Sam

Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

The problem with baseball nowadays

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Yet another story about an overpaid major league ballplayer on the wires today. The Giants signed back-up catcher Eli Whiteside to a one-year $ 600 K contract. That is the figure that Whiteside will earn if he makes the big league club. If he is placed on the minor league roster he will make $ 175 K next season. Another way of looking at this is that if Whiteside makes the minor league team next year he will be paid more than Willie Mays ever made in his prime years with the Giants. In fact Mays’ top salary with the Giants was $ 180 K in 1971-72. I wonder how Wille Mays feels when he hears that a back up catcher who hit .197 last year, whose lifetime average is a paltry .218 and whose game-used bats don’t even sell for $ 20.00 on EBAY stands to make more money in the minor leagues than he (Mays) made as the marquee player in the National League for twenty years ?

The argument can be made of course that $ 180 K – when the adjustment is made for inflation – was worth far more in 1972 than it is nowadays. But how much more ? According to the US Govt official Consumer Product Index inflation calculator $ 180,000 in 1972 has the same buying power as $974 K in 2011. In other words, if Eli Whiteside can get his average over .200 in 2012 he will probably be making more than Willie Mays, inflation and all.

All of this begs the question, what is wrong with America nowadays that a professional baseball player – even a lousy one – makes so much money ?

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Enough is not enough

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2011 at 6:23 pm

I was pleased to see that newly crowned NL MVP, Ryan Braun, has tested positive for PEDs. I can think of nothing more embarrassing to Major League Baseball and Bud Selig. Braun is one of the sports premier sluggers and his role on a resurgent Milwaukee Brewers team was one of the feel-good stories of the year. Not since the days of Gorman Thomas and Cecil Cooper has Milwaukee rallied around a team and two sluggers like it did this year around the Brewers, Cecil Fielder and Ryan Braun. That Braun won the MVP award came as something of a surprise to some people but I don’t think anyone said he didn’t deserve it.

Well, he obviously did not.

The revelation that Braun tested positive for PEDS comes on the heels of the news that Major League Baseball is going to reinstate Manny Ramirez and cut his suspension for drug use in half from 100 to 50 games. Ramirez has been caught cheating multiple times and you would think that the Commissioners’ office – if it was truly committed to cleaning up the sport and sending a message to people, players and fans alike – would say “enough” and put Ramirez on the ineligible list, as it did once with Pete Rose. But baseball recognizes that Ramirez is still a big draw so drug use or not they welcome him back and they are even making it easier for him return. All this says, at least to me, is that MLB cares very little about restoring integrity to the game.

Until we have someone in the Commissioners office who is committed to a clean sport and who is willing to issue lifetime bans for repeated drug use – even if this means a confrontation with the MLB Players Association and a lengthy strike – then the problem will not get any better, Every exemplary performance on the field, such as we saw this year when Albert Pujols hit 3 hrs in a World Series game, will be subject to suspicion. Was it real ?

Probably not.

I wonder what Bowie Kuhn would think of all this ?

They don’t make ’em like Frank Thomas anymore

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Usually when the name “Frank Thomas” comes up these days one thinks about “The Big Hurt” who spent 18 seasons in the major leagues, mostly for the Chicago White Sox, and who retired in 2010 with Hall-of-Fame credentials: .301 lifetime BA; 521 hrs; 1704 RBIs. But years ago there was another Frank Thomas, whose nickname was “The Big Donkey.” The Big Donkey played for a host of clubs over 15 big league seasons and the numbers he put up upon his retirement in 1966 were very respectable: .266 lifetime BA; 286 hrs; 962 RBIs. Thomas was a member of the inaugural Mets teams in 1962 and 1963 and led the Mets in HRs in 1962 with 34, a record that was not broken until Dave Kingman hit 37 in 1976.

But what I find interesting are the minutiae from the Big Donkey’s career:

Thomas always wanted to be an airline steward and to this end he would don an apron and help serve in-flight meals on the Mets flights. Long time United Airlines stewardess, Barbara Mueller once said of Thomas, “Outside of this girl, Jane, who handles first-class on our New York to San Francisco Champagne flight, I think that Frank Thomas is the best stewardess on United Airlines.” Of course at one time in America it was not considered inappropriate to use the term stewardess.

