Is their anything more durable than history? Current home run king Henry Aaron has publicly said he won’t be in attendance when Barry Bonds eventually passes him to take his place a top the all-time home run list. And though he has yet to declare it, Comissioner Bud Seligmost likely will be elsewhere also. In fact, many baseball fans will
choose to turn away when the greatest record in baseball finally falls.
Yet, no matter how many asterisks one might want to add next to Bonds’
name; no matter how many remotes decide to jump channels; no matter how
many references to HGH or steroids line the daily sports’ sections,
when Barry Bonds does finally hit # 756, baseball HISTORY will be made!
In 1921 when Babe Ruth hit # 139 to pass Roger Connor as the
all-time home run king, the historical impact was muted considerably
because of the infancy of the home run record. Because Ruth went on to
hit so many more long balls than Connor, the historical significance of
Connor’s home runs became even more insignificant. But like fine wine,
baseball records become so much finer with the mere passage of time. 53
years after Ruth established himself as The Sultan Of Swat, Hank Aaron
hit the most famous home run in baseball history. When Aaron hit # 715
off of Al Downing, he not only broke Ruth’s record, but he gave the 714
home runs Ruth hit greater historical context. Ruth had set the bar.
But, until Aaron had raised it, there was no one to really compare Ruth
with. Simply, Aaron’s 715th home run meant so much to the history of
baseball because he had Ruth’s 714 home runs to build on.
Once Bonds’ reaches the new magical number, there will probably be a
frenzy of articles penned all across the country supporting the notion
that Hammering Hank should still be the rightful champion of the long
ball. But, ‘shoulds’ have never made anything so, and that is why # 756 will go down as the most famous home-run in the annals of baseball.
Ironically, just as all the racial tension surrounding Aaron’s chase of the Babe added an extra facet to the story of # 715,
all the hoopla in the media about the possible illegitimacy of Bonds’
home-run chase, because of performance enhancing drugs, will make # 756
an even more fascinating historical event. Fans, journalists,
congressman, and even the Commissioner can opine ad nauseam on the
legitimacy of Bonds’ home run chase. But, while the opinions of many
might color history, it can never undo it. Barring injury or federal
indictment, the summer of 2007 will go down as the summer Barry Bonds
passed Hank Aaron as the all-time home run king.
Present Home Run Total Home Runs Needed
In 1974, for very different reasons, Los Angeles Dodgers’ teammates Tommy John and Mike Marshall
catalyzed two of the most profound discoveries for pitchers in modern
baseball history. The more famous of the discoveries was due to the
efforts of renowned surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe, who would perform
the first UCL (Ulnar Collateral Ligament) transplant surgery on a MLB
pitcher. Jobe would take a tendon from another part of John’s body and
reconstruct John’s shredded elbow ligament with it. The implanted
tendon would fortify John’s elbow and act as a ligament. The result was
bionic! Instead of having his career cut short at the age of 31, John
would go on to pitch another 15 years, win 20 games in three different
seasons, and another 164 games overall. The famous surgery was coined
after it’s initial patient and became known as "Tommy John" surgery. In the last 33 years the procedure has saved the careers of hundreds upon hundreds of major league pitchers.
When John underwent the first procedure, the odds of him pitching again
were 100-1. Now around 85% of pitchers who undergo the surgery return
to pre-surgery performance levels within about two years. The surgery
has become so popular that many young pitchers are having it performed
even when their elbow ligament damage is minimal. In many young
pitcher’s eyes the surgery is inevitable and they would rather get it
out of the way sooner rather than later. According to Dr. James Andrews (the foremost "Tommy John" surgeon)
the most common age group now to have the procedure is between 10-18
years of age. This startling fact begs the question, is elbow ligament
transplant surgery, as well as the plethora of other devastating arm
injuries preventable? Or are these injuries just a reality for young
arms that, more than ever, push the radar gun close to 100 mph?
The Marshall Plan
The same year John became the successful guinea pig for modern day
surgery, Mike Marshall accomplished a feat that would challenge the
traditional idea that arm injuries were an inevitable result of being a
professional pitcher. In 1974 Marshall won the NL Cy Young Award by
pitching in a phenomenal 106 games. More phenomenal were the other
records Marshall set by pitching 208 1/3 relief innings that year, and
at one point throwing in 13 consecutive games. Overall, Marshall went
15-12 with 21 saves and a 2.42 ERA. He was injury-free for the rest of
Most everyone in baseball including John thought Marshall was just a
physical freak of nature. But, there was a method to Marshall’s
ability, a very scientific method that drew heavily on Sir Issac Newton’s "Laws of Motion". Marshall has dedicated himself to learning and teaching now for almost 40 years.
In 1967 after experiencing shoulder soreness while pitching for the
Detroit Tigers, Marshall began to apply his love for science and
research to himself. He wondered what was causing his soreness and went
about experimenting with the mechanics of how he threw to rid himself
of the discomfort. The discoveries Marshall would make were
groundbreaking in the science of bio-mechanics applied to the throwing
of a baseball. In 1978 Marshall, while still pitching for the Minnesota
Twins, obtained his Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology. Over the next 29
years Marshall would continue to develop his ideas on the best
mechanics to throw a baseball.
For those unfamiliar with Marshall’s work, here are some highlights
of the mechanics behind Marshall’s method. The scientific explanation
for Marshall’s ideas are pretty complex, so I’ve done my best to
simplify them here. I’ve also linked to a video of a Marshall student throwing a baseball
with these techniques. Unfortunately, the video is from Yahoo, so
there’s a thirty second commercial before the video begins. But, it’s
worth checking out:
1- Sir Isaac Newton’s "First and Second Laws of Motion"
teach that in any movement the direction of the force is the same as
the direction of the acceleration. The most efficient and powerful
movement is that which moves in a straight line. Because of this
Marshall believes that pitchers should apply all of their movement in a
straight-line force towards home plate. Any windup that requires you to
turn your body away from the plate he believes is inefficient and
causes extra stress to the arm. Marshall teaches a pendulum windup much
like a softball pitcher uses or some of the pitchers from the early
part of the nineteenth century.
2- Hidden Velocity– Marshall
teaches pitchers to release the ball from their hand later than
traditional approaches. He claims this will add extra velocity to a
3- Pronation of the Forearm–
This means that a pitcher should turn his palm away from his pitching
arm with the thumb pointing downwards upon follow though. This movement
relieves stress in the elbow and shoulder and prevents the forearm bone from slamming into the upper arm bones.
4- Rear Foot Forward– Pointing
the rear foot forward off of the pitching rubber alleviates stress to
the knee and hip joint while also preventing groin pulls.
5- Throw in a Back To Forward Motion– Marshall claims that throwing across one’s body causes extra stress to the arm that will cause many types of injuries.
6- No Leg Kick– As Marshall puts it, "Stand still and then lift your foot about four feet in front of you. How’s your balance?".
By teaching pitchers to move their foot forward without a kick,
Marshall believes that one has a stronger center of gravity to exert
7- Hand Under The Ball– Pitchers who throw with their hand on top of the ball are prone to rotator cuff and Ulnar Collateral Ligament problems.
These are just a few of the ideas Marshall teaches to improve a
pitcher’s health with his mechanics. To understand more fully, one
really might want to take an anatomy class.
Marshall claims that if pitchers learned his methods, 95% percent of
arm injuries would be preventable including Rotator Cuff problems and
the infamous "Tommy John" injury and. Marshall’s book, Coaching Baseball Pitchers (can be read free on the internet) should probably be on the nightstand of every pitching coach in baseball. So, why isn’t it?
Don’t Wanna Hear It!
Lack of exposure is one reason. Recently though, Jeff Passan
opened Pandora’s box and re-introduced Marshall to the baseball
community in his expose "Outside Pitch" on
Yahoo.com. As Passan’s article articulates, the answer to why organized
baseball has turned a blind eye to Marshall probably lies somewhere
between ignorance and opportunity. In the mid-nineties Marshall sent a
letter to every GM offering his services. Not one replied. Major league
GMs are afraid to send Marshall top-tier talent because the mechanics
he teaches are a direct challenge to the traditional mechanics that
baseball coaches have been teaching for the past 130 years. As Braves
GM John Schuerholz explains,
"It’s so far afield from the traditional,
normal method… Not many people I’ve talked to would be comfortable
embracing a concept that’s so diametrically opposed to the teachings of
If baseball was to adopt Marshall’s ideology they’d basically be
indicting themselves for teaching inferior mechanics. In a recent
conversation I had with Marshall, he shared with me his frustration
from the fact that most pitching coaches have a very limited knowledge
of biomechanics and science which creates a gap in communication, if
not a total brain freeze.
"The minute I start talking to any
pitching coach about the science their faces go blank," Marshall says,
"But, when I give a lecture at any major university, I get a standing
Marshall makes no bones about what he thinks of baseball’s power
brokers. He thinks that the traditional mechanics that they teach
pitchers actually cause most of the arm injuries.
"I got tired of appeasing the stupid… How
long does a blond have to act like a ***** before she gets a date?
These people (in organized baseball) are idiots. They don’t know a ****
thing. The thing is, they’re powerful. They get the kids and can
destroy them. And they do."
If one looks around the majors today, it would be hard to argue with
Marshall’s contention that the traditional pitching mechanics that are
taught contribute to and may cause most arm injuries. Currently, in the
major leagues their are roughly 360 pitchers. If one were to look at
the injury list, one would find that 73 pitchers or a little over 20%
of major league pitchers are currently on the Disable List (DL) or
day-to-day with elbow or shoulder injuries. This number does not
include back, leg, rib, or other arm injuries. It also doesn’t include
the many minor leaguers that are suffering from arm injuries.
