Apparently, Opening Day for the 2008 baseball season is today or tomorrow or soon. The reason why I can't pin it down in my head is because the Red Sox and the A's will play the opener in Japan. The Red Sox, in case folks have forgotten, play their home games in Boston. Though the so-called New England "hub" is home to all sorts of people from all over the world, it hasn't picked up and moved to Japan. It's still up there north of Cape Cod and south of New Hampshire last time anyone checked.
Oakland, the home of the A's, remains in the United States of America, too. Out in California's Bay Area, Oakland has the reputation as being the ugly cousin of next-door neighbor, San Francisco. But the truth is Oakland was named by Rand McNally as having the best weather in the U.S. And according to the 2000 U.S. census, Oakland is the most ethnically diverse city in the country.
Boston is also home to the most ravenous baseball fans in the country where the big-moneyed Sox have supplanted the deep-pocketed Yankees as baseball's best team to hate. Perhaps winning the World Series twice in the past four years gives a team that kind of reputation.
The A's, meanwhile, are the opposite of the Red Sox when it comes to buying the best players needed, but helped establish the blueprint for how modern baseball front offices are run. In essence, the Red Sox have cribbed the A's and general manager Billy Beane's notes only they have the cash to back it up.
However, in the early 1970s, the A's were the most dominant and disliked team in baseball. With stars like Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, and Vida Blue, the A's won the World Series three years in a row with flamboyant and controversial owner Charlie Finley pulling the strings.
Plus, the A's went to the World Series three years in a row from 1988 to 1990 and have been to the playoffs five times since 2000.
Needless to say the Red Sox and A's have some impressive recent history and are clearly a pair of the better franchises in all of baseball. As a result, the fans in both cities are some of the savviest in the Major Leagues, which means a ballgame in Oakland or Boston - especially an Opening Day game - is as good a venue as any place in the world.
So why would the Red Sox and A's want to play the first batch of baseball games of the season in Japan?
Well, actually they don't, but the players got paid an extra $40,000 to make the trip to help Major League Baseball internationalize a game in a country where it already is king. The Japanese are as baseball crazy as any country in the world and the Japanese big leagues are more than just a proving ground for potential Major Leaguers.
It would be one thing if the Major League teams never staged exhibitions in Japan, but that's not the case. In fact, U.S. ballclubs have been touring Japan since the 1930s when Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig barnstormed through the Far East. Recently, big league All-Stars play Japanese All-Stars in a series up and down the island where they are just as well known as they would be in most big U.S. cities. After all, the American game is followed fairly closely in Japan. In fact, Japanese media outlets send teams of reporters to cover the dozens of Japanese players toiling away in the big leagues.
So why "internationalize" something that is just as ubiquitous there as it is here? Is MLB out-smarting itself again? Don't you hate when that happens?
More importantly, the A's are losing a pair of home games, which to the fans in Oakland is kind of like a kick in the crotch. Though there are 162 games in the baseball season, each one of them is precious and has equal importance. Think about how much wear-and-tear a team goes through by crossing the International Dateline in all-day flights just to play a game that feels like an exhibition but really counts toward the bottom line. And that's not just the bottom line in the standings, either. It also counts in the stats ledger where ballplayers' fortunes and futures are decided. Let's just say a pitcher goes out and gets shelled because his body clock is all messed up from such a long trip. Or maybe he can't shake the lethargy because he's used to eating grits and home fries at the Waffle House on the way to the ballpark every morning and because he's out of his tried-and-true routine, the pitches have no snap, his ERA balloons and he gets released at the end of the season.
Is that fair? And is it fair to assume that a Major League Baseball player knows there are no Waffle Houses in Japan. Come on... what was the first thing Kyle Kendrick asked the press when they played that little prank on him about getting traded to Japan? You remember -- it was about the food.
"Do they have good food over there?"
Yeah, but don't expect the International House of Pancakes to be truly international.
So the A's and Red Sox opened the season in Japan and here in the U.S. fans are getting the shaft... again. Worse, the A's are losing two games in their home ballpark, which can't be replaced for any amount of cash.
Coming up: The Beijing Olympics followed by Jimmy Rollins. Later, we go to the ballpark.
Ryan Howard may have set the Phillies' record for most homers in a season, last night, when his 49th bomb landed in the upper deck at RFK to pass Mike Schmidt's 1980 mark. But Howard still has some work to do in order to set the Philadelphia record for home runs in a season.
Remember the A's? You know, the team that was in the city until 1954 with the white elephant, Connie Mack, Home Run Baker (he hit 12 in 1913) and Shibe Park? The A's made it to the World Series nine times during their stay in Philadelphia -- winning five times -- while the Phillies got there twice before the A's packed up and took off for Kansas City.
The A's also had Jimmie Foxx, the right-handed rival to Babe Ruth as the Sultan of Swat, during the late 1920s and '30s. In 1932, Foxx -- on his way to 534 career homers -- put together a season for the ages by smacking 58 homers and driving in 169 runs with a .364 batting average. Foxx missed winning the Triple Crown by a few hits, finishing second to Boston's Dale Alexander by .003 in the batting race.
In 1933, however, Foxx won the Triple Crown (and his second of three MVP Awards) with 48 homers, 163 RBIs, and a .356 batting average.
Foxx left Philadelphia in 1936 when owner/manager Mack sold him for $150,000 to assuage the team's debts. But after some solid seasons with the Red Sox, including a 50-homer, MVP campaign in 1938, Foxx hit the wall following the 1941 season. He scuffled arund with Boston and the Cubs for a few years before finishing his career as a pitcher with the Phillies in 1945.
Later, Foxx hit some financial and personal hardship. A series of bad investments, coupled with a reported drinking problem, left the Hall of Famer struggling with poverty before he died in 1967 at the age of 59 from choking on a chicken bone.
Interestingly, Tom Hanks' character, Jimmy Dugan, in the movie A League of Their Own, was based on Foxx, who managed a team in the women's baseball league.
Aside from his Philadelphia home run records, many of Foxx's slugging feats held up until the steroid era hit its peak. His 12 consecutive seasons with 30 or more home runs was a major league record until Barry Bonds passed it in 2004, while his 58 homers in '32 stood as the single-season record for a right-handed batter for 56 years until Mark McGwire hit 70 in 1998.
Foxx is still the youngest man ever to reach the 500-home run plateau, doing it just a month shy of his 33rd birthday.
When Foxx retired, his 534 home runs placed him second only to Ruth on the all-time list.
So Ryan Howard has the Phillies record all to himself -- he still has a ways to go to catch Double X for the Philadelphia record.