Tag Archives: Major League Baseball

RIP, Willie McCovey

Oh, man. This saddens me.

Willie McCovey has died at the age of 80. He was a first-ballot member of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. He led the National League twice in home runs.

He was considered at the peak of his career to be the “most dangerous hitter” in baseball. The term “dangerous,” I reckon, had something to do with how hard he could hit a baseball.

I want to share a brief Willie McCovey story here, just to let you know, I suppose, that I have been able to get around during my life.

In August 1964, I ventured to San Francisco after winning a trip by selling subscriptions to my hometown newspaper, the Portland Oregonian. I wasn’t yet 15 years of age.

We got to attend a baseball game on that trip at Candlestick Park, where the San Francisco Giants played hardball. They played the Cincinnati Reds that day. I got to see two other Hall of Famers that day: Willie Mays for the Giants and Frank Robinson for the Reds.

Willie McCovey, though, did something quite impressive that day. Candlestick Park was known as a place where the wind howled in from San Francisco Bay. The outfield was exposed to that wind, and it was blowing that day briskly into the stadium.

McCovey, who hit left-handed, managed to blast a home run out of Candlestick Park, over the right-field fence, straight into that hideous wind and into the bay, which came to be known as McCovey Cove.

It was quite a thrill to see McCovey hit a home run that day. If memory serves, it gave the Giants the only run they scored that day; the Reds won the game, with Robinson hitting three home runs into the left field seats.

But … this tribute is about Willie McCovey. Yeah, he could hit a baseball. He could hit it hard.

May he rest in peace.

World Series is over … and I don’t really care!

There clearly is something wrong with me.

Once upon a time, when I was a much younger individual, I cared about the Fall Classic, the World Series of Major League Baseball. I watched every inning, every pitch, every hit, every throw from the outfield.

This year? I didn’t watch any of it. Not a single, solitary moment of the Series that ended with Boston Red Sox beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games.

Fine. Put away the bats, balls, gloves, resin, chalk and wait’ll next season.

I cannot tell you precisely when my disinterest took root. I have said that free agency helped ruin my interest in the game. That was when MLB decided to let players shop themselves around to the highest bidder when their current contracts were up. That meant few players stayed with the same team that brought them all that fame, stardom and, um, money.

For that matter, my favorite Hall of Famers are the guys who played their entire careers for one team: Tony Gwynn, George Brett, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Mike Schmidt, Cal Ripken Jr., Robin Yount … you get the idea. OK, I’ll concede to favoring a few other non-single-teamers as well. Henry Aaron, Willie Mays and Nolan Ryan come to mind.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it has nothing to do with the game, which is still fun to watch. Yes, I’ll watch a game on occasion during the regular season. The postseason? All those playoffs — the division series, the league championship series, then the World Series? Pfftt!

It didn’t used to be this way. Believe me. When Bill Mazeroski hit that Series-winning home run for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960, defeating the New York Yankees in the seventh game after being outhit for the Series by the Yanks, I went into a funk for an entire offseason. 

As recently as 1991, I had great interest in the World Series. That year, the Minnesota Twins beat the Atlanta Braves, also in seven games, in what — in my mind — was the most remarkably well-played World Series in the history of the event. Every game was won by the home team; many of the games were decided in the bottom of the final inning; the clutch hitting, base-running and fielding was stellar in the extreme.

I was a huge Mickey Mantle fan. Each day from April through much of October started the same for me: I got up, went out to get the paper, I went directly to the sports page to read the box scores from the previous day’s game; I wanted to see how Mick did at the plate.

That was then. These days, well, I couldn’t care less about it.

I do still love the game, when I can fire up enough interest to watch it at the Major League level.

Hey, it just occurs to me: Amarillo, where my wife and I lived for 23 years before moving away, is going to welcome a Double A minor-league franchise next spring.

That is where I’ll get my baseball fix whenever we travel back to the High Plains.

Don’t give up on me just yet. It’s still the Grand Old Game.

This is the best we can do with team naming game?

They did it, by golly!

The folks charged with selecting a name for Amarillo’s new baseball team have managed to come up with five “loser” finalists.

