Saturday, April 30, 2011

Baseball and Radio

Right at the moment, I’m listening to the Jays play the Yankees, and José Bautista has just parked a long bomb in the left field seats. At least, I think it was the left field seats. Since I’m listening on radio, unless they tell me “seats”, I have to use my imagination.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I enjoy listening to a ball game rather than watching it on TV: I get to imagine the game.

You may ask why that’s a good thing. It’s easy to explain. When you watch a game, you can only see what the director allows you to see, even with the number of cameras they use these days. That does make some things more immediate, like when you can see exactly where the ball is going from over the pitcher’s shoulder or just how close that play was at first because they show it in slow motion. That’s cool. But for me the nuances of baseball are the really interesting parts. For instance, a hot grounder goes through the right side of the diamond. Quite often, I will want to see what the shortstop is doing, even third baseman, to set up for something to happen on their side of the diamond as the play develops. On TV, you often don’t get to see that.

Even if I’m watching a game on TV, I usually listen to the radio play-by-play rather than the TV guys. That’s only for Toronto games, I might add. We’re blessed with the two best guys in the business: long-time broadcaster Jerry Howarth and former catcher Alan Ashby. Before Alan, we had the incomparable Tom Cheek. These guys no how to make a game come alive with just their words and the ballpark sounds. I’ve listened to most of the other radio broadcasters and there is just no comparison. The Jays’ broadcasters seldom get caught up in side conversations, and they know just the words needed to make the game come alive. They’re also not shameless homers as many broadcasters are. Oh, and they do their homework on the opposing teams.

But back to my preference to baseball on the radio. I think the strongest reason I feel this way is because that’s the first way I became aware of The Game. I had built a crystal radio and one of the strongest stations I got broadcast Giants games. (Does that date me?) The next season the “Jints” jumped ship for Frisco, so I switched my youthful allegiance to the Yankees, and thus the deal was sealed. I was a lifelong baseball fan.

Listening on the radio brings those early memories right back to the surface.

How about you?

Photo courtesy of Chris Creamer

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The CBA and 2012

Well it’s that time again; the CBA between the baseball owner’s and MLBPA is being negotiated. There will be some major changes as to how fans see the game in 2012. Bug Selig hopes to leave another innovation as his legacy. It’s the first month of the season and I am already concerned about next year’s (2012) playoffs and the regular season The new CBA with the owners will undoubtedly include an expansion to the playoffs according to Bug. MLBPA President Michael Weiner says that the players are open to expanded playoffs. They are concerned, as I am, about how it would effect the regular season. Bug said, “… there’s a myriad of details to work out”. He’s right on that one.

In 1995 the Divisions changed into what we have today, three division leaders and a wild card in the playoffs. We have gotten used to this style of playoff and it has added more interest and action for the fans and much more money for the owners. There are 15 teams in each league and four of the teams go to the playoffs, one quarter of the league.

Three division winners with the next best two into a wild card spot with 5 in each league totaling 10 playoff teams or 1/3 of all MLB teams is one scenario being discussed. This means teams will play the current 162 games plus a possible 3 game wild game round (one game would be just stupid and not reflect the rest of the regular season series), a 5 game ALDC /NLDC, 7 game ALCS/ NLCS and 7 game WS. If played out, the two wild card teams would face an additional 3 games which could total 22 games to finally determine the World Series. This is a very long season. Don’t forget all the games in the spring training (which should be shortened by a week at least). Pitching staffs will suffer, injuries will increase and the hot streaks at the end of the season will turn into the snows of November. Baseball is not a cold weather sport no matter what the owners want. At the very most it should be over by the middle of October.

The NBA and NHL have 30 teams and 16 are in the playoffs, more than half. Nearly everyone (except the Leafs and Raptors) get in the playoffs. It is series elimination. The NFL has the toughest scheme with single game elimination. That is how they run their regular season schedule, so that system works in football. The MLB would now have four sets of series eliminations.

With the increased number of teams came the expansion of playoff rounds. The increased number of games per season and the number of playoff games will create a big change on strategy for the managers and the players. What of the pitching rotation and how will lineups look with these increases? All in all, I don’t think this small expansion would be out of line. It better not turn into the NHL style.

What should happen to inter-league play? Bug introduced, during his tenure, the current playoff scheme and inter-league play. With the inter-league play he restructured the league in East, Central and West. This new division has allowed the playoff system to work. Inter-league play removes chances to play outside of the league division for the regular schedule. At the end of the season teams play too many times in their own division instead of spreading it out. Old rivalries have been thrown aside. For example, the Tigers play the Jays in only two shortened series. This used to be a great rivalry and fans from both cities would travel and enjoy each other’s company. Not so much now that the balance has changed. Each team in both leagues do not get to play enough in the league. Indian’s, White Sox, and Royals are just some of the teams we no longer play enough. Instead with inter-league play we see Giants, Phillies and other NL teams we have no baseball interest in. They are not our rivals. Until the World Series we have no real interest in how they play. Inter-league should be stopped. The World Series should be about the best playing the best for the first time. Not the third or sixth time.

