Heee’s Baaack!

Kevin Pietersen

We need to talk about Kevin

Kevin Pietersen—the perennial thorn in the flesh in English cricket, the man whom everyone thought we’d moved on from, the busted flush, the bloke from a bygone era, the no-longer-under-consideration-under-any-circumstances chap—refuses, like Freddy Krueger, to go away. He’s just scored 326 not out for Surrey against Leicestershire. It may be his first championship century, and he may be playing in the cricketing equivalent to Triple-A baseball, but this is the sort of statement that no one at the English Cricket Board—even with the tinniest of ears or sternest of hearts—can ignore.

We can sort out where he’d fit in the batting order and whom to leave out, but a revived, emotionally resilient, and pugnacious Kevin Pietersen striding out to face the Australians in the Ashes this summer would be just be irresistible, and great box office as well. English cricket has been languishing in the public’s attention for too long: Pietersen’s return—a last hurrah perhaps—might just be what is needed to focus the mind again.

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An A-bomb from A-Rod

A-Rod says all the right things—for once.

A-Rod says all the right things—for once.

Alex Rodriguez surpassed Willie Mays last night by batting career home run 661. Not all of them came out of a bottle or from stiletto hypodermic needle.

When the New York Yankees signed A-Rod, when the late George Steinbrenner their legendary principal owner signed A-Rod, the expectation was “first American to bat 800 home runs in a career.” First Hispanic-American at that.

Maybe even the all-time record of 868 dingers from Sadaharu Oh would fall, re-projecting this preeminent sports record of power to the U.S…where the game as we know it was invented and where many believe it is best played. More importantly in the American-baseball universe, this record would always be a projection of Yankees power. It will not happen, and the story why is well known.

As W. H. Auden puts it, for the time being (below) hear the nonetheless-historic call by announcer John Sterling.

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Hold the Peanuts and Cracker Jack

Strange indeed when the fans aren't visible

Strange indeed when even the fans aren’t visible

Back in the day (1955-83) there was a DC Comics series called the Brave and the Bold, which sometimes featured “Strange Sports Stories.” Pictured left is the invisible-cosmic baseball team.

But what if a game were played before invisible fans? Today, as a result of simmering civic unrest in Baltimore, the Orioles hosted the Chicago White Sox in front of no one but the players themselves at ever-stunning, pristine Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

This is a first in Major League Baseball history and begs the question: If a home run is hit in a fan-less forest….

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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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