Bear Down

The University of Arizona — the university from which I received two degrees — has an inter-collegiate men’s basketball team. I used to attend their games in Bear Down1 Gymnasium and the team was mediocre, if exciting at times.

Arizona first became competitive under Coach Fred Snowden in the mid-1970s after moving to McKale Center2. And, for the past 31 seasons, beginning in 1984-1985, the Wildcats have been among the elite season-after-season under Coach Lute Olson and now Coach Sean Miller.

Every one of the past 31 seasons has been a winning season — an average of 25.2 wins (and just 8.2 losses) over the time. The Cats have been in 29 of the 31 NCAA Tournaments since it became March Madness 30 years ago — including the one that begins this week. In that run six #1 seeds and six #2s.

Bear Down, Arizona!


Bear Down

1 Bear Down is the official motto of The University of Arizona. In 1926 student body president, frat boy, baseball catcher and quarterback John “Button” Salmon was injured in car accident. Before dying Salmon told Coach McKale, “Tell them … tell the team to bear down.” [George Gipp told Coach Knute Rockne at Notre Dame “win just one for the Gipper” while dying from strep in 1920, but Rockne famously first used Gipp’s words in 1928.]

McKale

2 The McKale Center is named for James Fred “Pop” McKale, who was athletic director 1914-1957, basketball coach 1914-1921, football coach 1914-1930, and baseball coach 1915-1919 and 1922-1949. McKale died in 1967.

Hardball

Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman was hit by a pitch thrown by Yankees pitcher Carl Mays at the Polo Grounds on this date in 1920. Chapman apparently never saw the pitch. It hit his head hard enough that Mays thought it had hit the bat; the pitcher fielded the carom and tossed it to first for the presumed out. Chapman took a few steps and collapsed (some reports say he collapsed immediately). He died the next day.

The tragedy caused Major League Baseball to direct umpires to replace the baseball whenever it became dirty. The spitball was outlawed as well, partially in response to Chapman’s death. Previously pitchers dirtied every ball as soon as it was put in play, with dirt, tar, tobacco juice, petroleum jelly. A sticky, dirty off-balance ball could be thrown contrary to the batters expectations — and was hard to see.

Batting helmets were not made mandatory until 1971, though some teams adopted them earlier. Older players could choose not to wear a helmet. The last was in 1979.

On April 12, 1909, Philadelphia Athletics catcher Michael Riley “Doc” Powers crashed into the wall chasing a pop up. He died of of peritonitis as a result of the surgeries two weeks later. And he himself was a physician. It was opening day.

Those are the only two fatalities from on-field action in Major League history.

I attended a game, probably in 1957. Kansas City vs. Detroit at Briggs (later Tiger) Stadium. If I’ve found the right game, it was Jim Bunning vs. Don Larsen. I do remember Vic Power coming to the plate as a pinch hitter and declining a batting helmet. Bunning made him reconsider quickly however, and Power made a great show of going to the dugout and putting on a helmet.

Pay As You Go

I read John Feinstein’s Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life In the Minor Leagues of Baseball the other day.

Among other things, I learned that when a minor league player — that is, one without a major league contract — is called up, he is paid for each day at the rate of the minimum major league salary ($500,000 this season) divided by 180 days. A player called up for three days, for example, would be paid $8333.33 ($500,000 divided by 180 times 3). A typical AAA player is paid $2,150 a month (for the five month season), so a few days in the big league is quite a bonus.

At lower levels the pay is much less — “Most earn between $3,000 and $7,500 for a five-month season.” [In lawsuit minor leaguers charge they are members of ‘working poor’]

Major league players receive $100 a day for food on the road; minor league players $25. Minor league umpires are paid $1900-3500 a month (for five months).

In the higher minors, the players, manager and coaches are employed (and paid) by the major league team. The local franchise — for example, the Albuquerque Isotopes — controls and manages everything else, but not the baseball.