Sitting Here, Thinking About “Len, The Slugger”

These last few winters, the story has been pretty much the same. The Baltimore Orioles need an outfielder. Preferably two, but at the very least one.

And, every January, Orioles management scoops up a still-available outfielder at a bargain price. The Orioles get the guy for a year, he has a great season – greater than anyone could have imagined – and then “poof” he’s gone the next season, to a far richer, more generous team.

This brings me, in the most meandering way, to the brief career and life of Len Sowders.

len-sowders

Len Sowders

Sowders played just one season in the majors — 1886. He was a Baltimore Oriole.

He was an outfielder (who moonlighted some at first). A so-so fielder. A left-handed batter with a .263 average from his handful of at-bats in Baltimore.  Not a lot of power, but still, .263 isn’t the worst you can do.

That puts him right around current O’s centerfielder Adam Jones’s .265 last season and Mark Trumbo’s .256, the Orioles’s one-season outfielder whose 47 home runs led all of baseball last year and who is now a free agent looking for much more money than the Orioles will offer.

This Trumbo homer last August was a grand slam.

Back in 1886, Sowders was picked up by Baltimore late in the season from a minor league club in Nashville.  Before Nashville, he’d played in Evansville, where he was also known for running a local fish business and for making loans with interest (fitting, I guess, that a man in the fish business was also a loan shark). He was, one newspaper assured readers, a good player and a strict church-goer.

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The Only Broken Hip In Baseball

On August 11, 2013, Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Cody Ross fell while running to first. It was a routine ground out, but his spike caught in the dirt at a weird angle and he stumbled. Awkwardly. Then, he tumbled. He had dislocated and broken his hip.

It’s believed that Ross was the first – and only – major league player to ever break a hip while running the bases.

 

It was, they said, a freak injury.

Editor/Husband’s doctors and nurses assured him last week that he is the first – and only – person to ever break a hip while meditating. (They all got quite a chuckle out of that.)

It was, they said, a freak injury.

(Please do not assume that this means meditating is dangerous. Wearing soft, slippery socks on a wood Yoga studio floor when you’re over 40 is dangerous. Because you could slip. And, break your hip. Meditating, however, which Editor/Husband was doing at my Yoga studio, is not, itself, bad for you.)

Cody Ross’s father was both a chiropractor and a professional bull rider. (I know, I can’t wrap my head around that combo either.) Cody was a star athlete in high school in Carlsbad, New Mexico – he was called up to the varsity baseball team as a freshman and homered in his first at bat.  “He hit it over the fence, over the lights, and over the road,” a former teammate recalled.

He is still, today, a legend there.

(And, he is no relation to David Ross, the journeyman catcher who just won the World Series with the Cubs in November.)

I wish I could tell you that Cody Ross came back from his hip injury, good as new. He didn’t. He was 32 when he was injured. That’s about 85 in dog years for a big-leaguer. Surgery required a complete repair of the hip socket.

The next season, 2014, he played 83 games for the Diamondbacks. His stats had declined, but age will do that, too. Released by the D’backs in April 2015, he was quickly signed by the Oakland A’s.

On April 25, 2015, the A’s hosted the Houston Astros. Playing left and batting eighth, Ross went 0-for-3 that day, collecting an RBI on a fielder’s choice and later scoring in the 7th. In the bottom of the 9th, with the A’s trailing, Ross walked with one out and one on. The game ended with the A’s losing 9-3 and Ross still on base.

Ross’s fielder’s choice RBI in the 7th.

It was Ross’s last appearance in baseball. The A’s released him on May 3.

Ross will be remembered most for his 2010 season with the San Francisco Giants, their World Series-winning season. He was claimed off waivers by the Giants in August and became a crucial part of their successful post-season – in the NLDS, ’CS, and World Series, he batted .294, including five home runs and 10 RBIs. He was named Most Valuable Player of the NLCS.

Editor/Husband’s freak injury was much less serious. The top of his femur, aka thigh bone, fractured. So they call it a hip fracture, although, technically, it is his thigh that broke.

femur-fracture

Not his actual femur.

Editor/Husband opted for spinal anesthesia rather than full anesthesia during surgery and he said he could hear the surgeon hammering the rod into his thigh.

femur-fixed

Something like this.

