The Last Third

As we say goodbye to perhaps the last truly enjoyable World Cup in history, we need to realize that it is not a dream, it is a fact: the next one, in 2022, will be held in Qatar. Will the next Winter Olympics be staged in Death Valley? What the hell, it needs a little work but there are millions of euros and dollars and bitcoins to be made. They know about money in Qatar, a nation of 2.6 million people who enjoy the highest per capita income in the world. Football (soccer) in the desert! Oh well, we Americans have golf in the desert, don’t we? We celebrate diversity, at least on paper, but this is more like culture clash. Qatar is mainly under Sharia law. Alcohol consumption and illicit sexual relations are punishable by flogging. That might actually be preferable to what happens to miscreants here, who are often forced to endure game shows and televised poker. Apostasy and homosexuality are punishable by death. Apostasy, for all of you numerous  secular folks out there, would be equivalent, in the United States, to not liking barbecue.

How does FIFA make these decisions? Despite my access to Wikipedia, which knows everything, I don’t know. I suspect, though, that it is much like the way that the International Olympic Committee operates, in that wire transfers and luggage containing suitable forms  of currency insure that fairness applies in the selection of sites.

They don’t have any Putin or Trump types in Qatar. It’s a family affair, and guys like that are a waste of money. They have an emir, part of the Al Thani dynasty that has been ruling since 1825. The current dude is Tamim binHamad Al Thani and he gets his dough from natural gas and oil reserves.  The best thing that can be said about Qatar is that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates have cut off diplomatic ties with them.

Meanwhile, the major league baseball season slogs on toward the dog days. They call everything after the All Star Game the second half, but arithmetically it is really the last third. What significant things can be tallied after the first 98 games or so?

  1. THE KANSAS CITY ROYALS ARE DONE FOR
  2. FIRING MIKE MATHENY WON’T IMPROVE THE CARDINALS DEFENSE
  3. BRYCE HARPER WILL NOT WIN THE TRIPLE CROWN
  4. CLEVELAND WINS THE CENTRAL ON THREE WHEELS
  5. MILWAUKEE HAS PROBABLY PEAKED
  6. ATTENDANCE WILL CONTINUE TO FALTER IN MORE PLACES
  7. PRESIDENT TWEETY WILL ATTEND NO GAMES
  8. OAKLAND WILL CONTINUE TO BE A PLEASANT SURPRISE
  9. THE RAYS WILL NOT MOVE TO OKLAHOMA CITY
  10. WIN OR LOSE, BRUCE BOCHY WILL RETIRE IN NOVEMBER

October Surprise

This has been an extremely tense October so far with a pandemic raging, more and more evidence of global warming plus, on a personal level, my new job. I probably should have just turned it down, but with things going the way they are economically I just couldn’t refuse. Representatives of the sovereign state of Bulgaria approached me about helping them with a problem. They were quite frank. International relations are important to them, they said, and they hoped to assist their country and its government in understanding better the culture here in the United States. Normal diplomatic channels have been sending mixed and confusing messages for the last four years, they said, so perhaps I could help them by reporting on some aspect of the American culture that I was comfortable with and thereby help make life more understandable for all of us. Plus, they would pay me.

It just so happened that the major league baseball season was coming to a close with an unprecedented 16 team playoff schedule that promised to be a great source of information for my new friends. The fact that I would not be able to attend any game in person but would need to rely on television only enhanced the opportunity. I was able to report that the things that Americans seem to be most interested in are eating food that they don’t have to cook themselves (especially if it contains canned “cheese” sauce and pickle slices), shopping for automobile insurance, drinking alcoholic beverages, driving new cars that easily slide sideways through all sorts of obstacles, and gambling their paychecks on all manner of sporting events so that other people can get really rich really fast. There were other things of note as well, such as the white man in a white suit with white hair and a white beard who seemed to like dripping brown gravy on top of pearly white mashed potatoes, which seemed a bit Freudian or something.

The games were a lot better than the incessant advertising, though, even when Joe Buck was working. It must be said that, despite lots of genuine excitement and loads of talented stars, the quality of play was not up to usual MLB standards. This was noticeable all season, and much of it had to do with the shortened schedule of both preparation and actual games. Base running gaffes were common and fielding errors as well as mental mistakes definitely marred things a bit, but what fun it was to have some ball to watch! It was, after all, the best we could do in 2020 considering the tragedy of Covid 19.

Oh, those Rays! Tampa Bay versus Atlanta was our personal wish but those damned Dodgers had to go and ruin things. At least we have a clear choice to root for in the World Series. That would be the Rays, a winning team assembled by intelligence, hard work, and bold thinking. Now we all know them. Did you know who Mike Brosseau was a couple of weeks ago? Neither did I, but Rays fans sure did. Last year, Randy Arozarena was just an interesting name to many of us. Now we know better. The list goes on: Nick Anderson, Willie Adames, Ji-Man Choi, Brandon Lowe, Joey Wendle. Others, like Hunter Renfroe. Tyler Glasnow, Kevin Kiermaier, and Charlie Morton we may already have been familiar with. What has become evident is that this is a very good team with sensational defense, tough pitching, and good situational hitting. Watch out, you West Coast launch anglers with the left handed tire salesman. Here’s a side note about Justin Turner: one wished that the ghost of the dearly departed Bob Gibson could have appeared on the mound for the Braves on Turner’s next at bat after he played footsie with a pitched ball and got awarded first base.

