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Three Cheers for Frank Robinson and Mark Shields (corrected version)

A lot of coverage was given last week to MLB's decision to bestow retroactively

major league status to several of the domestic Negro Leagues that existed before and up to 1948. Newly-found box scores unearthed by indefatigble researchers influenced the decision.

 
It is too bad that stats from the last years of the Negro leagues through 1959 were not included. If available, stats from the winter leagues in Latin America would have been very eye-opening, too. 


I do find a problem of mixing in stats from leagues that played 80 or 90 games a season with the 154 game season major league season that existed since 1903.  I have no problem with a statement against segregation.  

 
Here's another idea that I hope is considered by the Baseball Writers Association of America.  Why not name the MVP trophies after Frank Robinson?

 
The name of baseball's first commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was recently removed from its MVP trophies, mainly because of his role in enforcing the color line. Why not name the trophy after Frank Robinson?

 
He is the only player ever to win the MVP in both leagues, the Cincinnati Reds in 1961 and the Baltimore Orioles in 1966.  He was a first ballot Hall of Famer with unquestionable numbers:  21 year career, .294 BA, .537 SA, 2943 H, 586 HR, 1829 R, 1812 RBI.  

 
He also managed contending teams in both leagues and served as a major league executive for several seasons. His Hall of Fame acceptance speech is one of the most moving I've ever read.  

 
He deserves to be immortalized in this trophy.  He passed on in February 2019.  In an earlier post I thought he was one of the far-too-many Hall of Famers who left us in 2020. 

 
Happily, liberal political commentator Mark Shields, 83, is still with us. But he retired last Friday Dec 18 from his long-running Friday night gig opposite David Brooks on the PBS NewsHour.  

 
After a feature filled with praise from his colleagues, Shields said that his father would have been happy with it and his mother "would have liked to believe it." He expressed optimism that President-elect Biden can succeed in bringing the country closer together.

 

In a closing moment, Shields quoted from Dick Tuck, famed in his day as a prankster against Richard Nixon.  When Tuck ran for office himself and lost a close election, he said, "The people have spoken, the bastards." 

 
Unfortunately, President number 45 is refusing to accept defeat.  We'll have to sweat nervously up to noon on Jan. 20.

 
I do hope for the day soon when this #45 will recede into unpleasant memory and we can think of the truly immortal #45's like Pedro Martinez and Tug McGraw. I'm sure I'm missing some 45's so please suggest others.  


Here's to a healthy happy holiday season for all and the return somehow to normality or normalcy at some point in 2021. (Warren Harding coined the word "normalcy" and I usually avoid it. But hey for all his failings he was about as liberal as any President on racial issues and he did release socialist Eugene Debs from prison.)   

 

Normalcy won't return unless people follow simple public health guidelines.  Alas, nothing is simple anymore. 

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

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NINE Magazine Baseball Conference Scores A Ten In Phoenix

The 25th annual conference of NINE Baseball Magazine was a rousing success in Phoenix last week. I find it hard to believe that it has been ten years since I delivered the keynote address, “Whatever Happened To The Marvelous Importance of the Unimportant?”

I still like the title and the idea - that baseball should be entertaining and fun, not a matter of life and death, not a vehicle for obtaining and showing off great wealth and celebrity. I’m a realist, though. In an increasingly violent and insecure world, baseball and almost all sports remain a high-growth industry.

One of the charms of the NINE conference has been there are no simultaneous panels, everyone can hear each other’s presentations without missing any one paper. Too many highlights to mention them all but here are a few:

**The opening night talk by Felipe Alou, the first Dominican star in major league baseball history. He talked about his new book from U of Nebraska Press, “Alou: A Baseball Journey,” with an introduction by Pedro Martinez. Collaborator/sportswriter Peter Kerasotis has captured well the rags-to-riches story of a man who is known to speak in parables.

**California Whittier College professor Charles S. Adams’s wry look filled with gallows humor at Seattle Mariners’ history and their lack of “an adequate myth”.

