Creamer’s Babe Ruth biography, continued…

I am continuing to read Creamer’s biography of Babe Ruth; it’s not a great book, despite the cover blurb, that says “The best biography ever written about an American sports figure. – Sports Illustrated.”

Perhaps I should have looked at the back cover of the book, where it says, “Robert W. Creamer is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and has been a member of that magazine’s staff since its inception in 1954.”

Hmmmmmm.

So, in part, I think my expectations were raised a bit too high by that cover blurb. (Apparently, I was born just yesterday, and can be taken in by book cover blurbs.) Still, even before I saw the recommendation on the cover,  I was expecting this to be good. Babe Ruth was a towering figure on the American landscape for a lot of years; his biography just had to be fascinating by default. He hobnobbed with the rich and famous during the jazz age, the roaring 20s, the depression, playing on the great Yankee teams, pitching, hitting, everything.

Well perhaps my expectations were too high. But Babe Ruth had a hard up-bringing, grewBabe Ruth leaf 1948-49 cropped up in a catholic orphanage, did not get much education or much parenting. When he lived at home he ran wild in the streets. He grew up with scant role models and seems to have been remarkably self-centered for much of his life. In the book, Ruth’s friend Paul Carey was asked about Ruth’s feelings for his second wife, Claire. “I don’t think the Babe really loved Claire. I don’t think he really loved anybody.” Ruth wasn’t the sort that would write long introspective letters to friends for the benefit of later biographers.

Creamer attempted to get to primary source information by talking to many ball players who played with and against Ruth, and in those quotes and observations lie the strength and possibly some of the shortcomings of the book. However I think it telling that the best lines of the book on Babe Ruth showed up early, on page 18, in a letter written to the author by former Yankee pitcher Waite Hoyt:

“I am almost convinced… that you will never learn the truth on Ruth. I roomed with Joe Dugan. He was a good friend of the Babe’s. But he will see Ruth in a different light than I did. Dugan’s own opinion will be one in which Dugan revels in Ruth’s crudities, and so on. While I can easily recognize all of of this and admit it freely, yet their was buried in Ruth humanitarianism beyond belief, an intelligence he was never given credit for, a childish desire to be over-virile, living up to credits given his home-run power — and yet a need for intimate affection and respect, and a feverish desire to play baseball, perform, act, and live a life he didn’t and couldn’t take time to understand.”

It seems that Hoyt was right. The book ultimately does not succeed, I don’t think, (though I’ve still got a few chapters left.) Ruth remains a mystery, the stuff of legend, and in that area the book is on firmer ground, in more familiar territory, and does convey some sense of what a great baseball player he was, reciting the amazing statistics and feats.

Just one example: in the book, I have just finished the chapter covering the 1933 season. Babe Ruth is 39 years old, and his talents are fading. but he pitches the last game of the season for the Yankees. He has only pitched once in the previous 12 seasons. But he goes all the way, 9 innings, and the Yankees win, 6-5. And he hits a home run.

ruth wins 6-5 headlineruth wins 6-5 box

25 February 1957 – Supreme Court Plays Ball

On this date in 1957, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the NFL’s request for anti-trust justice Tom C Clark with hatexemption, saying that baseball is the only sport deserving of such an exemption.

Justice Tom C. Clark wrote the decision.

Also of note today in baseball History, John McGraw, the great Oriole player from the 1890s who went on to manage  the great Giant teams of the early 1900s, died on the 25th of February in 1934, at age 60.

 

 

Hal Smith!

Locked in the jaws of an endless winter, a cold grey February weekend. It was time for the big game.

We made a big bowl of popcorn, poured some Cokes, and sat down in front of the 26 inch screen as the game began. The 1960 World Series. The Yankees vs. the Pirates. Game Seven. “There’s no tomorrow,” the announcer said repeatedly. This one was for all the marbles.

