Category Archives: Baseball

A Breather, And Then Some

In 1986 the New York Mets won it all: their division, the league championship, the World Series, and the entire City of New York.  This had as much to do with the success of the team that year as it did with the colorful personalities that made up the ’86 Mets.  I wasn’t quite the baseball fan back then that I am now so my memories of the ’86 Mets are fuzzy at best.  What I remember most about the team are the individual players — their names, positions, and on some level their quirks or trademarks.  Back then there wasn’t much in the way of cable television and most of the Met games were shown on network TV (it was Channel 9, WWOR, when I was watching) so even casual television watchers came to learn something about the Mets.  At school, I recall the teachers combining classes and wheeling in a TV so the kids could watch the Met games although I suspect it was more for the teachers than anyone else.

I don’t know how much the 2015 Mets resemble the ’86 Mets.  I suspect not much although I think that’s more a product of generational differences than any lack of character on the part of today’s team.  Players today are more polished and guarded and it’s hard to tell what they’re really like off-the-field.

On-the-field is a whole different story.  And that’s perhaps where this year’s team is most similar to the one from ’86.  Both had a flair for the dramatic — whether intentional or not.  This year’s baseball dramatics came late for the Mets but it came with a bang, a pop, and most recently, a crunch, as in Utley’s slide/tackle and Tejada’s broken leg.  The ’86 Mets too had their share of on-the-field drama, the most memorable moment from that year being Mookie Wilson’s groundball that went through Bill Buckner’s legs during the 10th inning of Game Six of the World Series.  In describing the misplay afterwards, Buckner said “The ball went skip, skip and didn’t come up. The ball missed my glove. I can’t remember the last time I missed a ball like that, but I’ll remember that one.”

I realize as I am writing this that the season isn’t over for the Mets — not yet at least.  That may change come Thursday when they play the decisive game of the divisional series in LA against the Dodgers.  I wish them well.

In the meantime, here’s some inspirational reading for all those Met fans out there.  It’s a piece by the great sportswriter Roger Angell about Game Six of the 1986 National League Championship series between the Mets and the Astros, a sixteen inning affair that ended with a Met victory and the entire City of New York on the brink of pandemonium.

A Spirit of Prudence

When I was a kid, I had a small, portable radio that looked like a hamburger.  I took it everywhere with me: to the bathroom, in the car, on family outings.  During the summer, I would put it under my pillow as I went to sleep so I could listen to the tail end of Mets games.  Back then, Gary Cohen and Bob Murphy called the games.  Gary Cohen is still calling Mets games but for the team’s flagship television station.  Bob Murphy is dead, whose many years as a smoker finally got the best of him.  I have tried many times to find out where Bob Murphy has been buried so I could tell him how much I miss hearing his voice on the radio but to no avail.  Maybe Gary Cohen wouldn’t mind sharing that information with me.

I used to get excited during Mets games in ways that seem strangely foreign to me now: cursing at opposing players and their fans; mimicking the hitting or pitching motions of various players (Orlando Hernandez a.k.a. El Duque was a popular option); and once, swinging an umbrella — the Mets were up at bat — so hard that its barrel went flying through a wall (good thing I was at a friend’s house without the friend; I don’t’ think I’ve told him to this day about the hole).

As another baseball season is set to begin, I wanted to write about all the things I dislike about baseball today.  And trust me, there’s a lot to say on that subject.  But so what?  No one who is worth a damn in professional baseball is going to change the way the game is presented and played, for me, or anyone else with a gripe.  To most of them, baseball might as well be NASCAR given the way they have turned the game into a slow-motion, ear-splitting, commercial extravaganza.  Of course, I say this without having ever watched a NASCAR race up close and personal, but I’m not sure that really matters.  Who knows, maybe one day I will give up my interest in baseball entirely.  I certainly wouldn’t  be the first one to do so.

But then I would be admitting defeat.  Why should I be the one to abandon the game when it is the game, and its purveyors, that have abandoned me?  As with all things fundamental to one’s way of life, we don’t know what we’ve lost until we’ve lost it.  Tony Judt, the late historian, taught me this in one of his last books.  Of course, there, he was making a case for the defense of social democracy.  But baseball is also an institution deserving of what Judt referred to as “a spirit of prudence”.

If anything needs to change it is the belief that baseball cannot be played in much the same ways that it was played at the turn of the century.  The last time I checked umpires didn’t have  replay machines back then, and I’m not sure the fans would have even stood for such nonsense, given the disruption it creates in the flow of the game.  Not all change is bad, of course.  But, as I again borrow from the Tony Judt playbook,  “incremental improvements upon unsatisfactory circumstances are the best that we can hope for, and probably all we should seek.”  As the famous song goes:

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Just buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don’t care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don’t win, it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out,
At the old ball game.

