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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!

A Shout-Out To Caleb Joseph As The River of Baseball Returns: updated post

April 9, 2018

Tags: Roger Angell, Caleb Joseph, Mychal Givens, Didi Gregorius, Brad Brach, Aaron Judge, Pedro Alvarez, Craig Gentry, Giancarlo Stanton, early returns from MLB season, Ivy League baseball's new format, Columbia baseball, Chandler Bengtson, Liam McGill

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!

Awaiting Baseball's Opening Day March 29 + A Salute to UMBC

March 23, 2018

Tags: Cincinnati 1869 Red Stockings, Alex Cobb joins Bundy-Cashner-Gausman-Tillman rotation, Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray, Juan Bell, Brian Holton, Ken Howell, Phil Bradley, Ron Kittle, Edward Bennett Williams, Mike Flanagan, Manny Machado, Chris Davis, UMBC basketball, Freeman Hrabowski III, Charles "Tot" Woolston, Liz Walton LeBlanc, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Rudolf Nureyev, "Piazzolla Caldera"

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!

NINE Magazine Baseball Conference Scores A Ten In Phoenix

March 8, 2018

Tags: Nine baseball magazine, Felipe Alou, Pedro Martinez, Peter Kerasotis, Charles S. Adams, Larry Baldassaro, Ed Edmonds and Frank Houdek, Olivia deHavilland, Jane Leavy, Rob Garratt, Andy McCue, Jerald Podair, Branch Rickey, Walter O'Malley, Horace Stoneham, Bill Kirwin, Dan Bern, Talking Stick complex, Zach Davies, Willie Calhoun, Arizona State/Phoenix Municipal Stadium entry snafu

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

Tags: Brad Davison, Wisconsin-Michigan State Senior Day battle, Columbia basketball, Columbia track and field champions Hardie, Obeng-Akrofi, Sauer, Vasbinder, Mark Feinsand, Houston Astros spring training, loss of star Marlins, Pirates, Rays, and Royals

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!



"Troubling Off-Season Trend Continues As Cubs Snag Yu Darvish At Reduced Rate"

February 12, 2018

Tags: Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer, JD Martinez, Scott Boras, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Michael A. Jones "The Black Babe Ruth, " Theater for the New City, Dave Roberts, Daniel Danielson, Perci Prince, Janelle Lester, Ralph Carhart, Phil Ross, Fleet Walker, Rube Foster, Daphne Danielle, Baseball Miracles

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…)

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“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