BOOK REVIEW: Oscar Charleston

Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Player
Jeremy Beer
University of Nebraska Press
Copyright 2019 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska

Thanks to so many people, from Buck O’Neil to the researchers at Seamheads, we know a lot about the Negro Leagues – the players and the business and life in general as a Negro League player. But there are still huge oversights. Josh Gibson (on the basis of his legend) and Satchel Paige (thanks to having actually played in the Major Leagues) are rather widely known among baseball fans. Oscar Charleston, however….

Jeremy Beer has done a remarkable service in correcting this oversight. He has written a truly comprehensive biography of the Hall of Famer, from his childhood in Indianapolis to his death at an age too young to have been part of the Negro League “rediscovery” in the 1970s. He has dug through the archives, and even paged through a scrapbook kept by Charleston over the course of his life and career. This is as good a work on baseball in the Negro Leagues as you are likely to find.

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Baseball is Killing Itself

The NBA’s Board of Governors voted to approve a 22-team league to pick up where the season left off when the pandemic forced a shutdown back in March. Games will start around the end of July, and will all be at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando.

The NHL will restart right with the Stanley Cup playoffs. The details are still being worked out, but things are in motion.

The NFL will have coaching staffs return to facilities next week, and fully expects the next season to start on time.

NASCAR has already restarted. Soccer’s Premier League plans to restart on June 17. The PGA will return next week. The WNBA is looking at having their season in one place, probably Las Vegas.

Major League Baseball has rejected the Players’ Association proposal for a 114-game season and has no plans to send a counter offer.

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Rookies of the Year

A while back, I noted that the Mets and Astros were both going to wind up with the Cy Young Award winners and the Rookies of the Year in their respective leagues. This led to a nice (in my opinion) essay on how often that happened in the past. While doing the research for that essay, I naturally had to go over the list of Rookies of the Year. I kept seeing all-time greats, solid players whose names made me go “oh, yeah, that guy!”, and players where I went “Huh?”

I started musing. Whatever happened to the Rookies of the Year?

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Sign Stealing

It just won’t go away. In 2017, the Houston Astros came up with a scheme to tip their batters off as to what sort of pitch was on the way. Major League Baseball found out about it, and then everything went bonkers.

The team was heavily fined, people lost their jobs, other teams are implicated in similar schemes, no one knows what or who to believe. Commissioner Manfred fumbled the PR response; so did the Astros. Fans are outraged; some even calling for the team to have its World Series win that year vacated (whether the Dodgers get to be called World Champions is not mentioned). Many players are openly expressing their anger. There’s been talk of some sort of on-field retribution against certain suspect players.

But there’s one big question that very few people are asking.

Just how much does it help you to know what type of pitch is coming?

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My 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot

Not that I have one, of course, but as a baseball fan (you can tell from how many posts I have here on the sport), I’m not going to let the chance go by to pretend I had a say in the matter.

Derek Jeter is obvious. Even if you believe he is overrated, you cannot deny that he belongs in the Hall. The only question here is if he’ll be a unanimous selection. He probably will be, but if a voter or three has someone else on the ballot that they’d prefer to give a vote to, that’s fine. Nowhere in the Hall (the gallery with the plaques) does it actually mention how the voting went for the honorees. It. Doesn’t. Matter. Jeter gets a vote from me.

This year is Larry Walker’s last time on the regular ballot. I do not believe that any supposed advantage he may have gotten from playing his home games in Denver should affect how we treat him. Before we even knew how to quantify “park effects”, did we penalize players for playing in quirky stadiums? No, of course not. So Walker gets a vote from me.

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MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year

Once the World Series was over (congratulations to the Nationals, by the way), baseball fans immediately turned their attention to specualting on the awards. There’s plenty of prizes and trophies to be handed out, but most fans only worry about the “Big Three”: Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and Most Valuable Player.

The general consensus this year was that Pete Alonso of the Mets and Yordan Alvarez of the Astros would take home the Rookie of the Year awards, and their teammates Jacob deGrom and either Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole would be honored with the Cy Young Award. The MVP “racesare a lot closer, with the Angel’s Mike Trout and the Astro’s Alex Bregman “battling” in the American League, and Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers and Christian Yelich of the Brewers as the leading candidates in the National League.

