On legally mandating the anthem before the games

If ten Texas state senators and its lieutenant governor have their way, it’ll be Texas law to play “The Star Spangled Banner” before all games in the Lone Star State including at the Houston Astros’ home.

Among many things, in his farewell address this nation’s first president hoped his thoughts and suggestions would move his countrymanpersons “to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.” The Father of His Country might have had legislating as well as posturing patriotism in mind. Even though Texas wasn’t even a gleam in the new nation’s eye just yet.

A tentet of Texas state senators wants “The Star Spangled Banner” as required playing, listening, and posturing before every sports contest hosted in the Lone Star State—preseason, regular season, and postseason. For openers. As reported by Reason‘s deputy managing editor, Jason Russell, the tentet would like to tell one and all playing games in the state, “or else!”

Or else, among other things, no government entity state or local can make deals “that require a financial commitment” with any sports team “unless the agreement includes written verification the team will play the anthem before all games,” Russell writes. “If a team fails to comply, it would be in default of the agreement.”

Apparently, the Texas Ten took their cue from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is no known relation to the longtime ESPN SportsCenter anchor now hosting his own show on Premiere Radio Networks. In February, Patrick was not amused to learn the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks weren’t playing “The Star Spangled Banner” before their pre- and regular-season home games.

It’s not that anybody noticed until the final such game, because thanks to the pan-damn-ic there were no fans present until that final game. Then the NBA decided, not so fast, it’s time to re-enforce the league’s rule that the national anthem will be played before all NBA games, whether or not the Mavericks or their owner Mark Cuban likes it.

What has this to do with baseball? Well, two American League teams hail from Texas. So do four minor league teams even under the dubious new minor league realignment. If Patrick and the Texas Ten get their way, they’ll be spanked, too.

Russell observes that if the bill passes and is signed into law, major sports teams that let teams dispense with “The Star Spangled Banner” would find such decisions “affect[ing] stadium subsidies, any kind of government-funded tourism sponsorship, and possibly even arrangements where local law enforcement provides security.” The good news: the bill isn’t likely to cut the mustard in the courts, possibly all the way to the Supreme Court.

It’s one thing for the NBA or the NFL (which has mandated it since after World War II) as essentially private organisations to require it. It’s something else entirely for any government at any level to do so.”This legislation already enjoys broad support,” Patrick harrumphed last month. “I am certain it will pass, and the Star Spangled Banner will not be threatened in the Lone Star State again.” (He meant the flag as well as the song.)

Threatened?

“Patrick’s proposal that the Texas Legislature pass a state law requiring the national anthem be played represents state action,” writes attorney and journalism professor Amy Kristin Sanders in an e-mail to the Website of televisions Law & Crime. “As a part of its speech protections, the First Amendment also bars state actors from compelling others to speak—and requiring someone to play the national anthem is just that.”

We can surmise with little fear of contradiction that that isn’t exactly what an ancient Red Sox third baseman named Fred Thomas had in mind during the 1918 World Series.

On leave from the Navy to play in the Series, with the Navy’s full blessing, Thomas heard a Navy band (it was common in those times for military bands to provide music at sports events) strike up “The Star Spangled Banner” during the seventh-inning stretch and saluted spontaneously, as he might have been expected as a Navy man himself.

Thomas’s salute prompted other players in both dugouts (the Red Sox played and would beat the Cubs in that Series) to stand and salute, not to mention the already-standing crowd to salute likewise. This, by the way, was thirteen years before “The Star Spangled Banner” became America’s official national anthem.

Red Sox owner Harry Frazee decided that for the rest of that Series two things would happen: 1) For all games played in Fenway Park wounded war veterans would have free admission. 2) “The Star Spangled Banner” would be played in their honour before the start of those games. As with Thomas’s spontaneous salute, Frazee’s gesture did not come to him at the wrong end of a gun, actual or rhetorical.

It inspired other sports teams and leagues to do likewise, gradually, and entirely on their own, in the years to follow before and after the anthem became official. Baseball has never had a formal rule mandating either “The Star Spangled Banner” or “God Bless America” (which became an unofficial but consistent tradition in the wake of the 9/11 atrocity), but neither has it rejected the tradition of it.

When kneeling protests emerged a few years ago among black athletes spearheaded by long-former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick over rogue police brutality against black suspects, the passions both ways soared like a grand slam. They still do when the anthem issue arises, with or without the kneeling protests, as with Cuban and the Mavericks.

And you can’t always interject that kneeling is as much a gesture of respect and genuflection as it might be a gesture of protest. Even if you argue that kneeling protesters might appeal as much to a higher authority as against a particularly abusive temporal one. Even if you agree without taking a knee that there should be no place for rogue police in any diligent such department.

I’ve gone on record about it before, but Patrick’s harrumph compels it one more time: Is it absolutely necessary to sound “The Star Spangled Banner” before every damn last sports contest played all year long? If we believe patriotism must originate and remain in the heart, doesn’t the day-in, day-out pre-game playing erode rather than enhance the patriotic impetus by making it formal obligation instead of free and organic?

My past thoughts haven’t changed. I have no wish to eliminate the National Anthem from sporting events entirely. I also have no wish that Patrick and the Texas Ten should prevail and inspire other states to likewise. I remain in agreement with National Review senior editor Jay Nordlinger, who wrote almost three years ago, “I’m not sure that patriotism is compatible with compulsion,” to which George Washington himself might have answered with a resounding if quiet “it isn’t.”

And, I remain convinced that, on behalf of removing only too much of the compulsory factor from an impetus that must come purely from the heart and soul, playing “The Star Spangled Banner” ought to be limited to the following sports events:

* Opening Day for major sports leagues’ regular seasons or, in the case of non-team sports, major tournaments. (The U.S. Open in tennis and golf; the Masters’ tournament; the PGA Championship; etc.)

* Any games played on major national holidays. (Since I’m a baseball writer, let’s start from there: Memorial Day, Flag Day, the Fourth of July, Labour Day. Also, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday, Presidents Day.)

* All-Star Games in major sports leagues.

* The Super Bowl.

* Game One of each major sports league’s final round: the World Series (first things first!) NBA Championship, the WNBA Championship, the Stanley Cup Final (if Game One begins in the American team’s arena).

* Game Seven of such championship rounds, if they go that far.

And, in the immortal words of Porky Pig, eba-dee, eba-dee, eba-dee, eba-that’s all, folks.

I won’t expect the commissioners or governing bodies of major sports to stop and ponder, never mind enact the foregoing. They’re many things, but bold isn’t necessarily among them. Not the sort of bold that enhances and advances their games, anyway.

The eyes of the nation should be upon Texas, if only to see that the way to patriotic wisdom is more often than we think to travel the road assuredly not taken. Certainly not by the Lone Star State’s second in command plus ten lawmakers unaware that they wish to make dubious and unconstitutional law.

“It shouldn’t be against any rules”

2020-08-18 TatisMachado

Looks like a winner to me.

Collin McHugh may have opted out of pitching in 2020, but the former Houston Astro hasn’t opted out of thinking. Lucky for us. Concerning the Fernando Tatis, Jr. grand slam kerfuffle, McHugh has wisdom the old farts will likely ignore but the young and young-at-heart will receive as writ.

Swinging in a 3-0 count should not be against any rules, no matter the score,” McHugh tweeted the morning after Tatis’s eight-inning salami on 3-0 rubbed the Texas Rangers the wrong way and got the next San Diego Padres batter, Manny Machado, a pitch thrown right to and past his rump roast.

“Before a game I would always look to see what [percent] a guy swings 3-0,” McHugh continued. “If it’s over 20%, it means I can’t just groove one. The guys who will never ‘give you a pitch’ at the plate are the toughest AB’s.”

Someone among the Rangers brain trust ought to communicate McHugh’s wisdom to Ian Gibaut, who relieved Juan Nicasio after Nicasio’s 3-0 fastball just off the middle of the plate took a ride into the fan cutouts behind the right field fence off Tatis’s bat Monday. Gibaut is the Ranger who thought Tatis’s flouting of the Sacred Unwritten Rules earned Machado a target off his tail.

Tatis wasn’t the only hitter running afoul of the SURs that day. In Atlanta’s Truist Park, Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto had the temerity to send Braves reliever Will Smith’s service on a 445 foot trip to the seats in the top of the ninth and give it a far quicker look of self-admiration than the young Nat has given other such thumps in his young career.

Smith promptly switched his Braves hat for his Fun Police hat and fired an expletive Soto’s way. That’ll teach him. Not only did Smith’s bark prompt Soto to take an even slower trip around the bases than he might have planned, it prompted Nats manager Dave Martinez to play the other side of unwritten law enforcement as Soto’s defense attorney.

“Will Smith said something to Soto that I didn’t really appreciate,” the manager told reporters after that game—which the Braves came back to win on Dansby Swanson’s game-ending bomb. “So I just want to let him know, hey, it wasn’t Juan who threw the ball. His job is to hit so just be quiet and get on the mound. You threw the pitch, make a better pitch.”

Well, what do you know? A piece of me would love to think Martinez might have seen what I wrote earlier Tuesday morning:

You let a hitter get into a 3-0 count with or without the bases loaded? That’s on you. You throw him something he can meet with the bat at all? That’s on you. You want to scream bloody murder because he didn’t thank you nice fellows by taking strike one and his medicine after you were already so generous as to let him and his take a seven-run lead on you going in? That’s on you, too.

But I know better. I have about as much chance of being seen, never mind read and heeded, by the manager of the defending world champions as Donald Trump has of being added to Mount Rushmore. And Rangers manager Chris Woodward has less chance of being seen as a wise man than as an artery-hardened wisenheimer.

