Archives

More Musings on the Woerioles During The Dog Days of Summer

August 13, 2018

Tags: Orioles continuing 2018 woes, Cedric Mullins, Adam Jones, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Wilson, Frank Howard, David Bote, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant

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.



Picking Up The Pieces As The Oriole Rebuild Starts

August 5, 2018

Tags: Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop, Bobby Dickerson, Roch Kubatko, Buck Showalter, Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Manny Machado, JJ Hardy, Zack Wheeler, Aberdeen Iron Birds, Austin Hays, JC Escarra, Willie Rios, Brooklyn Cyclones Irish Night, Walter Rasquin

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.

On The Inevitable Manny Machado Trade (updated) + In Memory of Ken Ravizza

July 18, 2018

Tags: Manny Machado, Roch Kubatko, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, Yusniel Diaz, rest of Orioles 2018 season, Sparky Anderson, Ken Ravizza, Howard Slusher, Joe Maddon, Gracie Gold

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!


Thoughts on "Mariners' Cano Apologizes For Failed Drug Test"

July 8, 2018

Tags: Robinson Cano, furosemide drug, Manny Ramirez, Levinson Brothers, Dee Gordon, Melky Cabrera, surge of Seattle Mariners, Mitchell Report, Sammy Sosa, Jason Buckland and Ben Reiter, Luke Heimlich, S. L. (Scott) Price, Manny Machado, Zach Britton

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!

Musings On Tolstoy As The Woerioles Continue To Sink

June 28, 2018

Tags: Leo Tolstoy, injured Woerioles: Richard Bleier, Craig Gentry, Darren O'Day, Chris Davis, Zach Britton, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Buck Showalter, Dan Duquette, Peter Angelos

The great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy once observed that all happy families are happy in the same way and all unhappy families are unhappy in different ways. I've been thinking a lot about that observation as I watch from afar - on TV and internet - the continuing sinking of the once-proud Orioles franchise into the Woerioles.

There is little evidence that Tolstoy had any interest in baseball. In the heyday of the Soviet Union its leaders claimed that lepka was a game that preceded baseball but research has refuted it.

When I tried to explain in the 1980s the essence of baseball to a Soviet TASS news agency correspondent - "The ball is round, the bat is round, and you have to hit it square" - he chuckled a bit but muttered, "I don't get it."

So does Tolstoy's bon mot really apply to baseball? The season is soooo looooong that story lines do emerge like in a family saga. Yet I wonder if winning and losing are just the flip side of the same coin.

Winning teams exude confidence, shake off bad breaks, come from behind, get the big hit, and make the big pitch. Losing teams do precisely the opposite and usually are afflicted with injuries.

In the painful case of the Orioles, for example, no sooner had their bullpen, once considered a team strength, seemed whole again, steady lefty Richard Bleier came down with a season-ending lat injury and Darren O'Day went back on the DL.
A key reserve outfielder Craig Gentry, who would have been a fine role player on good Orioles teams, suffered a broken rib on a hit-by-pitch and he's out indefinitely.

I caught the last innings of the Baltimore-Seattle game on my 76th birthday after a wonderful dinner of food and drink and dessert. The Birds were trailing by only a run in the bottom of the 8th. One pitch could turn the game around, and voila! Chris Davis hit a three-run homer to give the Orioles a 7-5 lead. It was a rare moment of productivity for the seemingly permanently faded slugger.

In the top of 9th the once-impregnable closer Zach Britton, just back from a injury to his Achilles tendon, promptly blew the lead. Not even a scintilla of drama. First, a single to the amazingly productive outfielder Mitch Haniger - who came in a trade from the Diamondbacks - and then boom! two-run tying home run by Kyle Seager who is generally an Oriole killer.

You could almost feel the inevitable outcome ahead - a 8-7 Seattle win in 11 innings. The sad thing is the shell shock from so much losing - 23-56 as of this writing on June 28 - is etched on the faces of everyone clad in Oriole orange and black. Starting with manager Buck Showalter.

Ailing owner Peter Angelos doesn't like to fire people because he'll still have to pay them. I knew with so many key people heading to free agency at the end of this season - including manager Showalter and gm Dan Duquette - this could be a disappointing season. But no one expected the historic horribleness.

