Edition No. 24
August 19, 2016
Standings through Week 19, August 14, 2016
Weekly Point Totals Thru Week 19
Top 25 Hitters
Who’s Hot -- Hitters
Who’s Not -- Hitters
Top 25 Pitchers
Who’s Hot – Pitchers
Who’s Not – Pitchers
I don’t know if any of you are familiar with the works of the American author Bill Bryson, but I am here to tout the only book of his that I have read so far, titled One Summer. A professional colleague of mine who knows of my affinity for baseball gave it to me recently as a gift, because there are several chapters that highlight the 1927 season of Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, which some people would say was the single best season of hitting ever put together by any Major League player. It’s pretty hard to argue, considering Babe’s statistics for that season:
Babe demonstrating “Black Betsy” to Shoeless Joe
One Summer is about the myriad events that occurred in our country during the calendar year 1927, when Calvin Coolidge was the president and our nation had no idea that it was soon to enter into the Great Depression. The book gives most attention to the first successful trans-Atlantic flight by Minnesota’s native son, Charles Lindbergh. This feat--accomplished while Lucky Lindbergh had many more experienced and well-known pilots from around the globe competing with him for the prize--made Lindberg instantly the most famous man in the world, an overnight celebrity. He would eventually come to detest this fame and adulation.
Bryson is a master storyteller, and he has a gifted writer’s knack of making historical fact come alive and jump off the page. His book covers such diverse subjects as the start of work on Mount Rushmore; the top American pole-sitter; Calvin Coolidge’s lengthy stay in the Black Hills (where he loved nothing more than donning a ten-gallon cowboy hat and his cowboy chaps, and from where he announced his stunning decision not to run for reelection); the boxing career of Jack Dempsey and other fighters of the era; the murder trials, appeals and executions of Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti; the secret meeting in the Hamptons of four powerful financiers from four different countries, who made the fateful decision to raise the global interest rate from 3% to 3.5%, plunging (according to Bryson) the world into the Great Depression; the failed attempt by Henry Ford to establish a thriving company town in South America to grow all of the rubber trees that would be needed for tires on the cars output by his company; and more.
Still, my favorite portions of the book were those that focused on the great Bambino, and even though I have read a couple of entire books on the Babe, Bryson managed to come up with a few stories and a few facts that were new to me, at least. The fact that amazes me most is that the Sultan of Swat used a 54-ounce piece of lumber to hit all of those home runs. 54 ounces! That is 50% heavier than the Jackie Robinson model that I misused in high school. I can’t even imagine how strong the Babe must have been to get around on a Walter Johnson fastball with that gigantic hunk of wood. Here is an excellent excerpt from Bryson on how difficult it is to hit a baseball in general, and then commenting on how the Babe did it:
There was a good reason for this. Hitting a baseball is hard, and in many ways it was harder in Babe Ruth’s day than it is now. A baseball thrown at 90 miles per hour hits the catcher’s mitt four-tenths of a second after it leaves the pitcher’s hand, which clearly does not allow much time for reflection on the batter’s part. Moreover, in order to get his bat to the plate to meet the ball’s arrival, the batter must start his swing at two-tenths of a second, when the ball is still only halfway there. If the pitch is a curve, nearly all its deviation will still be to come. Half of it will occur just in the last fifteen feet. If the pitch is some other sort—a fast ball, change-up, or cutter, say—the ball will arrive at a fractionally different instant and at a different height. Because of friction, the ball will also lose about 5 miles per hour of speed during the course of its short journey from the pitcher’s hand. In Babe Ruth’s day, pitchers had an additional advantage in that the mound was fifteen inches high instead of the modern ten. That makes a difference, too.
So the batter, in this preposterously fractional part of a fraction that is allotted to him for decision making, must weigh all these variables, calculate the place and moment that the ball will cross the plate, and make sure that his bat is there to meet it. The slightest miscalculation, which is what the pitcher is counting on, will result in a foul ball or pop-up or some other form of routine failure. To slap out a single is hard enough—that is why even the very best hitters fail nearly seven times out of ten—but to hit the ball with power requires confident and irreversible commitment.
It was this that Babe Ruth did as no man ever had before. Ruth used a mighty club of a bat—it weighed fifty-four ounces--and gripped it at the very end, around the knob, which enhanced the whip-like motion of his swing. The result was a combination of power and timing so focused and potent that it generated eight thousand pounds of force (scientists actually measured it in a lab) and, in the space of one-thousandth of a second—the duration of contact—through the miracle of physics it converted the sizzling zip of an incoming 90-mile-an-hour baseball into an outgoing spheroid launched cloudward at 110 miles an hour.
The result was like something fired from a gun. It was hypnotic and rare, and now here was a man who could do it pretty regularly. Babe Ruth’s home runs were not merely more frequent, they were more majestic. No one had ever seen balls travel so loftily and far.
The bottom line is that One Summer is a terrific read, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.
ANSWERS TO “LUCKY”
I realize that I am preaching to the choir, but as I approach the end of my sixth decade on Planet Earth, I find myself becoming more and more consumed with my mounting infirmities, mostly physical at this point, and my frustration with the time it takes to bounce back from such problems these days. While it would undoubtedly be better to simply suffer in silence like my tough old Kraut brother-in-law, BT--who deals with more health issues on an annual basis than the National Institute of Health--I have chosen instead to ignore my supposed Germanic-Danish stoicism and lay it all out there for whatever pity I can muster from it. My current inventory of ills includes:
· Relapsed left hip (post replacement);
· Near blindness in one eye (post three surgeries);
· Torn left biceps muscle (for which an operation would be fruitless, but hey, John Elway won a Super Bowl title with his;
· Right arm tendonitis (idiopathic);
· Permanently messed up (not a medical term, but the most descriptive) sinuses (treated with every conceivable sinus remedy known to man, short of surgery and leeches);
· A balky right knee (post four surgeries); and
· Permanently painful and fragile teeth (in spite of more dental surgeries than the London School of Dentistry performs in a solid year).
I’ve got more non-working parts than a 1976 AMC Hornet.
I’m not saying I’m in rough shape, but when I went to my internist last month for a stem-to-stern review, he diagnosed my condition as Advanced Dilapiditis. He told me that it is incurable, and that my two most promising treatment options are cryotherapy or euthanasia. When I told him that I wanted a second opinion, he told me I also have halitosis, and that it was time for me to leave his office.
Not that I have it any worse off than many of the rest of you boys, but lately I’ve been feeling kind of like the sorry mutt described in the newspaper ad:
LOST: Family dog, collie/retriever mix, dark brown in color, missing left hind leg, blind in right eye, left ear partially bitten off, recently castrated, answers to Lucky.
All kidding aside, in spite of these many ailments, I do still feel lucky, at least insofar as I am still vertical and have not yet experienced the unpleasantry of castration. I’m hoping that I’m good for at least another decade on that front.
So in summary, while I do not want to sound like a whiny bitch, as to any of you who are experiencing the similar ravages of age, I feel your pain, and I’m there for you. Next time you’re under the weather, call me and we will compare pharmaceuticals.
Next week: Words of wisdom from The Oracle (I hope), a feature edition of The Bellyflop.