Well, we already know the Rookies of the Year and Cy Young winners – the general consensus was correct for both, with Verlander getting the Cy Young nod in the AL. The MVP award will be announced next week.

You’ll note that in each league, the same team collected the two prizes given so far. I wondered how often does it happen where the same team has more than one of the three major award winners. I went and looked – and naturally, you’re going to read about it (if you click on the “More” thing below).

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Astros vs. Nationals

OK, this is it! World Series time! The best team in baseball facing the hottest team. And only the second time ever when both teams were expansion teams (the first was in 2015 when the Royals beat the Mets). The teams are loaded with talent, especially when it comes to starting pitching. Plan for a low-scoring series, but expect something unexpected to happen (naturally).

I’ve read some comments complaining that MLB would have preferred a New York – Los Angeles series, because those are the two biggest TV markets in the country. As it happens, Houston and DC are both in the top ten (at #7 and #6 respectively), so it’s not going to matter much. There are other gripes that starting the WS games at 8 pm means they will end after midnight, much too late for children. That claim betrays the commenter’s East Coast Bias. A game that ends at midnight in New York or DC will end at 11 pm in Chicago, St Louis, and Houston; at 10 pm in Denver and Phoenix; and 9 pm in Los Angeles and Seattle. I think the kids will be fine…

And as far as a “narrative” for FOX Sports to promote? The Astros are by far the best team in the game today; they are working on a dynasty. The Nationals are bringing the World Series to DC for the first time in seven decades. If your Promotions Dept. can’t do anything with that, fire them and get some new people in there.

I’m wondering who the Nationals will pick for “Ceremonial First Pitch” duties. The team doesn’t have enough history in DC to have some legendary players – yet. Perhaps they can hearken back to their Montreal Expo origins and call on Hall of Famer Tim Raines? It’s possible there just might still be someone alive who actually played for the original Washington Senators; if not, Walter Johnson’s grandson is around…. Whatever they do, please do NOT pick a political figure. Keep it baseball-related.

For the Houston Astros, I understand the temptation to ask Nolan Ryan if he’d like to do it. I would call on the “Killer B’s” – Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, and Craig Biggio – their superstars from their good teams in the late 90s and early 00s. If they need a fourth, then ask Ryan.

Anyway, I’m going to go on record here as hoping that the Astros take it in five games – mostly because I’ll be on vacation next week, and won’t be able to watch Games 6 or 7…

As the Season Winds Down

With less than three weeks left to play, we can pretty much see how everything is going to shake out in the baseball season. The Dodgers, Braves, Astros, and Yankees are all (barring epic collapses) going to make the playoffs. Only the AL Central still has something resembling a pennant race, with the Indians just a few games back of the Twins. In the NL Central, the Cubs are four games behind the Cardinals, with the Brewers another game behind them. Technically, there’s still a race there, but it’s pretty much a given at this point that neither team really has a chance to knock of the Cardinals.

There are still the Wild Card races, with three teams in the AL and five (or six) in the NL fighting for the chance to appear in the “play-in” game. But those are as exciting as they seem – which is not much.

So, what’s a fan to do? I’ve read an article recently bemoaning the lack of pennant races. I went and did some research, and you know what? This year is an anomaly.

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Expanding Major League Baseball – 3

A while back I mused on what major league baseball might look if two teams were added. One in each league, to make it four divisions with four teams in each league. I picked Portland for the AL team, and Montreal for the NL. The playoffs would be between the division winners – no “wild cards”.

As we are heading into the thick of the pennant races, I asked myself, “What would the standings and pennant races look like in my four team – four division system?”

Obviously, there’s no way to know what the actual won-lost records would be for the teams. I decided to take the records for the real teams as of the start of play today (August 27, 2019), and assume that Portland and Montreal would have .500 records. That makes it easy to minimize their effect on the other team’s records.

Here’s what the hypothetical standings would be:

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On the 2019 All Star Game

Just a few random notes – in no particular order – about this year’s All-Star Game.

Determining that one league dominates the other based on one single game – where the managers seem to place more importance on getting every player in the game instead of, you know, winning – is ludicrous. Especially in an era when players switch leagues so easily. Aside from the significant role of chance in any individual contest, taking that logic to its extreme means that Don Larsen is the greatest pitcher of all time. And how can you say one team “dominated” the other when the final score was 4-3?

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