Two Brief Questions For You

May 16, 2016


Not to go all Andy Rooney or Jerry Seinfeld on you, but what’s the deal with baseball caps? When I was a kid, I loved wearing caps, and it was a real treat to get to wear a cap that had my favorite team’s insignia on it.  And it would almost physically hurt to wear a Yankees’ cap, or a cap with the insignia of any team I detested. To this day, if I meet a stranger wearing a Yankee cap, he’s got a long way to go to gain my trust.

But lately I’ve discovered that I hate ballcaps in general. Maybe it’s a hair-loss issue, but my scalp feels itchy and sweaty if I spend more than three minutes with a cap on my head, which I sometimes need to do, as when I’m walking straight into the sun. I need some eyeshade, so I put a cap on, but after a short time I remove the cap because it feels like my head is encased in a wool blanket, and I endure the sun’s glare as best I can.

I still remember wearing a cap all day long in summer camp. It was liberating, especially on the ballfield where knowing how to shade my eyes on a popup into the sun was a necessity of life. Maybe little kids, too young to play ball, didn’t have baseball caps made in their sizes, so it was a marker of my maturity at age 8 that I could pull off the ballcap look? I remember shaping the bill so that it looked maximally cool, the brim almost bent into a curve. That was a cool look, and the cap itself acted as a shield from the sun’s rays, providing a bit of crucial shade as I stood out in the hot sun.

Now, though, wearing a cap just sucks. No upside at all. Must be getting old.



OK, for those of you who remember the passage I wrote previously on Sandy Koufax nailing Lou Brock with a fastball, in Don Drysdale’s colorful tellings of that incident, I present you with the excerpt  below from page 308 of David Halberstam’s October 1964, containing several errors of fact and interpretation. I leave it to you to figure out what is majorly off in Halberstam’s version, and what is only slightly off. The "103 games" in this heroic description of Brock’s high tolerance of pain refers to the period since Brock joined the Cardinals in the infamous mid-season Ernie Broglio trade:

Brock was with the Cardinals for 103 games and played in 103 of them; his body, benefiting that of a base stealer, ached all over, particularly in his shoulder, where he had been hit by a Sandy Koufax fastball. This incident was celebrated by the ever-joyous Don Drysdale, who yelled his approval from the dugout—"All right! All right!"

Halberstam’s careless writing about factual matters is scary to me when I think (and David Kaiser   confirmed in the Comments of my "Veeck as in Dreck" piece) that he is no more careful when he writes about weighty international matters in his prize-winning journalism, but I try not to let it affect my blood pressure too much. Still, I’ll be interested in seeing if you can spot the major and minor errors in the quoted sentences.


COMMENTS (34 Comments, most recent shown first)

Brock Hanke
Steven - You may well be right about Gabrielson. My thought, when I heard about the trade, was that they had gotten Gabrielson BECAUSE they had given up on Brock and were going to trade him. But, to be honest, I was a teenager who didn't exactly know any Cub executives.

Decades later, I got to talk to Bing Devine, the Cardinal GM who made the trade. What he told me was fascinating. At the start of 1963, Stan Musial announced that this would be his last year. Devine thought that this was one of the best things Stan had ever done for the club. Stan was playing LF; He gave Bing a whole year to take a look at everybody's roster and minor leagues, to make up a list of good young LF prospects. When Brock became available, Bing was ready to swap, which may explain why the trade happened so quickly after the Cubs got Gabrielson. But, if you want to know what the Cubs were actually thinking, you should probably talk to someone who was closer to the Cubs of the time than I was.
5:13 PM May 27th
Steven Goldleaf
Also, now that you've got me consulting BBREF and not my somewhat addled memory, I don't see where Len Gabrielson figures into the Cubs' thinking at all, except as an afterthought. He had been a Cub for exactly 11 days when the Brock trade was announced (previously a Brave). It seems obvious that they acquired him AS A POSSIBLE SOLUTION to the absence of Brock, which was obviously well into the discussion and planning stages when they got Gabrielson, not as someone who had outplayed him head to head.

When the Cubs acquired Gabrielson, he had a career total of 161 ABs and a .205 lifetime average--I can't imagine anyone looking at that and saying "YES!!! This is our golden chance to replace this total zhlub we have in the outfield with this budding star! Let's jump on this!" Gabrielson was approximately nothing on June 4, 1964 when they got him, and he pretty well stayed at close to nothing for his MLB career. In the 11 days he was Brock's teammate, he played in 4 games, getting 2 singles in 13 ABs. If he figured into the Cubs' thinking at all, it could only have been "Uh, maybe we don't want to move so fast on this Brock deal? This Gabrielson guy doesn't look like he can play,either."
8:57 AM May 26th
Steven Goldleaf
It’s terrific, Brock, that you have such intense and first-hand memories of this period—I really enjoy reading from someone who was there at the time and knows exactly the situation that I can only reconstruct from dimmer memories and from books. The way you put it, though, it almost sounds to me like the Cubs not only badly undervalued Brock, but that the Cardinals did value him properly—the Cards, after all, traded a star pitcher to get Brock. I don’t think anyone AT THE TIME, as you capitalized it, felt that Broglio was over the hill (although in retrospect, he was) , but the way you put it, the Cubs viewed Brock as an extra outfielder who maybe could play and maybe not, whom nobody in his right mind would trade even up for a young healthy veteran star pitcher, as Broglio was clearly at the time. You don’t just trade a fourth outfielder even up for a 28-year-old pitcher who had very recently won 20 and 18 games, do you? I can’t think of another deal like that, ever. The comparative deals that come to mind involve an older star (like Jim Fregosi, say) being traded for a younger guy with enormous potential (like Nolan Ryan.), which Brock promptly delivered on. The Cardinals must have seen potential in Brock that the Cubs just didn’t see at the time—it was a huge move to trade, in mid-season, one of their main starting pitchers in the middle of a pennant race for someone who had lost an open competition to Len Gabrielson and Billy Cowan. That way of looking at it just doesn’t make sense on the face of it. Obviously it was a potential-for past-performance deal, Broglio was far more established than Brock at that point, but either the Cubs rated Brock more highly than you’re maintaining, or they were idiots—I think the former is more likely.

Are you claiming, btw, as you appear to be, that Gabrielson was a much better RFer than Williams was? That the only reason I can see to insist that Williams has to play LF, and the Cubs then had no place to play Brock, what with the stellar Billy Cowan firmly established in CF. Do you know the tryout that the Cubs gave Brock in LF, by the way? In parts of four seasons with the Cubs, over 400 games, Brock’s first inning in LF came with the Cardinals. Think they might have overlooked something? Basically they were saying that if Brock (who had stolen 40 bases in the previous two season, 1962-3, not exactly the slouch you make him) could only play LF, they had no use for him. I really appreciate your insight and your personal experience on this--LMK if I've misunderstood any of your points.

5:43 AM May 26th
Brock Hanke
Steven - Sorry I didn't note that you were only counting NL guys. My bad. As to the Cubs thing, here's what I'm suggesting. The Cubs had figured out that Williams was the big star, and he didn't really have the arm for RF or the speed for CF. Besides Williams, they were trying to sort out a group of at least three OF, all within a year of each others' ages (24 or 25), for CF and RF. Brock lacked the arm for RF, and lacked the instincts for CF. Cowan was close to as fast as Brock, and better in CF, and was hitting better. Gabrielson was a better RF, and was hitting just a teeny bit better than Lou was. We now know that neither Cowan nor Gabrielson were destined to be anything like as good as Brock, but, AT THE TIME (1964), the Cubs had three outfielders who were all outplaying Lou Brock, and they weren't guys in their 30s. Moving Williams to RF would not solve that problem. Gabrielson would have moved to LF. I was 16 that year, and have distinct memories, when the Cards got Brock, that the one big worry was that his arm would not be really an OF arm, much less a good one. They weren't as worried about the lack of instinct as they were about the arm. One of the main things said in his favor was that he had so much speed that, except in CF, he could probably make up for the arm with the speed. One important thing to remember is that, at the time, Lou Brock was not a major base stealer. In fact, IIRC, the Cards actually started off, when they got him, hitting him second, behind Curt Flood. They realized the error of that pretty quickly, but Lou Brock, in 1964, was not regarded as the next coming of Maury Wills. He had to spend some time demonstrating that he was. And he wasn't regarded as HoF material. He wasn't setting any running records yet, and he hadn't demonstrated the durability that would allow him to play forever without losing the speed. And he hadn't developed into a solid hitter yet. And he was 25, not 22.
3:23 PM May 25th
Kaline's the only Hall of Famer out of the 4 in the AL you mentioned, and he actually played center field that year. Maris played only 46 games in RF that year. Conigliaro and Callison had strong years, and Conigliaro especially would have made the HOF under different circumstances.

