Do the Relatively Right Thing Eventually

Baseball commissioner Manfred Mann and the Cleveland Indians Baseball Club LLC have announced that, at long last, the grotesque, shameful caricature mascot Chief Wahoo is going into retirement. The offensive cartoonish mug will no longer appear on the uniforms of the baseball team. To the best of my memory, the ugly mug had quietly disappeared once before until the Jacobs brothers bought the team in 1986. It would have been somewhat appropriate if the nickname had been changed as well but you can’t have everything, can you? Bill Veeck  is considered the culprit who originally endorsed using Wahoo as a symbol and that’s too bad because it tarnishes the reputation of the man who also broke the color barrier in the American League by signing Larry Doby, one of the all time great ballplayers.

But wait, there’s more! Wahoo is not going away until 2019. As usual, correcting massive mistakes takes time and we must be patient. Plus, there still exists a warehouse or two full of merchandise to sell and now the price can go up. This bold move has inspired other humanitarians to take similar action. For instance, the Stand Up Comedians Guild has announced that, as of November 2020, jokes about fat people will be eliminated and, further, misogynistic references to wives, mothers-in-law, and girl friends will be dropped by Mother’s Day 2021. How proud we will all be when, eventually, some of these embarrassing facets of our ever evolving culture are made a little bit less so. Today, Cleveland can be proud of having one of the best teams in the major leagues with one of the best managers, Terry Francona. Terry’s father, Tito Francona of New Brighton, Pa. was a very good player in the majors for 15 seasons with several teams and had some of his best seasons for Cleveland, notably batting .363 for them in 1959. Tito passed away just a few days ago.

The commissioner also continued MLB’s farcical feigned interest in the Oakland Athletics and their claim to wish to provide a better yard for the team to play in, again, eventually. Bay area sports writers assigned to cover the A’s are going along with the pretense that they are building a young core of players that will be able to contend when they finally replace the once adequate ballpark that was ruined several years ago to appease the Davis family that owns the Oakland Raiders before Al Davis’ son decided to screw everyone by moving to Las Vegas. Both the Raiders and the A’s have very loyal followers who are, it must be assumed, taken for granted by the greedy owners. Now the basketball Warriors, insufferably lousy for such a long time, have become perhaps the most solid franchise in the NBA, so they are also abandoning Oakland to move back across the bay to San Francisco. So long, Oakland, it’s been good to loot you.

 

THE SHORTSTOP

My friend Franklin is quite unusual. Basset hounds are different from most other dogs anyway, but Frankie is different from most , if not all, basset hounds. He likes ball. In fact, if you say the word “ball” his entire demeanor changes. He suddenly goes on red alert with his eyes open wide and his tail  upright and arcing. Yes, there are thousands of golden retrievers that behave this way, we all have seen it, but bassets? Every other basset hound I have ever known, and they are more than a few, would respond to a thrown tennis ball with half closed eyes and an expression that said, at best, “..you’re kidding, right?”

We had nothing to do with his obsession.  We adopted him several years ago and it came with him. Perhaps he had been sent to some suburban re-education camp and somehow been brainwashed or reprogrammed. Anyway, he’s good. He can handle the short hops. Our son has a dog that is incredibly athletic and also loves ball. That dog runs and leaps and has tremendous speed and reflexes, so he makes me think of Willie Mays at his best. Frankie makes one think more of Cal Ripken Jr. when he was getting ready to play third base instead of shortstop. He reads the ball off the chucker very well, has limited but sure range, and gives it all he’s got. It’s difficult for Frankie when my son’s dog joins us because his Edgar Martinez type speed is no match so it helps to send two balls in completely different directions. Otherwise, even though he’s a very good sport, Frankie loses interest when most of the balls are getting grabbed by the competition, sort of like playing right field when Sandy Koufax pitched.

I don’t think that it is necessarily fatigue, but after a few minutes of hard chasing, Frankie starts a friendly game of keep away. This is when it is just him playing,with no other dog competition. This is not entirely bad, because not only do I utilize the chucker rather than pretend to be Nolan Ryan or Roberto Clemente like the old days, but also the lungs ain’t what they used to be so I have a chance to catch my breath. He will put both balls in his mouth and pretend that they have become chew toys. If I walk up to him and act like I want them he will saunter off with both balls between his teeth like the captured rabbit they should really be and have a time out. Then, when we both are breathing freely again, he will suddenly drop them and sound off loudly. That lets me know that the game can resume.

