2007-11-02 / Columnists

From The Editor's Desk

America's Pastime: It Isn't All Balls And Strikes
Commentary By Howard Schwach

First, a word in honor of full disclosure. I am a New York Yankee fan and have been since my father took me to opening day at Yankee Stadium in 1948. I was almost nine-years-old and opening day at the old stadium became a yearly event for my father and I from then on, until I went into the Navy in 1963.

The Yankee team that day had many players whose numbers were later retired and who you can now find in Monument Park.

There was Joe DiMaggio (number 5) in center field. Yogi Berra (number 8) did not start behind the plate that day, Gus Niharios was doing the catching. Phil Rizzuto (number 10) was already ensconced at shortstop.

I really don't remember who the starting pitcher was that day, but I do remember that the Yankees, who would come in third in the American League, lost to the Boston Red Sox, 4 to 0.

The top pitchers were Vic Raschi (the Junkman), Eddie Lopat (Steady Eddie), Allie Reynolds (The Chief) and Spec Shea. Raschi was the team leader with 19 wins, Lopat had 17, Reynolds had 16 and Shea had 9. Just a few years later, Whitey Ford was to join the team, making the four starters, Ford, Lopat, Raschi and Reynolds, the top pitchers in the league. A few years later, they became 20-game winners in the same season, something you will never see again because of the 100- pitch limit.

To my young mind, however, DiMaggio and Berra were not the stars, the players I wanted to see.. There were other players who I always have thought of as my favorite Yankees.

Cliff Mapes, who fought the Japanese to a standstill in many Pacific battles.

Hank Bauer, who was a genuine WW II hero, with the medals and the shrapnel wounds to prove it.

Johnny Lindell and Tommy Henrich; Bobby Brown (who roomed with Berra and went on to become a surgeon) and Billy Johnson. "King-Kong" Charlie Keller and Joe Page (who could come in every day in the final innings of a game). They were all my heroes.

Growing up in Rockaway in the late 1940's and early 1950's, there were three teams to root for. You could always get an argument over who was better: DiMaggio (later, Mantle), Duke Snider or Willie Mays. Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese or Alvin Dark. It went on and on.

There were no "pitch-counts" in those days. Pitchers often pitched in both games of double-headers. remember Allie Reynolds (who had two no-hitters in one season) pitching a complete game shutout in the first game of a double header and then coming in to relieve Ed Lopat in the second game and getting the win in that game as well. There were no such things as "saves" in those days. Most pitchers threw complete games unless they were knocked out.

The Yankees did have a "closer," Joe Page, and he pitched every day, if it became necessary. No "Jobba Rules" that kept him from pitching for two days if he pitched two innings the previous game.

It is hard to believe that pitchers today are in worse shape than those pitchers, who often threw 150 or 160 pitches in a game. The whole idea of pitch counts is so foreign to somebody from my generation that it is hard for us to understand why it is necessary to restrict the number of pitches that a hurler can throw to 100 in a given game.

And, although players did not use steroids in those days, they were often drunk for their games. They did not work out during the off-season and they traditionally came to spring training in poor shape. Yet, they did things, such as pitching a majority of complete games that should put today's players to shame.

Players did not make much money in those days. Most of them had off-season jobs or businesses. They sold clothing or automobiles. Rizzuto and Berra, for example, opened a bowling alley in New Jersey to earn some off-season money.

Yet, a kid could stand outside the player's entrance prior to a game and get dozens of autographs from even the biggest players (with the exception of DiMaggio, who would never sign my program).

Today, most of the stars get suites of rooms on the road. In those days, two players had to room together and they got a couple of extra bucks.

The strangest roomies were Berra and Bobby Brown. Berra was, well, Berra, with his malapropisms and his now-famous pronouncements, such as "when you come to a fork in the road, take it." Brown was going to medical school during the off-season, funding his education by playing third base for the Yankees.

They roomed together for many years, however, and Brown still speaks fondly of those years.

Today, all the players have single rooms and they sign in under fictitious names so that fans will not be able to bother them.

I doubt whether many of today's players would go to war, as did most of the 1948 Yankees.

Today, most of the players are spoiled and pampered. While their statistics far outshine anything done in 1948, their character often leaves a lot to be desired as measured against those teams, even though there was lots of drinking in those days.

Which leads us to today and the announcement by Alex Rodriquez during the final innings of the fourth game of the World Series, that he was opting out of his Yankee contract to seek $40 million a year elsewhere.

In the wake of the Joe Torre fiasco, I can only say that baseball has come to a sorry state.

Here, you have a manager who got the team into the playoffs for 12 straight years, and the owners want to give him a performance-based contract. Don't they think that he was doing his best all those years?

Force Torre out, but keep General Manager Brian Cashman. What sense does that make?

Think about the $40 million spent on Kei Igawa, the $40 million spent on Carl Pavano; the $17 million to Kyle Farnsworth; the ill-conceived trades for the likes of Jeff Weaver and Kevin Brown. Were those Torre's fault? Did he have to continually go to Farnsworth and Igawa even thought he knew that they couldn't do the job? Did he go to those two middle relievers because of pressure from Cashman, who was paying the two pitchers a fortune and wanted them to play as much as possible?

I can't believe that a baseball pro such as Torre would have continued to go to the well with his middle relief unless he was told to by people who know much less about the game than he does.

As I write this, the announcement was made that Joe Girardi would be offered the job as the new Yankee manager. He is old school and has some managerial experience, unlike Don Mattingly, who has none, but is known as "Donny Baseball."

The rumors on Mike and the Mad Dog are that Torre, A-Rod and Mattingly will soon be wearing LA Dodger blue. They deserve A-Rod. Torre and Mattingly deserve far more than Los Angeles, where people go to the games to be seen rather than to see the game.

Let's hope that Girardi works out for the Yankees. I don't believe that he could get along with the Boss, but word is that he's largely out of the picture and his son has taken over the team. I like his son's statement that the Yankees won't deal with A-Rod once he opted out.

Let's hope as well, that baseball gets its act together.

The first step could come by every owner's refusal to hire A-Rod. That would send a message to the highlypaid, largely pampered players that needs to be sent.

That message is, "You're being paid a fortune to play a kid's game. Get over it."

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