1908: Merkle’s Boner

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Fred Merkle

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Agony & Ivy on Oct. 4, 2010.

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

The Chicago Cubs’ chances of winning a second straight world championship and third straight National League pennant were not looking promising on Aug. 16, 1908 when Philadelphia right-hander George McQuillan outdueled the Cubs’ Jack Pfiester in a 1-0 Phillies victory at Chicago’s West Side Grounds.

The loss was their ninth in 12 games and dropped them to a season-high six games behind the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates and three behind the second-place New York Giants.

But the Cubs regrouped and closed August with nine straight wins – including a three-game series sweep of the Giants in Chicago – and as the calendars flipped to September the National League’s usual suspects were gearing up for an intense three-team pennant race.

The Cubs and New York headed into September in a first-place tie. The Pirates, who had dropped to third after closing August with eight losses in 14 games, were just a half-game back.

During the first decade of the last century, the National League consisted of the haves (Cubs, Giants, Pirates) and the have-nots (Phillies, Reds, Braves, Dodgers, Cardinals). From 1901-13, the NL pennant was won by the Cubs (4 times), New York (5), and Pittsburgh (4). From 1903-12, those three teams occupied the top three spots of the NL standings eight times.

On paper, you could have argued that the Giants and Pirates were superior to the banged-up Cubs as the season entered the home stretch. The Giants had the best pitcher, Christy Mathewson, having his best season (37-11, 1.43 ERA). The Pirates possessed the best player, Honus Wagner, who was en route to his sixth of eight batting titles.

The Cubs had been ravaged by a series of injuries and many of their regulars missed significant time. Most notably, left fielder Jimmy Sheckard missed two months and was nearly blinded after an ammonia bottle was smashed on his face during a clubhouse fight with teammate Heinie Zimmerman in June.

But the Cubs had an intangible that many future Yankees teams, the Oakland Athletics of the early 1970s, the Cincinnati Reds of the mid-70s, and the Atlanta Braves of recent times were to have – and unwavering self-confidence.

“Whoever heard of the Cubs losing a game they had to have?” player-manager Frank Chance once asked.

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Frank Chance, “The Peerless Leader” (Library of Congress)

In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (The Free Press, 2001), the author noted that the Cubs won a single-season record 116 games in 1906 but that their 986 wins from 1904-13 is a major league record for any 10-year period.

In regards to the controversial selection to the Hall of Fame in 1946 of first baseman Chance, second baseman Johnny Evers, and shortstop Joe Tinker, James wrote:

“If you’re going to say that these guys don’t belong in the Hall of Fame, it seems to me, you have to deal somehow with the phenomenal success of their team. This team won more games, over any period of years, than the Yankees with Ruth and Gehrig, more games than the Dodgers with Robinson, Reese, Snider, and Campy, more games than the Reds with Bench, Morgan, Rose, and Concepcion – more games than anybody. When you start explaining their wins, as Ricky Ricardo would say, you’ve got a lot of ‘splaining to do.”

The Cubs opened September by taking three of four from the last-place Cardinals and then opened a crucial four-game series in Pittsburgh on Sept. 4. The Cubs and Pirates were tied for second, one game behind New York.

Cubs ace Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown and fellow future Hall of Famer Vic Willis hooked up in a tense pitcher’s duel at Pittsburgh’s Exposition Park. The game was scoreless in the bottom of the ninth and the Pirates had Fred Clarke on third and rookie Warren Gill on first with two outs. Chief Wilson lined a solid single to center. As Clarke crossed the plate, Gill took off for the center-field clubhouse ahead of his team’s jubliant fans who stormed the field. An observant Evers called for the ball from center fielder Jimmy Slagle and stepped on second, seeking a forceout. Umpire Hank O’Day, who was working the game solo (then a common practice), refused to call Gill out, claiming he had not been watching whether Gill had touched the base or not. Evers argued fervently, but to no avail.

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Johnny Evers, “The Crab” (Library of Congress)

The Cubs split the four games with the Pirates, lost to Cincinnati on Sept. 7, and then rattled off seven wins in a row. But the Giants were even hotter. They opened September by winning 18 of 19 contests. After sweeping a doubleheader from Pittsburgh on Sept. 18, a confident New York club led the Cubs by 4.5 games and the Pirates by five.

In her fine recap of that terrific season, Crazy ’08 (HaperCollins, 2007), Cait Murphy noted that on Sept. 20, the New York World estimated the chances of the Cubs or Pirates overtaking the Giants akin to that of a “snowfall on the Fourth of July.” The World and New York Times both ran stories examining who the Giants might meet in the World Series.

“Sportswriters can be excused for saying stupid things; it is part of their job,” Murphy continued. “What is unpardonable is that the Giants begin to preen.”

“I can’t see how we can lose unless we all drop dead,” pitcher Red Ames said in mid-September.

