Even The Most Ardent Fan Forgets A Name Once In Awhile

IS BASEBALL'S FIRST STAB AT A POSTSEASON TOURNAMENT A BLESSING OR CURSE?

Pregame Pepper

Did you know ...

After hearing that Charlie Finley was moving the Kansas City Athletics to the Bay Area, U.S. Sen. Stuart Symington (D-Mo.) said, “Oakland is the luckiest city since Hiroshima.”

Movin’ On Up …

Congratulations to baseball’s Final Four: the Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves, and Los Angeles Dodgers. The best-of-seven Championship Series starts tomorrow.

Leading Off

Stumped By A Babe

By Paul Semendinger, Ed.D.

It's fun to be a baseball fan and pour over names and numbers and teams and history. I have been studying baseball as a hobby for close to 44 years, ever since I fell in love with the game in 1977.

Over those years, I have read a plethora of baseball books and magazines, watched countless games, reviewed old newspapers, studied box scores, and viewed baseball movies, documentaries, and the like. Much of my childhood was spent looking at baseball cards and paying as much attention to the stats on the back of the card as the player's picture on the front. And I played Strat-o-Matic. Lots of Strat-o-Matic. In other words, I'm pretty much like every member of the IBWAA. For the majority of my life, baseball and its history has been my constant companion.

My father was also a huge influence on me. He is still a huge baseball fan, with knowledge that still confounds me. He knows about baseball on a level that I have never been able to match. He's been a fan since 1946 and has passed that love on to me. I've tried my whole life to catch-up to my dad in knowing the game, but it's a futile effort. I'll never get there. It's similar to Zeno's Paradox...the closer I get, the further I seem to be behind.

My dad is a Red Sox fan. There might not be a bigger Red Sox fan in the world. I know that no one loved Ted Williams more than my dad. Somehow, I became a Yankees fan. Rather than spending most of these last 44 years studying the Red Sox, I have focused on the baseball team from the Bronx.

I have been told that I know quite a bit about the Yankees. So much so that often when I'm with fans of the game and talk turns to the Yankees, they try to stump me about various facts. They usually fail, but a good friend succeeded just the other day.

Due to the pandemic, my friend Rick, an 80-year-old man who still plays competitive softball in an over-50 league (imagine being thirty years older than the age cut-off!) met at a local park to catch-up. The conversation quickly turned to baseball.

As we talked, he would say, "I'm not sure if you know the name..." as he told his stories about the game he remembered from his younger days.

Of course I knew the names!

Tommy Henrich (talk about a softball)

Joe Gordon (I smashed it out of the park)

Don Larsen ("What was the date of that game?" he asked. "October 8, 1956" came my quick reply.)

Tommy Byrne

George Stirnweiss

Nick Etten

George McQuinn

I knew them all. We talked baseball as if I had seen these guys when I grew up.

And then Rick asked me what I knew about Loren Babe.

I knew the name. Of course, I knew the name. But that's all I knew. I dug deep into my memory and replied that I thought he was an infielder, probably played second base...

We had talked a bit about the Brooklyn Dodgers and I thought Loren Babe had been a Dodger. I was wrong. My memory and knowledge had finally failed me.

We did some quick research on our phones as we sat at the table.

Loren Babe had been a Yankee. He was an infielder, but he played third base primarily. His career lasted of but 120 games over two seasons 1952 and 1953. 17 of those games came as a Yankee. The 103 other games he played were as a member of the Philadelphia A's.

But why had Rick remembered such an obscure Yankee? What was it about this Babe that was memorable?

My first thought that he was involved in one of those huge trades the Yankees made back then with the A's. But that wasn't the case. The A's just purchased his contract from the Yankees. Later, he was involved in a big eleven-player trade back to the Yankees after the season, but again, this was a trade without the presence of a true superstar. Maybe the biggest name in that trade was Vic Power. After that trade, Loren Babe never again appeared in the big leagues.

I was initially stumped by this Babe and now was even more stumped as to why he had made an impression on my friend Rick.

And that's the thing about baseball, I don't think there was a compelling reason. Loren Babe was a Yankee, albeit briefly. That was all that mattered. The man played ball. He was a Yankee. Because of that, he left an impression.

And that is so beautiful and wonderful - and it's why I love the game so much.

(Postscript - I later learned, because I had to research this player, that he was a long-time minor-league manager and coach. Late in his life, needing about 50 days of Major League service, and fighting cancer, he was named as a coach on the White Sox so that he could earn the pension and the health benefits. Loren Babe coached with Charlie Lau and the manager, Tony LaRussa, just beginning his managerial career, stated that he learned a great deal from Loren Babe.)

Paul Semendinger, Ed.D. is editor-in-chief of Start Spreading the News. His e.mail address is drpaulsem@hotmail.com.

Cleaning Up

New 16-Team Playoff System Raises Revenue But Hurts The Game

By Dan Schlossberg

The 16-game tournament created by Major League Baseball is nothing more than a money grab that wrecks the integrity of the World Series.

Teams that lose more than they win (that means you, Astros) have no business playing in the postseason.

And teams that don’t finish first in their division are not championship teams no matter how many postseason games theu win (that means you, Marlins).

As a baseball purist who grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s before baseball split into divsions, I hated the concept from the start.

Anything that prevents the best teams from reaching the World Series hurts the game.

By adding an extra round this year, the team that becomes the world champion will have to win 13 extra games: two in the first round, three in the third, and four in both of the final rounds.

