May 17, 2013
Thoughts As We Approach Memorial Day
I began posting this entry while listening to an old-fashioned two-for-the-price-of-one doubleheader on the radio. Alas, John Sterling’s self-absorbed droning and I fear his fading eyesight made his play-by-play unreliable and so I switched to TV.
Ah for the good old days when you could turn down an annoying TV announcer
and listen to the radio. That's not possible any more as the TV broadcast is several seconds ahead of the radio feed.
It was a make-up twinbill with the red-hot Indians leading the Yanks 1-0 after 6 innings. Cleveland's ace JUSTIN MASTERSON completed a 1-0 shutout but the Yanks won the second game 7-0 behind a rookie southpaw VIDAL NUNO.
Both teams are surprising the pundits in the early going. In fact, at 10 games over .500 as games started on May 13 (and ended on May 17), the Yankees were leading the American League East. Solid starting pitching and the presence of Mariano Rivera at the back of the bullpen has enabled the Yankees to withstand the losses of the superstars (in salary anyway) of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson. Granderson is back now and perhaps Teixeira within the next month though Lyle Overbay has proven a very worthy replacement.
Cleveland’s pitching will be suspect throughout the year but reclamation project Scott Kazmir has begun to pitch well and so has Yankee retread Zach McAllister. And the Indians will hit with budding star catcher Carlos Santana (no relation to the guitarist), second baseman Jason Kipnis (a member of the Jewish tribe), shortstop Asdubral Cabrera and center fielder Michael Bourn, the expensive free agent pickup, providing some hope up the middle. Former Yankee Nick Swisher and former Oriole Mark Reynolds add to a potent lineup.
Vidal Nuno has been recalled by the Yankees since Andy Pettitte went on the dl again with an upper back injury. But the Yankees continue to win with VERNON WELLS providing a lot of pop in left field and he is still a good defensive outfielder. Players who can perform on both sides of the ball remain very valuable commodities.
I will have a lot more to report early next month. Am delivering a talk on "The Glory Years of the Baltimore Orioles 1960-1983" on Wednesday afternoon May 29 at the opening session of the 20th Annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture.
I never miss an opportunity to go to the Brigadoon called Cooperstown about 200 NW of NYC and 75 miles west of Albany. And I never miss a chance to talk about the Orioles the team I fell in love with when I lived in Baltimore in the early 1970s.
I've stayed with them through all the ups and downs of the last 40 years. The 2013 edition has some serious starting pitching issues that will have to be straightened for them to contend again. But it is consoling to know that with Buck Showalter managing and Dan Duquette as the general manager there are steady knowledgeable men at the helm.
The AL East as forecast will be one wild ride all year and might as well as sit back and enjoy it while of course agonizing from time to time.
For me May 2013 will go down as Cooperstown Month. I attended the opening of the "Diamond Mines" exhibit at the Hall of Fame on the first weekend in May. It was a special evening with tears flowing from so many on hand to see scouts honored at baseball's central shrine.
Hall of Famer Pat Gillick spoke eloquently as always about the vital role that baseball's talent hunters have played in constantly bringing new blood into the game. One of baseball's most devoted octogenarians Roland Hemond, who has been working in baseball since the 1950s, was equally moving in his praise of scouts. As was Roberta Mazur, director of the Scout of the Year Foundation who since the mid-1980s has been working to see scouts honored in Cooperstown.
"Diamond Mines" will return at least two years and hopefully will become permanent with its artifacts of stop watches, radar guns, and most intriguingly, scouting reports on at least 12,000 players provided by at least 300 scouts.
That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!
April 29, 2013
Thoughts on Baseball’s Adventurous AL East April + Notes on Noteworthy May Events
April proved a deliciously unpredictable month for Major League Baseball. The old saying remains very valid: “You cannot win a pennant in April but you sure can lose one.” Branch Rickey used to say that a win in April means two less you have to win in August and September.
