Tag Archives: baseball hall of fame

Papal Conclave Day One: Secrecy Oath, Black Smoke and 50 Shades of Gray Smoke

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Well today the Cardinals of the Catholic Church entered into their first day of sequester, I mean Conclave which is kind of like sequester but easier to spell. The Cardinals who had completed a number of meetings last week in preparation for the Conclave and today after the completion of the Mass, lunch and a no host bar, entered the Sistine Chapel. Amid the solemn choral sounds of the Vatican Men’s Chorus and Madonna the Cardinals took the double top secret oath of secrecy binding them to absolute secrecy with no real penalties should they break the oath. Their aides and others in the chapel prior to this also took an oath of secrecy which if they break will be excommunicated and get to spend eternity in Hell. Yes, it is a double standard but someone will have to pay if the cloak of secrecy is broken and it will not be Cardinal Roger “Dodger” and Tweeter Mahoney of the “Cardinal Mahoney Love Network.”

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I was watching the procession into the chapel at lunch as I ate my soup. Amid the pomp, splendor and mystery that surround such solemn occasions I was reminded of another solemn ceremony which I saw decades ago for the first time and watch at least a couple of times a year. That ceremony of the young men of Omega Theta Pi of Animal House who also took a solemn pledge, “thank you sir may I have another” is forever etched in my mind. But how can it not be?

After the 115 voting Cardinals swore the oath which among other things they pledged the oath of secrecy:

“In a particular way, we promise and swear to observe with the greatest fidelity and with all persons, clerical or lay, secrecy regarding everything that in any way relates to the election of the Roman Pontiff and regarding what occurs in the place of the election, directly or indirectly related to the results of the voting; we promise and swear not to break this secret in any way, either during or after the election of the new Pontiff, unless explicit authorization is granted by the same Pontiff; and never to lend support or favor to any interference, opposition or any other form of intervention, whereby secular authorities of whatever order and degree or any group of people or individuals might wish to intervene in the election of the Roman Pontiff.”

The only thing missing was the Cardinals getting whacked on the backside like Kevin Bacon as they made the oath. But I digress….

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After several hours the now sequestered Cardinals gave an indication of where the process was at. Dark black smoke began to issue out of the temporary chimney above the Chapel indicating that the Cardinals had not yet elected a new Pope. This was not surprising to me because unlike the Baseball Hall of Fame election, seldom does a man become Pope on the first ballot. But then the Baseball Hall of Fame candidates cannot vote for themselves, and don’t get a vote for anyone, they have to depend on Sports Writers. Let’s see anyone but Cardinal Dolan or Cardinal O’Malley get elected if they had to depend on Sports Writers.

Tomorrow the balloting will continue. Most experts expect that the balloting will continue at least through tomorrow evening or more likely Thursday. Actually since I am sure there must be a betting line in Vegas I hope it drags out until Friday or later. I mean what else do these guys have to do? Many work in Rome and those that don’t are probably getting per diem payments while away from home.  Besides, look at the business that it brings to the money changers and trinket sellers in Vatican Square. It is good for their economy and what is good for the economy is good for the economy.

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Could Cardinal Ouellet become Pope Bob? Eh? 

Now there is a lot of speculation on which of the 115 Cardinals will be elected Pope. Honesty I don’t want an American, European, Asian, African, Romulan or Vulcan. I want a Canadian and I want him to choose the name “Pope Bob” which I think would be very blue collar. First because Canadians are peaceful and ecumenical people who love to beat the crap out of each other during hockey or World Baseball Classic games.

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Second because I cannot wait to hear the benediction “In Nomeni Patri Et Fili Spiritus Sancti eh” at the end of each Papal Mass. That would be worth it. When I listened to the Cardinals doing their best Latin during the secrecy oath I just liked the way that the Canadians did it. It sounded right and it would make great fodder for South Park. I would love to see an audience with Canadian Pope Bob and Eric Cartman and the rest of the South Park kids and maybe even Terrance and Phillip.

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Apart from this and all kidding aside, pray for these men as they meet to elect the next Pope. After all, even for non-Catholics a good Pope can do a lot of great things. Besides the Church is always in need of good, holy and decent leaders who have not lost their souls to the institution or their own desire for power. That is possible and it has happened before.

Maybe tomorrow we will see White Smoke, or maybe just 50 shades of gray smoke, but whatever it is important to all of us who the next Pope is.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Sad Day for Baseball: Baseball Legends Earl Weaver and Stan Musial Pass Away

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“On my tombstone just write, ‘The sorest loser that ever lived.'” Earl Weaver

It isn’t every day that two baseball legends pass away. However today was one day that the baseball world mourns the losses of two legends Earl Weaver and Stan Musial.

In the morning I heard about the passing of Earl Weaver, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles who during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and help to establish what is now known as “the Oriole Way.” He was not much of a player, never getting out of the minor leagues, but it was his skills coaching and managing that like many other greats set him apart.

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He battled umpires on a regular basis and his rivalry with Ron Luciano was particularly sharp and his battle with Bill Haller, caught on tape and film as Haller was wearing a microphone for a documentary.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=uLUuxVX4Z10

Weaver was thrown out of at least 91 games and received four multiple game suspensions. He said “The job of arguing with the umpire belongs to the manager, because it won’t hurt the team if he gets thrown out of the game.”

He was also a master of statistics and in a way was a pioneer of working to the best possible match up of pitchers versus hitters and used the platoon system to ensure the right match ups. He managed his teams to five 100 game plus seasons (1969, 1970, 1971, 1979 and 1980) four AL Pennants and one World Series title (1970).  He was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1996. After his managing career he spent much time active in the Orioles community hosting a radio program called Managers Corner. He and his wife were on an Orioles cruise when he died today at the age of 82.

He was a manager that I always loved watching and reading about later in life and his comment that “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts” is a theme for my life.

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Stan Musial was a player’s player and one of the best hitters ever to grace the diamond.  An All Star 24 times, National League MVP 3 times, seven time NL Batting Champ and part of three World Series winning St Louis Cardinal Teams, Musial was a consummate professional known for his modesty and hard work.

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After his playing career of 24 years ended in 1963 he went on to be the club’s General Manager helping the team to another World Series title.  Musial was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969 on the first ballot and was named to the All Century Team in 1999. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barak Obama on February 15th 2011.

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Musial was a hitter that analyzed every aspect of the craft of hitting. His comment about how he sized up pitchers sums up how detailed he was in how he played the game: “I consciously memorized the speed at which every pitcher in the league threw his fastball, curve, and slider; then, I’d pick up the speed of the ball in the first thirty feet of its flight and knew how it would move once it had crossed the plate.”

I saw Weaver manage in person a number of times and saw Musial play in an Old Timers game as a kid. Carl Yastrzemski said of Musial: “They can talk about Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby and Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial and all the rest, but I’m sure not one of them could hold cards and spades to (Ted) Williams in his sheer knowledge of hitting. He studied hitting the way a broker studies the stock market, and could spot at a glance mistakes that others couldn’t see in a week.”

There were few greater players than Stan Musial and Earl Weaver ranks high among the most colorful and successful managers of all time.

Baseball has lost two gems today.

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Rest in Peace on that great Field of Dreams,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Cheaters and the Baseball Hall of Fame: The Hypocrisy and Arrogance of the Baseball Writers of the BBWAA

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“Cheating is baseball’s oldest profession. No other game is so rich in skullduggery, so suited to it or so proud of it.” Thomas Boswell

I love baseball. Everything about it. The good, the bad and the ugly. It is a game that to me represents the human condition better than any other game. I am amazed by the feats of ballplayers of today and yesterday. I am also a realist and know that like the rest of us, that baseball players are human. I believe that God speaks to me though baseball and there is no other place in the world that I feel more at peace than watching a ballgame in a ballpark. It is an elixir for my soul.

However baseball, despite its perfection as a game is a game played by, written about and watched by a very imperfect cast. Including me. I know a lot of ball players, men who have played in the Majors and Minors and I admire them. I admire their dedication and the sacrifices that they make to be the best. I admire the fact that many toil in the obscurity of the Minor Leagues for years before even getting a chance to play “in the show.” Not many actually get careers in the Majors, and a decided minority have the lifetime performance to even merit being honored in the Hall of Fame.

The Baseball Writers who decide on the election of baseball players into the Baseball Hall of Fame decided that this year, that no players should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. It was due in part to their interpretation of the rules that allow for the writers to consider issues of character can be considered in the voting process. It was the first time in four decades that no players were elected to the hall.

The vote was seen as the writers judgement on the players of the steroid era, an era that until it became unpopular was heralded by many of the same writers as a time of revival in the sport. The same writers that reveled in the domination of Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling on the pitchers mound, the great home run race between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa, the massive home runs of Barry Bonds or the stellar performances of so many other players of the era. The cheerleaders became the morality police. Not that the use of PEDs was right by any means but the moral indignation of the writers that chose to use their vote or lack of a vote as a means of punishment seems to me to ooze hypocrisy.

I am sure that is the case.

Not that I am in favor of cheating or cheaters. However that being said, the bar that these players are being held to is higher than that of baseball cheaters of previous generations, of which some are honored in the same Hall of Fame that the writers exclude those of the steroid era. It seems to me to me that the writers are being just a bit hypocritical and cynical concerning the history of the game and the Hall of Fame.

That is easy for them to do because we Americans, possibly more than any other people love to tear down our heroes and those that excel at what they do. We are one of the most moralistic peoples on the face of the earth, and nowhere more does that moralistic tenor show up than in baseball. Football and basketball, cheating is not so bad, but cheating in baseball that is somehow a greater sin than almost anything in our society. Tax cheats, adulterers, academic cheats and plagiarists as well murderers and other stellar members of society, including lawyers and politicians find it easy to damn baseball players for cheating.

However, the Hall of Fame membership includes many of the best in baseball as well as some pretty lousy human beings who just happened to be great baseball players. It is a place of history where the disgraced members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox have a place, though not as members. It is a place that has enshrined admitted cheaters of previous eras. It is a place that has enshrined racists, bullies, wife beaters drunks philanderers adulterers and even an accused murderer.

It is also an institution that for decades excluded some of the best ballplayers who ever played the game because they were black and had to play in the segregated Negro Leagues. It’s greatest snub was to the legendary Negro League, player manager and later Major League Coach and scout Buck O’Neil, who it never admitted.