It’s not like going out to the ball field with my young friend and playing for hours. Still, at this stage of the game, it is plenty good enough.

This, That, and the Other Thing

Maybe it’s always been fake news but we just didn’t know it. I’m more inclined toward the George Orwell way of looking at it than the President Tweety, self serving method, but perhaps all of the people in charge of everything just aren’t very good at their jobs. Now, on the whole I am very grateful for the existence of MLB.com, which keeps us informed up to the minute with all things going on in the world of baseball that the commissioner’s office endorses. I found the site to be very useful in its early days as majorleaguebaseball.com because I could be at work doing my shipping and receiving gig and keep track of all the current games at the same time. However, over the years it has sort of degenerated into a big commercial venture that is constantly selling caps, shirts, tickets, and, well, bullshit.

 

For instance:a few days ago, they ran a feature about all of the big league players who hit the very first pitch they ever saw in the majors for a home run. This was especially interesting to me because I was pretty sure I knew one of them. Indeed I did and there was his name–Chuck Tanner! On April 12, 1955, Tanner, who is now more famous as the manager of the World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates of 1979, indeed hit the first pitch he saw for a homer. It was Opening Day in Milwaukee. Tanner was pinch hitting for Warren Spahn and he smacked it off Gerry Staley of the Cardinals and Milwaukee went on to win, 4-2. But wait. According to our MLB.con, I mean com, He was pinch hitting for the Milwaukee Brewers. Wrong! It was, of course, the Milwaukee, formerly Boston and before long Atlanta Braves that Tanner played for that day. Come on you guys! I’m not going to purchase a jersey with Gus Zernial‘s name on the back until you start getting things right!

Speaking of crocks of manure, this “pace of play” concocted controversy doesn’t smell very good. The commissioner says that he is willing to drop the absurd “pitch clock” scheme so long as the average time of game gets down under three hours or so. Simultaneously, the ridiculous idea of putting a runner on second base to start the inning if a game gets to the eleventh inning has once again emerged. The commish is way disingenuous with this malarkey. As readers of this space are tired of reading, the best way to speed up games is to limit the number of pitchers on the rosters so that managers no longer have countless opportunities to relieve their stress and hemorrhoids by trudging back and forth from the mound to bring on another hard throwing mediocre reliever. Besides, what’s the hurry? Play more day games. Almost everyone who has been priced out of buying tickets to the game can still afford the technology it takes to record the game and watch it when they feel like doing so. Not long ago, writers waxed poetic about the beauty of the game without a clock, pastoral this, green grass that, you know. Football has a clock but the so called Super Bowl still takes twelve hours to finish and none of the fools slurping lousy beer and horrid pizza gives a damn. Get real! If the competition from football which, absent greed, would never exist is what bothers the owners, maybe they could doll up baseball in other ways. Get John Madden or some such in the ESPN or FOX booth talking about “Smashmouth Baseball” and show lots of fight clips. Players could create stylish home plate dances every time they score a run. There could be scantily clad cheerleaders of both genders doing routines between innings. Get creative!

Almost one hundred per cent of the time, this reporter will side with labor in any labor-management disagreement. It’s a little more difficult when it involves millionaires versus billionaires but the general concept remains the same. However, I’m not so sure about the current accusations of collusion that player agents and Tony Clark are barking about. When players, and J.D. Martinez is a good example, get past the age of 30 and are not becoming so much as they have been, it’s probably not a good idea to add them to your team for lots of money and a long time. It does seem as though there are teams that don’t look like they care as much about winning as they do selling tickets. That has always been true, especially if you go back to the days of Clark Griffith, Charles Comiskey, and a lot of other guys who had ballparks named after them. Currently, Pittsburgh and San Francisco seem to fit that description. What Derek Jeter said about the Marlins makes sense, especially with hard economic times surely on the way. We’ll see.

