Not Your Average Baseball Pushy-Pushy; Not Your Average Stadium

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Stephen King coined a great phrase for the usual baseball brawl. He called it a “pushy-pushy,” because few real punches are landed.  Such wasn’t the case in yesterday’s free-for-all between the Rangers and the Blue Jays. Texas won the game in the end 7-6 but nobody’s talking about that on social media and sports talk radio.

All winter we heard about the infamous Jose Bautista bat flip after he hit the home run that put the Rangers out of the playoffs. The two teams had met 6 times up until yesterday and nothing had happened. Sunday  was their last meeting  unless they both make the playoffs again.  It almost passed without incident.  The Rangers had put up 4 runs in the home 7th to make it a 7-6 game. in the visiting half of the 8th, Bautista was plunked by a 96-MPH heater from Rangers’ reliever Matt Bush.  The benches were warned by the home plate umpire that another duster would cause the pitcher and manager to be ejected. Before any more chin music was played, Bautista slid hard into the Rangers’ Rougned Odor at second base. When he regained his feet Odor pushed Bautista and sanity left the building. To the roars of the crowd Odor  channeled his inner Mike Tyson and nailed the man called JoeBats with a right hook to the jaw. Adrian Beltre of the Rangers grabbed Bautista and hauled him away before any more damage could be done to one of the game’s best. By now the Texas crowd was chanting “USA, USA,” as if the Olympic boxing tournament had broken out.   The two managers exchanged harsh words. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons shouldn’t have been able to do that since he had been ejected in the third inning, but he returned to the field, ejection or no. Even the broadcasters were talking trash  as one of the Texas broadcasters said on the air that it looked like Toronto manager Gibbons needed all his energy just to get to the middle of the outfield.  8 men were ejected before some semblance of  order was restored. Just to keep things interesting, Jays’ reliever Jesse Chavez hit Prince Fielder in the leg in the bottom half, earning himself an early shower courtesy of the home plate ump.

It will take a while for the league office to sort things out, but fines and suspensions  must happen and will happen.  This isn’t minor league hockey, where half the teams would go bankrupt if their fans didn’t get to see a good brawl every now and then. Both teams have a shot at the playoffs in October and the players involved did nothing to help their teams’ quest for the postseason.

I wasn’t able to write any columns this past weekend.  I’ve been wanting to write about my first visit to what I still think of as the New Yankee Stadium even though it opened in 2009. I hadn’t planned to go there for two reasons. For starters I have heard since its opening of the exorbitant prices charged for everything, from parking to game tickets to food. The second reason was I have so many fond memories of the old Yankee Stadium.  I listened to so many Yankee broadcasts through the years, and between 1988 and 1990 I went to more than my share of Yankee games there. My reason to go was my brother invited me.  I don’t see him as often as I might want to, and this was a chance I didn’t want to miss. Also he was kind enough to cover the cost.  He got the ticket from a friend who drove us to the game.     In a sentence, while the new stadium  may be a palace it certainly isn’t what Shel Silverstein described as “That grand old house that Ruth built.”

On the positive side, it was a simple matter for our driver to park the car and get us from the parking area into the stadium.  This was a can of worms at the old Stadium which was notorious for not having enough parking. The walk seemed long because I still need a cane, but I have no doubt it was shorter than the walks I had to make when we went by car to the old stadium.  Also on the positive side, the foot-long hot dog I was able to get was terrific, every bit as good as the one I got more than a quarter century ago. Also the Yankees beat the Royals 7-3. You can’t get much more positive than that.

On the negative side, there was not a knish to be had.  They were a staple of both old Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium. If you’ve never had one, a description doesn’t do justice to what you feel when you bite into one of these classic New York items. The knish (and you do say the letter K or risk getting funny looks,) is essentially a round potato pancake that’s crispy on the outside. They’re a one-way trip to Carb City and not good  news if you’re a diabetic like me but I hoped to get one anyhow. That hope was not to be answered. The seats, while in a good location were surprisingly uncomfortable. You’d think a stadium built in this century would have seats wide enough for the great American butt.  This wasn’t the case. The real problem I had was the level of electronic noise.  Part of the beauty of baseball is that you can discuss what’s happening on the field with your group if you have one, or with whoever happens to be sitting near you if you are there solo.  You can’t do that with the volume of so-called music you are bombarded with. When most stadiums had organists, the Yankees brought in Eddie Layton who played their organ for decades and was a virtuoso. He was the reason I tried to get to the games as early as possible.  He played music for a good half hour before the lineups were introduced in those better days.  Now,      There were between-inning promotions the modern public address announcer had to handle which would have made Bob Shepherd retire in disgust if he had been asked to do them.  The Yankees’ public address announcer for more than 50 years, Shepherd was a speech professor at St. Johns and his distinguished voice was the voice of the old stadium. The promos are necessary in the minors but have no place in the major leagues, particularly at what Michael Kay called “The home office of baseball.” At least when we left, we were able to get out quickly and be on our way.  Here again the modern stadium has the edge.  All of us could remember waiting in traffic to get clear of the old stadium even before we got into the regular mayhem that is New York traffic. When all was said and done, I have to say I couldn’t make repeated visits as I did between 1988 and 1990.  It just isn’t the same.

The great pitcher Jack Morris is 61 today.  His name comes up every year when the Hall of Fame announces its next class of inductees and he isn’t one of them. Between 1977 and 1994 he collected a 254-186 record and nearly 2500 strikeouts. He was with the Tigers until 1990, then spent a memorable year in Minnesota and two with the Blue Jays before making his final stop in Cleveland. He was an All-Star 5 times, the last being 1991. His 1984 Tigers won the World Series, as well as the Twins in 1991 and Toronto the next 2 seasons. He has been a color commentator for the Tigers, Twins and Blue Jays as well as doing some work with Fox. His no-hitter in April 1984 was the first by a Tiger since Jim Bunning in 1958.  His win in 10 innings 1-0 in game 7 of the 1991 World Series is remembered as a classic. Leaving him out of the Hall of Fame is a crime. Hopefully next year the veterans’ committee will rectify the injustice done to him by the writers.

Pitcher Rick Rhoden is 63 today.  It’s funny that on a day when I write a  piece concerning the merits of the old and new Yankee Stadium, one of the birthdays is that of a pitcher who started many games when I was in attendance in the Bronx. He had pitched for a dozen years before that, with the Dodgers and Pirates.  He finished with a 151-125 record. He was an All-Star once each as a Dodger and Pirate. With the Dodgers he was involved in the 1977 and 1978 World Series, both of which they lost to the Yankees. He became a pro golfer after baseball.

One of baseball’s most colorful managers was born this day in 1928 and died Christmas night 1989. His given name was Alfred Manuel Pesano JR., his grandmother called him “Bello,” which means beautiful in Italian, but the world knew him as Billy Martin. He was only an All-Star once, in 1956 but he was what they called “scrappy,” as long as he wore the uniform. He was managed in the minors by Casey Stengel, who saw to it that the Yankees got Martin once Stengel took the reins. All-star, clutch player or not, Martin was dealt to Kansas City in mid-1957 after a brawl at the Copacabana, a hugely popular New York night spot in those days. On the field, he once punched a pitcher who had to spend two months in the hospital. He managed the Twins to the 1969 ALCS, which they lost to the Orioles.  In spite of his success he was fired as punishment for his part in a brawl two months before the 1969 playoffs. He managed the Tigers starting in 1971. They made the ALCS in 1972 losing to Oakland. Martin then managed the Rangers and on 5 different occasions the Yankees.  His relations with Yankee owner George Steinbrenner were as stormy as his relationships with umpires. His Yankees won the ALCS in 1976 and the World Series a year later, which was the basis for the book and mini-series “The Bronx is Burning.” He was fired once for remarks made to the press about Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson. After being re-hired he was let go at the end of 1979 after an infamous fight with a marshmallow salesman. He managed Oakland when they lost the 1981 ALCS to the Yankees. He was back in the Bronx in 1983, 1985 and 1988 and was planning a 1990 return when he was killed in a car crash on Christmas night 1989.

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