Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

As a pitcher, no one was more intimidating than Roger Clemens. The Rocket’s red glare and intense demeanor on the mound made him one of the most feared and hated opponents in all of baseball. At some points during his career, the hard throwing right hander had such a commanding presence that the at bats of opposing hitters seemed to be over before they even started. This afternoon, federal prosecutors found out that Clemens is just as formidable an adversary in the courtroom as on the field

Clemens and lawyer Rusty Hardin leave court after mistrial was declared.

No sooner than it started, Roger Clemens’ perjury trial came to an abrupt end when U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton declared a mistrial after the prosecution revealed inadmissible evidence to the jury. Like a nervous rookie stepping into the box against the seven-time Cy Young award winner, the prosecution’s first crack at Clemens ended up a disaster. However, it wasn’t the Rocket who fired the brush backs. That role was left to Judge Walton, who chided the government’s lawyers for making such a careless mistake.

I think a first-year law student would know you can’t bolster the credibility of a witness with clearly inadmissible evidence.” – Judge Reggie Walton, quoted by Les Carpenter, Yahoo Sports!, July 14, 2011

According to Yahoo! Sports reporter Les Carpenter (@Lescarpneter), who has been covering the trial on Twitter, in addition to the mistrial, Judge Walton stated that a hearing would be held to determine if Clemens could be prosecuted again. If he rules that doing so would subject Clemens to double jeopardy, the legendary pitcher will walk away scot-free.

After falling to convict Barry Bonds on perjury charges back in April, the government’s latest strike out is particularly embarrassing. Considering all the money spent, and questionable tactics used, federal prosecutors have managed to come out looking even worse than the alleged cheaters they have doggedly pursued. Sometimes justice really is blind.



Read Full Post »

(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

The death of Osama Bin Laden sparked a wave of patriotic fervor that swept across the United States. One of the most vivid images of this spontaneous reaction took place at Citizens Bank Ballpark, where fans started to chant “U-S-A” during the tenth inning of the Mets and Phillies’ Sunday night game.

Over the last 150 years, baseball has been no stranger to patriotism. In wartime and peace, America’s favorite pastime has always seemed to rally around the flag. Just ask Rick Monday.

The 1970s were a different time in American history. The country was still reeling from the resignation of a president and still healing from the scars of the Vietnam War. In an unstable world, confidence in the American way seemed as if it had been lost.

Amid that backdrop, which was accentuated by an election year and the bicentennial, the Los Angeles Dodgers hosted the Chicago Cubs on April 25, 1976. The first three innings of the game were relatively uneventful, but in the bottom of the fourth, the turbulent politics of the time set the stage for one of baseball’s most memorable moments.


Read Full Post »

Fear the Beard?

Forget “Fear the Beard”. Brian Wilson’s now infamous black mane has gained so much notoriety that his new slogan should be “Hear the Beard” because it has become nearly impossible to avoid. From print to television to video games, Wilson’s famous, and infamous, facial hair has gained so much exposure that it might soon require an agent of its own (click here for a youtube page dedicated to the Beard). Perhaps that’s why it seems as if many others in the game have decided to eschew the razor.

In the very early days of baseball, beards, mustaches, and sideburns were actually quite popular. Before the turn of the 20th century, facial hair was as common as spit balls, but sometime in the early 1910s, the clean shaven look became the norm. For most of the next 60-plus years, the beard was all but banned from the game. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to find a photo from this era showing a player with any kind of facial hair.

Mustaches were common place during the 19th century, as evidenced by the team photo of the 1885 National League champion Chicago White Stockings, who were led by Hall of Famer Cap Anson (top row, three from the left).

One of the main reasons that baseball decided to adapt a de facto clean cut mandate was so it could portray itself as a wholesome, family-oriented game. Over time, however, the growing influence of razor and shaving cream ad dollars may have also contributed to the cause. Whatever the motivation, beards and mustaches were relegated to the bush leagues. Barnstorming teams like the House of David and various copy cats*, including a Negro League counterpart, toured the country playing high quality opponents, but the main attraction was always the players’ flowing beards. Whenever these whiskered teams rolled into town, the local newspapers were sure to play up their prominent facial adornments.

