Posts Tagged ‘New York Yankees’

The Pittsburgh Pirates – In Need of a Government Bail-out?

February 13, 2010

Alright, alright, so I exaggerate. Maybe they don’t need any kind of bail-out, but even still, the numbers almost make you cringe.

According to ESPN, the Pirates have once again finished dead last…in terms of total roster salary. In 2009, their roster posted a meager $25 million.  The next lowest, out of 30 teams, paid over $10 million more than that.  In fact, even the 27th lowest team, the Oakland Athletics, had a team salary over twice the amount of the Pirates.

If you thought those statistics were mind-boggling, wait until you read this one:

The New York Yankees had a 2009 team salary of over $208 million. Yes, a full eight times greater than the Pirates’.  And the worst one of all?  Alex Rodriguez made over $8 million more in 2009 than the entire Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

The salary cap argument continues, made especially urgent by the Yankees’ recent World Series victory. But I’m not here to argue for or against a salary cap, for the topic has been discussed ad nausea. I’m merely pointing out the absurdity that one man’s worth in baseball is far greater than an entire team. That fact alone gives those in favor of the cap a lot of ammunition.  Whether one agrees or disagrees with the arguments for a salary cap, one must admit the absurdity of it all.

Oh, and one more fun tidbit – the Yankees’ payroll in 2009 nearly tops all five of the lowest team salaries.

My point is this:  whether you have a team with a gigantic payroll or a team like the Pirates, it still takes talent to win the World Series.  No fan can refute this (however, they will still proclaim that capitalism was the series’ MVP).

I’m not the kind of fan to normally play devil’s advocate, especially in favor of the New York Yankees.  I, among many, find an internal hatred for the Yankees to be nothing less than hereditary.  However, in 2009, it is difficult to argue with the facts. They did have the MLB’s best regular-season record, and they did perform the best in the playoffs.  I’m not certain even the most formidable Phillies fanatic could disagree.

Is it to say that the Yankees have absolutely no advantage over another team because of their payroll? Absolutely not.  Once again, I believe even most Yankee fans recognize this. However, it does not guarantee anything.  The Yankees had nearly the same payroll in 2008, and failed to even make the playoffs.

Lest we forget, the American League champions were the Tampa Bay Rays, which if we look at a listing of the 2008 team salaries, had the Yankees still leading the pack and the Rays trailing them by a mere 28 ranks.  The Rays had the lowest total in the American league, and yet they out-performed the Yankees in a full 162-game season.

Does having a higher payroll give a team a statistical advantage because they can afford to sign top-notch players to sensational contracts? Absolutely. Does that team still need to out-perform the other 29 teams through a 162-game season and three rounds of playoffs to win a championship?  Absolutely.


Baseball’s Early Umpires and Babe Ruth Stories

February 13, 2010

In the early days of baseball, officiators of the game weren’t so much umpires as much as they were someone who would watch the action and occasionally settle an on-field dispute, whether it deal with a call or not [I recently participated in an exhibition game against a traveling group of players who “played old-time baseball; rules of 1845”. The officiator did not make any calls.  Also, he stood way off to the side, somewhat where a modern third base coach would sit.]

It was thus agreed that there would need to be an official umpire making non-partisan decisions over the game.  With only one official instead of the modern four (or six, in playoffs [or zero, as 2009’s playoffs proved]), players soon learned how to take advantage of situations.

Sam Crawford, who still holds the record of most career triples nearly a century later, used to “run with one eye on the ball and the other on the umpire.”  Therefore, if an umpire was watching the action in the outfield or concentrating closely to a play on second base, a runner heading third could bypass the bag completely, and run in a curving path from the shortstop area to home plate without ever touching third.  With the umpire’s back turned, much to the dismay and exclamations from the other team, he had no way to refute that the runner rounded the bag fairly and scored legitimately.  Such was old-time baseball.

In one instance, Daniel Orkent and Steve Wulf write:  “In Cincinnati at the turn of the century, Crawford told Lawrence Ritter, the great National League first baseman Jake Beckley attempted this subterfuge and came around to score without a play even being made on him.  Umpire Tim Hurst, whose attention had been directed elsewhere, nonetheless called the runner out: “You got here too quick,” Hurst told Beckley.

Years later, towards the beginning of the 20th century, two umpires began officiating each game.  One particular young umpire was Billy Evans.  He is said to have been working a game in Chicago with Tim Hurst when rough spectators began throwing bottles and other items onto the field.  Evans, working one of his first games ever, looked toward Hurst for help during the chaos.  However, Hurst kept the game going all the way to the finish.  After the game concluded, Hurst told Evans, “They [the spectators] got no control.  When the weather warms up, watch out—they’re deadly at a hundred yards.”

Coincidentally, Evans was pelted in the head by a rogue bottle but five months later.  After a long recovery, he umpired another twenty-two years eventually working off the field with the Indians, Red Sox, and Tigers.

Perhaps the most famous umpire of all time was Bill Klem, a no-nonsense gentleman who took umpiring very seriously.  No other man did more to revolutionize the profession than Klem, best known for introducing arm motions for making calls behind the plate and developing a chest-protector to be worn underneath the shirt.

In 1905, Klem umpired his first game in which he encountered John McGraw.  After ejecting the manager of the Giants, McGraw replied, “I’m going to get your job, you busher.”

Klem, a man who entered baseball during a time of roughness and brash behavior, calmly spoke:  “Mr. Manager, if it’s possible for you to get my job away from me, I don’t want it.”

Klem went on to manage for 36 more years, carrying himself with a recognizable sense of arrogance and self-confidence.  As told in Baseball Anecdotes, “unhappy with a called strike, Frank Frisch turned and looked at Klem.  The umpire, as Frisch later told the story, responded immediately: ‘Don’t ever do that again, young man.  Don’t look back when I call a strike.  Just you concentrate on your hitting and you’ll get the greatest job from the greatest umpire that ever lived.’”

Bill Klem, oftentimes referred to as “The Old Arbitrator”, worked in an incomprehensible eighteen World Series’, spanning from 1908 to 1940.  Perhaps the most famous of all the Klem stories is his exit from baseball:

“St. Louis was playing the Dodgers, and when Billy Herman made a tag play on a Cardinals runner at second, Klem called him out.  As the runner protested that Herman had never actually tagged him, Klem turned and walked away.  ‘I’m almost certain Herman tagged him,’ the umpire said to himself.  ‘Then,’ he recalled later, ‘I almost wept.  For the first time in all my career, I only ‘thought’ a man was out.’  Immediately after the game, Bill Klem retired.”

* *

Babe Ruth, after being diagnosed with cancer in 1946, appeared at Yankee Stadium for Babe Ruth Day on April 27th, 1947.  After a short period of remission from his illness, he became sick once again during the summer of 1948.  He came back to Yankee Stadium once more on June 13th, for the 25th anniversary of the stadium.

His male nurse assisted him into his Yankee uniform, and he stood in the middle of a posed shot with other Yankees from the ’23 team, with Joe Dugan and Wally Pipp (best known for sitting out and allowing Lou Gehrig to play 1st base, ultimately starting Gehrig’s improbable consecutive played games streak) placing their hands on his shoulders.

W.C. Heinz wrote, upon Ruth’s introduction to the crowd, Ruth walked out into the cauldron of sound he must have known better than any other man.

After a short speech, Ruth walked back into the clubhouse.  Dugan accompanied him.

“How are things?” Dugan asked.

“Joe, I’m gone,” Ruth replied. “I’m gone, Joe.”  The men embraced, in tears.

One of the more famous stories of Ruth’s funeral involved Joe Dugan and Waite Hoyt, two of the pallbearers.  It was a very warm day, and Hoyt turned to Dugan and quipped that he could use a cold beer.  Dugan responded, appropriately, “So could the Babe.”

Babe was no ordinary man.  Ruth possessed a magnetism that was positively infection.  When he entered a clubhouse or a room, when appeared on the field, it was as if he was the whole parade.  There seemed to be flags waving, bands playing constantly…

– Waite Hoyt

Joe DiMaggio – The Streak

February 13, 2010

”DiMaggio was horribly green when he reached New York.  When a reporter asked him for a quote, he thought it was some sort of soft drink.”

– Daniel Orkent and Steve Wulf, Baseball Anecdotes

On the afternoon of July 17th, Joe DiMaggio and teammate Lefty Gomez entered a taxi-cab in Cleveland as they headed to Municipal Stadium.  The cab driver recognized DiMaggio, and stated that he had a feeling if Joe didn’t get a hit in his first time up, Cleveland was going to stop him that night.

“What the hell is this?  Why are you trying to do, jinx him?” Gomez snapped back.

* * *

Who can run and bat and throw?  Who hits the ball both high and low?  Who’s better than his brother Joe?  Dominic DiMaggio!

The New York Yankees had become the first team in Major League Baseball to win four consecutive championships, their final in the streak coming in 1939.  That year’s club rivaled the ’27 Yankees, winning 106 and swept the Reds in the World Series.  Fans everywhere could often be heard shouting ”Break up the Yankees!”

By May of 1941, however, the Yankees had fallen to fourth place in the American League (at the time, there were no divisions, but rather eight teams in both the American and National Leagues with the league champions meeting in the Series).  Lou Gehrig had been ill for several years by then, and on June 2nd passed away.  The same day, DiMaggio extended his streak of consecutive games with a hit to 24.

Two players shared the Yankee hitting streak record:  Earle Combs and Roger Peckinpaugh both hit in 29-straight games.  With a single off of shoulder of Luke Appling of the White Sox, one of Gehrig’s luckier hits helped him break the club record.   He then needed eighth-inning hits in games 36 and 38 to keep the streak going.  In the latter game, Yankee teammate Tommy Henrich bunted, to protect himself from hitting into a double-play ending the inning and perhaps giving DiMaggio no chance to bat.  Joe proceeded to double in the following at-bat.

