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Multi-Tasking Then and Now

Before the term multi-tasking was invented, Branch Rickey was a multi-tasker. At the ballpark his instructors marveled at how much he knew about the players’ talents and weaknesses and how he could incorporate their positive skills into a team framework. If the players were willing to apply the solvent of hard work, Rickey supplied devices and gadgets to help them improve - from pitching strings for the hurlers to learn to throw to the corners of the plate to batting tees for the hitters to hone their strokes. At home his friends and family were amazed that he was able to watch one game on television and listen to another one on the radio while taking part in more than one conversation.

I can imagine how much he would enjoyed the MLB Extra Innings television package that can bring you every night more than a dozen major league games from all over the country. Some quick clicking of the remote last night enabled me to see Carlos Beltran literally steal a victory for the Mets. Trailing the Braves 3-2 going into the bottom of the 9th Beltran doubled and stole third by an eyelash and scored the tying run on Luis Castillo’s sacrifice fly. Talk about playing with Rickeyan adventure!
In the 10th Beltran was more pedestrian but equally successful: he “drove in” the winning run by walking with the bases loaded off journeyman reliever Jeff Bennett.

I was also able to catch the Rays-Orioles game that was 7-5 at the end of the third inning after both teams scored five runs in the second inning. Nobody dreamed that 7-5 would be the final score in this budding slugfest yet that is exactly what happened. The Orioles hung on behind strong bullpen work and Tampa’s increasing inability to get the clutch hit.(The Rays are four games under .500 and the defending American League champs will have to hope that the return to home cooking will get them started on a needed roll soon.) Two home runs by Baltimore's budding star center fielder Adam Jones were big blows for the Orioles whose relief pitching was outstanding. Jones’ one gaffe of the evening, dropping a simple fly ball because of his lazy one-handed attempt, proved harmless. Branch Rickey loved adventure and innovation on the baseball field but I doubt he would have liked the penchant today for one-handed catches.

I know though he would have loved Roy Halladay’s complete game victory over the Yankees. Halladay was in total command last night before nearly 44,000 loud Toronto fans that welcomed the surprising first-place Blue Jays back home and booed the former Jay A. J. Burnett who took bigger bucks from the Yankees and pitched well but not well enough in a 5-1 loss. It was the 41st complete game of Halladay’s career, most of the them coming in the past six seasons when he has completed what he started more times than 20 teams – TEAMS! – in major league baseball.

In an age of pitch counts and inning counts and mortal fear of injuring pitchers’ arms, Halladay stands out as a throwback in many ways. Not only does he complete games with low pitch counts but he was willing early in his big league career to voluntarily go down to the lowest rung of the minor leagues to rework his mechanics and scale down his velocity, retooling himself into the sinker-cut fastball pitcher who is a dominant if not the dominant pitcher in the big leagues today. Ironically, many of Toronto’s other starting pitchers and their onetime ace closer B. J. Ryan are currently on the disabled list, but Halladay’s success shows that a pitcher can re-invent himself and soar to the top of his profession. That is a story that Branch Rickey would have loved and all baseball fans can savor. -- Lee Lowenfish, author, BRANCH RICKEY:Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman

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