The 127th Day


This date is a memorable date for a couple of reasons. It marked a date which saw power pitchers reach a cornerstone in their lives.

When fans watch baseball today, it is very different from years ago. Nobody has to face ‘The Big Train’ or Herb Score, Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan or a Randy Johnson. When you went to a game featuring those power starting pitchers, there was a chance you could see a no-hitter. Yet the one thing you could count on was that batters were just a bit on their toes when facing the heat of these power pitchers.

On this date, in 1917, Babe Ruth of the Boston Red Sox allowed only two hits as he out pitched Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators, 1-0. Can you imagine being there for that game? Oh, by the way, Ruth knocked in the winning run with a sacrifice fly. In that year, he would go on to start 38 games and win 24 against 13 losses. He had an ERA of 2.01. In Babe Ruth’s 1916 season as a pitcher, his record was 23 Wins and 170 Strikeouts, with a 1.75 ERA, 9 Shutouts and 23 Complete Games, as he was at the time, one of the best pitchers in baseball. He was undefeated as a pitcher in postseason play. In 1916, he had a 1-0 record with an ERA of 0.64 against the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1918, he went 2-0 against Chicago Cubs with a 1.06 ERA. The last time he ever pitched, was in the 1933 All-Star game, when he started and won. Thus what began in 1914 as a pitcher, ended up on the mound 20 years later…a winner. Overall, he won 94 games pitching, losing 46 with a 2.28 ERA lifetime.

Jumping ahead to 1957 on this date, it was another sort of a day in Cleveland as the Indians were facing the New York Yankees in a night game. Herb Score, the fireballing left hander was coming off of a 20 win season the year before where he finished with a 20-9 record with 5 shutouts, an ERA of 2.53 with 263 strikeouts. In his first two years, he was an All-Star and was already 2-1 in the ’57 season. Facing Gil McDougald, as the second batter in the inning, the count was 2 and 2. He shook off the both the curve and slider because he felt he lacked command of his breaking stuff. On his 12th pitch of the night, he fired a fastball that had helped him earn 508 strikeouts over his first two season.

The pitch was low and inside and McDougald lined it up the middle. This is what Herb Score said about the rest. ‘I heard the crack of the bat while my head was down in my follow-through. All I ever saw as my head came up was a white blur. I snapped up my glove, but the white blur blasted through the fingertips and into my right eye. I clutched at my face, staggered and fell. Then I thought, ‘My God, the eye has popped right out of my head!’. Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium was hushed as the career of one of baseball’s best young pitchers and a sure Hall of Famers was finished.

Laying near the mound, bloody and battered, he called on his patron saint for help. He left the field cracking jokes, ‘They can’t say I didn’t keep my eye on that one’, he told teammate Mike Garcia on the field.

In the Yankee clubhouse after the game, McDougald was disconsolate. The seven year veteran and as the American League rookie of the year, told his teammate Hank Bauer, ‘If he loses his sight, I’ll quit baseball. The game’s not that important when it comes to this.”

Talking to Jimmy Cannon the following year he was asked if he felt like giving up. Score said, ‘Give up? I never gave up. When I was first hit, they bandaged both eyes. I could hear people walking. I thought we never appreciated what God does for us. We never think what it is to see. I can see very well. My ankle has been a little sore. But the eye, the only problem I have now is to get the fellows out.’

This date in baseball history is powerful. First we see what a phenomenal player the mighty Babe Ruth was. Secondly, we see what a real man Herbert Jude Score was.

Play Ball!

A Complex Measure


It was simply a very complex day in baseball. In New York City, at the legendary home of Champions, the Yankees on Friday were either saying good-bye or ridding themselves of one of the most gifted, tarnished individuals who ever played the game. For the record, this was Alex Rodriguez last game for the New York Yankees.

Perhaps the center focus of the PED-Era in the game, here is one of the best players who ever played the game crystalized in everything that is bad and good about the game. There is no middle ground when speaking of A-Rod. For the record, he is tied as the 23rd best fielding shortstop in the history of baseball with a career .9772 fielding percentage at shortstop. But in all fairness, he only played 1,272 of his 2,784 games at short. His fWAR was below 50%. At third base, he ranked tied for 32nd place all-time with a .9648 fielding percentage. Let’s face it, fielding isn’t what got him to be one of the highest paid players in the history of the game, although he won the Gold Glove twice in his career at shortstop.

