Sunday, March 01, 2015

There's a reason it's called the National Pastime

I recently bought a book called Baseball: The Presidents' Game by William B. Mean and Paul Dickson. The book is about what the title says - a history of the baseball activities of each POTUS - and is full of photos of presidents attending games, posing with players, and having teams over at the White House. (Incidentally, did you know that the first president to have a baseball team over to the White House was Andrew Johnson? Or that he was the first one to dub baseball "Our Nation's Game?")

I purchased the book to aid me in my DC Baseball Tours project and because I'm simply interested in the way baseball is intertwined in our nation's history and development. No other sport can say that because no other sport was around when our nation was founded. Baseball and America grew up together. They are childhood friends who have managed to stay in touch, even though America hangs out more with football now. But those two met in college. They don't have the same bond as the duo that was there for each other when soldiers were freezing to death at Valley Forge or the North and South were trying to go through a messy divorce. Heck, baseball is so much a part of our soul as a country that it exists outside the logic of our legal system. In 1922 the Supreme Court ruled in Federal Baseball Club v National League that baseball was a game and not a business, so teams were not participating in interstate commerce and not subject to antitrust laws, a ruling that was upheld half a century later in Flood v Kuhn. While the game that Washington played with his troops at Valley Forge was an early form of baseball and hence is different than the game we love, in our hearts we know that it was still baseball.

We've had 43 presidents (FYI - Cleveland served two separate terms, which is why we say Obama is #44.) The National League was formed in 1876 and the American League in 1901. The Federal League existed from 1914 to 1915 and the American Association existed as a major league from 1882-1891. The National Association, which isn't recognized as a major league by Major League Baseball even though it was the first professional league, existed from 1871-1875. I could go through all the teams and pick a favorite for each president as they existed in his time, but since 17 presidents existed before professional baseball was played, I'm going to use current MLB teams to represent what teams each president would root for based on his hometown.

While putting this list together, I was thinking about how weird it must be to live in a place without a team within 150 miles of you, or to be at the edge of several teams' markets. Like Syracuse. Are they Yankees fans? Pirates? Even Detroit isn't that far.

George Washington, 1789-1797 Washington Nationals (Virginia native)

John Adams, 1797-1801 Boston Red Sox (Boston native)

Thomas Jefferson, 1801-1809 Washington Nationals (Virginia native, though he didn't think highly of games played with balls, believing them to be too violent for the body.)

James Madison, 1809-1817 Washington Nationals (Virginia native)

James Monroe, 1817-1825 Washington Nationals (Virginia native)

John Quincy Adams, 1825-1829 Boston Red Sox (Boston native)

Andrew Jackson, 1829-1837 Atlanta Braves (A Tennessee founder from the Carolinas)

Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841 New York Yankees (From a NY village called Kinderhook)

William Henry Harrison, 1841 Cincinnati Reds (Though he grew up in Virginia, he was assigned to Ohio as an 18 year old in the Army)

John Tyler, 1841-1845 Washington Nationals (Although being from Richmond he could have grown up a Barves fan, being attracted to politics gives the edge to the Nationals.)

James Knox Polk, 1845-1849 Atlanta Braves (He grew up in North Carolina but represented Tennessee.)

Zachary Taylor, 1849-1850 Washington Nationals (Virginia native)

Millard Fillmore, 1850-1853 New York Yankees (Could be Pirates, Red Sox, or Mets, even, as he's from a town near Syracuse. Admittedly I picked the Yankees because he was such a bad president.)

Franklin Pierce, 1853-1857 Boston Red Sox (From New Hampshire)

James Buchanan, 1857-1861 Philadelphia Phillies (From Lancaster area)

Abraham Lincoln, 1861-1865 Chicago White Sox (I think Abe would have sided more with the working class side of town.)

Andrew Johnson, 1865-1869 Atlanta Braves (From Carolinas, moved to Tennessee on foot, spent his professional years there.)

Ulysses S. Grant, 1869-1877 Cincinnati Reds (From Cincy area. In 1869, Grant welcomed the first professional baseball team to the White House, the Cincinnati Red Stockings.)

Rutherford Birchard Hayes, 1877-1881 Cincinnati Reds (Known Red Stockings fan Hayes and his son kept a journal following the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings.)

James Abram Garfield, 1881 Cleveland Indians (Cleveland area native)

Chester Alan Arthur, 1881-1885 New York Yankees (From Upstate New York)

Grover Cleveland, 1885-1889, 1893-1897 New York Yankees (From all over NY, father was from Connecticut.)

Benjamin Harrison, 1889-1893 Cincinnati Reds (A known Reds fan who was the first to attend an MLB game, an NL contest in DC in which the Reds defeated the Washington Senators 7-4.)

William McKinley, 1897-1901 Cleveland Indians (From NE Ohio)

Theodore Roosevelt, 1901-1909 New York Yankees (He was from a Manhattan family of means and married a NYC socialite, hence the choice for Yankees. In reality, he wasn't a big baseball fan.)

William Howard Taft, 1909-1913 Cincinnati Reds (A known Reds fan who was the first to thrown out a first pitch.)

Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1921 Atlanta Braves (He grew up in the South. Wilson may be considered the first fantasy baseball player, he was so obsessed with stats.)

Warren Gamaliel Harding, 1921-1923 Cleveland Indians (From just above Columbus, he's in territory that is not without its share of Reds fans.)

Calvin Coolidge, 1923-1929 New York Yankees One of the worst presidents in history, he grew up in New England, but saw a bunch of Yankees games in DC. Probably was a bandwagon Senators fan, too.)

Herbert Clark Hoover, 1929-1933 Philadelphia A's (Hoover was a terrible president but a huge baseball fan. He grew up all over the country but judging from his attendance records as president, he was an A's fan. I'm not sure he'd be an Oakland fan today, maybe Phillies though they existed when he was POTUS. Perhaps a Nationals fan.)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933-1945 New York Giants (FDR loved baseball and the Giants. I guess he'd be a Mets fan today.)

Harry S. Truman, 1945-1953 St. Louis Cardinals (Truman attended more games as POTUS (16) than any other, all in Washington. He could have been a Nationals fan, but he grew up in Independence, so I'm guessing he may have been a Cardinals fan.)

