All of the fresh bats are in the racks. The new gloves have been broken in with weeks of catching in Spring Training. Now the marathon known as a Major League Baseball season is upon us.
Six teams begin today. The New York Yankees visit Tampa Bay Rays; the San Francisco Giants meet the Arizona Diamondbacks and the World Champion Chicago Cubs begin their season visiting their biggest rival, the Saint Louis Cardinals.
This is probably one of the most exciting days of the year. All of the hopes of fans everywhere is at its highest.
There is only one thing to say….
The Milwaukee Brewers won’t win the pennant.
A fan favorite, Scooter Gennett has been let go to division rival Cincinnati. The National League home run leader in 2016, was let go. An All-Star catcher and his defensively skilled back-up were traded. While all of this happened, the Cream City Nine brought in two new first basemen; a new third baseman and a partridge in a pear tree.
But, they got younger.
Yet they still have, through no fault of their own, one of the finest baseball players to ever play the game, Ryan Braun.
He is an absolute gem.
While rival fans love to trash him for his past problems with PEDs and of course his lying about taking performance enhancing drugs, fans of Pigsville, love this guy. He has a regime like few in the game. He is the consummate professional. At the plate, he is rarely off-balance. And he can hit the ball out of the ballpark nearly everywhere in the strike zone. His fielding and arm are exemplary. He is the last of the players from the great teams of the early ‘00s. He is their only All-Star left.
After ten years, here is what he has done on the field:
He’s played in 1,354 games with 1,597 hits.
He has banged 317 doubles, 43 triples and 285 home runs.
He has driven in 937 RBI, stolen 181 bases, walked 473 times while striking out 1,070 times while compiling a .304 batting average with an OBP of .367; a slugging percentage of .544 and an OPS of .910. On defense, he has 225 assists and only 47 errors (26 of which were in his first season at 3B) in 10 years with a fielding percentage of .981.
He is a six (6) time All-Star and did you know that he actually was #23 in the MVP last season?
In the history of the game, he compares with Hack Wilson.
At the age of 32, he compares with Lance Berkman and Larry Walker in hitting.
Is he the greatest player in Milwaukee Brewer history?
There is Robin Yount. And Paul Molitor. Cecil Cooper. Prince Fielder.
All he has to do is play another ten years and perhaps he will have number 8 up on the ring at Miller Park.
Tomorrow he will hit the field. In the meantime, as we said, baseball is a marathon.
It was on a cold evening in Wrigley Field on Sunday, October 30, 2016, that established once and for all that baseball rules and that the team from the Friendly Confines rules the sporting interest in America. As the North Siders provided all of the excitement in trying to stay alive against the Cleveland Indians, as they faced elimination in Game 5 of the 2016 World Series, the audience of America tuned in.
On Sunday evening, the Chicago Cubs vs the Cleveland Indians drew an estimated average 21.539 million viewers who stayed with the game from beginning until the end when Chapman came in and locked down their second win of this World Series. What is significant about this was that at the very same time, on a competing broadcast network, the team that called themselves ‘America’s Team’ were out drawn by the Cubs as Dallas could only muster an estimated average 16.825 million viewers. That represented a difference in favor of baseball of 4.714 million viewers.
And it wasn’t as if the football game was a blow out. Not to offend the magnificent Cleveland Indians, but a close game featuring the Cubbies for the first time in a World Series since 1945 with the possibility of winning the Series for the first time in over 100 years, overwhelmed the football game which was a tight game featuring two of the better teams in the NFL this season.
While pro football seems like it is slipping a bit with massive overexposure, baseball with the Cubs and Indians are revitalizing America’s youth. Proof? It pulled in a 6.3 rating in the coveted 18-49 demographic vs only 6.1 rating for football which featured two teams with big fan bases. And, couldn’t Philadelphia vs Dallas for the divisional lead prevail?
Sunday was baseball’s night. But in truth, it was placing the crown of ‘America’s Team’ squarely on the shoulders of those lovable Cubbies from the North Side of the City that Works.
‘The wind is tossing the lilacs,
The new leaves laugh in the sun,
And the petals fall on the orchard wall,
But for me the spring is done.’ Sara Teasdale
April showers bring May flowers but not in Pigsville.
