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Kei Igawa: The Lost Yankee

tomhamilton : July 24, 2011 05:53 PM

From The New York Times

By BILL PENNINGTON
Published: July 23, 2011

TRENTON — In the middle of a bright Manhattan summer afternoon, the Yankees’ $46 million pitcher steps from his fashionable East Side apartment building and slips into a waiting Lexus for a chauffeured ride to the ballpark.

But the car does not turn north for the five-mile drive to Yankee Stadium. The destination is instead Trenton or Scranton, Pa., where for the last five years Kei Igawa has pitched for two Yankees minor league teams. Day after day, start after start, complete with the return trip to Manhattan.

Plucked from a Japanese baseball all-star team roster in 2007 and introduced at a lavish news conference, Igawa was expected to be a staple in the Yankees’ starting rotation. He lasted 16 games, most of them regrettable outings that were sometimes spectacularly inept. Booed off the field, he was called one of the worst free-agent signings in Yankees history.

After his last, losing appearance for the Yankees in early 2008, he was banished to the farm system and he has not come back.

Except for his nightly returns to Manhattan. But Igawa’s unusual commute is only part of a long, strange journey.

The five-year saga is a story of a giant mistake of a contract and an overmatched pitcher, a huge organization digging in and a quiet, somewhat mysterious Japanese pitcher with a sense of honor and a durable love of the game. The Yankees made it pretty clear Igawa would never pitch again in the Bronx, but they were determined that he pitch somewhere for his $4-million-a-year salary. They tried to return him to Japan, too. Igawa refused to go, standing fast to his childhood dream of pitching in the American big leagues.

And so, the stalemate — remarkable, if almost entirely un-remarked upon — continues.

The Yankees let him gobble up innings before small crowds in distant outposts as a cavalcade of younger prospects push past him on their way to Yankee Stadium. Igawa never complains, and in a tribute to either willpower or lower level longevity, he has set farm system pitching records. And with just a few months left on his contract, he still dreams of the major leagues, if no longer as a Yankee.

About two weeks ago, on a rare day off, Igawa celebrated his 32nd birthday alone at his Manhattan apartment. He did not consider attending a Yankees game in the Bronx, nor did he tune them in on his television.

“I don’t watch their games anymore,” Igawa said. “I never follow them.”

“I feel a burden of anxiety at the opening of my first season in the Majors but it is overwhelmed by the excitement of being a home player standing on the field at Yankee Stadium. I will strive to do my best at all times.” — a post from Kei Igawa’s baseball blog, April 1, 2007

“The manager told me to report to the minors. ... Wherever I am, this is the choice I made, so I have to move forward. As long as there’s a place to pitch, I’ll do my best and want to contribute to the team.” — Aug. 9, 2007

Igawa had a 2-3 record and a 6.79 earned run average when the Yankees sent him to Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in August 2007. Three pitching instructors had already executed a kind of pitching intervention. Igawa had been told to give up his old motion and learn a new delivery, which included changes in the coil of his left arm, the swing of his right leg and even where he stood on the pitching rubber.

“That didn’t work out too well,” Igawa said last week, recalling the spring of 2007 as he sat in the small, crowded locker room of the Yankees’ Class AA Trenton Thunder affiliate. This season, Igawa has been shuttled between Trenton and Scranton, frequently making just one start at Class AAA before being demoted again to Class AA.

“In 2007, I did what the coaches told me in Tampa, but I was not effective,” he said. “They let me go back to my old delivery, and I produced for the team.”

Indeed, he produced a 5-4 record with a 3.69 E.R.A., but that team was still the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

“Yes, Scranton,” Igawa said with a laugh, something he does easily and often. “About 2 hours and 10 minutes from Manhattan.”

Because his English is limited, Igawa travels everywhere with an interpreter, Subaru Takeshita (pronounced tah-kah-SHE-tah). Igawa will engage in brief conversations in halting English, especially when joking with teammates, but relies on Takeshita, who is paid by the Yankees, for most communication. Takeshita helps Igawa answer reporters’ questions, picks him up for the daily commute, accompanies him on road trips and goes onto the field during games should the manager or pitching coach visit Igawa on the mound.

“I have learned some English and Spanish,” Igawa said through Takeshita. “I can use it to get around my neighborhood. I know restaurant menus. But a Broadway show or a movie? I can’t do that because I don’t understand what they are saying.”

He has made some friends in New York, but not many, he said. In the five years he has maintained an online diary, he has rarely mentioned another person. The only photo on his personal blog is a picture of himself, jogging alone.

In the locker room, even on a team where the players are 8 to 10 years younger, Igawa is welcomed into the frequent poker games, popular for having an iPad that teammates can borrow and appreciated for his sense of humor.

“For someone who doesn’t speak much,” Trenton catcher Austin Romine said, “he has a lot of funny one-liners.”

Currently on the disabled list with tightness in his elbow, Igawa usually sits in his corner locker by the door and reads. Several players said Igawa’s curious predicament — a celebrated Yankees free-agent acquisition and a three-time Japanese league all-star now playing in places like Bowie, Md., and Altoona, Pa. — rarely comes up. Although on payday last week, his fellow pitcher Pat Venditte did switch the envelope left in his locker with the one left for Igawa.

Igawa returned Venditte’s check and said, “No, thanks.”

An average salary at Class AA is about $2,500 a month; Igawa makes roughly 130 times more.

“Everybody respects what he’s done and he never has an attitude that he’s too big for this,” Romine said. “Whether they send him up or down, whether they put him in the bullpen or the starting rotation, his disposition is always the same. But come on, we know how he feels.”

During Trenton games, there is often no room for Igawa to sit in the dugout. He will trundle out to the makeshift bullpen in foul territory along the right-field line. He sometimes sits under an umbrella beside a children’s playground. He rarely reacts to the action on the field.

“He doesn’t want to be here,” Romine said. “He’s doing what he’s told. It’s hard when someone owns you.”

Igawa is occasionally recognized as a professional baseball player on the streets of New York. People think he is Hideki Matsui. Until recently, he said a common second guess was Chien-Ming Wang, the former Taiwanese Yankees pitcher. At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, with a thick shock of black hair, Igawa has a calm but notable presence, although he says he dresses conservatively to avoid attention.

During his first years in New York, Igawa struggled to find Japanese food stores, especially ones open late, and he lost weight. It bothered him that he might go weeks without hearing his native tongue. The winter temperatures were new to him so he remained inside. If he felt lonely and missed Japan, he would visit an electronics store because examining all the new models and emerging technologies reminded him of something he would do at home.

It has been 16 years since Hideo Nomo became the first modern-era Japanese professional to play in the United States. There have been other distinguished Japanese successes since, like Ichiro Suzuki, and dozens of largely unnoticed flame-outs — about 15 players have returned to play in Japan; an equal number retired.

Igawa fits neither category. He is the still-famous flame-out. He cannot escape that he was a big star in Japan, winning 75 games in his last five years and leading the Japan Central League in strikeouts for three of those years. In recent years, when a Japanese team has qualified for the Little League World Series, the players have made the pilgrimage to Scranton to greet the great Igawa, before whom they stood in awe. A few days ago, the Trenton sales office got a call — a group of 20 Japanese-Americans wanted to come to a game, but only when Igawa was scheduled to pitch.

“My fans’ support adds motivation,” said Igawa, who is accessible and good with crowds in public, even English-speaking ones.

But away from the ballpark, Igawa is exceedingly private, almost reclusive. Takeshita said in the two years he has been his interpreter, he has been inside his apartment once, very briefly. Takeshita lives in Queens and keeps Igawa’s car, picking him up on the street when they are driving to the ballpark.

Igawa decided years ago to commute from Manhattan for the simplest of reasons: he thought his stay in Scranton would be temporary. After the first year, once he had learned his way around New York, it seemed easier to stay than to pick up and learn a new city. Besides, wouldn’t his second season be mostly in the Bronx? Or, in some way, wouldn’t moving from Manhattan be admitting failure?

By the time his minor league existence became more permanent, the driving habit had become routine, and Igawa likes a routine. Somehow, his minor league managers say, he has never been late to the ballpark in five years.

Igawa is married and has children, and they visit him in New York for a couple of months each year, usually just as the baseball season is ending. But Takeshita has never met any member of the family. Asked when he was married and how many children he has, Igawa smiled and said he does not give out that information. He also declined to give the name of his wife.

“It is just safer that way,” he said, somewhat cryptically.

On trips, teammates said Igawa keeps to himself and does not accompany groups of players going out after a game. The one place they do see him is outdoors running during the day. Maintaining a grueling exercise regimen is customary for Japanese professional baseball players. For the last five years, Igawa’s teammates arriving at the ballpark knew they would see Igawa already doing sprints in the outfield or running the stadium steps. Then he would do the running assigned by the team as well.

During Igawa’s first spring training in America, Joe Torre, then the Yankees manager, was astonished when his coaches discovered Igawa throwing a baseball against a fence unsupervised. The Yankees had their own throwing schedule for Igawa, but he wanted to throw more and was perplexed that the Yankees disapproved.

Bobby Valentine, now a broadcaster with ESPN, has managed in the American and Japanese professional leagues.

