Posts Tagged ‘Baseball’

Movie Review: 30 For 30: “The Day The Series Stopped” (2014)

Title: 30 for 30: “The Day The Series Stopped”
Release Date: 12 October 2014
Director: Ryan Fleck
Production Co: Electric City Entertainment
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Documentary | Sports
Rating: ***

Review: The ESPN 30 for 30 documentary series takes us back to October 1989 when the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s was interrupted by the Loma Prieta Earthquake.  Archival footage and interviews with players, fans, and sportscasters show how it slowly dawned on the people at Candlestick Park that the shaking and buckling they experienced was in fact the worst earthquake in over 80 years and having devastating effects on the teams’ home cities.  There are some interesting effects in the movie such as rewinding to the time of the earthquake to tell stories from different perspectives such as one Giants’ employee who was climbing a light tower in the outfield at the time of the tremor.  There’s also some chilling discussion of how a reinforcement project recently completed ahead of schedule may have helped prevent a deadly collapse of Candlestick Park.  Then there are surreal moments such Jose Canseco still in his A’s uniform and his elegantly dressed wife pumping gas at the one fueling station that managed to stay open after the quake.  At times this documentary doesn’t seem to know if it’s a sports story or a disasters story, but then again it documents a moment in time when it was uncertain if baseball was not important or if it was a needed distraction to help the communities rebuild.  I think this movie could have been better if the filmmakers focused more on the interviews rather than replaying familiar archival footage, but it’s an interesting glimpse at a moment when the “sports” story became the “news” story.

Book Review: Bottom of the 33rd by Dan Barry

AuthorDan Barry
TitleBottom of the 33rd
Narrator: Dan Barry
Publication Info: [New York] : Harper Audio, 2011.
Summary/Review:

I’ve long been aware that Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium hosted the longest professional baseball game in history, a 33-inning affair between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings in 1981.  I knew that the game featured two future Hall of Famers, Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken.  Barry’s book fills me on a lot that I didn’t know.  For example, the game was played well into Easter morning and the weather was so miserably cold that the players burned broken bats in barrels to keep warm.  The game was allowed to play so long due to a misprint in the International League rule book that left out the paragraph about curfews.  Thus a rather stubborn umpire continued the game until receiving word from the league president at 4:09 am.  I also didn’t know that when the game was completed in June of that year, it received international attention boosted by the fact that Major League baseball players were on strike at that time.

Barry tells a compelling story of the game, building tension in the relentless procession of pitches, hits, and outs. He draws on recordings of the Red Wings’ radio broadcast and interviews with players, managers, coaches, media, players’ wives, umpires, spectators, and even the bat boy who were present for the game.  If the book were about only the game it would fall apart quickly, but Barry weaves in the lives and careers of many of the participants before and after that game.  It makes for a lively bit of sportswriting at it’s best.

Recommended books: The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W. P. Kinsella, Wild and Outside: How a Renegade Minor League Revived the Spirit of Baseball in America’s Heartland by Stefan Fatsis, and Stolen Season: A Journey Through America and Baseball’s Minor Leagues by David Lamb.
Rating: ****

Major League Baseball Playoffs

I don’t have much rooting interest in this year’s MLB postseason, but I’ve gone ahead and ranked teams from “most like to see win the World Series” to “least like to win the World Series.”

  • Pittsburgh
  • Kansas City
  • Washington
  • Detroit
  • Oakland
  • Baltimore
  • San Francisco
  • Los Angeles Angels
  • Los Angeles Dodgers
  • St. Louis

Probably the most compelling World Series matchup for me is Pittsburgh vs. Kansas City, since both teams struggled for so long trying to play in small markets against big money opponents. It’s also a flashback to the 70s & 80s when the Pirates and Royals were postseason regulars, although they never matched up in the World Series.  A Washington-Baltimore World Series would also be an exciting matchup for the Chesapeake region who haven’t had much to cheer for in recent decades.  I’m disappointed that the Cardinals and Dodgers are facing one another in the NLDS because I’d like to see them both eliminated as soon as possible.


Okay, so now that I’ve determined what I liked to see happen (that is, underdogs reign), here’s my predictions for what will really happen.

COIN FLIP GAME

  • Pittsburgh defeats San Francisco
  • Oakland defeats Kansas City

DIVISION SERIES

  • St. Louis defeats Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Washington defeats Pittsburgh
  • Detroit defeats Baltimore
  • Los Angeles Angels defeats Oakland

CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

  • St. Louis defeats Washington
  • Detroit defeats Los Angeles Angels

WORLD SERIES

  • Detroit defeats St. Louis

Baseball Celebrity and the End of the Steroid Era

Last night’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game was the keystone of  shortstop Derek Jeter’s season-long retirement celebration. As things tend to go in the sports media coverage of Derek Jeter, it was a bit over the top.  Yet, nowhere among all the plaudits did anyone see fit to mention that Jeter is the last active superstar of the Steroids Era.

From roughly 1995 to 2003, Major League Baseball experienced the scandal of a great number of players using anabolic steroids, human growth hormone (HGH), amphetamines, and other performing enhancing drugs (PEDs).  The fact of the matter is that if a ballplayer played during this era, the odds are statistically in favor of him having used PEDs.  Some used PEDs when they were on the bubble of making it on a major league roster.  Some used them to recover from injury.  Some used them in their “walk years” to try to get a favorable contract as a free agent.  Some used them once and then never again.  Some built their careers around them.

The peak of Derek Jeter’s career coincided with the Steroid Era.  While he’s never tested positive for PEDs, the rosters of his team from that era are riddled with known users.  The win-at-all-costs owner of Jeter’s team sought out the top superstars of the time, many of whom were later documented as PED users such as Gary Sheffield, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Jeremy Giambi, and Alex Rodriguez.  With a line-up of juicers, Jeter’s team won 4 out 5 World Series Championships.  PED use spread through Major League Baseball and entire teams instructed their players in their use in order to compete.

And yet with PED use so widespread, we are told by the sports media that Jeter never touched the stuff.  Even with the rest of the team juiced up and pressuring their teammates not to play “naked,” Jeter maintained a superhuman virtue.  Of course, his virtue was not strong enough for him to speak out against PED use and inspire his fellow players to play clean.  And even if Jeter did play clean during this era, he still benefited from his teammates using them.  How many times did he come to base with runners on base who would not have been there if they’d played clean?  How many of Jeter’s career hits came against mediocre relievers because the starting pitcher was knocked out the game after struggling against a lineup of juicers?

My point here is not to condemn Jeter.  Even if one filters through the glurge written about him, he appears to be a decent player, and he’s a talented ballplayer for any era.  If I were a Hall of Fame voter, he’d have my vote.  The point here is to challenge the media narrative that has framed the Steroid Era as a few villainous players who cheated, while the virtuous Jeter stood above it all and still won.  There are some players for whom the evidence that they used PEDs is as circumstantial as that which I outlined for Jeter (such as Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza), but sportswriters are attempting to punish them retroactively by not voting them into the Hall of Fame and otherwise sullying their reputations.  Nowhere in the Jeter versus the bad guys narrative is there any acknowledgment of the complicity of baseball team management, the sports media, and the fans.  And Jeter himself who would have to have known what was going on, and as I noted above, benefited from PED use regardless of whether he used them or not.  The scandal is not that a few players cheated, but that all of baseball allowed the rise of PEDs because they desired bigger, better, faster superstar baseball players.

It’s interesting to note that in the decade since Major League Baseball instituted more stringent restrictions on PEDS, we’ve seen the decline of the superstar ballplayer common during the Steroid Era.  Many teams now try a model of finding many players with complimentary skills and abilities to build a team (the “Moneyball” approach) as opposed to building around a slugger and a power pitcher, at least those that have won the World Series.  Boston won with a “bunch of idiots” and more recently with a group of mid-level free agent signings added to players rebounding from injury.  San Francisco won 2 out of 3 years with a team of “misfits and castoffs.”  The Cardinals maintain a top-shelf team year in, year out while remaining largely anonymous.  They did have superstar slugger Albert Pujols, but continue to win without him.

