Friday, April 4, 2014

The First Game


THE FIRST GAME

by Glenn Stout
 
I don’t remember the score. That’s the funny thing about your first big league game -- the score is usually the least important thing about it.

I grew up outside Columbus, Ohio, at a time when trips to big league towns like Cincinnati or Cleveland were long journeys far beyond the family budget. But Columbus had the Triple-A Columbus Jets of the International League, a farm team of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and that usually made up for it. We’d go a half a dozen or so times a year – if you were under 12 you could buy a “Jet Badge” for $1 that got you in free with an adult, not a bad deal. The Jets were almost always good – I remember seeing Richie Hebner, Fred Patek, Manny Sanguillen, Bob Robertson, Dave Cash, Al Oliver and a host of other players who went on to pretty good major league careers. Johnny Pesky even spent a few years there as manager in the late ‘60s.

We usually sat in general admission seats, but the man who owned the concrete company my Dad worked for, Ralph Anderson, was also president of the Jets. He liked my Dad, and once a year we got to sit in his box on the roof. There was nothing “luxury” about it but the view – lux boxes had yet to be invented. It was a simple wood box with a window covered with chicken wire to keep you safe from foul balls.

Still, it wasn’t the big leagues, and by the time I turned 10 my parents knew that, eventually, they were gonna have to take the kid to a real ballgame.

Back then, most major league teams still barnstormed their way north, playing exhibitions as they travelled. Sometime late that winter an ad appeared in the Columbus Dispatch announcing an exhibition between the Reds and Detroit Tigers just before Opening Day.

To this day, I don’t know exactly how it happened, but somehow my Dad scored four tickets. Not just any four tickets, either, but four tickets in the third row behind the Tigers dugout, enough for the entire family. I almost wore the tickets out, looking at them ahead of time.

It didn’t matter that it was an exhibition game and even then I already hated the Reds – these were major league players whose names I already knew – Rose, Perez, Lee May, and a catcher named Johnny Bench who was the Rookie of the Year in ’68, a team that would soon be known as the Big Red Machine. And the Tigers, my Dad’s favorite team, were Word Series defending champions – Bill Freehan, Dick McAuliffe, Norm Cash, Denny McClain, Mickey Lolich and my Dad’s favorite, Al Kaline.

In a surprise, it was warm that day, and sunny, and for once we went early, hours before the game, to try to get autographs and watch batting practice. I’d never been able to do either before, but damned if some of the Tigers didn’t come out of the dugout to sign, and while roaming under the stands my brother and I kept running into players.

Most were nice, and even when they weren’t, they were memorable. I saw Tony Perez speaking to someone in Spanish, a language I don’t think I had ever heard before. I interrupted, and asked him for his autograph.

He turned and looked at me – a real live major leaguer looking me in the eye. And then he spoke, saying something else I’d never heard before: “Go f***  yourself, kid.” Some language is universal, and I got the message.

It didn’t matter. Everyone was in a good mood. I got to eat as many hot dogs and “Jet Bars” – orange Creamsicles – as I could. Even my mother had fun, laughing herself to tears as an older woman behind us got drunk and spent the whole game thinking the Tigers were the Red.

 I can’t remember who pitched for either team – probably some minor leaguers, because the Reds opened the next day in Cincinnati and Detroit at home a day later. But I do remember Al Kaline hitting a home run – someplace, we have a slide of him slowly running the bases   and at one point in the game Willie Horton came out of the dugout and handed out both parts of a broken bat – some kids on either side both had longer reaches than I did, so I missed out. And after the game, we gathered around the buses carrying member of both teams, passed them our scorecards and both came back covered with signatures, Kaline and Freehan, Cash and McLain, Horton and Lolich, and Bench, Rose, Gary Nolan, Lee May -  even my new language instructor, Tony Perez. 

So who won that day? That’s easy…

I did.

 This column first appeared in Boston Baseball, April 2014

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The WORST World Series: 1918


 

Before the start of the 1918 "Worlds Series" there was joy in Boston and Chicago, but little interest elsewhere.  Due to the war in Europe many baseball fans viewed each team with cynicism, ballclubs that crassly tried to buy pennants with cash with players who dodged military service while their countrymen gave their lives on the battlefield.    

Still, the Cubs were a powerhouse.  Anchored by Jim “Hippo” Vaughn, the Cubs had the best pitching in the National League and were no less successful in the batter’s box, featuring a lineup that feasted in war-depleted pitching staffs.  Despite the presence of players like Babe Ruth on the Boston roster, most observers, like Red Sox partisan Paul Shannon of the Boston Post, gave the edge to the Cubs. 

