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More Adventures In Grass Roots Baseball + Homage to Don Baylor and Gene Bennett

August 21, 2017

Tags: Staten Island Yankees Daniel Alvarez, Lowell Spinners: Nick Sciortino, Denyi Reyes, Jennifer Pawol, slow pace of MLB games, Rob Manfred, SI Yankees attendance problems, Brooklyn Cyclones, PONY championships in Washington, Pa., Lew Hays, Joe E. Brown, James Jimenez, Hector Bautista, Don Baylor, Gene Bennett, Branch Rickey

With the Orioles seemingly headed for a mediocre finish to a disappointing season,
I have found several other ways to stoke my baseball passion.

Yesterday - a blissfully warm but not too humid Sunday afternoon August 20th - I made my second trip to the Staten Island Yankees this season.

With a five game lead over the second place Aberdeen Ironbirds the Oriole New York-Penn League farm club, the Yankees are headed for the post-Labor Day playoffs. But yesterday the Lowell Spinners, a Red Sox farm, tamed them 3-1.

The first home runs of the year by Spinners catcher Nick Sciortino from Barrington, New Jersey were more than enough for Denyi Reyes to improve his record to 7-0 with six strong innings of relief. Reyes also set a franchise record with 24-plus scoreless frames. Staten Island righty Daniel Alvarez took the loss despite striking out 10 Spinners.

The game lasted just an amazing two hours and thirteen minutes. Perhaps it was the crisp and efficient work of plate umpire Jennifer Pawol who really kept the game moving. The only woman umpire currently in pro baseball definitely bears watching as a comer.

What a difference from the regular three and a half hour marathons that are marring major league baseball games this season. THE MULTIPLE VISITS OF CATCHERS TO THE MOUND IN EVERY HALF-INNING MUST STOP. If Commissioner Rob Manfred really wants to speed up “the pace of play,” curbing the catchers’ mound journeys is the obvious place to start.

It’s a shame that attendance is so poor in Staten Island. It is rare when the customers total over a thousand in the impressive 7,000 seat stadium overlooking New York harbor and just a short walk from the Staten Island ferry (which by the way is free!).

There are multiple explanations for the lack of attendance: Ticket prices higher than most minor league stadiums; reduction in food services; massive construction going on in the area for future hotels and outlet stores; several ownership changes in recent years.

But the product on the field remains good - unlike the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets New York-Penn League team, that is having a historically bad season. Attendance in Coney Island is down by more than half but still far more than the Staten Island Yankees.

Earlier last week I enjoyed the final days of the PONY League championships in Washington, Penna. just 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. The 14-and-under tournament has been going on since the early 1950s and the ballpark dedicated to PONY's first commissioner Lew Hays is a gem.

When PONY started locally in 1951 it stood for Protect Our Neighborhood Youth. But the idea caught on nationally and internationally of having a league for players who were too old for Little League but not ready for Babe Ruth League on adult diamonds.

PONY soon changed its acronym to mean Protect Our Nation's Youth. Its first president was baseball-loving comedian Joe E. Brown who served effectively from 1953 to 1964.

Brown, whose baseball films from the 1930s especially his favorite "Elmer the Great" are now available on DVD, provided a motto for PONY when he said, "Teach them to play by the rules and they will live by the rules."

Future major leaguers who played in the PONY tournament range from Jim Abbott to Robin Yount, the Alomar family to Mookie and Willie Wilson, the Bonds family to Darrell Strawberry and Jim Thome, and on and on.

The 2017 champions came from Covina, California - located just a few miles east of Los Angeles. They won the title with a thrilling 3-1 extra-inning victory over Seoul, Korea.

The heroes for Covina were pitcher James Jimenez who threw seven strong innings and blasted a two-run homer in the top of the 8th off a light pole to provide the margin of victory. Catcher and leadoff hitter Hector Bautista forced the game into extras by a two-strike two-out seeing-eye single in the top of the seventh.

The game was televised on local cable which meant the half-inning delays were almost as long as the tiresome hiatuses that afflict MLB. Seoul’s manager was also thrown out of the game for arguing balls and strikes causing a delay of more than five minutes.

Nothing could spoil the beauty of the event, however. A real slice of late summer Americana nestled in so-called “Little” Washington, Pa. Lew Hays Stadium is only a few miles from PONY League headquarters in Washington, that adjoins the home park of the Washington Wild Things in the independent Frontier League.

