Friday, October 25, 2013

Sports Quotes

"Last year we  couldn't win at home and we were losing on the road. My failure as a coach was that I couldn't think of anyplace else to play."
- Harry Neale, professional hockey coach

"Blind people come  to the ballpark just to listen to him pitch."
- Reggie Jackson  commenting on Tom Seaver

"I'm working as hard  as I can to get my life and my cash to run out at the same time. If I can just die after lunch Tuesday, everything will be perfect."
- Doug Sanders, professional golfer

"All the fat guys  watch me and say to their wives 'See, there's a fat  guy doing okay. Bring me another beer."
- Mickey Lolich, Detroit Tigers  Pitcher
"When it's third and  ten, you can have the milk drinkers; I'll take the whiskey drinkers every time."

- Max McGee, Green Bay Packers  receiver

"I found out that  it's not good to talk about my troubles. Eighty percent of the people who hear them don't care and the other twenty percent are glad you're having them."
- Tommy LaSorda, LA Dodgers manager

"My knees look like  they lost a knife fight with a midget."
- E.J. Holub, Kansas City Chiefs  linebacker regarding his 12 knee operations
"My theory is that  if you buy an ice-cream cone and make it hit your mouth, you can learn  to play tennis. If you stick it on your forehead, your chances aren't as  good."

- Vic Braden, tennis instructor

"When they operated,  I told them to add in a Koufax fastball. They did – but unfortunately it was Mrs. Koufax's."
- Tommy John N.Y. Yankees, recalling his 1974  arm surgery

"I don't know. I only played there for nine years."
- Walt Garrison, Dallas Cowboys fullback when asked
if  CoachTom Landry ever smiles

"We were tipping off  our plays. Whenever we broke from the huddle, three backs were laughing and  one was pale as a ghost."
- John Breen, Houston  Oilers

"The film looks  suspiciously like the game itself."
- Bum Phillips, New Orleans Saints, after viewing a lopsided loss to the Atlanta  Falcons

"When I'm on the  road, my greatest ambition is to get a standing boo."
- Al Hrabosky, major league relief pitcher

"I have discovered  in 20 years of walking around the ball park, that the knowledge of the game is usually in inverse proportion to the price of the seats."
- Bill  Veeck, Chicago White Sox owner

"Because if it  didn't work out, I didn't want to blow the whole day."
- Paul Horning,  Green Bay Packers running back on why
his marriage ceremony was before noon.
"I have a lifetime  contract. That means I can't be fired during the third quarter if we're  ahead and moving the ball."

- Lou Holtz, Arkansas football  coach
"I won't know until  my barber tells me on Monday."

- Knute Rockne, when asked why Notre Dame  had lost a game

"I tell him 'Attaway  to hit, George.'"
- Jim Frey, K.C. Royals manager when asked what  advice
he gives George Brett on hitting

"I learned a long  time ago that 'minor surgery' is when they do the operation on someone else, not you."

- Bill Walton, Portland Trial  Blazers

"Our biggest concern  this season will be diaper rash."
- George MacIntyre, Vanderbilt football coach surveying the team roster that included 26 freshmen and  25 sophomores.

"The only difference  between me and General Custer is that I have to watch the films on Sunday."
- Rick Venturi, Northwestern football coach

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Busy Time of Year for the Gamblers

There is an assumption that Commissioner Keneshaw Mountain Landis banished Joe Jackson and the other 'Black Sox' from baseball after the 1919 World Series because what they did was so extraordinary. The truth is that they were banned because what they did, namely conspiring to throw the Series, had become all too ordinary. Gamblers commonly roamed baseball's grandstands taking bets in those days and they regularly hung out in the lobbies of hotels where ball players stayed. They frequented the same pool halls and the same bars.

There had been a multitude of allegations, including by Eddie Cicotte at the Black Sox trial two years later, that members of the Chicago Cubs had been offered $10,000 to lie down in the '18 Series. They would certainly have been susceptible, players' salaries had been cut in half and the 1919 season was in doubt due to World War I. Most players figured they would soon be fighting in Europe. After Game Three of the Series the Cubs and the Red Sox got together during their train ride together and calculated that the winners would likely get $1,100 and the losers $600, both numbers roughly half of what they had originally anticipated.

Record holder Max Flack
The first three games had been tightly played. Game Four would not be. In the very first inning Max Flack, the Cubs' leadoff hitter, lined a single off Boston starter Babe Ruth but then wandered off first base and was picked off. In the third inning Flack was picked off again, this time off second. He is the only player to have been picked off twice in a World Series game. 

When Ruth came to the plate in the bottom of the inning Flack played very shallow in right field. This was rather strange, since Ruth was already known as a powerful batsman. Flack was told to move back but did not. Ruth hit one over his head for a triple and two runs scored.

The Cubs tied things up in the top of the eighth but when Harry Hooper laid down a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the inning and Cub reliever Phil Douglas threw the ball into right field the eventual winning run scored.

After the game player reps tried to talk the owners into paying them more money. Anyone who knows anything about baseball's early days will be able to predict how that meeting went. In Game Five Charlie Pick got the first hit for Chicago but before a pitch was thrown to the next batter ... ya, you guessed it, he got picked off. Two innings later Flack was back at it, dripping an easy fly to right that allowed two runs to score. The game ended 2-1. The Red Sox celebration was subdued at best.

You could afford to go to a game in '03.
Cy Younger & Lou Criger
In 1903 the Red Sox and the 'Royal Rooters' wanted to bet big money that the Americans (no they were not called the Pilgrims) would win the first ever World Series. The problem was that no one was betting on Pittsburgh  because Honus Wagner and some other Pirates were all banged up. The solution: change the odds. Denton True Young, who had been nicknamed Cy as a teenager because he threw like a cyclone, would pitch the opener. Though old Cy had not had one of his best seasons (he'd won only 28 games) he could be counted on to shut down the depleted Pirates. 

Except that in the first inning he hit the first batter (a normal sign the fix is on) and then served up a series of pitches your grandma could have hit. Catcher Lou Criger and second baseman Hobe Ferris each dropped a ball they could have caught in their sleep and each threw a ball into the outfield. The result, four runs in, Pittsburgh wins, the odds change, and the Americans can go back to trying to win the Series.

Joe Wood threw smoke and burned out fast.
George M. Cohan was a close friend of New York Giant skipper John McGraw. It must have seemed very strange when he bet the modern equivalent of two million dollars on the Boston Red Sox, their rivals in the 1912 Series. Joe Wood, who had a fabulous but brief career, had won a record 16 straight games that year and ended up 34-5. He was set to pitch Game One for the Sox. Upon arrival in New York, Wood received no less than six death threats. One of them was written in blood red ink and said, "You will never pitch against the Giants." Wood was not intimidated. After the game, which the Sox won 4-3, he said I threw so hard I thought my arm would fly right off my body." (Unfortunately he did that too often, which was why his career was so short.)

The second game was tied after eleven hard fought and exciting innings and was called due to darkness. The owners huddled and decided the players would not get paid for it. (Where was Marvin Miller?) Both teams were in a foul mood.

John McGraw & Jake Stahl
With the Sox in the lead (3 games to 1) and Joe Wood rested the Boston management, in collusion with AL Commissioner Ban Johnson, decided to save Wood and start Bucky O'Brien, who was fifth of five on the staff in winning percentage,  in Game Six at the Polo Grounds. Jake Stahl, the Boston manager, begged the owners to reconsider. They said no. Should O'Brien happen to lose, Boston would get another home game and the owners would pocket a lot of money. No one told O'Brien he would pitch the next day and he went out and got rip-roaring drunk.

