Revisiting “Ball Four”

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Greetings From The Booth!

It’s hard to believe but this week, some area students went back to school. For you “children of the 60’s” like me, let that sink in. Had we been forced to go back to school in early August, there would have been a revolt. For me, the back-to-school signpost was always the Jerry Lewis Telethon on Labor Day weekend. When Jerry and Ed McMahon unveiled the final totals, and Lewis broke into “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” we knew the Summer vacation was over. The butterflies in my stomach were as big as 747’s. August 9th?!? I’m not even sure the Little League World Series is over yet.

Speaking of school, it seems we hear a lot these days about how the United States is falling behind on the education front. While there is cause for concern, I was delighted to see the great results from the Handley Library Summer reading program. It’s great to know that students are still reading, even in the Summer months. Seeing this positive news took me back to the Summer vacations of my youth, when my mom would take us to the Martinsburg Public Library every Monday (first, there was a stop at a local donut shop right next door–chocolate with white icing). We had to pick out 3 books, read them that week, and get 3 new ones the following Monday.

I gravitated toward sports books, usually sports biographies or works of fiction. The bios were usually tales about heroic feats and clean living, with the athletes reminding us kids to get plenty of sleep, practice hard, and take our vitamins.

Then came Ball Four. Written in 1970 by major league pitcher Jim Bouton, Ball Four chronicles his 1969 season with the expansion Seattle Pilots. It’s considered baseball’s first “tell all” expose. Unlike sports books before, Ball Four gave fans a detailed look at what happens in a major league clubhouse, in hotels, bars, on the field, and the bullpen. And MLB didn’t like it one bit. What goes on in the locker room is supposed to stay in the locker room.¬† Ball Four humanized our heroes and made them real, and for his efforts, Bouton, who passed away in 2019, was basically shunned by baseball, calling himself a “social leper.”

Because of it’s mention of drug use, drinking binges, and sexual exploits, Ball Four was a book I read at night with a flashlight, and hoped my mom didn’t sample. For me, it marked the end of innocence where sports was concerned. Despite then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s comment that Ball Four was “detrimental to baseball,” it never diminished my love for the game. Truth be told, it probably made me love baseball even more.

This Summer, I revisited my worn copy of Ball Four, and though it is mild by today’s standards, it is still a great read, and this time I didn’t need the flashlight.

Until the next visit from The Booth…GO STUDENTS!

RW

Alienating The Fanbase

Greetings from The Booth!

It’s a great time to be a Hornet. Shenandoah University Women’s Basketball are the ODAC Champs after completing a 3-day run through the conference tournament this past weekend, taking down the 5, 1, and 2 seeds on the way to the crown. Sunday’s win against Randolph-Macon gave SU a 22-5 mark, which is the best in program history. Now it’s on to Lexington, Kentucky this Friday to play another Virginia team, Southern Virginia, in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It’s been a fun ride–let’s hope it lasts a little longer.

Meanwhile the nationally-ranked Hornet baseball team is off to a 7-1 start, and are number 18 in the country as of this writing. Death, taxes, and Shenandoah Baseball. Get out to the newly-renovated Bridgeforth  Field for a game or two this Spring and cheer on one of the best programs in the country.

Speaking of baseball, it’s not a great time to be a fan. Once again, MLB and the players are at odds as we head into the 2022 season. That season will probably not start on time, due to the bogged-down talks between the two sides. I’m probably being simplistic, but this is about MONEY. It always is. In the COVID year of 2020, the players showed their greed while the owners paid them for playing in front of no one. In 2021, limited crowds were allowed back into the ballparks, but MLB got political by moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Colorado, in effect hurting lots of people and surrounding businesses in already tough times. In each of those years, my passion for the game eroded.

This year, MLB may have lost me for good, and that’s saying something. I have always come back to baseball. Through the strikes, steroid era, and my general interest in other things, I have always kissed and made up with the grand old game. I’m not so sure I can do that again. While the National’s Juan Soto says no to a $350 million offer from the team to stay with the ballclub, the average fan is struggling to put gas in his vehicle and food on the table. How much is enough?

I’m not sure MLB knows that it is facing a crisis. Baseball’s demographic is traditionally older and is shrinking. A youthful, time-starved America has little time for the pastoral game of baseball, while older fans like me are being turned off by the constant bickering between billionaires and millionaires.

