Happy Birthday McKinley Wheat

Yup. Zach’s younger half-brother Mack was born on 9 June 1893. Mack was a catcher, played a bit with Zach on the Brooklyn Robins, and also played for the Phillies. He finished out his career in 1922 with LA in the Pacific Coast League, where it looks like he played in three games, going 0 for 2 at the plate. Still, he got a pretty nice baseball card out of the deal.

Mack was not quite as good a hitter as Zach, finishing up with a batting average of .204 in just over 600 plate appearances over 7 seasons in the majors. Still: seven years in the majors. Perhaps he was an excellent windpaddist.

Also of note in baseball history today, the Twins hit five home runs in the seventh inning against the Angels in 1966, the first time in the American League there was ever a five home run inning. Rollins, Versalles, Oliva, Mincher, and then, finishing up, the fat kid, Harmon Killebrew. True Twins fans know that the game was never in the bag, but the Twins did manage to hang on somehow to win it, 9-4.

And then, some years later, the great Zoilo Casanova Versalles passed away on 9 June, 1995. American League MVP in 1965, leading the Twins to the World Series. Good game, Zoilo.

Zach Wheat

Happy Birthday Zach Wheat! Born 23 May, 1888.

Lifetime batting average, .317, with 2884 hits. Played for the Millers a bit, in 1928. One of the best baseball names ever.

“One of the grandest guys ever to wear a baseball uniform, one of the greatest batting teachers I have seen, one of the truest pals a man ever (had) and one of the kindliest men God ever created.”

– Casey Stengel

Passed away 11 May, 1972.

Good game, Zach!

It is good to be in first…

And it’s good to be alone in first place.

The Twins continue to play good ball to start the season, winning a nice one tonight, 3-1 in Chicago. First four games, Twins have given up 6 total runs. A nice change from last season. First time the Twins have won four in a row to start a season since 1987. (Yikes! 30 years ago!) I like how Molitor is getting everyone in the games. Our new back up catcher, Gimenez, goes 2 for 4 tonight, knocks in a run. Buxton makes some pretty nice catches in center, but had a brutal day at the plate, 0 for 4, four strikeouts. Well, tomorrow’s another day. I also like to see Sano at first base. Kintzler made it a bit too interesting in the ninth, giving up a couple of walks. But he persevered, and the Twins get another one in the win column.

Nice.

April 8th marks the birthday of Catfish Hunter, born in 1946.

Catfish broke into the big leagues in 1965 with the then KC Athletics. He was a huge part of all the great Oakland A’s clubs of the early 70s. He then was able to leave the A’s because of a contract violation, and became baseball’s first “big money” free agent. He ended up playing for one of those east coast teams, don’t remember which one. I believe he did pretty well there too.

A’s owner Charlie Finley gave him the nickname “Catfish.” Probably a marketing thing. Catfish never played in the minors. I wonder if that’s happened since? He also pitched a perfect game against the Twins in May of ’68, a night game out on the west coast. It was a wednesday night, so I probably caught just the beginning of the game on the radio. It being a school night.

Catfish passed away on 9 September 1999, age 53, from Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Good game, Catfish.

 

 

 

Baseball and Philosophy, edited by Eric Bronson

With the coming of spring and new hope and new adventures, I’ve pulled a few old baseball books off my shelves, dusted them off, and cracked them open, searching for wisdom. I’ve owned this copy of Baseball and Philosophy for probably 6 years or so, and never managed to get past the first inning. (The book is divided into innings instead of chapters, with two essays in each. Nice.)

The book is a collection of essays written primarily by college professors, who examine various philosophical questions raised (for some) by baseball. Questions such as:

  • Is it rational to believe in the Cubs, or in any religious faith?
  • If and when everyone is cheating, is it still cheating?
  • Does a team have an ethical responsibility to play ball?
  • Is the intentional walk unethical?

Yes. Serious, thought-provoking questions indeed, and I’m sure questions that all of us baseball fans have considered at some time, if only subconsciously.

