FORTY YEARS AGO TODAY: My Very First Time At Dodger Stadium

The home of the team that I’ve followed for well over forty years, with a nice view of downtown Los Angeles in the background. Photo courtesy of primetimeshuttle.com

 

COMMEMORATING THE MILESTONE ANNIVERSARY OF A VERY IMPORTANT MOMENT IN ANY BASEBALL FAN’S LIFE

Sunday, June 18, 1978.

The day I turned eleven years old, having just finished the fifth grade.

And a day that I was excitedly anticipating, being that my obsession for baseball and the Dodgers – due to their appearance in the World Series eight months before – was percolating, because that was the day I went to Dodger Stadium and saw the team that my family, particularly my grandparents, had followed since their Brooklyn days, for the very first time.

For a young African-American boy with the requisite 1970s disco-style afro who was tall for his age, approaching six feet, you can imagine the feelings going through me as I woke up that warm and sunny morning.

I made it a point to carefully dress in my baseball-style 3/4 sleeve shirt with the Dodger logo in the front, plus the mesh-backed adjustable Dodger blue cap with the interlocking “LA” logo on the front, as my mother and I left our tiny apartment in Santa Monica to go pick up the three cousins whose names I picked from a cap to go with me; she had gotten a total of six tickets on the field level down the right field line, and we all piled up into her Opal Cadet to journey east on the I-10, making a left on the 110, heading toward downtown L.A. to what then-Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda called “Blue Heaven On Earth”.

Contrary to what some might be imagining, the trip was fairly quick; I don’t remember running into any major traffic jams as we turned left at the Dodger Stadium exit, drove a few more minutes to Chavez Ravine, and there it was!

Any kid seeing a major sports facility like Dodger Stadium  for the first time in person would be very impressed at its majesty, and I was no exception, though interestingly enough the size of the 56,000-seat ballpark wasn’t the only thing that I noticed.

The bright colors of the seats, which seemingly reached up halfway to Heaven, ranging from bright red on the top deck to orange on the loge (second deck) section to the blue-hued reserved section in between, was what I noticed the most as one of my cousins exclaimed how he wanted to see Steve Garvey, who was the Dodgers’ All-American go-to hero among the kids.

After my mom’s friend, who I considered an aunt, joined us, Mom proceeded to hand us kids the tickets, giving us the inevitable lecture about staying together and behaving, before we proceeded to the gates.

 

 

Don Sutton, who I saw pitch a six-hit shutout that memorable first Dodger game. Photo courtesy of pinterest.com

 

 

It was Helmet Weekend, meaning that everyone ages 14 and under got a free replica Dodger batting helmet (that was a popular thing to wear in those days), and of course I was excited when I was handed that blue plastic head covering, putting it on over my cap right away, my afro sticking out underneath.

We then headed for our seats, Mom promising us that we would stay all nine innings, and as the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals, having moved to the nation’s capitol in 2005) were the Dodgers’ opponents, nobody could miss the large red and white maple-leaf Canadian flag flying next to the red, white and blue stars and stripes beyond the center field fence.

Our seats were not far from the Expos’ bullpen, and I remember one of my cousins asking either Expos pitcher Stan Bahnsen or one of their coaches for an autograph as they were walking by us, one of them saying, “I’ve gotta go to work!”

Which we were all incredulous about, going “What?!” Playing baseball is a job?!”

Little did we know; the naivete of youth coming into play there.

I also vividly recall “O, Canada”, that country’s national anthem, being sung before our “Star Spangled Banner” with the Dodgers then taking the field and getting going as the organ in the press box played “Charge!”

And of course I enjoyed the Dodger (Hot) Dogs and chocolate ice cream cups that I consumed.

 

 

Davey Lopes, one of the heroes of that 1st Dodger game I saw, standing 2nd from right with the other members of baseball’s longest playing infield: Ron Cey (far left), Bill Russell (2nd from left), and Steve Garvey (far right). Photo courtesy of twitter.com

 

 

I KNOW you want my reminisces about how the game unfolded – here goes…

Over the four decades since that day, the three details about the game that never left my memory banks were Don Sutton, the Dodgers’ ace, pitching a shutout,

– Dodger second baseman Davey Lopes stealing four bases,

– One of my cousins calling out Dodger right fielder Lee Lacy’s name, yelling “Lee! Lee!” between pitches mid-game and having him turn his head in our direction and (I’m sure) thinking, “Who the hell is calling my name?!”

– And the Dodgers beating the Expos 5-0, putting the finishing touches on the most memorable birthday of my childhood.

As for any more details, I made it a point to research that game online recently, downloading and printing the box score.