The trendy AL East pick Toronto Blue Jays have already dug themselves a big hole. After being swept in four straight at Yankee Stadium to close out April, they languish eight games under .500. They have a lot of work to do to catch up with the high-flying Boston Red Sox and the surprisingly strong Yankees who swept the Jays though wracked by injuries. Good pitching and new life for veterans TRAVIS HAFNER, LYLE OVERBAY and VERNON WELLS will do that. Not to mention the return of MARIANO RIVERA.
Those expensive Toronto acquisitions from the downsizing Miami Marlins don’t look so good now. An awkward slide into second base by shortstop JOSE REYES led to a severely sprained ankle that will sideline him until July. Southpaw MARK BUEHRLE is showing his age and oft-injured righthander JOSH JOHNSON has already missed a start. Knuckleballing Cy Young award-winner R.A.DICKEY has been OK but not great and now he is complaining of assorted injuries.
Expensive free-agent acquisition MELKY CABRERA has been mediocre at best.
It may be too early to bestow the dubious Gary Matthews Jr Impetuous Bad Contract (hereafter cited as the GMJIBC) Award upon Melky but he better turn up his production soon.
What is the GMJIBC? Late in 2007 before the ink was dry on the [former U.S. Senator George] Mitchell Report that explained in detail PED abuse in baseball, Matthews Jr. was signed to a 4-year $50 million contract by the California Angels. He produced very little with that largesse.
This past off-season, the moment Melky became a free agent after the end of his 50-game suspension for PED abuse, the Blue Jays rushed to bestow upon him a 2-year $16 million contract. Let the buyer beware and yet another sign that all it takes is one owner to go bonkers in the free agent auctions.
On the plus side of the AL East, early returns from Boston indicate that new manager JOHN FARRELL, Bosox pitching coach in their recent glory years, has evidently worked wonders in reviving southpaw JON LESTER and righty CLAY BUCHHOLZ. Another nice story in Boston is the power of first baseman MIKE NAPOLI who always hit well at Fenway as a visiting player and is keeping it up in the home whites.
As someone who wishes more players were on one-year contracts so their determination to produce every day could not be questioned, I am pleased with Napoli’s year so far. He was set to sign a multi-year free agent contract when physical examinations revealed a chronic hip condition. After much negotiation, he and his agents settled on a one-year deal and so far so good for both sides.
My Orioles remain right in the mix as the two players who made all the difference late last season, 20-year-old third baseman MANNY MACHADO and 32-year-old left fielder NATE MCLOUTH, are picking up right where they left off.
The poise of Machado has astonished everyone in baseball except probably himself. He has responded to manager Buck Showalter’s installation of him as the number 2 batter in the lineup with consistently good at-bats and he continues to sparkle in the field.
Often hitting leadoff, McLouth is reminding people of the player who made the 2008 All-Star Game as a Pittsburgh Pirate.
The Orioles’ starting pitching remains a cause for concern. They have no ace but JASON HAMMEL and the Taiwanese southpaw WEI-YIN CHEN are generally reliable. The unsung MIGUEL GONZALEZ has been inconsistent this year though CHRIS TILLMAN is showing signs that he might emerge as a reliable starter. But when he loses his release point, it is not a bad idea to reach for the channel clicker.
JAKE ARRIETA, the Hamlet on the rubber, has pitched himself back to Triple-A yet again. Maybe he needs a change of scenery into another organization. Onetime major league stars, aging FREDDY GARCIA and the younger JAIR JURRJENS, are waiting in the wings at Norfolk. Gritty STEVE JOHNSON, a righthander with average stuff who gets the most out of his ability, could be up before any of them. Once-heralded southpaw ZACH BRITTON gets a chance tonight in Seattle to show he belongs in the bigs.
In spite of all these question marks which are already putting a strain on the Orioles’ vaunted bullpen, the O’s are watchable again after years and years in the wilderness far from contention. God Bless Showalter and general manager DAN DUQUETTE who is proving that his success in Montreal and Boston were no flukes.
No assessment of the AL East would be complete without a shout-out to the Tampa Bay Rays. Though they are still a couple of games under .500, they are fun to watch. And manager JOE MADDON knows how to loosen them up when he senses they are trying too hard.