Thanks to a walk, a double steal, and back-to-back doubles, the Giants scored five runs in the first inning. Ownership got their Game Seven. Sport Sullivan (see 1919 World Series) had a talk with the Red Sox, who were in a really foul mood now. 

By 1912 you couldn't afford a ticket.
Joe Wood started Game Seven with Boston now up 3-2. Things should have looked good. They had 1912's best pitcher on the mound and perhaps the best defensive outfield ever behind him. Wood was not smoking this day, however, he lobbed pitch after pitch right over the plate. Josh Devore dribbled one up the middle and Heinie Wagner booted it. Larry Doyle hit a ball just a few feet from Harry Hooper, who could catch anything hit within a country mile. He couldn't reach it. Two runners on. Wood chose to pitch from the windup, meaning that he could not throw to any base. Both runners jogged to the next base. Fred Snodgrass hit a lazy fly to Duffy Lewis. He dropped it and then, with no chance to get the lead runner, threw wildly and to the wrong base. 

The Boston manager had seen enough, he replaced Wood with Sea Lion Hall, who hit the first batter he faced, walked the next, and then tried to pick off the runner at second. Surprise surprise ... Heinie Wagner missed the throw and the ball rolled into centerfield. No problem. Tris Speaker played so shallow in centerfield that he routinely made double plays at second. Somehow, he failed to come up with the ball. The Giants mauled Sea Lion for nine more hits. The final score was 11-4 New York. The give away was so obvious (and odious) that the 'Royal Rooters' staged a demonstration outside brand new Fenway Park after the game.

There was also talk that the 1914 and 1917 series had not been on the up-and-up. As for 1914, yes it was amazing that the 'Miracle Braves' were able to sweep Connie Mack's mighty A's with their terrific pitching staff and $100,000 infield, but the Braves had gone 70-19 to finish the season and they won three of the four games by just a run. There were no obviously dropped balls or oddly errant throws in the games.

The 1917 Series featured the White Sox against the Giants. New York's roster included Heine Zimmerman and Hal Chase, both of whom would later be kicked out of baseball for taking and offering bets. Joe Wood once said that Chase could deal himself or anyone else at the table four of a kind whenever he wanted. to.

Sell out artist Heinie Zimerman
Things seemed fine, with the home teams winning each game, until the fourth inning of Game Six. Eddie Collins led off and grounded to third.  Zimmerman threw wide of first base. Joe Jackson hit a routine fly to right. Dave Robertson dropped it. White Sox at first and third. Happy Felsh grounded to the mound and Eddie Collins was trapped off third between Zimmerman (the third baseman) and the pitcher. 

But the catcher left home uncovered for some reason. The speedy Collins got around the pitcher and Zimmerman chased him across the plate. Chick Gandil singled. Jackson scored, the Sox (still white at that point) won the series.

So it may take a while for the playoffs to be over with but at least when two teams square off in the 2013 Series, unlike a hundred years ago, there will be a pretty good chance that all of the players will actually be trying to win.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Harder to Like Than A-Rod

What a sweet guy. So shy.
I know what you were thinking when you read this title. How, in the world, could anyone be harder to like than Alex Rodriguez? It is just not humanly possible.

Yes it is. Read Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams about the BALCO steroid users and suppliers and you will be able to answer the question in two words. And the words are ... Barry Bonds. He was such a contemptible jerk he makes A-Rod seem like a prince.

Bonds was a terrific ball player. His dad Bobby wasn't too bad either. Barry took advantage of his dad's fame to get him things, such as the privilege of doing less work than every other player on his little league and college teams, while at the same time resenting him. "What bat did he ever swing for me?" he told a Playboy interviewer in 1993 when he went to the Giants.

In high school the other players would always run out to their positions. Barry would saunter out, fiddling with his glove or sunglasses. "I'd work half as hard as the other kids," he admitted, "and I was better. Why work hard when I had all that ability?"

An attitude like that did not endear him to anyone at Arizona State. "I never saw a teammate care about him," said his coach Jim Brock. "Part of it would be his being rude, inconsiderate, and self-centered. He bragged about the money he had turned down. He demanded and got a whole different set of rules than everyone else.”

The first time the players saw Bonds' new Pontiac Trans Am, it was parked in Brock's parking space. When Bonds and some other players got in trouble for missing curfew he mouthed off at Brock who kicked him off the team. A vote was held to decide if he should be allowed to return. Every player voted No.

Pre-juice Barry Bonds.
When he played for the Pirates he quickly developed a reputation for not running out groundballs, for not signing autographs, and for not being polite to reporters, He seemed to care only about his personal stats. The fans considered him greedy, unpleasant, and a choke artist. After Bonds won his second MVP, the writers voted him MDP, Most Despised Pirate.  

"Why should I buy my grandmother a wheelchair you can drive like a car when she's gonna die anyway?" he told one reporter. 

After Bonds threatened a TV crew in Spring Training the Pirate press secretary tried to smooth things over. "I'll make my own rules," he told him. Bill Virdon tried to calm him down and was told, "Nobody's going tell me what to do." 

Bonds then got in the face of the beloved hero of 1960 which brought Jim Leyland out to intervene. "I've kissed your butt for three years. No one player is going to run this camp," Leyland yelled. Of course Bonds yelled back at him, to which Leyland said, "Don't fuck with me, I'm the manager of this fucking team!" 

"Everybody makes me out to be the bad guy," said Bonds. Then he accused the Pirates of baiting the TV crew to bother him.

In 1990 he hit .167 in the playoffs and drove in just one run. In '91 he batted .148 with no RBIs. In '92 he did better, hitting .261 with a home run. In Game Seven the Pirates were an out away from beating the Braves. Andy Van Slyke, their center fielder, motioned for Bonds, who was playing in left, to move in and to his left. Bonds always called Van Slyke the Great White Hope. He looked at Van Slyke and stayed put, deep and guarding the line. The next batter hit the ball right where Van Slyke had wanted Bonds to be. One might suppose that the Pittsburgh fans were not overly upset when Bonds went to San Francisco.

Before getting him fired, Bonds made Giants manager Dusty Baker's life hell. Players were not allowed to have anyone in the clubhouse. Bonds had three of his own trainers there constantly (one was his steroid provider) even though the Giants could have been in big trouble if he got hurt and was not being handled by their trainers.

Bonds continually denied using steroids even though
his body had morphed into that of a comic book figure.
Bonds insisted on being pampered. He refused to run out routine grounders and wouldn't show up for the team picture. When Baker tried to give him a day off Bonds would throw a tantrum. "Baker is disrespecting a three-time MVP winner," he'd tell the press. Bonds wanted days off – but only when he dictated. 

He was irate when his teammate Jeff Kent won the MVP award. He complained to reporters who told him that he had lost because his manager had told everyone that Kent should win it.

In spite of all the money and attention and pampering Bonds got he still managed to play the race card. He believed Mark McGwire got more attention because he was white. He claimed he was a black man in a white man’s game.

San Francisco fans rooted for Bonds. No one else did.
There may be a small chance that it had something to do with Bond's personality. His handlers advised him to be a bit friendlier to reporters. When one said, "Barry they seem to be pitching around you. Are you getting frustrated by all the walks?" Bonds said, "Can we talk about something besides my fucking walks?"

