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Are you more risk-averse than a 5th grader?

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The wife, the kids and I were watching the cute game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” and all of a sudden some kind of game theory/philosophy seminar broke out.

The contestant, a woman named Stephanie, had reached the final question, worth $1 million. She had earned $500,000 by correctly answering the previous question. If she got the million-dollar question wrong, she would walk away with $25,000.

She could see the subject of the final question before deciding whether to answer it, and she could walk away at that point with the $500,000. But once she saw the question, she had to answer.

The subject was music. Stephanie looked disappointed, but she also said she’d taken violin lessons for 10 years. She was 25 years old, I guessed and a post-show Google search confirmed. Her name is Stephanie Wambach. She’s from St. Louis, where the wife and I used to live—and which requires that I say she went to Marquette High School. And she went to the wife’s alma mater, Indiana University. This is all foreshadowing, in a kind of lame way.

Here’s a clip of the last few minutes of the episode, uploaded to YouTube in 2007.

Stephanie had mostly breezed through the answers, on questions ranging from second- to fifth-grade level, struggling only a little and using just one of her three “cheats.” “Fifth-grade level” makes these questions sound easier than they are. They’re not rocket science, but fifth-grade questions aren’t pushovers. If you’re not familiar with the subject, or don’t remember it from fifth grade, you’re sunk. One of the fifth-grade questions Stephanie had answered asked what country Sweden shared its longest border with.

Now she thought over whether to go for the $1 million on the music question or “drop out” with $500,000.

“You have to go for the million,” I said to the wife. Oh, no, said the wife. You have to take the half-million. “If she gets it wrong she’d be giving away $475,000,” the wife said. That’s how the host, Jeff Foxworthy, had phrased it as Stephanie struggled with her decision: “If you answer the question incorrectly … you give back $475,000.”

That comment seemed designed to push her toward not going for the million, which struck me as odd, since a contestant winning the million bucks would be a home run of a moment for the show. Foxworthy should have been all Dr. Evil: “Think about it: A MILLion dollars,” as if $1 million were a lot of money or something. But he explicitly said he wanted to “talk about the downside.”

“She’s not giving back anything,” I said. “She walked in empty handed. The floor for her, the worst thing that can happen, is she walks out with $25,000. That’s a pretty damn good floor. She’s ‘giving back’ $500,000 by not trying for the million.”

And there you have it. Two fundamentally different ways of looking at risk.

The wife: How can you live with herself if you’d “given back” $475,000 by getting the last question wrong.

Me: Any time I can bet $475,000 of house money to win $500,000, I’m putting the money down as if it weren’t mine—which it isn’t. I never really “had” dollars 25,001 through 500,000 any more than Stephanie “had” dollars 500,001 through 1 million.

Get the last question wrong and the consolation prize would be $25,000. I’d live with myself just fine. I’d walk out thinking, “Losing stinks, but it was the right bet.” And if the same situation came up again, I’d do the same thing.

Stephanie opted out. Interesting: A male person close to her had been in the audience the whole show holding up a sign that said “Go for the $1 million.” Is this a gender thing? Sample size of two so far. The guy, a friend, later wrote a blog post about it.

Foxworthy asked Stephanie if she wanted to see the question and she quickly said, “No!” That followed from her first decision. She didn’t want to risk feeling terrible if she knew the answer, even though, given her decision, she must have thought there was a good chance she wouldn’t know the answer.  Wouldn’t it have felt great to know she’d made the right call?

Fortunately, she quickly changed her mind, since it’s hard to imagine the show not revealing the question. She said, “All right, fine,” I think in response to shouts from the audience. Foxworthy revealed the question: “In the 1720s, what man composed a series of violin concertos known as ‘The Four Seasons’?”

When Foxworthy, reading the question off a video display, got to the word “man,” Stephanie put her hands on her head and gasped, “Oh my God!” Then she crumpled onto the podium. She recovered quickly, took it well, flashing a smile. Foxworthy had her look into the camera and say what I gather is the show’s tag line, but she customized it:

“I guess I’m not smarter than a fifth grader,” she said, “but if I woulda answered the question, I would have been!”

I think that’s right. Even if her answer had been wrong.

Written by King Kaufman

December 5th, 2011 at 8:43 am

Posted in Not sports

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1960 Game 7, 3rd inning: A little integration

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Hector Lopez digs in against Vern Law

Hector Lopez digs in against Vern Law

Our story so far: First inningSecond inning

Clete Boyer’s name appears on the screen as “Cletis” as he comes to bat with one out in the top of the third following Vern Law’s slick backhand stab of Johnny Blanchard’s comebacker. Boyer suspects his bat is broken, beats the handle on the ground to confirm it, and trots — trots! — back to the dugout to replace it. I have never seen a major league player trot on his way to get a new bat. They walk.

Boyer’s quick pace gives me just enough time for a quick Clete Boyer bat story, because I’m pretending that I’m not using the pause button liberally here.

I am not sure I’m remembering this right, but I think the first bat I ever owned, a black 26-ouncer, was a Clete Boyer signature model. Boyer was winding his career down with Atlanta during the years I was coming into baseball consciousness, 1970 and ‘71, so while I remember the bat being a new model, I’m reasonably sure it was picked up at a discount.

