1984: A Significant Cubs Collapse – T.Boswell

Heart of the Order-BoswellThomas Boswell’s outstanding baseball storybook, The Heart of the Order (Doubleday, 1989) contains a heart-rending chapter for every Chicago Cubs fan – “1984: The Year the Cubbies Lost the Pennant.” If the memory of their close encounter with the World Series isn’t painful enough, there are videos on the Internet to bring the pain back.

But while the memory kills, Boswell’s description of the Cubs collapse in that final NL series with the San Diego Padres will at least make you smile – because he writes so well. Small consolation, I know, but still worth the read. Allow me to share his side of the story of that September Fall (Yes, there is a double meaning in that word “fall.”).

In the absence of any ongoing drama, the doings of the Cubs became the game’s official summer saga. Perhaps a perennial losing team touches a far deeper chord in people than any mere winner cold. You learn wisdom in defeat, not victory. George Allen, with typical football myopia, said that losing is like dying. Cub fans know he had it wrong: losing isn’t like dying; it’s like living. So what? It ain’t so bad.

Maybe Chicago’s feelings about the Cubs were summoned up by a sign in a restaurant near Wrigley Field. ‘Any employee wishing to miss work because of death or serious illness,’, it read, ‘please notify the office by 11 A.M. on the day of the game.’

By the time the postseason began, the Cubs were practically the nation’s mascots. Perhaps those years of fantasy baseball had the whole country primed for an orgy of paeans to day baseball, old brick outfield walls and ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ during the seventh-inning stretch.

Then, just in time, the Cubs came to the rescue. The ancient order remained intact. The Cubs proved they were still the Cubs. The ivied park with its cheerful message – you don’t have to go to the World Series every year, or even every lifetime, to be cherished – was safe (p.133).

There is more to this sad but well told story. The painful details we will leave for next time.

By the way, have you noticed where the Cubbies are in the standings this year? Dare I say, poised to make the playoffs?!

The 40 Fiats of Chairman Boz – T.Boswell

wrigleyfieldWhat would you do if you were appointed the commissioner of baseball for a year?

“Chairman Boz” – aka Thomas Boswell, sports columnist for the Washington Post and author of The Heart of the Order – tells us in a section of his book titled “The 40 Fiats of Chairman Boz.”

Here are a few of my favorites:

1. The home plate umpire shall have a button. If a batter takes more than thirty seconds to adjust his uniform, tighten his batting glove, wiggle his toe, call for time and otherwise delay the game, the ump shall push the button. The button will open  a trapdoor to a pit, full of reptiles, under the batter’s box. This shall be known as the Rickey Henderson Hole, in honor of the potential Hall of Famer whose career was tragically cut short. Carlton Fisk and Cliff Johnson: consider yourselves warned. The trapdoor will also work for home run trots, but with bigger reptiles. Jeffrey Leonard gets a free trial (pp.38-39).

8. Only nicknames shall be allowed on the back of uniforms hereafter. Instead of Jim Dwyer: Pigpen. Floyd Rayford; Sugar Bear. Give us Chicken Man and Oil Can. Who knows ‘Davis’? But Chili, Storm and Eric the Red are easy. This would have been especially helpful in the old days. We could have known the difference between ‘Puddin Head’ and ‘Available’ Jones or ‘the People’s Cherce” and ‘Mysterious’ Walker. Pittsburgh’s low-budget GM Sid Thrift’s name shall legally be changed to Sid Cheap (p.40).

And, in honor of the Chicago Cubs, this one – to which I strongly object!:

18. Let there be lights for Wrigley Field, for crying out loud – and not just for eight games a year. What’s all the fuss? Be honest. Who doesn’t like night games better than day games [Not I?!]? Man, it gets hot in July. If you can get a weekday afternoon free, go swimming, play golf or have a stroke in your garden. Don’t sweat your brains out in the bleachers. …Sensible teams long ago went to Saturday night games because people prefer them. Baseball is night baseball and has been for decades. Let those who refuse to learn from the Chicago Cubs be condemned to repeat them.

The only people who really want day ball in Wrigley Field are sportswriters (great deadlines – the Chicago scribes get home for dinner and the visiting laureates have more time on Rush Street).

All weekday World Series games shall be at night. All weekend World Series games shall be in the day [Now we’re getting sensible!]. It’s cold in October. Play a couple in sunshine, but don’t get carried away (p.42).

And that’s the “Friday Fun” for July 31, 2015! Have any fiats of your own, future baseball commissioners?