Out of all the beautiful plays so far, the one that had me applauding in my Bulgarian spy armchair was the gorgeous sacrifice bunt put down by Houston’s Martin Maldonaldo that led to two runs when George Springer did the right thing. And kudos to Dusty Baker for his managing job too. The vilified Astros got caught doing something just about every other team might try and, yes, that was wrong, but for people to condemn that team while selecting the Cheater of Cheats to reside in the White House comes across as lame indeed.

A Bulgarian salute also goes out to TBS, the network vastly superior in covering baseball to the one we are stuck with now. Pedro Martinez, Jimmy Rollins, Curtis Granderson and Ernie Johnson were superb.

We are witnessing death too, and I refer not only to the many outstanding players we have recently lost but also to certain baseball traditions that are fading away: pitchers batting, sacrifice bunts, choking up and taking what is given and, sadly, starting pitching period.

Some of us are also wishing death to certain things: microphones on the field, gold chains, fake crowd noise, and incessant advertisements. Happy World Series!

Okay, Zoomer

Forgive me, Commissioner, for I have been a doubter, but here we are, having a post season after the weirdest “season” on record. And yes, I am eating it up. 2020 is already assured of being one of the strangest years in the history of years, all things considered, but let me quickly go on record as being totally mortified that ABC, still a low grade outfit after all these years, had the poor taste and undignified crassness to interrupt the ninth inning of a crucial major league playoff game just to give us a “special report” about the health of a third rate television star. That was disgusting.

The Miami Marlins are already the story of the year. I have to admit, I have fancied myself a serious follower of the sport for a number of years now, but I cannot rattle off the names of the Marlins roster with any confidence. Now I know about Sixto Sanchez and Garrett Cooper and Lewis Brinson and some others but, especially after Covid 19 set them back early on, none of us was really giving these guys any kind of chance even with the expanded playoff scheme.

Another interesting team among the also rans was the San Francisco Giants. I had figured that they were probably good for 19 wins in their 60 game schedule and there they were contending right up to the end and finishing 29-31. Credit Gabe Kapler and his extensive crew of modern coaches for putting together a credible offense from the unlikely collection of veterans like Brandon Belt, Donovan Solano, Mike Yastrzemski, and Alex Dickerson along with youngsters like Mauricio Dubon and Joey Bart. The Toronto Blue Jays, in their newly adopted city of Buffalo, New York, and the St. Louis Cardinals were also very pleasant examples of teams overcoming extreme difficulty to salvage a memorable season.

Since almost no one was able to attend any of the games in person, we were all subjected to viewing games on television whether or not we could ever actually afford to buy tickets. This meant, of course, being deluged with an endless repetitive cycle of the same tired advertising to make us feel small and stupid. Who could have predicted that so many rejects from comedy writing schools would eventually find gainful employment writing ads for insurance companies? Hankook Tires, however, repeats with the most insulting ad award for the excessively lame bit featuring Clayton Kershaw demonstrating unsafe, irresponsible driving combined with illogic fit for a presidential speech writer.

The rule innovations introduced in this short season were all bad for the game but MLB continues to seek new fans among the casual, bored potential sports fans out there who might also be amused by watching hunting on roller skates. Runner on second to start extra innings? Well, I had hoped that it might help bring back bunting but no chance I guess. Universal designated sitter? It is no doubt time for folks like me to give up on fighting this . Okay, zoomer, I guess I’d just as soon watch some fat guy work the count to three and two, foul a few off and then strike out instead of watching some poor bastard pitcher who never got trained on the sacrifice pop out. The three batter minimum on relievers? Makes absolutely no difference.

It’s a new game in many ways but it’s still the best one going. The passing these last few weeks of two of the icons of an era gone by must be noted with true respect. Lou Brock and Bob Gibson were a pair of real winners in every sense of the word. The memories are all good with those two, and may they rest in peace.

Another Packed House

Sometimes, when I am not quite awake and not quite asleep, I get the feeling that I’m just in the middle of a dream. When I’m really awake and making espresso it will all go away, right?  No, man, you had better try going back to sleep. The dangerous world really did get even more dangerous. The Ignoramus-In-Chief is still looking for someone to blame. Can’t talk about Clinton or someone will bring up Epstein. The Amazon Rainforest won’t be there to bail us out of this one. The Green Berets are refusing to invade the bat caves. Larry King won’t answer his phone. The Pope has his own problems. Fauci is getting higher ratings. People testing  today won’t know if they are positive or negative for two weeks unless they work in the White House or play baseball.  Ah, yes, baseball.