“The concept that less might be more does not compute in Japan,” Valentine said. “It’s a problem for Japanese pitchers over here. If Igawa was throwing when the Yankees didn’t know it, he wasn’t doing it to be a contrarian. In Japan, they think if you don’t throw every day you not only won’t be successful, you don’t deserve to be successful.

“So that doesn’t surprise me.”

But Valentine was surprised that Igawa was still in the Yankees minor league system.

“I thought he had gone back to Japan years ago,” Valentine said.

“The other day, the GM (Brian Cashman) informed me that I had been removed from the 40-man roster. I have had a dream to pitch in the Majors since I was in Japan. This dream won’t change in the future. I think this opportunity is part of the process where I can realize that dream. I’m not going back to Japan and still believe there will be chances here. I will keep challenging myself, with a positive outlook, until I can play in the Majors and have consistently good performances there.” — July 30, 2008

Asked last week to assess Igawa’s five years in the Yankee organization, General Manager Brian Cashman answered: “It was a disaster. We failed.”

Cashman quickly added that in 2008 and in 2009 he had negotiated a deal to return Igawa to two different Japanese professional teams.

“I drove to Scranton, sat him down and told him it was our assessment that his abilities didn’t translate into a major league career,” said Cashman, who added the Yankees would have been relieved of some financial obligations in the Japanese deals. “I told him that it was our fault — our mistake — not his. But I said, ‘If you stay, you’re not going anywhere.’ And he refused the trade both times.”

Major league teams have not expressed an interest in trading for Igawa in the last four years, Cashman said, although he conceded Igawa’s five-year, $20 million contract — the Yankees also paid $26 million in bidding rights — could be keeping some teams away.

In 2007, the San Diego Padres claimed Igawa off waivers and Cashman was ready to make the trade but he said, “ownership was not willing to let him go yet.”

Kevin Towers, who was the Padres’ general manager at the time and now holds the same title with the Arizona Diamondbacks, said he thought Igawa might have had more success in the National League and at San Diego’s Petco Park.

“Getting him out of the New York market might have helped,” Towers said by telephone. “The expectations in New York are enormous and immediate, and if you don’t succeed right away, for Japanese players, there has to be added pressures and cultural adjustments.”

Last year, Towers was a special assistant scout to Cashman and spent two weeks with the Scranton team.

“I was amazed that Kei was still there grinding it out,” Towers said.

Igawa’s best minor league season was in 2008 when he had a 14-6 record with a 3.45 E.R.A. The next year he was 10-8 with a 4.15 E.R.A. In time, using a deceptively sharp curveball and sneaky changeup while spotting an average fastball, Igawa set the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise record for career victories with 33. He has set or is close to setting several other franchise pitching records.

But Cashman said none of Igawa’s minor league accomplishments brought him closer to the Bronx. Looking at his 2008 minor league totals, Cashman noted that Igawa’s QERA or QuikERA — a statistic that estimates what a pitcher’s E.R.A. should be based on his strikeout rate, walk rate and ground ball-to-fly ball ratio — was 4.52.

“That tells me he’s a fly ball pitcher and that’s not good in the major leagues,” Cashman said. “Look, we’ve had plenty of pitching holes. If he could have filled one, he would have been here.”

Cashman called Igawa “a great clubhouse guy” and denied that he was taking a spot normally reserved for a top prospect. He said luxury tax penalties — sometimes cited for Igawa’s lengthy minor league stay — had no impact on how Igawa was used. “He didn’t block anyone who was moving up,” he said. “Again, if he could help us or help us get another player we could use, the luxury tax wouldn’t have stopped us.”

In the end, Cashman sounded mystified by Igawa. “It’s the most curious case I’ve ever heard of,” he said. “And frustrating. The lesson is to be very careful with Japanese pitchers. I give him credit for living a dream and for fighting the fight. It can’t be easy. It has to bother him, too.”

Cashman added, “He does things his own way.” Like commuting to and from Manhattan.

“Yeah, he’s passed me on the drive down to Trenton,” Cashman said. “He drives faster than his fastball.”

“I also got a chance to watch the Japan Series on TV. I hadn’t seen many of the participating players for a long time and I really felt that time is going by very fast because there were also several players I didn’t know. I looked on in envy of them playing in packed stadiums in November.” — Nov. 4, 2009, upon a return visit to Japan.

Igawa, who often snickers when he begins to answer a question, was stoic and straight-faced last week when he was told he had now pitched in 104 minor league games and thrown more than 525 minor league innings. He had sat on the bench or waited in the bullpen through more than 5,700 innings, riding buses from Maine to Kentucky and from Richmond to Rochester. Teammates, managers, trainers and pitching coaches came and went. Igawa stayed, the only journeyman left who could tell new prospects where to park their cars so they would not get hit by a foul ball or explain how the outfield walls were different at the home park five years ago.

Was this the odyssey he envisioned when he agreed to leave Japan in 2007?

“No,” Igawa answered before another Trenton game, sweaty from the pregame sprints and toweling off so he could slip into his game uniform. “But it is still baseball. I get to pitch. I love being on the mound. It is my job, but it’s also what I want to do. I get to see new places I would never have seen otherwise. And it is my duty to do my best.”

Igawa, whose complete major league record from 2007-8 was 2-4 with a 6.66 E.R.A., concedes he did not pitch well in his time with the Yankees. But he also thinks he could have done better had he been given more than 16 pitching appearances.

“America is a different world from Japan and so is American baseball,” he said. “I had never pitched out of the bullpen. I had never pitched on four days rest. The hitters here also have more power — another adjustment. I look back now and I have developed a cut fastball, I throw my changeup differently. I understand American hitters better. So I think I would have done better if I had more time the first season. And I wish I had then what I have now.”

The goal next year is to show off what he has learned to another team, anywhere in the world. He would even return to the minors again, if he thought he had a legitimate chance to make his new team’s major league roster.

Towers believes some American and Japanese clubs will show interest.

“Once his Yankees contract is out of the way,” Towers said, “the landscape might change. It’s like he’s been out of sight in the minors forever.”

As Valentine said, “I’ve seen lefties with less stuff than he has have success in the majors.”

Igawa is aware that baseball fans, and especially Yankees fans, view him as a renowned bust.

“Yankees fans may always think of me as not being successful,” said Igawa, whose record this season at Trenton and Scranton is 3-2 with a 3.68 E.R.A. “But I’ve grown as a pitcher and as a person. I’ll be better for these five years. I do not regret coming here.”

Spend enough time with Igawa, however, and it becomes clear that he has moments when he is dismayed. On July 14, the Yankees signed J. C. Romero, a 35-year-old left-hander who had just been released by the Washington Nationals. Romero was assigned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Igawa got the news standing at this locker in Trenton. His shoulders sagged slightly and he slumped to a chair.

He was asked if he ever wants to shout, “What about me?”

He shook his head.

“I am Japanese,” he said. “I don’t go crazy too often. I’m not going to throw things or make a scene. In five years, I have seen this happen over and over.”

Four days later, Cashman burst through the Trenton clubhouse door and nearly stumbled over Igawa, whose locker is next to the entrance. The two have not had a conversation longer than “hello” since 2009, but Cashman gave Igawa a smile and a playful jab in the arm as he walked toward the office of Trenton Manager Tony Franklin.

Cashman was there to discuss a promotion to the big leagues.

Back in his Yankee Stadium office the next day, Cashman summoned to the Yankees Igawa’s Trenton teammate, Steve Garrison, a 24-year-old left-hander with no major league experience. Garrison’s Trenton record this season is 3-6 with a 6.26 E.R.A.

The team made the announcement in the early afternoon. Igawa was already in his car, on the road from Manhattan to Trenton. He had to be on the field for a pregame workout at 3 p.m.

Ichiro Suzuki: Immigrant Misappropriations: The Importance of Ichiro

franco : June 14, 2011 06:49 PM

From: Grantland

Immigrant Misappropriations: The Importance of Ichiro

By Jay Caspian Kang
POSTED JUNE 14, 2011

Ten years after Ichiro Suzuki broke into the majors, a reflection on the 2001 Mariners, Jackie Robinson, the Four Noble Truths and the cultural impact of baseball's most enigmatic player.

Like most 6-year-olds in the METCO-serviced suburbs of Boston, I spent the last two weeks of October 1986 with a Red Sox cap on my head. When school let out, those of us who did not take the early bus into the city huddled up in the pick-up/drop-off circle and practiced our lines. Most of us could list only the names of the ballplayers and our arbitrary preferences, but those boys who had been born into families of fanatics wowed us with jargon that seemed to provide them with a greater stake in the excitement of those two weeks. The morning before Game 3, I got up early to read the sports section and came to school with these phrases locked up in my head: "Let's get out the Oil Can! Rocket is throwing tonight, watch out! Can Hendu recreate his ALCS magic?" When I tried them out in the bus circle, the kids nodded along. That night, I asked my father to teach me how to read a box score. He complied with the sincerity and gravity expected of that situation. The mornings after Games 4 and 5, I came to school with a ripped-out square of newspaper in the pocket of my raincoat and ran my classmates through the significance of those numbers and columns. The Red Sox were up three games to two. We in the bus circle were just starting to feel invested in the team.

