A Sports Sunday

Today’s best football name: Derek Belch, Stanford kicker.

California 31, Oregon 24: Wow — a matter of divided loyalties in our house. Kate and I went to Cal (she even graduated) and we’ve lived in Berkeley for decades. On the other side of the coin, Thom is a Duck and enough of a fan that a couple years ago he went out to Autzen Stadium in Eugene to watch Cal and Oregon play in a cold, windy, soaking rain. Oregon won in overtime that day, then got thumped in Berkeley last year (Thom and some friends came down here for that one). If you’re a fan, you know yesterday was a big deal; if you’re not, suffice it to say that both teams are very good and the game actually got some national attention. It was far from a perfect game — Oregon gave the ball to Cal four times in the fourth quarter, and still Cal just squeaked by.

For Kate and me, the game was a different kind of challenge. We turned off our TV earlier in the week. So while the Ducks and Bears engaged in a great gridiron struggle far to the north, we were in Berkeley testing whether a household so deprived of video capability could long endure a game with Cal’s radio guy Joe Starkey as the only source of play-by-play. It’s altogether fitting and proper for me to report that despite the usually frustrating and occasionally comic shortcomings of Starkey’s work, we stuck with the game to the end.

Guest observation: Dave Barry, who grew up in Pittsburgh, recalling the denouement of the 1960 Pirates-Yankees World Series:

“That series went seven games, and I vividly remember how it ended. School was out for the day, and I was heading home, pushing my bike up a step hill, listening to my cheapo little radio, my eyes staring vacantly ahead, my mind locked on the game. A delivery truck came by, and the driver stopped and asked if he could listen. Actually, he more or less told me he was going to listen; I said OK.

“The truck driver turned out to be a rabid Yankee fan. The game was very close, and we stood on opposite sides of my bike for the final two innings, rooting for opposite teams, he chain-smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes, both of us hanging on every word coming out of my tinny little speaker.

“And, of course, if you were around back then and did not live in Russia, you know what happened: God, in a sincere effort to make for all those fly balls he directed toward me in Little League, had Bill Mazeroski — Bill Mazeroski! — hit a home run to win it for the Pirates.

“I was insane with joy. The truck driver was devastated. But I will never forget what he said to me. He looked me square in the eye, one baseball fan to another, after a tough but fair fight, and he said a seriously bad word. Several, in fact. Then he got in his truck and drove away.”

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Obligatory White Sox Post 3

They may not be my team, and I may never have set foot in their ill-begotten “new” ballpark, but the White Sox did something tonight that no Chicago ballclub, of either the National or American variety, has done since the first Mayor Daley was a teen on the South Side and getting ready to make his mark in the world as part of a street gang. I’ll skip that historical side trip, for now. Anyway, it’s a sweet moment in a vicarious way.

Technorati Tags:

All About Pants


The last time a Chicago team won three straight in a World Series before last night was 1907, when the Cubs swept the Tigers 4-zip in a five-game set (you could look it up). If the White Sox go on to win the championship — take nothing for granted, sports fans — the name of manager Ozzie Guillen will be forever joined to that of Pants Rowland.

Sox cognoscenti — Lydell, I expect that’s you — will recognize the name of the South Side nine’s last title-winning manager. First, this is just more proof of the oft-lamented fact that the quality and color of baseball nicknames is in a sad state of decline. The ’17 Sox were loaded, moniker-wise. In addition to Pants, they had Shoeless Joe, Shano, Buck, Happy, Chick, Nemo, Swede, Ziggy, Birdie, Lefty, Red, Reb, and Knuckles. This year: Hmmm. They’ve got El Duque. And The (Non-Playing) Big Hurt. Other than that, a bunch of Dustins, A.J.s, Scotts and Jermaines — though mixed with non-nickname handles like Timo, Tadahito, Pablo and Raul that would never have been on a 1917 big league roster.

But let’s get back to Pants. According to one online account, the tag dated from his Iowa boyhood: "Rowland started in baseball at age nine, where he earned his nickname, ‘pants,’ from base-running antics while wearing his father’s overalls at games of the Dubuque Ninth Street Blues." Eventually, he became a minor league manager in Peoria. Then, perhaps because his services came cheap, a quality highly valued by Sox owner Charles Comiskey, he wound up in Chicago for four years; he was bounced a year after winning the Series. After that, he became an American League umpire and later president of the Pacific Coast League. Given the high quality of PCL talent and the rapid growth of the league’s franchise cities, his dream, apparently, was to establish a new major league on the coast.

