Andrus Center, Baseball

Red Sox vs. Yankees

imagesCAUJXUMXThe Great Rivalry Launches a New Season

The forecast for Fenway tomorrow night is fair and unseasonably warm. Good enough. It has been a long winter.

Josh Beckett vs. C.C. Sabathia as the best rivalry in baseball tees up the season.

This time of year – just before a new season unfolds – I always recall the classic comment of the great Rogers Hornsby. He holds the record for the all-time highest batting average by a right handed hitter. His .358 lifetime average is the record for the National League. He hit .424 in 1924. The guy could hit. He also loved the great game.

“People ask me,” Hornsby said, “what I do in the winter time when there is no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

The wait is almost over.

Andrus Center, Baseball

Thanks for the Memories

hi+corbettCloudy and Cool…

Major league baseball in Tucson ended yesterday with a routine ground out. Score it an Owners Choice. Tradition flies out to the almighty dollar. Loyalty strikes out to a bus ride. Some of the joy went out of spring with that ground ball.

The Rockies are gone for good from historic Hi Corbett Stadium and they take with them six decades of spring baseball in the Old Pueblo.

Some of the old timers didn’t take it well. The Kleenex boxes came out and the crowd of 6,817 was more subdued than feels right at a ballpark. The wake began when they laid down the foul lines.

Ted Robbins on NPR did a fine piece over the weekend that captures what the old ball yard means to spring baseball fans in Tucson. There is some talk – maybe just to ease the reality of what has been lost – that Japanese or Mexican professional teams might spend some of the spring in Tucson in the future making use of the stadiums that now risk becoming relics in the desert. We’ll see.

The city fathers in Tucson didn’t exactly distinquish themselves in securing a strategy to keep baseball where it’s been since 1947. Then again, with greedy suits ruling the game, there is little room for sentiment or history or something different. Baseball is a business. Ask Tucson.

Oh, yes. The Rockies won 4-3 on the last day. Their opening day starter Ubaldo Jimenez got a nice tuneup for his first season start. When it was over the crowd filed out – quietly. They knew they had just seen something important, something fun and affirming, something historic, end.

Appropriately, with baseball gone not just for a season but likely forever, it dawned couldy and cool in Tucson today.

Some how that feels about right.

Andrus Center, Baseball

The End of an Era

hi+corbett-1Bye, Bye Baseball…

It’s going to be a sad day at the ballpark today in Tucson, Arizona.

Since 1947, a major league team has conducted spring training at wonderful old Hi Corbett Stadium not far from downtown. Today’s Colorado Rockies – Arizona Diamondback spring training game will be the last at the old ballpark – probably forever.

Spring training in Tucson has fallen victim to the increasingly pernicious economics of the great game. The owners of the Rockies and D-backs could no longer resist the lure of the big city – Phoenix – and will move spring training next year to a brand spanking new $100 million field of dreams south of Scottsdale. The teams are following in the wake of the Chicago White Sox who left Tucson two years ago.

All 15 Cactus League teams are now concentrated in the sprawling Valley of the Sun, in part because that’s where the money is for the new, modern ballparks and because the juvenile millionaires who play the game just couldn’t tolerate the 90 minute bus ride from Tucson to Phoenix. In fact, most of the big egos rarely make the trip south. Now they can quit their whining and battle the freeway traffic in Maricopa County. But, I digress.

I first came to spring training at Hi Corbett in 1992 and immediately fell in love with the place. It’s always been like watching a major league game in a minor league park. You sit in the sun, close to the field and inevitably strike up a conversation with folks from Denver, or Montana or Tucson. The crowds at spring training games tend to be different than regular season baseball crowds. Most spring training fans really know the game. They follow their teams and know the players.

When I first came south in ’92, the Cleveland Indians were in residence and had been since 1947 when the legendary Bill Veeck, then the Indian’s owner, concluded that his new star, Larry Doby, the first African-American player in the American League, would find Arizona more welcoming than Florida. Veeck, the great promoter who once sent a midget up to bat in a regular season game, enjoyed a friendship with a Tucson political and business leader – Hi Corbett – and they made the deal to make Tucson a major league city.

The Rockies have made Hi Corbett their spring training home since their first season in ’93.

Now that its all coming to an end – 63 years of spring training in Tucson – the locals feel like they’ve been hit by a pitch. Spring training means millions of dollars of lost economic activity for local hotels, restaurants and merchants. Pima County built the fine Tuscon Electric Park in 1996 for the D-backs and ChiSox – it was state of the art then – and the county is now left holding a $22 million bag as ticket revenue leaves with the teams, while the bond payments remain.

Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen says there is blame to go around for the loss of baseball in Tucson, including the obvious fact that the city didn’t wake up to the loss of spring training until it was too late. Hansen wrote today:

“It’s more realistic to say that baseball changed and we didn’t. No one in City Hall had the vision, or moxie, as Hi Corbett did in 1955, to establish a “Keep Cleveland in Tucson Project” thereby giving Tucson its only link to the big-leagues until Lute Olson came along.

“The last person who could have saved spring training in Tucson was Jerry Colangelo, the czar of Phoenix sports, who was forced out of office in 2004. Once the Diamondbacks dumped Colangelo, Tucson lost its most powerful advocate.

“The business people who run the White Sox, Rockies and Diamondbacks have no allegiance to anything but the bottom line. Colangelo, who worked on credit, was an idealistic, old-school baseball guy who liked the idea of training in a remote location, thereby whetting the appetite of his hometown fans for the regular season. That’s the way it had been done for 100 years.”

Meanwhile, up north, the man who allegedly leads Major League Baseball is sticking his nose into the next major spring training controversy. Mesa wants to keep the Cubs, who are the spring’s biggest draw, while a bunch of high rollers in Florida seek to lure them there with offers of a new, free stadium. Like I said, pernicious economics of baseball. At least Bud Selig has ruled out a tax on all the other Cactus League teams in order to help Mesa build yet another new park in the Phoenix area.

I’ll feel like I have lost something when I walk out of Hi Corbett for the last time today. The place reeks of spring training history. More than 70 of the 292 members of the baseball Hall of Fame laced up their cleats here. Joe DiMaggio played his last spring training game at Hi Corbett. Mickey Mantle played his first there. Mays was here and the Williams boys – Billy, Dick and Ted. Satchell Paige threw from that mound and Juan Marichal made his high leg kick at Hi Corbett. Duke and Casey, McCovey and Catfish all played in the sun in Tucson.

The great Veeck once said “the most beautiful thing in the world is a ballpark filled with people.” No more of that in Tucson.

Today, a little baseball history – the greatest thing about the great game – dies in the desert. I hate it.

Andrus Center, Grand Canyon, Grant, Idaho Media

A Delicate Balance

Perry_Mason showIt’s Not As Easy As They Made It Look

In the old TV series, Perry Mason always wrapped up the case in the last few minutes of the show, tied a ribbon on the verdict and went out for a cocktail, or whatever, with Della Street. If only it were that easy in real life.

The American system of justice is often complicated, confusing, contentious and cumbersome. It is also central to our form of government.

On April 15th in Boise, the Andrus Center for Public Policy – I proudly serve as the volunteer president of the Center – will host with the Idaho Press Club a half day seminar that will dig into some of the complications of the justice system, particularly as they relate to the media. The seminar – we’re calling it “A Delicate Balance” – is also supported by the University of Idaho College of Law and the Idaho State Bar. Members of the bar can earn two continuing legal education (CLE) credits for attending.

The seminar at the Boise Centre is open to the public – there is a $10 registration fee – and will be, I believe, both interesting and entertaining to anyone who cares about how our justice system works and how its workings are reported by the media. Register on line at the Andrus Center website and look over the seminar agenda.

Idaho’s Chief Federal Judge B. Lynn Winmill will keynote the seminar and be joined in a panel with, among others, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey, Todd Dvorak of the Associated Press, Betsy Russell of the Spokesman Review nd prominent Idaho attorney Walt Bithell. University of Idaho Law School Dean Don Burnett will participate in the panel and offer remarks.

Some years back, the Andrus Center adopted as a part of several of its policy conferences a “Socratic dialogue” method of engaging participants in a discussion of difficult, contemporary issues. We’ll take that approach again on April 15th. I’ll present a hypothetical scenario to the panel and they’ll work through some of the issues that often occur when the Constitution’s guarantee of a fair trial comes in conflict with the First Amendment protections of a free press. It will be fun and provocative. Participants in the Andrus Center/Press Club seminar are also invited to attend the College of Law’s Bellwood Lecture reception also at the Boise Centre. The reception will begun upon completion of the seminar.

Hope you’ll attend. I’m guessing that even Perry Mason could benefit.

Andrus Center, Baseball

Wait Until Next Year

BaseballIs It Spring Yet?

