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Friday, December 13, 2013

I got your legacy RIGHT HERE...

                    In the ever long, ever growing rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox, there has always (for the most part, anyway) been a constant theme: Legends in left for Boston and legends in center for New York.  I was thinking about this after my arm got tired out, throwing shit at my T.V. when I found out Jacoby Ellsbury went to the Yankees.  I'm over it now, but whether or not he knows it, Ellsbury has a lot to live up to, as did Damon when he pulled the same sacrilegious move seven years earlier. The most famous steal the Yankees got was Ruth, who played right, but as you'll see it's center field where legends and near legends (and total washouts) roamed.

               The story begins in 1936, when Joe DiMaggio had a terrific rookie season, and of course led the Bombers to many titles in his relatively brief career.  In 1951, he decided to call it quits, so the Yankees right fielder, Mickey Mantle took over and brought the same amount of winning play until his legs finally gacve out on him in 1968.  The next center fielder to take over was Bobby Murcer, a very good, if not great player.  Murcer had the unfortunate fate of being on some pretty bad Yankee teams, and when he returned in the late '70s, they had already won the two titles that generation of Yankees would win.

                         When Murcer was traded in 1974, Bobby Bonds spent his one season there.  Bonds had spent his entire career up to that point with San Fransisco, but would spend the next seven years playing for seven different teams.  When Billy Martin became manager, he expressed his dislike for Bonds, so that may have been the reason for it.  Then for the next few years, Mickey Rivers patrolled center.  Then Murcer came back and shared duties with Jerry Mumphrey, a fairly unspectacular player.

                   The '80s were a weird time for that position in the Bronx.  The early years were filled with the Mumphreys, the Omar Morenos and-at the end of the decade- Roberto Kelly.  There were those years in the middle (85-mid 89) where Rickey Henderson-usually a left fielder- played center for New York, which fit it with a Hall of famer playing the position theme...Henderson would return to left field when he went back to Oakland in mid '89.

                After Roberto Kelly was traded to Cincinnati for Paul O'Neil in the early nineties, it made room for Bernie Williams, who played there until he retired in 2006 to play smooth jazz guitar full time.  He put up some borderline Hall of Fame numbers, but fell short of the 3,000 hit club.... The aforementioned traitor Johnny Damon played until 2009, when they won it all. Damon actually has some HOF like numbers, with 1668 RBIs and 408 stolen bases, but somehow only made the All Star team twice. The Yankees then picked up Curtis Granderson (who actually has made three All star teams, go figure), who played there until an injury riddled 2013 season made him expendable... making way for traitor #2, Ellsbury. (Yeah, I said I was over it, but it's only been a week or so).

                        The Sox legacy in left starts around the same time as the Yankees center field legacy did, in the late '30s.  1939, to be exact... that's when Ted Williams started his 22 year career in left...well, it would have been 22 had he not fought in both WWII AND the Korean war (greatest generation, indeed). The year after Teddy Ballgame retired, Carl Yazstremski took over, and was the regular left fielder until around 1975, when another future Hall of Famer, Jim Rice took over.  Yaz would sometimes play left, but mainly DH'd and played a little first until his retirement in 1983.

                    Rice continued to play left until 1987, when he became the full time D.H., and Mike Greenwell took over.  A lifetime .300 hitter, Gator was also pretty bad in the field.  After he retired, Troy O'Leary, who had been playing right, took over left for a couple of years, and was then replaced by "Jurassic" Carl Everett, named so because his deeply religious beliefs-he basically didn't believe dinosaurs existed, despite overwhelming evidence- and also, his temper was rather dinosaur-like ...

                ...and then came Manny.  Idiot-man child/amazing hitter, Manny played to his own beat, which was off (hey, I just made that up, cool), and could be an adventure in the outfield; high fiving fans after a catch on the road, disappearing into the Green monster during the game.  However, you put up with it when he does his usual .300 plus average, 35 plus homers, 100 plus RBI's  Boston had had enough of his antics in 2008, where they traded him away and got Jason Bay for a year and a half.

            In 2010, Daniel Nava was then called up at age 27 to platoon with veteran Bill Hall, but that was a one year plan...They then signed All Star Carl Crawford to a big contract, which was a bust, as he was hurt for most of 2011 and was then shipped off to the Dodgers, along with Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez.  The Sox then signed Jonny Gomes to platoon with Nava, and that seems to be working out.

                      So with the Ellsbury signing, the rivalry continues...he may not be a future Hall of famer, but he's a vast improvement over Omar Moreno (callback!), who might as well have been Rita Moreno...if there was anyone outside of Vince Coleman who was made to play on artificial turf, it was Omar...and while the Gomes/ Nava platoon seems to be working as well as the old John Lowenstein/ Gary Roenicke tandem from the late '70s, early '80s Oriole teams, I'm still waiting for the next long term solution...if those still exists anymore...    

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Talking Nessman...Homer and the Bugs...

                             I would like to talk about baseball on T.V.  Don't worry, I'm not going to go off about baseball commentators.  So (for now), I'm going to lay off Joe Buck and Tim McCarver...for one, McCarver is retired, and two, baseball season been over for a month.  In fact, this entry won't have anything to do with modern day baseball games on T.V., or even real games in general.  Instead, I'm going to write about my three favorite baseball related T.V. episodes.  Over the years, there have been many movies about baseball, but precious few shows dealing with it.  There was a show called " Hardball" that lasted for about six weeks in the fall of 1994.  The fact that it aired during the strike season may be a coincidence, but another television event that aired around the same time was Ken Burn's "Baseball."

             Anyway, there hasn't been a ton of shows with episodes dealing with the national pastime, but I've selected three from, coincidentally enough, three of my favorite shows ever.  All three were/are comedies, and two of them are cartoons.  Technically, only one of the episodes I've selected were about baseball, as the other two were actually softball related...

1) BASEBALL BUGS (1946)
 
                        When people try to tell me that Mickey Mouse was better than Bugs Bunny, I look at them like they just said they preferred E.L.O. to the Beatles...there's no contest.  There are many classic episodes featuring the lovable trouble maker known as Bugs Bunny, but one of the undeniable classics has to be the baseball short from 1946.  The game took place at the Polo grounds, although some of the park's nuances screamed old Yankee stadium.  The game featured the fearsome "Gashouse Gorillas", which was made up of huge, well, gorilla-like players, who smoked cigars while they played, against the Teetotalers, a team made up of skinny old men.
 
              The name "Gashouse gorillas" referred to the 1934 Saint Louis Cardinals, who were a bunch of reprobates who went on to win the World series that year, with players such as Dizzy Dean, Ducky Medwick, Ripper Collins, Pepper Martin and Leo Durocher.  The term "teetotaler" refers to a person who doesn't drink, which, during the '30s and '40s in baseball, was probably seen as a sign of weakness, as there were many a alcoholic player in those decades. ( Hack Wilson, anyone?) 
 
                       Needless to say, the Gorillas were pounding the teetotalers, hitting bomb after bomb out of the park so frequently, they started forming a conga line around the bases.  Meanwhile, out in center field, Bugs- eating a hot dog bun with a carrot inside of it- starts to taunt the Gashouse Gorillas, calling them a "bunch of doity players", then claiming he could beat them all by himself with "Wam! a homer. Wam! another homer."  This doesn't sit well with  the Gorillas, and they challenge him to make good on his promise.
 
                  Bugs starts by striking out their players by throwing fastballs, then running behind the plate in time to catch the balls, all the while, essentially giving himself a pep talk. ("That's the pepper, boy...). When he bats, he hits (literal) screaming line drives; one of which is hit to an outfielder, who keeps yelling, "I got it, I got it." When he tries to catch it, it drives him so far into the ground, a tombstone replaces where he once was, which says, "He Got it!"
 
        The second time he pitches, he decides to "perplex them with my pulverizing slowball", in which he makes a ridiculous windup, and then throws it so slow, all three batters strike out on the same pitch...strikeone,striketwo,strikethree you're out, strikeone, striketwo, strikethree, you're out, strikeone, striketwo, strikethree, you're out...When you hear modern day players talk about pitchers with great change-ups, such as Pedro Martinez or Johan Santana, they often refer to the pitch as the "Bugs bunny change-up." 
 
              Bugs has other tricks up his sleeve-distracting the catcher with a pin-up poster while trying to score, disguising himself as the umpire, and then tricking one of the Gorillas into calling himself out- but perhaps the most famous scene is right at the end.  With Bugs ahead 96-95 and an out to go, one of the Gashousers-using a tree he just cut down as a bat- launches one completely out of the Polo Grounds.  Bugs gives chase, hailing the first taxi he sees;unfortunately, the driver turns out to be the same guy who hit the ball...eventually, Bugs runs into the Empire state building, goes to the top, hurls his glove into the air to catch it. An umpire appears , calling the batter out. When the batter complains about the call, the Statue of Liberty chimes in, saying "That's what the man said, you heard him."
 
