Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fountain of Youth


Julio Franco, the Mets’ 48-year-old veteran, may be baseball’s elder statesman, but four 40-something pitchers not named Randy Johnson (slowed by injury) or David Wells (struggling) — and one 39-year-old kid — are excelling.

They are:

Jamie Moyer, 44, who is 3-1 with a 2.65 ERA.

Today, Moyer tied the free-swinging Florida Marlins in knots, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning of the Phillies' 6-1 victory. Moyer went on to pitch 7/13 innings, allowing two hits and no runs.

Tom Glavine, 41, 3-1. ERA: 2.80.

In his last outing - a no-decision at Washington, Saturday, the Mets' polished lefthander pitched 6 innings and allowed 3 hits and 1 run.

Greg Maddux, 41, 2-2. ERA: 3.86.

Last outing was a win vs. L.A. Dodgers Saturday in which the San Diego Padres veteran pitched 7 innings and gave up just 5 hits and 2 runs.

Curt Schilling, 40, 3-1. ERA: 3.27.

The Red Sox righty's last outing produced a win in Baltimore on Wednesday. He pitched 7 innings and gave up 5 hits and 1 run.

John Smoltz, 39, 3-1. ERA: 3.96.

Last outing? A win at Colorado Saturday for the Braves' stalwart. He lasted 7 innings, yielded 9 hits but just 2 runs.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Junior No. 1 Among Many in No. 42 Salute

Associated Press Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Cincinnati Reds all-star outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., pictured above with the Cubs' Derek Lee on Jackie Robinson Day, wear their salutes to the late, great Hall of Fame Brooklyn Dodger on their backs. Griffey, wanting to make April 15 - the 60th anniversary of Robinson's breaking of the color barrier, was the architect of the salute.

For Griffey sent a request to commissioner Bud Selig seeking permission to wear the number that was retired throughout the game on 10 years ago and when Selig said yes, an avalanche of such requests followed. The result: over 200 Major League players, managers and coaches donned Robinson's number in games played Sunday.

There would have been many more, for at least two teams that fell victim of the poor weather on the East Coast - the Phillies and Astros - planned to a man to wear No. 42. The Dodgers were joined by the Cardinals and Seattle Mariners as teams on which every person in uniform wore the number.

Associated Press Photo,
Five Seattle Mariners wearing
No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day

Only one Major League player wears No. 42 every day. Mariano Rivera, the veteran stopper for the New York Yankees, was one of a handful of players who wore the number when Selig retired it during the 50th anniversary celebrations a decade ago. Selig "grandfathered" in those players who wished to keep the number. Rivera and Mo Vaughn chose to do so as their own personal tribute to Robinson. Rivera is the only player who made that decision still active.

For one day, No. 42 of the Yankees had lots of company as an entire game joined in his ongoing salute.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Thanks, Jackie And All His Fellow Pioneers

The great Yogi Berra once said upon receiving an honor, "Thanks for making this necessary."

Today, Jackie Robinson was honored by Major League Baseball as it said thank-you. Not just to a brave pioneer, but to all those who 60 years ago combined like minds and an uncommon courage to help expunge Jim Crow from their playing fields.

Jackie and Rachel Robinson and an equally magnificent supporting cast gave this nation a peek at what was possible and helped start another, more transcendent, revolution called the Civil Rights era.

So, thank you, Branch Rickey for making today a necessary occasion in which major-league players wore No.42 just as Jackie Robinson did on April 15, 1947, when he debuted with your Brooklyn Dodgers. The Phillies and Astros, to a man, would have been among them were it not for the rains that washed away their game.

Not only did you defy many of your fellow club owners by bringing a black man to the majors, Mr. Rickey, you defied an era.

"Our country, our culture, sadly, was way back in the dark ages in 1947," reminded Branch Rickey III, president of the Pacific Coast League and grandson of the late Dodgers owner.

"Our cultural misunderstandings and our prejudices were so much more extreme then, and civil rights was not even a phrase," he continued. "The idea of a black breaking into baseball was going to be opposed broadly.

"It was going to be a question of whether my grandfather could survive with his reputation intact."

