Category: Sports

In case you missed it …

The Chicago Tribune:

Grown men and women wept.

Fireworks lit up the sky in both the city and suburbs, while school-aged children gathered on sidewalks long after bedtime to cheer honking cars.

Thousands poured into Wrigleyville, forcing street closures around the ball park and prompting CTA trains to bypass several stops in the area because of crowding.

This is what it looks like when a 108-year-old dream is finally realized.

Chicago erupted late Wednesday night as the Cubs won their first World Series in four generations, ending professional baseball’s longest championship drought and giving its long-suffering fan base cause to celebrate. After a century of heartbreak, humiliation and good humor, the North Side faithful enjoyed a moment unlike anything they had experienced since the Theodore Roosevelt administration.

With raised beers and voices, the fans toasted a young, fearless team that never cowered to history. They applauded themselves for a steadfast loyalty that was finally rewarded. And they celebrated a city, which has found a small cause for happiness amid a soaring murder rate.

“First of all I’m going to cry. I’m going to be a babbling 47-year-old baby,” said Dan Yunker. “My sons, my daughters and my wife are texting me. This is a huge deal. This is history!”

At Simon’s Tavern in Andersonville, a wall-to-wall crowd spent the last innings vacillating between unrestrained joy and dread. Optimists in the crowd, weary from hours of baseball and alcohol, assured the others the Cubs would still win, even as the Cleveland Indiansgave cause tor doubt.

As the Cubs made the last out, the bar exploded into screaming, dancing and hugging.

“I feel so wonderful,” said Joan Kufrin, 79, of Chicago.

Sadly, Harry Caray missed last night’s win, but thanks to YouTube and editing skills …

Another baseball team, and another bad baseball team

Sunday morning I got a text:

Remember 3 years ago when the Cubs lost 96 games and you were questioning Theo Epstein and the Cubs’ plan when they were selling off all their “star” players for prospects and not wasting money on starting pitching and high-priced batters while the majority of their hitting prospects were still in the minors?? Remember when you again questioned the plan a year later when the Cubs lost 89 games in 2014 and I told you not to doubt Theo, the prospects were almost ready and they would go get the pitching they need – an ace (Lester) and a closer (Chapman), a decent 2/3 (Hendricks) – and they would dominate the Central for the next 4-5 years?? Well, Theo’s plan worked, regardless of the World Series outcome. And, hopefully I can send you a similar text in 3-4 years reminding you of this year when you ridiculed the brewers for selling of their players for prospects, not spending for quality veteran pitching or a first basemen and not really trying to be competitive this year cause they were certainly going to lose 100 games (they lost 89). Wouldn’t that be great?

Great? Yes. Likely? Where is the evidence?

The most cynical perspective says that the billionaire Cubs owners (of TD Ameritrade) screwed their fans to the tune of selling multiple seasons of bad baseball for premium prices for the chance of good baseball at some point. The most cynical perspective also says that the nouveau yuppie Cubs fans deserve to have wasted money on bad baseball. And to no one’s surprise, as the text writer noted, the billion-dollar owners went out and purchased the needed added parts to seal their win.

There is little resemblance between this Cubs team and the Cubs teams I watched, with day home baseball on free (cable) TV, and Harry Caray merrily mispronouncing names, (allegedly) drinking to excess during his broadcasts, and above all showing off Cubs baseball as something fun regardless of result. Irrespective of the benefits, or lack thereof, of Cubs ownership by the Wrigley family (a few World Series, the last in 1945, and the epic 1969 collapse) and Tribune Co. (1984, 1989, 1998, the 2003 Bartman and 2008), today’s Cubs have about 1 percent more charm than the White Sox, who have none. None of the people I know (including my father) who have been long-suffering Cubs fans will be enjoying the World Series anywhere besides their TV, or their favorite bar’s TV.

Up Interstate 94, the Brewers sucked again this season, though not to the level I thought they would. (To correct the text author: I believe I said they would lose 140 games this year.) It is impossible to say when the Brewers will not suck, and it is entirely possible their dump-players-of-any-value plan to build for the future will result in no better results than today. The ratings of minor league systems apparently don’t place any value on things like team results within their minor league or players finishing near the top of their leagues in offensive, defensive or pitching categories.

Does this look like progress to you?

  • Brewers:  73-89, 30.5 games out of first, 14 games out of the wild card.
  • Colorado Springs, Class AAA: 67-71, 12.5 games out of first place.
  • Biloxi, Class AA: 72-67, 8.5 games out of first.
  • Brevard County, Class A Florida State League: 40-97, 42.5 games out of first.
  • Wisconsin, Class A Midwest League: 71-69, 15 games out of first (though the Timber Rattlers were briefly in the Midwest League playoffs).
  • Arizona, rookie Arizona Fall League: 24-29, eight games out of first.
  • Dominican Summer League: 26-44, 24.5 games out of first.

Even if you grant that the purpose of the minor leagues is development and not necessarily wins, and even if you grant that some players may have been moved around thus harming their former teams’ fortunes, if the Brewers minor leaguers were developing better than similar-level players, the Brewers farm teams should be better than this. The supposed best minor league prospects won’t be in Milwaukee for at least three years, and at that point between the Cubs’ possibly winning the World Series and this presidential election (a major-party choice between Lucifer and Satan) we may all be dead anyway.

(This gives me an idea: Until the Brewers become contenders, they should cut day-of-game ticket prices by the dollar figure equal to the number of games they’re out of first place, down to zero. That would be their way to apologize to their fans for their team’s continued poor play.)

The Brewers’ best player is outfielder Ryan Braun. He is likely to be traded this offseason, and reports claim he’s headed to the Dodgers in return for malcontent outfielder Yasiel Puig, who is reportedly hated by most of his teammates. If that trade does take place, Puig will be hated by his Brewers teammates by Memorial Day. (Claims of the benefits of a change of scenery are usually illusory. People do not change, though they sometimes become worse. Ask the ’90s Cubs about Sammy Sosa.)

This is not all the Brewers’ fault. The economics of Major League Baseball continue to be terrible, and continue to benefit big-market franchises and a few smaller-market franchises who know how to run their businesses (i.e. St. Louis) because teams do not share their local broadcast revenues. The season is too long, which will be proven by World Series games at Progressive Field in Cleveland and Wrigley Field with lows in the 30s and 40s. TV will be fine with this; the fans may need hypothermia treatment afterward.

It should not take several seasons to build a winning franchise. The National Football League is famous for teams coming out of the previous season’s nowhere into the Super Bowl, and then going back the next year. (Tampa Bay, which finished last in its division last year, is ahead of Carolina, which played in Super Bowl 50. Dallas finished last last year and is in first this year.) If you are charging major-league prices for a minor league product, the fans have not merely the right, but the obligation to not buy tickets.

What kind of business would stay in business very long if it put out an inferior product for years and years, telling customers they’re trying to get better, ,but failing to do so? As a part of the entertainment business, every professional sports team owes it to its customers (paying fans, sponsors and broadcast outlets) to try to win every single season. Every single season, no exceptions, no excuses. Is that happening at Miller Park?

