This year is the centennial of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" the unofficial anthem of baseball composed by Albert Von Tilzer and written by Jack Norworth. Songs about baseball weren't new in 1908. "The Baseball Polka" had already been around for 50 years according to the Library of Congress Music Division. Yet "Take Me Out..." is probably the only piece of Tin Pan Alley music that most Americans can instantly recall. It's surely more memorable than "Take Me Out for a Tank Ride."
As Major League Baseball starts its 2008 season this week there will be many mentions of the song. Mainly, the league is hosting "in-park searches for the most talented performers of the unofficial anthem of baseball fans everywhere." (Enter online: here). There will also be many newsarticles about Katie Casey and the song's verses, as well as its conflicted history due to the new book Baseball's Greatest Hit: The Story of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game".
I'm slightly embarrassed that I didn't catch this earlier. Sports Illustrated has opened up their entire back catalogue, or "vault," for free; more than 50 years of covers, articles, photos, and videos. The articles are available as searchable html or bundled up by the issue. The full issues, ad placement and all, are presented in a page-flipping online reader.
Ba' has been played in the town of Kirkwall—located on the largest of Scotland's Orkney Islands—since at least the mid-1600s. The games are held twice a year, on Christmas Day and New Year's Day. The premise of the game is simple:
Half of the men in Kirkwall, called Doonies, try to push a small ball into the sea using any means necessary. The other half, called Uppies, work to push the ball to a wall one mile across town. The ba', which refers to both the game and the ball with which it is played, can last anywhere from four minutes to nine hours in freezing temperatures and hurricane-force winds.
A players' place of birth used to determine his team: men born closer to the ocean joined the Doonies while those born closer to the hills above town became Uppies. (A women's ba' game was attempted but fizzled out after a few years due to low participation.) Now that all births occur at the town hospital, family tradition usually dictates a man's team.
Parts of the St. Olaf Hotel were trashed during one game when the scrum "trampled through its lobby." Though injuries are a given—scrapes and gashes, black eyes, players falling unconscious from the crush of bodies—there has reportedly been only one death in known history.
Photo: "Men's Ba, New Year 2007" by Sandwick via Flickr.
Today is the 11th day of 2008 and the 21st day of winter.
TODAY'S HISTORY: In 1908, Pres. Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument. In 1964, the U.S. surgeon general issued the first U.S. government report concluding that smoking could be hazardous to health. In 2003, departing Illinois governor George Ryan commuted the sentences of an unprecedented 156 death row inmates.
TODAY'S BIRTHDAYS: Alexander Hamilton (1755?-1804), U.S. statesman; William James (1842-1910), philosopher/psychologist; Rod Taylor (1930- ), actor, is 78; Jean Chretien (1934- ), former Canadian prime minister, is 74; Naomi Judd (1946- ), singer, is 62; Mary J. Blige (1971- ), singer, is 37.
TODAY'S SPORTS: In 1973, the owners of MLB's American League teams approved the rule of the designated hitter.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry." - Mark Twain
TODAY'S FACT: Alexander Hamilton was born to a poor family on the Caribbean island of Nevis; conflicting sets of records leave it unclear whether he was born in 1755 or 1757.
TODAY'S NUMBER: 438,000 - estimated number of smoking-related deaths in America each year from 1997 to 2001.
TODAY'S MOON: Between new moon (January 8) and first quarter (January 15).
Memorable Moments in Sports: "The Band is on the Field!"
Here's another Memorable Moment from the World Almanac 2008—this time, an amazing final play from 1982:
"The Band is on the Field"
November 20, 1982: Univ. of California v. Stanford
With four seconds left on the clock, Stanford took the lead (20-19) with a field goal. On the last-second kickoff return California players charged down the field, as the Stanford marching band ran out to celebrate. California players shot five lateral passes, ending with Cal's Kevin Moen, who scored the game-winning touchdown by charging through the middle of the band--and knocking down Stanford trombone player Gary Tyrrell.
Of course, if you know anything about "The Play," you know that the legality of some of those laterals has been hotly contested over the years. Hit the links below for more exhaustive background and discussion of this crazy moment in college sports.