Wait, though! The other night, while I was sleeping, they established universal designated sitters! No! The worst part of that is that everyone is happy about it. And even John Smoltz says he likes  the runner on second base to start extra innings. Oh, Lord, take me now!  And you know what I’m going to say about relief pitchers having to face three batters. The bullshit story is that they are trying to make games move faster. That’s what  polite people call disingenuous and what folks in my neck of the woods call happy horseshit. Many of you are familiar by now with the Baseball Anarchy remedy for long games, which only really bother people who get in for free anyway. That is, ten pitchers per roster for one thing. For another thing, let’s deep six the Ridiculous Replay Review. The idea seemed good at first, but then it got implemented. Gosh, maybe that portly fellow with indigestion made a mistake on that out call at first base. Let’s have a look. Well, it’s anything but instant, even when the call is obviously right or wrong. No, we have to make a long distance call to New York or Calcutta or wherever the replay gods hang out. Then someone has to wake them up and refill their beer steins while they watch the tape. Then they send their decisions via Morse code to all the ships at sea and one of the ships uses a carrier pigeon to send a message to the proper ball park and someone there phones the umps. Many fans have been conceived in less time than it takes for the average replay review to be consummated. So it’s bizarre but we have baseball except in those places where too many players have been infected. Plus, I’ve been water boarded enough to accept it all, even the post season that now includes almost as many teams as the NBA does. I’ve seen the first two hits in the career of Chadwick Tromp and that was fun. I have seen  Johnny Cueto and Max Scherzer pitch. I have seen  Cody Bellinger make several outs. I have not seen a Madison Bumgarner snot rocket and I don’t care. It may not last very long but I’ll take it, even if it includes Joe Buck and that awful Taco Bell commercial  for the Grilled Cheese Burrito box that hurts my stomach, Let it roll.baseball anarchy logoBig Klu

Brave New World

It was one of those headlines that made you look twice. Then read it again to make sure it wasn’t something from the Onion or part of a dream. The major leagues are going to try to have a season right here in 2020.  There are more deaths from this virus already than this country had in World War I and there is no sign at all of abatement but here we go, empty stadiums and all.

Golly gee! Right away my head began to spin and my legs started taking me in a direction I had not traveled in quite a long time.  The next thing I knew I had opened the door to the neighborhood tavern and, once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I realized that there was no one in there that I knew, except for Nick, the bartender. Nick never acknowledges your presence until your  wallet is in your hand.  There was one sly guy standing near the side door with a bottle of beer in his right hand and his left hand  held a lit cigarette that he could step right outside with if anyone made a fuss. I was the only one wearing a mask, including Nick, so I guess the side door was handy for that as well. I needed to talk, so I was glad that there was music playing although I didn’t see a juke box. It was Joe Walsh playing Time Out,  “wake you up to tell you it’s okay to sleep some more, by the way, is there any you can sell us?” and not so loud you couldn’t have a conversation but loud enough you could talk.

There was a little man with a pony tail on a stool at the end of the bar nursing a drink of some kind. He looked to be Asian or maybe Native American, I can’t always tell and I never ask because it’s rude and I hate to show my ignorance. Anyway, he had a kind face and was smiling so I began to unload.  Do you follow baseball? Yeah, well, did you hear? Sixty games! No fans in the stands and masks in the dugout! Holy shit, this is weird. Oh, and the most Mickey Mouse thing of all, if there are extra innings—–yeah, right, a runner on second to start the inning! But the worst, the absolute worst is Designated Sitter in both leagues! That’s it man. Pitchers hitting is gone forever. Sacrifice bunts, what’s that?  Squeeze play, forget it! I had hope. I had hope but now it’s gone. I can’t believe it! Sorry to be so upset, thanks for listening.

I admit that I drank the first beer too quickly but I ordered another and told myself to sip this time. The kind man said that his name was Elmer and that he had an answer for me if I would be so kind as to provide another drink for him. I said thank you and asked Nick for a bottle of mineral water for Elmer. Eventually, it arrived. Now the juke box or whatever it was  featured Ry Cooder singing It’s Just Work For Me and I was still sort of fidgeting. Elmer had a sip of water and began to speak. You have your reality and I have mine, he said. Every living thing does. What holds us all together is heavy as a stone and light as a feather. It is fragile and it is strong. It is big and it is small. What do you want to do? Do you want to be back to 1972, when Richard Nixon wiped the floor with George McGovern? Do you like Sansabelt slacks? Do you want cigarettes to cost a dollar a pack so you can start smoking again? Is Barry Manilow your favorite singer?

He looked at me with a little half smile. I wanted to smack his little face. I thanked him for his time, gulped down the rest of the almost cold beer and went back out into the searing heat. Okay, then, I’ve got nothing against Ron Blomberg or Harold Baines or any of those guys. It’s just that the game I’ve always loved is—-okay, screw it. Let’s go. Let’s go all the way like a co-ed softball league. Let’s have more wretched excess than Blind Faith and Vanilla Fudge put together. Sixty games? Hell, let’s have 60 double headers of five innings each! Guys don’t pitch more than five innings anyway. Instead of using nine innings to figure earned run average, let’s use five. Who cares? Old school pitchers like Madison Bumgarner and Max Scherzer could start both games of the double header. So called “closers” could get two saves in one day. Then you have a 120 game schedule, sort of like a strike year. And why stop with designated sitters? With that extra inning rule we would be ripe for designated runners too. And, not to denigrate the good fielders who can’t hit much, let’s have designated fielders who also aren’t allowed to bat. Sure. It’s an age of specialization so now youngsters can choose early on what aspect of the game they prefer to practice. Perfect. We would all rather just play video games anyway, right?

