Baseball teaches patience. One of the worst things a baseball player can do is hurry. The harder you try, the less success you find on the diamond. Larry Walker might be the most patient man in baseball. He was elected to Cooperstown in his final year on the ballot. Walker will finally have his moment in the sun as he joins the Hall of Fame. Now he must wait again as the Covid-19 Pandemic has delayed his induction until 2021. He waited 10 years to be elected, now he has to wait one more. Even the retirement of his #33 by the Rockies was postponed due to the delayed Major League season.
Larry Walker’s baseball resume is extensive. He is a 5 time All Star (1992, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001), 3 time Silver Slugger (1992, 1997, 1999), 7 time Gold Glove winner (1992, 1993, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002), 3 time Batting Champion (1998, 1999, 2001), and the 1997 National League Most Valuable Player. Walker won the Tip O’Neill award 9 times (1987, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002) as the Canadian baseball player “judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to the highest ideals of the game of baseball.”
Hall of Fame careers are built through season after season of consistency. In 17 Major League seasons Walker played for the Montreal Expos (1989-1994), Colorado Rockies (1995-2004), and St. Louis Cardinals (2004-2005). In 1,988 Games he collected 2,160 Hits, scored 1,355 Runs, 471 Doubles, 62 Triples, 383 Home Runs, 1,311 RBI, 230 Stolen Bases, 913 Walks (117 Intentional), 1,231 Strikeouts, 3,904 Total Bases, 138 Hit By Pitch, .313 BA, .400 OBP, .565 SLG, .965 OPS, and 141 OPS+.
Larry Walker was a pure hitter but never gets the credit he deserves because of playing in Colorado during the Steroid Era. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Larry Walker was an elite hitter, especially during his peak. He rarely receives the credit he deserves for two reasons. First, his peak was during the height of the Steroid Era. His excellence was often overshadowed by juiced sluggers. Second, critics often credit much of his success to playing at altitude in Colorado. Examining Walker’s career Home/Road Splits does show he hit better at home. In 986 career home Games, Walker collected 1,193 Hits, including 268 Doubles, 39 Triples, and 215 Home Runs, with a .348 BA, .431 OBP, .637 SLG, 1.068 OPS, and 121 OPS+. In 1,002 career road Games, he collected 967 Hits, including 203 Doubles, 23 Triples, and 168 Home Runs, with a .278 BA, .370 OBP, .495 SLG, .865 OPS, and 80 OPS+. There is no denying Walker benefited from hitting at Coors Field. However, why should he be penalized for playing in Colorado? If playing for the Rockies disqualifies a player from the Hall of Fame, MLB should never have placed a team in Denver. Also, Walker played 7 of his 17 seasons away from Colorado.
Baseball is about more than what a player can do with the bat, they must use their glove too. Walker played 1,718 Games in Right Field. In 15,678.2 Innings he had 4,246 Chances, made 3,976 Putouts, with 213 Assists, turned 92 Double Plays, and committed 57 Errors for a .987 Fielding %. Gold Gloves are rarely given to undeserving players, and winning 7 of them is proof Walker was more than a hitter.
1997 was Larry Walker’s best season. He won the National League Most Valuable Player award, becoming the first and so far only Rockies player to do so. Walker won in a landslide, beating second place Mike Piazza by almost 100 points and received 22 of 28 first place votes. In 153 Games Walker collected 208 Hits, including 46 Doubles, 4 Triples, 49 Home Runs, scored 143 Runs, 130 RBI, 33 Stolen Bases, 78 Walks (14 Intentional), 90 Strikeouts, 409 Total Bases, 14 Hit By Pitch, a .366 BA, .452 OBP, .720 SLG, 1.172 OPS, and 178 OPS+. He led the Senior Circuit in Home Runs, Total Bases, OBP, SLG, OPS, and finished second in BA only .006 behind Tony Gwynn.
Dispelling the naysayers, Walker’s road numbers in 1997 were elite. In 75 Road Games, he collected 92 Hits, 16 Doubles, 29 Home Runs, scored 61 Runs, 62 RBI, 16 Stolen Bases, 42 Walks (7 Intentional), 56 Strikeouts, 5 Hit By Pitch, 195 Total Bases, .346 BA, .443 OBP, .733 SLG, 1.176 OPS, and 213 OPS+. While he hit 9 more Home Runs on the Road than at Home, in 3 fewer games, Walker’s numbers were even better at home. MVP’s have stats that jump out at you. Larry Walker played out of his mind on the road in 1997. He was on another planet at Coors Field.
Hall of Fame players are not always successful in the Postseason. Larry Walker reached the Postseason three times, in 1995 with Colorado and 2004 and 2005 at the end of his career with St. Louis. The Cardinals were swept by the Red Sox in Walker’s only World Series in 2004. In 28 career Postseason games, Walker hit .230, with 5 Doubles, 1 Triple, 7 Home Runs, 15 RBI, scored 18 Runs, 2 Stolen Bases, 16 Walks, 28 Strikeouts, with a .350 OBP. While he did not play his best in October, the majority of his Postseason play was at the end of his career as a part time player.
