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"You Can't Take The Wiffle Ball Out Of The Game" and Other Tips for Surviving This Season From A Beleaguered Orioles Fan

Tip #1  Always keep the TV clicker nearby. If Orioles fall behind early - as too often they do with that woeful pitching staff - there are other games to watch. And movies on TCM and loads of good reading. 

 
Here's one book recommendation:  David Maraniss, A GOOD AMERICAN FAMILY: THE RED SCARE AND MY FATHER (Simon and Schuster, 2019)  Maraniss is the biographer of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Vince Lombardi as well as the author of THEY MARCHED INTO SUNLIGHT, the story of one month, October 1967, in the war in Vietnam and the anti-war demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin. 

 

His new book in understated effective prose tells the story of his father Elliott Maraniss's travails at the hands of the House UnAmerican Activities Commiteee (HUAC) after World War II.  Anyone who grew up in Brooklyn in the 1930s and is a University of Michigan Wolverine will want to read this book.

 

Maybe there is not enough about the happier, latter years of Elliott's career as an editor of Madison's insurgent newspaper the "Capital Times".  Or more detail on his love of sports, a man who ghost-wrote columns for Olympic sprinter Eddie Tolan (father of future major leaguer Bobby Tolan who incidentally almost tested the reserve clause before Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith did - see my book THE IMPERFECT DIAMOND). 

 

Or more on a baseball-loving father who took his young sons to the airport in Cleveland to welcome home the Indians after they won the 1954 American League pennant.  Yet I say that this recounting of how a "premature anti-fascist" and World War II army captain became victimized by Cold War hysteria offers absorbing and essential reading. 

 
Tip #2 - Take pleasure in little glimmers of hope your beleaguered team now and then provide.  Like the Saturday night August 17th debut of Hunter Harvey, a former Baltimore #1 draft pick who has been marred by injuries in the first years of his minor league career. 

Harvey threw a scoreless 8th inning with two strikeouts in a 4-0 loss to the Bosox.

 
Here's to a healthy and long career for the son of former Angels closer Bryan Harvey who drove through the night from North Carolina with Hunter's girl friend to be there for his son's MLB debut.

 
Tip #3: Enjoy the variety of stories that make every season interesting and different. 

For example, a long ESPN.com piece by Tim Kurkjian to commemorate the August 12, 1994 strike that led to cancellation of the World Series elicited some interesting comments from two first basemen who lived through it:   

 
Minnesota's Kent Hrbek was to retire at end of that season.  When the August 12 strike dragged on to the sad cancellation a month later by commissioner Bud Selig, Hrbek took the cup from his athletic supporter and nailed it to a wall in his house where it still stands.

(Speaking of Selig, his memoir FOR THE GOOD OF THE GAME is worth reading for the viewpoint of a small market owner who rose to be commissioner. More in the next blog.) 


Atlanta's Fred McGriff made this interesting observation to Kurkijian: the abuses of PEDs were caused by allowing players to bring their personal trainers into clubhouses.

 
For those of you who save your Sports Illustrateds, the double issue in late July/early August with Serena Williams on the cover contained some memorable baseball stories.  Emma Baccellieri's "Stuck in the Mud" about the Delaware River mud still used by umpires to rub the gloss off new baseballs is a keeper.

 
So is her piece "The Atlantic League" about the independent league that with the full backing of MLB is trying innovations to speed up the game and heighten offense. Last week I saw the Long Island Ducks rout the York Revolution at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip.

 
The cozy ballpark that seats over 7,000 does not show its nearly 18-year old age. (Although they need more screens to protect fans from foul balls.)  There were a few early glitches in the TrackMan electronic umpire giving info to the plate umpire.  (Don't dare call it a robot.)

 
My big problem with the technology is that there is no adjustment to the strike zone during an at-bat.  If you watch good hitters, they don't always take the same position at the plate even within an AB. 

 
Once again, common sense should dictate the encouragement of better umpiring not falling prey to blind belief in the Great God Technology.  If you see replays over and over again, I remain impressed at how good most of the umpires are at calling balls and strikes. Please let's remember the old age, "It's better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong."

 
Tom Verducci deserves a kudo for his story in the same SI double issue, "The Last of the .400 Hitters".  They were two minor leaguers, Aaron Pointer who did have a cup of coffee with the expansion Houston Colt 45's and is the brother of the famed rhythm and blues Pointer Sisters, and Darryl Brinkley who never was drafted or made The Show.

 
Yet New Yorker Darryl Brinkley who starred at Sacred Heart U. in Fairfield CT in the late 1980s persevered to become a productive minor leaguer and Caribbean League Hall of Famer.  Only the failure to obtain transportation in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 kept him from making the Orioles in Sept. 2011.

 
Let me close with some great words from coach Mike Roberts who earlier this month won the Cape Cod Baseball League championship for the third time in his storied career.   In the glow of the victory of his Cotuit Kettleers over the Wareham Gatemen, Roberts, the former North Carolina and South Carolina head coach and father of former Orioles All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts, told capecodbaseball.com: 

 

"You've got to love the backyard first and that's where it happens. . . . You can't the take the wiffle ball out of the game."   

 
That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it! 

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Still Aglow from My Third Chautauqua Experience

It's a wonderful feeling in life when one's expectations are exceeded.  Such was my experience last week when I taught for the third time a Baseball and American Culture class in the Special Studies department of the Chautauqua Institution.

 

Chautauqua is an adult education and vibrant cultural mecca in the southwestern corner of New York State near the Pennsylvania border. It was founded shortly after the Civil War as a retreat for Methodist Sunday school teachers. (Am amazed that Branch Rickey evidently never came to Chautauqua though he was probably so busy with baseball and his Delta Tau Delta fraternal activities to come there.) 

 
There's nothing like teaching and talking about what you love in front of students who appreciate your interests and genuinely want to learn more.  I've long believed that a teacher always learns as much from students as they learn from him or her.

 

I felt good about talking about the rich if complicated history of baseball - from the late 19th century labor battles between John Montgomery Ward and Albert Spalding to the rise of the great management leaders Ban Johnson and his replacement as lord high commissioner Landis. And the pioneers Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson and the later labor wars surrounding Marvin Miller and Bowie Kuhn and Bud Selig.

 

But the happiest moments for me in teaching are always the unique responses of the students.  Here are some examples:

 

**During the opening session everyone introduces themselves. One woman from western Michigan described how she fell in love with Sandy Koufax when he was a bonus baby starting out with the Brooklyn Dodgers. There was something about seeing him struggle on TV that made her a lifelong fan.

 
As an adult she made pilgrimages to LA to follow him live.  She framed a photo of him and his onetime Brooklyn teammate Sal Maglie and placed it on her bedroom wall. Her husband wasn't too impressed - soon he was an ex-husband. (I don't do justice to her timing in telling this story.)

 

**Another priceless moment was a student writing down from my typed notes the words on an Irish towel that one of my first undergraduate students gave me as a present over a half-century ago: 

 

"Baseball (as explained to a foreign visitor).

YOU HAVE TWO SIDES ONE OUT IN THE FIELD AND ONE IN.

 

EACH MAN THAT'S ON THE SIDE THAT'S IN GOES OUT AND WHEN HE' OUT HE COMES IN AND THE NEXT MAN GOES IN UNTIL HE'S OUT.

 

WHEN THREE MEN ARE OUT THE SIDE THAT'S OUT COMES IN AND THE SIDE THAT'S BEEN IN GOES OUT OAND TRIES TO GET THOSE COMING IN OUT.

 

SOMETIMES YOU GOT MEN STILL IN AND NOT OUT.

 

WHEN BOTH SIDES HAVE BEEN IN AND OUT NINE TIMES INCLUDING THE NOT OUTS

THAT'S THE END OF THE GAME (EMPHASIS ADDED)."

 

**Then there was the moving sight at my last class when 15 students stood up to watch on my little laptop with a weak sound system Buster Keaton's baseball pantomime from "The Cameraman," his last great silent film. Buster had hauled his equipment to Yankee Stadium looking for a story but had read the schedule wrong. NO GAME TODAY appears on the screen.

 
So Buster takes the opportunity to walk to the mound and imitate the pitcher and catcher and umpire and other players on the diamond.  It's a classic clip of just a little over three minutes before a policeman chases him away. 

 
I felt it was particularly appropriate to show some baseball comedy in my class because it was Comedy Week at Chautauqua. It was an event co-sponsored by the newly-established National Comedy Center in nearby Jamestown NY - the hometown of Lucille Ball who, by the way, has recently been honored with a more accurate and artful sculpture. 

 
One of the great highlights of Comedy Week was the Smothers Brothers coming out of retirement to commemorate their law suit against CBS for kicking them off the air nearly 50 years ago. "I'm still pissed" were Tommy's first words to the appreciative audience.

 

Both he and younger brother Dick looked in amazingly good shape for people in their early eighties. They contributed a witty opening skit before discussing their careers with moderator NPR's David Bianculli.  A good selection of skits from their heyday were shown. 

 

It was announced that the Smothers archives will be going to the Jamestown center. The organization already has the papers of George Carlin and Richard Pryor and several other comedians. (By the way, I had to share the classic Carlin skit on "Baseball and Football" with my class.)

 
A panel on Ernie Kovacs, the great comic creator of early TV, was very informative and included trenchant commentary by "The King of Rant" Lewis Black and masterful veteran comic writer Alan Zweibel.  Sirius radio host Ron Bennington and Bianculli also contributed very helpfully to the evening at the Jamestown center. 

 

Also very valuable was a discussion of the legacy of Robin Williams that featured Lew Black again and Williams' longtime manager David Steinberg (not the Canadian-born comedian). During the question period Steinberg confirmed that Jonathan Winters had been a big influence on Williams during their "Mork and Mindy" days.  (Yes, I did share with students a few YouTube selections of Winters' crusty baseball characters.) 

 

I planned my Chautauqua gig this year around two musical performances that didn't disappoint. The first was John Corigliano's 1991 opera "The Ghost of Versailles" with a libretto by William Hoffman. 

 

"Ghosts" is a free-wheeling time-traveling exploration of what would have happened if doomed Marie Antoinette had been saved by "The Marriage of Figaro" creator Beaumarchais.  Happily, the fit-looking 80-year-old Corigliano was on hand to take some deserved bows at the end from the cheering throng at Chautauqua's impressive outdoor Amphitheater.   

 
Last but not least, I saw the Chautauqua Symphony's performance of two pieces that promised to and indeed stirred my Russian-American blood, Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony and Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto. 

 

Both pieces have melodies that are reminscent of pop songs - a "La Vie En Rose" descending melody in the first movement of the Prokofiev - and a haunting six-note melody in the adagio late in the Rachmaninoff that I am still humming as I conclude this blog. (I think Chet Baker may have recorded it at one time but I am not sure about that.)

 
Looks like there will be some great pennant race baseball building in the last weeks of the season.  More on that in the next blog.  For now, always remember:

Take it easy but take it!

 

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