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Archive for February, 2012

Getting the Strat-O-Matic Skinny for the Spring

Posted by athomeatfenway on February 27, 2012

 

 

T

he 2011 Strat-O-Matic Baseball Game player cards arrived in my home 3 days ago.  Time to review each player and form line-ups for each team.  In doing so, I learn more about the 750 MLB players in the set.  How else would I learn that all 3 KC Royal outfielders bat around .280, steal 20 bases, and hit 19 HR’s ?  Or that Seattle and Minnesota fans are suffering with teams so weak they could not win a AAA pennant.

Breaking down the Strat-O-Matic annual card set should be a staple in this fan’s preparation for every new Baseball season.

Here are some nuggets of discovery:

New York Yankees

On paper, they look like the 4th or 5th best team in the AL after Texas, Detroit, Tampa & California. 

-No Yankee really rocked a big B.A. in 2011.  Cano topped them at just .302.  Unusual for them. 

-Granderson is a true star with 41 HR and 25 SB’s.  Too bad he’s so happy in NYC.

-Tex is said to be in decline, which is proven by his .248 BA, and belied by his 39 hr’s.  I would not bet that his best is behind him. 

-Arod had just 375 AB’s.  Let’s hope the downtrend continues.  This career-long cheater deserves this quiet but steady decline.

-CC’s 230 K’s in 237 IP’s are  S-a-w-e-e-t.  Colon’s contribution seems miraculous.

-Russell Martin plays far bigger than his stats.  Nick Swisher strikes out a lot. 

-You have got to love Brett Gardner’s league leading 49 SB’s.  He has 96 bags in the last 2 years.

-Overall:  I’m not sure how this team won 97 games in 2011.  They seem old.

Toronto Blue Jays

-Jose Bautista’s eye popping .447 OBP was second only to that of Miguel Cabrera’s .448.  Both are rare accomplishments.  Of course, more rare still is Ted Williams’ career OBP of .482.

-Brett Lawrie wins a Top Part Timer Award with .293, 9 and 25 in 150 AB’s.  He’s only 22.  Let him play !

-I don’t care at all for J.P. Arencibia & his 23 HR’s out of the catcher’s slot.  The Dude hurts my Sox.

-Yunel Escobar is also the real deal.  A solid shortstop who brings .290, 11, 48.  Why can’t the Red Sox  get and keep one like him ?

-How the heck did Rajai Davis steal 34 bags with a meager .273 OBP in 320 AB’s ?  Did he ever get thrown out when he DID get on-base ?

-Rickey Romero could win 20, no problem.  Loving the 2.92 in 225 IP’s.  Go man, go.

Boston Red Sox

This team is so stacked from top to bottom, it is no wonder they played .630 ball from May 1 to August 31.  Problem is there isn’t much left on the starting staff after Lester and Beckett, unless Buchholz is truly healthy and Daniel Bard can make the transition out of the Pen.

-Marco Scutaro, pretty good fielding SS, posted .299, 7, 54.  Nice year.  So why did the Sox let him go ?  The new kid better be good.

-Ellsbury had an MVP quality year with .321, 32, 105.  And 39 SB’s.  Do it again, Jacoby.

-Pedroia , the gold glover, received MVP votes as he went .307, 21 and 91, with 28 SB’s.  He also had a 25 game hit streak.  Tell your broker to buy Pedey stock now.  He’ll be even better in 2012.

-Gonzalez met all expectations with .338, 27, 117, taking a gold glove & a silver slugger.

-Ortiz defied his age with .309, 29, 96.  What’s in his shake ?

-Youkilis once again couldn’t play a full season.  17 dingers and 80 RBI’s in 431 AB’s are great, but Youk hasn’t played 140 games or more since 2008.

-Carl Crawford’s .255, 11, 56 with 18 SB’s are a good value for a $1 Million annual salary.  Problem is they paid him $15 Million to do it last year and he’s making $19 Million this year.  Ugh.

-Jerrod Saltalamacchia logged a very respectable .235, 16, 56 in 358 AB’s.  With ‘Tek leaving, count on Red Sox Nation to fall in love with this guy.

-Gee, come to think of it, ‘Tek’s .221, 11, 36 in 222 AB’s is a lot like that of Salty.

