Day 13 of 2022 baseball books: How the A.L. found L.A. through little help of its brethren

“Stumbling Around the Bases: The American League’s Mismanagement in the Expansion Eras”

The author:
Andy McCue

The publishing info:
University of Nebraska Press
232 pages
$29.95
Released April 1, 2022

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

“A Brand New Ballgame: Branch Rickey, Bill Veeck, Walter O’Malley and the Transformation of Baseball, 1945-1962”

The author:
G. Scott Thomas

The publishing info:
McFarland
326 pages
$39.95
Released Nov. 11, 2021

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

The reviews in 90 feet or less

The Dodgers revive a dog-related promotion this Saturday that has less to do with relishing the history of its former Farmer John-produced foot-long frank than it does celebrating the curious fact some are still willing to go to any extreme to be in the presence of their own wound-up wiener dog.

“Bark in the Park” is what they called it at first. Now it’s “Pups at the Park,” because, really, the only barking in baseball should be between a manager and umpire, and that isn’t even tolerated as it once was.

In 2010, L.A. Times writer Chris Erskine attended the very first promotion and wrote in his lede: “That was some party in the right-field pavilion Saturday night — some 500 dogs in attendance, a minor league stunt in a major league venue. In order to enter the stadium, the dogs had to have proof of vaccinations, a requirement so successful that Dodger brass might one day extend it to the fans themselves.”

It is an odd event where waivers must be signed releasing the Dodgers of any legal rights and liabilities, and the team must also remind everyone: Please be sure quantity of dog tickets and human tickets are accurate at checkout. Also: This is a live sporting event and loud noises may occur.

Erskine noted that fans had to pay $25 for a seat in the then-all-you-can-eat right field pavilion, as well as fork out $25 for a ticket to accommodate their dog. The next year, tickets went up to $30 each. In 2018, it was $46 for humans and $40 for dogs. Now, its $78 each for this Saturday’s game against Philadelphia. It’ll be a more modest $63 a ticket when the event happens again on Labor Day Monday, Sept. 5, vs. San Francisco.

Former media hustler Roy Firestone was prompted to post on Facebook:

The Dodgers, like many teams, can and will get away with this ticketing arrangement. Increased prices work with any and all promotional event.

Last year during COVID recall, the Dodgers didn’t have one of these events, but eight other teams did. They weren’t the first to come up with the idea – at least five other teams were doing it in 2005, five years before the Dodgers’ first one. The Padres (at Petco Park) and Diamondbacks have expanded to have “pet-friendly sections” at their stadiums since 2016, converting a patio area with “premium boxes” in left field that go for $100 a game – four fans, two dogs.

Mike Veeck, the son of Bill Veeck, a co-owner of several minor league and independent teams, including the Charleston RiverDogs, poses with a bronze of The Citadel’s mascot on campus in Charleston, S.C. (Associated Press)

Dog days seems to be an event that a team owner like Bill Veeck would have unleashed years ago. And who knows, maybe he thought of it first and never pulled it off.

A New York Times piece on the subject in 2005 notes: The Chicago White Sox, who have a long legacy of unusual promotions dating to the former owner and marketing maverick Bill Veeck, were the first major-league team to hold a dog day, in 1996. “It’s one of our most popular promotions, one of the few that fans call about immediately after tickets go on sale for the season,” said Katie Kirby, director of public relations for the team.

To get the real read on Veeck, whose ability to circumvent conventional wisdom in the name of baseball fun, there are more than 400 pages devoted to his life and times thanks to Paul Dickson’s 2012 book “Baseball’s Greatest Maverick.” We’d love to see the outtakes.

It is a far deeper dive beyond the classics Veeck wrote with Ed Linn, starting with “Veeck – As in Wreck: The Chaotic Career of Baseball’s Incorrigible Maverick,” which came out in 1962, and then the 1965 version of “The Hustler’s Handbook,” which attracted a cover story in Sports Illustrated. He said at the time “Handbook” is a “chronicle of the roughest 18 months baseball has been through in a long time. … I hope the book does well. The first one will put three of my kids through school. Now I have to worry about the next three.”

Veeck wasn’t just a bulldog owner, but one you imagine could have had more bite had he been surrounded by other breeds of creative canines working in the name of the National League (aka, the Senior Circuit) during the game’s transformative years. Instead, relegated to the American League, he must have felt as if he was herding cats trying to get anyone not associated with the New York Yankees to invest in the growth of what was cutely known as “The Junior Circuit” in the post-World War II era.

