Our Vin Scully Appreciation (1927-2022): What’s his shot at canonization? Asking for a City of Angels

As he glided through a glorious left-handed cursive, Vin Scully took the opportunity to explain how he was purposefully using the “sweet spot” of the baseball – the horizontal swatch of horsehide uninterrupted by the stitches – to etch his name.

That piece of real estate is prime as much for its aesthetic beauty as it is an opportunity to use the space below to continue writing the poem.

That’s where he could personalize it: “TO TOM – GOD BLESS” in all capital letters. The same way he would compose an email correspondence, those that gloriously tumbled into our in-box from Red@LADodgers.com, appearing as if he could never figure out how to escape from the “Caps Lock” function.

A Union Oil souvenir. From 1961 – the year we were born.

That particular signed ball sits in an alcove on the office shelf, in what over the years almost has become the Shrine of Scully, the Reliquary of the Bard, for relics such as bobbleheads and bobble-microphones, a terracotta piece of stone from his original Hollywood Walk of Fame star that was eventually rebuilt, and remembrances of special importance.

A lit candle has been there since his passing on Aug. 2, and it continued through his funeral Mass said Monday at St. Jude The Apostle Catholic Church in Westlake Village.

The Sunset Blvd. entrance to Dodger Stadium has had its own public shrine assembled with various religious artifacts for a week now. We captured some of them after our latest visit:

An innocent question recently came from a friend on the steps outside our church following last Sunday’s Mass: What would it take to get Vin Scully canonized by the Catholic Church?

Talk about coming out of left field. Or was it the perfect pitch?

You mean: Put him on track to becoming a saint?

Is that kosher?

According to the Catholic Church, a saint can be anyone in Heaven, whether recognized on Earth or not, who form the “great cloud of witnesses” (from Hebrews 12:1). These “may include our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones (cf. 2 Tim 1:5)” who may have not always lived perfect lives, but “amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord.”

Hmmm. St. Vincent?

There’s a sweet movie from 2014 with that same title, starring Bill Murray as vice-filled Vietnam vet who ends up as a father figure to a young kid who just moved into his neighborhood with a single mom. The boy has a class assignment to do an essay about a Catholic saint that inspires his everyday life based on commitment, dedication and showing sacrifice. This student picks Murray’s character, Vincent MacKenna, character flaws and all. To him, all the boxes were checked. It was actually based somewhat on a story about a girl who attended Catholic school in Van Nuys and had a similar interesting choice for this assignment.

Not to just cannon-ball this idea simply to see a big spalsh in the holy-water filled pool, but in some ways, canonization is similar to the induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in that there is a traditional waiting period — five years – before there is petitioning to a tribunal (a request that must explain how the person lived a life of holiness, pureness, kindness and devotion), naming someone a “Servant of God,” perhaps some documentation of miracles performed in one’s name, beautification, papal approval …

The process can take decades. Even centuries. Longer than a Yankees-Red Sox game in October.

We don’t have that kind of time and patience, no matter how Scully taught us that’s the perfect two elements of a baseball broadcast.

We believe in miracles, and saw Scully describe plenty of them. The Brooklyn Dodgers’ 1955 World Championship. Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series Game 1 home run. The 1951 Miracle at Coogan’s Bluff, for heaven’s sake.

If we are to start a list, columnist Ray Ratto may be the first to point one of Scully’s greatest earthy achievements:

What’s more, Ratto explained more of Scully’s miraculous existence:

“He was the poet laureate we, even those who hate poetry, all needed but maybe didn’t earn. He was America’s lyricist. He was broadcasting’s Switzerland, the one voice everyone agreed gave dignity and grandeur to the spectacular and the shambolic. Without him, the Dodgers might as well have been the Angels, the NFC Championship Game the Pro Bowl, and the Masters the Waste Management Open. He was God’s own larynx.”

The master, Jim Murray, also wrote long ago: “He can make you forget you’re watching a 13-3 game … He is like a marvelous raconteur who can make you forget you’re in a dungeon. He can make baseball seem like Camelot and not Jersey City.”

Murray added in 1990: “Vincent Edward Scully meant as much or more to the Dodgers than any .300 hitter they ever signed, any 20-game winner they ever fielded. True, he didn’t limp to home plate and hit the home run that turned a season into a miracle — but he knew what to do with it so it would echo through the ages.”

It was all about exuding credence, certainty and care, plus having a sense of what you represented. The Los Angeles Times Magazine in 1998 named Scully the most trusted man in Los Angeles. If you scan this story by Dodgers team historian Mark Langill — among the many things he did over the years to document Scully’s impact — you can make the case that Dodger Stadium is “The House That Vin Built.” A house of worship. As Tommy Lasorda said, blue heaven on earth.

During his final game in 2016 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, a group of fans under the broadcast booth unfurled a banner reflecting the upcoming election: “Vin Scully For President.” Scully laughed at that and said on a live mike to his producer: “That kind of shows you were the country is right now.”

You probably don’t even know Scully’s political bent. That’s on purpose. That, he avoided revealing. His Catholic faith, he did not.

What the gesture possibly showed is that we, as a collective body, want someone trustworthy, someone who knows how to use a moral compass, and can be an exquisite, relatable orator — like his good friend, Ronald Reagan — to act like a leader. Not just a savior who can pull some strings.

Listen, if he could get a bunch of vegans in Southern California or one square block of a Jewish neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley to even consider consuming a Farmer John-related product — braunschweiger, liverwurst, or the “delicious shank or butt portion” — that’s Red Sea-parting-type stuff by the notable redhead.

When he canonized 10 new saints last May, Pope Francis said this group of individuals all embodied holiness in everyday life. He said the church needs to embrace this idea rather than an unattainable ideal of personal achievement.

“Holiness does not consist of a few heroic gestures, but of many small acts of daily love,” he said from his chair on the altar before a crowd of more than 45,000 in the first canonization Mass at the Vatican since before the coronavirus pandemic.

Holy moley. That was Vin Scully.

The personalized signed baseball has become something of a holy grail in this household. It represents a man of honor who lived a Catholic life in a way that inspires, teaches and makes one want to know his faith journey even more so. And knows how to stamp it on a piece of horsehide.

When Charlie Culberson hit a game-winning home run to clinch the NL West for the Dodgers in 2016 – Scully’s final broadcast from Dodger Stadium – the infielder took the bat he used and had Scully sign it. Scully used the words “GOD BLESS” again.

Nice calling card to have before you drop the mike.

Was once down on the Dodger Stadium field talking to Orel Hershiser and he cut the conversation short. Looking up at the press box, the Dodgers pitcher who performed to the organ playing “Master Of The House” simply said: “Gotta go. The Pope has arrived, gotta run up and get a blessing.” He was joking about the nickname he had for Scully, but it made perfect sense.

Our Shrine of Scully sits opposite our line of vision in the office space from a line of books collected over the years written by Fr. Greg Boyle and his Homeboy Industries, Fr. Jim Martin’s series of his life with the saints and learning to pray, and Catholic Worker stalwart Jeff Dietrich’s reflections about life lessons learned by bring hospitality to Skid Row in L.A. There is a leather-bound dictionary of saints, and a “Lives of the Saints” book. For now, they are on the one side, and the Scully objects of affection are on the other.

There is no “official” book written by or about Vin Scully. Those done are “unauthorized” in Scully’s eyes, because he did not feel they were necessary. But as a public figure, they are documentations of his work, his impact, and how others have embraced his existence.

The Dodgers donated Vin Scully’s personal 2016 media guide to the Baseball Hall of Fame to add to its collection. Scully signed it. The guide is 412 pages long – sans flashcards – and is rife with Scully’s neon-yellow highlights inside.

The 2009 book “Pull Up A Chair” by esteemed baseball broadcast historian Curt Smith was something a cringe moment for Scully, who told us at the time he resisted participating in its completion and, in the end, simply asked it not be published. But it was.

Scully said it was a “very helpless feeling” to have the book done. He added context by saying he more disappointed because he had turned down requests by local writers for years to do a book.

“Now all my pals I turned down will think less of me. … It’s a terrible feeling when your life doesn’t belong to you. Very, very sad.”