Shannon was right.  The Cubs should have won the 1918 World Series.  But as modern observers know, in regard to the Cubs, “should win” and “won” are not part of the same language.  Although virtually everything tilted the Cubs way, it would not be enough.  They would squander every advantage, beginning with their home field edge.  With the series scheduled to begin with three games in Chicago, Cubs ownership got greedy and asked the White Sox for permission to use Comiskey Park rather than Weeghman Park due to its larger seating capacity.  Both the home field advantage and the offensive advantage they gained from their home park were gone. 

Both clubs had plenty of time to prepare and set their pitching rotation for the series did not begin until September 4, almost a week after the end of the war-shortened regular season. 

The big surprise in game one was that the Sox chose to start Babe Ruth on the mound.  He’d won only 13 games in 1918 and the smart money believed the Cubs were much better against left-handed pitching.  But Ruth had been Boston’s best pitcher down the stretch and due to Ruth’s recent trouble hitting left-handers, Sox manager Ed Barrow didn’t intend to use him in the Series in the outfield.  Instead he decided to go with minor league journeyman – and right-handed hitter – George Whiteman.

Neither Hippo Vaughn nor Ruth was sharp at the start of game one, but neither team scored until   the fourth inning, when Boston finally broke through.  Dave Shean walked, and after a botched sacrifice attempt, George Whiteman and first baseman Stuffy McInnis both singled, scoring Sheen and giving Boston a 1-0 lead. 

In a contest the Tribune termed “monotonous,” that was it.  The Cubs mounted a mild threat in the sixth, only to have Whiteman end the rally with a running catch to secure Boston’s 1-0 victory. 

Game two was far more engaging as Cubs coach Otto Knabe provided the entertainment, taunting Red Sox coach Heinie Wagner.  After Boston went down in the second inning, instead of returning to the Boston bench, Wagner came looking for Knabe. 

Before anyone realized what was happening, Wagner was in the Cub dugout throwing haymakers.  The Cubs folded in over the two men before Boston‘s reinforcements could cut across the diamond and come to Wagner’s rescue.  After some delay, Wagner emerged muddied but not bloodied from the confrontation.  Baseball Magazine later reported that “fans who could see it [the fight] declared that when they heard two Germans were fighting, they merely encouraged them to beat each other up.”

The battle did ratchet up the intensity of the Series, and the rest of game two was played as if baseball were a contact sport.  In the Chicago third, the Cubs broke through against Sox pitcher Joe Bush.  With one out, Freed Merkle walked, and then Charlie Pick laid down a bunt and beat the throw to first.  Third baseman Charlie Deal popped up a failed bunt attempt, but Bill Killefer proceeded to double to score one run and then Tyler helped himself, driving a single to center that scored Pick and Killefer.  Boston threatened in the ninth when Strunk and Whiteman hit back-to-back triples, but Tyler held on for the 3-1 win as Ruth stayed on the Boston bench and the Cubs knotted the Series.

A victory in game three was critical for Chicago.  Manager Fred Mitchell brought back Vaughn on one day’s rest, while Boston countered with submariner Carl Mays.

Vaughn pitched well, but Mays was even better.  In the fourth Boston scratched across two runs after Vaughn hit Whiteman and the Red Sox added four singles, not one of which was hit hard.  Chicago’s best chance came in the bottom of the inning when Dode Paskert nearly hit a home run only to have George Whiteman, Boston’s best player in the Series, grab the ball out of the front row.  The Cubs scored one run in the fifth on a couple of hits, but May stopped them after that.  The Red Sox won, 2-1.

A few hours later, at eight o’clock, both teams boarded the same train for the twenty-seven hour trip to Boston.  Normally, the two clubs would have had little to do with one another, particularly after the bad blood in game two, but the long journey caused tempers to cool and players from both clubs finally had a chance to look over some documents distributed by the National Commission.  By the time they reached Boston they were spitting blood.  Baseball’s ruling National Commission had changed the distribution of World Series money.  Each team was playing for a whole lot less than they thought they were. 

Before 1918 the players had shared 60% of Series receipts but in 1918, the Commission, acting on behalf of the owners, changed the distribution to only 55.75% of the receipts, and then only from the first four games.  That amount would also be shared with the players on the teams that finished second, third and fourth and players would be forced to “donate” another ten percent to war charities.  By the time the two team reached Boston the player of both teams were united and talking about going on strike.  The next morning player representatives told the commission that they had no intention of playing and requested a formal meeting to air their grievances.  They were put off and reluctantly decided to play game four.

The Cubs, in particular, had reason to play.  The night before, as the train chugged its way into Boston, schedule game four starter Babe Ruth had decided to have a little fun punching out straw hats on the train. 

Ruth either miscalculated or punched through a hat and straight into the steel wall of the train, or else someone resisted and Ruth responded with a real swing that missed its target and lost a battle with that same wall. The result was that the middle finger of Ruth’s pitching hand was swollen to twice its normal size.  If he was hampered by the finger, or couldn’t pitch at all, the advantage tilted toward the Cubs.

Ruth had the finger drained but convinced Barrow he could pitch.  He started the game with the finger stained with iodine. 

