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August 26th, 2006:

Vintage Base Ball

If you don’t care for the current style of baseball, perhaps this will be more to your liking.

Former major league pitcher Jim Bouton announced Thursday the launch of an organization that will play by 19th century rules: The Vintage Base Ball Federation. Yup, back then baseball was two words.

It will be six balls for a walk, and a foul ball won’t count as a strike – unless it’s caught, in which case the batter will be out. A foul ball caught on a bounce counts for an out, and a hit batter is only a ball, with no base awarded.

Gloves will be tiny, bat handles will be thick and the ball – that’s right, one ball will be used per game unless it falls apart or is lost – will be dead. There aren’t any pitcher’s mounds, and there’s no such thing as a balk on pickoff attempts.

In a mixture of sport and theater, umpires must be addressed as “sir.” Fans – called “cranks” – will be encouraged to wear period costumes, so ladies get out those flowered hats and gentlemen doff your straw boaters.

Amateur baseball and softball teams are invited to join the VBBF.


“The game the way it was meant to be played,” Bouton said during a news conference at Delmonico’s, a restaurant that opened in 1836. “No batting gloves, helmets, wristbands, elbow pads, shin guards, sunglasses. No arguing with the umpire. No stepping out of the batter’s box. No charging the pitcher or posing at home plate. No curtain-calling, chest-thumping or high-fiving. Just baseball.”

Well, at least it’s not Baby Boomer-inspired nostalgia for all things 1950s and 60s. The most recent edition of the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract gives a good, concise feel for how baseball was played and by whom back in the ancient days. It’s a perfectly valid way to play the game, and I daresay people will find it interesting both as a novelty and on its own merits, but it has no more claim on being “the way it was meant to be played” than any other era has. For my money, this is like baseball version of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, with its utter romanticism of a past that wasn’t particularly pretty.

While the Hartford Senators have a team spittoon, gambling will be prohibited – 19th century baseball was marked by alleged fixed games.

“The 1880s and ’90s were characterized by very rough play and ill-mannered conduct toward umpires and opponents and spectators,” said John Thorn, a board member who serves on the 19th Century research committee of the Society for American Baseball Research.

You can dress up in period costumes all you like, but the game of baseball at that time was filled with ruffians and gamblers. And of course you can’t talk about 1880s baseball without discussing the origins of the game’s organized racism, which began when future Hall of Famer Cap Anson refused to play against a team that featured Fleet Walker.

Obviously, the goal of the Vintage Base Ball Foundation is to evoke the positive things from that era, and to provide a contrast to what it sees as an artificial and commercial game now. Which is fine, if a bit naive about the actual history of the game. I personally prefer to remember that the good old days weren’t always good. To each his own. Thanks to Matt for sending me this link.

Casey on Radnofsky

Well, I don’t know if the headline is one that you’d want, but overall I’d say Rick Casey wrote a pretty complimentary column about Barbara Radnofsky and her Senate campaign. He certainly mentioned a lot of the things she likes to talk about, so do go and read it. One point to discuss at the end:

[S]he may well surprise a lot of people by making it into a respectable race.

And if she does, and if the “perfect storm” of Iraq and a flagging economy gathers more force in the next two years, she may well be in a position to muster a lot more resources for a 2008 race against Texas’ junior and more polarizing senator, John Cornyn.

I don’t know who it will be, but I feel pretty confident that someone will be able to mount a reasonably well-financed run against the Box Turtle man. I don’t care to speculate about who that might be, since among other things I’m too focused on 2006 to have given it much thought, but I expect it to happen. Too far off to worry about now, but file it away for later.

Tom DeLay: Still unclear on the concept

From the “I Fought The Law (And The Law Won)” files, I bring you the master of denial himself, Tom DeLay.

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said he never thought the courts would prevent the Republican Party from replacing him on the November ballot, a Houston television station reported Thursday.

“I’m very disappointed in our justice system. There doesn’t seem to be justice,” DeLay told KTRK-TV.


DeLay said efforts to replace him on the ballot weren’t “bungled.”

“We read the law and the law is very specific,” he said. “You’re ineligible if you die, have committed a felony and are convicted of a felony, if you are not mentally capable of serving or if you’ve moved out of the state.”


DeLay said he doesn’t have second thoughts about his decision to resign from Congress and give GOP leaders a chance to replace him on the ballot.

“Knowing what I know now, I don’t think I would have done it any differently because I read Texas law, I knew what Texas law was,” he told the television station.

Remember how on Happy Days the Fonz was physically incapable of saying the words “I was wrong”? DeLay is like that, minus the perfect hairdo, good looks in a leather jacket, and ability to turn on a jukebox by hitting it with his fist. This is your brain on too much lobbyist money, kids. Pay heed or wind up looking like that.

Paul Burka thinks the result is the ultimate expression of Justice. I couldn’t agree more.

Good news on the I-45 front

Via his spiffy new Chron blog, Marty Hajovsky brings some good news about the planned expansion of I-45.

[Jim Weston, president of the I-45 Coalition] also said that after years of back and forth on the Interstate 45 question, the department is investigating an expansion plan that would not significantly impact the Woodland Heights.

The department is expected to announce a series of what they call “scoping meetings” with interested parties sometime before the end of the year in order to garner public input.

“All indications are that they are not going to need additional right of way for this expansion except for two possible areas: the intersection of I-45 and North Main (where an Exxon station and McDonald’s restaurant are right now) and the curve at Little York north of Loop 610,” Weston said.

“They’re doing environmental studies right now, which basically comes down to vibration and impact on historic buildings and sites. The studies are nothing about air quality or the effects of increased traffic, which is what most people think about with ‘environmental.’

“Nothing is for sure until they get through this phase, but it looks positive.”

Weston said one idea being studied is to expand the freeway underneath the existing service roads and then cantilever them over the highway.

“That’s one of the things that they’re studying right now, whether that’s feasible, the costs of it, etc.,” Weston said. “The I-45 Coalition did a study in May and concluded that the community wouldn’t be opposed to getting rid of those things, the service roads, entirely. Right now, there’s no service road farther south than North Main anyway. The neighborhood doesn’t really want to keep the service roads if we have to lose part of the neighborhood to have them.”

In response, Henry wrote a letter to Weston last week saying the study will be a reference as the design process proceeds. But he also said the department will either have to stay within the existing right of way or eliminate the frontage roads, but not both. He wrote that access to the frontage road is “a property right.”

“On IH 45 in this section, the adjacent property owners own the access rights,” Henry wrote. “To buy the access rights from a private property owner, we are required to have a valid transportation need that can stand up in court. This usually means acquiring the property to expand the roadway and buying the access rights.”

Weston said the final design is not here yet, so no one’s breathing easy, but the initial signs are encouraging for the Woodland Heights at least.

“Until the final design happens, nothing is for sure,” he said. “When we get that, the public will be informed and we’ll have the right to give input. But yes, we can do it without impacting the neighborhood.”

Music to my ears. Kudos all around for finding a way to make this happen in a neighborhood-friendly way. And just as a reminder, that urban transit corridor planning meeting I’ve talked about is today.

By the way, Weston sent me a copy of the document they created at that design workshop back in May. You can check it out here (Word doc) if you’d like. Skip ahead to page 13 for a discussion of the North Main/Houston Avenue interchange, which is in desperate need of a complete overhaul.