Tuesday, December 20, 2011

One of Those Moments in Baseball

Okay, it happened again. I went to comment on Rick's video of the Japanese pitcher throwing the blooper pitch and it turned into another article. I hope you folks don't mind, I try my best to make 'em interesting.

The pitch in the video he posted brought to mind the 1946 All-Star game. I wasn't yet born but I've read about the game. Almost all of baseball's star players had been overseas fighting and now the fans in Boston got to see them assembled for the first time in five years.

Ted Williams never won a World Series, the only one he played in was that October (he went 5-25). His stage was the All-Star game. In his previous game, in '41, before becoming a Marine Corps pilot, he'd hit a walk off home run – though they didn't call them that in those days – to give the AL a 7-5 win.

The American League had its way with the Nationals in '46 though, winning 12-0. Williams already had a home run and three RBI (he'd end up 4-4) by the eighth inning. Called in to pitch for the NL was Pittsburgh's Rip Sewell.

Sewell had started with the Pirates in 1938. In 1940 he was 16-5 with an ERA of 2.40. But then hitters started to figure him out and he lost more than he won the next year. No matter though, for Sewell was very likely to be drafted that year – until he got shot that is.

On December 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Sewell was hunting when a friend accidentally put 14 pellets of buckshot into him. Sewell told a reporter that the blast had torn holes into him the size of marbles. "My legs looked like screen doors." No one knew whether he'd pitch again, but his draft status immediately plummeted to 4-F.

Ignoring doctor's orders Sewell went to Spring Training, pitching in pain and keeping his wounds hidden from everyone but the Pirate trainer. It was lucky he wouldn't be facing the league's top hitters, who were on their way overseas, but his injuries had taken some of the zip off his fastball and the snap off his curve. So Rip came up with a trick pitch, the Eephus pitch. It rose on on a 25-foot arc and slowly dropped over the plate, and it was misery for batters used to swinging at fast pitches.

His first victim in exhibition play started to swing, stopped, started again, and then almost fell down. The first time he threw it in a real game the batter pointed his bat at Sewell and threatened to shoot him. (Been there, done that.) The Cubs manager tried unsuccessfully to have the pitch banned.

In St. Louis Whitey Kurowski spit tobacco juice on the ball as it floated past him. In Cincinnati the Reds shortstop caught the pitch and fired it back at Sewell. (It was still called a strike.) Against watered-down competition Sewell won 17 games in 1942 and 21 in '43 to lead the NL and then another 21 in '44. No one homered off his Eephus pitch.

In the eighth inning of the '46 All-Star game NL manager Charlie Grimm told Sewell to "See if you can wake up this crowd with that pitch of yours." Three singles and two outs later the Splendid Splinter stepped into the batter's box shaking his head from side to side and yelled, "You're not going to throw that damn pitch of yours are you?" Sewell threw it on the very first pitch and Williams swung hard, fouling it off the tip of his bat. Sewell threw it again, but missed the strike zone and Williams never swung at anything out of the strike zone.

Williams had told Bill Dickey before the game that he wasn't sure a home run could be hit on the Eephus pitch as the hitter would have to supply all of the power. On the third of Sewell's trick deliveries Williams took two steps forward – out of the batter's box – and launched the ball into the right field bleachers.

Of course the home run, the only one ever hit off Sewell's special pitch, was allowed to count – in violation of Baseball Rule 6.04 "A batter shall be called out when he hits a ball with one or both both feet on the ground outside the batter's box".

You can see at left that Ted's front foot is out of the box. But you can't ruin a magical moment like that.

You know, I've been spending some time analyzing how the Cardinals won this year's World Series and I think I've figured it out.

Wanna know why the Ranger pitchers couldn't throw strikes?

Take a look at this. Watch the girl behind the catcher as the pitcher delivers. Watch her left hand.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Best. Baseball. Pitch. Ever.

Okay, it’s silly Saturday. I found this on Youtube the other day and thought you ball fans would enjoy seeing it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Baseball Show: The Greed Factor

That was a great post about realignment, Rick. I started responding to it and found my long-winded self writing an entire blog. Here goes.

Sports franchise owners obviously believe Gordon Grekko's philosophy that greed is good. Heaven forbid that they should ever wait to add new franchises until it is good for the game. There are some obvious factors to consider after all, such as arithmetic (duh) and, in the case of a huge land mass like North America, geography – with the added element of time zones when TV is taken into account.

Then there are continuity, tradition, fan interest, and just plain common sense. The NHL recently did the unthinkable – they actually put some thought into the realignment necessitated by the Atlanta Thrashers' recent move to Winnipeg. And several owners and general managers did something even more unthinkable – they put the league's and the fans' interests ahead of their own. Yikes! What is the world coming too?

Speaking of hockey, perhaps the NHL, whose All-Star game is deadly dull, should adopt baseball's accidentally brilliant strategy of awarding home field advantage to the conference that wins the All-Star game.

For me a basic problem with so many damn teams in all the sports is that you want to build and nurture rivalries but you also want to give the fans a chance to see all the stars from time to time. But you can't fairly do that in baseball. First, it goes against tradition, something that Selig has buggered up pretty nicely, and second, in baseball the teams don't play other teams once, they play three or four games in a row.

In a completely fair world, teams should play other teams as often as do their rivals. But you can hardly have everybody playing all of the teams in the other league (to keep things equal) three or four times, there would be no time left to play the teams in your own league. Again – too many flipping teams!

It's really too bad that so many things have to act like pendulums, swinging so far each way. In hockey for decades you had just six teams and many top players spent their careers in the minors. Then the NHL moved much too quickly to 12 and you had a lot of bums playing in the league. The players were treated like slaves and then thanks to expansion (and briefly the WHA) the players had all the power. The majority of NHL players are from small towns in Canada and almost none of the people who live there could ever afford to go see the kids play after they get drafted.

In baseball you had just two out of 16 teams in the post-season and just one round of playoffs. It was downright silly in the early 1950s when three teams from the same city (New York/Brooklyn) played in four out of five series. Now you have a bunch of teams in the playoffs and they go into October. (Hockey goes into June now!)

We all need to go MLB's website and suggest changes (or changes back) to the game. Then they should have a draw of the names of all the people who sent in suggestions. Winners would get free memberships in a very exclusive club – the Bud Selig fan club.

My first suggestion for MLB ... erect statues like the one at the right outside every major league ballpark.