Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Braves Fans Take Heart



The Atlanta Braves lost a 3-2 heart breaker Tuesday night. As most readers will know, they lost their first nine of the year. Then they won four straight before dropping another eight in a row. Their Tuesday loss was their fifth straight. But the club can take solace from the fact that they could be worse. They could be a lot worse. They could be the 2003 Tigers.

After selling out their home opener with rookie manager Alan Trammel at the helm the Bengals lost it and their next eight as well. This year's Braves were outscored 55-24 in their first nine. The 2003 Tigers were outscored 50-14!

The club's woes had begun during the cruel Detroit winter. Their new GM, David Dombrowski, who had begun work by trading away Jeff Weaver the previous July, watched in horror as the Tigers' closer Juan Acevedo signed with the Yankees, second baseman Damion Easley signed with the Devil Rays, right fielder Robert Flick left for Atlanta, and DH Randall Simon penned a deal with the Pirates. Dombrowski must have been tempted to borrow a line from Everett - George Clooney's character in O Brother, Where Art Thou? - "We're in a tight spot."

The Tigers' staff had a pretty rough year in 2003, reminding a lot of baseball fans of the '62 Mets' hurlers. After being fired by the Yankees for turning sixty (he said he'd never make that mistake again) Casey Stengel didn't have Whitey Ford to tap on the shoulder anymore. Instead, Ole Case trotted out Roger Craig (10-24), Al Jackson (8-20), Jay Hook (8-19), Craig Anderson (3-17), and Bob Miller (1-12).

Tiger ace? Mike Maroth (9-21)
The 2003 Tigers featured Mike Maroth (9 -21, 5.73), Nate Cornejo (6 -17, 4.67), Jeremy Bonderman (6 -19, 5.56), Adam Bernero (1-12), and Matt Roney (1-9). Remarkably, the staff finished second-last in E.R.A. ahead of the woeful Texas pitchers. Detroit did manage to finish last in runs scored, hits, errors, OPS, and strikeouts both batted and pitched, however. "Good job!" as my grandson Wyatt, a.k.a. Spud would say.

Side Note: One article I read about the 2003 Tigers stated that "their former top prospect Eric Munson was one of the worst defensive third basemen the game has ever seen over a full season." Really? Munson committed nineteen errors. Granted that Billy Shindle's glove was a lot smaller, but the ball was nowhere near as lively back in the late 1880's and early 1890's when Billy racked up the following numbers of misplays at the hot corner.
1888 Orioles - 47; '89 Orioles - 88; '90 Quakers - 119; '91 Phillies - 58; '92 Orioles - 78
(I guess the Orioles had been fooled by his great '91 season.)

Really, Alan? It's the umps' fault? 
The 2003 Tigers finished 47 games back and 52 games out of the Wild Card. They were a depressing twenty games behind second worst Tampa. With six games left on their schedule things looked bleak for the Bengals. They had already lost 118 games. The modern record for losses belonged to the aforementioned '62 Mets - 120. The Tigers could reasonably be expected to lose four, or five, or perhaps all six of those games. Worse, after having lost 12-6 in the opener of their second last series with the Royals against whom they were now 3-14 they would finish the year with four at home to the Twins. Their record versus Minnesota was a chilling 1-14.

But on Tuesday, September 23 at Kauffman Stadium Detroit pummeled the Royals 15-6. The next night they scored four in the first and then miraculously held on for a 4-3 win. Still 118 losses but for more against the Twins.

More than 9,000 fans poured into Comerica Park on Thursday night for the final series opener. They watched in amazement as Nate Robertson held the Twins to one run over six innings. They were even more shocked when the Tigers scored three in the bottom of the seventh. But, when Minnesota answered with three of their own in the top of the eighth the universe seemed to have returned to its rightful order. Then Craig Munroe homered to tie things up. "What's our record in extra-inning games?" one Tiger fan asked another nervously. "One and ten," came the answer. "What d'ya expect?"

Super Shane Halter
But no one had taken into account the brilliant strategy of Alan Trammell, who had quietly inserted Shane Halter into the lineup in the eighth. Halter was batting only .212, but he had one home run in his last twelve games. With two out in the bottom of the eleventh Halter smacked another one.

