“Life,” by Jim ‘Mudcat’ Grant

This piece was written by former Major League Baseball pitcher Jim ‘Mudcat’ Grant.  In 1965, Grant became the first black pitcher to win 20 games in a season in the American League and the first black pitcher to win a World Series game for the American League, throwing two complete game World Series victories.

*

Life is like a game of baseball,
You play it every day.
It isn’t just the breaks you get,
But the kind of game you play.

So stop and look your whole team over,
And you’ll find dedication there.
You’re bound to be a winner,
With men who really care.

Your pitcher’s name is Courage,
You need him in the game.
For faith and trust your keystone men,
The grounders they will tame.

Your center fielder is very fast,
Though small and hard to see.
So watch him, son, when he gets,
The ball. He’s Opportunity.

In left field there’s Ambition,
Never let him shirk.
For in right field there’s a husky man,
I’m told his name is Work.

At first base there’s Religion,
He’s stood the test of time.
At third base there’s brotherhood,
The stalwart of the nine.

Your catcher’s name is Humor,
He’s important to the scheme.
For with honor warming in the bull pen,
The game is always clean.

With Love on the bench,
You’ve perfection no less.
With a winning team,
And joy and happiness.

Your other team is Strong, son,
Greed, Hatred, Envy and Defeat.
Are four strong infielders,
You’ll have to buck to make your game complete.

Deceitfulness and a man called Waste,
Are always playing hard.
Selfishness and jealousy,
None can you disregard.

Carelessness and Falsehood,
Are the big boys in the pen.
You’ll have to swing hard, son,
When you come up to them.

There’s one more man you’ll have to watch,
He’s always very near.
He’s the pitcher on that team,
And I’m told his name is Fear.

This game will not be easy,
There’ll be trouble, there’ll be strife.
To make the winning runs, my boy,
For this game is played on the field of life.

So stand behind your team, my boy,
There’ll be many who’ll applaud.
Just remember that you’re the player,
And the umpire here is God.


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.


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.”

 

 


Infographic: Defensive positioning

What I like about this infographic is that it’s a great depiction of how many different looks can come out of a team that employs the defensive shift.  It’s also a reflection on how much thinking and studying goes into a baseball game.  At this level, especially, a team can’t just show up and play, there’s a considerable amount of pre-planning involved.

info-defensivepositioning


“Don’t Call Them Twinkies,” The Baseball Project

Here’s a tribute by The Baseball Project to the Minnesota.  I confess, I’m just as guilty as anyone of calling the Minnesota team the “Twinkies,” especially when they are facing off against the Royals.  This song provides some pretty good history of the team.  And I like the style — this is my kind of music!


This day in baseball: JFK’s first pitch

At Griffith Stadium on April 10, 1961, President John F. Kennedy threw out the first pitch, launching the inaugural season of the “new” Washington Senators.  The throw was the longest and hardest thrown ceremonial first pitch in history, as it flew over the players lined up in front of the presidential box.  In the game, the White Sox defeated the Senators 4-3.

The video below not only shows the first pitch, but also explains how the “old” Senators had moved to Minnesota to become the Twins.


Rod Carew’s Hall of Fame induction speech

One of a handful of Latinos in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Rod Carew was inducted into the Hall in 1991.  His number 29 was also retired by the California Angels in 1986, and by the Minnesota Twins in 1987.  For the most part, his speech is pretty standard, and towards the end, he gives a nod to many of baseball’s greats, naming them off as he accepts his place among them.