Monday, August 29, 2005

The Dodgers' Brooklyn Bridge

The Dodgers' Brooklyn Bridge
Don Newcombe, a link to a glorious past, is 79 and still serving the franchise with character and class, attributes of much concern to the organization today

By Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times
August 28, 2005

It has been nearly 60 years now, and he still takes the ball. Night after night, in a stadium where he never pitched, representing a Los Angeles Dodger team for which he never won a game, the old man in the silk suit and Panama hat still shows up.

Smiling through the demons. Shaking hands through the bitterness. Standing tall for a sport that once tried to shrink him. Many players don't know the name. Many fans have forgotten the face. Never does this loosen the grip. Hand him the autograph pad. Pull out the disposable camera. Call in the Kiwanis Club. Give him the ball. It was hell to get here, and Don Newcombe is not leaving."I still am bitter to a large degree, but then I think about what Jackie Robinson once told me," he said. "He said, 'You've got to change one letter in that word. Change the 'i' to an 'e.' Forget about bitter, try to make things better.'

"So, you want Dodger character? Cheer it today, at the 50th reunion of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, upon the introduction of Don Newcombe. Cheer it for the only still-living regular contributor on that team who was once kept in the minor leagues because of his color, prohibited from fighting back because of his race, treated unfairly despite his stardom. Cheer it for the only still-living regular contributor on that team who could have easily disappeared, the only one who could have understandably walked away. Cheer the only one who never really left.

"To see him standing behind the batting cage before the game, it constantly amazes me," said Bob Grant, the Dodger batting practice pitcher who frequently talks with Newcombe. "All he stood for, everything he fought, and he's still here. He's, like, our treasure."A buried treasure, sometimes. A scuffed treasure, perhaps. An unbreakable treasure, always.

"I remember when Martin King was at my house for dinner," recalled Newcombe, 79. "He told me, 'You and Jackie and Campy [Roy Campanella] will never know how easy you made my job.' And I was like, 'You're kidding me? How can that be?' "The year was 1968.A month later, while standing on a balcony at a Memphis hotel where the three Dodgers used to live while barnstorming, King was assassinated."I said, 'Martin, why are you even going back to Memphis?' " Newcombe recalled. "He said, 'Because my brothers and sisters are suffering.'

"Newcombe took those words to heart in later years, fighting for his two fellow Dodgers until he was the last one left. When Robinson broke all ties with the Dodgers for more than 15 years after his retirement because of anger with the front office, it was Newcombe who reunited them shortly before Robinson's death."I called him and said, 'Jack, it's time, you've got to come back, this is bigger than all of us,' " Newcombe said. "And Jack said, 'OK, for you, I'll do it.'

"When Campanella's broken body was failing, it was Newcombe who would drive to the hospital and give him blood, through transfusions, more than a half-dozen times. "Campy was my roommate, my running man, my partner," he said. Now there is just Newk, living alone in a Torrance townhouse, his walls bereft of awards, his memories in his head. He is the only player in baseball history to win the rookie of the year, Cy Young and most valuable player awards. Yet, weary of watching them gather dust in an empty apartment, he sold all three trophies to Spike Lee.

He was the 20-game winner for that 1955 Brooklyn championship team. Yet he also sold Spike the ring. He could have been a Hall of Fame pitcher, great stuff and a tough makeup, going 47-12 in 1955-56. But alcoholism ended his career at age 34. That's the hardest thing for him. That he is remembered today only for the barriers he helped break, not for the fastballs he once threw.

"Do you know that, in 49 years with this team as a player and a front-office person, only once has anyone ever asked me about pitching?" Newcombe said. "What is it about me and pitching that does not ring a bell with anybody here, or in baseball? It was like I never won a game, or anything else."

The person who asked for advice was Wilson Alvarez, two seasons ago. Today Newcombe hangs around and greets fans and talks about his nearly four decades of sobriety and spreads the Dodger gospel while waiting for someone else to ask a second pitching question."I'm not complaining," he said. "People have no idea what folks like me had to endure just to be here."

LOOKING BACK: Don Newcombe battled prejudice during his playing days. “People have no idea what folks like me had to endure.”
(Richard Hartog / LAT)
August 28, 2005

Trivia time: Whom did the Brooklyn Dodgers originally anoint to break the major league baseball color barrier?

Yep, Don Newcombe. He was 19, a great pitching prospect, and Buzzie Bavasi wanted to bring him up. But in the end, there was too much worry about his temperament. A more mature Jackie Robinson was selected instead.

"They took the right man; I was too young. The pressure would have killed me," Newcombe said. "And being a pitcher, that made it worse. In that era, people didn't respect the black man. So if I was to throw a ball and hit someone? Oh, man."

The problem was, it then took Newcombe more than three years to join him, even though he won 52 minor league games during that time. "If I was white, I would have already been called up, but Mr. Rickey said, 'I'm doing this on a stair-step procedure, so keep your mouth shut,' " Newcombe said.

Once in Brooklyn, joining Robinson and Campanella in May 1949, Newcombe said things didn't get much easier. "Even many of our teammates treated us different," he said. "People have no idea."

Typical of their lives were the trips to St. Louis. While the other Dodgers could take a bus to the hotel, the three blacks had to drag their bags to the curb to grab one of the few cabs that wouldn't ignore them. "Imagine standing there watching your teammates drive past you, and not one of them gets off the bus to stand with you," he said. "Not one, ever, got off to see what would happen."

And while the other Dodgers stayed in a plush air-conditioned hotel, the three blacks stayed in the basement of an aging blacks-only hotel, their rooms adjacent to a rowdy bar."What we had to endure because we had the audacity to want to play baseball," he said. "And the Dodgers never did anything about it.

"In Cincinnati, they couldn't eat with the team, so they once ordered everything off the room-service menu, the bill around $400, and Rickey was furious. "We made a point," he said. "The next year, Jack and his wife walked into the hotel dining room and they said, 'Where have you been?'

"Amazingly, that first season, amid constant catcalls from opponents and fans, an angry Newcombe hit only three batters in 244 1/3 innings."I was ordered not to fight back," he said. "If a black man hit a white player, it could have started a riot."His aggressiveness surfaced in other ways.He was once so angry in Chicago, he vowed to knock down all nine opposing batters but was yanked after knocking down seven.

He also quit the team twice during his career, including once for a couple of days in the middle of the 1955 championship season because he didn't want to pitch batting practice, a common chore for starters in those days. He returned after realizing the silliness of his protest, and wound up going 20-5 with a 3.20 ERA."I would go home for a few days, then call Buzzie and say, 'Will you take an old fool back?' " Newcombe recalled. "He would always say, 'Well, if that old fool will keep his mouth shut.'

"One of the things that angered the Dodgers about Milton Bradley's recent claims of racial problems is that they felt it trivialized the real struggles of players like Newcombe. "If Milton had asked me, I would have said, 'Be careful what you say, you don't want to create something that's hard to deal with,' " Newcombe said. "To my experience, the Dodgers have no racial problems at all. "But Newcombe said he understood the inspiration for Bradley's words."I want everyone to know, Milton Bradley is a fine guy; he reminds me of Jackie in so many ways. He has a personality that wants to win," he said. "And, really, if you look on the field right now, nothing racial about it, but there's only two blacks, it's not the Dodgers' fault, but that's hard sometimes.

