Category Archives: baseball

“a big difference in workload” (a letter and an exchange about Bob Gibson)

 

 

 

imageedit_4_2129622455 (2)

 

 

 

My good friend from New York City, William Carron, recently submitted the letter shown above to Baseball Digest, a copy of which letter he shared with me.

I wrote Mr. Caron as follows:

 

 

Dear Mr. Carron,

 

Your letter to the editor of Baseball Digest re earned run averages was very well thought out and written.

Before commenting, I would like to share something I recall. Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson appeared a while ago on the Charlie Rose show. Some offhanded comment was made about pitchers either having broken, or possibly breaking, Bob Gibson’s record for the lowest ERA in a season. (It had not been broken.) Gibson, who impressed me in the interview, said something like, “Has it been broken? I didn’t know that.” I believe it was explained to Gibson that, no, his record had not been broken. I forget the specifics, but thinking that Bob Gibson was so humble or unconcerned about his standing in the record books, impressed me. Very much unlike, say, Donald Trump.

Your point about innings pitched is valid. The statistics you cite for Gibson’s 1968 season — innings pitched, complete games, extra-inning games are remarkable. He pitched 304.2 innings out of a possible 312.2. Incredible! Where did you find these statistics?

Thanks much for sharing this very interesting letter with me. How did things change so that now almost no starter completes a game (as a rule) and many pitch only five or six innings?

 

Roger Smith

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 10, 2019

Did Jimmy Piersall do all the crazy things he did? (Ask Yogi.)

 

An email of mine to a friend:

 

Scott — there was an article in Saturday’s NY Times:

“The Naked Truth About Trump”

By Maureen Dowd

The New York Times

May 5, 2018

 

A quote from the article:

“He needs the excitement,” says Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio. “Without the drama and the crisis and the powerful opponent, he’d be just another guy.”

D’Antonio compares Trump, who has compared himself to Babe Ruth and who once wrote a poem when he was 12 about being a baseball player — “I like to hear the crowd give cheers, so loud and noisy to my ears” — to Jimmy Piersall. Piersall, a charismatic and talented baseball player, described his emotional spiral in his memoir, “The Truth Hurts”: “Probably the best thing that happened to me was going nuts. It brought people out to the ballpark to get a look at me.”

The center fielder engaged in brawls, scuffles and pranks, once bringing a water pistol to home plate. Then one day he lost his grip; in a movie based on his life, that was depicted as him climbing up the backstop at Fenway Park.

“That may wind up happening with Trump,” D’Antonio says. “One day he might walk to Marine One stark naked and we’ll all just say: ‘This is the end. It has finally happened.’”

 

 

*****************************************************

 

I read Fear Strikes Out in high school and wrote a book report on it. I saw the movie.

I “met” Piersall once at an event held somewhere such as a shopping center where he was signing autographs and saw him play.

The incidents where he “went crazy” were in the early 1950’s and I do not remember them.

However, I am certain that he never climbed up a backstop, as I do recall seeing Anthony Perkins do in the film.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 7, 2018

Roger W. Smith, “Why I Like the Game of Baseball”

 

 

 

27whyilikethegameofbaseball27

 

 

Downloadable Word document of this post is above.

 

 

 

 

Why I Like the Game of Baseball

by Roger W. Smith

 

 

There is no clock to regulate duration of play. “With no clock, no regulation of seconds, minutes, and hours, baseball need not submit to the inexorability of temporal limitation,” notes English professor George Grella, singing the praises of the sport in The Massachusetts Review. A “team cannot stall, or run the ball into the line to kill the clock, or manipulate the clock in order to score. A tie game does not exist — all games must end in a victory and a defeat, and a tied game could conceivably go on forever. The game succeeds in creating a temporary timelessness perfectly appropriate to its richly cyclical nature.”

It is a sport not limited in any total sense by boundary lines; think catcher or third or first baseman leaning into the stands for a foul ball.

It has a wonderfully fair method of scoring — one for each run. And each team has to get the same number of outs — 27 outs made by the opposing team — to beat them in a nine inning game. Any long time fan has seen it, often: A team that appears to have an insurmountable lead ends up losing when the opposing team mounts a late inning rally.

I once saw a game on television where the eventual winning team, the home team, was down by seven runs with two outs and a man on first in the bottom of the ninth inning. They scored eight runs and won 13-12. It’s not as uncommon as one might think for teams to come back from such deficits. In this particular game, eleven batters in a row reached base with two out: There were four singles, six walks, and a grand slam home run. The opposing team couldn’t say, “Time’s up. You’ve had enough chances. Game over.” They had to — but couldn’t — get that twenty-seventh out. Time is “stretched,” or trumped, in a sense, because the losing team is entitled to keep batting as long as they have another out left. It doesn’t matter what inning or what the score happens to be.

Baseball is a blend of the team and the individual. (Most commonly at any given moment during a game it is a question of nine men against one.)

It is a game which consists of the unexpected occurring — nobody on the field or in the park knows where, when, or if the ball will be hit.

It is an uncluttered and beautifully designed game. In baseball, the scoring is done by the team that doesn’t have the ball. “There is no grubby battling for possession; there are no interceptions,” as Charles Einstein pointed out in his preface to The Fireside Book of Baseball.

“A nine-year-old knows baseball inside out, yet … it utterly confounds the foreigner,” observes Einstein. It is a uniquely American sport.

There have been few basic changes in baseball rules for over one hundred years, making it possible to compare players of different generations.

The baseball field is beautifully designed. “[W]ith its congested infield arching around home and its vast and underpopulated outfield expanding in an ever-widening arc beyond the congestion,” as literary scholar Ed Folsom puts it. The bases are a magic ninety feet apart. Consider how often a batter is thrown out by half a step, compared to instances when he outruns a peg from deep short. According to Grella, “One of the most fundamental and significant truths of the game derives from the peculiar shape of its playing area. With the exception of cricket … baseball is the only team sport played with a ball that does not use a rectangular field. All other ball games are territorial and circumscribed; all play occurs within a box, where a team defends one end and attempts to penetrate the other. In such games success is measured by the number of penetrations a team perpetrates and/or permits; football is so territorial that one of its hallowed statistics deals with land acquisition, i.e., yardage gained and lost. Territorial games rely upon time, depending always upon a predetermined duration of the clock. Baseball, on the other hand, virtually denies the limitations of space and time.” Or, as novelist W. P. Kinsella has written, “[T]he field runs to infinity. … There’s no limit to how far a man might possibly hit a ball, and there’s no limit to how far a fleet outfielder might run to retrieve it. The foul lines run on forever, forever diverging. … Every other sport is held in by boundaries, some of absolute set size, some not: football, hockey, tennis, basketball, golf. But there’s no limit to the size of a baseball field.”

