October 21, 2018
One of the great things about baseball is more than any sport there is a living vibrant link to the past. Checking my old reliable Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia, I see that in early October 1916 the Red Sox beat the Dodgers in five games.
Babe Ruth was hitless in five at-bats but won game two, 2-1. He allowed only six hits, walked three and struck out four in a 14-inning complete game masterpiece. Ernie Shore won the first and last games and baseball's first Dutch Leonard won the fourth one.
Outfielders Harry Hooper and Duffy Lewis showed why they were a formidable regular season duo each hitting over .300 in the Series and future Hall of Famer Hooper led both teams with 6 runs scored.
Third baseman Larry Gardner only had 3 hits in the Series but two of them were homers, one of them a three-run job that won Game 4. Shortstop Everett Scott, another Bosox player who wound up with the Yankees in owner's Harry Frazee's fire seal deals, saved the first game win with a late game dramatic defensive robbery.
And let's not forget first baseman Dick Hoblitzell who did not contribute much offensively but has one of the great forgotten names in baseball history. The three games in Boston were played in Braves Field that had a larger capacity than Fenway Park. (A Boston-Milwaukee series would have delighted local historians because of the Hub town connection of each team but it was not to be.)
On the Brooklyn side, outfielder Casey Stengel tied for the team lead with 4 hits but produced only 2 runs. Jack Coombs won the only game for Brooklyn and would retire undefeated in Series action with a 5-0 record, the other four coming with Connie Mack's first Philadelphia A's dynasty.
The home run dominates the game in the 21st century and yet I firmly believe that pitching and defense still wins championship. Just look at LA Dodgers Game 7 win over the Brewers last night (Oct. 20).
Chris Taylor's sensational catch on Christian Yelich's two-strike screaming liner into the left center field alley preserved LA's precarious 2-1 lead. And let's not forget Manny Machado's remarkable 3-2 bunt that immediately preceded Cody Bellinger's game-changing two-run homer.
Little things still win baseball games. Appreciation of these nuances for me makes baseball the great game it is. I hope to live to see the day when the cutting comment, "Baseball is what this country used to be, football is what it has become," no longer is accurate.
As for the coming World Series, I like the Dodgers in six or seven. I think their starting pitching looks a little sharper than Boston's. Their bullpen too looks in better shape than Boston's, especially if closer Craig Kimbrel keeps near-imploding.
Winning the final game against Milwaukee on the road indoors has to also provide LA an amazing psychological boost.
The Dodgers accomplished what neither the Cardinals in 1987 or the Braves in 1991 could do in the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Silence screaming fans in a very hostile foreign environment. Whatever happens, let's hope they are good crisp games.
For five innings last night the drama of a game seven was priceless. Every pitch, every breath mattered. But when Yasiel Puig homered in the top of sixth off Jeremy Jeffress it was all over except for the countdown.
That's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it. And also remember to vote on November 6!
October 4, 2018
The end of the regular baseball season is always a bittersweet time. There are playoffs ahead but October baseball is national not local (except for radio if your team is in the hunt.). I already miss the daily flow of games from all over the country and the amassing of steady incremental statistics.
The National League Wild Card game was historic in that two divisions ended in dead heats. That meant two one-game playoffs this past Monday Oct 1 to determine the division winner and automatic entry into the playoffs.
The Dodgers won at home over the Colorado Rockies and the Milwaukee Brewers won at Chicago to assure their places in the tournament. That meant the Wild Card game would pit Colorado at the Cubs’ Wrigley Field on Tuesday night Oct 2.
In a 2-1 13-inning thriller, the Rockies eliminated the Cubs. (I’m a New Yorker and have never called them the Cubbies and never will.) It was a wonderful ending for those of us who like to see the unheralded player - almost the last man on the 25-man roster - become the unlikely hero.
Around the bewitching bell of midnight CDT, it was third-string catcher Tony Wolters who drove in the winning run with a single up the middle. It was a tough experience for Chicago to lose two post-season games in a row at home but I think they’ll be back in future post-seasons.
A fully healthy Kris Bryant should help a lot. Maybe they’ll be able to get some wins and innings from the very expensive free agent bust Yu Darvish. Most of all, the team cohesion will have to return.
When the Cubs were in command of the division for most of the second half of the season, team leader Anthony Rizzo was quoted as saying that the team was made up of number one draft choices who don’t act like them. That grinding quality needs to return.
The American League Wild Card game the following night - Bobby Thomson Day October 3 - provided no such excitement. A now-healthy Aaron Judge slugged a two-run homer in the first inning and the Yankees were rarely threatened on their way to a 7-2 romp over the Oakland A’s.