He had to be paid to sign autographs so when a group of kids came up to him in Spring Training Bonds shooed them away and said, "What the fuck are you doing here? You're supposed to be in school."

I could go on, but I think you are probably getting an idea of just how warm, kind, humble, and considerate Barry Bonds really was. As much as Yankee fans like me hate having A-Rod on our team, it could be worse. We could have Barry Bonds.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The most-storied trade of all times

I sometimes amuse myself (as many do, I’m sure) just cruising around the Internet. Often, it’s baseball related. You know the sort of thing: looking up interesting players’ histories, fact-checking something, reading coverage of classic games, etc.).

Well, this past week I hit the motherlode in a sense. It is the legal document trading Babe Ruth, hero and ace pitcher for the Red Sox, to their hated rivals, the Yankees. The rest, as they say, is history as the Bambino went from being one of the best pitchers in the game into the most feared hitter (arguably of all times).

What really makes the document interesting is the amounts of money involved. It was a lot in those days, but still not what you would have expected for such a game-changing player. No other player changed hands. Yes, you did read that correctly. The Yankees just paid cash for Ruth.

Now why would Boston trade away one of their most valuable players for just a bag of cash? There are two reasons (but I imagine one weighed much more heavily than the other). First, Ruth was a pain in the ass for Red Sox management. He had a bad temper. He smoked, drank and overate. Basically, they viewed him as an accident waiting to happen. When the team tanked in 1919 and ownership began getting rid of star players, it was the perfect excuse to jettison Ruth, too.

But why just cash? Well, that’s the other reason. Sox owner Harry Frasee needed money to finance a Broadway-bound show he was producing. The money he got for Ruth (and others, I’m sure) financed his show.

Obviously, Frasee wasn’t a baseball guy...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Falling Fast

The New York Yankees are falling faster than Kirstie Alley's weight during Dancing With the Stars. For their fans, their rapid descent invokes painful memories of 1965, a year in which the Bronx Bombers turned into duds.

The 1964 season had been yet another banner year. They had won the AL pennant – again, just as they had in 1960, and 1961, and 1962, and 1963, even though their margin over the second place White Sox was a scary one game instead of the 10 1/2 it had been in '63.

Mickey Mantle hit 35 home runs and Joe Pepitone hit 28. Elston Howard had emerged as a terrific replacement for Yogi Berra. Mick's outfield mates, Roger Maris and Tom Tresh, had done okay. The infield was solid defensively, even if Clete Boyer, Tony Kubek, and Bobby Richardson had not exactly torn the cover off the ball. Ralph Terry had slumped badly and been exiled to Cleveland but the team still  had solid pitching with Whitey Ford, Jim Bouton, Al Downing, Mel Stottlemyer, and Phil Mikkleson.

In a bizarre move, the Columbia Broadcasting System who were the Yankees' new owners and obviously knew a lot about baseball, replaced pennant-winning manager Berra with Johnny Keane, the Cardinal skipper because he had won one more game than Berra in the World Series but six fewer during the regular season.

The wheels fell off in '65. The Yankees were ten games back by the middle of May and never recovered, finishing an embarrassing 21 1/2 out for sixth place. Ellie Howard hit .233. Roger Maris swatted eight home runs and hit. 239. (Hector Lopez took over for him.) Tony Kubek, who had hit .314 in '62 but was in his last year in baseball, batted .218. Bobby Richardson, who had hit .302 in '62, hit .249. Worst of all Mickey Mantle, who was now a very old 33, hit .255 with a paltry 19 homers.

But '65 was a dream compared to '66. They were ten games out by May 3rd this time. They finished 26 1/2 back. It was their worst year since 1925, the year of the Babe's bellyache.

Pepitone (35 homers) and Tresh (27) did all right but that was about it. Mantle went 23, 56, .288. Howard rebounded to just .256. Maris rose to 13 home runs and .233. The once mighty pitchers had seen better days. Ford was 2-5. Bouton was 3-8. Downing was 10-11 and poor Mel Stottlemyre, who had won 20 in '65 thanks to a whole bunch of double plays in '65, now lost 20.

In researching for this entry I saw how bad the Yankees had been in the early nineties. I'd mercifully forgotten. In '90 they won only 67 games and in '91 only 71.  That team featured perennial all-stars Kevin Maas, Matt Nokes, Andy Stankiewicz, Melido Perez (loser of 16 in '92), Scott Kamieniecki, Tim Leary (loser of 19 in '92), Jeff Johnson, who was having his best year at 6-11, and one-year wonder Wade Taylor.

By '94 they still hadn't improved, winning just 70. They recovered nicely from those painful seasons. And they certainly recovered in 1926. Maybe they'll do it again. But for now, the Yanks have won just six of their last eighteen games while Boston and Tampa Bay are absolutely tearing the league apart, these are indeed painful times. Just like the summer of '65.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

More baseball video clips

The first pitch ceremony has long been a part of baseball. Sometimes they’re heart-warming, sometimes they’re funny, and occasionally, they’re simply jaw-dropping. Here’s the jaw-dropping-est of all:

If you watch baseball long enough, you’ll see your share of amazing plays. (Trout vs the Orioles with that sensational catch against the wall last year comes to mind.) But I doubt if you’ve ever seen a play like this one:

And then there are those moments in a game that are just so bizarrely memorable, they’re talked about for years. Probably one of the most famous of these is the Pine Tar Bat Incident. I wrote about this last year. This past week was the 30th anniversary of that iconic moment. George Brett, who’s now that batting coach for the Royals was interviewed about it. It’s a great clip. George always has been worth the price of admission...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Can Chris Berman Get Any More Annoying?

The Sultan of Swat
He has a great voice and he is certainly enthusiastic, but someone has to get Chris Berman to stop wetting himself over every ball hit more than 350 feet in the Home Run Derby.

Obviously his job is to make the event exciting for the television viewers but come on, many of the 'shots' hit during the competition do not really travel all that far. And the guys are hitting batting practice pitches thrown exactly where they want them or they don't swing at them. 

In last night's competition there were a few balls hit more than 400 feet. That is pretty impressive. By comparison you can check out how far Babe Ruth hit balls during league play, with grey, four inning old, spat on baseballs and remember that opposing managers absolutely forbade their pitchers from throwing a ball in the strike zone to the Bambino.

Here are the lengths of some of Ruth’s consecutive home runs hit over spans of a few days in various years.

May of 1921 - 460 feet, 450, 490, 520, 460
June of 1921 - 490, 500, 510
August 1924 - 475, 460, 425, 355, 500, 510
July of 1925 -  470, 450, 575, 440, 560, 435, 465
May of 1926 - 475, 515, 365, 545
Harmon Killebrew

Frank Howard
How did those puny 355 and 365 foot ones get in there? The Babe mustn't have gotten much of them.

Wouldn't it be fun to see former sluggers – as they were in their primes – in a Home Run Derby.

From the 30s we would have Ruth take on Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and Mel Ott.

From the 50s we would have Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, and Eddie Matthews.

From the 60s we would have Willie Mays, Dick Allen, Willie McCovey, Frank Howard, and Harmon Killebrew (Aaron didn’t hit them all that far).

