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Let’s Play Two: Rest in Peace Ernie Banks

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Banks being welcomed into Heaven by Harry Carey and Ron Santo 

“It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame… Let’s play two!” Ernie Banks

We lost yet another pioneer of baseball and civil rights, Ernie Banks, the first African American to play for the Chicago Cubs passed away at the age of 83.

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Banks was the quintessential “Happy Warrior.” His positive and upbeat view of life and baseball made him the most popular player in Cubs history and earned him the nicknames “Mr. Cub” and “Mr. Sunshine.” His happiness was legendary. His team mate and fellow Cubs’ great, Billy Williams was asked if Banks was really as happy as he appeared and Williams said:

“I always say, ‘That was Ernie. He was that way every day.’ He’s the most positive guy I ever met. He loved playing the game. Maybe it came from playing in the Negro Leagues, where they had so much fun with the game. I just know that Ernie loved being at the ballpark. He was as genuine as they get.”

He began playing ball in high school in Dallas, Texas, but it was softball as his school did not have a baseball team. He ended up being signed by Cool Papa Bell and played for the legendary Negro League Kansas City Monarchs, a time that was interrupted by two years of service in the Army. He returned to Kansas City and was scouted by the Cubs who brought him to the team in September 1953. I knew one of his teammates from the Monarchs, Carl Long who passed away just a week and a half ago. Like Banks, Long was an amazingly upbeat and positive man, beloved by his adopted one town of Kinston North Carolina.

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Banks with Kansas City

When he came into professional baseball prejudice was still a big factor, even unconscious racism can be seen in the scouting report in the line of “nationality.” It lists Banks, not as simply “American,” but “Negro American.” The fact is that the Cubs were not the last to sign an African American, that dubious distinction went to the Boston Red Sox, who owner Tom Yawkey who refused to integrate the team until 1959, twelve years after Brooklyn brought up Jackie Robinson and six years after Banks reported to the Cubs.

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Ernie Banks’ Scouting Report 

Race mattered. Banks grew up in Dallas Texas, then a hotbed of racial hatred, segregation and discrimination. He played in the Negro Leagues, and he served his country in an era when though Truman had desegregated the military, prejudice was still rife. But he overcame by his joy, between his attitude, the love that he spread to people, many little white boys, steeped in the prejudice of their parents, society and upbringing wanted to be Ernie Banks. He helped show white America that we could be one.

Yes, there is still far too much racism and prejudice in this country, but men like Ernie Bank, Willie Mays, Satchel Paige, Carl Long and so many others helped a lot of young boys learn just how wrong the racial attitudes and prejudice they had been taught was wrong, and should not be part of America.

Banks hit 512 home runs in a Major League Baseball career that lasted from 1953 until his retirement in 1971. The fourteen time All-Star was the first National League player to win the Most Valuable Player award consecutively when he did it in 1958 and 1959. He played 717 consecutive games at shortstop before a knee injury forced him to move to first base. He held the record for most home runs in a season as a short stop for decades, hitting 30 or more in six seasons at the position. His 277 home runs as a shortstop were the most for any player at the position until Cal Ripken passed him. Ripken retired with 345 playing at the position.

Despite his accomplishments he is one of the greats who never played in the post-season, or the World Series, which was his dream. But despite that he never lost his enthusiasm for the game. The story of how he got his legendary tag line “Let’s play two” is fascinating. He told the Houston Chronicle’s Richard Dean:

“It was about 105 degrees in Chicago, and that’s a time when everybody gets tired. I came into the clubhouse and everybody was sitting around and I said, ‘Beautiful day. Let’s play two!’ And everybody looked at me like I was crazy. There were a couple of writers around and they wrote that and it stayed with me.”

Banks was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, a fellow Chicagoan, in 2013.

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But he was a man of wisdom as well. He once said something that probably all of us, including me at times, can learn from: “You must try to generate happiness within yourself. If you aren’t happy in one place, chances are you won’t be happy anyplace.”

With that I wish you a wonderful Sunday.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Watershed Moment: Jackie Robinson and Civil Rights in America

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“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

April 15th 2014 was the 67th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game in the Major Leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Jim Crow was very alive and well when Jackie stepped onto the field that day and no matter how much we want to distance ourselves from those days there are still some in this country who want to go back to that kind of society. Robinson’s first game with the Dodgers came a full year before President Truman integrated the military, a move which infuriated many in the South.  Likewise it occurred a full seven years before the Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional in the Brown vs Board of Education decision.  It came a full 17 years before Congress passed the Voters Rights.

