Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Outfield Walls

If you are a baseball fan, or even if you aren't but read THC, you know that baseball revels in its history which is longer and more venerable than any other American game and the proliferation of old news coverage, photos and the availability of statistical portraits make players from a century ago tangible presences today.

Earlier this year, Bryce Harper, the young Washington Nationals star outfielder, injured himself running into the centerfield wall trying to make a catch.  Harper is known for his high intensity all-out play and the injury prompted several sportswriters to write columns warning "Bryce Harper's all-out style could make him another Pete Reiser" [you can watch the collision at this link] and "Harper Can Learn From Pete Reiser".  None of these writers ever saw Pete Reiser play - in fact, none of them had been born when Pete retired in 1952 - there is no widely-available film of his playing days or even photos of his greatest plays, yet he lives on in the memories of dedicated fans, remembered as a cautionary lesson for reckless ballplayers and as one of the great "what-ifs" in baseball history.

As his SABR biography says:

"Only a handful of people who saw Pete Reiser his prime are still around today. Those who did have two things in common: They remember when the Dodgers belonged to Brooklyn . . . and they cannot watch an athlete streak toward an outfield fence without feeling just a little sick to their stomachs. Pete was a five-feet-ten and a half inch, sinewy-strong 185-pounder who generated more speed, power, and pure energy than seemed physically possible from that modest frame. The only thing that could stop Pete was an unpadded stadium wall."
Pete, a St Louis kid, was signed in 1937 by Branch Rickey, GM of the Cardinals (and later as GM of the Dodgers, the man who signed Jackie Robinson), who was forced to give up many of his minor leaguers by Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the Baseball Commissioner.  Branch reached an agreement with his friend Larry McPhail, GM of the Dodgers to park Reiser with the Brooklyn team and eventually get him back.  Pete came to the Dodgers spring training in 1939 and in his first eleven plate appearances had eight hits (four of them homers) and three walks.  Manager Leo Durocher wanted to keep him on the team and was mystified when McPhail insisted on sending him to the minors, but Reiser continued to played so well McPhail was forced to sever the informal understanding with Rickey and keep the young phenom. 
Photo of Pete Reiser
Pete Reiser reached the majors in July 1940 as a 21 year old rookie with Brooklyn. After being called up in he hit only .191 in his first 17 games but then caught fire, batting .320 the rest of the way to finish at .293.

In 1941, his first full year, and the only time he played in more than 125 games, Pete dominated the National League leading in hitting (.343), doubles (39), triples (17), runs scored (117), slugging (.558) and slugging + on base % (OPS) at .964 and finishing second in the voting for Most Valuable Player, losing to teammate Dolph Camilli (by most modern measurements Reiser was more deserving of the MVP).  The Dodgers won the pennant, losing to the Yankees in the World Series (as they usually did).

1942 started as another outstanding year for Pete.  On the morning of July 18 he was hitting .356, slugging .531 with an OPS of .947.  The first place Dodgers had a doubleheader that day in St Louis against the second place Cardinals who trailed the Bums by 8 games.  The Dodgers lost the first game 8-5.  The second game went into extra innings tied 6-6.  In the bottom of the 11th, Enos (Country) Slaughter hit a long drive to centerfield over Reiser's head.  Running full tilt, Reiser and the ball reached the unpadded concrete wall at the same time.  Pete hit it head first and the ball popped out of his glove.  He got up, threw the ball to the infield and the relay almost caught Slaughter at the plate but he completed an inside the park home run to win the game.  Reiser collapsed unconscious after the throw with blood coming out his ears.  Reports of exactly what his injuries were are conflicting (he is reported variously as having a skull fracture and separated shoulder) but it is clear that at the least he suffered a severe concussion and he later said he had dizzy spells and was seeing double for the rest of the season.

