Weird and Wild …Some Early Baseball Equipment and Rules … A Guest Post

BB REviewsBaseball Roundtable is pleased to bring readers a guest post from Chris Moskowitz of Baseball Reviews – thebaseballreviews.com – a solid source of information and opinion on baseball equipment from bats, to gloves, to shoes and more.  This youthful blogger is a lifelong baseball fan, who has played at the Recreational, Traveling Team, Competitive Club and High School level. He currently works for the Somerset Patriots (Bridgewater Township, New Jersey) of the Atlantic League (Independent).  You’ll find a link to The Baseball Reviews web site on the right-hand side of the BBRT home page.

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THE WEIRD BEGINNINGS OF BASEBALL

by Chris Moskowitiz … thebaseballreviews.com

Yes, baseball has developed into an amazing and almost perfect sport. It is fair, fun, and an awesome choice for exercise and competition at any level. This is exactly why it is America’s favorite pastime.

But baseball hasn’t always been so great. Imagine playing baseball with a bat that is curved, facing a pitcher just 15 yards away from home plate. Consider handling a hot line drive without the aid of a fielder’s glove or crouching behind the plate without a catcher’s mask. Or imagine how long a game would take if it took nine balls outside the strike zone to produce a walk. All of these things seem a little far-fetched today, but this is how it was at the beginning of baseball.

FIELDERS’ GLOVES

Let’s talk about the gloves first. Gloves in baseball used to be nonexistent. Yes, you read that right, baseball gloves used to not be there to protect your hands. I would hate to have gone out to a position on the field in the era when there were no baseball gloves. A lot of people take something as simple as a baseball glove for granted. I know I did.

Imagine playing without a baseball glove and having to cleanly handle pop-ups or speeding grounders. It seems impossible. Especially when it’s cold out. Fall ball couldn’t be a thing in those times because there would have been too much pain in the joints of the hands of fielders. Imagine the sting you feel when you grab a sinking line drive with a glove. Now imagine the pain gloveless fielders must’ve gone through.

So how did they do it? Well, the answer is they would use smart techniques to stop the ball before fielding it. Some of these tactics include blocking the ball with their feet, slapping it down with their hands, or just letting it roll by, hoping the teammate behind them would stop it. I totally understand this, and would probably have done the same.

As the pain apparently mounted, innovation came. At first, fielders’ gloves looked pretty much like today’s batters’ gloves. Small, thin and not meant for catching or scooping. The main purpose of these earliest gloves was to knock the baseball down. Once the fielder could get the ball to stop, he could pick it up and throw it. Smart back then, now this is just a fielding exercise.

Fun Fact …

In the early days of baseball, there was considerable stigma attached to the use of a glove. One of the first group of confirmed players to don protective hand gear, first baseman Charlie Waitt, reportedly used a tan (near flesh-colored) glove, so as not to draw attention to the added gear. (Waitt played in the mid-1870s and early 1880s.)

The next step in innovation was to add the thumb and index finger pockets. I know that some baseball players like to stick their index finger out.  I don’t. The main purpose for that is to gain more control of the glove. As you can imagine, the thumb and finger pockets represented a big step forward for baseball gloves – and the art of fielding.

The next version of the baseball glove had a “pocket” in the palm of the glove to actually enable fielders to catch and field ground balls. That advance was a real game changer.

Glove

 

Since these early innovations, gloves have continued to gain in quality and craftsmanship. New, more pliable and durable materials have been introduced; gloves have been shaped and sized for specific positions (catcher, first base, infield, outfield); and manufacturers have even added flashy colors that allow you to match your fielder’s glove to your team colors.

 

 

Fun fact …

spaldingDo you know who the creator of Spalding Sporting Goods (a popular sports supplies company) was? It was Albert Spalding, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Red Sox and White Sox.  Spalding – who led his league (the National Association and National League) in wins for all six of his full major league seasons. Spalding was well respected among players, and that respect was influential in the popularity of the baseball glove. When Spalding started wearing a baseball glove, a lot of others followed. After the popularity of the baseball glove started booming, he co-founded A.G. Spalding, a sporting goods company that is still very prominent today. He ran this company with his brother, Walter, and grew the company, while he grew baseball as well.  For example, in 1874, Red Sox owner Harry Wright charged Spalding with organizing the first foriegn tour by American baseball players – who played both baseball and cricket overseas. Later, as a baseball executive, Spalding is also credited with such innovations as Spring Training, efforts to bring more discipline to the sport and with organizing additinal “world tours” to promote the game. 

Also, did you know that the NBA official basketball is Spalding? Basketball wouldn’t be the same without baseball!

Note: Spalding played seven major league seasons (1871-1877), won 252 games and lost just 65, led his league in wins six times and put up career best numbers of 54-5, with a 1.59 earned run average in 1875.

BASEBALL BATS

Unlike baseball gloves, baseball bats were always in the picture, just not like we now know them.  At first, for example, all baseball bats (for any level of play) were wood. The technology was not developed enough to have metal baseball bats. It was easy just to use a machine to spin a piece of wood into a bat.

Fun Fact …

In the early days of baseball – before there were equipment manufacturers – players used to make their own bats (without restricutions on size, weight, etc.).  That must have made for some interesting sticks. 

Did you know that some baseball bats used to have two knobs on them instead of one? We are all used to the one knob at the end of the bat, so the bat doesn’t fly out of your hands.  When baseball was still in its early stages, some players used a two-knob bat, with the lower hand between the knobs and the upper hand resting on the top knob. Players like Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie (pictured below), who liked to “choke up” on the bat, were also known to use two-knob bats, resting the lower hand on the upper knob.    I wonder just how comfortable that was and what the impact was on bat control and power.

Embed from Getty Images

Another weird thing with baseball bats actually still goes on today. Bone rubbing is a very old technique to fill in the pores of your baseball bat with a hard enough material. This meant that the bats broke less, and were considerably stronger, which was a big advancement. Baseball greats like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig applied this bone treatment to their prized bats for countless hours.

One of the most outrageous baseball bat designs ever was the curved bat shape of the 1890s. Not all of the bats of the era were curved, but the unusually shaped sticks were popular among some players.  The purpose of this design was to enable hitters to put extra spin on the ball.  The thought was that if you could increase spin, the ball would fly farther – and, when the fielder got to the ball, the strong spin would make it harder to keep in the hand or glove.  This was true if the ball was hit perfectly with this bat, which was an extreme task because of the way the bat was shaped.  The degree of ball spin was less coming off regular baseball bats, which is why some players liked this bat. History shows us this bat design did not make it very far and is now primarily an example of experimental equipment design from long ago.