So are these injuries really inevitable? Or as Marshall insists, can
95% of them be prevented by learning his throwing mechanics? And if
pitchers did adopt Marshall’s mechanics could they still pitch as
effectively? You’d think that at least one GM might want to give
Marshall a shot to prove his ideas at the major league level. What
would a GM like the Cubs’ Jim Hendry really have to lose by sending some of his MASH patients like Mark Prior or Kerry Wood over to Marshall’s school in Zephyrhills, Florida for a few months?
For the answers to these question and more
insight into Dr. Mike Marshall’s theories on pitching, tune into
BASEBALL TALK w/Carl the Cabbie & Dugout Joe this Sunday, May 20th
at 1:00 PM. If you have a question you’d like to ask Dr. Marshall you
can call in between 1:00-2:00 at 646-478-4570. Just click HERE
to go listen to this week’s show or any of our past shows. Also, if any
MLBloggers would like to be a guest on our show to talk about and
promote their blog, just e-mail us at email@example.com.
Carl The Cabbie
Updated: September 21st, 2006
On April 17th, Pedro Martinez reached a monumental milestone when he
defeated the Atlanta Braves for his 200th victory. Now Pedro is closing
in on an even more exclusive club, 3,000 K’s.
The K count is presently 2,997. Pedro has struck out 136 batters in 22
starts so far this season. After a lengthy respite because of a very
calf, Pedro has returned albeit not 100%. Tonight was a positive step however, as Pedro rode a dancing curve and sharp changeup on his way to striking out 7 Marlins over 5 innings. While the Mets have clinched, the September drama for Pedro’s final regular season start coudn’t be anymore charged than it will be next week. Pedro will need only 3 K’s to reach the magic number when he goes against the the same team he garnered his 200th victory against, the Mets’ greatest antagonist over the past 10 seasons, the Atlanta Braves. To make sure you don’t miss this historical moment, keep track of Willie’s rotation for the next week as Pedro’s final start will be at Atlanta on either Tuesday, 9/26 or Wednesday, 9/27.
When Pedro reaches 3,000, he will
be the 15th major leaguer
to accomplish this amazing feat. Curt Schilling was the last pitcher to
reach the magic number. He accomplished the feat just a few weeks ago
Oakland when he struck out Nick Swisher in the first inning. Last year
reached the rare and special number on 7/26/05 vs the Giants. Goooooooooooo Pedro!
Present Strikeout Total Strikeouts Needed
*3,000 K Fast Fact
Cesar Geronimo is
the only batter who was the 3,000th victim of two different pitchers.
On 7/17/74, he was the 3,000th batter to whiff against Bob Gibson. On 7/4/80 it was deja vu when Nolan Ryan struck him out for his 3,000th strikeout.
As the old saying goes, "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story". In the aftermath of Florida Marlins’ Anibal Sanchez’s no-hitter Wednesday night, it appears that ESPN, MSG, SNY, all the network news shows and every other highlight show I watched on TV decided to follow this old moniker. There were many catchy angles to this story— "Anibal breaks the longest no-hitter drought in major league history”, "Sanchez throws first no-hitter in over two years", "Marlins’ hurler becomes first rookie since Bud Smith in 2001 to toss a no-hitter", but not one, NOT ONE slow-motion replay of the final out of this historic moment. Why is this a big deal? Well, because to the naked eye Eric Byrnes looked SAFE! How’s this for a story headline, "Umpire blows call on last play of a no-hitter!". I mean didn’t one sports producer think that it might have made a good story to highlight the drama of such a close play. And not just any play, but the last play of a no-hitter.
If you read the paper tomorrow, the print media will have you believe that Byrnes was retired on a routine ground out. But, in truth, shortstop Hanley Ramirez turned into a nervous nellie and took his sweet time in throwing the ball over to first, and what should have been routine became a bang-bang play. Byrnes actually might have had himself an infield hit. Now, I’m not saying he was definitely safe, but it was so dang close that the sports media might have wanted to show at least one slow motion angle to its audience so we could get a closer look. I mean for godsake, there was only a no-hitter on the line! But, who am I to get in the way of a good story? Have your no-hitter, rejoice in it, dream about it, mark it in the record books, but please when you retell the story to your grandkids of how it went down, remember to tell them that Eric Byrnes might have actually been robbed of a hit on the last play of the game by an overzealous umpire. Remember to tell them that this might have been one of the greatest blown calls in recent baseball history. And remember to tell them that Anibal’s no-hitter might not have been a no-hitter afterall. But, without a slow motion replay we’ll never know.
In 1961, during their Ruthian home run chase, Yankee sluggers Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were dubbed the M&M Boys. 46 years later we might have to redefine that term to refer to catchers Joe Mauer and Brian McCann.
There’s been a lot of press about the Twins’ Joe Mauer becoming the
first catcher in 64 years and the first AL catcher ever to win the
batting title. But, it’s time to realize that an even more rare feat
could be accomplished this season. If Braves’ catcher Brian McCann can
manage another 170 plate appearances (PA) in the Braves’ final 46
games, the major leagues could experience the first ever instance of
two catchers winning the batting title in the same season.
