No. 45: Yogi Berra

I really can’t say much more about Yogi Berra than I did here. But I did want to throw out a few numbers to demonstrate the wonder of Yogi’s life:

One. Where Bill James ranks him on the all-time list of catchers.

Two. Number of tries to get elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The first year, 1971, Berra got just 67.2% of the vote. For me, this remains one of the strangest Hall of Fame votes in the history of the museum. I cannot quite figure out how it happened. There were 14 players on the ballot who were eventually inducted into the Hall; none were elected that year.

Three. Number of MVP awards Yogi won. Did he deserve them? There has long been debate about that; there’s a pretty strong argument for Ted Williams in 1951, for Minnie Minoso or Williams in 1954 and for Mickey Mantle or Al Kaline in 1955. This is what makes the Hall of Fame voting so strange. The writers LOVED Yogi, sometimes to the exclusion of all else.

Four. The number of slices Yogi had a pizza cut into because he wasn’t hungry enough for six.

Eight. Yogi’s uniform number. But the number eight also belonged to Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey. The Yankees retired the number in both men’s name.

Ten. Number of World Series Yogi Berra won as a player.

Eleven. Number of times Yogi Berra hit 20-plus homers in a season. Also number of grandchildren he has.

Twelve. Number of times Yogi Berra struck out in 656 plate appearances during the 1950 season. “It ain’t a bad ball if you can hit it,” Berra would say of his reputation as a bad-ball hitter.

Thirteen. Here’s something that will blow your mind: From 1957 through 1981, New York teams — Yankees and Mets — appeared in 13 World Series. Yogi Berra was a player, coach or manager on every single one of them.

Twenty one. Number of World Series Yogi appeared in as a coach or manager or player.

Seventy three. The year Yogi said some approximation of “It Ain’t Over ’Til It’s Over” referring to the 1973 Mets.

Ninety. Percent of the game that is mental. The other half is physical.

Two hundred. The number used when Jimmy Piersall barked that if the pitcher threw at him, he would beat said pitcher into submission. “We don’t throw at .200 hitters,” Yogi said.

The Iceman

OK, time for a sad admission: There are fewer and fewer things exciting enough to get me out of the house these days. I suppose this comes down to age, it comes down to inertia, it comes down to this incredibly lucky life I’ve lived. I just attended my 22nd Masters in Augusta. Twenty-two Masters! That’s crazy. I’ve been to more Masters than Tiger Woods. I’ve been to as many Masters as Phil Mickelson. That’s kind of insane.*

*The only place my 22 Masters is unimpressive is at the Masters itself, where it seems like every other writer is on their 50th … or 60th … or 593rd. There are several writers covering the Masters who were there when Bobby Jones was surveying the land.

I promise the point here is not to brag or even humblebrag about the events I’ve attended, but it is true I’ve now reached 20 or so on most of the big ones — 20-plus Super Bowls, 20-plus World Series and so on. This lucky life has taken me to dozens of Final Fours and National Championship games and U.S. Opens (golf and tennis) and NBA playoff games and NHL playoff games. World Cups. Ryder Cups. Olympics. I’ve seen games at every single Major League Baseball stadium (I’ll come up with a stadium ranking shortly) and every NFL stadium too. I’ve covered sports on six continents. The 12-year-old in me remains stupefied at this charmed existence.
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The Royals: A history of power

You probably know this, but the Kansas City Royals single season home run record is 36, and Steve Balboni set it almost 30 years ago. It’s always fun to list off the team-by-team home run single season home run leaders. Find your team!

Giants, 73 (Barry Bonds 2001)
Cardinals, 70 (Mark McGwire 1998)

Cubs, 66 (Sammy Sosa 1998)
Yankees, 61 (Roger Maris 1961)

Phillies, 58 (Ryan Howard 2006)
Athletics 58 (Jimmie Foxx 1932)
Tigers, 58 (Hank Greenberg 1938)
Diamondbacks, 57 (Luis Gonzalez 2001)
Rangers, 57 (Alex Rodriguez 2002)
Mariners, 56 (Ken Griffey 1998)
Blue Jays, 54 (Jose Bautista 2010)
Pirates, 54 (Ralph Kiner 1949)
Red Sox, 54 (David Ortiz 2006)
Orioles, 53 (Chris Davis 2013)
Indians, 52 (Jim Thome 2002)
Reds, 52 (George Foster 1977)
Braves, 51 (Andruw Jones 2005)
Brewers, 50 (Prince Fielder 2007)
Padres, 50 (Greg Vaughn 1998)

Dodgers, 49 (Shawn Green 2001)
Rockies, 49 (Larry Walker 1997, Todd Helton 2001)
Twins, 49 (Harmon Killebrew 1964, 1969)
White Sox, 49 (Albert Belle 1998)
Angels, 48 (Troy Glaus 2000)
Astros, 47 (Jeff Bagwell 2000)
Nationals/Les Expos, 46 (Alfonso Soriano 2006)
Rays, 46 (Carlos Pena 2007)
Marlins, 42 (Gary Sheffield 1996)
Mets, 41 (Carlos Beltran 2006, Todd Hundley 1996)

Royals, 36 (Steve Balboni, 1985)
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The PosCast Episode 6 — Superheroes

Michael and Joe create a new segment specially designed to shorten the PosCast, and then incoherently draft superheroes for way too long. Topics covered include the incompetence of Dan Snyder, the uselessness of Aquaman, the lack of restraint of the Superman creators and what kind of sports fan Dr. Manhattan would be.

Check out this episode!

No. 46: Sandy Koufax

I was working on a completely different essay about Koufax. But in light of events in Overland Park, where I used to live, I expanded on something I wrote about Sandy Koufax on October 13, 2005 in the Kansas City Star — forty years after the Yom Kippur game.

* * *

A rabbi was speeding through Arkansas in the 1960s. Doesn’t that sound like the beginning of a joke? Micah Greenstein was the rabbi and he was trying to get back home for services; it was the day before Yom Kippur. Rabbi Greenstein was pulled over in West Memphis.

“What’s the hurry?” the police office said.

“i’m a rabbi on my way to …”

“What’s a rabbi?” the officer said, not gently. Rabbi Greenstein was beginning to worry that this was going to become very complicated.

“Well,” he said, “a rabbi is a little bit like a priest for Jewish people.”

“Yeah? Well, we don’t know much about that here.” The officer began to walk back to his car to call back to the office and start writing tickets and …

“Please,” Rabbi Greenstein pleaded. “I am trying to get to my congregation before Yom Kippur.”

And, with that the police officer just stopped. He walked back to the car.

“Yom Kippur?” he asked. “You mean the day Sandy Koufax wouldn’t pitch in the World Series?”

“Yes!” Rabbi Greenstein shouted. “That’s the day!”

“Well,” the officer said, “that’s an important day.” And he let the rabbi go.
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Homerless Streaks

OK, you know I love stuff like this — the Kansas City Royals (as of 1:41 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday) have not hit a home run all season. That’s seven games, that’s pretty rare stuff. The last team to start a season without a home run in its first seven games was the 1990 New York Yankees — that was the worst Yankees teams of the last 100 years. The Yankees streak was finally broken when Mel Hall — yeah, Mel Hall — homered off a 500-year-old Nolan Ryan in the second inning of Game 8.

Well, if the Royals can stretch their streak to eight games against Tampa Bay today, they will enter some very cherished company — only seven teams since 1950 have started the season with eight straight homerless games.

But what I found interesting and kind of shocking is that, on the whole, the seven teams weren’t too bad. In fact, a couple of them were REALLY good teams.
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It’s not THAT good to be the king

Henry Aaron is NOT The Home Run King. This sounds like I’m going to follow up with some rant about Barry Bonds breaking his record and how terrible that was … but I’m not. My thought here has nothing to do with that. Henry Aaron is not the Home Run King because that silly title would do nothing but diminish his greatness.

Pete Rose IS The Hit King. That title fits him, and it fits his career which was a relentless pursuit of hits. That’s really what it comes down to. Rose loved playing baseball, but hits were his business just as sausages were Abe Froman’s business and burgers are that king’s business and horror novels are Stephen King’s business. Rose needed to keep score, that was his great strength and tragic flaw, and his ambition was to be The Hit King. Other things did not play out as he had hoped. But he got his 4,256 hits and he had his coronation.

Henry Aaron was not a great home run hitter. To call him that diminishes him. Frank Howard was a great home run hitter. Harmon Killebrew was a great home run hitter. Reggie Jackson and Ralph Kiner were great home run hitters. Henry Aaron was a great HITTER — any qualifier put before that word cheapens his genius. Henry Aaron’s singular achievement is that he was great EVERY SINGLE YEAR from 1955 to 1973. That’s 19 consecutive seasons without anything resembling a down season. There really isn’t a record quite like it in baseball history.
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Value to the labor

There was an utterly fascinating quote in Dan Wetzel’s column Monday from Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. The quote revolves around the question of paying college athletes. It seems that Bowlsby was a college wrestler and so — and I respect this generally — he finds some of his strongest sympathies are with student-athletes of what we like to call minor-sports. His starts by saying that as a wrestler he worked as hard as any football player. In fact, he probably worked HARDER than any football player. I’m sure he did. Wrestlers do work very hard.

And then he said this:

“The fact is we have student-athletes in all sorts of sports that, if you apply any form of value to their labor, you cannot pay football players and not pay gymnasts just because the football player has the blessing of an adoring public.”

This really is an astonishing quote … and probably not for the reason Bowlsby intended. The challenges facing college sports in 2014 are extraordinarily complicated and very few people seem willing to look at those challenges with a clear eye and without some oversimplified solution or platitude. That said, this quote — and the bizarre naiveté behind it — show what might be the toughest problem of all: There are people who think the way college sports are run today is “fair.”
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Catfish, Kitty and the power of timing

Just a thought that came across while working on No. 46 on my all-time baseball list — you might be able to figure out who he is reading this one. Or not, I don’t know.

* * *

So, I started thinking a little bit about baseball and history and how timing sways and guides what we see. The players judged to be the best in baseball history, for instance, are the ones who dominate their particular time and space. I guess that’s obvious. Ty Cobb played in a time when hitting for the best average was how you defined great hitting, and he hit for the best average. Ruth played in (and in many ways created) a time when power was the defining quality of greatness. Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax dominated an era of high mounds and low scoring. Mariano Rivera dominated an era when the one-inning reliever was treasured and exalted.

Thing is: Sometimes there are illusions of timing.
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The Annual ‘Royals Will Win’ Column

I have a friend who, when trying to relax or when stressed about things, will run over Los Angeles Rams scores in his mind. I tend to do the same thing with Kansas City Royals blunders. It comforts me. Whenever I think of Desi Relaford just falling off of first base, as if he had been tipped by drunk college kids, or Ken Harvey getting hit in the back by an outfield throw or the team batting out of order with the first batter of the game (yes, that happened) — I feel better about these Royals.

They have started the most pivotal baseball season in Kansas City in more than 20 years. I really do fear that they might not be up to it.

But, hey, you know, there was this one time the Royals started a non-prospect from Class AA in Yankee Stadium because, well, I still don’t know exactly why they did that.

And I am comforted — because at least they’re not going back to that.
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