He could pitch, but just barely.  Unfortunately for the Cubs, Boston’s defense kept bailing him out.  Then in the fourth, after Cubs pitcher Lefty Tyler walked Shean and Whiteman, Ruth came up with two outs.

He fell behind 3-0 then watched two strikes pass by as if he realized he had only one good swing left and was determined to wait for the perfect pitch. 

He got it.   As Boston Post reporter Paul Shannon wrote, “A report like a rifle shot rang through the park.  Twenty-five thousands rose as one man, and while the bleachers shrieked in ecstasy, the Cubs right fielder [Flack] taken unawares dashed madly for the center field stands.”  Shean and Whiteman scored easily and Ruth slid into third for a triple.  Boston led, 2-0.

But Ruth still wasn’t right and in the top of the eighth, the Cubs finally got to him, tying the game and ending Ruth’s scoreless inning streak in Series at 29 2/3 innings.

Cubs’ pitcher Phil Douglas took over for Tyler in the eighth.  Boston catcher Wally Schang led off with a single and advanced to second when a Douglas pitch got away from catcher Bill Killefer.  Harry Hooper then laid down a bunt, which Douglas fielded and promptly threw away, and Schang came around with the winning run.  The Sox hung on and now the Cubs trailed in the Series three games to one.

As soon as the game ended, however, the players again took up their grievance with the National Commission.  Harry Hooper, Heinie Wagner, Leslie Mann and Bill Killefer, went together to the Copley Plaza. Once again the Commission brushed them off like piece of lint.    Later that evening, however, they decided to try to meet once more with the commission the next morning.  Unless the issue was resolved, they were determined not to play game five.

By this time word of the snafu was becoming public knowledge.  The press was four-square on the side of management – the Chicago Daily Journal referred to the players as the “bolsheveki of baseball.”

The next morning the team of revolutionaries went to the Copley Plaza once again.  The Commission again sent them away, saying they could all meet again after game five.

The players knew better.  If Boston won game five, the point was moot - the Series would be over and there would be no meeting.  The representatives went to the ballpark and explained the situation to players of both teams.  They were all in agreement. As far as they were concerned, there would be no game five.

Meanwhile, the commission celebrated their victory over the players in the bar of the Copley Plaza.  But as game time approached and some twenty thousand fans began to pour into Fenway Park, the players remained in the clubhouse, on strike.  When the Commission found out they gulped down one last drink and hustled over to the ballpark.  At 2:45 the commissioners met Hooper, Dave Shean, Mann and Killefer in the umpire’s room as a handful of sportswriters squeezed in behind them.  The players were ready for a sober discussion of the issues.   The commission was incapable of having a sober discussion about anything.

American League president Ban Johnson, drunk and in tears, was in no condition to negotiate anything.  He played the patriotic card, imploring the players to take the field for “the soldiers in the stands,” some of whom were, in fact, now on the field, pressed into service to try to prevent the crowd from rioting.

Reporter Nick Flately of the Boston American captured the tone perfectly in his story about the meeting.  According to his description, Commissioner Gerry Hermann piped in, saying, “’Let’s arbitrary this matter Mister Johnson,’ then he launched forth into a brilliant exposition of the history of baseball’s governing board.  Expert reporters took notes for a while, then quit, befuddled.”

So did the players.  There was no sense arguing with three men who were seeing double and slurring every word.  Boston Mayor John Fitzgerald, president Kennedy’s grandfather, took the field and announced to the crowd that the players “have agreed to play for the sake of the public and the wounded players in the stands.”

The crowd booed lustily, and when the players took the field they fielded insults from every direction. Some fans just left, disgusted.

Then came the game.  Boston fans took their anger over the strike out on the Red Sox, cheering Cub pitcher Hippo Vaughn the whole game, and the Red Sox responded by making outs early and often.  The Cubs scored a run in the second and two in the eighth, and just over one hour and forty minutes after it started, game five was history.  The Cubs won, 3-0 and trailed the Red Sox three games to two.  The Chicago press thought it was a great game while Boston sports writers were less impressed and all but wrote that the Red Sox had played to lose.

The end result was that no one cared anymore who won Series anyway.  The strike, which the public didn’t understand, soured the public on the Series.     Fenway Park was only half full on the afternoon of September 11 when Tyler, on one days’ rest, squared off opposite Carl Mays.

There was little glory for the Cubs or anyone else not named George Whiteman.  The journeyman hit a line drive in the second that scored two runs and in the eighth inning made a tumbling catch to save the game.  He left the field to a rousing ovation with a wrenched neck as Ruth trotted out as a meaningless defensive replacement.  One inning later the Boston Red Sox were champions of the world and the Cubs looked to next year.  Most fans yawned at the result. There was only a small subdued on field celebration by the Red Sox as a few hundred die-hard cheered them on. By the end of the series only a few dozen fans were showing up on the streets outside the Chicago newspaper office to watch the game being replayed on the big board.  The Daily Journal reported glumly that “interest was plainly at zero…baseball is not an essential during a time of war.” 

