My fourth 1935 Goudey: Ethan Allen

My fourth 1935 Goudey: Ethan Allen

I picked up four 1935 Goudey cards in one swoop–something I don’t expect to repeat many more times while still buying locally–but I’ll write about the cards one at a time, starting with the cheapest card, which had an unexpected personal meaning, especially given that it contained no Hall of Famers and portrayed four Philadelphia Phillies players. Dad was from Pennsylvania, but he rooted for Philadelphia’s other team, the Athletics.

That card portrayed Ethan Allen, Jimmie Wilson, Fred Brickell and Bubber Jannard.

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When will we learn to ignore Pete Rose?

I’d really rather not acknowledge that Pete Rose is in the news again. I love baseball, and Pete Rose did a lot to hurt it, and talking about him doesn’t do much to help it.
I’d much rather talk about how the Royals just signed Juan Gonzalez and he’s a huge upgrade over anything the Royals have ever had in the lineup to protect Mike Sweeney. With Beltran, Sween and Gonzo in the lineup, this looks like it’s going to be a good year.

For that matter, I’d rather talk about Tug McGraw, one of the great characters of the game and probably the first of the great colorful relief pitchers, who died this week of brain cancer, much too young at 59.

But Rose’s half-hearted confession will appear tomorrow, so nobody’s going to be talking about any of that. It doesn’t change anything. Some people would argue that Rose’s never betting against the Cincinnati Reds somehow excuses his gambling, and his betting on his own team, while the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. It does not.

Contrary to what one might think, a good manager does not set out to win every game. You can’t. You have to pick your battles. You might rest your star players when you’re playing a team like the Detroit Tigers because chances are you could beat that team with your 92-year-old grandparents in the lineup. Or you might play your star players against Detroit, in order to ensure victory, and rest your stars when playing a strong team you’re not likely to beat, such as the New York Yankees or Seattle Mariners.

The reason is pretty simple. The season is 162 games long, and not everybody is Cal Ripken Jr. Play everybody every day, and your team will break down. Witness the Oakland Athletics of the early 1980s. Fiery manager Billy Martin came in, and in 1981, it looked like he’d succeeded in turning that young team into another dynasty. He had young, energetic players, and he played them hard. In fact, he played them too hard. Within a year, all of his talented young pitchers had sore arms and while most of them stayed in the majors for a few more years, none of them ever lived up to their initial promise. For that matter, outside of Rickey Henderson, none of the 1981 Athletics’ everyday players had particularly and distinguished careers either.

It’s in the best interests of a Pete Rose who’s not betting on baseball to manage his team wisely by resting his star players when they look tired, pulling his starting pitcher after he’s thrown about 110 pitches, and using opportune times to give his inexperienced young players some playing time. Betting on your own team changes the equation. Suddenly meaningless games become must-win games. You leave your 20-game winner in the game longer because winning that bet becomes more important to you than the risk of hurting his arm. You take other unnecessary risks.

Rose tries to justify his actions by saying he never bet from inside the clubhouse. Well whoop-dee-do. I’m sure he never beat his wife or cheated on her in church either. That doesn’t make those action OK either. When asked why Rose bet on baseball, he said it was because he thought he wouldn’t get caught. There’s a long list of illegal things that I could do and not get caught, but that doesn’t make any of them right either.

It’s like a little kid, caught in the act of bullying, forced to tell the other kid he’s sorry. So he lets off the words, insincerely, and does the minimum, and spends the rest of his time trying to justify his wrongdoing.

Now Rose says he’s confessed and he wants reinstatement, and induction into the Hall of Fame.

Some people argue that Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame because he hit the ball between the opposing fielders 4,256 times. Fine. Let’s look at what constitutes a Hall of Famer.

Hall of Fame rules state that induction is dependent upon “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

One at a time: Record. Rose has more hits than anybody else, partially by virtue of having more at-bats. But his statistics, while not as great as his fans remember, are better than some people who are in the Hall of Fame.

Ability. His playing ability is probably adequate. But Rose was a one-dimensional player. He wasn’t a particularly good fielder, he hit for very little power, and he was at best an average baserunner. Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, and Ryne Sandberg, three players on this year’s ballot who are unlikely to make it in, all had far more ability than Rose. Pete Rose was Wade Boggs with a character disorder.

Integrity. Besides betting on baseball, Rose served prison time for cheating on his taxes. He beat his wife and cheated on her. Pete Rose isn’t the kind of guy you want hanging around your daughter, if you catch my drift, nor is he the kind of guy you want your son to model his life after. Pete Rose ain’t no Roberto Clemente.