Branch Rickey, history shows, did survive. It also strongly suggests that neither Rickey nor Robinson could have done so alone.

Fortunately, they did not have to.

So, thank-you, too, Happy Chandler, because when some players threatened a boycott if Robinson played, you, then the commissioner of baseball, threatened to show the conspirators the door. Even more ominously, you vowed to close it to them forever.

Boycott, dead on arrival.

Archive photo of Jackie Robinson. Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Photos by Charles Fox

Stan Musial? As the centerpiece of the 1947 St. Louis Cardinals, you let one of the game's more rebellious clubs know that you would play because integration was not something that you - Stan the Man - would stoop to try to stop.

Then there was you, Bill Veeck, the Cleveland Indians owner who integrated the American League on July 5, 1947, by purchasing the contract of the talented Larry Doby from the Newark Eagles.

Like Branch Rickey, you proved time and again that your brilliant baseball mind was not limited to marketing and promotion advances - though the exploding scoreboard does remain a marvel.
Your plot to buy the Phillies in 1942 and fill the roster with the Negro Leagues all-stars may have been foiled by then-commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis years before. But no one could stop you from closely following Rickey's lead.

Once done, you, Bill Veeck, knew that the less-heralded Doby was, in many ways, in an even more thankless position than Robinson. For the junior circuit was far more reluctant to integrate than its National League counterpart. And often the only commiseration Larry Doby could find came from family, his friend Jackie Robinson - and you.

You sensed when Doby was at his loneliest and you swooped in, sharing your love of jazz, your enthusiasm - and your vision of what could be.
Other gestures, no matter how small, were also like nectar to the pioneers.

Dodgers shortstop and unquestioned team leader Pee Wee Reese (right, with Jackie Robinson and Preacher Roe, following Game 3 victory over the Yankees in the 1952 World Series _ Associated Press), you quelled palpable unrest in Cincinnati when Robinson made his first appearance there.

The Queen City, after all, considered you, a son of neighboring Kentucky, one of its own, and your presence counted in that gateway to the South. So when you walked over to Robinson during pregame practice and draped an arm around the hectored and shaken rookie's shoulders, you quieted a crowd that bordered on a mob. And the photos of your doing so - transmitted around the world - were etched indelibly in sports history.

Joe Gordon? With one sentence - "Hey kid, want to have a catch?" - you let Larry Doby, your new Indians teammate, know that the daily rituals of a game not only might include him, but would.

Decades later, Doby would get emotional recalling the relief he felt when he heard this one simple, universal baseball paean come from your lips. For, until it did, Larry Doby said he honestly did not know if he'd ever be able to play if he were not even permitted to warm up.

And you, Ted Williams? Your gift in 1947 was a welcoming handshake extended to Doby the first time your Red Sox met his Indians.

Larry Doby, of course, knew of your fame. Who in baseball did not know The Splendid Splinter? But to know that you knew of him - and appreciated his presence - and welcomed him to your league meant the world to Larry Doby.

At that moment, a fellow major-leaguer felt like a peer. And that peer eventually went on to
become your fellow Hall of Famer - just as did Stan Musial, Pee Wee Reese, Mr. Rickey, Bill Veeck - and Jackie Robinson.

This was the confluence of talent, goodwill and generosity that made April 15, 1947, and what it launched vital. As vital as today's nationwide celebrations - and thank-yous - were necessary.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Baseball Aims for the Mountaintop

MEMPHIS - It is not often that a sport can transcend mere statistics and games won or lost.
Major League Baseball can, and did on March 31 as it celebrated its unique role in the U.S. civil rights movement by way of its first-ever Civil Rights Game. So it was that a game and a movement came together in one of the most storied outposts of the civil rights revolution.
Baseball reminded us that on April 15, the game will celebrate the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking of baseball's color barrier. And commissioner Bud Selig proudly reminded us that the achievement predated by 17 years the Civil Rights Act ending segregation in the United States.
The game, between the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals in the home park of the Cards' triple-A affiliate, the Memphis Redbirds, concluded a weekend in which this shared history was lauded.
Vera Clemente, Spike Lee and the late Buck O'Neil were honored. Dave Chase, the Redbirds' president and general manager, and Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, were applauded for their inspiration in bringing about the celebration.
Selig's and Solomon's oft-stated commitment is to ensure that the diversity Robinson brought to the field remains as fewer African Americans play in the major leagues.
How appropriate that these messages emanated from this neatly kept Mississippi River city.
All sides of the American saga sing out to you here, at this confluence of blues and country, historical heartache, pain and gain.
Memphis is where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought his last fight, at the side of striking sanitation workers. It is where the civil rights champion spoke of the mountaintop he longed to see the nation reach as one.
That was back in the horrific, convulsive days of the 1960s, when the last shots of America's extended Civil War were still being fired. One of the most significant shots claimed King, right here in then-segregated Memphis.
The town's first-class hotel - the Peabody - was, of course, for whites only. King, like visiting black ball players, stayed at the Lorraine, a motel-like structure generously called a hotel. The Lorraine is where King was felled by an assassin's bullet in 1968.
This weekend, a Memphis that King could only dare dream of welcomed both the Indians and the Cardinals. Both teams stayed at the Peabody.
The Lorraine?
Parts of the building that blacks shunned into bankruptcy after the assassination are now incorporated into the National Civil Rights Museum.
There, visitors need only turn a corner to be yanked back in history.
Hall of Famer Dave Winfield paused often while following the museum's poignant, often searing time line and its relentless tale of sacrifice, fear, upheaval and courage.
"It was a war," Winfield said. "It really was a war." Like all wars, it had too, too many victims, many not much older than the young, privileged athletes of today.
"It," said Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia, "humbles you."
Especially when you turn the last corner. There you see the hotel room last occupied by King, and the balcony where he was shot down. It more than takes your breath away. It takes you back.
There, the Rev. Billy Kyles, along with the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, sat, talked, joked and laughed with King for the hour before he died.
Kyles brought many at a pregame luncheon to tears as he recounted that horrible day in vivid detail. He brought them to their feet as he reminded in a thunderous voice: "You can kill the dreamer, but you cannot kill the dream."
Kenneth Shropshire, a professor at Penn's Wharton School, like many struggled with emotions thought buried in 1968.
A prolific author of The Business of Sports and In Black and White: Race and Sports in America, Shropshire, a participant in events here this weekend, said: "I was thinking, my father was exactly the same age as Dr. King. When I think of what that generation accomplished. My father passed away 15 years ago.
"Dr. King was just 39 years old. His life was cut so short. What if it had not happened? What else might he have accomplished?"
"This is something that everybody in this country needs to see," Sabathia said. "And the thing that got me was the dates. It really wasn't that long ago."
Sabathia spoke while sitting in a modern-day ballpark where Robinson certainly would have enjoyed playing, a mere mile from that relic of a balcony. It was yet another reminder that two eras that seem light-years apart are forever linked.

A Great Voice Silenced

The first sounds of the 2007 baseball season should have been the national anthem followed by the cry of "play ball" and the crack of the bat.

Sunday, though, the more appropriate sound was silence, as in a moment of silence for the Hall of Fame announcer Herb Carneal, the voice of the Twins for the past 45 years.

Mr. Carneal, 83 at time of death, was felled by congestive heart failure, taken on the very morning of baseball's opening game between the Cardinals and New York Mets in St. Louis.

When the Twins join the rest of baseball in taking the field Monday, it will mark only the second season the team has started without Mr. Carneal behind the microphone. The first he did not call was the Washington Senators-turned Minnesota Twins' inaugural season, in 1961.

From 1962 on, the names of Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Zoilo Versalles, Tony Oliva, Camilo Pascual, Jim Kaat, Jim Perry, "Mudcat" Grant, Rod Carew, Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett, rolled across the land of 10,000 lakes, melliflously, delivered with a beauty and precision only a master could produce.

Now another great voice is silenced. When baseball returns that silence as a sign of respect today and through the season, we all should be reminded that some of the game's brightest stars - Vin Scully. Harry Kalas, Jaime Jarrin, Hall of Famers, all - are as much a part of basebally royalty as the players, and are to be cherished.

Treasure them while you can. And say a quiet prayer for Mr. Carneal.