We couldn't have guys from the 90s ’cuz needles aren't allowed on the field.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Half Way There Folks

We've reached the midway point of the baseball season and, to no one's surprise, there are a few surprises. Sadly, though we have Interleague play again this season, the Houston Astros do not play against the Miami Marlinsso there will be no challenge match between the two titans. The Marlins have won eight of their last ten including three in a row. They are the proud possessors of a 30-51 record and have passed the magic .350 mark. Even better, they have passed the mighty Astros, who have lost their last four to drop to 30-53. Oh, well, maybe we'll see them in the Fall Classic.

On a more serious note, it is no surprise that the Indians and Tigers are battling it out in the AL Central, with the Tribe recently forging ahead with four straight wins. Detroit's winning record is entirely due to Max Scherzer. With him they are 43-38. Without him they are 31-38.  The LA Angels can't win at home and are solidly in third in the West, four games below .500.  Josh Hamilton is hitting a solid .223 with an OBP of less than .300. The A's are once again doing better than they should - though the Rangers have now pulled ahead of them.

Toronto's glad to have Jose Reyes back.

In the AL East, the Blue Jays have risen from the dead and are above .500 thanks to an 11-game winning streak. They are without Melky Cabrera and Brett Lawrie, but now have Jose Reyes back. It's anyone's title to win, though the Yankees are fading fast.

It seems as though the Rays and the Orioles are winning every time I look. The Oriole staff has the second worst ERA in the AL, ahead only of Houston. Their starters are winning in spite of it. Chris Tillman (10-2) who is carrying on from his successful rookie season and Miguel Gonzalez (6-3) aren't giving up too many of those runs but Jason Hammel (7-4, 5.09) is. Helping everything is their defence, their DER (Defensive Efficiency Rating) is second only to the Athletics.

Chris Davis hits it out or stirkes out.
No team has allowed as many home runs, but no team has hit more. The O's have the best team average and they have five players among the top 14 in runs scored. Chris Davis has the most doubles and home runs and the highest Slugging Average and OPS in the AL. He's second to some guy called Miguel Cabrera in average and RBIs. Third baseman Manny Machado leads the league in doubles and is hitting a robust .321. 

Tampa's DER is third but their ERA (post James Shields) ranks a disappointing 8th. Like Baltimore they have two successful starters, Matt Moore (11-3) and Alex Cobb (6-2), winning the traditional way, by allowing few runs, and another - Jeremy Hellickson (7-3, 4.90) allowing a bunch. Tampa hitters are fifth in average and surprisingly third in home runs. Five guys have nine or more. Evan Longoria leads the way with 17.

But the biggest surprise is baseball is not in the Al, it's in the National League, where the Pittsburgh Pirates have won their last nine straight. Amazingly, they had five sellouts last week. They now have baseball's best record, having overtaken the Cardinals who are the second best team in baseball.. 

The Pirates' staff gives up a lot of home runs but has the best ERA and 
Jeff Locke, one of Pittsburgh's promising young hurlers.
the lowest opposition batting average (a paltry .225) in the majors. They have three lefty starters, Jeff Locke (7-1, 2.06) and Francisco Liriano (7-3, 2.23) and the injured Mandy Rodriguez, who was 6-4. 

With A.J. Burnett (4-6, 3.12) still on the DL, their righty starters are both rookies off to great starts, Justin Wilson is 5-1 and Gerrit Cole is 4-0. Mark Melancon has a 0.89 ERA in 40 innings out of the bullpen and Jason Grilli has 27 saves. It's a young and talented staff.

Offence is a different story. The Pirates are ninth in runs scored, tenth in Slugging and OPS, eleventh in OBP, and twelfth in batting average.Only Pedro Alvarez has more than ten home runs. Their only legitimate star, Andrew McCutchen, has nine along with a .292 average and 50 runs scored.

Bonus (free) Trivia: Though the Pirates have 41 players in the Hall of Fame only 13 had their best years in Pittsburgh. How many can you name? (Eight are fairly easy.) The answer is at the bottom.

The Pirates have the longest losing streak in professional sports (only North America counts of course) at 20 seasons. Will the streak end? They would need to go 29-52 the rest of the way to keep it going. The good news is that the last time the Pirates were the first team to reach 50 wins was 1960. Remember that year, the only time a Series ended with a home run. Interestingly the Pirates have won the series five times - all in seven games like in 1960. 

But wait a minute. Last year they were a whopping sixteen games above .500 on August 6 and still finished below .500. My vote for worst franchise ever? Not the Pirates, not the Cubs, who haven't won a Series in a while. The Phillies get my vote. They went fourteen years without a winning season (1918 to 1931), then were two games above .500 and then went from 1933 to 1948 without a winning records. If it weren't for those couple of wins in '32 they would have gone 31 straight years under .500!

Arky Vaughan lit it up for the Pirates.

Here are the true Pirate HOFs: Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke (playing manager), Max Carey, Barney Dreyfuss (owner), Pie Traynor, Paul Waner and Lloyd Waner, Kiki Cuyler, Arky Vaughan, Ralph Kiner, Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente, and Willie Stargell. How'd you do? How many players from this year's All-Star Game do you think will make it to the Hall? Go Pirates.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Archaic baseball terms

With its long and fabled history, the players of the game of baseball have had time to develop some unique vocabulary. As is usual with these things, they move in and out of fashion. If you currently follow baseball, you’re probably familiar with the meaning of terms like “cheese”, “Mendoza line”, or “bleeder”.

But if you’re a fan from way back when, or an expert of baseball’s history (like our Mr. Braund), you no doubt have a completely different glossary of baseball terms in use “back in the day” that would be real head-scratchers to current fans. We won’t even talk about those who know nothing about the game. For them, we fans might as well be speaking a foreign language.

Here are a dozen old bits of baseball slang that I find fascinating and evocative. I’ve gotten the explanations of the terms from various books and on the Internet.

Can of corn: A high, easy-to-catch, fly ball hit to the outfield. The phrase is said to have originated in the nineteenth-century and relates to an old-time grocer’s method of getting canned goods down from a high shelf. Using a stick with a hook on the end, a grocer could tip a can so that it would fall for an easy catch into his apron.

Nickel curve: A slider. Also used to mean an average or possibly “hanging”

Catbird seat: A desirable or auspicious situation. Popularized by Red Barber, longtime broadcaster for the Brooklyn Dodgers. “Sitting in the catbird seat” means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him. The catbird is said to seek out the highest point in a tree to sing his song, so someone in the catbird seat is high up.

Jake: Half-hearted or lazy effort by a player, i.e. “He jaked that play.”

Dirt dipper: Someone who places the dirt from a baseball infield in his mouth. (?!)

Lawn dart: Blooper hit over infielder.

Unhitch his ice wagon: which means a player can't run fast.

Baltimore chop: A ball that is hit sharply downward to produce a high bouncing ground ball. An ideal chop will bounce so high that the batter can leg it out for an infield single by the time the ball has come down for a fielder to field it. The Baltimore chop was named because it was a favorite weapon of the 1890s Baltimore Orioles.

Pearod: A hard line drive batted back at the pitcher.

Public enemy number one: A good curve ball.

Rag arm: A pitcher (usually) with a weak throwing arm.

Blue darter: A batted ball that moves quickly and closely to the ground, behaving almost as though it possesses special powers of vision and intuition for the job of avoiding a fielder’s glove.

And if you know anything about the history of our favourite game, you know that I just scratched the surface on this topic. Anyone have a favourite term they’d like to share?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Do Umps Need iPads?

