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Heartland of America Post #3, Kauffman Stadium

Like many baseball fans I have a dream to visit every major league ballpark. When I started looking into travel plans for this summer back in April, and we started planning where we might go to see the “Great American Eclipse of 2017,” we discovered the path of totality would pass very close to Kansas City and St. Louis. I’ve been to St. Louis before, but corwin hasn’t, and Kansas City is one of the last four parks I haven’t been to. So we set the plans in motion for a road trip that would start in KC and include eclipse viewing.
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Heartland of America Trek, Post #2 – Negro Leagues Museum

It’s been a while since I did one of these baseball treks–over ten years. What can I say? I’ve been busy. So has the world. The last time I did this, I drove all over the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida looking at landmarks and places associated with Babe Ruth and other greats like Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe. It turned out to be a much more emotional experience than I expected, partly because at that time we’d just started a war in the Middle East. (You can read about that trip under the “Bambino Road” tag.)

And here I am again at a fraught moment in American politics, sojourning around staring at monuments to our national pastime.
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Heartland of America Trek, Post #1: Introduction

I’m on a trek across America’s heartland right now, ostensibly to put me in the vicinity of the total eclipse next week. But who knows if the sky will be clear that day? To ensure myself a worthwhile trip, I’ve planned a baseball trek to take in some of the places I’ve heard of over the years but have never had a chance to visit, including the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the Louisville Slugger Museum, and Kauffman Stadium.
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A Fraction of the Amazing Stuff I Learned at #SABR47

This year’s SABR convention was in New York, which was awesome for me, given how many of my research interests are New York-centric. It meant that I didn’t have to “pick out” all the Yankees-related topics to go see because there were so many. (Unrelated but cool: There were also so many women presenting and speaking that I didn’t feel compelled to prioritize them. How excellent.) The Yankees were out of town, but you could hardly tell there was so much Yankees talk.

I learned a lot at this convention but I figured as a wrapup I could basically write a lineup card of things I learned about New York teams and players that I didn’t know before.

sabr-47-lineup-card

Alfonso Soriano

I had vaguely known that Jean Afterman, one of the few women at a high front office position in MLB, was instrumental in bringing Hideki Matsui to the Yankees, and I had vaguely known that there were some shenanigans involving Alfonso Soriano going to play in Japan first before being signed by the Yankees. What I didn’t know is that Jean Afterman was not only involved in both of those Yankees signing, she was the person basically responsible for opening the floodgates of Japanese talent to come to the U.S. overall. Here’s the story:
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Here Comes the Judge

I’ve been pressed for time lately (okay, for the past three years thanks to my own book deadlines plus SABR deadlines) so I haven’t blogged about all the fantastic baseball things I’ve experienced. Just a few of them. One I did have time for was seeing the debut last year of Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin, who both hit home runs in that game, which was apparently historic.

Historic debuts don’t always presage more feats of historic proportions but as I write this we’re on the way home from two days at Yankee Stadium, during which we saw Judge hit what was almost certainly the longest home run outside of a home run derby that I’ve seen with my own eyes. In the old Yankee Stadium we once saw Alex Rodriguez hit the ambulance that used to park in the utility access area to the left of the visitors bullpen. I thought that might have been 465′? A fan we were enthusing with as we walked out of the stadium today said he remembered it as 483′. Either of us might have been right, a few of A-Rod’s homers on this list might have been the one we were thinking of and they range from 463′ to 488′–the longest homer by a Yankee in the HitTracker era according to a great post at River Avenue Blues. But 488′ is no longer the longest.
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An Appreciation of Knowledge-Seeking and the National Pastime

This post originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of the Baseball Research Journal as my editor’s note/introduction. (The BRJ is the semi-annual research publication of the Society for American Baseball Research.) I’m reposting it here as part of #BlogMarch2017.

I would like to take this space to express how grateful I am for SABR’s existence. I grew up in a baseball-loving household, with a shrine to Thurman Munson on my wall (I was at summer camp when his plane crashed). But there were occasional judgmental people who felt it necessary to belittle the game or people’s devotion to it. It’s “just a game,” they would say. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we spent our time and energy being devoted to something “more important?”

In a word, no. (Continued)

Double Historic Debut for Austin and Judge

It’s a cliche because it’s true. When you go to the ballpark, you never know if you’ll see something historic, something that’s never been done before.

Last night was “out with the old,” and the retirement of Alex Rodriguez. Today was “in with the new.” In our latest chapter of “the metaphors write themselves” the difference between the two lineups was night and day. Last night there were 7 starters in the lineup over age 30. Today there were 7 starters in the lineup under age 30.

The most anticipated new prospects were Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge, who both had their major league debuts, and were batting back to back in the lineup.

Austin came to the plate in the second inning, and sent a drive into left that made the crowd stand up. You could see it was going to be close to the wall–would it be caught at the wall? or robbed? or a homer? It was a homer and a sharp roar rose up as it cleared the wall. It’s always wonderful and amazing when your fresh young guy hits a home run in his first major league at bat. Lots of guys have done it. Lots of Yankees, even, like Marcus Thames. (And many others.)

But, as I asked corwin as Aaron Judge then came to the plate, have two guys making their debuts ever gone back to back? Judge is a big guy. Pitcher-big. He’s six-foot-seven and 282 pounds. We’ve seen him in spring training a couple of times. He’s so big he needs a nickname. (I suggest “The Hammer” as a slight reference to Hank Aaron…)

As it turns out, two rookies have never both hit homers in their first at bats while making their debuts in the same game, much less back to back. Until now. Judge’s blast was a no-doubter, clearing the wall into the net in Monument Park.

Prior to the game the 1996 Championship Team was honored in a ceremony that included video montages and introductions of each player: the big guns like Jeter, Tino, Paulie, Mariano, Bernie, Jorge, and Pettitte, and the not-so-big like Pat Kelly, Matt Howard, Andy Fox, and a horde of other faves. Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, Wade Boggs, Coney, Luis Sojo, Ramiro Mendoza, John Wettleland, Graeme Lloyd, and more. (Plus Joe Torre and Mel Stottlemyre.)

But by the time Austin hit his homer, and definitely by the time Judge joined him, the day felt like it wasn’t about the past, but the future. Maybe those ’96 guys left a little residual magic on the field, and maybe Austin and Judge soaked it right up. Let’s hope so.

My scorecard showing the historic debuts of Tyler Austin & Aaron Judge #yankees

A photo posted by Cecilia Tan (@ctan_writer) on

5 Things I’ll Never Forget about A-Rod’s #Yankees Goodbye

Five things I’ll never forget about the final night of Alex Rodriguez at Yankee Stadium.

1. The metaphors write themselves
Alex Rodriguez has been compared to Derek Jeter his entire career. They were close friends in the early days of their careers and were inextricably linked in the press from then on. On Jeter’s last day at Yankee Stadium it stormed and rained the entire day, but as we walked from the parking lot to the stadium, the sun came out and the night turned into a storybook ending of Jeterian magic. For A-Rod, on the other hand, had the complete opposite weather. It was sunny all day, but as we go up to the metal detectors at the Stadium the wind began to whip up, and a gust knocked over a metal barricade. A dark cloud was bearing down on us and we could see it was raining in Harlem. By the time we reached the Food Court inside the stadium they were putting the tarp on the field. At 7:00 PM Alex took the field for a pregame ceremony, and a crack of thunder made us all jump. Thunder, lightning, and then a downpour of such Biblical proportions that we could no longer see the bleachers. Alex, his family, and dignitaries such as Reggie Jackson and Mariano Rivera, ran for cover. You could say a dark cloud hung over him. That he was always a lightning rod. That the ceremony was as weirdly truncated as his career. (And then a rainbow came out a few minutes later.)

