April 9, 2018
During the first huge baseball strike in 1981 Roger Angell - who still contributes his elegant prose to the newyorker.com's website - wrote a great lament about the absence of baseball and its "slowly fluctuous standings." He compared the course of a baseball season to a river that "is headed, in its own sweet time, toward a down summer broadening and debouchment and to its end in the estuary of October." (Reprinted in LATE INNINGS: A Baseball Companion: Simon & Schuster, 1982), p382.)
We are now barely ten days into the baseball season and already excitement and agony are overflowing. An Orioles fan like yours truly had no expectations for the four-game series at Yankee Stadium just concluded.
Lo and behold, the Birds took three out of four in the Bronx, winning both extra-inning marathons. Nobody made a bigger contribution than catcher Caleb Joseph in those two nail-biting wins. I doubt if anyone hitting under .100 ever made more of an impact on a series.
Friday night Joseph saved the tie in extras by corralling a wild pitch from Mychal Givens and flipping the ball backhanded to Givens who blocked home plate and applied the tag on sliding Didi Gregorius. Givens sure put his experience as a former shortstop to good use on that play.
(BTW, it is hard to imagine both Cincinnati and Arizona giving up on Didi in trades - he has blossomed into a star on both sides of the ball with the Yankees, yet another of the great players from Curacao, a tiny country near Venezuela with barely a quarter of a million people.)
In Sunday’s 8-7 12-inning win, Caleb saved the one-run lead by being middle man in a very rare 1-2-5 DP. After closer Brad Brach walked two and botched a bunt, Aaron Judge bounced to the mound. Brach forced the runner at the plate and Joseph alertly threw to Tim Beckham at third to get that man Gregorius for out #2.
Brach then struck out Giancarlo Stanton to clinch the victory. Bronx newcomer Stanton had a miserable home stand striking out five times on Sunday and leading nine runners stranded. He had another five-strikeout game earlier in the week.
Coming to a new league is not a piece of cake and longtime Stanton watchers say he is likely to heat up soon. Has a chance to do so in Fenway Park this week. We shall see.
Hard not to root for a guy like Caleb Joseph a mid-round draft pick from unheralded Lipscomb U. in Nashville Tenn. He toiled for years in the minors without getting a callup to majors, once even living for a while in his Double-A clubhouse.
He made another great play defensively on Friday night, running Stanton back to third base on a grounder to the infield and then tagging the runner from second who had made third, and then Stanton. Unfortunately the umpires did not call a double play despite manager Buck Showalter's intense but polite protests.
Shoutouts also deserved for Pedro Alvarez, onetime Pirates #1 draft pick who grew up not far from Yankee Stadium. He hit the game-winning 14th inning grand slam on Friday and scored the winning run on Sunday.
Another journeyman Craig Gentry saved the game with a circus extra-inning catch on Sunday and then got the GWRBI with a 12th inning single. The Birds are still only 4-6 but they are beginning to play gritty come-from-behind baseball, a cautiously hopeful sign.
It is one of baseball’s great cliches that “a season is a marathon, not a sprint.” But it always helps to get off to a good start. Wins in April mean less pressure for wins in August and September.
On the other hand, I feel bad for the fans in Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, San Diego, Miami, and Oakland, and probably soon in Kansas City, Texas, and Philadelphia. A team can dig a hole in April that becomes almost impossible to climb out of, especially with daily inter-league play and constant travel.
I feel good for the hot starts of the Pirates and Braves and Angels. There is talented youth on all three teams and that certainly stokes the hope in fans, esp. us codgers who dream of what used to be (or in my case what I wished used to be in terms of on-field talent.)
I should also mention that one of the older teams in baseball, the Mets, are off to an impressive 8-1 start. They not only have beaten the Phillies and Marlins but so far have gone 5-1 against likely contenders Cardinals and Nats. If their vaunted pitching holds up, they may surprise a lot of people including yours truly.
We fans better enjoy the extra inning dramatics. Because if MLB hierarchy has its way, there won't be any more. The minor leagues are experimenting with all extra half-innings beginning with a runner on second and nobody out.
I'd prefer a home run derby - which was tried in the one year of the Israel Baseball League - to this strange concoction. More on misplaced ideas to speed up the game in future posts.
On the college front, my Columbia Lions are 5-4 with four more weekend three-game series ahead. Defending champion Yale is 6-2 with a makeup game still to play on Monday April 9 at Cornell. Dartmouth and Princeton also have only two losses.
It’s a new system in the Ivy League this year. Gone are the two doubleheaders on weekends, seven-inning first games, and two divisions in the eight-team league.
Every team now plays each other in a three-game series, all games nine innings.
The top two teams at end of regular season play a three-game series to earn the automatic NCAA tournament bid and a chance to make the coveted mid-June College World Series in Omaha.
Columbia’s starting pitching has been erratic all season. But the defense has improved. And in salvaging the final game against Dartmouth this past weekend, two big sophomore bats played a big role: first baseman Chandler Bengtson’s who hit two 3-run HRs in a 12-3 pasting of the Big Green and DH/left fielder Liam McGill who stroked the ball solidly all weekend.
There is no admission charge for Columbia baseball. It is sadly a very short season but I highly recommend a trip to Satow Stadium/Robertson Field just north of the football field NW of Broadway and 218th Street - accessible by either #1 train to 215th Street or A train to 207th Street - take second car and exit on 211th Street/Isham St.