The Wizard of Oz – T.Boswell

On the back of his uniform should be the word ‘Shazam.’ Instead of ‘1,’ his number should be ‘8,’ but turned sideways, because the possibilities he brings to his position are almost infinite.

…Yet to understand Smith as a natural phenomenon is to deliberately misunderstand him – and wrong him – as much as if we thought the magician’s tricks were done without endless practice. Smith is, by temperament, a student of the game who devises new ways to do the old. For instance, he was the first to realize that, on Astroturf, you could dig a ground ball out of the hole backhanded while skidding on your knees in a controlled slide, then pop to your feet and throw in one sudden motion. The effect is that of an arcade-game toy, grown to human size, springing out of the ground through a trapdoor. Smith also was one of the first to use the deliberate turf-hop throw to first, recognizing a millisecond edge when he saw one.

However, he is also, by acrobatic talent, an innnovator who stretches the boundaries of infield play. Only a man who can take the field doing backflips could attempt the pivots at second base that Smith completes routinely. Dr. J brought terms like ‘hang time’ and ‘degree of difficulty’ to his dunks. Now Ozzie has introduced them to the double play. Smith’s all-time-favorite showstopper displayed both his reflexes and his gift for improvision. He dove behind second base for a smash by Jeff Burroughs, but while Smith was in midair, parallel to the ground, the ball hit a rock and bounced sideways. Smith reached back and behind himself to grab the ball – bare-handed. Then he did a somersault and came up throwing. Burroughs was out by days (pp.12-13).

Taken from Thomas Boswell’s wonderful book on baseball, The Heart of the Order (Doubleday, 1989). This is his description of longtime St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith, whom I grew up watching. He always did a backflip when he came on the field for the start of the game, and his wizardry at “SS” is now legendary.

Below is one video of such a flip – and this when he was 40 years old!

if you wish to see some of his highlights, watch this video:

And if you want to see that amazing play that the Wizard of Oz made against Burroughs, watch this video:

Published in: on July 10, 2015 at 7:23 AM  Leave a Comment  

Opening Week of ML Baseball! Tigers, Cubs & Boswell

Yes, indeed, though it was a typical cool, rainy week in the Midwest (especially the upper Midwest!), the Major League baseball season has opened once again! Amid off-season trades and ownership promises of improvement; amid renovated parks (more on Wrigley Field’s “improvements” another day) and player preparations (both good and bad!), the season has begun, with three-four games already under the belt.

And guess what? The Detroit Tigers are 3-0, with only one earned run given up by their three starters and the bullpen! And the Chicago Cubs are 1-1, with one rain-out – against the team predicted to finish first again in the NL Central, their despised rivals – the St.Louis Cardinals!

Not a bad start for the two teams for which I root (although you know where my full loyalties are – and it’s not to the east!). And speaking of these two teams, are you aware that they are playing a set of two-games series in each other’s ball parks this summer (in Detroit in June and in Chicago in August)?!

Heart of the Order-BoswellBut now, since it is so early in the season and the weather is so baseball-contradictory as yet (who wants to sit in the park when it’s 40?!), we take the time to focus on the deeper meaning of baseball – the personal and philosophical side. And to that end, we return to the “new” book I picked up this Winter, The Heart of the Order by Thomas Boswell (Doubleday, 1989). Having also read his “Introduction”, I pull together a few select quotes for you about what baseball is about. And with him, I find a kindred spirit. Maybe you will too. :)

The lasting power of baseball for me – beyond the tactical and technical fascinations of the game itself, even beyond the excitement of pennant races and World Series – is watching how the game illuminates and probes the faces of its changing people.

…The Sparky Anderson of October 1984 looked like a worried, driven man who might burn out. Old friends were scared for him. Heart attack looked written on him. Somehow, by March of 1985, he was a significantly different man. And the change seems to have stuck. Sparky has remained the same new-and-improved, upbeat-yet-calm, philosophical-yet-competitive person right through the successes and disappointments of his Tigers’ amazing 1987 pennant-race comeback victory and shocking playoff defeat.

…We pretend baseball is primarily a game of teams, when it’s more about people. Ted Williams played in only one World Series; Walter Johnson, Hank Aaron and Roger Hornsby in two each. Who cares or remembers? The team may be the individual’s context, but its success is not his definition.

Each season, I find I have less faith in the hard certainty of baseball statistics and more in some attempt at commonsense psychology – murky as that area always is, for individuals or groups. The stats always come too late. They may measure everything, but they explain very little and predict even less. Because people insist on changing.

…Every season, baseball tries to teach us that the game has a human, unpredictable heart. And it is richer for it. Yet, every year, we insist the game should be less messy than the world around it. We pretend that potential is a hairbreadth from performance, and that what’s been done in the past should be readily duplicable on demand in the future.

The more we judge teams on paper, the more the sport insists that results be forged on the field by actual people. The game is a system in such flux that expectations are smashed to flinders. Its drives people batty. How on earth do preposterously ordinary teams like the ’85 Royals, ’87 Twins and ’88 Dodgers end up as world champions?

…The math professor who taught us that it wasn’t the answer to a specific problem that was important but, rather, learning to appreciate the interlocking coherence of the whole scientific view of the world. The English teacher who showed us the agonies of patience that went into crafting a poem so precise in its choice of words that we could read it a hundred times over fifty years and always find it powerfully true. The teachers, in other words, who taught us that love of learning – for itself – not love of grades, was the beating, enduring heart of education.

So too in games, the guiding principle that most often keeps people oriented through all their passages and changes is a governing passion for excellence. In baseball, that’s what you discover at the heart of the order (xiii-xix).

Some of the “99 Reasons Why Baseball is Better Than Football” – T.Boswell

This may seem crazy on a day like today (When we awakened this morning, it was -15 F in Hudsonville, MI!), but MLB (Major League Baseball) catchers and pitchers are reporting for Spring training this week and next.

And because I get excited all over again thinking about a new baseball season; and because one of my grandsons and I rummaged through some old baseball cards over the Christmas holiday – he picking out the Tiger players (Detroit) and I the Cubs players (Chicago); and because I picked up a “new” baseball book for my reading this season, my late “Friday Fun” post today is about baseball.

Heart of the Order-BoswellBecause I just had to pick up my “new” baseball book and start reading in it. And one of the early chapters that caught my eye and enticed me to read it had the above title: “99 Reasons Why Baseball Is Better Than Football.” The book is a collection of articles noted sportswriter Thomas Boswell has written for the Washington Post. The title of the book? The Heart of the Order, published by Doubleday in 1989.

If you are not familiar with Mr.Boswell, you are about to become acquainted with him. He has been called “an astute observer of the human condition disguised as a first-rate sportswriter.” The little I have read of his material to this point shows this to be true. He is a student of the game, and a student of its participants. And I like what I read so far.

But now, let’s get on to a few of the reasons he gives for baseball being better than football. If you are a true baseball fan, you will “get it.” I select some of his choicer reasons:

5. [In contrast to all the halftime band shows at football games] Baseball has fans in Wrigley Field singing, ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ at the seventh-inning stretch [Can you believe I start with a Cubs connection?!].

9. Baseball has a bullpen coach blowing bubble gum with his cap turned around backward while leaning on a fungo bat; football has a defensive coordinator in a satin jacket with a headset and a clipboard.

13. Football coaches talk about character, gut checks, intensity and reckless abandon. Tommy Lasorda [longtime manager of the LA Dodgers] said, ‘Managing is like holding a dove in your hand. Squeeze too hard and you kill it; not hard enough and it flies away.’

25. More good baseball books appear in a single year than have ever been written about football in the past fifty years….

35. Football has Tank and Mean Joe. Baseball has the Human Rain Delay and Charlie Hustle.

42. Football gave us the Hammer. Baseball gave us the Fudge Hammer.

51. Football has Hacksaw. Baseball has Steady Eddie and the Candy Man.

53. Football fans tailgate before the big game. No baseball fan would have a picnic in a parking lot.

59. Football has the Refrigerator. Baseball has Puff the Magic Dragon, the Wizard of Oz, Tom Terrific, Doggie, Kitty Kat and Oil Can.

64. Baseball means Spring’s Here. Football means Winter’s Coming.

65. Best book for a lifetime on a desert island: The Baseball Encyclopedia.

72. Baseball has no clock. Yes, you were waiting for that. The comeback, from three or more scores behind, is far more common in baseball than football.

86. Baseball measures a gift for dailiness.

96. A six-month pennant race. Football has nothing like it.

99. Most of all, baseball is better than football because spring training is less than a month away (29-37).

To which I add, “Play ball!”

Who Has the Best Facial Hair in Baseball History?

Who Has the Best Facial Hair in Baseball History? | History | Smithsonian.

Even though the baseball season is winding down (or, if you are a true fan, winding up, since the World Series matchup is now set – Yes, I know, no Cubs or Tigers :( ), and though this item was posted back in July on the Smithsonian website (July 22, 2014), it is still going to be part of our “Friday Fun” today. Because, well, it IS still baseball season, and it is Friday, and this is a bit of fun for us – especially for us guys with mustaches!

