Baseball – It’s Better than Hollywood

So let’s write a script for a movie about baseball. Remember, it’s Hollywood, so it can be over the top and unbelievable.

Let’s start with a trade. One team has World Series dreams but is in desperate need of relief pitching. The other team just needs a few good players to pull them up a notch in their division. So they actually work a trade while they are playing each other. One team sends its ace relief pitcher to the other for a 24 year-old second baseman just a year out rookie status. They trade uniforms, clubhouses, lockers and move across the field for the next game in their series. It never happens, but remember. It’s Hollywood.

The reliever is crushed. He was doing so much for his team with one scoreless save after another. You can even write in a scene where he sits in his new team’s dugout crying. The fans of his old team are outraged. The GM gets hate mail. But the deal is done. The pitcher stands before the cameras and makes brave statements about the nature of the game, the business and how great the fans are in both cities.

The kid second baseman seethes in silence. He had played well but his team saw him as expendable. You will see from the look in his eyes that he hopes some day to use his bat to get even.

A few weeks later in the season, the teams square off again. And since it’s Hollywood, you have the new young infielder come to bat in the eighth inning of a scoreless game. The bases are loaded, of course. And on the mound is the reliever who cried in the dugout after the trade. Of course. It’s Hollywood.

So you write him in for a grand slam. Why not? Since it’s Hollywood. But this is where I would expect the production company suits to step in and say it’s just too much. Even for Hollywood.

With only one out, let’s make that a sacrifice fly. Put it way back on the warning track. Create suspense as the ball goes toward the fence. But not out of the park.

Make it a great catch, a brilliant throw and a close play at the plate. Score the run, but a grand slam? Really? That’s too much even for Hollywood. And more karma than even Bollywood would allow.

Real life is more like this:

And that’s what I love about baseball. Even when my team loses.

Enjoying a Good Memory on a Bad News Day

There’s not much fun in reading the news these days. But I did find a bright spot this morning.

The Washington Post had an article today about a home run that Frank Howard hit in the Seattle Pilots home park in 1969. A 10-year-old kid named Jim Flinn was sitting in the cheap seats beyond center field and he watched Howard’s home run go out of the park, at least by his memory. That would have made it at least 600 feet, given the height of the wall encompassing Seattle’s Sick’s Stadium.

If Sick’s Stadium and the Seattle Pilots don’t ring true to your MLB fan ears, it’s because the Pilots only stayed a year in Seattle before moving on to Milwaukee to fill the vacancy left there when the Braves moved to Atlanta. They are best known for being the team Jim Bouton pitched for when he wrote Ball Four.

But here’s the thing. In the world both before and after StatCast, no one has managed to propel a baseball that far with a bat AND be able to produce credible witnesses and measurement. Except for young (now 62) Jim Flinn. He knows what he saw. And it provided him with the memory for a lifetime.

It reminded me of my own similar memory. I saw a home run that, for me, was every bit as memorable as that Frank Howard shot and maybe even a few feet farther in its travel.

In 1957, I was 13 years old and just beginning to be sold on baseball as “the beautiful game,” at least in my culture and in my life. I was an avid fan of the Buffs, the Houston entry in the AA Texas League. That summer my dad took me to a game between the Buffs and the loathsome Dallas Eagles. The Buffs were a St. Louis Cardinal farm team. The Eagles were affiliated with the New York Giants. And any team from New York got hisses and boos in Texas, even before the Mets existed.

It was a matchup against the Texas League’s two best teams. Matching up over the whole season, Dallas led the league by 5 games over the second place Buffs. But minor league ball determined league championships through a system called the Shaughnessy Playoffs. It was pretty much the same design the major leagues use now with the top four teams doing elimination rounds. Houston won the Shaughnessy playoff, and thus the Texas League crown, four games to three over the Eagles. But none of that matters to the memory I have of that season.

My memory is about a ball I saw going over the center field fence in Buff Stadium. Any ball going over that fence was impressive in that it was 440 feet from home plate (the legendary Polo Grounds was only 442). The right and left field fences were 12 feet high. They added another six feet to the 440 foot center field fence. It was rare to see a ball clear that center field fence. It saved money on baseballs, no small thing in the minors.

