My sports calendar is off-kilter

Baseball of the 1960s and ’70s

Bob Gibson.imageRecently, I realized that the shifting or cancellation of certain sporting events in 2020 has thrown my biorhythms off-kilter. And I don’t even have to particularly care about the events to be affected.

March Madness means all those ads on CBS, the familiar theme music, and the beginning of spring. But I didn’t hear it because the tournament was canceled. In tennis, I know the 4th of July is coming because Wimbledon has started. Nope, canceled.

The Kentucky Derby, and Free Comic Book Day, were both on the first Saturday in May. The horse race was pushed back to September 5? And the other Triple Crown traces changed not only the dates but the race lengths.

COVID has affected how I watch sports. I remember looking at the standings in Major League Baseball early in the truncated season. Some teams had played about a dozen games. The St. Louis Cardinals, though, were only 2-3, because either they or their opponents tested positive.

Usually, I start paying attention to MLB in September, when it started in early April. But I never saw a single game to its completion because the season began in July. Yet I remember how much I love the symmetry and simplicity of baseball.

Three deaths

I was reminded of this when I noted the death of three Hall of Fame players in October 2020. My team when I grew up was the New York Yankees.  Whitey Ford pitched for them from before when I was born until 1967 and for no other team. He was their best pitcher.

1961 was his finest year. He won the Cy Young award. But he also had the most wins with 25, the best win-loss percentage at .864, and pitched more innings, 263, than anyone in the league.

When the Yankees began their decline in the mid-1960s, other teams came to the fore, including the St. Louis Cardinals. Bob Gibson pitched for no other teams. In fact, in an All-Star Game, he wouldn’t even shake his catcher’s hand because the guy played for another team during the season.

There are only two pitching records I can recite without looking. One is Cy Young’s 511 lifetime wins as a pitcher. The other is that, in 1968, Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA. This means that for every nine innings pitched, he only gave up a little over one run. And he threw over 304 innings that year. MLB lowered the mounds the following season to give hitters a fighting chance.  Gibson completed every game he started between 1966 and 1974.

In the early 1970s, the team from Cincinnati, known as the Big Red Machine, came to the fore. One of the smallest players, Joe Morgan, was one of the best. Traded from the Houston Astros for the 1972 season, he did almost everything to win.

Morgan led the league in on-base percentage four times, often aided by the base on balls. Yet in 1975., one of two years in a row he was league MVP, he was 4th in batting average and 1st in base-stealing success. He received 5 Gold Gloves, all while with the Reds, for his defensive prowess.

This has been a difficult year for the history of Major League Baseball, and each of these players loomed large in my youth and young adulthood.