 

 

 

Ratings Deflategate

Forbes.com reports on a disturbance in the National Football League force:

I have been writing for a while that the protests of the national anthem by NFL players was hurting the league’s television ratings.

Some scoffed at me, while others said hold on, it’s way too early. And others wrote recently that there was no reason to believe ratings would contintue to dorp.

But I believe the league has alienated many fans who either do not want politics to enter their NFL experience, or simply are disgusted with players being disrespectful of our national anthem.

We are almost finished with week four of the 2016 season and Sunday Night Football, while still the top rated show of the evening last night, are getting worse each week.

The numbers are even worst when compared with last year.

As reported this morning by Deadline Hollywood, the SNF game with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs on NBC came in with a preliminary 6.1 rating and 16.68 million viewers  in the early numbers. Last year’s week four SNF contest between the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints drew a 14.1 rating and 24.2 million viewers.

That’s a drop of almost one-third year over year.

More bad news for the league: Sunday Antonio Cromartie, the former Jets cornerback who became the first member of the Colts to join the Colin Kaepernick-led protest last week, raised his fist and kneeled during “The Star-Spangled Banner” Sunday at London’s Wembley Stadium.

Meanwhile, president Obama weighed into the debate over the national anthem protests sweeping across the US a few days ago, saying he hoped it would  prompt Americans to listen to others’ concerns and not just go into separate corners.

But neither the protesters, NFL or the president apparently get it. Many viewers have had enough!

The Washington Times adds:

Nearly one-third of American adults say they are less likely to watch a National Football League game because of the growing number of Black Lives Matter protests that are happening by players on the field, a Rasmussen poll found.

Thirty-two percent polled online and by telephone said they’re willing to skip NFL games this year because of player protests over racial issues, the pollster said on Tuesday. Only 13 percent said they were more likely to watch the games because of the protests, and 52 percent said the protests had no impact on their viewing decisions.

Twenty-eight percent of African Americans said they were more likely to tune-into an NFL game because of the protests, compared to 8 percent of whites and 16 percent of other Americans, the poll found.

Whites were twice as likely as blacks to say they are less likely to watch this year. …

The NFL, which has refused to do anything about the protests, has had its ratings collapse this season. Although some have blamed blow-out contests, and others point to the presidential election, some see the protests and #boycottNFL online campaigns as the root of the ratings free-fall.

The stupid thing is that it’s very easy for the NFL to do something about the protest without abrogating players’ First Amendment rights — tell teams to play the National Anthem while the players are in the locker room.

By now, though, that’s only going to deal with the first symptom. For one thing, the media is chiming in, as SI.com reported:

Numerous members of the NFL media made a show of support Sunday for players who have been kneeling during the national anthem. In unison at 1 P.M. ET, they tweeted: “I stand with those who kneel.”

The act of kneeling, which 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began in the preseason, has become a widespread practice throughout the league for players protesting racial inequality and police brutality in America. Among those who tweeted their support for the kneeling players include The MMQB’s Peter King, The Nation’s Dave Zirin and ESPN’s Jim Trotter.

None of those aforementioned sportswriters, nor any other I’m aware of (the Forbes writer is a sports business reporter), have chimed in on the NFL’s dropping ratings, as far as I know. Which is rather gutless of them.

Unless, of course, to quote Gertrude Stein, who wrote of Oakland that “there’s no there there,” the theory falls apart under evidence: Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch:

In a particularly troubling trend, ratings for Monday Night Football were down 19% prior to Monday’s Giants-Vikings game, including the lowest-ever viewership in the history of the series when just 8.047 million viewers watched the Saints-Falcons. (That game went head-to-head with the first Presidential debate.) The Giants-Vikings drew a 9.1 overnight rating on Monday, which was the highest MNF overnight of the year. That’s the good news. The bad news? It was still down 8% from the 9.9 for last year’s Week 4 matchup (Seahawks-Lions) that didn’t feature the New York market.

More troubling data: NBC’s Sunday Night Football drew an 11.0 overnight for Steelers-Chiefs on Sunday, down 26% from the same window last year with the Saints-Cowboys. That’s an alarming drop, even with Dallas as the NFL’s best television draw and a blowout game. (The NBC Sports p.r. department said in a release that the Steelers’ 22–0 first quarter was the most-lopsided opening quarter in 155 NBC SNF games. One can admire the rapid response team, but you can’t spin lemonade out of tomato juice.)

On Sunday, per Sports Business Daily, Fox led all Week 4 NFL broadcast windows with a 14.8 overnight rating thanks to the Cowboys-49ers, but that number was down 10% for the comparable Week 4 matchup last year.

CBS did see an increase on Sunday, drawing a 10.6 for its singleheader window, up 2% from a 10.4 in 2015, per SBD.

So what’s up? Well, one theory making the rounds—and it’s very plausible—is that the craziness of this Presidential election campaign has siphoned viewers (particularly males) away from football. In a terrific piece by Sports Business Journal reporters John Ourand and Austin Karp, two of the sharpest observers of sports television ratings, the reporters detailed how the news networks—Fox News, CNN and MSNBC—have gained significant viewers against the losses of the sports networks. One of the executives quoted in the SBJ piece was Mike Mulvihill, Fox Sports’s senior vice president of programming and research, who said that the opening weeks of the NFL season reminded him of the fall of 2000, the only year from 2000 to 2010 where all four NFL TV packages dropped from the previous year and a year which saw a very tightly contested Presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Interestingly, Ourand and Karp pointed out that World Series viewership dropped by 22% in 2000, mirroring some big events this year (such as the Summer Olympics) and long-running series (Sunday Night Baseball), which had big drops in viewership.

Personally, I’m buying what Mulvihill is selling. I believe the hyper-insanity of the political news cycle and the reality show nature of Trump’s candidacy has taken some viewers away from sports. I don’t think it’s the sole reason, but I think it’s a big one. What would back up this thesis would be an uptick in the NFL ratings from the middle of November to the end of the season.

I’m also of the belief that the league has been hurt this year by a number of factors including a smaller group of star quarterbacks (no Peyton Manning or Tom Brady), an awful set ofMonday Night Football games, a potential slowing down in fantasy football growth, some fatigue from what Mark Cuban discussed as the NFL expanding its television package to an additional night, and some truly awful games on Sunday.

There’s also this: Nothing goes up forever, and the NFL was due for some sort of ratings correction.

There are those who posit that the migration to digital services and cord-cutting from television are responsible for the drops, and long-term this will impact the ratings, for sure. But the shift this year feels too dramatic for that to be the primary reason. Plus, if you look at the overall viewership numbers on, say, Twitter’s broadcasts of the NFL, they are minimal.

I think the big tell will be how the NFL does from the middle of November to the end of the regular season. The election will have passed (we hope), and the winter weather will keep many at home on Sundays. If the ratings are flat versus 2015 or tick up during the last six weeks of the NFL’s regular season, you’ll know the Presidential election campaign had a lot to do with it. If not, well, then we’ll re-examine some other theories.

Deitsch doesn’t explain why people would watch more news and less sports. (One political answer: Political commercials during games.) I suppose we’ll know by Thanksgiving (assuming the presidential campaign and/or a Cubs World Series win hasn’t brought on the Apocalypse) whether Deitsch’s theory is correct.

Anyone who has spent time in business knows that businesses that don’t listen to their customers go out of business. To be blunt, what the players think is rather meaningless, because they are very replaceable. The First Amendment, remember, protects government’s incursion on your free speech rights, not necessarily anyone else’s (including your employer). Viewers not watching or fans not going to games affects the bottom line, which is what the entertainment business is all about.

 

The hairiest story you will read today

Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch writes something you may have a hard time believing:

Fox Sports announcer Joe Buck feared for his broadcasting career five years ago when he suffered a paralyzed left vocal cord. The ailment struck him a few weeks before the start of the 2011 baseball season, and it wasn’t until October of that year that he truly felt his voice was back. At the time, Buck told people that he had developed a virus in the laryngeal nerve of his left vocal cord.

But that was a lie.

This is the story of what really happened, revealed for the first time here and explored in more detail in his upcoming memoir, Lucky Bastard: My Life, My Dad, And The Things I’m Not Allowed To Say On TV. The book will be released on Nov. 15 (you can pre-order using link above) and was written with Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Rosenberg.

As a young man, one of Buck’s overwhelming fears was losing his hair, and the possibility soon consumed him. So at age 24, in Oct. 1993, he flew to New York City to get his first hair replacement treatment. He writes that, after the procedure, “I, Joseph Francis Buck, became a hair-plug addict.”

Buck said that whenever he had a break in his schedule—usually between the end of the NFL season and the start of baseball—he would fly to New York to have a plug procedure.

“Broadcasting is a brutal, often unfair business, where looks are valued more than skill,” writes Buck. “I was worried that if I lost my hair, I would lose my job. O.K., that’s bulls—-. It was vanity. Pure vanity. I just told myself I was doing it for TV.”

A few weeks before the start of the 2011 baseball season, Buck underwent his eighth hair replacement procedure. But something went wrong during the six-hour-plus procedure. When he woke up from the anesthetic, Buck could not speak. He believes his vocal cord was paralyzed because of a cuff the surgery center used to protect him during the procedure. A doctor not part of the operation theorized to Buck that the cuff probably got jostled during the procedure and sat on the nerve responsible for firing his left vocal cord. Buck was also going through personal stress at the time, as his marriage to his high school sweetheart was ending. That stress, Buck theorizes, could have made him more susceptible to nerve damage.

Panicked, Buck sought a voice specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St, Louis, Dr. Bruce H. Haughey, who told him he had a paralyzed vocal cord and there was no guarantee on when his voice would come back.

Given his embarrassment over what had happened, Buck lied to his bosses, to the media, to friends. He told people that he had a virus and that his voice would come back. “I was too scared and embarrassed to tell them the truth,” Buck writes. “But I’m doing it now.”

In an interview on Wednesday with SI.com, Buck further explained why it was important to him to reveal publicly this episode in his life.

“When I started thinking about writing a book, this was the main reason why,” Buck says. “It wasn’t about stories with my Dad. I wanted to detail the time in my life where I had a lot going on and I was stressed, a time when I started to take anti-depressants and was going through a divorce. Then I had this situation with my voice that rocked me to my knees and shook every part of my world. I’m 47 years old now and willing to be vulnerable sharing a story. Whether the book is read by one person or one million doesn’t concern me. Getting this out and being honest, really telling my story, that was was the impetus behind this.”

Stories about Buck from 2011 described him as having a virus that struck the laryngeal nerve in his left vocal cord. “This is a nerve issue,’ Buck told The New York Times in 2011. “It’s not like I have polyps or a strained vocal cord. I’m waiting for one of the longest nerves in the body to recover. Nobody has said this is something that won’t come back, but they told me it could take six, nine or 12 months.” Buck continued to discuss the impact of losing his voice as late as last year (see this profile in Cigar Aficionado) but never the reasons why. Few people knew the truth beyond Buck’s immediate family and some close friends, including his NFL broadcast partner, Troy Aikman. Most people at Fox Sports will learn of this upon reading this piece.

“I was lying,” Buck said of the stories about his vocal cord issues. “I think people bend the truth all the time, unfortunately. It was really for self-preservation and ego for me. As I look back, I gave partial truths. Where I lied was when I said the reason why. People would ask, ‘Why is your vocal cord paralyzed?’ I said it was a virus. I didn’t say it was an elective procedure to add hair to the front of my head. It was embarrassing. There’s an embarrassing element to that. Any surgery done to improve one’s looks is not really something someone wants to talk about. So it’s very cathartic to get this out. There are a lot of people across the country, for as silly as this sounds, who obsess about hair loss. I would tell myself I needed to look younger, I needed to have thicker hair, I don’t want to look older than I am. The truth of it is that it was an ego thing, whether I was on TV or not.”
In the book, Buck candidly discusses taking Lexapro to relieve his anxiety from the stresses of his personal and professional life. Eventually, Dr. Hughey referred him to a doctor in Boston named Steven Zeitels, a professor of laryngeal surgery at Harvard Medical School and the director of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation. Zeitels had worked with well-known voices including Adele, Bono, Roger Daltrey and Dick Vitale, among many others.

As part of the treatment, Zeitels injected Buck with a long needle and filled his vocal cord with Restylane, a filler-like substance most often used for lip enhancement. Buck returned to Zeitels every three months for additional shots. The doctor told him the more he used his voice, the more the vocal cords would swell from usage and the better he would sound. Buck’s voice got a little better in August and September of 2011, though nowhere near where a network-level announcer should be. Buck said because of the equity he had built up Fox Sports and by having a strong relationship with his bosses, he was allowed back on the air when he should have been replaced by other announcers. By October, his voice was rapidly improving. Buck said by Game 6 of the 2011 World Series between the Cardinals and Rangers, he felt like his old self. He does, however, still think about the strength of his voice prior to working games today.

“I am an extremely lucky and blessed person, but I’m pretty self-aware,” Buck said. “I’m a flawed, hard-working, hard-trying person. I didn’t write this book to change anyone else’s life. I wrote this book to be as open and as honest as I can be. If there is any mission statement, I wrote it to give viewers and people who think they know me a better and clearer picture of who I really am. If you read it, great. If not, that’s great, too. But I am just glad that it’s out there.”

One might have thought that seeing his father …

… might have been a tipoff for the younger Buck about his follicle future.

The bigger point here, other than arguing over Buck’s hair (which requires bringing up non-hirsute baseball announcers Joe Garagiola, Jon Miller and John Smoltz, among others who have less hair now than they once did) is the cutthroat world at the top of broadcasting, particularly in our social media world, where those who don’t like an announcer can let the world know that:

Buck might have learned some of that from watching his father, who was first hired by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1954. (Jack Buck worked with Harry Caray, which, according to Buck and others … well, let’s say that Caray was a better announcer than coworker.) Jack Buck was then fired in 1959 because the Cardinals wanted to hire an announcer with more name than Buck had at the time. (That came four years after Caray’s and Buck’s partner, Milo Hamilton, was punted to bring on Garagiola.)