Veeck, navigating the AL as the majority owner of the Cleveland Indians (1946-’49), St. Louis Browns (1951-’53) and Chicago White Sox (1959-’61 and ’75-’80), made his mark with employing the league’s first African American player, signing a midget to a contract and having him draw a walk, and having a bunch of disco records burn on his home field. He was as American as the AL would allow.

But he loved to tell the story about how he wanted to buy the NL’s Philadelphia Phillies in 1943 – and how he was going to stock the roster with Negro League stars. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wasn’t going to have any of that, and found out the rest of the National League owners assumed ownership of the team even though Veeck agreed in principal to the deal from previous ownership. Dickson covered that in depth in his book about Veeck and the topic is still up for debate about its truthiness.

For those who love to reconstruct baseball history, wonder what would have happened if some things fell differently, and why franchises ended up here, there and everywhere except when logic came in play, here are two more viable entries to pour through and try to reconnect the dippin’ dots of days gone by.

Veeck, enjoyably, is all over it in both editions.

In the introduction to “Stumbling Around the Bases,” McCue pulls a quote from Veeck that explains how the league known as “The Junior Circuit” operated from his point of view: “Planning is wholly out of keeping with the American League tradition of confronting all emergencies, head on, with Panic and Patchwork.”

The marvelous quote is one McCue, a SABR member since 1982 and organizational president from 2009-11, found from an unpublished manuscript called “Good Grief, They’ve Done It Again!” included in the Bill Veeck Papers at the Chicago Historical Society, attributed to Veeck and Linn and likely written in 1967, in what would have been the third in a Veeck-Linn trilogy.

Continue reading “Day 13 of 2022 baseball books: How the A.L. found L.A. through little help of its brethren”

Day 12 of 2022 baseball books: Mom’s classic day in the sun, with a baseball son

“Classic Baseball: Timeless Tales, Immortal Moments”

The author:
John Rosengren

The publishing info:
Rowman & Littlefield
170 pages
$32
Released April 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 PagesABookstore.com
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com

The review in 90 feet or less

Any mom would be proud reading about the historic achievements accomplished by these three baseball people over the last month:

== Kelsie Whitmore did something this past Wednesday no woman has ever done before.

Michael Macor/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty

After becoming one of the first women to sign with a professional team affiliated with Major League Baseball last month, and then the first woman to be in the starting lineup for an Atlantic League club on May 1, Whitmore was the first woman to take the mound in an Atlantic League game on May 4, making a relief appearance in the Staten Island FerryHawks‘ 3-1 loss to the Lexington Legends.

The 23-year-old, a member of the United States women’s national baseball team from 2014 to 2019 out of Cal State Fullerton, needed to get her team out of a bases-loaded jam with two outs in the top of the ninth inning at Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George. She inherited the high-leverage situation with the FerryHawks in need of an out to keep the deficit to two runs. Whitmore got Ryan Jackson to fly out to left after getting ahead in the count, 1-2. Even though Staten Island was unable to come back in the bottom of the ninth, Whitmore delivered. (In her next game, she gave up six earned runs in less than an inning and has an ERA at 54.00 at the moment for the 1-11 squad).

== Alyssa Nakken did something on April 12 no woman has ever done before.

The 31-year-old was the first to coach on the field in a Major League Baseball game when the San Francisco Giants needed her during an April 12 home game against San Diego.

She joined the team in its operations department in 2014, working on health and wellness. A year later she earned a masters in sports management from the University of San Francisco and was the chief information officer with the team. In 2000, she was promoted to assistant coach – the first woman to have that title in MLB history. She has been a coach working with baserunners and outfield defense, watching game from an indoor batting cage near the dugout.

It was a notable achievement when she served as the first-base coach for the Giants during an exhibition game against Oakland in July, 2020, as the teams were ramping up for the pandemic-delayed season reboot.

When Giants first-base coach Antoan Richardson was ejected from a game in the top of the third inning against the Padres last month, manager Gabe Kapler summoned Nakken to throw on her off-brand creamsicle-colored No. 92 jersey and step in. Announced as Richardson’s replacement, Nakken received a warm ovation from the crowd at Oracle Park, and a congratulatory handshake from Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer.

“I just introduced myself, congratulated her,” Hosmer said. “It’s obviously a special moment for her, and a special moment for the game. … It’s something she should be really proud of.”

