Tag Archives: Baseball

Kid Stuff: Baseball Cards

 

Every middle-age man thinks he'd be rich now if only his mother hadn't thrown out his baseball card collection. Sorry, fellas, but chances are they weren't in collectible condition. But you might actually like them better that way. Uploaded by zeprock.com.

Don’t pay any attention to all those bandwagon jumpers who decided in the mid-80s that baseball cards were the investment of the future. Their interest was as wide as the outfield and as deep as the chalk on the baselines. Real baseball cards have a historic and visceral appeal that transcends dollar values.

Uploaded by uk.ebid.net.

Not that it isn’t fun from time to time to pull out, say, the 1958 Al Kaline card and ponder its value. But I honestly get more of a thrill just looking at Al’s mug against that bright red background than I could ever get by selling it. I remember the smell of the gum that Topps inserted in each pack. And how it was often stale, and broke into pieces when you tried to chew it.

Baseball cards are a small part of what makes America special. Kids today look for rookies, embossing, and swatches from game-worn uniforms. But you can’t beat the old cards. They were from a simpler time. A sweeter time.

Originally posted April 3, 2009

Sports: Ted Williams

 

Ted Williams was possibly the greatest hitter in baseball history. Yet he sacrificed five seasons to serve his country as a Naval aviator in World War II and the Korean War. Uploaded by ps.uci.edu.

Many baseball people consider Ted Williams the best pure hitter in baseball history. I’m certainly willing to go along with that suggestion. The 2011 campaign will mark the 70th anniversary of his .406 season, the last time any major leaguer’s batting average has topped .400. He won the triple crown twice, in 1941 and 1947. And he was American League MVP twice – in 1946 and 1949. Can anyone explain how a player who wins the triple crown can not be named MVP?

 

Uploaded by ps.uci.edu.

Williams seemed to understand before most hitters the importance of bat speed. He used a lighter bat than most of his contemporaries, the better to generate power. That helped him lead the league in homers and RBIs four times. And yet his batting eye was so keen that he also led the league in walks in eight seasons.

As dominant as Williams was, there’s no telling what his career statistics might have been had World War II and the Korean War interfered. Williams served as a fighter pilot in both wars, causing him to miss three prime seasons in the 1940s, and two more in the 1950s. Still he finished in the 500-homer club and had a career batting average of .344.

Beyond his baseball career, Williams was also a noted sport fisherman, and was inducted into the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame. Still, it’s his proficiency hitting a baseball that we’ll always remember. Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski said of “The Splendid Splinter”: “He studied hitting the way a broker studies the stock market, and could spot at a glance mistakes that others couldn’t see in a week.”

Sports: Sandy Koufax

Here's the Koufax math: 1 MVP + 3 Cy Young awards + 4 no-hitters + 1 perfect game = 1 outstanding career. Uploaded by opposingviews.com.

No discussion of the best pitchers in baseball history would be complete without including Sandy Koufax. Though arthritis cut short his career at the premature age of 30, Koufax accomplished some remarkable things:

  • He won three Cy Young awards during a time when only one was awarded each year, not one for each league
  • He was the NL MVP in 1963, something rarely accomplished by a pitcher
  • He pitched four no-hitters and a perfect game
  • He had a career ERA of 2.76
  • He was the youngest former player ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (Great American Things, March 26, 2010

Uploaded by ashorner.com.

Beyond his baseball exploits, Koufax earned a special place in American life by making a stand for his Jewish faith. The first game of the 1965 World Series, pitting Koufax’s Dodgers against the Minnesota Twins, happened to fall during Yom Kippur. Koufax would have pitched Game One, but chose to observe his religious holiday instead. The Dodgers lost, and fell behind in the Series two games to zero. But Koufax came back to win Game Five, and then won the deciding Game Seven though pitching on just two days’ rest. He earned his second Series MVP award for his efforts.

Sports: The Shot Heard ‘Round the World

Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca were permanently linked by fate, and became good friends. Branca never became bitter about his role in baseball history. Uploaded by gothamist.com.

“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

That famous call by Russ Hodges punctuated what is probably the most dramatic moment in baseball history. Bobby Thomson of the Giants hit a pitch thrown by Ralph Branca of the Dodgers into the left field seats, securing a spot for his team in the World Series and a place for himself in baseball immortality.

Uploaded by cbc.ca.

The play occurred at the end of the 1951 season, and it’s hard for a modern fan to appreciate what a momentous event it was. First, these two teams were then crosstown rivals with fans that chose sides and did so with great passion. And second, on August 11 the Dodgers had a 13 1/2 game lead over the Giants, and finished the season a more than respectable 26-22. But the Giants went on a phenomenal 37-7 tear to pull to an identical 96-58 record. The champion would be determined by a three-game playoff, and the two teams split the first two. Everything was on the line for this last game.