Dwight David Eisenhower, 1953-1961 Kansas City Royals (I know that Kansas City is in Missouri, but it's the closest team to the place in Kansas where Ike was from. Ike may have played semi-pro ball in a Kansas league before attending West Point.)

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1961-1963 Boston Red Sox (The quintessential New Englander. Although he liked football more than baseball.)

Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1963-1969 Houston Astros (Doesn't seem to be much of a baseball fan.)

Richard Milhous Nixon, 1969-1974 Los Angeles Angels (Tricky dick was a big baseball fan who grew up in the Anaheim area. He attended a few Angels games as POTUS.)

Gerald Rudolph Ford, 1974-1977 Detroit Tigers (He was raised in Grand Rapids.)

James Earl Carter, Jr., 1977-1981 Atlanta Braves (He's frequently seen at Barves games.)

Ronald Wilson Reagan, 1981-1989 Chicago Cubs (He was born in Illinois and called Cubs games on the radio in the thirties.)

George Herbert Walker Bush, 1989-1993 Houston Astros (A staple behind home plate when he was healthy.)

William Jefferson Clinton, 1993-2001 St. Louis Cardinals (That's a shame.)

George Walker Bush, 2001-2009 Houston Astros (Rangers ownership aside.)

Barack Hussein Obama, 2009-2017 Chicago White Sox (He wears the jacket.)

If you know of any president who was actually a fan of a team and I got it wrong, let me know. A lot of this is just imagination.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

General managing trolls

It must be tough to be a GM these days, at least as tough as a politician. (Yes, good politicians do exist, even in our mess of a system.) Most of these old white guys grew up before Bill James became Jesus and RBIs were still a measure of offensive prowess. Suddenly, an explosion of data appeared like the Word of God and whole teams of apostles had to be hired to sift through it all, unless of course they weren’t hired and the Stat Bible was ignored, which it was and still is by a few dinosaurs.

Baseball is a guessing game, and an entire industry is dedicated to making the appropriate guesses. Everything’s a gamble, from choosing what players you want for your team to choosing what pitch to throw. Some of it can be better predicted through probability, but you can’t predict whether or not a guy will be able to make it in the big leagues. There are too many non-data variables involved – freak injuries, mental ineptitude, lack of desire…whatever happens is largely beyond your control. Then, of course, you hear no end of it, how a guy was a bad draft pick and you could tell he was going to be injured by his motion and blah blah blah. These folks just like to hear themselves talk. As the wise Forrest Gump once said, “it happens.” Math isn't the answer to everything.

Not only do you have to choose your personnel, but you have to deal with all the BS, the salary limitations, the labor disputes, the arbitration, and all the things that have nothing to do with the game itself except that these things affect the happiness and well-being of the players. The personalities, well, that’s a whole other issue. Managing a bunch of millionaires is probably worse than managing a regular office. You have to deal with a lot of people who feel entitled to this or that by virtue of the tax bracket they’re in. Then there are those for whom the spotlight turns them into prima donnas, and everything - even what kind of brand of fruit is provided in the clubhouse - becomes some sort of drama.

But the worst, the absolute worst of it all must be dealing with the fans, specifically the nutjobs who think they could do a better job. There are certain things that a fan can observe and then there is everything else. The Reds did very little this off season despite having a few obvious and pretty big flaws, and that is frustrating. We don’t know what our GM tried to do; we only know what he did do.

Sure, it’s fun to speculate and say Mr. GM Man should have done this or should do that, but there’s a difference between speculation or occasional criticism to the full-time job of complaining that a lot of fans do. I wonder about the lives of these people. Are they so empty, so dull, that they can find nothing better to do with their time?

Social media has given a voice to the inane and the insane. It can be pretty disheartening at times. Just enjoy the game.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I’m Latos with this post, but here goes

I read with some interest the comments Mat Latos said about the Reds’ clubhouse, because I’d been wondering myself if there were issues there dating back to 2013 when Tom Brady stopped by Cincinnati and deflated the team in September.

The sabrbullies, most of whom were never good enough athletes to play serious ball (BURN), like to mock the concept of “intangibles” such as “veteran presence” and “leadership.” One has to wonder if these sad creatures have ever been a part of a team of any kind at all. In this thing we call human nature, there are four types of people – leaders, followers, the clueless, and hermits. This is true in all aspects of life, whether you’re talking about a sports team, a corporation, a political party, or even a circle of friends. (Although I guess if you’re a hermit you’re probably not part of a circle of friends.)

Now, Latos may not have been well-liked in the clubhouse (was he?), and speaking out like that through the media is a total dick move, but that doesn’t mean his comments don’t hold some truth. Doesn't mean they do, either. We’ve seen how flat the Reds can seem too many times. I don’t know why he wasn’t liked, or at least why he felt he wasn't liked, but I can take some guesses. I'm trying to figure out why he said those things. Some possibilities:

1. Latos is really a pain in the ass and is pissed that he didn’t have a great season. Maybe he’s blaming everyone else. I don’t remember it, but someone mentioned that he made some comments about the Padres when he left them, too. He could just be a bonafide jerk. I want to believe that isn’t the case, but his comments make him come across as a dick. I’m not going to dismiss him or what he said because I wasn’t there. We weren’t there. If my team at work were dicking around in my office and playing video games instead of preparing for the job, I’d be pissed off, too. But this could have been exaggerated. Bottom line is, we don’t know.

2. Mat and his wife Dallas are liberal-minded people in a sport dominated by white country boys and foreign nationals from various conservative Catholic countries south of the US border. The couple supports the NoH8 campaign and various noble causes that traditional folks may reject. I don’t know Mat or Dallas, but as someone who is well-versed in the arts and follies of politics, I have seen countless personality clashes based on such differences. I am not saying this is the case at all. How could I? I’ve never been in the clubhouse and I don’t know any of the players. I only know what I see in the media and from their own social networking accounts. Dallas had a pretty good blog that gave us a great idea what life is like in a Major League household, and she always spoke her mind even when it wasn’t popular. She received a lot of hate mail because there is a lot of hate in this world and because she lived in a part of the country where hate thrives openly when you are on the liberal side of things. People say Mat didn’t “fit in.” I’m not sure what is meant by that, but I take it to mean the clubhouse was a homogenous sort and that very well could have driven complacency. For that matter, Brandon Phillips has never really "fit in," either, and he was once deemed a "clubhouse cancer," but that may have been a case of certain media folks getting their wittle feewings hurt because he wouldn't talk to them.