As we struggled with that idea that Scully was hurt by something and we couldn’t fix it, we noticed Jon Weisman posted a comment on his DodgersThoughts.com blog at the time: “I wish those weren’t Vin’s feelings on the matter, but he wouldn’t be Vin if they weren’t, would he?”

Because that is part of the Vin Scully story — a man whose name literally means storyteller.

The amplification of Scully’s Catholicity resonates in essays like this from Angelus News’ Mike Nelson. We did a Q&A with Scully in ’19 to try to capture more. We also wrote about the Catholic Mass that would take place at most all MLB stadiums on Saturdays or Sundays, for players and team personnel.

Scully would often lector at them. After Scully’s reading from the Book of Wisdom one morning, it caused one sportswriter in the congregation to turn to another and say: “I think this is how God meant for it to be read aloud.”

He wasn’t the only one thinking that:

James Keane at American Magazine admires today how in 2012, as San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain threw a perfect game en route to their World Series championship, Scully captured this rare feat as he noted that there are days when every pitcher could be touched for a hit or a run. “But today,” Scully said, “Cain is able.”

(And while we’re on topic, why not enable actor Dean Cain to chime in with his own best Scully moment: )

Which one again has a Hollywood Walk of Fame status?

For someone with his own IMDB.com profile and a lifetime Emmy award, there’s a reason why “The X Files” had a character — female no less — named Scully.

And while we’re on the Walk of Fame, there’s a clip of Scully on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” giving the host a call of a lifetime – and bringing up his altar boy status as well:

The beauty of Scully was when he was amidst a group of some — especially those a bit star struck — his warmth, kind eyes and genuine interest in what was being said and wanting to add to the conversation by something that sparked in his mind, it lifted everyone and made them feel like a million bucks. All the while, he was a dapper and fit and trim as someone who looked as much a million bucks himself right down to the pocket square in his suit.

There has to be a Guinness World Record for Most People Who Thought The Same Person Was Their Actual Grandfather/Father/Favorite Uncle.

In 2016, he was given the Gabriel Personal Achievement Award from the Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals. The group said Scully “epitomizes what the Gabriel Awards represent: positive, upbeat, soulful, kindhearted and conscientious,” said Susan Wallace, chair of the Gabriel Awards. “For nearly seven decades, Vin Scully has been the reassuring voice of honesty and optimism in sports broadcasting, enthralling viewers and listeners with his limitless knowledge of baseball and illuminating lessons on life.”

Check another box.

When he played himself in the Kevin Costner movie, “For Love of the Game,” Scully ad-libbed, and came up with some lines that connect baseball and church in only he could pull it off without sounding too Hollywood cornball:

Check another box.

There exists a “Vin Scully Map Guide to L.A.” for heaven’s sake – a physically rosary of places one can go to feel part of Scully’s journey from the Coliseum and Dodger Stadium, to his residence in Westwood (neighbors with John Wooden), Pacific Palisades, Sherwood Country Club and now in Hidden Hills, his star on the Walk of Fame, even the Costco in Westlake Village where he lost his 1988 World Series ring.

Selling on Etsy for $15.

Maybe the only other places to add this are his home parish, St. Jude the Apostle in Westlake Village, and other houses of worship around Southern California he has visited.

Get the plaques ready to check off more boxes: Vin Scully Prayed Here.

In a 2013 interview with the National Catholic Register, Scully was asked: There are many saints named Vincent — Vincent de Paul, Vincent Ferrer and Vincent of Lerins, for example. Do you have a favorite?

“I’m not one to alienate any saint who could help me, especially those who share my name, so I’ll take the intercession of all the Vincents. In addition to the Vincents, St. Jude’s prayers are known for packing a wallop, so I’ll take his help as well.”

Heaven help us, too.

We share a story with Vin Scully at a backstage meet-and-greet in July 2018 with the first showing of an MLB Network documentary on the 1988 Dodgers’ World Series run 30 years earlier. Our story on “Only In Hollywood” as it appeared in the Hollywood Reporter.

We’ve often felt helpless, but hopeful, being able to occasionally orbit close to this intergalactic force of nature, on many occasions marveling at his gravitational pull. He lived life in many ways with baseball and faith intersection. We found that to be worth documenting in several columns, such as this one before his final call. And this one about a man who lived up to his beliefs. And this one, talking to several important people in Hollywood and beyond about Scully’s impact on their lives and careers.

From “The Simpsons” in 2016.

He inspired art (and just wait until you see the cover of the upcoming Angelus News):.

He has inspired music.

From Dan Bern’s song, “The Golden Voice of Vin Scully”:

Tonight I feel so far away, so far away from you
What did you do tonight
I’m drivin my truck up and down the coast
From north of Seattle to the Mexico line
Right now, I’m in San Bernardino
All day long it was 95 degrees
But at least tonight I get to hear
The golden voice of Vin Scully

People name their children after him. As well as pets. Comedians loved his voice to imitate because it was so melodic.

We also can gather plenty of examples how Scully, whether through his Catholic aura or not, wanted us all to be better people.

A collection of letters to the L.A. Times published last Sunday in a glorious two-page spread including phrases such as:

“To hear Vin’s voice coming from every direction at Dodger Stadium, to a 5-year-old boy, was like having God Almighty doing play by play.”

And a time when a USC student and his friends were driving to Dodger Stadium and suddenly realized they cut off a car – one driven by Scully.

“(We) waved at him to try and demonstrate we had not meant it. Scully literally gave us the sign of the cross like the pope and absolved us of our sins.”

There was also this winner:

They follow along the lines of an appreciation column that longtime radio personality Doug McIntyre was inspired to write recently about all the times they ran into each other over the years and the impressions left:

“He wasn’t just ‘old school,’ he was his own school, polite and well-mannered to the very end. As America grew angrier and crasser, Scully’s relentless politeness was a nine-inning reminder it doesn’t have to be this way. Sadly, manners are too frequently interpreted as weakness. For Vincent Edward Scully, they were the source of his strength.”

The Dodgers promoted his wholesome homelife in the early 1960s when promotional booklets from sponsor Union Oil showed him with his family and mother:

Hershiser, the former Dodgers pitcher and World Series hero who was known for his religious conviction giving him strength during the rough-and-tumble 1988 playoff run, has said about Scully: “He will remind us bout who we are supposed to be, still. Because that’s what he taught us … how to be gentlemen. How to have integrity. He taught us how to hold this place up in the highest esteem and live your life accordingly. That’s what I’ll miss, that example.”

Also consider when Scully retired, all religions and creeds were heeding his impact. In early October, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Corona updated the “welcome” message on its street corner marquee. In addition to reminding worshipers about the times for the Sunday services, the clip-on letters spelled out a reminder: “Be Like Vin Scully … Notice And Praise The Good In Everyone.”

Can we get an Amen?

And now, for the rest of the Vin Scully Marching and Chowder Society:

Day 36 of 2022 baseball books: A beaut of a tribute

“Beauty at Short:
Dave Bancroft, the Most Unlikely Hall of Famer and His Wild Times in Baseball’s First Century”

The author:
Tom Alesia

The publishing info:
Grissom Press
184 pages
$9.39
Released March 22, 2022

The links:
The authors website
At Bookshop.org
At Powells.com
At Vromans.com
At TheLastBookStoreLA
At Skylight Books
At Diesel Books
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Amazon.com

The review in 90 feet or less

Page 1, Chapter 1, first sentence:

“Dave Bancroft should not be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.”

Wait, is he?

Apparently so. And he’s part of the Dodgers’ team history.

We are to assume (since it was never revealed) at least nine of 12 on a special veterans committee decided it to be in 1971. This was after 15 years of voting by the Baseball Writers of America, from 1937-39, then ’46, then ’48-’60, the most he generated was 16.2 percent of a needed 75 percent.  

He found out via a phone call from a reporter in Jan., 1971. Bancroft died about a year later at age 81.

So why are we even discussing this?

Because a journalist, Tom Alesia, with dozens of years as a reporter an editor at small daily papers in Wisconsin and Illinois, was off on a vacation in Superior, Wisconsin in 2011, and looking for something to do.

Plotline: He finds this guy’s plot and talks his family into visiting the local cemetery, finds his headstone, right next to his wife, and can’t believe there was no reference to his baseball career of Hall status.