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Buck O’Neil Out, Ty Cobb in

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Ty Cobb was a violent man and as racist as they come. He once assaulted a fan, a fan with no arms for jeering him. He attacked a black groundskeeper for attempting to shake his hand and then attempted to strangle the man’s wife when she came to his aid. Babe Ruth would show up drunk for games and slept around with any attractive woman of the female persuasion. There are a host of unsavory characters in the Hall of Fame besides the admitted cheaters and suspected cheaters of bygone times. Hell, Hank Aaron and admitted to using amphetamines what were then known as “Greenies” and players testified under oath that Willie Stargell, another first ballot Hall of Famer not only took amphetamines but dispensed them to team mates. They used them to perform better and they were not alone. Thus to me the self-righteous indignation of the writers against the players of the Steroid Era and that of some fans is just that.

The cheaters didn’t just include drug users although the fact that players have been juiced for decades was known in early 1970s. The Mitchell Report on the use of performance enhancing drugs made this comment:

“In 1973, a Congressional subcommittee announced that its staff had completed an “in depth study into the use of illegal and dangerous drugs in sports” including professional baseball. The subcommittee concluded that “the degree of improper drug use – primarily amphetamines and anabolic steroids – can only be described as alarming.”

That was 1973. But cheating hasn’t been limited to performance enhancing drugs. The were men who threw illegal pitches or altered baseballs. Managers and organizations that specialized in stealing the signs of opposing teams, corking bats and many other tricks and sleights of hand designed to help them win games.

When Sammy Sosa was exposed for his use of a corked bat then Chicago Cubs General Manager Andy McPhail said: “There is a culture of deception in this game. It’s been in this game for 100 years. I do not look at this in terms of ethics. It’s the culture of the game.”

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Rogers Hornsby, the amazing Second Baseman of the St Louis Cardinals who batted over .400 three times in his career said “I’ve been in pro baseball since 1914 and I’ve cheated, or watched someone on my team cheat, in practically every game. You’ve got to cheat.”

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Pitcher Gaylord Perry wrote in his autobiography before he was elected to the Hall of Fame “I’d always have it (grease) in at least two places, in case the umpires would ask me to wipe one off. I never wanted to be caught out there with anything though, it wouldn’t be professional.” Mind you that the “spitball or grease ball” had been illegal for decades when he made his admission.

Yankees great Whitey Ford admitted his cheating. “I didn’t begin cheating until late in my career, when I needed something to help me survive. I didn’t cheat when I won the twenty-five games in 1961. I don’t want anybody to get any ideas and take my Cy Young Award away. And I didn’t cheat in 1963 when I won twenty-four games. Well, maybe a little.”

Hank Greenberg, one of the premier power hitters of his day discussed how the stealing of signs helped him. “I loved that. I was the greatest hitter in the world when I knew what kind of pitch was coming up.”

Hall of Fame managers like Leo Durocher and Earl Weaver, have been quoted, even if they meant it in jest, advocating cheating. Durocher said “Win any way you can as long as you can get away with it.” and Weaver reported told a pitcher “If you know how to cheat, start now.”

To me election to the Hall of Fame should be a place of history where the greatest performers in the game should be enshrined. It should not be a place where writers, many of whom no longer actively cover the game sit as modern Pharisees pointing out the grain of sand in the eye of the accused players while ignoring the logs in their own eyes.

The use of the drugs probably has harmed the health of those that used them. The records set in the era will be debated. But there are so many other things that affect records. The 154 game versus the 162 game season, the Dead Ball Era, the segregated era, the war years where greats like Ted Williams missed their best years because they were serving in the military all affected the game and influenced who was inducted and who was not inducted into the Hall of Fame.

In baseball records are also kind of fuzzy because of changes in the game. Additionally characteristics as innocuous as the differences in baseball stadiums, their dimensions, geography, turf and weather conditions on hitting and pitching play a huge part in any players career.

Baseball fans and players will make their own judgements about the character of individual players as well as the historical significance of the Steroid Era. The era was not good for baseball despite the records set because it brought to light a culture that existed for at least a century. A culture that is not just a baseball culture but part of the American culture, a culture that honors liars and cheaters in politics, law, banking and a host of other professions including religion.

Well that is enough for tonight. Let him who is without sin throw out the first ball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve Loves the MLB Winter Meetings now More than Ever, Ron Santo Elected to Hall of Fame and Happy “Repeal Day!”

The Big Prizes at the Winter Meetings: Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder (Photo Jeff Curry/US Presswire)

“You win pennants in the off season when you build your teams with trades and free agents.” Earl Weaver

Yes my friends it is the time of year that the great Earl Weaver said was the most important to building championship teams.  The off season, particularly the winter meetings which are taking place this week in Milwaukee Wisconsin.  It is only Monday but things are heating up with discussions surrounding some of the league’s biggest stars and just who might sign them to big time contracts.

Every team has needs and during the winter meetings the goal is to find ways of meeting those needs from sources outside your system with the goal of producing a winning team.  At least that is what one hopes but things don’t always work out as planned.

Now the Miami Marlins are spending money like a drunken sailor and eying the biggest “fish” in the Sea of Free Agency.  So far they have spent 26 million on closer Heath Bell and 102 million for 6 years on Jose Reyes and are heavily engaged in courting Albert Pujols. Other teams are working hard to sign other major Free Agents and make deals and for me this is so much more exciting because I have finally gotten on Twitter and I am getting to hear the trade rumors, speculation and deals as they happen. This is cool.  Of course it is so much information that I cannot process it all at once and it will give me grist for later posts about how I see things stacking up for the various teams.  Big stories other than Pujols and Fielder include C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehle and even speculation about the possible return of Manny Ramirez.

