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Baseball Midseason / Rivera’s Long Goodbye

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English: Baseball with clock to represent a &q...

Baseball with clock represents a current sports or baseball event. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Baseball fans of my blog might have noticed that posts on that topic have been more sparse than usual this season. I’ve been kind of disinterested this year thanks to the dismal state of Team Yankee—if I’ve written anything on baseball, it’s been about that. A 3-game run against the Boston Red Sox begins Friday, starring the ragtag group I call Strangers on the Field–and here comes the cherry on top of this mess: no Robinson Cano in the series: he was hit by pitch at the All-Star Game (which is why, incidentally, some players don’t attend the ASG). Some might see the situation as pure happenstance, nobody’s fault—but there are a few moves management made that contributed to the situation, like getting rid of Raul Ibanez and Nick Swisher. I know, I know: a lot of fans were in favor of the moves, in particular of dumping Swish. Not me. I’m not big on lateral trades and team re-organization. I need look no further than my own backyard for evidence: the Oakland As are in an eternal state of flux, always doing yet another re-org.

The All-Star Game was played at CitiField this week, with the American League the winner. The big event this year was a farewell to Mariano Rivera. Manager Jim Leyland sent him to the mound in the 8th inning, in case they didn’t play a  9th, to ensure he’d be out there for a planned tribute. When The Sandman reached the mound he was surprised to be the only player out there. The rest of them were in front of the dugouts leading a standing ovation. Rivera later said it was a highlight of his 19-year career, second only to his World Series wins. (More on Rivera’s farewell tour later).

Red Carpet Parade

Red Carpet Parade

Playing host to Major League Baseball, New York pulled out all the stops, beginning with carpets on Times Square for the Red Carpet Parade in which players rode through the Canyon of Heroes.

NPR’s sportscaster (sorry, I never got his name) delivered a mid-season recap starting with the Pittsburgh Pirates, which he defined as the season’s Big Story.  Having paid less attention (i.e., none) to the Pirates than to the Yankees, I hadn’t noticed. It’s true that after 20 losing seasons, they seem to be turning things around. More  Pirates—5 of them–played in the All-Star game than at any time since 1972, and their pitching staff leads the majors in shutouts. Still, his report was somewhat skewed.

AllStar Game logo

For instance, he paid special attention to California, saying our teams aren’t up to snuff, particularly last year’s champions, the SF Giants. We’ve also had poor performances from the Anaheim…excuse me, Los Angeles Angels and the Brooklyn…excuse me, Los Angeles Dodgers. Well? Does anyone else notice a glaring omission? Not one mention of the Oakland A’s, who IMO are as Big a Story as the Pirates: any time a team as poor as the A’s lands on top of their division for most of the season, it’s a Big Story.

Finally, he ignored the Yankees, except to say he “usually talks too much about them” (to me there’s no such thing). And he also ignored the Mets, which is indefensible considering they hosted the ASG, which he was in New York to cover. Arggh! Commentators! 

Rivera’s Long Goodbye

English: Photo courtesy of Keith Allison on Fl...

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr. Mariano Rivera  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most fans are no doubt aware of Mariano Rivera’s impending retirement and the way he’s saying his goodbyes. Rivera’s been thinking it over for some time, and with the Yankees’ director of communications, Jason Zillo, came up with a plan to visit the people who work for each team—administrative staff, chefs, janitors, refreshment vendors—doing something different before the games. He delivered a pizza to the offices of the Oakland A’s, sat around in a suite talking baseball in Minnesota with invited guests that included, among others, the team chef , and hung around outside some parks holding baseball rap sessions with local  kids. Reported The New York Times: “With all their money and success, the Yankees may be the most widely disliked team in baseball. A rival executive once branded them the Evil Empire, and few people came to their defense. But in stadium conference rooms and offices, Rivera thanks rival fans, charms them, regales them, awes them. And he turns many Yankees haters into admirers.”

The teams, even arch rivals, (I can hardly wait to see what the Red Sox offer!) are showing enormous respect for the best closer of all time by giving him farewell gifts and donating to the Mariano Rivera Foundation, which focuses on the needs of children in his home country of Panama. As I reported a few days ago, the Twins outdid them all with The Chair of Broken Dreams.

For the past decade my favorite players were Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera—who together were the Yankees’ closing battery, a team within a team. Posada was pushed out two years ago and I’ve missed him like crazy. Now goes Rivera. (Going soon: Derek Jeter.) I’m not sure how I’m going to withstand the loss.

What Mariano Rivera is doing with his final season is unprecedented—then again, his whole career has been unprecedented. No pitcher in history, as far as I know, ever built a remarkable record with one—count it, one!—kind of pitch. Rivera says God gave him his cutter. As a non-believer, all I can say is what Shakespeare said in Hamlet:

“There are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Mariano Rivera

(sung to the tune of “Maria”)

Mariano—

I just saw a pitcher named Mariano

And suddenly I see how wonderful a pitch

Can be.

