November 4, 2018
"You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops." So wrote the late Bart Giamatti, baseball commissioner and onetime Yale professor and university president, in his classic essay "The Green Fields of the Mind."
How consoling are these words as Daylight Savings Time has ended for most of the country and we are faced with increased darkness until the arrival of the winter solstice around December 21. I watch my share of basketball and football and hockey on TV but it is no substitute for the drama and excitement of baseball.
Of course, we have our baseball memories, near and far, to sustain us. There is no doubt that the Boston Red Sox are worthy World Series winners. They showed it was no fluke that they won the AL East with a team-record 108 victories.
They eliminated the Yankees and defending champion Astros to win the American League pennant, losing only one game in each series. They won a generally well-played often gripping World Series in five games over the Dodgers, a bridesmaid for the second year in a row.
Perhaps the mettle of this year's Bosox squad was best exemplified by its reaction to its only World Series loss, a record-breaking 18-inning seven-hour-plus 3-2 defeat on Max Muncy's home run off Nathan Eovaldi.
Immediately thereafter brilliant rookie manager Alex Cora called a rare team meeting in the clubhouse to congratulate the team's effort. The team applauded Eovaldi's great six-inning effort out of the bullpen when he was listed as the Game 4 starter.
Big run producer J.D. Martinez said it might have been a loss but it was a great experience to compete in such a historic game.
Journeyman outfielder/first baseman Steve Pearce was voted the Series MVP for his batting heroics in the last two games. His solo homer tied Game 4 in 8th inning and his bases-clearing double provided the insurance runs in the 9th.
Pearce's two-run blast in the first inning the next night set the tone for the clincher.
It was a huge blow off losing pitcher Clayton Kershaw because it is hard to overestimate what scoring first means in any game, especially after the Dodgers had lost a four-run late lead in the prior game.
David Price won the final game with seven solid innings. A case could be made for Price to have won a co-MVP award although there were only five voters to assure that there was only one winner.
It was nice to see Price get the post-season monkey off his back because he had failed repeatedly in recent years to come up big in the playoffs. But this year he also won Game 2 with six solid innings and relieved effectively in the extra-inning classic third game.
Vanderbilt University baseball coach Tim Corbin has to be especially proud of his progeny because in addition to developing Price in college, another Commodore rookie Walker Buehler also pitched outstanding ball for the Dodgers.
Before I close, I want to remember Willie McCovey who passed away late last month from multiple ailments at the age of 80. He was one of many players who came up too late to help my first team the New York Giants who left New York for San Francisco after the 1957 season.
Imagine how McCovey and his teammates Felipe Alou and Orlando Cepeda would have fared with the short left and right field fences at the Polo Grounds. Certainly Willie Mays would have broken Babe Ruth's 714 home run record if he hadn't been consigned to the winds of Candlestick Park. At least he experienced five seasons in New York.
McCovey's debut in San Francisco was memorable. I happened to be listening to Les Keiter's recreating of Giant games on WINS radio on July 30, 1959. All Willie did was belt two triples and two singles off another future Hall of Famer Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts.
McCovey may be most remembered for a ball that became an out, the scalding line drive off Yankee pitcher Ralph Terry at Bobby Richardson that ended the seventh game of the 1962 World Series with the tying and winning runs in scoring position.
I prefer he be remembered for the body of his work on his field, including 521 career home runs, tying him with Ted Williams. He was a class guy on and off the field. He was always was accessible to fans and became a revered ambassador for the Giants who wisely named the water area beyond the right field fence at San Francisco's ATT Park "McCovey Cove."
There is a famous 100-year-old deli on the Upper West Side of Manhattan called "Barney Greengrass The Sturgeon King." Though McCovey never ate there, he heard about the sturgeon and had it mail ordered to the West Coast.
There is a picture of Willie in Barney Greengrass's window. I think of Willie "Stretch" McCovey when I stop in at Barney's and always will.
That's all for now. Again remember to express your vote on November 6th if we want our democracy to recover its balance. And never forget: Take it easy but take it!
March 8, 2018
The 25th annual conference of NINE Baseball Magazine was a rousing success in Phoenix last week. I find it hard to believe that it has been ten years since I delivered the keynote address, “Whatever Happened To The Marvelous Importance of the Unimportant?”
I still like the title and the idea - that baseball should be entertaining and fun, not a matter of life and death, not a vehicle for obtaining and showing off great wealth and celebrity. I’m a realist, though. In an increasingly violent and insecure world, baseball and almost all sports remain a high-growth industry.
One of the charms of the NINE conference has been there are no simultaneous panels, everyone can hear each other’s presentations without missing any one paper. Too many highlights to mention them all but here are a few:
**The opening night talk by Felipe Alou, the first Dominican star in major league baseball history. He talked about his new book from U of Nebraska Press, “Alou: A Baseball Journey,” with an introduction by Pedro Martinez. Collaborator/sportswriter Peter Kerasotis has captured well the rags-to-riches story of a man who is known to speak in parables.