And for those who can't get enough of baseball, next to the independent ballpark is the college home park of the Washington and Jefferson Presidents. There was no independent game going on last week and college ball is restricted to the spring. It was still a thrill to be surrounded by actual baseball and imagined baseball of the future.

I must conclude though on a sad note. More vital baseball people were lost to the great beyond recently. I am referring to the departure of eminent player-manager-coach Don Baylor, 68, and renowned scout Gene Bennett, 89.

Baylor fought quietly and valiantly a long battle against multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. He was the 1979 American League MVP for the California Angels AL West champions that lost the ALCS to Baylor's first team the Orioles. He never wanted to leave Baltimore and wept when told of the trade that saw Reggie Jackson leave Oakland for Baltimore before the start of the 1976 season.

Like his teammate in Baltimore Lee May, who I eulogized in the last blog, Baylor was far more than his impressive numbers: 18-year-career, .267 BA, .436 SA, 2135 H, 338 HR, 1236R 1286 RBI.

He served as a DH in three consecutive World Series, losing with 1986 Red Sox and 1988 Athletics and winning with the Twins in 1987, going 5 for 13 in that seven-game thriller. He was also the first manager of the expansion Colorado Rockies and served many teams as a valuable batting coach.

A native of Austin, Texas, Baylor integrated his elementary school and thought about playing football for the local Texas Longhorns before wisely choosing baseball. He was an active member of the Players Association and a key contributor to many charities including the Cystic Fibrosis Association. He will be missed very much.

So will the longtime Cincinnati Reds scout Gene Bennett who was a bulwark of the only organization he ever worked for. Raised in Branch Rickey's Scioto County in southern Ohio on the Kentucky border, Bennett's minor league career as an outfielder was curtailed by injury.

Offered a chance to manage or scout for the Reds, he took the advice of his mentor
Rickey: "Choose scouting over managing!" Baseball's wise man stressed to Bennett that as a scout you can find almost every season someone to help the organization, but if you are a manager and are given a bad team, you can be fired.

Among the prizes Bennett found for the Reds were southpaw Don Gullett, Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, right fielder Paul O'Neill, and third baseman Chris Sabo. Bennett was very active in the Wheelersburg Little League which now bears his name.

He will never be forgotten in Scioto County. I am pretty certain that the annual January Portsmouth Murals banquet will be dedicated to him this coming year.

That's all this time - but always remember: Take it easy but take it!

The Joys of Chautauqua And In Memory of Bob Wolff and Lee May

August 2, 2017

Tags: Chautauqua Institution, Charles Young Hickory Crawdads, Julian Mock, P.J. Dragseth, Annette Gordon-Reed, Theodore Olson, Pablo Ziegler, Astor Piazzolla, Edvard Grieg, Jared Jacobsen, Emil Gilels, Bob Wolff, Babe Ruth, Lee May, Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, Al Bumbry, Pat Kelly, Earl Weaver, Andres Mora

I just got back from a blissful week at the Chautauqua Institution in southwestern New York State past Jamestown and not far from Erie, Penna. For the second straight summer, I was privileged to teach a class in Baseball and American Culture.

My students were a diverse and fascinating group that included former concession (more…)

Adventures in Grass Roots Summer Baseball

July 21, 2017

Tags: Danbury Westerners, Mystic Schooners, Griffin Dey, Giovanni Dingcong, Hartford Yard Goats, Drew Weeks, Matt Pierpont, Bowie Bay Sox

The dog days of summer may have started a little early in the Northeast U.S. The first heat wave has arrived but hopefully it won't last more than a week.

I always tell people up here that if you lived in Texas and other parts of the Southwest
you face months of steamy weather where the temperature may not go below 100 even at night. Air-conditioning becomes a must, though it is an unnatural way to live IMHO.

I got my first taste of the New England College Baseball League on a warm Tuesday night July 18. The visiting Mystic Schooners held off the Danbury Westerners in a wild 17-15 affair.

A hitting star for Danbury was first baseman Griffin Dey from Yale who belted two HR and had six RBI. He did commit two errors. Ah baseball - the only sport where the bad and the good are ALWAYS built in.

Outfielder Giovanni Dingcong, formerly of Manhattan's Beacon HS now at St. Thomas Aquinas College, contributed two hits for the Westerners, but the power of U Santa Barbara's third baseball Tommy Jew and the rest of the Schooners proved too much.

