Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dewayne Wise and Hobson’s Choice

John’s blog post this week has already dealt with something unfortunate that happened in a Yankees game this week. If you don’t know to what I am referring, I encourage you to read his excellent post first. It’s just below this one.

Now, do you know what Hobson’s Choice is? We’re delving into the world of philosophy on this one. In a nutshell, Hobson’s Choice can be summed up in a five-word phrase: take it or leave it. To read up a little more on the history of Hobson’s Choice as a philosophical statement, I encourage you to click HERE.

All done with your reading assignments? Okay. I’m here to posit that Dewayne Wise took the only course open to him at the time. He made the smart choice.

Huh? Blechta’s condoning cheating?

Please allow me to defend my thesis. First off, Wise most decidedly did cheat, but it’s not really his fault. What he did was very much akin to the infamous “phantom tag” play. This bit of video has seen come to light since John’s report: Credit this guy with an assist on Wise's questionable catch.

Clearly, Wise did not make the catch. Furthermore, he ran to the dugout with no ball in his glove.

[Sidebar: Also clearly, the umpire completely blew the call. The brief article that accompanies the video clip ends with ump Mike DiMuro stating “…I should have asked him to show me the ball…” No, Chris, you should have had your brain engaged with your eyes. View the clip again and you will see Vinnie Pellegrino hold up the ball pretty well right in front of the ump’s face. How could DiMuro have missed that? I’ve previously gone on about bad umpiring, but this pretty well takes the cake. Umps are the cops of the game, and if DiMuro actually was a cop and this had been a crime in progress, he’d probably be booted right off the force for something this egregious.]

So why am I on Dewayne Wise’s side on this? Quite simply, because he had no choice but to go along with the con. He knew pretty quickly that the umpire had made the wrong call, but it was a call that helped his team. Wise is a marginal player at best. He was with the Jays last year and was not resigned because he didn’t bring enough to the table. The Yankees brought him onboard to be a role-player, an extra guy for their starting outfielders and a fast baserunner in a pinch. In an undistinguished career, he’s been with six major league teams (Toronto twice). He can pick the ball, but he’s not much of a hitter. He knows the thin ice on which he stands with the Yanks. They’ve used him in forty games this season during which he’s had only thirty-eight at bats. Can you say late-inning defensive replacement or pinch runner? What are his chances for sticking with the team for another season?

Were there any positives to be gained by Wise going up to the ump and saying, “Uh, Mike, I hate to tell you this but I didn’t really catch that ball.” Do you think his manager would have been impressed? Do you think Steinbrenner would have congratulated him for being an honest and upstanding fellow? Had he been honest, Wise would have most likely been benched or let go, all sub rosa, of course.

John was a bit too harsh on the Yankees. They were doing what any sports team would do: get an edge any way they can. The New Yorks are either a little bit more flagrant, or they get caught more often, or they’re just dumb about it, but you can be darn sure that any other team would have no problem with a deke like the one Dewayne got away with.

How can you fault Wise (especially) or the Yankees for taking advantage of an umpire’s very careless call? Honest? No. Understandable? Of course! Faced with Hobson's Choice, Dewayne took it, rather than leave it. He's still on the team and you can be damn sure he's the hero of the clubhouse.

DiMuro, on the other hand, should certainly be taken out back by the head of umpiring and smacked upside the head for being such an unobservant doofus.

And thus ends today’s examination of Hobson’s Choice in the Game of Baseball. I thank you.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cheats and Liars

So here again, after last weeks fiasco with pine tar, we now have another faker with the phantom catch. The code in baseball is all but gone and anything goes.

On May 30, 2007, Alex Rodriguez, made a play where he “distracted” Jay’s third baseman Howie Clark. Jorge Posada hit a short infield two-out pop-up to third.  A-Rod was going from second to third. On the way he yelled “Mine” and Clark backed off thinking he was called off the ball. Johnny MacDonald could not get to the ball and the ball dropped. A-Rod and Posada were safe. Was this cheating?  A-Rod, in game 6 of the ALCS against Boston purposely knocked the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove while applying a tag. A-Rod was called out for interference. That should have been the case in TO as well.  It was interference.

