Tuesday, June 28, 2005
By Ross Newhan
Special to The Times
June 28, 2005
It was in a recent game against the Washington Nationals that Angel first baseman Darin Erstad was confronted by what has become a familiar problem: He could field the distracting and dangerous barrel half of a broken bat spiraling toward him or the ground ball headed for the hole on the right side of the infield.
Erstad hasn't won three Gold Gloves by stacking lumber, so he ducked the bat, fielded the grounder and got the out at first. He later shrugged off the threat posed by the latest flying missile as line-of-duty stuff in a season in which so many bats are breaking that "Splendid Splinter" has taken on new meaning."
An epidemic," said Angel bench coach Joe Maddon, or as coaching colleague Mickey Hatcher put it:"
It's unbelievable. We're seeing eight to 10 bats break every game. Guys are coming back saying they hit the ball on the sweet spot and it still broke. I don't know if the bats are just too dry or they put the label on the wrong side, but there's an awful lot of firewood being left on the infield every night."
So much firewood that Angel pitcher Jarrod Washburn, dodging it from 60 feet 6 inches, is thinking of asking for hazard pay in his next contract, especially after he shuddered and saw the spiked end of a broken bat stick in the mound during a recent game."
They're breaking like crazy," Washburn said. "I'm surprised someone hasn't been hurt yet, but it will happen."
Have termites hit the bat market?
Are more bats breaking, or is it a black-lacquered illusion?
Mindful of baseball's steroid infestation, Sam Holman has a one-word summary for the evolving bat scene.
"Mapleroid," said the Sam of SamBat, the Ottawa company that in a short span has become the third-leading supplier of bats to major league players. All of SamBat's bats are maple. In a market dominated for more than a century by the white ash of the Hillerich & Bradsby Co.'s Louisville Slugger, still the leading manufacturer of big league bats, maple has cut into the ash stranglehold to the extent that even Hillerich's orders are almost 50-50.
When Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs using a SamBat maple in 2001, there was a stampede by fickle players always looking for an edge. Of course, Bonds is Bonds."It doesn't matter what kind of bat Barry swings," Maddon said. "He's always going to hit the heart of the artichoke. The rest of them get leaves."
True, perhaps, but hitters take a paternalistic approach to their bats, or as Rex Hudler, the Angel analyst who spent 13 years in the big leagues, explained: "I would always put my bats next to those of the team's hottest hitter hoping something would rub off.""When I was with the Yankees," Hudler said, "Don Mattingly would even take his bats to bed. If his wife complained, he'd tell her, 'Honey, I keep my bats warm at night so that you'll have money to go shopping during the day.'
"Stories are bountiful.Former Angel shortstop Leo Cardenas was so superstitious that he would put his bats in the trunk of his car and drive through a cemetery at night to ward off the evil spirits of a slump. Ken Griffey Jr. orders a double dipping of lacquer to harden the barrel. A small number of players were using the harder and more durable maple before Bonds, but those 73 homers — perhaps chemically aided or not — triggered a revolution that has contributed to the shattering image of 2005.
No one keeps tab — official or otherwise — on the number of broken bats. Ken Higdon, the Angel equipment manager, said his budget of the last few years hasn't significantly changed. All clubs pay for bats. Higdon said he continues to order about eight dozen per player per season. He doesn't think there's been a significant increase in broken bats. If the nightly camera suggests otherwise, as skittish infielders duck, dodge and take cover, the widespread and generally unanimous view is that maple simply breaks in a different and more visible way than ash.
Thus, because of the significant increase in the number of players using maple bats, it appears that more bats are breaking."Maple tends to break in two, and what you see is half of the bat flying across the infield," said Chuck Schupp, Hillerich & Bradsby's director of professional sales. "Ash tends to splinter or flake. It's not always visible from the stands, and a hitter may not realize it's cracked until he gets back to the dugout and looks at it.
"Whether maple or ash, two significant factors have contributed to the broken-bat siege.• Bigger, stronger hitters conditioned to swinging light aluminum bats in high school and college are demanding similarly light wood bats with thin handles and big barrels — "they often have micro-specific requests that are difficult to produce," Schupp said — and the combination of bigger hitters/lighter bats is a physics challenge.
The 39- to 42-ounce R-43 model Louisville Slugger employed by Babe Ruth? Now, a 32- to 34-ounce bat is about average and maybe slightly heavy.• Hitters and their thin-handled bats are increasingly getting sawed off by sliders and cut fastballs delivered by pitchers with deep repertoires who are not limited to throwing straight fastballs when behind in the count. The cut fastball of New York Yankee closer Mariano Rivera alone has accounted for enough firewood to heat a Bronx winter.
