Category Archives: Baseball

Get More Game in the Game!

This evening, the Yankees are rudely and repeatedly defining “launch angle” for the Boston pitcher. I’m not convinced geometry was the pitcher’s best school subject.
This afternoon and yesterday afternoon, my beloved Reds played powerfully and dominated the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers. If they continue this style of play, I’m convinced that by September they can be out of last place. After that, the sky’s the limit…well…maybe a .500 season’s the limit.
I love baseball.
It is experiencing some problems, yes, but it has always needed adjustment. The players and coaches have always made those adjustments. Those adjustments, the ones from the players and coaches, work best. Adjustments that originate outside the game may sometimes be necessary, but are usually inferior. The designated hitter, performance-enhancing drugs, inter-league play, tinkering with the height of the mound, replay review…these have not improved baseball. It is a validation of the rigorous beauty of the game that it survives such crimes against its nature.
For example.
The defensive shifts dictated by sabermetrics are a nuisance and have currently shaped the game into a homerun or strikeout experience. The hitters have adjusted to the shifts. They understand that an out is an out, whether it’s a strikeout or a ground ball to a third baseman improbably standing in shallow right field to which he has no valid passport. Hitters will always try to “hit ‘em where they ain’t.” So…where ain’t they? For sure, there are no fielders in the stands beyond the outfield wall. Hit ‘em there! Thus, the 25-degree launch angle becomes a player adjustment to the coaches’ defensive shifts. As I watch the Yankees hit their fourth (woops, make that fifth) homerun in the first four innings off David Price, former Cy Young Award winner, I know this is not the same game I’ve watched for over 50 years.
But that’s OK. Pitchers will adjust. I suspect low outside sliders two inches off the ground, and high inside four-seam fast balls two inches off the batter’s chin will become a bit more prevalent. Put yer 25-degree launch angle on that, Buster!
The game as it’s played on the field will adjust to every nudging of the limits with a correcting nudge. That doesn’t worry me.
There are a couple of things that do trouble me. They concern the length of the games. Understand, I’m not at all bothered by the fact that a game, if tied, could theoretically last forever. I cherish that threat. Bring it on…and on…and on…and…
(I’m hearing Harry Carey braying in the background; “I don’t care if I ever get back.”)
At this point, I should take an opportunity to recommend W. P. Kinsella’s novel, THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY to you. It posits just such an expression of the potential of an eternal horsehide struggle. Mr. Kinsella’s better-known book, SHOELESS JOE, is the book upon which the film Field of Dreams was based.
No, I acknowledge when I purchase a ticket to a baseball game that the rest of my journey on this mortal coil may consist of wearing out the path between my seat and the hot dog stand till the end of time or till the end of me. I’m good wit’ dat. I like baseball game hot dogs and I made out a will.
I’m not looking to put baseball on a clock. What chaps me is the amount of time spent on non-game activities. The time stolen from the game and the audience’s lives by equipment adjustments, equipment changes, pitching changes, pick-off attempts, mound meetings, off-the-mound/out-of-the-batter’s-box meditative strolls needs to be examined and eliminated.
I wanna see some baseball.
I have a few suggestions. Yes, I am aware they are adjustments not originating from the players and coaches, and therefore probably inferior, but I gotta try. Four-hour nine-inning games are only helping the beer vendors.
My probably inferior suggestions;
– Pitchers, you get one unsuccessful pick-off attempt to a particular runner on a particular base. After that, each unsuccessful pick-off attempt costs you a BALL on the batter. This would save time, make stealing bases more viable, thus making a base hit more enticing.
– Pitchers, if you leave the mound between un-hit pitches, it costs you a BALL on the hitter. No moseying. Stay on the mound and pitch.
– Batters, if you leave the batter’s box between un-hit pitches, it costs you a STRIKE. No meandering. Stay in there and hit.
– No batting gloves. Go back to pine tar. Pine tar doesn’t have to be adjusted after every pitch.
– Batters, if you wear protective gear while batting, you must wear the same gear while running the bases. We will no longer have to wait while you effect a costume change at first base.
– Coaches, one pitching change per inning, barring injury.
– Coaches and catchers, the only visit to the mound allowed is during a pitching change. If you need to communicate with the pitcher, use hand signals, smoke signals, or just shout in pig latin.
– Eliminate all replay reviews. Let the umpires call the game. If they make a mistake, well, so do the shortstops. It’s a game for chrissakes. A game! If the important thing is (as the announcers assure us in their most funereal tones) to “get the call right.” Why do we allow Mr. Trump to do anything?
I feel we can get a regular nine-inning game down to about two and a half hours or less and keep all the excitement.
See the ball. Hit the ball. Catch the ball. Throw the ball. Run like hell.
It’s really pretty simple.
And it’s beautiful.
Even the pine tar……beautiful.

Perfect Baseball Weather – Alert!

“Boy, the weather’s great tonight and s’posed to be even better tomorrow. Looks like perfect baseball weather for tomorrow afternoon’s game! C’mon out!!”  –tonight’s dogged Reds announcer.

It is a beautiful night. The forecast is rosy. The Reds are playing poor baseball tonight and deservedly losing…again. The Reds’ season record is sadder than sad, bluer than blue…deservedly. Tonight’s crowd is less than impressive. The announcer’s exhortations for attendance are understandable.

But “perfect baseball weather” sets me to thinkin’…

I understand the idea of perfect baseball weather, but I have an expanded definition of what that is.

  • It’s October, 1976. I’m in a tiny apartment in Dallas with my old friend, Chuck Pogue, and my new friend, Larry Drake. I’ve convinced them (being lapsed baseball fans) to tune in the Reds/Phillies playoff game on Chuck’s 12-inch Sony Trinitron. The temperature in the dim room was probably about 72 degrees. Watching that magnificent Reds team utterly dismiss Philadelphia delighted me and rekindled a passion for baseball in Chuck and Larry that never left them. The weather was perfect that day where I was.
  • Last summer, Janie and I drove over to a community softball field in Frankfort to spend a sizable chunk of a hot, sunny, humid day watching her great-grand-niece play. Eight-year-old ladies running randomly after ground balls and running with abandon around the bases to compile football-like scores, followed by a drive home with my babe through the farms and green-ness to which I am addicted, was perfect baseball weather to me.
  • My back yard in the early 60’s playing wiffle ball; it never rained…never.
  • High in the red-seated Alps of Riverfront Stadium, architecture actually swaying a bit with each impassioned roar of the crowd, watching the Reds win a World Series game in the bottom of the ninth while I was wearing a winter jacket and gloves…yes, perfect baseball weather.
  • Eating Dodger Dogs at Chavez Ravine while the visiting Cubs’ Ernie Banks in an immaculate white business suit is introduced to the crowd…no complaint about the climate here.
  • Sitting three rows behind Joe Morgan at Riverfront a week after his induction to the Hall of Fame; I recall it was hot, it was humid, there were bugs, it was perfect baseball weather.
  • It was also perfect while sitting behind the dugout of the Hickory Crawdads at the Lexington Legends field and being embarrassed as Chuck harassed the Hickory players to give us a hat. I later ordered the hat online – that’s just how cool it was – the hat, not the weather.
  • There was another memorable Legends night when it was 186 degrees and the setting sun was smack in our eyes during the first six innings and the Legends lost by five. But a train chugged past the left field fence, whistle singin’, and a promotional baseball bound in basketball leather and stamped; “UK Wildcats” was given out. Perfect baseball weather.
  • Tonight the Reds have continued to play poorly and are further behind and will undoubtedly lose again. But I’m sittin’ in the library, the windows are open, the frogs are singin’, the dog is chasing a mouse with glee and incompetence while the cat Googles “mouse”, and Jeff Brantley is describing his prodigious eating adventures. Perfect baseball weather to me.

Make America great again?

It’s great now.

Baseball is being played in perfect weather all over the land. How great is that?

Don’t screw it up…or give it away…or loot it……and shun those that do.

Let’s play two.

Curling Collectibles

I collected baseball cards when I was a kid. Some of them were sacrificed early (Donn Clendenon, Marv Throneberry…) and attached to the spokes of my bike to change my whirring wheels to WHIR-R-R-R-RING wheels. But others were precious; Pete Rose’s rookie card, Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, Warren Spahn, Fritz Brickell…treasures all.

So…

Curling.