Two nights ago we had the blown call. Former Jay, Dewayne Wise, made the phantom catch. The ball hit the heel of his glove as he made a spectacular dive into the stands. The umpire, Mike DiMuro, made the call even though the ball was not in Wise’s glove. He never checked. Everyone wants to dump on the ump. He blew it. He should have checked on the ball. But for Wises’ part he never made the play and faked having the ball in his glove. Was he wrong? If you get away with this it appears to be ok. All the other guys will say they would have done the same. Anything to win the game.

In the past, decoying was allowed and showed up the runner because he was not aware of where the ball was. Wise just faking the catch in the stands just makes him and the Yankees, yet again, look bad. We all now know it was DiMuro’s fault. But Wise certainly played the fake to assure the missed call.

Do we have to have every call made by the umps up for video replay? I feel it should be part of the game in this century, but come on.  I guess if video replay is all you need, then any fake would be acceptable because it would be found out. If one watches other sports on replay, you know that even then, things sometimes do not get sorted out. 

Some integrity for baseball should come from the players also. Dewayne Wise aided in his “spectacular” catch. It was not all the ump. If I was on the other team, I would watch him and the rest of the dirty Yanks each and every play and call them on everything all the time. The game would be slow, but “who cares if you win” right? Following the code, there are many things one can do, but cheating isn’t one of them.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My AL All-Star Picks

Apparently you can vote up to 25 times for each of your e-mail addresses for the MLB All-Star game players. That reminds me of the year Cincinnati fans stacked the voting in 1957. The Cincinnati Enquirer placed All-Star ballots in with their newspapers and there were even stories that the city's bars would not serve you a drink until you filled in a ballot. More than half of the votes cast that year were by Cincinnati fans resulting in seven of the eight starters being Redlegs. The only player elected from another team was Stan Musial. Commissioner Ford Frick removed two of the Reds from the starting lineup.

As a result, the vote was taken away from the fans and given to players, coaches, and managers. That lasted until 1970 when Major League Baseball decided to rekindle interest in the game by giving the vote back to the fans. I really don't think you should be able to vote 25 times, but whatever. 

Here are my choices for the American League team.

Catcher – Joe Mauer (Minnesota) He's great defensively (three Gold Gloves), which means a lot at the catcher position. He is hitting .323, though he has just 3 home runs. A.J. Pierzynski of the WhiteSox (12, 41, .284) would be my second choice.

1st Base – Paul Konerko (WhiteSox) is hitting .337 and has thirteen home runs and 39 RBIs. He also has a .970 OPS.  My second and third choices would be Prince Fielder, who is hitting .303 with 11 homers and 46 RBIs and Adam Dunn (also with the WhiteSox) who is hitting just .212 and is en route to reaching his personal worst (199) in strikeouts – a whopping 119 already – but has 23 home runs and 52 RBIs, tops at the position. I guess Billy Butler of the Royals (14, 44, .294) has to get into the game - it is in Kansas City after all.

2nd Base – Robinson Cano sparkles defensively and is on a tear of late. He has his average over .300 and has 17 homers and 39 ribbies. His OPS is .941. Second shoice at second would go to Jason Kipnis of Cleveland who has 11 homers and 42 RBIs. 

Shortstop – Derek Jeter (NYY) has 7 HRs and is still over .300, though he is in a slump right now. He is still pretty good defensively. He made a really nice play in last night's game. J. J. Hardy of the Orioles has 11 home runs but is batting just .243. Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera is having a fine year with the bat - 9, 33, .291.

3rd Base – Miguel Cabrera (Tigers) leads with 59 RBIs and is hitting .307 with an .898 OPS. Adrian Beltre (Texas) has three Gold Gloves on his mantle and is hitting .328 so far with 13 HRs and 48 RBIs. Third choice at third would go to Mark Trumbo of the Angels (17, 49, .316 and a .980 OPS). Any one of those guys would represent the AL well.

Outfield – Josh Hamilton is tops with 23 circuit blasts and 66 RBIs. His average is down to .316 (just .205 the last 23 games) but his OPS remains high at 1.031. Baltimore's Adam Jones is right at .300, with 19 homers and a .907 OPS, though his average is still just .237 Jose Bautista (Jays) is great defensively and leads with has 24 home runs and 57 RBIs. Just missing the cut (for me at least) are Josh Willingham (Minnesota) who is second in OPS and third in On Base Percentage. Mike Trout of LA has the best batting average (.338) and OBP (.399) and has stolen 21 bases. Curtis Granderson of the Yankees has 21 home runs and 41 RBIs.

