Tagged: Negro Leagues

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

Year in Review: 2018

My 2018 was filled with baseball. I umpired more than 200 games plus attended more for the enjoyment of the game. I have no clue how many games I watched on television or listened to on radio. Whatever the number, it was a lot. 

This year I watched games in six different ballparks. I attended four Cincinnati Reds games at Great American Ball Park. I always attend at least one game when the Braves visit the Reds. I also attended a game against the Giants in August with a fellow listener to the Effectively Wild podcast; he was in the home stretch of a road trip to visit all 30 MLB teams. The other games were more random, yet just as exciting.

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First game of the year, Braves at Reds. My wife and sister-in-law supporting their hometown team, while I do the same. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
I finally watched a Florence Freedom game from the stands. I have umpired several games on the field for the local youth leagues. The Frontier League is underrated, like most Independent Baseball Leagues. The play on the field is fun and exciting, even though the team lacks a Major League an affiliation. The fun of attending a game remains. As an added bonus, my wife and I accidentally attended a double header, it was awesome.img_20180829_201148The Florence Freedom split a double header with the Normal CornBelters. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

 

 

My wife and I took another three week summer road trip. While it did not involve as much baseball as our honeymoon did last year, we still visited several important places in the baseball world. The first stop on our trip was in Kansas City. Visiting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was my top destination while planning the trip. Saying it exceeded my wildest expectations is an understatement. As wonderful and well done as the Hall of Fame is, Jesse and I both agree the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is better. We understand Cooperstown deals with everything baseball, and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum focuses on a much smaller portion of baseball. However, something about the museum eclipses the magic of Cooperstown.

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Welcome to the Negro League Baseball Museum. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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The greatest players in Negro Leagues history are still playing in Kansas City. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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The jerseys of the Negro League Museum. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

The next day we drove to Omaha. Among our stops there were the current, TD Ameritrade Park, and the historic, Rosenblatt Stadium, homes of the College World Series. Standing where so much baseball history has taken place gave me goosebumps. The drive between the ballparks felt like traveling from new Yankee Stadium to old Yankee Stadium. The new park is fine, but nothing like what it replaced.

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The entrance to TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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What is left of Rosenblatt Stadium. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

Our last baseball stop on our road trip was in Fargo, North Dakota. Inside the West Acres Mall is the Roger Maris Museum. While Maris is best remembered for his 1961 season, the Museum, which consists of a video room and long window display, walks you through Maris’ life and career. The simple museum is perfect for the two time MVP who often seemed happier when avoiding the spotlight.

The highlight of my baseball year was the road trip I took with Bernie. Four games, in four days, in four cities. We watched the Lansing Lugnuts, Detroit Tigers, Fort Wayne TinCaps, and South Bend Cubs play. While the Major Leagues are the pinnacle of the sport, Minor League Baseball gives you more for your money. You can sit closer, attend more games, and see future Major Leaguers play today. Beyond the great baseball, such a road trip allows you to explore new cities. Bernie and I ate our way through each city, especially Detroit. We both needed a salad and a workout at the end of the trip.

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A beautiful sunset as we watched the Lansing Lugnuts play. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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Bernie caught a plush baseball at our first game on the road trip in Lansing. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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Welcome to Comerica Park, home to the Detroit Tigers (The Winning Run/ DJ
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Much closer and we could have suited up for the Fort Wayne TinCaps. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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Our seats for the final game of our road trip as we watched the South Bend Cubs play on Mr. Rogers Day. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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Batting practice home run ball hit by one of the Minnesota Twins. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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View from our seats over the Tigers bullpen in left field. (The Winning RUN/ DJ)

2018 was a wonderful year of baseball for me. I spent far too many hours umpiring, watching, and traveling for baseball. It was an excellent year of exploring the game. I am excited to see what 2019 brings.

DJ

The End of War

Today we paused to observe Veterans Day in the United States. Yesterday, November 11th marked 100 years since the end of World War I, the war to end all wars. More than 15 million people, military and civilian, lost their lives during the four years the war raged in Europe.