SLEEPY

Teammate Bob Uecker gave him the nickname Crash. The reason he received that name was his learned preference for wearing a batting helmet not just when he was at the plate but also on the bases and in the field. The Philadelphia Phillies decided for some reason that his name was Richie even though no one ever had called him by that name before. Back home at Wampum High School and nearby Chewton, Pennsylvania he was known as Sleepy. On his birth certificate, he was named Richard Anthony Allen, one of nine children raised in the small western Pennsylvania town mostly by his mother.

He was called Sleepy because an early childhood injury left him with a droopy left eyelid. Dick Allen is in his late seventies now. I never saw him play baseball, even though I grew up close to Wampum and was only slightly younger, until he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1971, but I did see him play basketball once. That was in 1961 and it was a treat. It was a game played during the Christmas holidays with former high school stars at the local YMCA and Sleepy Allen amazed me by dunking the ball with his back to the basket. Dunking wasn’t done much in those days and was a bit of a novelty, especially for a person who stood five feet, eleven inches. Richard and his brothers Harold and Ron filled the local sports pages in those days  with their exploits for Wampum High School as all three of them were All State basketball players  for a team that almost never lost under legendary coach L.Butler Hennon, whose son, Don Hennon, became an All American play making and shooting guard at the University of Pittsburgh.

We all found out about Dick Allen the baseball player in 1964. He became National League Rookie of the Year that season as part of a Phillies team that probably should have won the pennant. He batted .318 with 29 home runs and 91 runs batted in. At  22 years of age he was looking like a star for Philley for a long time. He had power and speed, stole bases and had good baseball smarts. He also committed 41 errors at third base.

Philadelphia fans were happy to have a contending team again but the City of Brotherly Love had, and retains to this day a reputation for unfriendliness  to perceived enemies or miscreants. In 1965, Allen incurred the wrath of many by taking on the Big Donkey, Frank Thomas, when Thomas made racially denigrating statements toward himself and Wes Covington. Allen punched the veteran Thomas and Thomas went after Allen with a baseball bat. Thomas was a career fielder on a level with what Allen had shown in ’64, and was ten years older with perhaps a few good slugging years left, so the next thing he knew he was playing for Casey Stengel as a New York Met. Philadelphia was very late to the integration party, waiting until 1957, or ten years after Jackie Robinson made his Dodgers debut, and those Phillies fans who preferred their stars to be white showed their feelings with signs saying “We Want Thomas”.  Dick Allen had spent the 1963 season playing for the Little Rock, Arkansas Travelers . Those were the days of Governor Faubus, who attended the opening game of the Phillies’ Triple A minor league team  as fans held a sign that read “Don’t Negro-ize Our Baseball”. Wampum, Pa. wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t like that.

So it was a rough start as far as non baseball stuff but Allen went on to have what many consider to be a Hall of Fame career. His career batting average was .292, he slugged 351 home runs in 15 seasons while driving in 1,119 runs, he was very good in 1966 and ’67 for the Phillies, and it was mostly good but by 1969 he really wanted out and he was traded to St. Louis. After a good year there he was traded again, this time to the Dodgers. This was the team that he dreamed about playing for as a youth, but after a good season there in what was not a good park for hitters, he  ended up in the American League playing  for the Chicago White Sox, managed by old family friend Chuck Tanner. Allen crested there in 1972, winning the Most Valuable Player award with a .308 batting average, 37 home runs, 113 RBI. a .420 on base percentage, and a slugging percentage of .603. The years of acrimony and controversy seemed to be suddenly over, but it was not to be.  There came his sudden retirement in 1974 followed by a couple of sub par seasons back in Philley and then an almost ridiculous finale playing for Charlie Finley’s suddenly woeful Oakland A’s in 1977. The baseball world was left to ponder what might have been. Could he have been a Hall of Fame player? Many feel the answer is sure, but….and others feel he is one anyway. The feeling here is that he comes pretty close, but no.

Chuck Tanner said, “What I knew about Dick from having grown up nearby, and, see,this is what other people in baseball didn’t know, was how much Dick Allen liked to win. It was all he cared about.”  What Bob Gibson said was. “Dick was the same way I was. You don’t get in our way when we’ve got ball to play. We’ve got baseball on our mind. Why didn’t the writers ever figure that out? Why didn’t the headlines ever say GIBSON AND ALLEN CARE TOO MUCH ABOUT BALL TO MAKE SMALL TALK?

Sleepy scores points with this writer by saying, “As far as I was concerned the DH was the worst thing that had happened to baseball in my lifetime.” He had it in his Oakland contract that he would not be asked to DH.

Finally, yes, like it or not, racism is still an important part of all of our lives, and it obviously had a big effect on Dick Allen’s. The way he put it was this: “All my career,I had people tell me I was a natural hitter. Never once did they take into account how I studied the pitchers, how I analyzed the defense. Stan Musial and Ted Williams were great students of the game. Henry Aaron and Frank Robinson were naturals. It’s patronizing and insulting and, what’s worse,people think they are being complimentary when they say it.”

Why did Dick Allen wear that helmet all of the time?  Because while he was on the field, he was subjected, not always but often enough, to various dangerous things coming at him out of the stands from the paying customers.

Faux Ball

After fifty one days of sequestration, I finally worked up the nerve to go shopping and I mean actually inside of a store.  It wasn’t so much courage that got me there but rather  that thing called cabin fever. I think I pulled it off, but of course we just don’t know about anything these days, do we? There have been times in the past when I have surely smelled of alcohol but that was a different kind for a different reason.

