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'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 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 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...