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Baseball’s Borders

By 4.25.14

As a lad in school my concern for what my teachers wished me to learn, and their fusty behavioral restrictions, were considerably less than central to me. I had other fish to fry. Mostly having to do with baseball, girls, and turning a few bob delivering Tampa’s afternoon newspaper.  

One of my few distinctions, but not one I include on my résumé, is that I remain the only student in the history of Woodrow Wilson Junior High School in Tampa to get an F-squared in Algebra One. It’s not that I’m quantitatively feeble-minded. I can calculate earned-run-averages in my head. But the fact was that my girlfriend — perhaps more accurately the girl I hoped would become my girlfriend — sat in the desk right in front of me, leaving little of my attention span available for the Xs and Ys on the blackboard. Besides, how often in the course of nine innings does X minus Y come up? Never, that’s how often.

But in Tuesday’s New York Times there was a geography lesson even I would have paid attention to in junior high.

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Grand Old Game Returns

By 4.1.14

It’s grand to have the Grand Old Game — regular season variety — back. Monday’s Opening Day — following Sunday’s uni-game Opening Night and the Opening G’Day gimmick of a weekend ago — brought an embarrassment of riches for the aficionado, with ESPN broadcasting consecutive games and local channels chipping in with local games. Fans with time on their hands could watch baseball from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. (Fan is, after all, short for fanatic.) I didn’t exactly OD, but I’ll admit to watching more than I will as the season settles in.

I considered trying to make it to the Trop to watch my Tampa Bay Rays open against the Toronto Blue Jays. But I decided there was just too much on offer on the tube, which could be enjoyed in comfort without a $45 ticket, $18 for a beer and a hot dog, and $15 to park. (What year did going to a Major League ball game go from being a simple purchase to being an investment?) So the couch in my office was in the upright and locked position for hours.

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My 2014 MLB Predictions

By 3.27.14

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that I awoke shortly before 4 a.m. last Saturday to watch the 2014 season opener between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Australia. The Dodgers took the first game 3-1. Fourteen hours later, I tuned in to the second game, which the Dodgers also won, by a score of 7-5. The D’Backs might be leaving Australia 0-2, but I do believe they will have the last laugh this October.

In the meantime, as the Dodgers and D’Backs return to the States, spring training continues until March 30, when the Dodgers visit Petco Park to play the San Diego Padres. The first full day of MLB games begins on March 31. As such the time has come for me to once again present my predictions for the 2014 season.

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Replay It Again, Bud

By 3.12.14

In a few weeks my beloved New York Yankees will once again take the field for another opening day, one that brings many changes. Gone are the suspended Alex Rodriguez, the glorious game-ender Mariano Rivera, and my personal favorite, Curtis Granderson, who has made the cross-town trip to the New York Mets. Gone too, after this year, will be the captain, Derek Jeter, whose season-long goodbye will no doubt draw many tears from Yankee fans and haters alike who will miss his classy presence on the diamond.

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Sayonara, Yook!

By 2.26.14

Writer Joe Epstein jokes that during the years he taught literature and writing at Northwestern University, he had the collateral duty of coaching the Wildcats’ Jewish wide receivers. This extra chore, he concedes, didn’t take up much of his time. The joke always gets a laugh, and deservedly so.

The gag is that for some time now young American Jewish males have more often chosen to pursue success in the professions than in athletics. Today’s young Epsteins are far more likely to end up as gynecologists than as wide receivers or second basemen (though as the intended and unintended consequences of ObamaReidPelosiCare continue to reveal themselves, this avenue to prosperity may have to be rethought). Of course this doesn’t mean that American Jews are not interested in sports, in baseball particularly, or that there won’t be another Sandy Koufax or Hank Greenberg.

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The Ghost of Steinbrenners Past

By 1.24.14

By now baseball fans, waiting eagerly for the return of the Grand Old Game as they put another log on the fire, know that the New York Yankees have broken the bank yet again, dumping $155 million on Masahiro Tanaka, a 25-year-old Japanese pitcher who has shown himself extremely proficient at getting outs against such as the Honshu Hares, the Yakult Swallows, and the Osaka Sage Hens. Tanaka posted an incomprehensible 24-0 record last year with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. In seven high-flying years with the Eagles, Tanaka was 93-35 with a 2.30 ERA.

One item that may well have signaled caution in any but the Yankees' lushly-funded and trophy-obsessed front office is the fact that Tanaka has never thrown a pitch in the Major Leagues. Hell, he hasn’t thrown a pitch in AA ball. He will essentially be on OJT this year at $22 million, taking the place in the Yankee rotation of Andy Pettitte, who retired (again) last year after a long and distinguished career. 

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Bypassing Barry

By 1.10.14

The anecdote has it that someone once asked Louie Armstrong what jazz was. Satchmo is reported to have something like this in response, “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.”

Great answer. There are other questions we sometimes hear, the only response to which is: “If you can even ask that question, there is no answer I can give you that would satisfy or enlighten you.” One of these, and one that always pole-axes me that any sentient adult could ask, is: “Why shouldn’t women serve in combat roles in the military?” The why on this one, at least to anyone with more awareness than that of a cucumber, should be too obvious to detain us, even for a moment. It would take a highly-trained social scientist or a febrile, leftist geek not to understand this one.

Another of these knee-buckling questions we’ve heard at this time last year and this, is: “Why shouldn’t Barry Bonds be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame?” Anyone who can ask this question could as easily ask, “Why shouldn’t we vote Bernie Madoff into the Financial Counselors Hall of Fame?” Heck, Bernie’s customers put up some great numbers — a least for a while.

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From Freehan to White to Bernie

By 1.6.14

Later this week, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) will announce the results of its balloting for Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2014. Last year, the BBWAA did not give any player a requisite 75 percent of the vote necessary to gain admission into Cooperstown. This was widely believed to be a protest vote against Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and other players associated with the so-called Steroids Era.

There will be no such protest vote this year with several players on the ballot for the first time. Pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are expected to receive a near unanimous vote while Frank Thomas has a chance to be the first DH to have a bronze plaque in Cooperstown. Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina are also on the ballot for the first time. Other players on the ballot include Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, and Lee Smith.

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This Bud Wasn’t For You

By 10.2.13

Last week, Allan “Bud” Selig announced he would step down as Commissioner of Major League Baseball after the end of the 2014 season. Selig has held the position since 1992, or 21 years, the first six of which he was actually Interim Commissioner. His interim status lasted longer than that of several of his predecessors and lasted nearly as long as the Clinton Administration.

So how did Selig manage to spend more than two decades on the job? It’s very simple – he was an owner. For many years, the public was under the illusion that the Commissioner was an independent figure. Consider what the late Marvin Miller, the longtime Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), wrote about the role of the Commissioner in his 1991 book A Whole Different Ballgame: The Sport and Business of Baseball: