Once upon a time there was a great baseball town called Brooklyn. Brooklyn was the home of the Dodgers, who were adored by all, rich and poor, young and old alike. The Dodgers played baseball in a bandbox called Ebbets Field. At the close of every game the players would walk home, like pied pipers, surrounded by their fans and neighbors. The citizens loved their Bums: Duke, Jackie, Pee Wee, Campy, Johnny Podres, Walter Alston, Leo Durocher (for a time), and they hated their crosstown rivals, the Giants. All was well in Brooklyn, the shabby little borough that could.
But there was a man of evil in this story. His name was Walter O'Malley. And it was this man who took over the club, driving out that pontificating but wonderful old sage named Branch Rickey. O'Malley was a rotten cheapskate, a cigar-chewing despot whose appetite for money knew no bounds. Hungry for a new ballpark, he tried to bully the city into building him a new park. They wouldn't. Then one day, this O'Malley gathered up this happy ballclub and stole away to Los Angeles. The people of Brooklyn wept, and weep to this day. And the little borough was never the same again.
There is an old saw that suggests that the three worst people in this century were Hitler, Stalin and the selfsame Walter O'Malley. It is a notion commonly accepted that O'Malley destroyed what was essentially the happiest franchise on earth, perhaps equaled only by the Green Bay Packers for fan support.
But that is beginning to change. Last year saw the publication of Michael Shapiro's excellent The Last Good Season, which paints O'Malley in a much more flattering light. Even better is a new website dedicated to preserving the legacy of Walter O'Malley. At first, you may think that the viewer who visits WalterOMalley.com will be hit square in the face with the custard pie of self-promotion. After all, it is a site maintained by the O'Malley family, hardly an objective source. But while it does little to criticize the man, WalterOMalley.com is an impressive undertaking, an outstanding source of material by any standard. Peter O'Malley, Walter's son, assembled over 700 pages of information and 1,000 photographs on a site that has to be one of the most thorough examinations of a single person's life, and even better, a civics lesson on how to run a major league baseball team. Any fan with a sense of fairness as well as history would be well served to examine both the book and the site.
Brent Shyer is the vice-president of Special Projects for O'Malley Seidler partners, and helped to create the Walter O'Malley website. "Originally we wanted to put together a coffee table book," he says. "But considering the size, and that this is a work in progress, a website made more sense." Shyer speaks of the website with a great deal of pride, as one would imagine. But he also speaks of O'Malley with a great degree of reverence. When I mentioned the fact that both Walter and his wife of 48 years, Kay, died within a month of one another, he waxed romantic. "It was a tremendous love story. Kay was the love of O'Malley's life. She was a great source of strength for him. And she was a tremendous baseball fan. She had a scorebook of nearly every game." According to Shapiro's book, when it was discovered that Kay had cancer of larynx before they were married, O'Malley's family told Walter not to marry her. They didn't attend the wedding when he did.
WalterOMalley.com definitely focuses on the Los Angeles side of the O'Malley story. And why not? The Brooklyn Dodgers are more a product of Branch Rickey, while the Los Angeles Dodgers are O'Malley's. Both saw tremendous success. But unlike every owner who moved a team, O'Malley brought the Dodgers to Los Angeles and gave the city probably the greatest franchise outside of the Yankees. Although he had a sweetheart deal to acquire the land, O'Malley built the stadium himself and the Dodgers are still one of the only teams to pay property tax. He took great pains to make sure that Dodger Stadium was accessible, had great seats, and was gorgeous besides, without an excess of signage. He kept ticket prices the same for 25 years, and even today the most expensive are only two dollars more than the best at the Metrodome (and the cheapest, at $6, are the same). Even better, O'Malley also made sure that the team on the field was great as well. We may have forgotten in the last decade how great the Dodgers were from 1958 through 1990: nine pennants, five world championships, and, in keeping with the style of the ballpark, a roster of great pitchers from Sandy Koufax to Fernando Valenzuela to Orel Hershiser.
