Sam

Posts Tagged ‘Willie Mays’

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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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.

Spring Training, circa 2011

In Uncategorized on February 18, 2011 at 5:42 am

I was talking to a friend in Hong Kong yesterday and he mentioned that it was the first day of Spring Training. Whenever someone talks about Spring Training, I cannot help but think of a wonderful Roger Angell essay, “The old folks behind home,” first published in the New Yorker in 1962 and re-published in Angell’s collection of baseball essays, The Summer Game. Angell’s is a wonderful essay that describes the adagio pace of spring training as it once was, games played in front of sparse crowds, fans -many of them retirees rich in their knowledge of the game – and players mingling in casual proximity as if in the produce section at a local supermarket. I love this essay and read it every March, for this is how I remember Spring training as well.

How different is spring training nowadays. Most games are sold-out, attracting crowds in some parks that would equal crowds during the regular season. A crowd of 15,000 for a Grapefruit League contest, for example, would have been unheard of when I was a kid but it is routine today. As the attendance figures have escalated, so have the ticket prices. In the 1960s a spring training ticket cost $ 0.50. Today when I looked on EBAY there were over 5000 listings for tickets and the going price seemed to be about $ 25.00. Regrettably, the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues are no longer names that resonate as teams are wont to schedule some spring training games in their regular season ballparks or even abroad. It is not uncommon nowadays for teams to play an exhibition game in Tokyo, of all places. Worst of all, teams have fantasy camps to go along with the big-league camp which means that at some point during the spring you have to suffer images of your boyhood idols wearing anachronistic polyester uniforms that do not conceal the comestible excesses of retirement.

In essence Spring Training has become every bit as bad the regular season. The only difference is that games don’t count in the standings.

Who knows that will probably change soon as well.

World Series Celebrations, circa 2010

In Uncategorized on November 2, 2010 at 5:38 am

Well, the Giants won the World Series yesterday and so another baseball season comes to an end…in November.  Alas.

A San Francisco native who now lives in Tokyo, I was curious to read about the reaction of the city to this Championship. After all, this is the Giants first since moving to San Francisco since 1958. Judging from the accounts in the papers the celebrations were pretty tame; there were no riots, no vehicles were overturned or set on fire, there were no stabbings. This is San Francisco, after all and not Los Angeles.

Yet baseball celebrations are not what they used to be. Take 1962 for example, when the Giants defeated the Dodgers in game 3 of their playoff series to head to their first World Series since moving West. There were over 50,000 fans to greet the team at San Francisco International Airport as they arrived home from LA that night. The crowds spilled over onto the runway and not only the Giants charter but many other the flights had to be diverted. In fact, that used to be how fans would show their dedication – by going out to the airport sometimes in the middle of the night, in thousands, to greet the team as it returned home.  The broadcasters would even announce the flight details – numbers and times – so fans could plan their trip accordingly. It was incredibly exciting.  How different nowadays when fans opt instead to riot, loot and burn vehicles. 

But thankfully not in San Francisco this year.

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.

Willie Davis 1940-2010

In Uncategorized on March 10, 2010 at 11:54 am

Saw in this morning’s paper that Willie Davis passed away yesterday. Even though I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area a Giants fan, I always liked Willie Davis. Like my idol, Willie Mays, Davis played Centerfield and batted third in the Dodgers lineup. He was svelte and fleet as a gazelle but, unlike Mays, Davis did not generally hit for power.  I remember going to a Giants Dodgers game in 1970 and the memory of Davis’s performance that day is seared into my memory. He was 4-5 with 2 singles, a triple and a home run.  Maybe that is the day I became a Willie Davis fan.  He went on to hit .305 that year and the next year was selected to the NL All Star team, one of two all-star selctions in his career. Still there was something sad about Davis’s career as he never quite fulfilled the promise of his early years and, despite a solid career,  he is probably most rememberd by longtime Dodger fans for his fielding miscues in the 1966 World Series. Davis ended his career in Japan where he became a convert to Buddhism.  Maybe in Buddhism Davis found the tranquillity he was never able to find as a ballplayer. For someone who hangs on to his Willie Davis memory there is serenity in that thought.