Monday, December 19, 2005

THE 1900 CARDINALS ... part 2

McGraw and Robinson are warmly greeted by the St. Louis "cranks" (fans), but after the good start, the team quickly starts to have a sub par season. The pitchers, including Young seem to be pitching alright but the team keeps losing games. Just like today, the writers are making excuses such as "Cy Young is pitching better than his record would show". There is a lot speculation that there is strife on the team. Apparently, in the years past, McGraw has gotten into it with Tabeau and Burkett many times. McGraw and Patsey claim to be getting along just fine. McGraw is quoted as saying "Tabeau came to me when I got there and said 'Mac, you are captain and I want you to go right ahead and do what you think best' but I don't want to assume authority"

By the time the warm winds of June are blowing, the Perfectos are heading east for a road trip in 5th place. McGraw misses some time due to an injury and writers are saying the "pitchers are not in good shape". McGraw, being the cantankerous man that he is, gets thrown out of games from time to time with his wild temper. This is nothing new or unusual. Young supposedly is suffering rheumatism in his shoulder and Tabeau is looking to bolster the pitching lineup. Even though it is starting to look bad for the Perfectos, some writers still pick them and Brooklyn to lead the league. The Baltimore writer, who is in eternal love with John McGraw writes a column about how players like McGraw are the type that bring pennants to their teams.

By the end of June, rumors are rampant about discourse in the clubhouse between McGraw and Burkett, though the official word is everything is fine. A June 23rd headline reads "Last in Race - Perfectos are National League's Tail Enders". They take 8 losses in a row. McGraw is still out with injuries and doesn't even bother to show up at the games. He spends his time at the racetrack instead. The Baltimore writer reveals McGraw's great contract, both the amount of money he is making and the fact that the reserve clause is scratched out. Finger pointing is now in full swing. The Baltimore writer blames everything on Tabeau and Robison for not letting McGraw run the show. The New York writer blames the Robisons for blindly throwing money at McGraw and others in order to "buy" the Pennant. The St. Louis writer is blaming the players for not playing. The official word though, is there is no strife in the clubhouse.

As July and August wind up, things have gone from bad to worse. The finger pointing gets worse, the team is in the dumps, and Tabeau is taking a lot of heat. They are now in 6th place and attendance is dropping off. On August 25th, Patsey Tabeau resigns. It is not clear whether he quit or was fired, but it doesn't matter, neither he nor anyone else has any control over the team. McGraw is offered the manager's job but turns it down. "Management was offered to McGraw but he refused to accept responsibility for the thoroughly demoralized team under any condition" is written in the Sporting News. A September headline reads "Playing Awful Ball - fortunate to not end up last - dissipation is responsible for St. Louis team's poor performance". Dissipation was a term used to describe drunkenness and intemperance. One nameless player is quoted as saying "There is no use to try to duck it. Booze is the cause of our being where we are... I feel ashamed of myself when I draw my salary". It is reported that another player was seen standing on Grand Ave. at 7 am Sunday morning selling newspapers. Apparently, he had been out "dissipating" all night and ended the evening by "liberating" newspapers from the paperboy and temporarily going into business for himself.

In the middle of September, McGraw announces that he will be with a new team in a new league in Baltimore for the 1901 season. He declines to tell which league it will be, but when a reporter asks if will be with the Quinn-Anson group (the American Association), he just laughs leading everyone to conclude he's in bed with Ban Johnson and the American League. McGraw also states that he had told the Robisons that was his intentions right from the start, which is why he had the reserve clause scratched out of his contract.

In the October 20th issue of Sporting News, a headline reads "Salary Withheld - only four St. Louis Perfecto players paid in full". Those paid are John McGraw, Wilbert Robinson, Cy Young, and Patsy Donovan.

In the November 17 issue, it is announced that Muggsy and Robby are owners of the New American League Baltimore Orioles.

Of course, the sports writers of the time are no different than they are today. They are on the outside looking in and we really never seem to get the whole story as it happens. Some said McGraw was offered the manager's job right away but declined it because he knew that by the next year he would be out of town, hopefully in a new league back in Baltimore. We know for sure that he was offered the job in August and declined to take it. The Baltimore writer is steadfast in his belief that were McGraw running the team, they would have still been in contention. He further states that the Robisons and Tabeau had no desire to play McGraw's brand of "scientific" ball (a term he used often throughout the year when referring to McGraw). He goes so far as to claim that Tabeau would rather see the team lose than to see the team win and have McGraw get the credit. Some say that the clubhouse feud is between McGraw and Burkett. We know that the Robisons withheld salaries from everyone except McGraw, Robinson, Young, and Donovan, so you would have to believe that the Robisons thought everyone else was dogging it. However, I came across one headline saying that the Robisons thought Muggsy and Robby were "counterfeits".