“That piqued my curiosity,” Alesia writes in the preface of this nifty little tome. “Who was Dave Bancroft? And, ahem, what was he doing alongside the sport’s greatest in Cooperstown? And so began a labor of love … It has been a pure joy.”

Alesia pulled together from all sorts of references how Bancroft, a 5-foot-9 and 160-pounder from Sioux City, Iowa, was:

= In a 16-year career, part of three World Championship New York Giants over five season and as part of the “Million-Dollar Infield”  with Frank Frisch, George Kelly and Heine Groh.

= A defensive specialist so unproductive at the plate he became a novelty “turnaround hitter” (as a switch-hitter was called them),

= Holds the longest-standing single-season record for non-error fielding chances by a shortstop (984 in 1922),

= Had the nickname “Beauty” right there on his plaque.

= Was the player-manager of the Boston Braves from 1924-27,

= Came to Brooklyn at age 37 and 38 to play for Wilbert Robinson’s Robins and starts pushing for the DH (or, something called “ten-man baseball” with a “permanent pinch hitter”) ….

Wait, why are we giving this all away …

And wait, he’s not even in the Phillies’ Franchise Hall of Fame? But it’s in Cooperstown … They’ve retired nine numbers, but not his? (OK, did he even have one?)

If that first line in the opening chapter isn’t enough to make you hunt this thing down, you’ve lost a sense of adventure. We won’t spoil it for you. Just go after it. We’ll wait. …

How it goes in the scorebook

If Bancroft is “the most unlikely Hall of Famers,” then this book is one of the more unlikely additions to this series.

The beauty of this is how it became one of those organic finds, not just for the subject matter, but for acknowledging the book’s existence.

Alesia, whose previous book in 2021 is titled “When Garth Became Elvis: A Country Music Writer’s Journey with the Stars, 1985-2010,” simply reached out though a message on the website that he had this book, it’s already prompted two museum exhibits, two historical markers in Bancroft’s hometown, and somehow had an extended run on Amazon’s top-selling baseball book list.

Something like this didn’t slip off our radar. It was never on it.

It happens.

So all we can say is: A book fittingly about as quick a read as Bancroft’s fame, exists, in whip-clean storytelling that is a tribute to the fact not all bios about Hall of Fame players need to be in excess of 400 pages, cost $40 and include dozens of footnotes, bibliographies, indexes and a bursting appendicitis.

You can look it up: More to ponder

== From BaseballAlmanac.com:

== Bancroft’s Hall of Fame bio includes: “He retired with a .279 average, 2,004 hits, 320 doubles and 1,048 runs scored. In the field, Bancroft led all NL shortstops in putouts four times, assists three times and fielding percentage twice. His 4.623 career putouts at shortstop rank third on the all-time list.”

== The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel included it last March as one of the 11 baseball books to read in 2022: “One of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s lesser-known denizens, even though he ranks above baseball legends like Phil Rizzuto and Maury Wills in wins above replacement (WAR). Alesia, who lives in Madison, repairs that error with this well-researched biography.”




Day 35 of 2022 baseball books: Recharging the battery, carving up the Carlton-McCarver tag team

“Lefty & Tim: How Steve Carlton and Tim McCarver
Became Baseball’s Best Battery”

The author:
William C. Kashatus

The publishing info:
Univ. of Nebraska Press
376 pages
$34.95
Released June 1, 2022

The links:
The publishers website
The authors website
At Bookshop.org
At Indiebound.org
At Powells.com
At Vromans.com
At TheLastBookStoreLA
At Skylight Books
At Diesel Books
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Amazon.com

The review in 90 feet or less

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and starting pitcher Adam Wainwright prior to the game between the Cardinals and San Diego Padres on April 7, 2019 at Bush Stadium (Photo: Jimmy Simmons/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

UPDATED: Aug. 7, 2022:

Can two 40-something Major League Baseball players keep dancing together long enough before October to make history without hurting themselves too much before retirement benefits kick in?

With two months are left in this 2022 MLB season, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina are apt to catch and surpass the record for most games started together as a battery.

They had been stuck on 316 since mid-June – and tied for second place all-time on the list – as Molina was been trying to come back from a swollen right knee to reunite with Wainwright and see what’s left to accomplish.

Molina returned to active duty Tuesday for the beginning of a three-game series at home against the Chicago Cubs – where Wainwright was the scheduled starter. In the Cardinals’ 6-0 win that night, Wainwright pitched seven spotless innings with Molina and they made their 317th career start as batterymates, passing the Boston/Milwaukee Braves duo of Warren Spahn and Del Crandall for sole possession of second place in major league history since 1901. Molina also caught his 153rd career shutout, second only to Yogi Berra (173) in MLB history.

That was also their 204th win as a battery. On May 15, they passed the Spahn-Crandall record with 203.

Sunday, in a 12-9 win over the Yankees where Wainwright had no decision, the two made it together 318 times. They are closing in on the all-time mark of 324 by the Detroit Tigers’ Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan (1963-to-’75).

Wainwright, who turns 41 later this month, and Molina, who hit 40 last month, have a 15-year run going back to 2007.

In the Cardinals’ self-proclaimed glorious franchise history, Wainwright and Molina have already surpassed what had been considered to be the franchise’s most high-profile pitcher-catcher combo — Bob Gibson and Tim McCarver, who were together for 197 starts and which we assume adds in what they did in the 1964, ’67 and ’68 World Series.

To drive that point home, Gibson and McCarver were part of the team’s opening pitch ceremony for the team’s first home game on April, 2018, moments before the battery of Wainwright and Molina started No. 238 together.

After the astro-dust settles, does all this ruckus make Wainwright and Molina the greatest battery of all time, once they have the top marks for appearances and wins?

Does Gibson-McCarver have a say in this?

Or, what’s all the fuss about Steve Carlton and Tim McCarver?

Here’s the catch: For at least four seasons – 1976 through ’79 – there’s little to dispute that Carlton-McCarver formed the top tag team in baseball while members of the Philadelphia Phillies, reviving a relationship they started in some 10 years earlier in St. Louis. All the appendix charts, graphics and research at the end of this 350-page dual bio seem to secure that claim.

This came at a time when pitchers were getting more notoriety for having a particular catcher team up with them. In this case, the revival was necessary, Carlton thought, after he was dealt from the Cards to the Phillies and wasn’t having much of a connection with All-Star catcher Bob Boone. McCarver, added back to the Phillies roster as a backup, ended up catching 32 of Carlton’s 35 games, and all was well again.

So if, as the title suggests, this was “baseball’s best battery,” it is probably with some context. But we’ll give them that. Because, from ’76-to’79, McCarver caught 128 of Carlton’s 140 starts, including 90 in a row. Carlton posted a 48-26 record over that time and came back to Cy Young form, securing a spot in the Hall of Fame, and giving McCarver plenty of credibility as he began to start a Hall of Fame-quality broadcasting career, where he set many more longevity records.

For the record, McCarver caught 228 of Carlton’s 709 career starts, putting them No. 17 on the all-time list, and the only pair who did it with more than one team. That’s got to count for something. A bio? Why not.

But it didn’t start all that excellent.

Chapter 2 of this new book recalls their introduction:

“Steve Carlton made his first appearance for the St. Louis Cardinals in a 1965 spring training game at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. The lean rookie has rocketed through the Redbirds’ farm system … now he was ready to prove that he belonged in the Majors.
“Carlton went four innings, surrendering two runs on five hits. It was hardly an impressive performance. But he refused to accept blame for the poor showing. Afterward in the Cardinals’ locker room he approached his catcher, Tim McCarver, while he was shaving.
” ‘Hey,’ began the brazen young hurler. ‘You gotta call for more breaking pitches when we’re behind in the count.’
“McCarver couldn’t believe that a rookie had the gall to tell him how to call a game. He was, after all, a veteran and the club’s regular catcher. Just five months earlier, he hit .478 in the World Series and smacked a three-run homer in Game Five to help the Cards clinch the championship against the storied New York Yankees …
” ‘You son-of-a-bitch!’ McCarver exploded. ‘Who the hell do you think you are, telling me that? You’ve got a lot of guts. What credentials do you have?”

The stage was set: Can two men share a baseball field without driving each other crazy?

Kinda sounds like McCarver in a future confrontation with Deion Sanders, doesn’t it?