There are only two weekends left of Ivy League baseball - Princeton Sat Apr 21 doubleheader at 11:30; Sun Apr 22 at 1p, and Penn F Apr 27 at 3p; Sa Apr 28 11:30 (2). There is also a non-league game against Fordham W Apr 25 at 330p.
On a very windy cold Wed. afternoon early this month, Columbia beat perennial power St. John’s for the 7th time in a row.
Next post more on college and high school baseball in the NYC area. For now: Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
March 23, 2018
Any player or fan who doesn’t feel a special tingle at the prospect of Opening Day should be in another line of business or fandom.
In 2018 that all 30 MLB teams open on the same very early day, Thursday Mar 29. Reportedly the players wanted this adjustment in the latest collective bargaining agreement to allow for more off-days during the season.
I have no problem with this change though I feel for Cincinnati that used to have Opening Day all to itself in honor of the Cincinnati Red Stockings’s great 1869 team.
My Orioles just surprised people by signing former Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Alex Cobb to a lucrative four-year deal for nearly $60 million. Nearly two years removed from Tommy John surgery and coming off a solid 2017 season, Cobb will solidify a rotation that was the worst in baseball last year and the worst in the Orioles’ proud history (once they emerged in 1960 out of the carcass of the St. Louis Browns.)
I’m not into season predictions and fortunately don’t have to make them as part of my job. I’ve always been a “playing meaningful games in September” kinda guy. If Cobb
is healthy, he can solidify an all-right handed rotation with youngsters Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman at the top along with another free agent acquisition Andrew Cashner, and former semi-ace Chris Tillman coming off a horrible 2017.
I fell in love with the Orioles in 1970 - Earl Weaver’s only World Series-winning season - 1960 through the 1983 World Series championship season. Then the late owner Edward Bennett Williams started getting impatient and dark times set in.
I’ll never forget sitting next to him by pure chance at old Memorial Stadium in 1986 when he started grousing about Eddie Murray’s lack of production. “I’m paying $3.5 million for that man,” pointing at first base, “and I’m not getting any return,” I recall EBW saying.
About a week later he started going public with his criticism and at the end of the 1988 season he traded Murray to the Dodgers for journeymen pitchers Brian Holton and Ken Howell and infielder Juan Bell whose only claim to fame was that he was Toronto slugger George Bell’s brother. (At least the Orioles did turn Howell into outfielder Phil Bradley who played well in orange and black but then was unnecessarily traded for Ron Kittle).
The Murray trade was one of if not the darkest moment in Orioles history. The other one was the suicide of Mike Flanagan, an Oriole Cy Young award-winner, general manager, broadcaster, and great wit whose genuine humor masked his inner turmoil.
Though Manny Machado’s pending free agency after this season remains a dark cloud hanging over Baltimore, the pitching should be improved. And if Chris Davis’s bat and glove return to optimum form, hope may have returned to Charm City for another competitive season.
One last note on Baltimore - I was thrilled with #16 seed UMBC’s shocking dispatching of number one overall seed Virginia in the NCAA basketball tournament. I taught American Studies at UMBC in the early 1970s and introduced with my dear friend and colleague Tot Woolston one of the first college classes on “Sports and American Culture.”
UMBC, which stands for University of Maryland Baltimore County (and not what some students called You Must Be Crazy), is a fine academic institution. Under the long-term leadership of president Freeman Hrabowski III, it has made its mark as a leading math and science school.
Hrabowski, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, has been featured on "60 Minutes" and other media outlets for shepherding the Meyerhoff scholarship program that encourages minorities to excel in science and math. And that they do.
The school has also won plaudits for its nationally-ranked chess team.
UMBC had another great moment of recognition this past weekend. The Paul Taylor Dance Company honored its former dancer Liz Walton and UMBC dance professor at its Saturday shows. It added to its wonderful array of pieces a special memorial performance of "Aureole" in which she starred and performed with legendary Rudolf Nureyev.
The exciting company of Paul Taylor, a former swimmer at Syracuse University, ends its NYC run on Sun March 25 but keep your eyes open for appearances in your community. Their piece "Piazzolla Caldera," danced to the music of the late great Argentinian tango-influenced composer, continues to resound in my marrow.
Let's give it up for the UMBC Retrievers and their many creative achievements!
That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
March 8, 2018
The 25th annual conference of NINE Baseball Magazine was a rousing success in Phoenix last week. I find it hard to believe that it has been ten years since I delivered the keynote address, “Whatever Happened To The Marvelous Importance of the Unimportant?”
I still like the title and the idea - that baseball should be entertaining and fun, not a matter of life and death, not a vehicle for obtaining and showing off great wealth and celebrity. I’m a realist, though. In an increasingly violent and insecure world, baseball and almost all sports remain a high-growth industry.
One of the charms of the NINE conference has been there are no simultaneous panels, everyone can hear each other’s presentations without missing any one paper. Too many highlights to mention them all but here are a few:
**The opening night talk by Felipe Alou, the first Dominican star in major league baseball history. He talked about his new book from U of Nebraska Press, “Alou: A Baseball Journey,” with an introduction by Pedro Martinez. Collaborator/sportswriter Peter Kerasotis has captured well the rags-to-riches story of a man who is known to speak in parables.