*There were so many imitators of the House of David that the outfit sought to copyright the fashion statement. However, in a decision rendered on May 24, 1934, Judge John M. Woolsey ruled that “from time immemorial beards have been in the public domain”.

The House of David baseball team, depicted here in 1916, was composed of members of a Michigan-based religious colony.


Read Full Post »

In a baseball sense, Peru is on another planet.

The Yankee logo on a window of a truck in Lima, Peru.

Despite my best efforts to propagate the faith on a trip two years ago, baseball remains a relatively unknown game in the Andean region of South America. At least some progress has been made, however. During a return trip that spanned the past 10 days, I observed nine Yankees caps atop the heads of Limeans (not including the ones I passed out two years ago) as well as two vehicle decals. In comparison, only one Red Sox’ and one Mets’ hat was observed, so although penetration remains light, at least the Yankees have an early foothold.

Even with occassional internet access, you can’t get further away from baseball consciousness than being in a country like Peru. As someone who usually doesn’t miss more than a handful of Yankees games during an entire season, being disconnected from the team was somewhat disconcerting, meaning it’ll probably take a few days to get back into the flow of the season. Nonetheless, below are some early observations culled from abroad as well as a few corresponding “what if” scenarios worth monitoring over the rest of April.

  • The Yankees have been this year’s version of the 2010 Blue Jays. Despite leading the league with 18 HRs, the Yankees rank 22nd with a paltry on-base percentage of .311. The power surge has helped compensate for the lack of base runners, but if the Yankees hope to lead the league in runs, they’ll need to stop making so many outs.
  • One of the reasons the Yankees’ offense has sputtered is because the top of the lineup has failed to get on base. In particular, Derek Jeter has done little to dispel concerns about his 2010 struggles. And, even more alarming than his .535 OPS has been the weakness of his outs. Over his first nine games, the Yankees’ captain has grounded out a  shockingly high 79.3% of the time. Meanwhile, Brett Gardner has struggled just as much as Jeter, creating a significant void before the middle of the order. If both players’ struggles persist, Joe Girardi may be forced to shake up the lineup sooner than anticipated by even the most pessimistic in the fan base.
  • Russell Martin’s early season resurgence has combined with initial contributions from Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones to portray Brian Cashman’s off season in a more favorable light. If all three wind up offering a positive contribution, the Yankees’ GM would enjoy at least a little bit of vindication. Of course, if the pitching staff continues to struggle, all fingers will once again be pointing at Cashman.
  • Even though Freddy Garcia has yet to throw a pitch as a starter, the Yankees’ rotation has shown some early cracks. Ironically, A.J. Burnett has not contributed to the concern, but his history of getting off to a fast start means the jury is still out on his 2011 comeback. In the meantime, the Yankees have to be at least a little worried by Phil Hughes’ combined loss of velocity and lack of command as well as Ivan Nova’s continued struggles after one pass through the lineup. If both problems persist, Kevin Millwood  could find himself in pinstripes before the end of the month.
  • The bullpen hasn’t been the strength most envisioned because of its inconsistency. Both Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain had high-profile blowups, but the least effective reliever has been Boone Logan. If the Yankees’ only lefty reliever doesn’t regain his 2010 form, he could forfeit his spot on the active roster when Pedro Feliciano comes off the disabled list.
  • Although the middle relief has been sketchy, Mariano Rivera remains near perfect. If the Yankees’ closer continues to rack up saves in the early going, he could become baseball’s all-time saves before the end of the year.

Read Full Post »

Among baseball teams, the Cleveland Indians have been at the forefront in embracing social media. Instead of taking a combative position toward platforms like blogs, Facebook and Twitter, the Indians have actually gone out of their way to not only encourage, but support them. It’s time for the rest of baseball to follow their lead.