Larry Walker was a Hall of Fame player and heard the news of his election to Cooperstown while wearing a legendary shirt. (@Rockies)
After retiring following the 2005 season Larry Walker began waiting the five years to be on the Hall of Fame ballot. The Maple Ridge, British Columbia native was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009. He first appeared on the ballot for Cooperstown in 2011, receiving just 20.3% of the vote. Walker floated between 22.9% in 2012 and 10.2% in 2014 until 2017. The Hall of Fame looked just out of reach. In his final three years of eligibility, Walker’s fortunes changed. In 2018, his 8th year on the ballot, he received 34.1% of the vote. In 2019 he was up to 54.6%. 2020 was Walker’s 10th and final year on the ballot. If he was not elected his enshrinement would be determined by a future Veterans Committee, a long shot process at best. Derek Jeter was one vote shy of unanimous, receiving 396 of 397 votes. Walker needed 298 votes to make it to Cooperstown. When the results were revealed, Walker received 304 votes, 6 more than he needed. His place among the games legends was secure. He joins Ferguson Jenkins as the only Canadians elected to the Hall of Fame. Walker is also the first Rockies player enshrined.
Patience is key in baseball. Wait for your pitch, stay down on a ground ball, camp under a fly ball. Baseball is about waiting and no one understands this better than Larry Walker. He used every possible moment of the Hall of Fame election process to secure his place in Cooperstown. He cleared the bar by 6 votes. Now he has to wait a little longer due to the Covid-19 Pandemic for his day in the sun as he is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
MLB cannot get out of its own way. As America fights the Covid-19 Pandemic and protests against police brutality and systemic racism, MLB decided to begin its labor dispute ahead of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. Halting Spring Training due to the Pandemic was the smart choice. Owners and players then needed to work towards a timeline for the resumption of the season. Negotiating when the delayed season would start and the financial ramifications for the players and owners were the logical first steps towards returning to play.
By no means do I have all the information about the negotiations, only what is public knowledge. What I do know is the owners presented the players with the same unacceptable offer multiple times, just in different ways. Each time the players rejected the offer with a counter offer only to have the owners repackage the previous offer in new wrapping paper. Finally the players threw up their hands and said enough, just tell us when and where to play. This was part of the agreement reached in March between both sides at the beginning of the delayed season. Suddenly Commissioner Rob Manfred went from 100% certain there would be a season to not confident in less than a week. Publicly the only change was the players saying let’s play.
I get it, baseball is a business, even if fans hate to admit it. MLB continues to report record profits, sign billion dollar television contracts, yet the owners cry poverty. The players said show us your accounting books and those losses so we can be partners in absorbing the financial pain of the Pandemic. The owners refused. MLB and the owners were hesitant to set a schedule for fear of being sued by the MLB Players Association for negotiating in bad faith. Some fans will be angry with the “billionaires fighting the millionaires.” Yes, MLB players make vast sums of money. However at a time when baseball is growing and could grow even more as the country looks for a break from reality, the owners are attempting to break the Players Union to further strengthen and enrich themselves.
Commissioner Rob Manfred is killing baseball at a time when baseball could be flourishing. (LM Otero, STF/ Associated Press)
Every labor negotiation is contentious. Both parties have their ideal scenarios and are resistant to compromise. In baseball’s case, those running the game are driving the game into the ground. The owners wanted to cut a quarter of Minor League teams. This is not because owners see the Minor Leagues as too big. It is because the ridiculously low pay Minor Leaguers receive has finally been brought to light. The backlash made owners seek to reduce the number of Minor League teams and players, allowing them to increase pay for the remaining players without raising expenses. MLB reduced the draft to just 5 rounds. The top players got the money they are worth, but MLB capped undrafted free agents at $20,000. This grotesque approach means a player normally selected in the 6th round is screwed, some draftees have few options other than signing for less than they are worth. Owners are cutting costs, not to save the game but to increase their own profits.
Few will cry about Mike Trout making $19 million instead of $35 million this season. Both are large amounts of money to play a game. However, this would sit better with players if there was actual, verifiable proof the owners are bleeding money and need financial relief. The Mike Trouts and Bryce Harpers of baseball will make their money, but what about the players who play a season or two in the majors? Making league minimum, $563,500 in 2020, is their big payday after years making poverty wages in the Minors. They are the ones getting screwed the most. In a perfect world, the players and owners agree to full prorated contracts so these players are rewarded for their service to the game. Now there are reports that several owners would rather cancel the season instead of working out a compromise. Manfred is a labor lawyer, yet this mess falls on him. He works for the owners, but he should be screaming at them to take a bump in the road now to bring in new fans, more advertisers, and vastly more money going forward.
Everyone should be angry with the state of baseball right now. Neither side is blameless, both the players and owners have miscalculated their position leading us here. The negotiations are not public, but with what we do know, the owners and Manfred are trying to kill baseball. An agreement seems on the horizon, but the peace baseball has long enjoyed is over. The next CBA negotiation is 3 years away. We are entering an era that could irreparably harm baseball for a generation or more and it is almost entirely the owners fault. Hopefully they wake up before the ship sinks.
The Covid-19 Pandemic has slowed the world down and given people time they would otherwise spend working to do other productive things. Sir Isaac Newton invented Calculus during the Great Plague of London. We have not been that productive, mainly we just miss baseball. Anything to return to normal, even for a few hours, is a welcomed distraction.