Memorable Moments in Sports: Secretariat's Triple Crown
Another entry from The World Almanac 2008's Memorable Moments in Sports feature—this time, from the "Amazing Final Plays" category. This one isn't necessarily a "play," per se, but it is one of the all-time greatest finishes, capping off one of the all-time greatest seasons, in any sport.
Secretariat's Record-Breaking Triple Crown
June 9, 1973: The Belmont Stakes
Secretariat kicked off 1973's Triple Crown season by setting a new record at the Kentucky Derby (1:59 2/5), then winning the Preakness by 2 1/2 lengths. Timing errors at the latter delayed the reporting of his official time, listed by Preakness officials as 1:54 2/5. At the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat and Sham, his second-place challenger in the first two races, opened an immediate lead on their competitors—but Secretariat surged even further ahead after the halfway mark. Hitting the stretch, he had a lead of nearly 20 lengths, then opened it even wider before crossing the wire with a still-standing 1 1/2-mile dirt track record of 2:24 (more than 1 2/5 seconds faster than any other horse has run). Later review of race videotapes marked Secretariat's winning lead at an unimaginable 31 lengths.
It's an incredible performance even if you aren't a racing fan... and the announcer's excitement is darn near impossible to resist. Enjoy!
Memorable Moments in Sports: Canseco's "Head Ball"
Here's the first in a series of "Memorable Moments in Sports" from The World Almanac 2008—this time, from the "Greatest Embarrassments" category:
Jose Canseco (Texas Rangers), May 26, 1993
Playing right field against the Cleveland Indians, Canseco lost a fly ball (hit by Carlos Martinez) in the lights. The ball bounced off Canseco's head and over the wall, for a home run. The Harrisburg Heat pro soccer team jokingly offered Canseco a contract the next day, citing his "great potential for the head ball."
I can't decide which is better: the shot of Canseco rubbing the back of his head, or the slow-mo instant replay. Guess I'd better watch it again. And again. And again.
The Beijing Daily newspaper reported this weekend that nearly 3,500 children recently born in China have been named after the upcoming Olympic Games, which are scheduled to take place in Beijing this summer. But the Olympic fever doesn't end there. Another 4,000 have names that come from the Fuwa, the five official 2008 Olympic mascots, who were "designed to express the playful qualities of five little children who form an intimate circle of friends." The Fuwa include Beibei (a Fish), Jingjing (a Panda), Huanhuan (an Olympic Flame), Yingying (a Tibetan Antelope) and Nini (a Swallow).
The "Five Friendlies," as the Fuwa are also known, have surprisingly well-developed personalities. Consider:
Jing Jing (pictured):
Jingjing makes children smile — and that's why he brings the blessing of happiness wherever he goes. You can see his joy in the charming naivety of his dancing pose and the lovely wave of his black and white fur. As a national treasure and a protected species, pandas are adored by people everywhere. The lotus designs in Jingjing's headdress, which are inspired by the porcelain paintings of the Song Dynasty (A.D.960-1234), symbolize the lush forest and the harmonious relationship between man and nature. Jingjing was chosen to represent our desire to protect nature's gifts — and to preserve the beauty of nature for all generations. Jingjing is charmingly naïve and optimistic. He is an athlete noted for strength who represents the black Olympic ring.
With the commencement of college football season, the Kansas City Star took it upon itself to reveal what probably isn't a shock to anyone who follows college football: college football coaches, even those coaching at public universities, are very, very well compensated for their gridiron grit. The paper compared each state's governor's salary with its highest paid coach, who was most often a football coach. The result: Coaches 49, Governors 1.
And that one point the governors won? It doesn't really count, at least according to the Star:
Gov.: Sarah Palin, $125,000
Highest Paid Coach: Dave Shyiak, Alaska-Anchorage ice hockey, $112,000
(NOTE: There is no college football in Alaska)
Find where your state lies on the coaching payscale at the link below.
(Warning to residents of Florida: Your governor makes less than 5 percent of its two highest paid coaches' salaries. Of course, given how 2006-07 turned out for Florida football and basketball, you probably don't care.)
