Billy-Ball Daily: 2007-8-8

8/8/2007
Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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Happy birthday Frank Howard, Johnny Temple, and Ken Gorfinkle

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Top of the 1st
THE APPLES AND ORANGES OPERETTA
I can’t help but think of the music and lyrics of Queen, as I watched #756 fly majestically into the centerfield stands. I picture the batter, the lead in our operetta singing:

“I’ve paid my dues
Time after time
I’ve done my sentence
But committed no crime
And bad mistakes
I’ve made a few
I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face
But I’ve come through”

Then, in chorus, arm in arm with Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Roger Connor, and Harry Stovey, he sings:

“We are the champions – my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting till the end
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
’cause we are the champions –
of the world”

Because that is the truth, they are each home run champions, and each remains a champion, perhaps not of the world, but certainly of their era and it is unfair of any us to treat each in any other fashion. I say this because for me the most perplexing question is not “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” The most impenetrable question here is “which is better, the apple or the orange?” Other than the fact that they are both fruit, they are simply incomparable.

The same thing is true for these home run champions. Other than the fact that they are all great hitters, they are simply incomparable.

We don’t know a lot about Harry Stovey, but we do know that Stovey was the Champion of the Pre-Historic Era. On July 23, 1890, he became the first major leaguer to reach 100 career home runs and while there is some controversy as to the exact total of his career homers, it is now generally accepted that this champion ended with 122 of what today we would call homers. But understand the game was in its seminal stage, played by different rules, with an item often barely recognized as a ball. Nevertheless, he remains a champion because no one of that era hit any more homers than he did.

By the time Roger Connor retired in 1897, this mighty slugger had hit 138 homers. No one could hit homers like this Champion of the Dead Ball Era. Despite leading the league in homers only once, when he hit 14 in 1890 in the Players League, Connor was the preeminent slugger of his time. Unlike today, during the Dead Ball Era, the homer wasn’t revered. Balls were expensive and intentionally soft so as to minimize them being hit out of the park and lost. Pitchers could apply just about anything to the ball prior to it being thrown. The term “spitball” was genteel when you think of what was actually applied and done to a baseball. The time period was defined not just by the fact that the ball had no “bounce” and was used until it was literally falling apart; it was a time in which speed and strategy were emphasized. The home run was rare, but no one hit more than Roger Connor – he is a champion.

Stepping away from the chorus, stepping into the spotlight, stepping up to the plate, I hear Babe Ruth singing:

“I’ve taken my bows
And my curtain calls
You brought me fame and fortune
and everything that goes with it –
I thank you all
But it’s been no bed of roses
No pleasure cruise
I consider it a challenge before the whole human race
and I ain’t gonna lose”

Soon after the Black Sox scandal that resulted in the “fixed” World Series of 1919, the baseball changed from its soft orange feel and there stood the pride of the Big Apple, Babe Ruth. Ruth homered like no one had before him. The ball was alive! The country, the world was enthralled with this man-child with the round face, big smile and prodigious desire for excess. The Babe ate more, drank more, and hit more home runs than anyone had ever done before. He even sped more. On June 9, 1921, the month prior to Ruth’s home run total exceeding Roger Connor’s, he spent four hours in jail for being pulled over for speeding for the second time in six weeks. Upon his release from jail at 4:00, Ruth jumped in his car and eluding the paparazzi arrived at the Polo Grounds in time to enter the Yankee game in the 6th inning.

Yes, this was prior to the opening of the “House that Ruth built.” The Yankees were still playing at the Polo Grounds with its short porches down the line, ideal for Ruth to hit homer after homer. At the Polo Grounds in 1920 and 1921, Ruth had perhaps his greatest seasons; 1920, his first year with the Yankees, Ruth hit 54 home runs and batted .376. Only the Philadelphia Phillies managed to hit more homers as a team than Ruth did as an individual. In 1921, Ruth hit 59 homers.

He rescued baseball when it was reeling. He captured the imagination of the world. Babe Ruth and his 714 homers made him the Champion of the National Pastime Era.

But like a new baseball itself, the game was still lily-white.