Before successive games at home after a tough early season road trip, Maddon brought into the clubhouse a cockatoo, a DJ spinning hip contemporary records, and two penguins. It is a long season and no one knows better than Maddon how to keep an intense team from being too tense.
Though the Rays traded mound stalwarts JAMES SHIELDS and WADE DAVIS to KC (the young heralded outfielder WIL MYERS they received in return is still polishing his skills at Triple A), any team that can throw out a rotation of reigning AL Cy Young award-winner DAVID PRICE, JEREMY HELLICKSON, ALEX COBB and the youngest sensation MATT MOORE should ultimately contend.
NOTEWORTHY UPCOMING EVENTS OF MAY:
**On FSa May 3-4, Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame opens its “Diamond Mines” exhibit devoted to the life and work of baseball’s most underappreciated people, the scouts.
Among the notables attending will be Hall of Famer PAT GILLICK, the general manager who brought World Series championships to Toronto and Philadelphia and contending teams to Baltimore and Seattle, and Buck O’Neil Award winner ROLAND HEMOND, who has championed scouts throughout a career that now stretches over six decades.
Watch this space for a report about this celebration later this month.
**On SaSu May 4-5, Dartmouth invades Columbia for a best two-out-of-three series to determine the Ivy League entry into the NCAA baseball tournament starting later in May.
Both the Big Green and the Lions feature dominant pitching and timely hitting. They are beginning to send into pro baseball some of their stars - for example, shortstop JOE SCLAFANI from Dartmouth and outfielder DARIO PIZZANO formerly with the Lions.
I’m keeping an eye on the development of Columbia’s dh/cleanup hitter JOEY FALCONE. Nearly 27, Falcone is the oldest player in Division I. After high school in Louisiana, Falcone joined the Navy as a corpsman. He served with the Marines in two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He is the son of former major league southpaw PETE FALCONE.
His stats in 2013 - .303 AB, .525 SA, 5 HR 24 RBIs in only 101 at-bats - only scratch the surface of what might be ahead for this left-handed hitting slugger.
**Here’s notice of another fascinating exploration into international baseball.
In November 2013, a group of six American coaches and scouts are heading to Kenya to provide free clinics in baseball and softball for the boys and girls of that area who are interested in the sports but have limited access and resources.
The team is headed by White Sox scout JOHN TUMMINIA who has previously led
groups to Monte Plata, Dominican Republic, and the Pine Ridge, South Dakota Native American reservation. Among those joining him in the Kenyan trip will be the former major league pitcher ROB BELL, now working in the front office of the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League, and JEFF TAYLOR, special assistant to the Cincinnati Reds’ general manager.
The trips are guided by the Christian relief organizations, Bethlehem Tessema and the Bread and Water Foundation. Contributions are welcome to defray some of the travel expenses to Kenya. Please contact John Tumminia at email@example.com or call 845/742-8772
That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
April 18, 2013
In the old days one didn't make an intelligent comment on the current baseball season until Memorial Day. Of course in the old days there were only 16 major league teams, eight in each league, and everyone played each other 22 times, 11 home and 11 away.
With the crazy quilt schedule of today, all symmetry is lost. The Yankees are hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks this week and the LA Dodgers come into Baltimore over the weekend. The sense of "league" is gone even though the dh remains in AL home games for both teams and no dh for anyone in NL parks.
I'd like to see the dh abolished but it likely won't happen. But I would like to see one year or two where the dh is used in the NL parks and no dh in the AL parks. And then one could decide on that experience its future.
Early analysis of any season is always risky but it sure looks the consignment of Yankees and Red Sox to the nether regions of AL East was premature. New Red Sox manager John Farrell (their former pitching coach) has seemingly revived the potent one-two punch of lefty Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz and free agent signings, the speedy Shane Victorino and first baseman Mike Napoli, have provided punch. Longtime dh David Ortiz returns to action at end of this week and right now Boston has the early lead in the AL East.
Close on Boston's tail are the Yankees Newcomers, leftfielder Vernon Wells, corner infielder Kevin Youkilis and dh Travis Hafner, have provided big hits. As his speedy center fielder Brett Gardner. They won their recent first series over the Orioles behind sturdy pitching of CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda.