As longtime readers of this blog know, the editors of the World Almanac are suckers for data visualizations of any and all varieties. I especially enjoy this map of the United States, with state border lines redrawn in favor of a more population-based border determination: baseball team loyalty. It may not be as data-centric as the maps you'll find in the World Almanac, but I'm a baseball fan, so I think it's pretty cool. Though it may have missed the mark in some places: Do the Washington Nationals really have more Maryland-Virginia area fans than the Baltimore Orioles?
Comment to let us know how well it represents your local loyalties. Do our nation's redrawn borders hold up?
China has the 2008 Summer Olympics. Rio De Janeiro has the 2007 Pan American Games. But Rhodes has the NatWest Island Games XII. Oh, never heard of them either? Perhaps that’s because participants must come from one of 25 member islands scattered across the Atlantic from the Orkneys to the Falklands.
First held at the Isle of Man in 1985, the Island Games are held every other year. This year’s games will be held from June 30 to July 6 on the tiny Greek island of Rhodes. Their website claims that this year’s event will draw about 3,000 competitors (more than the 2006 Winter Olympics) to compete in 14 sports.
One of the competitors, Andy Cannell from the Isle of Man, has kept a blog while training for the triathlon on July 6.
It's always good when your boss sends you a link to check out while at work. It feels sort of like a company-sanctioned recess period. C. Alan Joyce, a man with an abnormal passion for visual representations of numerical data, sent this link over to me the other day knowing full well that I’d be amused. It’s a table that shows team salary vs. performance for all Major League Baseball teams. You can see which teams are getting a good return on the dollars they spent, and which aren’t.
For those of you who have partaken in debates over whether or not MLB needs a salary cap, this is a good table to reference. One thing to note: team salaries change during the season, so the salaries given in the table may not be the most current. However, they’re never that far off and they don’t take away from the overall point of the table.
The beginning of the 2007 MLB season marked the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first season in the majors. As we all know, Robinson was the first black athlete to play in the majors, and he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. During that difficult season, on May 14, 1947, one of the greatest moments in sports history took place. The Brooklyn Dodgers rolled into Cincinnati for a two-game series against against the Reds at Crosley Field. During the second game of the series (a day game following a night game), white racists in the stands yelled nasty racial insults at Robinson, who stood at first base. When the insults grew louder, Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers’ team captain and shortstop--and a white southerner himself--did something that sent a message to those hecklers and to his teammates as well.
You can get the full story on page 237 of the 2008 edition of The World Almanac for Kids, on sale June 26. Pre-order your copy now...and in the meantime, get a few more takes on the story at the links below.
Raymond Johnson Chapman (1891-1920) spent his career as a shortstop on the Cleveland Indians baseball team. Joining the team in 1912, he was considered one of the fastest men in baseball. He led the league in sacrifice hits for three years, setting a major league record with 67 sacrifices in 1917. In 1,303 baseball games with Cleveland, his batting average was .278.
While playing the New York Yankees in New York on August 16, 1920, Chapman was hit in the head with a ball thrown by pitcher Carl Mays, and died 12 hours later. Chapman is the only major league baseball player to die due to an injury during a game. Dedicating the season to the memory of "Chappie," the Indians won the league and world championship for the first time.
I don't know how it's possible, but I know a lot of people who don't like minor league baseball. If you ask me, it's the best way to enjoy a (semi-)professional baseball game without losing an arm and a leg on peanuts and Cracker Jack. And then there's the goofy promotions—both between the innings and the attendance incentives. I recall going to Saint Paul Saints games and seeing Mudonna—an actual pig mascot—race Saints fans around the bases between innings. (Mudonna often won. She was pretty fast.)
So, without further adieu, some assorted links about the quirks and perks of minor league baseball:
Minor League Logo Awards: Not an official honorific by any means, but Darren Rovell collects a ridiculous assortment of minor league logos, from the Savannah Sand Gnats to the Jamestown Jammers (left) to the Montgomery Biscuits (right), which Rovell describes as, "essentially a running Egg McMuffin with a piece of butter as a mouth." Rovell also posted a follow-up here.
