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Monday, August 5, 2013

The Baseball Historian's Notes for August 5, 2013: A-Rod Lacks the Good Will to Help Himself

News is expected today announcing the fate of maligned New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. For his role in the Biogenesis performance enhancer scandal, he is expected to face anything from a lengthy suspension to being banned from the game. He has reportedly vowed to fight to the end, and accept no punishment despite there allegedly being volumes of evidence linking to his use of PEDs, active recruitment of other players and interfering with MLB’s investigation. Regardless of what happens, it promises to not be pretty.

It’s a shame it has come to this. It didn’t have to. The 38-year-old Rodriguez was a baseball prodigy who oozed talent. Staying on top of his game may not have been easy but ending his career on such a down note, when he could have been celebrated as one of the best players to ever don a uniform, is a antithesis. Not only is he going out as a cheater, he is flaunting a me-first oblivious sense of entitlement never before seen on a baseball diamond. Even Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens saw the writing on the wall and faded into the sunset after their affiliations with PEDs became prominent.

Rodriguez’s long track record of arrogance is overwhelming any sense that he may in the right. Although he had admitted previous PED use, he has never officially failed a test. His suspension/banning will either come under the terms of the Joint Drug Agreement or by the commissioner invoking his ability to act in the best interests of the game. In either instance, the lack of true due process is questionable at best. Unfortunately, Rodriguez has burned so many bridges with his narcissistic and grating ways that he has become like the boy who cried wolf. Instead of stirring up an army of supporters, he is simply giving more ammunition to the growing number of people who would simply like him to go away.

***The PED users who have thrown away parts of their careers and their reputations puts the following story into perspective. Baseball is enjoyed by a wide swath of people around the world. There is flourishing World Series of Beep Baseball, which is a modified game played by blind participants since the 1970s. Pitchers are signaled by a high-pitch beep that allows batters to know when to swing. Runs are scored if hitters reach base before the ball is picked up by an opposing fielder. There have been five balls caught on the fly in tournament history. It’s great to see those who love baseball able to get out on the field and play the game after adapting it to their abilities.

***Was there anything Yankees legend Babe Ruth couldn’t do? In addition to being the Sultan of Swat, he was also known to enjoy croaking out a song or two. This picture, which was taken in 1938 when he was the first-base coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers, shows him warming up his pipes with some of his players. Meanwhile, this rare footage is of the Babe doing a little arm-swinging song routine for the cameras during the earliest days of television. He wasn’t as successful a crooner as he was a baseball player, but like everything he did, he was larger than life in every one of his endeavors.

***Later this week marks the 110th anniversary of one of the darkest days to ever take place at a major league stadium. On August 8, 1903, a large crowd turned out for a doubleheader at Huntingdon Street Baseball Grounds in Philadelphia between the Phillies and Boston Beaneaters. A disturbance in the bleachers caused the structure to collapse, injuring hundreds and killing a dozen spectators.

The Phillies didn’t play for another 12 days, as an investigation into the tragedy was conducted. It was determined that rotten timber was the main culprit, and the team wound up playing the remainder of their home games that year at the park of the American League rival Athletics. Stadiums are no longer the tinder boxes they once were, thanks in part to an incident such as this, which has gone largely forgotten.

***The New York Public Library is still looking for baseball artifacts that were stolen from them 40 years ago. The collection includes rare baseball cards, photos, letters and other priceless artifacts from the early days of the game. While some of the items have been returned to the library over the years, the whereabouts of the bulk that were taken still remain unknown. It will be great if they can eventually be recovered so they can be enjoyed by the general public.

***The Boston Red Sox lost two alumni last week, when it was announced former first baseman George “Boomer” Scott had passed away at the age of 69, and former pitcher Frank Castillo, 44, had perished in a drowning accident. Both were popular and productive during their stints in Boston, and their deaths will be felt by Red Sox Nation.

***When Yankees outfielder Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s 34 year-old single-season home run record in 1961, when he hit 61 round-trippers, it changed more than just his own life. The 61st home run was hit off Boston Red Sox’s Tracy Stallard, and caught in the stands by a young New Yorker named Sal Durante. He got to meet Maris after the game and was encouraged to keep the ball.

Durante, who was engaged, sold the ball for $5,000 a few weeks later, allowing him to marry his fiancé and start their new life together. This short film tells their terrific story, which is an all-time baseball classic.

***And now, your moment of Zen. Several years ago, Phillies’ pitcher Kyle Kendrick had a very cruel but funny prank pulled on him by his teammates. An elaborate ruse was concocted to convince the young hurler he had been traded to a Japanese team. He endured several minutes of uncomfortable incredulity before finally being let off the hook. He’s still with Philadelphia, and while he may actually get traded before his career is over, he’ll likely never forget the time he was briefly sent packing across the ocean.

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