 
WKRP.  "Baseball." (1979)
 
                WKRP newsman Les Nessmen gathers his fellow employees into a room to make an announcement; he has challenged rival station WPIG to a softball game.  They're not too enthused...WPIG are a good team, who- according to station manager Andy Travis- even beat the Baptists.  However, Les tries to convince them by saying how he was never allowed to play ball as a kid, and had to instead take violin lessons.  The crew remains unconvinced, until secretary (and blond bombshell) Jennifer Marlow agrees to play...in her tight red shorts.
 
                KRP's team has some decent players, with Venus flytrap, well, catching flies in the outfield (When trying to convince the team to play, clueless Les says he knows Venus is a good athlete...simply because he's a Negro), Travis at short, Bailey at second, and so on.  At first, PIG's team is hitting Arthur "Big guy" Carlson pretty well, until Doctor Johnny Fever has two good ideas; first, he tells the Big guy how to put some spin on the ball, and second, he has Jennifer stand by the mound, distracting the hitters. (While I thought Jennifer was attractive, I was always more of a Bailey guy, but anyway...)
 
                   The biggest problem they have, of course is Les's complete lack of skill at playing the game.  At the start of the game, he wants to pitch, but after throwing a few balls nowhere near the strike zone, they convince him to move to third, telling him that Pete Rose played there.  When that proves to be a bad idea, they move him to first, telling him that Pete Rose plays first. (the fact that Rose played a lot of different positions in his career certainly helped this premise)  And when first proved to be too much, they finally move him to right field, telling him that Roberto Clemente played there.  Even though Les does the sports for the station, he has no idea who Clemente is.
 
       As bad as he was in the field, he was even worse at the plate, striking out every time.  At the plate and in the field, he is constantly having flashbacks to his childhood, and his mother telling him it's time for violin lessons.  Despite Les's shortcomings, the team- Venus, Travis, Bailey and even Herb Tarlick- keep the game close.  One of the best plays is third baseman Bucky Dornster catching a line drive with a beer still in his hand, a feat I have tried many a time at softball games myself (I'm a third baseman with a love of beer too.)
 
                      With the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, Arthur Carlson-who the other team's captain keeps calling "Moose", which the Big Guy was called when he played ball in college- has a chance to put them ahead, despite the fact he hasn't hit anything all day.  Then, WPIG's captain pulls a dick move, telling all of his fielders to come in, which is actually illegal.  In the rule book, it says that all nine of the fielders have to be in the field of play during the game.  I'm sure the producers of the show were trying to recreate the whole Satchel Paige thing, when he tried the same thing.  However, Satch actually had all the fielders stand around the mound, thereby making it nice and legal.
 
                       Anyway, the Big Guy hits it pretty deep, and PIG's players have to run from their bench to the outfield.  All the runners on base score, and Mr. Carlson-taking his time going around the bases- does as well.  When the ump says "safe!", Carlson replies "I should hope so."
On to the bottom of the ninth, when, with two outs, a left handed batter comes to the plate, which isn't a good thing.  Most likely, he is going to hit it to Les out in right.  The previous two outs were caught by Venus in left and left center, but there is no way he can cover this fly ball, which heads straight to Les.  As he circles around, with his childhood trauma still going through his mind, he finally puts his glove up in the air in desperation...and catches it. 
 
3) The Simpsons. "Homer at the bat." (1992)
 
                       When Homer starts choking on a doughnut at work, his fellow employees Lenny and Carl passively look for the poster with the Heimlich maneuver instructions on it.  Right next to it is a sign up sheet for softball.  When he discovers this, Homer forgets that he's choking and goes to sign up.  When his friends seem uninterested in playing, Homer informs them that he has a "secret weapon", which turns out to be a home made bat called, "Wonderbat." (An obvious reference to Robert Redford's bat in The Natural) After they sign up, and find out his secret weapon is nothing but
a bat, his friends are unimpressed, with Carl sarcastically informing Homer that he himself has an "enchanted jockstrap."
 
                 When the Plant starts winning ballgames, Mr. Burns makes a wager with the owner of the Shelbyville Nuclear plant that the Springfield plant will beat Shelbyville when they play each other in a week.  The bet is for a million dollars, so Mr. Burns wants to makes sure they'll win, later asking his lackey Mr. Smithers, "Is it wrong to cheat to win a million dollars?" When Smithers replies, "yes", Burns says, "let me rephrase that...is it wrong for ME to cheat to win a million dollars?"  Smithers then changes his answer.
 
         In order to guarantee the win, Burns decides to get ringers...or as he calls them "professional baseballers."  He orders Smithers to get such players as "Cap Anson, Honus Wagner, Mordecai "Three finger" Brown."  Smithers interrupts by saying, "All those players have long retired and passed on...in fact your right fielder has been dead for 130 years."  (I looked it up. The player was Jim Creighton, a great player who indeed died in 1862) Burns then tells Smithers to go get living players, and to scout " the American league, the National League, the Negro League. ( needless to say, the Negro League hadn't existed in about 40 years at that time...) 
 
                 Smithers finds Mike Scioscia while Scioscia was hunting, almost getting shot in the process.  He runs into Ozzie Smith at Graceland, while Ozzie is vacationing, and then goes to Don Mattingly's house to recruit him.  The rest of the players are introduced at work: Darryl Strawberry, Ken Griffey Jr., Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Steve Sax and Jose Canseco.  Burns introduces all of them as new workers, and asks them to sign up for the softball team, much to the team's dismay.  The only player who doesn't do it right away is Scioscia; he claims he was hired to run the decontaminater machine.  Burns says "One more outburst like that, and I'll send you back to the big leagues."
 
                      The team starts working out, and Homer finds out the player who is taking his position is Strawberry, who constantly sucks up to Mr. Burns. (obviously in complete contrast to his actually personality) Things are looking good, and Burns, wearing his old timey Zephyr uniform, makes out the lineup card.  He then tells Smithers that there's no way they could lose...maybe if three players couldn't play, or six...there's an outside chance...but NINE? I'd like to see that...
 
              Eight of the nine players don't show up for the game:
 
Ozzie Smith- Falls down a bottomless pit visiting a tourist spot.
Steve Sax- Gets arrested by the corrupt Springfield when they find out he's from New York.
Wade Boggs- Gets punched out by Barney at Moe's bar while arguing who the greatest Prime minister in England was.
Jose Canseco- Helps a woman recover things from her burning home...pretty much everything in it, actually...
Roger Clemens- The hypnotist who Burns hired to help the team, ended up convincing Clemens that he was a chicken.
Mike Scioscia- Was hospitalized for radiation poisoning, being the only player who actually Worked at the plant while there.
Ken Griffey Jr.- Was strictened with "Gigantism" from drinking too much nerve tonic.
Don Mattinley- Was fired by Burns for not shaving his sideburns. (He actually had a mullet, but Mr, Burns couldn't tell the difference.)
 
               The only major leaguer who showed up was Strawberry, meaning that Homer still had to sit.  However, with the game tied and the bases loaded, Burns decided to pinch hit Homer for Strawberry. (who, throughout the game had been taunted by Bart and Lisa shouting "Daryl...Daryl...much like Red Sox fans did to him during the '86 World series) Homer goes to the plate, and Burns goes over the signs with him, although Homer's mind wanders so much, he just ends up craving a bag of potato chips...so when Burns actually gives the Signs at third base, Homer becomes distracted, and gets hit in the head with the pitch, essentially winning the game for the Springfield power Plant.
 
                       So, those are the three best baseball (or softball) episodes in television history...sure, there was that Seinfeld one where George ends up plowing into Bette Middler, effectively knocking her out of the play that she's in...and of course, Jerry is dating her replacement...but I didn't think of this episode until after I wrote the other three, which are better anyway...oh, there's the Seinfeld one with Keith Hernandez, which parodies the Kennedy assassination, but there's not much baseball in that one...I'm gonna stop now...
                        

 
                               
              

 
 




          

Friday, November 22, 2013

Beyond Homerdome...

