Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, right, talks with former Australian cricket captain Ian Chappell while the Dodgers train in Sydney, Thursday, March 20, 2014. The Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers open the Major League Baseball regular season with games on Saturday and Sunday.
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, right, talks with former Australian cricket captain Ian Chappell while the Dodgers train in Sydney, Thursday, March 20, 2014. The Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers open the Major League Baseball regular season with games on Saturday and Sunday. AP Photo - Rick Rycroft

Chappelli on giving up his great love ... Baseball

FORMER Australian cricket captain and member of the ICC Hall of Fame, Ian Chappell, has been a keen observer watching the LA Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Team Australia going about their business at the SCG this week.

Chappell had a decorated career in baseball before pursuing cricket fulltime and becoming one the world's most feared batsmen of the 1960s and 1970s.

The opinionated TV cricket commentator will turn his expert analysis to "The Show" this weekend, calling the historic Opening Series between the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks for the MLB Network.

Like his cricket knowledge, "Chappelli'" will speak with much authority when casting his eye over the first MLB games to take place in Australia.

He represented South Australia in the Claxton Shield in the 1960s, before becoming a two-time All Australian.

Here are his forthright views on the way forward for an American game to be embraced in this country

Ian, can you see Australian baseball growing due to the high level of interest in the Opening Series?

"I'm not sure how much it can grow in this country. The problems really are because a lot of the good things baseballers do are out of this country.

"It's not like Test and international cricketers when the fans are seeing that more often out here.

"They're seeing their heroes perform regularly. That's a bit of a problem for baseball. Something like this is great, but there's got to be some follow-up as well.

That's the important thing. If it's just a one-off, then you ask 'does it fall away?'

"So I think that's the immediate thing - you have to keep it coming."

Australian baseball has the talent. We've got so many guys playing in the Triple-As and Double-As. We've got Grant Balfour playing All Stars in the Major Leagues. The talent is there isn't it?

"Well the skill set for cricket and baseball is pretty similar - hand-eye coordination, arm strength. So there's no doubt about that.

"I think Australia, as it quite regularly does in sport, has probably punched above its weight with the number of Major League players it's had over the years.

"The numbers are greater now, but I think what Australia could use is someone who is outstanding in America, so much so that it keeps flowing back to Australia.

"I think that would help enormously.

It's a real shame because Balfour is killing it over there and he's one of our highest-paid athletes without getting the recognition he probably deserves. It must be frustrating as a baseball fan like yourself to see that, because we do have stars in the sport …

"Yeah - it would be frustrating for the guys. But for a fan it's not so bad nowadays.

"I can remember as a kid I used to have to go searching on Armed Forces Radio to try and find a game. You'd get three or four a year if you were lucky.

"Now, you get five or six games a week on (paid for) television."

So growth in baseball Down Under can still happen?

"Yeah. I think what we need is an everyday player, rather than a pitcher you only see every three or four days, like Balfour.

"For instance, if Dave Nilsson was coming on to the scene now and people in Australia were seeing him regularly on television here.

"Dave was a hell of player and an everyday player.

"Being an everyday player, you're seeing him pretty regularly, and hitting home runs. I think that sort of player is what Australian baseball needs."

Your story - sacrificing baseball for cricket. How tough a decision was that for you?

"It wasn't really that tough because there was no avenue for baseball. But if I was in that situation now with the avenues available, it'd be a helluva tough decision for me.

"It wouldn't have been a tough decision for the old man - I knew what he wanted me to do.

"For me I've always said, and I don't say it lightly, that I had an equal love for both games.

"It would've been hard. Cricket may well have won out again, but it would have been a 50-50 decision."

And your (former Australian cricket representative brothers) Greg and Trevor were right into baseball too …

"Yeah, we all played. Dad played Claxton Shield in '47/48 for South Australia. He was a catcher, I was a catcher.

"Greg and Trevor were short stops and good infielders.

"Trevor pitched a lot when he was young, but then he got smart and realised that was hard work.

