Football Meets Baseball

I’ve always felt this is one of the best times of year for sports, the time when baseball is racing toward the climax of the season (albeit a short, strange one this year) and football kicks off. So here’s a blend of the two sports.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: The following items are ones I found interesting as I read ESPN’s College Football Encyclopedia. The early years of the sport were so violent that in 1905 President Teddy Roosevelt insisted upon changes in football, or else . . . Many injuries and deaths led to his ultimatum and changes were needed–players didn’t even wear helmets until the sport was “two decades into its existence.” Even then, the early helmets were a joke. If I recall, the leather helmets were often folded up and placed in players’ back pockets at times.

In 1988, one especially loud roar of the LSU crowd during a defeat of Auburn caused a Richter scale at the college to record/register the disturbance…The ESPN book states that during Nebraska home games at Memorial Stadium, the crowd is so large it makes the venue, in effect, the third largest “city” in the entire state…The book also says that when Boise State created a blue playing field, some birds, mistaking the field for water, crashed onto the surface…The first use of instant replay in football took place on Dec. 7, 1963 during an Army-Navy game, just 16 days after the assassination of Pres. Kennedy. Of course, if was very unsophisticated, but, just think, instant replays have been a part of sports for almost 60 years now…The first college band to spell out “OHIO” in script was, of all schools, Michigan. They did this in 1932 as a welcoming gesture. The idea to do this at OSU began with their band director, Eugene Weigel, who said he was inspired by the “rotating sign above Times Square” which he saw when he visited New York City. He also said seeing airplanes perform skywriting also helped him come up with his idea…Speaking of Michigan, their unique helmet design had a purpose behind it–to help their QBs spot receivers.

BASEBALL: Recently the 30th anniversary of the back-to-back homers swatted by the father-son Griffey duo took place. ESPN ran a nice, little piece on that historic event…Opinion: I can’t help it, to me this baseball season lacks legitimacy and I wonder how many readers agree. I still watch the games and read up on the sport, but the stats seem almost meaningless, and how legit will the league leaders be or the major award winners, given the fact that they will not have stood the normal test of 162 games…Someone brought up this issue: If, for example, the Indians would win it all, after their long drought, would the title seem as meaningful and gratifying to them and to the fans? One answer I heard quite a bit was a resounding yes, as they would still have had to battle not only throughout the (shortened) season but they would also have had to survive through many rounds of postseason play. However, I also wonder how many non-Indian fans (or fans of whatever teams wins the championship) will place the same value on the 2020 title as they normally do. Got an opinion? Make a comment on this site.

FINAL NOTE: In a few months I will have to decide if I want to keep this site going or not. I am pretty sure if I don’t get more Followers I will call it quits and devote my writing to my books. So I’m asking you to please become a Follower if you aren’t already AND pass the word to sports fans among your friends. Thanks!

Bryan Reynolds, New Daddy; Stan Musial, Always THE Man; and Lou, the Iron Horse

REYNOLDS: While I’m old school and dislike pre-planned, excessive on-field celebrations/demonstrations, I like what Bryan Reynolds did on Sept. 3, 2020. He had returned to the Pirates after being on the paternity list for the birth of his first child. He doubled and hit a three-run homer and celebrated by pretending to rock a baby to sleep.

Contrast that to what Prince Fielder once did. As I recall, he had instructed his teammates to cluster around home plate the next time he hit a dramatic home run and then wait for him to ceremoniously stomp on the plate. When he did that, his teammates fell over backwards as if Fielder’s leaping onto home plate was equivalent to the plunging of a detonator, setting off an explosion. That was too much for this old school baseball fan to accept.

MUSIAL: I came across a new trivia item about Stan the Man that I had never heard of before. I saw a list of the top 10 batters for each decade based upon most hits. For example, Pittsburgh’s Honus Wagner had more hits from 1900-1909 than any other big leaguer. The most hits over one decade was 2,085 by Rogers Hornsby in the Twenties, 40 more than the only other man to top 2,000 hits in a given decade, Pete Rose.

Now, I haven’t double checked the list, but if I didn’t make a mistake, Musial is the ONLY man to be in the top ten for two decades. In the 1940’s, his hit total ranked fourth in MLB and in the Fifties he held down the #3 slot on the list.

LOU GEHRIG: In the history of baseball through 1978 only Hornsby, Chuck Klein, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and Gehrig ever had two or more seasons which including 200+ hits and 40 or more HR. Hornsby, Foxx, and Klein achieved this twice; Ruth three times, but the Iron Horse managed this feat a remarkable five times! Meanwhile, I read that Lloyd Waner once compiled 223 hits in a season and all but 25 were singles, good for an incredible modern era record 198 singles. That mark has been broken twice by Ichiro with a high water mark of 225 singles of 262 hits in 2004.

Update to Greenberg Snub

Just in case you thought Foxx and Gehrig had stats comparable to Greenberg and so deserved an All-Star spot over him, consider this:

Greenberg  55 extra base hits   25 HR   103 RBI   .317 batting   1.062 OPS

Foxx             28 XBH                      13 HR    50 RBI    .313                  1.007

Gehrig          25 XBH                      11 HR    51 RBI   .320                     .975

Three all-time greats, but Greenberg clearly had the better stats yet, as mentioned, his own manager overlooked him when naming the ’35 All-Star squad.

CARE TO COMMENT? If you have strong feelings on this baseball season please feel free to make a comment on this site. Is it a farce? Should the season even have begun? Is this year’s champ a legit champ? If someone breaks a record or, say, hits .400, does it count to you? Do you simply feel that, “Hey, some baseball in any form is better than no season at all.”