While I wait for the warmth of spring and the baseball fan’s certainty that opening day (148 days away by my count) brings all things new again with every team in first place, I content myself with thougths like these:

“As I think back and look forward, I see how nothing is straightforward nothing is unambiguous. Salvation does not come through simplicities, either of sentiment or system. The gray, grainy complex nature of existence and the ragged edges of our lives as we lead them defy hunger for a neat, bordered existence and for spirits unsullied by doubt or despair.” ~ A. Bart Giamatti

‘A good cigar is like a beautiful chick with a great body who also knows the American League box scores.” ~ Corporal Klinger from MASH. (He was a fan of the Toledo Mud Hens if I recall correctly.)

“That’s baseball, and it’s my game. Y’ know, you take your worries to the game, and you leave ’em there. You yell like crazy for your guys. It’s good for your lungs, gives you a lift, and nobody calls the cops. Pretty girls, lots of ’em.” ~ Humphrey Bogart

“Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player. It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in.” ~ Casey Stengel

“There have been only two geniuses in the world. Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare.” ~Tallulah Bankhead

“From here on in, I rag nobody.” ~ Henry Wiggen, the pitcher in Mark Harris’ classic book “Bang the Drum Slowly.”

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” ~ Rogers Hornsby


Andrus Center, Baseball

It Might As Well Be Winter

Bart Giamatti“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.” – A. Bartlett Giamatti

The late, great Commissioner of Baseball, Bart Giamatti, while serving as President of Yale, said: “All I ever wanted to be president of was the American League.”

He ended up heading the National League and somehow – what were baseball owners thinking – they made this brilliant, big hearted man of unflinching integrity the boss of baseball in 1989.

Giamatti, a real commissioner back when baseball owners fleetingly thought they wanted a real commissioner, had a writer’s sensibility and a fan’s devotion to the great game. A Renaissance literature scholar, Giamatti was also a street smart ethicist who knew Pete Rose had to be the example of baseball’s zero tolerance for a lack of integrity. I have often wondered how as Commissioner Giamatti would have dealt with the drug scandals of recent years. I think I know. The owners wouldn’t have liked it.

Shortly after his very premature death after just a few months as Commissioner, Joe Garagiola, the broadcaster and one-time backup catcher, summed up the Commissioner: “One thing you can be sure of, you’ll never hear anyone say I knew someone exactly like Bart Giamatti.”

Giamatti’s little book – A Great and Glorious Game – contains some of the best writing ever about baseball.

At this time of year, with the World Series decided, with NFL and college football dominating the sports page, with the warmth and green of another spring a far distant thought, I always think of Giamatti and his superb, poetic little essay The Green Fields of the Mind.

“The game begins in the spring,” he wrote, “when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”

Put another log on the fire. It will be a damn long winter. I hope I can wait until once again those glorious words are spoken in the spring: “pitchers and catchers report.”

Andrus Center, Baseball

Rooting for Microsoft

The Splendid Splinter…

I confess. I was pulling for the Red Sox to advance in the American League playoffs. Alas, as usual for me, baseball in October is about disappointment.

The Yankees – big surprise – appear to be on a roll and why not. Money buys happiness in Yankeeland – new stadium, a pitching staff that is an embarrassment of riches, a team leader (and MVP?) in the too perfect Jeter and, thank God, a quiet George Steinbrenner. Beyond Alex Rodriquez’s little steroid problem, the Yankees have almost become the no drama Bombers.

Still, while granting the remarkable history of Yankee success – Joe Girardi wearing No. 27 as the millionaires in pinstripes seek their 27th World Series – how can you not like the Sox?

The famous line about what it’s like being a fan of the Bronx Bombers is credited to a number of people and it may have been the great sportswriter Jim Murray who said it first, “Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel.”

Perhaps that line needs updating considering the state of basic manufacturing in America. Rooting for the Yankees these days is, what, a little like rooting for Microsoft. Pulling for the Red Sox, by contrast, is like rooting for your favorite uncle or for the kid’s soccer team.

Being for the Sox is blue collar. Being for the Yankees is, well, pinstripes.

During the playoffs the camera frequently catches the big city swells at new Yankee Stadium, lounging in the thousand dollar seats, still decked out in ties and jackets after a hectic day of trading. They sip $12 Bud Lights, while yakking on their cell phones, no doubt checking on the Tokyo market opening. At Fenway you see guys in sweatshirts, hanging on every pitch, holding their daughters in one arm and tugging on a real beer.

Every baseball fans knows the Great DiMaggio, but brother Dom (who patrolled the outfield in Boston, made seven All-Star rosters and had a career .298 average) is mostly forgotten outside of Boston. Pesky, Yastrzemski, Cronin, Rice, all were greats and played in the best ballpark ever. Now, those are guys you could root for.

Another reason to like the Red Sox is that really good writers like them. David Halberstam’s Teammates is a wonderful little book about friendship. It begins with a 1,300 mile trip by DiMaggio and Pesky to visit the great Ted Williams.

John Updike wrote a wonderful piece – Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu – about Williams last game at Fenway in 1960. Williams, of course, in epic style, hit a home run in his last at bat at the band box and, typical Williams, refused to acknowledge the adulation of the fans.

Updike described the moment: “Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.”

No cheers for me in the American League this year. Red Sox out. Tigers done. Twins foiled. The Angels of Los Angeles or West Covina, or whatever they are, will be next. That’s the other thing about the Yankees – they are ubiquitous and, I’m afraid, inevitable. It comes down to their operating system, like it or not.

Put me down as not. I can’t bring myself to root for Microsoft.

Andrus Center, Baseball

Reading Baseball

Satchel Paige“You win a few, you lose a few. Some get rained out. But you got to dress for all of them.” – Satchel Paige

Labor Day approaches and a baseball fan’s thoughts turn to, well – baseball.

One of the best new baseball books is Satchel: The Life and Times of An American Legend by Larry Tye.

David Davis reviewed the book a while back in the Los Angeles Times and point out that there has long been mystery about Paige’s age. Tye settles on the great pitcher’s birthday most likely being in 1906 making him 42 when he made his major league debut!

A good book about a great baseball player and an even greater character. Good stuff also at the “official” Satchel Paige site, including this quote: “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

The Great Ichiro

Last Sunday’s New York Times had a fine piece on the Seattle Mariner’s remarkable right fielder, Ichiro Suzuki, who has missed a few starts this week due to an injury.

Sometime after Labor Day, Ichiro will ring up his ninth consecutive season with 200 or more base hits. It is a remarkable achievement. The last player to have eight straight 200 hit seasons was Wee Willie Keeler – yes, he has a website – who quit playing in 1901, a century before Ichiro showed up to begin owning records.

Here is a great statistic from the Sports Network: “Suzuki hasn’t gone hitless in consecutive games since August 13-15, 2008, a span of 157 straight games without going hitless in back-to-back contests. The streak is the longest in the majors since Stan Musial (174 games) in 1943-44 and the longest AL streak since Doc Cramer (191 games) in 1934-35.”

Amazing. The guy is a hitting machine.

Now, Go Giants! If only those damnable Dodgers would falter…

Andrus Center, Baseball

The Great Killebrew

Killebrew“As far as I’m concerned, Hank Aaron is the all-time home run champ, and Roger Maris should still have the [single-season] record at 61, but Barry Bonds is the name you see in the record book.” Harmon Killebrew

When Idaho’s best ever baseball player retired in 1975, he stood at fifth all-time on the home run list with 573 dingers. Now Harmon Killebrew is tied for ninth on the list having been passed by Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, confirmed or suspected steroid abusers all, and Ken Griffey, Jr., who is not a suspect – at least not yet. Alex Rodriquiz, another steroid suspect, hit a 15th innning walk off homer Friday against Boston to tie Killebrew on the all-time list. Here’s the current homer leader line-up.

Harmon – here are his career numbers – was signed out of Payette, Idaho by the Washington Senators in 1954 at age 17.

The usually soft spoken and non-controversial Killebrew recently let go with his thoughts about how drugs have tainted – forever perhaps – the great game. He told reporters during the Hall of Fame ceremony recently that the steroid cheaters have “hurt the integrity” of the game. Of course he’s right.

A friend remarked recently that he had stumbled on an ESPN Classic re-broadcast of a 1985 World Series game between the Kansas City Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals and was stunned to see all the normal sized ballplayers. Trim, even skinny guys, used to play major league baseball. (Remember Willie McGee?)

Now days most of the biggest stars look like they sleep on a cot in the weight room.

The Great Killebrew has it right. Release all the names from the 2003 drug tests – the names are going to continue to dribble out – and make a decision on whether records will count or never will.

Where is a commissioner like Bart Giamatti or Fay Vincent when baseball needs them the most?