Predictably, Billy Beane, the widely-hailed genius of the A’s, said that a playoff never tests the true value of a team, and usually effective manager Bob Melvin agreed. But like the Twins last year the A’s did not seem ready to play in such a high-pressured situation. A low payroll is no excuse for uninspired play though the Yankees are certainly formidable and peaking at the right time.
I grew up watching too many Yankees-Dodgers World Series in the 1940s and 1950s but we may be heading in that direction again. We’ll find out more in the next couple of weeks as the Yankees-Red Sox and Houston-Cleveland meet in the ALDS and the Dodgers-Atlanta Braves and Colorado-Milwaukee go head-to-head in the NLDS.
I'd like to see a rematch of the 1948 and 1995 with the Indians and Braves - Ryan Braun's arrogant unrepentant PED-abusing past makes it impossible for me to root hard for the Brewers though I have Wisconsin roots from the 1960s.
I'd like to see Indians win in seven though they too have a poster boy for PED abuse, Melky Cabrera. (Maybe he won't make the post-season roster.) But I know very well you can't always get what you want.
Meanwhile the baseball managerial firing season is in full flower. Cubs honcho Theo Epstein has assured the world that Joe Maddon will return in 2019 but not with an extension to the contract so he could well be considered a lame duck. Not likely given his innovative approach to life and managing.
Some people were surprised that Paul Molitor was fired in Minnesota but not me. I could see a look of near-resignation on his face in the latter stages of the season. In a very weak AL Central, the Twins finished second at 78-84 but only because they won a lot of relatively meaningless games at the end of the year.
The decision to not renew Buck Showalter’s contract in Baltimore was no surprise to anybody. A 47-115 season doesn’t look good on anyone’s resume.
It may mean the end of his managerial career though at 62 he still looks good on the surface. He certainly should be saluted for his many great achievements at turning around moribund teams - starting out with the New York Yankees in 1992 who had just come through their worst non-championship period after the 1981 World Series.
Buck left the Yankees after they lost a thrilling ALCS to the Seattle Mariners in 1995. He then became the first manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, starting with the team and setting the tone of the organization two years before they played their first game in 1998.
Just as in New York though, where Joe Torre took over essentially Buck’s team plus Derek Jeter and won the 1996 World Series, the Diamondbacks only went all the way in 2001 after Buck yielded the reins to former catcher (and now announcer) Bob Brenly. The addition of aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling didn’t hurt.
After managing the Texas Rangers for a few years earlier this century, he came to the Orioles late in the 2010 season. He turned the team around quickly and by 2012 the Orioles were back in the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
They won the AL East in 2014 and I’ll never forget the last great euphoric moment at Camden Yards. After beating the Tigers two in a row - a bases-clearing double by Delmon Young the deciding hit - a joyous Orioles fan carried a sign into the happy milling crowd: KATE UPTON IS HOT, VERLANDER IS NOT. (Justin of course now has the last laugh appearing again in the playoffs for the second year in a row.)
Buck’s last playoff game with the Orioles can be marked in 20-20 hindsight as the beginning of the end - when he chose not to use ace closer Zach Britton in the Wild Card game at Toronto in 2016. In fairness to Buck, every other bullpen choice in that game had worked like a charm.
But to channel George Costanza to George Steinbrenner in a classic Seinfeld episode, “How could you trade Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps?” I asked in wonderment sitting at the bar at Foley’s that night: “How could you choose Ubaldo Jimenez over Zach Britton in a double-play situation in a tied game on the road?!”
Buck’s last two seasons were not good in Baltimore and 2018 defied belief in its horror. He is moving back to Texas, this native of the Florida Panhandle who went and played at Mississippi State but owes a lot of his inspiration to meeting his father’s friend Bear Bryant at Alabama.
From his earliest moments in Baltimore - when he finished 34-23 in 2010 winning more games than the team had won before he arrived - he made all of us Oriole addicts proud and created lasting memories.
It is almost fitting though equally sad that Adam Jones has probably also played his last game in Baltimore. This effervescent modern player and the old school manager formed a unique bond during the Orioles’s good years.
Jones’s free spirit but obvious desire to win allowed Buck to loosen up some of his old-school rules. So on hot days Buck allowed the Orioles to take batting practice in shorts. It was Jones who insisted that Buck take a bow out of the dugout when he won his 1000th game as a manager.
It’s sad that this year from hell lowered Showalter’s lifetime record to under .500 with the Orioles. The road up will be a hard one and the Orioles are also looking for a new general manager with the decision to not rehire Dan Duquette.