CATCHERS’ MASKS

In the earliest days of the national pastime, about the only piece of protective gear a catcher had was a rubber mouthpiece (similar to what boxers use). Of course, at that time, catchers had more leeway in terms of positioning. Most stood well behind the hitters, grabbing pitches and foul tips on the bounce. As the rules changed, requiring third strikes to be caught on the fly, catchers moved closer to the plate – and more protection was needed.

The catcher’s mask showed up in 1876 – a fencing mask modified by a fellow name Fred Thayer and used by the Harvard baseball squad. It was so popular (and much needed) that, by 1878, Thayer’s patented mask had secured a place in the popular A.G. Spalding Sporting Goods catalog. Over the years, protection for catchers has continued to improve – mitts, chest protectors, shin guards are all part of a modern-day catcher’s prized gear.

 

 

BASE ON BALLS

Not only has baseball equipment changed dramatically, we’ve also seen rules improvement from the early days of our national pastime. In the late 1870s, it took nine balls outside the striking zone to earn a walk. Imagine the effect of that rule on “pace of game.” In 1880, the figure was dropped to eight balls; it slid down to six in 1884; five in 1887; and the current four-ball rule came into play in 1889.

Fun Fact …

Here’s a fun, and kind of weird, fact.  In 1887, baseball experimented with a “four strikes and you’re out” rule.  This (what now seems weird) rule lasted only one season.

PITCHING DISTANCE

The last crazy part of baseball’s beginnings that I’ll share has to do with the distance between the pitcher and the batter. Nowadays, you’re probably used to the pitcher being 60-feet/six-inches away from home plate. However, that distance is lot more generous than the batter-to-pitcher path of baseball’s early days.

When baseball first started, the pitcher actually had no set length to pitch from. You could theoretically pitch from second base or just three-feet away. When baseball first “fixed” the pitching distance, the pitcher would stand 45-feet away from the batter. This seems like a pretty hazardous distance to me. It would be hard for any batter to avoid an errant (or purposeful) inside pitch and equally difficult for a pitcher to field a line drive smashed back at him.

The reaction time of a pitcher is one of the most important things in baseball. If the ball comes off the bat too fast or the pitcher is too close, the rules have to change. This is why  the distance is now 60-feet/six-inches and also why we see bat regulations. One of the bat regulations used now is BBCOR – or “Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution – a measure of how much energy is lost (retained) when the bat makes contact with the baseball.

Well, all of these things had to come before we could witness the almost perfect baseball that we know today. All of these advancements have helped to make baseball more comfortable, safer and more enjoyable for players and fans.

Hope you enjoyed this guest post and, if you have a deeper interest in the equipment that is shaping today’s game, you can check out our equipment reviews at thebaseballreviews.com

Primary Resources: Society for American Baseball Research; Baseball-Reference.com; Baseball-Almanac.com; Smithsonianmag.com; 19cbaseball.com

If you have some specific interests, here are links directly to related reviews.

BATS: Click here.

GLOVES: Click here. 

CLEATS: Click here. 

OTHER GEAR: Click here. 

In addition, the “Guides” link has posts on everything from choosing a bat, to joining an adult league to caring for a baseball glove.

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Member: Society for American Baseball Research; The Baseball Reliquary; The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. 

Old Sports Cards’ Ten Favorite Baseball Cards

To most of us, as soon as we started playing or watching baseball, we also started buying. collecting and trading baseball cards.   I fondly recall waiting for each year’s newly released Bowman or Topps cards to make it to the dime store.  As kids, we searched through the packets for our favorite players, bemoaned how quickly we accumulated multiples of seldom-played utility infielders, negotiated trades with the fervor of Frank Lane and even invented games using the statitistics on the backs. (I also remember getting a sore jaw from chewing so much bubble gum, but can’t deny enjoying the sweet scent that stayed on the cards and the sharp crack when you bit into a partiularly dry piece of gum).

OldSportsCardsWith all of this in mind, Baeball Roundtable is pleased to share a guest post from Ross Uitts – founder of the web/blog site Old Sports Cards  (oldsportscards.com).  Uitts is a lifetime sports card collector who shares information and insight about collecting, buying, grading – and enjoying – cards from across the sports spectrum. Among his recent posts: 1952 Topps Baseball Cards: Key Facts, Values And Checklist;  The 60 Most Valuable Baseball Cards – The All Time Dream list; Eleven Stan Musial Baseball Cards You Need to Own; and The Best Sports Card Auctions.  You can visit Uitts’ site by clicking here – and BBRT will be adding a permanent link to Old Sports Cards to the list on the right hand side of this page. 

So, here is Ross Uitts look at his ten favorite baseball cards.  Enjoy.

 

My Ten Favorite Baseball Cards

by Ross Uitts

For decades, baseball fans young and old have turned to baseball cards as a way to connect more with their favorite teams and players. In my case, growing up as a kid in the late 1980’s, that meant I was chasing cards of Don Mattingly, Cal Ripken Jr. and Ken Griffey Jr. just to name a few. They may not have been the most expensive baseball cards, but that didn’t matter to me.

Prior to the internet, card backs offered one of the best ways to keep up with my favorite players’ statistics and development. And trading them amongst friends naturally became a great way to share our passion for the game.

I collected basketball and football cards, too, but I think I speak for most sports card collectors when I say that baseball cards were always the most desirable in general. Baseball is our country’s national pastime after all. And trading cards were almost everywhere when baseball was at its peak in popularity from the early 1900’s through the 1950’s.

During that time period, tobacco and confectionery companies promoted their products by distributing them with cards of baseball’s greatest icons like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. And while there were dozens of baseball card issues from that era, there were very few football, basketball and hockey cards by comparison. That’s probably one of the biggest reasons baseball cards are more popular: they just had a head start in production, creating a larger fan base along the way. Kind of the same reason Superman is more popular than Iron Man: he just had a head start.

Coming back to the 1980’s, we saw collector demand for those old baseball cards became huge. Kids who collected in the 1920’s to 1950’s were bitten by the nostalgia bug and wanted cards they either lost or threw away back then. The 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle was one of the cards to lead the way. Prices rose and people famously started to even consider them as investments safer than stocks, real estate or bonds. That pushed their fame into the mainstream media and even into the minds of non-collectors. I think that’s why even non-collectors can probably tell you what the Holy Grail of baseball cards is (the 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner), but may not know the Holy Grail of basketball (the 1948 Bowman George Mikan) or football cards (the 1935 National Chicle Bronko Nagurski).

