’ve coined an adage of my own: “No four-run lead is ever safe in baseball until the game is over.” I may have to (more…)

Thoughts on Memorial Day Weekend

May 22, 2009

Tags: holiday doubleheaders, Branch Rickey, minor league promotions, Sam Breadon, Rogers Hornsby

Entry of May 22nd
I still remember the joy of picking up the newspaper as a little boy and seeing the magical notation (2) indicating double-header in the probable pitcher listings. Long gone are the regularly scheduled doubleheaders on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. Perhaps it was (more…)

An Unnoticed Golden Anniversary

May 21, 2009

Tags: Branch Rickey, John Galbreath, Dan Topping, Michael Shapiro, Jeremy Guthrie

Entry of May 21st

50 years ago today, on May 21, 1959 Major League Baseball owners held a rare spring meeting in the privacy of Pittsburgh Pirates owner John Galbreath’s Darby Dan racehorse farm outside of Columbus, Ohio. Baseball usually resisted change – two major leagues with eight teams each had ruled the (more…)

On the Impatience of New York Baseball Fans

May 20, 2009

Tags: Suzyn Waldman, John Sterling, Mets, Yankees, Ed Barrow, Babe Ruth, Dan Levitt

Entry of May 20th

Suzyn Waldman, the Yankees radio color commentator, makes a very good point about the psyche of today’s New York baseball fans. “We play 162 one-game seasons in this town,” she says. The Yankees are hot now, winners of seven games in a row, most of them close games and thrilling come-from-behind wins at home. Yet boos still cascade from the stands whenever a Yankee reliever walks a batter.
I guess the memory is too fresh of the Yankee bullpen implosions early this season but it was just one or two games and not coincidentally, the reliability of the bullpen has improved during the winning streak. Yet there is no placating the demands of the Winnites who are not real fans in my opinion but have the outrageous sense of entitlement that has always made me loathe that kind of Yankee fan.

It is becoming just as bad on the other side of town. Winnites have been coming out in full throat ever since the Mets beat the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series. Logic and humility should remind Mets fans that Red Sox blunders played a big role in that victory (the Rich Gedman passed ball as much as the Bill Buckner error) but of course there is nothing logical when it comes to sports passion and addiction. It is fortunate that the Mets’ recent defensive mishaps that cost them the last three games happened on the road but believe me, the culprits will hear plenty of Bronx cheers when they return to Queens next week. Even the New York Times is making a comparison to today’s Mets and the original blunderers of 1962. What is alarming about the Mets is that it seems they have nobody in their farm system who can play good defensive baseball. We’ll know more after they go into Fenway Park this weekend and face off against the Red Sox and their increasing loud and obnoxious Winnite fans.

As for me, I say that the Bronx cheers should remain in the Bronx where the term originated in the 1920s, probably coined after hearing those first set of Winnite fans who expected Babe Ruth to lead the Yankees to victory every game and every year. It didn’t happen, folks (Ruth won only four World Series rings as a Yankee) and it should not have happened. Especially when you consider that Red Sox owner Harry Frazee presented the Yankees with not only Babe Ruth but also Herb Pennock, Joe Bush, Joe Dugan and others. And Yankee gm Ed Barrow gratefully allowed Frazee, for whom he was field manager in Boston, to use a desk in his office for his theater work. (Learn all this and more in Dan Levitt’s fine Barrow biography from U. of Nebraska Press.)

**Speaking of Suzyn Waldman, as far as I know, she is the only radio broadcaster not to do one inning or even half-inning of play-by-play. She is playing Tonto to the Lone Ranger of John Sterling and for you old-timers I’d rather hear the voice of Clayton Moore any time. Even Yankee fans have told me that Sterling’s home run calls are increasingly buffoonish and worse, not accurate. Oh for the days of the Phil Rizzuto home run call – “It’s gone . . . holy cow, he called it foul!”

**Coming tomorrow – Reflections on the 50th anniversary of Major League Baseball’s commitment to expand in some version. I know I said this yesterday but this time I mean it!