Top 10 Minor League Promotions (Sports Illustrated): This list is a few years old, so I'm sure a few more recent promotions have topped the ones here. But some would be pretty hard to beat. The Saint Paul Saints sold an at-bat on eBay: the winner popped up, but the manager liked him and started him the next day. He went 0 for 4. The Charleston Riverdogs held a 'Silent Night' at which talking wasn't tolerated. Fans with duct-taped mouths held up signs reading "YEAH!," "BOO!," or "HEY BEER MAN!" You can also keep up with crazy promotions at MiLB.com: each week they list their favorite ten for the week ahead. This week's list includes a "McDreamy" night (don't ask).
MiLB.com: The official site of minor league baseball includes an interactive map to find teams in your area—some of which, I guarantee, even rabid baseball fans will not recognize.
I know I have to be missing a bunch of good minor league dirt. Comment with links or stories about your favorite farm teams.
Baseball's opening day has come and the boys of summer (and fall) are back in the sporting spotlight. You’ll probably be hearing a lot about this year being the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first season in the Major Leagues. Especially on April 15th, which will be the actual anniversary of Opening Day 1947.
While you’re looking around the baseball diamond during this season, thinking about the great Robinson and all he did for both sports and civil rights, count the number of black players you see. Odds are you won’t see many: a 2006 report by the University of Central Florida Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport found that only 8.4% of major leaguers are black! Not only that, but numbers of black athletes in baseball have been steadily falling since the 1980s. In this anniversary year, the report has gotten (and likely will get) a lot of attention. I first read about this a year ago, and I almost couldn’t believe it until I tried to name a few black players. After about 15 names, I began to struggle. Many players who have dark skin are actually of a Caribbean or Hispanic background, not African-American or black (as defined by the Census Bureau).
Definitely something to think about as we honor one of history's greatest baseball seasons.
The first is about Daisuke Matsuzaka, or “Dice-K,” the Japanese pitcher whom the Boston Red Sox paid a king’s ransom just to talk to, and then a queen's ransom to actually sign him. The superb Sports Illustrated article explains the differences between the treatment of pitchers in Japan and in the United States. For instance, Japanese pitchers for the most part aren’t kept to a strict pitch count, whereas in the U.S., every ball a pitcher throws is counted (even when they throw to first base). Also, Dice-K doesn’t ice his arm after games, but MLB pitchers will ice their arms after doing anything from throwing a ball to reaching for a glass of water. (The writer of the piece, Tom Verducci, recently posted a little follow-up to this piece that somewhat dispels the myth of Dice-K’s “gyroball.”)
The other article is about female umpires in pro baseball. According to this Newsday article, umpire Ria Cortesio will be calling the March 29 exhibition game between the Chicago Cubs and the Arizona Diamondbacks. It’ll be the first time in 20 years that a woman has called a pro exhibition game. The article also explains how umpires rise through the ranks. Fascinating stuff about the people behind the plate calling the games.
Baseball spring training is going on, and my three fantasy league auctions are fast-approaching. The men's and women's NCAA Division I Basketball Tournaments are currently being played out. There’s also a little thing called the NBA where teams are fighting for playoff spots. With all this stuff going on, you’d think I’d be able to stay off football at least until the April 28-29 draft. Impossible.
A while back in our World Almanac E-newsletter, I wrote two small pieces explaining the nuances of the two most commonly used base defenses in the NFL— the 4-3 and the 3-4 alignments. Major sports sites are coming up with mock NFL drafts almost daily, and it seems that different teams' base defenses are getting bigger play when it comes to predicting which college players they'll take. More NFL teams nowadays run the 3-4, which means that there's a bigger market for those “hybrid” players who can fit into the scheme. For a little more on this, click over to this excellent article on NFL.com by analyst Pat Kirwan. He gives a very concise explanation of how different teams employ the 3-4 scheme along with a brief rundown of which college players entering the draft could do well in a 3-4 scheme.
Kirwan's article is well thought out and authoritative, but I often think that the differences between the two schemes are overstated when it comes to personnel. Great football players will play well in whatever scheme they play in. I mean come on, if you were a 3-4 team, would you pass on signing a guy like Brian Urlacher because he plays the "mike" in the 4-3? I didn't think so.
