The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Here's to You, Mrs. Olbermann

One more loss to add to the list of those who have passed in the last week: Marie Olbermann, mother of former ESPN anchor and current MSNBC Countdown Keith Olbermann. In an episode whose roots connect directly with the genesis of my web site, Mrs. Olbermann was struck in the face by an errant Chuck Knoblauch throw back in the summer of 2000, exemplifying the Little Bastard's descent into fielding hell while turning her into an overnight celebrity. She was no stranger to the ballpark, either, according to her son:
My mother was one of the best-known baseball fans in this country. She attended Yankees [games] from 1934 through 2004, and she watched or listened to every one she didn't go to, up until last month. My guess is, she went to at least 1500 of them, most in Box 47E in the suddenly "old" Yankee Stadium.

...[T]rust me: Mom loved being famous in the ballparks.

Even if that fame had to be achieved in the way it was, on June 17th, 2000, when the sudden, and growing, inability of the ill-fortuned second baseman Chuck Knoblauch to make any kind of throw, easy or hard, to first base, culminated in him picking up a squib off the bat of Greg Norton of the White Sox and throwing it not back towards first, but, instead, off the roof of the Yankees' dugout where it picked up a little reverse english and smacked my mother right in the bridge of her glasses.

Chuck was in the middle of losing his beloved father at that time and though I thought I "got" what that meant to him, I didn't really understand it until today as I wrote this, and struggled to find the right keys, let alone the right words.

In any event, for three days in 2000, Mom was on one or both of the covers, of The New York Post and The New York Daily News and Newsday. She was somewhere in every newspaper in America.

And all this happened, while I was the host of the Game of the Week, for Fox. Literally sitting in a studio in Los Angeles, watching a bank of monitors with a different game on every monitor and recognizing instantly what must have happened (based on a lifetime of knowing the camera angles in the ballpark in which I grew up). I said, maybe too matter-of-factly, "that probably hit my mother." The crew laughed and I repeated it. More laughs. Then the next shot was of an older woman being led up the aisle towards an aid station - my mother.

I actually got to do a highlight cut-in for the broadcast by Joe Buck and Tim McCarver of a game at Dodger Stadium, and said, as I remember it: "Chuck Knoblauch's throwing problem is getting personal. He picks up Greg Norton's grounder, bounces it off the dugout roof and hits... my mother. I've talked to Mom, she's fine, she'll be back out there tomorrow. Joe? Tim?"

Olbermann credits his mom with being the one who stimulated his passion for baseball, not to mention providing the ham for his media persona. It's a funny and touching piece, well worth reading. My condolences to the Olbermann family, and to the reclusive Knoblauch, who'd probably just as soon not be reminded of the whole episode one more time.

• • •

Speaking of the new Yankee Stadium and its crosstown counterpart, I've got brief bits on both ballparks — admittedly little of which may be new for those following my recent coverage of them — for BP and ESPN Insider.

Enough about those. The Dodgers top the week's Hit List for the first time in nearly four years:
Dodger Dog: Orlando Hudson hits for the cycle, becoming the first Dodger to do so since Wes Parker in 1970, and helping the team beat Randy Johnson in LA for the first time in the Big Unit's 22-year career. The O-Dog is hitting .366/.435/.659. Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw (7 1 1 1 1 13) one-ups Chad Billingsley (7 5 1 1 0 11) against the hapless Giants' lineup as the rotation holds opposing hitters to a .195 batting average through the first 10 games.
I missed Billingsley's performance but Kershaw's was dazzling; effortlessly and consistently, he kept dropping that big curveball — "Public Enemy Number One," as Vin Scully calls it — in there for a strike against the Giants. More on that game — tangentially at least — in an upcoming post.

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