On The Errors of Enthusiasm

May 19, 2009

Tags: Branch Rickey, Brett Gardner, Joe Mauer, Glen Perkins, Yankee Stadium demolition, World Series starting times

Entry of May 19th
On The Errors of Enthusiasm

One of Branch Rickey’s favorite quotations was from Anatole France: “I much prefer the errors of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom.” One of the early definitions of the word enthusiasm in the ancient Greek was “extravagant religious zealotry” and (more…)

Memorable Sunday in the Bronx

May 18, 2009

Tags: New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins, Joe Mauer, Brett Gardner

Entry of May 18th – Never was the adage truer that you see something new in every baseball game than Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium with the Minnesota Twins trying to finally win a game on the road against the Yankees. Minnesota, a contending team with good athletes, a resourceful defense and two great hitters (more…)

Tantalizing Question of If History

May 15, 2009

Tags: Branch Rickey, jackie robinson, Negro Leagues, Kenesaw Mountain Landis

More Tantalizing Questions of “If Baseball History”
Entry of May 15th

Yesterday I raised the intriguing speculative question about what if baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis had lived for at least another year past his death in November 1944 and was faced with the contract that Dodgers president Branch Rickey had signed with Jackie Robinson. (more…)

thoughts on rickey and robinson

May 14, 2009

Tags: branch rickey, jackie robinson, horace stoneham

Entry of May 14, 2009
“Some Thoughts On Rickey and Robinson and The Intriguing Musings Of ‘If’ History”

Last night I passed up TV baseball watching (just as well because Andy Pettitte of the Yankees dominated the Jays for six innings and the Orioles couldn’t hold off the Rays). I opted instead for dinner witha dear friend coming into town from DC for a job interview.

The story of the unique and courageous partnership of executive-owner Branch Rickey and race pioneer-player Jackie Robinson is one that never grows old. My friend Alan did his college thesis on the Robinson story over 30 years ago and we became friends because of it, and there is something new to learn about the saga virtually every day.

I told Alan that last month before speaking to a faculty seminar at Touro Law school on Long Island, I met Richard Robinson, a handyman on the campus who had been a great high school athlete and later a player in the Negro Leagues. Signed by George Sisler, Rickey’s revered scout and the Hall of Fame first baseman whom Rickey had converted from pitcher, R. Robinson was invited to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ 1949 spring training camp in Vero Beach. He was greeted by Jackie Robinson, catcher Roy Campanella who made the Dodgers in 1948, pitcher Don Newcombe who would make it in 1949, and two other Afro-American players who didn’t stick, pitcher Dan Bankhead and infielder-outfielder Jim Pendleton.

Sadly, before Richard Robinson had a chance to show his wares, someone in the Brooklyn organization told him, “We have too many niggers here already.” It certainly wasn’t one of the people closest to Branch Rickey though the executive was facing great pressure not to sign too many players of color. Richard Robinson returned to his home town of Huntington, Long Island and became a pioneer in his own way, the first black police sergeant, but he never had a chance to see how far he might have risen in baseball.

1949 turned out to be the season when Horace Stoneham, owner of the New York Giants, enthusiastically dove into the market for Afro-American players, promoting to the big leagues in July outfielder Monte Irvin and infielder-outfielder Hank Thompson. Coming along in May 1951 would be the incomparable Willie Mays. As an experienced baseball businessman (who too many historians have not treated seriously because he was an alcoholic), Stoneham thought to himself, “Why should the Dodgers corner the market on the good black players?” Stoneham later admitted that he had thought of signing Irvin before World War II. “I said it was too soon. I wish I had been braver.” By 1949 with the success of Robinson and Campanella assured, Stoneham acted and Branch Rickey was happy that he had another partner in the integration movement. It enabled the fierce local Giant-Dodger rivalry to take on an added component, more color if you will.

Unfortunately, Rickey was not around to enjoy first-hand the intra-city battles of the 1950s because he was bought out by Walter O’Malley after the 1950 season. The death in July 1950 of Pfizer Chemical millionaire John L. Smith, the quiet but important third partner in the Brooklyn ownership group, assured O’Malley’s triumph. O’Malley had wooed Mary Louise “Mae” Smith, the chemist’s wife and now widow, and Rickey’s goose was cooked (though he left Brooklyn with a good price for his stake in the team).