George Whiteman, not Ruth, was heralded as the hero of the Series.  The right-handed hitter had feasted on Tyler and Vaughn while catching everything hit in his direction. 

Depending on which newspaper one believed, the Cubs earned either $574.62 or $671.09 each, while the champion Red Sox took in $1001.52, and each still had to donate a portion to the war charities.  Both figures were the lowest in Series history, as was the total of nineteen runs scored in the Series, ten by the Cubs and only nine for Boston.

Perhaps the worst World Series in history was over.  Baseball took punitive action against the players over the strike and withheld their World Series medallions, the equivalent of today's rings, until 1993. At the time no one could envision that decades later Boston fans would look back on it with nostalgia, for the Red Sox would go 86 years before winning another championship and that Cubs fans, who are still waiting, would one day look back at 1918 as one of the first of many lost opportunities. 

Within days after ended it ended it was almost as if the Series had not been played at all.  Soldiers returning from Europe carried with them Spanish influenza and a few days after the Series scores of people began dying in Boston as the pandemic took hold.   Among its victims would be Series umpire Silk O’Loughlin, and several Boston sports writers who covered the Series.

The disease spread rapidly to Chicago, probably due to the return of soldiers to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, or, perhaps, by fans, sportswriters and players returning to Chicago from Boston.  In October alone more than ten thousand Chicagoans would die of the disease, and by the time the pandemic finally ended in the spring of 1919, more than a half million Americans were dead, 20,000 in Chicago and another 6,000 in Boston.

There was some good news, however.  On November 11, the Great War came to an end. In 1919 baseball would soon return to normal.  Unfortunately for the Red Sox and Cubs, “normal” no longer meant what it once did.  Another World Series victory would prove elusive for both teams. 
 
Adapted from Red Sox Century and The Cubs, copyright Glenn Stout and Richard Johnson. @GlennStout, www.glennstout.net

 

 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING


 
Ah, the post season. Maybe this one, in the long run, will mean more. Maybe this one will be different.

Because, you see, it’s always something with this club, something that, no matter the final score, has always taken the shine off a championship in ways no other team has ever faced. The end result is that Fenway Park, the oldest ballpark in the major leagues, has never, never ever ever, been the site for a full-blown championship celebration.

Take 1903, when Boston won the first World Series. Hunky dory, right? Well… do the math. That one wasn’t played at Fenway Park, but at the Huntington Avenue Grounds, and even then only a few more than 7,000 people turned out for the finale as the crowds had come to the conclusion the who thing might have been rigged (and it looked like it might rain) so you can cross that one off.

Ok then, 1912, an eight-game victory over that other pesky New York team, the Giants. Except for the fact that Sox fans rioted on the field, a couple Sox players (at least) punched each other out, a game or two might have been fixed and that by the end of the Series Fenway Park was half-full and nobody in Boston gave a damn, it was great. Really.

But what about 1915 and 1916, those two glorious back to back championships under manager Bill “Rough” Carrigan? Well, they were satisfying enough, I guess. I mean, the Red Sox won, but unfortunately, they didn’t play an inning of either Series in Fenway Park. The 1915 Series ended in Philadelphia, and the 1916 Series in Braves Field, where the Sox also played home games in the 1915 Series. Why? Greed mostly. Braves Field was bigger than Fenway and besides, the temporary stands they built for the 1912 Series, responsible for giving Fenway Park the shape it has today,  were already starting to fall apart.

That brings us to 1918, another (in)glorious year. You see, just before the Series the powers that be decided to screw the players out of some post-season dough. They almost went on strike and even though they didn’t, in the wake of WWI the crowd considered most of them slackers who dodged military service and once the Sox won the Series in a half-full Fenway Park. You could look it up.

Alright, but what about, what about … Hmm, when did they play in the World Series next? Oh yeah, in 1946 against the Cardinals. Ted Williams got hit on the elbow in a meaningless exhibition just before the Series and it swelled up, and then Pesky held the ball (except he didn’t, but nobody was paying attention) and… now I remember. The Cardinals won in seven, ending the Series in St. Louis.

The Sox almost made it back to the Fall Classic two years later, except for the fact that they fell in the infamous playoff game versus Cleveland when manager Joe McCarthy spun the scotch bottle (or something) and surprised everyone by picking Denny Galehouse to pitch (including Galehouse when he was told the night before).

With Ted and Doeer and Pesky and a host of other stars, everyone expected the Sox to make it back the Series for each of the next four or five years, but alas, DiMaggio and the Yankees generally thwarted that. Then came the long decline til 1967.

 

Ah, 1967. The Impossible Dream and still the best Fenway celebration ever as fans rushed the field when they clinched the pennant and Jim Lonborg was carried off on their shoulders, losing his shoestrings in the process (true story). Then everybody woke up and St. Louis took the Series.

The playoffs started a few years later and while eventually this would give the Sox more reason to dream – and keep interest in seasons otherwise lost -- the World Series remained a distant hope, til 1975, when it became just another excruciating loss punctuated by Fisk's meaningless, (in the end) home run.

Boston finally made it back there in 1986, playing the surrogate Yankees -- the Mets -- and the celebration got underway at Shea Stadium as the Sox won the Series in six games… er, check that. Stanley, Gedman, Buckner, Death, Pestilence, Disease, etc., etc., etc.

That just made 2004 even sweeter, right? And 2007 was just the cherry on top, wasn't it? Remember however, that both those victories also came elsewhere, in St. Louis in 2004 (when the Cardinals conveniently forgot to show up), and in Denver in 2007 against the storied Rockies. 

Unfortunately, that’s not the whole story. There is that pesky PED problem that we have since learned had wrapped itself fully around a certain dreadlocked No. 4 hitter, and kinda sorta grabbed No. 3 too, and may have caused a whole bunch of other guys to sort of slink away never to be seen or heard from again. I mean, wherefore art thou Mark Bellhorn?

Most Sox fans may be loath to admit it, but that stuff matters. Now, even though we know the testing program is a joke, there is at least the possibility of something approaching redemption, and, at last, a worthy and well-earned celebration in Fenway Park. Perhaps even one that sometime in the future will cause fans to look fondly back upon 2013… and wonder just what the hell the deal was with those beards, anyway?

 

Glenn Stout is Series Editor for The Best American Sports Writing, author of Fenway 1912 and edits longform journalism for SB Nation.  For more see www.glennstout.net  This story first appeared in Boston Baseball, October 2013.  Details on the circumstances in 1912 are discussed in my book Fenway 1912. The circumstances in 1918 are discussed in detail in my book Red Sox Century.

 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

15 Ways to Survive as a Freelancer


 

1)  Get up early and write first. Don't let the day get in the way of what you have to do, and by getting up early,  if someone asks you to do something later in the day, you can, because you've already done your other work -- you don't have to say you'll get to it tomorow. And if you have a day job, do your freelance work first - if your day job starts at 8 AM, start writing at 5 AM. The romantic notion of a writing lifestyle is meaningless unless you do the work.

 

2) At the start, and for a long, long time after, say “yes” to almost everything. You never know where that might lead, and if you're any good, you can learn from just about any assignment. Example: I was once asked to write one little work-for-hire book.  I sorta didn’t want to, but I said yes. Over the next decade that turned into another 38 titles. 

 

3)  Ass in chair.  Let me say this again: ASS IN CHAIR. You don’t get anything done going for coffee every hour. Most of the time, this isn’t easy or fun. The job is ass in chair, alone for hours. It’s cool to say you’re a writer when asked at the bar, but the rest of the time, it’s ass in chair. You’re not a tortured artist, you’re a day laborer, like the people waiting for assignments from Manpower.

 

4)  You never "make it." Every time you kick down one door, there is another one, and life is spitting out new writers every day. Some will work harder than you will, some are better than you are, and some will have better connections. You can only control your own effort, so make sure that’s not the problem. It’s hard to make it, and I know writers that have “made it” then got lazy and watched it fritter away. It’s hard to get back in, so don’t relax.  

 

5)  Hit deadlines. Don't ever give anyone a chance to dump you based on this, because that reputation lingers. I’ve hit tight deadlines while writing the morning of a funeral, taking care of an infant full-time, and writing with a broken finger before getting it stitched – real blood on the keyboard that day. Make a personal deadline in advance of the real one, so you don’t turn things in rushed and unfinished. Recent lesson: I was asked to write an essay, one of about a dozen writers asked to do so - 500 words – and given two weeks. I wrote a draft that day, then finished it and turned it in the next day, before anyone else did.  That allowed me to stake out my approach before another writer wrote something similar, or got the editor’s ear. My essay ended up leading the piece, and setting the theme.

 

6)  Learn to re-package, to write the same basic topic, in different ways for different markets. Easier than you think, but don’t self-plagiarize, or ever even get close to that. When I re-package, I also re-research, and then, at the end, compare with what I’ve written earlier and make sure that language and quotes are not duplicated

 

7)  Always be ready to write, and always be on the lookout for a story. I was on vacation once, running on the beach, and something strange happened. I knew it was a story before I’d finished the run.

 

8)  Don't be obnoxious, glib, or too familiar with an editor, particularly at the start. Be committed, and have an idea, but don't give them a reason to call someone else, or to conclude you’re more trouble than you're worth. And don’t blow them off, or otherwise waste their time. I’ve seen this from the other side, assigning stories and even issuing contracts only to have writers disappear, or quit on the story. I won’t ask them for work again.