The Westerners play in Rogers Park that adjoins a Danbury middle school in a complex of many other fields. Ticket prices are very reasonable - $5 and $3 for seniors and I think also the youngsters, and the $3 hot dog was quite good.

My mini-trip ended the next afternoon with another "pitchers' battle" at the new Dunkin' Donuts Stadium in Hartford. The home Colorado Rockies affiliate Yard Goats came from behind three times to whip the Orioles' Double A Bowie Bay Sox,
12-8.

The Yard Goat is the small locomotive that connects cars to fancier trains and the Hartford locals have taken a liking to that metaphor. The franchise had to travel all last season because of delays and legal problems with the new stadium.

The new structure is well worth waiting for. The sight lines and concessions are first rate. I recommend a visit to the left field corner where you can get a great view of the entire field. The nearby barbecue is worth tasting, too.

The foul lines are only 325 feet from home plate and the left field power alley is a ridiculously short 362 feet. Center field is only 392 away and the ball was flying out on this steamy summer afternoon.

Rockies prospect Drew Weeks blasted two key home runs in the Yard Goats' come-from-behind win. Reliever Matt Pierpont got the win by silencing the Bay Sox hot bats for two innings.

That's all for this edition - here's hoping you stay cool and keep rooting for your team(s) and always remember: Take it easy but take it!

The O's Offer A Glimmer of Hope + Assorted Miscellany at All-Star Break

July 10, 2017

Tags: Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Zach Britton, Darren O'Day, Zach Granite, Reynolds Wrap Wrigley Field sponsor, Milwaukee Brewers revived logo, David Vincent, Juan Encarnacion, Frank Catalanotto

The Orioles wound up the first half of the season - actually their first 88 games - with two wins on the road at Minnesota. It brought their record to 42-46, four under .500.

Hardly cause for hand-stands but it did provide a much needed boost after losing five in a row - three straight at Milwaukee to the improving Brewers and the first two in Minneapolis.

Manny Machado’s bat finally came alive this weekend - his batting average has languished in the low .200s for most of the season. For him to finish above .250 will be a quite achievement in 2017.

Adam Jones contributed two home runs in the Sunday finale, getting him out of a HR-RBI rut that seemed stuck forever at 14-35. I know modern analytics pooh-poohs batting average and RBI but it does reveal something about how a player's season has unfolded.

Oriole starting pitching remains historically bad. It was wishful thinking to expect young Dylan Bundy in his first full season as a starter to emerge as the ace. But as long as he is healthy, he looks like a keeper. Hard to say the same about any of the other starters.

Kevin Gausman, first-round pick and fourth in the country in 2011, continues to be the the biggest mystery. He looked like he had turned the corner in the last half of 2016. Even when he didn’t win - and he does have a sub W-L record for his career - he seemed to get out of jams and keep his team close.

Not in 2017 and the big leads he has blown boggle the imagination. It makes Oriole fans welcome the All-Star break. Anxiety will ramp up when he starts the second half against the Cubs at home on Friday July 14 - Bastille Day I hope for the home team not the visitors.

Let’s turn to the positive news. Zach Britton is back in the bullpen and he looked like himself finishing off Sunday’s game with a 1-2-3 inning - two ground balls and a strikeout. It helped that he had a six-run lead but it is hard to overestimate what his loss for most of this season has meant to the Orioles.

I have always believed that a standout closer as well as a peerless ace can be a league MVP. He not only brings confidence to his team when he is out there. Equally important his specter at the end of a game added pressure on the opposition to score early and often.

The bullpen may be the only area of strength the Orioles can use for trading chips before the July 31 deadline. That and Manny Machado who might not re-sign when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season.

It occurred to me that Darren O’Day, one of my favorite O’s (who by the way is of Polish descent not Irish - the family name is Odajowski), almost signed with the Washington Nats when he was a free agent. With the bullpen so obviously in need of upgrade down the turnpike, that might be a fit.

It says here, though, that the Orioles shouldn’t make hasty moves this month just to secure a wild card playoff spot. They need a major overhaul of the pitching staff and more speed in the lineup. That will take time and better scouting and player development.

And Now For Something (Almost) Completely Different:
**Have you noticed that the tarp at Wrigley Field now promotes Reynolds Wrap? I hope the fabric is not made of tin foil.

**Kudos to the Milwaukee Brewers for using again their Mb cap logo that is designed to look like a baseball glove. I rank it up there with the late lamented Montreal Expo cap.

The Brewers are doing quite well in the standings, leading the Cubs by four games in the lost column. Their pitching and defense need upgrades but what team doesn’t except maybe Houston and LA Dodgers.

**Three cheers to Zach Granite who made it into the big leagues with the Twins in Saturday’s game against the Orioles. A 2013 14th round draft pick from Seton Hall U in S Orange NJ, the Staten Island native is still looking for his first hit though his at-bats have been impressive. He made a great highlight-reel catch on Manny Machado's drive to deep center during Sunday’s game.

**R.I.P. David Vincent, 67, a renowned SABR member who compiled an exhaustive log of home runs throughout baseball history. He was dubbed The Sultan of Swat Stats.

Among Vincent's delicious details were his discovery that Tigers 2011 teammates in Juan Encarnacion and Frank Catalanotto were the longest-named players ever to hit back-to-back home runs.

I only lament that too bad Jarrod Saltamacchia and Billy Grabarkewitz were not also in the lineup that day. And wouldn't it have been great if William Vanlandingham threw the gopher balls?

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Facing A Summer Without Oriole Contention

July 4, 2017

Tags: Baltimore Orioles continuing collapse: Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy, Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Jonathan Schoop, Mike Shannon as 1968 Cardinal, JJ Hardy, Chris Davis, Johnny Giovatella, Mark Trumbo, Three Barnes and Two Daniel Robertsons in MLB

Well, it's the mid-way point of the long long major league baseball season. And after their second straight non-competitive loss on the road against the surprising Milwaukee Brewers, leaders in the surprisingly mediocre NL Central, the Birds are at their low point of the season, 40-43.

What is to be done? The farm system is not producing and the varsity is not producing and I haven't even mentioned the staggeringly bad starting pitching. Baseball is a game of streaks - you want to keep the good ones going and the bad ones short.

Chances for success depend largely on good starting pitching and with the slump of young Dylan Bundy there is nothing remotely resembling an ace on the Oriole staff.
The imminent return of ace closer Zach Britton from a long stint on the disabled list with forearm discomfort will help, but will there be leads to protect?

Oriole offense is spotty at best and Manny Machado is having his worst year at the plate. How long ago seems 2012 when he came out of the minors in August to fill the gaping hole at third base with timely hitting and sensational defense. I even bought my first Oriole jersey in his honor.

Along with reliever Brad Brach, Machado may be the Orioles' best trading chip before the July 31st deadline. But his value is not as high as it once was. And I don't appreciate his blathering to the press that the team is trying hard and always thinking of "passing the baton" to teammates.

Manny, I don't call swinging at the first pitch and meekly popping up when down five runs in the top of the 9th in the Birds' latest loss "passing the baton." Team leader and virtual captain Adam Jones is not having a great year at the plate either. He hit only his 9th double of the year today but later was thrown out overrunning third base.

Jonathan Schoop (pronounced "Scope"), the Orioles' one All-Star in 2017 did work the count in his 9th inning AB today. On a 3-1 pitch he homered to cut the lead to 6-2. At least there was no dugout celebration for that essentially meaningless hit.

I was reminded of Mike Shannon's solo homer in the 9th inning of the Cardinals Game Seven loss to the Tigers in the 1968 World Series. After returning from his home run trot, he kicked the water cooler in disgust as if to say, "Too little too late."

But I am happy that Schoop, one of the great Curacao contingent on the major league scene, is getting recognition.

He could be the Oriole shortstop of the future with J.J. Hardy out with injuries until late this month at the earliest. But Schoop is such a great second baseman I'd be wary of that move.

Another possibility is moving Machado to shortstop his original position and one he craves to play. They could put Chris Davis at third or even Mark Trumbo. Defense would suffer but I just hope the Oriole front office starts being creative about plans to bring back the Orioles to contention within my lifetime.

Let me end on a happier more whimsical note.
**Did you know that three MLB teams have a Barnes in their bullpen?
Matt with the Red Sox, Jacob with the Brewers, and Danny with the Blue Jays?

**And for a while this year there were two Daniel Robertsons on AL teams.
Second baseman Daniel with the Rays and outfielder Daniel with the Indians. But the Tribe's DR was recently demoted to the minors.

That's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Pre-75th Birthday Musings on Orioles and Baseball's Wonderful Unpredictability

June 25, 2017

Tags: Dylan Bundy, Donnie Hart, Mychal Givens, Chris Tillman, Evan Longoria, Trey Mancini, Jonathan Schoop, Joey Rickard, Brad Brach, Darren O'Day, Zach Britton AL East and AL Central tight races, Warren Giles

I'm not going to say that the Orioles are back in the AL East race on the basis of two satisfying wins at Tampa Bay on Sat. and Sun. But as a pre-birthday caution to myself,
I have dropped the idea of calling this blog entry "The Return of the Woerioles."

Perhaps from little victories big oaks will grow. Dylan Bundy stepped up on Sat. to pitch seven innings of three run ball - late thunder by the Birds led to a 8-3 win.

The score was not insignificant because Bundy's effort - and the work of relievers Donnie Hart and Mychal Givens - broke an embarrassing string of 20 straight games in which Oriole hurlers had given up five or more runs.

That ugly mark is now an unwelcome American League record and ties the 1924 Phillies for major league mound inefficiency. Those Phillies finished 55-96 and 7th in the National League.

The 2017 Orioles have slumped from first in early May to fourth in the five-team AL East. Yet they will resume play on Tuesday June 27 - my birthday - 37-38, only four games behind the Yankees who all of a sudden have lost 10 out of 12 games. The Red Sox are in a virtual tie with their great Bronx rival but they have sputtered lately too.

Since the Orioles burst into contention in 2012, they have not really had a mound ace, but Chris Tillman, a 9-year veteran, was the closest to it. On Sunday June 25 he showed flashes of his previous form at one point striking out four tough Rays in a row.
But he weakened in the 5th and gave up a three-run homer to personal nemesis Evan Longoria.

The Birds battled back and tied it on solo homers by sensational rookie Trey Mancini and increasingly reliable second baseman Jonathan Schoop. Defensively Schoop belongs on a Mount Rushmore of defenders for the way he stands in on a double play and rifles throws to first base. The former shortstop's range is also impressive.

Rays discard Joey Rickard got the game-deciding hit in the 9th, a double down the left-field line, and Brad Brach picked up a two-inning save. Last year's perfect closer Zach Britton should be back from injury in about 10 days, key veteran Darren O'Day is already back so the Orioles bullpen might become a force again.

IF THE STARTERS PROVIDE LENGTH. Still a big IF.

Only the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals are seeming locks to be in the post-season. I don't know if the late National League president Warren Giles ever
really said that his dream year was for every team to be near .500 come September, but it could be true for the NL Central and most of the American League in 2017.

To give you a sense of the delicious inconsistency in the A.L. - delicious if you are not an ardent Minnesota or Cleveland fan - the defending league champ Indians went into the Twins' Target Field a week ago and swept the Minnesotans and knocked them out of first place. This weekend the Twins turned the tables on the Indians at Progressive Field.

With more than a half-season to play, the best advice to all fans including yours truly is to take deep breaths and realize that the game of baseball is design to confound you. But if you throw strike one and play solid defense (meaning not giving any outs away), you will be in the hunt come September.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!

How To Cope When Your Team Goes Belly-Up

June 12, 2017

Tags: Dylan Bundy, Edwin Jackson, Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Manny Machado, Andrew McCutchen, JJ Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, Darren O'Day, Zach Britton, Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, Fidel Castro, Minnie Minoso, Connie Marrero, The Central Texas BasebALZ Reminiscence Program

For those who follow the Baltimore Orioles, things have gone south in a hurry. On May 10 we were 22-10 and it looked like a year of contention again. Since then the Birds have gone 9-20 and sunk to fourth place with improving Toronto ready to switch places with us in the cellar.

What we hope is the nadir happened this past weekend at Yankee Stadium. I went to the Friday night game with our best pitcher in 2017 on the mound, Dylan Bundy. He pitched creditably and left with the O’s trailing 3-2 after 6 innings.

Once oft-traveled Edwin Jackson came in, I expected the worst and wasn't disappointed. He immediately gave up two runs and I headed for the exits - something I don't like to do, but I did have to get up early to play tennis for the first time in 2017.

Sat. and Sun.games could have used mercy rules a la amateur baseball. Chris Tillman, whose aching shoulder may ultimately need surgery, gave up six in the first and 3 in the second before he was yanked.

The next day Kevin Gausman, the first number one draft pick of the Dan Duquette regime in 2012, was only slightly better, giving up 5 in the first before being knocked out in the 4th. He is presumably healthy physically, but mentally he must be hurting.

