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.

Day 32 of 2022 baseball books: The Year of the Kaat

“Good as Gold: My Eight Decades in Baseball”

The author:
Jim Kaat
With Douglas Lyons

The publishing info:
Triumph Books
304 pages
$28
Released April 19, 2022

The links:
The publishers website
The Baseball Hall of Fame 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

Six decades into his life — four as an MLB player and coach, two as a broadcaster — Jim Kaat paused after the 2002 baseball season to write what he may have thought was the first and only autobiography he’d need or want to have published — “Still Pitching: Musing From the Mound and the Microphone,” for Triumph Books, released in April, ’03 (with Phil Pepe).

In the acknowledgements, Kaat was wise to include the contents of a note his son had recently sent him. In it, Jim Jr. acknowledged his dad’s final year of Hall of Fame eligibility had come and quietly passed the previous winter — with still no Cooperstown induction. At least he got 26.2 percent of the Baseball Writers Association of America’s vote in his last year (11th place, between Steve Garvey and Tommy John, and ahead of future Hall of Fame inductees Jack Morris and Alan Trammel). That total was a jump from the 19.5 he got in his first year of eligibility in 1989.

Wrote Jim Jr.:

“I just want to take a moment to congratulate you on your 130 writer votes. I know it does not matter to you and you never expressed a real concern, but if it means anything to you, you will always be a Hall of Famer in my book.

And one other thing, Dad, I want you to remember that scene from ‘The Natural.’ Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford, asks Max Mercy, a New York sportswriter played by Robert Duvall, ‘Did you ever play the game, Max?’ His answer: ‘No, I never did. But I am here to protect the game.’ And Roy says, ‘Whose game, Max?’ And after an awkward pause, Max says: ‘Either way, Roy, hero or goat, you are going to make me a great story.’ And I say this to you because in the future when your peers on the Veterans Committee vote you into the Hall of Fame, that will be the true measure of your success. Because in the end, writers write — that is all they do well — and players play and there is no higher accomplishment than the respect from your peers. I love you, Dad.”

Well, guess what happened about 20 years later …

Kaat, along with Minnie Minoso, Gil Hodges and Tony Oliva, gathered enough votes by the Golden Days Era Committee (looking at players from the 1950-1969 era) and squeezed into the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022 for ceremonies conducted this afternoon.

Kaat needed 12 of the 16 voters’ approval to get to 75 percent — and got exactly that (as did Hodges and Olivia)

His second autobio was actually ready to roll before that. Back in November, 2021, when some of the baseball-related books scheduled to come out this spring were posted on websites, note the tentative cover. So with that, Team Kaat could update the cover plate, and do so in plenty of time to coincide with his formal Hall pass in Cooperstown, N.Y.

So what changed? Peer pressure and perspective? Stats and stories? His consistent presence in the game as a broadcaster? Probably all that and more.

Kaat’s baseball card number obviously hadn’t changed — 25 MLB seasons, starting in 1959 when he was 20 and played for the original Washington Senators franchise. Trips through the Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia and the New York Yankees, then winding down in fan-friendly St. Louis for ages 42, 43 and 44 (and finally on a World Series title team) when it all wrapped up in 1983.

(And now that we’ve become interested in such things about a player’s “last time out,” we see Kaat came in the eight inning, gave up a single to Dave Parker and then finished off Joaquin Andujar’s 13-6 win at Pittsburgh on July 1 with a 1-2-3.)

In 2021, Kaat still had 283 wins in 898 games, 180 complete games, 31 shutouts, and 4,500-plus innings to record 2,461 strike outs. A career WAR of 50.5 — which didn’t exist as as a measuring stick back then — was nothing to snort at.

A Game 7 matchup against Sandy Koufax in the ’65 World Series gave him a sizeable spotlight at the height of his career. Kaat defeated Koufax in Game 2 at Minnesota, 5-1, where Kaat drove in two runs with an eight-inning single. Koufax’s four-hit shutout defeated Kaat in Game 5 at Dodger Stadium, 7-0.

(Original Caption) Closeups of Jim Kaat of the Minnesota Twins pitching in the fifth game of the World Series. The Twins ultimately lost the game 7-0.

Kaat could have had another Series appearance: On the last Saturday of the ’67 season, he went to the mound against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. The Twins were one win from wrapping up the AL pennant. Minnesota was up 1-0 in the third when Kaat came out with an elbow injury. The Red Sox won, then took the pennant on Sunday.

Three All-Star selections, three 20-win seasons, including leading the AL with 25 in 1966, where he had 41 starts, 19 complete games and 304 2/3 innings.

But here’s the catch: What seemed to separate him – and put him into a Greg Maddux-type conversation for comparison’s sake – was 16 Gold Glove awards. His abbreviated whip-it-up-there windup put him in perfect position to be an extra defender.

Even in 1969, when he had eight errors and a career-low .826 fielding percentage, he still won a Gold Glove, following the previous six seasons and continuing what would be seven more in a row.

As Baseball-Reference.com points out, there are a few ways of sizing up his stats that don’t measure up to an “average HOFer.”

The “average” Hall of Fame pitcher – which seems to be an oxymoron — has a 73.0 career WAR. But something called the “Hall of Fame Monitor” very much (lately) played in his favor – his was 130, with a “likely HOFer” was pulling about 100.

This ball signed by Jim Kaat acknowledging “Mickey Mantle hit 7 HRs off of me — all solo HRs” is on eBay.com for about $250.

That stat is a creation of Bill James and attempts to assess how likely an active player might be to making the Hall. A 130 is called a “virtual clinch.” It’s based on a point system James assigned to various statistical plateaus and honors reached during individual seasons as well as career totals. Kaat racks up most of his calculated numbers with career games (30 points), career wins (25 points, at being above 275), 15-or-more win seasons (36 total points) and one each for the Gold Gloves. Even though he was fifth in the AL MVP voting in 1966 and the only pitcher in the top five with his 25-13 record and 2.75 ERA with 304 2/3 innings, there was only one Cy Young Award given out at that time. That season, it went unanimously to Sandy Koufax (27-9, 1.73 ERA, 317 strikeouts). The next year, 1967, they finally gave one in each league.

An AL Cy in ’66 would have given Kaat five more total points.

It is undoubtedly a career accumulation that gets it done in a Don Sutton-esque fashion, and a body of voters who understand that.

But don’t overlook the decades in between when Kaat has been one of the most concise, sensible and knowledge TV broadcasters in the game, helping keep his voice in play as well as his “brand,” to a point where the game could give him added validaity had it only went the extra yard to induct him into the Hall as a player.

At age 83, with more than 50 years associated with the game, it has finally happened, and James Lee Kaat is here to experience it.

Jim Kaat speaks to the media in Cooperstown on Saturday, July 23 prior to his Sunday Hall of Fame induction.

And how does any of that figure in the context of this new book? It keeps Kaat’s consistent, congruent and clear-and-present-danger commentary relevant as today’s game continues to try to figure out what it’s trying to accomplish.

Amazon offers a $35 Kindle edition of four of David Halberstam’s most important sports-related titles. In our book, “Breaks of the Game” on the 1977 Portland TrailBlazers belongs in this company.

In that 2003 autobiography, esteemed journalist David Halberstam wrote an introduction and included a story about how he had been listening to a Yankees broadcast and couldn’t help but be captured by what he heard:

“At a certain point it struck me: Even though I am a lifelong baseball fan, there is still much for me to learn about the game. … It was great fun and listening to Jim Kaat gradually pulled me away from my work. After a few weeks, I wrote in an ESPN column that, in what was a damaged year in baseball, one in which the treat of a strike hung over most of the season, Kaat was my hero because he seemed to reflect what the game is all about. Gradually it struck me that I was listening to one of the best broadcasters I’d ever heard.”

In that July 2002 column Halberstam references, he also wrote: “One of my great pleasures has been a surprising one — the simple delight I take in listening to Jim Kaat, as he broadcasts the Yankee games. Quietly with no blather and bombast, he gives what is one of the most enjoyable and thoughtful ongoing seminars on pitching I’ve ever heard. Jim Kaat, you’re right up there for my MVP.”

Kaat already had the credibility as an observer of the game decades ago. But the game has changed much over the last 20 years, and consider this an important and viable refresh with much more circumstances to examine and help give us more to consider, whether on social media or, at last, in book form.

With Bob Costas often as his wingman on national MLB Network or TBS broadcasts — Kaat “retired” after the 2006 season from the Yankees’ YES Network but was likely forced out — Kaat’s conversations are in the same ballpark as what we enjoyed hearing a contemporary, Al Downing, when he was with the Dodgers as part of their broadcasting team many years ago. Speaking from experience on how the game was once played and how it presents itself today, one could argue it’s neither better nor worse, but just different.