Opening Day 2014

Today is Opening Day for the 2014 big league baseball season.  If there’s one change I’d like to see in the way baseball games are played and broadcast it is in the length and pace of the game.  Hitters as well as pitchers today take way too much time between pitches.  Hitters adjust their gloves, helmets, pants, belts and anything else you could think of before deciding to step back into the batter box.  Pitchers, meanwhile, fiddle with their caps, pace the mound, and make pointless pickoff moves before delivering a pitch.  It is unclear whether all these extraneous movements are product of “mind games” that pitchers and hitters are known to play on each other or if they are just a form of procrastination.  Either way, the fan is left to endure all these time-wasting movements and will be lucky if he or she can muster the patience to watch or listen to all nine innings.  Games today are also jam packed with commercials, ads and tie-ins so that sometimes it is unclear whether baseball is the main focus or the car that is being peddled by the announcer for the thirtieth time in the broadcast.

My hope for this season is to be able to score at least one game live (i.e., at the field) which is harder than it sounds if, like me,  you also have an infant and toddler to look after during the game.  With that in mind, I will simply settle for a hot dog, a cold beer, and making it to the seventh-inning stretch, scorecard be damned.   


Happy Birthday, Willie Mays!

Today is the birthday of Willie Howard Mays, also known as the Say-Hey Kid.  He turns 82 today.  Mays ended his professional baseball career with a .302 average, 660 home runs, 1903 RBIs, and 3,283 hits.  He even played for my favorite team, the New York Mets, but only for 2 years (his last as a professional player) and only in 135 games during which he hit 14 home runs and stole 2 bases out of 7 attempts.  Unremarkable, yes, but no less memorable for a Met fan.

In the baseball tome, The Glory of Their Times, Willie Mays is, I think, the one modern player most often mentioned by past greats as someone who embodied the game of baseball, in his mind, in his body, and in his personality.

Now without further ado, here, for your viewing pleasure and inspiration, is some archival footage of Willie Mays who, after being knocked down by a Don Drysdale pitch up at his head, proceeds to hit the next one out of the park (footage starts at 0:50):

Balls, Bats and Bucks

Baseball season starts in less than a week.  That means leisurely days (or, more likely, nights) at the ball park with a hot dog in one hand, a beer in the other, and, if you’re like me, a scorecard on your lap.  It also means being a part of what we have come to call the Great American Pastime, witnessing feats of sometimes supernatural athleticism and, if you’re lucky, achievements of monumental importance.  For me, as a Met fan, Johan Santana’s 2012 no-hitter comes to mind.

But something troubles me about the game, and at times, it makes me feel like I would be better off just forgetting about baseball altogether.  But then what would my wife and I listen to as we puttered around the kitchen on many a summer night with the day’s heat then dissipating and our conversations turning to who is hitting what and why isn’t he doing better.  In any event, my concerns are no different from those that a lot of other people now have, and, probably have had since the inception of modern baseball: overpriced players, overpriced tickets, interminably long games, lackadaisical play, too many strikeouts, and ballparks that are called PETCO Park and U.S. Cellular Field.

But I do wish things were different.  For example, I wish that a player that you never heard of (assuming you follow baseball, of course) did not make millions of dollars each year where the average joe makes a fraction of that and then has to suffer the indignity of having to pay a part of that player’s salary if he or she wanted to watch him in-person, and increasingly, on a screen.  I also wish that baseball organizations were less concerned about their bottom line and more about what could be done to make the game more fan-friendly (hint: shrinking the confines of a ballpark so the home team can hit more home runs is not one of them); the two, it seems to me, never appear compatible in theory or in practice.

Despite all this, I think the integrity of the game is still intact.  Players still play because they love being on the field and not because its just a way to make a lot of money without really working (another great American pastime).  Managers still get peeved when players don’t hustle to first base on a sure-out grounder.  And fans still recognize and respect players who play the game with passion and heart rather than those who simply show up to collect a paycheck.  So I look forward to the baseball season.  At the very least, it will allow me to realize a dream I have long had: taking my son to his very first baseball game.


For once, the theme of this post has nothing to do with Padilla.  Instead, it is about heroism.  The sort that inspires others to greatness or, at the very least, to reject mediocrity as the status quo.  I have a friend who is a radiologist.  He once told me that in order to survive those long hours of being “on call” at the hospital, he would think about the soldiers who are fighting overseas as a means of inspiration and sustenance.  This past year, I came across two feats of heroism which I thought worthy of mention here.

