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Thoughts on Memorial Day Weekend

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 a needed change because few players and managers enjoyed the long day at the office at the end of which, most likely, the games were split. So you both lost and won on the same day, an inconclusive feeling. Still, the holiday doubleheaders are a tradition that most of us grew up with and I want to pay it homage.

Memorial Day and service to country meant a lot to Branch Rickey who was a very patriotic man. He loved the United States military academies at West Point and Annapolis and almost was accepted when he applied to both as a young man growing up in an area of southern Ohio that didn’t even have an accredited high school. He wound up going to Ohio Wesleyan where he became an athletic star and later a teacher, coach, athletic director, and at the time of his death, indefatigable fund-raiser for his beloved alma mater.

In August 1918, near the end of World War I, Branch Rickey joined the American Chemical Warfare Service to help finish off the Germans on the battlegrounds in France. His love of speed and athleticism attracted him to the military brass that named him a major in a company that included captains (and future Baseball Hall of Famers) Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson.

Rickey’s enlistment was an act of patriotism that almost cost him his marriage because his leaving left the care of his three little girls and one four-year-old son to his wife, sister-in-law and mother-in-law. Yet when Rickey saw a shopkeeper place a sign on his store in St. Louis, “Gone to War,” he knew that he must do the same. The women in his life came to understand that for their paterfamilias, “War overshadows everything.”

Seven years after his return from war, Memorial Day 1925 would take on a more painful meaning in the life of Branch Rickey. With the Cardinals languishing near the National League basement and hardly any home advance sale for the Memorial Day weekend, St. Louis owner Sam Breadon took a train to Pittsburgh where the Cardinals were playing the Pirates and relieved Rickey of his field managerial duties. Breadon named his blunt earthy superstar second baseman Rogers Hornsby as player-manager. Feeling deeply humiliated, Rickey left the team and went home to St. Louis thinking he would leave baseball. He didn’t like to lose at anything – “never grow accustomed to the emotions of continuous defeat” was his early long-lasting mantra – but ultimately he realized that devoting himself to the farm system and player development on all levels would be his greatest forte.

LOW ‘N’ FISH ‘N’ CHIPS (Assorted Notes and Comments about today’s baseball scene):

Creative minor league promotions are back this season and thanks to a list compiled by Benjamin Hill of mlb.com (reprinted in Howard Bloom’s SportsBusinessNews.com), here are some upcoming beauties.

**Tonight (Fri May 22) Harrisburg, Pa. Senators Flyswatter Giveaway Night – a needed gesture because Metro Bank Park is located on an island where there are plenty of flying pests.

**Sat May 23 Hagerstown Suns Grady Little Hall of Fame statuette giveaway. To honor the manager who won the Carolina League title in 1981 in the franchise’s first year. Nice to see Little get some recognition. He was a good manager for Boston and later the Dodgers but he never became a media darling. In 2003 he was made the scapegoat in Boston when he left Pedro Martinez in too long in the seventh game of the American League Championship Series, the classic won by Yankee third baseman Aaron Boone’s extra-inning home run off Tim Wakefield.

**Sun May 24 Quad City River Bandits Salute to Apples. The visiting Fort Wayne Tin Caps will be the opposition today on the banks of the Mississippi near Davenport, Iowa. The Tin Caps are named after the headgear worn by Johnny Appleseed. Likely contests will be bobbing for apples and seed-spitting for distance. Not known at press time if retiring Supreme Court of the United States justice David Souter will be appearing. He is known famously for eating just an apple for lunch every day, seeds and core and all.

Have a wonderful first weekend of summer! See you all on Tuesday May 25.

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