This is a follow up to Rick's latest rant about the need for video replay and for more intelligent use of it. It was indeed bizarre that an obvious home run was taken away from the A's. Of course in keeping with the umpire's need to defend the indefensible the A's manager was ejected from the game for arguing the rotten call.

Coincidentally, the manager who benefited from the screwed up call was Tribe skipper Terry Francona, who got thrown out of a game on Sunday for using video himself. As readers will know, players and managers cannot, at least at length, argue ball and strike calls. There are just too many of them and the games are too long anyway.

Check out how much Michael Brown is enjoying it all.
So when Francona, who the game before had questioned a call made on the base paths by Sunday's plate ump Bill Welke, stormed out of the dugout to argue a strike call on Nick Swisher that looked outside you knew he was gonna be tossed.

What made things considerably worse for Francona was that he told Welke that he had gone into the clubhouse to look at some of his previous ball and strike calls and believed a lot of them were also wrong. Talk about pissing an ump off before you even begin!

I've been a pitcher, hitter, third baseman, and umpire and I really believe that the umpire has the best angle, even though he can be blocked somewhat by the catcher and may be to the left or right of the middle of the plate to see around him. 

The thing is that the decision is supposed to be made on the basis of where the ball was when it crossed over the plate and television cameras just do not show that very well. Even on calls that seem obvious to the viewer - because the balls ends up high or outside - the 95 mph pitch may have actually been a strike a split second before it ends up seeming four inches outside. 

If you want to take the time, here is where you can see the call and the argument.

Baseball, which has so many plays in a game, may never figure out a solution. Tennis and hockey have done pretty well, football not badly, but baseball may just have to put up with being officiated by fallible human beings. A golfer who tees off at 8 a.m. may not experience the same weather as another who tees off at 11. Is that fair? Probably not. Is there a solution? Not really. And if, as Rick demonstrates, they can't even call home runs correctly will baseball ever find the answer?

Monday, June 3, 2013

And the beat goes on in major league umpiring

One of our most popular posts on Late Innings last year was my piece on shabby umpiring at the Major League level.

We’ll folks, I’m here to say that the picture hasn’t improved at all since the last time I wrote on this topic.

I’m the first to admit that it’s impossible to get every single call right in a ball game. Ever try to follow the flight of a 98 mph baseball? An 80 mph baseball? A 60 mph one? It’s darned hard. Now add to that you’re behind someone who’s crouching and would dearly love to mess up anything you observe. There’s also a guy standing to your left or right who’s swinging a big chunk of wood. And then there are the 40,000-plus fans all hurling insults at you. It ain’t fun.

But hey, no one forced you to sign up for this, did they? You’re not indentured to Bug Selig, are you?

When you get out into the field, there are still things to overcome in order to make the proper call, but it is a lot easier than calling balls and strikes.

The thing I don’t understand is why the MLB is so reticent to make use of emerging technology. When you’re sitting at home and the ball is clearly right over the plate and the ump calls it a strike, there’s gotta be something wrong. When replays from three or four different angles show that the first baseman didn’t have his foot on the bag when the out was recorded, it sort of leaves a bad taste in a fan’s mouth.

They do use replays for home run calls now, so you figure we’d be moving ahead, wouldn’t you? To answer that, I submit this:

This was clearly a homer and yet, even with help from replaying the tape, they still got it wrong. The really ridiculous thing is that MLB admitted the call was wrong, but let it stand. You can see the dilemma, but it’s a ridiculous outcome.

So it seems we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Even with electronic help, bad calls are going to remain in the game.

Maybe we’d all be a lot happier if they only broadcast games on the radio. That way there would be no visual evidence of all the bad calls. You’d just have the announcers’ and the teams’ version of what may or may not have happened and no endless replays to watch until the cows come home.

Even so, I’m sure there’s a better way to do this.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What a Difference a Year Makes

The Red Sox celebrate a 4-run ninth against the Phillies.
Last season was not a banner year for the Red Sox. They were 69-93, .426, 34-47 at home, and 2-10 in extra innings. This year, however, they are off to a terrific start. Apart from a lousy stretch from May 3 through 14 in which they were a dismal 2-9, the Red Sox have been one of the strongest teams in baseball. They opened with a 20-8 record and have been lights out in the past ten days. They now have six walk-off wins.

On Sunday they trailed Cleveland by three runs in the ninth. They hadn't hit a lick the whole game but they managed to load the bases and Jacob Ellsbury faced Tribe closer Chris Perez who had blown only one save opportunity to-date. But three pitches into the at bat Perez had to leave the game with an injury and Ellsbury rapped the first pitch from Joe Smith over the centerfielder's head for a three run single to give Boston an unlikely come from behind victory.

Last night they faced Phillie starter Tyler Cloyd, who brought a 2.70 ERA to the mound. Mike Napoli and Justin Pedroia promptly homered in the first inning and in the third David Ortiz, Napoli, and Stephen Drew hit doubles. Cloyd left the mound with his ERA twice as high as it had been an hour earlier (5.74).

Jon Lester, 9-14 in 2012, and Clay Buchholz, 11-8 last season, have been the big story in Beantown of course. Lester is 6-1 and has whiffed 60 batters and walked just 19 in 72.2 innings. Opponents are batting .225. Buchholz has been better. He's 7-0 and has given up just 49 hits in exactly the same number of innings. Opposing batters are hitting a measly .194. 

Buchholz was hurt in his sleep.
Buchholz, whom Blue Jay announcer Jack Morris accused of doctoring the baseball in a dominant performance three weeks ago, may have been dreaming of a 30-win season when he slept awkwardly on his right side last Wednesday night, irritating his acromioclavicular joint. A hundred years ago Boston had a pitcher named Ruth who spend a lot of nights in joints and beds he shouldn't have been in - but he never got hurt. Now players get hurt while asleep in their own bed! Buchholz missed his start in Philadelphia last night but he and the team are saying it is only a precaution.

In 21 innings Junichi Tazawa (4-2, 2.53) has struck out 27 batters and walked only three. Alfredo Aceves beat the Phillies last night for his second win against one loss. He gave up one earned run in seven innings to lower his ERA to 6.57.  He was 2-10 last season.

Offensively David Ortiz, whom does not list as a DH, though that is what he has played 95% of the time in the past few years - including every game this year, has recovered nicely from a minor injury and is now hitting .346 with a .622 Slugging Percentage and an OPS of 1.030. Dustin Pedroia is batting .333 and has the league's third best On Base percentage. Mike Napoli is now sixth in the AL with 39 ribbies.

The Red Sox need more catches like this one by Jacoby Ellsbury.
But the news is not all good. Only four teams in the American League have committed more errors. Teams who struggle in the field do not usually win championships. Ryan Dempster, who was 2-2 after beating the Blue Jays May 2nd is 0-3 since then. He has given up fifteen earned runs in the combined twelve innings he's lasted in his past three starts. Jacob Ellsbury has five hits in his last three games but at .257 he is a long way from his 2010 performance.

Their closers, Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, have combined for ten out of thirteen save opportunities. But Hanrahan, who had a less than stellar ERA (9.82) after being beaten up by the Orioles on May 10, has since undergone Tommy John surgery. Ahead of them with a much better (1.83) ERA out of the pen has been Koji Uehara.