Mariano—

I just saw a closer named

Mariano

And suddenly the game

will never ever be the same to me.

Mariano

Pitch it fast

And they just can’t hit it

Pitch it slow

And the catcher will catch it.

Mariano

I’ll never stop loving

Mariano………

{sing operatically}

Ninth inning–

Mariano!

Baseball Legends Never Die

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George Steinbrenner’s earthly body may be gone, but considering the way baseball preserves – some might even say flogs – its legends, players, and heroes, you know “The Boss” is going to be around for a long time to come. With his spirit only just beginning its journey into eternity, he’s no doubt still hovering nearby, close enough to have seen the American League, his team’s League, lose the All-Star Game last night for the first time in 13 years. I wonder if he reacted like the “old” George, the one who fired manager Billy Martin five times; or like the “new” George, the mellow guy everyone says he turned into in recent years. (Is that the same George who fired Joe Torre?) Hopefully, he’s preoccupied with more important matters now, like his soul’s destination, and is no longer so concerned about winning, which dominated his life on Earth.

Just a few days before George left us, on Sunday, Bob Sheppard, the Voice of the Yankees for decades, passed away at the age of 99. About him we’ve heard only praise, none of the complicated anecdotes describing Steinbrenner as the complex, multi-faceted person he was. Derek Jeter long ago recorded Sheppard’s voice announcing his appearance at bat, and at the game last night it was played to a hushed stadium. “Derek Je-ter.” He enunciated every syllable with unsurpassed clarity, so everyone knew that ‘T’ was a ‘T’ and not a ‘D’. Sheppard didn’t go in for theatrics or melodrama: just clear, perfect enunciation.

I’m not thoroughly versed in Steinbrenner hagiography – but I do know that whenever someone attacks me for being a Yankee fan, his name tops the list of the so-called empire’s evils. I didn’t even know about the crooked Nixon contributions until fairly recently…but I’d rather not speak badly of the dead.

Steinbrenner’s legacy will certainly be reiterated in numerous articles and books, not to mention ceremonies, for at least a few months; it’s already begun. Mike and Mike in the Morning, which runs for four hours on ESPN TV and radio every day, and which tends to pay much more attention to basketball, football, and golf than to baseball, devoted today’s entire show to George Talk, with stories and anecdotes from call-ins, emails and guests. Today’s New York Times printed a slew of articles and obituaries, each with its own angle or emphasis.  I direct you there:

His Final Victory is an Empire Restored

Editorial

George Steinbrenner, Who Built Yankees Into Powerhouse, Dies at 80

Steinbrenner Remembered as Despot and Hero

Remembering Steinbrenner as a Seinfeld Star

Will Yankee Haters Have a Change of Heart?

The Night I Hugged Steinbrenner

Steinbrenner and the City: A Whirlwind

And that’s only about half of them! Here’s the complete list.

Now what could I possibly add to all that? R.I.P.

Baseball in Arizona: To Play or Not to Play

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Last week Major League Baseball got tossed straight into the middle of the Arizona brouhaha. Adrian Gonzalez of the San Diego Padres told FanHouse, an online sports magazine, that he will not attend next year’s All-Star Game in Phoenix if the new immigration law is in effect, and he wants MLB to boycott spring training in Arizona. “I’ll support the Players Association 100 percent,” said Gonzalez, who has dual citizenship in Mexico and the U.S. “If they leave it up to the players and the law is still there, I’ll probably not play in the All-Star Game. {I}t’s a discriminating law.”

Even before Gonzalez spoke out, rumblings could be heard from various corners of the baseball field. Sportswriter Dave Zirin called for an Arizona boycott by MLB, and has ceased covering the Arizona Diamondbacks. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen decried the new law. And when the Diamondbacks arrived in Chicago for a four-game series against the Cubs last week,  they were greeted by protesters outside Wrigley Field.

On Mike and Mike in the Morning, the two hosts started a discussion on the controversy last Friday that’s still going on this week, inviting viewers to email their opinions. Comments were all over the map; as usual, a goodly portion devolved into rudeness and personal attacks. M&M took the high road, presenting both sides of the issue, and doing their best to maintain a tone of civility.

Not surprisingly, a majority of viewers claimed baseball isn’t political and should just stay out of the whole thing; their attitude is let Congress stay out of baseball (as in steroid use) and baseball will stay out of Congress. I can understand the sentiment, but I agree with Dave Zirin that baseball already is political – as is the whole wide wide world of sports. Zirin says he wrote his latest book, A People’s History of Sports in the United States: 250 Years of Politics, Protest, People, and Play precisely to show how powerfully sports and politics have interacted over the centuries, despite denial of the connection from both sides.

