Japan and Netherlands Win Early WBC games; 3 Famous Baseball Birthdays today

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball through heavy-lidded eyes (sort of) on this Wednesday, March 8.

The proverbial heavy-lidded eyes are because I was up early watching Japan beat Australia 4-1 in their World Baseball Classic tilt.   The game was a 1-1 tie until Sho Nakata for the home team led off the last of the 7th with a home run off the unfortunately named Matt Williams. (Remember that name, Nationals fans?)  After a walk, Australian pitcher John Kennedy entered the fray.

Unlike another John Kennedy aboard PT-109, this John Kennedy came out second best.  He gave up a two-run jolt by Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh. In English or Japanese, that was all she wrote.

In games  that I couldn’t access, the Netherlands won on a walkoff walk, 6-5 over Taipei  in their game in Korea. Also Cuba shut out the Chinese very late last night.

For the Dutch, center fielder and major leaguer Jurickson Profar  walked with the bases full for the win.  Before drawing ball four it seemed he had popped out to short right, but the governor reprieved him when the third base umpire insisted time had been called before he swung. The Yankees’ shortstop Didi Gregorius belted 3 doubles for the Dutch cause including one which tied the game in the 8th.

Team Israel has two wins in the WBC and have advanced to the second round.  Their games have been in Korea, and as such I haven’t been able to access them.  They won the very first game of the tournament in extra innings, then walloped Chinese Taipei 15-7 in their second game. If_ you can watch, they play tonight at 10 PM against the Netherlands (which was still called Holland when I was a schoolboy.) The two teams are jockeying for position in the next round which will be played in Japan.

Of the 3 famous baseball birthdays I mentioned, the youngest is Hall of Famer Jim Rice, who is 64.  His story is legend especially from Connecticut to Quebec, Vermont to Rhode Island.

Where the Red Sox are just the “Sawx,” the name of Jim Rice meant more than the name of Jimmy Carter whose presidency  roughly paralelled Rice’s early years.  In 1975, Rice and Fred Lynn were two brilliant rookies who tore up the American League.  Rice broke  his hand a month before the World Series.  This injury and Boston’s poor pitching caused the Reds to win in 7 games. Rice, a native of tiny Anderson, South Carolina was an All-Star 8 times over and played his entire career for the Red Sox. He was the league MVP in 1978 though a Bucky Dent home run jolted the Yankees into the playoffs and left Sox fans crying in their Narragansett beer. He was elected to the Hall of Fame 8 years ago on his final try.

Dick Allen is the next famous baseball birthday today.  He is 75.  It’s ironic that the native of Wampum, PA felt he didn’t make enough wampum and was constantly after his employers to pay him more for his production. He produced in a pitching-heavy era when few hitters did much damage.   When he broke into the show in 1963 nobody made much money in the game and by the time the money began to come he was finished. His career ended in mid-1977. A forgotten figure today, he hit .292 with 351 home runs and was an All-Star 7 times. He was NL Rookie of the Year in 1964 and AL MVP 8 years later.  Twice he led the junior circuit in circuit clouts, in 1972 and 1974. He missed making the Hall of Fame by one vote in 2014. The Golden Era committee is scheduled to meet again late this year.

While he’s no Hall of Famer, birthday celebrant Jim Bouton is a name most fans of a certain age know.  He’s 78 today by the way. They don’t know him for his magnificent 1963 and 1964 seasons with the Yankees.  They don’t know him as the winning pitcher of game 3 of the ’64 World Series.  Mickey Mantle won that with a walk-off home run and got all the glory.  Fans don’t know Bouton for his subsequent sore arm and crash to the minors.  He’s known as the man who blew the lid off baseball with his book “Ball Four,” still the funniest book on baseball yet written.  A distant second is Mike Shropshire’s “Seasons in Hell,” about the 1973–75 Texas Rangers.  “Ball Four” consisted of a diary starting in late 1968 and following Bouton’s struggles through the 1969 season throwing the knuckleball with the Seattle Pilots (who became the Milwaukee Brewers a year later.)  Up until then, athletes were considered gods and protected as such by the media.  Prepare to panic now.  Jim Bouton’s great book revealed that ball players liked to get drunk! Gasp! They liked to use rough adult language while playing a game among other rough adults. (Shriek!) And they liked to have sexual adventures with women who were not technically their wives! (In today’s lingo, OMG OMG OMG!)  Bowie Kuhn, baseball’s commissioner went ballistic.  He ordered the book banned.  With that act he assured that the book (which was selling modestly) would take off like the next Apollo rocket.  Sales went past the moon and reached interplanetary levels.  That being said, in baseball and elsewhere Bouton’s name was MUD in capital letters.  He was considered a Benedict Arnold for telling stories that usually stayed in the clubhouse. The abuse he took cost him his marriage, as he wrote in an adendum to modern editions of his magnum opus. In spite of all the suffering he did on account of the book,  when he recorded the edition for audible.com Bouton laughed at some of his own writing.  He couldn’t help it and the editors were kind enough not to bleep his laughter out of the final cut and insist that he wear a straight face.  His giggles make the narration that much more fun to listen to. He’s still as real in his old age as he was when he wrote the book-the first real book about the game and the men who played it.  God bless you Jim Bouton.

Today also marks 18 years since the death of Joe DiMaggio.  He passed on this day in 1999 after several false rumors that he had died earlier.  He had suffered from cancer and languished near death for months, triggering the false rumors from the always trigger-happy media.  Books have been written about the Yankee Clipper or Joltin’ Joe.  There was even a song serenading him called simply “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio,” during his 56-game hitting streak.  His last name comes very close to “Magician,” or “Man of Magic” and his baseball skills seemed other-worldly especially to Mel Allen who broadcast Yankee games as early as 1940. R I P Joltin’ Joe.



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