Yes, I have the yips and sometimes the dog walks, pleasant though they may be, just aren’t enough. For one thing, where are my box scores? Look, playing ball is still the best way to enjoy the game but I finally reached that age where, just like the tykes in tee ball, even if I hit the ball my legs don’t know what to do next. So it’s fun to watch and then, lacking that, catch up on the box scores of last night’s games and see how everybody did. There is enough information there that you can almost re-create the whole game,which was something I tried to do often as a young lad delivering the afternoon newspaper. In July and August the sun would be hot enough to blend the ink right into my hands as I folded the papers before practicing my peg home (the spot on the customers’ porches right in front of the screen doors, preferably just right so they could open the door without touching the paper). In between stops I would take peeks at the sports page and see how my favorite players performed. Oh, Rocky Colavito  was 0-for-5 again. But Herb Score struck out 14 and the Indians beat Kansas City again. It took a little study but the motivation was there.  I learned that Schndnst was just an abbreviation for Red Schoendienst, a name I was proud to know how to spell early on. And, of course, Klszwsk, or Ted Kluszewski, the guy with no sleeves.

We played ball a lot and however we could. Some kind of bat and something resembling a ball. My brother Jimmy and I were made assistant managers of the family market one summer in the late fifties. That’s a fancier way of saying that the store was in what  the business boys call a downward spiral and we, as almost teenagers, were left in charge  of things  during very slow business days while our Dad attended to other important things. We were supposed to keep busy and we did that but it got boring. So if the Pirates were playing in Chicago it would be a day game and, in those days, the Cubs and Pirates were often contending but for seventh place. We would be listening on KDKA and inevitably it would get us fired up for ball. Playing ball in a store behind showcases and in front of a walk in cooler was not ideal but it was what we had. Also, there was the matter of a bat and a ball. There was a steel, the instrument for sharpening knives that had a handle, which was handy. Okay, but what about a ball? The steel was narrow, so it couldn’t be too big or too small or we’d have nothing but foul tips. Wadded up paper was too light. Jimmy, ever resourceful, came up with a solution. Over by the meat slicer was a loaf of Wonder Bread, so the cops could come in and make themselves a sandwich. They weren’t doing it so much lately with the baloney not being so fresh, so who would care? So he wadded up a slice and went into his windup. That Wonder ball was hard to hit from 20 feet, I’ll tell you. But we had a game and some laughs.

So it is surprising how well I’ve adjusted to not having baseball this season. Those classic games on You Tube or MLB are okay but I haven’t seen as many as I thought I would. I have a bunch of baseball books but they have all been read. The two best are both by David Halberstam, October 1964, an excellent description  of  the shifting  balance of power in baseball  as the old Yankees dynasty crumbled, and Summer of ’49, a story so well told about a year when both leagues had furious, exciting pennant races that it inspired me to replay the entire season with my Strat-O-Matic board game. Yes, I confess, I am one of those. I’ve played alone and with other people for over fifty years now and I’m not tired yet. I know you are all dying to know, so I can tell you  that the Yankees did not beat the Red Sox by a game as in real life. No, I was not nearly as smart as Casey Stengel and Boston won by three games without ever being seriously challenged except early on by Cleveland. No, I did not cheat. The Dodgers came in more to form. edging the Cardinals by two games after, as in real life, St. Louis was swept in a four game series by lowly Cincinnati in the last week. Then I was somewhat surprised when Brooklyn lost the World Series to Boston. Not enough pitching after Don Newcombe and Preacher Roe. Oh, and Ralph Kiner tied Babe Ruth‘s record with 60 home runs for Pittsburgh. So I have now outed myself to the world but guess what? I don’t care, I’ve got something to do and my spouse has not shot me yet. Of course, we don’t have a gun. Actually, she loves baseball as much or more than I do, but rolling dice is not her favorite sound.

It is going to be very interesting to see what happens to this game of ours as well as the rest of our culture as this pandemic plays out. Here is hoping we all make it, faux ball or not.

Here Today….Tomorrow?

By 1966, what had once been the Brooklyn Dodgers had been in four World Series since Walter O’Malley had told the city of New York to kiss off  and moved his team lock, stock and funny accents to Los Angeles, dragging the Giants along with him to some  podunk town up north from La La Land.

The lovable Bums were wearing shades now and some of them were guests on genuine Hollywood television shows and stuff. The difference between Don Drysdale and Donna Reed was that she could pretend to be a modest every day homemaker and he would knock down his mother if she crowded the plate but there they were.

The Dodgers had immediate success in their new home . All kinds of Californians, some even born there, filled one of the weirdest ball parks ever, the Coliseum, to watch major league ball and, after a hiccup ,as they say in the board rooms these days, in 1958 they started winning lots of games. They did that in Brooklyn too but not so many people were present. In 1959, parity, a thing that many people say they like until it happens, struck big time baseball. Mediocrity ruled. The Dodgers caught the reigning National League Champion Milwaukee Braves and then passed them by winning the playoffs. That qualified them to advance to the World Series against—what? Not the Yankees?—the Chicago White Sox. Their season record was 88-68 after finishing off the Braves while the Chicago team, called the Go-Go Sox at the time, won the American League pennant by five games over Cleveland with Casey Stengel‘s Yanks 15 games out in third place.  Those Yankees were aging but not as much as the Dodgers were. Carl Furillo (37) played 50 games. Gil Hodges was 35 but still clubbed 25 homers and drove in 80 runs. Duke Snider was still pretty good at 32 but this was clearly a team in transition. A 26 year old rookie named Maury Wills played 82 games at shortstop, stole 7 bases and provided a spark. Drysdale was 17-13, 1955 World Series MVP Johnny Podres was 14-9, and 23 year old Sandy Koufax was 8-6 with a 4.06 earned run average.

