The Motherland of Baseball

CCCP National Baseball Club

The CCCP National Baseball Club: fiction and fact

In Right off the Bat, Martin and I trace the contours of international-baseball competition. Such count the Olympics (including Hitler’s infamous 1936 Games), the World Baseball Classic, and the far older European Baseball Championship. In fact, some of the all-time largest crowds, in the low six figures, have witnessed baseball at two different Summer Olympics: Berlin and, less shocking, Tokyo in 1964.

The number of nations fielding professional ball clubs is somewhat surprising. But big-time play between “baseball countries” is nowhere on the competitive scale of the just-completed ICC World Cup or the just-commencing (at this writing) IPL.

One of the largely unreported and offbeat stories regarding the spread of the National Pastime involves a Soviet barnstorming squad from 1989. If this first brings to mind the New York Yankees chewing up amateur Japanese teams of the early 1930s, then “barnstorming” might not be le mot juste.

Check out this report from the Times—exactly twenty-six years ago.

Speaking of contours, there is a learning curve to be sure, and we are not talking of the Sal Maglie variety. The late cold-war event inspired a no-doubt entertaining TV movie, The Comrades of Summer, a few years later.

Progress continues apace via the Russian Federation of Baseball, and Russia even grabbed a Silver Medal at the EBC in 2001. (Greece won its lone CEB Silver the year before; and, having resorted to their language, let me now say that France sneaked in a medal, too.)

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Richie Benaud: How Less Was Always More

Our colleague Parth has already told us of the loss to cricket that the passing of cricket legend and commentator Richie Benaud means to the game. I (Martin) thought that I’d my thoughts. As Parth notes, and as Evander and I mention in our book Right Off the Bat, cricket and baseball lend themselves to the rhythms of summer—which include the reflective and interpretive expressions of radio and television commentators (and the boor in the seat next to you) and the beery barracking and whoops and hubbub of crowds alike. Yet baseball and cricket have their moments of great stillness and quiet—or at least they used to. After a very successful career, Benaud moved into commentary (first on the radio and then on television) where he became known for his incisive and wry observations and for not saying anything when nothing needed to be added to what was unfolding before us. These days, when both sports are filled with noise—from the crowd, the stadium entertainment complex itself, and on the airwaves—it takes the passing of a broadcasting giant like Benaud for us to remember that both games once didn’t need to be ginned up to absorb a public that knew how to pay attention and wasn’t as easily distracted.

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“Americanizing” the Original Americans thro Baseball

The author will be speaking at Bergino's Baseball Club House in NYC.

The author will be speaking at Bergino’s Baseball Clubhouse in NYC.

This book tells a harsh story of late-19th-century race and baseball in the U.S. Set at a federally funded boarding school, where indoctrination in what was rapidly becoming the National Pastime would “transform” (read civilize) Native Americans into “Americans,” the book concentrates on Hall of Famer Chief Bender. Other notable Native Americans in Major League Baseball history include Jim Thorpe (by and large acknowledged the greatest North American athlete), Allie Reynolds, Joba Chamberlain, Kyle Lohse, and Jacoby Ellsbury.

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Good-bye, Richie!

Cricket is as much a game about the players as it is about the people who “call the plays,” as it is so beautifully said in baseball. Richie Benaud died today. He was without a doubt one of the best commentators on the Noble Game. A man who loved pauses in the world of hype machines, he truly was a breath of fresh air. Richie’s commentary was like a well paired fine wine—the game was great without his voice, but with it, it became memorably great. That is the power of a good commentator. The larrikin and the gentleman adorned with a bespoke Saville Row suit sitting in the MCC balcony—both considered Richie a voice that was speaking for them. That is a rare gift that only a few broadcasters have had. Richie had it. In abundance.

Benaud changed the game, not only with the mic, but also with the ball. He was the first cricketer in the recorded history of the game to do an enthusiastic celebration. A celebration that was scoffed by the traditionalists of that era and now it has become a common aspect of the game.

Just a stat for you: Richie Benaud calculated in 2005 that he had been a part of 500 Test matches (played and commented on). I doubt anyone has seen that many Test matches in their lives. He became the voice of summer for England and Australia for more than half-a-century, while being one of the fairest and most educated on the game. That is a rare talent as we, in the post-Benaud age, will find out.

