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The Astros Sign Stealing Scandal and the Importance of Baseball to American Life


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Walt Whitman wrote:

I see great things in baseball. It’s our game — the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.

Baseball, can and should be that, but over the years as a culture and a country we have largely abandoned it in favor of more violent, and supposedly faster paced sports like football, which should be more honestly named slow paced, up-armored Rugby. True football is what we call soccer, a sport where every player, not just the kicker and punter can kick the ball, and where use of the hands to stop the ball by anyone except the goalkeeper is a penalty.

There is a lot going on in the world and in our country worth writing about today. I could write about the coming impeachment trials, the Democratic Party presidential race to the first primaries and caucuses, the crisis with Iran. They are all worthy of writing about. However, something troubles me more, because the issue goes to the heart of who we are as Americans, and what we have lost. That was revealed in the last few days when it was revealed that the Houston Astros and quite likely the Boston Red Sox have been implicated in a scandal that goes to the heart of the game, and to the heart of us as a people, and it is reflected in our culture, our politics, our religion, and the way we do life.

In the film Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones playing the character Terrance Mann, loosely based on the great author J. D. Salinger remarked:

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.

But the latest scandal involving the upper management of the Astros and Red Sox has probably done more damage to the game than the 1918 Black Sox scandal, and the Steroid Era combined. This time upper management used technology to compromise themselves, their players, and the game itself. No member of the Astros and Red Sox World Series winning teams will escape question, including some of the best recent and young players to have played the game. The actions of A. J. Hinch, Alex Cora, Carlos Beltran and Jeff Luhnow, as well as others certainly to be implicated have harmed the game, and show the depravity of our win at all costs culture, embodied so well by President Donald Trump and our business elites. In sports this has best been seen in the NFL and both the NCAA Football and Basketball organizations, where it is all about winning, and money, with little regard for the players.

With the evidence released when the Mets parted ways with Carlos Beltran  after he was named in, but not suspended by MLB in their investigation of the Astros sign stealing scandal. At the time Beltran was a player, but video showed him along with other players watching the videos from the Center Field Camera as signals were being sent to batters. Another whistleblower revealed that at least some, if not all Astros batters had a buzzer embedded in their uniforms to alert them to the type of pitch coming.

I am sorry, call that whatever you wish cheating, and it is on a scale greater than the Black Sox Scandal of 1918 which resulted in the permanent suspension of eight players for life, including Shoeless Joe Jackson who played an amazing World Series but who was also illiterate, meaning that he probably did not understand the contract he signed to throw the Series. Likewise, the fact that the Pete Rose scandal, which involved his personal betting on games, did not significantly influence his teams record and got him banned from Baseball for life. Yes I will go even father, the PED/steroids scandal which ruined Hall of Fame careers for men who would have magpie it to the Hall of Fame with or without them pales in life significance to this scandal because all of the fact that it was so widespread in MLB. The reality is that all the great players stained with PEDs would have made the Hall of Fame without them, while hundred if not thousands of others, without their degree of talent never saw an increase in their performance tells me that talent, not drugs, was still key to the success of players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons. You don’t have to agree with me, but those are facts. In this case it was upper management, the team Manager, coaches, and b players working together to cheat.

As much as I dislike the Evil Dodgers and Yankees, they did not deserve to be cheated out of League or World Series championships by teams that cheated using technology to skirt the long-standing taboos of Baseball that stealing signs is illegal, immoral, and ignoble, especially when the entire management and many players are in on, is simply dishonorable.

My judgement, and yes I used the word “judgement” not feeling, is that the players who participated in this scheme, even those who turned a blind eye to it need suspensions and reprimands, and maybe bans from playing or participating in the Major Leagues, or any minor league teams associated with a major league franchise. If that applies to Shoeless Joe and the rest of the Eight Men Out, to Pete Rose, and the men who would based on their records be in the Hall of Fame even without their use of PEDs then these men, who did this in the playoffs and World Series, need to be punished even more severely. MLB and the teams concerned need to ban the participants in this cheating scheme from baseball. They need to do what  the NFL and NCAA by and large refuse to do.

Baseball is essentially a peaceful and pastoral game, that when onne understands it makes a part of your heart. It is timeless in a time in an age where time is the enemy to be defeated. It is relatively slow paced, like reading books and classic literature, listening to well reasoned speeches and debates like the Lincoln Douglas debates, debates of substance, not sound bites. It is the fact that most Americans regardless of their political or religious beliefs revel in memes and sound bites, violence and speed, rather than reason, reflection, and respect for our institutions, laws, and conventions which have led us to today.