Then, in 1963, they really hit the big time. They won 99 games, swept the Yankees in the World Series, and enjoyed playing in their new yard, which was really meant for baseball  although many of the displaced people of Chavez Ravine did not agree. Koufax was 25-5, Drysdale 19-17, and Willie and Tommy Davis  were kicking ass. There was another hiccup in ’64, but then the ’65 team added Lou Johnson and Claude Osteen, scratched out a pennant over the Giants and beat the Twins in a seven game World Series. In Hollywood tradition, they performed a re-run in 1966, edging the Giants again with basically the same cast. But then….there appeared new darlings in baseball land, the Baltimore Orioles. Led by National League expatriate Frank Robinson and their own cast of  tough pitchers named Dave McNally, Jim Palmer and Wally Bunker, Baltimore swept the Dodgers in the Series,  But then…the Dodgers toured Japan after the season and Maury Wills left the team with what he said was an injury only to be found playing the banjo somewhere in Hawaii. In no time, Maury Wills was traded to Pittsburgh for two guys the Pirates didn’t need, Bob Bailey and Gene Michael.  But then…the immortal Koufax, after his spectacular run of Cy Young seasons, suddenly announced his retirement. Just as suddenly, the Dodgers were ordinary again for quite a while.

Is this how it is going to be for all of us who are floundering here on Earth with this human killing virus that, unlike the troubles of a baseball team, is likely to endure for a very long time?  Are there people that we know, friends and family, that we may never see again? That’s already true for many of us. Do things seem to be completely out of our control? Little things, like a walk to town to get the mail or a newspaper, are now difficult if not impossible. Are we safe? Do we know when this will end? Or if it will end? Some things might change for the better. Will we take our relationships with each other more seriously? Will we value things differently as it becomes more apparent what is really important? I don’t think that the superficial world of desire for material crap will survive this very well. Maybe that is what has the president and all of the quadruple chinned excuses for leaders in such a tizzy. And maybe folks kike me who get so wrapped up in things like baseball or whatever it is will gain some perspective. Here’s hoping.

 

The Way It Was

There I was  whining and moaning in the last piece about how MLBtv should be showing old games  and then bang! It appeared! Not directly from MLB but I was directed by same to YouTube, a division of Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet, the worldwide  masters of everything that Amazon and Microsoft don’t own, where they are now showing–for free!–one re-broadcast  per each of the 30 major league teams classic games from the past. Not really a hurrah moment but, at least, a good start.

Now I had a reason to get out of bed during my who knows how long this is going to last quarantine! I was afraid I was going to have to revert to reading books and learning about things and stuff. Whew! My first selection was the Pittsburgh Pirates entry, the seventh game of the 1971 World Series versus the Baltimore Orioles. You youngsters out there—you are out there, aren’t you?—may find it hard to believe, but once there was a time when both the Baltimore and Pittsburgh franchises were proud, top notch baseball outfits. Needing to have something to feel good about other than how well I washed my hands and how diligent I have been about not exposing myself to all of those disease carrying  low grade semi-zombies out there, this was an easy choice.

Baltimore was the defending World Champion team and the favored team no doubt with their glittering array of pitchers, strong defensive players, and power hitters. The team earned run average was 2.99 and Dave McNally, Pat Dobson, Jim Palmer and seventh game starter Mike Cuellar were all 20 game winners, something we may never see again even after Covid-19. In addition, they had Eddie Watt, Pete Richert, and Grant Jackson in the bullpen and each capable of saving a game. Shortstop Mark Belanger and Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson were the impenetrable left side of the infield and Paul Blair was a brilliant center fielder.  Boog Powell, Frank Robinson, Merv RettenmundDave Johnson, Don Buford, and Brooks Robinson powered an offense that led the American League in runs scored. How could they lose?

The Pirates’ best pitcher, Dock Ellis, had won 19 games in the regular season but was looking shaky in recent outings. He was knocked out of the first game in the third inning as Baltimore took an early lead to win, 5-3. The Orioles had also won the second game at home but the Pirates, behind right hander Steve Blass, turned the tables in their home park by winning all three games to take the series lead before Baltimore won the sixth game in ten innings back at home. The Pirates did not look, on paper, to be as strong as the Orioles but they definitely had some weapons. Chief among their weapons was right fielder Roberto Clemente, the future Hall of Fame player who, at 36 years of age, had batted .341, was still playing at a legendary level in the outfield, and, after not appearing in a World Series since 1960, was on a personal mission to win another championship. They also had 31 year old Willie Stargell, who had a peak season with 48 home runs and 125 runs batted in, and young first baseman Bob Robertson, who added 26 homers. The Pirates  had a strong bench, as did the Orioles, and a varied offense that scored even more runs than the Orioles had in the regular season. So it was a fun match.

The first big impression I got watching this game after nearly a half century was–my goodness–everyone seemed so calm, relatively speaking, of course. Curt Gowdy of NBC and Chuck Thompson, the regular Baltimore announcer, were calling the game with occasional comments from Tony Kubek in the stands and the tone was serious but relaxed. There was not a cluster of on air voices full of hype and hyperbole. There was a noticeable absence of irrelevant interviewing and, best of all, commercials were limited to between half innings. There were a few NBC network promotional announcements but by and large the emphasis was on the game being played. I was reminded of my respect for the way NBC did things in those days and , funny thing, Gowdy and Thompson didn’t seem nearly as over the hill and out of it as they did live to a mid-twenties aged university  student.

Another large difference was, bless my soul, it was a day game! On a Sunday afternoon! While NFL football games were being played! Unbelievable! I saw trees! Yes, from home plate in the pre-Camden Yards days, the batter saw a background of actual trees, not the kind Disney  used in Anaheim. That was just wonderful.

Here’s another thing you youngsters won’t believe: the first five innings took an hour and five minutes to play and the whole game lasted two hours and ten minutes. Plus there was only one brief camera shot of either team’s bullpen before the eighth inning.

Beyond all that, it was also a well played exciting game. Steve Blass, more recently a provider of amusing and informative color commentary on Pirates broadcasts, was the hero of the day along with Clemente, who broke a 0-0 tie in the fourth with a home run, as Blass pitched the whole game. Jose Pagan, starting at third base instead of Richie Hebner because manager Danny Murtaugh liked the way he batted against Mike Cuellar, drove in the winning run in the eighth. In Bruce Markusen’s book, The Team That Changed Baseball, the Pirates manager is quoted as having explained, “Jose has been around,and he has faced Cuellar a lot of times in the Caribbean during the winter. I think Pagan might do well against him.”  Irish analytics.

It also was great to see both of those great managers, Murtaugh and  Earl Weaver, in action. Weaver tried to get Blass and the Pirates riled in the first inning by making an agitated complaint to the umpires about something Blass was or was not doing in relation to the pitchers’ mound or the rubber. One could only imagine the field day FOX sports would have had with that. As it was, it was all handled calmly and intelligently by Thompson, Gowdy, and Kubek.  All in all, it was great fun. Let’s have some more.

Ask Doctor Anarchy

Well, what a revolting development this is! I realize that a lot of people are suffering terribly and that a pandemic is nothing to joke about but damn! Without sports or, as those snobbish Brits say, sport, what the hell is there to live for anyway? Can’t enjoy nature if I’m stuck inside and the weather is not so hot anyway. Nobody in my family wants to be around me because I’m so grumpy. The basset hound shies away even when I make cellophane wrapper noises because he’s afraid I’ll kick him or something.

 

Fortunately, we are not alone. That is to say, we are alone, but there are others out there in the same spot and we have electronic means to communicate with each other unless the power goes out. Several readers have sent messages and so now is a good time to read and respond. So pull up a bean bag and pour yourself a hot chocolate or a few daiquiris and let’s share. Here’s one from Hector Szymanski in Wilmington, North Carolina:

Dear Mr. Baseball: I am really concerned about the suspension of the MLB season because I fear that great players like Mike Trout and Josh Bell will not only lose valuable statistics in their career totals but also the income that their families need to get by in this day and age. Can’t they just play for the television audience?

BA: Hector, I really hate to discuss contracts and financial problems about people who are not myself, but I think you can be assured that those people will still get paid. As for career stats, well, at least they won’t be getting injured, and some of them will have a chance to heal from injuries they already have. And, could you please move a little further back away from your keyboard? Thanks.

That thing about television prompts me to make my semi-annual plea that those blockheads at MLB TV use the off season (and times like this) to show tapes or films of games from the past. Wouldn’t you rather watch the fourth game of the 1966 World Series than another episode of The Big Bang Theory or Wheel of Fortune? No? Well, I would. Now here’s one from Cara Lott in Encino, California:

Dear Mr. Baseball: This sign stealing business has me really upset and I just think that the Dodgers won the World Series against those Puerto Rican cheaters and that  Houston should forfeit their first 82 games this year so that they can’t repeat their crime. If we keep our borders closed both the fans and the games will be cleaner. Right?

Well, Cara, you could blame all of this on Carlos Beltran and Alex Cora if you want but those two players have, for the most part, been upstanding citizens in the past and, more importantly, there is no way that other people were not involved. And other teams, for that matter. Also, without players from other countries participating, the quality of play in the major leagues would revert to the relatively uninteresting form that it displayed in the late 40s and early 50s. We’ll call those the Al Campanis days.

Here is a more cheerful note from Ralph Rolph of Fort Lauderdale, Florida:

Dear Mr. Baseball: It’s really good for  Florida to have all of those baseball teams going back home and those Spring Break college kids self quarantining! We have the place practically all to ourselves! No traffic jams! I love it!

Good for you, Ralph. Who knows, this could be the wave of the future. If weather trends continue, all of those pesky tourists and retired folks in New England and other heretofore frigid places can just stay put!