Editor/Husband’s recovery will be simpler than Cody Ross’s. And, the demands on his hip much less. (College baseball season starts in February and I’m already scheming as to how I will coax his broken hip up the stairs to our seats at Davenport Field.)

When he’s not breaking his hip, Editor/Husband works at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, where vets routinely repair broken bones on owls and squirrels and eagles and bear cubs. This is as awesome a job as it sounds.

Wildlife Center staff and supporters know Editor/Husband as Big Bear – called that in the same affectionate way that baseball fans call Pablo Sandoval Panda Bear.

Today, Sandoval is with the Boston Red Sox …

 

… But, for seven seasons (2008-2014) Panda Bear was beloved in San Francisco, where he was part of the Giants’ 2010, 2012, and 2014 World Series championships …

 

I’m sharing this post mainly to assure the staff and friends of the Wildlife Center that Editor/Husband – their Big Bear – is ok. He is not cranky or crabby or in pain. He’s a pretty good patient.

His leg is swollen and aches, but he walks with his walker, making ever-lengthening loops in our great room around the “cat tree.” Lap. Lap. Lap. Sometimes he will change directions from clockwise to counter-clockwise around the cat tree, just to mix things up. This can startle the cats, who try to give him wide berth.

He is reading. Doing crossword puzzles. Passing the time. I’ve filled the DVR with movies and we watched The Big Lebowski last night. If only this were baseball season, he could watch every single game.

He “Bustered” His Leg

On May 25, 2011, in San Francisco, Florida Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins collided with Giants catcher Buster Posey in a play at the plate. Posey’s leg was broken. He was out for the rest of the season.

(You can watch it here, though I wouldn’t recommend it.)

On January 1, 2017, in Orange, Virginia, in what I think was some sort of weird performance art recreation, Editor/Husband played the role of Buster Posey. Scott Cousins was played by my Yoga Studio floor.

For those of you who were so quick to believe that 2017 couldn’t be suckier than 2016 … you are wrong.

Editor/Husband fell and “bustered” his leg on New Year’s Day.

That is, he fractured the neck of his femur which is the fancy pants way to say, he broke his hip. (But having a broken hip sounds like something a frail grandma would do, so we’re going with broken leg which sounds more “Posey-an.”)

granny

Nope.

sylvester-leg

Well, not quite. But, close enough.

The fracture has been knitted back together with a rod and a pin (and a handful of wound-closing staples that makes the side of his leg look a little like a football).

hospital-room

Hospital room toys.

Editor/Husband will be on the DL for awhile.

And, so to New Year’s Resolutions.

I hate New Year’s Resolutions.

That is, I hate most New Year’s Resolutions. Because they are stupid and impossible.

There is only one perfect list. Six perfect resolutions.

You probably know them. If you’re as smart as I think you are, you know them by heart.

Satchel Paige pitched professionally for 40 years — from 1926 to 1966. He was so well-conditioned, it’s said, he could warm up his arm with just five or six pitches.

 

“I’m Satchel,” he was known to say, “I do as I do.”

Satchel Paige had six rules for “How To Stay Young.”

They were first published in 1953 when he was 47. (He played professionally until he was 60.) I’ve put them on here before. But, they’re worth repeating.

how-to-stay-young-satchel-paige-colliers-1953

  1. Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
  2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
  3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
  4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.
  5. Avoid running at all times.
  6. Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.

It’s so Yoga, these rules, that I often say Satchel Paige is my guru. And, I mean that.

It’s so Yoga that THIS is the actual cover of the 1953 Collier’s magazine that these rules first appeared in:

colliers-june-13-1953

For now our lives have settled into a strange new normal.  For me it means unhurried showers in the middle of the morning. A second pot of coffee. Thinking about what to make for dinner. Lingering and staying close.

Editor/Husband has the much tougher road. He’s home now, but moving is hard. I gave him a little bell and he rings it when he needs to get up or wants a snack. But, the leg is sore and stiff and heavy. Healing will take awhile.

Hospitals and broken legs and bedridden-ness are uncharted territories for us.

Buster Posey’s leg healed. He was back playing the next season, 2012. That season he was an All Star, won a Silver Slugger, and was the National League’s MVP. His Giants won the World Series.

Editor/Husband will be fine. I’m sure of it.

