The Ueber Code: No $tone Unturned
Evanston, Illinois: That’s the birthplace.
It aught tell the reader, onto which of Windy City’s two major league ball-clubs I pin my hopes n’ dreams for World Series glory. It aught.
Not familiar with Chicagoland, beyond sports, its famous residents (Prez Obama, Ray Kroc (McDonald‘s), Carl Sandburg (“Big Shoulders”), Oprah Winfrey, Bill Murray) and the legends (Mrs. O‘Leary, Al Capone, Harry Caray)?
Still in the dark? Hmmm, okay, let’s see…oh, oh, I’ve got it, this should flip the switch: My team was the first dynasty of professional baseball, winning the flag (6) or taking 2nd (3) nine of MLB’s first 15 years (1876 – 90) and today can make a strong case in claim of title to our nation’s most beloved sports franchise, i.e., America’s Team. A claim.
That‘s right, you got it, I’m a Chicago Cubs fan.
And like any Bruins backer worth their weight in beehive bounty, I accept the White Sox as a necessity to Chicago’s baseball gestalt, appreciating their one-half part in helping make that rare state, a metropolis supporting two major league teams (NYC, SF Bay, LA metro). Were they members of rival operations, i.e., a Federal, Players or American Association, that’d be even the better (quality & cost controls), but the Courts and compliant media don’t see it that way and most fans, even with $20 nachos, aren’t squawkin.’ Buuurp!
I’d appreciate South Siders even more had they chosen to keep “Old Roman” Charles Comiskey’s (1859-31) name for their new digs (1991-02), one that drips with cachet, first gaining national prominence in late 1880s as key cog in those great St. Louis Browns clubs (AA) and then of course as founder of Chicago’s entrant into the new rival American League, rather than cave to corporate shill, i.e., US Cellular, a tag with about as much cachet as a corn-dog n’ cola. Buuurp!
Nevertheless, I do hold the Pale Hose in higher regard than HFCS, most TV and fellow Evanstonian Peter Ueberroth who as Commissioner in ‘84 PS gave Cubs playoff chances, their first in 40 years (25 more than Padres existed), the short shrift in awarding the Garvey – Gwynn Padres home-field (SD 3-2), even as San Diego was five up in the loss column over the Sandburg – Sutcliffe North-siders, then strong-armed the Cubs into installing lights in the friendly confines.
Not very nice, Peter.
And not all too bright either, given that this baseball version of America’s Team was likely the favored opponent of neutralites around baseball nation who were eagerly anticipating the match-up with Sparky’s roaring Tigers (DET 4-1 SD).
But that sort of play was $OP for Pete in his two Directorships, the first selling the summer semi-Olympics in Los Angeles (Commies stay home after Corporates boycott Moscow (80)), then in steering MLB operations (Oct.1984-89), a procedure that would change the business of sport management forever.
While his baseball reign was a cup o’ coffee in Commissioner time, his directives have had staying power, becoming the template for sport leaders from coast to coast in both professional and semi-pro (NCAA) ranks.
The Ueber Principle: Maximization of profit potential (MPP). Nothing’s sacred, nothing’s off the table. Everything in the sport is either a billboard or bargaining chip in a profit scheme. If it doesn’t turn a buck, it’s out with the recyclables, Dude. Continuity, style, history, reflection, ‘Where’s the consumerism in those, Loser?’ Oy vey.
In a real sense, Pete’s tack was an outgrowth from Earl Butz’ game-plan for US farm families in the 70s, President Nixon & Ford’s landscape-changing Secretary of Agriculture: ‘Get big or get out!’ Sans the subsidies (anti-trust?), but ballparks no small contributor to the push on high-fructose corn syrup consumption.
And it’s not just greedy owners and media minions who push the UP, union rank n’ file (& Retainers) are at the front of the profit parade. When it comes to money in sport the enemies (owners) of my enemies (players) are friends. Cha-ching!
Ueberroth’s predecessor Bowie Kuhn (1969-84) was no Ernie Banks (“Let’s play two!”) and had his critics in owners (Finley / Steinbrenner) and players both (Flood / Mays & Mantle (casino ties)). But the Maryland native and former NL lawyer did exude a sporting spirit in maintaining a competitive field, backed the induction of Negro League greats into the Hall as their BoD resisted and had an awares of the corrupting influence that some forms of profiteering can have on a game‘s integrity (fantasy gamble, etc.). Cufflink with a conscience?
The games are no longer pastimes but merely vehicles for money-makers with smallest of pretense given to quaint notions of reflection & trust. No surprise then that most players now live by the Machiavellian (or Orson Wellesian (The War of the Worlds (radio ‘38))) credo: ‘Ends ($$) justify the means (PEDs),’ or, in present verbage, ‘Cheat if you can get away with it (smirk), even if you don’t (See: Lance, Braun, A-Rod, Lochte, Al-Jazeera 4, etc.) because you’ll get a Disney gig either way. Honk!
