There were a few Yankees miffed at how quickly the video of Masaharo Tanaka’s frightening beaning last week made its way around the Internet and how much attention it got. And make no mistake: It was a terrifying moment, when the baseball rocketed off Giancarlo Stanton’s bat and collided with Tanaka’s head — the sight, the sickening thud, the amount of time it took the baseball to fall.
But it was also a useful reminder: Baseball is no joke.
From the time we first play the game as kids, we are, essentially, taught to minimize our fears — of getting hit by a ball at the plate, of getting our body in the way of a hard-hit ground ball or line drive, even settling under a fly ball as it picks up gravity’s pull and hurtles back to earth. Some of us never overcome that fear. Those that do are rewarded for it.
But it never quite goes away. Stanton, of course, knows as well as anyone the inherent danger involved in the pitcher-hitter dynamic, having had his face crushed by Milwaukee’s Mike Fiers while he was playing for the Marlins in 2014. Don Zimmer’s career was a sad testament to the dangerous possibilities lurking in every pitch.
This Aug. 17 will mark 100 years since a pitch thrown by the Yankees’ Carl Mays beaned an Indians player named Ray Chapman, killing him. Ironically, it was 37 years later that another Indians-Yankees game, this one at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, changed the course of Herb Score’s life when he was socked in the eye by a line drive by New York’s Gil McDougald.
Score was 38-20 with 547 lifetime strikeouts in 512 ²/₃ innings pitched to the moment of impact; he was 17-26 afterward, still owner of a lively fastball but not an overwhelming one.
Watching Tanaka’s plight brought back some humbling memories to a Post reader named Bill Els. In 1956, Els was a 19-year-old rookie pro out of Astoria playing for the Cocoa Indians, a Class-D affiliate of the New York Giants in the Florida State League. Els’ teammate was a kid center fielder named Felipe Alou — who hit .380 for the Indians that year, went on to collect 2,101 big league hits, managed the Expos and the Giants, and is the father of Mets manager Luis Rojas.
In ’57, Els was a fine prospect, a lefty who went 12-10 with a 2.85 ERA in 39 games, and he would play three seasons of professional ball. But there was one night in 1957 that stood out, a night he would recall as he saw Tanaka felled last week.
The Indians were facing the St. Petersburg Saints, the Yankees’ representative in the FSL. Cocoa was the class of the league that year (they’d finish 90-50), St. Pete an also-ran at 59-81. There was a Saints player who’d hit Els pretty hard that year, “so I thought it might be a good time to get his attention and his uniform dirty.” But the brushback’s aim was a bit off; Els hit him in the helmet.
“He was only shaken up,” Els said in an email, seeming a bit shaken himself all these years later. “Thank God.”
But it’s odd how these things sometimes shake out. The very next hitter was a right-handed big-swinger, and Els, a southpaw, threw a room-service fastball that came back at him twice as fast, hitting him in the head, knocking him down.
“Luckily for me,” Els wrote, “it was a glancing blow and I wasn’t seriously hurt. Two pitches and two lessons learned.
“The man upstairs must have thought I needed a payback, That was the last time ‘high and tight’ was in my game.”
It is something to think about if you are ever caught in the notion that baseball is easier than it seems. The very best make it look awfully easy, of course. And find a way to take what can be a pretty scary game in stride, too. What was it the man once said? Fear strikes out.
Here’s the best thing I can say about Tom Hanks’ new Apple TV movie, “Greyhound”: I’m not sure what the characters are saying half of the time (a lot of nautical jargon followed by a lot of “Aye, aye, sir!”) … but I still enjoyed it very much.
There is nothing that will get New York’s hockey juices flowing more than the Rangers or Islanders making a Stanley Cup run that would culminate in … Edmonton.
Reggie Jackson once famously said of Tom Seaver: “Blind men go to the ballpark to hear him pitch.” Funny line. But I actually am a little curious to hear what Gerrit Cole and Jacob deGrom sound like when they’re popping the glove in front of a watchful crowd of airplanes and seagulls.
Godspeed to Charlie Daniels, and one last time for the road: the Devil totally beat Johnny, even if he had a helping hand from his band of demons. That match was officiated worse than an NFL game.
Whack Back at Vac
Howie Siegel: Sources are now confirming that Bernie Madoff plans to put in a bid for the Mets. He will be funded by Max Bialystock, who plans to sell 7,000 percent of shares to those interested.
Vac: As always, the rule of thumb is this: Whenever you can cite the great Mel Brooks on anything, you make it happen.
Marc Aronin: I’ve had the privilege to lead classes on Holocaust education for a decade. The comments by DeSean Jackson, the indifference of Stephen Jackson, and the silence from most of the rest of the sports world only confirmed what I’ve always known to be true: Most people truly have no idea what the Holocaust was, and the task of educating as many people as possible on this topic is one of the most important educational endeavors any teacher can take on.
@Jeanette607: It still will give me joy if I get to watch live baseball. But you don’t have to watch, should they ever be able to pull this off.
@MikeVacc: I’m pretty sure that sums this all up perfectly. No need to feel guilty if you’re hopeful for Opening Day. No need to apologize if you aren’t.
Ron Goydic: Mike, if J-Lo and A-Rod purchase the Mets, will games be shown in split screen so we do not miss a photo op when they are in attendance?
Vac: I think we have the foundational programming right there for SNY2.
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