While Mauer, at .361, currently has a commanding .020 lead in the AL,
McCann at .350 would have a .004 lead in the NL if he had enough plate
appearances to qualify. Presently, McCann is taking off about only one
game a week, so the probability of him qualifying by the end of the
season is pretty good. If McCann were to play in 40 of the Braves’
final 46 games, which would keep with his recent pattern of games
played, he would have to average 4.25 plate appearances per game. If
you consider that McCann has averaged 4.18 plate appearances in his 77
game starts so far, and you add in a few pinch-hitting appearances, his
shot at qualifying is definitely within reach.
If McCann should fail, another NL catcher who is in the running for the batting title is the Cubs’ Michael Barrett.
Like McCann, Barrett is a little short of having the necessary plate
appearances required to qualify, but he is closer than McCann. To date,
Barrett would need 143 more plate appearances. The Cubs have 45 games
remaining, so barring another injury Barrett should have no problem
qualifying. His .330 average would presently rank 4th in the NL.
When you consider the history of catchers winning a batting title,
there aren’t many places to look. Cincinnati has been the benefactor of
this rare feat two of the three times it has been accomplished. And
neither time was the player’s name Johnny Bench. The only two catchers
who have ever won a batting title since 1900 are Bubbles Hargrave and
Ernie Lombardi (Photo to the left). Hargraves was the first, winning in 1926 for the
Cincinnati Reds (.353). Lombardi also won a batting title for the Reds
when he led the NL in 1938 (.342). Lombardi became the last catcher to
top the batting charts in 1942 (a war year when many of the best
hitters were out of the league because they had joined the U.S. armed
services) when he again led the NL, hitting .330 for the Boston Braves.
To further bolster the proclamation that this is truly the year of
the catcher here are a few other backstops batting over .300 in 2006:
Through August 13th
Starters AVG PA
Paul Lo Duca (Mets) .316 402
Victor Martinez (Indians) .315 471
Ronny Paulino (Pirates) .312 341
A.J Pierzynski (White Sox) .308 404
Johnny Estrada (D’Backs) .303 344
Mike Redmond (Twins) .346 136
Gerald Laird (Rangers) .340 158
Chris Coste (Phillies) .340 103
Josh Bard (Padres) .330 207
On The Cusp
Russell Martin (Dodgers) .299 310
Kenji Johjima (Mariners) .297 383
Ivan Rodriguez (Tigers) .295 411
Mike Piazza (Padres) .291 321
* A player needs 502 PA (Hits, Walks, SF, SH, HBP) to qualify for the batting title.
33 games and counting! Chase Utley will attempt to extend his quest of the impossible dream, breaking Joe Dimaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, tonight against Jeff Weaver and the St. Louis Cardinals. 33 games is quite an accomplishment, but let’s put into perspective just how difficult his task of catching Jolting Joe’s amazing record will be.
In 1984, Ed Purcell, a Nobel Laureate and one of the world’s most reknowned physicists, did a statistical study of the odds of a player breaking Dimaggio’s record. Jay Gould wrote about this study in a letter he sent to Dimaggio in 1985, explaining the basic results of Purcell’s work. In simple terms, Purcell’s conclusion was that a player with a .350 career average who has played at least 10-years (which there have only been three of in the history of baseball—Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and Joe Jackson) would have a less than 1% chance of attaining a 50-game hit streak, let alone a 56-game streak.
Still, Utley’s accomplishment is quite extraordinary considering there have only been 20 players who have had hitting streaks as long as or longer than 33 games (21 players if you count Denny Lyons’ 52-game hit streak for the Athletics in 1887, but walks were considered hits then, so his streak in terms of modern baseball’s rules would have only been 21 games).
So, as we rally behind Utley’s great chase of Dimaggio’s record, let’s remember to temper our expectations and recall all the great streaks before that have come up short. But, then again, it’s o’k to dream a little dream, even the impossible dream! That’s what baseball is all about.
Top 5 All-Time Hitting Streaks
1. Joe Dimaggio (Yankees) 56 1941
2. Pete Rose (Reds) 44 1978
3. Wee Willie Keeler (Orioles) 44 1897
4. Bill Dahlen (Colts) 41 1894
5. George Sisler (Browns) 41 1922
Barry-Bashing has seemingly become the favorite past-time for many baseball fans this season. Ranging from verbal taunts to outright vitriol, the reaction to a great ballplayer who has clearly engaged in the use of performance enhancing drugs has escalated to a level that, in this observer’s opinion, has surpassed all reasonable thinking.
You will find an array of answers from fans as to why they hate Barry Bonds so much, and almost all of them will include some mention to the words ‘cheating’ and ‘steroids’. We’ve seen a new clothing industry of t-shirts and hats develop based around Barry-Bashing, syringes tossed onto fields, the ritualistic booing whenever he comes to the plate, a pitcher intentionally throwing at him four times in a row, and the constant clever signage in every ballpark deriding Bonds’ and his pursuit.
