Rolled triple 1s for Tyler Colvin

On a flight from Houston to L.A. today (saw the Astros beat the Reds Friday night), I reread The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop..

A bat splinter puncturing the lung of a player on the basepath is definitely something from J. Henry Waugh’s Chart of Extraordinary Occurrences.

Play ball!

I became a baseball fan the summer I turned eleven. My mother was taking classes towards a degree in social work at a college about an hour’s drive from Carmi, and my brother and I would ride along with her a couple of nights a week to the campus. On the drive, we would tune in to the Cardinals, carried at that point on the clear-channel powerhouse of KMOX. The Cardinals were very good that summer, holding off a tough Mets team to win the division and then the pennant before a disappointing World Series performance. Jack Buck and Mike Shannon described it all, and made us fans.

Sometime in the next few years, as my baseball fandom turned into the sort of obsession that only preteen boys, it seems, are capable of, I discovered on an out-of-the-way bookshelf in our house a musty, digest-sized baseball magazine previewing the 1974 season. Opening it, I discovered on the first page a nearly inscrutable scrawl, one bearing no little resemblance to my own:

June 1974–Play Ball, Boy! Love, Col.

It was a gift, given at my birth and no doubt tucked away at the time and forgotten, from my great-grandfather, Grandpa Colonel, about whom I’ve written before. Living his whole life in rural Kansas, he spent a lifetime enjoying baseball–and the Cardinals–the same way I grew up enjoying them: on the radio, far from the ballpark. Jack Buck may be gone–as is Grandpa Colonel–but the radio is still my favorite way to experience the game if I can’t be there, and sound of baseball on the radio is still, for me, the heart of summer.

I never was much of a ballplayer, but I find myself thinking of Grandpa Colonel’s admonition every spring. Last Sunday, I spent the morning playing catch with my nephew at Montrose Beach, throwing until our arms ached. Tonight, Stacey and I open the house to friends–several of whom haven’t visited since October–for chili, brats, cornbread, and beer, all in honor of the return of spring. One of these days, we’ll have to get Jim here for the opener.

It’s the Cardinals and Mets. The last time we saw these two teams, they played one of the most exciting, stressful, and rewarding games I’ve ever seen. Tonight, like every spring, it starts all over again.

Play ball.

It Happens Every Spring

Every year, about this time of the pseudo-spring, I read a baseball book. I try to limit myself to one–aside, that is, from the annual Baseball Prospectus (and, now, for the first time, The Hardball Times Season Preview)–because I spend plenty of non-reading time thinking about baseball; my reading time should, I figure, be mostly baseball-free.

This year, after reading a great interview with the author at my favorite Cardinals blog, I chose Wall Street Journal sportswriter Sam Walker’s Fantasyland: A Sportswriter’s Obsessive Bid to Win the World’s Most Ruthless Fantasy Baseball League (2006). I had skipped it when it was in hardcover because, despite years of being a statistically literate baseball fan, I’d always avoided fantasy baseball. But the same day that I read the interview–which made clear that the book would be of interest to any somewhat nerdy baseball fan, despite fantasy-avoidance–my friend Eric, ruthlessly drawing on all the power of a decade-long long-distance friendship, talked me into running a fantasy team in his league. So how could I not read Sam Walker’s book?

It’s good–Walker is very good at sketching out characters, building drama, and getting the reader deeply involved in the utterly inconsequential. The book deserves, and will, if I stay organized, receive, a full post (cross-posted, like this one, at my book blog). For now, though, I’ll just reproduce the passage that made me get up and find the laptop. Walker has just finished–in his eyes fairly successfully–his first fantasy draft in the nation’s premier fantasy league. Drunkish on Guinness from the post-draft party at a bar in Queens, he wanders back to his Greenwich Village apartment. And he experiences a moment that seems to encapsulate my love of baseball, cities, and, in particular, New York:

By the time my shoes meet the pavement in Manhattan, it’s well past midnight. As I’m staggering home down Bethune Street, something on the sidewalk catches my eye. It’s scuffed and cracked and frayed at the seams, and probably not even made of leather, but nonetheless it’s a baseball. On a damp and chilly night at the end of March, I step into the middle of the cobblestone street and, after checking for cabs, wheelchairs, dogs, bicyclists, and beat cops, I fix the ball in my fingers with a two-seam grip and take the sign.

Then I set, kick, and deliver.

The ball bounces under the glow of streetlights, skitters on a manhole cover, and ricochets off the front tire of a Toyota. The real major league season doesn’t start for a few days, but mine begins right now. One of the advantages of owning a Rotisseries team is the inalienable right to throw out your own first pitch.

Players are working out, in Florida and that other place, Anthony Reyes of the world champion St. Louis Cardinals reportedly has command of his two-seamer, and even Rick Ankiel has a chance at making the major-league roster–as a hitter. We’re almost at the best time of year since October; you could do far worse than usher it in with Sam Walker.

Recommended baseball reading

Jury duty is good for getting some reading in. For the past two days while I was in the main Los Angeles criminal courts building, I read Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders. These are blunders not by players, but by coaches, managers, general managers, and owners. It starts with the White Sox getting rid of first baseman Jack Fournier in 1917 in favor of future “Black Sox” ringleader Chick Gandil, and ends with Joe Torre not putting Mariano Riviera into Game 4 of the 2003 World Series.

Yes, the penultimate chapter is about a certain sequence of events that occurred just six days earlier, in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, and the Devil Rays get an entire chapter (the idea being that the franchise got off on the wrong foot when they immediately traded away Bobby Abreu after taking him with their first expansion draft pick).

R.I.P. Johnny Sain

This, the first ever cross-posting between my two blogs, is in honor of former major-league pitcher Johnny Sain, who died last week at the age of 89.

Sain was a member of the pennant-winnning 1948 Boston Braves, where his and teammate Warren Spahn’s success relative to the rest of the pitching staff led to the well-known rhyme, “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.” (This past summer, some Cardinals fans altered the rhyme to read “Carp and Soup, the rest are poop.”) Sain went 139-116 with a 3.49 E.R.A. for the Braves, Yankees, and Athletics in an eleven-year career.

This obituary appears on both my book and baseball blogs because

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Sain is one of the most memorable characters in Jim Bouton‘s wonderful Ball Four (1970). Much of the drama and fun of the book comes from the distrust with which Bouton is viewed by his teammates, coaches, and the baseball establishment. After all, the man reads books on the team flights–and on top of that, he’s a knuckleballer. Throughout the book, Bouton clashes with his manager and pitching coaches. The biggest problem he encounters is resistance to the fact that, as a knuckleballer, he’s sharper if he throws pretty much every day, while ordinary pitchers perform better on a schedule with days off. Most of the other players and coaches refuse to accept that Bouton knows what he’s talking about; he’s seen, variously as a malcontent and a moron.

Sain, on the other hand, takes a minimalist coaching approach. He looks at each player and sees what works for him. You pitch better if you throw every day? Throw every day. You pitch better if you make sure to do your running? Do your running. Quiet but effective, Sain isn’t suspicious of difference, nor is he at all controlling; he’s just looking to make his pitchers better. Therefore, he stands in such stark contrast to nearly everyone else in the book that he appears a genius both of baseball and of life in general.

I’ve been told it was raining in Boston the day of Sain’s death. I guess that means Spahn started the next day for the Heavenlys, with Sain up the day after. After all, though I usually come down on the side of there being no heaven, if there were to be one, it would be inconceivable without baseball.

Baseball in Long Beach

First of all, here’s a link to a baseball piece from Sunday’s Los Angeles Times magazine: the writer and his son go to a Dodgers game with Arnold Hano, author of “A Day in the Bleachers.” Among other things, he doesn’t like the visual and audible cues to get the fans to make noise.

On Sunday, Jason and I went to the second-to-last game of the Golden Baseball League’s short season, this one the Long Beach Armada versus the San Diego Surf Dawgs.

The Armada play at city-owned Blair Field, which has an analog clock on top of the scoreboard…

And there’s a ship in the outfield — unfortunately, it’s just a cutout…

Even though the mascot should be a Spanish conquistador or maybe a pirate, the mascot is actually a bird named Arby I. Here he is “helping” with a between-innings water balloon toss for kids…

And here he is sitting two rows in front of us…

Meanwhile, Rik Currier was on the mound for the Armada, pitching what would be a complete game one-hit shutout…

In some places, they have metal rails for the “K” cards to fit into, but Long Beach is a Velcro kind of town…

The final line…

Yes, “Armada” does look a lot like “Ramada,” especially at the lower left. A missed marketing opportunity!

Someone else has been reading lately

Steve Rushin’s column in the new issue of Sports Illustrated is about Karl Cicitto, a collector of baseball books who has some 4,000 volumes in his house. As you can see even from the first paragraph in the free online preview of the column, Karl’s pick for best baseball book is Veeck As in Wreck by Bill Veeck, available from the University of Chicago Press.

At last, something on Flickr other than photos of Levi reading

I am certain that the Baseball-Related Program Activities crowd will enjoy the Flickr submissions of a user called baseballart (actually two people, one an artist and one a collector) — in particular, the Baseball Books and Baseball Paintings sets.

Another one for the reading list

When the weather is bad in San Francisco, the capacity of San Francisco International Airport is effectively cut in half.

Fortunately, Terminal 3 has a branch of local San Francisco independent bookseller Books, Inc. (although it’s called Compass Books at the airport, for what seems like no good reason), which makes it easier for one to purchase a book containing some light baseball-related reading to keep one from going insane during a 5-hour weather delay.

The book I purchased: The Baseball Uncyclopedia by Michael Kun and Howard Bloom. I’ll just briefly say that it’s two guys writing a bunch of short, humorous, opinionated pieces about baseball; if you follow that previous link, you can read a more in-depth description and a sample chapter that explains how knowing baseball players’ uniform numbers can help kids cheat during math competitions. Also, there are lots and lots of footnotes.

Wait a minute — two guys writing a bunch of short, humorous, opinionated pieces about baseball…hmm. And they use the term “baseball-related” several times in the book as well. I’d think about suing, but they’re both lawyers.

This book just came out a few weeks ago. I’m seldom that up-to-date with my reading material, unlike Levi.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too

From Milo Hamilton’s forthcoming autobiography Making Airwaves:

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60 Years at Milo’s Microphone, as quoted in today’s L.A. Times, referring to the statue of Harry Caray outside Wrigley Field: “I see that statue every time the Astros visit Wrigley Field as our bus pulls up to the park. I say to myself, ‘I gotta go get some peanuts and feed the pigeons so they’ll fly over the statue all day long.'” Elsewhere in the book, Hamilton calls Caray a “miserable human being” and says that at their first meeting, Caray said to him, “Well, kid, if I were you, I’d leave town.”

Say, isn’t it about time for pitchers and catchers to report? I think it is!