In an easy-to-get-through chapters and presentations, Kaat will get his points across in a polite discourse — mostly in Chapter 6 — where he’ll comment on things such as:

Released in 2009.

== The game’s best time period: “I would have loved to have played in the era right after the players came back from World War II. There were just 16 teams. You played each team 22 times and traveled by train. I love train travel. That was baseball’s golden era for me: 1946-1957. When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, Western civilization began to go downhill. Not really. THat’s just the voice of an old dinosaur who loved the hit-and-run, lead-off triples, squeeze plays and pitchers who could field their positions like Bobby Shantz.”

== Today’s players: “I’m happy whenever the Dodgers catcher Will Smith gets a big hit. He had no chains, beard or visible tattoos. He’s my kind of young man.”

== The 2020 and ’21 seasons: “Sixty games (in ’20, and a Dodgers World Series title)? That’s like playing 40 holes at the Masters and celebrating like you actually won it. Not legitimate. It should have been started earlier so they could have played at least 100 games. Stubborn leadership on both sides prevented that from happening. There were some disappointing parts of the 2021 season. With the friendly atmosphere on the field between players, some games looked like they’re intrasquad practice games. … and nine no-hitters! The influence of science is evident. With overthinking and input from the dugout the analytics department, the games lack a rhythm. … The game needs a more positive vibe.”

== Analytics: “Oh, how I wish those analytic people would have been working for the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Seven of the 1965 World Series! We had a couple of men on base, and Sandy Koufax was going through the batting order for the third time. He worked out of the jam and shut us out 2-0. That was the last seven-game World Series where every win was a complete-game win.”

(Make the time to enjoy NBC’s beautifully restored black-and-white coverage of that game with Vin Scully and Ray Scott on the call:)

== Alex Rodriguez and steroid use: In context, Kaat documents an odd exchange he once had as a Yankees broadcaster and had to comment about Alex Rodriguez’s inability to push across runners in late-inning situations. ARod didn’t appreciate it and they had a talk, and “we have been fine ever since, though I don’t think it’s right that he gets all the exposure he does on TV and was even a candidate to buy the Mets. If I was commissioner, he would have been banned for life after his second offense. He is a well-mannered but insecure individual who seems to crave attention.”

Right on target as usual. He said as much in a 2014 blog post: “I have a question for Commissioner Selig as he heads into retirement. Why is Alex Rodriguez still allowed to play baseball and Pete Rose is serving a lifetime suspension? I don’t agree with what Pete did and I wish he had been remorseful. He didn’t admit he made a mistake and that hurt him. But Alex has not been overly remorseful, if remorseful at all. Unfortunately, his Hall of Fame numbers and talent will not be how he is defined. I think he will be remembered as the most selfish, arrogant, and self-centered player in history. Maybe a compromise since he wasn’t banned for life a couple years ago, which I certainly think he should have been. Start a fund for former players who are indigent, ill and/or have not much quality of life. Maybe name it the Alex Rodriguez I Wish I Had Been More Humble, Honest and Respectful of the Integrity of the Game Fund. Just a thought.”

Ultimately, the game has become something he doesn’t connect to as well as he once did, and it’s a fact that he could be done with it.

On page 199: “Tony Kubek … passed his job as the analyst on the MSG Network on to me because he lost interest in the way the game was being played and operated. I’m afraid my day of feeling that way is coming. I hope the way it is operated and played attracts a lot of new young fans. But it is far from its original concept of watching a couple of hours of action on a warm spring or summer afternoon where it was quite enough to hear the ball hit the bat sitting in the stands. I’m 83 as I write this. I am concerned about the game appealing to young fans in the years to come. I hope I’m wrong.”

So do we. And this is the right place to express that opinion.

How it goes in the scorebook

This is a fitting calling card for “Kitty” Kaat to have with him in Cooperstown.

Yet, deep down, we all know it a bronze plaque amidst the game’s immortals could hardly measure up to this … glass vase? — he recently received from the New York Yankees.

In late June, Kaat was made to stand near home plate and hold the New York Yankees’ Lifetime Achievement Award.

Why? Why not. But it comes perhaps with some shade thrown in.

During a Yankees-Twins telecast on MLB Network earlier in June, Kaat had been talking up Yankees pitcher Nestor Cortes ability to mow down hitters. “Nestor The Molester” was the phrase Kaat decided to use in describing Cortes’ nastiness.

