Roger Kahn, Memories of Summer

I recently finished reading Memories of Summer, by Roger Kahn, and enjoyed it quite a lot. Kahn’s book is a memoir, and roughly the first third of the book tells of growing up in Brooklyn, going to Ebbets field with his father, playing ball and going to school and discovering that he wants to be a writer. His father happens to know the city editor of the New York Herald Tribune, and this gets 19-year-old Roger an interview and a job as a copy boy in 1946. I particularly enjoyed this part of the book, stories of how Roger learned about newspapers and sports writing from some of the greats, such as Red Smith and Heywood Broun. In 1950 he became a copyreader in the sports department ($48/week; do they still have copyreaders?), and soon after that he was out on general sports assignments, covering everything except major league baseball. (They wanted their baseball writer to be older than the players, and I suppose that’s a good general rule of thumb.) But just two years later, at the wise old age of 24, Kahn gets dispatched to Florida to cover the Brooklyn Dodgers spring training. Those were different times, obviously, but I think this speaks to Kahn’s ability as a writer, that they thought he was ready.

His first year covering the Dodgers they win the National League pennant, and (no dilly-dallying in those day, no 8 rounds of playoff games) they play the lordly New York Yankees in the World Series, and Kahn covers this experience closely in the book, and brings home the drama and personalities in the story. And there are quite a few personalities involved: Jackie Robinson, Casey Stengel, Pee Wee Reese, Mickey Mantle, Roy Campanella, Allie Reynolds. The Yankees win it in 7 games, a hard fought, well-played series. After the game, (and about a million years ago,) a reporter asked Mantle about his off season plans.

At the age of twenty, Mickey Mantle had arrived, batting .345 with two important home runs. “Nice Series, young man,” Rud Rennie said. “What are you up to now?”

“Headin’ back to Oklahoma. I got me a job working down in the mines.”

“Work in the mines? The winning share is more than $6,200. You don’t have to do that now.”

“Yes, I do,” Mantle said. “You know my dad died, and I got seven dependents who’re counting on me.” Mantle named three brothers, a sister, his mother, and his wife.

“That’s six,” Rennie said.

“A baby is due in March,” Mantle said. “I don’t know whether I’ll be in the electrical crew or the pump crew or whatever.” The Yankees’ slugging hero of the series smiled pleasantly. “I’m just lucky the mining company offered me a job.”

The second part of the book traces Kahn’s career after he leaves the newspaper, and features some chapters that focus on some individual players, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays in particular. These are thoughtful and personal character studies; Kahn tells us a lot about these legends, in a subtle and natural way.

Many of you baseball fans out there are familiar with Kahn’s other huge best-seller, The Boys of Summer. That seems like it was written a hundred years ago now, (published 1972, so, really, only 45 years ago) and it is well worth re-reading. Kahn brings the same care and skill to this book, and leaves me wanting more. And so I’m planning on tracking down another Kahn book, The Era, 1947-1957: When the Yankees, the Giants, and the Dodgers Ruled the World. 

Nice to note that Roger is still with us, 89 years old, and I hope writing another book.

Good game, Roger!

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.

Meanwhile… back in 2014….

stove - loc e

So the Twins have finally taken my advice — or at least the most expensive part of it – and signed Ervin Santana to pitch for them next year. With Danny Santana at shortstop (or center field,) we are only one short, easy, inexpensive step away from seeing Los Tres Santanas. And the last I heard (an internet search mere seconds ago) The Original Johan is still out there, a free agent, ripe for the plucking.

los tres santanas g

Looks like The Original Johan is planning on pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League this January, working on his comeback from a torn Achilles tendon. If he does okay down there in Venezuela, I won’t be surprised to see him in spring training with the Twins. Because the Twins are crazy for veterans with moxie and can-do attitude (see: Hunter, Torii.) (Add “damaged goods” and “inexpensive gamble” into the mix…)

Is Every Day Eddie Guardado available?

How about Senor Smoke, Juan Beranguer?

Who’d you rather see at first base this year, Justin (.319) Morneau or Joe Mauer?

Can Joe play third?

Put Trevor Plouffe back in the outfield?

Ahhhhh. Hot stove league. The snow is blowing out there, but in here there’s a little taste of summer going on.

swing e fr - mtpmcg714 - 5618

Foul Ball!

You couldn’t say that I’m “plowing through” the baseball books. No.  There is remarkably little time in life right now for reading right now. Yet I continue to plug away at them in a desultory fashion, and now I have just finished Foul Ball – My life and hard times trying to save an old ballpark, by Jim Bouton, of course.

Foul Ball

This was a different sort of book. In some ways it tries to be Ball Four – written in a diary style, practically a day by day account of the fight to save the old Wahconah ball park, in Pittsfield Massachusetts. But times have changed, and the topic is not as fun and lighthearted as the Pilots of ’69. On the surface this is the story of Bouton and his friends trying to save and rejuvenate a classic old small town minor league ball park. At it’s heart thought this is a story of money and politics, power, corruption, and the golden rule. (i.e., them with the gold, they make the rules.)

The powers that be in Pittsfield want to tear down old Wahconah park and build a new ballpark. That’s where the money is. The people of Pittsfield don’t want a new ball park, want to save the old ball park. Bouton and his partners, Chip Elitzer and Eric Margenau, love the old Waconah park, and come up with a plan to save it. It takes them awhile to realize that the powers that be have no interest in “saving” the ball park, and no interest in working with anyone wanting to save the old ballpark – no matter what the public thinks or how much popular support there is for saving the old park.

