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Baseball Then and Now

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YankeeStadium

Last night my son and I watched a video of Game 4 of the 1969 World Series, in which the Mets won a sweeping victory over the Baltimore Orioles. For me, the game was interesting more from a sociological perspective than as baseball history. Following are the social changes I noticed between then and now.

(1) The players on both teams were primarily, possibly exclusively, black and white, i.e., none that I noticed were Hispanic, as opposed to comprising nearly 30% of all major league players today.

(2) Tom Seaver pitched a full ten innings, having pitched, the announcer said, just two days ago. These days starting pitchers get four or five days’ rest, and rarely go beyond seven innings.images

(3) The game was played in full sunlight. There hasn’t been a World Series day game since 1987.

(4) The fans were, to my eye, 95% male adults; these days as many women and kids attend games.

(5) The fans were mostly dressed in suits and ties, which brings me to…

(6) These days when the camera pulls back for a view of the fans, we see a virtual ocean of the home team’s color; in the case of the Mets, it’s blue, because fans are wearing Mets caps, shirts, jackets, etc. That a wide shot of the stadium in 1969 showed no such continuity indicates that fan gear wasn’t the big business it is today.

(6) Finally, fans were avidly smoking in their seats. No comment.Pap Smear

 

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Baseball Players’ Superstitions

baseball heartBaseball just might be the sport with the most superstitious lot of players. Bleacher Report lists the top 50 strangest. Here’s a sampling:

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Jason Giambi puts on a gold thong whenever he’s in a slump.

Moises Alou pees on his batting gloves, supposedly to make  them tougher, when he is in a slump.

Mark Teixeira  developed a recent superstition when a sock of CC Sabathia’s  accidentally ended up in his locker, Mark had unknowingly put on one sock with the correct  #25, and one with the #52, and didn’t notice until the game had started; after he had one of the better games of his career—two home runs and six RBI’s—he decided to don two different sox in all future games.mark-teixeira-540x370

Hitters often like to get close to their bats. Occasionally this will occur with pitchers as well. Pitcher R.A. Dickey takes his choice of bats very seriously, naming  each one of them with creative monikkers.

Turk Wendell, who signed a contract with the Mets in 2000 for $ 9,999,999.99,took 99 as his player number.

Tim Lincecum wore the same cap his first five  seasons in MLB.210px-Tim_Lincecum_2008

Wade Boggs would take batting practice at precisely 5:17 when plating at night. He would also take  150 grounders, no more and no less, during warm-ups.

 BaseballFanBy the way, we fans are just as superstitious: I’m not the only one who worries my team lost because I failed to watch them, or is sure when I’m on the case they’re apt to win!

Baseball Returns

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YankeeStadium

Here we go again! It’s baseball season, and all I can do is grumble. You’d think I was a Mets fan, or that my team was any one of a number of basement dwellers, the way I feel. I’m a Yankee fan, I’m supposed to be on top of the world all the time—that’s what ol’ G. Steinbrenner demanded, win the World Series every year or you’re losers. Okay, that, I think, went a little too far in wrecking morale. Still, he may have been a tyrant, but what’s gone on since Georgie’s demise is a nightmare.

As the 2014 season opens, I am facing the loss of Mariano Rivera (gracefully retired), Andy Pettite (ditto), Curtis Granderson (sold to the Mets by some moron in the Yankee org) and Robinson Cano (also moronically sold). Even outside of the Yankees I face a heavy loss: Barry Zito, former Oakland A and SF Giant, one of my favorite players and human beings, seems to have vanished after the Giants failed to renew his contract (and who could blame them? But that’s another story.Zito2012

 

 

 

DerekJeter

Last but not least, as we raise the curtain on another year of baseball, the one Yankee remaining on the team that saw its last period of glory during the late ’90s and early ’00s, Derek Jeter, announced this year as his Swan Song—so don’t bother shouting “Next year!” if things hit bottom. And, indeed, the guys lost their first game yesterday against one of my most hated teams, the F.O.B. (Friends of Bush) Houston Astros.

My allegiance to the New York Yankees is, like some people’s allegiance to a particular religion, by birth and by choice. I’m a Yankee fan by birth: I was born in the Bronx. But I chose to be a Yankee fan because in this one area of life, unlike politics and a few others I’ll decline to mention here, with the Bronx Bombers I get to be a winner more often than not. Unlike the hapless Met fan, I get to experience joy more frequently than pain. At least, that was the deal for decades. Now my Yankee fandom is going the way the aging experience goes: it’s all about loss, as beloved players and managers leave. No choice have I but to butch it out and adjust, the way I do over the loss of teeth and energy.

One thing I don’t have to lose, though, is hope: the Yankees might be great this year. As the little kid in Angels in the Outfield says of the improbable all throughout the movie, “Hey, it could happen!”

rivera-patch

 

So Play Ball!

 

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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!

The Chair of Broken Dreams

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jea 0294 twinsyankees-tuesFrom one class act to another! Teams throughout Major League Baseball have been honoring Mariano Rivera during his final round of shutting down their games with the New York Yankees. Some are giving gifts, others donating to Rivera’s foundation. The Minnesota Twins just might have outdone them all: they presented Rivera with this “Chair of Broken Dreams” made entirely of broken bats!

It’s a perfect way to honor the man who’s probably caused more broken bats with his cutter than many a pitcher with a bevy of fancy tricks.  Good for the Twins! Good for Rivera! Good for Major League Baseball!

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