Thursday, June 30, 2005

The National Pass-Time

In addition to being the national pastime, baseball is (or at least was) the national pass-time, too. We passed our time with a ballgame on the radio or TV. We even paid attention.

A fond memory of childhood came to mind today. In the early mid 70's I was watching an A's game on the TV. It was summer and school was out. I was about 10 years old. It was in the late afternoon, and could have been a night game from back East. Anyway, the A's had a contest each game where, in a certain inning, if an A's player hit a home run, a contestant would win a certain amount in groceries from a supermarket chain. If they failed to hit a dinger, the amount would increase for the next game. Just send in a postcard with your name and address to enter the contest.

This particular home run inning, for a whopping $1400 in groceries, had a contestant, "Frank Wagner of Concord." Hey! He lives on my street! Oh, boy! Now, $1400 was a lot back in those days. Joe Rudi was as good a player to hit a homer as anybody. And he did just that. Elated, I leapt for joy, and immediately tore out the door and sprinted down to the end of the street to congratulate my neighbor. But an interesting thing happened. No sooner had I hit the edge of the driveway that I noticed about five other kids on our street ripping the doors off their hinges to head down to the Wagners' house. We had a virtual parade in no time. It seemed that everybody in the neighborhood was watching.

Anyway, we made it down to their house, and he still hadn't come home from work. His wife had no clue as to what we all were talking about. Then his truck came around the corner. A welcoming committee of giddy children blasted his senses with the news. He had completely forgotten that he sent in a postcard. I'm sure those groceries lasted quite a few months. The memory lasted a lifetime.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

My First Game Ever

My dad took me to my first game when I was six. I don't remember much except that the A's played Milwaukee in 1970, the score was something like 10-1 in favor of the A's, it was a day game and we sat on the 3rd base side behind the A's dugout. I wish I had kept all the ticket stubs from my childhood.

Pretty good memory, except that the score was actually 11-1. Here's the box score.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

AstroTurf update

In addition to the NL now being Astroturf-free (see my prevoius post), 10 of the 16 teams have a 162 game schedule completely on grass. The six teams with interleague matchups against Minnesota, Toronto or Tampa Bay are the Giants, Padres, Brewers, Cardinals, Nationals and Marlins.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

You Guess the Attendance

In 1985, when the Giants were pathetic, attendance was very low. Many games I attended that year had crowds of only 3,000 or so. Some more, and a few less. One joy of that year was that the scoreboard operator had a sense of humor.

In the late innings, after all the ticket stubs were counted, the quiz game "You guess the attendance" was played on the scoreboard. Four choices were listed by letter, and as the fans yelled out their guess, wrong totals were eliminated one by one until the true attendance figure was revealed. Several times, though, the choices looked like the following, with the odd one making it to the last two, with wild cheering until better judgment was dashed in favor of what would show up in the box score the next day.

A 3,186
B 2,941
C 3,058
D 58,297


A 2,813
B 3,002
C 2,930
D 6

Ahhhh, memories of Candlestick.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Good Bye to AstroTurf

Well, maybe only in the National League. With the moving of the Expos to D.C. and RFK's grass, the NL is now a grass only league. The AL still has Minnesota, Toronto and Tampa Bay with plastic carpets.

With all the new ballpark construction the past few years, most of the NL's fake fields have disappeared, and with Opening Day 2005, it's all gone. With the elimination of Olympic Stadium it is now gone, but when Stade Olympique was built it put the NL over the top with a majority 7 of 12 parks with AstroTurf. The others were Candlestick Park (replaced with grass in '79), Busch Stadium (replaced with grass in about '95), the Astrodome (replaced with Enron Field in '00), Three Rivers Stadium (replaced with PNC Park in '01), Riverfront Stadium (replaced with Great America Park in '03), and Veterans Stadium (replaced with Citizens Bank Park in '04).

In the AL, Royals Stadium had grass put in in '95, and Old Comiskey had some funky combo of infield AstroTurf and outfield grass for a while back in the 70's, Safeco field replaced the Kingdome in '99. Things have come a long way in this regard.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Foul-Weather Fan

Everybody knows what a fair-weather fan is. The Johnny-come-lately who only cheers for a winner - while they're winning. And he does so usually in a good deal of ignorance. When it comes to a game I don't like, such as basketball, I freely admit that I'm a fair-weather fan. But...

Contrast that with the "foul-weather fan." This fan shows up no matter how badly his team is or is playing. Or how bad the weather is, for that matter. Unknown to fair-weather fans, the foul-weather fan receives many benefits. No lines for food or beer or restroom. No ballpark traffic. He virtually has his own personal vendors. Great seats bought at the last minute. He can wake up in the morning and say, "it's a great day for a ballgame" and then go. He gets to see a comedy of errors every day. Not only can the visiting left fielder hear his heckling from the bleachers behind him, but the crowd is so small he can hear him when he's in the dugout.

At the time of this post, the Giants and A's, in the midst of long losing streaks, have only about 4 teams worse than they. Attendance is already down, and I'm wondering if it might continue this way. It's been quite a few years since Bay Area baseball had two losers, but if we're heading toward the bottom of the barrel for a few years, I'm ready to have a different kind of fun that I haven't experienced in a long time.

Sunday, June 5, 2005

The Really Windy City

Chicago is known as the Windy City. Accordingly, Wrigley Field is known for its wind. But it only blows in one of two directions, in or out.

At Candlestick Park, the wind would blow in all 360 degrees at the same time, in 3D. Peanut shells, anyone?

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

The Pitching is Fine

A commonly held belief in baseball is that the pitching of today is mediocre. The reason given is usually that expansion has diluted the talent pool over time to such an extent that the glory days of pitching are gone and unlikely to return again. Yes, Roger Maris, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa all broke records in expansion years, 1961 and 1998. But there's more to it than that.

I have a different point of view. I don't believe the pitching of today is worse than that of previous eras, but is in fact better. It's just that the appearance of today's pitching is worse. What has caused the appearance of pitching to be worse is a number of changes in the game, including to the rules, that have favored the hitter. Also, the talent pool of hitters has been "diluted" just as much as that of pitching.

To prove my point, I'd like to suggest that if baseball made the following changes, we would quickly find out just how good the pitching of today really is. I'm not suggesting that these all be implemented, just that if they were, my point would carry some weight.

  1. Eliminate the Designated Hitter Rule.
  2. Raise the height of the mound from 10" back to 15", as it was before 1969.
  3. Increase the size of the strike zone to what it used to be, knees to shoulders.
  4. Take all protective gear away from batters. This would include shin guards, elbow guards, batting gloves, sunglasses, and, yes, batting helmets. Make them wear their wool fielder's caps, just like it used to be.
  5. Number 5 is closely related to number 4. Give back to the pitchers the brushback, knockdown and beanball pitches, and take away the umpires' enforcement of these. Neither the pitcher or his manager would have the slightest fear of warning, ejection, suspension or fine for using these pitches. Just like it used to be. There might be a few more bench-clearing brawls, but boys will be boys.
  6. Eliminate the dark green batter's backgrounds in centerfield and open the bleachers up to shirt-sleeve crowds, like it used to be.
  7. Prohibit the new hardwood maple bats.
  8. Move the Rockies to sea level.

I don't believe, either, that expansion has diluted the overall talent pool. It does, relatively, each time baseball expands, but this has throughout history been more than compensated for by:

  1. The growth of the American population.
  2. The breaking of the color barrier and the inclusion of black and Latin players of color.
  3. Popularity of baseball in, and heavier scouting of, Latin countries.
  4. New available talent from foreign countries like Cuba, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and others.

Don't worry. The pitching is fine.