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Memories of John Paul Stevens, Jurist and Cubs Fan

I never met the late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who died July 16 at the age of 99.  But he was kind enough to respond to a letter I wrote in the late stages of my research for my Branch Rickey biography. 

 

Stevens had been a law clerk for Wiley Rutledge, Jr., the last Supreme Court Justice appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Since Rutledge and Branch Rickey had both been members of the Public Question Club, a discussion group of St. Louis leaders in the inter-world war years, I had wondered whether the name of Rickey had ever come up in chats with the Justice.

 
Stevens wrote me that Rutledge had never mentioned Rickey. But Stevens had met the baseball executive in 1951 when Stevens served as the minority Republican counsel to the House Judiciary sub-committee. Chaired by Brooklyn Democratic Congressman Emanuel Celler, the legislators were investigating possible anti-trust violations in the baseball business. 

 
Stevens shared his remembrance of an informal conversation before Rickey's testimony.  "The key to a successful baseball team is to 'keep 'em hungry'," Stevens recalled Rickey saying.  The executive truly believed players "will have the maximum incentive to strive for excellence on the field in order to justify a better paycheck for next season." (Quoted with Justice Stevens' permission in PB edition of my BRANCH RICKEY: BASEBALL'S FEROCIOUS GENTLEMAN, p. vi.) Stevens was not endorsing that position but just remembering Rickey's firm viewpoint. 

 

The plaudits for Stevens are pouring in, deservedly so. He became over time a voice on the high court for old-fashioned liberalism and minority rights.

 
He came from a wealthy Chicago-area family that owned among other properties the downtown Stevens Hotel.  It was at that hotel in late August 1945 where Branch Rickey's trusted scout Clyde Sukeforth slipped the elevator man some cash enabling Jackie Robinson to come up to his room via the front elevator not the service elevator.

 

It was the beginning of the saga that shortly led Robinson to Brooklyn and his historic first meeting with Branch Rickey.  (see my book, pp. 371-372).

 
Stevens was an unabashed Chicago Cubs fan who I'm glad to say lived to see them finally win a World Series in 2016 after a 108-year drought.  In the July 19 Washington Post. George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley wrote a lovely reminiscence of Stevens' as both jurist and Cubs fan. 

 

As a young teenager Stevens attended the famous Babe Ruth "called home run" game at Wrigley Field during the 1932 World Series. Stevens strongly dismissed the legend that the Babe called the home run against pitcher Charlie Root.  He was just pointing out to the pitcher, Stevens insisted, there was one more strike in his at-bat. 

 

The 2019 Cubs are in the hunt for the playoffs again this season. But like the entire NL Central division, they have been inconsistent.  They needed a rare 8-1 force out at second base to help them secure a one-run victory over the Padres this past Saturday July 20.

 
On a swirling windy day at Wrigley, erratic second baseman Addison Russell gave up on a pop fly to short center. Shortstop Javier Baez also tried for the ball leaving second base uncovered.  But relief pitcher Brandon Kintzler alertly covered second base to register the putout on a throw from center fielder Albert Almora.

 
Once again, if you are watching the game carefully (and not obsessed over incessant new statistics), you see something new in every baseball game. I don't think I ever saw an 8-1 putout at second base (and 8-1 putouts at first base are pretty rare, too.)    

 
That's all for this installment.  Congrats to the recent inductees into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I didn't watch all the ceremonies but was taken by the warm gratitude expressed by Edgar Martinez and Lee Smith for those who helped them on their way to immortality.  

 

I for one, however,  welcome an end to the 24/7 coverage of Mariano Rivera's unanimous induction.  I salute his honor but I think baseball in the future would be better if closers worked more than one inning. Like Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, and Bruce Sutter.  A subject for further discussion. 

 
For now, Always remember:  Take it easy but take it! 

 

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More Musings on the Woerioles During The Dog Days of Summer

It now seems a foregone conclusion that the Orioles will wind up with the worst record in their modern history. After being swept at home in four games by the sizzling Red Sox this past weekend of Aug. 10-12, they sit, or more accurately, slump at 35-84.

Their worst record in Baltimore was the 1988 team that lost its first 21 games and finished 54-107. With 43 games left in the regular season, the Orioles have to play nearly .500 baseball to avoid that ignominy. It's not likely but I still watch most of the games on TV.

(By the way, I am fortunate to afford MLB's Extra Innings package of virtually all of the major league games. In Baltimore, though, if you cannot afford cable TV there is now NO free home TV of the Orioles any more. It is another blot on the mismanagement of the franchise.)

Still, I like to think it is more than masochism that keeps me involved. Not always but sometimes the turnaround of a team is prefigured by the last weeks of a bad season.

It is true that individual stats in September (and sometimes April) can be misleading but the formation of a team concept can happen late in a bad year. Mookie Wilson, one of the ignitors of the 1984-1986 Mets, has said that the team turned around when Frank Howard managed them late in 1983 before Davey Johnson took over in 1984.

A possible core player of the Orioles future Cedric Mullins arrived in Baltimore for the Red Sox series. The mid-round draft choice from Campbell University in North Carolina went 3 for 4 with two doubles in his first game and acquitted himself well in all four games both at the plate and in the field.

Incumbent center fielder Adam Jones for the time being is the right fielder and he has said all the right things about Mullins bringing youth and fresher legs to the team. There is no doubting Jones' genuine charitable interest in his adopted home of Baltimore. He even paid for the transportation of the nearby Washington DC African-American Little League team to its regional championship games.

I just hope he plays right field better than in his first game yesterday (Sunday August 12). He committed an error failing to pick up a ball in the corner on his first attempt.
It led to an unearned run in an eventual 4-1 loss.

Later he took a bad route on Oriole nemesis Mookie Betts' drive to right, turning a single into a double and allowing fleet Jackie Bradley Jr. to score from first with a key 9th inning insurance run. (Everyone this year on the Red Sox is a nemesis of the Orioles but at least they are not the Yankees!)

I do want to close with another ray of hope in this dark season in Baltimore - the re-emergence of left fielder-first baseman Trey Mancini as a feared hitter. After a horrible first half of season, he is beginning to hit the ball and drive in runs.

He cares so much that I know he was disappointed that he only produced one run in his two bases-loaded at-bats yesterday. But he worked the count in both ABs and there are signs that his prolonged slump may be over.

Here's another nice story to end with. David Bote (pronounced like Jerry Grote) is a journeyman Cubs infielder who hit the pinch-hit walk-off grand slam to give the Cubs a 4-3 victory over the Nats on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball this past Sunday Aug. 12.

Six years ago, Bote was on a religious mission in Africa when he heard he had been drafted in the 18th round. He didn't rise immediately in the Cubs' farm system but slowly he did get better. He has become a useful fill-in when stars like Javier Baez and now Kris Bryant are injured. He was ready when his name was called on Sunday night.

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