When Jackie Robinson stepped onto the field it was a watershed moment in Civil Rights for African Americans and paved the way for a change in American society that has continued since his Major League debut. Blacks had struggled for years against Jim Crow laws, discrimination in voting rights and even simple human decencies like where they could use a rest room, sit on a bus or what hotel they could stay in.

In baseball many white fans were upset that blacks were allowed 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, 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.”

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 in 1947. He was a MVP and played in six World Series and six All Star Games.  He had a career .311 batting average, .409 on base percentage and .474 Slugging percentage. He was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962.

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.

Jackie Robinson would have an effect on my life.  In 1975 the Stockton Unified School District voted to desegregate.  I was in the 9th grade and preparing for high school.  As the school board wrestled with the decision anger boiled throughout the town, especially in the more affluent areas.  Vicious letters were sent to the school board and to the Stockton Record by parents as well as other opponents of the move.  Threats of violence and predictions failure were commonplace.  In the summer of 1975 those who went out for the football team, both the sophomore and varsity squads began to practice.  Black, White, Mexican and Asian, we bonded as a team, the Edison Vikings.  By the time the first buses pulled up to the bus stops throughout town on the first day of school, the sense of foreboding ended.  Students of all races discovered common interests and goals.  New friends became guests in each others homes, and all of us became “Soul Vikes.”

30 years later the Class of 1978, the first class to be desegregated from start to finish graduated from Edison held a reunion.  Our class always had a special feel about it.  Looking back we too were pioneers, like Jackie Robinson we were far ahead of our time.  When I look at my friends on Facebook from Edison I see the same faces that I played ball, rode the bus and went to class with.   Things have changed.  Even 30 years ago none of us imagined a African American President, we believed in each other and we saw potential, but I don’t think that anyone believed that we would see this in our day.

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I think that Jackie Robinson prepared the way for other pioneers of Civil Rights including Dr. Martin Luther King.  Today, 67 years later Jackie Robinson looms large not only in baseball, but for the impact of his life and actions on America.

His number “42” is now retired from baseball. The last player to wear it was Mariano Rivera of the Yankees. Rivera had been granted an exemption to wear it until he retired. At least the last Major League ball player to honor the number was a class act who will certainly be in the Hall of Fame.

Robinson said something that still resonates with me: “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.” It is something that I take into account every day of my life.

So here’s to you Jackie Robinson.  Thank you and God bless.

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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81: First Place Orioles Ensured of First Non-Losing Season Since 1997

The Baltimore Orioles Celebrate Sweeping the Tampa Bay Rays on rookie Manny Machado’s walk off single in the 14th inning. (Rob Carr, Getty Images / September 13, 2012)

There is something magical and enduring about baseball that makes it such an important part of the American experience. Saul Steinberg said that “Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.”

Today the Baltimore Orioles reminded us of that fact. The plucky O’s under Manager Buck Showalter using a roster that  has now included 50 players during the season have defied all predictions. They are determined contenders. They have won 13 consecutive extra inning games and are 27-7 in one run games. Their bullpen is stellar. They are 64-0 when leading after the 7th inning. They may not have the raw talent and the certain Hall of Fame players that the Yankees have but they can win the close games.

The Baltimore Orioles are perched atop the American League East duking it out with the New York Yankees. The Orioles completed a sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays today in a 14 inning 3-2 walk off win after splitting a four game series with the Yankees at Camden Yards.

The win ensures that they will not have a losing season for the first time since 1997 when they won 98 games and were the AL East Champions. There is a real possibility that the Orioles will win 90 or more games this year. No one predicted that, although I predicted that they would break .500 this year and be a factor in the American League East at the beginning of the season.

The Orioles will now embark on a six game West Coast road trip where the will play the equally surprising Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners.

The interesting thing about the weekend series between the O’s and the A’s is that it is a pivotal series. It actually matters and could be a series that determines where they and their competitors end up in the post season. It is as if the gods of baseball scheduling looked out over the season and said “no one thinks that the O’s and A’s are any good so let’s screw with the experts.” The A’s are just three games behind the Texas Rangers and lead the AL Wild Card race.