A baseball. The ball itself. Holding one in your hand. Idly tossing it. The shininess and hardness. The stitching. The delight of boys in having a new, white, shiny, unscuffed ball.

Almost everything in baseball looks easy and evident (as a skilled player having honed his skills through endless practice makes it appear), but learning the game is not. Watch kids trying to swing a bat and connect, throwing weakly (perhaps a dribbler), or being inept at catching a ball tossed underhand at close range. But, then, the child begins to get the hang of it. And, doing the simplest things such as throwing and catching is so satisfying to be able to do. Giving a young person a sense of grace and athleticism.

It’s a game which requires inborn athletic ability — athleticism: strength, agility, speed. A hitter’s power, a pitcher or fielder’s arm, a baserunner or outfielder’s speed.

Yet a boy or man possessing these attributes — a natural athlete — will not necessarily succeed in baseball without the desire to do so and an interest in the game, and without years of first learning the fundamentals and then endless practice — the same as with a virtuoso musician — both in the “backyard” and in actual games. Playing in games from youth leagues to high school and college and amateur and perhaps semipro to the minor leagues is crucial for learning how to “leverage” one’s skills (a pitcher learning different pitches, for example, and finding which pitches work best for him) and, perhaps most importantly, developing “baseball instincts” and learning strategy.

A batter is up in a crucial situation. Hand eye coordination and raw power are crucial. The ability to hit is, needless to say, a sina qua non. Intense concentration is required. But it is all for naught without perfect execution. Swing a little too early or late, get a little over or under the ball and it’s a swinging strike, a dribbler, a pop up or lazy fly ball. Doesn’t matter whether you’re Ted Williams or Mark Belanger.

And just how do you play the game well? I heard a player say once, in a televised interview, that this is — which he implied without using the word — paradoxical. To play the game, he explained, requires intense concatenation at every moment — one can never tell when the ball will be hit to oneself; a batter must be totally focused on the pitcher’s windup and delivery. At the same time, to succeed in baseball, a ballplayer has to be relaxed. Think of an overanxious fielder blobbing a ball.

The sport is relatively free of contact. The predominant focus of a game is THE BALL. Where it is at a given moment: zooming into home plate (or perhaps floating like a knuckleball); a scorching grounder hit towards an infielder or a seemingly routine one perhaps taking a bad hop; shot in a straight line as a line drive that may or not be snared; the high arc of a fly ball floating and perhaps hanging in the air before it comes down to an outfielder, or launched toward the deepest point of the park, or over the fence; the “pill” being whipped to first to nip a runner or to another base to perhaps catch a lead runner. The cutoff man. Relays. Rundowns. (Sometimes they seem to go on forever, with scoring such as 5-2-6-3-5-2-1, or whatever — so many players are involved.) All eyes follow the ball, which controls what happens. There is something pure about this.

How a game progresses, from batter to batter, pitch to pitch, and inning to inning.

The flight of the ball. An outfielder catching up with it in flight. Or gathering it in in pre-game practice. “It is a beautiful sight to see a good outfielder gather in a fly ball,” as Mark Harris wrote in his novel The Southpaw, “moving over as graceful as you please while from 250 or 300 feet away someone has tossed the ball up in front of himself and laid into it and sent it upward and upward in a high arc until the ball is just a white speck against the blue sky, and then it hits its highest point and begins to drop, and you look down and there is a player loping over, moving fast or slow, depending on how he sizes up the situation, and he moves under the ball and it zooms down in his glove. It looks so easy when a good ballplayer does it. It is not easy. Ask any kid that has ever tried to play ball whether it is easy, and he will tell you. But when a big-league ballplayer does it, it looks easy because he is so graceful, and he gathers it in and then runs a few steps on his momentum and digs his spikes in the ground and wheels and fires that ball back where it came from, and it hops along, white against the green grass.”

The fact that, in different baseball stadiums, dimensions are not uniform, which affects strategy and the composition of teams — such as a team built on defense and speed or one with a lineup of left or right-handed sluggers. The intricacies and oddities of different ballparks, such as cozy Fenway Park with its left field wall. The short porch in right field in Yankee Stadium, and Death Valley in left field of the old stadium before it was renovated in the 1970’s. The odd shape of the now demolished Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants, with its very deep center field (where Willie Mays made his famous catch in 1954) and its very short right field (to which Dusty Rhodes hit a pinch hit home run in the tenth inning of the same game to win it for the Giants). How managers and players have taken advantage of these features, such as Carl Yastrzemski masterfully playing caroms off The Wall at Fenway Park, holding the batter to a single, and Roger Maris hitting his sixty-first home run into the short porch in right field in the final game of the 1961 season. How stadiums affect the makeup and personality of teams: Dodger Stadium: defense and pitching … Comiskey Park in Chicago and Memorial Stadium in Baltimore: the same … Shea Stadium: a dismal stadium with no personality or aesthetic appeal and colorless Mets teams.

It is such an aesthetically satisfying game to play and watch. The shortstop throwing out a runner, narrowly nipping him, from deep in the hole. Watching a double play executed with such speed and dexterity, in a matter of a seconds. A peg which just nips the runner. (“A peg as flat as the tape a runner breaks,” in the words of the late poet Donald Hall.) A gasp-inducing throw to the infield or home plate by an outfielder with a rifle arm. It all comes down to this: A man or boy trying to outrun a ball.

The slow, deliberate pace, which seems more typical of another era. The absence of a clock. The feeling that time stands still as suspense about the outcome mounts. “The game’s slow rhythms creating a natural tension,” as a writer in The Economist put it. Baseball is for the leisurely afternoons of summer.

Watching pre-game practice. “I can’t think of any other sport … where the practice sessions are worth the price of admission,” notes sportswriter Wilfrid Sheed. A coach or player with a fungo bat lofting fly balls to the far reaches of the field. Fly-shaggers arching them back towards home plate. Batting practice. Infield practice. Coaches slapping grounders to infielders, two deep at every position. The ball snarls around the horn. Third, short, second, first, catcher. Pepper games by stars and lesser players in front of the dugouts.

The fact that Major League baseball is played almost daily in the spring and summer months.

The opportunities for improvisations such as pickup games and tossing a ball around or taking swings in a relaxed setting such as a back yard.

The simple pleasure and restful rhythm of playing catch. The thud (a sort of snapping sound) of a ball thrown straight and hard in a boy or man’s glove. Father and son tossing a ball back and forth. Two friends. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter doing so (as I used to observe before Yankee games) in front of the Yankee dugout. The fun, joy, of playing catch. How it induces tranquility, an almost hypnotic state.

The serene and meditative state baseball can induce in the spectator, and even in a participant (an outfielder, say); the enjoyment and pure delight in simply watching. It is a thinking man’s game because it can be observed and contemplated with great satisfaction, not only by spectators or viewers, but also — even — by players. (As former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Alex Grammas put it: “there’s a lot of dead time in baseball” — this permits contemplation.) Rather than working the mind up to a frenzy, as other sports such as football and basketball do, baseball relaxes the mind — can do so if one is so disposed.