Ownership remains in flux with the Angelos sons in charge now with patriarch Peter ailing. It can’t be worse than 47-115, can it?
So let me close with a big thank you to Nathaniel “Buck” Showalter for the pride and joy he brought to the Orioles and their fans for many years.
That’s all for now - always remember: take it easy but take it!
September 25, 2018
As I have said many times, all any baseball fan should ever ask for is to play meaningful games in September. That hope was long dashed this season (and probably for many future seasons) in Oriole land and for too many other teams this year. (Sure hope we are not seeing the rise of a permanent baseball underclass.)
For those teams still in the hunt, there is nothing like the agony and ecstasy of baseball in late September. When the number of games is reduced to just a handful, the pressure and tension can be excruciating. In a rare unqualified statement about baseball, it says here that the teams that win have the players who can stay intense without being tense.
The five teams in the American League playoffs are already set. The Red Sox and Indians have clinched their divisions, the defending World Series champion Astros will likely clinch the AL West this week (if not at lowly Toronto, then definitely at very lowly Baltimore).
The only dramatic question in the AL is whether the Oakland A’s or the Yankees will host the wild card game on Wednesday October 3. Most likely it will be the Yanks because they have to lose three games out of their last six and the A’s must win all of their remaining five for the wild card game to be played in Oakland.
The National League is far more intriguing. Only the Atlanta Braves have clinched a division title so have no worries about an elimination game. The Cubs are stumbling a bit but still lead the Brewers by two games in lost column. The soaring Dodgers only lead the Rockies by one lost game.
The Cardinals, under once-interim now-permanent manager Mike Shildt, are the most threatened with the most difficult schedule. Last night (M Sep 24) they threw away a key rain-interrupted game to the Brewers. They lost 6-4 with the eventual winning run scoring on an ill-advised errant throw to first base by pitcher Bud Norris that allowed the tie-breaking run to score from third.
Kinda ironic that erratic former Oriole Norris is subject of St Louis boo-birds because supposedly he was nicknamed Bud as a three-year-old because he liked to sip Budweiser!
I love the story of Shildt, a baseball lifer from Charlotte, North Carolina who grew up in the 1970s when the Orioles had their Double-A team in Charlotte. He was a jack-of-all-trades - ballboy, gofer, clubhouse attendant, you name it.
He is the rare MLB manager that never played pro ball. But he has imbibed the Cardinal Way that started with Branch Rickey and continued by George Kissell, Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, and so many more.
The Redbirds will have to play better defense if they want to make the playoffs. And gulp! after two more with the Brewers at home, they end the season with three at Wrigley Field. Though not yet a lock, it seems the Cardinals and Rockies will fight for the second wild card with Colorado hosting the Phillies and Nationals at home.
I want to conclude this post with a fond remembrance of the late Don Welke. One of the great scouts of our era, Welke died in San Diego on Wed Sep 19 just a few days shy of his 76th birthday. He was still scouting for the Padres at the time of his death.
Starting out as an associate scout with the Cincinnati Reds in the 1960s (as the future Big Red Machine was being formulated), Welke enjoyed a career that spanned major contributions with the expansion Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays and later the Orioles, Texas Rangers, and lastly the Padres.
During Pat Gillick’s induction speech at the Hall of Fame earlier this decade, he singled out Welke (and Bob Engle) for special commendation. It was Welke’s scouting that brought first baseman John Olerud and pitcher Pat Hentgen to Toronto. He also tried valiantly to sign Jim Abbott but the remarkable one-armed pitcher opted for the U of Michigan instead.
Welke became a world traveler in his later years and did a lot of international scouting. He was part of the staff for the gold medal-winning American baseball team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Welke’s roots were in the Midwest. His early career almost reads like a traveler’s guide to that region. He liked to call himself a Harvard man, that is, a graduate of Harvard HS in Illinois.
He attended and graduated from Carthage College in Wisconsin but never played pro baseball. Instead he started a career in coaching and education as a graduate assistant at Eastern Michigan U in Ypsilanti. From 1970-75 he was the coach at Concordia College in Ann Arbor.
I had the good fortune to meet Don on a few occasions. I have an especially warm memory of his appearance on a panel that I moderated on scouting for the annual NINE Baseball Magazine conference in Phoenix.
He wasn't an advocate of analytics and its new terminology - low-key wit and pithy perception were his trademarks. “I always look for the player who makes the game look easy,” he once said, knowing of course that the game is never easy.