GROUSE-A-THON

All right, look, now I’m angry and I’m not going to hold it in. My doctor says it’s not healthy to repress the feelings and the old arteries ain’t what they used to be anyway. The selections for the baseball Hall of Fame for 2018 have been made. Chipper Jones, sure, no problem. Jim Thome, couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, and deserving, too. Vladimir Guerrero, I can dig it. The pollsters tell me I have eight or nine steady readers and each of you will no doubt remember my view of Trevor Hoffman. The guy was good. Won 61 games, lost 75. The catch is that he was a very special kind of relief pitcher, that is, a “closer”. He compiled a career earned run average of 2.87. That’s a lot better than a guy he is going into the hall with, Jack Morris, but Jack Morris was a real pitcher. Morris won 254 games and lost 186 in his eighteen big league seasons. He pitched 175 complete games without looking over his shoulder to see if help was on the way. Between 1982 and 1988 his season totals for innings pitched ranged from 235 to 293 and two thirds.He pitched the seventh game of the World Series in 1991 and shut out Atlanta, 1-0 in ten innings. Trevor Hoffman had a huge number of saves, 601. When that statistic came along, it represented finishing a victory after not giving up a lead and facing either the tying or winning run (potentially) with your first pitch or else finishing the game with at least three innings of work while holding any lead for whoever was the winning pitcher. Those were actually saves. What we have today is equivalent to the Deutsche mark after World War I. Expert commentators, and I’ll have some steam about that right after this, tell us that pitchers who “close” games  are so full of courage and poise that they would walk blindfold across an interstate highway if it paid as well. And, you know, not everyone could handle that.

Maybe Hoffman deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I’m not really arguing against that. However, if he gets 79.9% of the vote and Omar Vizquel gets 37%, something is wrong. These guys voting that way, I’m telling you, they never took grounders. Maybe he played for too many teams or something. I don’t get it. Ask any pitcher not named Jose Mesa who ever played on the same team with Vizquel if he deserved to make the hall. My goodness.

ESPN has been going steadily downhill as a network for at least 20 years, ever since they merged with Disney and began incorporating Mickey Mouse into professional sports, but they really threw a barf bag at us today. Alex Rodriguez, who replaced Pete Rose as the Criminal Studio Analyst at FOX, the Oliver North School of Ethics, will next season replace Aaron Boone in the booth for Sunday Night Baseball. Holy Toledo, I may have to start watching Game Of Thrones or something instead. This is tragic. Why couldn’t  he have been made manager of the Yankees instead? Heavens to Murgatroyd.

Finally, and then I’ll have a beer, the Commissioner made another lame attempt to “speed up” games, probably because pollsters told him that short attention span Americans have other things to do, not that there exists any shortage of those things right in the ballpark. Here is the answer, once again for your enjoyment: LIMIT THE ROSTERS TO TEN PITCHERS. Okay, we could compromise  and make it eleven if they would also increase the roster to 26 from 25. That’s it, problem solved. I think I feel better now.

The Business of Ball

Our friend John would lean on the butcher block at our family market with his eyes half closed and his hand rolled cigarette two thirds finished and burned out. His drinking was over for the day. When he was feeling better, he would tell us , between wheezes, how he was going to move to Arizona for his asthma. When my youthful exuberance and stubborn good cheer got too annoying for him, he would cough up some phlegm, use some choice foul language and slowly, gasping for air, explain the facts of life for me. At age eleven, I was convinced that professional baseball was the best possible way to escape the drudgery I saw most of the adults I knew going through. You could get paid good money for playing a game. Most of the reading material I was devouring at the time told stories of heroes and good sports who all had the disposition of Stan Musial and thanked God for the honor of representing the good people of (fill in the city, mine was Pittsburgh) by playing this great game of ours.

“No, no. no” John said. “It’s business and it’s just like every other damned thing.” he grumbled . Of course, John was right, and I know that I’m not the only bugger who has been banging his head against the wall all these years wishing that he was wrong. Now, of course, Mr. Nutting and his henchman Mr. Huntington have brought that message home in a very loud and clear manner to the Pittsburgh Pirates followers, who seem to have a strong gathering of angry former loyalists who would like to barbecue the two of them to go with some Iron City suds. First, pitcher Gerrit Cole was shipped out to the world champion Houston Astros. That was tough, although, at 27, Cole had really only had one good season for the Bucs. Then, however, the excrement hit the propeller blade of the Good Ship Buccaneers when Andrew McCutchen, who recently named his first born child Steel, and who became the dreadlocked face of a rejuvenated Pirates team just five years ago, got traded to the San Francisco Giants for a crab sandwich and an espresso.