**California Whittier College professor Charles S. Adams’s wry look filled with gallows humor at Seattle Mariners’ history and their lack of “an adequate myth”.
**Larry Baldassaro’s probing and good-natured look at Italian-American baseball players since the 1930s.
**Ed Edmonds and Frank Houdek's take on the California state law that actress Olivia deHavilland utilized to get out of her long-term movie studio contract and how it might apply to baseball players, perhaps especially Mike Trout of the Angels.
(Still feisty at 101, DeHavilland - who made her screen debut at age 19 opposite Joe E Brown in "Alibi Ike" (1935) - recently sued to prevent unauthorized use of her personage in a current movie.)
There was no keynote at NINE this year because Jane Leavy begged out for a variety of reasons. It turned out that the closing panel “Baseball and the West” sufficed very nicely as an alternative.
It featured three winners of the SABR Seymour medal for the best book of the given year - latest winner Jerald Podair for “City of Light” about the building of Dodger Stadium, Andy McCue for his monumental bio of Walter O’Malley “Mover and Shaker” and yours truly for my “Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman”.
The fourth member of the panel was Rob Garratt, emeritus professor of Irish-American literature at the University of Puget Sound outside Seattle, whose history of the SF Giants “Home Team” was runner-up to Podair. Rob made the good point that Horace Stoneham doesn’t get enough credit for actually making up his mind to leave NY long before O’Malley did.
If I had grown up in Brooklyn, I doubt I could have had the dispassion to be part of this panel. When Branch Rickey was forced out of Brooklyn by Walter O'Malley after the 1950 season, the road was clear for an ultimate relocation. Banished to Pittsburgh, Rickey said many times until his death in 1965 he never would have moved the team.
I was a New York Giants fan but their players didn’t live in Harlem where the Polo Grounds was located. So the loss of the Jints of Willie Mays and company wasn’t felt as acutely as the departure from Flatbush of the Dodgers, many of whom made their homes in Brooklyn.
I was pleased that the evening was filled with reason and passion on all sides including very informed questions from the audience of around 80 people.
Baseball certainly needed to open up to the west coast by the 1950s. I still feel it was tragic that the cost of progress was the loss to New York of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry.
So I’m glad I was able to recite the lyrics from folk singer/social activist Dan Bern’s 2002 classic, “If The Dodgers Had Stayed In Brooklyn.” It opens:
“If the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn maybe things would be different today/
Maybe John F. Kennedy would have been president til 1968 . . .”
Another verse begins:
"If the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn maybe Watergate would be some obscure hotel/Tienamen [sic] square would be a square & Vietnam a vacation spot that travel agencies would try to sell . . . " (Of course those agencies are selling trips to Vietnam these days but that as they say is another story.)
Before I leave, I must mention that one of the long-time benefits of NINE attendance is “field research” as conference founder Bill Kirwin used to call going to spring training games. The must-see spot in Arizona spring training is the Talking Stick Salt River Fields complex not far from Scottsdale.
We saw the Milwaukee Brewers visit the Colorado Rockies (Colorado shares the complex with the Arizona Diamondbacks). Former Oriole farmhand Zach Davies looked sharp for the Brew Crew in his two innings though he did give up a solo home run. (Don’t get me started on how my team has been foolhardy in trading promising arms with little in return.)
What separates Salt River from other Arizona facilities is the quality of the concessions and the wide open spaces. They even provide free sun screen behind the center field scoreboard. Didn’t need much because it was somewhat chilly during my stay.
At a sparsely attended game at Mesa's HoHoKam field, where the A's now play, Willie Calhoun caught my eye when he roped a home run over the right field fence. He reminds me of a left-handed Toy Cannon, Jimmy Wynn former Astros star. Where the key player in the Yu Darvish trade plays is still a question. That's what spring training is for.
The only bummer of my trip was being unable to see the Arizona State Sun Devils play the opening game of their three-game series against Oklahoma State. The Friday Night Game is the big event in college baseball and ten NINE attendees looked forward to the evening.
However, we ran afoul of the rules at Phoenix Municipal Stadium where ASU now plays off-campus. Some of the bags and purses of a few members of our group were ruled too large. It became a perfect storm of frustration.
**We came by hotel van so no cars were available to store the offending items.
**There were no lockers available.
**We were told that clear bags were possible but we weren't season ticket holders.
Adding insult to injury, we paid for tickets but they were not refunded.
Written complaints have been filed but so far no response has been received.
I hope I have some news in the next blog. The ASU Ten of NINE will not be denied!
That's all for now as the regular season nears. So, as always, remember: Take it easy but take it!
“Pain Is Temporary, Pride Is Forever” Says Badgers Star Freshman Guard Brad Davison + First Spring Training 2018 Notes
February 26, 2018
In a rare under-.500 season for my Wisconsin Badgers, first-year Brad Davison has been a breakout star. He’s playing with a chronically dislocated left shoulder that came out for the fifth time this season in the Sunday February 25 loss to Big Ten champion Michigan State.
I dislocated my left shoulder over 50 years ago while a grad student in Madison so I know all about the excruciating pain. But I was running for a bus - Davison has battled all season the big guys in the very physical Big Ten. He will have surgery after the season but he has toughed it out all season, even playing point guard on a team that lost two key guards, Kobe King and Trayvon Trice, early on to season-ending surgery.