Expanded playoffs and inter-league play go hand in hand. I am concerned because the CBA is at the table now and expires in December this year. Can fans do anything about it? I don’t know but maybe it is time to contact the Commissioner’s office with our concerns and not just let the owners and the Bug run the game for us.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Quite A String of Stars

Has any franchise had a string of stars at one position the likes of the Yankees at catcher?

I have racked my brain trying to put together even a string of three stars and have come up empty. Even two stars at the same position on the same team is rare.The Yankees had Joe Dimaggio and Mickey Mantle in center. The Red Sox had Williams and then Yaz in left. The White Sox had Eddie Collins and much later Nellie Fox at second. I'm sure readers can come up with other pairs, I'm not sure about three though.

The Yanks have had five terrific catchers! Dickey, Berra, Howard, Munson, Posada, and potentially now Martin.

And it could be argued that their amazing number of pennants is closely tied to their excellence behind the plate, with the exception of 1921 to ’23 and 1926 to ’28 when they had no gifted catchers – but a little bit of talent in other spots.

Bill Dickey was the first great Yankee catcher and his emergence coincided with the Yankee comeback in the mid-30s after the Athletics had dominated. He and Ivan Rodriguez are the only two catchers to hit .300 in ten seasons. Dickey was a clutch hitter, had a strong throw to second, an amazing memory for opposing hitters weaknesses, and he handled his pitching staff expertly. He hit .313 lifetime, with 72 triples and 100 homers in a four year span (’36 to ’39).

After retiring, Dickey tutored an ugly, awkward kid named Yogi Berra. "Bill Dickey learned me all this experience," Yogi said. Berra would go on to be arguably the most valuable player in baseball in the 1950s, winning the award three times and coming close a few other years. "Why is our pitching so good?" Casey Stengel was asked. "Because of our catcher," he replied.

Elston Howard picked up the glove in the tail end of the long string of pennants, the early 60s – though he faded quickly along with the team in the late 60s and was never a superstar.

Then the famine – and no strong catcher. Do you remember Jake Gibbs (1966 to ’69)?

But after Thurman Munson arrived in 1970 – hitting almost 100 points better than Gibbs had – the Yanks finished second in the AL East. Then pennants in ’76 through ’78.

They hung on with Rick Cerone and Butch Wynegar after Munson's death, and then bottomed out with Don Slaught, Bob Geren and Matt Nokes. (Yecch.)

Mike Stanley finally got the Yankees back on track in the mid ’90s, hitting over .300 twice. Joe Girardi followed and they finished on top of the East.

And then came Jorge Posada and another string of pennants.

Now there is Russell Martin (.328, 6, 16) after two homers Saturday and a clutch hit on Sunday.

Can any team ever match such a remarkable string of good fortune at one position?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Our all-time favorite baseball movies

The entire line-up of Late Innings took in the Jays versus the Jankees on Tuesday evening, and as is normal, a lot of baseball trivia got thrown around. Towards the middle of the game, we were discussing things we thought might be good for the blog (Will wants to get some heavy-duty sponsors like GM, so we can make serious cash. I told him not to hold his breath. We just might be able to attract Hot Wheels as a sponsor.)

One thing we did agree on was that there should be a list of our favorite baseball movies. So here is our list, in no particular order except that we all agreed that Bull Durham has to be considered the best of the best, so that’s why it’s first.

Bull Durham: Just a great and very accurate depiction of what life is like in the minors. It’s also very funny. Costner is exceptionally good in this, and that’s sort of special, considering Waterworld...

Field of Dreams: From WP Kinsella’s magic realist novel, Shoeless Joe, it’s a terrific and, well, unexpected movie. Written by a Canadian, it’s a quintessentially American story.

The Sandlot: A movie that reminds us exactly what baseball should be all about. Funny, touching and the kids are fantastic.

A League of Their Own: Okay, what baseball fan doesn’t know the line, “There’s no crying in baseball!” This movie isn’t so much about baseball as women’s rights, but it has several great scenes and some of those women play some pretty good ball. And who knew Tom Hanks could play a crusty old bastard so well?

For Love of the Game: Okay, this one will probably be controversial. It’s not a great movie, but it’s got a good story line. Kevin Costner looks very convincing as a pitch, as opposed to Lori Petty in A League of Their Own. Will insisted we put this in, probably because you can hear the late Bob Sheppard and Vin Scully. The ending is pretty sappy.