I’d stumbled upon the DVD in the library, a pleasant surprise, as I’d noticed it available on Amazon and had been thinking about buying. The 1960 World Series is one of the classics of baseball history. The Yankees won 15 straight games at season’s end, roaring into the Series with a full head of steam. Mickey Mantle. Whitey Ford. Yogi Berra. Roger Maris. Tony Kubek. Bill Skowron. The Pirates finished 7 games ahead of the Milwaukee Braves. Roberto Clemente. Bill Mazeroski. Bob Friend. Dick Groat. Deacon Law. Smokey Burgess. Elroy Face.

nytimes - sept 26 1960 - yankees pirates clinch

This, of course, was the olden days. No endless divisional playoffs featuring the champions of the Wild Card divisions going head to head. This is back in the day. You played your whole season to determine who was the champion of your league, and then your champion faced off against their champion, with no messing about.

Millions of dollars of playoff revenue was lost in those days. Perhaps there’s a sabermatrician that has done a study. The Pirates clinched the Pennant on September 25th in Milwaukee. The Yankees also clinched on September 25th, in Boston. the World Series began on October 5th. So there were about nine days to set the stage. For all the marbles.

ny times - Pirates Clinch 26 Sept 1960

The Pirates won the first game, in Pittsburgh, a close game, 6-4, ending the Yankees winning streak. The Yankees were perhaps upset about that; they destroyed the Pirates in the second game, 16-3, and then, in New York, they pummeled them in the third game, 10-0. It must have seemed like the Series was perhaps as good as over.

But no. The Pirates win a squeaker in game 4, 3-2, and then also take game 5, 5-2, and suddenly the series comes back to Pittsburgh with the Pirates poised for the title.

But no. Again, the Yankees erupt, and bury the Pirates in game 6, 12-0.

And so, here we are, popcorn ready, Cokes on ice. Yankees. Pirates. Game 7. Thursday, October 16, 1960. One o’clock in the afternoon at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Batter up. There’s no tomorrow.

According to Amazon, no Official Major League Baseball copy of the televised game remains… which seems to imply that perhaps there may be an unofficial copy of the televised game out there somewhere? In any case, what we have here is a grainy black and white kinescope (a film made by filming the picture from a video monitor) that was “recently discovered in the late actor Bing Crosby’s wine cellar.” Apparently Crosby was part owner of the Pirates, but was too nervous to watch the game. He and his wife went to Paris, but Crosby hired a company to film the game so that he could watch it later. Seriously. In any case, the picture is grainy, black and white and mostly shades of grey, distinctly low definition television. And I love it. It’s perfect. Player’s names appear on the screen in big ghostly block letters. There’s a dearth of statistics. Does the announcer ever give anyone’s batting average, ERA, or OBPS? No. He does not. And again, it’s perfect.

60ws-7 clemente

Another thing that’s perfect: there’s no music. Whenever there’s a lull in the action, between batters, during mound conferences; no music. The only  time there’s music is the national anthem in the beginning and during the seventh inning stretch, when something, either an organ or a piano, plays take me out to the ball game. Other than that, it’s just baseball, crowd noise, an occasional plane flying over or announcement over the PA. As It Should Be.

Another thing that’s perfect: Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field (1909-1970), a lovely old ballpark that would be nice to have around. While it seems like there would be a few of those bad seats, obstructed, blocked by pillars, but I still love the look of this old place, and mourn its loss.

60ws-7 forbes field

The game begins. The DVD gives us the option of the TV audio or the radio audio, and we opt for the TV, which matches the pictures better and has better ballpark ambient sound. The radio track sounds like something I listened to through my pillow on my little AM transistor radio when I was a kid, late at night, pulling in the Chicago Cubs broadcasts, brought to me by Heileman’s Old Style, (dum da da dum daaaaaa,) the only beer that was krausened, the Old Style way.

Back to the game. Mantle is a looming presence on the field, and the Yankees are the eternal Yankees. Professional. Confident. Inexorable. Triumphant. Well, maybe not. In the 60ws-7 virdon on deckfirst inning, before the first pitch is thrown, Casey Stengel has two pitchers in the bullpen, warming up. That does not seem to be a show of confidence in the starter, Bob Turley, and, sure enough, the Pirates score early, two in the first on a home run by first baseman Rocky Nelson, and two in the second on a two-out single by Bill Virdon. It’s 4-0 Pirates, and there’s no tomorrow. But these are the Yankees.