The injured shoulder didn’t stop Davison from scoring a career-high 30 points and contributing mightily though Wisconsin lost a thriller 68-63 loss on Senior Day in Madison. Michigan State is a potential Final Four team and no disgrace to lose to them.
A former high school quarterback in the bordering state of Minnesota, Brad Davison epitomizes the term “gamer”. His motto is: “Pain is temporary, pride is forever.”
Columbia, my other alma mater, is still alive for the Ivy League four-game tournament on the weekend of March 10-11. A tough loss to Yale on Saturday didn't help their situation but they do hold a tie-breaker over Cornell with whom they are tied at 5-7 in league play as they head into the final weekend of the season.
They play at Dartmouth and at Harvard and the latter game will be especially tough. Though the Big Green is in the basement of the league, they are improving and the Lions' 3-point shooting and defense will have to be operating well to win.
Kudos to the track and field Lions who won four individual titles and one women's relay title at the Heptagonal Games at Dartmouth this weekend. 1000-meter runners Sarah Hardie and Alek Sauer repeated as title-winners in their events as did 400-meter runner Akua Obeng-Okrofi. Kenny Vasbinder was a first time winner in the 5000 meters.
Meanwhile, spring training games have started and fans are paying high prices to see minor leaguers play almost all the time. There used to be an unwritten rule that visiting teams bring at least three regulars on road trips. Because it is “unwritten” in an increasingly litigious baseball world, teams nowadays usually bring just one regular if that on the road.
The season of ridiculous quotes is at hand because there is no real game news until the season starts on March 29. My candidate for the dubious quote of the year so far comes from what an anonymous Houston Astros executive told mlb.com's national baseball writer Mark Feinsand: “I wish we could just fast-forward to opening day.”
Hey, man! Spring training should be the most leisurely time of year when the bodies get slowly but surely ready for the long grind of the baseball season. The Astros are also blessed with a new facility in Palm Beach, Fla. that they share with a perennial NL favorite (and usual playoff-disappointment) the Washington Nationals.
I know that injuries are the greatest fear in any spring training but can’t you just enjoy things a little bit? I guess because the Astros will undoubtedly be favored to repeat their World Series appearance, with the Yankees the co-favorites, people in Houston are already getting impatient for the coronation to begin.
I say: Not so fast Houston. THE HARDEST THING IN SPORTS IS TO REPEAT, and I’ll repeat that in lower case: The hardest thing in sports is to repeat as champion. Everyone will be shooting for you and if you have the slightest relapse in intensity the competition will come up and bite you.
It is far too early to make a prediction for 2018 except that certain teams will not be able to compete for a title. This development is very sad - the willful decimation of rosters by the Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Kansas City Royals because ownership wants to cut payroll is not a good augury for the future in those cities.
It is true that there are always surprises in every baseball season because the season is so long that bad teams will inevitably win at least 60 games and good teams lose at least 60. Yet even in the best of circumstances, the surprise teams rarely make or go deep into the playoffs.
The current situation is distressing and there is no easy solution. The current labor agreement has three more years to run and there is no automatic re-opener as far as I know. So my advice to others as well as myself is to enjoy the little moments of development and delight that baseball always brings. On every level of the sport from little league on up.
Heading to the 25th annual NINE baseball magazine conference in Phoenix. Will be participating in a closing panel on “Baseball and the West” with two authors versed in Walter O’Malley, Andy McCue and Jerald Podair, and the able historian of the SF Giants and Horace Stoneham, Rob Garratt.
Will also catch the Brewers-Rockies at the handsome Salt River Fields complex and the Rangers at the A's Ho-Ho-Kam park in Mesa. Back with news on Arizona baseball
next time. In the meantime - Take it easy but take it!
February 12, 2018
I’m not the first person to note that in America 2018 the line between real headlines and satirical “Onion” headlines is very small. The headline in today’s post actually appeared this past weekend on Sports Illustrated’s si.com website.
Yu Darvish, the talented righthander from Japan who is partly of Iranian descent, (more…)
On Miracles in Football and Baseball (updated with report on 50th anniversary of Columbia's 1968 championship cagers)
February 5, 2018
Thanks to an excellent game story on the Super Bowl by New York Times sportswriter Ben Shpigel, I read this morning that victorious Eagles coach Doug Pederson put up a sign this season in the Philadelphia clubhouse:
“An individual can make a difference. A team can make a miracle.”
It was no miracle that the Eagles ruined the Patriots’ attempt at a repeat Super Bowl title. It was some great offensive football led by backup quarterback Nick Foles that did the trick. A huge sack and fumble then cemented the victory late in the fourth quarter. (I wonder if horses born in Philly today will be named Foles' Foals!)
As a U. of Wisconsin graduate, I was pleased that former Badger running back Corey Clement - from south Jersey so playing near home - was a key part of the offense. Glad also that James White, another back developed well at Wisconsin, did his part to almost bring the Patriots back to the winner’s circle.
Early Super Bowl Sunday I was involved with a real miracle by sitting in on a baseball clinic in Newburgh, New York sponsored by Chicago White Sox scout John Tumminia’s Baseball Miracles project. Newburgh is just 65 miles north of NYC with rolling Catskills foothills serving as a lovely backdrop to this Hudson River town.
Talk about giving back! Brooklyn native Tumminia has lived in Newburgh since the end of his playing days as a St. Francis College-Bklyn and minor league outfielder.
