The Social Ramble

Society and Baseball

Play Ball! 160 Years of San Francisco Baseball, Live at the JCCSF

          Presented by The San Francisco Museum and Historical Society

   

The San Francisco Pacifics, circa 1869. Seated at the far right is Roger Connor. Mr. Connor retired from professional baseball in 1897. He had amassed 138 home runs in his 18-year career, a record which stood for 23 years after his retirement and was broken by Babe Ruth. The player seated to Mr. Connor’s right is proudly displaying the League Championship Bat, awarded to the champion club each year, and passed along to the new champion at the end of every season. The player sitting second from the left is holding the team’s only other bat.


On Tuesday, March 13th, The Social Ramble attended a lecture on the geography of Bay Area baseball since it’s arrival here about a century-and-a-half ago. The photo above, featuring the entire Pacifics ballclub, was probablytaken in January of 1869. This and many other rich images were on display during a detailed look back into 19th century base ball here in San Francisco.

                                                        

I arrived at the Jewish Community Center early so I could register for the lecture and find a cup of coffee. I paid for a ticket and received a box of Cracker Jack (no “s”, sports fans) and mingled with a largely hairy, elderly crowd. Most in attendance were clad from horn to hoof in San Francisco Giants finery, though yours truly betrayed no affiliation. I spent fifteen minutes inspecting the bizzare elvish runes and symbols on the walls, (turns out they were Hebrew) and when the auditorium opened I found a seat near the middle of the room. “Excuse me young man, would you mind moving over one seat?” The yenta behind me was unimpressed with my six feet and four inches of height. I slid over to receive similar treatment from her exact double, and decided the answer was to slouch. 

The room darkened and a man wearing a black Giants jersey took the stage. John Freeman, President of the Programs Committee for the SFM&HS and MOST BORING MAN IN THE WORLD introduced himself and blathered on for fifteen minutes. This guy was REALLY boring. Blah blah, donate some money.

Finally, Bay Area sports columnist Scott Ostler took the microphone from him…and blathered for another little while. There were some baseball jokes, some lawyer jokes, and some Dodgers jokes. And then the two-person panel was introduced. 

Angus Macfarlane and Jim O’Connor, SABRmetricians both and members of the Pacific Coast League Historical Society, dove straightaway into the tale of West Coast baseball, beginning with the first mention of the sport in a newspaper:

                        

                                                       The Daily Alta, February 4, 1851

                           Here, in it’s entirety, is the baseball news from that date:

           

Awesome. Unfortunately, journalists were only briefly interested, and it would be nine years before another ballgame was mentioned in print on the Left Coast. 

           

Mr. Macfarlane then told the story of Recreation Grounds, at what is now Folsom and Cesar Chavez in San Francisco. His knowledge of the construction and life of the ballpark, and likewise it’s successors The Haight Street Grounds, Ewing Field, and Seals Stadium, was so detailed it sounded firsthand. Pictured above, Recreation Grounds opened on Thanksgiving, November 26, 1868. Also featured that afternoon were potato sack races and dancing. There was no charge for admission. 

       

From FoundSF1906–After the Great Earthquake a new ball park, Recreation Park was built in the Mission on Valencia between 14th and 15th streets. A section of the bleachers, roped off with chicken wire became known as the “booze cage.” Admission price entitled the patron to a choice of either a sandwich or a shot of whiskey. Spectators who frequented the “cage” were said to be knowledgeable, loud and abusive.


Sounds like The Social Ramble’s kind of ballgame. 

Panelists Macfarlane and O’Connor spent the next two hours blazing a trail through historical baseball in The Bay leading up to our recent World Champion Giants. They discussed the colorfully named clubs of the past, the Mission Reds, Vernon Taggers, SF Knickerbockers, and Troy Trojans, who also went by the “Gothams”, and in 1885 would become the New York Giants. 

On display were ancient, battered, pre-earthquake San Francisco maps, showing playing diamonds all over the city. This included the sight of the first Pacific Coast League game in 1903, where there now stands a Bed Bath & Beyond. 

Of particular interest to the assembly were tales of Babe Ruth’s three visits to The Bay, as well as the story of the demolition of Seals Stadium.

                        

During game 4 of the 1959 World Series, while the Dodgers are beating the Chicago White Sox in Los Angeles, home plate is dug up at San Francisco’s Seals Stadium. The park would be demolished within a year.


