Tagged: Grays

Ken Burns’ Baseball

If anything positive can come from having pneumonia, it is the illness requires rest. Recovery is a slow process and the uninviting cold of Winter did not tempt me to leave my couch. Stuck at home for a month gave me time to watch Ken Burns’ documentary, Baseball. I have tried to watch the series before. The 11 episodes, each at least two hours long, are a commitment I normally struggled to keep. I would watch the first two episodes before wandering off. Life is busy until it comes to a screeching halt.  

It is impossible to include every piece of baseball history in a documentary. Baseball missed events and people, like Old Hoss Radbourn and his 60 wins for the 1884 Providence Grays. However, Ken Burns does an excellent job of delving into plenty of baseball history. Every documentary has flaws. Yet Baseballprovides plenty of segments that sparked excitement. Reminders of Pete Browning and the origins of Louisville Slugger. The dominance of Babe Ruth the pitcher. The unrelenting speed of Rickey Henderson. Die hard baseball fans too often focus on the trees and miss the forest of baseball. 

The original 9 Innings, episodes, end just before the 1994 Strike. Baseball began airing on September 18, 1994, just four days after acting Commissioner Bud Selig announced the Postseason was canceled. Not the best timing. Each inning examines a decade of the game, starting with the origins of the game. Burns spends time on the superstars, normal players, the biggest games and moments, and the people who shaped the game. He examines the rise of the National League and later the American League, the ill fated Federal League, and the greatness of the Negro Leagues. As the documentary progresses the abilities of the players becomes more evident, as little is left to the imagination by better photography and film. Players and personalities come to life. Watching the legends of the game play gives viewers an understanding why these legends live on far beyond their playing days.

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Ken Burns’ Baseball is great for every baseball fan, from die hard to the casual fan. (Florentine Films)

Ken Burns does an excellent job using photographs, film, story telling, and interviews to express the beauty of baseball. The game and the people are not perfect, but he shows the good baseball has created. Baseball reminds viewers why they fell in love with the game and why they come back each summer. While books and other films highlight portions of baseball, Ken Burns  masterfully captures the game and creates an avenue for die-hard and casual fans to enjoy the history of baseball.

The 10th Inning covered much of my childhood and the years I fell in love with baseball. The feelings Baseball evoked are similar to the anticipation of Opening Day or walking out of the tunnel and seeing the green grass of a Major League field laid out before you. The butterflies and pure awe are captured in Baseball. Dedicate yourself to watching the series, it is a worthwhile reflection of the beauty and grandeur of the game. Baseball is ever changing and it is important to see the changes, good and bad, that led to the game played today. 

DJ

My Own Cooperstown

Every fan wants to own part of their obsession. Star Wars fans want everything from shirts to full on costumes. Baseball fans are no different. Every die hard baseball fan wants to own a piece of the game. You collect a piece here and there, and over time it grows into a small collection. Few people can rival the collection of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but it does not mean we should not have our own version of Cooperstown.

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This painting of Buck Leonard was a gift from my wife. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

I am under no illusion that my baseball collection of is vast, or even valuable. The value is the joy I get every time I walk through my baseball room. Every piece is a tiny part of baseball history and my own history. It is a reminder of my love for the game and what I have done in life. A wall can turn into two walls, then a room, and then hopefully into something even greater.

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My baseball wall. It is small, but growing a little every year. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

My centerpiece is a signed Andruw Jones jersey my wife bought me. He is my all time favorite player. Jesse met Andruw Jones and Otis Nixon and had them sign a baseball for me. My other signed memorabilia has been collected through winning charity auctions; this includes signed baseballs by Billy Hamilton, Joey Votto, and Johnny Cueto. My wife bought me a signed Craig Breslow baseball. Our first real trip together was to Boston and a game at Fenway, Breslow was the winning pitcher that day for the Red Sox. I won cleats signed by Kal Daniels and a signed photographs of Brandon Phillips and Devin Mesoraco from charity auctions. My wife found the program from Johnny Bench night at Riverfront Stadium at a thrift store for me. I have the program from the 2016 South Atlantic League All Star game, which I attended in Lexington, Kentucky with my sister-in-law. I have a score card from a game I attended in Houston after a friends wedding. The Astros defeated the Blue Jays that day with the roof closed while it monsooned outside. I have a Dodgers cup and a Pirates plastic nacho helmet from attending games with friends and family. I have a Moneyball movie poster and a poster of all the professional baseball team names broken down by category. I have a reprint of a Norman Rockwell painting and a painting of Buck Leonard as a member of the Homestead Grays. These pieces of art have been given to me as gifts along the way. I have a Louisville Slugger signed by my friends and family from our wedding shower. My lamp is filled with baseballs signed by friends and family from our wedding.

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Devin Mesoraco no longer plays for the Reds, but this photograph is still striking. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

Some of my collection has actual  monetary value, however small. However, much of my collection is important for sentimental reasons. All of it helps to create my personal version of Cooperstown. I love it and I know it will continue to grow a little every year as I experience new things in life and my love for the game grows.

DJ

Baseball Lifer: Connie Mack

Baseball lifers are bridges that connect different eras and players to each other. The majorifoty of players, coaches, and managers spend just a few years in the Majors before their time is over. Not everyone walks away from the game willingly, often due to injury or poor performance. Then there are those that spend their lives living, breathing, and working in baseball. These baseball lifers come to the game young and leave when they are old. One such baseball lifer is Connie Mack and we may never see a lifer of his significance ever again..