His project has sponsored baseball and softball clinics all over the world.
“We strive to reach out especially to the youth who have never the played the game,” the mission statement explains. “At no cost, we provide instruction, gloves, bats, hats, shirts, and memories.”
Baseball Miracles traveled to Argentina late last year and previously put on clinics in Honduras, Kenya, South Africa, and Ireland. Domestically, they have brought the joy of baseball to the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, to underprivileged areas in Kentucky and New Orleans.
An impressive array of baseball scouts and coaches from big league organizations was on hand Super Bowl Sunday morning. Among them was White Sox scout/assistant Bronx Monroe H.S.coach Jose Bautista Jr. whose father pitched in the big leagues and is no relation to the free agent slugger Jose Bautista.
There was a chorus of boos from the youngsters when they thought Jose Jr. was related to the swaggering former Blue Jay slugger. Our Jose is also an assistant coach for the Bronx Monroe H.S. powerhouse team.
Others serving as clinicians yesterday included Alex Agostino of the Phillies, Kyle Bamberger of the Orioles, John Ceprini of the Reds, Ray Fagnant of the Red Sox, Cesar Presbott and Kelly Rodman of the Yankees, and Dennis Sheehan of the Diamondbacks.
I hadn’t seen Fagnant since a high school all-star game at Yankee Stadium several summers ago. In a great show of collegiality Red Sox and Yankee organizations cooperate on bringing national players to a mid-summer clinic that ends with a game at Yankee Stadium.
I attended this game years ago when Arizona high schooler Cody Bellinger, now reigning NL Rookie-of-the-Year, homered into the right field Stadium stands.
Fagnant told me that no one had done that until last year when six were hit, including three by a northern Ohio slugger Northcott now attending Vanderbilt who should be a high draft pick by his junior year.
Before the clinic began, Toronto Blue Jays executive Ben Cherington gave an introductory talk. He reminded the youngsters of three basic facts:
1. Have fun while learning. Afer all, the first three letters in fundamental are fun.
2. Learn how to practice. He recommended going to You Tube and putting in “Derek Jeter Practicing” and “Steph Curry Practicing”.
3. Learn how to be a good teammate even if you have a bad day.
And then the clinic of over two hours began. I’ve been to the long-running winter BeTheBest clinic in Atlantic City and this Baseball Miracle Clinic was run with the same efficiency and elan as the older one for the big boys and college players.
A couple of nine-year-olds really impressed me with their quick bats on wiffle balls soft-tossed by coaches. They also showed good speed around the bases.
One was wearing an Aaron Judge #99 jersey but he said he wasn’t a fan of any team. He just loved to play. Something I love to see!
A huge tip of the cap goes to 91-year-old Newburgh native and philanthroplst Bill Kaplan. A few years ago he funded the conversion of the old Newburgh Armory Unity Center that had been used mainly for storage of antiquated military equipment.
It is now an impressive modern facility. Much of the clinic took place on a field turf playing service that is set up for soccer but can also be used for baseball. There is an adjoining gymnasium, and a dining room.
Every Saturday the Armory Unity Center hosts Enrichment Programs for academics and sports. For more information, call 845-245-4035 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
In early August, Baseball Miracles plans a clinic at Yankee Stadium. For more information on this and other Baseball Miracles projects, e-mail: baseballmiracles.org
Before I close, I want to add a word on a celebration the night before the Super Bowl of my undergraduate alma mater Columbia's 1968 Ivy League championship basketball team. They won their only Ivy League title (so far), were nationally ranked finishing 23-5 and playing deep into the NCAA tournament.
All-time great Columbia forward Jim McMillian passed away last year but his widow attended as did two McMillian children. Both played basketball for Wake Forest in the late 1990s, daughter Eron attending the Winston-Salem school at the time of Tim Duncan.
Jim McMillian went on to a solid pro career, He was a starting forward on the great LA Laker team in the early 1970s that won 33 games in the regular season and the NBA title.
Another star on the '68 champs Heyward Dotson attended the Saturday event, but the other bulwark on the '68 team, seven-foot center from Brooklyn Dave Newmark, couldn't make the trip from his home in the SF Bay area.
To make the evening even more celebratory, Columbia completed a weekend sweep by holding off Dartmouth in the second half en route to a 77-74 victory. On Friday night the Lions handed Harvard its first league loss with a stirring come-from-behind 85-78 victory.
In a league where there is now a post-season tournament of the top four teams, Columbia is now 3-3 with four more weekends ahead. The Ivy League is the only league that plays on Fri. and Sat., a grueling test of stamina and talent.
Penn is undefeated, Harvard has only the Columbia loss, Princeton has two losses, but it is wide open for the last spot among Brown, Columbia, Cornell, and Yale. Tough luck winless Dartmouth will not be easy pickings for any of the contenders. All hail a very competitive underrated league.
That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
January 30, 2018
The last weekend of January has always marked for me the beginning of the baseball season. Because it usually means the annual Hot Stove League dinner of the New York-area baseball scouts.
I have been attending this friendly informative gathering for about 30 years. For the quality of the pithy speeches, this past Friday's gathering at Leonard's of Great Neck ranks as among the best ever.
The scouts have a sense of history, naming the awards after departed brethren.
