Crazy ’08

It seems like I’ve been reading a lot of baseball books of late. It’s all relative, I suppose. After reading almost no baseball books in 2016, anything would seem like a big increase.

I’ve recently finished Crazy ’08, by Cait Murphy, a recap of the madcap 1908 baseball season, focusing primarily on the National League race between the New York Giants, the Chicago Cubs, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, while not ignoring the American League contest between the Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, and the Cleveland Naps.

This book caught my eye primarily because of my own efforts at covering the Minneapolis Miller’s 1904 season, and I wanted to see how Murphy approached this project. Murphy has the advantage of having an abundance of primary source material, as she is covering the major leagues in the big cities, where there were probably a few newspapers in each city covering the story. Murphy uses her sources well, (and footnotes exhaustively, for those who like that sort of detail,) and we get to enjoy a number of little background stories to the season which add depth and color to the story — such as how particular umpires are viewed in the different cities, and about the huge controversy and final resolution of the in-famous Merkle game of 23 September.

While you might quibble with Murphy’s hyperbole regarding 1908 (“The best season in baseball history is 1908.”) 1908 certainly deserves consideration. The season is full of historic characters and exciting baseball. Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Frank Chance, Cy Young, Nap LaJoie, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh, Eddie Collins, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker, and even Bull Durham were all playing in ’08, and with both pennant races going down to the final days, the baseball was fierce and frequently unbelievable. For example, in the October 2nd game between Cleveland and the White Sox. Cleveland is 1/2 game behind the Tigers, and the White Sox are 1 1/2 back, and they’re both running out of time. Ed Walsh pitches for the White Sox and he is nearly flawless. He strikes out 15, gives up just four hits and a single un-earned run. (Curiously, Murphy says that Walsh strikes out 16 in that game. All the other sources I’ve looked at say 15. Odd that Murphy would make an error like that covering such a big game. Perhaps the pennant-race pressure got to her.) Anyway, Walsh strikes out 15, but he loses anyway. Cleveland wins 1-0, as Addie Joss throws a perfect game for the Naps. Chicago drops 2 1/2 games back with only four games left to play.

As the ol’ perfesser used to say, you could look it up. In the end, the Cubs beat the Tigers in the World Series, four games to one, with both clubs probably exhausted from the pennant race. I like that about old-time baseball. There’s the regular season, everyone going all out to end up on top. And then there’s the World Series. Not 5 rounds of playoffs. The two league champions meet for the ultimate test. I wonder if we would have seen the Tigers and the Cubs in the ’08 series if they had had playoffs? Probably not. How often do the two teams with the best regular season record show up in the World Series? I’d be surprised if that’s ever happened since wild card teams were introduced. Some say that it makes baseball more exciting, the fact that in the playoffs – “Anything can happen!”  I guess I don’t see it that way. I’d like the regular season, the long campaign, to have more importance than it does.

That being said, I really enjoyed this book quite a lot! Murphy made the season and the players and the pennant races come alive. It would be a perfect read in the dark days of December, when baseball is most distant and most needed. And it would be a perfect read tomorrow, too. Nicely done, Cait Murphy!

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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!

Happy Jackie Robinson Day!

What America Needs in 2017 is more Baseball Related Holidays.

There’s a lot of other things America needs, but I think Baseball Holidays is an achievable goal.

Say, for instance, when the hell are we going to start celebrating Larry Doby Day. Major League Baseball was not integrated until Larry Doby got the job done. And it wasn’t any easier in the American League. So: Larry Doby Day. That’s July 5th, by the way. Let’s make a little noise for Larry on that day. Wednesday. It’s the Twins vs the Northern Part of Southern California Centering on the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical Area Angels of Anaheim and Proximous Suburbs.

The Twins drop another tough one last night, 2-1, and again fall a game out of first. They jump into a quick lead today, but True Twins fans know that early leads are never secure, and the ball game isn’t over till it’s over, and pride cometh before the fall. Pressly took the loss, yesterday, gave up the go-ahead homer in the 7th.

I need to do a bit of research on these 2017 Twins. I have to admit, I kind of lost track of things last year, and now I find that there’s quite a few names on the team that really don’t sound familiar. For a team that didn’t really make a lot of moves in the winter, there seems like a lot of new names. Though it wouldn’t surprise me too much if some of the guys on last year’s team just changed their names so as to start fresh with a new life and a clean slate. Probably a good choice for some of them.

Some might be thinking of me now as a fair-weather fan, but no no no, I don’t think that’s the case. I think last year it was simply a matter of self-preservation. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I care too much.

Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

I was also thinking that I might need to find a team to root for over in the National League, now that the Cubbies are the best team in baseball. I don’t feel honest, rooting for the top dog. I relate more to someone with limited talent but good intentions. Two possibilities are the Washington Senators er, Nationals. Seems like we are kind of related to them. And then there’s the Giants, who almost moved here back in the day. Could have been the Twin Cities Giants? The Minneapolis Giants? The Giants and the Nationals are a bit too good to really root for. So maybe the Braves, who had a terrible season last year, and who aren’t the Reds or the Padres, who were similarly terrible but who are the Reds and the Padres. Or perhaps the Phillies, because who roots for the Phils?

Obviously, more thought is required on this. Safe to say that the Nats and the Giants and the Reds and the Padres are not in contention for the honor.

And a stray tangentially-related thought: can we finally get rid of the designated hitter now? Haven’t we given it a fair trial? I am pretty sure that it was suppose to be a three-month deal! A test case. I’m pretty sure that’s how it was presented. I’m going to check on that. But anyway, here it is, 44 years later now, and we’re still doing this? Yeesh.