One of the more popular themes of Barry-Bashers during his chase of Babe Ruth’s 714 home runs has been to sanctify the Babe in order to create a high horse for their stance that alleviates any guilt in their demonizing of Bonds. Another popular theme has been the idea of asterisking* anything and everything having to do with Bonds’ hitting records. To investigate the validity of such ideas we have to continue to ask the hard questions.
Should Bonds’ records have a special notation next to them? The
asterisk crowd loves to speculate on what Bonds’ home run total would
be if he wasn’t part of the ‘Roids era in baseball. The same crowd
crowed about Roger Maris having 8 more games in his schedule in 1961 than
Ruth had in 1927. Some speculate what Ruth’s total would have been if
African-Americans were allowed to play major league baseball in the
1920’s. Speculation and records will forever be a part of sports’
history, every era in that case can be asterisked.
Would The Babe Have Used Steroids?
have found the most interesting approach to bashing Bonds has been the
sanctifying of Babe Ruth in order to create a moral standard to judge
Bonds’ home run count by. The myths about Babe have always been
nostalgic ones that tend to skew the truth and overlook some of the
questionable characteristics that were part of the person he actually
was. Before fans hop on the Bambino bandwagon as they pelt Bonds with
proverbial stones, they should be aware of all things Babe. Are
Bonds-Bashers certain that Ruth would not have employed Victor Conte
and Balco in order to enhance his performance if he had the opportunity?
fact is, steroid experimentation has been around longer than most
realize. In the 1860’s the experiments actually became tangible when a
scientist, Arnold Berthold, started castrating roosters and re-injecting
them with their own testosterone while monitoring the difference in
their aggression and other behaviors. About twenty years later
scientists had figured out how to extract
testosterone from the testes
of mostly sheep and guinea pigs and inject the fluid back into
themselves. Their observation was an increase in mood with more energy
and more vigor.
According to author and researcher Robert I. Abrams,
by 1889 at least one well known ballplayer, Hall of Fame pitcher James "Pud" Galvin was openly injecting an elixir of animal testosterone known as the Brown-Sequard Elixir. The press welcomed the discovery with great enthusiasm as an article from that year’s New Haven Register exemplifies,
‘The discovery of a true elixir of youth by which the aged can restore
their vitality and renew their bodily vigor would be a great thing for
baseball. We hope the discovery is of such a nature that it can be
applied to rejuvenate provincial clubs.’ Another article in the local press touted the elixar’s effect directly on Galvin’s pitching, ‘If
there still be doubting Thomases who concede no virtue of the elixir,
they are respectfully referred to Galvin’s record in yesterday’s
Boston-Pittsburgh game. It is the best proof yet furnished of the value
of the discovery.’
is another story about steroids that has been around long before the
Bonds’ controversy and it has to do with the Babe himself. According to The Baseball Hall of Shame’s Warped Record Book, by Bruce Nash, Allan
Zullo and Bob Smith, "the Bambino fell ill
one year attempting to inject himself with extract from a sheep’s
testes. This effort by more than a few athletes of his era to seek the
healing and strengthening properties of testosterone prefigured the
craze for steroids. When Ruth fell ill from his attempted enhancement,
the media was told that Ruth merely had ‘a bellyache.’ "
Knowing about Ruth’s more written about follies, this story seems
far from impossible. While Ruth had many great qualities, the man led a
very flawed life. Ruth like Bonds always walked to the beat of his own
drum. He openly and illegally drank liquor during Prohibition; his
enthusiastic womanizing often bordered on the obscene, as it was not
unusual for him to employ a whole block of streetwalkers in a single
night; his appetite for the other sex showed little respect for those
closest to him as both his wives would find out as well as his once
good friend Lou Gehrig, who shunned him after finding his own wife drunk
and alone with the Babe during a cruise to the far east; both Miller
Huggins and Joe McCarthy had more than a few choice words for the Babe
on many occasions; and he never received a chance to manage, as owners
apparently took to heart a statement that Yankee president Ed Barrow
had made about Ruth when he said, "How can he manage other men when he can’t even manage himself?". Red Sox owner Harry Frazee justified his trade out of Boston by saying that Ruth was "one of the most selfish and inconsiderate athletes I have ever seen." One doesn’t have to research very long to find many more disreputable stories about Babe Ruth that bring his moral character into question.
The Moral Arena
But, what about the Barry-Basher? Where does he stand in the arena of morality? The baseball sphere has always been steeped in "Cowboy" culture. Media and fans seem to thrive on identifying the White Hat from the Black Hat. Players are either ‘safe’ or ‘out’. While Critique and debate generally lead to polarization, they rarely reveal the whole truth. In this
Barry-Balco-Babe-Steroids-Cheating-Home Run Record controversy, I think it’s helpful to decide on what exactly is fueling many fans’ incredible anger. Are most fans just acting like sheep, imitating the Op-Eds of the day? It’s one thing to dislike Barry Bonds for his arrogant and sometimes condescending nature, it’s another to dislike what many perceive as cheating, and yet another to dislike him for passing the fabled Babe on the record list. But, do any
of these dislikes diminish what Bonds is accomplishing? And more importantly, what’s really bugging so many of us?
