Monday, December 21, 2009

SCP Author on Public Radio

Public Radio fans of the Kathleen Dunn show on Wisconsin Public Radio can tune in on December 28th to hear J. D. Thorne talk about his quest to educate and entertain the public on the "10 Commandments of Baseball." The Commandments, a simple list of baseball principles, quietly became the underlying rules of behavior for baseball on all levels for almost 90 years. J. D. is scheduled to be on Ms. Dunn's show on the 28th from 10-11am central. John Munston will host the show.

J. D.'s quest began a few years ago when he was asked to speak at the Positive Attitude Development class at the Duluth Federal Prison Camp for their February meeting. Looking for inspiration, he remembered a little keepsake card among his dad's effects that listed the "10 Commandments of Baseball" that were penned by legendary MLB manager Joe McCarthy in 1921. The Commandments are not religious in nature, but espouse good ethics and habits. Most people who have been involved with baseball recall being told:

Nobody ever became a ballplayer by walking after a ball—Commandment Number 1.

You will never become a .300 hitter unless you take the bat off your shoulder—Commandment Number 2.

Always run them out. You can never tell—Commandment Number 7.

Do not quit. Commandment—Number 8.


The author, a lifelong baseball fan and practicing attorney, developed a presentation around the commandments for the inmates in Duluth. He wanted to emphasize how they could be applied to life. The four hour drive from Milwaukee to Duluth can be a scenic drive in good weather, but in the gloom of an upper Midwest winter on that February day, the author's mood swung from hopeful to fearful as he approached the correction facility. How would the speech go over with men who had heard most every angle on life's lessons? Fear turned to encouragement as the author was warmly received by the inmates and enthusiastically applauded at the end. "You don't forget those kinds of moments in life--it was such a thrill to know that I had reached folks who desperately needed encouragement."

The experience inspired the author to try it again with other audiences. He was also inspired to write a book on the subject that we publish here at Sporting Chance Press. After many months with book in tow, the author has made presentations to Rotaries, Lions' Clubs, schools, church groups and sports clubs. He has also been on a few TV and radio stations and he has been asked to speak at a couple Universities. But mostly his presentations are intimate talks from a couple dozen to 40 or 50 people. The message remains the same--the response very positive. Not a foot stomping, fist slapping get out there and conquer the world kind of message, but enthusiastic just the same. The 10 Commandments presentation offers a little bit on baseball history to set the stage and then zigs and zags between the baseball principles and entertaining stories from baseball history that illustrate them. Thorne's little trip down memory lane is one worth taking. From little leaguers to octogenarians, the author uses baseball and its many fascinating characters to promote the many positive things that come from the game. It's an antidote to the poor sportsmanship and behavior that is so common with today's players. Even in the worst of scandals, there are lessons to be learned.

Like Thorne's presentations, the Public Radio interview should be compelling. The Kathleen Dunn show can be heard on WPR's Ideas Network stations--see http://www.wpr.org/ideas/#stations for more information. See www.sportingchancepress.com for more information on The 10 Commandments of Baseball book.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Fred Merkle Story

Public Bonehead, Private Hero is about one of the most interesting years and events in baseball and American history.  The year is 1908 in the midst of the Progressive Era. Teddy Roosevelt is in office.  There is no radio or television. The Wright brothers are working hard to show that flight might just work for more than a few minutes.  Ford is offering the first affordable car in history, his Model T.  Newspapers are essentially the daily media and there are so many of them steeped in competition, reporters are working desperately for readers.  

Merkle Game

Merkle was a 19-year old New York Giant ballplayer when he was slotted to fill in for the injured veteran first baseman, Fred Tenney, in a key game against the Chicago Cubs on September 23, 1908.  In a hard fought game, Giant ace Christy Mathewson and Cub star, Jack "the Giant-Killer" Pfiester battled to a 1 to 1 tie into the bottom of the ninth at the Polo Grounds. 

With two outs and Moose McCormick on first, young Merkle singled to right keeping the Giant's hopes alive.  Steady Al Bridwell sent Pfiester’s first pitch right at the ducking base umpire, Bob Emslie, into center field for a hit.  Moose trotted home for the game winning run, but Merkle broke for the clubhouse about mid-way between second and first.  The modern fan knows that the runner on first must touch second to insure the run counts because a force out would negate the run.  But Merkle and pretty much every other baseball player of the day didn't see it that way, because that particular rule, Rule 59 had not been enforced in those circumstances --on balls that were driven out of the infield.  Up until that time, it was just a point of discussion in a newspaper article and between Johnny Evers and umpire Hank O'Day in a game on September 4, 1908 when the base runner had done the same thing as Merkle.  In that game, Evers had made the point about the force out to O'Day, but O'Day ruled that he had not seen the runner miss second base. 

It was as if Evers was allowed to play the hidden ball trick on Merkle with a ball that had been in his mitt for three weeks.  Evers quietly waited for just the right moment to make an issue of the rule and the right moment came when the Giants had apparently prevailed on September 23 and umpire Hank O'Day was in residence. 

The reason why Merkle and others ran directly for the clubhouse the second a game ended at the Polo Grounds was because much of the crowd emptied out of the stadium through the field.  (We include a photo of the crowd exiting in the Polo Grounds in Public Bonehead, Private Hero and it’s an eye opener!)  Players found themselves in a melee of thousands of fans--many in various states of intoxication. These fans would often want to "critique" the ballplayers’ play. It was worse for the umpires.  Thus, once O'Day made his call that Merkle was out (base umpire Emslie did not see it), he also ruled the game a tie rather than continue into extra innings due to the crowd on the field.  Many Giant fans went home thinking they had won the game. 

The Giants players didn't blame Merkle. But the newspapers pounced on Merkle with merciless venom and ridicule--making him the scapegoat of scapegoats.  Merkle had made a bonehead play and within a day or so, Merkle had received the appellation, "Bonehead Merkle" that would stay with him everywhere he went for the rest of his life.  The tie game would be made up at the end of the season and the Cubs would win the game to add more fuel to those who condemned Merkle for doing what every other base runner was doing at the time. 

A normal run of the mill baseball season would have American fans buzzing about their team, their heroes and their games. But 1908 turns out to be something special. In both the American and the National Leagues, several teams are neck and neck in the standings as the season winds down.

Public Bonehead, Private Hero is about American history and culture, baseball, society, and the tragic media and fan attack on Fred Merkle.  After the “Merkle” game, the newspapers hung poor Fred Merkle out to dry and christened him bonehead for life.  Merkle dusted himself off as much as he could from the ridicule that followed him through life, and despite difficulties he went on and raised and supported his family in the American way throughout both the Depression and World War II.  

Public Bonehead, Private Hero reveals how Baseball fans and the press never tired of recounting the “bonehead episode” and seeing Merkle relive the ignominy.  The book discloses that the cartoon character that was Fred Merkle in the public eye was the opposite of the sensitive intelligent man who went on with his life and career with courage and determination. Available online.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Albert Spalding

Sports fans and writers have often waxed poetic about the days when baseball was played by men who had a true love for the game that exceeded any selfish purpose. But one does not have to look very hard for examples of men who scored financially in the early days of baseball.

One of the most well-known baseball pioneers was Albert Spalding who was born in 1850 in Byron, Illinois. Spalding was the Bill Gates of Baseball. He was a leading figure in the business of baseball and made a fortune from the game.

Albert Spalding was a superbly gifted player who held the most important position on the field – that of pitcher. In the early days of a baseball, a good pitcher could have a huge impact on the fate of a team most every day. Pitchers were work-horses. Many teams only had one pitcher on their roster.

Spalding had natural arm strength that was present as a young age and he would continually thwart opposition hitters in the 1870s. As a premier player, he commanded a higher salary than most men would know and he used his money wisely. He started his professional career with the Boston Red Stockings when the first professional baseball association was formed in 1871. Spalding led his team to championships from 1872-1875. In 1876, he joined up with William A. Huthbert President of the Chicago White Stockings – a team that would eventually go on to become the Chicago Cubs.

Huthbert along with other like-minded men had formed a new National League that included teams from larger cities who were interested in seeing baseball run more as a business with business management discipline. Spalding was in his element when he came to Chicago to play and then manage the Chicago team. Spalding was a man “on the make” in a city that was built by men such as him. Spalding had endless energy and he drove himself to become richer and more successful than anyone else around him. Spalding was one entrepreneur who never took his eye off the prize – the prize of becoming as powerful a man as his talents and cunning could make him.

Seeing a great opportunity in providing baseball equipment to the growing sports industry, he organized A. G. Spalding & Bros. Company along with his brother J. Walter. They obtained the right to produce the official National League baseball, which helped launch his brand to thousands of baseball fans. He opened up a sports store in Chicago, which he eventually expanded into a chain. Spalding also published baseball guides and had ownership interest in baseball teams. Still a young man, he left the playing field to focus on his sporting good business in 1876.

Spalding became baseball’s goodwill ambassador to the world and also had a strong interest in reforming the game by fighting against gambling and disreputable behavior at the parks and on the teams. Always competitive and driven to succeed, he could also be very tough on players and those who he perceived as threats to his position and standing. Spaulding was a man who made the most of baseball and did much for the game. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Chuck Klein and the Cubs

One of the more interesting stories in baseball was that of Chuck Klein. We reviewed his career as part of the research we are doing for a new books on the Cubs.

In the off-season in early 1934, the Cubs traded for Philadelphia Phillies outfielder, Chuck Klein. They were looking for a superstar hitter. Klein had played remarkably well for the Phillies in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He was a strong player who excelled in hitting and fielding with good speed on the bases. Klein was the only player to collect 200 or more hits in each of his first five seasons. In 1930, Klein had a record-breaking 44 outfield assists. He had several great seasons as a National League star. He hit 43 round trippers in 1929, 40 in 1930 and 31 in 1931. As National League MVP in 1932, he had 38 home runs, 137 RBIs and batted .348. In 1933 he had a .368 average with 28 home runs and 120 runs batted in.

However, Cub management overestimated Klein’s immpact at Wrigley. He had mastered playing in the quirky Phillies Park nicknamed the “Baker Bowl.” The Baker Bowl featured a short right field with a tall wall of composite materials that was covered in a metallic shell that displayed a Lifebuoy soap advertisement. Klein routinely lofted balls over the Lifebuoy sign for home runs and he bounced balls off it for hits. He had also mastered playing balls that careened off the oddly constructed barrier. In 1929, when Klein looked like he was going to give Babe Ruth's home run record a run for the money, the Phillies owner put a fence on top of the existing right field barrier increasing the overall height to 60 feet.

Klein's Cub Career

With Klein in the 1934 lineup, the Cubs opened the season against the Reds in Cincinnati’s Crosley Field on April 17. Cub pitcher Lon Warneke had a no hitter going into the ninth when Adam Comorosky blooped a single to center with one out. The Cubs won Warneke’s one-hitter by a score of 6-0. Klein lofted one over the right field wall that was 360 feet from home plate—80 feet further than the Baker Bowl’s 60 foot tall wall. Klein could hit anywhere.

Klein was 24 when his Major League career began in 1928 for the Phillies. He was 30 when he began his run with the Cubs. For the Cubs, Klein hit 20 home runs in 1934 and 21 in 1935. Looking back at his time with the Cubs, he said that he felt the pressure at Wrigley. Who knows what kind of production the Cubs expected, but they traded him back to the Phillies in 1936 and he hit a total of 25 home runs that year. His career trailed off after that.

