Nicholas Frankovich asks if Cleveland Indians fans require a big-couch session with a group psychotherapist. It’s a reasonable question. The 1954 Indians still hold the modern record for regular-season winning percentage—till the nonexistent Law of Averages caught up with them versus the New York Giants. The Indians could not win a single game. In 1997, the Tribe came this close to a championship, but as in 2016 the seventh-game win proved elusive.
(It is worth noting that the mighty New York Yankees do not have anything approximating a stellar record in World Series going-the-distance seven games: lost in 2001, lost in 1964, lost in 1960, lost in 1955; only in 1958 did they come out, against the Milwaukee Braves, of a 3-to-1 hole: just as the 2016 Cubs returned from the dead. The Yankees are also the only postseason-baseball team to lose four straight after taking a three-to-nothing lead, which broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004.)
The Chicago Cubs ball club will complete its makeover by removing the on-field bullpens: They adjusted the bleachers so that only the Bay Area teams will have pitchers warming up in foul territory. They had added lights. At least the ivy walls remain to remind anyone of “the lovable losers” and patsies of baseball.
The long-suffering fans of the Chicago Cubs will not hear “1908” anymore. They don’t need to hear “1969” or “Bartman” any longer either, just as Boston fans will not hear “1918” again. The Cubs stand athwart a history of frustration and atop the baseball world. They reign. The drought lasted forty years longer than the Indians’s. It is difficult to imagine Cleveland needing the biblical forty additional in the American League wilderness. 2056? Preposterously distant. Women and men will be playing ball on Mars and the moon by that time.
And so another baseball season has ended, and some part of me (Evander) has again died, psychologically, emotionally. In 2015, I could look forward to T20. No such luck in this most weird year.
Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, who works the radio side on his own, is retiring from 67 years’ painting the word picture. The Bronx native and Fordham Heights alum followed the Dodgers from Brooklyn to L.A. a mere 60 years ago: He had already been calling the games before Red Barber switched to the New York Yankees; in fact, 7 summers before the great migration. In Curt Smith’s now moderately dated yet valuable Voices of the Game, a book cited in Right off the Bat, only “The Voice” (Mel Allen) is generally held in such high esteem. Good luck, Mr. Scully: You’re as young as you feel. Major League Baseball already misses you.
Pull up a chair! Here is Vin Scully, 50-plus years ago, 9/9/65, calling Sandy Koufax’s ultra-rare perfect game.
Unless unforeseen circumstances (e.g., a rainout; another club hoping to catch lightning in a bottle in 2018, or by some arrangement even in 2017) prevail, Alex Rodriguez will not play major-league ball after August 12, when he is released by the New York Yankees.
Against a backdrop of what absorbs the rest of the sports world, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games—a spectacle that has its share of performance-enhancing scandals—the timing is typically questionable. Welcome to A-Rod Land. Tomorrow, 8/8, is midsummer. For unknown reasons, the makeshift Sunday-morning announcement could not be delayed for Meridian Monday.
Whether there’s a curtain call round the Green Monster in Boston this week, where the Yankees play, is a question. Maybe, aetat. 45, he’d seek to Simonize his profile by managing a national team—USA or Dominican Republic—in the 2020 Olympics. He has made no secret of a desire to own, or have controlling interest in, a major-league team.
No doubt Rodriguez is one of the most gifted athletes ever on a baseball field. His work of personal redemption continues.
Baseball and softball return to the Summer Olympics in 2020. From the standpoint of the Right off the Bat Project, irony of ironies, these sports had been voted out of the 2012 London Olympics.
In our book, Martin and I discuss the history of baseball/softball as Olympic spectacles. Baseball was commissioned an unofficial sport in 1900, was played in Paris in 1904, and surfaced at the notorious 1936 Berlin Games, where the largest crowd (to the present) to see a baseball game, some 120,000 largely baffled Bewunderers, witnessed one of the first night games of significance. In 1964, a throng of 114,000 undoubtedly more appreciative fans rooted in Tokyo. Baseball became an official Olympic sport in 1992, but was inexplicably dropped…as it turns out for well more than a generation.
For anyone assuming a U.S. cakewalk comes this startling fact: Cuba has won three Gold Medals, the U.S. and South Korean National Teams have come away with one apiece. Unlike the WBC, which in 2017 commences March 17 (spring training—but hold your complacency: this may be its last), the Summer Olympics, of course, is scheduled during the heat of the pennant races. Most of the best North and South American players would be largely unavailable.
More or less on the subject of foresight and its own closest relative, eyesight, those often-hooted-eyesight-challenged-impersonal guardians of the rules, baseball umpires, are (one at least is) even taking on unruly fans. For the first time in memory, an umpire ejected a fan from a major-league game. Who said the umpires are out of control?
75 years ago, Joe DiMaggio’s amazing hitting streak reached 50 of an eventual 56 games. This picture, truly, is worth a thousand words. (But I [Evander] will stop the wordage here—except to note Right off the Bat was likewise published on memorable 7/11: the 70th anniversary of DiMaggio reaching base via a hit thro 50-straight games. Incomparable!)
A mere 48 hours away at this writing is the 75th anniversary of the start of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. How the Yankee Clipper came to accomplish it puzzles the will. I have no intention of soliloquizing: What more need I or anyone say? I want to talk about cricket, English cricket, when Joe D.’s streak was being celebrated during its golden anniversary, and about some memorable writing on the subject.
I was treated to a book by my long-ago CCNY mentors, now permanently residing in the UK. In Following On, journalist Emma John writes with sly humor and wisdom about her teenage obsession with cricket: specifically, English cricket during its early 1990s nadir.
My co-writer Martin Rowe is a half-generation removed from John: a fellow-traveling sufferer; the age-difference inconsequential. Among the many joys of treating him to his first baseball game mid-’90s style at the old Yankee Stadium, was observing him virtually revel in the atmosphere of a rejuvenated franchise. Like Martin and John, I had endured several not merely fallow seasons with the New York Yankees (the 1980s), but the putrid period of my Wonder Years: 1965 into the 1970s, when winning was a novelty.
I much recommend John’s book to baseball fans. You need know nothing about her sport to get it as she recalls, for example, days-long countdowns to TMS. John slices to the heart of fandom: Why do we feel ourselves inside the bones of these athletes who don’t have a clue regarding our existence? (What is he to Hecuba? someone asks.) From the topsy-turvy clutter of root-root-rooting we reach up to the Promised Land of the championship, with our team in tow—not the other way round. At forty, John finds that golden time in her life also a wonder.
John writes with the authority of a perfectly placed comma. Here are the men who brought respectability first, then pride back to the UK-cricket scene: Gooch, Alec Stewart, Tufnell, Ramprakash, Crawley, Jack Russell, others. Her hero, Michael Atherton—flying over and thro all the words, he might as well be Joe D. himself—is held back till he presents….(For the reader never finishes John’s sentences before she does, and in homage I stop thus: also, no spoilers here.)
John’s clear-sighted observations of her adolescent heroes and a few villains are apposite: “Thanks to the miracle of human optimism, each new failure remained both surprising and disappointing. Growing up, I had been taught I was capable of anything; becoming a grown-up meant learning I wasn’t.” Mentors and mentors….