Division of the Damned

Opening Day! Or perhaps it’s more like “opening day,” as there’s just one game scheduled, the Rangers against Houston.

I was disappointed when I heard that the Houston Astros were moving to the American League. For some reason, and I don’t really know what that reason is, I have never ever liked the Houston Astros. Why couldn’t it have been the Milwaukee Brewers moving back to the AstrosJunior Circuit? Or the Cubs? But no. I imagine, in the discussions over the move, the National League owners all saying, “Let’s give them Houston. Give them the Astros.”

And then I thought, well, at least it’s not the San Diego Padres. Which seems to indicate that I like them even less than the Astros. Ghost then mentioned the Arizona Diamondbacks, and I thought, yes, just as bad. Or either of those Florida clubs. Which made me think that they could stick all my least favorite teams in one division and then I could perhaps pretend they didn’t exist.

So this is the Lost Division. I’ll be following their progress this year? Seriously?

Houston Astros
San Diego Padres
Arizona Diamondbacks
Florida Team 2
Florida Team 1
Colorado Rockies

Good luck you guys.

My aversion to the Astros probably lies in partly in the fact that I don’t like their name. If they were called, say, the Houston New York Giants, that would be better. Or the Houston Generic Ball Club Incorporated. Originally they were called colts-smoking-gun-logo-x-largethe Houston Colt 45s, which was also a bad name, but they changed their name to something even worse, the Astros, when they moved into their new ballpark, the Astrodome. The name basically is supposed to evoke the role Houston plays in the U.S. space program. But it kind of seems like the team was named after the stadium. Originally the Astrodome had a glass roof, which would let them grow a grass field inside, but they quickly found out that it was impossible to see a fly ball against the glare from the windows, so I think they painted over some of the ceiling windows, and then the grass died, and so they put the “AstroTurf,” on the Astroground. (However, for most of the 1965 season the Astros played on green-painted dirt and dead grass. Nice.)

Perhaps this change in leagues is an opportunity for Houston to change their name again? As they play in Minute Maid Park, they will probably not want to make the same mistake, naming themselves after their ballpark. (Minute Maid Park was also called Enron Field for a while. The Houston Enrons?)

Houston Colts would be better. Drop the “45.” The Houston Ten Gallon Hats? The Houston Marshal?  The Houston Posse? The Houston Gunslingers? The Houston Desperadoes? The Houston Oilmen? The Houston Paladins?

Well, I’ll keep working on it. So far I like the Houston New York Giants the best.

More on Four

Perhaps you’re wondering, but yes, I’m still reading Ball Four, probably a bit more than half way through it, and it is as enjoyable as I remember. I’ve been trying to identify what makes it so good; here’s a quick list.

1. Bouton is funny and observant and quirky and thoughtful. He asks questions and provides funny though not always accurate answers.Jim Bouton 1969 Topps

2. It’s easy to identify with Bouton as he struggles with management and with those who are stuck in an old traditional way of doing things. Probably this also had something to do with the book being so popular when published, in the early seventies. But really, I guess this is a pretty timeless theme. Bouton is something of a rebel, questioning the elders in authority. It makes them uncomfortable, frustrates everybody, and he gets smacked down a lot. (Also easy to identify with.)

3. The books really succeeds at making all the ball players real and human, rather than baseball stars. One thing that comes across is that all this takes place in an era where the typical ball player is not making very much. According to the 1997 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics publication Compensation and Working Conditions, the average salary for a major league ball player in 1970 was $29,303. Throughout the book the ball players are worried about the same mundane concerns that would worry anyone, rent deposits, moving expenses, etc.

4. I like reading baseball history; Bouton talks about the Yankees of the Mickey Mantle era, and about Mickey himself. (Who was sometimes a nice guy but also often an ass, it seems.)

Jim Bouton - Yankees 1Anyway, it seems like it’s been taking me a long time to read this; perhaps I am reading too many things? The stack of books-to-read grows ever taller. Plus there are taxes yet to be done, and one of our sinks is in pieces on the floor of my “study.”

But tonight? Tonight I read Bouton.

Presidential Pitch

President Taft at the ball park 13 aug 1912

Taft at the ball park, 1912

With opening day approaching, the Library of Congress Blog took a quick look at President Taft, who was the first President to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to start the season, in 1910 and 1911. Taft was the first president to “embrace and support the sport” (though there are stories that Abe Lincoln was playing ball when he learned of his nomination for President). (No information on what position he played, but I would guess pitcher or first base.)

In 1910, opening day, the Senators beat the Nationals beat the Athletics, 3-0, behind a no-hitter by Walter Johnson, and in 1911 they beat Boston 8-5, so Taft was 2-0 in opening games. This is a nice little write up. Taft apparently saw quite a bit of baseball when he was President.

president grover cleveland

Grover Cleveland, the President

President Grover Cleveland, on the other hand, was all work. Cap Anson once visited him at the white house and invited him to a game, to which Cleveland replied, “What do you imagine the American people would think of me if I wasted my time going to the ball game?”