The Dodgers held a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning. But the Giants rallied, and with a run in and men on second and third, Bobby Thomson came to the plate. The Dodgers brought in Branca as a relief pitcher, a curious decision considering Thomson had homered off Branca to win the first game of the playoff. With a one-strike count, Branca came in high and inside, and Thomson turned on the pitch and deposited it in the left field stands. And Russ Hodges – and Giants fans across the country – went crazy:

Director: Ken Burns

Ken Burns certainly didn't invent the documentary. But he's darn near perfected it. Uploaded by sacbee.com.

It’s not as if Ken Burns invented the long-form, multi-part documentary. What he did was to bring a sense of style to archive photography and video, a fresh historical context to his subject matter. He didn’t invent the form, but he’s just about perfected it.

Beginning in 1981, Burns made several traditional documentaries on topics ranging from the Brooklyn Bridge to Thomas Hart Benton. Then, in 1991, he created The Civil War, a documentary shown on PBS for five consecutive nights. It gave the network its largest audience ever at the time, and is still considered Burns’s masterpiece. It won two Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, and a People’s Choice Award.

Uploaded by huffingtonpost.com.

Burns is known for using distinctive music, camera moves on still photos to give the feeling of motion, and interesting and recognizable voices to read letters and historical elements. In The Civil War, for example, Sam Waterston read Abraham Lincoln, Jason Robards read Ulysses Grant, Morgan Freeman read Frederick Douglass, and Garrison Keillor read Walt Whitman.

Since that initial success, Burns has brought his special touch to other subjects: Baseball (1994), Jazz (2001), World War II (The War, 2007), and National Parks (The National Parks, America’s Best Idea, 2009) being the most successful.

Burns next project? A follow-up to Baseball, The Tenth Inning details the story of baseball from 1990 on. It will run for two nights in September, 2010…

Sports: Joe DiMaggio

The romance that had America enthralled led to a marriage that was over in 274 days. Uploaded to Flickr by shadees.

When Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio were processed at Ellis Island (Great American Things, November 24, 2009) near the turn of the century, they expected they’d raise a new generation of fishermen. That’s what the DiMaggio men had done in the old country, and what Papa took up in California upon his arrival in America. His first two sons obliged – but the last three gravitated to baseball instead. Vince, Giuseppe, and Dominic all became major league center fielders.

As you’ve probably deduced, Giuseppe the younger took the American nickname “Joe.” Good thing. “Joltin’ Giuseppe” just doesn’t cut it.

He burst onto the baseball scene batting ahead of Lou Gehrig, and helped lead the Bronx Bombers to four straight World Series titles. All in all, his Yankees earned nine championships in Joe’s thirteen seasons.

Uploaded by personals.nydailynews.com.

How good was DiMaggio? Well, his 56-game hitting streak is one of the enduring records in sports, and may never be broken. He was named number eleven in the Sporting News’ list of all-time greatest baseball players. He made the All-Star team every season he played, and was the American League MVP three times.

We can’t talk about Joe without mentioning Marilyn. Their courtship was a national obsession, and they eloped on January 14, 1954. The Yankee Clipper’s career had just ended, however, and Marilyn’s was just taking flight. He was jealous, and didn’t handle being out of the spotlight well. She filed for divorce after only 274 days of marriage.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Sports: Babe Ruth

This photo of Babe's farewell won the Pulitzer Prize. Uploaded by yale.edu.

This photo of Babe's farewell won the Pulitzer Prize. Uploaded by yale.edu.

Babe Ruth was big. Not just his body, which to modern eyes looks like a shapeless lump perched precariously on fragile legs. The Babe was one of the big personalities of 20th century America. You could say he singlehandedly made baseball the National Pastime. But he was bigger than the game.

He was a fun-loving guy whose career peaked in the 1920s, a fun-loving decade. His enthusiasm for baseball and for life was evident to all, and was contagious. He also changed baseball from what we now call “small ball”, singles and sacrifices and stolen bases, and brought about a fascination with the home run. Consider this, from the Babe Ruth official Web site (yes, of course there’s an official Web site, are you kidding?):

“In 1927, Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs accounted for 14% of all home runs in the American League that year. To put that figure in modern perspective, a player would need to hit over 340 home runs in a season to account for 14% of the American League’s total home run output.”

The Babe, uploaded to Flickr by ceetard.

The Babe, uploaded to Flickr by ceetard.

Kids loved the Babe, and he often visited hospitals to see children without anyone knowing. He came from a tough, working-class neighborhood, and he never forgot how far his accomplishments had taken him.

