Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Off-Day, Rain Day, What's the Difference?

The Mets had the day off yesterday. Baseball's schedulers must have read the Farmer's Almanac, because it would have been rained out, anyway. Fine work. Unfortunately, this crummy weather is still hovering over much of the East Coast, and there might not be any baseball at Shea tonight, either.

What with the only two teams that matter (sloppily borrowing from The Clash in no more worthy a fashion than Vanilla Ice's borrowing from Queen & Bowie) being out of action this night, I decided to take a break from the vacuum that is Major League Baseball and turn my television viewing 180 degrees away, to something miles removed from bats, balls, spikes, caps, stirrups, sani's, jocks, and uni's: a documentary. On Hank Greenberg. (I told you it was a vacuum.)

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg was on PBS last night, and since there wasn't much on (Angels v. Mariners and Cards v. Astros failed to draw me), I figured I'd watch a little, having read glowing reviews upon its release four years ago. Two hours later, I was thoroughly impressed with this film. I had little prior knowledge of Hall of Fame baseball player Hank Greenberg, what he meant to Tiger-town, how much of a strapping, bad-ass stud he was, what he endured as a Jewish player, that he spent 4.5 years in the Army in WWII during the prime of his career, or that he made the first serious run at the Babe's single season mark. He was definitely a player worthy of a documentary after all.

The modern era has witnessed a huge outpouring of salutes to Jackie Robinson for what he accomplished in the face of such hatred but has largely forgotten Greenberg's similar -- though he admits it's a far cry from Robinson's plight -- endurance. That Jackie looked up to (the original) Hammerin' Hank Greenberg as a role model says plenty. His numbers still hold up: he's 7th all-time in OPS, Rob Neyer. His 162-game average for RBI's is 148, second only to Lou Gehrig's 149. Were it not for those four years in the service and a broken wrist killing the '36 season (in between 170 and 183-RBI years), his lifetime stats might jump out at you more. Instead, he's not a household name to my generation; he certainly was a household name in the 30's, and much, much more than that for Jewish Americans of that era.

PBS often airs such pieces a few times over a few weeks, so look for it, and watch it. If you have any passion for baseball whatsoever, you'll enjoy it.

Interesting tidbit: As the final credits rolled, I noticed (right after seeing thanks to the Robert Russell Memorial!) the filmmaker dedicates the program to the return of Major League Baseball to Washington, DC, and to securing full congressional voting rights for the people of the nation's capital. In that order! Baseball first, then the opportunity to cast a valid ballot for the next President of the United States! Doesn't anyone get how important this is?

Meanwhile, back to real-time baseball: Barry Bonds topped Willie Mays' career mark with his 661st home run last night. ESPN is trying like hell to overhype this thing, but isn't this unfortunate timing considering the indictment of Bonds' trainer for steroid distribution two months ago? Bud Selig has made sure the issue remains completely up in the air so that nobody can even think about Bonds and HRs without having at least a fleeting thought of steroids as well. Has anyone considered what Selig's miserable legacy will be years from now? (Strike/no World Series/All-Star tie/steroids/Expos) Can you impeach a commissioner?

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