Because of that bat, I always had kind of a soft spot for Clete Boyer, even though I don’t remember ever seeing him play. I don’t mean a soft spot, really, but his name had some meaning for me. I also had, for some reason, a first baseman’s mitt when I was very young, and it was a Mike Hegan signature model. Mike Hegan! How did he ever get his name on a mitt? I don’t have any soft spot for Mike Hegan, though I probably wouldn’t recall his name today if I hadn’t had that mitt.

Clete grabs a new bat and walks back to the plate without any elaborate on-deck-circle ritual of rubbing it down with just the right amount of pine tar and rosin. Announcer Bob Prince speculates that Boyer could have been “just changing bats and fiddling around a little bit” to give Bobby Shantz more time to warm up in the bullpen, since the pitcher’s spot is up next. But Shantz has been warming up since the top of the first, and if Boyer were trying to kill time he probably wouldn’t have trotted to the dugout to fetch his new bat.

Boyer pops out to Bill Mazeroski in shallow center field, and that brings up a pinch hitter, Hector Lopez.

Clete Boyer checks his bat.

Clete Boyer checks his bat.

A striking thing about watching this game from 1960 today is that almost everybody’s white. Of the 18 men in the starting lineup, only Roberto Clemente was not Anglo. Elston Howard, who was black, would have been the Yankees starting catcher if he hadn’t gotten hurt, but that’s still a couple of overwhelmingly white lineups.

Both teams used 25 men in the 1960 World Series, and six of them were minorities. Aside from Clemente, Howard and Lopez — a Panamanian who is black enough to have been considered the first black manager at Triple-A when he took over in Buffalo in 1969 — the rest of the 12 percent minority population consisted of two African-American Pirates reserves, outfielder Joe Christopher and infielder Gene Baker, who would combine for three plate appearances in this Series, and Yankees lefty reliever Luis Arroyo, who had pitched two-thirds of an inning in Game 5.

Contrast that with the 2010 World Series, when the Giants and Rangers used a combined 47 players, and 26 of them — 55 percent — were minorities. I’m not a census taker or anything, so maybe my count’s off a little if someone’s not what he appears to be, but that’s a pretty striking difference, almost five times more non-white players in the 2010 World Series than in 1960.

I think it’s easy to get into thinking about history in a shorthand way that doesn’t get at what really happened. Every American schoolkid knows that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 and baseball was integrated from that day on. And every baseball fan knows that integration hardly happened overnight. The Boston Red Sox, the last team to field a black player, didn’t do so until 1959, as everyone who’s heard the name Pumpsie Green knows.

But it goes beyond that. The Red Sox were an embarrassment by the end of the ’50s for their refusal to have any black players on the club, but it’s not like they were that far behind everybody else. The Pirates had integrated in 1953, but here they were seven years later with two blacks and a dark-skinned Puerto Rican. Howard integrated the Yankees when he came up in 1955, and now five years later they had two blacks and a light-skinned Puerto Rican, Arroyo. Not exactly a melting pot.

Hector Lopez (11) coaching Panama in the 2009 World Baseball Classic

Hector Lopez (11) coaching Panama in the 2009 World Baseball Classic

Some teams were quicker than others to truly integrate. You can’t write the history of the National League in the 1960s without talking about how the Dodgers and Cardinals dominated in part because they were more eager than other teams to sign black players. In this same year, 1960, the Dodgers had a majority-black starting lineup, with five African-American everyday players: Johnny Roseboro, Charlie Neal, Maury Wills, Jim Gilliam and Tommy Davis.

But for the most part, and certainly in this Series, baseball in 1960, 13 years into the “integration” era, was still a pretty white game.

Here’s Lopez, tossing away his second bat. He started a lot of games at third base in 1960, especially when Boyer was hurt in April and May. He also spent some time in left field and played a few games at second base, where he’d played a lot early in his career in Kansas City. But by this time, at 30, he was about done with that. He would play two more games at second the rest of his career, which lasted until 1966.

His playing career that is. Lopez managed Panama in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He was 79 at the time. He looked about 55.

He has an exaggerated stance, hunched over and closed, like he’s going to aim to right field. He does whack a couple of fouls that way. He’d been a pretty good hitter with the A’s, once hitting 22 home runs, and would be a solid fourth outfielder/utility type in his Yankee years. In 1960, his first full year in New York, he’d hit .284 with nine home runs and a 115 OPS-plus in 131 games.

Now there goes the no-hitter as Lopez bangs one through the left side of the infield for a base hit, the first of the game off of Vern Law. Bobby Richardson, at the top of the order, hits a line drive to left that hangs up for Bob Skinner, who puts it away for the third out. Still 4-0 Pirates.

Rocky Nelson shows off his mastery of left-handed pitchers as he draws a walk

Rocky Nelson shows off his mastery of left-handed pitchers as he draws a walk

Shantz takes over on the mound for the Yankees. The lefty had somehow won the American League MVP with the fourth-place A’s in 1952 and then led the league in ERA in 1957 as a swing man for the Yanks. Mel Allen talks about how a sore arm had limited him since that MVP year, but he’d settled in as an effective reliever. He would spend 1961 with the Pirates before bouncing from the Astros to the Cardinals, Cubs and Phillies over his last three years.