President Trump and his authoritarian Presidency didn’t just appear out of thin air. Our culture, changed. We came to value short term profits, social Darwinism, and amoral violence conducted by men in uniforms, some military, some law enforcement, and some in sports. They vicariously live the violence that we worship as the cornerstone of power.

Bill Veeck, who was the owner of a rotten White Sox franchise for years said:

Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off.

I hope that Major League Baseball makes a clean sweep. The National Football League hasn’t done it, but if baseball does it may again become America’s game, and it may bode well for our society as a whole, even more than religion or politics. I hate to say it, but I have to admit that I have come to like soccer as much or more than baseball. Yes, FIFA has its corruption, but it’s a game that is very hard to cheat at, regardless of the amount of technology available, and the desire to win.

By the way, in 2017 I wanted the Astros to win, without knowing the full story of how they got there.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Designed to Break Your Heart: Baseball Season Ends

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late commissioner of baseball and literary giant A. Bartlett Giamatti once wrote:

It breaks your heart.  It is designed to break your heart.  The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.” (A. Bartlett Giamatti, “The Green Fields of the Mind,” Yale Alumni Magazine, November 1977)

Last night when the Kansas City Royals came back to defeat the New York Mets in extra innings, the won their first World Series in thirty years and ended the 2015 baseball season and with it a lot of hearts broke, as they do every year at this time. It is not just that somewhere along the way our favorite team loses, but it is the how for many people, like me, that baseball is more than a game, but has an incredible spiritual component.

This year none of my teams made the playoffs, except for our local Triple-A International League affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, the Norfolk Tides. That being said the post-season was interesting and had a lot of great stories within the story of the post-season playoff series and the World Series. The Royals picked up where they did last year after they lost a heartbreaker to the San Francisco Giants and continued to win even when it looked like the opposition, whether it was the Astros, Blue Jays or the Mets was poised to win. I am not a Royals fan but as a lover of baseball I have to say that they are an amazing team.

However, the season is now over, and for me winter is now officially here, and yesterday was dreary with a lot of rain. The official beginning of winter for me starts with the end of the Fall Classic.

With the end of the season one of my places of solace from the cares of the world. Really, when I came home from Iraq, baseball was one of the few things that helped to calm my soul from the demons of PTSD, TBI, major depression, anxiety, and often-suicidal thoughts. I can agree with Sharon Olds who wrote back in the early 1970s “Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.”

In a world where so many things are unsettling baseball is reassuring. In the run-up to the 2016 general election where the politicians, pundits, and preachers, the “Trinity of Evil” use every means available to raise the levels of fear and anxiety of people, it is even more so. In such a world baseball is a safe-harbor for me, as Mark Kramer wrote, “Baseball is a harbor, a seclusion from failure that really matters, a playful utopia in which virtuosity can be savored to the third decimal place of a batting average.”

Now I wait for Spring Training 2016 begins and the pitchers and catchers, including a number of friends start reporting, and with that my spring will begin.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Mama Bear, Contraceptives & the Cubs

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late, great, Chicago Cubs broadcaster, Harry Caray, made a darkly humorous comment that once again seems to have come true. Caray said, “What does a mama bear on the pill have in common with the World Series? No cubs.”

The Chicago Cubs under the direction of former Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon had a great season. They reached the playoffs as a Wild Card team, and knocked out the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division series.

I kind of hoped that they would have won the World Series this year, even though I believe that should the Cubs ever win the World Series that Jesus will return. I am a big fan of Cubs starter Jake Arietta who I know from his time in the Orioles organization and time in Norfolk, and I do have a soft spot for the Cubs. In fact about six years ago I wrote, “it all comes down to baseball, just as everything else in life. My belief is that when the Chicago Cubs win the World’s Series that we’d better start looking to the East, and pronto.” Since the “amazin’ Mets” beat the Cubs in the National League Championship Series I will have to assume that the perousia (the Greek word for the second coming) will again be delayed, at least until next year.

  
The Mets swept the Cubbies in large part due to the hitting of Daniel Murphy who hit his sixth consecutive home run, breaking a playoff record.  It looks like the Mets will now play the winner of the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays American League Championship Series, which the Royals now lead three games to two with the series going back to Kansas City on Friday.

  
So, until we know something else, here is to the Mets, who made my season by defeating the evil Los Angeles Dodgers in their National League Division Series last week. As a diehard San Francisco Giants fan I have to salute the Mets, who have been amazing this year. As for the Cubbies, there is always next year. They have nothing to be ashamed of this season; they are a young team, they made the playoffs and beat the only team to win 100 games. It is not the World Series, but it is not bad.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Exemplar of Defense the Oriole Way: Paul Blair Orioles “Motormouth” and Golden Glove Dead at 69

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Paul Blair the legendary 8 time Gold Glove Center Fielder of the Baltimore Orioles American League and World Series teams of the 1960s and 1970s died yesterday at the age of 69. He died just under a year after his Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver did, both while doing things that they loved.

