Thurman Munson Belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame

Do you remember where you were on August 2, 1979? Or what you were doing?  Although it was almost thirty years ago, I remember where I was and what I was doing very well.   I was on vacation with my family in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  Our hotel room had a balcony that overlooked a small stream.  I remember my cousin Robert Scott Worton and I were looking down at the stream and debating whether or not to go to the arcade and play a few games of pinball when there was a breaking news on the television.  Just as some people remember time stopping when they heard the news that JFK had been shot, or later when they first tuned in to the 9/11 coverage, I remember the feeling of slow motion that overtook me as I heard that my favorite New York Yankees player Thurman Munson had died in a plane accident.

I was sixteen years old and a baseball fanatic.  After fiddling around with a few teams including the Dodgers and the Orioles, I finally settled on the Yankees as “my team” in 1974.  At first Bobby Murcer was my favorite player, but soon that honor was taken over by Thurman Munson.  Thurman Munson is the surprising answer to the trivia question of who is the only New York Yankee to ever win both a Rookie of the Year and an MVP award.  The mustachioed catcher was perhaps most famous at the time of his death for his feud with slugger Reggie Jackson.  You see, the Yankees had already been to the World Series by the time Jackson arrived, appointing himself the straw that stirs the drink.  No one who watched will ever forget the sight of Reggie Jackson crying during the memorial tribute to Thurman Munson.  Even Reggie, it seems, finally recognized that a baseball treasure was lost in that plane accident.

Thurman Munson was a man of class.  That class expressed itself when Munson refused to respond to the utterly classless remark made and utterly classless man.  Sparky Anderson may be respected as a baseball manager, but as a man he is one step above slime.  During the 1976 World Series between the Yankees and the Reds—a World Series the Reds won in a sweep—Thurman Munson hit .529 and tied a World Series record by getting six consecutive hits.   In other words, he was the only Yankees batter to kick the ass of the Reds’ pitchers.  When a reporter asked Reds manager Sparky Anderson to compare Thurman Munson to his own catcher Johnny Bench, Anderson replied, “Don’t ever embarrass anybody by comparing him to Johnny Bench.”  Only someone who can’t even spell class, much less possesses it, would have made such a reply.  Thurman Munson was said to be very hurt and angered by Sparky Anderson’s exercise in classlessness, but he never engaged in retribution.  That’s because Thurman Munson possessed not only his fair share of class, but also Anderson’s share as well.  When you consider that another guy with no class was a part of that Reds team—Pete Rose—it makes you wonder how Johnny Bench, a guy who did have class, could ever have showed up without spending the rest of the evening washing the slime off himself.

Thurman Munson was a fantastic ballplayer.  In 1971 he committed only one error, and that occurred when he a baserunner collided with him, knocking the ball from his mitt and the consciousness from his body.  In less than ten years he had almost 1600 hits, so it’s not unreasonable to assume he would have joined the 3,000 hit club had he lived.  In addition to his Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, he was also a seven time All-Star, including six consecutive All-Star game appearances from 1973 to 1978.  Thurman Munson was also a three-time Gold Glove winner.  And as if that isn’t enough to point out how out of touch Sparky Anderson was, Thurman Munson became the first Yankee player since the legendary Joe D. to hit over .300 and collect over 100 RBI three years in a row.  Despite this, for some ungodly reason, Thurman Munson isn’t in the Hall of Fame.  Remember, now, that Thurman put up his numbers without the benefit of all the magic beans that today’s surefire Hall of Fame candidates use to pump up their numbers.  It would be a sad Hall of Fame, indeed, if Barry “Balco” Bonds gets immortalized but Thurman Munson remains outside.  If you were a big fan of Thurman and are disgusted by this oversight, check out the web site link below for what you can do to increase help along his chances.

