Last night, the Rochester Red Wings were shellacked by the Buffalo Bisons, 20-3. As the game dragged on in its last innings and the Red Wings turned to a position player to pitch, Wings’ announcer Josh Whetzel wondered if maybe baseball should have a mercy rule or maybe a way to forfeit when things get too ugly.
Well, there is one way to forfeit. Sort of.
Take a look at the MLB rulebook. Now, head down to pages 85 and 86, the part on unsportsmanlike conduct. Make note of rule 6.04(a)(4), which says that no one can “Make intentional contact with the umpire in any manner.”
You’ve doubtless seen this rule in action before: a manager or player is arguing with an umpire after a bad call, and touches them. They are then usually immediately ejected.
So, in theory, you could have your players line up in a row and start touching the umpire until enough players are ejected that there aren’t enough to continue, thus ending the game.
Of course, there are other easier ways to forfeit (see rule 7.03). You can just refuse to come out and continue playing, for example. Or you could continually break rules. Or the thing that, if properly enforced, would probably lead to a wave of forfeits, rule 7.03(a)(2):
Employs tactics palpably designed to delay or shorten the game;
With a team primarily of Jewish players from the USA who are eligible thanks to the infamously lax eligibility rules of international baseball, the Israeli baseball team will probably prove to be quite a curiosity to the world press. However, as the 2017 WBC showed, Team Israel is perfectly capable of pulling upsets and should not be underestimated. They are managed by Eric Holtz, the owner of a baseball training facility in Westchester County who played in Israel’s short-lived professional league and coached for college teams for decades. Israel’s 24-man roster can be found here.
About the Country: Sitting ever perilously at the center of both international politics and the world’s three largest monotheistic religions, the current state of Israel came into existence in 1947. Despite its decades of tumultuous history, Israel is also a leader in science and technology.
Baseball History: Although some may joke that Israeli baseball began “in the big inning” that can be found when the beginning of the Book of Genesis is read aloud (it’s a lame pun, think about it for a second), Israeli baseball didn’t really begin until some Americans who had moved to Israel played it a bit. However, that was about it until, in 2007, a small professional league was created in Israel by American businessmen. While it folded after one season, its level of play was apparently pretty good, although only a small handful of the players in the league were actually Israeli. In fact, it has been rare for actual Israelis to play for Team Israel. Thanks to lax eligibility rules as well as the fact that it is quite easy for those of Jewish descent to be eligible for Israeli citizenship, most of the Israeli national teams that have competed in large tournaments have been made up of Americans and Canadians.
Israel lost to Spain for a spot in the 2013 WBC before making the tournament in 2017, where they made it to the second round with a stream of upsets. Dean Kremer, a pitcher born to two Israeli parents and who has lived in Israel at times during summers where he hasn’t been pitching, became the first Israeli citizen drafted by MLB in 2015 and the first Israeli citizen to play in MLB when Kremer made his debut with the Orioles in 2020.
Olympic History: This is, of course, Israel’s first appearance in Olympic baseball. It isn’t the first time that there was an Olympic baseball team primarily made up of people from outside the country they were representing, however: the Greek national team in 2004 was made up primarily of Americans of Greek ancestry (most notably Nick Markakis).
For decades, Israel’s Olympic history had been (and continues to be) centered around 1972’s Munich massacre. It would not be until 1992 that an Israeli would win a medal, and to this day the country has won only one gold (windsurfer Gal Fridman in 2000). Every medal for Israel has come in either judo or a boating sport like sailing or canoe.
This year’s baseball team will be the first Israeli representation in a team sport since the Israeli soccer team made it to the quarter-finals of the 1976 Montreal games.
Road to Tokyo: Israel was actually the first team to qualify for the Olympics aside from the host nation of Japan. They came out on top of a 2019 qualifier in Italy for teams from Europe and Africa, winning the round robin thanks to holding a head-to-head tie-breaker against the Netherlands.
Notable Names: The former MLB players on Team Israel are, of course, Americans of Jewish heritage. The most notable is certainly Ian Kinsler, the four-time all-star second baseman and two-time Gold Glove winner. He was a member of Team USA’s WBC title team in 2017. He’s played a bit in the Atlantic League this year in preparation for the tournament.
Other players with MLB experience include Danny Valencia, who played third base for a variety of teams over a nine-year career and who is perhaps best known among degenerate baseballaholics like me for the fact that he always hit David Price exceptionally well (a career .600 BA) to the point where the Orioles, Red Sox and Blue Jays all made points of having him in the lineup for series against Tampa. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway played parts of 10 seasons in the big leagues and remains active in the affiliated minors on Cleveland’s AAA team in Columbus. Utilityman Ty Kelly played parts of three seasons between the Mets and Phillies and is a career .275 hitter in the minors. While less notable, the team also has MLB-experienced pitchers in Jeremy Bleich, Jon Moscot, Zack Weiss, and Josh Zeid.
Ones to Watch: First off, I want to the pay tribute to the actual people born in Israel that are on the team simply because on a team mostly of Americans they stand-out for… actually being from the country they are representing.
Shlomo Lipetz was born in Tel Aviv, fell in love with baseball during visits to New York, and later moved to the USA to pitch in college. He’s since played semi-pro ball and in the short-lived Israeli Baseball League while also working as a music booker at City Winery in New York City. Now 42, this is probably his last ride… but a ride it has been. Another Israeli-born pitcher on the team is Alon Leichman. Born in a kibbutz in the late 80s, Leichman fell in love with the game thanks to American relatives and moved to America to pitch in college. He’s since gone into coaching, where he is currently the pitching coach for Seattle’s AA Arkansas Travelers.
Among position players, there is catcher Tal Erel, born in Ramat Gan (near Tel Aviv). After playing in leagues in the Czech Republic and Netherlands, he moved to Florida where he played college ball on the JuCo and Division II levels. The final Israeli-born player is Assaf Lowengart, who now plays for DII Mansfield University.
Among the Americans on the team that haven’t played in the big leagues, names that stand out include LHP Jake Fishman (Miami’s AAA team in Jacksonville), LHP Alex Katz (Cubs organization), RHP Ben Wanger (University of Miami), SS Scott Burcham (AAA Colorado), utilityman Mitch Glasser (hitting .345 in independent Sioux Falls), and long-time minor league/indyball journeyman outfielder Blake Gailen.
Outlook: On paper, Israel is undoubtedly the worst team in the field. No other team in the tournament is rolling out college and semi-pro players to fill the back-end of their rosters, and most of their top professionals (such as Kinsler and Valencia) are in states of near-retirement. However, although it is unlikely that they can get to the medal stand they are still a good enough team where they may be able to pull an upset or two against stronger but potentially overconfident opponents.
You can find all the current Olympic Baseball previews here.
Managed by Mike Scioscia, Team USA comes to the Tokyo Games with an eclectic team that features former big leaguers looking for jobs and/or one last ride before retirement, prospects looking to make their name, and players who have gone overseas to ply their trade. Although among the tournament favorites, how Team USA does ultimately is anyone’s guess. You can see their roster here.
About the Country: …Seriously? Do I have to do an “about the country” for the USA? Look at your history books or something. Okay, fine: Declaring independence from Great Britain in 1776, the United States of America has grown from a 13-state experiment in Republican Democracy to a 50-state union that is a global power (in some cases the global power) in economics, politics, science, technology, military, sports and entertainment, amongst other areas.
Baseball History: The history of American baseball is, more or less, the history of baseball. While it is no longer the most popular sport as far as TV ratings or public-opinion polls go, its cultural impact in American history and its yearly attendance (more people attend MLB games than the other three major sports leagues combined, although admittedly MLB seasons are longer) remain unchallenged.