When it came to hitting, he hit 50+ home runs three (3) times with a high of 57 in 2002. In his career, over 22 years, he had a lifetime .295 batting average in 10,566 at bats. 3.115 hits; 548 doubles; 31 triples; 696 home runs; 2,086 RBI; .550 slugging percentage; .930 OPS; 5,813 total bases; and 14 time All-Star; 3 time MVP in 12 years with the New York Yankees, 7 years with the Seattle Mariners and 3 years with the Texas Rangers. In his career he made $375,416,252, with a high annual salary of $33 million in a single season (2009 & 2010). Three times he was named the Major League Player of the Year; won the AL batting title once in 1996 with a .358 average; won the Hank Aaron Award four (4) times and the Babe Ruth Award once. He won the Silver Slugger Award ten (10) times. For his career his WAR was 117.8, five (5) times finished #1. He had an on-base percentage of .380 in his career, had 2,021 runs scored while on base 4,629 times. As a batter he ranks with Willie Mays.

This was a great player in the game of baseball. But that is what you would want in the first player selected in the 1993 MLB draft.

Yet he played under the shadow of suspicion, jealousy, admiration and contempt for the better part of the last eight years. It probably began when he left Seattle. But the flight of other great top players from that team including Ken Griffey, Jr. and Randy Johnson (both now in the Hall of Fame) was not that big of a contributing factor to dislike. In 2007, the cornerstone of fan disillusionment when Rodriguez was finishing the last year of a $252 million contract. He did the unthinkable for pin-strip fans. He opted out, effectively making him a free agent once again. Now the die was cast as it was announced he would not renew his contract with the Yankees citing that he was ‘unsure of the future composition ‘ of the team. He was now the target of criticism not only for not meeting with team officials before his announcement but for financial gluttony. But the biggest issue with fans was that he did it during the 8th inning of Game Four of the World Series as Boston was finishing their victory over the Colorado Rockies. MLB’s chief operating officer, Bob DuPuy, called it ‘an attempt by Rodriguez’ agent, Scott Boras, to try to put his selfish interests and that of one individual player above the overall good of the game’. After a quick PR repair job by A-Rod himself, a new 10 year $275 million contract was finalized on December 13, 2007.

Out of nowhere, the report hit. In the February 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated hit the stands, it reported that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for testosterone and the anabolic steroid Primobolan in 2003. His name had appeared on a government-sealed list of 104 major-league players (out of 1200 tested) who came up positive for performance-enhancing drugs. As crazy as it seems today, there was no penalty or punishment for a positive steroid test in Major League Baseball. To his credit, two days after the allegations, Rodriguez admitted to steroid use from 2001 until 2003, claiming that he cease using such substances after spring training that year.

What might become a reason for so many star players to take PEDs, injury, has loomed over the game. Prior to the 2009 season, A-Rod was forced to withdraw from the World Baseball Classic where he would represent the Dominican Republic, when an MRI revealed a cyst in his right hip. He went to have the cyst drained but discovered that he was also suffering from a torn labrum in the same hip. He underwent an arthroscopic procedure with a recovery period of 6 to 9 weeks, instead of the usual three to four months. He would require a second, more extensive surgery in the off-season. He missed spring training and the month of April. But he came out with a very strong season. It was his 12th consecutive season and 13th overall of reaching 30 home runs and 100 RBI breaking a ties with Manny Ramirez, Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx for the most in Major League Baseball history. And as a topper to any career, he helped the Yankees win their 27th World Series Championship and his first.

Two years later, Rodriguez opted for arthroscopic surgery on his knee to repair a torn meniscus that placed him on the disabled list at the All-Star break. During his recovery, he was facing serious allegations that he had participated in illegal, underground poker games. One of those games turned violent and cocaine was openly used Rodriguez denied that he had ever participated in illegal poker games. MLB had warned him in 2005 not to participate in such games. After retiring in late August, he sustained another injury with a jammed thumb.