 

9)  Fulfill the assignment, then do a bit more, then ask if there's anything more you can do.

 

10)  Social media may make you more popular but it won’t make you a better writer -- you only have so many words -- don’t waste them and don’t let social media suck time and energy better spent writing. Think about this: All of Shakespeare would fit on about 70,000 tweets.

 

11) Check facts, spelling, and grammar. Don't make avoidable dumbass mistarkes – er mistakes.

 

12)  If asked what you charge, ask for more money than you think you're worth. Sometimes they say yes – I once sold a poem I’d have given away for free for $350, just because someone asked me how much I wanted for it. But also be prepared to accept less than what you think you’re worth if there’s a chance it could lead to something more. Waiting for the big payday is playing the lottery and about as likely. Careers are built from the accumulation and momentum of many assignments.

 

13)  Try to work in a day a week without words, and find something you like to do that doesn’t involve looking at a screen at all.  

 

14)  Pay your quarterly taxes, and if you don’t know what these are, learn. Set aside 1/3 of all you make to account for this, and learn all about “Business Use of Home” and “Expense Deductions” on your taxes. Expect your income to vary wildly month to month, year to year. That’s a given. If you can’t live that way, don’t try this.

 

15)  Lastly, no excuses. Not the economy, not your relationship, not your day job, not your upbringing, not your education, not anything. The “free” in freelance refers to your time - you control that, something most people can’t say, and that’s extremely valuable.

 

People who don’t write have excuses. And the only real difference between people who write for a living and those wanted to write for a living but don’t, is that at some point those people lifted their ass out of the chair, walked away and quit.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Good Work at Little Fenway


 

It rained all day until the minute I turned off the main road onto the dirt one, and then wound my way up the hill, following the signs, until I finally found the driveway and turned onto the lawn to park. Then the sun came out. Of course.

I was at Little Fenway in Jericho, Vermont, last month for the annual Travis Roy Foundation Wiffle Ball tournament, and if you haven’t heard about it by now, after Konner Fleming’s diving catch into the bullpen went viral, you must be off the grid. But there is more to the tourney than one catch. Seeing Little Fenway for the first time is not much different than seeing the real thing—you’ll never forget it. Same beautiful sun-lit grass, same Green Monster, same scoreboard, even a Citgo sign, only all of it one-quarter size. With the Green Mountains towering in the background, it’s as if the real Fenway Park has somehow run away to summer camp.

And, of course, Travis was there. It was almost 18 years ago that during his first shift for the Boston University hockey team, 11 seconds into his college hockey career, that he slid into the boards and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since, a quadriplegic.

Well, confined isn‘t quite the right word, because while Travis might be in a wheelchair, he doesn’t seem very confined by anything. He spends his time raising money and giving motivational talks and he’s rolling all over the place at the Wiffle Ball tourney, greeting players, families, fans, giving out fist bumps and smiling and talking to everyone. His foundation, now in its 12th year, gives out research grants and helps others with spinal cord injuries pay for things like vans and other adaptive equipment, making the little miracles possible that can make a big difference in a life, and can turn confinement into something else. 

Travis’s dad, Lee, is there, and so is Pat O’Connor, who hasn’t just built Little Fenway, but Little Wrigley as well, and there’s a Little Field of Dreams in in the works, complete with corn field. None of this was planned, really, it just happened. Back in 2001, following a blueprint he drew on a napkin, O’Connor just started building his model park, and ever since then what has happened with this tournament, with the Foundation, and with Little Fenway is pretty special. Almost every weekend people come from all over to play Wiffle Ball and raise money for all sorts of good causes.

That’s the real miracle I guess, that after raising all of $2500 the first year they held a Wiffle Ball tournament here for the Travis Roy Foundation, this year they raised more than $500,000. In Vermont. For Wiffle Ball.

The reason is Travis… and Fenway Park. I’ve always believed that there are actually more fans of Fenway than the Red Sox, and it sure seemed that way at Little Fenway. Everyone – and I mean everyone, from little kids to the volunteers to the media, just kind of wandered around the whole weekend in a daze, smiling so hard that at the end of the day they need a medical tent to treat sore jaw muscles.

Let me say this: I’ve been to hundreds of ballgames and I’ve played in hundreds of ballgames but I’ve never had as much fun as I did playing in the tournament’s inaugural game this year, playing for the Celebrities versus the Sponsors. I’m not a celebrity, but this is Vermont and not Hollywood, after all, so I somehow found myself on the same team with real Vermont celebs, like UVM basketball and European league star Taylor Coppenrath, the LPGA’s Libby Smith, Alexander Woolf of Sports Illustrated, Middlebury basketball coach  Jeff Brown, local  broadcasters and others far better known here than me. 