The blowback was … notable in these days of social media shaming and all that involves. Kaat apologized. Cortes said he wasn’t offended.

And when it was decided by someone in the Yankees front office (George Costanza?) that Kaat needed some sort of public atonement with a dubious recognition that sounds like things the former president gave out to his friends like pardon, and they had run out of room in Monument Park, the team had Cortes present it to Kaat prior to a game he did with Costas for MLB Network.

Because, after all, Kaat did pitch 44 of his 898 games in Yankees pinstripes, none as a starter, covering the back half of 1979 and the first month of the 1980 season, and amassing a 2-4 record and 4.12 ERA before they sold him off to the Cardinals.

Imagine the Dodgers trying to hijack Rickey Henderson’s Hall of Fame induction by giving him the same kind of “lifetime” contribution to their franchise for the 30 games he played at the end of 2003 — highlighted in our review of Howard Bryant’s new biography on Henderson.

Kaat, by the way, was also pushed into another head-scratching moment eight months ago when, last October, he apologized after saying teams should try to “get a 40-acre field full of” players who look like Chicago White Sox infielder Yoan Moncada. Ask Spike Lee for some context to that — the reference to how the U.S. government once promised freed slaves 40 acres and a mule following the Civil War.

It didn’t sound like Kaat was referring specifically to that, but … are we good now?

One more thing to consider: Is there anyone whose been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a player and then won the Ford C. Frick Award honoring one’s work as a broadcaster?

Nope.

Could Kaat be the first? That could be the MLB EGOT.

Kaat, who studied speech and journalism while playing baseball at Hope College before signing with the Senators in 1957, has frequently been on first-draft Frick Award ballots that often get winnowed down to a final eight-or-10 names. In 2004, he was already being considered, having logged 17 years working for the Yankees, Braves and Twins, plus his time with CBS, ABC, ESPN and The Baseball Network.

Of the 340 members now enshired in the Baseball Hall of Fame after today’s ceremonies — that includes players, managers, umpire, executive, owners and contributors — the ones who’d have strongest consideration to also get a Frick Award might be Richie Ashburn, Bert Blyleven, Lou Boudreau, Dizzy Dean, Don Drysdale, Harry Heilmann, Ralph Kiner, Joe Morgan, Jim Palmer, Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto and Don Sutton.

Perhaps John Smoltz or Pedro Martinez, if there is a length of time involved in their mike careers.

One could make a case for Blyleven, Boudreau, Rizzuto and Reese not even deserving of getting in as a player, but had the benefit of a broadcasting career keeping their names in circulation for voters. Dean barely logged in the necessary 10 years required for Hall of Fame induction as a player and compiled just 150 wins mostly from 1932 to ’41, but that included a stretch of 18, 20, 30, 28 and 24 – very Koufaxian. Then came the 1937 All-Star game injury and a spiral. Dean got into the Hall as a player in ’53, staying in the public eye as a colorful broadcaster for the Cardinals and Browns of St. Louis, then the Yankees, followed by national broadcasters Mutural Radio, ABC and CBS through 1965. Dean was among the finalists for the Frick Award in 2021, ’17, ’16, ’15, ’10, ’07, 06, ’05 … at some point, someone figured he’d just get in by voter exhaustion.

Drysdale was also a Frick finalist in ’21 (won by Al Michaels) and ’17 (won by Bob Costas). Morgan and Reese were also a finalist in ’17. Heilmann, elected as a player in 1952 after 19 years primarily with the Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds (1913-32), was the Tigers’ radio voice from 1934-1950. He was on the Frick ballots in 2019, ’16 and ’15. Ashburn and Kiner were among the 10 candidates for the Frick in ‘15.

After the first Frick award was given in ’78, seven former players won it — Jerry Coleman, Jack Graney, Joe Garagiola, Bob Uecker, Tony Kubek, Tim McCarver and Ken Harrelson. But none were really in Hall of Fame player discussion. Graney, after 14 years as an outfielder with Cleveland, was the first former big leaguer to broadcast a game, and he did it for 22 years, as a pioneer on the medium.

Something to think about … And to begin preparing to happen for Kaat’s sake, and his stake in the game.