The jury is still out as to what Gausman's future competence might be. He must stay in the rotation because he still has great stuff and there are few other starting options. And Oriole brass must fear the specter of another Jake Arrieta being dealt away too hastily.

The absence of Manny Machado for the whole series - due to a freak wrist injury caused by Andrew McCutchen’s awkward slide earlier in the week - didn’t help matters. But Manny’s not having a good year and he needs to pick it up a lot for the Orioles to dream of contending in 2017.

I love JJ Hardy as one of the most underrated Orioles in my lifetime. But his home run power is gone and his assortment of injuries has slowed him in the field.

Though the Birds don’t have a replacement for Machado at third, maybe it is time to move him to his desired position at shortstop. And see how he likes being paired with his pal at second Jonathan Schoop who has really blossomed this year as a rare Oriole clutch hitter.

Some feel that Schoop with his great arm could be a successor to Hardy at short. Seemingly the Orioles have more options in-house at second than third.

The big problem remains starting pitching. And now that Darren O’Day has his own shoulder injury to deal with on the DL and closer Zach Britton is out until probably the All-Star Game, the relief corps is hurting, too.

So how does one cope when his team goes belly-up? If you love the game, there is consolation everywhere - watching high school and college ball and other major league teams without emotional involvement. (Dispassion can only go so far, I hasten to add.)

And reading and talking about the game always brings me pleasure. On Fri June 2, the last day of the 28th annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, I gave a talk at the Hall of Fame based on my trip to Cuba over New Year’s in 2016.

I called it: “If We Had Known He Wanted To Be A Dictator, We Would Have Made Him An Umpire: Reflections on Castro and Cuba’s Ardent Love of Baseball.” The great quotation comes from either Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, the first great post-World War II Cuban star in MLB, or pitcher Conrado “Connie” Marrero who pitched in MLB for five year in the 1950s before living the rest of his 100-plus years in Cuba.

There is no doubt that Fidel Castro genuinely loved the game though it is only a myth that he was really a pro prospect. He probably had more talent as a basketball player though again not of pro quality.

Fidel was a canny enough politician to realize that most Cubans of his generation shared his passion for baseball. After all, the game took off in Cuba as an act of rebellion against the Spanish colonialists during the 10 Years War in the 1870s. It has continued its popularity though the defections of Cuban stars since the early 1990s has gravely weakened Cuba’s impressive amateur baseball organization.

As always at these chock-filled-with-papers conferences, there was no way to hear everything. But many presentations left a lasting impact with me. I'll mention one in closing, the BasebALZ Reminiscence Program of Austin, Texas.

Scotland took the lead in 2009 by creating a program to use sports memories to help
Alzheimer's patients connect with the past and discuss their stories in the present.
There are now over 200 programs in Scotland dealing mainly with memories of soccer and cricket.

There are only three projects started so far in the U.S. but the one in central Texas has had some very rewarding success. Jim Kenton talked about one Alzheimer's patient in a wheelchair who had barely spoken for three months.

When prodded about his baseball memories, he suddenly remembered a game when Jack Kramer on the 1946 Browns, threw a ball out of Fenway Park after a bad call by the first base umpire. He also remembered that it was on an anniversary of D-Day and George Metkovich led off that day. SABR researchers later confirmed the accuracy of the reminiscence.

More on the Symposium next blog - That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Ain't Baseball Great? Appreciating The Game Despite Orioles' Deep Funk

May 28, 2017

Tags: MASNSports slogan, Orioles slide, Clayton Kershaw, Jon Lester, Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, Fidel Castro, Yasiel Puig

This phrase is used often in ads on Orioles broadcasts on its cable network MASNSports. I still find the sentiment true despite the current 7-game losing streak of the Birds.

What was a 22-10 record two weeks ago of my Birds has now plummeted to 25-23. Last place in the AL East is now closer than the soaring Yankees atop the division.

I try to console myself that the 1983 Orioles, their last World Series-winning team, lost 7 in a row TWICE that season. And this is just end of May, lots of baseball left to play.

But with a pitching rotation without a stopper (young Dylan Bundy is the closest to that needed position), Zach Britton star closer out indefinitely, and sluggers Manny Machado and Chris Davis in deep slumps, it is gloom time in Charm City.

Yet, ss I type away, I have the Dodgers-Cubs game on the MLB Extra Innings Package.
An expected pitchers’ duel between LA’s Clayton Kershaw and Chicago’s Jon Lester has turned into home run slugfest.

Both pitchers were knocked out early and six home runs have flown out of Chavez Ravine. Ain’t Baseball great indeed. Youneverknow, do you?

I leave Wednesday morning for the annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture. I will be talking at the Friday June 2 1p session on “Baseball Potpourri’.

My paper is “‘If We Had Known He Wanted To Be A Dictator, We Would Have Made Him An Umpire’: An Exploration into Cuba’s and Fidel Castro’s Love of Baseball.”

As I sign off this posting, Yasiel Puig, the mercurial very talented Cuban defector and right fielder for LA, has just made a brilliant running catch. Unmistakably rare and brilliant talent has defected from Cuba in recent years, but it is widely feared that the cream has been taken out of the country.

I hope to live to see a day when Cubans can play in the greatest leagues in this country without having to leave their homeland.

That’s all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Pre-Memorial Day Musings

May 22, 2017

Tags: MLB pennant race analyses at quarter-pole: Houston Astros' Dallas Keuchel and Brian McCann, Yankees' Aaron Judge, Mets' Noah Syndergaard, Rockies' Bud Black, Orioles' Jonathan Schoop and Zach Britton and iffy starters, PSAL baseball, Cesar Presbott's Scout Day

We are past the quarter pole of the baseball season. Unlike the NBA where it has seemed pre-ordained for months that the Durant-Curry-led Golden State juggernaut and LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers will meet in the finals, I am happy to report that there are no clear favorites for the 2017 World Series.

The old cliche remains true - you cannot win a pennant in the spring but you sure can lose one. The odds look very long for post-season play for supposed contenders Kansas City and Toronto in the AL and the Mets and San Francisco in the NL - all are mired well below .500.

Yet for fans of those teams, please remember there are more than a hundred games yet to play with summery weather ahead. AND YOU SEE SOMETHING NEW IN EVERY BASEBALL GAME. Trust me.

Houston was rolling along in the AL West until a sweep at home this weekend by defending AL champs Cleveland. The Astros still have the best record in baseball before games on May 22, but they must hope that the DL stints of ace southpaw Dallas Keuchel and veteran catcher Brian McCann are brief ones.

A pleasant NL surprise is the Colorado Rockies under new manager Bud Black. They have developed some starting pitching to go with the potent offense they've had for a while. Before games of May 22, they were leading NL West 11 games over .500.

I'm not surprised that Bud Black is having early and I think lasting success. In 2002 he was the pitching coach for the California Angels world champions that had three future managers on the staff to go with Mike Scioscia who remains the senior skipper in terms of active longevity in MLB. (Joe Maddon and Ron Roenicke were the others.)

Here in my home town of New York, the Yankees look poised to reclaim the mantle of Gotham’s best pro team. The huge young right fielder Aaron Judge leads MLB in HRs with 15. His circus catch against Tampa Bay on Sunday saved the game and more than made up for his 4 K’s at bat.

Meanwhile, the vaunted Mets pitching staff has been plagued with serious injuries. I don’t like saying, “I told you so,” but when I read that Noah “Thor" Syndergaard during the off-season had been building up muscles to throw even harder, I knew he would break down.

“Thor” is now out well into the summer (at least), Matt Harvey has been lit up regularly, Jacob DeGrom is continually plagued by throwing hand blisters, and Steven Matz and Seth Lugo have yet to throw regular season pitches.

It says here that the Mets don’t have a consistent enough offense or defense to make up for these injuries. The Washington Nats look poised to remain on top for the rest of the year in the AL East. Again, though, many many games left to play.

As for my Orioles, they returned from a disappointing 1-6 road trip to win 2 out of 3 at home from Toronto. Their starting pitching bounced back from a disastrous trip away from home, but it is hard to possess great expectations with ace closer Zach Britton out until early summer (at best).

The O's less-than-imposing starting staff is headed by Chris Tillman, free agent-to-be just returned from nagging shoulder discomfort; Dylan Bundy (the most consistent so far but prone to the gopher ball lately); the one lefty Wade Miley (who does work with blessedly fast tempo a la the retired Mark Buehrle); Ubaldo Jimenez (another free agent-to-be who cannot repeat his delivery), and Kevin Gausman who was counted on as a possible ace but has gotten off to a very shaky start..

The Orioles do play spectacular defense most of the time, but it is needed most every day. When normally steady Jonathan Schoop booted an easy grounder in the loss to Toronto yesterday, it led to the three unearned runs in a 3-1 defeat.