Sunday, January 8 ~ Here’s an update: The Only Broken Hip In Baseball

 

Life Is Not An “Etch-A-Sketch”

“Turn Etch-a-Sketch upside down and shake and everything disappears.”

When December 31 turns to January 1 on Saturday night, 2016, the good, the bad, the strange, the crazy won’t magically disappear.

No kicking the year to the curb, kids. It’ll still be there, hanging around in your mind with important thoughts like, “Did the cat get stuck in the closet again?”

mookie-in-the-closet

Relax, kids. Mookie’s fine.

I was told I was a little too dour in my sum-up-2016 post from earlier this week, so let’s fix that with just five quick off-the-top-of-my-head things in 2016 that made me smile:

5. Boaty McBoatface. Even though things ultimately didn’t work out with the name.

4. My Metropolitan Dumpling Bartolo Colon’s first home run. 

3. Radio Garden which gives you a world of radio, airing live. Spin the globe, click, and suddenly you’re listening to the top hits in Namibia (which I whole-heartedly recommend you do right now). It’s old school radio and internet awesomeness smooshed together. It could swallow up your entire morning.

radio-garden

2. Zamboni Guy who drove his Zamboni through a Tim Horton’s drive-thru in Canada last week.

1.And, Bartolo Colon’s home run again. But, this time in Spanish.

I wanted one photo to sum up 2016.  And, I knew immediately which one I wanted. It’s not a baseball photo, which I hope doesn’t bum you out too much.

In March, the University of Virginia was a favorite to make it to the NCAA basketball Final Four. Then they played underdog #10-seed Syracuse on March 27. And, things were going great for the Wahoos. Until Virginia gave up a 32-21 first-half lead to lose 68-62. Don’t let the final score fool you. It wasn’t close. The second half was slow and painful and horrible and stunning. (Unless you were rooting for Syracuse.) Everything was going great. And, then all of a sudden, everything wasn’t.

And, in the aftermath, this is my photo of the year.

And, not because Virginia Guard London Perrantes looks so devastated.  Perrantes didn’t even go through the handshake line at the end of the game, and that still annoys me a little. But, that slight didn’t matter to Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije. In the midst of the Syracuse celebration, he stopped, walked over, put his hand on Perrantes’ shoulder.

“I came over to him and said ‘Good game. You’re a good player,”’ Gbinije said.

There are millions of things more important than sports. But what is important is being a good sport. A compassionate sport. In all things.

Whether you like it or not, 2016 will not shake and disappear on Saturday night. But life will go on. There will be a new Boaty McBoatface. Bartolo Colon will do something awesome. And, Mookie will hide in the closet again.

Some days we’ll need a hand on our shoulder. And, some days we’ll need to be that hand.

 

2016, The Year In Sports: “These Are Not Ordinary Times.”

Well, it was a really rough year, but at least it was a good year for sports!  Right?  Right!!

Penn State fans are very excited to be going to the Rose Bowl next week. Watch out for the tear gas, kids!

Sportswriters and pundits are wrapping up 2016 by telling you that even though the year sucked, it was still a great year for sports.

The year that …

Muhammed Ali died.

Miami Marlins Pitcher Jose Fernandez, 24, was killed in a boating accident.

Donny Everett, 19, a Vanderbilt freshman pitcher, drowned the day before his team played its first game of the college post-season.

The run up to the Summer Olympics in Rio — zika, crime, cost overruns, polluted water, more crime — was like a car chase scene out of Mad Max.

rio-2016-olympics-logo

 

Oh, and the entire Russian Olympic team was doping.

2016-olympic-alternative-doping-logo


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Babe Ruth’s Santa: “Tougher than a double-header, but more fun.”

babe-ruth-family-christmas-card-1930s

Babe Ruth family Christmas card, 1930s.

During the 1930s, Babe Ruth, one of the most famous men in America, would dress as Santa Claus at Christmastime and distribute gifts and meals to children and families in need.

 

In 1931, dressed as Santa, Babe Ruth visited more than 250 kids in New York hospitals. (Yes, that’s plural. He visited hospitals, not just one.)

It was one of New York’s warmest Decembers and Babe’s costume was so heavy, he sweated through his beard.

babe-ruth-swealters-as-santa-1931

The Washington Post, 12/23/1931

As The Washington Post reported:

“‘Whew,’ he said grinning, ‘This is tougher than a double-header, but more fun.’ … The Babe, who was an orphan himself, carved a huge leg off a huge bird for little crippled George Meixner and watched George go at it. Then he listened enraptured while Dorothy Nixon, 10, sang some grand old songs.”

