HAPPY 82nd BIRTHDAY, ALL-STAR GAME!

It’s just a little over a week to the All-Star Game that is going to take place at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati on July 14 and die-hard baseball fans are already finding out whether their favorite players made it to the team this year.

Are you ready for this year's All-Star Game?

Are you ready for this year’s All-Star Game?

But did you know that the All-Star game is celebrating 82nd Birthday today? Yes, it was exactly 82 years ago today that the first All Star game was played in Chicago’s Comiskey park, the home of the Chicago White Sox of the American League.

The All-Star Game was a brainchild of Arch Ward, a sports editor at the Chicago Tribune, and it coincided with the celebration of Chicago’s Century of progress exhibition. The event was also designed to bolster the sport and improve its reputation during the darkest years of the Great Depression.

Arch Ward, the father of The All-Star Game

Arch Ward, the father of the All-Star Game

The idea was to organize a one-time event, a “Game of the Century” where the best players of the American and National leagues would face each other. But the plan had two interesting twists – the fans would be able to vote on the lineup and all the proceeds from the game would be donated to a charity for retired players.

Before the game, the ballots were printed in 55 newspapers across the country and the fans cast several hundreds thousands of votes. Babe Ruth himself drew 100,000 votes. Players like Jimmy Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Al Simmons, Joe Cronin and Lefty Grove also made it to the team. Here are the American League and National League All-Star rosters from 1933:

American League Roster
Earl Averill
Ben Chapman
Joe Cronin
General Crowder
Bill Dickey
Jimmy Dykes
Rick Ferrell
Wes Ferrell
Jimmie Foxx
Lou Gehrig
Lefty Gomez
Lefty Grove
Oral Hildebrand
Tony Lazzeri
Babe Ruth
Al Simmons
Sam West
Manager – Connie Mac

1933 American League All-Star game roster .

1933 American League All-Star game roster

National League Roster
Dick Bartell
Wally Berger
Tony Cuccinello
Woody English
Frankie Frisch
Chick Hafey
Bill Hallahan
Gabby Hartnett
Carl Hubbell
Chuck Klein
Pepper Martin
Lefty O’Doul
Hal Schumacher
Bill Terry
Pie Traynor
Paul Waner
Lon Warneke
Jimmie Wilson
Manager– John McGraw

1933 National League All-Star Game roster.

Babe Ruth entered history by hitting the first All-Star Game homerun.

In the old days, the fans selected the starting lineups, and the managers picked the pitchers and reserves. Today rosters are bigger, a player vote decides a large chunk of who is selected and the managers fill out the rest, including the starting pitcher slot.

Today there are 34 players on each roster, that number has been in effect since 2010. 17 players – eight NL and nine AL players – are selected through the fan vote. As America’s Pastime is evolving, this was the first year  all-digital voting was introduced, but not everything went as planned and as many as 60 million votes had to be revoked.

Fans pick the starting lineups, including the DH, but not including the pitcher for the AL team. Both teams use DH regardless of what ballpark they’re playing in, so the NL manager selects a DH for the lineup from someone on his roster.

In addition to this, the players elect nine AL backup position players and eight NL backup position players. The rest of the players are selected by the managers and by the Essurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote.

Back in 1933 over 47,000 fans packed into Comiskey Park to experience the “Game of the Century”. The game was actually such a success that instead of being a one-time event, “the midsummer classic” was held every year since except in 1945 when it was cancelled due to wartime travel restrictions. There were two All-Star Games played each season from 1959 through 1962. The second game was added to raise money for the MLB players’ pension funds, as well as other causes. The experiment was later abandoned on the grounds that having two games watered down the appeal of the event.

By this day the game has evolved into a five-days-long All-Star FanFest, with countless opportunities for fans to experience baseball and meet their idols.


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8 simple tricks to improve pitchers’ mental strength

Parents, grandparents, friends, girlfriend, crowd, reporters, scouts … the World is watching you and observing your every move … the sun is warming you up, your heart is pounding wildly, and the sweat is pouring down your face … you have 60,5 feet to beat and you must not miss your target – an imaginary box with the size of about 2 times 2 feet … Not to mention that there is a raging bull standing next to the home plate with a bat and with a killer look …

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS VS LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Given the above description of a typical situation in baseball, one can easily imagine why Yogi Berra once said:

Baseball is 90 percent mental; the other half is physical.