Then Mookie Wilson's grounder rolled through Buckner's legs and I joined in as all of Boston exhaled bitterly.

Ichiro Suzuki arrived in Seattle in the spring of 2001 to mixed expectations. When news of the signing broke the previous winter, Bobby Valentine, then the manager of the New York Mets, declared to the media that the slightly built right fielder was one of the best five players in the world. Despite Valentine's endorsements, baseball pundits around the country openly questioned how a player who had spent his entire career hitting fastballs that rarely hit 92 mph on the radar gun would adjust to the power pitching in the major leagues. Rob Dibble, who in the early 1990s joined up with Norm Charlton and Randy Myers to form a hard-throwing Cincinnati Reds bullpen known as the Nasty Boys, spoke for the doubters when he predicted Ichiro's batting average would never break .300. A week before the season began, Dibble, then a commentator on ESPN's Baseball Tonight, made the following statement on the air: "I will run naked through Times Square in the dead of winter if Ichiro wins the batting title." Nine months later, Ichiro took home the lion's share of the postseason hardware and Dibble made his run, albeit in a speedo. In addition to the batting title, Ichiro took home the American League MVP award, a Gold Glove, the stolen-base title and the AL's Rookie of the Year. No rookie had won both the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season since Boston's Freddy Lynn did it in 1975, and no player in baseball history has taken home all five awards. More impressively, the Seattle Mariners, a franchise that had lost three first-ballot Hall of Famers in Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Randy Johnson over the course of the previous three seasons, broke a league record by winning 116 games. At the center was an enigmatic, 160-pound man from Japan who spoke only through an interpreter and was rarely seen without his trademark wraparound sunglasses.

I moved to Seattle the November before Ichiro's arrival because I had been kicked out of a small, liberal arts college in Maine that I, in part, had chosen to attend because it offered me a chance to be surrounded by Red Sox fans again. I don't remember much about that first winter in the Pacific Northwest, except that I waited it out alone. I spent most of my time in used bookstores because I was convinced that I could feel balls of radiation hurling out of the lead paint that hung in cracked sheets on the wall. On Sunday mornings, when the hallways of my converted hotel filled with the dull stink of Nag Champa, I walked down to Aileen's Sports Bar on Broadway and watched football on a shaky 13-inch TV screen, accompanied by a cast of regulars who reminded me of what might happen if a Raymond Carver story collection collided with a Russ Meyer film set. My favorite of these characters was a weekend transvestite named Karla. During halftime of a Patriots game, she insisted that we drive my car across the country to live with her sister and her husband in Nashua, N.H.

The nights I stayed in, I sat in the armchair, shucked oysters for dinner, and went through the canon of juvenile manuals of detachment. I read Dr. Alan Watts, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Chogyam Trungpa. I transcribed all the block quotes in Franny and Zooey into a memo book — the type with that irresistibly nostalgic black marbleized cover — and went to the used bookstore down the street to buy up all the texts Salinger referenced. During my walks to the bookstore, I suppressed the hope that the girl with Bettie Page bangs and discolored thin arms that reminded me of dandelion stalks would be behind the counter. Her unbalanced recommendation shelf — Denis Johnson, Anne Sexton, Virginia Woolf, and Shirley Jackson — reminded me of someone back east who I had recently decided to stop talking to. For reasons still not clear to me, I stopped eating pork and red meat and practiced breathing every morning.

I listened to the Ichiro talk on the local sports talk radio station every morning during my drive to work. Throughout the winter, most of the writers and talk-show hosts echoed Dibble's skepticism that a Japanese position player could come over and make the adjustments necessary to become an impact player in the major leagues. When the small, but vocal throng of Ichiro supporters brought up Hideo Nomo's success for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995, the conventional wisdom replied that the situations were different because Nomo relied mostly on gimmicks: an exaggerated windup in which he turned his back completely to the batter, and a baffling split-finger fastball the likes of which most major leaguers had not yet seen. It is a truism in baseball that in an at-bat in which both the pitcher and the batter know nothing about one another, the batter is at a disadvantage because he must react to anything the pitcher might throw. Ichiro would be learning on the job. But for the most part, this was not the argument made in the papers or on the radio. A month before Ichiro flew stateside to take his first cuts at the Mariners spring training facility in Arizona, one of the local sports radio hosts summed up the prevailing sentiment when he said, "Nomo could get by his first year by whirligigging around and throwing foreign junk at the American hitters. They hadn't seen it before, and so he did all right. Now that Nomo's been in the league a couple of years, the batters are starting to tear into his Japanese bag of tricks. Ichiro's not going to have that luxury. The first time he sees a Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens fastball, he's going to see that Japanese tricks don't cut it over here."

By the first week of June, Ichiro had piled up three four-hit games, back-to-back hitting streaks of 15 and 23 games, a .361 batting average, and was on track to break the major league record for hits in a season. In an April game in Oakland, he unleashed a throw from right field that traveled at a seemingly impossible low and accurate trajectory to nail a stunned Terrence Long at third base. After the game, a bewildered Long told reporters, "I'm not the fastest guy in the world, but that's got to be the best throw I've ever seen." On the eve of the All-Star break, Ivan Rodriguez proclaimed, "Ichiro is the best player in baseball right now." The city of Seattle, which usually splits its sports enthusiasm between the Seahawks and the University of Washington's football team, went Ichi-Gaga, prompting many Asian-Americans in the community to come forward with praise for the city's embrace of a Japanese sports idol. Shawn Wong, a professor of English at the University of Washington, went as far as to credit Ichiro with a heightening of cultural awareness within the city. In a guest editorial that appeared in the Seattle Times, he wrote, "I'm learning something about race, ethnicity and understanding that I didn't know. As a professor, I think it's important for my students to articulate their opinions and understanding about what it is they learn. I often use theoretical terms such as 'racialization' to explain the dynamics of race, culture and society. Now I'm beginning to think an entire city can understand how race changes their culture and society, and they can embrace and even encourage that change, but not necessarily understand how to describe that change."

Like Wong, I believed I was witnessing the collapse of stereotypes about Asians. My letters back to the East Coast, which during the winter had alternated between a weird austerity and cloying anger, focused now on the importance of sports in a society: How a meritocracy like baseball offered anyone a chance to showcase the talents of a people.

The Bookstore Bodhisattva life I had tried over the winter gave way to the restorative energy offered up by the start of baseball season. (Strangely, I find that the warier I become of Opening Day's nostalgia-trap, the weaker I feel in the knees whenever I walk into a stadium. It is almost as if my resistance to baseball's sentimentality is also what feeds it.) Ichiro was my guy. I attended every home game that spring, usually by myself, and even enjoyed those rare nights when Ichiro went 0-for-5 and let us all down.

Before a sold-out Sunday afternoon ballgame, my fifth in a row to watch Ichiro, I spotted a kid loitering underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct. He had on an oversized velour sweatshirt printed by a hip-hop label and a black-on-black fitted Mariners cap, two items of clothing that I usually associate with young gamblers and ticket scalpers. As he saw me approach, he produced a single ticket out of one of his cargo pockets and handed it over, muttering under his breath, "Thirty-five, best price for today's game." After looking over my shoulder, I palmed over two twenties crumpled into a sweaty ball. When he told me he didn't have any change, I waved him off and told him to just remember my face for any future transactions. He nodded, pumped his fist, and said, "Go Ichiro."

The seat was in Area 51, the section of bleachers directly behind the right-field fence that still serves as the unofficial Japanese cheering section. An older Japanese couple sat to my right. Both wore blindingly white Ichiro jerseys and flat-billed Mariners caps. They nodded, using the jerky, polite motion that many older Japanese use when greeting young Americans, and the husband offered me a bite of his plate of garlic fries. When I said, "No, thank you," his wife smiled, revealing a gold canine tooth that reminded me, strangely enough, of a photo of my great-grandmother taken when she lived on an orchard in what is now North Korea, a few years before the Japanese occupation during World War II that forced her to flee to the South. In the photo, her hair is pulled back tightly and she is smiling and pointing at a yellowed tooth that my father explained was a gold implant and not the product of some old-world hygienic deficiency.

When a group of Japanese students sitting in front of me passed around a red sign on which some indistinguishable Japanese slogan had been written, obscuring my view of the field, I could do nothing but sit back and mutter astonished, bitter words into the back of my hand. It finally occurred to me that I had been ignoring the elephantine irony of this happy scene: I was born in Korea to Korean parents, meaning the only history I share with Ichiro is that on several occasions over the past thousand years, his people have brutally occupied my home country. Rooting for a Japanese baseball player because he fit in the same constructed minority category was like if an Irish ex-pat began rooting for Manchester United because the good people of China couldn't distinguish between his accent and Wayne Rooney's. And in most ways, it was a lot worse than that.

