Apr 15

Major League List: First African American Players By Franchise

On this date in 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. All players will wear Robinson’s No. 42 in today’s games.

The following are the first black players for each Major League team. Note: The list does not include those expansion teams (such as the Mets) formed after 1961 when baseball had become fully integrated.

The Mets are in Cleveland today to play the Indians, whose first African-American player was Larry Doby, who followed Robinson by less than three months, but faced the same obstacles. After his retirement, Doby became an executive for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets in 1979.

The List

Dodgers: Robinson, April 15, 1947

Indians: Doby, July 5, 1947

Browns (became Orioles): Hank Thompson, July 17, 1947

Giants: Monte Irvin and Thompson, July 8, 1949 B

Braves: Sam Jethroe, Braves: April 18, 1950

White Sox: Minnie Minoso, May 1, 1951

Athletics: Bob Trice, September 13, 1953

Cubs: Ernie Banks, September 17, 1953

Pirates: Curt Roberts, April 13, 1954

Cardinals: Tom Alston, April 13, 1954

Reds: Nino Escalera and Chuck Harmon, April 17, 1954

Senators (became Twins): Carlos Paula, September 6, 1954

Yankees: Elston Howard, April 14, 1955

Phillies: John Kennedy, April 22, 1957

Tigers: Ozzie Virgil, Sr., June 6, 1958

Red Sox: Pumpsie Green, July 21, 1959

ON DECK: Mets Need To DH Wright In Cleveland

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Apr 05

Where Did Opening Day Go?

We all know Major League Baseball scuttled tradition years ago, but did it have to do away with common sense, also?

At one time, baseball owned the first week of April with Opening Day, with the season traditionally starting in Washington and Cincinnati – the nation’s capital and the city of the sport’s oldest franchise. Those traditions made baseball unique. That disappeared awhile ago, but baseball still had the sense to open up after the NCAA Championship game.

However, the National Football League wrestled the concept of Opening Day away from baseball with the scheduling of the Super Bowl champion the Thursday before the first weekend. But, even before then Major League Baseball started doing screwy things that ruined how special Opening Day is … or was. Both the Mets and Yankees opened the regular season in Japan, then returned to the United States to play exhibition games. That’s beyond stupid.

Then it started opening games on Sunday night between the Final Four and the Championship game. But, with the nation’s attention focused on basketball, does this really make sense?

Ideally, Opening Day should be on the Tuesday after the hoops game, when, as Johnny Bench recently said, it could be a de facto national holiday with baseball owning the attention of the national sporting world.

However, in addition to the starting date, the scheduling of the teams has been far from ideal.

You all know how I feel about interleague play, but really on Opening Day? It is absurd, and for no other reason the high probability of poor weather postponing games.

If not the opener, then the rest of the series makes re-scheduling a rainout difficult because the team won’t come back. And, that argument applies to more than interleague games. Too many times teams make only one visit to a city because of the unbalanced schedule caused by interleague play.

Given that, does it make sense to have two cold-weather teams, such as Boston and Cleveland (which was postponed Monday) play each other? For that matter, why have two dome teams (Toronto played at Tampa Bay) or two warm-weather teams, such as the Dodgers and Padres, playing each other out of the gate?

I realize warm-weather and dome teams don’t want to schedule high-draw teams such as the Yankees, Mets, Cubs and Red Sox early in the season because they want to save those games for later in the summer.

However, it doesn’t have to be every year.

What makes the most sense is to schedule within the division because if those games are rained out they are easier to re-schedule because a team will make two more trips to that town.

Look, I understand it will never be the way it used to be, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be better.

Of the 15 opening series, there were only five divisional match-ups, and two of them included Dodgers-Padres and Blue Jays-Rays.

This is just not smart. It seems that not being smart is one tradition Major League Baseball will not abandon.

ON DECK: No way Royals will retaliate against Syndergaard.

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Jan 31

Time To Evaluate All All-Star Games

Good morning. On this bright and sunny – but cold – Sunday morning. Plenty of snow despite the sun. On this last day of January, with the Super Bowl a week away, what better time to talk about the All-Star Games, in all sports?

With the NHL and NFL All-Star Games today it got me to thinking – as I usually do – about the nature of the All-Star Games. They have become obsolete with no compelling reason to watch any of them. All of the sports, with the exception of football, feature some kind of skills competition the day prior to the game.

The hockey skills are the most interesting, mostly because I don’t see that much hockey. The NBA’s three-point demonstration is far more challenging than the slam dunk competition. Jumping over a car or running the length of the court does nothing for me. The slam dunk show does symbolize what the sport has become, which is a “look at me,” exhibition.

The NBA game itself is a playground game of one-on-one duels broken up by an occasional demonstrations of trick passing, which is to remind us these exceptional athletes can pass when the mood strikes them. Of course, the NBA game wouldn’t be complete without some bitching and moaning from LeBron James, who despite the limited rosters complains because there aren’t three Cavaliers on the team. He especially notes the absence of Kyrie Irving, who had played in all but 18 games when the teams were announced.

Then again, this is James, who earlier this week boasted of his “high basketball IQ.” For somebody supposedly so smart, how come he can’t figure out such basic things as roster size, not to mention something so basic as to get along with his coach?

There is no designated skills competition in the NFL game, primarily because there isn’t a headhunting exhibition. The NFL game is the one that should first be abandoned. A player gets fined for skipping the NHL game even with a legitimate injury, which shows the importance the league places on the game. Conversely, seven New England Patriots will skip today’s game in a hissy fit for losing to Denver. Not a peep from the NFL office or the supposedly sophisticated Boston media which goes mostly spineless when it come to the Patriots.

