Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

Catchers masks; then and now

In Uncategorized on October 29, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Watching Buster Posey in the World Series, I cannot help but recall the old days when catchers would just flip around their batting helmet before putting on their catcher’s mask and that would be all the protection they needed behind the plate. That has become something of a classic look nowadays as so many catchers, like Posey, have gone to the” hockey style” catcher’s mask, a mask which looks like it was developed not in the musty office of an aging Rawlings sales rep but  in a aero-dynamics lab on an American university campus somewhere. For the old school baseball fan, like myself, who grew up watching austere receivers like Johnny Bench or Bill Freehan the new mask is an eyesore and just another useless accessory, like the ankle guard or personalized wrist band, that threatens the visual simplicity of the game.

And then there are the special oversized helmets for players who have suffered a head injury or concussion, like David Wright, or Francisco Cervelli. Every time I see Cervelli in that ridiculously oversized helmet I cannot help but think of  Marvin the Martian from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons.  I wonder how would Freddie Patek, all 5’4″ of  him would  have looked in one of those ?

This proliferation of specialized helmets is, I suspect, a reflection of our over-protective society and baseball’s propensity in recent years to fashion a new look for itself in an effort to attract younger fans.  Fortunately, I have not met anyone who likes this trend.


Ron Swoboda’s catch

In Uncategorized on October 29, 2010 at 5:38 pm

I remember a few years ago, one of the sponsers during the World Series had a contest to rank the greatest catches ever. I forget which catch was voted # 1 but it may have been a Gary Matthews Jr. catch from a meaningless game few years back ( of course no one mentioned that Matthews’s name had come up several times during the steroids scandal) . The Mays catch in the 1954 World Series came in second I believe. However, nowhere was the Ron Swoboda catch in game 3 of the 1969 World Series mentioned. Mickey Mantle called Swoboda’s catch the “greatest catch he had ever seen.”

Swoboda’s is an amazing play, a combination of, luck, instinct and precision timing. But what fascinates me most is the sheer quickness at which the play unfolds.  Brooks Robinson’s line drive off Tom Seaver is headed to the gap in right center field seemingly before Robinson has even left the batter’s box. There is no reaction time. Swoboda dives for the ball, his body stretched as if on a Medieval rack. He spears the ball in the webbing of his glove, rolls over and is up on his feet in one motion to make the throw into the infield. All this action happens in seconds. That there were 2 runners on in the ninth inning of a one run game, pivotal game 3 of the series, gives it even more meaning.  Had Swoboda not made the catch the Mets very likely would have lost the game and the series to the heavily favored Orioles.  One of the enduring images of the 1960s, the Mets world series victory, would never have occurred.

The catch changed history.

Parade of Millionaires

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2010 at 1:30 am

Watching the Rangers celebration following their victory against the Yankees the other day, I couldn’t help but think of Chris Chambliss’s game winning home run off Mark Littell in game 5 of the 1976 AL Championship series. Remember that scene of total pandemonium as fans spilled out of the stands and onto the field. Chambliss could not even finish rounding the bases but headed straight for the dugout after touching second base. In fact some of the baseball’s most memorable images are as much about the fans as they are about any player or great play. Another example is the timeless picture of Bill Mazeroski’s crossing the plate as he is mobbed by fans after his HR in game 7 of the 1960 World Series.

Contrast these images to the highly choreographed celebrations that we see during the playoffs and World Series nowadays. The Rangers , for example, took a “victory lap” and then ascended a stage that had been erected out by second base where they accepted the AL Championship trophy and gave interviews on National TV while sipping Ginger Ale. The whole thing looked more like a political convention than a pennant celebration. Fans, of course, were not allowed onto the field. They never are any more. Alas.

I have often wondered about this. When I was a kid you always looked forward to that last out of the World Series when fans spilled out onto the field in unbridled joy and anarchy. In fact, they still allow this in college sports. Watch an NCAA football game and you will see fans routinely tear down goal posts after an upset. But MLB for some reason no longer allows fans on the field and teams, come playoff time, line the perimeter of the field with heavy security to prevent such behavior.

The cynical side of me says that they do this not to protect fans, as teams are wont to say, but to protect the players and, more importantly, the millions and millions of dollars invested in them. Regardless, the result is that great moments do not become great images. Compare Chambliss’s HR to Aaron Boones HR in game 7 of the 2003 AL Championship series. Although both home runs sent the Yankees to the World Series, Boone’s home run, one could argue, was much more dramatic coming as it did in extra innings against the arch rival Red Sox. Yet that moment is not imprinted in our minds because there was no ensuing celebration like we saw with the Chamblis home run. Fans were kept off the field while Boone simply rounded the bases and went into the dugout. One of the great finishes in baseball history ended just like any other game.

