Tag Archives: New York Yankees

Marking the Baseball Solstice with a list of Top 10 moments

To mark the Baseball Solstice, I’ve been contemplating the greatest moments in baseball history. A number of these came to mind instantly, a few of them took a bit more prodding of the memory banks.

This list is strictly my own reckoning on this date. Ask me in a few weeks or a few months, and some of the items may change — although the top three to five would likely stick.

10. The Amazin’ Mets win the 1969 World Series. The expansion Mets were a miserable franchise in the 1960s (no comment on subsequent decades) and their defeat of the Orioles was as exhilirating as it was surprising. I should note that I was rooting for the Orioles, yet even as a kid I thought the Mets were quite the story.

9. Cal RIpken breaks Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played. Gehrig’s once unassailable record fell when Cal took the field that night, an event that connected the glory days of the past to what was then the present day.

8. Billy Buckner boots the grounder at first base. The Red Sox were oh so close to breaking the curse of the Bambino, and then Buckner let the ball go between his legs. It would be several more years before the Red Sox would finally win their first World Series  since the first decade of the century.

7. The George Brett pine tar bat incident. Never have I seen anything so uproariously funny during a baseball game. Brett charged from the dugout like a demon, screaming bloody murder. Later it came out that Billy Martin had waited for the ultimate moment to call the pine tar violation, which makes the incident even funnier.

6. Who’s On First? OK, so this isn’t a real baseball moment. But Abbot and Costello’s classic routine underscores baseball’s relevance in American culture better than anything.

5. Babe Ruth calls his shot. We know that “Who’s on First” was made up, but the Ruth legend is somewhere in between fact and fiction. That the famous gesture to center field was issued in a Yankees’ defeat of the Cubs in the World Series tells me without a doubt it really happened.

4. Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man” farewell address. This sad yet sweet moment under the echoing arches of Yankee Stadium is undeniably one of the great ones. It’s a reminder of the nobility of man, and that baseball can break your heart.

3. Roger Maris hits his 61st home run. Through all the relentless pressure he faced, Maris still managed to launch home run No. 61 off Tracy Stallard in 1961. He broke Babe Ruth’s single-season record that day. And he did it witout any hint of performance-enhancing drugs.

2. Willie Mays catch at the Polo Grounds. In Game One of the 1954 World Series, Vic Wertz ripped a monster drive into cavernous center field. Mays raced straight back and brought the ball to earth and, his cap flying off, hurls the ball back toward the plate. The Indians, the winningest regular-season team ever, were toast and lost to the Giants in four straight.

1. The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.  Bobby Thompson smacked a home run off Brooklyn’s Ralph Branca to give the Giants a victory in the final of a three-game playoff series to determine the National League champion. It was the ultimate “walk-off” moment, immortalized by Russ Hodges’ radio call: “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

It’s nearly time to celebrate the 2013 Baseball Solstice

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The Baseball Solstice draws nigh. This Sunday, Dec. 29, marks the midpoint between the end of the World Series and the beginning of Spring Training games in Arizona and Florida.

Just as Rocky Balboa “invented” the names “Cuff” and “Link” for his turtles, I invented the baseball solstice in 2011 as I contemplated disconsolately the long winter ahead without the crack of the bat. As I saw it, since at least the time of the Druids humans have been figuring out ways to hold a party in the midst of the coldest months of the year. Why should we baseball fans be any different?

How to mark the occasion? In the past I’ve suggested that people engage in some sort of “baseball activity.” That could mean hauling out an old record album or VHS tape of some past season of your favorite team — 1995 Indians, anyone? — and reliving the glory (or near glory, in the case of Cleveland). If you’re lucky enough to live in a climate where you can play ball any month, by all means go outside and play catch with your dad or your kids. And if you’re stuck in ice-bound Maine or Michigan, get out the Strat-O-Matic board and roll the dice to re-enact a great season past.

You could even dig out your old mitt and give it a restorative leather treatment. Merely picking it up and smelling the leather will get you in the mood for the 2014 season.

The important thing on the solstice is to do something meaningful involving baseball, even if it’s merely sitting in an easy chair and pondering the warm memories of Little League games in which you made multiple errors (sometimes on one play) or that fantastic evening you had at Fenway Park when the Yankees and the Red Sox went at it hammer and tong.

Who’s worth more? A baseball player or the doctor keeping your wife or child alive?

I opened the papers this morning to read about the Seattle Mariners giving Robinson Cano a 10-year contract for $240 million. The New York Mets apparently have agreed to give Curtis Granderson $60 million over four years. And there was the Jacoby Ellsbury deal with the New York Yankees earlier in the week: 7 years, $153 million.

For these ballplayers who have combined talent and hard work to reach such stratospheric salaries, I say, “Well done.”

But whenever baseball or other sports go through the off-season ritual of courtship by checkbook, I try to get a bit of perspective on what our society is saying in the way we reward sports figures.

Is a first baseman — with an average annual salary of $5.4 millionten 100 times as valuable to society as a high school teacher  – with an average annual salary of $54,000 — inspiring your child?