                            As of right now, the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays are the only two teams still playing in full time domes. ( a couple others have retractable ones, but that's a different thing...) So it was it was almost the end of an era when Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome ceased to be the home of the Twins in 2009.  The building still serves as the home for the Vikings...until next year, where it will be demolished as soon as their new home is completed.  I write this because parts of the Park/stadium are being auctioned off. ( the baseball sections, anyway)

             The Twins were an outdoor team from their move from Washington to Minnesota in 1961 until 1981.  Then, in 1982-inspired by places like Houston's Astrodome and Seattle's Kingdome- the Twins decided to find a permanent solution to the cold temperatures in early Spring and late fall, and the mosquitoes in the Summer. The move also meant a switch from natural grass to AstroTurf, which half the teams were using then. (the aforementioned Rays and Blue Jays are the only two teams still using artificial turf today)

                The team hadn't had much success in the '70s after being a contender for a good deal of the '60s.  The new decade picked up where the '70s left off...however, they had a core of good young players: Tom Brunansky, Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek and (eventually) Kirby Puckett. These would be the players that would help Minnesota win it all in '87 and in '91. The most famous game ever played there was probably game seven of the '91 series, where Jack Morris pitched a ten inning shoutout, beating a young John Smoltz 1-0. That series had a few other notable plays that took place in the Dome: The Chuck Knoblaugh fake out to trick Lonnie Smith into hesitating, and therefore not scoring from first on a double...The Kirby Puckett catch in game six, which he then followed up with a game winning homer.  Cue Jack Buck: "and we'll see you....tomorrow night."

        Actually, the Metrodome as a facility is the only place to host a World Series, an All Star game(1985), a Superbowl (1992) and a NCAA final four (also 1992).  On the downside, it has collapsed on a handful of occasions; due mostly to heavy snowfall, but that only interrupted the football season.  As for baseball, it would regularly wreak havoc on outfielders, as they lost ball after ball in the whiteness of the roof...the most notorious example was when Milwaukee's Prince Fielder hit a high fly ball that Lew Ford completely lost...by like 50 feet.  The ball bounced so far away from Ford that Fielder, not exactly a speedster at 265 lbs, turned it into an inside the park home run.  About twenty years earlier, the A's Dave Kingman hit a pop fly that went straight up and through the roof; he was credited with a ground rule double.

         Then there was the game in 2000, when outfielder Butch Huskey ran after a ball which he had no shot at, only to run face first into the left field wall.  It has been on blooper reels ever since, mainly because he didn't get hurt.  It was during "Futuristic uniform day", which made everyone involved in the game look like they were playing for Japan...as shoguns...from the future.  There was also the baggie in right, which was kind of like the green monster in Fenway; if it had been covered by a 20X100 ft hefty bag.  The park was also called the "Homerdome", due to the large amounts of...uh, homers hit there...although compared to some of today's hitter friendly parks, it was almost Astrodome-like.

        I could make a tasteless joke about homer hankies, but I won't. Instead, a brief history lesson...The park was named after former Minnesota Senator turned Vice President, Hubert H. Humphrey.  I only bring this up, because I am writing this on the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, and I thought it was a strange coincidence that I would write this story that had nothing to do with JFK, but yet, somehow did. (for those of you that failed history class, or haven't watched a T.V. in the last three weeks, Humphrey was LBJ's VP...basically, LBJ wouldn't have been commander in chief (and therefore, Humphrey, not the VP) if it would for that tragedy 50 years ago today...btw, the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who is tomorrow...anyone have ideas on That connection? I'm stumped.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hizzah for the old guard!!!...

                          It's been two weeks since the World Series ended, so now I can put (most of) my emotions aside, and reflect on it logically, which is something I could NOT do after game three.  Yes, I wrote a piece on that game right after it ended and posted it at around 12:45 the next morning.  It was the obstruction call game, where Allen Craig tripped over Will Middlebrooks...in retrospect, it was the right call, but it was still bullshit.  A World series game had never ended like that.  Game four ended with Kolton Wong getting picked off by Koji Uehara, something else that had never happened before.  These games followed the first two at Fenway, which both had costly errors in them.  Game five was a pitcher's duel between Lester and Wainwright, and game six had the Red Sox winning it all at Fenway for the first time since (say it with me), 1918.

             Lost in all the beards and weird calls was the fact that this was the tenth year in a row that an original 16 franchise won the World Series.  Starting in 2004, it's been Red Sox, White Sox, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Yankees, Giants, Cardinals, Giants and Red Sox. (baseball nerd note: I use the word "franchise", because technically, the Yankees began life as the original Baltimore Orioles in 1901, then became the Highlanders, and later in the 1900's, the Yankees...The Giants, of course were in New York until 1957...).  I don't really have an explanation for this.  To makes things even stranger, the previous three seasons, (2001-2003) were won by expansion teams: Diamondbacks, Angels and Marlins.

              The expansion era started in 1961, when the American league decided to add two new teams; the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators. This was actually a different Senators team from the one that moved to Minnesota and became the Twins earlier in the year.  The "2nd" Senators only lasted eleven years and then became the Texas Rangers.  The next year, the National league expanded by adding the New York Mets and the Houston Colt '45s, who eventually became the Astros, once they moved into the Astrodome in 1965.

        Baseball expanded again in 1969, with the AL adding the Kansas City Royals and the Seattle Pilots, who lasted one year and then became the Milwaukee Brewers. (not to be confused with the 1901 Brewers who lasted one year and became the St. Louis Browns, who eventually became the Baltimore Orioles in the mid '50s...not to be confused with the aforementioned 1901 Orioles who became the Yankees...I know, I know...) The N.L. also adding two teams; The San Diego Padres and the Montreal Expos, who became the Washington Nationals in 2005.

            In 1977, the A.L. added the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners. The 1980's was the first decade since expansion not to expand...I know , I know...in 1993, The N.L. gave us both the Colorado Rockies, (taking it's name from a now defunct NHL franchise;.they became the New Jersey Devils) and the Florida-soon to become Miami-Marlins.  Finally, in 1998, the N.L. added the Arizona Diamondbacks, who became the fastest expansion team to win it all in 2001, and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who lost the "Devil" part of their name in 2008,on their way to their first pennant.

          So, in conclusion, there have been fourteen expansion teams since 1961...the most successful? Hard to say. I could look up total wins, but I don't know what that would really tell us.  I know that only three of the teams (Mets, Blue Jays and Marlins) have won two World Series.  I also know that only two teams (Mariners and Expos/Nationals) have never won a pennant.  Times change, though...it was only a few years back that the Rangers were the only team to never make it to a LCS.  Of course, that was before 2010, where they won the first of back to back pennants.  They could/should have won it all in '11, but that's another blog altogether...they'll get there...just have to be patient...just ask the Cubs, an old guard team if there ever was...
                 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit drinking...

                             Many people have been trying to figure out at what point Jim Leyland decided to retire...some of my friends have said that he went into the 2013 season knowing it would be his last.  Others make the argument that not making it to the Series this year was the last straw.  More specific than that theory, I believe it was the play during game six against Boston when Jhonny Peralta grounded to second; Pedroia tagged out Martinez, then threw home, where Saltalamacchia eventually chased down Prince Fielder. The visual of Fielder falling down a good three feet before the bag, followed by Leyland's exasperated look, pretty much said it all.  Detroit could have had a big rally, but instead no runs scored...a couple of innings and Shane Victorino later...

                  Leyland was one of the last managers who never made it to the majors as a player.  It used to be the norm; managers were either lifetime minor leaguers, or had very little time in the bigs.  Earl Weaver, Dick Williams, Tony Larussa and the like fit that bill.  Today, players that were good to great tend to be the norm; Don Mattingly, Dusty Baker, Robin Ventura, Ryne Sandberg and such are becoming more prevalent.  The old thought was that if you were a good player, you wouldn't be patient enough with players who didn't have your talent. (Ted Williams managing the Washington Senators, comes to mind)

                  Starting his managing career with the Pirates in '86, Leyland eventually guided a young team to three N.L. East titles from 1990-1992,  losing the first year to the Reds in '90, and then the next two to the Braves, the second of which in heartbreaking fashion, letting up a game winning hit to Fransisco (bleeping) Cabrera. (Cabrera was actually mentioned by then President George Prescott Bush, using the walk off hit as a metaphor for his campaign...if that was the case, then that makes  Bill Clinton the Toronto Blue Jays.)

 After leaving the Pirates organization for a few years, he then managed the Florida Marlins to a World Championship in 1997.  While Leyland has always been pretty likeable, the '97 Marlins were not; with players that were basically bought for one season and let go, Florida were merely a collection of great players who happened to win it all...there was also a game against the Braves in the NLCS where Livan Hernandez threw ball after ball, but got strike calls from umpire Eric Gregg.

         After a bizarre one year stint with the Rockies in '99, Leyland retired from managing for a few years.  He was lured back by the Tigers in 2006 and won the pennant in his first year, then lost to the Cardinals in five games in the World series. He made it back to the Series in 2012, this time getting swept by the Giants.  You kind of had the feeling that 2013 was going to be his last year; he had the best starting rotation in baseball and maybe the best 1 thru 5 hitters in the game as well...shame about that bullpen, though...we'll miss you Jim, you seemed like a throwback to the hard drinking managers of the past...somewhere, John McGraw and Billy Martin agree,,,   

Saturday, October 26, 2013

WORST CALL EVER!!!