If you look at the stats, both McGraw and Burkett had very good offensive totals. Burkett was 3rd overall in batting average, while McGraw was 5th. OPS (on base percentage/slugging percentage) saw McGraw 3rd and Burkett 4th. McGraw was number one in the league with a .505 on base percentage. Throughout the offensive stats, the Perfectos had many players in the top 5. The team batting average was second only to Brooklyn with a .291. The pitching wasn't great, but it was middle of the road. With a team ERA at 3.75, they were fourth in the league. We can gather from the writings that the team was totally dysfunctional. Players were drinking and carousing, Tabeau quit, Muggsy didn't want to manage. Whether Patsey and Muggsy struggled for authority or they both deferred to each other, the result was the same, leadership and discipline were all but nonexistent. It seems that the 1900 Cardinals were a case of having all the right pieces, but none of them fit together. A classic "clash of egos". Maybe in the end, they needed Joe Torre for manager.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

THE 1900 CARDINALS ... part 1

The 1900 Cardinals had Hall of Famers Cy Young, John McGraw, Jesse Burkett, Wilbert Robinson, and Bobby Wallace playing for them. With all that talent, they ended the season tied for 5th place and management withheld the last months salary for most of the players, largely because of "dissipation". Well, I got the chance to spend a day at the Sporting News research library. I spent that day thumbing through the all the issues of the Sporting News for the year 1900 and the following is a general idea of what transpired that year.

The year 1900 found baseball in turmoil. There was only one major league and that was the National League. Before the 1899 season, the Robison brothers, who owned the Cleveland Spiders, were very unhappy with lack of support by the Cleveland fans, even though the Robisons were fielding very good teams. They proceeded to buy the St. Louis Browns (Cardinals). By moving all his best players, including Cy Young and Jesse Burkett, to St. Louis, and sending all the rest to Cleveland, he created a team of "haves" and a team of "have nots". The have not Spiders went on to set an all time major league record for futility by winning only 20 games while loosing 134 for a .130 winning percentage, a record that stands to this day. Back east, the same thing was going on when the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (Dodgers) merged with the Baltimore Orioles. Manager Ned Hanlon brought such stars as "Wee" Willie Keeler, Hughie Jennings and Joe Kelley to Brooklyn from Baltimore. It's not clear why two of the team's super stars, 3rd baseman John McGraw and catcher Wilbert Robinson were left behind in Baltimore. The most likely reason is they had joint business interests in town including the Diamond Cafe and a bowling alley. The Bridegrooms changed their names to the Superbas and went on to win the pennant. Ironically, some of the Superbas biggest threat was not from the revitalized Perfectos, but from the "have not" Baltimore team. With McGraw at the helm, Baltimore managed to stay in the race right up to the end of the season, though finally ended up in 4th place. As a matter of fact, Baltimore may have taken the flag had it not been for the death of John McGraw's wife. For some weeks, John was so depressed that he couldn't even make it to the ballpark. During that time Baltimore played only .500 ball. Near the end of 1899, the Orioles and the Superbas squared off for a hotly contested pennant. Hanlon's Superbas triumphed, but the hot headed McGraw put up such a protest in one of those games that the umpire forfeited the game to Brooklyn. So vile were McGraw's actions that it severely strained whatever relationship McGraw and Hanlon may have ever had.

This brings us up to January of 1900. The rest is gleaned from those issues of the Sporting News.

The NL was in disarray with Baltimore and Cleveland having been virtually abandoned and Washington and Louisville fielding teams that were constant basement dwellers with very poor attendance. The NL was threatening to remove those four teams and go from a 12 team league to an 8 team league. Elsewhere, the former star of the Chicago Orphans (Cubs) Cap Anson, had garnered support from 7 cities to create the return of the old American Association League that had folded in 1892. Teams were lined up in Chicago, Milwaukee, Louisville, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Baltimore. It was speculated that the Baltimore team was to have McGraw and Robinson as owners. To make matters even worse for the NL, Ban Johnson, the president of the Western League, a minor league, had changed its name to the American League, and was poised to build itself into a Major League.

With rumors of the NL Orioles' demise, there was a lot of speculation as to what would happen to John McGraw. One Baltimore writer states "'Mac' says, and I think the baseball public, not only here, but all over the country will agree with him that he deserves a better birth that playing for $2400 under some manager who knows one twentieth as much as he does about the game".

In February, McGraw makes a preemptive move by leasing the Orioles Union park in preparation of the AA Baltimore team. Hanlon is livid with the action. At one point, Hanlon sends men to Baltimore to occupy left field while McGraw has men occupying right field, both groups hoping to lay claim on the park. A judge finally rules in Hanlon's favor and the siege is ended. In Cleveland, Cy Young says he thinks the American League will eventually have a team there and he would be happy to pitch there. Back in St. Louis, the fans are wondering what the Robison brothers next move is, though most think they are going to sell Cleveland and put all there eggs in the St. Louis basket. Cincinnati's owner tries to talk to McGraw about coming to take the helm for his team, but "Muggsy" is adamant about staying in Baltimore.

By the time March rolls around, the NL finally puts an end to the 4 teams in question. McGraw and Robinson's contract are moved to Brooklyn, but Hanlon wants nothing to do with either one of them and sell their contracts to St. Louis. With this purchase, the Perfectos are picked as being a shoe in for 1st or 2nd place. The only problem is Mac and Robby still have no intention of leaving Baltimore. They're holding out for the fruition of Cap Anson's American Association League.

The St. Louis Perfectos start their spring training down in Hot Springs Arkansas. Back then, players were not expected to keep in shape during the off season nor were they expected to hone their skills by playing other teams during spring. Rain had pretty much closed the local fields, but Perfectos manager, Patsey Tabeau was happy to know that the players would be "boiling out impurities" at the local hot springs spa. Local streetcar drivers were instructed to not let Perfectos in uniform on the streetcars as they were supposed to be running into town and back as part of their fitness training. The Robison brothers are telling the public they are confident that McGraw and Robby are going to eventually come to St. Louis because of the "princely sums" they are offering them. The term "princely sums" is used time and time again referring to John McGraws salary plus McGraw's name appears in at least one headline almost every week throughout the year in the Sporting News. These exemplify the fact that McGraw's salary is unprecedented and his star status is quite established. Cy Young is mentioned often, but only because he pitches several times each week. He is already known to be a very good pitcher, but he is by no means the superstar that McGraw is.

As the season opens in April, the Perfectos are very promising. Burkett and Young are looking good and the Perfectos are being picked for near the top whether McGraw and Robinson sign with the team or not. They come out of the box up to speed and quickly pull into first place. Anson's American Association is starting to fall apart and Muggsy makes a play to get a job with the Philadelphia or New York teams so he can stay close enough to Baltimore to still take care of his business interests there.

By May 12th, the American Association is dead on arrival. Muggsy and Robby are still under the reserve clause of St. Louis, so if they aren't going to play in St. Louis, they are not going to play in the Majors that summer. With their backs against the wall, they finally agree to play in St. Louis, but not before McGraw receives an unprecedented $10,000 salary plus an unheard of stipulation that the reserve clause would be scratched out of their contracts freeing them up to play anywhere at the end of the year. With the acquisition of McGraw and Robby, it is assumed that the Robisons have just bought the Pennant. However, with McGraw comes the first chink in the team's armor. McGraw had already become known for managing baseball. Player-managers were the norm at the time, but Muggsy is not given the job as manager of the perfectos. Patsey Tabeau remains the manager while McGraw became the team captain. This brought about two problems. The first is the dual chain of command plants divisions in the team; the second, by making Muggsy the captain, it splits the team in two. Apparently, the players, led by Jesse Burkett, already had a captain who was a friend of theirs. When McGraw arrives, the Robisons sell the captain to another team, and Burkett and his buddies are totally ticked off at McGraw and Tabeau.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


For those of you who have been with us right from the beginning, you will remember that this subject was one of my first posts. Since then, I have learned more about the subject so I have re-written it and posted it on "Viva el Birdos" BLOG site. I am also reposting it here.

If by oldest you mean the first, the honors would have to go to the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Not the Reds of today, but a team that was formed in 1869.

Back in the 1840s baseball or "base ball" as it was called at the time, had many different sets of rules. It was often called "town ball" as many towns had their own variation. Alexander Cartwright and his New York Knickerbockers had written a set of rules in 1845. The "New York" game went on to become the most popular game as "base ball" spread across the country during the civil war. In 1859, a group of baseball clubs got together to form the "National Association of Baseball Players. The NABP became the governing body of baseball and worked out a unified set of rules that all member clubs would use. It was basically a national organization that anyone could join. Each team would schedule its own games and many teams would recruit players from other towns to bolster there chances of winning. Some would entice players with good paying local jobs, and some clubs would even pay some really good players enough money so they wouldn't have to work during baseball season. In 1896, Cincinnati put together a baseball team that was 100% "professional". This group, lead by Harry Wright, was named the Red Stockings. Each man was paid a salary, the highest going to Harry's brother George, the star shortstop, who made $1400. As was the practice, Harry would schedule games with other towns then the team traveled throughout the eastern US playing games. At the end of 1869 they were 65-0.