Thurman Munson was a very special Yankee.  It is said that to this day his locker in the Yankees locker room remains empty, never used again by anyone else after his death.  Personally, Thurman Munson’s shocking and untimely death was the beginning of the end of the end of my love affair with baseball.  I have never been as big a fan since as I was on the morning of August 1, 1979.  Many things since then have contributed to baseball’s being less important to me, but when I look back I realize that the loss of my favorite baseball player of all time—even more so than Ron Guidry or Don Mattingly—was like a losing a favorite uncle.   A friend of mine revealed that his interest in baseball ended following the death of Roberto Clemente.  I still love baseball.  I just don’t love it as much as I did before Thurman Munson stepped behind the controls of that little plane. 

http://www.votethurmanin.com/HallofFame.html

3 Golf Tips for Beginners Looking to Make a Splash on the Fairway

Golf is not one of those games that you master overnight. Even Tiger Woods learns a little something new every time he leaves some strange woman’s boudoir to head out to the fairway. Learning to play golf is a thing that could potentially take up most of the rest of your life. If, you know, your life is meaningless. Seriously, though, every extra bit of intelligence you can gather about how to improve your golf game is worth writing down and placing in your golfing bible. Whether that bible be a spiral notebook or the Apple iPad, you’ve got to write down what you learn immediately and keep referencing it. Who knows, maybe one day you too can get on the cover of the National Enquirer just like Tiger.

Golf Tip Number 1:

Every once in a while you will find yourself facing a ball that must be hit from a downslope. Keeping in mind the immortal words of Ty Webb that you must (na-na-na-na-na) BE the BALL, here is a tip worthy of remembrance. Grasp the club down a little (fa-fa-fa-fa-fa) down the handle so that you can will avoid hitting the ground behind the ball. Stand with your feet wide apart so that let movement is kept down to the bare essentials. Aim to the left of the target if you are a right-hander and to the right of the target if you are sinister.

Golf Tip Number 2:

They say that great pitch shots are created and not made. They also said that an idiot from Alaska would never run for Vice-President of the United States so you know what you can do with THEM. Pitch shots can be learned and you may well spend the rest of your golf life learning how to do it. Keep in mind that immortal words of Judge Smails and offer up a Fresca to anyone who tells you that balance is not one of the most important elements in an effective pitch. A great pitch shot is combination of two essentials. Besides balance, you must also have perfect tempo. In fact, you should spend almost all your time practicing a pitch shot in perfecting the tempo. The first move goes low and slow. From that point until you look up again to the green, maintenance of the tempo is the key. Be the ball. Be the tempo, Betty. Balance and tempo, Danny, that’s what a great pitch shot is all about.

Golf Tip Number 3:

Quick question: Why would you choose a number 8 or 9 iron club? When you need to hit the ball high and with no small degree of accuracy. Put the 8 and 9 irons away if you are trying to go for distance. It’s a waste of time and effort. Golf includes the strangely wedged 8 and 9 shapes for a specific purpose and often those purposes get lost for newbies, beginners and Johnny-Come-Latelies. You can’t get distance from those sharp angles on the 8 and 9 irons. Use these guys when you need to put some serious air beneath the ball, but not at the expense of accuracy. So, the answer to why you would choose and 8 or 9 iron club is: when you are in a sand trap, high rough or behind a tree.

Hey, how ’bout a Fresca?

Jim Konstanty: The Most Unlikely Baseball MVP Ever

Jim Konstanty may have been one of the most unlikely winners of Major League Baseball’s Most Valuable Player Awards of all time.  Konstanty didn’t even look like a baseball player of his era when he copped the National League award in 1950 for the Philadelphia Phillies.  Very few relief pitchers at the time wore glasses; very few pitchers at all wore spectacles.  Still, Konstanty was a hulking presence on the mound and if his career figures are hardly the stuff of the Hall of the Fame, for at least the 1950 season he put it all together. 