I was on the mound to start the game, the first I’ve played any kind of baseball in about ten years, and it showed. I’ll spare you most of the details, but if there is ever a professional Wiffle Ball League, trust me, make Libby Smith your first round pick. I had a couple of cheap hits and gave up one run in two innings, but I’ll never forget it, because now I know how every other pitcher who has ever taken the mound at Fenway Park feels – the Green Monster is too damn close. One of my pitches so sailed far over the net it might even have bounced off the Citgo sign. I know this because they livestreamed the game and now it lives out there somewhere on YouTube, me throwing, someone swinging, the ball disappearing over the wall and then me putting my hands to my head… and smiling, while everyone on both teams cheers.

Just wait til next year – then I’m going deep. But believe me, giving up a bomb has never felt so good, and I’ll never make a more meaningful pitch. Hope to see you there.

For more information on the tournament and the Travis Roy Foundation, visit http://www.travisroyfoundation.org and www.littlefenway.com. And remember, you don’t need to wait ‘til next year to make a contribution. Glenn Stout is Series Editor for The Best American Sports Writing, available in October.
[Note: In the print edition, the author misspelled the names of both Pat O'Connor and Taylor Coppenrath.  They have been corrected in this online version - apologies to both]

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Problem is Bud Selig


At this point, it is all about the legacy of one man, little else.

Bud Selig has been the Commissioner of Baseball since 1992, first on an acting basis, but officially so since 1998. During that time period, major league baseball has enjoyed a period of unrivaled financial growth and success.

That is the official version, anyway, the one Selig wants to appear on the plaque that will unquestionably be on display one day in Cooperstown. That is also unintentionally appropriate, for the just as Cooperstown’s claim to have a role in the history of baseball is entirely spurious, so too, will be those words on that plaque.

Measured only by the dollar, Selig’s tenure has been a success. However, by almost any other method, it has been a failure, for during his tenure whatever special place baseball still held in American society and culture has irreparably eroded. More than that however, baseball used to matter. Now, despite its financial health, the game is in many ways like an invalid living on an old fortune, wealthy but sequestered, important only to those who still need to keep the old boy alive to live off the crumbs that drop from his lap.

No one really argues that baseball is still “the National Pastime.” If there ever was such a title, it probably belongs to football now (although if I were a betting man with a long view, I’d put my money on soccer taking that crown in another decade or two). In its lust for the almighty dollar, baseball under Selig, rather than to keep its base as wide as possible to insure future growth, chose instead to squeeze a shrinking market ever harder. The return was higher, to be sure, but at the same it helped turn a game that was once played almost everywhere by everybody into a specialty sport, a niche activity whose future growth opportunities are limited. This lust to squeeze an industry dry just so a handful of executives can earn a bonus, get rich and then cash out is the same limited thinking that has brought down any number of American industries over the last decade or more. Baseball may well be next,

So there’s that.

At the same time, under Selig, the credibility of the game has been shredded. Under his limited sense of leadership, the game chose not just to ignore PEDs, but to revel in their impact, to juice the game artificially after a period of labor strife. Did they plan this? No. Did they see it happen and get all goose-bumpy, and start drooling at the financial rewards? Absolutely. As long as the checks cleared it mattered not that a host of records essentially became meaningless, that history was devalued, or that fully two decades of seasonal results are suspect (including Boston’s long awaited world championships in 2004 and 2007). All in the name of short-term gain, baseball under Selig chose to insult the intelligence of several generations of fans in favor of those who came to the game, not as fans, but as corporate guests.

Baseball has always been a business, but for years its success depended, at least in part, on the ease with which it was easy to forget that. All pretense of that is gone now. Baseball is only business, and business is the only measure that matters. Witness the changes to the All-Star game, the playoffs, the escalating cost of watching the game, in person, on TV, or the Internet. If there is a National Pastime anymore, it is the ATM.

And let’s not forget drug testing.

Baseball doesn’t have a policy, it has a PR policy, now that the horse is long gone and the barn burned, that is hustling to clean up the stall to hoodwink future historians into thinking they ever really cared. Despite all this, players keep getting caught, certain players are allowed to skate (why, who could I ever be thinking of?), but Selig touts his policy, falsely and knowingly, as the toughest in sports. If it’s so tough, how come so many guys keep using?

What it is, including the suspensions being handed out now, is the most cynical CYA move ever imagined, designed to make it look like he was doing something while his larger policies and philosophies, from top to bottom, helped create, perpetuate and then celebrate the very climate he now seeks, belatedly, to control. And all to make sure his vaunted legacy, one that now pays him around $30 million annually – equal if not greater than any player – remains unstained, his bronze plaque untarnished.

If I really cared anymore, I’d say the sooner Bud Selig is in Cooperstown, and out of the game, the better. The problem is, I’m not sure I do.

Some legacy.

 

Glenn Stout is author of the award-winning Fenway 1912, and is currently leading the longform journalism page for SB Nation, sbnation.com./longform. For more, see www.glennstout.com. You can follow Glenn on Twitter at @GlennStout.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Tale of Two Prospects


Unless you were there, it didn’t matter.