Blair was bowling in a celebrity bowling tournament in Pikesville Maryland after completing a round of golf when he complained of not feeling well and slumped over unconscious. He died shortly after arrival at Mount Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.

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Blair was born in Cushing Oklahoma but grew up in Los Angeles California. He tried out for the Dodgers but was rejected because they did not believe that he was big enough. The Mets signed him to a minor league contract in 1961. After being left unprotected by the Mets he was drafted by the Orioles in 1962. He moved up through the Orioles farm system and gained his nickname “Motormouth” in 1963 by his manager Harry Dunlop while playing with the Stockton Ports of the California League, it was something that he would relate to me in 2003 when I met him in Mayport Florida and I gave him a Ports hat to autograph. The nickname was revived when he got to the majors by Frank Robinson and Curt Blefary.

After a six month tour in the Army Reserve in 1964 he returned to the Orioles where he became the starting Center Fielder. Known for his speed and skill in the outfield Blair was awarded 8 Gold Glove awards, seven consecutively between 1969-1975. The record of 8 was a record for outfielders only broken by Ken Griffey Jr.  Blair’s career fielding percentage was .987, he only had 57 errors in 4462 chances.

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In a 1997 interview with USA Today Baseball Weekly Blair said of his defensive prowess “I was taught to play defense. Back in our day it was pitching and defense. Our philosophy (the Oriole way) was don’t make the little mistakes that cost you ballgames. That is the way we won over such a long period of time.” Earl Weaver said of Blair’s speed in the outfield “I never saw Paul Blair’s first step.” Orioles All Star Don Buford who played alongside Blair for 5 years noted “When you talk about the greatest defensive center fielders, he was right in the mix.”

Blair hit for a lifetime batting average of .250 with 1513 hits and 134 home runs, an average that may have been affected by being severely injured when he was beaned by Angels pitcher Ken Tatum in May of 1970.

Blair won two World Series rings with the Orioles and another two with the Yankees and was voted to the 1969 and 1973 All Star team. He is the only player to get five hits in an ALCS game when he did so in the final game of the 1969 ALCS against the Twins. After his playing career he coached at he high school and college level and served as an outfield instructor with the Yankees and Astros.

Mets v Orioles

I met Blair twice in 2003 and 2005 when he doing goodwill tours to military bases. On both occasions we had time to talk. In Mayport Florida I was able to spend over an hour with Blair, the late Hall of Fame 1st Baseman of the Twins Harmon Killebrew, Hall of Fame Pitcher Ferguson Jenkins as well as John Tudor, Manny Sanguillen and Jimmy Wynn. I really enjoyed Blair’s stories about his time in Stockton, which I consider my home town as well as his stories about his playing days. He was a joy to be around.

I was hoping that I would get another chance to meet up with Blair. That won’t happen now so I will just say Rest in Peace.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Mark of Cain: Matt Cain Pitches 22nd Perfect Game in MLB History

Celebration by the Bay (Photo: Jason O Watson/Getty Images)

I was just about to go to bed but had the MLB Channel on when I began to pay attention as Harold Reynolds began to say in the top of the 5th inning of the Giants-Astros game “to Call your friends because history is being made by Matt Cain.” On a night were Met’s pitcher R A Dickey pitched a one-hitter and in a season that had already seen 4 no-hitters including a Perfect Game by Phil Humber, this was more than amazing.

Matt Cain on firing Strikes:  (Photo: Jason O Watson/Getty Images)

The first Cain was not known for his pitching skills and ended up with a mark that remained with him the rest of his life, not mark any of us would want. Tonight another Cain, Matt Cain now has a mark, but not like the biblical Cain, Matt Cain pitched the 22nd Perfect Game in MLB history and the first in the 130 years of the Giants Baseball Club.

I have been a Giants fan since I was a kid. Back on August 24th 1975 my dad took my brother and me to Candlestick where we saw Ed Halicki no hit the New York Mets. In 1976 John “the Count of” Montefusco no-hit the Braves in Atlanta. It was almost 33 years before the Giants got another when on July 10th 2009 Jonathan Sanchez no-hit the Padres facing 28 batters, one more than a perfect game due to a fielding error.  Hall of Fame pitchers for the Giants to pitch no-hitters have included Christy Matthewson, Carl Hubble, Gaylord Perry and Juan Marichal.  But no Giants pitcher had ever pitched a perfect game.

