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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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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