But that night the Eagles started a 19-year-old first baseman named Willie McCovey. I remember little else about that game but my memory is of seeing a ball he hit leaving the park over the center field wall on a straight line that was still rising when it disappeared into the darkness.

After he hit that home run, I noticed the crowd gasping even when he would swing and miss. His movement was like velvet and oh so powerful. Still a teenager, McCovey hit .281 for the Dallas Eagles that year with 11 home runs. That isn’t huge production for a double A ball player. But I saw one of those eleven home runs and it was unforgettable.

That was the only time I ever saw Willie McCovey play in person. And McCovey never made it to the New York Giants. By the time he made the Giants two years later, they had moved to San Francisco.

Twenty-nine years and 521 home runs later, in 1986 he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I saw him hit one of the longest home runs ever hit in organized baseball. No video recorded it. There was no StatCast to give us accurate, scientific measures.

But, like Mr. Jim Flinn, I know what I saw. And I thank him for jogging my memory.

J. R. Richard Remembered

New of J. R. Richard’s passing was sad news yesterday. By all accounts, he was a great person, although, we knew him only as a great pitcher cut down in his prime.

The report from mlb.com that is linked above covers the highlights of an all-to-brief career. A moment of silence, please, for one of the great ones.

You won’t find his name in the baseball Hall of Fame. Maybe distinctive careers like his should be remembered there.

Advice for My Lake Jackson Republican Friends

My Republican friends don’t often look to me for advice. But under the circumstances they need to begin talking to someone besides the Trumpischer Beobachter crowd on social media. The conventional wisdom in the party is that if you cross Trump, then you will be “primaried” with an opponent from the right (far right) who will snag an endorsement from the 45th POTUS. And that is apparently enough to hold the incumbents in line and keep them defending and repeating the Big Lie.

But there is a way out for those Republicans whose minds still live in a land of patriotic conservatism and who view bipartisanship as something that is not only acceptable, but actually a desirable strategy for governing.

I suggest that they use the time-honored strategy used in Major League Baseball. Tank the team and rebuild from bottom up.

The major problem with this strategy is that in politics there is no reward for coming in last. In Major League Baseball, you get the pick of the college and high school players if you can lose enough games in the regular season. Of course this makes it hard to sell tickets but if you are patient and manage the cash flow carefully, you can soon find yourself in the World Series. The Astros did after multiple 100 loss seasons.

In baseball, no one admits that they tank on purpose. But in politics, it really doesn’t come up since there is no direct reward for losing.

The trick for local Republicans (real Republicans) is to find a way to punish those who would primary you for crossing the Former Guy.

So, here is my suggestion. Vote Democratic. Leave them to their games in the Republican primary and, instead, vote in the Democratic Primary. Think about it. You not only leave their sorry lot to compete in a shrinking electorate, but you get the added satisfaction of being able to primary one of my Democratic friends.

I know a few things about Democrats. And if there are conservatives voting in their primaries, the most liberal of them become moderates. In fact, they begin to behave a lot like the Republicans I remember from the olden Days of Eisenhower and the Bushes.

Would it destroy the Republican Party? So what? There can’t be much reason for real Republicans to try to save a party that has begun to behave more like the party of the Beerhouse Putsch than the one that helped liberate Europe and expand democracy throughout the world. In fact, it would be a service to all mankind if they would tank this Republican Party.

Then, Republican friends, you can go back and begin to rebuild America’s conservative party – one that would compete with the liberal ideas of Democrats. Only this time, a new Republican Party would stand on a foundation of truth and devotion to the Constitution and the principles of democracy.

And, just think. In the process of tanking the Trump party, you would get to have even more fun by moving the Democratic Party a little more toward the middle.

To be sure, I’m not altogether certain that I will enjoy that part. But I think it’s only fair that my party gives a little, too. Together, we might even come up with a revolutionary new idea in politics – compromise.

A Sign of Things to Come: Opening Day at Enron Field, April 7, 2000.

Photograph from Federal Bureau of Investigation public domain collection posted on Flickr.

