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White Sox and Giants Not Ready For Prime Time and Other Pre-Memorial Day Musings

Memorial Day this year comes on May 31. It's fine with me because the original Decoration Day was May 30 - to honor African-American dead in the Civil War - and by end of 19th century all Civil War dead.  Memorial Day didn't become a national holiday until 1971. 

 

How well I remember MLB's practice of doubleheaders on every May 30, July 4, and Labor Day.  Twin-bills are now ancient relics or at most seven-inning games under the new pandemic rules. 

 

The end of May remains a good first guidepost on how baseball's pennant races are developing.  The White Sox came into Yankee Stadium riding high in a weak AL Central division and got swept by the revived Yankees.

 

The first and last games were tight pitchers' battles but the Yankees prevailed, not even needing to go to the bastardized extra-inning format starting with the unearned runner on second base.  

 

This is an innovation I will never get used to.  Ditto the allowing of a baserunner to use an oven mitt to enhance his sliding into bases.  

 

The Yankees have been getting extraordinary starting pitching, solid defense, and just enough offense. As the last week in May begins, the Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, and Red Sox all have only 19 losses, the Yanks with one less win. 

 

At this juncture, they don't seem to miss Masahiro Tanaka who has returned to his former team the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Japanese Pacific League.  

 

Thanks to info provided me by our Japanese correspondent Jun Ogawa, Tanaka is 2-3 in 6 starts with a 2.84 ERA.

He has an outstanding 5:31 walk:strikeout ratio, and has given up 4 HR and 32 H in 38 IN.  HIs team is only a 1/2 game behind the first place Nankai Hawks. 

 

The Yankees decision to gamble on the return to form of Corey Kluber, former Cy Young award-winner with Cleveland, is paying off.   He threw a no-hitter at Texas, one of seven so far in 2021.  

 

That's too many this early and a sad commentary on batters' inability to adjust to good pitching. If there is a blessing in disguise in all the no-hitters, it is that pitchers are at least going nine innings.  

 

I often think that pitchers today have been brainwashed into thinking that they can't go through a lineup three or God forbid four times. It becomes an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

The Orioles' only reliable pitcher, John Means, said after his no-hitter that just getting into the eighth inning for the first time in his career was a big thrill.  Means' inability to hold on to a five-run lead against the streaking Rays - 10 in a row as I post - started the O's latest descent into oblivion, 6 losses in a row as I post. 

 

In the National League West, the surprising Giants were riding high until the Dodgers came to town. Three losses later, the Giants find themselves in third behind both Padres and LA.

 

The only possible bright spot for SF is that they have an immediate rematch with the Dodgers in LA starting on

Thursday.  The White Sox don't meet the Yankees again until Th August 12 when they play the Field of Dreams game in Dyersville, Iowa.  After a day off they finish the weekend in Chicago.

 

I still maintain that baseball and any sports and art event must be experienced in person.  Two weeks ago,  

I paid my first visit to CitiField since the 2019 season. 

 

I saw a fine pitcher's battle for six innings between the Mets' Marcus Stroman and John "No-Hit" Means.  

It was the game where Albert Almora of the Mets almost made a great catch at the left center field wall but a collision with the fence knocked the ball free.   

 

Almora is still on the IL as are unfortunately virtually half of the Mets.  They remain in first place in the mediocre NL East but have played fewer games than any of their rivals.  The division is still wide open for every team.

 

Outfielder Kevin Pillar was the unacknowledged hero of that Met game.  With the Mets trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Pillar led off with a screaming first-pitch liner close to the left field foul pole. 

 

It was called a home run by the third base umpire and he circled the bases only to find out that after an umpires' conference it was called foul.  I don't think I have ever seen a player trot the bases on a phantom home run.

 

Pillar showed me a lot by digging in for the rest of the at-bat against soft-tossing Oriole closer Cesar Valdez. He singled to start the eventual two-run game-winning rally. 

 

A few days later, Pillar was hit in the face by a fastball by young Braves reliever Jacob Webb.  He suffered multiple nasal fractures and won't be back for a while.

 

If anyone can beat the doctor's estimates, it wil be Pillar.  He was more than gracious to pitcher Webb who was

visibly distraught at his misplaced pitch.

 

I also saw the Liberty home opener at the Barclay's Center.  After going 2-20 last season, the Liberty are off to 4-1 start in 2021.  The return of the justly heralded Sabrina Ionescu has been a big factor. The entire roster remake is also paying off in the early going.   

 

ONE WORD TO THE WISE:  Make sure you carry proof of vaccination with you on the card and/or your cell phone. 

 

Here are two tips for Memorial Day weekend viewing on TCM:

Sat May 29 12M/repeated Su 10A:  "Act of Violence" 1949 with Robert Ryan out to avenge a POW betrayal by

Van Heflin; and Mon May 31 3:15p  "The Steel Helmet" 1951  Sam Fuller's searing view of early Korean War

 

Always remember:  Stay positive, test negative & take it easy but take it!

 

 

  

 

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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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