“I don’t see how we can lose unless everything goes wrong,” catcher Roger Bresnahan added.

“I think we’ll win now,” Mathewson crowed.

“We will walk in,” outfielder Cy Seymour proclaimed.

“I can’t helping thinking we are sure to win,” rookie reserve first baseman Fred Merkle told the scribes.

The Cubs trailed the Giants by two games when they arrived in New York for a four-game series on Sept. 22 and the Cubs served notice that they would be in the race until the end by opening the set with a doubleheader sweep to move into a first-place tie. Brown entered in the ninth of the opener and saved a 4-3 win for starter Orval Overall. Brown started the nightcap and went the distance in a 3-1 Cubs triumph.

First place was on the line on Sept. 23 as Pfiester squared off against Mathewson and it would turn out to be perhaps the most controversial game in baseball history.

A two-man umpiring crew was assigned to the game. Bob Emslie worked the bases and O’Day – the same umpire who had worked the Gill game on Sept. 4 – was calling balls and strikes.

Another major player in the ensuing drama was the 19-year-old Merkle who was making his first major league start. Regular first baseman Fred Tenney missed his only game of the season because of lumbago and was replaced by the inexperienced Merkle who had appeared in just 35 games and made just 40 at-bats up to that point.

Pfiester and Mathewson were both superb. The Cubs managed a run in the fifth when Tinker circled the bases standing for an inside-the-park homer after hitting a gapper to left-center.

The Giants tied the game in the sixth on an RBI single by Mike Donlin.

Mathewson set the Cubs down in order in the top of the ninth and Pfiester appeared on the verge of escaping the bottom half without incident. With Moose McCormick on first and two outs, Merkle lined an opposite-field single to right. McCormick advanced to third as a standing-room-only crowd of over 20,000 roared with approval.

The next batter, Al Bridwell, lined a first-pitch fastball from Pfiester into center field. McCormick raced home with the winning run as the jubliant crowd poured onto the field. Merkle, hoping to avoid the rushing fans, took off for the clubhouse without touching second.

Perhaps the Gill game from earlier in the month was on the mind of O’Day because this time he was watching. Surrounded by the mob that had overtaken the field, Evers held a ball in his glove with his arm raised in a Statue of Liberty pose. Evers appealed to Emslie that since Merkle never touched second, he should be ruled forced out at second, nullifying the run. Emslie claims that he wasn’t watching Merkle. But O’Day said he was watching Merkle and agrees with Evers. He called Merkle out.

How did Evers get the ball amidst the chaos? Legend says that Giants coach Joe McGinnity intercepted a throw to the infield by Cubs center fielder Solly Hofman and fired it into the throng. The ball was caught by a man wearing a bowler hat, but it was wrestled away from him by Cubs pitcher Rube Kroh. Kroh ran back onto the field with the ball and handed it to Tinker. The Cubs shortstop ran to the bag and handed it to Evers.

Evers gave a much simpler account to Liberty magazine in 1936. He said he ran to the outfield, was handed the ball by Hofman, and fought his way through the crowd back to second base.

With dusk fast approaching and the impossibility of clearing the field in a timely matter, O’Day declared the game a tie. The Giants filed a protest of the umpire’s decision with the league office, but that night NL president Harry Pulliam upheld O’Day.

Pulliam declared that the game should be made up on Oct. 8. The Cubs weren’t completely satisfied with the ruling. They argued that the game should have been called a forfeit against the Giants because of their failure to clear the field.

The Giants beat the Cubs 5-4 the next day to retake first place, but the three-team heat continued into October. On Oct. 1, the Giants and Pirates were tied for first, a half-game ahead of the Cubs. First place changed hands five times with all three teams occupying the top in the season’s final week.

The Cubs opened October by winning three straight at Cincinnati.

The Giants, meanwhile, split four with the Phillies as Philadelphia rookie left-hander Harry Coveleski started and won both New York losses. The 22-year-old Coveleski, pitching every other day, claimed three of his four victories on the season in a five-day span against the Giants.

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Harry Coveleski (Library of Congress)

The Pirates swept a three-game series at St. Louis and then headed to Chicago for a Oct. 4 makeup game. New York, which had played two less games than its rivals, was off but had a three-game makeup series at home scheduled with Boston, Oct. 5-7.

Pittsburgh (98-55) led the Cubs (97-55) by a half-game and New York (95-55) by 1.5.

A Sunday crowd of 30,247 – a then Cubs single-game record – packed West Side Grounds to see a matchup of aces Brown and Willis. The Cubs scored in the first inning on an RBI single by Frank Schulte and were ahead to stay en route to a 5-2 victory. The great Wagner had two hits for the Pirates, but the shortstop also committed two costly errors. The Cubs vaulted a half-game ahead of the Pirates.

Pittsburgh now had to sit and wait. They could tie for first with at least two Giants losses to lowly Boston and a Cubs loss on Oct 8. Two New York wins over Boston and one over the Cubs would force a three-way tie. A Giants sweep of the Braves would eliminate the Pirates.

The Giants topped the Braves 8-1 on Oct. 5, 4-1 on Oct. 6, and 7-2 on Oct. 7 to move into a first-place tie. The Pirates were eliminated and the stage was set for a winner-take-all contest between the Cubs and Giants at the Polo Grounds on Oct. 8.

A well-rested Mathewson got the starting assignment for the Giants while the Cubs countered with Pfiester.

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Christy Mathewson (Library of Congress)

But Pfiester was on a very short leash. He was pulled by manager Chance with two outs in the first after a hit batsman, an RBI double by Donlin, and two bases on balls. In came Brown, pitching for the 12th time in 15 games. Brown was his usual fantastic self, allowing just one run over 8 1/3 innings.

Mathewson, meanwhile, was met with disaster in the third. Tinker led off the inning with a triple and scored the tying run on a Johnny Kling double. A two-out single by Schulte knocked in Kling with the go-ahead run and Chance soon followed with a two-run single to give the Cubs a 4-1 lead.

Brown completed the 4-2 Cubs victory by setting down New York on four pitches in the ninth.

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Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown

After the final out, the Cubs ran for their lives to the clubhouse. Some members of the team were scathed.

“Some of our boys got caught up by the mob and beaten up some,” Brown remembered. “Tinker, (Del) Howard, and Sheckard were struck. Chance was hurt most of all. A Giant fan hit him in the throat and Husk’s voice was gone for a day or two in the World Series that followed. Pfiester got slashed on the shoulder by a knife.”

Police, with their revolvers pulled, guarded the Cubs clubhouse and a police escort drove them first to their Manhattan hotel and then to the train station. The Cubs waited to celebrate their third straight pennant until after they boarded their train for Detroit.

The Cubs rolled over the Tigers in the World Series for the second straight year, winning in five games. The Cubs stole a record 15 bases and Tinker hit the first Series homer in five years. Brown and Overall each won twice.

Overall struck out 10 and allowed just three hits in a 2-0 Series-clinching win on Oct. 14. With two outs in the top of the ninth, Detroit’s Boss Schmidt hit a tapper in front of the plate. It was fielded by the catcher Kling who fired to the first baseman Chance to record the final out.

The Cubs did not win another World Series until 2016, but their 1908 championship was considered to be an anticlimactic, ho-hum event. A crowd of just 6,210 witnessed the historic event at West Side Grounds.

AROUND THE MAJORS

Photo of Yovani GallardoThe Seattle Mariners acquired veteran right-hander Yovani Gallardo (pictured right) from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for outfielder Seth Smith and picked up outfielder Jarrod Dyson from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for right-hander Nathan Karns.

STAT OF THE DAY

Gallardo, according to MLB.com, is one of nine pitchers with 180 or more innings pitched in at least seven of the last eight seasons, with 139 quality starts since 2009.

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Why I coach

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

I do it because it is the greatest sport in the world and I wish to share my love for it. I do it because I want kids to be active and spend their free time doing something constructive. I do it because I want kids to develop character and learn how to play the game the right way. I do it because I enjoy interacting with kids. I do it because I continually learn things about the game, about psychology, about competition, about myself. I coach baseball, devoting four to six months each year without pay, simply because it is fun.

Some people golf. Some people fish. I coach baseball. What a privilege!

It is an opportunity to teach the value of teamwork and pride, to motivate an often times wide variety of kids to work together for a common good, pay attention to detail, and achieve the best possible results.

I determine the way my teams play the game and how I conduct our practices determines how they play.

It is a responsibility that I take very seriously.

My goals are to provide my players with a positive example, to develop character, and to instill in my players the principles of living decent and productive lives. I want them to learn that any achievement of significance takes hard work and that the self-satisfaction of knowing you did your best is bliss.

The life lessons of baseball are plentiful.

My players and I have learned about handling failure – losing a game, striking out, making an error, walking a batter. We have learned about handling fear – fear of choking in the clutch, fear of making a mistake, fear of being hit by a pitch. We have learned about handling frustration – the frustration of a teammate commiting an error, of a batter hitting one on the button but lining out, of a pitcher making a great pitch and then watching it sail over an outfielder’s head. We have learned about handling embarassment – getting picked off or doubled up, dropping a fly ball. We have learned handling lonleliness – playing in the field and not having aby balls hit to you. We have learned about dealing with slumps. We have learned about adjusting to change – dealing with poor weather and field conditions; with a teammate’s absence or injury. We have learned about controlling our emotions – over our excitement, over our frustration with umpires.

Through these circumstances, we develop qualities like maturity, honesty, loyalty, adaptation, compassion, self-respect, respect for authority, teamwork, sacrifice, humility, and patience.

The relationships I have built with many of my players and families are greatly cherished.

I enjoy learning what makes them tick. I draw a great deal of satisfaction from watching players mature and improve. What a feeling when one of my players exceeds my expectations and what a feeling it is whenever I realize one of my players has exceeded his own expectations!

My son, Will, hasn’t played on all of my teams and he has played for coaches other than me. When he is on my team, it is an added bonus. I try to treat him as fairly as anyone else on the team. But it sure is quality time we get to spend together and I enjoy the fact that we are working together towards a meaningful, common goal.

It’s a heck of a way to spend a summer!

AROUND THE MAJORS

Photo of Rajai DavisThe Oakland Athletics on Tuesday signed outfielder Rajai Davis (pictured right) to a one-year contract. The 36-year-old Davis led the American League with 43 stolen bases last year. He hit .249 and hit a career-high 12 home runs in 134 games with the Cleveland Indians. His two-run, two-out homer off Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the eighth tied Game 7 of the World Series before the Indians fell in 10 innings. … The Cincinnati Reds signed reliever Drew Storen to a one-year contract. The 29-year-old Storen was 4-3 with a 5.23 ERA in 57 games with Toronto and Seattle last year. … The Arizona Diamondbacks traded outfielder Peter O’Brien to the Kansas City Royals for a minor league pitcher.

PHOTO OF THE DAY

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Chicago Cubs

Happy birthday, Kris Bryant!

For Love of the Glove

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“I wrote about my brother Allie’s baseball mitt. It was a very descriptive subject. It really was. My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder’s mitt. He was left-handed. The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he’d have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up at bat.”
— from Chapter 5 of “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Sallinger.

By CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

The older I get, the more I enjoy watching my children open their Christmas presents. Their joy, as they tear through the wrapping, is genuine.

It’s possible my 9-year-old son Will gained greater thrills from some of his other presents, but my favorite moment was when on Christmas Eve he opened a box to discover the new Rawlings first baseman’s glove that was given to him by his grandfather.

While most sports equipment is interchangeable – my Little Leaguers often will change bats on a whim – the glove is often viewed as much more than merely a piece of leather.

A player develops a sentimental attachment with a mitt and if it’s properly cared for, it can last a lifetime.

My glove endures as perhaps the most prominent symbol of my childhood.
When I was introduced to baseball, I can vaguely remember using a cheap-looking, ill-fitting, and uncomfortable blue glove. But a few days before my first T-ball practice, in the spring of 1977, I was presented with a Wilson Chris Speier model mitt. That glove was with me for a substantial portion of my youth – two years with the T-ball Sluggers, two years with the Pee Wee Centurions, two years with the Little League Giants, a year with the Senior League Cardinals, and two more with the Senior Astros. It was with me during countless pickup games at Hayes Park and Rosenwald. I used it when I played catch with my dad. And it was my companion on many a summer evening as I played “running bases” with my brother and my friends on our front sidewalk. I sometimes slept with it.

Sadly, my glove did not join me in adulthood. The webbing, worn down by a decade of heavy use, snapped during a game, late in the 1985 season. I resorted to borrowing my brother’s glove – a Dale Murphy model – to finish out the campaign. The mitt was no longer suitable for use in games or practices but I still used it while playing catch in the front yard, making do by catching the ball with my palm. Sometime after I quit playing baseball in 1985, the old Speier model vanished.

I searched high and low for it when I joined a 12-inch softball team during my time in Ste. Genevieve , Mo. in 1995, but it was nowhere to be found.

At the time the National League began play in 1876, most players fielded with their bare hands. Primitive gloves began appearing on baseball fields in 1875 and were not in use universally until the mid-1880s. Those primitive gloves had little to no padding.

“A fielder’s hands would swell up something fierce,” Bill James wrote in his “Historical Baseball Abstract.” “It wasn’t at all unusual for a team to make three, four, maybe more errors in an inning.”

It wasn’t until the first decade of the 20th century that gloves began to reflect the modern appearance. But those early 20th century gloves were still diminutive by today’s standards with players sometimes stuffing them in their back pockets while their side was at bat. As gloves evolved they grew in size and gained more padding. As gloves improved so did fielding percentages.

My dad speaks fondly of his childhood glove – a Rawlings Mickey Mantle model. It journeyed with him through his days of playing on the sandlots of Bridgeport, his time as a third baseman on the De La Salle baseball team, and one summer of Instructional League ball. His glove joined him in the Marine Corps, surviving two tours of duty in the Phillipines and a tour in Vietnam.

“It was a good glove,” Dad said. “It always did the job for me.”

As a third baseman, Dad explained, his job was to react and simply catch the ball. His trusted glove always made him feel comfortable and confident.

Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has used the same Rawlings glove for much of the past nine seasons – and it looks something like relics that sit within glass cases in Cooperstown and the Smithsonian.

“It’s the worst glove I’ve ever seen,” Blue Jays clubhouse manager, Kevin Malloy, who has worked for the team for 34 years, said. “It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s stunning that he would use this. Look at those laces! It looks like something from Christopher Columbus’ shoe or something, right?”

During the season, Malloy thoroughly monitors Tulowitzki’s glove on a daily basis. His most pressing concern is to ensure that the webbing is sufficiently tight.

Some of the leather is so worn that it rips as easily as a sheet of paper. Its brown color has faded to a dull gray-green hue and it features to gaping holes, two to three inches long, in its center.

“That’s kind of the way baseball is – guys fall in love with a certain glove and they play very well with it,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “It’s tough to let it go, you know?”

Tulowitzki only uses his favorite glove in games. A newer model, one that he refers to as his “backup,” he employs during practice in order to break it in.

Since he joined the Jays late in the 2015 season, a constant refrain of Malloy is that the glove’s time is up – but Tulowitzki is reluctant to part with a mitt that helped him win back-to-back Gold Glove Awards in 2010 and 2011.

“I’ve been using it for a long time. But I feel comfortable with it,” Tulowitzki said. “I’m not sure (when I’ll retire it). We’ll see. It gets the job done.”

I’m hopeful that Will’s new glove will live as long a fruitful life as the ones owned by dad and Tulowitzki. The first step toward achieving that goal?

“Dad, will you help me break it in?” Will asked me while surrounded by the ruins of opened presents in the living room on Christmas Eve.

I have recollections of my dad helping me break in my Chris Speier model one fall. We conditioned the leather with oil, placed a ball in its center, wrapped it with rubber bands, and placed in my closet for the winter.

“When I was a kid, I would rub Saddle Soap into my glove,” Dad remembered. “Then I would place a ball inside, wrap it with rubber bands and leave it sit for the winter. That Saddle Soap would make the leather feel so soft.”

But I wondered what the ballplayers of today do. A Google search of the subject sure was confusing. Some players use glove oil, others olive oil, and some shaving cream as conditioners. Some soak their gloves in kitchen sinks or buckets. There are players that pop their gloves in microwaves and stoves. And some who give them a spin in the clothes dryer.

I decided to give the final word to the “Glove Doctor.” Bill Neubauer has been repairing, restroring, conditioning, and customizing gloves from his home in Worth, Ill., for the last 12 years. It started as a hobby and most jobs took him at least an hour. Today, Neubauer’s business, thanks mostly to word of mouth, is booming and, through lots of practice and trial and error, he can complete many jobs in about 15 minutes.

A few years ago, my dad found my old Mizuno catcher’s glove. I recall using with the Centurions in 1980. It was worn and had a significant tear in the webbing. I dropped off the old glove at Neubauer’s house prior to the 2015 season. For a modest fee, he completely re-laced it and had it ready the next day.

That old catcher’s mitt is as good as new. It has served Will well and has been the glove of choice for the catchers on all of the youth teams I have managed the last two years.

Who better, I thought, then to consult the Glove Doctor about breaking in a new glove?

“After all of my years of breaking in gloves, and talking to people at Rawlings and Wilson, I’ve learned that the keys to breaking in a glove are some Rawlings Glove Butter and a little bit of heat,” Neubauer said. “Don’t put it into the microwave. Don’t put it in the oven.

“I love the Glove Butter. It softens the glove and protects the leather from water, dirt, sweat. And it doesn’t take away any of the color or add weight.”

Neubauer begins his process by filling a bowl with water and placing a hand towel in it. He then microwaves the bowl for 7 minutes, 25 seconds. He places the bowl of hot water in the kitchen sink. He picks up the soaked towel with one hand and the glove with the other and wraps the towel around the mitt. He massages the glove, unwraps it, and repeats the process.

Neubauer inserts a ball in the wet glove, wraps it with rubber bands, and hangs it above an electric heater in his garage. Neubauer says that do-it-yourselfers can simply place the wet glove near a home heat vent.

After the glove dries, Neubauer mixes a bit of water into some Glove Butter and makes a paste. He then rubs the Glove Butter mixture into the leather.
The final step of the process requires a trip to a batting cage.

“Have your kid put the glove on, place a bucket on home plate, and have him sit on the bucket,” Neubauer said. “Have him keep the glove still and catch some balls from a pitching machine. Catch the ball, place it on the ground, catch the next one, and so on.”

Neubauer said that using a pitching machine is preferable to playing catch.

“If a person is throwing the ball, some throws will be high and some will be low,” Neubauer said. “He’ll catch balls from a machine in exactly the same spot.”

Neubauer says that just about anyone is capable of breaking in a glove using his process, but he’ll do it for the modest fee of $10 and have the glove ready four days after he receives it.

As is the case with many endeavors, I am sorely lacking in confidence. My wife, Denise, wears the tool belt in the family. I’ll leave the breaking in process to the Glove Doctor.

It’s always good to have a guy.

Bill Neubauer can be found on the Web at http://www.billglovedoc.net/
He can be contacted at billglovedoc@yahoo.com or (708) 278-4632.

Sources

“The Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Sallinger, Little Brown, 1951

“The New Historical Baseball Abstract,” by Bill James, The Free Press, 2001

http://www.sportsnet.ca/baseball/mlb/meet-the-war-torn-glove-troy-tulowitzki-just-cant-let-go-of/
“Meet the War-Torn Glove Troy Tulowitzki Just Can’t Let Go Of,” by Kristina Rutherford, SportsNet Canada, Oct. 20, 2015

http://deadspin.com/troy-tulowitzki-is-going-to-ridiculous-lengths-to-keep-1769274423 “Troy Tulowitzki is Going to Ridiculous Lengths to Keep Using His Ancient Glove,” by Patrick Redford, Deadspin, April 5, 2016

http://m.mlb.com/cutfour/2016/04/06/170701234/troy-tulowitzki-gets-mid-game-emergency-surgery-on-old-glove
“Troy Tulowitzki had to get some emergency, mid-game surgery to repair his 8-year-old glove,” by Matt Monagan, MLB.com, April 6, 2016

http://www.billglovedoc.net/News_Articles.php
“At Mitt’s End,” by Bob Rakow, Elite magazine, July 2010

 

PHOTO OF THE DAY

 

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Troy Tulowitzki’s glove (courtesy of Blue Jays clubhouse manager Kevin Malloy)

 

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Moving forward, with resolve

BY CHRIS REWERS
Editor

“So what? Next pitch.”

That affirmation, popularized by sports psychologists like Ken Ravizza and Brian Cain, was scribbled on the Chicago Cubs’ locker white board at Jacobs Field as they prepared to play the Cleveland Indians in the historic seventh game of the World Series last fall.

It’s wise advice for anyone who plays a game that soaks in a marinade of failure. Did you screw up on the last pitch? So what? The next pitch offers a chance for redemption.

Nothing happened last year to change my opinion that baseball is the most challenging sport to play and the most fun to follow. No two games are quite the same and each has planted in it the seeds of greatness. Sure, most likely a player will fail. And sure, your team will almost assuredly break your heart. But all of that built-in heartache is worth enduring for those moments of success. Whether it’s as simple as a batter delivering in the clutch or as mind-boggling as a team winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years, the heartache baseball can bring is worth enduring because of its joys.

“If it was easy, anybody would do it,” Jimmy Dugan told Dottie Hinson in “A League of Their Own.” “It’s the hard that makes it good.”

Just as each pitch offers a chance for redemption, on a larger scale, do does each new year.

So as 2017 begins, it’s time for baseball fans, its players, its executives, and its media to take stock in itself. Here are some resolutions that can and should be made:

Do the Hustle

There is very little within a baseball game that a player can control. Much is left to fate. A perfect pitch can be hit over the fence. A batter can hit the cover off the ball but hit it right at someone, or worse, get victimized by a premier play. Sometimes the weather, as anyone who has watched many games at Wrigley Field can attest, is the determining factor. The wind can giveth or it can taketh away. Sometimes an umpire – who is only human – will blow a call. Sometimes a manager plays the percentages when he should go with his gut. And sometimes, the opposing player is simply better.

Life isn’t fair, and neither is baseball.

One thing, though, that a player has complete control over is his effort. And it’s high time we see better from those who play the game.

Lack of hustle and Cadillacing are scourges on the game, and are just plain stupid. Last year, on any given night, whether you were watching a big league game on your living room TV or had taken a stroll over to watch a game on a nearby Little League diamond, chances are you would witness some form of laziness or showboating. And it isn’t limited to the regular season. Dumb play was exhibited throughout the postseason.

In the majors, we are told by far too many TV broadcasters not to believe what our eyes so clearly see.

And it doesn’t help that ESPN showcases stupid play in their highlight packages, Fox and ESPN promos use them in promos, and telecasts show stupidity in slow motion at the end of a half inning as they head to a commercial. To wit:

  • Batters who hit routine infield grounders and run to first at half speed or worse. Sometimes, a batter can’t even be bothered to complete the 90-foot route first base. Instead, he’ll make a detour towards his dugout halfway down the line.
  • Batters who stand in the batter’s box to admire a long fly ball that they assume will be a home run (but sometimes isn’t) or who assume a pop fly will land foul or be caught. Far too often a batter will be at first when he should be standing on second or standing on second when he should be standing on third.
  • Outfielders who catch with one hand.

