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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Baseball, Oh I Remember……..

Recently I got the chance to watch a few episodes of Ken Burn’s award winning series about America’s pastime, Baseball entitled “When It Was A Game”. Probably like millions of guys my age, baby boomers, it was hard to sit through these episodes without my eyes tearing up here & there. It also made me realize that Baseball, like so many things today has really lost it’s “innocence”. Now if you know a little about the game, then you know that the it was Cardinals player Curt Flood who in 1970 challenged Baseball’s “reserve clause” that lead to the start of free agency & that allowed players to now move much freer from team to team. And although I get that & do understand that the owners were a huge part of the problem by making millions off these guys & paying them pathetically low wages for the ballpark draw they were back from the roaring 20’s through the early 70’s, I wonder if there couldn’t have been a “middle ground” found somewhere? As far as I can remember, it seems to me the last guy I can think of who played for 1 team his whole career was Robin Yount & he retired back in 1993 & was with the Brewers for 20 seasons I believe! Today, it is practically impossible for a player to stay with 1 team his whole career! But this wasn’t the case back “then”. My all time favorite player, good old number 8, Carl “Captain Carl” Yastrzemski, affectionately known as “Yaz”, played his whole career for my beloved Boston Red Sox from 1961-83, 22 seasons. But today everything has changed sadly. A man I really admire & simply cannot understand why he is not Baseball’s Commissioner is sports reporter, Bob Kostas. He recently did a program with “Hammering” Hank Aaron, in my eyes still the home run king! and Willie “the say hey” kid Mays. It didn’t take long to realize that guys of this magnitude are simply few & far between these days! They spoke also about Mickey Mantle & what a great player he was as well & I fully agree, this coming from a Red Sox fan no less! If “the Mick” would of taken care of himself, it wouldn’t surprise me if he would of hit over 800 home runs, like May’s, he was what they call a “5 tool” player, the whole package! It was nice to see him make peace with all those who loved him before he died & mainly, with himself….

As I write this, my Sox are down to the Tampa Bay Rays (see what happens when you drop “Devils”!!) & being the true baseball purist I am, it is hard for me to root against this group of young guys who have gone from “worst to first”. (Remember the 67 Sox, the Impossible dream") Manager Joe Madden should be crowned “Coach of the decade” for supplanting both the mighty Sox & Yanks! And all with a payroll of 44 million, compared to over 200 million for the Yanks & 170+ million for the Sox. If they beat us, I won’t be all that upset & will certainly root for the Rays as an American League fan, except of course when the Yanks win, sorry New Yorker’s!

But I guess I just miss the innocence of the game & the strategy. I lost count of how many times the Sox all season this past year had runners on 1st & 2nd with NO one out & DID NOT bunt???? Is it me, or don’t the percentages speak for themselves? Runners at 2nd & 3rd w/ 1 out, no automatic double play, 2 chances 95% of the time to score, what is wrong? Could it be that many of today’s players can’t even bunt? I am not a National League fan, but it would seem to be, they still play “small ball” that they manufacture runs! Only Mike Scoscia, manager of the Angel’s, (btw Los Angeles Angel’s of Anaheim, am I missing something?) still believes in small ball. Perhaps because he was a National League catcher for so many years? Last, here’s some teams, names & just some memories from the past:

Seattle Pilots, played 1 year only, 1969 at Sick Stadium & in 1970 became the Milwaukee Brewers. Washington Senators have a long storied past, they would say: 1st in war, last in the American League! I think everyone wanted them to come back as the Senators, or at least the Grays as a tip of the cap to the Negro Leagues, but the old Senators became the Minnesota Twins in 1961. I am the only one who missed those old Seattle Mariner uniforms with the trident from 1977? Or what about those awful San Diego Padre uniforms from the early 80’s? Does anyone still remember Lenny Randall blowing the bunt foul down the 3rd base line for the old Mariners? Does anyone miss the old Municipal Stadium off the banks of Lake Erie in Cleveland? What a miserable place! The team back then didn’t help either, but some great players came through there. The “Eck” Dennis Eckersley, Andre Thornton, The “Hawk” Ken Harrelson & his Nehru jackets!
Anyone miss the “Bird” Mark Fydrich? This guy would talk to the ball, you had to love it! Detroit has seen it’s share of greats also, “Stormin” Norman Cash, Al Kaline, Micky Lolich, Lance Parrish. Old Tiger Stadium was unique as well, Billy Crystal filmed his movie about Mantle there “61” just before they tore it down.

One of my favorite things to do is visit old ballparks…. I just sit there & think of all the players who every played on those fields & the dreams they had of “making it” to the “Big’s”. In Waterbury, my home town, one year back in the mid 70’s Richie Zisk, former big leaguer hit 50 homers, Bobby Bonds once played for the Waterbury Giants at Waterbury’s storied “big ball park” as Bob Palmer would call it back in the 60’s. I listened intently as a friend told me how a ball was hit to deep right field in the corner & a guy tried to score from 1st base & Bobby Bonds took the ball & threw this guy out at the plate with a bullet & strike in the air no less!
As a side note, Bobby ended up coming back to Wtby. year after year as he truly loved the City. He was from all accounts, a class guy. Jimmy Piersall was also from Wtby. As a kid, I played in the Piersall League & Joe Conner & Grasshoppers!

There’s something about the serenity & beauty of a ballpark. I will always be thankful that my Dad took the time to bring me to a few games here & there, even though he wasn’t a sports fan very much. I cherish those times & will never forget them, I hope to have done the same for my children as well & have given them a love for America’s “Pastime”. I pray that the integrity of the game will remain, but I am not hopeful sadly….certainly not when you have a former owner in Bud Selig overseeing baseball's day to day operations. Sort of like the Roster watching the hen house! I vote for Bob Kostas as Basball Commish! he'd restore some integrity to the game & btw, don't let me forget these other names from the past worthy of our respect:

Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Sandy Koufax, Joe DiMaggio, "Big" Frank Howard, Boog Powell, Harmon Killebrew, The 69 Mets! Willy Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Juan Marichal, Louie Tiant, Goose Gossage, Reggie Jackson (ouch!) Whitey Ford, Don Drysdale, tony Conigliaro, Marty Patten, Bob Gibson (maybe the best ever!) Roger Maris, Stan Musual, Willie McCovey, Pete Rose, Jonny Bench, Joe Morgan & I could go on forever!


Stay Tuned,
Al