From that initial meeting, Carlton, 20 years old and already aloof, walked away. McCarver, 24 years old and garrulous as well as hard-nosed and far wiser,, later went back and apologized. He understood the value of a pitcher-catcher relationship.

“The rookie brushed him off again. Looking the veteran catcher straight in the eye, Carlton said: ‘I wasn’t listening anyway.’ “

That said, and what would go unsaid, it seems pretty amazing decades later, a book could come of it for historical, and some hysterical, context.

How it goes in the scorebook

1-2 output. Without so much the 1 we would hope for.

For this dual biography of this battery, noted Philly based historian William C. Kashatus (author of more than 20 books, including “Jackie and Campy: The Untold Story of Their Rocky Relationship“) was able to get McCarver to talk for three extended interviews.

Carlton abstained. Some things don’t change.

Even with former teammate Larry Christensen (who wrote the forward) trying to intervene.

That left Kashatus, who had been asked originally by University of Nebraska Press do to only a Carlton bio, to rely on newspaper accounts, Dan Stephenson’s DVD “Lefty: The Life and Times of Steve Carlton” in 1989, plus rare interviews Carlton did with Reggie Jackson, Roy Firestone and Tyler Kepner. Some of Kashatus’ research and quotes of other players came from his research for other books he did such as “Dick Allen: The Life and Times of a Baseball Immortal,” a bio on Mike Schmidt, and “Almost a Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies.

Even if there aren’t a lot of new revelations that one might anticipate — especially without Carlton submitting to new chatty interviews — it’s serves as a nice reminder, and a historic placeholder, as to what we’re seeing again with the Wainwright-Molina achievement.

Catch it, if you can.

By the way, as much as Carlton benefitted from McCarver, the opposite seemed to be true.

In a 2017 story for MLB.com about the Carlton-McCarver pairing, Larry Shenk writes that “while McCarver spurred Carlton, Lefty seemed to spur Tim’s bat. For his Phillies career, McCarver hit .272, with 26 homers and 168 RBIs. While catching Carlton: .306, 10 homers and 66 RBIs.”

You can look it up: More to ponder

== From the bookshelf of Tim McCarver comes the 1987 “Oh Baby, I Love It!: Baseball Summers, Hot Pennant Races, Grand Salamis, Jellylegs, El Swervos, Dingers and Dunkers, Etc, Etc, Etc,” the 1998 “Tim McCarver’s Baseball for Brain Surgeons & Other Fans,” 1999’s “The Perfect Season: Why 1998 Was Baseball’s Greatest Year” and in 2008 “Tim McCarver’s Diamond Gems: Favorite Baseball Stories from The Legends of the Game

== The current list of all-time battery mates in MLB history, for those curious, includes the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale and John Roseboro (283 games, fifth all-time, from 1957-to-’67) and the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela with Mike Scioscia (239, 13th all time, from 1981-to-’90). The combo of Sandy Koufax and Roseboro made it to 208 appearances (21st all time, from ’57 through ’66).

== Steve Carlton’s SABR bio and Baseball Hall of Fame bio, as compared to Tim McCarver’s SABR bio and his Cardinals Hall of Fame speech.

== In Joe Posnanski’s “Baseball 100” list, Carlton is slotted in at No. 63. Posnanski reminds us how Carlton went from the Cardinals to the Phillies for Rick Wise in a deal that it seemed no one wanted to make but too many contract issues on both sides forced the issue.

Posnanski writes: “You probably know that Tim McCarver eventually became Carlton’s personal catcher. But what you might not know is that he was also Wise’s catcher. So when the Wise-Carlton trade was made, reporters flocked to McCarver to see what he thought. McCarver first made it clear that he thought they were exactly the same as pitchers.

“They’re so comparable,” he said, “that you have to start looking to the finer points like how they field their position. When you have to start looking to things like their personalities, things like that, you know they’re awfully close.”

He then broke it down, pitch by pitch, and actually gave the edge to Wise for his fastball and his slider. Think about that: Steve Carlton had one of the greatest left-handed fastballs in baseball history, and he had the greatest slider in baseball history, righty or lefty, but when Carlton came to Philadelphia, McCarver gave the edge on both pitches to Wise.

But McCarver wasn’t crazy. See, by 1972, Carlton stopped throwing what would become the greatest slider ever. He had picked up that slider in Japan after the 1968 season while trying to figure out a way to get out the legendary Japanese slugger Sadaharu Oh. The first two times they faced each other, Oh homered. So Carlton tried the slider he had been playing around with. Oh buckled. “I knew I had something,” Carlton told Sports Illustrated.

But he junked it in at some point in 1970. Why? Some thought it was because the Cardinals felt like it put too much strain on his arm. Some thought it was because he lost confidence in it. In any case, McCarver had it right that Carlton had given up on the slider.

But as soon as he got to Philadelphia, he began to throw it again. And barely a month later, reporters went back to McCarver to ask about Carlton. Suddenly, McCarver sang a very different tune.

“Pound for pound, I think Steve probably throws harder than anybody else in the league,” he said just five weeks after saying that Wise had a better fastball. “He was zipping that slider. When he has that working well, nobody is going to touch him.”

Then Posnanski got into Carlton and his silent treatment to the media:

By 1979, it became known across the sports world that Carlton was the guy who didn’t talk to the press. He was mocked repeatedly for it. And? From 1980 to 1983, he won two Cy Young Awards, could have won a third, won his 300th game and passed Walter Johnson to become the all-time strikeout king. (Nolan Ryan would take that title back later.) He later said not talking to the press cleared his mind and allowed him to become the pitcher he was meant to be.

In later years, it became pretty clear that Carlton was smart to not talk to the media because there were all kinds of bats flying around in his attic. In 1994, after he was elected to the Hall of Fame, he did a series of interviews, including a long interview in his home in Durango, Colo., with Pat Jordan. The result was an astonishing portrait of racism, homophobia, fear, nonsense and anti-semitism. A few lines probably will suffice:

He believes that the last eight U.S. presidents have been guilty of treason … that the AIDS virus was created at a secret Maryland biological warfare laboratory “to get rid of gays and blacks, and now they have a strain of the virus that can live 10 days in the air or on a plate of food, because you know who most of the waiters are,” and finally, that most of the mass murderers in this country who open fire indiscriminately in fast-food restaurants “are hypnotized to kill those people and then themselves immediately afterwards,” as in the movie The Manchurian Candidate. He blinks once, twice, and says, “Who hypnotizes them? They do!”

Carlton quickly released a statement saying the entire article was untrue and suggested that Jordan “became so disoriented (in the thin air of his hometown of Durango) that he lost his grasp on truth and decency.”

Pat Jordan, as only he can, grumped back: “Steve is the most fearful man I’ve ever met.”

== What might have happened if there was a Steve Carlton-Carlton Fisk battery?

Day 34 of 2022 baseball books: The hometown, home-run legacies of Cleon Jones and Willie Horton

“Coming Home: My Amazin’ Life with
the New York Mets”

The author:
Cleon Jones
With Gary Kaschak

The publishing info:
Triumph Books
256 pages; $30
To be released Aug. 2, 2022

The links:
The publishers website
At Bookshop.org
At Indiebound.org
At Powells.com
At Vromans.com
At TheLastBookStoreLA
At Skylights Books
At Diesel Books
At PagesABookstore.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Amazon.com

“Willie Horton: 23: Detroit’s Own Willie the Wonder
The Tigers’ first Black Great”

The author:
Willie Horton
With Kevin Allen

The publishing info:
Triumph Books
256 pages; $30
Released July 12, 2022

The links:
The publishers website
At Bookshop.org
At Indiebound.org
At Powells.com
At Vromans.com
At TheLastBookStoreLA
At Skylight Books
At Diesel Bookstore
At PagesABookstore.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Amazon.com

The reviews in 90 feet or less

If memory serves – or if we’re just imagining this because if feels accurate – our frequent visits to the elementary school library as well as the city library were often with the initial intent to check out if there were any new additions to the sports book sections in the 1960s and ‘70s. It fueled our need to know. It connected us with an array of baseball biographies that felt as if it was our baseball cards coming to life. It made the games we played on our bad-boy Thermos MLB lunch pail with the magnetic spinner game on the back seem more … relevant?