In a 2015 interview for Fox TV Sports that I accessed this morning via Google, Welke compared scouting to playing in one key way: you have to possess “the ability to be better than the next guy . . . and . . . have the courage to be risky some times.”
Welke is survived by three sons. He will be sorely missed. At least in the age of the internet we have everlasting access to his wit and wisdom.
That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
September 15, 2018
This is an amazing time of year for the sports nut and couch potatoes. Baseball pennant and wild card races are heading towards climaxes and college football has begun with a fury.
I was worried that my graduate alma mater Wisconsin was overrated as a possible college playoff team and Brigham Young proved my fears warranted Saturday afternoon in Madison. On the second hottest day in Camp Randall Stadium history - field temperatures rose to 120 at one point - the Utah eleven avenged last year's rout by the Badgers in Provo with a hard-fought 24-21 victory.
The Badgers had a chance to force overtime but after two timeouts to ice him, the usually reliable kicker Rafael Gaglianone missed a 42-yard field goal. Wisconsin never got into a rhythm all day. Star running back Jonathan Taylor did not fumble but didn't break any big runs.
Badgers southpaw quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw a key interception early in the second half that set up a Cougar TD and gave them control of the game even though Wisconsin did briefly tie. Brigham Young's 25-year-old senior quarterback Reese Mangum played virtually flawlessly.
It was sweet revenge for a team that was embarrassed 40-6 last year. There is nothing like getting even in sports - and maybe in life too - as a motivation.
The LA Dodgers are proving that in St Louis, battering the Cardinals' young pitching staff in the first three games of their pivotal series for wild card position. Just a few weeks ago, the Cardinals roared into LA and swept four from the defending NL champions.
Though by inclination I root against the rich goliath Dodgers and Yankees, I knew that the Dodgers were not to be counted out. They are an explosive team and no one can be more explosive than Cuban defector right fielder Yasiel Puig who had four homers in the Fri and Sat games in St. Louis, with 3 HRs and 7 RBI in Sat's 17-4 romp.
The only runs for St Louis in this game was a grand slam HR by rookie Patrick Wisdom. It would be their only runs this day. Of course, no one can turn down a grand slammer but I think Patrick would agree that baseball wisdom decrees that a grand slam home run often kills a rally.
Same thing happened to the Yankees on Saturday. Miguel Andujar's grand slammer brought the Yankees to 8-7 in chase of Toronto. But they never really threatened again. The grand slammer killed the rally.
Why? Because the bases are then empty so the pitcher no longer worries about base runners and can use his normal full pitching motion. Just another of baseball's wonderful anomalies and contradictions.
That's all for now but there will be more highlights ahead to discuss as wild card positioning in both leagues is still wide open. Stay tune.
And always remember: Take it easy but take it!
September 5, 2018
If only legendary Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy were alive to give his signature late-inning close-game call, "Fasten up your seat belts!" Because he could say it every night as eight teams in the National League can stake a chance to make the post-season.
I write mainly about the Orioles and the American League in this blog but given the historically horrible 2018 of my favorite team, they are playing no meaningful games in September this year. Except to be a spoiler now and then.
Like last night (Tues Sept 4) they rallied to beat the Mariners 5-3 in Seattle. Mariners skipper Scott Servais, drenched in the analytics that told him that starter Wade LeBlanc couldn't face the fearsome Orioles hitters three times, yanked his effective southpaw after six shutout innings.
The Orioles then went to town on the struggling Seattle bullpen. Although like every losing team they almost threw away the game on defense. The Mariners evidently showed more fight in the clubhouse before the game when second baseman/center fielder Dee Gordon and shortstop Jean Segura got into a tussle - reportedly over Gordon's sloppy defensive lapses.
Seattle is now a distant third in the race for the two wild cards with the Yankees and surprising Oakland A's. The A's could still catch Houston for the AL West title but there is no real drama in the AL.
Cleveland is running away with the AL Central and the Red Sox have a lead varying from 7-8 games over the Yankees in AL East. They still have two head-to-head series left but it will take a full collapse of Boston to make those games truly dramatic.
Quite the contrary in the NL. The West is really the wild west in 2018 with only a game separating the Colorado Rockies, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the five-time consecutive champion LA Dodgers.
In the East, Atlanta has maintained recently a lead of two to three games over the fading Phillies but they still have two head-to-head series left, too. Their records are not great so they can't count on earning a wild card - one of then must win the title.
In the NL Central, the Cubs seemed to be in control until they went to Milwaukee on Labor Day and lost two in a row to their rivals to the north.
Newly acquired southpaw Cole Hamels - who has solid playoff experience with the Phillies and the Rangers - has pooh-poohed any rivalry because so many Cub fans make the 90-minute trek to Wisconsin.