(OK, so the Babe wasn’t really an orphan, but he did have a rough Baltimore childhood and was sent to St. Mary’s Industrial School, an orphanage/reform school, as a child.)

The 1930s was the Great Depression and Ruth did the Santa thing a lot. Distributing gifts to poor children, meals to families, and spreading cheer. Sure, it may have not been his idea. But, maybe it was. Who’s to know?

Decked out as Santa, he certainly embraced the role.

Babe recalled his 1932 outing in The Baltimore Sun:

“But, boy, do I get hot in them whiskers? Say, last Christmas I went down to a place with a lot of kids and one of them got in that beard and another was head first in the sack and two more climbed up on my neck and my hat got knocked off.” 

A few rambunctious kids didn’t stop him. When he was done playing Santa, he changed into his street clothes and came back to surprise the kids with a visit from Babe Ruth and sign autographs.

Ruth was a hero to children. Add a red suit and beard and I just know that “Santa Babe” was one of the greatest Santas ever.

I wish he was still around and could bring you some holiday cheer and a present. Or, a hot dog and a beer. I know “Santa Babe” would be all right with that, too, don’t you?

Instead, I have one last little Secret Santa gift for you.

It’s from 1932. It’s Babe Ruth. It’s short, sweet, wonderful. Happy Holidays!

“There’s baseball to be played!”

 

Jim Sullivan — Mine Run, Virginia & The Christmas Cow

phila-inquirer-3-21-1922-here-is-jimmy-sullivan

Here is Jimmy Sullivan.

His curve is a beauty,

His fast ball has the hop,

And his control is so good

He may land on the top.

George MacKay describing Jim Sullivan in The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 21, 1922.

Posed action of Philadelphia A's James Sullivan

Public Domain

Sullivan pitching with the Philadelphia Athletics, 1922.

Jim Sullivan’s story is that of a 1920s-era right-hander who never could figure out how to control his fastball. (George MacKay’s rhyme was really just wishful thinking). It’s also a tale of three cities. And, a story about a cow wearing a Christmas hat.

(If the promise of a cow wearing a Christmas hat doesn’t keep you reading, then, clearly, you’re not the person I thought you were.)

Jim Sullivan was born in Mine Run, Virginia in 1894.

mine-run-va

Here.

The Sullivan family didn’t settle forever in Mine Run. By the late ‘teens, Sullivan is playing professionally and his family is in North Carolina. Later, he spends an off-season with his father in Kentucky.

Sullivan’s big league career is rather brief.

He played parts of the 1921 and ‘22 seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics and two games with the Cleveland Indians in 1923.

jim-sullivan-with-cleveland-indians-1923

Public Domain

Sullivan, with the Indians (briefly) in 1923.

Twenty-five big league games total, 73.1 innings pitched (all but five with the A’s), an 0-5 record, a 5.52 ERA, and a reputation for wildness.

(Keep reading. I promise … Christmas Cow is on the way …)

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Secret Santa — Hey. I Got Your Name.

I never got my taco.

During the World Series, Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians stole a base, and, because of that, Taco Bell promised everyone in America – all 319 million of us – a free taco.

(That’s 54-billion delicious taco calories!)

But, you had to be at a Taco Bell at a specific time on a specific day and, well, my nearest Taco Bell is 25 miles away.

I never got my taco.

Rats.

I’m still a little sore about that.

I love getting free stuff.

Which is why I love Secret Santa.

I once worked in an office.

(A long time ago. How long ago? Someone in my office once asked the office manager, quite seriously, if she put her document through the brand new, and a little scary, fax machine, was she going to get her original document back? See, it was a long time ago. You probably don’t even know what a fax machine is. Was.)

We decorated our office doors and had a party (spiked egg nog and the whole bit) and we did Secret Santa – picking a name out of a hat and secretly leaving gifts for the person whose name we got.

I loved the little things Secret Santa would leave on my desk for me, like reindeers made out of candy canes and pipe cleaners.

reindeer-pipecleaner-candycane

Adorable and delicious.