It also gave us a foundation for what became a baseball book obsession. We wanted to power through as many as possible, absorb their messages (often written back then by ghost writers who were just trying to gloss up a reputation), post another new book report that the teacher would tack onto the cork bulletin board and show the other kids who weren’t all that interested in reading that we were winning at some contest they really didn’t know existed.

(Well, look at that … some things never change).

In 1970, “Ball Four” came out in June — something we only really heard about through adult conversation. We suspected we’d needed our parents’ permission slip (as we did when getting them cigarettes down the liquor store — along with our baseball cards) if we ever came across it.

The 1970 edition of “Who’s Who in Baseball” told us that, for that moment in time, pay attention to the New York Mets’ star Tom Seaver as the main man on the cover — this was our Madden video game reveal — but pay attention to Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, Denny McLain and Mike Cuellar. Noted.

Also that year, three new books arrived:
= “Cleon: The Life Story of the One and Only,” by New York Mets outfielder and newly-crowned World Series champion Cleon Jones, with Ed Hershey.
= “The Mets from Mobile: Cleon Jones and Tommy Agee,” by A.S. “Doc” Young, including Agee, and their hometown ties to the Alabama birthplace of Henry Aaron.
= “The Willie Horton Story,” with Hal Butler, on the life of the Detroit Tigers outfielder who was part of the 1968 World Series.

Those are titles that come to mind in particular when we go back and read a post by Jason Turbow, a founding member of one of our favorite sites, Pandemic Baseball Book Club, as well as the author of 2011’s “The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime,” 2018’s ” and 2019’s, “They Bled Blue: Fernandomania, Strike-Season Mayhem, and the Weirdest Championship Baseball Had Ever Seen: The 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers.”

On Dec. 7, 2020, Dick Allen, one of our favorite Dodgers despite his one-and-only impressionable year there in ’71, passed way at 78.

We loved his 1989 autobio “Crash,” as well as the bio by Mitchel Nathanson, “God Almighty Hisself” in 2019, which landed after “Dick Allen, The Life and Times of a Baseball Immortal: An Illustrated Biography,” by William C. Kashatus in ’17.

(In recent searches, we’ve also come across a new title, “Chili Dog MVP: Dick Allen, The ’72 White Sox and a Transforming Chicago,” a Kindle book that came out last March, we hope to get to).

Allen’s death followed the losses of Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Bob Gibson and Lou Brock — and again solidified our wishes that Allen could have joined them in Cooperstown while he was around to experience it.

Just before then, the baseball world had already recently seen the deaths of Horace Clark, Lou Johnson, Bob Oliver, Bob Watson and Jimmy Wynn.

In a reflective piece for The Baseball Codes titled “Mourning The Departed Era of Black Superstars,” Turbow wrote:

Baseball in the 1960s and ’70s is impossible to consider without those guys, plus Mays and McCovey and Robinson and Aaron and Stargell and Parker and Carew and Vida and Dusty and Reggie (Jackson) and Reggie (Smith). We can ask ourselves where such players might fit within the current structure of baseball, and the answer is more likely than at any time since the mid-1950s that they wouldn’t. Sort of.

The above players would make a major league roster in any era that allowed it. Today, though, given the lack of infrastructure to shepherd minority kids — particularly urban American minority kids — through baseball’s ranks, they might opt to do something else instead.

More difficult for me than the luminaries are players who fell somewhere between bench guy and superstar, men who scrapped their way onto rosters and forged admirable careers. … End-of-bench roles went to white players in overwhelming numbers back then, so the Black men who seized those positions showed particular resolve.”

Kids play at the original Wrigley Field in Los Angeles as it was being dismantled in March 1969.
(Cal Montney / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA )

He names Cleon Jones and Willie Horton among them.

Also: Tommy Agee, Jim Bibby, Oscar Gamble, Johnny Jeter, Dave Nelson, Thad Bosley, Dave Cash, Horace Clark, Larry Hisle, Chet Lemon, Tommie Reynolds and Ken Singleton.

Turbow pondered how a lack of Black players is evident again today. But this isn’t about minority representation.

“This is about the loss of Black players (especially, as pertains to recent obituaries, Black stars), and how it reflects a profound loss within the sport. Just one more thing to grieve.”

Since Turbow wrote that, the game has also lost Hank Aaron, Mudcat Grant, Grant Jackson and J.R. Richard in 2021, a year after Oscar Brown, Claudell Washington and Tony Taylor. This year has also had Gene Clines, Tommy Davis and Gerald Williams. It follows the passing in 2019 pre-COVID of notables like Frank Robinson, Don Newcomb, Pumpsie Green, Al Jackson and Lee Stanton.

Cleon Jones and Willie Horton are not only very much alive, but have something more to say about their legacies in a sincere and sweet way that reminds us of their dignity, honor and professionalism, emerging from communities not of upper-middle-class travelings teams, but from the streets and schools of hard knocks.

It’s fitting their latest bios of these two late-‘60s Black All Stars come out from the same publisher (both at the same price, and same number of pages) as both men are about to turn 80 years old and could use an authentic refresh about what they accomplished, as well as what they’d like to clear up.

Jones, who turns 80 on Aug. 4, never hit more than 14 home runs in a season or drove in more than 75. A 26-year-old All-Starr the year the Mets won the World Series in ’69, Jones was more about being a steady presence in left field and, as his SABR bio says, a “consistent, legitimate offensive threat.”


He had a few defining moments in the 1969 World Series, both in Game 5.

The Orioles, down three games to one, had a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth when a pitch to Jones bounced in the dirt. Umpire Lou DiMuro called it a ball just as Jones started walking to first. Manager Gil Hodges slowly came out of the dugout, the ball in hand that had bounced over to him, and showed DiMuro the small smudge of shoe polish on it. Jones was sent to first.

Donn Clendenon followed with a homer that led a comeback.

The last putout was made by Jones, near the warning track, cradling a long fly ball by Davey Johnson. Jones almost knelt as he caught it, then ran over to friend and teammate Tommie Agee as bedlam ensued.

The Cleon Jones Last Out Community Foundation — picking up on that act that he caught the last out of the World Series — is behind his name still relevant in the news these days for how he has helped restore his old neighborhood known as Africatown near Mobile, Ala.

A 2021 piece in the NorthJersey.com told about how he has been taking part in home-improvement projects since 2015.

Jones’s name also came up during the speech that Irene Hodges gave in Cooperstown last week as she accepted the induction of her father with a new plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

She noted Jones was in attendance, along with Ron Swoboda, Eddie Kranepool and Art Shamsky, representing the the 1969 “Miracle” New York Mets that Hodges managed.

For those who wondered about the relationship between Jones and Hodges, it is worth pausing to circle back to a game on July 30, 1969 that has always stuck out as odd with many Mets fans.

Jones spends some of the 15 pages in Chapter 9 addressing it.

The Mets were a run-of-the-mill .500-range team through the first three months of the season, but by July they were 55-40, and Tom Seaver had just improved his record to 15-5 after a win against Cincinnati.

The Astros came into New York and treated the Mets as miserable as the weather was getting. On that day, Houston won the first game of a doubleheader, 16-3, and was already up 8-0 in the third inning of the second game when the Johnny Edwards went opposite field and plopped a hit down the left field line.

On a bad ankle, Jones sloshed through the grass, got the ball back to the infield, and Edwards ended up with a double. It was his second hit of the inning.

Hodges came out of the Shea Stadium dugout. He wasn’t going to the mound for relief pitcher Nolan Ryan, who just came in for Gary Gentry. Hodges kept walking. He wasn’t going to shortstop to confer with Bud Harelson. Hodges kept walking. He finally met up with Jones in left field.

How the incident was recorded by Retrosheets.org

They talked. Then both walked back to the dugout. Swoboda replaced Jones.

Was Jones pulled for a lack of hustling? That’s what it looked like. His teammates were baffled. The writers had an angle.

Jones has talked about the incident before, in 2019, on the Mets’ 50th anniversary of their title. He noted it was an important moment in that otherwise unbelievable season. Somehow, it woke a team up that pushed them to win 38 of their last 49 games and finish with 100 victories.