So it does end up with 5 Hall of Famers for the 50s CFs, and 4 HOFers for the 60s RFs, with the 60s RF having more depth.

One point in favor of the 50s CFs is that all those guys were primarily center fielders over their careers, whereas Williams was a regular RF for only 2 years.
10:01 AM May 25th
Steven Goldleaf
And specifically, man-to-man matchups, Bench was great but it's impossible to rank him higher than Aaron, Fisk likewise (great but no match for FRobby), Simmons is no Clemente, Munson no Kaline, Porter no Williams, Boone no Oliva, etc.
8:24 AM May 25th
Steven Goldleaf
I was only counting the NL RFers, specifically in 1965, Williams' All-star year in RF. If we're counting the AL, I can add Kaline and Oliva to my list, and nods to Maris and Colavito and maybe someone else I'm forgetting.

As to the Cubs outfield in '64, I don't follow you. With Cowan in CF and Gabrielson in RF, are you suggesting that Brock didn't play LF or that Williams didn't? One or the other had to be playing somewhere fulltime until the Broglio deal. With Brock in LF and Williams in RF, that opened one position for Cowan, and if he was a better fielder than sure he played CF when Brock played LF--what's your point? The Cubs gave up on Brock too soon because of what he couldn't do (play a Mays or Flood-like CF) when they needed (in retrospect) to put him LF and Williams in RF and let the Cowans, the Adolpho Phillipses, the whoevers-they-did-find to do his best in CF and pay attention to their other remaining weak spots, which weren't many. What they did do was to assess a HoF LFer as "lacking in potential" which has to go down as a blunder in judgment. If Broglio had won another 40 games lifetime, it would still be a blunder.
8:20 AM May 25th
Brock Hanke
Maris - No, I saw the comments about benefitting and befitting, but, given the probable meaning, I think the word Halberstram was looking for was "being."

Steven - I don't know what the biggest logjam was, but the 1970s had, at catcher, Simmons, Bench, Munson, Tenace, Sanguillen, Porter, Fisk, and Boone. And that's only counting the ones who played 1000 games in the decade and were in MLB by 1972. Bench, Fisk, and Simmons are clear HoF guys. Munson and Porter can mount cases, though not as strong as Ashburn's or Doby's.
6:37 AM May 25th
Brock Hanke
Steven - It's possible that I went a bit overboard, but the Cubs had tried Brock for two years in CF, and in 1964, they were playing Billy Cowan, who was Brock's age, just as fast, had a better arm, and, having power, was hitting better than Lou. In right, they were playing another kid, Len Gabrielson, who was also the same age as Brock, had a better arm, and was hitting just a little better than Lou was. At that point in time, Cowan and Gabrielson probably looked like better prospects, with more talent, than Lou did.
1:33 AM May 25th
The mid-1950s had 5 legit Hall of Famers in center field (Mays, Mantle, Snider, Ashburn, Doby) although of course not all in one league.
10:20 AM May 24th
Steven Goldleaf
Way off topic here but I wonder if NL RF was the biggest talent logjam of all time: You got four HoF outfielders playing right, three of them (Aaron, FRobby, Clemente) no-brainer first balloters, and the other one (Williams) not too shabby. AL 1Bmen in the late 1930s (Gehrig, Foxx, Greenberg) are in the conversation of course, but I wonder what the competition is overall.
8:19 AM May 24th
Growing up, at least in my Little League, all the caps were what's now called "trucker caps" - with the mesh sides + back. Good for ventilation. Having a legit, wool hat is cool, but hot, as you say. Also, you don't mind sweating like a pig when you're a kid - because you don't stink from it. As an adult, it's unpleasant, you stink, and you may even need an unscheduled shower.
11:00 PM May 23rd
Steven Goldleaf
Frank Robinson was also playing right field in 1965 in the NL

