Reviewing “42″ and Honoring Jackie Robinson

Margaret Mead is credited with saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Those who gave us the film 42 have provided a reminder of that truism, as they told the story of Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey and how, together, they put an end to the “unwritten rule” that kept African-American ballplayers from playing Major League Baseball before 1947.

Let’s get this much out of the way right up front: It’s a very good movie. It was well written. It was well acted. The computer generated images of all of the old ballparks portrayed in the film were pretty amazing, really. The baseball scenes themselves were good, if perhaps not great.

(L-r) HARRISON FORD as Branch Rickey and CHADWICK BOSEMAN as Jackie Robinson in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ drama “42,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

HARRISON FORD as Branch Rickey and CHADWICK BOSEMAN as Jackie Robinson in “42”

The movie starts out with one of those, “This motion picture is based on a true story,” statements. You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s essentially a disclaimer that film makers use at the outset of movies that are about real people or real events, but it really means, “This movie is based on a true story, but not everything said or everything portrayed actually happened. You see, to get a lot of people to spend their money to see this movie, we’ve had to dramatize some things to make the real story more exciting. We hope you understand and maybe even end up believing the scenes in this movie were exactly what really happened.”

As soon as I see the “based on a true story” disclaimer, I resign myself to what’s to come… overly dramatic fictionalized scenes that might have possibly happened, but probably didn’t, to the real people being portrayed.

But in the case of 42 I couldn’t help but come away with a very different sense.

Rather than adding drama to Jackie Robinson’s story, I think the film makers actually sanitized it more than a bit.

Sure, there are scenes depicting Robinson having to deal with Jim Crow laws… being unable to eat, sleep and even go to the toilet in places reserved for “Whites Only.” There are scenes making it clear many of his Dodger team mates didn’t want him on the team to start the 1947 season. There are scenes depicting the kind of racial verbal abuse he had to take from opponents. The movie shows Robinson getting hit by a pitch… once (it happened nine times in his rookie year). There are allusions made to death threats.

But I don’t for a moment believe that the scenes depicting the abuse Robinson and his family received even scratched the surface of what they actually were forced to endure. Maybe the film makers couldn’t go in to all of that in-depth and do so within the limits of a two-hour movie. Then again, had they told the whole story, I’m not sure audiences could have stomached it.

The purpose of the movie was to inspire us… to remind us of what a truly unique and special man Robinson was. Robinson (and Rickey, too, for that matter) certainly warranted us being reminded of the courage it took to break baseball’s color barrier and the role that doing so arguably played in furthering the cause of civil rights in this country.

I haven’t read a single quote from a current professional ballplayer who has seen the movie that hasn’t been highly positive. Most include a reference to the movie reminding them of all that Robinson did to make it possible for today’s players to do what they love to do.

Those are the emotions the film makers wanted to induce in their audiences, no doubt.

The history of racism in our country is, to put it mildly, shameful. Few people alive today remember what it must have been like for Negro League ballplayers before MLB integrated or what it was like for Robinson and others who were on the leading edge of baseball’s integration. Not many today even remember how absurdly people of color were treated in this country in the 1960s… a couple of decades after Jackie first wore a Dodgers uniform.

Few of us remember what Jackie Robinson and those who followed him likely had to deal with. Many of those who do remember, especially those with complexions like mine, often don’t particularly want to be reminded.

So the makers of 42 had to walk a bit of a tightrope. Tell Robinson’s story in a manner that gives him his due… that reminds movie-goers of all ages how courageous he was and how much today’s generations owe to him… that tells the story of the prejudice that he and those that followed him had to overcome, but without dwelling too much in to the horrid details of the underpinnings of that prejudice. They needed to make African-Americans (and all of us, really) proud of Robinson, without making white America too uncomfortable with our own history. In all of this, I believe they succeeded.

So… if you haven’t seen 42 yet, do so. It’s a wonderful movie. Robinson’s story is inspiring and those who made this movie make sure you will leave the theater appropriately inspired. It’s the story of a small group of people, including Robinson and Rickey, who believed there were things being done wrong in this country and set out to try to do something about it.

The movie does a nice job of helping to explain why all of Major League Baseball honors Robinson by retiring his number 42, except for one game every April when every player on every team wears the number on his back.

That’s a nice, symbolic gesture. But we can do better.

Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey made sure they left this world a better place than it was when they entered it.  If we truly want to honor Jackie Robinson, we’ll all make sure that someday the same can be said of each of us.

- JC

Knuckleballs Read Too

I’ve had this idea for a while, but I’ve been so busy settling into a new job (not so new now; I started it in mid-July) that it wasn’t quite ready when the off-season began, as I had planned.

But now the idea is ready for you. The idea? Off-season baseball book reading group. This whole past year or so has been a difficult one for me for various reasons, and I’ve become a bit disconnected from baseball. As I look forward to reconnecting in 2013 (including the first time I might just be able to attend spring training!), I thought it might be fun to start the process by reading a few baseball books this winter, and I’d love for you to join me.

I’ve set up a group over at Goodreads.com, with a thread set up where you can nominate books you’d like to read this off-season. I’ll put up a poll next weekend, we’ll have a week to vote, then a week for everyone to find a copy of the first book we choose. The plan will be to start reading our first book about December 1.

Questions or concerns? Please let me know here, at the Goodreads group, or by email (see “Contact Us” page).

Hope to see you at Goodreads!

