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Baseball 2000
(Spring 2000)

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Cooperstown Confidential
by Bruce Markusen
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May 31,2000

Say What?

A recent article on a rival website made one of the most absurd comparisons we’ve heard in a while, derisively likening Yankee Stadium to "Shea Stadium West." Having been to numerous games at both New York venues, we’ve never once thought that the two ballparks reminded us of one another, nor have we heard a single Met or Yankee fan express a similar opinion in the past 25 years. Not in terms of design, color, style, dimensions, enclosure, feel, atmosphere, or any other tangible or intangible characteristic. Simply put, the two ballparks look nothing like one another... The writer, obviously not partial to the stadium in the Bronx, derides it as a "1970s-style ballpark built in, yes, the 1970s." Wrong! Yankee Stadium, according to all the resources we’ve ever consulted, was built in 1923! The Stadium was renovated and restored in 1974 and ’75 (during which time the Yankees played home games at Shea), but wasn’t completely torn down and constructed from scratch, as the writer implies. There’s a big difference between "built" and "renovated," and we’re not just talking semantics here either. Besides, what other "1970s-style ballpark" contained features like Yankee Stadium’s unique façade, which runs gracefully along its rooftop, or its serene Monument Park, one of the first in-stadium museums ever built? Opinions are one thing, but opinions based without proper fact and support are quite another.

Clayton vs. Curtis

The battle between Chad Curtis and Royce Clayton continues, with Clayton firing several recent salvos at his Ranger teammate on his personal website. Clayton disdainfully refers to Curtis as the "utility man," but the utility man has been far more productive than Clayton, the team’s starting shortstop. Through games of May 30, Curtis was batting .269 with an on-base percentage near .350, and had driven in 25 runs. Clayton, batting a mere .237 with an OBP in the pathetic .280 range, had driven in only 23 runs, even though he had accumulated over 30 at-bats more than Curtis. Putting the feud aside, Clayton has been a huge disappointment to the Rangers, who were hoping he could fill the role of leadoff man after the off-season departure of Tom Goodwin. Clayton’s now batting ninth in the Texas order. So if Curtis is the "utility man," what does that make Clayton?...

A Visit From A Hall of Famer

One of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game visited the Hall of Fame over the Memorial Day Weekend and answered questions from Friends of the Hall of Fame members for three consecutive days at the Museum. Among the topics that Bob Feller so passionately broached dealt with the issue of pitch counts, which have become all the rage among some members of the media and the current baseball establishment. Feller said he never once pitched a game where either his manager or pitching coach kept tabs on his pitch count. As a result, he never once had a limit to the number of pitches he could throw in a single game. Not 100, 120, or 140. Given his wildness, it’s probably safe to assume that Feller threw 150 or more pitches in a single game numerous times during his career... Since no one on the Indians kept tabs of Feller’s pitch counts, how did "Rapid Robert" know whether or not he had thrown too many pitches? Feller says he usually gauged himself by the stadium clock. If Feller was still pitching in a game that had gone on for nearly three hours, that was a sign that perhaps it was about time to head to the showers... The lack of a pitch count certainly contributed to some of Feller’s incredibly high innings-pitched totals. He pitched 320 or more innings three times in his career and exceeded 211 innings seven other times. If Feller had accumulated some of those totals in today’s game, some of the pitch-count preachers would have screamed bloody murder. Yet, Feller somehow managed to last 18 seasons in the major leagues. The only thing that kept Feller from pitching even longer wasn’t any trouble with his arm; it was his decision to enlist in World War II, which kept him out of the game for all of 1942, ’43, and ’44, and most of the 1945 season. In fact, Feller reached a career high in innings in 1946, his first full season after the war. Feller pitched 371 innings that season, then came back to pitch 299 frames the following year. Incredible...

Questions, Questions, Questions

Baseball fans have a natural curiosity about things, so it’s not surprising that they come up with some of the most intriguing and intelligent questions about the game’s history. Here is another batch of the some of the most commonly asked questions of the Research Department at the National Baseball Hall of Fame:

Why is the letter "K" used to signify a strikeout in baseball scoring? Depending on which theory you believe, either noted baseball pioneer Henry Chadwick or sportswriter M.J. Kelly of the New York Herald came up with the letter "K" as the symbol for a strikeout. We prefer the Chadwick story, so let’s provide the details on that one. In 1861, Chadwick devised a scoring system in which he abbreviated specific baseball terms by using the first letter of each term. In the case of the word "strikeout" or "strike," the letter "S" had already been used in signifying another scoring term, so Chadwick reportedly decided to use the letter "K" because of its prominent sound in the pronunciation of the word. Thus, the letter "K" became the abbreviation for a swinging strikeout in the game’s official scoring system. When a batter is struck out looking, an inverted or backwards "K" is used to distinguish it from the swinging strikeout.

Why do baseball managers wear uniforms while coaches in other sports wear "street clothes?" The tradition of managers wearing team uniforms rather than civilian clothes dates back to the earliest days of baseball, when most teams employed player-managers. Since the managers usually played, they needed to be in full team uniform. One of the few exceptions to this practice was Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack. During his 50-year career as skipper of the Philadelphia Athletics, Mack wore a business suit in the dugout and refrained from stepping out onto the field during games ... Since baseball is the oldest of the four major sports (basketball, football and hockey being the others), the tradition of managers wearing uniforms is older than the tradition of coaches who wear "street clothes." As a result, it might be more appropriate to consider why coaches in other sports do not wear the same uniforms that their players wear. Of course, it might be a bit odd to see Jeff Van Gundy donning gym shorts (a scary thought perhaps), Dick Vermeil wearing shoulder pads, or Ken Hitchcock standing on the bench with skates and a face shield.

Why do some baseball parks feature a dirt path from home plate to the pitcher’s mound or pitcher’s box? Although most old-time ballparks in the early part of the 20th century featured these dirt paths, we have been unable to identify a specific or tangible reason for their existence. These paths may have involved groundskeeping considerations (because of the difficulty that early grounds crews had in keeping the grass in front of the pitcher’s mound lush and green throughout the course of a season) or may have merely been a matter of tradition. As newer stadiums replaced the older ballparks, many of the playing fields started to do away with the dirt paths. By about 1960, the dirt paths completely disappeared from the major league scene... When the Arizona Diamondbacks came into existence in 1998, they decided to resurrect a dirt path between the mound and home plate, not because of any groundskeeping concerns, but simply as an intriguing retro feature of Bank One Ballpark. The Detroit Tigers also elected for a dirt path in constructing Comerica Park, this year’s successor to Tiger Stadium...

On A Promotional Note

On Saturday, June 3, we’ll be delivering a presentation on Roberto Clemente at the History Center of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania (located in Pittsburgh, PA). After the 2:00 PM presentation, which takes place in the Library Conference Room, we’ll be available to sign copies of the book, Roberto Clemente: The Great One. For more information on the weekend appearance, contact Ann Fortescue of the Historical Society at 412-454-6393.

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