Chicks who dig home runs aren’t the ones who appeal to me. I think there’s sexiness in infield hits because they require technique. I’d rather impress the chicks with my technique than with my brute strength. Then, every now and then, just to show I can do that, too, I might flirt a little by hitting one out.
On May 15, 1901, Washington Senators pitcher Watty Lee threw the first shutout in American League history, blanking the Boston Americans, 4-0. Lee, a 21-year-old southpaw, would finish the season with a 16-16 record and would be responsible for two of the eight shutouts to occur in the AL’s opening season.
This poem by Martin Espada was published in his 1996 book of poetry titled Imagine the Angels of Bread, and Espada worked as groundskeeper for the Triple A Toledo Mud Hens for a time. This piece paints such a vivid picture of rural America; it’s certainly the kind of scene I would expect to find in a movie set in a small town.
Despite the rumors of rain, the crowd spreads across the grandstand, a hand-sewn quilt, red and yellow shirts, blue caps. The ballgame is the county fair in a season of drought, the carnival in a town of boarded factories, so they sing the anthem as if ready for the next foreign war. Billboards in the outfield sell lumber, crayons, newspapers, oldies radio, three kinds of beer.
The ballplayers waiting for the pitch: the catcher coiled beneath the umpire’s alert leaning; the infielders stalking with poised hands; then the pitcher, a weathervane spinning in the wind; clear echo of the wood, a ground ball, throw, applause. The first baseman shouts advice in Spanish to the pitcher, and the pitcher nods.
The grandstand celebrates with the team mascot prancing pantomime in a duck suit, a lightning bug called Louie cheerleading for the electric company. Men in Caterpillar tractor hats rise from seats to yell at Louie about their electric bills.
Ballpark lit in the iron-clouded storm, a ghost dirigible floating overhead and a hundred moons misting the grey air. A train howls in the cornfields. When the water strikes down, white uniforms retreat from the diamond, but in the stands farm boys with dripping hair holler their hosannas to the rain.
A lot of people get anxious on Friday the 13th, in the same way they get anxious around black cats or freak out about a broken mirror. There’s even a name to describe this apprehension of the date: paraskevidekatriaphobia (but don’t ask me to pronounce that).
Anyone who’s ever watched Major League knows that baseball players can be particularly superstitious. And while most ballplayers likely are not offering tributes to a Voodoo shrine, major league players do find more subtle ways to try to draw good fortune to their performance.
Some of the most common rituals include kissing religious necklaces, making the sign of the cross, pointing towards the sky after a home run, eating a particular meal before a game, or even not grooming (or, perhaps, grooming a particular way) on game day. When a team is behind, the rally cap has become a popular way among players and fans both to try to help their team rally to victory.
During a winning streak, some players will refuse to wash their hats, helmets, or uniforms — and some fans will do the same. Some players will abstain from sex on game day, or, in the spirit of Bull Durham, during a winning streak. If a particular bat or glove is deemed “lucky,” it will become a popular item among the players of a team.
And, of course, if a no-hitter or a perfect game is in progress, nobody should ever, ever talk about it.
Wade Boggs was known as a particularly superstitious player, even nicknamed the “Chicken Man,” due to his routine of eating copious amounts of chicken every day. According to Boggs:
It started in ’77. I had a Minor League budget and a growing family to feed. Chicken was cheap and I really felt better eating lighter food rather than a lot of heavy meat and gravy. Then I noticed my batting average going up. Ever since I’ve been a `chicketarian.’
In addition, Boggs would write the Hebrew symbol for life, “Chai,” in the batter’s box before every at-bat, and he also made sure to take 117 ground balls (some places report the number was 150) during every practice. Something about Boggs’s routine definitely worked for him, considering his five batting titles, 12 All-Star Games, and induction into the Hall of Fame.
Other famous players with superstitious rituals included Joe DiMaggio, who would always run from the outfield and touch second base before going into the dugout. Pitcher Tim Wakefield would eat a pound of spaghetti before any game he started, and Justin Verlander is said to eat tacos before every start. Mark McGwire used to wear the same cup from his high school playing days — at least, until it was stolen.
There’s not much information specific to Friday the 13th superstitions among baseball players, but no doubt, they exist. When the upcoming date was brought up with Phillies manager Pete Mackanin on Thursday, May 12th, 2016, Mackanin responded, “I wish you didn’t tell me that.”
On May 11, 1950, Connecticut Senator Abe Ribicoff introduced a bill to Congress to designate June 26th “National Baseball Day,” in honor of the birthday of Major General Abner Doubleday. Doubleday, of course, was at one time credited with inventing the game of Baseball. Sadly, the bill was never approved by Congress.
Jim Thorpe is considered by many to be the greatest athlete of the early twentieth century. He was a multi-sport athlete who particularly shined in track and field, though he also had professional careers in both baseball and football.
The details surrounding the birth of Jim Thorpe aren’t entirely clear. It is generally accepted that James Francis Thorpe was born May 22 or 28, 1887, with no birth certificate found to confirm an exact date. He was born in Indian Territory near present-day Prague, Oklahoma to Hiram Thorpe, who was of Sac and Fox descent, and Charlotte Vieux, who was of Potawatomi descent. Jim Thorpe had a twin brother, Charlie, who died of pneumonia when the pair was nine years old.
Both of Thorpe’s parents were Roman Catholic, and in the Catholic Church, he was baptized Jacobus Franciscus Thorpe. Growing up, Thorpe was raised as a Sac and Fox, and his native name, Wa-Tho-Huk, translates as “Bright Path.” Six year after his brother Charlie’s death, Thorpe’s mother also passed away, and his father would follow when Jim was just sixteen years old.
Thorpe was sent to many boarding schools and academies throughout his youth, including Sac and Fox Indian Agency School near Tecumseh, Oklahoma, Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, and Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Jim Thorpe hated his experiences in these institutions, which were set up to teach racial integration, banning students from speaking their native languages and imposing the dress of the average white American. Thorpe’s academic performance was less than stellar, but he showed tremendous promise as an athlete.
While attending Carlisle, Thorpe competed not only in track and field, but also in football, baseball, lacrosse, and even ballroom dancing. It was here that Thorpe’s athletic abilities started to garner nationwide attention, especially on the football field, where he earned All-American honors in both 1911 and 1912. However, it was in track and field that Thorpe would really leave his mark.
In 1912, Thorpe represented the United States in the Summer Olympics held in Stockholm, Sweden. He dominated in both the pentathlon and the decathlon, winning gold medals in both events. He remains the only athlete in history to accomplish this feat. What makes this accomplishment even more incredible is that Thorpe competed wearing mismatched shoes. Ahead of competition, Thorpe’s own shoes were stolen. The culprit behind the theft was never identified, but it goes to show how rampantly racism continued to persist against indigenous peoples. With no other options, Thorpe found two old, different shoes in a dumpster, one of which was larger than the other. He wore an extra sock on one foot to help the larger shoe fit better.
Unfortunately for Jim Thorpe, in 1912, strict rules regarding amateurism were in effect for athletes participating in the Olympics. Thorpe had played professional baseball in the Eastern Carolina League for Rocky Mount, North Carolina in 1909 and 1910, receiving meager pay. College players, in fact, regularly spent summers playing professionally in order to earn some money, but most used aliases, which Thorpe, unfortunately, did not do. When reports of Thorpe’s past activities were leaked by the press in early 1913, the Amateur Athletic Union decided to withdraw Thorpe’s amateur status retroactively. Later that year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) unanimously decided to strip Thorpe of his Olympic titles, medals, and awards, and declare him a professional.
In 1913, Thorpe signed to play professional baseball with the New York Giants. Thorpe played sporadically with the team for three seasons as an outfielder. After playing in the minor leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1916, he returned to the Giants in 1917 and was sold to the Cincinnati Reds early in the season. Late in that same season, he was sold back to the Giants. Once again, Thorpe played sporadically for the Giants in 1918 before being traded to the Boston Braves in May 1919.