One particularly famous anecdote involving the streak occurred in between a double header against the Senators.  George Sisler’s American League consecutive games streak had been tied by DiMaggio in the first game, but in between games a fan rushed onto the field, ran into the dugout, stole Joe’s favorite bat and disappeared back into the seats.  Henrich happened to be using another DiMaggio bat, and with it Joe broke the record in the second game.  He famously uttered after the game, “I wish that guy would return it.  I need it more than he does.”

On July 1st, during a doubleheader with the Red Sox at home, DiMaggio, still using Henrich’s bat, hit a chopper to Jim Tabor, who wildly fired the ball past the first basemen.  As Daniel Orkent and Steve Wulf, writers of Baseball Anecdotes [where the basis of this story comes from] tell it:  “It was a borderline call, and Dan Daniel of the New York World-Telegram, ordinarily a tough scorer, ruled it a hit. ‘Damn you, DiMaggio,’ Daniel hollered in the press box.  ‘I gave you a hit this time, but everything has to be clean from now on.’  It was the only hit he got in that game.

The next day, with Wee Willie Keeler’s major league record of 44-straight games tied, DiMaggio reached immortality with a fifth-inning home run.  Orkent and Wulf point out that he seemingly he relaxed after that, batting .545 in the 11 games after breaking the record.

Through Chicago and St. Louis, he kept the streak alive.  He hit successfully against the Indians in the first game of a series in Cleveland, putting the streak at 56 consecutive games with a hit.  It was the second game of the series, on July 17th, DiMaggio stepped into cab in downtown Cleveland as they made their way to the ballpark.  Despite the negativity, Joe smiled to the driver and left him a decent-sized tip.

Ken Keltner’s famous defensive plays in the first and seventh inning at third-base kept Joe hitless into the eighth inning.  He had successfully and impressively stopped DiMaggio from reaching first, and for his efforts he now remains a curious piece of trivia.  The legendary Lou Boudreau, gracefully prowling his position between second and third, played a tricky bounce and the unlucky DiMaggio hit into a double play.  The streak, considered to be the most impressive feat in sports history, was over.  It is difficult to be upset with oneself after achieving such a daunting task, but DiMaggio, ever the sportsman, failed to show any sort of negative reaction whatsoever.  “There was no kicking of dirt, no shaking of the head.”

“Well,” Joe stated later, “that’s over.”

One often forgotten fact about the 1941 season for DiMaggio was that, the day after his streak ended, he began another hitting streak, this time lasting just 16-games.  Despite its inherent impressiveness, that streak paled in comparison.

Between May 2nd and August 3rd, DiMaggio reached safely in every game, an unprecedented feat.  The Yankees, despite their slow start, got hot.  Most definitely motivated by Joe’s effectiveness, ran away with the pennant, topping the Red Sox (who finished in 2nd place) by an astounding 17 games.  All this came from a team who at the beginning of the streak was in 4th place.

DiMaggio was named MVP over Ted Williams, who in 1941 batted .406.  John Updike, a loyal Red Sox fan himself, later wrote in his essay Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, “His basic offense against the fans has been to wish that they weren’t there…Hence his refusal to tip his cap to the crowd or turn the other cheek to newsmen.  It has been a costly theory.  It has probably cost him, among other evidences of good will, two MVP awards, which are voted by reporters, but he has held to it from his rookie year on.”

Joe was later presented, to his surprise, a silver cigar humidor which featured him in mid-swing.  On one side was the number 56, the number of games of his illustrious streak, and the number 91 on the other, which signified the total amount of hits during the same span.  It read, “Presented to Joe DiMaggio by his fellow players on the New York Yankees to express their admiration for his consecutive-game hitting record, 1941.”

DiMaggio is best known for his gentleman nature in a game which featured so many athletes which contrasted him.  He was remarkably humble, but as Orkent and Wulf wrote, he knew his impact on the game of baseball.

“The Yankees once had a doubleheader in sweltering St. Louis against the last-place Browns, a prospect hardly worth relishing.  Yet DiMaggio made an off-hand comment that he was looking forward to playing that day.

‘In this heat?’ said a writer.  ‘How can you enjoy playing a doubleheader in this heat?’

‘Well,’ said DiMaggio with a glance towards the stands, ‘maybe somebody never saw me before.’”

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?  Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

– Peter, Paul, and Mary, Mrs. Robinson

”I would like to take the great DiMaggio fishing”, the old man said.  “They say his father was a fisherman.”

– Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

”During that first season, DiMaggio stayed close to his fellow San Francisco Italians, Tony Lazzeri and Frank Crosetti, and there may never have been a less loquacious threesome in Yankees history.  One day newspaperman Jack Mahon sat in the lobby of the Chase Hotel in St. Louis near the three Yankees and noted that a full one hour and 20 minutes of total silence went by.  Then DiMaggio cleared his throat.

‘What did you say?’ asked Crosetti.

‘Shut up,’ said Lazzeri.  ‘He didn’t say nothing.’”