In 2013, he underwent another arthroscopic surgery in his hip to repair a torn labrum. It was the second time in four years that he had the surgery. But this operation was more serious than before. He began the season on the 60-day disabled list. While rehabbing, he again was embroiled in a series negative situations He became a central figure in the Biogenesis baseball scandal and MLB’s investigation into his possible connection to performance-enhancing drugs. Then he again got embroiled with Yankee management when he said on social media (Twitter) that his doctor had medically cleared him to play in games. Yankee GM Brian Cashman said Rodriguez’s doctor did not have such authority and that Rodriguez should ’shut the fxxx up.’ While rehabbing in the minors, he sustained a new injury as an MRI later revealed a Grade 1 quad strain, delaying his return and forcing him to continue in the minors. Rodriguez clearly frustrated sought a second opinion on his quad strain with a doctor who stated that there did not appear to be an injury. The Yankees were incensed. The war began. They said he had violated league rules for seeking a second opinion without the team’s permission. The stage was now clearly set for Yankees to get rid of Rodriguez. The ‘Cashman Conflict’ was the beginning of the end. Rodriguez continued to feud with Yankees management following his return, as his lawyers accused the team, and specifically Christopher S. Ahmad MD, of mishandling his hip injury in several ways; Rodriguez’s legal team contends the team withheld the injury from him and continued to play him in 2012 despite his health, and that team president, Randy Levine told Rodriguez’s hip surgeon that he would be happy if Rodriguez never played again. In response to the accusations, Cashman said, “I’m not comfortable talking to Alex about this because we feel we are in a litigious environment. Hello and goodbye, that’s about it.” He added, “It’s not just Yankees’ management. He’s putting it at the level of our trainers, our medical staff. The organization. The team.” It wasn’t a good year for A-Rod.

Alex Rodriguez was suspended from baseball but he delayed it pending an appeal. The suspension was upheld for the entirety of the 2014 regular season and post season. He was found to have violated the league’s Performance Enhancing Drugs policy, specifically through the ‘use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including Testosterone and human Growth Hormone, over the course of multiple years’ and ‘attempting to cover-up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation.’

In the 2015 off-season it was reported that Rodriguez met with new Commissioner of Baseball, Rob Manfred, in which it is reported that Rodriguez apologized while promising to behave in the future. In February he issued a hand-written letter of apology to “Major League Baseball, the Yankees, the Steinbrenner family, the Players Association and you,the fans’.

And now here we are. Criticism is plenty. In Joe Torre’s 2009 book, ‘The Yankee Years’, Rodriguez earned the nickname ‘A-Fraud’ from teammates and particularly from clubhouse attendants who were said to resent his demands. Steroid-user Jose Canseco said in his book, ‘Juiced:Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big’ called A-Rod a hypocrite. But then again, who cares what Canseco says. The fact remains, there is a playing stats side and there is the drugs side.

Performance enhancing drugs have torn baseball’s unique stat world apart. Those accused and/or suspended, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Ryan Braun, Rager Clemens, Rafael Palmero, Lenny Dykstra, Eric Gagne, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Glenallen Hill, Todd Hundley, David Justice, Andy Petite, Mo Vaughn, Fernando VBina, Manny Ramirez, Melky Cabrera, Jason Giambi, Jeremy Giambi, Benito Santiago, Gary Sheffield, Bartolo Colon, Yasmani Grandal, Carlos Ruiz, Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta, Miguel Tejada, Dee Gordon, Raul Mondesi, Rick Ankiel, Jose Canseco, Gary Matthews, Jr., Matt Williams, Wally Joyner, Ken Caminiti, Chuck Knoblauch, Paul Lo Duca, David Ortiz, Ivan Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Mike Stanton and many more have put the stain on the game. We are not talking about hard drugs or alcohol consumption here. We are talking about people taking drugs to make them perform better.

Thus the dilemma.

Alex Rodriguez could hit. Alex Rodriguez could field. Alex Rodriguez took performance enhancing drugs. He paid for the results. He served his time. His day in the game appears to now be over.

Baseball is a game we all play as kids. It is a game we love from our very core. He did as well and did it better then nearly anyone.

A-Rod…we hardly knew ya.

Play Ball!

He Did What?

As we are now in the last 40 days and 40 nights of the regular season in baseball, its time to clear out our mental wastebasket.

Let’s Hear It For The Tough Guys. Cleveland pitcher, Ray Caldwell on this date in 1919, was flattened by a bolt of lightning in his debut with the team. However, he recovered to get the final out of the game and defeated the Philadelphia A’s, 2-1. So you think you were tough!