60ws-7 score1

Skowron homers in the 5th to make it 4-1, and then in the 6th Mantle singles in a run, and Berra launches a three run home run into the right field stands. 5-4, Yankees.

Little Bobby Shantz is in pitching for the Yankees now, and he is doing well.He puts them away 1-2-3 in the bottom of the sixth, gives up a single in the seventh to Smokey Burgess, and they pinch run for Burgess, but it goes for naught, as Shantz gets out of the inning with a double-play ball to Kubek. In the top of the 8th, though,  Pirate pitcher Roy Face is getting tired. He gets the first two outs, then gives up a walk, a pair of singles, and double down the left field line by Clete Boyer. Two more runs for the Yankees. It’s 7-4 now, and there’s no tomorrow, and precious little left of today for the Pirates.

boyer ani

Geno Cimoli comes in to pinch hit for Face, leading off the bottom of the 8th, and he smacks a line drive single to right center, and you wonder if the Pirates have anything left to give. Center fielder Bill Virdon comes up, the crowd is hopeful. Maybe, if we had two on and no out, maybe there might maybe be a chance?

Virdon, though, hits an easy bouncer to Kubek at short, anther sure double-play ball — until it takes a bad hop off the infield dirt and comes up short on Kubek, hitting him in the throat, knocking him down as the ball skitters a short distance away. Instead of nobody on and two out, it’s two on, nobody out. Kubek is taken out of the game. He wants to stay in, it’s game 7, Casey, but Casey takes him out, puts in DeMaestri at short and Dick Groat bounces a single into left to drive in Cimoli,  and Stengel goes to the bullpen for Jim Coates to replace the redoubtable Shantz. 7-5. Two on and no outs and the crowd is going wild.

kubek

Skinner is up next for the Pirates, and, unbelievably, Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh has him bunt the runners over to second and third. Rocky Nelson is up then, he homered in the first, but this time it’s just a little fly ball to Maris in right, and Maris guns it home on the fly, a cannon for an arm, the runners have to hold, and it’s 7-5 with two outs and Roberto Clemente coming up.

“Bob” bounces a ball down towards first; it’s in an awkward spot, both the pitcher and Skowron going for it, and Skowron gets it, but no one’s covering first and so Clemente has a single, and Virdon scores, and Groat is on third, and now it’s 7-6, with two on, but two outs, and no tomorrow. And Hal Smith is up.

Hal Smith replaced Burgess behind the plate, when Burgess left for a pinch runner in the seventh. Hal Smith, the backup catcher, is coming to bat. I have never heard of Hal Smith before. But with a 2-2 count, back up catcher Hal Smith gets a hold of a low fastball and drives it over the ivy covered left field wall of Forbes Field. At first Yogi Berra, in left, thinks it’s going to bounce high off the wall, and so he back pedals a bit, to play the carom. Instead he sees the ball fly over the ivy. Hal Smith has homered, and the Pirates have a 9-7 lead in the bottom of the 8th of the seventh game of the  World Series, and there is no tomorrow.

60ws-7 hal smith hr

The camera follows Smith around the bases. Pure joy. The fans, well, what would you expect? They have come back to take the lead in the bottom of the 8th of the seventh game against the New York Yankees.The fans scream themselves hoarse. Smith is mobbed by his teammates. Hal Smith has done it. 9-7.

60ws-7 hs48b

But but but but.

But.

This is the New York Yankees.

Top of the ninth. Bobby Richardson is leading off. Crowd going nuts. Bob Friend in to pitch the last inning for the Pirates. Instantly gives up a single to Richardson, and then a single to Dale Long, moving Richardson to second. And the crowd is awfully quiet again, as Murtaugh goes out and pulls Friend, calls in Harvey Haddix from the pen, and Haddix makes the long slow walk in to the mound, all eyes on him. Roger Maris is up. Mickey Mantle is on deck. Yogi Berra is in the hole.

Haddix. Left-hander. In 1959 he took a perfect game into the 13th inning against the Braves, retiring 36 consecutive batters. These were the Braves that went to the World Series in ’57 and ’58. So Haddix can pitch a little. This year, though, he’s 11-10, with a 3.97 ERA. Haddix to face Maris, and Mantle, and Berra. He looks ready, like a gunfighter walking down a dusty main street. It’s high noon, and there’s no tomorrow. He throws a ball to Maris, and then on the second pitch Maris pops up, out, behind the plate to Smith. One down.

60ws-7 mantle

Mantle. He takes the first pitch for a ball. He looks confident too. Haddix makes his next pitch and Mantle drives it over the second baseman, to right center. Clemente bobbles the pickup a bit, Richardson scores, and Long goes to third. 9-8.

Now Berra. Perhaps the most dangerous Yankee. Haddix is being careful. Skowron is on deck. With a 2-0 count, Berra crushes a ball into the dirt down the first base line. It would be a triple for most players, a double for Berra, but no, Rocky Nelson is there, the first baseman has it in his glove, and step on the base and Berra is out and Mantle is caught about three feet off the base with nowhere to go.

Nelson sees that he can’t go back to first so he starts to set to throw the ball to second. And then Mantle dives back to first, on the home plate side, and Nelson can’t can’t can’t make his body do that, get over there, tag him. The umpire is right there as Mantle gets his hand on the base. Safe. And, in the meantime, Long has scored. 9-9. Mantle’s great instinctual play has perhaps saved the game for the Yankees.

60ws-7 mantle safe

Moose Skowron bounces into a force out at second, and we move to the bottom of the ninth, 9-9.

The crowd is quiet, perhaps exhausted. They had it won, and then the Yankees took it away. The Yankees. They escaped the ninth, but for how long? That was the feeling. For how long?

Bill Mazeroski leads off the bottom of the ninth, and Ralph Terry is on the mound for the Yankees. Mazeroski watches his first pitch go by, a ball. The crowd is quiet, distracted, still replaying that last inning, still trying to catch its breath, when Terry throws his second pitch, and Mazeroski swings.

And the rest you know.

But without Hal Smith, there’s no Bill Mazeroski.

60ws-7 hs31

It was an incredible afternoon of baseball, for a cold gray February.

And I’m going to buy this film after all.

It’s a perfect baseball antidote to the winter doldrums.

Spring Training

Speaking of the Twins, hey, what’s going on down there in Florida?

The big topics for the Twins this Spring are management, pitching, and outfield.

The management issue is all-encompassing. The Twins, with their new ballpark, supposedly would now generate sufficient revenues to “compete in the marketplace.” This was one of the big rationales for the building new stadium. We were tired of being kicked around by the big market clubs. (Well, just the Yankees, really.) We were tired of the Pohlad’s complaining about their stadium not generating revenues. Basically, we were just tired. Okay, okay, okay. Enough. Build it.HSL2 e fr copy

So now, with full seats and bursting coffers, the Twins ventured into the off-season with the desire and wherewithal to address some immediate concerns – namely pitching.

A few years ago, looking at the Twins, I felt fairly good about the pitching. (What was I thinking?) Baker, Liriano, Blackburn, Slowey, I thought all had good potential. Of course there was Crain and Nathan in the bullpen, and there was Glen Perkins too, looking ready to blossom. There was Neshek and Manship and Guerrier, and Mijares. And Pavano.

Well we know what happened. Baker was always injured, and Liriano never came completely back from Tommy John surgery, and was always inconsistent, and always questionable. (And now, it seems, has broken his non-pitching arm this off-season, smacking a door to startle his children?) Slowey was, well, I’m not sure. Wore out his welcome, I guess? (Now a free agent, signed by the Marlins) Crain left. Blackburn lost effectiveness. Pavano was inconsistent. Mijares fell out of favor. The young guns in the minors all misfired. Which leaves us in our present precarious state.

But, no fear! New Stadium! Deep Pockets to the rescue! The Twins have gone to market, and they are looking to buy!