Having said all this, what would be my top ten favorite baseball cards of all time? After giving it some hard thought, I’ve narrowed it down to just ten … but it wasn’t easy. If you asked me again in a week, the list may very well change a bit. But here is my list for now:

1955 Topps Sandy Koufax Rookie Card

RossKougfax

 

The Dodgers have been and always will be my favorite team. And although it’s hard for me to pick a favorite from among the many Dodger legends, Koufax has always narrowly beaten the others out for me. From 1961 to 1966, he turned in one of the most dominant six-year stretches that the game will likely ever see. His legend is forever cemented in baseball history, and as a Dodger pitcher, he holds the top spot for me.

1948 Leaf Jackie Robinson Rookie Card

RossJackieRRobinson comes in at an extremely close second place on my list of Dodger favorites. His impact on the game of baseball and American history as the first to break the MLB color barrier cannot be overstated. His 1948 Leaf rookie card is a key to the set and is instantly recognizable. The set design is fairly basic by hobby standards, but the imagery and eye appeal of Jackie’s card is pretty hard to beat.

 

 

 

 

1909-11 T206 White Border Honus Wagner

RossWagnerIt’s the Holy Grail of baseball cards, so I’d be crazy to leave this off the list. Some say Wagner demanded compensation from the American Tobacco Company for using his image. Others believe he merely didn’t want his image associated with promoting tobacco to kids. Either way, his card was pulled from production, making it far more scarce than many other cards in the iconic set. So much so, that it’s value has steadily climbed into the seven-figure range and anytime one surfaces for sale or auction, it usually ends up in the news. I can’t imagine making a list without this card on it.

 

 

1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311

RossMantleHere’s another card that’s likely on every collector’s top ten favorites list. And for many, it actually sits on top ahead of the T206 Wagner. It’s become highly debated as to whether the 1952 Topps Mantle is actually the face of the hobby. The story of the card and how it became so valuable is amazing. It’s not his rookie card, that would be his 1951 Bowman issue. So that’s not why it’s valuable. It’s valuable because it’s the most iconic card in the most iconic post-War baseball card set. Furthermore, it’s a “high-number” card, meaning it was part of the last run of cards, cards #311 to #407, to be printed during the summer of 1952. Kids were becoming more interested in football cards late that summer, so Topps shortened production of the high-number cards. And on top of all that, Topps famously dumped thousands of high-number cards into the ocean during the 1980’s, resulting in even fewer copies in existence today.

1909-11 T206 Ty Cobb Tobacco (Ty Cobb Back)

RossTyCobbI absolutely love this card and it’s a prime example of how subtle nuances within the hobby can skyrocket the value of a baseball card. The T206 set is special for many reasons, but one of them is, without a doubt, the numerous brand advertisements on the backs – 16 different backs in total. Estimates place the number of front/back combinations around 5,500, which led to this set being nicknamed “The Monster.” With approximately 22 or fewer known to exist, all in low grades, the “Ty Cobb back” is the rarest of them all. Even without the “Ty Cobb back,” it’s still an incredibly popular and valuable card. But having that distinct back puts it way over the top of any other Cobb card out there.

1933 Goudey #53 Babe Ruth

RossBabeRuthAs I mentioned earlier, from the early 1900’s through the 1920’s, many tobacco and confectionery companies distributed their products with baseball cards as a way to boost sales. Baseball was the biggest sport in the country by far and Babe Ruth sat atop as the king of the game. Since he was the game’s most popular player during that era, Ruth appeared on dozens of cards. But it’s actually his 1933 Goudey #53 that was printed later on that’s my personal favorite Ruth card. He appeared on three other cards in the set (#144, #149 and #181), but this is his most iconic. His 1916 M101-5/4 Sporting News rookie card would blow this one out of the water in terms of price. But, in my opinion, the eye appeal of this Ruth card is unmatched by any other.

1910 T210 Old Mill Joe Jackson

RossJoeJacksonJoe Jackson’s 1909-11 American Caramel E90-1 issue is his recognized rookie card and his most valuable overall, but I’ve always found this one to be his most interesting. The set itself is extremely rare and features hundreds of Minor League ball players. On this card, Jackson is shown as a member of the Cleveland Naps’ minor league team, the New Orleans Pelicans. He dominated the minors and the Naps would call him up late in the 1910 season. The rest is history. Few collectors are ever able to see this card in person, making it one of the hobby’s rarest of all.

 

 

1955 Topps #164 Roberto Clemente Rookie Card

RossClementeClemente was an amazing player on the field and an amazing person off the field. Few players are able to exhibit the amount of character that he showed. His rookie card sits atop the Koufax and Killebrew rookies as the keys to the 1955 Topps set. And it’s one of the most iconic cards of the 1950’s in general. It’s a must have for any Clemente fan or any serious vintage collector.

1951 Bowman #305 Willie Mays Rookie Card

RossMaysMays and Mantle both appeared in the 1951 Bowman and 1952 Topps sets. But unlike Mantle, Mays’s 1951 Bowman rookie card is actually more valuable than his 1952 Topps issue. Mays was card #261 in the 1952 Topps set, which put him outside the “high-number” series cards (#311 to #407) and therefore his ’52 Topps card isn’t as scarce. Had his been a high-number card in the ’52 Topps set, there’s no doubt that card would be more expensive than his 1951 Bowman issue. Either way, his ’51 Bowman rookie card is instantly recognizable and, in my opinion, features some of the best imagery of any vintage baseball card. Such a great depiction of one of the game’s greatest — if not the greatest.

1948 Leaf #8 Satchel Paige Rookie Card

RossPaigeFew players are more interesting than Satchel Paige. Not only did he bring an amazing skill set to the game, he did it with showmanship and charisma. His 1948 Leaf #8 rookie was a single print, making it even more rare than others in the set. Add the fact that it can be incredibly difficult to find in higher grades (due to poor print quality and focus) and it becomes arguably the toughest post-War card to collect.

 

 

 

 

So there you have it, my ten favorite baseball cards. It was difficult having to leave cards like the 1954 Topps Hank Aaron, the 1925 Exhibits Lou Gehrig, and the 1939 Play Ball Ted Williams among others off the list. But I had to draw the line somewhere.