He gets Bob Skinner on a grounder to first, and then Rocky Nelson gets a nice hand as he comes up. He hit a two-run homer in the first inning. Here he hits a rocket down the right-field line, foul.

“It will be interesting to note the duel between Shantz and Rocky Nelson,” Prince says, “for Nelson has a greater lifetime average against left-hand pitching than he does against right-hand pitching. He says it’s because he waits longer on the left-hander and can pull him a little better on occasion.”

Well, that’s interesting. Casey Stengel, sitting in the Yankees dugout, is the master of the platoon, but I had not expected to hear the TV announcer of the 1960 World Series talk about a guy’s platoon splits. And what a counterintuitive story Prince tells, the lefty-swinging Nelson hitting lefties better than he hits righties. Could this be?

Unlike a viewer in 1960, I have the Internet and can answer that question while Nelson waits for Shantz’s next pitch.

The short answer: Nelson did not hit left-handed pitching better than he hit right-handed pitching. In his regular-season career to that moment, Nelson’s batting average against righties was .266. Against lefties: .214. And it wasn’t just that he didn’t hit lefties better than righties. He hit lefties so little he rarely faced them. Nelson had 1,409 plate appearances in the big leagues to that point in his career, and 84 of them had come against left-handed pitching. That’s 6 percent. By way of comparison, Yogi Berra, a left-handed hitter who hit lefties pretty well, faced a left-hander in about 28 percent of his big-league at-bats.

Roberto Clemente on one knee in the on-deck circle

Roberto Clemente on one knee in the on-deck circle

So Nelson was no lefty-killer, but maybe Prince was just talking about 1960. Sure enough, Nelson had a better batting average against lefties than against righties in 1960, .368 to .293.

But he achieved that .368 average in 19 at-bats! He was 7-for-19 with a double. If two of his singles had been turned into an out — a bad hop here, an at’em ball there — he’d have hit .263 against lefties and Prince would have had nothing to talk about. Instead Prince is passing on Nelson’s pontifications about what makes him such a good lefty-on-lefty hitter because of his flukey success in 19 at-bats toward the end of a career in which he hit .188 against left-handed pitching. The next year, his last, Nelson, all waiting longer on the lefties and pulling them and everything, went 0-for-10 against them.

See, kids, this is how it used to be. Before the Internet, before Bill James, TV announcers and newspaper reporters — and ballplayers and managers — would say stuff like this, and we’d just have to take their words for it. Now, we can fact check their asses. It might take 50 years, but we can figure out the truth.

Nelson, ducking out of the way of sweeping curve after sweeping curve, works Shantz for a walk. Of course he does, because after all that you knew he wasn’t going to make an out.

Clemente comes up. Prince, the Pirates announcer, does a funny thing. He pronounces his name close to correctly — “Clementay” — and then quickly corrects himself to an anglicized pronunciation: “Clumenty.” The right fielder hits a slow grounder to Bobby Richardson, who starts a nifty 4-6-3 double play, Tony Kubek making the relay. Clemente, who is fast, is out by a step and the third inning is over, the Pirates leading 4-0. Are the Yankees really going to go down this quietly?

* * *

Hector Lopez WBC photo by Reuters. Used without permission. Will remove on request.

Written by King Kaufman

January 4th, 2011 at 4:00 am

Posted in Baseball

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1960 Game 7, 2nd inning: Pirates break it open!

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1960 World Series programPreviously: First inning

Mickey Mantle leads off the second for the Yankees. Was he just trying to drag a bunt there? You’ve got to be kidding me. The Pittsburgh fans think it should have been a strike but it’s a ball.

Mantle is a 28-year-old 10-year veteran with 320 home runs. I’m trying to picture someone like him today trying a drag bunt in the seventh game of the World Series, down 2-0 in the second inning. Of course there isn’t anyone like him today, not really. Most other days either.

The only active players who are among Mantle’s top 10 most similar players through age 28 are Albert Pujols and Andruw Jones. Now, Andruw Jones at 28 was a very different Andruw Jones than the marginal big leaguer he’s been for the last four years. His age-28 season was 2005, the year he hit 51 home runs. It also happened to be the last year he played in the postseason. I can’t remember him ever trying to bunt his way on, which doesn’t mean he didn’t. He did have a sacrifice bunt in the 1999 NLCS.

Pujols put down a sacrifice bunt in an interleague game against the White Sox on June 16, 2001. It was the 67th game of his career. He’s played in 1,555 games since then, including postseason and All-Star Games, and we’re still waiting for sacrifice number 2.

Ken Griffey Jr., recently retired, is also in Mantle’s top 10 most similar through age 28. He actually was sort of like Mantle, a power-speed center fielder, and he did bunt occasionally, so maybe it’s not so strange to see Mantle try to bunt. The Mick had one or two sacrifices most years up to this point, 13 total, but he’d only have one more, in ‘61, and he never sacrificed in the World Series. But he knew how to bunt, and of course he was very fast.

