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This SABR'd Isle
SABR UK Examiner - Examiner #6 - October 1995
Written by Martin Hoerchner   

I've just come back from holiday in Greece. "Yeah," I hear you grumble, "that's why the Examiner's late!" So I found myself in a bookshop with old books from many countries, looking for something to read. And I found it. I was not familiar with the title of the book - The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant - but I did recognize the straddling figure of Gwen Verdon on the cover. Yes, it was the book that the film Damn Yankees was based on.

The story is based on the legend of Faust, a man who sold his soul to Satan in exchange for having his dream fulfilled. I confess to never having seen the film - I didn't read Faust either - but the book fascinated me. It was first published, if not written, in 1954, and my copy was a 1958 printing. The story's events take place in the year 1964, ten years in the future from the writer's standpoint. Given this perspective, it's bound to be interesting. And it was fascinating.

This book is uncanny in some of the predictions. It has the Yankees taking 10 straight pennants after 1954. That prediction was incorrect. The Yankees only took 9 out of 10. This figure is close to impossible (certainly it has never been approached), yet it was almost foretold. The book's prediction of the year that broke the Yankee's stranglehold on the American League is also stunning, though again a tad bit off. 1965, not 1964, marked the end of the Yankees' dynasty. And the team that overthrew them was, as the book foretells, the Washington Senators, though transplanted to Minneapolis and renamed. And the team they faced in the World Series was, again predicted, the Dodgers, though also transplanted.

One entry I found really topical. In it the Devil confesses his hatred for the Dodgers (so we have something in common), and says that is why they have never won a World Series. But then there is a footnote stating that "he means, of course, the Los Angeles Dodgers." This comment could only have been written in 1958 - the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series, they moved after the 1957 season, and the 1959 Los Angeles team won the World Series (against the White Sox, the only year in that time span the Yankees didn't win the pennant).

So I'm writing this now, just finishing up this train of thought, and I've got AFN on behind me. Then I hear that a certain player just signed a multi-year contract with the Devil. No! I swear that's what he said! Can it really be another amazing prediction? The announcer continues, and I realize he's talking about the Devils, the ice hockey team from New Jersey that won the last Stanley Cup. Whew! That was a close one. My nerves are shattered. There should be a law against Satanic nicknames. The Devil is not some cute little cuddly red guy with horns and a pitchfork. He is the evil force that stripped New York of two beloved baseball teams in 1957.

I'll tell you who sold their soul to the Devil - those slimeballs that sold off the name of Candlestick Park. I don't care how much money they got, I'll never call it "Widget 6 Stadium". I note with increasing dismay the continuing commercialization of the game. Many ballparks have now started putting huge advertisements right behind the backstop, in constant view of the television camera whenever the pitcher delivers to the batter. This cheapens the game. A player of the stature of Ken Griffey Jr is dwarfed by a gigantic "Schmaltzputz Lager" sign. I will resist this movement every step of the way. This seems to be the standard in Europe (yes, including Britain), but it's not right. Commercial interests shouldn't overshadow the game at hand. I know many speak of fondness about Gem Blades and Abe Stark, but this new wave is more insidious. And in case that sounds a bit paranoid, a few weeks ago I heard a baseball broadcaster telling us about the "NRA play of the game". What's next, the Michigan Militia Most Valuable Player? It's time to fight back!

Maybe it's about time I change the subject, before I get into big trouble. You never want to give them an excuse to go after you. One of the things I really enjoy about being a SABR member in England, is that you get a chance to meet a lot of interesting SABRites from the States. When they travel over here, the first thing they do is to look up the local members. A few of us got to meet Mark Alvarez, the Publications Editor for SABR (and my international counterpart, I suppose) at Mike Ross' a while back. He was younger than me and full of interesting stories. And early this year, in a pub off Russell Square, I met Tom Schieber, who had just gotten his article "The Evolution of the Diamond" published by SABR. He is also the Chair of the Pictorial History Committee.

Old photographs fascinate me. I told Tom about how I scanned an old baseball photo, ie converted it to a computer image. The photograph was that one taken in Hilltop Park, showing the Highlanders in a game against the White Sox. You could use the computer to magnify any section you wanted, to go as deep as you wanted, and then move on to another section. It was amazing the detail you could get. It was like that machine in Blade Runner that he used to scan the photograph, panning and zooming to voice commands. You could read the smallest of the outfield advertisements. You could see the detail of the uniforms, close enough to, using Marc Okkonen's Baseball Uniforms book, narrow down the time frame to a single year. It was 1909. This kind of examination brings out the character and flavor of the time in sharp detail. It was like being there. It was like travelling in time.

The last time I was in the States, I saw a TV show called Sliders, about four people who go zapping around to alternate realities. It got me thinking; these sorts of what-if's fascinate me. I wondered what it would be like if the same spark that ignited baseball from a being a children's game to become a fully-developed adult pastime - if it had happened in Britain instead of America. Well, a copy of the SABR Examiner from that alternate reality dropped on my doorstep last week, no doubt through a pan-dimensional wormhole. I'll quote from it:

"This has been a good year for British Baseball, and both Leagues showed healthy profits. A lot of the excitement was caused by the pennant race between the Canterbury Royals and the Oxford Athletics, which went down to extra innings on the last day of the season, and the resurgence of the once-lowly York Mets, who took the crown in the Northern League. The Dean of baseball writers, Mike Ross, said it was the most exciting year for baseball drama he'd ever seen. Patrick Carroll, the head of SBBR, said: "I don't think baseball has had this exciting a year since 1826, the year of the triple pennant playoff contest." Andy Parkes, manager of the Stretford Saints, said he'd never seen a year like it, even though his team was pipped at the post. Tony Darkin, compiler of the Baseball Encyclopedia, stated that records were set in many offensive and defensive categories, while Martin Hoerchner, editor of the Sporting News, said that his staff of writers enjoyed this year more than any since their beer allowance was taken away."