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

. . .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 of Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman. Tampa Bay’s entire organization has been built on Rickey principles. The players are young, versatile, and athletic; they play the game hard and smart; and they have what the Orioles’ feisty skipper Earl Weaver in my team’s glory days used to call “deep depth.”

I mentioned yesterday Gabe Gross’s throw that almost nabbed Johnny Damon at second on what seemed like a sure double. Last night switch-hitting Ben Zobrist, an absolute steal as a minor leaguer from the Astros in the Aubrey Huff trade three few years ago, played right field and he hit one of the home runs, singled and stole a base. (Gerry Hunsicker, the former Houston Astros general manager now the Tampa Bay Rays senior vice-president of operations, really picked his former team’s pocket on that one!) Zobrist may not have reacted quickly enough on Johnny Damon’s two-run double - one of his four hits - but otherwise played a solid game.

What would Branch Rickey have thought of all the home runs flying out of the Stadium last night? And the inevitable question: the Manny Ramirez steroid suspension? As for the home run barrage, he understood that fans liked the long ball and there would be no turning back from the craze for power.Yet he wouldn’t have liked the short porches in the new ballparks. He called for longer foul lines in his remarkable article, “World Series 2000 A.D.,” published in the Oct. 7, 1950 Colliers magazine just before Walter O’Malley forced him out of Brooklyn. Rickey also made the case for giving back to pitchers some of the advantages they enjoyed in the pre-Babe Ruth era. “I long have believed that it would be judicious to lift the ban on trick deliveries, such as the spitball,” he boldly declared. “A pitcher who had more faith in his delivery, and more variety to it, would have more faith in his control.” Religious faith in the physical context of a ballpark, that was the essence of Branch Rickey.

As for the steroid scandal, there is no doubt that he would be distressed at the widespread use of performance-enhancing substances. I can just hear him asking, “Where are the inner braces?” He died in 1965 just before the revitalization of the modern Players Association under Marvin Miller, but I don’t think he would have been surprised at what has happened given the huge salaries of the players, their great celebrity, and their sense of invincibility. I think he would have applauded what gracious and humble Greg Maddux said last weekend as his number 31 was retired by the Cubs: “I never thought a guy got a hit off me because he was on steroids. It was because I made a bad pitch.” Yet I know Rickey would want to rid baseball of any unfair advantages on the playing field. Undoubtedly he would criticize the abusing players and the agents and the union they hide behind. And yet having been burned by the press many times in his career (in part because he talked too much) he would be wary of rush to judgment through journalistic sensationalism. Baseball could certainly use his analytical mind and compassionate heart today. Yet he would feel and I certainly feel that baseball can survive these latest revelations. It is too great a game and way of life.


Enjoy your weekend of baseball at any level. And see you next week. You can find out more about me at my brand new website: www.leelowenfish.com

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