Eight Men Out: The infamous Chicago “Black” Sox story. While it’s a dramatization of what happened, the script makes you feel they got it right and the cast is terrific.

61*: A made for TV movie but pretty good by any standards. It’s all about the ’61 season when Maris and Mantle were trying to break Ruth’s single-season home run record.

Fear Strikes Out: The story of real-life ball player Jimmy Piersall who had to overcome pretty severe mental illness to resurrect his baseball career. It always leaves me feeling sort of sad, but Anthony Perkins in the title role is excellent.

The Natural: Not quite magic realism, but rather a far-fetched plot. There are a lot of good old-time baseball touches, but the ending could have you rolling your eyes, while feeling good for Roy Hobbs and the team anyway. I especially liked Wilfred Brimble as the team’s manager.

and of course,
Major League: A very silly movie, but it’s arguably the best baseball comedy. Bob Uecker alone, as the team’s PA announcer, is worth the price of admission, and Charlie Sheen is completely over-the-top. You will laugh.

I didn’t include it since it doesn’t really fit the criteria, but all of us thought the Ken Burns series, Baseball is something that has to be mentioned. Every single baseball fan should watch it at least once. It is simply fantastic.

Okay so that’s our list (as far as I can remember it from the game). Now, we’d like Late Innings fans to weigh in. Do you agree with us? Do you have alternate suggestions? Do you have any comments? Please share them with all of us.

The Professor

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Lineup

The lineup in baseball is one of the primary game day jobs of the manager. You have to use what you have and move the pieces when you need to each and every game.

The leadoff is usually the man with the best OBP and speed. His job is to get on base and not get caught in a double play He is capable of a steal. The number 2 is the contact hitter who can move the leadoff ahead by hit or bunt and fast enough to not get thrown out at first. The three-hole is the player with the highest average and a sure hit. The 4 is the cleanup, the power guy, the home run hitter. The 5, 6,7, are guys who get RBI, who make contact and sacrifice fly’s. Basically the second half of the order is a mini version of the first half. The seven spot is a good spot for the catcher. The 8 is for the DH and the 9 spot is for a fast but weak hitter.

Some recent studies have shown that the strongest and weakest batters should be far apart in the line up and that the best hitter should actually be in the 2 spot. This would allow the best hitter more at bats. The weakest hitter should not be in the position of having to move the best hitter to home plate.

The Yankees had a standard lineup according to the above criteria. Jeter .313, Granderson .268, Teixeira .285, Cano .309, Swisher .253, Chavez .267, Posada.275, Martin .292 and Gardner at .260. With this order they have protected the heart of the order and Cano and Swisher the heavy bats. In the leadoff and contact roll they have speed and high OBP in Jeter and Granderson. Posada and Martin take up the 7 and 8 spots with the DH and Catcher. This leaves Gardner in the hole. With their overall averages and OBP this should produce runs and it did. They scored 6 runs. Should be enough to win most games.

So what of the Jay’s batting order? The Jay’s went a slightly different way at the Tuesday night game. We have Escobar .308, Snider .140, Bautista .308, Lind .231, Hill .242, Molina .318, Patterson .281, Encarnacion .277 and Nix .250. They moved up their big bat, Baustista, to the three hole.The leadoff, Escobar, has no stolen bases this season. So when he hit a home run it was a solo shot, nobody on. The leadoff should be able to be considered a threat on the bases. (Remember Ricky Henderson?) Snider, at the contact position, has had only four hits this season and (as of Tuesday) struck out now ten times with an average of .132. So in this spot he did not get on base to protect Bautista, thus the solo shot. Hill and Lind are doing better but still make too many strikeouts but have good OBP. The 6th thru 7th spots Molina, Patterson, Encarnacion DH and Nix are pretty standard fair for these positions. This order, however, produced 5 runs before changes were made.

A better order might have been Escobar, Hill, Lind, Bautista, Snider and then 6-9.
Still, things happen and Aaron Hill was taken out and Johnny Mac put in for the best play of the night. McDonald is the best utility player in the league and would shock every one with a bunt. And what a bunt it was! Then Snider gets a walk off in extra innings with a perfectly placed shallow split of the outfield, winning the game in extra innings 7-6.

What a nice game come back and such a pleasant way to keep the Yank’s on their toes. But the Jay’s original line up only produced 5 runs. Not enough to win in this match up where the Yankees have the highest run total in the league.