**Larry Baldassaro’s probing and good-natured look at Italian-American baseball players since the 1930s.

**Ed Edmonds and Frank Houdek's take on the California state law that actress Olivia deHavilland utilized to get out of her long-term movie studio contract and how it might apply to baseball players, perhaps especially Mike Trout of the Angels.
(Still feisty at 101, DeHavilland - who made her screen debut at age 19 opposite Joe E Brown in "Alibi Ike" (1935) - recently sued to prevent unauthorized use of her personage in a current movie.)

There was no keynote at NINE this year because Jane Leavy begged out for a variety of reasons. It turned out that the closing panel “Baseball and the West” sufficed very nicely as an alternative.

It featured three winners of the SABR Seymour medal for the best book of the given year - latest winner Jerald Podair for “City of Light” about the building of Dodger Stadium, Andy McCue for his monumental bio of Walter O’Malley “Mover and Shaker” and yours truly for my “Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman”.

The fourth member of the panel was Rob Garratt, emeritus professor of Irish-American literature at the University of Puget Sound outside Seattle, whose history of the SF Giants “Home Team” was runner-up to Podair. Rob made the good point that Horace Stoneham doesn’t get enough credit for actually making up his mind to leave NY long before O’Malley did.

If I had grown up in Brooklyn, I doubt I could have had the dispassion to be part of this panel. When Branch Rickey was forced out of Brooklyn by Walter O'Malley after the 1950 season, the road was clear for an ultimate relocation. Banished to Pittsburgh, Rickey said many times until his death in 1965 he never would have moved the team.

I was a New York Giants fan but their players didn’t live in Harlem where the Polo Grounds was located. So the loss of the Jints of Willie Mays and company wasn’t felt as acutely as the departure from Flatbush of the Dodgers, many of whom made their homes in Brooklyn.

I was pleased that the evening was filled with reason and passion on all sides including very informed questions from the audience of around 80 people.
Baseball certainly needed to open up to the west coast by the 1950s. I still feel it was tragic that the cost of progress was the loss to New York of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry.

So I’m glad I was able to recite the lyrics from folk singer/social activist Dan Bern’s 2002 classic, “If The Dodgers Had Stayed In Brooklyn.” It opens:
“If the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn maybe things would be different today/
Maybe John F. Kennedy would have been president til 1968 . . .”

Another verse begins:
"If the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn maybe Watergate would be some obscure hotel/Tienamen [sic] square would be a square & Vietnam a vacation spot that travel agencies would try to sell . . . " (Of course those agencies are selling trips to Vietnam these days but that as they say is another story.)

Before I leave, I must mention that one of the long-time benefits of NINE attendance is “field research” as conference founder Bill Kirwin used to call going to spring training games. The must-see spot in Arizona spring training is the Talking Stick Salt River Fields complex not far from Scottsdale.

We saw the Milwaukee Brewers visit the Colorado Rockies (Colorado shares the complex with the Arizona Diamondbacks). Former Oriole farmhand Zach Davies looked sharp for the Brew Crew in his two innings though he did give up a solo home run. (Don’t get me started on how my team has been foolhardy in trading promising arms with little in return.)

What separates Salt River from other Arizona facilities is the quality of the concessions and the wide open spaces. They even provide free sun screen behind the center field scoreboard. Didn’t need much because it was somewhat chilly during my stay.

At a sparsely attended game at Mesa's HoHoKam field, where the A's now play, Willie Calhoun caught my eye when he roped a home run over the right field fence. He reminds me of a left-handed Toy Cannon, Jimmy Wynn former Astros star. Where the key player in the Yu Darvish trade plays is still a question. That's what spring training is for.

The only bummer of my trip was being unable to see the Arizona State Sun Devils play the opening game of their three-game series against Oklahoma State. The Friday Night Game is the big event in college baseball and ten NINE attendees looked forward to the evening.

However, we ran afoul of the rules at Phoenix Municipal Stadium where ASU now plays off-campus. Some of the bags and purses of a few members of our group were ruled too large. It became a perfect storm of frustration.
**We came by hotel van so no cars were available to store the offending items.
**There were no lockers available.
**We were told that clear bags were possible but we weren't season ticket holders.
Adding insult to injury, we paid for tickets but they were not refunded.

Written complaints have been filed but so far no response has been received.
I hope I have some news in the next blog. The ASU Ten of NINE will not be denied!

That's all for now as the regular season nears. So, as always, remember: Take it easy but take it!  Read More 
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