The thing is, the Arizona law is probably more relevant to baseball than almost any other issue: more than 28 percent of players come from outside the United States. Hispanics (including American born) make up almost 30 percent of ball players overall. It’s conceivable that Mariano Rivera, wearing street clothes during down time at the All-Star game, might be strolling down the streets of Phoenix in search of an ice cream cone, and be stopped by a cop asking, “Papers please?” I can imagine it happening, and it makes me sick. I don’t know if anyone in MLB has thought about the potential for this kind of player humiliation. But Jesse Jackson has:  in a letter to Bud Selig urging a boycott of Arizona he said, “Imagine if players or their families are stopped and interrogated by law enforcement…That would truly be a dark day for Major League Baseball.”

On the other hand, boycotting the All-Star game might not be that meaningful, since about half the teams do their Spring Training in Arizona anyway, and it’d probably be too complicated to move all that somewhere else. Besides, the All-Star game is more than a year away; who knows what’ll happen by then? The law could be ruled unconstitutional and barred from implementation. Or Congress might get off its ass and come up with a better solution to the immigration conundrum. It seems to me that Major League Baseball doesn’t  have to put themselves out as firing targets this early in the game. As former Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent said on the Mikes show, Bud Selig shouldn’t respond at all yet, but just wait and “take the pitch.”

Disaster of the Day Experts and locals are only just beginning to figure out how the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will affect the environment and the economy. Today it was revealed that the spill has tripled in size, and there are serious concerns about Gulf fishing and the seafood industry. This could become the worst oil spill in history, surpassing the damage done by the Exxon Valdez tanker that spilled 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound in 1989.

All-Stars 2009

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The winners are in, and here’s the list of ball players who’ll be playing in the All-Star Game this year. Note that Mark Texeira beat out Kevin You-Kill-Us. My profound gratitude goes out to anyone who voted for Texeira at my suggestion.

Mark Texeira

AMERICAN LEAGUE
1st Base-Mark Teixeira (Yankees)

2nd Base-Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox)

3rd Base- Evan Longoria (Rays)

Shortstop- Derek Jeter (Yankees)-10th All Star appearance!derek-jeter

Outfield-Jason Bay (Red Sox)

Outfield-Ichiro Suzuki (Mariners)

Outfield-Josh Hamilton (Rangers)
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
NATIONAL LEAGUE

Pujols1st Base-Albert Pujols (Cardinals)

2nd Base-Chase Utley (Phillies)

3rd Base-David Wright (Mets)

Shortstop-Hanley Ramirez (Marlins)

Outfield-Ryan Braun (Brewers)

BeltranOutfield-Carlos Beltran(Mets)

Outfield-Raul Ibanez(Phillies)

All-Star Game

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Nobody does ritual better than baseball.

Tuesday night’s pre-game All-Star celebration gathered together the largest assemblage of Hall of Famers and All Star players in history. There were the Willies McCovey and Mays, Ozzie Smith, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Rollie Fingers….and on and on and on. These stately gentlemen stood on the field at their former positions, dressed in snappy blue suits and baseball caps, as the camera panned out and above for stunningly dramatic views. Now that he’s not yelling at people anymore, George Steinbrenner even garnered some appreciation; he came riding out on a golf cart, the preferred transit mode of the aging, to present four baseballs, one each to Reggie Jackson, Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage and Yogi Berra, who then threw first pitches to Derek Jeter, Joe Girardi, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera. Talk about drama. Steinbrenner wasn’t the only one crying.

The only sour note was when Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox closer, told the world that he, rather than Mariano Rivera, ought to close out the game. Everyone knew that Terry Francona, Red Sox and this year’s All-Star Manager, planned to use Rivera; this was right and fitting at the last ASG to be played in his home, Yankee Stadium, and he deserved the respect as well as the opportunity for an ovation from the fans. The Daily News headlined the story “Papelbum!” which stirred New Yorkers into a froth and, according to Papelbon, incited threats to him and his pregnant wife. Some say his words were distorted, but I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if they were true. Many bloggers, trashing Papelbon, made a point of noting that Terry Francona and the rest of the Red Sox were duly respectful of the Yankees and the stadium, and the rival teams made lots of nicey-nice throughout the festivities.

The pre-game ritual may have been grand, but the game was a tedious affair, lasting 15 innings and five-and-a-half freaking hours. I was asleep by the time the American League won 4-3 for the 12th year in a row. All in all the night was a baseball pig-out—and from what I’ve read, that’s what the whole week was like in New York. If ever I wished I was back East, this was the week.

Then again, the ASG was held in San Francisco last year, and I didn’t go to the Fan Fest at Moscone Center, didn’t crawl the pubs at night in search of players, didn’t even stand on the Embarcadero to gawk at the red-carpet parade. Tickets to the game? Are you kidding? Who can afford them?

Besides, it’s much more comfortable, and with a better view, at home in front of my television. And when the game runs 15 innings, a bed comes in mighty handy.