So how do you figure out a lineup? You can make righty-lefty match-ups, hot streaks vs slumps and figure in all of the above basic criteria. It is very fluid, with injuries and other unforeseen elements. The lineup that wins is the one that works.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Magical Elixir

John and I have both written about the impact of steroids on baseball and its hallowed records and I would like to add a post script on the history of drug use.

It turns out Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and company were not the first players to try some enhancements. Pitcher Tom House admitted to using steroids 'they wouldn't give to horses' during the 1970s. House claimed steroid use was widespread at the time. Dale Berra testified to getting amphetamines from Bill Madlock and Willie Stargell. 'Greenies' were very popular in the '80s.

Three of baseball's elite may even have experimented with drugs, though none stuck with them. John Milner said he once spotted Willie Mays with 'red juice' in his locker. Mickey Mantle's slump at the end of 1961 was induced by an injection from a quack doctor, though it was to cure a rash, and Babe Ruth once injected an extract from sheep's testicles – which did him no good and made him ill.

In his book The Darker Side of Baseball, Roger Abrams tells of baseball's first user. Jim "the Little Steam Engine" Galvin was short and stocky and had a handlebar mustache. He was called Pud because he turned batters to pudding. Known for his fastball and pinpoint control, Galvin won 46 games for the Buffalo Bisons in 1883 and another 46 the next year. But when his skills began to deteriorate at age 32 Pud became a user of and spokesman for Brown-Sequard Elixir, a testosterone supplement from the testicles of dogs and guinea pigs. (There may be more to the name baseBALLS than we thought.)

Doctor Brown-Seqard was a respected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the Royal Society. In 1889 he developed the extract and after injecting himself found his constipation gone and his intellectual vigor restored. He told a startled audience of fellow scientists (lucky none were women in those days) that he had lengthened the arc of his urine stream by 25 percent and could blast cockroaches off the walls of la toilette.

Within weeks The New Haven Register wrote, "The discovery of a true elixir of youth by which the aged can renew their bodily vigor would be a great thing for baseball nines."

Producers of the concoction tried to persuade John L. Sullivan to be their spokesman, but the heavyweight champion declined. Soon after though Galvin was injected at a Pittsburgh medical college just blocks from where Galvin shortly thereafter threw a 9-0 shutout for the Alleghenys and even got two hits. The Washington Post was ecstatic with the results. "If there still be doubting Thomases who concede no virtue in the elixir they are respectfully referred to Galvin's record in yesterday's game," which they claimed was one of the best of his career.

But the elixir didn't help Pud for long. By the next year he was washed up and The Chicago Tribune wryly remarked, "Jimmy Calvin says he is only 33 years old. Jimmy must have gone to 40 and started back in the count." The Alleghenys cut his salary in half and then sent him to the crosstown Burgers of the short-lived Players League. Galvin went 37–39 before giving up. His 361 career wins were enough to get him elected by the Veterans Committee to the Hall of Fame but not until 1965.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Rivera Conundrum

No, this isn’t the title of a recently discovered thriller by Robert Ludlum. It’s a situation in which the Blue Jays find themselves.

First, the background: In a brilliant bit of general managering, Alex Anthopoulos of the Jays managed to unload what was arguably baseball’s worst contract (Vernon Wells’ long-term deal). Many in baseball felt that there was no way any team would take on Wells unless he completely returned to his 2006 form (.303, 106 RBIs, 32 HRs) in a convincing way. (Sidebar: Or maybe the trade happened because the Angels management simply felt that Wells was the missing piece that would allow them to assemble the most expensive outfield in human history.)

Lo and behold, everyone was amazed when Anthopoulos worked a deal, sending Wells and $5 million to the Angels in return catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera. Napoli was promptly dispatched to the Rangers in return for pitcher Frank Francisco. (Sidebar: Or maybe it’s simply that Wells was the missing piece in allowing the Angels to assemble the most expensive outfield in human history.)

Amazing trade, right? The Jays got rid of $80 million of contract, got what could be a closing pitcher from the subsequent deal. The only remaining piece was Juan Rivera, a dubious outfielder whose offensive output has been suspect for a few years. Still, there was some pop in his bat and his lifetime average is still .282. Many baseball pundits felt that the Jays would try to move him to another team, perhaps for a young prospect or two, because the team really didn’t need Rivera, especially with all the prospects down on the farm.

And Rivera appeared to be cooperating when he swung a hot stick during Spring Training and didn’t play badly in right field, either. This was especially important when Brett Lawrie played so well at third base and at the plate. Many thought he’d break with the team and come north. That wasn’t to happen, as it turned out, but it’s only a matter of time.

That brings us to the conundrum: With Rivera hitting really poorly as the Jays’ DH, it’s likely no team is interested in him at the moment. Third base is still up in the air: Jason Nix is not the team’s answer long term, I’d have to say. Sooner or later, the Jays won’t be able to keep Lawrie down on the farm any longer.