On May 24th, 2007, Ryan Joseph Braun came up to the Majors. By that date next season, he will no longer be wearing Blue…Milwaukee Blue as in True Blue Brew Crew.
What was so promising…with him becoming one of the best players in the game, crashed down around him when he was declared out for most of the 2013 season because of prohibited drug use. He lost all respect. He lost all commercial ties. He lost partnerships. He lost friendships. He lost his dignity.
There is a soulless emptiness at the bottom. It is nowhere land. No friends and plenty of enemies. People turn away when you are sighted walking toward you. People, who were once your friends, don’t respond to emails. People who once welcomed your contact, do not respond to phone calls. They are always conveniently out. People whom you have helped when they needed help ignore you. You are persona non rata, literally a person not appreciated. ‘Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.’ stated General George S. Patton. Ryan Braun was on the bottom.
That is what hit Braun squarely in the face. ‘Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.’ Muhammad Ali said. In Braun’s case, it wasn’t even at all. The only thing going for him was his contract which would tie him to the Milwaukee Brewers through 2020.
He was once the Rookie of the Year; he became the third-fastest major leaguer to reach 50 career home runs; in 2008, he reached the 150-RBI milestone faster than any major leaguer since Boston’s Walt Dropo needed only 155 games, in 1949–51; was a starting outfielder for the NL in the 2008 All Star Game, finishing first in player voting; Braun hit his 30th home run, becoming just the second player in MLB history to hit 30 or more homers in each of his first two seasons as he hit 71 home runs in his first two seasons, tying him with Pujols for fourth all-time as Joe DiMaggio topped the list with 75 home runs, followed by Ralph Kiner (74) and Eddie Mathews (72). He was the toast of all the baseball world. Apple released a commercial for a new iPhone, that showed a clip of Braun’s 10th inning walk-off grand slam against the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 25, 2008, which kept the Brewers’ Wild Card hopes alive. Gatorade used the same clip in its November 2008 “League of Clutch” commercial.
But imagine, only behind DiMaggio, Kiner and Mathews. Here was the star Milwaukee was praying for.
In 2009, Braun was named to Sporting News’ list of the 50 greatest current players in baseball, ranking #32. In 2011, he rose to #16. He was named to the Team USA in the 2nd World Baseball Classic. On September 23, Braun hit a three-run, 450-foot home run that sealed the Brewers’ NL-Central-clinching victory. He was named MVP of the National League that season. And in 2012, Braun was awarded the 2012 NL Outfielder Silver Slugger Award, winning it for the fifth year in a row. His five consecutive awards was the longest active streak in the major leagues.
Then the fall.
Like Phoenix rising, he began a comeback. “I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed—all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates.” He was seen in around Milwaukee even in the cold dead of winter, in the parking lot assisting in various charity drives, thanking the fans for coming out. He was at every Brewer Fest during the off-season, signing autographs and taking tons of pics with the fans.
However, 2014 was not a good year. With that time off, he was heckled in nearly every ballpark in America. He stood quietly in left field. He took the heat. Fans were angry. Opposing fans were merciless. In spring training, even in Maryvale, opposing fans yelled and screamed offensive insults. During the regular season, if you ever attended a game in Phoenix or Chicago, you heard the raw, cutting insults smashing through the air, mother’s quickly covering their children’s ears. ‘What did you do that for, Ma?’, was the response. On the field he managed to be only a mere shadow of what he had been before. A .300+ hitter, he battled insults and injury coming away with a .266 average and only 19 home runs. But after another off season of rest, he came back and there were bright spots which appeared as he lifted his average .285 with 25 home runs while suffering from a bad thumb and back and once again became an All-Star. Then this season, he finally found his old form, batting well above .300 for the season, often in the top five in hitting, and as of today, reached the 30 home run level with 88 RBI.
They still yell insults at him in a couple of towns, particularly Phoenix and Chicago. But for most good baseball fans, they have stopped the childish insults.
Ryan Braun is back. He is world class in the outfield, back in his old position in left field and is back as a world class hitter. And that is bad for Brewer fans.
The owner now has a valued commodity with which to enrich his pockets, drastically decrease his costs, and is dangling his star player in front of an ownership group where he does business (Los Angeles) like a fresh piece of meat. The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of only six teams that Braun has named as favorable as part of his no trade clause contractual rights. And just as the trade deadline neared, his piece of meat was dangled hard. The Dodgers agreed to trade the oft injured and big time trouble fielder Puig along with a host of injured and players to be named later. The only thing that saved Milwaukee fans from this disgusting trade was their general manager’s inability to agree with the Dodgers on those players to be named later. In the meantime, Braun was in the clubhouse waiting to see if his long career with the Pigsville Nine was over.
But this is not the end. The Milwaukee Brewers owner is a classic meat dangler. He is a hedge fund man. He knows value of meat…fresh, hard hitting meat that is one of the best pieces of steak on the baseball planet. By next May, Braun’s 10/5 rights kick in. At the end of May, when Braun accumulates 10 years of service time, Braun will gain full no-trade rights, which will complicate any trade the Brewers try to make involving him. Though Braun could waive those for a situation he likes, it’s another factor that has to be worked into negotiations, and one that could further complicate any deal that the Brewers try to make in the future.
Thus this next week, take a look at the magnificent talent playing left field for the Milwaukee Brewers. It may be the last time you will see this quality of baseball player wearing the Milwaukee Blue. Winter is coming and with it, the old meat man will be behind the counter dangling for every team owner to mouth-water over. He has USDA Prime in his freezer. And the owners of the Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Angels, Diamondbacks and Marlins and any other owner willing to part with a bunch of no-name players for a star, are all invited to attend the bidding war in Pigsville.
When you live away from Chicago it is guaranteed that you will know someone who is a diehard fan of those crazy Baby Bruins from the North Side. It is part of their heritage. From mother and father down through their children, and their children’s children, these were and continue to be official members of the living Cubs family of fanatic fans. No matter where you go to see a game in the Majors, if the Cubs are playing on the road, there will be a hoard of fans at the visiting stadiums…shouting, screaming and bringing a little bit of Chicago to their new home town.
Living in Wisconsin, there were quite a number. Growing up in the ‘50s, they would trade nearly anyone of their baseball card collection for a Pete Whisenant or an Owen Friend or…you get it. Hobie Landrith was a god to their misplaced youth as were Dee Fondy, Don Hoak, Walt Moryn, Monte Irvin and of course, the one and only Ernie.
Nearly every kid who grew up in the ‘50s knew who Ernie was. But to these devoted Cub Crazies, there were few before and until a season ago, none since that could live up to the legend of Ernie Banks.
One of my friends was devoted to the everyday doings of Ernie. If you happened to have a Sporting News (the bible of ‘50s baseball) beware of my friend. He would grab it and devour nearly every at bat Ernie had the week before. Game for Game, Inning by Inning, Ernie could do no wrong. If you wanted war, just argue who should be in the All-Star game, Banks or Johnny Logan, the shortstop of the Milwaukee Braves, then Wisconsin’s team.
But the one thing I remember most about this devotee was one day he actually believed that Ernie Banks was a relative of his. In arguing with his friends that Ernie was a distant cousin, we scoffed knowing with a large amount of certainty that he probably was not. That made our friend determined. That made him press his argument with his family. At dinner, he proposed to his mom and dad that in fact Ernie was a distant cousin. His dad, holding back a smile, gritting his teeth on his water glass, asked how he determined that. His mom simply said, ‘I never heard that. Is that true dear?’.
Then it dawned on him to pull out a Gale Wade. Now if you haven’t heard, the one Mr Wade, only played in 12 major league games in his entire career in The Show during 1955 and 1956. This was a card that nobody but a Cubs fan would want. It was bicycle spokes material. His mom loved the Wade card. ‘There’s Jeanny’s brothers’ next door neighbor’s cousin on the mother’s side’, she explained.
Maybe it was Wade who was a distant relative.
But no. My friend continued to push the issue of Ernie Banks being some-how related.
’Son…’, his dad said, ‘we are Italian. Ernie, I assume is not. Therefore, if Mr. Banks was related his name would probably have to be Banksarelli. Go ahead. Look at your Topps and see if that is his name on the back of the card.’
My friend quickly looked and it said Ernest Banks, Booker T. Washington High School, Dallas, TX. It showed in cartoon which stated, ‘He played in every game in ’54 and ’55.
Without a word, he got up from the table, excused himself, and was determined to find the family heritage tie between his beloved Ernie Banks and his family.
And that is how the legend of Banksarelli began.
It was 1957 on the East Side of Beloit, WI.
It has since shifted to Bonita Springs, FL.
P.S. Gale Wade is now one of the 100 oldest living players. Is this the year he gets to see his former team win?
They are not gleefully shouting at the top of their lungs today in the Windy City on ‘Talk Radio’. Today there is a hush…soft tones of impending doom…as this year’s edition of those dazed fans on the North Side are once again the walking zombies of generations past. This team…the team of destiny…this manager…this magic man from Tampa…may not be what the zanies of Spring Training in Mesa told us they were. They were beaten by one of the worst teams in the Big Leagues this past week. Their mighty pitching faltered. Their clutch hitting was inconclusive. Are they just over-inflated talent, boosted by the Bear hope of another really close season of sorrow and defeat? Wake up, Chicagoland. the team from the North Side are the Cubbies. This is what they do with your hearts. They don’t win. They just show promise. The team to watch this season are on the South Side of the City that knows how to work. And the only songs that are heard in the heads of the fans are a faint memory…
‘Baseball season’s underway
Well, you’d better get ready for a brand new day
Hey, Chicago, what do you say?
The Cubs are gonna win today
But it was Saturday afternoon in The City, where the fog rolls in with uncanny accuracy and covers San Francisco like a wet blanket. And even the opposing pitcher got into the act. After a long flight following Thursday’s game in Milwaukee where they had lost the series, they beat the Giants Friday but Saturday was another day where the hopes of Spring seemed distant.
In a faint voice, with a tired refrain, they’re singing:
‘Go, Cubs, Go!
Go, Cubs Go!
Hey, Chicago, what do you say?
The Cubs are gonna win today.’
But can they?
On May 8th, they had experienced an incredible week. They were 24-6 and everything was going their way. They had tied a franchise record in April.
Then they faced the lowly San Diego Padres at home and dropped a double header, losing their first series of the year. They they faced the Pirates and won two before losing the last game in that series. Then came their dreaded rival the lowly Milwaukee Brewers in Milwaukee where they dropped two of three, losing another series and exhausting their bullpen before heading to San Francisco.
One thing to look at is how they are doing when Arrieta is not pitching. On May 14, Arrieta pitched and won. Then they lost 3 out of 4 before Arrieta won on Friday. This is called ‘Arrieta and insane then pray for two days of rain’. Result: this is not a formula for success.
On Sunday, Hendricks faces Bumgarner then on Monday Lackey faces Wainwright in St. Louis. Hammer is up against Wacha on Tuesday before Arrieta is on the mound again on Wednesday.
Let’s see who is singing by the end of this week.
Will it be the North Side fans or the South Side crowd?
Sunday 052216: San Francisco Giants 1 Chicago Cubs 0
Monday 052316: St. Louis Cardinas 4 Chicago Cubs 3
The entirety of the old confines fell unearthly quiet. The home team’s dugout was complete with disbelief. Sitting motionless with blank stares of imminent closure was complete evidence. The manager stood on the second step of the dugout, set in a frozen stare before an ever so slight shaking of his head as if in shock.
With a 3-2 count in the top of the 1st inning on a Wednesday, October 21, 2015, there was no goat to blame…not Bartman to condemn…no rain as in the night before. Simply put, the pitcher put a pitch over the plate and a fellow named Duda smacked it out, over the vines in deep left center field to bring complete and total silence to Clark & Sheffield, where dreams continue down a path worn with grief and agony. The New York Mets defeated the home team, the Chicago Cubs on that pitch…in that instant…in that fraction it takes to smash a dream for another day…another season…another year.
The look on the young Cubbie faces were blank, searching for an answer to the more than evident answer. The long, long drought of the Chicago franchise on the North Side of the City would continue. Youth was destroyed. Pennants were banished. Blame it on Duda.
The vines began to fade along with the autumn somewhere between the 1st and 2nd inning when Duda drove in two more to make is 6-0 in 1 & 2/3rds innings of the fourth game of the NLCS. The only sound one could hear was the movement of arms-to-mouth for another sip of Old Style. And that seemed slower than usual, as the crowd was in nonbelief.
On this Fall evening, after the lights were out, the North Siders failed…again. This time it was the Metropolitans from the place where the Big Apple rises in center field who won in four straight games to win the National League Championship in 2015 with a score of 8-3.
Long live the memories of Tinkers to Evers to Chance. It didn’t happen when Baez to Castro to Rizzo played in their dreams.
For many fans of the remaining 26 teams no longer playing the game that began when the pitchers and catchers reported back in February, this is the worst of bad times. All of the hopes of Spring have evaporated into listlessness of Fall. Those teams we almost hate are parading around on our television sets as if they belong in the Fall Classic. They are all pretenders.
There are teams in blue, not Dodger Blue, but some kind of blue based in the Midwest or in Canada. There are teams who rarely if ever appear in post season events, outside of baseball card shows, who are not front and center night after night. Much of the land has no team to cheer for, only against. There is no team left west of the Kansas/Missouri border or two miles south of I-70.
There are moose antlers, for goodness sake. Someone hit an apple with a home run. There are vines in an outfield, never seen before in many, many decades. And there are fans who throw Molson bottles and cans onto a field as if it were octopus after a hat trick. Everything about this year is backwards. Opposite of groundhog day, this is the nightmare of ’15, something we have never seen before.
There is a team participating where the second baseman decided to stop running for a pop fly and it proverbially, opened the gates to defeat. There is another team that hasn’t been this high since a guy named Bartman decided to become infamous.
In other words, this is one messed up season of the year as the marathon comes near its end while all of the favorites, except one, are participating in something which has become a traditional classic. There is nothing traditional about this year’s happenings.
All you have to do is look at the stands to see why this is a different type of post season. There are a lot of young people in the parks. Look at Wrigley. They have never witnessed anything like this. There are a lot of guys in the New York ballpark. Women don’t like baseball in that part of New York? Seinfeld in post season? You’ve got to be kidding? They don’t even drink regular beer in one of the parks. After all, its been 20+ years since real fall baseball appeared in Canada. Then there is the guy in Kansas City who insists on wearing an orange Marlins jersey behind home plate behind the batter’s head.
Yup. This is some kind of post season, kind of like being invited to a Thanksgiving dinner from that aunt you’ve never been invited to Thanksgiving since you were a kid and that was because it was your parents who received it and dragged you along, probably for protection rather than enjoyment.
Now all you look forward to is your aunt standing up after tapping that water-glass and saying, ‘What a lovely tradition’.
In his book, ‘Is This a Great Game or What?‘, ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian wrote, “Baseball is the only major sport in which some of the standard-bearers have been dead for fifty years, and a team that hasn’t played in eighty years, the 1927 Yankees, are still mentioned in casual conversation.”
Recently, at a bar with some friends, the majority of discussion centered around the ‘Did you know…’ friendly betting game. It is a great way to win a beer or two with your friends at a bar, backyard or ball park.
Did you know when the first touring ballplayers went overseas to play exhibition baseball? If you said it was in the winter of 1888-89 you would be correct. That winter a team of baseball’s first All-Stars went around the world promoting the game of baseball and Albert Spalding’s sporting equipment.
Did you know where the All-Stars played? The teams played very competitive games while touring Ceylon (Sri Lanka), New Zealand and Australia as well as Italy, France and England.
Did you know why the 1904 World Series was never played? The 1904 World Series was canceled due to: stubbornness. Yep. John T. Brush, President of the National League champion New York Giants, simply refused to play the returning American League champion Boston Americans, otherwise known as the Red Sox.
Did you know there were triple headers? Although there were common place in the late 1800’s, the practice was a rare one. In the modern era, the Reds and Pirates played in the first (and last) triple header in 1920. The Reds took two of the three games. They are now prohibited due to baseball’s collective bargaining agreement.
Did you know who the first DH was? That would be Ron Blomberg, on April 6, 1973.
Did you know who the first National Leaguers to DH? The first ones to get an at-bat (within minutes of one another) were ‘The Rickey’ Henderson (SD) and Glenallen Hill (SF).
Did you know which National Leaguer hit the first home run? That would be ‘The Rickey’.
Did you know who was the first pitcher to pitch a no-hitter in the modern era? Chick Fraser of the Philadelphia Phillies threw the first no-hitter in the modern era against the Chicago Cubs.
Did you know the score? 10-0.
