The Hope of the Summer to Come

If you’re a baseball fan, Spring Training is one of the grand times of the year, maybe even the grandest. Hope grows in the warm Florida (or Arizona) sun and it becomes easy to construct scenarios by which even your bad team might just pull off a miracle. After all, you just boarded a jet that had been sitting on a frosty runway and two hours later you land in bright warm (or at least warmer) sunshine. That is a miracle to me, so I’m primed to conjure another one by the time I arrive at the ballpark.

Ah, the Spring Training ballpark: Small, intimate, minor-league affairs which means the players are that much closer and that much more accessible. There is a comradery in the stands born of the recognition that if you’re at a Spring Training game, then you are a true believer in the Magic of Baseball. Wins and losses don’t matter and so, we can all sit back together and just enjoy the game without the anxiety of counting how many games out of first place our team will be when we lose.

We recently attended a game in Lakeland, the long-time home of the Detroit Tigers on our recent trip to Florida. We ran into a young couple in Tigers’ gear who commented on our Orioles gear. It turns out that Camden Yards is their favorite major league ballpark and so, they named one of their children Camden. True believers, indeed.

Some 4,000 of us gathered together to see the Tigers play the Houston Astros. Houston brought many of their starters, each of whom was booed lustily. Two female Tiger fans sported shirts that read, Steal bases, not signs in an obvious reference to the Astros cheating scandal.

Besides those Tiger fans and Houston fans, we saw folks sporting jerseys, hats, or t-shirts representing the Cubs, Phillies, Yankees, Indians, Royals, Reds, Pirates, Giants, Rangers, Rays, Dodgers, Braves, Brewers, Red Sox, Cardinals, Twins, and Nationals. We were sporting our Oriole shirts and hats, of course, which meant that 20 out of the 30 major league teams were represented in the stands. Oh, and the minor league Toledo Mud Hens and Fayetteville Woodpeckers each had at least one fan in attendance as well. This plethora of rooting interests is a perfect example of Spring Training comradery.

There was a rather large contingent of Astros fans who had made their way to Lakeland from West Palm Beach, including a pair of older ladies who styled themselves the “Play ball Bunnies,” and were decked out head to toe—quite literally—in Astros gear. Cheaters or not, the Astros are their team, and they love ‘em no matter what. Kind of a hate the sin, but love the sinner proposition.

The Play Ball Bunnies in all their sartorial splendor.

I’ve been to two different World Series and those games are thrilling, but they are the final salute to a summer past. I think I actually prefer Spring Training games and the hope of the summer to come.

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Dirty Dancing Update

You may remember a post from January titled, “Oh, that dirty dancing from the ’20s,” in which I discussed how 100 years ago, American dance masters were anxious to rid dancing of “vulgar music,” as well as moves such as the body lock, shimmy hold, and half-nelson. Having no idea what these moves might have looked like, I contacted Sharon Davis of JazzMad London, a swing and jazz dance studio in England. I have just received an answer: Sharon has no idea what these moves are/were, but she certainly appreciated the clipping. She also sent me several photos of Lindy Hoppers doing their thing back in the day. I highly recommend Sharon’s dance videos on Youtube, not only for the outstanding dancing, but also for her ultra-pleasant video personality.

Those of you attending the Big Swing Thing at the end of April have two months to perfect some of the moves captured in the images below. Thanks for sharing, Sharon!

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Phony Outrage Over Astros Scandal

I am sick of the self-righteous blathering about how the Houston Astros cheated.

Cody Bellinger, if you were suddenly traded to Houston, you’d gladly accept the Astros paycheck. And, hey, New York: When you quit regarding Jeffery Maier as a folk hero, then maybe I’ll have a little sympathy for all the tears you’re crying now. Rob Manfred, you apparently received complaints from more than a few teams for three years and didn’t do a thing about it. Furthermore, you stuck monitors showing the game in real time in major league clubhouses and never suspected that somebody might sneak a glance—or design an algorithm—to gain a competitive advantage. Spare me the outrage. Every day, in all walks of life, people are cheated in business and passed over for promotion. Their spouses are unfaithful, and the DMV treats them with disdain, and none of it’s fair. Somehow, most of them move on, and without a minimum salary of $555,000.