That’s bad for pitchers, bad for managers, and bad for fans who have no idea who plays whom, what channel to watch, where games are played, or what time they start.

It’s only good for Major League Baseball, which will realize a $1 billion windfall that will help defray the seven-figure losses that every team suffered when the season was shortened from 162 games to 60 by the pandemic.

Powered by the advertising-oriented 30-somethings in the Office of the Commissioner, Major League Baseball was scratching its collective head, desperate for some way to recoup millions lost because of the shortened schedule and spectator-free ballparks.

Voila! How about a 16-team tournament that adds a best-of-three round before the three-out-of-five Division Series and four-of-seven final rounds?

So what if it now takes 13 wins to crown a world champion? And so what if a team that lost more than it won becomes that world champion?

MLB better hope that the Houston Asterisks (nee Astros) don’t win the American League pennant again after losing Gerrit Cole to free agency, Justin Verlander to injury, and a majority of their games during the 60-game sprint of a season.

I love Dusty Baker, the oldest active manager at age 70, but didn’t see him as anything but a grandfatherly caretaker after the team’s 2017 World Series sign-stealing scandal was exposed in January. Fired at the time were manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, former bench coach Alex Cora (then managing the Boston Red Sox), and former player Carlos Beltran, who managed the Mets for 77 days without ever running a single game. The Astros also were fined $5 million, the maximum Commissioner Rob Manfred could impose under baseball rules.

Baker has never won a World Series – he had clear shots with the Giants and Nationals – but I can only imagine the irony and embarrassment of Manfred presenting the World Series trophy to the team considered the greatest cheaters since the 1919 Black Sox.

That’s not the main point here, though. The bottom line is that allowing more than half of the 30 clubs to reach the playoffs opens a Pandora’s box, practically begging a bad team to get hot at the right time to steal a world championship.

And the Astros – or more properly, the Asterisks – weren’t the only losers involved. The Milwaukee Brewers, who also finished 29-31, shouldn’t have been there either. But the entire NL Central, except for the pathetic Pittsburgh Pirates, kept playing into October.

The hare-brained tournament not only included six division champs but a half-dozen second-place teams and two wild-cards: the teams with the next-best records.

That allowed the Astros in but kept the White Sox out, even though Chicago tied Cleveland for second in the AL Central, just one game behind the Minnesota Twins. While the White Sox went 35-25, the same record as the first-place Atlanta Braves of the National League East, Chicago didn’t do as well as Cleveland within its own division and was thereby ruled out.

Compounding the felony is the fact that Manfred wants to keep the format intact for 2021 and beyond. So much for protecting “the best interests of baseball.”

Blame all this on Marvin Miller, whose tempestuous tenure as executive director of the Players Association resulted in player salaries increasing tenfold. Players loved him but owners hated him.

Rejected seven times by the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, it’s surprising and disappointing that he was finally elected last December. There is no real category for Miller, who was not a player, manager, umpire, or team executive. He’s not even a scout or coach, both of whom should be considered for Cooperstown.

Baseball, broadcast, and advertising executives insist the postseason tournament is a great innovation, just like seven-inning doubleheaders, universal application of the designated hitter, and relief pitchers required to face three men.

As a purist who grew up when the winners in each eight-team league went directly to the World Series without passing GO or collecting $200, I disagree. And I don’t think I’m in the minority.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is a national baseball writer for forbes.com, author of 38 baseball books, and weekend editor of Here’s The Pitch. E.mail him at ballauthor@gmail.com.

In Memoriam

Whitey Ford Picked A Perfect Time For His Passing

It wasn’t surprising that Whitey Ford passed away during the baseball playoffs.

The Hall of Fame pitcher had a great sense of timing, especially when it came to delivering under the pressure of postseason play.

Ford was World Series MVP honors in 1961, when the Yankees beat the Reds in five games, and won his only Cy Young Award after that season ended.

He remains the team’s career leader in wins (236), shutouts (45), and innings (3,170 1/3) and shares the club record for starts (438). He led the American League in wins three times and eared run average twice while spending his entire 16-year career in the Bronx.

During that span, he won six World Series rings and made 10 All-Star teams, earning himself a nickname also claimed by Frank Sinatra, “Chairman of the Board.”

A Hall of Famer since 1974, Ford failed to see the 2020 Yankees advance to the Championship Series. But the team plans to honor his memory.

Arguably the Greatest Living Yankees, as George Vecsey of The New York Times suggested after Yogi Berra died five years ago, Edward Charles Ford lived to the ripe old age of 91.

A New York City native raised in Queens, Ford lasted in the majors from 1950-1967. His teammates included Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Phil Rizzuto, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, and Berra – all of whom were American League MVP winners.

Whitey Ford’s No. 16 was retired in 1974, 13 years before his plaque was added to Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.

Ford was the fourth Hall of Famer lost during the last month, following Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, and Bob Gibson.

–Dan Schlossberg

Reader Reaction

On Adding Team Announcers To Playoff Booths

Regarding Dan Schlossberg’s “Cleaning Up” column Friday, he is so right. The national guys know so little compared to the team play-by-play guys. And they don't have very good chemistry.

We listened to Brian Anderson do the Rays-Yankees game, but it was the WRONG Brian Anderson. Rays fans love our Brian Anderson and Dwayne Statts. And we miss them doing OUR games.

--Peter Golenbock

Peter Golenbock of St. Petersburg, FL is the author of The Bronx Zoo, Bums, Idiots, and several other best-selling baseball books.