Yogi Berra came out of retirement as an official player-coach of the New York Mets in 1965, teaming with pitcher-coach Warren Spahn to form "a dream battery" as the team yearbook had it.

Yogi Berra came out of retirement as an official player-coach of the New York Mets in 1965, teaming with pitcher-coach Warren Spahn to form “a dream battery” as the team yearbook had it.

As the 2015 baseball season winds down, with many of the final-season playoff spots secured or all but, the North American Baseball World gathered yesterday in New Jersey to bid farewell to Yogi Berra.

They were all there, the ones still alive who faced or were touched by the 90-year-old Berra: Sandy Koufax (the greatest pitcher, about whom Yogi spoke after the 1963 Series drubbing of the New York Yankees by the Los Angeles Dodgers: “I can see why he won 25 games. What I can’t understand is how he lost 5.”); Mister October (tho the title could have easily belonged to Berra, who was on the winning side of ten), Reggie Jackson; Joe Torre, who has disproved any thought that there are no second acts in American lives; New York City Cardinal Timothy Dolan, having concluded several whirlwind days with Pope Francis.

(All of this helped baseball fans forget the ugly incident involving veteran Jonathan Papelbon’s choking one of the new young greats and teammate, Bryce Harper, right in the dugout.)

Quips of the cracker-barrel-philosopher sort are surely overdone. (When you come to a fork in the road, take it!) The stunted baseball career of son Dale—cocaine seemed to find him—had to be one of the deep wounds of Yogi’s long life. But maybe no one lives to 90 by wasting emotion.

This blog and Web site are devoted to sport, and on the field few at catcher or any position were greater. Witness 414 strikeouts against 358 home runs. (By comparison, Derek Jeter struck out 1,840 times with 260 home runs to show.) On a club that starred sluggers Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, it was Yogi Berra who led in runs-batted-in over seven consecutive years.

When Berra was a rookie in 1946, he was once in the on-deck circle swinging something like five bats to warm up his huge muscles. (Berra has been called an anthropologist’s dream.) DiMaggio gave his teammate that withering look: This was not the Yankees way. A little later, Casey Stengel would be Berra’s fifth and most influential Yankees manager. Like Berra, called a clown prior to winning five World Series in a row, Casey said he could never have done it without his Mini Me behind home plate. Or words to that effect.

Thank you, cricket and baseball fans all. This is our 575th blog on Right off the Bat! We’re also on Facebook.

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Kumar—Cricket’s Great Hope

Cricket may be losing a player of a generation, but it could be gaining one of its great administrators. Numbers do not lie. He was right up there with all the plaudits, marching proudly with the greats of any era. His legacy, however, will be his style of play. Kumar Sangakkara started his career as a wicketkeeper-batsman for Sri Lanka. What the cricket world saw in Sangakkara from the beginning was a cool head. He rather quickly became the elder statesman of the game.

There are only a few sportspersons given the universal approval as role models—Sangakkara would be included in that very short list: soft-spoken, educated, big-hearted fellow, who became the best that his country has produced. This is the c.v. of a man who can be intensely proud of what he has achieved. His story could not get much better.

Of course reverence does not come only because of stacking individual numbers. Otherwise, we would all give unquestionable and universal respect of Harbhajan Singh given his 417 test wickets. There is something special about Sangakkara. Maybe that he came from Sri Lanka, a small island of soft-spoken people which has produced some of cricket’s great characters. Or maybe he had parents who passed down good values and a doctorate in an honorable way to live a life.

Sanga piece photo

We brandish the words “a great ambassador for the game” way too often in cricket: at every above-par cricketer’s retirement in fact. The phrase is used so often that it has been cheapened in its meaning. In Sangakkara’s case, however, the phrase is more than apt. He is not only a great ambassador for the game but also his country and, most importantly, of the human race. If, as a young cricketer, especially a southpaw, you want to emulate anyone in the game today, you could not do better. He showed what it means to play the game hard but fair, and to be dignified while doing it. It’s a rare combination in any sport on any level, and something that everyone aspires to in his or her personal and professional lives.

But I (Parth) believe cricket needs a lot more from Sangakkara. In fact, if he’s looking for the next place to further showcase his talents, I suggest cricket administration. Sangakkara is already working on the MCC World Cricket Committee as one of the current-players’ representatives. The recent film by Jarrod Kimber and Sam Collins, Death of a Gentlemen, depicts a woeful exhibition of the administration of the game that Sangakkara loved as a child, that I loved as a child, that every reader of this loved in their nascent years. The argument that cricket administration today could use Sangakkara’s brand of honesty and fair play more than his country’s national team is not entirely without a base. As the ICC—or let’s be blunt and say India, Australia, and England—continue to loot the game, these ex-cricketers, who derived so much from the game and gave so much of theirs to the game, cannot sit idly by now.

Recent retired Indian cricketers surely are. It is a sorry state of affairs, when you can write the same article and just replace the word “Sangakkara” with “Dravid”, and Dravid has not done anything of substance in the area of cricket that needs his brand of nobility the most. After retirement, if you join a commentary team, you are taking the easy way out. You are almost cheating the game. Being a commentator to me, is “the Kardashian choice.” It is the vehicle to increase your celebrity. That’s it. The ego cannot accept the fact that one day you are a superstar and the next your relevancy in the media starts dropping from minute one of your exiting the game. You fight to stay relevant. Hence, you join a commentary team. Every retiring cricketer of note should have the gumption to fight that urge of taking the easy route, and move toward improving how the game is run in the world.

I fear that pinpointing Dravid detracts from the legend, but that comment was made on the state of nearly all retired cricketers who played with distinction. Indian greats, other than Bishan Bedi and Kapil Dev, have all bowed down to a cricket board that functions as nothing more than a bully. The cricketing world is poorer for it. This record needs a revision, and let’s hope that this correction will occur as these players gain more distance from the current crop of players in the team.

With Sangakkara, my expectations are different. Sangakkara attended law school while he was playing cricket. It is clear that he is more civic-minded. His rousing speech on the perils of Sri Lankan cricket administration and his romanticized story of his country’s cricketing history at the Cowdrey Lecture in 2011 has become nothing short of a benchmark for cricketing speeches. He showed that he does not shy away from speaking his mind and using his celebrity and podium to shed light on his thoughts. I hope this trend becomes more frequent, and while doing so Kumar Sangakkara becomes the standard-bearer for players to join “the un-sexy world” of cricket administration.

(The photo is from

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Peter Siddle: Australian Vegan

Peter Siddle, vegan

Peter Siddle, vegan

The news that the Australian medium-fast bowler Peter Siddle is a vegan was music to the ears of this particular blog. Evander is the editor of the famous feminist bible of veganism, The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J. Adams, a work that at 25 years old is as relevant, trenchant, and challenging as ever. Martin is himself a vegan, and the co-founder of Lantern Books, which publishes many titles on this subject.

Siddle was only picked for the Australian team for the last game in the Ashes series, which the Australians had already lost, and so his six-wicket haul and relentless accuracy in the Australians’ Pyrrhic victory was in vain. There was also the usual nonsense about him lacking protein, and the worry that he wouldn’t have the stamina to bowl many overs in the heat of the Indian subcontinent (a concern that doesn’t seem to have affected Indian vegetarians).

What was probably lurking behind such ostensible concerns over Siddle’s health were the atavistic tropes that still define male sporting prowess: that real men eat meat, that male athletes need to be potent and carnivorous to be aggressive and effective, and that Australian men, in all their ockerness, need to be macho in order to scare out the opposition. Siddle’s openness about his veganism is a refreshing change, as is the fact that his diet is not merely one chosen for health reasons, but that he cares about nonhuman animals enough not to eat them. The Guardian reports:

Siddle does a lot of charity work for Animals Australia’s campaign against factory farming, and for Edgar’s Mission, a sanctuary for farm animals, and for the Penguin Foundation, to “preserve and protect the little penguins on Phillip Island”.

All this is good news. Might we see more vegans outing themselves in the world of cricket?

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A Singed Phoenix

The Coveted Urn

The Coveted Urn

To England fans of many years (such as Martin), the team’s 3–2 victory over the Australians in the 2015 Ashes bears all the hallmarks of a very English success story—partial, inconsistent, worryingly incomplete: the eggiest of curate’s eggs. All the narratives proclaiming a resurgence in English cricket—a young team that appears to be enjoying the game, a captain who has finally found his mojo as a leader, a batting order that while fragile is deep, and a fast-bowling department of substance—are hedged with caveats that observe that, man for man, Australia bested England, that England haven’t found an opener to accompany Alastair Cook, that England is weak in the spinning department, that England only win on English wickets, that Australia displayed more ineptitude than England did skill in the latter’s victories, that Jos Buttler and Ian Bell had better hit big runs soon, that Johnny Bairstow still hasn’t scored a Test century, and that Pakistan in the UAE and South Africa at home will represent the kind of genuine examination that playing Australia in England didn’t.

It’s easy to get carried away when you win—especially in circumstances that a few months ago seemed next to impossible. England were pathetic in the World Cup and timid in the West Indies. The shadow of Kevin Pietersen loomed over the team like Sauron over Mordor, and desolation and defeat seemed the only prospect ahead. But then Brendon McCullum and the New Zealand team charged over the hill, swords raised, and hope began to dawn (that’s enough Lord of the Rings metaphors—ed.). England got a taste for the Kiwis’ brand of cricket: fast, all-or-nothing, and likely to lose as much as to win. In such circumstances, 3–2 is the just the kind of scoreline that we should expect.

Last time England played Pakistan away, they lost, big time. They will probably lose big time again. Except, instead of 3–0, it might be 2–1. It might even be 1–2, to England, with that single Pakistan victory being a thumping, crushing, all-hope-extinguishing loss. It will be infuriating, exciting, dramatic, and, above all, the kind of cricket that people want to watch, players want to play, and the future of the game. The English phoenix is singed, sere, and burnt; it will fall into the flames again. But it will rise.


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Pure Products of America

The magnetic Ruth among fans: 1945, three years before his death.

The magnetic Ruth among fans: 1945, three years before his death

Babe Ruth and Elvis Presley died the same day: August 16.

Think about this.

Their deaths occurred fewer than thirty years apart. Each revolutionized and exported American culture while barely stepping foot outside North America. Elvis never performed away from the United States. Ruth briefly barnstormed Cuba and the Far East; took a few days in France and the U.K., where it is famously reported he tore up the practice-cricket field. (Of course, Right off the Bat vividly covers it—as if Martin and I were in slip at the time.)

Rock critic Greil Marcus cites William Carlos Williams: “the pure products of America / go crazy.” Seems to apply this day.

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Great Stadiums (8): Dodger Stadium (Redux)

Dodgy: the idea of a whole new stadium for L.A. Welcome back hexagonal scoreboards!—with a 21st.-c. difference.

Dodgy: the idea of a whole new stadium for L.A. Welcome back hexagonal scoreboards!—with a 21st.-c. difference.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have been somewhat quietly working on a $100 million upgrade to the 53-year-old stadium, largely considered the Taj Mahal of baseball. Read all about it.

For those thinking our sports are about as exciting as watching the grass (or AstroTurf) grow, check out a pro game at any of the stadiums in this series or just stop by while some kids—with bats, a ball and their dreams—are at play in a pickup game.

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A Rise from the Ashes

One of the reasons why sport engrosses large panoply of the society is that it mirrors life. People can pick an image of themselves, a person who they think represents them and what they stand for in life and then support that person until the last breadth that sportsperson takes in the arena.

Like life, sport shows the filthy rich on talent given to them through divine intervention. You also see the journeymen who would beat everyone and their brother in their village or town, but at the largest stage are only good enough to do a job and earn a living. Then there are those eccentric characters, who alone make a sport worth watching. Heroes to traitors, Demure and honest to loud and canny. You can find all sorts in sport.

But one thing that sports almost exclusively puts forth in the most public way possible is the very real human struggle of one day being in the doldrums and being called “unselectable” by your coach to two years later, playing in a way that befits your talents and God-given ability. Almost everyone who is anyone in this world has gone through those moments in his or her own professions and personal lives. Moments where every step you take is taking you towards the wrong direction. Where the rules around you have changed all of a sudden and things you did right yesterday have now been made wrong to do today. And the worst – too many cooks (mentors) have messed you broth with their pointless advise.

It is a pleasure to see someone so publicly rise from the ashes. (the pun might have been intended, pardon me) Steven Finn’s transformation is the feel-good story of the summer and nothing short of an Oscar-winning script. When good things happen to great blokes who are genuinely nice and appreciate that what they have is not to be taken for granted, it’s really special. I hope he takes a moment to celebrate this moment. I know the cricket world is.

Keep going, good lad.

Parth Taneja

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