ALL-STAR GAME – The idea was conceived in 1933 by Arch Ward, Chicago Tribune sports editor. To give the fans a real rooting interest, Ward suggested that they are allowed to vote for their favorite players via popular ballot. In perhaps no other game do fans have such a rooting interest, although there have been a few periods when voting by fans has been abandoned. Today it appears that Ward’s original principle will remain permanently in effect. The American League won 12 of the first 16 All-Star games but went on to lose 20 of the next 23 to the National League through 1978. Some memorable moments have taken place in the contest often referred to as the Midsummer Dream Game. In the first game ever played, Babe Ruth slugged a towering home run. The next year, New York Giants immortal Carl Hubbell struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin in succession to make for some more baseball history.
AMAZIN’ METS The first run they ever scored came in on a balk. They lost the first nine games they ever played. They finished last their first four seasons. Once they were losing a game, 12-1, and there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. A fan held up a sign that said: “PRAY!” There was a walk, and ever hopeful, thousands of voices chanted, “Let’s go Mets.” They were 100-l underdogs to win the pennant in 1969 and incredibly came on to finish the year as World Champions. They picked the name of the best pitcher in their history (Tom Seaver) out of a hat on April Fools’ Day. They were supposed to be the replacement for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. They could have been the New York Continentals or Burros or Skyliners or Skyscrapers or Bees or Rebels or NYB’s or Avengers or even Jets (all runner-up names in a contest to tab the National League New York team that began playing ball in 1962). They’ve never been anything to their fans but amazing—the Amazin’ New York Mets.
EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD On what was once
Texas swampland and a wind-swept prairie, the Houston Astros once played baseball in the Astrodome, which many nicknamed the Eighth Wonder of the World. Built at a cost of $38 million, the colossal complex sprawled over 260 acres six miles from downtown Houston. The facility had the biggest electric scoreboard and the largest dome ever constructed. It was the largest clear-span building ever built and the largest air-conditioned stadium ever. The Astrodome had 45,000 plush opera-type seats, from which fans viewed athletic events in the additional comfort supplied by a 6,000-ton air-conditioning system that maintained the temperature in the stadium at 72 degrees. The inspiration for the Astrodome was the Roman Coliseum, built circa 80 A.D., which prodded Judge Roy Hofheinz, president of the Houston Sports Association, the owners of the team, to press for the creation of a domed stadium.
“I knew with our heat, humidity, and rain, the best chance for success was in the direction of a weatherproof, all-purpose stadium,” said Hofheinz. Buckminster Fuller, media-famed ecologist and inventor of the geodesic dome, served as a consultant to the project. Hofheinz said, “Buckminster Fuller convinced me that it was possible to cover any size space so long as you didn’t run out of money.” They didn’t run out of money and even had $2 million to spare for the 300-ton scoreboard, with 1,200 feet of wiring, that stretches 474 feet across the brown pavilion seats in center field.
“I LOST IT IN THE SUN” Billy Loes was a Brooklyn Dodger pitcher in the 1950s. Possessed with a great deal of natural athletic ability, Loes never achieved the success experts predicted should have come to him as a matter of course. At times he was quicker with a quip than with his glove. During the 1952 World Series, Loes ingloriously misplayed a ground ball hit back to the pitcher’s mound. Later he was questioned by a reporter who wished to learn what had been the problem. Loes responded, “I lost it in the sun.”
“I NEVER MISSED ONE IN MY HEART” Long-time major league umpire Bill Klem’s phrase was his attempt to explain how difficult the job of umpiring was and how objective he always attempted to be. Klem retired in 1941—according to him, after the first time, he pondered whether he had correctly called a play.
“IDIOTS ” Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona explained the name his players gave to themselves in 2004: “They may not wear their hair normal, they may not dress normal, but they play the game as good as you can.”
“IF IT’S UNDER W FOR ‘WON,’ NOBODY ASKS YOU HOW” As a player and a manager, Leo Durocher could invent more ways to tease and taunt and beat the opposition than virtually any other figure in the history of baseball. His was an aggressive, no-holds-barred approach to the National Pastime. The quote attributed to him reflects his attitude toward the game.
“IN THE CATBIRD SEAT” Red Barber beguiled Brooklyn Dodger fans for years with his Southern voice, narrative skills, honest manner, and down-home expressions. His pet phrase to describe when someone was pitching, hitting, fielding or just functioning well was a reference to that individual as being in the “catbird seat.” Barber also used the phrase to characterize a team ahead by a comfortable margin and virtually assured of victory.
“IRON MAN” Cal Ripken Jr., for breaking the consecutive games played in mark set by Lou Gehrig. Teammates called him “Junior,” as a tip of the cap to Cal Sr., in Orioles’ organization more than three decades.
IRON HORSE Lou Gehrig, a.k.a. Larrupin’ Lou and Pride of the Yankees earned his main nickname for playing in 2,130 consecutive games—a major league baseball record that stood until Cal Ripken, Jr. came along. Day in and day out for 14 years, like a thing made of iron, Gehrig was a fixture in the New York Yankee lineup. He led the league in RBI’s, 5 times and 13 years he drove in more than 100 runs a season. The man they also called Columbia Lou—a reference to his Columbia University student days—was admitted to the Hall of Fame in 1939.
“IRON MAN” Joe McGinnity pitched in the majors from 1899 to 1908. He started 381 games and completed 351 of them. He had a lifetime earned-run average of 2.64. McGinnity could pitch day in and day out like a man made of iron. In 1903 he pitched and won three doubleheaders. Winner of 247 games—an average of almost 25 a year—McGinnity was admitted to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1946.
“IT’S NOT OVER ‘TIL IT’S OVER” This phrase, attributed to Yogi Berra, underscores the former Yankee great’s long experience in the wars of baseball. Berra, as player, manager, and coach, has seen the game of baseball from many levels. A victim and victor of late-inning rallies, of curious changes in the destinies of players and teams, his stoical attitude to the National Pastime is the view of a pro, even though it is expressed in perhaps not the most appropriate syntax.
KD by Marcus Thompson II (Atria Books, 27.00) is timely, insightful, never boring as Thompson gets up close and personal with superstar Kevin Durant to spin the narrative that reveals so much about the star’s humanity and ferocity on the baseball court. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
The World’s Fastest Manby Michael Kranish (Scribner, $30.00) is an important and even groundbreaking effort, carefully crafted effort that brings back a time and world far different from today. Its focus – -as its sub-title proclaims – -Major Taylor, America’s first Black Sports Hero. Set in the 1890s when most of America was still beset by unbridled racism, Major Taylor competed in the white world of cycling and prevailed. He busted racial barriers and changed the way many thought about black athletes. BELONGS ON YOUR BOOKSHELF