Wow! Man, I cannot believe they went five for five, or perhaps it’s zero for five.

The finalist names are — in alphabetical order, the Amarillo: Boot Scooters, Bronc Busters, Jerky, Long Haulers and Sod Poodles.

Awesome, right? I didn’t think so.

I should have submitted a name or three for them to consider, then gotten my friends to endorse my selections.

Whatever happened to old-fashioned animal names that speak to the Texas Panhandle’s history and heritage? Bison, Coyotes, Roadrunners. They all fit, right? Of course they do.

Then we have Roughnecks, Hot Shots, Ranchers.

This one wouldn’t pass the “political correctness test,” but I also like the name Comanches.

We’re going to get one of five names, apparently, submitted for consideration for the new AA minor-league baseball team that starts playing ball in the spring of 2019.

For the record: I don’t like any of them.

Surely we can do better than what we’ve seen so far.

Gangs are for cowards

I just stumbled on a quote attributed to a most unlikely source.

It comes from the late Mickey Mantle, the one-time New York Yankee slugger and athletic descendant of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio.

The quote attributed to The Mick is this: A team is where a boy can prove his courage on his own. A gang is where a coward goes to hide.

Interesting, yes? Of course it is.

Mantle wasn’t known as a philosopher. He was a plain-spoken kid from Oklahoma who could hit baseballs farther than anyone, run faster than anyone, field his position better than anyone. He was the real deal, the total package.

Mickey was my favorite baseball player as I was growing up. I cheered for him when he did well, and slumped a bit when he got hurt … which was entirely too often during his Hall of Fame career.

These few words, though, ring so true to me.

I’ve heard for longer than I care to admit that the gang culture becomes “family” to young men and women who have no real family at home. They run into the embrace of others who adopt them as one of their own.

But then these “family members” subject them to initiation rites. They haze them. They threaten them if they don’t do what they’re told.

I am left to wonder whether it’s more courageous to refuse to do what they are ordered to do than to follow orders blindly. Courage would lead them to defy those who profess to adopt them as family. Cowardice leads them to a path of mindless compliance.

Mickey Mantle was known as a “great teammate.” He treated all the players on his New York Yankees team the same, whether they were all-stars — as he was — or end-of-the-bench substitutes who saw little, if any, playing time.

Mickey Mantle must have known more than many of us give him credit for knowing about the courage of belonging to a team and the cowardice of adhering to gang life.

Who in the world knew?

How ’bout them Astros!

This year’s World Series is going to carry very special meaning to one of the cities represented in Major League Baseball’s championship event.

I’m talking about Houston, Texas, from where the Houston Astros hail. They won the American League pennant with a stirring seventh-game victory over the New York Yankees.

OK, here goes. I’m going to pull extra hard for the Astros to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Fall Classic.

Houston has been through Hell on Earth since Hurricane Harvey inundated the nation’s fourth-largest city under 50 inches of rain that fell over a 24-hour period. The heartbreak and cataclysmic misery felt throughout Houston defies description.

Indeed, as the Astros and the Dodgers prepare for the World Series, the city is still seeking to reconstruct itself. Its millions of residents are trying to make sense of their lives upended by the deluge.

My heart usually rests with the American League team as it is. I grew up rooting hard for the New York Yankees. I was a Mickey Mantle-worshiping kid. Indeed, I truly enjoyed big-league baseball long before the Age of Free Agency changed the game forever by giving players opportunities to move from team to team — which they have done with stunning regularity for the four-plus decades since free agency became the vogue in MLB.

I used to follow the careers of players who stayed with one team their entire career: Ted Williams (Red Sox), Stan Musial (Cardinals), Roberto Clemente (Pirates), Cal Ripken Jr. (Orioles), Tony Gwynn (Padres).

I long have watched the Astros compete in the National League. Then they switched to the AL, which means the Astros are the first big-league franchise in baseball history to compete for the World Series crown representing both major leagues; they were swept a few years ago by the Chicago White Sox.

Here we are. In the moment. Houston has suffered terribly from the savage beating delivered by nature’s wrath. Its residents are in dire need of something to cheer.