If I had to give someone advice on collecting old baseball cards, I think it would be in the same spirit as this list: decide on the cards you like and stick with them.

The number-one thing to remember is that you should always collect what you love. Take my list for example. There are cards out there worth more money than some of those I mention above.  But what most hobby veterans will tell you is that card values will always fluctuate. So if the value of your cards happens to decrease, would you rather hold cards you love or hate?

Don’t chase money. Stick to Hall of Famers or your favorite team players and you’ll enjoy the hobby as it was meant to be.

Baseball Roundtable thanks Ross Uitts and Old Sports Cards for this guest post. Whether you collect baseball cards or are just a fan who remembers them fondly, I suggest you visit oldsportscards.com. Lots of interesting information there. For example, in the “Eleven Stan Musial Baseball Cards You Need to Own” post, I learned that there are fewer Musial cards than those of some other stars of his era because, between 1954 and 1957, Stan the Man just “didn’t want to sign (a contract) for cards.”  

There also are post on topics like the Best Baseball Blogs for Every Team in the Big Leagues and the Best Cities for Baseball Collectors and Enthusiasts.  You’ll also find “Buyers Guides” for the cards of players ranging from Babe Ruth to Satchel Paige  to Tony Gwynn – in which Uitts comments on what makes the cards so special AND what makes the players so special.  I’m sure you’ll find some of your favorites.  (And, of course, there is info on trading cards from other sports – basektball, football, hockey – if you are so inclined.  

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Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum; Baseball Bloggers Alliance. 

Why I Love Baseball – John Murphy on Line Drives and Life Lessons

Baseball Roundtable is proud to present a guest post – for the BBRT Why I Love Baseball page – from John Michael Murphy – for whom baseball has been a combination of line drives and life lessons.

JohnMurphyLine Drives

Murphy was selected by the New York Yankees in the sixth round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of Sacred Heart University (SHU) – the highest MLB draft pick in the history of the SHU baseball program.  His collegiate honors include all conference, all region, and All American awards. Murphy led the SHU Pioneers to four Northeast Conference (NEC) championship games, culminating in NEC titles in 2011 and 2012.  As senior team captain, Murphy led SHU in batting average (.367) slugging (.565), on base percentage (.442), doubles (13), home runs (4), walks (26), and stolen bases (29). Murphy also stroked plenty of line drives in the renowned Cape Cod League, where he batted .308 with four homers, 16 RBIs and six stolen bases in 104 at-bats – making the All-Star Game before a hamstring injury cut his season short.

Life Lessons

Murphy took what he learned on the baseball field to heart, and you can read about the life lessons he garnered from the national pastime in his guest post.

Murph’s Laws of Baseball (Murphslaws.com)

Murphy has now launched a website – Murph’s Laws of Baseball – dedicated to sharing what he’s learned about baseball’s line drives and life lessons.  Here’s how he describes it:

With a pro career coming to an end, I look forward to passing on the information I’ve gained over the years that have allowed me to be successful on my journey of baseball and life. Through drills, articles, and swing analyses from a professional level, I am excited to further baseball fanatics’ knowledge of the game.

Want to learn more?  Click here to visit Murphy’s site.  Want a look at how Murphy analyzes the hitting stroke?  Click here for his guest post on the Be A Better Hitter website.  Now, for a look at baseball’s life lessons, read on.

 

Why I Love Baseball – Line Drives and Life Lessons

By John Michael Murphy

 

Throughout my years of playing baseball at the Little League through professional levels, I learned many different life lessons.  Baseball has taught me about character, responsibility, work ethic, and the value of maintaining dedication to a goal. If I hadn’t played the sport I love for the last 20 years of my life, I don’t know where my life would be today.

A commitment to going about my business the right way – both on and off the field – is something I will always have with me as a result of playing this game. Being respectful to everyone on field, in the dugout, or in the crowd not only reflected my respect for the game, but also helped me form positive habits and attitudes related to how I treat those outside the game. Having respect for the world and people around us is something that is lost in today’s society. We tend to be selfish and care about things that are only beneficial to ourselves. The way we think and behave determines our character. By playing the game of baseball, I learned to behave in a respectful manner – ensuring I would not embarrass myself, my team and coaches and, most important, my family.

Baseball, particularly at the collegiate level, also taught me a lot about time management, setting priorities and following through.  Managing responsibilities and priorities in collegiate athletics is a challenging task.  Having class all morning, going to team workouts, going to practice, back to class, then finishing work and studying will force you to develop good habits. The time management skills I  developed  – going from freshman year where I struggled with the process, to senior year, where I didn’t have to think twice about where I would be at any hour of the day –  have served me well.  Being able to balance tasks and set priorities makes my everyday life easier and I have baseball to thank for that.

Baseball also taught me a lot about setting, and keeping your eyes on, important goals.  Having and sustaining the motivation necessary to reach a goal is what creates successful individuals. Baseball motivated me more than I could ever imagine. Once I was able to realize my ability, my goal setting never stopped. In high school, my goals went from making varsity to playing Division 1 baseball. Once those goals were achieved, my targets were elevated, progressing into wanting to start as a freshman in college to playing professional baseball. By setting those goals and letting nothing come between me and the process of achieving them, I allowed myself to realize that success, in any task, is achievable if your work ethic, mindset, and actions are all goal-based.

Along the ride, I have made some of the most amazing relationships. I have met and made best friends who will always be a part of my life, no matter where we end up. Meeting those coaches and players, learning how to manage my days, how to work towards goals, and how to handle myself in a professional manner are all part of who I am today – and why I love baseball.

A Reader Chimes In – Guest Post From A Fan of the National Pastime

Why I Love Baseball

We Have Passed the Baseball EquinoxBaseball engenders a child-like attachment through all stages of one’s existence. Most of us have loved baseball for as long as we have had any memories at all, and it will remain accessible to all five of our senses until our final breath. How many things can we say that about?  Not even a sunset or a beautiful wine can reveal as many new characteristics each and every day.

                                                                                                                                                                                       Tom Cuggino

 

Baseball Roundtable loves to hear from readers, especially when it’s clear their passion for the national pastime reflects BBRT’s tag line of Baseball is like life – only better.