“You’re up by seven in the eighth inning — it’s typically not a good time to swing 3-0,” you may remember Woodward fuming after the Padres finished what they started, a 14-4 blowout. “It’s kind of the way we were all raised in the game. But, like I said, the norms are being challenged on a daily basis, so just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not right. I don’t think we liked it as a group.”

This season has already challenged norms enough. Remember: we’re trying to get through a major league baseball season in a time of coronavirus pandemic. The Show’s government has put into place enough truly dubious actual rules and experiments. The whole thing continues to play a lot like you’d imagine an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents the Inner Sanctum of the Outer Limits Brought to You By Chocolate Cookies with White Stuff in the Middle.

You would have thought the last thing any team wanted to exhume was yet another fruitless debate on yet another violation of the SURs that does nothing much more than make the exhumers resemble the would-be enforcers of a protection racket.

You might also have thought the Rangers had a working sense of their own 21st Century history. We take you back to 22 August 2007, in Camden Yards, when a different group of Rangers could have been brought up on charges of human rights violations for the 30-3 massacre they laid on the Baltimore Orioles that fine evening.

The abuses included a ten-run top of the eighth—including Travis Metcalf grinding salami—with the score already 14-3 . . . and a six-run top of the ninth when the casualties amounted to 24-3. I don’t remember if the Orioles raised any objections to any SURs that may or may not have been violated during the carnage, but I did wonder at the time whether they’d suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome.

McHugh isn’t the only pitcher present or past who thinks the Rangers should have spent more time making solid pitches and less time complaining because one not-so-solid pitch got demolished on 3-0 late in a blowout-to-be.

“I’m old enough that I grew up in a game that a lot of older guys had all the power and they would tell you how to act, what to do, and you did what they told you to do because that’s how it was,” said Ron Darling, once a world champion 1986 New York Mets pitcher and now a Mets broadcaster.

“Unwritten rules only work if everyone knows the unwritten rules,” Darling continued. “By their very definition, nobody knows an unwritten rule, so what you have now is you’re trying to make a decision that a 3-0 count in a seven-run game is off limits. I’m just not with that at all.”

How about we ask Zach Davies, the Padres’ starting pitcher Monday night, who might have a thing or three to say about whether the SURs ought to overthrow such game facts as the Padres bullpen entering the game with the third-highest collective earned-run average of any Show bullpen? Such bullpens make even seven-run leads feel about as secure as a bank whose vault is left open after closing time.

“A lot of guys talk about unwritten rules of baseball, but you’re in the heat of the moment, you’re gonna try to get your pitch as a hitter and he didn’t miss,” Davies told The Athletic‘s Dennis Lin.

So you can’t really fault him for that, in my opinion. Some guys feel differently, but everybody has their own opinion on it. Make sure your 3-0 pitch is a little bit better. I’ve been hit on 3-0 and homers have been hit off me, maybe not in the same situation, but that’s something that everybody kind of has a little bit different opinion on.

Would Tatis have escaped scrutiny (and would Machado have escaped a sailer toward his seat) if he hadn’t hit a three-run homer an inning earlier? That one made the score 10-3 in the first place. Grinding salami in the next inning regardless of the count could be taken by some teams and their pitchers as putting out the first insult’s fire with gasoline.

Meanwhile, it looks like San Diego’s Wil Myers taught the Rangers and their Tuesday starting pitcher Mike Minor a little lesson in manners in the top of the first. With two out and the bases loaded, Myers caught hold of a Minor changeup that hung like a condemned man and hung it into the left center field bullpen.

Then Tatis exacted his own revenge on Gibault in the top of the fourth, after Jurickson Profar belted a two-run homer. With Tatis singling to left with two out and Machado drawing the walk that pushed Minor out of the game, bringing in Gibault in the first place . . . Tatis stole third.

He was stranded, and the most the Rangers could muster was a four-run bottom of the fourth, kicked off when Joey Gallo bombed San Diego reliever Javy Guerra for a three-run homer with nobody out.

But the real messages were sent and re-sent. Including Gibault and Woodward being suspended for their upholding of the SURs Monday night. Gibault appealed his three-game suspension and thus was able to get Tatis’s return message; Woodward served his suspension Tuesday.

Another former major leaguer, Chris Singleton, tweeted a political campaign-style T-shirt emblazoned, Tatis-Machado ’20: Take the Cake. Sounds like a winning ticket to me. Neither actual presidential campaign has yet devised a campaign slogan that snarkily creative, which figures. And letting them have fun is just about the last thing the country needs.

Skin depth vs. Globe Life Field

2020-06-25 GlobeLifeParkActuality

Considering its appearance, should the naming rights to the Rangers’ new home have been sold to an airline instead?

In 1964, crooning and caressing lyrics by songwriting legend Eddie Holland, the Temptations’ singularly gifted and ultimately troubled co-lead singer David Ruffin sang, “if you’re lookin’ for a lover/don’t judge a book by its cover/she may be fine on the outside/but so untrue on the inside.” Around him, his fellow Temptations chimed, “Oh, yeah.”