Which curling cards would be the gems?

Well…this tyro would be seeking the cards of Nina Roth (US Ladies’ icy assassin), Switzerland’s Benoit Schwartz, John Schuster and Tyler George (the passion and the skill of the US Men), and the sultry Russian, Anastasia Bryzgalova (because…well…damn).

And…

AND the entire South Korean Ladies squad. They gave themselves English marketing names based on what they had for breakfast. Ya gotta root for a team with players named; Pancake, Sunny, Steak, and Annie (a brand of yogurt).

Curling…cool…before cool was cool.

Ma Vie En Bleu

Well…the pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report tomorrow.

Normally, today would be a day of hopeful anticipation. Spring will come and the voice of the turtle will be heard over the land. The boys of summer will go back to work…playing a game…THE game. The geography of grass and chalk lines – the textures of leather, and horsehide, and stitches – the susurrus of a shirt-sleeved assemblage, the crack of a bat, and the primal scream of a winter-rested umpire – will all hint that some un-urgent sense and poetry might still redeem us.

But no…

It’s gray and rainy.

Mr. Trump inhabits the one house he can never own but only continue to degrade.

We allow 19-year-olds to slaughter our children with AK-whatevers.

And tonight, many Kentuckians fear the end of the world.

The Kentucky basketball team is favored to lose their fourth straight game. If that’s not the end of the world, I don’t know what is.

My advice to the pitchers and catchers? Delay packing for tomorrow until the UK game is decided. Tomorrow’s reporting may be cancelled due to the end of the world.

But on the other hand…

It’s not snowin’, the house is snug and dry and warm, and inhabited by Janie on this Valentine’s Day.

I’m gonna vote and vote loud and the results of my winning vote will not be able to spell “NRA”.

And…

AND…

And we might win tonight. Frankly, I like our chances.

Maybe that’s all just me lookin’ at the world through blue-tinted glasses. Ma vie en bleu, n’est-ce pas?

Maybe I’m just jonesin’ for baseball.

I gotta start workin’ on World Series tix.

Baseball on Gay Place

A memory of an older Lexington.

Great.

Now I’m gonna want a Dodger Dog all night.

I know I’ve mentioned once or twice…or perhaps a hundred times before how much I love baseball. I come by this infatuation honestly and early.

I grew up in North Lexington, on a street named Gay Place. Go ahead, snicker if you wish, but all it meant to us then was that it made it easy to fill out any forms requiring a home address. I didn’t need to write out street names like “Henry Clay Boulevard” and “Avenue of Champions” until much later in my intellectual development. To be perfectly accurate, the street was South Gay Place and yes, there was and still is a North Gay Place. Today I suppose we would call this configuration a cul-de-sac, but in the late 50’s/early 60’s the only French we knew was French’s Yellow Mustard (See? Completely obsessing on those Dodger Dogs).

On Gay Place, in the summer, we played baseball all the time, everywhere, and with all kinds of equipment.

We mowed the vacant field behind our street and played on the stubble. The field was severely canted on a hill. What did we care? Yes, the run uphill to first base was arduous and rarely successful, but if you made it, you could attain Olympic speed from first to third. Flat is seriously over-rated.

We played intense wiffle ball. We would locate the densest shrub in the neighborhood and put home plate in front of it. That eliminated the need for a catcher. I recall one memorable game when my participation was cut short after I reached into the catcher/bush to retrieve the ball and retrieved a wasp nest instead.

We played in driveways using a fishing cork for the ball and a broomstick for the bat. Our eyes were better then.

My favorite games were played in our backyard. The ground rules were remarkable and vital to know to determine a winning strategy.

  • A ball hit over the right field fence was a home run UNLESS;
    • It crossed over my dad’s vegetable garden. Then it was a foul ball. If it landed in the garden, it was an out – no, it was the ultimate out. We weren’t allowed to play anymore that day. OR…
    • …if the unsympathetic neighbors (probably hockey fans) who lived in the house over the right field fence were home. Then the ball hit over the right field fence was considered un-retrievable until they left home and the game was over or suspended until such time.
  • A ball hit over the left field fence was considered to be “in the outfield”. It could be caught on the fly for an out or fielded to hold the runner to a single or a double. UNLESS…
  • …it was a ball hit over the left field fence AND traveled beyond the tree in the middle of the neighbor’s back yard. That was considered to be a home run and would invariably initiate an argument over the distance measurement of such vitriol it would dwarf today’s chats between Clinton and Sanders supporters.
  • Games would continue until twilight, at which time we would switch to horseshoes, just to irritate ALL the neighbors.