Two years later, the announcer for whom the elder Buck was fired, Bud Blattner, left, and so Buck, having not burned bridges on his way out, was rehired. Buck got the Cardinals’ lead announcer job when the Cardinals fired Caray, allegedly for an extramarital dalliance with (depending on whom you ask, and I’ve heard multiple versions from people who knew the parties involved) the daughter-in-law or girlfriend of the Cardinals’ owner, Gussie Busch.

Jack Buck then went part-time with the Cardinals when he was hired by NBC to host its “Grandstand” show, which turned out to be a poor career move for reasons mostly not Buck’s fault, at least according to his book. Fifteen years later, Buck was named CBS-TV’s number two baseball play-by-play announcer, getting the number one job after CBS fired Brent Musburger. (I saw the headline for that in the Chicago Tribune on April Fool’s Day. It wasn’t a joke. Musburger’s firing announcement was the day of the 1990 NCAA basketball championship game, which he announced.) CBS fired Buck after two seasons, allegedly for poor on-air chemistry with partner Tim McCarver (ironically a former Cardinals catcher).

So if you’re keeping track, that’s three firings for reasons that didn’t have very much to do with Jack Buck. Between that and the fact that Joe Buck’s on-air demeanor is off-putting to some (not myself, as a fellow member of the ironic ’80s), can you blame Joe Buck for being a hair (sorry, couldn’t resist) professionally paranoid?

The irony, perhaps, is that if for some reason Fox fired Joe Buck, another broadcaster, and certainly the Cardinals, would hire him in a second, even if that meant pushing out another announcer to make room.

 

The exception to the rules

Will Leitch observes, with two weeks left in the baseball season, about voices of baseball and the greatest of them all:

The modern baseball broadcaster provides a public service to sports fans everywhere: He receives our hatred; he’s a magnet, or a receptacle, for our frustration. To talk for three-plus hours extemporaneously, particularly during a game as leisurely and mannered as baseball, is to invite listeners to pounce on every poorly researched remark. Each year the baseball site Fangraphs.com asks its readers to rank all 30 teams’ announcers; perhaps the nicest thing written about one was that he was “phlegmatic to a fault.” Snarking on broadcasters is a fan’s sport within a sport.

The rise of hate-listening tracks the decline of the Big Broadcast Personality. Today, baseball announcers pretty much sound the same. John, Dave, Tom, Marty, Joe, Jack, Dan … They are interchangeable and anonymous: Choosing one over another would be like choosing between brands of paper clips.

There are, of course, a few grandfathered-in exceptions to the bland-yet-hated rule: Hawk Harrelson in Chicago, Mike Shannon in St. Louis—and most exceptional of all: Vin.

Vin Scully, who now enters his final month on the job, began broadcasting for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950 as an apprentice to Red Barber. Three years later, he was the team’s lead broadcaster. By 1958, when the team moved to Los Angeles to play in the Coliseum, he was so vital to fans – many of whom had difficulty following the game in a stadium far too massive for it – that they packed transistor radios so they could listen to Vin in the stands. By 1976, fans elected him the “most memorable personality” in Dodgers history. That was 40 years ago.

Over the decades, the sports-media landscape changed dramatically, and Scully’s once-beloved profession was whittled down to those Johns and Daves and Toms and Joes we like yelling at so much—but he never lost his touch.

The key to Scully’s success is his calm, intimate vibe. While many broadcasters call games as if they’re trying to talk anonymous hordes out of looking at their iPads, Scully is having a conversation with you – and only you. “I’ve always felt that I was talking to one person,” he said in 2007. “But I’ve never envisioned who that one person is.”

To listen to Scully is to be drawn in by a storyteller—and a fellow traveler. Scully has seen nearly 10,000 baseball games but he never sounds like a jaundiced expert. He’s excited to find out what happens just like you. It’s a baseball game. Let’s watch it together.

In 1950, you listened to Vin Scully because you wanted to know if the Dodgers were winning and he was the only way for you to find out. Now, in an age of push notifications and Twitter alerts, it’s difficult not to find out the score. And we have an absurd number of ways to follow along. We can watch the game on our TVs, our iPads, our phones, our video game consoles or even our wristwatches. We can listen to national audio feeds. We can turn off broadcasters altogether and just listen to the crowd. But still we choose Vin.

Ask any baseball fan. When they’re flipping around MLB.tv looking for a default game, just “which game should I turn on right now?” the determining factor is always, always, “Are the Dodgers at home?” Because if they are, Scully’s calling the game, and that’s the one you choose. Sure, the score of that Diamondbacks-Rockies game might be a little closer. But you’re going to turn down the chance to listen to Vin? In his last season, no less? The Dodgers are in first place, but even if they were on a 100-loss pace, they would be must-watch all season. That’s because of Vin.

Though he’s been around forever, he’s not some nostalgia play. He doesn’t complain that They Just Don’t Play Like They Used To or invoke the Good Ole Days, perhaps because he realizes they’re not behind us.

Baseball is the game we love to lament. Fans yearn for the time when it was America’s pastime in more than name, back when every theoretical American was rapt to attention, Ovaltine in hand, to watch the Mick. But that’s not how it really was. (Yankee Stadium was one-third full when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s record.) In reality, more people are watching baseball right now than did in 1950, or 1960, or 1970, or any other time in recorded history. The newer fans are a more diverse group, more global, more liable to GIF a Mike Trout catch at the wall than keep a scorebook at the ballpark.

What unites the newer fans to the past is that they adore Vin Scully. The man in the booth – doing the job we now love to denigrate – is more beloved than the players he describes on the field.

His voice has served as the soundtrack of baseball even as that game, and the way we interact with it, has evolved. We’ll choose him right down to the very end. And then we’ll get back to booing the other guys.

The pregame protest

KOMO radio in Seattle reports:

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin tweeted Thursday that the team “will honor the country and flag” in a “demonstration of unity” prior to Sunday’s season opener against Miami.

When approached in the locker room by reporters, Baldwin declined to elaborate further saying, “you’ll see on Sunday.”

Former Green Beret and one-time Seahawks long-snapper Nate Boyer later tweeted that he had spoken with the Seahawks players about their plans and wrote, “what the team will do is a powerful sign of unification + respect for the Anthem + those that fight for our Freedom!”

In an interview with Fox Sports Radio later Thursday, Boyer expanded on his tweet .

“I spoke with the players, and they realize that 9/11 is a very important day in our nation’s history. The Seahawks, and probably every team, will be honoring those who serve in camouflage, and also those in blue who served on such a difficult day,” Boyer said. “Shortly after 9/11 our country seemed more unified than I had ever experienced, and was the most unified it has been since I have been alive. Since that date, we have grown farther apart in our unity. Standing together this Sunday is key to making progress. What the team will do is a powerful sign of unification.”

That came after previous reports that the Seahawks were planning to emulate in some fashion San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who first sat during the National Anthem, then one week later knelt because, as he told NFL Media two weeks ago …

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Just in case it isn’t obvious: The “people” Kaepernick is referring to is the police.

The 49ers issued a statement about Kaepernick’s decision: “The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

Niners coach Chip Kelly told reporters Saturday that Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the national anthem is “his right as a citizen” and said “it’s not my right to tell him not to do something.”

The NFL also released a statement, obtained by NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport: “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.”

By taking a stand for civil rights, Kaepernick, 28, joins other athletes, like the NBA’s Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and several WNBA players in using their platform and status to raise awareness to issues affecting minorities in the U.S.
However, refusal to support the American flag as a means to take a stand has brought incredible backlash before and likely will in this instance. The NBA’s Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the Denver Nuggets, formerly Chris Jackson before converting to Islam, refused to acknowledge the flag in protest, citing similar reasons as Kaepernick and saying that it conflicted with some of his Islamic beliefs.

Abdul-Rauf drew the ire of fans and was briefly suspended by the NBA before a compromise was worked out between the league and player, who eventually stood with his teammates and coaches at the playing of the national anthem.

Kaepernick said that he is aware of what he is doing and that he knows it will not sit well with a lot of people, including the 49ers. He said that he did not inform the club or anyone affiliated with the team of his intentions to protest the national anthem.

“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” he said. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

Kaepernick said that he has thought about going public with his feelings for a while but that “I felt that I needed to understand the situation better.”

He said that he has discussed his feelings with his family and, after months of witnessing some of the civil unrest in the U.S., decided to be more active and involved in rights for black people. Kaepernick, who is biracial, was adopted and raised by white parents and siblings.

Kaepernick was supported by soccer player Megan Rapinoe, as Sam Laird reported:

Rapinoe, a star on the powerhouse U.S. women’s soccer team, took a knee during the national anthem before a Sunday National Women’s Soccer League match between her Seattle Reign and the Chicago Red Stars. Afterwards, she was direct in explaining what went into the decision.

“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,” she told American Soccer Now. “It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it.”

Whatever Rapinoe planned to do for her next protest wasn’t seen in public, because the Washington Spirit’s national anthem was played Spirit and Reign players were in the locker room the next week. This is the case in many high school, college and NFL games, and this may well become the norm soon if players decide to protest instead of stand in something approximating attention.

The most famous National Anthem protest took place in Mexico City during the 1968 Olympic Games:

Readers know I have an odd history (“Now he tells us,” readers say) around the National Anthem. Before two 1984 UW games an anti-nuclear dance group called Nu Parable ran out onto the Camp Randall Stadium turf (really green-painted asphalt, but only my joints below my hips find that important right now) when the UW Marching Band got to “And the rockets’ red glare.” (Which was, to say the least, not what I expected to be seeing standing on the field playing trumpet.) This was Nu Parable’s way of showing that Ronald Reagan, having unaccountably failed to destroy the world during his first term in office, would undoubtedly accomplish that in his second term. One of the Nu Parables was literally punted by a band member (and Marine reservist) who found the NuP in his way while marching, and the rest of them were stared at by our drum major, who always struck me as resembling the Grim Reaper (and if looks could kill all the NuPs would have decomposed upon drum major’s sight), while being arrested by UW police.

The next home game before the election, the Nu Parables stayed well clear of the band, while being loudly booed by the crowd, which previously acted confused at what they were seeing. (UW students both weeks chanted “Nuke ’em! Nuke ’em!”, which might indicate that UW students who go to Badger games may not be, or have been, as liberal as popularly portrayed.

There is no First Amendment cause to ban Kaepernick, Baldwin, Rapinoe or anyone else from doing something other than standing at attention. The First Amendment bans government from banning freedom of expression. (Although I’m pretty sure the Nu Parable dancer/protesters were arrested for disorderly conduct or something.) Perhaps surprisingly, the NFL hasn’t censured Kaepernick either. I’m not surprised the 49ers haven’t, although it should be obvious that such a protest would be supported more in some markets than in others, such as Green Bay.

The next time you’re at a sporting event and the National Anthem is played, observe what others do. (Hopefully it’s a live performance and not a recording.) Media types rarely stand at attention hand on heart, in large part because they’re carrying cameras or other equipment, or because they’re inside the press box, which they assume isn’t inside the stadium, or something like that. I’ve seen girls teams link hands and start swinging them toward the end, which must offend traditionalists, or so you’d think. Atlanta Braves fans have amended the last line of the first verse to “And the home of the Braves!” North Dakota hockey fans amended the last line of the first verse to “And the home of the SOOOOOOOOOOO!” before the Boys Named Sioux were divested of their supposedly racist nickname.

Were these not affronts to the National Anthem as well?

(The last video is of the National Hockey League All-Star Game in Chicago during Operation Desert Storm. Notice few people are at attention or singing.)

Some people thought these were too:

It could even be claimed that singers who change the 3/4 Anthem into a 4/4 song (including, among others, Super Bowl singers Whitney Houston and Lady Gaga) are similarly disrespecting the Anthem. There are even those who assert that the Star Spangled Banner should not be the National Anthem because of, among other reasons, the difficulty of singing it.

There is an obvious dividing line during my lifetime in attitudes about the Star Spangled Banner. The line was drawn first during Operation Desert Storm (when Whitney Houston sang arguably the most famous performance at Super Bowl XXV), and the line became a wall after 9/11. (It takes real nerve to protest your country on the anniversary of 9/11, which will be Sunday.)

The cynical note the hypocrisy of claims of oppression by someone getting paid more than $100 million to play professional sports, particularly someone being paid eight digits per year to sit on the bench. (Kaepernick is no longer the starting quarterback, and if anonymous quotes are to be believed he may never play for the 49ers or any other NFL team again, though he is officially the 49ers’ backup QB.)
Some Kaepernick supporters claim (based on two lines of a four-verse song) that the Star Spangled Banner is itself racist, which is a ridiculous assertion. (To wit: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,” referring to slaves apparently impressed by the British during the beginning of the War of 1812.) That is as irrelevant, regardless of the level of veracity, as the Star Spangled Banner’s melody coming from a British drinking song.
More importantly, Kaepernick’s protest is based on a false premise, the supposed war on blacks by police. If anything, as scholar Heather Mac Donald points out, there is a war on police and, by the way, on inner-city minority residents by minority inner-city criminals:

Incarceration is not destroying the black family. Family breakdown is in fact the country’s most serious social problem, and it is most acute in black communities. But the black marriage rate was collapsing long before incarceration started rising at the end of the 1970s, as my colleague Kay Hymowitz has shown. Indeed, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued his prescient call for attention to black out-of-wedlock child-rearing in 1965, just as that era’s deincarceration and decriminalization movement was gaining speed.
It is crime, not incarceration, that squelches freedom and enterprise in urban areas. And there have been no more successful government programs for liberating inner-city residents from fear and disorder than proactive policing and the incapacitation of criminals. …
Violent crime is currently shooting up again in cities across the country. Police officers are backing away from proactive enforcement in response to the yearlong campaign that holds that police are the greatest threat facing young black men today. Officers encounter increasing hostility and resistance when they make a lawful arrest. With pedestrian stops, criminal summons, and arrests falling precipitously in urban areas, criminals are becoming emboldened.

That is what Kaepernick should be protesting, but of course that isn’t what he’s protesting. Of course, the First Amendment gives you the right to be wrong. The First Amendment does not protect you from the consequences of your free expression.