Butterflies With Hiccups – Iowa Style

I’m taking advantage of a bit of extra free time I have this afternoon to do another post of random news items (if you use a very generous definition of the word “news”), most of it with an Iowa connection today.

I played hooky this afternoon and watched the Twins and White Sox. True, I had to deal with the Comcast broadcast out of Chicago due to the MLB blackout rules and that means listening to Hawk Harrelson, but that’s what the mute button is for, right? I hear he left the broadcast booth in the 7th inning of the Twins 18-9 blowout of the Sox on Tuesday night and I have to admit I wish I had witnessed that.

As this MLB season winds down, I’m rooting for two things: First, as many of you know, I’m a bit of an Orioles fan, so I still have a team in contention. I still think the Birds are doing it with smoke and mirrors, but I really don’t care how they get the job done, I just want them to beat the Yankees over in the AL East and get in to the playoffs. (Admit it, you wouldn’t mind seeing JJ Hardy and Lew Ford in the playoffs, either.) Second, I’m hoping that the White Sox end up on the outside of the playoffs looking in AND that they finish just close enough that their losses to the Twins this year account for their failure to qualify.

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Miguel Sano

Speaking of playoffs, I’m driving over to Clinton IA this evening to catch game one of the best-of-three playoff series between the Twins’ Midwest League (Class A) affiliate Beloit Snappers and the Clinton LumberKings (Seattle’s affiliate). Clinton finished the MWL regular season on a 10-game winning streak (the last three of which came against my Cedar Rapids Kernels). I saw all three of the Clinton-CR games this past weekend and I think Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and their Beloit teammates have their work cut out for them. Either way, at least I’ll get to check off another MWL ballpark with my visit to Beloit tonight.

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There’s nothing really new on the Twins’ affiliation front for 2013. Now that the minor league regular season is over, teams that are interested in exploring new affiliation options (both MLB teams and minor league teams) can notify the MLB Commissioner’s Office or the president of minor league baseball of such. The teams are not allowed to state publicly that they’ve submitted that notification, however.

The powers-that-be will provide a list of potential affiliates to those teams by September 15. Then, and only then, are the various MLB and MiLB clubs able to start negotiating possible new partnerships with one another.

There was a new article posted online at the website of one of the local CR TV stations (KCRG) this week, but it really didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know. KCRG is owned by the same company (SourceMedia) as the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the report was written by the Gazette writer, Jeff Johnson, that covers the Kernels beat. Johnson has written about the affiliation issue a couple of times already this season and I think he has a pretty solid sense of what’s about to happen.

I’m optimistic, at this point, that I’ll be watching future Twins play baseball at Perfect Game Field here in Cedar Rapids for the next few summers, but the Kernels Directors (essentially, the team’s “owners”) still have a few questions they should be asking the Twins (such as, “Are you planning on buying a MWL team and moving it to St. Paul in a couple of years?”) before anyone is going to sign a deal. As soon as I hear more, I’ll post something, but I don’t expect to hear a lot before the end of September.

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Since this is an Iowa-centered post on a baseball-centered blog, I thought I would mention this little piece of news, as well.

How many of you have seen the movie “Field of Dreams”? Everyone? I thought so.

How many of you have visited the site near Dyersville, in Eastern Iowa, where the movie was filmed? Did you even know the site has been a mini-tourist attraction, complete with cornfield-bordered baseball field, pretty much ever since the movie was released? No? Well now there’s going to be even more of a reason for you to visit, especially if you have kids who play baseball or softball.

Go the Distance Baseball LLC plans to build a $38 million youth baseball/softball complex at the Field of Dreams site. The complex will include 24 ballfields of varying sizes (over and above the original field, which apparently won’t be altered).  The company received approval of a $16.5 million sales tax rebate from the Iowa Legislature & Governor last spring and now have a $5.1 million property tax rebate from the Dyersville City Council, as well.

New Field of Dreams complex (from their Facebook page)

Here’s the artist’s rendering of the site:

Sounds like Ray Kinsella is hearing more voices, doesn’t it? He and his tractor are going to be kept awfully busy plowing under all those other fields. Almost makes me want to get back in to coaching youth baseball. Almost.

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This is rivalry week down here in Iowa. It’s the week of the annual Iowa – Iowa State football game, which I know is of very little interest to much of anyone outside our state’s borders. But it’s a big deal here. It’s in Iowa City this year, which means that’s where I’ll be spending most of my Saturday.

I’m a Hawkeye season ticket holder, but I’m not “anti-ISU” like a lot of people are. I went to high school over in central Iowa, about 40 miles from Iowa State’s campus in Ames. My parents were even ISU season ticket holders for a few years (back in the days when Johnny Majors coached the Cyclones), so I saw a game or two back then. I enjoy taking jabs at my ISU-fan friends and co-workers, but I really don’t mind them having some success on the football field from time to time.

But not this Saturday.

The trophy case in the Iowa football complex that is built to hold the various traveling trophies that the Hawkeyes play for is empty at the moment, with all three of them currently in the possession of various rivals. It’s time the Cy-Hawk Trophy resumes its rightful place in Iowa City.

It may feel a bit lonely for a while, but come September 29, after the Gophers have been sent packing, Floyd of Rosedale will be there to keep it company.

- JC

Butterflies With Hiccups

“Like butterflies with hiccups” is our tagline at Knuckleballs and today it’s a pretty appropriate heading for the following post.

I seem to find myself in a “very little to say about several unrelated things” situation a lot lately. Maybe I’ll make this a quasi-regular thing here. Or maybe this will be a one-time thing. Anyway, there are a few things I’ve read here and there that I feel inclined to comment about. Most are baseball related, but not all.