                                      I usually don't write about things that just happened, but this time I'm going to make an exception.  I just watched the third game of the 2013 World series end on an obstruction call.  It was the weakest, worst way to end what actually was a very exciting, well played game by both teams.  For those who missed it, a ground ball was hit to Dustin Pedroia, who threw out Yadier Molina at home.  After Salty applied the tag, he then threw wide to Will Middlebrooks at third, sending the ball into the outfield.  After he had slid, the Cardinal's Allen Craig then attempted to head home and tripped over Middlebrooks, who was lying on the ground at the time.  Nava's throw home beat Craig, but he was called safe because of Middlebrooks "tripping" Craig.  The run was allowed to score, game over.  The main culprits?  Home plate umpire Dana Deluth and umpire Jim Joyce

              You may remember Joyce as the man who made the terrible call on the last out of the   no-hit bid by the Tigers Armando Galarraga.  The runner was clearly out, and Joyce new it when he saw the play later, then tearfully apologized to Galarraga. (which is little solace to baseball record books)  This call last night was even worse.  Yes, I am a Red Sox fan, but even if it were the Cardinals, or (gulp) Yankees victimized by the blown call, I wouldn't feel easy about it.  If Boston loses the series because of this, I'm going to suggest that umpires get fined every time they make such horrific calls like this.  Sure, all the umpires agreed on the call,  but they have been out of control as a whole for years; throwing out players for arguing strikes, throwing out managers before they even have a chance to make their point.  Hell, even Earl Weaver got to put on a show before he was tossed.

             This play has total precedent in the World series too; in 1975,( which, ironically enough, was also game three) the Red Sox (of course) were playing the Reds at Riverfront stadium, when Cincinnati's Ed Armbrister went to lay down a bunt, but missed.  On the play, Cesar Geronimo took off for second, and Fisk had him dead to rights.  However, Armbrister "obstructed" the throw, and it went sailing into center field.  The fact that Fred Lynn actually threw Geronimo out at third, but was called safe, is kind of forgotten... but the play was a classic case of obstruction, yet was never called.  Two blown calls on the same play, way to go, blue.

           You may ask what the difference was between the two.  Well, for one thing, Armbrister stepped into Fisk, while Middlebrooks was just laying there.  Also, it wasn't a game ending play.  I'm sure a game has ended this way before, but not in a pivotal game of a World Series.  I know the umpires union is strong, but something needs to be done.  They're making instant replay almost necessary for every friggin' play.  I don't want it to turn into football, the games are too long as it is, especially on FOX.  Seriously, if this game didn't end in the bullshit fashion that it did, it would have probably ended up being the longest World Series game in history, the way it was going.  Fox airs so many damn commercials...

                       In conclusion, may I just say that, yes, I am angry because it is still fresh in my mind, and yes, I will get over it, but I'll tell you one thing; if anybody in the next twenty four hours tries to tell me that call wasn't bullshit, I am going to box their ears...this was, and will remain a travesty...man, I had this nice little funny blog about comparing Jim Leyland to Lloyd Bridge's character on "Airplane", and now that will have to wait (looks like I picked the wrong day to quit drinking, and so forth)...weird thing was, I just played a softball game yesterday that ended on a bullshit call...of course my team won because of it, so that's O.K. ( I keeeed)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Speed Kills...

                              In 1976, David Bowie released "Station to Station", the follow up to Young Americans.  It was an ambitious work, featuring only six songs, two of which- Golden Years and TVC15- received enormous amount of airplay.  Bowie got the title from a long gone form of telephone communication, in which the caller- with or without assistance from the operator-tries to reach his or her intended listener, and said listener can choose to accept the call...(this explanation almost seems as long as Bowie's title track to the album...a ten minute song which was the only song not released on a single from it...)

            In baseball, the term "Station to Station" refers to a team that never steals, relying mostly on power to produce runs.  A good example of this kind of play would be the 2013 Detroit Tigers, who stole only 35 bases during the season.  Their opponents in the 2013 ALCS, the Boston Red Sox were just the opposite...historically so.  Boston stole 123 bases in 142 attempts, a 86.9% success rate...second highest percentage in the live ball area. Jacoby Ellsbury stole 52 out of 56, good for 92.9%; the best single season mark since 1922.  Sure, 123 for a team isn't super impressive-any number of '70s A's or '80s Cardinal teams have doubled and almost tripled that total- but the selectiveness is very impressive; even Big Papi was 4 for 4 this year...

       What's most amazing to me is that this is a very recent development to say the least.  The Red Sox teams I grew up with in the aforementioned '70s and '80s were as slow footed as they came, and would often have even their best players lead the league in double plays (Jim Rice comes to mind).  Oh sure, they had Tommy Harper in the early part of the former decade, but he was before my time.  In fact, it wasn't until they got Jerry Remy from the Angels, that the Sox had an actual base stealer, and he never surpassed his total of 30 after his inaugural '78 season.

              Over the next two decades, Boston would have a few speedsters on the team...a Willie McGee here, and Otis Nixon there, but no one who was in their prime, really. (I guess you can count Ellis Burks, but he became more of a power hitter eventually) Then in 2002, they got Johnny Damon, an actual legitimate lead off hitter.  No longer would the Sox have lead foots like Wade Boggs and Dwight Evans lead off.  Of course, after a while, Damon did what a lot of fast players did for the Sox; he stole less and less each year,,,

           In 2006, Boston acquired Coco Crisp from the Indians, but he was hampered by injuries during his time in Boston.  Ironically, he's now having his best seasons in Oakland, a team that plays "Moneyball", which somewhat devalues the stolen base. (A far cry from the '70s A's and the Rickey Henderson-led teams of the early '80s)  Coco eventually lost his roster spot to Ellsbury, which leads us to today.  Paired with Shane Victorino in the #2 hole, Jacoby has changed to way Boston scores runs...sure, there's Papi, Napoli and such, and the players take a lot of pitchers...(which is very "Moneyball', actually) But you can't argue with results...no matter how hard I've tried to...btw, does anyone know what the fu#@%^"TVC15" means...? 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Save us Vin Scully...SAVE US NOW!!!...

                       The other day I was saying how I thought Vin Scully should announce the World Series this year, a sentiment shared by many, including a writer from the Los Angeles
Times.  The person I was talking to said, "Why? You're not positive the Dodgers are even going to be IN the Series this year..."  I informed him that before FOX had the series, Vin Scully would often announce it...ALONE...no color man, no former jock pointing out the obvious.  He would announce it just like he has been doing for Dodger games for the past 60 years, going back to the old Brooklyn Dodgers.

                   Vin had a lot to live up to when he replaced the legendary Red Barber in the early '50s; Red had been the voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers since the '30s, and was the first man to announce Jackie Robinson as a player in '47. Scully and Barber shared announcing duties until Red left to do Yankee games in '53.  Eventually, Vin started doing World series games.  Baseball fans were rather spoiled in the '80s, as not only did we have Scully do the T.V series games, but we also had the equally legendary Jack Buck do the games on the radio.

               Jack Buck had been the announcer for St. Louis Cardinal games for decades.  I remember when both he and Vin called the Kirk Gibson homer off of Eckersley...they went has such:

Vin Scully: "In a year that has been improbable...the IMPOSSIBLE has happened..."

Jack Buck: "I don't believe, what I just saw...I don't BELIEVE what I just saw..."

       I have started a facebook thingy to have Vin do the series...it's more symbolic than anything else, really.  In a perfect world, this would happen...unfortunately, Jack Buck is no longer with us, so the ultimate announcing team will no longer happen, but at least Jack's son, Joe, could realize that before Vin retires for good next year, Scully could AT LEAST do an inning or two.  Lord knows I have things against Joe Buck; I have ranted on here and elsewhere about how he and Tim McCarver babble on and on and make people thank God for the mute button...McCarver used to be pretty good when he did Mets games, and is obviously knowledgeable about the game...

                   Even if Buck and McCarver chose to step down for even an inning or two, to FOX brass probably won't allow it.  Fox sports have made some shamelessly outrageous plugs for their "stars"...there was Zooey Dechanel singing the national anthem before the  San Fransisco Giants played a World series game...there was also a few years back, when Fox decided to have some American Idol hack sing the anthem in New Orleans before the NFC championship game...NEW ORLEANS!!! Home of some of the greatest music and musicians ever...in stark contrast, the NBA All Star game in 2008 had a half time show in the Big Easy which included Aaron Neville, Harry Conick Jr., and many other 'Nawlins legends, the way it should be...

             In conclusion, it would be great to have an announcer who lets the game play out before he over explains what's going on...

                

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Rust belts and concrete doughnuts...

                                          Well, it looks like the elimination Wild Card game in the National league is going to be between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds, most likely to be played in Pittsburgh.  While the Reds have had recent success, the Pirates haven't had a winning season since they last won the N.L. East back in 1992.  That was the last of their three straight N.L. East titles, the first of which was against the Reds in 1990 (which Cincinnati won, on it's way to their last World Championship to this date.)

                        Neither team made the playoffs in the '80s, even though that decade was noteworthy for having many different teams make the playoffs and World series...from '78-87, ten different teams won the World Series, and that's not including the three teams (Brewers, Padres and Redsox), who made it to the WS but didn't win it. Both Pirate and Red teams had some great players during the decade that would lead to the success of the early '90s, like Barry Larkin for the Reds and Barry Bonds for the Pirates, but the '80s were fairly fruitless for both teams.

                The '70s on the other hand featured mostly The A's, Yankees, Orioles, Reds, and  Pirates (W/ the Dodgers, Mets and Red Sox rounding out the pennant winners). Back before all these new /old ballparks were built, many teams played in multi-purpose, cookie cutter stadiums, complete with astroturf and occasionally, bullpen cars.  The Pirates with their Three rivers stadium and the Reds with their Riverfront stadium-two of the most notorious concrete doughnuts- played against each other many times in the playoffs that decade.

            The first meeting was in 1970; rookie manager Sparky Anderson led Cincinnati over Pittsburgh, but then lost to Baltimore in the World Series. Next year, led by 37 year old Roberto Clemente, the Pirates defeated the Reds in the NLCS, then beat the Orioles to win it all.  Again in '72, it was Pitt and Cin for the pennant...this time the Reds got to the series, losing in seven games to the Oakland A's.

       In '73, the Reds lost the NLCS to a 83-79 Mets team.  It was a heated series, which featured an on field fight between Cincinnati's Pete Rose and New York's Bud Harrelson...'74 saw the Pirates lose the pennant to the Dodgers, the last time manager Walter Alston would manage in the WS.  Both rust belt teams hooked up again in '75, with the Reds winning it all in probably the best series ever played, against Boston.  Cincinnati won again the next year sweeping the Yankees...

       Neither team appeared in the playoffs the following two years... '77 and '78 were Broadway v.s. Hollywood affairs...however, the final year of the decade saw Pitt and Cin back at it.  The only player left from the '71 Pirates team was 38 year old Willie Stargell, on his way to co-winning the N.L. MVP that year (w/ St. Louis' Keith Hernandez.), whereas the Reds had lost three major players from the big Red machine days: Pete Rose, Tony Perez and Don Gullet to free agency.

               The Pirates, playing to the beat of Sister Sledge's "We are family", played and defeated (once again) Earl Weaver's Baltimore Orioles...maybe the Reds needed a theme song that year to inspire them.  1979 was one of the few years a song was identified with a team.  Just for the hell of it, I'm going to post every World series winning team from the '70s with an appropriate song to go along with them:

1970 Orioles: " Groovin' is easy"- Electric Flag.
1971 Pirates: " It's your thing"- Isley Brothers.
1972-74 A's: " Signs"- Five man electrical band.
1975-76 Reds: " An open letter to my teenage son"- Victor Lundberg.
1977-78 Yankees: " Blitzkrieg Bop"-The Ramones.
1979 Pirates: "We are family"- Sister Sledge.

You can look it up....


                           

Saturday, September 21, 2013

And then there were two...

                                        Somehow, the Washington Nationals are still in the playoff hunt.  Barring a miracle, the franchise will finish it's 45th year still never having won a pennant.  In fact, last years team was the first in 31 years to even make the playoffs.  Of course, that was back when they were known as the Montreal Expos, coming within an inning of beating the Los Angeles Dodgers, who would go on to win the '81 World Series in six games over the Yankees.  The only other time they came close since then was the '94 season when they had the best record in baseball at 70-40 before the strike occurred...it's been often said the Expos were a cursed franchise, as their two best seasons were strike years.  They were able to survive after the first strike, but the '94 one-in which the World Series was cancelled for the first time in ninety years- seriously hurt baseball in Canada.

                   Somewhere in the early '00s, the Expos lost their television contract.  Worse yet, they started playing half of their home games in Puerto Rico.  By the time that started, they didn't even have a proper owner; Major League baseball owned the team and Frank Robinson was managing them...it was only a matter of time before MLB baseball in Quebec was doomed...eventually, in 2005, Washington swooped in and gave the city it's first professional team in 34 years.  As for any sort of hall of fame legacy, only Gary Carter went into the hall wearing an Expos cap (Andre Dawson went in as a Cub, despite playing most of his career in Montreal.)

            The Nationals have company in the pennant futility chase; the Seattle Mariners.  When the American league decided to expand in'77, both the Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays made their debuts.  However,  the Blue Jays would make the playoffs in their ninth year of existence, and win their first of two championships seven years later...meanwhile the Mariners are still waiting.  With their trident/pitchfork logos on their hats, and their (literally) atmosphereless  home known as the Kingdome, the Mariners had to go through the Rupert Jones' and Pat Putnams of the world before they put a great team on the field in 1995.  That year, with the help from future hall of famers Randy Johnson, Junior Griffey, Edgar Martinez, et.all, they ended 19 years of futility and made it to the ALCS, losing to the Cleveland Indians.

                         Seattle would make it to the ALCS again in 2001, with help from a 28 year old rookie named Ichiro Suzuki... losing again, this time to the Yankees.  Since then, it's been mostly rebuilding, but things seem to be looking up...although, if pressed, I would say Washington is closer to a pennant than Seattle is.  Mariners need a little more power, especially from their corner infielders...I wonder if A-Rod will be available soon...


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sons of Rob Deer...

                                   The Atlanta Braves second baseman Dan Uggla is batting .184, yet has started for most of the year.  Granted, he has twenty one homers and he had to have his eyes checked out, but still...It seems like a recent phenomenon, with the Adam Dunns and Mark Reynolds of the world putting up good power numbers with obscene amounts of strikeouts and low, to extremely low averages.  However, there were exceptions in years past; I remember growing up in the late seventies, early eighties watching and reading about such players as Darrell Evans and Gorman Thomas.  They would annually bat around .240 and hit thirty to forty dingers a year, although, Evans did walk a lot, while Thomas lead the league in strikeouts a few times (to be fair, his 170 plus strikeouts would rank him about tenth in the league today.)

                  Thomas' National league counterpart was Dave Kingman, a sweetheart of a guy who once sent a live rat to a female reporter who dared show her face in the locker room one day. He came up with the Giants in '71, but really hit his Kong stride with the Mets in the mid '70s , with a couple of  36, 37 homer, .230- ish average seasons. In 1977, he  was part of the "midnight massacre" trade that sent Tom Seaver from the Mets to the Reds, and he also set a record by playing for four different teams in one year. 

       Kingman ended up on the Chicago Cubs in '78, and had maybe his best season the next year, leading the league with 48 homers, with 115 RBI's, and an uncharacteristically respectable .288 average. He wore out his welcome with Chicago and returned to the Mets in '81, when they needed a little gate attraction while their young pitchers were gelling in the minors.  He had a decent season that year, but it was his 1982 season that was a good 30 years ahead of it's time; a league leading 37 home runs with a paltry .204 average, which is the lowest average of anyone who's led the league in homers...even Adam Dunn hasn't done that. 

            1983 was Kingman's worst year, which paved the way for his inevitable move to the AL, as a D.H. for the Oakland A's from '84-'86, putting up good power numbers each year.  When his contract was up at the end of '86, it was assumed someone would pick him up as a D.H., but alas, he may have been a victim of collusion, where all the teams decided not to give big contracts to any player.  There's no proof Kingman was not picked up because of this, it's just a conspiracy theory of mine.  He retired as the first man to hit over 400 homers and have NO chance at the Hall of Fame.

          While Kong may have set the template, Rob Deer perfected the low average, high strikeout power numbers.  He had a few productive years with the Brewers in the late '80s, setting the A.L. record for strikeouts in a year with 186.  He then moved to the Tigers in the early '90s, as he had the lowest average of anyone who ever qualified for the batting title (ie, 502 plate appearances) with a .179 BA, while hitting 25 homers and driving in 65.  The next year, his average improved to .247, and while he hit 32 homers, he only drove in 64 runs...the lowest RBI total for anyone with over thirty home runs in a year.