Melky Cabrera’s Leaping Catch at the Wall  (Photo: Jason O Watson/Getty Images)

The perfect game is one of the most miraculous and magical moments in all of sports simply because anything, a bad pitch or an error or a bad call can end the bid, who can forget the call by Umpire Jim Joyce that kept Armando Galarraga from a perfect game in 2010. The novel The Perfect Game which became the Kevin Costner film For the Love of the Game does such a wonderful job of portraying the miracle. It seems that nights like this, the pressure, the miraculous and unbelievable catches made in the field and the ability of a pitcher to get out after out. Cain understands this, he has taken 5 no hitters into the 7th inning during his career and never got the no-hitter.

Gregor Blanco Making his Diving catch in the 7th  (Photo: Jason O Watson/Getty Images)

Cain is one of the best pitchers in the game. During the 2010 World Series Cain pitched 21 1/3 innings without giving up a run. This year he is 8-2 with a 7 game winning streak and a 2.18 ERA.  The performance was one of the best ever even in a perfect game. Cain dominated with 14 strike outs tying the Major League mark set by Sandy Koufax in 1965. Cain helped his cause by getting a hit and scoring a run. The first pitcher since Dennis Martinez to get a hit in a Perfect game since Dennis Martinez in 1992.  Cain threw 125 pitches, the most in a perfect game in MLB history.

Buster Posey celebrates with Matt Cain  (Photo: Jason O Watson/Getty Images)

Several great defensive plays helped bring on the magic. Melky Cabrera made a leaping catch at the left field wall in the 6th inning and Gregor Blanco who came out of nowhere to make a diving catch going toward the wall on the warning track on a hit that looked as if it would be the first hit and go for extra bases.

The Giants also set a record by scoring 10 runs in a Perfect Game.

Matt Cain left his mark on Baseball tonight and hopefully he will continue to give those that love the game more of these memories.

Now I need to try to calm down enough to get some sleep.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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8020 Games and Finally….a Miracle for the Mets: Johan Santana Pitches First No-No in Mets History

Johan Santana celebrates after striking out David Freese (Photo Ray Stubblebine/Reuters)

“A pitcher’s got to be good and he’s got to be lucky to get a no hit game.” Cy Young 

The New York Mets ended a 50 year drought as Johan Santana no-hit the St. Louis Cardinals tonight in New York. It was the longest that a team had gone in MLB history without a no-hitter and leaves the San Diego Padres as the only team in the Majors with 43 years without a no-hitter.

Santana threw 134 pitches as the Mets shut-out the Cardinals by a score of 8-0. After going down 3 balls and no strikes to David Freese Santana came back to strike out the Cardinal’s slugger to cinch to no-hitter.  Santana joined Phillip Humber of the White Sox and Jared Weaver of the Angels to pitch the 3rd no-hitter of this still young season. For Santana and the Mets it was a cause for celebration.  The Mets are not strangers to having good pitchers on their staff but despite this and having won two World Series titles but had never had one of their own pitchers whose ranks include David Cone, Greg Maddux and Tom Seaver ever pitch a no-hitter as a Met.

Santana a three time All-Star and two time AL Cy Young Award Winner has 136 career wins since entering the Majors with the Minnesota Twins in 2000.  Santana had missed the entire 2011 season after having surgery to repair a tear of the anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder. No pitcher had ever returned from that type of surgery and Santana entered the season just hoping to return to his pre-surgery form. After the game Santana said “Coming into this season, I was just hoping to come back and stay healthy and help this team….” Manager Terry Collins had planned on limiting Santana to 110 pitches but in the 8th inning Santana let his manager know that he “felt good.” Collins left his starter who had thrown a shut-out in his last outing against the Padres in the game. Santana recounted the conversation:

“He came right next to me and he just told me that I was his hero. At that point, I told him, ‘Listen, I’m just going to try to go out there and do my job and try to go as deep as I could in the game.’ And tonight, he was not going to take me out of the game — no chance.”

As in any no-hitter it seemed that the God of Baseball was with the pitcher. Sandy Koufax once said “You’ve got to be lucky, but if you have good stuff, it’s easier to be lucky” and such was the case with Santana this first day of June.  In the 7th inning Santana’s effort was saved when Mike Baxter made a dramatic catch of a Yadier Molina fly ball on the warning track in which he was injured and had to leave the game. He was also aided by a foul call of a ball hit by Carlos Beltran down the 3rd Base line which 3rd Base Umpire Adrian Johnson ruled foul but which the replay appeared to show as a fair ball when it crossed over the bag.

