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Reflections on the National Pastime

Following a long hiatus, I have decided to resume this blog.  It's been over a year since I posted anything here, not because there's any shortage of topics, but rather it becomes difficult to be or stay relevant in any opinion piece of writing.  Readers have varied interests and viewpoints , and although I have always encouraged disagreement and dissent, response of any kind has been underwhelming for the most part.

What I will attempt in this go-around is to not totally focus on politics (which will be challenging for me given the state of the world), but rather change gears and cover various topics that occupy my thoughts and may appeal to certain segments of readers. With that in mind, I will say upfront...If you do not want to be on the recipients' list for this blog and future blogs, please send me a quick e-mail and I will delete you with no hard feelings. We all get enough junk e-mail and this may qualify for some of you as what I call an immediate delete.

Today's blog will center on some of the changes that have occurred in the last fifty to sixty years in Major League Baseball (MLB).  If you have no interest in this subject, you can stop reading now. Perhaps a future post may be more in your wheelhouse...Don't give up so soon!
When I was a ten year-old kid growing up in Brooklyn, New York in 1957, I was a passionate Brooklyn Dodgers' fan and a NY Yankee hater. Except for 1955, the Dodgers never won a World Series and the Yankees all too often were responsible for that. When the Milwaukee Braves beat up on the Yanks in the 1957 World Series, this coincided with the Dodgers' heart-crushing move to Los Angeles. I needed a new baseball team to root for and it became the Milwaukee Braves!  It has been ironic that a job transfer in 1986 landed me in Milwaukee where I have now lived for almost thirty years. (I am now a Brewers' fan).
Baseball, as with everything else in life, has changed since I was a boy. This blog will point out some of these changes, question the conventional wisdom, and hopefully provoke you to wonder as I do and say..."What's the point?"

A perfect place to begin is the "designated hitter rule", established in the 1970s. I suppose the standard responses to the question why... are to create more offense, lengthen certain ballplayers' careers, and inspire more fan interest.  I'm not even going to argue the merits of this. What I have never understood is how MLB has two sets of rules, DH for the American League, no DH for the National League.  This is the singular rule difference in the sport. I know of no other professional sport where all players don't play by the same set of rules...It's beyond ridiculous, and I am bewildered this has not been questioned by neither the commissioner nor the owners as being inconsistent. What's next, perhaps pitchers on underachieving teams being allowed four strikes when they bat?

And what's with the now-established trend of head-first sliding into every base.  You don't get there quicker and the chance of injury is much higher than sliding feet-first.  Jamming a finger, spraining a wrist, damaging an elbow, and constantly scraping and re-scraping your arms are common results from doing this.  But I guess it looks cooler to slide head-first and it's too much trouble to learn the art of a hook slide, a stand-up slide (which immediately enables you to get a quick start to the next base in case of an overthrow), and a slide-by slide where you grab the base with your hand.  All these creative forms of sliding has been replaced by the belly slide, another obvious example of self-promoting showmanship.
Additionally, the sight of a baseball player standing in the batter's' box after hitting a home run, admiring it instead of beginning his home run trot, really irritates me and lends credibility to the arrogance inherent in many of today's professional athletes. Henry Aaron and Micky Mantle never did this...Humility and grace have vanished.

Pitchers not finishing a game in which they are pitching well. Manager bases his decision on number of pitches he has thrown and is elated if a pitcher can "give me 6 innings so I won't overuse my bullpen."  Aren't these guys young, strong athletes who have been training for this profession their entire lives.  Why are they so pampered?

And this goes for everyone who wears a baseball cap. Don't wear it backwards unless you’re a catcher who is wearing his catcher's mask.  You look ridiculous....the bill of your cap goes in front to help shield your eyes from the sun.  And no, you don't look cool by reversing it!

Let's now address MLB's obsession and preoccupation with changing uniforms. I am not referring to paying tribute on occasion to breast cancer awareness, the military, or an occasional throwback uniform. I am speaking to the continuous quest to "update" a team's look by redesigning what has defined this team's image for decades, Many times, even the logos are scrapped for something more "trendy"!  Call me a purist, but team colors and trademarks should not be changed to increase revenue streams, which is the sole intent here.

Next we have broadcasters and color analysts armed with a plethora of statistical minutia intended to predict the success or failure of a player to perform in specific situations. As an example, "He's batting .257 with runners in scoring position when the count is 2-1, when batting left-handed against a right-handed pitcher in night games at Wrigley Field!  I am exaggerating here, but not by much. Can we leave the 'Moneyball' references and strategies to the General Managers and provide only meaningful information?

And speaking of broadcasters, (and this will draw anger and fury from a legion of Brewers' fans) it's time for Bob Uecker to hang up the mike. Yes, I said it! One of the basic requirements of a radio broadcaster is to keep the listener apprised of the score since many people turn on the game in the middle of an inning. He evidently believes the score should be given only after three outs are made. In lieu of this, Mr. Baseball chooses to engage in either long gaps of silence between pitches, or provide recounts of baseball stories that are decades old, and only funny to a small audience of admirers, beginning with his straight man/partner in the booth. I know I have just committed heresy in Wisconsin but that's my opinion, and thank God our Constitution affords us free speech, lest I be incarcerated for this rant.

And finally, on a positive note, an example of a Milwaukee Braves' manager from the 1960s who made a simple lineup change that never required any advanced statistical data many of today's managers live and die by. One of Bobby Bragan's first managerial decisions after succeeding Birdie Tebbetts as field manager in 1963 was to switch Henry Aaron from cleanup hitter to the #3 position in the batting order (and move power-hitting Eddie Mathews to #4). When asked why, he simply said "When you have a hitter as great as Henry Aaron, you want to make sure he's batting in the first inning". 

In 1963, his first season batting third. Aaron made 714 plate appearances, led the National League in seven offensive categories, and missed winning the Triple Crown by a scant .007 points to Tommy Davis.  Arguably his best year ever...And no computers were necessary to make this lineup change!

I hope you have a good day doing what you like, and liking what you do. And don't be misled by the benign nature of this blog. I'm just warming up for much more controversy and provocation of a more serious nature!

Straight Ahead,



( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 6th, 2015 08:11 pm (UTC)
from Steve Ray via e-mail
Enjoyed reading your random thoughts on baseball, and it brought back a few memories of my own. As a kid growing up in a small town in Indiana, my team was the Brooklyn Dodgers. Probably should've been the Cubs, white Sox, Tigers or Cincinnati Reds......but nope. My Mom grew up in Anderson, IN and that was the home of Carl Erskine, thus my loyalty to the Dodgers. And in the 50's my passion for them was sky high.....absolutely hated the Yankees. I'm sure you've read Roger Kahn's "Boys of Summer" .....one of the best baseball books I've ever read. Of course, I'm biased.

You're spot on with your other observations....DH, pulling pitchers early, and baseball caps worn backwards.....I mean REALLY!!??
Dec. 7th, 2015 01:29 am (UTC)
Re: from Steve Ray via e-mail
I had no idea there were Brooklyn Dodgers fans in rural Indiana! You never mentioned it. I think Erskine (Oisk, as he was called) is still living and has done great charitable work in his post-baseball life. And yes, "Boys of Summer" was a great book.
Somehow, I knew you would concur with my baseball purists' views!

Thanks for your responses.
Dec. 6th, 2015 08:14 pm (UTC)
via email from Paul Kwiecinski
By the way, great blog! I'm not much of a sports fan now, but growing up I really followed the game. Even though I grew up in North side Chicago, I was a white sox fan. And I hate to tell you, but I also followed the Yankees. Mickey Mantle was a favorite of mine. Most of all, I played baseball almost every day in the Summer. Pick up games all day. Two double- headers. Great memories. Thanks for reminding me!
Dec. 7th, 2015 01:15 am (UTC)
Re: via email from Paul Kwiecinski
Thanks Paul, I also lived and breathed baseball as a kid. I'm glad this blog brought back great memories for you!
Dec. 7th, 2015 12:56 am (UTC)
via emailfrom John Higgins
Great job!
I can now look forward to your blogs as I did to Friday afternoon in 8th grade in SVF.

Dec. 7th, 2015 12:59 am (UTC)
Re: via emailfrom John Higgins
Thanks John, I'll try my best but I can't promise as much fun as we had back in 1961!
Dec. 7th, 2015 05:16 am (UTC)
this is Jim Olson
I'm with you. Spring Training is about 75 days away. The only executive order that makes sense to me is getting rid of the DH. Following that, a new stat reflecting a pitchers ability to bunt and move up a runner should be created.

Uniforms......grey on the road, white at home, the way God intended it. In the Arizona Fall League that is how it is done.

And speaking of the Dodgers, The most hated man in the century was Walter O'Mally...he beat out Adolf Hitler who finished 2nd in voting conducted in Brooklyn in 1960.

Climate change...took place here in Nevada today. Was 62 this afternoon and tonight it is 49. So there, climate change is indeed real.
Dec. 7th, 2015 02:08 pm (UTC)
Re: this is Jim Olson
Always sage wisdom from your baseball mind, Jim. Thanks for weighing in!
Dec. 7th, 2015 01:31 pm (UTC)
via email from Gerry Gryski
I’d comment more but what can I say when I am in total agreement on all.
Dec. 7th, 2015 01:32 pm (UTC)
Re: via email from Gerry Gryski
I guess Ill have to wait for the political stuff to get some disagreement!
Dec. 7th, 2015 09:50 pm (UTC)
Baseball been very very good to me...
Great words of baseball wisdom from days gone by. Like everything else we have encountered getting older, everything changes, even the American Pastime. As an American league fan I say the National should adopt the same rules package! Love it. I would like to see starting pitchers stay in longer, even complete some games but with the high paid men in the bullpen spitting juice and seeds on the ground I say bring 'em in as often as the computer program recommends. My Yankees have never did the uniform color change because they are the most recognized logo & colors in sports! I say let the rest do as they please!
Brother Steve!
Dec. 7th, 2015 10:29 pm (UTC)
Re: Baseball been very very good to me...
Thanks Steve, what good is a blog if the writer can't express his opinion, and give readers like you, to do the same (it's called interactivity)? And sometimes it's a trip back to another time, another place where tradition and respect for the game meant something. I now watch baseball for my appreciation of skill level. There are few players worthy of character admiration (Jeter was an exception). If I don't see a ballplayer hustling and making an effort, with the millions that a journeyman player makes, it's a huge disappointment. In reality, it's the greedy owners who enable players to be self-absorbed by overpaying them.
Dec. 8th, 2015 11:46 pm (UTC)
sent via e-mail from Paul Eich
Hello Jack,
Just read you were getting out of Facebook, and your latest blog. Wish I could have followed a major league ball team. Didn't see a baseball game until the 60's watched the Reds at Crosley field. Saw Roberto Clemente throw out a runner going from 3rd to home. The ball was like a rifle shot.
I've been to a few Miami University football games but it is pitiful with the stands less then half full. Once we had the entire east side stands to ourselves. There were six of us when they played OU.
We have surrendered our Ohio State season tickets. My wife is a retired faculty person so we had a priority. But to shell out over 1,000 bucks for season tickets for two caused a loss of interest. My orthopedic doctor is one of the teams physicians and he told me the Trainer makes more than he does! Can you imagine paying over $750,000 to a trainer!
Woody Hayes max salary was 42,000. Something is out of whack.
Hope all is well with you, Joyce and the family. Keep on blogging!
Dec. 9th, 2015 01:38 pm (UTC)
Re: sent via e-mail from Paul Eich
Hey Paul, thanks for jumping in with your comments. I remember Crosley had an incline in left center field, making it an uphill battle for an outfielder going deep! Clemente was a special player who died heroically helping others. Yes, Miami's football program is awful...Can we get Bo back again for a second coming? I haven't paid to see a sporting event in years. My recliner, HD flat screen, refrigerator and bathroom close by...I've got the beat seat and it's free!
Merry Christmas to you and your family in southern Ohio!
All the best,

Edited at 2015-12-09 02:00 pm (UTC)
Dec. 9th, 2015 03:14 am (UTC)
Welcome back John it is good to see you blogging again. I share your dismay with MLB and agree with your observations.
It seems that so much of baseball is subject to the metrics and intense analysis that the teams are over managed and leadership is definitely lacking. I look forward to your future postings.

All the best,
Bobby A.
Dec. 9th, 2015 01:45 pm (UTC)
Hey Bobby, good to hear from you. I wonder how your Dad would feel about today's MLB. He was a baseball encyclopedia and I could get enough from him, talking on your front porch for hours. He taught me a lot and he was so much fun to listen to. He made a kid feel good about himself. Not everyone has that gift. I know you miss him a lot, a genuinely kind man who knew baseball like no other!
Merry Christmas to you and your ever-growing family, and all the best to your father-in-law, another Brooklyn legend!
Stay tuned for more blogs.
Dec. 13th, 2015 03:00 am (UTC)
Welcome back John, I'm sorry you're not a Met fan, you would have even more to write about! I can't wait for your thoughts on football,and the referees. Mary SVF
Dec. 13th, 2015 03:58 am (UTC)
Re: Baseball
Hi Mary,
I was actually rooting for the Mets in the post-season this year. They had an exciting team!
I'll get to football someday but politics is today's topic.(12-12-15)
Thanks for reading and responding.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )



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