“In addition to its richness of ritual and history, its fascination of character and event, baseball offers ample material for philosophical speculation,” Grella notes. “The true fan is not only a spectator, enthusiast, and historian, but also must be a student of the ethics, aesthetics, and ontology of the game. The thoughtful fan investigates more than simply the obvious lore; he pursues the essence of baseball, its shape and meaning, its resonant possibilities.” And, baseball’s vast archive of statistics, current and past. Who had the highest on base percentage of all time? How many times did a power hitter such as Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio strike out in his career?

That the spectator/watcher can reflect upon what is happening on several levels, both through anticipation, or foreknowledge, of possible scenarios, strategies, and outcomes; and later, through the re-creation of games in one’s mind, discussions of games, and memory and retrospective analysis of games and plays from decades or even centuries ago that are still remembered.

The fact that baseball is played and enjoyed, by both players and spectators, on so many levels: by the very young in yards, fields, and playgrounds; on sandlots and in youth leagues; in high school and college; in amateur, semiprofessional, and adult leagues (including softball, which is a form of baseball). The “farm system” and the Major Leagues.

In all these settings, game situations, and locales, including amateur leagues and sandlot games, there is a kind of “universal grammar” of the sport which is “reassuring.” You see situations, plays, and minutiae, such as a batter digging in and taking a stance; a base runner taking a lead and the pitcher trying to pick him off; whiffs or balls flying off the end of the bat; foul balls; wild pitches; the ball being tossed around the horn after an out; great plays or the opposite; daring base running; arguments over whether the runner was safe or out; and so forth. From a game observed in a local park to one in Yankee Stadium.

Situations and scenarios. Men on base. How many outs? The count. Pitcher versus batter. Left handed versus right handed when it comes to pitcher-batter matchups. Which players are on the field and at what positions.

The way ball games can be charted with such precision, as noted by historian and fan Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose father taught her at age six how to keep score so she could tell him about the day’s Brooklyn Dodger game, as announced on the radio by Red Barber (most games were played in the daytime then), after the former came home from work.

The rituals of the game overall, and of each game. Tossing the ball around the infield before an inning and after an out. The umpire dusting off the plate. “Play ball!” The pitcher’s windup and delivery. The on deck circle. Other rituals which even kids sometimes copy from major leaguers.

How it is such a mental game, much of which comes from the way the game is designed and played, and as such, how baseball games can be reconstructed afterwards in the mind with such pleasure, including long after, so that the fan remembers how the Yankees tied up the seventh game of the 1960 World Series in the top of the ninth and then lost it to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the bottom of the ninth. Sandy Amoros snaring Yogi Berra’s fly to left field with a one-handed catch in the final game of the 1955 World Series. When Rick Burleson did not take third base on Jerry Remy’s single in the ninth inning of the 1978 tie-breaker game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, very possibly preventing the Red Sox from tying the game. What happened in the tenth (final) inning of the final game of the 1912 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants.

The moments which live in the memory of old and new fans: Boston Red Sox shortstop and relay man Johnny Pesky failing to nip the St. Louis Cardinals’ Enos Slaughter at home plate in the final game of the 1946 World Series. Andy Pafko watching Bobby Thomson’s home run sail over the left field fence in the final game of the 1951 national league playoff. Willie Mays’s unbelievable catch in the first game of the 1954 World Series and his awesome throw to prevent a base runner from tagging up and scoring. Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final career at bat. The Houston Astros’ José Altuve’s mad dash around the bases to score the winning run in Game 2 of the 2017 American League Championship Series. And countless other games and plays. These plays stay in the mind because of their simplicity (perhaps one should say, clarity or preciseness), their beauty of execution, and the drama of how and when they happened. In short, one can recreate games in one’s mind. Yes, there are dramatic moments in football and basketball. But almost every play, inning, and game in baseball can be recreated this way. Baseball is “a lot easier to analyze than, say, football, which has so many moving parts,” says baseball author Stew Thornley, who was quoted in a New York Times article. Suppose Jim Brown wrote in an autobiography: “I was huffing and puffing as I strained to get from the 40-yard line to the end zone. I shed two tacklers and made it to the end zone.” As New York Times sportswriter Filip Bondy put it: “baseball is a sport made for … scholarly examination.” And for endless dissection.

Unlike, say, basketball or football, baseball does not seem to favor players of any particular build or size. All that matters is that one can play it well. You see wiry players (Richie Ashburn, Hank Aaron, Didi Gregorias), stocky ones (Babe Ruth, Carl Furillo, Pete Rose), “muscle men” (Ted Kluzewski, Greg Luzinski), tall ones (Aaron Judge, Carlton Fisk, Frank Howard), short ones (Phil Rizzuto, David Eckstein, José Altuve), rotund ones (Fernando Valenzuela, David Wells, David Ortiz, Prince Fielder). “[S]ize doesn’t matter in baseball. In many ways, size is irrelevant,” notes New York Times reporter Billy Witz.

How the positions have different identities, generically speaking. The shortstop. The best defensive player on the team. A wizard with the glove. Has fast hands. Gets rid of the ball in a fraction of a second, transferring it from glove to hand. The second baseman. Usually a scrappy player. The pivot man. The third baseman. The stolid guardian of the hot corner. Known for diving backhand stabs of balls hit down the line. The first baseman. Often left handed; usually tall with a long reach; needs to be a slugger. The catcher. Squat and almost square in shape. The field general and most knowledgeable player on the field, strategy wise; has a unique vantage point from his position affording a view of the entire field and the rest of the defense. The center fielder. Ball hawk. Rivals the shortstop for defensive importance. A gazelle swift of foot and graceful. Able to run down balls the corner outfielders can’t get to. Usually a star who can hit too.

No player really predominates. It is sometimes said that the best hitter and run producer carries the team. But, each player (one should specify each position POSITION IN ITALICS player in leagues that have adopted the designated hitter rule) has his spot in the batting order; everyone must bat in turn. A player such as the shortstop or center fielder may appear to play a predominant role in the defense — and in fact will often do so — because of his position on the field and the probability that more balls will be hit to him than, say, a corner outfielder, but all this doesn’t matter when a ball is hit to the right fielder. (Think of Dwight Evans catching Joe Morgan’s fly ball in the eleventh inning of the sixth game of the 1975 World Series. The game hung in the balance. Evans’s catch prolonged it and turned the momentum around.) Every player in the lineup is important, and each has a role to play. No player can dominate, and if, say, a player comes to bat in a crucial situation that can determine the outcome of the game, or if a play is made or not made by a fielder, it is essentially by chance, what is called the luck of the draw. If a ball is hit to a fielder, he instantly becomes the focal point of the action. (Other fielders may become involved in the play as it unfolds.) When a batter is facing a pitcher, no other player can help him hit a pitch. If a runner is trying to score, no other player can help him avoid being tagged out, unlike where in football a lineman can block a potential tackler.