The Olympic, and our own, ideal

Mike Gonzalez apparently watched much more of the Olympics than I did, and enjoyed it immensely, particularly women’s gymnastics:

The only fly in the ointment has come via the news and the realization that politics and race have once again crept up into the Olympics, just as it has in the past. I picked up USA Today at a local supermarket one morning to read that the Final Five is proof of the triumph of “diversity.”

An editorial notes that race relations are at a nadir in America, “as evidenced by the intense battles over illegal immigration, policing and the Black Lives Matter movement.” All true, and the polls are there to prove it. But the editorial goes on to aver, “But diversity also improves America’s competitiveness, from the balance beams of athletics to the board rooms of the world economy.”

A quick check online that night turned up that a lot of people have been saying similar stuff stateside. Over at the Chicago Tribune, Heidi Stevens had this cris de coeur: “We need the Final Five to push back against the daily rhetoric that tells us we’re a divided, crumbling shell of our former selves.” Vox, as usual, got its knickers in a twist, celebrating the team’s diversity while bemoaning that its achievements “won’t calm race relations.”

America, however, has always been diverse and drawn upon this large talent pool to surmount existential moments, just as it did when during the Civil War, when an estimated quarter of the Union Army’s enlisted men were foreign born.

If this is what the writers mean by “diversity”—that we take people from all over the world, turn them into Americans, and benefit from their talents—then of course I am with them.

But the melting pot isn’t what is usually meant when people celebrate diversity.

In fact, as any college freshman can tell you, diversity and the melting pot are rival models of how to organize the country. The enforced affirmation of diversity above all else often detracts from the greater national identity, and thus the unity that makes a team succeed, whether it’s made up of five or 330 million.

The Final Five are indeed a victory for the melting pot—the idea that we all meld together into an American nation, forging out of many different elements one unified, stronger alloy. But their feat is a rebuke of diversity as it is indoctrinated in campuses and policed by all levels of government. The board rooms that USA Today refers to are in fact not diversifying fast enough even for the independent Securities and Exchange Commission, which is considering mandating stricter rules to force companies to disclose plans to make boards more diverse.

“Diversity,” thus, is enforced through means that are inimical to the success of the women’s gymnastics team:

  • Affirmative Action: Diversity enforcers demand that participation in all aspects of society reflect the numbers of members of different groups. If the Final Five were, for example, the Final 10, they would be suspect if they did not include a member of the other two components of the ethno-racial pentagon, Asians and Native Americans. But Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Aly Raisman and Madison Kocian—two African-Americans, a Latina, and two white girls—as we keep hearing—obviously got their place in their elite group through meritocracy. They deserved to be there because of their talent as gymnasts. Period. If two of them had been replaced to wedge in a less-deserving Asian-American or Native American, the team would have suffered as a result.
  • Ethnic Identity: Diversity emphasizes identification with sub-groups at the expense of the traditional touchstones of religion and country. Being a member of one of the oppressed groups deemed to have suffered from historic discrimination—a consideration even accorded to an immigrant whose ancestors could not have been kept poor by the very real legally sanctioned depredations that took place decades ago—is the important identity when it comes to the affirmative action discussed above. But the members of the Final Five give no indication that such racial or ethnic emphasis is present at all. Look up Hernandez, for example, and what jumps out is not that her parents are Puerto Ricans, but that she’s a strong Christian who’s been home-schooled from the third grade. She meditates daily on 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (“Give thanks in all circumstances”), a verse that’s hard to square with racial grievance mongering—which may be why it’s missing from most articles on this outstanding athlete. Just last week Hernandez told reporters she didn’t “think it matters what race you are. If you want to train hard enough to go to Olympics, then you’re going to go out and you’re going to do it. It doesn’t matter what skin color or who you are.” Again, not exactly Black Lives Matter.
  • Official Multilingualism: This other shibboleth of the diversity movement would render Americans less able to pull together for a common purpose (for examples, please see Belgium and Canada in the industrialized world, and places too numerous to cite in the less developed world). But the Final Five work as one. Hernandez again: “We’re always building each other up and making sure that we’re cheering for each other and shouting ‘C’mon, you got it, confidence.’”

The melting pot cuts against the grain of all this, which is why it is denigrated and discouraged today from kindergarten on. The melting pot, in fact, is what allowed Reisman and Kocian—one Jewish and the other with one likely Czech ancestor—to be undistinguishable Americans. While the Czech immigration into Texas begins in the 1840s, many of the East European immigrants who came in through Ellis Island from 1890 to the 1920s weren’t even considered white at all, and neither of course were Jews for decades. The melting pot got rid of these differences, though of course African-Americans were kept out of it. The answer obviously is to extend one American identity to all, and to minimize our differences.

On the air all over

I was on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Joy Cardin Week in Review Friday morning segment this morning, which you can listen to or even download here. (Listen for the references to nuclear holocaust movies, which didn’t include “The Day After” or “Fail-Safe.”)

This week starts the high school football season, which means I am announcing a game tonight and a game Saturday night, both of which can be heard online. The start of high school football is not a holiday, but, believe it or don’t, today is Black Cow Root Beer Float Day, National Aviation Day, National Hot and Spicy Food Day (you’d think that and the previous holiday wouldn’t really go together), National Potato Day, National Men’s Grooming Day, National Sandcastle and Sculpture Day, World Humanitarian Day and World Photo Day.

Saturday, by the way, is highlighted by National Radio Day, National Honey Bee Day, Lemonade Day, National Bacon Lover’s Day and National Chocolate Pecan Pie Day.

But about tonight and tomorrow, Travis Wilson writes on the state of high school football:

It is en vogue to take shots at football for being too violent, too dangerous, and something that will not last the next few decades.

In Wisconsin this year, three 11-Man football teams have canceled their seasons in the last few weeks, with a pair of 8-Man teams suffering the same fate. It led to numerous questions about the sustainability of high school football, especially in the small schools. Newspaper articles and internet commenters rushed to forecast the demise of high school football.

However, despite challenges faced in the arena of public opinion, the actual game at the high school level in the state of Wisconsin remains strong.

In data provided by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, while overall high school enrollment in the state of Wisconsin (public and private schools) fell by 3,094 students from the 2014-15 year to 2015-16, the number of players out for football at the start of 2015-16 was 883 higher than the previous season, this despite four fewer teams overall.

An analysis of enrollment and participation data provided by the WIAA shows no significant change in the overall participation rate in high school football over the last 16 years. In 2000-01, the first year private schools joined their public school counterparts in the WIAA and the first year full data is available, the beginning-season football participation rate amongst all high school students was 9.50%. Outside of several years where full private school enrollment information is not available, which skews those seasons, the football participation rate has remained between 9.12% (2003-04) and 9.63% (2001-02).

The participation rate for the 2015-16 season of 9.46% was the third-highest of the last 16 years (not counting the years of no enrollment data for private schools). So, in the face of increased publicity about concussions, heat-related dangers, etc., the sport continues to be the highest participation sport in the country and the state at the high school level, and the participation rate has been largely unchanged for nearly two decades.

While it is true that the raw participation figures for football are decreasing over the last 10-15 years, it is a result of decreasing populations in the state of Wisconsin more than a decrease in the interest or participation levels.

The WIAA and the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association have done a great job trying to spread the message about the measures taken in recent years to make football even safer, with numerous studies continuing to show that football is as safe as it has ever been. But public opinion and the shots taken at the game in the media are an ongoing challenge.

Both the WFCA and the WIAA, along with the schools impacted by low numbers in football programs, have to search for solutions to ensure that those student-athletes and communities that want to continue the sport of football have that option. As evidenced by recent rules changes that make the game safer as well as increased support of 8-Man football, the leadership in the state remains proactive and I trust will continue to do so. No one wants to cancel a season, especially right before games begin.

There is a sense among some that the start date of football, which has crept into the end of July the next two years, is chasing away players. While that may the case in some isolated instances, the overall participation numbers continue to show no significant change. Many coaches cite other reasons (sport specialization, not going to start on varsity, jobs, etc.) that players have given for not coming out for football.

It is important for everyone to be up front and honest about the possibilities of injury and the out-of-season work it takes to be involved in football. But it is also important to continue to spread the word about the measures taken to improve the game, and wherever possible, cultivate a sense of excitement, not trepidation, about high school football.

As a former football player under coach Jim Harris and WFCA Hall of Fame coach Avitus Ripp at Richland Center High School, I can certainly attest to the many positives that I took from the game, and can tell you unequivocally that I have no regrets about coming out for football my sophomore year after choosing not to play as a freshman. It is a great game that you will cherish for the rest of your life.

The former Appleton Fox and the former Prince of Milwaukee

Two baseball news items sadly chronicle my advancing age.

First: Today is the final day of the baseball career of Alex Rodriguez.

I saw Rodriguez before he was “A-Rod.” Rodriguez’s baseball career began in Appleton in 1994, after he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. We saw him at Goodland Park in Appleton, playing for the Foxes, one year before the Foxes became the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and moved to Fox Cities Stadium, and 15 years before the Timber Rattlers became an affiliate of the Brewers.

Rodriguez had quite a 1994 season. He started with the Foxes, then right after we saw him was promoted to Class AA, then to the parent Mariners. Just before the season-ending strike Rodriguez then was demoted to Class AAA so he could keep playing. One year later, he was on the big club for good.

Rodriguez undoubtedly will go down as one of the most famous Foxes/Timber Rattlers (the franchise dates back to 1942). Whether he becomes one of the three ex-Foxes named to the Baseball Hall of Fame depends on how Hall of Fame voters view the players of the steroid/PED era of baseball, such as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.

Rodriguez is also a symbol of the wacky finances of pro sports, including Major League Baseball. After coming up with the Mariners, Rodriguez signed with the Texas Rangers for $252 million over 10 years. Four years later, the Rangers traded him to the Yankees, and four years after that he signed a 10-year $275 million contract.

Speaking of the Rangers, the Dallas Morning News reports:

Three sources close to the situation confirmed Tuesday that [Prince] Fielder’s career is over after a decade in the majors due to a pair of disk herniations in his neck. An official announcement will be made Wednesday afternoon in Arlington where, presumably, Fielder, still in a neck brace from his second spinal fusion surgery in the last 27 months, will address the decision.

Fielder, 32, will be declared “medically disabled,” as doctors will not clear him to return to baseball over the perilous risk to his spine from the two cervical fusions, according to sources. The Rangers were aware of this possibility at the time he underwent the surgery in July. Teammates such as Adrian Beltre said at the time they were “shocked” over the development. In that regard, the news Tuesday, which broke about an hour before a 7-5 win over Colorado, wasn’t a complete surprise to his teammates, but was depressing nonetheless.

“I don’t know exactly what he is going to say, but his family has to come first,” Beltre said Tuesday after acknowledging that he’d known the situation was dire. “If he’s pushed out of baseball at 31 or 32, that’s tough to swallow. We know how talented he is. But he has to do what is right for him and his family.”

He is due to receive the full remaining value of his contract, roughly $104 million through 2020, unless the sides work out a retirement settlement. The Rangers will be responsible for $44 million of it, Detroit $24 million and another $36 million will come via an insurance policy the Rangers inherited when they traded Ian Kinsler for Fielder after the 2013 season. The Rangers will receive 50 percent of their annual $18 million salary commitment to him via the claim.

As big as those figures are, they still seem a little bit menial when it allows a father of two boys – one a week shy of his 12th birthday and another a rambunctious 10-year old – to actively partake in their growth. It will also allow Fielder to continue to grow his marriage to his wife Chanel, with whom he celebrated his 10-year anniversary on the day the surgery was announced. Fielder has often said that they were kids when they got married and they were kids having kids. They made mistakes together, but still grew a close-knit and also extended family. …

He simply can’t play baseball anymore. His neck won’t allow it without a significant risk of impaired mobility – or worse. It is not a weight issue; as Rangers personnel told me, his neck didn’t carry the burden of carrying his weight. It is more a function of a violent, jerky swing that created incredible force on baseballs, but also incredible torque on the neck.

It seems unthinkable that he has gone from being one of the most durable players in baseball to incapacitated in three years. He played 157 or more games from 2006 until the Rangers traded for him after 2013; only after he experienced some neck stiffness and weakness in his arms two months into the 2014 season. After a sad end to his tenure in Milwaukee and two unhappy years in Detroit, the recovery from the surgery gave him time to rediscover how much he enjoyed playing. He responded with a .305 season and 23 home runs in 2015, but struggled all this season before the latest herniation was discovered.

Fielder, of course, came up with the Brewers, and was part of the 2008 and 2011 playoff teams.

MLB.com gives the Milwaukee perspective:

Drafted seventh overall by the Brewers in 2002, Fielder hit .282 with 230 home runs 656 RBIs over parts of seven seasons in Milwaukee. He ranks third on the franchise’s home run list behind former teammate Ryan Braun and Hall of Famer Robin Yount, is sixth in club history with 439 extra-base hits and seventh in RBIs. Among players to make at least 2,500 plate appearances in a Brewers uniform, Fielder ranks first with a .929 OPS and a .390 on-base percentage.

Fielder’s 50 home runs in 2007, 141 RBIs in 2009 and 114 walks in 2010 are single-season franchise records. His 87 extra-base hits in ’07 tied Yount’s record from 1982, when Yount was American League MVP. Fielder owns the top two seasons in franchise history for home runs, the top two seasons for OPS, and the top three seasons for walks. He’s also the only player in franchise history to play all 162 games in multiple seasons.

“I remember one day I was doing the Kenny Macha show,” Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker said, referring to the former Brewers manager. “Macha tells me he was giving Prince a day off. I said, ‘You haven’t told him yet?’ He said, ‘No, but I’m going to.’

“I looked at him and I said, ‘Kenny, I can tell you right now, that ain’t gonna happen. He might kick your [rear end].'”

Sure enough, Fielder played that day. He set a Brewers record by playing in 374 consecutive games from 2008-2012 before sitting out a game in Houston with the flu. Fielder was so sick that the Astros team doctor administered intravenous fluids, and Fielder still lobbied for a spot in the lineup.

When he did return to action, Fielder started a new streak that spanned 547 games and three teams — the Brewers, the Tigers (who signed him to a free agent mega-contract in January 2012) and the Rangers (who traded for Fielder in November 2013). The 547-game streak, which ended with the onset of his neck woes, is the 25th-longest in Major League history.

“He played so hard all the time,” Uecker said. “If he hit a bouncer back to the mound, he ran his butt off. Every time. That’s the one thing that people should remember about Prince, and I think once people sit back and read this, they will say to themselves, ‘That is right.’ He always ran hard. He played hard. I just liked him, and I appreciated what he did. I played. I know what it is.

“I’m sad, I really am. I talked to him in the spring when they came over the play in Maryvale. We had a really good talk about his family and himself and how good he felt, and how things were going to be better. It didn’t happen. But he’ll always be one of my favorite guys.”

One doesn’t necessarily think of hustle when considering 275-pound (according to the Rangers’ roster, and that might be 30 or so pounds light) baseball players. But Fielder clearly was a team leader for the Brewers, and an enormously clutch player on teams that most seasons had just two power threats, Fielder and Ryan Braun.

Doug Russell adds:

“The doctors told me that with two spinal fusions, I can’t play Major League Baseball anymore,” an overcome Fielder said, flanked by sons Haven and Jayden on one side and agent Scott Boras on the other. “I just want to thank my teammates, all the coaches. I’m really going to miss being around those guys. It was a lot of fun. I’ve been in a big league clubhouse since I was their age, and not being able to play is tough.”

We’ve seen Fielder jubilant and stoic. Until Wednesday, we had never seen tears.

Someday, Fielder will certainly have a Brewers Wall of Honor plaque outside of Miller Park; he already meets several of the criteria, any of which would provide for his enshrinement. Perhaps one day he will have a Walk of Fame induction ceremony at Miller Park as well. As an elector, I plan to vote for him the year he becomes eligible.

After all, his 230 home runs rank third on the team’s all-time list, but his name is littered all over their offensive leaders’ all-time top-ten lists. Fielder is sixth in extra base hits; seventh in RBI’s, eighth in total bases, and ninth in runs scored and career batting average.

Simply put, Prince Fielder is Milwaukee Brewers royalty.

Prince was never a guy who said more than he needed to when there microphones and cameras around. Perhaps he felt betrayed by reporters who wanted to fish around his strained relationship with his father, former MLB slugger Cecil Fielder. Perhaps he was just shy around people he didn’t really know well.

But that’s okay. He was never rude. He just didn’t say much, at least not until the cameras and recorders were gone, and he became the heart and soul of the Milwaukee clubhouse. Craig Counsell called him one of the most influential players he had ever been around.

“I’m sad,” Counsell said shortly after Fielder made his announcement. “The game never lets anybody go when they completely want to, but for somebody like him, he should still be in the middle of a great career. It’s sad that it has to happen like that.”

“It’s heartbreaking for him,” former Brewers teammate Ryan Braun agreed. “I remember how hard he competed. I think he played the game as hard and competed as hard as anybody I ever had on my team. He’s a guy who never wanted to come out of any game, played through so many injuries, wanted to play every inning of every game.”

My generation of Brewers fans had Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. A previous generation had Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, and Eddie Mathews.

Millennial Brewers fans have Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun.

Life will go on for Prince Fielder and his family; After all, he’s just 32 years old. But a part of him – the athlete part – died on Wednesday.

And even though he had been gone for a half-decade from Milwaukee, a part of Brewers history died too.

Fielder left the Brewers after their last playoff season, 2011. Before that the Brewers decided to give Braun a huge contract and not Fielder, which probably foretold Fielder’s departure. (As it is, Fielder will get $102 million to no longer play baseball.) I think a majority of Brewers fans understood the decision, though, upon looking at Fielder, who already was larger than his father, Cecil, and seemed unlikely to get smaller. Both Fielders basically had bodies meant for the designated hitter position, and indeed both ended up as DHs. (And hit exactly the same number of home runs, 379.)

That, of course, demonstrates the reality of small-market baseball. The Brewers traded for pitchers C.C. Sabathia (2008) and Zack Greinke (2011), but couldn’t keep them. The Brewers developed pitcher Yovani Gallardo, but traded him away because what rebuilding team needs a number one pitcher? (One of the three players for whom Gallardo was traded, Corey Knebel, is with the Brewers; pitcher Marcos Diplan has a 4.62 ERA in Brevard County, Fla.; and infielder Luis Sardinas is already gone, traded to Seattle (and designated for assignment Thursday) for outfielder Ramón Flores, currently batting .202 for the Brewers.) The Brewers traded for outfielder Carlos Gomez, but didn’t keep him either, in part because he’s sort of an underperformer (now batting .210 for Houston). The Brewers developed catcher Jonathan Lucroy, but he’s gone too.

When you have little margin for error, as the Brewers have due to their poor finances, you have to be superior in developing players, particularly since you seem destined to not be able to keep them. The Brewers did not successfully develop anyone to replace Fielder, as evidenced by their playing 24 first basemen since he left. The replacement was supposed to be Mat Gamel, but he (1) missed nearly two seasons due to the same injury, (2) was a butthead according to his minor league manager. and (3) ended up hitting exactly six home runs in his major league career. Then the Brewers acquired Mark Reynolds, who in a 130-game season (platooned with ancient former Brewer Lyle Overbay) had more strikeouts (122, which you’ll note is nearly one per game) than hits (74, for a batting average of .196), and had the unlikely stat combination of 22 home runs and 45 runs batted in. (At least the 2000s answer to Dave Kingman apparently isn’t a jerk like Kingman famously was.) The Brewers did acquire left-handed first baseman Adam Lind one year late, and after a decent season (.277, 20 HR, 77 RBI, .820 OPS) traded him away for three minor leaguers after last season.

The sad irony is that had the Brewers held on to Fielder, this column would be about the end of Fielder’s career with the Brewers. Their current first baseman, Chris Carter, has Reynolds-like stats (.217, 25 HR, 61 RBI, .782 OPS, and by the way 143 strikeouts in 109 games). Carter is claimed to have brought stability to first base, but as someone in his seventh big-league season, well, what you see is what you (are going to) get. The Brewers’ Class AAA first baseman, Andy Wilkins, is now with the Brewers despite hitting just .238 in Colorado Springs; at 27 and in the majors for the second time, he seems unlikely to have a very long career. The Class AA first baseman, Nick Ramirez, is also 27 but hasn’t gotten to the majors yet, and with a .197 batting average he probably never will.

The best first baseman in Brewers history is either Fielder, the aforementioned career leader in OPS who hit 230 home runs in seven seasons, or Cecil Cooper, who hit 201 home runs in 12 seasons with the Brewers, including the team’s first seven winning seasons. After them would be George Scott (for whom Cooper was traded in one of the best trades in Brewers history), who hit 115 home runs in five seasons of some bad Brewers baseball. (Scott hit 36 home runs and drove in 109 in 1975. The Brewers still finished 68–94.) After Prince, Coop and the Boomer? Take your pick.

 

 

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