For Major League Baseball, it’s the bottom of the ninth, and they’re down to their last strike.

Until the next visit from The Booth…GO HORNET LADIES!

RW

 

 

 

Spitballin’

SU field oversight
SU field oversight

Greetings from The Booth!

We start this week’s post with Fathers Day wishes to all the Dads out there. Whether it’s playing a round of golf, grilling a perfect ribeye, or being “allowed” to watch the Nats or the US Open, here’s hoping your day is perfect! Thanks for all the sage advice over the years that you’ve handed down from your La Z Boy, like “go ask your mom.”

In all seriousness, I thank my Dad for things like my sense of humor, my work ethic, and teaching me at an early age to love math by showing me how to calculate batting averages and ERAs. We may disagree on some things, as all fathers and sons do, but we can always find common ground in sports, especially baseball.

Speaking of baseball, I had to chuckle when I saw this week that MLB was going to crack down on pitchers doctoring the baseball. I did not realize that this season has so far seen record strikeout numbers, as well as the lowest collective batting average in a half-century. Pitchers who are caught applying a foreign substance or doctoring the baseball will be ejected and suspended for 10 games.

I laughed because for as long as there has been baseball, pitchers have scuffed, cut, or applied things like Vaseline or KY Jelly to baseballs. The spitball was in fact legal until 1920, with several “spitballers” grandfathered in and allowed to practice their craft beyond that year. Some doctors of the baseball are looked upon as folk heroes and are even in the Baseball Hall Of Fame.

One such pitcher was Gaylord Perry, who won 314 games in his MLB career. His exploits are chronicled in his famous autobiography, “Me And The Spitter.” Perry is quoted as saying that he tried everything on a baseball except salt and pepper and chocolate sauce. But Perry, who was only caught once in his 22-year major league career, thrived on making batters think the greaseball or spitter was coming, as opposed to actually throwing it. A batter just didn’t know for sure.

I’m not sure how to reconcile my indignant anger at the Astros’ Jose Altuve for “allegedly” wearing a buzzer under his jersey to alert him on what pitch was coming, with my acceptance of Whitey Ford scuffing a baseball to get a batter out. Maybe it’s the technology angle, which just seems like cheating to me. Perhaps it’s because I was a pitcher. Or maybe it’s my nostalgia for the characters from baseball’s colorful past.

It’s a slippery slope for sure, probably due to the Vaseline on the ball.

Until the next visit, Happy Fathers Day from The Booth!

RW

Sports: Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Valley League Scoreboard, Nats Win Third Straight, O’s Lose To Indians

In the Valley Baseball League last night, Strasburg rolled over New Market 14-2, while Purcellville shaded Woodstock 6-4. Waynesboro and Charlottesville also notched victories.

Among the games tonight in the VBL, Front Royal travels to Woodstock, Winchester hosts Strasburg, and New Market heads to Purcellville.

Yan Gomes’ first-inning grand slam, and the pitching of Patrick Corbin led the Washington Nationals to an 8-1 win over Pittsburgh last night. Gomes’ blast keyed a 5-run opening frame, while Corbin tossed 8 and 1/3 innings of one-run baseball, as the Nats won their third straight game. The two teams play the series finale today starting at 3:35 on Sports Radio 1450.

The Baltimore Orioles committed four errors on the way to a 7-2 loss to Cleveland. Freddy Galvis had 2 hits to lead the Birds, who dropped to 22-44 on the season. Game 3 of the 4-game set is tonight at 7:10.

And…MLB is cracking down on pitchers using illegal substances to doctor baseballs, saying they will be ejected and suspended for 10 games if caught. The crackdown, which goes into effect Monday, comes during a season of record strikeouts, and a league batting average at a more than half-century low.

Talkin’ Valley League Baseball

In this edition of the Sports Dogs Podcast, Scott Bradley comes out of the bullpen as we talk about a slice of Americana, the Valley Baseball League! After not having a season in 2020 due to COVID, VBL ballparks will be open this year to provide the “Gateway To The Majors.” Support your local Valley League Team, provide housing for a player if you can, and take the family to a game or 2 this Summer!

RW

Sports Dogs Podcast
Sports Dogs Podcast
Talkin' Valley League Baseball
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