Tuesday, February 28, 2012

An Individualistic Sport

According to the author (Jason Turnbow), in the conclusion of "The Baseball Codes," baseball is now more than ever an individualistic sport, with many players more beholden to their agents than to the teams that employ them.
Although I must say, in hearing an interview with Marty Lurie and Clay Hensley, it was refreshing to hear Hensley say he always wanted to play for the team that first recognized he had the ability to play in the major leagues. (Clay was an 8th round pick in the 2002 amateur draft.) It took how Hensley did in San Diego and Florida (15-18 with SD from 2005-2008; W9 L11 with Florida in 2010 and 2011) to prove he was major league capable and now that he has that proof it'll be good to see how he helps his new club, the San Francisco Giants. Note: He shined as a set-up man but don't let the won/loss record fool you.  Hensley is a tough at-bat.

"The overall respect for the game has declined," said Pete Rose. "The only thing the guys respect now is money."  That could be spot on.  Because these are words coming from the all-time major league hit leader (who was banned from baseball because he bet on his own team).  Unfortunately, this once great ballplayer is also one who sells his signature for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. Where is his respect for humankind?

Is the modern player just as concerned with appearing on Sports Center as he is with winning the game?  Are there umpires who make calls so they can see themselves on the highlight reels that review game films each and every night?

"I honestly believe that what you learn in this game is not yours to possess, but yours to pass on," said Dusty Baker.  "...You can't run off to the woods and keep it to yourself, because it isn't yours to keep.  And what you teach other guys is the torch you pass. I don't make this up- it was passed to me."

If the majority of coaches, players and managers take this frame of reference baseball will be just fine.

(thanks to Jason Turnbow's book, "The Baseball Codes" and the good stuff inside it.)

Kevin J. Marquez

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kangaroo Court (per Jason Turnbow's book "The Baseball Codes")

(The following is from the Jason Turnbow book entitled "The Baseball Codes.")

A careful concoction of veteran status and on-field performance helps determine the upper end of any pecking order, and clubhouse culture rewards those at the top of the food chain.

Kangaroo court, baseball's informal clubhouse version of the judicial system- regular convenings of the team in which ballpark justice is meted out to any reprobate member by a jury of his peers.

Players are kept in line for both on-field and off-field indiscretions through a system of small fines and good-natured ridicule from their teammates.  No offense is too small.

After the 1970 World Series, Brooks Robinson, whose performance was so spectacular- he hit .429 and played like a "Human Vacuum" at third base- that Frank Robinson eventually fined him for showboating. 

Courts are generally made up of a judge (who must possess a strong personality and even sharper wit), a secretary (who records the charges, which can be brought up by any member of the team against any other member of the team, as long as a witness is procured), and a treasurer (who collects and holds the fine money- traditionally between $5 and $100 a pop- which at the end of a season is sometimes donated to charity and sometimes used for a blowout party).

"The kangaroo code is you can never win, "  Oscar Gamble.  (Gamble was a lifetime .265 hitter with 200 career home runs.)

In the Orioles clubhouse, Frank Robinson initiated Don Baylor into the system after the 21-year old boasted to a reporter that he'd break into the starting lineup as soon as he got "into the groove."  Baylor was fined and tagged with the nickname "Groove."  He had to suffer the indignity of spending virtually the entire season in the minors.
(Note:  Don Baylor, along with RHP-Mike Torrez were traded from the Orioles to the Oakland A's for Kenny Holtzman (LHP) and (OF) Reggie Jackson on April 2, 1976.)

Yankees coach Don Zimmer was fined simply for being Don Zimmer.

Tiger pitcher, Jim Price, recalled a teammate who was fined because his date "could eat corn through a picked fence."

The Kansas City Royals would give a gong (the one from the Gong Show, courtesy of first-baseman Pete LaCock, whose father was Peter Marshall, the emcee of the Hollywood Squares) to a player voted a red ass by the kangaroo court.

The Milwaukee Brewers awarded their star of the game a 3-foot rubber phallus, which was placed in his locker for the duration of the post-game activity.  It didn't garner much notice until 1987, when Juan Nieves threw a no-hitter.  "He had this thing hanging in his locker, just dangling there," said Brewers catcher Bill Schroeder.  "So here's ESPN and everybody interviewing him, and you see this thing hanging over his shoulder.  Then you see a hand reach in and grab it and pull it away.  It was GM Harry Dalton!  That was our kangaroo court, and it was the funniest thing in the world."

Normal people have therapy, ballplayers have the practical joke.

Bert Blyleven was the master of the craft of the "hot foot."  For a time, the fire extinguisher in the Angels' clubhouse read:  "In case of Blyleven, Pull."

