Posts Tagged ‘Cal Ripken’

Age Is Just a Number: Luke Appling and the 1982 Cracker Jack Old Timers Baseball Classic

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

It was a moment of nostalgia, surprise, and joy.  More than 30 years after hanging up his spikes, Luke Appling went yard at the age of 75 in the 1982 Cracker Jack Old Timers Baseball Classic at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

Far from a power hitter, Luke Appling bashed 45 home runs in his career, which was one of, as Wee Willie Keeler said, hitting them where they ain’t.  Appling fell shy of the magic mark of 3,000 hits, ending his career with 2,749 hits, including:

  • 440 doubles
  • 102 triples

He played his entire career in a White Sox uniform—1930 to 1950.

The Cracker Jack game was a shot of adrenaline to baseball fans suffering the psychic wounds created by the previous year’s strike, which shortened the 1981 baseball season.  Appling’s home run off Warren Spahn washed away, if only for a jiffy, the festering stench of despair felt across the fan spectrum, from Tee-ball players first learning the basics to senior citizens reminiscing about ballparks that no longer exist.

Appling was the oldest player in the Cracker Jack game, which ended with the American League beating the National League 7-2.

Nearly 30,000 fans poured into RFK on July 19, 1982 to watch baseball’s heroes of days gone by.  Though the ex-players wore the uniforms so familiar to baseball fans, their appearances showed the slights of age.  A little grayer.  A touch heavier.  A bit slower.  None of that mattered.  Old Timers games are affairs of the heart.  Baseball is, after all, a sentimental game, at once wistful and exciting.

Appling’s homer punctuated the pleasure at seeing a game where icons, though far from their prime, can recapture the feeling that anything is possible.

Bobby Thomson proved it when he knocked a Ralph Branch pitch over the left field fence at the Polo Grounds to win the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants.

The 1969 Mets proved it when they beat the favored Baltimore Orioles to win the World Series.

Cal Ripken, Jr. proved it when he broke Lou Gehrig’s streak of consecutive games played.

A .310 career hitter, Appling suffered injuries that came faster than a street hustler moving the cards in Three Card Monte.  “Old Aches and Pains” became his moniker.  Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964, Appling’s career achievements were:

  • 528 strikeouts
  • 1,302 walks
  • .399 On-base percentage
  • Led major leagues with a .388 batting average in 1936 (Lou Gehrig eclipsed Appling in the voting for the American League Most Valuable Player Award)
  • Led American League with a .328 batting average and a .419 On-base percentage in 1943

On the morning of the Cracker Jack game, in a harbinger of the home run, an Appling quote appeared in Denis Collins’s article “Old Timers:  Memories Are as Strong as Ever” for the Washington Post:  “I can still slap the ball around here and there.”

Indeed.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 20, 2016.

10 Things I Love About Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Friday, April 14th, 2017

It is the birthplace of The Star-Spangled Banner, the resting place of Edgar Allen Poe, and the place where a stadium constructed during the nostalgia-soaked 1980s defines the paradigm for retro ballparks.

Baltimore.

Petco Park, PNC Park, and several others, indeed, have Oriole Park at Camden Yards in their DNA.  It began the erasure of the circular goliaths built in the 1960s for multiple sports, changing the game of ballpark architecture for urban planners, government officials, and fans.  Shea Stadium hosted the Jets and the Mets.  Going to the “Vet” for a sports fan meant either a Phillies game or an Eagles game.  Memorial Stadium gave Baltimore a home for the Orioles and the Colts.

Oriole Park ushered in a back to the future approach to creating a space where baseball can flourish.