Jim Konstanty’s number one weapon was his palmball, which is an off-speed pitch that, when mastered, can leave even the most fearsome batters standing at the plate looking like the high school dork during P.E.  The relief pitcher in 1950 was hardly the glamour position it is now.  Barely over 10% of baseball games required saving in 1950.   As a result, Jim Konstanty’s nearest competitor for the best relief pitcher in the National League in 1950 saved a whopping 14 fewer games than he.  When you consider that Konstanty only had 22 saves that figure grows momentous.  So why would a relief pitcher with only 22 saves to go along with his 16-7 won-loss record be deserving of a Most Valuable Player award?   

Well, part of the reason had to do his complete dominance of his position.  It also certainly helped Konstanty’s case that the Phillies had finished in last place no less than 17 times.  In other words, Philadelphia was used to coming up last.  They might very well have finished well down toward the bottom in 1950 had it not been for Jim Konstanty.  1950 was one of those rare occasions when the baseball writers actually picked the most valuable player on a team rather than the most productive person.  By that standard, the obvious choice would have been Ralph Kiner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who knocked out 47 home runs and nearly 120 RBI.   Between his 16 wins and 22 saves, however, Konstanty played a significant role in over a third of Philadelphia’s victories in 1950.  While I am against a pitcher winning the MVP on the simple grounds that a batter cannot win the Cy Young Award, the unlikely choice of Jim Konstanty for MVP does not seem as ridiculous as it might.   

Another reason that Jim Konstanty’s Most Valuable Player Award is historically significant is because it was a blast over the bow bringing attention to the growing significance of the role of the relief pitcher.  Konstanty must be seen as the godfather to such future greats as Sparky Lyle, Rollie Ringers, and Goose Gossage.   He transformed the very concept of the relief pitcher from the disrespected little brother of the starting pitcher into a glamour position in the hierarchy of baseball.   

Who is the Only Man to Pitch AND Umpire a No-Hitter?

Think you know everything about baseball? Consider yourself the Babe Ruth of baseball trivia? Okay, here’s one for you. (If you’ve already read the title, you can skip this part.) Name the only man to both pitch and umpire a no-hitter? And no, it wasn’t the same game. Give up? Okay, the only man to both pitch and umpire a no-hitter was Bill Dineen.

As a pitcher, Bill Dineen was not exactly Cy Young. His lifetime record was 171-177, but as with many baseball statistics, those numbers are deceiving. For one thing, Bill Dineen won 20 games in a season four different times. Several Hall of Fame pitchers cannot boast of accomplishing that. In addition, Dineen managed to win three games in the very first World Series ever played. And then there was that no-hitter. A no-hitter is still rarefied enough to count as one of the most impressive feats in all of sports. To pitch a no-hitter one has to count on competent fielding and other good defensive plays, but as Nolan Ryan’s multiple no-hitters prove, a great team isn’t a necessity for a great pitcher to send 27 out of 28 or so guys down. Bill Dineen, for all we know, may have been the Nolan Ryan of his day. Remember, Nolan Ryan recorded 324 wins. That’s great, sure, but he was only eight losses away from having 300 losses to go with them. Forget Bill Dineen’s less than stellar win-loss record and remember that not only did he toss a no-no, but at one point he went an astonishing 337 consecutive innings without relief. Try to find a pitcher today that can point to more than 25 innings without benefit of a relief pitcher.

Bill Dineen retired as a pitcher and turned into an umpire barely two weeks later. As an umpire, Bill Dineen didn’t just call balls and strikes for one no-hitter, he was there for no less than five different no-hit games and came very close to overseeing a sixth. His presence in baseball games of note went beyond a bunch of guys walking up to the plate and then back to the dugout. Bill Dineen was also in the game wearing the dark suit when Bill Wambsganss managed something even more rare than a no-hitter: the unassisted triple play. And that was in a World Series game. Dineen was also the guy behind the plate in 1912 when the Detroit Tigers staged a one-game protest over what they considered to be the unfair suspension of baseball’s second biggest jerk, Ty Cobb. (Pete Rose being baseball’s biggest jerk, of course.)

