The Nine

Time was that the term “the nine’ in baseball meant the whole team.  Nine men usually played the entire game from start to finish.  Relief pitching was a rare exercise, and fielders didn’t get hurt or played through pain.  Somebody might “pinch hit” on occasion, and that was about it.  This easy jargon is exemplified at the start of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s immortal baseball poem, dating from 1888, “Casey at the Bat.”  This poem is remarkable in that it reflects the unchanging nature of the game over the past 130 years.  Essentially all the contextual details are the same, except that today most of the disappointed Mudville fans probably would have returned home glumly in motorcars.  The poem begins:

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day;
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.

And thereby hangs a tale.  There’s a crowd of 5,000 watching a local game in a small town, and they’re all passionately involved in the game.  They know the players; they uniformly disapprove of the way the ump is calling balls and strikes; they understand the game situation.


“Mighty Casey has struck out”

That whole scenario is currently under attack by the new deal that Major League Baseball is working out with minor leagues, which may eliminate 20% of minor league ball.  But the more insidious destructive force in this Covid-19 year is the combination of the short season, the rule changes (a doubleheader was won in extra innings, the 8th to be exact, since now all doubleheaders are 7 innings long.  Ernie Banks didn’t say “let’s play one and a half!”), the absence of fans in the stands, and the absurdity of sixteen teams making the playoffs, three of them with losing records.

Everything was so messed up this year by the pandemic.  Spring training was begun and halted halfway through.  It was restarted in urgency in early July, so that teams could start playing the truncated 60-game schedule before the end of the month.  Consequently, and also somewhat coincidentally, many starting pitchers never found their rhythm.  Some ended up on the Injured Reserve list, some played and had bad years, some elected to have surgery that might have normally been postponed, some left to avoid infection.  A number of teams, such as the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees, and the Atlanta Braves, ended up using hurlers who would have been in the minors under normal circumstances, and found a gem or two.  But they also pitched many “bullpen games,” using a series of relief pitchers from the first inning on.  Each would pitch one or two frames, so that there was not excessive wear and tear on arms not used to throwing 90-110 pitches on game day.

The San Diego Padres found themselves in this dilemma as the post-season playoffs began.  They lost their two best starters to injury just at the worst possible time.  Luckily their opponent in the “Wild Card Round” was the St. Louis Cardinals, who won two more games than they lost in the regular season.  Also luckily, their lineup is as formidable a collection of power hitters as can be found in MLB today.  The bats cover up some of their vulnerability on the mound.   


Trevor Rosenthal celebrates Padres’ win

The Padres pitched all three games as “bullpen games.”  Chris Paddock’s 2 1/3 innings in the first game was the longest stint of any pitcher.  Eight Padres pitched in Game 1, 8 in Game 2, and 9 in game 3.  The third-game starter was ex-Washington-National middle reliever Craig Stammen, now at age 36 the Dean of their staff.  He set the tone.  The nine Padre hurlers last night limited the Cards to 4 hits, no runs.  Trevor Rosenthal, another ex-Nat, struck out the side in the ninth to send St. Louis home for the season.  Meanwhile the Padres’ bats rapped out a team .304 average during the series, with 19 runs and 55 total bases, and a nifty .928 OPS.

With support like that, the Padres might make it interesting against their heavily-favored divisional rivals, the Dodgers.  But win or lose, they may have shifted the ageless jargon of baseball a bit.  Will “the nine” now mean the whole team, or the group of pitchers used in a single game?

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2020

Reason Not the Need

It all happened so fast.

When it finally happened.  For weeks we have been discussing our own “pandemic cleanup” instincts.  We identified a few items of furniture: a tray table, a child crib used by grandkids who are now going on 14 and 12, and some of the bikes in our garage.

Twin tube bike like Jane’s

Of the latter, I’ve heard it quipped that the correct number of bikes to own is one fewer than will cause a divorce.  In that case, it’s the number 5 in our marriage.  And Jane also had her own bike—entirely unused for more than a decade—hanging on the garage wall.  It was an old style frame that she’d had since childhood, a nice red “girl’s bike,” meaning it had clearance for a skirt, which it was assumed that any female would want to wear while cycling.  The “diagonal tube” was not a single tube at all, but two thin tubes that split to go on either side of the seat tube and converge with the seat stays and chainstays to support the rear axle.  The gears were shifted by two levers on the handlebar stem.



