In Defense of the Little League World Series being on TV

I didn’t expect to write a post about the Little League World Series today, but, alas, current events have other plans. As you may have heard, the Jackie Robinson West Little League of Chicago has been stripped of it’s US Title for last year’s World Series, due to revelations that they used players from outside their district.

It’s a sad ending for what was an inspiring story- the first team in history to win the US title made up entirely of African-Americans, coming at a time when participation in the sport by African-Americans continues to drop and racial issues were increasingly in the news. It’s all the more sad because this was the result not of any child, but rather the adults.

And, with that, the many issues people have with youth sports again have arisen. Among them being that the LLWS being on television is, according to some people, an abomination that promotes behavior like this while exploiting 12-year-olds for profit.

In many ways, they do have a point. It is wrong that ESPN, it’s sponsors, and the overall organization of Little League make large amounts of money off 12-year-olds while those 12-year-olds receive no cut or royalty from it. And, yes, having that much pressure and attention placed on a kid is a recipe for possible disaster psychologically when you are so young. The Little League World Series is far from perfect, and at the very least something should be done to compensate the kids who draw in large audiences every year (perhaps have some sort of college trust fund or hold money in escrow or something).

However, I am here to argue that those people who believe that the Little League World Series doesn’t belong on television regardless are wrong. Go below the jump for more:

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Best of 2014- Future Possibilities for International Games

Originally published on July 27, 2014.

At the start of the season, regular season games were held in Sydney, Australia.* Whether you like it or not, it was not the first and won’t be the last time that MLB opened overseas. But, where will MLB go next? Here’s an overview of possibilities:

 

* This was partly written immediately following those games, but fell by the wayside until now, so here it is.

A Return to the Tokyo Dome

Used under Creative Commons license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en), taken by “DX Broadrec”.

Location: Tokyo, Japan

Baseball Pedigree: Has hosted baseball since it opened in 1988, home of the Yomiuri Giants, hosted WBC games in 2006, 2009 and 2013, hosted MLB season-opener games in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. Japan is one of the preeminent baseball nations on Earth and host to the world’s 2nd most prominent baseball league.

Capacity: Between 42,000 and 55,000 (depending on configuration)

Pros: Japan is baseball-mad, has shown it can pack the stadium for MLB games, and the Tokyo Dome is highly-familiar to MLB officials and some players thanks to it’s many previous MLB-related events. Being a dome makes weather considerations non-existent, and Tokyo’s status as one of the world’s greatest cities allows for plenty for players to do when not playing.

Cons: It’s been done before several times, it’s a type of stadium that has been phased out of MLB, and, while this isn’t much of a factor that MLB cares about much, there is the time difference issue, with night games in Tokyo being early morning games in the Eastern USA and very, very, very early morning games in the western part of the USA.

Likelihood of return: It’s inevitable that MLB will return to Japan again sometime in the future, the question is whether the Tokyo Dome is the place it will happen. More-than-likely yes, but I’ll be looking at other possible Japanese sites later on.

(HIT THE JUMP FOR THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE)

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Best of 2014- The “Backyard Baseball” Kids: Where Are They Now?

Originally published August 15, 2014.

 

As you may know, I am a big fan of the old Backyard Baseball video games. In fact, I have a low-burn campaign to get the original games on Steam. So, with the Little League World Series here, I got to thinking: Whatever happened to those kids? Where are they now? I mean, I presume they lived in California, since that’s where Humongous Entertainment was, and I’m going to guess they’d be in their 20s nowadays (the oldest of them would have been, like, 13 in 1997 and the release of the first game, and the youngest would have probably been 6 or 7. Most of them seemed to be be around 10, 11 or 12), but… what would they be doing now? How did their lives turn out?

I did some research, and here’s what I found. It was a high-achieving group, with three individuals playing professional baseball, several others playing sports in college or professionally, and others going on to stardom or at least happy lives. Sadly, as with any large group of people, there were some who never achieved their dreams, others who lost their way, and even one who who is no longer with us. And then, there is one final person who is a story all of his own…

  • Kenny Kawaguchi, the wheelchair-bound player who appeared in early games of the series but later disappeared, currently runs a music-and-sports podcast in Los Angeles, where he works as a consultant to various tech companies.
  • Tony Delvecchio had a brief career in the Mets organization and Indy-ball. A proud Italian-American, he represented Italy in some minor international tournaments. He now is a bartender in Las Vegas and is married with two kids.
  • Although Tony would refuse to ever admit it, his sister, Angela Delvecchio, fared far better at baseball, playing on the boys team at a small NAIA school before causing a brief media stir when she was signed by a team in the Golden Baseball League in the 2000s. She continues to pitch in the Girls Professional Baseball League in Japan and is a member of the United States Womens National Baseball Team.
  • Pete Wheeler joined the Army and won a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions overseas, and is currently being considered for a Congressional Medal of Honor for his role in rescuing his commander from enemy fire. He also has taken up ping-pong.
  • Brothers Achmed and Amir Khan, as well as Amir’s wife Maria (née Luna), now tour the nation as America’s number one Pakistani/Mexican Fusion Metal-Rock Trio, the Wrath of Khans.
  • Ashley and Sidney Webber‘s tennis careers floundered shortly after they turned pro, with neither of them getting past the second round of any major tournament and only reaching the third round of a major tournament as a pair. The two, who often appear on lists of “greatest sports phenom busts”, recently wrote a controversial book in which they blamed their domineering father for their issues, saying that he took away a normal childhood from them. Both now retired, Ashley is an assistant coach at Notre Dame (ironically, her father’s alma mater) while Sidney has started a program meant to bring tennis to children of low-income families.
  • Dante Robinson is now a competitive eater, holding the record for most hamburgers eaten and is second in the world in several categories, including pickles, bananas, and peanut butter. When not competing, he sells insurance and is in a steady relationship with another competitive eater, Kimmy Eckman (female champion in candy bars).
  • Vicki Kawaguchi, Kenny’s little sister, has had a tough life. While rumors that she for a time turned to a seedier form of dancing after her ballet career never took off have neither been confirmed nor denied, it is known that she was, in Kenny’s words, “disowned” from the family at one point and had problems with substance abuse. Thankfully, things have seemingly turned around for Vicki, who wrote and drew a best-selling manga-inspired graphic novel on her experiences, entitled “The Pointe in Life”, which she mysteriously dedicates to a “P.S.”
  • Dmitri Petrovich, contrary to popular belief, does not work at the NSA. Nor does he work at DARPA. The report that he was arrested for being a Russian spy is also completely false. No, the truth is much more mundane: Dmitri Petrovich actually works at Virgin Galactic. Well… I guess that’s not that mundane. Oh well.
  • Stephanie Morgan‘s baseball career came to a tragic end when she suffered a catastrophic leg injury during a game at Tin Can Alley. Thankfully, the experiences that came from that injury led her to pursue a life in medicine. One of the oldest of the backyard gang, she now works as a orthopedic surgeon in Los Angeles.
  • Annie Frazier later turned full-time to soccer, playing in High School and College. She now runs a co-op food market in San Francisco after funding from an unknown source saved it from financial ruin.
  • Vinnie the Gooch is currently serving time for fraud and money-laundering, but swears he was framed because “The Gooch wouldn’t do that stuff”.
  • Ernie Steele was heavily recruited by Division I basketball teams and eventually signed a letter of intent at Syracuse. Jim Boeheim kicked him off the team after one practice after a joke that centered on a particularly bad pun about the zone defense. After some time playing in Europe and several dozen standup classes, “Funnybones” is now a member of the Harlem Globetrotters.
  • Sally Dobbs is an attorney, while her little brother Ronny is a firefighter, having grown up both in size but also in courage.
  • Mikey Thomas kept playing baseball and bloomed into quite the slugger as he defeated his childhood sicknesses. He was given a scholarship to Humungous University. However, he then found himself unable to keep up with D1 pitching, and his slow speed and so-so fielding caused him to be benched. Seeking an edge, Mike turned to steroids. It was then, according to him, that he received an anonymous letter that told him that cheating was the easy way out, and then went on to give him a few good tips. Thomas then broke out, hitting home runs in five consecutive games and winning back a starting position. Thomas reached as high as AA in the Red Sox organization before a knee injury took him out of affiliated ball (ironically, Stephanie Morgan, then in her residency, helped with the surgery). He now coaches baseball not far from where he and the others played in their childhood.
  • Jocinda Smith’s played for the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team and now plays in the WNBA, where she is a perennial All-Star.
  • Kiesha Phillips later turned to softball and was an All-American in college. She now works as a school counselor in her hometown.
  • Gretchen Hasselhoff is now a voice actress, best known for doing those disclaimers at the end of commercials that are spoken so fast you can barely understand them.
  • Ricky Johnson played for a mid-major Division I football team but has since fallen on hard times due to heavy medical bills and post-concussion problems. A recent mysterious donation has helped ease the financial problems, but sadly nobody is sure if Ricky will ever be the same again.
  • Marky Dubois was for a time missing, and presumed dead, somewhere in the Louisiana Bayou, where he went saying he would find the legendary “Skunk Ape” and bring it back to civilization. Nobody, apparently, told him that the Skunk Ape is said to live in Florida. Late last year, however, he traipsed out, a frog in one hand and some hairs he claimed to be from the “Skunk Ape” in another. He has yet to discuss his ordeal.
  • Billy Jean Blackwood’s modeling career never panned out, so she instead went into the hospitality industry. She currently is an assistant manager at a hotel in New Orleans.
  • Luanne Lui, the youngest of all the backyard kids, recently graduated from Humongous State University, where she played softball. She is pursuing a graduate degree but has not yet decided in what yet.
  • Reese Worthington played soccer in college and has begun a career in finance and was recently featured in a news story about his large stamp collection.
  • Every “Where Are They Now” article has a sob story. And in this case, it’s the fate of Jorge Garcia, the bespectacled kid with a weird swing. Garcia passed away at the age of 16 when he was killed in a hit-and-run not far from Parks Department Field #2, where his family had recently sponsored the building of a new concession stand. Despite a hefty reward offered by his family, no perpetrator was found until several years later, when an anonymous tip led police to a man who quickly confessed to the crime. Due to the tip being anonymous, the reward money was donated to the local Backyard Sports organization and also used to create a scholarship in Jorge’s name.
  • Although she was probably the last one anyone expected to do so, Lisa Crocket eventually blossomed into a beautiful and outgoing woman and became a actress who is best known for her role as Cynthia Coat in “Pajama” Sam Peterson’s gritty reboot of Pajama Man.
  • Sunny Day currently works behind the scenes at BNN, which you may be familiar with if you play Out of the Park Baseball.
  • And finally…

Pablo Sanchez. The Secret Weapon. The undisputed greatest of all the backyard kids, who was great no matter the sport but was greatest of all in baseball. Nobody ever truly knew much about him, as he only seemed to know Spanish and usually just let his skills do the talking. At least, that’s what everybody thought. In reality, Pablo spoke perfect English, he had learned Spanish- and become instantly fluent in it- in school. And, as he continued to rule anything and everything he tried his hand at, certain eyes were drawn to him. Rumors began to spread of a child who would break all existing sports paradigms, the sports equivalent of a nuclear weapon. Whatever team that would get him would instantly become the greatest on earth, whatever league that had him would become the most popular in the nation, and whatever he endorsed would instantly become the best-selling.

He would upset the balance of all sports and all the economies connected to them, bringing about chaos. Quite simply, the lords of sports decided, Pablo Sanchez could never be allowed to play sports above the youth level.

They came to him a few days before he started High School. All four commissioners of the Big 4, the heads of the IOC, FIFA, NASCAR, and ESPN’s X-Games divisions. Several major CEOs and a few big-name agents. Some say that even a few senators showed up.  Never before or since had such a conglomeration come together.

They made Pablo and his family a simple offer: In exchange for not disrupting the natural order of competition and business in the sports world, they would give him a half-billion dollars. A year. Until the age of 50, at which point it would merely become a million dollars a year.

You’d like to think that Pablo would have been incorruptible. But, alas, even he had a price. And so, the greatest athlete of all time never stepped on the field.

Instead, he became something so much greater. You see, while others would have just taken that money, gotten a nice mansion, and lived a life of leisure, Pablo would have no such things. After college (where he was Summa Cum Laude, of course), he began to travel. And he began to help people. You see, over the years, Pablo looked out for his friends. It was he who saved Marky Dubois from the deepest part of the Bayou, it was he who wrote that letter to Mikey Thomas, it was he who helped fund Annie Frazier’s business, it was he who paid Ricky Johnson’s bills, and it was he who gave the tip that led the police to the man who had killed Jorge Garcia. And, yes, it was he who was the one who helped Vicki Kawaguchi turn her life around, something for which she dedicated her book to him for.

Yes, the Secret Weapon still has been amazing, and still can do no wrong. And to this day, if you see a man driving a purple car going “putt-putt-putt” down the road, know that he probably is on his way to do something amazing again, perhaps finding out what really happened with Vinnie the Gooch or looking for what happened to Earl Grey, the soccer announcer who hasn’t been seen in nearly a decade. And you can know that he has made a difference, even if it wasn’t on a sports field…

…well… maybe.

You see, once, during his travels, he came to a town in New Jersey. While there, he went to a youth baseball practice. He saw something in one of the players, something like he once was. He went up to that player. And, in the next few hours, he taught nearly everything he knew to that kid.

You may know that “kid” as Mike Trout.

The Secret Weapon lives on.

Best of 2014- How Babe Ruth’s trade was reported (Updated!)

Originally published on July 9, 2014.

This is an updated version of an article from last fall, now including things from The Sporting News of the era. Thanks to the Society of American Baseball Research (of which I am now a member!) for the access to the Sporting News archive, which made this update possible.
It could be said that the last vestige of the “Curse of the Bambino” fell last year, as the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in Fenway Park itself for the first time since 1918. To be more exact, they were the first Boston team to clinch the title at home since this game.

Take a look at that game. And notice how different it was: it took only 1:56 to play, it was a day game and only 15,238 were in attendance. It took place in September since the season was shortened due to WWI travel restirctions. Hall of Famers Harry Hooper and Babe Ruth (who was used as a defensive replacement, despite still being primarily a pitcher at the time) were on Boston, and HOF umpires Bill Klem and Hank O’Day were working the corner bases (there were only four umpires in the playoffs back then).

Of course, that ended up being the last World Series game that Ruth would play for the Red Sox, because on December 26 of the following year, he was infamously sold to the New York Yankees. And that’s what brings us to this article, where I take a look at how the Ruth sale was reported in the papers of 1919.. or, rather, 1920, since it took TEN DAYS for them to officially announce it.

(JUMP)

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The Best of 2014- BIZARRE BASEBALL CULTURE: “Mr. Go” is about a GORILLA PLAYING BASEBALL IN KOREA

This was originally published July 18, 2014. More “Bizarre Baseball Culture” can be found here.

In Bizarre Baseball Culture, I take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.

Oh boy.

I have covered many strange things on Bizarre Baseball Culture over time. There was the story about baseball in 2044, there was the Pokémon episode, the comic where the hero basically uses PEDs, the comic where Billy The Marlin and Spider-Man had to save Jeff Conine from Doctor Doom, and, of course, all of those “Ultimate Sports Force” comics. But perhaps none can compare to the 2013 Korean/Chinese epic that is… Mr. Go.

Yes, Mr. Go. A film much beloved by people throughout the baseball internet for the sheer curiosity factor of those blog posts at places like Big League Stew last year, but rarely actually seen by it. I, however, was able to procure a copy of the film, in the form of a DVD from Hong Kong, acquired from a Canadian seller on eBay. All for you, the readership of the Baseball Continuum (and anybody who found this link).

So, buckle up, because below the jump, we dive deep on Mr. Go. Prepare yourself, because gorilla baseball, MLB cameos, banana-shaped thunderstix, pizza commercials, a bullpen-cart chase and other madness awaits you:

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The Best of 2014: First References in “The Sporting News”: Japan

This was originally published on November 13, 2014.

One of the great perks of SABR membership is access online to The Sporting News’ archives. While it now is dedicated to all sports, for a good chunk of it’s earlier history it was almost entirely focused on baseball (with some boxing, horse-racing and college football thrown in here and there). So, today, I take a look at some early references to things in The Sporting News. In this case, in the spirit of MLB’s current tour of Japan, I’m looking at certain topics related to baseball in Japan.

Baseball in Japan in General

While there were some references to Japan as far back as the 1880s, they either are references to other things or exceedingly brief and vague, like this item from the November 13, 1886 issue that I honestly do not understand whatsoever (although John Thorn has thankfully given some insight as to what Copenhagen was– it was a game played by young children):

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 11.28.29 AMThe first real, unequivocal reference to baseball in Japanese baseball in The Sporting News was in 1897, as the December 4 issue had this headline:

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 11.38.13 AM

It began like this:

Base ball (sic) has invaded Japan and to such an extent that the Tokio (sic) Athletic Association has written to President James A. Hart of Chicago for rules and suggestions relative to the furthering of the American national game in the land of the Mikado.