And what accomplishments! Single-season home run record of 60 lasted 34 years. Career total of 714 homers lasted 39 years. The Sporting News ranked him the number one baseball player of all time. The Associated Press named him Athlete of the Century. ESPN Sports Century named him number two, to Michael Jordan. Idiots.

Babe died of throat cancer at the age of 53. Here’s a newsreel of his farewell to the fans, and his fans saying farewell to the Babe.

Kid Stuff: Little League

All those practices finally paid off. Uploaded by blogss.suntimes.com.

All those practices finally paid off. Uploaded by blogss.suntimes.com.

If you’re boy between nine and twelve, the most important place in the world isn’t Washington, DC. Or New York City. Disney World may not even measure up. No, the Valhalla for the junior set is Williamsport, Pennsylvania. That’s the home of Little League Baseball, and its premier event, the Little League World Series.

In towns and cities across the country, dedicated coaches spend countless hours each spring and summer teaching¬† kids the fundamentals of baseball. Follow through on your throws. Don’t block the basepaths. Don’t step in the bucket.

Updated by cumminghome2.com.

Updated by cumminghome2.com.

The reality, of course, is that baseball doesn’t have the hold on today’s kids that it once did. Look at all it must compete with now that it didn’t in the past – soccer, martial arts, inline skating and adventure sports, video games. But that doesn’t diminish the fun kids have when they play. They probably will never make it to Williamsport, but they’ll get a juice box and an orange slice after the game. And a trophy at the end of the season.

Of course, the Little League organization includes leagues for those up to age 18, and softball leagues as well. But the Little League World Series is the organization’s glamour event. It’s televised by ESPN, and draws a huge nationwide audience. Does that big stage, and those high stakes, put too much pressure on children? I don’t know, but it’s definitely intense. Not that I know personally, of course. My league all-star team played back in the days of single-elimination tournaments, and we had a no-hitter pitched against us. But that doesn’t spoil my memories of one of the great joys of my youth – playing Little League baseball.

Today’s video: a heartwarming story that happened to take place in my hometown.

Sports: Cal Ripken, Jr.

Cal Ripken breaks the record for most consecutive games played. Uploaded by itricks.com.

Cal Ripken breaks the record for most consecutive games played. Uploaded by itricks.com.

“It’s not whether you win or lose,” the saying goes. “It’s how you play the game.” On the other hand, it’s said, “Winning isn’t everything – it’s the only thing.” So the ideal sportsman is one who plays the game with class and respect, and yet still wins. In other words, Cal Ripken.

In a storybook scenario, Cal got to play beside his brother while his father was the coach. But not for the Kenosha Tire Co. Tiny Treads – for the major league Baltimore Orioles. Even then, Cal was a rare commodity in baseball. He was an athlete with the agility to play shortstop and the strength to hit for power.

Uploaded by stevenellis.com.

Uploaded by stevenellis.com.

Cal made an instant splash in the sport, winning the American League Rookie of the Year honor in 1982. He was named to the American League All-Star team 19 times. He was twice named the All-Star game MVP and the American League MVP. He has a World Series ring. And he was a first-ballot inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Of course, the feat everyone associates with Cal is the streak for playing the most consecutive games. Lou Gherig’s record of 2,130 stood for 56 years and was considered unbreakable. Not only did Cal break it, but he hit a home run in the record-tying game and in the record-breaking game. It was named “Most Memorable Moment” in baseball history. He finally took a game off after playing 2,632 straight games. That record will never be broken.

His streak symbolized what kind of a man he is. Show up every day. Care about your job. Do your very best. Give back to the community. The stench of steroids has corrupted baseball in the public eye, and it’s going to take a lot of Cal Ripken-style professionalism before it can regain its lost place in America’s heart.

Kid Stuff: Baseball Cards

Photo courtesy of Flickr, taken by Sports Card Radio

Photo courtesy of Flickr, taken by Sports Card Radio

Don’t pay any attention to all those bandwagon jumpers who decided in the mid-80s that baseball cards were the investment of the future. Real baseball cards have a historic and visceral appeal that transcends dollar values.

Not that it isn’t fun from time to time to pull out the 1958 Al Kaline card and ponder its value. But I honestly get more of a thrill just looking at Al’s mug against that bright red background than I could ever get by selling it. I remember the smell of the gum that Topps inserted in each pack. And how it was often stale, and broke into pieces when you tried to chew it.

Baseball cards are a small part of what makes America special. Kids today look for rookies, embossing, and swatches from game-worn uniforms. But you can’t beat the old cards. They were from a simpler time. A sweeter time.