One pertains to a story many of you have perhaps already heard about: the mayor of Newark Cory Booker dashing into a burning building to save a woman from what was by all accounts imminent death.  Sure, one can question his motivations for doing what he did — he is, after all, a politician.  But this is an event that I will take at face value, if for no other reason because it provides a source of inspiration much like the soldiers whom my doctor friend relied on to get him through those long hours on call, and without which life would not be worth living.  If you haven’t seen it already, Mayor Booker gave the following press conference the day after his fiery rescue attempt:

The other heroic feat which I think bears mention, and I have to admit I am biased (read: Met fan) in writing about it, is Johan Santana pitching the first no-hitter in Mets franchise history.  Like other long-suffering Met fans, the prospect of a no-hitter is ever present — that is, you are constantly on the look out for one but know in the back of your mind that it almost will never happen on your watch.  Much like nuclear armageddon or a three-party system.  But it happened this time and I remember the moment when I turned to my wife in the sixth inning and openly observed what I noticed were a series of zeros on the scoreboard.  Neither I nor she thought much of it then as I am sure was the case with a lot of other Met fans who either watched or listened to the game that night.  But we kept our ears glued to to the radio, more so than usual for a regular season game, and closely  followed Johan’s progress from the sixth inning on.  And the rest is history.  What struck me most about Johan’s feat, however, and what I thought was most heroic about it, was that Johan surely knew that he would not be able to pitch another game after this one.  But he did it anyway:

Dispatch from Atlanta, Georgia

My apologies for the infrequent blog posts of late.  There has been little development on the Padilla retroactivity front.  Which is not to say that there are no Padilla-style motions gestating in the courts, and it is only a matter of time until the courts begin opining upon the reach of Padilla.  I did come across a “Padilla Resource Page” created by the ABA’s Criminal Justice Section and which may be accessed here.

In other news, Spring Training is in full swing and Duke Snider  died at the age of 84.  The Times carried an article after Snider’s passing entitled “Remembering When Players Also Were Neighbors.”  It’s worth a read and dovetails with what I had written about in my prior book review post on Roger Khan’s “The Boys of Summer.”

In world affairs, the tumult in North Africa/Middle East continues.  News on this is, of course, plentiful, if not humdrum.  For a more insightful perspective, I would suggest listening to a recent interview of Prof. Horace Campbell on Democracy Now, which can be accessed here.


The Boys of Summer

Today I finished reading “The Boys of Summer” by Roger Khan.  It is part memoir, part history book.  Its subjects are, besides Khan himself, the players for the Brooklyn Dodgers, back when baseball was as much a community activity — played and watched — as it was a professional endeavor.   Khan was a beat writer for the New York Herald Tribune during the heyday of the Brooklyn Dodger team, right before it was moved to the West Coast by Walter O’Malley.  In his book, Khan chronicles his life as an up and coming reporter who would eventually earn a coveted opportunity and then position covering the Dodgers.  The latter half of the book is devoted to the players themselves but in their post-baseball days, in a form similar to that of Lawrence Ritter’s “The Glory of Their Times.”

There are many things to say about “The Boys of Summer.”  But I will limit myself to the following observations:

1955 Brooklyn Dodgers after winning the World Series (L. to R. D. Snider, C. Labine, G. Hodges, and R. Campanella)

(1) By and large, the players whom Khan profiled led productive lives after baseball.  These lives were by no means glamorous.  One player tended bars (Billy Cox), another installed elevators in what used to be the World Trade Center (Carl Furillo).  But they were nevertheless purposeful lives that transcended professional baseball and its trappings of fame and glory.

(2) Money was just as important for baseball front office officials back in the 1950’s as it is in today’s game where players are given multi-million dollar contracts and  blustery high-priced agents put  on smoke-and-mirrors shows.  The amount of money involved in today’s game is of course multitudes greater than the paltry sums that were, for instance, paid to Duke Snider, then considered the league’s premier slugger.  And this rings true even when one accounts for every possible economic variable out there (inflation, cost-of-living, etc).

This raises an interesting question of whether players today envision leading productive lives after their playing careers are over.  I would venture to guess that they do not judging from the astronomical salaries that are demanded and ultimately paid.  But can one blame them?  Playing baseball day in and day out prepares one for little else besides, well, playing baseball.  And in today’s increasingly technical and skill-driven world, this does not bode well for the job-search prospects of the modern professional athlete.  Factor in the advent of free agency and the near certainty of permanent physical debilitation and one almost expects that today’s slugger or ace pitcher be paid up the wazoo.

Why then do we still hear people complain about overpriced ball players?  (A-Rod comes promptly to mind.)  Surely, this is a some reflection that there exists a disconnect between current salaries and what the average person thinks a professional ball player should be making.  This disconnect has in fact driven a number of folks from the game entirely.  Does this mean that a return to the “glory days” of baseball is in order?  A time when players were treated less like celebrities and more like Joe from around the corner or when the off-season was just as often spent working part-time as a grocery store clerk as it was spent conditioning one’s body for next season.  Is it reasonable to expect that players today not bank on their major league careers as the only time in their lives during which they will be productively employed in some shape or form?  And taking that one step further, would it be reasonable to expect that today’s player accept some kind of non-baseball related employment once their playing careers end?

These are questions that I pose to you, the reader, in hope of generating a discussion about this topic with baseball fans and non-baseball fans alike.