Let’s see now. What do we have, what do we see? Here’s a nice young pitcher. Not too many miles, let’s just take a look. Let’s just see what his price tag might say.

WHOA. Sticker Shock.

What?

How much?

That much? Really?

But you’ve never won more than 11 games and you give up base runners like crazy and your ERA is higher every year, and, because you’re a pitcher, you’ll probably injure your arm signing your contract and need UCL surgery before you pick up a ball!

No thanks! No thank you very much!

There’s gotta be a better deal out here.

How about this one. A few more miles on him, but still. Let me just check his tag here… OUCH! Seriously?

This is just bargaining position. Right? Am I right? No? Okay. Thanks anyway.

Like Captain Renault in the movie Casablanca, the Twins are shocked – shocked – to find prices so high in the market for free agent pitching. Despite the deep pockets, these are still bankers running the team, and they do not like to put their money on the roulette wheel, which is basically what you’re doing with free agent pitchers. Not when they can put that money back in the vault, where it’s safe and sound and earns 1% compounded quarterly.

And frankly, looking at the salaries being raked in by these free agents, I can’t blame the Twins too much. Though surely, as professionals in the game, they must have seen this coming, they must have realized that this would be the case. And perhaps they should have been a bit more circumspect and realistic in talking about their off-season plans. Pitching is at a premium. Any team with a solid rotation is only one or two pitches away from injuries and chaos. No one ever has too much pitching.

Except.

Perhaps.

The Philadelphia Phillies. And the Washington Nationals. Because these are the two teams which traded pitching to the Twins for outfielders. Which leads to our third major topic of the spring, the outfield, and its sub-topic, the lead-off batter.

What is the off-season for, if not to worry about these things?

In their first big move of the off-season, the Twins traded their prized center fielder, Denard Span, for minor league pitcher Alex Meyer. Which says something about the comparative values of outfielders and pitchers. Span is an established veteran, a good lead off hitter, an excellent center fielder, and only 28 years old, “with a team-friendly contract” (i.e. underpaid.) Meyer, however, was the Nationals first-round pick in the 2011 draft. Last year in the class A minors he was 10-6 with a 2.86 ERA.

On the surface, this looks like a good trade for both clubs, but only time will tell. Meyer was the Nats top pitching prospect, he’s 6’9″, and throws, as they say, a 99 mile per hour fastball. It will be awhile before he’s ready, while Span will be leading off for the Nats this year. But that’s okay – because the Twins have young Ben Revere, the center fielder of the future, ready to patrol the vast green carpet at Target Field.

A few days later the Twins stunned everyone by trading  their center fielder of the future, 24-year-old Ben Revere, to the Phillies, for pitchers Vance Worley, 25 years old,  and 23-year-old Trevor May. Revere is young, hit .294 last season,  an excellent outfielder and a base stealing threat, whereas Worley (3.50 career ERA) figures to move into the Twins starting rotation, and May is another prospect who will start the season in the minors.

spring training 13 trades fr sm

I have to give the Twins some credit for making these moves; they needed pitching and they got some pitching. They are looking to the future, as they should. It perhaps would have been nice to see them spend some money on some free agent pitching, but it’s no surprise, really, that they didn’t. Historically they are not dropping money on free agents, and that doesn’t seem likely to change. In addition, given the state of affairs with the Twins, would a free agent be likely to jump at joining them?

The Twins don’t ever rule out any possibilities. Why would they? But it would be pretty amazing and unusual and a highly unlikely set of circumstances that would see them throw top dollar at a free agent. So I don’t ever expect to see that happen.

The Nine Billion Websites of Baseball: Twins Daily

nine billion g webYes, I had to change to name of this theme. A lot of the  baseball sites that I’ve been coming across are not, in fact, blogs. (Going by perhaps a narrow definition of what a blog is.) There are a billion websites out there about all aspects of baseball — aspects that I never thought existed — and I’ll feature them on my blog from time to time.

One of my major discoveries was about a year ago, a website called Twins Daily, and, in fact, the site recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. Four guys apparently thought it up one day — “why isn’t there a website out there for fans to write about the Twins?”  — and now Twins Daily is my go-to site for a quick fix on Twins baseball.