Grover Cleveland Alexander was born during the administration of President Grover Cleveland. In Grover Cleveland Alexander’s entry in the Internet Movie Database, it points out that he was named for one President, and portrayed by a second President (Reagan) in the film biography The Winning Team (1952). He was also a pretty good pitcher, but we’ll go into that some other day.

Lastly, I haven’t seen any stories about whether Obama will be tossing the first pitch this season. I’ll keep looking, though.

President throws pitch, greets children at Nationals game





Ba$eball & Bundling

I came across this interesting story in the local City Pages, talking about the collapse of city pages coverthe TV audience for Major League Baseball. The 2012 World Series, it says, between the Giants and the Tigers, had an average viewership of 12 million people — a drop of nearly 80% from the 1980 World Series.

Baseball’s TV audience ratings have fallen steadily since 1980, and yet the networks, Turner, Fox, and ESPN, are doubling their annual payments for the right to broadcast the games. How this can be?

Well, athletic events are one of the few TV offerings that people generally want to watch in “real-time” – including all the commercials. More and more broadcast TV is being recorded by consumers and watched at their convenience, sans commercials. (Tricky consumers.)

The Networks also will pay that sort of money because they can still bundle the channels; all those non-baseball fans are still supporting baseball because bundling channels forces them to pay for channels they really don’t want. However, there is a case now in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Cablevision Systems Corp. v. Viacom International Inc, which threatens to overturn this practice of bundling, and allow people to choose the channels they want to watch, and pay for them, individually. Which would probably be a big loss of money for baseball. Which would mean… ? Well, I guess we will have to stay tuned.

And 80%? Really?

Rapid Robert, the Heater from Van Meter

This is my oldest baseball card, I think. A 1953 Bob Feller, obviously in terrible shape. I’m not sure how I came to have this, but probably my father gave it to me, as he was from Cleveland. I’m also pretty sure he always vetoed any possible trades. (Hence, the Cleveland Indians are over-represented in my baseball card collection.) Anyway, I am happy I still have it, and I like it just the way it is. (Thanks, Dad!)

Bob Feller 1953 smI thought of this yesterday as I was looking at the New York Times online, looking at the obituaries, and noticed a section called “The Last Word” – interviews with well known people, looking back at their lives. And I noticed that Bob Feller was interviewed, and it’s a very nice piece.

I was not a big Bob Feller fan when I was growing up. (Of course, he was a bit before my time. But still…) The main problem was that he was from Cleveland, of course, and my father was always a big Indians fan. But Feller was an amazing pitcher, a fact that I didn’t realize till much later. He entered the majors with the Indians in 1936, directly from High School in Van Meter Iowa, at age 17. In fact, he wasn’t finished with high school, and had to take some time off baseball to finish up. In 1939, ’40, and ’41 he led the league in wins, then volunteered for the Navy after Pearl Harbor and served more than three years. When he came back he again led the league in wins in ’46 and ’47. He threw three no hitters and 12 one hitters and led the league in strikeouts 7 seasons. He had a tremendous fastball; they didn’t have radar back then, to clock pitch speeds, but using other methods it was estimated at 107 mph. He was also the first president of the MLB Players Association.

bob feller perhaps

I found this little animation of Feller online, and I noticed that the player’s number is 14, where Feller was more widely known to wear number 19. Looking into that, I came across a memorabilia auction web site that said that Bob wore number 14 in 1938. I’ve only seen still pictures of Feller throwing, but that looks like his high leg kick, so I think this is Feller in 1938, when he was 19 years old and went 17-11 with the Indians.

Bob died in 2010, on December 15th.

Good game, Bob.

spring draws to a close…

Just a couple of quick notes about the ending of spring training.

First, the big news, it looks like the Twins are set to go with 23-year-old  Aaron Hicks in Aaron Hicks 2bcenter field, which is a surprise to me, I thought for sure it would be Mastroianni starting in center and Hicks starting in triple-A. But the Twins gave him a chance to earn the position in spring training, and he hit .353 with 4 home runs, 16 runs, 16 rbi, and 3 stolen bases. So I’m happy how that turned out, and hope Hicks can make the jump to the bigs from double-A ball.

It looks like the rotation will be Worley, Pelfry, Correia, De Vries, and Hendriks, with Diamond on the 15 day injured list and Sudden Sam Deduno, who’s not on the 40 man roster, starting in triple-A after he recovers from a slight groin pull. Pelfry had a good start on Monday, giving up 1 run on five hits over five innings, but I was surprised to read that the Twins started him on just three days rest, to get him back on his “normal schedule.” I’d like to see the Twins be a bit more careful than that with Pelfry, who’s just coming off Tommy John surgery, 11 months ago. This is not a good sign.

The bullpen looks good with Burnet, Fien, Burton, Duensing, and Glenn Perkins. Rule 5 draft pick Ryan Pressly also looks like he’ll make the club, and Josh Roenicke. The Twins picked Roenicke off waivers from Colorado in November, a nice pickup. He had a pretty good year last year for the Rockies, in 63 games with a 3.25 ERA.

Looks like Florimon at short, and Dozier at second, with Jamey Carroll backing them both up. Florimon’s hitting .213 this spring, and that’s probably about what he’ll hit during the regular season. He’d better field like Ozzie Smith out there, or the Twins will soon be looking for other options.

That’s it for now. Opening day is Monday the first, game starts at 3:10 against the Tigers. I need to find a nearby watering hole with a TV.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

While Take Me Out to the Ball Game is the classic, there is a strong lineup of other baseball songs out there in the world. This made me think, and ask, are there any noteworthy songs about other sports, hockey, basketball, football, tennis? Golf?

I think not. Perhaps there are hockey songs in Canada? or Curling?

Admittedly, the hey-day of baseball songs seems long past. The most recent numbers that I can recall are John Fogarty’s Centerfield, and The Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request, by Steve Goodman, both of which came out quite awhile ago. I have a “tape,” — an old-fashioned analog memory device for storing audio files —  called Baseball’s Greatest Hits, and it’s got a number of classic baseball songs on it. I take it out every spring, though I haven’t dug it out yet this year, but any day now it will go into the “tape-player”. (Opening Day is only a week away!!) Some of the songs are well-known classics, such as Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, by Les Brown & his Orchestra, and Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit that Ball? by Count Basie and his Orchestra. Well, well-known to some people. No, they don’t write them like that any more. Some are a bit more current, including Goodman’s Dying Cubs Fan. Some I hadn’t heard before, like Baseball Blues, by Claire Hamill. Take Me Out to the Ball Game is there, of course, played by Doc Watson

You can purchase this collection from sellers on Amazon, but it seems to be out of print, as they’re only selling used copies. Also, since I got my copy, they’ve added a few songs, and split the collection into two separate CDs. They would both, of course, be well worth purchasing. But you may want to check your local library first.

baseball music - Original sheet music - take me out to the ball game

Take Me Out to the Ball Game was not the first baseball song. It was written quite awhile later, in 1908 by vaudeville entertainer Jack Norworth (lyrics) and his friend Albert Von Tilzer (music). Norworth reportedly wrote the song in about 15 minutes while on a subway in New York, and Norworth’s wife, Nora Bayes, was the first to sing the song on vaudeville. The song quickly became a hit and was performed widely. Edward Meeker was the first to make a recorded version, with Thomas Edison.

Edward Meeker

Edward Meeker

It wasn’t until the 1970’s, according to Time magazine, that the song found its way into the 7th inning stretch — White Sox announcer Harry Caray started singing the song with nearby fans at Comisky Park, and one day then-owner Bill Veeck noticed and wired the booth with a microphone, and the rest is history. Caray brought the song with him when he moved over to the Cubs and Wrigley field, and the tradition gradually spread to all the other ballparks. And a nice little tradition it is. You don’t find much community singing anymore.

My thoughts on baseball and music were spurred by a recent notice I saw online about the Library of Congress’s Baseball Sheet Music Collection. (Grist! I exulted.) The LOC has quite a nice collection of old sheet music about baseball, dating back to the mid 19th century. These are beautiful old publications, many with great illustrations and beautiful fonts. Since I don’t play an instrument, I can only wonder what these sound like. If I was able to play an instrument, I would knock these out, and post the sound files for you, so be thankful that I do not, as there would probably be singing involved.

The earliest baseball song in the Library of Congress collection is from 1858, The Baseball Polka.

baseball music - Baseball Polka 1858

Another nice one is The Atlantic Polka, dedicated to the Atlantic Baseball club, pictured earlier in this very blog.

baseball music - The Atlantic Baseball Club Polka

A third I liked was the song The Umpire is a Most Unhappy Man.

baseball music - the umpire 2

I ran a quick little scientific study on the Library of Congress Performing Arts Encyclopedia database. A search for “baseball music” came back with 154 hits. Football music? One result, which is not sheet music, but an audio recording of an emcee referring to Nebraska as “football state”. Let’s call that a false hit. Hockey music? Three results, songs written by a man named Hockey. (Should check a Canadian library on this.) Three false hits. Basketball music? No results.

babe ruth at the keys - src baseball music project

Obviously, there exists for some reason a strong connection between baseball and music. I would guess that this might be because baseball has such a long history, and thus happened to be around when vaudeville and tin-pan alley were generating huge amounts of popular music. Or it might be just such a large shared national common experience, all the kids played baseball growing up, and it was the only sport that really had a national following, a major league that everybody knew about. For a long time it was the only game in town. Or, perhaps, it’s simply that baseball is the most musical of all sports.

As with any worthwhile cause, there is today an organization “dedicated to fostering greater awareness of the cultural lineage and historical significance of music written about baseball.” This is the aptly named Baseball Music Project, and it’s from their website that I borrowed the picture of the Bambino tinkling the ivories.

I’ll close this post with a link to a clip of the Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio song, by Les Brown and his Orchestra. This seems like the most complete version of the DiMaggio song on YouTube, but the person posting the song ran out of pictures of Joltin’ Joe about 45 seconds into the song, and so he just started posting pictures of any available Yankee. Okay. Whatever works. It’s the song that’s important here.

I’ll be posting other music later on during the Year of Baseball.