Whether you are trick-or-treating, giving out candy, visiting haunted houses, going to a party, or just kicking back, please be safe! Also, this picture makes me want a cookie.
As we all recover from last night’s World Series insanity, here’s a little comic relief from Pete and Clete. You know that one had to hurt.
Continuing on our journey through Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns, we have now reached the Fourth Inning of this documentary series. Subtitled “A National Heirloom,” this part of the series focuses primarily on Babe Ruth. Bob Costas opens this disc with an anecdote about an argument between an American and a British man that comes to a head when the American man retorts childishly, “Screw the king!” The Brit’s reply to this: “Yeah, well screw Babe Ruth!” It’s a revealing anecdote, not only in terms of the greatness of the Great Bambino to the minds of American citizens, but also when thinking about the influence of baseball on American culture as a whole, even in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Prior to 1920, baseballs used in games weren’t changed out with the frequency that we see today. At times, entire games could be played with a single baseball, if that ball never left the park. Pitchers took it upon themselves to scuff, dirty, and otherwise sabotage the ball any way they could, thus ensuring it would fly erratically, making it more difficult to hit, and thus giving pitchers a distinct advantage. However, the death of Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman, the victim of being hit in the head by a pitch, changed all that. Umpires were now under orders to throw out a clean baseball the moment one showed any signs of dirt. This, combined with a now more tightly-wound baseball, marked the dawn of new era in the game, in which home runs ruled the day.
Burns launches into a biographical segment of George Herman Ruth’s early life. I was astonished to see that Ruth’s sister, Mamie Ruth Moberly, had survived long enough to contribute to the commentary of the documentary (she died in 1992). Ruth’s introduction to baseball came in reform school, having been sent there by his parents, who declared him “incorrigible.” His talent for the game, both as a hitter and as a pitcher, became quickly apparent, and he went on to be signed by the Baltimore Orioles.
From the Orioles, Ruth was soon sold to the Boston Red Sox, where he shined as a pitcher. From 1919 to 1920, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Ruth, and a number of other Red Sox players to the Yankees. The sale of Ruth initiated what would become known as the Curse of the Bambino.
Ty Cobb, we learn, despised Babe Ruth and the change in baseball’s style of play that came as a result of Ruth’s performance. However, Ruth so dominated the game and the record books that Cobb’s disapproval fell on deaf ears. But Ruth’s dominance didn’t end on the field. Off the field, he proved a fan favorite as his rambunctious personality and eagerness to please made him a lovable individual. His excesses, e.g. blowing his pay on luxuries and frequenting whorehouses, were kept out of the papers, as the press knew he was simply too popular with the fans.
After he set that famous record of sixty home runs in a single season in 1927, Babe Ruth’s fame exploded. He became a mainstay in advertising, as companies sought to capitalize by attaching his image to their products. Everyone wanted a piece of the Great Bambino.
Burns breaks from his coverage of Ruth to discuss racism further. The Harlem Renaissance saw a flourishing of black culture, and Rube Foster established the Negro Leagues. The style of baseball encouraged by Foster sounds exciting enough to make me wish I had been around to watch some Negro Leagues games. Indeed, between Ruth in the MLB and style of the Negro Leagues, the 1920s must have a been a fun time to be a baseball fan.
During this time period, coverage of baseball underwent some changes. The sports pages became a daily feature of urban newspapers, and the personalities of baseball writers varied widely. Fans could also track games via animated scoreboards, displayed in the cities. The development of radio broadcasts of baseball games allowed fans to follow along with the action as it happened.
Burns makes a passing mention of some of the other big hitters of the era, such as Rogers Hornsby, Tris Speaker, and George Sisler. Of those sluggers mentioned, Hornsby got the most attention, but not nearly the amount of attention that Babe Ruth received. Walter Johnson received a nod for his continuing domination as a pitcher in what had become a hitter’s game, and in 1924, he helped lead the Senators to a World Series victory over the Giants. Lou Gehrig, a rookie during the 1925 season, received a nod as well, his consecutive games streak already underway.