Even though I know he was fast, I think of him more as a slugger than as a fast guy because he hit all those homers and he was so famous for hitting them so far. And, largely a product of the era he played in, for all his speed he didn’t steal that many bases. He swiped 138 in his career, which at the time was a lot. He was in the top 10 in the American League in steals seven times and the top five three times, even though his career high was only 21. He also stole at an 80 percent clip. But still, when I think Mantle, I don’t think of a guy who’d try to drag bunt his way on. This may have a lot more to do with my ignorance of Mantle than with anything else.

Mantle gets back in there. It always strikes me, watching old games, how casual the batters look. Here’s Mantle, an all-time great slugger, with that prodigious strength, and he just sort of stands there, waves the bat, waits for the pitch. It’s such a contrast to someone like Pujols, who looks like 230 pounds of coiled spring as he waits.

I wonder what they would have made of Gary Sheffield if he’d showed up in 1960, menacingly twitching his bat in that way he did. Today’s hitters are all pigeon-toed and twisted, crouched and curled. They know what they’re doing. It’s the state of the art. It’s just funny to see these old-timers walk up there, settle in, calmly set themselves.

Yankees logoMantle flies out to Bill Virdon in right center and here comes Yogi Berra, swinging two bats as he steps into the batter’s box. He’s actually swinging two sticks as he stands there and shares a laugh with the Pirates catcher, Smoky Burgess. He peels one off and hands it to, I guess, the bat boy, out of frame. There’s another thing you don’t see anymore, a guy carrying two bats to home plate. In fact, you never see guys swinging two bats in the on-deck circle. They swing one weighted bat, or some weighted bat-like object. Lead pipes were popular for a while. I used to swing two bats at a time as a kid. Fat lot of good it did me.

Smoky Burgess is a familiar name to me, so much one of those old baseball names that I’m a little surprised to see him here in 1960, so recent. Offhand I would have thought he was a 1920s guy, and that’s without even confusing him with Smoky Joe Wood, who was actually a teens guy. I quick trio to the BR Bullpen reminds me why I know Burgess: He’s the guy who held the record for pinch hits that, for a good stretch of my youth, Manny Mota, the Dodgers’ pinch-hitting specialist, was chasing. Mota eventually broke Burgess’ record of 145 career pinch hits in 1979.

Lenny Harris broke Mota’s record and ended up with 212, which is a record that will probably never be broken because with teams carrying so many pitchers, nobody can afford to carry a pinch-hitting specialist anymore. The active leader in pinch hits is Matt Stairs, who’s about to turn 43. He has 99.

Berra has that same slightly closed left-handed stance Mantle has, bent slightly at the waist, leaning over the plate. I’ve seen both of them play in a rebroadcast game before, the Don Larsen perfect game, but one difference between that broadcast and this one is the main camera. In 1956, most of the action was viewed from behind home plate and up, a press-box view. In this game, the main camera is the same center field view that’s used today. So you get a little better peak at the hitters’ stances, though you get less of a sense of how much Berra moved around before he swung. He’d literally walk around in the box as he started his swing.

He swings at a bad one here, down and away, and hits a bouncer to the left side. Pirates third baseman Don Hoak scrambles to his left, smothers it awkwardly on his hands and knees, springs to his feet and fires to first to get the slow-footed Berra. It’s a nice play. I instinctively wait for the three replays, and of course they don’t come.

“Here’s the Moose,” Bob Prince says, not mentioning Benito Mussolini, whom Bill Skowron’s boyhood friends named him after. Hey, same batting stance as Mantle and Berra, only from the right side. Skowron yanks his head out, toward the third base dugout, as he swings. He hits a low-and-away pitch foul to the right, and I have no idea how he reached it. Skowron was one of the 10 best hitters in the American League in 1960 by OPS, OPS-plus and offensive WAR, but it looks like he has no chance up there. He grounds out to shortstop Dick Groat on an easy play.

Burgess leads off the bottom of the second and Prince says he’s “known to his teammates as ‘the little round man.’” People complain about the deterioration of baseball nicknames, how colorful monikers like “The Dominican Dandy” and “Old Aches and Pains” have been replaced by unimaginative coinages of the A-Rod, K-Rod, Juan-Gone variety. But so far in this one we’ve got a guy named for a dictator and “the little round man.” Not too impressive.

Then again, “the little round man” is a nickname for a guy named Smoky, whose real name was Forrest. Why would a guy named Smoky need another nickname? Did his teammates say, “Smoky just sounds so formal. Why don’t we call him ‘little round man.’” And how did that work? Did they actually walk up to him and say, “Hey, little round man, can I have some of your sunflower seeds?”

The little round man, who has a similar stance to Mantle and Berra, only slightly open instead of slightly closed, whacks one inside first and down the line. Roger Maris makes a nice play to field the ball in Forbes Field’s very short corner — 300 feet down the line — and holds Burgess to a single.

New Pirates logo, 1960

New Pirates logo, 1960

Prince describes Maris fielding the ball “brilliantly” and says, “Ladies and gentleman, that’s all great credit to Roger Maris. Normally, that’s a double.” But Burgess played five and a half years in Pittsburgh and I’d bet folding money he never had a double on a ball like that. A fast runner would have had to bust it to make second. Burgess had no chance, even if Maris had been a lot more leisurely. This was Prince’s home field. Did he really think a slow-footed catcher would routinely get to second on a sharply hit ball into the corner 300 feet from home plate?

