Results tagged ‘ Keith Olbermann ’
I confessed earlier that my eight days in the Cactus League was my first ever stay there of longer than two days.
What I missed!
Besides the convenience of 15 clubs inside a radius of about an hour’s drive, some of the stadium architecture is remarkable. I saw Glendale’s Camelback Ranch new, in 2009 – terrific. Same for Surprise. The remodels in Phoenix Muni and HoHoKam are strong and comfortable. Goodyear was the only place that didn’t impress me.
And then there’s Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Simply put: pound-for-pound it’s the best baseball stadium built in this country since Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.Here’s the best view I was able to get that shows all three primary design elements.
First: To the left behind the foul pole is the Diamondbacks’ office building and shop, with the just-slightly-slanted roof that evokes Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West style that dominates much of Arizona architecture:
Second: that imperial but still low-to-the-ground Wright style contrasts to the giant stadium superstructure on the right. The oversized ‘upper deck’ looks like it was taken from either the original Wrigley Field in Chicago, or its much more avant-garde namesake, Wrigley Field Los Angeles:
Wrigley Field Los Angeles, around 1930. Most of the baseball scenes in most of the black and white films and tv series up to about 1962 were filmed there, and the Angels spent their first season there before becoming temporary tenants at Dodger Stadium.
Third: Add in the light towers – also unnecessarily tall – plus the steepness of the entire structure that feels almost like Boston Garden and you get this extraordinary impression of grandeur.
Here’s the question: How many seats do you think this place has?
The correct answer is 7,000. It’s about the same size as every other spring training ballpark but it looks twice as big. It’s imposing and impressive and lends a quality of drama to a Rockies-Royals exhibition game when it’s rainy and 42 degrees.
There is a flaw. The press box isn’t quite right. It’s not the Pepsi sign right behind the plate. That bothers you at first but then you realize it’s just about the only annoying signage in the place.
I don’t know what else I can say, except that if somebody gave me a team tomorrow – majors or minors – and the money to build it a new ballpark, I’d order one of these, to seat about 45,000.
A separate note: starting tomorrow I’ll begin the annual divisional previews, opening with the NL East.
I have a few more things gleaned among the cacti to report (besides the fact that Billy Hamilton is the fastest ballplayer I’ve ever seen, and seems to be going faster than freeway traffic).
But first, the photo album from a week in the incredibly convenient Cactus League:
No, this is not the world’s oldest, saddest boy band. Nor, despite the angles, are Manager Terry Francona of the Indians and President Theo Epstein of the Cubs actually resting their heads on my shoulder (they’d join me in saying ‘thank goodness’). I was privy to witness the reunion of the Men Who Made The Red Sox Great at HoHoKam Park, two weeks ago tomorrow. They’re both among my baseball friends and typically we spent almost no time talking baseball. Also got to see Billy Williams, Dale Sveum, and Brad Mills that day, too (“Nice to see you back with a Major League Team,” I said to Millsy. He smiled and was respectful enough to say nothing, but he looked 10 years younger – as did Tito).
This is not Jackson Browne, though I’ve seen them both in the last 18 months and if the gentleman spotted at Peoria during a Brewers-Mariners game dyed his hair, they’d look like brothers.
That’s Ted Simmons, now an advisor in the Seattle front office, and simply put one of the smartest men in the sport. When Pirates fans harken back to the last winning Pittsburgh team they invoke the names of Jim Leyland and Barry Bonds (and occasionally even Stan Belinda), they don’t mention the last winning GM: Ted Simmons. He was just getting into the rebuilding of the post-Bonds Pirates when he suffered a heart attack during the 1993 season and retired. He’s been a coach and executive since – and that was after his 46.5 WAR (greater than Hall of Famers with careers of similar length like Nellie Fox, Kiki Cuyler, Orlando Cepeda, Ernie Lombardi, and the just-elected Deacon White). Narrow that down to catchers (Bill Dickey 52.5, Gabby Hartnett 50.7, Simmons 46.5, White 44, Lombardi 43.6 – and you occasionally hear Jorge Posada’s name mentioned at 39) and it’s obvious that “Simba” is a Hall of Famer. Despite a career line of .285/.348/.437 and seven .300 seasons, his work was overshadowed by being Johnny Bench’s exact contemporary for 15 years, and then spending nearly all of his last five at DH or 1B.
Dale Murphy returned to the game last season in the Braves’ tv booth, and returned to uniform this spring as the first base coach for the USA team in the WBC. One of the older arguments for the Hall was the “wozzy” test – “was he considered for any length of a time one of the top five players in the game?” After two MVPs and a decade as one of the most feared hitters/least feared people in the game, Murph kinda flatlined starting with his 13th season in the majors. But again, WAR puts him in historical context. Lou Brock’s a 42.8, Jim Rice a 44.3, Chuck Klein a 41.5. Murphy: 42.6 – and in this time when one element in the Cooperstown ballot has suddenly taken on added importance (“character”), his was and is impeccable – and generous.
When I tweeted this photo I believe I said that I first interviewed George Brett in 1980. In fact, that was when we were first “introduced.” I actually interviewed him in 1976, 1977, and 1978 during the A.L. Playoffs – the “nice to meet yous” came during the 1980 World Series during a memorable and scatological interview about the hemorrhoids that plagued him during the post-season. This might have been the same day I met a mid-level Royals’ executive named Rush Limbaugh (how would you ever forget a name like that). He and Brett remain best friends, and George and I laughed our way through 15 minutes in the KC dugout, which no matter how you diagram it means baseball trumps politics every time. George remembered that ’80 interview of course, but also (to my surprise) recalled that I got to interview him – for Fox – after his election to Cooperstown in ’99.
This, of course, is Wash.
All the other guys on the photo tour are Hall of Famers, or should be, or might very will be (Terry Francona needs one more measurable success in his managerial career to cinch a spot – and he’s only 54 – while if Theo Epstein also turns the Cubs around, he’s a lock).