Baseball Oddities Aug. 2020

HADDIX: This season is an odd one and one factor contributing to that is the fact that double headers are only scheduled to go seven innings. One rule pertaining to that has it that if a pitcher throws no-hit ball through a seven inning complete game, it counts as a no-hitter.

Meanwhile, and this always bugs me, Harvey Haddix throws not just a no-hitter through 12 innings, but a PERFECT game and, due to an inane rule change, while that outing had been recognized as a perfect game (easily arguable as the greatest game ever pitched), it is no longer on the list of recognized no-hit games.

GREENBERG: Slugger Hank Greenberg had already reached the 100 RBI mark by, get this, the All-Star break one year, 1935. He had accumulated an incredible 103 RBI (of the 170 he’d end up with), and he did that in just 76 games which is almost exactly half a season as they played 154-game schedules back then.

The next closest to Greenberg for ribbies by the break was Juan Gonzalez with 101 in ’98, the year he concluded the season with 157 RBI. However, as an ESPN article reminded us, his career and his feats were under a cloud of suspicion of PED use. “A piece of Juan’s luggage was also snared at the Cleveland airport after he left Texas because it contained PEDs and steroid paraphernalia. It was claimed by one of Gonzalez’s associates and Juan disavowed any knowledge of the contraband . . .” Greenberg’s feat was more special than what Gonzalez did, too, because the break comes at different points each year and, as mentioned, Gonzalez had a dozen more games to reach his 100+ RBI total than Greenberg did.

A SHOCKER: Despite being on a tear by the break, the 24-year-old Greenberg was NOT on that year’s All-Star squad. Back then he was playing first base, not the outfield as would later be the case, and two other first basemen were chosen instead of Greenberg even though, get this–his own manager selected the All-Star squad! The two first basemen weren’t too shabby: Lou Gehrig who played the entire game at first and Jimmie Foxx who played almost the whole game but did so out of position as the starting third baseman. Here’s a link to an article with some more info on the Greenberg snub. Hank had to be thinking, “What do I have to do to make this team?! 103 runs driven in isn’t enough?!” In addition to all his ribbies, he hit .317 up to the break, had 101 hits, and 55 extra base hits including 25 HR; and his OPS was a lofty 1.062!

Back then, things were much different than what we see today in All-Star play. For example, in ’35, the A.L. team used only 11 position players for the entire contest. They also used just two pitchers, Lefty Gomez for six innings (another huge difference between then and now) and Mel Harder for three innings.

Baseball: The Babe and the Browns

Did you know that a major league team once drew an incredible 80,922 fans? Now, here’s the catch—that figure would be a large (although NOT a record) crowd for a single game, BUT the 80,922 spectators was for an entire season! The hapless St. Louis Browns of 1935 played 75 home games; due to double headers, though, they had just 57 home dates. Doing the calculations, this team drew an average of a mere 1,419 people to each home date!

The Browns were pathetic for many years and, as can be expected, drew horribly for many years as well. That fact spawned a joke told by Bill Veeck who owned the club at one point. He said someone called his office one morning and asked, “When does today’s game begin?” As if to indicate he was so overwhelmed that someone was interested in attending, Veeck replied, “When can you make it?”

The ’35 Browns had what would seem to us today to be an unbelievable schedule. They played 35 double headers in all, and 10 came in the month of September, including twin bills on the 2nd, 6th, 7th, and 8th. Further, they were on the road for that entire month and they concluded the season by playing five double headers over the final dozen games.

When Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record by swatting 61 HR in 1961 to eclipse the Bambino’s mark by one, he played a 162-game schedule versus the 154-game schedule which was in existence when Ruth played. Basically an extra eight games translates to a good 32 or more extra plate appearances which, of course, can make a huge difference to a player trying to break a record. So, unofficially, an asterisk was added to the Maris record to denote the fact that, yes, he broke the record, but did so under extenuating circumstances. I can see that, even though some people say, “A single season record is a season record regardless of the schedule.”

My solution is this: the official record books should have back then, and to this day, have two columns of records–one for the 154-game schedule and one for the way things are now. I thought of that again when Ichiro broke George Sisler’s record for the most hits in a season (257, still #2 all-time). What’s the harm of recognizing the old mark while also paying tribute to men such as Maris and Ichiro?

Along the same basic lines, I wish baseball had two entries for career records set in postseason play. It is ridiculous to compare the postseason accomplishments and records established by men such as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Ruth to today’s players who get tons more chances to set records. When Mantle and company played the game, the only postseason play was, of course, the World Series. Therefore, at most, those men had seven games (times as many years as their team managed to get into the Series) to achieve their stats and records.

Nowadays, there are so many tiers of playoffs, a man could conceivably play in more postseason games in one year than many old timers did for a career. Example: the 2019 Nats made the playoffs as a wild card team. They went on to win it all, requiring 17 games in all to do so. One quick example by way of contrast: Eddie Mathews played 17 big league seasons (and with some very good clubs) and he appeared in just 16 postseason games.

Therefore, once again, wouldn’t it make sense to have a record book which shows records held by men such as Mantle with his old record of 18 postseason homers along side the names of players who set marks but benefited from playing during seasons which had multiple layers of playoffs?

The (tainted) all-time home run leader in postseason play is Manny Ramirez with 29 over 493 plate appearances. Mantle now ranks only in a fifth place tie. If I did the math correctly, if you give Mantle as many PA as Ramirez, his HR total shoots up to 33, #1 all-time.

Forgetting Mantle for a moment, what about the men who dropped out of the top 10 only because men such as Bernie Williams, Nelson Cruz, Derek Jeter replaced them? Sure, give them credit for what they did, but don’t shove the greats from another era aside.