Sixto Lezcano, as a rookie, was given an all-green wardrobe for one of his team's West Coast swings- green pants, shirt, coat, socks, shoes.  ("I looked like a fucking grasshopper," said the Sixto kid.

Jim Davenport estimates that in the 1950s a player had to accumulate at least 400-ABs before he was allowed so much as to speak up in the presence of veterans.

Says Doug Mienkiewicz, "If you can't be mentally strong enough to wear a dress for one day when evey other rookie is, too, then you're probably not going to be mentally strong enough to handle an o-for-35 stretch in four different cities."

That's the only way to look at baseball's silly pranks.

(thanks to Jason Turnbow for my being able to share a couple of stories)

Kevin J. Marquez

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Tribute to Henry Gibson

Henry Gibson, of Rowan & Martin's "Laugh In" from 1966-1973, would recite poetry each episode. He'd stand straight up and be holding some type of flower as he would recite some of the most awkward poetry ever heard by mankind.  But it was funny. 

Baseball. With it's pastoral setting so plush,
Baseball removes all the trifling stuff.
Baseball has times when one team calls the other's bluff.
I wouldn't mind being a fluffer (in the off-season)
Me around surgically-endowed women in the buff
I don't think I could get enough...

I would not like to take anyone's guff, especially the ump.
But  I would soothe the player whose pop-up was muffed,
Or when a ground ball takes a bounce that's tough.  
But when the game gets too rough
I would look forward to the post-game puff.
Knowing that only a victory
could take every mishap or error, up to snuff.


An Ode to Candlestick Park  (words by Lennon and McCartney)

There are places I remember
All my life.
Though some have changed,
Some forever not for better.

Some have gone and some remain.
All these places had their moments...

My first big league ballgame was to see the Philadelphia Phillies play the Giants at Candlestick Park.  I think the year was 1964.  The Phillies had an All-Star named Johnny Callison, who wore the number 6.  He hit a ball that struck the yellow line that was pained atop the cyclone fence back in the day at Candlestick and remained in the park for a triple.

Later in the game, Willie Mays hit a home run.

I remember seeing both balls soar in the sky and land in such a majestic manner.  That feeling never left me.  Seeing the game from the upper deck was always something I enjoyed tremendously.  And it taught me to judge the trajectory of the ball so well that I don't ever recall jumping out of my seat prematurely thinking the fly was a homer.  I could always tell when one would leave the field of play (in fair territory) and one that would fall hopelessly shy either at the warning track or on the outfield grass.

Watching someone on the other team do something that I had never seen before (a triple!) and then bearing witness to the things Willie Mays did on the baseball diamond.  Wow, the little boy in me still smiles when reflecting on this memory.

Welcome to the 2012 Major League Baseball season.

Kevin J. Marquez

Marvin Miller

In 1966, Marvin Miller became executive director of the Major League Players Association.  Rob Ruck states, in his book Baseball:  How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game: Miller is the most significant figure in baseball history not in the Hall of Fame.

Miller used the acumen he had gained as chief economist and negotiator for the United Steel workers of America to consistently outmaneuver baseball owners during his 17 years as head honcho of the union.  New York Times sportswriter, Ira Berkow believed that Marvin Miller was the creator of "the most successful union not just in sports, but in the history of American labor." 

These points are indisputable, to be sure.  Because Miller led the union to two (2) critical victories: free agency and salary arbitration. (Free agency replaced the reserve clause, which had bound a player to the team that first signed him. In free agency, players are "free" to bargain with any club seeking their services after six (6) seasons in the majors.)

Salary arbitration offers players who are not yet free agents but who had spent more than two years in the majors a means to resolve salary disputes.  Both the player and his team could propose a salary to an arbiter, who could pick either the player or the team's submission as the player's salary for the next season.

The arbiter came from a pool of individuals who both the union and owners deemed acceptable, decided on the basis of how players of comparable production were paid.

Unfortunately, some teams recklessly overpaid free agents whose statistical production did not warrant such amounts.  Their salaries affected pay scales across the board and boosted the salaries of players who filed for arbitration.  Teams began submitting salary figures in excess of what they thought was justified because of the inflated salaries paid to free agents of comparable production.  As a result, players rarely lost in salary arbitration.  Mediocrity was rewarded and few ever took pay cuts no matter how poor their statistics were from the previous season.

(The book, Baseball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game by Rob Ruck is an excellent read. The aformentioned came from this book. It is easily interpreted because the writer's words are precise and to the point. Copyrighted in 2011 off Beacon Press, (http://www.beacon.org/) the book is relatively new with keen insights as to what took place back in the day in major league baseball.  A must read for any baseball fan. Kudos to Rob Ruck on a job well done!)

Kevin J. Marquez

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Jason Turbow, Author of "The Baseball Codes," Exposed How Cheating is Acceptable.

