Fall officially arrived on September 23, according to the solar calendar. Days are getting shorter in the northern hemisphere, although it’ll be another month or so for actual fall weather to settle in along the Gulf  Coast.

Fall brings the World Series, the epic clash of the American and National League teams. At the same time, college and professional football teams don helmets and shoulder pads for a weekly clash on the gridiron. Two great American sports crowd each other for our interest, inviting comparisons among fanatics. 

'Tis the season to ponder the BASIC FOUR B'S OF GOOD LIVING: Books, Barbecue, Beer and Baseball. [Note: You may substitute "Bock" for beer.] You have merely to sit in the backyard in a lawn chair next to a smoking grill with a good book and a cooler with the radio tuned to Milo Hamilton giving the play-by-play Astros game. You can't do that in football season. Not up north, at least.

Baseball aficionados gather and recall classical lore such as "Who's On First?" and recount stories of the giants. Like "The Bellyache Heard 'Round the World" when Babe Ruth blamed a bad day at Yankee Stadium on eating too many hot dogs before a game. Or a more recent memorable moment when pitcher Randy Johnson hit a bird with a pitch.

In all baseball lore, nothing like this has ever been recorded, not even by Yogi Berra. But then, nothing like Johnson has ever been recorded. This is a guy who has to bend down seven feet to tie his shoelaces.

With all due respect for football fans, here is my


1. Players wear fewer earrings.

2. When our team loses, it seems more comforting to say "We'll get 'em tomorrow" instead of "We'll get 'em next week."

3. Nobody dances on the home plate after running the bases.

4. No matter what position you play, everybody has to swing the bat - unless you're a pitcher in the American League, which means you don't have to face the embarrassment of a .130 record every fourth day.

5. Defensively, the object is to GET the player out, not KNOCK the player out.

6. Baseball has an official sing-along song, and everyone knows the words to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Sure, football has "You Gotta Be a Football Hero," but who sings it? Who even knows the words?

7. If the ball clears the fence, you get to keep it.

8. Baseball umpires don't have to explain their call to the fans with an electronic gadget strapped to their waist like a sissified fanny-pack.

9. Football has no counterpart for Yogi Berra.  He is the YODA of professional sports. He even got his name because a teammate thought he looked like a yogi sitting in the dugout with his legs crossed, like a jersey-suited swami of salami.

10. No garish, overblown productions like Super-Bowl half-time. The only questions hanging over the World Series games are: Who will throw out the first ball? and Who will sing the National Anthem? - October 5, 2007

The temperatures are in the mid-nineties and the humidity makes me feel like I’m wading through glue. The thermostat on my car jumps to the midway mark as soon as I turn the key, and the laundry hamper is full of sweaty t-shirts at the end of the day. The only thing missing is clouds of mosquitos. The next good shower will fix that oversight.

Rejoice, therefore! These are the signs that we are in the midst of America’s Greatest Pastime. The crack of the bat. The wave. The Called Shot. The smell of leather, popcorn and roasted peanuts. Ballpark franks. Pre-game shows leading up to the All-Star game and the World Series featuring video clips of Willie Mays’s over-the-shoulder catch, Jackie Robinson stealing home and the subsequent volcanic eruption of Yoga Berra who was guarding home plate. 

Baseball novices may not appreciate such lore, but every newcomer instantly learns about two traditions that have become intertwined for decades – the seventh-inning stretch, and singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game. In fact, this year marks the 100th anniversary of one of our nation’s most well-known songs. According to Baseball’s Greatest Hit, that song reached number one on the charts at the end of October of 1908, after the World Series was won by. . . the CHICAGO CUBS!

What else was going on in 1908? The top players were Honus Wagner of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Christy Matthewson of the New York Giants, a true gentleman amid all the ruffians. Mordecai “Three-Fingers” Brown was a leading pitcher. The spitball was legal, as was the shineball, which involved the pitcher rubbing the ball on his pants legs to alter the surface of the ball. Baseball cards were sold with cigarettes in that era. Joe Camel never had it that good.

The seventh-inning stretch was already starting to become a tradition. Legend has it that President Taft, who attended the home opener of the Washington Senators in 1910, got up to stretch in the middle of the seventh inning. Fans in attendance thought he was leaving so they stood up out of respect. Thus, it was posited, a tradition began. But, as the writer of the book points out, the fans stood up at the same time the next day which suggests it was already a habit. On the other hand, as everybody knows, Taft weighs in as our heaviest president. Maybe it took him a few days to get out of his seat.