Movies to Watch During National Golf Month in August

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August is National Golf Month. And you know what that means, right? Forgetting all about the horrific heat that comes during the Dog Days of summer and sitting in front of the widescreen to enjoy golf movies. Second hand golf is almost better than trodding across the links when the temperature outside you is actually hotter than the temperature inside you.

Caddyshack

The king of all golf movies is a comedy film without which the celebration of National Golf Month during August would be a wasteful endeavor. Even those for whom the idea of chasing a dimpled ball around mostly white rich guys is absolute anathema can enjoy the spectacle of Noonan…Noonan!….NOONAN-augghhhh winning a death match. What doesn’t “Caddyshack” have? It’s got Chevy Chase actually being funny on the big screen, references to Biblical epics, the funniest cameo by a chocolate bar in movie history and Lacy Underall. Great, great stuff

Pat and Mike

National Golf Month needs to pay respect to the women of golf, right, and which actress is more respectable than four-time Oscar winner Katherine Hepburn? Well, for me, a whole lot, but that’s just me. “Pat and Mike” isn’t exactly a dramatization of the story of Babe Didrikson Zaharias. The good news is that Babe pops up in a cameo. The bad news is that the TV movie about Babe the real life husband and wife team of Alex Karras and Susan Clark is much more interesting from the perspective of enjoying the heat of August as the paradoxical best time of the year to celebrate National Golf Month.

Follow the Sun

A truly great biopic of golfing has yet to be made. Perhaps because, despite its omnipresence on television, golf just isn’t the most cinematic of sports. Perhaps because there hasn’t been a Jake LaMotta of golf. “Follow the Sun” purports to be a biopic of legendary Ben Hogan. Not as fictionalized as many other biopics, it still manages to be more authentic due to the plethora of real life golfers making cameos than the story of Ben Hogan. An enjoyable enough fictionalization of a real life story, however.

The Caddy

Do caddies lead more interesting lives than the golfers they serve? You might think so since the two most enjoyable movies about the sport to watch during National Golf Month are both more about the bag carriers than the athletes. “The Caddy” is a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis comedy and your enjoyment will depend very much on how much you enjoy this duo. Stay tuned to the end for a metafictional encounter.

Famous Baseball Superstitions

The most observed superstition in baseball is the one that adamantly issues the order that nobody mention the fact that a no-hitter is taking place. It has long been believed that talking about a no-hitter during a no-hitter is as sure a way to jinx the outcome as putting a fastball down the middle of the plate. The superstition may date back further, but the most infamous incident of the no-hitter jinx taking place occurred during what would have been the first no-hitter in World Series history in 1947. The Yankees, of course, were leading 2-1 in the 9th inning of the fourth game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Pitcher Bill Bevens was just one out away from tossing that no-hitter when broadcaster Red Barber made the slip of mentioning the fact that Bevens was just one out away from making World Series history. Suddenly, pop, Cookie Lavagetto not only gets a hit, but the Dodgers go on to win the game!

One pitcher who famously did not give in to the no-hitter superstition was Jim Bunning, former Phillies pitcher and future second-most-conservative man in the United States Senate. In 1964 Bunning tossed a perfect game against, well, the New York Mets (it still counts as an official perfect game regardless) and he quite audaciously flouted the conventions of never speaking or even referring in any way to the fact that he was pitching a no-hitter. He would later explain his actions by asserting that speaking out the perfect game relieved much of the tension.

Baseball players are perhaps the most superstitious of all athletes. This may be in part due to the fact that baseball players have traditionally been the least educated of all athletes. The farm system in baseball made the college route that football and basketball players must go through to make it to the big leagues quite unnecessary. Having been a baseball player in my youth, I can attest to the fact that you don’t hear names like Kant or Ingmar Bergman mentioned in too many dugouts. Superstition is the refuge of the uneducated so it only makes sense that a baseball player like Hippity-Hop Lucchesi. His real name was Frank and he studiously observed his own particular superstition concerning the bad luck of stepping on a foul line or base line. Hippity-Hop provided quite a sight for his teammates and spectators as he often acted like Jerry Lewis hepped up on goofballs in his attempts to avoid stepping on a foul line.

