Ebbets Field Lives!

Nice article in the NY Times today, about a die-hard Brooklyn Dodgers fan, Rod Kennedy, who finds the actual blueprints for Ebbets Field. In 1992, he finds them buried in the bowels of the sub-basement archives of the Brooklyn Department of the City of New York’s Building’s Department. “Like looking for the plans to the pyramids,” according to one city official.

It’s a good story.

In the depths of the Brooklyn Municipal Building’s sub-basement, in a dusty, shadow-filled room, with plans strewn across the floor, and everything covered with filth, apparently, (really? is that how they do that in Brooklyn?) Kennedy finds a rack of plans from 1912. A rack of grime-covered plans. Including the plans for the proposed new grandstand for the Brooklyn baseball club.

The city allows him to take the plans to find a proper  home for them, but — easier said than done. Organizations that he thought might be interested were either not interested or not able to take care of them properly. And so, for the next 20 years, the plans were in a mailing tube under his bed.

I won’t relate the rest of the story; it’s worth a read. But the actual plans are available online! (Though, unfortunately, with NYC.gov/Records watermarks plastered obtrusively all over them.) But take a look anyways!

I suppose, too, that I should also make mention that yesterday was to be opening day in the major leagues. But for unforeseen circumstances, which perhaps could have been foreseen. Not that anyone could do anything about that, really. Anyway. Opening Day! Yay.

 

K

With Spring in the air, all thoughts turn to baseball. What better way to prepare for the coming season than reading K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, by Tyler Kepner? Kepner has covered baseball for the NY Times since 2010, and in this book he explores the background and usage of baseball’s most popular pitches. The book is divided into (can you guess?) 10 chapters, each devoted to a specific pitch. Kepner researches the development of the pitch and the famous practitioners, and talks about where the pitch stands today in the current baseball pitching arsenal. He interviews a lot of ballplayers, and goes back to older written sources, such as Mathewson’s Pitching in a Pinch, Kahn’s The Head Game, and Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times.

As a precursor to the season this was a great read, long on stories and short on spin rate and over-analysis, though there is a sufficient amount of that, too. (How could you write about pitching today without talking about velocity and spin rate and photonic shift effect and all that?) But most of the book is made up of stories, pitchers talking about where they learned the pitch, how they throw it, and how the pitches have been handed down through the history of the league from pitcher to pitcher. That was an aspect of the book I really enjoyed, hearing about the Fraternal Order of Pitchers. The good pitchers are always looking to learn new weapons, and pitchers seem to readily share their knowledge with the young pitchers coming up, sometimes even if they are on different teams. There’s a “We’re all in this together” attitude. It’s pitchers vs. hitters, and it seems like the pitchers rarely win that contest. The object of pitching is to not let the other team score, and yet, every game, there is scoring. Every day, pitchers are beaten. Runs are scored. They are like lambs to the slaughter. And I think because of that, there’s the brotherhood of all pitchers as they battle against all odds for simple survival. Also, pitching is very idiosyncratic. Even though there’s a general way to throw a curve ball, and you can show someone how you do it, how you throw your devastating curve: just like this, put your fingers here, release here… but everyone’s hand and grip varies, along with the angle they throw from, how hard they throw, how and when they release the ball, which fingers they use. Telling someone how to throw the curve is only the first step. Each pitcher has to make the pitch his own, find his own way, find what works for him.

There are a few pitchers in here who were fortunate and found immediate success with a pitch. It just fits for them, their release, grip, everything, from day one. I think that they generally realize how lucky they are. Mostly though it’s a long haul of throwing, fine tuning, trying different things. The trick is to be able to perform time after time, to make the pitch day in and day out, without changing what you do. There was one pitcher, Roy Halladay, who was throwing his pitch well one day, and used a pen to trace his grip on the ball. He carried that ball with him for the rest of his career, and whenever he had struggles he would go back to that ball and get his grip back where it should be.

My favorite pitchers in the book were the guys who didn’t have the amazing arm and the crushing slider or forkball or whatever. The guys who had a bit of this and a little of that, and a lot of moxie. They kept learning, kept thinking, kept evolving throughout their careers. Guys like Jim Bouton (of course) who hurt his arm and lost his fastball and turned to the knuckleball. Or Jamie Moyer, who kept learning new things and pitched till he was 50. Those are the stories that resonated with me, and probably with a lot of people. Not everyone is lucky enough to have the physical gift, and even that may only take you so far. And if you can adapt and evolve, pay attention and learn,you could end up pitching awhile. (And probably this lesson applies to life in general, if you want to take it in that direction.)

All in all, a fun read. I learned a few things. And I’m working on my knuckleball. Because you never know, you know? Maybe, some day… maybe…

Roger Kahn

I was saddened this morning to see the news that Roger Kahn has passed away, in Mamaroneck NY, on Thursday February 6th. He was 92.