There is no easy solution to the mess. Maybe there is no solution. I have never been a supporter of cosmetic firings. So I will stop beating the dead horse.

And suggest (to myself as well as you, dear readers) that there are plenty of other teams to follow both in the majors and in the minor league and summer amateur ranks. Baseball is always rewarding if you don't get too too emotional.

Next time I'll say more about two very good reads - "Pitching With Dick Bosman" (Rowman and Littlefield) and Felipe Alou's memoir, "Alou: My Baseball Journey" (U. of Nebraska Press). For now always remember: Take it easy but take it!

How To Enjoy The Summer When Your Favorite Team Is 20-50

June 17, 2018

Tags: Orioles's 20-50 record, Juan Soto, Matt Adams, Adam Eaton, Wilmer Difo, Sonny Gray, Brett Gardner, Yoenis Cespedes, Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Brandon Nimmo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Monroe wins PSAL baseball title, College World Series

The above headline is not a typo. By winning on Father's Day 10-4 over the Miami Marlins, the Baltimore Orioles "improved" to 20-50 on the season with 92 games left to play.

The last time they had won at home at Camden Yards was Mother's Day. So how do you enjoy the rest of the season with your team hopelessly out of the pennant race?
The short answer is: Believe in the process and not just the outcome.

Baseball is such a magical game that every game provides something you have never seen before. Case in point: On Wednesday night June 13 I saw the Washington Nationals beat the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, 5-4. The key runs were driven up by two home runs by the 19-year-old rookie left fielder Juan Soto who because of injuries has been rushed to the majors.

What I'll most remember about this game is that the Nationals managed to get thrown out on the bases five times in the win. In the second inning, the first two batters got on base but Yankee starter Sonny Gray picked Soto off first base. (Soto did get even by hitting his first homer, a three-run job, off Gray in the fourth.)

Then Wilmer Difo lined to shortstop and Matt Adams was doubled off second base, a virtually unforgivable base running lapse on a play in front of the runner that too often occurs these days. As second man up in the third inning, Adam Eaton tried to stretch a single into a double but was thrown out by Brett Gardner.

So four outs were made on the bases in a span of FIVE batters. I never had seen that. For good measure Eaton was caught stealing in the eight inning. The Nats did win this game but they went up to Toronto and got swept over the weekend by the Blue Jays.

In one of the nicer stories of the MLB season so far, the Atlanta Braves are holding a narrow lead over the Nats in the NL East with the improved Phillies in striking distance. The Mets have hit such a skid that they even lost two games to the Orioles in the first week of June.

Without the oft-injured Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who evidently is out indefinitely, the Mets' offense has ground to a halt. The team is perilously close to falling over 10 games under .500.

There is a clamoring for them to trade their ace pitcher Jacob DeGrom, even to the Yankees, but I say: You build around him and perhaps another injury-prone talent, fellow right hander Noah Syndergaard.

What do the Mets and Orioles have in common? Aging rosters without speed and ownership by the Wilpon and Angelos families, respectively, whose increasingly involved sons don't have a good grasp of how to improve their teams' fortunes. Understatement of the year!

Yet miracles do happen in baseball! As I was finishing this post, the Mets pulled up a rally at Arizona that was reminiscent of their comeback in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the Red Sox.

Down to their last out and trailing 3-1, Jose Reyes kept the game alive by a bunt single. A former Mets star now on the verge of being released (if only the farm system had an adequate replacement). Pinch-hitter Jose Bautista, another veteran on his last legs, then doubled to score Reyes.

And on the next pitch Brandon Nimmo, a rare bright light on this Mets team and a rarity in that he hails from Wyoming where there is no high school baseball, hit a long home run. For good measure Asdrubal Cabrera, the plucky second baseman playing hard despite nagging injuries, also homered to make it 5-3 and the Mets won the game.

To repeat: The game remains beautiful and surprising in so many ways. And here's a shout-out to Monroe HS from the Bronx who won the PSAL (Public Schools Athletic League) championship on Monday night June 11 at Yankee Stadium, dethroning Grand Street Campus from Brooklyn, 3-0.

And though the sound of the composite aluminum bat is jarring to baseball traditionalists, do give a look at the College World Series in Omaha through June 27 on ESPN. North Carolina and Mississippi State have moved into the winner's bracket with Arkansas leading Texas while waiting out a rain delay as I type this. Texas Tech and Florida are the last teams to get into action later tonight on Father's Day.

That's all for now. Back before the end of the month with a report on SABR's national conference in Pittsburgh. I'm chairing a panel on Branch Rickey's Years in Pittsburgh on Sat afternoon June 23 at 1p at the Wyndham Grand Hotel in the Steel City's downtown.

Always remember: Take it easy but take it!


Memorial Day Musings: Of Will Power and Lions To Dive Into Gator Waters

May 28, 2018

Tags: Will Power, Columbia wins Ivy League baseball title, Ron Darling, Frank Viola, Roger Angell, Florida Gators, Harrison Egly, Ty Wiest

I couldn't quite believe that the winner of the Indianapolis 500 race on Memorial Day Sunday was Will Power. That name seemed more likely for a horse but indeed the winning race car driver was Will Power, an Australian. Congrats to him and to all the drivers who survived the marathon race without serious injury.

The seedings are out for the NCAA baseball tournament that will climax with the College World Series in Omaha June 16-27. Ivy League champion Columbia will face the number one national seed the University of Florida Gators in Gainesville at noon Friday June 1.

Columbia opened the 2017 season by being swept by Florida so this matchup allows for a long shot at revenge in the double-elimination regional. Columbia earned the right to make the tourney for the fourth time in six years by winning two exciting games last week at defending champion Yale's historic Yale Field in New Haven.

Columbia's 4-0 win on Tuesday May 22 occurred on the 37th anniversary of the classic Ron Darling-Frank Viola tournament duel that Roger Angell immortalized in "The Web of the Game" in the New Yorker magazine (and later included in his anthology "Late Innings".)

Darling actually attended Tuesday's game but his presence could not induce offense from Yale bats. The following day, the Elis scored only one run in the deciding 2-1 game that went 15 innings. I feel very happy for two Columbia senior pitchers: Harrison Egly who won the 4-0 game and Ty Wiest who not only threw the last two innings in that victory but hurled 6 innings of one-hit relief in the deciding 2-1 game.

The other seven national seeds in the tournament are Stanford, Oregon State, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, Florida State and Georgia. But here's a good luck wish to Army who will tangle with North Carolina State on Friday at 7p and the University of Hartford who at the same time will go up against Stetson in Deland, Florida.

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

"Do You Believe in Miracles?" Columbia Baseball Fans Do

May 17, 2018

Tags: Al Michaels, Matt Rothenberg, Harvard's dramatic win over Dartmouth, upcoming Yale-Columbia playoff, Randell Kanemaru, Phillies Odubel Herrera and Luis Garcia

Broadcaster Al Michaels became famous for his “miracle” question after the American hockey team upset the Soviet team at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY.

Well, on a smaller but equally intense scale, Columbia baseball got a miraculous present late Monday afternoon May 14 when Harvard came back from a 17-9 6th inning deficit to eliminate Dartmouth from the Ivy League race, 18-17. Second baseman Matt Rothenberg's second home run of the game capped the comeback in the bottom of the eight.

The combined 35 runs of the Big Green and the Crimson combined were the most in this rivalry since the first game they played in 1869, a 38-0 rout by Harvard.

I cannot say enough for Harvard’s integrity in playing the last two games with intensity once they had been eliminated themselves from the race when Dartmouth won the first game on Sunday.

Harvard actually finished tied with Columbia for second place with a 13-8 record - their best season since 2005 - but Columbia beat Harvard in the regular season three-game series. Dartmouth finished 12-8-1, its 11-inning tie with Penn not replayed. It was another break for Columbia that lost the regular season series to Dartmouth.

Because of the incessant wet weather in the Northeast, the Lions’s championship series against first place/defending champion Yale won’t start until Tues May 22 at noon with a doubleheader at historic Yale Field in New Haven. If the teams split, the title will be decided on Wed May 23 in a single game starting at 1p.

The winner will be the first entrant into this year’s NCAA baseball tournament that ends with the College World Series in Omaha in mid-June. Though Yale’s pitching has been more consistent throughout the season than Columbia’s, I think there should be some great competitive baseball on display next week.

Though I definitely have a dog in this fight - I should say a lion - I do believe Columbia has a fighting chance to win its fourth league crown in the last six years. Even if it may have to play without its injured senior leader second baseman Randell Kanemaru.