Rainbow over Yankee Stadium

A photo posted by Cecilia Tan (@ctan_writer) on

2. The crowd was there to love him
This is a preview of what Old Timers Day will be like for Alex Rodriguez. Throughout the game chants of “A-Rod (clap clap), A-Rod (clap clap)” and “Let’s Go A-Rod” rang out, sometimes when all Alex was doing was taking a lead off second base. Toward the end of the game, after he’d had what would be his final at bat unless the Rays managed to send the game to extra innings, the entire upper deck was chanting “We want A-Rod, We want A-Rod.” Moments later Joe Girardi granted our wish, sending him out to play third base. While he was on the field the chants and cheers were continuous. Do you remember the days when Alex would get booed fairly mercilessly by the Yankee Stadium crowd? There were no boo birds there tonight. It was a love fest from start to finish.

3. An RBI never meant so much
I know a home run would have been more Hollywood. But an earlier, less mature A-Rod would have swung for the fences and probaby gotten the Golden Sombrero in his last game. This A-Rod did what he preached to Didi Gregorious and Starlin Castro: don’t try to do too much. His double in the gap tied the game and set the Stadium a-roar.

4. Elder statesmanhood
This A-Rod seems entirely ready to take on the mantle of elder statesmanhood. The brightness of his smile during the postgame on-field interview and the poise with which he handled the later press conference give us a glimpse of what he’ll be like as a future Hall of Famer (once HOF voters get over their bias against PED users, which I truly feel they’ll eventually soften on).

5. But is he done?
The only question he didn’t fully answer in his postgame presser was whether he had taken off a major league uniform for the last time. Among fans in our section rumors were swirling that the Miami Marlins want to give him a chance. Given that they’ve got Barry Bonds as a hitting coach, you know they’re not afraid of lightning-rod type personalities, and they’ve got Ichiro as a pinch hitter, but he’s gotten his 3000th hit now and so maybe the Marlins are looking for their next attendance booster? After all, A-Rod is a Miami native…and has been known to make some terrible, ego-driven decisions in the past. We shall see if this was truly the final moment in his playing career or not (remember when Roger Clemens came out of retirement?) but certainly everyone in the stadium not named Alex Rodriguez took it as such.

Alex Rodriguez was probably the only player I ever interviewed who was kind of an asshole at the time, but that didn’t stop me from cheering him tonight and crying like everyone else. (One benefit of watching the game from the stands instead of being professional media these days is I get to yell and scream all I want.) I was in Florida at spring training when the rumor swept through that the Yankees were getting A-Rod, and I was at Legends Field when he showed up. I personally got to witness the first and last times he wore pinstripes, and I find myself honored by that privilege. Good luck and godspeed, Alex Rodriguez.

Alex Rodriguez waves to the fans after the game #thankyouarod

A photo posted by Cecilia Tan (@ctan_writer) on

That Time I Interviewed Yogi Berra

I interviewed Yogi Berra in 2004 when I was working on my book The 50 Greatest Yankees Games. I might still have the cassette tapes of the interviews I did for the book somewhere but I’m honestly not sure. Of the players I interviewed for that book, several have passed on: Tommy Byrne, Tom Tresh, Ryne Duren, and now Yogi.

Most of the interviews I did were during spring training, and at the time Yogi was working as a spring training instructor for the Yankees. In 2004, at age 79, Yogi was still hitting fungoes for fielding practice on a daily basis. His memory of the great games in his career was extremely sharp–possibly because he’d told the stories of them so many times–and so our interview almost took place in a sort of shorthand, where he knew exactly what I was talking about and I knew what he was talking about.

I know, that’s not what I was told to expect: knowing what Yogi was talking about. But when it came to baseball, trust me, Yogi knew what he was talking about.

