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 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 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 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 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, 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,,,