In the first game of a double-header that was getting completely out of hand, on this date in 1940, Ted Williams came in from Left Field to pitch the last two innings against the Detroit Tigers in a 12-1 loss. For the record, ‘The Thumper’ allowed three hits and one run but struck out Tiger slugger, Rudy York and finished the game with a 4.50 ERA. By the way, Joe Glenn, who caught Babe Ruth’s last pitching appearance in 1933 was William’s catcher. In another rare occurrence in this game, Williams went 0 for 4 with a strike out batting fourth in the lineup behind Jimmy Foxx.. And that rarely happened in his entire career. He was batting .342 at the time.

Fans have a long history of second guessing managerial and umpire decisions. As for the latter, just look at Friday’s Milwaukee Brewer game in the 8th inning as it ended with an out called as Aramis Ramirez as he slid into third base and the Pittsburgh third baseman missed tagging the base. But how would you have liked to have been a coach or manager (Zack Taylor) for the St. Louis Browns on this date in 1951? In a season that produced just 51 wins and 102 losses, In another of Bill Veeck’s zany PR stunts, ‘Fans Manager’s Night’, a thousand fans behind the Browns dugout were given ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ placards to vote on decisions by the Browns coaches. The fans coach the Browns to a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia A’s.

Today in 1983, you would not want to be a Toronto Blue Jay. After six Major League seasons playing infield positions, Baltimore Oriole Lenn Sakata moved behind the plate to catch relief pitcher Tim Stoddard who had also just entered the game. The Blue Jays looked to take advantage of this situation but Stoddard was ready for them. He picked off, in order, Barry Bonnell, Dave Collins and Upshaw to record all three inning outs. It had to have been a record.

Probably would not have wanted to be Manager Paul Owens on this date in 1983. Pete Rose did not play in Philadelphia’s 5-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants which ended Rose’s consecutive games played street at 745. Owens had planned to use Rose as a pinch-hitter in the 10th inning, but Joel Youngblood ended the game with a two-run home run off Steve Carlton in the bottom of the ninth for the victory.

And, just for the record, what if there were a brief gust of wind on this date in 1894 in Washington, DC. Why you asked? Chicago catcher Pop Schriver became the first player to catch a ball dropped from the top of the Washington Monument.

And you thought you knew everything there was about baseball. Now you do know some of the crazier things about August 24th.

Play Ball!

Brownies_Stands

A View Up Close

On of the delights of baseball is the ability of fans to get up close and personal with the players of the game.  During the years one can become fascinated with how a player not only performs on the field but how he presents himself, when seemingly nothing is happening and no one is watching.

Then just when you think you have seen a player being perfect, he picks his nose, spits baccy juice on the floor of the dugout and on his perfectly clean uniform. There are always the crotch grabbers and fixer uppers. There is an unnamed infield that always blew his nose in the right arm short sleeve of his uniform. Well it was a traveling uniform and not the home ‘whites’.

But there is one guy who honestly is above all of that. I first saw him when he came up. I’ve seen him in only two stadiums in my life. One was in old Milwaukee County Stadium and the other at BankOne/The Chase in Phoenix.

Derek Jeter appears to be perfect. He simply responds to things in a way you would think the Captain of the New York Yankees should perform. He avoids most confrontations. He smiles. He hits in the clutch. Rarely shows excessiveness. He comes back from injury by slapping a ball right up the middle. He is stoic in nearly every thing he does on the field. He is a gentleman off of the field. He has proven he is a champion. He is, in short, a hero.

That is the set up.

For many of baseball’s great players, we have placed them on the Jeter pedestal, one which places the player above any wrong doing. He smiles as though he is only smiling at you. He stairs at disbelief as no other. He responds to a strike out as if he has let not only the team down, by you the fans in the stands, and the fans over the YES Network and throughout the world via radio, down. And we all feel his pain. But as he walks back to the dugout, we feel empowered to cheer for him harder so he can make that pitcher pay the next time he steps up to the plate. You can literally see Derek Jeter transform from a mortal ballplayer into a champion whom we all know will be the real ‘Mighty Casey’ the next time at the plate or the wonderful fielder on defense. Remember, the play at the plate? You don’t even have to qualify that play. You already know it in your heart.

This past week, the Hall of Fame elected three great players. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. Saw all three in their best days. Tremendous performers. Maddux was so good he could even convinced the plate itself that it was a strike that he had just thrown. Glavine followed Maddux. Thomas was as close to Babe Ruth in our era as we will ever see. He was big. He was powerful. And he was clean.