In the first game they were aided by a three-run error by Adam Jones, the Gold Glove center fielder of 2012 who has been clanking too many balls in 2013. I count at least three games already where Jones, seemingly more interested in styling than catching, has not made plays that must be made if your team is really a contender.
It may be too early to jump off a bridge while proclaiming the return of a team I used to call the Woerioles. But there are clearly chinks in the armor of the surprise playoff 2012 team.
Brian Roberts went down with a hamstring injury in the third game of the season, and the oft-injured gritty second baseman cannot be counted on in the future. The offense would have been far more productive with a healthy Roberts, but that dream has died.
The starting rotation remains a work in progress with only Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez evidently capable of getting through six innings. Current fourth and fifth starters Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman are woefully inconsistent. Lefty Zack Britton is in the minors trying to work his way back. Slightly built bulldog Steve Johnson is on a rehab assignment and he should be able to help soon.
And most ominously, heralded 20 year old Dylan Bundy is on the shelf with arm issues.
They are saying he needs to strengthen his arm. Well, this is a workout fanatic who I always worried about doing too much in that regard. I am fearful that there are serious issues with someone who was considered the top pitching prospect in all of baseball.
How true former Oriole manager Paul Richards was when he said, "You can never have too much pitching." So danger signs ahead in Baltimore though obviously plenty of time to right the ship.
One last screed: WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OFFICIAL SCORING? It seems that home scorers do not want to charge any errors these days. I was at the Sunday night rubber match of the Yankee-Oriole series last week. Gifted O's third baseman Manny Machado made three bad plays, two definitely errors and none were charged.
Last night in Baltimore Adam Jones did not get an error for misplaying a short hop in the outfield that cost at least one base, probably more.
Watching the MLB Extra Innings package on TV provides more examples of questionable official scoring. I know the decisions are not always easy and there are rules to follow but I do not like the trend I am seeing.
Speaking of seeing will catch "42" for a second time next week. Am glad it is getting attention and Harrison Ford does get inside Branch Rickey quite well.
That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!
How Can April Be The Cruelest Month With The Return of Baseball and It's Also Jazz Appreciation Month?
April 8, 2013
Thelonious Monk once had a wonderfully pithy answer to the question, “What Is Jazz?” “New York is jazz. It’s in the air.”
I can testify to that on my recent wanderings through my hometown of Manhattan, named the Big Apple by jazz musicians long ago. The other day on the way downtown by subway, a jazz combo at the 103rd Street station of the #1 train greeted me with the infectious strains of Maceo Pinkard’s immortal tune “Sweet Georgia Brown”. All that was missing was the Harlem Globetrotters’ dribbling and passing. (For you recent movie buffs, that 103rd St. station is where Natalie Portman waits for the train to Lincoln Center in her Oscar-awarding ballerina portrayal in Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan”.)
Just this past weekend I was coming back from a swim at the nearby Columbia University pool when I heard a sax-bass duo belt out a swinging “September in the Rain” at the corner of Broadway and 110th Street (aka Cathedral Parkway because one block east resides the majestic Cathedral of St. John the Divine).
The song title might not fit for early April but we sure have had our share of rain in the Big Apple and frigid temps more like fall and winter. The great thing about swinging jazz music is that the best tunes transcend transient woes like the weather and one’s own foul moods.
“September in the Rain” just exudes happiness. With music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin, the song was written in 1937 for the movie “Melody for Two” starring James Melton. I first heard it on a MUGGSY SPANIER recording. Cornetist Spanier has been gone since 1967 but he lives on in many of his cornet-led tunes.
They say that he got his nickname Muggsy from his love for the New York Giants baseball manager John “Muggsy” McGraw (a name you wouldn’t say of course to McGraw’s face). As a Chicagoan Spanier was a Cubs fan and he occasionally would lead his band wearing a full Cubs uniform.
Ah the great connection between baseball and jazz that was especially alive in the hard years of the Great Depression and World War II. There is no doubt in my mind that the beauty and drama of both baseball and jazz, its challenges and consolations, kept the U S of A on a reasonably even keel during those cataclysmic decades.
So as an unpredictable baseball season unfolds in all its glories and gut-wrenching downers, it is good to keep these thoughts in mind. I went to Orioles Opening Day in Baltimore on Friday April 5th and was thrilled by their gritty victory capped by the red-hot Chris Davis’ bottom of the 8th grand slam. Then they proceeded to lose two winnable one-run games to the Minnesota Twins, a team determined to return to the winning side of baseball’s ledgers after some recent horrible seasons.
The great historian of the U.S. Charles Beard once said, "History never exactly repeats myself," and it is true of baseball. The Orioles lost only 9 one-run games all last year and already in 2013 their three losses are by one run.
Let’s calm down, I tell myself, and enjoy the day-by-day game-by-game pitch-by-pitch drama of baseball. And keep our eyes and ears open for sounds of jazz, too.
Two recommendations for early April with a baseball and jazz connection:
Wed April 10 at 8p and 9:45p Pianist ART LANDE leads a quartet into KITANO JAZZ
the south side of East 38th Street a little bit east of Park Avenue. The brilliant pianist-improviser rarely appears in New York though he’s a Long Island native and longtime Mets fan.
Sun April 14 at 3p SHERRIE MARICLE and DIVA: THE ALL-WOMAN’S BIG BAND at the Mayo Cultural Center on State Street in Morristown, New Jersey. Drummer Maricle and her talented 18-piece band are celebrating their 20th anniversary. The band was founded by drummer STANLEY KAY, a long-time manager of Buddy Rich. Kay in his last years served as George Steinbrenner’s New York Yankees’ musical director. I saw them at IRIDIUM last week and they were a knockout in every sense.
That’s all for now – always remember: Take it easy, but take it!
March 26, 2013
New Yorkers are getting a little stir crazy. The weather hasn't been horrible but it sure hasn't been warm. Ready or not, Opening Day is April Fool's Day and for the first time in recent memory, the Yankees and the Mets both open at home. The reason is that this is the first year (more…)
February 28, 2013
MARCH COMES IN LIKE A LIONFISH
I don’t know enough about my family history though I do know that the patriarch of the family in central Europe around 200 years ago was someone named Fischl Lowen. And somewhere down the line, the last name and first name were flipped and Lowenfischl shortly became Lowenfish.
I know there is a lionfish in many oceans of the world and it has no predators which means it causes a lot of havoc among other fish but fortunately there is no relation there.
I say all this because the old saying on the eve of the third month of the year is “March Comes In Like A Lion but Goes Out Like A Lamb.” I don’t mind at all thinking that March comes in like a lionfish because it is a special time of year for a sports fan.
College basketball season is reaching a climax and I am happy that my graduate school alma mater the Wisconsin Badgers are coming on strong. They are only a game behind the Big Ten-leading Michigan State Spartans and Indiana Hoosiers. A road game against the Spartans on Thursday March 7 might determine their title hopes and regular season titles still mean something to me.
There will be a Big Ten tournament that will largely determine March Madness seeding but regular season performance still should count for something. My undergraduate alma mater Columbia has had a disappointing season in an Ivy League that is the only league in the country playing back-to-back games. Conditioning and health are thus of primary importance and a key injury can set you back permanently.
That’s what happened to my Lions when their All-Ivy senior point guard Brian Barbour caught a flu bug that knocked him out of commission for several games. To finish at .500 in the league Columbia must sweep the final four games, including a visit to contending Harvard on Fri March 8.
The Cantabs will have revenge on their mind after Columbia’s convincing 15 point triumph in New York a couple of weeks ago. The defending league champion Harvard cagers have a chance to put away second-place Princeton this weekend on the road.
As much as I love small-time college basketball and occasionally the pros, what March means the most to me is the resumption of spring training. So many story lines are forming and harder than ever to predict results because of the turnover of players.
The best thing about spring training in that since 1995 we have enjoyed the presence of labor peace so we know that there will be a full season and post-season of thrills. And the old cliché remains true that everyone is still 0-0 until the games count starting on Sunday night March 31 when the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim visit the Cincinnati Reds for the start of the regular season.
Hardly a traditional rivalry the Angels vs. the Reds but this is the first year of inter-league play virtually every day and so many anomalies exist. Like the following day Monday April Fool’s Day both the Yankees and the Mets open at home. Neither team will be favored to reach the World Series in 2013, especially the Mets, but the key one word about baseball remains: Youneverknow, youneverknow.
There will always be a surprise team.
In 2008 it was the Tampa Bay Rays making the World Series after years of futility. And thanks to a gifted general manager ANDREW FRIEDMAN, field manager JOE MADDON and supportive owner STUART STERNBERG, they have averaged 92 victories a year since 2008.
At the end of last season I lived in mortal fear that the Rays would take revenge on my Orioles in the final series of the year by sweeping them at Tropicana Field. Turning the tables after the Birds had brought out the broom in Baltimore earlier in September.
That series was marked by the greatest play I saw all year – rookie third baseman MANNY MACHADO’S bluffed throw to first base that caught pinch-runner RICH THOMPSON unaware as he overran third base.
The Orioles were the surprise team of 2012, turning their 2011 record of 69-93 around exactly to 93-69. Can they repeat? Who knows? They certainly have a fighting chance with a full season of Machado, the reclamation project NATE MCLOUTH and NICK MARKAKIS. More solid work from effective starters WEI-JIN CHEN and MIGUEL GONZALEZ will certainly help.
I’m not in the prediction business so it is hard to say who will be the surprise team of 2013. I don’t necessarily believe in the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED jinx but the current issue with Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is touting the Cleveland Indians who have splurged on free agents first baseman/outfielder NICK SWISHER and center fielder MICHAEL BOURN in addition to other newcomers pitcher TREVOR BAUER, outfielder DREW STUBBS and new manager TERRY FRANCONA.
Games will still be won on pitching and defense and it remains to be seen if the Indians have enough of that to compete with the defending AL champions Tigers and runner-up White Sox.
That’s why they play the games and no amount of statistical “science” can prove anything this early. So relax and enjoy the upcoming season and such off-field events as the highly anticipated first-ever exhibit on scouting, opening in Cooperstown on May 4th. More on that in upcoming posts.
Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
In Praise of Jonathan Schwartz's Special Super Bowl Sunday Broadcast on The Verge of Pitchers and Catchers 2013
February 3, 2013
Am listening to famed music dj Jonathan Schwartz host his annual WNYC.FM Salute to Baseball on Super Bowl Sunday. Great idea that never loses its importance. Just heard Mandy Patinkin sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in Yiddish. And now the score of the classic 1940s movie musical of same name (more…)
December 31, 2012
Pitchers and catchers are only 45 days away (or less) from reporting to spring training, but on the last day of 2012 I still feel like looking back at the 2012 major league season. Though neither BRUCE BOCHY nor BUCK SHOWALTER even won the manager of the year award in their respective leagues, I consider them my Sportsmen of the Year. (more…)
November 19, 2012
It has been a long time since I posted. So let’s see what major events happened between September and mid-November.
**Our President was re-elected convincingly in the electoral college and by over three million popular votes, a smaller margin than 2008 but still impressive given the hateful (more…)
October 7, 2012
I’ve been an Oriole fan for over 40 years and have suffered quietly if painfully during the last 15 years of the Birds’ under-.500 futility. The 2012 season has been a reawakening of hope in Baltimore and among the diaspora of intense fans like yours truly.
Universally picked for either last or the next-to-last rung of the tough AL East, these Birds managed by BUCK SHOWALTER have been over .500 all season, quite an accomplishment given their recent past. And they caught fire in early August and became a worthy contender when two unusual moves worked like a charm on the Orioles lineup and defense.
NATE MCLOUTH, a former All-Star outfielder with the Pirates whose career had nose-dived since 2009, was installed as the left fielder. And 20 year-old shortstop of the future MANNY MACHADO came up from Double A Bowie to become a rock-steady and often spectacular third baseman though he had only played two games at that position in the minor leagues. What had been a truly horrible Oriole defense became one of the best if not the best in the league.