In his major league career, Thorpe amassed 91 runs scored and 82 RBIs. Thorpe struggled against the curveball, however, and batted just .252 over his six-year big league career. In his final season, however, Thorpe did manage to attain an impressive .327 average for the season. He would continue to play minor league baseball until 1922.
In 1915, Jim Thorpe signed a deal to play football with the Canton Bulldogs for $250 per game under general manager Jack Cusack. Thorpe would play and coach the Canton Bulldogs during his time with the team and was considered one of the best players in the sport at the time. The Bulldogs would claim an unofficial three world championships in 1916, 1917, and 1919. When the National Football League (NFL) was officially formed in 1920, Thorpe was selected to be the league’s first president. Thorpe retired from professional football at age 41, having played 52 NFL games for six teams from 1920 to 1928.
Thorpe married three times throughout his life and had a total of eight children. After his athletic career came to an end, Thorpe struggled to provide for his family. He found it difficult to work a non-sports-related job and never held a job for an extended period of time. On March 28, 1953, Jim Thorpe died of heart failure.
Over the years, supporters of Thorpe attempted to have his Olympic titles reinstated. On January 18, 1983, almost 30 years after his death, the International Olympic Committee officially reinstated Thorpe’s medals from the 1912 Games at a ceremony attended by two of his children.
In addition, Jim Thorpe was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. He was a Charter Enshrinee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. In 1950, he was named AP’s Most Outstanding Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century, America’s Greatest Football Player of the half-century, and the national press selected him the most outstanding athlete of the first half of the 20th Century. Thorpe was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975, and from 1996-2001, he was continuously awarded ABC’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Century award.
A very Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms of ballplayers, of wanna-be ballplayers, and even of those who couldn’t care less about baseball. Regardless of anyone’s views on the game, there’s no denying that moms are the glue that keep our world from completely falling to pieces.
Offense is down throughout Major League Baseball this season. For the first time since 2015, there was less than one home run hit per team, per game, for the month of April:
A number of factors are responsible for the reduction in home runs, and one of those factors involves how baseballs are being stored. During the 2021 season, 10 teams around the league stored their baseballs in humidors. This season, in 2022, all 30 teams are storing their baseballs in humidors.
Humidors are climate-controlled chambers that emulate the boxes used to preserve cigars. Humidors ensure baseballs are stored at average humidity. In places like Colorado and Arizona, where the parks are notoriously hitter-friendly, humidors prevent baseballs from drying out. This practice, therefore, helps pitchers, since dry baseballs have more bounce and can fly farther off the bat.
One would think the opposite effect would be true in the more humid ballparks, like Miami or Tampa Bay — that keeping the balls relatively dry would provide an advantage to the hitter. However, physics indicates that this is not the case. True, the dryer baseball would come off the bat at a faster rate. However, that lighter, dryer baseball would be flying into comparatively thick, humid air, which increases air resistance and slows the ball down.
The effect of humidors can be seen when comparing offensive numbers from 2021 to 2022 for teams that previously had humidors versus those for whom the humidor is a new addition this year.
Offensive numbers in the ballparks that already had humidors in 2021 look similar this season. However, in places where the humidor is debuting, offense is noticeably down around the league.
It does make sense that all 30 parks should be playing with the same baseballs, stored in similar conditions, as that can help preserve a more even playing field and reduce the varying effects of certain parks. This change could also be construed as a concession to pitchers, as humidors can make baseballs easier to grip.
Notably, the use of humidors isn’t the only change to the league’s baseballs this year. In response to the high home runs rates in recent seasons, tension was loosened on the first of three wool windings within the ball itself. Rawlings’ research prior to the start of the season estimated the adjustment would reduce the ball’s bounciness and also reduce the ball’s weight by 2.8 grams without changing its size. These changes were designed to lose one to two feet of distance on balls hit more than 375 feet.
It’s hard to tell with any definitiveness which of these factors is impacting offense more. It will be interesting to see how the season progresses, and whether offensive numbers remain consistently down through October.