WalterOMalley.com is as easy on the eye as Dodger Stadium at sundown. For the Dodger fan, you can peruse photos of all the greats and read about Dodger history dating back to 1951. This site also proves that the Dodgers had the coolest yearbook covers of anybody. You'll find collections of press pins, the black bats used in the World Series, and much more.
There are also surprises. Like the fact that O'Malley grew orchids and baked bread. You can judge for yourself the difficulties he faced in Brooklyn by reading dozens of the internal memos and the letters he sent to Robert Moses, Parks Commissioner of the City of New York, the man who eventually denied all of O'Malley's requests. He adored his children and was a loving husband to his wife, Kay. O'Malley even had a guest shot on the TV western, "Branded."
But in spite of all these good things, a residue of the past still clings to his legend. Turn to Peter Golenbock's oral history, Bums (among many others), and you come away with a very different man. There's the O'Malley who said "the Dodger fans have paramount rights in the Brooklyn club. They are more important than the stockholders, the officials, the players, or anyone else." Then he moved the team. He is legendary for being a skinflint, once even keeping an elderly coach from a tour of Japan because it would cost too much to ship his body back (should this aged fellow croak on the trip). O'Malley, then, could be a figure of contempt, someone who, when he moved the Dodgers, cut the heart out of Brooklyn.
"Is that like the Yankees kept the heart in the Bronx? I think that's an overwrought statement," says Andy McCue, a consultant and author of the forthcoming biography Mover and Shaker: Walter O'Malley and the Dodgers. "I think O'Malley had some huge impacts on baseball, some of which were positive, some of which were negative. He made the game national, although someone else would have done it. True, Los Angeles had opportunities in the early 50s to move a team, but waited, because they wanted to bring a winning team to the city. They could have had the Senators. But I would argue that it is good to have strong teams in the media capitals of the country. I think that helps the game."
Furthermore, McCue argues, O'Malley was one of the few owners whose concern over baseball was paramount, as opposed to secondary. Bill Veeck even said that "[h]e is probably the only owner in baseball who spends time thinking about baseball." For O'Malley, unlike many others, had no other income than baseball. "He was a man who was concerned with baseball," McCue points out, "and how it was to be governed. He wasn't managing a gum company, or a brewery, so he was the one who was paying attention all the time. O'Malley was there every day, doing promotions, marketing his team, having giveaways, city nights like Gardena night. There's no doubt that a man like Bill Veeck was more dynamic, more creative, but O'Malley was more consistent. Look at how the Dodgers and Angels compare, even when the teams are good: the Dodgers still outdraw them."
This is not hard to understand. Any baseball fan who visits Los Angeles can notice a different aura surrounding the Dodgers. People loved them, loved the stadium, loved O'Malley, even to this day (and especially in the wake of two new owners, neither of whom seemed to have the fans best interests in mind). The Los Angeles Dodgers are a part of the community, more so than the Twins. Read any great biography of any of the Dodgers and you'll see that there is as much a sense of pride for Dodger blue as there is for the Yankee pinstripes.
So what is it about O'Malley that makes people want to vilify him? The Boston Braves moved before the Dodgers, and Horace Stoneham yanked the Giants out at the same time. Arnold Johnson moved the Athletics from Philadelphia when it probably should have been the woeful Phillies that took off. And the Browns jumped out to Baltimore. Few people lament the move of the Browns because the Browns stank, year after year, and the Cards didn't. O'Malley had the misfortune of playing around with a team that was, as they say, fabled. He ousted Branch Rickey, who is revered today the way he wanted to be revered in his day. O'Malley had a well known dislike for anyone who was a favorite of Rickey's, including Jackie Robinson, another great hero (and a move that some detractors suggest paints him as a racist).
