“Ain’t Baseball Great?”

The Baltimore Orioles have used the same insipid tagline on their television commercials for years now. (I want to say 60 years, but, well, at least the last couple seasons.)

“Ain’t Baseball Great?”

Today, with the Orioles five games under .500 and in last place in the AL East, every time that stupid, tired, old commercial, with its obnoxiously cheery, “Ain’t Baseball Great?” comes on … even if I’m not paying attention, even if I’m in the other room, even if I’m half asleep, I answer. Because only a shmoo doesn’t answer when someone asks them a question.

“Ain’t Baseball Great?”

“Ain’t it?”

For God’s sake, stop torturing me.

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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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Tinker, Evers, the 1908 Cubs, & Why Am I Writing About Politics On Here?

These are the saddest of possible words:

“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,

Tinker and Evers and Chance.

Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,

Making a Giant hit into a double –

Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:

“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

~ Franklin Pierce Adams, New York Evening Mail, 1910

In 1908, it was the infield of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance – shortstop, second base, first base – who helped carry their Chicago Cubs to a World Series victory.

tinker evers chance

They weren’t the greatest double-play makers in history, but they sure make a good poem, don’t they?

And, they helped lead those 1908 Cubs to the Series.

You know what happens next. It takes 108 years before the Cubs win another World Series. Which they did just two weeks ago.

Which is what I should be writing about. Because Chicago put on a celebration that was beautiful and exciting and embraced us all.

 

But, that’s not what this is about.

I often tell my friends that part of my love of baseball is how it – and its long, rich history – reflect us. Both good and bad. Our society, our culture.  Who we are. Baseball is us.

Until this week.

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“No Baseball Beyond This Point”

no-baseball-beyond-this-point

© The Baseball Bloggess

Baseball is over.

The World Series went seven exciting games, which is as much baseball as one can have. A World Series only promises you four games, so to have the Series go the full seven – and an extra inning last night to boot! – is like taking two brownies from the buffet table. Sure, you know you were only supposed to take one, but the second one was so delicious.

Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs who won their first World Series since 1908. It took a rain delay and an extra inning, but Cubs fans, no more sad-faces from you, you’re winners now.

And, chin up, Cleveland. You gave it your best.

(The Orioles haven’t been to a World Series in 33 years.)

your-stats-are-booming

And, thank you, Mother Nature for raining on Cleveland at midnight slowing down Game 7 even more. Baseball fans were exhausted, but a bunch of them were also reading my post from earlier this season that explained how long baseball rain delays last. (Short answer: Until it stops raining.)

So, now what? The brownies are gone and what are you going to do with yourself until baseball comes around again?

(Oh, I know, you freakish baseball nerds … the off-season calendar is loaded with stuff. Free agency and qualifying offers and the Rule 5 Draft and GM Meetings and the Winter Meetings and the awards, from Gold Gloves to Cy Youngs to MVPs. But, you know that’s not baseball. That’s just stuff.)

It’s only been a few hours. I miss baseball already.

(And, brownies. I could really use a brownie right now.)

(And, a good strong cup of coffee.)

Photo: 2016. © The Baseball Bloggess

Cubs vs Indians. Choosing The Right World Series Team For You.

world-series-2016

I’m going to have to watch someone play baseball this week. And, so are you. Let’s figure out which World Series team to root for.

The Chicago Cubs last won a World Series in 1908. The Cleveland Indians last won a World Series in 1948.

There’s a certain comfort in being able to shake your head at the end of a losing season and say, “Well, we always lose, that’s what we do.” Fans start to hang on to this excuse like a crutch. It becomes the excuse for every misplay, every error, every loss.

Just to be clear, Cubs and Indians fans, that ends today. No more are you “long-suffering.” You’re now winners. Enjoy the pressure that goes along with that.

A lot of thinking goes into choosing a World Series team to root for. Not by me, of course, but by other people.

You could spend hours poring over ERAs, WARs, FIPs, and Batting Averages.

You could.

You could study baseball stats and figures for the next seven hours and come out convinced that the Washington Nationals will beat the Red Sox in six.

Yup, and where does that put you? Back at square one.

Let’s look at more important things.

When choosing between the Cubs and Indians, here are some facts that may help you choose the best team for your needs.

First, let’s look at 1908, the last year the Cubs won the World Series, and 1948, the last year the Indians won.

