Saturday, August 23, 2008

dorothy "dottie" collins (1923 - 2008)

I'm sad to report that women's baseball has lost one of its biggest stars. You may never have heard of Dottie Collins, but you've probably heard her tale. Collins, who died this week at the age of 84, was the inspiration behind the 1992 film A League of Their Own, a fictionalized chronicle of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which existed from 1943 to 1954.

Born in Inglewood, California, in 1923, Collins (née Wiltse) started her career off in organized softball but soon moved over to baseball when she joined the All-American League's Minneapolis Millerettes. As a pitcher who threw a little overhand, a little underhand, and even some sidearm, she won 20 games in her debut season. Collins spent the rest of her career with the Fort Wayne Dasies, amassing a lifetime record of 117-76; an ERA of 0.83; 1,205 strikeouts; and two no-hitters. Not too shabby!

Collins is probably most famous for being the real-life personality behind A League of Their Own's star pitcher and main character, Dottie Hinson, who was played by Geena Davis. As in the film, Collins quit baseball to have a family . . . but let it be known that the real Dottie continued playing until she was four months pregnant! More important to Collins than the movie, however, was the fact that she convinced the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, to create an exhibit—and later, an entire wing—on women in baseball.

I was fortunate to meet several former players from the AAGPBL when I took part in an exhibition game out in Arizona in 2003. The event was a 24-hour marathon game bringing together female baseball players from around the U.S. and a few other countries. It was exciting to see so many young women partaking in our nation's pastime . . . of course I'm talking, here, of regulation baseball, not the watered-down version known as softball that girls are all but forced into today. I'll never forget former AAGPBL pitcher Jeneane "Lefty" Lesko, easily in her 70s at the time, churning out two or three innings of work at about 2 in the morning! I don't believe Dottie Collins was able to make the event, but the spirit with which she played and promoted the game for women and girls was certainly on hand. She will be missed.

Friday, August 22, 2008

the right call

This week, Major League Baseball announced an agreement with the umpires and players to allow instant replay during games. The ruling would limit instant replay reviews to boundary calls, which basically means they'll be used to review home runs.

The decision already has baseball purists up in arms, but I'm excited about the announcement. Since a home run can so dramatically change the outcome of a game, I feel like umpires should do everything they can to get it right, even if it means relying on video replay. I can definitely remember at least two home run calls in recent history that were botched to the detriment of my team. Of course, it only made it worse that everyone in TV land could see how obviously bad the call was...

To be sure, I don't think instant replay should be used for any other calls; like the purists, I think umpire judgments should always play a big role in Major League Baseball. But the awarding of an automatic run—or four—shouldn't be something that's subject to an umpire's faulty vision.

Earlier this summer I was at a meeting of the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society, when a member who had been an MLB umpire for a good deal of the last century told us a story about a botched home run call many decades ago. During the play, a fly ball was so close to the fair pole that it was all but impossible to see which side it landed on. The resulting call (I forget which way it went) was so disagreeable to the parties involved that someone suggested it would be a good idea to add a fence to the fair pole, so that if a ball got that close, it would hit the fence and bounce down. Wanting to make more accurate judgments (and prevent the vitriol spewed against them in the event of a bad call), the umpires of the day agreed that all stadiums would from then on be equipped with fences along their fair poles. I'm sure baseball purists were outraged back then, too, but I think we can all agree that that innovation has hardly been a detriment to the game.

It has yet to be determined exactly what kind of surveillance system will be used to monitor fair and foul balls moving forward. But if it's anything like the system used by professional tennis players, I think it'll be terrific. Of course, even if it's just normal TV replay, I'll be happy. Strangely, some people have already started complaining that baseball games will get longer as a result, but how many close home run calls do you see in a game? The fact is, the majority of fly ball plays are totally obvious to everyone on the field, so in contrast to both football and tennis (where any of a number of plays per game/match might warrant review), instant replay in baseball will most likely be a rarity anyway.

Friday, August 15, 2008

my favorite medals

Every two years I get psyched up for the Olympics, and this year is no exception. The TV broadcasters this time around have been way too obsessed with Michael Phelps (though I freely admit the dude is amazing), and I wish we could get to see something other than volleyball, swimming, and gymnastics in prime time. Nevertheless, I've been enjoying the show.

I was curious about the makeup of this year's medals, which which feature rings of three different colors inside of the three medal types. It turns out that the rings are distinct types of jade, a semiprecious stone common in China. Of course, I had to look up the history of Olympic medals to find out more. I found that Summer Olympics medals are usually pretty boring; by tradition they feature the Greek Goddess Nike, who personified victory. Only recently have countries started adding personal touches to the backs of medals, and I'd say that so far, the Chinese version is the most unique—by a long shot.

Winter Olympic medals are much more creative, and therefore (at least in my view) a lot nicer. They often take an organic form that's not as perfectly circular as Summer Games medals. They also tend to include materials other than the traditional gold, silver, and bronze. I'd say my all-time favorites are the 1994 medals from Lillehammer, Norway and the 2004 rings from Torino, Italy—but the backs of the Beijing medals are a close third. &infin