Supporters of O'Malley suggest that he was forced out of Brooklyn because Robert Moses would not condemn land to allow O'Malley to build a ballpark and additional parking. In fact, that's the prevailing argument in The Last Good Season: O'Malley needed a new stadium to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn. In that book, Ebbets Field is described as "life in a brownstone with neighbors who asked too many questions. [It] was a row house, a railroad flat, looking out onto a red brick wall. It was not the way people wanted to live anymore." Ebbets was falling apart, had only 700 parking spaces, and was small, seating, at most, 34,000. O'Malley had an acute sense of these problems and sought to rectify the situation: he turned to R. Buckminster Fuller to help in the design of what would have been the first domed stadium, a multipurpose affair that would function in all weather. O'Malley sensed the future of baseball lay west, not in the city of New York, and especially not in Brooklyn, which seemed to be crumbling around him.
Both the O'Malley website and Shapiro's book speak of O'Malley's decisionsboth the dome and moving westas visionary decisions. In a sense they were. But consider two parks very similar to Ebbets: Wrigley and Fenway, ballparks that seat nearly that many, are as old (or older) and have very little in the way of parking. Both teams use their so-called disadvantages to their benefit, marketing the intimacy of the park and its old fashioned ways. And we here in Minnesota, who suffer season after season indoors, would give our collective right arms for a taste of baseball in a "brownstone," as opposed to a dome.
And so he moved the Dodgers. Robert Moses, who seems closer than O'Malley in the Hitler/Stalin axis of evil, certainly didn't help the matter, stonewalling O'Malley at every opportunity. But the question that stays on the minds of every Brooklyn fan is whether or not O'Malley needed to move. We don't believe that he did. However, as an owner, technically he haslike every other businessman in Americathe right to move. Cruel? Perhaps. But he left an area that was in the midst of great social change and moved to another that would suit his needsto make him more moneymore than any other. But while he might have torn the heart out of Brooklyn, Walter O'Malley certainly transplanted it to Los Angeles.
Walter O'Malley is not the devil. The typical follow up sentence is usually that he is no saint, and he isn't, but for an owner he was especially generous to his fans. Ticket prices are low in Minnesota because that is the only way you'd get us into the dome. Put a Dodger Stadium in Minneapolis and tickets prices would sail sky-high and the benevolent Pohlad would cram advertisements on every inch of space surrounding the diamond. O'Malley, like Veeck, truly cared for his fan base. Did he do it because he knew better than the rest that that would help sales? Maybe, but does it matter? If Carl Pohlad took care of Twins fans as O'Malley did Dodger fans, we wouldn't care how much money he made. It is, after all, a business.
But in the end none of this matters. Los Angeles is probably safe from having the Dodgers taken away, but here in the Twin Cities we're vulnerable. "On a negative side," McCue argues, "moving the Dodgers was a real wake up call. We love to delude ourselves with the beauty of the game and forget it's a business. But he reminded us, in a very harsh way, that it is. He didn't do it in Kansas City or in Detroit, he did it in a media capital. And he did it at a time when Brooklyn was exporting talented and bitter people to complain about him. This was a watershed in growing cynicism in the sport. And perhaps his most lasting legacy, he allowed every team owner, in every sport, to be credible when threatening to move out of a city. If you will leave the largest market in the entire world because you don't get your stadium, then Joe Blow who threatens to do that in Pittsburgh has credibility. They were a role in getting New York to bankroll the renovation of Yankee Stadium, which nearly bankrupted the city. That has been a truly lasting effect that he has on the game."
It is most certainly true that if the Dodgers had remained in Brooklyn, they would have eventually become tarnished with time, and at some point the argument to build a new stadium would have surfaced, as it has everywhere else (including Boston). Instead, they died young, in their prime, like James Dean. Maybe we should argue that we can keep the good owners good by forcing them not to move their teams: if teams want publicly financed stadiums they have to give the public half the team, thus guaranteeing they can't move. But that's an argument for another time.
