Sam

Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page

The lost art of fan mail

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2011 at 6:32 am

I was looking through my photos the other day and came across this picture of Willie Mays reading fan mail between games of a doubleheader sometime back in the mid-1960s. I think this picture says so much about how the game has changed. Writing fan-mail is a lost art for 10 and 11 year old kids nowadays. Indeed, the very term “fan mail” seems archaic when I use it here. I imagine that if a kid nowadays wants to send a message to a player they do so via Facebook or twitter, or one of the other bloated, solipsistic social media outlets. And you wonder if a player received a letter, would they even read it? Probably not. Players nowadays are far too wealthy and their time far too valuable to take the time to acknowledge individual messages from admiring fans. Can you imagine Alex Rodriguez on the trainers table at Yankee Stadium reading fan mail as Mays is here ? I certainly can’t.

But back in Willie Mays’ day players read letters and answered them. The expression on Mays’ face says it all: the game had humanitas back then.

Boy, how times have changed.

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The All-Star game

In Uncategorized on July 7, 2011 at 5:17 am

As baseball gets ready for the All-Star game, I have seen a few articles lately bemoaning the demise of the “mid-summer classic.” Last year, for example, the game had its lowest ratings ever after a steady decline over the years. In fact no one seems to get excited about the All-Star game anymore. I certainly don’t. I usually watch an inning or two at most. But that is out of sheer habit. After all, I have been watching the All-Star game since 1970.

The All-Star game used to be a game we looked forward to from the first day of the season. It was an exhibition game featuring the games greatest players and average players who were having great years. Willie Mays appeared in 24 all-star games. Billy Grabarkewitz, one. Exhibition notwithstanding the teams played hard to win and there was a noticeable absence of fraternizing between players during the game. There were no frivolous events like Home Run Derby with gold balls or a celebrity softball game. It was an exhibition baseball game pure and simple. But one of the highest quality.

Nowadays the All-Star game has a decidedly carnival like atmosphere, in part because of events like Home Run Derby. The game itself is played with nonchalance. Players from opposing sides intermingle good-naturedly and even exchange high-fives after good plays. But this is understandable when everyone on the field is privileged and a millionaire.

Yes, this may be why we have lost interest in the All-Star game and, some would argue, with baseball in general: because the All-Star game showcases the vast gap that now exists in America between elite athletes and the average citizen. Where we once could relate to a perennial All-Star like Stan Musial, who mowed his own lawn and left his number in the St. Louis telephone directory, we simply can no longer relate to players who are so far removed from ourselves.

So once again this year I will watch an inning at most. Or maybe not watch at all.

Carmen Fanzone: Renaissance Man

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2011 at 3:53 pm

In the early 1970s the Cubs had a utility infielder by the name of Carmen Fanzone. Fanzone bounced around the Red Sox farm system for several years before making the big league club in 1970 but he was traded to the Cubs prior to the 1971 season. Plagued by injuries Fanzone never realized the potential he showed as a young player coming out of Detroit in the early 1960s and he was out of baseball by 1974.

The interesting thing about Fanzone was his off-season avocation: professional trumpet player. Fanzone played in Jazz clubs in Chicago, gave lessons and at one point was even a member of the Tonight Show orchestra. On road trips with the Cubs, while most of the other players were out on the town, Fanzone would be holed up in his room playing scales on his trumpet.

When I think about Carmen Fanzone I think about some of the other uniquely well-rounded and talented ballplayers of his era including Curt Flood, an accomplished painter or Denny McClain, an organist who was good enough to record two albums with Capitol Records. Reggie Smith, an all-star outfielder with a host of teams, was proficient on several instruments including, the cello, violin, clarinet and saxophone. On the road with the Red Sox or Cardinals, Smith would often forgo the bars for the art galleries. Steve Stone was a state–wide championship bowler and ping-pong player. And the list goes on and on….

Well-rounded ballplayers like Fanzone just don’t exist anymore for the simple reason that society nowadays attaches value to and amply rewards rigid specialization. Athletes are not immune and it is rare now to hear of a professional baseball player who can do anything well but play baseball. We seldom learn interesting details about a player – simply because there are none to tell. We have only statistics.

It was a better game when Carmen Fanzone played.

Happy 4th of July