Of course, let’s admit that we love to be outraged these days, despite the fact that it’s not good for our blood pressure or our collective happiness. The Astros have given baseball’s talking heads a wonderful opportunity to be more outraged on the 2 o’clock show than the guy was on the 1 o’clock show. It’s all phony.

Clearly, other teams knew the Astros were stealing signals, but somehow weren’t smart enough to combat that? I bet I know how Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, and Nolan Ryan, for example, would have combated that. Had they heard that banging on the trash can, the next sound in the ballpark would have been the air quickly exiting the batter’s lungs after being drilled in the ribs. The players will always do a better job of policing the game than the suits in the Commissioner’s Office, and that includes the suits that used to wear uniforms.

Oh, I know, I’m supposed to be outraged because this form of cheating used technology. Modern cheating using modern technology to produce modern outrage!!! Yawn. There once was a Phillies infielder named Pierce Chiles who often coached third base. He had backup catcher, Morgan Murphy, stand beyond the centerfield fence and, using binoculars spy upon the opposing catcher’s signals, then buzz the third base coaching box through a buried telegraph wire that terminated under the foot of Chiles. That is, assuming that Chiles positioned himself correctly in the box. Blogger Jackie Howell detailed this forgotten episode in baseball history in her wonderful blog, The Baseball Bloggess recently. Chiles was using technology 120 years ago in 1900, but come to think of it, that telegraph wire thing is way more high-tech than banging on a trash can. (As a postscript, the Cincinnati Reds discovered the buzzer and dug it up. Just for funsies, ole Chiles buried a dummy buzzer in the first base coaches’ box, which the Reds also discovered and unearthed.)

Ah, for the good ole days in Houston.

What’s to stop a major league team from hiring a horde of interns to review the center field camera footage of every game played in a season, and then analyze what signal combinations indicated what pitch, in turn applying that to the new season? That might not be a perfect system, but it could possibly produce a trend since there are only so many signal combinations. Is that cheating since technology is involved or does it have to be in “real time?”

Was it cheating when New York’s A.L. team built Yankee Stadium in which the right field foul pole stood a mere 290’ from home plate in order to accommodate their new left-handed slugger, what’s his name? Something Ruth? Was it cheating when San Francisco’s grounds crew used to turn the baseline from first to second into a swamp to slow down Maury Wills? Can I get a little retro-outrage over those examples?

The current fauxrage is obscuring another consideration. Hitters know what’s coming in batting practice and still make outs four out of ten times. I keep seeing replays of Jose Altuve’s home run off Aroldis Chapman to capture the 2019 American League crown against the Yankees. Every time I see it, however, that slider is still eye-high and not doing much sliding. If Chapman throws a good slider, one starting knee-high and breaking down and away, the most Altuve might have hoped for was an opposite field single. Even if you know what’s coming, you still have to hit it, and I’m still not at all convinced that the diminutive second-sacker knew what was coming.

All you talking heads, please stop talking. The Astros cheated. They got caught. They tainted, if not ruined their own legacy. That’s not outrageous, that’s sad.

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Enough With MLB Gimmicks; Try This Post-Season Idea

Yet again, Major League Baseball (MLB) has resorted to gimmicks by which to alter post-season play. If MLB wants each league’s playoffs to include seven teams, then dividing teams into divisions is itself a gimmick, and it reduces the chances that fans will at least get to see the seven best teams in each league. Furthermore, the idea that certain teams will get to pick who they will play in the opening round of the post-season is worse than a gimmick—it’s a boring gimmick. At least with the NCAA tournament selection shows, we, the audience, cannot be sure exactly which teams will be selected. Baseball fans will already know who will be playing, and there would be about as much suspense in the MLB Selection Show (or whatever its title may be) as there would be in watching a rerun of Gilligan’s Island. (If you were wondering, they ain’t getting off the island.)

If MLB wants to revamp the post-season in a meaningful way that will truly increase excitement, and by extension, television ratings, then model the post-season on the College World Series. The concept is simple: Divide MLB into Eastern and Western Leagues. Each team plays every other team in its league 11 times for a 154-game schedule. Just eliminate a previously-tried gimmick of interleague play, a gimmick that has run its course. The top 8 teams in each league then play a double elimination tournament. Rob Manfred, you want teams to pick their opponents? How about a tournament in which you won’t even know who your opponent will be until all games are completed on a given day! A city in each league could host this tournament on a rotating basis a lá the All-Star Game. Perhaps, even two ballparks could be used, e.g. Citi Field and Yankee Stadium or Nationals Park and Camden Yards.

The winners of each League Tournament will play each other in a traditional home and home World Series.

I’ve been espousing this idea since 2011, writing at that time,

Football games are appealing not only to fans, but to the average television viewer because they are set pieces, self-contained dramas, like the movie of the week. A World Series tournament would be baseball’s version of the mini-series. You have to tune in every night (and day) because you don’t want to miss any of the twists and turns, which you can track over the course of 10 days. The average viewer won’t stay tuned for twists and turns that take 30 days to unfold and include multiple travel days and cutaway shots of fans in Northern ballparks whose gloves are fur-lined, rather than oiled and laced. [And Rob, they haven’t.] This latter element is underappreciated, for as any writer knows, the setting does contribute to the mood of the story. (Hence, Dostoevsky never set one of his novels in Miami.) The World Series then becomes Part II of the mini-series, and the entire event is concluded in three weeks.

Rob Manfred is so worried about attracting new fans that he forgets about his long-time fans. He’s like the satellite television company that offers a great deal to new subscribers, but offers nothing to the people who have subscribed for years. You know, Rob, your gimmickry might result in a net loss of fans, but I might point out to you that the College World Series is gaining in popularity and I am convinced that a large part of the reason is the format.

Rob, don’t give us another gimmick. We’re sick of blue bats, pink gloves, nickname jerseys, Ugly Uniform Day (or is that something else that just seems like Ugly Uniform Day?) You want to revamp the post-season? Give us something new to professional baseball that already has appeal on the college level. Give us League Tournaments.

TD Ameritrade Stadium, site of the College World Series

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Robert E. Lee, Reconciliation, and Race. And Grandmothers

I just finished reading the fourth and final volume of Douglas Southall Freeman’s Pulitzer Prize winning (1935) biography R. E. Lee. Very well written, and extremely well researched, I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in General Lee’s life or in a biography well-told. The four volumes encompass over 2,400 pages, but the read was smooth and never tedious, although it certainly will help if you are already somewhat familiar with the history of the War Between the States.

Robert E. Lee, photographed by Mathew Brady, taken shortly after the surrender at Appomattox.

Of course, “the General,” as Freeman often referred to him, is a controversial figure now, and many in the latest generation just do not understand how someone who fought for a cause that enslaved people could possibly be revered. An even greater question is how did someone who was indicted for treason by a Norfolk, VA grand jury in 1865 become, in five short years (Lee died in 1870) someone who was regarded as a prime example of American genius and gentility, and by Northerners as well as Southerners? I think the answer to both questions lies in the little considered history of just how the country reunited. After all, the North had just sent over 360,000 of its young men to their death in order to keep the Southern states as their neighbors. So, how DO you reunite with your neighbors, 258,000 of whom you just killed in order to maintain a filial relationship? It’s a question that resembles a Buddhist Koan. Certainly, there was no blueprint as to how this reunification was to be accomplished.

It was the soldiers themselves who blazed the path toward reconciliation. Jonathan Noyalas, Director of the Civil War Institute, right here in Winchester wrote an excellent account of the Union soldiers who had fought in the Shenandoah Valley, coming back to the scene of their battles some twenty years later. Eventually, their Confederate opponents began to participate in these reunions. Noyalas’ book, Civil War Legacy in the Shenandoah: Remembrance, Reunion and Reconciliation gives an excellent account of how this reconciliation unfolded through the years in the Shenandoah. It is representative of the reconciliation that was occurring all over the country.

Another work that demands consideration is Carol Reardon’s Pickett’s Charge in History & Memory, which as the title implies details the history of the history of Pickett’s Charge. (You read that right.) Indeed, the veterans of George Pickett’s division came to Gettysburg in 1887 for a reunion with the Philadelphia Brigade. Not all Northern veterans were pleased by the idea, annoyed as they were because they felt that the only thing anyone remembered about the great battle was the “valorous” charge by Pickett’s Division. That was a mere 24 years after the battle; by the 75th, and last reunion of veterans, the country was moved by photos of 90-something year old former enemies shaking hands over the stone wall along Cemetery Ridge. To put this in context, my dad served in the United States Navy from 1943-1945 and saw time in the Pacific, but his son has driven Toyotas for 35 years.