Casey Stengel’s headed to the mound, lineup card in hand, and he and Bob Turley talk to each other without looking at each other. Stengel’s seen enough, though, and he summons Bill Stafford from the bullpen. Stafford’s one of the boys who was warming up in the top of the first, and as he walks in — we haven’t reached the brief era of the “bullpen car” yet — Prince asks Yankees announcer Mel Allen to talk about him.

He’s 22 and was brought up from Richmond late in the year when the Yankees staff was struggling, Allen says. He mentions Stafford’s 3-1 record, mostly as a starter, but not his fine 2.25 ERA in 60 innings. Stafford would win 14 games each of the next two years. He would eventually be sent to Kansas City, that graveyard for unwanted Yankees, in a deal that also included Roger Repoz, who I mention just to mention. Repoz was an Athletic only briefly before moving on to the Angels, where he would be one of the first ballplayers I knew about.

Stafford faces the crouching Don Hoak, author of that scrambly play on Berra’s ball in the top of the inning. Stafford’s wild, throwing three straight balls and looking annoyed with himself. The fourth one misses, but it looks like not by much. Hard to tell as we were on the upstairs, behind the plate camera for that one. Two on, nobody out, Pirates up 2-0, and Casey looking worried on the top step. Bobby Shantz and Ralph Terry are working furiously in the bullpen as Bill Mazeroski steps up.

Remember that name, not to give anything away.

Maz bunts Stafford’s first pitch in the air down the first base line. It lands fair but Stafford and Clete Boyer let it roll foul. Prince praises their “very smart execution” but doesn’t mention whether Mazeroski should have perhaps taken a strike instead of bunting at the first pitch, given that Stafford, a 22-year-old rookie, had just come into the game and walked the first hitter on four pitches.

Maz bunts again on the next pitch, this time a bouncer down the third base line. It looks to me like it’s going to go foul again, the last bounce much closer to the line than the second to last, the ball looking like it’s got some serious english on it. But Stafford has pounced off the mound sharply and he cuts in front of Boyer, makes a barehand pickup just before the ball bounces onto the dirt and, falling backward across the foul line, throws to first. Safe! The bases are loaded with nobody out. “And Casey’s beside himself,” Prince says. Maybe he thought that ball was going foul too.

New MLB logo, 1960

New MLB logo, 1960

Stengel charges out of the dugout. He’d been booed last time he emerged and he’s booed again. He gives Stafford a lecture, looking right up into his face this time and resting his index finger on Stafford’s chest as he speaks.

Vern Law is the hitter. For a pitcher, he’s no slouch with the bat, a lifetime .195 hitter with eight home runs at this point, and he’d had 17 hits that season, a career high to that point. He takes one, misses one, fouls one on a check swing. Virdon waits in the on-deck circle — on one knee, with two bats. Law hits a comebacker. Stafford jumps to spear the one-hopper and start a 1-2-3 double play. The crowd is silent.

Prince had just mentioned that the Pirates hadn’t had many chances to KO the Yankees in one shot in the Series, and now the double play had put a big damper on this chance. But Virdon could still make it a 4-0 game with a hit. Virdon fouls one off to the right, another to the left. Stafford works from a windup. The 0-2 pitch is inside, and then Virdon lofts a soft liner toward right center. Maris charges but has to play it on a short hop, which he bobbles. Two runs score and Virdon slides into second. Hit and an error.

MLB Network shows Virdon, in the theater in Pittsburgh watching the game in 2010, smiling and shrugging. Back in 1960, Groat grounds out to Boyer on a check-swing grounder to end the inning, but the damage is done.

“We were up 4-0 and it felt pretty good,” Mazeroski says in a contemporary interview, “but by a long shot it didn’t feel like we had won this game yet. There was still a lot of game left to play, and, you know, you’re never comfortable with any lead. I don’t care if it’s a 15-0 lead. You’re never comfortable with that many innings to go.”

I don’t know, Maz. Four to nothing after two with the Deacon on the mound? I like your chances.

* * *

All images from Chris Creamer’s Sportslogos.net, used without permission, but in the hope that no one minds.

Written by King Kaufman

January 3rd, 2011 at 1:20 am

Posted in Baseball

Tagged with , , ,

1960 World Series Game 7 live blog: 1st inning

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Mickey Mantle kneels in the on-deck circle

Mickey Mantle kneels in the on-deck circle

I’m live blogging the recent rebroadcast of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series on the MLB Network. Except it’s not live. I recorded the game and I’m watching it at my leisure several weeks after the broadcast. It might take me a few weeks to watch it.

And I’m pausing it a lot to write. And rewinding. And at least at the beginning, I’m ignoring the part with Bob Costas and some of the players from the ‘60 Series — and Franco Harris and Michael Keaton, natch — at a theater in Pittsburgh, watching a tape of the game.

But this is definitely a blog. Oh look, it’s starting.

What a weird pregame show. It’s just Mel Allen giving the batting orders Where’s Jeanne Zelasko waxing poetic? Where are the movie tie-ins?