Neither Holland nor Ruffin and his four singing partners foresaw Globe Life Field, the new home facility of the Texas Rangers. The joint (it’s extremely difficult to call it a field, never mind a ballpark) is a monument to both architectural prankishness and taxpayer gullibility.

Inside, the place looks as agreeable as Houston’s Minute Maid Park, or Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Even without the pleasurably nutty home run train behind the stands in Houston or the asthetics-enhancing old railroad building behind the Yards. Surely the retractable roof was a dire necessity considering the climate. So far, so good.

But outside, the place looks like anything from a Goodyear blimp or Boeing 747 hangar to a lidded barbeque grill . . . for Paul Bunyan. The Rangers seem to have studied Minute Maid Park—which looks like a hangar only on its sectional retractable roof, atop a rather more classic and handsome ballpark-like external building—and decided the Astros didn’t go far enough marrying baseball to aviation.

Texas summers are not renowned for gentleness. The Rangers’ previous home, known first as the Ballpark in Arlington and then Globe Life Park in Arlington, was an oasis of splendor in the middle of oppressive summer heat and humidity. Beautiful to behold but often too smothering in which to play baseball, the Rangers abandoned the park after a mere 26 years.

Put that into perspective. Connie Mack Stadium (the former Shibe Park) was 67 years old when the Philadelphia Phillies moved from there into the washing machine tub known as Veterans Memorial Stadium. Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field (known occasionally as the Old Lady of Schenley Park) was 61 when the Pirates threw her over for a similar tub known as Three Rivers Stadium—which lived a whopping thirty years. (The Vet made it to 32.)

Cleveland Municipal Stadium (known colloquially to Indians fans as the Mistake on the Lake) was 63 when the Tribe moved into Jacobs Field (since re-named Progressive Field). Crosley Field in Cincinnati was 68 when the Reds sent her into the history books in favour of a bowl named Riverfront Stadium, which lived to 32 before the Reds moved into Great American Ballpark.

The Polo Grounds as last seen (three previous structures wore the name) was 52 when the New York Mets moved out of the New York Giants’ former home and into the Flushing Meadows multipurpose stadium longtime New York building tyrant Robert Moses once hoped to jam down Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley’s throat.

Ebbets Field was 46 when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. The park was no longer expandable and Brooklyn, like much of the country, grew metastatically after World War II. It hemmed in the park Dodger fans often called God’s Little Acre. O’Malley planned to build a new Brooklyn ballpark with what would have been sports’ first retractable roof.

Moses—who’d sworn no privately-owned sports facility would ever rise again so long as he decided New York’s building future—said, “Not so fast, buster.” O’Malley built Dodger Stadium (the Dodgers still own the park) and the place has out-lived Ebbets Field by twelve years and counting.

Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota was a measly 26 and still looking young and pretty enough when the Twins dumped her for a gasbag known as the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The city fathers of Bloomington built the Met in the first place hoping to attract a major league team, either by relocation or major league expansion. (They got the former, courtesy of the Washington Senators.) That’d teach them.

Detroit Tigers fans often called Tiger Stadium (formerly Navin Field and Briggs Stadium) “The Old Girl.” When ancient former Tigers pitcher Elden Auker joined the closing ceremonies, his home newspaper in Florida headlined it, “Auker Says Goodbye to Old Girl”—jolting his maid, who asked his bemused wife just when her husband started stepping out and for how long, amusing Auker no end.

Well, now. The Old Girl was 89 when the Tigers moved from there into Comerica Park. Comerica Park is now a ripe young 20. If the current trend is to become the rule, Comerica should have six more years before someone in Detroit decides it’s time to dump the old bat in favour of prying fresh meat out of already-drained taxpayers.

Turner Field in Atlanta got hers slightly younger: she was only nineteen when the Braves decided she was far too expensive to keep. A combination of swelling capital maintenance costs and Atlanta’s suffocating traffic congestion turned her into a overpriced date, said the Braves—whose owner, Liberty Media, paid $400 million to buy them in 2007 and is only into $181 million over thirty years to pay off the remaining county bonds for Truist Park (born SunTrust Park).

2020-06-29 TheBallparkInArlington

The Ballpark in Arlington/Globe Life Park in Arlington: Granting the harsh summer peak, you still can’t help asking, “The Rangers dumped this for that?!?”

The Rangers may have found the Ballpark in Arlington/Globe Life Park trying in the peak of summer but Ranger fans found the park wholly agreeable. Agreeable enough that enough such fans hollered “foul!” and formed Citizens for a Better Arlington to oppose the city throwing half a billion dollars toward a fresh young thing when their baseball home was a measly twelve. That’s how old the BAA/GLP was in 2016, when the ballot initiative approving the bonds passed.

At least when husbands or wives throw their incumbent but aging spouses over for younger, fresher produce, they pay the price out of their own pockets. Arlington’s mayor in 2016 was Jeff Williams, elected the year before after running as a tax cutter and modest spender and winning accordingly. Then he actually had to do the job. Oops.