Tom Cuggino, who provided the quote above for BBRT’s “Why I Love Baseball” page, is one of those individuals. In this post, BBRT would like to share Tom’s comments on his love for the game – and some of his favorite ballpark memories.  But first, a little background on this Tom .  Tom is in his mid-forties, a life-long baseball fan, a family man and a Financial Controller for Cisco Systems. He’s been to games at twenty of the current MLB ballparks, as well as a several of the now “lost” ballparks, including Old Comiskey, Shea Stadium, Candlestick Park, County Stadium and Jack Murphy Stadium.  Here, slightly edited (and with a BBRT comment here and there) are the comments from this welcome guest poster.

 

Baseball memories from Tom Cuggino

I’m originally from the NYC area (Yonkers/Westchester County) and my family, like many in that part of the region, saw several generations residing in the Bronx after arriving from Italy around the turn of the 20th Century.  So, my first love is the Yankees.

My family moved to Chicago when I was in grade school, and I adopted the Cubs as my National League team.  That leaves me with a most unique and blessed perspective as a fan, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

BBRT note: A perspective shaped by the Yankees, with their 40 World Series appearances and 27 World Championships on one hand – and the Cubs with just ten World Series appearances (none since 1945) and two World Championships (none since 1908) on the other.  That seems to cover all the ground between delight and disappointment.

The only book I ever read until about junior high was the Baseball Encyclopedia. I spent countless days of backyard Wiffle (R) Ball with my friends, leveraging full MLB lineups (all results were null and void without a legitimate attempt at the players’ batting stances).  I also fondly recall simulated baseball dice games that we invented – in which each roll produced a different pitch outcome – occupying us for hours on rainy days.

Some of my favorite stadium memories include:

  • Tom Seaver - who went into the Hall of Fame wearing a Mets' cap - won his 300th game with the White Sox.

    Tom Seaver – who went into the Hall of Fame wearing a Mets’ cap – won his 300th game with the White Sox.

    Tom Seaver’s 300th win at Yankee Stadium. Seaver was pitching for the visiting White Sox, and it came on Phil Rizzuto Day (8/4/85). Phil was presented with a “Holy Cow” during the pre-game ceremony, and promptly tripped over it and fell down.  I’ll also never forget how many Mets fans were on hand to cheer on Tom Terrific.  My grandfather and I sat in the upper deck by the left field foul pole and Don Baylor flied out to Ron Kittle right in front of us for the final out. Seaver pitched a complete game as a 40-year old that day.

BBRT note: The 40-year-old Seaver tossed a complete game that day, holding a tough Yankee lineup (Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey St., Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield, Willie Randolph) to one run on six-hits (all singles) and one walk – while fanning seven. For trivia buffs, Seaver was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992 – being named on 98.8 percent of the ballots, the highest percentage in HOF balloting history.

 

  • Fred Lynn’s grand slam at the 50th All-Star game at the old Comiskey Park (7/6/83). It came in the third inning off a lefty, Atlee Hammaker, and remains the only grand slam in All-Star game history.

BBRT note: The AL pummeled the NL 13-3 in that contest, the league’s first ASG victory since 1971. Lynn started in CF and went one-for-three in the contest. Lynn’s third –inning grand slam (with Manny Trillo, Rod Carew and Robin Yount on base) earned him ASG MVP honors. Trivia note: Lynn is one of only two (and the first) players to win the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Awards in the same season (Lynn with the Red Sox in 1975, Ichiro Suzuki with the Mariners in 2001).

 

  • GoodenThe Cubs’ throttling of Dwight Gooden in their 1984 home opener, 11-2 (4/13/84). It was Gooden’s second major league start (his MLB debut had come a few days earlier in Houston), and he wore #61 (later reversed to his familiar #16). Both teams had been awful for many years, so no one could imagine the exciting summer they would both bring us that year as they rose from the ashes. While the Cubs fended off a repeat of their ’69 divisional collapse at the hands of the Mets, they famously blew the NLCS to the Padres after gaining a commanding 2-0 series lead.

BBRT note: Gooden finished the year at 17-9, 2.60 with a NL-leading 276 strikeouts (still the modern-era rookie record); winning the Rookie of the Year Award.  In that April 13th game, Gooden lasted just 3 1/3 innings, giving up six runs on seven hits and three walks. By the way, Tom’s prose led BBRT to look deeper into rookie records – to find that the all-time rookie strikeout record belongs to Matt Kilroy (513 for the 1996 Baltimore Orioles). Kilroy will be the subject for BBRT’s next post.  Thanks, Tom, for spurring that research.

 

  • Game Four of the 1980 World Series in Kansas City. Willie Mays Aikens hit two towering home runs in a losing effort.

BBRT note:  Aikens had a strong series, hitting .400, with four home runs and a triple (among eight this), eight RBI and five runs scored as the Royals lost to the Phillies in six games.

 

  •  Game Two of the 1989 World Series in Oakland. The game immediately preceded the famous Loma Prieta earthquake that delayed Game Three, and oddly (given the natural disaster) featured both of the local Bay Area (Oakland and San Francisco) teams.

BBRT note:  The 1989 World Series may hold the record for nicknames: The Bay Bridge Series; The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Series’ and the Earthquake Series. The A’s won the Series four games to none, outscoring the Giants 32-14.  Pitcher Dave Stewart, who won two games – giving up just three earned runs in 16 innings of work – was the MVP.  Ricky Henderson had nine hits (five singles, one double, two triples and one home run) and three stolen bases in the four games.

 

  • MunsonOn a sadder note, two of my earliest baseball memories were a pair of Yankee games that I attended … sandwiched within two weeks of Thurman Munson’s tragic death in 1979. Thurman was a first favorite player of mine, and was much of the reason I became a catcher for most of my baseball playing life. The first of the two games was actually his final game (8/1/79), against the White Sox in Chicago. Oddly, he played 1B that game. The second (8/13/79) was against the Rangers at Yankee Stadium, and I’ll never forget how surreal it felt to see Brad Gulden behind the plate that night.  It was of little consolation that the Yanks won both contests.

BBRT note:  In that final game, Munson came to the plate twice – he was replaced at first base by Jim Spencer in the third inning with the Yankees up 3-0 – and did not put the ball in play (walk in the first, strikeout in the third).  The following day (August 2, 1979), Munson was killed in a plane crash while practicing take offs and landings in his private jet.  Munson, just 32-years-old when he died, played eleven MLB seasons, was a seven-time All Star, AL Rookie of the Year (1970), AL MVP (1967) and a three-time Gold Glove winner (1973-74-75). A .292 career hitter, he averaged .357 in 30 post season games.  A trivia note – Munson is the only player to win both the Rookie of the Year Award and an MVP Award in a Yankee uniform. The following

BBRT says thanks to Tom – and looks forward to seeing his prose on this page again in the future.