In the book, Jones expands on it:

“I didn’t think for one second Gil was trying to embarrass me, but that’s what (the writers) were asking. I thought he was trying to make a statement, not to me, but to the team. I think I was leading the league in batting at that point, and we were getting our asses kicked, not because Cleon Jones was loafing on one play. … Even their pitcher, Larry Dierker, hit a home run after I was taken out of the game. … I have no negative thoughts about Gil Hodges or what happened. … My wife said repeatedly to me, ‘You should never have been out there in the first place.’ But I’m a ballplayer and a team player, and as long as I was contributing to the team, I was satisfied.”

Case closed?

It should be, because in his closing thoughts, Jones says that as he reflects on everything that happened to him as a player, “and as a man, the person most responsible for keeping me in line and staying by my side is Angela — my beautiful wife of 56 years. Every team and every marriage needs a stabilizer.”

Jones has called Hodges the most favorite manager he’d ever played for – in 12 years with the Mets, and the last with the Chicago White Sox – his managers included Casey Stengel, Wes Westrum and Yogi Berra (who was likely the one he disliked most) and Roy McMillian plus Paul Richards in Chicago.

It wasn’t so unusual that Jones was in Cooperstown to see Hodges honored. It was the honorable thing to do.

As his SABR bio ends:

“No offensive player was more important to the Mets in their first dozen years than Cleon Jones. … It is unlikely anyone will argue Cleon Jones is the best player in New York Mets history. But there is little doubt that he is one of the most important. He was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1991, the sixth player inducted. He took part in the 2008 closing ceremonies at Shea Stadium, the place he brought to bedlam with his bow in left field in 1969.”

And lives today in his “Last Catch Foundation.”

The final words of his book, reflective of a life he’s enjoyed while embracing the name Cleon — Greek for “glory” and “famous,” and from his research, someone named Cleon was a Greek general from an aristocratic family who was “concerned and had empathy for the lower class,” Jones notes.

“I may not have made it to the Hall of Fame, but I’ve done what I could and will continue the fight until the day I come home for good,” he says.

Horton, who turns 80 on Oct. 18, is a Detroit hometown hero. Still.

In his SABR bio, he is noted as one of “the strongest men in the game” with 325 career homers. He’s also part of building relationships between the club and the Black community he grew up in.

Named by Dusty Baker as an honorary coach for the American League All-Star team that gathered at Dodger Stadium recently, the four-time All Star (’65, ’68, ’70 and ’73) started in two of them during his 18-year career from 1963 to 1980.

A year before his retirement at age 37 he his 29 homers, drove in 106 runs and started all 162 games as the DH for the Seattle Mariners’ expansion team, enough to garnish some MVP votes and win AL Comeback Player of the Year. He was now “The Ancient Mariner.”

But in 1986, his first year of Hall of Fame voting eligibility, he only got 0.9 percent of the vote, having a career comparable most to a Joe Adcock, George Foster, Lee May or Greg Luzinski.

In 2004, Kevin Allen, best known in Michigan for his hockey writing career at USA Today, combined with Willie Horton to write, “The People’s Champion: Willie Horton” for Immortal Investments Publishing. Allen is back with Horton on this project.

He was the youngest of 14 to his parents in Virginia, signed with the Tigers in 1961, made his MLB debut in Sept. ’63 and in his second at bat, hit a pinch-hit homer off Robin Roberts.

Much of what Horton has done on the field has been chronicled, including his key play in Game 5 of the 1968 World Series when he threw Lou Brock at at home plate from left field, adding to the fact that in that in that seven-game series he hit .304 with a home run, six runs scored, and a 1.013 OPS. A lot of that is address in Chapter 11 of his book, “We Knew Lou Wouldn’t Slide.”

That’s where Horton writes: “Brock was probably too dominant for his own good in 1968 … During that era, Brock and his teammates — and maybe the entire National League — began to believe he owned the basepaths. … Teams were just conceding runs to his world-class speed … It was easy to understand why Brock began to take his dominance for granted. According to scouting reports, he usually drifted around third base, and Cardinals third base coach Joe Schultz usually didn’t offer him much guidance because Brock didn’t need it. … Likewise, the on-deck hitter usually didn’t move to the plate to signal Brock when to slide on close plays because Lou never had close plays. Before the series started, the Tigers outfielders vowed we would challenge Brock if the situation presented itself.”

And it did:

Horton’s role as a peacemaker during the riots in Detroit just a year earlier are thing still noted in social justice and political history books. In full uniform, standing at 12th Street, trying to persuade his Detroiters to stand down. The Tigers’ first Black star had a voice in Motown because he didn’t want to see his hometown self destruct.

Interestingly, Horton was often seen as an American League icon. He writes in Chapter 21 about how players from the National League like Tommy Davis, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks “used to tease me of the time about playing in the ‘Republican League.’ ‘Keep your head up,’ Davis would tell me. They considered the National League the ‘Democratic League’ because there seemed to be more players of color, particularly stars, in that league. The N.L. was stronger — not perfect — but stronger on integration.”

As author Allen writes in his intro: “Without question, Willie is the most important living athlete to grow up in Detroit and play for a Detroit team. Willie’s story needs to be told.”

No matter what Horton accomplished on the field, his words here resonate strong in a world that seems still to have an undercurrent of racism normalized by various political figures. If the Democratic-Republican divide still feels real, Horton can speak to it.

As his SABR bio ends:

On September 27, 1999, the final game was played at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. As part of the postgame festivities, former Tigers ran onto the field in uniform and took their positions. When Horton ran into left field, he was greeted with a tremendous ovation from fans who appreciated his 15 seasons and 262 home runs wearing the Detroit uniform. Willie Horton, the slugger who starred for the 1968 World Champions, the little kid from the streets of Detroit, the teenager who belted a homer nearly out of the ballpark, the strong man who shattered bats with brute strength, broke down and cried like a baby.

And the field at the old Tiger Stadium that sits not far from the current Comerica Bank Park remains, and is known as Willie Horton Field of Dreams.

Interestingly, Horton writes in Chapter 3: “When I drive around Detroit, I avoid the intersection of Michigan and Trumbull Avenues because I don’t want to see where Tiger Stadium used to be. Even though we have another baseball field there now, it’s not Tiger Stadium. I want to remember the old ballpark the way it was when I was stationed in left field. Mickey Stanley was in center, and Jim Northrup in right. … Tears filled my eyes on September 27, 1999 when the last Detroit game was played at Tiger Stadium. The ballpark was home to me, and I don’t want to think about my home being torn down.”

No one does. Not Horton. Not Jones. Realistically or metaphorically. Home is where the heart is.

How it goes in the scorebook

Let’s read two. Call it a DH.

Because the role of the DH is how both ended their playing careers – Jones, at age 33, with the Chicago White Sox in ’76 (just 12 games), and Horton, at 37, with the Seattle Mariners in ’80. The ’76 season was the only one where they could have been in the same lineup against each other – and it happened to be in Jones’ last two games as a big-leaguer.

On April 30 and May 1 at Comiskey Park, Jones was in left field and hitting third for the White Sox; Horton was the DH hitting third for the Tigers. Horton hit home runs in the eighth inning of each game. The second one capped off an eventual 10-1 win. Jones went 0-for-4 and flied out to right in the ninth, his last at bat.

You can look it up: More to ponder

== A 2017 MLB.com story on Horton about his role in calming the Detroit riots 50 years earlier.

== An excerpt on Horton’s book in the Detroit Free Press.

== More on Horton and the famous World Series are in “An October to Remember 1968: The Tigers-Cardinals World Series as Told by the Men Who Played in It” by Brendan Donley in 2018, and “Summer of ’68: The Series That Changed Baseball – and America – Forever,” by Tim Wendel in 2013

Day 33 of 2022 baseball books: Is it off base for baseball to demonstrate (or demonize) the ways of democracy?

“Democracy At The Ballpark:
Sport, Spectatorship, and Politics”

The author:
Thomas David Bunting

The publishing info:
State Univ. of N.Y. Press
212 pages
$32.95
Released July 2, 2022

The links:
The publishers website
At Bookshop.org
At Indiebound.org
At Powells.com
At Vromans.com
At TheLastBookStoreLA
At Skylight Books
At Diesel Books
At PagesABookstore.com
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com

The review in 90 feet or less

Draw up one of those Venn Diagrams to illustrate a wonderful overlap of “Baseball” and “Democracy,” and we suspect there would still be an incongruent segment that would take the opportunity to explain how that piece of common real estate was more of an interlope and then use it as a platform to talk in circles around it.