When I got home that night, I thumbed through my copy of James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time and read the following passage, heavily underlined back in my days as a malcontent freshman: "If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. The details and symbols of your life have deliberately been constructed to make you believe what white people say about you… Please try to be clear, dear [nephew], through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words acceptance and integration. There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you." As I read that passage, I realized that the images of the Civil Rights Movement and the multicultural education I received as a child in Boston had never lost their buoyancy, always floating on the surface of my consciousness, but that the rhetoric that underscored those images etherized, not completely into the air, but into a strange, misappropriated residue. I could watch Ichiro stretching in the on-deck circle and conjure the image of Jackie Robinson sliding home in 1947, but that association never brought hope, but rather a wariness that both told me that the association was wrong and that the only reason why I was cheering for Ichiro was because someone, something else had lumped us together.

Even back then, at the age of 19, I knew that the comparison was catastrophically wrong. But I still made it, and even today, when I certainly am old enough to know better, every time I see Ichiro, I still feel both the warmth and the embarrassment of that particular misappropriation. In my defense, I will say that when you are a first-generation immigrant, the templates for assimilation always belong to somebody else. You can staple your assimilation to Ichiro, Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, or Hank Greenberg, but you will always be wrong. But I don't know how else anyone is supposed to stumble toward American-ness than through these categorically wrong, sentimental avenues.

Ten years later, it seems to me that what I should have done was to shrug off Baldwin and understand that some ideas are better left on the pitch of the academy, where no score is kept and nothing is really ever at stake.

I also understand that doing so would be dishonest.

Philip Roth, in an essay entitled "My Baseball Years," wrote that he loved the game for "the mythic and aesthetic dimension that it gave to an American boy's life — particularly to one whose grandparents could hardly speak English. For someone whose roots in America were strong but only inches deep, baseball was a kind of secular church that reached into every class and region of the nation and bound millions upon millions of us together in common concerns, loyalties, rituals, enthusiasms and antagonisms. Baseball made me understand what patriotism was about, at its best." For those who might find Roth's quote as overexplanatory and nostalgic as I do, there is the first line of Don DeLillo's Underworld. As far as first lines to epic American novels go, "He speaks in your voice, American, and there's a shine in his eye that's halfway hopeful," might not rank up there with "Call me Ishmael" or "In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice," but as far as baseball writing goes, there isn't a line written that better captures the nation-mending appeal of the game for those that might not always feel included in other places. The boy with the halfway hopeful shine in his eye is a black boy from Harlem named Cotter who jumps the gate at the Polo Grounds to witness Bobby Thomson's "Shot heard 'round the world." He finds a seat in the bleachers next to a seemingly well-meaning white man named Bill Watterson, who buys him a soda and says nice things like, "[You and I are] a couple of sportsmen taking their ease." When Thomson's home run lands in their section, Cotter and Watterson both get a hand on the ball. A struggle ensues with Cotter eventually wrestling the ball from Watterson's hands. A frustrated Watterson reneges on his good will and chases Cotter out of the stadium. Following Cotter for several blocks, he tries to cajole and then intimidate the boy into giving him the ball. Cotter runs back home to Harlem, ball in hand, leaving Watterson behind.
The metaphor is obvious, but all baseball metaphors are obvious. Few are as accurate. If baseball is indeed America's testing ground for understanding — as almost every piece written on Jackie Robinson in the past 10 years has argued — DeLillo is right to point out that those on the outside will only be able to muster up a halfway hope about the follow-through.

Still, it is Roth's feel-good story that is the most common to baseball writing, and undoubtedly the most compelling. As long as baseball has been said to exist, writers have tried to wrest patriotic metaphor out of its history, its players, its stadiums, and its fans. Roth languishes in the redemptive possibilities that a shared interest in baseball might offer people who are separated along other lines. Similarly, my own stake in baseball comes from the fact that I am the foreign-born child of Korean immigrants, and that sometimes finding acceptance in this country is as simple as shouting out in a crowded bar that you know who started each game of the 1986 World Series because you, like the rest of the people there, watched every game on TV and talked about it the next day at school. Although nearly 25 years have passed since Buckner's error, I do not think I have been removed very far from the pick-up/drop-off circle. The kids still nod along. It would be incorrect, however, to say that my participation in the dialogue surrounding the national pastime makes me feel like "more of an American." The phrase is too abstract for me to grasp.

At the same time, I cannot bring myself to mirror Baldwin's rejection of acculturation, or the bitterness expressed by Jackie Robinson in his autobiography about playing in his first World Series game, because this sort of scorn comes naturally only to those for whom the national promise of baseball is either a given or a nonapplicable. The irony of our multicultural education is that it provides us with only the vocabulary of the thoroughly entitled and the thoroughly disenfranchised. Asian immigrants stand somewhere in between, but lack the context and the words to express our place.

I don't feel comfortable evoking James Baldwin or Jackie Robinson or Philip Roth to explain my relationship with baseball. I understand there is a militia of smart people who will line up to bash me over the head with the word "problematic." I suppose what I am asking is this: How else am I supposed to talk about it?

Perhaps, then, the best way to enjoy the game is to simply stop reading about it. Or, if at all possible, to follow the advice of Steven Jay Gould, who wrote "the silliest and most tendentious of baseball writing tries to wrest profundity from the spectacle of grown men hitting a ball with a stick by suggesting linkages between the sport and deep issues of morality parenthood, history, lost innocence, gentleness and so on, seemingly ad infinitum." (Gould, for his own part, later wrote his own lengthy essay, published posthumously, about the meaning of his love for baseball and his relationship with his father.) After all, one of baseball's gifts is that it allows its fans to immerse themselves completely in the demands of the game. For those of us who may not have the résumés to participate in the nation-building or the father-son euphoria that surrounds the National Pastime, there are still the processes, the numbers, and the play on the field. A young lefty gets called up from Pawtucket because the aging DH lands on the DL after pulling his hamstring doing wind sprints during the pregame warm-ups. However, the fan knows this is most likely a cover-up to protect the pride of the aging DH, who has been in a 3-for-45 slump. Besides, the wind sprints excuse is total garbage because, as everybody knows, the manager always excuses the aging DH from any sort of pregame running exercise. Most likely, the GM wanted to try out the young lefty, who has been hitting .320 over the past month at Pawtucket (.386 against righties), against the team coming in for the weekend who has three right-handed pitchers lined up. All of this is extrapolated from one line in the small print page of the sports section: Transactions: Boston Red Sox: Called up 1B Morgan Burkhardt from Pawtucket. The discussion of this one line can be stretched out over a dinner or over the course of days. A friend of mine from college and I have been arguing about Eddie Murray's induction into the Hall of Fame for 10 years. And as long as the talk remains on the action between the chalked lines, and as long as I can put out of my mind what has been written about the national part of the National Pastime, I feel included in a running dialogue that started back when I asked my father to explain the box scores to me.

If going to 81 baseball games a year would offer me a glimpse of Roth's aesthetic and mythic inclusion, I would reroute my paychecks to the Red Sox season-ticket office. Conversely, if I fully believed — again in the sociologist's terms — that the spectacle of the game served only to put a false shine on a rotten apple, I would never step foot in a ballpark again. Perhaps, the curse of the fan that identifies Ichiro as "my guy" is that he can recognize the promise and the betrayal of baseball only in the way that one picks up a song through a wall: missing out on the immediacy and the volume, but recognizing the resonance. But he keeps trying. This season, I will watch the game for the stats, the umpire-specific strike zones, the infield shifts, the pitching changes, and the numbers on the scoreboard. But, when I hear the occasional racist comment in the stands that I might reflexively place upon myself, my intellect will begin to pull apart baseball's patriotic metaphor. But thankfully, the process is cyclic, because whenever an Asian player is met with applause, or when I see a young white or Hispanic or African-American kid in a Choo or Kuroda or Matsui t-shirt, the flood of inclusive, metaphoric language will seal the gaps shut and I will once again be awash in halfway hopeful reverence.

Jay Caspian Kang is an editor at Grantland. His debut novel, The Dead Do Not Improve, will be published by Hogarth/Random House in Summer 2012.

Harmon Killebrew: 1985: Harmon tries to hit one across the Mississippi

nearlygod : May 17, 2011 08:56 PM

From The Star Tribune:

Article by: MICHAEL DORSHER Updated: May 17, 2011 - 3:25 PM

Harmon Killebrew didn't quite know what he was getting into when he was asked to make a publicity appearance as part of baseball's All-Star Game festivities.

(In 1985, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire journalism professor Michael Dorsher was the bureau chief for United Press International in the Twin Cities. The All-Star Game was played in Minnesota that year, just as it had been 20 years earlier. Dorsher wrote this story about one of the events that took place during the All-Star festivities, involving Harmon Killebrew and legendary Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax, who were the game's honorary captains)

When the All-Star Game last came to Minnesota in 1965, Harmon Killebrew slugged a 411-foot two-run home run.

On Monday, the day before the All-Star Game returns to Minneapolis, Killebrew spent part of the morning in a futile attempt to hit a baseball 600 feet across the Mississippi River.

With more than 1,000 fans pressing too closely to let a pitcher serve up meaty fastballs, Killebrew had to toss the balls up and hit them like fungoes.

Looking like a duffer confronted with the world's largest water hazard, he plunked one ball after another into the muddy Mississippi, none of them landing more than halfway across.

''That was kind of a disappointing experience,'' Killebrew said later.