The no-hitter equals the number pitched in 2011.  It is possible that there could be a record number of no-hitters as pitching has again become dominant in the Major Leagues.  We will have to see how that works out but as a fan of great pitching and baseball drama I wouldn’t mind seeing a couple of more this season.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Portrait of America: Baseball and Budget Battles

“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.”  Saul Steinberg

Baseball is a game of tough decisions, compromises and suspense that at times seems to go on forever. In it there are times where we see courage and fear, good luck and bad, the necessity of patience about fate and the importance of sober self-esteem. It is very much like the system of government in American life at times.  It is somewhat slow to watch at times and during the middle of the season to casual observers it seems that nothing is really happening but as the pennant race begins the trading deadline approaches and the tough decisions are made to each team to try to win the pennant.

In the budget fight we saw Nancy Pelosi not even submit a budget last year, something that was almost like watching the Mets implode on and off the field, and then a new team entered the race totally upsetting the established order, the Tea Party.  After that we saw a debate that seemed to go on forever at a fever pitch. Finally the opposing sides agreed to a deal like a major trade with many parts and ramifications that needed to be worked out in order to get the deal done. They managed to get it done before the trading deadline.

The cuts were deep compared to what were offered in the beginning. Now like baseball more details need to be worked out and the teams have to figure out the long term fixes for the greater problem.

I’m not going to say much more tonight as I spent the night watching the Braves defeat the Phillies and coverage of the other games and baseball headlines on the MLB Network.

The budget stalemate kept me in town to cover duty this weekend but at least I know that my people will get paid and that I will not have to furlough my civilian workers that care for our brave Marines and Sailors.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Passing of the “Duke of Flatbush”: Duke Snider 1926-2011

Duke Snider (Getty Images)

“He was the true Dodger and represented the Dodgers to the highest degree of class, dignity and character,” Tommy Lasorda

Baseball lost a legend today. Duke Snider the “Duke of Flatbush” who was instrumental in leading the Dodgers to 6 National League Titles in 10 years and a World Series Championship in 1955 was 84 years old.

During his 18 year career of which 16 were spend with the Dodgers, one with the Mets and his final season with the San Francisco Giants he batted .295 with 407 home runs and 1333 RBIs. He still is the all time home run leader for the Dodgers with 389 as well as RBIs. He was an eight time All Star. During his most productive period between 1953 and 1956 he averaged 42 home runs, 124 RBI, 123 runs and a .320 batting average.  During the World Series Championship year of 1955 he hit .309 with 42 home runs and 136 RBIs.

While the Dodgers’ were in Brooklyn Snider was one of a trio of Center Fielders that all reached the Hall of Fame and are considered some of Baseball’s immortals. Snider along with Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays electrified the diamond of Ebbets Field, Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds and have some baseball historians still arguing just who was the greatest New York Center Fielder of the era. He was consistently for a period of 10 years in the top 10 of votes for MVP finishing second by just 5 points to teammate Roy Campanellain a controversial vote involving a mismarked ballot from a hospitalized sportswriter which had the ballot been marked correctly could have given Snider the MVP.

Snider as well as his Dodgers’ teammates Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Carl Erskine, Gil Hodges, Clem Labine, Don Newcombe, Ralph Branca, Jim Gilliam, Joe Black and Pee Wee Reese have been immortalized in Roger Kahn’s classic book The Boys of Summer. It is a book that I have read several times and is part of my usual summer reading program along with David Halberstam’s The Summer of 49, October 1964 and Teammates a Portrait of Friendship.

Snider was released by the Dodgers after the 1962 season after he and Third Base Coach Leo Durocher disagreed with Manager Walter Alston on a recommendation to have Don Drysdale go into the third and deciding game of the 1962 National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants. With a 4-2 lead Alston opted for Stan Williams in relief of Eddie Roebuck and the Giants rallied for a 6-4 win. After spending the 1963 season with the Mets and the 1964 season with the Giants he retired at the close of that season.  He would later be the play by play announcer for the Montreal Expos and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980. The one blemish on his post baseball life was a conviction for tax evasion for not claiming income earned from the sale of baseball cards and memorabilia.

Despite the conviction Snider is remembered as one of the good guys of baseball respected by his peers and his fans.  He is immortalized with his fellow Center Fielders Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle in the Terry Cashman’s classic baseball ballad (Talkin’ Baseball) Willie, Mickey and the Duke. http://video.yahoo.com/watch/456784/2533611

Hall of Fame Broadcaster Vin Scully said “He had the grace and the abilities of DiMaggio and Mays and, of course, he was a World Series hero that will forever be remembered in the borough of Brooklyn. Although it’s ironic to say it, we have lost a giant.”

