Thursday, July 25, 2013

DH FIX, Old Rebels Night


It was the closest thing Montgomery has to an Old Timers Day. Of course, the pregame ceremonies dont happen when the tarp doesnt come off the field. That didnt keep former Rebels from signing autographs and meeting fans, however.

The scheduled doubleheader had already been cut down to just one nine inning game. The rain streamed off the roofs and fell on the concourse where usually blue skies have been steadily gray the past month or more. It wasn't long after the gates opened that the figure of an older man in a pale cream jacket and matching driving cap found his way up to the ticket taker. He produced a folded piece of paper that gained him admittance without being scanned and was directed to a nearby table.

He stood by as a group of interns shuffled chairs and pushed his table into a better position to deal with the rainy conditions - its obvious he was an athlete during his younger days. He stands taller than most of the attendants and while stooped with age he seems to be more than aware of his importance and moves well, though slowly. As they arrange his table he inspects the zone with a keen eye, making note of any pitfalls or obstacles. He eventually settles into one of the metal folding chairs and the staff attendants fall away to other tasks as the announcement is made that the game's start will be delayed.

Seated alone, watching as rain falls on the people passing by and simply observing the situation is how I find Bud Lively.

"You must be Bud Lively" I said to him, bluntly. "I understand you were with the Rebels in '42" I continued as I stuck out my hand and was received by the large paw of a man who had obviously been a ballplayer. He shook my hand and replied "Well, I wasnt for very damn long" was his reply, and I knew I liked him. "My dad did too though, had several good years for Montgomery"

I had a chance to talk with Bud, he was very honest and I felt we hit it off well for the simple fact that we were both pretty blunt. He answered all my questions, except for the details of the Rebels uniforms "..that was seventy-one years ago!" and I found him to be all the best things vintage baseball should be. He was crusty but cheerful, he was old but not feeble, had a great smile and bright eyes that looked as young as any of the players waiting to see if the field would dry that night.

Bud felt that baseball had fallen off, especially in the south. He talked about how important it was to get young people playing the game, though the players today werent very good and it wasn't much incentive to kids. Bud admitted he wasn't a Rebel long "about two games, one good and one bad" but that he had played in Montgomery many times on visiting teams and always found the city to have appeal.

I asked him about his father, Jack Lively.
He was able to recount the stops in his dads career easily, including all the years he was with the Climbers and said "Dad and I had very parallel careers. We both spent 11 years in pro ball, both had injuries early in our career and spent a long time trying to get back". Bud didnt mention his own time lost to WW2, his service took him to the European Theater for 19 months.

I asked about his fathers no-hitter against Little Rock, often mentioned in bios for Jack Lively. "Oh yes, he talked about it all the time!" Bud replied. It seems dad was more than a little proud of that one! Bud said he didnt remember the details himself but implied that Jack sure did, in a way that only a family member who has sat through countless retellings can convey!

Bud Lively talked about the state of baseball, that there was alot of work to be done to improve the game to get it anywhere near where it was. "And its a shame the state its in now" was enough of a quote for me to apply to just about everything that annoys fans and players alike.

What can we do about it, I asked him. "Not a damn thing we can do, you and me. Baseball will fix itself, it always has" Bud Lively told me.

"And here is a man who had a pretty good idea about what to do to improve the state of the game" I replied as the table was joined by the man who was obviously John Young.

John Young is in many ways, the opposite of Bud Lively. While both are tall John Young is a very big man, broad in shoulders and accompanied by a very lovely lady who had taken on the role of supporting spouse for the evening. She was striking but silent and they both negotiated themselves into the chairs provided.

"Whats that?" was the reply, which seemed almost a bellow. After having a conversation with the octogenarian who was hard to hear over the rain delay music, John Young had a brash and forward demeanor. I explained we were talking about ideas for baseball, how to improve the future for the game. "Get kids to play. Thats all you need to do, thats all it takes." Mr.Young knew the game would sell itself and I agreed.

I quickly directed the conversation away from the topic that I suspected he had already spoken on three times today. "I understand you played for the Rebels," I said "I grew up watching that team, I may have seen you play in '74." I was given a long look and told I didnt look old enough to be a Rebels fan. Compliment accepted, thank you!

I staggered to the next question - How did the Dixie Association work? John Young replied that he thought it was a terrible idea going into the season. Too much travel, one roadtrip took the Rebels from Shreveport Louisiana to Charlotte North Carolina - thats a 12 hour drive on todays roads!
However, John Young said the Dixie Association wasn't all bad. "Once I got to Memphis, I hit two homers. I had spent the season struggling, my average was down and I hadn't found the stroke. Then we started hitting these Texas League towns, my average goes up, I start hitting homeruns, then more home runs and driving in runs. I rode that all the way to the big leagues that year, it was by far my best season"
I agreed that the Texas League parks must have been hitters parks once the warm air of summer set in.
Bud Lively put in that "When I played, it was the other way round. Pitchers were tough in the Texas League and if you got beat out there they sent you to the Southern League where the hitters were better."

Someone came and dropped off a box of promotional items, photos of Jack and Bud Lively and of John Young, pictured both individually and together. They were kind enough to sign one for me, as well as a baseball for my collection - two treasures that hold more memories than the value of their worth is usually calculated.


When asked what my first act as Commissioner would be, if I were given the job, I took a few moments to ponder and decided "I would abolish the designated hitter". I also decided I would at the same time "Install the designated hitter in the National League".

Many prospective commissioners and baseball writers, along with countless fans, have claimed this to be their first - and in some cases only - act upon taking office. But obviously to this point the "Great Experiment" has yet to be concluded, in large part owing to the fact that it essentially costs 30 men their jobs. The Players Union won't stand for that, and so it won't be an easy task for a new commish.
On the way out

But then, not everyone has an idea to fix it.

Thats where my platform for commissioner gets stronger! I have a solution that eliminates the designated hitter rule as it is used today, without cutting the jobs of players who are able to extend their careers by being professional hitters.

My Rule will state: all pitchers must hit for themselves as listed in the batting order, until the sixth inning, when a substitution can be made for the pitcher without having to remove the pitcher from the game.
A pinch hitter who enters the game in the sixth inning or afterwards and batting for the pitcher, may remain in the game and continue to bat for the pitchers spot as many times as it comes up in the course of that game, and thus becomes the "designated hitter" for that game.

You may pinch hit for the "designated hitter" at any time.
After the designated hitter comes into the game, no pitcher may bat for that team unless the game goes into extra innings.

So there is your fix!

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