The next year they started a winning streak that took them into Brooklyn 27-0. The Brooklyn Atlantics had been one of the premier teams of the amateur era and at the end of 9 innings the two teams were tied 5-5. At the time the game was considered over with a tied score, but Harry appealed to Brooklyn to continue on into unprecedented extra innings. At the end of the 11th inning, Brooklyn had won 8-7. The luster had gone from the Reds and they folded as a team by the end of the year. The next year Harry, George and a few others moved to Boston and regrouped as the Boston Red Stockings (Ever wonder why both Boston and Cincinnati have similar names?).

If by oldest, you mean longest running, then the answer is either the Chicago Cubs or Atlanta Braves. Both of those teams can be traced back to 1871. At the time, the Cubs were known as the White Stockings and the Braves are direct descendants of Harry Wrights Boston Red Stockings. Harry got together with some other teams and built a new league comprised of all professional teams. That new league was the National Association of Professional Baseball Players. The NAPBP lasted only 4 years, and at the end of 1875, Boston and Chicago were the only two original members left. Unfortunately, near the end of the first year, on October 9, 1871, Chicago was enveloped in the great Chicago fire. With the town in disarray, Chicago could not field a team in the years of 1872 or 1873, but they were back in business for the '74 season. In 1876, the National League was started. Both Boston and Chicago transferred to the new league and have been playing ever since

So some people consider the Braves to be the oldest team in baseball because of Chicago's two lost seasons. You could also make a case that the braves are direct descendants of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. The Braves are in fact, the longest continually running major league baseball team. But can it be considered the oldest team if it has moved from Cincinnati to Boston to Milwaukee, to Atlanta? If not, the Cubs have run continuously, in the same town since 1874, making it the oldest team in baseball.


Eric writes...

So Jim, I'm not even sure that humanity knows the answer to this question but here it goes: How did primates; namely chimpanzees, us and our ancestral line, go from "herbivores" to "omnivores"? Yes, the herbivorous primates today DO in fact rely on animals as food, such as insects, and that they can't survive to procreate with out them. But considering that they have evolved to rely mainly on plants, how could a species derive an omnivorous anatomy from an herbivores one?

Well Eric, I do think you are correct in the assumption that humanity may not know the answer to this. One thing we do know is you have stumped Jim. I did some research and got nowhere. So, rather than just say "I don't know" or give you some answer based in fact or good science, let me just give you some opinions. You know, stuff that I just pull out of my hat (or some orifice).

The first thing to remember is evolution is a theory and not a fact. That statement should not be interpreted as an endorsement for creationism. Creationism is also a theory. One built on bad science, where as, evolution is a theory built on good science, however it is just that, a theory. As any theory in the scientific community, there are various opinions in different scientific camps. To say "X" is the way an animal could go from one state to another is impossible to answer. I can't even find any information that humans were ever herbivorous. I see a lot of discussion as to whether humans are, today, herbivores or omnivores. We know by practice, we are omnivores, but some come to the conclusion, strictly by anatomy, that we have a lot more in common with herbivores than omnivores. (The problem with most of those sources though, is that they were advocating vegetarianism. Their "science" may be suspect.) If we can't answer that question now, I see no way to conclude what our ancestors did.

The second thing to remember is the basis of evolution is survival of the fittest. That doesn't have to mean the strongest, but those plants and animals that can adapt best to their surroundings. No species sets out to become anything. It's characteristics are reactive to their environment. If human ancestors were in fact herbivores and we evolved into omnivores, according to the theory of evolution, there was a point in our past that favored omnivores, therefore, those are the ones who survived to pass down their genes.

The third, and most important thing to remember is I may have totally misunderstood the question so I could have gone down the wrong, dead end road when I tried to find information. So, if that sounds like the most plausible point of this three point answer, feel free to give me a nudge down the correct road, and I'll see what I can dig up.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


ay there, Jim. It sure has been awhile, bub.
I recently dined with a Jim at a Scottish restaurant. In fact, the Jim and I shared 4 scotch eggs and 6 drams of scotch. I had the haggis, which I later excreted in burp form for roughly 7 hours. But I digress. How is scotch made and what makes some scotches better than others? I bet my boss 10 dollars that scotch is made from ground up Scottish midgets.