Colorful characters: Casey Stengel, Babe Ruth. Saintly types (aka “nice guys”) such as Mel Ott and moral exemplars such as Christy Mathewson. Rogues, villains, and miscreants such as Hal Chase, Leo Durocher, and Pete Rose (who, before his suspension for betting, gravely injured Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse in a home plate collision that never should have happened). Greek gods who seemed to play with effortless grace, such as the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio. Pathos: Lou Gehrig — icon and hero tragically struck down. Courage and dignity: Jackie Robinson. Heartbreak: Ralph Branca.

Nicknames; Moose Skowron, Birdie Tebbetts, Smoky Burgess and Smoky Joe Wood, Jim Mudcat Grant, Dizzy Dean, Cool Papa Bell, Yogi Berra, Pumpsie Green, Willie Puddinhead Jones, Wahoo Sam Crawford,* Gabby Street, Tom Plowboy Morgan, Oil Can Boyd, Bobo Newsom, Choo-Choo Coleman, Sal (The Barber) Maglie, Ken (Hawk) Harrelson, Joe (Ducky) Medwick, Jim (Catifsh) Hunter, Shoeless Joe Jackson,** Pistol Pete Reiser, Sad Sam Jones, Jumping Joe Dugan, Indian Bob Johnson, Pee Wee Reese.*** Big Poison and Little Poison (Paul and Lloyd Warner).**** The Flying Dutchman, The Grey Eagle, The Georgia Peach, The Yankee Clipper.

Baseball has a rich vocabulary. Many terms with other, more common usages have been adapted for baseball, such as ace (the best starting pitcher on the team), diamond, fireman (a team’s top relief pitcher), green light, sent to the showers (for a pitcher), table setter, cup of coffee (meaning a short time spent by a player at the major league level), on his horse (in reference to an outfielder tracking down a fly ball), leather for a fielder’s glove (a player with good leather is a good defensive player), lumber for a bat and bag or sack for a base, submariner for a pitcher with a low slung style of delivery, mop-up man for a relief pitcher used in a non-critical situation, mustard referring to a high amount of velocity on a fastball, and nail-biter for a close game. “I wus robbed” when a fielder’s spectacular play denies the batter a hit or a home run. And, many baseball terms have been incorporated into the English language, often as slang, with a broader meaning not limited to baseball. For example: bush league, choke up, telling someone you will take a rain check on an invitation.

Baseball coinages: around the horn, bench jockey, bullpen, Grapefruit League, seeing-eye single, inside out swing, hill (the pitcher’s mound), hit ’em where they ain’t, swing for the fences, horsehide for a baseball, hot corner and hot stove league, keystone sack, men in blue, round tripper for a home run, seventh-inning stretch, shoestring catch, putting your foot in the bucket, suicide squeeze.

Can of corn: an easy-to-catch fly ball hit to the outfield. The phrase is said to have originated in the nineteenth century and relates to an old-time grocer’s method of getting canned goods down from a high shelf. Using a stick with a hook on the end, a grocer could tip a can so that it would fall for an easy catch into his apron. One theory for the use of corn as the canned good in the phrase is that a can of corn was considered the easiest “catch” as corn was the best-selling vegetable in the store and so was heavily stocked on the lowest shelves.

Catbird seat: a desirable or auspicious situation in a game. Popularized by Red Barber, longtime broadcaster for the Brooklyn Dodgers. James Thurber wrote in his short story of the same title: “[S]itting in the catbird seat means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him.” The catbird is said to seek out the highest point in a tree to sing his song, so someone in the catbird seat is high up.

Gopher ball: a pitch that leads to a home run, one that the batter will “go for.” (The term has nothing to with gophers.)

Hook: a curveball, but also used in the sense of a manager removing a pitcher from the game for a reliever. A manager who is said to have a short hook is typically quick to remove a starting pitcher. It is said that this usage may have come from the large hooks that were sometimes used in vaudeville to yank unsuccessful acts off the stage if they were reluctant to leave on their own. Cincinnati Reds manager Sparky Anderson was called Captain Hook.

Miscue for an error. The usage comes from billiards, when the cue stick slips or just brushes the cue ball, thereby leading to a missed shot.

Southpaw or portsider for a left-handed pitcher. Most baseball stadiums are built so that home plate is in the west and the outfield is in the east, so that when the sun sets it is not in the batter’s line of sight. Because of this, a left-handed pitcher’s arm is always facing south when he faces the plate. “Port” refers to the left side of a ship.

Rabbit ears to indicate a player who becomes nervous or chokes when opposing players or fans yell at or razz him. Or an umpire who picks up on every complaint hurled at him from the dugout.

Rocking chair. Refers to the position occupied by the third base umpire, likely because the third base umpire does not generally have to make as many calls as the other umpires. An ingenious and humorous coinage.

Fungo, which designates a fly ball hit for fielders to practice catching. This is accomplished by a batter tossing the ball a short distance up in the air and then batting it himself. (No one has ever determined with certainty its etymology.) And, shag (as in shag flies) and shagger.

Rhubarb. A rhubarb is a plant. Brooklyn Dodgers announcer Red Barber used the word for an argument, fight, or a mix-up on the field of play. He called Ebbets Field “the rhubarb patch” because there were so many arguments there.

And phrases you will often hear used during a game from players or spectators, often in the case of Little League and sandlot games, such as “a walk is as good as a hit,” “good eye,” and “keep your eye on the ball.”

Baseball invites good writing. Consider the wonderful literature the sport has spawned, by writers such as Zane Grey, Ring Lardner, James Thurber, James T. Farrell, Mark Harris, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, and Don DeLillo; and the poets Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Robert Frost, and Donald Hall. The same can be said of nonfiction works and sports writing by writers such as W. C. Heinz, Arnold Hano, Roger Kahn, Roger Angell, and Red Smith describing Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard around the world” in the New York Herald Tribune: “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”

 

 

* Born in Wahoo, Nebraska in 1880.

** Shoeless Joe Jackson got his nickname during a mill game played in Greenville, South Carolina. Jackson had blisters on his foot from a new pair of cleats, which hurt so much that he took his shoes off before he was at bat. As play continued, a heckling fan noticed Jackson running to third base in his socks, and shouted “You shoeless son of a gun, you!” The other players kidded him, calling him Shoeless Joe, and the name stuck.

*** Harold Reese, nicknamed Pee Wee, was a championship marbles player in Kentucky, where he grew up. A pee wee is a small marble.

**** Big Poison and Little Poison (brothers and Pittsburgh Pirate outfielders Paul and Lloyd Warner) got their names when a sportswriter overheard an Ebbets Field fan mispronouncing “person” as “poison” — as in here comes that “big poison” or “little poison.”