So yes, we all know it’s a business. Those of us old enough to remember leisure suits will recall that the Giants traded the greatest player of them all. On May 11, 1972, Willie Mays was traded, at age 41, to the New York Mets for Charlie Williams, a pitcher who would need to pay to get into the Hall of Fame. It’s a fact that Willie was, in baseball terms, old. He was batting .184 with one double and three runs batted in for the Giants in 19 games and, yes, the feeling was that maybe he should retire. Willie got somewhat rejuvenated back in New York, where his storied career had begun in 1951. His old foe Gil Hodges had recently died at age 48 and had been replaced by another old foe, Yogi Berra as manager of the Mets. In his first game back in New York, Mays hit a game winning home run to beat the Giants, 5-4. On May 21, he hit another game winner to beat the Phillies, 2-1. That was the Mets’ eleventh straight win and they stayed in first place for a while before finishing third in the division, 13 and a half games behind Pittsburgh. Mays totaled 8 homers and 19 RBI in 69 games for the Mets in that strange season, the first ever marred by a players’ strike. Yeah, strike—business.

Even in the totally business, monetize your grandmother’s diary type world that we live in these days, some guys just shouldn’t be traded. Am I right, Curt Flood? The other player, Evan Longoria, that the Giants recently traded for in their bid to retain season ticket holders, should also never have been traded, although one might say that, if the owners of the Tampa Bay Rays cared at all about baseball or their fans they would never allow anyone to play in that disgusting yard. You build a team around certain great athletes who also happen to be solid citizens if you are thinking for the long term, which, of course, no fool does anymore.

Billions of dollars in gate  recepts, television rights, and “gear” sales add up to millions of dollars in salaries. It could all come crashing down, but that sort of thinking is verboten. As so many things do, it reminds me of a job I once had. It was in a cannery. We did pears, brussels sprouts, and I don’t know what else. My job was to sit on top of a ladder. The cans ran along a fairly complicated metal highway above most of us, and, in a Charlie Chaplin movie sort of way, it was my job to notice when the can traffic became snarled due to a can turning sideways or some other thing that would cause collisions and usually result in spillage, dents, and other forms of chaos. Upon noticing this, my first task would be to yell at the top of my lungs so that a person I never saw would stop the line. My second task would be to unsnarl the traffic and make sure everything was back on line. My third task would be to yell at the top of my lings again so that the unseen person could start the line again. This was seen as a favored job to have and, as a male, it went to me so that all of the women working there could stay “on the line” and get sick from the combination of steam, cold air, and fruit and vegetable odors. If the cannery had not wanted this cheaper alternative, they would have invested in a newer, more efficient set of machinery. At $4.90 an hour, I was kind of the David Freese or John Jaso alternative and they were still making money. Of course, they never won the cannery pennant.

It’s a relative scale but we are talking about the same kind of decision making. Spending large sums of money on talent does not guarantee success or else the Yankees and Dodgers would be in the World Series every year, just like the old days. It’s probably a good thing McCutchen is gone because it is hard to imagine that organization getting lucky again for a while. I could be wrong. Perhaps rather than be spared an Ernie Banks type of career as the Bucs languish, Cutch will miss out on another successful “re-tool”. We shall see. He’s a free agent next year. Just please don’t go to the Yankees or Dodgers, okay, Cutch?

The Hall On Steroids

Joe Morgan is a Hall of Fame ballplayer and a person I have great respect for as a player, a broadcaster, and a human being. Willie McCovey, the second best number 44 from Mobile, Alabama in baseball history, is also a man that I have the greatest respect for, not only for his accomplishments as a player but also his achievements as a man of integrity. Those two are friends, but they have publicly disagreed about a matter that concerns all of us baseball loving nimrods.

The annual Hall of Fame brouhaha is upon us as the barren trees and  chilly air are mimicked by the sports pages barren of box scores or anything worth noting except for European football news. McCovey has said that it is a sin that Barry Bonds is not in the hall while Morgan has made it clear that no steroid users should ever darken the doorsteps of Cooperstown because they have been “cheaters”, whether or not that fact has ever been proven or admitted.  It is, alas, still a mess.

Months ago I wasted not breath nor ink but mere cyberspace attempting to make the case that all of us self righteous and upstanding citizens should be lamenting the use  of performance enhancing drugs (psst–can I get some?—) not because their use is cheating, but rather because their use is destructive to the body and soul of the user. My point was that if enhanced performance is the objection, then such things as good nutrition, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, and staying away from Twitter might also be considered “cheating”. For purposes of avoiding long, boring debates that get nowhere, we shall today omit the discussion of amphetamines, greenies, yellows, reds, etc. that were all the rage in the playing days of Morgan and McCovey.