And the passengers taken for a ride in the vehicle? Young consumers, of course, the most malleable market who slurp celebrity n’ selling-points the media’s all too eager to pour (Goodell’s grim, rule change needed, officiating awful, etc.).
Hoping for Hatchlings
With the 2016 Cubs cruising to a Central crown, a 2nd straight post-season and most people’s pick to win their first Pennant in over 70 years, you might think I’d be giddy with good vibrations. And then you’d probably be new to sports.
If there’s one thing a well-weathered Wrigleyite is not, it is a chicken-counter, as in before those proverbial eggs get hatched. Hatchlings here being the necessary deeds & titles (playoff ticket punched, NLDS win, NLCS, etc) that must be in-hand for residence in Champion City.
The caution comes from generations of fan disappointment, starting with every Cubs contender post-1918, from Hippo Vaughn’s hopefuls, who had a higher BA (.210 v .186), scored more total runs (Red Sox’ Ruth top RBI man (2))) and lower ERA (2.18 v 2.30) than their ‘victorious’ Boston opponents, to last season’s NLCS fellows of fizzle (0-4 NYM) and 11 other post-season busts in between.
Wilson Watch: The New 61
But there is an achievement so impressive, so weighty that Bruins’ backers can, around late-August of every season, reflect upon with pride and satisfaction, one that’s not likely to be eclipsed anytime soon if ever, and that is Hall of Famer Hack Wilson’s eye-popping 1930 single-season tally of 191 RBIs.
This season, that satisfaction came earlier as the only challenges to the 191 were mounted by Ed Encarnacion (TOR) and Nolan Arenado (COL) who just hit the 100 RBI mark last week. With five weeks to go it’s safe to say, “forget about it.”
Hack’s record will likely stand for another winter and is so frozen in place it’s gonna’ take a serious bump-up in greenhouse gas emissions and disappearance of at least one polar cap to melt the icy wall of invincibility that seems to surround the mark.
There are many tremendous single-season records in MLB’s annals that’ve been achieved, challenged and sometimes bested since it‘s first opening day in 1876.
A short list of some unique and still standing notables:
· Boston Beaneater Hugh Duffy bats .440, wins NL Triple Crown in 1894;
· Same season, Phillies’ Billy Hamilton crosses home plate 198 times;
· Christy Mathewson wins 31 (1.27) and tosses 3 CG-SOs in 1905 Series;
· Ed Walsh wins 40 in ‘08 (1.42 / 464 IN / 42 CG) as Sox team bats .224;
· Ruth’s 1921: 177r, .378ba, 16tp, .846slg, 17sb, 145bb, 59hr and 171rbi;
· Indians’ Joe Sewell strikes out a mere four times in 608 at-bats in 1925;
· Rogers Hornsby wins 2nd Triple Crown in 1925 batting .403 (.401 ‘22);
· AL Leader in HR, R, SLG & OB%, Ted Williams hits .406 in style (41);
· Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson breaks MLB color barrier, wins ROY in ‘47;
· A’s Bill Fischer pitches 84.1 straight innings w/out issuing a walk in ‘62;
· B. Gibson (22-9 / 1.12) & D. McLain (31-6 / 28 CG) go pitch crazy in 1968;
· O. Hershiser throws 59 scoreless innings en route to ‘88 Series win (A’s).
Some sportologists try to sell the theory that the ‘streak’ is baseball’s grandest feat for its high stress and unassailability. And to that I say, poppycock, Doc.
Such marks may prove invincible once sanctioned but anything subject to official scoring (Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio’s 56) or personal discretion (Cal Ripken’s 2632) will, upon closer inspection, reveal weak-links in their chains of greatness.
Ever since Yankees’ GM Ed Barrow snatched the Babe from Beantown (‘19), fans have thrilled at power-ball. Goodbye spitters, dead-ball hitters and “Hit ‘em where they ain‘t” (Keeler),..hello lively ball, home run call and “Holy cow, he did it (Rizzuto)!”
In supplanting Ruth’s 60 single-season homer mark (‘27) in 1961, Maris’ number became the biggest jewel in the crown of baseball exploits and holy grail every big bopper in the game wanted to grasp. If the stars aligned, both homer marks did invite serious challenges: Foxx (58 / ‘32); Wilson (56 / ‘30); Greenberg (58 / ’38); Kiner (54 / ‘49); Griffey (56 / ‘97).
But it was the possibility which made them enticing and then easy prey for the performance-enhancing slugs.