3. Latos tried to be a leader in the clubhouse and to make his teammates get off their asses but was scoffed at. Perhaps they thought him too bossy or that he complained too much. His leadership skills may be lacking, or maybe there are some really lazy players on our team. I find that hard to believe. However, not everyone is blessed with leadership qualities, and their shortcomings could come across as barking. Maybe he's just more intense than the other guys.

4. Latos didn’t get along with one of the popular players on the team, and players took that player’s side in things. High school never ends for some people; popularity is still a thing with them. To that I say, grow up.

5. Because Latos wasn’t on the 2010 playoff team and wasn’t homegrown, he was from day one viewed as an outsider. Think about it. Most of our guys have played together for a long time, or they shared experiences in the same minor league cities. Maybe it's tough to break into the friendship circles that have formed over the years. 

6. The real story about his injury is that Homer Bailey shot him with a crossbow and he's still mad at him. This is probably most likely.

Regardless of what it was, I feel like he could be right about the lack of leadership. While I can’t know why he didn’t try to step up and fill that role or if he tried and failed to do so, I could believe him. Too many times in the last couple of years we’ve watched the lifeless Reds seemingly go through the motions, and I’m reminded of how Barry Larkin could fire up the players and how he would hold closed door team meetings when times were bad and the players were performing poorly. He would kick any videogame playing slacker’s butt if it were interfering with his preparation for a game. If that's really what was going on.

Scott Rolen was one of my least favorite players before he came to the Reds, and even then it took some getting used to before I could accept him on our team. But I came to realize just how valuable he was as the 2010 season wore on and we were poised to make our first postseason in a decade and a half. Veteran presence. Leadership. It can make the difference between winning the division (2010, 2012) and barely getting a wild card (2013) or not getting close (2014). Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

As for the medical comments, there is a joke in Redsland about Dr. Kremchek’s “poking stick.” I’m no doctor, but there is a certain reputation among us know-nothings that something isn’t kosher with Reds medical diagnoses. Latos isn’t the first to complain about the medical staff. (Though I think Jim Edmonds was just a Taint Louis whiner...) Other players love him. Who knows what’s really going on except the people with medical degress who have access to the clubhouse?

One thing that I’ve come to realize impresses me early on is Marlon Byrd speaking up about Latos’s comments before he even put on a Cincinnati uniform. It’s a good sign, not only because he already is defending his new teammates, but because it shows the leadership he is said to possess, one reason he was signed over more productive options, at least from what I've read. I was not a fan of the signing – an aged veteran with a couple of decent seasons and a marginal upgrade from Ludwick in terms of offensive production doesn’t seem to be the answer to the Reds offensive woes. But he’s been around. I’ve heard that he’s respected throughout the league. I have to think his contributions to the team are felt greater in the clubhouse than on the field.

Remember, in 2013 we noticed a lack of “fire” in the team and blamed Dusty for not firing up his players. We questioned the team’s motivation and wondered where the leadership was. Latos’s comments come as no surprise, and maybe it’s better that he did speak up. Maybe it can serve as early motivation. Something should, because with the schedule being the way it is this year, this season could be over in April if we lose too many games to the NL Central teams. Toughest division in baseball again, and now all five teams can compete.

Who knows? We’re not in that clubhouse. Only our red-socked club of millionaires can create the kind of environment that is conducive to winning. Hopefully, the poison has been drained from the team and they’ll bust out of the gate with the kind of fire that we’ve wanted to see in them. Regardless, we’re all ready to get this thing started. Life is miserable in the absence of baseball.

Level 99 Denim

Saturday, February 21, 2015

10 ways MLB could go further to help pace of the game

So I published a listicle yesterday, because conventional digital media experty wisdom says that listicles are read more than things with a lot of words strung together in these things we used to call paragraphs. Well, that's not really why. I just felt like doing a smart alecky type of thing and well, I am gonna do it again because FREEDOM!, you know?

Yesterday MLB decided it was going to CHANGE EVERYTHING and make us all eat raw hamburgers by speeding up the "pace of the game." Truth be told, and that's Truth with a capital T though you can't tell because it was the first word in this sentence, the "pace of the game" has gotten pretty ridiculous, because, you know, batting gloves. It doesn't have anything to do with the fifty gajillion commercials to which we are subjected after every three outs and sometimes even between outs when managers decide they need to let everyone play and use more than one pitcher in an inning. Chalk it up to our snowflake culture, I suppose.

While one foot in the box, timers, and challenges might have some effect on "pace of the game," here are some suggestions to make the game even faster.

10. Instead of four balls or three strikes, give Jonathan Broxton, John Axford, Joaquin Benoit, and Joel Peralta a timed at bat. If they can't finish a batter by that amount of time, the batter automatically takes his base. People more inclined to do frivolous math can decide on the time limit. Heck, why limit it to just the slowest of the slow? Time limits for everyone!

9. Make uniforms skin tight onesies. Though it might offend the more prudent-minded fans to see the human body in the clothed state closest to nude, wearing fitted clothing will shave seconds off the lengthiness of a game by eliminating the need to adjust any part of the uniform.

8. Move the bases closer together. Sure, you'd be putting the lives of infielders in danger, but just imagine how many minutes you could save by cutting off two or three seconds each time a player runs to a base!

7. Instead of the fifty "Support the Troops!(TM)" between-inning lovefests, let our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines play an inning. You'll get to do your patriotic clapping for at least a solid 15 minutes, and we can cut down on time between innings, because remember, commercials have nothing to do with the "pace of the game."

6. Penalize any batter who touches anything other than his bat with a strike. No batting gloves, no helmet, no cup adjustment. Just the bat.

5. Add a 26th man as a designated runner. Allow him to enter the game as many times as is necessary to keep the Molina brothers off the bases. We'll get to go home when it's still light out if this is implemented properly.