So what do the Jays do? I can’t see them keeping Rivera as a bench player. I’d say that Encarnacion is a better choice for DH. I’ll put on my prognosticator’s hat here and say that before the season reaches its midpoint, the Jays will be forced to release Rivera and eat the $5 million they owe him.

But even with that, the deal Anthopoulos swung was worth it. The Jays would still have gotten rid of $75 million worth of salary — and that will be a good thing when they go shopping for those few pieces the team is still missing.

The Professor

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The AL East

The East is the toughest division in baseball. This year there have been both improvement and loss to the teams in the East. The Yankees have had their way for decades and can pay for anything they need to win. However, money does not always buy the World Series. You have to have all the pieces to be consistent in the win column. Of course if you only need a piece or two, every team will go out to get them. Thus the Jays of August of ’92; we bought David Cone. Voila!

The Yanks lost Andy Pettitte and it looks like they have not replaced his 15 wins; but Freddy Garcia did have 12 last year. A J Burnett is their number three starter. The Yanks will have paid plenty for his very average year (ERA 5.26) if he can stay mentally healthy as well. The Yankee starters combined for 63 wins a combined ERA of 4.35. A-Rod’s start to the season may be his best yet. When A-Rod has a good spring he seems to start well. Just like this year. Mark Teixeira will have to be better then last year, but by stats alone he will be a big contributor. Russell Martin will have big shoes to fill with Posada moving to DH. Martin has had a couple of bad years and if he can change his party ways he might gain back some of the promise he once had. Will, the Quill, has mentioned all the options for the Yanks behind the plate. Those choices are in the future and Martin will have to step up now or simply be gone. I feel Martin seems to have fit in with the pinstripes. Brett Gardner will have to continue to improve his numbers to keep his LF starting position. Derek Jeter will be his usual self — excellent. The only thing against the Yanks is their age, which has been said of them before. They have played together for a long time and injuries may now play a bigger part. Manny Rivera might just not be invincible this year. No matter what, you cannot count out the Yanks at this point. The Yankees are down but far from out.

Red Sox have made improvements. They acquired Carl Crawford, who has made every other team cringe over the years with his bat (especially the Jays). At first you have Adrian Gonzales who is a consistent 39 HR hitter with high average and OBP with lots of base on balls. The top five starters combined for 65 W’s last year and an average ERA of 3.86. Papelbon is the second best closer in the AL. The Red Sox have added the pieces they need. They are there. Well, that's if they can actually win (2/8). Red Sox nation should not dispair yet.

The Orioles have made big changes this year. Baltimore has Buck Showalter, a great manager. The infield has been revamped in the extreme. Derek Lee is added at first and bats for high average. He is a veteran player. Brian Roberts will continue to produce at bat and on the field. JJ Hardy, the new SS, is expected to return to form after a rough 2010 and reduce his number of strikeouts. Mark Reynolds is taking 3rd. He brings home run power but way too many strikeouts. For DH is Vlad Guerrero. He has hit for high average over a long career with a great BB to SO ratio. His RBI was also over 100 last year. If he can keep up after 17 years, he will add plenty to the batting production. The rookie Arrieta has shown good stuff. Kevin Gregg is the new closer they got from the Jays. He had a career high of 37 saves last year. Still, I don’t see the run production they will need at this point. Showalter will have to find new ways to win.

Rays are down and will need to rebuild. They have lost Crawford’s power. Now that Manny Ramirez has “retired”, Johnny Damon will not be able to fulfill all the offense that is needed. The offense is well below average. The Rays will have to rely on their defense to stay in the hunt. But overall I don’t think they can.

Well, now for the Jays. I want them to take the whole thing but… Not this year, but soon. They have a very young but exciting team and much is expected of them. They have very good bats and gloves. I have mentioned some of the team before but would like to add I really like that the Jays purchased Jason Nix from Cleveland. A fine addition that has surprised everyone. The infield, as a whole, should be better at bat then last year with Lind and Hill back in form. Yunel Escobar has apparently found a home with the Jays and his past performance is long forgotten. Encarnacion has been better with the bat but still can’t throw. Corey Patterson will make a good piece off the bench. The new closer, Frank Francisco, will add much needed heat. The young rotation seems, so far, to be able to handle the pressure. Over all, a much improved and potentially playoff-bound team for seasons to come.I would love for the Jays to surprise the East just as they did last year. With the small ball approach of John Farrell, I think good things will happen. The first inning of the season proved that it is possible to bunt steal (double steal), avoid a pick-off play and generate 4 runs with not one long ball. Beautiful!