DH – David Ortiz is just ahead of Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion is every category except home runs (he has one fewer), though Encarnacion is having a fine year.  Ortiz has more walks, fewer strikeouts, a better OPS, and a better OBP. Sorry Rick, you know I'm no Red Sox fan, but Ortiz gets the nod.

Starters – Chris Sale (WhiteSox) is 8-2 with a leading 2.24 ERA and an 0.96 WHIP. He is the second hardest starter in the AL to hit for average against (.194). Lowest opposition average goes to Jared Weaver of the Angles (.194). He's 7-1, with a (second best) 2.40 ERA. Now the really tough choice, who's third out of the dugout?  For me, Texas darling Yu Darvish (10-4, 2.95) would be the guy. David Price just misses the cut at 10-4, 2.95 and 90 strikeouts.

Brandon Morrow of the Jays is just 7-4 but opponents are batting a measly .194. Justin Verlander (Detroit) is 8-4 and has the most strikeouts (113). C.C. Sabathia is next with 105. Verlander is the fourth toughest to hit against among AL starters.

Forget Boston's Buccholz. He's 8-2 but he has a 5.53 ERA and has allowed 15 dingers. Sabathia is 9-3 but he ranks 24th in enemy batting average. And also cross off Matt Harrison of the Rangers (10-3) whose enemy average ranks 29th. And also Ivan Nova (NYY) who is 9-2 but has an ERA of 4.25 with 15 home run balls having flown over his head. 

Relievers – First out of the pen would be Baltimore's Jim Johnson who is second in saves (one behind Cleveland's Chris Perez) but has an opposition batting average of .138 and leads relievers with an 0.67 WHIP. Fernando Rodney of the Rays is third in saves (just two behind Perez) with an opposition average of .176 and a WHIP of 0.77.  Third in relief should be Perez but I'll go with Jonathan Broxton, who is fourth in saves (5 back) since, as mentioned, the game is in Kansas City.

I imagine you will disagree with several (or maybe all) of my picks, but hey, that's what makes it all so fun.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Some thoughts on base stealing

This posting stems from a combination John and I had on the subject of base stealing. While in the future I may report on the history of this, I’d like to first examine what is essentially an anomaly in this otherwise very organized sport. Allow me to explain…

One of the fundamental truths of baseball is that nothing can happen until the pitcher throws the ball. We’ve all heard colour commentators and baseball pundits say this innumerable times. Every time the ball is in the pitcher’s hand and he steps onto the rubber, the game stops. A silent conversation takes place between this player and his catcher with maybe some kibitzing from the manager all accomplished through an arcane system of sign language. When this has taken place, the pitcher winds up and lets the ball go. Only then does something take place and the game continues until the again steps on the rubber.

Baseball is all very organized and controlled and this one particular point of every game. Mayhem may well take place on the field in between these breathing spots, but when the pitcher is once again in possession of the ball, everyone can stop and take stock as to what did or didn’t happen in between.

Except for base stealing.

Base stealing is like the bad child in the room. If baseball is about controlled chaos, stealing is like bad behaviour done behind a parent’s back, like when you used to whack your brother behind the head while dad’s or mom’s attention was elsewhere. When your offended sibling squawked, you’d be sitting there with an angelic expression on your face. Stealing a base is sort of like that.

Consider this: how many other rules are there in the game that have been put in place to allow something chaotic to happen? Baseball rules are all about restoring order. There are strict rules about pitching out. When a fleet of foot runner is on base, all four umpires keep their eye on the pitcher to make sure that he isn’t indulging in any proscribed monkey business to confuse the baserunner. At its basic level, nothing can happen in baseball unless it involves the baseball – except for base stealing. This particular play is very much about trying to pull a fast one on the other team.

How did this happen? Why was it allowed? It almost has the feel of something greasy being done. Base stealing sort of bends all the other rules of the game, and yet it’s not only allowed but encouraged. The umpires actually have rules to help the offensive team steal another ninety feet.

It’s a very odd thing in such an otherwise organized sport, don’t you think?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pine Tar Again

Well well. Pine tar is in the news again. George Brett will enjoy the fact that Joel Peralta got caught Tuesday night with a glob of pine tar in his glove. Since 1920 the spitball – as such – has been banned but really did not go away until the late 1950’s.  What we have here is cheating, or is it? It appears that doctoring the ball has been in the game from the beginning and is still here.