Finally, we have this rather worried note from Jerome Widely of Nome, Alaska:

Dear Mr. Baseball: Watching ice melt can be fun sometimes but I got this television for a reason and the reason wasn’t to watch politicians bicker and yodel. This is getting serious. What if this thing just goes on and on and there are no baseball games to watch? Football is bad enough during football season, and they are not playing either. I can’t watch giants colliding with each other while tossing a basketball anywhere but in the hoop either. This sucks! Not even hockey! This has got to end sometime, right? I’m losing it!

Jerome, here is the sad truth. If governments start to take this seriously, and it looks like that is starting to happen, widespread free testing will occur and the tough realities that places like Korea and Italy are already facing will begin to be dealt with even in slow moving countries like the U.S. Warmer weather is expected to help. Then, and only then, will we be able to get back to our carefree indulgence in watching good athletes do their thing. Hang in there and get to know your neighbors, if only from a distance.

Mason Saunders

One of the brightest stories of the first half of this decade in baseball was the emergence of battery mates from the South  who had an immediate impact on the National League pennant races. Those two were Buster Posey from Leesburg, Georgia and Madison Bumgarner from Hudson, North Carolina. Both were signed by the San Francisco Giants and, after a very short period of giggling among Giants fans at the prospect of having  a battery of Bumgarner and Posey, they became leaders of a team destined to win three World Series Championships in five seasons from 2010 to 2014. Those three Giants championship teams did not really constitute any kind of dynasty because they were anything but dominant over other teams, but they were each well led by Bruce Bochy and his staff and, more importantly, fiery competitors like Bumgarner, Posey, and Hunter Pence.

The 2014 team was especially marvelous. They won 88 games and lost 74 to finish six games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in second place in the National League West. Once they got into the playoffs, however, it was a different story, and no player was more responsible for that than Madison Bumgarner. The big lefty was 24 years old and looking like the face of a winning franchise for many years to come. He won 18 of his 33 starts with four complete games, 219 strikeouts and, as a batter, a .258 batting average with four home runs that earned him a Silver Slugger award.  His 27 year old  mate Posey had one of his best seasons, batting .311 with 22 homers and 89 RBI. The Wild Card  Game was in Pittsbugh and was scoreless through three innings before Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam in the fourth  off Edinson Volquez. Bumgarner completed an 8-0 shutout and the Giants were on their way. They proceeded to beat Washington in the division series in four games and the St. Louis Cardinals in five games in the League Championship Series.  Bumgarner was the losing pitcher in the third game of the Washington series and then went 7 and two thirds innings to beat the Cardinals in the first game of that series,3-0. Then he pitched eight innings in the decisive fifth game, yielding three runs on five hits before Travis Ishikawa‘s three run homer in the ninth inning won it. Bumgarner then thrilled Giants fans and amazed the rest of the world with his MVP performance in the World Series. He won the first game 7-1, threw a complete game shutout to win Game 5, 5-0, and then finished the seventh game by hurling five shutout innings, allowing only two hits.

 

The big lefty’s legend grew in the next two seasons despite the fact that the Giants as a team began to hit the skids. He was an All Star in 2015 and’16, compiling records of 18-9 with a 2.93 ERA and 15-9 with a 2.74 earned run average. Legend had it that he also once did a roadside repair on the team bus and there was the MadBum competitive glare that  is the kind of thing you don’t mind when a guy is carrying the team but looks kind of foolish when he becomes ordinary. There were noteworthy stare downs with umpire Joe West and flashy outfielder Yasiel Puig of the hated rival Dodgers.

Then came trouble. MadBum did what a lot of reckless twenty somethings, especially the male variety, do. Despite his looming status as a millionaire big game  star with eventual Hall of Fame credentials, he got himself hurt doing something stupid , risking it all  by driving around on a dirt bike and hurting himself in the off season before the 2017 campaign. His resulting late start made for a 4-9, 3.32 record as the Giants continued to fade. He apologized for that and Giants fans were forgiving and sympathetic when, during Spring Training in 2018, he was struck by a batted ball and broke a finger. Another short season made for a 6-7, 3.26 record but this time it wasn’t his fault.

Now,at thirty years of age, Bumgarner is coming off a mediocre season that has baseball people wondering if he has, in fact, become just ordinary. Last year he was a typical .500 pitcher, winning 9 and losing 9 with an ERA of 3.90. The Giants said they wanted him back, but he oddly signed with the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks. It is not difficult to speculate that, if the home run balls continue to fly at record setting rates throughout the major leagues, and given the fact that his new home ball yard is much easier to hit in than the cool gray park in San Francisco, Madison Bumgarner will have a very difficult time holding opponents to fewer than four and a half runs per game. He is also hurt by the disturbing trend toward forbidding starting pitchers to pitch more than five or six innings even if they can field, hit, and bunt. That really hurts a guy like Bumgarner because he has proven that he is strong enough to be more like Steve Carlton or Juan Marichal than, say, Kirk Reuter.

If all that had not been enough, now comes the news that Bumgarner has had a somewhat secret life as a rodeo performer. Using the name Mason Saunders, he has been a competitive roper. That may be good for his macho man self esteem, but it probably excites his manager and pitching coach, not to mention whoever signs his paycheck, in all the wrong ways. Okay, MadBum, you’re a badass, now how about being a team player? The D-Backs were not looking for another Mordecai ” Three Fingers” Brown. Ask the rodeo folks, it does happen. At any rate, Giants fans are probably not so sorry he’s gone at this point.