The Twins

Will Nick Blackburn be at Twins Spring Training in 2013?

On Monday, the Twins outrighted both Nick Blackburn and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, meaning they both cleared waivers and were removed from the Twins’ 40-man roster. Arguably, they were among the last remaining “scholarship” players on the Twins roster and clearly Terry Ryan finally had seen enough of both of them. I certainly won’t be surprised to see both players invited to Spring Training next year and given opportunities to regain spots with the Twins. Then again, I won’t be surprised NOT to see them in Ft. Myers, either.

With 42 games remaining on their schedule, through Monday night, the Twins are 51-70. That means, in order to improve on their 99-loss record of a year ago, they need to go 13-28 from here on out. A bit more than half of their remaining games are against teams that currently still have some playoff hopes, so winning 1/3 of their remaining games may not be as easy at you’d think it should be. Factor in that the final month’s games will pretty much all include line ups with at least one “September call-up” and the task of avoiding 100 losses gets’ trickier yet.

Still, I’m looking forward to seeing some of the Rochester and New Britain players show us what they can do in a Twins uniform. It will at least give me some reason to pay attention to the games, which I admittedly have struggled to muster much interest in doing lately.

The Playoffs

Way before MLB announced its new playoff structure, with 2 wild cards playing a single “play in” game in each league, I was on record here of liking that format. I’ve certainly seen nothing so far this year to change my opinion. I understand that some people (in particular, managers and players) aren’t as enthusiastic about it as I am. But even in expressing their dislike for it, they actually make the exact case FOR the new format. In one of Jayson Stark’s recent pieces over at ESPN.com, he related the following quotes from the Braves’ Chipper Jones:

“I’m not a big advocate of playing 162 games for a one-game playoff,” Jones told Rumblings. “You could easily see two teams in the same division have the two best records in the league, and one of them has the luxury of waiting a couple of days to play a best-three-out-of-five [series], while the other one has that one-game playoff. And I don’t see that as fair.

“It’s basically a Game 7, right off the gut,” Jones went on. “It’s win or go home — and three other teams [in that league] get to sit back and watch it. So that’s why, at least for the guys in this clubhouse, we’re putting the utmost emphasis on every game from here on out. For us, these are must-win games the rest of the way, because we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket, for that one game.”

Exactly, Chipper!

Winning your division SHOULD mean something. It should give you an advantage over a team that just happens to make the playoffs as a wild card for no other reason than that there happens to be an odd number of divisions in each league.

We’re already seeing writers speculate “what if” scenarios where managers may have to decide whether to use a Justin Verlander or Jared Weaver in the wild card game. Unlike many recent years, we won’t be seeing every playoff manager spend the final two weeks more concerned about setting his rotation than winning baseball games.

I have read that the new format meant there weren’t enough “sellers” at the non-waiver trade deadline for all of the potential playoff teams to pick from to help fortify their rosters. Gosh, I guess more teams will just have to try to win primarily with the players that they had on their rosters during the first four months of the season. Such a shame. #sarcasm

Keith Law on Miguel Sano

ESPN’s Keith Law got the attention of many of us who pay close attention to the Twins’ farm system last week when he Tweeted that he would be in Beloit over the weekend to watch the Twins’ prospects there. We were all anxious to find out what he had to say about Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, et al.

Law’s Monday post requires ESPN Insider membership to read, so we certainly will respect ESPN’s copyright to the material and not paste all of what he had to say here. In a nutshell, however, Law was impressed with Sano’s offensive talent and potential, but called Sano out for what he termed his “obvious disdain” for playing defense. He went on to compare Sano’s enthusiasm for defense to that of his own daughter’s enthusiasm for cleaning her room. Ouch.

Miguel Sano

Then again, Law admittedly only watched one game on the Friday night of that weekend.

I have nothing against Keith Law and he may be a pretty good judge of baseball talent. That said, I believe if you’re going to call in to question a young player’s work ethic (which he certainly did in this case), you should provide a little more information concerning the basis for doing so. Was it body language? Did he lollygag around the infield? Did Law speak to coaches, team mates, scouts or front office types?

I’ve seen Sano play 6-7 times this year and will see him some more this weekend. His defensive skills are not good at 3B. This is not news. But if there’s cause to question his work ethic and his interest in improving those skills, that IS news… and I’d be interested in knowing the basis for that conclusion (giving Law benefit of the doubt enough to assume it’s not based on seeing Sano play one game).

Joe Poz on JoePa

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a big Joe Posnanski fan. I may have also mentioned at some point that I’ve never been a huge Joe Paterno fan (even before the Sandusky s**t hit the fan).

If you also happen to follow Poz, you are probably aware that at the time of Paterno’s abrupt dismissal as Penn State’s football coach last November, Posnanski had pretty much moved his family to Happy Valley and was spending the better part of a year shadowing Paterno, his family and the Penn State football program as he researched an authorized biography he was writing on JoePa. Talk about finding yourself in the eye of a hurricane!

In the days and weeks that followed Paterno’s dismissal and, ultimately, his death, Posnanski kept almost completely mum on the subject of the coach. Frankly, I wasn’t even sure if the plans for the book were even going forward. However, now we know.

The book, cleverly entitled Paterno, hits bookstores today (August 21) and excerpts have been in GQ (and on GQ.com) in the days ahead of the book’s release.

I can’t help but feel Posnanski’s in a no-win situation in terms of the public’s response. Based on the excerpts I read, I’m pretty sure that Paterno’s family and defenders will object to much of what’s written and will probably feel betrayed for having allowed Posnanski inside their “circle.” I’m even more convinced that the anti-Paterno crowd will accuse Posnanski of going too soft on Paterno.

That’s enough for today. Maybe I’ll post some sort of “review” after I’ve read Paterno. Almost certainly, I’ll be posting something (a bunch of pictures, if nothing else) during or after the Snappers four-game series with my home town Cedar Rapids Kernels this weekend (the series runs Saturday through Tuesday). Until then, someone let me know if the Twins do anything noteworthy, ok?

- JC

Book Review: Harmon Killebrew: Ultimate Slugger

I recently received a review copy of Harmon Killebrew: Ultimate Slugger.  The book was written by Steve Aschburner with a foreword by Jim Thome and published by Triumph Books.

Steve Aschburner is a long time sports writer, covering all four major league sports and NCAA basketball.  His primary area of emphasis is NBA basketball, but between this book, and his 2008 work “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Minnesota Twins”, it is clear that he has a soft spot for America’s Pastime and the Minnesota Twins.

As a Twins fan not old enough to have seen Harmon Killebrew play for the Senators/Twins, nor old enough even to remember him calling games for the Twins on television, reading Ultimate Slugger provided an excellent opportunity to familiarize myself with one of the greatest men to ever play professional baseball.  Not only did I learn a lot about Killebrew, but I learned a lot about the game of baseball as it was played nearly 50 years ago.

The book is straight forward enough, it starts with a brief synopsis of Killebrew’s family lineage, includes some stories about Killebrew as a young kind, and then follows his career through his early days as a “Bonus Baby” in the 1950s right through his playing days and his strong presence with the Twins up until 2011.

The two things I liked best about Ultimate Slugger was the way Aschburner captured the spirit of Killebrew and the insights into Major League Baseball as it existed in the 50s and 60s.  Aschburner best captured Killebrew through interviews and stories from his life long friends.  He provided insight into the MLB gone-by with just enough statistical analysis to give you an idea of how the game was played and who the biggest players were, and throwing in some anecdotes that highlight the essence of the game.

One thing that particularly struck me was the story of how Harmon Killebrew’s first trip to the Major Leagues.  Killebrew joined the Washington Senators during a 19 game road trip.  A NINETEEN GAME ROAD TRIP (The Twins’ longest road trip in 2012 is 10 games, and that’s one of the longest road trips in MLB this year).  But when Killebrew joined the Senators on that road trip, it was not just the first time he’d been to a Major League game, but the first time he’d even seen a Major League stadium.  Because he was a “bonus baby” Killebrew did not have the benefit of Minor League seasoning, and his first two years he played sporadically, mostly being used as a pinch hitter or pinch runner.  Pretty interesting start for a man that would become an MLB icon.

The biggest drawback to the book is Aschburner’s writing style.  As a seasoned sports writer, his book reads more like a 230 page newspaper column than a regular biography.  Aschburner uses more than his fair share of hokey transitions and cliches to chronicle the life of Harmon Killebrew, but that’s really the only knock on the book.

If you’re a Twins fan looking to gain more insight into the life and stories that surrounded Harmon Killebrew you should definitely pick up a copy* of “Harmon Killebrew: Ultimate Slugger”.

*Knuckleballs will be running a contest during the upcoming All-Star break and giving away two copies of “Harmon Killebrew: Ultimate Slugger”.  Stay tuned!

Not Quite a Book Review: Sense & Nonsense

There is an interesting dynamic that happens when you officially combine two families – aside from too many names to remember – and it means you suddenly have close attachments to people you are just getting to know. For me, the benefit of gaining a husband-to-be also includes another grandfather, Thomas R. Smith, who lives much nearer than my own and is frighteningly similar in many ways to the one I still have through birth. Boppa and I often get the chance for private conversation and I think he enjoys chatting about his previous “life” in the world of agriculture & Ag. Finance. But I haven’t actually known him all that long so imagine my surprise when I found out that a few years ago, he put together a bunch of his favorite jokes, stories and quotes and published his own book!

Sense & Nonsense turned out to be a funny little distraction in the crazy times of new family interactions and considering that he devoted an entire chapter to athletics, I thought maybe I would take advantage of the work he already did in collecting all this amusement into one place and share some of them with you.

True Confessions of a Little League Manager, by Tom R. Smith

Three summers spent managing a Little League Baseball team have convinced me that baseball is America and America is baseball.

Baseball is most often pictured in the form of huge stadiums, wildly cheering fans, stern umpires and great stars. However, the baseball that is most near and dear to the hearts and homes of our nation is Little League baseball.

Little League baseball is people. It affects people in many ways.

Young, eager, red-blooded managers, through a wide variety of deteriorating processes, become shriveled, bald-headed, toothless little round gnomes.

Strangely enough, mama’s little darlings become baseball players.

Staid, conservative, businessman fathers react on occasion as snarling tigers.

Sweet, lovable young mothers, in the heat of the contest, become screaming maniacs.

I have the teeth marks to prove all these statements.

Little league baseball is boys like Jimmy Ryan. Jimmy joined our club without the benefit of a father with whom he could play catch. He had never learned how to throw. He was a “girl thrower,” or sometimes called a “chicken winger.”

Three weeks of practice did wonders for him.

