Tag Archives: Major League Baseball

Why comment on the Soddies? Let me count the reasons

I don’t know this to be fact, but there well might be some eyebrow-raising among Amarillo baseball fans regarding these occasional blog posts from someone who no longer lives in Amarillo.

So, with that I’ll provide an answer … or three.

I am a baseball fan. A big part of me wishes I could attend Amarillo Sod Poodles baseball games at Hodgetown. I cannot, given that I now live in Collin County. Still, my interest in baseball goes back to my boyhood. I love watching the game. I loved playing the game, although I didn’t work hard enough to become good enough to play it for any length of time.

I once was a longtime Major League Baseball fan. I followed Mickey Mantle’s career from the early 1950s until it ended prior to the start of the 1969 season. My mornings from April to October every year compelled me to look at the sports pages of my hometown newspaper to see how Mickey did the night before.

I love the game of baseball! So, there’s that.

I am proud of Amarillo’s downtown revival. I lived in Amarillo long enough to watch its downtown transform from a moribund, semi-conscious business district into something that is taking deep breaths and is reviving before our very eyes. I am glad to know the Sod Poodles, the AA baseball franchise that relocated there from San Antonio, are a big part of that revival.

I want to comment on that revival whenever I get the chance or sense there’s something new and worthy of commentary.

My interest in the city hasn’t abated since our departure. My wife and I departed Amarillo in the spring of 2018. We settled initially in Fairview, tucked between Allen and McKinney just north of Dallas. Then we moved to Princeton early this year. I am getting acquainted with the politics of Princeton and Collin County.

However, one doesn’t spend nearly 18 years commenting in local media about a community’s health and well-being and live there for more than 23 years without retaining an interest in the goings-on.

My interest is strong. I like commenting on positive trends I see developing there. Yes, I also intend to keep my eyes and ears open to matters that deserve a more critical look, and I have done that on occasion.

As for the Amarillo Sod Poodles, well … I intend to make my former city’s business my own business.

I appreciate the interest in what I have to say. To those who might wonder why I bother, I do so because I feel like it.

Sportsmanship is alive and well in St. Louis

Sportsmanship lives. It flourishes in the hearts of baseball fans who flocked to a ballpark to cheer for a man who no longer plays for their home team, but who has conducted himself with grace and dignity throughout his magnificent Major League Baseball career.

Albert Pujols spent the first 11 years of his Hall of Fame-quality career playing for the St. Louis Cardinals. Then the prospect of bigger money came calling and he ended up signing a lucrative contract with the Los Angeles Angels. A different city, team and a different league.

There were reportedly some hard feelings when Pujols left St. Louis, where he had been compared to the late Stan “The Man” Musial, the greatest Cardinal of them all.

Pujols’s stellar career is winding down. He is approaching 40 years of age. The Angels came to St. Louis to play the Cardinals in a three-game set at Busch Stadium.

How did the Cardinals fans greet Albert Pujols when he stepped into the batter’s box for the first time Friday night? With a two-minute standing ovation.

Then just this afternoon, Pujols cracked career home run No. 646 into the left field seats. The fans reaction? They stood and cheered … again! They kept cheering after Pujols entered the dugout. They stood longer and cheered some more, forcing Pujols to come back onto the field, tip his cap to the fans, who responded with even louder cheers.

This is what sportsmanship looks like. This is how players with class treat their fans with class and how fans respond with class when the player comes back wearing an “enemy” uniform.

We hear a lot of about boo birds pouring catcalls onto the field at players who burn their bridges when they depart their teams for greener and more lucrative pastures.

I am heartened to realize that surely isn’t always the case.

Well done, Albert Pujols and well done, also, St. Louis Cardinals fans.

Why isn’t this guy in the MLB Hall of Fame?

I can’t believe I’m thinking of this, but I am and I feel the need to state my piece.

Bill Buckner died this week at the age of 69. He crafted a stellar Major League Baseball career that ended in 1990. He collected more than 2,700 hits; he compiled a .289 batting average; he won the National League batting title in 1980; he batted more than .300 in seven of his years playing in the big leagues. Buckner appeared in several All-Star Games. He played for more than 22 years in both the American and National leagues.

Oh, but he is known to most baseball fans for one play. It occurred in the 1986 World between the Boston Red Sox (Buckner’s team at the time) and the New York Mets. In the sixth game of the series, Mookie Wilson of the Mets hit a “routine” ground ball to Buckner, who was playing first base. Buckner bent down to catch the ball — and then watched it scoot between his feet under his glove.

Error on Buckner! The Mets scored the winning run and went on to win the World Series.

For that play, Buckner was vilified, scorned, ridiculed, hassled and harassed for the rest of his career and beyond. The Red Sox eventually brought him back to honor him. The fans who once booed at the sound of his name stood and cheered him that day.

Which brings me to my central point: Is that single play responsible for this fine player being denied enshrinement in baseball’s Hall of Fame?

Players with far less impressive stats are in the hall. I think, for instance, of Pittsburgh’s Bill Mazeroski, a second baseman who — in my view — is in the HoF because of one hit: a Game 7 walk-off home run to win the 1960 World Series against the New York Yankees.

Buckner’s window for induction into the HoF induction has been closed for a long time. The old-timers committee cannot even let him in.

It’s a shame. The guy could hit a baseball. Absent that one play in the 1986 Fall Classic, he could field his position, too.

For what it’s worth, I think he deserved induction into the Hall of Fame . . . right along with Bill Mazeroski.

How much would The Mick, Say Hey and The Man earn?

Whenever I read reports about the salaries being paid to today’s pro athletes, I am drawn back to when I was a kid who idolized earlier athletic icons.

Mike Trout, the best Major League Baseball player on Earth, has signed a deal worth $430 million over the next 12 years. He plays centerfield for the Los Angeles Angels, who want to keep him on their roster seemingly for the rest of his playing career.

Wow! That is a ton of scratch, man.

I won’t argue the point about the rightness or the wrongness of these salaries. It’s what sports franchise owners are willing to pay. If they’re willing, then athletes are entitled to ask for it.

Still, I cannot help but wonder what some of these iconic athletes I used to admire would earn. Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Henry Aaron, Ted Williams? I figure it would be in the gazillions!

I read these “sports” stories today and wonder whether competent sports writing these days requires advanced degrees in economics. These news stories revolve around “salary caps,” and “room” at the top of teams’ payrolls and all those complications that muddy it all up.

Congratulations, Mike Trout. You’re set for several lifetimes. Behave yourself and — dare I say it? — don’t get hurt!

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.