That all changed in 1947 when Jackie Robinson debuted. Over the following 15 years as baseball integrated (it wasn’t until July 21, 1959 that the Red Sox, the last integrated team, had their first African American player), finally, the best players were given the opportunity to play against one another. Once again, the game had changed. It was as different as black and white. Not only was the game integrated, but it was now bi-coastal. Train rides to the farthest west destination of St. Louis became a thing of the past, replaced by transcontinental air flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Baseball evolved into a game being played under the lights as television beamed the games into households. Once again the game was as different as apples and oranges and into the spotlight came the beautiful swing of Henry Aaron.

Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama and before being signed by the major league Braves in 1952, Hank played for the champion Indianapolis Clowns of the dying Negro Leagues. Baseball was filled with great players. Names like, Mantle, Mays, and Clemente that continue to stand the test of time. By playing in the relative anonymity of Milwaukee, Aaron’s seasonal feats were acknowledged but it wasn’t until Aaron hit his 500th career homer at the age of 34 years, five months and nine days old (reaching that point at an age younger than all but Jimmie Foxx and Alex Rodriguez) that people even considered the possibility that Hammerin’ Hank could be a champion.

But on up on April 8, 1974, at the age of 40, after countless death threats and racial taunts, Aaron hit career home run 715 in the 4th inning off Los Angeles pitcher Al Downing and Henry Aaron became Champion of the Integration Era.

But baseball would chang again. Free agency was almost as significant an upheaval to baseball as integration. The playing field shifted as players went from indentured servants to high-priced money makers demanding to be paid at a level equal to their celebrity status. With all this money flowing, there is no surprise that labor strife soon followed. Between player strikes and owner lock-outs, baseball was enduring its worse crisis since 1919.

Two things happened that brought the eyes back to the game and fannies back to the seats. The first occurred on September 6, 1995 when Cal Ripken, Jr. played his 2131st consecutive game surpassing the seemingly unbreakable record of Lou Gehrig. At that moment, fanatics and former and future fans, watched the 22 minute ovation accorded to this blue collar hero who every day showed up to do his job in exemplary fashion.

The bigger event, the “apple and orange” moment of this new era came in 1998 as both Mark McGw*re and Sammy S*sa swung, and swung back and forth, as they raced to break Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. The world seemed to be in awe as they watched these huge sluggers slam homer after homer after homer.

They weren’t the only home run hitters in the seasons that immediately followed. The homers were flying out of the ballpark at a record pace; and not coincidentally, fans were flocking to see these prodigious sluggers at a record pace as well. Was it the ball that was once again made livelier? Were the new stadiums smaller? Did expansion and the appeal of other sports thin out the pitcher ranks making them easier to hit? Or was it just our imagination that the players seem to big growing before our very eyes? Nobody seemed to care. Like the Roaring 20’s, when the Babe thrived, everybody was having a good time and making lots of money. From Harry Stovey’s time to 1995 there had been only 18 different occasions in which players hit 50 or more homers in a season. From 1995 to 2002 there were 19 players who did it. Something was wrong, but Nero kept on fiddling.

Supplements, steroids, Human Growth Hormone and who knows what else changed the game again. Some were legal at the time, many were not. They were provided by dealers like BALCO to whoever knew to ask about the “clear” and the “cream.” There was no one though who prospered more during this time period than Barry B*nds.

But let’s give credit where credit is due; when B*nds Bonds slammed a fastball from Mike Bacsik of the Washington Nationals over the fence in right center field in the 5th inning on August 7, 2007 he became the Champion of the Steroid Era with his 756th homer. Let it be stated as loudly and clearly and as loudly and clearly as one of B*nds’ gargantuan blows: he is the greatest home run hitter of his era and should be respected for that feat.

And I do respect him for that, but I can’t deny that I am looking forward to that day 10 years hence when we can crown Alex Rodriguez as the Champion of the Post-Steroid Era. Once again, how I feel that day will be as different as apples and oranges.

“We are the champions – my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting till the end
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
’cause we are the champions”

Top of the 2nd
SELIG’S STATEMENT
“I congratulate Barry Bonds for establishing a new career home run record. Barry’s achievement is noteworthy and remarkable.

“After Barry came out of the game, I congratulated him by telephone and had MLB executive vice president Jimmie Lee Solomon and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson — both of whom were at the game and witnessed the record-breaking home run — meet with him on my behalf. While the issues which have swirled around this record will continue to work themselves toward resolution, today is a day for congratulations on a truly remarkable achievement.”

Top of the 3rd
AARON’S VIDEO STATEMENT
During a 10-minute celebration, the crowd in AT&T Park became hushed as Aaron’s visage appeared on the video board high above center field.

“I would like to offer my congratulations to Barry Bonds on becoming baseball’s career home run leader,” he said. “It is a great accomplishment which required skill, longevity and determination.

“Throughout the past century, the home run has held a special place in baseball and I have been privileged to hold this record for 33 of those years. I move over now and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historic achievement.

“My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams.”

Top of the 4th
STADIUMS IN WHICH B*NDS HIT THE MOST HOMERS
B*nds has homered in 36 Parks. These are the ones in which he has hit the most:
AT&T Pk 156
Candlestick 140
3 Rivers Std 89
Qualcomm St 39
Cinergy Fld 31
Stade Olymp. 30
Dodger Stad 29
Wrigley Fld 28
VeteransStad 27
Coors Fld 25
Chase Field 19
Astrodome 17

Top of the 5th
HE CAUGHT THE BALL
All he managed to say to reporters was, “I’m Matt Murphy from Queens, N.Y.”

As the 22-year-old, with the bloody face and torn New York Mets jersey and cap, and plaid Bermuda shorts emerged from the mob trying to catch B*nds’ 756th home run, a team of San Francisco police officers moved in, extracted Murphy from the crowd, and quickly led him through a tunnel and into a secure room.

It is estimated that the ball will fetch between $400,000 and $500,000.

Top of the 6th
MCFARLANE SPAWNS B*NDS
Todd McFarlane, the owner of B*nds’ single-season home run record ball and the creator of the comic book Spawn, has created a commemorative 756 Barry B*nds action figure. It stands 6 inches tall and comes complete with B*nds’ stamp of approval. McFarlane is perhaps best known in the sports world for paying $3 million for Mark McGwire’s record 70th home run ball in 1998. Just three years later, Bonds made that purchase nearly moot by eclipsing the record by three homers. As early as this morning, those 20,000 action figures will be released to retail stores nationwide.

Top of the 7th
PROBABLE PITCHERS
Away Home Time (ET) Away Probable Home Probable
Brewers Rockies 3:05 p.m. Gallardo (4-1) Francis (12-5)
Marlins Phillies 7:05 p.m. Willis (7-11) Lohse (6-12)
Mariners Orioles 7:05 p.m. Hernandez (7-6) Guthrie (7-3)
Devil Rays Tigers 7:05 p.m. Shields (8-7) Durbin (7-3)
Yankees Blue Jays 7:07 p.m. Wang (13-5) Halladay (12-5)
Braves Mets 7:10 p.m. Smoltz (10-6) Hernandez (7-4)
Dodgers Reds 7:10 p.m. Billingsley (7-2) Harang (10-3)
Cubs Astros 8:05 p.m. Zambrano (14-7) Oswalt (11-6)
Twins Royals 8:10 p.m. Santana (11-9) Perez (6-10)
Padres Cardinals 8:10 p.m. Maddux (7-8) Wells (4-13)
Indians White Sox 8:11 p.m. Sabathia (14-6) Garland (8-7)
Athletics Rangers 8:35 p.m. DiNardo (5-6) Millwood (7-9)
Pirates D-Backs 9:40 p.m. Maholm (7-13) Kim (6-5)
Red Sox Angels 10:05 p.m. Lester (1-0) Moseley (4-1)
Nationals Giants 10:15 p.m. Redding (1-2) Cain (3-12)

Top of the 8th
DID YOU KNOW?
The Giants lost to the Nationals last night, 8-6.

Top of the 9th
MORE ON B*NDS
http://billy-ball.com/756.htm

Bottom of the 9th
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Information provided in Billy-Ball has been gathered from A.P. reports, espn.com, sportsline.com, mlb.com and numerous other e-sources. Opinions expressed in Billy-Ball are obviously solely the opinions of the author of Billy-Ball and do not reflect those of source material no matter how off the wall they may be.