The first person to tell you he’s not getting to Cooperstown – surely not as a player – is the ever-affable skipper of the Rangers, Ron (.261/.292/.368, ten years, one as a starting player) Washington. But few figures in the sport are greeted with greater affection, by his players and rivals alike. Just to amp this shot up a little bit, check out the copyright. That’s Jon SooHoo, who I’ve known ever since I was a local sportscaster in LA and who has shot 30 years of incredible images on behalf of the Dodgers.
There were many other men I’m proud to call friends who I didn’t trouble for photos: Vin Scully, Bob Uecker, Bruce Bochy, Bob Melvin – the average was about three a day, and it emphasized that while we get swamped by scandal and controversy and stats and new-age stats and boasting and showboating, the game is about good people whom you get to know and cheer for, for a very long time.
But occasionally, even in middle age, you make new acquaintances. While I summarize my thoughts for a future post, take a look at this, which might be – pound-for-pound – the best baseball stadium built in this country at least since 1962:
I have never seen a faster baseball player than Billy Hamilton.
This is not a statement constructed out of great insight. But it is one that requires attendance, and it mainlines into a conversation I had with the former National League outfielder and coach Gary Varsho the day after Hamilton led me to my conclusion.
Varsho, now an Advance Scout with the Angels, was noting – more in sadness than in anger – the diminution of the Advance Scout in this age of video and digital file-sharing and 24/7 television. He noted that nearly everything of value he can tell his employers about the team they will next face is the stuff they don’t show in the broadcasts, or cut out of the videos. Or worse: it’s stuff they can’t show. Varsho cited the example of a prominent MLB catcher who falls into ruts of repetitive pitch-calling. You have to experience it, complete with the trips to the mound, the foul balls, the repetitiveness, that three days of in-person baseball drags you through. The guy just won’t follow a curveball with two consecutive fastballs. Just won’t.
And this is where Hamilton comes in. I’ve seen the television coverage and the videos (though you have to admit, slo-mo might depict a beautiful running form, but you can’t tell if the guy has the speed of Billy Hamilton or George Hamilton). But the context of being there is the magic wand.
The Angels’ facility at Diablo Stadium in Tempe is perpendicular to a fast-moving highway just beyond the right field fence. Almost inevitably, your attention occasionally drifts from the field to the ceaseless droning of thousands of cars and trucks all going around 65 for three hours. But when you manage to balance the two you suddenly have an unexpected bonus: you have an idea of how fast the players are running compared not to each other but compared to highway traffic.
I don’t mean it literally of course. But the constant motion is actually an excellent optical framework, and, bluntly, it makes some of the guys I saw that day like Zack Cozart and Mike Trout look kind of slow (I’m not insulting somebody by saying they look slower than a BMW doing 65, am I? Nor saying they look slower than a rookie with the Reds?).
Billy Hamilton did not look slow. He hit a grounder moderately hard toward Mark Trumbo of the Angels at first base, and that’s when it happened. Hamilton took one step out of the batters’ box and he was not merely at his full speed, but he looked competitive with the cars moving side-to-side in the distance. This extraordinary acceleration was also evident to Trumbo. His fear could be smelled in the press box. One bobble and he’s dead, one hesitation and the routine out becomes a close play.
For whatever reason, Trumbo hesitated. He couldn’t accelerate as Hamilton did and wound up frantically shoveling the ball to his pitcher for a 3-1 putout by a step. And Hamilton was running just as fast in that last step as he was in his second one out of the box. He looked like he could survive – at least in the slow lane – with the cars on the freeway.
I have not only never seen anybody faster, but I’ve never seen anything like it.
Last Saturday I would see the Reds’ bench coach – my friend, the former great Giants shortstop – Chris Speier. I asked him if he’d ever seen anybody definitively faster than Hamilton. He could think of no one. “Especially in terms of his acceleration. By the second step,” he began. I interrupted him and told him the freeway story. “Exactly,” he said with a laugh.
Speier warns there are all kinds of rough edges here. Hamilton is clearly not an intuitive shortstop and will doubtless never see anything other than emergency service there again. But his instincts in the outfield are good and developing quickly. Speier is more worried about the deleterious ancillary effects of Hamilton’s speed. “He still thinks he can position the bunt at the very last second, or swing at the very last second.” In other words, Hamilton thinks he handles the bat with the same accelerative ability that his legs provide. He can’t.
But of course we can only see that in person. Which is why we have bench coaches – and why we need more Advance Scouts. And why there are still things in baseball that have to be seen to be believed.
Like Billy Hamilton’s speed.
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA – He has checked out and gone home so the statute of respect towards fellow hotel guests has expired, I guess.
I arrive at my hotel here the other night and the place is spread out enough that they recommend that you let them throw on to a golf cart for transport to your room, not just your bags – but you. And we go about 20 yards in the darkness when a big, broad guy with short hair sort of steps in front of the cart and the bellman/driver says “excuse me” and the fellow turns around and sort of stares for a moment before saying “Oh! I’m sorry. I kinda froze there for a moment,” and with a genuine laugh, hops out of the way. And he looks really familiar and while I’m staring at him I realize he’s staring at me and our light bulbs go off simultaneously and as I say “stop the cart for a second,” he smiles.
“This is where I’m staying while I’m unsigned,” he says with another patented Jim Lunchpail Thome laugh. I say back to him “this is where I’m staying while I’m unsigned,” and we trade career anecdotes and I ask about the Yankees and he says “I doubt it.” And we try to figure out if we first met in 1993 or 1994 and he says he’s working out but otherwise he’s pretty much by the pool each day and I should try to find him when I get back from the ballpark each afternoon. And I joke about how I nearly made his latest free agency academic by running him over with a golf cart and we say good night.
And Thome, who is easily the most universally respected player in the game, is still unsigned despite Twins rumors and Yankees rumors and the reality that somebody should sign him with an idea of convincing him to manage them in a year’s time because the other players think he’s pretty much the epitome of professionalism and knowledge. I think he knows he can’t play in the field any more but that would still let him fit in at Yankee Stadium because lord knows almost none of them can field any more either.