6:42 PM May 23rd
Steven Goldleaf
Think you're being a little short-sighted there, Brock. Williams could have easily played RF while Lou Brock played LF or even CF (if you felt strongly that Williams could play only LF). The Cubs felt Williams could play RF: when I first paid a lot of attention to him, in fact, in 1965 and 1966, he was the Cubs' regular RFer and to this day I sort of think of him as an RFer, even though before and after the mid-1960s he played LF. Brock in LF and Williams in RF is a damned good 2/3rds of an outfield--to make this about the Cubs having no choice is pretty short-sighted. Brock could have (and did) play an okay CF, though on the Curt Flood Cards, you don't need him to. It was a better fit to play him in LF, and the Cubs could have done that if they'd wanted to (and in retrospect, should have done that.) There's only a logjam in LF if you want to make the case that Williams couldn't play right, which he subsequently proved that he could (he was an All-Star in '65 in RF, with Aaron and Clemente in the league). The Cubs just dropped the ball in assessing Brock's (and Broglio's) future.​
7:46 AM May 23rd
Brock: Not important (except to us pedants) :-) but it was actually a different word. (Looks like you missed the first few posts.)
12:32 PM May 22nd
Brock Hanke
1) If you change "benefitting" to "being", the grammar works out just fine. Which doesn't make Halberstam look any better.

2) I recently found out just how bad memories of old things can be, even when you were very close to there. I commented that the reason that the St. Louis area, which had been arguing for years about where to put it, finally got together and built the Busch Stadium that opened in 1966 was that a guy I knew got murdered in a bar after a game, just trying to take a leak before trying to drive home. Someone fact-checked this, and it turned out that the guy I knew was NOT the victim. He was driving the car involved, and had stopped on the side of a road to let a friend take the leak, rather than the incident happening in a bar. What was embarrassing was that I REALLY knew this guy's family; his mother was my mother's best friend. And still, with her son visibly still living, I messed up the memory almost immediately. I've "known" the story wrong for at least 40 years.

3) The Brock trade wasn't as bad, at the time, as it looks now. Broglio, who had won 20 games a year or two before, had put up exactly 4 Win Shares when traded. Lou Brock had also put up 4 WS at the time. So, the trade probably looked more or less even, rather than it being obvious that Broglio's arm was about done. On top of this, the Cubs had a real problem. Brock didn't have the arm for right field, and had failed in center, leaving him with left field and first base. Billy Williams. Ernie Banks. You can argue that Banks should have been moved to third base, but there's a problem there, too. Ron Santo. The Cubs did not necessarily trade Brock because they thought he could not play; they traded him because THEY did not have anywhere to play him. The Cardinals, who had seen Stan Musial retire after 1963, had left field ready and waiting.
5:42 AM May 20th
Steven Goldleaf
If the link below doesn't work for you, try Googling "James DiEugenio Halberstam criticism" and see if that works any better.
12:38 PM May 18th
Steven Goldleaf
Gary--here's a thorough and very critical reading of Halberstam's THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST, which seems to accuse him of the sort of laxity we're finding in his sports books:

It's not my field, of course (what is my field, anyway?) but I find it interesting to look into nonetheless. A lack of thoroughness would seem to me to be a character trait, rather than a one-off sort of thing. One area I do know about is discussed here at length: not providing footnotes for his quoted material, nor even listing all the sources he spoke to in researching TBATB. That's a tip-off that something is inherently awry, don't you think?
9:23 AM May 18th
Garry Trudeau is "Doonesbury" used to make fun of Halberstam's overblown prose and buildups of subjects. I think both "Best and Brightest" and "The Reckoning" are correct and revelatory about some very major points -- the Dem establishment's approach to Vietnam, the Big Three's refusal to realize the end to cheap gas was fast approaching -- and I have not seen those books blown up (yet) on their particulars. Would be interesting to see if his Basketball bestseller is similarly weak on facts.