There are a number of writers who contribute to the site, and it basically covers everything Twins. Right now there’s been a series of close ups of the Twins top prospects, as well as thoughtful commentary on the Twins off-season moves. Such as they were. There’s also some just plain data crunching, such as this nice piece from a few weeks ago, They Came to Play, looking at the Twins “Iron Men,” and answering the question, who holds the Minnesota record for most consecutive games played?

The answer was surprising. Cal Ripkin, of course, holds the major league record, 2,632 games. For the Twins it’s… Justin Morneau! Surprise! And it’s only 319 games! I would have thought it a few more than that, and held by someone like Puckett or Killebrew or Carew or Tovar.

Nope. Justin. Way to go, Justin!

Justin is mostly known these days for being injured, and for his slowly progressing recovery. I admire the way Justin has kept plugging away since the injury; it must be very frustrating, when he was playing at such a high level before, but I haven’t heard any complaints or negatives about Justin, and he’s making progress, had a solid season last year, and we hope for an even better season this year.

Another nice piece from Twins Daily – on 12/12/12 writer Cody Christie identified the top TovarCesarTwins players to wear number 12. His pick – and mine – the great Cesar Tovar.

Way to go, Cesar! Way to wear that number 12!

And thanks, Twins Daily! And Happy Birthday!

 

A side note; the theme picture, above, is actually a book by Arthur C. Clarke, The Nine Billion Names of God. I read that story about 30 years ago, and I guess it stuck with me. You can find the plot summary out there on Wikipedia, of course, but if I was you I’d just read the damn story. It’s really good.

Creamer’s Ruth bio: first impressions

It’s lacking.

Perhaps it’s harder to do a biography of a ball player, as opposed to an author or artist or statesman. Perhaps there’s not a lot of source material to work with, for ball players. But this book is seeming almost as if constructed from a scan of period newspaper articles, and doesn’t give us a lot more depth than that.

ruth headline

We do learn a little bit about Ruth’s boyhood in Baltimore, and a bit more about his minor league experiences, but basically we just get a lot about Ruth playing the game, his performances, and, in the chapter I’m on now, his transition from pitcher to outfielder. There’s not much that gets down to the personal level; the closest offered on his non-baseball life are brief references to his “prodigious appetite” and “womanizing,” and a bit of family stuff that could also have been pulled from the newspapers. Such as his father dying in a fight outside his bar. So it’s seeming pretty superficial so far.

Of course, baseball players are not known for being men of letters, and especially in this time period, the players are not highly educated. I’m pretty sure that there’s not a lot of letters or journals to draw from here, but even first-person-narratives, stories told by friends, other players, or relatives, seem few and far between.

Ruth - Creamer

I may need to look at another Ruth bio to compare to this, but this just might put me off baseball biographies for the whole year.

With the content lacking, Creamer’s writing does not rise to the occasion. Unfortunately the most eloquent passage appears in the first chapter of the book, and is a quote from another ballplayer: I’ll add that in here later today.

I will continue to read this, though, because Ruth is such an iconic figure. And perhaps it will improve? Perhaps there will be more sources to draw from as Ruth moves to New York and becomes a huge celebrity.

One last note. It is interesting to read about how good Ruth was as a pitcher. In the chapter I’m reading now, the Red Sox are in the pennant race, and they are short of pitchers. At this point Ruth prefers to play the outfield, but here, at the end of the season, he’s doing both, pitching (highly effectively) every few days, playing outfield on the other days, and batting cleanup. That’s pretty amazing stuff. Makes me want to look for old archival material on that.

endless winter… ?

nsn100Perhaps I should have named this blog endless winter.

blizzard

It’s 5 degrees with a -15 windchill this morning, and tonight they are saying it will be -9. Melting and freezing have left us sidewalks coated with ice, and people are spreading sand and salt, which makes it a bit easier to walk, but is hard on my dog’s feet. Plus it’s totally dark out, and work beckons.

cold

 

 

Will this winter never end?