Big Papi is the game's best DH.
Statistically the Red Sox are pretty strong. They are fourth in team batting average, second in OBP, third in OPS, ninth in Slugging but fifth in home runs. Their staff is sixth in team ERA and a mediocre ninth in WHIP. Only four teams have allowed fewer home runs. (The Tigers are way out in front in that category.)

With New York, Baltimore and Tampa Bay staying strong and Toronto showing some signs of life the American League East is regaining its reputation as one of the toughest divisions to win. It should be an interesting summer.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Are They Doing It With Mirrors?

Far ahead of expectations Vernon Wells celebrates another Yankee win.
Somehow, against all expectations, the Yankees keep on winning. A bunch of their stars are injured (heck, even Brian Cashman is on crutches) but it doesn't seem to matter. They recently passed the very successful Red Sox and are in first place.

They play a series against the Blue Jays later this week and I would have expected that New York would be in last and the Blue Jays in first, but it's the other way around.

Say, I couldn't figure out why the heck they rehired him in the first place, but when are the Jays gonna get rid of  John Gibbons?

It seems like forever since the Jays had a crew that got clutch hits. It is interesting that they have three of the leaders in home runs. Encarnacion, Arencebis, and Bautista, respectively are tied for first, 5th, and ninth. But where are they in RBIs? They are 8th, 36th, and 27th.

The Yanks are winning with just one star performing as he usually does, i.e., Robinson Cano. Ichiro Suzuki is recovering from a terrible start. Francesco Cervelli got off to a surprisingly good start and then broke his hand, to join Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, and Granderson on the DL.

Jayson Nix congratulates Lyle Overbay on a home run
that gave him two of his five RBIs against the Royals on Friday.
Up steps Chris Stewart to take his place and hit better than he's supposed to. Jayson Nix has done pretty well at shortstop, though he is no Jeter. Vernon Wells is hitting a lot better than I thought he would. He's tied for the team lead (.299) with Cano and has nine homers and 22 ribbies. In his last two seasons out west he hit .218 and .230 and he already has almost as many homers as he had all last year.

Lyle Overbay has also hit better than expected and Travis Hafner, who's thrilled not to have to play the field, has been Mr. Consistent with a .999 OPS and a .582 Slugging Average.

Hiroki Kurado
It’s not any one thing you can point to. The Yanks are 3rd in home runs and ninth in Slugging, but fourteenth in Runs Scored, fifteenth in average, and sixteenth in OPB. Their staff is fourth in ERA, however, and they lead the AL with 17 saves (Rivera has 15 of those).

Their big three have been excellent. Hiroki Kurado is 5-2, with a 2.31 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. C.C. Sabathia is 4-3, 3.23 and ancient Andy Pettitte is 4-2, 3.83. Even Joba Chamberlain, fresh off a dustup with Mariano Rivera, is pitching well.

"I still think we have a lot of good players," says Joe Girardi. "Maybe not the names of the guys we're used to having her, but guys that have had big years. They're playing extremely well. It seems to be a different guy every night finding a way to get it done for us."

Worse news for the rest of the league is that Curtis Granderson had eight hits in five rehab games with the Scanton Wiles-Barre Rail Riders last week and appears ready to return.

Final Note: Is Miguel Cabrera planning to win back-to-back Triple Crowns? He's second in average at .369, first in runs batted in (40), and only a few back of the lead in home runs.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Does EVERYTHING in the MLB have to revolve around money?

“And this pitching change is brought to you by…”

As you no doubt know if you’ve been around Late Innings for awhile, I prefer to listen to baseball on the radio. You might think I’m being old-fashioned or clinging to ancient habits, but let me assure you, that’s not the case. I like using my mind to imagine what’s going on. I find camera work in games often gets in the way of how the game is actually going. If the radio broadcasting crew is a good one (and for Jays games, it is very good), you don’t need no stinking camera to know what’s happening.

Since I’m often at my computer when games are on, I subscribe to the MLB radio channel. (Forget about their TV channel. If it’s a home game, you’re blacked out. What good is that for around 100 big ones per season?)

I’ve been a subscriber to the MLB radio service since its first year, but starting last year, the amount of advertising I’m subjected to if I happen to look in at their Gameday screen while listening has gotten absolutely ridiculous. It’s at the point where it’s impinging on the actual screen view with ads bracketing the “scoreboard” that change every minute much like the ads you now see behind home plate at the ball park. There’s currently one particular one in a look-at-me shade of hot pink that actually hurts my eyes. There are ads between innings, ads before you’re allowed to watch a video highlight clip once the game is over. It’s just ridiculous.

Last night, I had enough and just flipped off the whole thing (it didn’t help that the Jays were busy imploding yet again). I may just go back to my radio broadcasts and forget game day.

Out at the old ball yard, I feel as if I’m in the middle of a pinball machine. This is not me being an old fart, either. I like cutting edge advertising. What we have now are pixel board technology run rampant. From my seat at a recent ball game at the Rogers Centre, I counted over 50 ads on these boards and on “static” ads, and I obviously couldn’t see all of them (those behind me and below me). If you want your birthday mentioned, you pay. Everything is sponsored from the broadcast booths to the on-deck circles. Stadiums have naming rights that bring in huge amounts of money. is no different.

My question is this: do they really need advertising dollars that much? We pay a lot of bucks to come to the ball yard, and while I expect there to be a fair bit of advertising, it’s just gotten completely out of hand, to my mind. The Gameday feature on all major league sites is free, but I doubt there are many who watch it without paying for the radio broadcast.

How about giving ball fans a little break from the constant bombardment of (repetitive) advertising?

“And that grounder to short is brought to you by…”

Sunday, April 28, 2013

When the Yankees come to town

While the Jays are getting their butts kicked in New York this weekend, looking more like a dog and pony show than a contending baseball team, I’d like to go back to the New York nine’s visit to Toronto last weekend.

I didn’t attend any games, but a few friends who did thought the fans, particularly on the two weekend games were rather rowdy. Apparently, things were even worth in the seats immediately behind and above the visiting team’s bullpen. There was a lot of heckling (expected when the Yanks are in town), but also a lot of bad language and eventually some stuff thrown – not a good reflection on ball fans in this city, to be sure.

However, this bad behaviour brought out the fact that the Yankees travel with their own security guards who watch over the pitchers during the game. Here’s a blog posting on the subject. You can read it while I go out and pour another cup of coffee.

The article was written before all was known about what happened. The two guys fingered by Yankee security and then thrown out by the Toronto Police at their behest admitted later to throwing a few peanuts down into the bullpen. Clearly, that’s out of bounds because it can easily escalate into throwing things like beer, soft drinks or other, more dangerous items like batteries or projectiles brought in for the purpose of being thrown.

But I have to say I was more than a little put off by the fact that it was the Yankees security people who seemed to be running the show here. That to me is really out of bounds. The cops totally dodged any responsibility (we were just doing what they asked us to do), but it should be Rogers Centre security calling the shots here. The Yankees were the visiting team, “visiting” being the operative word here. This wasn’t Yankee Stadium. They aren’t the home team. If they want to bring their own security, fine, but these guys have to know their place.

I would hope in light of this that the Rogers Centre took notice and will move to make sure that they don’t cede control to outsiders. Like other ball parks, heckling the visiting team is part of the game. As long as things aren’t thrown, then the visitors just have to put up with the gibes. If there’s a lot of cussing from the stands, home stadium security can (and does) step in to ask people to dial back a bit. If they don’t, then it is time to throw them out. But this sort of call should never be made by the visiting team. That’s just nuts.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

From the Now I’ve Seen Everything Department...