The political climate is such that you can’t even have the Congressional Baseball Game somewhere in D.C. — an event since 1909 — and still have it become a social media lightning rod for personal opinion that isn’t necessary.

A game that has on occasion usurped the duties of elected officials actually trying to get work done — The House was once supposed to debate an appropriations bill on Civil War cotton damage, but a quorum was not present because too many were at this heated contest — came back last September and led to California House Democrat Ro Khanna responding to the Republicans winning a 13-12 decision at Nationals Park in D.C. (for an event that is used as a bi-partisan way to raise funds for various non-profit programs):

This is why Twitter might want to have a 20-second delay between someone typing a post and having it actually post. A necessary evil in today’s world?

We’ve experienced enough in our language of action in how baseball and democracy (a word often used interchangeable with “politics”) have a way of intermingling, as a senator “goes to bat” for his constituents, or an idea for a bill is “off base” or came “out of left field.”

One could also find a way to today to incorporate an exaggerated defensive shift or a call for a review to make sure all is fair.

Perhaps our first thought of baseball and democracy as common ground – and maybe for many who hadn’t connected these dots before – came with the oft-quoted speech Crash Davis gives to Nuke LaLoosh during a mound visit in the 1988 film “Bull Durham” (and we referenced just recently in our review of “Church Of Baseball” by Ron Shelton). The veteran catcher tells the empty-headed pitcher: “Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strike outs are boring. Besides, they’re fascist. Throw some groundballs – it’s more democratic.”

Get everyone involved and let their talents come forth, win (or lose) as a team.

A few other baseball/democratic attempts have also emerged over the years but those who have the nerve and resources to trust its intent.

In 2013, the esteemed Mike Veeck, owner of the independent minor league St. Paul Saints, used an exhibition game to see if it could work with no umpire present. It had been suggested by a grad student at the Citadel. The catchers called balls and strikes. A first-base jury box of fans decided safe and out calls, among other things (until they appeared to get bored and left the box in the sixth inning, leaving a guy in a judge’s robe to finish it off standing behind the pitcher’s mound). Otherwise, no one complained. The Saints won, 4-3.

The main takeaway: The speed of the game flows better when no one is holding it up by arguing. That implies maturity is necessary.

It was a reminder that Veeck’s Hall of Fame father, Bill Veeck, went to another form of Ancient Greek democracy when, as owner of the American League’s St. Louis Browns, he held a “Grandstand Managers Day” in 1951. More than 1,000 fans had placards with “yes” and “no” when a team rep asked of them “Steal?” or “Infield Back?” They also made out the lineup card by voting on it.

Thumbs up: The Browns won the game. Thumbs down: The team finished 52-102 and moved to Baltimore three years later.

Years later, Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley lost his mind and tried a “College of Coaches” committee — eight coaches deciding on things rather one sole manager. More like a psychedelic collage than a collegiate endeavor that actually went from 1961 and ’62. The coaches had internal battles with each other. Leadership was needed rather than rotating personalities. Bringing more people in to make decisions, to share in a discussion, seems democratic, but even as slow as baseball becomes, it is problematic.

But it all circles back – Venn and all – to political commentator George Will, who said in the “Third Inning: 1910-1920” installment of Ken Burns’ rigorous “Baseball” documentary:

Baseball suits the character of this democratic nation. Democracy is government by persuasion. That means it requires patience. That means it involves a lot of compromise. Democracy is the slow politics of the half loaf. Baseball is the game of the long season, where small incremental differences decide who wins and who loses particular games, series and seasons. In baseball you know going to the ballpark the chances are you may win, but you still may lose. There’s no certainty, no given. You know when the season starts the best team is going to be beaten a third of the time. Worst team is going to win a third of the time. The argument, over 162 games — that middle third. So it’s a game you can’t like if winning means everything. And democracy’s that way too.”

If that wasn’t enough for some to start pushing Will as a way to become the commissioner of the game and protect its best interests, Burns himself said in an interview promoting the documentary series in 1994 – whether or not he acquired the opinion through osmosis: “Baseball is an exhilarating democratic sport that manages to exclude as many as it includes. It’s a profoundly conservative game that often manages to be years ahead of its time.”

At MakeOurDemocracyGreatAgain.com. Does not indicate the country in which it was made or assembled.
At the Fox News shop. Does not indicate the country in which it was made or assembled.

Then we land on the world today. Just see the advertisements above.

Where democracy and baseball seem in some kind of peril, maybe unsure of where their compass points, not trusting whose making decisions that seem counterintuitive to the best interest of their constituents/fans.

That seems like a ripe starting point for this renewed discussion, in a very academic yet accessible way, by Thomas David Bunting, an associate professor of political science at Shawnee State University in Southern Ohio better known for its programs in nursing, business administration, sociology, early education, biology, fitness administration and psychology. (Hey, we’re just going by the school recruiting manual here). Bunting, with a Ph.D. and Masters in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a B.A. in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from Michigan State University, could be perceived to be a bit off the academic branding radar to some whose baseball-politics range of view starts and ends with George Will. But Bunting’s essays and analysis has appeared in places such as the Washington Post, when he looked at the ramifications of Major League Baseball moving its 2021 All Star Game from Atlanta to Denver in the wake of George’s new voting law that suppresses Black access, and saw Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warn MLB to “stay out of politics” as it always seems to want to play that Anti-Trust Exemption status card against the sport when it does things like become socially activated.

Another example of Bunting’s work can be found in The Constituionalist from last January, where this idea that baseball fandom and spectator democracy are ripe for dialogue.

He also has a 2018 academic work, “Breaking Barriers and Coded Language: Watching Politics of Race at the Ballpark,” that is folded into these expanded chapters of a book — which is must be noted was released in November 2021 at the price still north of $100 but has reversed the trend of inflation and came out this month in a far-more accessible one-third of that sticker shock. (One can even Nook it for $25).

Now, Bunting can ignore the bunt sign and swing away with his historical context and current angst and reach conclusions such as:

When people watch politics at the ballpark, or when the ballpark shapes politics, it does so before a political heterogeneous group of people. Politics, as a force, seems to drive people apart, unfolds within this sphere where something else brings people together. Democracy at the ballpark remains instructive as democracy outside of the ballpark becomes increasingly under threat. … Sport and baseball fill this need for meaning and show much about how people view themselves and their country. I take this everyday perspective seriously because democracy ultimately revolves around regular people and not the great men of history – democracy is about the spectators more than the spectacle. Baseball provides inside into this relationship.”

At the conclusions of his “Conclusion” chapter, he then invokes the name of Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell, both in the deep South but beloved by many across all demographics, and a quote he is famous enough for that it still exists in memes:

Is that clear enough?

Our author Q&A

Bunting was generous with his time to offer up these answers to our questions:

Q: Amazon has your book in the rankings under “democracy,” “sports history” and “baseball,” and baseball is kinda last in that list. Would you categorize this as a political science book that touches on the importance of baseball’s history, or – considering the cover photo — a baseball book about its ties to democratic process. Or what other category does it fall under — lying and cheating?

A: It is a political theory book that seeks to start a different conversation in the  the field of democratic theory. What has struck me about democratic theory is how elitist it is—it is dominated by professors at Ivy League schools saying what democracy should be. Very little of these debates resemble anything about how folks around me growing up experienced politics. My argument is basically that baseball shapes how people view politics more than normative, elitist understandings of deliberative democracy. This is the frame of the book, even though most of the book focuses on baseball, what it is pointing towards is a more democratic understanding of how people encounter politics in their everyday lives. I use baseball as a case study and look at politics of spectatorship, community, equality, virtue, and technology. 

Q: You mention at the start the process of trying to start this book some eight years ago, then realizing the importance of it in 2020. How did this book find its way to the front burner? Was it a required reading piece of your class at Shawnee? 

A: I began the book and had it as my primary project in graduate school. My first two years of working at SSU were quite busy so the revisions took longer than expected, but the project was under contract shortly before the pandemic. I have not made this required reading nor do I plan on subjecting students to my writing. I prefer that people decide to read my work of their own free will. 

Q: What do you hope readers come away with after they’ve digested what you’ve given them here? Does it take awhile to process and reflect to capture the full effect? 

