Thursday, October 26, 2006

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

T. White

I finally got around to visiting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum this past weekend, and it only took me about three months of living here – for shame!

It’s quite a place: through a plethora of news articles, photographs, uniforms, memorabilia, statues and interactive exhibits, the museum chronicles the simultaneous progression of Black history, Black baseball and the Major (formerly White) Leagues.

The exhibits are laid out around a scaled down “Field of Dreams”, visitors free to wander and examine bronze statues of heralded players at each position (Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, et al). I was surprised how the designers succeeded in combining the dark, solemnity standard in museums with an old weathered-fence sandlot atmosphere.

For a nice hour or so, the NLBM offers a wonderful crash course on the Negro Leagues, although it’s far from canonical. The museum could easily be twice as large, with three times the content, and so it should. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, but I’d certainly love to see more.

Kansas City’s own Dalai Lama, Buck O’Neil (who passed away earlier this month), was a tireless champion and promoter for the museum. Up to his death he was working to help transform an historic YMCA building into a learning center and annex for the museum (now officially the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center). This project, while under way, is in its early stages.

If you’re ever feeling generous, consider sending a donation to the museum (view their official site, www.nlbm.com, to learn how). Even better, make a pilgrimage to Kansas City and visit the museum (and know that this is NOT, as they emphatically state, a Negro Baseball Hall of Fame). It has so much to teach about an important and fascinating foundation to our great, national pastime.


And my two favorite facts learned over the weekend?

1. Cool Papa Bell once stole 2 bases on a single pitch (well, this is a legend, but still...)
2. Cap Anson was an asshole (this one is true)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Major League Death

T. White

The AP reports that MLB is teaming up with Eternal Images, a company in the lucrative funerary industry, to make officially-licensed caskets and cremation urns bearing team logos and colors.

The punchline, actually appearing in the story, is to find out “how many fans have undying loyalty to their favorite team.”

MLB and Eternal Images are tying to capture “the life and the passions of the person that has passed away,” said the Spokesman for the National Funeral Director’s Association. “More and more families are wanting to have something that respects the personalities.”

A funeral director interviewed also mentions that this will have great appeal to blue-collar fans, apparently ‘cause they’re all too willing to make a mockery of their death. But having an official Yankees casket is not respectful. It’s not endearing, it’s not a show of true devotion, and it’s certainly not cute. It’s sad. Sad, sad, sad.

And so the common man can now choose to leave his remains in a receptacle befitting his station in life – namely, a casket emblazoned with a grinning cartoon Indian. Whether or not it smells like beer farts and hot dogs remains to be seen.

Even worse is the douche bag Commissioner wanting a slice of corpse pie. Fans are already annually quasi-fucked by rising costs in tickets, parking and concessions, the absence of a salary cap, bloated player salaries that affect performance and widen the gap between them and the public, owners constantly seeking public funding by threat of relocation, drug scandals…I suppose it’s only a short, shameless step to death profiteering.

And how can we end this grief? Well, as I’m sure Bud Selig would tell you, hopefully by dying in Major League style. After all, stamped on each casket and urn is the embarrassing proclamation that “Major League Baseball officially recognizes (person’s name) as a lifelong fan of (team).”

(There is, I admit, an upside to this travesty…maybe some terminal kid who hates his Cubs-lovin’ father will demand a St. Louis casket as a final “fuck you”.)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

According to Jim

By Rembrandt Q. Einstein

This past Monday I read an interview with Jim Edmonds where he discussed his future, increasing frailty and diminishing playing ability (actually, he and the writer used euphemisms such as ‘ability to play on a consistent basis’, but the savvy reader can read between the lines), all while battling post-concussion syndrome.

After this season, Jim will join the ranks of free agency. The Cards are expected to fork over $3 million buyout, allowing them to void his 2007, $10 million option; although I doubt you’ll hear anybody in the organization say this out loud, it would be folly to keep him around.

What does Jim want? Even if it means hobbling back to the AL, sinking to the lowly role of DH (becoming, I’m sure he hopes, another Jim Thome), he wants to keep playing baseball. His exact words were “That’s the key: I want to play everyday.” But it’s hard to take a man with a concussion seriously on the topic of what he remains capable of doing.

According to Edmonds, he still has his bat, tools and several good years left in him. And you know, he may well at that. But he will never equal his better seasons, and at 37, in his condition, he’s never gonna be a Julio Franco.

It’s sad to say, ‘cause he’s one of my favorite players, but I think it would be folly for him to stick around playing the game. Jim, no matter where he lands, is likely to become the next Jeff Bagwell. And when – doubtfully “if” – it comes to that, he seems like the type of guy that will try to prove us wrong, showing up some spring camp, all worn down, sticking out like a sore thumb, embarrassing our memories of his once great self.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I Can't Wait for 1986

About two weeks from now will mark the 20 year anniversary of my first – and all-time favorite – World Series.

I remember my brother and I decking out the hide-a-bed with Roadrunner sheets, laying in front of the den TV, permission to stay up way past our bedtime, rooting for the Mets ‘cause they were my father’s hometown team.

I remember the unfamiliar, but instantly contagious, excitement that emitted from the screen. Sure, I didn’t quite understand the game (I’m pretty sure my brother had to narrate a lot of the action), nor fully understand the gravity of the situation. To me it was simply something to see, I loved it all.

I remember the roster. I still run the names through my head like flash cards, making sure I haven’t forgotten anybody. Repeating their names is a sort of TM chant for me – syllables bestowing such a calm and focus to make the Dalai Lama’s head explode. Backman. Carter. Darling. Doc. Dykstra. Fernandez. Hernandez. Knight. Orosco. Straw. And above all, Mookie.

I remember particular moments more than actual games. Dykstra’s lead-off homer in Game Three; Carter’s two homers in Game Four and his goofy-ass expression of joy after Orosco’s struck out the side in Game Seven. That slow grounder of Mook’s that caused Buckner to fall from grace. I’ve seen so many highlight clips over the years that I can barely tell which are my true memories.

I didn’t live near a National League town, so I never got to see my beloved Mets. It wasn’t until 2001 that I finally got caught a Mets game at Dodger stadium. Much about them were different – I think only the name and logo remained the same – but the giddiness I felt at seeing them play was nearly identical to what I remembered from 15 years prior.

Unfortunately, I also remember the 1999 Series, their embarrassing display of ineptness against baseball’s Great Satan. I didn’t root for the Mets as much as watch, as I imagine most fans did, with bemused fatalism; nothing of note except the clean sweep. (In my mind the only series that has approached the excitement of 1986 was when the Diamondbacks trumped the Yankees. My friend Mark and I watched game 5 in a shitty Hollywood cafeteria – a far cry from my parents’ den – and it was the first time since that I felt the same on-your-feet-with-clenched-fists anticipation. Giving credit where it’s due, the 2004 ALCS was pretty kick-ass as well.)

I hope the Mets make it this year – certainly they have the tools and talent. And if they do, I’ll be rooting for and with them whole-heartedly, but not without a touch of melancholy, because I won’t be cheering for the 2006 Mets entirely. I’ll be cheering a team that won’t ever be equaled: a group of belligerent, pill-popping assholes that began my love affair with the game.