It is a rarity in baseball that good owners run baseball clubs. It is even rarer when they last as long as Walter O'Malley. O'Malley was a good man because in the end he did what was right: namely, made Dodger Stadium a wonderful, affordable place to see good baseball, and he worked hard at being a good owner. By vilifying the man for a deed he did almost fifty years ago, we diminish the good, maybe even great things he did for baseball, things that benefited Walter O'Malley but also helped the people of Los Angeles as well. Websites like WalterOMalley.com help show us that owners can be humans, and also show that profit and caring are not mutually exclusive, a lesson we wish every owner took to heart.
Special thanks to Brent Shyer at WalterOMalley.com. All images in this article are courtesy of O'Malley Seidler Partners, LLC and are used with their generous permission.
KAFKA IN THE BLEACHERS?
George W. and John Kerry have theirs. Wil Wheaton has one. There's even one for dogs. Now Mudville Magazine is joining the fray: on April 1, 2004, editor Peter Schilling Jr. begins his own blog for the upcoming season, titled "The Bug".
"The Bug" (an archaic term for baseball enthusiast', according to the Dickson Baseball Dictionary) will run almost daily during the week, just like many other blogs, and it will include Schilling's typical two-fisted, hard-hitting commentary, with some cheap shots no doubt thrown in. There might be photos. There will never be recipes. Unlike our competitors, Schilling will not rely on the usual clichés about the smell of cut grass, the feel of the warm breezes, and the sunlight moving across the diamond. This is, of course, due primarily to the fact that you don't get those things in the Metrodome.
So look for "The Bug" beginning April Fool's Day. At Mudville Magazine, your internet dollar goes farther
because we care.
ELECTION 2004: YOUR VOTE COUNTS!
Perhaps no debate grew colder than whether or not Pete Rose deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. Sure, there are those who will scream and shout until they're blue in the face that his gambling has nothing to do with the Hall, but it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because, in the final analysis, your opinion means nothing to the cabal that runs the Hall of Fame. They, nor the mysterious Baseball Writers Association of America, do not give a holy rip whether or not any one of usor even Bill James for that matterwants Pete or Shoeless Joe or Alan Trammell enshrined. And that's a real shame.
Now it's time for us to pull the old soapbox out of the basement, climb atop the rickety thing and lecture our readers to join the one organization that does care about its members: The Baseball Reliquary. For anyone who joins the Reliquary by April 1 may vote for the 2004 inductees to the Shrine of the Eternals.
In the words of the Reliquary, the Shrine is "similar in concept to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but differs philosophically in that statistical accomplishment is not a criterion for election." The Shrine's annual ballot is comprised of individuals, from the obscure to the well-known, who have impacted the baseball landscape in ways that do not necessarily have anything to do with statistics." The Reliquary has enshrined such luminaries as Mark Fidrych, Bill Lee, Bill Veeck, and even Joe Jackson.
It's a wonderful organization and a real blast to be able to vote. Regardless of the number of votes, three individuals get inducted each and every year. This year's newcomers are a great lot, from our favorite Ernie Harwell to Carl Mays, submarining pitcher whose pitch killed Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman, from the late Tug McGraw to Spotswood Poles, a distant Negro Leaguer with a soft spot for Packard automobiles. The complete list of inductees can be found here.
True, if you spend your money on the Hall of Fame you get to tons of the blandest literature this side of corporate annual reports, run by a group of right-wingers who not only don't care about your opinion, but at times flaunt that fact (as with the "Bull Durham" fiasco). Membership with the Reliquary gets you fewer trinkets, but it means more. Your dues help the organization toward its goal of education and perhaps someday seeing their multicolored plaques hanging in a building we can all visit. For information on membership, you can visit the Reliquary's web page.
By Tom Farrell
Too many springs have passed since Willie Mays arrived in New York to play center field for the Giants. As with all such exercises in memory, looking back is both joyful and poignant, especially so since the very act of recalling my first, and only, baseball hero reminds me of a time that is gone and will not come again.