It’s been a tough year for the Celtics. First, Red Auerbach, the father-figure and spiritual leader of the team died. Then the C’s went on a horrible 18-game losing streak. Now, former Celtic great Dennis Johnson, one of the most underrated guards in NBA history, passed away at age 52.
If you were a basketball fan in Boston during the 80s, you probably loved seeing ol’freckle-faced DJ bringing the ball up the court. If you were a fan in Philadelphia, Detroit, or L.A., you were probably confounded by the way he harassed your guards. Either way you look at it, he was a one of the greats. But if you’re still on the fence about DJ and how good he was, consider the opinion of Larry Bird who once referred to Johnson as “the best teammate I’ve ever played with.” (Or just watch the clip, at right, from game 5 of the '87 Celtics/Pistons playoffs.)
Getting Through the Sporting Doldrums with Uni Watch
The Super Bowl’s over. My basketball team just lost its 15th straight. I stopped caring about hockey when a team called the Mighty Ducks entered the league (thankfully, it’s just the Ducks now). And spring training doesn’t start for another 8 days. I’m in the sporting doldrums.
To help me beat the between-sports blues, I turn to Uni Watch, which to me is one of the most fascinating and creative sports sites out there. It’s a site that documents, examines, and analyzes the aesthetic aspects of sports uniforms and equipment that players wear in the pros, college, and sometimes high school. Uni Watch is the brainchild of writer Paul Lukas, a man with a strong interest in sports uniforms and sports design. Lukas wrote a Uni Watch column on ESPN’s Page 2. Then last fall, he turned Uni Watch into its own web site (he still writes his column for ESPN).
The reason why I like Uni Watch so much is that it looks at sports from a completely different perspective. I suppose like anything else that focuses on minutiae, it takes a certain eccentric attention to detail to appreciate (eccentric attention to detail is a job requirement here at the Almanac). But Uni Watch is definitely worth the occasional perusal for the sports fanatic, the occasional viewer, or even someone who isn't into sports but likes nice-looking uniforms. At the very least, after reading Uni Watch, you’ll probably start noticing uniforms more when you watch a sporting event. For me it’s a great way to pass the time until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
As a loyal Patriots fan, I’m still in a haze after NFL divisional weekend. The last time I felt that stressed during a game was back in 2002 when the Pats beat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI (it was soon after that game that gray hairs became a regular fixture on my head). This coming weekend, when the final four teams compete for the AFC and NFC Championships, is sure to be an entertaining one. However, before we move away from the events of Jan. 13-14, 2007, here’s a little piece detailing some of the interesting statistical and historic milestones/events from this past divisional weekend. Two of my personal favorites:
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (career stats) has scored in 19 playoff games, which ties him with George Blanda (career stats). We can be certain that ol’ “Automatic Adam” will have plenty of opportunities to set a new record against his former team this weekend in the AFC Championship game.
The Colts/Ravens game was only the fourth playoff game in NFL history where no touchdowns were scored. The last time that happened was back in 1980 when the L.A. Rams beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 9-0.
There are plenty of other similar facts covered in the article. A little warning to those of you who aren't New England fans, there are more than a few Patriots facts. On the other hand, for those of you out there who are New England fans, you'll find oodles of good stats and good times.
Here's a provocative page straight from the 2007 World Almanac and Book of Facts: our "Editor's Picks" of sports records least likely to be broken, in football, baseball, basketball, and a grab-bag of miscellaneous sports.
The idea for this came to us late in the process of working on the new edition, but it's turned out to be one of the most talked-about features in our interviews about The World Almanac 2007. It's not just the fact that every sports fan wants to weigh in about records that should be on the list, or records that they think may actually be broken—it's also that this list raises some interesting questions about how professional sports of all kinds have changed over the years.
In some cases, the overall level of skill and competition in a given sport has increased so dramatically, it's nearly impossible for individual players of the present to surpass these exceptional accomplishments. Other records are likely to stand simply because the playing seasons in some sports—and the careers of most athletes—are significantly shorter than they were decades ago.
So let's open this one up for discussion. Which of your favorite record-holders did we omit? Which active athletes are most likely to set "unbreakable" records of their own? And what are the odds of a future U.S. President breaking into this list? Get the complete list—and find out which former President made the cut—after the jump.