That, of course, didn't go over well in beer and bratwurst and cheese country. The Brewers have to make one last trek to Wrigley next Monday thru Wed. And their next-to-last series is in St Louis with the revived Redbirds.
Let's not forget the Cardinals who have been on a tear ever since organizational lifer Mike Shildt took over as interim manager for Mike Matheny early in the summer.
After a 26-12 log under the new leadership, management rewarded Shildt with the permanent job (as permanent as anything ever is in "the hired to be fired" world of baseball).
Of course, Cardinals then went on to lose a few in a row before they held on to beat the disappointing Nationals last night 11-8 in a road slugfest in DC. They have a lot of new young faces on both the mound and in everyday roles that make them a very interesting story. As are the Brewers who with St. Louis are right now the two wild card leaders.
One thing about baseball never to forget is that it is a game of trends and peaks and valleys. Never get too high after a win or too low after a loss, one of the great cliches.
Yet all bets are off when it comes to exciting September baseball. So sit back and enjoy it and we'll be back to you later in the month with updates and more stories.
For now always remember: Take it easy but take it!
August 29, 2018
The Orioles just completed a three-game sweep at home against the Toronto Blue Jays. It was nice payback for the two sweeps they endured at the hands of the Jays in Canada earlier this year.
The Orioles won convincingly 7-0, 12-5, and 10-5 with second-year slugger Trey Mancini finally get into a good groove. Southpaw Josh Rogers from New Albany, Indiana and the University of Louisville - one of three pitchers obtained from the Yankees in the Zach Britton trade - won the middle game in his MLB debut.
Rogers was supported by his parents, girl friend, and as many as two dozen fans from his home area. Rogers becomes the first Indiana native to make MLB this season. I am happy to add that at least seven from the New York metropolitan area have made The Show so far in 2018.
It was the first three-game sweep of the year for Baltimore who "improved" to 40-94, tying the 1962 Mets for wins with 26 games left to play. The Birds go to Kansas City on the Labor Day weekend, the only other team that has a chance for the number one amateur draft pick next June.
In September the Orioles have a chance to play spoiler against wild card contenders Oakland and Seattle and wind up the season with games against the Red Sox and Yankees followed by the season-ending visit to Camden Yards of the defending World Series champion Houston Astros.
As fall looms on the horizon, any baseball game becomes a special treat for yours truly. Late baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti put in very well when he wrote that just when you need baseball the most, it leaves us. So treasure all those games while they are still here - in the minor and independent leagues as well as The Show.
Of note for those in the NY area, both New York teams in the Short-Season Low A New York-Penn League, the Brooklyn Cyclones (Mets) and Staten Island Yankees - aka Pizza Rats on weekends - are still alive in the playoff hunt. The Cyclones host the Yankees Sa Sept 1 and M Sept 3 (Labor Day at 4p) and the Yankees host the Cyclones on Su Sep 2.
In closing, I want to give a plug for an interesting show I recently saw. You have just a couple more chances to see Renee Taylor's "My Life On A Diet." At 85 this actress/comedienne is a marvel, doing eight one-woman shows a week, 90 minutes without intermission, at St. Clement's Theatre in the church at 423 West 46th Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues.
Younger audiences will remember Renee as Fran Drescher's mother on the TV series "The Nanny". Movie buffs will remember her far earlier as Jerry Lewis's assistant
in the movie "The Errand Boy". She talks about these experiences as well as her early and sustained friendship with Barbra Streisand.
I remember her for her work as a manners correspondent on the NBC network show
"That Was The Week That Was" that aired in the early 1960s. She also memorably played Eva Braun opposite Dick Shawn's madcap Hitler impersonation in Mel Brooks' trailblazing film "The Producers".
Unfortunately Renee didn't discuss them in "My Life On A Diet" that was co-written by her late husband actor Joseph Bologna. I guess she could only cover so much of an event-filled and sometimes turbulent life.
I think audiences will like her tales about her life and work as a member of the Actors Studio with fellow students Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando.
"My Life On A Diet," which really isn't about dieting but about how Renee Wexler from the Bronx became a standout performer, runs only through Sunday afternoon Sept 2. I recommend it. Just take those stairs carefully!
That's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
August 13, 2018
It now seems a foregone conclusion that the Orioles will wind up with the worst record in their modern history. After being swept at home in four games by the sizzling Red Sox this past weekend of Aug. 10-12, they sit, or more accurately, slump at 35-84.