As of this writing, the Cubs are the top of the standings in the National League Central Division. For that matter, they’re ahead of everyone else in the league in percentage of wins. Maybe this will be their year. It’s only been a hundred years, so I’d say they’re right on schedule. Still, this is the Cubs we’re talking about. There’s plenty of time to blow it. But in the meantime, all the fans in Wrigley Park are singing:

"Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
 At the old ball game." - June 16, 2008


“This field, this game: it's a part of our past.” (Field of Dreams)

No less an arbiter of politics and culture than National Review has recently weighed in on the future of baseball. Is our national pastime in danger of going the way of Mom (thanks, birth person, for all you’ve done), apple pie and the flag? Cracks in the stadium are starting to show, metaphorically.

Most of the article contributed by a graduate student in Toronto shares our passion for our national pastime. A Canadian? Well, why not? America made her mark wherever men in uniform were stationed throughout the world: Japan, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Korea. Like Christian missionaries spreading the Faith, their teaching took root, and grateful nations began sending acolytes to serve in the cathedrals of Camden Yard, Wrigley Field, Fenway Park.

A lot of the article touched on aspects that seemed irrelevant. Is making a pitcher’s mound five inches lower really that important? He still has to throw it 60 feet and six inches, and nick the strike zone 17 inches across, the height depending on the batter.

I have some suggestions of my own. Some are cosmetic, but no less important. Take them or leave them.

1. The season is too long. On this I absolutely agree. You can thank the previous baseball commissioner, that pencil-neck gawky-bird Bud Selig, who introduced interleague games. Years ago, Yankee Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson was known as Mr. October because of his talent for making the right hits to help his team earn the American League pennant and World Series championship. Today, he would be called Mr. November. Is it too much to ask for the celebratory parade to be held by Hallowe’en instead of Thanksgiving? The only time National League players should meet American League players on the field are preseason, all-star and, of course, World Series games.

2. Get rid of the designated hitter. Sure, it’s frustrating, if not outright hilarious, watching the hurler desperately swinging at balls floating across the plate. That’s why he’s always at the bottom of the order. Sometimes a pitcher turns out to be even better at the plate. Babe Ruth had an impressive ERA. But his batting record made the Red Sox manager move the Great Bambino to the outfield so he could swat home runs every day they played instead of every four games. That’s where he stayed after his infamous trade to the Yankees.

3. NO! MORE! PANTS! Every sport has a uniform. Baseball has one, too, and that includes knickers. Would you allow a baseball player on the field in shorts? I didn’t think so.

4. Lose the jewelry. You make millions of dollars. I get it. Congratulations. The hated reserve clause has gone the way of Ebbets Field. Quit rubbing it in our face.

5. Put the Astros back in the National League. We started in MLB soon after adopting the Space-Age moniker. Fifty years later, the new owner of the Astros, Jim Crane, agreed to move the team to the other league to satisfy the aforementioned pencil-neck who kept his own team, the Milwaukee Brewers, in the NL. The Brewers came to life in the American League. Why not switch beer swillers and the Astros and make life right again? – July 21, 2021

Droppin' the Hammer

“I never wanted them to forget Babe Ruth. I just wanted them to remember Henry Aaron.”

Hammerin’ Hank Aaron was among the greatest baseball players ever. Among his many achievements, the one he will probably be the most remembered for was beating Babe Ruth’s lifetime home run record – 755. He accomplished this in the first weeks of the 1974 season. A sold-out crowd in the home stadium in Atlanta roared its approval. A fitting tribute, particularly in light of the stream of abuse he took as he approached the Bambino’s record, just over twenty-five years since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Until that moment, vicious letters poured in reminding him of his racial background, to put it mildly. And yet Braves fans, right there in heart of the South poured out their affection in recognition of this singular achievement.

I have many fond memories of going to the Astrodome with Dad, and once got to see Hank Aaron play. The only thing I remember is standing outside after the game amid thousands of others. I was just a kid, but one elderly black gentleman spoke to me with evident pride that he wanted to get a glimpse of Aaron when they came out of the stadium. Just one fan talking to another. No age difference; no color difference.

Ever the true gentleman, Hank Aaron didn’t begrudge his record being broken by Barry Bonds, although Aaron got all his hits the old-fashioned way – without steroids. He still holds the record in my book. I’m sure thousands of others have the same copy.

One other reason to admire him, although this may seem vindictive, is he opposed allowing Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame. God rest his departed soul. – January 23, 2021

The Toy Cannon Goes Silent
When the Astrodome first opened for the newly-franchised Astros, a Houston Chronicle sportswriter sniffed that “Putting that team in that stadium was like serving salami under glass.” Indeed, the early years of the Houston Astros did not invite favorable comparisons with even the Washington Senators, “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” The only team worse than them were the Mets, of whom their manager, the great Casey Stengel, said, “"Been in this game one-hundred years, but I see new ways to lose 'em I never knew existed before."