Thome was how my Cactus League jaunt began but the amount of additional quality human beings whom I’ve known forever that I’ve again been able to spend time with exceeds all my previous spring training trips. In the Angels’ camp it was Mike Scioscia (28 years) and executive Tim Mead (28 more), and from their opponents the Reds, writer Hal McCoy (about 10). At the Mariners’ facility it was consultant – and should-be Hall of Famer Ted Simmons (33 years), and manager Eric Wedge (20 years) and our traditional greeting of “Happy Birthday” (we share one; he’s much younger), and the announcers Dave Sims (32 years; we both worked for Charley Steiner in the 1981-82 timeframe) and Rick Rizzs (12). Rick was nice enough to ask me to come on his broadcast for an inning. Then I found out it was after Bob Uecker of the Brewers (36 years) was going to come on for an inning and as I said to Rick on the air: “I thought you liked me.”
At Wednesday night’s Team USA exhibition I got to visit with manager Joe Torre (32 years) and first base coach – and another guy who is a no-brainer Cooperstown pick – Dale Murphy (30). And today in Glendale it was the Texas staff: manager Ron Washington (10), coach Dave Magadan (11) and coach Dave Anderson (30 years ago this month I interviewed him at Vero Beach when we thought he might be the next Dodger rookie-of-the-year – “boy were you wrong,” he said, again). Upstairs I had a great chat with Rick Monday, who I’ve known for 33 years as everything from a player to a World Series star to a rival sportscaster when he was on Channel 11 every night in LA at exactly the same time I was on Channel 5.
To top it off, of course, was my annual visit with Vin Scully. I readily admit that it took me nearly three years to screw up the courage to introduce myself to him – and I was on local tv in LA during all that time – and when I finally did he said he was relieved, because he thought I’d done something to offend him. I’m sure Vin is not the saint we all portray him as, but that’s really just a hunch because nothing I’ve ever seen him do suggests otherwise. The self-deprecation never ends; even today his first words after hello were “thank you.” I said you’re welcome and then asked him what I’d done. He said “thank you for writing that excellent and kind blog about the Piazza interview.”
Ohhh, yeah. That was nearly a month ago and that was what he wanted to talk about. We batted back and forth the singular personality that is Mike Piazza, but mostly he was talking about friendship and support, and I mentioned that this was the kind of loyalty his kindness and patience engendered, and that I knew I spoke for many when I said I felt like it was our job to fire the arrows when he was attacked – especially when it was as unjustified and as inexplicable as it was in poor Piazza’s self-destructive book. And then there were the usual friendship questions that I invariably suddenly realize are being asked and answered by the Babe Ruth or William Shakespeare of his field and I remember why it took me three years to stop shaking long enough to say hello back in 1988.
So I know Vin for 25 years now – and remember that this represents only about 40 percent of the time he’s been bringing you Dahhh-ger base-ball. And if you wonder how much of a self-starter you can be as you begin your 64th year at one job, Vin and I visited for maybe ten or fifteen minutes and then he had to pre-record something for his broadcast and when I looked back in his booth after that he had begun his daily ritual of scribbling and reviewing notes for the game ahead. The exhibition game. The exhibition game on a drowsy Thursday afternoon. The exhibition game three weeks before the season begins. And he would continue to do so for at least an hour.
Talk about a role model.
Later in the week here I’m going to formalize what shallow insights I’ve been able to glean from the games I’ve seen (hint: Billy Hamilton) but for now I’m thinking of everybody that Spring Training provides me the opportunity to see again, from Thome to Scully.
That’s fifteen men who I’ve known for a total of 390 years. And every moment of that time, with every one of them, has been a privilege.
It’s been a pretty good trip, huh?
TEMPE, AZ – Say you’re a Mets fan.
It’s ok – even in the hypothetical, you only have to remain such through dusk next Monday.
You’ve cobbled together a five-day weekend starting this Thursday and you are determined to spend it with your beloveds in Spring Training. Do you like the way this relaxing trip sounds? A two hour and fifteen minute crack-of-dawn flight to Orlando and then the drive down to St. Lucie (or to Ft. Lauderdale and then the drive up to St. Lucie) in hopes of making first pitch of the home game against the Marlins on Thursday, then to a hotel somewhere, then the 100-mile drive to Lakeland for the Friday matinee against the Tigers, then either a new hotel or another 100 miles back to St. Lucie for the Saturday home game against the Astros, followed by the blink-of-an-eye 40-minute jaunt to Jupiter for the Sunday with the Cardinals, and then another 100 miles to Lakeland to see the Tigers again there, where it starts raining in the 4th, by which time you’d already seen all of the Tigers you wanted to see anyway and the Mets are now off on Tuesday and even if you stayed in Lakeland for a sixth day the nearest game is nearly an hour away in Orlando?
You like this?
Any chance you would prefer the four-hour flight to Phoenix where your hypothetical Mets have joined the 15 other teams in a Cactus League in which the longest ballpark-to-ballpark trip is an 80-minute drive? Where if even if your team was on the road for the entirety of your trip, you could easily find decent enough accommodations in almost guaranteed rain-free environment so that your total time in the car for the five days combined is less than just one of those 200-mile roundtrips to Lakeland? Where if you’d suddenly seen enough of the Mets – or if they simply took a day off – there would still be as many as six other games to choose from, all of them around the metaphorical corner?
In Arizona, it’s a struggle to remember which highway you’re supposed to take for each of the 28-minute drives to the ten different parks. In Florida, it’s a struggle to drive to almost any of them in time for first pitch.
The other day, Florida Governor Rick Scott reportedly asked for five million dollars to spend on preserving his state’s increasingly fragile Spring Training ecosystem. Unless he finds a way to move his cities closer together (or at least the teams they host), he might as well ask for fifty million – it won’t make much difference. With their new mini-Fenway beginning its second year of use, the Red Sox are seemingly ensconced in Ft. Myers until further notice, but the second newest park in the Grapefruit League is the Phils’ successor to Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater – and it’s now a decade old. The Pirates play in a lovely, historic, old school park in Bradenton – that moves a little in the wind. There’s surely nothing wrong with Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, but compare it to any of Arizona’s new facilities – especially the palace the Dodgers and White Sox share at Glendale – and it looks a little shopworn and inconvenient.