Combing through the MLB website this morning, searching for inspiration, I stumbled across the following clip:

Now if I understand this correctly (and I’m sure the inestimable Mssr. Braund will point out the error of my ways if I’m wrong. The man is a bloody walking rule book.), Jean Segura of the Brewers has done something that no ball player in history has ever accomplished: he’s managed to steal first.

That old baseball truism is now going to have to be thrown out of the game: you can’t steal first. Jean has done it, or at least he appears to have done it. If I’m wrong, then maybe he’s managed another first-time feat: getting tagged out twice in the same inning without the benefit of having two plate appearances. Sure, there are guys walking around who have made two outs in an inning. They’re pikers compared to our Jean. He’s now made two outs on only one plate appearance: once when he stepped off second base after making it back from his attempted steal of third (the play was still live since no one had called time) and once again when he tried to steal second for the second time in that inning (on one plate appearance). And if he hadn’t been tagged out on that second second base steal attempt, he also would have managed to steal second twice in an inning on only one plate appearance.

Confused yet?

Personally, I’m with Ryan Braun here, who, in a heads-up play, makes it to second during the Segura rundown between second and third, only to be told that he’s actually not safe. Knowing he’s in the middle of a very bad thing, he just throws up his hands and retreats to the relative sanity of the dugout where he can eat some Gatorade and drink a few sunflower seeds.

Somewhere in the middle of all this are the poor umpires. These men know the rule book inside out. Hell, they probably have to memorize the darn thing and then be able to recite it perfectly in order to work at the Major League level. Jean has probably given them heartburn over his baserunning adventures. Or he’s rewritten the rule book.

And who says your entertainment dollars aren’t well-spent when you go to the old ball yard?

An added bonus: Just to prove that strangeness is all around us, I offer this photo:

So now we know that Hu is indeed on first. Sorry, there’s no indication if What was on second at the time…

Friday, April 12, 2013


What a day it was in Tiger Town on Wednesday! I went with my Dad – a 91 youthful years old – and brother-in-law Mike to game eight of the season. Heavy downpours, lightning and flooding on the road punctuated the drive to Detroit.  However, the game did start two-and-half-hours late. I thought it would be a washout. My Dad was positive there would be a game. The ground crew took off the tarp and the game began with mist and wind. The starting temp was 43°F and went down to 41 and ended around 7 pm. So much for a pleasant afternoon game!  It was a twilight single header.

We all had to put up with the very uncomfortable weather. The players had some tough plays in very bad conditions.  The fans really had it tough too. I met Jays fans from Kitchener and Windsor. The Jay's fans out numbered the Tiger fans towards the end. They were a very loud and persistent group. Nice to see.  All in all, it would have been better in a domed stadium. Northern climes should all be under the lid when needed, then  you can always have the game with a modicum of comfort. The Thursday game was 35°F and awful as well.

Sorry about the poncho. It was necessary.
The start to the Jay’s season has been about as unproductive as possible. The top-drawer trades, made for rebuilding the pitching staff, have not panned out so far. Mark Buehrle did not have his good stuff and on Thursday, Josh Johnson did not as well, for both their second starts of the season. So far the starting pitching has only one in the win column.

The pitching is the worst in the AL, with a total ERA of 5.48. The starters have a combined ERA of 7.064. J Happ has an ERA of 0.00 and so far the only win. He starts tonight and I wish him well against a red hot Royals team.  Everyone in the bullpen has been called upon so far for a total 37 innings already. John Gibbons will have to hope the starters can go deeper into the game and give some relief to the relief.  Still the team ERA must start to change. How much time do the fans give them? A few games do not make a season, but to have all the starters throw bombs at the same time is a bit much. Especially with new teams and contracts.  Johnson should come round soon as he has learned to finesse the ball even through he has lost lots off his fastball. With Buerhle, he has to have better control – no finesse involved.

The lumber, too, is dead. In areas where it counts, the Jays are worst in category. In Runs and Hits the Jays are 13th and 11th and yet are 5th in Home Runs. For BA and OBP they rank 12th and 11th.  So far, with batting, the opposing pitching is baffling them. I know that many are now in the AL for the first time. They are seeing a different set of pitchers for the first time. Still though, there are some pretty bad swings.

Wednesday was the first real comeback game the Jays have had. Down 6-1 in the sixth, they fought back against a weak Tiger bullpen. Rick Porcello departed in the fifth leading 6-1. Darin Downs put in 1.1 innings – one earned run – and then came Brayan Villarreal who promptly walked 3 in a row. All three runs scored.  Former Jay and former every other team, Octavio Dotel, served up two hits, one walk and three SO for no earned runs. He would have stayed in, but he took a line drive to the bit below his belt. OUCH! He was hurting. Phil Coke pitched the ninth with no ER.

On the Jays side, Buehrle lost it in the fifth. He had five ER and one IBB, which went to Prince Fielder. The rest of the bullpen was excellent. A line drive to the forearm also smacked Daren Oliver. Glad to hear he is available to play today. Casey Janssen closed it down very efficiently.

One real concern is the number of errors by Emilio Bonifacio.  He has collected four to date. The Tigers, as a team, have none. Bonifacio seems to be really struggling at second. He does not know where to make a play or how to pick up a grounder and fire it to first. I have heard it said that he is great in the outfield and the infield. Maybe he is just a good utility guy. Again, we are looking for a second baseman. Maybe Maicer Izturis is the guy.  I hope that Brett Lawrie is back sooner than later. Jose Reyes is the go-to guy right now, best in field and at bat. Bravo for the great start.

Even with the weather, we all had a good time and warmed up on the way home.  It was good to have the bats come alive on Wednesday but a big disappointment that they went so far away on Thursday. Doug Fister pitched a brilliant game and the Jays bats, again, were not to be heard from.

Hope that better days are around the corner. The expectations are high and when a top team is in last place, people worry. It is too soon to worry, but things do need to pick up. Is it John Gibbons who was told that you don’t have to stress too much because the team is so great? Maybe he will have to make some more serious changes.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Big Busts

Okay, so maybe the title is a shameless attempt to lure internet surfers, but it actually refers to a number of top line players who have yet to begin earning their big pay checks, players whose teams are counting on them to carry a significant portion of the load this year.

Let's begin with Alfonso Soriano, who must produce in the heart of the Cubs' order. Even with two hits on Monday he is still 6 for 27 for a .222 average and he has no home runs and no runs batted in. Matt Kemp bats third for the Dodgers and is 2 for 20 (.100) with no home runs and two runs batted in. 

Ryan Howard struck out three times on Sunday.
Marco Scutaro, who bats second for the Giants, is a dismal 3 for 27, .111, with – you guessed it – no home runs and no runs batted in. Phillie slugger Ryan Howard was, 7, 16, .322 in Spring Training, but he's 4 for 27 with no home runs and four RBIs. And the Cardinals are hoping for more from Carlos Beltran, who is just 4 for 21, with no dingers yet. 

As for the American League, Carlos Pena is one of the few bright lights in Houston's dim batting order. He's now 3 for 19, .158 with no home runs and no runs batted in. The Astros, who seemed World Series bound after leading the majors with a 1-0 record, are now, predictably, 1-5.