What I found was very informative and memory-inducing…

  • Don Sutton gave up six hits, walking one and striking out six in hurling his complete game gem, though I was surprised that it only evened his record to 6-6 and lowered his earned run average to 4.29; apparently he had not gotten off to a good start that season.
  • Along with his four stolen bases, Davey Lopes also went 3-for-4, earning him Co-Player of the Game honors with Sutton in the middle of what was the best season of his life, him upping his batting average to .320 that day.
  • Me, Mom, her friend, and my three cousins among the 41,769 fans in attendance that day,
  • Sutton’s Expos counterpart, Wayne Twitchell, having a bad day as he didn’t even last five innings, walking five Dodgers while not striking out anybody, and doing a terrible job at holding runners on base as Lopes went nuts on him, and…
  • (VERY significant) having three future members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY on the field – Sutton, plus the Expos’ Andre Dawson and Tony Perez, who was one of the stars on Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” before being traded to Montreal in 1977.

TO STATE THE OBVIOUS…

That first Dodger game set the tone for a lifetime of involvement in baseball and softball for me as I joined the Santa Monica’s Sunset Little League the following spring, spending five mediocre years as a kid just trying to have fun, and eventually spending roughly twenty years as a baseball and softball coach on the youth level as well as continuing to play pick-up softball throughout college and to this day.

As for Dodger Stadium, I would go on to see nearly sixty more games at that place over the next four decades, fifty of them Dodger games – including this past June 10th, when I watched the Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves 7-2 from the top deck seats,

In addition to (I think) eight games featuring my collegiate alma mater, UCLA, taking on crosstown rival USC in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, which the Dodgers host every March and which has turned into quite the event in the Crosstown Rivalry, sitting near the dugout on the field level.

Which considering the prices being charged for everything at that stadium these days is the only time I get to sit so close to the action now.

And I have had the honor of being on the field three times, once in the outfield during a “fans playing catch” event after the Dodgers played the Angels the day before my 40th birthday in 2007 – you can imagine the thrill I got doing that,

And behind home plate twice while playing with the UCLA Alumni Band, providing pre-game entertainment for the Dodgers’ “UCLA Day”  games in 2011 and 2012 – again, great thrills!

It has gotten to the point where I can give tours of the place, as I have the distinction of sitting in each section of Dodger Stadium at least once during that forty-year span.

The best way to sum up all of this…

I feel like I made a lifelong friend on that 11th birthday of mine.

At least, that’s how I feel every time I make that left turn on Vin Scully Ave. (it was called Elysian Park Ave. on that first visit) and go up those two hills before seeing the stadium lights.

Since it all happened forty years ago today, it’s only fitting that I give homage to this personal watershed life experience.

 

 

The official team photo of the 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers, who I saw that memorable birthday in 1978. Photo courtesy of baseballhall.org

 

 

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THE ALL TIME, ALL AFRICAN-AMERICAN BASEBALL TEAM (According To Me)

(From left) Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and Jackie Robinson, a trio of great Dodgers who are also three of my choices for this all-time team. Photo courtesy of si.com

 

LISTING SOME OF THE GREATEST PEOPLE WHO EVER PLAYED BASEBALL

This is a conjuring of an all-time team that I have wanted to do for a while.

As Major League Baseball is still struggling to increase the number of African-Americans among its 30 teams – the percentage is currently at 8% (which is an improvement from last season),

And as an African-American for whom baseball has been my favorite sport for pretty much my entire life,

I thought it was only appropriate, and a long time coming, for me to list my all-time African-American baseball team.

There will inevitably be some outstanding legends who will be left off my 25-man roster, which consists of Negro League stars who never got the opportunity to play in the Majors as well as big league legends whose names are all over the record books.

But that’s OK; I welcome the debate.

So here it is, my list of the 25 greatest black men who ever played baseball, by position – including a ten-man pitching staff and reserves as well as starters (listed below)…

 

  • Catcher:   JOSH GIBSON.   The Greatest Catcher Ever.  A lifetime batting average of over .350. Hit nearly 800 home runs in his career according to his Hall of Fame plaque (though with all the barnstorming I’ll bet it was well over 800),  while playing for the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords.  I would personally take him over Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, or anyone else behind the plate.
  • First Baseman:   BUCK LEONARD.   Called “The Black Lou Gehrig”. Played for the Homestead Grays for 17 years, with a lifetime average of .320.
  • Second Baseman:  JACKIE ROBINSON.   For reasons that are SO obvious, if I have to explain…
  • Shortstop:  JOHN HENRY “POP” LLOYD.   Considered the first black baseball star, started with the Negro League’s Cuban X Giants in 1906 and played on various teams for 27 years. Was called “The Black Honus Wagner”, which Wagner stated he was honored by. None other than Babe Ruth said that he was the greatest ballplayer ever.
  • Third Baseman:   JUDY JOHNSON.  Played SO well in the Negro Leagues for 17 years, mostly for the Philadelphia Hilldales. The Philadelphia A’s’ legendary manager Connie Mack stated that he would have gladly signed him up if not for his skin color.
  • Left Field:   RICKEY HENDERSON.  The Greatest Lead-Off Hitter Ever.  Stole more bases (1,406), hit more lead off home runs (81), and scored more runs (2,295) than anyone who ever played the game. How could I possibly NOT include him in this all-time starting lineup?
  • Center Fielder:  WILLIE MAYS.  My choice for the greatest baseball player who ever lived. In the top ten in almost every hitting category. The reason why, as a longtime Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I don’t hate the San Francisco Giants – and considering the big Dodger-Giant rivalry, I’m probably the only Dodger fan who feels that way, because this legend was THAT great!
  • Right Fielder:   HENRY AARON.  MLB’s all-time RBI leader (2,297), and still in the eyes of many baseball fans the true all time home run leader. I personally consider Hank Aaron the classiest ballplayer of all time, for all the racist hell he went through in breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 714 homers.
  • Starting Pitcher:  SATCHEL PAIGE.   The Greatest Pitcher Ever.  His fastball was said to reach 105 miles an hour in his prime. Was SO extraordinary, he was able to win Rookie of the Year honors as a 42-year old with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 after having such an epic run with (mostly) the Kansas City Monarchs.