Ball players have, at every step in the game’s development, tried anything they could to get an advantage. The spit ball, the cut ball – Leo Durocher and Elston Howard for Whitey Ford, the hair cream ball, KY jelly or Vaseline on the brim of the hat, or shoes or belt or…  – Gaylord Perry. Now we have pine tar. Pine tar is the better choice because it can be found on the mound and – in the NL – on the bats the pitchers will use.

Several pitchers have been busted with pine tar. The likes of Jay Howell in 1988 NLCS – suspended three games, Julian Tavarez and Brendan Donnelly, both ejected. The big incident was Kenny Rogers, in game 2 of the 2006 WS, for having pine tar in his hand. He was simply asked to wash it off. No further sanction.  He went eight innings and won the game.

George Brett, for weeks, had gotten away with the excess pine tar on his bat. It was not allowed to be more than the 17 inches, the size of home plate.  Yankee skipper, Billy Martin, waited until his challenge would affect a game. It did and history was made. Later, it was decided by MLB that it was not an advantage to the hitter. So, it is no longer an issue. Messing with the ball is an advantage for the pitcher.

The scuffing, wetting, cutting and greasing the ball in general was first made legal in 1903 in the new American League.  It was banned when Indian shortstop, Ray Chapman, was killed by a beanball in 1920.  The old style dirty ball was filthy with stuff on it and was very hard to see. The AL mandated new balls be issued for every game. So, today we have a new ball practically every pitch. It is harder to get a scuffed or greased ball into play.  However, this recent incident shows they are still trying. Joe Maddon says it is “common knowledge in the industry” by “every major league baseball team.”

Joel Peralta got caught, ejected and did not pitch to one batter.  The story here is the reaction of both managers. Joe Maddon is upset that Davey Johnson used insider information. Peralta had pitched for the Nationals in 2010, before moving to the Rays. (It was Graig Nettles who gave information to Billy Martin about George Brett). These guys do not like each other. Their egos and styles have always been at odds.

The latest exchanges are about the rules and the “Code”. In baseball the players take care of things on the field. Always have and always will. If one side feels disrespected, retaliation will take place now or in the future.

I cannot wait to see what the next step between these two teams will be.

ps. Late breaking news. Peralta got an eight game suspension. He is appealing but unbelivable. Way too much. Ejection yes, but, in light of other rulings, ridiculous.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Who Were the First?

It is now possible that Roger Clemens could be elected to the Hall of Fame since it has been conclusively proven that he never took steroids (right!!!) At a time like this baseball history buffs like me consider how tough it must have been in 1935 to decide who should be the charter members of the Hall. No performance enhancers in those days.

The baseball writers had fifty years of stars to consider. There had been great hitters like Dan Brouthers (pictured at left), Cap Anson, King Kelly, Jesse Burkett, Wee Willie Keeler, Nap Lajoie, George Sisler, and Tris Speaker. (Rogers Hornsby was still playing in '35.) And awesome pitchers like Hoss Radbourn, Jack Chesbro, Cy Young, Joe McGinnity, Rube Waddell, Ed Plank, and Grover Cleveland Alexander.

The criterion was the same as now – a player's name had to appear on 75% of the ballots. In spite of all that talent the five men selected were fairly obvious choices. The total number of votes cast was 226 and Ty Cobb's name appeared on 222 of them. (Apparently four of the writers just couldn't get over what a son-of-a-bitch Cobb was.) Tying for second were Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner with 215 each, Then came Christy Mathewson, the sensational and gentlemanly New York Giant hurler, with 205. He was the only one not to appear at the opening ceremonies having died ten years before. And last came fireballer Walter Johnson with 189 votes.

Cy Young, with 511 wins to his credit, may now seem a more logical choice than Mathewson, but while Cy had some great years (36-12, 34-16, 35-10, 28-15, 25-13, 33-10, 32-11, 28-9), he also had a lot of mediocre ones (27-22, 26-21, 21-19, 19-19, 18-19, 13- 21, 19-15).  His lifetime winning percentage was .613 and his ERA was 2.62. 

Whereas Mathewson's winning percentage was a wondrous .665 thanks to consecutive seasons of 30-12, 33-12, 31-9, 22-12, 24-12, 37-11, 25-6, 27-9, 26-13, 23-12, 25-11, and 24-13. Talk about consistent. It helped that he was playing for a great team (the Giants) and manager (John McGraw) but his ERA was a measly 2.13, helped by 79 shutouts. Then there was the 1905 World Series in which he threw two 4-hit shutouts and then had an off day – a 6-hit shutout. 

As for Walter Johnson, he had the misfortune to play for the Washington Senators, who were only a good  team in 1912 and '13 and 1924 and '25. Take a look at these ERAs and won-lost records. 14-14, 1.65; 13-25, 2.22; 25-20, 1.90. But he had some pretty great won-lost records in other years, including a stretch of 25-13, 33-12, 36-7, 28-18, 27-13, 25-20, 23-16, and 23-13. Imagine if he'd played for a better club.

You don't hear much said about the other charter member, Honus Wagner, but when you get as many votes as the Babe you must have had a pretty good career. The 'Flying Dutchman', who spent his whole career with the Pirates, was the best fielding shortstop of his era,. He stole bases and he was okay with the bat too. While his numbers don't look great compared to Ruth, Bonds, Williams, etcetera, you have to take into account that he played in the dead ball era, when you were about as likely to see a sacrifice hit as an extra base hit.

Consider that in 1908, when Wagner led the National League with 109 runs batted in, only five players had as many as 68! His slugging average of .542 was 90 points better than the player who finished second that year. Oh, and he led the NL in stolen bases, hits, doubles, triples, (second in home runs), on-base average, and total bases too. In all, Wagner won seven batting titles, hit 640 doubles, 252 triples, and stole 722 bases. 

In conclusion ... I've written a couple of times about amazing pitching staffs – I may have found the best ever. Here is the 1901 Pittsburgh Pirate staff.  (The photo is of the 1903 Pirate pennant winners.)

Deacon Phillippe (22-12) career  189-109   .634   ERA 2.59
Jesse Tannehill    (18-10) career  197-116   .629   ERA 2.79 
Jack Chesbro     (21-10) career  198-132   .600   ERA 2.68
Sam Leever        (14-5)   career  194-100   .660   ERA 2.47
Rube Waddell      (0-2)   career   193-143   .574   ERA 2.16

Can anybody top that?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

What do you do when everything goes wrong?

Manager John Farrell's expression says it all as Morrow leaves the game.
Being a Jays fan, I can’t help but being completely dismayed by what has happened to the team this past week. Three starting pitchers go down in 5 days? What are the chances of that happening? Has something like that ever even happened before?

When I turned on the radio to listen to last night’s game partway through the first inning, the Jays’ young phenom Drew Hutchison’s night had already ended after just 9 pitches. I thought for a moment I was listening to the wrong game. In Monday’s game, Morrow, the team’s best starter this season, went down 9 pitches into the first inning. Sandwiched in between was Kyle Drabek, the centerpiece of the Halliday trade with the Phillies, who bowed out in the 5th when something popped in his elbow. At least he’d thrown 85 pitches. Today when Romero toes the rubber, I think everyone is going to hold their breath until the game finishes. If he goes down, you’ll be certain the baseball gods have it in for the Toronto nine.

I’m sure every diehard Jays fan is feeling pretty glum this morning. Drabek is most likely gone for the season, probably a good part of next season, as well. We’ll find out more later today about Hutchison, but everyone is bracing for the worst. As for Morrow, he’s got one of those injuries (strained oblique muscle) that seems to take forever to heal – and you know the team isn’t going to rush him back. That would be really asking for arm trouble to happen.

All of this is in top of losing the new closer, Sergio Santos, as well as the continuing struggles of Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch. No report on when they’ll be back according to the most recent injury list.

Mostly, I’m now understanding what Boston has been going through. Currently they have an even dozen on the DL, including two of their starters. The Nationals have a baker’s dozen. Holy Cow! What is going on this year?

The difference between the Jays and Boston and Philly is that the latter two are fairly “old” teams. The Jays recent spate of injuries is to comparative youngsters. Sure you can say that they’re young arms. I’ve read commenters on various boards saying it’s the fault of management that they won’t sign veterans who, for some reason, these joker’s think have tougher arms. Other are blaming the pitching coach. I’m sure the Jays’ brain trust would love to know (as would the rest of us) what, if anything, is being done wrong, because you can be certain that it would be fixed in a heartbeat.

Regardless, it’s easy to imagine this whole season slipping away from the hometown team. Last night they showed a lot of character by putting together a shutout win against the Phillies. Perhaps today, Romero will come out, throw the way he can at his best and we’ll once again bury the Phillies. But what happens Sunday when Cecil takes the mound? And what about two games later? I don’t think Aaron Laffey is the answer. Bring up one of the young guns from the minors? Trade for a veteran? Burn out Carlos Villaneuva again?

Whatever they do, the Jays will signal by their actions in the next few days whether they’re going to just tough it out and mark time until next year, or do something dramatic to stay in the hunt for the post season. And we poor fans are just left watching whatever happens and trying to keep the faith.

It’s going to be tough.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hit by Pitch the Least of Their Worries

Billy Jurges was a good fielding, weak hitting, ill-tempered shortstop for the Cubs from 1931 to 1938 (back when the Cubs were actually a good team - three World Series appearances). He fought with umpires, opponents, and even teammates. First baseman Eddie Waitkus was  so promising a rookie he was called "a natural". He was a Cub from 1946 to '48. But they had something far more unique in common than being talented Cub infielders. They were both shot by obsessed females. 

Second year infielder Jurges was off to a good start in 1932. He was "playing like a house afire" according to The Milwaukee Sentinel. During his rookie season he had started seeing Violet Valli, a chestnut haired divorcee and "caberet girl". She said, "Billy's one in a hundred thousand. I met him at a party and I fell hard. In July, Jurges stopped seeing Violet. She did not take it well. On July 6 she went to the Hotel Carlos (now called the Sheffield House) a couple of blocks from Wrigley Field. Billy and several other Cubs lived there. 

Valli made a final plea for Billy's love and then pulled a .25-caliber pistol from her purse. Jurges lunged at the gun and it went off. One bullet hit him in the right side, ricocheted off a rib and came out through his right shoulder. A second bullet tore the skin on a finger of his left hand. The third hit Violet in the arm. 

Billy staggered out into the hallway. Luckily the Cubs' doctor was in the lobby and treated both Jurges and Valli. Though they were taken to hospital, neither was seriously hurt. In Valli's room a suicide note was found, addressed to her brother, in which she stated, "to me life is not worth living without Billy, but why should I leave this Earth alone?"

Jurges refused to press charges or testify but Violet was booked on a charge of assault to kill. Jurges was subpoenaed to appear at the trial, which received national coverage. After a curious crowd filled the courtroom Valli made her appearance in a white dress with red trimmings. (In the photo at left Jurges is shown with a handkerchief to his face.) When called to testify, Jurges said he did not want to press charges and expected no further trouble from Valli. The charges were dropped from want of prosecution and Violet went on to sing in nightclubs booked as Violet "What I Did for Love" Valli. 

Jurges returned to the Cubs' lineup before the end of the season and hit .364 in the World Series. Interestingly, after refusing to press charges at the trial, he added, I hope that no other Cubs get shot."  That  turned out to be wishful thinking.

Seventeen years later Eddie Waitkus, a decorated hero of World War II, was in his first season with the Phillies after having been traded by the Cubs without explanation. He'd hit around .300, made very few errors in his three years in Chicago, and had been an All-Star in 1948. In June of '49 he was hitting .306 and was again leading the league in All-Star votes. The Phillies were in Chicago to play his old team. 

A 19-year old girl named Ruth Ann Steinhagen (she said her name was Burns to make Eddie think she was related to friends of his) lured Waitkus into her hotel room. Supposedly he had not wanted to go in but she told him she had an important note for him. Ruth Ann had been infatuated with Eddie for a long time, attending every Cubs game and constantly poring over hundreds of newspaper clippings that she had collected. Her mother said she "cried night and day" when he left Chicago.

Once inside Eddie's hotel room the girl took out a .22-caliber handgun and shot Waitkus in the chest. She then went to the front desk and said she had shot Eddie and he needed help. The bullet had gone through two ribs and pierced a lung before lodging in muscle in his back. Eddie was in the hospital for a month, near death for a time, and needed two surgeries. The doctor said if it had been a more powerful gun Waitkus would not have survived. Steinhagen never stood trial but was committed to a mental institution. 

