Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What Is The Rhubarb

I'm currently reading the book Southern League: A True Story of Baseball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South's Most Compelling Pennant Race by Larry Colton. I highly recommend it in terms of both Baseball History and Social History of the United States during the Jim Crow era in the South. While there have been many things that have stood out to me, one particular term caught my eye. On page 175, Colton talks about how manager Haywood Sullivan of the Birmingham Barons would end up earning the respect of his players by engaging in one of Baseball's oldest activities, interestingly referred to as "The Rhubarb". Here is how Colton describes it:
No sport embraces its eccentricities as much as baseball, with its seventh-inning stretch, ubiquitous spitting, interminable statistics, and the time-honored skirmish between manager and umpire, aka the rhubarb: two grown men face-to-face, jaw-to-jaw, chest-to-chest, mere inches apart as they unload verbal tirades and sprays of spittle, the veins in their necks pulsing with rage. They kick dirt, madly gesticulate, and throw hats, performing the signature gestures of ritual tantrums whose sum effects are zero.

Should behavior such as this happen in a corporate office, a courtroom, or a university lecture hall, the involved parties would be unemployed the next day, if not arrested. Yet within baseball, a failure to argue against any perceived injustice is seen as a sign of weakness, revealing a lack of passion for the game. Fiery managers and players are beloved by hometown fans. With children, temper tantrums beget scoldings, time-outs, and in the days of yore spankings. In baseball, they are celebrated, encouraged, demanded. If a player pitches a fit at the ump, he needs to know the skipper has his back. Sullivan was about to state his case.
Now Barry and I at the bar have touched upon how the rise of instant replay might seem to spell the end of the manager umpire arguments in the mold of Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, etc. Don't tell that to Red Sox manager John Farrell who seems to have had his share of arguments this season after losing numerous instant replay challenges. I decided to check online to see where the use of the word Rhubarb came from in reference to a Baseball argument.

Legendary Baseball writer Robert Creamer gives the following etymological note on the use of the word Rhubarb in Baseball from the June 11, 1956 issue of Sports Illustrated:
Sports Illustrated June 11, 1956
The word "rhubarb," meaning in baseball a fight or argument, is of recent origin. In 1938 a Brooklyn Dodger fan shot and killed a New York Giant fan in a barroom argument over baseball. A bartender described the incident to Baseball Writer Tom Meany as a "rhubarb," though no one is quite sure why. Meany repeated the word to Baseball Raconteur Garry Schumacher, and Broadcaster Red Barber picked it up after hearing both Meany and Schumacher use it. Barber later utilized the word frequently on his radio broadcasts of Brooklyn Dodger baseball games. He had an immense listening audience and the word soon passed into the language.
Leave it to a Brooklyn bartender to have come up with the term randomly.

So while instant replay in Baseball seems to have cause manager/umpire arguments to decline somewhat, we shouldn't forget that these entertaining interactions are called rhubarbs. At the very least, it provides for good Baseball conversation when one happens or during a rain delay.

Until Then Keep Playing Ball,
Baseball Sisco

Monday, June 16, 2014

Tony Gwynn (1960-2014)

Today I woke up to the news that Hall of Famer, Tony Gwynn (1960-2014) had passed away at the age of 54. Now instead of going into Gwynn's stats and accomplishments during his playing days, I wanted to touch on something that I happened to talk about last night at the bar.

My friend John and I were discussing the whole Inter-league in MLB and how John feels that the All-Star game no longer has a place due to diminishing interest in the game. That years ago he would have a crowd come into the bar he worked to watch the game and now he's lucky to get one or two customers joining him to watch the game. I believe that the advent of the 24-hour sports cable networks, the ability to watch a game nightly on any combination of channels and the ability to follow your team either at home or online for a yearly fee has made it easier for fans to watch not only their team but any team on a regular basis. Here is where a player like Tony Gwynn comes in.

To show my age, I grew up in an era where I consider myself lucky compared to other fans. In an era before Inter-league Baseball, I could watch the Yankees play the American League teams on WPIX 11 while I could watch the Mets play the National League teams on WWOR 9 on network tv. So in theory I could see players from both leagues that other fans didn't have a chance to see regularly. Add to this we had the Baseball Game of the Week which was shown on Saturday afternoons and for a brief time ABC Monday Night Baseball then Thursday Night Baseball in the 1970's through the late 1980's.

Sportscenter? Fughettaboutit. I would catch up on player accomplishments by pouring over the box scores in either the New York Daily News or the New York Post, watching the Mel Allen narrated This Week in Baseball (How About That!!!) usually on before the Baseball Game of the Week and late night on the weekends with The George Michael Sports Machine. So to watch players like Tony Gwynn was a special treat that came along once in a while. Since the Padres weren't in the playoffs very often, the only time I really got to watch Gwynn was in the Mid-Summer Classic.

To watch the very best of the Major Leagues on the same field during the All-Star Game was (and I still believe that it is) a very special thing. Granted, like John states that the popularity of the game has diminished, I still think the pomp and circumstance surrounding the game still makes it something special. I really can't point to any particular at-bat that Tony Gwynn had during the All-Star games I saw him in. But the fact that back then in the era where Baseball fans had limited options to see opposing players, I have small moments in time where I saw players like Tony Gwynn ply their trade.