For look at BBRT’s take on “Why I love baseball” – click here. 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

 

 

Baseball Hall of Fame “95 Percent” Club

Randy Johnson - Big Unit scored on 97 percent of HOF ballots.

Randy Johnson – Big Unit scored on 97 percent of HOF ballots.

The Baseball Writers Association of America’s (BBWAA) Hall of Fame Ballots are in – and so are Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio.  Johnson, named on 97.27 percent of the ballots, joined some elite company.  His percentage was the eighth-highest ever in the official BBWAA balloting – and he became one of only 14 players to receive at least 95 percent support since the first election back in 1936. No playernot even the likes of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron or Christy Mathewson – has ever received unanimous support. (Cy Young, with his record 511 mound wins, was elected in 1937 with 76.12 percent of the vote.) The all-high in balloting is 98.84 percent, achieved by Tom Seaver. (We’ll take a quick look at “resumes” of the fourteen members of the 95 percent club later in this post.)

Over the years, 118 players have been elected to the HOF through the regular balloting; with just 11.86 percent of those reaching the 95 percent support threshold.  Ten of those fourteen have come since 1989, three (Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner) were in the first-ever HOF class, and just one honoree achieved 95 percent support between 1936 and 1989 (Hank Aaron, 1982).

Here’s a breakdown of  “95-percenters” in ten-year increments:

1936-45           3

1946-55           0

1956-65           0

1966-75           0

1976-85           1

1986-95           3

1996-2005       3

2006-15           4

 

Now, a look at the Hall of Fame’s all-time top vote getters.

 1. Tom Seaver (RHP) – 98.84% – 1992       Nickname – Tom Terrific

Tom Seaver won 311 games (205 losses) in a 20-year MLB career (1967-86). He won 20 or more games in five seasons; leading his league in victories three times, ERA three times and strikeouts five times. Seaver finished his career with a 2.86 ERA and 3,640 strikeouts. He was the National League Rookie of the Year with the Mets in 1967, a 12-time All Star, and won the Cy Young Award three times (1969, 1973, 1975).  He threw one no-hitter.  Seaver pitched for the Mets (1967-77, 1983); Reds (1977-82); White Sox (1984-86); and Red Sox (1986).

Tom Seaver fact: On April 22, 1970, in beating the Padres 2-1 at Shea Stadium, Seaver set the MLB record for consecutive strikeouts in a game – fanning the last ten hitters of the contest (five looking/five swinging). In the complete game win, Seaver allowed one run on two hits, walked two and fanned 19.

2. Nolan Ryan (RHP) – 98.79% – 1999         Nickname – The Ryan Express

Nolan Ryan won 324 games in 27 MLB seasons (292 losses, a 3.19 ERA) and holds the All Time MLB strikeout record (5,714). Ryan was an eight-time All Star and a two-time twenty-game winner.  He led his league in strikeouts eleven times (topping 300 whiffs in a season six times) and recorded a league-low ERA twice. He also threw an MLB-record seven no-hitters. Ryan pitched for the Mets (1966, 1968-71); Angels (1972-79); Astros (1980-88); and Rangers (1989-93).

Nolan Ryan fact: Despite his Hall of Fame career, Nolan Ryan never won a Cy Young Award.

3. Cal Ripken Jr. (SS/3B) – 98.53% – 2007            Nickname – Iron Man

Cal Ripken will likely be most remembered for his all-time MLB record of 2,632 consecutive games played.  He will also be remembered for playing them well.  In a 21-season MLB career, Ripken was an All Star 19 times. He was also the AL Rookie of the Year in 1982 and twice was the league’s Most Valuable Player (1983, 1991). He collected 3,184 hits (.276 lifetime average), 431 home runs, 1,695 RBI and 1,647 runs scored. He won eight Silver Slugger Awards (as the best offensive player at his position) and two Gold Gloves (as the best defensive player at his position). Ripken played his entire career (1981-2001) with the Orioles.

Cal Ripken fact:  In 1991, Cal Ripken Jr. won the All Star Game Home Run Derby (and was the AS Game MVP).

4. Ty Cobb (OF) – 98.23% – 1936                     Nickname – The Georgia Peach

A member of the HOF’s inaugural class, Ty Cobb holds MLB’s highest career batting average (among qualified players) at .366, is second all-time in hits (4,189) and runs scored (2,246). Cobb won an MLB-record 12 batting titles (including nine in a row from 1907 to 1915). He hit over .400 three times (1911, 1912, 1922). In addition to his batting titles, Cobb led the league in hits eight times, runs five times, doubles three times, triples four times, home runs once, RBI four times and stolen bases six times.  Cobb played for the Tigers (1905-26) and the Athletics (1927-28).

Ty Cobb fact: Ty Cobb stole home an MLB-record 54 times.

5.  George Brett (3B) – 98.18% – 1999                   Nickname – Mullet

A .305 lifetime hitter (21 seasons), George Brett collected 3,105 hits and three batting crowns – including a high of .390 in 1980.  Brett was a thirteen-time All Star and the 1980 AL Most Valuable Player.  In addition to his three batting titles, Brett led the league in hits three times, doubles twice, triples three times.  He finished with 317 home runs, 1,596 RBI and 1,583 runs scored.  Brett played his entire MLB career (1973-93) for the Royals.

George Brett fact:  George Brett is the only MLBer to win a batting title in three different decades (1976, 1980, 1990).

6. Hank Aaron (OF) – 97.83% – 1982        Nickname(s) – The Hammer, Hamerin’ Hank

Hank Aaron stands number-two on the all-time home run list with 755 round trippers, and number-one in RBI (2,297), extra base hits (1,477) and total bases (6,856).  He was an All Star in 21 of his 23 seasons and the 1957 NL Most Valuable Player.  Aaron led his league in batting average twice, home runs four times, RBI four times, doubles four times, hits twice, runs scored three times and total bases eight times.  He also earned three Gold Glove Awards.  Aaron is one of only two players with 500 home runs (755), 3,000 hits (3,771) and a .300 batting average (.305). (The other is Willie Mays.) Aaron played for the Braves (1954-74) and Brewers (1975-76).

Hank Aaron fact:  Hank Aaron and fellow Brave and HOFer Eddie Mathews hit more home runs while teammates (863) than any other duo – edging out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (859).