The conflict broke out on July 24, 1914 following the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the July Crisis. The web of secret alliances and miscalculations by leaders on both sides led to all out war. The United States did not enter the conflict until the interception of the  Zimmermann Telegram. Germany was encouraging Mexico to attack the United States if America entered the war in Europe. Germany promised Mexico support in regaining lost territories including Texas. The admission by German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann of the authenticity of the telegram hastened American entry into the war on April 6, 1917.

The United States mobilized more than 4 million military personnel during the war. Among them were 788 former, current, or future Major League players. Players did not receive special treatment as Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, George Sisler, and Branch Rickey were assigned to the Chemical Warfare Service. Mathewson contracted tuberculous and died from the disease in 1925 at 45 years old. Cobb, Mathewson, Sisler, and Rickey were among 28 future Hall of Famers who served during World War I.

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Christy Mathewson (L) and Ty Cobb (R) while serving in the Chemical Warfare Service. Mathewson died from contracting tuberculous while serving. (Frank Ceresi Collection)

The brutality of the war led to more than 8.5 million military deaths among the belligerents. The United States alone suffered 116,708 military dead in the 20 months it was involved in the conflict. Eight Major League players lost their lives: Eddie Grant (Killed in Action), Tom Burr (Died in Training Accident Plane Crash), Bun Troy (Killed in Action), Ralph Sharman (Drowned in Training), Larry Chappell (Spanish Flu), Harry Glenn (Spanish Flu), Newt Halliday (Tuberculosis), and Harry Chapman (Died from Wounds). Three Negro League players lost their lives: Ted Kimbro (Spanish Flu), Norman Triplett (Pneumonia), and Pearl Webster (Spanish Flu). 26 minor league players also lost their lives during the conflict.

When World War I came to a halt on November 11, 1918, the concussive noise of shells stopped and soldiers could hear the birds chirping. One year later, President Woodrow Wilson spoke in remembrance of the sacrifice and lose, and of those returning home. On June 4, 1926 the United States Congress adopted a resolution that President Calvin Coolidge issue an annual proclamation calling for observances on November 11th in remembrance of the end of World War I. More than a decade later, on May 13, 1938, November 11th becomes an American holiday to promote world peace. Following two more devastating wars, World War II and the Korean War, on May 26, 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law that henceforth November 11th would be known as Armistice Day. Later that summer on June 1, Congress amended the law, changing the name to Veterans Day.

On Veterans Day we honor the sacrifices made by the men and women who served or are serving in the military. Their sacrifices are up to and including laying down their lives. Deployments overseas and the separation from family and friends. The physical, mental, and emotional tolls of their jobs. The military protects the nation from enemies, both foreign and domestic. The military is not a nameless, faceless entity. It is ordinary people giving their time, skills, and sometimes lives so their fellow citizens can live in peace. On this Veterans Day, 100 years after the war to end all wars, take a moment to reflect on those who have sacrificed for us all. We should not waste their sacrifice on petty squabbles, but work together to create a more peaceful nation and world so that war becomes a thing of the past.

DJ

Baseball is as America is

Baseball is America’s pastime. It is also a reflection of America. Anyone can rise to the top of the game. It doesn’t matter where you come from, only your ability on the field. You can be born the son of a saloon keeper in the Pigtown section of Baltimore, Maryland and grow up to become Babe Ruth. You can be born to poor African-American parents in Mobile, Alabama and grow up to break Babe Ruth’s home run record and establish yourself as Hank Aaron, the Home Run King. You can grow up in Commerce, Oklahoma and become Mickey Mantle, arguably the greatest switch hitter of all time. You can be the son of Italian immigrants and grow up in The Hill, St. Louis, Missouri and become Yogi Berra, one of the greatest catchers of all time. You can grow up in beautiful San Diego and become the greatest hitter of all time, as Ted Williams did. You can be a kid living in The Bronx, listening to the radio, wishing you were at the game and grow up to be Vin Scully, the greatest broadcaster ever.

Baseball can give people so much, yet it also has a shameful past. The exclusion of African-American players is indefensible. It will forever be a stain on the game. The resulting Negro Leagues are the truest American response to injustice. When faced with hatred and ignorance, players created their own leagues. Baseball in the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues was never perfect. However, African-Americans fought for their rightful place as equals in America with every pitch, hit, catch, and throw. The Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, Missouri continues to ensure this history, good and bad, is not forgotten.