I'm afraid you owe your boss $10. It is the coating of the scotch eggs that is made from ground up Scottish midgets.

Scotch, however, is that wonderful whiskey that comes from Scotland. (And if it is not from Scotland, it is not scotch.) There are many different scotches and they range from rough to exquisite. Whiskey can be made from many different grains. Rye whiskey is made from rye (of course), Kentucky Bourbon and Tennessee sour mash whiskey is made from corn, and scotch is made from malted barley.

If you have been with us right from the beginning, you will remember the post about lager and ale. They are both malt beverages. Scotch is essentially a distilled beer (without the hops). This is the process of making scotch, in a nutshell.

Start with barley (a grain similar to wheat) and put it in a warm moist environment. This will make the seed think it is time to germinate. As the seed prepares to sprout, it starts to turn its starch into sugar. The sugar content will be highest at the moment just before the seed actually sprouts. At this point, the barley will be dried and roasted to stop the growth process. This process of preparing the barley is called "malting" and barley that has undergone this process is called malted barley or simply malt. This is the same basic process used for either scotch or beer. The malt is steeped in hot water to draw those sugars out of the grain. This barley soup is called wort. This liquid is then fermented and the resulting "beer" is then distilled. The end product is aged in barrels for at least 3 years, it is then scotch.

Every part of the process makes a difference in flavor. The time the malt is roasted, whether it is roasted over an open fire or smoked. Whether that fire is made from coke or peat. Where the water comes from. How long it is aged. What kind of barrel it is aged in. These and more determine whether a scotch is drinkable or divine.

The word peat is thrown around all the time when describing scotch. There are many peat bogs in Scotland and the water used in the process can pick up flavors by traveling through these bogs. Peat can also be dried and burned as a fuel and if it is used in the fire to dry or roast the malt, it is another way for the peat to impart its flavor. "Peaty" and "smoky" are what I love in my scotch, but that may not be what you are looking for. Extent of such flavors are all in the beholder. What I find to be just right, you may find to be over powering or weak.

I like to drink my scotches straight, though many people claim that by adding a little water and ice, it can bring out flavors that otherwise wouldn't be detected. One friend of mine told me he thought that was a way of justifying watering the scotch down to make it go farther. I think he has a good point. Scotch is actually already watered down. A few distillers will sell a limited amount of "cask strength", which is much stronger. Of course, like anything, you should decide for yourself what you like best.

Scotch can be divided into two major subdivisions, single malt and blend. The single malt whiskey is a whiskey made from 100% malt from a single distillery. A blend is a mixture of whiskeys from several distilleries and often contain whiskies made from other grains. A broad, general rule of thumb, your better scotches are single malt, though there are excellent blends available as well. I'm not sure this is a always true, but if your scotch's name starts with "Glen", it is probably a single malt.

Like French wines, scotches can also be divided into regions. Though each region can have its own characteristics, they still have more differences than similarities. A novice need not pay too much attention to regions.

One aspect of a scotch that makes a big difference is age. A scotch less that 10 years old is never going to be the highest quality (Of course, we have to remember quality is a relative term. A scotch of average quality may be better that many other whiskey's of high quality.) What makes scotch so good is a complicated question. If it were just the grain, the process and the peat bogs, anyone could do it. I've heard of Japanese buying entire Scottish peat bogs, shipping them back to Japan, and trying to make Japanese "scotch", to no avail. Like many things, scotch is very trendy. I don't mean to diminish its reputation, however, because it is such a popular drink (especially single malt), you will find no bargains. I've tasted scotches that have no rivals in my book. It is hard to find a truly outstanding scotch for less than $45 a bottle. Excellent scotches can quickly reach $80-$100 a bottle. They can go much higher than that, however I know nothing about them. They are too far out of may price range to even taste them. When the waiter at the Scottish Arms restaurant recommended the 21 year old Glenmorangie special reserve, I immediately thought it sounded out of my price range. Never, though, did I think it could be $105 a dram! Very palatable scotches can be obtained for $25-$35 a bottle. I just bought a bottle of 10 year old Glen Garioch, a highland single malt whiskey, for $22. I find it to be a rather smooth whiskey, but uninteresting. The Irish also make fine malt whiskeys. Not long ago, I would say Irish whiskey was "under appreciated", which in "Jimeze" means a bargain, but their prices are rising quickly. Tyrconnel, which is a very palatable single malt, pot stilled, Irish whiskey has gone from the low $20s to $29 in the past several years.