Perhaps as we say farewell to Derek Jeter, we can also say goodbye to the the Steroid Era and its cult of bigger, better, faster.  Perhaps now we admire someone for being a great ballplayer without having to pile on the plaudits (or when a human being inevitably fails, the insults).  Perhaps we will be able to enjoy baseball not as a display of exemplary individuals but as a game played by a team (even at an All-Star Game).  That is my hope going forward  as we can finally close the door on the Steroids Era.
Related Posts:

Photopost: Red Sox at Fenway Park

My son Peter and I took in our first Red Sox game of the season on April 7th versus the Texas Rangers. While the 2013 champions have struggled early on, we were treated to a thrilling 5-1 victory. Yes, it was April baseball, as both teams had a passed ball and an error, and probably deserved some more errors. But a win’s a win. As an extra bonus, we received a David Ortiz bobblehead upon entering. And since Peter is now a member of Kid Nation, we were allowed to enter the ballpark early and watch the Red Sox batting practice from the Green Monster seats, which was pretty awesome.

Songs of the Week: Third by The Baseball Project

Baseball returned this week and appropriately the band The Baseball Project released their third album, named Third.  The Baseball Project seems an unlikely collaboration of 80s rockers including two members of R.E.M – Peter Buck and Mike Mills.  Good songs about baseball are few and far between with the typical lyrics being cheezy tributes to some moral ideal of the game or a hagiography of great players (see Terry Cashman).  The Baseball Project is better than that as the music varies from punk rock to country twang and even talking blues on “The Baseball Card Song.”  Lyrically, they celebrate the good and bad of baseball, most vividly in “They Played Baseball” which lists a gallery of baseball’s worst rogues, who someone ended up loving anyway, because, well it’s in the title.  Similarly, the troubled life of Lenny Dystrka – one of my favorite Mets when I was a kid – is summed up in “From Nails to Thumbtacks.”  Players like Dock Ellis, Alex Rodriguez, Dale Murphy, and the entire Oakland A’s also get their own songs.  Then there’s “Extra Inning of Love” which makes baseball metaphors far more sexy than Meat Loaf could ever hope to.

It’s a fun album, worth checking out if you like baseball, good music, and good stories.

“They Played Baseball”

“From Nails to Thumbtacks”

“The Baseball Card Song”

“Extra Inning of Love”

 

Check out Desert Island Mix Tape for another review of this album.

 

Movie Review: Knuckleball! (2012)

Title: Knuckleball
Release Date: 18 September 2012
Director: Ricki Stern & Anne Sundberg
Production Co: Break Thru Films and Major League Baseball Productions
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Documentary | Sports | Baseball
Rating: ****

The knuckleball is baseball’s most enigmatic pitch.  Despite its name, it is thrown with the finger tips and unlike any other pitch it prevents the ball from rotating.  This makes the ball move in unpredictable ways that it make the knuckleball difficult to hit.  Yet that unpredictably has a way of coming back to haunt the pitcher, so there are few pitchers who risk using it.  This documentary follows the 2011 season of the only two knuckleball pitchers in Major League Baseball at that time: Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox (now retired) and R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets (now with the Toronto Blue Jays).  These are also two of my all-time favorite pitchers.  The documentary does a good job of explaining the mechanics of the knuckleball and how knuckleball pitchers are treated as an oddity in the baseball community.  It also has some excellent archival footage of the lives and careers of Wakefield and Dickey. If there’s one thing that could improve the movie is to not have so many talking heads and clips of baseball commentators repeating the same basic facts about the knuckleball and perhaps delve into the science and history of the pitch a bit more.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,346 other followers

%d bloggers like this: