In the most recent MLBlogosphere Latest Leaders, one particular blog jumped out at me. Ross Ohlendorf of the Pittsburgh Pirates is writing a blog based on his experience working at the US Department of Agriculture during the offseason. This started me thinking about which athletes are the most intelligent, at least in the traditional, intellectual sense.
For instance, Ohlendorf went to Princeton and is now doing research with the USDA but when you offset his intelligence with that of Rickey Henderson, well, at best they cancel each other out. Offensive linemen in football, and especially centers, are noted for their intelligence despite the head knocking they do all day long. As for basketball and hockey, I really have no clue and I won’t even hazard a guess.
However, based on zero scientific proof and nothing more than my incredibly suspect intuition, I’m going to say golfers are probably the smartest. Despite Tiger’s recent personal flameout and John Daly’s entire career, golfers are smart enough to play a sport that doesn’t involve getting hit on a regular basis. They walk a lot and exercise like that is good for the mind and body. If that wasn’t enough, they can also continue playing well into their later years, bouncing from circuit to circuit as need be. That seems pretty intelligent to me.
But I also have to say that bowlers might be on to something. I mean, practice involves hitting the lanes and rolling some balls. And everyone knows you can’t go bowling without at least a pitcher or two of whatever happens to be on tap. All I know is that pretty much anything beats the heck out of driving in circles for hours and never knowing when some guy might ram you at 225 miles per hour. Or, for that matter, working at the USDA.
If you called me an insane, obsessed, socially maladjusted freak in regards to my passion for the game of baseball, you would be absolutely correct. Try as I might to cover up the idiosyncratic ticks that put me at the top of the weird charts, there really is no denying my beyond reasonable quirkiness. In fact, baseball has long affected my dating life, my filial responsibilities, my job.
So you can imagine the worry and fear experienced by my dearest friends and loved ones when the MLB Network officially launched earlier this year. It has been alluded to that since the network aired, getting in contact with me has been harder than taking Sarah Palin seriously. This I cannot deny.
Besides getting the inside scoop on all things off-season baseball from the Hot Stove Show, shedding man-tears watching Mookie’s grounder trickle between Buckner’s legs and vehemently arguing/defending the selections of Prime 9, I have also been forced to evaluate the roots of my undying passion for our national pastime and why it means so much to me.
Which takes me back to the beginning…
Unlike many young boys, my father had very little to do with my interest in baseball. As great a man as he was (still is), he always had a calm reserve — an indifferent nature towards the game. Sure, he was a fan of sorts; but he wasn’t nuts about it in any way. His sister was. Yes, it’s all her fault. My dear Aunt Alice and her husband, Uncle Iggy, were absolutely wild about baseball and they molded me into a young, opinionated, domineering superfan at an early age.
Indeed, no two people had a greater effect on my psycho-following of the St. Louis Cardinals. They ate, slept and breathed Cardinals baseball (still do); their fiery enthusiasm infected me before I could even walk. Upon reflection, my earliest baseball memory is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s front page color photo of bedlam at Busch after the 1982 World Series. Emulating Jack Clark’s short swing and despising Don Denkinger came soon after. With the help of my aunt and uncle, it wasn’t long before I was memorizing the starting lineup of the ’85 club and dreaming of being Ozzie Smith.
My father took a backseat to this unruly creation of a Redbird child. While supportive of my decision to “go crazy, folks, go crazy” while reenacting Ozzie’s fist pump around the bases, it was clear that Dad didn’t quite understand what all the fuss was about. Despite the quizzical looks he gave when I argued to stay home and watch the game rather than go to the video arcade, he accepted the fact that his son was some kind of weirdo.
As soon as I could operate the VCR, I was recording any and every baseball game on television. During the long the winter months I watched those games with the same intensity with which I watched them the first time. Then I’d watch them again. And again and again.
“Shh. It’s Tewksbury versus Sutcliffe, Dad. Pena’s gonna throw Walton out at second. Wait and see.”
“But you’ve seen this game already.”
“I haven’t seen all of it. There’s too much going on all at once. I’m watching just Pena this time. Just Pena. Watch.”
And he would… he would placate my desire… because he saw how important it was to me.
It was very important to me.