Though many people here remember the Giants days at Candlestick park, few can claim to have attended a game during the Giants first season in San Francisco, 1958, at Seals Stadium. On Tuesday night, I chatted with a few old-timers who were there.

            

April 16, 1958, the first Giants-Dodgers game in California. 22,000 were in attendance for the Giants win. From 1901 to the present, the the two teams have met 2,189 times, with the Giants winning 1,094 of the contests. The Dodgers have won 1,078, with 17 games ending in a tie. 

          

Using the Google-Earth overlay, we can see Seals Stadium resting on the Safeway and Office Depot.

          

 From BurritoJustice.com, satellite positioning of Seals Stadium’s home plate inside Office Depot.


All in all, TSR’s visit to the JCCSF was informative and entertaining, despite the arrival of two booze-besotted geezers halfway through the lecture. Stumbling over my legs into the open seats next to me, they smelled of liquor and laughed a little too loudly throughout the remainder of the presentation. Between them, it was clear they’d forgotten more about the Grand Old Game than I may ever know. And while I was at first annoyed by their tardiness, their odor, and their general disposition, my ire quickly gave way to acceptance, and finally happiness, at their obvious enjoyment and interest in the affair. I would count myself very lucky in old age, to have a close buddy with whom to share a few drinks, a few laughs, a few memories of something older even than ourselves, and our tiny, tiny part in it.

The Social Ramble, March 16, 2012

                                                   

Roger Connor, 1857-1931. A lifetime .317 hitter, Connor is still fifth on the all-time list for triples with 233. He is credited with the first Grand Slam hit in the Major Leagues. MLB debut: May 1, 1880 with the Troy Trojans. Last appearance: May 18, 1897 with the St. Louis Browns. Roger Connor was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.

New TSR Correspondent, Dodger Blue-Eyes! (She’s a Girl!)

                                              From Dodger Blue-Eyes:

     

I can imitate Alpert Pujols batting stance perfectly.  I say this because I have to. Because I am a woman.  At the end of the day, my love of sports is often seen as a form of yielding.  It is portrayed as a surrender by the girlfriend to the indulgences of the man.  This is pretty damn shortsighted of people.  But I am not going to explain that girls can like sports too-that is a stupid and obvious argument-but to love a man who loves baseball means to realize exactly where you fit into this scheme in the eyes of the world.  And that is not the same place where you might see yourself. 

   

                                                          Associated Press photo

When Eric and I go to ballgames, we take turns going to the concession stands. I am a snacker; my early contributions to our baseball excursions involved packing copious amounts of hummus, fruit, cheese, and candy. Eric buys the tickets. If you can dig up footage of the last Dodgers’ home game of the 2011 season, you can see us sitting to the right of home plate eating for five innings straight. 

    

            The Social Ramble staffers eat hummus while Brandon Belt strikes out.

We take turns going to concessions for water and whatnot, and often there is a long line for beer. I have noticed that every time I am in line, watching the game on the courtesy television, some guy - old, young, frat-y, will ask me in a not unpleasant way, where my boyfriend is. The implication that I would not be there without my man amused me at first, but now makes me feel deflated. They are asking where my male chaperone is because at the stadium - the bastion of masculine sporting glory - women are guests.  We are not spectators, we are not participants, rather we are unwillingly brought by our boyfriends and plied with beer, churros, and the promise of a tight pink Matt Kemp jersey.  But I don’t say anything like this, I just lazily gesture over my shoulder and go back to starting at the screen.  Oddly enough, this never happens to me at basketball games, and I have been to far more Lakers’ games than Dodgers’.  (Eric sweetly chimes in while reading over my shoulder “not for looooong”)

                              

            Baseball has long been ‘the mans’ game’, and it would be foolish for me to ignore that history. But it would be equally foolish to accept that history as a sustainable pattern. From the emergence of the Negro leagues to the thankfully diverse modern teams, if baseball is to truly reflect life then it must account for the loosening of social mores, stereotypes, and a general spirit of inclusion. Does it upset me to see manboys in mustard-stained jerseys blatantly leering at me - yes, and it does put just a bit of a damper on my day when time and time again it is assumed that the only reason I am rooting for Kershaw on the mound is because my boyfriend told me to.* I refuse to justify my presence in the stadium on the basis of my gender; in baseball, it shouldn’t matter. What does matter is that you show up, you have a good time, and whether or not your team wins you go home in the company of friends, a little happier and possibly a bit drunker than you were when you got there. I am here to root for my home team, I am here for the ballpark margaritas and the characters I will meet seated around me, and I am here to swim in a sea of Dodger blue upon the concrete of my favorite stadium in the league; I’m here for baseball.