Despite these hard-hitting questions, the book in the past just didn’t resonate with me, for some reason. Despite the fact that the first article in the bottom of the first hit very close to home, a piece called “Minnesota’s ‘Homer Hanky Jurisprudence:’ Contraction, Ethics, and the Twins,” by Paul Horan and Jason Solomon. This is where I always got hung up – perhaps because the top of the first — “There’s No Place Like Home!” by Joe Kraus — also did not capture my attention so much, and, well, sometimes it’s two strikes and you’re out.

However, this being spring, fresh starts, new beginnings, I gave it another chance, and this time I steadily made my way through all nine innings and then the post game “press conference” pieces. This time I generally enjoyed the book — though with any collection of essays you’re going to find some you regret and some that shine.

This time, for some reason, I found the bottom of the first to be of more interest, as the authors discussed the legal and ethical issues raised by the foul, nefarious, dastardly and underhanded attempt of Major League Baseball, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, and, it must be said, even the Twins’ kindly owner, Carl Pohlad, to contract the Major Leagues and erase the Twins and the Montreal Expos from the roster of Major League teams.

Whereas, in the past, this article lost me somewhere in the second page, this time I persevered, and found it to be a nicely illuminating essay. Perhaps I was over-tired when I picked this book up in the past. (Not an unusual state of being for me.)

As some of you may recall, in late 2001, the owners voted 28-2 to eliminate two teams from the major leagues. (I’m not sure who the two nay-sayers were, but I imagine them to be, for appearance sake, the owner of the Expos and also Carl Pohlad.) “The teams to be contracted have a long record of failing to generate enough revenues to operate a viable major league franchise,” sayeth Mr. Selig.

This, naturally, created something of a stir. A lot of pointed questions were asked, and, in fact, in December of 2001, Commissioner Selig appeared before the House Judiciary Committee, where he attempted to weasel his way out of some of these pointed questions.

League financial data was turned over to the committee, which revealed, according to Mr. Selig, that Major League Baseball was in Terrible Financial Shape, and that 25 of the 30 major league teams lost money the previous year. Congressman Mel Watt of North Carolina raised the point that it sounded like most of the teams were failing to generate enough revenues to operate viable major league franchises, and then asked how contracting just two of the teams would fix baseball’s large systemic problems.

As the hearings went on the talk turned frequently to the generous tax subsidies given to baseball, and to their anti-trust exemption, and, well, things became increasingly awkward for Snidely B. Selig.

(Riveting video of these congressional hearings on the CSPAN website! Representative Watt appears at about 1:36 in the video.)

Major League Baseball (Mr. Selig) was essentially arguing that this contraction thing was just a simple business decision, an accounting problem, a question of income and outrun. Sound financial management by the guardians of our national pastime.

Minnesota Superior Court Judge Harry Seymour Crump looked at things a little differently, however, and on November 16 Judge Crump issued an injunction that ordered the Twins to stay in Minnesota for 2002, saying basically that this was not just a dollars and cents issue, and that the citizens of Minnesota would suffer irreparable harm if the Twins did not play their 2002 season in Minnesota. Judge Crump, according to the authors, picked up on baseball’s unique position in the law, which rests in part upon a utilitarian notion of the public good. Baseball, and the Twins, provide intangible assets to the community that no monetary damages can possibly recompense.

In a particularly low point for team public relations, the Twins and Major League Baseball appealed the decision, and the essay points out the awkward position they found themselves in. After years of claiming a special legal standing and status, they were now claiming, oh, hey, we’re just a business, just like everybody else… except for our anti-trust exemption. Other than that, just like anybody else. Business as usual. Nothing going on here. We aren’t so special, really. Uh, well, in some ways we are, but here, no, not in this case. You see?

All in all, I found this to be a nice little article about baseball’s odd position in the law and it’s requisite responsibilities.

The best article in the book was written by Professor Ted “The Panther” Cohen, of the University of Chicago, “There Are No Ties at First Base.” This seemed the most personal and heartfelt essay in the book, and it was also the funniest.

Ted is a guy who knows the rules of baseball, and he oversees a pick-up game for kids and parents in a local park. In one game there is a play at first base, and the runner and the ball arrive at the base at the same time, and a bit of an argument ensues:

Then an adult loped in from the outfield and with calm, good sense, and an intention to soothe, spoke softly but firmly, commanding immediate quiet and attention. “It was a tie. Let’s let him be safe.”

