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Heartland of America Trek, Post #4, Louisville Slugger Museum

We drove across Missouri on Saturday, had dinner in St. Louis, and then continued on the Louisville, Kentucky, where we planned to see the Louisville Slugger Museum in the morning.

On Sundays, the museum opens at 11am, which was also checkout time at our hotel, so we slept as late as we could (it was nearly 3am when we had arrived), checked out a few minutes after 11 and then got our stuff into our car. By the time we walked over to the Louisville Slugger Museum it was 11:20 am and there was a line around the building. In anticipation of eclipse-seekers in need of something to do on Sunday and Monday, the museum was running a two-for-one special, and lots of people were taking them up on it. (Continued)

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.
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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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