"John - Greg's youngest boy - he went to the States and played with the Blue Jays organisation for quite a while.

"But eventually he had two shoulder operations.

"He had gone to catching in the last couple of years, so it was quite exciting for me, because my wife said he was up at an academy on the Gold Coast.

"She said 'get on a plane and go and see him'. So I took my glove up and said 'here you go mate'.

"Then not long after that I started playing Masters baseball again. So I rang him up and said 'hey I want my glove back'.

"And he said to me 'you're a bloody Indian giver aren't you?'

"It was a pity because he really got into catching. When he was playing third and pitching it was good, but suddenly he was catching and he loved catching."

You must've enjoyed your Masters baseball stuff …

"The first time I played was the '94 World Masters up in Brisbane and I finished in 2001 in Newcastle."

You must be so excited about the history of baseball in the country being revisited. 1914, a hundred years ago the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants came out here for an exhibition game. And here we are again at the grand old SCG 100 years later, with more topline baseball …

"I thought I knew baseball pretty well but I didn't realise in 1914 they played here. I only found out about that this week, really.

"I knew (Arthur) Spalding * came here in 1880-odd, but I didn't realise the White Sox and Giants had played here."

Ian, it must be great seeing a young guy like Logan Wade (Brisbane Bandits) playing in the Australian team now. You played with his father Greg, who represented Australia and has a proud history in the sport …

"I played a number of years with Wadey. That's terrific (to see Logan representing his country)."

Let's talk some cricket. What do you think of Australia's chances at the Twenty20 World Cup in Bangladesh. Surely we'll break our duck at that competition with explosive batsmen like David Warner and Aaron Finch in our line-up …

"I think they've got a real good chance. They probably have to start as favourites. With that batting line-up, they'll cause a few problems for the other sides."

Can you talk about Mitchell Johnson. He won't be playing in the T20 World Cup, but what about the comparisons made between him and the likes of Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee recently …

"Oh, I think it's ridiculous to compare him with Dennis Lillee. Speed-wise he's pretty quick, but Thommo was exceptionally quick.

"I certainly wouldn't be using those comparisons, but if other people want to that's up to them."

People at grassroots level talk about the biggest threats to cricket being time and money. It's such a long sport, and expensive to play …

"No, the biggest threat to cricket is fixing mate. That's the one thing that can bring the game down.

"It should worry everybody."

When players start messing with the fabric of the game, there are going to be some concerns …

"Well, the simple fact is why should people pay money to come to a game when they think people aren't giving their best?

"To me, that's always been the one thing that can bring the game down."

Is match fixing more of an issue nowadays with the stories we're seeing from the Indian Premier League?

"Well it's been a problem for a while. Blokes were getting pinged in the mid-90s, so that's too long.

"People tend to think that it's Pakistan mostly, because a lot of their guys that have got done.

"But anyone who thinks that is fooling themselves.

"It's much more widespread than that."

It must be such a great shame for you to see no cricket in Pakistan at the moment. The crowds over there used to flock to see the likes of greats Imran Khan and Wasim Akram. Now you see tiny crowds trickle in to a neutral venue like the UAE to watch Test cricket …

"Yeah, it's hard work for Pakistan. Eventually it's going to take a toll on cricket in that country.

"As keen as they are, if they're not seeing Test cricket it's going to take a big toll."

What about Darren Lehmann. So many Australians rejoiced when he became the national coach. But the turnaround in form has been just phenomenal …

"Let's not put too much down to the coach. It's the players mate. The players and the captain.

"Darren's obviously had an effect, but it's pretty minimal."

 

*Albert Spalding was the former pitcher for the Chicago White Stockings (now the Chicago Cubs) and founder of the Spalding sports equipment brand.

He led his past club and an American all-stars team from the rest of the league on a famous six-month world tour.

The venture was partly exhibition series, partly marketing exercise for the fledgling Spalding sports store and partly a diplomatic mission with the endorsement of President Cleveland. - Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust.


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