My favorite moment is when he tells me he was an awful catcher at the start of his career. See if you can figure out which great games in Yankees history we’re discussing in this transcript:
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Masanori Murakami speaks at #SABR45

This year we have many distinguished speakers at the SABR convention, as usual, but one I did not want to miss was Masanori Murakami. “Mashi” as he is known, was the first Japanese player to appear in the major leagues back in 1964. He is the subject of Rob Fitts’ new biography (Mashi: The Unfulfilled Baseball Dreams of Masanori Murakami, the First Japanese Major Leaguer) and they’re doing a nine-city U.S. tour, starting here, Boston Monday, and several cities in California including Fresno and San Francisco.

The program began first with a quick nine-minute preview of the film Diamond Diplomacy by filmmaker Yumiko Gamo Romer, which will be a documentary about “US-Japanese Relations Through A Shared Love of Baseball.” Tracing that relationship from Horace Wilson, who brought baseball to Japan in 1871 where he was a teacher until 1877. (Here’s an interesting NPR article and story about his descendants being invited to Japan in 2000: National Public Radio). I hope we will get to see the finished film at the SABR convention in 2 years?

Rob Fitts, for those who don’t know him, is a previous winner of the award for best presentation at a SABR convention (if I’m remembering correctly), and the author of Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan, and a book about Wally Yonamine as well. After the film clips were done, Rob got up and narrated Mashi’s story, turning to the man himself to speak at various points to illustrate or explain various parts.

Here are some excerpts from the talk they gave:

Rob: As some of you know, in Japanese baseball the training is very infused with the martial arts. Sometimes to toughen up the players they were not allowed to drink water.

Mashi: We could not drink the water. But sometimes we would very quickly drink some water. You would go to pick up the ball and there would be the little bit of water with the baby moquitoes in it. [Puddles.] Sometimes you would put a towel in that water and (*slurp*).

Rob: As you saw in the film clip, the manager of the Nankai Hawks came to Mashi’s house when he was in high school and asked if he would sign a contract to play with the Hawks. Mashi said no, he wanted to go to college. But just as Manager Shuroka was about to leave, he said if Mashi would sign, that they would send him for training in the United States.

Mashi: My third year [in high school] in the summer time, Hawks manager came to my house. he said hey Mashi, please sign contract for my Hawks. But I said no, I want to go to college. But he said if you sign the contract, we will send you to the United States. So I changed my mind. I had seen Rawhide, Hollywood movies with John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe, and I wanted to come over here.
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White Sox Player Panel at #SABR45

One of the highlights of today’s SABR convention was the White Sox player panel. I also think I saw the best two presentations so far of the convention today, as well, but I’ll try to write up research presentations later! Right now, here are a couple of the amusing anecdotes and funny stories told by the players to moderator Dan Migala.

The players were Carlos May, Ron Kittle, and Mike Huff. This is a bare fraction of the panel, because these guys talked fast and were packed with stories! Hopefully they captured video or audio of the whole thing for the SABR website because I didn’t manage to get down stuff like the time a family named their kid after Mike and much more.

white_sox_players_sabr45
Dan Migala: A lot of White Sox history in this hotel [thehistoric Palmer House Hilton]. Roland Hemond used to set up camp here. A lot of trades happened here. I think we’ll be adding to this legacy here today! Could you each tell me about coming to Chicago? Ron let’s start with you. (Continued)

Women in Baseball Panel at #SABR45

SABR’s national convention very often features a panel discussion on “women in baseball.” (I have spoken on the panel in the past.) The speakers vary from former female players in the All American Girls (AAGPBL) and Negro Leagues to current women trying to make it in baseball or in umpiring to writers, front office personnel, and wives. As moderator Leslie Heaphy put it, “We take the broadest possible view of women’s participation in baseball.”

With such disparate experiences, sometimes there is not a lot of direct back and forth between the panelists, but each one always has fascinating and insightful things to say about the game we love. So here I present a smattering of quotes from today’s panel. I didn’t come close to writing down everything that was said by everyone, so it’s only a pithy percentage of the complete experience. (You should all get to a SABR convention someday if you love baseball. No really.)

