Monday, November 01, 1999

The Fall

Originally posted on Squeezebunt.com in 1999.

When I visited Cooperstown in July for the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies, the baseball museum was packed and I decided to visit at a less-hectic time. In mid-October, I returned to see what I missed the first time. The drive through New York State was very scenic as the tree-covered hills were ablaze with fall colors.

In addition to being the mythical home of baseball, Cooperstown has an extensive history. The Cooper family for whom the town is named included James Fenimore Cooper, a famous 19th-century author. On the former site of the family home at the south end of Lake Otsego is the Fenimore House Museum, which has an eclectic collection of art and historical items. Across the road is the Farmer's Museum, which we didn't visit but which may be of interest to some. But of course the primary target of most visitors to the area is the baseball museum. (Combination tickets for the three Cooperstown museums are available.) There is just so much stuff in the baseball museum that it's impossible to see it all.




A gazebo on the Fenimore House Museum grounds, Cooperstown.

I've seen old gloves before, but somehow seeing groups of them in the display cases made me realize why there are no more .400 hitters. There was little or no webbing on the old gloves, just a little padding. Don't you suppose that even Rey Ordonez would let a few more balls get past him if his glove didn't have webbing? Ted Williams' glove on display had webbing and a pocket, but it was still quite a bit smaller than a "modern" glove. I would presume this glove was from the '40's, and by the time Ted retired he was using something bigger.

The history of baseball is a large part of what makes the sport so great, and true baseball fans should make a point of visiting Cooperstown someday. Part of Barry Halper's famous and vast collection was on display in the museum. (See the catalog from Sotheby's auction of part of the Halper collection.) He started collecting many years ago before it was considered an industry. Babe Ruth's overcoat is on display, and there is a story attached on how it was handed down over the years.

But really, it's just an old coat. After soaking in all the history, eventually the fan puts aside the "memorabilia" (ugh!), go down to the ballyard, and watch some real people playing a real game. So that's why I'm going to Arizona this month.

Tuesday, September 28, 1999

Last Call

(Originally posted on Squeezebunt.com in 1999. Seeing Pedro in 1999 was seeing one of the all-time greats.)

I hadn't planned another trip to Fenway Park this year but the opportunity arose to see Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez in the last regular-season home game on Sept. 27. In April I saw Martinez strike out 10 and beat the Indians 3-2, supported by the hitting of Jason Varitek. It was deja vu all over again as Varitek homered and drove in three runs, while Martinez whiffed 12 and knocked down the Orioles (literally) 5-3 for his 23rd victory of the season.

Pedro warms upA Pedro game at Fenway is different because most of the excitement comes in the top of innings when the visiting team is at bat. After every strikeout, the "K" signs go up and the running total is chanted in Spanish, "unos, dos, tres...." (Unfortunately I can't count past three in Spanish and I don't even know if that small sample is spelled right.) After getting a few early runs, the Fenway fans kept themselves amused during the bottom of innings by taunting right fielder Albert Belle. A perfect night at the old ballyard.

The game was almost marred when Brady Anderson allegedly threw an elbow at Pedro while crossing the plate on a passed ball. Anderson had gotten hit in the back by a fastball a few innings earlier. He leads the league in getting hit by pitches, and the Red Sox were retaliating because earlier in the series Anderson deliberately leaned his knee into a Tim Wakefield knuckleball. At least, that's how the story goes. Whether true or not, this is the kind of allegation that violates some unwritten law. "You try to get hit by a 57-mph knuckler, how about this 95-mph fastball?"

I've seen the replay a couple times and still haven't seen the phantom elbow, but words were exchanged and the benches emptied. Perhaps the hockey fans in attendance were hoping to see a brawl erupt, but most Red Sox fans were hoping that the first priority would be to have the bench players offer themselves as human shields for the Great Pedro. The Red Sox clinched a tie for the wild card playoff spot with the win, and any hopes they have for winning the World Series for the first time in 81 years rest on the slight frame of Pedro Martinez.

By the way, my advice not to drive to Fenway Park still stands. Take the subway. Any city where there is a traffic jam at 10:30 p.m. (not near the ballpark) is not a place to drive.

Monday, July 26, 1999

Induction

(Originally published on Squeezebunt.com in 1999. I haven't been back to Cooperstown for the ceremonies since then so the parking and traffic situation may have changed.)