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    March 2018

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

See also:

Roger W. Smith, “On Baseball”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2015/11/04/essay-on-baseball-by-roger-smith-may-2000/

 

Ted Williams’s last homerun: a footnote or two, and some trivia

 

 

 

 

Ted Williams's last homer.jpg

 

 

 

Everyone knows that Ted Williams, incredibly, homered in his last at bat in the final game of his Major League career at Boston’s Fenway Park.

He homered off Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jack Fisher with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning on a one-and-one count.

The date was September 28, 1960. It was an overcast day. There were 10,454 fans in attendance.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

Two acquaintances of mine saw the homerun.

My Brandeis University roommate John Ferris, when he was in junior high school, skipped school to attend Ted’s last game. He told me a story once that is worth repeating.

Williams had come up in the bottom of the fifth inning, batting against Orioles reliever Jack Fisher (pitching in relief). He hit a tremendous drive to right center field that barely missed being a homerun.

Here’s how it was described by sportswriter Ed Linn (who was at the game) in his book Hitter: The Life and Turmoils of Ted Williams:

As the ball jumped off the bat, the cry “He did it!” arose from the stands. Right-fielder Al Pilarcik ran back as far as he could, pressed his back against the bull-pen fence, well out from the 380-foot sign, and stood there motionless, with his hands at his side. …

At the last moment, Pilarcik brought up his hands and caught the ball chest high, close to 400 feet from the plate, A moan of disappointment settled over the field, followed by a rising hum of excited chatter, and then, as Ted came back to the first-base line to take his glove from Pumpsie Green, a standing ovation. [It was the third out.]

“Damn,” Ted said when he returned to the bench at the end of the inning. “I hit the living hell out of that one. I really stung it. If that one didn’t go out, nothing is going out today.”

My friend John Ferris described the play to me with relish and added a detail. He said that Pilarcik waited for the ball to come down (as described by Linn) with his back against the bullpen fence, caught it just before it cleared the fence, and then, made a gesture in which he turned toward the fans in right center field, shrugged his shoulders, and with body language seemed to be saying: “Sorry, but I couldn’t not catch the ball when I could.”

Not among the 10,454 paying customers but at the game in the eighth inning when Williams did homer was a relative of mine: McLaren Harris, then a graduate student at Boston University. As Harris told me years later, he had been listening to the game on the radio. Boston University is right next door to Fenway Park. Harris and his friends decided to attend the last couple of innings.

You could do that in those days because (besides the fact that the game was not a sellout), the Red Sox had a policy of opening the gates to fans after the seventh inning on. Anyone could enter for free. My older brother, friends, and I used to do this in the 1950’s.

So, Harris, with incredibly good fortune, arrived just in time to see Ted’s final homer.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

Some trivia about the game.

Gene Stephens was the left fielder for Baltimore. He went two for four with a double. It’s intriguing that he was playing on the opposing team because Stephens spent most of his career with the Red Sox. Stephens played for the Red Sox from 1952 until 1960, when he was traded (in mid season, on June 9) to the Orioles. I remember Stephens well because in the 1950’s he would always be entering the game in late innings as a replacement in left field for Williams. The sportswriters called him Ted Williams’s caddy.

It’s worth noting, also, that Stephens had been traded for Orioles outfielder Willie Tasby. In his famous piece about the game for The New Yorker, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” John Updike describes Williams warming up before the game by playing catch with Tasby. Tasby played center field that day.

Despite Williams’s homer, the Red Sox went into the bottom of the ninth trailing by a score of 4-3. With one out, Red Sox second baseman Marlan Coughtry singled off Fisher. Then pinch hitter Vic Wertz doubled, sending Coughtry to third. Vic Wertz, none other than the slugger whose fly ball to the deepest part of center field at the Polo Grounds in the first game of the 1954 World Series was caught by Willie Mays in a play that came to be known as The Catch.

Red Sox pitcher Tom Brewer came in to pinch run for Wertz. I remember Brewer well. He once came to speak to a church supper at the North Congregational Church in Cambridge, which my family attended, in the 1950’s.

The next batter was Pumpsie Green. He walked. The aforementioned Willie Tasby grounded to third. The second baseman, Billy Klaus, attempting to complete a double play, threw wildly to first. Coughtry and Brewer scored and the Red Sox won 5-4.

I recall Klaus well from the 1950’s, when he played shortstop for the Red Sox. He was traded to the Orioles after the 1958 season. Klaus began the 1959 season playing third base for the Orioles, but was replaced in mid-season by none other than Brooks Robinson and moved to shortstop.

Another piece of trivia. Gene Stephens was traded in 1961 by the Orioles to the Kansas City Athletics for first baseman Marv Throneberry: “Marvelous Marv” Throneberry. Throneberry was the starting first baseman for the 1962 New York Mets. (I remember “Marvelous Marv” best from Miller Beer ads). And, who was Marvelous Marv’s older brother? Faye Throneberry: an outfielder who played sparingly for the Red Sox in the 1950’s. I had his baseball card.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

A final observation.

John Updike’s 1960 New Yorker article about the game, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” is regarded as a classic.

Ed Linn also wrote an account that was published as “The Kid’s Last Game” in the February 1961 issue of Sport magazine and that is also contained in Linn’s book Hitter: The Life and Turmoils of Ted Williams (1993).

In my humble opinion, Linn’s account is more informative — there is no comparison when it comes to descriptive detail — and more telling. I prefer it to Updike’s.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 2018
*****************************************************

 

Addendum:

 

Pitcher Jack Fisher’s recollections of that date are recorded in the following article:

 

Jack Fisher: So, What Was That Like?

By Elon Green

The New Yorker

May 1, 2014

 

 

At the end of a career that spanned four decades, Ted Williams announced his retirement from baseball, on September 26, 1960. Two days later, he played his last game—at home, in Boston, against the Baltimore Orioles.

Steve Barber was the starting pitcher for the Orioles. He allowed two runs in under an inning, and was replaced by a twenty-one-year-old right-hander, Jack Fisher.

In the seventh inning, with the Orioles ahead 4–2, Fisher threw Ted Williams—in his last at-bat—a fastball. Williams thwacked the ball toward center field. John Updike, who attended the game, tracked the ball’s trajectory as it “struck in the crotch where the bullpen met the wall, bounced chunkily, and, as far as I could see, vanished.”

Here is Jack Fisher’s memory of that day:

As you probably heard, it was a very cold, dank day type thing. Williams earlier had hit a ball off of me to right field—a fly ball that our right fielder, Al Pilarcik, caught back close to the warning track. So Williams had hit the ball pretty well that time, and I thought, Uh oh, but it was an out. So, it’s the seventh inning, and he comes up, and Jackie Jensen was their next hitter, right-hand hitter, and with the short left-field wall there, I thought, There’s no way I’m gonna pitch around Williams.

I think the first pitch was a ball. The next pitch—he swung and missed—was another fastball. The next pitch I just went to another fastball and he hit it out. Made the score four to three.

I mean, all I was trying to do was win the ballgame. The fact that he hit the home run wasn’t that big to me because I’d actually had pretty good success against him.

After he hit the home run, he went in [the dugout] and of course, as you know, he kind of ignored the fans and everything. And they were all standing and waiting and wanting him to come out of the dugout and wave to him or something like that. And finally, he’s sitting on the bench and he waved to me and said, “Go ahead and pitch. I’m not gettin’ up.” I actually stood behind the mound and waited for him to come out, but he didn’t.

We went back to Baltimore, probably by train, at that time. And got to the hotel room, and I thought I knew what hotel he stayed at in Boston. So I gave him a call, and asked for Ted Williams’s room. And I’ll be damned—they hooked me up, and Ted answered the phone! And I said, “Well, I guess I got to congratulate ya for, you know, retiring on a home run and everything.” He pretty much told me, at the time, “Hey, I wanna thank you for challenging me, and not really pitching around me or anything.” And I said, “Hell, I’m two runs up in the game. What am I pitching around you for?” So I did get to talk to him, that night after we got home.

One of the sportswriters looked it up, and he said that Williams lifetime was two for thirteen off of me. So I did all right against him.

Note that Fisher mentions that the cleanup hitter, following Williams, was Jackie Jensen. Jensen was not in the lineup that day. The cleanup hitter, batting fourth, was catcher Jim Pagliaroni. Jensen retired after the 1959 season and was not on the team in 1960. He returned to the Red Sox in 1961 and played one more season.

The Catch

 

 

In 1954, Arnold Hano, a recently retired editor-in-chief at Lion Books in New York who had decided to try and make it as a freelance writer, took the D train to the Polo Grounds in Manhattan to attend the first game of the 1954 World Series between the New York Giants and Cleveland Indians. Purchasing a two dollar and ten cents ticket, he sat in the bleachers and took notes during the game. His account of the game was published in 1955 by Bantam Books as A Day in the Bleachers.

The following is an excerpt from the book describing a defensive play by Giants center fielder Willie Mays in the top of the eighth inning which has come to be known as “The Catch.”

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

And like wolves drawn to our fresh prey, we had already forgotten him [Giants starter Sal Maglie], eyes riveted on [relief pitcher Don] Liddle, while off to the side of the plate Vic Wertz studied the new Giant pitcher and made whatever estimations he had to make. Wertz had hit three times already; nobody expected more of him. He had hit one of Maglie’s fast balls in the first inning, a pitch that was headed for the outside corner but Wertz’ s bat was too swift and he had pulled the ball for a triple. Then he hit a little curve, a dinky affair that was either Maglie’s slider or a curve that didn’t break too well, and drove it into left field for a single, Finally, he had pulled another outside pitch that–by all rights–he shouldn’t have been able to pull, so far from the right-field side of the plate was it. But he had pulled it, as great sluggers will pull any ball because that is how home runs are made. Wertz hadn’t hit a home run on that waist high pitch on the outside; he had rifled it to right field for another single.

 

But that was all off Maglie, forgotten behind a door over five hundred feet from the plate. Now it was Liddle, jerking into motion as Wertz poised at the plate, and then the motion smoothed out and the ball came sweeping in to Wertz, a shoulder-high pitch, a fast ball that probably would have been a fast curve, except that Wertz was coming around and hitting it, hitting it about as hard as I have ever seen a ball hit, on a high line to dead center field.

 

For whatever it is worth, I have seen such hitters as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Jimmy Foxx, Ralph Kiner, Hack Wilson, Johnny Mize, and lesser-known but equally long hitters as Wally Berger and Bob Seeds send the batted ball tremendous distances. None, that I recall, ever hit a ball any harder than this one by Wertz in my presence.

 

And yet I was not immediately perturbed. I have been a Giant fan for years, twenty-eight years to be exact, and I have seen balls hit with violence to extreme center field which were caught easily by Mays, or Thomson before him, or Lockman or Ripple or Hank Leiber or George Kiddo Davis, that most marvelous fly catcher.

 

I did not–then–feel alarm, though the crack was loud and clear, and the crowd’s roar rumbled behind it like growing thunder. It may be that I did not believe the ball would carry as far as it did, hard hit as it was. I have seen hard-hit balls go a hundred feet into an infielder’s waiting glove, and all that one remembers is crack, blur, spank. This ball did not alarm me because it was hit to dead center field–Mays’ territory–and not between the fielders, into those dread alleys in left-center and right-center which lead to the bullpens.

 

And this was not a terribly high drive. It was a long low fly or a high liner, whichever you wish. This ball was hit not nearly so high as the triple Wertz struck earlier in the day, so I may have assumed that it would soon start to break and dip and come down to Mays, not too far from his normal position.

 

Then I looked at Willie, and alarm raced through me, peril flaring against my heart. To my utter astonishment, the young Giant center fielder–the inimitable Mays, most skilled of outfielders, unique for his ability to scent the length and direction of any drive and then turn and move to the final destination of the ball–Mays was turned full around, head down, running as hard as he could, straight toward the runway between the two bleacher sections.

 

I knew then that I had underestimated–badly underestimated–the length of Wertz’s blow.

 

I wrenched my eyes from Mays and took another look at the ball, winging its way along, undipping, unbreaking, forty feet higher than Mays’ head, rushing along like a locomotive, nearing Mays, and I thought then: it will beat him to the wall.

 

Through the years I have tried to do what Red Barber has cautioned me and millions of admiring fans to do: take your eye from the ball after it’s been hit and look at the outfielder and the runners. This is a terribly difficult thing to learn; for twenty-five years I was unable to do it. Then I started to take stabs at the fielder and the ball, alternately. Now I do it pretty well. Barber’s advice pays off a thousand times in appreciation of what is unfolding, of what takes some six or seven seconds–that’s all, six or seven seconds–and of what I can see. in several takes, like a jerking motion picture, until I have enough pieces to make nearly a whole.

 

There is no perfect whole, of course, to a play in baseball. If there was, it would require a God to take it all in. For instance, on such a play, I would like to know what Manager Durocher is doing–leaping to the outer lip of the sunken dugout, bent forward, frozen in anxious fear? And [Cleveland manager Al] Lopez–is he also frozen, hope high but too anxious to let it swarm through him? The coaches–have they started to wave their arms in joy, getting the runners moving, or are they half-waiting, in fear of the impossible catch and the mad scramble that might ensue on the base paths?

 

The players–what have they done? The fans—are they standing, or half-crouched, yelling (I hear them, but since I do not see them, I do not know who makes that noise, which of them yells and which is silent)? Has activity stopped in the Giant bullpen where Grissom still had been toiling? Was he now turned to watch the flight of the ball, the churning dash of Mays?

