Friday, October 29, 2010

Baseball and Haiku...A Match Made in Heaven

By: C.G. Morelli

haiku (hahy – koo) n.  1. An ancient form of Japanese poetry consisting of three lines and a 5-7-5 syllabic pattern.
Now I know poetry is probably the last thing on the minds of baseball fans at this time of year…heck, at any time of year. But I’m here to tell you Haiku doesn’t need to be imprisoned within the elementary confines of a second grade classroom.

Please allow me to bring it back into the fold for you. Why? Because with about 50 days remaining until Opening Day and no football to satisfy my thirst for sports, I’m bored out of my mind.

I’m sure you are too.

That’s right, I’m talking to you Mr. Avid Sports Fan who’s craftily reading this article in your cubicle with your left eye while keeping a vigilant watch on the door to your boss’s office with your right eye. Don’t despair, my friend. Together, we can whittle away the idle moments until Opening Day and extinguish our work day boredom simultaneously.

I took the liberty of getting the ball rolling, but it’s hard for me to say I’ve compiled on this page the greatest list of baseball Haiku known to man. After all, poems like these can be whipped up in no time flat. So basically, the following Haikus happen to be the best I was able to create in the last 15 minutes.

That’s why I need your help. You never know if the greatest baseball Haiku poem of all time is lounging around in your brain just waiting to be unleashed. Please join me in creating the definitive list of baseball Haiku. I promise I’ll keep ‘em coming too.

Here’s A Hearty Helping of Baseball Haiku:

I love Don Zimmer
He got in Pedro’s face once
Even though he’s old

Beer here! Cold beer here!
I’m reaching for my wallet
I don’t have twelve bucks

Manny, oh Manny
Won’t you come back to Fenway?
Who the hell needs ya?

Pete Rose was the best
Who cares about gambling, just
Put him in the Hall

I love baseball but
MLB is a nightmare
Why is Bud in charge?

The Phils won the series
Will somebody please pinch me?
It might be a dream.

White ball falling fast
He runs, he dives, he catches
Runner stops and swears

Steinbrenner had kids
That took over the Yankees.
They’ll make it worse, though

The baseball Afro…
When will it come back in style?
I miss it dearly

Little Earl Weaver
Had a very big mouth and
The O’s need him back

Philly’s Fanatic
Is clearly the best mascot
In baseball today

The pitchers report
The air is getting warmer
It’s almost that time…

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Unbreakable Record

By: C.G. Morelli

May 15, 1941- Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, ripped a single off White Sox pitcher Eddie Smith. He was a wiry, young Italian-American who had learned the game of baseball on the sandlots of San Francisco and had grown to play centerfield for the New York Yankees. He didn’t know it at the time, but his hit off Smith had just set him on a journey to accomplish one of the most incredible feats in baseball history. DiMaggio would record a hit in 56 straight games, setting a Major League record that may never be broken. 

Of course, while riding his amazing streak, DiMaggio rose to the rank of instant superstar. His name, littered with vowels in all the wrong places, became one of household commonality. Americans flocked to the front of busy newsstands and department stores so they could read the headlines or listen to radio broadcasts about Joltin’ Joe. Even Major League players, including DiMaggio’s own brother Dom, an outfielder with the Boston Red Sox, received updates on Joe’s performance while on the playing field themselves. There was not a man, woman, or child in America that wasn’t completely hooked on DiMaggio’s heroics.

And who could blame them? The simple fact was that, no matter what the circumstances, Joltin’ Joe would always come through with a clutch hit to extend the streak another day. And he did so for just over two months, racking up 91 hits (including 15 dingers), 65 RBI, and 56 runs scored…all in just 56 games.

All Good Things Come to an End     
On July 17, DiMaggio took a taxi to Yankee Stadium where he would attempt to extend the streak to 57 games. The driver, a life-long Yankees fan, told Joe he had a bad feeling the streak would end that day. DiMaggio smiled and shook the man’s hand as he stepped out of the cab. Then he calmly strolled to the locker room and suited up for game number 57. He smashed two hard liners in the game, but both were gobbled up by White Sox third baseman, Ken Keltner. Pitcher, Jim Bagby, held Joe hitless in his final two at bats and that was that...the streak was broken. 

Somewhere in New York City a taxi driver felt like stabbing himself in the eye with a white-hot poker for possibly jinxing his favorite player. “I felt awful,” Joe said of the cab driver after the game, “He might have spent his whole life thinking he’d jinxed me, but I told him he hadn’t. My number was up.” The very next day, DiMaggio started a new streak that lasted 16 more games…which meant he had recorded a hit in 72 out of 73 games. Now there’s a stat that’ll make your head spin around like that possessed chick from The Exorcist.  

Big Brother
Dominic DiMaggio must have picked up some magic from his younger brother because, in 1949, it was his turn in the spotlight. From June 26 to August 7, Dom went on a 34 game hitting streak. He piled up 51 hits, 35 runs, and 13 RBI. His last chance to push the streak to 35 games came on August 9, in the seventh inning of a game against the Yankees. Dom hit a long fly ball that landed harmlessly in the glove of the centerfielder, who happened to be his kid brother, Joe DiMaggio. It was rumored Joe felt so bad about ending his brother’s streak he took him out for a steak dinner after the game.

Charlie Hustle
In 1978, a young star named Pete Rose began the only modern streak ever to rival DiMaggio’s mark. Between June 14 and July 31, Charlie Hustle dished out 72 hits and batted nearly .400 while running his streak to 44 games. Many experts at the time believed he was on his way to breaking DiMaggio’s record. But on August 1, Braves’ pitcher Gene Garber, struck out Rose in his final at-bat of the game. Imagine the frustration Rose must have felt after delivering a knock in 44 straight, only to look up and notice he was still a dozen donuts shy of the Clipper. That’s the kind of stuff that can drive a man to drinking…or gambling. Hmm. That’s odd.

A Streak with a Twist
The most recent streak of any serious note was turned in by Phillies’ shortstop, Jimmy Rollins.  During the final months of the 2005 season, Rollins delivered 61 hits.  He knocked in 22 runs and stole 15 bases while building up a 36 game hitting streak.  Then he met his worst enemy…the end of the season.  Rollins was forced to take his streak into the off season and resume it again in April of 2006.  He added a few more games to the total, but on April 6 Jason Marquis of the Cardinals halted J-Rolls’ streak at 38, still 18 games shy of DiMaggio’s record.

The Last Streak Standing
The mark of 56 straight games with a hit is one that DiMaggio has held for over 65 years.  No modern player has come within 12 games of tying this mark and many (including this writer) believe it is a record that will stand as long as people play baseball. There’s really no question that DiMaggio completed one of the greatest feats in baseball history during the summer of ‘41.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Much Love for Richie Ashburn

By: C.G. Morelli

Twenty-nine home runs in a 14-year career?  Is that it?  Well, no.  Not by a long shot.  If there was one thing Richie Ashburn didn’t do too much (hit a lot of homers), there were a million things he did quite often (steal bases relentlessly, hit for average, drive in runs, range-rove the outfield, snap a witty one-liner).

The late Phillies announcer, Harry Kalas, once said of Ashburn, “Anybody who ever saw him play loves him because he was a bust-tail player who hated to lose.”  Possibly the only description that suited him better was the nickname Whitey, which paid tribute to his trademark, nearly-white hair.

Ashburn busted his tail as a rookie in 1948 to the tune of a .333 batting average with 154 hits, 17 doubles, and a whopping 32 stolen bases.  He was the only rookie elected to the NL All-Star team that season. Whitey had broken onto the scene in a big way.

After a two year absence from the Midsummer Classic despite pretty steady numbers, the young veteran went back into “bust-tail” mode, putting together a season that solidified his hero status in a very tough sports town. 

Whitey was the only spark in on an otherwise lifeless ’51 Phillies squad.  He smacked a career-high 221 hits, while batting .344 (second in all of baseball, only to Stan Musial’s .351), and he had 31 doubles, many of them created by sheer hustle.  Added to that were his 29 stolen bases and 63 RBI as a leadoff man.  He only hit four home runs, but the Phils were more than willing to look past that.  It was clear, after his offensive outburst in ‘51, that Whitey would be keeping his Philadelphia address for quite some time to come.

He spent 12 seasons manning centerfield for the Phils and blazing a trail for himself to Cooperstown. During that time he made five All Star appearances, led the league in hitting twice, and bested NL outfielders in put-outs nine times. He smacked 2,574 hits, and registered a lifetime .308 average. Ashburn’s #1 was retired by the Phillies in 1979 and he was inducted into the Hall in 1995.

People rarely remember that Whitey finished his career in New York when the Mets selected him in the first-ever expansion draft. But Whitey would reclaim his Philly address shortly after hanging up the spikes. He spent 27 seasons calling the Phillies alongside legendary announcer, Harry Kalas. The two arguably made up one of the greatest broadcasting tandems in baseball history. The always-insightful banter between Harry and Whitey combined with the slow, drawling crescendo of Kalas’s famous home run calls were even enough to keep fans interested in a club that’s spent most of the last two decades in the league’s basement.

Whitey died from a heart attack in 1997 at the age of 70. He left us with the memories of a sparkling Hall of Fame career, both on the field and in the booth, and his never-say-die, bust-tail spirit that won him the hearts of all Philadelphians. Perhaps Harry Kalas best reflected the sentiments of an entire city in remembering Ashburn:

"Whitey was as good a friend as I ever had," Kalas said, “I think of him every day with warmth in his heart and a smile on his face.''