Is a shortstop — with an average annual salary of $3 million — ten times as valuable to society as an oncologist — with an average annual salary of $278,000 — treating your wife or husband for cancer?

Questioning the relative value of sports heroes to those serving the public is hardly new. Babe Ruth is famously remembered for his answer when asked about wanting to get paid more than President Herbert Hoover: “I had a better year than he did.” I imagine that even way back in the Roman republic, some people pondered the public adulation heaped on gladiators against the physicians of the day.

I still remember a section of a college economics textbook that did an academic proof  that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was worth every penny the Los Angeles Lakers were paying him in the 1970s. Kareem brought people into the arena and had a huge influence on broadcast revenues, q.e.d.

Certainly, pro athletes enrich our lives as they provide marvelous entertainment. I’ve been thrilled to see Ozzie Smith acrobatically turn a double play from short and been crushed to see Billy Buckner watch a grounder go between his legs at first. There’s even value in sports in occasionally seeing the games as morality plays on good versus evil (Red Sox v. Yankees, or vice versa, depending on your accent).

Yet no matter how much I love the game and how much economic sense it makes to pay the players, I still value more the doctors and nurses and teachers and coaches who care for us.

Fixing the date for the annual Baseball Solstice: Dec. 29, 2013

The World Series is behind us, at least some of the Red Sox are shaving off their beards and baseball fans the world over are gathering scraps to light the fire for the Hot Stove League. It’s a time for reflecting on the season past and recognizing that we have several fallow months ahead before the games resume in the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues in 2014.

In our annual ritual, the high priests of baseball here at the Ball Caps Blog and Countdown to Spring Training have pointed our Houston Astrolabes to the sky and fixed the date for the annual Baseball Solstice. It will be Dec. 29, the midpoint in the days between the final out of Cardinals-Bosox series and the first exhibition games of Spring Training.

The series ended Oct. 30, and the first exhibition games will be played Feb. 26 by six teams in Florida. (Sorry, Yankees fans. We’re not recognizing the Feb. 25 game against Florida State.)

We encourage all baseball fans to mark the solstice in a meaningful way.

Play a Wiffle ball game in the snow with the kids on the block. Thumb through your old sets of baseball cards. Pick up the phone and call Dad to thank him for insisting you not throw a curve until you were 15. Venture out into the night and look for the Star of Cooperstown.

Whatever you choose, make it a celebration of the One True Game.

Just a flesh wound: Some thoughts on baseball at mid-season

Wow, have I been a baseball blogging phantom this season. I cringe at the mere thought of checking the date on my last post, which itself was weeks and weeks after the previous post.

My lack of posting doesn’t mean I haven’t been a fully engaged baseball fan. In fact, I’ve watched plenty of games this season with a wider variety of teams than I have for a long, long time. So the headlines:

- What the devil is ailing my San Francisco Giants? I knew their pitching staff couldn’t sustain the level of excellence they’ve shown in recent years. The streak of good-arm years was bound to end sooner or later, but I’m befuddled that all have seemingly broken down at once. Tim Lincecum has been slipping the past two seasons; Barry Zito somehow beat the odds last year but has reverted to monster-contract form; Ryan Vogelsong is out injured. The shocker to me is that Matt Cain has faltered.  Only Madison Bumgarner has been consistently strong. Not a pretty picture, and I’m not even going to get into the bullpen.

- Perhaps even more shocking with the Giants is their crumbling defense. Please, give me back the light hitting, good fielding Brandon Crawford at shortstop of recent vintage, not this year’s porous model.

- Amid the cellar-scraping doom, one of the all-time highlights for the franchise was Lincecum’s no-hitter. I was blissfully asleep on my Eastern time zone mattress while Timmy was dominating the Padres. I woke up to the news on the MLB app on my iPhone and when I saw the video replay of the last pitch, I cried. Yes, tears at 6 a.m. Three-Finger Brown could record the times I’ve cried over baseball: Timmy’s no-no, the Indians advancing to the World Series in 1995, and when the Tribe traded away Rocky Colavito when I was a little kid in Cleveland.

- (I’m putting this item well down into the post, so as not to shock too many people.) I’ve kind of got a thing for the New York Mets. Matt Harvey is winning me over, I’m digging the underdog schtick and I’ve come to enjoy the broadcast teams on radio and TV. I’m not abandoning the Giants, but the Mets are moving up on my preference list.

- They try gamely, but I don’t consider the 2013 edition a real New York Yankees team. Mariano’s victory lap not withstanding, there are too many so-so players on the injury-plagued team. It’s the Dooley Womack era all over again.

- I try to get behind the Phillies, I really do. But their fans seem to have written them off and I can’t stand that. I have a Monty Python Black Knight approach to backing my ball club. The Phillies fans (and I’m over-generalizing here; I know there are plenty of Fightin’ faithfuls) are more like Sir Robin, running away.

- And how about those Cleveland Indians?! They’re hanging with the Tigers and playing solid, entertaining baseball. I was lucky enough to catch them in Cleveland back in June, the only big-league game I’ve seen in person this year. I’m hoping for good things ahead.