Arizona, for decades the ugly sister in the Spring Training family, married well. When the Cubs jilted HoHoKam Park in Mesa for yet another new facility down the road scheduled to open next year, Oakland jumped at the chance to upgrade from Phoenix Municipal, into which they had slid when the Giants upgraded to Scottsdale. As of today the A’s are happy to be lame ducks for 2014 while HoHoKam is remodeled (with some seats removed) and then commit to at least 20 and as many as 30 years in the place the Cubs no longer want.
Arizona has one notable drawback. Excepting the Arizona Fall League, the Spring Training facilities are of almost no use here after April 1 (unless there are large groups of people you don’t like who you’d like to torture by forcing them to sit outside in three-digit temperatures). There is no equivalent to the Florida State League. There is no particular mandate for this, of course. You certainly could start one. Arizona used to field Phoenix and Tucson teams in the PCL without taking any more dramatic health steps than installing misting devices at the Phoenix games.
It would seem Florida is hanging on mostly by dint of tradition. After a quarter century of meanderings
through places like New Orleans and Atlanta and resorts in Texas and Hot Springs, Arkansas, most of the major league teams were settling into the Sunshine state just as real estate boomed in the ’20s. But there was always a “western” component, and in fact only nine of the 30 big league clubs have never held camp in Arizona (or at least California in the pre-Dodgers/Giants days).
Not counting World War II, when travel restrictions saw the Dodgers training at Bear Mountain in New York and the Reds in Bloomington, Indiana, the Chicago Cubs haven’t trained east of Mesa since 1916 (for the record, that was in Tampa, and the Cubs spent part of WW2 in pre-Larry Bird French Lick). There are six clubs – most of whom would surprise you – that went back to Florida after the experience. The Cardinals tried California in the ’20s and the Pirates were in San Bernardino, California, as late as 1952. The Astros began life as the Colt .45s in picturesque Apache Junction, AZ, in ’62 and ’63, and the Orioles held four of their first five camps in Arizona. The Red Sox were in Scottsdale from 1959 through 1965 and – as part of a stunt in which they swapped camp sites with the Giants for one season – in 1951, the Yankees trained in Phoenix.
Unless you’re a Northeasterner driving to the Tampa area to see the Yanks, Phils, Sox, or Jays, there is no longer any real advantage to having your team play its exhibitions in Florida rather than Arizona. However, more reasonable and realistic concerns exist for the fans who are left behind. The Reds-Cubs exhibition at HoHoKam on the 26th won’t be on radio in Cincinnati until 10 PM that night. On the other hand, it’s doubtful any young Yankee or Red Sox fans are catching those 1 PM weekday exhibitions from Dunedin. More over, instinct suggests that a kid with a tepid interest in baseball who fights his way home from school on a snowy March afternoon to find himself able to watch an entire exhibition game from the glorious glare of Arizona starting at 4 PM Eastern might become a fan for life, and maybe a future Spring Training voyageur.
Don’t get me wrong. I went to my first Spring Training 41 years ago in Ft. Lauderdale and it still grieves me that the Yankees don’t play there any more. I love McKechnie Field in Bradenton, and I brooded when the Dodgers abandoned Vero Beach for ‘Zona and left the footprints of Campy and Jackie and all the rest to be rediscovered by future baseball archaeologists. But since 2006 I’ve tried to do the day game/night game doubleheader thing at least once each spring in Florida and only about half the time did I make first pitch of the nightcap. Here I’ll have enough time between each game for an actual dinner.
Besides which tradition isn’t always as big a deal as us traditionalists make it out to be. The Texas Spring Training circuit was viable if not vibrant for nearly twenty years ending about 1941, with the Braves, Cardinals, and Tigers all taking turns as the home team in San Antonio. I mean, I don’t see anybody mourning the fact that the Phillies moved out of New Braunfels in April, 1939. They were heading for Florida because it just made more sense there. Just as it makes more sense for them (or more realistically the Pirates, Cardinals, Astros, and Twins) to head out here now.
Mike Piazza has written a new book in which he claims that Dodgers fans turned against him during his ill-fated contract negotiations in 1998 because Vin Scully asked him about it during a Spring Training interview.
“He wasn’t happy about it. And Scully’s voice carried a great deal of authority in Los Angeles…The way the whole contract drama looked to them (the fans) — many of whom were taking their cue from Scully — was that, by setting a deadline and insisting on so much money, I was demonstrating a conspicuous lack of loyalty to the ball club. I understood that.”
As he started the season poorly at the plate, “Vin Scully was crushing me,” Piazza concluded.
The ‘crushing’ 1998 Scully interview on my alma mater KTLA is available online. Watching it, it can only be hoped that Mike hasn’t seen it, and had it (mis)interpreted for him by someone who has since been treated for paranoia or at least crippling – maybe the right word is crushing - tone deafness.
“We’re visiting with Mike Piazza, and I’m sure neither one of us would like to talk about it, and yet the millions of people out there watching are interested in it, it is a big story, so consequently we have to address it. And that is, you’re down here, playing out the last year of your contract, coming up hopefully for you will be a multi-year multi-million dollar contract. Is that on your mind?”
Piazza answered generically about trying not to think about it and being blessed with a great family and agent. Twice he said he hoped “it’d just take care of itself.” He went to nearly every cliche except ‘Employees Must Wash Hands.’
Then Scully went for the kill:
“Well to be honest, you know, the outsiders, myself and all the other fans, we pick up a newspaper: ‘Piazza issues an ultimatum,’ and you say ‘whoa! What is that all about?”
While branding himself just a fan, Scully has actually done something that a fair reporter does (and so it is rarely seen or heard or done). He offers Piazza the opportunity to say that the characterization as an “ultimatum” of the timeline he set for the Dodgers to sign him to a new deal – a very fair thing for Piazza to do with free agency seven months away – was inappropriate or incorrect.
Piazza will have none of it. He doesn’t criticize the reporting, he doesn’t criticize the Dodgers. He gives it the old c’est-la-vie: “We basically just made clear our intentions that for me, I mean, I made all along that I would love to work things out with the Dodgers. We didn’t mean it to be threatening, we didn’t mean it to – unfortunately it comes out that way sometimes – but again, I stated I would love to be a Dodger for my whole career and I hope we can work things out and again that remains to be seen. If for some reason I happen to be a free agent at the end of this year I hope the Dodgers are the number one team that’s interested. So, again those things, unfortunately sometimes get a little bit misconstrued in the paper and they come out maybe a little bit aggressive but for me again, I try to be very professional about it and realize my job is on the field and my representative, what he does is his job, so I have to trust him on a lot of things.”
Scully, Question Three:
“Sure. Well ultimatum is a heavy word. That’s the kind of the thing, ‘if you don’t do this, we bomb you.’”
Here that stinker Scully goes again, giving Piazza a chance to say it’s not an ultimatum, that he doesn’t want the thing to drag through the season and potentially ruin 1998 for him, or the Dodgers, or the franchise for the next decade (or, as it proved, all of the above).
But instead of taking this second opportunity to paint himself in a good light, Piazza again tries to have it both ways. Instead of saying ‘it’s not an ultimatum,’ or ‘I don’t think of it as an ultimatum,’ or ‘the Dodgers have unfairly leaked this to make me look bad,’ or even ‘Vin, you’re being unfair to me,’ he again tacitly accepts the term: “Well, again, that wasn’t the intention at all, we just wanted to make clear that for me, again, I basically came up through this organization and my intentions are to work things out and it remains to be seen. But again, as far as I’m concerned, it’s done, it’s over with, I’m here to play baseball, I’m signed to play through this year and I’m going to go out there and give 110% as far as not short-changing myself, the fans, or the organization. And everything else, again, remains to be seen.”
Ah, but that’s when Scully absolutely destroys Piazza.
“Absolutely. And well said.”
At this point Scully literally turns the interview to the question of Piazza’s knees, and then how many stolen bases Piazza had in 1997, and the next we hear of this almost milquetoast chat, it’s fifteen years later and this - not Piazza’s intransigence in negotiations nor the lunkheadedness of the Dodgers’ then-new owner Rupert Murdoch - this Scully interview is what induced Armageddon at Chavez Ravine.
Scully was understandably mystified. ”As God is my judge, I don’t get involved in these things,” he told The Los Angeles Times. ”I can’t imagine I would ever put my toe in the water as far as a player and his negotiations.
What Piazza was trying to do in the interview, of course, is exactly what he has so belatedly and unfairly accused Scully of so many years later. He was trying to influence Dodger fans. He wanted them to rally to his side. He wanted them to help him pressure the team to give him the money (now a ridiculous-sounding $105 million over seven years – $15,000,000 a season). He didn’t want to issue an ultimatum, but he wanted them to think there was an ultimatum dictated by circumstances and he had done all he could to avoid it and would continue to do so and gee don’t the Dodger Dogs smell good?
Again, one hopes Piazza hadn’t seen the interview and simply had it recounted to him by somebody who didn’t get it. You know: somebody who doesn’t understand English. That Piazza had a totally hit-and-miss record with, and understanding of, the media (if asked in 2000 to identify the most cooperative MLB star and the least cooperative one, my answer each time would’ve been “Mike Piazza”) suggests otherwise.
The sadness here is that until the release of his new book, Piazza’s exit from Los Angeles had been seen as one of the sharpest downhill turning points in the years between Kirk Gibson’s homer and the day the franchise was wrested away from Frank McCourt. If Dodgers fans did have it in for Piazza – because of Scully or their frustration or the shape of his mustache – they quickly turned. For nearly all of the last fifteen years he had been viewed as the victim in the equation, and his departure as an unnecessary and uncorrectable mistake.
Until, that is, he went and blamed Vin Scully, of all people, and forever made it look like Rupert Murdoch was the good guy in all this.
I have been inundated on twitter and even by email for weeks with questions (specifically “did you buy it?”) about a 19th Century baseball photograph that sold at auction yesterday in Maine for $92,000.
No, I didn’t. It’s not really a baseball card.
Before I explain that seemingly odd statement – I mean, it’s a picture of what was then a major league baseball team, it’s on cardboard, and the French term for what it is includes that country’s word for ‘card’ – let me mention that I don’t disrespect anybody who disagrees with my conclusion, and that the idea of which items from the pre-1886 era are cards and which aren’t is very fluid and very open to interpretation.
So that having been said: this ain’t a card:
It is a great image of the 1865 Brooklyn Atlantics, who were then competing in the very loosely organized and intermittently professional National Association of Base Ball Players, which preceded the first semi-organized professional league, the National Association (1871), and the first truly recognizable modern league, the National League (1876).
This is the only second copy of this, er - thing - known to have survived, and the other is in the Library of Congress. That its ‘cardness’ is open to debate is evident even from the quotes provided to the Associated Press by the auctioneer of the thing, David Thibodeau, who said…
“It’s more of a piece of photography than a baseball card, but it’s considered by many to be the first baseball card just by the fact that it was distributed by the team. It kind of set the stage for baseball cards after that.”
But Mr. Thibodeau also said…
“The key piece of this is not only that it’s a baseball card, but that it’s a wonderful piece of Americana.”
I can understand his confusion. I have friends who, like me, are specialists in 19th Century cards who think this is clearly a card, and others who don’t. Obviously I fall into the second category, as does one of the foremost experts in the field who told me last month he certainly would like to have it, but not if it was going to cost very much.
I’ll get to the cost in a moment, but first, the what-is-it part.
In the middle of the 19th Century, if you visited somebody – especially if you went to their home and they were out – you were expected to leave your “calling card.” These were ornate ancestors of the modern business card and while they could be art-like, they were as limited as the business card is today. Then came a big change.