-J.D. Drew, it is all I can do to NOT remove your card from my game.  And with it your .222 BA with $14 Million salary.

Tampa Bay Rays

Joe Maddon is a genius.  He won 91 games and a playoff berth without one dominating offensive player or a lights out reliever.  He did have 5 young starters.  He had an instinct for making 25 players into a team.  He had the 2nd smallest payroll in Baseball.  Maddon is the best.  Hats off to Stuart Sternberg and company for locking him up.

-Jeremy Hellickson, the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year, brings to the table a 2.95 in 189 IP. This guy K’d 630 batters in 580 minor league IP.  What a baby !

-Kyle Farnsworth was the closer ?  Really ?  K-y-l-e F-a-r-n-s-w-o-r-t-h ? Stop it.  Please.  And get that 2.18 ERA, 25 Saves and .988 WHIP out of here.  This cannot be the Farnsey I know who is 36 years old and did NOT have 25 Saves in the last 11 seasons combined.  Come on !  Quit it.

-Desmond Jennings, Ben Zobrist, Johnny Damon, BJ Upton, and Sam Fuld EACH had 19 or more stolen bags.  When you manage the Rays, you run aggressively.  They led the A.L. in ‘11.

 -Casey Kotchman, 28 years old and on his 5th MLB team in 5 years, fielded swell and batted .306, 10, 48 in 500 AB’s.  Another nice pickup by Andrew Friedman.  Whoops.  Here comes team #6.  Casey signed with Cleveland on Feb. 3.

-What on Earth is Evan Longoria doing with a .244 BA ?  “That’s just not Wade Boggs.”  Or Evan L..

Baltimore Orioles

There is more talent on this team than we think.  So how did they finish with the 12th best record in a 14 team league ?  It’s the Division, baby.  Put them in the West or Central and they go 81 – 81.

 -Nick Markakis, gold glove right fielder, registered .284, 15, 73 with 12 SB’s.  The guy has averaged playing in 159.7 games for the last 5 years.  Love it.

-Adam Jones had a good year with .280, 25, 83 and 12 SB’s.  He K’s a lot but at age 26, he is entering his 7th season and is getting better.

-OK, who the X+?! is Mark Reynolds ?  You say he worked out of Chase Field in the NL for the last 4 years?  That would explain why I didn’t see his 37 HR’s coming.  Are his 158 career HR’s related to his 963 career strike outs in just 5 years, would you say ?

-Vlad Guerrereo, where did the power go ?  13 HR’s in 562 AB’s.

-The O’s used 12 different starters in 2011, 9 of which have cards in the Strat-o-matic game set.  Ugly. Ugly. Fugly.

Go Sox.

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Braun, Bonds & Baseball’s Red Ink

Posted by athomeatfenway on February 26, 2012

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Ryan Braun’s acceptance of an MVP award under the false pretense that he earned it sticks in my craw.  Further alarming is how he reversed his recent suspension on a technicality of the process.

Braun’s MVP travesty is the inspiration of this essay.

This is not directly about the above MVP chart, which shows that 9 out of the last 22 MVP awards were steroid-bogus.

This is about cheating.  And how to clarify an HOF measurement.  Here we go…..

Baseball already has Black Ink and Grey Ink.  These are Jamesian measurements of career player stats that reveal how talented a hitter was in the context of his own time —  against his playing peers.

Bill James defined both measurements in his book, The Politics of Glory.”

A player’s Black Ink score is found when taking the offensive category in which he led the league and multiplying it by a predetermined factor for that specific hitting category.  Leading the league in HR’s is worth 4 points.  Leading the league in runs scored is worth 3 points, etc..  Mantle led the AL in HR’s 4x and earned 16 Black Ink points.  He led it in runs scored 5x and earned another 15 for that.  Counting all categories, Mantle amassed a Black Ink score of 64. 

The point scale is tiered.  Four points for leading in HR’s, RBI or BA.  Three points for leading in runs scored, hits or slugging.  Two points for leading in doubles, BB, or stolen bases. One point for leading in games, at bats or triples.

Grey Ink’s computations are nearly identical to that of Black Ink.  There is one critical difference.  Grey Ink charts how many times you finish in your league’s Top 10 for a category, not how many times you lead the league.