Jeff Dean of NPR wrote: “For years, the MLB has sought to diversify the league’s on-field and operations positions by introducing programs such as its diversity pipeline and a diversity fellowship program. And while it takes time for such programs to bear fruit, the league no doubt sees these as encouraging signs.” And Stephen Kennedy wrote for the SB Nation McCovey Chronicles: “Baseball’s ‘unwritten rules’ need to be tested. Some of them need to be broken. Alyssa Nakken is a rule breaker and baseball is better for it.”

Tampa Tarpons manager Rachel Balkovec watches from the dugout while making her debut as a minor league manager of the Yankees’ Single-A affiliate on Friday, April 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

== Rachel Balkovec did something on April 8 no woman has ever done before.

The 34-year old was the first woman to manage a minor league affiliate of an Major League Baseball team. She guided the New York Yankees’ Class A Tampa Tarpons to a win in her first game.

With a masters in kinesiology from LSU and another in human movement sciences from Vrije University in the Netherlands, she became a strength and conditioning coach for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Johnson City, Pa., rookie league affiliate in 2012.

A year later, she was waitressing and working at Lululemon, hoping to advance her coaching career. She changed her name on her resume and her email address from “Rachel” to “Rae,” but once she started doing phone interviews with teams

Four years later she was in the Houston Astros’ Latin American player development and learned Spanish. In the winter of ’19, the Yankees hired her as a hitting coach – the first woman with a full-time position in that role. The Yankees named her manager of the Tarpons in January, 2022.

In late March at the Yankees’ spring training camp in Tampa, she was hit in the face with a batted ball during workouts, forcing her to miss the Tarpons’ home opener. And sporting a wicked shiner.

The Tarpons’ 6-5 loss to Bradenton on Mother’s Day dropped their record to 13-13. There are T-shirts now in the Tarpon’s team store referring to “Shatting Baseball’s Barriers” and sporting quotes from Balkovec, such as “Grateful for the women who’ve come before me” and “I’m not done yet.”

My mom, a cradle Catholic who struggles with all the dogmas of a religion that can be a frightful challenge to those who go in with blind faith and a hopeful outcome, pointed me into the theological teachings of baseball at a very early age. Her love of the game was cultivated as a young girl watching the achievements of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in South Bend, Indiana. So much of that deep love emerged in linking it to a review of Anika Orrock’s book, “The Incredible Women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League” in 2020.

I enjoy honoring her on Mother’s Day Version 2022 — her 60th such celebration — with a copy of this book, hoping that someday names like Kelsie Whitmore, Alyssa Nakken, Rachel Balkovec are as important to women in the future as names like Lou Arnold, Jean Faut and Bea Chester are to my mom and they too will become worthy of classic baseball documentation, essays, analysis and gratitude.

One other reason these three names resonate today is, in the legacy created by 2003 inductee Ila Borders, consider Whitmore, Nakken and Balkovec as future candidates for the Shrine of the Eternals, the Pasadena-based creation of the late Terry Cannon and his Baseball Reliquary. Today, the Reliquary seems to be on pause following Cannon’s passing in August, 2020. The website seems to have come down, hopefully to be updated and revived soon. There hasn’t been a new vote or ceremonies for the Shrine of the Eternals since July 2019. There are 66 members in the Shrine so far.

In the more than two-dozen stories Rosengren includes in his book, one is dedicated to the Baseball Reliquary, which he wrote for Vice Sports in August of 2015, guided there by fellow SABR member John Leonoudakis.

And while there are those who will logically seek out Rosengren’s new collection of baseball-related pieces he has written over the years as a worthy idea for a Father’s Day gift this June – he spend many paragraphs talking about his own father who took him to Minnesota Twins games in the 1970s as well as watching Minneapolis Millers’ minor-league contests – may we also suggest it’s a nice thing for mom to settle in with and go back in time.

Rosengren notes his dad passed away in 2006. He writes about going with him to Cooperstown a year before that, and lessons learned from his old baseball glove.

We have some of those same memories with our still-kicking mom. Her gloves, bats and balls she collected and used to play the game with us are still in the garage, slowly making their way to my garage so they don’t go missing.

“These stories about baseball, they outlive those in them and even those who tell them,” Rosengren writes in the introduction. “I find something beautiful in that.”

We do as well.

How it goes in the scorebook

Here’s to you, mom. And, yes, dad can read it too. But you first. Then share, like you taught us. Check out the chapter on Sandy Koufax’s 1965 Yom Kippur decision, which Rosengren pulls from his 2015 Sports Illustrated story.
And I will be over soon with the corndogs and peanuts to watch the Dodgers-Cubs game from Wrigley Field shortly. As per our tradition.

You can look it up: More to ponder

== Among the best-known books Rosengren has authored:
= “The Fight of their Lives: How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball’s Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption,” Lyon Press, 2014
The first chapter of “Classic Baseball” is a piece for “108 Magazine” in the summer of ’07 that led to further research and the arrival of “The Fight of their Lives.”

= “Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes,” NAL, 2013
A chapter in “Classic Baseball” is focused on Greenberg from a feature Rosengren did for Michigan History magazine in the fall of 2014.

= “Hammerin’ Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid: The Year that Changed Baseball Forever,” Sourcebooks, 2008. Rosengreen drew from this book to write about Aaron’s 1973 season for the Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Memories & Dreams” magazine in 2020, which is now the second chapter of “Classic Baseball.”

== Rosengren’s interesting piece recently for the Washington Post tries to size up the political aspirations for former Heisman Trophy winner and Georgia icon Herschel Walker. It ends this way: “Details of Walker’s violent past and his outrageous statements already trouble the Republican cognoscenti. Some worry what more could emerge from investigative reporting — or Walker’s own mouth. ‘The unknowns associated with Herschel Walker, with his history and what his statements in the future may be, make him a foolish risk for Republicans,’ says John Watson, former Georgia GOP chair.
“At the moment, though, he may be protected by a cocoon of willful ignorance among his supporters. Several people leaving the Dahlonega event had not heard about the accusations that Walker made violent threats toward ex-wife Cindy and others — incidents recently reported by the media. When told about the incidents, they brushed them off. ‘I’m not the same person I was 20 years ago. We learn from our mistakes,’ says Donna Brantley of Dahlonega, carrying an autographed ‘Run Herschel Run’ yard sign. ‘He’s got the right morals’.”

Day 11 of 2022 baseball books: Clown question bro? No, it’s all about the bozos

“I Am Not A Baseball Bozo: Honoring Good Players
who Played on Terrible Teams: 1920 to 1999”

The author:
Chris Williams

The publishing info:
Sunbury Press
148 pages
$14.95
Released Sept. 29, 2021

The links:
The publishers website
The authors website
At Bookshop.org
At Indiebound.org
At Amazon.com
At Powells.com
At Vromans.com
At TheLastBookStoreLA
At PagesABookstore.com


The review in 90 feet or less

This Dodgers die-cast version of the “MLB Bullpen Buggies” are selling for $11.99 on BigBadToyStore.com

Hear us out on this one: If the MLB timekeepers had a real hankering for speeding up games, and maybe could embrace the nostalgia of it all, it would encourage teams to bring back the modified golf carts that deliver relief pitchers from the bullpen to the mound between innings. Sponsored by Lyft.

The guy with the jacket draped over his arm still may feel a bit silly having someone drive him the distance of a short par-3 golf hole. Some teams tried to bring it back in recent years with little cooperation. And we keep hearing folks refer to the oversized baseball caps with wheels as “clown cars.” But that implies there’d be at least a dozen pitchers crammed in, and when the cart stopped, they’d all come tumbling out at some point, honking horns, doing cartwheels and having water shoot out of their lapel flower.

Or, Rodney Dangerfield might suddenly appear.

Baseball, it turns out, already has a nice history of clown-related players, Max Patkin aside. Official bozos, if you are to nickname them a such:

== Bozo Cicotte, at age 32, was an original member of the 1962 expansion Houston Colt .45’s. But that was the finish line of a career that started in American League champion 1957 New York Yankees as a 27-year-old rookie, then took him through the Washington Senators, Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals for a career mark of 10-13 with a 4.36 ERA in 102 games.

Alva Warren Cicotte by name, the great-nephew of “Black Sox” player Eddie Ciocotte, also pulled off a crafty move in 1977, at the age of 48. In the insurance business after retiring, he signed a one-month deal with the Detroit Tigers that year so he’d be eligible for a Major League Baseball pension. He only lived five more years after that.