 

No man can get the entire picture; I did what I could, and it was painful to rip my sight from one scene frozen forever on my mind, to the next, and then to the next.

 

I had seen the ball hit, its rise; I had seen Mays’ first backward sprint; I had again seen the ball and Mays at the same time, Mays still leading. Now I turned to the diamond –how long does it take the eyes to sweep and focus and telegraph to the brain?–and there was the vacant spot on the hill ( how often we see what is not there before we see what is there) where Liddle had been and I saw him at the third-base line, between home and third ( the wrong place for a pitcher on such a play; he should be behind third to cover a play there, or behind home to back up a play there, but not in between).

 

I saw Doby, too, hesitating, the only man, I think, on the diamond who now conceded that Mays might catch the ball. Doby is a center fielder and a fine one and very fast himself, so he knows what a center fielder can do. He must have gone nearly halfway to third, now he was coming back to second base a bit. Of course, he may have known that he could jog home if the ball landed over Mays’ head, so there was no need to get too far down the line.

 

Rosen was as near to second as Doby, it seemed. He had come down from first, and for a second–no, not that long, nowhere near that long, for a hundred-thousandth of a second, more likely–I thought Doby and Rosen were Dark and Williams hovering around second, making some foolish double play on this ball that had been hit three hundred and thirty feet past them. Then my mind cleared; they were in Cleveland uniforms, not Giant, they were Doby and Rosen.

 

And that is all I allowed my eyes on the inner diamond. Back now to Mays–had three seconds elapsed from the first ominous connection of bat and ball?–and I saw Mays do something that he seldom does and that is so often fatal to outfielders. For the briefest piece of time–I cannot shatter and compute fractions of seconds like some atom gun–Mays started to raise his head and turn it to his left, as though he were about to look behind him.

 

Then he thought better of it, and continued the swift race with the ball that hovered quite close to him now, thirty feet high and coming down (yes, finally coming down) and again–for the second time–I knew Mays would make the catch.

 

In the Polo Grounds, there are two square-ish green screens, flanking the runway between the two bleacher sections, one to the left-field side of the runway, the other to the right. The screens are intended to provide a solid dark background for the pitched ball as it comes in to the batter. Otherwise he would be trying to pick out the ball from a far-off sea of shirts of many colors, jackets, balloons, and banners.

 

Wertz’s drive, I could see now, was not going to end up in the runway on the fly; it was headed for the screen on the right-field side.

 

The fly, therefore, was not the longest ball ever hit in the Polo Grounds, not by a comfortable margin. Wally Berger had hit a ball over the left-field roof around the four-hundred foot marker. Joe Adcock had hit a ball into the center-field bleachers. A Giant pitcher, Hal Schumacher, had once hit a ball over the left-field roof, about as far out as Berger’s. Nor–if Mays caught it–would it be the longest ball ever caught in the Polo Grounds. In either the 1936 or 1937 World Series–I do not recall which–Joe DiMaggio and Hank Leiber traded gigantic smashes to the foot of the stairs within that runway; each man had caught the other’s. When DiMaggio caught Leiber’s, in fact, it meant the final out of the game. DiMaggio caught the ball and barely broke step to go up the stairs and out of sight before the crowd was fully aware of what had happened.

 

So Mays’ catch–if he made it–would not necessarily be in the realm of the improbable. Others had done feats that bore some resemblance to this.

 

Yet Mays’ catch–if, indeed, he was to make it–would dwarf all the others for the simple reason that he, too, could have caught Leiber’s or DiMaggio’s fly, whereas neither could have caught Wertz’s. Those balls had been towering drives, hit so high the outfielder could run forever before the ball came down. Wertz had hit his ball harder and on a lower trajectory. Leiber–not a fast man-was nearing second base when DiMaggio caught his ball; Wertz-also not fast-was at first when …

 

When Mays simply slowed down to avoid running into the wall, put his hands up in cup-like fashion over his left shoulder, and caught the ball much like a football player catching leading passes in the end zone.

 

He had turned so quickly, and run so fast and truly that he made this impossible catch look–to us in the bleachers –quite ordinary. To those reporters in the press box, nearly six hundred feet from the bleacher wall, it must have appeared far more astonishing, watching Mays run and run until he had become the size of a pigmy and then he had run some more, while the ball diminished to a mote of white dust and finally disappeared in the ‘dark blob that was Mays’ mitt.

 

The play was not finished, with the catch.

 

Now another pet theory of mine could be put to the test. For years I have criticized baserunners who advance from second base while a long fly ball is in the air, then return to the base once the catch has been made and proceed to third after tagging up. I have wondered why these men have not held their base; if the ball is not caught, they can score from second. If it is, surely they will reach third. And–if they are swift–should they not be able to score from second on enormously long flies to dead center field?

 

Here was such a fly; here was Doby so close to second before the catch that he must have practically been touching the bag when Mays was first touching the drive, his back to the diamond. Now Doby could–if he dared–test the theory.

 

And immediately I saw how foolish my theory was when the thrower was Mays.

 

It is here that Mays outshines all others. I do not think the catch made was as sensational as some others I have seen, although no one else could have made it. I recall a catch made by Fred Lindstrom, a converted third baseman who had bad legs, against Pittsburgh. Lindstrom ran to the right-center field wall beyond the Giants’ bullpen and leaped high to snare the ball with his gloved hand. Then his body smashed into the wall and he fell on his back, his gloved hand held over his body, the speck of white still showing. After a few seconds, he got to his feet, quite groggy, but still holding the ball. That was the finest catch I can recall, and the account of the game in next day’s New York Herald-Tribune indicated it might have been the greatest catch ever made in the Polo Grounds.

 

Yet Lindstrom could not have reached the ball Wertz hit and Mays would have been standing at the wall, ready to leap and catch the ball Lindstrom grabbed.

 

Mays never left his feet for the ball Wertz hit; all he did was outrun the ball. I do not diminish the feat; no other center fielder that I have ever seen (Joe and Dom DiMaggio, Terry Moore, Sammy West, Eddie Roush, Earle Combs, and Duke Snider are but a few that stand out) could have done it for no one else was as fast in getting to the ball. But I am of the opinion that had not Mays made that slight movement with his head as though he were going to look back in the middle of flight, he would have caught the ball standing still.

 

The throw to second base was something else again.

 

Mays caught the ball, and then whirled and threw, like some olden statue of a Greek javelin hurler, his head twisted away to the left as his right arm swept out and around. But Mays is no classic study for the simple reason that at the peak of his activity, his baseball cap flies off. And as he turned, or as he threw–I could not tell which, the two motions were welded into one–off came the cap, and then Mays himself continued to spin around after the gigantic effort of returning the ball whence it came, and he went down flat on his belly, and out of sight.