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Turning Two

They call a double play in baseball “turning two” which is poetic and beautiful. And, that is what a double play is.

It is often a ballet, seemingly effortless, but dependent upon practice, instinct, poise, and power. If you’re lucky, it will also include a pirouette.

Double plays can make brilliant poetry.

These are the saddest of possible words:

“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,

Tinker and Evers and Chance.

Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,

Making a Giant hit into a double.

Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:

“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

~ Franklin Pierce Adams, New York Evening Mail, 1910

(Oh, go ahead, look up “gonfalon.” I’ll wait.)

tinker evers chance

The trio of shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers, and first baseman Frank Chance played together for the Chicago Cubs from 1902 to 1912.

Don’t let it trouble you that Tinker and Evers admittedly hated each other, once got into a vicious fist-fight on the field, and didn’t speak to each other for several seasons.

And, don’t let it trouble you that they didn’t “invent” the double play … or turn a record number … or were even particularly good at it. Just accept that some folks become legends because of good writing or good timing.

Dickey Pearce, who played in the 1860s and 70s, is thought to have turned the roving “short field” position into the more territorial shortstop position that we know today, and, in doing so, may have invented, or developed, or, at least, refined the double play.

dickey pearce

Public Domain image.

Dickey Pearce is the one in the back. Dig those uniforms!

Historian Brian McKenna believes that Pearce’s double plays included intentionally dropping routine fly balls, allowing for easy outs as the runners on base hesitated while waiting to tag up. He is why we have the infield fly rule today.

(Dickey Pearce also invented the bunt, so he is kind of, sort of the Thomas Edison of early baseball.)

Turning two can lead to amazing baseball.

Whether it’s like this

colorado1

Or, like this,

markakis2

(Oh, look, it’s old reliable Nick Markakis.)

This,

jeter3

A double play and a deke!

Or (especially) like this

jjhardy4

(We win! We win!)

The double play is my favorite thing in baseball, unless my team is batting.

In 1949, the Philadelphia Athletics turned 217 in a single season, the most ever.

The Baltimore Orioles have “turned two” 107 times this season, leading all of baseball, and are on pace for 175.

This is both a testament to the Orioles’ defensive abilities and an admission that one can’t “turn two” unless one has already put at least one on.

(Thanks, pitchers.)

And, speaking of “turning two” …

This blog turns two this week.

In the past two years I have churned out 118 posts. This is slightly more than one a week which surprises me, since I should be doing useful things each week like cleaning out the basement and resealing the kitchen countertop.

But, apparently, I am not doing those things. I am doing these blog things.

That you have stopped by to read this (when you probably should be cleaning out your basement and resealing your kitchen countertop) is quite kind of you. Thank you.

WordPress says that “tens of thousands” of blogs are created here every day.

People who count these sorts of things estimate that the vast majority of those blogs will be abandoned within one month.

So, I’m feeling rather sassy about my 118 posts.

When I was in fifth grade I decided I would be a writer. At the time, I just wanted to write about tigers.

tiger

I regularly wore out the ribbon of my dad’s typewriter until my folks got me my own typewriter for my 12th birthday (manual), another one for my high school graduation (electric), and a third for my college graduation (a strange Tron-like thing that I still have, but never used; I didn’t have the heart to tell my mom that no one was really using typewriters anymore).

I ran out of tiger storylines somewhere around junior high. Then I decided I would be the next Dorothy Parker. I went through a Eudora Welty phase. And, then I decided to become a girl Thomas Boswell.

I am none of those.

But, I am also not an abandoned blog.

For my blog’s birthday, I got my blog its very own domain:  www.thebaseballbloggess.com

This is not to suggest that I am THE Baseball Bloggess, although I am because I have the URL to prove it.

It is mainly because my friends who travel goose my stats by checking my blog from exotic, far-off places like Brazil, Croatia, Nepal, Pakistan, and Tunisia, and so I have been known to say that I am a “world famous baseball bloggess,” even though I am not.

But, I like to write. And, I like to write about baseball. Occasionally, Yoga. But, mostly, baseball.

Here’s to “turning two.”

____

A special thank you to my occasionally irascible, but always wonderful, Editor/Husband who watches baseball with me, and really, truly does read and edit these posts, and makes them infinitely better (most of the time). If I screw up a fact or mess up on grammar, it’s my fault, not his.

 

 

 

 

 

#4: Isle Be Seeing You ~ The Cubs in Catalina

I’ve never been to Wrigley Field.  It must be pretty nice, what with the ivy and all. Built in 1914, it has been the home of the Chicago Cubs for 99 years.  Only Boston’s Fenway (1912) is older.

I’d like to visit Wrigley some day, but not in March.

Because it’s cold.  And, it snows.  And, there are no Cubs there in March.

(Did you know that the Cubs are one of the only major league teams that doesn’t have an oversized, furry mascot roaming around during games? The Cubs are ready-made for a mascot – they’re Cubs, for heaven’s sake.  The team believes a mascot would cheapen the majesty of Wrigley. They are wrong. Mascots are amazing.)

But, back to Spring Training … and #4 on my list of most amazing Spring Training locations (mascot, optional).

There are very few cases of a team actually buying their own Spring Training facility. (Multi-multi-multi-millions of dollars, the majority from taxpayers, fund most of the Spring Training parks you can visit today.  Thank you, Americans!)

In the early years, most teams were virtual nomads, wandering from whatever college or minor league park in the south might accommodate them for a few weeks each spring.  They bunked en masse in fraternity houses or cheap hotels, and dined at boarding houses overseen, I gather, by plump, elderly widows dishing out the morning grits.

Now, imagine if your owner bought an island – an entire island! – and then plopped you and your teammates right down in the middle of it.

Who cares if the nearest other team is THOUSANDS of miles away?  This is Paradise, Baby!

And, so, when Chicago Cubs owner William Wrigley shelled out about $3 million for Santa Catalina Island, 25 miles off the coast of California, in 1919, he packed up his Cubbies and shipped them off to Xanadu.

Cubs Catalina

Dodgertown? It’s a TOWN.  The Cubs had an island!

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We All Get Deked Now & Then

“Deke” is a cool, made-up baseball word.  The deke — short for “decoy” — is a play (or maybe it’s better called a “ploy”) that takes advantage of a baserunner who has either a) let his mind wander off, or b) has gotten “lost” during a play and assumed — wrongly — where the ball has gone.  Then, trying to just get back into the moment, he acts rashly, assuming where he hopes or thinks the ball is, rather than knowing where it truly is.  A crafty fielder can take advantage of that baserunner’s unfortunate momentary lapse.

I have my own version.  It’s the Yoga Deke.  I’ll get to that another time.  First, back to baseball …

In a well-executed deke, a player (usually an infielder, but occasionally an outfielder can get in on things), pretends he either has, or doesn’t have, the ball.  He tries to fool the baserunner.If an infielder pretends he has it in his glove — when it actually got past him and is now somewhere in the outfield — a baserunner can get confused, hold up for a precious moment, and lose his chance  to take an additional base.  If an infielder pretends he doesn’t have the ball — when actually he has hidden it in his glove — a baserunner might idly step off the bag and be tagged out.  Outfielders can pretend they cleanly caught a fly ball, when in fact they trapped the ball in the grass, so the play is still “live”.  Oh, the possibilities are endless!

My longtime baseball friend Jim Johnson, NTP (Not The Pitcher) reminds me that dekes can also lead to injury, if a baserunner slides aggressively into a base because he thinks he must avoid a tag.  He’s right on that count.  Although the argument is, of course, had the baserunner been paying attention … well, he would have known better.

(Why is it that when a player is deked, he feels the need to blame someone else for his lapse?)

Dekes don’t pan out very often — at least in the majors — because most players are paying attention and are fully aware of where the ball really is.  The deke only works if a baserunner has lost his present moment and starts acting on assumption rather than fact.

OK … here’s one that worked.   From just last week, the Reds vs. the Cubs, the Cubs’ Starlin Castro gets lost in the play and does a huge double-take when he thinks the 2nd baseman is fielding the ball for the “out”.  It comes up about midway through this clip at about the 1:30 mark.  Starlin Castro Gets Deked  (I kinda feel bad for the poor guy … )

I think we all lose our focus and then act on assumptions from time to time — in the name of efficiency or simplicity or impatience.  We space out in the middle of running our own bases.  Well, I do anyway.

Yoga and baseball remind us to be ever-present — right here, right now.  To stay in the present moment is to be fully aware and ever-ready.  We are more likely to act wisely and appropriately.  We are far less likely to fall for a deke.

And, we won’t end up like poor Starlin Castro, who clearly had one very deke’ing bad day.