Things like this are what make baseball such a magical game. I guess what makes me love baseball so much is that small market teams like the O’s and the A’s can contend even without the big name players and obscene payrolls of the big market teams.  It is funny because the NFL season is just a week old and games are being sold as “do or die” or “must win.” When I hear that kind of talk I realize that football despite its popularity lacks the real human drama of the 162 game Major League Baseball season. If a team’s season is determined by the second game then it is not all that exciting if you ask me. Yes there is some drama in football and it is a good game, but it is not baseball, it is just a game.

My dream at the end of the season is to hear the phrases American League East Champion Baltimore Orioles and American League West Champion Oakland Athletics. I get chills thinking about the possibility.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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3000 Plus 3: Jeter Goes 5 for 5 to Join Elite Club

3000  Photo credit: Barton Silverman/The New York Times 

http://sports.yahoo.com/video/player/mlb;_ylt=Aqi43ZhEeJLoj3clzah_58ypu7YF

Derek Jeter joined the elite 3000 hit club going 5 for 5 against the Tampa Bay Rays.  It was a remarkable performance. Jeter has struggled at the plate this year and spent a number of weeks on the disabled list.  It was the last chance before the All Star break and the beginning of a long road trip for the Yankees that he had to get 3000 hits. Had he not done so today it a place where he is loved and a part of an enduring legacy of great Yankees, none who ever had 3000 hits he would have done so on the road. It would have been like Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s record in San Diego, Cal Ripkin Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game record in Oakland, or Pete Rose breaking Ty Cobb’s hit record in Montreal, which according to some he did in Chicago the game before he broke the record in Cincinnati, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But such records are meant to occur at home. Somehow they just seem more magical when done at home.

Today Jeter not only reached 3000 hits mark he did it with aplomb going 5 for 5 with a Home Run and a double and two RBIs.  His 3000th hit was a Home Run on a 3-2 count to deep left field with one out in the bottom of the 3rd inning against Ray’s ace David Price. Price in his career has held Jeter to 6 hits in 25 at bats with only 2 extra base hits and 3 RBIs, not a bad record against Jeter who has a career .312 batting average. Only one other play hit a home run for his 3000th hit, Wade Boggs who did it in 1999.

There are only 28 players in this club and they include 24 Hall of Famers.  The only ones of the club not yet in the Hall of Fame include Jeter who is still active, Craig Biggio who will soon be eligible to be voted in to the Hall of Fame, Rafael Palmeiro who is tainted by the steroids controversy and the all time hit leader Pete Rose who is banned from baseball for life for betting on games.  The 3000 club is truly remarkable. It includes Rose with 4256 hits, Ty Cobb-4191, Hank Aaron-3771, and Stan Musial with 3630 hits.  Also on the list are greats like Cal Ripkin Jr., Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente.

The rest of the men on this list are also remarkable. All had amazing careers that spanned many years frequently with the same team. Their longevity, consistency and ability to get hits were simply remarkable but even more remarkable for Jeter was that he was the first Yankee to reach the 3000 hit mark.  The next nearest is the legendary Lou Gehrig with 2721 and Babe Ruth with 2518.  It is conceivable that had Ruth not pitched his first four years in the Majors or had Lou Gehrig not been forced to retire due to ALS or as some now posit numerous significant concussive injuries that either of them might have been the first Yankee to reach this lofty plateau.

However that feat belongs to Derek Jeter, the Captain of the Yankees and a man who will by his on-field performance, consistency, work ethic and leadership on and off the field will be in that elite group of Yankee legends.  He will also be remembered as a baseball great something that even Yankee haters have to admit.  Someday, hopefully after he has added much more to his legacy and retires he will be become part of the panoply of immortals in the Hall of Fame and have his monument added to those that grace Monument Park at Yankee Stadium along with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Miller Huggins, Casey Stengel, Reggie Jackson,  Lefty Gomez and so many more.

It was a good day for Derek Jeter and his family, the Yankees, baseball and all that love this most magical game.