Jim Palmer was infamous for eating pancakes before every game, but the all time king of superstitions was Wade Boggs. In addition to a bizarre diet in which he absolutely had to eat chicken before every game, Boggs also thrilled and entertained his teammates with a series of pre-game warm-up routines that actually began hours before the game even began. Among the rituals that Boggs had to experience before each game was a series of warm-ups that were as choreographed as Pres. Bush’s Mission Accomplished appearance, as well as the necessity of touching every single base and step in the dugout.

Extraordinary, really.

The Origin of American Football and Cheerleading

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The origins of American football are not as murky as the origins of baseball (at least there is no Abner Doubleday in the mix) but one thing that is almost universally agreed upon is that the sport as it is known today traces back to Ivy League colleges shortly the start of the 20th century although the first game to played took place in 1869. Of course, that game resembled something you would see in the World Cup far more than anything that might take place in the Super Bowl (Reid 72).

The game as played from that point forward to the first decade of the 20th century shifted and transformed and eventually looked more like rugby and resulted in more and more violence until a game took place in 1905 that resulted the death of an astonishing 18 players. Noted elephant killer and President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt issued a call for the game to be changed to diminish such violent or else face banishment. The result of negotiation for these alterations in the game included the legalization of the forward pass which went a long way toward clearing out the mob structure of the players on the field by forcing them to stretch out a bit more while other “major changes included the addition of another referee, banning of open-handed blows….and a new fair catch signal” (Reid 105).

A very good question to ask is what is sports in American without cheerleaders? The very same Ivy League football fields where the game that would go on to displace baseball as the national pastime originated would also be the site where cheering on your favorite team started.

The highly athletic cheerleading which has today moved well beyond the sidelines of the football and basketball games and into the realm of a sports of its own got its start around the same time that American football became subject to a series of new rules and regulations designed to reduce violence, increase participation and expand its audience. The cheerleaders were men often sneered at “rah-rah boys” but sneered at only by those suffering the pangs of enjoy or jealously since “the position of cheer-leader nowadays is fraught with great responsibility and rated as a high honor, so much so that in many colleges competitions and examinations are held to select the cheer-leaders” (Hanson 13).

What the growth of college football and the accompanying elevation of the sidelines cheerleader to a status of great influence essentially managed to do to early 20th century America was nothing less than to transform the university from a place where academics was everything to place where academics had to compete on an even keel with socializing.

Works Cited

Hanson, Mary Ellen. Go! Fight! Win! : Cheerleading in American Culture. Bowling Green, OH:

Bowling Green State U Popular, 1995.

Reid, Bill. “Three: The Play That Changed Football.” Game Faces: Five Early American

Champions and the Sports They Changed. By Thomas H. Pauly. Lincoln, NE: U of Nebraska, 2012. 69-108.

Hanson, Mary Ellen. Go! Fight! Win! : Cheerleading in American Culture. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State U Popular, 1995. Questia. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.

Reid, Bill. “Three: The Play That Changed Football.” Game Faces: Five Early American

Champions and the Sports They Changed. By Thomas H. Pauly. Lincoln, NE: U of Nebraska, 2012. 69-108.