Here are some of the highlights from the evening:
The Turk Karam Scout of the Year Dennis Sheehan, now with the Diamondbacks after a long career with the Braves and as a NY area coach, urged young scouts "to fight to the end for your kid." He also wryly predicted that his son Joseph Sheehan, now a VP for the Cleveland Browns, would win at least one game in the next NFL season.
Ralph DiLullo College Coach of the Year Dom Scala from Adelphi in Garden City LI said eloquently, "Only scouts can judge the pulse and heart of a player." The onetime 6th round choice of the Oakland A's, Scala was a Yankee bullpen coach for nine years earning a 1978 World Series ring. He then went into scouting and then college coaching.
"I'm proud to be a baseball lifer," he said. Like Sheehan he told the young scouts in attendance, "I hope you find your dream player."
When it was announced that the Marlins as well as the Mets and Yankees had bought tables for the dinner, Scala quipped, "Does Derek Jeter know [this]?" A reference, of course, to the onetime Yankee hero (and heartthrob) who has gotten off to a miserable start as the face of the Marlins' cost-cutting fire sale of star players.
The Herb Stein Future Star award winner Zack Granite was a pleasant surprise. Often young players don't come to the dinner, but the Staten Island Tottenville HS and Seton Hall college star Granite talked movingly about the thrill of his callup in midseason to the Twins - a team, incidentally, that Herb Stein served ably for decades, signing Hall of Famer Rod Carew, Frank Viola, Gene Larkin, and many others).
The biggest plus so far of being a major leaguer, outfielder Granite said, was wearing the single-flap helmet instead of the hockey-like double flap required in the minors.
He created laughter when he told the story of his uncle Tom who braved the wrath of the Yankee Stadium bleacher creatures by wearing a full Twins uniform during their wild card game loss last October.
Last but not least in the evening was Billy Altman's eloquent acceptance of the Jim Quigley Service to Baseball award (that I was thrilled to receive in 2010). Altman memorably covered the Mets for the "Village Voice" and now is one of the
official scorers for the Yankees and Mets. (This Renaissance man is also a pioneering rock 'n' critic who is serving in key capacities for the new St. Louis blues museum and the forthcoming African-American music museum in Nashville).
Altman remembered his first experience at a World Series in 1981 when he stood behind home plate alongside Howard Cosell and Jim Palmer and watched Sandy Koufax in full uniform pitch batting practice for the Dodgers.
Altman suggested that the beauty and democracy of baseball was exemplified last year when during the World Series 6' 7" Aaron Judge stood as a baserunner at second base next to Astros second sacker 5' 6" Jose Altuve.
I didn't go to the baseball writers dinner the following Sunday, but I read that the genuinely humble Judge paid a touching tribute to his parents seated in the audience: “I could never repay you guys for all the baseball tournaments you’ve driven to, the times I forgot my cleats at home and you had to go back and get them.”
I did attend another late January event that is becoming a fixture on the New York baseball, the annual meeting of the Casey Stengel chapter of SABR. Among the highlights were a friendly and refreshing hour with Tyler Kepner, the excellent national baseball reporter for the New York Times.
Tyler passed around the self-published baseball magazine that he created as a teenager in Philadelphia that led him to become one of the youngest credentialed sportswriters in the country. He has never lost his love for the game and the talented players - it surely shows in his writing.
Before I close, let me say that I have no real objections to the six new Hall of Famers players that will be inducted into Cooperstown in the last week of July. It is the largest number since the initial class voted in during the late 1930s. I don't want multiple inductions every year because the Hall of Fame should be for the truly great not just the very good.
But Atlanta’s Chipper Jones was clearly a no-brainer - a switch-hitter with power and a fine third base glove. He even showed some humor by naming a child Shea in honor of the Mets fans who booed him lustily out of grudging respect.
Second in the voting was Vladimir Guerrero who never played in a World Series but his lethal bat and astounding right field arm deserve immortality.
Closer Trevor Hoffman lost the one World Series he played in for the Padres, and on other big stages he always seemed to come up short. But his accumulation of regular season saves and the nice backstory of his conversion from weak-hitting infielder to the mound contributed to his selection.
Slugger Jim Thome’s career number of 612 HRs made him almost a lock for the Hall of Fame. He also was never tainted with suspicion of PED use, maybe because he was such a giant of a man from early on.
His back story is rather neat too. A 13th round pick of the Indians, he was signed as a shortstop out of Illinois Central college near his home town of Peoria. Scout Tom Couston had followed the power bat of Thome since high school and knew he couldn't let him get away. Charlie Manuel as Thome's hitting coach and later manager helped develop Thome's skills, and Jim gave him due credit when he learned of his selection.
Joining these four in Cooperstown in late July will be two Detroit Tiger stalwarts picked by a Veteran's Committee, pitcher Jack Morris and shortstop Alan Trammell. They were teammates on the 1984 World Series champs that went wire-to-wire in the regular season and lost only one post-season game. They were also models of consistency throughout their careers.
That’s all for now. Always: remember - Take it easy but take it!
January 14, 2018
Pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training by Valentine's Day. Still one of the greatest phrases in the English language! Banquet season begins in earnest in January.