**California Whittier College professor Charles S. Adams’s wry look filled with gallows humor at Seattle Mariners’ history and their lack of “an adequate myth”.
**Larry Baldassaro’s probing and good-natured look at Italian-American baseball players since the 1930s.
**Ed Edmonds and Frank Houdek's take on the California state law that actress Olivia deHavilland utilized to get out of her long-term movie studio contract and how it might apply to baseball players, perhaps especially Mike Trout of the Angels.
(Still feisty at 101, DeHavilland - who made her screen debut at age 19 opposite Joe E Brown in "Alibi Ike" (1935) - recently sued to prevent unauthorized use of her personage in a current movie.)
There was no keynote at NINE this year because Jane Leavy begged out for a variety of reasons. It turned out that the closing panel “Baseball and the West” sufficed very nicely as an alternative.
It featured three winners of the SABR Seymour medal for the best book of the given year - latest winner Jerald Podair for “City of Light” about the building of Dodger Stadium, Andy McCue for his monumental bio of Walter O’Malley “Mover and Shaker” and yours truly for my “Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman”.
The fourth member of the panel was Rob Garratt, emeritus professor of Irish-American literature at the University of Puget Sound outside Seattle, whose history of the SF Giants “Home Team” was runner-up to Podair. Rob made the good point that Horace Stoneham doesn’t get enough credit for actually making up his mind to leave NY long before O’Malley did.
If I had grown up in Brooklyn, I doubt I could have had the dispassion to be part of this panel. When Branch Rickey was forced out of Brooklyn by Walter O'Malley after the 1950 season, the road was clear for an ultimate relocation. Banished to Pittsburgh, Rickey said many times until his death in 1965 he never would have moved the team.
I was a New York Giants fan but their players didn’t live in Harlem where the Polo Grounds was located. So the loss of the Jints of Willie Mays and company wasn’t felt as acutely as the departure from Flatbush of the Dodgers, many of whom made their homes in Brooklyn.
I was pleased that the evening was filled with reason and passion on all sides including very informed questions from the audience of around 80 people.
Baseball certainly needed to open up to the west coast by the 1950s. I still feel it was tragic that the cost of progress was the loss to New York of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry.
So I’m glad I was able to recite the lyrics from folk singer/social activist Dan Bern’s 2002 classic, “If The Dodgers Had Stayed In Brooklyn.” It opens:
“If the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn maybe things would be different today/
Maybe John F. Kennedy would have been president til 1968 . . .”
Another verse begins:
"If the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn maybe Watergate would be some obscure hotel/Tienamen [sic] square would be a square & Vietnam a vacation spot that travel agencies would try to sell . . . " (Of course those agencies are selling trips to Vietnam these days but that as they say is another story.)
Before I leave, I must mention that one of the long-time benefits of NINE attendance is “field research” as conference founder Bill Kirwin used to call going to spring training games. The must-see spot in Arizona spring training is the Talking Stick Salt River Fields complex not far from Scottsdale.
We saw the Milwaukee Brewers visit the Colorado Rockies (Colorado shares the complex with the Arizona Diamondbacks). Former Oriole farmhand Zach Davies looked sharp for the Brew Crew in his two innings though he did give up a solo home run. (Don’t get me started on how my team has been foolhardy in trading promising arms with little in return.)
What separates Salt River from other Arizona facilities is the quality of the concessions and the wide open spaces. They even provide free sun screen behind the center field scoreboard. Didn’t need much because it was somewhat chilly during my stay.
At a sparsely attended game at Mesa's HoHoKam field, where the A's now play, Willie Calhoun caught my eye when he roped a home run over the right field fence. He reminds me of a left-handed Toy Cannon, Jimmy Wynn former Astros star. Where the key player in the Yu Darvish trade plays is still a question. That's what spring training is for.
The only bummer of my trip was being unable to see the Arizona State Sun Devils play the opening game of their three-game series against Oklahoma State. The Friday Night Game is the big event in college baseball and ten NINE attendees looked forward to the evening.
However, we ran afoul of the rules at Phoenix Municipal Stadium where ASU now plays off-campus. Some of the bags and purses of a few members of our group were ruled too large. It became a perfect storm of frustration.
**We came by hotel van so no cars were available to store the offending items.
**There were no lockers available.
**We were told that clear bags were possible but we weren't season ticket holders.
Adding insult to injury, we paid for tickets but they were not refunded.
Written complaints have been filed but so far no response has been received.
I hope I have some news in the next blog. The ASU Ten of NINE will not be denied!
That's all for now as the regular season nears. So, as always, remember: Take it easy but take it!