No matter which incarnation of “baseball” we happened to be playing each day, the score for each game was meticulously kept and just as meticulously forgotten the next day. Players switched teams with complete fluidity. Feelings were hurt…and healed. People were offended…and survived. Heroes were made…and humbled. The sun set…and then rose again. We could spell “Gay Place”, but we couldn’t spell “Republican”, or “Democrat”. We had heard of the Reds and the Yankees, but we had never heard of conservatives or liberals. If, in the middle of the game, we felt the call of nature, we ran home or to a neighbor’s house or behind the catcher/bush and no one checked any birth certificates about it.

We had all the time in the world, but there was no time to waste on foolishness like that. We had a game to play.

Oh yeah, I love baseball. I earned the right to that love. Those wasps…!

Bad Checks, Baseball, & Bicycling

Bad Checks, Baseball, & Bicycling

 

Yesterday I went to a softball tournament in Frankfort. It was an all-day affair featuring 8-year-old young ladies missing pop flies, running from base-to-base with joyous abandon regardless of their safe/out status, bearing bats bigger than themselves, and chirping sassy, abusive cheers at the opposing team (which I suspect had cleansed a bit by their parent/coaches).

Janie and I loved it.

Cynics may suggest our delight may have been heartily induced by the un-biased fact that one our favorite nieces was the best player on our, alas, winless team.

Meh…haters will hate.

It was a beautiful day; sunny, temperature perfect. I’m at a ball game, listening to the opposing fans parent-splaining shrilly about keeping your hands up, keeping your eye on the ball, and wait’ll we get home. There were hot dogs…not good hot dogs, mind you…but there are no bad hot dogs at a ball game. That’s what yellow mustard is for.

Man.

How good can life be?

Between games, I mused about the last time I was at these particular playing fields.

I would’ve been 23 or 24 at the time. I was managing two Shoppers Village Liquor stores and living in Frankfort. I liked living in Kentucky’s capitol city. I lived a couple of blocks away from the Capitol Building and the Governor’s Mansion. It was a lovely neighborhood. I was cycling a good bit then and thoroughly enjoyed the impeccable pavement in my neighborhood……it’s good to live near the state capitol.

But not all was hunky-dory.

One of the bete-noirs of retail is bad checks. This is a problem that is rapidly fading as we sail into a cashless world, but in the early 70’s this was a serious impediment to a successful retail endeavor. As such, it fell to the store manager to collect these abominations.

I hated this duty and felt unsuited for it.

But as an actor living by desire in Central Kentucky, a locale that paid zip/zero/goose-egg to its actors, the sponsorship of my employment was paramount. If collecting bad checks was the rent for living in the Eden of my choice…so be it.

This duty led to some interesting adventures and interesting neighborhoods.

One of them had its denouement at the very softball fields of my past weekend.

It was a $20+ promise on a now worthless check. But in the early 70’s, $20 was a week’s rent, or a month of gasoline for the car, or a couple of days’ meals. This was not something to be abandoned without a fight.

I fought.

I first called the offender; no cell phones, only land lines…no answer.

I then drove to offender’s home (not as many guns back then). I parked in front of the address and rang the doorbell. No answer……BUT there was a twitch of the window curtain. Young and invulnerable and Sherlockian that I was, I decided further investigation was called for.

I drove around the block to the alley (alley…not as many guns back then) and waited. Sure enough, the offender emerged from his house in a bathrobe, smoking a cigarette. He spotted me and darted back into the house. I darted around to his front door. He was waiting for me. I received a promise of payment within the week.

Another promise unfulfilled.

Research ensued.

I discovered my offender played in a softball league on Tuesdays (aren’t smaller towns great?).

The next Tuesday, I was on the aluminum bleachers at the fields (Yes! The same ones my butt occupied yesterday!). There was my offender, warming up with his team. I sauntered over (“sauntered”…le mot juste…).

“Crestfallen” has always been a favorite word of mine and I believe I witnessed its living definition at that moment.

“I’ll get that money to you this week, I promise.” Was volunteered.

“Fine”, I replied.

I continued; “I love ballgames, ya know. I especially like ‘em when I know some of the players. And tonight I see a bunch of my customers here.

“If we’re not settled up by next Tuesday, I’ll be back and it won’t be to see the game, as thrilling as the contest might be. It’ll be to let everyone know……”

By Wednesday afternoon, I had received full payment for the check, plus the interest contributed of a choice selection of loud, vulgar abuse……rest easy, there was no vocabulary I had not heard before.

That’s OK.

I wasn’t feeling that good about myself anyway.

Conclusion?

We should pay our actors if we want’em to stick around.

Vada Pinson

Baseball is great because of its timelessness.

It is un-anchored in time.

This is true in large. 150+ years of statistics and players and stories provide a context for every happening in every day’s game.

This is true in small. Every pitch provides the potential for game-winning action, or as a savory consolation, an opportunity to analyze and/or reminisce and/or solve the problems of the world in a beautiful, geometrically-correct setting with a nutritionally-incorrect hot dog (maybe two if there’s a pitching change).

Tonight’s between-the-pitches discussion is triggered by George Grande’s suggestion that the Reds’ Vada Pinson (late 50’s-early 60’s) belongs in the Hall of Fame. Chris Welsh’s retort was that every fan of every team had two or three players from their team’s history that they felt should be in the Hall of Fame.

Well…sure, Chris. That’s probably true.

But those fans would be wrong.

We’re talkin’ Vada Pinson here.

In my pre-teen years, I determined that Vada Pinson was the greatest player not named Frank Robinson in the game. I based this on data…serious data;

  • I went to two games in Crosley Stadium and saw him play.
  • I saw maybe three or four TV games (there was only one televised baseball game per week then – Saturday afternoon – the Reds rarely were featured, not being the Yankees).
  • I listened to several hundred games on the radio (including dozens of late-night games from the West Coast, secretly monitored on my transistor radio under my pillow – don’t tell my Mom.
  • I had a baseball card.

Pit yer analytics against that, Mr. Welsh!

Oh, look.

It’s time for the next pitch.

Backyard Baseball

Ah, I see the Dodgers and the Cardinals are our Sunday night TV baseball contestants this week; from Dodger Stadium. Great. Now I’m gonna want a Dodger Dog all night.

I know I’ve mentioned once or twice…or perhaps a hundred times before how much I love baseball. I come by this infatuation honestly and early.

I grew up in North Lexington, on a street named Gay Place. Go ahead, snicker if you wish, but all it meant to us then was that it made it easy to fill out any forms requiring a home address. I didn’t need to write out street names like “Henry Clay Boulevard” and “Avenue of Champions” until much later in my intellectual development. To be perfectly accurate, the street was South Gay Place and yes, there was and still is a North Gay Place. Today I suppose we would call this configuration a cul-de-sac, but in the late 50’s/early 60’s the only French we knew was French’s Yellow Mustard (See? Completely obsessing on those Dodger Dogs).

On Gay Place, in the summer, we played baseball all the time, everywhere, and with all kinds of equipment.

We mowed the vacant field behind our street and played on the stubble. The field was severely canted on a hill. What did we care? Oh sure, the run uphill to first base was arduous and rarely successful, but if you made it, you could attain Olympic speed from first to third. Flat is seriously over-rated.

We played intense whiffle ball. We would locate the densest shrub in the neighborhood and put home plate in front of it. That eliminated the need for a catcher. I recall one memorable game when my participation was cut short after I reached into the catcher/bush to retrieve the ball and retrieved a wasp nest instead.

We played in driveways using a fishing cork for the ball and a broomstick for the bat.

My favorite games were played in our backyard. The ground rules were remarkable and vital to know to determine a winning strategy.