Dodger Blue-Eyes, March 2012

*For the record, at no time would the boyfriend encourage anyone to root for the Dodgers - Ed.

New! The Social Ramble Film Review!

The Social Ramble is pleased to welcome our newest correspondent, The Cinema Tiger, with his debut TSR film review:

    

The purpose of this column is not to cast judgement on movies but rather encourage you to see them. Not only to see movies but go to the cinema! Fine art should be observed in a gallery, music heard in concert and films viewed at the cinema…well…most films that is. I will also be discussing the venues in which I see the films.
My reviews will either receive the rating “large popcorn” meaning see it at the cinema, or “microwave popcorn” of course meaning watch it at home.
                         
                                               Marilyn Monroe, by Andre Carrilho

Marilyn Monroe was/is a legend. Like Elvis Presley and Jim Morrison she created a style and persona that is still imitated today. Michelle Williams captures her essence perfectly in “My Week with Marilyn.” Ms. Williams is no stranger to brilliant performances, having already been nominated for three Academy Awards at the age of 31. She carries the film, stunning and hypnotizing in every scene. Somewhat ironically, her depiction is notable for the obvious dedication to her craft, despite the fact that she portrays an actress known to have little skill. This is the type of performance we’ve come to expect from Ms. Williams. 
   
My Week With Marilyn is based on Colin Clark’s memoir “The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me" which chronicles the six months that Clark spent working on "The Prince and the Showgirl" and his alleged relationship with a suffering Marilyn Monroe.
                                    
Also starring in the film are up and comer Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark, Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) as his love interest, and Kenneth Branagh as Sir Lawrence Olivier. Everyone actually commits to the story and allows you to feel like you are also part of the Marilyn Monroe love affair! Simon Curtis serves as director of the film, and having done mostly British television work in the past “My Week with Marilyn” is an excellent foray into the Hollywood scene!
                      
Emma Watson is one of five actors in My Week With Marilyn to appear in the Harry Potter film series: Kenneth Branagh (Prof. Gilderoy Lockhart), Geraldine Somerville (Lily Potter), Toby Jones (voice of Dobby) and Zoe Wanamaker (Madam Hooch) are the others. 
   
            
I knew this was going to be at least a decent film so I thought I’d see it in a decent theatre. The Kabuki Theatre, owned by Robert Redford’s Sundance Cinemas, is all class and no kitsch. If you want a quality film enjoyed with a quality cocktail and no teenagers in sight then this is the place! The audience was cool, lubricated, and ready to enjoy a good film.  
Verdict: I definitely enjoyed myself.  In the end I found “My Week with Marilyn” to be a lot like most of Marilyn Monroe’s films, an okay story but with a dazzling leading lady!
                                                                             Rating =                   
                                                 
- The Cinema Tiger
P.S. Michelle Williams!  RRRAAAAAAWWWRRRRR!!!! 
                         
Sir Larry O: “Marilyn, my darling, you are an angel and I kiss the hem of your garment but why can’t you get here on time for the love of FUCK?” 


If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base.

Dave Barry

Buster is Back!

                          

So what if he only had one at-bat and flew out today? Buster is back, and he’s bringing hell with him!

Happy Birthday Aaron Boone!

                   

Back on October 17th, 2003, this Social Rambler was a lowly cook at Tortilla Flats Mexican restaurant in Providence, RI. Having just finished my shift, I took my filthy apron off and joined the throng of noisy Red Sox fans at the bar. I had been receiving reports on the game from waiters and bartenders throughout, (still knotted at five) but I finally finished up in the kitchen and grabbed a Pacifico from the fridge. Huddled under a tiny TV that was almost never turned on, the Red Sox faithful brayed and shouted at one another during the commercials, but then the game resumed and order returned. Aaron Boone, hitless in the series against Tim Wakefield, would lead off the Yankee 11th. (Later, Keith Olbermann hypothesized about what happens when you match a knuckleballer, an agent of upset rhythm, against a hitter cursed with poor timing…)