Let’s focus on Black Ink.

The average Black Ink score for an HOF’er is 27.  Babe Ruth soars above the common HOF’er with a tally of 161.  Cobb is 150.  Hornsby 125.  Teddy Ballgame is 125.  Musial is at 116.  Wagner is 109.  Brouthers is at 79.  LaJoie and Aaron are at  76.  Rounding out the Top 10 Black Ink scores is Gehrig at 75.

Mike Schmidt is the #11 position-holder at 74.  Just south of the Iron Mike are the ignoble narcissists, Bonds and A-Rod.  Barry sits at 69.  Alex has 68.

The B.I. leader list looks clean after those two steroid users until you get down to Mark McGwire in 42nd place. Though not sniffing the rarified air of the Top 20, Big Mac still ranks ahead of Joe DiMaggio, Reggie Jackson and Frank Robinson.

As the man shouted when he came home suddenly to find his cat trying to mount his beagle, “That’s just not right, man !!

I’ll come back to that inequity in a bit.

The Top 10, with the exception of Brouthers, represents the all time elite of well rounded offensive players.  You can make the case that six of them are the greatest players of all time.

The Top 50 is impressive, studded with Yaz, Killebrew, Foxx, Mantle, Gwynn, Henderson, Ott, Greenberg, Brett, Boggs, Speaker and Crawford.

At 60 deep in Black Ink, you have 11 other non-HOF’ers who are banned, or are still active, or played too long ago, or miss by a smidge.  These include Pete Rose, Albert Pujols, Ross Barnes, Harry Stovey, Gavvy Cravat, Tony Oliva, Tip O’neil, Sherry Magee, Harry Davis, George Burns, and Dale Murphy.

Those 11 excluded individuals are not in the HOF for sound reasons.  That makes the B.I. list look better and better as a HOF litmus test.

Check out the all time list at www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/black_ink.shtml

The quality of the B.I. Top 60 is self-evident.  James was really onto something.  The measurement is useful.

But what to do about the cheaters ?  Let’s create a reduction factor called Red Ink that deducts B.I. points.  Red Ink would subtract points earned in those years after which the player displayed an acutely changed physique while delivering an sharply increased offensive performance — after 1985.  We can debate the starting point.  1985 is the year that Jose Canseco bulked up in the minors and started spreading the word.  I’m open to a discussion on that issue.

This is how Red Ink would affect Barry Bonds.  He bulked up in the offseason of 1998, after MM hit 70 chemically-aided dingers.  Big Head Barry subsequently led the NL 7x in BB’s, 1x in HR, 2x in batting, and 4x in Slugging.  That’s 38 Red Ink points.  Subtracting 38 from his current total of 69, and Barry’s revised net B.I. total is 31. 

31 points moves Barry well down to 60th place, just 4 points above the average B.I. score for a HOF’er.  Barry Bonds is just an average HOF’er.

There is justice in Bonds’ adjusted score.  It is widely believed that Barry had a HOF quality career before he hit the juice.  He’d had made it if he stayed clean.  Red Ink reveals his true place among the greats.

Do the same exercise with McGwire and he falls to a Black Ink score of 10. 

That’s right.

10.

The non-juiced Mark McGwire is not a HOF’er.  Period.  He’s a fraud.  Sorry A’s & Cards fans.

The list of MVP winners atop this essay shows the tainted MVP winners in Red Ink.  With the sincere-sounding-yet-still-guilty Ryan Braun the latest to cheat his way to an MVP award, we are reminded that wherever there is big money there will be cheating.   Many have cheated and lied before Braun and he isn’t likely to be the last.

Let’s start striking the numbers.  Strike the Red Ink MVP’s.  Strike their bogus Black Ink points.  Strike them from the HOF ballot, even Bonds, who would have made it on natural abilty. 

Let’s be ever vigilant in preventing cheaters to enter the hall or bask in the radiance of falsely earned hardware.

And that applies to David Ortiz as much as it does to A Rod, Yankee Fans.

Go Sox.

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Tim Wakefield, all is forgiven.

Posted by athomeatfenway on February 24, 2012

Tim Wakefield ruined at least 3 dozen Sundays for me over the years.  He caused me financial pain, wasted my time, induced boredom, frustration, and hopelessness.  But in the end, he won a big victory for every old guy who ever dreamed of wearing a uniform.