Juicers blew by the iconic 61 like it suddenly didn’t exist, as fans & media went ga-ga over Mark & Sammy (’98). The hypocrites could fill every park in the land.
Maris’ 61, SS – HR (‘61), bested by Mark McGwire & Sammy Sosa (‘98), then Barry Bonds’ 73 (‘01);
Hank Aaron’s 755 career HR (‘76), overtaken by San Francisco Giants Bonds’ 762 total in 2007;
George Sisler’s SS – 257 hits (‘20), surpassed by Seattle Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki in 2004 with 262 safeties.
Baseball’s governors have a sticky-wicket on their manicured hands: What does Elias Sports Bureau do about Bonds tainted tallies (73 / 762)? Does Ichiro get a pass? Not bold-decision makers and, as noted, focused on coin rather than history, Manfred & Co. will likely continue on the ‘do-nothing’ path and leave the mess for future generations to resolve. Guardians of the game? Ugh.
What the major league game clearly needs is an injection of some Kenesaw Mountain Landisonium to give baseball back its courage and clarity, in play, ownership, management, media coverage and record-keeping, a bedrock component since 1876 . Get Pfizer on that one, STAT.
As such, Roger’s fabled 61 will never regain its former luster, leaving one, last, great, untouched single-season, power mark, free from the grimy fingerprints left by drug-cheats, calling-cards ignored by baseball’s cops on the beat (MLB & collectors in media) who seem only interested in making their pension.
Wilson’s gargantuan RBI record has stood the test of time (86 years) and serves as testament to what a man on a team stamped Good Dugout Seal-of-Approval can achieve w/out body armor, cortisone, PEDs and $30M-a-year (K).
The 191 is the new standard for power prowess, benchmark for immortality. It’s the new 61. But you won’t hear that on Disney (ESPN) or MLB Network.
Had Hack painted his masterpiece with a New York brush (NYG 1923-25) instead of Chicago, epicenter of trains, Great Lakes traffic, commodities & Midwest flair, Gotham City scribes would’ve immortalized Wilson’s fantastic feat in poetry & prose (See; Franklin Pierce Adams). As it stands, the media mecca of America will never pay homage to a record set by a Second City sultan.
Another reason Hack’s 191 is marginalized: So few have challenged it.
There were Gehrig (184 / ‘31), Greenberg (183 / ‘37) & Foxx (175 / ‘38), but even with today’s advantages in armor, medicine, nite n’ lites, travel-zip, more games, AL-DH, Denver and lower mound, 153 (T. Davis / ’62) and 165 (M. Ramirez / ’99) are closest anyone’s gotten in over 60y. Tigers Miguel Cabrera stood at 130 with five weeks+ left in the 2012 season and finished with a thud (139).
RBIs need three things: Base-runners, a team-mentality and general health.
Ruth ushered in homer-ball but Depression era players were frugal fellows, never forgetting the purpose behind batting: Score runs, win games! Today’s Home Run Derby mindset sneers at OBP and then, when the table is set, too many batters ( & Mgrs) fixate on the long ball.
Maybe the Sporting Gods guard the 191 as an emblem to an era. Good riddance to segregation and the fixola (1919) which was embedding but honoring the days free of nightly walk-off bunny-hop hysteria, Gatorade® drench, shave cream pie-in-the-face routine, drag pants, body armor, late-game World Series snooze (Zzzz), drug cheats (PEDs), tinker-bells (in rule change), sabrmetrics nor hanger-ons who hope for Hall call. Only records most 30s guys cared about spun on a Victrola.
And maybe Cubs finally take the Pennant again this season, maybe they don’t.
What’s certain now and likely to remain certain for the foreseeable future is that practically no one remembers who won the Pennants or World Series two years ago but nearly every baseball fan worth their weight in salted peanuts n’ franks knows the name of the man who holds major league baseball’s single-season runs-batted-in mark. “Hackidu” it’s you! That aught tell you something about the sacrosanct status of records, Mr. Manfred. So get crackin!’
Can o’ Corn
Photo Credit: H.Wilson-R.Hornsby, Chicago Cubs; H.Wilson; C.Comiskey, BPL, 1910, wc.cca; P.Ueberroth, wc, Wrigley, US.Gov; B.Kuhn, wc, 1982, MLB; Wrigley.Field, Jblesage, wc, 5.28.8; H.Wilson; E.Barrow, B.Ruth, H.Frazee, S.McInnis, wc, 1918, TSN; G.Sisler, B.Ruth, T.Cobb, LoC, wc, 10.4.24; Wilson, Goudey, wc, 1933; Meeting.Gods, wc, 1630, Poelenburch, RPG-Mauritshuis; Canned-corn
Posted: 8.24.16 @ 2:17pm EST; Copyright © 2016