He was playing center field during practice. After hitting him a fly, I felt perfectly secure in stooping to pick up another ball to hit. As I straightened up, his bull’s eye throw to the plate hit me square in the mouth. It left me with a mouthful of enamel and what is still described as a rather peculiar pucker.

Little league players come in all shapes and sizes. David Boon joined our team last year. He was shaped like a side view of a Log Cabin Syrup bottle. He had the biggest feet I have ever seen on such a small boy; and they turned outward at an unusual angle. One glance at the angle of his feet and the other boys nicknamed him “ten minutes to two.”

Due managerial deliberation placed him at second base. Any ball hit to him was funneled right into his glove by his feet.

Howie Roan, Jr. had a different problem. When excitement overcame him, he lost control of his bladder. I placed him in right field where control is less important than it is for a pitcher, for example. Control is more important at the ballpark though than it is on the farm. We kept him in a deep right field out near the fence all summer, so he could go by the boards in an emergency.

Baseball does teach sportsmanship. My two sons and I returned from a Saturday afternoon game. We had been soundly defeated by a score of 22 to 9. It was a close game until the last half of the first inning.

My wife was waiting on the patio and cheerfully called out, “how did your game come out?” She doesn’t go to the games anymore (she has the same problem as Howie Roan, Jr.)

Jeff, our 8 year old, answered her inquiry, “We Won!”

I immediately launched into a dissertation on the importance of learning to accept defeat and to lose gracefully. I pointed out that we wouldn’t always win and that we had in fact been soundly defeated.

When I finished, Jeff said, “We won.”

Again I explained that baseball was like life – a series of wins and losses and that we must learn to accept the bitter with the sweet.

Once more he spoke out, “we won!”

Again I repeated my lecture, as he turned on his heels and went out the back door.

As he went across the yard, the neighbor lady called to him, “Jeff, how did your game come out today?”

Without stopping or even turning his head, he responded, “We didn’t play today.”

Little League Lexicon:

Close game – 32-29

Heavy hitter – 1 for 13

Spiked – touched by a sneaker

Fans – Mothers knitting in the stands

Home run – single and three errors

Big hit – sixty feet, including the roll

Error – the boy assigned to first base

Bad hop – what any missed grounder took

Team bus – Pitcher’s father’s station wagon

Great arm – boy who carries equipment to the game

Manager – Father who gets home from work early

Double play – three runners on second base at the same time

Most valuable player – candy store owner’s son

Curve ball – what struck out batter says pitcher has

Catcher – a 50 pound boy in 60 pounds of equipment

Some great baseball quotes:

Don Liddle, New York Giants’ relief pitcher: He was summoned from the bullpen in the 1954 World Series to pitch to Vic Wertz of the Cleveland Indians, with the score tied in the eighth inning and two runners on. Wertz crushed a Liddle pitch, rocketing 460 yards in dead center field. Only at the Polo Grounds would such a drive not be a home run, and only the Giants young center fielder, Willie Mays, could have run I down and make perhaps the greatest catch in World Series history. Liddle, promptly replaced, strode into the dugout and said contentedly, “well, I got my man!”

Jerry Coleman: Pete Rose has 3000 hits and 3014 overall.

Unattributed: the umpires are rally flexing their fangs tonight.

George Bret: I’d like to strike oil and buy up all the newspapers, radio and TV stations in the country and fire all the jerks in the sports departments. (does that make you wonder if there would be anyone left?)

Christy Mathewson: Fans look at umpires as necessary evils to the luxury of baseball, like the odor that follows an automobile. (yeah, and some stink worse than others..)

Jimmie Durante:

The umpire was a runt of a fellow. An enormous batter was up and an equally large catcher was behind the plate. The count was one and one.The next pitch sizzled across the corner of the plate and the umpire called out, “Two!”

“Two what?” snarled the catcher.

“Yeah, two what?” growled the batter, raising his bat.

The umpire looked from one to the other and said, “Too close to tell!”

Scott Ostler, writer: George Brett may have had a bad year at the plate, but he has a healthy slugging percentage. So far this season (1981), he has swung at, slapped or broken one photographer, two sportswriters and two toilets.

Dan Quisenberry: My new contract with the San Francisco Giants is guaranteed through the year 2000 or until the last “Rocky” movie is made.

(and you can’t have a quotes section without some Yogi Berra contributions!)

When asked what time it was, Berra responded “You mean right now?”

Good pitching beats good hitting every time; and vice versa

Throw three fast balls, one up, one down and one the other way.

Don’t major in the minors.

The future ain’t what it used to be.

 

With apologies to my soon-to-be brother-in-law: An Arab sheik had three sons and he offered to give them each anything they wanted. The first chose a home on the Riviera, three wives and a billion dollars. The second asked for and received a castle in Spain, five wives and a billion dollars. The third, a rather simple fellow, said all he wanted was a Mickey Mouse outfit… so the sheik bought him the Chicago Cubs.

And lastly, a hockey joke because it was funny: A young player learned that he had been traded to Detroit. He told the press, “I don’t want to go there. All they have in that town are hookers and hockey players.” The owner at the same press conference said, “Young man, I’ll have you know that my wife came from Detroit.” The young player recovered miraculously, “Which team did she play for?”

Yes, folks, this is the kind of story I frequently hear at family dinners – I’m a lucky a girl. Btw, I basically only shared his offerings regarding baseball. If this were a blog about golf, you’d be rolling laughing because the section of the chapter which he follows suit had me practically peeing my pants.