Photographs were cumbersome things to make and distribute until 1854, when French photographer Andre Disderi developed a method to take eight of them on a single plate. Whereas previously if you wanted eight pictures of yourself, you had to pose for eight separate shots and have them developed eight separate times, with Disderi’s system you still had to pose eight times, but they could all be developed and printed simultaneously. Later improvements allowed for those eight poses to be reproduced again and again, cutting the cost and cumbersomeness of production even further.
Soon, the cost of a photographic card of yourself was not much more than the expense of an ordinary calling card. Thus, the French version of the card – the carte de visite - was adorned with an image. If you had any money, you had stacks of picture cards of yourself to hand out on all occasions. Photography studios soon began to clean up not just by custom-producing cards for individuals, but by creating and selling poses of celebrities. The tipping point in France was the Disderi cartes of Emperor Napoleon III, which he began to sell in 1859.
So by the 1860′s – and certainly long before the 1865 Brooklyn Atlantics posed for the photograph that sold for $92,000 on Wednesday – there were cartes de visite that were used like today’s business cards, and others that were collectibles. There are cartes de visite (CDVs) of everybody from the heroes of the Civil War to John Wilkes Booth…to baseball players (I’ll correct myself to the spelling of the day: base ball players).
The nit-picking part here is that the definition of a “baseball card” has always been a card or similar item depicting a player or team that was designed to help sell another product. As late as 1980 there just weren’t many cards made just for the sake of making them. They were means of advertising, they were the stiffeners in the packs of cigarettes, they were sold with slabs of taffy, they were found in boxes of cornflakes, they doubled as tickets, and most recently they were used to raise one particular manufacturer’s bubble gum above all others. There was also always a sense that there had to be at least a couple of different cards, of similar design, sold by or on behalf of one manufacturer and constituting a “set” for a photographic baseball image to be a real “card.”
If these two criteria – multiple cards, advertising intent – were not used and met, it literally meant that anything anybody ever made showing a baseball scene was a baseball card. That would be mean every photograph was a card, and every newspaper engraving, and in theory every drawing done by every kid since the first ball player was mistake for a hero.
So, the 1865 Atlantics carte de visite, while a great item, doesn’t meet the standard definition of a baseball card.
Even if it did it would be far from the earliest known card. There were six different photographic cards issued in 1863 that simultaneously:
A) advertised a tournament featuring the Brooklyn Excelsiors playing the famed New York Knickerbockers in the “Grand Match At Hoboken” along with two cricket competitions;
B) served as admission tickets to the matches; and
C) cost extra because the photographs were designed to be saved as souvenirs.
Those are baseball cards. The records of how many were sold even survives: 150 of future Hall of Famer Harry Wright, 57 of a player named Crossley, 47 of another named Hammond, and 11 of Harry’s father Sam. A fifth card later surfaced showing the Wrights together, and two different poses of Crossley are known.
Cards-as-tickets haven’t been repeated too often in the 150 years since (the White Sox did it in the early ’60s). So if you want something more recognizable, you move to the Peck & Snyder cards, issued over three years to advertise Peck & Snyder Sporting Goods stores (and available for other such enterprises to print their ads on, as well). The “set” begins with the 1868 Brooklyn Atlantics, continues with the first overtly all-professional team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, and moves on to the 1870 Troy Haymakers and Chicago White Stockings.
That’s the 1868 Peck & Snyder Brooklyn card, front and back. See that guy “Pearce”? He was essentially baseball’s first shortstop, and he should be in the Hall of Fame. He and first baseman Joe Start – and a couple of the other guys – are also in the 1865 Brooklyn picture about which we’re talking here.
Interestingly, the truly big idea for baseball cards, the seemingly obvious one - make lots of cards of lots of different players - was still nearly 20 years in the future when Mr. Peck let himself be caricatured on the backs of those team cards. 1886 was the breakthrough year, with Goodwin Tobacco (“Old Judge Cigarettes”), the Hall Photography Studio, and an anonymous manufacturer that left room for local cigar stores to stamp their ads on the cards, each made multiple-card sets of players of the New York Giants, and the Charles Gross Company began a marvelous two-year issue featuring the New York Giants and Mets and also both Philadelphia teams, the Athletics and the Phillies. A year later, Goodwin saw the potential bonanza and issued fairly cheap photographic cards of literally hundreds of players in overlapping issues that would see some guys issued on 17 different cards over the 1887-1890 seasons. Goodwin and other tobacco companies also went high-tech with beautiful color lithograph cards of the great players of the time (along with other athletes) later in 1887. The rest, through fits and starts, has been one of the more astonishing industries in American history, still going strong since 1886. Or 1865. Or 1863.
Those who might have thought of making cards of individual players could conceivably have been scared off by the experience of Mort Rogers, a former player who got the idea of selling scorecard/programs at the games of the Boston Red Stockings in 1871. He produced startlingly beautiful folded cards that had photographic portraits of players on the front, an ad on the back, and a scorecard in the middle. He apparently lost his shirt. A similar enterprise was tried almost simultaneously with those Troy, New York Haymakers of 1870 and 1871.
Finally, a note about the $92,000. That’s a lot of money for anything, let alone a baseball card, but it isn’t extraordinary. At least one card has sold for $70,000 in the last month (one of those 1886 Old Judge New York Giants) and prices in that range are not uncommon for the scarcer cards in the 1886-87 Gross set (“Kalamazoo Bats”) and the 1887-90 Goodwin Old Judge series.
In what is easily the best piece of baseball research – and possibly motion picture research – this year, Senior Curator Tom Shieber of the Baseball Hall of Fame dispels one of the most enduring myths of both fields: That the right-handed Gary Cooper donned a backwards-lettered Yankees uniform and ran the wrong way around the bases to enable filmmakers to flip the negative and make him look like the left-handed Lou Gehrig in “The Pride Of The Yankees”:
A) Proves the shot of Cooper above is not a reversed image and he didn’t hit the ball and then run down the third base line;
B) Proves that such movie-making sleight-of-hand would not have been necessary;
C) Proves the one instance – in a pre-Yankee scene from the Gehrig biopic – in which they really did let Cooper do things righty and then flipped the image to make him look lefty;
D) Nails the explanation of how this one instance was blown out of all proportion and turned in to the backward film legend by a very venerated but very overrated sportswriter;
E) Proves the involvement in the making of the film by two of the game’s great characters, Babe Herman and Lefty O’Doul.