Their worst record in Baltimore was the 1988 team that lost its first 21 games and finished 54-107. With 43 games left in the regular season, the Orioles have to play nearly .500 baseball to avoid that ignominy. It's not likely but I still watch most of the games on TV.
(By the way, I am fortunate to afford MLB's Extra Innings package of virtually all of the major league games. In Baltimore, though, if you cannot afford cable TV there is now NO free home TV of the Orioles any more. It is another blot on the mismanagement of the franchise.)
Still, I like to think it is more than masochism that keeps me involved. Not always but sometimes the turnaround of a team is prefigured by the last weeks of a bad season.
It is true that individual stats in September (and sometimes April) can be misleading but the formation of a team concept can happen late in a bad year. Mookie Wilson, one of the ignitors of the 1984-1986 Mets, has said that the team turned around when Frank Howard managed them late in 1983 before Davey Johnson took over in 1984.
A possible core player of the Orioles future Cedric Mullins arrived in Baltimore for the Red Sox series. The mid-round draft choice from Campbell University in North Carolina went 3 for 4 with two doubles in his first game and acquitted himself well in all four games both at the plate and in the field.
Incumbent center fielder Adam Jones for the time being is the right fielder and he has said all the right things about Mullins bringing youth and fresher legs to the team. There is no doubting Jones' genuine charitable interest in his adopted home of Baltimore. He even paid for the transportation of the nearby Washington DC African-American Little League team to its regional championship games.
I just hope he plays right field better than in his first game yesterday (Sunday August 12). He committed an error failing to pick up a ball in the corner on his first attempt.
It led to an unearned run in an eventual 4-1 loss.
Later he took a bad route on Oriole nemesis Mookie Betts' drive to right, turning a single into a double and allowing fleet Jackie Bradley Jr. to score from first with a key 9th inning insurance run. (Everyone this year on the Red Sox is a nemesis of the Orioles but at least they are not the Yankees!)
I do want to close with another ray of hope in this dark season in Baltimore - the re-emergence of left fielder-first baseman Trey Mancini as a feared hitter. After a horrible first half of season, he is beginning to hit the ball and drive in runs.
He cares so much that I know he was disappointed that he only produced one run in his two bases-loaded at-bats yesterday. But he worked the count in both ABs and there are signs that his prolonged slump may be over.
Here's another nice story to end with. David Bote (pronounced like Jerry Grote) is a journeyman Cubs infielder who hit the pinch-hit walk-off grand slam to give the Cubs a 4-3 victory over the Nats on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball this past Sunday Aug. 12.
Six years ago, Bote was on a religious mission in Africa when he heard he had been drafted in the 18th round. He didn't rise immediately in the Cubs' farm system but slowly he did get better. He has become a useful fill-in when stars like Javier Baez and now Kris Bryant are injured. He was ready when his name was called on Sunday night.
That's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
August 5, 2018
Don’t ever say there is no crying in baseball. When shortly before the trade deadline of July 31 the Orioles traded both pitcher Kevin Gausman (to Atlanta along with veteran reliever Darren O'Day) and second baseman Jonathan Schoop (to Milwaukee), many tears were shed by both young players.
The first time you are traded is always an emotional experience because you are literally being kicked out of the only baseball family you have known.
Baltimore infield instructor Bobby Dickerson, a baseball lifer, shed the normally stoic demeanor of a Buck Showalter staff member. As he tearfully explained to Roch Kubatko on the masnsports.com website, he had known Curacao native Schoop from the age of 16 - he had watched close hand the growing pains and emergence of the former Little League champion into a major league second baseman with a great arm and formidable power.
It wasn’t that Gausman and Schoop could walk as free agents after this season. (Which was why All-Stars Manny Machado, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach were all traded.) Their possibly big free agent bonanza won’t come until after 2019 for Schoop and after 2020 for Gausman.
Yet Gausman had never lived up to his billing as the number 4 player picked in the first round of the 2012 amateur draft. His stuff can be electric - a fastball clocked in mid-to-upper 90s and a considerably lower velocity for his split-finger sinking pitch.
But he never could develop a curve or slider to complement his two plus pitches. His pitch count invariably rose early in games and when he needed to make a big pitch, he often did not execute it.
Gausman has remained healthy and durable so he might become an innings eater for the Braves. He did lose his first start to Zack Wheeler and the Mets, 3-0 on Saturday night August 3, not getting out of the sixth inning. (As someone who roots for the Mets to be competitive in the NY market, I'm glad they held on to Wheeler at the trade deadline. He seems to be emerging as a very effective starting pitcher.)