As for my hopes…I hope that the Giants get some solid hitting this week, I would love to see Fielder or Pujols in San Francisco or for that matter Baltimore but that probably will not happen. I hope that the Giants get hitting and that the Orioles get some pitching and maybe another big bat.  Of course bad deal for the Dodgers is always welcome and a meltdown of the rest of the AL East greatly appreciated.  Hey I can dream can’t I?

The Ron Santo that I remember

One great thing to happen today was the vote to induct the late Ron Santo into the Hall of Fame. Santo received 15 of 16 votes from the Golden Age Committee composed of 16-member Golden Era Committee comprised of Hank Aaron, Pat Gillick, Al Kaline, Ralph Kiner, Tommy Lasorda, Juan Marichal,Brooks Robinson, Billy Williams, Paul Beeston, Bill DeWitt, Roland Hemond, Gene Michael, Al Rosen, Dick Kaegel, Jack O’Connell, and Dave Van Dyck voted Ron Santo into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Santo played as a Third Baseman for 14 years for the Chicago Cubs and one year for the White Sox and was an outstanding player.  Santo was a 9 time All Star who hit 342 Home Runs and 2254 hits, a .277 Batting Average and had 1331 RBI and was excellent defensively winning 5 Gold Glove awards.  But the raw numbers don’t tell the whole story.  Santo also had 1108 walks a .362 OBP, .464 SLG and .826 OPS.  Santo played the majority of his career battling Type I Diabetes and concealed it until 1971 fearing that he would be forced to retire. He began a broadcasting career with the Cubs in 1990. He had his legs amputated in 2001 and 2002 and died December 10th 2010 of complications from bladder cancer and diabetes. Some may contest his election but I always thought that he should be in the Hall of Fame.

But on a more serious Constitutional issue I wish all of my readers a Happy Repeal Day. Yes this is the anniversary of when Congress righted a gross wrong by passing the 21st Amendment to the Constitution which repealed the 18th Amendment and restored balance to the universe.

You see back in July of 1919 following the Great War a large group of “values voters” got together and decided that it was the consumption of alcoholic beverages that was leading the nation to ruin. The fact that we had been on the winning side, or God’s side in what was not the “Mediocre War” but the “Great War” and were moving into economic dominance was of little matter.  Pharisees like to make their own rules as they go along.  So the Congress passed the 18th Amendment which banned the production, consumption or transportation of said alcoholic beverage in the country.  One of the promoters of this was a man named Welch who coincidently marketed Grape juice.  If you go to a church that uses grape juice for communion this is where it bean as churches used wine before that time because it was accepted as Biblical.

Of course when organized and for that mater disorganized crime took over what had been the previously legal activity of producing alcoholic drink the prohibitionists decided that tougher law enforcement was the answer. Of course that didn’t work and the problems that had been previously associated with the consumption of alcohol in its legal form got worse everyone knew that a great fraud had been perpetrated on the American people.  When that failed as it was bound to do groups of people, decided to disobey the law, including my grandfather Ernie and great uncle Johnny who ran “stills” in Wayne County West Virginia while others who lobbied to repeal the dreadful act.  Finally on December 5th 1933 with great irony the vastly prohibitionist and Mormon legislature of the great state of Utah ratified the 21st Amendment to end the fraud that religious hucksters masquerading as promoters of family values perpetrated in 1919. Let’s hope that that we don’t have top go down this road again. After all we in the Navy are still suffering from the decision of prohibitionist Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels ended the use of alcohol in moderation on Navy ships in 1914 making us one of the few non-Islamic in the world navies to be “dry.”

So I wish everyone a Happy Repeal Day and God bless America!

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

The Big Prizes at the Winter Meetings: Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder Jeff Curry/US Presswire

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One, Two, Three Strikes You’re Out: Federal Prosecutors blow the game in Clemens Mistrial

Roger Clemens leaves the Courtroom after the Mistrial- Photo Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

First it was the lengthy and painful investigation and trial of Barry Bonds where Federal Prosecutors came up short on their primary charges. Today it was the rapid mistrial called by Judge Reggie Walton as the prosecutors opened their case against Roger Clemens on the first day of Clemens trial.  To me they looked like the prosecutors thatAlanShore(James Spader) made fools of in the television series Boston Legal.  This was supposed to be a “slam dunk” for the government and instead it was a debacle.

Assistant US Attorney Steven Dunham opens his case -Dana Verkouteren / Associated Press

 Today lead prosecutor and assistant U.S. attorney Steven Dunham went against the Judge Walton’s ruling by introducing evidence of former Clemens team mate and friend Andy Petitte’s wife that Petit had told her that Clemens had admitted using HGH. Walton had already deemed the video admissible in rebuttal. Instead Dunham introduced it invoking Walton’s ire and lead defense attorney Rusty Hardin asked for a mistrial.

Rusty Hardin argues for the Defense-Dana Verkouteren / Associated Press

Walton granted the mistrial even though prosecutors argued that the judge could simply instruct the jury to disregard the evidence.  Judge Walton remarked “I don’t see how I un-ring the bell,” in that they could not know the effect of the evidence in jury deliberations.  Walton noted that “Government counsel should have been more cautious,” noting the cost to taxpayers already incurred and that “I think that a first-year law student would know that you can’t bolster the credibility of one witness with clearly inadmissible evidence.” A direct comment that the prosecution’s case hinged on the testimony of and evidence supplied by former Clemens trainer Brian McNamee.

Counsel Approach the Bench Judge Reggie Walton takes control and declares a mistrial-Dana Verkouteren / Associated Press

The government considered Pettitte’s testimony essential because he is viewed as “critical witness” because of his honesty and good reputation.  This was even more important after Wednesday’s opening arguments where Hardin managed to turn the trial into one of the reliability of the prosecution and its key witness, McNamee.

That happened after Dunham on Wednesday morning showed a capped needle, a syringe and three cotton balls which the prosecution said contained steroid residue and Clemens’ DNA. It seemed to be a strong start, but then Dunham was warned about the testimony of Petitte’s wife.  Then he elected to reenact Clemens’ Congressional testimony using an FBI agent and a former Congressional staffer leading a columnist to write “by mid-afternoon the jury had to despise Dunham.”

Hardin on the other hand held the jury in his hand weaving a trail of government investigators canvassing the country to find evidence with which to convict Clemens and only having McNamee’s testimony with which to attempt to send Clemens to prison.  Hardin put the prosecutors and McNamee on trial showing a map of 72 locations across the country where the government went to prepare 229 investigative reports.  Hardin pushed the prosecution hard and gave the jury a lot to think about regarding the evidence and the reliability of their chief witness.  I think that this is most likely why Dunham introduced the Pettitte video most likely hoping to make an impact on the jury while having Walton simply let them off with a warning.

The play didn’t work. It was like a pitcher having been warned for throwing at a batter doing it a second time and getting tossed from the game. However in this case with wasn’t just the pitcher tossed it was the end of the game.

Judge Walton: “I don’t like making orders and lawyers not abiding by them. This clearly runs afoul of my pre-trial rulings.” AP Photo

Judge Walton has scheduled a new hearing for September 2nd to determine if there will even be a second trial.  Given Walton’s statements today one has to seriously believe that he will not order a new trial. A gag order imposed by Walton is still in force and it is believed that Walton considers that a case of double jeopardy exists and that Clemens may be immune from further prosecution. If there is a second trial it probably will not take place until 2012.

In the end it is another case of over eager government investigators and prosecutors spending millions of taxpayer dollars to target high profile athletes.  The fact is that for baseball the Steroid Era is over.  It is likely that hundreds of players took varieties of performance enhancing drugs.  The evidence of this is the marked decline in home runs and run production as well as injuries to older players that were less frequent than during the era.

As for those implicated as users they will be judged by the fans, their fellow players and the sportswriters who vote players into the Hall of Fame.  Those innocent will be under as much scrutiny as those that have admitted or actually tested positive.  Those that used whether they ever tested positive or not cheated, but cheating  in sports is something that is not the job of government to police or Congress to investigate.  Those that love the game of baseball will view records set during the era with suspicion because that is what baseball fans and writers do. We examine statistics and records; we live and die by them.  But the fact is that baseball records are often products of their times.  There were few home runs in the “dead ball era.” Many of the great home run hitters played in hitters parks and were surrounded by a strong supporting cast that forced pitchers to pitch to them.  Many players that held records played in a shorter season, 154 vice the current 162.  The National League doesn’t play the Designated Hitter which has extended the careers of many hitters whose defensive skills are declining to the point that they are a liability in the field and would have had to retire in previous times.  From their inception until last year players used amphetamines to increase their alertness.  That was legal and baseball did nothing about it until last year.  In days past pitchers used the spitball, cut or sanded balls to get an edge.This was illegal but many did it and Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry admitted this even before being elected to the Hall of Fame.

What I have never thought right was Congress calling hearings and grilling ball players while the country was at war and suffering from a terrible economic downturn.  That was a waste of time and taxpayer money.  The one good thing is that it forced Baseball to get its act together regarding PED use, testing and enforcement.  I am glad for that.

As far as the prosecutions they have been terrible a waste of taxpayer money and the results bear that out.  It is time to end this mindless pursuit, let the players live their lives in retirement and let the fans, writers and their colleagues judge them.

Rusty Hardin and Clemens after the Trial Photo- Mark Wilson, Getty Images

As Clemens left the courtroom he was hounded by reporters and photographers, some even trying to get his autograph he had to push his way through like someone trying to escape a Zombie attack. As he did so an inebriated man waving a cane shouted “Leave the man alone! Leave the man alone!”  Maybe it is time that we do, not only with Clemens, but Bonds and all the others that Federal investigators, notably Jeff Novitzky and prosecutors have investigated for years on our dime.