There was also a great deal of contention over whether the Confederate battle flags should be displayed at that 1887 reunion. As the years went by, there were arguments over whether captured Confederate flags should be returned to the states from whose regiments they were captured. (Ultimately, they were.) In time, the United Daughters of the Confederacy issued very stringent guidelines on the flag’s display as they regarded it as sacred symbol that represented the sacrifice of Southern sons. The last thing they wanted to see happen was for the flag to be slapped on every beach towel and shot glass at souvenir stands throughout the South and the rest of the country, for that matter. I won’t get any further into the flag controversy, but I would urge you to read this article on history.net, “Embattled Banner: The true history of the Confederate flag,” and make sure you read the two accompanying essays that appear following the article’s conclusion.

In other words—and this is my own amateur historian’s judgment—the understanding that evolved in order to make permanent the bonds of reconciliation was that the North would accept the mythology of Lee as the chivalrous knight and Pickett’s Charge as the premier example of Southern valor and sacrifice, and Southerners would accept, not only the fact that they lost (an acceptance that Lee strongly urged), but that it was good that they lost.

This understanding completely omitted what the former slaves and their descendants understood about the whole matter. That took 100 years to begin to address, although Jackie Robinson and Harry Truman laid the groundwork in 1947 and 1948 respectively.

Unfortunately, we have currently deviated from what was admittedly a winding path towards including the black perspective. We have entered into a wilderness of extremism in which nuanced thinking is not permitted. “Lee fought for slavery; he was 100% bad,” is an example of that simplistic thinking.

Make no mistake: There is no going back. We cannot undue slavery or the delay in granting civil rights. To feel guilty about these things is also to go back. As Robert E. Lee told his fellow Southerners after the war, we must move forward. I can’t undo those things, but I can think critically, I can converse respectfully, I can judge my neighbors on the content of their characters.

So, what to do about all those statues honoring General Robert E. Lee?  My suggestion would be a Museum of Reconciliation. Appomattox Court House would be a good place for that. Maybe have statues of Lee, Grant, and Booker T. Washington all facing one another with their words on reconciliation ringing the base of those statues. Include information on the reunions of the soldiers and the Civil Rights Movement. I know this much: The one group of people who are bound to propose the worst possible solution area a gaggle of politicians.

Rather than politicians deciding this question, I would like to see three grandmothers from the NAACP and three grandmothers from the United Daughters of the Confederacy brought together to decide about the statues. First item on the agenda would be passing around grand-baby photos, then, it’s down to business. I bet it wouldn’t take them long to figure out a solution, and whatever it might be, I’d be willing to abide by it.

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Oh, that dirty dancing from the ’20s

There was scandal on the dance floor 100 years ago. The half-nelson, body hold, and shimmy lock were outraging dance masters to the point that some were enlisting, not only the aide of mothers and hostesses, but of local police as well in an effort to “exterminate” these and “other imported ballroom grips.” This, according to a clipping from the Winchester Star, which was sent to me by former Dance Club Shenandoah President, Bruce Jackson. Those who persisted in practicing such patterns would be handed cards reading, “You will please leave the hall.” While they were at it, the dance masters were also determined to exterminate “cheap and vulgar music.”

Begin reading at the bottom, left column.

My first thought upon reading this was what am I missing out on? Actually, my first thought was I like cheap and vulgar music, but my second thought was definitely a desire to know what these long-ago dance moves looked like. Unfortunately, I have failed in my quest to dig up any information on these three moves.

There is a tune by Miles Davis titled “Half-Nelson,” but that was composed in 1947 and clearly has nothing to do with a dance move from 27 years before. A search for “body hold” yielded nothing relevant, and a search for “shimmy lock” yielded a couple of videos on how to shimmy a lock and a couple of two-hour belly dance videos titled, “Pop, Lock, and Shimmy.” This might be close, but I’m not so sure. Last July, I wrote about the Commandant of the Virginia Military Academy warning his cadets that there would be no “shimmy or cheek dances” performed at the final ball—or else, so maybe “shimmy hold” is really just shimmying.

This is too intriguing not to pursue, however, and so I have e-mailed Jazz Mad London, a non-profit dance group dedicated to preserving the heritage of early swing dancing. Their performance and instructional videos are wonderful, by the way. Hopefully, they will shed some light on these dance moves for which you would have been asked to leave the ballroom 100 year ago. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.