== Bozo Jackson pulled together a .354 lifetime average – 23 hits in 65 at bats – but played in only 17 games in four seasons spread over 12 years. Three games in ’33 for the Indianapolis ABC’s of the Negro National League, eight games in ‘38 for the Atlanta Black Crackers of the Negro American League, then three more games in ’43 for the Philadelphia Stars and the last three games in ’45 for the Homestead Grays, both of the Negro National League. The profile of the middle infielder on Seamheads.com also credits him with three games in ’44 for the Atlanta Black Crackers, then an Independent League team.

With the way records are kept now, combining Negro Leagues with other pro baseball major leagues, the Baseball-Reference.com site has determined Jackson was the 7,534th player in major league history. The site also notes his full names as James Jackson. Yet his Wikipedia page says it was Bert Jackson. Someday, we hope to see this discrepancy resolved. Maybe it is in 900-plus page version of The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues by James Riley (Carroll & Graf, 1994), one of the more-than 4,000 players from 1872 to 1950 who’ve been documented.

== Bozo Wakabayashi was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964 — the first Hawaiian honored. He was the MVP twice with the Hanshin Tigers of the war year 1940s. If you really did you homework and wanted someone far more comparable to the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, consider Henry Tadashi Wakabayashi, a second generation Japanese American whose parents went to Hawaii from Hiroshima, is one of 48 Japanese players with 2,000 career hits and 200 victories on the mound.

Also a member of the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame, Wakabayashi also has this intriguing sidenote: When the Osaka Tigers played their first season in 1936, jersey numbers were given out in alphabetical order. Wakabayashi was assigned number 4. He didn’t want it — the number because it is considered unlucky in Japan. He was given the first available number instead — 18. His success in the professional leagues made it a custom for a Japanese team’s ace pitcher to be given the number. Daisuke Matasuzaka was given number 18 when he joined the Seibu Lions from high school.

For many reasons, none of these Bozos made it into this collection of players that aims to honor those whose standout seasons on miserable franchises made them stand out like a bright red nose.

Williams, who grew up a Phillies fan in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, clearly saw plenty of these examples.

Most famously, future Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton.

After his first seven seasons in St. Louis, Lefty was traded to Philadelphia for Rick Wise in 1972. That season, the 27-year-old Carlton won 27 games with a 1.97 ERA and 310 strikeouts in 41 starts and 346 innings pitched – each category leading the National League, as well as a 12.1 WAR. It got him a unanimous Cy Young Award vote and fifth place in the MVP balloting.

Pretty darn impressive for a ’72 Phillies that otherwise tested positive for awfulness, a 59-97 finish under two managers, one of which came out of the GM office to clean up the mess. They were last in the NL East, 37 ½ games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Carlton’s 27-10 mark was the only one above .500 among 16 pitchers on a staff that had no one else with more than seven wins. The other starters posted win totals of 5, 4, 4 and 2 and lost a combined 48 games. Also, Carlton’s .197 batting average (23 hits, 117 at bats, and a home run in a game he defeated Pittsburgh, 2-0) wasn’t that far off the seasons posted by three of the eight regular position starters.

From our experience, this may be the most dominant performance by an MLB player on a team that had more noticeable cracks than the Liberty Bell.

Yet, it’s not included in this book.

According to Williams’ criteria, someone must be on a team that lost 100 or more games in a season, “for guys who played for the worst-of-the-worst.” Three more losses wouldn’t have made a difference on that ’72 Phillies team. There are other benchmarks that have to do with games played, innings pitched and the player “must have performed at a level noticeably higher, statistically, than his teammates during the year considered.”

Doing the math — carry the one, add an explanation point for astonishment — Carlton was responsible for nearly 50 percent of his team’s victories. He was the sixth pitcher at the time to win 20 or more games for a last-place team, reeling off 15 in a row at one point with eight total shutouts. No pitcher has won more games or thrown more complete games since Carlton did that year, and no pitcher has thrown more innings since ’73.

In all the years the Phillies/Quakers have existed as a National League franchise going back to 1883, they’ve lost 100 or more in 1961, ’45, every season between ’38 and ’42, ’36, ’30, ’28, ’27, ’23, ’21 and ’04. There were 26 additional seasons they lost 90 or more, most recently three straight years from 2015 to ’17. For those teams, we can raise and honor players such as Cy Williams, Cotton Tierney, Dutch Ulrich, Fresco Thompson, Pinky Whitney, Chuck Klein, Lefty O’Doul, Barney Friberg, Dolph Camilli, Kirby Higbe and Johnny Callison.