Pulling for Columbia has certainly helped sustain my rooting chops because the return of the Woerioles has been painful to watch. But it’s not only Baltimore that is enduring deep, seemingly endless losing this season.

The American League is also home to the struggling Kansas City Royals, the Chicago White Sox and the Texas Rangers while the Cincinnati Reds are mired in the NL Central basement. None of them have realistic hopes of even getting back to .500.

On the positive side, I find it very nice to see the rebuilding Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies atop the NL East leader boards.

The Phillies have a couple of great reclamation stories. Center fielder Odubel Herrera was picked out of the Rule 5 draft of six year minor league veterans a few years ago and now he is a spark plug atop the lineup.

Set-up man Luis Garcia was signed way back in 2004, didn’t reach the majors until 2012, and only last season did he find a home in Philadelphia. L. Garcia has stranded all 15 inherited runners he faced this season (after the Phillies 4-1 Wednesday May 16 whipping of the Orioles.)

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

On The Sad Return of the Woerioles Plus Other Nicer Stories

May 3, 2018

Tags: Brad Brach, Bud Norris, Joe Posnanski, Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres, Aaron Hicks, Houston's questionable bullpen, Atlanta Braves's rise, Nick Markakis, Ivy League race for second spot in playoffs, Randell Kanemaru, St. John's-Seton Hall Big East race, Rutgers in Big Ten, Todd Frazier

The old canard, “You can’t win a pennant in April but you sure can lose it,” seems truer than ever. The Orioles’s offensive futility is so bad that I turned off a game on Monday night April 30 when they were only trailing 2-0 in the 7th.

So I missed them tying in the 9th at Anaheim against the Angels. Only to lose it in bottom of the inning. Once-reliable reliever Brad Brach must be feeling the pressure of his impending free agency because he has not been effective this year.

(It reminds me of similar problems for Bud Norris in his last year as a Bird. Norris, who won the last post-season game the Birds played in 2014 against Detroit, has landed for the time being with Cardinals.)

Oriole starting pitching was considered a big issue in 2018 and it remains that way. Now the bullpen, the defense, and the anemic offense have all been revealed as defective.

But one thing I will NOT do is pile on against my bedraggled team like Joe Posnanski did this week on mlb.com rehashing the 21-game losing streak to start the 1988 Oriole season. Instead I always find something remarkable to write about baseball on its many levels.

Here's even a tip of cap to the Yankees that won a thrilling day game at Houston on May 3, earning a series win, 3 out of 4 against the defending world champions.

Down 5-3 going into the top of the 9th (after leading 3-0 going into the bottom of the 7th), they scored 3 runs on the dreaded leadoff walk, a few singles and sprightly base running by their impressive rookies Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres and pinch-hitter Aaron Hicks.

Team speed is so undervalued in baseball and it is nice to see games won with legs and not just massive home run-hitting forearms. Houston’s bullpen ineffectiveness might become an issue as the season wears on.

Maybe Seattle and the Angels with Mike Trout and the young Japanese import DH-pitcher Shohei Otani might challenge the Astros. Meanwhile, it looks like the nomination for AL Least might be the AL Central where the Indians have sputtered out of the gate though its less-heralded rivals have been even worse.

In the NL East, the youth movement in Atlanta seems about to pay off as the Braves came into CitiField this week and swept the Mets convincingly. They have moved into first place in the very early going.

Former Oriole Nick Markakis is providing veteran leadership and great all-around play. He didn't want leave to Baltimore but management didn't want to pay him for the fourth year of his contract.

On the college baseball front, Yale is a virtual lock to host the best-of-three Ivy League championship in New Haven on May 19, and 20 (if necessary). Dartmouth has a one-game lead in the lost column over Columbia that is really two games because the Big Green won 2 out of 3 against the Lions at Dartmouth earlier in the season.

Columbia needs to sweep Cornell at Ithaca on May 12-13 and hope that Dartmouth loses two games of their remaining six against Princeton at home and Harvard in Cambridge. There is also a 4-4 tie against Penn that the Big Green may need to resume if that game becomes crucial.

Columbia ended its home season with a series victory against Penn. The Lions’s senior leader second baseman Randell Kanemaru hopefully dodged a serious injury in the climactic rally to win the rubber game.

