Sam

Posts Tagged ‘baseball’

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 ?

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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?

The Old Met

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2010 at 6:07 pm

The Metrodome has been in the news lately. The roof collapsed after a heavy snowfall in the Minneapolis-St Paul area earlier this month forcing the Vikings to move their remaining two home games to another venue. And I read today that hundreds of high school and college baseball games, as well as the Twins winter workouts, will have to be moved or subject to cancellation because the damage will not be repaired until March.

I have always regarded the Metrodome with particular disdain, one reason being that it displaced a venerable stadium in Metropolitan Stadium. Metropolitan Stadium was home to the Twins and Vikings for many years and the scene of some memorable Games including the 1965 All star game and World Series, as well countless Vikings playoff games. It was one of those picturesque stadiums of the 1960s, with grass and fences, as opposed to astro-turf and walls, a look which came to dominate stadiums in the mid-1970s and 1980s. For this reason, Metropolitan Stadium was always one of my favorite venues for the NBC Saturday Game Of The Week.

The great Vikings teams of the 60s and 70s were synonymous with Metropolitan stadium. When I think back to those teams I see the barren playing field, the snow piled up on the sidelines and Alan Page’s vaporized breath as he stands in the huddle.

I never understood why Metropolitan Stadium ceased to be good enough for the Twins and why the Vikings suddenly could no longer play in cold weather. By 1980 the stadium was in need of repairs but renovations -along the lines of the the old Yankee Stadium remodeling from 1973-1976 – could have been undertaken. Instead Metropolitan Stadium fell victim to the civic craze for domed sports and entertainment facilities.

I have often considered re-locating to Minneapolis. I am not sure Tokyo is right for me and California, my home state, is in crisis. In Minnesota I am sure I would find solid midwestern, American values, good schools and affordable home prices. The cold winters do not bother me. Were Metropolitan Stadium still in use I would be there in a heartbeat.

As long as the Metrodome stands, however, the move is on hold.

Ron Santo 1940-2010

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2010 at 4:13 am

I saw in the headlines yesterday that Ron Santo has passed away. The cause was complications from diabetes. In fact, Santo had battled diabetes for much of his life and several years ago both of his legs had to be amputated. Still, this did not stop Santo from pursuing a career in broadcasting and he endeared himself to Cubs fans as much in the broadcasting booth as he had on the field.

When I was a kid, I always looked forward to the Cubs visit to San Francisco because I would have the opportunity to see the powerful Cubs lineup including perennial all-stars Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo ( why the Cubs never won with this lineup, which included Don Kessigner, Glenn Beckert, Randy Hundly, Jim Hickman et al. is anyone’s guess). Santo was the power hitting National League third baseman, par excellence and always batted third in my wiffle ball lineup ( fortunately there was no fantasy baseball in those days, just wiffle ball). He played his entire career in Chicago, albeit his last year was with the White Sox and not the Cubs. Baseball fans of my vintage will always associate number 10 with Ron Santo.

Although putting up solid career numbers including 342 home runs and a lifetime .277 average ( much better numbers than Hall of Famer Joe Morgan can boast), Santo has always been passed over for induction into the Hall. Given the courage which he displayed, playing his entire career with diabetes and involving himself in numerous diabetes-related charities both during and after his playing days, Santo really deserves a place in Cooperstown. To think that one day the Hall will include players who disgraced the game with steroid use ( I am thinking here about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens) , while truly noble individuals like Ron Santo are excluded seems unfair. But then again, election to the Hall of Fame does not carry the same cachet as it used to so maybe we just shouldn’t care.

Anyway, Ron, thanks for the wonderful memories. You will be missed.

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.

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.

Interleague Play; not for the connoisseur

In Pet Peeves on June 30, 2009 at 8:09 am

Well, another season of inter-league play has ended. The world is right again. The Giants are playing the Cards, The A’s are playing the Tigers, The Red Sox are playing the Orioles etc etc.

Inter-league play is something I wish would just go away.  It has not only deprived the World Series of considerable mystique – there used to be much anticipation before the Series because it was the first time teams from the AL and NL met in any given season excluding an occasional match up in Spring Training – but inter-league play has generally sucked the romance out of the game.

In the “old days”  if you followed a National League team you did not even remotely consider the American League.  If you grew up in NY, for example, and were a Mets fan you followed the Mets and probably never even so much as glanced at an AL box score. Heated arguments would arise occasionly with your friends who were Yankees fans, about which was the better league, the NL or the AL ?  But that was the great unknown and in this respect baseball mirrored life in that there were some questions we would never have the answers to. For an 11 year old kid the question of whether the NL or the AL was the superior league was as important as the question of whether there was life after death ? Call it the Beauty of the Unknown.

Ah..the good old days…when the AL teams played only AL teams and the NL teams played only NL teams. And then in October the best AL team would meet the best NL team in a 7 game series. There was a purity to this arrangement.  It was as classic as Scotch on the Rocks. Interleague play, on the other hand, resembles a Long Island Ice Tea, a drink popular with tourists and frat boys, but most definitely not something for the connoisseur.

In Praise of Folly

In Pet Peeves on June 29, 2009 at 10:04 am

In San Francisco taking your baseball glove to a Giants game has become de rigueur. Every time I tune into a Giants game, team broadcaster Mike Krukow (“Kruk” as he is affectionately known to local devotees) applauds those fans who have brought their mitts to the ballpark.  Krukow proudly observes that Giants fans with gloves far outnumber their counterparts in other National League cities, and he always adds that by bringing a glove to the game one attains a certain level of “coolness”.

This is all news to me. When I was a kid the one thing you most certainly did not do was to take your glove to the ballpark. Taking your glove to the game was one of the anti-social behavoirs of adolescence, and if you even so much as thought about it your friends would mock you. And the next time they were going to do something cool, they would probably leave you out. If you could not catch a foul ball with your bare hands then you didn’t deserve the foul ball in the first place. That was the American Macho ideal in action at the ripe age of 11.

When I go to Giants games nowadays and see kids with gloves I really have to shake my head. But I reserve my harshest scorn for the adults with gloves. These are the kids from my childhood with buck teeth and black horn-rimmed glasses, who wore plaid short sleeve shirts and sat at the front of the room for Math. They talked like Sherman and Peabody and never popped their pimples. They are the kids who had no athletic ability whatsoever and if they had a baseball glove it was usually a Montgomery Wards or a Kokona, an obscure brand imported from Japan – before Japanese imports had cachet. Yes….they have grown up… but they are still nerds.

Maple Bats

In Pet Peeves on June 21, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Was watching the Giants game the other night.  Bats were exploding everywhere and one shard almost took the eye out of home plate umpire, Brian Runge. At that point Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper turned to his broadcast partner, Mike Krukow, and said “partner…it is only a matter of time..” Kuiper was of course referring to the likelihood that one of these days someone is going to be seriously injured when a maple bat breaks and a piece of it goes in the wrong direction.

Not only are maple bats dangerous, but it distracts from the visual enjoyment of the game when players and batboys scatter on the infield every couple of innings to pick up the pieces of a shattered bat. The careless ease with which today’s player breaks a bat and quickly replaces it with another bat also de-romanticizes the game. Part of the lore of Joe  Dimaggio’s 56 game hitting streak is that he used a total of 3 bats !  The first bat he used for 41 games until it was stolen between games of a double header in Cleveland, an incident that made national headlines until the bat was returned a few days later. One of these bats sold at auction a few years ago for an absurd amount of money.  But what a great story !  Can’t see this happening nowadays when players go through bats like Kleenex.

There is a common perception that balls hit with maple bats travel further because maple is more dense than ash. For this reason so many players nowadays prefer maple over ash. Still you would think that MLB would outlaw these bats simply because of the risk they pose to players, coaches and spectators.  The fact that ballparks nowadays are smaller than those of yesteryear means that players will still hit their share of home runs. Moreover, the “dead ball era” tells us that baseball is not only about home runs.

But the league does not act because they are focused solely on making the game as entertaining as possible.

In the meantime we flinch with every broken bat.

Then and Now

In Trivia and Nostalgia on June 18, 2009 at 4:09 pm

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I normally don’t attend inter-league contests on the principal that the National and American leagues should not meet until the World Series( I am the” Sports Purist” after all, an unsolicited  name fashioned for me by my friend Lin ). But a friend of a friend came up with a “club box” ( the Giants BTW have an absurd 14 tiers of ticket prices) for this past Tuesday’s contest between the Giants and the Angels and so I said “what the heck” and went to the game.

Seats were great. The game less so. Giants fell behind early 7-1 leaving “Tom” and me plenty of time to reminisce about baseball’s Golden Age. I think we got started in O’Neils bar before the game where, under the influence of a couple of Guinesses,  I had to tell a young couple decked out in bright red, garish Angels gear that the face of the Angels franchise in the 1960s was a phenom shortstop by the name of Jim Fregosi. Of course they had never heard of him. It never ceases to astonish me how little people, who say they are fans, know about the history of the game.

Anyway, during the game Tom and I got on the subject of the paltry salaries of  the players of yesteryear. I brought up the name of Larry Colton, a pitcher for the Phils who, after leaving the Phils, clerked at Northside Books in Berkeley Ca. That was in the early 70s and he probably made about $3.25 an hour. But that didn’t matter to us. We used to go talk to him all the time, just in awe that a major league pitcher was down there standing behind the counter at the local bookstore.

Duke Snider – as Doris Kearns Goodwin’ mentions in her book on the Brooklyn Dodgers Wait til Next Year – was a mailman in the off-season. Can you imagine growing up in those days in Brooklyn and seeing Duke Snider at your door with a package ? This is just one more example of how the game has changed over the years. In the old days, the players were just like you and me, getting up every day and going to spiritually taxing, hum-drum jobs. The economic gulf  between most players and fans didn’t exist,  and doctors, as they should, made more than pitchers.

 It was a different game then.