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Deleted Scenes: My SI.com debut

The first thing I ever did for SI.com was write the Friday entry for “Fungoes,” the site’s first attempt at a baseball blog. After Ben Reiter, Albert Chen, Alex Belth and Jon Weisman tackled the six divisions over the first four days of the week, I would write a “Wild Card” entry on any topic of my (and my editor’s) chosing on Friday. My very first Fungoes entry, on April 6, 2007, concerned the Diamondbacks’ brand new uniforms and color scheme. With Arizona having replaced that uniform set on Thursday night, this seemed like as good a time as any to add this to the pieces I’ve salvaged from my personal archives. As with the other articles that were lost in the site’s redesign in June 2014, this is the version I submitted, presented here unaltered and prior to any editing by SI.com’s editors. The many embedded links (blantantly imitating the style of Paul Lukas’s Uni-Watch, but with his blessing) are from the original, as well, so my apologies for the many that now lead to dead ends and since-deleted pages.

If Jerry Seinfeld’s right that we baseball fans really just root for laundry, then it only seems appropriate that, after all of the words spilled on new faces in new places (or rather, old faces in new laundry), we spill a few on the laundry itself. This year, the Diamondbacks and Reds have entirely new looks. New designs were sorely needed in both cases, though both could have done better than what they ultimately came up with. The Reds became victims of the dreaded black drop shadow in 1999 and, though they are one of the few teams with some historical claim to black as a team color, the Reds always looked better when they either stuck exclusively to red and white, or used navy instead of black. Their new duds do greatly reduce the amount of black in their color scheme, but that blasted drop shadow is still there.

The Diamondbacks were the clear choice for worst uniform in the majors from the moment they entered the league in 1998 (so much for Buck Showalter’s reputation as a traditionalist, even a dirt path to the pitchers mound couldn’t make up for the Snakes’ seemingly endless combinations of purple, teal, gold, and black). They’ve finally toned things down, but now they just look like the Astros. Despite the lack of creativity in the D-backs’ new design (see also the Washington Nationals), their wholesale color scheme change is actually rather historic.

Many teams have added or deleted third or even fourth colors (such as the Mets, Royals, Rangers, and Reds flirtation with black drop shadows in recent years). Some have completely inverted the significance of their main two colors (see the Angels and Rangers, who went from predominantly blue with red highlights to the reverse, and, in the case of the Rangers, back again). Others have made gradual changes to their color schemes, such as the Padres switching from yellow and brown, to yellow, orange, and brown, to just orange and brown, to orange and blue, to blue and “sand” over the course of a quarter century. Still others have made what amount to changes in tint, the most extreme being the Astros, whose colors had always been based in orange and navy, but who switched to rust and black in 2000. Similarly the White Sox have always used some combination of navy, black and red, though at different times they’ve reduced their color scheme to just one of the three, the most striking recent examples being their early ‘70s duds, the home versions of which looked exactly like their current home unis but whereas the current versions are entirely black and white, the 1971 to 1975 versions were entirely red and white.

What the Diamondbacks have done, however, is to change their entire color scheme in the course of a single winter, something that has only happened twice before in modern major league history. The first time was in 1948 when the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had always worn some combination of blue and red, adopted the colors of the Pittsburgh city flag, the black and gold since worn by the city’s other two major sports franchises, the NFL’s Steelers and NHL’s Penguins. The second came in the wake of Charlie O. Finley’s 1961 purchase of the Kansas City Athletics. The Athletics too had worn only shades of blue with occasional use of red throughout their history in Philadelphia and Kansas City, but in their third year under Finley they took the field in colors Finely dubbed “kelly green,” “Fort Knox gold,” and “wedding gown white.” Mickey Mantle said the A’s, “should have come out of the dugout on tippy-toes, holding hands and singing.” The Mick’s homophobia aside, that sort of strong reaction was exactly what Finely was going for. His A’s didn’t just use their green and gold on stripes and text, they wore bright yellow vests and pants with green hats, green undersleeves, and green stirrups. Remember, this was back when uniforms were wool and the last active player to sport a moustache during the regular season was Frenchy Bordagaray in 1936. (Actually, there was a third instance, but the Brooklyn Dodgers flirtation with green lasted just one season before they returned to their traditional Dodger blue, whereas the other two changes persist to this day, even despite such horrors as this).

What exactly the Diamonbacks are trying to accomplish with their new colors is more difficult to discern. The team’s official press release stated that the new colors were “chosen to better represent the personality and beauty of Arizona.” I get that. The connection between their new shade of red and the rocks in Sedona is obvious. But when the Pirates and A’s made their palette changes, they distinguished themselves in the process. No other major league team before or since has worn Finley’s green and gold or Pittsburgh’s yellow and black. The Diamondbacks, however, look almost exactly like the Astros, who have been wearing “brick red” and black since 2000, supposedly in tribute to the importance of railroads in Houston’s history (which only makes sense for a team first named after a gun and then for the city’s connection to the space program). Then again, anything that will prevent things like this from happening has got to be considered an improvement. It’s just troubling that something so historic could seem so uninspired.

  • Game of the Week: Braves 3, Phillies 2, 11 innings. A seven-inning pitchers duel between veteran Tim Hudson and wunderkind Cole Hamels erased by a Braves comeback on a game-tying, ninth-inning two-run home run by Brian McCann and an eleventh-inning game winner by Scott Thorman.
  • Player of the Week: Miguel Cabrera – 7 for 10 with 5 walks, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 6 RBIs and 5 runs scored. Cabrera made just three outs in fifteen plate appearances over three games against the Nationals.
  • Performance of the Week: Felix Hernandez vs. Oakland, Tuesday April 3 – 8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 12 K
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Posted by on December 4, 2015 in Deleted Scenes

 

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Deleted Scenes: It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

The following is a previously unavailable portion of my chapter on the 1964 National League pennant race from the Baseball Prospectus book It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over. Though portions of what follows, including the entire first and last paragraph, included here for context, did make it into the book, most of this background information on the changes in the Phillies’ ownership during World War II, the contemporaneous state of race relations in the city, and the Phillies’ and Athletics’ refusal to integrate, was cut.

That stretch, from 1918 to 1948, was the worst period of losing that any major league franchise has ever endured, expansion included. Just once in that span did the Phils finish above .500, that coming in 1932 when they were 78-76. Their fourth place finish that year was also their best of that era. Along the way, they suffered five separate seasons in which the club failed to win 30 percent of it’s games, including a combined .279 winning percentage in the nearly identically dismal seasons of 1941 and 1942.  The Phillies’ five-year streak of 100-loss seasons from 1938 to 1942 remains a major league record.

It was in this atmosphere that the team and its city missed a historic opportunity. As the game’s top stars went off to war, the competition in the all-white major leagues was declining. Connie Mack’s Athletics, with whom the Phillies shared a city and Shibe Park, were rivaling the futility of their NL counterparts, and Phillies owner Gerry Nugent had accrued $256,000 in debt. With Nugent looking to sell, both Bill Veeck, the 28-year-old owner of the minor league Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association, and Eddie Gottlieb, owner of the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro National League and later a key figure in the creation of the National Basketball Association, attempted to buy the team. Both men planned to stock the club with the Negro Leagues’ best players.

Had either succeeded, they not only would have integrated baseball four years before Branch Rickey eventually did with the Dodgers, but, given the quality of play in the war-time major leagues, would have all but guaranteed the Phillies their first World Championship. In his autobiography, Veeck as in Wreck, Veeck claimed that his plans were foiled when he made the fatal mistake of informing Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis of his intentions as a courtesy. Whether or not that’s true, Landis handed control of the Phillies over to NL President Ford Frick, who promptly sold the team to a group headed by lumber dealer William D. Cox, a good friend of Branch Rickey’s.  After two seasons, Cox was banned from baseball by Landis for betting on his team. Cox’s share was subsequently purchased by 28-year-old DuPont heir Bob Carpenter.

Four years after Veeck and Gottlieb’s plans were foiled, Rickey put Jackie Robinson in a Dodger uniform and Robinson immediately led Brooklyn to the pennant, their first of six in Robinson’s ten years with the team. Then a curious thing happened. Although Carpenter declined to have his team participate in Rickey’s noble experiment, the Phillies became competitive in its wake. After an 81-73 third place finish in 1949, the club’s first winning season since 1932 and best record since 1917, the Phillies came out of nowhere to win the 1950 pennant with a young team lead by 23-year-old future Hall of Famers Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn and 25-year-old slugger Del Ennis. Philadelphia’s “Whiz Kids” were swept by the Yankees in the World Series that year, but, in a cruelly ironic twist, the fact that the Phillies went to their second-ever World Series with an all-white team that also happened to be the youngest pennant-winning team ever emboldened the franchise against integration.

Philadelphia, which sits just 15 miles north of the Mason-Dixon line, has a complicated racial history. By 1920, Philadelphia was home to the largest African-American population in the United States, a population which nearly doubled in both sheer number and as a percentage of the city’s total population by 1940. In August 1944, during Cox’s ownership of the Phillies, the Fair Employment Practices Committee ordered the Philadelphia Transportation Company to promote blacks to the then all-white positions of driver and conductor, resulting a city-wide strike of more than 10,000 white transportation workers that devolved into violence forcing President Roosevelt to send in federal troops to restore order. Three years later, the mistreatment of Jackie Robinson during his rookie year by the Phillies, led in practice by manager Ben Chapman an in spirit by general manager Herb Pennock, was far beyond what he experienced anywhere else.

As Philadelphia’s black population, originally concentrated in the area just south of Shibe Park known as Lower North Philadelphia, began to migrate north (in part due to misguided urban renewal efforts that demolished old housing without plans to build anew), the city’s failing baseball franchises refused the obvious salvation that Veeck had envisioned a decade earlier. Octogenarian Athletics owner Connie Mack passed on opportunities to sign Larry Doby, Minnie Minoso, and Hank Aaron before being forced into retirement by his sons after the 1950 season. The A’s finally integrated in September of 1953, but, having missed its opportunity, the team fell on such hard times that Mack’s sons opted to sell the franchise following the 1954 season. New owner Arnold M. Johnson moved the club to Kansas City, where it would become best known for funneling talented players (most of them white) to Casey Stengel’s Yankees. The Athletics left Philadelphia having employed just two players of color, just one of them African American. The Phillies stayed put and were even less progressive.

Having dethroned the integrated Dodgers of Robinson, Don Newcomb, and Roy Campanella (the last a Philadelphia native who attempted to sign with the Phillies under Nugent) with the all-white Whiz Kids, Carpenter, who assumed the role of general manager after Pennock’s death in 1948, foresaw the dawning of a new era for his club. Instead, his obstinance would be the team’s undoing, and the 1950 pennant would be the last won by an unintegrated National League team.

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2012 in Deleted Scenes

 

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