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For the Love of the Game: Buster Posey’s injury should be a Clarion Call for Change

The Collision: Scott Cousins levels Buster Posey (ESPN Sports Nation)

San Francisco Giants Catcher Buster Posey suffered a serious and probably season ending injury which could also shorten or end his career as a catcher at the hands of Florida Marlins Outfielder Scott Cousins. Catching is inherently the most dangerous position to play on the baseball or for that matter the softball diamond especially when they a runner is coming down third base hard and they are trying to make a play on a throw coming from right field. In such a situation the catcher is terribly exposed to injury from collisions at home plate.  This is part of the game but there are times that a runner takes advantage of that to level a catcher even when it is not necessary.

The hit that Scott Cousins put on Posey was devastating and uncalled for as Posey was not blocking the plate. In fact Cousins went out of his way to smash into Posey when he could have easily scored with a clean slide. Posey was not blocking the plate and did not have control of the ball.  Why baseball experts are divided on the hit with some shrugging their shoulders and simply saying that it is part of the game and others calling the hit dirty.  I watched the video of the play again and again. In my opinion it was dirty and uncalled for. Cousins says that he didn’t mean to cause the injury but watching the play, the hit and Cousins facial expression going in and reaction after the game I have a hard time believing it. He’s from the Bay area and played his college ball at San Francisco and he had friends and family at the game. If you ask me he was trying to make a splash for them.  Cousins who is hitting .157 on the year and has a .227 Mendoza line average in his second major league season was unlikely to do something with his bat so why not take out one of baseball’s premier young catchers?  I could be wrong but I don’t believe him.  He got noticed alright and if I am the Giants I am planning for my next encounter with Cousins and the Marlins.

I have seen other catchers suffer terrible injuries at the hands of similar hits. I remember the 1970 All Star Game vividly when Pete Rose destroyed Ray Fosse behind home plate.  Last August Cleveland catcher Carlos Santana was seriously injured in a collision at the plate.  There have been others but the one that really sticks in my mind is me.

In 1979 while playing catcher in a Church Softball League and having the best season in baseball or softball that I had before or since I was run over at home plate. The hit was premeditated and easily avoidable as I was off the line and actually in the air trying to catch a high throw coming in from center field.  I wish I still had the photo that a friend took of the collision. My assailant was a foot taller than me and outweighed me by at least 70 pounds. Instead of sliding which would have been easy he put his shoulder down and leveled me sending me flying backward and causing me to break my right wrist.  He then had the nerve to point and laugh.  I tried to stay in the game and shake off the injury but I had to walk the ball out to the pitcher and thankfully the next batter went out quick.  I led off the next inning but when I tried to swing my hand came off the bat and I hit a tapper down the third base line to the player that injured me. I beat out the throw and the asshole tried to have me called out for “bunting.” I went ballistic and was removed from the game by our coach before the umpire could throw me out as I was leaving the base and was heading to third to lay into the player.  It was an unusual fracture which ended my season as the casting had to set the bone in such a way that I could do nothing with my right hand for a month.

My experience colors my perception of this kind of hit and I cringe every time I see a catcher from any team get hit in this manner. While such plays are fast to occur with little time to think a player that has the time to put his shoulder down to maximize the effect of the hit has the time to do something else.  I think that collisions at the plate are an inherent part of the game and cannot be avoided. At the same time Major League Baseball can outlaw the squaring of the shoulder to hit a catcher.  If a runner wants to come in hard with a slide be it head first or otherwise fine, but no football type blocks.  I have no problem with going in hard and when I play I do it all the time but I have not and will not drop my shoulder to level an exposed catcher. Such a rule would be easy to police and it would not matter if the hit was intentional or not, level the shoulder get thrown out, injure a player doing so get a stiff fine and even bigger if there was a straight shot to the plate like in the case of the Cousins-Posey collision.

There is no good reason that I can see to continue to allow such hits. Simply because we have always done it is not a good reason. The injuries are all too real and all too devastating.  Heck even the NFL has figured out that certain kinds of hits are so dangerous that big fines and penalties can be leveled against offending players and is considering expanding those to the teams themselves. Some players don’t like it but why should players be damaged for life simply because it’s “part of the game?”

I hope that Posey recovers and can resume his catching career next year and he probably will not be able to do so this year.  If not he may be relegated to First Base and that would be a shame for him, the Giants and the game of baseball.

