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In Midseason Form

By 7.15.14

With the 85th MLB All-Star Game set to be played tonight at Target Field in Minneapolis, we have reached the midway point of the 2014 baseball season. Actually, we’re well into the second half of the season as MLB teams have played nearly 100 contests in a schedule of 162 games. In any case, here is my assessment of the 2014 season thus far and how my predictions have fared.

AL East                   W   L    PCT      GB
Baltimore Orioles     52   42   .553      ___
Toronto Blue Jays     49   47   .510      4.0
New York Yankees    47   47   .505      5.0
Tampa Bay Rays        44   53   .454      9.5
Boston Red Sox         43   52   .453      9.5

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Babe Ruth Day

By 7.11.14

On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip burst from nowhere onto the international scene. His potshot at Archduke Franz Ferdinand on the streets of Sarajevo helped launch the Great War and everything else — industrial-scale slaughter, Soviet Communism, Hitler’s Third Reich — that would spring from it.

Two weeks later, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, another rookie made his debut, and he too would have a deep and lasting impact on the 20th century.

It won’t garner the attention that the centennial anniversary of Princip’s performance received. Nevertheless, it is incontrovertible that the appearance of reform-school product George Herman Ruth on a major league baseball field one hundred years ago today marked the beginning of a career that would help define our nation and shape our culture.

Babe Ruth, as everyone knows, turned out to be larger than life, a genuine sports hero, a man with outsized appetites to go with an outsized personality. His exploits both on and off the field inspired such awe that linguists added the term “Ruthian” to our lexicon.

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The Red Sox Need a Miracle

By 7.8.14

After a thrilling run to a World Series title last year, the Boston Red Sox are playing a decidedly modest season in 2014. As of this writing, the Red Sox are 39-49 and in last place in the American League East, nine games back of the Baltimore Orioles. It would take a minor miracle for the Sox to play post-season baseball, but only a minor one. After all, the Red Sox do not face nearly odds that another team from Boston did a century ago.

For more than fifty years Boston had two baseball teams, the Red Sox and the Braves. The team that currently resides in Atlanta wasn’t always known as the Braves, though. Over the years, they went by the Red Stockings, the Beaneaters, the Doves, the Rustlers, and the Bees; but regardless of their nickname, Boston’s National League team was mostly lousy.

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Jolting Joe?

By 5.29.14

It has been an important hallmark of the conservative movement during its 50-year run to point to the steady decline of Western Civilization; to a broad disrespect for the rule of law in general, and specifically in the areas of religion, education, and government. But many current conservatives bristle at the idea that this decline affects our sports and entertainment worlds as well. As readers of this column know, this has never been a problem for me; feeling as I do that virtually nothing worthwhile has come out of the music, art or cinema fields in past half-decade or so. Ditto for our sports pantheon, where rule changes and technology have enabled records to be broken, yet despite the emergence of a few truly great players, the quality of play itself has been greatly diminished; especially in Major League Baseball.

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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.