 

“The Father of Black Baseball”, Andrew Rube Foster. Photo courtesy of espnfrontrow.com

 

All right, having listed my starting nine of this all-time black baseball team, here’s the rest of my 25-man roster, starting with the rest of the pitching staff…

Starting Rotation:

  • BOB GIBSON – The St. Louis Cardinals’ best pitcher ever. Recorded the lowest earned run average in a season with his 1.12 in 1968. Was arguably one of the meanest pitchers for how he intimidated batters. Was so tough, he once continued to pitch after a line drive broke his leg.
  • DON NEWCOMBE – The best pitcher from the Dodgers’ Brooklyn days, and along with former manager Tommy Lasorda the Dodgers’ last links to that era; I had the honor to meet this man and get his autograph a few years ago. It’s an utter outrage that he’s not in the Hall of Fame!
  • VIDA BLUE – Arguably the biggest pitching star of the early 1970’s. Was one of the leaders of the Oakland Athletics’ dynasty of that period when they won back-to-back-to-back World Series.
  • FERGUSON JENKINS – One of only four pitchers to ever record over 3,000 strikeouts and less than 1,000 walks, this Hall of Famer for (mostly) the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers is perhaps the best ballplayer to come out of Canada, and certainly the best pitcher.

Relievers (yes, I know they were starters, but this is to fill out the staff):

  • Closer:  LEE SMITH – One of the dominant closers of the 1980’s for mostly the Cubs, he had the all-time save record (478) until first Trevor Hoffman and then Mariano Rivera broke it.
  • JIM “MUDCAT” GRANT – The first African-American pitcher in the American League to win twenty games and to win a World Series game, done with the Minnesota Twins in 1965.
  • DOCK ELLIS – The Pittsburgh Pirates’ best pitcher in the early 70s, an essential part of their 1971 championship. Was particularly famous for pitching a no-hitter while on LSD against the San Diego Padres in 1970.
  • JAMES RODNEY (J.R.) RICHARD – One of my favorite pitchers as a kid! One of the guys that put the Houston Astros on the map in the 70s; imposing at 6′ 8″, threw blazing heat to the tune of being the first National League right hander to strike out 300 batters in a season. His career-ending, life-threatening stroke, suffered in 1980, was tragic.
  • “CYCLONE/SMOKEY” JOE WILLIAMS – Next to Satchel Paige, Williams was the greatest Negro League hurler, mostly for the New York Lincoln Giants in the 1910s and early 20s, and the Homestead Grays from the mid-20s to the early 1930s. SIGNIFICANT FACT: The only time Williams and Paige faced each other, in 1930, he beat Paige 1-0.

 

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Matt Kemp playing on Jackie Robinson Day, wearing his number. Photo courtesy of likrot.com

 

These seven guys make up the rest of my all-time black baseball team.

Most regretfully, there were plenty of players that I was forced to leave off as if I listed every deserving star, there would be at least fifty men on this team.

I do have an “honorable mention” list;  guys that, though there was no room on my 25-man team, it would have been a crime to not give them a shout-out.