Moments later, I lept from my stool with arms raised as Boone’s shot arced skyward toward left field. Once the ball found the seats I turned around…and immediately dropped my arms. The entire bar was silent. I looked back at the TV to see Pedro Martinez in a trance, staring at the field. The patrons in the bar were similarly hypnotized. For hours that night I had enjoyed the atmosphere of the place, listening to the sounds of the patrons during the exciting seventh game. The CLINK of empty beer bottles thrown into the bin punctuating the loud cheers as Red Sox Nation, fingers crossed, hoped to Reverse the Curse. 

They would have to wait another season.

Sheepishly, I slunk back to the kitchen for my coat. The bar was still quiet. Steve, the huge bartender, mopped up pools of spilled margaritas while grown men sullenly dragged tortilla chips through the dregs of their nachos. I made accidental eye-contact with a drunk lady, and recognized her as my boss from a previous job. As I watched her trying to match my face to someone in her memory, I thought of the day she fired me from the bakery. She looked even more pissed off at this moment, and I hustled out the kitchen door into the alley. In the morning I would call my father to discuss the game, and the poor misguided Red Sox fans. 

This Week In Spring Training: Beyond the Boxscore

Spring Training is here! The Boys of Summer are preparing for the long season ahead, and The Social Ramble is here with the latest in Grapefruit and Cactus action!

              

                                                    The Cincinnati Reds get limber



                                           

Philadelphia opened spring training going 3-3, with Hunter Pence twice going deep and Cole Hamels impressing the brass in his first outing. This week, with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Placido Polanco at various stages of recovery, focus is on Hamels and Shane Victorino’s contract discussions. Both will be free agents in 2013, but both hope

                                          

before then. Philadelphia’s Flyin’ Hawaiian is looking for five years, and why shouldn’t he? The San Francisco Giants will be paying Aaron Rowand one billion dollars to sit on Miami’s bench this year, Shane has got to be worth more than that!

                    

The Phillies will have to dig deep pretty soon if they want to hang on to Victorino, Hamels, and Pence…

                                 

                                   Victorino celebrates a come from behind victory


In other news from the City of Brotherly Love, new closer Jonathan Pabelbon will no longer use the Dropkick Murphy’s tune “Shipping Up To Boston" as his walkup song. Lead Singer and bassist Ken Casey saw to that. Maybe Elton John would be a good choice for Pap…

                                    

                                             Ugly white guys with no lips.                            

                         

Down in Peoria, where the Mariners (6-1) and Padres have agreed to train until 2034, King Felix has looked strong and Ichiro, coming off a “bad” year, went three-for-three in his spring debut.

                     

The Social Ramble doesn’t understand M’s skipper Eric Wedge’s decision to move Ichiro down in the order this season, but Ichiro will produce from anywhere so we’ll let it go. Does anyone believe Chone Figgins will fill Ichiro’s shoes at leadoff?

        

 Jesus Montero is battling the flu and some bad luck, as rogue baseballs are relentlessly attacking his face. Seen here after catching a fast ball on the chin…

         

and one pitch later…

         

The way The Social Ramble figures it, certain players in the Yankee clubhouse must have been nipping Jobu’s rum late in the season, too late for Jobu to exact revenge. This week alone A.J. Burnett took one in the eye, Montero is getting pelted behind the dish, Yanks set-up man David Robertson tumbled down a set of stairs and sprained his ankle (The girliest of all injuries) and even poor little Eduardo Nunez took a shot in the hand. (X-rays negative)

                                   

                                    

                                        SPEAKING OF THE YANKEES:

         

The New York Yankees, after starting spring 2-4, are shocked to learn that “future ace” Michael Pineda has never heard of a change-up. Two-pitch fireballer Pineda blew heat past all comers early last season, but batters started to figure him out and his second half was mediocre. Reporting to camp 700 lbs heavier than expected, Michael seems to have discovered C.C. Sabathia’s waylaid Cap’n Crunch. 

                             

The Social Ramble knows the Yankees real captain, Cap’n Jeter, will sort this mess out. He’ll get Pineda in shape, teach him the circle-change, and autograph a ball for him. 

                                        

OFF THE FIELD AND IN THE NEWS: Sadly, sometimes baseball players go bad. Such is the story of one Lenny Dykstra, seen enjoying a Twizzler below. Read the whole at Bleacher Report. In short though, stolen cars, cocaine, HGH, missing money, blah blah blah. Say it ain’t so, Lenny.

     

           ”Yes Your Honor, I brought enough to share with the whole courtroom.”

       

                              Who could’ve foreseen this guy would be trouble?


                    


Prosecutor: “Judge, the man seen in these photos is charged with-“

Jury, in unison: “Guilty!”

                       

                              

Sunday’s game between the Giants and D-Backs at Salt River Fields was delayed when swarms of foul-tempered bees attempted to take over the field of play. The Giants would go on to win 11-1, but not before the bees descended in right-center field and later made a home of the Giants dugout. Local firefighters defended the club and soon the bees departed, leaving tiny beer cans and frightened minor-leaguers all over the infield. Huffington Post Sports describe Giants groundskeepers using cotton candy and lemonade to lure the miserable bastards away, but the Diamondbacks returned to the field and lost…

                        

                                 

Though Timmy has yet to find his stuff, the Giants have to be happy with newcomer Melky Cabrera. He hit two home runs on Tuesday and has been working on his Brian Wilson beard during San Francisco’s 4-2 spring. Huff Daddy had a long ball the other night too, and Buster is due on Friday. 

               

                           

On the other side of The Bay, Manny went hitless in his first appearance with the A’s, and claimed afterward he was “satisfied” with his debut. Imagine that! Meanwhile, the Athletics’ principle owner Lew Wolff is still looking for a place for his team to live, and Bud Selig is waaaay to busy to help. Here’s to another season of cheap A’s tickets!

                

                                                            Manny Ramirez, “fielding”.


                           

In Fort Myers, Florida, Twin injury-magnets Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau started on Thursday and combined for an 0-5 on the day. So that kind of sucked for everybody. Twins first base coach Jerry White spent Monday night in the hospital after having chest pains, and was diagnosed with acid reflux. Said White: 

"I just need to cut down on my spices and sauces, I eat right, but I like hot stuff and fried stuff, and I need to stay away from that."

                                            Joe Mauer, beneath the fold.

                                           WANT MORE INJURIES?

Former Tribe stalwart Grady Sizemore is injured again, this time it’s his left leg. And right knee. And lower back. And now that you mention it, his goatee hurts. When it comes to poor suckers, the only guy ahead of Grady is Chase Utley…

Otherwise the Wahoos (2-3) are poised to continue being a baseball club in the A.L. Central, with uniforms and everything. 

                       

In Port St. Lucie this week, Andres Torres, former Giant and current Amazin’ centerfielder, hit the ground running before being sidelined Thursday with a “tight right glute.” (His bottom hurts) Here’s to a speedy recovery! The Social Ramble has a soft spot for Torres, who was kind enough to foul a Stephen Strasburg heater our way in a Giants game two seasons ago…

While Andres gives his ass a rest in Florida, work continues at the Mets’ Citifield to bring the outfield fences in and lower the walls. In an effort to improve the team further, this year the Mets (2-3) will be allowed 4 strikes when at the plate, and opposing teams will have to win by at least 12 runs, otherwise the game will recorded a “W” for New York.

                           

The new outfield wall is in blue.

      

                                 

Another reason to miss Shea Stadium…

                        

Over in Surprise, Arizona, (Surprise, it’s f***ing hot! Now show us your papers!) Adam Dunn equaled his entire offensive output from last season when he went 2 for 3 with a four-bagger on Thursday.

              

Like the Indians, the ChiSox will field a baseball team this season. The South-Siders are 1-3 so far this spring. (Tune in next week for The Social Ramble’s 2011 Adam Dunn Strikeout Gallery!)

                                 

Just a short distance away, in Goodyear, Arizona, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Goodyear (3-1) are poised to beat the shit out of everybody all season long. This, folks, is a team full of sluggers. So much so that Bobby Abreu is begging for at-bats. Skipper Mike Scioscia promised Abreu around 400 plate appearancesbut no more. With Pujols and Co. projecting plenty of offense, expect Abreu to depart before the season is out…

      

                                                    The Angels burst Bobby’s bubble



Come on back Ramblers! More reports from Spring Training and the usual fun stuff soon!

        

                                        Spring Training, buckets of onions…

I think about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won’t matter if I get this guy out.

Bill “The Spaceman” Lee

The Final Word On Mud

                                                

According to The Social Ramble’s crack research team, February 29 only rolls around every once in a while. Fittingly, there’s not much concerning The Game that has taken place on this date. But we dug up some stuff for you anyway….

               

On February 29, 1968, Lena Blackburne (above, seated between Eddie Collins and Ty Cobb) passed away at the age of 81. Having retired from baseball with a .214 career batting average, 4 home runs and 139 RBIs, Russell Aubrey “Lena” Blackburne wasn’t exactly Cooperstown material. (By the way, those stats were compiled over a career that lasted 19 years) Lena was destined for baseball immortality anyway, as the sole supplier of Big League….Filth. 

          

There’s a semi-well-known known story about the magic special mud used to rub-up new baseballs before all Major and Minor League games. Baseballs arriving fresh from Costa Rica (another story) are too shiny and slippery to be put to immediate use. MLB Official Rule 3.01c pretty much states that the Umpire is in charge of inspecting the balls and seeing that they’re suitable for play. This includes rubbing them with clay from the banks of the Delaware River. From the “website” for Lena Blackburne’s Mud:

It all began in 1938 when an umpire complained to Lena Blackburne, a third base coach for the old Philadelphia Athletics, about the sorry condition of the baseballs used by the American League. Back then a ball was prepped simply with mud made of water and dirt from the playing field. The result? The ball’s cover was too soft, leaving it open for tampering. Something was needed to take off the shine but not soften the cover.

                                                         

We learn next that Mr. Blackburne happened on to some muck near the Delaware River, and pronouncing it suitable trudged home with a bucket full. The Philadelphia Athletics were the first to adopt the superior sludge and soon the rest of the American League would follow. It took the Senior Circuit a few years to catch on. Today MLB still uses the stuff, though it’s top secret location is now guarded by Blackburne’s boyhood-pal’s-son-in-law’s-son, Jim Bintliff.

                                

But wait….there’s more. The Social Ramble, through whole minutes of research, has uncovered the dirty truth about this magic mud… 

In actuality, the umpires’ original complaint was that the process of rubbing up a ball involved spitting tobacco juice on it and rolling it around in the dirt. This disgusting chore was, well, disgusting. Lena Blackburne’s mud, carefully rinsed with tap water and filtered for debris, removes the glare from the ball without damaging or marking it. It had the added benefit of not grossing everybody out, so that was good.

        

                                           Baseballs, rubbed…and unrubbed


                            

But wait, there’s more…

 A Roger Angell story titled ‘Sand and Brooms’ appeared in The New Yorker on June 10, 1950, and more or less jibed with the tale on the official website: “Before every game, a couple of umpires have to devote half an hour or so to rubbing the shine off baseballs. This is a drab, ritualistic proceeding that…takes place in the umpires’ dressing room.”

Later, Angell details the method employed by American League Umpires, saying “The American League is more finicky than the National. It uses…a substance called Alabama Clay, gathered on the banks of Pensauken Creek, a tributary of the Delaware River…”

More intrigue here, as the reason the National League didn’t use the same gunk as their A.L. counterparts was that Mr Blackburne, a lifelong A.L.er, refused to sell his filth to teams in the National League! Eventually, Lena’s business sense overcame his affinity for the American League, and the Senior Circuit got their tobacco-stained hands on some. 

                                        

                          From Baseball Is A Funny Game, Joe Garagiola, 1960:

       

          As you can see, by 1960, everybody was using the mystery New Jersey mud.

                                                  But wait…there’s more…. 

        

                 Ray Chapman slides into home, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson waits on deck

The REALLY REAL story about why baseballs are rubbed down dates to August 16, 1920, when Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman was struck in the head by a pitch. From the New York Times: “The ball hit Chapman on the left side of the head. The crack…could be heard all over the stand and spectators gasped as they turned their heads away.” Chapman was helped from the field, clutching the ring he had purchased as a gift for his wife, and later died in the hospital. 

                           

The terrible tragedy was blamed on the slickness of a new ball, and Rule 3.01c was instituted shortly thereafter. After close to two decades of widespread drooling on baseballs, Lena discovered his mud. 

                                   

                                   Yep, this pretty much looks like a bucket of shit.

                     BUT WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE THIS MUD?!?

Studies by Princeton University and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reveal that the mud from Palmyra, NJ contains an unusually high feldspar content. Feldspar is a gentle enough abrasive that it removes the slickness from a ball without scratching it to hell.  

                            

Feldspar and Quartz found in the mud were most likely pulverized by the glacier that covered New Jersey more than 10,000 years ago.

As the number of Baseball teams grew, companies like Rawlings tried to produce alternative rubbing compounds, but none were effective. Owner and Head Mudslinger Jim Bintliff: “The League doesn’t officially endorse the product but sayd it’s the only substance that works. It’s also about tradition - essentially the MLB wants today’s players to apply the same mud that Ted Williams used.” 

                        

Fans of the game will remember the “juiced ball conspiracy” theories that ran roughshod through the sports media around the end of last century. Many fans, and players, felt that something fishy was going on with the makeup of baseballs used at the Major League level. On May 22, 2000, 56 home runs, including six grand salamis, were belted in one day of baseball. This fact alone was all the ammo needed for skeptics to cry foul. Many studies were conducted, even the MLB got in on the action, and even though reports on findings varied, eventually everyone calmed down. 

You can bet your sweet bippy the Baseball Authorities never forgot the unpleasant turmoil however. The Social Ramble is unconvinced that Lena’s magic mud is impossible to replicate. While the notion that MLB continues to use the mud for romantic, tradition-serving purposes seems cute and all, the truth is likely more calculated. Baseball, as image-concious as ever, wouldn’t risk upsetting the apple cart by switching to new mud. Think of the backlash! As soon as somebody broke a record of long-standing, purists would leap at the opportunity to blame the new slime on baseballs. "Well, when Joe Dimaggio hit in 56 straight games, they were still using Lena Blackburne’s mud…"

In truth, the image of a solitary umpire, kneeling in his office and reverentially treating each ball before game time is probably apocryphal. These days, the filthy work falls to clubhouse managers and clubbies, who probably don’t revel in the chore. 

But that kind of makes it the beginning of a new tradition, don’tcha think?

Ahnuld, demonstrating another great use for mud, hides from Manny Ramirez.


After 100 Years, Boner Still Hard To Swallow

Today marks the anniversary of the passing of Fred Merkle, centerpiece in the most controversial game of baseball ever played. Before there was Steve Bartman, before Pete Rose leveled Ray Fosse, before drugs, expansion and inter-league play, there was…Merkle’s Boner….

                                      

September 23, 1908, Polo Grounds, New York: In the bottom of the ninth inning, in a tie game between the visiting Chicago Cubs and New York Giants, Fred Merkle stands on first base after hitting a single. (At 19, he is the youngest player in the National League.) There are two outs, and Merkle’s teammate Moose McCormick is at third. First place in the division is still a hot contest, a trip to the World Series the reward for a finish at the top. Al Bridwell strides to the plate and rips a first-pitch fastball to centerfield, driving home the winning run for the Giants. 

But the game-winning winning run would be nullified, and the legend of Merkle’s Boner would be born…..

        

                                             September 23, 1908, Polo Grounds

Accounts, including Merkle’s own, remember that amid the chaos of fans rushing the field, all semblance of order lost, Fred turned and trotted back to the dugout. He had never touched second base. MLB Rule 4.09 states "A run is not scored if the runner advances to home base during a play in which the third out is made…by any runner being forced out." 

    

Here accounts begin to vary, but one of the Cubs, likely Frank Chance or Johnny Evers, appealed to the umpires and won the argument. The inning was over, the game still tied. Umpire Hank O’Day called the game for darkness, and the Chicago Cubs won the rematch, 4-2, on October 8th. They would go on to win the World Series. They have yet to win another. 

               The “Merkle’s Boner Ball” was sold at auction in 1993 for $30,250


                            

For a man accused of “censurable stupidity" by The New York Times, Fred Merkle would have a fine career. Batting .273 over 16 seasons, he would reach the World Series five times, always on the losing side. Bitter over the events of the game, and his nickname “Bonehead”, Merkle avoided baseball altogether after his retirement in 1926. Finally appearing at a Giants old-timers game in 1950, he was welcomed with a standing ovation. He died six years later. 

                          

                                       

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