In 1972, during a strike-interrupted season where most teams only got in about 154 games played, only one team lost 100 or more – the Ted Williams-managed Texas Rangers, in the first year from moving away from Washington. Only a couple of their players are mentioned in the book for their average-at-best performances on that team. The next year, rookie Jeff Burroughs hit 30 homers and drove in 85 for the 105-loss Rangers, and was recognized.

Honk, honk.

Imagine if the Phillies played a full 162 — Carlton could have had a couple more starts in pursuit of 30 wins on a team that surely would have lost 100. We’re doing more math here and … still, it doesn’t add up.

Phillies reliever Mac Scarce explained it best: “Every fourth day we were the best team in baseball. Every other day we were the worst.”

How it goes in the scorebook

Surely, you jest. And don’t call me Shirley.

In our bookkeeping, the Carlton Oversight is a deal breaker as to how we embrace this project.

Love the concept, appreciate all the research that was put into it, enjoy the random asides and comic relief from this member of the Central Pennsylvania chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research. But it can be a tough sell to go on and on about the not-really-all-that-great single-season highlights of players from those Mets or Cubs teams of the 1960s or Padres teams of the 1970s – the worst teams we recall from our baseball upbringing.

Sure, point out Tom Seaver won the NL Rookie of the Year with a 16-win, 2.76 ERA season for the 101-loss ’67 Mets, or Nate Colbert did all kinds of damage for Padres’ teams that could never get up and running after their 1969 debut. And highlight some of those from decades past whose team didn’t allow them their proper due. Eventually, some made the Baseball Hall of Fame. It happens.

But at some point, this runs out of steam, and substance, and we can’t put our finger on just why.

Maybe another thing that bothers us is the fact Johnny Podres is on the cover in a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball card. In his 15 seasons between 1953 and ‘69, Podres never played on a team that lost more than 100 games except in his last year, with San Diego in their ’69 expansion year. A 5-6 record and 4.31 ERA in 17 games hardly deserves mention — and it doesn’t here. Did we miss something somewhere?

Trying not to burst any bubbles here, but maybe it’s another lesson about the perils of self-publishing. Editors and fact checkers are important not just for factual accuracy, but sounding boards to clean things up and secure reader credibility.

It’s a tough act to fill Bozo-sized shoes. If there is a sequel that involves teams from the year 2000 going forward, maybe we can see a revised assessment of things.

You can look it up: More to ponder

== The sports editor of The York Dispatch in York County, Pa., has a piece last June on Williams.

== Also from Williams: “Stealing First: And Other Old-Time Baseball Stories” (Sunbury Press, $14.95, Released in April, 2020)

== One more Bozo reference for the road: Trevor Bell, a first-round draft pick of the Angels in 2005 out of Crescenta Valley High, played three seasons for them from ’09 to ’11. He ended up in Cincinnati for one last fling as a 27-year-old. He may be best remembered as having a tattoo on his left arm of Bozo the Clown – because his grandfather, Bob Bell, played Bozo on WGN-TV in Chicago from 1960 through ‘84.

“He did it for 25 years straight — if I could play baseball for 25 years, that’d be incredible,” Trevor Bell once said. “It’d take him three-and-a-half hours to put his makeup on every day. He’d be up at 3:30 in the morning putting on his makeup and he did it for the kids, and that’s all he did it for. He did it to lighten kids’ days, it was something that was totally selfless. It’s a lost thing nowadays in the arts. It’s still lost in the arts. As far as acting, baseball, it’s keeping those things alive.”




Day 10 of 2022 baseball books: Let’s not geek out — just do the math and follow the path of Professor Carroll

“The Science of Baseball: The Math, Technology
and Data Behind the Great America Pastime”

The author:
Will Carroll

The publishing info:
Skyhorse Publishing
188 pages
$14.99
Released March 15, 2022

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

The review in 90 feet or less

Ted Williams always seemed to us, especially in our young impressionable existence of Little League and high-school days, to be one of baseball’s greatest scientific minds. Long before he got his head around the theories that crossed over in the advancement of cryogenics.

Mostly from years as a fairly successful ball swatter (and perhaps, using that while gunning down enemy aircraft during Navy and Marine Corp missions), he was in a position to share his knowledge during what was only a four-year, hands-on instructional time as manager of the Washington Senators (and their first year moving to become the Texas Rangers) from ’69 to ’72, after he turned 50.