The starting pitchers appear to be warming up in front of the dugouts, not in the bullpens.

Bob Prince, the Pirates’ announcer, is doing the play by play at the start. I remember him from my childhood. I didn’t hear him a lot, of course, in those prehistoric non-Internet days, but the Pirates were a powerhouse then, and it was still a tradition for postseason teams’ announcers to appear on the national TV broadcasts during the playoffs, so I got to hear him once in a while on NBC. I’d be lying if I said his voice was familiar, but I was always conscious of him because my best friend was named Robbie Prince, and Robbie’s dad was Bob Prince.

Mr. Prince was an exterminator, and since we lived on the Westside of Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Bel-Air were in his orbit, so he was, at least part of the time, an exterminator to the stars.

The Princes were from rural Texas, and whenever the relatives came to visit, which they did a lot, we’d all pile into the Princes’ gigantic maroon — I want to say it was a Chrysler New Yorker but it was some kind of land shark with black seats and the permanent smell of cigarettes, and there’d be the four Princes, me and however many relatives, up to about four adults, all piled in — we’d all get in there and Mr. Prince would drive us over to Beverly Hills and Bel-Air and point out the houses he worked at or the ones he just knew. Lucille Ball’s house, Bob Hope’s. Buddy Ebsen.

It was fun except that Mr. Prince had a strange way of driving. He wouldn’t keep his foot steady on the gas. He’d gun it and coast, gun it and coast. People like to joke about how those old ’60s family sedans were like big boats, but we’d actually start to get seasick driving around on flat, straight streets. Robbie and I, all tangled up in Texas Prince knees and elbows in the backseat, couldn’t look at each other or we’d burst out laughing, which might make us throw up.

Somebody's maroon '68 Chrysler New Yorker from YouTube. Really don't know if this is the right make and model, but something like it.

Somebody's maroon '68 Chrysler New Yorker from YouTube. Really don't know if this is the right make and model, but something like it.

This driving issue was about the only negative thing about Mr. Prince. He would call you “boy,” only it sounded like this: “bwah.” And when he’d get really worked up during a game and start talking about Jethro Pugh, fearsome defensive lineman for his beloved Dallas Cowboys, he was an orator of the first rank. You might not know that the Cowboys signed Jethro Pugh when they saw him catching polecats with his fists and eating them alive on the spot, but I learned it.

Anyway, I always had a soft spot for Bob Prince of the Pirates because of that.

In the top of the first inning, we see Bill Stafford and Bobby Shantz of the Yankees warming up in the bullpen as the Yankees bat, though Bob Turley is the starting pitcher. “This alerts you to the possibility of a lot of thinking on the part of Mr. Stengel. They go for broke today,” Prince says. “Turley will start, but Shantz and Stafford will be ready.”

I have long wondered why teams don’t do this routinely in elimination games. It’s one game for all the marbles, and if your starter doesn’t have it, that might be evident right from the start. But without anybody warm, you might have to suffer through three or four more batters before a reliever’s ready. It could be the difference between being down 1-0 and 5-0. I suppose it might offend the sensibilities of the starter to have someone warming up before he’s even thrown his first pitch. What, you don’t have faith in me, Skip?

I have faith in you, I’d say. I also have two guys warming up in the bullpen, you feel me?

As Roger Maris bats with two outs and nobody on, Mickey Mantle sits on one knee in the on-deck circle. It’s a classic pose, but nobody does that anymore. Everybody stands up and swings a bat or a weighted bat. Players used to sit on one knee all the time. Wonder where that went.

Yogi Berra’s in left field, of course. He’s a part of this game’s famous climax, watching Bill Mazeroski’s home run go over his head. Elston Howard had taken over the catcher’s job from Berra that year, starting 80 games behind the plate to Berra’s 53, with Berra starting another 33 games in the outfield. Howard was out of this game, having broken his finger the day before, but instead of putting Berra behind the plate, Stengel went with Johnny Blanchard.

Can you imagine a team carrying three catchers on its World Series roster today, even if one of them habitually played the outfield? With teams carrying 12 or 13 pitchers, there’s barely room for two catchers. The Yankees, like the Pirates, had a 10-man pitching staff in this World Series.

Stengel evidently wanted Blanchard’s left-handed bat in the lineup against the righty Vern Law. His outfield options if Berra caught were right-handed: Hector Lopez and Bob Cerv, two men who had come off the Yankee shuttle from the Kansas City A’s and, together with Berra, manned left field that year. Lopez and Cerv had hit pretty well, better than Blanchard. But Stengel went with the platoon advantage.

Prince says that “the Yankees have another catcher available to them if they’d like to use him, Dale Long. I don’t know if he has his left-handed catchers’ mitt with him, though.” It sounds like a joke, but Long, a power-hitting, left-handed first baseman, did catch in two games, a total of an inning and two-thirds, for the Chicago Cubs in 1958. He was the first left-handed thrower to catch in the major leagues since Jiggs Donahue in 1902, which I mention only so I could type the name Jiggs Donahue. It wouldn’t happen again until 1980, and now it hasn’t happened since 1989, according to the Hardball Times.