“Leave the man alone!” I second that.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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How Baseball Helps Padre Steve Make Sense of the World

Opening Night 2010 at Harbor Park

“This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.” Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams

“I love baseball. You know it doesn’t have to mean anything, it’s just beautiful to watch.” Woody Allen in Selig (1983)

Last night was Opening Night at Harbor Park and I the visit took me back to memories of how important baseball is to me.  The Church of Baseball at Harbor Park and in particular my little corner of the world in Section 102, Row “B” Seats 1 and 2 are one of my places of sanctuary in a world that seems to have gone mad.  Baseball has always meant a lot to me but even more so after returning from Iraq in 2008.  Until recently Harbor Park was one of the few places that I felt safe, I have added to the “safe” zones since last season with Saint James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth Virginia and the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach where Judy and I are members of the “Stein Club.” Slowly normalcy is returning to other parts of my life but during baseball season Harbor Park is about the center of my world.

Lefty Phillips and Me

In the fall after last season ended I would go to Harbor Park just to talk with staff and sit in the concourse.  There is something about baseball people and my seats down in section 102 that help me even when there is no game being played.  There is a peace that I have when I walk around the diamond and I feel close to God when I am around a ballpark, even without the game being played there is something almost mystical about it.  To me there is nowhere more peaceful than a ballpark and every time I watch a game on TV my mind goes back to how much baseball has been part of my life, and how in a very real way that God speaks to me through this special game.

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” George Will

Me Rich Reese and my brother Jeff

Baseball became part of my life as a child when my dad introduced me to it in our back yard in Oak Harbor Washington.  Even before I played an organized game dad played catch with me, showed me how to grip a ball and told me about the great ballplayers.  He made me learn the fundamentals of the game and whether we were attending a game in person, watching one on television or playing catch, pepper or practicing infield or pitching dad was all about the game.  Of course he was the same way with football, hockey and basketball, but the sport that he seemed most passionate about was baseball.  As a kid he was a Cincinnati Reds fan.  His mother, my grandmother who hailed from the hollers of Putnam County West Virginia was a diehard Dodgers fan, though I am sure that God forgives her for that.  She was an independent woman of conviction and determination that has to in some way influenced her love for the game, even as a little boy if there was a game on television she would have it on and could talk intelligently about it.  I still wonder about to this day how she became a Dodger’s fan but it probably had something to do with her independent streak.  “Granny” as she chose to be called was a woman who as a widow in the late 1930s went to work, raised her two boys and bought her own house.  Unlike most of the people in West Virginia she was also a Republican, a rare breed especially in that era. Likewise she left the Baptist church of her family and became a Methodist. As independent in her choice of baseball teams as she was in her politics Granny was a Dodgers fan in a land of Reds, Indians and Pirates fans, so even with Granny we were immersed in baseball.

Jeff, Me and Rocky Bridges

Dad always made sure that we got to see baseball wherever we lived. In 1967 he took us to see the Seattle Pilots which the next year went to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. The Pilots were an expansion team in a town with a long history of minor league ball. They played at an old park named Sick Stadium, which if you ask me is a really bad marketing plan.  The game that we went to was the “Bat Day” giveaway.  Then they gave out regulation size Louisville Slugger bats.  Mine had the name of the Pilots First Baseman Mike Hegan on the barrel.  That was my first trip to a Major League stadium and I still can remember it as if it was yesterday.  Somewhere in my junk I have a button with the Pilots logo on it.  I’ll have to fish it out again sometime.  The next year I played my first organized baseball with the Oak Harbor Little League “Cheyenne’s.” My coach was a kind of gruff old guy who stuck me out in right field when as any little kid would I was pretty much a spectator as almost nothing came my way.  I don’t know why but our team uniforms did not match, half of us had white and the other half gray. Unfortunately due to military moves I didn’t get to play organized ball again until 1972.

Oak Park Little Little League A.L Rams 1972 and yes A G Spanos of the Chargers was our sponsor

In the elementary schools of those days our teachers would put the playoff and World’s Series games on television in our classrooms as then many of the games were played during daylight hours.  I remember watching Bob Gibson pitch when the Cardinals played against the Red Sox in the 1967 series.  It was awesome to see that man pitch.   I remember the Amazin’ Mets upsetting the Orioles in 1969 and seeing the Orioles take down the Reds in 1970.  I never will forget the 1970 All Star Game where Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse at home plate for the winning run.  I watched in awe as the great dynasty teams of the 1970s, the Reds and the Athletics who dominated much of that decade and the resurgence of the Yankees in the summer of 1978 when the Bronx burned.  Back then every Saturday there was the NBC Game of the Week hosted by Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garragiola.  It was a sad day when that broadcast went off the air.

When we were stationed in Long Beach California from 1970-1971 my dad had us at Anaheim stadium watching the California Angels all the time.  I imagine that we attended at least 30 to 40 games there and a couple at Dodger stadium that first year and a good number more before we moved to Stockton California in the middle of the 1971 season.  The move north was disappointing, it took forever to get adjusted to Stockton and I think that part of it was not seeing the Angels every week at the Big “A.” At those games I met a lot of the players and coaches and even some opposing players.  The Von’s grocery store chain and the Angels radio network had a “My Favorite Angel” contest when I was in 5th Grade.  I submitted an entry about Angels First Baseman Jim Spencer and was named as a runner up.  This netted me two seats behind the plate and legendary sportscaster Dick Enberg announced my name on the radio.  Spencer was a Gold Glove First Baseman who later played for the Yankees on their 1978 World Series team.  My first hat from a Major League team was the old blue hat with a red bill, the letters CA on the front and a halo stitched on top. I still have a hat from the 1971 team with the lower case “a” with a halo hanging off of it.  It has numerous autographs on the inside of the bill including Sandy Alomar, Jim Spencer, and Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz and Billy Cowan and sits in a display case on my kitchen wall.

