Sunday, August 28, 2005

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Good crabcake, lots of red brick.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Half of the Fun

These days the Twins play in the Baggiedome in downtown Minneapolis, but in the '60's and '70's they were out in the suburbs. My first major league game was at age 11 on June 22, 1968 at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.

Today the Mall of America sits on the site, but back in 1968 it was baseball under open skies. In the game program (25 cents) it says, "Half of the fun at a ballgame is keeping score," and instructions were provided on how to do so. It didn't say what the other half of the fun was, so I kept score.

Visiting was a mediocre Yankee team, six years removed from winning the World Series and nine years away from winning their next one. Twins pitcher Jim Kaat got the first two Yanks to fly out, but the third connected for a home run. It was my first major league hit, so to speak. Referring to the scoring instructions, next to the name "Mantle" I drew four horizontal bars (four-base hit) and a "7" (to left field) then circled all of it (run scored). The scoreboard flashed the message that it was the 528th home run of Mickey Mantle's career.

Of course I remember that The Mick hit a home run in the first major league game I attended, but documented on the scorecard are forgotten details. For instance, Mantle was playing first base, not the outfield. The designated hitter hadn't been adopted by the American League yet, so I figured the move to first base was because of his knees. Web research today verified that one of the great center fielders of all time spent the last two years of his career at first base due to bad knees, and they were two awful years. He retired after the 1968 season after hitting only .237 with 18 homers in 144 games. The notation on the scorecard that he was playing first base is what compelled me to look it up. Perhaps the "other half of the fun" is looking at a scorecard 37 years later and seeing details and clues that add substance to imperfect memory.

The scorecard also shows: Tony Oliva put the Twins ahead with a two-run homer in the fourth, but the Yankees scratched out four runs in the seventh and won 5-2. Stan Bahnsen, who went on to win Rookie of the Year, allowed six hits (three to Oliva) and struck out nine to get the win. Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew went 0-4. With the help of Baseball Almanac, I have recreated the box score as it would have appeared in the paper the next day. (Update: Kaat and Oliva were selected to the Hall of Fame in 2022.)

I have to be in Baltimore next week on business, so I'm going down early to take in weekend games at Camden Yards (Athletics at Orioles) and RFK Stadium (Cardinals at Nationals). I haven't been to either one before so maybe that's what got me thinking about that first game in Minnesota.

Frank Robinson
Frank Robinson tolerates
a snapshot, 1999
Although I haven't been to Camden Yards, I saw the Royals play the Orioles on July 31, 1988 at old Memorial Stadium. At the time, the Royals were in the middle of the pack (51-52 according to the Baseball Almanac) and the Orioles were simply awful (32-70). The Oriole manager was Frank Robinson, who had replaced Cal Ripken, Sr. early in the season. Once again, my scorecard scratchings reveal forgotten details of the game.

The Royals had two on and two out in the fourth when Vincent Edward "Bo" Jackson launched a moonball that would have hit the roof if there had been one. The outfielders drifted slowly back, waiting for what seemed like several minutes for the ball to return to earth. When it did, it was just over the wall in right-center for a three-run homer. I remember Bo's moonball, but the scorecard fills me in on some of the other details: On base for Bo were the famous George Brett (hit by pitch) and the infamous Bill Buckner (double). In the ninth, Cal Ripken, Jr. hit a solo homer for the Orioles to break up the shutout, but Charlie Liebrandt went on to finish a complete game four-hitter, 4-1. Here's the box score at Baseball Almanac.

The O's finished 54-107 that year. I will see Frank Robinson, now manager of the Nationals, put a better team on the field this Sunday than he was able to back then. I've gotten out of the habit of buying programs and keeping score but maybe I'll revive that practice this weekend.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Smokey and Sturgis

A news item caught my eye this week – a new Smokey Bear hot-air balloon made its first appearance this week at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.

Where do I start with this one? My Dad was with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks in the 1960's and was very involved in promoting forest fire prevention. We always had Smokey the Bear knick-knacks and literature around the house. I thought it was cool to see the Smokey Bear balloon at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta last October.

Cool at least until Smokey got impaled on a 600-foot radio tower. Pilot Bill Chapel and two young passengers rescued themselves by climbing down the tower's ladder. When's the last time you had to climb down a 600-foot ladder? I literally had nightmares about that for several days afterward. The pilot of the new balloon is the same Bill Chapel. I would think that getting popped by a very tall tower would cure you of ballooning forever, but maybe that's just me.