Historians are not sure what to make of Klein's career because he played in the Baker Bowl and some of his best seasons took place when the ball was very lively in the National League.

Klein like other sluggers of his time took advantage of a lively ball in the National League, but it does not appear to have influenced his career as much as others. Some believe the ball was at its liveliest in 1930 and was deadened thereafter. This is one reason some give for Hack Wilson's drop in home run production from 56 in 1930 to 13 in 1931 and 23 in 1932. Wilson suggested that Cubs Manager Rogers Hornsby had something to do with his hitting problems in 1931 when Hornsby had him take a lot of 3-0 pitches that McCarthy, the prior Cubs manager would have allowed Hack to swing at.

Klein's numbers did not fall off as drastically as Wilson's in 1931 and 1932. Despite the deadening of the ball, Klein hit 38 home runs in 1932. His drop in power as a Cub in 1934 and the following years may have had more to do with his aging and the pressure he felt as the "next great slugger" for the Cubs. Klein had thrived in the friendly low-pressure atmosphere of Philadelphia playing for the lowly Phillies.

Still, Klein was a solid performer for the Cubs, but he did not live up to the high expectations that Chicago had for him. We'll never know exactly why. The one thing we know for sure about Chuck Klein is that he livened things up for Philadelphia fans in lean times at an odd ball park that is part of baseball's quirky past. It must have been fun to see him battle the Lifebuoy sign even though the Phillies by all accounts, well...stunk.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Baseball Quiz Answers

Here are the answers to the Baseball Quiz Posted in July.

1. Joe McCarthy won seven World Series championships while managing the New York Yankees. What other Yankee manager matched that number?

Casey Stengel


2. What Hack Wilson hitting record may never be broken?

191 RBIs in 1930


3. There were a lot of people who carried “Babe” as a nickname in the first half of the 20th Century. One Babe, Babe Ruth played under legendary manager Joe McCarthy, but he was not McCarthy’s favorite Babe, Who was?

His wife whom he called "Babe"


4. A newspaper reporter once said about this Hall of Fame player during his second year: “With his zany, neck-risking style young _____will burn himself out within very few seasons…He is much too wild and reckless to keep his arms, legs and head intact.” This player would go on to play 24 seasons. Who was he?

Ty Cobb


5. This Hall of Famer had a very simple philosophy of hitting. When asked what he looks for while at the plate, he said, “All I can tell you is I pick a good one and sock it.” Who was he?

Babe Ruth


6.Obama has his economic recovery plan. During the depression, Roosevelt had his plan that included a public work relief program that was responsible for a splendid conservation and construction program. This group constructed over 800 parks including many baseball fields such as Breese Stevens Fields mentioned in the 10 Commandments book. Roosevelt’s public work relief program was known as what?

CCC - Civilian Conservation Corp.

7. From 1955 to 1960, which Chicago Cub hit more home runs than Mantle, Mays and Aaron who were also playing at that time?

Ernie Banks

8. Both Joe McCarthy and Hack Wilson played for a Minor League Team from Toledo. This team continues to operate today. In fact, you may have caught a glimpse of Team mascots, Muddy and Mudonna who were present when Extreme Makeover Home Edition had an episode in Toledo. What is the name of this team?

The Mud Hens




9. What famous Hall of Fame player whose nickname conjures up images of Bugs Bunny said “There is much less drinking in baseball than there was before 1927. That is because I quit drinking on May 24, 1927.


Rabbit Maranville


10. In 1906, the Chicago White Sox had a team batting average of just .230, but won the World Series. What nickname was used to describe the Sox at the time? Who did they beat?


The Hitless Wonders - -- Chicago Nationals also called Chicago Cubs

Copyright 2009, Sporting Chance Press™, Inc.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Baseball Quiz

Here's a Quiz we made for an upcoming speaking engagement on the 10 Commandments of Baseball. We will provide answers after the engagement. If you can't wait for the answer post, send me an email and I will send the answers to you now.

1.Joe McCarthy won seven World Series championships while managing the New York Yankees. What other Yankee manager matched that number?

2.What Hack Wilson hitting record may never be broken?

3.There were a lot of people who carried “Babe” as a nickname in the first half of the 20th Century. One Babe, Babe Ruth played under McCarthy, but he was not McCarthy’s favorite Babe, Who was?

4.A newspaper reporter once said about this Hall of Fame player during his second year: “With his zany, neck-risking style young _____will burn himself out within very few seasons…He is much too wild and reckless to keep his arms, legs and head intact.” This player would go on to play 24 seasons. Who was he?

5.This Hall of Famer had a very simple philosophy of hitting. When asked what he looks for while at the plate, he said, “All I can tell you is I pick a good one and sock it.” Who was he?

6.Obama has his economic recovery plan. During the depression, Roosevelt had his plan that included a public work relief program that was responsible for a splendid conservation and construction program. This group constructed over 800 parks including many baseball fields such as Breese Stevens Fields mentioned in the 10 Commandments book. Roosevelt’s public work relief program was known as what?

7.From 1955 to 1960, which Chicago Cub hit more home runs than Mantle, Mays and Aaron who were also playing at that time?

8.Both Joe McCarthy and Hack Wilson played for a Minor League Team from Toledo. This team continues to operate today. In fact, you may have caught a glimpse of Team mascots, Muddy and Mudonna who were present when Extreme Makeover Home Edition had an episode in Toledo. What is the name of this team?

9.What famous Hall of Fame player whose nickname conjures up images of Bugs Bunny said “There is much less drinking in baseball than there was before 1927. That is because I quit drinking on May 24, 1927.

10.In 1906, the Chicago White Sox had a team batting average of just .230, but won the World Series. What nickname was used to describe the Sox at the time? Who did they beat?

