Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Should MLB umpires have whistles?

(This is the first part of a 32-part series on umpires using whistles in Major League Baseball)

Cincinnati--In 1893, on a lush green pitch in the English countryside, the whistle, the size of an obese child's fist, was first used to keep the peace during a soccer match between Bracknell and Crowhorn. Reports from that day's contest, over 100 years ago, describe how the athletes were "in shock and awe" of the ear-splitting sound that was, up until that day, used only by the London Police Department.

One newspaper summary of the day read: "Behavior yesterday day on the soggy pitch was the best I had ever seen up to that point. The whistle device turned the normally rough footballers into perfect English gentlemen. Honestly, they could have played the game at Wimbledon."

Before the whistle was a common sound at athletic events, referees would clap, or yelp loudly to signify the starting or stopping of play or when a foul had been committed.

A century later, the whistle, now the size of an obese child's fingernail, is a common sight at most sporting events, well, that is, except for the American pastime of baseball. Why did the whistle never takeoff in the diamond sport, and why, considering the game's commitment to tradition, is there a relentless push by umpires (old and young) to utilize the sound devices in the near future?

Actually, if the whistle were to become a fixture in the MLB (umps are shooting for 2012), it would be a return and not an entirely new concept for the league. The whistle made a brief appearance in 1901, lasting only 25 games at the beginning of the season before being eliminated by Commissioner Gelding Stevenson after receiving over 1000 death threats.

Now, the push is on to bring it back. "When I call a third strike I want to be able to blow a whistle to add that extra kick to my signature shout," said 21-year veteran umpire Jack Burrows. "NHL, NBA and NFL officials have them, why not us? I'll blow the &*^% out the whistle when I throw a whining manager out of the game. You can count on that."

"I think I would blow the whistle whether [players] were safe or out," said second base umpire Tim Bauer, a Huntingdon Valley, PA native. "If they were out, I'd do my normal fist pump, arm bent at 45 degrees, and really blow that whistle. I'd blow it when someone called timeout, as well."

It appears most players hold the belief that umpires would improve accuracy in calling plays or balls and strikes if they had whistles. "Let's face it," said Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman, "whistles should be a tool of the trade. I don't even think we would need instant replay if umps had whistles."

But could the whistle disrupt the flow of a game? Thirty umpires were asked if they would use the whistle to let the pitcher know he could throw a pitch ... every time. That would mean the whistles would be used, for pitching alone, over 100 times per nine innings. That's a lot of whistle!

Tomorrow: What are whistles made from?

Meteorologist claims hurricane eye winked at him, says 'it's not surprising'

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

East Coast Earthquake: Independence Park officials say Liberty Bell is okay, but something is different and they're not sure what it is

Above: the Liberty Bell minutes after the 5.9-magnitude, Virginia-centered earthquake that struck around 1:45 pm today. Below: A photograph taken earlier this week prior to the earthquake. National Park Service officials report that the Bell "is doing fine." However, the same officials reluctantly admitted there is something different about the historic treasure. "We've been analyzing the Bell now for over an hour," said Gregory Schmidt, a ranger at the park for the last 23 years, an hour and a half after the tremors had subsided, "and she looks real good, no noticeable damage. I think we really dodged a bullet with this quake, but something is off and I'm not sure what it is. I'll figure it out though, later today we'll run some x-ray testing, but I think it's okay. This Bell is my life."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Local weatherman says bow tie 'tingles' just before storm arrives

Above: Glenn "Hurricane" Schwartz, a meteorologist with NBC10 Philadelphia, recently admitted that he relies heavily on his trademark bow tie (and not so much on expensive meteorological technology) when predicting the weather for the Delaware Valley. The powerful storms over the past week that inundated the region with rain, spider lightning and booming thunder were all foretold using his signature bow tie. "The bow tie tingles just before the storm arrives," said Schwartz, wearing a 'I-probably-shouldn't-be-admitting-this' kind of smirk. "This week was quite a week with all these crazy storms, I thought the tie had turned against me and was trying to strangle me or something. But, minutes later, another storm would roll in. I should have never doubted the bow tie." Unfortunately, the Philadelphia native also admitted that he wears nothing but the bow tie when going to bed for the night.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Prince Fielder taking advantage of newly added base between first and second

Chicago--For years Major League Baseball has talked about adding a new base between first and second bases with the intention of the added bag to provide larger players a "resting area" to recoup when attempting to steal second or after hitting long singles. It would also allow these "stockier" players to take larger leads. "Players can take a lead off of first and make a break for base 1.3," said Harry Snick, MLB rule evaluator. Snick, and baseball in general, is calling the new base, positioned twelve feet from first, 1.3. "The base is great to have when caught in a rundown," added Snick. "Also, if tired, the runner can decide to run to 1.3 if the batter behind him walks or gets a single." Prince Fielder has used the new base to significantly add to his stolen base numbers, where runners are credited with 0.3 stolen bases when arriving safely at 1.3. "One-point-three has been good to me so far," Fielder said, after five games with the new base. "I'm well-rested, I'm a base-stealing threat and ... I just kind of like hanging out at 1.3. It's fun. It's like a little fort or something."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Kruk's message clear in Wall of Fame speech: Do not chew tobacco

Above: Former Phillies' first baseman John Kruk, left, is congratulated by former Phils' catcher Darren "Dutch" Daulton at the conclusion of Kruk's Wall of Fame speech before a game against the Washington Nationals last Friday at Citizens Bank Park. Kruk thanked the crowd, called the fans the best in the world and then launched into a 35-minute diatribe warning "folks of all ages" against the dangers of chewing tobacco. Despite his admonitions, the team's special events crew discovered tobacco spit and pieces littering the podium (below) and adjacent area when the stage was methodically disassembled for the game that immediately followed the induction. The Krukker, after the ceremony officially wrapped, posed for pictures with current players and red-clad fanatics, including children sporting Kruk jerseys.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hard rain rescues river junk collector's livelihood

Philadelphia--Yesterday's nearly five inches of rain (some areas saw more than eight inches) came just in time for one area man's way of life. Kyle Donnelly is a river junk collector and relies on strong storms to wash debris from local streets, down storm drains and into the city's waterways. "The drought, this lack of rain, was killing my business. I can usually collect around 40 trinkets and over 30 knick knacks a day from the river's edge. I have a swimming pool skim pole. I've been collecting river junk from the river for 14 years," said Donnelly, standing along the banks of the Schuylkill River with a pair of binoculars around his neck while inspecting an empty, soggy box of Honey Nut Cheerios. "This is what I do. I spot things on the water and all sorts of stuff, fish them out, and sell them ... on ebay or something. It's quite lucrative. Yesterday's rain was glorious, simply glorious."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Proposed moat around Eastern State Penitentiary expected to cause severe traffic problems for Fairmount

Fairmount, Philadelphia--At $55 million, Eastern State Penitentiary's moat project--also known as the Big House Big Dig--is, by far, the largest improvement project the nonprofit Eastern State Association (ESA) has undertaken since it began operating the site in 1989.

"Back in 2001, we had a pretty big bake sale to cover the $12,000 needed for sidewalk repairs out in front of the penitentiary. That was really our biggest thing," said Gail Robertson, assistant to the treasurer for the ESA. "The moat project is daunting but we'll get it done. There's really no doubt in my mind."

Many area residents, however, are trying desperately to place doubts in Robertson's mind.

The penitentiary was completed in 1829 and remained active until 1971. Built on an open hill (Fair Mount) north of the city center, the compact urban landscape to the south quickly engulfed the formidable structure by mid-century. The wheel-spoke design was the first of its kind in the world and allowed one guard to keep watch over multiple cell blocks simply by standing at the confluence of the long hallways.

Historic photographs and charcoal drawings clearly indicate that there was never a moat, not in the 1800's or 1900's, not even in the numerous designs presented before construction commenced. The new moat will encircle the entire site, be twenty-five feet deep and twenty feet wide. Water from the Schuylkill River will be used to fill the wide trench, which is expected to take three weeks with five, 120-horse power pumps and miles of 4-inch fire hoses.

Why a moat and why now? The organization wants the site to appear even more castle-like so to intercept more Europe-bound tourists (seeking Old World castles). The National Historic Landmark already draws huge crowds, but the moat plan hopes to push the site to Niagara Falls tourist numbers--in the gagillions.