Even though The World Almanac is the best-selling American reference book of all time, there are still people out there who don't quite know what, exactly, you can find in it. So in the 2007 edition, we added a new feature page that summarizes some of the diverse, interesting facts you can find throughout the book, including some surprising facts, milestone birthdays for 2007, and important trends in the U.S. and around the world. For today, however, we'll keep the focus on our "Number Ones" — the biggest, the best, the worst, and the most popular in just a few of the dozens of different subject areas contained in the book.
Most popular car color in the U.S. .......... silver, more than 20% of new cars
Highest-rated U.S. television show, 2005-06 .......... American Idol, Tuesday night
Top-spending U.S. advertiser in 2005 .......... Procter & Gamble, $4.61 bil
Most prescribed class of drug in the U.S. .......... antidepressants, prescribed 81.2 mil times in 2004
Most popular dog breed in U.S. .......... Labrador retriever, 137,867 new dogs registered in 2005
Leading cause of death in U.S. .......... heart disease, 685,089 deaths (28%) in 2003
Nation with the most vacation days per year .......... Italy, average of 42 days per person
Largest world city .......... Tokyo, 2005 population 35.2 mil
Largest army, by active-duty troop strength .......... China, 2.3 million
Nation hosting the most refugees .......... Pakistan, with 1.1 mil in 2005
Most densely populated U.S. state .......... New Jersey, 1,135 persons per sq. mi.
Most sparsely populated nation .......... Mongolia, 4.7 persons per sq. mi.
Nation with most water per capita .......... Iceland, 582,191.8 cubic meters (U.S. has 10,333)
Developed nations with highest federal tax rate .......... Belgium and Germany, 42%
Nation with highest per capita GDP .......... Luxembourg, $55,600 Highest temperature recorded on Earth .......... 136° F in El Azizia, Libya, 9/13/22 Deadliest natural disaster in U.S. .......... Galveston Hurricane, Sept. 8, 1900; up to 12,000 killed
Most career saves (baseball) .......... Trevor Hoffman, 482 through 2006
[P.S.: Know a trivia buff who might love this list? Want to share it with the world? This would be a perfect time to try some of our sharing and social-networking tools. Click "Email this" to send this entry on to a friend, or "Add this" to bookmark or share it with dozens of different online services.]
blooped a Texas leaguer into shallow right off the southpaw’s heater.”
For those of you without a baseball vocabulary, the sentence means that a batter lightly hit a fastball thrown by a left-handed pitcher into shallow right field. For our May
2006 World Almanac E-Newsletter, I put together a small piece about baseball slang and its origins, so it’s always in my mind whenever I’m watching games. More than other sport, baseball has given rise to a number of creative and funny terms to describe what’s happening on the field. Maybe this is because the game is so rooted in American culture that it stirs the creative impulses in those who follow the game, allowing them to concoct new phrases, which capture the true essence of the game. But fans and radio announcers also need to use colorful terminology to keep things interesting...because for the most part, nothing happens for most of a typical baseball game.
There are lots of terms for a curveball—hook, 12 to 6, yellow hammer—and many more to describe hits—frozen rope, worm burner, screamer. But slang isn’t limited to baseball. Basketball has its bricks, swishes, and players camped out under the basket, while football has its gunners, flea flickers, and hook and ladder plays. See below for links to some more resources for exploring sports slang.
As pro football goes, one would think that any major event
in the history of the sport would have taken place somewhere in Ohio, Illinois,
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin. However one of the most important games
ever played, the first pro football night game, was played in Providence, RI. Once
upon a time (or more specifically from 1925-1931) there was an NFL team in
Providence called the Providence
Steam Roller. And on Nov. 6, 1929, under the newly installed floodlights at Kinsley Park Stadium in Providence, RI, the Steam Roller
hosted the visiting Chicago
Cardinals (who later went on to become the Arizona Cardinals) in the first ever night game in NFL history.
Despite the game’s success not everybody benefited. For at least one player on the Steam Roller named Tony Latone, there were drawbacks. According to the terms of his contract,
he was paid $125 per game for day games, and only 60% of that for night games.
The reason for the lesser pay? The owners used the money saved to pay for the