In 2010, the Indians established a "Social Deck" for bloggers to attend games at Progressive Field free of charge.

Last year, the Indians created the “Tribe Social Deck”, an information-age version of a press box with 10 seats reserved for bloggers and other social media users who create content about the team. As an encore, the Indians have chartered a more encompassing social media strategy for 2011, including the creation of Twitter accounts for several players, coaches and executives. Talk about “Progressive” Field…apparently, the Indians home ballpark is named for more than just a corporate sponsor.

Baseball has never shied away from integrating itself with prevailing social trends, and has certainly never turned away from adding new sponsors. Social media presents an opportunity to accomplish both, so Bud Selig and the rest of the power brokers in the game would be wise to follow the Indians’ lead and embrace the many possibilities.

The best place to start would be by holding a league-wide “Social Media Day”. Just imagine the possibilities. Every team could host its own selection of bloggers, perhaps by inviting them to take part in the game’s broadcast. What’s more, the last name on each player’s uniform could be replaced with a Twitter handle (the Yankees could use a patch on the sleeve), and in-game segments on the big screen could feature the Facebook pages of not only players, but randomly selected fans. The possibilities are endless, and so too would be the publicity surrounding such an event. What’s more, the benefit wouldn’t be a one-way street. Although social media has enjoyed impressive penetration, the addressable market remains much larger. Who knows how may baseball fans would be introduced to Twitter, for example, if they knew their favorite players were only 140 characters away? The time has come to find out.

Baseball already has a very successful arm that is heavily involved in social media: MLB Advanced Media. In addition to running websites, fantasy services and a blog platform, MLBAM also provides streaming and archived media as well as real-time information across various platforms, including Apple’s iPhone and iPad. MLBAM has already enjoyed immense success, but additional lucrative opportunities could be created if it was even more heavily integrated with the likes of Facebook, WordPress and Twitter.

Baseball is a very traditional institution. It doesn’t take to new ideas very quickly, but the time has come to hop fully aboard the social media bandwagon, even if for no other reason than there’s a lot of money to be made along the way.

MLB and Social Media

Team Likes on Facebook Players on Twitter
Yankees 3,373,852 5
Red Sox 2,176,824 6
Cubs 1,083,096 1
Giants 864,058 4
Phillies 804,291 2
Cardinals 650,515 2
Braves 617,229 4
Tigers 559,524 4
Dodgers 554,156 1
White Sox 546,569 4
Twins 535,513 10
Rangers 518,650 2
Mets 355,534 3
Brewers 335,159 2
Reds 311,000 4
Indians 305,037 7
Mariners 281,749 5
Rockies 259,230 2
Rays 256,697 7
Astros 255,669 4
Athletics 247,274 3
Angels 231,264 9
Blue Jays 227,785 6
Padres 219,420 3
Orioles 210,281 3
Royals 184,509 3
Pirates 157,066 5
Marlins 141,782 9
Dbacks 115,561 4
Nationals 78,110 7

Note: Data as of March 24, 2011. Twitter accounts are for players verified by @MLB and consenting to be listed in the directory.
Source: Facebook.com and twitter.mlblogs.com

Read Full Post »

The first step to addressing a problem is admitting you have it. After a fourth major league baseball player was charged with DUI in the last month, it may be time for Bud Selig to stand up and say, “I am the commissioner of baseball, and my sport has an alcohol problem”.

Although the most high profile case, Miguel Cabrera is not alone among baseball players recently arrested for DUI.

Last night, A’s outfielder Coco Crisp was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, only one week after Miguel Cabrera’s more publicized arrest on the same charge. Earlier in the winter, just before reporting to camp, Indians’ outfielder and former Yankee Austin Kearns as well as Mariners’ infielder Adam Kennedy were also cited for DUI.