Did you know how many were in attendance? 1,200 were in attendance.
Did you know, which city has the most dead ballplayers buried? St. Louis has the most dead ballplayers in a single cemetery. An astounding 180 Baseball Players are laid to rest at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.
Did you know how many of those guys were Hall of Famers? None were in the Hall of Fame.
Did you know where the most ballplayers are buried on the West Coast? The record for number of baseball players buried in on the west coast belongs to Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma California. No fewer than 55 former major leaguers are laid to rest.
Did you know two players who are Hall of Famers buried there? Joe DiMaggio leads the way, along with teammate Frank Crosetti.
OK, now did you know who the first President of the United States was to attend a major league baseball game? That would be President Benjamin Harrison.
Let’s face it, the last part of the season is like that. But thanks to Mr. Kurkjian, you can play this game all year-long.
The design of life, leads to death. This is caused by the body when it stops breathing. No oxygen. No life. The body is made up of Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur, Chlorine, Sodium, Magnesium with fractions of Iron, Cobalt, Copper, Zinc, Iodine, Selenium and Florine. Then there is the next step.
In baseball, teams are born and designed with chemistry. They are dependent up young, dynamic players who are eager to prove themselves in The Show and older players who are eager to win one last time. For many, it would be the first time to reach the top of the mountain. The team is made of rookies, journeymen and stars. It is usually put together by a general manager who molds the team for just the right moment to explode upon the scene and win. The team is led by an experienced baseball man who understands the nuisances of the game and who has majored in psychology of life. This last part is critical. As it is up to him to bring a team to peak performance, each and every day, by making sure the right words are said to the right players at the right time. For instance, as Orel Hershiser recently commented during a Dodger telecast, Tommy Lasorda made sure his players did everything possible to win the big game. And to Lasorda, every game was THE big game.
If any part of this preparatory does not work, the team will fail to reach its full potential and win a Pennant.
The next step is in the simplest of terms, Purgatory…a place where old teams go to become ready for their next life. It is a place for cleansing and a time of emptiness as many of the fans who once went to the stadium no longer fill the seats as they are fully aware that this team has no present. And, in a society that is bent on making it happen now, patience is not a virtue. Thus the dichotomy. Purgatory is not a good place for a baseball owner. That is why he is reluctant to make changes.
The Milwaukee Brewers are headed for Purgatory, not in Utah, but metaphorically. When the last great class graduated from AAA (that’s Triple A baseball) and headed to Cream City, fellows like Hart and Weeks, Fielder, Gallardo and Braun made Miller Park one of the most exciting places on the planet. They had All-Star talent with a spirit of success in every stage of their baseball developmental lives. They won where ever they went. They invented new ways to celebrate home runs (see above) and made the faithful believers. They made runs at the top, several times, but never finishing higher than the final game of the National League playoff. So close. So painfully ghostly.
Today the team is faced with the errors of the past, the sins of gluttony. They mortgaged their farm system talent to make one last run at a playoff berth over the past few years. Last year, as three of the last of the Great Quintet came back for the ring, hope turned into absolute horror as two were in their finals days in a Brewer uniform and the other coming back from banishment, seeking absolution for his sins. That dream faded like a discarded ice cube left outside on the pavement of an Arizona summer’s day. Now it is time for Purgatory. It is time to rebuild. But that will not be easy to accomplish because they lack both quality prospects down on the farm (not Stanford but the minor leagues) and tradeable veterans. Their cupboard is bare. While the fans are hungry for victory, there are no brats on the grills with Secret Stadium Sauce nor beer on tap. That is what Purgatory is like for the Pigsville Phaithful.
The A’s have Billy who can pull magic from a dry fountain and relieve the thirst of defeat. The Cubs have Theo who brought the searchers out of the near hundred-old-desert of defeats in Beantown. The Brewers need minds like these to move out of Purgatory in our time. They need new leadership to have the insight of Rickey (Branch, not Weeks) and the dugout tenacity of McGraw (John not Tug) whom Connie Mack once stated, ‘There has been only one manager – and his name is McGraw’.