For those who dislike Bonds’ attitude towards the fans and press, this is understandable. Many great ballplayers were not the "friendly" type. Ted Williams never took a curtain call in his life no matter how much Boston fans chanted for it, not even on his last at bat which was a home run. Among fans, players and media, Ty Cobb had hardly a friend in baseball. Negative demeanors often rub baseball fans the wrong way, but seldom do they cause an outcry like the one against Bonds.
Keeping Up With The Joneses
So, even if one abhors Bonds’ personality, is this reason enough to smear his abilities and accomplishments? At this point in the investigation the Barry-Basher will point to the words ‘steroids’ and ‘cheating’ and might even go so far as to criminalize what he has done. On the surface the reaction appears to be appropriate if one were to buy– hook, line and sinker– everything they read in the popular press. But then again, there’s a reason the press is not given the responsibility of a court of law. Are we members of a society that likes to deal with facts and fair trials? Do we still believe in the edict, "innocent until proven guilty"? Or are we a country that purports, "guilt by appearance or association"? And have we evolved beyond witch hunts and stonings?
where there is smoke there is usually fire. Let’s say we adopt a stance where we believe everything that has been written about Bonds and steroid use in baseball. It’s very easy to hate someone who we perceive got away with using prescription medicine without a prescription, especially if we have lived a law abiding life ourselves. But, if we are to believe all that has been written about Bonds then we must also believe all that has been written about steroids in baseball. In 2002 Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote an article in which 1996 NL MVP winner Ken Caminiti (now deceased) said, "It’s no secret what’s going on in baseball. At least half the guys are using [steroids]. They talk about it. They joke about it with each other. … I don’t want to hurt fellow teammates or fellow friends. But I’ve got nothing to hide." Former player, Chad Curtis in the same article quoted the number of players using steroids at 40-50%. Jose Canseco, last year in his book Juiced, reported that number as high as 75%. If so many players were enhancing their performance (pitchers included), then the perceived advantage Barry had on the field was actually him just keeping up with the Joneses.
Now, if a Barry-Basher wants to discredit all the players who were on steroids, he’s going to have to do a lot of speculating. It might be more apropos to direct one’s anger towards Major League Baseball and the popular Sports Media in general for allowing this behavior to run rampant for so
long with very little hard-core investigation and no drug testing policy in place.
The captain of MLB during the ‘Roids era was, and is still Mr. Bud Selig. While Bonds might be acting petulantly to protect his own hide like many of us would, Selig continues to try to pull the wool over Baseball fans’ eyes. He is continually diverting our attention away from his own culpability, and
through his own agenda directing fans towards an easy target. Selig continues to play dumb as to what was obvious to most intelligent observers over a decade ago. While a few in the Sports Media wrote critically, the majority became apologists for Mark McGwire when he pursued Roger Maris’ single season home run record. The response to finding androstenedione (at the time a legal but controversial steroid-muscle enhancer which has since further investigation been banned in all major sports) in McGwire’s locker during his Maris chase elicited columns mostly like this excerpt from ‘Hero Of The Year’ by Time Magazine’s Daniel Okrent.
"He didn’t much like being turned into a carnival sideshow, but he never let it distract him. When a reporter spotted androstenedione, a legal but controversial steroid, in McGwire’s locker, the slugger explained that he used it to protect himself from the muscle tears that so often plague finely conditioned athletes, especially those few so well muscled as he, and he left it at that. Though he was criticized, McGwire marched ahead, not even pausing to rip off the head of the reporter who’d gone peeking into his locker. What kind of a modern athlete would fail to do that? As for ‘andro,’ whatever else it does, it can’t help a player’s timing, his hand-eye coordination, his ability to discern a slider from a splitter. But even if andro improved his power by an unlikely, oh, 5%, then instead of 70 home runs, McGwire this year would have hit… maybe 67. Take 5% off a 450-ft. missile, and you’ve got a 427.5-ft. missile–long enough to clear any fence save center field in Detroit’s Tiger Stadium."