They will be mentioned after I list the remaining players on this all-time black baseball roster…

  • Catcher:  ROY CAMPANELLA – A true legendary Dodger along with Jackie Robinson, winning three National League MVP awards in a five-year span from 1951-55 and, along with Jackie and Don Newcombe, was a leader of those “Boys of Summer” in Brooklyn.
  • First Baseman/Shortstop:  ERNIE BANKS – “Mr. Cub”. “Let’s Play Two!” The greatest Chicago Cub of all time, starring at two positions. A Hall of Famer, hitting 512 home runs, it was a shame that he passed away before his Cubs broke that 108-year drought and won that unforgettable World Series in 2016.
  • Second Baseman:  JOE MORGAN – Along with Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez, the Cincinnati Reds would not have been the “Big Red Machine” of the 1970s without this two-time MVP. Bill James, in his Historical Baseball Abstract, named him the greatest second baseman of all time ahead of legends like Eddie Collins and Rogers Hornsby.
  • Shortstop:  OZZIE SMITH – “The Wizard”. The greatest fielding shortstop ever. Wowed St. Louis Cardinal fans in particular with his incredibly acrobatic plays in the 1980s. His work with the leather – 13 Gold Gloves won between 1980 and 1992 – alone puts him on this all-time team.
  • Outfield:  FRANK ROBINSON – No way I could leave this Hall of Famer out; The only man to win the Most Valuable Player award in both leagues. The last man to win the Triple Crown, leading the American League in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in while a Baltimore Oriole in 1966. The majors’ first African-American manager, making history with the Cleveland Indians in 1975. Enough said.
  • Outfield:  JAMES “COOL PAPA” BELL – The fastest baseball player of all time. Playing with (mostly) the Negro League’s St. Louis Stars over a 26-year career, it was famously said that Bell was so fast, he could turn off the light and be in the bed before the room got dark. And it was also reported that he once scored from first base on a sacrifice bunt.
  • Outfield:  OSCAR CHARLESTON – Was widely considered the best all-around player in Negro League history with a lifetime batting average of .357 over 28 years, including a .326 average against white major leaguers in exhibition play. Charleston was a center fielder and had a reputation as a most intense player who didn’t take any mess. He was listed as the fourth best ballplayer of all time by Bill James, behind Mays, Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976.

 

 

A nice pic of (IMO) the greatest baseball player ever. Photo courtesy of biography.com

 

 

Manager:  ANDREW “RUBE” FOSTER

“The Father of Black Baseball”. Not only was a standout player and manager for the Chicago American Giants in the first couple of decades of the 20th century, he started the Negro National League, the first real black professional league, in 1920.

 

HONORABLE MENTION – Four more players and one player/coach/manager/ambassador that I regretfully had no room for on this 25-man roster…

CURT FLOOD – It’s impossible to not include this center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinal teams of the 1960s.

And not just because of his seven Gold Gloves, as his stand against the indentured servant-like reserve clause, when he refused to be traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and asked to be a free agent in 1970, eventually taking Major League Baseball to the Supreme Court, more than opened the door for players, like every other worker, to choose where they want to work and ultimately make millions.

In essence, he sacrificed his career for player freedom.

KEN GRIFFEY, JR – 630 home runs. A ten time Gold Glove award winner, with his Spiderman-like acrobatic catches. Basically saved baseball in Seattle. One of the newest Hall of Famers, elected in 2016. How can I possibly not mention him?

TONY GWYNN – ” Mr. Padre”. The greatest player in San Diego Padres history. The greatest pure hitter in the past 35 years. An eight-time batting champ. Came the closest to being the first man to bat .400 since 1941, hitting .394 in 1994. Had over 3,100 hits in a 20-year career with a lifetime batting average of .338. I don’t think I need to say anything else.

WILLIE STARGELL – “Pops”. The leader of the Pittsburgh Pirates throughout the 1970s, particularly during their “We Are Family” championship run in 1979. Also one of my favorite players and a true class act along with being a tremendous slugger.

BUCK O’NEILL – After watching him spin so many wonderful stories about his playing and managing days with the Kansas City Monarchs on Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary miniseries, he simply had to be given a special mention on this team; he was also the first African-American on a coaching staff, joining the Chicago Cubs in 1962. The fact that he has not been elected to the Hall of Fame despite being baseball’s ambassador and starting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City is very upsetting.

OK, there you have it – my all-time African-American baseball club.

Though I know that there will be disputes over players that I left out a and gave honorable mention instead of putting them on the team outright – believe me, there were some very tough decisions involved – I hope this is enjoyed by those who read this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

 

One of the greatest Negro League teams ever assembled, the 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords, featuring three members of my all-time team: Satchel Paige (top row, 3rd from left), Josh Gibson (top row, 4th from left), and Oscar Charleston (top row, far right). Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

 

 

 

Why Are There So Few African-Americans In Baseball – My Thoughts On This Issue

KANSAS CITY, MO – JULY 10: National League All-Stars Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Matt Kemp #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Michael Bourn #24 of the Atlanta Braves pose for a photo during batting practice before the 83rd MLB All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium against the American League on Tuesday July 10, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

 

ONE AFRICAN-AMERICAN’S OPINION AS TO WHY THE NUMBER OF BLACKS IN BASEBALL HAS DRASTICALLY DROPPED OVER THE PAST THIRTY YEARS

I’m something of an anomaly in the sports fan universe.

I’m an African-American who prefers baseball over football and basketball as his favorite sport, not only to play but also – with college football and women’s college gymnastics in second place – to watch.

Granted, I’m in my fifties and from a generation where baseball was more popular among blacks.

But considering the fact that the percentage of Black Americans playing Major League Baseball was at 7.73% last season compared to 19% in 1986,

I sometimes feel like a pink poodle in the African-American sports world.

TONS of stuff has been written and said regarding the factors contributing the number of blacks in America’s pastime falling; the talking heads on ESPN and the MLB Network has covered this issue to death at around this time every year, but,

After noticing this trend and listening to the talking heads, I reckon it’s high time for this longtime baseball/softball guy to officially offer my one-and-a-half cents as to why black kids are poo-poohing baseball for football and (particularly) basketball…

 

  • Lack of Interest

Contrary to what some may be thinking, there’s definitely no color line being redrawn, in the majors or at any other level.

If that were the case, the significant number of Latinos, especially from the Dominican Republic, wouldn’t ever see the diamond; indeed, there were and are plenty of players from the Caribbean whose skin is darker than mine!

Rather, I agree with the notion of African-American kids largely losing interest in baseball the past few decades, much preferring to be like LeBron James or Stephen Curry than Ken Griffey, Jr. or Tony Gwynn.

It also seems to me that baseball is seen as a “white” thing in the inner city communities in particular, a sport that’s “goofy” and not “cool”, too slow and “boring” for them due to the constant standing around and slower pace compared to football and basketball.

I think such would be the case even if there were an abundance of leagues and programs like RBI (Reviving Baseball In The Inner Cities) and the MLB’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton, CA, entities that are striving to increase interest and participation in baseball among black youngsters.

 

 

INSPIRING: Mo’ne Davis mowing down batters during the Little league World Series. Photo courtesy of variety.com

 

 

  • $$$$$

Not only has the oftentimes lack of necessary funds – gloves, bats and cleats as well as registering in Little League and travel ball programs are not cheap – stopped many African-Americans in the inner city from getting involved in baseball,

For the athlete who sees sports as a way out of a struggling life and into prosperity, a way to make his fortune and take care of his family, football and basketball are much more attractive.

Even though a successful career in “The Show” is safer and twice as long as an NFL or NBA career, the fact that aspiring football and basketball players can make big money right away out of high school or after one to three years in college,

And unlike their baseball counterparts not have to ride the buses in the minor leagues for an average of three years making next to no money –  with a minuscule chance of making the big leagues on top of that,

Is a significant incentive, as in the minds of I reckon many young African-Americans from the “hood”, why should they play in rinky-dink ballparks in teeny little towns in (oftentimes) the reddest of states full of folks who may not necessarily see them as equal human beings,  making peanuts and eating McDonald’s food when they can make HUGE bank playing in gigantic paradises like Jerry Jones’ AT&T Palace (I mean, Stadium) in Dallas?

Or at Los Angeles’ Staples Center with those three rows of luxury boxes?

Or that new state-of-the-art Heaven being built for L. A.’s Rams and Chargers in nearby Inglewood, CA right now?

Until MLB changes the way things are done in their farm systems in that context, this mindset will continue.

 

 

Hunter Greene (5) of the Notre Dame High School Knights pitches against the Alemany High School Warriors at Notre Dame H.S. on April 7, 2017 in Sherman Oaks, California. Greene is expected to be a high first round pick in the 2017 Major League Baseball player draft on June 12. Notre Dame defeated Alemany, 2-1. (Larry Goren/Four Seam Images via AP)

 

 

  • It’s a “Generation Gap” Thing

Related to baseball being seen as “uncool” among many African-American kids, I think it’s also a case of the game being seen by today’s millennials – of all races – as something that their parents and grandparents were and are into.

A big proof of this sentiment lies in the Negro Leagues, which were a pronounced part of black life and culture in this country in the years before Jackie Robinson’s debut with the then-Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Stars like Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston, James “Cool Papa” Bell and Josh Gibson were just as big among blacks as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio were among whites, and contests like the annual East-West All-Star Game in Chicago’s Comiskey Park (the White Sox’s home) often drew sellout crowds of 50,000.

The kids who saw those games – and later Robinson and legends ranging from Willie Mays and Henry Aaron in the 1950s and 60s to Willie Stargell and Reggie Jackson in the 1970s to Ozzie Smith and Darryl Strawberry in the 1980s to Frank Thomas in the 1990s and 2000s – were undoubtedly influenced by those players.

Much like they were influenced in a major way by Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan in the 80s.

It’s no coincidence that baseball’s popularity factor among young black children started to significantly decrease, while basketball’s popularity began to greatly increase, in the 80s as black baseball fans grew old and passed away, leaving a vacuum that the NBA and the NFL – with guys like Walter Payton and Jerry Rice – filled quite neatly.

Personally,  as another illustration of this gap my affection for baseball came from my grandparents, who had Dodger games playing on the radio and TV, with the great Vin Scully doing the play-by-play, seemingly every day during the spring and summer.

I’m not sure if I would have embraced the game the way I did if not for that.

 

  • My View Of What’s Being Done About This Issue

Despite baseball making every effort to increase interest and participation among young African-Americans with RBI and the MLB Youth Urban Academies, I firmly believe that it comes down to this, as illustrated by this old saying…

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it.

In other words, you can’t force a child – black or of any race – to like baseball or to play it.

For the same reason a Canadian kid who’s obsessive about hockey can’t be persuaded to eschew the diamond, an African-American kid who’s crazy about hoops – and for whom Kobe Bryant is next to God – cannot be persuaded to give that up to play baseball.

Or even add that sport in addition to basketball.

Which is why I sadly don’t expect the percentage of blacks in Major League Baseball to ever approach what it was in the 1980s again, as the best I can expect that percentage would be around 10%.

That would be my minimum goal if I were the MLB commissioner.

However, I do remain hopeful that the efforts to change this unfortunate trend produces moire positive results.

After all, I still regard baseball as being the best sport in the world.

 

 

One of the greatest baseball teams ever assembled: the Negro League’s Pittsburgh Crawfords, featuring icons like Satchel Paige (top row, 3rd from left), Josh Gibson (top row, 4th from left) and Oscar Charleston (top row, far right). Photo courtesy of diversity.appstate.edu

 

 

BASEBALL IS HERE: A Few Thoughts On The Game On Opening Day

This is what Dodger Stadium will look like today as the Los Angeles Dodgers open the baseball season against their longtime rival San Francisco Giants. Photo courtesy of truebluela.com

 

EXPRESSING MY AFFECTIONS FOR A NATIONAL PASTIME THAT I HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER FOR FORTY YEARS

Today is a day that, next to Christmas and my birthday, is my favorite day of the year.

Indeed, as the former Boston Red Sox slugger and future Hall of Famer David Ortiz expressed, I strongly feel that Opening Day should be made a national holiday in this country.

Hey, it could replace Columbus Day, as we’d go from a day commemorating a guy who not only did NOT discover America, he set the reels in motion of exploitation and enslavement,

To a day where we celebrate a sport that in mine and millions of others’ hearts is STILL considered the significant pastime in America;

Especially when one considers the problems football (READ: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and basketball (READ: Bribery scandals in college hoops) are having that while they may not completely kill those sports, they may well lead folks to return to baseball as being the top game in their hearts.

I think – at the risk of sounding sappy, sentimental, pompous, or a combination of those three descriptions – Opening Day symbolizes renewal.

Everyone’s undefeated, and even if your team has the same chance of winning as a snowball’s chance of not melting in Saudi Arabia during the summer,

As the cliché goes, “Hope Springs Eternal” and even the fans of teams like the Oakland Athletics and the Miami Marlins (who are losing to the Chicago Cubs as we speak) are smiling today as Major League Baseball begins its 143rd season.

Which is 41 years older than the next major sports league in North America, hockey’s NHL.

 

ANAHEIM, CA – SEPTEMBER 08: Corey Seager #5 of the Los Angeles Dodgers slides home ahead of the throw to catcher Chris Iannetta #17 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to score a run on a fielder’s choice in the sixth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 8, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

 

As For Me Personally…

I have expressed on this blog how I took to baseball as a kid, how the Dodgers playing in the 1977 World Series and the classic little league movie The Bad News Bears were the bugs that bit me and began my affection for the game.

Indeed, this June 18th (my birthday) it will be forty years ago to that day that I will have attended my very first Major League game at Dodger Stadium;

I’ll be describing and commemorating that day in detail in this blog on that day, which I’m confident you will enjoy.

I’ll also – in a syndication with my sports blog, SoCalSportsAnnals.com, be writing an article naming my all-time African-American baseball team, which I think is important not only due to the great Jackie Robinson, but to all the great baseball players of African descent who came before and since.

I’m also planning on expressing why I think there are relative so few African-Americans in the majors compared to the 1960s, 70s and even 80s on this blog and SoCal Sports Annals; I hope you’re looking forward to reading that, too.

But for now, as I sit here in my Dodgers jersey and cap, I’ll go on about my day with a happy mood that…

BASEBALL IS HERE!

And of course I’ll be watching the games on ESPN today, including my Dodgers as well as the other team calling the Los Angeles area home, the Angels.

Happy Opening Day to all those who love the game as much as I do!

 

Baseball’s essential tools – I particularly like this picture because of the glove; I’m a first baseman. Photo courtesy of itemlive.com

 

My Thoughts Regarding Athletes Protesting Before Games

Miami Dolphins kneeling before a game. Photo courtesy of si.com

 

MY ONE AND A HALF CENTS ON NFL PLAYERS AND OTHER ATHLETES TAKING A STAND AGAINST RACIAL INJUSTICES AND OTHER ISSUES BEFORE GAMES

 

It’s been another polarizing issue in a series of polarizing issues in this country as of late.

And it would be ignorant of me to not offer my views of Colin Kaepernick and other athletes, from the NFL and elsewhere, kneeling to protest police brutality and other racial issues while the national anthem is playing.

 

So here’s how I feel about it all…

I have family who fought and died for that starred and striped flag.

My great-grandfather fought in World War I

My uncle was killed in the Korean War; it’s been 67 years and his remains are still somewhere in North Korea instead of the Los Angeles National Cemetery where it belongs.

My father fought in the Vietnam War.

Which is why I personally choose to stand for “The Star Spangled Banner”, my attitude being “Might as well.”

 

However…

I am also an African-American male who has encountered racism, such as being profiled several times by the Santa Monica, CA police during the 1990s, including getting handcuffed in fromt of my house because I “fit the description” of a stalker.

I have been denied employment because of my being black, like when after a great phone interview for a job, I was told that it was being offered to someone else because “He asked first” upon laying eyes on me.

I was called the “N-word” on numerous occasions during my early childhood years by quite a few white kids in the then-rural community of Woodcrest outside of Riverside, CA, and hearing that word a few times in Santa Monica.

I have experienced various slights and microagressions that, looking back, I recognize that’s what I went through during my teenage and young adult years.

Of course it’s impossible to forget the many instances of African-American men being brutalized and murdered in the hands of the local authorities; incidents like the Rodney King beating and subsequent acquittal of those four Euro-Caucasian cops who did that dirty work – which triggered then L.A. Rebellion/Riots 25 years ago – and the murders of guys like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray come to mind.

 

Image #: 13530908 American athletes Tommie Smith (middle, gold medal) and John Carlos (right, bronze medal) at the Award Ceremony for the 200m race at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, October 16, 1968. The Olympics Black Power salute was a notable black power protest and one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympic Games. DPA/LANDOV Photo courtesy of africascountry.com

 

So what does this have to do with NFL players kneeling before games – I know you’re asking that right about now…

In a nutshell, I support the athletes.

I know that many folks – mostly of the white and conservative persuasion, curiously enough – are foaming at the mouth over the kneeling, the arm-linking and the fist-raising, saying that while they have a right to protest, to do so on the job should be a crime punishable by virtual condemnation to hell.

What those folks don’t understand is that people like my uncle died so that Kaepernick and the rest of those guys in the National Football League,

And the National Basketball Association as I’m sure there will be quite a bit of kneeling at Staples Center and other arenas when that season opens in a few weeks – and every other sports league for that matter,

Can kneel, raise fists, or not come out of the locker room at all like the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks have been doing during the WNBA Finals.

To frown on that is not only a case of free speech,

But a case of denying human rights.

Of course this issue is nothing new, Tommie Smith and John Carlos getting expelled from the Olympic Games in 1968 after displaying their Black Power salutes on the medal stand.

As well as Muhammad Ali getting stripped of his heavyweight title the year before after refusing to be inducted into the army (and undoubtedly getting sent to Vietnam), losing three years of his boxing prime before the Supreme Court overturned his five-year prison sentence.

All of these incidents have one thing in common:

The protagonists’ color of their skin.

And as a black man, I feel I have no choice but to stand in solidarity to those taking a stand against racism, racist injustice, and the hypocrisy that American has exuded to those of its citizens who are not white, male, straight, wealthy, conservative, Christian, or any combination of those six attributes.

Though I wouldn’t kneel during the national anthem due to my family’s involvement in defending that American flag,

While there are many people, particularly African-Americans, who are boycotting NFL games due to this issue,

I would go if I had the opportunity to go to a Rams or Chargers (the two teams in my area) game.

But I would wear a #7 Kaepernick jersey in solidarity.

It would be very wrong to not give these athletes my support in this issue.

Not as long as there are millions of people in these United States – and other countries – that still see me as inferior and a “lesser” due to the color of my skin.

 

Two Los Angeles Rams making like Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Photo courtesy of sbnation.com

 

 

 

If I Had A Son (or Daughter), Would I Let Him/Her Play Football?

The NFL’s  Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers getting it on. Photo courtesy of profootballweekly.com

 

I’ve seen it on ESPN and Fox Sports reports and documentaries.

I can vividly recall my heart breaking when I saw former Chicago Bears quarterback and basic sunglasses-wearing bad-ass Jim McMahon struggling to remember where his home was on outings.

Not to mention big names such as McMahon’s Bears teammate Dave Duerson and former San Diego/just moved to Los Angeles Chargers and USC  linebacker legend Junior Seau kill themselves.

And I’ll never forget the sad condition of Mike Webster, the Pittsburgh Steelers center from the Super Bowl glory days of the 1970s, who was the same age as I am now (fifty) when he passed away of a heart attack.

All because of Cardio Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, which is essentially brain damage caused by way too many concussions.