7. Tony Gwynn (OF) – 97.61% – 2007                  Nickname(s) – Mr. Padre, Captain Video

Tony Gwynn was fifteen-time All Star in his 20-season career.  A lifetime .338 hitter, Gwynn was an eight-time batting champion, as well as a five-time Gold Glover. He led the NL in hits seven times (topping 200 in five seasons) and runs once.  He hit 135 home runs, scored 1,383 runs and drove in 1,138. He collected 3,141 hits – all for the Padres (1982-2001).

Tony Gwynn fact:  Tony Gwynn put the bat on the ball, striking out only 434 times in 20 seasons (10,232 plate appearances). In his career, he only struck out more than once in a game 34 times.

8.  Randy Johnson (LHP) – 97.26% – 2015                     Nickname – The Big Unit

The 6’ 10”  Randy Johnson won 303 games (166 losses), with a 3.29 ERA, over 22 seasons.  He finished his career second all-time in strikeouts (4,875) and led his league in whiffs nine times (topping 300 in a season six times). He was a 20-game winner twice, leading the NL with 24 wins in 2002. Johnson won the Cy Young Award five times, including four consecutive seasons (1999-2002). He also led his league in winning percentage four times, ERA four times, complete games five times and shutouts twice.   The ten-time All Star threw two no-hitters (one a perfect game).  Johnson pitched for the Expos (1988-99); Mariners (1989-98); Astros (1998); Diamondbacks (1999-2004, 2007-08); Yankees (2005-06); and Giants (2009).

Randy Johnson fact:   Randy Johnson is one of only three pitchers to win the Cy Young Award in both the American and National League (Pedro Martinez and Gaylord Perry are the others).

9.  Greg Maddux (RHP) – 97.20% – 2014           Nickname(s) – Mad Dog, The Professor

Greg Maddux won 355 games (227) losses, with a 3.16 ERA over 23 MLB seasons.  He was an eight-time All Star and won four consecutive Cy Young Awards (1992-95). He also won more Gold Glove Awards than any other player in MLB history (18). He led his league in wins three times, winning percentage twice, ERA four times, games started seven times, complete games three times and shutouts five times. Maddux pitched for the Cubs (1986-92, 2004-2006); Braves (1993-2003); Dodgers 2006, 2008); and Padres (2008).

Greg Maddux fact:   While Maddux finished with 3,371 regular season strikeouts, he only reached 200 whiffs in a season once.

10.  Mike Schmidt (3B) – 96.52% – 1995              Nickname – Schmitty

Mike Schmidt pounded out 548 home runs in 18 big league seasons – and also earned ten Gold Gloves at third base. The twelve-time All Star was the NL Most Valuable Player three times (1980, 1981, 1986).  He led the NL in home runs eight times and RBI four times. A career .267 hitter, Schmidt finished with 548 home runs, 1,595 RBI and 1,506 runs scored. Schmidt played his entire MLB career (1972-89) for the Phillies.

Mike Schmidt fact:   On April 17, 1976, Schmidt tied an MLB record by hitting four home runs in a single game – driving in eight runs as the Phillies topped the Cubs 18-16 in ten innings at Wrigley Field.

11.  Johnny Bench (C) – 96.42% – 1989               Nickname – Little General

In his 17-season MLB career, Johnny Bench was an All Star 14 times, was twice the NL MVP (1970, 1972) and was the World Series MVP in 1976.  He was also the NL rookie of the Year in 1968, when (as a 20-year old), he hit .275, with 15 home runs and 82 RBI – while also earning a Gold Glove at catcher.  Bench went on to hit 389 home runs (leading the NL twice) and earn a total of ten Gold Gloves.  He finished his career with a .267 average, 1,091 runs scored and 1,376 RBI (leading the league in that category three times). Bench played his entire career (1967-83) with the Reds.

Johnny Bench fact:  Johnny Bench was the first catcher to win a Rookie of the Year Award and the first rookie catcher to win a Gold Glove.

12.  Steve Carlton (LHP) – 95.82% – 1994                         Nickname – Lefty

Steve Carlton won 329 games (244 losses), with a 3.22 ERA over a 24-year MLB career.  He was a ten-time All Star and won a total of four Cy Young Awards (1972, 1977, 1980, 1982). Carlton led the NL in wins four times, winning percentage once, ERA once, complete games three times and strikeouts five times (a high of 310 in 1972). He is one of only four pitchers to surpass 4,000 strike outs (4,136). Carlton pitched for the Cardinals (1965-71); Phillies (1972-86); Giants (1986); White Sox (1986); Indians (1987); and Twins (1987-88).

Steve Carlton fact:  In 1972, Steve Carlton won an MLB-record 46 percent of his team’s games – going 27-10, 1.97 for a last-place Phillies’ team that finished at 59-97.  That season, Carlton led the NL in wins, ERA, games started (41), complete games (30), innings pitched (346 1/3), and strikeouts (310).

13.  Babe Ruth (OF/P) – 95.13% – 1936                 Nickname(s) – Babe, The Bambino, The sultan of Swat

Babe Ruth made his mark first as a pitcher and then as the game’s first true power hitter.  As a pitcher, Ruth went 94-46, with a 2.28 ERA in 163 games (147 starts) – including two twenty-plus victory seasons (23-12 in 1916 and 24-13 in 1917 for the Red Sox).  In 1916, he led the AL in ERA (1.75), games started (40) and shutouts (9) – with 23 complete games and 323 2/3 innings pitched.  He threw 300+ innings again the following season (326 1/3) and led the league in complete games (35).  He also ran up a 3-0 post season (World Series) record, giving up just three runs in 31 post-seasons innings (1.06 ERA.)

At the plate, converting to the outfield full-time, Ruth proved even more powerful than he was on the mound.  In a twenty-two season MLB career, Ruth hit .342, with 714 home runs, 2,214 RBI and 2,174 runs scored. Ruth led the AL in home runs twelve times, runs scored eight times, RBI six times and batting average once.  In 41 World Series games, he hit .326, with 15 home runs and 33 RBI.   Ruth played for the Red Sox (1914-19); Yankees (1920-34); and Braves (1935).

Babe Ruth fact:  Among pitchers with at least twenty decisions against the Yankees, Babe Ruth has the top winning percentage at .773 (17-5) – all while with the Red Sox.