The closest I ever came to earning a check in baseball was in the summer of 1981, the strike year, selling minor league baseball tickets over the phone for the International League, Triple- A Columbus (Ohio) Clippers. I was a boiler-room pitchman, reading from a script, cold-calling hundreds of businesses a day for some stupid, spurious “Business Night” promotion. Most weeks I made less than $100, a dispirited take that soon precipitated my move to Boston.

There was just one perk – free tickets.  No matter how many tickets I didn’t sell, I could still get two free box seats for every game, right behind the plate, where the scouts and player’s families, wives and girlfriends sat.  I managed to catch about 30 games  and due to the strike, the IL had a fair number of prospects as big league clubs stashed talent there that in any other year might have been playing in the big leagues – guys like Cal Ripken, Von Hayes, Brett Butler, and from Pawtucket, Marty Barrett, Wade Boggs (who won the batting title by less than a point), Rich Gedman, Bruce Hurst and Bobby Ojeda (they still finished sixth, 67-73).

Although the Clippers had a few prospects on the roster – most notably slugging Brockton native Steve “Boom Boom” Balboni (“Bye Bye” when he struck out), SS Andre Robertson (who broke his neck in a car wreck and was never the same) and 20-year old pitcher Gene Nelsen, (later a valuable head –hunting reliever for Oakland) -- most of the roster was a bunch of “4-A” re-treads that couldn’t quite make it at the next level – Marshall Brant, “Uptown” Bobby Brown, Dave Stegman. For them, Columbus was more a destination than a stepping stone. The irony of the enormous graveyard just beyond Cooper Stadium’s right field fence wasn’t lost on anyone who played there.

The two guys I most remember were two of the oldest guys on the team, both of whom started out in the Red Sox organization. Wayne Harer, 29, was a slender, switch-hitting, walk machine of an outfielder with little power. In 1977, his first year at Pawtucket, he hit .350 with an OBP of. 451, leading the league in both categories, yet wasn’t called up to Boston. A year later, he hit just .247 and his career stopped one rung shy of the Baseball Encyclopedia. In 1981 for Columbus, he was just another .270 hitter with no pop, one year away from retirement.

The other guy was outfielder-DH Dave Coleman, 30, an 18th round pick by Boston in 1969. He had some right-handed power, an almost prospect who had the misfortune to reach Triple-A at the same time as Fred Lynn and Jim Rice.  With Yaz and Dewey already in place, he got  lost in the shuffle, the fifth or sixth best outfielder in an organization there the top four all had a shot at Cooperstown.  Nevertheless, he managed to make the team in 1977 and debuted on April 13, pinch-hitting for Denny Doyle and popping up to shortstop.  It didn’t get any better from there, and he was sent down after only nine games another 12 plate appearances, one walk, one run and one strikeout on his career line. Even though he twice hit more than 20 home runs in Triple-A, he never got another chance. He made the book, and saw Fenway up close, but his MLB batting average is forever .000.   

Columbus won the regular season and played Rochester in the first round of the “Governor’s Cup,” playoffs. The Clippers dropped the first two games of the best-of-five series to the Ripken-less Red Wings, then the series returned to Columbus and the Clippers evened it up. The game five would play winner would play  Richmond for the Cup. The loser would go home, and if that was Columbus, that meant Dave Coleman’s career would end.

Now, memory being what it is, what happened next gets a little murky – you can’t find everything on the Internet-- but I remember most of it. I do know game five went 10 innings, and because school was back in session, there were only a few hundred fans in the stands. I’m pretty sure Gene Nelsen pitched the whole game for Columbus. And with the Clippers batting in the bottom of the 10th, I think there were two runners on base, and one of them may have been Harer. The score was either tied 1-1 or the Clippers were down 1-0.  Then ready-to-retire Dave Coleman, he of the non-existent career major league batting average, came to the plate in what was conceivably the last at bat of his career, his Ted Williams moment.

I can see it still, a hard line drive soaring high over the shortstop’s head.

Then it all gets blurry. Did it split the outfielders, hit the wall, go over the fence?  Damned if I know.  I do remember runners racing toward home, players running from the dugout, all tumult and shouting… and then a celebration, guys who were never going to make the majors hugging guys who were going to, and somewhere in the middle – Dave Coleman, the hero of the moment, being pummeled and praised and lifted up. And then I saw Wayne Harer, another guy going nowhere, heading toward the stands, a bottle of cheap champagne in his hand, shaking it and spraying it over our heads, then taking a big swig, and passing it into the stands, erasing the line, celebrating that this season, and Coleman’s career, would last – what?  A few more days?  Just to play another game no one would ever remember, before a few hundred fans, for a trophy no one cared about?  

Yeah.  Exactly that.
 
from Boston Baseball July 2013