Halberstam reached a point -- Bob Woodward is there as well -- where they could write about literally anything . . . a book on fluffy puppies . . . and get a lucrative major book deal. Clearly, he got lazy -- and the lack of sound critical book editing by publishers is quite scandalous (and stupid).
10:56 PM May 17th
I love baseball caps. I've always had a problem, though: size 8 1/4. As a point of reference, "XL" is 7 5/8. Since the sizes run in eighths, my ideal size is 5 sizes above "XL." Fortunately, there are size 8 1/4 hats available now for many teams. I currently own Royals, Tigers, A's, and Phillies (70s version) caps in this size. My one frustration is that most of the 'retro' and minor league caps are not available in my size. I'd like to have a Milwaukee Braves, a Boston Braves, and a Norfolk Tides cap that fits.

12:48 PM May 17th
I used to read Halberstam religiously until I spotted several glaring errors in a baseball book, and I'm no baseball historian. (I forget which book it was.) It cast doubt in my mind on his other books, which is a shame, as I (thought) I learned a lot from them, especially THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST and THE RECKONING.
12:18 PM May 17th

Strongest possible recommendation for these type of caps, which I own in several teams across multiple sports:​8

Two things really make these great, the first being the "flex fit" elastic which doesn't feel too tight on the head and the second being the mesh back to prevent the "wool hat" feeling you described.

Your mileage may vary.
9:13 AM May 17th
Can anyone post a link to that article about Summer of 49?
10:35 PM May 16th
I hereby apologize for spelling your name wrong. Ugh.
6:00 PM May 16th

Thanks. I suspect that Bill's theme (That Halberstam doesn't think that baseball is [i]real[i] history and thus isn't worth the trouble of proper research and fact-checking) applies just as much to [i]October 1964[i].
5:15 PM May 16th
Steven Goldleaf
Bill did a number on Summer of '49 . When I first saw that, I was dismayed because I thought he was scooping me but it turned out we each spotted entirely different and entirely damning errors in that book that the other had overlooked. I was especially impressed with Bill's comments on Joe McCarthy's philosophy on playing rookies over veterans, which I hadn't noticed.
4:11 PM May 16th
Can't remember off the top of my head, but was it this book or Summer of '49 that Bill eviscerated in one of the Baseball Books?
3:56 PM May 16th
Steven Goldleaf
Yes, that's it. Halberstam obviously came across the story of the HBP, and threw it together carelessly, inserting it into the 1964 season. That wouldn't be so bad in itself, just a sloppy error, except for the moralizing he does about Brock's tolerance for pain--Halberstam seems to have done some research into the HBP, noting Drysdale's immediate vocal response to it (suggesting he used DD as a source, when we've all heard DD's versions which have him quietly remarking on it to someone sitting next to him in the dugout, not shouting out his approval), without noticing the date of the event. As I noted earlier, the 1965 HBP was the ONLY time Koufax ever hit Brock so it's not as if Halberstam could have confused one HBP for another. Also the point of this story--that Brock bravely played through pain--directly contradicts Drysdale's error in the opposite direction (DD said that Brock was carried off the field on a stretcher and didn't play again for about a month, neither of which was true.) I guess it's not sufficient to have accounts, even eyewitness accounts or Pulitzer-Prize-winners' researched accounts, to be sure of what actually happened.
1:50 PM May 16th
Actually he was hit by a Koufax pitch (and then missed 5 games except for a pinch-running appearance), but unfortunately for Halberstam it wasn't until the following May.
12:55 PM May 16th
Brock missed the game of July 25 (in which the Cards beat the Phillies). Also, he hadn't been hit in the shoulder, or anywhere else, by a Koufax pitch. Nor by any other Dodgers pitcher, for that matter.​
12:40 PM May 16th
(I knew it wasn't what you meant. I was just trying to help avoid confusion for others by mentioning it.)
12:18 PM May 16th
Steven Goldleaf
Halberstam has "befitting" there, I mean.
12:00 PM May 16th
Steven Goldleaf
Oops, that's my transcription error. Halberstam had "benefitting" there, and I messed it up. No, the major error is much bigger than a typo.
11:59 AM May 16th
BTW, I'm guessing the word in that Halberstam excerpt is supposed to be "befitting." I stumbled over the sentence a few times before realizing that it makes easier sense if I pretend the "ne" isn't there.​
11:56 AM May 16th
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