Whenever I ponied up the dough to get into the lyric little bandbox, there was the old man, thick around the middle, slide stepping toward the plate and lobbing his 68 mph slop.  I almost never missed being randomly assigned to watch Wake when I went to Fenway.  This went on for a decade.  Luck of the draw.

Wakefield was never in demand.  He was an innings eater.  A number 5.  He gave a quality start 20% of the time.  A mediocre start 35% of the time.  A bad start start 30%, and a stinking-baby-diaper -of-a-start 15% of the time.   When Wake was bad no starter in MLB seemed worse.   So when you saw Wake, you cursed damned luck and wondered who a guy had to bribe to see Pedro.

I longed for a Pedro Martinez start.  From 1998 through 2003, no one was better at making AL batters look ridiculous.  Later, Schilling arrived to take the Ace position and Pedro ducats loosened up a little.

Try as I might, I was anchored to Wake even though I bought up 12 different games a year and drove 2,500 round trip miles from Connecticut per season.

Amplifying my Wakefield pain was the fact that from 2002 through 2003, John Burkett started most of the other games I saw in which Timmy did not appear.

You can say what you want about Burkett and his 15 – 17, 4.86 record for Boston, but I’ll tell you this:  For the first 4 innings of every game John looked like Tom Seaver.  When he got to the 5th, he could be as bad as Timmy.

Burkett was better than Wakefield.  Everyone except Matt Clement was better than Wakefield.

Red Sox fans knew this and lamented the wasted roster spot.  “Just get rid of Wakefield.  He stinks !”  The cries went up every time he yielded 5 earned runs in 2 or 3 innings.  The WEEI phone lines burned with anti-Wake tirades.  Fans shouted it in Yawkey Way and on Beacon Street.

And then on June 8th, 2010 in Cleveland, something remarkable happened when Wake K’d Jhonny Peralta in the 7th inning on a 1-2 knuckler.  Timmy passed Catfish Hunter on the All Time strikeout list with his 2,012th K.

That milestone magically transformed Wakefield’s paunch into a badge of middle aged super achievement.  This guy suddenly seemed built to last and he would strike people out until he qualified for AARP.  Fanciful fans wondered if Tim was destined to pitch his way past Palmer (2,212), Marichal (2,303) and Koufax (2,396).  Heck, he could do that in just 5 more seasons.

But Father Time said it was not meant to be.  Tim pitched only another season-and-a-half after passing Catfish.  He K’d only another 143 batters, finishing with 2,156 strikeouts and in 56th place on the all time list.

Father Time also said no to Tim on surpassing Clemens and Young for the all time wins by a Sox starter.  Tim’s pathetic string of 5 consecutive losses in 2011 from August 14 to Sept. 7 hastened his retirement as well as the Sox’s September collapse.

And yet, there is much love for Timmy’s contributions to the team and the town.  He started.  He relieved.  He did abundant charity work.  He arrived in Beantown when Canseco was the D.H. and Mo Vaughn was the first baseman.  He played with Greenwell, Tinsley and O’Leary.  He teamed with the Rocket when Clemens registered a 4.18 ERA in “the twilight of his career”, according to Dan Duquette.

Tim stayed through the Nomar-Pedro-Damon-Manny-Schilling-Youkilis-Beckett-Buchholz-Pedroia years.

He stayed for 17 years.

His real accomplishment is durability.

No one stays 17 years with one team anymore except Derek Jeter and Mo Rivera.  Varitek pulled 15 years in Boston.  Pujols bagged St. Louis after 11 seasons. 

17 is a big number.

And for that, Tim Wakefield, I salute you, and hold you in high esteem, willing to forget the time and money that I could have better used than to observe your knuckling.

From one old guy to another, God Bless and Good Speed, Wake.

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An Umpire’s Gift From the Heart

Posted by athomeatfenway on February 24, 2012

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Belmont, Massachusetts is a Boston suburb of 24,000 souls, once famous for its greenhouses and for being the home of the John Birch Society.  A 15 minute hop on the MBTA Red Line from nearby Alewife passes through Harvard and over the glistening Charles, depositing commuters into the heart of Boston.