Copyright 2009, Sporting Chance Press™, Inc.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

WGN TV Interview

J.D. Thorne, author of The 10 Commandments of Baseball published by Sporting Chance Press was interviewed today, July 7, 2009, on the WGN News at Noon - the Midday Fix Segment. Dina Bair conducted the interview that quickly touched on Joe McCarthy's life, his commandments and the great baseball players and teams discussed in the book.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Power of Baseball

Activities for children can contribute to their growth and maturity in substantial ways. These activities are affected by coaches and administrators who manage them as well as other key people involved such as parents, sponsors, and spectators. Baseball is an activity in which its long history and tradition solidify positive standards for behavior and play that are universally accepted. Perhaps this is why baseball training if often a successful and powerful means of helping kids develop maturity.

Consider the following three common gripes we often have about kids and then think of how kids are trained in a good baseball program.

1. Kids don't listen or obey. In a good baseball program, kids learn to respect authority on the field. They must listen to their coaches and the umpire. Those who do not listen, get benched or kicked out of the game. Good coaches insist that players do what they are told. Kids want more than anything else to stay in and play the game.

2. Kids can't concentrate today. Whether at bat, in the field or running bases--players must pay attention at all times in baseball despite the fact that there are lulls in activity. Teammates are trained to remind fellow players of what is going on during a game. Every play is being watched. There is instant gratification on the field to those who hit, steal a base or catch a ball; instant punishment to those who strike out or get caught on the base path. No one likes to hear, strike three--you're out!

3. Kids are selfish and do whatever they want today. Baseball's rules and the regimen of the game make it essential that kids play their role on the team. Players in the field learn to call balls and move away from one that a teammate has called. They learn to sacrifice another player to second and backup a throw home. There is unselfish action all over the field in every game.

In a good baseball program, kids have structure and develop discipline. It helps that baseball principles are so well developed with our coaches. In other activities, this is often not the case. We should be able to carry the success elements from baseball into other activities for kids.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

An Outfielder Who Throws Back of a Runner is Locking the Barn after the Horse is Stolen By J. D. Thorne


Legendary baseball manager Joe McCarthy holds the highest winning percentage in Major League history and he used his 10 Commandments of Baseball as the principles to guide his players. Most of his commandments have been adapted by coaches for many years, but few people know their origin. McCarthy wrote them in 1921 while he was managing in the minor leagues -- years before he coached legendary stars like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Hack Wilson, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.

“An outfielder who throws back of a runner is locking the barn after the horse is stolen” is McCarthy’s Third Commandment and although it uses an antiquated metaphor, it is one that is rich in meaning.

On a base hit to the right fielder, imagine that the batter rounds first base in full stride heading to second base, but realizes that he cannot make it. He stops in stride about midway between first and second. The right fielder is tempted to throw “in back” of the runner to the first baseman to pick off the runner. But, if he throws to first, how does the runner adjust? Does the runner go back to first base to try to beat the throw? No. Once he sees the throw going behind him back to first base, it is easy to go to second base safely.

Looking Forward

This principle is about judgment. In a broad sense, the commandment suggests that players need to adjust to their circumstances, play “their game,” and look forward not backward.

In baseball, base running is one of the primary parts of the game where decision-making is critical and risk taking is followed by an immediate reward or penalty. Joe McCarthy said that Joe DiMaggio was the “best base runner I ever saw. He could have stolen 50, 60 bases a year if I had let him. He wasn’t the fastest man alive. He just knew how to run the bases better than anybody. I don’t think in all the years [he] played for me he was ever thrown out stretching.” DiMaggio certainly played his game using superb judgment.

Another player who achieved greatness playing “his game” was Lou Boudreau. Sportswriter Rud Rennie described Lou Boudreau this way: “He can’t run and his arm’s no good, but he is the best shortstop in the game.” Boudreau was a “heads up” kind of player. He proved it year after year by leading the American League shortstops in fielding average eight times. He was a player manager of the Cleveland Indians at age 24 and led the Indians to win the World Series in 1948. His judgment at bat was so good he struck out only nine times in 1948.

Curt Shilling’s Adjustments

Pitching is another aspect of baseball where good judgment and making adjustments make or break a career. You often see older pitchers learn to play within themselves as their skills wane. By looking ahead and adjusting their game, they sustain their winning ways late into their thirties and beyond.
Curt Shilling was a key contributor to the Boston Red Sox’s 2004 and 2007 World Series wins. In 2004, 37-year old Shilling, in his first season with the Red Sox, led the majors with 21 wins and just 6 losses. Suffering through an ankle injury in the American League Championship Series, he lost the first game against the Yankees only to bounce back with a 7-inning performance in game six in which he gave up just four hits and one run for the win. When the Red Sox advanced to the World Series, Shilling pitched an impressive game two win over the Saint Louis Cardinals in which he allowed one unearned run on 4 hits in 6.0 innings.

Three years later at age 40 in the second game of the 2007 world series, Shilling allowed one run in the first inning, but went on to pitch 5 1/3 solid innings allowing no more runs and only four hits while striking out four. Boston’s Third Baseman and Most Valuable Player for the Series, Mike Lowell, commented: "He came up big in another big game and that's kind of been his MO. He has a ton of experience, and the most impressive thing about Schill is he's had to change his style of pitching. He's not that power pitcher anymore. You see him really hitting his spots."


Ernie Banks Played His Game

By adjusting his style and playing within himself, Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, was another player who had a much longer and more rewarding career than he might otherwise have had. The young 22 year old from Dallas, just out of the military, came in as a shortstop with the Chicago Cubs via the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League at the end of the 1953 season. He became the starting shortstop for the Cubs in 1954 and hit 44 home runs in 1955, the most ever for a shortstop. Banks hit three home runs in one day at Wrigley against Pittsburgh and an NL-record five grand slams. He was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1958 and 1959. Banks led the National League in home runs (47) in 1958 and (45) in 1959. From 1955 to 1960, Banks hit more homers than such luminaries as Mantle, Mays, and Aaron, who were also playing at the time.

