Jul 04

All-Star Game Has Lost Its Way; From Voting Process On Down

Jonathan Papelbon’s dissing the notion of Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig’s being named to the National League All-Star team initially brought a reaction of agreement.

A month in the major leagues, regardless of how spectacular it might be, is not a large enough window.

“The guy’s got a month,’’ Papelbon said. “Just comparing him to this and that, and saying he’s going to make the All-Star team, that’s a joke to me.’’

PUIG: Let him play. (LA Times)

PUIG: Let him play. (LA Times)

Then, the more I thought about it, nearly everything connected with the All-Star Game is a joke, and pretty much has been since interleague play.

The luster from the All-Star Game has gradually worn off because there’s no edge to the rivalry of the leagues. The home run derby was once a novelty, but has gotten boring in much the way the NBA slam-dunk turned on the yawn machine.

Bud Selig’s decision to have the All-Star Game winner determine home field advantage of the World Series was gimmick. Selig knew the game was missing something, so he added that condiment. Kind of like putting ketchup on a piece of meat.

A century of tradition was brushed away by the gimmick of interleague play.

Also falling into the category of gimmickry is the voting process. When the voting was returned to the fans, which violated the privilege by stuffing the ballot box, it was initially as a reward to fans that paid their way into the park.

Ironically, now Major League Baseball encourages fans to stuff the box, but to its credit does observe limitations – you’re now only allowed to cast 35 votes. David Wright deserves to be on the team, but the trumping for his was shameless. There’s a logo in the dirt behind home plate telling fans to vote.  Imagine how tasteless it would have been had they gone through with the link to the dating website. It’s that way in all cities.

Also puzzling is adding a serious tone to the game by having it determine home field in the World Series, yet having each team represented, even if it means adding a player not worthy, which is to not field the best team.

The only team mandated to have a representative should be the host team. After that, there should be no push. If a team doesn’t have a worthy player, why should a deserving player be deprived?

The game has changed, and not for the competitive better. How can there be when Barry Bonds hoists Torii Hunter on his shoulder after robbing him of a homer in Milwaukee? You see that and think of Pete Rose plowing Ray Fosse at the plate and wonder what is wrong with that picture.

Two plays in two eras showing two ranges of emotion.

Starting pitchers would work up to three innings, with no limits when the game went to extra innings. In 1967, in Anaheim, which went 16 innings, Catfish Hunter pitched five innings. Starters such as Brooks Robinson, Tony Conigliaro, Harmon Killebrew and Roberto Clemente had six at-bats.

No longer.

If you weren’t paying attention, then the 2002 game in Milwaukee should have sealed it for you. That was the game called a tie after 11 innings because both teams ran out of pitchers. Also, part of Selig’s legacy.

The teams ran out of pitchers because nobody worked more than two innings.

That was also the year, you might recall, when Sammy Sosa put on a sweat-pouring, steroid-fueled display during the home run derby, then took a limo back to Chicago after he was removed from the game.

Aaah, such memories.

The bottom line is the All-Star Game has long lost its spice and its spot in baseball lore. It doesn’t have that special feel to it any longer. So, if Major League Baseball wants to continue making it a gimmick and surrounding the event with celebrities and novelties, then who why should anybody care if Puig is named.

The only reason Papelbon cares is because he has an old school mentality with a passion about his sport, something the keepers of the game have long since abandoned.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jun 16

Baseball As A Bond On Father’s Day

Was channel surfing on the car radio Saturday when the numbers stopped on the New York Mets game. I thought I’d stick around for a quick listen to Howie Rose and Josh Lewin for a couple of reasons.

First, they are good, and secondly I thought I’d do my part to boost their ratings. What else are friends for?

I forget the context it was mentioned, but Howie brought up the now-demolished Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Josh called it, “The Mistake on the Lake.” Constructed on the shores of Lake Erie, the one-time home of the Indians and Browns – and built in the long-forgotten hope of Cleveland one day hosting the Olympics – like so many others exists only in film clips and memories.

Howie mentioned his disdain for the Stadium and asked how anybody could like the place. To anybody who once shivered watching the Browns in December or Indians in April, or battled the monstrous bugs, or sat behind a pillar, or smelt the stench of the beer and urine-soaked concourses, I surely understand.

But, I said “once.’’

For me, and thousands like me, there were countless trips and Cleveland Stadium became a second home. When Howie mentioned it I couldn’t help think of my father, who on this special day, is only with me in my distracted and rushing thoughts.

My father instilled in me my love of baseball and sense of fair play. He was my Little League coach and my teams weren’t that good, but win or lose, after each game we’d go for ice cream. And, whether you were good or not, on my father’s team you always played and everybody batted. No exceptions. Only now do I understand why we lost so many games late because some kid I’ve long since forgotten muffed a pop up or struck out.

The first day of practice was for preparing the field. You brought shovels and rakes, not bats and gloves that day.

Baseball was it in my house. Dad rushed home to coach the games, and on the nights we didn’t play we’d watch the Indians. I loved watching those games with him. Somehow, it was better in black-and-white long before the days of instant replay and high-def.

However, serious bonding was done at Cleveland Stadium. I still have the box score from the first game he took me to, won 5-0 by the Indians over Baltimore. I came to see Rocky Colavito, but Chuck Hinton homered.

We’d go several times each summer, and he always brought along a group of my friends for my birthday. I’ll never forget when he took my brother and me out of school for Opening Day. He said we’d remember that more than anything they’d teach us that day in school.

He was right, as he often was, but I didn’t give him that much.

I remember a lot of the games, including the time we had standing room tickets to watch the Browns beat Dallas in the playoffs. Dale Lindsey ran back an interception for a touchdown. What I remember most was looking up at him as he shivered just because I wanted to be there.