"But plenty of other things have changed. Where Newcombe once couldn't stay in the Dodger hotel, he now gives Dodger speeches in hotels. Where he once couldn't eat with the Dodgers, he now is host at Dodger banquets. And where he was once treated like an object, his likeness now adorns an object, a bobble-head doll whose giveaway helped draw a then-record 55,311 fans to Dodger Stadium one night last July.

"It made me feel like I haven't been forgotten," Newcombe said. "To have all those people come out here. "He signed dolls and boxes for more than two hours that night. But then he felt faint, excused himself, and drove home early. But soon, he was back, behind home plate before games, in the stands during games, happily embracing the very institution that once considered him impossible to embrace. How interesting that Don Newcombe considers himself lucky to be here. It is the Dodgers, it is all of us, who are lucky to have him. "As usual, Jackie was right," Newcombe said, grinning underneath his Panama hat.

"Change one letter. Change everything. Turn bitter into better."

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A Call for Smarter Use of Arms Falls on Deaf Ears

Excerpt from New York Times, August 21, 2005

MIKE MARSHALL, perhaps the most durable relief pitcher in baseball history, is not a pariah, and he is not a leper. Yet baseball people avoid him like the plague.

"When I retired, I was silly," Marshall said, recounting his experiences since he retired in 1981. "I thought people would take a look at my career and say, 'I want to know what he did.’ Thirteen consecutive games, 208 innings, 106 games. I thought they'd want to know what I know, and nobody ever called. They still don't call."

Marshall, now Dr. Marshall with a doctorate in exercise physiology, recalled that he was an assistant coach of the University of Tampa baseball team when Brian Sabean was the head coach.

"The coach of that team is general manager of the San Francisco Giants, and he won't call me," Marshall said.

"I played with Bill Stoneman," he added, referring to the Angels' general manager. "I showed him what I did. Stoneman has never called me. I heard that the Pirates' general manager talked to a former assistant coach of mine, and they wanted to do a program he was using. He had no injuries for 10 years. The guy said it's Mike Marshall, and they said forget it."

Then there was his aborted flirtation with Cincinnati. "The Reds had an assistant general manager who was interested in my program," Marshall said. "He got the former general manager there to send me three kids who were released because they were injured. I trained them. The doctor said one of the kids would never pitch again. He came back and threw harder than before. But they changed general managers and they dropped me. Dan O'Brien wasn't interested in having me there."

Marshall, 62, isn't looking for a job. He's looking for a team or teams that are interested in his program for teaching young pitchers how to pitch without incurring arm injuries. He trains young pitchers at the Dr. Mike Marshall Pitchers Research/Training Center in Zephyrhills, Fla., but he said: "The kids who come to me don't get college scholarships or they can't make the team or they've had injuries. I'm not dealing with the star material of the world."

When he pitched in the majors, from 1967 to 1981, Marshall was unique. He was a closer before the era of last-inning closers, and he set records in 1974 by appearing in 106 games and throwing 208 1/3 innings. In today's world of the coddled pitcher, starters often don't pitch 200 innings.

But Marshall pitched for nine teams in his 14-year career, reflecting teams' discomfort with his strong personality and insistence on doing things his way. Gene Mauch, who recently died, was one manager who accepted Marshall's way of doing things, except for his activities as a players union representative.

"Without him, I don't have a major league career; it's as simple as that," Marshall said. He then explained how he joined Mauch with the Montreal Expos. "I once pitched against the Expos and struck out Rusty Staub. Mauch asked him what was that pitch - it was a screwball. Rusty said, 'I don't know, but I couldn't hit it.’ Mauch remembered that and traded for me."

In Marshall's previous stops, with Detroit, Seattle and Houston, managers and pitching coaches balked at letting him throw a screwball, saying right-handers couldn't throw screwballs. "Then I met Gene Mauch," Marshall said. "He wasn't concerned about the pitches I was throwing. He was concerned about how hard I worked and how I did my job. He gave me the chance, and I continued to get people out and I did well."

Marshall wasn't the best reliever ever, but he was the busiest, pitching more frequently and longer than others. "I was referred to as a physical freak, whereas I just knew better than others what I was doing, and I trained right," he said. "I understand the forces that are involved in pitching good and bad."

Marshall lamented that coaches "keep teaching the traditional pitching motion," even though pitchers keep hurting their arms. At his training center, where the students live for 40 or 48 weeks, he teaches his method of pitching, which employs Newton's three laws of motion.
"There's a better way of producing force without using the traditional pitching motion, which has flaws," he said. "This is an epidemic that needs to be researched. We have to teach them how to pitch so they don't have flaws."

To eliminate flaws, Marshall teaches a different pitching motion from the one pitchers traditionally use.

"I want the ball to go back toward second base, then toward home plate in as straight a line as possible," he said. "The traditional motion has anywhere from 5 to 9 feet of side-to-side movement in ways that put unnecessary stress on the arm and do no good for the quality of pitches and cause injuries."

Marshall's pitching motion also requires a pitcher to use his legs differently and not "reverse rotate" his hips as much as pitchers traditionally have.

Marshall said he told the Dodgers last spring that Eric Gagne, who had a record 84 successive saves, "reverse-rotated his hips too much; he's going to destroy his arm.” Gagne is out for the season with a sprained right elbow.

After watching their pitching motions, Marshall made similar observations about the Cubs' Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. "How many millions of dollars are they spending on them?” Marshall said of the two pitchers, who have made repeated visits to the disabled list.
"We need to eliminate pitching injuries," Marshall said. "I don't understand why baseball, with all the money they have invested in pitchers, doesn't research this. The stress that pitchers put on their elbow creates Tommy John surgeries. No pitcher I've trained has had a pitching arm injury."

Courtesy of the New York Times

Monday, August 22, 2005

"Sweet Caroline" - Red Sox Ditty

Another Mystery of the Diamond, Explained at Last
By Stephanie Vosk, Globe Correspondent
May 29, 2005

The lyrics have nothing to do with baseball.
The composer has no connection to the Red Sox.
The song hit the charts more than 30 years ago.

So why does ''Sweet Caroline" pump from the speakers at Fenway Park in the middle of the eighth inning of every single Red Sox game?

Like all the Sox fans questioned at one of this month's rare sunny home games, Paul Sundeen has no idea. And he attends 10 to 15 games a season.

''It's just one of those things," says Sundeen, 24, of West Roxbury. ''Everybody seems to sing it."
''Maybe one of the player's wives is Caroline," offers Michael McCarthy, 25, a Back Bay resident.
''I think it was all Pedro Martinez's fault," says Marc Schwalb, 32, of Revere, shaking his arms to imitate the way the former Red Sox ace would dance for the crowd when the song was played.
Schwalb says he makes a point to sing along, despite the fact he finds ''Caroline" ''one of the worst songs ever written."

Dennis Doherty, 28, of Hyde Park, also disses the song. '' 'Sweet Caroline' has nothing to do with Boston," Doherty says. ''I think they should end it; I don't like it."

As April McGann, 30, a FleetCenter employee from Randolph, explains the song has ''something to do with the Red Sox," her friend jumps in with a more detailed answer.

''Boston's supposed to be 'Sweet Caroline,' " says Mairead Finn, 30, of Weymouth, with the voice of authority.

As the question spreads among nearby fans, Lauren Manforde, 21, of Naugatuck, Conn., jumps in, voicing frustration.

''Nobody knows," she says, ''I've been trying to find out for years." Even Sherrie Levy, press agent for songwriter and singer Neil Diamond, has no clue. ''I'm not sure how it started, but we're very pleased that it happened," Levy says. Diamond is on tour and not available to comment on the question, according to Levy. Scheduled to perform at the FleetCenter Aug. 15, Diamond has been asked by the Red Sox to sing at their Aug. 14 home game against the Chicago White Sox. It is not yet known whether he will, Levy says.

Amy Tobey knows the answer to the ''Sweet Caroline" question.

Tobey began working for the Red Sox through her job at BCN Productions, a film and video communications company, having interned for the Boston Bruins.

Her assignment was to decide what music would be played at the park from 1998 to 2004.
She had noticed ''Sweet Caroline" was used at other sporting events, and she decided to send the sweetness over the Fenway speakers.

The song was picked up by fans, and the more it caught on, the more superstitious Tobey became about playing it.

Tobey would play the song somewhere between the seventh and ninth innings if the team was ahead, depending on whether she felt the team was going to win.

She didn't go by any specific margin of runs, but rather who the opponent was, and her gut instincts.

''I actually considered it like a good luck charm," Tobey says. ''Even if they were just one run [ahead], I might still do it. It was just a feel."

In 2002, when new management took over at the park, they requested that Tobey play the song during the eighth inning of every game.

''They liked it and they just loved the crowd reaction with it and stuff," she says. Though Tobey says she was nervous the change would be bad luck for the team, its appeal to fans ultimately ruled.

And under the song's spell, the Red Sox last season won their first World Series in 86 years.

It was even included in the recent film ''Fever Pitch," starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, that appropriates scenes from 2004's winning season.

To Lauren Rochon, 23, of Quincy, ''Caroline," is the ''epitome of Boston." ''It's just in every bar you go to, it's one of those songs," Rochon says. ''It's Boston's theme song."

''It's just a catchy tune, the words are easy . . . it gets the whole field in one rhythm," says Jackie Davidson, 52, a Taunton resident, standing outside the park on Patriots Day.

''You don't sing 'Sweet Caroline' . . . you didn't go to a game."

Courtesy of The Boston Globe

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Rodriguez Has Potential to Strike Like a Hurricane

Of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Wednesday, Jul. 20 2005

Cardinals Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst surveyed first-time major leaguer John Rodriguez on Monday. He came away impressed by the 27-year-old's presence at bat and in the field, even though Rodriguez, taking over for the injured Reggie Sanders, had never risen above Class AAA until that night. "He just might do a real good job," Schoendienst said. "We could use a hurricane right now."

Now, before you meteorologists rebuke the Redhead for not knowing a tornado from a hurricane, or for stating that he wants one - there hasn't been a hurricane in Missouri in a very long time - consider that Schoendienst does have experience with the matter.

He was a star on the Milwaukee Braves team that won the world championship in 1957, helped in no small measure by the surprising July recall of outfielder Bob "Hurricane" Hazle. Hazle, a South Carolina native, was so named for the famous Hurricane Hazel that ravaged the coast in that state in 1954, but he could have earned that monicker for what he did in the final two months of the 1957 season.

When Milwaukee center fielder Billy Bruton was hurt, Hazle, a 26-old-outfielder hitting a modest .270, was recalled from Class AAA Wichita. Expectations were low, but production turned out to be high.

As the Braves won their first and only world title in Milwaukee, Hazle hit an astonishing .403 in 134 at-bats with a slugging percentage of .649. Schoendienst, the Braves second baseman that year, said: "(Hazle) wasn't highly regarded.

But every time he swung the bat, it went in there. If he hit it hard or if he didn't hit it hard, he was getting base hits. Everything he did was right. "He even made some pretty good defensive plays and he wasn't considered at all a good outfielder. He was a hurricane for those two months. "He wouldn't catch your eye coming to a ball club. But you looked at him for the first week and you'd say, 'Where the hell has he been?' I don't care what club you're talking about, I've never seen a guy like that."

The next year, Hurricane Hazle wasn't even a soft breeze. "He went south," Schoendienst said. The lefthanded hitter batted .179 before being dealt to Detroit, which also found him wanting after 58 at-bats and sent him back to the minors. He would never return to the majors. "I don't know if he was in over his head," Schoendienst said. "Any time you have a go like that, it's terrific. But he just didn't do it the next year."

As for Rodriguez, he did something at Memphis that is rarely achieved at any level, hitting 17 home runs and driving in 47 runs in just 34 games. "I don't think I've ever seen anybody have that kind of month," Memphis manager Danny Sheaffer said. Also strange but true is the fact that the Cardinals acquired Rodriguez at the minor league level not because they needed an outfielder, but because they needed to get rid of a catcher.

Mike Mahoney had come down from St. Louis and Brad Cresse had come off the disabled list. This left little room for Javier Cardona, who had been acquired in an earlier minor league deal with Colorado. "We were within 10 minutes of releasing Cardona when (player development director) Bruce Manno made the trade," Sheaffer said. Manno said the deal actually had been Cardona for a "player to be named." Then John Farrell, Manno's counterpart with Cleveland, called a couple of days later and asked him if the Cardinals would accept Rodriguez as that player.

Scott Schumaker had just been called up for a brief trial with the Cardinals and Scott Seabol would come up later, so there was an opening for Rodriguez, who wasn't playing every day at Buffalo, where he was hitting .247. "You wish all your deals would work that way," Manno said.

Sheaffer has seen enough of Rodriguez to believe the remarkable power surge is for real. "It wasn't a fluke," Sheaffer said. "He hit two grand slams off lefthanders and the last game he played here he hit a three-run homer off a lefthander. Going on the past 34 games, I've never seen anything like it. "He's an average outfielder with a decent arm and he runs above average. It looks like he's got the tools to play in the big leagues every day. I'm looking forward to him putting some balls out of that ball park."

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has his own experience with a career minor leaguer getting a callup and succeeding. In 1994, when Athletics first baseman Mark McGwire missed much of the season due to injury, Geronimo Berroa, 29, a designated hitter-outfielder, was summoned to Oakland. Berroa hit 13 homers, batted .308 and drove in 65 runs in less than a full season. But he didn't flame out as quickly as Hazle.

Berroa banged out 22 homers and drove in 88 runs the next year and then hit 38 homers and knocked in 108 for the A's in 1996, the season La Russa came to St. Louis. But Berroa drifted to five other big- league clubs without ever really finding another home.

La Russa would settle for Rodriguez being a Berroa in the long term or anything even resembling Hazle in the short term. Schoendienst shook his head and smiled at mention of the last name. "He was just like a flower," Schoendienst said. "It lasts for two months. And then it fades out."