An ESPN News Story about “The Duke of Flatbush” is here: http://sports.espn.go.com/espntv/espnShow?showIDshowID=SRDA&addata=2009_tscbr_xxx_xxx_xxx_xxxespnShowcomshowIDflv

Here is a clip of Duke Snider in his words. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHQXQC9grAU

I shall treasure my autographed Duke Snider Baseball Card even more.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Spring Training and the Integration of the Major Leagues

Jackie Robinson

In April 1947 Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers had one African-American ballplayer at the Dodgers’ Spring Training site in Daytona Beach Florida. The Dodgers had been coming to Florida for years but had moved from Jacksonville to Daytona Beach in 1947 after Jacksonville had refused to alter its segregation laws to allow an exhibition game between the Dodgers International League affiliate the Montreal Royals.  Dodgers’ Club President and General Manager Branch Rickey had signed Jackie Robinson to a minor league contract with the Royals.  When Rickey called up Robinson 6 days prior to the 1947 season Robinson broke the color barrier for the Dodgers and Major League Baseball.  However it would take another 12 years before all Major League teams had a black player on their roster.

It is hard to imagine now that even after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier that other teams did not immediately sign black players. However Rickey and Robinson broke the color barrier a year before Harry Truman had integrated the Armed Forces and seven years before the Supreme Court ruled the segregation of public schools illegal.

Larry Doby

The Cleveland Indians under the legendary owner Bill Veeck were not far behind the Dodgers signing Larry Doby on July 5th 1947.  Doby would go on to the Hall of Fame and was a key player on the 1948 Indian team which won the 1948 World Series. The St. Louis Browns signed Third Baseman Hank Thompson 12 days later. Robinson and Doby would be joined by others in 1948 including Roy Campenella and Satchel Paige.

Irvin,  Mays and Thompson

It was not until 1949 when the New York Giants became the next team to integrate bringing up Monte Irvin and Hank Thompson who they had acquired from the Browns.  In 1951 they would be joined by rookie Willie Mays to become the first all African-American outfield in the Major Leagues. Both Mays and Irvin would enter the Hall of Fame and both are still a key part of the Giants’ story and despite their age have continued to be active in with the Giants and Major League Baseball.

The Boston Braves were the next to desegregate calling up Samuel “the Jet” Jethroe to play Center Field. Jethroe was named the National League Rookie of the Year in 1950.

In 1951 the Chicago White Sox signed Cuban born Minnie Minoso who had played for Cleveland in 1949 and 1951 before signing with the White Sox. Minoso would be elected to 9 All-Star teams and win 3 Golden Gloves.

Ernie Banks

The Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Athletics integrated at the end of the 1953 season. The Cubs signed Shortstop Ernie Banks who would go on to be a 14 time All-Star, 2 time National League MVP and be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977 on the first ballot. The Athletics called up pitcher Bob Trice from their Ottawa Farm team where he had won 21 games. Trice only pitched in 27 Major League games over the course of three seasons with the Athletics.

Four teams integrated in 1954. The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Second Baseman Curt Roberts from Denver of the Western League as part of a minor league deal. He would play 171 games in the Majors.  He was sent to the Columbus Jets of the International League in 1956 and though he played in both the Athletics and Yankees farm systems but never again reached the Majors. The St. Louis Cardinals who had threatened to not play against the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson in 1947 traded for First Baseman Tom Alston of the Pacific Coast League San Diego Padres. Alston would only play in 91 Major League games with his career hindered by depression and anxiety.  The Cincinnati Reds brought up Puerto Rican born First Baseman Nino Escalera and Third Baseman Chuck Harmon who had played in the Negro Leagues and had been a Professional Basketball player in the American Basketball League. Harmon who was almost 30 when called up played just 4 years in the Majors. Both he and Escalera would go on to be Major League scouts, Escalera is considered one of the best First Baseman from Puerto Rico and was elected to the Puerto Rican Hall of Fame. Harmon’s first game was recognized by the Reds in 2004 and a plaque hangs in his honor. The Washington Senators called up Cuban born Center Fielder Carlos Paula from their Charlotte Hornets’ farm team in September 1954.  He played through the 1956 season with the Senators and his contract was sold to the Sacramento Salons of the Pacific Coast League. He hit .271 in 157 plate appearances with 9 home runs and 60 RBIs. He died at the age of 55 in Miami.

Elston Howard

In April 1955 the New York Yankees finally integrated 8 years after the Dodgers and 6 years after the Giants. They signed Catcher/Left Fielder Elston Howard from their International League affiliate where he had been the League MVP in 1954. Howard would play 13 years in the Majors with the Yankees and later the Red Sox retiring in 1968. He would be a 12-time All Star and 6-time World Series Champion as a player and later as a coach for the Yankees. He died of heart disease in 1980.  His number #32 was retired by the Yankees in 1984.

The Philadelphia Phillies purchased the contract of Shortstop John Kennedy from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League at the end of the 1956 season. Kennedy played in just 5 games in April and May of 1957.

In 1958 the Detroit Tigers obtained Dominican born Utility Player Ozzie Virgil Sr. who had played with the Giants in 1955 and 1956. Virgil would play 9 seasons in the Majors with the Giants, Tigers, Athletics and Pirates and retire from the Giants in 1969. He later coached for 19 years in the Majors with the Giants, Expos, Padres and Mariners.

The last team to integrate was the Boston Red Sox who signed Infielder Pumpsie Green. Green made his debut on 21 July 1959 during his three years with the Red Sox was primarily used as a pinch runner. He played his final season with the New York Mets in 1963. He was honored by the Red Sox in 2009 on the 50th anniversary of breaking the Red Sox color barrier.

It took 12 years for all the teams of the Major Leagues to integrate, part of the long struggle of African Americans to achieve equality not just in baseball but in all areas of public life.  These men, few in number paved the way for African Americans in baseball and were part of the inspiration of the Civil Rights Movement itself.  They should be remembered by baseball fans everywhere.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Pennant Races: Padre Steve Picks the Winners…Maybe

I love all things baseball as the Deity tends to speak to me through this most spiritual of games.  I can’t get around it I am mesmerized by the diamond and the nuances of the game, the sights, sounds, smells, which make up the experience as well as the games within the game.  I live for opening day and the call of Spring Training is my first indication of life returning after the cold desolation of winter and the All-Star Game triggers memories of the past greats and my interaction with the various legends of Baseball.  Tell me if I’m strange but I even get excited about trading deadlines and call-ups of Minor Leaguers in September.  Speaking of September I love the pennant races and this year there are a couple of note.  These are my predictions regarding the teams that I think that will make the playoffs.  Since I am neither the Prophet nor the Son of the Prophet I could be wrong, but I was pretty accurate last year. So here I go again, at least if I get this wrong I won’t be taken outside the city gate and crushed to death with heavy stones, unless someone is actually wagering on games based on my picks.  If that is the case I don’t even want to think about it.

Starting in the American League we have the New York Yankees and the Durham Bulls South, or as they are better known the Tampa Bay Rays.  These are such contrasting franchises; one built around veterans and several future Hall of Fame members and the other full of young raw talent and experienced young players.  They have been in a fight for the division most of the year but especially over the past month. The Yankees are a half game up on the Rays as of today.  With 13 games left for the Yankees and 14 for the Rays this is a tossup. The Yankees and Rays meet this week in a four game series at Yankee Stadium and followed by three games with the Yankees meeting their hated rival Boston Red Sox for a three game set.  The Yankees then travel to Toronto for three against the Blue Jays and finish the season at Fenway Park against the Red Sox.  This is no easy schedule and I expect all three opponents to challenge the Yankees.  The Rays have the easier schedule and this may prove to be the difference if they avoid a sweep at the “House that George Built.” I expect at least a split against the Yankees but they then go home to play three with the Mariners and three with the Orioles at the Trop. I don’t see much trouble with the Mariners but the Orioles under Buck “play to win every game” Showalter could play the spoiler if the Rays are not careful. They then travel west to Kansas City where they should do well and end the regular season.

AL East Winner

My prediction: Rays win 9 of 14 to finish at 98-64, while the Yankees will win just 7 of 13 to finish at 97-65 to give the Rays the East by a game. The Yankees will be in the playoffs but as the Wild Card. The Orioles extra innings win on Sunday in Baltimore will prove to be more significant than most would expect. The Yankees need to take 3 of 4 from the Rays to give them the edge down the final stretch, if they can do this they have a chance to tie or win the division outright. The Rays have to split in New York and not allow any of the bottom dwellers that they face to surprise them and I think that the O’s just may play spoiler.

AL Central Winner

AL West Winner

In the AL Central the Twins have the division all but won with a magic number of just 4 over the seconds place White Sox who trail them by 10 games. In the West the same is true of the Rangers who have a magic number of 6 over the second place Athletics who sit 9 games behind the Twinkies.

AL East Spoiler?