Of the four scotches we tasted, 3 were from the Islay region. The Lagavulin and the Laphroaig had the peaty, smoky flavor that I love. The Caol Ila, however, I found to be lacking in character and complexity. The Glenmorangie is a northern Highland whiskey that also has those characteristics I look for in a scotch. So good were three out of four of those scotches, that just the thought of them would send my tongue into instant flavor rushes. The taste is so distinctive and wonderful, my mind will recreate the experience time and time again for several days. I have never come across another type of drink that will do this to me. I guess this is why it is so popular and so expensive.

Some blends that friends have recommended are Famous Grouse, Pinch, and Chivas Regal.

High quality whiskeys and other spirits, that are made to stand alone are being manufactured in many areas. Vodkas, tequilas, and gins all have their high quality products that are meant to be enjoyed straight. Single barrel sour mash and 10 year old bourbon are being produced by a dozen distillers. These are my new choice for under appreciated whiskies today. Probably the greatest bargain in Jim's book of whiskies is the Tennessee sour mash George Dickle which is smoother and less expensive than Jack Daniels. Jack Daniels is a prime example of the over appreciated (over priced) product that does a better job of selling its image than producing a quality product.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Okay, Jim. Help me and my roommate settle a dispute. Is there a difference between juice and cider, as in apple juice or cider. I realize this is one of the less interesting questions you'll field, but we have no idea.

That's easy. I grew up in a town whose major agricultural product was apples.

Technically, there is no difference between apple cider and apple juice. The FDA or whoever is in charge of those things, have no rules or definitions for either cider or juice and neither does Noah Webster. The terms are interchangeable.

There is, however, usually an implied difference. When you grind up apples and press them to release the juices, you end up with a brownish liquid that contains a sludge that will settle to the bottom. That is what most Americans consider cider. If you take that juice, filter it and pasteurize it, you will have a clear golden liquid that is usually considered apple juice. If you were to take that same cider and let it ferment, it will turn into "hard cider". Your cider that comes in bottles that look like beer is just that. Woodchuck Cider is a hard cider.

So usually, "sweet" cider is brown and cloudy, apple juice is clear and golden, and "hard" cider is fermented and has an alcohol content, but you (and the product vendor) can use those terms interchangeably.


This is off track. In 1996, Adam and I went to three baseball games in three days. I had such a great time I wrote about it. There was never a venue to present it, so even though this is no Ask Jim, and it is dated, here it is.

Sunday Sept. 8, 1996

It was coming up on the weekend, my wife and daughter were going out of town on a Girl Scout field trip, and my 13 year old son and I were going to be weekend bachelors. How should the mice play while the cats were away?

I heard about the ceremonies planned for Enos Slaughter and the '46 Cards on Friday. We had stopped at Cooperstown several weeks before, while we were on vacation. My son had bought a baseball signed by Mr. Slaughter at one of the many memorabilia places there so I thought he'd like to see him in person. While we were talking about the game, we decided we hadn't been to enough of them, and with only nine home games left, there weren't many chances left. We decided to make it a baseball weekend and go to all three games against San Diego.

Friday night we got there early for the ceremonies. As always, I am well prepared. I have a day pack containing binoculars, radio, score sheets (my son just made a new score sheet design on the computer and we are going to give it a try tonight), pencils, "Sharpie" (pen for autographs), peanuts, sodas (in plastic bottles and a soft cooler), and sunflower seeds. We're planning on buying general admission tickets but as we are walking up to the stadium, people are selling tickets outside. The first guy has tickets in Loge Reserve, but we're not interested in those. They're along the baseline and I'd rather sit behind home plate. The next guy is selling two tickets to Saturday's game. They are field box seats right behind home plate. I'm usually too cheap to spring $16 per ticket but this is an offer I can't refuse. I'm so excited, I'm happy to pay face value. [Note: $16 for field box in 1996, in 2005, the same tickets were $43!] We cross the south bridge, pass the souvenir vender and my son picks up a baseball with a Cardinals logo. I've already warned him not to get too concerned about autographs because they are so hard to come by.

We go down behind the Cardinals dugout to watch the ceremonies. Jack Buck is there interviewing Enos Slaughter and Red Scheindienst. We're so close we could practically kiss them (but not close enough for autographs). Great ceremonies! They're over so we take our seats (well we take someone's seats. Fourth row behind the Cardinal's dugout, but no one comes to claim them). We saw a great game, the Cards win, and we're happy as clams.