I was fourteen that first season, just beginning a somewhat checkered career as a high school and American Legion player in Westchester County, just a short ride away from the Polo Grounds. Like so many boys of that time, I lived for baseball and my devotion to the Giants would be matched today only by the most fanatical religious zealots. That devotion had been sorely tested during the war year when my father, who once played semi-pro ball in Jersey City, first introduced me to the game. President Roosevelt had decided that major league baseball should continue even though all the real ballplayers were in the military. That left the game to be played by those who were either unfit or too old for military duty. The situation was so desperate that a fifteen year old was a starting pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds and Pete Gray played the outfield for the St. Louis Browns with just one arm. Unfortunately the Giants' rejects were worse than the others, and bright moments were few. Some memories linger, however, such as the April '44 game when Phil Weintraub, the Giants' aging first baseman, drove in eleven runs against the hated Brooklyn Dodgers. We listened to the games on radio then and during rain delays, the announcers played phonograph records.
Things didn't get much better after the war. The real players returned, replacing three quarters of the wartime players, but the Giants continued to come up short. I was old enough to take the train to 125th Street and then catch the "L" up to the Polo grounds to see Sunday doubleheaders. Jackie Robinson become a Dodger in 1946 while it took the Giants longer to add Monte Irvin, their first black player, to their roster. The Giants had quality players- John Mize, Walker Cooper, Sid Gordon, Bobby Thomsen, Larry Jansen; they were better but not good enough.
In 1951, twenty-year old Willie Mays brought salvation. Signed in May for $18,000 and a Chevrolet, Willie went 0-12 before crushing a Warren Spahn fastball over the lights in the Polo Grounds. My father and I watched that game together on our first television set and, later that season, witnessed the "Miracle at Coogan's Bluff" as Bobby Thomson's historic home run beat the Dodgers for the pennant. The country was in another war in Korea then and when Willie went in the army in '52 and '53, the Giants faltered badly. When he returned in '54, they were back on top again. In his sophomore season, Willie's MVP performance (.345 Av., 41 home runs, .667 slugging percentage) led his team to another pennant and a four game World Series sweep of the Indians. By this time, I was a college freshman, and I still remember the shouts in the dormitory TV lounge when Willie ran down Vic Wertz's shot to the far reaches of the Polo Grounds. Later, when asked to compare that great catch with others he had made, Willie said, "I don't compare them," "I catch em." He had started a brilliant career which would end in another world series in 1973 as a New York Met. The rest is history.
The problem with history is that not everyone reads it and too many forget it. And so it is necessary from time to time to break out the record book to remind the unenlightened just how great Willie was:
3,283 hits (.302 Av)
1,903 runs batted in
6,006 total bases
338 stolen bases
660 home runs.
Willie is one of a handful of players to have over 300 stolen bases and 300 home runs. It is also clear that if he had not missed two seasons while serving in the army, Willie Mays would have been the first player to break Babe Ruth's record. In addition, Willie holds more All-Star records than any other player, including most appearances (24) and most times played on winning teams (17). It seemed, as Ted Williams, expressed it, that the All-Star game was invented for Willie.
Even though statistics are powerful testimony to Willie's ability, the statements of his peers are even more compelling. Leo Durocher, Willie's first manager, who played with Babe Ruth, had no reservations about Willie's place in baseball history. "There will never be a baseball player as good as Willie Mays. He could do the five things you have to do to be a superstar: Hit, hit with power, run, throw, and field. And he had the other magic ingredient that turns a superstar into a super Superstar. Charisma." Joe DiMaggio once was quoted as saying that Willie Mays came as close to perfection as any player he had ever seen on a diamond. And Tony Kubek, former Yankee and baseball announcer may have succinctly captured the truth when he said, "Willie Mays was the best that ever played the game." If further evidence was needed it came in 1979 when Willie was elected to the Hall of Fame, receiving more votes than any other candidate in the history of the balloting.