However, Banks originally struggled in the field. Early in his career and through the 1958 season he was error prone. In fact, he led the league with 32 errors in 1958. Determined to turn things around, Banks worked hard on his fielding and made only 12 errors in 1959 and won a Gold Glove in 1960. Ironically, injuries to his legs cut down Bank’s fielding range and he switched to first base. It was a move that helped extend his career until 1971. Banks was always adjusting to his physical abilities and skills. Mr. Cub was the first Cubs player to have his number retired.


Winning in the Long Run


The Third Commandment tells you to look forward not backward. Few people get ahead when trying to be too sharp. In baseball, this lesson is played out repeatedly. After one batter gets on base, the intelligent play is often to work at getting the next hitter out. Throw ahead of the runner, not behind. Look ahead, make adjustments and play your own game.

Copyright 2009 by Sporting Chance Press, Inc.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Baseball Fan?

It seems to me there are plenty of people around who want to be arbiters of who is a true fan. In Chicago you hear the true fan discussion a great deal.

"If you don't sit out in the frozen Tundra of Soldier's Field and like it, you are not a true Bear's fan."

"If you haven't sat out in the bleachers at Wrigley field all summer, you are not a true Cubs fan."

"True Sox fans don't just come when the team's in first place."

On and on it goes. I am not sure why, but people like to exclude people from groups at one time and include them at other times. Everyone has their own ideas.

Growing Up Baseball

When I think of being a baseball fan, it is often without thinking of a specific team. I believe I became a true baseball fan growing up. When I was growing up in Chicago, we would walk up to Kennedy Park and play baseball hour after hour, day after day in the long hot summers. Only swimming and meals would interrupt our play.

In the early morning before all the neighborhood kids gathered, my brother and I might play catch in front of the house. When a third kid showed up, we'd play running bases. After all the guys got together, we'd head over the park and play baseball until lunch then go back and play until dinner. We'd head back over to the park after dinner and play some more, but if we didn't have enough players for a game, we'd play home run derby or "500."

The only activity that competed with baseball was swimming -- especially in the dead of summer. We were lucky to have a pool at Kennedy Park, so many times we would swim and then play ball--or play ball and then swim.

Little league was fun. You had uniforms, coaches and a nicer field to play on plus there were always enough players for all the positions. But the Little League season was short and the games were not nearly as much fun as our regular "sandlot" games.

When we were kids, we never excluded other kids from our games, but we expected guys to play regularly because there was a certain chemistry to those games. We knew each other in every way and we knew the fields, the grass, the trees, the base paths, and the water fountains. We played in the same corner of the park for many years and for us that little corner was our natural setting. Between games, we would sit on the grass under a tree and talk about everything from astronauts to our neighbor's Studebaker. We'd kid each other, tell stories and just "goof around."

In our neighborhood, our baseball rules were so well known and accepted that we seldom argued over a play. If you were out and didn't believe it, every kid on the field would tell you so regardless of whose side they were on. Most of the time we had about 8 to 12 guys to field two teams, so we played "right field out" and when a lefty came up, we'd play "left field out." We pitched slow so everyone could hit the ball. We made spectacular catches that will never be seen on video tape. When we pulled the ball down the line, pounded the ball over the outfielders or poked the ball into the holes it was all for that one moment in time.

When we went home, we went home to a modest existence. Most kids had a bedroom that was so spartan it looked like a monk's cell. It was often shared with other siblings. You had a small bed or bunk bed, a few pairs of underwear, three or four T-shirts, one pair of sneakers, and maybe two pairs of jeans. In a closet you had a few games. No bedroom TV, no stereo, no computer. You could find everything you owned in about 30 seconds. It was easy to find your baseball cap, mitt and bat -- your "equipment."

We loved our equipment and often it was among our most treasured possessions. We knew our mitts about as well as our pillows. Our bats and baseballs were sacred. If a bat cracked, we taped it until it split apart. If a cover fell off a ball, we had white surgical tape or black electrician tape that we wrapped it up in - over and over. We hunted up extra balls on Saturday mornings by the railroad tracks closest to the baseball diamond where sometimes foul balls would land and get lost in the deep grass at practice the night before. Kids got new bats and balls for birthdays and special occasions. Most kids had maybe two mitts in their lifetime.

We played baseball seven days a week and never got tired of it. We all collected baseball cards and on days when few kids were around, we would listen to our heroes on the radio and play "off the steps" out in front of my house. We'd call the play by play as we threw the ball into the worn down angles of the wooden steps in front. The ball would most often shoot out as a "grounder" towards the street at the opposing player. Once in a while the ball would arc up over the fielders head onto the other side of the street for a home run. Some days it was Ernie who hit it. Other days it was Billy Williams or Ron Santo. We'd sit down for a tall glass of Kool-Aid after the game just long enough to catch our breath before the next game.
When we got much older, we would sit on the same steps after a softball game and drink a cool beer.

When someone asks me whether I am a baseball fan, I never know exactly what to say. My connection to baseball is more personal than being a fan. I don't follow the teams as well as many people or attend games as often certainly, but I am one of those people who is linked to baseball for life. It will always be a part of me because in many ways, baseball was a very good friend to me. You don't forget your friends.
Copyright 2009 by Sporting Chance Press, Inc.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nobody Ever Became a Ballplayer by Walking After a Ball by J. D. Thorne


Joe McCarthy holds the highest winning percentage of all Major League Managers and he used his 10 Commandments as the principles to guide him and his players. Most of his commandments are baseball principles that have been adapted by coaches for many years, but few people know their origin. McCarthy wrote them in 1921 while he was managing in the minor leagues -- years before he coached legendary stars like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Hack Wilson, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.

“Nobody ever became a ballplayer by walking after a ball” is Joe McCarthy’s First Commandment of Baseball. To understand the concept, think of two players playing catch to warm-up in practice. A ball is thrown poorly, ending up fifty feet or so from one of the players. At first it may seem a nuisance to spend the extra effort to go pick up the errant throw. However, an individual wanting to be known as a “ballplayer” does not walk to the ball to pick it up, but hustles after it to resume the game of catch. One’s natural inclination is to walk – but a “ballplayer” runs.

A ballplayer acquires the all-important habit of hustling without even thinking about it. To the player on the field, and sometimes in life, what may seem a nuisance – like fetching the loose ball – actually becomes a joy. We learn it is more fun, and more productive, to hustle. Through repetition, hustling in all aspects of the game becomes a habit. When a player is on the field, running and hustling all the time can be the difference that separates one player from another. It shows attention and mental discipline to always run, not walk, after a ball. Which player would a manager want playing on the team? Hustling can be an antidote for cynicism and it can still be found in baseball at every level.

The Hustling Georgia Peach

There are many professional baseball players known for their hustle on the field. Ty Cobb and Pete Rose come to mind for many baseball fans; both fearsome base runners and phenomenal hitters. Many consider Ty Cobb, the “Georgia Peach,” to have been the greatest baseball player of all time. In 1936, Ty Cobb was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame, earning 222 out of a possible 226 votes. Cobb played for 24 grueling seasons where his hustle and determination to win was legendary. Cobb owns the highest lifetime batting average in baseball history at an incredible .367 and he is the leader in runs scored at 2,245. He also held the record for most hit until surpassed by Pete Rose in the 1980s. Cobb stole home 54 times.

Hardest Working Baseball Player

Political columnist and baseball author and fan, George Will, called Willie Mays “the hardest working baseball player you ever saw.” Mays was famous for his hustle in every aspect of the game, but his fielding was what astonished fans. In the 1954 World Series, May’s New York Gaints were up against the Cleveland Indians in the Polo Grounds. In the eighth inning of the first game the score was tied at 2-2 with Cleveland up to bat. Larry Doby led off the inning with a walk and was advanced to second when Al Rosen beat out an infield hit. Vic Wertz then faced reliever Don Liddle and whacked the first pitch way out about 450 feet into right center. Mays at once ran full steam towards the wall with his back turned on the hitter looking over his shoulder as he pursued the ball. In one movement, Mays caught the ball over his shoulder as it sailed within 15 feet of the wall and spun around throwing it directly the relay man. Not only did he rob Liddle of what would have been a triple it if not an inside-the- park home run, but he held Doby to one base. Mays play set the tone for the Giants to weep Cleveland in four games.

Enos “Country” Slaughter

The epitome of all around hustle in the major leagues was Enos “Country” Slaughter of the St. Louis Cardinals. But he didn’t start out that way. When in the minor leagues in 1936 playing for the Columbus Georgia Redbirds of the Sally League, he was rebuked for not hustling by his manager Eddie Dyer. He vowed never again to walk while on the playing field. He rose through the minor leagues to become the leader and top hitter on the 1942 Cardinals World Series Championship team. He was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.

Slaughter is quoted as saying, “I think the game of Baseball is like any other sport, in that you have got to keep your legs in shape. I was able to play for so many years because I took care of my legs.” Despite losing three years of his prime serving in the armed forces during world War II, he still hit .300 six times in the decade of the 1940’s, and ten times overall in his career. He is said to have been told by a doctor prior to game six of the 1946 World Series that his arm was so badly injured he risked having it amputated if tried to play that day. His response was, “Doc, I guess we’ll have to take that gamble.” In that deciding game of the series against Boston he made an electrifying mad dash home from first base on a hit by Harry Walker, scoring the winning run.


You Can Hustle in Many Ways

When playing amateur baseball in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the Milwaukee County “Langsdorf” League, it was not uncommon for me to spend time on the bench. But, a player who hustles is never an observer. I had formed a habit of seeing if there was anything I could do to help the team when I wasn’t in the game. For example, if we needed a player to coach first or third base, I would jump up to do it. After an inning where the catcher made the last out or was left on base, I would grab his glove and warm up the pitcher for the next inning until he finished putting on his catching equipment. I would make sure all the bats were put away and ready for the next at bat. I would gather the infield and outfield balls as they were thrown to the dugout after the between inning warm-ups. I would put them in a place where I could easily give them to the first baseman and an outfielder coming in from the field for the next at-bats when the time came for it. They would ritualistically put the warm-up balls in their gloves immediately. It being already in their glove, they would not be wasting time looking for a warm-up ball when they returned to the field. I would keep track of the outs to remind the players on the field of the next situation. If a new pitcher might be needed, I would warm him up on the sideline. If everything was done, I might run a lap around the outfield fence to keep loose and stay in shape. If necessary, I would keep the scorebook. In other words, by hustling and being alert to every opportunity, I could always find something to do to help the team, even when I was not in the game itself. When the game was over, I helped put away the equipment and carry it to the Coach’s car. It was always appreciated. Usually I would pick up some conversation about the game just played or the next one coming up. I always found that on my teams the guys who hustled had the edge and it helped give us life-long good habits.

Chattering

When I was 14 years old in “Pony League” I had a coach that had been an infielder when he had played. He taught me how to “chatter.” Chatter is something that practically all kids do and is important because it keeps your attention, and that of your teammates, in the play of the game. It’s another way to hustle; at least verbally and mentally.

In baseball, it seems nothing happens for long stretches – then everything happens all at once! Most young players are normally reluctant to talk. No one wants to sound foolish. But chatter is different – although it is usually a little foolish sounding. It may be very repetitive. I learned it did not really matter what came to your head to say, as long as it was positive. For example:

“Come on two-two (the pitcher’s uniform number, #22), rock and fire, smoke ‘em, let’s go, let it fly, give ‘em the hard one, he’s yours, let’s go, one out, the play’s at second, get the easy one, let’s go, one out, let’s see that hummer, throw that pill, rock and fire, go get ‘em two-two, let’s go, let’s get two if we can get it, . . . .”