Derek was perusing Twitter when he came upon @DanClarkSports.
The 9/9/9 Challenge (Twitter/@DanClarkSports)
The Winning Run decided to partake in the 9/9/9 Challenge. The Challenge is eating 9 hot dogs, drinking 9 beers, in 9 innings. The average game during the 2019 season took 3:05. 185 minutes to eat 9 hot dogs and drink 9 beers. Baseball+Hot Dogs+Beer= a great socially distant Saturday night. Much like our annual season predictions, we predicted how we would fare before beginning the challenge.
Derek- 8 hot dogs and 7 beers
Jesse- 8 hot dogs and 8 beers
John- 9 hot dogs and 9 beers
Bernie- 7 hot dogs and 7 beers
Kevin- 5 hot dogs and 8 beers
Derek- 7 hot dogs and 9 beers
Jesse- 9 hot dogs and 9 beers
John- 9 hot dogs and 9 beers
Bernie- 8 hot dogs and 8 beers
Kevin- 5 hot dogs and 5 beers
Derek- 9 hot dogs and 7 beers
Jesse- 9 hot dogs and 8 beers
John- 9 hot dogs and 9 beers
Bernie- 8 hot dogs and 7 beers
Kevin- 6 hot dogs and 8 beers
Bernie- 9 hot dogs and 7 beers
Derek- 9 hot dogs and 8 beers
Jesse- 8 hot dogs and 9 beers
John- 9 hot dogs and 9 beers
Kevin- 5 hot dogs and 6 beers
Derek- 8 hot dogs and 5 beers
Jesse- 6 hot dogs and 8 beers
John- 9 hot dogs and 9 beers
Bernie- 6 hot dogs and 5 beers
Kevin- 4 hot dogs and 6 beers
Derek- 8.6 hot dogs and 6.8 beers
Jesse- 8 hot dogs and 8.4 beers
John- 8.6 hot dogs and 9 beers
Bernie- 7.6 hot dogs and 6.8 beers
Kevin- 5 hot dogs and 6.6 beers
John was the clear favorite to finish the 9/9/9 Challenge. Kevin on the other hand was not looking great, having gone a year without eating pork or beef makes eating 9 hot dogs difficult. He refused to eat non-meat hot dogs. Derek, Jesse, and Bernie had a chance to complete the Challenge but it would take dedication.
Our rules for the 9/9/9 Challenge:
- 8 of 9 hot dogs must have at least one condiment.
- No sleeping.
- Entire beer/ hot dog must be consumed before it counts, no half credit.
- Challenge ends when the final out is made.
- You puke, you are disqualified.
We have plenty of games to choose from, but we decided to stick with the evening’s theme. We watched the May 1, 2019 game with the Colorado Rockies visiting the Milwaukee Brewers, Coors Field against Miller Park. Sadly there are no ballparks with a hot dog corporate sponsor. Brewers Starting Pitcher Chase Anderson suffered a finger laceration warming up, forcing Jacob Barnes to make his first, and so far only, career start.
The Rockies did not care that Barnes was making his first career start. Charlie Blackmon led off with a Walk, Trevor Story did the same. 12 pitches in, Colorado had runners on First and Second, 0 outs, with Daniel Murphy at the plate. Murphy struck out swinging, but Barnes threw a Wild Pitch, allowing Blackmon and Story to advance. Second and Third, 1 out, Nolan Arenado up. First pitch was a ball. Next pitch, a rocket to deep Left-Center for a 3 Run Home Run. 3-0 Rockies. Ryan McMahon reached on an infield Single. Ian Desmond Walked. Thankfully for Barnes, Raimel Tapia and Drew Butera both went down swinging to end the inning and his day. Barnes went 1 Inning, allowed 2 Hits, 3 Earned Runs, 3 Walks, 3 Strikeouts, and threw 38 pitches. Not the ideal first career start.
Milwaukee’s bats tried to exact a bit of revenge against Antonio Senzatela as he took the mound for Colorado. Lorenzo Cain led off by lining out. Eric Thames Singled. Mike Moustakas took the first pitch he saw and deposited it beyond the Leftfield fence. 3-2 Colorado. The score stayed 3-2 until the 5th Inning. We watched at the game, none of us were especially glued to the action. The Brewers and Rockies are not our favorite teams, plus it had been a while since we hung out. The social aspect of baseball, and the Challenge, took over. The joy of eating hot dogs, drinking beer, and watching baseball brought a sense of normalcy that has been lacking recently.
Nolan Arenado hit bombs during the 9/9/9 Challenge. (Benny Sieu- USA TODAY Sports)
John announces in the 5th Inning that he was done. 9 hot dogs, 9 beers, 5 Innings. All hail the victor. The long 1st Inning allowed John to down 5 hot dogs and 5 beers. Bernie too had sprinted out of the box, demolishing 8 hot dogs. Kevin and Jesse also polished off 5 hot dogs in the 1st Inning. Meanwhile, Derek was cruising along with just 3 hot dogs gone.
Kevin overtook Jesse in the 7th Inning. He took advantage of Jesse talking to close the gap, finishing his final beer and hot dog before the 7th Inning Stretch. Jesse quickly finished his final hot dog, ensuring his place on the medal stand. He started celebrating too early and Kevin passed him just before the finish line. Bernie had gone out hard on the hot dogs and was paying the lethargic price. Meanwhile Derek was the tortoise of the race, slow and steady.
In the Bottom of the 5th, Ben Gamel Singled, scoring Eric Thames and Yasmani Grandal. 4-3 Brewers. The Rockies retook the lead in the Top of the 6th. Ryan McMahon scored on a Wild Pitch. Tony Wolters Singled home Ian Desmond. Raimel Tapia scored on a Charlie Blackmon Double to make it 6-4 Colorado. The score remained 6-4 until the 8th Inning as the Challenge for some became keeping down the hot dogs.
Colorado added to their lead in the 8th. Tapia Doubled to Right, followed by a Mark Reynolds Walk. Tony Wolters hit a Sacrifice Fly, scoring Tapia. Blackmon was Hit By the next Pitch, forcing Reynolds to Second. Story followed with a 3 Run Home Run, scoring Reynolds and Blackmon. The Rockies scored 4 in the 8th pushing their lead to 10-4.
Jesus Aguilar Walked and Gamel Singled to give Milwaukee a bit of hope to start the home half of the 8th. However, those hopes were quickly dashed when Scott Oberg induced an Orlando Arcia 6-4-3 Double Play. Derek was finishing his last beer and hot dog as Nolan Arenado launched a 3-2 pitch from Jeremy Jeffress beyond the Left-Centerfield wall. 11-4 Colorado. Derek’s slow and steady pace meant he missed the podium, but still conquered the 9/9/9 Challenge. Only Bernie was left. After the Arenado dinger the Rockies went down in order. The Brewers put the first two on, a Lorenzo Cain Single and Eric Thames Walk, but down by 7 there was little hope for a comeback. Mike Moustakas Lined Out, then Yasmani Grandal Struckout. As Travis Shaw stepped to the plate, Bernie made his mad dash for home. He finished his final beer just moments before Shaw popped out to end the game and the Challenge. The Rockies won 11-4.
Derek- 9 hot dogs and 9 beers
Jesse- 10 hot dogs and 9 beers
John- 9 hot dogs and 10 beers
Bernie- 9 hot dogs and 9 beers
Kevin- 9 hot dogs and 10 beers
The average MLB game in 2019 took 3:05. This May 1st battle between beer sponsored ballparks took 3:44. The long 1st Inning plus several half innings with multiple runs scored gave us extra time to complete the 9/9/9 Challenge. It was not the most exciting game to watch. However, it was a great reason to get together with friends, via the internet, watch baseball, and forget the chaos of the real world for a few hours. We could have spent our time doing something far more productive, but what could be a better waste of time than baseball and friends. Challenge completed.
The Korean War has the unfortunate nickname of the Forgotten War. The conflict in Korea was wedged between World War II and the Vietnam War, but it was no less horrific for the soldiers. 36,574 Americans were killed in just over 3 years of fighting. The Forgotten War cut short the lives of many soldiers. Among those killed in Korea was Major Robert Neighbors of the Army Air Force.
Major Neighbors joined the Army Air Force on May 8, 1942. He served with the 22nd Air Transport Training Detachment in Wichita Falls, Texas. He also spent part of his time playing baseball for the Sheppard Field Mechanics. After the German and Japanese surrenders, the United States began demobilizing large parts of its military. However, Neighbors decided to stay and make a career in the Army Air Force.
Roughly five years later, on June 25, 1950 North Korea attacked South Korea sparking the Korean War. The conflict was both an attempt to unify the Korean peninsula under one flag and an escalation of the Cold War. The United States was immediately drawn into the conflict defending its South Korean ally and preventing the spread of Communism. Major Neighbors was assigned to the 13th Bomb Squadron of the 3rd Bomb group. On August 8, 1952 Neighbors and his crew, First-Lieutenant William Holcom and Staff-Sergeant Grady Weeks, flew a night mission over North Korea. They were originally not scheduled for the mission but the pilot of the scheduled crew was sick. During their mission Neighbors and his crew were shot down. They radioed they were hit but did not provide a location. The crew bailed out of their Douglas B-26 Invader and were never heard from again. Neighbors and his crew were officially declared dead on December 31, 1953 after they were not among the Prisoners of War repatriated in accordance with the Armistice. He was 34 years old and left behind his second wife, his first wife was hit and killed by a car in 1941, and a 2 year old son. Neighbors was the only Major League player killed during the Korean War, and is the last Major League player killed in combat.
Major Robert Neighbors is the most recent MLB player killed in war. (www.mlb.com)
Neighbors’ spent 6 seasons in the Minor Leagues playing primarily for teams in Texas and Arkansas. He began his professional career in 1936 with the Siloam Springs Travelers of the Class D Arkansas-Missouri League. He returned to Siloam Springs to begin 1937 before joining the Abbeville A’s of the Class D Evangeline League. In 1938, Neighbors played for the Class A1 San Antonio Missions in the Texas League and the Palestine Pals of the Class C East Texas League. In 1939, he joined the Class B Springfield Browns of the Triple I League before his September call up. Neighbors was back in the Minors in 1940 with the Toledo MudHens of the Class AA American Association, before playing for both San Antonio and Palestine. Neighbors spent 1941, his final season of professional ball, with San Antonio. It was during a road trip that his first wife was hit and killed. Across 6 seasons in the Minors, Neighbors hit .268 with a solid to very good glove at Shortstop.
September call ups reward young prospects with a taste of the Major Leagues. Bob Neighbors was not the next super star the Browns were always searching for, but his play earned him a cup of coffee in the Big Leagues. He debuted on September 16, 1939 against the Washington Senators as a Pinch Runner. In 7 games, Neighbors had 2 Hits in 11 At Bats (.182), including a solo Home Run for his only RBI, scored 3 Runs, with 1 Strikeout. In the field, he played 28 Innings at Shortstop. He had 12 Chances, made 5 Putouts, 6 Assists, 1 Error, and turned 1 Double Play.
The Boston Red Sox were finishing out the 1939 season. Their new super star Ted Williams had arrived in April, slugging 31 Home Runs, a league best 145 RBI, and hitting .327. Boston would finish the season 89-62, but it did not matter. The Yankees won the American League pennant by 17 games. Even good seasons at Fenway were not enough. The St. Louis Browns came to Fenway on September 21, 1939 to play a game because it was on the schedule. The official attendance was 598. Five Hundred and Ninety Eight. In the Bottom of the 6th, the Red Sox loaded the bases with 1 out. Doc Cramer hit a ground ball to Neighbors who threw to Johnny Berardino covering Second to force out Red Nonnenkamp. Instead of throwing to First, Berardino threw to 3rd Baseman Harlond Clift to tag Denny Galehouse. Before the 3rd out was made, Gene Desautels scampered home to score. Only the Browns could turn an inning ending Double Play while allowing a run to score. Neighbors was up second in the Top of the 7th with 1 out. He drove a pitch from Galehouse over the Green Monster for his only career Home Run. Neighbors’ best day in his short Major League career was not enough, the Browns lost 6-2. His final game was nine days later on September 30, 1939 in the second game of a Doubleheader against the White Sox. The Browns went 1-6 with Neighbors on the team, finishing dead last in the American League at 43-111. 1939 was the Browns’ 10th consecutive losing season.
Bob Neighbors did not have a long, memorable career. He, like so many others, had a cup of coffee in the Majors. He is forever listed among the select few who have played Major League Baseball. While his career was far from spectacular, his dedication to his country went beyond the call of duty. Major Robert Neighbors is among those we remember this Memorial Day who gave their lives in defense of our nation. He stands out for playing in the Major Leagues, but he is no different than the thousands of soldiers lost in war. Neighbors is the most recent Major League player killed in war. Hopefully he retains this title forever and fewer sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins go off to war and do not return.
One by one the delaying, postponing, and/or canceling of baseball at every level has created an emptiness baseball fans have never felt. Spring Training was halted. The Regular Season was delayed. The college baseball season, including the College World Series, was canceled. The Little League World Series was canceled. Baseball’s return to the Summer Olympics was delayed, along with the rest of the Tokyo games, until 2021. Hall of Fame Weekend was postponed until next summer. The World Baseball Classic was postponed until 2023. Nearly every amateur baseball league from little league up to the Cape Cod League has either been delayed, postponed, or canceled. Baseball, like everything, has taken a beating from Covid-19. Some are eager to reopen society, while many others do not believe it is safe to do so. If Major League Baseball comes back this season will fans be allowed to attend games? Will fans want to attend games? What impact will the Pandemic have on the game?
There are so many unanswered questions about baseball right now. Dwelling on the problems and missing the game is heartbreaking. While we are selfishly eager for baseball’s return, many of us are also hesitant. We are caught between wanting to return to normal and not sure it is time to return to normal. There is nothing telling us when the perfect time for baseball’s return will be, however it is better to wait a little too long than to return too early. Returning early could restart the entire process.
Empty stadiums could greet MLB’s return. (Jabin Botsford/ The Washington Post)
I do not know if or when baseball will return in 2020. I, like so many others, am following the advice of the public health experts who have devoted their lives to protecting humanity from things like Covid-19. What I do know is swinging a bat and throwing baseballs into a net is therapeutic. They are not a replacement for the game, but a band aid helping to keep me mentally healthy.
As the weather turns warmer it is more difficult to replace the time and energy I normally devote to baseball. Warm weather means I am either umpiring, watching or listening to a game. Not this year. A summer without baseball is strange. The 1981 and 1994 Strikes did not give us an entire summer without baseball. Neither did World War I or World War II. Baseball did not stop for the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which was a mistake. This is an unprecedented stop in the game. Knowing what is right is easy, doing what is right can be more challenging. I know it was the right decision to delay the start of the Major League season. This was an easy decision. What is more challenging is waiting for baseball’s return, and returning at the appropriate time. I am beyond eager for baseball to come back, but I want it to come back when it is safe.