In a chapter Turnbow titles If You're Not Cheating, You're Not Trying, he gets quotes from former ballplayers, coaches and managers that basically confirm how everyone in baseball cheats.  In fact, the author uses a quote from Rogers Hornsby's article he wrote for "True" magazine titled, "You've Got to Cheat to Win in Baseball."

States Hornsby, "I've been in pro baseball since 1914 and I've cheated, or watched someone on my team cheat, in practically every game.  You've got to cheat.  I know if I had played strictly by the rules I'd have been home feeding my dogs a long time ago instead of earning a good living in baseball for 47 years."  Turnbow surmises that cheating was all that stood between a Hall of Famer (Rogers Hornsby) and a life of doing something else besides playing, coaching or managing baseball.

Turnbow uses Frank Robinson quotes, the major league baseball's discipline czar from 2000-2001. "Some of that stuff might be against some code, but none of it is against the law."

This is where Al Worthington's beliefs hold up. Breaking a rule of a game you are playing is against that particular game's law.  In baseball, the rulebook is law. It was written to prevent competitors from getting an unfair advantage by cheating. Then the Turnbow book has this quote,"Deceiving an umpire is cheating, but deceiving an opponent (say, by stealing their signs) is simply hard-nosed competition." Really?  The umpires were added to the game to see that the rulebook was adhered to by the letter. In no way, shape, or form is cheating acceptable. 

Back to Frank Robinson. A Hall of Fame player with a questionable belief system. "There's nothing wrong with trying to find an edge. That's smart- that's not cheating." As long is it is someone on your team not getting caught, right Frank?

Then we have the unique case of Al Worthington.  A right-handed pitcher who began his career as a New York Giant.  He came west with the Giants when they became the San Francisco Giants.  He was an effective pitcher out of the bullpen who always thought baseball was a way to make an honest living.  That was until he was exposed to tactics that he didn't see as honorable. How could cheating be the thing to do, he thought.

And for the remainder of his career he fought with the notion of having to cheat to survive.

Author Turnbow says "phooey" to the old axiom, Cheaters never prosper. "Cheaters do win.  They win a lot. It's why they cheat," says Turnbow.

Breaking it down further Turnbow lists the following:

Pitchers apply foreign substances to the ball
Hitters doctor their bats
Outfielders act as if they caught a ball they actually trapped
Hitters fake being hit by errant tosses from the pitcher.

I added my own:
Both hitters and pitchers administer supplements into their bodies to make them stronger and heal quickly from injuries.
Balls go further/farther off the bat of the supplementally aided batter.
Balls are thrown harder from a pitcher who uses supplements to defy the odds of aging. A good hitter has even better Eye-hand coordination as the average player improves to someone who will not be kept in the minor leagues but instead someone a major league team will take a chance on. 

Says Ozzie Guillen, "... If you're doing whatever you're not supposed to do and you don't get caught, keep doing it."

A major league complainer about the steroid era is Hall of Famer Bob "Rapid Robert" Feller.  Feller was a war hero and when he returned to the Cleveland Indians he brought with him a military grade gun sight (as Feller was a an anti-aircraft gunner). This site was 60 times stronger than the naked eye.  Cleveland had fallen into a late-August swoon, in 1948, that saw them fall from first place to third place. With 26 games to play, the team was growing desperate, so a spy station was placed in the scoreboard of Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. Among the people manning the scope were Feller himself, fellow Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon, and groundskeeper Emil Bossard's two sons, Marshall and Harold.  Theirs was the system that would one day drive Frank Lane, the White Sox GM, to implement his own practice at Comiskey Park and subsequently drive Al Worthington from the game.

Bragging like a schoolboy who got over by pulling some sort of fast one,"I myself called a grand-slam homer for Joe Gordon on a 3-and-0 count against the Red Sox," said Feller. "As soon as it landed (Boston manager) Joe McCarthy came out on the top step of the dugout and looked at the scoreboard. He knew he had been had."

Aided by Feller's scope, the Indians won 19 of their final 24 games- all but four of which were at home- to force a one-game playoff with the Red Sox. Cleveland would go on to beat Boston, in Boston. From there they would meet the Boston Braves for the World Series title. Indians outfielder Larry Doby had to insisted his pivotal home run in Game 4 was legitimate, unaided by stolen signs. Cleveland ended up winning in 6 games.

Unfortunately for Larry Doby (the next Afro-American to play major league baseball after Jackie Robinson) he didn't get to enjoy his prodigious blast the way he may have liked to because of the cheating that enabled the Indians to force a one-game playoff. You see, Author Jason Turnbow was right. Cheaters do and have prospered. And with it we can see how hypocritical players, like Bob Feller, moan and groan about the steroid era even though what they did certainly was or is not admirable.

(thanks to Jason Turnbow's book for exposing a hypocrite)

Kevin J. Marquez