  • A ball hit over the right field fence was a home run UNLESS;
    • It crossed over my dad’s vegetable garden. Then it was a foul ball. If it landed in the garden, it was an out – no, it was the ultimate out. We weren’t allowed to play anymore that day. OR…
    • …if the people who lived in that house were home. Then the ball was considered un-retrievable until they left and the game was over or suspended.
  • A ball hit over the left field fence was considered to be “in the outfield”. It could be caught on the fly for an out or fielded to hold the runner to a single or a double. UNLESS…
  • …it was a ball hit over the left field fence AND traveled beyond the tree in the middle of the neighbor’s back yard. That was considered to be a home run and would initiate an argument over measurement of such vitriol it would dwarf today’s chats between Clinton and Sanders supporters.
  • Games would continue until twilight, at which time we would switch to horseshoes, just to irritate ALL the neighbors.

No matter which incarnation of “baseball” we happened to be playing each day, the score for each game was meticulously kept and just as meticulously forgotten the next day. Players switched teams with complete fluidity. Feelings were hurt…and healed. People were offended…and survived. Heroes were made…and humbled. The sun set…and then rose again. We could spell “Gay Place”, but we couldn’t spell “Republican”, or “Democrat”. We had heard of the Reds and the Yankees, but we had never heard of conservatives or liberals. If, in the middle of the game, we felt the call of nature, we ran home or to a neighbor’s house or to that catcher/bush and no one checked any birth certificates about it.

We had all the time in the world, but there was no time to waste on foolishness like that. We had a game to play.

Oh yeah, I love baseball. I earned the right to that love. Those wasps…!

It Could Be the Last Thing You Do

Baseball musings while watching Alfredo Simon make a pitching career out of the first inning (48 pitches already and still flingin’ – I’m guessin’ he’s not gonna get a complete game outta this) on a balmy evening (39 degrees and still droppin’) in Chicago. Night games…in Chicago…in April…what kind of mind…? This game is currently on a pace to last 6 ½ hours.

Hey, not to worry, more time to muse. It’s baseball, baby.

Yesterday I caught a few minutes of a Dodgers game described by Vin Scully. One of the batters was blessed with “Socrates” as his first name. Mr. Scully proceeded to give us a biography of the Greek philosopher AND a play-by-play of what it’s like to die from drinking hemlock AND a pitch-by-pitch description of the batter’s plate appearance. You can’t get that kind of service from any other sport.

Right now I’m listening and learning about the circulatory system of ducks as imparted by Thom Brenneman while the Reds pitcher tries to lay down a bunt. You can learn a lot useful stuff in a baseball game.

But what I’m thinkin’ ‘bout tonight is the fearful responsibility involved when buying a ticket to a baseball game. We take it lightly, but think about it.

It could be the last thing you do.

If the game is tied at the end of nine innings we don’t stop playing by the regular rules of baseball until we have a winner. No matter how many innings that may take.

We don’t have clocks, or ties, or judges’ decisions, or goal kicks, or coin flips. We play on. Theoretically, any game you decide to attend could last forever.

Cool……………and a little scary.

W. P. Kinsella wrote SHOELESS JOE, the book the fine baseball film FIELD OF DREAMS was based upon. His next novel was another fine baseball book; THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY. In it, he posits exactly such an eternal baseball game. I recommend it. Oh, don’t get anxious, it’s only 310 pages long and it has an ending.

So, the next time someone asks you if you’d like to catch a baseball game, stop and ponder if you’re really ready for that kind of commitment.

I pretty much always am.

Give the Other Man His Chance

Well, my Reds are off to a surprisingly good start and exhibiting flashes of pretty good baseball. They’re in first place with a fanciful magic number to clinch the pennant somewhere in the 150 range. I probably shouldn’t get too het up. Another minor league pitcher will make his major league debut with the Reds this afternoon against Pittsburgh, one of the best teams in the game. Could be magic – could be tragic.

We’ve only lost one game, but it was a heart-breaker and quite dramatic. The Pirates hit a late-inning grand slam to win 6-5. We had ‘em and we let ‘em get away.

As disappointing as the result was however, it illustrated another of the many reasons to cherish the sport.

Roger Angell in his very satisfying collection THE SUMMER GAME, quotes Earl Weaver in his 1969 explanation of the Orioles’ unexpected loss of the World Series to the Mets;

“You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the goddam plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

No stalling. No waiting for the clock to run out.

“…give the other man his chance.”

Perhaps our elected officials should watching a bit more baseball.

(Fade to geezer grumping off to watch yet another rookie pitcher…)