Olympic History: Team USA has played in every single Olympic baseball tournament save one (a meltdown during 2004 qualifiers prevented them from playing in Athens). After some sort of demonstration event at the 1904 Olympics that has been shrouded in mystery (and may not have even happened), America took part in every single demonstration game/tournament and won all of them save for 1984 (won by Japan). It proved harder once baseball officially joined the games, with Team USA winning only one gold (2000, when Ben Sheets threw a three-hit shutout against the Cubans in the final) and two bronze (1996 and 2008).
Outside of baseball, of course, Team USA is a giant of the Olympics, leading the all-time summer and overall (summer+winter) medal count in both golds and total medals overall even if you combine USSR and Russia. Of particular fame are Team USA’s track and swimming teams, whose dominance alone would probably be high up in the medal count most Olympiad.
Road to Tokyo: The road to the Olympics was a bit rougher than hoped for Team USA. Their initial shot came at the 2019 Premier12 tournament in Japan, which is sort of a World Cup-style contest between the top 12 teams in the WBSC’s world rankings. The top-finishing team from the Americas would be guaranteed a spot in the Olympics, but ultimately that would be Mexico after America’s bullpen blew the lead in the ninth and then fell in the 10th during the bronze-medal game. So, after a COVID delay of a year, Team USA played in the Americas Qualifier tournament. That went better, as Team USA went undefeated while outscoring their opponents 29-10 to clinch a spot in the games.
Notable Names: Like during the qualifiers, the roster contains some players who are MLB veterans who either have found themselves elsewhere (such as the minors or overseas) or out of a job (whether by choice or by simply being unable to get on a roster).
In all, 14 members of the team have MLB experience, including former all-stars in Scott Kazmir, Todd Frazier (who was impressive in qualifying), David Robertson (the lone player who was on the USA’s 2017 WBC title team), and Edwin Jackson. Other former MLB players who you might recognize on the roster include Anthony Gose, Tim Federowicz, and Bubba Starling. Eddy Alvarez, a primarily-defensive infielder who had a cup-of-coffee with Miami last season, already has an Olympic medal since he was part of a silver-winning relay speed-skating team in Sochi. Patrick Kivlehan can play both outfield and infield and has 137 career MLB games, mostly with Cincinnati in 2017.
There are also some players with MLB experience who now work internationally. Although he has now returned to the USA and is part of the Cardinals system, Brandon Dickson went to Japan after two cups of coffee in the bigs and became a regular with the Orix Buffaloes. Tyler Austin played parts of four seasons in the big leagues before going to Japan, where he is hitting .348 with 17 home runs this season for Yokohama. RHPs Nick Martinez and Scott McGough similarly had time in MLB but have found better luck in Japan.
Somewhat surprisingly, Adam Jones was not picked for the team despite the fact that he had expressed interest and would be by far one of the best historical resumes, possibly because he has been having a rough year in Japan where he’s only batting .233. It’ll be interesting to see if he is potentially added if there are any late injuries or pull-outs, since presumably he wouldn’t need to go through nearly as much COVID-related protocols going into or out-of Japan.
Ones to Watch: The Olympics have a long history of featuring prospects on Team USA, including players like Barry Larkin, Mark McGwire, Will Clark, Stephen Strasburg (the lone amateur on the 2008 team), Nomar Garciaparra, Roy Oswalt, and Jason Varitek. This year is no different. While the team’s inability to use any players on 40-man rosters keeps them from using much of the cream-of-the-cream, it’s likely that at least some of the prospects on this roster will end up big league regulars.
The three “ranked” prospects on the roster are 1B Triston Casas (Red Sox organization), RHP Simeon Woods Richardson (Blue Jays organization), and RHP Shane Baz(Rays organization). The other prospects on the squad, although not as well-regarded by scouts, are still hardly pushovers and will likely make it to the bigs. Middle-infielder Nick Allen is hitting .333 with an .882 OPS in AA for Oakland and was part of the qualifying team. OF/1B Eric Filia (Mariners organization) hit .313 with a HR and 5 RBIs during qualifiers. C Mark Kolozsary (Reds organization) showed good pop in the qualifiers with two home runs. Jamie Westbrook (Brewers organization) and Jack Lopez (Red Sox organization) will provide some defensive flexibility, which is important since these rosters only have 24 men on them.