It was a perfect remark. It was generous and also fair. It was paternal but not patronizing. It satisfied all the children: the batting team was given a runner at first, the fielding team was given respect.

But it was wrong. I alone knew it was wrong, and had anyone else known it, I would have been alone in feeling the necessity of saying so. “If it was a tie,” I said, “then you don’t have to let him be safe; he was safe.”

The other adult turned his calm on me: “I know it’s a convention in baseball that ties go to the runner.” With that remark he put me with the children, I suppose, as if I were a perverse child and perhaps a bright one, but a child still. I had a brief thought of letting it go at that, but that thought faded like a weak throw from the outfield, and I became the kind of child-adult who is too much for any sensible man to handle. “It’s not a convention,” I said. “The rule says that the runner is safe unless the ball arrives before him. If the ball arrives at the same time, then it doesn’t arrive before him, and so he is safe.”

The other adult was silenced. The older children were in awe. I was trembling with a sense of moral triumph. I can remember nothing else from that game.

I reallyenjoyed the Panther’s quiet sense of humor in this piece. When one second baseman’s father says to him, “You’re being obnoxious,” Cohen writes:

“All the children who play regularly know this about me… but they sense that this goes with the order I give to the game…. They seem to like the structure I supply, the umpiring, and the authoritative commentary on the rules, and I think they are attracted by my obtuse scholasticism.”

After the initial “rhubarb” regarding the tie at first base, Cohen realizes that he must check the rules. “I had spoken with confidence, but I was not really sure.” He discovers, unfortunately, a contradiction in the rules, which state:

A batter is out when after a third strike or after he hits a fair ball, he or first base is tagged before he touches first base.

but also:

Any runner is out when he fails to reach the next base before a fielder tags him or the base, after he has been forced to advance by reason of the batter becoming a runner.

In the first instance, the ball/tag has to beat the runner. Tie goes to the runner.

In the second instance, the runner has to reach the base before the tag. Tie goes to the tag!

Cohen, naturally, finds this troubling.

“With all that charm, and with their natural appeal to my philosophical sensibility, the rules had won me over. Now I found them wanting at their core.

On the other hand, I anticipated that statutory immortality that would be due me. I would effect a change in the rules. It was unlikely that I would be given a footnote in the rule book, but I might well find myself in a Roger Angell essay…”

Well, I’m not going to tell you how this all works out. Perhaps the title gives you a clue. But it was a delightful read, and I learned later that it won a Pushcart Prize in 1991.

All in all, this was a worthy little book of baseball, if not of philosophy. Sometimes it was a bit difficult for me to catch the philosophical nuances. Sometimes it seemed like they were stretching a bit. The articles on the Zen of Hitting and Japanese baseball were pretty interesting, as was the article on Baseball, Cheating, and Tradition. Some of the Press Conference pieces at the end seemed a bit cursory.

Ted “The Panther” Cohen passed away in 2014, at age 74. Good game, Panther.

comings and goings

First, Happy Birthday to Robert Moses Grove, born on this date in 1900.

lefty-grove-3c-fr-txt

Well, what can you say about Lefty Grove? One of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game, if not THE greatest. (I am partial to Walter Johnson, but I grant that an argument could be made for Lefty.) 300 wins. 3.06 lifetime ERA. Nine ERA titles. Seven strikeout titles. Two triple crowns. An MVP award. Those are all pretty good marks. And then consider that Grove didn’t pitch in the majors till he was 25 — he pitched five seasons for the old Baltimore club in the International League, from 1920 – 24. He went 108 – 36 with the Orioles before joining Connie Mack’s Athletics in Philly in 1925.

lefty-grove-mechanics

From 1928 to 1933 Grove played with some pretty good Athletics clubs, and fairly dominated the league:

(League leading marks in bold.)
1928 – 24 wins, 8 losses, 2.58 ERA, 183 K
1929 – 20 wins, 6 losses, 2.81 ERA, 170 K
1930 – 28 wins, 5 losses, 2.54 ERA, 209 K
1931 – 31 wins, 4 losses, 2.06 ERA, 175 K
1932 – 25 wins, 10 losses, 2.84 ERA, 188 K
1933 – 24 wins, 8 losses, 3.20 ERA, 114 K

I guess it doesn’t get a whole lot better than that. Happy Birthday, Lefty!