After the game, we stop at the gate where the Cards exit. We are hoping to get some autographs for my son's new baseball. Because of the hour and 20 minute rain delay, there are only a half dozen people there. Players could get through the gauntlet and sign everyone's autograph in about two minutes. Great! I bet plenty of players will sign tonight. Wrong! Andy Benes is the only player kind enough to sign. My son is disappointed and I have thoughts about what a bunch of overpaid prima donnas they are. I read articles in the paper wondering why the crowds at the stadium are so small when the Cards are doing so well. All that I can think is "If these guys made more of an effort to endear themselves to the kids, maybe they would have more of them at the games".

Saturday we get there late. I lost track of time, plus there is a big traffic jam on highway 40 on the way in. We miss the national anthem, but we're in our seats before first pitch. It's another great game. The highlight is Donovan Osborne's grand slam home run. The seats were some of the best I've ever had (and I didn't even have to wonder if someone else was going to claim them). We were definitely in uncharted territory here. It's a different crowd down here. People come late, leave early, and don't cheer a lot. Some didn't even seem to know there was a game going on. It looked more like a social gathering. People were talking, visiting, gabbing, enjoying themselves. I'm sure most were as big or bigger fans that we are, but they enjoy the game in a different way than we do. Luckily, the lady sitting right in front of me was cheering every pitch and dancing to the tunes between innings, so my son and I didn't feel too out of place.

After the game, we hit that exit gate again so my son could get those autographs. There was a mob there and after only a half hour my son gave up. I can't blame the players for being afraid to tackle crowds like that. It would take them an hour to sign for everyone.

That night, we have pizza and watch the video "St. Louis Cardinals - The Movie". Life is great!

Sunday we are going to go down several hours before the game. My plan is to go out to the bleacher seats during batting practice and try to catch a ball that is hit out there (yeah right, and I'm the one telling my son not to get his hopes up for autographs). We get up early, my son does his homework and we clean up the house so my wife doesn't yell at me when she gets home. I know we'll be at the stadium for lunch so I go to Schnucks and pick up a couple of "King of the Hill" sandwiches for lunch.

We're at the stadium so early, the same day ticket offices are not open yet so we head down to the main ticket office. On the way down the steps, we see Mike Shannon who happily signs my son's baseball. We get our tickets and on the way back up, we see Walt Jockity, who happily signs my son's baseball. Hey! This is a great day!

We get to the west gate a few minutes before it opens. When we go in, we have to go down into the box seats ( I'm not sure why ). Some Cardinals are out throwing the ball around and doing their warm-ups. We go over to the wall along the first base line to watch. Tony Fossas comes over and signs autographs. Later, Tony LaRussa is signing autographs. After a while, a dozen players are working the crowd, signing autographs. All totaled, my son gets 14, and we are thrilled. All that I can think is what a nice bunch of guys they are to be out there, taking time to get close to the fans and sign autographs (see Friday night's thought). I talk to a lady who has season tickets for seats down there, she tells me the players often they do that. I tell her that I wish they could make some kind of a rule that small people automatically cut in front of big people. It's the little guys who get a big thrill out of getting a professional player's autograph on their baseball, then want to take it out and play baseball with it as soon as they get it home. The guys my age who get autographs, turn around and sell these things for a tidy profit. When my son shows me his baseball and says "This is great, I'm going to keep it forever!" (which I take to mean he realizes it may have monetary value, but has even more sentimental value), I'm proud of him.

Well, we take our seats (see Friday' note about taking seats), have our sandwiches, drink our sodas, eat our peanuts, and keep score on our scorecards. The Cardinals lose the game, I complain about a couple of player's lack of performance and second guess LaRussa, all is right with the world, and we don't even need to stay around to try to get autographs. After all, if we go right home we can catch the second half of the Rams game! (Turns out not to be the highlight of the weekend.)

As we drive home, I give my son a question to ponder. Gary Gaetti makes an error, which (if I scored properly) eventually leads to a unearned fifth run (the goat!). Then he gets up and hits a two run homer (the hero), which would have tied the game if that unearned run hadn't scored. Is Gaetti a hero or a goat? It takes greater minds than ours to decide that. We do, however, know that baseball is a great game, and Gaetti, along with his teammates and new ownership, sure make it interesting.