There will also be a minor league “lifer” on the team in Anthony Carter. The 35-year-old RHP has been in pro ball since 2006 but has never appeared in an MLB game. He’s currently playing in the Mexican League.
Somewhat surprising omissions from the roster are Boston’s Jarren Duran and the Cardinals’ Matthew Liberatore, both well-regarded prospects who impressed in the qualifiers. It’s likely that they may now be on the verge of being called up to the big leagues, which of course would have meant that they would no longer be available. Luke Williams, who was so impressive during qualifiers that he was dubbed “Captain America” by some teammates and observers, is similarly ineligible since he has now been called up to the show (where he’s doing quite well!).
Outlook: While the prohibition on players on 40-man rosters means it doesn’t have the uniform excellence and up-down depth of Japan’s all-NPB team, Team USA needs to be considered one of the favorites for a gold thanks to its mix of experienced veterans and talented prospects. They are also aided by the fact that they are in a slightly-easier initial bracket (with Israel and South Korea instead of the other bracket, where Japan is with Dominican and Mexico). However, the randomness of baseball and the unforgiving format of the tournament leaves little room for error. One bad pitching performance or a ill-timed slump by some of the team’s players could be the difference between going for gold and not being on the medal stand at all.
You can find all the current Olympic Baseball previews here.
Today’s neat site to check out is Digital Ballparks. It’s a site filled with slideshows of images of baseball stadiums past and present from around the country and even in some cases the world. It isn’t just limited to the pros, either: the Pastores (who run the site) also have plenty of amateur and semi-pro fields, as well as ballparks that once hosted professional baseball decades ago. In some cases where ballfields no longer have their traditional form (for example, abandoned fields or fields that may have been converted to another sport), they’ll even sometimes include Photoshop work to give an idea of what it may have looked like back in the day.
While it looks like they haven’t updated the site yet for the 2021 season, it remains a fascinating way to spend time for anyone interested in baseball stadiums.
Today’s “Famous for Something Else” is one who I honestly am surprised I hadn’t heard of until recently: Charlie Powell. After all, I doubt that there were any other former minor leaguers who had the honor of getting knocked out by Muhammad Ali. And even if there were (and if there were I will find out), I doubt any of them also played several seasons in the NFL.
Charlie (sometimes spelled Charley) Powell, however, did all of these things. Born in Dallas in 1932, he would grow up in San Diego. His was in an athletic family, and his brother Art would go on to be one of the lead receivers in the American Football League of the 1960s. According to the Los Angeles Times, Charlie’s time at San Diego High School was to that point perhaps the most decorated student-athlete career in the history of the city, as he lettered 12 times in four different sports (football, baseball, basketball, and track). The Harlem Globetrotters and major college football programs wanted to him to join up, but instead he decided to go into professional baseball.
It was a season that, as the Times obituary put it, left him “realizing his sporting riches would be elsewhere.” Looking at the admittedly bare-bones stats of that lone short season in Stockton that Baseball Reference has, it isn’t hard to see why:
And so, Powell instead went into football, joining the 49ers in time for the 1952 season at the age of 20, making him the youngest NFL player at that time. In 1953, he had his first boxing match, drawing with a fighter named Fred Taylor in Hollywood.
As evidenced by the fact he’s the subject of an installment of this series, it should be obvious he had far more luck on the gridiron and in the ring than he ever did on the diamond. Although his statistics from his time in the NFL are a bit hazy due to some less-than-stellar record-keeping during that era as well as the fact that some statistics (such as sacks) weren’t even officially recognized yet, anecdotally it is said that Powell once sacked Bobby Layne (himself someone you may see in a future installment of this series) ten times in one game. To put that into perspective, the most sacks in a single game from an era where NFL record-keeping existed well enough where we can be sure is seven.
Here are the NFL statistics for Powell that we do know:
Perhaps Charlie Powell’s most interesting athletic career, however, came in the ring. In 39 career bouts, Powell went 25-11-3, with 17 of his victories coming by knockout.