Roger was a wonderful writer. After finishing school at New York University, (studying poetry, among other things,) he started out at the New York Herald Tribune in 1948 as a copy boy. He must have been pretty talented, as he was soon writing for the paper, initially in a variety of roles, and then, at the young age of 25, he started covering the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952. Maybe that sort of promotion was more common back then, but I doubt it happened very often. (There are no “copy boys,” anymore. Those days are long gone. Too bad. A lot of great writers started out as copy boys. It was probably a great education for a writer.) Kahn covered the Dodgers for two seasons, and learned the art of sports writing from some of the masters, such as Red Smith and Heywood Broun.

Twenty years later, Kahn wrote about those Dodgers again in the baseball classic The Boys of Summer. (Checking my book list on the blog, it’s astonishing that I haven’t re-read this lately. It’s now officially on the “To Read” list. What the heck kind of a crummy baseball blog is this, anyway?)

The Boys of Summer made Kahn famous and is undoubtedly his most read work, but I picked up another of his titles recently, Memories of Summer, which was also  wonderful. I particularly enjoyed Kahn writing about his up-bringing and how he came to be a baseball writer, and about his experiences covering the Dodgers.

Kahn was a thoughtful and graceful writer. His profiles of ballplayers are intimate and nuanced. This being February, it’s the perfect time of year to pick up one of his books and enjoy the summer game.

I thought Kahn might have won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, but I just checked the list, and I don’t see his name. Unfortunate. He is certainly deserving, and I’m sure he would have enjoyed the honor. Now it’s too late for that, but they should still put him on the list.

“Ebbets Field was a narrow cockpit, built of brick and iron and concrete, alongside a steep cobblestone slope of Bedford Avenue. Two tiers of grandstand pressed the playing area from three sides, and in thousands of seats fans could hear a ball player’s chatter, notice details of a ball player’s gait and, at a time when television had not yet assaulted illusion with the Zoomar lens, you could see, you could actually see, the actual expression on the actual face of an actual major leaguer as he played. You could know what he was like!”

      • Roger Kahn, The Boys of Summer

Good game, Roger.Thanks for all the books.

the race

I was going to call this “breathing space,” with the Twins 5 and a half ahead of the Spiders today, but thought better of it. Breathing space can disappear in the space of four or five games, and there are plenty of games yet to play. Every game is playoff baseball now, everything counts, and everybody feels post-season drawing closer, and closer, and closer. (Cue: music from Jaws.)

Looking over to the National League, I see the Braves, Cards, and Dodgers all on top in their respective divisions. Coincidentally, the three teams that the Twins have already played in the World Series. So: rematch time?

Credit goes to the NY Times for this lovely representation of the Yanquis.

But first, of course, the Twins will need to overcome los Yanquis de Nuevo York.

Which is a tall task for anybody, but particularly for the Twins, who seem to be allergic to all New York teams, past, present, and probably future. Perhaps if we refer to them as the Phillies or the [insert Florida’s NL team name here] or the Diamondbacks… perhaps then we will do better.

With pennant fever raging, the Twins have gotten a few bits of bad news:

First, they lose one of their key starters, Michael Pineda, for the rest of the season, due to PED rule violation. This hurts, as Berrios and Gibson have been struggling of late, while Pinada has been getting stronger. Apparently Pinada took some over-the-counter medication, given to him by a friend, to help control weight issues? I guess that could happen. This must be awful for Pineda. After all, post-season is THE BIG SHOW, everyone plays all year trying to get into post season, and here’s his shot and suddenly, no, he’s out. How many chances do you get to go to the playoffs?

Which makes me wonder what players have gone a lot, and I suppose there are players out there who rarely get the chance. Who are the active players with fewest post-season games in their career? Are there any players out there who have played a long time and never gone to the playoffs? Which baseball team has the longest post-season drought?

Mariners fans; how do you stand it? It’s been 17 seasons since the Mariners have seen playoff ball. Seventeen long seasons. There are young Seattle baseball fans who have no memory of Seattle in the playoffs, and may not even know that playoffs exist. Perhaps they see the Mariners as the baseball equivalent of the Washington Generals? I think that’s the team that goes around the world losing to the Harlem Globetrotters. Anyway. Seventeen seasons. And the Seattle record so far, in 2019: 58-85. And yesterday they lost to the Astronats by the score of, uh… looks like…  21 – 1.

It may be some time before those Mariners get back to the big show.

Ernie Banks, sad to say, holds the record for most games played without seeing the post season: 2528 games, 19 seasons. Ouch. I have not yet found a source that tracks active players in this regard. I might examine the Mariner roster, for starters.

Anyway, besides Pineda, the Twins also may have to do without Byron Buxton, who’s injured his shoulder. There’s some talk of surgery. Byron has been a tough luck player.

And then, finally, the Twins also may have to do without Max Kepler, who also seems to be injured. That would be another tough loss, if he can’t come back. He’s having a heckuva year.

Oh, well. I suppose the Mariners would love to have these problems. There’s lot’s of baseball left to play, let’s just try to win the next one, tomorrow, in Washington. (Almost like a home game!) And let’s try to stay healthy too.