Anyway, the news clip was a reminder that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is this week. I grew up in the Black Hills so I knew that every August there were a lot of motorcycles on the roads. The rumor was there was some sort of debauchery going on up in Sturgis. In 1978 I did my college journalism internship at the Sturgis newspaper, so the first week in August I found myself immersed in the middle of thousands of bikers. I must not have been too traumatized because after graduation I joined the paper full time.

I recall going to the home of J.C. and Pearl Hoel to do an interview about times past. As the acknowledged founder of the Rally, J.C. ("Pappy") was a legend, but I remember him as a cooperative but sort of deaf old gent. He talked about working as a young man in the family business, which was cutting and storing ice in the winter and delivering it in the summer. In 1936 when refrigeration was making ice delivery obsolete, he bought an Indian motorcycle franchise. Pappy founded the Jackpine Gypsies in 1937 and helped start the Rally in 1938. (Pappy died in 1989 at age 84; Pearl died just this year at age 99.)

What started as a little gathering of Pappy, Pearl and their Jackpine Gypsies friends took on more of an edge as it got bigger. It's all sort of a blur now, but I do recall that at least some of the rumors of debauchery turned out to be true. Up until 1982 there was still camping in the Sturgis City Park. After a near riot in the park that year, I reported on a series of public meetings as the city's citizens wrung their hands over whether it was worth it to endure the massive disruptions brought by the event. Ultimately they decided it was, and now it's (supposedly) 10 times bigger than it was back then. There were changes – camping was banned in the park and much of the partying moved, out of sight and out of mind, to private campgrounds outside of city limits.

To me, Rally week was the time every year when an extraordinary number of drunks showed up, somewhat interesting because of its scope but not something I would attend of my own volition. The high school football season that followed was much more fun for me. My favorite memory as a reporter in Sturgis was when the 1983 Sturgis football team (Brown High School) cruised to 11 straight wins before falling in the state championship game. I left town the following year and went back to graduate school to get a business degree. I don't see that it would be much fun for me in Sturgis now; the Rally has only gotten bigger and more crowded (supposedly 500,000 participants), and in a few weeks the high school football team will bring a state-record 67-game losing streak into the season opener against the defending state champs. Oof!

So I'm not a biker, but maybe those six Rallies 1978-83 had some lasting effect. I'm watching American Chopper right now. Vinnie and Rick are the real stars. They should have their own show.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Performance Enhancers

So Rafael Palmeiro has been suspended for flunking a steroids test. Where will it all end? It won't. When lots of dollars are at stake, competitors will seek an edge, legitimate or otherwise. This is not a new concept! But when there are rules in place and it is proven that a competitor violates them, there should be consequences.

That means suspensions and fines of course, but I also think it would be beneficial to cut down on the garbage masquerading as news. I propose that players who get caught receive extra punishment if they tell us they were set up or it is all a mistake. I propose that teammates, team management, agents, family members, and the President of the United States (a pal of Palmeiro's) be flogged for acting as apologists and enablers. I propose that reporters, columnists and commentators who heard the chant of "Steroids!" directed at Jose Canseco way back in the '80's be prohibited, barred and enjoined upon threat of imprisonment from now acting surprised or indignant about recent revelations.

Finally, I propose that the Baseball Hall of Fame be closed to new inductees after next year. This is the consequence baseball and its players should suffer for perpetuating an institutional lie for so long, and would end the annoying debate about whether the chemical heroes of recent years deserve to be inducted.

But why wait until next year? Relief ace Bruce Sutter is the leading candidate for induction in '06. In fact, back in 1999 when I wrote on about meeting Sutter and Frank Robinson, I assumed both of them were Hall-of-Famers and identified them as such. I was stunned later when I found out that Sutter hadn't been elected yet. What do you mean one of the greatest relief pitchers of all time isn't in the HOF? Sutter seemed like a nice guy so I'll vouch for him; I detected no roid rage. (Robinson, on the other hand, was a bit grumpy.)


The situation changes drastically after next year. Canseco, Mark McGwire, and deceased drug addict Ken Caminiti are eligible for election in '07. Although McGwire is the only realistic selection of those three, it shows that the steroid era is about to hit Cooperstown hard.