4. Put a twenty second time limit on home run trots. Imagine a game in which David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez both hit home runs. That's 20 seconds saved in one game, as they each take half a minute to get around the bases.

3. Require all players to wear Google Glass. I don't know how this would speed up the game, but it would look funny.

2. Turn off the hot water to the showers after 3 hours and 15 minutes. What better way to motivate players than to threaten them with cold showers?

1. Put shatter proof glass along the foul lines all the way up to the top of the foul poles and eliminate foul balls. No more ten pitch at bats - it's a free for all! Just think of how much time it will save - they'll have time to ADD more commercials. That's great! Higher revenues = higher salaries! Never mind the inevitable deaths that will result to the fielders unfortunate enough to be the recipients of a ricochet! PACE. OF. THE. GAME.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The ten most annoying things in baseball that must go

Oh, look! A listicle! Thank god for listicles, cuz what would we do for reading otherwise?

As the title says, there are a few annoying things about baseball. Most of them have developed in the last decade. I've written them in a listicle because that's how you're supposed to write everything these days unless you're talking about WAR, OPS, or BEBOPALUBOP+. Without further ado:

10. Formulaic beat writing that could be produced by a software program

Used to be, writers were writers. They could make you feel like you were there with the written word. You felt the tension of the at bats, the breathing of the crowds, and the slight breeze coming in from leftfield. You smelled the hot dogs and the freshly mowed grass and you heard the thump of a fastball blowing by a hitter. Now, you get game recaps thrown together in an hour because deadlines, and there's a real dearth of quality. Heck, I don't read many game recaps anymore. I do appreciate Tom Boswell, though.  I want to believe.

9. Space Wars Night, Anniversary of Player's First MLB Turd Night, Plastic Junk from China Night, etc.

Promotions have gotten out of control. Insane people line up three hours before a game to get a cheaply made bobblehead whose only key to the supposed identity of the likeness is the name on the back of the jersey. We have people dressing up in costumes that aren't remotely related to baseball, teams issuing stupid uniforms for some stupid idea an intern probably came up with, teams giving out all kinds of junk that people throw in their closets to collect dust. Whatever happened to team photo day? What every happened to baseball card day? There used to be a few promos a year. Now there's one every other day. Why does everything have to be commemorated? Everything is so "memorable" that nothing is memorable anymore. Just watch the game.

8. Craft beer madness

You don't need sixty choices of beer when you go to a baseball game. You don't even need ten choices. And most of those choices aren't even good. Liquified hops. I mean, they're so much the opposite of Crud Light that they almost are Crud Light. They go full circle.

Now, I don't like bad beer. People made fun of me in college because I wouldn't drink crap beer. Back then, we were called "beer snobs" and were looked down upon. Some of the same people who looked down on me for preferring imports and domestic premiums now look down upon those who drink what they used to drink back then. Btw, I would never drink Crud Light at a bar, but at a baseball game? 'Merca!

And while we're on the topic of beer, how about you Nationals fans actually watching a game for once instead of spending all of the your time in the bars?

7. Rain delays with no rain

This is getting out of hand. Forget your fancy radars. Use your eyes. Play the game until it's too wet to play. I've been to three games in the last couple of years when there was a rain delay with no rain. I've seen several others on television. No one is going to melt if they get a few drops of water on them.

6. Bitching about broadcasters

Does Thom Brennaman say annoying things sometimes? Of course. Does Marty Brennaman criticize some players too much? Definitely. But I'd rather hear Thom be annoying all of the time and Marty criticize everyone than put up with the incessant whining about how bad the announcers are. Learn to tune it out, mute it, or don't watch/listen. You're ruining the game for everyone, including yourself.

5. Rooting for outs

Some players strike out a lot and they don't get on base other times. This is not the type of player you want on your team unless he's like Brooks Robinson in the field. Some players don't strike out very often but they also don't get on base that much. These players are equivalent to each other. Other players strike out a lot but get on base four out of ten times. These are the players you want on your team. Why are you rooting for the player who makes more outs just because he strikes out fewer times than the guy who doesn't get out as much? And why do you refuse to see there is no logic to what you say?

That being said...

4. Sabrbullying

Look, we're not doubting your math skills. But your caustic criticism of the ill-informed is not witty - it's just mean. You don't have all the answers. You can't even decide on how to measure defensive effectiveness. I loved Bill James's takedown of the sabrbullies last year. You've forgotten how to enjoy the game for the game. Not everything is about numbers. There's nothing wrong with letting yourself feel the romance or nostalgia of it all.

And by the way, wins do matter. Sure, a guy who goes 13-14 may have played for a bad team, but four or five fewer runs in a season may have given him a winning record. That could have been one bad inning that he brought upon himself. And that guy who went 15-5? I want him on my team.

3. God Bless America and other faux patriotism displays

We get it. You love America. You've probably never even been anywhere else, but hey, you're the best, right? (If only you knew.) These self-aggrandizing displays of narcissism by people who think serving their country just "isn't for me" and that clapping for soldiers who put their lives at risk somehow makes up for it and is somehow "supporting the troops" is disgusting. If you want to be patriotic, visit Arlington Cemetery or donate to a veterans organization. You might actually learn something about real patriotism.

2. Taint Louis Barfnals fans

We know. 11 World Series rings. You tell us every day. A hundred times.

1. Listicles

 Can we please go back to writing well-thought out essays instead of caving into ADD Nation?

By the way, if you haven't picked up your copy of Baseball Prospectus 2015 yet, you can get it here.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

When Babe Ruth was still mad at the Red Sox

I went to Fenway Park in 2003 during the last year of the curse. A friend from college had an extra ticket to a Yankees game, so I took the train up from DC and went to Boston for a few days. I never paid him for the ticket, thinking he'd come down and I'd take him to an Orioles game, but he never did. It was the last time I saw him and it still makes me sad.

I was flat broke. I had packed up my car and moved to DC two months earlier and was having trouble finding a job - I was freelancing some translation projects but most of them were small change. One earned a good sized check but it took me more than a month to complete it and as it was the only thing I was working on, there wasn't any money coming in. Still, I wasn't going to let a little cash flow problem prevent me from going to see a Yankees-Red Sox game at one of baseball's last cathedrals.