 

But the throw! What an astonishing throw, to make all other throws ever before it, even those four Mays himself had made during fielding practice, appear the flings of teen-age girls. This was the throw of a giant, the throw of a howitzer made human, arriving at second base–to Williams or Dark, I don’t know which, but probably Williams, my memory says Dark was at the edge of the outfield grass, in deep shortstop position just as Doby was pulling into third, and as Rosen was scampering back to first.

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

This is a marvelous piece of writing. What impresses me most is how Hano was able — so successfully — to do something that he had been advised (as he notes) by broadcaster Red Barber to do: “take your eye from the ball after it’s been hit and look at the outfielder and the runners.” In other words, take in the whole field. This is something that one can do at the ballpark, but not while watching a game on television.

It is as if Hano had suspended time. How was he able to break a play which took only a few seconds, and which was spectacular, into its component parts, as it were, so one can appreciate its splendor fully: the situation, the flight of the ball, Mays’s pursuit, the base runners (where they were and how it was relevant to the play), Mays’s throw after the catch?

It has been said, by sportswriter Ray Robinson in a foreword to a 50th anniversary edition of A Day in the Bleachers, that Hano writes quickly. As Robinson says, “he wrote Bleachers in about the same time as it takes most people to run a marathon—yet he managed to turn a half-dozen hours on a bleachers pew into a tight-knit masterpiece. The book, in my mind, is a gem of clarity and honest observation, a tribute to Arnold’s reporting skills.”

Yes, indeed. Reporting as well as writing skills. He fashioned his hastily scribbled notes into a masterpiece. Based upon notes taken while sitting in the bleachers with ordinary fans, not in the press box.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

     January 2018

 

 

cover - 'A Day in the Bleachers'.jpg

 

 

the catch.jpg

 

 

Arnold Hano.jpg

Arnold Hano

leave baseball alone!

 

 

This post is about baseball.

It’s a little out of date, since most of details refer to the 2017 season.

Well, anyway, it’s the Hot Stove League season, right?

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

First, about an adjustment that has been made in baseball’s rules.

A single game from last fall illustrates what I wish to discuss.

On September 14, 2017, in game 1 of the National League Championship Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs by a score of 5 to 2. An article about the game in the New York Times of October 15 discussed a key play.

The play occurred in the bottom half of the seventh inning. Charlie Culberson, a replacement for injured Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager, hit a double off Cubs starter John Lackey. The next batter, third baseman Justin Turner, singled to left field. Culberson was initially ruled out at home on a terrific throw from Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber and tag by catcher Willson Contreras. But after a replay review, Culberson was ruled safe because Contreras was deemed to have violated the collision rule by not leaving Culberson a path to the plate.

The ruling incensed Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who argued with the umpires and was ejected.

“It’s wrong,” he said. “I think anybody that’s played major league or minor league baseball will agree with me 100 percent on that.”

Maddon added, “All rules that are created and laws aren’t necessarily good ones.”

I agree with Madden. This rule takes a lot of drama out of home plate plays. It’s a pantywaist rule designed to project the catcher from collisions. Sorry! (Maybe the catcher should make a polite bow, doff his cap, and congratulate the runner.) They’re inevitable. They’re part of baseball. As are beanballs now and then.

The throw that nipped Culberson and the tag must have been beautiful to watch. A nitpicking rule propagated by fussbudgets should not have nullified them.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

In July 2017, the New York Mets extended the netting at Citi Field halfway into the outfield. Many, but not all, fans expressed displeasure with the change.

As explained in a New York Times article by sportswriter Wallace Matthews (“Eyesore or Blessing? New Safety Feature at Citi Field Divides Fans,” July 23, 2017):

To some, [the netting] is an eyesore, a reason not to come to the ballpark and additional evidence of a Nanny State run amok.

But to others, it is an added layer of security that allows them to watch a baseball game — or not watch it, as the case may be — without the fear of being injured or the burden of constantly being on alert.

I’m on the side of the first group. Surprised?

I wrote a letter to the editor that was not published.

 

TO THE EDITOR

New York Times

July 24, 2017

Re: “Eyesore or Blessing? New Safety Feature at Citi Field Divides Fans” (July 23):

I grew up watching baseball games at Fenway Park in Boston in the 1950’s.

When one emerged from the stadium entrance into the stands, the first thing one noticed was the beautiful view of the landscaped field with (regardless of lateness of season) its deep green grass, which invariably would take my breath away. There was no annoying electronic scoreboard, only a PA system.

I thought Citi Field was nicely designed with good sight lines and that it was, without question, an improvement over Shea Stadium.

I won’t be attending any more games there.

Roger W. Smith

 

Then, on September 20, 2017, a girl at Yankee Stadium was injured by a foul ball off the bat of Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier. A couple of weeks ago, in January 2018, the Yankees announced that they will extend protective netting far down the foul lines next season at Yankee Stadium in the hopes of preventing fans from being struck by hard-hit foul balls.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

What does the “philosopher” and baseball fan Roger W. Smith think about all of this?

Risks are inherent in all of life. Accidents happen. If we wanted to avoid all possibility of them, we would, for example, never let anyone get behind the wheel.

Leave baseball alone. It’s a beautiful sport and is not inherently violent.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   January 2018

a baseball story

 

My high school English teacher, Robert W. Tighe, was, for some reason I never knew, a New York Yankees fan.

This, despite the fact that, as far as I knew, he was raised in Massachusetts.

He used to argue, for the fun of it, with my older brother, who also had him for a teacher, about all sorts of things, such as baseball, religion, and the Civil War.

He told my brother, who was a Red Sox fan (as was I) and was sympathetic to the South, that he was “the patron of lost causes.” (Mr. Tighe had a mordant wit. He also prided himself on being able to see things clearly through the fog of idealism, much like one of his intellectual heroes, Samuel Johnson.)

 

 

*****************************************************

 

Mr. Tighe was an avid baseball fan.

He told my brother a story.

He was at a Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway Park. I think he said Red Ruffing was pitching for the Yankees.

One of the pitchers may have been pitching a no hitter. I don’t remember exactly what our teacher was said to have said. But, anyway, the game was tied at 0-0 through around six innings, and suspense was mounting. It was a true pitcher’s battle.

In the middle of the game, a woman who had arrived very late made her way to her seat. Everyone had to stand up in the middle of the inning to let her pass.

She asked someone what was the score.

“Nothing to nothing,” they replied.

“Oh, good, I haven’t missed anything,” she said.

 

— Roger W. Smith

    January 2008

 

 

*****************************************************

 

Thanks, and a tip of the hat — with a nod to the late American cartoonist Jimmy (“a Tip of the Hatlo hat”) Hatlo — to my brother A. W. (Pete) Smith, Jr. for relating this story to me. I wonder if he recalls telling me it!