What else needs to happen to get people to take this seriously?  Violent hits are not good for baseball.

That’s my opinion and some will think that it stinks but I don’t care.

For the love of the game,

Padre Steve+

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Cheating in Baseball: The Case of Barry Bonds and it’s Relationship to Modern America

Barry Bonds was convicted of one count of Obstruction of Justice in his trial on perjury charges. The obstruction count came as a result of Bonds’ 2003 Grand Jury testimony.  The three perjury charges were deadlocked and the judge has the option of retrying them.  Bonds’ defense team asked for the verdict to be set aside and the judge did not immediately rule on the request.  The Bonds legal saga is not over as a decision to retry the deadlocked perjury charges, the judge acting on the defense motion to set aside the guilty verdict and the outcome sentencing and any appeals are still to come.

Meanwhile the steroids era just will not go away as Roger Clemons is soon to stand trial for lying to Congress about his alleged steroid use and Manny Ramirez ended his already tarnished career with yet another positive steroid sample.  Ramirez should have known better. He was on the list of 103 players that tested positive in 2003 and he was suspended for 50 games last year for a positive test while playing on the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The fact that he was caught once again suggests that he was either incredibly arrogant or stupid or possibly both.

Unfortunately they are not alone. In fact 6 of the top 14 home run leaders (in italics) of all time are tainted by steroids only one of whom is still active.  Jim Thome who is also active has not been implicated in the steroids scandals but will still likely be scrutinized simply because he hit a lot of home runs during the era.  The sad thing is that the use of steroids according to some was so prevalent that almost anyone who set records during the era tainted or not will be viewed with suspicion.  As for Bonds people made up their minds about him years ago and there is little middle ground when it comes to him. The only thing now is how baseball will deal with the records of Bonds and the other players of the steroid era and admit him or any of them into the Hall of Fame.

1              Barry Bonds           762

2              Hank Aaron            755

3              Babe Ruth               714

4              Willie Mays             660

5              Ken Griffey, Jr.      630

6              Alex Rodriguez      617

7              Sammy Sosa          609

8              Jim Thome              590

9              Frank Robinson     586

10           Mark McGwire      583

11           Harmon Killebrew 573

12           Rafael Palmeiro                    569

13           Reggie Jackson      563

14           Manny Ramírez                    555

Now some like Palmeiro went and shook their fingers at Congress and then popped positive, not smart but so many others could very well have done steroids that have not been caught that we will never know.  There are numerous reports which implicate others most of whom will never be prosecuted or banned from baseball.  But thanks to IRS Special Agent Jeff Novitsky who transferred to the FDA to pursue elite athletes Bonds, Clemons and other legends of various sports have been singled out for prosecution in what amounts to a witch hunt designed to bring down the biggest names in sports.  In the case of Bonds this has cost the taxpayer over 50 million dollars.  In an era of massive deficits is this a good way to spend our money to get a guilty verdict on just one charge after almost 8 years of work?  To me it seems that Novitsky and his team have made a special effort including violating court prescribed limitations of search and seizure at the BALCO labs and to ensure that the case was tried in the media before Bonds ever went to court.  Do the math: 1 player, 8 years, 50 million dollars and 1 guilty verdict on one count of 5 that went to trial and 4 that went to the jury.

That being said I believe that Bonds knowingly took steroids as did so many of the players of his era and though Bonds has not admitted anything I imagine that he started to take steroids because of the wild success of those that were taking such as Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa neither of who had all of the natural talent and ability of Bonds who was on course to be a Hall of Famer before he started using.  I wish that he had admitted that he did back in 2003 it probably would have done much to help end the era as well as put others on notice and it is likely that instead of being ever in our face the Steroid era would be in the past.  The conviction even on the one count of obstruction says much in how he is perceived in court and in public. While Bonds has many supporters he also has many detractors.

I think as does Bob Costas that Bonds should be elected to the Hall of Fame, not on the first ballot for sure because unlike McGuire and Sosa he was heading to hall of fame well before his numbers became inflated after the 1997 season.  Despite the fact that steroids undoubtedly had some impact there were many others that took steroids and still couldn’t hit, many that couldn’t get out of the minor leagues. To quote Minnesota Twins outfielder Shannon Stewart who was interviewed by Minneapolis Star Tribune sports writer Paul Reusse:

“The truth is, there were so many guys taking steroids for a few years, and they couldn’t hit like Barry Bonds. In my opinion, a guy hitting with a corked bat is taking a bigger advantage than someone who was on steroids….If Bonds was doing all of this … you still have to hit the ball. He still was going to hit 40 or 50 (each season), with or without steroids.”