My parents were divorced. It got ugly at times. I lived with my dad, separated from my sister, who lived with my mom a hundred miles away. While my childhood spun around in chaotic circles of arguments, misunderstandings and fear, the melodic pace and harmonic rhythm of baseball calmed me like no drug ever could: the unique sound of Tom Brunansky’s bat, a whipping line-drive snagged by Pendleton at third, a Ken Daley strikeout. No matter what the final score, baseball, with its disregard for time and its indifferent ability to create heroes and villains and bystanders, became the one constant in my life.
It kept me sane.
So it was October, 1993, and I found myself in a certain state of panic. I was a selfish 14 year old boy who couldn’t imagine missing Game 6 of the ’93 Series and I wasn’t about to be quiet about it. In Tulsa, Oklahoma at the time to cheer on my dad (a marathon runner) in the 15k Tulsa Run, my complaining escalated — eventually becoming more annoying than persuading. The race was long over, but we were not anywhere near a television; the game had started and the anticipation was killing me.
“Dad, we have to go watch the game!” I whined.
“Okay, we will.”
“No, now! We’ve already missed the first inning!”
“We will. We’ll go in a little bit. It’s just the Blue Jays and Phillies anyway —
“Just the Blue Jays and — Dad, it’s important! We have to go!”
Several shrills of suffering and an hour or so later we were finally in the comforts of a relative’s home, watching the game.
My dad rested his tired legs and read the newspaper while I glued myself to the t.v. set, still jittery, shaken, upset from missing the first five innings of play. It was 5-1 Blue Jays and Dad uttered: “See, it’s gonna be a blowout anyway, Jeff.”
I grit my teeth.
And when the Phillies went on a tear in the seventh inning, scoring five runs to take a 6-5 lead, I looked back at him and said, “This is why you can never turn off a game, Dad. Anything is possible.”
Dad managed but a glance away from his paper.
The ninth inning rolled around. I shook with nerves at the suspenseful drama, mystique, myriad possibilities. Dad was unmoved. “Game’s over, Jeff. Mitch Williams is coming in.”
“You never know, Dad. You never know. You have to watch. Just watch.”
Williams walked Rickey Henderson.
“Just watch, Dad. Please.”
Fed up with my whining, he reluctantly put his paper down just in time to see Devon White fly out.
Paul Molitor singl
Joe Carter dug in.
I heard the rustling of Dad’s newspaper again, but before he could get into the reading position I shot him a glare so vicious, so maniacal, so threatening that he had no choice but to put it back down and focus on the game… just in time to see this:
Unaffiliated with the Blue Jays, unaffiliated with the Phillies, but fully affiliated with the wondrous game of baseball, I shot to my feet and screamed like a little girl. My whole being gushed with excitement, with incredulity, with a burning sensation never before felt as Carter jumped and ran the bases.
I looked at my dad, his jaw on the floor, eyes lit up like the Skydome fireworks.
“Did you see that, Dad!?! Did you see that!?!”
“I… I saw it. I don’t believe it but I… I saw it.”
“Don’t you see, Dad? Anything’s possible.”
“I guess you’re right. Anything is possible.”
If you can dream it, it can happen.
That’s the lesson baseball taught me, the lesson Joe Carter taught my dad, the lesson that comes from having a father who believes in you…
I love you, Dad. And don’t forget… you can’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right. You said it yourself on October 23, 1993.
Apparently, it is.
My errant, crass, flagitious friend and colleague, Mr. Allen Krause, channeled his inner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and once again said something he shouldn’t have by blaspheming the fairest of all sideline sports reporters in Erin Andrews. All of Ms. Andrews’ gangly gawkers (me included) are hereby pissed off. And we are tired of Allen’s unbending defiance towards she and all her… er… beauty.
It must stop.
For the same reason I can’t understand why Tyler Perry is allowed to make movies, I cannot even begin to understand how Mr. Krause is able to continually force his imprudent worldview upon the dear readers of RSBS. Sure, Erin Andrews’ sister, Kendra, is an attractive lady. But she ain’t no Erin:
And let’s not forget what really makes Erin tops among the Andrews sisters: she knows baseball. Not only does she know it, she reports it, and she looks smokin’ hot doing it. Any time a woman can distract my ogling eyes with a learned baseball vernacular which includes the tenets of situational hitting, bullpen side-sessions and last minute lineup changes, she automatically jumps to the top of any and all lists.
To stay on the subject of my myriad intangible crushes, I can’t help but wish there was some other connection between baseball and American Idol other than my inexplicable home-wrecking obsession with them both.