When I got older and covered the Indians, I treated him. Then, years later, the best time I had with him in my adult life was when he spent a week with me in spring training. Sadly, we did it once. But, that week in Florida was planted in Cleveland Stadium decades earlier.

The Stadium wasn’t glamorous, but it was mine. Just as Shea Stadium was Howie’s place of worship, so to speak. In these days of Citi Field and retro stadiums, there are countless of baseball fans like us weaned in dumpy ballparks.

Gone are Tiger Stadium; Memorial Stadium in Baltimore; the old Yankee Stadium; RFK in Washington; Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota; Crosley Field; and Forbes Field. And, we haven’t even gotten to Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds.

Those are sacred places of Tom Seaver and Mickey Mantle; of Al Kaline and Brooks Robinson; of Harmon Killebrew and Pete Rose; of Ralph Kiner and Willie Mays.

Some of those stadiums are now dust, or covered in concrete and built over by apartment complexes and shopping malls. Some of the players are also gone.

They remain in our consciousness in large part because our fathers told us about them while sitting in cramped aisles between innings and pitching changes. Those were the days before non-stop video and blaring audio, sometimes between batters. The lull in the action is the beauty of the sport, which those who run this game worrying about the added five minutes will never understand.

My father and I were close then, but drifted apart as I grew older. We differed politically and I rebelled about a lot of things, as most teenagers do.

I don’t recall if we ever played catch in the yard after he stopped coaching and I went to high school. Maybe we did, but honestly, I don’t think so. However, when things were the coldest between us, we always had baseball and World War II history to talk about.

There were times, even if I knew the answers, I’d ask questions just to hear him talk. Even manufactured conversation is better than silence. He’s gone now and there’s so much more I’d like to tell him if I had the chance I will never get.

If I were smart enough then as reflective as I am now, perhaps we would have thrown the ball around a lot more.

Jun 01

Today in Mets History: Sign of things to come in 1969.

SWOBODA: One of the Amazins.

There were signs prior to their showdown series against the Cubs that 1969 had the potential to be a breakout, if not special season.

The Mets always had their troubles against the Giants, and finding little ways to win was never their forte. However, on this day in 1969 the Mets completed a three-game sweep of San Francisco at Shea Stadium, winning 5-4 on Ron Swoboda’s bases-loaded walk in the ninth inning.

BOX SCORE

Swoboda signed with the Mets after playing one year at the University of Maryland, and debuted with the team in 1965. Swoboda hit 15 homers by the All-Star break, but finished the season with 19, then a Mets’ rookie record (broken by Darryl Strawberry in 1983).

For all his strength, Swoboda never became a big time home run hitter and finished his career with 73. He will always be remembered for hitting a pair of two-run homers off Steve Carlton, Sept. 15, 1969, and robbing Brooks Robinson of extra bases with a diving catch in right field in Game 4 of the World Series.

SWOBODA CAREER STATS

 

Nov 04

Game 6: Where history is made.

Game 6 is more than a count of what has been played, more than a bookmark to the World Series. Game 6 has its own mystique. The most dramatic World Series usually go seven games, but it can’t get there without a Game 6.

Fisk's homer.

Fisk's homer.


One way or another, it ends after Game 7, which takes away part of the suspense. However, there’s a sense of urgency, of desperation, for the team behind entering Game 6.

It is why many of baseball’s most dramatic moments are born to that game. I’ve chosen five, with the criteria being I saw the game and it produced a seventh game.

One of baseball’s most enduring images, and perhaps its greatest game, came in the 1975 World Series on Carlton Fisk’s game-ending homer in the 12th inning as Boston beat Cincinnati, 7-6. Fisk’s homer was made possible by Bernie Carbo’s three-run, two-strike, pinch-hit game-tying homer in the eighth inning.

Fisk’s moment just delayed what Red Sox fans would call the inevitable, as Boston lost Game 7 at Fenway Park.

Buckner a picture of dejection.

Buckner a picture of dejection.


Another moment etched in time is the ball that got by by Bill Buckner in the 1986 World Series. Down to their last out, the Mets rallied for three runs to beat Boston, 6-5, with the game-winner coming on Mookie Wilson’s dribbler through Buckner’s legs.

The Mets went on to win Game 7, and overcame a three-run deficit to do it.

That game was made possible because the Mets prevailed against Houston over 16 innings in Game 6 of the NLCS. Keith Hernandez called it a crucial victory as it kept the Mets from facing Mike Scott, who beat them in Games 1 and 4.

This year’s playoffs have been marred by terrible umpiring, but one of the game’s most infamous calls came in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series that might have kept St. Louis from winning. Facing elimination and down 1-0 going into the ninth inning, umpire Don Denkinger ruled Kansas City’s Jorge Orta safe at first on a play in which he was clearly out.

The Royals went on to win that game, 2-1, then rout the Cardinals, 11-0, in Game 7.

The Call.

The Call.


In Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, Minnesota’s Kirby Puckett’s 11th inning homer off Charlie Leibrandt kept the Twins alive, 4-3. They would win Game 7 on Jack Morris’ ten-inning shutout. single run, four games decided in the final at-bat and three games going into extra innings.

Often forgotten, perhaps because the game wasn’t decided on a game-ending hit, Anaheim rallied from five runs down in the seventh inning to beat San Francisco, 6-5. The Angels scored three in the seventh and three in the eighth to win, then won Game 7.

Another came in the 1971 World Series, when the Orioles, facing elimination, beat Pittsburgh, 3-2, in 10 innings on Brooks Robinson’s sacrifice fly.

I invite you to reflect on these moments and any other you might have about Game 6 in the World Series.