Cornelius McGillicuddy, shortened to Connie Mack in childhood, spent 65 years in baseball as a player and manager. He played for 11 seasons from 1886 to 1896 with three different teams: the Washington Nationals, the Buffalo Bisons of the Players League, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. A career .244 BA, Mack was primarily a catcher during the days when catchers truly took a beating. He logged 5,186 innings behind the plate and an additional 985 in the field. Mack led the Majors in a statistical category only three times during his playing career: two he would have rather not (1890- 20 HBP and 1887- 76 Passed Balls) and one he should be proud of accomplishing (1892- 47% CS (base stealers were 136 for 257)). While not a remarkable playing career, Mack parlayed his career on the field into one in managing.

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Connie Mack saw it all in his life in baseball. (www.baseballhall.org)

Late in the 1894 season, Connie Mack was named the player-manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates went 149 and 134 under Mack, with a winning record each season, but fell short of ownership expectations. He was fired following the 1896 season. Retired as a player and recently fired from his Major League managing job, Connie Mack went to the minor leagues to manage and occasionally catch for the Milwaukee Brewers over the next four seasons.

In 1901, Connie Mack embarked upon his legendary career as the manager of the Philadelphia Athletics. He began managing the A’s in 1901 at the age of 38 and finally retired in 1950 at the age of 87. During Mack’s 50 years managing in Philadelphia, the A’s record was 3,582 and 3,814, a .484 Winning Percentage. The A’s won nine American League Pennants (1902, 1905, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1929, 1930, and 1931) and five World Series titles (1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, and 1930). Mack’s Winning Percentage can be misleading, as many agree he managed for 18 years too long. In his first 32 seasons in Philadelphia, the A’s went 2,517 and 2,253 with a .527 Winning Percentage. In the final 18 seasons of his career, the A’s went 1,065 and 1,561 with a .406 Winning Percentage. As he got older, Mack was unable to keep pace with the tactical and financial changes in baseball. The financial changes also meant that the A’s were no longer viable in Philadelphia, and by 1955 the team moved to Kansas City. Mack did not know when to walk away from the game. Like a player hanging on for too long, managers also have to know when their skills have declined and when it is time to call it a career.

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Connie Mack wanted to win baseball games and build better men. (United States Library of Congress)

Connie Mack saw the development of baseball through the good times and the bad. From the early rough and tumble years in the late 1800’s to the Black Sox Scandal to the rise of Babe Ruth and the Yankees to integration. Mack saw it all from the dugout. He demanded from his players that they play to the best of their abilities, but he was not overbearing. Mack let his players be who they were, but he wanted them to be smart and make intelligent decisions when they were on the field. Unlike the other hardened men of the time, Mack went beyond the results on the diamond; he wanted his players to be better people. After the 1916 season, Mack created a Code of Conduct for his players.

  • I will always play the game to the best of my ability.
  • I will always play to win, but if I lose, I will not look for an excuse to detract from my opponent’s victory.
  • I will never take an unfair advantage in order to win.
  • I will always abide by the rules of the game—on the diamond as well as in my daily life.
  • I will always conduct myself as a true sportsman—on and off the playing field.
  • I will always strive for the good of the entire team rather than for my own glory.
  • I will never gloat in victory or pity myself in defeat.
  • I will do my utmost to keep myself clean—physically, mentally, and morally.
  • I will always judge a teammate or an opponent as an individual and never on the basis of race or religion.

Mack’s rules came at a time when the Major Leagues excluded African-Americans. While not necessarily pushing for the reintegration of baseball, the Code of Conduct helped change baseball from a game played by rough men to a game that families could enjoy.

Connie Mack’s career has left an indelible mark on baseball. He was ahead of his time with his attitude about race, religion, and playing customs in baseball. He disliked small ball and would rather play for the big inning instead of sacrificing for a single run. The rise of playing for the big inning became more common when home runs became more plentiful. Mack however decided his team had a better chance to win when putting multiple runs in an inning rather than a single run here or there. In the first 35 years of his managerial career, few could argue otherwise.

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Connie Mack is forever immortalized in Cooperstown. (www.phillymag.com)

In 1937, Connie Mack was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame even though he was actively managing. He would conclude his managerial career with the most wins (3,731), losses (3,948), games managed (7,755) for any manager in baseball history, and tied for second for most Pennants (9 with Joe McCarthy). He won 968 more games than John McGraw, who is second on the list for most career wins. Mack managed 2,658 more games than second place Tony LaRussa. If he had retired after the 1932 season, Mack’s .527 Winning Percentage would be higher than that of fellow Hall of Fame managers Tommy Lasorda, Red Schoendienst, Dick Williams, and Casey Stengel among others. If Connie Mack had only know when to walk away.

Understanding Connie Mack’s impact on the game of baseball goes beyond the numbers. He was with baseball during the good times and the bad. His story connects modern baseball to its historical roots. In 1886, 34-year-old Cap Anson was playing his 16th season of professional baseball and 31-year-old Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn was still pitching, just two seasons removed from winning 59 games for the Providence Grays. In 1950, Duke Snider was a fourth year outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Whitey Ford won the American League Rookie of the Year award with the Yankees. Connie Mack was the commonality between those events that took place over nearly a lifetime apart. This week marks the 60th anniversary of his death. Connie Mack saw just about everything there was to see in baseball. By connecting us to the past, let us not forget the baseball lifers in the game today who are important in helping maintain our perspective where the game has come from and where the game is going.

DJ