The article goes on to say how “last summer” a “lively little gentlemen” name Tora Hiraoka of “Tokio” attended games in Chicago with Hart (who owned the team we now know as the Chicago Cubs at the time) and had told him of how baseball had been introduced to Japan (“displaying two or three crooked fingers as indisputable evidence”) and that he was sure it could be “immensely popular” if “generally introduced”. The rest of the article is on how Hart had received a letter from Japan and how he believes that the Japanese should take to the game because they are “agile and naturally like athletic sports”, also mentioning how maybe they could play a Australian team that had visited America “last season”.

Koshien Stadium

The most famous stadium in Japan and site of the country’s High School Championships, the first reference to Koshien came in the November 8, 1934 edition of Sporting News, when it was mentioned that Babe Ruth’s tour would likely see even greater crowds in Osaka, since that was where “the Koshien Stadium seats 80,000″.

Tokyo/Yomiuri Giants

The “Yankees of Japan” and winners of 22 Japan Series titles, the Yomiuri Giants were first referenced in the January 23, 1936 issue of The Sporting News, where it was reported that they (as the “Tokyo Giants”, their name before their owners at the Yomiuri Group changed it to better advertise themselves) would be coming to America to tour the Pacific Coast, Texas, and the Northwest. The first reference to the Yomiuri Giants under their current name came in 1951. In the November 7 issue, a story on a tour led by Lefty O’Doul and featuring players like Joe DiMaggio and Mel Parnell was printed, and it covered the team’s 6-3 victory over Yomiuri on October 25.

Masanori Murakami

The first Japanese player in MLB history, Murakami was a pitcher who had been sent to the San Francisco Giants as something of a exchange student to play in their minor leagues. However, he pitched so well that the Giants called him up and then refused to send him back to Japan when it was time. The baseball version of a international incident occurred, and it eventually led to the end of Japanese players in North American baseball until Hideo Nomo came over in the 90s.

The first reference to Murakami in The Sporting News was on March 7, 1964, in a story by Bob Stevens on how he and two other Japanese players (Tatsuhiko Tanaka and Hiroshi Takahashi) would be in the Giants’ organization that season. Funnily enough, the story includes a note that neither San Francisco or the Nankai Hawks (their Japanese team) thought any of them would be able to crack a National League roster. Whoops.

Sadaharu Oh

Probably the greatest player in the history of Nippon Pro Baseball and owner of the all-time professional record for HRs (868), the first reference to Oh in The Sporting News came in the Jan. 2, 1965 issue, as writer Jim Sheen looked back on some of the biggest accomplishments in the sports world in 1964:

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 12.33.56 PMHideo Nomo

Interestingly, the first mention of Nomo in The Sporting News was a single item in Bob Nightengale’s baseball report on January 30, 1995, where he mentions that he is one of the hottest free-agent pitchers on the market and that the Dodgers, Blue Jays and Mariners were all pursuing him.

Ichiro Suzuki

Finally, the first reference to Ichiro in The Sporting News also was rather matter-of-fact, coming in a preview issue on Valentine’s Day in 2000, where he was mentioned not because he was joining the Mariners (he wouldn’t until 2001), but because his spring training stint in 1999 had given Seattle some experience with the throngs of Japanese press they would receive for their new reliever, Kaz Sasaki.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 12.52.47 PM

Thank you to SABR and their “Paper of Record” database for making this article possible. Also, thank you to @YakyuNightOwl for correcting me on the history of Yomiuri’s name- it was always owned and run by Yomiuri, it’s just that Yomiuri didn’t put their name in the team name until later.

Winter Meetings Tweets of the Day (December 11, 2014)

Throughout the 2014 Winter Meetings, I’ll be showcasing the best tweets. Here are yesterday’s.

Yesterday was the last day of the Winter Meetings. Stuff happened.

For example, Mat Latos was traded to the Marlins, but along the way his wife nearly had a nervous breakdown:

Meanwhile, the many deals on the hot stove left some dazed, confused and at times sarcastically passive-aggressive:

The trade of Yoennis Cespedes, of course, gave those goofballs at the BBQ some material:

But, let us finish with the true meaning of season: Hank the Brewers Dog dressed as Santa.

Adorable.