The idea was just to talk. It would keep your head in the game. Usually the chatter was
contagious, and soon the shortstop would pipe in: “I’m coming to you (pointing to the second baseman) on a ground ball” or “I’ve got second on the steal” or “I’ve got the throw on a hit to left” or whatever conceivably might happen on the next play. In the business world today we call it, “communication.” This means sharing the strategies for success with your team members, and sharing your losses as well. This way we all learn together as a team.

The best chatter is never directed at the opposition. Saying “easy hitter” or “number nine in the order” might fire up the batter. I saw this lesson come to fruition when pitching in a City of Madison championship game for Coach Ernie Bruns. It was a tight game, and in the last inning with a one run lead, the bases were full against me. Up to the plate stepped a new hitter. In amateur baseball, sometimes the uniforms were not exactly up to par. The pinch hitter had on the team’s jersey, but had arrived late to the game not expecting to play. He was still wearing his Bermuda shorts. He did not care, and stepped up to the plate anyway. Our shortstop chattered, “He can’t hit, he’s wearing shorts.” Two pitches later however he got the barrel of the bat around on a tough slider, hitting a hard line drive over the shortstop’s head driving in the two winning runs. Ouch, that one still hurts.

Playing Hungry

My baseball coaches also talked about “playing hungry.” When you play hungry you are ravenous in your play. In the field, no one else is going to beat you to a ball that you can catch. In hitting, you are swinging hard. On the bases, you are running as fast as possible to reach every base you can, and advance to another base if there is any miscue by the defense that allows you an opening to take it. If the ball gets away from the catcher on a bad pitch, you are already at the next base or threatening to score. Being “aggressive” is the best way to play.
Of course, hustle works in life too. Going the extra mile to organize your day; “chattering” some encouragement to those around you; working to communicate better; and maintaining enthusiasm for everything you do. It helps everyone get the job done. It is also more fun. Play hungry. Put your heart into everything you do.

Adapted from The 10 Commandments of Baseball by J. D. Thorne, Copyright 2009 by Sporting Chance Press, Inc. Order your copy today at www.sportingchancepress.com/

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Jim "Catfish" Hunter Had the Midas Touch

Jim "Catfish" Hunter had the Midas touch after signing a contract with the Yankees that drove baseball salaries to new heights. His performance on the field was golden as well. On May 8, 1968, Jim Hunter pitched a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins. He won the American League Cy Young award in 1974 and overall won 224 games while helping his teams to five World Series Championships -three with Charles Finley's Oakland Athletics (1972, 1973, 1974) and two with George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees (1977 and 1978). He played nine seasons for the Athletics of Kansas City and Oakland (1965-1974). He finished out his career in Yankee pinstripes (1974-1979). He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. Charles Finley gave Hunter the nickname "Catfish" and concocted a story for the papers stating that he got it as a young boy. Those who knew Hunter outside of baseball never used the moniker. Sadly, Jim Hunter died in 1999 from ALS, the disease that took Lou Gehrig's life in 1941.
(References: Catfish: My Life in Baseball, McGraw-Hill and National Baseball Hall of Fame web site)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Midas Touch Athlete: Quiz Number Two

Just prior to New Year's Eve celebrations and hours before the start of 1975, this pitcher signed what at the time was the highest contract in Major League Baseball. The multi-year deal valued by many at over $3.5 million -- included provisions that insured the financial security of the star's wife and children. He had become a free agent due to actions that were ruled a breach of contract by his old team's cantankerous owner, but he was now going to play for another owner who was also known for his quarrelsome headstrong ways. Known for his simple country ways, wants and wisdom, this star was no one's fool regardless of the silly nickname he had been given when he joined the professional ranks.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sonja Henie Had the Midas Touch

Sonja Henie of Oslo Norway made more money than Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig combined. Henie changed figure skating forever when she dazzled the crowd and the judges at the 1927 World Championships in her home town. While the other skaters wore ankle length skirts, Sonja came on the ice with a thigh length skirt that allowed her freer movement and accentuated her performance. While the other skaters looked serious and contemplative, Sonja skated out on the ice with a huge smile. While the other skaters followed a relatively conservative program, Sonja skated faster with greater skill and more athleticism than her contemporaries--and she performed a much more difficult program to which she added ballet-like choreography. In one performance at the World Championships, she pushed women's figure skating into the modern era. She would go on to win 10 world championships in a row and take gold in three consecutive Olympics. Sonja also struck gold with her endorsements, her skating tours and her movies. She was a modern star in many ways.
Reference: Nike is a Goddess, Edited by Lissa Smith - Atlantic Monthly Press.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Midas Touch Athlete: Quiz Number One

As we approach Super Bowl 43 and consider the commercialism that is now so fundamental to professional sports, I thought it might be fun to look back at some athletes who made it big financially "back in the day." Sport has long been a commercial enterprise for many.

See if you can guess who is being described below without looking it up.

This superstar of sports won Olympic Gold in 1928, 1932 and 1936--an athlete who didn't get started until age 8, but competed in the Olympic Games just three years later. Fans included Queen Mary, King Edward VIII, King Hakkon of Norway and Crown Prince Edward Wilhelm of Germany. This star had a powerful brand and became an international media phenomena who made huge sums from marketing products. The athlete's chosen sport was fundamentally changed by this teen idol's new sportswear and techniques. Crowd control was needed everywhere this competitor traveled. After this star's Olympic career ended in 1936, Hollywood beckoned with a five-year contract that paid $125,000 a film. A barnstorming performance tour paid $20,000 a night in big venues. This celebrity made more money than Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig combined. At the time of this athlete's death in 1969, the star's worth was $47 million.