He had come to Boom Island dressed in a new red, white and blue Twins uniform with his retired No. 3 on the back. He was accompanied by Sandy Koufax, the other All-Star honorary captain and the man who beat the Twins in the seventh game of the 1965 World Series after just two days rest.

''They told us they just wanted to take some pictures of us in front of the Minneapolis skyline,'' said Killebrew, apparently unaware of the buildup given the event. ''We didn't know anything about hitting the ball across the river until we were driving up to the place. Then there were about 3,000 fans and they all wanted autographs. It was a bad deal.''

The fans had come to see the player who hit 573 home runs over 22 seasons -- plus three home runs in 11 All-Star games. Killebrew was elected to the Hall of Fame last year. He tied for the lead in the American League in home runs six times during his career

''I've been watching him since I was a kid, but I've never been this close to him,'' said Barb Guille who had four children in tow. ''I remember a grand slam he hit when I was at the game on Memorial Day (1971).''

The woman standing next to her, Vickie Gangness, remembered being at the park June 3, 1967, when Killebrew belted the only home run to reach Metropolitan Stadium's left field upper deck, a shot of 522 feet.

Killebrew, now 48 and a television commentator for Twins games, looks about the same today as he did midway through his career, only his temples are a little more grey. Bald and stubby, he was a guy arm-chair managers and housewives could relate to.

Even in the aftermath of Monday's debacle, Killebrew appreciated that. As he stopped to satisfy autograph seekers after the opening All-Star Game press conference, a reporter asked why he remained so beloved.

''Gee, I don't know,'' he said. ''But it sure is nice.''

Then he left to play in a charity golf tournament.

Rick Honeycutt: Rick Honeycutt took time to encourage sick boy: Tribe memories

tomhamilton : April 6, 2011 09:14 PM

From Cleveland.com:

This spring, we asked readers to tell us their best memory at an Indians game. More than 600 of you responded. All season, The Plain Dealer will publish fan memories -- one each day the Indians are scheduled to play. Here is Sunday's essay by Jeff Taylor of Seattle.

1987... June, perhaps July.

Obviously, enough of the season had passed to place the Indians out of contention. Therefore, a group of 12-year-olds' attention was focused more toward such topics as if Kenny Schrom could be better than Steve Carlton or who else was on Chris Bando's rookie card. These were always very heated and important arguments.

The A's were in town and, as always, a group of four or five of us took the rapid shuttle from University Heights to the Terminal [Tower]. Amazing now when I think our folks used to let us do this unaccompanied. We'd plan to arrive at the park as the gates opened, buy a $3 junior general admission seat and rush through the turnstiles to the bleachers to be in a position to shag a few bombs from the visiting team's batting practice session.

A few souvenirs later, we'd plop ourselves in the front row, first section inside the left-field foul pole. I'm not sure if these were technically in the GA section or just close enough to where no one seemed to care. Regardless, we'd love to run our 12-year-old mouths to the opposing bullpen, outdoing each other by calling Rick Honeycutt "Honey-Butt" and Eric Plunk ... Well, I'm sure you can imagine how much fun we had with that name.

On this day, my friend Steven was with us. It was actually the first game he could join us that year, having recently completed a round of chemotherapy. I actually don't remember what kind of cancer he was diagnosed with about a year prior. At that age, I'm not sure such details were important. I just knew that he was sick and we went on with our business, having fun and creating trouble as if nothing was different.

Around the eighth inning though, after several chants of "Honey-Butt" to try to get a rise out of him, Rick Honeycutt acknowledged us and walked up the railing. I remember feeling apprehensive as I thought we were about to get an earful if not more. Then, to my surprise, Rick smiled at us, called Steven closer, shook his hand, offered some encouraging words and gave him a ball.

Thinking back now, I can't tell you anything about the game itself, although I think Mark McGwire hit a home run.

Steven passed away later that year. I'm 35 today and, despite my hundreds of memories of that old park and of the all the mischief that my friend Steven used to try to pull, the image of him smiling after talking with Rick Honeycutt is always the first that pops in my head when I think of my friend or my childhood of rooting on the Tribe.

George Strickland: Remembering Indians SS George Strickland

tomhamilton : March 1, 2010 09:32 PM

From ESPN:

I saw an obituary in the Times yesterday for George Strickland, a player in the 1950s:

Strickland played 10 seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1950-52) and Cleveland Indians (1952-57, 1959-60). A defensive specialist, he led American League shortstops in double plays in 1953 and in fielding in 1955. He also shared the major league record for shortstops for double plays in a game (five) in 1952.

As the starting shortstop, he helped the Indians win a record 111 games in 1954 and advance to the World Series, which they lost in four games to the New York Giants. The next year, he led all shortstops in fielding, with a .976 percentage, and had a .284 batting average.


As I read this, a couple of questions occurred to me ...

One, how good a shortstop was Strickland, really? I mean, he seems to have been pretty good, at least. He posted some gaudy fielding stats, and I know (from elsewhere) that he wasn't much of hitter; his only decent offensive season -- when he did hit .284 and drew (as usual) a fair number of walks -- was 1953 (not '55, as suggested above).

In his Win Shares book, Bill James assigned letter grades to every player with at least 5,000 innings at a particular position (through the 2000 season). Of the 193 graded shortstops, fully 53 got grades starting with an A. Strickland's not one of them. He got a B+ for his career, but I suspect that he was, at his best, playing Gold Glove-quality defense. I also know, because I read it somewhere else, that 1960 National League MVP Dick Groat later credited Strickland for teaching him a lot about playing shortstop when both were Pirates.

Now, about the other thing ... You might have noticed that one-year gap in Strickland's service with the Indians. According to the 1960 edition of the Baseball Register, Strickland was "voluntarily retired" in 1958. According to the New York Times that January, Strickland had returned his 1958 contract to the team unsigned, asking to be voluntarily retired for reasons that were "entirely personal."

Strickland doesn't show up again in the Times for more than a year. In 1959 he returned to the lineup in style, homering on Opening Day in Cleveland. He played in 1959 and '60, third base mostly (because in his absence, the Indians had traded for center fielder Woodie Held and turned him into a shortstop). I've not been able to track down Strickland's whereabouts in 1961, but in '62 he coached with the Twins. Then in '63 ... here, I'll let the local paper from yesterday take over:

Strickland was an Indians coach from 1963-69, usually stationed at third base. His first stint as Cleveland's interim manager began on April 2, 1964, one day after manager Birdie Tebbetts suffered a heart attack, and days before the start of the season. The Indians went 33-39 with Strickland at the helm, before Tebbetts returned on July 5.

Cleveland began the 1966 season 27-10, but had slumped to a 66-57 record when Tebbetts was dismissed as the manager on Aug. 19. Strickland took over, and Cleveland went 15-24 the rest of the way to finish 81-81. Strickland went back to his duties as the third base coach when Joe Adcock was hired as the manager.

Strickland, a New Orleans native who was a standout baseball player at S.J. Peters High School in the early 1940s and played two seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association, was one of that city's more celebrated players.

Nicknamed "Bo," Strickland was one of the more provocative speakers among a group of retired athletes in the New Orleans area who met once a week for lunch and some good-old-days conversation.

Strickland often was the life of the party.

"Everybody wanted to sit near George at those things," said local baseball historian Peter Barrouquere, a former Times-Picayune reporter. "He told the most amazing stories. When (Hall of Fame pitcher) Bob Lemon passed away, he kept us going for 3 1/2 hours with Bob Lemon stories. He had us in stitches."


I skipped the beginning, but trust me: that obituary didn't mention the reason for Strickland's "voluntary retirement," either. I keep coming back to this simply because it was (and still is) so rare. The only other example I can think of between World War II and the 1980s is Jackie Jensen, who quit after the 1959 season -- he led the American League with 112 RBI that year -- supposedly because he didn't like flying. Jensen came back in 1961, struggled, and quit for good.

I've been through every book about the Indians or about the 1960s that I own, and found no mention of Strickland's early retirement. I've contacted someone who's writing an article about Strickland for SABR's Biography Project. He hasn't found anything conclusive. Maybe Strickland was so frustrated by the Indians' contract offer that he just threw up his hands and decided to work a real job for a while. Maybe Strickland wanted to spend time with the son that he and his wife were adopting around that time.

At the moment, though, I think we're stuck with "personal reasons" and I'm not sure that's a terrible thing. Sometimes it's nice to be reminded that there are still a few mysteries left out there.

Dan Brouthers: Topic subject

Ford Fricks Asterisk : August 9, 2008 11:54 AM

Family and life outside of baseball is usually the difficult stuff to come up with, and I can't tell you much of anything that isn't already covered on Brouthers' wiki page.

In "The Ballplayers", the SABR researcher states that John McGraw put him in charge of the press gate at the Polo Grounds after his playing days. In "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract", this is translated as being a watchman:

"Rusie, by the way, is now assistant watchman at the Polo Grounds. Dan Brouthers is the other watchman. Often we get together and talk over old times. Always I have had a deep sentiment for veteran ball players, and I try to get them a good place any time there is a chance -- John McGraw, "My Thirty Years in Baseball" (1923, Boni and Liveright)

Other than his Irish Setter, I don't know anything about his family... but, speaking of SABR, they easily come up with the most thorough histories on players, and their on-going biography project is usually unmatched when it comes to detailed information about players' families and life before and after baseball. Unfortunately, they haven't yet completed an entry for Brouthers. Oddly enough, their home page rotates old baseball pictures through nine squares, and when I first went to the page to see if they had an entry for Brouthers, one of the pictures was Big Dan himself. Anyway, you might want to contact them, as someone could be working on it or already have some of that research at hand.