"Listen, the Penitentiary's architecture is amazing, a thing of beauty," said Tucker Goldstein, one of the 13-member board of advisers for the organization. "But a moat would take this from a Mom and Pop shop to a Mom, Pop, Uncle and Great Uncle shop. It's the right move and the right time."

Shops along Fairmount Ave are bitterly opposed to the moat plan, from Gorbin's Apothecary to Baglioni's Italian Bistro to the CVS there are scant supporters. Residents have been crying out en masse.

"I really don't get why they need a moat," said Evelyn Brubaker, 56, a lifelong resident of Fairmount. "It was a prison not a castle. What purpose does a moat serve? If they were restoring a long ago filled-in moat, then that would be a different story."

"Sure it would look really neat to have a moat, but do we really want to lose all that free parking? Not me Jose," said Tim Glosters another resident of the neighborhood and owner of Cuddly Pet Ramps--a company that designs ramps for aging pets so they can access hard-to-reach cars and beds more easily.

Parking seems to be the issue that really has the community fighting this project. Where to store cars when they're not maneuvering through the tight streets has long been a problem in the City of Brotherly Glove Compartment. Too many cars, not enough space.

Some neighborhood residents, however, are convinced that the organization operating the museum is a cult whose members are preparing to move inside the walls permanently and use the moat to better defend themselves against government agencies looking to take them down.

"They're up to something and I don't know what," said one resident who only went by Dennis. "A moat!? Something stinks and it stinks real bad. They are planning something. Plus, moats in general can stink with all that stagnant water."

Friday, August 5, 2011

Teammates already growing tired of Hunter Pence constantly using phrase: 'Pennsylvania-sized'

Philadelphia--Hunter Pence, the newest Phillie, a Texas native and a Houston Astro for nearly five seasons, is adjusting to life in the Northeast and his new teammates. Some of Pence's habits, however, are not going over well in the clubhouse, dugout and on the diamond. "Every time I turn around it's 'Did you see that home run? It was Pennsylvania-sized. Hot damn.' Or 'These Phillies fans make some Pennsylvania-sized noise when they cheer. Hoo ah.' We get it. You're from Texas and you played in Texas for some time where everything is Texas-sized. It's okay to still use that phrase, you don't have to substitute Pennsylvania for Texas. That makes it that much more annoying," said one Phillies player who wanted to remain anonymous.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Eagles continue signing rampage, now exploring top NHL, NBA free agents

Philadelphia--Howie Roseman hasn't slept in over a week. Well, perhaps a few hours here and there, but the Eagles' hard-charging general manager has been on a mission to make the Birds into a viable Super Bowl contender this season. The 36-year-old has declared war on the NFL free agent market, shortened due to the lengthy lockout, flanking left, right and all over the place.

Obviously, the biggest addition the Eagles made was cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. If that was the only signing by the club, the offseason still could have been declared a success. Asomugha was considered the top free agent available, and the Eagles came out of nowhere to land him. However, they didn't stop there, as Cullen Jenkins, Ronnie Brown, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Jason Babin, to name a few, were also added via trades or signing.

So dominant has the team been in player acqusitions that they are beginning to explore free agents in other sports. The Eagles have contacted several NBA and NHL players within the past 48 hours.

"Brad Richards was signed by the New York Rangers in early July, so he's off the market, that's disappointing, but we are honing in on the longtime New Jersey Devil John Madden," Roseman said. "That would be a big addition."

The Eagles brass are behind Roseman's decision to branch out to other sporting leagues in an effort to really emphasize how serious the team is this season about winning ... and, winning big.

"Heck, at this point I just feel like we're on such a roll that we should keep shoveling coal into the engine," said head coach Andy Reid, who was shoveling some m&m's into his own engine. "We're currently in talks with the Orlando Magic for a trade involving Jason Richardson. And, who knows, we could turn around and package Jason to another NFL or NHL team. It really is like Thunderdome these days."

Owner Jeffrey Lurie added, "We've shown that we can dominate an NFL free agent signing period. That's great. Really, it is. But I want to think bigger. What will it say about our NFL franchise if we can bring home top NHL, NBA, MLB or, even, NASCAR free agents? I think it would make a statement. It would say, 'Hey everybody, look at us. We can sign top athletes that don't even play our sport.' I want to be aboard the crazy, crazy train that embarks on this mission."