And, I loved being the sneaky Secret Santa who hid things – like reindeers made out of candy canes and pipe cleaners – on people’s desks. (Perhaps I was the person who once used an entire roll of packing tape to firmly attach the candy cane and pipe cleaner reindeers to my giftee’s phone receiver. Perhaps.)

But, for the past 15 years I’ve been a one-person office.

There are a lot of good things about being a one-person office.

Like no endlessly long meetings with well-meaning folks who want you to know exactly what they’ve been doing at their desk for the past five years. (I had a little nostalgic anxiety attack just writing that.)

But, it also means no Secret Santa for me.

Or, does it?

I’m Secret Santa’ing anyway.

And, hey, look. I got your name.

OK, so maybe there’s no taco for you. (Yeh, I know. Join the club.)

But, I do have something for you. Here’s your Secret Santa gift …

Ten minutes of extraordinary old baseball film from 1900-1920, including footage from the 1905 New York Giants, the 1909 and 1910 World Series, and the 1919 “Black Sox” Series.

 

Missing baseball in the winter makes my heart ache. Watching baseball that’s 100-some years old, and seeing that it hasn’t changed much at all, makes my heart ache even more.

(Your Secret Santa is such a softie.)

 

Clay Bryant – The Alabaman From Virginia

When a ballplayer’s career in the majors is brief – just a game or two – he is said to have had just “a cup of coffee” in the big leagues.

So, if your time in the town where you were born was brief, does it become your “cup of coffee” hometown?

Clay Bryant had more than a “cup of coffee” with the Chicago Cubs.

clay-bryant-chicago-cubs

The right-handed fastball pitcher spent about six seasons with the Cubs – from 1935 through 1940 – including their pennant-winning and World Series-losing 1938 season.

It’s his birthplace that’s the cup of coffee in this story.

Bryant was born in 1911 in Madison Heights, Virginia.

madison-heights-virginia

He wasn’t there long. Maybe a year – or a couple of years at most – before the family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where his father found work as a pipe fitter. And, that’s where they stayed.

But, being born in Virginia, cup of coffee or not, gets you on my Virginia-Born Project list, even if everyone in baseball forever knows you as “the big, curly-headed kid from Alabama.”

Bryant dropped out of high school when he was 16, and left Birmingham to work his way through the minors. He was called up and played a few games for the Cubs in 1935, and settled there in 1936, where he played until his arm finally gave out in 1940.

Cubs fans who know their history remember Bryant for just one season – 1938.

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Stevie. BFF.

It’s really no surprise that the first national recognition I ever received on this blog was for a post that also included the first photo of our cat Stevie.

Stevie Dew

 Stevie, in 2012, illustrating how Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) can come in different forms.

She was a stray, not-quite-feral cat who turned up in our barn five years ago and quickly moved in.

stevie votes

The second time my blog received national recognition, there was Stevie again. This time, in 2013, showing how cheaters have manipulated All-Star Game balloting. 

I had not only a friend, but an excellent Baseball Bloggess co-pilot.

She came along as I read War & Peace a few off-seasons ago …

Stevie Reads War And Peace

She wrongly picked the Atlanta Braves to win the 2015 World Series …

stevie says 2015

She complained about the very few cats featured in the annual Baltimore Orioles “Pet” calendar … Stevie & Jim Johnson

And, sometimes she was plunked into a post for no reason, other than she was just so damn cute …

stevie relaxing

She was one of the sweetest, friendliest, purringest cats I’ve ever known. (And, I’ve known a lot of cats.)

She was my BFF.

She got along with the other cats in the house. She was a “no drama” kitty.

She didn’t mind people and wasn’t one of those run-and-hide-in-the-box-springs cats when strangers walked in.

She got sick a couple days ago, although it was hard to tell because she kept purring and carrying on with her regular routine. She slept every night right next to my head. Just like always. She purred.

But, her favorite thing in the world was a meal (she was pretty starved when she turned up at our house those years ago, so it was no wonder that she delighted in a bowl of food more than anything else).  And, when she stopped eating we knew that something was wrong.

It was. And, yesterday we had to say goodbye.

Someone once commented on one of my posts that I should change the name of my blog from The Baseball Bloggess to something more general, so I could write about other things.

They didn’t understand. The Baseball Bloggess can write about whatever she wants.

And, today she wants to write about Stevie.

BFF.

stevie-in-the-box