John Theodore wrote a book about him called Baseball's Natural: the Eddie Waitkus Story. In 1952 Bernard Malamud wrote a book called The Natural loosely based on the Waitkus shooting. In it, a crazed fan (played by Glenn Close) shoots Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) who is so badly hurt that he can never pitch again. Obviously Malamud and Hollywood took some liberties. Hobbs comes back as a hitting sensation. Eddie Waitkus returned to the Phillies and played well for the 1950 "Whiz Kids", who would lose to the Yankees in the World Series. But he started smoking and drinking and he weakened as the season went on. He may have suffered post-traumatic stress after the shooting. He was often depressed and wasn't quite the same player in his last few years. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Is MLB “journalism” hurting the game?

I usually spend up to half an hour online every morning reading various accounts of games, first and foremost for the Jays, but also for any other team that had an interesting game the night before.

It may just be a Toronto thing, but some of our media outlets don’t have full-time baseball reporters any more. Quite often I’ll see Associated Press as part of a byline. That alerts me right away that the coverage will be generic – and also pretty useless. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the real baseball fans want real coverage, by someone who knows the team, is objective, and is not afraid to shake up the status quo when it needs shaking up.

When Internet access became almost completely ubiquitous, baseball was affected like everything else. MLB jumped in with both feet, taking command of both league’s access to the Internet with the result that everything is now homogenized into one large (w)hole. As a consequence, every team now has a resident journalist or two, someone who is around the team all the time, but also gets their marching orders from management. They are employees of MLB.

These writers aren’t journalists (although they probably would describe themselves as such), they are paid shills. Case in point, I read an account by Bill Ladson of the Nationals playing at Fenway last night. The final score was 7-4 for the Nats. Reasonably close game, you’re thinking, right? The description of it in the article sounded anything but. The game is described as “the Nationals pounded the Red Sox, 7-4.”

Huh? Three runs is now a “pounding”? Okay, Strasburg and Bryce Harper, the Nats wonder-rookie, enjoyed very good games, but how about being a wee bit more objective? If I see the descriptor “pounding” in a sentence, I expect the winning margin to be really impressive. 7-4 is not impressive. Ladson is there to build excitement around his team, apparently not to tell us what actually happened in any particular game. The Red Sox MLB reporter, Ian Browne was more balanced, but he was still clearly shilling for the home nine. Both did their jobs: put more fan “bums” in the seats (that’s “rear ends”, for all you non-Canadian readers).

Real fans want to hear what’s actually going wrong, not just get a report from a homer whose job is to gloss over a team’s faults. Good reporting means having a balance in the coverage.

We know the broadcasters for a particular team are going to be, at the very least, partially biased. (Luckily for Jays fans, we have broadcasters – the radio crew, especially – who aren’t afraid to say what they think, and Gregg Zaun, an analyst who is pretty damn blunt.)

But as other media outlets without a corporate axe to grind become thinner on the ground, are we going to be left with only corporate shills? I get more out of it when hard questions are asked, accurate analysis of a game takes place, and real problems are addressed. MLB reporting is like having your best buddy tell your wife why you got arrested on the way home from the bar last night. You know you’re not getting the real story.

We baseball fans deserve objective reporting, not more spin. We get enough of that in political reporting these days, thank you.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Change and a Rest

Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. To have both is wonderful, when you get results like Tuesday and Wednesday night at the White Sox. The Jays took a day off playing charity golf and then John Farrell set a new lineup.  The staring lineup put Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus one two and was a thrill to watch.

The Jays are playing the red hot White Sox sporting a very impressive 14/16 run. The Jays have now broken their home streak and taken this series – I hope it is a sweep. 
Brett “Pigpen” Lawrie – thanks Rick – had a great outing Tuesday, with his youthful exuberance and tremendous speed. Again, he showed all his tools for the game.  As in the Charlie Brown comic, Lawrie is always on the middle of things and everything seems to swirl around him – like “Pigpen”. Even with his swing, which I think of as thrashing, he can still get on base. He is the Jay’s third baseman for a long time.