Bianchi Squadra, how I fell in love with thin tires

As for my bikes, I gave up riding anything except the Jamis Coda Comp after my prostate cancer in 2015.  I had put on enough weight to make riding the Trek 2.1 problematic, as well as the old classic Bianchi Squadra, a beautiful pink road bike of Andrew’s painted to match the leader’s jersey of the Giro d’Italia.  The Trek and the Bianchi may have become off-limits at present, but they are keepers.  My own older bikes, a Fuji SE and a Specialized Hardrock, had seen many miles of road in the years I’ve had them (1995 for the Specialized and 2003 for the Fuji).  I estimate that I logged a total of at least 15,000 miles on them, and aside from the Bianchi they were my only rides until the Jamis (2004) and Trek (2009).  I later tried fixing up the Specialized as a “commuter bike” to run errands and go shopping, but that usage never became a steady part of my riding habits.  But the Specialized and Fuji were old friends.  Upright posture, steady handling; in my younger days, when I was 55 or so, I could on occasion wring out a 16 mph ride to Herndon and back on the Specialized.  Old friends, in their relative klunkiness they absorbed a lot of sweat and strenuous effort, and got me ready to fall in love with thin tires when I inherited the Bianchi.


Fuji SE, old friend now departed.

But no 81-year-old who seldom gets on any bike anymore needs five bikes.  And when our newest ride, a 2019 Audi A6, came on the scene, the bike rack on that side of the garage made parking precarious.  So the discussion was about which bikes to jettison.  Jane’s, the Fuji, and the Specialized drew short straws, as did the motley collection of backup wheels, tubes and tires hanging on the bike racks.  But that was idle “some day” talk.  After checking haul-away prices, we tried to give away the furniture: the old, weathered, but elegant colonial tray table, my parents’ double bed for the last 13 years of their marriage with antique posts and old-wood headboard, the newish and lightly used crib.  No takers.  And I mean NO takers.  Not in the NextDoor neighborhood website.  Not by the curb with a “FREE for the taking” sign.

And then this week the electric lawn mower died.  The on/off switch, precariously linked to an orange handle that had to be held in, started cutting out in mid-mow, thanks in part to the fact that the silly fragile plastic handle broke and had to be taped together to make the machine run at all.

The new Black and Decker 20” electric mower was ordered Monday from Home Depot, and delivered free by FedEx so quietly on Thursday that only a text message told us that it was in front of the garage door.  No tools needed for assembly, except a box cutter to cut the carton for a rollout.  And so yesterday morning we folded up the old mower and put it by the curb with the trash.  Having done some research we realized it might not get taken away; the trash company, in an apparent conflict of interest, also runs a trash hauling service, and for $225 and up they will haul off a number of items.  Used to be they’d do a special pickup of one item for $35, but no more.  So when they passed by and left not only an empty barrel but a dead Homelite mower, we knew the time had come.  Most junk haulers will not give a quote or define their rates online, so we expected some phoning would be necessary.  Yet shortly after leaving our info online with a local referral service, we got a call.  The guy wanted a relatively reasonable price for the whole lot: crib, bed frame, mower, three bikes.  And he could be there in 35 minutes!  Crisis!  But no doubt we’d facilitate his schedule.  We pulled the bed out of the basement so he wouldn’t have to go in the house, put everything else out front, and then I raced off to the grocery store because it was the window of time to pick up our order.  When I got back less than 15 minutes later, the truck was in the driveway loaded and ready to leave.  About five sentences of pleasantries, in which the hauler said they were nice bikes and I agreed, saying just new tire tubes and de-rusted and re-oiled chains would make them fine again, and then our erstwhile possessions had been hauled away.

From first online inquiry to completion of the transaction had taken less than two hours.  No time to get sentimental or have second thoughts.  And I am glad that now all five of our rides—the Trek, the Bianchi, the Jamis, the A6, and the A3—have ample spaces of their own.

But it’s the abrupt end of an era.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2020