The Walk-down Song

You won't be seeing this at a Major League game anyjore. (Photo: Ross/AP)

You won’t be seeing this at a Major League game anymore. (Photo: Ross D. Franklin/AP)

In 1880, the National League changed the rules so that eight balls instead of nine were required for a walk. In 1884, the National League changed the rules so that six balls were required for a walk. In 1886, the American Association changed the rules so that six balls instead of seven were required for a walk; however, the National League changed the rules so that seven balls were required for a walk instead of six. In 1887, National League and American Association officials agreed to abide by some uniform rule changes and decreased the number of balls required for a walk to five. In 1889, the National League and the American Association decreased the number of balls required for a walk to four. In 2017, Major League Baseball approved a rule change allowing for a batter to be walked intentionally by having the defending bench signal to the home-plate umpire.

“The move was met with some controversy,” Wikipedia continues. Oh. I (Evander) have accepted the non-takeout slide at second base (and the end of the so-called neighborhood play) along with newish rules meant to eliminate bad-boy Pete Rose/Ty Cobb-style home-plate collisions. But this one of 2017 is a little pointless. If the idea is to speed up the MLB game, today’s intentional-walk signal will excise 14 seconds. It takes the fun out of hope against hope of seeing a wild pitch as part of the process. (Cf. the accompanying photo.)

I don’t care if I never get back. Let’s, then, return to the 9-ball walk: especially if intentional. By the way, Barry Bonds has by far the most career intentional-passes, well more than twice the 293 Henry Aaron was issued. As for walk-up songs, a Facebook Friend has suggested his would be “Ballad of the Green Berets”: something, by a different Barry, to contemplate.

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Major League Baseball to Play the West End (Figuratively Speaking)

Xander Jan Bogaerts about to apply the tag on Brett Michael Gardner: Brexit or not, here we come! (Photo: AP)

Xander Jan Bogaerts about to catch the ball and apply the tag on Brett Michael Gardner: Brexit or not, here we come! (Photo: AP)

The Boston Herald reports the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees plan to resume their classic rivalry via a series in London—in 2018.* This follows the recent agreement reached by MLB, and is a further example of professional baseball “internationalizing” at the highest level. Hal Steinbrenner, principal owner of the Yankees, is central to the story.

*This was moved back, to June 2019; and here is the latest, as of May 8, 2018.

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Group Psychotherapy for Cleveland

The franchise of Feller, Score, and Thome: its fans wait till next year

The franchise of Feller, Score, and Thome: its fans wait till next year

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 won’t need to listen to chants of “1969” or “Bartman” any longer either, just as Boston fans will not hear “1918” again. Neither city will have to hear about Jon Lester and the yips (or “It” or “the Monster”), a problem in cricket relegated to bowlers but in baseball it could be second-basemen too, like Chuck Knoblauch suffering from so-called Steve Sax disease: the psychological problem of the easy toss. (Our thanks to founder of the Cal Koonce Fan Club and eternal-Cubs fanatic [from which the term fan derives], clinical psychologist Dr. William Van Ornum, for the tip on the yips.)

The 2016 Cubs stand athwart a history of frustration and atop the baseball world. They reign. The Chicago 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.

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Good-bye Vin Scully

thLos 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.

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Twilight of the Roids

Alex Rodriguez retires and leaves many questions.

Alex Rodriguez is released and leaves many questions. “At 18, I just wanted to make the team [Seattle Mariners]…a guy like me who’s been to hell and back.”

The baseball world has moved on.

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.

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2020 Foresight

Baseball and its closest relative, softball, return to the world stage in Tokyo: praise be.

Baseball and its closest relative, softball, return to the world stage in Tokyo: praise be.

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?

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A Memoir of Teenage Obsession and Terrible Cricket

English-cricket fan extraordinaire Emma John: sui generis product of a good if not entirely supportive home

English-cricket enthusiast extraordinaire Emma John: sui generis, product of a together if not altogether supportive home (author photo: copyright Justin John Doherty)

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….

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