During this time also, Buck O’Neil joined the Kansas City Monarchs, the best team in the Negro Leagues. Branch Rickey, meanwhile, developed baseball’s first farm system with the St. Louis Cardinals. Teams around the majors quickly followed suit and minor league baseball was thus born.
It was a booming decade for the sport. However, the disc concludes in the year 1929, when the stock market collapsed and the onset of the Great Depression was upon the nation.
I love the challenge of the game. I love the work. My goal right now is to have a season next year that will make people forget about this one. I’ll use things like this for motivation. I’m pumped. I’m hungry.
Tigers’ left fielder Hank Greenberg was named the American League’s Most Valuable player on October 26, 1940 for the second time in his career. He hit .340 for the year with 41 home runs and 150 RBIs. Having won the award in 1935 as a first baseman, Greenberg thus became the first player in major league history to win an MVP award at two different positions.
My journey through The Simpsons continues, and I recently concluded watching the seventeenth season. It’s crazy to think that, even as far into it as I am, I still have about twelve more seasons to go to get completely caught up with the show.
The Springfield Isotopes make a reappearance in the season seventeen finale. This time, the episode gives us the opportunity to get to know one of the team’s players, first baseman Buck Mitchell. Buck is the team’s superstar, and the team is winning games thanks to his presence in the lineup. However, while his life on the diamond seems perfect, we quickly learn that Buck’s personal life isn’t nearly as great, and his play is soon affected.
Buck’s wife, Tabitha, is a well-known pop star, and she’s not just known for her singing. This becomes apparent when Tabitha halts her rendition of the national anthem to launch into one of her own songs, stripping down to lingerie by the end of the tune. Buck is understandably humiliated, and he ends up muffing several easy plays as a result. After seeing Marge and Homer on the stadium Kiss Cam, Buck shows up at their home and offers them season tickets in exchange for marriage counseling.
Homer being Homer, he jumps at the opportunity for tickets and close proximity to a baseball star. The counseling sessions prove somewhat awkward, however. While Marge makes an honest effort at helping Buck and Tabitha work things out, Homer…. well… continues to be Homer. Nevertheless, the sessions are effective enough to help Buck refocus on baseball.
After Buck catches Homer giving Tabitha a neck rub (which she not-so-subtly dupes Homer into doing), Buck slugs Homer and finds his marriage in trouble yet again. As a result, his performance on the field begins to suffer again. Tabitha, meanwhile, declares to Marge that she intends to leave Buck.
Homer decides to take matters into his own hands, and he hijacks the Duff Beer blimp, using it to pretend that Tabitha has delivered a message of “I love you” to Buck. His spirits lifted, Buck hits a high fly ball into the blimp, causing it to crash. Once Buck realizes it was actually Homer, not Tabitha, who sent the message, he starts after Homer with a baseball bat. However, Marge appears on the stadium’s Jumbo Vision screen, pleading with Buck not to hurt Homer. Marge’s display of love for Homer seems to have an effect on Tabitha, who changes her mind and tells Buck that she wishes to stay with him.
Overall, this episode honestly doesn’t rank among my favorites. The character of Tabitha annoys me greatly, and Buck isn’t a whole lot better. Granted, they do seem to fit the stereotypical mold for celebrities, I suppose, so perhaps my annoyance was a calculated expectation by the writers. The ending seemed a little thin, possibly due to the constraints of time. Nevertheless, I look forward to the Isotopes’ next appearance in the series.