I love questions of “If-History” and Alan and I, who are well versed in the actual story, kicked around a few of them at dinner last night. What if John L. Smith lived? Rickey would not likely have been exiled to Pittsburgh. And if Rickey had stayed in Brooklyn, might not Jackie Robinson have stayed on perhaps as manager after he retired? And backtracking a bit what if Jackie Robinson had not succeeded and not made the major leagues? That is the most unlikely speculation of all because Robinson embodied an unconquerable will to win. He never would have allowed himself to “grow accustomed to the emotions of continuous defeat,” to quote one of Rickey’s favorite expressions.

The juiciest of “If History” questions we batted around last night was: What if baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis had not died in November 1944 but lived on and was faced with the contract of Jack Roosevelt Robinson placed on his desk by Wesley Branch Rickey sometime late in 1945? It is one that I will address in an upcoming post.

Multi-Tasking Then and Now

May 13, 2009

Before the term multi-tasking was invented, Branch Rickey was a multi-tasker. At the ballpark his instructors marveled at how much he knew about the players’ talents and weaknesses and how he could incorporate their positive skills into a team framework. If the players were willing to apply the solvent of hard work, Rickey supplied devices and gadgets to help them (more…)

Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball . . .

May 13, 2009

Tags: Yankee Stadium, Branch Rickey, baseball

. . .the rules and realities of the game,” goes one of the most famous quotes in baseball history if not all of American history. Few people though remember the next words in Jacques Barzun’s 1954 book God’s Country and Mine: A Declaration of Love Spiced with a Few Harsh Words: “and do it by (more…)


May 13, 2009

Tags: MArk Teixeria, baseball, Branch Rickey, Alex Rodriguez

My closing comment last week advised that watch how a team plays defense and you’ll get a good sense of what kind of a team it is. During the meltdown of the Yankees’ young inconsistent pitcher Phil Hughes in an eight-run second inning against the Orioles on Saturday night, there was one play (more…)

The home runs were flying out of new Yankee Stadium last night, . . .

May 13, 2009

Tags: baseball, Branch Rickey, Earl Weaver, Joe Madden

. . .the Rays hitting six of them including two in the ninth off the usually reliable Mariano Rivera (reliable, to put it mildly) to sweep the two-game series. I like the way the Rays play the game and I’m not just saying this because their excellent manager Joe Maddon has been an ardent supporter (more…)

I mentioned yesterday that Branch Rickey coined the term "five-tool players"...

May 13, 2009

Tags: baseball, Branch Rickey, Gabe Gross

... for those rare athletes who could run, throw, field, hit and hit with power. Of the five basic attributes he considered speed and arm strength essential to major league success. He and his able and loyal instructors could teach hitting and fielding but speed and arm strength were naturally endowed. Hitting with power was (more…)

Today, May 6th Willie Howard Mays turns 78 years old.

May 13, 2009

Tags: Willie Mayes, baseball, Branch Rickey

For the young folks reading this blog the name may not ring a resounding bell. But those of us old timers who grew up with three teams in New York City remember Mays reverently. You didn't have to root for the Giants to realize that the irrepressible young man from near Birmingham, Alabama was (more…)

People ask me, "How would Branch Rickey perform in today's baseball?"

May 12, 2009

Tags: Branch Rickey, Ty Cobb

I think the salaries would shock him and the ticket prices being charged would cause him to nearly swallow his unlit cigar. The lack of fundamentals in so many players would cause him grief. I can imagine his eyebrows bouncing up and down in astonishment and disgust if he read (as I did in (more…)


May 12, 2009

Tags: Branch Rickey

. . . the name Jackie Robinson likely comes up in response. One of the most famous pictures in American history is that of the proud and handsome Robinson signing a Brooklyn Dodgers contract with the avuncular bushy-browed Branch Rickey beaming alongside. Robinson has become such a rightful icon in American culture that his likeness appeared (more…)

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Story of baseball's reserve system and the men who fought to change it
“Lowenfish’s take is detailed and nuanced.... he doesn’t look for simple answers; despite his own abiding admiration, he never sugarcoats or presents Rickey in anything other than a three-dimensional light.”
–David Ulin, Los Angeles Times