*

Dan Brouthers: Topic subject

bohobb : August 8, 2008 06:40 PM

looking for any info about dan brouthers: need for article. would like to know family history. schooling, any work related details. any articles there may be about him.

thanks bohobb@gmail.com

Julio Franco: Ocker on Franco's career

Ford Fricks Asterisk : May 12, 2008 01:52 PM

Thought this was a fun article about Julio's career from the Akron Beacon Journal's Sheldon Ocker, who's known Julio better than most.

*

C.C. Sabathia: Too many innings in 2007?

Ford Fricks Asterisk : April 27, 2008 06:32 PM

Those next two starts turned out to be: 14 ip, 8 h, 3 bb, 19 k, and a 0.64 ERA. So at 7.88 he'll still finish the month with an ERA below 9.00... not a pretty number, but quite a difference from what it was just a week ago.

Prior to his dominant start against the Royals last week, they said he was working on his mechanics and rediscovering the command on his fastball. So it would seem that was pivotal, and the fact his velocity had never changed works against the theory that it was due to the increased workload last season.

*

Joe DiMaggio: 56 game streak not that impressive

Ford Fricks Asterisk : April 17, 2008 01:35 PM

Interesting... a couple of factors that I don't think could be replicated in simulations would be media pressure and in-game strategy, both of which probably work against players today. I think DiMaggio's hitting streak could be broken, but also suspect it's less likely than the simulations show.

When Joe Baseballstar feels a twinge today, it will be reported globally within ten minutes... there's a lot of demand on any player who even approaches a 30 game hitting streak (not that there wasn't a lot of media attention on DiMaggio's streak).

I think the biggest factor though, might be relief pitching. I can't find splits for DiMaggio's career, although I think it's safe to say he hit both RHP and LHP pretty well. With more emphasis on particular matchups in today's game, and also maybe with fresher pitchers/relievers, I think there's an increased probability that an opposing manager is going to find the right combination to get the guy out one of those nights.

*

C.C. Sabathia: Too many innings in 2007?

Ford Fricks Asterisk : April 17, 2008 01:11 PM

His problem has been his nonexistant command... I'm not convinced that command problems in April have anything to do with last year's work load.

Maybe the contract pressure is getting to him, but I don't think we're seeing anything from Sabathia that we haven't seen before -- except for last season. He seems to have a history of really bad stretches that last a month or so, and also having games like the one last night where he gets hit over and over again early and then just gives up (the infamous Cubs game when he got ripped for admitting after the game that he "gave up"). The problems just stand out more when it's the start of the season and he's coming off a Cy Young season.

I remember his problem a couple of years ago was that he had fallen into the habit of tipping his pitches for a 7-8 game stretch. That's certainly not something I'd know enough about to speak on anyway, but I haven't had the chance to really sit down and observe any of his games. I suspect his slurve is just useless right now and hitters are sitting on his fastball.

Even in his worst struggles though, Sabathia has never posted a double-digit ERA for an entire month (or even a 9.00+). So if he doesn't show any signs of life in his next two starts, I'll officially be worried.

Then again, if several other players on the team don't start showing signs of life, too, Sabathia will either be driving down his contract price or getting dealt for prospects by mid-season.

*

(btw, welcome back Ernie)

Bernie Williams: Yankees Bury Bernie Williams Under New Stadium For Good Luck

erniecamacho : April 17, 2008 12:49 PM

From The Onion

NEW YORK—Citing a need for physical and spiritual cleansing after a Boston Red Sox fan entombed a David Ortiz jersey in the floor of the new facility, the New York Yankees buried former centerfielder Bernie Williams under 4,650 pounds of concrete Wednesday in the foundation of the new Yankee Stadium for good luck.

According to team sources, the instant the 39-year-old Williams was completely submerged in the rapidly setting structural material, stopping his voice as his lungs and mouth filled with concrete, the sun broke through the clouds and shone on the yet-incomplete field. Yankees part-owner Hank Steinbrenner called the occurrence a sign indicating that the "Curse Of A Red Sox Fan's David Ortiz Jersey" had been reversed, and that God was once again on the Yankees' side.

"Any attempt to put a hex on the New York Yankees has been successfully averted," Steinbrenner told reporters while standing over the still-wet concrete slab beneath which, judging by the sluggish ripples and lopsided bubbles in the hardening agglomerate, Williams still struggled. "Not that this organization believes in curses. We're the Yankees. We believe the success of our team is based purely on our players and their on-field performance. And we act accordingly."

"However," Steinbrenner continued, "Bernie was on our last World Series team in 2000, so we figured burying him under our new home certainly couldn't hurt. Also, he was available, and his appearance fee was quite reasonable."

The burial ceremony, which delayed the completion of the stadium approximately three weeks and cost roughly $1.5 million—$1,000 of which will go to Bernie Williams' family—involved placing Williams into a six-foot-deep concrete hole directly where the tattered Red Sox jersey was found.

Dressed in his full Yankees uniform and batting helmet, and clutching an autographed ball signed by all members of Yankees' 1996 World Series team, Williams was lowered into the ground and then covered with a combination of concrete, fly ash, slag cement, and coarse aggregate consisting mostly of gravel limestone.

Though Yankees officials did not allow Williams' family to attend the burial, citing the fact they were not "true Yankees," they permitted the former centerfielder to take with him a picture of his wife and three children after Williams provided video evidence proving that all of his family members were present and cheered during the Yankees' championship run between 1996 and 2000.

"Now, we're not necessarily hoping that having him in the foundation will mean our outfielders will start throwing like Bernie, our hitters will begin hitting like him, or our faster baserunners will start running like him," Yankees first-year coach Joe Girardi said. "Most of our guys are already better than he was. We just know—and this is what I told Bernie's family—that the good deed of letting a former Yankee permanently come home will be recognized by the baseball gods and will translate into Yankee victories, which will be good for the entire human race."

Williams, who was smiling from the moment he arrived at the new stadium until his face could no longer be seen, was grateful for the opportunity.

"I would do anything to help this ballclub win another World Series," Williams shouted up to reporters while standing in rapidly filling pit. "Just to be part of this organization again in some capacity is an honor and privilege. And even though I haven't received a thank you from the Steinbrenner family, I know they are appreciative."

"This is what it means to be a lifelong Yankgluh [sic]," Williams attempted to add.

According to Yankees president Randy Levine, the organization had been discussing various ways to exorcize the curse of the buried Red Sox jersey, under which the Yankees went an "unacceptable" 4-4. Levine said that it was Hal Steinbrenner who suggested submerging a former or current player in concrete as a good luck charm.

Interoffice e-mails confirm that players who made the short list were Yogi Berra, Paul O'Neill, and current Yankee outfielder Shelley Duncan.

"Truth be told, we didn't even think of Bernie," Levine said. "But then we got a call from his agent. It took a bit of convincing on their part, but in the end it seemed like this fulfilled both of our needs."

"By giving Bernie this chance, we have once again proven why we are the classiest organization in all of sports," Levine added. "Lesser teams would have overreacted to this whole curse thing and buried Derek Jeter."

When asked if burial in the new stadium guaranteed that Williams' No. 51 would be retired in the new Monument Park, both Steinbrenners had no comment, saying only that they appreciated Mr. Williams' commitment to the team.

Joe DiMaggio: 56 game streak not that impressive

jcarwash31 : April 17, 2008 12:14 PM

I want to know how many streaks approached or surpassed 56 games in a simulation. What's the expected value of 50+ game streaks in a universe? Perhaps it isn't unusual to see a streak like DiMaggio's in a universe, but what are the statistical expectations of another streak like that in this universe?

Joe DiMaggio: 56 game streak not that impressive

erniecamacho : April 17, 2008 11:27 AM

From: nytimes.com with cool graphs.

A Journey to Baseball’s Alternate Universe

With the baseball season under way and the memory of scandal in the sport so fresh, many fans yearn for an earlier era, a time when mythology mingled with baseball. The sport’s most mythic achievement is Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, a feat that has never come even close to being matched. Fans and scientists alike, including Edward M. Purcell, a Nobel laureate in physics, and Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary biologist, have described the streak as well-nigh impossible.

In a fit of scientific skepticism, we decided to calculate how unlikely Joltin’ Joe’s achievement really was. Using a comprehensive collection of baseball statistics from 1871 to 2005, we simulated the entire history of baseball 10,000 times in a computer. In essence, we programmed the computer to construct an enormous set of parallel baseball universes, all with the same players but subject to the vagaries of chance in each one.

Here’s how it works. Think of baseball players’ performances at bat as being like coin tosses. Hitting streaks are like runs of many heads in a row. Suppose a hypothetical player named Joe Coin had a 50-50 chance of getting at least one hit per game, and suppose that he played 154 games during the 1941 season. We could learn something about Coin’s chances of having a 56-game hitting streak in 1941 by flipping a real coin 154 times, recording the series of heads and tails, and observing what his longest streak of heads happened to be.

