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Monday, August 26, 2013

The Baseball Historian's Notes for August 26, 2013: The Sanctimony of Baseball

For as much fun as baseball can be, the sanctimony sometimes gets a little too thick for comfort. The latest example has been the firestorm following Boston Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster hitting Alex Rodriguez with a pitch after several apparent failed attempts in the same at-bat. While Dempster disputed that his actions were intentional, it sure seemed that way, and he earned a five-game suspension.

The purpose of the pitch was assumed to be A-Rod’s recent suspension and controversy surrounding his use of PEDs, apparent dishonesty in covering it up, and highly public appeal of his punishment.

The fallout from the incident between Dempster and A-Rod has revealed the hypocritical nature of baseball. While throwing at a hitter is considered acceptable after a home run has been admired too long, a batter jogs across the pitcher’s mound following an out, or a hundred other mundane reasons, the outcry against Dempster has been perplexing. Even Boston teammate David Ortiz came out publicly on the side of Rodriguez.

While hitting a batter for any reason can easily be argued as stupid and immature, as long as it has a place in the game (which it currently does), how can there be any quibbling over acceptable circumstances?

Dempster clearly had his reasons for throwing the pitch, which may or may not have had something to do with A-Rod’s loathsome public image. People may not agree with what the pitcher did, but he was only following the protocol that has already been in place for generations before him. Don’t hate the player; hate the game.

***Out of all the pitchers who have toed a mound in baseball history, one that you would least want to have throw at you was Hall-of-Fame southpaw Sandy Koufax. The flamethrower intimidated hitters throughout his career with his powerful arm.

As a youngster, Koufax was just a thrower with a lot of promise that needed a lot more polish. This scouting report from when he was 18 saw his diamond through the rough edges and recommended him as a top prospect. Whoever wrote it was right on the money; as he went on to have a storied career.

***The topic of Hall-of-Fame pitcher Satchel Paige’s age has been a topic of debate for decades. While he’s believed to have been born in 1906, nobody is certain that’s accurate, and he did little to quell the mystery whenever he was asked to address the matter.

Here is a video clip of Paige talking to a reporter in 1958 about his age. Although he was at least in his early 50s at the time, he spoke of wanting to continue pitching for another 15-20 years. He made it to 1966, when he pitched his last organized game. As he one famously said, "Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter."

*** Sometimes old-time baseball players are best recognized by their stats or how they looked on their baseball cards. Those who played before the era of television and internet are relative mysteries when it comes to people knowing what they sounded like. Slugger Jimmie Foxx, who hit .325 with 534 home runs and 1,922 RBI, during a legendary 20-year career, is one of those players. There’s not a great deal of audio material for Foxx, but this interview is a wonderful example of the burly first baseman talking about his career.

*** Being elected in the National Baseball Hall of Fame is the ultimate pinnacle for any career in the sport. During the induction ceremony, newly minted members can experience a rush of emotions and appreciation for finally reaching the top of the proverbial mountain for their chosen profession.

Pitcher Bob Gibson, who was known as a silent warrior during his great career with the St. Louis Cardinals, gave a great acceptance speech. Like his pitching style, it was direct, effective and classy. His grace in accepting baseball’s ultimate honor should be seen as much as an example as what he was able to do on the diamond.

*** A little over 30 years ago, Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett was ejected from a game following one of the most explosive reactions to an umpire decision ever seen.

The future Hall-of-Famer hit what appeared to be a go-ahead home run against Goose Gossage and the New York Yankees. However, Yankees manager Billy Martin asked for the hitter’s bat to be inspected. It was determined that the amount of pine tar on the barrel of the bat exceeded permissible amounts, and Brett was called out and the home run was nullified. Brett went berserk, and it became forever known as the “Pine Tar Incident.”

As it turns out, Merritt Riley, a 47-year-old police officer, played a major role in the imbroglio. At the time, he was a teenaged batboy for the Royals. The Yankees were able to inspect Brett’s bat after their catcher took it from the youngster’s innocent hands at home plate following the homer. Riley’s recollections of that game are an interesting take from a perspective not usually paired with the story.

***And now your moment of Zen. Turns out the Harvard baseball team isn’t just full of players who are wicked smart. They can also perform the hell out of their own version of a Carly Rae Jepsen song.

This 2012 video was obviously made by the players while trying to find something to do while in their travels to or from a game. There may be a number of other attempts to cover this delightful ditty, but the Crimson boys put their own unique spin on it.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

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