Schoop has gotten off to a slow start with the Brewers, going 0 for 13 before he got his first hit on Saturday night. He will help them I am sure once he gets settled. He even has started one game at shortstop, his original position as little and minor leaguer.
I for one will miss one of the most genuine smiles that I have ever seen in an athlete.
It was a dream of Orioles fans that Schoop and his BFF Manny Machado might comprise a Baltimore double play combination for years and years. Now both are gone and no replacements are on the horizon.
(Interestingly, Machado, who only wanted to play short for the Orioles once JJ Hardy departed after last season, is now playing both third base and shortstop as LAD tries to win a 6th consecutive NL West title.)
So what does an Orioles fan do when his parent team is in disarray and there is no clear evidence yet that any of the minor leaguers received for our stars will really emerge? Try to find hope in the farm clubs, right?
I love the atmosphere and affordability of minor league baseball so I checked in on the Aberdeen Iron Birds' visit to the Brooklyn Cyclones this past Thursday August 2. It started off as a dream day with late breakfast on the boardwalk followed by nearly an hour floating around in the refreshingly mild and surprisingly clean Atlantic at Coney Island.
Alas, the New York-Penn League Short Season A game at MCU (formerly Keyspan) Park quickly spoiled a beautiful day. After taking a quick 1-0 lead on a single by center fielder Austin Hays (last year's Orioles Minor League Player of the Year) and a triple by first baseman JC Escarra, the Iron Birds quickly fell apart.
Southpaw Willie Rios never looked comfortable on the mound, kicking at the ground trying to find a good landing spot I guess. There has been a lot of rain around here lately and the pitching area must have been a little muddy. But nobody on the Iron Bird coaching staff talked to Rios about the problem.
After getting the first out, he walked two and then the defense fell apart. At-'em balls at infielders were misplayed and thanks to a bases clearing double by Cyclones DH Walter Rasquin it was soon 6-1. Then 9-1 after 2, and 12-1 after 3.
Four errors of commission in the first three innings and many more of omission, eg. not covering bases or throwing to wrong bases. Final score of 13-6 was deceptive - it was not a competitive game.
But it was fun to see Austin Hays collect a couple of hits and display his Pete Rose-style enthusiasm for the game. He was halfway to second on a foul ball he hit that the first baseman corralled near the stands.
It was Irish Night and thank God I wasn't raised a Brooklyn Dodger fan because the
entertainment of the evening was provided by a group of dancers called the O'Malleys!
I know that perfidy of moving the Brooklyn Dodgers to LA by Walter O'Malley happened 61 years ago but it remains a wound deep in the heart of old Brooklyn and those in the diaspora.
Well, that's all for now. Plenty of baseball left to muse and moan about. So in the meantime always remember: Take it easy but take it.
July 18, 2018
My take on the now-official trade of Manny Machado to the Dodgers is that I hope he realizes the microscope will now be grinding 24/7. (That's not the best metaphor I know but I never was very good in science classes despite attending Bronx HS of Science.)
Some of his last comments to MASNSports.com reporter Roch Kubatko indicated that the enormity of the change was only now beginning to dawn on him. Players are not robots or simply vessels of stats that can be transferred from one team to another as easily as the click on a computer.
Still, the Dodgers offense will likely get an uptick with him hitting in the middle of the lineup. I am sure Dodgers management will deal with the issue of what happens when incumbent shortstop Corey Seager returns from injury next spring. And what about Justin Turner the incumbent third baseman?
I rarely make predictions since I've always loved the baseball adage - "the farther away from the clubhouse the less you know what you are talking about." (A sanitized version of the adage!)
But I did say that the pre-season injury to Justin Turner would be a big blow to the Dodgers and they indeed got off to an awful start until he returned somewhat to form recently. Turner has been a versatile player in past so they'll find a spot for him.
Whether Machado is shortstop or third baseman of future for LA is an intriguing question. Manny will have many suitors as a free agent come November.
As for my Orioles, it remains to be seen if 21-year-old Cuban-born Double A outfielder Yusniel Diaz, the most heralded of the five minor leaguers received from LA, ultimately becomes a core piece of a rebuilt team. I am also curious to see if homegrown outfielders Cedric Mullins and currently injured Austin Hays can make the grade.
I expect another big trade chip to be sent away shortly when closer Zach Britton finds a new home. I think the Indians want him badly because of health issues and free agency looming for fellow left-handed reliever Andrew Miller. But I also think the Orioles would prefer sending Britton to National League.