Courtesy of St. Louis Post Dispatch

Monday, August 15, 2005

Double Duty Radcliffe

Ted 'Double Duty' Radcliffe, 103; Star Catcher in Negro League Also Pitched

By Fred Mitchell, Chicago Tribune

Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, a star in the Negro league and believed to be the oldest former professional baseball player, died of cancer Thursday in Chicago. He was 103.
Radcliffe was an all-star catcher and pitcher in the Negro league for half a century, playing for more than 30 teams.

Ted 'Double Duty' Radcliffe (LAT)

Records were not always kept, but his biographer, Kyle P. McNary, estimated that Radcliffe had a .303 batting average, 4,000 hits and 400 homers in 36 years.
After starring as a pitcher and a catcher, he became a manager.

Ted 'Double Duty' Radcliffe (LAT)

Damon Runyon gave him the nickname "Double Duty" after Radcliffe caught the first game, then pitched the second in a 1932 Negro League World Series doubleheader between the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Monroe Monarchs at Yankee Stadium.

Radcliffe caught a shutout by Satchel Paige in the first game, then pitched a shutout in the second, prompting Runyon to write that Radcliffe "was worth the price of two admissions."

Radcliffe pitched five and caught nine of the all-star games in which he played and hit .376 in nine exhibition games against major leaguers, years before blacks were allowed to play in the major leagues.

In his later years, Radcliffe was frequently in the crowd for White Sox games at U.S. Cellular Field and occasionally visited the clubhouse. It was his tradition to throw out the first ball on his birthday, July 7.

Two weeks ago, he was scheduled to travel to Alabama for a ceremony celebrating the Birmingham Black Barons, but he fell ill and was hospitalized in Chicago.

"Double Duty shared such a love for baseball and a passion for life," White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said. "We all loved to see him at the ballpark, listen to his stories and share in his laughter. He leaves such a great legacy after experiencing so much history and change during his long life. He will be missed by all of us with the White Sox."

In May, Radcliffe was among 14 Negro league players honored in a pregame ceremony at RFK Stadium before the Chicago Cubs played Washington. Sitting in a golf cart behind the plate, Radcliffe made the ceremonial first pitch by handing the ball to National coach Don Buford.

Born in 1902 in Mobile, Ala., Theodore Roosevelt Radcliffe began his professional career with the Detroit Stars in 1928. He went on to play for the St. Louis Stars, Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Columbus Blue Birds, New York Black Yankees, Brooklyn Eagles, Cincinnati Tigers, Memphis Red Sox, Birmingham Black Barons, Chicago American Giants, Louisville Buckeyes and Kansas City Monarchs.

He managed the Cleveland Tigers in 1937, Memphis Red Sox in 1938 and the Chicago American Giants in 1943.

Hall of Famer Ty Cobb once reported that as a catcher in an exhibition game, Radcliffe wore a chest protector that said, "Thou shalt not steal."

At 5-foot-9 and 210 pounds, Radcliffe had a strong throwing arm and good reflexes. As a pitcher, he was known to throw the emery ball, the cut ball and the spitter, pitches common at the time but long since outlawed.

One of 10 children, Radcliffe played baseball with his brothers and their friends, using a taped ball of rags.

Ted and one of his brothers, Alex, hitchhiked to Chicago in 1919 to join an older brother. A year later, Ted signed with the semipro Illinois Giants for $50 for every 15 games and 50 cents a day meal money. This worked out to about $100 a month.

He traveled with the Giants for a few seasons before joining Gilkerson's Union Giants, another semipro team, with whom he played until he joined the Detroit Stars of the Negro National League in 1928.

Radcliffe was the regular catcher for the Stars for the first half of the season. When the pitching staff became weary toward the end of the season, he began pitching and helped the team to a championship. His career-best batting average was .316 for the 1929 Detroit Stars.

The 1931 Homestead Grays, according to Radcliffe, was the greatest team of all time. That Pittsburgh team included Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Jud Wilson and Smokey Joe Williams.

Radcliffe managed the Memphis Red Sox in 1937, in addition to catching and pitching for them. In 1943, at age 41, he rejoined the Chicago American Giants and won the Negro American League MVP award. The next season, he blasted a home run into the upper deck of Comiskey Park to highlight that season's East-West All-Star game.

Funeral services are scheduled for Wednesday in Chicago.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Courtesy of Los Angeles Times

Friday, August 12, 2005

Bill James, Beyond Baseball

#1322 Bill James, Beyond Baseball
FEED DATE: JULY 28, 2005
Bill James

Opening Billboard: Funding for Think Tank is provided by...

(Pfizer) At Pfizer, we’re spending over five billion dollars looking
for the cures of the future. We have 12,000 scientists and health
experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion.
Pfizer, life is our life’s work.

Additional funding is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz
Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry
Bradley Foundation.

Hello I’m Ben Wattenberg...

In the last few years, the success of teams like the LA
Dodgers, the Oakland A’s, and of course the miraculous
Boston Red Sox has been credited to a new scientific
way of looking at baseball. It’s called Sabermetrics, and
It is changing the way we look at baseball and
professional sports. How does it work? And are
there wider implications beyond the world of sports?

To Find Out, Think Tank is joined by...

Bill James, Senior Baseball Operations Advisor with the
Boston Red Sox and author of many books including
The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract and
The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers.

The Topic Before the House: Beyond Baseball, This
Week on Think Tank

WATTENBERG: Bill James, welcome to Think Tank.

JAMES: Thank you for having me.

WATTENBERG: Delighted to have – to have you. Tell me
first a little bit about your life...where you were born,
when you wrote your books and so on.

JAMES: I come from Kansas. I grew up in a
small town in Kansas, went to the University of Kansas and
I started writing, I guess, in the mid 1970s just because I
didn’t know it was impossible.


JAMES: And the – I wrote the first Baseball
Abstract in 1977 and realized I hadn’t done a very good job
with that one so I decided I’d try it again and after these
– this many years I’m still trying to get it right.

WATTENBERG: How many books have you written so far?

JAMES: About 20.

WATTENBERG: About 20. Let me – let me first say that I
– the two that I read I really loved. I mean, it was like
meeting old friends sometimes ‘cause it goes back into the
past of baseball history and I’ve been sort of one of these
on again, off again baseball fans. I mean, I remember my
two favorite books as a kid were Jack London’s The Call of
the Wild and a book about the St. Louis Cardinals earlier –
of an earlier time called The Gas House Gang and I must
have read each of those books about fifty times. So it
really is a kind of sport that can challenge – can
challenge a kid and an adult, obviously.

JAMES: J.Roy Stockton’s the Gas House Gang. The –
he felt free to make of his characters larger than life
figures in a way that they maybe weren’t but he had no
reluctance about portraying them that way. I think that’s
a – I always wonder if we’re missing something in that we
are so careful now not to make people what they aren’t.

WATTENBERG: There’s so much myth-building in life and in
sports. I, as a future writer anyway, I remember in
growing up in New York one of the favorites was Jimmy
Cannon who was a wonderful – albeit I look back and he was
sort of very over-dramatic, but he used to write columns
about Joe DiMaggio that made it seem as if Joe DiMaggio
walked on water; was just the greatest man in the world.
And then a few years ago a book came out by Richard Ben
Kramer about DiMaggio and it made him out as an absolutely,
totally unpleasant man.