Shame on the players who dog it and on the managers who tolerate it. Shame on the pundits for excusing it. The game, we are told, has changed. Or worse, those who champion playing the right way are labeled as bigots. Playing the “right” way, some say, is code for playing the “white” way. My response to that is that stupid play is color blind. There were instances where Bryce Harper and Anthony Rizzo were as guilty of it as any black or Latino player. Dogging it starts at the top and filters is way all the way down to the Little League diamonds. All summer long, I watched teams walk on and off the field, stationary fielders not backing up plays, batters standing in the batter’s box assuming pop ups were going to land foul. Far too often, such displays proceeded without comment from a team’s coaching staff. Those coaches are guilty of malpractice.

Pick up the pace

It doesn’t take long for anyone who has watched the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Pedro Baez pitch that he works much too slowly.

But Baez is the most obvious symptom of a malady that took hold of baseball a generation ago and continues to get worse.

The game is played at a ridiculously deliberate pace.

Watch a game from the 1950s, 60s, and even the 70s on YouTube and you watch a game that was played at a much crisper pace. Pitchers stayed on the rubber and didn’t mess around. Hitters would approach the batter’s box, reach down and rub some dirt between their hands, and dig in. And they would remain in the box prepared to hit.

The first game of the 1976 World Series was played in a tad over two hours. Forty years later, it took three and half hours for the Indians to defeat the Cubs 1-0 in Game 3 of the Fall Classic.

There were no exaggerated deep breaths, no adjusting batting gloves or batting helmets, no extended gazes at the barrel of the bat.

Catchers making frequent trips to the mound and constant pitching changes don’t help.

Nor does the ridiculous seven minutes or the whopping nine minutes that are allotted for commercials.

But the primary culprits of this malady can be laid at the feet of the sports psychology industry. Harvey Dorfman was a pioneer in the psychology of baseball in the 1960s and many of his theories were expanded upon most notably by Ravizza in the 1990s. Today, Cain is a leading advocate of mental conditioning and he works as a paid consultant for many of the nation’s premier college baseball programs.

“Every pitch counts,” the psychologists preach.

That much is true. Focus and concentration are essential to doing any task well and I stress the mental game to my Little Leaguers.

And it is understandable that every team and every player is looking for a competitive edge.

Might it be possible, however, that players might be trained to react more and think less?
Save the mental imagery for before the game when no one is watching.

Commissioner Rob Manfred made speeding up the game one of his priorities when he took office in 2015. His directive, which resulted in among other things a time limit for coaching visits to the mound, made initial progress. But the average time of game spiked steadily after last year’s All-Star break.

Limit replays

Another cause of longer games has been MLB’s use of instant replays to review on-field umpiring decisions which has been in place for the past two seasons.

The quest to “get it right,” it turns out, has had unintended consequences.

The replay procedures were put in place to correct egregious errors like when Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game by a blown call at first with two outs in the ninth of a 2009 game or when Don Dekinger’s obvious incorrect call at first in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series cost the St. Louis Cardinals a world championship.

But replay is being used in ways that were never intended. Every bang-bang play at first gets reviewed as does every tag play. The use of replay has actually made the way the game is played change in some ways. Notice how a fielder always leaves a tag on a baserunner in exaggerated fashion.

And on plays where the correct call is obvious, the review process takes far too long, leading fans to wonder, “What are they looking at?”

MLB doesn’t need to abolish replay review but the current system in which managers are granted challenges should be scrapped. Instead there should be one full-time umpire assigned to replay review for each game. He alone would have the power to overrule a call on the field just like when a third-base or first-base ump can overrule the home-plate arbiter on appeals of check swings.

Remember the kids

Through its “Play Ball” initiative, MLB frequently reminds fans how important kids are to the game. Conventional wisdom says that children who get hooked on playing and watching baseball will carry their passion for the game into adulthood.

But it seems MLB and its TV partners do everything possible to make sure that young fans miss plenty of action – especially the sports’s biggest moments.

The New York Mets did not play any Saturday afternoon home games in 2016. That doesn’t seem very kid friendly to me.

The advent of ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” in 1990 encroached on what was once considered sacred family time.

I recall a wonderful cover story Sports Illustrated produced in the summer of 1987 about a Sunday afternoon around the majors. All of the games, as was illustrated by the cover photo of Wrigley Field’s iconic center-field scoreboard, were played in the afternoon.
Now the only time this happens is on the final day of the regular season when all games begin at 3:05 p.m. Eastern. This is a practice that should be expanded to other Sundays throughout the regular season.

The “flex” schedule that ESPN now implements during the second half of the season allows the cable network to select its Sunday night game three weeks in advance. All tickets include the fine print that game times are “subject to change,” but the switching a game from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night on short notice is anything but family friendly.

Many teams market Sunday games as “family days” and often times kids are allowed to run the bases shortly after the final out is recorded. With Sunday night games staring in the Eastern time zone at 8:05 and average contests taking over three hours to play, what parents in their right minds are going to allow their kids to hang around the ballpark so late.