As a new documentary, Throw a Billion Dollars From a Helicopter, demonstrates, Williams had barely assumed his oath of office when he began “pimping for taxpayers to cover half the cost of a new billion-dollar stadium” for the team once co-owned by former President George W. Bush, as Reason writer Nick Gillespie phrases it.

Williams expertly works the levers of local boosterism, and [the film’s director Michael] Bertin relishes showing the mayor and other stadium supporters invoking the phrase “world-class city” over and over again. The new ballpark will feature a retractable roof! It will be not just a stadium but a family “destination” with bars, restaurants, and concert venues! All of which will be “world class” and make Arlington a “world-class city”! Smaller cities—Arlington has about 400,000 residents and is part of the Dallas-Forth Worth metro area—often have inferiority complexes, and sports leagues and national chains know how to take advantage of that when looking for sweetheart subsidy deals.

Williams’s schmoozing is one of two storylines Bertin pursues. The other, Gillespie writes, is “the phoney-baloney economic analysis that gets mustered up every time a team owner and pliant politicians want to sell a stadium to wary taxpayers.”

The Stanford economist Roger Noll compares stadiums to pyramids in ancient Egypt, structures built to honor dead pharaohs but paid for by the sweat and toil of living, breathing people. Noll and others point out that entertainment spending is generally a fixed pie and that local residents substitute one option for another. Teams thus don’t create new spending; they take it from other businesses, most of whom are actually paying property and other taxes. Bertin drives home the fact that most stadium boosters talk about the “economic impact” of having a team, not the actual economic benefits. Invariably, when you factor in the costs of building and financing a stadium and all the extra giveaways to team owners (who keep most or all revenue from parking, concessions, and the like), stadium projects are municipal money pits.

That multipurpose stadium Robert Moses wanted to jam down Walter O’Malley’s throat ultimately became Shea Stadium. The Big Shea was 44 when the Mets moved next door to retro-looking Citi Field. The Mets themselves agreed to pay about two-thirds of her price, and New York City still owns the joint. That’s like dumping your wife to marry that comely young debutante and discovering her father’s calling the marital shots until death do he and your new child bride part.

The coronavirus-delayed major league baseball season isn’t going to get there gently, if at all. Not with several affirmed COVID-19 cases among some teams’ players and personnel, including several among Rangers personnel that have the team jolted to speak politely. That seems a lot larger crisis than the ugliness of and around the Rangers’ new home.

Gillespie observes that Bertin was a devout and diehard baseball fan before he took up the making of Throw a Billion Dollars from a Helicopter. Globe Life Field—whose skin-deep beauty requires deeper drilling to appreciate than David Ruffin knew was required for his newfound love—stands as the newest monument to a too-classic baseball contradiction, the ugliness of its business versus the beauty of its play.

Minor subterfuge

2019-09-27 MikeMinor

Mike Minor nailed his 200th strikeout with a little sneaky help from his friends Thursday night.

Let me put it right on the table for you. What the Rangers did Thursday in a bid to fatten Mike Minor’s shot at 200 strikeouts on the season isn’t exactly the first time someone’s resorted to a little subterfuge in order to enable a particular milestone. And if you still believe that boys will be boys, it won’t be the last, either.

So the Red Sox are a little p.o.ed over Rangers first baseman Ronald Guzman charging Chris Owings’s one-out popup then pulling his mitt back to let the ball hit the foul grass in the ninth? The Rangers weren’t exactly thrilled at the Red Sox swinging on first pitches in the eighth, either.

“Mike Minor’s 200th strikeout should have a big asterisk. That was bush. Chasing a milestone that way is unprofessional,” fumed Boston Globe writer Pete Abraham in a tweet. “Ask me if I care, Pete,” Minor fumed back.

“I didn’t love the idea that we dropped the popup at the end,” said Rangers manager Chris Woodward to reporters after Minor nailed number 200 and, while they were at it, won the game 7-5. “But on the other side of that, they swung at three pitches in a row in the eighth inning down by two. If they have any beef with that — obviously I’m pretty sure [Red Sox manager Alex] Cora did — they chose to not try and win the game as well. They were trying to keep him from striking a guy out.”

The very nerve of the Red Sox. Trying to keep a pitcher from striking them out. What’ll they think of next? Their pitchers trying to keep hitters from hitting?

Good thing Minor wasn’t going for a no-hitter and the Rangers didn’t put the shifts onto the final Red Sox batters. The Red Sox might have been ornery enough to look at all that yummy open expanse gifted them, decided, “You’re stupid enough to give us that much room to hit, we’re not going to look a gift horse’s ass in the mouth,” and whacked a grounder or two into that gifted meadow.

But then Cora had something to say about the Guzman play. “I’m just happy our guys are playing the game the right way,” he told reporters himself. “We’re playing hard until the end. It’s been two weeks we’ve been eliminated, but we’ve been going at it the right way. That’s all I ask. I don’t manage the Rangers.”