Harbor Park in the Fall

While we didn’t live as close to a major league team baseball did not cease to be a part of my life.  While we were not at the ballpark as much it got more interesting in some aspects as for the first time I attended playoff games and saw a no-hitter. We saw the A’s dynasty teams including games one and two of the 1972 American League Championship Series between the A’s and the Tigers.  Across the Bay a few years later I got to see Ed Halicki of the Giants no-hit the Mets a Candlestick on August 24th 1975.  In those days I got to see some of the greats of the era play, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Steve Garvey, Vida Blue, Harmon Killebrew, Rollie Fingers, and so many others at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Candlestick Park.

While in Stockton I became acquainted with Minor League Baseball through the Stockton Ports, who then were the Class “A” California League farm team for the Orioles.  I remember a few years back talking to the Orioles great Paul Blair who played for the Ports in the early 1960s about Billy Hebert Field and how the sun would go down in the outfield blinding hitters and spectators in its glare.  I would ride my bike over in the evening to try to get foul balls that came over the grand stand when I didn’t have the money to get a ticket.

When I was a kid I had a large baseball card collection which I kept in a square cardboard roller-skate box.  I must have had hundreds of cards including cards that if I had them now would be worth a small fortune. Unfortunately when I went away to college I left them in the garage and during a purge of my junk they were tossed out.  Last year I started collecting cards again, mostly signed cards that I obtained at the Church of Baseball at Harbor Park.  In a sense they kind of serve a purpose like Holy Cards due in the Catholic Church for me.  They are a touch point with the game and the players who signed them.

Billy Hebert Field

As I have grown older my appreciation for the game, despite strikes and steroids still grows.  I am in awe of the diamond.  I have played catch on the field of dreams, seen a game in the Yankee Stadium Right Field bleachers seen games in many other venues at the Major League and Minor League levels and thrown out the first pitch in a couple of Kinston Indians games.  I am enchanted with the game. The foul lines theoretically go on to infinity, only broken by the placement of the outfield wall.  Unlike almost all other sports there is no time limit, meaning that baseball can be an eschatological game going on into eternity. The Hall of Fame is like the Calendar of Saints in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches.  There are rituals in baseball such as the exchange of batting orders and explanation of the ground rules and the ceremonial first pitch.  Likewise there are customs that border on superstition such as players not stepping on the foul line when entering and leaving the field of play, no talking about it when a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter and the home run trot. Even the care of the playing field is practiced with almost liturgical purity. The care of a field by an expert ground crew is a thing to behold, especially when they still use the wooden box frames to lay down the chalk on the baselines and the batter’s box.

Grand Slam Home Run by Robby Hammock 2009

We have travelled to many minor league parks often in tiny out of the way locations and even to the Field of Dreams in Dyersville Iowa where once again Judy indulged me and let me play catch. Likewise my long suffering wife has allowed our kitchen and much of my dining room is as close to a baseball shrine as Judy will let me make them; thankfully she is most tolerant and indulges this passion of mine.

Since I returned from Iraq the baseball diamond has been one of my few places of solace.  For the first time last season I bought a season ticket to the Tides and in section 102, row B seats 2 and 3 was able to watch the game from the same place every day.  It became a place of refuge during some of my bad PTSD times, and I got to know and love the people around me; Elliot the Usher, Chip the Usher, Ray and Bill the Vietnam Veteran Beer guys behind home plate, Kenny “Crabmeat” the Pretzel Guy and Barry the Scorekeeper.  This year Ray is not at the park nor is Charlie one of the other Vietnam Vets and the Veterans beer stand is now down the first base concourse where they have been relegated to the boring beers. I now have seats 1 and 2 in the same section and row as last year and it was good to see so many of the old crowd last night.

Chris Tillman

Even still there is some sadness in baseball this year as there was last year.  My dad is slowly dying of Alzheimer’s disease and a shell of his former self but the last time I saw him he did not know me and could not talk about baseball even for a minute.  Maybe if I go back we’ll get a few minutes of lucidity and a bit of time together again but I know that that will not happen because there is little left of him, I wish he was able to get up and play catch, but that will have to wait for eternity on the lush baseball field that only heaven can offer.

Dad Jeff and I around 1973

The season is just beginning and God is not done speaking to me through baseball as I close my eyes and recollect the words of Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) in Field of Dreams: “The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

In a sense this says it all to me in an age of war, economic crisis and bitter partisan political division.  In a sense it is a prayer, a prayer for a return to something that was good and what could be good again.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, faith

Jackie Robinson and Dr. Martin Luther King they Changed America

“He led America by example. He reminded our people of what was right and he reminded them of what was wrong. I think it can be safely said today that Jackie Robinson made the United States a better nation.” – American League President Gene Budig

“He knew he had to do well. He knew that the future of blacks in baseball depended on it. The pressure was enormous, overwhelming, and unbearable at times. I don’t know how he held up. I know I never could have.”Duke Snider

“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”  Jackie Robinson

“There’s not an American in this country free until every one of us is free.” Jackie Robinson

Today is a day that we rightfully remembered the life, message, martyrdom and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However as much as Dr. King matters, there were a long line of African American heroes who in their own way helped bring about racial equality in this country.  While many toiled in obscurity one, a baseball player named Jackie Robinson would forever alter the playing field of racial relations and how African Americans were perceived and received in the United States.  April 15th 2010 will be the 63rd anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game in the Major Leagues with the Brooklyn.  Robinson is not remembered with a National holiday but then again that takes noting away from this giant of American history. When Robinson stepped onto Ebbett’s Field in April 15th 1947 it was a watershed moment and while racial discrimination and prejudice remained they would be fighting a losing battle from that time on. Dr King in life and in death would be the one who drove the stake into the heart of the evil of racism and discrimination it was Jackie Robinson who helped place that stake above the heart of this evil.

The Negro Leagues: Jackie in his Kansas City Monarch Uniform

We celebrate Dr King’s legacy today. However, without Jackie Robinson and the other African American baseball players who broke into the big leagues in the late 1940s and early 1950s it is conceivable that Dr, King would never have had the opportunity not only to be heard by African Americans, but to have his message heard and taken to heart by white America.

By the time Dr. King arrived on the scene much had already been done, and much due to Robinson and the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey. Robinson’s first game with the Dodgers came a full year before President Truman integrated the military and a full seven years before the Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional.  It was not until 1964 that the Voters Rights act passed in Congress.  Jackie Robinson paved the way for a change in American society that has continued for 62 years since his debut at Ebbett’s Field on April 15th 1947.

Even before he stepped onto the field Jackie Robinson was a pioneer in equal rights where at UCLA he was the first student to letter in four varsity sports and in the Second World War where in an action that was a precursor to later civil rights battles the young Lieutenant Jackie Robinson was arrested and tried for not moving to the back of a bus at Fort Hood Texas.  He would be acquitted and given an honorable discharge before beginning his professional baseball career with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League prior to Rickey signing him to a minor league contract with the Montreal Royals of the International League. Although he was met with scorn my many white baseball fans and some players and had to endure the ignominy of hostility from white fans and media, having to live in separate hotels and eat at separate restaurants Robinson developed a loyal fan base in Montreal and over a million people saw him play in his year in the International League.

Jackie in his Montreal Royals Uniform outside the Dodger’s Clubhouse

When Branch Rickey talked with Robinson before the season he said: “Jackie (Robinson), we’ve got no army. There’s virtually nobody on our side. No owners, no umpires, very few newspapermen. And I’m afraid that many fans will be hostile. We’ll be in a tough position. We can win only if we can convince the world that I’m doing this because you’re a great ballplayer, a fine gentleman.”

John Jorgensen, Pee Wee Reese, Ed Stanky and Jackie Robinson on opening day 1947

Jackie’s feat was a watershed moment in the history of our country.  Blacks had struggled for years against Jim Crow laws, discrimination in voting rights, and even simple human decencies such as where they could use a rest room, what hotels they could stay in or what part of the bus that they could sit.  In baseball many white fans were upset that blacks would be coming to see Robinson in stadiums that they would not have been allowed in before.  Players from other teams heckled Robinson, he received hate mail, people sent made death threats, and he was spiked and spit on.  But Jackie Robinson kept his pledge to Dodgers owner Branch Rickey not to lash out at his tormentors, as Rickey told him that he needed a man “with enough guts not to strike back.” In doing so his on field performance and poise under pressure won him the National League Rookie of the Year honor in 1947.

Jackie Stealing Home against the Yankees, the catcher is Yogi Berra

Jackie Robinson played the game with passion and even anger.  He took the advice of Hank Greenberg who as a Jew suffered continual racial epithets throughout his career “the best ways to combat slurs from the opposing dugout is to beat them on the field.” He would be honored as Rookie of the Year, was MVP, played in six World Series and six All Star Games.  He had a career .311 batting average, .409 on base percentage and a .474 Slugging percentage. He was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962. His teammate Pee Wee Reese would say: “Thinking about the things that happened, I don’t know any other ball player who could have done what he did. To be able to hit with everybody yelling at him. He had to block all that out, block out everything but this ball that is coming in at a hundred miles an hour. To do what he did has got to be the most tremendous thing I’ve ever seen in sports.”

Today Jackie Robinson’s feat is history, but it should not be forgotten.  He was a pioneer who made it possible for others to move forward.  He would be followed by players like Roy Campinella, Satchel Paige, Don Larson, Larry Dobie and Willie Mays.  His breakthrough had an effect not just on baseball but on society and helped make possible the later civil rights movement.  Dr. King would say of Jackie that he was “a legend and a symbol in his own time”, and that he “challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration.”  Historian Doris Kearns Godwin noted that Jackie’s “efforts were a monumental step in the civil-rights revolution in America” and that his “accomplishments allowed black and white Americans to be more respectful and open to one another and more appreciative of everyone’s abilities.” Time Magazine named him as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th Century.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr “I have a dream”

We honor Dr King today and rightly so, but one can never forget those who paved the way so that we could all have the blessing of seeing Dr King’s dream come one step closer to fruition the dream that:

“one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that “children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” and that “one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.”

Dr King would die by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis on the night of April 4th 1968 the day after finishing his final speech with these immortal remarks:

“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Let us never forget Dr King nor those like Jackie Robinson who helped pave the way for Dr King.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, History, Political Commentary