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I returned home from a Sunday afternoon May Day outdoor poetry recital – New York is SUCH a great place to enjoy all the arts as well as the great sport of baseball! – and flipped on my trusty MLB Extra Innings Package. The first three games I tuned into were all tied in the late innings – Red Sox/Mariners, Indians/Tigers, Reds/Marlins. The hymn singers for “competitive balance” in MLB headquarters must have been deliriously happy. The only one-sided game was my Orioles holding a 6-1 lead over the sagging Chisox. The Birds did manage to make it too close thanks to the curse of bases on balls but helped by a really bad strike three call against Armando Rios in the bottom of the 9th they held on to win 6-4.

My boys, trying awfully hard to put the Woerioles of years past well into the rear view mirror, now are at .500 for the first time since April 15th but I suggest that printing World Series tickets should wait. Their starting pitchers have not been going deep into games, dangerously taxing the bullpen, and the free agent acquisitions-sluggers DERREK LEE AND VLADIMIR GUERRERO have not yet paid off in run production. Yet compared to last year’s 2-16 start and near-record-setting futility until BUCK SHOWALTER came riding to the rescue I am not complaining. Believe me, I am not complaining.

Though he hasn’t gone too deep into games and had to leave Sunday’s game with a callus on his pitching hand, rookie southpaw ZACK BRITTON has five of the Orioles’ 13 wins. When second-year southpaw BRIAN MATUSZ rejoins the team in a couple of weeks after recovering from a rib injury, perhaps we have our MIKE FLANAGAN and SCOTT McGREGOR of the 21st century to root for. And crossing fingers that Buck’s coaxing tough love is making future stars out of center fielder ADAM JONES and switch-hitting catcher MATT WIETERS the latter on Friday night crushing the ball right-handed to the tune of 4 clutch RBI for the first time I’ve seen him so effective.

Nothing like dreams of new stars to keep hope alive for the true fan. And congrats to the Cleveland Indians who are surprising the world with baseball’s best record 19-8 that NOBODY expected. The all-CABRERA DP combination (they’re unrelated) of SS ASDRUBAL (must be baseball’s first Asdrubal!) and 2B ORLANDO (the latter wins wherever he goes) has helped + the return of CF GRADY SIZEMORE + the developing great young catcher CARLOS SANTANA (not related to guitar great) + a surprising mound crew all have contributed . . . so far.

Baseball is truly America’s athletic soap opera or as someone put it more elegantly way back in the 19th century, it is our country’s longest running repertory theatre. And new stars appear on the stage every year. Take Tampa Bay’s pepperpot left fielder SAM FULD, acquired from the Cubs in the off-season in the big Matt Garza deal who has taken advantage of MANNY RAMIREZ’s sudden retirement to become the acrobatic left fielder and leadoff hitter for Tampa Bay. What makes the story even more endearing is that the Stanford grad has worked in off-seasons as an advanced baseball statistician yet hates to think of that part of his life when he is playing the game with passion and abandonment. Bravo for that!

And how about the White Sox’s smallish BRENT LILLIBRIDGE a journeyman infielder who last week playing only his second game in right field as a defensive replacement made TWO great catches for the 26-27th outs to secure a White Sox win over the Yankees. But give credit to ROBINSON CANO (please don’t call him Robbie – he was named by his father JOSE CANO a former Astros pitcher after Jackie Robinson and he is proud of that). Robbed by Lillibridge on the last out of Tuesday’s game, Cano made sure no opponent would catch his ball on his first AB in the next game. He belted a three-run HR that proved the difference in a Yankee win. Cano is becoming the most consistent Yankee on both sides of the ball showing astounding range in the field befitting a former shortstop-turned-second baseman.

BILL WHITE’s memoir written with Gordon Dillow, Uppity: My Untold Story About The Games People Play (a hardback from Grand Central Publishing) is a must read. Out of the limelight since his retirement as National League president shortly before the 1994 cataclysmic baseball strike, White writes that he did not love baseball because he knew that “baseball would not love him back.” But there are individuals in the sport he did love, notably PHIL RIZZUTO who he shared a mike with on Yankee broadcasts for nearly 20 years. His 27-page chapter on the “Scooter” is worth the price of the book. But there is much more in UPPITY for the lover of baseball history and even more important, those of us who must understand the history of the struggle for civil rights in America.

White details memorably the racism he endured: from growing up an only child in Warren, Ohio (near Youngstown); his harrowing experiences in the minor leagues and the more subtle but equally demeaning incidents in his life as both major league player and top official. His portraits of George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, Pete Rose and most witheringly former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent make for edifying reading. “White Will Treat You Right!” was the slogan Bill used to win election as a high school class president. I say: His book will treat you right.
That’s all for now. Remember: Take it easy but take it.
[this post originally appeared on the booktrib.com website May 2, 2011]
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