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Charlie Hustle's Baseball

So Pete Rose is pulling a Bill Clinton. You remember how it goes; get caught at something, then deny, deny and deny until they air the evidence. Next give a convincing teary-eyed, lip-biting admission and finally, make a good act of contrition like attending services at a black church. More

Damn Yankees!
A Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy

Strike three, ball four;
Walk - a run'll tie the score!
Fly ball, double play;
Yankees win again today.
Those damn Yankees!
Why can't we beat 'em?

Those immortal words of Joe Boyd, fictitious protagonist of Broadway's Damn Yankees and lifelong Washington Senators fan, are echoed throughout the land every October. In Joe's case, the answer to his plaintive question is easily answered; "First in war, first in peace and last in the American League. " More

Legends Of The Fall – Baseball's Greatest Myth

And so here we are, in glorious autumn. The last bout of summer humidity is behind us, candidates are on the stump, the kiddies are back in school and the Fall Classic beckons. And with the coming of the World Series, many legends and not a few myths remind us why baseball is and hopefully always will be our national pastime. For every curse that dooms the fervent fans of entire cities as well as their progeny, there are also myths that were cooked up in some long-ago hot-stove league and served up with relish every October. Please allow your humble correspondent, at grave risk of offending loyal readers, to shine a light of truth on one of the tastiest. More

The Babe And The Braggart

By Lisa Fabrizio

Headline:  BONDS BASHES BABE,  (New York Post, 7/16/03)

Barry Bonds is thinking of a number.  Not just any number, but the number 714, the home run total of one George Herman Ruth.  Why, you might ask yourself, would Bonds concern himself with a record broken nearly 30 years ago? Why not go after the established Major League record of 755 dingers held by Hank Aaron? Well, for what it's worth, here's Barry's answer:

 "755 isn't a number that's always caught my eye--the only number I'm concerned with is Babe Ruth's.  As a left-handed hitter, I wiped him out.  That's it.  And in the baseball world, Babe Ruth's everything, right? I got his (single season) slugging percentage, I got him on on-base, I got him on walks and then I'll take his (lifetime) home run record and that's it.  Don't talk about him no more." 

Barry then expanded on his thoughtful and eloquent commentary regarding the Babe with this cryptic remark, "But from what I hear, you have to go back to the Negro Leagues too."  He then went on to point out that, "You have Josh Gibson, who hit 84 home runs.  Why doesn't it count? But you can tell me in 1886 that the Pittsburgh Pirates won the game by 20 runs or lost the game by 20 runs.  But yet, their (Negro League) stats do not count."

 So is Barry dissing the Babe on account of racism?  That would seem to be the point of Bond's diatribe, given that he has been lately trying to raise the consciousness of the baseball world to a better understanding of Negro League history.  Studying history is always a good thing but one wishes that Barry would broaden his research to include all manner of baseball's greatest players across the racial spectrum (including the fact that the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t begin play until 1887). 

 He could begin by taking a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.  There he would find the plaques of 16 veterans of the Negro and Mexican leagues hanging on its hallowed walls, proving that at least to some, their stats do count.  It’s just that they count as a different set of numbers as well they should.  For better or for worse, you can’t change history.  (Lucky for Mr. Bonds, as he would have the number 962 in his sights as that is the lifetime home run total of Mr. Gibson--Oops!  I forgot that Mr. Bonds is not interested in breaking the records of people of color.)  The fact is, that baseball integrated far sooner than the rest of American society in general.

 And, when whiling away the day in that quaint town in western New York, he might do a little brushing up on the stats of the aforementioned Mr. Ruth, who ironically, throughout his career was savaged by bigoted fans for his “Negro-ish” looks.  

That Bonds could surpass some of the Babe's numbers is open to debate.  There are however, many more he cannot hope to equal.  For example, he will not retire with a .342 batting average, nor will he ever catch the Bambino in (lifetime) slugging average, on-base percentage or World Series rings.  He has already passed the Babe in strikeouts and will definitely pass him on the all-time walks list, which puts him in good company seeing as how Ruth was often intentionally walked in front of Lou Gehrig, one of the best RBI men of all time, while Bonds was often walked to pitch to certain Hall of Famer Andy Van Slyke.  

It is well-chronicled that Ruth out-homered every other American League team in 1927.  For Bonds to have come close to this in 2001, he would have had to hit 131 taters, just to tie the lowest total of any other NL team.   Speaking of home run dominance, the Babe led the league in that category an incredible 12 times while Bonds, for all his braggadocio has managed that feat a total of twice, which is twice less than that of the esteemed Mr. Aaron, who had the class to challenge and surpass Ruth where it mattered, on the field.  And while it is true that both Mr. B’s won only one batting title apiece, consider that Bonds’ excellent mark of .370 which garnered last year’s crown was topped by the Babe six times!

 And not to beat a dead horse, but then there's that darned pitching issue.  Had Ruth not pitched for five years (94-46, .671 winning percentage), Bonds would have no chance at any of the Babe's career marks.  But he did, which only elevates him in the baseball pantheon.  Only the Babe, over those five magic years, can lay claim to hitting more home runs (49) than he allowed (9).  