The world today lost a good man. Gwynn was a teacher and an amazingly classy role model in a world of selfish sports figures. He spoke with his bat rather than his mouth. He wasn't built with the best physique. He didn't have to. Gwynn was the player who came closest to the magical .400+ batting average in 1994 with a .394 average. If the players strike didn't prematurely end the 1994 season, who knows where he would have finished. His hero, Ted Williams was the last player to finish with a .400+ average in 1941 with a .406 average. He represented his hometown of San Diego with pride and given the chance to leave the Padres for potentially more lucrative contracts elsewhere, Gwynn decided to spend his entire 20-year career in San Diego. As Gwynn was quoted in the New York Times during his final season: “Twenty years in one place, one city. It looks good.”

Indeed it does. Thank you for the memories Tony. That is one dominant lineup with you and the Splendid Splinter batting in front of you at the big ballpark in the sky. May You Rest in Peace.

I leave you with a small video by the National Baseball Hall of Fame entitled The Baseball Hall of Fame Remembers Tony Gwynn:

Until Then Keep Playing Ball,
Baseball Sisco

For Further Reading:
- Click Here to access Tony Gwynn's career statistics from BaseballReference.com
- Click Here to accces the article by Chad Finn entitled Tony Gwynn: A Kindred Spirit Of Ted Williams, A Favorite Of Anyone Who Loves Baseball from Boston.com dated June 16, 2014
- Click Here to access Matt Snyder's article entitled Did the 1994 strike cost Tony Gwynn a .400 batting average? from CBS Sports Eye on Baseball website dated June 16, 2014

Monday, June 9, 2014

What's Going on With Manny Machado

I touched upon this on my Twitter feed yesterday and spoke to a couple of customers about it after watching the replay of Manny Machado's actions during the A's/Orioles game in Baltimore yesterday afternoon. Here is what I posted:

Add to these remarks, the two backswings that hit A's catcher Derek Norris on the head. The second of which caused Norris to be removed from the game and be examined for a potential concussion. To further add insult to injury, it would seem from the replay that Machado was smiling while Norris was being attended to and Machado never once asked if Norris was fine as per the unwritten rules of Baseball.

Machado burst upon the scene in 2012 as an outstanding 19-year old rookie and followed that up with a 2013 campaign that saw him hit a league best 51 doubles, 14 homeruns and 71 RBI. His slash line was .283/.314/.432 for a OPS of .746. His bat was complimented with outstanding defense that earned him the 2013 American League Gold Glove at third base on top of an All-Star appearance and a top ten finish in AL Most Valuable League voting.

His 2013 season came to an abrupt end when on September 23 Machado tore a ligament in his left knee which required surgery and rehab that kept him out until May 1, 2014. Something has seemed to change within Machado. Gone is his smile. That youthful exuberance that he seemed to show has been replaced with what seems like bitterness and frustration. Granted I haven't watched too many Orioles' games but the few I have seen it seems as if Machado is not the same player that we saw take the league by storm in 2013. Which takes me to Friday night.

His lashing out at Josh Donaldson on what looked like a simple tag out at third base on Friday night took me aback. I can see if Donaldson made the play blocking the bag or applying a strong tag to Machado's surgically repaired knee. But Donaldson applied a tag to Machado's chest. Machado feel back and it seemed as if he was favoring his left leg in the way he fell. Which is understandable. But the outburst looked to me as if he was lashing his frustrations out on Donaldson. Even the look on the third baseman umpire's face showed a mix of amusement and surprise at how Machado exploded. Not surprising coming from a team managed by Buck Showalter, Donaldson was thrown at and plunked by Orioles pitcher Wei-Yin Chen. Surely this wasn't the end to this situation.

Jump to Sunday and we find the two swingbacks by Machado, the removal of Norris from the game, the smile by Machado and his at-bat against Oakland A's reliever Fernando Abad produced this:

Machado insists that it was an accident. This just looks bad not only on Machado but on the game. I'm not saying that he shouldn't show emotion. He's human. But he needs to show better judgment. What if he angles that bat throw differently and it lands in the dugout or the stands next to third base rather than down the line near the umpire. What if the bat struck the umpire, Alberto Callaspo of the A's, the third base coach or even worse a fan. I realize that Machado isn't even 22-years old yet but Buck Showalter needs to pull him aside and let Machado know that that kind of behavior is not what he should be exhibiting.

I know this season has been a big disappointment for Machado. His performance paled in comparison to 2013 and other nagging injuries have caused him to not play at the level that he is probably used to. I'm sure that MLB will levy a hefty penalty in terms of a fine and suspension. They should. Having bats thrown in anger is a recipe for disaster. Maybe the time on suspension will help Machado cool off and recompose himself. To take some pressure off of himself before he explodes again and hurts someone if not himself.

Until Then Keep Playing Ball,
Baseball Sisco

For Further Reading:
- Click Here to Access Manny Machado's career statistics from Baseball Reference.com