So, how do I think it will wind up? Here it is: Red Sox, Yankees, Jays, and Orioles with Rays in the cellar. The AL play-off situation might look like Red Sox vs White Sox and The Yanks vs Rangers. Sounds familiar.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The AL break down

A week of baseball does not a season make. The up and downs of these first ten games may not be the way things end up over the course of the 162. Now, as a Jay’s fan, I hope things go just as they are. This week I will look to the AL and how it might wind up.

The AL West should finish up with Texas leading. The Rangers, the only real contender in the West, have added the veteran Adrian Beltre. This veteran had a career year in 2010. Mike Young moved from third to DH where it is hoped his production will continue. Look to the closer Neftali Feliz to have 40 plus saves last year. This year will be similar to last year, very strong.

The only surprise might be Athletics. They have slightly improved their rotation and mid-relief. The top three starters have a combined ERA of 4.82. The fourth starter, Alex Ogabdo, has shown great control which should help lower the ERA. They still do not have much in terms of offensive power this year. Offensive numbers overall will be down. The A’s are over rated, however, they are bit better than the rest.

Some pundits are talking Angels in the West. They picked up Vernon Wells but lost Juan Rivera. The trade was a wash, as they are very similar players. Pitching is unimproved and Fernando Rodney is far from the best closer. (You might remember him from the World Series Detroit against St Louis when Rodney threw what would be the winning run over the first baseman’s head.) I think LLAA is in trouble this year. The Mariners are still going nowhere. The Mariners don’t have much pop at the bat, except for Ichiro, who is the best hit man in the league. The West should wind up Rangers, Athletics, Angels and Mariners.

The Central should go to the White Sox. They have a very strong offensive team that will help their less than stellar pitching staff. Bad boy, Adam Dunn, will pound them out and Brent Morel is the new young addition at 3rd that brings some offense but has to watch his number of errors. Paul Konerko is back to his former self and has been very strong in all departments over the last two years. Even Alex Rios has lowered his strike out ratio. The pitching staff will rely upon the offense to return to postseason play. I see a very strong finish here.

The Twins lost a whole series to Detroit at the end of the last season when they were in contention. So far this year the same problems persist. Just too inconsistent to compete even with Joe Mauer as the lynch pin of the team. The Tigers have made little change. They did picked up Victor Martinez from the Red Soxs adding power to the DH. Brennan Boesch, a young lefty in his second year in the bigs may be the new power for the Tiger outfield if he can get some regular playing time in. The health of Ordonez and Carbrera will be central to their offense.With fewer injuries, the Tigers should be able to beat the Twins and take second in the Central. The Indians have weak rotation and little pop in the bat and are a shocker at his point being 8/2 on the season. This won't last. Shin-Soo Choo is their only pop with the bat and could hit 20 HR's again this year. The Royals are waiting for the farm to produce the next real talent. The order should be: White Sox, Tigers, Twins, Indians and still in the basement, the hapless Royals.

Tomorrow, the AL East.

John the Tomahawk

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Best and the Quirkiest Outfields of All Time

What team has the best outfield in baseball? Well, the Texas Rangers have Josh Hamilton (.359, 32, 100 in 2010), and Nelson Cruz (22, 78, .318). But Julio Borbon ain't great. The White Sox have all-round talented but streaky Alex Rios (21, 88. ,284), Carlos Quentin (26, 87, .243) who has a great arm, and Juan Pierre (68 stolen bases) who has a terrible arm. Seattle has two of the three 2010 AL Gold Glove winners (Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro Suzuki) but only Suzuki hit well last year - and the Mariners finished last. The Red Sox have Gold Glover Carl Crawford (19, 90, .307), Jacoby Ellsbury (72 steals and .301 in 2009), and J.D. Drew (22 homers last year). In the NL the Phillies have Jason Werth (27, 85, .296), Gold Glover Shane Victorino (18, 69, .259), and Paul Ibanez (16, 83, .275). No team has really talented players at all three outfield positions.

What was the greatest outfield of all time? How would the 2011 outfields stack up against them? Not too darn well. Baseball historian Bill James believes that the 1915 Detroit Tiger trio of Bobby Veach in left, Ty Cobb in center, and Sam Crawford in right was the greatest outfield of all time. The league batting average was only .248 that year, but Cobb hit .369 with 99 RBIs and 144 runs, Crawford hit .313 and drove in 112 runs, and Veach hit .299 with 112 RBIs. The three ranked 1, 2, and 3 in total bases and RBIs!