Which these guys – and many more football players (and hockey players, too; can’t forget them) I may add – have suffered from for so long as recent research found that out of 111 brains of former football players studied, all but one showed signs of CTE.

It’s at the point where for the past couple of years, whenever I watch a football game one of my first thoughts is this…

“I hope his head’s OK.”

I think that’s a main reason behind me, despite liking the pigskin game as much as the next guy, preferring baseball.

A thought came to me very recently regarding all of this on a personal level:

 

CELEBRATING UNDER THE FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: Hart High School’s football team, from Newhall, CA, after winning a CIF championship. Photo courtesy of archive.signalscv.com

 

 

IF I HAD A CHILD – WHETHER IT WAS A SON OR EVEN A DAUGHTER (Plenty of girls have liked the sport enough to have played it and want to play it) – WOULD I LET HIM/HER PLAY FOOTBALL?

I won’t waste any more time on answering this:

If it was flag football in a Parks and Recreation league, sure!

That brand of the game is obviously much safer, with no tackling.

Now the big question; if it was a Pop Warner tackle league or a high school team…

My Answer: YES – if my kid really wanted to do it.

There would be one condition I would put upon my youngster before I signed the form, paid the entrance fees, signed up for the booster club, etc…

The first concussion my child suffered on the gridiron, he/she would be immediately pulled from the field by me – or I would order the coach to – and would be done for the season.

Like any other sane parent, I would take no chances with my loved one’s health.

He or she would be gone, then have a complete brain scan at the beginning of pre-season practice – and pass with flying colors – the next year before I would let them take the field.

I can’t make it clearer than that.

For all those parents and loved ones whose children are doing battle on that 100-yard space, whether he’s a eight-year old in Pee-Wees, a 16-year old under the Friday Night Lights, or a five-star recruit at one of the country’s collegiate football kingdoms,

I pray that your kid gets through this season concussion-free.

 

Action from a Pop Warner game. Photo courtesy of readingpopwarner.com

MY LIST OF FAVORITE BASEBALL MOVIES

 

THE BEST FILMS DEPICTING MY FAVORITE SPORT IN MY VIEW

 

I know that one can poll ten people and get ten completely different lists regarding this subject.

I also know that I’ll get many disagreements regarding at least some of my choices.

But these are the movies with our national pastime as the subject that I have enjoyed the most and feel are the best.

For the record, I’ve included documentaries as well.

So here’s my list (in no particular order) – let the debating begin…

NOTE: Click on the YouTube links to view scenes…

 

BULL DURHAM (1988)

 

 

Considered by many to be the single greatest baseball film ever made; it’s number one on my list.

 

 

42 (2013)

 

 

If you need any explanation as why this film depicting Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color line is on my list, I don’t know what to tell you.

 

 

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6M8szlSa-8o

 

I remember seeing this in the theaters more than once, I enjoyed it so much. Plus it’s an essential film to show girls; to inspire and encourage them to follow their dreams.

 

 

THE BAD NEWS BEARS (1976)

 

 

Along with the Dodgers in the 1977 World Series, the factor that piqued my interest in baseball.

 

 

61* (2001)

 

 

This HBO film by New York Yankee fan #1 Billy Crystal was so good, even Yankee haters become fans for two hours.

 

 

THE NATURAL (1984)

 

 

I remember being in high school when this Robert Redford movie came out; I was SO excited at this final scene when Roy Hobbs (Redford) smashed the lights with his home run.

 

 

SOUL OF THE GAME (1996)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZIOU_uW8CU

 

This HBO movie gives a good historical lesson of the Negro Leagues and its two greatest stars, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, along with Jackie Robinson and how he was chosen to break the color barrier.

 

 

EIGHT MEN OUT (1988)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMxPAkZgoy0

 

Though there’s some recent debate about the viciousness of White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, whose mean stinginess is widely thought to be the reason for the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, this is the definitive story – in my opinion – about how Shoeless Joe Jackson and those other seven guys lost the World Series on purpose for gamblers.

 

 

WHEN IT WAS A GAME TRILOGY (1991, 1992, 2000)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0ibKMKAZFI

 

This HBO trilogy, which is simply film footage of Major League Baseball and its players from the 1930s through the 60s, rekindled my fondness for the game.

 

 

BASEBALL – KEN BURNS DOCUMENTARY (1994)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dk63Pat5VU

 

Though I know there are folks who feel that this PBS mini-series should be discredited for the way it depicted Ty Cobb (in light of recent evidence of his character) and other things, I remember feeling that this was perhaps the greatest thing I ever saw on television when I first viewed it in ’94.

Plus it was dearly needed due to the World Series-killing baseball strike that was going on at the time; a perfect tonic.

 

OK, there are my choices.

You are now free to say how much you disagree with them if you are so inclined…

 

 

Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles CA – a place I have been to over fifty times, with a gorgeous view of the downtown skyline in the back drop.