The problem of late start time extends into the postseason. Many of the game’s most dramatic moments occur long after kids have been tucked into their beds.

Tweak the schedule

From 1969-92, the National League included 12 teams split into two divisions. Each club played the other five teams in its division 18 times each and went up against the six teams in the opposite division 12 times each.

It was a wonderfully symmetrical 162-game schedule in which all the teams competing against each other for a division championship played against the same teams the same number of times. That symmetry was destroyed when the NL, with the admittance of Florida and Colorado, expanded to 14 teams in 1993. The advent of interleague play in 1997 and another round of expansion in 1998 further complicated matters.

There were many reasons to oppose the shift of the Astros from the NL to the AL after the 2012 season, especially the disregard it showed for the 50 years of NL tradition that had been developed in Houston.

But a reason to support Houston’s change of league affiliation was that it gave the two leagues six equal five-team divisions. It presented MLB with an opportunity to return to a balanced, symmetrical schedule. However, Commissioner Bud Selig and his successor Manfred have so far failed to deliver such a schedule.

Instead MLB has maintained a schedule that pits “natural” rivals against each other four times every year. Since 2002, MLB has rotated divisions in setting up its interleague matchups with the exception of “natural” rivalries.

So, for example, the teams for the NL Central will be matched up against the teams from the AL East. But the Cubs will still play the AL Central’s White Sox – their “natural” rival – four times. Other “natural” matchups will pit the Cardinals against the Royals, the Brewers against the Twins, the Reds against the Indians, and the Pirates against the Tigers. It’s not fair that the Brewers will get to play a doormat like the Twins four times while the Reds are paired with the AL champion Indians.

It’s likely an owner like Jerry Reinsdorf favors the idea of “natural” rivalries because it guarantees that his team will have two annual home games against the wildly popular Cubs. With the exception of Opening Day, they are the only guaranteed home sellouts for the Sox.

MLB should take a cue from the NFL where intercity rivals like the Jets and Giants meet every four years instead on an annual basis.

The ideal, symmetrical, and easy to put together schedule would consist of 18 games against the other four divisional teams (72 games), six games against the other 10 intraleague teams (60 games), and 30 interleague games against all the teams from the same division on a three-year rotational basis. All interleague matchups would include a pair of home-and-home three-game series.

It would create competitive balance, put an end to the oversaturation of some “natural” rivalries like Cubs vs. Sox, end “natural” rivalries that make no sense like Padres vs. Mariners, and put an end to any need to play the two- and four-game series that the Players Association has voiced displeasure about.

Take it easy with the stats

Just because something can be measured, doesn’t make it relevant.

Baseball telecast are packed with useless info and statistical nonsense with no context.

For example, a fact like, “The Cubs are 59-1 when entering the ninth with a lead.” Most teams with a lead entering the ninth go on to win. Even the 102-loss Minnesota Twins had an impressive record under such circumstances.

Countless times last October, a crawl on ESPN or Fox Sports 1 would alert viewers that a player on the Indians was accomplishing something in the postseason for the franchise for the first time since 2007. Omitted from such factoids was that the Indians had played just one postseason game since 2007.

Enough already!

 

BEST OF 2016

Photo of José AltuveIt was a disappointing year for the Astros, but Houston fans were treated to a banner year by Jose Altuve. The 5-foot-6 second baseman won his second American League batting title in three years, hitting .338 with career highs in homers (24) and RBI (96). He also swiped 30 bases, and smashed 42 doubles. Altuve, who earns a relatively modest salary of $550,000 annually, led the AL in hits for the third straight year and was named an All-Star for the fourth time.

 

WORST of 2016

Photo of Alexei RamírezSigned last offseason to an ill-advised 1-year, $3 million by the San Diego Padres, shortstop Alexei Ramirez disgraced himself as the worst everyday player in the majors. The Padres, at last, after Ramirez had started 109 games, pulled the plug on the washed-up 35-year-old former All-Star when they granted him his unconditional release and installed minor-league journeyman Luis Sardinas as their starting shortstop. Ramirez caught on with Tampa Bay for the season’s final three weeks and finished 2016 with a soft .241 average, just six homers and 48 RBI. He was caught stealing nine times in 17 attempts and unlike another soft-hitting infielder, Philadelphia’s Freddy Galvis, was also a liability in the field. Ramirez committed 14 errors in 2016 and his 148 career errors rank 12th among active players.

“He didn’t have the range at shortstop anymore that we need,” San Diego manager Andy Green said.

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Good is not good when better is expected.”
– Vin Scully

 

PHOTO OF THE DAY

 

Dreams came true in 2016!

 

STAT OF THE DAY

Over the last four seasons, Houston’s Jose Altuve has 818 hits – 67 more than anyone else in the majors.

 

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