Our simulations did something very much like this, except instead of a coin, we used random numbers generated by a computer. Also, instead of assuming that a player has a 50 percent chance of hitting successfully in each game, we used baseball statistics to calculate each player’s odds, as determined by his actual batting performance in a given year.

For example, in 1941 Joe DiMaggio had an 81 percent chance of getting at least one hit in each game (this statistic can be calculated using his total number of hits in the season, the number of games he played and his number of plate appearances). We simulated a mock version of his 1941 season, using the computer equivalent of a trick coin that comes up heads 81 percent of the time.

But the right question is not how likely it was for DiMaggio to have a 56-game hitting streak in 1941. The question is: How likely was it that anyone in the history of baseball would have achieved a streak that long or longer?

To answer this, our simulation repeated the coin-flipping experiments for every player in the history of the game, for every season in which he played. This is what we mean by a simulation of the entire history of baseball.

To tease out the meaningful lessons from random effects (fluky streaks that happen by luck), we redid the whole thing 10,000 times. In each of these simulated histories, somebody holds the record for the longest hitting streak. We tabulated who that player was, when he did it, and how long his streak was.

And suddenly the unlikely becomes likely: we get a very long streak each time we run baseball history. These results are shown in Figure 1. The streaks ranged from 39 games at the shortest, to a freakish baseball universe where the record was a remarkable (and remarkably rare) 109 games.

More than half the time, or in 5,295 baseball universes, the record for the longest hitting streak exceeded 53 games. Two-thirds of the time, the best streak was between 50 and 64 games.

In other words, streaks of 56 games or longer are not at all an unusual occurrence. Forty-two percent of the simulated baseball histories have a streak of DiMaggio’s length or longer. You shouldn’t be too surprised that someone, at some time in the history of the game, accomplished what DiMaggio did.

The real surprise is when the record was set. Our analysis reveals that 1941 was one of the least likely seasons for such an epic streak to occur.

Figure 2 shows the number of times, out of 10,000 simulations, that the longest streak occurred in a particular year. The likeliest time for the longest streak to have occurred was in the 19th century, back in the misty beginnings of baseball. Or maybe in the 1920s or ’30s.

But not in 1941, or afterward. That season was the miracle year in only 19 of our alternate major-league histories. By comparison, in 1,290 of our baseball universes, or more than a tenth, the record was set in a single year: 1894.

And Joe DiMaggio is nowhere near the likeliest player to hold the record for longest hitting streak in baseball history. He is No. 56 on the list. (Fifty-six? Cue “The Twilight Zone” music.) Two old-timers, Hugh Duffy and Willie Keeler, are the most probable record holders. Between them, they set the record in more than a thousand of the parallel baseball universes. Ty Cobb did it nearly 300 times.

DiMaggio held the record 28 times. Plus once more, when it counted.

C.C. Sabathia: Too many innings in 2007?

erniecamacho : April 17, 2008 11:21 AM

Sabathia has been awful so far.

Is it because he threw 256 innings last year? Is he feeling the pressure of playing for a new contract? Is he having problems with his mechanics? Is his weight is finally catching up with him? What are your theories?

EC

Charley Radbourn: The Definition of a Workhorse

triviamaster : October 24, 2007 10:21 AM

On July 23, 1884, Providence Grays pitcher Charley Radbourn begins what may be the most remarkable feat in baseball history. "Old Hoss" pledges to pitch every game for the rest of the season if the Grays would agree not to reserve him for the following year. He pitches in nine straight games, winning seven, losing one and tying one. He takes a "day off" and plays right field before returning to pitch six more consecutive games. He plays shortstop for a single game and then pitches in 20 more consecutive games, winning 10 before having his 20-game win streak stopped. He would lead the NL in wins with 60, an ERA of 1.38, innings pitched with 678.2, strikeouts with 441, complete games with 73 and winning percentage with a .833 mark. The Grays would win the pennant by 10½ games over the Boston Beaneaters.

Source

Dave Winfield: Picking up the check.

triviamaster : October 24, 2007 10:17 AM

Dave Winfield had an illustrious Hall of Fame career, compiling over 3,000 hits in 22 seasons. Two weeks before the 1994 baseball strike, Winfield was traded from the Minnesota Twins to the Cleveland Indians for the proverbial “player to be named later.” Winfield hadn’t played in a game for Cleveland when the strike forced the cancellation of the season. In all the turmoil and labor strife, no player was ever named to complete the transaction.

To settle the trade, executives from Cleveland and Minnesota went to dinner, and the Indians picked up the check. So Dave Winfield – according to The Sporting News, the 94th greatest player of all-time – was traded for a dinner.

Source

Ed Delahanty: Ed Delehanty Obituary

Ford Fricks Asterisk : September 1, 2007 10:17 PM

"Delehanty's relatives hint at foul play, but there is nothing in the case, apparently, to bear out such a theory."

I can't find where I've read it now (which makes it a little difficult to say how credible the source was), but supposedly the night watchman was found to have one or two of Delahanty's belongings in his possession.

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Ed Delahanty: Ed Delehanty Obituary

erniecamacho : August 30, 2007 02:03 PM

The New York Times (July 9th, 1903)
No Trace of Delehanty
Missing Baseball Player Believed to Have Been Drowned at Buffalo.

Buffalo, July 8. – A close watch is being kept along the river below the International Bridge for the reappearance of the body of a man, now believed to be Edward Delehanty, the famous baseball player, who fell through the open draw of the bridge last Thursday night. The then unknown man was putt off a Pullman car on Train No. 6, on the Michigan Central Railroad at Bridgeburg. He started to walk across the bridge to Buffalo. Sam Kingston, the night watchmen on the bridge, ordered him to return to shore. According to Kingston’s story the man supposed to be Delehanty started to run towards the American end of the bridge. The draw had been opened to allow a boat to pass, he says, and the man fell into the river and was drowned. River men say the body should come to the surface today or tomorrow at the latest.

Superintendent Bennett of the Pullman Car Company said today: “I found in the valise left by the passenger put off No. 6 a season pass to the Washington Baseball Park, made out in the name of Ed Delehanty. I found in the suitcase a suit of clothes with Delehanty’s name on it, also the name of the tailor in Washington who made it. There was a pair of baseball shoes in the satchel. I wrote at once to the tailor in Washington and learned the address of Delehanty’s family. I wrote Delehanty’s wife in Washington on recept of this information, telling her of the circumstances, and saying I believed that her husband was drowned off the bridge on the night in question.”


The New York Times (July 10th, 1903)
Baseball Player Swept over Niagara Falls
Woman's Body Also Recovered.

Niagara Falls, N.Y., July 9. - The body of Edward Delehanty, the right fielder of the Washington baseball team of the American League, who fell from the International Bridge last Thursday night, was taken from the river at the lower Niagara gorge today. Relatives of Delehanty arrived here this afternoon and positively identified the body as that of the missing baseball player.

The body of a woman thirty five years old was also recovered at Lewiston today. It has not been identified.

Delehanty's body was mangled. One leg was torn off, presumably by the propeller of the Maid of the Mist, near whose landing the body was found. The body will be shipped to Washington tonight. Delehanty's effects have been sent to his wife by the Pullman people.

Frank Delehanty of the Syracuse team and E.J. McGuire, a brother-in-law, from Cleveland, are here investigating the death of the player. They do not believe that Delehanty committed suicide or that he had been on a spree in Detroit. In the sleeper on the Michigan Central train on the way down from Detroit, Delehanty had five drinks of whiskey says Conductor Cole, and became so obstreperous that he had to put him off the train at Bridgeburg at the Canadian end of the bridge. Cole says Delehanty had an open razor and was terrifying others in the sleeper.

When the train stopped at Bridgeburg Cole did not deliver Delehanty up to a constable, as the Canadian police say he should have done. He simply put him off the train.

After the train had disappeared across the bridge, Delehanty started to walk across, which is against the rules. The night watchman attempted to stop him, but Delehanty pushed the man to one side. The draw of the bridge had been opened for a boat, and the player plunged into the dark waters of the Niagara.

Delehanty's relatives hint at foul play, but there is nothing in the case, apparently, to bear out such a theory.

From The Deadball Era

Ping Bodie: Nicknames

Ford Fricks Asterisk : July 28, 2007 11:30 AM

Ping Bodie was known for and by a number of things. However, his real name didn't happen to be one of those.

As you can see above, he was born as Francesco Stephano Pezzolo, which was Americanized to Frank Stephen Bodie. He picked up the "Ping" when he started playing baseball, because it echoed the sound the ball made off of his bat. "Bodie" had become his last name because it was one of the California towns he had lived in, and his uncle had played ball under that surname as well, because Italians weren't always welcome in the game at the time.

Bodie had also lived on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, which led to one of his two interesting nicknames -- "The Rockefeller of Telegraph Hill" -- although I have no idea what the source is for the Rockefeller part. Maybe it was simply because of Bodie's reputation as a braggart.

