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Monday, June 10, 2013

The Baseball Historian's Notes for June 10, 2013

The big news of the week in baseball was an ESPN Outside the Lines report that Major League Baseball is seeking to suspend 20 or more current players for their involvement with the now defunct Biogenesis of America clinic. Tony Bosch, the company’s founder, agreed to provide MLB with documents to help their cases. Players including Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and Melky Cabrera are all reported to be those in the crosshairs, with more details of the whole mess still to come.

The report indicated that suspensions could be as long as 100 games if MLB gets its way. However, want and reality could be two completely different things. The MLB Player’s Union immediately issued a statement declaring their intent to vigorously defend the players in the investigation, and will use their considerable power to minimize any punitive damage. It’s a situation that is highly unlikely to be determined quickly, but will probably play out in courtrooms and boardrooms for an indeterminable amount of time.

Regardless of the length of possible suspensions, the damage has already been done to the reputations of the players involved in the scandal. No matter how much you believe or don’t believe steroids and PEDs are cheating, the amount of lying and general scumbaggery (I made this word up specifically for this situation) on the part of these players has completely impugned their character. No matter how far they can hit a ball or fast they can throw a pitch, their greatest attribute as players and human beings has been irrevocably shattered.

***Speaking of suspensions and being banned from baseball, consider the curious case of Ray Fisher. He was a solid right-handed pitcher who had a record of 100-94 with a 2.82 ERA in 10 major league seasons in the early part of the 20th century.

Following the 1920 season in which he won 10 games for the Cincinnati Reds, Fisher decided to retire as a player to become the University of Michigan’s coach. Because he gave his club seven days notice instead of the 10 dictated by his contract, he was placed on baseball’s ineligible list- effectively banning him. Although he later appealed to commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the decision was upheld.

Fisher went on to have a marvelous 37-year coaching career with Michigan but was part of baseball’s notorious list of banned players; lumped in with the likes of the Black Sox and others who ran afoul of the game.

Finally, in 1980, when he was 93, Fisher was officially reinstated by commissioner Bowie Kuhn, following 59 years of being cast out from Major League Baseball. If a good guy like Fisher gets that kind of treatment, just think what could happened with the Biogenesis players…

***Babe Ruth probably has more anecdotal legends connected to his name than any other player in baseball history. One theme that recurred throughout his career was the way he visited and reached out to sick children. Here is some photographic proof that the Babe was a great humanitarian, who did indeed frequent juvenile sickbeds.

Unidentified, the sick child is not Johnny Sylvester, who was the famous recipient of three home run promises from Ruth. Regardless, his day was certain to have been made better by being able to meet the best player of his day, and perhaps of all time.

***The Boston Globe’s Stan Grossfeld recently wrote the story of Mary Trank, who served as former Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey’s personal secretary for years. Still living in Massachusetts, the 92-year-old recounts a treasure trove of stories, including how Ted Williams used to shoot pigeons at Fenway Park; the advice he would ask her about his love life; her visitation of Jimmy Piersall when he was confined in a mental hospital; and her disdain for Jean Yawkey, the wife of her boss. Although she may not identify herself in this way, she is a baseball historian, who can tell as many stories about the players off the field as their stats can illuminate what occurred on the diamond.

***Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly was also a fine player, and considered one of the most exemplary figures in the game during his career with the New York Yankees.

Proving that even the most gentlemanly of players can have slips of integrity, check out this clip of Mattingly drifting into the stands after a foul ball and emerging with some covertly pilfered popcorn. You’ll never look at him the same again. Talk about having butter fingers…

***One of the negatives that evolved out of baseball over the years has been the pronounced use of smokeless tobacco. This slide show gives a brief but informative overview of how chew became part of the game. With all the major health concerns over its use being more widely publicized, tobacco’s use has slowly receded but has still not been eradicated. While adult players can make decisions for themselves, there should be no room in the game for the nasty habit with all the young people who look up to them.

***A glove believed to have been used by Jackie Robinson during the 1955 and 1956 seasons recently sold for a whopping $373,000 at auction. The sale was conducted by the New York-based Steiner Sports, which has put the $ in baseball memorabilia over the past decade or so.

The mitt is a wonderful piece of history if the provenance is accurate. At such a high price, it is almost certainly going into a private collection, which is a shame since such an iconic item should be available to be seen and appreciated by all who love baseball.

***And now, your moment of Zen for the week. The mid-1980s were a heady time. Oversized boom boxes and pastel leg warmers were all the rage. In 1986, the New York Mets were the best team in baseball, going 108-54 and eventually beating the Boston Red Sox in the World Series in historical fashion. In addition to their fine play on the field, the Mets were also doing work off it. “Get Metsmerized” is one of the earliest examples of athlete-produced hip-hop music. The song, which was organized by outfielder George Foster, includes the vocal stylings of teammates Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Rafael Santana, Howard Johnson, Tim Teufel, Lenny Dykstra, Kevin Mitchell and Rick Aguilera. After listening to their off-key screeching, you will understand why they decided to stick with baseball.
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