The heart is very much at the center of this story.

In 1949, a 12 year old boy living with his family on Slade Street in Belmont lost his Mom to a sudden stroke.  To protect his privacy, I’ll call this boy Little Johnny.

Little Johnny also suffered from polio.  His Mom was gone.  His Dad was not around.  If ever there was a challenging start to adolescence, this was it.

Mildred (nee Flaherty) Gore would throw open a window on the front side of her Slade Street home when her husband, Artie, the National League Umpire, had a night game.  She would lean out the window and call into the afternoon air, “Kids !  Play further down the street.  Artie has a night game and he’s trying to catch a nap !

The kids complied.  They liked the affable Artie.  He was known to walk his 5’9”, 170 pound frame up Slade Street with pockets full of game used, official National League Ford Frick baseballs, handing them out to the neighborhood kids.

Gore was down to earth.  He paid his dues to get to the Majors, spending 10 years in the bushes.  After MLB unceremoniously ejected Artie from the game after 10 Big League seasons, he became a New Hampshire Sherriff, a working man’s job if ever there was one. He is buried in Wolfeboro today.

Artie Gore took a liking to Little Johnnie.  To raise his spirits, the Umpire began to pass official game balls into the dug outs, getting the players to sign them.  In all, Gore gifted Johnnie 8 baseballs, including a team signed ’52 Dodgers ball; a team signed ‘51 Yankees ball; a team signed ’50 Red Sox ball including Harry Agganis; another signed by Ralph Kiner and his wife, tennis star Nancy Chaffee;  one personalized single signed Joe DiMaggio ball; a team signed ’51 NY Giants ball;  another signed by Gore himself and Umpire Scotty Rabb only; plus one unsigned official N.L. game ball with the stamp of William Harridge, the heartless man who fired Gore in 1956 for being too old at age 49.

Artie & Millie would eventually move to Lexington, the same town where the early shots of the Revolution were fired.

He left behind a grateful boy, who grew strong and served his country as a Green Beret, and today works as a State Marshall, casting off any presumptions about the limitations one should have about a 73-year-old man.

+++++

Little Johnny is no longer little.  He is tall and white haired.  Big John, he is called now.  He has a military bearing.  His daughter is a friend of mine and it was through her that her Dad & I connected and I came to examine the baseballs.  The signatures are among the the biggest in history.  Ted Williams.  Harry Agganis.  “Mick Mantle”.  “W Mays”.  Jackie Robinson.  Pee Wee Reese.  Duke Snider.  Roy Campanella.  Bobby Thomson.  Sal Maglie.  Al Dark.  Phil Rizzutto.  Joe DiMaggio.  Yogi Berra.  Johnny Sain.  Johnny Mize.  Casey Stengel.

Fantastic.

Johnnie had tucked away the balls in attics and basements for decades until they were presented to me for review this week, each one kept in a plastic sandwich bag.

Today, Big John has a decision to make.  Sell them or keep them.  The memories are strong, but without young baseball fans in his family he isn’t sure what to do.  I’m sure he’ll follow his heart to the right decision.

For those of us who collect anything, we know we can’t take it with us.  So we have to make plans.  We all will depart and be separated from the people and things we love.

But none of us sell or will away our warm memories of childhood. We get to keep those.  Big John will forever hold the thoughts of sunny days, 60 years ago, when a kind Umpire cheered him with 8 special gifts.

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Artie Gore’s NL Umpiring career spanned 1947 to 1956 and is marked by 3 historically significant events.

First, Gore debuted in the MLB in Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947.  He stood near 1st Base that day.  It is the same day that a rookie named Jackie Robinson smashed the big white lies that blacks weren’t smart enough or energetic enough or brave enough to play baseball with whites.  Jackie and Artie debuted together.

Second, Stan Musial pitched in only one game during his 22 year MLB career.  On Sept. 28, 1952, Stan The Man ran from the outfield to the pitcher’s mound, taking the ball from Harvey Haddix.  Haddix had just walked Tommy Brown leading off the 1st inning.  Haddix took his glove to the outfield.  Musial induced a ground ball to 3rd, where it was mishandled by Solly Hemus.  With 2 on and no out, Manager Eddie Stanky sent Musial back to the outfield and placed Haddix back on the mound.  Harvey elicited a double play and a K to finish the inning.  Artie Gore viewed these rare proceedings from his spot near 1st base.