Why did we have to bring that up? He was clean? The other day when the  election was announced, most of the discussions centered around those who were not elected. Many have been placed into the PED barrel, either through admittance or through innuendo. It was at that time I read one of the most interesting articles I have ever read on the subject. It was written by Bryan Curtis. And if you are a fan of the game, this is a must read. (http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/10261642/mlb-hall-fame-voting-steroid-era)

In the field of those who will be honored at Cooperstown this summer and receiving the sports highest honor will be one former manager of a couple of teams which won pennants. Nearly all of them were won with  a player or players who were heavy PED users. After you read the article above, if you are a fan of his and have held him on that pedestal, you all can say it is a lie. If not, you can ask yourself, ‘Why are we honoring this guy?’. Of course he may not show because he is rumored to be the next skipper of the Seattle Mariners. Suddenly, the Mariners have more money than a game developer.

Now you see the problem that was created by the nomination to the Hall of Fame. Very few words in this article are addressing the wonderful accomplishments of the three elected. Maddux painted the corners of a plate that at times got so big, his reputation became that of Picasso on the Mound. His brush was his imagination and an arm that could put the ball where he wanted it. Glavine followed Maddux. Thomas was a huge man who absolutely everyone in the third base section of the stands always began to drink coffee two innings before he came to bat for fear that a foul ball would be heading their way at over 100 mph. Thus one of the reasons why the best place to see baseball is from the first base side, behind the dugout, right down the first to second line (see above).

Derek Jeter. The Captain. The Yankee of this Era. All Photos On This Page: © Lance Hanish.

Derek Jeter. The Captain. The Yankee of this Era.
All Photos On This Page: © Lance Hanish.

Which brings us all the back to the Captain. As Ed Bradley, the famed CBS reporter told us back in 2005, as a child, Jeter’s parents made him sign a contract every year that set acceptable and unacceptable forms of behavior. Yankees scout Dick Groch, convinced the Yankees to draft him #6 in the first round selling them on the idea by saying “the only place Derek Jeter’s going is to Cooperstown”. Today, he may finish #5 on the hits list all-time. He has a chance of moving ahead of Paul Monitor, Carl Yastrzemski and Honus Wagner with a mediocre year. If he has a Jeter year, he will move into the fourth spot, ahead of Tris Speaker. He need 199 hits to do that.

Six years from now, when one Derek Jeter is eligible to enter the Hall of Fame, let’s not waste time talking about the injustice of why a guy who bet on baseball was not elected into the Hall. Let’s not waste time discussing why the ‘bloated one’ who pounded the ball over the fence as if he was filled with helium, wasn’t elected, yet again.

Wait! That’s it. They were all on helium. That’s why their muscles exploded overnight. That’s why the ball looked like a ping-pong ball. It was all about helium. Why didn’t the Commish think about this before.

Here’s to helium.

And to Jeter, getting into the Hall and having all of us talk about one of the greatest players who ever played the game and retelling others why he was placed on that pedestal,  deserves all of our recognition. Real heroes are like that. They have earned our admiration.

Play ball!

Haves And Have Nots

Why is your team not performing better when it comes to winning the pennant or World Series? Many of the game’s top stars play for those who can afford salaries that are norms in today’s sporting world. They are truly Ruthian. When the average household in the country was making $6000 per year, Babe drew a salary of $80,000. Why? The Yankees could afford him in the nation’s largest market, drawing the biggest crowds in sport.

Stars draw top salaries. Stars draw big crowds. Big crowds mean additional monies and a better chance to make the post season.

The other day, the Philadelphia Phillies locked up one of the biggest local television deals in the history of the game. They will average $100,000,000 in TV rights over the next 25 years. It won’t begin at that amount for some time, but the average will adjust to that figure over the complete length of the contract.

Recently, the Los Angeles Dodgers set a mark that is envious. Their 25 year contract which begins this season will give them $280 million per season. Imagine, the ownership of this franchise will receive $280 million to pay for all of their team and farm team salaries and expenses, all of their travel plus a good amount of extra funds before counting one single ticket sale or the monies they will receive from the over three million fans who will come through their turnstiles on food, beverage, snacks, merchandise and other in-stadium opportunities. We are not including parking revenues here. We just talking about $280 million to do with what they want.