Rollie FingersSo, if you remember Rollie Fingers and other famous mustached players, you will enjoy these 25 pictures. Don’t laugh too hard. They’re coming back :)

Here is the opening part of the post:

At the turn of the 20th century, the majority of baseball players sported mustaches. But by the 1930s, the trimmers came out, and a fuzzy upper lip was prohibited, not explicitly, but rather via an unwritten rule of conduct, in the major leagues. The idea was to make the game more appealing to families, by keeping the boys clean-shaven and well groomed—and a shift in social etiquette, which mandated that decent men be clean-shaved, reinforced the move away from mustachioed players. Baseball players would remain clean-shaven for several decades, until 1972, when a mustachioed Reggie Jackson arrived at spring training with the Oakland A’s. The look wasn’t a hit with his fellow teammates, but their manager embraced it: He offered each player $300 to grow his own ’stache.

In the 1970s, facial hair represented a burgeoning counterculture, and the move by the Oakland A’s was a controversial one: still, almost all of the team grew their mustaches out for the bonus, earning the team the nickname “The Mustache Gang.” The ensuing years were a confusing time for baseball facial hair—individual clubs, like the Brewers and the Blue Jays, issued explicit bans on facial hair within their clubs, while other clubs embraced players with full heads and faces of hair (the afro was big during this time).

Since the late 70s, baseball has seen a number of mustachio-clad players on the diamond. Recently released statistics on the last decade of All-Star Games reveal that those with facial hair actually outperform their clean-shaven counterparts. But even if the mustache doesn’t make the man, it sure makes the man memorable. Here are 25 of the most memorable mustaches in baseball history.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/who-has-best-facial-hair-baseball-history-180952101/#PLif2oQBfjFEsdV9.99
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Published in: on October 17, 2014 at 8:28 AM  Comments (4)  

September Friday Fun at Seminary

Yes, we do get to have fun at the PRC Seminary. Friday fun too.

Not frivilous or worldly fun, but good, wholesome, Christian fun. The kind that goes with the friendship and fellowship of the covenant. When joined together in the Lord, we can freely mingle and enjoy God’s gifts of good company, good conversation, good laughter, good food, and yes, good games.

That’s the kind of fun we have on Fridays. So for today, as part of our “Friday Fun” feature, I give you a snapshot of the kind of wholesome fun we have. On Fridays. At Sem. I hope in this way you too can enter somewhat into our fun.

It begins with our Friday bratfest, with each of us taking turns providing brats, chips, and whatever goodies we wish to add.

Today's master griller and assistants.

Today’s master griller and assistants.

Then the students move on to rigorous ping-pong games.

The ping-pongers going at it.

The ping-pongers going at it.

Intense but friendly battles ensue!

Intense but friendly battles ensue!

The competition is always fierce yet cordial. And new players are continually being trained.

The competition is always fierce yet cordial. And new players are continually being trained.

And then there are those whose interests lie elsewhere. Bow season must be getting close. :)

The bow-hunter among us honing his skills on a beautiful end-of-summer day.

The bow-hunter among us honing his skills on a beautiful end-of-summer day.

Hope you are having a good Friday too! Have a safe and blessed weekend. And have an even better week beginning, in the Lord’s house, with the Lord’s people, under the Lord’s Word, on the Lord’s day.

Published in: on September 19, 2014 at 1:53 PM  Leave a Comment  

A Two-Day Game and a Cubs Victory!

San Francisco Giants at Chicago Cubs – August 19, 2014 | MLB.com CHC Recap.

ChicagoCubsPicAdd another strange Cubs’ game to the history of Wrigley Field (100 years old this year). How about a game that starts on Tuesday and ends on Thursday? Yes, the same game! With a rain delay, a tarp malfunction, an unplayable field, a protest from the opposing team, a restart and another rain delay in between!

Sound almost too bad to believe? Believe it. It happens to the Cubs. But – here’s the good news – how about a Cubs victory over the Giants after two days?! Good pitching beats lousy hitting every time! :)

Here’s the story as reported by MLB.com:

CHICAGO — Anthony Rizzo’s home run Tuesday night held up Thursday.

After more than six hours of rain delays, a full day, a protest and a ruling, Rizzo’s two-run home run in the first inning Tuesday was enough to give the Cubs a 2-1 victory over the Giants in a game completed Thursday.

Let’s go back to the beginning. The Cubs and Giants played 4 1/2 innings Tuesday when a sudden downpour stopped play. The Wrigley Field grounds crew had difficulty putting the tarp on, and the infield was soaked. When the rain did stop, the crew tried to repair the damage, but the field was determined unplayable, and the game was called after a four-hour, 34-minute delay.