Say hello to Idol‘s newest doll-face, er… I mean, Idol‘s newest judge:
This might be a good time to push aside my man-crush for Albert Pujols and get on board the Kara DioGuardi train. You might know her for her hit songs sung by other women whom I am sickly attracted to like Carrie Underwood and Christina Aguilera as well as Mr. Krause’s cherished boy-toy hero: David Archuleta.
In any case, I’ll take a sleeper car.
And for fear that you may have missed it, folks, last night on MLB Network’s Hot Stove show, Victor Rojas and Harold Reynolds had a sit-down discussion with the great Rickey Henderson in which Rickey said: “…my mom is the reason I’m goin’ to Coopertown.”
I hope Rickey still has his legs ‘cuz it’s a long way from Tennessee to New York.
Don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.
The only disappointing thing about Rickey Henderson being admitted to the Hall of Fame is the fact he’ll be going in alongside long-time Red Sox fan favorite Jim Rice. Don’t get me wrong, dear readers. I have absolutely nothing against Jim Rice, as a person or as a player; in fact, I would even say he deserves to be included in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.
Thing is: I feel sorry for him and the subsequent upstaging he’ll be forced to endure come July. I mean, Rickey Henderson is the “greatest of all-time”.
Okay, well, maybe he meant he was the greatest base-stealer of all-time. In any case, I think we all know how much swagger Henderson brings to any field, locker room, podium. The man has always been the cynosure of self-confidence, the quintessential self-promoter, the Barack Obama of baseball perhaps.
And that’s why I’m already salivating at the unscripted heroics of his forthcoming acceptance speech this summer.
Verily, I think we all have our favorite Rickey Henderson story. Whether it’s his persistent third person self-references, sliding into home plate after hitting a homerun or his penchant for talking to himself in the most supportive of ways like “Don’t worry, Rickey. You’re still the best”, I think we can all agree that his undying, unwavering, unparalleled belief in all-things Rickey Henderson made him the greatest lead-off hitter of all-time and an icon for baseball fans like myself.
I, too, have had the luxury of owning personal Rickey Henderson memories — memories that I will always hold dear to my heart. Henderson’s career started the same year my life did and I can’t ever remember not being mesmerized by his speed, his bat, his patience at the plate. For someone so fast, I never could get over how many pitches he was able to take in order to wear a pitcher down early. And though I had no affiliation to the teams with which Henderson played, I remember coveting his baseball cards and having the sudden need to check box scores of A’s (and later Yankees) games to see how many bases he’d stolen, how many homeruns he’d hit.
So when I finally had the chance to see Rickey Henderson play in person during the 2003 season while living in Los Angeles, I told my buddy before the home half of the first: “Wouldn’t it be something if Rickey led off with a homerun?”
And by golly he did it.
Watching him jog around the bases brought an indescribable chill up my spine and a few man-tears to my eye.
I said a few. Gimme a break. I love this friggin’ game.
But that wasn’t the end of my personal Henderson drama. Before a 2007 Saturday afternoon game at Wrigley pitting the Mets against the Cubs, I made it out to the left field wall for batting practice and was pleasantly surprised to see none other than Rickey himself shagging fly balls.
“Hey, Rickey, when ya gonna make another comeback?” I yelled from about 20 feet away.
“Hey, Rickey, you’re the greatest of all-time!”
“Hey, Rickey, you’re a first ballot Hall of Famer!”
After ten minutes of relentless hollers, Rickey finally acknowledged my existence with a simple yet earnestly eloquent: “Rickey fine!”
Indeed, Rickey fine.
So, so fine.
So don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.
You know, I could sit here and cry about how my favorite player from my childhood is on the Hall of Fame ballot but won’t make it in just like my friend Mr. Lung. And the thing is, I really could. I mean, not only did Alan Trammell play for one of the best Tigers’ teams ever back in ’84, he also has the same first name as me(!), even if he does spell it incorrectly. But, it’s just not in me.
It really all comes down to what Mark at MLBlogs had to say, “These plaques go next to those of
Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Walter Johnson, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial.” As much as I loved watching Trammell at shortstop, turning those sweet double plays with Lou Whitaker and as great as his ’83 and ’84 seasons were, I can’t really say that he belongs next to those names.
Now, I’ll admit that it’s a little more difficult to say the same thing about McGwire. Even if he is a juiced up steroid junkie who probably can’t touch his hands together over his head, he was exciting to watch. More than that, McGwire rewrote the record books until Barry Bonds came along and really started flexing his PED-built muscles. And like Mr. Lung says, there are definitely some incorrigible characters in the Hall.
