Friday, March 16, 2007

In Passing

Former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn died yesterday. Normally, I don't speak ill of the dead but I will make an exception in this case. The imperious Kuhn was a disaster during his fifteen year run. It would be difficult to single out one item from his resume and say it was his worst hour but the snubbing of Henry Aaron is certainly a contender. Kuhn did not attend the game in which Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record, a blatantly racist act for which the commissioner offered no plausible explanation. Kuhn will also be remembered for authoring the phrase "for the good of baseball" as he invariably acted otherwise in issuing a number of unilateral decisions including voiding a major trade by his chief nemesis among the owners, Charlie Finley. Free agency arrived coincidental to Kuhn's tenure as did the DH, playoffs, realignment and significant expansion. It can be fairly said Kuhn left baseball worse off than when he arrived.

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Feed a fever? Starve a cold? Who can remember. My father-in-law used to advise if you did nothing for a cold it would go away in seven days but if you treated it aggressively it would come to an end in about a week. So, are hitters supposed to be ahead of the hurlers in Spring Training and the early part of the season? I can never remember. Every year I have to Google that notion and in the end I still don't know.

One thing is certain, however, Spring Training records mean bupkas, especially for pitchers, so I am not going to worry if Cole Hamels has a 7.00 ERA and Fabio Castro and Matt Smith are lit up every other outing. Pitchers worry more about establishing a rhythm or working on mechanics and a new pitch than they do Grapefruit League statistics. On the other hand, if batters are not getting good wood if any against the assortment of major, minor and really minor pitchers they face in March, that cannot be a good sign, can it?

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One of the most intriguing stories to come out of Spring Training to date has been the news that the Indian's C.C. Sabathia, Marlins' Dontrelle Willis and the Phils' Jimmy Rollins have joined forces to promote baseball to young black athletes.

According to a 2005 report by the University of Central Florida Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, only 8.5 percent of major leaguers were African American _ the lowest percentage since the report was initiated in the mid-1980s. By contrast, whites comprised 59.5 percent of the majors' player pool, Latinos 28.7 percent and Asians 2.5.

Sabathia is quoted as saying "It's not just a problem - it's a crisis." The trio, all from the Bay area, is working to promote the game in the inner cities through sponsorships and funding for equipment. Tori Hunter of the Minnesota Twins is also involved and is planning to sponsor a tournament of the best black amateur teams from across the country.


RickSchuBlues said...

The Phillies, of all teams, are represented by three high-profile African-American players in Rollins, Howard, and Gordon, with another on the way in Bourn. That's the extent of it on their roster - but it still might be enough to make the Phillies - of all teams! - the focal point for a lot of black fans in the country. If the Phils and/or MLB were smart, they'd get behind this and push the hell out of it. Baseball has absolutely suffered for the loss of African-American representation, in terms of both overall character and talent.

Tom Goodman said...

RSB: Great points including the irony.