There is a Yogi-ism that goes, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." With Yogi Berra himself sitting on stage (or so I'm told), that's what was running through my mind as I found my way through Cooperstown to the 1999 Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. They announced that it was the largest crowd ever to watch the ceremonies. Due to the large area in front of the stage marked off for reserved seating, it was impossible for us riff-raff to get close enough for a decent view. The sound system was very good so it was possible to follow the proceedings audibly at least.

Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and dozens of other Hall of Famers were introduced, but the man introduced last to great applause, as at the recent All-Star Game, was Ted Williams. It is interesting to see how Ted has become the grand old man of baseball, and it's amazing how many people thanked him during the ceremonies, not just in passing, but as an important figure during their careers.

It seemed like a political convention with the blue-hatted George Brett backers, Texans for Nolan Ryan, flag-waving Puerto Ricans for Orlando Cepeda, and cheeseheads for Robin Yount. (As a native of Wisconsin I was disappointed not to see any actual cheese hats, but they probably would have melted in the heat.) But rather than just one winner, there were these four big winners along with several other honorees from earlier days. Considering that speechifying is not a strong suit for most ballplayers, it's not surprising that probably the best speech of the bunch was one that didn't make it on TV, by the son of the late umpire Nestor Chylak. Nestor sounded like an excellent person in addition to being an excellent umpire, and I wish some of the current umpires would pattern their behaviour after some of their predecessors.

Nolan Ryan Hall of Fame Induction
Texans celebrate Nolan Ryan's induction.

An underlying current was who is not in the Hall of Fame. Barely audible on the TV soundtrack were shouts of "Pete" when commissioner Bud Selig started with the introductions. In case you haven't been paying attention, Pete Rose was a shoo-in for induction but managed to get himself thrown out of the game for gambling. Also in evidence was a banner carried through the crowd implying that the Baseball Writers of America are racist for not voting in Tony Perez.

Cepeda, who also was bypassed by the writers before being voted in by the Veteran's Committee, spoke of his hope that fellow Latin ballplayers Perez, Tony Oliva and Luis Tiant would be in the Hall someday. Cepeda had the funniest line when he said of his time as a teammate of Brett, "When I saw him play, I say, 'This kid is never going to make it.'" But then he admitted, "Sometimes you make mistakes." Brett said later, "I'm glad you don't scout for the Royals, Orlando."

Yount echoed the Lou Gehrig line, "Today...I consider myself...the luckiest man...on the face of the earth." So familiar that it's a cliche perhaps, but I heard the words echoing off the Cooperstown hills and trees and it reminded me of the echo on the tape from the original Yankee Stadium moment of 60 years ago.

The theme that ran through Ryan's speech was the importance of coaching and conditioning. Not a flashy speech, but he left his flash on the field over the course of 27 years. You knew Ryan wasn't going to get choked up, but Brett sure did when he mentioned his brothers, his mother, his late father, and Jamie Quirk. He laid it all out there, just like when he played. That was the teary wrapup to the day.

If you go: Cooperstown is a small village between Syracuse and Albany, NY. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is downtown, as you might expect. The Hall is jam-packed during induction weekend, so it might be best to plan a museum visit for a quieter time. Doubleday Field is a couple blocks north of the Hall. The induction ceremonies site is south of town at Clark Sports Center. The Hall of Fame web site mentions shuttle buses running from various parking areas, but I accidently found a way to avoid Induction Day traffic and get a very good parking space within walking distance of the site.

My suggestion is to approach Cooperstown in the early morning (9:00 or so) on Route 52 from the east, and park in the Beaver Meadow Road area. (Get a good map!) Residents along Route 52 offered parking in 1999 for $5-10, but you also might be able to find a free spot along the highway. The induction site is a couple hundred yards away just across a bridge. Stake out your spot by planting a couple of lawn chairs, coolers and blankets (they won't get stolen), then hop a shuttle bus downtown to see the madness down there for a while. If you like standing in line, you might try to get into the Hall before heading back to the induction site. After the ceremonies, jump in your car, head east on Route 52, and you are immediately out of town.

This assumes you are just attending the induction ceremonies. There are other activities over the course of three days, so check the official web site to get the up-to-date information.

P.S. Bring good binoculars. Unless you have VIP tickets, the induction stage is a long ways away.

Sunday, April 25, 1999

Wrigley and Fenway

(Originally posted on Squeezebunt.com in 1999. It turns out that Fenway Park isn't going to be replaced anytime soon.)

Through an accident of scheduling, I had the opportunity to visit Chicago's Wrigley Field and Boston's Fenway Park on the same weekend, April 23-25. What a great chance to see two of the classic ballparks and to make a few comparisons.

Wrigley Field

The weekend started in gloomy Chicago. After a rainout the previous day it was still drizzly and cold Friday morning. But on the Red Line subway journey from the Loop to 85-year-old Wrigley Field, the sun became evident as we emerged from the ground. When we arrived at the Addison stop, it was actually sunny.

Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field 1999

But it wasn't any warmer. Gametime temperature was 44 degrees, and there was a strong wind whipping in from left field. No home runs today, I thought. Gary Gaetti launched one shot into the wind that would have gone out on a different day, but on this day it was just a fly out. For a while, it didn't look like there would be runs of any kind as the Cubs and visiting Mets failed to mount any sort of offense. By the fifth inning, there was still no score and I was starting to lose feeling in my hands and feet.

Harry
The new Harry Caray statue, dedicated April 12,
greets visitors to Wrigley Field.

The Mets broke through first, but the Cubs came back and took the lead on a two-run "triple" by Benito Santiago that actually was a soft liner that nearly hit Mets right fielder Jermaine Allensworth in the head. Allensworth, who had just entered the game replacing Bobby Bonilla, fiddled with his glasses after the misplay, indicating he lost the ball in the sun. Two "earned" runs were charged against Mets starter Bobby Jones, who had entered the game with a sparkling 1.29 ERA and who pitched a very good game.

With the Cubs leading 4-2 in the seventh, Mickey Morandini came up with one out and Lance Johnson on third. I figured the Cubs would not squeeze because (a) Morandini was batting left-handed and (b) Sammy Sosa was on deck. Wrong! Morandini put down the bunt, the Mets took the out at first rather than what would have been a close play at the plate, and the Cubs seemed to have a safe 5-2 lead. After Sammy ended the inning with an out, I decided to find somewhere to warm up. So I missed seeing the Cubs bullpen blow the game in the final two innings as the Mets won 6-5. Lack of a bullpen has already cost the Cubs this season and probably will prevent them from duplicating last season's success.

The crowd of 20,828 was as enthusiastic as you could expect on a cold, blustery day. As many people as possible jammed into the sunny part of the stands down the right field line, trying to catch just a little warmth. The highlight of the day was the seventh inning stretch. The Cubs have turned the singing of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" into a Harry Caray tribute, and on this day the crowd joined in with ESPN anchor Dan Patrick's interpretation. Dan enunciated the words very clearly, but it was difficult to detect a melody.

I didn't sustain any frostbite this day, but I would like my next visit to Wrigley to be on some warm, lazy summer afternoon. Next, Sunday at Fenway Park.

Fenway Park

After a Sunday morning ride in on the Green Line (branch D) from Riverside, I emerged from the Kenmore Square subway station into a mass of street vendors and fans, and more importantly after Friday's experience, a 60-degree temperature. It's a longer distance than the equivalent subway-stadium walk in Chicago, but still very convenient.

Before heading into the stadium, I made sure to check out Yawkey Way, a street next to the stadium which this year is blocked off on game days. The only way to describe Yawkey Way now is it's a street carnival, including jugglers and clowns in addition to the cap and peanut vendors. Don't try to claim you couldn't find any souvenirs. Some of them outside the stadium are even reasonably priced.

I experienced a "Wow" while coming up the tunnel into the stadium. The lopsided playing surface dominated by the great green wall in left field is visually jarring even if you've seen it many times before. I find it hard to believe that any new stadium built to replace this 87-year-old monument will elicit the same response. Wrigley Field is a grand old place, but I didn't feel a "Wow" there. (Maybe when the weather is warmer and the ivy is green.)

Fenway Park
Fenway Park 1999

A crowd of 30,472 witnessed one of the best games I've ever seen. Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez struck out 10 as he outdueled fellow Dominican Bartolo Colon 3-2. The Red Sox stranded an incredible 14 baserunners as Colon escaped from numerous jams. He left the game after six innings tied 1-1, and the loss went to reliever Paul Shuey as catcher Jason Varitek delivered a two-run double in the seventh.

Martinez was backed by several fine catches, the best by center fielder Damon Buford in the sixth. Buford made a diving grab, then doubled Kenny Lofton off second base to prevent the Indians from going into the lead. After Martinez gave up a run with two outs in the ninth inning to make the score 3-2, Manager Jimy Williams made a visit to the mound but decided to let his ace finish the game. With closer Tom Gordon on the disabled list, it seemed like the right decision. With cheers of "Pedro, Pedro" echoing through Fenway, Dave Justice whiffed on strike three to end the game. High fives all around.

Varitek and Pedro
Varitek congratulates Pedro

So which one is better, Wrigley Field or Fenway Park? On this particular weekend I had a much better experience at Fenway, but that is not the correct answer. The Cubs view Wrigley as their long-term home. The Red Sox think Fenway is obsolete and are trying to replace it. In an April 15 column, the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan (also seen on ESPN) explained it very well as he was trying to discourage a "Save Fenway" movement:

"Fenway is what Fenway is, and that is a charming baseball park built in 1912 for tiny people born in the 19th century." Later he adds, "The fact remains that Fenway doesn't even come close to Wrigley Field in terms of fan comfort. Wrigley is double-decked all the way around, with far more good seats than Fenway." He concludes, "[Fenway is] cute, but it is also indisputably inadequate and obsolete, for both its patrons and its owners."

After my one and only visit to the old Boston Garden, I thought, "I've seen it, now they can tear it down." A couple years later, they did. Better get to Fenway Park within the next five years or so if you want to see it as a functioning ballpark.


Update 2014: Fifteen years have passed and the two grand old ballparks have passed the century mark. Fenway never was torn down as new ownership eventually embraced keeping it, but to maximize revenue they squeezed in 4,000 more seats and as many advertisements as they could. The last time I was at Fenway was in 2007 shortly before I moved out of the Boston area. I lived in Chicago 2011-2013 and made it to Wrigley once during that time, and it is more fun when frostbite isn't a threat.

Saturday, March 20, 1999

Cactus League Wrap

(Originally posted on Squeezebunt.com in 1999.)

Fourteen Cactus League games in 13 days. I haven't seen so much baseball in such a short period of time since I was a newspaper sports editor in the early 80's covering the Black Hills Titans of the Jayhawk League, a college summer league. The average fan probably wonders what's so hard about playing baseball every day, but on this trip I started dragging after day 10, and I wasn't even playing. My admiration for Cal Ripken has soared.

The best part of the trip was seeing so many top players within a brief time. Where else but the Cactus League can you see Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa hit homers in different stadiums on the same day?

The hitters seem to be ready after two weeks of spring training, so this month of exhibition games must be more important to the pitchers. Based on what I saw during those first two weeks, the pitchers need all the preparation they can get. The few "name" pitchers (Todd Stottlemyre, Steve Trachsel) got bounced around pretty good. Here are my awards, based solely on what I saw during the two weeks.

MVP: Sammy Sosa. Electric presence, hit three home runs in three games.

Cy Young: Anyone who pitched more than one inning without giving up a bomb.

Gold Glove: Seattle's John Mabry ran down a long fly in the outfield.

Most Disappointing: Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mo Vaughn. In five Mariner games I can only recall one Junior single. I saw the Angels twice, with Mo going 0-0 with a sac fly in the first game and sitting out the second, apparently due to the one day of cool, wet weather we had during the two weeks.

Men Want to be Him, Women Want to Marry Him: Female Cub fans seem particularly fond of veteran first baseman Mark Grace.

Worst Experience: Having my rental car break down in Tucson.

Best Ball Park Atmosphere: Mesa's HoHoKam Park, always full of enthusiastic Cub fans.

Best Facility: Tucson Electric, followed closely by Peoria.  In addition to having excellent stadiums, these facilities offer good access and parking.

Most Cosmopolitan Surroundings: Scottsdale, without a doubt.

Best Lawn: Scottsdale. The only berm with trees, so at least a few spectators can stake out a spot in the shade. It's also the most expensive lawn, $6 vs. as little as $3 elsewhere. If you prefer a frat party to shade, Peoria's $4 lawn might be your choice.

Most Scenic Surroundings: Phoenix Municipal Stadium, on the edge of Papago Park.

Most Like a Shopping Mall (not that that's a bad thing): Peoria.

Overrated: "The only Jumbotron scoreboard in the Cactus League" at HoHoKam Park is used mainly to play commercials. By comparison, the scoreboard at Hi Corbett Field is simple but they take the effort to tell you the batter is 1-for-2 on the day.

Bargain: With $4 bleacher seats and free parking, Hi Corbett Field.

Top Distraction: During lulls in the action at Tucson Electric you can watch A-10 attack planes buzzing around nearby Davis-Monthan AFB. (Also receiving votes, the visit of the Hooter Girls to Peoria.)

Best Food: Preliminary findings indicate Peoria has the best selection. Further research is required.

Clubs and Ballparks

Cubs, HoHoKam Park, Mesa: Sosa is the big attraction, and Grace also has a big following. It's like little Chicago with everyone sitting around reading the Tribune. Groans echoed through the stadium when the extent of Kerry Woods' injury became apparent. HoHoKam Park is the biggest (12,000) spring training stadium, and they need the capacity. Tickets, traffic and parking could be problems if you don't plan ahead.

Giants, Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale: Decent team led by Bonds, but maybe just short of being a contender. Planning may help you avoid avoid ticket and parking headaches. Downtown Scottsdale has free parking, but the catch is you might have to walk a distance or catch a shuttle bus to the stadium. One day I parked in a very large unpaved lot a couple blocks north of the stadium, but that might not be available next year.  (Update: There's now a building on that lot.)

Athletics, Phoenix Municipal Stadium, Phoenix: 1998 Rookie of the Year Ben Grieve looks like the real deal. Eric Chavez is being promoted as the top candidate for that award in 1999. I didn't see Chavez do anything spectacular in four games, but he seemed to fit in as a major league player. The A's have plenty of hitters but not much pitching. The stadium is old but in good repair. The press box is about the size of a closet, but what does the typical fan care about that? Tickets, traffic and parking should not be a problem for most games.

Angels, Tempe Diablo Stadium, Tempe: Opponents, save your left-handed pitching for the Angels. Of the likely first four hitters, Jim Edmonds, Darin Erstad, Mo Vaughn and Tim Salmon, onlySalmon bats right-handed. With a good pitching staff, the Angels are a solid playoff contender. The stadium is comfortable enough, and tickets, traffic and parking should not be a problem for most games.

Brewers, Maryvale Baseball Park, Phoenix: I guess Jeromy Burnitz is the star of this team. Maybe with a new stadium going up back in Milwaukee, the team is on its way up. But that's not expected this year. Maryvale is a fine new stadium, and tickets should be attainable for most games. The problem I had was traffic after the game. The parking lots empty onto a busy street, and it took quite a while to get out of the lot.

Padres and Mariners, Peoria Stadium, Peoria: The Padres are defending National League champs, but they lost quite a bit in the off-season. Tony Gwynn is still there. The Mariners have two stars in Griffey and Alex Rodriguez, with Jay Buhner coming back from injury. But at times last year their bullpen was the worst anyone has ever seen. Jose Mesa might help. With games almost every day, it is possible to see lots of top players without leaving Peoria. There are plenty of concessions behind the stands which gives the stadium a carnival-like atmosphere. The facility is fairly new and the infrastructure provides good traffic flow and adequate parking, but for best seat selection you might want to arrange tickets in advance.

Rockies, Hi Corbett Field, Tucson: The Rocks now have managerial genius Jim Leyland. With Vinny Castilla, Larry Walker and Dante Bichette taking care of the offense, Leyland has to figure out how to get enough pitching. Hi Corbett Field is the most historic of the Cactus League stadiums, but all the seating is new. Next time I go there, I will bypass the more expensive seats and get cheap bleacher tickets. The view is at least as good, maybe better. Best of all, there is free, on-site parking. One odd thing is the field is laid out opposite of most other fields, so in the afternoon the sun is behind the center fielder. As a result, only a few seats are ever in shade, but the fielders should never lose the ball in the sun.

White Sox and Diamondbacks, Tucson Electric Park, Tucson: Frank Thomas looked good the day I saw him and I predict he will improve on a lethargic 1998. But the rest of the White Sox team is young. I wasn't lucky enough to catch a Randy Johnson start, but the second-year Diamondbacks might be able to compete for the division. The two-year-old Tucson Electric Park which the two teams share is great, with ample parking. Tickets probably aren't a problem for most games.