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Mudville: June 16, 2024 7:18 pm PDT

Baseball Time Machine

BY KEVIN KERNAN

The beauty of BallNine is that it’s all about the here and now in baseball, including bobbleheads and Spitballin’, with no punches pulled on what’s really going on in the game today; but BallNine is also about baseball’s past – the players, the history, the joy of the game, and the controversies.

Mixing those two worlds is not easy, but founder Chris Vitali & Crew do their best.

When someone does an outstanding job, no matter where they fit in the baseball scheme of things, batboy to superstar, BallNine will let you know.

That’s why I want to tell you about the latest happenings at Baseball Digest, a magazine I grew up with and proudly contributed to on occasion through the years; and yes, I am a subscriber. You could say I’m a baseball describer as well, and have been for decades.

Here at The Story we love to bring you new information, and we have the space to do it with columns running 2,000 words. Whether it’s the Mets non-fire sale or the 20th anniversary of the Bartman Ball, you can find it here – and so much more.

This latest bit of information, though, promises to send you down a baseball history rabbit hole; believe me, I know, because I just climbed out.

Baseball Digest has opened its archives in a digital manner to subscribers. Talk about getting bang for your buck.

I also heartily recommend to all Nerds working in baseball: if you want to be the best Nerd that you can be, get yourself a Baseball Digest subscription.

That’s right – not only do you get today’s happenings in Baseball Digest (Bryce Harper is on the cover of the current issue), but you get stories dating back to the dawn of the magazine, 1942. That’s right, 82 years of baseball stories at your fingertips. All this for a price of a yearly subscription, $38.95. You’re not only getting this year’s info and stories in your subscription, you’re getting a baseball history lesson from every single edition of Baseball Digest.

If you’re a baseball fan, you are going to love it.

I also heartily recommend to all Nerds working in baseball: if you want to be the best Nerd that you can be, get yourself an @BaseballDigest subscription and after a day of looking at the “proprietary metrics’’ that has made your team a .500 team in the fifth year of your never-ending rebuild, take a few minutes to read up on the history of the game; the great players, and what made players tick from previous generations.

Believe it or not, there is a whole history of baseball out there before the Statcast Era.

The game has changed, yes, but it is still the same game at its core. We are always told by the Nerds that more information makes for a better ballplayer, and I don’t disagree with that; so I am proposing more real baseball information makes for a better Nerd.

Try it, you might like it.

I admit, I am a bit digitally challenged, so I was not sure if I could go where I needed to go in this Baseball Time Machine – so I started small with the Baseball Digest archives. Turned out, it was as simple as calling up Baseballreference.com.

Before we go back in time, though, listen to what Rick Cerrone, the editor-in-chief at Baseball Digest, told BallNine of the new/old Baseball Digest.

“One of the most exciting things that has happened in the 82-year history of Baseball Digest was being able to offer our subscribers free digital access to every single issue since the very first one in August of 1942. It’s fascinating to be able to relive our national game and the people in and around it as it was reported at the time.”

Believe me, it’s a joy, and that is the key, as it was reported at the time. And the beauty of it all is that you’re not going through some dusty old magazines at the local library; the stories pop up in original form on your iPad or laptop. It’s easy.

Again, the digital archive is included as well as the current issue – in print and digital formats – all now available for the subscription cost of the print edition.

You can subscribe at baseballdigest.com/subscriptions.

So many years to choose from.

If you are a Mets fan suffering through the non-fire sale of 2023 and the upcoming transition season of 2024, there is the June 1985 issue with No. 16 Doc Gooden on the cover. You know you have jumped into an advertising time portal because the first full page ad you see is for Winston cigarettes.

You soon see some of the great names in sports writing in the table of contents and then the Gooden piece: “The Majors’ New Premier Power Pitcher” was written by Hubert Mizell and begins with a father and son going to spring training games in 1969, including seeing what would become the Miracle Mets. The father remembering the past was Dan Gooden, “the kid was four.’’

That kid would be Dwight Gooden.

The article featured the dad as much as the son and there is this quote from Dan Gooden, “Back in Georgia when I was playing semi-pro on the dirt fields, I had dreams of making the big leagues. But I was never good enough. There was no real chance.”

The dreams were fulfilled by the son with some nightmares included, but Doc Gooden was always a fascinating story. Dan died in 1997 at the age of 69. A year earlier Doc pitched a no-hitter with the Yankees on the day his dad underwent open heart surgery.

What I also found interesting from that issue was “The Fan Speaks Out” column, where fans expressed their views on the game in long form. The first letter was somewhat analytics-oriented with a fan arguing, using Ron Cey vs. Tim Wallach as an example, that fielding percentage was an unreliable metric and that total chances was a much better way to weigh “the relative merits of players at the same position.”

And so it goes.

There was an article about “Nifty One-Liners’’ from ballplayers, which, of course, included this gem from Bob Uecker: “My biggest salary was $10,000 and most of that came from selling other players’ equipment.’’

Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan noted: “I could never play in New York. The first time I ever came into a game there, I got into the bullpen car and they told me to lock the doors.”

This from none other than Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio on what his salary would be in the current (1985) economics of the game: “If I were sitting down with George Steinbrenner and based on what Dave Winfield got for his statistics, I’d have to say, ‘George, you and I are about to become partners.’”

That issue also included an interview with Johnny Vander Meer of back-to-back no-hitters fame. That is a record that will never be broken with today’s pitch counts. Interestingly, Vander Meer said in the first no-hitter he didn’t “go for it” until the ninth inning when he used a trick taught to him by Waite Hoyt. “I liked to finish anything I started and I’d get to the ninth inning and say to myself, ‘You’ve got 20 good pitches left.’ I’d start counting with 20, then 19, and so on. That gave me a bit of incentive in the last inning that I pushed myself with.”

In 2023, the Nerds would have the 20-pitch countdown begin in the sixth inning.

On June 11, 1938, Vander Meer pitched a no-hitter against the Boston Bees, managed by Casey Stengel. Four days later in the first night game at Ebbets Field, Vander Meer pitched a no-hitter against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Amazingly, in that 1938 season Vander Meer pitched the back-to-back no-hitters but also spent a month in the hospital because he had seven boils in one ear and six in the other. “All I could do was put heat lamps on them,” he explained in 1985. “Today they have antibiotics. But there weren’t any antibiotics before the war.”

Flash forward to 1999 and the July issue featured Cal Ripken Jr., Frank Thomas, and Tony Gwynn on the cover with this headline: “Majors Loaded with Future Hall of Famers.” I was able to attend the Hall of Fame inductions in Cooperstown of all three players. That story was written by Ken Daley then of the Dallas Morning News and, of course, highlighted Ken Griffey Jr. as well. Daley went position by position and hit a bullseye on most of them, beginning with catchers Pudge Rodriguez and Mike Piazza. Again, I was there for their inductions.

Some HOF prediction misses included Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens; but that is a completely different story. In the issue was an article by Dan Shaughnessy on Babe Ruth and how the Babe popularized the home run. Shaughnessy, a good baseball friend of mine, quoted the great Jimmy Cannon, who wrote of Ruth: “The myth celebrates American innocence in a good, lost time, and Babe Ruth was more than a man. He was a parade all by himself, a burst of dazzle and jingle, Santa Claus drinking his whiskey straight and groaning with a bellyache caused by gluttony.’’

Now that’s ball writing!

Five years after the Ruth article the Red Sox would break the Curse of the Bambino, stunning the Yankees in the ALCS after the Yankees took a 3-0 lead on them in the ALCS. Again, AMBS was there.

One final word on Rick Cerrone. I’ve known Rick since his days working as the Pirates’ public relations director, back when Barry Bonds was much smaller, and then his days as the Yankees’ public relations director under George Steinbrenner. Not an easy job. The press corps of 2023 can thank Rick for holding his ground and the Yankees having one of the best press boxes in the country built when the new Yankee Stadium came into existence. So many press boxes have been moved to the outer reaches of the ballpark, but not at Yankee Stadium. It’s right where it should be and right where Rick Cerrone fought for the BBWAA to have a grand perch that helps them cover games.

It was time to go back to the original Yankee Stadium, the House That Ruth Built, back to the month of my birth, July, 1953.

That’s only 70 years ago.

What was baseball coverage like back then?

On the cover were head shots of the White Sox’s Harry (Fritz) Dorish, the A’s Alex Kellner, and the Braves’ Johnny Logan. There were additional headlines blaring “Delahanty’s Mysterious Death,” “Be A Catcher,” and the “Official Midseason Rosters TV Player Guide” in the 100-page issue.

There was a story on young Whitey Ford by Gordon Gobbledick of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Yankee manager Casey Stengel said of the lefty: “I dunno. Whatever it is that makes a pitcher I guess he’s got it.” The writer added: “Some say he’s great, others maintain he’s a .500 pitcher.” Gobbledick went on to add that the rookie “doesn’t have bad innings. Unlike the usual newcomer to the big time, he never succumbs to panic in the tight spots, never rears back and tries to throw the ball past the batters. Whatever the situation, he remains a pitcher as distinguished from a thrower. … He pitches to spots and will walk a batter rather than groove one.” Gobbledick concluded: “You’ll have to mark him down for what he is: The first bona fide rookie pitching sensation since Bob Feller.”

Turned out to be a pretty good scouting report. Ford finished his career with 236 victories and only 106 losses, good for a .690 winning percentage, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974.

The feature article in that July, 1953 issue was “The Strange Death of Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty” by Norm Nevard and begins with this sentence:

“It was just 50 years ago this month that one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time, the only player to lead both major leagues in hitting, was found dead, his body horribly mangled, in the churning waters under Niagara Falls.”

I was hooked and proceeded to go deeper down the rabbit hole of Baseball Digest history.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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