After the injury, Pete only hit .244 with little power the rest of the season and the Dodgers, though winning 104 games, lost the pennant to the Cards (who won 43 of their last 52 games) by two games.  The story I'd always heard was that Pete missed a lot of time after the injury and then never regained his bearings but he actually missed only 4 games, returning to action on July 25.  Durocher needed him back in the lineup with the Cardinals gaining ground - Leo never trusted his reserves and played his regulars into the ground (if you were a Cubs fan in 1969 you know exactly what I'm talking about).  At first, Pete slumped only a little, hitting .300 in his next 80 at bats with 3 homers but then hit just .200 with no homers in his last 100 at bats.  Something was clearly wrong with him.  It was a disappointing ending for Reiser though he still finished 6th in the MVP voting and led the league in stolen bases.  If he'd kept hitting at his pre-injury pace he would have won another batting title and led the league in doubles, slugging and OPS for a second straight season.
(Leo (The Lip) Durocher)
With the season over and WWII on, Pete tried to enlist in the Navy but flunked his physical.  He was eventually successful with the Army in early 1943 (he somehow avoided having a proper physical) and spent the next three seasons in uniform.  While playing ball at Fort Riley, Kansas Pete had what he described as injury that most impacted his career:

"I plowed through a fence playing with Fort Riley, rolled down a 25-foot embankment and came up with a shoulder separation," Reiser said. "It wasn't as serious as the head injuries but it did more to end my career. The shoulder kept popping out of place, more bone chips developed, and there was constant pain in the arm and shoulder."

Reiser got off to an strong start upon his return to the Dodgers in 1946.  Through the first 77 games (as of July 13) he was hitting .323 with an OPS of .913.  Pete later said that his shoulder started acting up again, causing problems with his swing and he hit only .230 with little power over the rest of the season.  Oh, and he also fractured his fibula and ran into another wall, knocking himself out.  Despite the injuries he ran the bases with abandon, leading the league with 34 steals, including a record setting seven steals of home.
Pete Resier Steals Home(Reiser stealing home)
The 1947 Dodgers team is the one on which Jackie Robinson made his debut (see 42).  In early June, Pete ran into the centerfield wall at Ebbets Field while chasing a fly ball in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates and was once again knocked unconscious (this time he held onto the ball).  Carried to the clubhouse the story it is said he was given last rites before going to the hospital (difficult to confirm this widely told story).  Unlike the 1942 injury, the Dodgers kept him on the bench and then sent him to a neurologist at Johns Hopkins for examination and Pete ended up out of the lineup for six weeks. Despite missing 44 games, he hit .309 and finished second to Robinson in stolen bases but he had little power and was losing his quickness in the outfield.  It was to be last year Pete was regular starting player.

Reiser appeared in only 64 games for the Dodgers during 1948 and asked to be traded at the end of the season.  He played another four seasons with the Boston Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians, never having more than 221 at bats in a season, retiring after the 1952 season.  According to one calculation, he was carried off the field eleven times during his career, six of them while unconscious.  Reiser never expressed any regrets about his style of play, saying it was what got him to the majors. 


Though he had a short career as a player, Reiser had a long career in baseball.  As a coach for the Dodgers for a dozen years he mentored Maury Wills, who stole 104 bases in 1962 and gave Pete a lot of credit for the feat.  Later in the '60s Leo Durocher, then managing the Cubs, hired him as a coach and he later worked for the Angels and Phillies before retiring in 1981.

Leo Durocher always said that next to Willie Mays, Pete Reiser was the most talented player he ever managed:

 " Mays had everything. Pete Reiser had everything but luck."

REFERENCES:
SABR Bio
NY Times Obituary 
St Petersburg Times, July 21, 1942
Baseball Prospectus
Bleacher Report
Find A Grave
Baseball Reference

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sylvia's Mother

Every time THC finds himself thinking "you know, the 1970s weren't really that bad" reality brings him crashing back to Earth.  Case in point: this performance of Sylvia's Mother by Dr Hook & The Medicine Show (though some would say the mere existence of this 1972 hit, which reached #5 on the Billboard singles chart in the U.S., #3 in the Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland, #2 in the U.K. and Canada, and #1 in Ireland and Australia, is sufficient proof even without the video).  THC leaves it to you, dear reader, to listen and decide.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Strange Fruit

Post inspired by a suggestion from CP

Some historians consider the period between the World Wars (1919-39) as the nadir of the post-Civil War experience for black Americans.  Not that the prior half-century had been great.  While Reconstruction saw some freed blacks gain access to voting, minimal education and even office-holding it also saw the rise of the Klu Klux Klan and terrible violence (see, for instance, the Colfax Massacre).  Once Reconstruction ended in 1877 and Northern Republicans lost any interest in the fate of freed slaves, white Southerners were able to start to put into place the legal edifice of Jim Crow, reasserting control of "their" society (at a time when more than 90% of blacks still lived in the former slave states), using threats of, and actual, violence and manipulation of voter eligibility laws to disenfranchise blacks.  Throughout the end of the 19th and early 20th century the legal web of segregation grew tighter at the state level, potential help from the Federal level was cut off as the Supreme Court eviscerated the protections promised under the 14th Amendment and in the post-war Civil Rights Acts passed by Congress, and all capped by President Woodrow Wilson's banning of blacks from the US Civil Service as one of his first acts upon coming into office in 1913.

The interwar years further isolated the black community from the rest of American society.  The 1920s saw a revival of the KKK (including in Northern states to which more blacks were migrating) and a further ratcheting up of Jim Crow laws; it was in that decade that the Virginia legislature passed the "one-drop" law classifying anyone with any amount of black ancestry as a Negro for purposes of the segregation laws.  In the 1930s, the New Deal labor laws ended up further restricting the access of blacks to labor markets as union and Southern Democrats interests coincided (many Southern Democrats of that era were populists who favored Federal intervention and funding provided it did not upset Jim Crow arrangements).  For more on the New Deal impacts read Only One Place of Redress (2001) by David Bernstein.


And throughout this entire period, blacks Americans were being terrorized and lynched.
(Holiday)
It was at the end of this period, in 1939, that Billie Holiday recorded Strange Fruit (Holiday was previously featured by THC in God Bless The Child).  The talented Holiday, born in Philadelphia, had just turned 24 and been performing since she was 14.  She'd already sung with the Count Basie and Artie Shaw bands and had several hits.

Written the prior year, Strange Fruit was the first popular song to directly confront lynching.  Live performances of the song were considered provocative, and Holiday showed courage in insisting on recording it.  Her label, Columbia Records, would not touch it considering it too controversial, instead giving her contractual permission to go to Commodore Records to record the tune, which she did on April 20 and it was released shortly thereafter peaking at #16 on July 22 (though the other side of the recording, Fine And Mellow, may have driven its popularity). At the same time another black musical artist was involved in a controversy.  Earlier in the 1939, Marian Anderson, a classically trained singer, was refused permission by the Daughters Of The American Revolution to perform in front of an integrated audience at Constitution Hall in Washington DC. With the aid of Eleanor Roosevelt it was arranged for Anderson to do an open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9.  The concert drew(Anderson) 75,000 people and was radio broadcast to an audience of millions.  Taken together, the actions of both artists were an indication that perhaps the readiness for change was growing but it would take WWII and its aftermath to make it a reality.

In the years immediately following the end of the war that change began with President Truman's order desegregating the US military, the integration of baseball (see 42) and a string of legal victories against Jim Crow by the NAACP culminating in Brown v Board of Education in 1954 (see Marshall). 

The lyrics of Strange Fruit are poetic but unambiguous:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Billie Holiday performing Strange Fruit:

Lynching has a long and tangled history in America and though primarily associated with hanging it covers extrajudicial killing by a mob by any method.  Over the century after the Civil War most victims were black although large numbers of whites, Chinese and Mexicans were also lynched.

The best database on lynching goes from 1882 to 1968 and was compiled by the Tuskegee Institute and is available by year and by state.  The database includes 4,743 lynchings of which 73% are of blacks and 27% of whites (a category that includes Chinese and Mexicans; these are not broken out in the charts I've seen but are a substantial number based on other references I've found).  Some of the white lynchings are where you would expect; the state with the most lynchings which was never either a slave territory or state is Montana with 84 of which only two were black.  On a per capita basis blacks were lynched roughly 25 times as often as white and was considered a socially acceptable activity in many places as you can see from the photo below.

The demographics of lynching changed over time.  From 1882-89 there were more white than black lynchings (669 v 534) but after that decade 82% of lynchings were of blacks and the proportion grows every decade even as the overall total of lynchings starts to decline after 1900.  Lynchings peaked in the 1890s with black deaths more than doubling whites (1105 v 429) and 161 black lynchings in 1892 alone.  The discrepancy became more pronounced from 1900 to 1938 (the year Strange Fruit was composed) with 1764 black lynchings and only 192 white lynchings and the trend accelerated in the 1930s immediately proceeding the song (117 black v 8 white).  Average yearly black lynchings per decade are 110 in the 1890s, 79 in the 1900s, 57 in the 1910s, 28 in the 1920s, 12 in the 1930s, 3 in the 1940s and less than 1 per year in the 1950s.  The decline up until WWII did not reflect a mellowing of white attitudes but rather the effectiveness of the combination of terror and Jim Crow laws in subduing black Americans.

The last lynchings were the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers (two of them white) in Mississippi.

Precisely 4,000 (84%) of the lynchings, and a similar percentage of black lynchings, were in the former slave states and territories.  In four states, Mississippi, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia, more than 90% of those lynched were black (the figure was 97% in South Carolina).  In the free states and territories 17% of lynchings involved blacks, which is still a higher per capita rate than for whites in those states (West Virginia is excluded from both categories as I'm unsure where best to place it). Two states, Mississippi and Georgia, account for 24% of all U.S. lynchings (and 30% of black lynchings) over the entire 86 year period.

Surprisingly, the largest mass lynching in American history was the 1911 hanging of eleven Italian immigrants in New Orleans after nine of them were found at trial to be not guilty of murdering the city's police chief.  THC's family history may also have been altered by a lynching.  In 1913, Leo Frank, a Jewish factory superintendent in Atlanta, Georgia, was convicted of the murder of a white 13 year old female factory worker and sentenced to death (a conviction now acknowledged to be erroneous).  In 1915, after Frank's appeals failed, the Governor of Georgia, believing there had been a miscarriage of justice, commuted the sentence to life imprisonment but Frank was kidnapped from jail and lynched by a mob.  Between 1913 and 1915 half of Georgia's Jewish population left the state because of a surge of anti-semitism.  At the start of this period, my paternal grandparents, Jewish immigrants from Russia, lived in Rome, Georgia.  My grandfather had enlisted in the U.S. Army five weeks after arriving in America in 1905, serving two 3-year enlistments and, except for a posting in the Philippines, spending much of it in Georgia (including a brief period between enlistments), staying in the state after his final discharge and my grandmother learned to speak English with a Southern accent while working as a housekeeper for local families.  By the end of this period they had left Georgia, moving first to Tennessee, then Kentucky and finally on to New York and then Connecticut.  My grandparents died during the 1930s and, to my knowledge, never spoke with their children of their reasons for leaving but the timing is suggestive in light of the Frank lynching.

There is a final strange note about Strange Fruit.  Although there was some controversy initially, Abel Meeropol, a one-time Bronx high school teacher, is now acknowledged as the sole composer.  Meeropol was also a secret member of the Communist Party USA, an organization long-suspected (and now confirmed through documents that became available after the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union) of being funded and directed by the Soviet Communist Party.  As a party member, Meeropol was under party discipline and expected to follow the party line without question; debate was forbidden.  The result is a haunting and poignant song about injustice, prejudice and hatred written by a member of a secret political group directed by an organization which, even as Strange Fruit was written, was in the midst of arbitrarily executing more than 800,000 people and imprisoning millions more.  "Arbitrarily" is not an exaggeration; during the Soviet Union's Great Purge of 1937-8 provincial party officials were given numerical quotas by Moscow for Category One - to be shot - and Category Two - to be deported - with the first round of quotas collectively amounting to precisely 386,798 in Category One and 767,397 in Category Two.  The quotas, if not fulfilled, subjected the provincial officials to purging by the security apparatus.  To prove their efficiency and loyalty the provinces exceeded their quotas and asked for more, even though that failed to save many of these same officials who were caught up in the subsequent waves of the Purge.  And all this only a few years after the party completed murdering perhaps 5 to 10 million people through the deliberate starvation of the Ukrainian people and the killing and deportation of the Kulaks.
(Meeropol)
Abel Meeropol went on to write the lyrics for The House I Live In, a plea for religious and racial tolerance and a hit for Frank Sinatra, who was a strong advocate for civil rights.  Meeropol and his wife later adopted the two sons of the Communist party members and Soviet spies, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, after their conviction on espionage charges and executions in 1953.













Saturday, July 27, 2013

Lou, Tommy & Frank At The Hall

Today at the Baseball Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown, NY there will be two ceremonies with medical significance. The first is linked with the Hall's decision to honor two players who, for various reasons, never had an induction ceremony, Rogers Hornsby and Lou Gehrig.  Gehrig, one of the greatest ballplayers in history, was unable to attend his induction as a Hall of Fame member in 1939 because he was already too ill from the disease that finally killed him in 1941, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or, as it became known from then on, Lou Gehrig's Disease.  When THC was growing up, everyone referred to it as Gehrig's Disease and no one knew the other name for the disease.  Having Lou's name associated with it made it all the more personal to all of us and it made the illness all the more frightening - it must have taken something terrible to bring down a man like Gehrig who had the endurance to play every game over 13 straight seasons.  Even today, the ALS Association website carries the motto "Fighting Lou Gehrig's Disease" as a cure is still sought.

Gehrig may not have been able to attend his induction, but he did have the most famous farewell in baseball history at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939.
The second ceremony recognizes the contributions of Dr Frank Jobe to baseball.  Dr Jobe is the inventor of Tommy John surgery, and Tommy will be at Cooperstown to help honor the doctor.  In 1974, Dr Jobe was the team doctor for the Los Angeles Dodgers, when Dodgers' star hurler Tommy John tore the ulnar collateral ligament of his elbow in the middle of the season.(Dr Jobe)  Up until then, this injury was a career ender for a major league pitcher but Dr Jobe tried something new, replacing the ligament with a tendon from Tommy's leg.  John sat out the 1975 season but when he returned in 1976 he won ten games and 80 more over the four following seasons.  It was considered a miraculous comeback and it's why Tommy John's name became associated with the surgery. The significance of Dr Jobe's innovation goes way beyond the case of Tommy John.  Since 1975 the surgery has been performed on more than 500 ballplayers and salvaged many careers.  Among those who've had the surgery are John Smoltz, David Wells, Adam Wainwright and the young phenom Stephen Strasburg.  Even Mariano Rivera had elbow surgery by Dr Jobe in 1992 before he made it to the majors though it involved the repair of his ligament not replacement.  THC was surprised to learn that 1/3 of current major league pitchers have had Tommy John Surgery and Dr Jobe certainly deserves the honor.

(John and Jobe)
Before the surgery, Tommy John won 124 games.  After the surgery he won 164, pitching until he was 46 years old.  Since 1900 only 17 pitchers have more career victories than Tommy John.  Before the surgery, John was a fastball pitcher.  After, he was a craftsman.  This short film tells the story of John and Dr Jobe.

THC still vividly remembers watching (on TV) Tommy John, by then a Yankee, pitch against the Red Sox in Fenway Park and via Baseball-Reference.com was able to find the exact date (May 20, 1979) and that the boxscore actually confirmed my recollections.   He completely dominated the Sox without a dominating fastball and solely by location of his pitches.

It was a 2-0 victory (Dennis Eckersley pitched a fine game for the Sox, just not quite as good as Tommy).  John threw a 2-hit shutout, walking no one and striking out five.  What THC distinctly remember is that it seemed like every pitch Tommy threw was to the low outside corner of the plate (to both left and right hand batters) and the Sox futilely tried pulling that pitch all day.  Carl Yazstremski looked particularly bad.  He struck out the first time on a low outside pitch just off the corner of the plate.  He struck out the second time on a low outside pitch six inches off the corner of the plate.  He struck out the third time on a low outside pitch a foot off the corner of the plate.  Fred Lynn was the only Sox to make decent contact, whacking a double and then lining out and flying out.  Of the other 22 outs in the game, 16 were on grounders, 4 on fly balls and 2 by strikeout.  And it was over in less than two hours.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Don't Make Promises You Can't Keep


It seems the songs we're singing
Are all about tomorrow
Tunes of promises you can't keep

Do you think I'm not aware of what you're saying
Or why you're saying it?
Is it hard to keep me where you want me staying?
Don't go on betraying it
Don't make promises you can't keep

- Tim Hardin, Don't Make Promises (1966)

Detroit has finally declared bankruptcy, driven by unsupportable pension obligations and a devastated tax base.  Creditors will bear some of the costs but those likely to be hurt the most are current and former city employees who believed the promises they were made about their retirement.  If you think this can only happen in Detroit, think again.  There are large unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities in municipalities and states across the country.  This chart from the Pew Center shows the situation at the state level; anything funded below 80% is in trouble and the 51-64% category is a disaster (oh no - just saw Connecticut is in that group - we better start packing!)

Private pensions have their own risks and shortcomings but are governed by Federal law and regulatory requirements while state and municipal pensions are not.  Private pensions cannot be legally underfunded to the extent government pensions are (for that matter, there is NO pension fund for Federal employees; their pensions are on a pay as you go basis) and they are underpinned by unrealistic rate of return estimates (8% yearly is common), which make it difficult for underfunded pensions to ever catch up.

The longer we go without reforming these pension systems, the greater the loss of benefits that will occur when the crash comes, as Detroit's current and former employees are learning.

http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/draghi/Pension%20Underfudninf.jpg

Many cities have faced challenges over the past few decades, some have declined, other adjusted and rebounded, but there are good reasons why Detroit became a complete disaster.  The city itself has collapsed.  In 1950 it had a population of 1.8 million and had the highest per-capita income in the United States (today the wealthiest metro area is (surprise!) Washington DC) and by 2010 its population was reduced to just over 700,000.

As for the tax base - its size and value has declined, tax rates have skyrocketed, but only half of assessed taxes are paid anyway, so, to quote the former Secretary of State; "What difference does it make?"



Many reasons are given for the situation (with perhaps the best summary from Walter Russell Mead) but there are several consistent themes:
- One party rule for 50 years (the current Mayor, Dave Bing, is a good man and trying to fix things, but it was just too late)
- Widespread government corruption
- Uncontrolled spending and endless tax increases
- Billions in ill-spent government investment
- A leadership more focused on racial divisiveness than in growth
- A deteriorating education system  

Some facts and photos about Detroit today:
(via Predictable History)
There are approximately 78,000 abandoned homes in the city.

About one-third of Detroit's 140 square miles is either vacant or derelict.
(Via David Freddoso)

47 percent of the residents of the city of Detroit are functionally illiterate.
Less than half of the residents of Detroit over the age of 16 are working at this point.
60 percent of all children in the city of Detroit are living in poverty.
40 percent of the street lights do not work.
Only about a third of the ambulances are running.

Two-thirds of the parks in the city of Detroit have been permanently closed down since 2008.

When you call the police in Detroit, it takes them an average of 58 minutes to respond.

The violent crime rate in Detroit is five times higher than the national average.
The murder rate in Detroit is 11 times higher than it is in New York City.

What's firefighting like?  From the Toronto Sun, May 31, 2013:


DETROIT — Firefighting in Detroit is a whole different world.
In a city that once had a population of two million but is now at just under 800,000, the buildings, life itself, is decaying rapidly.
Street after street of storefronts, homes, churches, factories are simply abandoned.
The former Packard Automotive plant, which is reportedly the largest abandoned plant in the world, topping 3.5 million square feet, is eerily silent. The only people who visit the area now are tourists. There is a van offering guided tours around the gutted ruins. But not after dark.
It's also impossible to drive through the streets of Motor City for five minutes without seeing structures charred by fire. Arsonists are busy here.
So are firefighters.
One-third of the Detroit Fire Department halls have been shut down through budget cuts. Despite gunshots ringing out nearby and packs of roving wild dogs looking on, police rarely attend fires.
Mostly, firefighters simply do their best to make sure the flames from burning abandoned buildings don't damage surrounding structures. They knock down flaming walls, contain the heat, and douse their own equipment so it doesn't get damaged.
Fire just speeds up the course of the crumbling decay of Detroit.
"It's a city with no laws," admits seasoned fire photographer Ted Roney. "Nobody cares about anything."
Nobody but those trying to keep the remains safe for the remaining.
Then and Now

mich central[through-the-fields-to-michigan-centr%255B1%255D.jpg](via Dewey From Detroit)