Pittsfield - Waconah Park

Bouton’s wry commentary does highlight some of the inherent humor in the situation – the local politicians twist and turn like eels, never saying what they think and rarely meaning what they say. Bouton and his compadres are frequently flummoxed — how can something that seems so right and proper and good be so scorned by those in power? How low will they go to sabotage the new plan? Who’s calling the shots in Pittsfield?

In the end it’s kind of a sad story. While the ball park does not get torn down, the Bouton group does not get to work their plan. There’s petty small town politics and big city greed, corporate power and just plain stupidity. It kind of brings a guy down. Bouton comes out of the experience sadder but wiser, as they say – awakened to some sad facts about Pittsfield and about life in America, it would seem. Because the fix is in, it seems. And everybody’s just going to have to live with it.

Vintage Base Ball League

Ahh, well; let’s not end on a down note.

Good book, Jim.

Keep pitchin’ ’em in there.

5 March 1904, Saturday evening: Revenue Streams, and a Sober Pre-Spring-Training Assessment

In a small blurb in the Saturday evening paper, President Watkins says he’ll be happy to rent out Nicollet Park for high school football games. And they can use the clubhouse! And at “a moderate rate”! (Not a modest rate. A moderate rate.) Last year the football teams used the North High field, where there was no protection from the elements before the game and during halftime. I’m sure they’ll enjoy using the clubhouse. Good move, Watty!

Minneapolis Journal - 5 March 1904 - Millers Look Pretty Strong Headline

Elsewhere in the paper, it sez here on page 9 that the Miller’s look “Pretty Strong” this year – Watty’s signed 22 players, 10 of them pitchers, “…of Whom Five have Proved Their Ability in Fast Company….” With the other 12 players, the non-pitchers, there seems to be a bit of uncertainty as to who will play where. Fox may get shifted to third base, if Watkins can sign a “first-class second sack man,” while Maloney can either catch or play outfield: “…it is quite probable that he will be used in the garden, as there are to good big mitt men without him.” Apparently the outfield is also known as the “garden,” which presents a pleasing bucolic image, I think. Catchers are known as “big mitt men,” I guess, or, perhaps, “windpad artists:”

“Roach, the catcher secured from Columbus, is a good fast man, a clever windpad artist, and a good thrower.”

Given the presence of a windpad artist like Roach, it looks like Maloney will wind up in the garden, with Sullivan and Lally; the reporter says that Maloney is “lightning fast in the field and on the sacks,” while Sullivan is “very fast.” Lally, remarkably, is “slow on the sacks” — he is apparently the only slow runner on the team – but he “covers a lot of ground in the garden” (perhaps he is very fat?) and is also a good stick man.

The Roster Thus Far...

The Roster Thus Far…

All the pitchers seem sure to make good. Munch is expected to become a great twirler and Converse should “make good” with a bit more experience with “fast company.” Baily, Stimmel, Ford, Thomas, Owens, and Case all are known to be good. There are only two notes of hesitance:

“Jack Katoll will be one of the best in the league if his arm is right.” (Red Flag Warning.)

“Koukalik is a more uncertain quantity… but comes highly recommended by Harley Parker…” (Possibly a Red Flag Warning.)

The reporter closes, though, with a pretty enthusiastic summation on the Miller’s chances in ’04.

“The team… promises to be an exceedingly fast one. The hitting is an unknown quantity, but… the pitchers are strong enough to pull out a big majority of the games. The club should be a topnotcher in fielding… In fact, there are few teams in the league which look as good as Minneapolis to-day.”

Undoubtedly bolstered by this confidence boosting report from the impartial journalist, President Watkins has left for Chicago to attend a meeting of the Association Magnates. Perhaps they will nail down the schedule at this meeting – so far we know that the season will start on April 20th, with the western clubs opening in the east, but it’s not yet set where Minneapolis will open. Columbus? Indianapolis? In any event, the home opener won’t be until the first week of May. (Which is just around the corner!)

Elsewhere in the news, the Dreyfus affair turns a corner:

Minneapolis Journal - 5 March 1904 - Dreyfus b

27 February 1904: Watkins Returns to Our Fair City

27 February 1904, Saturday Evening

WH Watkins cThe Journal reports on the 27th that President Watkins has returned from Magnate meetings in Columbus; he reports that the Magnates at the meeting are generally satisfied with the results of the meeting and the agreement with the Pacific league, and he seems happy to have it settled, even thought the Millers lost two players to the Coast – outfielder Mike Lynch and pitcher Dick Williams.  “We could not have got those men back in any case,” Watkins says, so better to let them go to the Coast league than dicker about it. The Toledo club lost six players to the Pacific league, so they weren’t too happy, but the general sense is that the Magnates wanted to move on and get down to “business.” (There are players salaries that need cutting!)

Watkins further reports that Frosty Thomas and Harvey Bailey have said that they would sign their contracts, and Watkins has also signed two other men, but did not disclose their names at this time. Watkins is a guy who does not dispense information before it is time. Finally, Watkins also stopped in Chicago on the way home and tried to cut a deal for two other players, but was unsuccessful. However, “You can rest assured there will not be a man on the team this year who is not a ball player.”

Watkins will now be in Minneapolis until the March 7th meeting of the American association in Chicago, and then will be back in Minneapolis until spring training begins in Champaign, Ill., March 31st.