He was, according to my research, a legitimate heavyweight fighter, not some sideshow coasting on his achievement in football. According to his obituary, he once was rated the fourth-best in the world by The Ring magazine. His brother Art and a promoter named Don Chagrin both say that he could have been even more successful if he had had better management and had focused entirely on boxing. In fact, he himself admitted it later in life.
Still, he had some great success. In 1959, he defeated the Cuban Nino Valdes, who at the time looked like a possible challenger to then-champion Floyd Patterson. A few years later, he would step into the ring against a young hotshot with a big mouth but the talent to back it up, a man then called Cassius Clay but later known as Muhammad Ali.
The Jan. 24, 1963 match-up in Pittsburgh was over quick. Clay declared before the fight that he’d beat Powell in three rounds, and, of course, he did just that, winning by KO. According to a newspaper account from the time, Clay declared himself the “greatest” and then went to badmouthing future opponents, including then-champion Sonny Liston, who he said he hoped to unseat by the next November and who he categorized as being neither as fast or as rough as Powell, who he complimented in his own Ali-like way:
“Powell was rough. They couldn’t call him a push-over. I was concentrating on three. The man was strong for two. He’s the roughest fighter I’ve met yet for three rounds.”
That wouldn’t be the end of Charlie Powell’s boxing career, however, as he would fight six more times after that, perhaps most notably a six-round loss against Floyd Patterson in 1964 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico. Hiram Bithorn, of course, is most notably used for the sport that Powell began his professional sports career in: baseball.
Powell died on Sept. 1, 2014 after a years-long battle with dementia. He was 82. Although his brother believed that his dementia was the result of his years on the gridiron and in the ring, he had never joined any of the major lawsuits against the NFL.
Some of you may be familiar with the Dressed to the Nines uniform database run by the Hall of Fame. On it, you can look up what each team wore uniform-wise from 1900 to today.
But what if you wanted to know what teams looked like before 1900? Enter Threads of Our Game, a website run by SABR member Craig Brown that focuses on the first few decades of baseball. To make up for the fact that photography of those days was not as common and essentially never in color, the site uses research of newspaper accounts, contemporary drawings, and other sources to get an idea of what the uniforms of the era looked like.
What’s more, the site doesn’t just have the Major Leagues. In fact, it doesn’t just stop at professional teams in general. They also have semi-pro and amateur teams of the era. No team, seemingly, is too small for inclusion. Nor is no team too vile: among the teams with a uniform on digital display is that of the 1874 baseball team run by the Klu Klux Klan chapter of Oneida, N.Y. Somewhat surprisingly, the uniforms does not contain any white.
Late last year, Major League Baseball made it official: the Negro Leagues between 1920 and 1948 were and always have been major league level. Their exclusion from records before now had been the result of the very same racism that had forced their existence in the first place. The issue of incomplete statistics and other forms of record-keeping (for example, which games were official league games and which were one of the countless exhibitions that Negro League teams held) have been largely (although not completely) corrected through an extreme amount of research and fact-finding. MLB and most major baseball historians agree: there is no major reason to continue to exclude the Negro Leagues and the statistics of their players from the official history books of MLB.
For many baseball fans in the internet age, though, it can be argued that nothing is official until Baseball Reference says it is. Although not the official decision-maker of what baseball statistics are and are not valid, it might as well be, so when the folks there announced that the Negro League statistics would be integrated (for lack of a better word) with the site’s pre-existing statistics, it was a big deal.
Which brings me to my hometown of Rochester, N.Y. A good place to grow up depending on where you live in the area. Doesn’t deserve the reputation it has. For the purposes of this blog, what’s important though is that Rochester has one of the longest and most successful baseball histories in the country, outstripping even many major league cities. However, due to size and the proximity to other large cities it hadn’t had a Major League Baseball team since 1890’s American Association Broncos. The city had gone the entire 20th century without a MLB team.