Friday night. Almost twice as big a crowd. The Tigers rocket to a 2-0 lead. The Twins tie it. Detroit jumps ahead 3-2. The Twins tie it again. Extra innings! Minnesota scores a run in the top of the tenth. Now MVP candidate Shane Halter singles in a run and the Bengals tie it again! Trammell calls for Franklyn German, 2-4 with an E.R.A. under 6.00 (5.98). Micheal Cuddyer puts one in the seats and the Twins win. Two left, 119 losses.

Saturday afternoon. A smaller crowd was on the edge of their seats after four and a half. Many of the fans were on the edge of their seats at McDonald's. They'd left - the Twins led 8-0. "There's number 120," a broken-hearted rooter groaned as he joined the throng heading for the exits.

No one looked back as the Tigers scored once in the bottom of the fifth. Faint hope at best. Then Detroit added three in the seventh. Then another four in the eighth. In a comeback for the ages they had tied the game.

In came 46-year old veteran Jesse Orosco to put an end to the insanity in the eleventh. He got Ramon Santiago to fly out and then walked Alex Sanchez. Sanchez stole second. Sanchez stole third. Orosco struck out Warren Morris. Groans from the Tiger faithful, but wait.

After Minnesota had piled up their 8-0 lead Ron Gardenhire, his thoughts on the upcoming playoffs, had pulled catcher A.J. Pierzynski and sent rookie Rob Bowen behind the plate. Strike three was in the dirt. It skipped by Bowen. Morris raced to first. Sanchez raced home for the win. The hundreds of fans still left were bloated with bliss. The Tigers had their fourth win in five games!

Sunday afternoon for all the marbles. Trammell sends his ace, Mike Maroth (8-21) to the hill. Remarkably, he shuts out the Twins for four innings and leads 1-0. Then the Twins get two. The Tigers fight back with one of their own in the bottom of the fifth. In the sixth, eight hits and seven runs. FOR THE TIGERS! They cruise to a 9-2 win and extend their record to 43-119. You just can't make this stuff up, folks.

Better still. With the second pick in the MLB Draft (the NL bottom feeders picked first that year) David Dombrowski selected 20-year old Justin Verlander. After two more years in which he master- minded ninety and then ninety-one losses Trammell was cut loose.

Dombrowski hired Jim Leyland. That worked out rather well. The Tigers, as you may remember, won the pennant in 2006. So Braves fans, take heart. You just never know.



 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Another Thing We Just take for Granted

When you go to a ball game you take for granted that the leftie pitchers are going to throw with their left hand and the righties will pitch with their right. But Toronto's Pat Venditte might use either. In my last post I wrote about the first time that had happened in the big leagues. Another thing we take for granted is that the home team will bat last. Well it hasn't always been that way.

As part of my research for my third baseball novel (working title Big Ed Delahanty: Goliath of Baseball's Gilded Age) I am reading Napoleon Lajoie: King of Ballplayers. The author writes that in one of Nap's (they called him Larry) first games, September 1st, 1896 the home team Phillies batted first against the visiting Reds in the early game of a doubleheader.

Not quite true. Further research revealed that it was really September 2, but that's not the point. The point is that, as is often the case, it sent me scurrying to find out how often that happened in those days.

For the record, it was not until 1950 that The Official Rules of Baseball set out in Rule 4.02 that "The players of the home team will take their defensive positions, the first batter of the visiting team shall take his position in the batter's box, the umpire shall call "Play" (not "Play Ball" for all you amateur umpires out there) and the game shall start."

After a loss to the Anaheim Angels in 2002 Yankee skipper Joe Torre told reporters, "It's tough to lose an extra-inning game at home because you have the advantage of batting last, but we didn't get the hits when we needed them." Conventional wisdom I think you would agree. But not always.

Twirler John Richmond of the Worcester Ruby Legs pitched baseball's first perfect game in 1880. Note below that while Worcester was the home team, they batted first.