Zach Moore compiled an interesting and enlightening portrait of Bonds’ performance before he began allegedly using steroids in 1998. I post it here with the link because with or without steroids Bonds would have made the Hall of Fame based on his pre-1998 statistics.  True he may not have topped Aaron or Ruth in Home Runs but the numbers and the company they put him in are impressive.

“Bonds’ stats prior to the 1998 season include a .288 batting average, a .408 on-base percentage, and a .551 slugging percentage. He had 1,750 hits, which included 321 doubles, 56 triples, and 374 round trippers. He drove in 1,094 runs, while crossing the plate 1,244 times himself.

He did all that while also walking 1,227 times. Bonds was not only a threat at the plate, but once he got on base, he stole 417 times. He did all this while only striking out 958 times.

In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, which was written just before the 2001 season during which Bonds hit 73 home runs, he calls Bonds “the most un-appreciated superstar of his lifetime.” That is one reason for Bonds’ desire to use steroids, according to Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams in Game of Shadows.

In the section of the Abstract where James ranks his 100 best players at each position of all time, James ranks Bonds the third best left fielder ever, only behind Ted Williams and Stan Musial.

James also calls Bonds “probably the second- or third-best hitter among the 100 listed left fielders (behind Williams and perhaps Musial), probably the third-best baserunner (behind Henderson and Raines), probably the best defensive left fielder. Griffey has always been more popular, but Bonds has been a far, far greater player.”

The astounding part about this is that James wrote this before Ken Griffey Jr. started getting hurt, so he could still vividly remember Griffey gliding around centerfield, robbing home runs, stealing bases, and that beautiful swing.

On the next page, James then went on to list his 10 best players of the 1990s; Bonds leads that list, with Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros coming in second, the 10th player on that list is Greg Maddux. I say this because James goes on to say, “the No. 2 man, Biggio, is closer in value to the No. 10 man than he is to Bonds.”

We tend to forget how good Bonds was, even before he went on this steroid-aided home run tear of recent years sometimes.

I can’t compare his 12-year career statistics with any one player because his ability to do everything does not allow that. Instead, I’ll use a few different Hall of Famers to nail home the point.

His .288 average is higher than both Rickey Henderson’s .282 and Carl Yastrzemski’s .285.

He hit 101 fewer home runs then Stan Musial in about eight less seasons and also hit 13 more home runs than Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio.

His on-base percentage was one point lower then Manny Ramirez’s current .409 career mark, and it tied Jackie Robinson’s career OBP.

Listen carefully to this next statistic, with his 12-year all-natural career, Bonds’ career slugging percentage of .551 would be eight points lower than Musial’s, six points lower than his godfather Willie Mays’, five points lower than Mickey Mantle’s, and only three points lower than Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s.

Bonds had 15 less career runs scored than HOF centerfielder Duke Snider.

He finished with 29 less hits than HOF infielder Lou Boudreau.

Kirby Puckett’s 1,085 RBIs were nine less than Bonds’ sum. His 321 doubles tied Yogi Berra’s.

Bonds’ 1,227 base on balls are still more than future Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, and Manny Ramirez’s current totals. He even had more than walk machine Jason Giambi, and he did it in only 12 seasons.

Bonds’ 417 stolen bases put him in the top 65 all-time.

Another testament to his incredible combination of speed and power is that he is one of only four players in the 40/40 Club (home runs and steals). He actually did it during 1996 when he was clean.

The other three members of that club are fellow abuser Jose Canseco who did it in 1988, Alex Rodriguez who did it in 1998 when he was still with the Mariners, and Alfonso Soriano who did it in 2006.

