In case you hadn’t heard, a movie chronicling the life story of the great Jackie Robinson comes out two weeks from today. It looks promising. Check out the trailer!
Here’s a fun little story I found:
On March 27, 2008, Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui made an unexpected announcement: that he had gotten married the day before. Matsui had kept the wedding a secret, telling only friends and family, but keeping it from the press — and, apparently, from teammates as well.
Only a few weeks prior, Matsui had made a bet with teammates Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu about who would be the first to get married. Neither Jeter nor Abreu knew anything about Matsui’s already-pending marriage and were both stunned upon hearing the news. Abreu, once he got over the shock, simply laughed and agreed to write Matsui a check.
Jeter, however, was not so ready to give in. He claimed that Matsui had played him for a fool and arranged for a renegotiation of the terms of the bet. Matsui told the press, “If he doesn’t get married within a year, I win the bet. Basically the bet was, whoever gets married first. Jeter said he himself doesn’t have a girlfriend, so he’s getting a one-year handicap.”
Kepner, Tyler. “Matsui Gets Married, and Not Just to Beat Jeter.” New York Times 27 March 2008. Web. Accessed 27 March 2013. http://bats.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/27/matsui-gets-married-and-tries-to-take-jeter-for-a-ride/
I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshiped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology.
You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring… which makes it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career. Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I’d never sleep with a player hitting under .250… not unless he had a lot of RBIs and was a great glove man up the middle.
You see, there’s a certain amount of life wisdom I give these boys. I can expand their minds. Sometimes when I’ve got a ballplayer alone, I’ll just read Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to him, and the guys are so sweet, they always stay and listen. ‘Course, a guy’ll listen to anything if he thinks it’s foreplay. I make them feel confident, and they make me feel safe, and pretty. ‘Course, what I give them lasts a lifetime; what they give me lasts 142 games. Sometimes it seems like a bad trade. But bad trades are part of baseball – now who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake? It’s a long season and you gotta trust it. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.
~Annie Savoy, Bull Durham
There is a certain undeniable charm to Minor League Baseball. Young, aspiring ball players in their late-teens and early-twenties, running out every ground ball as if his life depended on it. Spending their lives on the road in cheap motels, dreaming dreams of castle-like stadiums, celebrity fame, and million-dollar paychecks. One summer, a good friend and I took a road trip to Omaha to watch the Triple-A Royals (now the Storm Chasers) as they won a thrilling game with a walk-off home run. The tickets were cheap, the sun was hot, and the bleachers were uncomfortably hard, but it was still cool to sit there and think that each one of those players was a potential future Kansas City Royal.
The minor leagues as a farm system for major league teams, however, didn’t start out that way. Young players did not start their professional careers by signing with a major league team and then working their way up through their minor league structure. Rather, the minor leagues started out as entitites of their own; dozens of lower-level professional leagues out of which any major league ball club could scout promising talent, and attempt to persuade those players to join their particular big-league team. In other words, playing for a given minor league team did not obligate a player to join a specific major league club when they were ready to take the next step up.
What we know as the Minor Leagues today originally started out as the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. During a meeting at the Leland Hotel in Chicago, minor league executives formed the NAPBL on 5 September 1901. The executive elected Patrick T. Powers the first president of the association. During its first season, in 1902, the NA consisted of fourteen leagues and ninety-six teams. By 1909, those numbers increased to thirty-five leagues and 246 teams. Even united under the NA, however, major league teams played no direct role in the growth and development of future big-leaguers. The concept of farm teams was not born until the 1920s.
Branch Rickey joined the St. Louis Cardinals as president in 1917, moving over from the St. Louis Browns. He recognized early on that the city of St. Louis wasn’t quite large enough to adequately support two major league teams financially. Meanwhile, the National Agreement of 1921 exempted players in five of the leagues in the minors (including the top three of these leagues) from the annual player draft. The leagues, therefore, could hold onto players as long as they wished, or even hold out until a major league team offered the right price for a player. This had allowed the minor leagues as a whole to thrive, but it also resulted in disgruntled minor league players and hurt those Major League teams, such as the Cardinals, that did not possess fat checkbooks.
In order to ensure that the Cardinals could compete with teams like the Yankees and the Cubs, Rickey convinced the team’s majority owner, Sam Breadon, to purchase a controlling interest in the International League’s Syracuse team, the Texas League’s Houston club, as well as a string of other lower-level minor league teams. By 1930, seven minor league clubs were owned by or had close working agreements with the Cardinals. This allowed the organization watch and develop their own future players, molding them to become major leaguers.
In addition to developing the farm system, Rickey increased the number of scouts he hired and sent them out to sign as many young prospects as possible for as little money as possible. Out of the larger pool of ball players, the Cardinals were able to develop and discover quality players more consistently. On the flip side, of course, many promising young players opted for better-paying careers, rather than risk an attempt with baseball, which started out paying next to nothing.. Nevertheless, as a result of Rickey’s innovative system, the Cardinals quickly became one of the top clubs in the Majors, winning the World Series in 1926 over the Yankees, then securing another pennant in 1928 (only to lose the championship to the Yankees in a sweep).
The Detroit Tigers were the first to begin emulating the minor league farm system during the 1920s, and by the 1930s, all Major League teams were following suit. It was, you might say, an early form of Moneyball, a system that gave clubs with a financial disadvantage a fighting chance at competing with big money teams. Over time, the system grew and developed into the Minor League Baseball organization that we know today.
Alexander, Charles C. Breaking the Slump: Baseball in the Depression Era. New York: Columbia U P, 2002.
“The History & Function Of Minor League Baseball.” MiLB.com. Minor League Baseball, 2013. Web. Accessed 22 March 2013. http://www.milb.com/milb/history/general_history.jsp
Riess, Steven A. Touching Base: Professional Baseball and American Culture in the Progressive Era. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood P, 1980.
Sullivan, Dean A., ed. Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1995.
With Opening Day fast approaching, I felt it appropriate to share this map that I found some time back. It’s a little outdated, but I think the concept is pretty great. Who are you rooting for this season?
The text in the bottom-right corner is difficult to read, so rather than force you to strain your eyeballs, I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing it for you:
Fan Loyalty Circa 2007
These borders are real for seven months a year, from Opening Day to the World Series. The majority of people of each country pledge their allegiance to the team shown, regardless of placement in the standings, questionable trades, draft pics, pitching rotations, uniform redesigns, or mascot behavior. And these lines will stay true until the citizens of each country vote to redraw the borders for next season.
At the Major League level, baseball is not an easy sport. Most people never even make it to that level, much less excel at it, even while playing completely sober. So one would think that playing well while under the influence would be near-impossible, right?
On 12 June 1970, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis hurled the first no-hitter of the season in San Diego against the Padres. The Pirates recorded a 2-0 victory, in spite of Ellis’s eight walks and hitting Padres center fielder Ivan Murrell. He also struck out six. When it came time for post-game interviews, Ellis attributed his wild pitching to his efforts to keep the ball away from hitters, which seemed like a completely reasonable explanation.
Fourteen years later, on 8 April 1984, Ellis came clean, admitting to the press that he threw the no-hitter under the influence of LSD. He hadn’t planned it that way, of course. The day before the game, Thursday 11 June 1970, had been an off-day for the Pirates, and Ellis celebrated by dropping a hit of the drug. On Friday at noon, mistakenly believing it was still Thursday, he took another tab. Shortly thereafter, his girlfriend noticed, while flipping through a newspaper, that Ellis was slated to pitch that evening. Ellis rushed to the airport and made it to the stadium just in time.
He described his experience of the game itself:
“I can only remember bits and pieces of the game. I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria.
“I was zeroed in on the (catcher’s) glove, but I didn’t hit the glove too much. I remember hitting a couple of batters and the bases were loaded two or three times.
“The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I tried to stare the hitter down and throw while I was looking at him. I chewed my gum until it turned to powder. They say I had about three to four fielding chances. I remember diving out of the way of a ball I thought was a line drive. I jumped, but the ball wasn’t hit hard and never reached me.”
How anyone could pitch so well while in that state of mind is a marvel in itself. Perhaps it was because Dock Ellis realized that he had to force himself to focus more than usual. Or, perhaps, it was because all his inhibitions had been removed, and he was literally unable to over think his performance.
Some speculation remains over whether Ellis was being completely honest when he came forward about the no-hitter or if he was merely trying to create a stir. Either way, at this point, the only thing we really have to go off is his testimony about that night. Even his teammates’ perspective on Ellis’s state of mind that night is limited, as superstition dictates that players not talk to a teammate who is in the midst of throwing a no-no.
Over the course of his career, Ellis won 138 games and had the honor of being the National League’s starting pitcher in the 1971 All-Star Game. All this, in spite of a long history of drug and alcohol abuse. Upon retirement from Major League Baseball, Ellis served for many years as a substance abuse counselor.
“Dock Ellis.” Snopes.com: Rumor Has It. Urban Legends Reference Pages, last updated 9 June 2003. Web. Accessed 19 March 2013. http://www.snopes.com/sports/baseball/ellis.asp
“Dock Ellis Says He Pitched 1970 No-Hitter Under The Influence of LSD.” Lysergic World 16-19 April 1993, San Francisco.
Goldstein, Richard. “Dock Ellis, All-Star Pitcher Who Overcame Longtime Addictions, Dies At 63.” New York Times 20 December 2008, New York ed.: A43.
Hall, Donald. Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball. New York: Fireside P, 1976.
Hruby, Patrick. “The Long, Strange Trip of Dock Ellis: Meet the Man Behind Baseball’s Most Psychedelic Myth.” ESPN: Outside the Lines. ESPN Internet Venues, August 2012. Web. Accessed 19 March 2013. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=Dock-Ellis