The Cubs led, 2-0, after 4 1/2 innings but the Giants protested, and Major League Baseball announced Wednesday that the game would resume in the bottom of the fifth. MLB cited Rule 4.12 (a)(3), blaming a “malfunction of a mechanical device under control of the home club.”

The start of Thursday’s game was scheduled for 4:05 p.m. CT but that was delayed 1:57 by rain, so the official delay time was 6:31. There were no tarp problems Thursday.

Published in: on August 22, 2014 at 12:54 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Story of the Wrigley Field Ivy (2)

LittlePlaceonNorthSide-GFWillLast week we began to relate the story of how the ivy came to be placed on the walls of beloved Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. That story is told by George F. Will in his great book marking the 100th anniversary of Wrigley this year: A Nice Little Place on the North Side (Crown Archetype, 2014).

The first part of that history involved trees. Trees in the bleachers. Trees which didn’t last very long.

The second part involved bittersweet – and ivy. Let’s allow Will to tell us how it came to be:

Veeck had planned to plant the ivy after the season (1937 -cjt). However, the day before the team returned from a long road trip to end the season with a short home stand, Wrigley told Veeck he had invited some friends to the next day’s game to see the ivy. But Veeck had not yet bought it. A specialist at a nursery was consulted. He said ivy could not be deployed in one night. Veeck asked what could be. The specialist answered with one word: ‘Bittersweet.’ He was not a philosophic merchant commenting on the human condition; neither was he summing up the experience of being a Cub fan. Rather, he was recommending a plant with that name. So that night Veeck and Wrigley Field’s groundskeeper strung light bulbs along the outfield wall to illuminate their work, and by morning the wall was entirely covered with bittersweet. In its midst they planted ivy, which eventually took over the wall.

And with that bittersweet-ivy idea went a few accolades, including one from a local writer:

On September 17, 1937, the Chicago Tribune carried a story with this headline: ‘New Wrigley Field Blooms in Scenic Beauty – and Scoffers Rush to Apologize.’ One of those scoffers was the author of the story, Edward Burns, who had written a series of grumpy reports about changes under way at the field, including enlargement of the bleachers. Now, however, he was prepared to ’emboss an apologetic scroll to P.K.Wrigley, owner of the most artistic ballpark in the majors.’ Burns estimated that the park was valued at $3 million (pp.88-89).

The Story of the Wrigley Field Ivy (1)

LittlePlaceonNorthSide-GFWillAs I make my way through George F.Will’s great book on the history of Wrigley Field (A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred, Crown Archetype, 2014), I recently read the section on how Wrigley Field came to receive its well-known ivy on the outfield walls. That section begins, by the way, with this quote from Frank Lloyd Wright: “A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.”

That story involves owner William Wrigley and William Veeck, Sr., who served as president of the team for sixteen years. To help draw fans into the ballpark when the team was not doing well (which was often!), Wrigley decided to make Wrigley a beautiful place. Veeck had an idea, which Wrigley liked but to which he promptly added his own – trees in the bleachers.

This is were we pick up the story in Will’s book – one to which we will return next week:

Pursuant to Wrigley’s plan to have a beautiful setting for ugly baseball, Veeck suggested that they borrow an idea from Perry Stadium, in Indianapolis, where ivy adorned the outfield walls. Wrigley responded enthusiastically, ‘And we can put trees or something in the back.’

Except he did not want trees outside the park; he wanted them in the bleachers. And although Wrigley seems to have had too much patience when trying, sort of, to grow a good team, he did not want to wait for saplings to grow big enough to shade the steps leading up to the scoreboard.

So tree boxes large enough for full-grown trees were built on each step. These required concrete footings, which, in turn, required new steel supports for the bleachers, to withstand the weight. The trees were planted and, Veeck recalled, ‘a week after we were finished the bleachers looked like the Russian steppes during a hard, cold winter. Nothing but cement and bark.’

The wind off Lake Michigan had stripped the leaves from the trees. So new trees were planted. And the wind again denuded them. The forestation of the Wrigley Field bleachers was eventually abandoned. The footings for the trees had cost $200,000. That year, 1937, the Cubs’ team payroll was about $250,000 (pp.87-88).

One can only smile at the folly. But Cubs’ fans smile through anything. Well, most anything. There is more to this story of the ivy – and it doesn’t involve holly. Just bittersweet. Yes, the plant. That will wait until next time. :)


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