A two-out walk to Bob Skinner and the game has its first base runner. Skinner is very tall, listed at 6-4. We see him held at first by Moose Skowron, who looks like an ordinary-sized man. He’s listed at 5-11, 195.

Joe Torre a few years before I met him

Joe Torre a few years before I met him

Now, at this point, I thought I had a story about Moose Skowron but I don’t. It’s a story, and it’s a story about a guy named Moose, but it’s not about Moose Skowron.

I was on the field doing interviews during batting practice before an A’s-Angels game in Oakland in the late ’80s. I worked for KALX, the radio station at Cal, and it was a thing there to get famous people, any famous people we came across in all walks of life, to do station ID’s for us. You know, to say, “This is Joe Celebrity, and whenever I’m in Berkeley I listen to 90.7 FM, KALX Berkeley.” If I recall, if we could get them to say “KALX” and “Berkeley” in a row, we could use it as a legal ID at the top of each hour.

One guy had gotten a jailhouse interview with Charles Manson and he got Manson to do an ID. “Hey, it’s your weird old Uncle Charlie,” Manson had begun. I think it ran once, but people were offended so it got yanked. Spalding Gray did one in which he said that he was sitting in the studio in Berkeley, “a loving city, the only city in the world where people put up flyers that say, ‘Kitten found.’”

So I’m there with my tape recorder and I see a rumpled guy come out of the Angels dugout wearing brown slacks and kind of a loud shirt, chomping on a cigar and carrying a briefcase. He looked like a hustling insurance salesman. No, he looked like a guy playing a hustling insurance salesman in an episode of “The Rockford Files.” It was Joe Torre, then a broadcaster for the Angels.

I stopped him and asked him if he’d do a station ID for us and he said sure. He couldn’t have been nicer. Just a friendly guy. I explained what I needed and he grabbed the microphone and said, “Hi, this is Joe Torre, National League MVP, 1971, and when I’m in Berkeley …” I thought, nice guy, but what a cheeseball. I felt a little bad for him. Failed manager, still talking about his MVP from almost 20 years earlier. Like winning an MVP would get old. I was young and stupid. He ended up doing OK for himself, I hear.

Right after that a big moose of a guy comes lumbering out of the Angeles dugout. This is the moose part of the story. He’s older, a coach. I say to myself, “Who’s that moose?” He walks by me and I see the name on his back: Stubing. It was Moose Stubing, a big moose of a guy who used to be a coach for the Angels. Sometimes, a nickname just fits.

I was thinking it was Moose Skowron, who I had mixed up with Moose Stubing. Their nickname is where the resemblance ends. Stubing had a cup of coffee while Skowron was a fine player for many years. Also, Skowron was no moose. He got the nickname as a kid because his pals thought his haircut made him look like Mussolini. I think I’d have insisted, at some point, that people just call me Bill, wouldn’t you?

Rocky Nelson, the Pirates cleanup hitter, who had a career year at the age of 35 that year, hitting .300 with seven home runs and 35 RBIs, but somehow ending up as the cleanup hitter in a World Series Game 7, has an odd batting stance, which Prince talks about. Nelson, a left-handed swinger, stands almost like a fencer, with his front foot pointed toward the pitcher. Prince says he adopted the stance to learn how to pull the ball.

Maybe that was the mystery transformation in 1953 that this article about Nelson in, again, the Hardball Times refers to, when he suddenly became a power hitter. In any event, what a story this guy was. He’d played in parts of eight seasons between 1949 and 1960, for the Cardinals, Pirates, White Sox, Dodgers, Indians, Dodgers again, Cardinals again and Pirates again. He’d never appeared in 100 games and had only twice put up a league-average OPS. And here he was hitting cleanup in the seventh game of the World Series.

Not to give anything away but he’s going to be involved in one of this incredibly famous game’s most famous plays much later, but for now, it’s 2-and-0. Turley drops a nasty curveball on the inside corner. Nelson has a long look and then another at home plate umpire Bill Jackowski — “from North Walpole, New Hampshire,” Prince says. He tosses his bat up and catches it, shakes his head and climbs back in.

“There’s a drive, deep right field, way back she goes aaaaand you can kiss that one goodbye!” Nelson sprints around the bases and gets handshakes and pats on the back in the dugout. Slapping five was almost a decade away, high fiving almost 20 years in the future. The home run brings Casey Stengel to the top step of the Yankees dugout. “Right there,” Prince says as Stengel’s Number 37 is centered on the screen.

Roberto Clemente, looking impossibly young and skinny, though at 26 he’s hardly a child, steps directly toward the third base dugout and checks his swing as Turley’s first pitch, a rainbow curve, drops over the middle of the plate. Clemente was an awful lot of fun to watch. Turley, the 1958 Cy Young winner, looks like he’s aiming slop balls up there.

Whenever I watch games from the old days, I’m struck by how the pitchers look like they’re working in a 50-and-older league, flipping up all manner of here-hit-this pitches without appearing to break a sweat. Anybody who wonders why pitchers used to routinely throw complete games and almost never do anymore need only watch one game from the black-and-white-TV era to find the answer. The contrast to today’s max-effort pitchers, with their electric stuff zipping toward the plate, is startling.