You can look it up: More to ponder

== While we’re in this Hall of Fame moment, consider a pre-order on “Baseball Memories and Dreams: Reflections on the National Pastime from the Baseball Hall of Fame” (National Baseball Hall of Fame Books, $29.95, 265 pages, due out Oct. 4, 2022). It is said to be “recollections of Hall of Famers and narratives from top baseball writers” picked up from the Baseball Hall of Fame’s member magazine, “Baseball Memories & Dreams.” Included are postings by Johnny Bench, Peter Gammons, John Grisham, Tim Kurkjian, Ichiro Suzuki and Joe Torre.

== Kaat talks about his book on SportsBylineUSA.com.

== The Holland (Mich.) Sentinel excerpts all the Kaat material about him growing up in Zeeland, Mich., a town today with a population of about 5,000, near Lake Michigan just southwest of Grand Rapids. Kaat dedicated his first book to his father, John Kaat, who worked at the local Dutch turkey hatchery but “known as ‘Mr. Baseball’ in Zeeland and who took Jim to his first game at Briggs Stadium in 1946.

== One other previous Kaat-scratched-out book for Triumph: The 2015 “If These Walls Could Talk: New York Yankees,” with Greg Jennings. Also, in April 2023, a paperback of “Good As Gold” is scheduled to be released for $18.95, perhaps with a reflection of his Hall of Fame induction experience as the new intro.

== More books by co-author and SABR member Douglas Lyons include “100 Years of Who’s Who in Baseball” (Lyons Press, 2015); “Can You Believe It?: 30 Years of Insider Stories with the Boston Red Sox,” (with Joe Castiglione, Triumph Books, 2012),” “Out of Left Field, Short Hops and Foul Tips: 1,734 Wild and Wacky Baseball Facts,” (with brother and famous movie critic Jeffrey Lyons, Taylor Trade Publishing, 2005), “Catching Heat: The Jim Leyritz Story,” (co-authored with Leyritz and brother Jeffrey Lyons, HCI, 2011), “Curveballs and Screwballs: Over 1,286 Incredible Baseball Facts, Finds, Flukes, and More!” (with brother Jeffrey, Random House, 2001), and “From an Orphan to a King: Eddie Feigner” (with the famous softball star Feigner, Immortal Investments Publishing, 2004).

Day 31 of 2022 baseball books: Shenanigans, again and again, and the doctrines that go with ’em

“Intentional Balk: Baseball’s Thin Line Between Innovation and Cheating”

The authors:
Daniel R. Levitt
Mark Armour

The publishing info:
Clyde Hill Publishing
258 pages
$22
Released July 12, 2022

The links:
The publishers website
The book’s official website
At Mark Armour’s website
At Daniel Levitt’s website
At Bookshop.org
At Indiebound.org
At SkylightBooks.com
At DieselBookstore.com
At Powells.com; at Vromans.com; at TheLastBookStoreLA; at PagesABookstore.com
At Amazon.com; at BarnesAndNoble.com

The review in 90 feet or less

A Dodgers’ ball girl removes an inflatable trash can thrown onto the field as she runs behind Houston Astros right fielder Michael Brantley during the first inning of the Astros-Dodgers game Aug. 3, 2021 at Dodger Stadium. Many in the crowd of 52,692, the largest attendance at a game that season, jeered Astros players, feeling they had been cheated out of the 2017 World Series title. A half-dozen inflatable trash cans got tossed on the field, a reference to the Astros’ banging on real trash cans to signal opponents’ pitchers in their scam. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Consider the headline in the Washington Post last April: “Cheating Is Part of Baseball, Says MLB. A Federal Court Agrees.”

Say it ain’t so, Jose Altuve.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had just rejected a lawsuit by fans who were already duped into thinking they’d make money with the fantasy baseball website DraftKings.com, but now claimed their betting results were compromised by a couple of illegal sign-stealing scandals that happened between 2017 and 2019.

A fan holds a sign during a spring training baseball game between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals in February, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The plaintiffs, who meticulously built their faux teams with real players and lived and died on the points they gained based on those real players’ performances, claimed they were protected by the MLB’s plausibility that all games would be played fairly. That didn’t happen. A league investigation found the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox violated rules that bar stealing signs via electronic means. In the DraftKings’ fans eyes, that meant their player performances were skewed by inaccurate fantasy stats.

If only this was a victim-less crime.

The court wasn’t asked to decide whether cheating actually occurred. Or whether the MLB misrepresented its product. Or if the plaintiffs relied on the MLB’s credibility. The question was whether all of these claims, if proved, would give rise to liability.

