It is now less than a week until Opening Day. Some folks think that pitchers and catchers reporting should be a national holiday, but that day pales in comparison to Opening Day. I’m excited and not just because the Red Sox are stacked. Although, I’ve been blogging on and off since November of 2009, I haven’t written much about the games in and of themselves. I thought about taking an approach similar to Free Darko where they comment on the stylishness of players. I blathered on and on about Rabbit Maranville and his sons last year. (Just look at the tab Maranvillains for numerous examples.) But baseball, the most individualistic of team sports, doesn’t need a Mark Fidrych or a great Jim Edmonds catch to be exciting.
I came across a book at the Homer Babbidge Library at Uconn this winter. It was called The Quality of Home Runs. An anthropologist from an English university who is an ex-pat former college pitcher wrote it. I skimmed it. To get a library card from there as a non-student would cost $50. But I did read a section where he talks about what makes a particular baseball game exciting. There are three elements: tension, controversy and rivalry. These, and the potential for them, can make a game exciting.
Max Marchi has a series at The Hardball Times about exciting games. He calls tension equilibrium. Controversy could be a close umpires call or a questionable decision. Usually that would be the manager who opens himself up for second guessing, but it can be a player. Rivalry is self-explanatory. It could be the Dodgers versus the Giants or the Red Sox versus the Yankees. But it could be more subtle than that. I plan to write more about this as the season goes on.
Billy Beane and Ruben Amaro are two general managers who are former players. Can you name another one?
Bill Walton was a sixth man for the Boston Celtics. He also filled in for the Grateful Dead when they played in Egypt in 1978. I don’t know the state of basketball in Egypt, but they’re pretty good at field hockey. Professor Peter Piccione of the College of Charleston says that they also played an ancient precursor to baseball called sekar hemat. And, of course, the immortal Sammy Khalifa played shortstop for the Pirates back during the 1980’s.
Dead bassist Phil Lesh went to El Cerrito High in suburban Oakland at the same time that Cornell Green was there. Green played hoops at Utah State and was drafted by the Chicago Zephyrs, but he never played in the NBA. He tried out as a defensive back for the Dallas Cowboys and had a lengthy NFL career. Dallas had a thing for athletes of all stripes. Witness the conversion of Bullet Bob Hayes from sprinter to wide receiver.
Was Dallas being innovative in their signing of non-football players because expansion and the AFL were draining the talent pool of football players? Probably not. There were plenty more college football players than there were pro jobs to go around.
Green was an early hoops to pigskin conversion. He preceded Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, and Marcus Pollard; to name three. There seems to be a fungibility of skills between tight ends, power forwards, and pitchers.
Green had an older brother named Elijah. He was better known as Pumpsie and was the first black to play on the Red Sox. Made his debut in 1959; a dozen years after Jackie Robinson was a rookie in Brooklyn. Green played on some subpar Red Sox teams. Those were dark days for the team. Ted Williams would soon retire and 1967 was a ways off. Gene Conley pitched for the team from 1961 to 1963. One time, Pumpsie and Gene got drunk in New York and tried to catch a plane to Israel.
Conley was also a Boston Celtic as well as a Milwaukee Brave. He is the only fellow to have a World Series ring and an NBA title to his name. Red Auerbach was another guy who liked multi-sport athletes. Bill Sharman was on the Brooklyn Dodgers; although he never played in a regular season game. Hondo Havilcek tried out for the Cleveland Browns.
Another Red Sox pitcher of the era was Don Schwall. He, too, was a basketball player in college. But he never went pro. He went on to pitch for the Atlanta Braves where he played with Rico “Beeg Boy” Carty. Later in his career, Carty became a peripatetic designated hitter. One of his stops was Toronto.
Danny Ainge was an infielder in Toronto before joining the Celtics and playing with Bird, McHale, Parish, Dennis Johnson, and, yes, Bill Walton. He’s now the GM of the team.
This is awesome. Before he was a Celtic, Walton played for Helix High, UCLA, Portland, and the Clippers. He won a ring in Portland. One of his teammates was Herm Gilliam. Gilliam played for the Cincinnati Royals before that. Bob Cousy was the player-coach on that team. Cousy and Conley were Celtics together.
What? You thought that this was going to be about hockey?