Long before that, my relationship with the Giants was permanently ruptured when they committed the unpardonable sin of deserting New York for San Francisco in 1958, the year I graduated from college. I married, had children, begun a career, and kept track of Willie's final years through day-old box scores from the coast and occasional television appearances. My father died, too young, at 62, and shortly after my wife and I and three daughters moved to New England where we have been ever since. My interest in the Giants waned, but I followed Willie right to the end when he said goodbye in Mets Stadium. We became Red Sox fans, a courageous act in itself, and added two children, the last a boy. He grew up to be a better player than his old man and went on to play on a state championship American Legion team in 1984. He and his sisters went away to college and, as years passed, memories of my New York youth and Willie Mays grew dimmer-until the spring of 1988.
That year, in early March, my wife and I left Rhode Island to go to Scottsdale, Arizona, where the San Francisco Giants were in spring training. I was still on the mend from a previous year's heart attack, an event which most likely was a delayed reaction to the play of the Red Sox in the sixth game of the 1986 World Series. I told my wife the Arizona sunshine would be ideal for my recovery and she agreed. Of course, my real reason for going was the hope of meeting Willie.
Our first stop in Scottsdale was at the Pink Pony restaurant, a place all baseball fans should visit once before they die. Its walls are decorated with caricatures of past players, the back of the bar is lined with World Series bats, and the Baseball Encyclopedia and Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract are handy to settle disputes. Willie's jersey, #24, hangs on the dining room wall next to fellow Hall of Famer, Willie McCovey's #44. It was a perfect place to be the night before the official opening of spring training.
The next morning, with the help of Charlie Briley, the Pink Pony's proprietor at the time, I waited to interview Willie at Scottsdale stadium, a baseball park very much like those you find on Cape Cod except the palm trees that sway lazily beyond the outfield fence. Approximately 200 spectators were there, a mixture of media people, college kids on vacation, and senior citizens, the solid supporters of the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues. The Giants were gathered around first base, listening to the same base running lesson they had heard over and over again since Little League.
The instant Willie came up out of the dugout, all activity stopped and a wave of applause began. Above the applause, one old timer called out, "Thanks Willie, thanks for everything you've given to America." It sounds corny, but instead it was one of those moments when everything is momentarily suspended while people swallow and look away from each other. You had to be there.
Talking with Willie was enjoyable. He is gregarious and, though he is careful to avoid comparisons with today's players, he relishes reminiscing about the days when Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle, and he roamed the center fields of New York. "I used to play Richie Asburn right behind second base in the Polo Grounds", he said. "He was a real slap hitter, wasn't he?" I asked, straining for long lost images. "That's right," he said. And after a short pause, "I caught everything he hit." Just like that. Very definite.
Willie was heavier, but still exuded power. His role with the Giants then was part public relations and part mentor to young players. He didn't travel with the team during the season which allowed him time to concentrate on his golf game. At 58, he seemed content.
The day following the visit to Scottsdale Stadium, my wife and I drove north out of Phoenix up through the mountains to Sedona. Sedona is a kind of modern day Brigadoon hidden in a canyon surrounded by layers of red rocks some 330 million years old. We have a friend who retired there to play golf and think metaphysical thoughts. He and I used to play ball together in New York around the time that Willie would finish playing center field in the Polo Grounds and then join in a stick ball game with the kids from the streets of Harlem. My friend asked me what I remembered most about meeting Willie. I told him that Willie never took his glove off the entire time he was on the field in Scottsdale. It was as if he wanted to be ready to turn one more time, at the crack of the bat, and chase down a fly ball should he get the chance.
That was sixteen years ago. Willie and I are both older now, but spring has come again and with it, memories of seasons past and dreams of those yet to come. The picture of Willie and me hangs on the wall of my library right next to a framed copy of a favorite poem, called "Spring Training." It was written by Lynn Rigney Schott, the daughter of Bill Rigney, the former Giant player and manager. It ends with these lines:
Thirty-five years of warm-ups
Like glancing down at the scorecard
in your lap for half a second
and when you look up it's done-
a long fly ball, moonlike,
into the night
over the fence,
way out of reach.
by Jeff Kallman
With all due respect to Wrong Way Riegels, no sports goat clings with a grip stronger than a baseball goat. And few baseball goats are impaled as deeply upon their own horns as the goats of Boston Red Sox past.
