By In Baseball, History

A Baseball Story

Here on Jackie Robinson’s birthday, wanted to repost this story I wrote a couple of years ago.

When Bobby Bragan was young, people used to call him “Nig.” He was of a darker complexion than most. He liked the nickname.  Bobby Bragan grew up in Alabama. The only black people he knew served food and worked for his father’s construction company. He did not even consider that his nickname might be offensive to anyone until he reached the Major Leagues and a teammate told him.

Bragan began his big-league career as a shortstop. He couldn’t hit, and he was an erratic fielder … an unhappy combination. In 1940, as a rookie, he made 49 errors. A year later he made 45 more. That’s when he realized that becoming backup catcher was safer. He was traded to Brooklyn in 1943 and a couple of years later went to war. When discharged in 1947, he traveled straight to Cuba and Dodgers spring training. He wanted to reclaim his job as backup catcher.

That was Jackie Robinson’s spring.

That was also Dixie Walker’s spring.

Dixie Walker was the most beloved player in Brooklyn. He was a gifted hitter — he finished second in the MVP voting to Stan Musial in 1946 — and, as Jonathan Eig writes in Opening Day, he had an aw-shucks Southern humility that drew people in. Musial was the Man in St. Louis. In Brooklyn, they called Walker “The People’s Cherce” — “Cherce” being Brooklyneese for “Choice.”

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By In Stuff

Wahoo

When I was a kid in Cleveland, there was an enormous Chief Wahoo sign on top of Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The sign was of Wahoo swinging the bat — his left leg was up in the air like he was Josh Donaldson — and below him it said CLEVELAND in all capital letters and Indians in cursive script.

I cannot even begin to describe how deeply I adored that sign.

Well, what did I know then about the history of Native Americans or the racism endured? All I knew was that sign meant baseball … that red-faced Chief Wahoo signaled that we were close to the ballpark, close to first pitch, and the anticipation was overwhelming. It got to the point where catching a glimpse of Chief Wahoo’s smile, no matter what time of year, triggered all those happy baseball feelings. It could be dead of winter, snow covering the grass, slush in the streets, the sky as gray as sadness, and I’d see Wahoo and everything would warm up for a moment.

Look there’s Chief Wahoo. Opening Day cannot be too far away.

I started this blog in 2007 … the third post I wrote, after two days of bland promotion for my new book, was about how it was time for Cleveland to get rid of Chief Wahoo. It was long past time. The logo was an embarrassment and discredit to the game. I wrote of the baffling and controversial history of the Cleveland Indians name, the less baffling but still controversial history of the Chief Wahoo logo, and came to only conclusion: Get rid of it. I have written some version of that story dozens and dozens of times since. (more…)

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By In Stuff

An Announcement

Because this is a personal blog, I hope you will indulge me for a moment as I make what is, to me anyway, a very important announcement about my life.

From this day forward, I intend to only wear baseball ties.

This has been a long time coming. I’m sure this has happened to you — for years, I have thought about making this transition to an all baseball tie wardrobe, but the time was never quite right. I believe that time is now. I am getting rid of all my non-baseball ties. I am purchasing nothing but baseball ties from here on in. This is it. I’m all in on the baseball tie thing.

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By In Stuff

You are the captain

She is so scared. I can always tell when she’s scared; she has this look on her face, and it’s not so different from the look she had when she was three years old and we were walking through Times Square, and the crowd was overwhelming her. I reached down then and picked her up and slowly the fear drained from her face. She was happy again. I cannot pick her up now. She stares at the monitor, the one that shows who will be called next. D113. C149. E228.

I look at her card again. It is A102.

She doesn’t want to talk. Sometimes, when she gets like this, I can coax her out of it, talk about something comfortable and familiar that will ease her mind. In the days after she had her tonsils removed she was in so much agony and filled with such righteous anger about the unfairness of the world  that the only way I could get her to take the pain medicine was to sit with her, hold her close, and recite the names of Barbie’s 12 Dancing Princesses with her.

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By In Stuff

The Browns and Garoppolo

Seth Wickersham’s excellent piece about the building feud between Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady is one of the hotter things on the Internet now, for good reason. It offers great insight into how people wear on each other — it’s like one of those great VH1 “Behind the Music” Documentaries that way — and also how success blows up ego.

Of course, the only takeaway I got out of it was: “Oh, so THAT is why the Browns didn’t get Jimmy Garoppolo.”

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By In Stuff

The Hall of Fame Ballot

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By In Stuff

The Unwinnables

First, we bow to the achievement: It is really, really, really hard to go 0-16. The 1980 New Orleans Saints couldn’t do it and, apparently, that entire team was coked up. The 1989 Dallas Cowboys couldn’t do it even with all the bad mojo that came from Jerry Jones firing Tom Landry. The 1990 New England Patriots — who played eleven games that they NEVER LED — couldn’t do it. The 1991 Indianapolis Colts couldn’t do it even with Jeff George as their quarterback.

The 1996 Jets of Rich Kotite — when he was fired at the end of the season the New York Post ran a backpage headline that said “End of an Error” — couldn’t do it. The 2000 San Diego Chargers with Ryan Leaf couldn’t do it. George Seifert’s dreadful 2001 Carolina Panthers could not help but beat Minnesota to kick off their lost season. The 2007 Miami Dolphins started quarterbacks named Cleo Lemon and John Beck and had an atrocious defense but couldn’t do it. The 2009 St. Louis Rams under the watchful eye of Steve Spagnuolo seemed to have a great chance to lose them all, but then they faced the Lions.

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By In Stuff

Browns 0-15

I had this scary moment late in the third quarter of the Browns’ typically humiliating 20-3 loss to the Chicago Bears Sunday. The Browns were down by 17 and were driving. On third and 3 from the Bears’ 20, quarterback DeShone Kizer dropped back to throw, faced down the pressure, and threw a little pass to Browns receiver Rashard Higgins who caught the ball for the first down as he fell to his knees.

Thing is, Higgins was not touched while he was on the ground — probably because nobody on the Bears figured he was worth covering. Higgins has already been waived and placed on the practice squad and brought back to the team this year; in his first game back he caught seven passes for 95 yards and flashed some real talent. It goes without saying this proved to be an illusion and he has been invisible ever since. Anyway, Higgins had the presence of mind to get back to his feet and start running toward the end zone.

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By In Stuff

To Vote Tactically

I started voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame more than 10 years ago, and all the while I’ve had a core philosophy to always vote for the 10 BEST players (assuming there are at least 10 Hall of Fame worthy players on the ballot). As you no doubt know, the Hall of Fame limits voters to 10 players. This was not an especially big problem when I started voting because in, say, 2006, there were not more than 10 fully qualified Hall of Fame candidates on the ballot.

By Jay Jaffe’s JAWS — which measures a player career/peak WAR against that of the average Hall of Famer — the Top 10 candidates in 2006 were (in parentheses I put the player’s JAWS and what I call JAWS+, which works like OPS+ and shows how he compares with the average Hall of Famer):

1. Bert Blyleven (73 JAWS, 118 JAWS+)

2. Goose Gossage (37 JAWS, 108 JAWS+)

3. Alan Trammell (57.5 JAWS, 105 JAWS+)

4. Andre Dawson (53.5 JAWS, 93 JAWS+)

5. Will Clark (46 JAWS, 84 JAWS+)

6. Jim Rice (41.8 JAWS, 78 JAWS+)

7. Orel Hershiser (48.4, 78 JAWS+)

8. Tommy John (48.4, 78 JAWS+)

9. Dale Murphy (43.6 JAWS, 75 JAWS+)

10. Dwight Gooden (46.1 JAWS, 74 JAWS+)

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By In Stuff

RIP Dick Enberg

Dick Enberg: “Draw to Byner … Ernest Byner … fumbled the ball and Denver has recovered. Oh, my!”

Here’s how good Dick Enberg was: He brought me the worst sports news of my life. Repeatedly. And I loved him anyway. He always seemed to be there when my world came crashing down, there to call the John Elway drive against the Cleveland Browns, there to call the Byner fumble the next year as you see above, there every year it seemed to deliver that devastating news that, no, the Browns were not going to make it to the Super Bowl again, sorry about that.

Maybe it was the “sorry about that,” part of Dick Enberg’s broadcasting style that made me and so many love him. He didn’t want your team or my team to lose. You could tell. He didn’t want to bring you bad news. You could hear it in his voice. Enberg was, first and foremost, a sports fan. There was comfort in that. Dick Enberg knew how you felt.

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