Today’s panel included:

  • Caroline Phillips from the Cubs — working on the premiere club seating/renovation development
  • Martha Jo Black from the White Sox — working in Fan Experiences (and btw Joe Black’s daughter)
  • Christy Spisak, player for the South Bend Blue Sox (all women’s team)
  • John Kovach: former chair of the SABR women in baseball committee, curated the Diamond Dreams exhibit, longtime coach and advocate for women’s baseball
Christy Spisak, John Kovach, Martha Jo Black, Leslie Heaphy, Caroline Phillips at the SABR 45 Women in Baseball panel

Christy Spisak, John Kovach, Martha Jo Black, Leslie Heaphy, Caroline Phillips at the SABR 45 Women in Baseball panel

Leslie opened by asking each panelist how they got their start in baseball. (Continued)

SABR’s first rock concert! (I think)

bpballI’m here at the SABR convention in Chicago, and today we had a lackluster performance from the Cubs at Wrigley, but that’s okay, because the nightcap was the absolutely bang-up job by The Baseball Project. Has there ever been a rock concert at a SABR Convention before? We’ve had plays and theatrical productions, movie previews and premieres, but I don’t recall anything like this.

THE BASEBALL PROJECT is a supergroup of alt-rock veterans including founders Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, The Minus 5, R.E.M.) and Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3, Gutterball), drummer Linda Pitmon (Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3, Zuzu’s Petals), and Mike Mills (R.E.M.). Also usually with the group is Peter Buck (also of R.E.M.) and some days their keyboard player is even Josh Kantor, the Fenway Park organist.

I’ve been to see a lot of aging alt-rock lately (I’m 48, remember–heck, this blog is now 16 years old) including bands like X and The English Beat, and recall that my first big stadium rock concert was R.E.M., Joan Jett, and The Police at Shea Stadium in 1985. How odd a coincidence to have seen Mike Mills at a baseball stadium when we were both so freakin’ young (it poured rain during R.E.M.’s set and so some of it we only heard from the concrete corridors inside Shea), and to now be taking a selfie with him and getting his autograph on a baseball at a baseball research convention.
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An Angelic Weekend at the Big Ballpark in the Bronx

Thank you, Yankees, for another lovely weekend at the ballpark. Now that I’m not actively covering the Yankees or MLB as a member of the media, I get to be “just a fan.” This means I get to do fun stuff like enjoy the perks of being a season ticket holder at Yankee Stadium for over 10 years.

Today was Photo Day, at which a couple thousand season ticket holders got to line up on the warning track (so as not to tread on the sacred grass) and wait for the Yankees to come say hello. The event was slated to start at 10:15 and end at 11:15 sharp. We arrived to get in line outside the stadium at around 9:45 in the morning and were amused that at that hour we could see many of the Yankees driving down 164th street and into the player parking lot. Michael Pineda, Didi Gregorious, and Alex Rodriguez were among those who waved from their vehicles. Looked to me like Didi still has Arizona plates on his car. (Continued)

First outing of the spring!

Well, that was fun.

I just took in my first baseball game of the spring. I’m not exaggerating when I say it has been a tough winter. It has been, in fact, the worst winter in the history of weather records in the city of Boston. We had both the most snow and the coldest temperatures. The result was snow banks six and seven feet high lining my street for months, as well as transit shutdowns and a lot of general hibernation.

So here I am in Tampa–where my parents retired to some years ago–to see baseball and thaw out. The weather was a mere 66 degrees this morning and that felt so warm by comparison to me that I had no hesitation to get in the swimming pool with my mother, who teaches a water aerobics exercise class here for other retirees. (The pool is heated. Oh bliss.)

This evening’s entertainment though, was provided by the Tigers and Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. (Continued)

Jeter Walks Off Into the Sunset

The scene is a conference room, shades drawn, coffee cups scattered across the table as the scriptwriters gather for a brainstorming session.