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/boxscore/06121880.shtml

Henry Chadwick
In describing a game played by the Brooklyn club at Louisville in 1888, Henry Chadwick, the leading baseball writer of the nineteenth century wrote, "The Brooklyn team won the first game of their Western tour today after a close and exciting contest, in which the rule of being the last at bat was again shown to be of conspicuous advantage. The home team had but one inning left to play while Brooklyn - owing to be last at the bat - had two, and the confidence the knowledge this fact gave them was inspiring, and on this occasion, as on others, it gave them the victory."

Originally - as on the sandlot - the first team to bat was decided by a coin toss. But as of 1887 the National League permitted the home team manager to decide who would hit first. As late as 1894 the home team batted first 41 per cent of the time.

Cap Anson's Chicago Colts
Art Irwin opted to have his Phillies bat first fifty-nine times that year and Cap Anson's had his Chicago Colts lead things off fifty-two times. By the turn of the century both managers had left the game and, though Frank Chance had his Cubs bat first at home on July 16, 1908, the practice of the home team choosing to bat last was commonly accepted. When Connie Mack's A's hosted the Senators for a double header in late June 1913 and the A's batted first in the first and second in the second that was already a rarity.

A February 3, 1911 piece in the Milwaukee Sentinel explained why things had been different back in the day. Managers believed that if they could get first crack at the new ball (only one would be used - if a ball went into the stands it was retrieved) before it had been blackened and softened and "harder to see and land upon" they could grab the lead and demoralize the visitors.

An article in the Detroit News three years later agreed. "Right now all the clubs go to the field first when on their home grounds, the custom has become firmly rooted and no manager thinks of  changing. Yet many years ago it was equally the rule for the home team to bat first and the argument on which the managers maintained the system was the supposed advantage of getting first crack at the new ball."

So, is the now accepted wisdom correct? The most scholarly piece I could find on the subject was a 2008 dissertation called "Last-Ups Advantage in Baseball: A Game-Theoretic Approach" for the Texas A &M Department of Economics by Theodore L. Turocy. After revealing the results of calculations I couldn't fathom in a month of no ball games allowed Sundays he concludes, "There is a way in which an errant belief in an advantage to batting last might have a negative effect on a team's chances of winning. The quantitative results of the model suggest that a manager would do well in ignoring whether it is the top half or the bottom half of the inning and basing tactical results on the inning, configuration of baserunners, and number of outs. If a manager believed in an advantage to batting last he might not behave in that way; in fact a common saying is to play for the tie at home, and the win on the road. If in fact batting last is not an advantage, this would be poor advice." So there.

Back to a world most of us can understand. Has there been any recent game in which the home team batted first? Well, it turns out there was. Due to a large number of rainouts in 2007 a Cleveland Indians home game scheduled for April was played later in Seattle and - as a result of mutual agreement and a recent rule that allowed it - the visiting Indians were given the option of batting last, which they did. And now you have "the rest of the story."


Big Ed Delahanty
A footnote and the obligatory happy ending: Most readers will know that ball games used to take less than two hours to play partly because batters were not allowed to step out of the batter's box as they annoyingly do today. But, as you would discover in Goliath of Baseball's Gilded Age, during a dramatic extra inning at bat, with two out, two on, and two strikes on him, Big Ed Delahanty was actually allowed to go to the bench to get a drink of ice water! Refreshed, he returned to the bat, wiped his mouth on his sleeve, grinned, and slugged a home run to win the game.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Is the Blue Jays’ Pat Venditte the First?

This is my first post for quite some time due to my work on a second historical novel, Babe Ruth & the '27 Yankees Have the Best Summer Ever and the accompanying screenplay " '27: the Best Season Ever", but I hope followers know that they can count on me to relate modern diamond phenomena to earlier times. My latest step back into a simpler, no steroids/batting gloves/player agents era follows.

The Baltimore Orioles had gone 0-for-June and were mired in the league basement with a 6–30 record as the Louisville Eclipse pulled into town for a four-game mid-July series in 1882.

Playing second base for Louisville was a native son, "Gladiator" Pete Browning, who would retire with a .341 lifetime average. He was known for his refusal to slide, his one-legged defensive posture, and his penchant for staring into the sun to increase the power of his eyes. Early in the 1884 season Browning broke his barrel-shaped bat. He was approached by a young apprentice wood-maker named John “Bud” Hillerich who offered to custom-make him a new one. When Browning led the majors with a .402 average in ’87 the shop was inundated with orders from other players for the bats that came to be known as Louisville Sluggers.

The fans at Newington Park that Tuesday afternoon would witness a rare sight. The Eclipse’s dashing young pitcher, Tony Mullane, who was en route to the first of five consecutive 30-victory seasons, gave up seven runs in the first two innings. But the cranks would see something much more startling than that.

Mullane was well-known for his intimidation tactics. When Jack Leary once dared to hit a home run off Mullane he was sent a painful message. The next time Leary batted, Mullane's first pitch struck him in the hand, "mashing two fingers and disabling him so that he will not be able to play for a month," the Louisville Commercial reported. Leary swore that Mullane had thrown the ball at him so as to disable him.

Eleven days later Mullane slammed Joe Gerhardt with a fast pitch (the term 'fastball' was not yet in use) in the ribs. "It sounded like a drum, and poor Joe staggered and fell, stretched out unconscious with pain," the Missouri Republican told its readers. "The poor fellow uttered a groan, and stiffened out like a dead man." A Louisville reporter had no doubt as to Mullane's evil intent. "It is a well-known fact that Mullane has a desire to cripple any man who can bat him." After he hit Long John Reilly in the head, leaving a bump the size of a walnut, the Cincinnati Enquirer warned that "one of these days he will get his neck broken."

The 23-year-old Irish-born Mullane, who was nicknamed the Apollo of the Box for his ability to draw big crowds on Ladies Days, had injured his right arm in a distance-throwing contest a few years earlier and had taught himself to throw left-handed.

Mullane was not used to being bullied this way, certainly not by the likes of the lowly Baltimores. The right-hander got so frustrated that he did something no one had ever seen in a big-league game before. He switched pitching hands.

“Mullane, of the Eclipse club, changed hands in the fourth inning and pitched with his left,” the Baltimore Sun reported, "retiring the Baltimores in good style. Mullane’s ambidextrous turn lit a little fire for the Eclipse, who scored four runs in the fifth by heavy batting, aided by wild throwing.”

Mullane mostly kept Baltimore off balance, switching back and forth, throwing right-handed to left-handed hitters and lefty to righties. Less than two months later, on September 11, Mullane pitched a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first of its kind in the American Association. Two years later, Mullane would complete 65 of his 67 starts for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association and lead the league with seven shutouts and 67 wild pitches.

But Mullane is still remembered most for switching hands in a game he lost. He was not the last to pitch with both hands, nor was that game in Baltimore the last time he tried. He did it twice more: on July 5, 1892,and again on July 14, 1893, throwing left-handed in the final inning of a 10–2 loss to the Chicago Colts.

He wasn’t even the last Louisville pitcher to do it. On May 9, 1888, Elton “Icebox” Chamberlain, a right-hander, threw shutout ball with his left hand over the final two innings of an 18–6 win over the Kansas City Cowboys. Two years after Mullane did it, on June 16, 1884, right-handed Larry Corcoran, pitching for the Chicago White Stockings, became the first ambidextrous hurler in the National League, alternating arms in a 20–9 loss to the Buffalo Bisons.

Speaking of cowboys and bisons, during a game the next spring a band of Indians watched over a small herd of buffalo that grazed in centerfield at the Cowboys’ ballpark. (No, they were not looking for the bullpen, wise guys. They were no bullpens in those days.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Your Chance to Win a Copy of King of the Hall of Flakes

Your Chance to Win a Copy of King of the Hall of Flakes

Author W. G. (Will) Braund

Decide which of these crazy things Rube did was the nuttiest and you could win a copy of King of the Hall of Flakes. The tenth submission will be chosen.

    Pick from among the following things.

Rube

chewed live snakes on a vaudeville stage
missed a start because he was home playing with his new puppy
married a girl he'd met two days before
did handsprings and cartwheels off the mound after striking out the side
blew up a stove when imprisoned by the National Guard (they let him go)
wrestled alligators
herded the runners around the bases like dogeys in a cattle drive when coaching first
ate more than 100 oysters in a contest
ordered everyone (but the catcher) off the field
sold wieners on a bun outside the crosstown stadium
often caught fish where no one had for years
knocked out several 'villains' in Stain of Guilt because he couldn't master the fake punch
soaked his arm in cold water BEFORE a game to take some of the speed out of his shoots
introduced himself to his all of his new teammates when he arrived in town - at 3 a.m.
never had a bank account
threw a slider, curve, screwball, and knuckleball
played with a lion on stage
ran into the stands and dragged a notorious gambler onto the diamond
picked up (by himself) and carried a woodstove from a burning store
jumped out a hotel window

Actually he did a lot more crazy things. They're in the book.

Send your choice to w.braund@sympatico.ca



Friday, January 16, 2015

Book Announcement


Preview of  KING of the HALL of FLAKES a baseball novel based on the extraordinary life and career of Rube Waddell.
Available in soft cover at Amazon.com, as a Nook Book via Barnes & Noble, and as a Kobo at chapters.indigo.ca. Soon to be available in both hard and soft cover.


You normally pay 50 cents to see a big league ball game, though sometimes you decide to be thrifty and pay two bits to sit on the bleacher benches. But today you splurge and shell out a dollar to sit in a box seat. You know you’re in for a treat. Rube Waddell, the most exciting twirler in baseball, will be in the pitcher’s box.
It turns out you’ve wasted your money. The phenom does not pitch. In fact, he’s not even in the stadium. You later learn that he chose to play sandlot ball with some kids he passed on his walk from the hotel to the ballpark.

You’re delighted the next time you go to see him and Rube actually shows up, though a bit late - he was playing miggles with kids under the grandstand. But in the second inning, after breezily striking out the side in the first and then doing handsprings off the mound, he suddenly and inexplicably drops the ball and his glove and runs off the mound and straight out the centerfield exit. You have neither seen nor heard anything that might explain such bizarre behavior. But then, outside the stadium walls, you hear what he has heard – the clanging of the bell of a fire wagon. Rube is off to save more lives.
You try one more time and the twirler is late again. You ask the booster sitting beside you what might be the holdup. He matter-of-factly tells you that Rube often soaks his pitching arm in cold water.

Before the game?” you ask.
“Ya, he says he needs to take some of the speed out of it, otherwise his shoots’ll burn up the catcher’s mitt.”

When the star takes the mound he is virtually untouchable. When his fastball smacks into the catcher’s mitt the sound echoes through the seats as if a gun’s been fired. His curveball seems to break two feet and batters just watch helplessly as it drops over the plate. Then he curves one just as sharply the opposite way! He blazes two more incredibly fast pitches over the plate and the hitter barely gets his bat off his shoulder. The next pitch seems to dance up to the plate and the crowd roars in delight as the batter actually swings at it twice. Somehow, this lovable, unsophisticated twirler has taught himself how to throw a knuckleball. “He calls it a wobbler,” the booster next to you explains.

“Is there anything he can’t do?” you ask the cranks around you.
A man with a red handlebar moustache says, “Ya. Rube can’t throw at batters to keep them off the plate like other twirlers do. He’s afraid of killing somebody. And he refuses to throw spitters. Says it ain’t sanitary.”

Instead of resting between innings the phenom coaches first base. He makes faces, does spot-on impressions of the opposing pitcher and the umpire, and pretends to drive the runners around the bases like dogies in a cattle drive. Then he goes up and sits in the stands and shares a bag of peanuts with some of the rooters. You’re close enough to see that he has clear blue eyes, a permanent grin, and huge hands. He compliments a pretty girl on her bonnet and parasol before heading back to work. She blushes.
The Tigers try to distract him by holding up kittens. They know how much Rube loves animals. He does his best to focus. Ty Cobb comes off the bench holding an adorable little tabby.

“You like this one, hayseed? Well I’m gonna drown the little fucker!”

You’ve heard stories of Rube’s incredible strength and wonder if he’ll go after Cobb and throw him over the fence.

In the ninth inning Rube calls time and instructs the infielders and outfielders to sit on the grass and he effortlessly fires nine straight strikes as the hitters stand and stare. Then he does cartwheels all the way to the bench.
“No wonder the stands are full on a Wednesday,” you say to yourself on your way out.

Friday, September 26, 2014