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.
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.
Thanksgiving is most closely associated with football not baseball. The cool weather, football on television, and pick up games before the Thanksgiving meal. Baseball is over and Spring Training is months away. Thanksgiving is the best holiday, in my opinion. It is simple, come together with family and friends, enjoy each other’s company, and appreciate all the good in your life while stuffing yourself until you can barely move. The irony is obvious.
My family’s Thanksgiving menu usually looks like this: turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, corn on the cob, macaroni and cheese, rice, dinner rolls, pudding, cookies, brownies, pies including apple, pumpkin, and rhubarb, followed by a nap. My brain wanders after the sudden halt of baseball. Lost in my thoughts, I wondered, could I create the ultimate Thanksgiving team out of players with food names? The players would return for one game in their prime. The only catch is their names must be on the menu.
This Thanksgiving game will take place in Philadelphia on November 23, 1899 against the Phillies. The Phillies complete their best season playing in the Baker Bowl, finishing 94-58, third in the National League, 9 games behind the Brooklyn Superbas. Our menu team will assume the identity of the Boston Beaneaters, there is no greater food inspired team name.
Every baseball field is beautiful. The Baker Bowl has been lost to history, but there is never a bad place to play baseball. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Phillies owner John Rogers wants to capitalize on the teams’ success and put a few extra dollars in his pockets. Manager Bill Shettsline is looking for one more victory in his sophomore campaign with the Phillies. Shettsline submitted the following line up.
Philadelphia Phillies Starting Lineup
2B: Nap Lajoie (Hall of Fame)
RF: Elmer Flick (Hall of Fame)
LF: Ed Delahanty (Hall of Fame)
1B: Duff Cooley
CF: Roy Thomas
C: Ed McFarland
3B: Billy Lauder
SS: Monte Cross
SP: Wiley Piatt
Philadelphia Phillies Bench
1B: Billy Goeckel
3B: Red Owens
RF: Pearce Chiles
Partnering against the Phillies this Thanksgiving is future San Diego Padres owner Ray Kroc. Kroc and General Manager Billy Beane lured Philadelphia Athletics Manager Connie Mack to Boston. Mack submitted this line up:
Boston Beaneaters Starting Lineup
RF: Billy Hamilton (Hall of Fame)
CF: Ty Cobb (Hall of Fame)
1B: Hank Greenberg (Hall of Fame)
LF: Jim Rice (Hall of Fame)
3B: Pie Traynor (Hall of Fame)
SS: Barry Larkin (Hall of Fame)
C: Spud Davis
2B: Cookie Rojas
SP: Rube Waddell (Hall of Fame)
Boston Beaneaters Bench
C: Mike Napoli
1B: Stuffy McInnis
2B: Pumpsie Green
SS: Luke Appling (Hall of Fame)
RF: Sam Rice (Hall of Fame)
LF: Zack Wheat (Hall of Fame)
CF: Turkey Stearnes (Hall of Fame)
P: Smokey Joe Williams (Hall of Fame), Catfish Hunter (Hall of Fame), Bob Lemon (Hall of Fame), Rube Marquard (Hall of Fame), Rube Foster, Pud Galvin (Hall of Fame), Rollie Fingers (Hall of Fame), Jeurys Familia, Brownie Foreman
Baseball is unpredictable. The Beaneaters and their delicious lineup appear to have the edge over the Phillies. However, even the best teams lose. Simulating the game would never perfectly create such a game. Instead take a moment to appreciate the long history of baseball, the men who have played, their strange names, and be thankful for everything good in your life, especially baseball.
Nothing in life is stationary. Things get better or worse, increase or decrease. Baseball, like life, is constantly changing with rule tweaks, changes in players and personalities. The game in 2019 is similar to the game in 1979, however, for all the similarities there are many differences. Most baseball fans want a piece of baseball. Avid fans create their own version of Cooperstown. Some want a few pieces, others want an entire wall or room dedicated to baseball.
Baseball fans cannot compete with Bob Crotty and his private baseball collection. The Green Diamond Gallery is the largest privately owned baseball collection in the world. At least until Saturday when a portion is auctioned off. Crotty is closing The Green Diamond Gallery due to changes in his own life. Crotty and his family spend less than half their time in Cincinnati, so operating the passion project became increasingly difficult. Change is constant.
The Green Diamond Gallery was a magnificent collection of baseball history. (www.greendiamondgallery.com)
There are several auction stages over the next year, as a life time of collecting is sold off. In the auction’s first round the most expensive item is a 1960 Mickey Mantle jersey, which is expected to sell for at least $150,000. Those on a smaller budget should expect to pay $300 for a Catfish Hunter signed baseball. Bidders could walk away with seats from the Polo Grounds, valued at $2,000. You could take home Ivan Rodriguez’s Gold Glove Award from 2000 or 2004, each valued at $7,500. Plenty of baseball history is up for bidding, hopefully your bank account is too.
I felt terrible when I heard The Green Diamond Gallery was closing. I had the opportunity to visit at the invitation of a member and listen to then Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson speak. Walking through the museum was as impressive as Cooperstown or the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. One man spent his time and money collecting the history of the game. Breaking up the collection is heartbreaking, however I hope each item goes to someone who loves baseball and will cherish each piece as much as I cherish my own version of Cooperstown. Individuals and museums might possess specific items, but the history of baseball belongs to every baseball fan. Happy bidding.
Globe Life Park in Arlington may not have the history of old Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park, but it has been home for the Texas Rangers over the last 26 summers. Memories with friends and family were made, though most are never known to the masses. In those summers, the Rangers made back to back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011. Eight trips to October in all. Fans watched Hall of Famers Ivan Rodriguez and Adrian Beltre play. They watched Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, and Josh Hamilton play, but each will not reach Cooperstown for individual issues complicating their eligibility to play. Other players like Juan Gonzalez, Ian Kinsler, Prince Fielder, and Michael Young hold a special place in the hearts of Ranger fans. Memories were made.
Jesse, John, and I had the privilege to attend the final game at old Yankee Stadium. Baseball is beautiful. (The Winning Run/ JJ)
This weekend the Rangers close Globe Life Park and their season against the Yankees. Texas closes their second stadium since arriving from Washington in 1972. Closing out stadiums is becoming a habit for Jesse, John, and myself. Globe Life Park will be our third fine game attended. We sat in the left field seats as the Braves closed Turner Field and moved to the suburbs and SunTrust Park in 2016. Our first, and forever greatest, final game was sitting in the right field bleachers for the final game at old Yankee Stadium in 2008. The Yankees missed the Postseason for the first time since 1993, the House that Ruth Built did not see one final October. The history of old Yankee Stadium is unmatched in baseball. Closing out old Yankee Stadium was bittersweet, attending the Mets final home stand at Shea Stadium was not. Low flying planes, Shea shaking as we walked around, and Mets fans doing the wave remain vivid in my memory. It is hard competing with old Yankee Stadium.
Jesse, John, and I do attend games together when stadiums are not closing. A late night decision to drive 10 hours to watch the Pirates play at PNC Park was fantastic. Baseball creates memories that last a lifetime. Attending a game is always enjoyable. So once more we are hitting the road to say hello and goodbye to a baseball stadium, creating our own memories like so many fans before us.
True professional ball players continue playing hard even when the game means nothing. Baseball changes gears in August. The trade deadline has passed, the contenders and pretenders made moves, and the teams with no hope for the Postseason continue their march through the remaining season. The Major League season is a long, tough journey of 162 games in six months. No weekends off and few true off days with no games or travel. Baseball is a hard game played by hard people.
No matter how much a player loves the game, playing for a lost cause is difficult. Few are surprised by the losses piled up by the Marlins and Orioles, yet players continue playing hard in this long season. Imagine doing that over an entire career.
The Mariners began 2019 winning 13 of their first 15 games. Things were looking up for Seattle’s Kyle Seager. In eight seasons with Seager, the closest the Mariners have come to the Postseason was finishing second, nine games behind the Rangers and three out of the Wild Card in 2016. The October drought for Seattle and Seager appeared ready to end after the hot start this season, but it was a mirage. The Mariners are 35-69 since and are 10 games out of fourth place in the American League West. Kyle Seager continues extending his lead as the active player with the most games played without playing in the Postseason. He has played 1218 games, 200 more than second place, Jean Segura.
Kyle Seager plays hard, even though most days there is nothing to play for in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear/ Getty Images)
Kyle Seager is outpacing his contemporaries, but he is not halfway to breaking the all time record. 2,528 career regular season games played, zero Postseason games. Mr Cub, Ernie Banks, sits atop the career leader board of being a true professional. The always cheerful Banks had two brushes with the Postseason. On August 16, 1969, the Cubs led the Mets and Cardinals by nine games. Chicago then proceeded to finish the season 17-26, including an eight game losing streak. The streaking Mets raced past Chicago on their was to a World Series Championship.
In 1970, the Cubs finished five games behind the Pirates. Chicago led Pittsburgh by five games in mid-June before falling and remaining a few games behind the Pirates for the rest of the season. Banks was a part time player in 1970, retiring retire after the 1971 season. Mr. Cub never played October baseball. Luke Appling, Mickey Vernon, and Buddy Bell can relate. This quartet are the only members of the 2,400 games played without playing in the Postseason club. No one wants to join the club.
Pitchers have time to think between games, a luxury not given to position players. Even Mike Marshall and his record 106 relief appearances for the 1974 Dodgers, had days off. Zach Duke and Steve Cishek have pitched the most games among active pitchers without pitching in the Postseason. Duke has appeared in 570 games, but never a Playoff game. He was on two Postseason teams, the 2011 Diamondbacks and 2012 Nationals. However, both were quickly eliminated before Duke pitched. While Duke has the most games pitched without pitching in a Playoff game, Steve Cishek has not even sat on the bench during the Postseason. Cishek has pitched in 556 games, but not one in the Postseason. While Duke and Cishek are due a Postseason reward, they are not alone as Felix Hernandez’s greatness was wasted in Seattle. King Felix has 411 career starts, but none in the Postseason. Seattle last made the Postseason in 2001, four seasons before Hernandez arrived. Despite Hernandez’s dominance, the Mariners have finished within 10 games of the Division winner just twice in his career, 2007 and 2016. Injuries and a rebuilding team does not give much hope for King Felix to ever pitch in the Postseason.
Even perfection on the mound could not help Felix Hernandez reach the Postseason. (Dean Rutz/ The Seattle Times)
Pitchers give their arms to baseball and Lindy McDaniel was no different. He pitched in the most Regular Season games, 987, without pitching in the Postseason. The closest McDaniel came to the Postseason was in 1966 while pitching for the Giants. San Francisco was tied for the National League lead on September 1 before losing seven of their next 10 games. The Giants never recovered, losing the Pennant to the hated Dodgers by 1.5 games. McDaniel is not alone in never tasted October baseball. Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins made 594 career starts, the most ever without pitching in the Postseason. The majority of his career was with the Cubs as they sought to exercise the Curse of the Billy Goat, yet Jenkins’ closest brush with October was with another cursed team, the Red Sox. In 1977, Boston battled the Yankees and Orioles all season, but when the Red Sox lost their lead in mid-August their season was over. The Red Sox and Orioles both finished 2.5 games behind the Yankees. Jenkins spent a few seasons pitching for the Rangers before returning to Wrigley in the twilight of his career. Never again coming close to October baseball.
Professional baseball is a grind. The excitement of the season wanes as the summer heat punishes players marching through the Regular Season. The season’s true dog days are in August for teams with nothing left to achieve. Some players are seeking new contracts or securing jobs, while others are playing just because it is their job. Hustling down the line, making a diving catch, sacrificing your body becomes more difficult when the season is lost but there are still games on the schedule. While baseball focuses on those making a Postseason push, remember the rest of baseball are professionals and continue to play hard. They show up everyday because the game is on the schedule.