I don’t want to be the wise guy, here, but stuff such as Guzman did to help his mate keep a shot at a milestone alive goes on more often than you think. Actual or alleged.

One of baseball’s oldest legends is the 1910 race to the American League batting title between Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie. The legend included Cobb sitting out the last two games to protect his average and the St. Louis Browns willing to give Lajoie, then with the Indians, his hits by hook, crook, and anything else they could get away with.

The Browns and the Tribe played a season-ending doubleheader while Cobb sat idle. Browns manager Jack O’Connor ordered his rookie third baseman Red Corriden to play on or at the edge of the outfield grass. Lajoie went 8-for-8 in the twin bill to win the title technically. American League president Ban Johnson declared Cobb the batting title winner after the shenanigans were taken to him.

The Chalmers Automobile Company, which awarded a car to the batting champion in those years, gave Cobb and Lajoie a new car each, pretty much deciding they were tied. Then, they changed the award the following season, giving the car to the league’s most valuable player, not the batting champion.

And O’Connor and his coach Harry Howell were banned from baseball for life over the scandal. (Lajoie’s ninth plate appearance of the day resulted in him reaching on an error; Howell tried to bribe the official scorer into changing the ruling to a base hit, but the scorer declined.)

Decades later, Denny McLain had his 31st win of 1968 in the bag when he decided he’d help Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle secure the last milestone he wanted in his career, retiring past Jimmie Foxx on baseball’s all-time home run list. Mantle was already at 534, tied with Foxx and in third place on the list.

When Tiger catcher Bill Freehan greeted Mantle checking in at the plate, with one out in the top of the eighth, Freehan told Mantle he’d be told what was coming because McLain really wanted him to do it. Sure enough, Mantle got one where he wanted it and sent it into the upper deck, making the score 6-2, Tigers. Thanks, Denny. Mantle sweetened his own retirement pot the next day when he took Red Sox righthander Jim Lonborg deep for number 536.

Almost a decade earlier, Mantle’s far less controversial teammate was offered a season-ending gift. Bobby Richardson was a sharp defensive second baseman who was often made the Yankees’ leadoff hitter. How did a guy with a .299 lifetime on-base percentage become a leadoff hitter? For one reason only: Richardson was almost impossible to strike out. (His lifetime average strikeouts per 162 games: 28.)

Richardson was also a devout Christian then and now. His usual Yankee running mates were fellow clean-livers, shortstop Tony Kubek and pitcher Bobby Shantz, and the trio was nicknamed the Milk Shake Kids. The only skirts they ever chased were the ones wrapped around their own wives; the strongest drink they probably ever took was fresh lemonade.

In fact, they inadvertently helped expose the Great Yankee Private Detective Agency in the late 1950s. When GM George Weiss hired a firm in hopes of throttling some of the randier Yankees’ off-field pursuits, the joy boys shook the dicks but the dicks still latched onto a group of Yankees anyway, tailing them around town until discovering it was the Milk Shake Kids . . . and the vice to which they were in such hot pursuit was (wait for it!) ping pong.

On the final day of the 1959 season, Richardson stood with an excellent chance of becoming the only Yankee to hit .300 or better on the year. As Richardson remembered to New York Daily News writer Bill Madden for Pride of October: What It Was to Be Young and a Yankee, he was supposed to get two gifts that day. Manager Casey Stengel would lift him from the game if he got a hit his first time up, and the Orioles were willing to do anything to let him have his hit.

The Orioles’ scheduled starting pitcher Billy O’Dell, a friend of Richardson who shared quail hunting trips with him, told him before the game he’d be “throwing one right in there for you.” Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson said he’d play deep at third in case Richardson felt like a bunt. Even the day’s plate umpire, Ed Hurley, was in on the little fix: “If you hit it on the ground, just make it look close at first.”

Richardson and Madden would make you believe that, first time up, Richardson smacked a line drive to right—and Orioles right fielder Albie Pearson made a diving catch on it. Richardson laughed to Madden recalling it. “Pearson was one of my closest friends in the game—we’d spoken together at church! He must have been the only person in the ballpark who didn’t know I was supposed to get my hit!”

Richardson is as honest as the day is long; if he ever told a lie in his life his jaw would probably dislodge from his skull. But precise memory fails even the most honest of men. Because the record actually shows that Richardson got his hit leading off the bottom of the first . . . and Pearson was nowhere near the ball: it was a line double to left center field.

And Stengel didn’t lift Richardson from the game. In the third inning Richardson hit the liner on which Pearson dove for the catch, and he also smacked a one-out single in the bottom of the sixth. Richardson didn’t leave the game until the Yankees were in a 3-1 hole with one out in the bottom of the eighth (the score would hold for a season-ending Orioles win), and Stengel elected to pinch hit for him.

The pinch hitter: the future superstar of Original Mets calamity, Marv Throneberry, who wasn’t yet nicknamed Marvelous. And O’Dell struck him out. Which was less embarrassing than what happened to the next Yankee hitter after Mantle hit McLain’s gift out.