“Okay, how about this?” one of them says. “The kid, totally green rookie, gets a shot because a veteran player goes down, and then he hits a home run in his first game.”

“Yeah, okay,” another one says, “But then he also needs to hit a home run in the playoffs that year!”

“Too cliched,” a third one opines, “unless there’s a controversy about the homer. A fan reaches over, pulls it in, but…”

“But that just makes it all the more magical!” The first writer leaps to her feet, waving her pencil perilously close to the one next to her. (Continued)

SABR 44 Ends With a Flourish: A Fantastic Time at the Ballpark

Today was the last day of the SABR convention in Houston. I think this might have been the best one I’ve been to since Boston in 2002, which was my first and therefore special. Every convention has had some outstanding things about it–Jim Bouton’s keynote in Seattle comes to mind–but this one was on a high par in every aspect. I didn’t see a single research presentation that I felt was a dud, and all the panels were top notch, especially since all the panelists were top notch.

But it was all wonderfully topped off today by the Houston Astros themselves. First they invited us into the ballpark for two last amazing panels, one with three former Astros–Alan Ashby, Larry Dierker, and Art Howe–and one with three members of the front office–Sig Medgal, David Stearns, and GM Jeff Luhnow. Those guys really hit it out of the park, figuratively speaking.

But then the actual young Astros hit it out of the park, literally speaking. We saw one of the most entertaining games of baseball imaginable. If you were going to take a person who didn’t know baseball to a game to show them how exciting and nifty it is, this one would have been a good candidate. Here, I made a list of awesome things that we saw in this game: (Continued)

SABR 44 Day Two Research Presentations

Went to three fascinating research presentations today at the SABR convention. Today’s topics I chose to attend were ballpark advertising and how it relates to branding, the influx of Cuban defectors, and William Hulbert. Presented respectively by the son and grandson of a former major leaguer, the current English-language expert on Cuban baseball, and one of SABR’s leading economists with multiple publications in the Baseball Research Journal.

Also today were the 1980 Astros panel, the Women in Baseball panel, the Media panel, and the trivia contest finals. Trivia gets more and more entertaining every year: they really have it down pat these days and the answers are just as entertaining for the audience as the questions are for the contestants.

Here’s the official description of the first presentation I went to: (Continued)

SABR 44 Research Presentations: Injuries, Surgery, and Drugs

These SABR researchers are sharp as tacks. Or maybe needles: the first three research presentations today were on surgery, injuries, and drugs. All of these are complex issues and of course each research presentation is only 20 minutes long, so you really only see the very tip of the iceberg on each presenter’s research. I urge anyone reading this who is interested in what you see to contact each researcher individually to find out more.

In this set:
Framing of Experimental Medical Procedures in Baseball, Coral Marshall
Just a Little Bit Outside…, Nicholas Miceli and Tom Bertoncino
Too Much, Too Fast, Too Young: Major League Baseball’s Struggle to Control Its Menacing Drug Problem, Joe Thompson

Under the cut: (Continued)

Reid Ryan addresses #SABR44

Here are my notes on the SABR 44 keynote by Reid Ryan in Houston. If you’re not familiar with Mr. Ryan you might have thought you were about to hear a speech by a dull front-office wonk. Savvy folks however might have realized that Ryan is a pretty big name in Texas baseball.

Houston Chapter President Bob Dorrill introduced the speaker with a recounting of Reid Ryan’s career and accomplishments, which are significant. Among other things he pitched for the Texas Rangers after graduating from TCU, was the founder of the Round Rock Express minor league team, and of course more recently has taken the job as president of the Houston Astros. He left it to Ryan himself to reveal to anyone not in the know that he also happens to be Nolan Ryan’s son.

What followed was an anecdote-packed recounting of some of Ryan’s favorite memories of the journey through baseball that led him first as a kid following his Dad from major league city to major league city all the way to what he’s trying to accomplish with Houston today. (Continued)