F) Notes and explains why the rightfielder in some of the shots appears to be playing about 20 feet behind the first baseman.
It is, as I say, terrific research terrifically explained.
I can add only one detail to it – something that had always bothered me about the ‘then he ran down the third base line’ legend. The human face is not symmetrical. We know this so intuitively that we don’t usually even think about it. But you know when a picture of you has been reversed, or you’re looking in a double mirror.
On the top is Gary Cooper as Gehrig, in a still frame that Shieber has determined is an original, unflipped image. Below is Gary Cooper as Gehrig, in a still frame that Shieber can prove has been flipped. Look carefully at the features of his face – they’re not in the same places in each shot. It takes a little work, but it’s worth it.
This is not as exact a science as Shieber’s analysis of stadium backgrounds and fly buttons and all the rest, but it’s of supportive value. And except in this one scene, Gary Cooper looks like one Gary Cooper all the way through the film. As
‘another’ Gary, Garry Shandling, used to say, ‘no flipping.’
Then in this one scene at first base comes this bizarre image of a guy who looks enough like the Cooper we’ve seen throughout the flick to be his twin – but it is not an exact match. The nose breaks in the opposite direction (just a little bit). The veins on one side of the neck now match the ones on the other side of the neck. It’s all subtle, but it’s all the photographic equivalent of circumstantial evidence.
And it puts a little P.S. on some superb detective work. Bravo, Tom Shieber
Nothing makes simple questions needlessly complex more quickly than a lot of people needing to fill a lot of time and space. So. Let’s knock these off quickly.
Can The Yankees Void Alex Rodriguez’s Contract?
Highly unlikely. When Rodriguez admitted to past PED use four years ago, the team had a window in which it could’ve claimed he had misled them so seriously that it amounted to fraud or more likely breach of contract. It could’ve cut off his paycheck and invited him – or the Players’ Association – to sue them.
But Rodriguez could’ve just as easily responded by saying ‘thanks.’ He was coming off a 35/103/.302/.392/.573 season, the ever-willingly gullible fan base bought his line about having merely “experimented” and stopped years before, and he would’ve found somebody to pay him – and maybe even pay him more. The Yankees still had dreams of making additional tens of millions in marketing money as Alex Rodriguez – the clean home run hitter – expunged Barry Bonds from the record book. They didn’t want to fire him.
One of the problems with breach of contract is that if you feel you’re the victim of it, if you don’t respond legally, you are – in a passive-aggressive fashion – forgiving whatever action you think constituted the possible breach. The time frame before your window to try to void a contract expires is not set in stone, but it sure as heck is less than four years.
But Isn’t The New Allegation A Whole Different Breach?
It sure would be – if Rodriguez admitted it. But he’s denying it, outright. Unless there’s another positive test out there, there isn’t a fraud/breach way out of his contract.
By the way, no, I’m not a lawyer. Don’t ask me why I’m so familiar with this topic right now. Trust me, I just am.
So Couldn’t The Yankees Buy Him Out Of His Contract?
There are several variations, but the best estimate is that the Yankees owe Rodriguez another $114,000,000. Exactly what would your motivation be to accept something less?
If he retires, he gets less. If he has to retire because of injury, the Yankees can put in a claim on their insurance on the contract. But if he keeps showing up to work, either willing to play or trying to rehabilitate himself, the club owes him the full amount.
Ask Don Gullett. The Yankees signed him the same winter they signed Reggie Jackson. Everybody knew he had a risky delivery and a cranky arm, but they still gave him a six-year contract. He pitched exactly 30 times for them, the last game coming in July, 1978. He was still showing up at Yankee Stadium and throwing stiffly on the sidelines as late as the summer of 1980. He was a non-roster invitee in 1981. His endless arm miseries produced one of the great jokes in the history of television sportscasting. Deep into one winter, Jerry Girard of WPIX-TV in New York interrupted reading the NBA scoreboard and announced there was breaking news. “This just in,” he said as the director killed the graphics of the scores and put him on camera. “There has been a Don Gullett sighting!”
Why On Earth Did The Diamondbacks Trade Justin Upton?
This is the revised version of the question “Why On Earth Would The Diamondbacks Trade Justin Upton?” The two questions have been asked 47,552 times* this off-season on radio, tv, and the internet.
Answer: In what is now a five-and-a-half season sample size, Justin Upton is a career .250 hitter with a .325 on base percentage and a .406 slug, and an average of 18 homers and 63 RBI. That’s what he’s done lifetime away from Phoenix (the homers and RBI are normalized to a 162-game season). He drove in exactly 20 runs on the road last year.
He is a supremely talented prospect who has thus far shown he doesn’t travel well.
The Braves can take some hope from the fact that sometimes disastrous home-road splits are not entirely-park related but at least somewhat comfort-related. If he’s just as good at home in Atlanta as he was in Arizona, the trade won’t be a disaster (and he still won’t be a superstar). They can still also be optimistic about a smaller sample: 1/8/.293/.388/.483 – in 58 career at bats in Atlanta.
*-I made that number up.
Why Hasn’t Michael Bourn Signed Yet?
He hit .238 after July 1st of last year.
That’s why you trade for Ben Revere instead.
Which Hall Of Famer Is This?
This one is not easier than it seems. HOF President Jeff Idelson tweeted that shot out today, with this enticing hint:
This brilliant lefty’s pickoff move was deemed great by Earl Weaver. He’s in the HOF, but not as a player. Who is he?
An additional hint was later provided – that he was on USC’s national college champs of 1958.
The photo provides an approximate date. That thing at the top left is the famed curved roof of the Orioles’ old spring training home, Miami Stadium, and the bagginess of the uniform suggests 1960 or 1961 at the latest.
Since Jeff has already tweeted the answer, I’m going to give it again, below. It ain’t Steve Dalkowski and it ain’t Frank Bertaina.