JAMES: That’s right. And you wonder, are we better
off for knowing or... I think everybody would choose to
know, but in some ways you wouldn’t.

WATTENBERG: It’s said that you have challenged the
conventional wisdom in baseball. I wonder, why don’t you
lay out for us what your thesis is about what we’ve been
getting wrong about looking at baseball?

JAMES: The – the first point is that I did not
start with any thesis and even to say that I have a thesis
is more somebody else’s perception than it is my own. I
suppose I do and I’ll get to that in a moment, but I
started by asking the question what is the connection
between these numbers and winning. People think that they
understand which numbers are...

WATTENBERG: These numbers being batting averages,
slugging percentages...all those statistical artifacts that
come with baseball.

JAMES: Right. And I – yes, I started with that
question rather than with the thesis. When you start with
that question, you say how important is speed to winning?
Unfortunately, you reach the conclusion that it’s not very
important at all. I mean, the best teams in the majors are
no faster than the – the worst teams; in fact they’re
slower. The – and some of the things that people have
believed about what makes a winning team, ninety-five
percent of them are true, no doubt. Five percent of them
are false, so I then become identified with the five
percent that I – of the traditional wisdom that I argue
with. What’s important? If I have a thesis it’s that – I
mean, you win games by scoring runs and preventing runs;
you score runs by getting people on base. I mean how many
runs a team scores is essentially a function of how many
people they have on base.
Other things count. Speed counts, running
counts, moving runners counts, power counts but essentially
how many runs you score and how many games you win comes
from how many people you have on base.

WATTENBERG: Therefore what? If we determine that the
trick is to get on base, then for example you’re not saying
that the homerun is a very important – people want to come
see homeruns but it’s not terribly important as you see it.

JAMES: Well, the whole – the power – power is very
valuable and I don’t mean to minimize that at all. The –
if you had to choose between power and speed, by all means
choose power. The – but you can – you can win without
power if you get enough people on base and the same way,
you can without speed if you get enough people base.

WATTENBERG: Okay. You wrote in one of the key quotes,
“a hitter should be measured by his success in that which
he is trying to do and that which he is trying to do is
create runs, not compile a high batting average.”

JAMES: Correct.

WATTENBERG: So you think that the batting average, which
is the first thing that normally comes to people’s mind who
follow this at all is, “Oh, he hit 326. He’s really good.”
That’s not the way you look at it.

JAMES: That’s right. If you hit 326 you are really
good. But there are people who hit 280 who are not good
players. If you hit 280 and you don’t walk and you don’t
have power and you don’t have speed, you won’t – your team
will not win. There are players who hit 230 who are good
players, so within that – I mean if you hit 180 you stink
no matter what. If you hit 325, you can play no matter
what. Within that medium range, batting average is

WATTENBERG: One of the great clichés is that pitching is
90% of baseball. Do you buy that?

JAMES: People will tell you that John McGraw said that
baseball’s 90% pitching. John McGraw ridiculed the idea
that baseball is 90% pitching and he explained very
carefully and very logically that baseball was about 30%
pitching, which was very – which is an accurate major at
the time that he did this which was 1906.
The – since 1906 pitching has become more
important than it was then and defense has been squeezed a
little bit. But still pitching is 35% of the game.

WATTENBERG: If you’ve got a guy, a pitcher, thrown in
smoke and you can’t – and getting the ball over the plate,
you can’t do the other things that you’ve talked about
which is get on base or it’s very hard.

JAMES: The perfection in any area of the game will
– will succeed. I mean, if you – if your whole offense is
built out of Henry Aarons who can hit a 97 mile an hour
fastball, then you don’t need pitching. If you have
perfect pitching you don’t need hitting. And it’s true
that any one element of the game can - can dominate the
others if taken to an extreme. But the extreme case is not
the typical case. In the typical case – in the typical
case over the course of a season, success comes from a
melding of all different types of abilities. The one most
important of those is hitting. The – because the hitter
has more control over the outcome of the event than anybody
else does.

WATTENBERG: You find that the ability of a batter to get
on base via the walk – four balls...

JAMES: Right. the critical difference of that vast middle
ground. Is that right?

JAMES: That is correct.

WATTENBERG: You talk about so called clutch hitters and
if I understand it correctly, you find that these are all
professionals; they all do over a period of time about what
they’re expected to do.

JAMES: The problem with clutch hitting is that no
one can prove that such a scale exists at the major league
level. And it would seem intuitively that if it existed,
one would have to be able to prove that it existed. No one
can. The – if you take the guys who hit best in the clutch
in 2004 and look at how they hit in the clutch situations
in 2005, there’s no – there’s no real carryover. It’s –
other than the good hitters will be good, the bad hitters
will be bad, but there’s no – there’s no proven
predictability to being able to hit in clutch situations.
The – therefore, some people have rushed to say that clutch
hitting doesn’t exist. I don’t say it doesn’t exist. I
just don’t know. Maybe, you know – maybe I have a
Sasquatch breaking into my backyard at night.

WATTENBERG: So you would believe, for example, that Joe
DiMaggio’s famous fifty-six-game hitting streak was just a
series of statistical artifacts. It’s just he was a good –
good baseball player... a very good baseball player and the
just happened to fall that way.

JAMES: Well, I’m tempted to believe that but the
problem with that argument is that Joe DiMaggio, when he
was nineteen years old had a – a sixty-one-game hitting
streak in the very good minor league baseball. So that
damages the theory that this is just a – a random
statistical artifact. The – and there may have – well have
been something about DiMaggio’s nature that made it...

WATTENBERG: I mean players do talk... all the time in
every sport.

JAMES: Right.

WATTENBERG: That, “Boy, I’m really hot” or “I can’t buy
a base hit. It’s terrible.”

JAMES: Yes. Right.

WATTENBERG: I mean and – and so that would – conceivably
could have some – some effect.

JAMES: It could, but the guy – they – you can’t
prove a guy’s hot, either. I mean, the guys who are hot -
if you look at the guys who have been red hot over the last
week and look at how they hit tomorrow, they’re not going
to hit any better than their normal ability. So that again
appears to be a statistical artifact.

WATTENBERG: All these theories that we’ve begun to
explicate here has been called Sabermetrics.

JAMES: Right.

WATTENBERG: Who are the outstanding sabermetricians?

JAMES: Craig Wright, Eddie Epstein, the – Ron

WATTENBERG: Now who - they are affiliated with teams or
just with their own websites or both or...

JAMES: Craig Wright has worked for teams and
consults with teams several consulting contracts for many
years. Eddie Epstein used to work with the Orioles and has
consulted with teams. Ron Chandler works with the
Cardinals. And there are many others.

WATTENBERG: Given all these notions, how would you
actually define Sabermetrics?

JAMES: I keep switching definitions because I don’t
like any of them. The best definition is the broadest one.
Sabermetrics is the search for objective knowledge about
baseball. We try to take the issues that baseball people
argue about and submit them to rigorous tests.

WATTENBERG: Statistics essentially.