When baseball returns please support your local teams. Public Health experts will be cautious in reopening the country, hopefully the politicians will listen. Major League teams will be fine, they have their millions. Support Minor League and Independent League teams, they are feeling the biggest impact of the shutdown. Many of these teams and leagues operate on the edge of existence in the best of times. The Coronavirus has left many vulnerable to folding.
Minor League and Independent League teams are often in smaller cities than Major League teams. They are more connected to the well being of their city as they depend on local support for survival. These teams lack the regional or national fan bases of MLB. Minor League teams can rely on their Major League affiliate to pay players through Player Development Contracts. MiLB teams fund everything else including stadium maintenance, game day staff, front office, and concessions. Independent League teams do this too and must also pay their players. Baseball teams draw visitors to their city and its economy. Fans pay the salaries of team employees, but they also go to restaurants and bars, or other attractions, before or after games. Baseball teams attract visitors and their money, and give the community something to rally around.
Growing baseball means reaching people, such as expanding television and radio coverage. However, the excitement of watching a game in person is quite different than watching or listening from home. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is pushing a plan to cut 40 or more Minor League teams in favor of the Dream League, an Independent League with some MLB support. This is foolish. MLB continues to see record profits, while MiLB players are paid criminally low contracts. Reducing the number of teams affiliated with MiLB is about reducing cost and increasing profits for MLB teams. Baseball is a business, but MLB must be careful to not stifle the future of the game to save a little money to increase record profits.
How can you not be romantic about baseball? View of the 2016 South Atlantic League All Star Game at Whitaker Ball Park, home of the Lexington Legends. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Not everyone lives close to an MLB or MiLB team. Obviously baseball cannot have a team in every city, nor can every family afford to take their baseball crazed kids to a game several hours away. There are some fans who live in a baseball desert. The cost hinders the exposure of the in person experience and could ultimately lose the fandom of kids and adults. Baseball has already priced out many low income youth players due to the ever expanding expense of travel baseball. Why would MLB and Manfred build more obstacles to the game?
Teams have contracts with cable providers for broadcast rights, including MLB.tv, which is another expense not every baseball fan can afford. MLB is strong financially, but they need to consider the finances of the fans. Reducing the number of MiLB teams eliminates access to professional baseball for many and could have unintended consequences. Cities like Erie, Lexington, Chattanooga, Billings, Danville, Great Falls, Missoula, and Colorado Springs will be changed by losing their teams if the proposed cuts are made. Some cities are close to other teams for a baseball day trip. Others create a professional baseball desert. MLB needs to think about the long term health of the game before cutting MiLB teams. Baseball should not trade saving a few dollars for losing a generation of fans.
Every year baseball remembers Jackie Robinson and his herculean task of breaking baseball’s color barrier. Nothing can sufficiently repay Robinson for the abuse he endured. While he was the focal point of baseball’s integration he was not alone, other trail blazers followed him to integrate every team. Collectively they changed baseball and America forever. They shouldered the weight of integration with some help along the way.
Branch Rickey believed Jackie Robinson could handle the abuse the first African American player would face. Robinson endured abuse from fans and opposing players. Even the Dodger locker room was not a safe haven. When he arrived in Brooklyn several players began a petition stating their desire to be traded rather than play with Robinson. The petition sought to force Branch Rickey to end his attempt to integrate baseball. Several players signed the petition, but it was critical that the de facto team captain sign to show a united front against Robinson. There was little doubt he would sign, having grown up in Louisville, Kentucky, surely a southern man would refuse to play alongside Robinson.
Harold Henry “Pee Wee” Reese was a southern man, but he held no animosity towards anyone based upon their skin color. When approached by his teammates Reese refused to sign, killing the petition. The other Dodgers may not have liked Robinson, but the locker room was now free from the abuse raining down on the field.
Pee Wee Reese was a Hall of Fame Shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers and friend to Jackie Robinson. (National Baseball Library and Archives, Cooperstown, NY)
Reese was called up to Brooklyn in 1940 and remained with the Dodgers for his entire career, retiring after the Dodgers first season in Los Angeles in 1958. He served in the Navy during World War II, missing three seasons from 1943 to 1945. Upon returning from the Navy, Reese began his career in earnest. His greatest season was 1949. In 155 Games, Reese led the National League with 132 Runs scored, collected 172 Hits including 27 Doubles, 3 Triples, and 16 Home Runs. He had 73 RBI and stole 26 Bases. Reese walked 116 times with just 59 Strikeouts. He hit .279, with an .396 OBP, .410 SLG, .806 OPS, and an 113 OPS+. Reese was named team captain before the following season.
Reese played 2,166 Games. He scored 1,338 Runs, collected 2,170 Hits including 330 Doubles, 80 Triples, and 126 Home Runs with 885 RBI. He stole 232 Bases, drew 1,210 Walks with 890 Strikeouts. He hit .269, with an .366 OBP, .377 SLG, .743 OPS, and an 99 OPS+. Shortstops were supposed to focus their attention on defense, but Reese was an elite offensive Shortstop.
Reese played more than 2,000 games at Shortstop. He led National League Shortstops in Putouts in four seasons. Over 60 years after his retirement, Reese still has the 12th most Putous and 13th most Double Plays for Shortstops. He was a solid defender even using modern metrics having led all National League players in dWAR in 1942, 1947, 1948, and 1949. His 25.6 career dWAR is the 17th highest of all time, regardless of position.