As a romantic of the sport, I (Parth) feel, we have lost our leader. Richie: you will be missed. Bradman must be waiting for you up there and now the roles have reversed from your childhood, where once a student who saw the master play can tell the master all about a game that has changed tremendously since he left. The cricket world is poorer without you. The world in general is poorer without you. The people in commentary box have lost their North Star.

I leave readers with one of my favorite cricket moments and it happens to be voiced by Richie Benaud.(Watch for the last half of the video) “Jones, Bowden, and Kasprowicz the man to go!” —A legend. Goodbye, Rich!

202311-books

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The Book of the Books that Settle All the Arguments

It may not furnish all the stats you deserve in the 21st c.,, but Who's Who in Baseball remains a sentimental choice.

It may not furnish all the stats you deserve in the 21st c., but Who’s Who in Baseball remains a sentimental choice.

April 8 at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse will be Marty Appel talking about the history of Who’s Who in Baseball. I (Evander) have collected every issue for more than 40 years: 40 percent of the annual publications in settlement of all the arguments. (Bergino’s a class joint, hosting a Right off the Bat signing back in the day.)

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A Boring Cricket World Cup in the End—Possible Changes?

I (Parth) write this as I watch the first half of the 2015 World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand. As the sands of time play tricks on our memories in the future, we will remember this world cup for a few things. Firstly, this was the first real Associate Nations’ World Cup. The ICC as an organization have to be praised for the successes of these nations because the money that they allocate in promoting the game in these parts of the world. It is because of that money Ireland was able to beat a full member nation this World Cup. That money is spent for no glory. That money will never make a profit. It is for the good of the game. Yet they have to take stock of their decision of having only the top 10 teams contend at the 2019 World Cup in England. That would be a shame. A real shame. There were other cricketing highlights that we all will remember, be it the South Africa v. New Zealand semi final, the Wahab Riaz spell, the two double hundreds of the World Cup, Kumar Sangakkara’s 5 back-to-back hundreds.

209067More than the positives, one will remember the dullness of this World Cup. Just having 3-4 close games in a 49-game tournament, is simply not good enough. To be able to win the toss and almost be guaranteed a victory is not my idea of a Cricket World Cup. It is also clear that the game has shifted toward the batsman a bit too much. Teams were eying 350 as a regular score and were able to achieve that goal with more frequency than one would hope. In a game, which has traditionally been played most memorably when, the contest between the bat and the bowl was even.

It is important to realize that the Cricket World Cup is not young anymore in the world’s sports calendar. It is an event that is still growing but it has found its place as the third most watched sporting tournament by the world after the Soccer World Cup and the Olympics. Yet, we still have to tinker with the format of the tournament every time it is played.

Martin Crowe proposed possibly the best tournament format for the World Cup that is good enough to stick with for the foreseeable future. It is also important we spread the game with as many teams as possible. The next tournament is in England. ICC should have some group games in Ireland, Netherlands, and Scotland. Important, likewise, is that the kids see an average citizen of their country one day become a sporting legend the next in a sport that is catching on like wildfire around them. Cricket should have the ability to change people’s lives in places where it is not a huge part of the discussion in the newspaper. That is the only way to spread the game. If the 2015 World Cup taught us anything, it taught that.

There are several reasons why the World Cup was dreary. Why do we like the

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On Bell-Ringers and Cricket

Troublemakers

Troublemakers

In the wake of England’s ignominious, deeply embarrassing, nay humiliating exit from cricket’s World Cup—won this last weekend by a resurgent Australia—I (Martin) find myself reading Can We Have Our Balls Back, Please? How the British Invented Sport (And then almost forgot how to play it) by Julian Norridge (rhymes with “porridge”). Naturally, I am thoroughly enjoying the cricket section of the book, among which I find the following gem:

The 1720 edition of Snow’s Survey of London mentioned cricket for the first time. It classes it as an amusement of ‘the more common sort’ of people, along with such vulgar activities as football, wrestling, drinking in alehouses, and bell-ringing.

Now, I don’t know about footballers, wrestlers, or imbibers of alcoholic spirits in public houses, but I’ve always had my suspicion about campanologists. Oh, they may claim that all that rowdiness was in the past, but judging from their anthem, performed by the estimable Anita Ward, bell-ringers are still a pretty sketchy lot.

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