He died in 1969, age 91, in Chicago. This Associated Press obit from The New York Times has the story. Both the subject and the way it’s handled are throwbacks.

(Photo above: Sox hurler Eddie "Knuckles" Cicotte, left, and manager Pants Rowland, c. 1915-18. From George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-133664.)

Technorati Tags:

Obligatory White Sox Post 2

Faithful Correspondent Lydell yesterday pointed out some interesting online mercantile activity involving White Sox tickets. The team’s Web ticket exchange had a bunch of Game 2 seats for sale. Top price, when I looked: Just under $10,000 per seat. There’s a lot more serious cash out there — heirloom jewelry being sold off, ancient mattresses getting raided for Grandpa’s rainy-day savings, big lines of credit getting tapped — than I ever imagined. The Sox ticket exchange says all the listed tickets are gone. But check out Chicago Craigslist: Someone offering tickets for the Houston games at anywhere from $1,900 to $2,300 a seat. (And on the other end of the spectrum: A buyer offering to pick up tickets for face value — the range is $125 to $185, which sounds almost modest — generously pointing out that tonight’s predicted rain would kill the scalpers’ market.)

By way of perspective, the eight Sox players indicted for throwing the 1919 Series were reportedly bribed something like $5,000 to $10,000 each.

Technorati Tags:

Obligatory White Sox Post

One sort of obvious statistical things I haven’t heard the broadcast guys talk about is the long roll the White Sox are on. Going back to the last week of the regular season, they’re now 13 out of 14, the only loss coming at home to the Angels in the first game of the second round. The run includes a sweep of the Indians, who had looked like they might be ready to overtake the Sox; a sweep of the Red Sox in the first round; and the 4-1 rout of the Angels. All this from a team that had gone into free fall after the first week of September (losing 10 of 14 at one point and with a record of 7-12 for the 19 games before they learned how to win again).

Technorati Tags:

More Futility, More of the Time

I spotted this statement on CBSSportsline.com last night, and thought, “Wrong!”

“The 46-year gap between Series appearances is the longest in major-league history.”

Any Chicagoan knows there’s a team that has gone longer, much longer, without getting into the World Series: The Cubs. The story was attributed to wire reports. I imagined that the site’s editors were under email bombardment from fans pointing out the mistake. But then I heard the same sentence read on CBS radio news this morning. I went back to the CBSSportsline story. And it had changed. It now reads:

“The Chicago Cubs would end up with an even longer one, if they ever get back — their last NL pennant was in 1945.”

The second sentence, despite its breach of common sense, does make the first sentence true. Now that the Sox are back in the World Series, the temporal dimensions of their Fall Classic drought are known. The Cubs might go another 100 years before they play in the series — or 12 months. So who knows the length of their Series gap?

But that second sentence is the product of labarious, if not twisted, newsroom thinking that seeks to correct an error by qualifying it while ignoring a larger point. The important issue here (“important” in quotes) isn’t the gap — it’s the length of time a team has played without getting to the World Series. The White Sox went a very long time. The Cubs have gone even longer, whether they ever make it back or not.

Behold a Pale Hose

Even though I’ve been away from Chicago more than half my life — and when you get down to it, I grew up in the suburbs, not in the city — most of my family is still in and around the city and I follow what goes on there with more than passing interest. With the sports teams, too. And even though my brothers and I grew up with a Cubs allegiance I blame on my father, the Sox getting into the World Series is news.

Dad’s pulling for them, I think mostly because Mom and her brothers were all big Sox fans and, yeah, they’d love to see it happen. They’d love it especially because this kind of thing happens so seldom in Chicago. The Sox were the most recent visitors to the Series, having last played there (and lost) in 1959. The Cubs last trip was summarized by the late Steve Goodman:

“You know the law of averages says:

Anything will happen that can.

That’s what it says.

But the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant

Was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan.”

So talking to Dad just now, he said: “It would be great to see them go all the way” — win the World Series. No debate there, though I’ll confess I’ve never had much love for the Sox under their current ownership and have never set foot inside the sadly misconceived stadium they built to replace Comiskey Park, the ballpark in which the Sox had played since 1910. The old place was decrepit by the exacting, fussy standards of our age; but it had history on its side and a certain trashed elegance that might have been revived.

But that’s a detour. Let’s turn back to my dad. Yes, it would be great to see a World Series winner in Chicago. In fact, it would be the first in his 84 years (he was born too late for the Golden Age of Chicago baseball, which seems to have coincided with the Roosevelt (Teddy, not FDR), Taft, and Wilson administrations.

OK — I’m on board. Go Sox.