Barry Bonds seems to generate the highest percentage of steroid hate feelings among those suspected of growing big heads. This is probably because he is an arrogant prick, although Roger Clemens also fits this description. Of course, it may also be because his hair free head is  black. Indeed, there is no shortage of arrogant pricks in the Hall of Fame. Perhaps, as in the case of Pete Rose and Ty Cobb, there could be a special Criminal Element Wing in the Hall. It is generally suspected that the year 1998, when Sammy Sosa hit 66 home runs and Mark McGuire hit 70, Greg Vaughn 50, Vinny Castilla 46, Rafael Palmeiro 43, Jose Canseco 46, Ken Griffey Jr, 56, and Juan Gonzalez 45 was the time when Bonds decided to sort of join the club. This is just speculation, but a big crowd of people have been speculating. So let’s do this: let’s look at Bonds’ career through 1998.

 

At that point, Barry Bonds had accumulated 391 homers,445 stolen bases,and three Most Valuable Player awards. Those are reasonable Hall of Fame credentials. So am I saying that Bonds should be in the Hall? Yes, and for those who put a large weight on character issues, we could also add Dale Murphy or somebody. In the whole of his career, Bonds won two batting titles, batted .298, won 7 MVPs, 12 Silver Slugger awards, and 8 Gold Gloves, which may surprise some of you who had only witnessed his final few seasons. There were 762 home runs, 2,558 walks, and 1,996 runs batted in. For those of you still seeking punitive damages, we should then also consider banning some managers, owners, and a commissioner who all knew what was what.

One more cantankerous note: if Omar Vizquel doesn’t make the Hall of Fame, razing the building should be seriously considered. More on that in the future.

 

Rich Get Richer

It’s nothing new. Mama may help. And Papa may help. God loves the child that ‘s got his own. Trump knows it. George Steinbrenner knew it. Derek Jeter knows it. Of course, it’s a little different now in the major leagues of organized baseball. Benchwarmers make the kind of money that All-Stars in the past could only dream of and owners of cellar dwellers are raking in the kind of dough that Connie Mack and Charles Comiskey could not even when they had World Series teams.

Giancarlo Stanton finally had the kind of season that folks have been waiting for him to have in 2017, and now he will be playing half of his games in that P.O.N.Y. league park in the Bronx. So now the comparisons roll in to the glory days of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and people will be expecting 130 home runs and 270 runs batted in between Aaron Judge and Stanton in 2018. Plus, the Yankees still have Gary Sanchez and most of the supporting cast from the surprising team that almost got into the World Series this past season.

You can see the Marlins point of view. With Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon and other pretty good players they won 77 games and finished twenty games behind Washington while paying Stanton Pablo Escobar kind of money. Perhaps Starlin Castro, while not having the most popular surname in Miami, can prosper at last in his new surroundings. He will never be a Bill Mazeroski type second baseman just like he was never going to be Omar Vizquel at short, but he can hit.

Teams, particularly the Giants and Cardinals, that pursued Stanton enthusiastically may be disappointed, but the whole free agent route to success has to be somewhat discredited by this time, especially since the attack on the middle class is now going full bore and the number of people able to afford high priced tickets, beer, and  purported food plus all that paraphernalia will soon be dwindling. Stanton set a personal record in 2017 by appearing in 159 games. He played 145 in 2014 and 150 in 2011 but otherwise it has been 100, 123. 116, 74, and 119. Players generally do not get injured less frequently as they grow older. For you glum San Francisco fans out there, ask Hunter Pence.

Even though there are just rich and richer teams now, the smart money seems to be going in the direction of building with youth. I think that will be good for the game. The Fullerton Angels signing of Shohei Ohtani is much more interesting to me. Now they can carry 14 pitchers and two designated sitters. But he is only 23, and here is hoping that he finds success. Of course, I would play him in the outfield and use him in relief, but what the hell do I know?

Number One Hundred

As you have so often heard and read, baseball is a game of numbers. It’s true, and I have long been one of the nerds who is fascinated by it all. It goes back to when I discovered my brother Paul’s 1954 Baseball Almanac. I used one of the chapters in that book to get the drop on most of my classmates by learning long division so I could figure out batting averages and earned run averages for myself. In no time I was totally boring my friends as I told them their new average after each at bat. So let us continue the obsession while we deal with off season blues.

 

13.  That is the number of times that Joe DiMaggio struck out in 1941, the year that he hit safely in 56 consecutive games. Superstars of today like Kris Bryant and Aaron Judge can fan that many times in a three game series. On the other hand, the Yankee Clipper (how did he get that nickname, by giving haircuts?) would not have been so good on social media. His first and last twitter would probably have been, “Why don’t you all just go defecate in your fedoras?”

369.  The number of times Joltin’ Joe struck out in a 13 year career. For a guy like Bobby Bonds or Reggie Jackson, that’s two seasons. So he averaged 28.38 strikeouts per season and 27.8 home runs.

155.  The number of pounds that Elroy Face weighed. The 5’8″ relief pitcher was a fork baller who averaged 107 innings pitched per season between 1953 and 1969.  He had a wacky 18-1 won lost record in 1959 but his best seasons were probably 1960, when he finished 61 games for the World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, and 1962, when he had 28 real saves and a 1.88 earned run average.

 

0.  Zero is the number of managerial victories credited to new Yankees manager Aaron Boone. Zero is also the number of games he has ever managed. However, based on his astute observations as an ESPN analyst, I expect that Boone will do well. We shall see. His father, Bob, was 371-444 managing some mediocre Kansas City and Cincinnati teams when his catching career ended. Grandpa Ray Boone never managed but knew how to hit, averaging .275, 18 homers, and 87 runs batted in over 13 major league seasons.

 

5.  Seasons with 400 or more putouts by an outfielder for Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett. He was not related to the Union Gap guy, Gary Puckett. But Kirby’s is the better record.

 

3.  Stolen bases in one inning by Dusty Baker on June 27, 1984. He totaled four for the season and 137 in 19 seasons. There were 9,982 paid customers at Candlestick Park that day as the Giants beat the Reds, 14-9. Baker stole second base off Frank Pastore and third base and home off losing pitcher Bob Owchinko. As you know, you can’t steal first base.  The other weird thing about that game was that Johnnie Lemaster hit a home run.  Chili Davis had a pinch grand slam in the fifth inning.  Randy Lerch gave up a hit and a walk and got one guy out to nail the win in relief of Mike Krukow.

 

I could go on and on but, mercifully, that’s it for now. I hope you were the 5.584th person to enjoy it.

 

 

Read It In the Magazine

With all the struggles going on all around the world today, and with all the wonderful good things that are happening as well. one would think that something as trivial as the national anthem or the pledge of allegiance, which should have been a doo-wop hit in the fifties, would never occupy more than a second or two in anyone’s consciousness. I mean, here I am ceaselessly speculating about where Giancarlo Stanton might be playing next season and which body part of mine will be the next to go on the disabled list, and people are actually getting excited about symbols and rituals that most of the world could not care less about.

In the late fifties, speaking of doo-wop, my brother Jimmy and I were very frequent listeners to the radio station KDKA, which has been the flagship station for the Pittsburgh Pirates longer than greasy politicians have been milking faux patriotism for easy votes and convenient distraction.

By the way, the doo-wop hit  The Ten Commandments of Love, was recorded by the Moonglows. I was more into the Dell Vikings and the Flamingos. Anyway, KDKA. My brother and I were spending a lot of time at the family business, a once thriving grocery and meat market that was in its dying days as it fell victim to the get bigger or get out aspect of capitalism. There wasn’t a lot to do, although our father assured us regularly that there was as he , always an innovator, practiced an early form of remote management. One pastime was playing batter versus pitcher, with the steel used to sharpen butcher knives serving as the bat and rolled up slices of Wonder  Bread as the ball. And there were many Pirates games to listen to as well. These were the days of Frank (Not the Big Hurt) Thomas, Dick Groat, Bob Friend, Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente, and Bob Skinner brought to us by the always entertaining voice of Bob Prince. Whenever the Pirates visited the Chicago Cubs, an odd thing about Wrigley Field mystified us. At game time, they would just start playing ball. There was no playing of the Star Spangled Banner before the first pitch. We liked that. After all, when you wait all day for a game to start, who wants to sit, I mean stand,through another  rendition of that seemingly endless tune before the first pitch? Like the ump eventually says, play ball! Nevertheless, we were curious. So Jimmy, always a keen student, decided to find out. He wrote a letter to Al Abrams, a sports columnist and perhaps sports editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Before long, Mr. Abrams replied.  Imagine that, a real sports writer sending Jimmy a letter! In the letter, Mr. Abrams informed us that Mr. P.K. Wrigley, the Cubs’ owner, did not want  the anthem played at his ball park but the reason was not specified. I liked the guy immediately. Not only did he spare us a boring couple of minutes, but he was being a non conformist in the wildly conservative club of sports team owners. This guy needed to get together with Bill Veeck! Maybe the chewing gum king was a raging Communist! After all, his yard didn’t have lights either.

These days I am more of a follower of the San Francisco Giants. They have a faceless conglomerate of owners just like most multi-zillion dollar outfits but, up until last year, while, of course, the national anthem was done before each game by everyone from the Grateful Dead to the Colma-Daly City Men’s Auxiliary Produce Buyers Barbershop Quartet, they would not air it on their flagship station, KNBR. Then they started playing it because it became yet another sponsored item just like the Viking Cruises on deck circle. Speaking of San Francisco, it was a former quarterback of theirs who got so many knickers in twists by trying to draw attention to police brutality. That is what happens in this sin obsessed country among folks who get their spiritual guidance from the likes of the bloated buffoon of talk radio Rush Limbaugh and Mike (not Hunter) Pence. It’s all so lame that it is hardly worth wasting words on but here I am doing that because, from what I can see, there are a lot of people who can’t find anything else to get upset about.

The pledge of allegiance is a series of words spoken by many with about as much passion behind it as a convenience store clerk has telling you to have a nice day. When children are forced to say things they don’t mean or even understand over and over, it’s just stupid. Rituals start out perhaps over a very meaningful event that is getting  memorialized, but over time, without reinforcement  or  something that demonstrates in a real way what they represent, they become just going through the motions, or dead time. Jimmy and I were both altar boys back in the day and I will tell two stories about those times that have nothing to do with priestly grab ass, take a breath, but might border on sacrilege. Since Mass generally occurred at the crack of dawn on Sundays, Jimmy and I were all about getting it over with as soon as possible, so we could have some breakfast before getting into a fight and then get out there and deliver on our Sunday paper route, which took us about three hours to complete. Then we could have lunch and go play ball in the back yard or watch a game or, most often, do both. The guy we liked was Father Wehrle, who was capable of getting it done in a half hour or so, including sermon. Some other priests were more deliberate or else gave long, stern sermons that prolonged matters and made our stomachs growl. There was generally a little bit of time before Mass to chat, and on one of those occasions I mentioned how happy I was that the famous Mickey school, Notre Dame, had made mincemeat out of their opponent on the gridiron the previous day. Father Wehrle’s response rather shocked me. “I suppose you root for them because it’s a Catholic school,” he said without merriment. “Sure do”I replied, thinking I was scoring points with the pastor. He then proceeded to give me a short, curt, and astounding lecture on provincialism and prejudice that embarrassed me at the time but also schooled me in a manner that has lingered. Speed at the altar was just one good thing about him.

Those half hour church sessions were one thing, but on special occasions a High Mass was required. This meant three priests, a master of ceremonies, and the whole roster got to play, with big time organ music, a choir, and torch bearers. The litanies were a sort of call and answer thing and at the time they were done in Latin, which was pretty cool. So the priest would call out Ora pro nobis or some such Latin thing and the answer would follow and it had a chant type sound which is great in cathedrals and not so hot in smaller venues. While I was bearing the torch on one of these occasions along with Jimmy, we noticed that one of our older brothers was laughing quietly to himself. It goes without saying that litanies are repetitious. Later, we just had to ask him what was so funny, because laughing in church, which is apparently okay now, was frowned upon in those days and might result in the laugher’s ear lobe getting pinched between the thumb and forefinger of the nearest vigilant nun. What he thought was funny was that he and some other of the senior altar boys would repeat, instead of the proper Latin response “Read it in the magazine”. Look, it may not seem funny now, but it was then.

Another good point that was made in my youth was that, if your faith, or your belief, or your love was strong, you did not need to show it off with some ritual display; indeed, early Christians had to worship very privately. So here is the deal. You love your family because it is your family, no questions asked. If you love your country because it is indeed a land of equal opportunity, because its people show respect for each other no matter how they look, or dress, or no matter what language they speak or god they worship (or not), then that is right and good. On the other hand, if you love your country just because it’s your country, then you need to have a talk with someone like Father Wehrle. My dad would sometimes, when the anthem was being played prior to a televised game, stand straight and tall and salute the screen. He was kidding but I don’t think he was being disrespectful to anyone save hypocrites. I used to chime in at the end with “..and the home of the Milwaukee Braves.”

Savory Wild Series

Congratulations to the city of Houston on the World Series triumph over the equally young and impressive, hard swinging Dodgers in one of the most interesting championship series ever played! Charlie Morton, George Springer, and Alex Bregman have now become household names outside of Texas among those of us usually confined to the Yankees-Red Sox network otherwise known as ESPN. We already knew about Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, of course, but now we have actually seen them play as well. It was also good to see Yuli Gurriel prior to his being named ambassador to Japan by President Tweety.

The playoffs were being held during a busy time for your Baseball Anarchy correspondent because, as you know, it is also a time for job searching in the world of baseball. and I was right there in the thick of it. First, I had to fly to a secret location in the Midwest for an interview with the FOX network. The job opening was for someone to finish Joe Buck’s sentences for him. I thought I had an edge because of my impeccable command of English grammar, but I failed, apparently because I wasn’t good at starting arguments. I hadn’t thought that to be one of the requirements so I should have been paying more attention. I couldn’t be interviewed for the job of replacing Pete Rose on the pre-game and post-game studio crew because my criminal record was not extensive enough so they gave it to that stiff, David Ortiz.

After the Washington Nationals were eliminated, it was on to the District of Columbia to attempt to be the replacement for Dusty Baker. This was not easy, because Dusty has long been a favorite of mine and I have admired him as a manager who has earned and deserved a better fate and also as a player who got on the wrong side of the loathsome Tommy LaSorda. None of that mattered as I was once again rejected. I imagined that they would be interested in my latest theory about handling a major league pitching staff. Why not, I proposed, have your “closer”  start the game? Since conventional wisdom holds that your typical “closer” is always “lights out” and guarantees a scoreless inning, why not have him pitch the first inning and go on from there with lesser entities like Scherzer, Strasburg and those other shlubs. Then they could pitch four or five innings and qualify for the win! Also, my idea was to position the first and third base men in foul territory when one of the many fireballers on the staff was pitching so that, when all of those late swing foul tips were hit, they wouldn’t have so far to run to catch them, and the all important pitch counts could be lowered. Innovative ideas like this, unfortunately, take time to be recognized.

So now I am back to the extremely high paying but relatively low prestige blog gig.

Joe Buck’s announcing partner, John Smoltz, is a man who knows a lot about that which he chooses to speak, at least when it comes to baseball. So when he talked at some length about the dangers of lifting starting pitchers very early in the games we had to listen. After all, Smoltz had been an excellent starting pitcher and an excellent reliever. The question is, did Dave Roberts blow it by going to the bullpen too soon and too often? The results were mixed. In defense of Roberts, he does have a staff of five inning type starting pitchers, with the obvious exception of Clayton Kershaw. Alex Wood, Rich Hill, and the others will not be challenging any innings pitched or complete games records in their careers. Kenta Maeda is a good pitcher but was turned into a reliever for the playoffs because he is definitely not the workhorse type and, as always, two times four (innings) equals eight. Kenley Jansen looks like he could pitch every inning of every game but perhaps not. It looks like A.J. Hinch got the better of Roberts in this regard but objects in the rear view mirror can look closer than they are sometimes.

Smoltz had another theme during the playoffs (post season sounds so morbid) and on this one I am right there with him. I am too ignorant of the physics of hitting (ask anyone who ever played with me) to expound about launch angles, leg kicks, lifting, etc. but I always loved a good game of pepper. Situational hitting. Take two and go to right. Keep the line moving. Choke up. Hit it where they ain’t. To me, it works in all types of weather and in any stadium. Yes home runs are fun, mostly. As I have moaned on about previously, Home Run Derby was a boring television show and adding countless strikeouts doesn’t enhance the appeal. It was a fantastic series though. Now, the meaningless void of Winter begins its reign.