Both McLouth and Machado contributed heavily with the bat, too. I was at Machado’s second home game at Camden Yards on August 9 and all he did was belt his first two home runs. Where once the chants of “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie” for retired Hall of Fame slugger EDDIE MURRAY rang throughout Baltimore, now I could hear the beginning of a new chant for “Manny, Manny, Manny.” I even heard a fan in the bathroom singing the words “Manny, Manny” to the 1950s pop hit, “Volare.”
Speaking of Murray, the onetime reclusive first baseman was one of six retired Orioles, all Hall of Famers, to be honored with sculptures by local artist TOBY MENDEZ that will be permanently displayed beyond the center field fence at Camden Yards.
There is no doubt in my mind that the beginning of the long years of gloom in Birdland began when owner EDWARD BENNETT WILLIAMS insisted on the trade of Murray after the 1988 season. After the Orioles’ last World Series triumph in 1983, the “Oriole Way” of patient development through the minor leagues and discreet free agent acquistion was replaced by the Indiscriminate Free Agent Fix that never works but owners almost always succumb to.
Murray was not to blame for the decline in pitching and defense and intelligent hitting that afflicted Baltimore after the 1983 World Series year but the impatient Williams was battling a terminal cancer that would soon claim him. Though the Orioles surprisingly contended in 1989, the year after the Murray trade to the Dodgers for three less than memorable players, it was not a team made for durable consistency and it quickly fell back into mediocrity.
Murray did return near the end of his career to hit his 500th home run in Oriole garb but a great chance to have a team built around the solid play on both sides of the ball of Murray and CAL RIPKEN JR had been lost.
Happily, 2012 has been a year of both resurrection on the field and remembrance of past glory. Like Murray Cal Jr was honored with his statue this season as were FRANK ROBINSON (whose trade from Cincinnati after the 1965 season led directly to the Orioles first World Series championship in 1966), pitcher JIM PALMER, still an insightful broadcaster, manager EARL WEAVER, and last but least late in September BROOKS ROBINSON.
Brooks has not been in good health and his ceremony was delayed until the next-to-last day before the end of the home season in late September. I attended this event along with a capacity crowd that later watched the Orioles win the second game of their three-game sweep of the cellar-dwelling Red Sox.
Brooks looked very dapper and filled was with enthusiasm for the current Orioles. “How about dem Birds?” he chortled more than once. He was joined at the ceremony by all the other statue awardees as well as former teammates AL BUMBRY and MILT PAPPAS and former Baltimore Colt running back LENNY MOORE.
Brooks told many stories about his glory days, always with his trademark self-effacement. As the Associated Press sportswriter GORDON BEARD said when Brooks retired in 1977, “They might name candy bars after Reggie Jackson in New York but they name babies after Brooks in Baltimore.”
I write this post as the rain delay seems to be coming to an end in Baltimore. What would be an Oriole-Yankee series in Charm City WITHOUT a rain delay? As always in this most surprising season the Orioles are underdogs to the powerful Yankees with their nearly $200 million payroll.
But I think the men in Black and Orange have a fighting chance to move one step closer to their first league pennant since 1983. And to have hope in October is the greatest emotion for a baseball fan.
On Friday night October 5 Manager Showalter won his first playoff game since 1995 (when he was the skipper of the Yankees) as the Orioles dethroned the Texas Rangers 5-1 in the Winner Take All Wild Card Game. Unheralded southpaw JOE SAUNDERS
outpitched Texas' highly paid Japanese import YU DARVISH.
Right-hander JASON HAMMEL, another unheralded hurler discarded by both Tampa Bay and Colorado, was poised to go head-to-head with the Yankees' big time southpaw CC SABATHIA with other obscure pitchers following him in the rotation, the Taiwanese import southpaw WEI-YIN CHEN and Mexican League veteran MIGUEL GONZALEZ. With JIM JOHNSON anchoring an effective bullpen the Orioles have a chance to win every game though of course no guarantee it will happen.
To repeat, though, to have hope after years in the darkness is a wonderful feeling.
Stay tuned for further commentary on how this amazing year ultimately turns out.
In the meantime, always remember: Take it easy but take it!