And yet, one can always find a jewel in every dusty field. Houston boasted at least four: Larry Dierker, who pitched his first game for Houston on his 18th birthday, and went on the coach the Astros to their first pennant and the World Series; Joe Morgan, who went on the Hall of Fame, although not in an Astros uniform; Nellie Fox (refer to previous player); and Jimmy Wynn.

The fans knew him as the Toy Cannon. My father always pointed him out for me when we attended games, which was often. The Astrodome had an “exploding scoreboard” that lit up an animated light display that ran for 45 seconds. Whenever he came to bat, chances were good I’d get to see the show.

He was short by athletic standards, but when he hit the ball, well, you can imagine why they called him the Toy Cannon. He hit a home run in Crosley Field, Cincinnati, that cleared the fence AND sailed to the freeway! I wonder if he busted a windshield?

Jimmy Wynn’s number was retired in 2005, the same year the Astros went to the World Series. He shuffled off his mortal coil at the ripe old age of 78. RIP. - March 26, 2020

The Ty-ger in the Stadium
I don’t pick the titles, I only report on the book. A better and more accurate title would have been “Ty Cobb: Redeemed.” Leerhesen performed a civic duty by rescuing one of baseball’s greatest players from an unjust reputation as a player who sharpened his cleats, the better to injure other players. He is tarred as a misanthrope who hated others, and was hated by everyone, even his own teammates. He is particularly singled out as a purebred racist who refused to play with blacks.

The reputation is largely due to a disreputable and pathological liar, Al Stump, who essentially fabricated incidences and anecdotes. Interestingly, even TV Guide banned Stump from writing for them after they discovered his penchant for making things up. I mean, really. TV Guide?

Was Ty Cobb a racist? After all, he grew up in Georgia during the heyday of Jim Crow and the Klan. Imagine my surprise to learn that he welcomed black players in the leagues, and hailed Jackie Robinson’s entry. In 1952, he wrote in Sporting News that “the negro should be accepted not grudgingly but wholeheartedly.”

Cobb had a generous nature, even if he didn’t publicize it. That was the kind of person he was. Fans loved him, and he endeared himself to them by signing balls and even chatting with them while he in the outfield.

Was he a gentle soul, then? He would never be mistaken for Walter Johnson, considered the most gentlemanly player in baseball. No, this Ty Cobb, while not the monster he’s often made out to be, was no shrinking violet, either. He played hard, but not dirty. He avoided hurting players if possible, but if they were in the basepath and got in his way, too bad. Outside the stadium, he could be prickly, even diva-ish, and was not above a brawl here and there. He had to be bailed out several times because of scrapes with the law.

Ty Cobb flourished in the so-called “dead-ball era” when swinging for the fences was impractical. He was a prodigious hitter, and stole bases so often that one player sighed, “If you see him running to second, you might as well throw it home.” In fact, he stole home an astonishing 32 times. He stole second, third AND home in the same inning three times.

If you love baseball and its heroes, this book is essential. - February 29, 2020

The Shot Argued 'Round the World
“Words fail me. When he stood up there at the bat before 50,000 persons, calling the balls and the strikes with gestures for the benefit of the Cubs in their dugout, and then with two strikes on him, pointed out where he was going to hit the next one and hit it there. I give up. That fellow is not human.” – (Bill Corum, New York sports writer)

Today marks the 125th birthday of a baseball legend. By coincidence, I finished Babe Ruth’s Called Shot by Ed Sherman, a whole book about the recurring controversy over whether or not the Great Bambino pointed to the outfield fence during a particularly rancorous World Series game in 1932 pitting the Yankees against the Cubs.

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version - "Maybe."

It's a cherished piece of baseball lore, with as much evidence to support it as not. In the batter’s box with Babe, naturally, is his family and teammates. The umpire himself, who must be impartial, also agrees. And no less than long-serving Francis Cardinal Spellman says so. Roma locuta est, cause finita est.

So, pop open a few beers and wolf down a few hot dogs in his memory. The Babe would have wanted it that way. - February 2, 2020

Red in Tooth and Claw in Yankee Pinstripes
I plucked Nice Guys Finish Last out of a dusty bin in a garage sale, the last time it would ever be read. I don’t mean the memoirs of combustible baseball manager Leo Durocher, but this particular copy. I had to tape the cover on the book, and it shed brittle, yellowed flecks on my chest every time I turned a page. “Just hold on a little longer,” I’d coo.

First, the title. Everyone’s heard the expression uttered by the world’s most famous powder keg who ever put on a manager’s jersey. And he wore a lot of them: Brooklyn Dodgers, NY Giants, Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros. Anyway, what he really said was meant as a compliment about a team of decent players who couldn’t seem to get out of the basement: “Nice guys. Finish last.” Sportswriters at that time were just one missing link between knuckle-draggers and Homo erectus. They overlooked the period, and just like that Durocher became the Hobbesian version of Yogi Berra, red in tooth and claw and wearing pinstripes.