SAD! NOT NICE!

As long as we’re adding baseball holidays to the calendar, let’s put the ki-bosh on the DH as well. Posterity will thank us, (if there is any posterity.)

Game update: Still 5-0. Mr. Santana is tossing “a pretty good game.”

But it’s only the 8th inning. Plenty of outs left to play.

Update: It’s over. Twins win.

line score 4-45-2017

A pretty nice day for Mr. Santana. Doesn’t get a whole lot better than that. A one-out single in the third, to catcher Omar Narvaez.

It Is Good To Be In First

Making Hay Whilst the Sun Shines Department. Tomorrow the boys visit Detroit, where they’ll play the Tigers, three day games in a row. I wonder why three day games in a row? What’s the story there?

Looking for an opportunity?

It looks like the Twins are looking for an intern in their advance scouting department. The seem to expect a lot from their interns:

Intern, Advance Scouting
MN Twins LLC-60000
Intern, Advance Scouting-702204
APPLY
Intern, Advance Scouting
MN Twins LLC-60000
Intern, Advance Scouting-702204

DESCRIPTION:
Analyze and evaluate relevant performance trends and tendencies of upcoming opponents using video, scouting information, data, and advanced metrics to write, compile, and distribute advance scouting reports for the Major League Manager, Major League coaching staff, Front Office, and players prior to each series.

RESPONSIBILITIES:

  • Analyze and evaluate relevant performance trends and abilities of upcoming opponents using BATS Video software, scouting reports, advanced statistics, and video scouting information.
  • Work with Coordinator of Major League Development to combine various forms of data and scouting analysis to create series-by-series advance scouting reports and ensure the coaching staff receives a synthesized report with actionable information.
  • Assist players and coaching staff with their game preparation.
  • Work with the Director of Major League Video to distribute relevant advance scouting information through various distribution channels.
  • Provide Twins coaching staff with post-game analysis and recommendations with respect to alterations in advance reports during the current series.
  • Coordinate with club personnel when team is on the road to distribute the advance report packet and relevant video to Twins’ players and staff.
  • Work with Baseball Operations and IT to provide feedback for improving advance reporting process and technologies.
  • Assist the Baseball Research group in research projects related to advance scouting and Major League strategy.
  • Provide Baseball Operations and Scouting Department with player evaluation and research.
  • Additional duties as assigned by the CBO, General Manager, Assistant GM, and Director of Baseball Research.
REQUIREMENTS:
  • Qualified applicants must be self-motivated, well organized, detail-oriented and have an ability to act according to the organizational values at all times.
  • Previous baseball experience as player, coach, scout, or management preferred.
  • Ability to speak and or comprehend Spanish is a plus.
  • Advanced knowledge of baseball scouting terminology, baseball statistics and sabermetric principles.
  • Working knowledge of Microsoft office software including Word, Excel, Outlook, and Internet Explorer.
  • Familiarity with the following program languages is a plus: R, SQL and other.
  • Excellent interpersonal skills with ability to communicate complex material to individuals with a varying range of background at an appropriate level.
  • Advanced knowledge of BATS Video Software or comparable video system.
  • Ability to work extensive hours, evenings, and weekends required and must be able and willing to travel when needed.

Unfortunately:

  1. I already have a job. I wonder if they are interested in part-timers?
  2. My Spanish skills son pobre.
  3. Program Languages: R? Other?

So I guess I’m going to let this one go by.

It Is Good To Be In First.

Well, so much for the run at best season-opening winning streak. The Twins drop today’s game, 6-2 in Chicago. Given recent history, we are well satisfied with a 4-1 record to start the season. Curious about fast starts, I did a little research and found that the ’87 Brewers and the ’82 Braves hold the “modern” record, both starting their seasons 13-0. The all time mark is held by the St. Louis Maroons of the old Union Association, who started the 1884 season with a 20-0 mark.

The Brewers failed to make the playoffs in ’87, and the Braves were eliminated in the playoffs. The Maroons, however, were the Union Association champions in 1884, finishing the season with a impressive 94-19 record.

The Maroons mark is a bit suspect, though, due to the nature of the Union Association, which many say was not a true “major league.” (The other leagues at the time referred to it as the “Onion Association.”) The Union Association only lasted the one season. Four of the original 12 teams folded during the season, and one moved. And so perhaps the 20-0 mark is a bit suspect, perhaps not an actual “major league” record. However, there’s no denying that it’s still quite a nice start to a season.

I was unable to find a picture of the legendary Maroons of ’84, so here’s a picture of a slightly later edition. A dapper bunch. The Maroons joined the National League in 1885, and played there in 1886 as well, before moving on to greener pastures in Indianapolis. (The old St. Louis Browns of the American Association were too much competition for the Maroons. It was a Brown town.)

[How can there not be a picture of the ’84 Maroons? Ridiculous. There’s gotta be one out there. But, so far, unfindable. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Cardinals organization is to blame.]

But: I digress.

It’s nice to start the season with a few quick wins. However, talking baseball with Ghost today, we decided that it doesn’t have the same impact as starting the season with a string of losses. Starting with losses at the start of the season is like the kiss of death. If you start your season 0-9, you are, unfortunately, pretty well done for the year. There’s no coming back. But if you start out 9-0, it seems like soon enough you find your self in second place, or clinging to a tenuous lead. Early season losses seem to have a greater impact than early season wins. This probably says something profound about the nature of human existance, but it’s a bit late in the day to go down  that road. Suffice to say that even though things are good now, it’s a long way to Tipperary.