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Baseball is a reflection of what is good in America, but it can also reflect what is not good in America. (www.si.com)

Baseball, like America, is a melting pot. People from all over the world come here to play the game. Ichiro crossed the Pacific and become a legend in Japan and America. One of the greatest right handed hitter of all time, Miguel Cabrera, left his native Venezuela to leave opposing players and fans in awe at his skills with a bat. Peter Moylan had a second chance at baseball after working as a pharmaceutical salesman in his native Australia. Gift Ngoepe continues to create a path for other African born players, as the South African became the first African born player to appear in a Major League game. Baseball and America takes players from everywhere in the world as Ed Porray proved, he was born at sea.

America is a true melting pot. We are not a perfect nation. We have done horrible things to our own people, from the Native Americans to African-Americans to religious minorities to the LGBTQ community. We fight and argue for what we think is right, just like in baseball. The rules that govern how we play the game and live together need updating from time to time. Change is never easy, but it is necessary. We are stronger together when we are willing to judge people by their abilities on the field and in life, and not on preconceived ideas based upon where they are from, what language they speak, or what god they worship. The wonderful thing about being an American is there is no mold to follow. Only a select few of us, when you trace your family back, are from here. Instead of telling our teammates and fellow Americans to conform, why not listen to them and learn from them to make yourself better, and by extension our team and country better.

Happy Independence Day!

DJ

The 1%

One of the many reasons I am not a big football fan is due to the lack of games. I understand why there are so few games each year, but the lack of action leaves plenty to be desired. The dead time between games results in hours and days of continuous talking about what happened in the last game and the matchups for the next game. There is only so much anyone can talk about a game before or after it is played until you begin to repeat the same thing over and over again. There is no justification that I can find to spend more than 30 minutes discussing the upcoming Week 6 football game between the Chicago Bears and the Jacksonville Jaguars unless it is to recreate the Saturday Night Live Bill Swerski Superfans skits. Sadly, dozens of hours will be spent discussing a game that will most likely be forgotten in the not so distant future. In baseball you might spend 30 minutes before and after each game discussing the match up and what happened, but even that can be a stretch.

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Not much to do between games but talk about DA BEARS. (nbc.com)

Football kills time between games by talking in circles about the same thing week after week. The beauty of baseball is once the post-game armchair manager talk is wrapped up, the discussion may continue to the future by looking at the minor leagues or reframe the present with a look to the past. Sometimes a quirky event about the game warrants a focused look on the great players in baseball history for an interesting connection.

I was invited to attend a talk by Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, by my fiancée’s work colleague. The talk was at the Green Diamond Gallery, which is the largest privately held baseball collection in the world. The talk centered mainly on the Hall of Fame and its current efforts to preserve baseball history and educate the fans. After the talk, Jeff Idelson began answering questions from the audience. Several of the questions had to do with the election process and potential changes to the induction process. The standard Pete Rose questions were asked, as the Green Diamond Gallery is located in Cincinnati. Finally someone asked “Who do you [Jeff Idelson] think should be in the Hall of Fame that is not?” He did the appropriate tap dance around the question so as to not give a definite answer. Then he gave the best possible answer.

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Is the Reds Hall of Fame the closest Pete Rose will ever get to Cooperstown? Probably (Kareem Elgazzar/ Cincinnati.com)

There are 312 individuals enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame; 28 executives, 22 managers, 10 umpires, 35 Negro League players, and 217 Major League players. There have been over 18,700 individual players in Major League history. This means only the top 1% of players are eventually enshrined. You can argue that every player that is in Cooperstown belongs there, plus many more who are not. However, there is little to be argued that the players enshrined do not deserve to be there.

There are plenty of players for whom the argument can be made that they should be enshrined in Cooperstown, but more is not always better. The NBA and NHL both have 30 teams and 16 of those 30 teams (53%) will make the playoffs. The Houston Rockets made the playoffs this year with a 41-41 record, why is a .500 team going to the playoffs? Yes there have been some dreadful divisions in Major League Baseball, the 2005 National League West was won by the San Diego Padres with an 82-80 record, but those are rare. The more slots you have in the playoffs, the worse the competition. It is better to leave a good team at home than to have a terrible team advance, although this is tough to say when the team you root for is that good team. The same is true for the Hall of Fame. Admitting more players means detracting from the significance of the honor. This only serves to muddle the difference between greatness and the very good.