Going on the senior circuit we begin in the National League East where the Phillies and the Braves have been going at it all year.  In the Phillies lead the East by 3 games over the Braves and have a magic number of 10.  The Phillies are hot and the Braves have struggled the last few weeks. The Phillies have 12 games left of which 6 are against the Braves.  The Braves have to take 4 of those 6 games to stay in the race.  The Phillies face the Braves beginning tonight at home for a three game set and then face the rather pathetic excuse for a team called the New York Minaya’s I mean New York Mets.  However the Mets are blood rivals of the Phillies so I don’t expect them to go down easily nor do I give them much of a chance.  The Phillies then hit the road for 3 games against the rather hapless Nationals in Washington before travelling to Atlanta to face the Braves in the in final three games of the season.

NL East Winner

My prediction: I see Philly winning 8 of 12, splitting with the Braves and taking 5 of 6 from the Minaya’s and the Nats. The Braves as I said need to take at least 4 of six to stay in the race and win out against both Washington and the Florida Marlins and even then they need help in order for the Phillies to lose at least 6 of their last 12 games. I don’t see that happening. In fact if the Phillies dominate the Braves and the Braves split their games with the Nats and the Marlins then they may not even reach the Wild Card. Bobby Cox and crew have their job cut out over the next two weeks.

NL Central Winner

In the National League Central the “who are those guys?” Cincinnati Reds hold a 6 game lead over the perennial NL Central leader St Louis Cardinals and have a magic number of 8 to clinch the Division.  The Cardinals have been unable to buy wins of late and their August collapse totally surprised me as it has everyone else. The Reds have 6 games against the Brewers, 3 against the Astros and 3 against the floundering Padres.  The Cardinals actually have the easier schedule with 6 against the perpetual owners of the MLB Marianas Trench, the Pittsburg Pirates and 3 games against their rival the Chicago “we ain’t ever going to win the World Series” Cubs and 3 against the red hot Colorado Rockies.  They did not help matters losing a make-up game to the Marlins today. This made the Reds magic number 7 and that much harder for the Cardinals to get back in the race.

NL West Winner

We go now to the NL West where the San Francisco Giants lead their rivals the San Diego Padres by a half a game and the red hot Colorado Rockies by a game and a half.  The Giants have a magic number of 13 but in a race this close that will change day to day. The Rockies schedule provides them opportunity should they stay hot and their opponents cooperate.  They play the Arizona Diamondbacks in Arizona for a three game set and go home to play three against San Francisco followed by three against the Evil Dodgers before finishing the season in St. Louis against the Cardinals. My guess is that the should take two of three or sweep the Diamondbacks, split their series against the Giants and probably sweep the Evil Dodgers even though right now I would prefer that the Dodgers sweep them. I guess I am like Winston Churchill in saying that he would become an ally of the Devil if the Devil was against Hitler. The final three games against the Cardinals could spoil the hopes of the Rockies because I think that the Cardinals have far too much organizational pride to go down easy. As a result I think that the Rockies go 7 of 12 to end the season.  The Padres have struggled of late and I think this will continue.  The Friars play the Evil Dodgers and I think that this series is a tossup with the Dodgers possibly taking 2 of 3 games. They then go home to face the Reds and I think that the Big Red Machine will take 2 of 3 at Petco Park. The Padres then play against the Cubs who just might take 1 of 3 from the Padres. The Padres finish their season against the Giants in PacBell Park and I think that the Giants take 2 of 3 at home.  As a result I think that the Padres go 5 of 12 to end the season.  The Giants face the Cubs for a three game set which they should sweep or take 2 of 3. They then go against the Rockies where I think they will go 1 and 2. The then face the Diamondbacks and I believe that they go 2 of 3 against them before ending the season in San Francisco against the Padres where they take 2 of 3. T believe that the Giants go 7 of 12 and take the West by 1 and a half games above the Rockies with the Padres fading to third two and a half games back.

My prediction is that the Giants take the west by a game and a half over the Rockies with the Padres fading back to third.  Despite this the division could go to any of the three teams as none have any margin for error and it is likely that the team that remains hot will win the division. My prediction which is primarily based on how the teams are doing right now coupled with their schedule is that the Giants will win, but I could be wrong on this as a grounder with eyes, a bloop single or a booted ground ball could be the difference in a critical game that could decide the race. Id the Braves falter I believe that whatever team finished second in the NL West will be the Wild Card in the NL. I do not think this will happen based on the schedules but stranger things have happened.

Now here are my predictions:

AL Wild Card

American League: AL West- Rangers, AL Central- Twins, AL East Rays, Wild Card- Yankees.

NL Wild Card

National League: NL West Giants, NL Central- Reds, NL East- Phillies, Wild Card- Braves

We’ll see if I am as good as I was last year, but wait I didn’t start making predictions until the playoffs last year. Even if I’m wrong about these I can redeem myself by doing what I did last year in the playoffs and World Series.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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