  1. The statues of Oriole icons are amazingly detailed.  When observing Jim Palmer’s left leg extended just before releasing the ball, you almost think the statue will come to life.  Brooks Robinson stands in a slight crouch, waiting for a line drive or ground ball.  Earl Weaver, hands in back pockets, appears ready for another argument with an umpire.
  2. The Baltimore Sun has an electric sign past center field with its shortened name—The Sun.  When there’s a hit, the “h” flashes.  An error prompts the “e” to flash.
  3. Baseball-themed plaques dot Eutaw Street outside the outfield perimeter, marking the spots where balls have landed.  One plaque sits on the exterior of a restaurant—Ken Griffey, Jr. knocked that dinger during Home Run Derby of the 1993 All-Star Game.
  4. A statue of Babe Ruth stands outside an entrance, reminding entrants that, while the Bambino found pitching success in Boston and earned legend status with home runs in New York, he is a Baltimorean.
  5. Cal Ripken, Jr. made baseball history at Oriole Park in 1995, when he eclipsed Lou Gehrig’s streak of 2,130 consecutive games.
  6. Pope John Paul II celebrated mass at Oriole Park when he visited Baltimore on his 1995 trip.  The NBC television show Homicide features Frank Pembleton, played by Andre Braugher, watching the Pope’s visit on television.
  7. On April 6, 1992, President George H. W. Bush threw out the first pitch for the first game at Oriole Park.  It was a fitting moment for the former first baseman for Yale.
  8. Baltimore’s rich train legacy permeates the ballpark.  Beyond right field, the former Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Warehouse stands as a testament to the city’s transportation past, occupied present by team offices.  Camden Yards is the site of the B&O’s rail yard in days of yore.
  9. DaveThe West Wing, and The Wire contain scenes at Oriole Park—the first two offerings focus on fictional presidents throwing out the first ball.  In an episode of House of Cards, the fictional vice president, Frank Underwood throws out the first ball; Kevin Spacey, an Orioles fan, plays the devious Underwood in the series.
  10. Baltimore’s communal feeling surrounds Oriole Park.  Its aura is one of friendliness.  Its history, one of the richest in baseball.  Major League Baseball planted a flag in Baltimore when the St. Louis Browns moved after the 1953 season, but it was not the first MLB team for the city.  Dating back to 1882, Baltimore had a major league presence.  When a game takes place at Oriole Park, it continues a legacy ignited by John McGraw, Hughie Jennings, and Wee Willie Keeler; bolstered by Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, and Jim Palmer; and cemented by Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Murray, and Earl Weaver.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on September 25, 2016.

 

The Death of Lou Gehrig

Friday, March 31st, 2017

Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.  So said a fictional version of Babe Ruth in the 1993 film The Sandlot.

Lou Gehrig, undoubtedly, belongs in the latter category.  Stricken by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, the Yankee slugger died on June 2, 1941 at the age of 37.  His was a story reminiscent of A.E. Housman’s poem To An Athlete Dying Young.

An editorial in the New York Herald Tribune stated, “Facing with a simple courage the appalling disease which was to kill him, he made, in the final years of his life, one of the best parole commissioners New York Has had.  He had a knack for the friendly kindness which such a task requires.”

Associated Press’s obituary described Gehrig as “a big, handsome dimple-cheeked fellow who always looked the picture of health.  He stood 6-feet-1 inch and weighed 205 pounds.  Playing every game became a fetish with him and because of this, or because of his naturally careful habit, he trained more faithfully than almost any other player in the major leagues.”

Gehrig contrasted teammate Ruth, he of the gargantuan appetite for life’s sensual pleasures.  In his 2012 book Pinstripe Empire:  The New York Yankees From Before the Babe To After the Boss, Marty Appel wrote, “He was Ruth without drama, Ruth without nightlife, Ruth without scandal.  He lived with his parents.  He said things like ‘swell’ and ‘gosh.’  He had muscles to spare when players did no weight training and tended to be lean and lithe.  He could read and write in German.  Lou Gehrig would become the idol of every boy who loved baseball for his quiet presence, clean standards, and heroic deeds.  He was polite and humble.  He would park his car three blocks from Yankee Stadium to avoid notice.”

Although Gehrig played a handful of games in 1923 and 1924, he began his trek toward legend status on June 1, 1925, when he played in the first of 2,130 consecutive games, which earned him the nickname “Iron Man.”  It was an era of Yankee dominance; during Gehrig’s career, the Bronx Bombers racked up seven American League titles and six World Series championships.

Gehrig’s output earmarked the Yankee lineup as fearsome—.340 career batting average, leading the major leagues in RBI four times, and 23 grand slams.  And that’s just a sample of the thunder that Gehrig created with his bat.  In 1995, Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Gehrig’s streak record.  Alex Rodriguez has surpassed Gehrig in grand slams.

On July 4, 1939, the Yankees hosted Lou Gehrig Day.  It is best remembered, perhaps, for Gehrig declaring that he’s the “luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”

In a 2003 article for mlb.com, Mark Newman opined about Gehrig’s statistics if ALS hadn’t struck him.  “Conservatively speaking, it would have been reasonable to project another 500 hits, 350 runs, 90 doubles, 30 triples, 100 homers, 350 RBIs and 300 walks in those three years,” wrote Newman.  “He would have passed Ty Cobb as the all-time leader in runs scored.  He would have been around the 600-homer mark.  He would be the all-time leader in RBIs, not Hank Aaron.”

Gehrig’s death prompted the nickname “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” for ALS.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 2, 2016.

Lou Gehrig, Baseball History, and July 4th

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

On my desk, a 25-cent Lou Gehrig stamp rests in a frame nestled on a plastic stand.

It reminds me of Gehrig’s dedication to his baseball craft, reflected in 2,130 consecutive games played.

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