The outfield combination with the highest batting average of all time was the 1894 Phillies. Sam Thompson hit .415, Ed Delahanty hit .404, Billy Hamilton hit .403, and part-timer Tuck Turner hit .418 in 347 PAs. Those awesome numbers are somewhat tarnished, however, by the fact that three TEAMS hit over .330 that year! The Phillies led with .349. It was not the year of the pitcher.

The 1929 Cubs had hard-drinking Hack Wilson (39, 159, .345), Riggs Stephenson (17, 110, .362), and Kiki Cuyler (.360, with 102 RBI and 43 stolen bases). Wow! But that was another time when it seemed like every hitter was putting up big numbers.

What about the '27 Yankees? Slugger Bob Meusal hit .337 and knocked in 102 runs. Centre fielder Earle Combs hit .356, as did the Babe, with a.486 OBP, 164 RBI and I guess you know how many home runs. The outfield they had to roam and had to try to hit the ball over had been shortened from 500 to 490 feet in left center, centerfield was 487 and it was 429 to right center. Modern ballparks are tiny by comparison.

The most successful outfield of all time may have been the Yankees of the 40s. The Yanks won seven of eight penants bewteen '37 and '43. Their famous 1942 outfield featured Joe Dimaggio (30, 125, .357), Tommy Henrich (31, 85, .277), and Charlie Kellar (33, 122, .298).

More recently, the '79 Red Sox fielded Jim Rice (39, 130, .325), Fred Lynn (39, 122, .333), and rifle-armed Dwight Evans who was just emerging as the league's premier right fielder (.274, 21, .287). Yaz hit 21 homers as the DH.

The 1996 Indians featured congenial Albert Belle (48, 148,. 311), speedy Kenny Lofton .317 with 75 stolen bases), and pre-roids Manny Ramirez (33, 112, .309).

The 2003 Atlanta Braves had a pretty fair trio shagging flyballs. Chipper Jones had 27 HR and a .305 average. Andruw Jones (now a Yankee) hit 36 bombs and Gary Sheffield hit 39 and had a .330 average.

And finally, the best in particular categories...

Most home runs: the 1961 Yankees - Yogi Berra (22), Mickey Mantle (54), Roger Maris (61)

Best defensive outfield: the 1912 to 1915 Red Sox - Duffy Lewis, Tris Speaker, and Harry Hooper

Best outfield on an awful team: the 1962 Mets - Frank Thomas, Richie Ashburn, and Jim Hickman

The Most Expensive: the 2011 California Angels - Vernon Wells ($23 million), Tori Hunter ($18m), Gary Matthews Jr. ($11 m) and Bobby Abreu ($9 m). Throw in Reggie Willitis and it comes to $56 million.

Most Closely Related Outfield: September 15, 1963 San Francisco Giants Felipe, Jesus, and Matty Alou

And finally, the Weirdest Outfield - the 1958 Red Sox - proud and moody Ted Williams, Jackie Jensen, who couldn't get on an airplane, and institutionalized Jim Piersall.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

One week in

The 2011 ball season has passed its first week and there have been a lot of surprises and interesting developments.

Who would have thought Boston and Tampa would have gotten off to such wretched starts? Of course, their fans are panicking already which is really rather stupid considering there are only 150+ games left. Still, both teams have to be rather frustrated. The Giants are in a similar mediocre beginning. Take heart, fans of these teams! Except in exceptional years, it’s never clear until at least the end of May, how things might shake down by October, and even then things can change. On the other side of the coin, fans of Pittsburgh and Baltimore must be thinking of how they might get their hands on World Series tickets. Unlike most other sports, baseball is not a sprint; it’s a marathon, a very l-o-n-g marathon, and that’s something that makes it really interesting. I love the back-and-forth tussling between the teams in contention that generally happens in at least a few of the divisions every season.

The other thing that’s happening is (I believe) all teams are through with the first road trips, or heading out on that first one. It’s an old baseball truism that seasons are generally won or lost on the road. It’s how you play in the other guy’s ballparks that decides whether you make the post season or not.

I believe that teams with a balance, neither overly-dependant on their pitching or their hitting, but with good solid depth in both, are the ones that ultimately find success in their away games. Why? Because there is less to panic about. If your pitching has gone south for a bit, your hitters will hopefully be able to step up their game, and vice-versa. If pitching, for example, is what your team is really about, if that wobbles (and doesn’t that usually seem to happen on the road?), then what do you have to fall back on? That’s when unbalanced teams panic and dig themselves into an even deeper hole.

I’ll leave the analyzing of teams’ strengths and weaknesses to my blog confreres.