Then there are the Yankees. Their massive deal gives them $90 million per year and escalates up to $300 million per year. Their deal runs through 2042. Plus, they remain 34% owners of YES, the Yankees Sports & Entertainment Network. That means more revenue annually. The Yankees have created new ways to bring in revenue. They not only have a pre-game show before their game and post game telecasts, they have a pre-pre-game show.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are no slouches either. Their contract, for only 17 years, gives them $147 million per year plus 25% of the Fox Sports West network. That means they will receive monies from the network that also carries the Dodgers.

There are a couple more teams that may surprise some in this new day of ‘have and have nots’. The Texas Rangers will be receiving a one time fee of $100 million and then begin to receive $80 million per season for 20 years beginning in 2015. Plus they will own 10% of Fox Sports Southwest.

Also in this high atmosphere, are the Houston Astros. Not only did they get all kinds of financial breaks by shifting to the American League West, but they also signed a huge local television deal which began this past season which not only pays them $80 million per year but gives them a whopping 45% equity stake in Comcast SportsNet Houston.

Then there is the other end of the scale. The Milwaukee Brewers receive approximately $21 million per year. Kansas City Royals will receive $20 million per season. The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Miami Marlins receive $18 million per year while the St. Louis Cardinals receive only $14 million per season.

Oakland A’s figure is not available but is considered one of the two lowest in the major leagues while the Atlanta Braves, under a horrible deal when Turner Broadcasting sold the club to the present owner, Liberty Media, does not expire until 2031.

Now you have some sort of rough map regarding what certain clubs make through their local TV rights and perhaps you can see how some clubs simply cannot compete except by luck or through their farm system. It is probably safe to say that the Brewers, Royals, Pirates, A’s, Cardinals and Braves cannot compete in a posting war over the likes of Tanaka and the rest of the high-priced free agents.

Yet, year after year, the Cardinals continue to maintain respectability because their system of developing their players through their farm system is superior to any other major league organization.

For the other ‘have nots’ to compete year in and year out, they will have to adopt the Cardinals system of development or languish. After all, none of these teams will be receiving the kinds of local TV revenue all of the others will have.

Play Ball!

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Watching Attanasio

Baseball is never ending. There is a rhythm and flow that predates rock and roll. It is part of past, present and future. It is there for us, on demand, as regular as running water. We know it is there and when we want it, it comes out. It is, after all, our heritage. It is an American legacy.

The temples where the game is played of green grass has a look all its own. There, the gods of the sport, now and before, play the game. Their ghosts are everywhere. Aaron and Banks. Williams and Mantle. Spahn and Mathews, Musial and Koufax. Jackie and Robin. Through the turnstiles, past the concession stands, into the venue itself, the opening is there and passing through, there it is…it is the place where magic will happen today.

Hope for the season ahead is ever present. This is the season when the heavens will open up and victory in the form of a World Series pennant will be ours.

For many of us, it is a way of life, passed down to us from our grandparents, parents or relatives. It is our legacy. When remembering the past, it is the time we spent with our grandfather and grandmother, Mom and Dad at the ballpark. For those who grew up in Wisconsin, the home team, our home team is the Milwaukee Brewers. So much had been seen there; the great players like Roger … ‘The Rocket’, perhaps the greatest pitcher the game has ever seen, or Reggie and Yaz, Cal and Randy Johnson, as well as Griffey, Jr. and Ichiro, the greatest hitter the game has seen in our lifetime. ‘The Brewers Win The Pennant’ with Simba, Robin, Pauly, Gimby, Stormin, Rollie, Vuch, Coop, Benji and the Harvey were all witnessed with family and friends, Moms and Dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. CC and Sheets, Prince and Braun, Greinke, Weeks and Nyjer, K-Rod and AxMan, brought the feeling back but fell ever so short.

This was a team that was brought to Wisconsin after the first great heartbreak of our sporting life, on a loan from the Schlitz Brewing Co. family to a car dealer’s son who would become the Commissioner of Baseball (after he was involved and found guilty in the collusion between the owners to keep players from earning their fair share through free agency) to fill the void left by the carpetbagger who moved the beloved Braves to that city down south.

We live in a world of globalization. We live in a world where the game is played by athletes everywhere. Milwaukee is a community that has diversified over the past half century as well. Today 39% of Milwaukee County is made up of Black Americans, 13% Latinos, 5% Asian Americans. It became a majority minority dominated city in 2000.