This type of rationalization was embraced not only by the media, but by most fans as well. Yes, many of the same Barry-Bashers were protecting McGwire’s accomplishments even when a large red herring (‘andro’) reared it’s ugly head. Could it be that projection and self-loathing is fueling much of the fans’ and media’s anger? We all knew it, so why did it take a congressional hearing for us to suddenly adopt a fervent moralistic mentality towards steroid use? Could it be that we all were enjoying the home runs too much to care? Could it be that McGwire was a white ballplayer and a likeable guy, so it was harder for us to bash him? Maybe baseball fans’ reaction to Bond’s pursuit of Ruth’s home run count is a microcosm of America’s renewed interest in morality as a whole. Iraq, Enron, Global Warming, Guantanamo, Immigration… there are so many complex issues that plague the conscience of the American citizen today. Maybe steroids in baseball is an issue where many feel they can discern right from wrong clearly because baseball has always tried to define itself through a refreshing lack of uncertainty. It’s a straight-forward game where three strikes means ‘yer out’, a foul ball is never fair, and a ball that leaves the park is a home run. But, the sociology of sports is a bit more complex than averages and home run totals. To see with any clarity what’s at the heart of Barry-Bashing it is imperative that we look beyond Bonds and the numbers, and allow our vision to open to all the players in the field including ourselves.
Let Him Who Is Without Sin Cast the First Stone
So, if we as fans are going to pelt Bonds’ with moral stones, then we also need to pelt Ruth and Selig and Canseco and posthumously Caminiti; and the fan who caught Bonds’ 714th ball– shouldn’t he have thrown it back on the field if he hates Bonds’ guts instead of trying to sell it for $100,000?; and let’s not forget the Houston crowd for cheering when Bonds got intentionally thrown at four straight times by Russ Springer; and while we’re at it let’s throw boulders at Derek Jeter for only selling his autograph instead of signing for free cause he needs the money?; and Gaylord Perry for admitting that he threw an illegal vaseline ball his entire career; and just about everyone else involved in baseball and possibly the world EXCEPT for the Bonds-Bashers because of course they are "holier than thou!"
In 1951 Bill Veeck, the St. Louis Browns’ owner, employed 3’7" small-man Eddie "Carl" Gaedel for one game. It
was maybe the most famous of his many promotions to increase sagging attendence for the dreadful St. Louis Browns. Gaedel had one plate appearance, which resulted predictably with him drawing a Walk.
Today we have the anti-Gaedel and he is anything but a sideshow. If you take Gaedel and multiply him by two minus three inches, you get 7’1" pitcher Ryan Doherty of the Defending Midwest League Champions- The South Bend Silver Hawks (A-Ball). The 22-year old right-hander spent three years at Notre Dame University where he chose to pursue his baseball dream after eschewing basketball scholarships from Duke, Stanford and
Princeton. In an interview with ESPN Magazine Doherty explained his decision to play baseball over basketball, "I started to fall in love with baseball right around the time Randy Johnson was making a name for himself with the Mariners… I had a hero for life. I think I might have had a decent future in basketball, but my height in baseball makes me a real oddity." Oddity is an understatement,
downright disorienting is more like it. Add in the ten-inch height of the pitchers mound, and hitters are approximately dealing with an eight-footer slinging 90-mph heat and a curve ball that seemingly drops out of the sky.
Doherty began his professional baseball career a year ago and is one of the top relievers in the Silver Hawks’ vaunted bullpen, where he is presently 3-0 with a 3.32 ERA. With the Diamondbacks’ top prospect Justin Upton as a teammate, the Silver Hawks should do much better attendence-wise than the St. Louis Browns could have ever hoped to do. While Pitcher Jon Rauch (6’11") of the Washington Nationals is the tallest man ever to play in the major leagues, it is believed that Doherty is the tallest man ever to play professional baseball.
I thought that on the eve of the Yankees first trip to Fenway this season, a good Ted Williams story was called for. Recently, a good friend of mine and a rabid Red Sox fan, Dan Gwirtzman shared this story with me about how Teddy ‘Ballgame’ got the umpires to call the strike zone the way he liked it. This is the story the way Dan told it to me. It is adapted from the original telling in the book, "The Brothers K" by David James Duncan.
When Williams came into the league he was confident and quiet, he was focused and he kept to himself. He wouldn’t sign autographs and he wouldn’t say anything much to the reporters. The Boston fans didn’t much like it. So the press and the fans booed him. But Ted didn’t care a bit. He just took it in. He accepted the resentment and the press. This made the fans complain he was arrogant. But he stuck to his game.
As Teddy’s greatness continued to grow, the tension with the fans and the press mounted. He was hitting so well, making Boston shine in the AL East, that people now simply had to know what made him tick. They still resented him, but they needed to have some substance. So now every reporter in town was after him for an interview. But Old Ted held his ground and continued to hit the ball. He also never so much as glanced at an umpire after a close pitch. The umps didn’t mind this. Also, as much as fans hate umps, umps hate fans. So the fact that the fans also booed Williams in his own stadium gave him solidarity with the umps.
All the while Ted was just waiting. And then, one summer day, out of nowhere he relaxed his public stance and decided to grant one sports journalist an interview. They met at a hotel. The journalist fired off three questions – whose your favorite director? what’s your favorite burger in Boston, how long is your noodle?"
Williams didn’t flinch. He answered the questions except the last one. Then the reporter hauled off with the question everyone wanted to ask him, "how do you hit so darn well?"