Durocher began life in baseball next to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. He wasn’t as great by comparison – who could be? – but he found ways to make himself useful, and studied the managers while he was at it, eventually moving up, and moving up teams in the process. Part of the process may have involved some tactics that would get players thrown off the field today. Pitchers often used spitballs, and were not above deliberately throwing fastballs at an opponent’s head, and this was decades before batting helmets. Bench-clearing brawls often ensued.

It’s too bad Durocher wasn’t as demanding of his ghost-writer as his players. This is mostly awful. Some of the sentences don’t make sense, the time jumps around, and a lot of needless repetition distracts from the enjoyment. The photos are even worse. Either Durocher picked the worst ones he could find, or the publisher ran the whole batch through a vat of chlorine.

Well, at least it’s not The Conquest of Gaul. Although, in a sense, leading the Brooklyn Dodgers and the NY Giants to World Series championships may qualify. - July 8, 2019

World Series weather is on the way. Can you see it?! - October 2017


No Bush-League Humor

The missing comma in the book title You Know Me Al by short story king Ring Lardner is not an oversight. The subtitle is A Busher's Letters which are purportedly written by Jack Keefe, a semi-literate and up-and-coming pitcher who breaks into the major leagues by brute strength and indefatigable effort. His prowess on the mound is matched only by his obtuseness with everything else. He is taken advantage of by the women around him, his roommate, the team owner, and a host of others. He continually threatens to wallop his many antagonists in the jaw, but resigns himself to fate.

Ring Lardner employs actual players: Christy Mathewson, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, and the infamous Ty Cobb. These are not just characters brought in for verisimilitude. Lardner covered baseball in the years before the Great War.

It’s an amusing read - I knocked it off in two days' worth of about 5-6 hours. It’s a book by a baseball writer about a baseball player that mostly takes place during baseball season, but it’s a study of human nature. Lardner was admired by no less than Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying this. - August 20, 2016

Baseball season is almost over – IS over for Astros fans, anyway. As of this writing, we are three games out of the WC spot. The only way the boys in orange can advance to playoffs is if they win every game, the Orioles lose all their games, and the price of oil goes to $100 a barrel.

I don’t want to go out on a negative note, so let’s look at some positives. Altuve kicked ass. Plain and simple. Springer was right up there with him. And the new kid, Bregman, recovered quickly from the DL and proved it by driving in a run his first day back. Fact is, we have some serious swatters in the box. What we need are some 20-game winners on the mound.

Best of all, next to winning the pennant, Tal’s Hill is finally getting leveled. The dumbest idea ever to plague Houston since moving the Astros to the American League and building a stadium next to another stadium will join the locker-room showers of history.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate everything ol’ Tal did for the team before his ignominious firing by that damned Yankee John McMullen at the end of a stupendous season in 1980, almost winning the pennant. After McLane bought the team, he brought Smith back, and asked the vindicated general manager for ideas on how to make his new playpen more interesting.

Smith proposed a 30-degree slope in the rear of center field. Interesting? No doubt. Bad idea? Do you really need to ask? Okay, how about adding a flagpole for fielders to dodge, if they haven’t fallen over the hill already?

By then someone should have alerted medical staff to check his blood pressure and medications. But, no! It was approved and built to specifications. The hill will be gone after November, so now’s your last opportunity to take your picture on it. Just don't run  into the flagpole or fall on your face. - September 28, 2016

Pilgrimage to Nolan Ryan Museum
At long last I have made the pilgrimage. I have made hajj.

Last weekend my son and I journeyed to Alvin, the Mecca (pronounced Makkkkhhha, I think) of baseball, to enter the sanctum sanctorum know as the Nolan Ryan museum. To get there, we had to drive past a lot of broken-down lives. I interviewed a few of them at two gas stations and a liquor store to get directions. We stopped at a MacDonald’s festooned with Nolan Ryan posters and pictures. Even the dividers had little baseball bats instead of slats. All they needed was a McRyan burger. Couldn’t be far, I judged. Turns out it was right across the street at the Alvin Community College

It cost $7.00 for adults. There are TV monitors set up all around with a “chapter” of his life: childhood, minor league, the Mets, the Angels, the Astros and – Damn that John McMullen! (see below) – the Rangers.

“Ryan knows that hitting 41 doesn't mean the end of the line. He played five more years after John McMullen pushed him right into the Texas Rangers' appreciative grasp after that 1988 season, sending Ryan all the way to Cooperstown in a Rangers cap.”

So, now that I’ve done that, where next? To paraphrase the Jewish diaspora, “Next year in Cooperstown!”  - March 2005

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