The whole experience was overwhelming. I'd been to Wrigley a few times before then but I grew up in the Midwest and Chicago was part of the region - New England was this whole other world that I hadn't even been able to define the first time I went to DC - I thought Maryland was part of it. Boston was the place of pilgrims and tea parties, a place of history books, and I had a difficult time grasping the fact that it was real. Seeing the Wall was like seeing the Eiffel Tower or the Giza pyramids. It was just a wall, but it was so much more than that. It was Teddy Ballgame and Fisk and Yaz, and the ghosts roam there, too, like they did further south before greed tore down the House that Ruth Built.

The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry hadn't been ruined by E$PN back then, so there was a magic to the game that you don't typically get during baseball in May. At one point the game was delayed because a fight had broken out somewhere in the outfield stands and it was big enough to be a distraction. I don't remember much about the game itself because it was secondary to the experience of just being there. For awhile after that I thought that it was a dream of mine for just one season to have season tickets and go to every game in Fenway. That was before they started winning all the time and the fans became obnoxious and you saw B hats as far away as Lebanon as I once did.

I was only 26 that year and had already traveled extensively and Boston was the closest in America I'd felt to being in a foreign country. Twelve years later, it still feels foreign to me, way up there in the corner between civilization and the North Pole, or so it seems. I can't pretend to know what Boston is like despite having visited, and my idea remains that of a giant Irish pub with a Red Sox game on in the corner. I can't judge Fenway based on my one experience but it was one of the best baseball games I've ever been to out of a few hundred in my lifetime.

You have to wonder if they're going to have any baseball at all up there this year with this eternal winter.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Beaten writer

The [insert team here] arrived today to [sunshine, warmer temperatures, and the smell of the sea/oranges/other Florida cliche - or - sunshine, warmer temperatures, and the site of cacti and mesas/other Arizona cliche], [defending their title/hoping to improve on last year's disappointing season/ready to prove their critics wrong]. They know [how difficult it is to defend their title/they are viewed as underdogs in a tough division], but they report to camp ready to compete.

The day consisted of [physicals/team photos/light lifting]. While only pitchers and catchers were required to report, [insert star player and some utility infielders] showed up to camp early. The full squad of [insert number of players] is due to report on [insert day], with the first exhibition game scheduled on [insert day] at [location].

"It's never too early to get a leg up on the competition," [star player said]. "[We're ready to defend our title/We're out to show our critics that we're in it to win it.]

The [team] went [last year's record] in 2014, [fulfilling expectations/surprising everyone/a disappointing finish/a year that was considered a rebuilding year to many.]

"[We were fortunate to be healthy last year/we had a lot of injuries last year] that [really helped us/put us in a position where maybe we didn't finish as well as we had expected,]" said [a starting pitcher].

If the [team] wants to [defend its title/improve upon last year's performance/compete in a tough division], there are some things to watch for. [Injured player] has to recover his [insert year he was good] form. Coming off [insert surgery type], he is [on track/slightly behind/not likely to be ready for Opening Day], but the team needs [his bat/his pitching] to make stay competitive.

[Insert two or three starting pitchers' names] are solid bets to make the rotation, while the remaining [two or three] spots are up for grabs. Among the candidates are [insert one number four type of starter and four or five others from young guys to aged veterans trying to make a team].

The bullpen was [among the best/an arm or two short/a weak spot] in 2014. [Insert two or three reliable pitchers] had solid seasons, while [insert two or three names] seek to replace [insert gone players]. [Insert a few longshots] are also competing for spots.

[Insert player who had career year/disappointing season] will have to [repeat/improve] his 2014 numbers, when he [hit/pitched] [insert stats].

"We think we have a good team," [player] says. "If we play the way we know we can play, we're going to compete."

Monday, February 16, 2015

Baseball and the Presidents?

Reds pitchers and catchers report in two days. I have two space heaters going and several layers of clothing on and I can't fathom the concept of warm weather right now. WTF. If I wanted to live in Canada, I'd live in Canada. It isn't supposed to get this cold in Washington. (Thanks, SUV drivers!)

Today is Presidents Day. For awhile now, I've been interested in the way the history of baseball is intertwined with our nation's history. The game developed with our country, from soldiers at Valley Forge playing an early version of the game with - it's been rumored - George Washington himself to the annual tradition of presidents throwing out the first pitch.

Oddly enough, baseball was absent from our nation's capital for three decades, a victim of greed, apathy, and, as it turns out, history. The sixties were a tumultuous time for our country, and the center of it all was right here in the streets where I live. Whether you are a fan or not, baseball is a part of your identity, of all of our identities as Americans, no matter your creed, color, or any of the numerous other labels we use to divide ourselves from one another.

Sometime in the fifties, baseball got greedy, and heartbroken Americans everywhere were turned off. Baseball has always been greedy, though - the very first professional baseball team - the Cincinnati Red Stockings - were moved for the greener pastures of Boston after the 1870 season despite their immense popularity and seemingly unbeatable team, defeat by the Brooklyn Atlantics aside. (That seems to have been an epic game.) However, baseball was losing popularity, and by the sixties, football had taken over as the most popular sport in the country. Yet football will never have the same historical impact on our identities as baseball, as our country is pretty grown up now.

Tourists come to DC with a desire to see and feel the history of their country. Or for the most part. (If you've been around DC tourists enough, you hear things like, "Look! It's the White House!" when they're looking at the Capitol. Not sure those folks take away much from a trip here.) There are tours on foot, tours by bus, tours on bicycle, tours on Segway, tours you can hop on and off, tours for ghost enthusiasts, tours for literary folk, and now, for the first time ever, tours for baseball fans.

Sure, the Supreme Court building is beautiful, but don't you want to know more? While you should know such monumental cases as Plessy v Ferguson and Brown v Board, do you know Flood v Kuhn or Federal Baseball Club v National League? And did you know that Abe Lincoln was a baseball fan or that Teddy Roosevelt, the first president to be issued a lifetime pass to baseball games, didn't actually like baseball? Do you know how far a 565 foot homer travels, which is the record for the longest homer hit by a Major League ballplayer? Would you like to see where Mickey Mantle's 565 footer landed after he crushed it out of Griffith Stadium? How about learning about the Potomacs versus Nationals games played on the Capitol and White House lawns before anyone was paid to play the game?