It did not, the MLB insisted in its defense. The judges agreed. They said: “(A)ny reasonable spectator or consumer of sports competitions — including participants in fantasy sports contests based upon such sporting events — is undoubtedly aware that cheating is, unfortunately, part of sports and is one of many unknown variables that can affect player performance and statistics on any given day, and over time.”

The court of public opinion may disagree. But that’s the deal, bro. Go have a fantasy parade for your team now.

Somewhere in his home at Vero Beach, Fla., Fay Vincent’s head exploded. That incident has yet to be updated on the Wikipedia page: “Cheating in Baseball.”

In 2002, Fay Vincent wrote this book for Simon & Schuster.

Vincent, a former entertainment lawyer, securities regulator and business executive who became the accidental MLB commissioner following the passing of Bart Giamatti in 1989, bared his baseball soul in a 2013 interview with America magazine, an intellectual weekly publication by Catholic Jesuits about faith and culture. The church of baseball is always in their crosshairs.

In 2010, Fay Vincent wrote this book for Simon & Schuster.

On the subject of the morality of baseball, Vincent was asked to expand on an op-ed piece he had done published in the Wall Street Journal that gave him real estate to talk about what he would have done with players who were caught using performance-enhancing drugs. That headline read: “Tell the Baseball Druggies: Strike Out, You’re Out.”

For American magazine, according to a transcript of the interview, Vincent laid it out there about the sport’s seemingly acceptance of various shades of defrauding, deception and dishonesty:

I think all cheating is dangerous and pernicious … I think one of the problems with sports, especially with baseball, is we sort of smiled at spitballs, tinkering with bats. Those seemed to us to be innocent forms of cheating. But it’s like saying we’re going to permit a little cheating on your income tax. I mean if you cheat, you cheat and I think this kind of performance enhancing drugs is a major form of cheating. It’s also illegal. It’s violative of the prohibited substance act. The federal statute says: You can’t be using these drugs without a prescription, you can’t be selling them in any event. I think one of the problems with baseball has been that we’ve been too tolerant of what we call innocent forms of cheating. There is no such thing as innocent cheating.”

Vincent’s run as commissioner was brief, ending in 1992 when some baseball owners decided he was too much a threat to their business and could have someone like future Hall of Fame inductee and Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig there instead to watch out for them with a strike/walkout looming.

America editor in chief George W. Hunt was moved to address the situation that sent Vincent away from his lofty post: “Ever since that bite of the tasty fruit, the way of the world has been that third-raters conspire to denigrate or oust first-raters in their midst. ’Twas ever so in playgrounds, factories, boardrooms, even churches, since the same Tree of Knowledge feeds the appetites of ignorance and stupidity as well. This sad tale was retold again recently when a handful of dissident owners, alarmed at integrity and intelligence, persuaded some straddlers to vote ‘no confidence’ in the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Mr. Fay Vincent Jr. The vote was 18-9, with one abstention, requesting his resignation. Mr. Vincent originally intended to contest this dubious decision and fight to the end. Fortunately, he changed his mind, and his leave-taking was as dignified and forthright as his conduct in office has been.”

In this new book about the history of how the game has managed to survive despite those who find gray areas to manipulate in its credibility, SABR stalwarts and unimpeachable historians Daniel R. Levitt and Mark Armour aren’t demanding a call to action that pushes current commissioner Rob Manfred to do a better job cleaning up the sport from its cheating past, present and likely future.

Whatever you think of his performance since he took over in from Vincent’s predecessor, Bud Selig, in 2015, Manfred has already seen plenty of pushback from how he handled the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal — doing his best to appease the owners by punishing team GMs and managers involved – but not players – in the wake of a longer investigation.

He says he has the best interest of the game’s future – mostly because sports wagering is becoming a business partner, and fans (see above) want guarantees about the game being conducted on the up and up. It is ultimately why you’ll someday soon see robotic umpires at home plate on balls and strike calls, and a likely expansion of replay to make sure everything is as close to perfect as possible.

Levitt and Armour, as MLB historian John Thorn writes in an endorsement of the book, “may raise an eyebrow at this infraction or that one, but they are not moralists. For them, play is serious fun, and so is their book.”

We start there because, if you’re looking for a revolutionary chapter after chapter of essays damning the game and throwing intense shade on those who’ve failed to do something about it, that’s not the point. Instead, it’s something much more entertaining, educational and enlightening.

Continue reading “Day 31 of 2022 baseball books: Shenanigans, again and again, and the doctrines that go with ’em”