Book Review – Watching Baseball Smarter

We haven’t discussed any good baseball literature recently so I thought it was about time to play a little catch-up. And honestly, considering the book I’m highlighting today, it’s definitely catch-up because it’s not a new book – it’s not even this author’s most recent book! But it helps to do this one first before we get a chance to do the new one. And it’s somehow self-serving to highlight the work of another baseball blogger.

Of course, it’s not Zack Hample’s first book either but this is the first one that piqued my interest. Watching Baseball Smarter, A professional Fan’s Guide for Beginners, Semi-experts, and Deeply Serious Geeks actually came out in 2007. He has a brand new one out this year so we’ll cover that soon – but back to the subject.

“The batter bloops the ball toward the Bermuda Triangle. The outfielders run in. The infielders run out. Everybody’s looking up. The center fielder yells, ‘I got it!’ but his words get drowned out by 55,437 shrieking fans and a jet flying overhead. Doesn’t matter. The Dominican second baseman and Japanese Shortstop don’t speak much English anyway. Best-case scenario: no one gets hurt.”

That should sound entertainingly familiar to Twins fans – ironically this was written 5 years before we acquired Nishioka. That being said, it’s a quick read with something new for everyone no matter what their level of baseball knowledge is.

If you’re a writer yourself or even an English geek/avid reader, you’ll struggle a bit with the … informality… with which Zack treats the accepted rules of grammar. However, the baseball information is solid and presented in a way that is easy to grasp.

For example, he goes position by position and describes the strategies of thought necessary for each player on each play. I guarantee that you WILL learn something you didn’t already know when reading through this section. It’s a lot of fun to think about the game you’re watching in a bit more in-depth way. A lot of us understand these things instinctively if we’ve been watching baseball for awhile but have never thought about putting it into words – unless of course you have a significant other or a kid who doesn’t know as much about the game as you do and frequently asks you to explain something… This is an EXCELLENT book to give them. Trust me, nothing is worse than trying to watch a pivotal moment in a game and trying to find the words to describe what’s happening when your brain is metaphorically holding its breath.

I do have my issues with Zack which I would happy be to take up with him over a beer or something like all good bloggers enjoy. For all his understanding of position players, he clearly has little respect and far less understanding for the Pitcher’s role – something perhaps an average fan wouldn’t pick up on but this pitching geek certainly did. But I chalk that up to the natural inclination of a guy who prioritizes hitting and sees pitching as the subtle antagonist in his goal for catching as many foul/home run balls as he can (the subject of his FIRST book).  It was still an enjoyable read for the most part and I hope you’ll give it a shot!

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Keep your dial tuned to Knuckleballs for an upcoming review of Zack’s new book, The Baseball. I’m not sure how long it will take us to get there but it’s on the list!

If anyone else out there has read EITHER of these two books, we’d appreciate your feedback and impressions.

Off Day Reading and Writing

I know the players need a day off now and then (like the rest of us), but I get bored on off days.

So tonight you get a “JC is bored” post.

I’d like to be able to add something insightful to CapitalBabs’ post along the literary lines… maybe tell you all about the great books I’ve read lately. Or better yet, actually go somewhere and find The 10 Commandments of Baseball and read it for myself. But that would require effort.

However, I’ve honestly written more words for this blog than I’ve read in books over the past month or more. That’s probably not good. If it’s true that you learn more by listening than speaking (and I believe it certainly is), then you almost certainly also learn more by reading than writing. I would like to think people who read what I write either learn something or are at least somewhat entertained, but I can’t really even be sure of that.

I do read other blogs though. I particularly read those that are included in our blogrolls off to the right. Not many days go by that I don’t pretty much click down our entire list of Twins blogs to see what others are writing about. I also read the Jim Mandelaro and Joe Posnanski blogs pretty religiously. Their links, along with MLB Trade Rumors (which is mandatory reading at this time of the season, of course) are located in our “Other Sports Blogs” section over on the right.

Mandelaro recently had some interesting comments about the Twins, as a parent organization for the Red Wings. The Wings have had a very disappointing year, to say the least. Those of you who have never lived in a community where the local Minor League team is an important part of the area’s summer entertainment may not understand what the big deal is. After all, the primary purpose of an organization’s farm system is to prepare players for the Big Leagues and winning isn’t really a big deal. But trust me, it’s a very big deal to the community and to the people who rely on gate receipts and concessions at the local ballpark for a living. The Red Wings signed a two year extension with the Twins recently. That’s pretty much the shortest extension that local clubs sign with Major League teams. To me, it signals that Rochester is willing to give the Twins a pass on this year, but if they don’t do something about fielding a competitive team in Rochester next season, the Twins will be looking for a new AAA home in two years.

Posnanski has had a lot of interesting posts lately, but one of them in particular sort of caught my eye a few days ago. He brought the “I Write Like” site to his readers’ attention. The premise of the site is that you can paste a sample of your writing (or someone else’s for that matter) and they perform an analysis of the sample. Then they tell you which famous writer/author’s style the sample matches up with. Posnanski had some fun with it by plugging in a bunch of famous quotations, etc.

Naturally, I had to try it out.

Cory Doctorow

OK I need to be honest. I didn’t submit my own stuff first. I plugged in a post of Babs’ to see if she got someone cool. The result: Cory Doctorow. Again, being honest, I had no idea who that was but I looked it up. Cory’s Canadian (that’s cool… as Twins fans, we kinda dig Canadians). He’s also a blogger, journalist and science fiction writer… and a big proponent of liberalizing copyright laws. Now that’s very cool. Immediately, I wished I had submitted my own sample first so I might have turned out to be compared to a cool Canadian blogger/sci-fi writer.