Hint: In 1949, this star was one of three people to own a Zamboni.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Piniella Takes Heat for Looking to Books

I was driving to Madison on Monday to exhibit at the University of Wisconsin Dugout Club Banquet. This year's banquet featured talks from the Milwaukee Brewers front office and media, but my mind was on the Chicago Cubs. I was listening to the Boers and Bernstein sports talk show on the SCORE, AM 670, Chicago and B & B were raking Lou Piniella over the coals. Piniella had recently stated that this spring he was going to spend some time reading sports psychology books in attempt to improve the Cub's dismal post season record. On the B & B show, much was being made of the fact that Piniella was well paid and ought to know how to win in the post season without resorting to books. I was itching to call and suggest that Piniella's approach seemed perfectly rational and much improved over past attempts to get the Cub past their fabled curse and into the world series via goat ceremonies and chants. Reading a little Phil Jackson or John Wooden wouldn't do Lou or anyone else any harm.
I don't find fault in Piniella myself. The Cubs performance these past couple years has been stellar in regular season play. A good manager directs the day-to-day handling of the players and strategy that brings the team to the big game. The Cubs loss in post-season 2007 and 2008 was clearly understood by Piniella and articulated by him back in the fall of 2008. According to the Cub's Manager:
You can play postseason baseball for now to another hundred years, but if you score six runs in three games, it's going to be another hundred years before we win.

So I don't think B & B have to worry about Piniella's sanity. He understands why the Cubs lost in the post season. Yet, a good book won't hurt Piniella as long as he continues to manage the club the way he has the past two seasons. When Piniella says that he would want his players to hit better and his pitchers to throw more strikes, he gets some nasty criticism because people don't like to hear that it could be that simple -- but in a way it is. Fundamentals are critical. Piniella does a great deal to get the Cubs past their 100-year World Series draught -- he manages them into the post season. It seems to me that he deserves a lot of credit for getting the Cubs there.

Because, Lou is apparently in a mood for books, I am sending him a copy of The 10 Commandments of Baseball. I am hoping it will give him confidence in the face of criticism to keep stressing the fundamentals like Joe McCarthy did a long time ago. Like Piniella, McCarthy also managed the Yankees and the Cubs. But in McCarthy's case, the Cubs gave up on him and the Yankees showed more confidence in him. I am hoping in Piniella's case that the Cubs can keep him on for a long while. He didn't win the National League Manager of the Year award for 2008 for his good looks. And it is good to see Cub fans rejoice in the last two winning seasons even if they didn't win the World Series.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sportsmanship and Rules

Tony Dungy's retirement from professional football was an important sports story today. Sports writers suggest that the character of Tony Dungy was evident more in how his teams won than in his outstanding record of wins. It is my belief that a good coach can help get your team to the big games--but all coaches need their talented players' exceptional efforts and a lot of luck to win championships. According to Sporting News Today, Dungy was the first coach to reach the NFL Playoffs 10 Seasons in a row. He certainly did his part to win and according to many sports writers, he did it with class and principle. Sports figures like Tony Dungy give us hope and encouragement that sports continue to have a positive influence on our society.

Acting with class and principle is especially important for all those involved in youth sports. Many believe parents have the most critical role in developing character in young athletes. Their behavior at games and their attitudes towards coaches and referees is important. At sporting events, "overactive" parents may be well intentioned, but often miss the point in terms of rules and sportsmanship. One thing that parents might do is try to understand the principles of play in the sports their children participate in. A better understanding may lead them to understand the actions of the umpires, referees, coaches and officials.

Having been a part of youth soccer for many years, I see many misunderstandings of play and rules on the sidelines during games. One of the more common occurrences of misunderstanding occurs when a soccer player who has control of the ball and is moving the ball towards the opposing goal is fouled. If the player maintains possession, often the referee makes no call. The ref may acknowledge the foul by saying "play on," but the ref does not stop play. The offensive player is still controlling the ball (and assuming the player is not in physical danger), the "advantage" is still with the offensive player's team. If the ref calls a foul and stops play, the offense loses their "advantage." This is a rule that makes sense for soccer, but many parents who are more familiar with basketball or football rules often misunderstand the ref's actions.

A Second and less common situation is when there is an injury on the field and the referee allows play to continue. Those who are involved in youth soccer with young players understand that players often stop play for any number of reasons. When very young, kids may stop short of a puddle or they may be distracted by something going on outside the field of play. Coaches have to encourage kids to play on until the ref stops play. If one kid is standing looking down at a puddle, he or she is not aware of what's going and can get hurt.

Kids also have different levels of pain and many "injuries" in youth soccer can occur when a player gets hit by ball. Some kids cry often to things that don't seem to bother others. In most cases, the injured player has been instructed to sit down, but the referee will not necessarily call time out right away if the ref perceives that the player is not seriously hurt and is not in danger -- and if the play on the field is at a critical juncture -- like an offensive thrust at goal. A coach may encourage the kids to play on for many reasons. If some kids are playing and others are standing, it could result in a more serious injury than the one already on the field. If the injured player's team gains advantage by stopped play, immediate stoppage of play upon injury would encourage unsportsmanlike behavior --faked injuries. By using judgment to manage the situation, the referee's action is appropriate, but parents don't often see it that way. It is the referee's job to stop play; it is not the parent's nor the coach's role. In some programs all players are instructed to sit down when an injury occurs on the field. If this is the rule of the program, it should be followed. In cases where the program rules may be slightly different from the traditional rules of soccer, the referee will often point such rules out to the children before play begins.

The bottom line is that sportsmanship often has a closer link to the rules than spectators may think. Second guessing the rules or grousing about events on the field one knows little about, is not good sportsmanship.