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Missing "The Crowd at the ballpark" and Other Thoughts on This Strange MLB Season

I ran across last night a 1923 poem by William Carlos Williams, the physician-poet from nearby Paterson, New Jersey.  The title is from the first line. The first three couplets go: 

 

"The crowd at the ballgame

is moved continuously

 
by a spirit of uselessness

which delights them—

 
all the exciting detail 

of the chase"

 
It's nice to have games to watch again on TV, but it's the genuine crowd reaction that I miss the most. I think most of the players, managers, and coaches agree - canned cheering doens't cut it.  

 

I realize that in a time of pandemic, there was no other route to choose but fan-less games.

Still, the cardboard cutouts substituting for fans at most ballparks doesn't do it for me.

 

I also miss the attendance figures at the bottom of every box score.  I would love to miss ballplayers' cheat sheets on positioning and pitch sequences that they are sticking in their caps or pockets.  Can they just play the game on what used to be called muscle memory?! 

 

There have been humorous responses to this strange season. A clever fellow wrote Phil Mushnick of the NY Post yesterday that the cutouts at Dodger Stadium are actually real because they leave the game in the 7th inning. 

 

I also liked the humor of the person that selects the music at the White Sox's Guaranteed Rate Field. On the Sunday night game against the Indians, the Beatles' "Let It Be" came over the loudspeaker as the umps were going to replay to perhaps change a call that aided the home team. 

 

Voila! The music must have worked - Cleveland baserunner Delino DeShields Jr. remained out at second on a close call.  The White Sox have invested heavily in Cuban ballplayers, batting four of them the other day in the first four spots in the batting order.  

 

Only DH/first baseman Jose Abreu is a proven player but hopes are high for Eloy Jimenez, Juan Moncada, and rookie Luis Robert. If they come through with improved pitching, maybe hard-bitten Chisox fans will stop calling the home park Guaranteed Second-Rate Field.

 
As for me, I am happy that the Orioles are surprising people by reaching .500 after 14 games.  Corner infielders Rio Ruiz and Renato Nunez are showing that they learned something playing for last year's horrible Oriole team.  

 

Ditto for second baseman Hanser Alberto and well-traveled Cuban-born shortstop Jose Iglesias.  Their pop and run-production have been fun to watch. 

 
Maybe "experience is your best teacher" is not so old-fashioned an adage even if you can't put an "advanced metric" on it.  Somehow Oriole pitching, with three lefty starters, retreads Wade Leblanc and Tom Milone and last year's breakout winner John Means, has been OK.  

 

So has the bullpen with young veteran Miguel Castro and the castoff Cole Sulser showing the way.  I'm not reserving playoff tickets yet, esp. since there won't be live attendance most likely until next season at the earliest. 

  
How long the MLB baseball season can continue remains in doubt.  I feel for St. Louis players and fans because the Cardinals have only played five games. Positive Covid-19 tests of several players including All-Star catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong (and several non-playing personnel) mean that St. Louis won't play again until this weekend. 

 
There is no way that St. Louis will be able to play a full schedule in this truncated 60-game season. Even with seven-inning doubleheaders to lessen the wear-and-tear on pitchers.  

 
Interestingly, MLB broadcaster Jim Kaat (and winner of 283 MLB games) thinks that all games should be seven innings. He may be talking tongue-in-cheek but he has a valid point. 

 
If the length of games is the huge issue that commissioner Rob Manfred claims it is (and the TV networks too), why not shorten every game to 7 innings?  Most starters including great ones like the Mets' Jacob DeGrom rarely go more than six innings anyway. 

 

If good faith bargaining ever happens in baseball. a frank exchange of views and real leadership would address this issue and many others.  In the meantime, let me end with the last couplets of WC Williams' "The Crowd at the ballgame":

 

"It is summer, it is the solstice

the crowd is

 
cheering, the crowd is laughing

in detail

 
permanently, seriously 

without thought."

 

Here's to "laughing in detail . . . permanently, seriously without thought."

 

And always remember:  Take it easy but take it.

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"Collecting Lottery Tickets" - What Oriole Baseball Has Come To - Plus A Shout-Out to "Toni Stone"

 

I guess the trade this past weekend of the Orioles' most reliable pitcher Andrew Cashner to division rival Red Sox was not surprising. He will be a free agent at the end of the season, and conventional wisdom says that the Orioles couldn't expect much in value for him.

 
Baltimore got two 17-year-old Venezuelans playing in the Dominican summer leagues, outfielder Elio Prado and infielder Noelwarth Romero. Both are undoubtedly years away from making The Show if they ever come close to the majors.   

 

According to Dan Connolly, the diligent Oriole correspondent for "The Athletic" online subscription website, the Orioles are "collecting lottery tickets" as they go through the complete "rebuild" of their largely unproductive organization. 

 
My response to that explanation is:  Who is going to pitch for the rest of this season?

The once-heralded Dylan Bundy went on the injured list after he gave up seven runs in the first inning of his first post-All Star Game start.  His knee was hurting during his warmup, but he didn't tell anybody until after he got shelled. 

 
Rookie southpaw John Means, the Orioles' lone All-Star this season, got rocked by Tampa Bay in his first post-ASG start.  He can't be expected to carry a full load.

 
Couldn't the Orioles have gotten more for Cashner, 32, who is having a career year - 9-3 for a team that has only 28 wins?  I would hate to think that the hasty trade was made because they feared that he - like Bundy - could get injured before the July 31 trade deadline.

 
What pains me about the Cashner trade is that he wanted to stay in Baltimore. He was committed to the rebuild. The Orioles were his fifth major league organization and he was looking for a home, especially now with his wife expecting. 