And, even giving lip service to modern baseball apologists, if you believe that today’s pitchers are bigger, stronger, etc., and that Ruth didn’t have to face the Negro League pitchers who managed to serve up 962 fat ones to Josh Gibson, consider that the Bambino faced the same shrimpy, weaklings (like Walter Johnson) as his contemporaries and still remains the undisputed Sultan of Swat in the minds of many. 

George Herman Ruth stands as the only player in any league to have a stadium, a WWII password and a curse associated with his name.  Add to this, that many still remember where they were when he died and you still feel the electricity and charisma generated by the man these long decades after his passing.  The bitter Mr. Bonds plays in a stadium that is named after a phone company and the only curse associated with his name seems to apply to the World Series aspirations of the teams graced by his presence.



 BY Lisa Fabrizio

 Hot Stove League, 1999

There have been numerous changes to the game of baseball in the last thirty years or so.  From the designated hitter in the American League, the installation of artificial turf stadiums, to the constant tinkering with the height of the pitcher's mound, and the "liveliness " of the very ball itself.  No one expects a sport more than a century old to remain true to its original rules and practices, and good arguments can be made for or against these and other changes.

Some, like the DH rule were made to bring more excitement (read offense) and keep older or more specialized players in the game.  (Personally, I am in favor of the DH being implemented by the National League, the only such organization in all of professional ball which doesn't use it.  But that's an argument for another day.)  Other changes were made in a quest to "even up" the ever-changing cycles, such as lowering the mound in times when pitching dominates, and vice versa. Some, like the wild-card were born of expansion.  Still others were made for financial considerations only.  The construction of domed stadiums and fields with artificial turf brought less rainouts and more opportunities for revenue via rock concerts, trade shows, et. al.

However, two years ago, in an effort to bolster popularity and regain a fan base that it was losing to the NBA and general malaise about the game itself, Major League Baseball introduced an experiment called inter-league play.  It is too easy to look back now at the just completed 1998 season, a renaissance of all the great and wonderful things people have always loved about baseball, and say:  "What were they thinking about?  The game will always produce great moments and players without any artificial tinkering".  You know what they say about hindsight. 

You might say the above argument can be turned against my endorsement of the DH rule and maybe you'd be right.  But my absolute hatred of inter-league baseball is based on a much different premise.  The afore-mentioned changes tweaked the game closer to the 21st century without altering its main allure: Baseball is Baseball.  It is unique in its recollection of a simpler time, even as it improves itself through minor adjustments.  It is still about a sun-splashed day where no time limits can intrude upon its stage, where one can view the wonderful symmetry of its composition.  This is where the conflict begins.

 As I have said, people love baseball because it is not football, hockey, or basketball.  Ask any lapsed hockey or basketball fan why they barely yawn through the regular seasons of those sports.  It is because those regular seasons have been rendered meaningless by the watering down of their schedules and by letting too many teams into the playoffs.  And in football, the 1970 league merger diminished great rivalries and brought forth…(shudder) the dreaded term - parity.

 Only in baseball was the playing field truly level within one's division.  Even more so when the "balanced" schedule was introduced.  Uniforms, strike zones and entire teams could change, but one thing was constant:  every team in a division played exactly the same schedule as everyone else.  The Yankees and Red Sox played the same number of games against each other as well as all the other American League teams.  Symmetry.  Three strikes, four balls, ninety feet, nine innings.  Same schedule.

 Now we have inter-league play. In order to introduce phony (and unnecessary) rivalries, we have thrown that blessed symmetry to the winds.   The Red Sox must now face the NL East teams while the White Sox face much weaker NL Central foes.  Worse still is the way the DH conflict intrudes into the mix.  For better or worse, baseball is the only sport which consists of two separate entities.  The NL and AL have their own rules, officials, and even logos.  Now, when an AL team plays in an NL park they must use NL rules, i.e., no DH.  In this age of wild-card races, one can only shudder at the thought of a mid-season at bat, by say, Andy Petitte impacting his team's chances for post-season play.  Worst of all is the prospect of a fan of say, the Orioles, rightly claiming his team was robbed by the schedule makers!

 One of the reasons for inter-league play, we are told, is so that fans can see players they don't normally get to see in their home parks.  Nonsense!  In today's cable-ready age they can see more players than ever before.  What about those who want to see opposite league players in person you ask?  Consider this:  when NL fans go to their parks to see AL teams, they often miss that team's best hitter, the  DH! 

I don't deny the fact that in certain markets, inter-league play is  beneficial to the owners and some fans.  But is creating artificial rivalries by ignoring real ones really good for the game?   For every Seattle vs. San Francisco "thriller", that is one less game for the Mariners to play the hated Yankees.  Rivalries will ebb and flow as the teams' fortunes rise and fall.  The Dodgers and Yankees had one of the best rivalries of all and never played a single regular season game.

 Which finally brings me to the World Series.  No other championship can rival it for sheer grandeur and suspense.  Often the two contestants in other sports championships have met each other in the "regular" season, sometimes on numerous occasions.  Where is the joy of speculation of the outcome that is lost when this is the case?  Thankfully, this has not yet happened in baseball, but will if inter-league play continues. 

This is the last year of the experiment.  Hopefully, MLB will see the folly in this blatant money-grab and let the game do what it does best: revert to its pastoral symmetry and produce more years like 1998.