Ken Burns’s Baseball: The Eighth Inning

8th inning

The Eighth Inning of Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns brings us into the 1960s.  In this decade of the American Pastime, we find that it is being recognized less and less as such.  Football has risen to prominence, and a lot of folks come to argue that football, not baseball, has now become the true national game.  Additionally, the sixties were quite a stormy and unstable period in American history, filled with race riots, activism, anti-war protests, hippies, and Woodstock.

The game of baseball also finds itself experiencing some changes.  In 1961, Babe Ruth’s single season home run record is threatened, then broken, by a man who is far from being a fan favorite.  Roger Maris is described as moody and sullen, avoids talking to the press, and starts losing his hair as a result of the pressure he is under as he inadvertently finds himself chasing Ruth’s record.

Pitching sees a rise in dominance as the decade progresses, thanks to commissioner Ford Frick’s commandment that the strike zone be expanded to counter the explosion of home runs.  Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson are among those who rise to preeminence from their positions on the mound.  As pitching becomes the ruling force in the game, there comes a decline in home runs being hit.  This, in turn, contributes to the decline in fan interest in the game.

This time period also sees changes as far as the growth of the league.  The success and profitability of the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the west brings the league to consider other ways in which to spread the game throughout the country.  Four new teams were added to Major League Baseball.  We see the birth of the California Angels, the Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins, then a newer Senators team moved to Arlington and became the Texas Rangers.  The New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s (later the Astros) also joined the National League.  The Braves would move from Milwaukee to Atlanta and the Athletics moved to Oakland.  After just one season, the Seattle Pilots left for Milwaukee and became the Brewers, and towards the end of the decade the Royals were established in Kansas City and the Expos in Montreal.  (I’m sure I must be missing one or more others here, and for that, I apologize.)

At the beginning of the decade, Ebbets Field met its fate with a wrecking ball painted to resemble a baseball.  Jackie Robinson, who had once played at Ebbets, now worked and fought for civil rights, and Branch Rickey, who was the force behind integration in Major League Baseball, passed away in 1965.  The Polo Grounds became the home of the New York Metropolitans, led by the one and only Casey Stengel, now getting along in years.  Suffices to say, the Mets weren’t very good in those early years.  Eventually, Stengel would retire from baseball.  After that, the same wrecking ball that took out Ebbets Field would also bring down the Polo Grounds.  The Mets moved into Shea Stadium, and by the end of the decade transformed into the “Miracle Mets,” winning the 1969 World Series.

In this inning, we meet Pete Rose and see bits about Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski, Whitey Ford, Roberto Clemente, and many, many others.  Sandy Koufax seemingly retires almost as quickly as he broke into the league and became the youngest player ever inducted into the Hall of Fame.  In Baltimore, Earl Weaver became manager of the Orioles.  One of the greatest managers of all time, the Orioles became the dynasty of the decade under Weaver.

In this decade, we also meet Marvin Miller.  Miller became the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966.  The players loved having Miller speaking on their behalf, but baseball owners, unsurprisingly, hated having Miller around.  He was a man who Red Barber would call “one of the two or three most important men in baseball history.”

By the end of the disc, we learn about Curt Flood’s battle against the reserve clause, which at this point is only just beginning.  Flood learned that he was to be traded from St. Louis to Philadelphia, and in the face of the racism he knew he would face in Philadelphia, he decided to oppose the trade.  This flew in the face of the entire history of baseball business.

I think my favorite feature of this disc comes in all the arguments defending baseball.  In spite of George Carlin’s comedy routine that makes baseball seem like a slow, sissy sport, baseball continues to be referred to as America’s National Pastime for good reason.  Sure, football is faster and perhaps more suitable to the 30-second attention span that now dominates our culture (though, more recently, football also seems to be declining in popularity).  But baseball’s place in the American psyche runs deep, and in a lot of ways, it is the very nature of its leisurely pace that makes it so appealing.


This day in baseball: Rose to Phillies

Having been also pursued by the Mets, Braves, Pirates, and Royals, Pete Rose signed with the Phillies on December 5, 1978 for four years and $3.2 million.  Rose’s new deal comes after having spent sixteen years with the Cincinnati Reds

rose book

Amazon

 

 


The Freeze | Nigel Talton

As a runner and a baseball fan, I found this story from Runner’s World particularly entertaining.  Atlanta Braves mascot, The Freeze, is actually 26-year-old Nigel Talton of the stadium grounds crew, and he is mind-bogglingly fast.  He’s so fast, in fact, that he nearly qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials.  That didn’t pan out, however, so to earn a living, Talton becomes The Freeze at Braves home games.

Braves fans who take on the Beat the Freeze challenge rarely are successful, even in spite of the ridiculous head start they are granted in each race.

Here’s an interview he did with ESPN a few months back.  You can’t help but keep your fingers crossed for his running career.  They bring up a good point — he’d make a heckuva pinch runner.


I’ve gotten faster in my own running, but I wouldn’t stand a chance against this guy.  You can find the Runner’s World story here.

 


This day in baseball

Cy Young winner Greg Maddux signed with the Atlanta Braves on December 9, 1992.  The five-year, $28 million contract was the most lucrative guaranteed contract ever granted to a pitcher.

greg-maddux

mlbreports.com


“Talkin’ Baseball” (Atlanta Braves version), by Terry Cashman

I have this video queued up to start at Cashman’s tribute to the Braves, but it’s not the only song in the video.  If you wish to see and hear more of the video’s content, feel free to start at the beginning of it.  Enjoy!

All “Talkin’ Baseball” videos can be found here.


This day in baseball: Braves victorious

In Game 6 of the 1995 World Series, Atlanta Braves pitchers Tom Glavine and Mark Wohlers combined efforts to throw a one-hit shutout against the Cleveland Indians.  The only run of the game came from David Justice’s lead-off home run in the sixth inning against Jim Poole.  The 1-0 victory gave the Braves their first World Series championship since moving to Atlanta and, notably, the only World Series Championship of the 1990s Braves dynasty.

Tom Glavine (Photo source: Sports Illustrated)


This day in baseball: Extra base streak

Photo source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

On 16 July 2006, Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones hit a home run in the fourth inning.  It was the fourteenth consecutive game in which Jones had an extra-base hit, tying a 1927 record set by Pirates outfielder Paul Waner.