Congratulations to the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros on winning their respective league pennants. For those looking to follow along, here’s how the 2017 World Series is scheduled to take place:
Game 1: Tuesday, October 24th @ 8:00 PM ET – Astros @ Dodgers
Game 2: Wednesday, October 25th @ 8:00 PM ET – Astros @ Dodgers
Game 3: Friday, October 27th @ 8:00 PM ET – Dodgers @ Astros
Game 4: Saturday, October 28th @ 8:00 PM ET – Dodgers @ Astros
*Game 5: Sunday, October 29th @ 8:00 PM ET – Dodgers @ Astros
*Game 6: Tuesday, October 31st @ 8:00 PM ET – Astros @ Dodgers
*Game 7: Wednesday, November 1st @ 8:00 PM ET – Astros @ Dodgers
If you’re keeping track, the Astros last appeared in the World Series in 2005 (as the NL team), losing to the Chicago White Sox in a four-game sweep. The Astros have never won the World Series. The Dodgers last appeared in the Series in 1988, when they defeated the Oakland Athletics in five games.
No other sporting event can compare with a good Series. The Super Bowl is a three-hour interruption in a week of drink and Rotarian parties.
The Third Inning of Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns explores the game during the 1910s. This disc opens with a discussion of fan involvement, and how the setup of the field during this time period gave fans a greater amount of influence in the events of the game. Fans often spectated standing in foul territory or directly on the field behind the outfielders, allowing them not only to yell at players more effectively, but also to potentially become physically involved in some plays. And it wasn’t just fans rooting for their teams who sought to influence the outcome of games. Gamblers during this time period were heavily involved in the sport.
Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics dominated the first half of the decade. Meanwhile, the saga of Ty Cobb continues, from his 1910 race for the batting title against Nap Lajoie to Cobb’s suspension from organized baseball for beating the snot out of a fan in 1912.
Buck O’Neil, who has contributed to the commentary of the documentary series in the first two innings, was born in 1911, and now discusses his experience with baseball as a boy. Baseball’s “gentleman’s agreement,” however, continued to exclude black players from the game, though teams at times undermined this agreement with light-skinned minority players.
The 1912 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants became an unusual eight-game Series when the second game was called due to “impending darkness.” Game eight of this Series was the one in which Fred Snodgrass dropped an easy fly ball, which allowed hitter Red Sox Clyde Engle to make it all the way to second. Engle would later score, tying the game at 2-2, and Red Sox went on to first load the bases, then score the winning run. Poor Snodgrass joined the ranks of dubious fame with Fred Merkle as a result.
The clouds of scandal appear early with the figure of Hal Chase. His willingness to throw games was so well-known that even fans took to chanting, “What’s the odds,” whenever Chase took the field. Players throughout baseball expressed their own discontent with the reserve clause and the complete control of owners over their contracts. The formation of the Federal League attempted to address this discontent in promising players the opportunity for free agency. The new league only lasted two seasons, however, and the players found themselves still without a voice.
On this disc, we meet pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, and we see more of the progression of Branch Rickey’s baseball career. The 1916 World Series went to the Boston Red Sox over the Brooklyn Superbas. The 1917 Series went to the Chicago White Sox over the New York Giants, then Boston returned to win the 1918 Series, this time over the Cubs. When World War I broke out, Major League Baseball as a whole seemingly turned a blind eye. Some players did serve during the war, including Grover Alexander, Ty Cobb, and Christy Mathewson, and Branch Rickey joined the effort as well.
The last half hour of the Third Inning went into detail covering the 1919 Black Sox scandal. I particularly found it fascinating that Burns managed to find a Chicago fan who had been fifteen years old at the time of the scandal. This fan recalled his disbelief that the White Sox had managed to lose the Series, being too young to understand the world of gambling at the time. His shock and disappointment no doubt reflected the feeling of baseball fans everywhere at the time. Though as Buck O’Neil describes at the very end of this disc, while the scandal turned a lot of folks away from the game at the time, it wouldn’t be long before a new hero would draw them back — a man named Babe Ruth.
This chart was published by Business Insider in September 2011, so you’ll want to add about six years to the ages of each ballpark listed below. I’m sure there are also some ballpark changes that I’m not thinking of right off, so keep that in mind as well.