Whatever the course of his previous advance, regardless the tapestry of life to come, the baseball goat's hereafter is long enough and too often an Eighth Amendment violation. Our own failures, rarely committed before a paying audience, seem isolated and transient compared to his. He costs us a bath in the warm springs of championship, so we believe; we erase his humanness and corrode portion enough of our own.
Bill Lee is a good many things that do not include dull. He can rant his wants-to-be-metaphysical head off, with all the tone colour he can draw from his cheerfully unrepentant mind. Will he have to do better than The Little Red (Sox) Book: A Revisionist Red Sox History (Chicago: Triumph Books; 200 pages, $19.95) if he wishes forgiveness for the slop curve Tony Perez slopped about ten miles past the Massachussetts Turnpike?
"I believe," writes the man adorned in Ho Chi Minh's beard, Mao Tse-tung's field cap, and a Red Sox jersey that now betrays middle age's paunch, "that strikeouts are as fascist as Benito Mussolini. Fastballs rise up the ladder. Good morning Reggie, good afternoon Reggie, and good night Reggie! Curveballs are very organic and very natural. They make optimum use of gravity."
Except, of course, when they make optimum use of hang time. That occurs, as a general and organic law, when they are thrown less than just so. And God help you if they are thrown with repetition enough that a hitter smart enough finds them as unpredictable as the sunrise from the east. "I live by the slow curve, and I'll die by the slow curve," insists the man whose most optimum hang time got hung over the Green Monster for a seventh-game World Series home run that still provokes Cincinnati's eternal gratitude for the wrong lapse of gravity at the wrong time.
He still blames the double play breakup that preceded Perez for what Perez was about to do. He cannot bear to give Pete Rose his due for breaking it up with a by-the-hustler's-handbook slide that took Red Sox second baseman Denny Doyle just enough out that the throw to first was offline. "And
(i)t was obvious that I was visibly upset at that point," he writes. "Why didn't the pitching coach come out then, before a mistake was made, before I let my emotions get the best of me and cause me to make a bad pitch?"
It gets better when Lee slides into his "what-if" scenario, for that and for all the defining moments of the Red Sox's surrealistic calamities. Which is probably nothing that Red Sox cradle-to-gravers have not done, oh, about once a day. Give Lee his "what-if" for Game Seven of the 1975 World Series, and:
* With the takeout slide leaving Johnny Bench on first with two out and Tony Perez coming up, the spirits of Cy Young and Babe Ruth rest on the Spaceman's shoulders. ("Kid," the Bambino would be saying, "there's a bottle of Scotch waiting in the clubhouse if you win this one.")
* Thus becalmed, Lee works Perez for a 2-2 count with a slow curve just off the zone, "my version of a fastball under his chin," a slow curve painting the outside black, and a slow curve breaking back over the middle to freeze the Big Dog.
* Carlton Fisk calls for a fastball, Lee shakes him off for yet another slow curve, the twosome duke it out on the mound, then Lee throws Perez a slow change that the Big Dog couldn't hit with a hangar door, "lung(ing) at the ball like Roseanne going for a hamburger." (So much for strikeouts being as fascist as Benito Mussolini.) 3-0, Red Sox; and, when Lee comes out with that blister, no one even thinks about lifting Jim Willoughby. Sox win.
In Lee's revised Red Sox world, Harry Frazee would have sold not Babe Ruth but the Red Sox to Joseph P. Kennedy ("Around the speakeasies of Boston, the joke would soon be that Kennedy bootlegged enough liquor to keep his star player happy"), who would proceed to spend like a drunken Steinbrenner, let not one Red Sox comer escape to New York, seize the moment by signing Shoeless Joe Jackson (whom the White Sox wouldn't re-sign, despite his innocence in the World Series scandal), raid the league talent appropriately, and move the Wall from left field to right field. And the Red Sox into the emperorship of the game.