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The Green Diamond Gallery is an amazing collection of any and everything that is baseball. (www.greendiamondgallery.com)

Eliminating the players who are known or highly suspected of using steroids and those who are on the permanently ineligible list, there are several players for whom a convincing argument can be made that they belong in Cooperstown. These are player who are no longer on the ballot for election by the baseball writers. Don Mattingly, Tim Raines, Gil Hodges, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Jim Kaat, Dale Murphy, Roger Maris, Bret Saberhagen, Maury Wills, Thurman Munson, and the list goes on.

Would the Hall of Fame be better with these players enshrined, I would say so. Is the Hall of Fame seen as incomplete without these players, I do not think so. The Hall of Fame is reserved for the top 1% of players. Every generation has players who were spectacular on the field, yet begin to fade with time.

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Multiple MVP Awards failed to get Dale Murphy enshrined in Cooperstown. (mlb.com)

Kevin Brown, Hideo Nomo, Mo Vaughn, and Brett Butler were all outstanding players in the early to mid 1990’s. Were they as emblematic of baseball excellence as Ken Griffey Jr, Tony Gwynn, Randy Johnson, or Greg Maddux? Those enshrined in Cooperstown should be the players who can be compared against players from every generation and hold their own. Joe DiMaggio was not the best or most powerful hitter, but his skills and statistics hold up against players from every generation.

Records and awards are designed to recognize greatness, not designed to settle debates. Ichiro now has more hits in professional baseball than Pete Rose. However, Rose got all of his hits in the Majors while Ichiro has split his time between the Majors and Japan. Who is the better hitter? It would be easy to insert Tony Gwynn, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, and Miguel Cabrera into the debate. Is Cy Young the greatest pitcher of all time because he has the most wins or Nolan Ryan because he has the most strikeouts? I doubt you will find many people so easily convinced. What about Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Christy Mathewson, Greg Maddux, Bob Feller, or Old Hoss Radbourn?

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What could Bob Feller have done on the mound had his service in World War II not cost him nearly four full seasons early in his career. (http://vanmeteria.gov/)

Jeff Idelson repeatedly pointed to the democratic way that players are elected to the Hall of Fame. He understands that the process is not perfect, but ultimately gets it right. The recent changes to the voting process, revoking the voting rights of writers who have not actively covered baseball in the past 10 years and reducing the number of years on the ballot from 15 to 10, should help to reduce and then prevent a backlog of worthy players getting the look they deserve. This is not to say they will be elected, but that they will get a fair shot. The top 1% of players will rise to the top during voting as they did during their playing careers. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s mission is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations.” Players and their accomplishments are never cast aside regardless of how short or long their careers. Thousands of players have taken the field and many have made a case for their inclusion with the legends of the game. However, those enshrined in Cooperstown leave no doubt about their worthiness in the history of the game. It is those who came so close to joining this exclusive club, yet have come up just short, that allows the debate to flourish over what makes a Hall of Fame player.

DJ

Down and Dirty

The “slide” by the Dodgers Chase Utley into second base was horrific.  No one but Utley can say with certainty what his intentions were, but from what we saw Utley went in either with cruel intentions or forgot how to slide into second base.  Whatever his intentions were Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada now has a fractured right fibula.

Chase Utley has played 13 seasons in the Majors, he has played 12, 954 ⅔ innings at second base, and turned 902 double plays.  He is not a starry eyed rookie, Utley knows howto play the game.  He knows how a player should and should not try to break up a double play.  What was on display at Dodger Stadium in Game 2 of the National League Divisional Series was grotesque.  Utley knows better, but he injured another player because he did not play the game they way it should be played.   The play was dirty, plain and simple, but why when Chase Utley is generally not seen a dirty player?

Ruben Tejada paid a painful price for Chase Utley's stupidity. (PAUL RODRIGUEZ, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER - Dodgers vs. Mets in game two of the NLDS.)

