Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Old-Timer's Game Lives Again

Check out this story on SI.com about 90-year-old Bob Feller pitching in an Old-Timer's Game at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

I wish I had been there.

(Showing my age here... the greatest moment in the history of Old-Timer's Games came in 1984 when the 77-year-old Hall of Fame shortstop Luke Appling actually smacked a home run against 63-year-old legend Warren Spahn. Can you imagine your father/grandfather/great-grandfather putting on a uniform, standing at the plate in a major league stadium, and hitting a pitch over the wall?

If anybody has that game recorded, may I beseech you to upload it to YouTube?)

Monday, June 22, 2009

So much for that idea

Well, it was too good to be true, I guess: Moneyball the Movie has been put on hold. It never made sense to me how they could translate that great book onto the big screen, but I was eager to see them try. Alas, the power brokers with the money weren't so excited. Maybe it'll restart sometime in the future, but for now, Jeremy Brown and the gang will remain in obscurity.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Satchel Paige

I just heard a great interview with Larry Tye, author of a new biography of the great Satchel Paige called Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend. Who was Satchel Paige?

The most famous player in Negro league history, Paige was its preeminent showman in addition to perhaps its best pitcher. Locked out of major league ball until he was well past his prime, he pitched against white players often enough during winter barnstorming trips that Dizzy Dean, Joe DiMaggio, and Charlie Gehringer, among others, called Paige the best pitcher they ever saw.

For much of his career, he was the biggest gate attraction in the league. Huge crowds would gather to watch whether he fulfilled his promise to strike out the side on nine pitches, and he usually came through. His income was good—probably as high as $40,000 per year—which was more than almost every major league, but Paige's income required him to work year-round.

When Cleveland owner Bill Veeck finally brought Paige to the majors in 1948, the pitcher was 42 years old, the oldest rookie in major league history. Still, he could fill the seats. His first three starts drew over 200,000 fans to set night-game attendance records in Cleveland and Chicago. His major league stats seem undistinguished—28–31, 3.29 ERA—until you remember his age, which Veeck tried to say was higher than it was. To generate publicity, Veeck claimed his “team of detectives” had determined Paige was born in 1899 when in fact Paige always knew he was born in 1906.

In another publicity stunt, the Kansas City Athletics hired Paige to pitch a game in 1965; the 59-year-old tossed three shutout innings, allowing only one hit.

By the time he was finished, Paige estimated that he and his overpowering fastball (known variously as his “bee ball,” “trouble ball,” and “Long Tom”) had seen action in more than 2,500 games, winning 2,000 of them, against Negro league and semipro teams; other estimates include 100 no-hitters, 22 strikeouts in one game, and as many as 153 games pitched in one calendar year. Take those estimates with an appropriately sized grain of salt.

Aside from his dominance on the mound, Paige’s unique brand of wit and charm has entered American folklore. In his much-quoted article titled “How to Stay Young,” Paige offered these suggestions: “Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move. Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

But Paige was no clown. When the Hall of Fame decided to honor a number of stars with a special wing for Negro leaguers in 1972, Paige observed, “The only change is that baseball has turned Paige from a second-class citizen to a second-class immortal.” Paige’s criticism encouraged the Hall of Fame instead to put the Negro leaguers in the same wing as everybody else—a decision that, in retrospect, seems like a no-brainer.

Whether you buy Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legendor Paige's own autobiography, Maybe I'll Pitch Forever, you owe it to yourself as a baseball fan to learn more about Satchel Paige.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Conan visits 1860 baseball

I'm very late to the game on this one, but it's very worth watching.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

More Moneyball

When you heard that the great Michael Lewis book "Moneyball" was going to be made into a movie, did you say to yourself, What the hell? I did. And luckily, so did Patrick Goldstein. And since he's a writer for the LA Times, he was actually in a position to find out more. His article in yesterday's paper is must-reading for baseball wonks.

Tom Glavine and the Hall

The word "unceremoniously" seems to apply to this situation:

Tom Glavine's second go-round with Atlanta ended in abrupt, businesslike fashion, which is perhaps appropriate for a player who, as the Braves' player representative during the acrimonious negotiations that led to the 1994 strike, knows better than most the business side of the game.

Unless some other team takes a chance on him, it appears that Glavine's next stop is Cooperstown. With 305 career victories and two Cy Young Awards, he's a lock to get in on the first ballot.

Thinking back on it, I'm trying to recall other Hall of Fame players who received such apparently ignominious treatment by their longtime clubs. I mean, most great players get the opportunity to retire on their own terms, but not all. Here's what I've come up with off the top of my head (by no means an exhaustive list):

- Babe Ruth, who was released by the Yankees abruptly after he thought he'd get a chance to manage the team. (To the Yankees' credit, they obviously recognized that Ruth would not have been a good manager.)

- Steve Carlton, who was released by the Phillies in the middle of the 1986 season. He then signed with the Giants, who kept him for about a month then released him. Of course, Carlton had pitched horribly for both teams and should have retired on his own, so it's hard to blame the teams.

- Honus Wagner, who at the end of his career feuded with Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss so badly that Wagner had nothing to do with the Pirates club for two decades.

- Juan Marichal, who was sold by the Giants to the Red Sox after 14 seasons in San Francisco.

- Tom Seaver, who was accidentally placed on waivers by the Mets.

- Casey Stengel, whose departure from the Yankees after the 1959 season practically redefined "unceremonious." Stengel was basically fired for being too old.

Now, to be fair, in Glavine's case (and probably in the case of others on this list) what may have happened is that the team encouraged him to retire and he just didn't want to. (There is a complicating factor that Glavine would have earned a $1 million bonus if had made the club's active roster, so it looks like the Braves were just trying to save a buck, whether that's true or not.)

Whatever the circumstances, it's never fun when the business of baseball smacks a future Hall of Famer in the face so hard.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Rickey Henderson

A lot of writers over the years -- myself included -- have written about Rickey Henderson's eccentricities and some of the silly things he has said and done over the years. FanIQ has a list of some of the most interesting, which is a fun read.

But Wayne Hagin, a veteran broadcaster now with the Mets, has a story about Henderson that nobody knows about. It involves the young Henderson standing up for a teammate in need against the most obnoxious manager of all time, Billy Martin.

I always respected Henderson's supreme talent. Now I have more respect for Henderson's character.