Addendum 1: My boss once made a comment about how he doesn't go to professional sports games because they are too expensive. When I told him baseball wasn't, bleacher seats are $5 each, he said they used to be $2. I said, bread used to be a nickel too. It started me thinking though so I thought I would figure out what three games cost me.
Before Friday's game, I bought two bags of peanuts and a 12 pack of sodas (in plastic bottles of course). That came to about $7.50. I paid $3 for parking (though I could have parked a few blocks away and parked for free), and spent $7.50 for tickets (one adult and one child general admission). At the game, we shared a large nachos, with extra cheese and extra jalapenos, that was around $4. My son bought the baseball for $6 so that totals around $28.
Saturday I splurged on the box seats at $16 each. Parking was still $3 and nachos were still $4, (I still had peanuts and soda left), totaling around $39.
Sunday I bought sandwiches and more soda at Schnucks for less than $10. We got there so early, we beat the parking lot attendant so that was a freebie, and it was back in the cheap seats for $7.50. (The sandwiches were so big, we had no room left for nachos.) That totals around $17.50. For the entire weekend, we get a grand total of $84.50. For a working class slob like me that is not a super cheap weekend but I did splurge one day plus I could have easily cut a couple more corners. Let's see now, $84.50 could have bought two cheap seats to the Blues, can it buy two cheap seats to the Rams?

Addendum 2. My philosophy on buying cheap seats, and then moving down to the better sections. First of all, you have to go to a couple of games to see where the open seats are. When you sit in someone else's seat, consider yourself a guest of theirs. Assume they will be there so don't make a mess (peanut shells and all). Keep belongings packed so you can move at a moments notice. Watch for the rightful owner. If you see someone looking at their ticket and looking at you, ask them if that seat belongs to them, promptly vacate and apologize for any inconvenience. After the end of the third inning, you can usually assume the seat is yours and you can start spreading out your stuff and throw the peanut shells on the ground.

Addendum 3: Why am I writing this? I don't know, I've never done this before. I guess I just had a real good time and wanted to record it.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


Brian writes...

Tell me Jim, what do you think of the World Baseball Classic that is set to be played for the first time next year? Should it be taken seriously? What will it mean for baseball?

Good question, I have no idea.

For those who are not familiar with the subject, Major League Baseball and the Players Union
got together their counterparts throughout the world, and came up a with an international baseball tournament. I'm not sure what will govern who can play for each team, but it is essentially a country based event similar to the Olympics.

So right away, you have to wonder why this event couldn't be done as an Olympic event? Several issues come to mind. First, no money gets funneled to Major League Baseball, nor the Players Association if it were held under the umbrella of the International Olympic Committee. The second is that the Olympics occur during regular baseball season. Of course, if MLB really wanted to have this event for the true purpose of international competition, it doesn't seem unreasonable that they could accommodate a two week event every four years. Professional hockey players play in the Olympics as the NHL takes a two week break during that time. The third issue is can Major League baseball players pass the rigid anti steroid screening. What ever the reason, you would have to think the Olympics would be the best venue for this event.

The World Baseball Classic, we have to believe, is no more than an international exhibition game that will try to drum up more enthusiasm for baseball in countries where interest is either marginal or non existent. The alternative purpose would have to be that the tournament will be a money maker. The drawback of exhibition games is the lack of purpose and motivation. Those who have something to prove (those who are not stars already) will play their hearts out for pride and recognition. What will the motivation be for a $10 million per year player? What will Bonds, Clemens, Ramirez and Palmeiro do. Will they even play?

This internationalization of baseball is not a new thing. If you remember from an earlier post, back in 1869, Harry Wright put together the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first all professional baseball team. Several years later, he brought that team to Boston and helped put together the National Association of Professional Baseball Players, the first professional baseball league. He and one of his better players, Albert Goodwill Spalding (later to become the magnate of the Spalding sporting goods company) tried to promote baseball throughout the world. In 1874, they took the Philadelphia Athletics and the Boston Red Stockings to England to show off the game to the British. They went to the renowned Marleybone Cricket Club to line up games, however, the cricketeers told them they could come, but if the Americans wanted the British to participate, they would have to play cricket. Well the Americans played cricket, which they were not very good at, then they would play baseball, which no one was interested in. That tour was a financial flop.

That never stopped Spalding from believing that the whole world, given the chance, wouldn't fall in love with baseball so in 1888 he put together an all star team and took them and his Chicago White Stocking team (eventually known as the Cubs) for a world tour. They went to Hawaii, Australia, Ceylon, and Egypt. They even played a game at the base of the great Pyramid of Cheops at Ghizeh. After that, they continued on to Italy, France, and England. Well, no one was interested in baseball during that tour either.

Since then, however, baseball has caught on big in many countries. Latin America has been a hot bed for great players for years. Japan and Korea have also had professional baseball leagues for some time.

Who knows, it may be very interesting. the two things vital to making sports interesting are good competition and top level performance. If the World Baseball Classic is perceived as meaningless games with mediocre play, it will be dead on arrival.