             Deer retired in '96, but his legacy lives on...in 2011, Adam Dunn, who regularly put up 40 homers, 90-100 RBIs a year in the NL, was a total bust in his first year in the AL for the White Sox, coming within six at bats from breaking Deer's .179 average nadir (he batted .169, but needed 6 more plate appearances to qualify.)  Dunn  then won the come back player of the year award in 2012, leading the league in walks and strikeouts, while hitting 41 homers, driving in 96 runs, and batted .204, easily the lowest of any comeback player of the year who wasn't a pitcher.  BTW, in case you're wondering, the lowest average for anyone with over 100 RBI's was Tony Armas for the Red Sox in 1983....back to present day, Uggla is back off the DL, and has a good chance at the Deer .179 or below record, which I'm sure he wants to avoid.  It also should be noted that most of the players mentioned in this post played for losing, or mid level teams, while Uggla's Braves have the best record in baseball...the times they are changing...         

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Land of the rising dud...

                   A few days before Matt Harvey went down for the season,  the Mets acquired Daisuke Matsuzaka off waivers.  He had been released from the Indians AAA farm team before he ever played a game for Cleveland. His first game for New York was against the Tigers, with predictable results.  He's obviously not in the Mets future plans, but at least he's hanging in there.  At 32,  he may have something left in the tank, but it's a rather anti climactic way for his career to be petering out after such a promising beginning.

          He started out playing in Japan, winning the rookie of the year for the Seibu Lions in 1999, on his way to becoming one of the better pitchers in Japan. 
when the World Baseball Classic debuted in 2007, "Dice -K" led his country to the first of it's back to back WBC wins. That tournament almost served as an audition, as many MLB teams vied for his services.  The highest bidder was of course, the Red Sox, who signed him to a (fairly ridiculous, considering he never pitched in the Majors before) 6 year, $51 dollar contract.

           His first season with Boston was decent, winning 15 games in the regular season, and performing well in the postseason, helping the Sox win it all in '07.  His next season was his best, going 18-3, and again, pitching well in the post season.  Despite his record, though, he rarely made it past the 6th inning, as his pitch count was very high, due to the large amount of walk he gave up.  Big Papi had a quote about Dice K's ability to get out of bases loaded jams to get wins, "I don't know how he do it, but he do it."

      He then spent the next four years battling injuries, helped in no small part by injuring himself in the 2009 WBC. By 2012, he had pretty much worn out his welcome, going 1-7 with an ERA over 8.00...Cleveland was seen as his last chance in the Majors 'til the Mets signed him a few days ago... who knows what will happen. Lost in all of this was the player that was picked up from Japan (for relatively little money)from the Sox with Matsuzaka; Hidecki Okijima.  Working strictly out of the bullpen, Oki went on to a great rookie season in 2007, making the All Star team (a rare feat for a set up man), and had an impressive outing in the World series, pitching 2/2/3 innings in relief of Curt Schilling for a win over Colorado.  Manager Terry Francona called the combination of Okajima and close John Papelbon "Oki-Pap"...Oki's appearance in the World series made him the first Japanese player to do so...

                     Hidecki pitched a few more years for Boston, finally taking his act to Japan for a year, before he returned this year as a reliever for the Oakland A's.  His trademark "look away" motion still intact...oh, and he has long hair now, in keeping with a longstanding Oakland A's tradition, going back to when they moved from Kansas city...Joe Rudi would be proud.


     

  

             

Monday, August 12, 2013

Jack be not-so-quick...

                                Last week, former MLB player Jack Clark and his co-host Kevin Slaton were fired from their St. Louis sports talk show for accusing players like Albert Pujols and Justin Verlander of juicing.  The show only lasted seven days and Pujols is going to sue Clark for slander;  talk about former Cardinal first baseman on former Cardinal First baseman hate.  This isn't the first time "Jack the ripper" has gotten himself in trouble though, as he's had a long history of stirring things up.

                      Clark made it to the majors in 1975 with the Giants as the youngest player in the league at age 19.  By '78 he was an All Star outfielder, but had a reputation as a fragile ballplayer, taking too long to recover from injuries and often complained about the cold of San Fransisco's Candlestick park.  He wouldn't have to complain for too long, as the St. Louis Cardinals traded for him to be their first baseman and provide power for an otherwise wise slap-hitting offense.  He only played three years for St. Louis, but helped them win pennants in '85 and '87, providing clutch hits in the postseason, while struggling somewhat defensively (he was involved in that play in game 6 of the '85 series where Todd Worrel covered first and the Royal's Jorge Orta was called safe, though he was clearly out.  Clark also dropped a foul ball in the Royals rally in the same game game.)

             Clark left St Louis after the '87 season, due in part with clashes with Ozzie Smith (!) He was then signed  to a two year deal to play for the Yankees, but only played one year because he didn't get along with manager Lou Pinella, who had replaced Billy Martin at the end of the '88 season. (side note, he DID get along with Billy Martin (again,(!)
He then spent two years with the Padres and ended his career with the Red Sox in the early '90s, continuing the tradition of Boston signing over-the-hill sluggers, (something they stopped doing in recent years, thankfully). My memory of Clark playing for the Sox was during a game on the road against a team whose name eludes me (I'm thinking KC, or Cleveland or such). Basically, Jack slammed a home run to left field, but in doing so, injured himself greatly, as he limped around the bases in a manner so slow and crippling, it made Kirk Gibson's '88 WS trot look like a Jesse Owens sprint... 

       After retirement, Clark continued a hobby he started during his playing days; collecting luxury cars.  At one point, he had 17 of these things, some of them costing up to 700,000 dollars...needless to say, he eventually filed for bankruptcy, selling his 2.4 million dollar home, among other things.  In time, he dug himself out of the financial hole, only to have this PED accusation mess happen...oh well, I'm sure he can a job in public relations somewhere...oh, wait...
 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Whose batting title is it anyway?...

                      In 1980, the St. Louis Cardinals hired Whitey Herzog to be their manager.  Whitey had had success with the Kansas City Royals, bringing them three consecutive AL West titles in '76, '77 and '78.  Now he was hired to manage a team that hadn't made the postseason in over a decade.  With the spacious Busch Stadium as his home, he decided to manage a little differently, taking advantage of the Astroturf and deep alleys with "Whiteyball", which relied on on pitching, defense and speed (as opposed to Earl Weaver's pitching, defense and the three run homer).

        
Other than George Hendrick, Darrell Porter, Keith Hernandez and (later) Jack Clark, the '80s Cardinals were basically slap ball hitters who would get on base and cause havoc for pitchers with their speed. With players like Ozzie Smith, David Green, Lonnie Smith,  Tommy Herr and (later), Vince Coleman, St. Louis ran at will, consistently leading the league in stolen bases.  In Fact, Vince Coleman became the first player to steal 100 bases three years in a row, from '85 to '87.

       Perhaps the player that best personified the Cardinals of the '80s was Willie McGee; he was called up to the team late in the '82 season, and helped them win it all with his solid defense and surprising power in the World series, hitting two homers in a win against Milwaukee.  After his rookie stint, he became the Cardinals best player, regularly in the top ten in hits, runs, average, steals, triples and so forth.  His best year was 1985, when he won the NL MVP, won a Gold Glove, and led the league in hit and triples, on top of winning  the first of two batting titles in his career (his .353 average that year remains the highest ever for an NL switch hitter). St. Louis would win the pennant that year and also in '87, losing in the World series to the Royals and Twins respectively.

               On July 6th, 1990, Whitey Herzog shocked everyone by announcing his retirement.  The team decided to start rebuilding and traded some of their best players, McGee being one of them.  At the time of the trade, McGee was leading the NL in batting at .335 and he had enough at bats to qualify for the title even though he was now a member of the Oakland A's in the AL.  At season's end, he won the NL batting title, finishing 5 points ahead of the Dodger's Eddie Murray.  However, McGee's total average with both the NL and AL was .324, and the Royals George Brett won the AL title at .329, which means neither of the league's batting leaders actually led the majors in hitting that year.  That feat would belong to Eddie Murray at .330...the first time neither league's batting champion had the highest average overall.  Another note about the '90 batting race, was Brett becoming the first player to win a title in 3 different decades, the other years being '76 and '80.

         McGee would go on to have some more solid seasons, mostly with the San Fransisco Giants and also helped the Red Sox win the AL East crown in '95.  He was mostly a part time player by then, so it makes it even more bittersweet to know that the Sox could have had him during the 1990 season when he eventually went to Oakland instead.  Apparently, when offered his services, Sox GM Lou Gorman was quoted as saying "What would we do with Willie McGee"...what indeed...oh, and in case you forgot, the A's swept the Red Sox in the ALCS that year.  Not saying Willie was the reason, but still...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

R.I.P. Boomer...

                                      My favorite ballplayer from my childhood died yesterday.  There wasn't a lot of fanfare, at least here in New York, anyway. I'm sure the Boston papers, T.V. and whatnot gave a decent amount of coverage to his passing, but ESPN and MLB network didn't even mention it (To be fair, I only watched a few hours of each, and I'm sure Boston native Peter Gammons may have brought it up at some point...ESPN seemed to be focused on College football, which I could give 3 shits about, but anyway...).  George Scott, nicknamed "The Boomer", played first base for the Red Sox from 1966-71 and again from '77 to mid '79.  His best year offensively was for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1975, when he tied for the Home Run lead with Reggie Jackson with 36 and led the AL with 109 RBI's.

              My dad and brothers used to tell me how great a fielder he was back in the early days of his career. He won eight Gold Gloves for his play at first base and, according to former teammate Bill Lee, "May have been an even better third baseman."   He came up to the big leagues in 1966 and was a big part of of the '67 "Impossible dream season", where the Sox almost won it all after years of futility.  Other than his fielding, he loved to hit homers, which he called "taters"; taking wild, violent swings, in which his right hand would come off the bat by the end of the swing.

           It was that swing that made me like him.  Of course, I didn't see the Boomer in his prime, only  for a couple of years at the end of his career, when the Sox traded away Cecil Cooper to the Brewers for Scott.  He had an All Star season his first year back, hitting 33 taters and driving in 95 in '77.  That was the year the entire team was swinging for the fences, hitting 213 total that year.  I only saw him in person play once, at a game against the Royals in 1978.  Not sure if George went deep, but I think KC's  Frank White went deep...twice.  I swear, every time I saw the Sox play the Royals at Fenway, it was always White, not George Brett that killed us...Brett always saved his clutch moments for the Yankees (which is why he's one of my all time faves.

            Boston traded the Boomer in 1979 for something called Tom Poqeutte (which I think is French for "Stan Papi" ), then ended that season- and his career- with the Yankees.  Seeing that 1980  Topps trading card with the Boomer wearing a Yankees cap was almost too much to take.  At the end, he basically ate his way out of baseball, not unlike another beloved Boston First baseman, Mo Vaughn a decade and a half later.  And while Vaughn may have been a better hitter, he was nowhere near the fielder Scott was.

             I am always bitching about how there aren't enough characters in the game today...too many players have that "aw shucks" attitude, or, even worse, the "I'd like to thank God for..."thing, which always irritates me...not for people's beliefs, but really, If God helped you hit a home run last night, where was he the night before when you struck out four times.  The Lord has bigger things to worry about, Mr. Hamilton.  George was one of those characters you loved.  Born in Greenville Mississippi, without much education, the Boomer was as unpretentious as they came.  He was once quoted as saying, " If it weren't for that Muddafucka Luis Aparicio, I would have had 3,00 hits." Which means Aparicio robbed him of 1,008 hits.

             But my favorite story involving the Boomer was in 1970, where the Red Sox and Orioles were playing in Spring training.  Scott was taking batting practice while Frank Robinson, Elrod Hendricks and another Oriole player (I think it was Paul Blair) were talking about the plight of Biafra.  One of the players asked Boomer, "Hey George, what do you think of Biafra?", and he replied, "I never faced the muddafucka, but third time up, I'll hit a tater off him!"...you will be missed Boomer, rest in peace...  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Random All Star moments...

                                Every time the All Star game comes around, people start waxing poetic about All Star games past. The same moments always always get mentioned; Carl Hubbel striking out five Hall of famers in a row in 1934, Ted William's walk-off homer in the '41 midsummer game and so on...The '50s had an odd moment, when Cincinnati Reds fans stuffed the ballot in '57 and seven of their players were elected to start, although Mays and Aaron were later put into replace two of the Reds outfielders.  The '60s had not one, but TWO All Star games each year for a short time (59-62), one mid season, one at the end, so it was confusing as to what happened in either game (Most famous moment during this time was Stu Miller getting blown off the mound in 1962's second game , due to the high winds at San Fransisco's Candlestick park).

                I was barely a year old when Pete Rose crashed into Ray Fosse, effectively ending Fosse's career in the 1970 game.  If I had to come up with my first All Star memory, it would have to be in 1979, when the Pirates Dave Parker made a perfect throw to the Expos Gary Carter, nailing Brian Downing of the Angels at the plate. (Although it was a great throw, it was aided by maybe one of the worst slides I had ever seen by Downing).  I remember the '83 game being a big deal because the AL had won for the first time in over a decade, thanks to a grand slam by California's Fred Lynn, which came soon after a two run shot by former team mate Jim Rice of the Red Sox.  The offensive outburst came at the expense of the NL starter Atlee Hammaker, who was never the same after the experience.

            The only mid summer classic held at Fenway in my lifetime was in 1999.  Most people will remember three things about it...1) the home run hitting contest the day before, in which Mark McGuire and Ken Griffey Junior looked like a couple of kids playing wiffle ball, as ball after ball was crushed.  I'm surprised the local Giant Glass company didn't sponsor it, as many a car windshield must have been shattered in the parking lot behind the green monster, as well as unsuspecting drivers on the Mass. Pike. 2) The pregame had the All Century team, which concluded with Ted Williams coming out and all the players surrounding...I'll admit it, I cried.  3) The actual game featured Boston's own Pedro Martinez doing his best Carl Hubbel Impression, striking out a future Hall of famer, tow that may some day make it, and two who may never because of PED...(I'll give you a hint: I already mentioned one of them)

                However, my biggest memory of that game wasn't any of the above, nor was it Smashmouth doing the song "All Star" over and over again for soundcheck-my friend Jim lived across the street from the park at the time-No, the most enduring memory was right before the game, when the P.A. announcer, sporting a wicked thick Boston accent said "Ladies and gentlemen, here to sing our National anthem, Boston's own, DONNER SUMMA...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The mark of Zoilo...

                         Three weeks ago, the Yankees brought up Zoilo Almonte, a 24 year old outfielder from the Dominican Republic.  Almonte has been a good addition to New York, batting .314 and playing solid defense for a Yankees team whose injuries have forced them to do a lot of things with smoke and mirrors.  A lot of people (especially baseball geeks like myself), have been focusing on his first name; mostly because in the 170 plus year history of Major league baseball, it has only appeared on a roster once before, and that was from 1959-1971.  Of course I am referring to the immortal Zoilo Versalles.

                   Nicknamed "Zorro" by his teammates, Versalles was a Cuban born player who made it to the bigs at the end of the '50s with the Washington Senators.  D.C. had been in the second division for many years when they started to finally put a roster together with up and coming, home grown talent such as Versalles, Harmon Killebrew, Ceasar Tovar, Jim Katt, Camillo Pascual, and Tony Oliva.  Unfortunately for Senator fans, this young, exiting team would move to Minnesota in 1961, leaving the nation's capital without a franchise, albeit briefly, as a second version of the Washington Senators would soon appear before the season started.  This "second" Senators team lasted for 12 years, becoming the Texas Rangers in 1972.  For 32 years, there was no baseball in D.C....until of course the Nationals replaced the Montreal Expos in the N.L. East. 

            ANYWAY, back to the Twins...By 1965, Minnesota had put together a pennant winner, with the starting pitching of Mudcat Grant and Kaat (I remember having Jim Kaat's baseball card in the '80s; there were so many years on it, you could barely read it), the hitting of Bob Allison, Don Mincher, Jimmy Hall, Oliva and Tovar, and especially the all around play of Versalles.  Zoilo was already a good player going into the '65 season, but Twins coach Billy Martin ( the same) wanted Zoilo to be more aggressive on the field, which in turn led the bespectacled Versalles to have a breakout season, as he led the A.L. with plate appearances, at bats, runs, doubles, triples, and total bases.  He also had 19 homers, 27 stolen bases and a Gold Glove, on his way to winning the 1965 American league MVP award.

                A few things were odd about his MVP season (I for one think he deserved it, while others say his teammate Oliva was more worthy, but anyway)... for one thing, he only batted .270, but I guess when you consider he was a Gold glove shortstop in an era where that position was not known for it's offense, then it's not that big of a deal. Another thing was that he won the Gold Glove despite leading the league with 39 errors.  Lastly, he wasn't the most patient hitter in the majors; leading the league with at bats usually means very little walks.  Never one to want to watch the ball go by him, Zoilo only had 41 BB's that year, and also led the league with 122 strikeouts, which would be the equivalent of about 160 today.

            Minnesota would lose the '65 World Series in a thrilling seven game series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  It would prove to be Versalles' last good year as a player, as his averages got lower and lower and his playing time diminished.  Eventually, he ended his career playing for the Dodgers and  (maybe fittingly) the "second" Washington Senators in their final year before moving to Arlington (the city, not the cemetery) in '71.  So now that there is another player with the same first name Zoilo, it's up to someone else to name their child an odd first name that's only been used once before...does anyone have Bombo Riveria's phone number...?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

There but for the grace of God...