Houston’s heart has been broken by corporate scandal twice just twenty years in the 21st Century, once last week by the Houston Astros and in 2001 by the Enron Corporation. If you felt no grief for Enron, then you didn’t know personally any of the people who worked there. They were engineers, clerks, and HR folks like you would find at any other company around Houston. They stood out as innovative, productive employees and good citizens. Most of them had the reputation of being smart, generous and kind.There were only a few bad apples and they worked at the top of the chart.

Our hearts were broken again by our Astros. The sign stealing scandal has forever stained our memories of the beautiful gift of a World Series championship for a city that had suffered a Category 4 hurricane and catastrophic floods in August of that year. It was the year of Harvey and this was a team that brought joy to a hurting city. They were beautiful to watch on the field. They played with excellence and they behaved like the nicest kids you would ever know.

At least we thought so. Continue reading “A Sign of Things to Come: Opening Day at Enron Field, April 7, 2000.”

Astros 23, Orioles 2. Some Memories of What It’s Like to Be on the Losing End of a Game, a Season.

Hey, Astros fans.

It was 2015 and the Astros were only two seasons past losing 111 games. They were slowly pulling themselves out of the mire and working toward their glorious 2017 season. They managed to win 86 in 2015 and climb to second place in the AL West. I remember using my space on Facebook to implore my great FB following to get behind this team. Like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, they still needed us more than we needed them.

One of my pet projects in 2015 was to see if we could, through an act of collective will, get Chris Carter’s batting average to .200 before the season ended. He was such a gentleman on the field. You really wanted him to succeed. So businesslike at the plate. So stoic when he suffered another strikeout. And he suffered a lot of them. But he never threw tantrums, bashed his fist into water coolers, cursed the manager or his teammates – or even the umpire. He was a consummate gentleman. And he finished the year at .199.

So we traded him off to the Milwaukee Brewers where he feasted on National League pitching, raised his BA to a blistering .222. And led the National League in home runs with 41. And strikeouts with 206. He had perfected the strategy of closing your eyes, swinging hard and never apologizing for striking out. Sometimes you hit the ball and sometimes it went over the fence. It was good enough to earn him a contract with the legendary New York Yankees where he played one more year. Facing AL pitching once again, his BA sank to .201. He spent a year in the minors and then retired at the age of 32.

I know my FB friends were wondering whatever happened to Chris Carter. I wish I could tell you more. I can only hope he is enjoying that New York Yankee money and finding happiness in the insurance business, auto sales, or whatever line of work he took up. I will forever be a Chris Carter fan.

But I write tonight to give you my reaction to this evening’s 23-2 Astros romp over the Baltimore Orioles. The O’s are a proud franchise with some great world championship years and many Hall of Fame players memorialized in their park at Camden Yard. It was difficult to see them embarrassed with the Astros artillery jacking balls out of the park like batting practice. Their most effective pitcher turned out to be the young outfielder-utility player they brought in to pitch the ninth inning. Why waste another arm? As it turned out he fooled a few Astros batters with his 51 mph fast ball. When you face ML pitching all the time, slo-pitch softball just isn’t your game. Well, that worked until the young Yordan Alvarez came to the plate and figured out his rhythm. He added one more home run to his evening’s total of three and took the score to the game final of 23-2.

By the time it was over, most of the fans in Camden Yard were cheering for the Astros to tack on some more runs. It could only make an Orioles comeback in the bottom of the ninth all the more exciting. Of course, that did not happen.

As I watched it, I couldn’t help but remember those sad days when the Astros were losing over a hundred a year. I could feel a lot of sympathy for the Orioles and their fans. It was especially difficult to see them bashed so mercilessly after the president spent the better part of a week of his executive time dumping on the city. If Baltimore is a disgusting, rodent infested mess then it wasn’t at all apparent from inside the park. The team conducted itself with pride, excellent comportment and dignity. Well, except for that time the pitcher came close to taking Correa’s head off with a high heater.

How well we know that three or four years from now, they could mobilize some key draft picks into another Baltimore world championship. And, then, we will be glad that it was the Commander in Chief giving them locker room quotes and not the Astros players.