Joe Pepitone watched the Mantle-McLain comedy from the on-deck circle and concluded McLain wouldn’t quit feeling generous when he checked in at the plate. So, just as Mantle did during his at-bat, Pepitone waggled the barrel of the bat over the plate to say where he’d like some service. And McLain knocked Pepitone on his ass with the first pitch.

Joe Grzenda, RIP: Holding a riot ball

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Joe Grzenda (right) with President George W. Bush, handing Bush the baseball Grzenda saved since the final, ill-fated Washington Senators game in 1971.

It took almost 34 years for a certain baseball to be pitched to home plate in RFK Stadium, Washington. And when it finally was thrown to the plate, it didn’t sail out of the hand of the pitcher who’d kept the ball all those years, despite having been invited to throw it.

The ball would have been thrown on 30 September 1971, by Washington Senators lefthanded pitcher Joe Grzenda, with two out in the top of the ninth and the Senators about to bank a season and Washington life-ending 7-5 win, assuming Grzenda could erase Yankee second baseman Horace Clarke.

Despite the invitation to throw it up to the plate when Washington re-entered the majors by way of the Montreal Expos moving to become the Nationals, Grzenda handed the honour instead to President George W. Bush, clad in a Nats jacket, who threw an admirable breaking ball to Nats catcher Brian Schneider.

Grzenda, who died 12 July at 82, two days after his 60th wedding anniversary, never got the chance to throw the ball on that surreal September 1971 afternoon. He ended up keeping the ball in a drawer in his Pennsylvania home, in an envelope marked, “Last baseball ever thrown as a Washington Senator, baseball club. Sept. 30, 1971. Murcer grounded out to me.”

That would be Bobby Murcer, Yankee outfielder, who grounded out to Grzenda for the second out of a save attempt that never got consummated thanks to a fan riot that kept Grzenda from pitching to Clarke.

Nicknamed Shaky Joe because of a few nervous habits he had on the mound, Grzenda became a Senator in 1970 after a trade from the Minnesota Twins, who’d been the original Senators until moving for 1961, which prompted the expansion birth of the second Senators in the first place.

Shaky Joe finished 1971 with a magnificent 1.92 earned run average, a 2.00 fielding-independent pitching rate, and a 1.01 walks/hits per inning pitched rate. He was a sharp middle-to-late relief pitcher finishing 46 games in 1971 and credited with five saves every one of which was two innings or more. In his next-to-last major league season, he averaged two innings per gig and was, arguably, the Senators’ most reliable relief pitcher.

Several hours before he erased Felipe Alou and Murcer on back-to-back ground outs, Grzenda sat in the RFK Stadium stands well before game time and reflected. “I don’t want to leave this place,” he said. “This year has been the best I’ve had. It’s been like a beginning for me.”

Major league baseball was leaving the capital again because Senators owner Bob Short decided he couldn’t make it work in D.C. any longer—after he’d done just about everything within his power to guarantee it wouldn’t work.

Short wouldn’t sell the team to local interests or at least to buyers willing to camp in Washington, either—unless they were willing to pony up a minimum of $12 million, that is. The Washington Post‘s almost mythological sportswriter, Shirley Povich, compared that to the guy who buys a $9000 car, abuses it, spends $3,000 to repair it, then claims he has a car worth $12,000. Is that so Washington, or what?

“His fellow club owners let go unrecognised Short’s continual mistakes that got him into the mess that, he says, threatened to bankrupt him,” Povich wrote 23 September 1971.

They paid scant heed to the fact that Short foolishly overborrowed to buy the team and then pleaded poverty, and to the stubborn refusal of this novice club owner to hire a general manager, and his record of wrecking the club with absurd deals . . . [T]he impoverished Senators were the only team in the league billed for the owner’s private jet, with co-pilots. The owners had ears only for his complaint that he couldn’t operate profitably in Washington.

Publicly and to his fellow American League owners, Short promised he hadn’t bought the Senators on shaky financial standing in order to move them. According to Tom Deveaux’s The Washington Senators, 1901-1971, Short indulged the nation’s other national pastime: litigation, threatening just that against his fellow owners unless they let him leave.

After authorising then president Joe Cronin to find a solution, the American League owners were stunned at Short’s admission he’d been talking to Texas and other areas. Short was also in hot water with the Armory Board, which owned RFK Stadium and to which the Senators owed six figures worth of back rent. That’s rather Washington, too.

When the Armory Board threatened to turn off the stadium lights, Short relished the feud. At first the board seemed to cave a bit, offering Short free rent for the first million admissions per season and the revenues from stadium billboard advertising. What the board wouldn’t do, however, was forgive the $178,000 back rent. Along came Washington’s city council to sue the Senators and the Armory Board, for failing to pay and collect rent.

That swung into action commissioner Bowie Kuhn, whose boyhood included working as a scoreboard operator at old Griffith Stadium. Kuhn ordered Short “to keep his yap shut,” Deveaux wrote, while hitting the road soliciting potential buyers for the Senators. It proved to be only slightly less futile a road trip than many taken by the Senators themselves.

The American League owners took a 21 September 1971 vote on whether to allow the Senators to move. They now feared the National League might move to town if the Senators moved out, giving the nearby Orioles heavier competition than the usually hapless Nats. Short needed 75 percent of the votes to get his wish.

At first, three clubs abstained while the Orioles and the White Sox voted no. World Airways magnate Ed Daly told Kuhn and Athletics owner Charlie Finley—one of the abstentions—he was willing to buy the Senators. The problem was Finley telling Daly the eleventh hour was upon them, and Daly telling Finley he couldn’t decide that fast. That’s so Washington, too.

Thus did Finley and Angels owner Gene Autry (originally a “no” vote, and acting through a representative since he was undergoing eye surgery) change to “yes” votes. Thus would the Senators begin 1972 as the Texas Rangers. And thus would the Senators meet the Yankees at RFK Stadium on 30 September 1971,  an almost 20,000 strong crowd filling the joint, hoisting placards and banners zapping Short up one side and down the other—particularly those displaying his initials.

Grzenda wasn’t the only Senator who wasn’t anxious to leave Washington. The idea didn’t exactly thrill Frank Howard, their power hitting behemoth and star, either. Which didn’t stop the 6’8″ giant known as Capital Punishment for his glandular home runs from giving those heartsick fans one final thrill, when he checked in at the plate to lead off the bottom of the sixth.

With the Senators down 5-1 and Howard being 0-for-1 with a walk thus far, he caught hold of a Mike Kekich fastball and drove it not too far from the upper deck, and the crowd went nuclear in its momentary joy. Nudged out of the dugout for a curtain call, Howard tipped his helmet to the crowd for the first time in his baseball life, blew them a couple of kisses, then wept, as much for sorrow as joy.

The blast started a four-run inning to tie the game at five, a tie broken in the bottom of the eight thanks to an RBI single (Tom McCraw) and a sacrifice fly. (Elliott Maddox.) Then Grzenda went out to try saving it for Paul Lindblad, whose two spotless relief innings put him in line to get credit for a win.

After Grzenda erased Alou and Murcer in the top of the ninth, fans began jumping on and off the field down the foul lines. It looked menacing enough for Senators manager Ted Williams (yes, children, that Ted Williams) to order his bullpen pitchers to beat it post haste. Except that the Splinter forgot to urge them to take the safe path to the clubhouse, under the RFK Stadium stands.

As Grzenda got ready to pitch to Yankee second baseman Horace Clarke, the relievers left the bullpen and headed down the field toward the dugout. Oops. “That’s when all hell broke loose,” Deveaux wrote. “The fans stormed back onto the field en masse, yanking up clumps of dirt and grass which might be kept as souvenirs of Washington Senators baseball.”

Howard playing first base had three fans climbing his back, which must have been something like three mice climbing a tree. Grzenda saw a rather large man heading his way appearing at first to have ideas about tackling the pitcher, which Grzenda eventually admitted gave him ideas about throwing his glove—which still had the ball in it—at the guy. But all Grzenda got for that was a pat on his shoulder.

Finally, as fans continued pillaging what they could, including bases, plus letters and numbers from the scoreboard, umpire Jim Honochick ruled the forfeit to the Yankees. By the time the fans got through with the place, RFK Stadium looked as though it was  tattered and torched in a terrorist attack.

Grzenda drove home from the park with his wife, Ruth, and their two children, including his then-ten year old son Joe, Jr., who wept all the way home. The Grzendas met in 1956, when the lefthander was a Tigers prospect and the Birmingham Barons’s (AA) best pitcher, and she was sitting in the stands at Birmingham (AA).

He had a look at the comely brunette and handed the bat boy a note to give her. “I had come to the game with a girlfriend of mine who I worked with at the First National Bank, and her dad,” Mrs. Grzenda revealed after her husband was inducted into the Barons’ Hall of Fame five years ago. “The bat boy brought a note over to me that said, ‘How would you like to meet Joe Grzenda?’ My girlfriend kept hitting me on my leg, saying you’ve got to meet him and her dad said that Joe was the star of the team,” she continued. “I didn’t know anything about baseball.”

The irony abounded when Bush—a former co-owner of the Rangers—threw that ceremonial first pitch with the Grzenda ball. Schneider, known as a memorabilia collector, had ideas about keeping the ball until Grzenda asked to have it back. Schneider obliged happily by all accounts. Grzenda loved two things primarily in his life, and baseball was the second of them.

They first met in Birmingham, he taking her out for hamburgers and shakes after the Barons bat boy handed her his note. They married a year later and stayed that way happily for sixty years and two days. For two thirds of their marriage, they lived and loved with the husband part of capital lore. Maybe it wasn’t quite the way Grzenda would have preferred becoming such lore. But that, too, is so Washington.