JAMES: Yes. The same as – as a – a economist would
or a sociologist would or any other person of knowledge

WATTENBERG: The first of the baseball general managers
to put your Jamesian theories into work was Billy Bean. Is
that accurate and what did he actually do in I guess
scouting new players?

JAMES: Well, my knowledge of all this is second
hand or third hand because I don’t deal with them
personally, but I think that Billy Bean inherited the
practice – the sabermetric practices from Sandy Alderson,
who actually was the general manager of Oakland twenty
years ago and started using what we could call solid
sabermetric practices.

WATTENBERG: And again, he looked at the record and
looked specifically for people who could get on base as
opposed to being the big slugger or whatever.

JAMES: That’s right. That’s right.

WATTENBERG: And he did very well.

JAMES: And they have done very well. Persistently.

WATTENBERG: How do the old timers, the scouts who cover
the country looking for raw talent for how strong they air
and how far they can hit the ball and all that kind of
stuff, what do they think about this – your theory of
Sabermetrics, or THE theory of Sabermetrics?

JAMES: The – I would think it’s probably safe to
say that a great many of them are very skeptical about the
– the whole idea.

WATTENBERG: They still like a guy who can run like the
blazes and throw the ball real hard?

JAMES: They do and there are good reasons to do
that and also sometimes they feel perhaps inappropriately
threatened by the alternative approach I think that...

WATTENBERG: That in other words they are being – they’re
sort of ludites there being replaced by a machine called

JAMES: Right. That’s right. Which actually is
quite impossible.

WATTENBERG: It’s quite impossible?

JAMES: It’s quite impossible. There are too many
things you can’t measure.

WATTENBERG: Now, you were hired by another disciple of –
of Sabermetrics, who you work for now, Theo Epstein. What
is his actual job and what is your actual job?

JAMES: The – Theo is the general manager of the
Boston Red Sox and in theory I work for the leadership
group of the Boston Red Sox including the owner, John
Henry, and the president Larry Lucchino, as well as the
general manager, Theo, but in practice 95% of my work is
for Theo, so I work for Theo.

WATTENBERG: In 2004 the Red Sox made that incredible
comeback to break the so called curse of the bambino, what
did Epstein and you actually do to help the Red Sox?

JAMES: The – well, the players won it. I mean, the
– in terms of what we – what we did to help the players, I
mean we have a – we have a very good program of events
scouting in place; we have a good program in place, too.
We brought in players we thought would help and I think
they did help. But what it - you know, the players won –
won the World Series on their own.

WATTENBERG: What has happened over the years in all
sports, I guess, is the player’s salaries have been
enormous – have jumped enormously. Now, does your theory,
the Jamesian theory, Sabermetrics or whatever, does that
tend to diminish the difference between a wealthy franchise
and a poorer franchise?

JAMES: Not in itself, no. The – the book Moneyball
puts forward the idea that the...

WATTENBERG: Which is basically about you – your theory.

JAMES: Well, it’s basically about the Oakland A’s,
but it puts forward the idea that the A’s were able to
succeed by – by playing smart baseball with very little
money and that they used my theories along with other
things to do that. But knowledge favors people who have
knowledge; it favors neither the wealthy nor the poor, so I
don’t – I won’t – it’s not intrinsically true.

WATTENBERG: You were quoted recently in the New York
Times in a very refreshing way where you said that you had
been wrong in some of your theories.

JAMES: Right.

WATTENBERG: And in fact in one of your books - in the
book about pitching with Mr. Neyer, there are constant
references to, “well, James thinks this but Neyer thinks
he’s wrong and Neyer thinks this but James thinks he’s
wrong.” These are all topics for argumentation I gather,
or many of them are.

JAMES: I would hope so. The Times piece focused on
the clutch hitting issue as well as other things, that we –
we were using a method that we thought should have detected
clutch hitters if they existed and I studied and concluded
that even if clutch hitters existed you wouldn’t find them
by using this method.

WATTENBERG: What were your emotions – I mean, there’s a
very parochial question here in Washington ‘cause so many
people are excited about the reemergence of a baseball club
in – in Washington. Did Washington deserve a team? Are
you glad it got it? I mean, it’s not in your league but
it’s – it’s a national league club; not an American league.
Was that sort of a great event for...

JAMES: I’m very pleased to see baseball back in
Washington. The – it’s my belief that baseball thrives by
providing baseball to every major league city. And I think
every major league city should have a major league team and
– and I – I don’t – I don’t think that we gain by creating
artificial surplus of cities.

WATTENBERG: Now, it’s said that baseball is America’s
pastime. Some writers, George Will, David Broder, others I
think sort of go overboard about the great poetry of the
diamond and the outfield and they go on and on. But is
that still so? I mean, how do the attendance figures and
in the television ratings, is it still valid?

JAMES: It – looking at baseball itself, baseball
has never been healthier. Attendance is fantastic; TV
ratings are very good; the income is great. Looking at
baseball compared to other sports, not so much. More – if
asked what is the national sport, more people will say
football than baseball. The – add their TV ratings for
baseball, while they’re good, are not necessarily as good
as basketball, the NCAA tournament or – or...

WATTENBERG: It’s – it’s said, and I once wrote a column
called “Snoreball” – it’s said that baseball is a boring
game because – I mean you could take all of the action in a
two-and-a-half-hour baseball game; the actual time the ball
is in play is probably two or three minutes, if I’m – if
I’m – if I’m guessing. Should or could the game be speeded

JAMES: It could - could be and it should be. You
could – you could - a game now lasts two-and-a-half hours
and they’re working hard to cut that down and they’ve made
some progress. But if you could get the unions out of the
way, the – you could – you could...

WATTENBERG: The player’s unions.

JAMES: The player’s union and the umpire’s union.
The – and the – and get the TV ads and that under control,
you could very easily play a nine inning baseball game in –
on average an hour and forty minutes and with just a few
rule – small rules changes; so small that if somebody
didn’t explain them to you, you couldn’t figure out what...

WATTENBERG: Which would inherently make it more


WATTENBERG: I find it very interesting. I – I – let me
start that again. I find it very interesting. I do a lot
of writing, and have done over the years, about data and it
is invariably so, and I mean invariably, that you can take
the same data or various people can take the same data and
interpret it in wholly different ways. And I mean, there’s
one – the so called poverty rate - you can take it and say
it’s how much cash do you earn and that’s the poverty
threshold and if you’re above it you’re not in poverty.
But you can also say well, you’ve got to count in food
stamps ‘because that’s as good as cash and you got to count
in rent supplements and you got to count in... and there’s
a whole other bunch of things. You got to count in
Medicaid. And then you get a much lower poverty rate.
On the other hand, people who want to show that
gee, America’s doing very poorly and they want to show the
poverty rate is higher, they have a whole – and the Census
Bureau publishes all of this stuff. But the length of
poverty is higher and a lot of other things and of course
you get into economics and it’s a zoo. I mean, there are
so many numbers out there you can just... So my long
question is, is data a good way of explaining life and the
things – these objective things that we see about – about

JAMES: The data is a limited way of explaining
life. The essential property of the data is that it’s not
real. It is an image of a reality that is always something
else and in the same way as one can define poverty in
different ways in the statistics, or anything in baseball,
what you have in essence is a picture and you could take a
picture of me from the front and a picture of me from the
left and a picture of me from the back and you’d have very,
very different pictures. The statistics are not – they’re
a real thing; they are just a picture of something else.
There is always a lot that’s left out of the picture and
the biggest mistake that people who try to study baseball
through the stats make is thinking that they – it’s
confusing them with the real event. There’s always a
tremendous amount that’s left out. What a lot of people
don’t understand is that there are also things that you can
see in the statistics that you can’t really see in any
other way. So you have - you just have to balance those.

WATTENBERG: Ok, on that note, Bill James thank you very
much for joining us on Think Tank. And thank you, please
remember to send us your comments via email; we think it
makes our program better. For Think Tank, I’m Ben

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Trying to Keep Records Pure Could Prove to Be Futile

Trying to Keep Records Pure Could Prove to Be Futile


TORONTO, Aug. 5 - For all the reverence that baseball's record book receives - few volumes are treated so sacredly - the sport has, historically, never been inclined to penalize the convicted or admitted cheats within it.

Consider Gaylord Perry, who from 1962 to 1983 unabashedly threw pitches slathered with Vaseline while winning 314 games and earning entry into the Hall of Fame. Or Norm Cash, a slugger for the Detroit Tigers, who in 1961 admittedly corked his bat and hit an impressive .361 with 41 home runs and 132 runs batted in; in his next 13 seasons in the major leagues, he never finished with a batting average above .283.

Their numbers live forever in encyclopedias and on various lists, as if they had been accomplished squarely within the rules.

But with the recent 10-day suspension of the Baltimore Orioles' Rafael Palmeiro, who tested positive for using steroids, the debate was joined once again over how, or even whether, to enter steroid-tainted achievements in the record books.

One might expect that the disclosure would outrage the records committee of the Society for American Baseball Research, a worldwide organization of nearly 7,000 intent on maintaining the integrity of baseball's historical record. The group held its annual meeting here.

The members of this committee are known for two things: caring deeply about home runs, batting averages and other statistical details; and, just as starkly, never agreeing on anything. After all, these are the people who argue for days about a double here and a putout there, and whether Ferdie Schupp of the New York Giants actually posted the National League's lowest earned run average back in 1916 - a jaw-dropping 0.90.

The group of about 50 experts, mostly middle-aged men wearing the jerseys or caps of their favorite team, almost immediately reached a consensus on the steroids quandary. Perhaps more reflexively than most baseball fans who were stung by Palmeiro's suspension, most of these seasoned numbers buffs remained resignedly pragmatic when determining how steroids should be dealt with in the record book.

Sports statistics are elevated to almost iconic status. They are as identifiable as any face or corporate logo. But to these committee members, they remain unalterable facts, simple if not pure.

"We're not moralists," said Lyle Spatz, the committee's chairman. "We count which players hit such-and-such home runs, not whether they quote-unquote deserved them."

David Vincent, who specializes in information about home runs, brought up Whitey Ford, who admitted to throwing doctored baseballs late in his career. "Where's the moral indignation there?" Vincent said.

When talk turned to how baseball's playing conditions have evolved - from night games and integration to artificial turf and tiny strike zones - one member sarcastically suggested that all 20th century hitters be thrown out because fielders now wear gloves.

All sports have learned that trying to unring the bell for any reason, cheating or otherwise, has always been a rather clunky exercise, one that not only rings hollow but is often rescinded decades later.

Baseball can lay claim to the most awkward instance of all, the handling of Roger Maris's 61 home runs in 1961. That year, the season had been extended to 162 games, 8 games more than when Babe Ruth set the record of 60 in 1927. Baseball officials, wanting to protect Ruth's majesty, decided to list both Yankees as record-holders. (Contrary to legend, an asterisk by Maris's name was never used.)

But soon after baseball became used to the 162-game schedule, fans and officials realized that the distinction was long obsolete. In 1991, Fay Vincent, the commissioner of Major League Baseball at the time, officially removed Ruth's name and left Maris alone, confirming that in sports, even mental asterisks have half-lives.

The higher home run totals posted recently - particularly the 70 by Mark McGwire in 1998 and the 73 by Barry Bonds in 2001 - have grown troublesome because of questions about the role steroids might have played. McGwire's "I'm not here to discuss the past" testimony to a Congressional committee in March led to suspicion over what that past included. Several months earlier, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Bonds, speaking to a grand jury investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, had admitted to unknowingly using a banned substance.

Around that time, Bud Selig, the current commissioner, said that he could not even consider altering the record book because "there have been no players convicted of anything." He added, "That's a question that if there's a necessity I'll look at something in the future."

McGwire, who retired in 2001, and Bonds, who has not played this season because of injury, have not been cited by Major League Baseball as having failed a drug test. But with the news about Palmeiro - one of only four players to reach 3,000 hits and 500 home runs - the issue became more real and immediate.

"I want to know exactly what happened," Selig said Friday through a spokesman for Major League Baseball. "I want to know all the facts. Then I'll make a decision."

Major League Baseball's approach in the past has been to do nothing at all, even after a clear admission.

Cash, the Tigers slugger, admitted his deception in a magazine article, a wink-wink mea culpa that others have used after they believed the statute of limitations on their crimes had expired.

Ford, who played 16 seasons with the Yankees, and another pitching star from the 1950's, Preacher Roe of the Brooklyn Dodgers, claimed to have thrown illegally doctored baseballs. Roe's first-person exposé in Sports Illustrated carried the headline, "The Outlawed Spitball Was My Money Pitch," but no adjustments to their records have been made or seriously suggested.

Who knows how many times Richie Ashburn of the Phillies in the 1950's bunted safely because the third-base line at Philadelphia's Shibe Park was purposely sloped? In 1968, when Mickey Mantle was tied with Jimmie Foxx at 534 career home runs, Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain is said to have offered to throw Mantle the next pitch wherever he wanted. Mantle then hammered the ball over the fence and moved ahead of Foxx.

Usually, amateur sports go through the often clumsy process of removing or altering records stained by foul play, with the Olympics at the forefront. Jim Thorpe was stripped of his gold medals from the 1912 Games after it was revealed that he had played professional baseball in 1909 and 1910. (They were officially returned in 1982, almost 30 years after his death, after the purity of amateurism had eroded.)

In the modern era, failing a drug test results in immediate forfeiture of medals and records, the most famous example being the sprinter Ben Johnson in 1988.

For many years, college basketball expunged records of entire teams because of the transgression of one player. The 1971 Villanova basketball team, for example, reached the Final Four with a star forward, Howard Porter, who was later declared ineligible for having signed with an agent before the tournament. Villanova's listing in the record book was erased, or, in N.C.A.A. parlance, vacated. Little League Baseball has followed the same course with teams later discovered to have used players older than rules allow.

"We were named champions something like three months after the Little League World Series," said Sean Burroughs, the star of the team from Long Beach, Calif., which was awarded the 1992 Series championship after the Philippines was found to have ineligible players. Burroughs is now a third baseman in the San Diego Padres organization.

"We won, but it's not like we jumped up and down on the field," he said. "It was kind of weird."