This brings us to the baseball All-Star Game, whose highlight, unfortunately, is the Home Run Derby. Not only do some players bring a malaise to the game, but the idea of making an exhibition game determine something as important as home field advantage in the World Series is beyond stupid.

I hate to be someone who says, “the way things used to be,” but in this case that’s the way it is. From the stuffing of the ballot box (there’s some degree of checks and balances when they limit the voting to only 35 votes, but you can log on under a different screen name and vote again) to the Derby to the home field, the baseball game has lost its meaning.

And, that’s too bad because the All-Star games used to mean something. Part of the reason is the mystery of the other league is gone. Growing up in Cleveland, I rarely got to see the Dodgers or Giants. I used to drive to Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, or watch the Mets when my family visited New York. But, that curiosity is gone with the gimmick of interleague play and cable television. These days you can see all the San Diego Padres games you want, whether you live in Cleveland, Alaska or the Congo. The mystery is gone.

This year the Padres will host the game. Last year it was Cincinnati. Next year it will be the Marlins. That’s three National League parks in a row. The game is no longer rotated by leagues, but as a reward for building a new stadium. That’s why the Mets got their game, and Minnesota. Actually, it will be more accurate to say in most cases it is a reward for coaxing the taxpayers to pay for the new buildings (this was not the case with the Mets).

Yet, MLB, like the other sports, puts make-up on their games to hide the ugliness that their All-Star Games have become. But, as the saying does, “if you put lipstick on a pig it’s still a pig.”

But, if I want pig, I’ll eat BBQ ribs. There’s no need to watch any of the All-Star games because there’s nothing compelling about any of them. Too bad, because they used to have value and I used to love watching.

Spring training is 18 days away, so I thought I’d get a head start on my bitching and moaning.

Jun 09

Baseball’s Scheduling A Joke

There probably is if I thought hard enough about it, but for now there are few things more absurd in baseball than its scheduling. While the sport is bent out of shape about the playing time of games, it might be more prudent to come up with a better scheduling format.

Seriously, how ridiculous is it for both the Mets and Yankees to playing at home tonight, against the Giants and Nationals, respectively? The teams were also home the same time for Opening Day and Memorial Day.

Of course, this is the byproduct of interleague play and the unbalanced schedule. Neither of those money-grabbing brain strokes has improved the game or the integrity of the schedule.

At one time, there was an even number of teams in each league and every team played every other team – home and away – the same number of times. They say a baseball season is a marathon, but currently not all teams run the same race. Some run 26 miles, while others run 24 or 28.

It’s just not the same race and that’s wrong. It’s emblematic of a sport without integrity.

 

Apr 06

Why Doesn’t Baseball Make Opening Day Special Again?

It is Opening Day damn it, it should be one of the best days – if not the very best – of every sports year. Then how come it isn’t? It’s because the people running the sport have no concept of the treasure they possess.

None.

Inside the grocery store in my town, there’s a little bank that posts a trivia question every week. The current question is: When is Opening Day for baseball? And, it listed five choices.

Now, if that doesn’t tell you about the state of the game, then what does?

Opening Day used to mean something. For years it opened in Cincinnati, home of the Reds, baseball’s oldest team, and in Washington, the nation’s capital. You never know when it is from year to year.

There’s always Internet chatter at making the Monday after the Super Bowl a holiday. Why? So people can sleep off their hangovers?

Tell me, what are the best days in sports? The Super Bowl is one, a monster for sure. How about the NFL championship game Sunday? Or the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament?

The NFL has its Opening Weekend down pat with the Super Bowl champ starting on the Thursday before the first Sunday. Baseball’s start used to be in the nation’s spotlight, but it foolishly gave away that day, which is also part of Bud Selig’s legacy.

We’ve had the first game of the baseball season start several times in Japan, with those teams returning to the United States for more spring training games. Yeah, they had the think tank working overtime for that one.

Baseball 2015 started Easter Sunday night in frigid Chicago at the construction site known as Wrigley Field, where there were only two restrooms on the main concourse. Nobody thought to order portable restrooms, of course. Did anybody notice those photos of cups of urine lined up?

It would have been great to get a comment from new commissioner Rob Manfred. Maybe he’ll have something to say on the time of the game, which was over three hours.

The game, by the way, was broadcast on MLB Network, which much of the country doesn’t have. Today’s games include an interleague match-up with the Red Sox in Philadelphia. Interleague play is tough to stomach already, but under no circumstances should there be interleague games on Opening Day.

There are also three games that start at, or after, 7 p.m., EDT, that would be in conflict with the NCAA Championship. Two are to be telecast on ESPN. Who is the marketing genius behind that one?

Sports will conflict with each other, but can’t anybody look at a calendar to see what they are up against? Why not give the NCAA the first Monday, and let baseball have Tuesday? Go wall-to-wall games starting at noon and running to midnight. Now, that should be a national holiday.

Baseball talks about the need to market itself better, especially for the next generation, but it doesn’t get it. This little tweak can spark the imaginations of kids across the country.

My late father understood it on April 7, 1970, when he took my brother and I out of school for the day to watch the Indians on Opening Day against Baltimore. Dave McNally against Sam McDowell.

Despite his note, the school did not approve, but he took us out anyway. He reasoned we would take more from being at that game than anything we would have learned that day in class.

He was right. Baseball was very big in our home, and it still is in our family. That’s how you cultivate the fans of tomorrow.

Looking back, he was right, and it is one of my fondest memories of him.

My dad got it 45 years ago. I wonder how many fathers around the country got it today, and will get it next Monday and take their kids to Citi Field.

What I do know, is the people running Major League Baseball don’t get it.

ON DECK: What is with the Opening Day lineup?