Yet in those 600-plus games, his teams were only above .500 in his first year (a fourth-place finish in the American League) and got progressively worse (a 100-loss season in the 154-game shortened year of ’72). As angry as he may have been, his record shows he was never ejected from a game.

In Dave Fleming’s piece for BillJamesOnline in 2008, investigating the theory that good players hardly made good managers, he wrote: “Ted Williams was probably the smartest hitter to ever play professional baseball. But as a manager for the Senators, Teddy would routinely get pissed off at his player’s inability to do things he did. Why couldn’t they see that pitch was four inches off the goddamn plate? How come they didn’t know a change-up was coming? You see where I’m going? Williams imagined that everyone had the capacity to judge ball from strike just like he did. He didn’t buy all that crap about his miracle eyesight. He thought, “Damnit, you just gotta work at it.””

In the sweet spot of those four years, Williams did a Sports Illustrated series with the great John Underwood. Call them the OG of TED talks.

They became two books for Simon & Schuster. The first was “My Turn At Bat: The Story of My Life” in June, 1969, reissued in 1988.

The second, “The Science of Hitting,” a 1971 color-coded classic that kids my age could actually visualize. If only our 10-year-old selves had any self-discipline or control of our growing limbs and necks to do anything productive with this information. We were no Tony Gwynn (although born within a year of each other), but growing up in Long Beach, he read it, and it worked for him.

The original “Science” can still be found through used-book store searches. On Amazon, nearly 1,500 reviews still have it carrying a five-star certification, particularly impressive in the pre-analytics, pre-video film review era. So many of the reviews today talk about how someone bought it for their grandson and saw the results work. An updated mass-market paperback version came out in 1982, but a more true-to-original reprint followed in ’86 and 2013 by Simon & Schuster/Touchtone.

In Underwood’s forward to the book, he explains Williams’ exit velocity to do this book was to a) expound on the difficult process why even the best fail seven out of 10 games, and b) point out the wrong things told for too many years.

Like …

The fact that it’s a slight upswing, not a downswing. The ball angles down, not straight up. You don’t need calculus to see it. It’s obvious. And it means the best way to hit it is to swing slightly up, not level or down. Meet it squarely along its path. They got that wrong for years, ever since Ty Cobb.”

The collision of a ball on the bat lasts only about 1/1000th of a second, something we picked up from the 1994 HarperCollins book, “The Physics of Baseball,” by Robert K. Adair, a Sterling Professor of Physics at Yale. He also got into why a headwind of 10 mph could make a 400-foot homer into a 370-foot flyout, why a curveball won’t break more than 3 ½ inches despite what it looks like, and why a batted ball should never be able to travel farther than 545 feet because energy is generated from thighs and torso, and the arms and hands are just transferring that energy to the body’s “rotational and traverse motion to the bat … the hands and wrists (related to) the energy of the bat is almost negligible.” And, balls go farthest when “hit at a launching angle of about 35 degrees.”

It has been updated and put out several re-issues as late at 2002. That book came out, as we read, when baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti asked his friend, Adair, to advise him on the physics of baseball in 1987. It begat this book.

Adair, it’s been pointed out, isn’t really a “baseball guy.” Will Carroll most definitely is. We’re disappointed it’s taken us this long to realize that fact.

Continue reading “Day 10 of 2022 baseball books: Let’s not geek out — just do the math and follow the path of Professor Carroll”

Day 9 of 2022 baseball books: The Cannon Street Little League team of 1955, in “our darkest yet finest hour”

“Stolen Dreams: The 1955 Cannon Street All-Stars
And Little League Baseball’s Civil War”

The author:
Chris Lamb

The publishing info:
University of Nebraska Press
400 pages
$34.95
Released April 1, 2022

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

The review in 90 feet or less

Little League memories can make us feel less young and more reflective today.

== One of the things discovered in my parents’ attic among the hundreds of family mementos in boxes, bags and trunks was this jacket, for making the 1973 Aviation Little League All-Star team. It’s like finding a pair of Hang Ten board shorts of an OP T-shirt. Let’s see … ummmm. Nope, it doesn’t fit. But it fits in a box in my garage now. Not sure which Hall of Fame to donate it to from here.