For my team, Toronto, I like what I’ve seen so far. Last Sunday’s game was a good case in point. They were in it until the very last pitch. With a 162-game season, you’re not going to win every game. All you can ask is for your team to keep fighting — and the 2011 Jays seems to be that kind of team. Will they make it to the post season? They just might. The talent is there and I believe most of the ingredients for a contender are already in place, but there’s a certain rawness to many of the players that might cause them to stumble more than we’d like. Still, they surprised everyone last year, and there’s the distinct possibility they might be able to do that again, and with the improvements they’ve made to the team, that could vault them higher.

But can’t you say that about most of the teams in both leagues?

Okay, I’ll go out on a prognosticational limb here. Arizona, Houston, New York in the NL, and Seattle and KC in the AL will be at the bottom by season’s end. For the AL East, I really can’t tell you — but I bet that race comes down to who has the fewest injuries and which teams’ youngest and newest players have great seasons.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Late breaking news

I was just reading on that Manny Ramirez has retired as an active ball player because of "issues" with a recent drug test.

This is an incredibly sad end to a great career. All the drugs in the world won't help you hit a baseball better. Manny had an incredible talent laid upon him: to hit a baseball hard and often. He's a career .312 hitter, for heaven's sake. Where he fell to temptation was that drugs can help you hit a ball farther. So, maybe you hit more home runs or knock balls high of the fence for doubles or triples, but is it worth it?

In this case, you'd definitely have to say no.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Yankees Have Options for Posada's Heir

The Yankees have a lot of possibilities to consider in the race to replace Jorge Posada. Jesus Montero was supposed to be the next coming in a long line of great Yankee catchers (see a future Late Innings blog). Lauded long and loudly, Montero was a bust in Spring Training, hitting.250 with no home runs.

Austin Romine, his Double-A counterpart, has a good reputation behind the plate but is considered a weak hitter. In his first camp Romine went .182 with one RBI. Neither looked ready for the bigs behind the dish and the Yankees have decided that both need more time in the minors.

Then there was Gustavo Molino, who has now caught 23 games for four different teams. He saw action only after the regulars had ducked out of the hot Florida sun for the afternoon. Molina, by the way is not related to the premier defensive catchers Bengie, Jose, and Yadier.

Francisco Cervelli was hitting over .400 when he fouled a pitch off his foot and then limped around on a cast for the rest of Spring Training. He starts the year on the 15-day Disabled List. 'Cervy' hit a respectable .273 in 93 games for New York in 2010 but had no home runs.

In December the Yankees beat out Boston and Toronto to sign Russell Martin from the Dodgers. Not so long ago Martin was considered one of the best all-around catchers in baseball. He hit .285 with a .373 on-base percentage and .433 slugging percentage in 427 games through age 25, but just .249 with a .350 OBP and .330 SLG in the last two seasons. Martin missed half of 2010 with the fractured hip that remains a question mark. He’s still just 28 years old though and possesses strong defensive and on-base skills.

Martin is off to a great start, going .455 with 3 RBIs against the Tigers on the opening weekend. And Jorge Posada, who will likely be a while getting used to the full-time DH role, sandwiched two home runs around a double on Sunday. Not too bad for an old guy.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

And so it starts again...

For baseball fans, the world begins again every April (or March 31st, as the case may occasionally be), and for me, it was certainly that way this year. Like the seaon, I'm feeling reborn. The long winter is over and it truly is spring.

I spent a good part of yesterday listening to the radio broadcast of the Yankees/Detroit game, and even though I don’t particularly follow either team (sorry Will and John), I have to say that I was caught up in the whole emotion of the day. I cheered each team equally and just enjoyed the (imaginary) sights and (actual) sounds.

Right now, I’m listening to the opening ceremonies of the Blue Jays and it really is wonderful. I don’t care what team you follow, that first game of the season is a pretty special moment. In Toronto, because of the fact that Minnesota is in town, we have all three of the major inductees on hand: Bert Blyleven, Roberto Alomar and Pat Gillick. Now, that’s also special, isn’t it?

So what will happen this season? John’s given his rundown of the NL, and I’m assuming that he’ll next give you his rundown of the the AL (that’s a hint, Tomahawk), so I’ll just say that I always enjoy the first month of the season as each team rolls out their changed line-ups and we begin to get a feel of what they’ll be about for the next 162 games.

It would be really great to get together people who have closely followed baseball over the years, sit them down, and go through their memories of years past. Last week, I wrote about some of my “magic moments” in baseball. Will and John both responded, and I was thinking today of Will’s comment about the end of the 1960 baseball season and how Mazeroski’s home run crushed the hearts of so many Yankees fans in the last game of that year's World Series (some would say that wasn’t such a bad thing...). Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear the impressions of the start of the 1960 season from fans followed baseball closely?

So now they’re going through introducing the teams and I have to admit that I’m getting really antsy. Enough talk. Let’s play ball!