San Francisco was once a good baseball town.

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2010 at 8:56 pm

There was an article in the San Francisco Chronicle a few days ago about the insanely astronomical prices of World Series tickets. According to the article prices on one popular website tickets for Game 1 in San Francisco run from $ 390.00 for standing room up to $ 91,000 for a premium box seat behind the plate or dugout ( yes, folks, that’s ninety-one thousand dollars to watch a ballgame ). On another website mentioned in the article prices were more “reasonable,” starting at about $500 for standing room and going up to about $12,000 for a prime seat. Oddly enough, while the Giants themselves sanction this type of activity on websites like Stub Hub, where season ticket holders sell their tickets usually for two or three times the face value. if you go to AT&T Park you will see signs outside prohibiting scalping. Don’t ever ask the Giants about this and expect to get an answer. I have tried.

San Francisco used to be a fan-friendly baseball town, meaning you could always walk up to the box office on the day of the game and get a ticket. Even for playoff games tickets were available to the general public ( this term no longer means everyone unfortunately but your average working stiff who is making under $40.000 and sending his kids to an under-performing public school because that is all he can afford ) Unfortunately all this has changed since the team moved to AT&T Park. Locating the ballpark on the edge of the Financial District has attracted a new demographic to Giants games: The Yuppie. Because the Yuppie tends not to be knowlegable about baseball and thinks nothing of spending a hundred dollars for a ticket, he/she is targeted by the ticket broker who buys up all the seats. This is the law of supply and demand at its most basic. Yuppie demands, Ticket broker supplies. Price increases.

All the while, the people who really make the city run, the people who have lived in San Francisco most of their lives, the people who have paid taxes and raised their children in San Francisco, the people who spent their childhoods at Candlestick and know who Jim Ray Hart is, the Muni drivers, the clerks at City Hall, the concierges at the city’s hotels are priced out of enjoying a ballgame.

There is something just not right about this.

Turnpike Stadium

In Uncategorized on October 22, 2010 at 7:55 pm

I just finished watching the Rangers conclude their series with the Yankees, on their way to their first World Series. Athough I have rooted for the Yankees for years I find myself indifferent to their fortunes now – since they have moved into the new “Yankee Stadium.” By the fourth or fifth inning today I found myself rooting for Texas, a strange phenomena in itself. I mean I don’t even like the Rangers, one reason being that the stadium they play in is a claustrophobic monument to bad architecture. It looks more like a set at the Grand Ole Opry than a baseball park. I cringe to think that the World Series will be played there.

The old Arlington Stadium, on the other hand, seemed like a nice place to watch a game. It was built in 1965 as Turnpike Stadium and was similar to other Modernist ballparks of the era e.g. Candlestick Park , Dodger Stadium, the Oakland Coliseum. The open design of these stadiums lent itself to introspection. Between pitches you would often find yourself looking into the blue void beyond the outfield thinking of nothing in particular, maybe a distant memory from your childhood, or a time when you saw Mickey Mantle play or maybe just something as mundane as the new AC Delco battery in your car.  In this sense, the design of ballparks like Arlington Stadium, underscored baseball’s nature as a quiet, reflective game.

Unfortunately, parks nowadays, like the new Rangers stadium, are anything but meditative. Your senses are bombarded from the minute you enter the gate. All the concession stands have TV monitors, the radio broadcast is audible in the bathrooms and your ears are assualted with rock music between every batter.

Silence is no longer golden. Apparently, it is now bad business.

Pom Poms

In Uncategorized on October 22, 2010 at 3:09 am

I tuned into the Giants – Phils game five today. Good game but for the likes of me I cannot understand why teams are handing out pom poms. It looked as if everyone at ATT Park tonight had a bright orange pom pom. It is hard enough trying to watch a game nowadays when the 11 year old kid in front of you has a foam finger and oversized foam rodeo hat and the vendor with the rainbow cotton candy ( it is no longer pink , folks)  is obstructing your vision every couple of innings. But can you imagine trying to watch a ballgame when EVERYONE in your section is waving a bright orange pom pom ? I certainly can’t. Unfortunately, most of the teams encourage this pop frenzy. There are a few exceptions like the Yankees and Red Sox. Indeed, the vibe at the ballpark these days – with the blaring music, dot racing, kissing contests, food courts, and pom poms is more similar to an amusement park than to a ballgame. Contrast this to the baseball crowds of old, like the photo above of Milwaukee Braves fans lining up for the World Series in 1957. Do these look like the kind of people who would be waving pom poms ? I think not.

Baseball and integration

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2010 at 2:55 pm

I  just finished a book about The Birmingham Black Barons, entitled Willie’s Boys. The book is by John Kilma and it chronicles the Birmingham Black Barons 1948 season – Mays’s first season in professional baseball. The book contains a wealth of information about the Negro leagues, details the ardour and injustices black players faced playing in the south, as well as the excitement in the Negro leagues at a time baseball had just begun to “experiment” with segregation. I use that word because it really was an experiment.

One can always learn something from a book like this. For example, it was interesting to read about Branch Rickey. The standard line on Rickey is that he brought Jackie Robinson to the majors because he had a deeply rooted moral committment to integration. Not so according to Kilma who argues, concvincingly, that Rickey’s was a business decision and nothing more.

There is also pathos in this book. Many great Negro League players, such as Barons Manager, Piper Davis, never had the chance to play in the majors simply because their playing careers were at an end when black players were just starting to trickle into the Major Leagues. The most famous of these players was, of course, Josh Gibson. But there were many other Negro League legends who never got the chance to play in the Major Leagues and one senses that they looked upon the change with both hope and regret.

More than anything, however, the book reminds us what an unjust society we used to live in. Watching the Giants-Phillies game the other day, I could not help but think about Willie’s Boys every time the camera panned into the stands or dugout and I saw black and white sitting together. It is nice to feel that, to some extent, we have been able to overcome our prejudices and that everyone has the opportunity now to play on the same field or watch a game from the same vantage point. Progress is a good thing.

Why I don’t like the Giants

In Uncategorized on October 17, 2010 at 9:50 pm

I am from the Bay Area where I grew up a Giants fan. In fact, if I had to name one sports team that informed my childhood it would be the San Francisco Giants. I love to recall those great Giants teams of the late 60s and early 70s – with Mays, McCovey, Marichal et al. as well as the Giants of the early 80s with Jack Clark, Greg Minton Darrell Evans et al. I still wear my 1965 Giants hat as if it were a religious artifact. Paradoxically, however, I root against the team that now that plays at ATT Park. People are puzzled by this. My reasons, however, are as follows:

1.) The Giants have turned their back on tradition. Of the three original NY teams, only the Giants wear uniforms different from those they wore in NY. The Dodgers and Yankees wear the same uniforms in 2010 that they wore in 1960. The Giants,on the other hand, have changed their uniform style at least five times since moving to San Francisco. For years fans clamoured for the team to bring back the the uniforms of the Mays, McCovey & Marichal era.  When the ownership changed hands in 1993, the marketing dept said they were bringing back the old uniforms but what we got, and what the Giants still wear 17 years later, is a bastardization of that classic 60s look.  The lettering on the road uniform is too small and on the home uniform too large.  Why they just couldn’t replicate every detail of  the old uniforms, as the Yanks and Dodgers do,  I have no idea.  Stupid.

2.) Neither the Yankees nor the Dodgers have a mascot, obviously aware that such buffoonery is not befitting of their august traditions. The Giants, on the other hand, have pandered to the masses with mascots such as “The Crazy Crab” and “Lou Seal.” Mascots are for expansion teams ( the teams are usually so bad management has to come up with something to entertain the fans) not for time-honoured franchises.

3.) The Giants have no Bob Sheppard, no Vin Scully, no Ross Porter. The Management simply hasn’t seen fit to attach any importance to continuity in the broadcast booth, failing to understand that fans sometimes grow to love a team because of the team’s announcers. Although the team’s current announcers, Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper have established themselves with local fans, beloved broadcasters of an earlier era were discarded like empty milk cartons. Once again, management has turned its back on tradition. Sheer stupidity.

4.) Giants fans cheered Barry Bonds as he was being indicted on perjury charges, oblivious to his deep moral flaws and failing to understand that the Giants, as one of the older franchises, have a standard to uphold. Bonds was quite simply a disgrace to a franchise that boasts the great names of McGraw, Mathewson, Hubbell, Ott, Mays, McCovey et al.  But even today Giants mangement and fans embrace him.

5.)  The new breed of Giants fan is a transplant. He has moved to the Bay Area to work in the computer industry where he makes well over 100K a year. His car of choice is a BMW or mini-Cooper and he reads books on Kindle. He is ignorant of the history of franchise and goes to a game just because it has become “the thing to do in San Francisco”. He spends much of his time at the ballpark on his cell phone or waiting in long lines for garlic fries and a gourmet burger. He wears a replica jersey.

If you go to a Giants game nowadays and the guy next to you is a slob with mustard stains on his shirt who knows who Jim Ray Hart is then you have won the lottery. Alas, usually they have never heard of him and you are left sitting there in silence staring at your beer …..and wishing “Lou Seal” would just go away.