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Monday, August 12, 2013

The Baseball Historian's Notes for August 12, 2013: What's Smothering Baseball

Despite some excellent games, Max Scherzer notching his 17th win (against just one loss) and outfielder Alexis Rios being traded from the Chicago White Sox to the Texas Rangers; a somber fog hung over baseball this past week because of the specter of performance enhancing drugs.

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was suspended an unprecedented 211 games for a litany of offenses linked to the Biogenesis scandal, but immediately filed an appeal and played his first games of the season. It’s unknown when his case will be heard, but steroids will remain a major issue in the game until that time and beyond.

PEDs have become ingrained in baseball in large part because of players’ quest for money and career longevity. There may be no official science linking users with specific improvements in performance or physical benefits, but at the least, the perception is that it helps. Whether it is a star staying at the top of his game or a bit player hoping to hang on for one more season, it all comes down to chasing glory and paychecks. On top of the huge salaries earned by major leaguers, even minor league pay could be the most money some may ever hope to make, especially in the case of international players.

For most players a baseball career is a finite period of time to make their mark and their bank. There is constantly a mob of other players breathing down their necks to usurp their place in the game, so any advantage, real or perceived, may be seen as means to an end if it allows them to hold on for even one more day.

***While some players are desperate to stay in the game, others are just as ferocious in their attempts to break in and start a career. SB Nation’s Brandon Snead wrote an eye-opening piece about Montaous Walton, who had a serious lack of talent but created an online and media-driven prospect profile in an attempt to fake his way into a professional baseball career. The shocking part of the story is how far he got in receiving tryouts, interviews, perks and even hiring an agent. The caper took place over the course of years, but finally came to an end when authorities were alerted to his fraudulent actions.

***This next bit may sting a little for fans of the Boston Red Sox. It’s the official transfer paperwork documenting the sale of slugger Babe Ruth to the Yankees in December, 1919. Of course, the Bambino went on to serve as the foundation of the greatest dynasty in American sports history (26 World Championships), while the Red Sox went 86 years before winning their next title in 1919. The one-page document had an incredible impact that completely changes the course of two of baseball’s greatest franchises for the better part of a century. Simply remarkable.

***Major League teams get all the attention in the media, but minor league baseball is still extremely popular across the country. The Reading Eagle’s Mike Drago outlined the 1983 Phillies, which was one of the best teams in recent memory. Despite starting out 6-11, by future MLB stars Juan Samuel and Darren Daulton, they finished at 96-44 and won their division by 18.5 games.

Reading’s success was achieved by outscoring their opponents by 200 runs. They also stole a whopping 272 bases, which shattered the previous league record of 232. It’s been thirty years since that incredibly successful team was entertaining crowds, but they will go down as an all-time great.

***It was 25 years ago last week (August 8, 1988) that the first night game was played by the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. This video clip of legendary broadcaster Harry Caray and Bill Murray, perhaps the team’s most famous fan, shows the action from the booth on that historic night.

Unfortunately, the game against the Philadelphia Phillies was rained out after three innings of play. The first official Wrigley night game was completed the following night against the New York Mets, and resulted in a 6-4 Chicago win.’s Jim Caple wrote an excellent feature documenting the events of that historic illumination.

Technology is rampant in baseball today in so many ways, so it’s easy to forget that the simplicity of lights is a relatively new feature for the Cubs.

***The 1969 New York Mets was one of the most iconic teams in baseball history. Just seven years into their existence, they went 100-62 and beat the favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. Known simply as the “Amazin’s,” the squad is still fondly recalled by many for being so fun to watch. This pictorial essay documents in lavish color the team that captivated the country and became the first to show how quickly an expansion franchise could become competitive.

***Baseball lost another of its all-time greats with the recent passing of Johnny Logan. The shortstop had a 13-year major league career, primarily for the Boston/Milwaukee Braves. He shared the left side of the infield with Hall-of-Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews, and was part of some successful teams.

Logan played in two World Series (1957-58), and was an excellent hitting middle infielder during a time when such a thing was a rarity. He hit .268 in 1,503 career games with 93 home runs and 547 RBI. He was also a four-time All Star, and three times finished in the top-20 in MVP voting.

Logan was 86 at the time of his passing.

***And now, your moment of Zen. Hall of Fame outfielder Rickey Henderson is not only known for being the greatest leadoff hitter and base stealer of all-time, he is also quite a character. He was always known for bizarre behavior of comical sound bites that were completely serious on his part. This list compiles the 25-greatest non-play moments of his loquacious career. After reading through these unforgettable parts of his career, you’ll never look at him the same way again.

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