Ruben Tejada paid a painful price for Chase Utley’s stupidity. (PAUL RODRIGUEZ, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER – Dodgers vs. Mets in game two of the NLDS.)

People are going to argue that the play was not dirty, just Utley playing hard like they use to play.  First, it was a dirty play. Second, just because that is how they use to play the game does not mean it is the right way to play.  Utley was on top of second base when he began his“slide”.  Tejada was doing everything he could to protect himself by being behind the bag.  Turning a double play is dangerous for the shortstop or second baseman that has to make the turn.  Tejada used the bag as best he could to shield himself from a clean, hard slide, which was justified.  However, this is not happened.  Tejada had to have his back to Utley to receive the ball from Daniel Murphy, this places him in a compromised position.  As Utley is going in to break up the double play he begins his slide so late that he does not make contact with the ground as part of his slide  until he is past second base.  Beginning his slide so late meant Utley’s body was still high up, potentially too high for Tejada to avoid.  It looks almost like a football player being tackled after an unsuccessful attempt to hurdle the defender.  This is far too late for the play to be safe but hard.  Utley sliding in late with Tejada’s back to him as he begins to turn places the responsibility on Utley to not do anything stupid or dirty so that both players do not get hurt.  Apparently this was too much to ask of Chase Utley as he sees the play developing and goes into second base hard, late, and high.  Utley also goes in with his body wide.  Yes it does appear that he is trying to make contact with the base, in accordance with the rules.  However, “sliding” in wide, late, and high with Tejada’s back to him in this case meant the contact was guaranteed.  This is where a play turns both dirty and dangerous.  The best case scenario for Tejada to be violently flipped by Utley, and even then the play would have been dirty.  The reality though is much worse.  Tejada was defenseless and paid the price for Utley’s inability to understand that his attempt to break up the double play in this manner was foolish and dangerous.  Utley’s stupidity, regardless of intent, has resulted in Tejada having a broken leg and Utley receiving a knee to the head, likely a mild concussion or at least having his bell rung.  The Mets lose their starting shortstop and the Dodgers might lose a backup second baseman.  There was no need for Utley to take out Tejada.  It was a stupid play.

After the game ended with the Dodgers evening up the NLDS at one game each, MLB Network begins breaking down the game as a whole and debating whether the play was dirty or not.  Eric Byrnes adamantly argued that the play was hard, but not dirty, and that this is how players use to break up double plays.  (Brynes has since changed his opinion after seeing the replay more and doing further analysis, which I respect him for doing).  Brynes was a fun player to watch because he brought intensity, grit, and passion to the game everyday.  However, his initial reaction to this situation was wrong.  Just because something has always been done a certain way does not mean that it should continue to be done that way.  (Again Brynes has changed his opinion from his initial reaction, but that initial reaction is held by some people).  Plays like the one Tejada and Utley were involved in have the potential to end careers; severe concussions, destroyed knees, shattered legs.

A play like Ruben Tejada canot be much more defenseles than at this moment as Chase Utley begins is "slide". (www.businessinsider.com)

A play like Ruben Tejada canot be much more defenseles than at this moment as Chase Utley begins is “slide”. (www.businessinsider.com)

Change has never come easy to baseball.  Purist usually argue that changing the game in any way will negatively impact the game as a whole.  Slowly but surely baseball has changed, and usually for the better.  Baseball had always allowed for home plate collisions.  Talk to Buster Posey about his lost season or Ray Fosse about how his career was never the same.  Baseball had allowed the spitball.  Talk to Ray Chapman’s family and see how they felt about it after he was killed by the pitch.  Talk to the countless African-American players who were denied the ability to play in the Majors simply because of their skin color.  Baseball had not drug tested for steroids and other PEDs.  Talk to the families of Taylor Hooton and Rob Garibaldi who testified before Congress in the same hearing with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, and Jose Canseco.  Taylor was 17 and Rob was 24 when they committed suicide due to their steroid use.  Baseball is continuously changing.  Obviously some of the changes it has undergone are far more important and far reaching than others.  However, the notion that continuing to do something simply because it is the way it has always been done is absurd, especially if there is a different way to achieve the same end goal while reducing the danger to the players, to individuals who look up to the players, or to end injustice.

Chase Utley is not who usually comes to mind as being a dirty player, but what he did in Game 2 was a dirty play.  Trying to break up a double play during a playoff game is good, hard baseball.  However, what Utley did with his extremely late “slide” was to unnecessarily injure an opposing player and change the series.  There are only two times in baseball that it should ever look like one player is tackling another: when a fight has broken out and players are trying to restrain one another and when a team is celebrating a win and the team is chasing the player who got the game winning hit.  That is it.  Chase Utley took out Ruben Tejada on a dirty “slide”.

Baseball changed its rules about spitballs and making the ball dirty after Ray Chapman was killed after being hit with a pitch. Some injuries can and should be avoided. (www.didthetribewinlastnight.com)

Baseball changed its rules about spitballs and making the ball dirty after Ray Chapman was killed after being hit with a pitch. Some injuries can and should be avoided. (www.didthetribewinlastnight.com)

If people who want to defend what Chase Utley want to talk about how his play is just how baseball is and should be played, then they also need to talk about something else.  Regardless if it is in the NLDS or next season there will be a purpose pitch delivered.  That is just how baseball is.  It could this year before Utley’s appeal is heard.  It could come next year when the two teams play each other.  Somewhere down the line a purpose pitch will be delivered by the Mets to the Dodgers expressing their anger at this dirty “slide” by Chase Utley.  Hopefully the batter on the receiving end of that pitch will be Utley himself and not one of his teammates.  Noone should not have to get hit by a pitch for this.  It was Utley’s stupidity, he should have to answer for it.  Baseball players have always dealt with this sort of thing themselves, and in this case Eric Brynes and others are correct that some things in baseball do not need to change.  This is how baseball has always policed itself, and this is how baseball should generally continue to police itself.  A player does something stupid, let him take the punishment for it.

Major League Baseball acted quickly to suspend Utley.  Too bad the suspension is not long enough.  He should be suspended for more than just two game, conveniently he would have missed the games in New York had he not appealed.  Two games is what you should get suspended for arguing for too long with an umpire about a bad call, not for taking out an opposing player.  Utley and the Dodgers should feel the pain he inflicted on the Mets.  Appealing his suspension is Utley’s right, but it would be shameful if it were to be reduced.  Those on Utley’s side are arguing that he has gone in to break up double plays like this before without receiving a suspension.  While this is true, it does not make it right.  Fortunately, Utley has not injured anyone seriously before.  Even Tejada has been on the receiving end of one of Utley’s “slides”, and he was able to walk away.  The “slide” during Game 2 was the most egregious of Utley’s questionable slides, and it clearly went from trying to break up the double play to taking out an opposing player.  Again we will never know what Utley’s intentions were when he went into second, but ultimately his intentions do not matter.  Utley made a boneheaded and dirty play.

At come pint Chase Utley will have to face the truth about what he has done, and it is going to be painful. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

At come pint Chase Utley will have to face the truth about what he has done, and it is going to be painful. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

There is nothing wrong with playing hard and trying to break up a double play, especially in the playoffs.  There is however a line between playing baseball hard and playing dirty.  Chase Utley flew over that line when he took out Ruben Tejada with his absurdly late slide during Game 2.  Go in hard, make the middle infielder jump to avoid you, make the throw to first a little more difficult and take some of the juice off the throw.  There is nothing wrong with this.  What is wrong is when you slide in late, wide, and high against a middle infielder who has his back turned toward you.  Ruben Tejada was trying to make a play.  He used second base to protect himself, but Chase Utley took him out with simply a dirty “slide” that resulted in a broken leg and the Mets losing Tejada for the rest of the playoffs.

The NLDS has been changed, and not for the better.  Instead of talking about the series being tied at a game each, all the talk is about the injury to Tejada and whether the analysis think the play was dirty.  This is not good for baseball.  Instead of celebrating the game and the playoffs we are arguing whether the play was dirty.  What a shame that a fairly ordinary play has turned into a season ending injury for one player and a debate about whether the play and player are dirty.  You were better than this Chase Utley, what changed?

DJ

Preserving History

African-Americans have played a critical role in the development of both baseball and America.  Their contributions to both go beyond the box scores or the newspaper headlines.  Honoring the memory of the Negro Leagues and educating people about the challenges and triumphs of the people involved with this era of our nation’s history is preserved at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM).  Founded in 1990, the NLBM was created from the efforts of local historians, business leaders, and former baseball players.  The museum has continued to grow since its founding and is a treasure trove of information about the Negro Leagues and its players.  Its home in Kansas City, Missouri reflects the importance of the city to Negro League Baseball as it was home to the premier team, the Kansas City Monarchs.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is preserving a critical part of American history. (www.nlbm.mlblogs.com)

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is preserving a critical part of American history. (www.nlbm.mlblogs.com)

Current NLBM President Bob Kendrick continues to operate the museum as an excellent mixture of remembering the past, while educating the future.  He, along with the late Buck O’Neil, have been instrumental in remembering and promoting the Negro Leagues.  O’Neil spent much of his life, especially his later years championing the cause of Negro League players.  This includes pushing for more Negro League players to be inducted into the National Baseball hall of fame.  After far too long the Negro Leagues are now viewed for what they truly were, top level baseball played by men who should have been in the Major Leagues but were denied access based solely upon the color of their skin.

Honoring and remembering the Negro Leagues is a pleasure because of the great accomplishments of the men and women who worked to promoted African-American baseball at a time when society did not view their skill or their humanity as equal.  It is also a somewhat solemn task, as we will never know how great these players truly were in comparison to the stars in Major League Baseball due to their being denied the opportunity to compete alongside the other greatest baseball players in the world.  Was Josh Gibson the black Babe Ruth, or was Babe Ruth the white Josh Gibson?  This debate will never be settled.  What sort of statistics would Satchel Paige have put up if he had had the opportunity to start pitching in the Majors when he was 20 years old instead of 41 years old?  How would the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the New York Yankees match up during their peaks in the early 1930’s?

Satchel Paige of the Kansas City Monarchs talks with Josh Gibson of the Homestead Grays before a game in Kansas City in 1941. (www.90feetofperfection.com)

Satchel Paige of the Kansas City Monarchs talks with Josh Gibson of the Homestead Grays before a game in Kansas City in 1941. (www.90feetofperfection.com)

Unfortunately we will never know the answers to these questions.  We can hypothesize and speculate, but the debates should have been settled on the diamond and not in the theoretical.  The shame of the Negro Leagues is not upon the players, executives, or fans of the league, but rather on those who necessitated its creation and operation.  The Negro Leagues were a matter of necessity for African-American players.  Shut out of Major League Baseball for more than 60 years, they formed teams and leagues to allow them to play the game they love.  Arguments can be made that the Negro Leagues were not of the same caliber of play as the Major Leagues, but given the realities for African-Americans in the United States from the 1880’s through the 1960’s, having their own league was a source of pride.  Off the field, African-American faced unspeakable racism, discrimination, and violence, but on the field it all faded away.  It does not matter if you are white, Hispanic, Asian, or African-American if you can hit and/or throw a baseball better than the other team, you win.

The NLBM is vital to the preservation and celebration of all the greatest that was the Negro Leagues.  The executives, players, personalities, and fans were what made the Negro Leagues so successful for so long.  While they were dissolved by the 20th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, their impact continues today.  The growth and development of African-American baseball is directly related to the success of the Negro Leagues and the players who made the transition from the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues.  The Negro Leagues served their unfortunate purpose admirably for several decades.  Their decline is a sort of end of a golden age of baseball, but it is also the change in attitudes and beliefs in society.  No longer will individuals be prevented from reaching the heights of their profession because of their skin color.  The time in which racism, discrimination, and violence against African-American is accepted has passed.  Society is not perfect, but it has changed for the better.  Baseball has led the charge for change.  The Negro Leagues were the best alternative for African-American baseball players during a time when they were deemed unequal, and thus barred from playing in the Major Leagues.  The NLBM connects this past with the present and educated people about the people who drove for the change in society that finally came, despite seemingly impossible odds.  This is the story of African-Americans in the United States and it is vitally important that we preserve this history of the Negro Leagues from both on and off the diamond for future generations.

D