Ken Burns’s Baseball: The Eighth Inning

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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

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Amazon

 

 


Bill James lecture at KU

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Bill James speaking (courtesy of my low quality camera phone)

Baseball statistician, Bill James, spoke at the University of Kansas last night as part of the James Naismith Lecture Series.  I had the privilege of attending the lecture, which centered around “Transitioning from Naïve to Professional Research.”  The talk was delightfully engaging, thought-provoking, and amusing.

If you’ve never seen him in person, Bill James is a big man.  He stands over six feet tall with noticeably broad shoulders, and he a full head of hair and a large beard that only seems to add to his enormity.  He is, of course, even bigger in the baseball world.

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But James actually didn’t talk a lot about baseball.  He couldn’t entirely avoid it, being such a prolific baseball writer and the founder of sabermetrics.  He did talk about the determination of strong versus weak MVP pools, mentioning this article, which, among other things, argues that Eric Hosmer deserves to rank second in the AL MVP race over Aaron Judge.  His statement noticeably surprised a lot of folks (and delighted a lot of folks; Lawrence is only about an hour from Kauffman Stadium, after all).  “Eric Hosmer’s contribution to the Royals,” James said, “was greater than Aaron Judge’s contribution to the Yankees.”  When he puts it that way, it makes sense.

James’s primary discussion, however, revolved around ideas.  He compared ideas to seeds on a tree.  The seeds of a tree scatter, and though there are thousands upon thousands of seeds that can come off any given tree, if just one of them takes root and becomes another fully-grown tree, that is an astonishing percentage.  99.9% of tree seeds scatter and all they do is become food for animals or clog our sewers and gutters.  In the same way, we as human beings come up with hundreds of ideas every single day, and the vast majority of those ideas are throwaways.  But if one of those ideas takes root, it can potentially change the world.

Everything around us, he said, once started as an idea.  “The Kansas Union was once an idea that somebody had.  The University of Kansas was once just an idea that somebody had.”  It’s a perspective-altering thought.

This thought has direct relevance to James’s own life.  When he graduated from KU in the 1970s, James says he knew his job prospects weren’t great.  More than anything, he just wanted to find a job “that didn’t involve taxi cabs, heavy lifting, or armed robbery.”  Spending his spare time working with baseball statistics, he said, was something that folks around him would comment was interesting, but that not enough people in the world were interested in it enough for him to ever make a living off it.  We know now that those folks’ assessment was proved wrong, and James’s work with statistics became the idea that not only changed his own life, but revolutionized the world of baseball.

This isn’t everything that Bill James spoke about last night, but these are the ideas that particularly struck me.  It was one of the more engaging lectures I’ve had the opportunity to attend, and I like to attend these kinds of things whenever I can.  The fact that I’m a baseball fan certainly influenced my perspective, but as you can probably tell, it was the kind of talk that even non-fans could appreciate.


Baseball throws

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We now break from our usual array of posts to share/brag about my new throw pillow covers!  They arrived in the mail a couple days ago, and every time I look at my couch now, I can’t help but smile.  You can find these on Amazon here and here, if you’re interested.  And yes, that is a Kansas City Royals throw blanket hanging on the back of the couch.


The end of the regular season

This past weekend saw the conclusion of the 2017 MLB regular season.  Today, there is no baseball.  Tomorrow, October 3rd, the Twins will be in New York to take on the Yankees for the American League Wild Card.  Then on Wednesday, October 4th, the Rockies are headed to Arizona to compete with the Diamondbacks for the National League Wild Card.

The postseason has begun.

For my team, the Kansas City Royals, there is no postseason this year.  And with the futures of players such as Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer now up in the air, things are definitely changing.

 

Hosmer Moose

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas (Instagram: kcroyals)

Ned Yost has agreed to return for one more year, and mainstay Alex Gordon is signed for a few more years, but Royals fans are in agreement: we are at the end of an era.

I just hope we aren’t staring down the barrel of another 30-year stretch of “rebuilding.”

 

 


Royals vs. Rays 08.30.2017

Though it took me until late-August to finally make it to a game, I suddenly seem to have made quite a shift in my luck, as the other night I made it to my second game in two weeks.  This past Wednesday night was Bark at the Park night at Kauffman Stadium, and the ballpark was full of our furry friends.

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We arrived early enough to take a detour through the Royals Hall of Fame.  We’ve seen much of it all before, so we didn’t linger too much, though I had yet to see the short film the Royals had created chronicling their journey to the 2015 World Series championship.  Watching it turned out to be a moving experience, almost like reliving the whole trip in a Reader’s Digest format.  It was enough to make me wish the Royals would hurry up and have a repeat season.

2015 World Champs

The gal who invited me to come along to the game with her had some impressive seats, so I was able to enjoy being in closer proximity to the field than I was last week.

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Unfortunately, the Royals were unable to pull off another win with my presence.  I suppose I can’t be lucky all the time, eh?  Jason Vargas gave up three home runs, and even Whit Merrifield’s 3-run homer in the bottom of the third wasn’t enough of a spark to keep the Royals in it.  The Royals are now 11 games out of first in the AL Central, and our chances at a Wild Card slot are starting to look a bit slim. Then again, these are the Kansas City Royals, and as we all know, you can’t count them out even in the bleakest of circumstances.

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Royals vs. Rockies, 08.23.2017

Yours truly finally made it to Kauffman Stadium for a Royals game this year!  My first of the season — yes, I’ve been slacking.  Need to get back on that.  A lady at work had tickets, but then realized she had another obligation, and was kind enough to pass them on.

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Yesterday had been a challenging day at work, which gave me the perfect excuse to splurge on a dog and an overpriced beer.

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The crowd was small, just over 25K, as it usually is at Kansas City baseball games — unless, of course, they make it into the playoffs.  I had forgotten what a stress release being at the K always seems to be for me.  Even though I am very much an introvert, sometimes being in a crowd can be nice.  I think I like the opportunity to blend in and become relatively anonymous.

I enjoy some of the distractions that being at the stadium can present.  The hot dog derby, for example, never fails to bring out my inner little kid.  Relish won this round, but ketchup is still leading the standings — at least at Kauffman.  Go ketchup!

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I love being able to see I-70 from the stands:

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And the fountain display at the K is always worth taking a look.

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However, none of this beats the excitement of sticking around to watch Eric Hosmer blast a walk-off home run off Greg Holland.  No, I didn’t get any pictures of the celebration that followed that event.  I found that I was much too happy and excited to do anything other than grin like an idiot and cheer.  I will say, though, that oftentimes when I go to Royals games, I feel like I rarely get to see a win.  It sure was nice to feel like I brought them a little bit of luck for once.

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