Until now. Because, you see, in the waning days of the Negro Leagues, a member of the Negro National League played in Rochester. The New York Black Yankees were, of course, originally based in the New York City area. Founded in the early 30s and joining the NNL in 1936, they played in Paterson, N.J. or on Randalls Island when they weren’t barnstorming or playing away games. By 1948, with integration underway and finances taking a downward turn for many Negro League teams (especially in the New York City area), the Black Yankees headed upstate to Rochester, where they played the last year of their existence in Red Wing Stadium.
With MLB’s recent recognition of the Negro Leagues as major leagues, those 1948 New York Black Yankees are Rochester’s most recent Major League Baseball team. And it is time that Rochester also recognize them as such.
They were, admittedly, not very successful on the field, finishing 9-35 and coming in dead last in that year’s Negro National League standings. However, they still had some players who were considered good enough to represent the east in the Negro Leagues’ famed East-West All-Star Game. As the best players of Rochester’s last major league team, they deserve spots of honor at Frontier Field, perhaps on its Wall of Fame.
Those players are:
George Crowe, who hit .345 and led the team in HR and RBI. After integration, he would go on to spend time with three different franchises, playing over 700 games before finishing as a career .270 hitter. He was named to the 1958 All-Star Game when he was with the Cincinnati Reds. For a time, he held the MLB record for career pinch-hit home runs.
Robert Griffith was a two-way player. In his younger days, he’d often found himself in the top 10 of the pitching leaderboard for the NNL, but by 1948. he was 35-years-old and his best days were behind him. He was still the Black Yankees’ best pitcher, though, finishing with a 3-1 record and 4.33 ERA while throwing the team’s only shutout on the year. At the plate, he was less successful, although he still had a HR in his limited action.
Finally, there was Marvin Barker, an infielder who was also the team’s manager who occasionally would also fill in on the pitcher’s mound. Like Griffith, Barker’s best days were behind him, although he still hit a respectable .293 (third-best on the team) and had an OPS of .734 (second only to Crowe).
This coming Saturday, the Red Wings will hold their annual Negro Leagues tribute. They will be wearing the uniforms of the Rochester American Giants, a team that played in the minor leagues of the Negro Leagues. Perhaps, though, they should be playing in the uniforms of the 1948 Black Yankees. And perhaps, in years ahead, the best players of Rochester’s last Major League Baseball team can have a place of honor somewhere in the stadium.
On Tuesday, I said that Opening Day will not take place. At the time, it was mostly figurative, at least in America, and it seemed that while the big importance of Opening Day (capitalized) wouldn’t take place it seemed likely that the season would still start on time, albeit in a more depressing manner than usual thanks to the coronavirus.
Now, though, I think that we won’t even be seeing an opening day (not capitalized) as scheduled, much less an Opening Day. In fact, I think it would be malpractice to have it.
This realization came last night. I’m not sure when, but it was probably when a NBA game inexplicably postponed at the last second, a player tested positive for COVID19, and the entire season was suspended all in the space of what felt like a half-hour. Oh, and Tom Hanks announced he tested positive as well.
The average NBA arena holds between 15 and 20 thousand fans. Even the smallest MLB stadiums (Tropicana Field with tarps up, for example) holds thousands more people. Public Health experts in cities seem to differ on what level of crowd is too big, but even the largest estimates are around 1,000 people, or WAY WAY less than any major league stadium. Even a fan-less game may break the level of a safe gathering, given the amount of support staff, journalists, and security.
Yes, it is true that most COVID19 cases are minor, and even those in dangerous categories are more likely to live than not. But think of it this way: you are also more likely to get Christian Yelich out more often than not, but nobody would want to give him the opportunity to bat in the ninth against them.
So what I’m saying is: shut it down. Shut it all down. Unless it is either something something essential or something that can be done entirely over television or the internet without any large amount of human interaction, it can wait.
It is said that baseball is life. That is true, but you also need life to have baseball, so there is no sense in putting anyone’s life at risk.
So shut it down. Cancel everything, and perhaps we can try again in a month or two.