There are lots of unsavory characters in the Hall of Fame, yes. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and even Joe DiMaggio all have skeletons in their closets. But last I checked, none of them ever stooped as low as Rose, and they also had Rose beat in the other categories.

Sportsmanship. In the 12th inning of the 1970 All Star Game, Pete Rose plowed over American League catcher Ray Fosse, dislocating his shoulder and destroying his career. It was a game that didn’t even count. Fosse, who had drawn comparisons to Johnny Bench, was never the same.

Character. See integrity.

Contributions. To Rose’s credit, he moved around a bit on the field to make room for other players. The Reds had a young power-hiting outfielder named George Foster sitting on the bench. Rose was playing the outfield. The Reds’ weakest position was third base. At the request of his manager, Rose learned how to play third base, which opened the door for Foster to get into the lineup, giving additional protection for Johnny Bench and Tony Perez. In 1980, Rose signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, who had a Hall of Famer named Mike Schmidt playing third, so Rose moved across the diamond to first. Philadelphia was a better team with Rose than without.

Late in his career, this changed. An aging Rose became a part-time player in Montreal. When Cincinnati traded for him and made him player-manager, Rose made himself a regular again, at the expense of playing time for younger players like Nick Esasky and Eddie Milner, and Hall of Famer Tony Perez. Esasky, who usually would have played first base, instead played left field, where he wasn’t as good defensively. Milner was a better defensive player, had good speed, and was at least as good at getting on base at that point as Rose. The Reds had a better lineup with Esasky at first base and Milner in left field, possibly in a platoon situation. People were more likely to buy a ticket to see Rose play than Eddie Milner, but the Reds were a better team with Rose on the bench.

Milner was never much more than a fourth outfielder. Esasky fared better, putting together a couple of really good years after the Reds traded him to Boston, before an injury ended his career.

Playing ability tends to get judged higher than all the rest, so I’ll grudgingly admit that if Rose were eligible, he’d probably get elected.

So what’s one to do?

Here’s my Solomon-like solution. Rose has been banned for life. What’s banned for life mean? He’s banned until he dies. So reinstate him after he dies. Then the Veteran’s Committee can evaluate him on his merits.

But there’s no precedent for reinstating a player banned for life.

Fine. Make one.

Shoeless Joe Jackson by his own admission took money to throw the 1919 World Series. He was one of the eight Black Sox who so accused. There’s also some indication that Jackson, unlike some of his teammates, played to win anyway, because he put up good numbers in the series, although his detractors point out that in the games the White Sox lost, Jackson never drove in any runs. Of course, it’s harder to drive in runs when there aren’t people on base.

Jackson may not have known what it was he was agreeing to do. Jackson was uneducated, and, by some accounts, not terribly bright. Even dumber than Pete Rose.

After the series, Shoeless Joe, like six other players who took money from gamblers and like one player who knew what was going on but didn’t participate, was banned from baseball for life. Thus the owner of the third-highest lifetime batting average in history, and the youngest player ever to hit .400, was denied his otherwise certain entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Joe Jackson has been dead for 52 years. Baseball still has never seen fit to put him into the Hall of Fame. Baseball has never seen fit to clear the name of Buck Weaver, the teammate who found out about the conspiracy but didn’t report it.

So reinstate Jackson and Weaver. For that matter, reinstate the other six guys as well. Let the Veterans Committee evaluate them for Hall of Fame entry. Then, when Rose dies, they can do the same for him.

Meanwhile, the best thing to do is just ignore the jerk.

Pete Rose, that is.

A kids’ game

The Philadelphia Phillies have one of the brightest futures in the National League. Sure, the Mets and the Braves grab all the attention. But look at them. They’re old. The Mets have Mo Vaughn and Roberto Alomar and Mike Piazza, and all of them are probably still in their prime, but they only have a couple more years of prime left. The Braves have Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux and Gary Sheffield, but that’s indicative of the same problem.
The Phillies are loaded with young stars. The Phillies once had a better third baseman than Scott Rolen. His name was Mike Schmidt. I can only think of two third basemen in the history of the game who deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Schmidt. In about 15 years, Rolen looks to join them. And the Phillies have a great young catcher in Mike Lieberthal and a great young outfield in Doug Glanville and and Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu. They also have one of the best young shortstops in the game in Jimmy Rollins.

The Phillies’ payroll is going to be $60 million this year. And Rolen, surrounded by these young stars, questions the Phillies’ ability or commitment to win. At the end of the year, he’s out of there.