Tiger DH Victor Martinez, who looked so promising in Spring Training, is now 3 for 21, .143 with no home runs and one measly run batted in. He's hitting behind three great sluggers. Torii Hunter is hitting.393, Miguel Cabrera is batting .304 (though he has not homered yet), and Prince Fielder is .261 with eight RBIs. Imagine how well they'd be doing if Martinez was getting more hits.

Before I move on, I want to mention a very interesting stat I heard on Sunday's Yankees vs. Tigers broadcast. At the start of the game Cabrera was batting .368 for his career against the Yankees. Of all players with at least 150 at bats against the Bronx Bombers (who have few bombers in their order right now) only two guys had better averages – a couple of nobodies named Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Can Jay-Z get Robbie that $125 million deal?
The Yankees have two stars off to lousy starts, which they can ill afford given injuries to Jeter, Granderson, and Teixeira. Ichiro Suzuki, usually a base hit machine, was 2-18, .111 after the weekend, but got two hits in the Yankees' 11-6 win over the Indians Monday night. Robinson Cano, who recently – and interestingly – abandoned super sports agent Scott Boras for hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, may also need a new swing after being so awful in the playoffs last year. He was 3 for 23, .130 with no home runs and no runs batted in before getting three hits last night. Leadoff hitter Brett Gardner is batting .167.

The Blue Jays have two struggling stars. Edwin Encarnacion is 2-23, .087 with one home run. At least he has three runs batted in. So far this season Melky Cabrera without the juice is like a Sunkist orange – or a guy after a vasectomy – "all juice and no seeds". He is 4-24, .167 with no home runs and no runs batted in.

Ranger fans let Hamilton have it after another strikeout. 
Getting a whole lot of attention for his bad start is Josh Hamilton. On Friday night in the Rangers' home opener (how ironic that they should open against Hamilton's new team) he was greeted by a huge chorus of boos. He did the opposite of silencing the crowd, going  0-4 and dropping his average to a microscopic .050. To make matters worse, his wife had to ask for help from security because she was being insulted and sworn at .in the stands (their kids were with her).

Hamilton left six runners on base, though Pujols and Trumbo provided enough power to salvage a game out of the series. "If I was somewhere else the same thing would be going on. It'll get better", said Hamilton, who got three hits on Sunday. (That was after he'd grounded out with the bases loaded in the first inning.) The Angels lost again. Hamilton is now up (?) to 4-25, .160, with no homers and two runs batted in. Is that what $125 million gets you these days?

Halladay has not gotten past the fifth inning yet.
Roy Halladay, about whose troubles Rick wrote very poignantly in his last entry, is now 0-2 and has the worst ERA in baseball, an ungodly 14.73. On Monday, with little speed or control,  he was hammered by the Mets. "When you're trying to find something, the more you're grasping at it, the more you're reaching for it, the more you're trying to find it, the harder it is to get," said a candid and reflective Halladay after the Mets' pounding.

"You really have to stick to your routine, stick to your program, prepare every day and let it come to you." Cole Hammels is also off to an awful start, 0-2 after allowing 16 hits, four home runs, and five walks in 10.2 innings for a 10.97 ERA.

Over in the American League David Price is struggling. He's 0-1 with 17 hits in 11 innings. His ERA is 8.18. Jared Weaver is also 0-1, with a 4.91 ERA. 

Ya got give those web surfers somethin'.
Then there is Cy Young Winner R.A. Dickey. J.P. Arencibia may be having a hard time catching Dickey's knuckleball, but it doesn't seem to be messing up hitters very much. He's been shelled in both of his starts and is now 0-2, allowing 15 hits and three home runs in 10.2 innings. He was booed at the Rogers Centre on Sunday after giving up five straight hits including a home run. The Jays need Dickey to start getting people out if they are to begin their march to the post season. Say, I sure hope you guys enjoyed reading about these big busts.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

When the whispers start

With a Children’s Wish fan.
I have long been a fan of Roy “Doc” Halladay. Not only has he been a great pitcher for a very long time, he’s been a paragon of professionalism, a straight-talker to the press who doesn’t hide away in the club house when he’s had a poor game, as well as a total class act. When he left Toronto for the Phillies in a trade he asked for and deserved, it was followed by a letter to Toronto sports fans published in a newspaper, thanking them for their support and kindnesses during his stay in our city. There were no hard feelings when Roy left as there were when AJ Burnett kicked sand in our faces when he signed with the Yankees after we’d stood by him during an injury-plagued few years. We won’t even talk about skipper John Farrell, now of Boston, in town this weekend with his “dream job”. (I really hope Dickey and the Jays keep Boston’s ass in today’s game.) Torontonians actually felt good that Halliday had stuck with the team for so long, even though we’d never managed to get to the post season. That certainly hadn’t been due to anything he’d done.

During his first year with the Phillies, we were all pulling for him. I’d look at the box score every time he pitched. He had a typical Roy Halladay year, too, the first 20-game winner by a Philly right-hander since Robin Roberts had done it in 1955. On May 29th, he pitched the 20th perfect game in ML history. To commemorate the event, everyone on the team (and support staff) received a beautiful watch, engraved with their names on the back and with the box bearing the inscription: “We did it together. Thanks, Roy Halladay.” Now that, my friends, is class.

Not done yet, he pitched only the second no-hitter in post season history.

We all felt great for him, and I was exceptionally disappointed when Philly was eliminated and never made it to the series, something we all knew Halladay really wanted, and as we all felt, deserved. In 2011, they again failed in their quest to make it to the end.

Then last season, he began to have a lot of trouble. He spent time on the DL with shoulder problems and went 11-8 with the worst era since he first started pitching. It was a very un-Roy Halliday-type season. The whispers started.

His problems continued in spring training this year and the whispers grew louder. He claims everything is fine, but there’s no doubt the velocity of his fastball has dropped with it barely reaching the 90 mph range. More troubling still, even though he struck out 9 in 3 1/3 innings, it took him 95 pitches to do it. This is a pitcher who once chucked an 83-pitch complete game. The really troubling thing? The batters who didn’t strike out hit him at a rate of .857.

You have to ask if Halladay is through. No matter how you look at it, the question is legitimate. I would like to think that he isn’t. Roy Halladay has been a great pitcher for a long time. But more importantly, he’s been a smart pitcher. Jayson Stark, an ESPN baseball writer, states in his excellent post on the same subject that Halladays punch-outs of nine Braves hitters was done by fooling them.

I take heart in that. If Doc can find a new way to challenge hitters early in the count since his legendary pinpoint command isn’t quite there, his pitches are coming in flatter and the speed of his fastball has dropped, he could remain one of the elite pitchers in the game. He still has the stuff to fool hitters, as witnessed by the 9 punch-outs. But those are “soft”. He’s surviving by guile. He needs something new – or increased velocity.

A sidebar: It was a very cold day in that first game for Halladay this week. I have seen him have trouble  in this situation, no doubt because he doesn’t have a good feel for the ball. We tend to forget just how much a cold day can affect all ball players, some more than others. Perhaps this was the cause for his uncharacteristic wildness.

If anyone can find that, I would like to think that Roy Halladay is the man for the job. He’s not going to give in easily and he’s smart enough to come up with the answer. And perhaps his team will make it all the way through the post season and he will finally get his coveted World Series ring.

Then the aging warrior can retire at the height of the game. I’m not the only baseball fan who would love to see that happen. No ball player deserves it more.