Pee Wee Reese was selected to 10 All Star Games and finished in the top 10 for MVP voting eight times. He led the Dodgers to seven World Series, all against the Yankees. Reese has the most World Series appearances with one team for a non-Yankee. Despite their success the Dodgers won only one World Series. Brooklyn lost in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, and 1956. Reese and Elston Howard have the most World Series defeats, six. Brooklyn won their lone World Series in 1955. Failure was not Reese’s fault. In 44 World Series Games, he scored 20 Runs, collected 46 Hits including 4 Doubles, 2 Triples, and 2 Home Runs with 16 RBI. He Stole 5 Bases, drew 18 Walks with 17 Strikeouts. He hit .272, with an .346 OBP, .349 SLG, and an .695 OPS.
In 1984, the Veteran’s Committee selected Reese for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The committee referenced his play and support of Jackie Robinson in their reasoning for his selection. No moment better underscores the support Reese gave Robinson than at Crosley Field in Cincinnati in 1947. Amid a deluge of abuse Reese put his arm around Robinson. The show of support told the crowd and opposing players that Reese supported his teammate and would defend his friend against the abuse. Some claim the event occurred in Boston against the Braves at Braves Field in 1948. Regardless where and when it occurred Reese helped ease the chaos surrounding baseball’s integration.
Pee Wee Reese showing his support for Jackie Robinson was critical in helping Robinson and other African American players successfully integrate baseball. (Ron Cervenka)
Reese standing with his arm around Robinson is immortalized in bronze and granite outside MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones. Reese could not deflect all the abuse directed at Robinson, but he could support him in public and private. A white player standing with Jackie Robinson was critical. The support coming from a southern man was monumental. Reese did not care what color Robinson was, they were teammates. Reese was asked if he was worried about losing his job prior to Robinson joining the Dodgers, “If he’s man enough to take my job, I’m not gonna like it, but, dammit, black or white, he deserves it.” Instead of replacing him, Robinson and Reese formed a dynamic Double Play combination. Reese joked with Robinson to ease some of the tension, he cared about Robinson the man beyond baseball. Their friendship lasted a lifetime, as Reese was a pallbearer at Jackie Robinson’s funeral.
People are rarely successful on their own, they receive support along the way. Jackie Robinson faced unfathomable abuse as he integrated baseball. No one could shield him from the onslaught. However, people like Pee Wee Reese helped lighten the burden. On this Jackie Robinson Day let us remember Robinson’s great courage and sacrifice to improve baseball and America. Let us also not forget those who helped him achieve success, including his teammate and friend Pee Wee Reese. Small gestures can change history.
Al Kaline passed away Monday at the age of 85. He played 22 seasons for the Detroit Tigers. He began his Major League career in June 1953 as an 18 year old and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1954. In 1955, Kaline won the American League Batting Title with a .340 BA, easily outpacing second place Vic Power’s .319 BA. Mr. Tiger remains the youngest player ever, 20, to win the American League Batting Title. He was one day younger than Ty Cobb when the Georgia Peach won the 1907 Batting Title. Kaline finished second behind Yogi Berra in the American League MVP voting. He finished in the top three of MVP voting four times but never won the award.
The numbers show Al Kaline’s greatness on the diamond. In 22 seasons, Mr. Tiger played 2,834 Games, 10,116 At Bats, scored 1,622 Runs, collected 3,007 Hits, 498 Doubles, 75 Triples, 399 Home Runs, 1,582 RBI, Stole 137 Bases, 1,277 Walks, 1,020 Strikeouts, 55 HBP, .297 BA, .376 OBP, .480 SLG, .855 OPS, 134 OPS+. Kaline’s career 92.8 WAR still ranks 42nd over 40 seasons after he retired. His statistics were not heavily padded by the DH, which was created in 1973. Kaline was the Tigers DH in 1974, his final season.
Al Kaline was an all time great ball player, but an even better person. Mr. Tiger was baseball in Detroit. (Louis Requena/ MLB via Getty Images)
Kaline patrolled the outfield at Tiger Stadium. He won 10 Gold Gloves in an 11 year span, 1955-1967, playing primarily in Right. He was an 18 time All Star in 15 seasons, playing in both Midsummer Classics from 1959-1961. Kaline remained an elite player for much of his career.
Greatness was not confined to the Regular Season. Kaline helped guide the Tigers to a World Series victory over Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968. He played in all 7 Games, in 29 At Bats he had 11 Hits, including 2 Doubles, 2 Home Runs, 8 RBI, scored 6 Runs, 1 HBP, .379 BA, .400 OBP, .655 SLG, and 1.055 OPS. Great players often rise to the occasion in the World Series.
Al Kaline retired after the 1974 season. His 3,000 hits solidified his greatness. In 1980, Kaline received two of baseball’s highest honors. The Tigers retired his #6, the first Tiger to have his number retired; players did not wear numbers during Ty Cobb’s career. Mr. Tiger was also inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Kaline entered Cooperstown on the 1st ballot with 88.3% of the vote.