The Phillies’ strategy should be really simple. Let these young stars get a little better, sign them to the longest-term contracts they’ll take, and play as hard as possible for two years, knowing they’ll probably finish in third place with a winning record, all the while waiting for the Mets and Braves to fall over. If everything were to stay the same, in three years the Phillies would no longer be the third-best team in their division. They’d cruise right past the gray-headed Mets and Braves.

But nobody really knows what the Phillies are going to do. In the past, when they’ve developed minor stars, they’ve frequently traded them. The last time they won anything was 1993, but that was an old team. It’s hard to look to that team for a precedent to suggest what they’ll do now, because keeping their aging stars in the mid-1990s didn’t make much sense. It’s hard to look at the way the Phillies handled players like Mickey Morandini as well. Morandini was a minor star who faded fast. Rolen and Lieberthal are superstars. Future Hall of Famers even, maybe.

In any other sport, there wouldn’t be any question what to do. They’d lock in their six young stars and tell their fans to get ready to enjoy a dynasty. But baseball isn’t any other sport. There’s very little revenue sharing. And Philadelphia’s not a major market. The Yankees are going to spend twice as much as the Phillies spend this year. It’s hard to imagine Philadelphia not being a major market, I know, but that’s how things have become in this sport.

Twenty years ago, players used to express amazement at signing six-figure salaries to play a kids’ game. Today, baseball’s still a kids’ game. And the players have the maturity of children. So do the owners and the commissioner.

There’s a solution to this madness. Bob Costas wrote a short book about it two years ago. It’s short and simple enough that even a moron like Bud Selig could understand it. Today, things have only gotten worse. Fans read Costas’ book in droves and took it to heart, but few of the owners seem to have done so.

If Selig gets his way, the Twins and the Expos will fold at the end of this season. That won’t do anything to stop the same teams from making the postseason again and again. It’ll be the Braves, Mets, Diamondbacks and Cardinals in the NL postseason again this year. And probably the year after.

The Phillies will find that without a salary cap to keep salaries from artificially rising and without revenue sharing to give them their fair share (The Mets have to have someone to play, so why doesn’t the visiting team get half the revenue?) they won’t be able to afford to keep their players. Scott Rolen will test the free-agent waters at the end of this season. I expect he’ll sign with the Braves or the Red Sox. If he signs with the Braves, the Phillies will almost certainly dismantle, because there’s little difference between finishing third and finishing fifth, and it’s a lot cheaper to finish fifth.

And people will wonder what if. Except for Bud Selig and his buddy Carl Pohlad, who got what they wanted. They can just keep counting their money and complaining about how unprofitable baseball is.

Dave gets a movie rental card

Faced with producing a documentary film, and faced with the increasing prospect of doing it on my own without help from people who know what they’re doing, I went on an excursion last night. Well, first I called up a friend to see if she was doing anything. She wasn’t home, so I decided to do something useful with my Saturday night: research.
I drove to Hollywood Video, filled out a membership form and handed over my driver’s license and a credit card. I came home with two installments of Ken Burns’ acclaimed Baseball series. I wanted to see how Burns did documentaries, particularly how he handled stills and mixed stills with old movies. So I grabbed the 1910s-1920s installment and the 1930s-1940s installment. Then I drove over to Wal-Mart and picked up a couple of frozen pizzas. Then I came home to watch and learn.

Burns usually shoots still pictures the way a cameraman would shoot a scene, either shooting the less-important part of the scene and then panning over to the important part, or shooting a panoramic view of the whole picture, then zooming in on the important subject. When faced with a good, well-composed and well-cropped closeup, he just lets it sit alone. On television, there’s no such thing as a still–the image will jump a little–so you can get away with that more than you might think. He added a little more life with sound effects and voiceovers. For example, when showing a picture of a sportswriter, he added a voiceover and the quiet sound of a manual typewriter. That’s an interesting trick I’ll have to remember–when you can’t engage the eyes with much, engage one of the other senses.

And what about transitions, the whiz-bang stuff that Premiere gives you so much of? If Burns ever used a transition, it was very subtle. Where I looked for transitions, I found only hard scene changes.

But for all his critical acclaim, I was disappointed with the 1910s-1920s installment. Babe Ruth Babe Ruth Babe Ruth Babe Ruth. I had to check the tape to make sure this was Baseball, and not a biography of Babe Ruth. Yes, Babe Ruth was (unfortunately) the most important player of that era. But Babe Ruth wasn’t baseball. He was a fat drunk who hit a lot of home runs mostly because he had a ballpark with a nice short porch in right field for left-handed hitters to hit into. And he mostly played right field, so he didn’t have to run around a lot. Yes, in his early days Ruth was a tremendous athelete. But he didn’t take care of himself, and had he played anywhere else, he would have been far less remarkable.