On the other hand, it is easy to find crude and vulgar music, even from 100 years ago. In fact, Amazon sells a CD titled, The Naughty 1920s: Red Hot and Risque Jazz Songs, Vol. 1. Most intriguing to me, of course, is that this is only volume 1. The CD includes such hits as “No Wonder She’s a Blushing Bride,” “Doin’ the New Low Down,” and the relatively well-remembered “Let’s Misbehave” among its 25 songs. These tunes would barely rate a 1 on today’s Blush-O-Meter, but if you like your vulgarity subtle and sophisticated, these tunes are for you. Kind of like the difference between the fan dancers of burlesque and the all-nude pole dancer of today. But, I digress . . . Perhaps, my favorite song from the collection, and the kind that would have outraged the collective dance masters, mothers, and hostesses of a century ago, is one titled “Masculine Women, Feminine Men.” I find it hilarious, although I’m sure that some will find it quite politically incorrect. Which is even more reason why I find it hilarious. Some might even argue that it has a certain applicability to today. In any case, here is Irving Kaufman:

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Coming Up

Happy New Year!

I hope 2020 is off to a rousing start for everyone. There are a couple of events, one  immediate, and one in April, that you should mark on your calendars, both of which are related to World War II.

First, I hope you can make it to the Winchester Book Gallery on the Loudon Street Mall, this Saturday from 11:00–1:00, where I’ll be signing copies of I’ll Remember You All, the final installment of The Secret of Their Midnight Tears series. Even if you have a copy, come on out, say hello, and browse the great selection at WBG.

Service & Sacrifice 75, an event honoring World War II veterans and home front contributors will take place April 17–19 at the Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, Virginia. A parade will kick off events late Friday afternoon, followed by a USO dance in the Memorial Gym from 7:30–10:30 featuring the musical stylings of Jump Alley.

Saturday will see a host of activities, displays, lectures, and music, highlighted by the recognition of Valley veterans and those who manned (or womanned) the home front at 11:00 a.m. in the Caskey Auditorium.

Jack Myers, Hagerstown, MD. Jack fought under Patton.

A field chapel service will be held Sunday morning.

A couple of additional, and very special, events are being planned. You can bet that I will keep you informed of what I believe will be a wonderful commemoration that will truly honor our World War II generation. Oh, and we are always looking for volunteers or folks who may have an applicable talent to share. Please message me if interested.

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The Affairs of Martha . . .

. . . Is the title of a delightful 1942 movie that without being a Christmas movie, nevertheless brought me great joy this Christmas season, and provided a wonderful escape from the insanity and inanity emanating from Washington, as well as a respite from that irritating Reese’s peanut butter cup announcer who’s not sorry but should be.

(BTW, were you thinking the title of this post meant something else?)

I saw The Affairs of Martha listed on TCM’s schedule, and DVR’ed it for two reasons. One, a woman named Martha is the title character, a fact which piqued my curiosity. As my wife will point out with understandable irritation, 99% of all cinematic Marthas are spinster aunts with about six lines of dialogue. So, a main character named Martha was unusual in and of itself. Two, one of the stars listed was Marjorie Main, probably best known for her recurring role as Ma Kettle in the Ma and Pa Kettle movie series, and one of my favorite comediennes.

I didn’t expect much—indeed, I’d never heard of this movie before—but I found myself laughing out loud throughout this 68 minute film.

Title character, Martha is a maid to the wealthy Sommerfield Family in Rock Bay, Long Island. Marjorie Main, that is Mrs. McKessic in the movie, is also a maid in the Sommerfield home. All their neighbors are well-off and all, of course, have maids. It comes to light however, that one of the maids has written a book, and every family is concerned that it is their maid who will be exposing family secrets. Every family except the Sommerfields, that is, but naturally it is Martha who has indeed written the book.

The plot was fun, even plausible, and the dialogue was witty. The actors in this little film (made on a budget of $240,000) gave full dimension to their characters, making them most memorable even if the film itself has been forgotten. Marsha Hunt, who appeared in everything from Pride and Prejudice (1940) to Johnny Got His Gun (1971), played Martha. Spring Byington, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in You Can’t Take It With You (1938), played Mrs. Sommerfield. Byington was in a host of movies, then transitioned to television with a recurring role in the early ‘60s Western, Laramie.