Last year’s league MVP got on base after being hit in the “lower stomach” with a pitch. He moved to third later in the inning and then tried to score on a wild pitch. After a violent collision with the Penn pitcher at home plate, he was called out.

There are no replay provisions in the Ivy League but it looked like a bad call. Worse, he was writhing in pain after landing on his left shoulder. His right throwing shoulder has been aching all year forcing his shift to second from third base.

Fortunately there was no major injury. He has a chance to end his career on the playing field, ideally for fans of Columbia, playing deep into the spring.

In the Big East, perennial powers St. John’s and Seton Hall square off on Fri May 11 at Seton Hall at 4p. Both will make the Big East tournament that will be in Ohio May 26-28.

In the Big Ten, Rutgers has a 6-9 league record but is 23-18 overall after spanking Columbia 15-4 in a mid-week game on May 1. Mets third baseman Todd Frazier's alma mater may have a chance to do some damage in the playoffs.

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






It Helps To Love The Game When Your Team Goes Belly-Up in April

April 24, 2018

Tags: Orioles slow start despite improved starting pitching, Princeton takes 2 of 3 from Columbia, Sean Manaea

I didn’t have many hopes for the Orioles in 2018. Too many looming free agents on the field - Manny Machado, Adam Jones, reliever Brad Brach among the key ones. And off the field contracts of both manager Buck Showalter and gm Dan Duquette are also over at end of season.

But as a friend wisely noted as I went through a divorce back in the 1990s, “You can see a Mack truck coming but it still hurts when it hits you.” At 6-17 after a 2-1 loss to the Indians on Monday night April 23, the O’s may well never get to .500 in 2018.

In baseball’s confounding ways Orioles’ starting pitching has been better than expected. Dylan Bundy has emerged as a true ace, Kevin Gausman pitched confidently in the 2-1 loss last night, and newcomer Andrew Cashner has been reasonably effective (though he seems clearly a backend-of-rotation kind of guy, not able to get the really big outs when you need them).

The other newcomer highly-paid Alex Cobb has glaringly shown the rust of missing most of spring training. Erstwhile former semi-ace Chris Tillman is getting every chance to regain his form of two years ago with mixed results.

It is the hitting or lack of it that has done in the Orioles so far. Its once proud defense has also fallen apart. None of this is pleasant to watch and Baltimore fans are staying away in droves from Camden Yards.

The frigid weather has certainly played its part in the ultra-cold bats. MLB just broke a record for the most rainouts ever in April. But finally FINALLY it looks like spring has arrived in the Northeast and we can at last put away our winter clothes.

To add to my woes as a fan, I was counting on my Columbia Lions to make another Ivy League championship run in 2018. Losing two out of three at home to Princeton this past weekend makes that outcome more difficult though not impossible.

Except for a Lions pitching meltdown in the second game of the Saturday doubleheader, the games were exciting and well-played. Leaving 15 on base and blowing a 4-1 7th inning lead in the Sunday 7-6 loss was a bitter pill to swallow.

But if baseball teaches you anything, it is the importance of a short memory. Two three game series are still left for Columbia in Ivy League play - at home this Friday at 3p and Sat. doubleheader starting at 1130a against perennial contender Penn having a down year. And then after final exams, three more at Cornell during second weekend in May.

With rainouts having to be made up in the 21-game league season, the standings are:
Defending champion Yale 11-4, Columbia 9-6, Princeton 7-5, Dartmouth 6-5-1, Harvard 6-6, Penn 6-8-1, Cornell 4-8, Brown 4-11. Only two teams make the May 19-20 playoff for the right to go to NCAA tourney of regionals and super-regionals with Omaha’s College World Series the dream from June 15-26.

One last baseball note - The Red Sox were flying high with a 15-2 record when Saturday night they were no-hit by Oakland A’s lefty Sean Manaea definitely the first pitcher of Samoan ancestry to hurl a no-hitter. What better example of baseball’s glorious unpredictability!

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

Featured Work

History
Story of baseball's reserve system and the men who fought to change it
Biography/Sports
“Lowenfish’s take is detailed and nuanced.... he doesn’t look for simple answers; despite his own abiding admiration, he never sugarcoats or presents Rickey in anything other than a three-dimensional light.”
–David Ulin, Los Angeles Times