14.  Honus Wagner (SS) – 95.13% – 1936                 Nickname – The Flying Dutchman

In his 21-season MLB career, Honus Wagner captured eight batting titles (tied for the most in the NL with Tony Gwynn).  He also led the NL in RBI five times, runs scored twice, hits twice, stolen bases five times, doubles seven times, triples three times and total bases six times. Overall, Wagner collected 3,320 hits (a .328 career average), 101 home runs, 1,733 RBI, 1,739 runs scored, 643 doubles, 252 triples and 722 (or 723 depending on the source) stolen bases. Wagner played for the Louisville Colonels (1897-99) and Pirates (1900-17).

Honus Wagner fact:  While primarily a shortstop, Honus Wagner – a gifted and versatile athlete – played every position except catcher during his career.

So, there’s a look at the Hall of Fames “95-percenters.”   Now, if you are into the rounding of percentages, there are three more players who would have made the cut – all outfielders and all elected in a year ending in “nine”:  Ricky Henderson (94.81 percent, 2009); Willie Mays (94.68%, 1979); and Carl Yastrzemski (94.67 percent 1989).

 

A side note: BBRT’s HOF predictions (made by in early December – see the BBRT Hall of Fame Post here.) were pretty close.  BBRT predicted Johnson, Martinez, Biggio and Smoltz would be elected by the writers – and that they would finish 1-2-3-4 as listed.  The quartet was elected, but they finished 1-2-4-3. BBRT also projected Mike Piazza would gain some traction, but finish fifth in the voting and fall short of election (with 66-68 percent of the votes.) Piazza finished fifth at 69.9 percent.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Why I Love Baseball … Guest Post from sportswriter/author Larry LaRue

BBRT presents a guest post from journalist/author Larry LaRue.

BBRT is pleased to bring you a guest post from veteran journalist/sportswriter Larry LaRue, author of the entertaining book Major League Encounters,  a compilation of 100 vignettes over 255 pages that gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at what drives the men – and boys – who earn the rare opportunity to play our national past time  at its highest level.  (See BBRT’s review, posted August 30, for more detail.   Major League Encounters is available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.  BBRT thanks LaRue for his contribution – especially the very appropriate tale (since this is a post for BBRT’s Why I Love Baseball section) on how he witnessed the no-hitter on which the Kevin Costner’s film “For the Love of the Game” is based.

 

Why I Love Baseball

By Larry LaRue

For BaseBallRoundTable.com

I’ve loved the game my entire life and 33 years ago was given the opportunity to cover it professionally. What I learned from and about the men who play, manage and coach the game only deepened my affection for baseball.  All of us who played the game learned somewhere along the line how difficult it was to be as good as the best on our teams. It was no different in the majors.

In the spring of 1988, Ken Griffey Jr. was in camp with the Seattle Mariners and his natural ability was astonishing.  He was having a great spring until he faced Oakland’s Dave Stewart, and Stewart made him look foolish at the plate.  After a second strike out, Griffey went to hitting coach Gene Clines.

“What is that pitch?” he asked.
“That’s a split-fingered fastball,” Clines said.
“Why does he keep throwing it in the dirt?”
“Because you keep swinging at it.”

Griffey considered that, took it to heart. He committed the pitch to memory, swore he would make Stewart throw it for a strike. When the regular season opened, rookie Griffey faced veteran Stewart in the Kingdome for the Mariners home opener.  Stewart got ahead in the count, threw Junior a splittie.  Griffey hit it off the left field fence for a double.

For many of the 33 years I covered the game, I was in the press box of one ball park or another most nights all season. It was impossible not to see the physical toll a 162-game season took on the men who played it.  By the All-Star break, every pitcher was at less than 100 per cent.  So were most hitters. There are strains, aches and minor injuries that are largely ignored day after day after day.

The game isn’t played by supermen. Those who succeed, however, do so because – like all of us growing up playing once or twice a week – they love to be on a diamond.

Being around players meant appreciating their devotion to a game, and understanding it was for the most selfish of reasons. They could not imagine enjoying any thing in life more than playing baseball well.

Cal Ripken Jr. considered his consecutive games streak little more than a man showing up for work every day. He did it because he loved the game, yes, but he also did it because he felt an obligation to teammates and the franchise.  He’d signed on to play baseball. Unless there was someone on the team better than he was at what he did, the team was at its best when he played.

The more I learned about the game – and I often learned it from old-school managers like Gene Mauch and Dick Williams, who didn’t mind pointing out what I didn’t know – the better it got.

Seeing a pitcher set up a hitter in the first inning for what he might need to do late in the game, knowing what hitters looked for in certain counts … the complexity of the game was fascinating.

More than anything, though, knowing the men who played the game made watching it all the more gripping.

On May 14, 1996, I watched Dwight Gooden throw a no-hitter for a New York Yankees team he’d barely made. Starting because someone else couldn’t, he was a shell of the pitcher he’d been when he burst upon the game.

That night, however, Gooden pitched on heart and grit and the desire players never lose no matter what their ability. By the seventh inning, he had nothing left but a curveball. By the eighth inning, he’d thrown 110 pitches. In the ninth, he passed 120 pitches, then 130.  On the 135th pitch of the game, Gooden completed a no-hitter. Kevin Costner’s film, ‘For Love of the Game,’ was based on Gooden’s performance.

For Gooden that night, the game was about redemption.

Baseball has never been only about athletic ability. The drama each season provides goes beyond wins and losses and gives those who follow it comedy and melodrama, delight and torment.

The best players fail, not just at the plate or in the field, but occasionally in life. Unknowns fill in and become stars.  Bodies break down, teams that are great in May flounder in July.  The game is never scripted and as a writer, I couldn’t have created more moving stories.

I watched Nolan Ryan throw his last big-league pitch, a ball with nothing on it, and walk off the mound and the field for the final time as a pitcher.  He’d thrown a million fastballs by then, set records and left his mark, but Ryan knew his right arm. What hurt that night was, he knew, the end.

“I’ve thrown my last pitch,” he said afterward, without tears.

I consider myself fortunate to have known men like Ryan, Reggie Jackson, Bret Boone, Griffey, Fred Lynn, Ripken, Bruce Kison, Jay Buhner … and countless others who gave me their time, shared their stories.

Professionally, I’ve now covered my last baseball game.  I’ve been shifted back to news, where my career began, as a columnist.

Yes, I love the game of baseball, and the young players like Mike Trout, Kyle Seager, Chris Sales. I will miss covering the sport and the men who keep it alive.  Players like Ryan and Ripken, however, showed how to walk away with dignity that reflected well on them and their game.  No tears here.

I still love the game.