One of the great hot stove league dinners is the Portsmouth, Ohio banquet to support the remarkable Portsmouth Flood Wall Murals on the Ohio River in Scioto County southern Ohio (a stone's throw from Kentucky). Here is the link for a piece I wrote for the The National Pastime Museum website. You can access it at https://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/portsmouth-murals-banquet-supports-great-cause-baseball-rich-area
UPDATE: Reports I received from Portsmouth indicate it was a very moving banquet evening with tributes galore to the late Gene Bennett. It may be the first dinner where an umpire relieved a starting pitcher. Main speaker Tom Browning, the former Reds southpaw and perfect game hurler, couldn't make the date and active umpire Greg Gibson filled in for him very capably.
The spirit of Gene Bennett imbued the evening from all I heard. Gene's adage:
"Talent sets the stage, character sets the ceiling," should be repeated again and again.
Another late Cincinnati scout Julian Mock had a wonderful series of Five Questions he asked every possible prospect. It goes one better than the Four Questions of the Passover Seder that we Jews were raised with. Here they are:
**1. Do you really love the game of baseball?
**2. Are you willing to work harder than you ever worked in your life?
**3. Are you willing to learn new things about your craft?
**4. Are you willing to laugh every day?
**5. Will you never forget where you came from?
The last question may be the hardest to project an answer in this age of mega-million dollar salaries. The latest stunner being Josh Donaldson's $23 million single-season contract to avoid arbitration with the Blue Jays.
He still might be traded as may be fellow third baseman Manny Machado of Orioles who received over $16 million to avoid arbitration. Both are represented by the same agent Dan Lozano of the Beverly Hills Sports Council that got Albert Pujols his humongous and now onerous 10-year contract with the Angels.
Maybe owners are wising up that you don't give long-term contracts to players who inevitably age often not gracefully. Especially pitchers. We'll see if there is always "a greater fool" owner out there wanting that moose to put on the wall.
Donaldson and especially Machado are young enough to get long-term contracts when they are free agents after this season. All the millions being thrown around these days and the constant coverage of it sometimes makes me wonder why I still care.
Not for long though - it is too great a game and still better than any other sport IMO.
"The ball is round, the bat is round, and you have to hit square" still holds true.
Back later in the month with more news on signings and the upcoming Hall of Fame vote to be announced on January 24. In the meantime: Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
December 31, 2017
Happy New Year to blog readers wherever you may be! My history-heavy mind is reflecting on 50 years ago this New Year's Eve. I was a grad student in my last year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The NFL championship was being played in Green Bay over 100 miles to the north.
The 49-below conditions at Lambeau Field were astounding as the Packers and Cowboys battled for the NFL title.
It was so cold that a referee's whistle froze in his mouth and it had to be bloodied before he got it out. Announcer Frank Gifford quipped, "I'm gonna take a bite out of my coffee."
My situation wasn't as dramatic but it wasn't ideal. The night before, the front door on my old rented house blew open from high winds. I watched the game on an old black-and-white TV wearing a heavy parka, fur hat, and gloves. (I was watching with roommates but I can't remember who, and if any of them read this and can verify please do.)
The Packers continued their 1960s dominance with a dramatic last-minute win on Bart Starr's short quarterback run behind guard Jerry Kramer's block. What's interesting about NFL parity back then in a much smaller league is that both teams made the final with five losses a piece.
Flash forward to 2017. Both the Packers and Cowboys will miss the playoffs. But the Wisconsin Badgers made the state proud last night with a solid Orange Bowl victory over Miami. After falling behind 14-3, they took control of the game in the second quarter and won going away 34-24.
This pleasant outcome resulted despite the Badgers' playing a road game on the Hurricanes' home field. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook was a deserved MVP for throwing four TD passes and no interceptions, a bugaboo of his in 2017.
Among the highlights in this game were the unexpected hurdling of a tackler on his way to a key first down by not-exactly-fleet fullback Austin Ramesh. The key play was undoubtedly the momentum-changing interception by linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel that started the Badgers on their second-quarter comeback.
Van Ginkel, only a sophomore, is the type of story that makes me proud to be a Badger fan. He was recruited out of a Iowa community college to become a huge contributor. Since the defense loses heavily through graduation, Van Ginkel is likely to play an even larger role in 2018.
A few hours after this posting, the New Year will begin with the dropping of the ball from high above Times Square. A wit has suggested that a Jets and Giants receiver should do the honors because they sure dropped a lot of balls this desultory NYC pro season.
No doubt the rosy prospects for the Yankees will get the NYC sports fan back into the winning spirit. Pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training around Valentine's Day so there should be a feeling of rebirth throughout baseball land.
As an Oriole fan, alas, it will be hard to share that optimistic outlook. There are only two possibly reliable starting pitchers on the horizon and one of them Kevin Gausman has yet to put together a good full season. The trade of Manny Machado seems almost inevitable because they will not be able to sign him as a free agent after the coming season.
But there will be plenty of time to analyze and agonize in the weeks ahead. So let me close with a fervent wish for good health and good competition in the year ahead.
And always remember: Take it easy but take it!
December 14, 2017
Though more and more it seems to me that these meetings are like a Made for TV event without much action, the Yankees certainly stole the show with the one-sided trade for the Marlins’ slugger Giancarlo Stanton.
Derek Jeter has certainly gotten off to a rocky start as the face of the Marlins, a team saddled with debt and a new stadium that doesn't draw fans. Why should they come because they've seen stars from their past 1997 and 2003 World Series winners sold off and in Stanton's eight years as a Marlin the team never experienced a .500 season.