In Lee's further-revised Red Sox world, legendary catcher-spy Moe Berg would get a lot of help from his friend Ted Williams, who would kill Hitler with a screaming line drive; the Red Sox would have pounced rather than brushed Jackie Robinson aside, and Robinson would have thrown Enos Slaughter out at home; Tony Conigliaro would have had nothing worse than a mild headache and survived to make the Red Sox win the '67 World Series and out-homer Teddy Ballgame, lifetime; B.F. Dent would have been a world-renowned concert pianist while the Red Sox were taking care of the Yankees in the playoff game; and, Mookie Wilson would have grounded to Dave Stapleton for the Series-ending forceout.
And if you think baseball's most Sisyphean fans have not pondered those very scenarios for baseball's most Sisyphean team at least a trillion times as time has gone by, think again.
Well, not everyone is Bill Lee. For better or worse, not everyone has even a percentage of his insouciant irreverence, though certainly he isn't a perfect writer or fantasist, and he seems almost blissfully unaware of certain direct or implicit contradictions within his fantasies. He also seems blissfully unaware of particular actualities. "Baseball should be about spheroids, not steroids," he chirps. If Lee has any awareness that a) steroids do not, in fact, enhance acts of play that require skill and faculty unimpacted by mere mass; and, b) the incredibly shrinking strike zone and newer, smaller ballparks are the actual source of the offencive inflation of the past decade or more, he isn't betraying it.
But he would also dump in-season interleague play (sound as a nut), compel a daytime-only World Series (and say ye, "Amen!"), and unload Fenway Park's electronic scoreboard. (He likens it to hanging fuzzy dice from the rearview mirror of a Rolls Royce.) He also continues holding his grudges against Don Zimmer ("Zimmer spends his time as a part-time hemorrhoid ointment salesman and a full-time pain in the ass") and Graig Nettles. ("Nettles lives in Arizona, where he puts his quick hands to work milking pit vipers. The snakes are more afraid of his venom than he is of theirs.")
This is from the man who would run for the presidency with Dennis Eckersley as his running mate, and who would, if elected, replace the eagle with the Bird (read: Mark Fidrych, the legendary Detroit flash-in-the-pan) as our national symbol, legalise marijuana and ban Brylcreem, make the U.S. nickel show a Buffalo Head on each side (namely: Lee and Luis Tiant, two of the semi-storied Buffalo Head Gang, Red Sox devoted to undermining Don Zimmer's management), get impeached for misusing one of Tiant's cigars, and eventually make enough from a line of bats made from the Green Monster to buy the Red Sox.
Permit me to put it this way: You could have spent the hot stove season curled up with a lot worse. Whatever he leaves you, Bill Lee has a knack for leaving you laughing. He probably doesn't care much if it's at him as much as with him. Maybe he really has found the secret to living as a Red Sox goat.
AROUND THE HORN
Kudos to Alex Belth and the rest of the crew at the ring-dingiest All-Baseball.com, home of such luminaries as the aforementioned Belth, the Cub Reporter (who unfortunately lost his neon Cubs sign in the move), and Mike's Baseball Rants, to name but a few quality blogs. Although we don't get all our baseball information from All-Baseball.com, it still stands that for the serious fan, great baseball information comes from the blogs, and not the newspapers. Which begs the question: when will the print media ever get around to hiring any of these sharp writers?
Congrats are in order to the good fellows at Elysian Fields Quarterly, who have just published their 40th issue
We admit to being bowled over by SABR's new book, Deadball Stars of the National League. For starters, this is a handsome book, filled with great photos and even replicas of the autographs of the players and executives from the deadball era. The essays, covering the most notable players of the time, are, for the most part, well written and economical, evoking a time when play was just a bit more cutthroat than today. For those of us with little knowledge of this rough-and-tumble era, Deadball Stars is a welcome read on a miserable winter night.