But instead of submitting my own sample next, I decided I wanted another test. So I submitted one of KL’s posts. They matched her up with David Foster Wallace, another writer I had no knowledge of whatsoever. (I wasn’t learning

David Foster Wallace

much, but I was getting the idea that I need to read more!) Wallace, it turns out, wrote Infinite Jest in 1996, which ended up on TIME magazine’s “All Time 100 Greatest Novels” list (for the period 1923-3006) and the LA Times called him called him one of the most influential and innovative writers of the past 20 years. Very cool, right? His bio says he was a rare combination of sporting and academic prowess but was shy and uncomfortable around strangers. Wait a minute…. “was”? Uh oh. Yeah… seems he suffered from depression for 20 years and committed suicide about two years ago.

Despite Mr. Wallace’s unfortunate lost battle with his inner demons, both of their writing styles matched up with some pretty impressive writers. So, I decided it was safe for me to plug in one of my posts and find out which award winning writer (who I’d likely never heard of) my style compares favorably with.

Apparently, the longer the sample, the more accurate the analysis. As I’ve been the first to admit, I tend to write long posts sometimes (ok, most of the time), so I figured I should get a REALLY accurate analysis from submitting one of my Knuckleballs posts for analysis.

Guess what… I write like a GIRL!!!

BG's close personal friend

And it wasn’t even a cool girl author that I was familiar with… like that Anne Ursu chick. I could live with that! (Yes, Batgirl’s “Close Personal Friend” has a Wikipedia page… how cool is that? I want one!)

No… it’s a girl who writes Vampire-Romance books! Yes, my “comparable” author is Stephenie Meyer, of Twilight fame.

Stephenie Meyer

Then, of course, I realized that I could do a lot worse than sharing a writing style with a woman… especially a woman who’s sold a bajillion books around the world and made a gazillion dollars doing it. She’s on pretty much every “most influential” sort of list you can find that includes authors and is only 36 years old.

So, in retrospect, I think I got the coolest “I Write Like” match of the Knuckleballs group. In fact, since my writing is obviously so darn good, it really only leaves me with one question.

What the heck am I doing writing for FREE for you people? Where’s my assistant? Get my agent on the phone! – JC

Book Review – The 10 Commandments of Baseball

The guys over at Sporting Chance Press were kind enough to send me a copy of a book by J.D. Thorne called The 10 Commandments of Baseball.  Given the similarity in concept to my own recent endeavors, I was excited to give it a read and share it with you.  Thorne is a life-long baseball fan and amateur player in Milwaukee, WI in addition to his professional “real life” as a lawyer and author.  The book’s concepts were actually born here in MN where he was giving a motivational speech to inmates in Duluth.  It was received so warmly, that it was repeated to various groups and finally culminated in the literary presentation.

But to be clear, these 10 Commandments go far beyond my simple entreaties to fans to behave themselves.  This is a lovely remembrance of Joe McCarthy and his life and contributions to the game of baseball that goes way beyond his 10 Commandments.  The book delves into a much wider sphere than purely the expectations of the players he managed.  It draws a picture of the history and characters that surrounded the game in those early years that developed McCarthy’s concept of the right way to play the game and then continued to follow his life and experiences to show how those concepts are applied with a LOT of familiar names along the way starting with the forward by Bud Selig.  You get stories of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, more recent players like Vlad Guerrero and Curt Schilling and so many more than I can list.

If you have ever heard a TV or radio broadcast where they invited a long-time retired player in to chat about baseball in his day, you will understand the feel of this book.  It’s very conversational and easy to read and all you Twins fans will understand that I swear I can hear John Gordon in the background as I read asking another rambling question that elicits yet another story – or even Blyleven kvetching about pitch counts and complete games.

It’s full of stories and tangents and asides that resemble a family dinner and the storytelling that takes place after everyone has over-indulged and wants nothing more than a comfortable place to sit and chat.  The parade of players and stories that come through has the feel of yet another uncle that offers another story to top the one told by the previous relative.  In other words, it’s a great way to learn some fun things about the history of the game while you exclaim to yourself, “wow, I didn’t know that!”

That’s just the first half!

The second half really gets into the intended focus of the book.  You are still sitting in the family room and hearing stories of ‘in the day’ but they have begun to coalesce into a purpose and direction – what it takes to be successful in your endeavors with baseball as the ever flexible metaphor for life.  We baseball fans – and especially Twins fans – seem to have an instinctive understanding of “playing the game the right way” and whether we are seeing it or not.  But have we ever stopped to decide if the principles of the “right way” go beyond the diamond? 

I encourage you to go online to order a copy  and give it a read.  It’s a light-hearted way to think a little bit more about our daily activities and whether we expect more from the boys of summer than we do of ourselves.

Since I can’t leave you hanging, here’s Joe McCarthy’s 10 Commandments of Baseball!

  1. Nobody ever became a ballplayer by walking after a ball.
  2. You will never become a .300 hitter unless you take the bat off your shoulder.
  3. An outfielder who throws in back of a runner is locking the barn after the horse is stolen.
  4. Keep your head up and you may not have to keep it down.
  5. When you start to slide, S-L-I-D-E.  He who changes his mind may have to change a good leg for a bad one.
  6. Do not alibi on bad hops.  Anybody can field the good ones.
  7. Always run them out.  You can never tell.
  8. Do Not Quit.
  9. Do not find too much fault with the umpires.  You cannot expect them to be as perfect as you are.
  10. A pitcher how hasn’t control, hasn’t anything.

Hope you get a chance to give it a read and share with others!

Morneau: “didn’t like our energy”. Join the crowd, Doc.

Over at the Strib, Joe Christensen’s article on Thursday’s game quotes Justin Morneau as saying:

“That wasn’t the same Brewers team we played at our place [in May], and we weren’t the same either,” the Twins first baseman said. “I didn’t like our energy today. We got down early and didn’t show much of a fight. Obviously you give some credit to their pitcher, but at the same time, the energy in our dugout wasn’t very good.”

Following up on that theme, Howard Sinker posted some thoughts on his Strib blog, as well. Howard poses the question of whether the Twins miss a guy like Orlando Cabrera in the clubhouse.

Reading all this stuff about a lack of energy riles me up a bit, to be honest. I spent virtually the entire first 40 years of my life in baseball dugouts. From the time I started going to practices and games for the Albert Lea HS teams my dad coached to the time I started playing ball myself and on through the years I spent coaching CABA and traveling teams, I pretty much figured out what creates energy among a team and what depresses it.

Winning energizes and losing sucks the life out of dugout. It really IS that simple.

Yes, I know all about the rampant amphetamine use among ballplayers that has (supposedly) been curtailed since MLB started testing for the drug 4-ish years ago. I did, after all, read Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four”. (You haven’t read it? Seriously? And you call yourself a baseball fan!? Go read it. Now. The rest of this blog will still be here when you’re finished.)

There’s all sorts of speculation about how player performances (particularly older veterans) are not up to what they used to be because they aren’t as revved up, mentally and physically, as they were when the clubhouse coffee pots were marked “leaded” and “unleaded”… and it had nothing to do with caffeine. I can’t discount the possibility that some players really do have trouble performing at high levels, day in and day out, without a little chemical help.

Shall we take a collection to cure the Twins' "energy problem."

If that’s the Twins problem, then I say we all pitch in and send them a 4 month supply of the energy drink of their choice.

But I honestly believe the solution is more basic. Win more games. Lose fewer games.

Last Sunday the Twins were coming off an emotional extra-inning game against the Phillies on Saturday and were set to face Roy Halladay in an afternoon “getaway day” game. I didn’t see any sign of an energy shortage on Sunday. (I also didn’t see a “B-squad” lineup on the field for the Twins that day, either, by the way.)

After a couple of losses Tuesday and Wednesday, all it really took to KNOW that the Twins were going to phone it in on Thursday afternoon was a look at the lineup cards. Facing the Brewers’ ace, the Twins were Mauerless, had Cuddyer at 3B and Nick Blackburn on the mound. Seriously… how much energy would YOU have been pumped up with if you were in that dugout Thursday?

Here’s a little secret that those who haven’t played the game might not be aware of: Ballplayers can read scoreboards. They know when their starting pitcher has given up bunch of crooked numbers early in a ballgame. If you have to stage a comeback like last Saturday’s once in a while, players can and will rise to the occasion to do so. But when you have pitchers who are consistently digging early holes for themselves and their team mates, it WILL drain the team’s energy.

It would be great if the Twins, as a group, would come together and say, “hey, the Tigers and WhiteSox are playing well and gaining on us, we need to ramp it up and ‘battle our tails off’ every game and blah, blah, blah.” But I’m here to tell you, if the Twins starting pitching does not improve, they will continue to lack energy and continue losing games. Lots of games.

There are two things I think should be done as soon as possible.

1. Replace Nick Blackburn in the rotation with Brian Duensing. I know Blackie has had tough stretches in the past and has bounced back to be productive later. That’s great. I hope he can do it again. But until he gets his crap together, let him work on his issues out of the pen. Duensing has earned a shot at proving he can do it better.

2. Trade for Cliff  Lee. I know this topic is already getting old and people are tired of hearing about it. I know some people don’t think he’d be a good clubhouse guy. You know what makes a starting pitcher a good clubhouse guy? Giving him run support when he busts his butt to shut down the other team. In other words, winning doesn’t just boost energy, it also makes for a happy clubhouse. Funny how that works.

By the way, if this report is accurate, not only will a certain Omaha resident who frequents our blog not be a very happy camper, but it could also make it impossible for the Twins to execute both of the above improvements.

Actually, there is a 3rd thing that should be done immediately. Move Delmon Young up in the order. Gardy is just being pigheaded (again) and there’s no excuse for not having made this move already. It has nothing to do with energy (except that Young has it and Cuddyer doesn’t, lately), but it still needs to be done.

By the way, in case anyone was thinking that there might be an energy boost available in Rochester to help the Twins situation, go read the last couple of posts (June 23 and 24) on Jim Mandelaro’s blog concerning the Red Wings, who just wrapped up a 1-7 homestand. In the final sentence of yesterday’s entry, Jim tells readers that he’s taking a day off Friday (today) to cover the LPGA golf tournament being played (we presume) nearby. ” It’s a welcome respite from the deadly quiet atmosphere of the Red Wings’ clubhouse.” When your beat writer is looking forward to covering a women’s golf tournament instead of your game and hints that the golf tournament might not be as “deadly quiet” as your clubhouse, things are not going well.

Doesn’t sound like we should be expecting newly arrived outfielder Jason Repko to be providing an energy boost, does it? – JC