I still watch the Orioles out of habit and a love that borders on - who am I kidding? -that actually overflows into addiction. They enter post-All-Star-Game play on a two-game winning streak after a 4-4 home stand that featured splitting four games with the hated Yankees (who trail Boston by 4 1/2 games but only 3 in the A-ILC (All-Important Lost Column).
The lineup without the powerful productive Machado batting third could be even more embarrassing than the one WITH Manny that is 41 games under .500. But call me a cockeyed optimist - I think they will be surpass the Mets 1962 debut of 40-120 and even the Tigers 1999 43-119.
The key always remains in baseball pitching. "Without pitching you got nothin'," Sparky Anderson wisely said. And if they are to become the real Orioles again and not the 2018 version I call sadly Woerioles, the starters must step up and not be Five Jokers and No Aces.
Before I close, I want to say goodbye to someone who left us recently, much too early of a heart attack at age 70. KEN RAVIZZA was a pioneering sports psychologist - born in Connecticut, graduate of the renowned physical education program at Springfield College in Massachusetts. He got his doctorate at USC, studying with among others Howard Slusher, a sports philosophy professor who later became a sports agent.
Ken rose to become both a widely published academic author and an applied sports psychologist in great demand by sports teams like Joe Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs and individual competitors like figure skater Gracie Gold.
Some of Ken's aphorisms that are indelibly etched in my mind include:
"Attitude is a decision."
"Never let the pressure of a situation exceed the pleasure you get from it."
"Learning to be comfortable while being uncomfortable" is a big key to success.
That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!
July 8, 2018
I confess. Many times I read headlines more than stories in both print and on line. The above "hed' was from an AP story, buried in the Sunday July 8 sports section of the World Cup-soccer-obsessed New York Times.
What a perfect example of the relativism of our age! Cano is sorry he failed the test. He claims he used it for a high blood pressure condition but the diuretic drug Furosemide is also known to be a good masking agent for PED use. Maybe he didn't want to use the female hormones that nabbed Manny Ramirez some years ago.
At least Cano spoke to the press when he visited the Seattle clubhouse this weekend. He didn't send his Brooklyn-born agents the Levinson brothers who also represented Cano's former Yankee teammate Melky Cabrera who was suspended a few seasons ago for PED use. (Cabrera is now in the minors, and the Levinsons' assistant who was fired for supplying clean urine for Melky is now reportedly suing the brothers).
Surprisingly, despite Cano's suspension for 80 games (that will end August 14 but keep him out of post-season games), the Mariners have surged into contention in the AL West, challenging the world champion Houston Astros.
If you like ironies, one of the big factors in Seattle's improved play is Cano's replacement at second, Dee Gordon (son of former star reliever Tom Gordon), who himself was suspended for 80 games last season for PED use.
I'm not generally a hanging judge on drug abusers in baseball. The Mitchell Report, released in December 2007, revealed that relief pitchers even more than hitters experimented with chemical enhancement. But collective bargained rules on testing must be upheld. It is a sadness for many Hispanic followers of baseball that a disproportionate number of drug violators have come from the Dominican Republic.
The failure of slugger Sammy Sosa to show any contrition for his enhanced home run total of over 600 homers has played a large role in his virtual banishment from the sport. There was a searching and poignant cover story by Jason Buckland and Ben Reiter about Sosa in the July 2-9 double issue of Sports Illustrated.
Before the College World Series, SI devoted a cover story by the excellent S. L. (Scott) Price to the travails of star Oregon State southpaw Luke Heimlich. While a teenager Heimlich had pleaded guilty to the sexual molesting of his 6-year-old niece.
The story of his plea had become public just before the CWS in 2017 and Heimlich voluntarily withdrew from the team before the Omaha event. He kept out of the public limelight but he privately denied that he violated his niece and only signed the confession to avoid a family-wrenching trial.
This season he was the star pitcher on the top-rated Beavers but he performed poorly on college baseball's largest stage. Oregon State still won the national crown. But for the second year in a row Heimlich went unselected in Major League Baseball's annual June draft.
There are rumors that the Kansas City Royals are in discussions with him but they remain unverified. I'm someone who believes that minors should not have the book thrown at them. In this specific case there is evidence that Heimlich took all steps to follow rehabilitation procedures and is not labeled a recidivist threat.
Saying this is not to make light of the victim's duress. It does remain a story that continues to draw my interest.
That's all for now as the Orioles's descent into the netherworld continues. By the next time I post, their main assets of Manny Machado and reliever Zach Britton may already have been traded. Whether the front office people who got the Birds into this mess have the ability to start the process to restore a respectable franchise remains a huge question. Since I have no answer and have my doubts, I will close: Let us pray.
Always remember: Take it easy but take it!