A World Series title by the Houston Astros would be the nearly perfect tonic for a city in deep distress.

Jackie Robinson stood tall and proud

They unveiled a statue today at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

It honors a young man who 70 years ago stepped onto a baseball field while wearing a baseball uniform. He played for the Brooklyn Dodgers back then.

But this wasn’t just an ordinary young man. His name was Jackie Robinson. He had black skin and started playing Major League professional baseball at a time — the year was 1947 — when only white players were allowed to take the field.

Many of those who ran Major League Baseball knew at the time that this would be a special athlete. He was a gifted hitter, fielder and base runner. His contribution to the Grand Old Game, though, went far beyond his prowess on the field.

He became a champion for the rights of all Americans to pursue their dreams. Robinson’s was to become a professional baseball player, to play the game in the big leagues.

I wrote about this young man a year ago in a piece for Panhandle PBS, which broadcast a special in Robinson’s memory.

http://www.panhandlepbs.org/blogs/public-view-john-kanelis/jackie-robinson-blazed-daunting-trail/

Major League Baseball recently retired the No. 42, which was the number Robinson wore on his back. It’s the first time MLB had done such a thing. Each year about this time, teams take the field with all the players wearing that number. They do so to honor the courage Robinson showed in facing down the racism he encountered when he took the field.

They also honor the man he became after he no longer played ball. He remained an iconic figure in the battle to obtain equal rights for all Americans.

Robinson died too soon, in 1972, from diabetes-related complications.

This great man’s legacy, though, lives on in the young African-American and Latino athletes who came along right behind him on that trail he blazed.

MLB trying its best to ruin the Grand Old Game

I saw this item about a so-called “experiment” that Major League Baseball is pondering … and promptly flipped out!

MLB is considering a plan to monkey around with extra-inning baseball games. The plan is to place a runner at second base to start the 10th inning of a game.

As I understand it, the visiting team that bats first in the extra inning would have a runner at second — in other words in “scoring position” when the hitter comes to the plate. I presume that the home team gets to do the same thing when it comes to bat at the bottom of the inning.

My plea is this: Do … not … do … this!

I guess the big leagues have grown weary of extra-inning games going into the wee hours. My answer? That’s too damn bad!

Baseball is a game built on tradition. As such, I remain a purist in the sport.

It was bad enough that the American League instituted the designated hitter rule in the early 1970s. Then they decided to enact inter-league play during the regular season, rather than having teams play each other exclusively within their leagues; the old way made the World Series all the more exciting when the American League and National League champs would face each other for the first time that season.

It got worse when inter-league play allowed National League teams to use the DH when they were playing in AL cities.

Then they installed lights at Wrigley Field, allowing the Chicago Cubs to play night baseball games.

Let’s not forget that MLB now has instant replay reviews, holding up the pace of play.

Let’s leave the game alone. If these games go on seemingly forever, let ’em play hardball.

***

One more thing: Pete Rose does not belong in the Hall of Fame. He bet on baseball. The rule says doing so results in a “lifetime ban” from the game. He bet. He got caught. He should pay the price.

I had to get that off my chest, too.

Baseball strips its all-star game of any meaning

baseball-catcher-collision

I detest major sports leagues’ all-star games.

National Hockey League all-star matches produce 14-10 results, with players refusing to check each other hard to prevent goals.

National Basketball Association all-star games routinely end in scores such as 160-152, which are the product of dunk fests and zero defense being applied.

The National Football League might produce a 42-35 result at its Pro Bowl all-star game as the players refuse to hit each other with the same ferocity they do during the regular season or postseason.

Now we have the baseball all-star game, which until this week actually meant something. The winning league gets home field advantage during the World Series. That’s a big deal, man!

Now, though, Major League Baseball has just agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement with the players union. For the next five years — the length of the new agreement — the MLB all-star game will not determine which league gets home field advantage in the World Series.

That means base runners won’t necessarily try to stretch doubles into triples, or try to score from first base on a single, or try to take out the shortstop with a hard slide into second base.

Sure, occasionally big-leaguers play some serious hardball during these all-star games. Cincinnati Reds infielder Pete Rose in the 1970 all-star game? He barreled into Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse at the plate, bowling Fosse over, injuring him so severely that he never recovered fully. Must’ve been an Ohio rivalry thing.

Oh well. These big-leaguers don’t want to provide further risk to injury by playing an all-star game to a result that actually means something of value to the eventual winners of the American and National League playoffs.

It was nice while it lasted.

Bat flips: the latest in showing up fellow athletes

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Let’s talk a little baseball … shall we?

They had a big fight yesterday during a game between the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays.

It featured a nicely thrown straight right thrown by the Rangers’ Rougned Odor against the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista. It landed flush on the side of Bautista’s jaw.

Muhammad Ali would’ve been proud.

I’m not sure we’re seeing more of these fights these days in baseball, where the brawls generally become a sort of comedy of errors. Your average baseball player isn’t the handiest with his dukes … although many of us still marvel at the time 45-year-old Nolan Ryan clamped a headlock on the much-younger Robin Ventura and delivered about a dozen blows to the top of Ventura’s noggin.

The cause of these baseball fights rests often with players’ knack for showing up guys on the other team.

I refer to “bat flips,” which have become the insult du jour on the baseball diamond. Bautista likes to flip his bat when he hits home runs. It’s meant to stick it in the eye of the pitcher who threw the ball that Bautista has just deposited in the outfield seats.

Pitchers don’t like being shown up.

They’ve been known to respond by throwing at or near the head of the next batter — or waiting until the bat-flipping offender comes to bat the next time.

I dislike the idea of showboating on the field. There’s really and truly no need for it. These men get paid a lot of money to play a kids’ game. That doesn’t mean they have to act like kids.

I recall listening on the radio to an interview that talk-show host Jim Rome was having with Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt. They were talking about how batters sometimes stand in the batter’s box and “admire” the home run they’ve just hit before taking off on their home run trot.

Schmidt didn’t like the way hitters would act when they hit one out.

He told Rome of how it was in the old days. If a player were to do something like to a pitcher, they’d be sure to take a high, hard one somewhere on their body the next time they came to bat.

Schmidt mentioned a couple of the meanest pitchers ever to throw a hardball: Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson. You show either of those guys up, Schmidt recalled, and you were going to pay for it … guaranteed!

So, let’s just play the game.

As for showing off after hitting a home run, I’ll borrow a quote from a coach who participated in another sport. It might have been Vince Lombardi who told his players when “you get to the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.”

 

Meet me in St. Louis …

stlouis-landmark-480x330

It took me a few minutes to digest this little bit of trivia.

Here goes …

The unluckiest and most disrespected professional sports fans in America might live in St. Louis, Mo. You might ask: Why is that?

Consider these tidbits.

The city once was home to the St. Louis (football) Cardinals, which then moved to the Phoenix area in 1987, where they’ve become the Arizona Cardinals.

Then the Los Angeles Rams decided to move to St. Louis in 1994. Beginning this season, though, the Rams are moving back to LA, leaving St. Louis — once again — without an NFL team. That’s a shame. I mean, come on! The St. Louis Rams won a Super Bowl!

Where do you think the Atlanta Hawks used to be play pro basketball in the National Basketball Association? Yep. You guessed it. St. Louis, man. The St. Louis Hawks moved to Atlanta in 1968.

Let’s go way back, shall we? The Browns used to play Major League Baseball in St. Louis. They moved to Baltimore in 1954 to become the Baltimore Orioles.

OK, so it’s not all gloomy for some St. Louis sports fans.

The St. Louis Cardinals have played big-league baseball since the beginning of time and the Cards’ fan base there is as loyal as any in the MLB.

The St. Louis Blues were among six franchises added to the National Hockey League in 1968 and they don’t appear to be headed anywhere.

I’m willing to bet real American money as well that if the NFL wants to put yet another team in St. Louis that the city leaders likely will jump at the opportunity.

If I were among them, though, I’d need some assurance that their fans’ hearts won’t be broken yet again.

And that, sports fans, is my contribution for the day to your glossary of useless information.