Today’s baseball team in the Cream City no longer reflects that diversity. Of the 40 man roster, there are only two Black Americans, one an aging Weeks nearing the end of his career and Davis, a young man just beginning his career. The Latino contingent is well represented, with some sixteen team members. There is one Asian, a Taiwanese pitcher who is yet to make it to the Bigs.

We no longer live in a Jim Crow era. Yet the team that is in Milwaukee has just two Black Americans. When they made a run for the pennant, the starting first baseman, second baseman and center fielder were black. Prince was beloved since he came up through the minors and would, fans thought, forever be an All-Star Brewer. Rickie was the college educated, All-Star second baseman. Nyjer was the center of joy. And he did get THE HIT. Together with Braun, Hart, Lucroy, Grienke, Vonnie, K-Rod and Axford they made their run which would be only the first of many to come. Today there is no Prince, no Nyjer, no Grienke, no K-Rod nor Axford. And there is no Hart. Rickie is waning, Vonnie is struggling and Braun is coming back from the unknown.

The team has no minority manager or coaches with the single exception of John Shelby who begins his third season on the coaching staff after joining the organization as outfield coach/eye in the sky, whatever that is; no upper management who are minority. Yet this is the governing body of the team that represents a majority minority city in the great Midwest. ‘A team is a reflection of the community it represents.’

The owner is from Los Angeles. There is little that is the same on Wilshire Boulevard or Pacific Palisades as compared to Pigsville or Lincoln at Kinnikinnick. In the City of Angels, Brats (with Secret Stadium Sauce) and beer are as foreign as sushi and wine are in Bayview. Brookfield is not Beverly Hills and Racine has kringle. Try finding that at Gilsons. This is a town where there are bubblers and kids wear rubbers on their feet when it rains. There is a separation here. It is not just distance, but a cultural misunderstanding that Milwaukee is the same as it was or the same as everywhere else. It is not. The Packers and Brewers, Badgers,  Bucks and Marquette belong to Wisconsinites, not Californians. Curley, Uecker, Crazylegs and Chones are our guys. Spencer Tracy, Fred MacMurray and Gene Wilder are our guys. They all, uncommon individuals and brilliant in their craft, who have all played at one time or another in California, are Wisconsinites through and through. The Brewers, every last one of them who ever played in the Cream City, belong to us.

If there is one thing a person from Los Angeles knows, it is star-power. They know that if you have a star for your program or movie or team, people will come and fans will pay in record numbers to see them. It is as eternal as Cary Grant, Bob Hope or Babe Ruth. They don’t call Yankee Stadium ‘The House That Ruth Built’ for nothing. Mark Attanasio lives and works in Los Angeles. He occasionally shows up in Milwaukee as the owner. He should know more than most what a star does to propel a team and make money. The present team looks like a fragment of their former self. Yes, the payroll is manageable and the team will make money…a lot of money. What is our VORP? Who gives a crap. Enough with Keith Wollner. We want a PENNANT. We want to be competitive. We want it NOW.

A former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers in the old American Association, Bill Veeck, said, “Baseball must be a great game because the owners haven’t been able to kill it.” The fans will fill the stands. And records will be broken. But we need a Prince or a Price, a Tanaka or, hell, a first baseman who can play first base. It is time for change. It is time for an owner to get in touch with the city his team represents and a management who represents a constant path to victory. We are watching Attanasio.

We will be heading to Maryvale in February and again the gates will open and warm, brilliant sunshine will illuminate the field. The lines will be chalked and fans will press for autographs. The smell of brats and beer will fill the air and the boys from the team representing Milwaukee will take the field. Will this team have a chance to win the pennant or will this owner be like so many before him, make money on a fan base who will support them regardless of the outcome. He will earn it on the millions who will go through Miller Park. He will earn it from broadcast and telecast, mobile and digital rights. He will earn it from the advertising in the stands and on merchandise that is sold. He will make it from those over the limit teams who will spend monies to try to win the pennant and pay the  tax. He will earn it by paying for mediocrity on the field, in the dugout and in upper management. Can you spell Masahiro? David? Or, even Prince?

It is time to …

Play Ball!

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#1 At Goudey

When you were a kid and bought your first pack of baseball cards when they came out for that next season, one of the things that struck you was the #1 card. Who would win the honor of being the first in the deck for this coming season?

Too often it was a struggle getting the #1 card as pack after pack contained journeymen players. Trades were hard to come by unless you had a Cub fan next door. They would trade for a beloved Cubbie. Lucky us. Bye bye,Dee Fondy. Hello Jackie robinson.

