Winter is about to strike out! It has to – baseball season starts soon.
Despite steroid scandals involving several major league players, the millionaires showed up at training camps, unlimbering throwing arms, refocusing batting eyes, juicing up their spitting abilities, developing new places to scratch when they itch, healing from last season’s owies and preparing for new rounds of injuries.
And baseball truly has gone global. Players come from all over the globe – Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Canada, Australia, South Korea, Japan, the Dominican Republic, Cuba – and even some from the United States!
From ages eight to 14, I was a baseball stat nut. I could tell you the batting averages, win-loss records, ERAs and stolen bases of just about every player in the majors and in the Pacific Coast League.
There were eight teams in the Pacific Coast League then – the Los Angeles Angels, Hollywood Stars, Sacramento Solons, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Seals, the Oakland Acorns, Portland Beavers and Seattle Rainiers.
The major leagues had only eight teams each. In the National League were the New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Braves, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, and St. Louis Cardinals. American League teams were the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Athletics, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Washington Senators, and the St. Louis Browns.
I still have the scrapbooks I compiled during that time. Among photos are: Lou Gehrig watching from the Yankee dugout after he voluntarily benched himself after playing in 2,130 consecutive games; catcher Joe Sprinz of the San Francisco Seals being tended to after attempting to catch a baseball dropped from a blimp 800 feet overhead – fractured jaw; Cincinnati third baseman Billy Myers, who was conked on the head by a thrown ball as he approached third base – slight concussion. He was safe, too.
Among other bits of trivia are these:
A Seattle Rainiers outfielder named Hunt was fined $25 for spitting tobacco juice at an umpire.
The National Association of Baseball Players, the first pro team, was formed in 1858.
In 1896, Buck Ewing introduced the idea of pitting as many right-handed batters as possible against left-handed pitchers and vice versa.
Pete Browning used the first made-to-order bat in 1884. Before that, axe handles, wagon tongues and rake handles were used as bats. (A few years ago, during an outing in the North Fork country, the kids, grandkids and I used dead tree limbs for bats while playing with a Whiffle ball).
First extra inning game was played between Providence and Detroit on Aug. 17, 1882. Detroit outfielder Charley Redbourne, who later became a great pitcher, won the game with a home run. The score, 1-0. Only 18 players were used in the 18-inning contest.
The number of called balls required for a walk in 1880 was changed from nine to eight; From 1881-1883, it was seven; 1884-85, six; 1886, back to seven; 1887-88, five; and from 1889 to the present, four. The rule giving a batter three strikes was changed in only one season, 1887, when he was allowed four strikes.
Anyway, the blizzard blizzed, the snow snowed, and it would have been barely bearable but for one thing – knowing that baseball season is at hand. Kids are signing up for Pee Wee, Little League, Babe Ruth, and American Legion baseball teams and for summer softball leagues. Surely winter will soon strike out.