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Two Baseball Men, Three Ways

By: Emma Baccellieri

Steak

There are many—infinite?—ways to find value in the scope and depth of baseball’s history, but one of the simplest is that so much baseball, with so many thousands of baseball players, has left an awful lot of baseball names. There are more than 18,000 in major-league history alone, enough to make very many silly jokes about the very many non-baseball people who share these baseball names or close variations thereof.

One such opportunity to make these dumb jokes is easily found in the president’s legal team, which includes two lawyers by the names of Ty Cobb and John Dowd, in the news this weekend for having a private conversation in a public steakhouse. The obvious option here is to joke about Ty Cobb (not actually this Ty Cobb, but erstwhile hit king and famous Georgia Peach), having a conversation with John Dowd (actually this John Dowd, who led the investigation that brought down hit king Pete Rose). But here are some less obvious options:

Ty Cobb talks to John Dowd, member of the 1912 New York Highlanders

In the end, he realized, he’d thought about quitting baseball a lot. He thought about quitting when he was with the 1913 Brockton Shoemakers and when he was with the 1914 Topeka Jayhawks and the 1916 New London Planters and the 1919 Waterbury Nattatucks. Before all of that, though, before all of that, he couldn’t have imagined he’d think of quitting. Before that, he was 21 years old and the shortstop for the major league 1912 New York Highlanders.

Not for as long as he wanted, but maybe longer than he’d deserved. He wasn’t very good: a partial season, just six career hits. But there is one July series—well, two games, they didn’t start him for the whole series—there are two games against the Detroit Tigers where he feels unstoppable. On the first day he is 2-for-4, and on the second he is 2-for-2 (with two walks!) and the whole time he is watching Ty Cobb out in center field, thinking we’re on the same field, you and me, here I am, let me show you.

That’s it, really, right there. Two-thirds of his career hits in those two days. He only gets to play a few more games, then it’s over. He finishes the season in Brockton, for the New England League, stays another season there, watches the Highlanders become the Yankees, moves himself along to the Western League. But now they’re at the same table, he and Ty Cobb, and he remembers staring him down in center field and suddenly being the best he’d ever be, just for one weekend, and watching the Tigers leave town and realizing that his chances had somehow gone with them and then Dowd thinks that maybe he doesn’t have anything to say here, after all.

He gets up and leaves.

Ty Cobb talks to Jon Dowd, "MVP Baseball 2005" player

“Jon Dowd?”

“No,” he says. “I’m Barry Bonds.”


What Is This Sound?

By: Matt Ellis

Football, they tell us, is designed for, and by, television. I’ve often thought basketball the same. Baseball, on the other hand, came of age on radio. Sure, its first televised game came as early as 1939, and many of its most iconic moments rose directly from the manner through which they were televisually mediated: Willie Mays’ backwards catch shot in deep focus; Carlton Fisk waving the ball fair as seen through the relatively young technology of instant replay; that heroic low-angle framing of Joe Carter atop his teammates’ shoulders, the smoke from the fireworks clouding the camera’s analog sensor. The reign of the image often seems inescapable.

But television, radio, and baseball are also, each of them, about sound. And this one, this one right here, is a sound that fills me with awe, with confusion. This is a sound I do not know.

Now, upon first listen, the .wav file of this clip might not seem all that different from a zillion other baseball moments we’ve all experienced. My eyes and ears have feasted on more than one World Series game. But like that first serf conceiving a different relation to his Lord and his King, my encounter with this sound is like another world shouting back at me. Eyes seeing a new shape in the mirror, a shape which has nevertheless been there, always.

What is this sound, after Heyward makes contact with the pitch? It is an October yell, under a summer sun. It is consequence, when I have been led to believe there is only contingency. I hear this sound toward the end of each baseball season, and while it used to lead me to jealousy, these days it provides little more than wonder.

Baseball games, as I understand, do not matter come September. Sure, there was that year when Felix Hernandez left the mound in the third on game 162. But that was to a stadium that had not yet convinced itself that what it was seeing mattered, because it didn’t, and in a way, we all knew it, somewhere deep down inside ourselves. There was that home run from Cruz back at the end of '16, but when that proved insufficient the sounds became little more than the last putt of an empty tank 10 miles from the nearest gas station.

And yet, I nevertheless hear this sound. I hear this sound and I wonder. I wonder what it means and from where it is born. I wonder if this is the sound that came from that cathode ray tube when I was small, and I wonder if an LCD screen is capable of emitting one for me here, decades removed. The image looks fine, even superior to the one I remember as a child. But as it crackles behind thin plastic, I put on my headphones and I hear it, nevertheless. I am asking you, and I want to know.

What is this sound?


Giancarlo Is Enough

By: Nathan Bishop

Living as we do, in times when the vast majority of peoples do not have to spend their days foraging for food, or buckling under the yoke of feudalism, humanity has been allowed to branch out to the varied and sporadic interests of the unoccupied mind. We have climbed mountains, cooked snails, invented air travel, been to space, eradicated diseases, and allowed them to return.

Through the pursuit of these non-essential glories, we have, almost always, been pursuant and beholden to one ideal: The Most. Which mountain is the tallest? Who ran the fastest? Who has the biggest pile of money? I do not pretend to know where this drive comes from. Perhaps it’s a mutated survival instinct, or perhaps it is simply base ego, but we laud and celebrate with laughable inequality a man who runs a race .003 seconds faster than the man next to him.

Through the second half, as the poor, defenseless, Baseball Cthulu Statue in Marlins Park has been dented over and over by Giancarlo Stanton home runs, a conversation that began in 1961, and has bubbled up every time a baseball player begins thwocking a large number of dongs, has been present. “Who has really hit the most home runs?” It’s an absurd conversation, as everyone knows who has hit the most home runs. In Major League Baseball it is Barry Bonds, and in professional baseball it is Sadaharu Oh. We know this because we can count, and while in skilled hands math can indeed lie, basic arithmetic has incorruptible qualities.

The hand-wringing columnist as sports-record interpretationalist is not only a tired, morally shallow spectacle; it has failed Giancarlo Stanton’s greatness, just as it failed Roger Maris, Matt Williams, Hank Greenberg, Jimmy Foxx, and all other non–Babe Ruths who have hit a frankly absurd number of baseballs over a fence in a single season.

Unless he finds a groove as he did from July 5 to August 13, a stretch in which he hit 21 home runs and slugged .917 through 33 games, Stanton will not finish with 73, 71, 61, 60, or any other magical home run total. He will set no significant records, and he will not be immortalized the way the the men who hit the most are. Even his raw power, something I had never seen equaled prior to his arrival, may have found its match or superior in Aaron Judge. What he did, 55 times and counting, was something like what he did on Monday night:

It is enough.