A: I am in the early phases of interacting with people who have read the book and I have been struck by how different the takeaways of different readers have been so far. I do not know if this is a good or bad thing, but I hope that speaks to the nature of the project—it is an attempt to describe the worlds of politics and baseball as they are and others can form their conclusions. The big takeaway for me on this project was how important and meaningful even small and sometimes silly things like sport can be for our lives and politics. 

Q: There is a Major League Baseball team in Washington, called the Nationals (formerly the Expos of Montreal). In the past, we’ve had two Washington Senators, one that moved to Minnesota and another that moved to Texas – both still in place. If you were to give that team in D.C. a nickname that was more appropriate to what it represents in the heart of our democratic process, what could you come up? The Washington Whigs, for example, has nice alliteration. …

And on that topic: Is there any evidence you know of that the Presidential Mascot Race conducted every home game between Tom, George, Abe and Teddy – and they also have Taft and Coolidge — doesn’t have a per-ordained winner each night, which would undermine the fairness of it all? 

A: I cannot speak to the mascot race, but I think Washington Senators is the most appropriate option given the Senate’s prominence as an obstructive body that shoots down legislation. 

Q: As a Detroit Tigers homegrown fan – just assuming that by photos of you with an old English “D” on it – what are your memories of going to the ballpark and seeing a game unfold (and, as someone here in L.A. may ask, why did the Tigers allow Kirk Gibson to come here and win a World Series in a Hollywood-type way?)

A: My earliest memories were going to Tiger Stadium and feeling in awe of the entire experience. I am from a town of 8,000 people and Detroit seemed massive. I remember loving Cecil Fielder (his son, Prince, was later my wife’s favorite player), and getting an autograph from Sean Bergman, who was a journeyman pitcher. The Tigers in my youth were pretty terrible, so there are not a ton of memories of glory. I also remembered meeting Ernie Harwell at an event in Mt. Pleasant when I was a kid and that had a big impact on me. Re: Gibson — I supposed the Tigers let good players leave as an act of mercy. 

A book by George Will about the 1998 season that has a title with nothing to do with the author’s nickname.

Q: Would George Will have made a fair and balanced MLB Commissioner had he wanted to pursue it? 

A: I am not sure, but he would have to be better than Rob Manfred.

Q: What person in public office, at any level, did you sense had the greatest connection to baseball and what it stood for?

A: I think FDR’s Green Light letter is the best example of someone in public office understanding the importance of games for democratic life. 

Q: Do you foresee a day in our lifetime when a woman president throws out the first pitch of an MLB game?  

A: I am terrible at predicting things, so I will spare everyone the wrong answer to this question. 

How it goes in the scorebook

Circling the bases, with a respectable handshake from the third-base coach heading for home and a safe landing.

While the subject matter can get a little heady, Bunting’s heart is in the right place. Perhaps the most telling part of a book like this is when you scan the index and, as the alphabet separates the names and ideas, you’ll see “Aaron, Henry” with “Achilles;” “Plato” in the same neighborhood as “Piazza, Mike,” or “Nietzchke” and the “Negro Leagues” getting along just as well as French philosopher “Ranciere, Jacques” and “Robinson, Jackie.”

It also shines a light on how president leadership and baseball have always been an interesting litmus test as to what’s best for the country in a time of tension.

Was it prudent for President Trump to attend the Astros-Braves Game 4 of the 2019 World Series in Atlanta, and joyfully participate in the politically insane Tomahawk Chop? Bunting writes in response in his book: “America’s populist leader … (was) booed roundly (by the crowd) and threw his own anti-democratic language back at him, chanting, ‘Lock him up!’ … Baseball is not by essence a platform that omits dissent and gives way to spectacle and populist forces. It is a site of pluralism, vibrant community and resistance. It should not be surprising that a populist, anti-democratic leader would not fare well when exposed to democracy at the ballpark.”

In contrast, Bunting uses the first pages of Chapter 1 to remind how President Bush united the country after the 9/11 attacks by throwing the first pitch out at the Game 3 of the World Series – almost exactly eight years earlier than Trump’s World Series non-field appearance – and “used the game to show that the American way of life was still alive by using the sport as a rhetorical appeal to American leisure and resilience.” Not sure if Bunting thought it was an exploitative move, but it had its merits.

Both were voted in as Republicans. From the other side, Bunting notes how President Obama, during a visit to Cuba and taking in a baseball game (noted on page 68), said that the the sport “can change attitude sometimes in ways that a politician never can change, that a speech can’t change,” and used Jackie Robinson’s courage and integration as a visible example for citizens feeling oppressed to improve their lives. Frank D. Roosevelt also persuaded professional baseball to continue on during World War II as a way to keep Americans feeling somewhat “normal” at such a difficult period, because the game was comforting and lent stability.

“Baseball both reflects that status quo of many political issues and can be a site to challenge politics as they currently exists,” Bunting sums it up on page 149.

“Baseball can only be such a venue, it can only be a powerful metaphor, because it is a place filled with meaning … people invest in the meaning in the game because … they learned about life through the game, they remember people, places and things by touchstones in the game’s history, the formed relationships through the game.

The game taught them to look at the world differently. I encourage people to read narratives such as Potok’s ‘The Chosen’ or DeLillo’s ‘Underworld,’ because when people tell stories about baseball, they are telling stores about much more than baseball.”

That, and a go-back to a couple George Will books, becomes out latest poli-sci/American Lit 101 homework assignment.

You can look it up: More to ponder

== As baseball and democracy give noted scholars a chance to examine their DNA and wonder why that’s all so true, more recent examples can be found in Patrick Dubuque’s piece for Baseball Prospectus in the months before the 2016 President election, wondering how baseball had lost its way just as politics has been doing. Last August, the Baltimore Sun ran this op-ed piece by Jane Lo and Scott Warren (both involved in Generation Citizen, working to transform civics education) which was headlined:  “Democracy And Baseball Are in Trouble for Similar Reasons … Are Their Fixes The Same as Well?” Perhaps the fix is in.

== Also coming up later this year from SUNY Press: “New York’s Great Lost Ballparks” by Bob Carlin ($29.95, 322 pages, expected to ship Oct. 1, 2022)

== In a revelatory soliloquy that is included in the stage play, “Take Me Out,” winner of the 2003 Tony Award for Best Play, an New York Empires’ Darren Lemming announces he’s gay. So how does everyone react in all this messiness? His business manager, Mason Marzac, also opening gay, with no concept about baseball but watches out of due diligence, has this soliloquy in the middle of the first act (written by Richard Greenberg), and given to us from Fangraphs.com, where he discusses now not only why he thinks “baseball is a perfect metaphor for hope in a democratic society” but also “baseball is better than democracy – because unlike democracy, baseball acknowledges loss.”

It goes like this:

It has to do with the rules of play. It has to do with the mode of enforcement of these rules. It has to do with certain nuances and grace notes of the game.

First, it’s the remarkable symmetry of everything.

All those threes and multiples of three – calling attention to – virtually making a fetish of the game’s noble equality. Equality, that is, of opportunity.

Everyone is given exactly the same chance. And the opportunity to exercise that chance at his own pace.

There’s none of the scurry, none of that relentlessness that marks other games – basketball, football or hockey. I’ve never watched basketball, football or hockey, but I’m sure I wouldn’t like them. Or maybe I would but it wouldn’t be the same.

What I mean is, in baseball there’s no clock.

What could be more generous than to give everyone all these opportunities and the time to seize them in, as well? And with each turn at the plate, there’s the possibility of turning the situation to your favor. Down to the very last try.

And then, to insure that everything remains fair, justices are ranged around the park to witness and assess the play. And if the justice errs, an appeal can be made.

It’s invariably turned down, but that’s part of what makes the metaphor so right.

Because even in the most well-meant systems, error is inevitable. Even within the fairest of paradigms, unfairness will creep in.

And baseball is better than democracy – or at least democracy as it’s practiced in this country – because unlike democracy, baseball acknowledges loss.

While conservatives tell you, ‘‘leave things alone and no one will lose,’’ and liberals tell you, ‘‘interfere a lot and no one will lose,’’ baseball says, ‘‘Someone will lose.’’ Not only says it – insists upon it!

So that baseball achieves the tragic vision that democracy evades. Evades and embodies. Democracy is lovely, but baseball’s more mature.