The numbers and accolades are wonderful. However, the reaction from those who knew Al Kaline speaks about the man. Referring to him as Mr. Kaline, he had the love and respect of his peers, the city of Detroit, and all of baseball. There is no better tribute than an outpouring of love and affection for the man rather than his accomplishments.
Rest easy Mr. Kaline, you are already missed.
Baseball has warts. Imperfect people create a flawed baseball system. We love the game, but some things need to change. Many of the warts are off the field and behind the scenes. They often impact vulnerable players progressing through the Minor Leagues. Some warts become public with dramatic headlines and scandals, but they often exist out of sight to most fans. Removing the warts is painful, but necessary. People like Eddie Dominguez work to clean up baseball every day.
In the aftermath of the Mitchell Report, Major League Baseball created the Department of Investigations (DOI). Baseball’s own investigators assigned to root out problems surrounding the game. Eddie Dominguez was an original member of the DOI. He previously worked with MLB and the Red Sox while with the Boston Police Department. Dominguez recounts his work with the DOI in Baseball Cop: The Dark Side of America’s National Pastime.
Eddie Dominguez’s work with MLB and the DOI is a gripping story. Multiple scandals played out in public, while others stayed in the shadows. Dominguez translates the DOI’s work, steering away from a police story designed only for those well versed in law enforcement. There is a need to police baseball and the world revolving around the game. When money can be made, people can show their worst side. The most vulnerable within the game need protecting.
Baseball Cop is an engaging book that follows baseball’s recent dark history. Baseball Cop: The Dark Side of America’s National Pastime by Eddie Dominguez hits a solid Triple (7) in our score book.
Spoilers if you continue reading beyond this point. You have been warned.
Baseball Cop is worth your time to learn about the ugly side of baseball. (Hachette Books)
Baseball produces many positives, however there are negatives. The DOI is tasked with investigating and stopping those harming people and the game. Human traffickers control the futures of players, particularly those defecting from Cuba. The traffickers harass, intimidate, and extort players after they arrive in the United States and sign professional contracts. Living their baseball dreams can turn a player’s life into a nightmare.
The abuse of players can start the moment their professional career begins. Coaches and advisers skim part or all of a player’s signing bonus. Signing a professional contract changes the lives of many players and their family, especially those from Latin America. Skimming the signing bonus perpetuates the poverty players are trying to escape.
Beyond the abuse of players, baseball’s concern focuses on what players put in their bodies. The Mitchell Report was an embarrassment, and MLB has sought, at least publicly, to clean itself up. Cracking down on Performance-Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) was top priority for then Commissioner Bud Selig. Baseball instituted harsher penalties for failed drug tests and began investigating the sources of the PEDs. The DOI focused on a Florida health clinic, Biogenesis, run by Tony Bosch. Their investigation connected several players to the clinic and its PEDs. The most prominent player associated with Biogenesis, and Bosch, was Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez eventually received the longest suspension in baseball history for his involvement.
The investigation into Biogenesis exposed cracks between the DOI and MLB. The investigation included the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Baseball did not want another public embarrassment like the Mitchell Report. MLB wanted the Biogenesis case handled in house. The clash between the DOI and MLB played out alongside the investigation.
There are limits to baseball’s willingness to clean itself up. Baseball Cop exposes the good and the bad within baseball. Hopefully the good has a winning record.
Scoring a baseball game requires paper, something to write with, following the action on the field, and knowing what to write on the score sheet. We enjoy everything related to baseball, not just watching and playing. We indulge in baseball books, poems, music, and films. In reviewing them we cannot use a normal 1 to 10 ratings system. Even this we must make about baseball.
Here is our ratings system to understand our opinions about our previous reviews and moving forward.
- Golden Sombrero
- Hit By Pitch
- Home Run
- Grand Slam
- Walk-Off Grand Slam
The is no wrong way to score a baseball game, so long as you can read and understand what happened in the game. (The Winning Run/ BL)
Here are our past reviews and ratings.
- The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told: Thirty Unforgettable Tales from the Diamond by Jeff Silverman (Single)
- The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the Stitches by Zack Hample (Double)
- Ball Four by Jim Bouton (Home Run)
- A Day in the Bleachers by Arnold Hano (Home Run)
- Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero by Leigh Montville (Double)
- The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 MPH by Shawn Green and Gordon McAlpine (Double)
- Ballplayer by Chipper Jones and Carroll Rogers Walton (Double)
- They Called Me God: The Best Umpire Who Ever Lived by Doug Harvey and Peter Golenbock (Grand Slam)
- The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse by Molly Knight (Home Run)
- Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game by Dan Barry (Triple)
- The Only Rule Is It Has To Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller
- The Unforgettable Season by G.H. Fleming (Double)
- The Mick: An American Hero, The Legend and the Glory by Mickey Mantle and Herb Gluck (Triple)
- Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season by Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King (Triple)
- 56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports by Kostya Kennedy (Home Run)
- Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis (Triple)
- My Oh My by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (Single)
- The Green Fields of the Mind by Bart Giamatti (Grand Slam)
Moving forward we will use this ratings system in our reviews. We do not always agree, but the scoring is the opinion of the reviewer. Everyone wants to hit a Walk-Off Grand Slam, but not everyone will. Hopefully we find our own versions of Bill Mazeroski off the diamond.