Ted sat back, took a sip of tea, folded up the paper, and relaxed his manner. He talked of high fastballs, and curveballs he had known, and bat speed, hitters with quick wrists and slow wrists, and as he got on to the subject of fast sliders, Williams suddenly sat up and leaned in.
The reporter was rapt.
"The thing is," Ted said, "I can see the ball from the moment it leaves the pitcher’s hand right to where it jumps off the bat."
The reporter took it in, delighted – he had an article. He ran home and typed it out. It was in the papers the next day. And now the message was out: Williams had perfect eyes. The umps began to figure he was right and who were they going to try and be by disagreeing with Ted Williams on a meaningful close pitch? From then on Williams had his strike zone and went on to put together two of the best seasons any man ever had, including probably the last .400 season.
Carl The Cabbie
There was a time before catcher’s masks, an era when catchers wore tightly wound rubberbands around their teeth to protect from getting them knocked out. As with any popular new past time, baseball evolved quickly. Cincinnati Red Stockings’ founder and shortstop George Wright began to use a mouthpiece in the 1860’s. He patented it and made a pile of money selling his mouthguard on the open market. While many catchers were saving teeth, there wasn’t much they could do for the rest of their face, until the mid-1870’s. That’s when a few fellows at Harvard started talking about making a mask that would change the catching position forever.
The popular tale begins in 1875 with a late season game between arch-rivals Harvard and Yale. Somewhere in the early innings, Harvard pitcher Harold Ernst came to bat. As the first pitch approached he jumped back, startled by the extreme new swerving movement on the ball as it crossed the plate. Ernst struck out on three pitches. The rest of the Harvard lineup also seemed to be swinging at air. Ernst watched Yale pitcher Charles Avery’s throwing motion very closely for the rest of the day. Yale went on to easily defeat Harvard for the sixth time in their last seven meetings. After the game, Ernst knew that to be one of the best he would have to learn the delivery of this tantalizing pitch. In the off-season he went about teaching himself how to throw what we now call the curve ball. The effects of Ernst’s offseason work were immediate. On opening day in 1876, throwing as many curves as his elbow could stand, Ernst no-hit the powerhouse Lowell, Massachusetts club. He led Harvard to a 25-12 record that season and established himself as one the pioneers of pitching.
The curve ball was considered by most players and spectators as the best new pitch in baseball- but also the riskiest. Catchers everywhere were having a heck of a time holding on to pitches, causing a rise in errors as well as a rise in mangled jaws and noses. Harvard catcher Howard Thatcher wasn’t returning for the 1877 season, but he had helped to prepare James Alexander Tyng (man with mustache in photo to the right) as his replacement. Tyng was Harvard’s best all-around athlete and would later go on to become the first Harvard alum to play in a major league game (1879 Boston Red Caps). Like Thatcher before him, Tyng was having a terrible time catching Ernst. His face was taking a beating and he was becoming increasingly worried about permanent disfigurement. This safety concern prompted Player/Manager, Fred Thayer (man with hat in photo to the right) to consider how to boost Tyng’s confidence and protect his face:
"In one or two games in which he caught behind the bat, he had been hit by foul tips and had become more or less timid. He was, by all odds, the most available man as catcher for the season of ’77, and it was up to me to find some way to bring back his confidence,"
Thayer had been brewing an idea for a while, ever since some dugout chats he had once held with former catcher Howard Thatcher. Back in 1875, after Thatcher had taken a few too many foul tips to the noggin, the two men had discussed how to better protect a catcher without impeding his visibility. Realizing he could no longer sit on the idea, Thayer decided a fencing mask provided the closest blueprint to what they needed. In the winter of 1876 he hired a local tinsmith to construct a "bird cage" mask with padding in the chin and forehead area. During practices Tyng and Thayer experimented and revised the mask several times until they got it just right for Tyng’s face. On April 12th, 1877 James Tyng became the first man to wear a catcher’s mask in a professional game. The reaction in the media was mixed to say the least:
"The new mask was proved a complete success, since it entirely protects the face and head and adds greatly to the confidence of the catcher, who need not feel that he is every moment in danger of a life-long injury. To the ingenious inventor of this mask we are largely indebted for the excellent playing of our new catcher, who promises to excel the fine playing of those who have previously held this position."
"There is a good deal of beastly humbug in contrivances to protect men from things that don’t happen. There is about as much sense in putting a lightning rod on a catcher as a mask."
Thayer received a patent for the mask in 1878. Later in the year, A.G Spalding and Brothers Company, the leading sporting goods dealer in the country, began selling the Thayer Catcher’s Mask for $3.00 in their catalogue. Slowly, catcher’s started to use it, but it wasn’t until 1879 that sales took off because of a rule change that did away with the one bounce rule. It was now necessary for a catcher to catch a two-strike foul tip in the air in order to record an out. With catchers moving closer to the batter in order to take advantage of this new ordinance, the catcher’s mask became indispensible. Although Fred Thayer received the patent, it should be noted that both Howard Thatcher and James Tyng also layed partial claims to the invention of the first catcher’s mask.