- Final word: If the Giants can’t make it back to the series, my wish is for an Indians-Pirates tilt. That would be special (that underdog schtick again), save maybe for network executives. All the more reason.

 

The Mets honor Mariano, and then defeat him

The New York radio airwaves are abuzz over how the Mets did the improbable last night and scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning off Mariano Rivera to beat the Yankees 2-1.
It was a stunning victory — the second in as many nights at Citi Field — and even more amazin’ because the Metropolitans had honored Rivera at the start of the game and had him throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

While Rivera is unquestionably worthy of all laurels, I found the Mets’ decision to honor him during the Subway Series a curious one.

Rivera is a New York sports icon, but he’s a Yankee. He wears pinstripes. Always has. He has a fistful of World Series rings. He’s the anti-Met.

Would something like this happen elsewhere? I can’t see the Cubs or White Sox honoring anyone from the other Chicago nine, and the Dodgers would never be in the business of honoring Angles (or Giants!).

The Mets’ brass evidently decided honoring Rivera would be a classy move. But that’s where the class ended.

Jeff Wilpon, the Mets’ chief operating officer, told Rivera before the game that he didn’t expect the Mets to make the World Series this year. I don’t care what your team’s record is. You don’t publicly announce that you don’t expect your team to fail, certainly not this early in the season.

Maybe Wilpon was trying to mess with Rivera’s head, to distract him with an honor so that the Mets would force him to blow a save. That, however, would require a bit of baseball acumen at a level totally lacking from Mets leadership the last decade or two.

Pass the hotdogs — and my change

It’s impossible to discuss the economics of Major League Baseball without discussing the “major market” and “small market” divide so eloquently illustrated in the movie “Moneyball.” Yet even the smallest of markets today is exponentially larger than the hundreds of small towns where baseball developed in its early decades.

A nice perspective on baseball’s rural roots can be found in this short podcast featuring David Vaught of Texas A&M. He makes an arresting point right from the start: baseball fans hesitate not a moment to send a $20 bill down the line to a hotdog vendor, and there’s never any doubt that the proper change will work its way back to the purchaser.

Would that happen on the streets of the Bronx outside Yankee Stadium or outside U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago? Not likely. But inside, it’s a safe environment, physically and psychologically. May it stay that way forever.

This year’s spring training caps are hideous

Let me repeat that headline: This year’s spring training baseball caps are hideous.

As my long blogging layoff will attest, I’ve paid little heed to the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues these past few weeks. So what I saw on a television set in a neighborhood shop a short while ago hit me harder than it might have otherwise. On the tube was a Tigers-Mets game. When I saw the Mets’ caps, I blanched.

From a distance, they look like something for a beer league softball team. On closer inspection, there’s Mr. Met running the bases — in the wrong direction. (Yeah, it’s the Mets, so why should I be surprised?)

I was vaguely aware of the unveiling of these new cap models when they were announced a couple of months back but I didn’t pay attention. After doing a Google search for images of the new caps, I wish I’d skipped the spring altogether.

The white-billed Yankees’ caps may be the worst of the lot. Or maybe it’s the egg-splatter Tampa Bay Rays model. All in all, these caps look like they belong on sale by street vendors in the seedier sections of any number of Rust Belt cities.

I started this blog based on my love of baseball caps, but I have standards. Most of these spring training caps are devoid of artistic merit and devalue the brands of the teams they represent. The teams see this merchandising as a profit center, which is why there’s a continuous stream of new models.

Sorry, MLB. I ain’t buying.

 

 

A season without a seat in the stands

I’m looking back on the 2012 season and realizing that this is one of those rare years in which I didn’t see a major league baseball game in person.

Having switched jobs and coasts in May, I left California before having a chance to see the Giants or Athletics play at home. My two cross-country drives to get our cars out east were too hurried to route by way of a big-league stadium. And once I got east for good, I never found the time to run down to Philadelphia or head up to New York to catch the Phillies, Yankees or Mets.

I managed to catch plenty of games on TV, radio and especially on the MLB app on my iPhone. I did get to see one minor league game on each coast, the Nuts in Modesto and the Thunder in Trenton. Thank goodness for that.

Also on the plus side, we finally got ourselves high-definition TV this summer, and it’s been great to see those major league parks come alive on the screen in our family room.

But as for seeing a game live and in person, I’ll have to invoke the eternal cry of Cubs fans: Wait ’til next year!

[Note: This post was composed during the baseball playoffs but I never posted it until now.]

Will we ever see someone pitch a complete World Series game again?

We’ve seen some outstanding performances by starting pitchers in the league championships and the World Series this year, but has anyone pitched a complete game?

No.

The closest anyone came was Justin Verlander, who went 8 and two-thirds as the Tigers defeated the Yankees in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner were excellent in leading the San Francisco Giants to victory in the first two games of the World Series, but Zito didn’t finish the sixth inning and Bumgarner was relieved after seven frames.

You have to go back to the American League Division Series to find a complete game. There were two: one by Verlander, and one by C.C. Sabbathia.

I’m not demeaning the performances of any of the pitchers who started and won without closing out the other team through nine innings. It’s merely more evidence of the ascendancy of relief pitching.