The other nickname that Bodie picked up in those days before political correctness was "The Wonderful Wop". The fun-loving Bodie was sometimes referred to as the first Italian in the major leagues, although he clearly wasn't. Ed Abbaticchio had reached the majors 14 years earlier, and was the first known major leaguer of Italian ancestry. Both Abbaticchio and Bodie were first generation Americans. However, it is possible that Bodie opened the pipeline of West Coast Italians to the New York Yankees (Lazzeri, Crosetti, DiMaggio).

Bodie is one of a few different players purported to be the inspiration behind Ring Lardner's fictional baseball hero Jack Keefe. Considering Bodie's time with the White Sox, while Lardner covered baseball for the Chicago Tribune, it's probably a bit more credible than some of the other candidates, although Keefe was no doubt an almagamation of sorts.

There are at least two timeless lines associated with Bodie. As Babe Ruth's first roommate with the Yankees, Bodie was once asked what the experience was like, to which he replied, "I don't room with Ruth; I room with his suitcase." Also, when Bodie was retired easily on a stolen base attempt, Bugs Baer wrote: "There was larceny in his heart, but his feet were honest."

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Pud Galvin: There's a brass monkey joke in there somewhere

Ford Fricks Asterisk : July 26, 2007 09:22 PM

One hundred years before the beginning of baseball's "steroid era", Pud Galvin was widely known to use elixir of Brown-Sequard... which was essentially testosterone drawn from the testicles of a monkey.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5314753

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Mike Coolbaugh: Coolbaugh dead at 35

erniecamacho : July 23, 2007 08:54 AM

From CNNSI

Coolbaugh dead at 35
Tulsa Drillers' first base coach killed by line drive

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Tulsa Drillers coach Mike Coolbaugh died Sunday night after being struck in the head by a line drive as he stood in the first-base coach's box during a Texas League game with the Arkansas Travelers, police said.

The game was suspended in the ninth inning after Coolbaugh was struck by a hard-hit foul ball off the bat of Tino Sanchez and taken to Baptist Medical Center-North Little Rock.

Travelers spokesman Phil Elson said Coolbaugh was hit on the right side of his head or on the forehead -- "I'm getting conflicting reports," he said -- and fell to the ground immediately.

According to a report posted on the Drillers' Web site late Sunday, Coolbaugh was knocked unconscious and CPR was administered to him on the field.

Sgt. Terry Kuykendall, spokesman for North Little Rock police, said Coolbaugh was still alive when he was put in an ambulance, but stopped breathing as the ambulance arrived at the hospital.

"They tried to resuscitate him, but he was pronounced dead at 9:47 p.m.," Kuykendall said.

Coolbaugh, 35, played 44 games in the major leagues for the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers over two seasons. The Drillers' Web site said Coolbaugh joined the Tulsa staff on July 3 as a batting coach. He played for the team briefly in 1996.

Tulsa is a Colorado Rockies affiliate.

A native of Binghamton, N.Y., Coolbaugh went to high school in San Antonio and was drafted in 1990 by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 16th round.

He played third base and bounced around the minors for a decade, before making his major league debut with the Brewers in 2001. He played five more big league games for the Cardinals in 2002. He hit two home runs in 70 major league at-bats.

Coolbaugh's older brother, Scott, also played 167 major league games over parts of four seasons with Texas, San Diego and St. Louis in the early 1990s.

The Travelers, an Angels affiliate, led 7-3 at the time the game was suspended with no outs and a runner on first in the top of the ninth inning. Officials said a date and time for finishing the game had not yet been chosen.

Coolbaugh is survived by his wife, Mandy, and two young sons, Joseph and Jacob. Mandy Coolbaugh is expecting another child in October.

Bruce Howard: On the bright side, he never did time

Ford Fricks Asterisk : June 30, 2007 11:57 AM

In the spring of 1963, the White Sox had two pitchers battling for a final roster spot, so each took the mound in an intrasquad game and Bruce Howard won both the game and the roster spot.

He started his career successfully in the bullpen later that season, but really established himself after being called up for three September starts in 1964. He allowed just one run in each of the first two starts, and then pitched a 2-hit shutout in his third start. At age 21, the White Sox had surely made a wise decision.

After a mediocre 1965 season, Howard posted a 2.30 ERA in 149 innings in 1966. If he could have extended that for 13 more innings, he'd have finished in second place for the ERA title (and would have given the White Sox 4 of the top 6 qualifiers).

Things fell apart for him in 1967, and he finished with a 3-10 record, struggling mostly with his control... not good for a team that finished 3 games out of first. That winter he was included a six player deal with the Orioles, which was effectively Don Buford to Baltimore to return Luis Aparicio to the South Side. 1968 would prove to be his final year in the majors, as the Orioles quickly gave up on him and dealt him to Washington for a useless Fred Valentine. Howard struggled in DC and his MLB career was over at age 25.

Also in 1968, Denny McLain led the Tigers to the World Series by becoming MLB's first 30-game winner in 34 years. He could have been pitching for the White Sox if he hadn't lost that intrasquad game to Howard.

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Juan Pierre: Career Average

Ford Fricks Asterisk : June 28, 2007 11:37 AM

Of all players who have started their careers since 1957 (the first season I can find complete game logs for), it would appear that no one has maintained a higher career batting average than Juan Pierre. In fact, his career average has never been lower at the end of a game than the .300 he's currently sitting on after last night's game.

Pierre singled in his first major league at-bat (which is what trips up most players) in 2000, and was 2-for-5 in the game. He would collect 3 hits over his next 12 at-bats, dropping him to .294 (5-for-17). That's the lowest average of his career, and he only dipped below .300 again a couple of days later when he was 8-for-27 on the season (.296). His .310 average at the end of the season was actually the lowest batting average he ever had at the completion of any game.

Pierre's current career batting average is .3004. If he goes hitless in his next six at-bats, it would technically drop below .300, but he would have to go hitless in his next 14 at-bats before it would round down to .299.

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Kirby Puckett: Useless Trivia

Ford Fricks Asterisk : June 28, 2007 09:54 AM

I just figured out that my information on Ted Williams is incorrect (I've since looked up that he struck out vs. Red Ruffing in his first at-bat).

I was using baseball-reference.com's game log feature, and was surprised when I discovered that they go all the way back to the beginning of Williams' career. Then while trying to check the first year of Stan Musial's career (12 games), I was surprised to find an entire season's worth of game logs. It turns out that their game logs start in 1957, and any player whose career carried over to that season simply has their 1957 games listed for all previous years.

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Kirby Puckett: Useless Trivia

tomhamilton : June 25, 2007 01:49 PM

I can't believe I screwed this up. I swear I looked up his first game to verify that he had a hit in his first at bat. That pretty much invalidates everything in my first post. Nevermind...

Kirby Puckett: Useless Trivia

Ford Fricks Asterisk : June 25, 2007 01:43 PM

Interestingly, Puckett grounded out to the shortstop in his first major league at-bat and then collected four hits in a row, so for one at-bat his average was .000.

I just checked 4 or 5 guys off the top of my head, who I knew got their careers off to a great start and never looked back. One who did even better than Puckett was another Twin -- Tony Oliva. In his first at-bat, he struck out as a pinch-hitter. He next appeared five days later in the starting lineup, and he walked-singled-walked-singled before finally making the second out of his career. After that second official at-bat of his career, I don't think his career batting average ever slipped lower than .303.

Ted Williams hit into a 4-6-3 double-play in his first major league at-bat and was 1-for-5 in that first game. With a single in his second at-bat, that means he was below Puckett's .282 for three at-bats (after his 1st, 4th and 5th at-bats). He got a hit in the first inning of his second game and went 2-for-4. After that, his career average would never drop below .300 (.333 by the middle of his third game).

Ichiro Suzuki grounded out twice and then struck out in his first three at-bats, before singling twice in his debut. So he was under Puckett's mark for his first four at-bats, and then went 0-4 in his second game. So I guess he's not really close... 8 total at-bats, but a lead-off single in game #3 put him at .300, and he's never dipped below .300 since.

I guess the key here is finding a guy who had a hit in his first career at-bat. Of course, the problem is that there are no game logs available for guys like Honus Wagner.

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Kirby Puckett: Useless Trivia

upthesecularhumanists : June 13, 2007 08:47 PM

Is that a record? Who would have a shot at beating that?

Joel

Kirby Puckett: Useless Trivia

tomhamilton : May 22, 2007 03:12 PM

Kirby Puckett went 4 for 5 in his first major league game. In his first season (1984) his batting average never dropped below .288.

He also got off to a good start 1985 but later slumped to a .266 through 8/16/85. At this point, his career average was at .282. This was the lowest that his career batting average ever got to. To be exact, his career batting average never went below .28203.

I need a new hobby.

Nolan Ryan: Interesting Box Scores

tomhamilton : May 16, 2007 03:12 PM

Nolan Ryan's seven no-hitters:

May 15th, 1973
July 15th, 1973
September 28th, 1974
June 1st, 1975
September 28th, 1981
June 11th, 1990
May 1st, 1991

The Tools of Ignorance is an online community which was conceived as a place where like-minded fans can communicate and research the game that they love.

Random Fact

Lead Belly, the legendary folk and blues musician, once killed a man in a fight and nearly killed a second man while in prison.