 

He was a Cubs first round draft pick in 2008, signed out of TCU, the same program that produced former Oriole hurler now with Phllies Jake Arrieta and Cardinals corner infielder Matt Carpenter.  Ultimately Cashner was traded to the Padres in the Anthony Rizzo deal and later spent time with the Marlins and Rangers. 

 
Signed to a two-year contract before the 2018 season, Cashner became a leader of the Orioles, not just the pitchers. I think I'm a pretty good judge watching on TV of who is faking intensity and who isn't.  You could see that the bearded 6' 6" hurler cared about competing and winning. 

 
His passion reminded me a little of Pete Vuckovich, the Brewers right-hander who I vividly remember once competed so hard during a playoff game against the Yankees in the 1981 strike-marred season that he refused to leave the mound despite throwing up, evidently battling some kind of ailment.

 
There was another admirable aspect in Cashner's background.  Understanding his son's passion for baseball, Andrew's father built a diamond in the back yard of the family home in Texas for Andrew to practice on. 

 
Oriole manager Brandon Hyde was effusive in his praise of Cashner, wishing him well in Boston except when he pitched against the Orioles.  I enthusiastically second that sentiment as he makes his debut tonight (Tues July 16) at Fenway against the Blue Jays, another "rebuilding" team.

 
Oriole fans are now fearful that first baseman/right fielder Trey Mancini may be the next to go.  He is currently in the worst slump of his career, but he continues to play hard and welcomes the role of young veteran leader on an unproven team. The converted infielder Mychal Givens will probably be dealt to teams looking for bullpen help.

 
We lived through a wave of trades last year at this time: Manny Machado to the Dodgers (now doing fine with the Padres on his $300 million plus contract); Jonathan Schoop to the Brewers (now a regular contributor on the AL Central first-place Twins); Kevin Gausman and Brad Brach to the Braves (where Gausman has been injured and ineffective and Brach, now with the Cubs, is also struggling).   

 
There are glimmers of hope in improved Oriole minor league play at the Double A Bowie level and the lower minors at Delmarva (Low Class A) and Aberdeen (Short Season). But it will be maddening if the Orioles unload Mancini and Givens and other players and get so little in return as what they received for Cashner. 

 
The new regime can't be thinking that Hawaiian shirt and straw hat fedora giveaways will substitute for a real plan for the future, can they?  Don't want to answer that question!

 
At least, for fans of other teams, there is plenty of excitement and weeks of hope, however illusory, ahead.  By its very nature, baseball always surprises.  

 

For example, nothing was more astonishing than former Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud's three-homer game against the Yankees last night Monday July 15. His third dinger, a 9th inning blast off Aroldis Chapman, led the spunky Tampa Bay Rays to a 5-4 victory. It kept alive the Rays' flickering hopes of catching the Yankees in the AL East divisional race.

 

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT! 
Before I close this latest post, I want to urge you in the New York City area to see "Toni Stone," playing through Sunday August 11 at the Laura Pels Theatre (115 W 46th Street just west of Fifth Avenue). The comfy Pels is one of the theaters that is part of the Roundabout Theater group.

  

Rarely does a solid piece of historical research, Martha Ackmann's "Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone" (Lawrence Hill Books/Chicago Review Press, 2010), get transformed into exciting theatre. Thanks to Lydia R. Diamond's adaptation, "Toni Stone" succeeds in viscerally bringing to life the remarkable story of the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues. 

 
There is a bravura performance by longtime Off-Broadway luminary April Matthis in the title role. She is aided by a supporting cast of eight talented male actors playing a variety of roles. Kudos must also be given to the crisp direction of Pam McKinnon and the brilliant choreography by Camille A. Brown.

 
I was enthralled from the opening of the first act when Toni Stone delivers a monologue in praise of the wonder and drama of baseball. (The writing reminded me of Roger Angell's elegiac essay, "On The Ball," from a 1976 New Yorker magazine, anthologized in "Five Seasons"). 

 
As a black tomboy in segregated America, Toni Stone had a hard time gaining acceptance.  "People weren't ready for me," she told Martha Ackmann when belatedly - she died in 1996 - she was rediscovered in the last years of her life, living for decades as a nurse in the SF Bay area.  "I wasn't classified. I was a menace to society."

 
But what an exciting achieving life she led - good enough to replace Hank Aaron as second baseman on the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952 when he went into the Braves organization. A versatile woman athlete better than the legendary Babe Didrikson.  Good enough to play semi-pro baseball into her 60s in the Bay area. (Many thanks to Minnesota's great baseball historian Stew Thornley for his help in providing some additional details.)

 
It is a credit to Lydia Diamond's script that she has streamlined a lot of the stories in Toni Stone's life. She establishes a good dramatic flow without overburdening us with facts that could overwhelm the non-sports fan. Blessedly, the script rarely gets preachy.

 
My only quibble is in the misleading treatment of Gabby Street, the former major league catcher and World Series-winning manager, who befriended teenaged Toni when she enrolled in 1935 in his St. Paul, Minnesota baseball school.

 
A baseball traditionalist from the Deep South, best known as a member of the Washington Senators who once caught a baseball thrown from the Washington Monument, Street at first wanted nothing to do with Toni's desire for baseball instruction. 

 
She wouldn't accept no for an answer and ultimately Street realized that Toni's passion and talent were genuine.  For her 15th birthday he even gave her a pair of baseball spikes, a gift she always treasured.  So I felt it was a rare cheap shot for Toni in the play to say that Street was a member of the Klan. 


Despite this one jarring note, I still heartily recommend seeing "Toni Stone" at the Laura Pels Theatre through Aug. 11. The play moves to the Arena Theatre in DC in the fall and early next year in San Francisco.

 
That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it! 

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