Yogi Berra

Although the majority of sports involve some psychology, it is particularly apparent and important in baseball. The difference between baseball and other sports is that in baseball players actually have plenty of time to think about each action in advance – it is in that regard somewhat similar to chess. Because of all this spare time to think, it’s important for ball players to keep not only body, but also your brains fit for the job at hand. Below is a list of eight simple mind tricks that can help you become a stronger player mentally and thus get ready for the new baseball season ahead.

  1. Train hard and be aware of it

Make sure you train hard. Not only that – also make sure you convince yourself that you have done everything you could from the physical perspective. If you have not done everything you could, then start doing everything you can from the next time you will be doing it onwards. Once you can be sure of yourself and of all the effort you have put into your practice, your self-confidence will increase dramatically. It’s that simple.

  1. Know your stuff (variety of pitches, etc. – communicate clearly with your catcher)

Be sure you know your “repertoire” and that you are confident in all of your different pitches. It’s usually not about the quantity but rather about the quality. Make sure you train all those pitches extensively in advance and do not under no circumstances experiment with different grips or techniques in the game situation. Spare practice for the practice. That’s why it is called so in the first place. Additionally, communicate your “stuff” with your catcher clearly, so that he knows your repertoire exactly. This is necessary due to the fact that in certain game situations, especially with a runner on third, the catcher knowing exactly what you will throw can make a difference between winning or losing.

  1. Know your opponent

People often say pitchers are the most intelligent players on the baseball field (same often goes for catchers). It is not strange to hear this once you realise how much statistics pitcher and catcher (the battery) should be able to store and process in their heads before, during and after the game. As a pitcher, know every single player on the opponent’s lineup, study their swinging patterns beforehand, look at their batting videos, remember what they’re going after and which pitches you’ve been successful with against them. Go pitch by pitch, case by case, until you create a profile for every single player from the opposing team in your head.

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  1. Visualise your success

There is a whole line of literature that deals with sports psychology and the mental preparation of the athletes. Elite athletes such as Tom Brady, Serena Williams, and Kobe Bryant use visualisation or imagery. Imagery is a skill you can develop just like any other and means using all your senses to create or re-create an experience in your mind. You can think of it as “focused daydreaming”. Research shows that imagery increases motivation, improves focus, reduces anxiety, and increases self-confidence. You may not have realized it, but you’ve probably already used imagery – both in your athletic training and in your everyday life. Do you ever think about a game or competition the night before and picture how you’ll perform? Do you see yourself making that final out to end an inning or even the game? Can you hear and feel the ball hitting the glove as the batter swings and misses it? If so, you’re using imagery.

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  1. Get in the “zone”

Sports are like battles and baseball is no different. You can’t simply walk on the field and play a game, which is especially true for pitchers. You have to get in that special state, where you leave all your personal problems on the bench and walk on the field with a focused mind and in aggressive mood. Some people also call this state a “rhytm”. Many ball players like to follow certain personal rituals to get in their “zone”. Listen to a powerful song (rock usually does the trick) that charges you with energy, yell, pray or do your “haka”. Whatever gets you to that special place of yours where you are unbeatable.

  1. Imagine a tunnel

Roger Clemens, a former MLB pitcher, once commented that when he was focused, all he saw was the catcher, but when he lost his focus, he was “seeing the crowd, not just the catcher.” If you imagine a tunnel starting from the mound and narrowing down all the way to the strike zone and if you try to keep the ball inside that cone, then there’s no way your pitch will miss the strike zone. You can even get one of those tunnels or simply imagine one.

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  1. Don’t forget about the looks

Psychology also involves how other people perceive you and what your appearance does to their mental processes. So, you might as well want to look sharp when you take command of that mound and try to intimidate your opponent as much as possible.

  1. Never ever ever give up

One game is only one game. The road is long, however. It is not so much about one single step as it is about the road and you keep moving on this road. Failure will come sooner or later, one way or the other. Just make sure you never give up and keep moving those feet of yours.

How Spring Training became an essential part of baseball

Every March millions of fans flock to Arizona and Florida and it’s not just because of the weather conditions. In fact it has little to do with the weather. Fans migrate to one of these two states to see their favorite baseball teams in action even before the  beginning of the season. There, they can even get a ball signed or a chance to talk to their idols. Spring Training is an incredible one-month experience. Only last year Spring Training in Arizona and Florida drew 3,172,910 fans to 435 games, which equates to an average gate of 7,294. This is how important Spring Training is to fans:

But not only fans, also the host cities devote incredible amount of effort and funding to provide suitable training conditions for the MLB teams. The tradition of Spring Training is around 140 yers old now. But it all started in a very different way. The first club that ever went “Down South” to get away from the winter conditions was Boss Tweed’s Mutuals, that spent some time in New Orleans in 1869.

However it is generally accepeted that the birth of Spring Training happened year after that, in 1870 when the Chicago White Stockings and the Cincinnati Red Stockings made spring trips to New Orleans, not only to hold baseball camps, but also to play some exhibition games. Compared to today’s standards, the early spring trainings were simple and far from fancy, but in those days the whole deal of traveling South was considered an advancement. Before the trips the trainings were done in local gyms, rented halls, sheds, rinks, or any other shelter available.

In the 1870s other clubs also followed the example of the White Sox, Reds and Mutuals. New Orleans was a favorite training base at that time, but clubs also went to other places like Washington (Cleveland), Savannah (Louisville, Pittsburgh and Detroit), and Charleston in South Carolina (Phillies). One of the main reasons for the teams to make trips to spring trainings was to get the players physically prepared for the season.

But one baseball legend reveals also another story. In February of 1885 the White Stockings player and manager, Baseball Hall of Famer Cap Anson spotted one of his players in a bar. The pitcher was wearing a too-tight vest from “living the winter good life” and downed several beers in front of his manager. At this moment Anson decided to take his players to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to “boil out alcoholic microbes” out of his players.

Albert Spalding, who was the team owner at that time supported the idea and later told a newspaper reporter:

I have written to a professor down there, and he is making arrangements to build a vat in which he can boil the whole nine at once… I boil out all the alcoholic microbes, which may have impregnated the systems of these men during the winter while they have been away from me and Anson… If that doesn’t work, I’ll send ‘em to Paris next year and have ‘em inoculated by Pasteur.”

It seems this “sweating out the toxins” worked; at least, the Chicago White Stockings won two straight championships, in 1885 and 1886. Soon after, the boiling-out process was considered essential for getting rid of the effects of winter “lushing,” as drinking was called then, and Hot Springs became a center for big league clubs.

1885-1886 Chicago White Stockings

1885-1886 Chicago White Stockings

It was about that time that teams went for the spring training to Florida for the first time. The first team that went to train to Florida were the Washington Capitals who went to Jacksonville for Spring Training in 1888. No northern professional team had traveled this far south before. The team traveled for two days.

As Connie Mack told about their experience:

“When we arrived in Jacksonville, four of our 14 players were reasonably sober. The rest were totally drunk. There was a fight every night, and the boys broke up a lot of furniture. We played exhibition games by day and drank much of the night.”

The team had quite a lot of problems with accommodation, they were turned away from several hotels due to their bad behavior and just for being baseball players. Northern players namely didn’t have a great reputation down south at the time. The Jacksonville trip didn’t do any good for the team, they had an incredibly bad season. After this, it would take spring training baseball 15 years to return to Florida.

But not all were fans of travelling to the South. Some claimed the players were subject to “sore muscles and cold” when they returned to winter after six or eight weeks in the South. Some players rather stayed at home, worked out by themselves and played in informal scrub games wherever they were spending the winter. The spring training in the South quickly started becoming an attraction and developing into a business. A. M. Gillam, writing for the Philadelphia Record, offered three dollars a day for short bulletins on 1887 training camp activities, scores of games, merits of players, and so forth, because he understood the interest people would have in the games. By 1890 a newspaper announced that the South was overrun with Northern ball players, and in the course of the decade spring training in the South was adopted by all major league clubs.

The man who truly redefined spring training was Ned Hanlon, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles. He brought his team to Macon, Georgia, where he drilled them for 8 hours a day for eight weeks. The team went on to win a pennant in 1894 and the two following years.

Manager Ned Hanlon (in business suit, center) with the 1896 Baltimore Orioles.

Manager Ned Hanlon (in business suit, center) with the 1896 Baltimore Orioles.

By the 1910s the spring training was already a marketing institution and around that time the Grapefruit League became an official league. St. Petersburg’s mayor Al Lang helped get a waterfront stadium built specifically to lure teams to St. Petersburg. First he got a deal with the Braves in 1923 and then with the Babe Ruth’s Yankees in 1925. It was significantly later, around World War II that spring training happened in Arizona.

The teams had traveled west for spring training already at the turn of the century, though. The Chicago Cubs were the first to travel to Southern California for Spring Training in 1903, first near downtown Los Angeles, two years later they moved to Santa Monica. The New York Giants, The Chicago White Sox, and the Boston Red Sox followed the Cubs’ example and spent the spring in Los Angeles for several years. The Cubs returned to South California in 1917, this time to Pasadena, and moved to tropical Catalina island in 1922. There they practiced and played exhibition games at a field that was an exact replica of their home field in Chicago.

One of the most important factors that contributed to spring training making its way to Arizona during the 1940s was the war. During this time, baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis established the “Potomac Line”. This line was a compromise worked out between the Commissioner and Joseph B. Eastman, director of the federal Office of Defense Transportation to ensure teams would spend their spring training close to their home bases, north of the Potomac and Ohio Rivers and east of the Mississippi. During wartime the trains were crammed with supplies and troops, and in that context transporting baseball players and their fans seemed to be a frivolous use of precious resources. The Cardinals, the White Sox and the Cubs were limited to training in Missouri, Indiana or Illinois, the New York Yankees ended up training in Asbury Park, N.J., while the Red Sox trained Tufts College in nearby Medford, Mass.

After the war, the teams were again allowed to travel west, but during the time passed the teams’ owners had already considered new spring training locations. The Cactus League’s origins can be at least partially traced to a visit made by Giants owner Horace Stoneham in the late ’40s to a place called the Buckhorn Mineral Wells and Baths in Mesa, not far from the current location of HoHoKam Park. Originally the site of a gas station, the Buckhorn location was converted into a motel that offered mineral baths and massage treatments after a hot-water aquifer containing significant deposits of potassium, silica, magnesium and iron was discovered on the property. Stoneham was introduced to the Buckhorn baths by officials from the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce while scouting for possible training sites, and was so enticed by the rejuvenating effects of the baths and therapy treatments that he thought it might make an ideal place for players to get in shape.

Seattle Mariners vs Colorado Rockies game at Spring Training in Peoria (AZ) 2015

Seattle Mariners vs Colorado Rockies game at Spring Training in Peoria (AZ) 2015

Around the same time, Stoneham received a call from Bill Veeck, the owner of the Indians who had a winter home in Tucson. Veeck had already been thinking about moving his team to Tucson for Spring Training, and thus, the Cactus League was born. Spring training has come a long way from since its humble beginnings.

Every March 15 MLB teams play in each league, the Grapefruit League in Florida and Cactus League in Arizona, and they all hope that the good work they do in the spring will add up to a victory in October.

References: 

A little definition of baseball (Ernie Harwell induction day speech, 1981)

Baseball is the President tossing out the first ball of the season and a scrubby schoolboy playing catch with his dad on a Mississippi farm. A tall, thin old man waving a scorecard from the corner of his dugout. That’s baseball. And so is the big, fat guy with a bulbous nose running home one of his (Babe Ruth’s) 714 home runs.

There’s a man in Mobile who remembers that Honus Wagner hit a triple in Pittsburgh forty-six years ago. That’s baseball. So is the scout reporting that a sixteen year old pitcher in Cheyenne is a coming Walter Johnson. Baseball is a spirited race of man against man, reflex against reflex. A game of inches. Every skill is measured. Every heroic, every failing is seen and cheered, or booed. And then becomes a statistic.

In baseball democracy shines its clearest. The only race that matters is the race to the bag. The creed is the rulebook. Color merely something to distinguish one team’s uniform from another.

Baseball is a rookie. His experience no bigger than the lump in his throat as he begins fulfillment of his dream. It’s a veteran too, a tired old man of thirty-five hoping that those aching muscles can pull him through another sweltering August and September. Nicknames are baseball, names like Zeke and Pie and Kiki and Home Run and Cracker and Dizzy and Dazzy.

Baseball is the cool, clear eyes of Rogers Hornsby. The flashing spikes of Ty Cobb, an over aged pixie named Rabbit Maranville.

Baseball is just a game, as simple as a ball and bat, yet as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes. A sport, a business and sometimes almost even a religion.

Why the fairy tale of Willie Mays making a brilliant World’s Series catch. And then dashing off to play stick ball in the street with his teenage pals. That’s baseball. So is the husky voice of a doomed Lou Gehrig saying “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.””

Baseball is cigar smoke, hot roasted peanuts, The Sporting News, ladies day, “Down in Front”, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and the Star Spangled Banner.

Baseball is a tongue tied kid from Georgia growing up to be an announcer and praising the Lord for showing him the way to Cooperstown. This is a game for America. Still a game for America, this baseball!