Thomas, it was said, could catch the hardest throw of any player and do this barehanded. Willie Mays once accepted the challenge and lost. The genesis of this talent is that Thomas’s parents could not afford a glove for him – he grew up at the tail end of the Depression – and he had to learn to catch a ball with his bare hands.

Thomas was well-known for abstaining from night life while on the road. Instead, The Big Donkey would spend his time in his hotel room reading and answering fan mail. That in itself sounds positively archaic by today’s solipsistic standards.

From 1941 – 1946 Thomas trained to be a Roman Catholic Priest. He apparently had a change of heart at some point ( maybe it were his aspirations to become an airline stewardess), married and became the father of eight children. The photogenic Thomas family – large even by the standards of the 1960s – became a favorite subject for local photographers wherever Thomas played, particularly in New York.

Maybe Thomas’s greatest stat is that he remains married to his wife of 60 years. I guess he really did stay in his room and answer fan mail after all.

Bowls and salad dressing

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2011 at 6:07 am

Not that I really take an interest in college football anymore, but I took a look at the bowl matchups today and see that the BCS is once again embroiled in controversy – mainly for the Sugar Bowl matchup this year which pits Michigan against Virginia Tech. There are a handful of teams ranked much higher than Michigan and VTU and many people feel these two particular teams have no business in the Sugar Bowl game. I can’t say I agree since I am a Michigan grad.

But I really wish the BCS would just go away. The controversy surrounding the national champion was supposed to end when the BCS came into existence years ago. On the contrary it seems as if there is more controversy now than there ever was with the AP and UPI college football polls.

Life used to be so simple with just five bowl games at the end of the year (all played on Jan 1 I would add ) and two national polls. Most years there was no controversy as the same team usually finished atop both the AP and UPI polls. Occasionally there was a split but the discussion raged for a few days and then died as we headed into winter. Now there are over 30 bowl games and a handful of polls and the controversy starts as soon as the first BCS poll is released mid-season.

The contrast between college football nowadays and when I was growing up kind of reminds me of the salad dressing section at the local supermarket. Where there used to be just Seven Seas and Kraft there are now about 40 competing brands and varieties. You can easily spend 15 minutes at the supermarket nowadays just trying to decide on a salad dressing. Life is just too complicated now.

And so is college football.

Fans and players – then and now

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2011 at 11:43 pm

One of my pastimes is collecting vintage sports photos, some of which you see here on the Sports Purist. I recently bought this photo of Reggie Smith taken in the mid 1960s. When I look at this wonderful picture I cannot help but think how sports in America has changed over the last 40 years. Is there any ballpark in America nowadays where you could find a crowd that resembles this wholesome vignette of Fenway Park circa 1966? The answer is, of course, no. Crowds at ballparks and stadiums nowadays are often rude, inebriated and sometimes violent -witness the Bryan Stow beating at Dodger Stadium at the beginning of this season or the shooting of two fans following a 49ers exhibition game this past summer. In fact, I found it very interesting that after the Stow incident many longtime Dodger fans said they no longer attended Dodger games because the gang presence at Dodger Stadium had become too ominous. Needless to say, it is hard to reconcile my image of picturesque Dodger Stadium over the years with the reality of the place nowadays. Many of the other parks are no different.

The other thing that struck me about this photo is the proximity between player and fans, the physical proximity but the emotional proximity as well. Smith seems genuinely at home with the fans as they do with him. Maybe this is because Smith’s income, when this picture was taken, was probably at or around the MLB minimum in 1966, under $ 10,000 a year. In other words, what the average American was making back in 1966. The only thing that sets Smith apart from everyone else in the photo is the fact that he is wearing a uniform and they are not. Yes, he is black and they are white but even race does not register in this photo. Looking at this image one cannot help but feel that there was once a unique closeness between players and fans, a closeness which no longer exists.

Finally, one other thing that makes this photo so wonderful: when is the last time you were in an American ballpark or stadium and did not see a tattoo?