Because of his status as a star player, Cabrera’s arrest was covered much more prominently, but the incidents involving Crisp, Kearns and Kennedy aren’t any less serious. What’s more, this isn’t a new problem. Although baseball players have generally managed to avoid making the same kinds of criminal headlines as their NFL and NBA brethren, DUI has been one area in which the sport has run afoul. Other high profile cases like Joba Chamberlain’s arrest in 2008 and Tony LaRussa’s incident in 2007 are further examples of a problem that is gradually getting out of control.

Baseball shouldn’t need a special reason to be vigilant regarding drunk driving. Still, you’d expect the sport to be particularly sensitive to the problem after suffering the April 9, 2009 tragedy that claimed the life of Angels’ pitcher Nick Adenhart. Although Adenhart wasn’t driving under the influence, his young life and promising career were ended by someone who was. As bad as the frequent arrests have been for baseball, nothing could be worse than an incident in which an active major league player tragically causes either his own death, or the death of others.

Alcohol has long been a problem in baseball. Many of the stories that we all enjoy about the old timers were usually fermented under its influence. Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four”, for example, is full of such examples of these colorful escapades. Of course, nowadays we know these kinds of stories aren’t really funny, especially because the modern ballplayer isn’t simply stumbling back to a hotel or causing havoc on a train. What makes baseball’s current predicament even more serious is players are taking the clubhouse culture of excessive drinking and bringing with them behind the wheel of a car. This winter alone, baseball has been lucky on four occasions that one of its players didn’t cause a tragedy. The sport can’t afford to wait until one finally occurs. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Perhaps anxious to get right to the game, Christina Aguilera’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner before the Super Bowl not only improvised a few words, but removed one line altogether. Considering that the NFL has turned the game into a reality TV show (Janet Jackson has become a more notorious figure in Super Bowl history than Scott Norwood), rather than just a sporting event, the publicity following the botched Anthem probably has league suits beaming.  Not only does the NFL seem to relish every last crumb of media attention, but for at least one more day, postseason focus was diverted from the impending lockout that could shut the sport down for some time to come.

Questionable performances of the National Anthem are not unique to the NFL. Baseball, with its thousands of games each season, has had more than its fair share of debacles ever since the tradition first started during the turn of the 20th century (the custom of singing the Anthem before every game began during World War II). Undoubtedly, the worst rendition of the national song took place before a San Diego Padres game on July 25, 1990, when the team inexplicably decided to invite comedian Roseanne Barr to do the honors. In what could only be described as a desecration, Barr not only completely mangled the lyrics with a shrill vocal delivery, but then she proceeded to make lewd gestures while walking off the field to a serenade of boos.

Before Barr’s disgraceful peformance, one of the most controversial renditions of the Anthem took place before game 5 of the 1968 World Series. Amid the backdrop of a very tense time in Detroit, which had been ravaged by social unrest and racially motivated riots, Tigers’ announcer Ernie Harwell booked a young, blind Puerto Rican singer named Jose Feliciano to perform the National Anthem. In the past, very little liberty was taken with the song’s delivery, but on this evening, Feliciano chose a soulful rendition inspired by his Latin jazz roots.

Only moments after the unorthodox version was completed, hundreds of outraged viewers flooded television station switchboards. In the ensuing days, Harwell was widely criticized, with some even suggesting he was a Communist. Things were even worse for Feliciano, whose music was blackballed for sometime to come. Despite the controversy, both Harwell and Feliciano persevered and went on to enjoy very successful careers, and in the process, their involvement in what was once a moment of scorn was turned into a source of pride. Feliciano’s rendition is still remembered to this day, but the recollections are now mostly positive. In fact, the singer was invited back to Tiger Stadium on May 10, 2010 to once again sing the Star Spangled Banner during a tribute to the recently deceased Harwell.

Although Feliciano’s singing of the National Anthem paved the way for the more creative renditions often song today, resistance to some interpretations still remains. Of course, with the exception of debacles like Barr’s, just about any performance would probably be preferable to forgetting the words. That’s a lesson Aguilera found out the hard way…ramparts and all.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »