Annus Mirabilis 1869: Year of the Rain Out

The Antioch College bombers. Even tho there are 10 of them, there still weren't enough to make an impact on the best pro team of the era.

The Antioch College bombers: even if there were 10 of them, too few to impact the pro team of the era

On July 23, 1866, the Cincinnati Red Stockings were organized, and from 1867 to 1870 their record was 175 wins, 15 losses, 1 draw. Base-ball, to that time, had been “a Gentleman’s game”: even if the Reds beat everyone’s brains in.

It was in 1869 that the club shocked the North American sporting world by turning all-pro. Dominance was so cast iron that, opening on May 4, 1869, the Red Stockings’s record for the season would be an ungentlemanly 70 and 0.

Antioch College—where my (Evander) grandfather worked as a teacher of sculpting and bronze-casting, coming from the old country to start there ca. early 1926—was considered the best amateur ball club in 1869. But since you know the record, no surprise that they lost to the Red Stockings on May 15…by a score of 41-7. (Someone missed the extra point—bad [American] football joke for readers unfamiliar.) On October 24, the game was a little more competitive: only a 45-10 shellacking (speaking of statues: and they ran the bases about as well).

Antioch enters the first-ever category, however, on May 31 of that year. Scheduled to play (who else?) Cincinnati, the game was mercifully called off due to pouring rain in Yellow Springs. Yes, May 31, 2016, is the 147th anniversary—if I did the math correctly—of the first-ever professional-baseball rain out.

Whether Yellow Springs rain checks were issued by its bastion of U.S. liberal-arts education I do not know. But I do thank super-sleuth and Columbus mathematician Paul Ponomarev for once again inspiring a blog with a surprising factoid as a new baseball season gets underway. Paul might also check my “yearly calculation.”

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Getting All Political, but Not What You May Think

Mapmaker bites dog: the Tampa Bay Rays to play the Cuban National Team

Mapmaker bites dog: the Tampa Bay Rays play the Cuban National Team

For several dozen reasons, President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba on the first day of spring 2016 is historic. We at Right off the Bat have covered everything from baseball in Iran to (probably somewhere in this blog, certainly in discussions at Brooklyn ROTB HQ) cricket in Afghanistan.

Tho hardly scientifically based, I (Evander) am on record—having gone out on a pretty safe limb—in claiming Cuba has the greatest natural baseball talent, per capita, in the world. This includes Canada, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Korea, Puerto Rico, Venezuela.

Unless the world crumbles, in two days, on March 22, the Tampa Bay Rays will play the Cuban National Team. The president will be in attendance. It is hoped that this diplomatic meeting over baseball is the beginning not only of real-world reconciliation and peace, but also of another move toward MLB assuming international stature (maybe even a step in salvaging the decaying Hemingway library, too; after all, literature is news that stays news).

It is to be reminded, now-ailing Fidel Castro himself, more or less of the Mickey Mantle generation, was a North American pitching prospect depending whom one believes; and before attaining superstar status with the Yankees (¡yanquis!), then-svelte Ruth barnstormed the country under John McGraw, finishing with the second-highest batting average (.345—fairly close to Ruth’s career average) of anyone on the squad. (Fellow Hall of Famer Beauty Bancroft bombed .363. McGraw is likewise enshrined.)

The time? Roughly the last year a US president set foot in Cuba.

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Ed Reulbach: Pioneering Jewish Baseball Star?*

Baseball card of one of the century-ago stars (1905-17)

Baseball card of one of the century-ago stars (1905-17)

In the history of MLB, only one pitcher has thrown shutouts in both ends of a doubleheader. (For cricket fans and the many baseball fans too young to remember or know, the regularly scheduled doubleheader means two games in one afternoon; or the so-called Twi-night Doubleheader, of the late afternoon into the night. Each was a single-admission.)

Edward “Big Ed” Marvin Reulbach of the Chicago Cubs must be ranked with Sandy Koufax among the greatest Jewish* pitchers of all time. Reulbach’s stats are here. He was on three pennant winners, including the Cubs last in 1908. He played on the same teams as the legendary Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance (“Tinkers to Evers to Chance” is as famous as “Who’s on First?” In a big-time aside, see below for the 1598 Shakespearean version of Abbott and Costello.)

Against the Brooklyn Superbas (later the Dodgers) on September 26, 1908, Reulbach hurled his two shutouts. This was part of a string of four consecutive shutouts that he pitched. (There are more than a few historic and even freaky aspects to the 1908 season. “Take Me out to the Ball Game” was introduced. One of the weird ones—to warm the cockles of any cricket-lover’s heart—occurred on August 4, between the Superbas and the St. Louis Cardinals: only one baseball was used in the game. Of course, it was the last season, till 2016, that the Chicago Cubs won a World Series.)

Between the N.L. and Federal League, Big Ed won 182 games, plus 2 in World Series, in his distinguished career. Few Jews played professional ball then. He is a borderline Hall of Famer, and perhaps some day he will be recognized on the rebound by the Pre-Integration Veterans Committee.

* (Early Feb. 2016, it came to my [Evander] attention, via Ron Kaplan, that there are questions regarding ER’s Judaic background and heritage: this according to the original source, one-time UPI correspondent to Israel [Newsweek and Time] Robert Slater, as reported by RK.)

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Great Stadiums (9): PPC Newlands

imagesI (Evander) suspect—tho my suspicions may be nugatory—that readers of this blog will be hearing more about this one, in Cape Town, before we’re very far into the new year 2016. I was once again blown away by a cricket venue, and couldn’t contain my enthusiasm on this Boxing Day.

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Dazzy Vance and W. C. Fields

W. C. Fields trashes a Palm Beach estate in It's the Old Army Game. Dazzy Vance was not far away.

W. C. Fields trashes the real-life Palm Beach estate of Edward Stotesbury in It’s the Old Army Game. Dazzy Vance was not far away.

In 1926, W. C. Fields filmed It’s the Old Army Game. The silent movie has something to do with Florida real-estate scams. It is perhaps best known for showcasing the brilliant and complex Midwesterner Louise Brooks before she left Hollywood pictures for Germany, becoming an international star under G. W. Pabst in the Frank Wedekind-inspired Pandora’s Box (Die Büchse der Pandora). Brooks was married to Edward Sutherland at the time of the Fields movie. He was a handsome director, a man’s man, who took to Fields like the proverbial duck to water (or gin to tonic).

Some of the movie was shot in Ocala, near the home of Dazzy Vance, another legendary Midwesterner, who would be buried in nearby Homosassa (a euphonious appellation if ever there was one), and who also took to Fields. The pair were friends, undoubtedly from Brooklyn, as the actor starred for Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. (when not making movies) and lived in Bayside and Great Neck (Russell Gardens), while Vance was striking out batters at a record clip for the Dodgers. Indeed the unusual Vance, who came up with the Yankees but had arm troubles and didn’t begin his MLB career in earnest till he was thirty-one, would lead the N.L. in strikeouts for seven consecutive seasons. He was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame sixty years ago as I (Evander) write this, in 1955, and died six years later, aetat. sixty nine.

(W.C., by the way, claimed to have beaten off an alligator in the Everglades while getting a cool drink for Linelle Blackburn. See Simon Louvish’s Man on the Flying Trapeze for a lot more as well as Louise Brooks’s classic Lulu in Hollywood.)

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Spring Hopes Eternal

In the words of the old Citibank ad: Any day now...aaaanny...daayyyy...nowwwww....

In the words of the old Citibank ad: Any day now…aaaanny…daayyyy…nowwwww….

The New York Yankees have announced highlights of their spring 2016 schedule, including sixteen games at the pictured venue in Tampa, Florida. As of this writing, we are 96 days from the first reporting by pitchers and catchers, and something like 107 days away from the first exhibition (“preseason”) game.

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Cricket Comes to Citi Field Revisited

Not quite....

Not exactly….

The crepuscule of early November settles in Citi Field. The World Series is over, tho there are still faded signs stenciled outside the first-and-third-base lines proclaiming it. The mound has been flattened and covered, and there is a mostly dirt pitch carved in what used to be, just a week ago, no-man’s land between second base and center field. Swirling young women dressed in bright-yellow and mulberry silk energetically dance and sing, hip-hop Bollywood-style, below us in right field.

What am I (Evander) doing here? I am witness to an event unique in NYC-professional sports history. And I’m loving every minute of it. I even brought along my underutilized Canon portrait lens to capture the sights: the last days of the Pepsi Porch (to be replaced by the Ovaltine Overpriced Seats or maybe the LSD Lounge I joke), the giant images outside the stadium of Hodges and Seaver; and oh yes, guys inside the coliseum named Sachin Tendulkar, Muttiah Murallitheran, Ricky Ponting, Sir Curtly Ambrose, Shaun Pollock, and many more.

The way Ruth and Gehrig barnstormed the Far East in the 1930s, the way “the Brazilian Pearl” attempted to attract largely indifferent, pre-soccer-mom Americans during the 1960s and 1970s, an all-star—make that an all-time all-star—so an amalgam of international cricket stars have descended from the firmament to entertain, to recapture their glory, to instruct on the mighty elegance of cricket.

Purists cluck: This is not cricket! (On the Houston leg of the tour, T20 was played…under a dome.) There is no real drama for one. Could anyone be remotely credited with moving the needle? I am in no position to disagree. Yet…I largely do. My only puzzled exposure to the noble game had been exactly forty summers ago in Cambridge, county-cricket spread over several evenings, played into 9:30 in the evening—UK-summer dusk. We talk about it in Right off the Bat. But this afternoon, thanks to Martin, to the work on the book, I had a pretty fair notion what I was watching. At the risk of gushing, let me say this: Cricket is majestic. Although I cannot exclaim I came, I saw, I conquered, I did experience the best…even if at three-quarters’ speed. Cricket is back, here, to stay.

And here I am, musing on speed and exposure: Sadly, I had a mishap rewinding my spool of b&w. All the photos are lost I’m afraid. When shooting with a superior lens, occasionally a photographer sees a good one, long before the image is developed and printed. I had at least half-a-dozen good ones. Oh well.

The match was on 11/7. Our book had been published on a 7/11. It was 19 years and a little over since 9/21, that pristine first day of fall, Fan Appreciation Day, when I took Martin to his first baseball game. He caught on right away—aided no doubt by a familiarity with rounders. Thanks to Martin, I caught on last week, if not as keenly as he did during those far-off days ago. Above all, there is not a shred of doubt that this 11/7/15 was a new beginning. I now know for sure, firsthand, that there are World Series and there are world series.

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata. Shantih shantih shantih

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