On the flip side, Kirby Puckett passed away on this date in 2006.

kirby-pucket-3d-fr-txt

It just seems totally wrong that Kirby Puckett is gone already. It seems like he was just out there in center field, just yesterday. Damn.

Seems like everyone loved Kirby from day one. (Day one was May 8th, 1984. Kirby started the game batting lead-off, playing centerfield (replacing Darrell Brown) and went 4 for 5, with a stolen base and scoring a run.) He was the sparkplug on those World Champion teams. He loved the game and he had fun out there. And we had fun watching him play.

We got to watch Kirby-ball for 12 seasons before his career was cut short by glaucoma. In those 12 seasons Kirby got 2304 hits, received MVP votes 9 times, played in 10 all-star games, and finished with a career .318 batting average. He also earned 6 gold gloves in centerfield, and also has the Twins’ second longest string of plate appearances without hitting a home run – 583 plate appearances in 1984, no home runs. (The longest string is by Rod Carew: 591 plate appearances in 1972, no home runs.)

On top of everything else, there was the ’91 World Series. Game 6 was Kirby, game 7, Jack. One for the ages.

Finally, Kirby also had one of the top all-time best baseball names. Kirby Puckett. Almost too good to be true.

Kirby was just 45 years old when he passed away.

Hey, Kirby, good game. Touch ’em all.

kirby-puckett-1987-c-fg-fr

Ralph Branca

I suppose as a professional baseball player you have to get used to losing. Year after year, all the teams go at it, only one team gets to walk away as winners. What is that? About 3% of the players can think of them selves as winners in a given year? (roughly?)

So there’s the run-of-the-mill losing, that bad ball clubs, the mediocre ball clubs, day-in day-out losing. I suppose that becomes less stressful in some ways. Then there are the teams that are actually in contention. I suppose losing would be harder on them, because there was more of an opportunity to win in the first place. When there’s a decent chance to win, then you might think more about the bad call, the dropped ball, the extra base, the cut-off throw. The woulda-coulda -shoulda. That sort of second-guessing would be harder to deal with and take awhile to get past.

And then there’s Ralph Branca. October 3rd, 1951. Coming into the deciding game of the playoff, pitching for the Dodgers with a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the 9th. There’s a couple of runners on, one out, and Bobby Thomson coming up to the plate.

Branca pitches.

Thomson swings.

There’s a long drive.

The Giants win the Pennant.

The Giants win the Pennant.

This takes losing to a whole other level.

Of course it’s a team game and there were a lot of other plays made and not made in the game that might have made a difference. But Ralph threw the pitch that lost the game.

The picture of the aftermath is probably the best picture of baseball ever.

bobby-thompson-and-ralph-branca-b-fr-sm

There you have it. That’s what the game is all about. That’s what life is all about.

baseball-ying-yang-c-fr

Branca was a pretty good pitcher for the Dodgers, winning 21 games for them in 1947. He made the all-star team in ’47, ’48, and ’49. Then he got hurt in a clubhouse accident in ’52, hurt his back, and never regained his pitching form. He used to go around to the old timer’s games with Thomson, who passed away in 2010 at 86. They became friends, and donated some money from joint appearances to charities.

Ralph Branca passed away today, in Rye Brook, NY, at age 90. Three time all-star, 21-game winner for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Good game, Ralph.

8 and 25. Seriously.

man.

 

brutal.

 

Just…

 

 

utterly

 

 

 

brutal.

 

I have to say, this club is not this bad. No.

Nobody is this bad, really.

Okay, maybe the Atlanta Braves, but probably not even them.

I know that spring training is just spring training, but this team went 19-11 in the spring. That’s the team I thought we’d be seeing this year. Where did they go?

I suppose this is one of the weirdly attractive things about baseball. Inexplicable, relentless catastrophe.

Of course, a lot of people will be happy to explain it. In fact, they saw it coming. Could have told ya.

But to be playing this bad. That’s pretty inexplicable. This goes far far beyond injuries and strikeouts and OPS and young ball players who lack experience in major league ball. This gets all the way down to the absolute nature of reality and existence.

Reality and existence: utterly brutal.

Life is full of suffering.

oh yeah.

grimreaper2