The revisionist impulse, to purge unsavory memories, derives from basic human instincts, according to Dr. William S. Pollack, a psychoanalyst and an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.

"There's an urge for revenge and retribution toward the people who let us down, but there's more to it than that," he said in a telephone interview. "Deep inside we want to forget that these bad things happened, that our trust in someone was betrayed. We look to the gods because we feel so frail, right? Removing them from the history is a way to pretend the person didn't exist."

On Thursday night, members of the Society for American Baseball Research records committee, which has no relationship with Major League Baseball, reconciled their feelings and agreed that little could or should be done to denote any player's use of illegal steroids. Members cited how many artificial factors - like smaller ballparks, harder bats, smaller strike zones, legitimate weight-training and, yes, fielders wearing gloves - have affected statistics since the days of Alexander Cartwright. Determining how a player may have benefited from steroids, they said, would be a foolish exercise, particularly with no effort to revise the totals of players like Cash, Ford and Roe.

Moreover, they said, one of baseball's longtime allures has been in its perfect, double-entry bookkeeping; every home run by a hitter is yielded by a pitcher, every stolen base by a team is one allowed by its opponent. Taking away whatever portion of home runs Palmeiro might have hit under the influence of steroids, a figure impossible to determine, would immediately throw this delicate balance out of whack.

"We hate the idea of the asterisk or removing records because they're examples of simple-minded thinking that caves in if you think about it for 10 minutes," Bill James, the renowned baseball statistics expert and a consultant for the Boston Red Sox, said during the meeting.

Players have always broken rules, the experts said. Using steroids may also be a violation of federal law, but it was quickly noted that Babe Ruth was not exactly sober for all 637 of the home runs he hit during Prohibition.

"A record's a record," David Vincent said during the meeting. "A number doesn't have any moral value. People do."

"Or don't," several members added.

Courtesy of the New York Times.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Baseball and Pine Tar Bats

Baseball and Pine Tar Bats

George Brett who was named to the Hall of Fame was the star of one of the “hairiest” occurrences in the history of baseball. Ingredients? Some pine tar, a home run, and the rule book. The “Pine Tar” game was difficult for most involved, but Brett remembers the incident in fondly. When Brett had made a run at a .400 batting average in 1980 and helped Kansas City to the American League pennant, he suffered from hemorrhoids during the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. There were no shortage of reminders for him over the next few years of his amazing career. Brett remembers, “Every time I got in the on-deck circle, every time I went someplace, everybody always had to make the wisecrack about hemorrhoids.” Thankfully, that ill repute was obliterated when he hit the pine tar home run three years later.

“Ever since July 24, 1983, now I’m the pine-tar guy. What would you rather be remembered as? So, in all honesty, it was the greatest thing that ever happened in my career.” The debate began on July 24, 1983, in Yankee Stadium, when Brett hit a two-out, two-run homer off Goose Gossage in the ninth inning that gave the Royals a 5-4 lead. The two had previously played against one another in the intense post-season rivalry between Brett’s Royals and Gossage’s Yankees three years prior. Brett had hit a home run into Yankee Stadium’s upper-deck off Goose in Game Three of the 1980 American League Championship Series to seal a three-game sweep of the Yankees. Although in this game, the stakes weren’t as high, the drama that unfolded became legend.

Brett’s homer came with teammate U.L. Washington on first base with two outs, and gave the Royals an obvious 5-4 lead. Just after crossing the plate and entering the dugout, Brett saw Yankee manager Billy Martin approach home plate umpire Tim McClelland. Soon, McClelland called for Brett's bat from the his team’s dugout and conferred with his umpiring crew at home plate. Brett watched inquisitively from the bench while Martin looked on. Moments later, McClelland threw his arm in the air and signaled that Brett was dismissed from the game due to his extreme use of pine tar on his bat, canceling the home run and ending the game. Brett jumped up from his position in the dugout in a fit of anger and had to be subdued by everyone around him including his teammates and umpire crew chief Joe Brinkman. McClelland had cited rule 1.10(b) – “a bat may not be covered by such a substance more than 18 inches from the tip of the handle.” He stated that Brett’s bat had pine tar approximately 19 to 20 inches from the tip of the handle and had measured this against home plate, which is 17 inches across including a one-inch border.

Even though Brett and his team manager Dick Howser protested profusely, the ruling stood. Brett was tossed out of the game and the home run had been rejected which gave the Yankees a 4-3 win. Martin had realized Brett was breaking the rule earlier in the season when the Yankee’s third baseman Graig Nettles pointed it out to him. Nettles noticed the tar on Brett’s bat in Kansas City. Martin had stated that he didn’t want to call Brett on it if he made an out, but when he made the home run, Martin reported it. Martin had helped his team escape the home run and win the game. Or so they thought.

Consequently, the Royals disputed the baseball game, while the event earned national attention. Eventually A.L. President Lee MacPhail (himself a future Hall-of-Famer) overturned McClelland's decision and re-instated Brett's winning home run. Recognizing that Brett had pine tar too high on the bat, McPhail said that it was the league's belief that "games should be won and lost on the playing field - not through technicalities of the rules." MacPhail stated that a distinction should be made between using an altered bat which makes the ball go farther, and using a bat which had excessive pine tar aiding in grip. Since he didn’t wear batting gloves, Brett had the sticky substance high on his bat because he would regularly tap his hands on the pine tar spot to help secure his grip.

The Yankees were clearly upset by MacPhail’s ruling, and the resulting loss, which put them into a tie for first place. “A rule is a rule is a rule,” Yankees’ outfielder Lou Piniella said, a belief shared by all his teammates. MacPhail ordered the game to continue on August 18 (a scheduled off day for each team), at the point following Brett's home run with the Royals leading 5-4. Martin continued to protest MacPhail’s decision. When the game was resumed, before Yankee’s pitcher George Frazier could even throw the pitch to batter Hal McRae, Martin challenged that Brett hadn’t even touched all the bases when he hit the original home run nearly a month prior. The Yankees argued that the current umpiring crew couldn’t be sure if Brett had circled the bases legally since they were not the same umpires officiating the original game. Despite this stall tactic by Martin, crew chief Davey Phillips was ready. Phillips produced a signed affidavit from the four members of Brinkman’s crew, stating that Brett and the baserunner ahead of him (Washington) had indeed touched all the bases in the original game.

The issue was dismissed, but not before Martin was ejected from the game due to excessive arguing with the umpires. After the Royals’ third out of the top of the frame, the bottom of the ninth inning was recorded without incident, and the Royals won 5-4. The completion of the game had taken 12 minutes and 16 pitches to complete, with Dan Quisenberry securing the save in a game that saw Yankee’s feature pitcher Ron Guidry in center field and rookie outfielder/first baseman Don Mattingly (a left hander!) at second base. As it turns out, Brett wasn’t even at the game conclusion, avoiding the drama that his home run had started. He was on a plane at Newark Airport with other team officials who didn’t make the trip to Yankee Stadium. The Royals were scheduled to be in Baltimore for a series which began the next day. The “Pine Tar Bat” has become a famed reminder of that unusual game and the controversy caused by it.

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