It jogs wonderful memories of playing games against All-Star teams in the Southern California area of District 37 – over at Sportsman’s Park in Inglewood near the Forum, up by the oil wells in Ladera Heights, trips to Westchester and Compton. At the time, either all or almost all of those rosters were full of African-American kids, coaches and parents. Our entire league may have had only a couple non-white players. Winning districts meant advancing to area regional and state regional and eventually … broadening our perspective of where we lived, and who our neighbors were.

== Remember Mo’ne Davis? She wrote her memoir in 2015 called “Remember My Name: My Story from First Pitch to Game Changer” (HarperCollins, for kids 8-12 years). As a 13-year-old eighth-grader from South Philadelphia in the summer of ’14, she was the first girl to win a game pitching in the Little League World Series. She pitched a shutout along the way to the journey to Williamsport, Pa. On the cover of Sports Illustrated. Her jersey is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Mark Hyman, assistant professor of sports management at George Washington University, told the New York Times: “She’s the most talked-about baseball player on earth right now.”

Wanna feel real old? This summer, she’ll turn 21. She’s in her second year, sitting out a season during the pandemic, playing middle infield on the historically black college Hampton University softball team, having played soccer, basketball and softball in high school.

Time lines may move on different trajectories for different memories, but they have one thing in common: A relentless among of inertia going forward, tripping up how much we want to reflect back on it.

Putting those two things in the context of this important new book that preserves the history of the 1955 Cannon Street All Stars of Charlottesville, South Carolina by Chris Lamb reveals a couple more points.

My own Little League window was less than 20 years after what those kids had to experience. I was born just about five years after that unacceptable moment in time, and grew up in an area of South L.A. near Normandie and 95th Street. White Flight after the Watts Riots was a reality.

The Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars didn’t technically qualify to make it to the Little League World Series at Williamsport – they kept advancing by forfeit through their regional playoffs because all-white teams refused to play with them. They were about to go to Rome, Georgia for the next round that, had they won, would have qualified them for Williamsport. But that was derailed by officials, who instead gave them an invitation to come and watch and be introduced anyway to the crowd. Which began a chant, “Let them play.” Which also reminds us of another Little League moment — one of the “Bad News Bears” movies when they’re kicked off the field at the Astrodome and the crowd wouldn’t allow it.

Think not just how Davis eight years ago dominated the national spotlight playing for the Taney Dragons of Philadelphia with a roster otherwise full of boys were also a mix of races and ethnicity. That year, the all-black Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago won the U.S. championship. They had a huge celebration in Chicago’s Millennium Park that August.

But eventually it had its title taken away and vacate wins in the international tournament months later when an investigation revealed to falsified boundaries to field ineligible players. George Castle covers the team story his 2016 book “Jackie Robinson West: The Triumph and Tragedy of America’s Favorite Little League Team,” but also has the story about the challenges and stereotypes about an inner-city Little League squad. Fraud charges against two coaches were dismissed in 2021 by Little League International but their championship wasn’t reinstated.

In today’s Little League world, all these things connect dots, points in history that reflect changing times.

In 1858, Taney Street came to being in Philadelphia. Some citizens are actively seeking the city to make a change.

In 2020, the Taney Youth Baseball Association changed its name to the Philadelphia Dragons Sports Association. Taney Street, where the organization resides, is widely believed to be named after Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney. He authored the major opinion in the 1857 Dred Scott Case that all blacks — slaves as well as free — were not and could never become citizens of the United States. The court also declared the 1820 Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, thus permitting slavery in all of the country’s territories.

On page 116 of Lamb’s book about the Cannon Street team: “Whites in Charleston may have seen African Americans on the streets during the daytime hours or in the back of a bus or mowing the lawn or clipping the hedges of a white person’s home, but they were, as (writer and scholar) Ralph Ellison said, largely invisible. Ellison’s 1953 novel, ‘Invisible Man,’ told whites something they probably didn’t know and it told Blacks something most of them knew too well: Blacks were largely invisible to whites – unless whites saw them doing something they didn’t like.”

White baseball teams – read in: parents, administrators, district organizers – didn’t like how a black team got this far into a Little League tournament when it seemed to expand beyond the segregated boundaries that were created for it near the Cannon Street YMCA.

Again context: Brown v. Board of Education is in the news. In August, ’55, the Emmett Till lynching in Mississippi. Four months later, Rosa Parks is a household name, and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts are on.

Continue reading “Day 9 of 2022 baseball books: The Cannon Street Little League team of 1955, in “our darkest yet finest hour””