The cast also included Richard Carlson (The Creature From the Black Lagoon among many other films), Sara Haden (best known as Andy Hardy’s Aunt Milly), Barry Nelson (Johnny Eager and other films), Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West), Virginia Weidler, a child actor from that period who played the younger sister in The Philadelphia Story, and a host of other actors who will make you say, “Hey! I”ve seen that guy in a bunch of things!”

If you need a respite from Christmas stress or political stress; or if you’re stress-free, but simply enjoy good movies, I highly recommend The Affairs of Martha. The characters are pleasant, the humor is gentle, and in the end, the right guy gets the girl. I didn’t intend to write another movie review after posting one in my last entry, but I was inspired to because after watching this film, I felt refreshed. Maybe, cleansed is an even better word. Immersing myself in The Affairs of Martha was like taking a hot bath: I still had to step back into the cold world, but at least I felt better for the experience.

(I see the DVD is available from a couple of sources for $10.00 or so. The full-length movie is not available on Youtube, but I did find a clip from the film, which appears below. Of course, I still have it in the DVR player, so bring some snacks and watch it at my house. I’ll be happy to watch it again.)

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Midway: An Outstanding Movie

It will come as no surprise to any regular reader of this blog to learn that I recently saw the movie, Midway, a film that I highly recommend, as it achieved success on the three levels that matter in historical films.

First, it was quite historically accurate, at least, based on my reading. It was not only accurate in terms of the details of the battle, but also in terms of the details of everyday life. The filmmakers got the labels correct on the beer bottles, for example. The filmmakers also let the facts speak for themselves. A brief conversation takes place among several American pilots about the poor quality of American torpedoes. The conversation was not forced in order to cram in another fact. No attention was called to the faulty torpedoes solely in order to let the audience know that the filmmaker knows a bunch of facts. To this end, I found it helpful to have read about the state of the American Navy in the spring of 1942, and about the battle itself. You don’t need to read up on your history, however, in order to follow the story.

One nice historical touch worthy of note was incorporating filmmaker John Ford’s presence on Midway Island. He was there to film a documentary for the Navy and is caught on the island during the Japanese attack. What truly made this scene special was the fact that the theater in which I saw the film (Alamo Drafthouse in Winchester) showed Ford’s The Battle of Midway documentary before the feature began.

Second, the special effects were outstanding. I felt as if I was in an American dive bomber, and not at all as if I was in a theater watching a bunch of special effects.

Third, the special effects were enhanced because, as spectacular as they are, they were subordinated to the acting, which reminded me of what you might see in a movie from say, 1942. The anguished glance of a wife directed toward her husband; the sickened, but angry expression of a sailor cruising back into Pearl Harbor on December 8th; the worried look exchanged between commanders; the fear on a pilot’s face—this subtle, but superb acting is what brought the spirit of the time and the tension of the campaign and subsequent battle to life.

If you have any interest in World War II history, this is a must-see film. If you simply enjoy good film making and great acting, I highly recommend Midway.

One final note: Friends have asked me if I “liked it better” than the 1976 Midway, but this is not quite a fair question. Although the subject is the same, they are two different movies. The 1976 version is a bit broader in scope, while the 2019 film is more personal. The best thing I can tell you is to see them both.

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Restructuring the Minor Leagues is Long Overdue

Baseball for me has always been about the stories, and one of the game’s best, archetypal story is the ballplayer out there in some dusty ballpark in some small American town, who gets discovered by some world-weary scout who takes a chance on the kid. The no-bonus baby pushes his way up the minor league ladder until finally, he bursts onto the major league scene in a blaze of glory. That story is so appealing in part because as a fan, I can give myself a little bit of credit for his success: I can say that I was one of the few people in that dusty ballpark, sweating in the heat of a July afternoon, sitting on a warped bleacher, cheering him on before you even heard of him.

Yes, I’m a baseball romantic—after all, I did write Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts: Baseball as a Spiritual Experience, and I can promise you that there is no mention of oWAR on any single page nor even in a footnote. With all that said, I will also say that the proposed contraction of the minor leagues makes complete sense, and is probably long overdue, and for all the reasons already cited in the proposal first revealed in Baseball America.

Take our former hometown team, the Hagerstown Suns of the South Atlantic League. Our first-born daughter’s first game was in Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown, a game which she attended in a stroller. Eventually, she became part of the promotions crew while in high school and even threw out the first pitch one night when the Suns honored her for becoming Williamsport High School’s valedictorian. I love Municipal Stadium and cherish the memories it contains.

Even through rose-colored glasses, however, it is easy to see that Municipal Stadium is a dump.

Lovable, awful Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown. That’s Adley Rutschman at the plate for Delmarva, September, 2019.

The clubhouse is cramped and the field is rough. This past August, we went to a game there to see the Delmarva Shorebirds, and Orioles’ affiliate play the Suns, primarily because we wanted to see first-round draft pick, Adley Rutschman play. The Orioles invested $8 million in this young man only to have him play on a field that was not as good as most of the high school fields in Florida. And what good does it do Adley Rutschman or Casey Mize or Bobby Witt, Jr. to compete against teams that are comprised largely of suspects instead of prospects?

Adjustments to swings and arm slots are now being made—quite successfully—in laboratories. Independent hitting coaches armed with the latest technology certainly improved Justin Turner’s swing, and turned Cody Bellinger from a good player into a Most Valuable Player. Travis Sawchick raises this point in his September 9, 2019 piece for FiveThirtyEight in an article aptly titled, “Do We Even Need the Minor League Baseball?” Time in “the lab” is time away from meaningless games against inferior competition. Interestingly, however, by reducing the number of minor league players, more attention can be given to those players who will remain in a team’s system, resulting not only in more efficient development, and hopefully, an increase in major league-ready talent, but also higher quality of play throughout the remaining minor leagues.

As the original Baseball America story indicates, the money saved by paying fewer players would be used to increase the salaries of minor leaguers. Major league baseball should have addressed this years ago, but it seems MLB is finally realizing that it is being penny-wise and pound-foolish to invest millions in its most valuable commodity, i.e. the players, and then pay them poorly, feed them poorly, and have them play in decrepit ballparks.

The part of the new proposal that deserves far more attention than it has received is the effect it will have on college baseball, particularly the wooden bat summer leagues. I love college summer baseball, having served on the Board of Directors of the New Market Rebels of Virginia’s Valley Baseball League, and webcasted their games for four years. I wrote a book about that, too. (For the record, it is Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley.) There’s no place like Rebel Park to take in a game, unless it’s League Stadium in Huntingburg, Indiana, the home of the Dubois County Bombers. Such leagues abound with “dusty ballparks” in which some discovery may take place. Nevertheless, as much as I love the wooden bat leagues, college summer ball might be an idea whose time has passed. There are now over 60 leagues and the talent is so thin that the rosters on most teams in most leagues feature only the occasional Division I player, a few Division II players, and a great many local Division III and junior college players. The coaching is sometimes suspect and the facilities are often lacking, as is the umpiring. Teams often struggle to find host families to provide room and board for the players who come to play for their town.

Leagues keep proliferating because owners of college summer teams have one great advantage over the owners of minor league teams—their players command no salaries whatsoever, and they are not on the hook for workman’s compensation insurance. In fact, in the vast majority of leagues, the players have to pay to play. Maybe the best of these leagues, such as the Cape Cod League and the Northwoods League (where an expansion franchise will cost you a cool $1 million) will survive or become part of the Dream League, an idea which is also part of the MLB proposal. Rounding up undrafted college players and paying them, however modestly, to play in what would essentially amount to a showcase league makes eminent sense. The competition would be even and a certain coaching standard would be established. This ultimately benefits the players, which in turn, benefits their potential future employers. Critics may deride the Dream League as the Last Chance League, but that sure beats playing in the No Chance League.

And can we all agree that the current practice of holding the draft in June, before the College World Series has barely begun, is ridiculous on its face?

Today’s major league players go about their craft in vastly different ways than did the generations who proceeded them. Conditioning, strength training, diet, skill-drills, and video study have become a staple of the modern players’ training methods, and it only makes sense that Major League Baseball wants to bring such modern methods to its developing players as well. After all, hot dogs, beer, and Marlboros are no longer part of the post-game spread.

The purpose of the minor leagues is not to entertain the citizens of Hagerstown or any other minor league city. It is to develop players into major leaguers. Given the fact that the players represent a team’s greatest asset and, ultimately, its greatest expense, it is only natural that teams want this talent to develop in the most profitable manner possible, which is to say efficiently and quickly. The entertainment provided to us fans of the minor leagues is a by-product of this development. The only surprising thing about this new proposal is that it hasn’t been proposed sooner.

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