Last year, I got the idea to put together a tour program of Washington with a baseball theme. Rather than hearing the standard stories, which we all should know from high school history classes, wouldn't you as a baseball fan want to hear about our favorite game's place in our nation's history? Now implementing the program is in the works. Stay tuned...

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Anti-social media

I often wonder about people who dwell on the perceived shortcomings of certain players. It's like that old commercial where baseball players come into Average Joe's office and start yelling at him like nutjobs do at the players. What is mentally wrong with a person who thinks that it is his place to criticize a player incessantly? I would love to come into his office and do the same to him.

I'd like to think social media has made our lives better, but I'm not so sure it has. It has either turned people into jerks or has shown that people are naturally jerks at heart. In other countries, social media saves lives and gives a voice to the powerless. Here in the most spoiled country on Earth, it just brings out the worst in people.

Today, social media is part of every players' PR training. Some choose to use it, while others maintain their distance. Some, like Jay Bruce, have to leave it because of the nastiness of people. Someone should start a website called "Jerks on Twitter" or maybe "Twitter Hall of Shame," where he'd post the real names of people along with the nasty things they said, then market the site towards the human resources crowd to show potential employers the true nature of their candidates. If I'm hiring someone, I'm going through all of their social media accounts to try to get a better understanding of the type of personality I'm hiring. Jerks need not apply, and there should be consequences for their actions.

We live in a society where people think murder is ok and death threats are routine. Nobody respects human dignity. I'm not sure if the vitriol we see spewed on social media is a symptom of the devolution of our society or a cause, but people sure are angry. I just don't get it. Are you angry because you don't have enough "stuff?" Everyone's offended by everything, and respect is the name of a song and nothing more.

The vitriol is already exploding from the mouths of those who think Joey Votto doesn't swing enough. Some of the things I see are appalling. Freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom to be a total asshole, but so few people in this country understand what freedom of speech is - or freedom, for that matter - that they think they can say whatever they want. How about we go back to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you. Do you want me to come to your office and start screaming curse-filled tirades about how much you suck? (You probably do suck at life if you feel the need to harass players and others on social media.)

Are we ever going to stand up and say, "Enough!"? Whatever happened to shame?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The stories I want to see this spring

I'm wearing my "civilian uniform" today. It's a Reds hoodie that I pretty much wear every Saturday and Sunday during winter unless I have big plans that require something somewhat dressier. You wouldn't know it from the temperatures, but we are nearly out of winter. I've been thrilled by the fact that it is light out the entire outside duration of my trip home from work each day. No, I mean it - there's something poetic in the way the sky shines in the evening hours during this time of year. You instinctively know winter's almost over, even when you're shivering and the wind is finding every tiny space between the threads that make up your clothing. Even now, at 3:30pm, there is a certain brightness to the world that stirs the embers of excitement within you. Rebirth is coming - flowers, warmth, sprightliness, and baseball.

Right now, the trucks have descended upon the towns that will soon serve as hosts to baseball's finest, and we're repeating the same exciting cliches about pitchers and catchers reporting and sunflower seeds being unloaded. It's nice for cliches to be exciting for once, although I do wish the sportswriters would at least make an attempt to find different angles for their articles. No one wants to hear about so and so being in "the best shape of my life" anymore or how Fatty McFatfat needs a new nickname thanks to his off season workout. You know what would be great? If, instead of writing four paragraphs on how great a guy looks, ask him the particulars about his off season - what he lifted, how much he ran, where he ran, what he ate...heck, get a recipe from him. That's interesting. The rest we can see with our own eyes because it's 2015 and cameras are everywhere.

What else do I want to see besides different angles of the same spring cliches?

How about something on the science of the sport using current examples drawn from Spring Training games? Or maybe a day in the life of a Spring Training player? Or how a star player did in Spring Training during his minor league camp days? What about wandering from the pressbox to interview actual fans who pay - not get paid - to watch baseball? Or stories about the players' childhoods? Regarding this last one, I am motivated by Andrew McCutchen's recent post in the Players Tribune about the disadvantages children in low income families have when it comes to playing baseball. Why does a player have to write this story when people who get paid to write aren't doing it?

I'd like to read more about Spring Training itself, its origins, what teams played in what cities at what times, stories about old players from bygone days, all within the context of today. Connect people to the past. Too many Americans have lost their sense of identity in our age of Charmucks on every corner. The cities we live in give us our identities, and the past is definitely part of identity, even if it happened before we were born.

What I really want to see is articles that go beyond this one line/paragraph break/quote stuff that a computer program could produce. The thing is that too many sportswriters are severely lacking in the prose capacity, whether due to inability, a perception that beautiful prose is too flowery or too old-fashioned, or an editor's preference. There's a reason everyone raves about Posnanski's writing - people want to read him because he writes well. I realize baseball has been plagued with a decidedly anti baseball-as-poetry mentality by a certain numbers-oriented segment of the population, but why cater to them persistently? The number of people who enjoy baseball beyond the numbers greatly exceeds that of the militant sabrbully crowd. (Note: You can enjoy numbers and the beauty of the game without calling people stupid for thinking that pitcher wins matter. It's a small but vocal minority of the stat-minded crowd who give others a bad name.) To write well requires reading, and not just non-fiction sports books. Pick up The Sun Also Rises if you feel fiction isn't "manly" enough for you.

We're all tired of the same old cliches, predictions, and projections, that we see every spring. Give us something with more substance; god knows our appearance-focused country could use more of that.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dread the end

So we've reached Game Six. 

I think most of us are rooting for Game Seven.  That’s all I wanted to see. Come 2015, I’ll probably have forgotten half the Royals lineup, these overachievers, given that I rarely see them play and that I’ll be focused on the Reds and Nats. We’ll all be back to rooting for our teams so rudely excluded from October by misfortune or incompetence.