                    Last week, former MLB pitcher Justin Miller died at the age of 35 of  to this date, unknown causes.  He played between 2002-2012 for the Blue Jays, Marlins, Giants and Dodgers, both starting and relieving.  Nicknamed "Tattoo man", for his many tattoos, Miller was responsible for the "Justin Miller rule", in which players had to cover up their arm tats with sleeves in order not to distract the others team's players.  In his first start for Toronto, he plunked the first two batters he faced and let up four hits and a run in 2 1/3 innings of relief.  While his career was rather nondescript, his death at a young age got me  thinking about other players who have left us too soon.  There are many players like Miller who have passed away after their playing days were done, as well as players that were active and still under contract that have left us in the offseason...but what of those who died while the season was going on? 

             The most recent tragedy was at the beginning of the 2009 season, when Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenheart died in a car crash shortly after his first start of his career.  Yankees pitcher Corey Lidle's plane crashed into the East river in Manhattan back in 2006....Cardinal pitcher Daryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room in June of 2002 at the age of 33...I was in fourth grade when I heard of Thurman Munson's death; like Lidle, he was on the Yankees and died while flying his own plane..  Lymon Bostock, who finished second in the 1977 batting race to fellow Twins teammate Rod Carew, was offered a big contract by the Angels for 1978.  He had such a bad April, he decided to give his month's salary back to the team, which they in turn gave to charity.  He became a big hit with the fans for his unselfish gesture, and went on to lead the team in hitting...that is, until a mid summer game in Chicago, where he was hanging with his uncle in nearby Gary, Indiana, and a bullet meant for someone else struck and killed him.

                    Of course, there are others who have died during the season, including Hall of famers Addie Joss and Ed Delahanty, as well as Red Sox young phenom from the mid '50s, Harry Agganis. But there's only one player who died due to an injury he sustained on the field, and that was Indians shortstop Ray Chapman. The year was 1920, and Chapman was enjoying his finest season in the bigs, batting over .300 for much of the year. Then on August 17th, tragedy struck.  Yankees pitcher Carl Mays hit him in the head with a pitch, fracturing his skull, and eventually killing him.  Chapman was known to crowd the plate, and some observers have claimed the pitch was actually a strike.  The ball actually appeared to have been hit by the bat, as some of the Yankee players tried to field it.

             After Chapman died, MLB decided that the next year, a tighter, more visible ball was going to be used, officially ending the so-called "Dead ball era" and ushering in the Babe Ruth led, "Lively ball era"( although why helmets wouldn't be worn for a few decades is beyond me).  Despite the tragedy, and loss of their star shortstop, Cleveland went on to beat the Brooklyn Robins (aka Dodgers) in the World series that year. A little over 50 years later, the Indians suffered another on the field tragedy, although this one wasn't fatal. The final play of the 1970 All Star game had Pete Rose of the Reds slamming into Cleveland's  catcher Ray Fosse, separating his shoulder, and effectively shortening what looked to be a long career.

                   So basically, we all need to live our lives to the fullest, because as Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett once said shortly before his untimely death, : "Tomorrow's not promised to any of us..." well put, Kirby...

Friday, June 28, 2013

What's a guy gotta do to get his number retired around here...?

                               According to the MLB Red Sox site, the retired number policy goes like this: " (1)Induction into the hall of fame, and (2)  Play at least 10 years in a Red Sox uniform."  Sounds pretty simple, and at first it was; the first four players to have their number posted on the right field fa├žade - Joe Cronin, Bobby Doerr, Ted Williams and Carl Yazstremski ( #s 4, 1, 9 and 8, respectively)- fit the criteria.  In fact, only Cronin didn't play his entire career for Boston, spending the first Half of it  playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Senators.  A number of players who went to the Hall of fame and had maybe their peak years playing for the Bosox, weren't eligible. Players like Jimmie Foxx (who wore a Sox cap into the hall), Lefty Grove, Harry Hooper, Tris Speaker and such, will never have their number retired at Fenway.  Things got a little complicated in the late '90s when Carlton Fisk was elected to the hall...

                  Fisk was called up briefly in 1969, but didn't stick with the club until 1972, the year he won the rookie of the year award.  He played with Boston until 1980, which is only nine years, by my count.  Fisk went into the Hall of Fame wearing a Red Sox cap, despite playing the majority of his career with the Chicago White Sox.  When Fisk's # was retired by Boston, it seemed that the Red Sox brass had loosened it's stance a little...on the opposite end of the scale there is the Boston Celtics, who seemed to retire everybody's number but the popcorn vendor between the late '50s  and early '80s (except Cedric Maxwell, who deserved it more than say Jim Luscotoff or Satch Sanders, but anyway...).

         The next # to be retired at Fenway was #42, Jackie Robinson's, which is retired throughout the MLB.  In 2009, after 15 years years of trying, Jim Rice's #14 made it to the HOF, playing his entire 15 year career with Boston (therefore his number was retired by the Sox). Recently though, the club has totally gone against it's policy by retiring Johnny Pesky's #6.  A .300 hitting shortstop during the Ted Williams years, and a fixture with the club until his death last year, Pesky is not a member of baseball's Hall of Fame.  Confusing matters further is the fact that Wade Boggs-a five time batting champion who spent 11 years with Boston on his way to the Hall- does NOT have his #26 retired.  Why is that?  Is it because he wanted to go into Cooperstown wearing a Tampa Bay Devil Rays cap? (He's wearing a Sox cap, btw)  It can't be because he went to the Yankees after he left town...he was mostly let go after his sub par 1992, season when he batted .259.

             Boggs has recently stated that he wants his number retired and put up in right field with the others, and that should happen soon...he not only fits all the criteria, he was the best third baseman who ever put on a Red Sox uniform.  As I write this, I am listening to the T.V. in the other room, and apparently, both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have been traded to the Brooklyn Nets.  These are two players that helped the Celtics win the 2008 NBA championship, and both will go to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield Ma. and have their numbers hung up in the rafters of the Boston Garden. (I REFUSE to call it anything else; I don't care what heartless corporation is whoring itself as the building's name...the same goes for Shea stadium...Citibank can suck it).  Point is, it shouldn't be so hard to have your number retired by the Red Sox, but it is...other teams would love this problem...                 

                  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Playing ball down under...

                                                     Opening day 2014 has been announced, and it's going to take place in Australia between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks.  For over 100 years, opening day was played in Cincinnati...that all changed when Bud Selig decided to switch things around and have it played at various locations, including other countries like Japan.  I could go on and on about tradition being broken, but I'm over it.  I get that Selig is trying to promote the sport in other countries and markets, and Australia is just as good a choice as any.  One problem is that opening day won't be the same day here as it is in Australia with the time changes and whatnot, but I guess that's nitpicking.

                            As of opening day THIS year, there have been 31 Australian players who made it to the Major Leagues; 28 born in Australia, the other 3 born elsewhere but raised in Australia.  The first player from down under was Joe Quinn, who debuted for the St. Louis Maroons in 1884 and later managed the St. Louis Browns in 1895.  After he played his last game, it would be another 85 years before another Australian would appear in a Major League game: Craig Shipley on June 22nd, 1986 for the Dodgers.  The most recent Australian born player is Liam Hendriks, who played for the Twins in 2011.

                   Not really sure who the best player from Australia is/was... catcher David Nilsson is the only one who made the All Star team; that was in 1999.  Grant Balfour (whose last name is only one letter away from "ball four" ) is the current closer for the Oakland A's.  Nicknamed "Rage" for his demeanor on the mound, Balfour has been this century's answer to Al Hrbowsky (AKA, the "Mad Hungarian").  Fellow A's players Rich Thompson and infielder Luke Hughes are also Australian. Other Australian players currently on major league rosters: the Astros' Travis Blackley, (I almost wrote "Bickle") Josh Spence, a reliever for the Yankees, Peter Moylan, who pitches for the Braves and the aforementioned Liam Hendriks.

             During the World baseball classic this year, I was watching a player with the awesome name of "Chris Oxspring", who it turns out, played briefly for the Padres in 2005.  Graeme Lloyd-who sounds like he should be in the Moody Blues and not in the Majors-was a post season hero for the Yankees in 1996, coming out of the bullpen.  He was the first, and as of this writing, the only Australian to play for a World series winner.  Balfour also played in the World series for Tampa in 2008 and has the most post season appearances of any "Ozzie" (I waited 'til the end to use that term...not even sure that's how you spell it, but anyway...).  So in conclusion, yes, I think it's a good idea to play MLB games in other countries.  I only wish it would be in the off season.  Seriously, if they can have the friggin' World baseball classic in the off season every 3 or 4 years, why can't they play one exhibition game out of the country.  Stepping off the soap box now...think I'll put on some Bee Gees...