Colby Rasmus, even more, exhibited his newfound spot with relish. He went 5 for 5 on Tuesday and combined with Wednesday batting .666. On May 25 he was batting a paltry .215 and now is a rising  .247. He has 4 HR’s to go with that. He seems to be able to hit out of the strike zone to keep the opposing pitchers having to adjust. Rasmus has been great on defense but his whole approach is the opposite of Lawrie’s. He is lax looking and goofy and can barley put a sentence together. It is hard to tell if he is engaged in what is going on. But all that said, he is now putting in an effort at the plate.  Maybe we will get to see what the Cards did not, a more rounded involved player. I hope Farrell does not upset Rasmus by changing something.

Rajiv Davis now at the bottom of the order, has responded like a pro. He hit his fourth home run of the season securing the lead in Wednesday’s game making it 4/0. He also managed to run from first to third pretty quickly and then score. David Cooper, as DH, played .500 ball and hit a HR as well. So the bottom of the lineup did their bit as well.  Not to forget Bautista – who cashed in an HR when needed on Wednesday. 

The pitching has been great as well. Ricky Romero has found his location and cut down his walk count to 1 on Tuesday. For his last ten games he walked 34 and only stuck out 51. Brandon Morrow pitched a complete game two hitter for his third shutout. Now that is just great to be able to say. It seems the question marks about him have been answered. His fastball and slider just really baffled the White Sox.

All in all the Jays lumber and defense picked up considerably they last couple of days after the rest. 

The Jays are putting it all together. My credit goes to Anthopoulos and Farrell. They have been aggressive with changing personnel and movement on and off the field. The Jays are improving. Is it time for them to start the push? The Jays are only two out of first. Are the pieces there? What more do they need? Another arm and another bat?  Where do you find those pieces? Who will the sellers be at the trade deadline?  What will we give up to make a deal? Why do I feel so unlike me, nice and positive?

It’s a great time of year.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Your Own Field of Dreams

As I drive around Toronto, I always notice the ball diamonds that scatter the landscape. Some of them are simple schoolyard backstops with a rudimentary crushed limestone infield; some are a little more “upmarket” with a rubber, home plate and maybe even dugouts or benches behind a chain link screen. A few even have lights. I get nostalgic every time I see one.

When you’re a kid, you take these things for granted. It’s more a matter of getting some friends together, going to one of these small diamonds and playing games like Three Flies Up or Indian Ball. Actually, we didn't even need a proper playing field. I remember playing ball for hours in our front yard. (We had a fairly large one – or at least it felt large enough back when I was nine.)

Occasionally, a real game would be organized with at least eight or ten players. Sometimes it would be wiffle ball with one of those bulbous plastic bats (why were they always bright red?) and that was what we usually played in our front yard. But it was really cool to go over to FE Bellows School to play on their ball diamond. Often other kids were there. We’d make up teams and the game was on. Every kid should have an FE Bellows in their lives.

If parents got involved, things became more serious and you’d be playing Little League with a proper diamond, uniforms, helmets and even umpires. Those games were much more intimidating for me, probably because of my skill level, which was admittedly not that good back then. I always preferred the more casual affairs we kids would just throw together on our own, usually in the Strunsky’s backyard. Remember those ridiculous ground rules you’d come up with? (If the wiffle ball hit Robert’s bedroom window it was an automatic home run.)

A few years after our two boys were born, my wife and I began playing fast pitch softball with friends (the fabled Hogtown Bombers with Will and John). The league we formed, The Toronto Mixed Softball League (which quickly became The Toronto Mixed-up Softball League), needed to find diamonds on which to play. One of my favorites, Wenderly, was in a lovely little park just north of us, tucked in behind some houses and even though it’s in the middle of a big city, you’d walk in there and you’d feel as if you were out in the country. On hot afternoons, we’d move off the bench that served for our ”dugout” and sit in the shade of the willows that run down the third base line, or the beeches on the first base line. Occasionally, one of the Bomber’s heavy hitters (the sorely missed Russ West, especially) could park a ball in someone’s yard beyond the center field fence. It really felt like a legit major league homer.

Our two sons came along to the games and would help out with scoring, maybe play catch behind the backstop, or just watch the game. It was great having our own cheering section. We played there on Sundays and our joint memory of those games is just golden. Good friends, a beautiful little diamond, a warm summer evening or afternoon, the crack of the bat (well, usually a ping since we generally used aluminum ones) and the smack of the ball into Murray’s (our first baseman) glove as Will (shortstop) cleanly dispatched another would-be runner.

For a person in love with this wonderful game, what more could you ask for?