This brilliant lefty is Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick
I know, I know, Morse trade, WBC, Manti Te’o's Invisible Girlfriend…I have something important to discuss here: Who are these guys? These are two shots taken at the Yankees’ old spring training facility at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the 1978-85 range. The negatives were never printed and never identified by the photographer, and they aren’t obvious to anybody. And I speak as an anybody whose proudest moment was going into the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Photo Archive three years ago and having the privilege to be shown their “unidentified” file – and to reel off seven or eight consecutive IDs in the first photos I saw. I was just beginning to draw a crowd when the muse left me. I think I had one tentative name guess for the remaining hundred in the pile.
Anyway, all we know is that they were Yankees, that we think they were non-roster invitees, and that we have three meh possibilities. Want to play?
Who are these guys?
As I said, there are a couple of possibilities. Number One looks vaguely – very vaguely – like Keith Smith, who played exactly 20 innings at short for the Yankees in ’84 and ’85. Let’s look at Number One and Smith, side by side…
Face shape looks pretty good. The eyebrows are close and any deviation can be attributed to a common eyebrow issue for us Keiths – trimming. The head tilt as part of the attitude toward the camera is one of those subtle things that often tell you more than facial features. But maybe you recognize him and it’s somebody else?
As to the other, I’m not nearly as confident:
I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if our Mysterious Yankee #2 is neither Kelly Scott – a pitcher who was in camp several times in the ’80s – nor Brian Fisher, a very highly rated reliever the Yankees had gotten from Atlanta and later peddled to Pittsburgh. There are a few bad color photos of Scott in which his hair looks very much like our guy. The similarities to Fisher are obvious – the mouth, ear shape, etc. – but doesn’t the unidentified Yankee look significantly older than Fisher? It’s not like these photos could’ve been years apart: Fisher was in the Yank camp just two years, ’85 and ’86.
In any event, if you want to play sleuth, feel free to use the comments. If you have photos or links to support your thoughts, lemme know. Thanks!
The Number 7 is on the one and only Mickey Mantle, who served as a Yankee spring training instructor from the year after his retirement until his health failed in the ’90s – with a couple of exceptions. Mantle was barred from baseball in February, 1983, for having gone to work for an Atlantic City casino, and wasn’t reinstated until March, 1985. Therefore you wouldn’t see a Yankee spring training photo from 1983, 1984, or a shot from early spring training 1985 (most of the fringe guys would’ve been long gone before Mantle’s earliest possible return, on March 18th).
This dates the photo to 1982 or earlier, and 1986 or later. The negatives were supposed to have originated from the late ’70s or early ’80s.
Just as importantly, you can plainly see the memorial armband on Mantle’s left sleeve. The Yankees wore those a lot, and would’ve had them during spring training in 1980 (for the late Thurman Munson), in 1981 (for the late Elston Howard), and in 1986 (for the late Roger Maris).
The images were shot on the same day – they’re on the same negative strip. So they are likely dated to 1980-81 (a smaller chance that they date to 1986). Although then, as now, minor leaguers occasionally would be seen in big league camp even if they weren’t on the roster and they weren’t formally ‘non-roster invitees,’ their likelihood of being photographed was very small (they could and were photographed separately, in minor league camp).
Thus the field of who these two men could be really shrinks to all the guys in Spring Training for the Yankees in 1980 and 1981 who I don’t recognize on sight (and in those two seasons I went from Radio Network sportscaster and reporter, and part-time photographer, to CNN sports correspondent). And that field is:
1980: Pitchers Jim Lewis, Brian Ryder, and Jamie Werly; catchers Scott Benedict, Pat Callahan, and Dan Plante.
1981: Pitchers Curt Kauffman, Lewis, and Ryder; catchers Callahan and Kevin Shannon.
For the record there a couple of other obscure guys in the field that I’ve eliminated because they don’t look like either of these guys: pitchers Paul Boris, Greg Cochran, Tom Filer, Roger Slagle, and Chris Welsh (that’s right: that Chris Welsh, now the Reds’ announcer and then a Yankee lefthand pitching prospect). Speaking of the Reds, neither is either of them another 1981 non-roster invitee named Don Gullett, who was still – five seasons later – trying to spend one healthy season in a New York uniform after having signed a huge free agent contract in the winter of 1976-77.
But I’m digressing. Let’s put together a rogue’s gallery of the remaining possibilities:
Curt Kaufman, 1982
As you see, it’s an incomplete gallery. Nothing turned up for two of those catchers – Dan Plante and Kevin Shannon.
I think most of these guys are obviously neither of our unidentified Yankees. One bears a remote resemblance – I’d suggest Scott Benedict, later a renowned high school coach in Florida, might just be Yankee #1, but the chest hair and the chin in the identified shot suggests otherwise. But do you see that shot of Brian Ryder with the then-Reds farm team, the Indianapolis Indians, from 1982. We may have a winner.
Let’s look at a couple more shots of Ryder, and put them alongside our Yankee #2:
I like the 1981 black and white especially – the profile shot – as a match, but it’s pointed out below that the complexion looks more like those two shots of Jamie Werly.
Ryder was the 26th overall pick in the 1978 draft and produced 15-victory seasons in his first two full years in the minors. But after a so-so year at AAA in 1981 the Yankees packaged him and another minor league pitcher named Fredie Toliver to the Reds, for Ken Griffey Sr (it is almost impossible to recall that we used to just call him “Ken Griffey.”) Ryder and Werly never made the majors – but the latter did put together a solid seven years in the
high minors, including a season as the top pitcher in the Southern League in 1981. In a recent photo he looks a lot like Yankee #1. I think it’s one of them, shown just a few springs ago, with Mickey Mantle over their shoulder…
If anybody has any ideas on the others, feel free to post a Comment – especially if you’ve got a shot of Dan Plante or Kevin Shannon.
Finally it struck me. “Number 1″ here has been annoying me for awhile. Looked familiar, but in a disguised way. Is it possible I’m seeing a guy I knew with long, even bushy hair, and a mustache, without either?
Dennis Werth? Jayson Werth’s step-Dad?