After only 12 seasons in the Major Leagues, Barry Bonds was unquestionably a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/40505-were-barry-bonds-and-roger-clemens-hall-of-famers-before-steroids

Additionally Bonds before 1998 was a 7 time Gold Glove winner, 3 time MVP and 6 time Silver Slugger Award winner. For a complete list of Bonds accolades see the Baseball Almanac page at http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/awards.php?p=bondsba01  Even after he was alleged to use steroids he won the 2004 Hank Aaron Award, the 2004 Most Valuable Player Award, 2004 Players Choice Outstanding Player of the Year Award, 2004 Players Choice Player of the Year Award, 2004 National League Silver Slugger Award and 2004 Sporting News Major League Player of the Year Award.  In a sense despite a widespread suspicion that he was using steroids the players and media recognized him as the best in the game. Then they didn’t seem very concerned about the possibility that he might have cheated. Now many in the media who made their money promoting Bonds condemn him as do many fans that have since abandoned him.  To me it is hypocritical.  Yes I think that he cheated but that takes little away from his pre-steroid accomplishments.

Because of the alleged steroid use and the subsequent investigation, trial and conviction he will be remembered as a cheater. However morally he is no different than all the players of the Steroid eras who abused PEDs but who were nowhere close to his skills and performance.  Bonds was certainly was an amazing player. His overall numbers would very well be lower without steroids especially the home runs, but he very well may have been the greatest overall player since his Godfather Willie Mays even without them.  Not many players can say that.

Bonds biggest problem was that he displayed a sense of arrogance toward the game and the law, the same arrogance that made him such a fearsome hitter even before steroids. The same is true with Roger Clemons, quite probably the greatest pitcher of the modern era. Like Bonds before him Clemons’ refusal to deal with the issue of his alleged steroid use forthrightly before Congress; will likely end in some kind of criminal conviction and Clemons in his first 14 seasons was certainly a Hall of Famer. I won’t go into his statistics here but they are also covered in Zack Moore’s article.

Are there men that cheated in the Hall of Fame? Yes one of the most flagrant being Gaylord Perry who admitted after his retirement and before his election to the Hall of Fame that he threw the “spit ball” which was illegal his entire career.  Players who “corked” bats were common but most were never caught because unlike today their bats were never inspected.  Pitchers used the spit ball, emery boards, diamond rings and sandpaper to alter the baseball to give it extra movement.  Since all ballplayers are human beings I have no doubt that had the technology to produce PEDs been available between the end of the Dead Ball era in 1919 and the late 1980s when they arrived on the scene that players would have abused them in order to increase their performance, win games and extend their careers.  Likewise they would have been cheered as much as the home run leaders of the 1990s were until they were exposed.  All one has to do is take a look at those who are known to have cheated as documented in this ESPN article http://espn.go.com/page2/s/list/cheaters/ballplayers.html  a number of whom are in the Hall of Fame.

My contention in this article is not that Bonds did not cheat the evidence certainly looks like he used steroids which were banned when he allegedly started using. Instead I would say that Bonds has been unfairly singled out by people in the government, the media and even in the game that would rather tear down a man than to place his actions in the broader context of the game, the era, human nature and history.  This will happens to Clemons too but not many others.

Meanwhile the government bails out financial institutions and industries that have defrauded the American public and helped impoverish the nation. We excuse the illegal and unethical lives of politicians and Presidential Candidates so long as they our on our side of the politic spectrum or failing that against the party that we oppose and we give churches and clergy who harm innocents a pass and say that the accusers are persecuting the Church. We worship celebrity and idolize people with talent or looks but not much else but we will do our best to destroy athletes who break the rules of their game.  Isn’t that somewhat hypocritical.

To put things in context I am 51 years old and coming up on 30 years in the military between the Army and Navy. In order to get the highest category of score on my Physical Fitness Test I have to perform at almost the same level as I did as a young Army enlisted man, ROTC Cadet and Officer. Likewise I have to meet almost identical height, weight and body fat standards.  On the physical side I can still outperform many young men 20-30 years younger than me. I deal with nagging injuries to my knees, shoulders and have a very fragile ankle that I have sprained or broken so many times that it is not even funny.  I suffer chronic pain. If someone had a way other than Icy Hot and 800mg Motrin to ease the pain and help my performance I cannot say that I wouldn’t take it, I probably wouldn’t break the law if it was illegal to use but if it wasn’t illegal but merely questionable I might use it.  I have another 5-7 years left before I expect to retire and like Mickey Mantle said “I always loved the game, but when my legs weren’t hurting it was a lot easier to love.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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