Jeter didn't even attend the Orlando meetings. He was spotted in a luxury box at Monday night's Dolphins-Patriots game. It is a shame that commissioner Rob Manfred worked overtime to arrange the sale of the Miami franchise to Jeter and the real money man Bruce Sherman, a hedge fund executive whose last enterprise was buying and then selling or disbanding newspapers.
As an Orioles fan realizing that the glow of the Showalter-Duquette revival years starting in 2012 ended with a thud in 2017, there is foreboding that the trades of third baseman Manny Machado and star closer Zach Britton might be inevitable. Both can walk at the end of 2018 and so can manager Showalter and gm Dan Duquette and team leader and genuine Baltimore community presence center fielder Adam Jones.
It is doubtful that Machado can be signed to a long-term contract that could reach the $300 million level. Even in his off-year of 2017, he hit .259 with 33 HRs and 95 RBI along with his usual string of defensive highlights at third base.
He is represented by Dan Lozano of the Beverly Hills Sports Council who represents Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson also eligible for free agency after 2018.
A few years ago Lozano got Angels owner Arte Moreno to give Albert Pujols that lavish 10-year contract.
Since California needs a third baseman it wouldn’t surprise me if the Angels get into the bidding for Machado or Donaldson. Machado supposedly would like to play shortstop, his original position, but the Angels are set at short with the gifted Curacao native Andrelton Simmons.
The White Sox’s incumbent shortstop Tim Anderson is not an All-Star and the Chicagoans are supposedly seriously interested in Machado. But they won't part with the blue chip pitching prospects Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech the Orioles covet.
With the trade of Chase Headley back to the Padres, the Yankees have a hole at third base. Yankee fans have dreamed of getting Machado (and the Nationals Bryce Harper also eligible for free agency after 2018). But would the Orioles trade within the division?
They did it in 1976 on the dawn of free agency after the historic Messersmith-McNally arbitration decision. (See the opening chapter in my first book, “The Imperfect Diamond.”) The Yankee farm system is deep but whether they would aid the Orioles as they did in 1976 trading future Oriole stalwarts pitchers Scott McGregor and Tippy Martinez and catcher Rick Dempsey for pitchers Doyle Alexander and Ken Holtzman and catcher Elrod Hendricks seems doubtful to me.
Southpaw Zach Britton had a record-breaking almost perfect 2016 regular season but injuries marred his 2017 campaign. How long can he continue to throw his magnificent bowling ball-like 95 mph sinker? That is the big question for evaluators.
It might make sense for the O’s to keep Britton through at least the July 31 trading deadline. Machado may be beyond the Oriole budgetary capacity and could be gone before spring training.
My suggestion is that the O's should re-up Adam Jones as soon as possible. He is a genuine fan favorite and respected member of the Baltimore community. His center field defense may have slipped a little but offensively he has been quite consistent. He’ll strike out a lot but he’ll also produce consistent numbers in the 20-plus HR and 80-plus RBI category.
While they are at it, the O's should extend Jonathan Schoop who had a breakout year at second base. Another Curacao native, Schoop might take the home team discount because he has been with the organization since he was 16.
More baseball news of note recently has been the election by a Hall of Fame veterans committee of two Tigers stalwarts, shortstop Alan Trammell and bulldog starting pitcher Jack Morris. Trammell was the model of consistency in the field and at the plate.
One of the greatest tributes he ever received came from Oriole manager Earl Weaver. When Cal Ripken Jr. moved from third base to shortstop early in his career, Weaver’s simple advice to him was “watch Trammell.”
Jack Morris won 254 games in his career, mainly with the Tigers where he was a key part of their 1984 World Series winners that went wire-to-wire after a 35-5 start to the regular season. I will never forget the enormous bear hug exchanged between Morris and catcher Lance Parrish after Morris's no-hitter that same magical year of 1984.
Maybe Morris is most remembered for his 1-0 10-inning shutout for the Twins over the Braves and John Smoltz in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.
The regular election to the Hall of Fame will be announced in late January with the Braves’ switch-hitting third baseman Chipper Jones considered a shoo-in during his first year of eligibility. Slugger Jim Thome with his-600 plus career HRs and no taint of steroid use has a chance on his first try, and Vladimir Guerrero who came close last year might get the call as well.
The Ford Frick media award will go to Bob Costas who has served baseball with dignity and class for over four decades. Originally from the New York City area, Costas received his degree from Syracuse University’s powerhouse communications department and then St. Louis became his adopted home.
I love the story that when Costas first went to Stan Musial’s restaurant he left a tip of $3.31 in honor of Musial’s career batting average. That Musial wound up his career with 3630 hits, 1815 at home and 1815 on the road, has always been to me the gold standard for that elusive thing called consistency.
One political note of promise occurred on Tuesday Dec 12 when Democrat Doug Jones won the Alabama US Senate race against the alleged child predator and unrepentant Neanderthal Roy Moore. I like to think that Jones’s narrow triumph will go down in the history of our currently beleaguered republic as a Save far more valuable than the estimable reliever Doug Jones’s 303 career saves in his major league career from 1986-2000.
While I wait for spring training, basketball does involve me somewhat. Columbia’s men’s basketball record is 1-9 but they are young and are playing reasonably close games. Ditto for Wisconsin’s 5-7 record and 1-1 in Big Ten. As Tug McGraw said, “Ya gotta believe,” right?
So always remember: Take it easy but take it!