What did Ken Burns have to say about the 1929 World Series? Author Studs Terkel came on and talked about how his buddy had tickets to Game 1 of the series and wanted him to go. He didn’t go. Lefty Grove was expected to pitch. Instead, Howard Ehmke (who? Exactly.) pitched instead. There’s a story behind that, but heaven forbid Ken Burns spend 30 seconds telling that story when he can use that 30 seconds to show a package of Babe Ruth-brand underwear instead.

Screw it. I’ll tell the story. About mid-season, A’s owner/manager Connie Mack went to Howard Ehmke and told him he was letting him go. Ehmke was a veteran pitcher, but he was well past his prime, and Mack rarely pitched him–six of the other pitchers on his staff went on to win 11 or more games that year. Mack was a notorious cheapskate and was known to sometimes only take two pitchers with him on road trips, so far be it from him to keep Ehmke around and on the payroll when he didn’t need him. At that point, the A’s were World Series bound, with or without Ehmke, and the whole league knew it. (No wonder Burns didn’t talk much about the 1929 season–the only noteworthy thing Babe Ruth did that year was remarry.) But Howard Ehmke had never pitched in a World Series, so he pleaded with Mack to let him stick around just long enough to pitch in a World Series game. Now Connie Mack may have been a cheapskate, but he wasn’t a soulless bastard like so many baseball owners of that day and later days. He had compassion on his veteran pitcher and said OK. Now I don’t remember whose idea it was, but they even talked about him starting one of the games. Mack asked him which game he’d like to start. Figuring he had nothing to lose, Ehmke answered, “The first one, sir.”

Absurdity. The best pitcher in the game that year (and for most years to come) was one Robert Moses “Lefty” Grove. You play the first game to win, so you go find your best pitcher to go win it for you. So the whole world expected Lefty Grove would pitch Game 1. So the Cubs, expecting left-handed fireballer Grove, loaded up their lineup with right-handed power hitters. At the last possible moment, Mack announced his starting pitcher would be soft-throwing right-hander Howard Ehmke. Ehmke pitched the whole game. He won, too, striking out 13–a series record.

The 1929 World Series was one of the most dramatic series ever, with the A’s staging a gutsy come-from-behind victory in Game 4, scoring 10 runs in the 7th inning to overcome an 8-0 deficit. Lefty Grove came in to pitch the 8th and 9th and preserve the victory, notching his second save of the series.

But since Babe Ruth sat at home while all this was going on, I guess nobody wants to know about it. They don’t want to know about any of the colorful guys on either team either. Jimmie Foxx was the greatest right-handed home run hitter in the game before Mark McGwire came along. A converted catcher, Foxx would play seven positions at some point in his career. Whereas Ruth began his career as a pitcher for the Red Sox, Foxx wrapped his up as a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. Like Ruth, he was always smiling. And he was one of the nicest guys to ever play the game.

The rest of the Philadelphia clubhouse wasn’t as nice as Foxx. Left fielder Al Simmons was a vicious hitter–arguably there were two things on that team meaner than Simmons’ bat, and those were Foxx’s bat and Simmons’ temper. It was a good thing the A’s didn’t lose much in those days, because after every loss, Simmons, hotheaded catcher Mickey Cochrane, and hotheaded pitcher Lefty Grove would redecorate the locker room. Connie Mack knew better than to go near the place until after they’d left.

As for Hack Wilson, the Cubs’ star center fielder, well, I’ve heard stories about him. It would have been nice to hear some new ones.

Hopefully we’ll find out a little bit about all these guys in the 1930s-40s installment. After the Yankee Dynasty of the late 1920s ended, the A’s Dynasty replaced it, and Ruth was retired by 1935–his last great season was 1932–so there isn’t much excuse to talk about him.

So while I was able to learn a fair bit about how a movie can come together and look good from discrete elements that are varied and sometimes damaged, I’m less impressed with Burns’ storytelling. To hear Burns tell it, you’d think the only teams that played baseball in that era were the Yankees, Red Sox, Yankees, A’s, Yankees, New York Giants, Yankees, the Chicago Cubs, Yankees, the St. Louis Cardinals, Yankees, and the Negro League teams, who rightly or wrongly got more screen time than the non-Yankees MLB teams.

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