Where do we find them…those people who are winners in their design and execution of baseball management? How do we rebuild with such a poor hand that is delt? How long will it take to turn it around, if that is even a certainty in a land so barren of pennants? And, perhaps even more important considering its market size, can Milwaukee compete ever again? This is a town where half of the television signal goes to the fishes to the East and cows to the North and West. What kind of TV deal can it negotiate? All it has going for it right now is a face of the team sitting on the DL and nearly 3 million fans who will show up in a snow storm. And the guy in right field who is trying to play ball under a constant ring of ‘Mea Culpa’.
We are now entering the next phase of a team’s baseball life. And the chants are clear…’Mea Culpa’…they are silently praying for someone with Devine intervention to hear. We are all #watchingattanasio. ‘Mea Maxima Culpa’. It is time for cleansing. It is bead-time in this council grounds of the Potawatomi, this gathering land the Algonquian called beautiful land. All we want is a hope to win and…
Running up the box seat steps behind the Brewers dugout at old County Stadium between innings to make a food run was always an adventure. Everyone seems to have the same idea at the same time so it takes a bit of bobbing and weaving. Up to the Grandstand level, to the right, then a quick left, down the ramp, a snap hook right and you are in front of the most wonderful aroma one can imagine…that sweet smell of fried onions and Secret Stadium Sauce mixing with the finished bratwurst in a tray on the grill more than ready for the hoards gathering behind me. Like in golf, that was the vision in my head as the top of the third was about to conclude.
It is always good to visualize what you want to do. Then you are sure to get there without too much disappointment.
Making the move as the pitcher was about to throw on a 3-2 pitch, it was clear to make the mad dash. But as I was about to hit the top step leading to my right turn on the grandstand level, appearing on the left, as some of the crowd was standing up to stretch their legs, was a man, much bigger than I had thought he would be. He was smiling and waving back to the crowd, as he was also probably heading in the same direction I was about to continue. But he was instantly identifiable with that same 1954 Topps picture now facing me in real-time. He hadn’t aged from when that card photo was taken. Without hesitation, I reached out to shake his hand and Ernie smiled and said, looking directly into my eyes, “Great day to play two, isn’t it.”
Ernie Banks was in the enemy’s camp and nearly everyone was giving him a wave, applauding, running up to get his autograph, all smiling and some of us lucky enough to just shake his hand. It was just a natural thing to do.
So much has been written and said about what he did on the playing field or in the City of Chicago. I had known about Ernie, since childhood when my next door neighbor, Snooky, a diehard Cubs fan, opened that pack of Topps on his front steps. All of us gathered around to see what he had gotten out of that fresh wrap of glory. Then, out popped the coveted Banks rookie card. On the back of card #94, this baseball Wikipedia of its day told us all we wanted to know. Obviously a rookie. Earnest Banks. Born in Dallas, TX, January 31, 1931. 6’1”, 180 lbs. “After gaining recognition as the top ranking player in the Negro National League, Ernie came to the Cubs from the Kansas City Monarchs in September 1953. Seeing only limited service with Chicago last year, the former Army Artillery man hit for 22 total bases and looks like a real hot prospect for a regular Bruin infield berth this season.” 10 games, 35 At Bats. 3 Runs. 11 Hits. 1 Double. 1 Triple. 2 H.R. 6 RBIs. .314 Batting Ave. 19 Put Outs. 33 Assists. 1 Error. .991 Fielding Percentage. And as the Inside Baseball cartoon at the bottom of the back of the card said, ‘Ernie was an all around athlete as a student at Booker T. Washington High in Dallas. He starred in track, basketball, football and of course baseball.”
We devoured every word as gospel on the back of those cards and in moments, Ernie’s stats were burned into our heads.
Now he was smiling at me and shaking my hand. Sputtering something like, ‘Great to see you, Ernie.’ in return and attempting to pull out of his two-handed immense grasp of my right hand, his magic words came out.
I now made the visioned journey with a quicker lift than previous, anxious to get back to the seats to tell the family who I had just met. Amongst the ‘Oh. Wow’s’ and a quick look over their shoulders to see the man I was talking about, he was no long there. But if you looked down just a couple of sections, there he was, still shaking hands…still smiling…and still looking every bit of the legendary hero of so many, including my friends, Snooky and Lenny.
It is a memory that will always be with me even as he has now passed to play two with the Big Guy.
You can imagine the conversation. ‘Not a bad start, Earnest. Now enjoy the rest of time.’