Babe Ruth: The Making of a Myth

By the beginning of the 1930 Major League Baseball season, George Herman Ruth—better known by his nickname Babe—had already firmly established his status as the greatest player the game ever saw. The statistical evidence supporting that claim began in 1914 with the Boston Red Sox as he quickly became one of the most dominant pitchers in the American League. By the end of the 1920s, he was the most feared hitter on the most fearsome team in the league; the central figure of the New York Yankees Murderer’s Row lineup that helped the Babe put together the most dominant decade at the bat in history: a .355 batting average, 467 home runs, and 1338 RBI. Despite that prodigious productivity and claim to the sport’s greatest claim, the Sultan of Swat would be 35 years old as baseball moved out of the Roaring Twenties for good. Nobody expected Ruth to continue as the dominant athlete of the game into the 1930’s and many questioned whether he could even maintain his role as the game’s most recognizable celebrity. He was one of the game’s best pitchers in the 1910’s and the game’s best hitter in the 1920’s so the real question on every fan’s mind was what was the Babe going to be in the baseball of the 1930’s?

The Babe had his own answer to what role he was going to play in baseball in the 1930′ s: the first professional athlete to have a higher salary than the President of the United States. The decade kicked off for the Bambino with a brand new two year contract paying him $80,000 a year. When informed that this figure was, indeed, more than the President’s salary, Ruth’s answer is indicative of what he expected from himself in the new decade: “Why not? I had a better year than he had.” The fact that even the worst player in the game had a better year than President Herbert Hoover does nothing to undermine the significance of this moment in the history of not just Babe Ruth, but America. The role of Babe Ruth in the 1930’s officially moved beyond baseball the minute that contract was signed; it unofficially marks the creation of the modern athlete as entertainment celebrity.

The transformation of Babe Ruth from mere athlete into athletic celebrity may somewhat ironically have been stimulated by a concerted rejection of his ambition to continue trading on his declining athletic skills in the most natural role available: managing the team rather than playing for the team. By 1933, Ruth had already made it clear he wanted to move from the field into the front office of the New York Yankees.

The transition would seem to have made perfect sense to just about anyone in America. The only people in the country who apparently did not see the sense in this evolution of Ruth’s role for the team in the 1930’s was the Yankees front office itself which made their view on the situation very clear when the team released him before the 1935 season. Ruth promptly signed a contract with the Boston Braves with the intent of taking over managerial duties, but soon dismissed the wisdom of that move. After just 28 games, he decided it was finally time to retire. The decade that started out so full of hope and expectation quickly deteriorated. The Babe’s role in baseball in the 1930’s turned out mostly to be one in which he “played in exhibition games and made public appearances while he waited for the call to manage a team.

Such a role may seem like a sad ending to such an illustrious career, but it turns out that the people were asking the wrong question at the end of the 1920’s. The question people should have been asking is what role baseball would have in the Babe Ruth of the 1930’s. For it was during that decade that George Herman Ruth transcended the game he helped save from the abyss of the 1919 World Series scandal threatening to cast a shadow over the integrity of the game forever. The 1930’s began with Ruth revolutionizing the monetary value of pro athletes with his new contract. In October 1932, Ruth transcended the boundaries of fact to pass fully into myth. The legend remains firmly intact that Babe Ruth actually called his next home run by pointing to the spot where it was going to land immediately before doing exactly what he promised. Even though it supposedly took place during a World Series game, contemporary reports make no mention of the call.

Whether or not the called shot actually took place might have been significant to the Ruth of the early 1920s. By the time the Babe was playing in those exhibition games and making public appearances while waiting for that call to manage, it was already beside the point. In the matter of a few short years in the twilight of his career as the once fearsome statistics began to dwindle in size, Babe Ruth went from being the greatest player the game of baseball ever saw to transforming the professional sports player into the celebrity athlete before his final 1930s transformation of the celebrity athlete into American folk hero. That contract paying him more than the President to merely take the field and play the game he loved would come to see like peanuts during this transitional phase of the Babe. All those personal appearance and tours exhibiting that he still had the power to knock balls pitched with a little speed and finesse out of ballparks around the country may well have added as much as a million dollars to the money his contracts earned him as a player. Because Ruth avoided the common trap of spending money as fast as he earned that would plague future celebrity athlete, if it is true that the former slugger spent his final years waiting for a phone call asking him to come manage a team, that waiting would be done in the luxurious comfort of a large apartment on New York’s West Side and a monthly income of $2,500 by the time he had reached 45.

If the 1910’s was the decade of Babe the Pitcher and the 1920’s was the decade of Babe the Slugger, then the 1930’s was the decade of Babe the Myth. A year after Ruth was released from the Yankees, a young player named Joe DiMaggio took the field for the team for the first time. Before too long, the Yankees had another hero to root for and the game continued on successfully without him. The 1930’s would not, however, produce a player capable of hitting more home runs in a single season than the Babe and would not produce that player until the 1960’s. It would take until the 1970’s before a player would hit more home runs or drive in more runs in his entire career than Babe Ruth. Amazing, Babe Ruth still maintains a number of career records for playing baseball and ranks in the top five in others. The may have gone on without missing a beat when Ruth finally left it in the 1930’s, but the progression of history has proved that the 1930’s was exactly the decade when the Babe became bigger than the game itself. With each season that passed without any of the stars and future legends who came in his wake proving capable of matching his achievements, the legend only grew bigger and bigger. The fact that so people believe the Babe capable of predicting exactly where he was going to hit the next pitch he go is almost certainly due to the fact that starting with his exit from the game in the 1930’s, it came to seem as if he was capable of doing things that no player could do.

Great Baseball Quotes

Humphrey Bogart is alleged to have once observed that a “hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz.” Once thing is for certain; Bogey would have known. He was as welcome at the ballpark as he was at the Ritz and probably felt equally at home at both. Baseball is America’s National Pastime still, though only just. It has been in danger of losing its status for decades, but when it comes down to it there is still something uniquely mystical about the bond between the idea of America and the idea of baseball.

“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors,

fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous,

dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

Those words about America’s game were written by America’s Poet, Walt Whitman. There was some truth in them when he wrote them and perhaps a little less now, but not much. Remember back to the September 2001. Remember how baseball helped to heal a nation that had been cruelly hurt. Baseball didn’t fill in the loss we all felt, but it was the game of the moment. Had the attacks occurred a few months later could football have fulfilled its role as an outlet for so many Americans? The World Series of 2001 was one of the most exciting in recent memory. Can we ever really know for sure the impact that this little game had on the damaged psyche of this nation? If we had all known then how things would turn out, would we have maybe appreciated the last gasp of innocence that we bore witness to during that wild and woolly World Series?

“Baseball is very big with my people. It figures. It’s the only way we can get to shake a bat at a white man without starting a riot.” Spoken by comedian and activist Dick Gregory. Inside that prickly little sarcasm beats a nugget of truth larger than Gregory may have intended. Baseball is very much like America; it has a lot to answer for. Baseball and America both engaged in institutional racism that serves to call into question much of their respective legend and myth. The arguments will continue endlessly: Who was better, Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron? Joe DiMaggio or Willie Mays? As amazing as the statistics were of those who played prior to Jackie Robinson there must always be an unwritten asterisk. After all, how can we ever know how good the Babe really was when he never had to face down Satchel Paige? Baseball’s history is tempered by the realization that it institutionally denied access to people based on their color. Just like America. And at the same time, baseball must be applauded for offering opportunities for success for African-Americans that would never have been available otherwise. Just like this potentially great country itself.

“Baseball statistics are like a girl in a bikini.

They show a lot, but not everything.”

Former player Toby Harrah had this to say about baseball. More so than any other sport, baseball is about numbers. By the 1920s baseball already had more statistical categories than football has today, despite the addition of such questionable football stats as “hurries.” It is said that you can look at a box score and recreate every minute of a game without even having seen it. But as Harrah observed, it’s the parts of the body that a bikini covers up that most men want to see. Statistics don’t tell the whole story. And they can mislead. For instance, what if I were to try to convince you that one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history only had a winning percentage of .529? Could I convince you that a pitcher who barely won more games than he lost should be considered among the all-time greats? Okay, what if I were to tell you that this pitcher came within 10 losses of losing 300 games in his career? Would you still even listen to me? The stats are there: 292 career losses and a winning percentage not even as good as former Yankees hurler Ed Figueroa? Now what if I were tell you this pitcher’s name was Nolan Ryan? Baseball fans love stats, but you can’t see all the good parts if that’s all you care about.