Before I sign off, here is an update on baseball at the grass roots.

Weather permitting, the PSAL high school championships start on Wednesday May 26 at 3:30p at various locales around NYC. I have my eye on #3 seed Beacon in midtown Manhattan that seemingly has a deeper pitching staff than usual in 2017.

They tangle with my alma mater Bronx Science at the #3 North Diamond in Central Park, northeast of the 97th Street entrance to Central Park. Updates on the entire
tournament can be found at the psal.org website.

Perennial powers George Washington and James Monroe are seeded #1 and #2 but defending champion Midwood of Brooklyn is a contender as is Staten Island powerhouse Tottenville, runners-up for the title in the last three seasons.

Finally, on Thursday May 25 from 9p-2p, there will be a Scout Day at City Park Stadium in New Rochelle, N.Y - You enter on City Park Road off 20 5th Avenue.

Highly regarded college and junior college players from the New York area and INNER CITY PLAYERS WHO HAVE BEEN RARELY SCOUTED are invited to display their baseball wares to scouts from many major league organizations.

The event is sponsored by the Cesar Presbott Foundation run by the longtime Yankees area scout who signed Dellin Betances among many others. The Presbott Foundation does wonderful charitable work. For years, it has distributed more than 1000 Thanksgiving turkeys to needy areas in the Bronx.

That’s all this time - always remember: Take It Easy But Take It!

"Tomorrow Is Your Best Friend" and Other Tips On How To Deal With A Looooong Baseball Season

May 13, 2017

Tags: Bobby Valentine, Tug McGraw, Curt Motton, Ivy League baseball: Penn's Jake Cousins and Tim Graul, Mark Melancon, John Fuller

The drama of the major league baseball season is enfolding before us in all its glory and agony. And the best advice for dealing with the inevitable peaks and valleys remains: "Tomorrow is your best friend." I heard the phrase first when Bobby Valentine managed the Mets at the turn of the 21st century.

Of course, it helps to get off to good starts as the Orioles and Yankees have done in the AL East and the Astros in the AL West. On the other hand, the road will be very difficult for those who have stumbled mightily in the early going, esp. the Giants in the NL West and the Blue Jays in the AL East.

Yet unlike football and even basketball, baseball plays by far the most games. There are still well over 120 to play. In a very impatient society, the best advice is to chip away day-by-day, inning-by-inning, pitch-by-pitch and perhaps the winning feeling will return.

Remembering the late relief pitcher Tug McGraw's mantra, "You Gotta Believe," never hurts. Yet for most of us I'm afraid the late great Oriole reserve outfielder and scout Curt Motton said it more realistically: "You're never as good as you look when you are winning, but you could be as bad as you look when you are losing."

Inclement weather continues to plague the Northeast. I don't recall a spring that feels more like fall and even winter. Impressive Houston's Saturday afternoon game against the Yankees was postponed early, and Derek Jeter Retirement of Number Day will now actually be part of a single-admission Sunday doubleheader.

Weather has impacted the Ivy League baseball playoff between defending Rolfe division champion Yale and Penn champions of the Gehrig division. These games won't be played until Tues May 16 and if necessary Wed May 17.

Penn eliminated Columbia, 6-3 in a single play-in game last Sunday May 7. Senior right-hander Jake Cousins pitched six solid innings and slugging senior outfielder Tim Graul did what all visiting teams must do on the road, contribute to a first-inning lead by slugging a two-run homer.

If forecasters are right, almost summery weather will finally bless us during the week of May 15 and I hope beyond. It is a very exciting time for baseball followers.
College and high school tournaments are starting in about a week. More on that in next installment of this blog.

Before I close, a special tip of the cap to Mark Melancon, the SF Giants new closer who really cares about the history of his team. On Monday May 8 before the start of the Giants' 3-game series against the Mets, Mark treated over 30 members of the New York Giants Preservation Society to a pizza lunch on Monday May 8.

We gathered at the foot of the John Brush steps below Edgecombe Ave. in Harlem just above where the Polo Grounds stood. Mark and his agent, John Fuller, listened with obvious sincerity to all of our stories about how we fell in love with the Giants as youngsters and how we sustained those memories even though the team left for San Francisco after the 1957 season.

For now, always remember: Take it easy but take it!

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Story of baseball's reserve system and the men who fought to change it
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