Why teams didn’t score 30 runs a game off these guys is a mystery to me, though. Well, it could have had something to do with the hitters swinging 42-ounce tree trunks, I suppose.

Clemente pops out to Bobby Richardson to end the first inning. Pirates 2, Yankees 0. I think that should hold up behind Vern Law, don’t you?

* * *

The wife just asked what I was doing. I laughed and said, “You’re going to say I’m crazy.” I explained the story of the 1960 World Series Game 7 and how MLB had rebroadcast it, and I told her I was watching it and writing about it. “Oh, that’s good,” she said.

“So I’ve written 2,400 words,” I said.

“Wow!”

“And I’ve just watched the first inning.”

“Are you on speed? Are you doing meth?”

“I told you you’d say I was crazy.”

“I didn’t say you’re crazy. I said you’re on drugs.”

* * *

Photo credits
Mantle: Ed McDonald/Flickr Creative Commons
Torre: Jim Accordino/Flickr Creative Commons via Wikipedia

Written by King Kaufman

December 28th, 2010 at 1:33 am

Posted in Baseball

Tagged with , , ,

The TV lottery ticket

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A tweet from NBC reporter Ann Curry:

Ann Curry tweet

Ann Curry tweet

Here’s the text you get when you “share” the video report Curry’s tweeting about:

Overwhelming response to Dateline’s poverty report

A development to the story we brought you about struggling families in Ohio who have been pushed over the edge by this recession. ††There’s been a response from people wanting to help.

http://bit.ly/btt50h

So it’s that old TV thing. NBC does a story on “Dateline” about families struggling through the recession in rural Ohio, and letters and donations and job offers come pouring in from all over the country.

The retired Air Force vet has “job offers in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Arizona, Iowa.” Someone sent him $5,000. A woman reads through tears from a letter she’s received: “In a couple of weeks I will be able to send you some money to help with expenses. I hope this letter raises your spirits and that you know I really do care. Most of all, you have a friend in me. You are going to be OK, and so are your children. I will be thinking of you, sweetie, and praying that lots of other people send you much-needed money.”

She says, “It’s really hard to believe that someone you’ve never met could actually care that much.”  

The food pantry lady has gotten 500 phone calls and donations from Texas, California, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maine, Canada. She says, “I just cant even describe how good it feels to know that there are so many people out there that really do care.”

This is absolutely par for the course, it’s what happens every single time there is a sob story on the TV, but here’s the thing: People don’t care. They just respond to what’s on television.

There are folks right down the street in Texas, California, Florida and Iowa who need food and basic supplies. There are good, capable people, some of them retired military, right down the street in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Arizona and Iowa who are looking for work. And after NBC’s report those people still need the basics and are still looking for work. And those people who sent the heartfelt letters and the donations and the job offers likely never moved a muscle for those people down the street.

A guy who drove to the food pantry with a Hefty bag of donations tells the food pantry lady, “Cincinnati Ohio’s thinkin’ of ya,” and she gives him a big hug. Really, guy who drove 170 miles to Lottridge to find someone to give your Hefty bag of stuff to? Because where were you and the rest of Cincinnati before NBC aired its report?

Waiting for food -- or a TV camera -- in Denver.

Waiting for food -- or a TV camera -- in Denver.

Curry, who is among the best in the business and whom I don’t mean to beat up on, gets “a smile” out of this, as she should. She did a good piece about people who are struggling, her viewers responded in overwhelming fashion and the people she reported about are deeply moved by their good fortune.

If you focus in tightly enough, it really is a wonderful thing. That relatively tiny group of people in Ohio actually did get a lot of help they weren’t going to get without that TV report. It was like a little miracle, and you’d have to have a hard heart indeed not to be touched by the young mom reading the letter or the hard-working food pantry lady who is suddenly able to provide so much more help to so many more people. I love America too.

But back your view out to the larger picture and what you see is something much more depressing.

Obviously, the people who sent money and goods and job offers had both the means and willingness to help their neighbors in need, but instead they helped some people they saw on TV. Now, I suppose it’s possible that every one of them, from the donor of $5,000 to the Hefty bag guy from Cincinnati to the job offerers in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Arizona and Iowa, are doing just as much for lots of other people closer to home and not on the TV.

I would just be willing to bet a lot that they aren’t.

What Curry’s story suggests is that the generosity of the American people can solve the problems of a lot of folks who need help — as long as they can get on TV. Getting on TV is a lottery ticket, and the depressing part of it is that if you’re in trouble, your chances of getting on TV are about the same as your chances of winning the lottery.

What about all the desperate people who didn’t have a TV network drop out of the sky into their local food pantry? How do we turn their story into “a smile”? Because there are clearly people out there willing to help. There just isn’t enough TV to go around.

* * *

Photo by Jeffrey Beall, Creative Commons license.

Written by King Kaufman

August 4th, 2010 at 11:33 pm

Posted in Not sports, The media

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“Sunday Night Baseball,” meet the shark

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New Salon column. How did I forget to mention Scrappy-Doo?

Written by King Kaufman

January 24th, 2009 at 10:08 am

Posted in Baseball, The media

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