However, the one thing you don’t see in the Hall are cheaters. Shoeless Joe Jackson has the third highest career batting average in the majors but you won’t see his name in Cooperstown. Same goes for Pete Rose even if it is the result of something that didn’t happen on the field. If you’re going to bar these guys and their amazing records, I don’t have a problem with keeping Mr. McGwire out, too.
This whole debate is ridiculous, though. We all know that Rose should be in the Hall and, even if he was a cheat, there’s no dismissing McGwire’s ability and contribution to the game of baseball. In the end, it’s just sad that a no-talent ^ss-clown like Michael Bolton, uh, I mean Bud Selig should be able to keep people from even coming up for a vote. Let Rose on the list and then let the sportswriters decide if he merits entry. Same goes for Bonds when he becomes eligible. The Hall of Fame does not exist to serve the whims of the Commissioner. It’s there so that fans can celebrate the greatest players to ever step on a baseball diamond. That means you, Rose. You too, McGwire. And what the hell, get on in there, Bonds.
It’s Friday and I’m feeling kind of lazy but I wanted to point out that the Latest Leaders are out and you’ve even managed to humble Jeff by keeping us #1 among the fan blogs. I’m not exactly sure why you keep coming back but I’m assuming it has something to do with us bringing you things like this:
Wait a minute. Is it just me or is that Miss Teen South Carolina running for Vice President of the United States? It’s almost like someone took the intellect of Ricky Henderson and mixed it with the temperament of Ty Cobb. It’s like….it’s like…..well, I guess it’s kind of like this:
Oh Jeebus, we’re all gonna’ die.
Earlier this week, Jamaican Usain Bolt proved to the sporting world that indeed speed sells. With MLB’s recent crackdown on PEDs subsequently limiting the homerun game, is it possible that baseball will start to see an increase of importance on the running game or have we already seen the last of players like Rickey Henderson, Vince Coleman and Lou Brock?
Running is a much more complicated process than it was when we played tag in kindergarten. As our good friend Sen. Obama has shown us time and again, it is not without its pitfalls. And as Chinese hurdler, Liu Xiang, showed us, it is not without its pain.
But there are some people who just make it look easy. Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt. All of them make sprinting look as simple as hitting a home run looks for Manny Ramirez. Maybe they’re genetic freaks (or just straight up freaks as in the case of Manny), but there’s no denying they have a talent that 99.9% of the world just doesn’t have. It’s not so much what they do or how they do it but the fact that they can go out and replicate the feat on a consistent basis that sets them apart.
However, running does play an important role in the great American pastime. As much as I hate to have to think about it, much less mention it, one of the reasons that Cardinals beat the Tigers in the 2006 World Series was because the Cardinals had a running game that always put them in a position to score while the Tigers relied on brute strength that seemed to escape them when they needed it most. So, in that respect, I would argue that the question is moot in and of itself.
The running game has always been important for clubs that can’t afford to go out and buy sluggers. Now, the question is if the decrease in power will start to affect the Yankees, Tigers and Red Sox of the world. Again, I’d have to say that successful teams have usually found a way to combine the two elements.
Look at the Oakland A’s of late 80’s. Although they had the two most prolific juicers outside of Sammy Sosa on one team, they also had Rickey Henderson, Mr. “Rickey’s the Best” himself. And Canseco, although he could pound the ball, also did quite well for himself on the basepaths.
However, thoughts of Mr. Canseco and his ill-begotten physique bring me to another important point. Speed and doping aren’t always mutually exclusive. In fact, sometimes they’re regular kissing cousins as the the pride of Canada, Ben Johnson, can attest to. The crackdown on PEDs in MLB might lead to a general and overall slowing down of the game from the way it is played today. Remember, it wasn’t just the the Barry Bonds of the world who were looking for that little extra. It was also the Roger Clemens. And who knows how that might have also played into the speed game.
So, I think the answer to your question is that we have not seen the end of an era and that players who have great legs and a great jump will continue to be sought after. The thing that you have to take into account, though, is that you can’t steal a base or try for the hit-and-run unless you have someone on base in the first place. That was Rickey’s true talent, his ability to get himself in scoring position. And if you want to take it full-circle, it’s also the talent Mr. Obama has shown to this point in getting himself nominated. However, now we have to wait and see if he can find a way to bring it home just like Mr. Bolt.