Baseball 101

My daughter is a high school senior this year. She will, in less then a year, head off to college and leave her brother, mother and myself to fend for ourselves. I think back to when I was a senior. I didn’t really think much about my parents. I thought, mainly, about running, sports, girls and myself. I can’t say schoolwork took up much of my time. My daughter, however, is a much nicer and smarter person. She is really smart and loves school. And though she still thinks about herself, she also thinks about the rest of the family. Just a few days ago, she told me that she wanted to learn more about the Red Sox. I think what she was saying was that she wanted to keep in touch with me through the Red Sox. Our conversation went like this:

“Why do you want to learn more about baseball?” I asked.

“Well, l’ll be leaving soon and I want to have a connection back to the city. Can you teach me all you know about baseball?” she replied.

“Sure,” I said. “But where do I start? What do you want to know?”

“Oh, everything,” she said.

“Well, that’s a lot. Do you want to know about the history of baseball?” I asked.

“Yeah, and the numbers,” she answered.

“The numbers?” I asked.

“Yeah, the numbers that come up on the tv and at the stadium,” she said.

“Oh, like OBP and AVG and stuff like that?” I said.

“Yes, those numbers and the stuff you always talk about. Oh, and like the history and all the stuff you know.”

“Okay. How about if I turn that into a blog that you could read.  Would that work?” I asked.

“Sure. That would work,” she answered.

And, thus, this blog was transformed and given a direction. I will teach my daughter about baseball by telling her stories, recounting games, making observations and things like that. I may make some basic points about baseball that more knowledgeable fans will roll their eyes at, but hey, it’s my blog. And, I may pull a Moby Dick on her on occasion – take her deep. That’s an expression my litigator wife uses when an expert she is deposing tries to confuse her by diving deep into the science she doesn’t know as well as the expert. She says “The expert tried to pull a Moby Dick on me.” Usually, it doesn’t end well for the expert though.

The Beginning

I will start when I became a baseball fan; sometime in the late sixties would be my guess, around the time Marc, my life long friend, became my friend. I was about four and he was six. I lived in Maryland from age 4 to age 7 – 1966 to 1970 to give you an historical timeline perspective. When I started, I was a Baltimore Orioles fan. I have no idea why the Orioles instead of the Senators. It might have been that Marc said he was a Senators fan, the other team in our area, and I probably wanted to be different and competitive with him. As you know, we’ve been competitive our entire lives. Baseball, basketball, tennis, games, you name it we competed at it. There are so many of those stories I could write a blog just on that, but that would be boring. We’ll stay away from that area for now. Perhaps, I’ll toss in a few of those along the way.

Anyway, my choice of the Orioles was a good one. As I’ll explain in this post and some other ones, that was a great time to be an Orioles fan. Here’s a little history on the Orioles.

The Orioles became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954. Before then, from 1902-1953, they were the St. Louis Browns. The Browns never won a World Series. They are widely known as the team that signed for their team a guy named Eddie Gaedel, who had dwarfism and was only 3 foot 7. The Browns owner, Bill Veeck, as a gimmick gave Gaedel an at bat during the second game of a double header on August 19, 1951. Gaedel was given the number 1/8 and walked on four pitches. He was pitch run for and that was the end of Gaedel’s baseball career. At the time, the Browns were 36-79, in dead last, 37 games out of first place.

In their fifty-odd year history, the Browns got to the World Series once, losing 4 games to 2 to the other St. Louis team, the Cardinals. Weird, huh? Two teams from the same city in the World Series. St. Louis v. St. Louis. Here’s a little fact. Two teams from the same city have met in the World Series 15 times (and I am considering Brooklyn to be part of New York city) and of those 15 times most of those city match ups came between 1921 and 1956 when there were as many as three teams in New York City:

  • 1906 Chicago White Sox defeated Chicago Cubs 4-2
  • 1921 New York Giants defeated New York Yankees 5-3
  • 1922 New York Giants defeated New York Yankees 4-0
  • 1923 New York Yankees defeated New York Giants 4-2
  • 1936 New York Yankees defeated New York Giants 4-2
  • 1937 New York Yankees defeated New York Giants 4-1
  • 1941 New York Yankees defeated Brooklyn Dodgers 4-1
  • 1947 New York Yankees defeated Brooklyn Dodgers 4-3
  • 1949 New York Yankees defeated Brooklyn Dodgers 4-1
  • 1951 New York Yankees defeated New York Giants 4-2
  • 1952 New York Yankees defeated Brooklyn Dodgers 4-3
  • 1953 New York Yankees defeated Brooklyn Dodgers 4-2
  • 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers defeated New York Yankees 4-3
  • 1956 New York Yankees defeated Brooklyn Dodgers 4-3
  • 2000 New York Yankees defeated New York Mets 4-1

And while not in the same city, the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants faced off in the 1989 World Series. The A’s won 4-0. That was the year an earthquake (7.1 magnitude) struck just prior to game 3 and the series was postponed for ten days while San Francisco recovered.

So, there were, for a while, quite a few World Series that took place in one city. This intra-city rivalry won’t repeat itself much though in our time, since, after the 1957 season the Giants moved to San Francisco and the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. The only teams in the same city now are the Yankees and Mets in New York and the White Sox and Cubs in Chicago.

Back to the Orioles.

When I was a kid, my favorite player was Boog Powell. He was a big, lumbering, left handed, first baseman for the Orioles known for bashing homers. Marc’s favorite player was Frank Howard – more on him later. Also on the 1966-1970 Orioles were a few future Hall of Famers – Brooks Robinson (for many people Mr. Oriole until Cal Ripken came along), Frank Robinson (traded to the O’s in 1966 from the Reds – a big mistake by the Reds – Robinson would hit for the Triple Crown in 1966, leading the American League in Home Runs, 49, Runs Batted In, 122, and Batting Average, .316), and Jim Palmer. From 1966-1974 the Orioles finished in first place five times and won the World Series twice – 1966 and 1970. They also lost two other World Series – 1969 and 1971. I don’t recall when I became a Sox fan but it must have been just before the 1975 season when the Red Sox made it to the World Series. Perhaps my allegiance had started to shift earlier, but I recall still being a big Oriole fan in the early seventies – particularly when the Orioles had four pitchers win 20 games in 1971. That was a big deal, the 1971 the Orioles became the first team since the 1920 White Sox (the year after the White Sox were accused of throwing the World Series. These accusations eventually led to the banning of eight players from baseball, including Shoeless Joe Jackson) to do that. The pitchers were: Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson. So, in only two seasons have teams managed to put together that strong of a pitching staff. It probably won’t happen again because back in the 20s and even in the 70s there was a four man rotation – each pitcher would pitch every fourth game. Now, we have a five man rotation so the pitchers just get fewer starts and it is much harder to win 20 games as a pitcher.

In 1971, the Orioles would win 101 games and lose 57. They had a tremendous team, but ending up losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates and Roberto Clemente in the World Series 4-3.

Sadly, Roberto Clemente would only play one more year before dying in a plane crash on a humanitarian mission to Managua, Nicaragua for earthquake victims. Fortunately, if I can say that, he got his 3,000th hit (a big deal in baseball, only 28 guys in the history of the game have reached that milestone) on the last day of the 1972 season, shortly before he died in the off-season. He was a great ballplayer. He was fast, dynamic, and exciting. I loved watching him play. Everybody loved watching him play.

I’ll end this entry with an MLB video of Clemente to give you a sense of how great he was, as a player and a man.

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