Historically, baseball sets belonged to the top players in the game. For instance, in 1940, the Play Ball set had Joe DiMaggio as the #1 card. In 1941, the famed pastel Play Ball set produced Eddie Miller of the Boston Braves as the #1 card. An All-Star in 1940 & 1941, he had a 276 batting average with 79 RBIs for the Bees the previous year. In 1943, the M.P. & Co. put out a set with Hall of Famer, Jimmy Foxx as the #1 card.

After the war, Leaf Candy Company of Chicago came out with a set (marked on the back of some of the cards as printed in 1948 but were produced jun 1949. It is marked as the 1948 Leaf set. It is an iconic set and is the first color printed baseball card set after World War II. The #1 card was Joe DiMaggio. This set had more stars than MGM, including the then recently deceased Babe Ruth as the #2 card. Bowman’s 1948 set had Bob Elliott of the Boston Braves as #1 after a .313 batting average and driving in 113 runs in 1947. In 1949, Vern Bickford gained the #1 position after a great rookie season and became the first pitcher to be so honored after winning 11 games for the National League Champion Boston Braves. In 1950, Mel Parnell, a sensational 25 game winner the year before for the Boston Red Sox, was #1 on the Bowman set. In 1951, Whitey Ford, with his rookie card, was #1 on the Bowman set that year. On the initial Topps 1951 Red Back set, his battery mate, Yogi Berra was the #1 card while on the Blue Back set, Eddie Yost of the Washiongton Senators was on the #1 card. In 1952 Bowman honored Yogi while Andy Pafko was #1 on the famed 1952 Topps series while Jackie Robinson was #1 on the 1953 Topps edition. Over at Bowman, they put out two sets. On the 1953 Black & White set, Cincinnati Redlegs great, Gus Bell, who hit .300 that season was #1 and on the 1953 Color set, Davey Williams, an All-Star second baseman that season was the #1 card. It is one of the most interesting cards ever produced as he is in a fielding position, eyes off the ball in front of him, with an empty Polo Grounds stands behind him. while Phil Rizzuto of the New York Yankees was #1 on the Bowman set, Ted Williams grabbed the #1 card in the 1954 Topps collection. In the 1955 and last of the great Bowman sets, Hoyt Wilhelm, the New York Giants pitcher who had a great 2.11 ERA in 1954 Championship season, held the honor of being the #1 card in the final Bowman baseball set. The 1955 Topps set was led off with Dusty Rhodes, the hero of the 1954 World Series for the Giants. You  get the idea. It was usually one of the stars of the game during the previous season.

But in the ‘modern’ era of baseball, the first hereat set that landed smack in the middle of the Great Depression, was the 1933 Goudey baseball set. Enos Goudey was proclaimed as the ‘Penney Gum King In America’ by none other than William Wrigley, Jr. In 1933, the Goudey Gum Company brought out the very first baseball card set with a stick of gum included in every pack. This set produced one of the greatest baseball cards of all-time,  #106 Napoleon Lajoie. It actually wasn’t in the original set but was a premium that you had to get through the mail after the season. This 240 card set is considered one of the Big Three in the history of baseball cards along with the famed T206 (Honus Wagner card) and the 1952 set (Mickey Mantle’s famed #311).

So who was honored as the #1 card on arguably the #1 set in modern baseball? It as a basketball and baseball star, Benny Bengough of the St. Louis Browns. Benny Bengough? St. Louis Browns? Born in Niagara Falls, NY, Bengough attended Niagara University. In 1923 he joined the New York Yankees and played with them in three World Series before Bill Dickey joined the team. Benny was released in 1930 and joined the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association (Triple A franchise of the Boston Braves). In 1931, he was bought by the St. Louis Browns and played with them until his last major league game on September 24, 1932. He batted .252 in his Big League career and did not hit a single home run. So why was Benny Bengough of the St. Louis Browns the #1 card on the #1baseball card set in modern baseball?

He was one of Babe Ruth’s best friends on and off the field. One of the best defensive catchers in the game, he had a fielding percentage of .988 for his career 10 points above the average catcher in that era. But it was his friendship with one of the games greets players…the man who brought baseball out of the darkest period in its existence, the Black Sox scandal of 1919.

Benny Bengough. #1 at Goudey, the first of baseball cards in the modern era.

Play Ball!