Third & last, the abrupt and unkind dismissal by William Harridge of Arthur Joseph Gore from the role of National League Umpire solidified the belief among Umps that people of their profession had no job security whatsoever.  Gore’s dismissal, like the first shots fired in Lexington, ignited a revolution, albeit a smaller and much slower one, that led to the formation of the Umpires Union 14 years later.  That Union stayed in place until Richie Phillips unwise gamble and the resulting decertification in 1999.

THANKS !

Thanks to fellow SABRites that emailed to me nuggets and sources on the career of Artie Gore.  These fine fellows are Rod Nelson, Joe Hoppel and David Vincent.  Learn about the phenomenon of S.A.B.R. at

www.sabr.org

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The History of Base Ball in 211 pages

Posted by athomeatfenway on February 11, 2012

I picked up a crisp new copy of George Vecsey’s 2006 book, BASEBALL, at a bargain book sale.  An intoxicating black & white vintage Yankee Stadium photo beckoned from the dust jacket.

It is a pathetically short book of just 211 pages.  The Glen Stouts and John Thorns of the world crank out BB history books 2 or 3 times that length as fast as Kevin Youkilis changes wives, legal or otherwise.  I wasn’t expecting much.

I met Mr. Vecsey at a SABR function at a time when I had read the first 40 pages of BASEBALL.  Looking like a bearded monk or philosophy professor and in jacket & tie, Vecsey smiled warmly when he recognized which title I was asking him to sign.  “Oh, god !  This little book.  Great.”, he gushed.  He signed the title page, “To Karl, Thanks for caring about my history book.”

I did not start out liking the book.  By the time I was done I was connected to George Vescey’s personal family link to Our Game, and enlightened with a concise view of where Baseball now resides with Bud Selig and the owners.

BASEBALL is organized into 20 chapters.  Each tells a significant part of baseball’s narrative, from the origin of a bat and ball game by the nomadic Berbers of Libya to the four scandals that rocked the game between 1980 and 2010.

The writing is elegant and concise.  Vecsey covers ground quickly.  He reveals that Baseball evolved rather than being invented.  He tracks A.G. Spalding’s entrepreneurial rise. Doubleday is dismissed. The Deadball Era explodes with roughnecks and the occasional gentleman.  And then…The Black Sox.

Vecsey’s opens his chapter on the 1919 White Sox with 53 words straight from heaven.

“They are the lost boys of baseball, lashed together, eight of them, in a ship that can never return to harbor.  Even today, as the eight exiles from the 1919 Chicago White Sox bob outside the boundaries of the sport, they are a living reminder of what can go wrong when leadership fails.”

The author spends just 6 pages on the big fix.  Anyone who has read the Eliot Asinof book and seen the John Sayles film will recognize this summation of all the players and parts.  This is the Cliff Notes.  It is not satisfying, but is still pretty good, and wonderfully written.

The author moves onward, focusing on the Babe, Branch Rickey, the Negro Leagues, Radio broadcasters, WW II, Integration, Westward Expansion, Free Agency, the historical context of the Yankee ballclub, the International game, labor-management strife, four scandals (recreational drugs, Pete rose, Collusion, and P.E.D’s.), and finally, the reversal of an 86 year-old-curse, and others.

George Vecsey brings it home in the end with a story about how his kid brother Chris, a distinguished Professor at Colgate, plays Town Ball on July 4th  in Hamilton , N.Y..  The annual game is played for fun with loose rules and teams made of men, boys and girls.  On one occasion, a batter was chased far from the diamond into a wooded stream in order not to be soaked, i.e., hit with the ball and made out.  After a wet crossing, the batter stood on the far bank, taunting his pursuers, who finally gave up and walked back.  The play that day on Colgate’s rugby lawn was all in fun, just as it was all in fun for Vecsey 50 years ago when he and his brother played the game as boys on the back lawn of their childhood home.

Vecsey has covered the game for 50 years.  He has lived with the game for 70 years.  He has shown us where the game lives in his heart.

Xxxxxxxxx

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