On Opening Day in 1984, Tiger rookie Barbaro Garbey became the first Cuban refugee to play in Major League Baseball, having played in the Serie Nacional prior to defecting to the United States. Garbey grounded out in the seventh inning as a pinch-hitter for Dave Bergman, then would stay in the game. Garbey played first base in Detroit’s 8-1 defeat of Minnesota in the Metrodome.
On November 17, 1960, ownership of the American League’s new expansion team was awarded to Elvin Quesada, a Washington native and head of the Federal Aviation Administration. The new expansion Senators replaced the old team, which had moved to Minnesota to become the Twins.
This poem by Elinor Nauen is a bit longer, but well worth the read. It demonstrates how closely baseball gets associated with Americanism, even to those outside the nation’s borders. I especially love the line, “He goes home because he has nowhere else to go.”
I’ve been sitting at my desk a lot
staring at my father.
It’s a picture taken in summer
a few months before he died.
He’s looking at me
with a wry and knowing
–did he know?–
expression. He looks like a man
who needs a private joke
to get a proper snapshot.
He’s looking straight at me, even as I sit
in a cold May, a little too tired,
the Yanks getting beat 4-1 in the 5th
by Oakland out on the coast,
a lackluster they’ll-never-catch-up game
Rasmussen not getting shellacked
just doesn’t have anything
and neither do the hitters.
Gone native in his Arizona retirement
Dad is wearing a bolo tie and looks shrunken, frail.
I liked to kiss him on the top of his bony head
in the desert mornings.
He took all of us to a game only once, my first, I was ten,
Charlie was eight, Lindsay was twelve
and the baby was left home.
We drove all the way from South Dakota
up to Minneapolis
to see the Twins play the Yankees
Daddy was a refugee from Nazi Germany
and Mom was English.
They were grownups
who’d never seen a game either. They went
because he was the father of Americans
and I was a little baseball fanatic.
Mom sat quietly for about twenty minutes
fanning herself with a straw sunhat and beaming
then asked, when does the game begin?
Look down there, we said.
It was already the second inning
but I still don’t think she spotted it.
I think she was waiting for the play by play.
The familiar radio sounds
so different in the ballpark.
Daddy wore plaid shorts over his white skinny legs
and puffed a cigar.
He began to like baseball
when he found someone
who knew less about it than he did.
He explained it all to Mom
mostly according to his own logic–
He had an accountant’s sense of symmetry
and the diamond pleased him–
the implication of infinity.
The profusion of numbers and their richness
and it was a damn nice summer day.
I think now of those bleachers
old Metropolitan stadium full of stolid Scandinavians
who never corrected him–
that would have spoiled their fun.
Mom would ask: Where’s that chap running off to now?
And Dad would explain:
He goes home because he has nowhere else to go…
My brother and I spent most of the time under the stands
scrapping with baby Twinkies–
Twins fans who didn’t take to our rooting for the enemy.
Charlie thinks he remembers a game-winning
Bobby Richardson grand slam.
I only recall the Yanks winning in the 10th
and the incredibly intense luxury of that lagniappe inning.
Daddy stuck with baseball too.
Like the voting
that made him proudest as a naturalized citizen
he quietly exulted
at being able to talk to his kids
about what they liked to talk about
which was sports. What pleasure
it gave him
to be able to call
(those Sunday calls!–this later
after we’d all left home)
and say, “So, Mattingly’s still leading the league”
or “I see where the Yankees aren’t doing to well.” …
But tonight there’s an amazing comeback
another 10th-inning heroic to call home about
(“I see where the Yankees are going great guns”)
thought it’s a few second basemen later
and the serene and splendid Willie Randolph
who pulls it out for the team.
I’m still holding out hope that Spring Training won’t be the only baseball we get this year. In the meantime, we look for other ways to stay engaged with baseball. This piece by Lynn Rigney Schott was first published in The New Yorker on March 26, 1984. The author’s father, Bill Rigney, had played Major League Baseball with the New York Giants from 1946 to 1953. He then went on to serve as the manager for the Giants, making him their last manager in New York as well as the team’s first manager when they moved to San Francisco. Rigney would also manage the Los Angeles/California Angels and the Minnesota Twins.
The last of the birds has returned —
the bluebird, shy and flashy.
The bees carry fat baskets of pollen
from the alders around the pond.
The wasps in the attic venture downstairs,
where they congregate on warm windowpanes.
Every few days it rains.
This is my thirty-fifth spring;
still I am a novice at my work,
confused and frightened and angry.
Unlike me, the buds do not hesitate,
the hills are confident they will be
in the glass of the river.
I oiled my glove yesterday.
Half the season is over.
When will I be ready?
On my desk sits a black-and-white postcard picture
of my father — skinny, determined,
in a New York Giants uniform —
ears protruding, eyes riveted.
Handsome, single-minded, he looks ready.
Thirty-five years of warmups.
Like glancing down at the scorecard
in your lap for half a second
and when you look up it’s done —
a long fly ball, moonlike,
into the night
over the fence,
way out of reach.
When Jim Thome arrived in Minnesota in 2010, Twins fans were understandably excited. One fan, Matt Whipkey from Omaha, Nebraska, was so thrilled to have Thome on the team, he decided to write a rock tribute for the slugger. Unfortunately for Twins fans, Thome’s stint with the team didn’t last terribly long, though he at least gave them a reason to cheer while his time there lasted.
On February 11, 1974, Twins pitcher Dick Woodson won the first arbitration ruling in baseball history after becoming the first player to invoke the new free agency clause. Woodson asked for and was awarded $29,000 (I’ve also seen $30,000 cited as the figure), over the Twins’ offer of $23,000.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.