In addition, the rush to fill maple orders has possibly produced a wide variance in quality control and drying procedures. There are more than 220 bat patents and about 30 companies whose bats have been tested by Major League Baseball and approved to sell to clubs and players.The companies must pay a fee to MLB and show product liability insurance."Anybody with a lathe in their garage thinks he can make a bat," said Holman of SamBat, "but in our case we don't consider ourselves bat makers. We think of ourselves as instrument makers. I'm not sure the quality control in other companies is as high as ours."
A woodworker and stagehand at Ottawa's National Arts Center for 23 years, Holman has taken SamBat from an experimental start in 1996 to a point where it is producing 17,000 bats a year, 7,000 of which go to major leaguers. Only Hillerich & Bradsby, at No. 1, and Rawlings Sporting Goods, which now operates Adirondack, sell more to MLB. A maple Louisville Slugger costs $58 at the MLB scale while ash goes for $45.
Roy Krasick, baseball's senior director of major league operations, said his tests have indicated there is no difference in the way the ball comes off either bat. Bonds and his maple sycophants might dispute that, but the MLB jury is about split based on sales."Players are always tweaking what they use, switching from one model to another, from one wood to another, depending on how they're doing," said Hillerich's Schupp, "and they're always keeping an eye on what Bonds is using now or A-Rod or [Albert] Pujols, any of the big hitters. They leave messages for me at all hours wanting to talk bats."
Among the Angels, for instance, Erstad said he admires the off-season and batting-practice durability of maple but prefers the flex and feel of ash in his game bat. Steve Finley, a maple pioneer since 1996, has now switched back to ash, complaining that he hasn't been getting consistent weight with his maple bats and too many, in the last few years, have been shattering "even when I hit it on the head.""Maybe there are internal cracks that don't show on the exterior," Finley said of his maple problems. "With ash, you know what you're getting."
Finley, of course, had been struggling before going on the disabled list last week, so it's no surprise he would have been experimenting. Hitters universally tend to believe their problems may be with the bat and not the person swinging it. In the future, as bat companies work on a hybrid beech combining elements of ash and maple, the hitters may not have to worry about which wood to use.As for breakage, that's always likely to be a knotty problem with no definitive explanation.*
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Ash versus mapleAsh and maple bats were nearly identical in ball-striking characteristics, according to a committee commissioned by Major League Baseball and led by James Sherwood, a University of Massachusetts Lowell engineer. Comparing the two woods:• Similar-size maple bats are heavier than ash bats.• About 52% of major leaguers use ash bats; 48% use maple.• Ash bats cost about $45 apiece; maple bats cost about $58.• Ash tends to splinter; maple tends to snap more cleanly.• Ash bats can flex, and there can be a trampoline effect when the ball is hit. Maple bats are more dense and flex significantly less. The surface is about 20% harder than ash.*Note: A few major league players this season are using bats made of "European" beech. Like maple, beech is very dense.*Source: SamBats; Hillerich & Bradsby; ViperBats.comLos Angeles Times
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Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Paper: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Title: TELEVISION & RADIO - TELEVISION REVIEW -
Author: Paul Brownfield
Date: June 7, 2005
We like Dodger Stadium; the Dodgers play there. We don't want to hear the sad story of the families who lost their homes to create a pitcher's mound where Sandy Koufax and Fernando Valenzuela worked their magic, and Kirk Gibson limped to home plate in the bottom of the ninth of a World Series game and stopped the city cold.
Indeed, Vin Scully, despite his butter-rich way of selling the Dodgers as the ultimate in family entertainment, couldn't narrate "Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story," a half-hour documentary, airing Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. Its part of the PBS series "Independent Lens," this one on the Mexican American immigrant families who had built homes there only to be driven out to pave the way, eventually, for the house that Walter O'Malley built.
As in many stories about a lost community, there is an unmistakably mournful, one-sided tone to this compact piece from filmmaker Jordan Mechner, with evocative music from Ry Cooder and the photography of Don Normark, whose book, "Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story," resulted from his having stumbled upon the community in 1949.Normark's pictures evoke the place and the people, who composed a tight-knit village of around 300 families. As Normark's beautiful pictures show, Chavez Ravine back then was a rambling micro-community -- people living in bungalows amid hillsides with vegetable gardens and schools and a church -- all remarkably close to downtown Los Angeles, a freeway running through it.
The children of Chavez Ravine don't own anything but the memories. They are bittersweet. At least one, Carol Jaques, went to Dodger Stadium once and couldn't go back, calling the experience like "dancing on a grave." Jaques and others know what's buried there, beneath the parked SUVs and the Union 76 station. "In a thousand years, somebody's gonna start digging, they're gonna find a school down there," Beto Elias, a child of the ravine, says, referring to an old grammar school.
"Chavez Ravine" is an all-too-familiar story, both an L.A. story and a primer on how stadiums get built (hint: people don't necessarily come first) -- although here, the story doesn't begin with the team owner pushing out the little guy. Here, it begins with plans, backed by federal housing money, to remake Chavez Ravine into a low-income housing project, until that idealistic bit of urban planning fell to political winds and was squelched, paving the way for what sits there today -- Dodger Stadium.
The city had planned to turn Chavez Ravine into low-income housing on what was mostly vacant land. At the time, residents could either sell their homes at what the city termed a fair market rate or risk forcible eviction, although they were also told they would get dibs on a home in the new project.
As a child, Elias remembers a man coming to his front door and offering his father $9,600 for his home. The senior Elias took the offer, his son remembers, only to discover that prices for homes in other neighborhoods were around double that.
Then came the land grab -- what then-city housing official Frank Wilkinson calls "the tragedy of my life." The project he helped engineer ended up killing off a community, not creating a new one, after homeowner groups protested what they saw as a socialist urban works project. Wilkinson, hounded as a Communist menace during the Red Scare of the '50s, lost his job; the land of Chavez Ravine was eventually sold to O'Malley so he could move his Brooklyn Dodgers west.
The rest you know. The O'Malleys eventually sold out to the Fox people, who have given way to the McCourts. Please drink responsibly.
'Independent Lens -- Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story'
When: 9:30 p.m. Wednesday
Ratings: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)
Writer, director, editor, producer Jordan Mechner. Executive producer Tomi Pierce. Photographer, producer Don Normark. Music, Ry Cooder.
Author: Paul Brownfield
Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
By Bob Smizik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Roberto Clemente was back in the news last week and, as is often the case with this Pittsburgh sports idol, emotions ran high. It seems some low forms of human life were auctioning parts of the plane in which Clemente was killed while flying rescue supplies from Puerto Rico to Nicaragua Dec. 31, 1972. There was outrage all around. Such pure greed is hardly unusual in 21st century America, but, as always, when Clemente is involved we hear everything a bit more loudly.
Clemente is unique among Pittsburgh sports figures. No one, not even Mario Lemieux, arouses the passion of Pittsburghers so mightily.
A generation of baseball fans watched Clemente from the mid-1950s until the early 1960s and pronounced him an over-rated malingerer who didn't hit in the clutch. But, with his play in the 1960 World Series, with the first of four batting titles in 1961, with an MVP award in 1966 and with a historically heroic Series in 1971, a younger generation elevated Clemente to the status of a Pittsburgh icon. The circumstances of his death, while he was still a highly productive player, made him a legend.
The Sixth Street Bridge is now the Roberto Clemente Bridge. A park on the North Shore is named in his honor. Some members of the media refer to the right-field wall at PNC Park as the Clemente Wall because it's 21-feet high, made that height because 21 was Clemente's number.
Not surprisingly, Clemente is regarded by many as the greatest Pirate ever.
He is, of course, no such thing. That honor indisputably goes to Honus Wagner, the winner of eight batting titles and the greatest shortstop in the history of the game.
But here's what's amazing, here's what will make Clemente's legion of fans furious. Clemente is not the second greatest Pirate. He's not the Pirates' greatest outfielder. In fact, he's not the franchise's greatest right fielder.
Paul Waner, who played right field for the Pirates from 1926 to 1940, is the greatest right fielder in the team's history.
The following should not be perceived as being critical of Clemente, a great Hall of Fame player, but rather as a tribute to Waner, another great Hall of Fame player who has fallen through the cracks of Pirates history.
Waner is a forgotten man in Pirates lore, a legend dimmed by time and the ESPN generation. He played much of his Pirates career beside his brother Lloyd, a Hall of Fame center fielder. They were known as Big Poison and Little Poison. They combined for 5,611 hits, the most by brothers in baseball history -- more than the three Alou brothers, more than the three DiMaggio brothers, more than the five Delahanty brothers.
Paul Waner was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1951, receiving 83 percent of the vote. Among the at least 11 future Hall of Famers who didn't make it that year were Bill Terry, the last National League player to hit .400, and Bill Dickey, at the time considered one of the greatest catchers in baseball history.
When Waner reached the 3,000-hit plateau in 1942, he became only the seventh player in baseball history to do so and the first National Leaguer in 28 years.
Waner is not just a Pirates great, he's an all-time great.
Waner's family has pleaded with the Pirates for some sort of recognition -- perhaps a plaque at PNC Park, preferably the retirement of his number. They just wanted something to acknowledge his accomplishments, something so that he will be remembered. The team has ignored those pleas, which is sad for the Waners and unfortunate for the Pirates.
It's easy to compare Waner and Clemente because rather amazingly they had almost the exact same number of career at-bats. Waner had 9,459, five more than Clemente. Yet he had 152 more hits, 165 more doubles, 25 more triples and four more RBIs. He had 21 more stolen bases, 854 fewer strikeouts and 470 more walks. His lifetime batting average was 16 points higher than Clemente's. His on-base percentage was 45 points higher.
Clemente hit 127 more home runs and his slugging percentage was two points higher than Waner's.
Comparing numbers across eras is not always fair. A better comparison often is how well each man did among his peers.
Clemente won four batting titles and one MVP award. Waner won three batting titles and one MVP award.
Waner led the National League in games played three times, hits twice, runs scored twice, doubles twice, triples twice, total bases once, times on base four times and RBIs once. In those same categories, Clemente led in hits twice and triples once.
Few, if any, could match Clemente in the field, but Waner also excelled defensively. Red Smith, the Babe Ruth of sports writers, wrote this about Waner:
"Because his hitting overshadowed everything else, his defensive skill is rarely mentioned. But he was a superior outfielder and one of the swiftest runners in the National League with a wonderful arm."
He had other attributes considerably less admirable. As was the case with many players of that era, Waner reportedly was a heavy drinker.
This prompted Casey Stengel, the Hall of Fame manager who was a peer of Waner's, to say, "He had to be a very graceful player because he could slide without breaking the bottle on his hip."
A legend in his own time, a forgotten man today. Paul Waner deserves better.
(Bob Smizik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Copyright ©1997-2004 PG Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, June 13, 2005
"He (Gaylord Perry) should be in the Hall of Fame with a tube of KY jelly attached to his plaque."
"He (Don Drysdale) talks very well for a guy who's had two fingers in his mouth all his life."
"He (Sandy Koufax) throws a 'radio ball,' a pitch you hear, but you don't see."
"I have an amazing ability to forget."
"I'm not the manager because I'm always right, but I'm always right because I'm the manager."
"I want everybody to feel he has a chance to get into a game when he comes to the ballpark. I play guys when I want to so they'll be ready when I have to. I don't consider myself a motivator of players. I think it's an insult to a ballplayer to have to be motivated."
"Losing streaks are funny. If you lose at the beginning you got off to a bad start. If you lose in the middle of the season, you're in a slump. If you lose at the end, you're choking."
"Most one run games are lost, not won."
"Play him (Dick Allen), fine him, and play him again.."
"The worst thing is the day you realize you want to win more than the players do."
"There should be a new way to record standings in this league, one column for wins, one for losses, and one for gifts."
"You have to bear in mind that Mr. Autry's favorite horse was named Champion. He ain't ever had one called Runner Up."
Courtesy of Baseball-Almanac.com
Friday, June 03, 2005
A Brooklyn Dodgers Flag Is Displayed Once Again
By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN; New York Times, June 1, 2005
The passage of half a century is but a blink of history for the Textile Conservation Laboratory, a leading conservator for museums and private collectors that was created in 1981 to preserve the 17th century tapestries at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.
But a tattered blue and white banner reading "World Champions 1955 Dodgers" inspired an ambitious restoration project at the laboratory. The Brooklyn Dodgers may have gone the way of The Brooklyn Eagle and Coney Island's Steeplechase Park, but the cotton and nylon banner hailing Brooklyn's only World Series title - a seven-game triumph over the New York Yankees - is preening once again in Brooklyn.
The laboratory, on the cathedral's south side, at Amsterdam Avenue between 111th and 112th Streets, undertook a three-month restoration of the banner, a labor of 122 hours, shaping it up as the centerpiece for an exhibition at the Brooklyn Historical Society titled "Dodgers Do It! Celebrating Brooklyn's 1955 Big Win."
"It's more a part of our history than European history, which is a bit more removed," said Marlene Eidelheit, director of the laboratory noted for its conservation of the cathedral's 12 Barberini tapestries on the life of Christ, woven in 17th-century Italy, and its eight tapestries of the Acts of the Apostles from the Mortlake Royal Tapestry in 17th-century England. "This is New York," she said of the Dodger banner. "This is us."
Bari Falese, who performed much of the banner's restoration, observed how "my grandmother would have been thrilled to know I was working on this."
"I remember sitting with her watching baseball," Ms. Falese said. "She was a real fan."
Beginning their work in January, the conservators vacuumed the banner (roughly 8 by 16 feet) to remove 50 years' worth of dirt; rinsed it in detergent and water free of the pollutants that contribute to aging; restored frayed portions of the blue border; and repaired holes and rips in the blue lettering and white background.
The banner, which flew at Ebbets Field in the summer of 1956, accompanied the Dodgers when they moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. But several sportswriters swiped it from a Los Angeles hotel ballroom, where it was displayed during the 1959 World Series between the Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. Two of them, Stan Isaacs and Jack Mann, both of Newsday, brought it back East. Mr. Isaacs kept the banner at his Long Island home for a while, then passed it on to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., until a suitable home could be found for it in Brooklyn.
The banner was, of course, still the property of the Dodgers. When the Brooklyn Historical Society held an exhibition on the 40th anniversary of the Dodgers' World Series triumph, Peter O'Malley, the owner of the Dodgers at the time, turned the banner over to it for display, rips and all. The banner was eventually placed in storage at the society, at 128 Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights. The banner has a light blue stain, probably the residue of ink from a band that once held the rope carrying it aloft at Ebbets Field. Otherwise, it is once again about as vital as Johnny Podres on the afternoon of Oct. 4, 1955, when he shut out the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series.
A newsreel and a series of panels at the historical society describe the game-by-game action from that glorious October in Brooklyn following five World Series defeats for the Dodgers at the hands of the Yankees.
But the exhibition, which will run at least into November, is also a trip through the history of baseball in Brooklyn, tracing the Dodgers from their debut in the 1880's. It tells of the mid-19th century ball clubs, the Excelsiors, Atlantics and Eckfords, as well as Brooklyn's Royal Giants of the Negro leagues and the current minor league Cyclones, sandlot teams and Little Leaguers.
The Dodger stars of the decade after World War II are remembered in a display of Roy Campanella's road jersey, Gil Hodges' warm-up jacket, an "I'm Rooting for Jackie Robinson" button and an advertisement explaining "why Duke Snider enjoys dance lessons at Arthur Murray's."
A drum recalls the Dodgers Sym-Phony, and the superfan Hilda Chester is shown wielding her cowbell. Three seats have been salvaged from Ebbets Field, their width attesting to a day when posteriors were considerably slimmer. A red, blue and gold usher's uniform harks back to the mid-1940's.
Brooklynites of a certain age could almost expect to be greeted by Happy Felton, the Knot-Hole Gang host, in his oversize Dodger uniform, or the Pitkin Avenue clothing store owner Abe Stark reprising his right-field scoreboard ad with a personal invitation to "Hit Sign, Win Suit."
Red Barber's voice wafts through the exhibition, much as it did through open windows in Brooklyn before air-conditioning, in a broadcast from a 1950 Dodger-Pittsburgh Pirates game proclaiming the bases to be "F.O.B.," or full of Brooklyns.
Much of the exhibition's charm resonates from the bonds between young fans then and their heroes. "There are items here that would never have been seen again," said Kate Fermoile, the society's vice president for exhibits and education. "They were in someone's living room or basement. We took these things off people's walls."
A schoolboy's notebook with the familiar black and white cover, crammed with photos of the 1955 Dodgers where arithmetic exercises were meant to be, was provided for the exhibition by Stephen Schlein, a clinical psychologist living in Lexington, Mass., who compiled the scrapbook as a student at Walt Whitman Junior High School in Brooklyn. A blond freckled-faced "Dodger doll," with a lavender hat, kept by Pauline Selice at her hospital bedside in 1948, reappears after almost six decades.
The entries in the exhibition's guest book reflect the sense of loss.
"The Dodgers were the heart and soul of Brooklyn," Mike Cassara wrote. "It's good to have them back again."
Alison Roth wrote: "We believe in miracles. Maybe one day we'll have an Ebbets Field in Queens."
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Carvel William "Bama" Rowell played six seasons in the big leagues, hitting just 19 homers and batting .275. Normally, a player with numbers like that might not be remembered, but Rowell was involved in one of the most bizarre plays in baseball history on May 30, 1946, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.