It’s going to be a long winter. It always is. November. December. January. February. No baseball. Cold, colder, coldest, cold cold cold…we’ll descend into winter’s darkness, a condition probably brought about by no baseball. The color will be drained from the world, the life, the warmth, all gone. Ballparks will stand empty, desolate. Our souls will hibernate. Are there diversions? Sure - hockey, football, Christmas - but no crack of the bat, no thump of a fastball, no verdant diamond or little white sphere or collective breath holding as a ball sails towards a fence. Eventually, baseball will bloom, but when it’s absent, it feels like it will never return. January is the longest month. Winter is the longest season.

Grab it now, embrace it, this Game Six. Grab it so tightly that a Game Seven comes. Because come Thursday, baseball is gone.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Marry us, baseball

Chris and I watched Game 2 the other night at the usual bar. Half price drafts made for a guilt-free beer event. The bar was full but not crowded, and we had seats in the front row.

I'm noticing something.

Several years ago, it was a struggle just to get the playoffs or World Series on. You often had to ask to get a screen turned from some talking head moving his mouth on mute. Forget it if it were Sunday - the football behemoth swallowed everything. That's how I came to dislike football. (That, and the fact that so many of the players are wife beaters and criminals.) I hated Sundays - hid from Sundays - and rooted for the cancellation of the NFL season when that was a possibility, because football usurped attention from baseball.

But the postseason is on now, no asking necessary. Even a screen or two is tuned in when a game falls on a Sunday. What's more, people are watching. Not just the KC or SF expats gathering to watch their teams from half a world away, but others, too, people enjoying baseball. And they're talking about it when the games aren't on. Water cooler stuff. The bar was full of people who wanted to be there to watch baseball, who were rooting for teams that were not their own, who groaned when players erred or umps couldn't keep a consistent strikezone.

DC is hardly a controlled lab for baseball fandom experiments, given that baseball was absent for so long. The increased general interest in the city where I've lived for a dozen years could be a result of a decade of growing interest in the local team. But I look at the numbers from around the country, the increasing attendance, the dominance of television ratings in most markets, the online jabber from fans of every team everywhere, and I have to think the physical observations I've made are not simply the result of Washingtonians learning to love baseball because they have a good team now, but are part of a growing phenomenon of Americans falling in love with America's pastime again.

I only hope it's true.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

World Serious

This article on Fay Vincent jolted my memory of the 1989 World Series and baseball Before The Strike. It included video footage of the ABC broadcast with Al Michaels and Tim McCarver.

I watched the video with curiosity, wondering if the broadcast in my memory was how it really had happened. The human memory is a funny thing, faulty, warped with time and colored by the bias of our experiences, but I swore that what I remembered about this particular moment in history was right, so I hit play.

It was exactly as I had remembered it.

I was in seventh grade when it happened, that massive quake, the shifting tectonics, the collapse of bridges, the death, destruction, and postponement of the World Series. My mother was hosting a Home Interiors party in our Englewood apartment, so I was allowed to move a small television into my bedroom to watch the game, which added to my enthusiasm for the event. (Why she decided to host an HI party during a World Series game is something I can't answer. Haha.)

I loved that Oakland A's team. I can still recall the players as if they were on a current roster - The Bash Brothers, Rickey, Dave Henderson, Carney Lansford, Terry Steinback, Mike Gallego, Walt Weiss, Stan Javier, an aged Dave Parker, Dave Stewart, Bob Welsh (RIP), Eck...I had asked for and received an A's hat, one of the mesh variety, that I wore everywhere that summer. The highlight of the season was a trip to Cleveland with my grandparents where we and about five thousand other people watched the A's play the Indians in Memorial Stadium, which was anything but memorable. The A's lost, but they were already well on their way to the fall classic.

I don't remember if I was wearing my A's hat when I ran out of my bedroom and announced to the party that San Francisco had just had a major earthquake. I probably sounded like I was announcing the end of the world. The quake had quite an effect on me - for weeks I cut out every article about it that I found in the Dayton Daily News or whatever magazine happened to come my way and pasted it into a spiral notebook. I read about some of the people who had died and others who had gotten off the bridge just in time, the BABIP of life. I read about collapsed buildings and those that had burned to the ground and those that had staved off damage, including Candlestick. And I read every tidbit about the World Series, wondering, as did everyone, if it would be cancelled.

It wasn't, and San Francisco survived, but at the time, I didn't think it would. I was just becoming cognizant of the world at that age; the quake seemed like the worst thing that had ever happened because I had seen it happen. It was real. Other disasters I had read about were just passages in history books. That moment when Al Michaels realized what was going on was surreal, scary, even, and the effect was such that I have formed a perfect memory of the moment.

What are the chances that a quake like that would happen when both area teams were about to play in the World Series? Think about it. Quakes are rare as it is. There were 26 teams at the time; that those two were meeting for only the second time in franchise history makes it even weirder. And at that time, too, before they started the game rather than in the middle of it. I mean, what are the chances?

Turns out, experts say that the having the World Series in the Bay Area may have saved lives, that people had stayed home to watch the game and weren't out on the roads. The Series, when it resumed, had a healing power, too, as baseball is wont to do, as if baseball were a divine game. For a twelve year old kid in Southwest Ohio, the resumption showed that life goes on after disasters, that repairs are made, people healed, and this, too, shall pass.

Monday, October 13, 2014

And his friends, family, neighbors, and strangers as well...

This is the story of Chris, age 53, Washington Nationals fan.

Chris is a townie. I'm not sure I had ever befriended a native Washingtonian before I met him. I had called Washington, DC a transient town, where people whose home states had nothing to offer them came to live, work, and increase the cost of living, but Chris grew up in Rockville, Maryland and I was suddenly thrown into a world where everyone was from this area. (We can get into semantics about who is allowed to be called a Washingtonian, arguing over whether or not the suburbs and exurbs count, but Chris has lived or worked in DC for most of his adult life, so the term suits.)

This Italian-Irish family with ten children were a family of sports and music. Baseball was important; they were Senators fans, with Chris coming into this world in the first year of the expansion version, the one that saw none of the stars who would win more often than not in the vast expanse of Minnesota and the Ice Palace. No, this was the new version, another awful rendition of a baseball team for the annuls of Washington's less than stellar baseball history. Frank Howard was perhaps the lone saving grace of the short-lived Washington redux, that massive man who hit the massive home runs and had a massive effect on a loud-mouthed kid from Rockville. That kid saw his first Major League home run fly off the bat of that man who hit moonshots to the upper echelons of the Washington stratosphere, his spaceman feats still marked by faded white paint within the confines of the aged Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy Stadium.

Ten year old Chris lost his baseball team, too, but none came to replace it.

But this was a family of baseball fans, and there was another team slightly further away, a team that had just defeated the infant Big Red Machine in the 1970 World Series, and their allegiance migrated to the Baltimore Orioles, themselves having broken the hearts of kids in the swampy-aired town of Saint Louis, Missouri by moving away. This was the team of Brooks and Jim and Boog and later Cal and Eddie and Robbie for a spell. That was their baseball team then. That was Washington's team. There were some pennants and World Series and division wins over the years. Hall of Famers passed through. A streak made history. An Orioles team store was located on Farragut Square downtown DC. This was Birdland, too.

This is the story of Chris, age 53, native Washingtonian and Baltimore Orioles fan.

Chris has this joke he made up long before the Nationals came into existence. "Don't blame Angelos - he's doing asbestos he can." Angelos has always been a Grade A Jerk. He ran that storied franchise into the ground to garner sympathy for losing part of his market, and Orioles fans never deserved it. As a fan of a Reds team whose past ownership also ran a franchise into the ground, I know exactly how it felt to be an O's fans in those years of losing. We were losing, too. At the same time. Frankly, it sucked. Peter Angelos is something O's fans have to endure - something baseball fans have to endure, and they are not to blame.

Chris and his family became Nationals fans upon the team's immigration to America, as many Senators-turned-Orioles fans did. That ten year old boy was in his forties then; he had endured. He had survived the turmoil and the heartbreak of losing his favorite team to the adult realities of greed and indifference. He had been an Orioles fan and he had loved that team as his own. There were many like him. Had the Orioles not been so awful for the previous half decade plus, perhaps it would have been more difficult for some people who'd been watching the O's for decades to switch allegiance to the Nats. But the baseball fans in Washington, DC had something new to spice up that losing, something that should have been there all along, a baseball team in the capital of the nation, and they were playing in the Senators' old stomping grounds where so many childhood memories had been made and so many kids had learned the joys of a game called baseball. Three words couldn't have had more meaning: Baseball is back.

I had arrived to Washington by that time, frequenting those grounds, perhaps at the same time as some of those Italian-Irish folks from Rockville long before they had entered my life and I had entered theirs. Boy, were those days fun. It was baseball, that's all it was. No look-at-me-fly-by-night members of the Washington ego class, no Johnny-come-lately bandwagoners, just people who loved the game. That the team played well for much of the first season was a bonus, and you know Angelos was cursing every time he heard about another Nationals win. The baseball blogosphere was fun, too, back before social media rendered the world incapable of reading more than 140 characters at a time. Blogs like Oleanders and Morning Glories, Distinguished Senators, and Capitol Punishment were part of my daily reads. Granted, there wasn't much to cheer about, but it was baseball, and that's all that mattered.

The winning in recent years by both of the BWI teams has made for an interesting baseball atmosphere. As a baseball fan, I couldn't dream of a better postseason environment than having not one, but TWO area teams in the playoffs, despite the uninspiring season had by my beloved Reds. I revel in the fact that I get two baseball games on television every night, that local bars will put both of them on, that there are fans of both riding on the same trains and walking the same streets. It's a baseball fan's paradise. And it's unique. It's not like Chicago, where both teams have basically been around since the baseball hour glass began. It's not like New York, which saw two of its storied franchises divorce the East Coast and move in with California. It's not like LA, whose teams have so much concrete between them that they might as well be in different time zones. The Baltimore-Washington situation most closely resembles the Bay Area, especially in its white collar-blue collar divide. But it's not really that close, as both Bay Area franchises have been around for an eternity, and even in their current incarnations, they both have a lot of winning in their histories. Baltimore baseball is simply part of Washington baseball, whether new fans like it or not.

This is the story of Chris, age 10, Washington Senators fan.

When Major League Baseball wanted to relocate Les Expos to the capital of the nation that invented - or at least perfected - baseball, the MLB powers that be let Angelos bully them into a sweet deal for himself. Allen Drank-too-much-Bud Selig, owner's best friend, handed Angelos control over Nats television rights. The issue is a mess right now, as most baseball fans know, and the Orioles owe the Nationals $300 million. But this has not impoverished the Nationals, as some fans would lead you to believe. It's as if these Nats fans think that Peter Angelos is the reason the Nats didn't advance to the NLCS. If the Nats were short anything this season, it's because the Lerners are cheap bastards who would rather let a local university pay to keep Metro open late during the playoffs than fork over the money themselves, not because they couldn't afford to pay for impact players. Did Angelos try to block the move to Washington? Of course. Any businessman would take measures to protect himself from competition. That's capitalism. It is the ugly side of baseball, the corporate side, and it breaks hearts sometimes more than the game itself. It broke ten-year-old Chris's heart when his team left - it broke the hearts of so many in the Washington area. I'm sure my great great great grandfather was heartbroken when George and Harry Wright moved the first professional baseball team from Cincinnati to Boston in 1870. Professional baseball has always been a business first.

But baseball did come back to Washington, and Chris, the Senators fan, became a Nationals fan. You know what? He still has an Orioles shirt. You know what else? He's rooting hard for the Baltimore Orioles, because he was once an O's fan, because he is still an O's fan, because he is a baseball fan.

The twenty-somethings new to baseball and a few disgruntled others would have you believe that all of Washington is rooting against the Orioles. It simply isn't true. Baseball has existed in its professional form since 1869, when that other set of Wright Brothers took the field in Cincinnati, Ohio. Baseball did not begin in 2005, not even in Washington, DC. In fact, there is a long tradition of baseball here, and that, for three decades, at least, includes the Baltimore Orioles.

This is the story of Chris, age 53, baseball fan.