One of my favorite baseball quotes is from a man not known for the game, and whom I think probably said nothing else of particular import. It was Barry Switzer who successfully turned baseball into a fitting metaphor for our society: “Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.” It is truly astounding that such an otherwise clueless individual could so accurately sum up American society. Every time I see George W. Bush I am reminded of this statement. Baseball and George W. Bush are forever intertwined, of course, due to his giving an indication of the depth of his leadership skills when, as owner of the Texas Rangers, he traded away Sammy Sosa. And, of course, his dad was a successful baseball player who was no doubt disappointed in his son just as he would later be disappointed in him as a statesman. But Bush is hardly alone. Switzer used baseball to perfectly encapsulate one of the problems with America. Too many do find themselves standing on the third base of life and mistake the accident of birth with accomplishment.

A Beginner's Guide to Curling

Curling remains a mysterious sport to the vast majority of Americans. In Canada, of course, curling is third in popularly behind only hockey and making fun of Americans who fight so hard to keep the current healthcare system in place that takes money out of their pockets and into the hands of zillionaire CEOs in the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. It is much easier to understand the sport of curling than why millions of Americans would rather hand their money over to insurance and pharmaceutical companies in exchange for overpriced drugs and the ability to have your insurance cut out from under you without notice. So here goes.

The Sheet and the House

When you hear Olympics curling analysts and commentators referring to the “sheet” they are referring to the sheet of ice that makes up the curling “court.” That circular spot is called the “house.” You will notice that the house is made up of concentric circles. The larger blue circle has a diameter of 12 feet and the smallest red circle has a diameter of 12 inches. That little inside circle is also known as the tee or button. The team that has the curling rock closest to the tee or button at the end wins the end.

The End

The end is the equivalent of an inning in baseball. A single game of curling consists of ten ends and each player delivers two rocks for a total of 16 rocks per end. Each team has a lead who throws the rock first, a second who throws the rock, yep, second, a vice-skip who throws third and the team captain—or skip—who throws last and also is in charge of management throughout the end.

The Rock

The rock ain’t just another bad Michael Bay flick. That piece of granite with the handle is know as the rock and can weigh up to 44 pounds. You may have noticed if you have watched curling that the player doesn’t actually push the rock. The proper way to get the rock sliding is to thrust yourself forward with one leg trailing behind you and release the rock. The speed with which the rock is released will determine its trajectory and the player continues to slide behind the rock after it has been released.

Those Brooms

The broom is actually a very versatile piece of sporting equipment. It is used by the players to indicate where the stone should head. The broom can also help keep the curler balanced during the throw. The most common use of the broom to the casual viewer is the common sweeping motion site of the two sweepers. What they seek to do is to melt the ice with friction to create a very thin layer of water over the ice that acts as a lubricant to get the curling rock to travel farther and straighter. A common misconception is that sweeping gets the rock to go faster. This is not the case.

Why is it called Curling?

Before the game begins the sheet is sprayed with water and the droplets freeze into what are termed pebbles. The friction between the stones and the pebbles causes the curling of the stone that gives the game its name. If you did not have all that sweeping going on, the stones would curl significantly off course. Even with the sweepers in place, you may witness a stone curl as much as six feet from its original trajectory. It is that sweeping that causes the melting of the pebbles that gets the stone to go where the players want. On occasion.

Scoring

The two teams alternate throws in each end with each player delivering two rocks until all 16 have slide down the sheet. The team that ends up with the rock nearest the tee is the winner of that end. One point is scored for each rock that is closer to the tee than their opponent’s rocks.