August 23, 2014
It caught my eye while recently surfing the internet. Toronto left-hander Mark Buehrle was tipping his cap to White Sox fans in Chicago after being knocked out of the box in the bottom of the 6th inning.
Buehrle was signed and developed by the Chisox and was a key mound stalwart when they won the World Series in 2005. He left for the Florida Marlins as a free agent and then was traded to Toronto but obviously a lot of his heart was left in the Windy City.
It seemed that Buehrle was fighting back tears as he saluted the Chicago fans, who also cheered his first inning appearance on the mound. His emotion reminded me of something wise that Ken Griffey Sr. said as his son – the fabled Ken Griffey Jr. – was contemplating leaving Seattle for free agency. “The team that signs you cares the most about you,” Griffey Sr. noted sagely.
The younger Griffey ultimately opted to OK a trade to Cincinnati where he grew up. However, because of accumulated injuries and the ravages of age, he never had the impact that he had in Seattle.
David Price, the Rays’ southpaw ace traded to Detroit at the July 31st deadline, received a similar heartwarming welcome on August 21 when he pitched in Tampa for the first time as a member of the opposition. Whatta game Price pitched, too, a one-hitter but he lost it 1-0 on an unearned run in the first inning.
Tampa Bay was the scene for another poignant baseball moment a week ago when Alex Cobb of the Rays faced off against Brandon McCarthy of the Yankees. Both pitchers have bounced back, literally, from being hit on the head with line drives – Cobb last year in June and McCarthy in September 2012 while pitching for the Oakland A’s.
Never underestimate the courage of pro athletes in any sport to get out there on the firing line as soon as possible from an injury, however serious. It is what is meant by being a competitor and “getting it.” Kudos to David Adler, a writer for mlb.com in Tampa Bay, who made a point to note the back story of the Cobb-McCarthy matchup that Cobb won though McCarthy pitched very well. Cobb, whose front leg gyrations are even more pronounced than most Japanese pitchers, was the hurler who bested Price 1-0 in that classic recent game.
COULD THE DEADLINE DEALS BE BACKFIRING?
Too early to bash media darling general managers Billy Beane of the A’s (who traded center fielder Yoenis Cespedes for ace southpaw Jon Lester) and Dave Dombrowski who traded his center fielder Austin Jackson for Price. Both A’s and Tigers have struggled mightily since the deals but plenty of time to correct their ships. After all, it is still August with more than three dozen games (two NFL regular seasons) to play before the playoffs start.
There remains a wise old adage, "Sometimes the trades you don't make are the best ones."
And never forget that players are not robots and may not seamlessly fit into their new environment. Nor forget the side-effect of trades being telling your existing players that they may not be good enough to win it all.
EARLY THOUGHTS ON THE NEW COMMISSIONER
On the labor relations front in baseball, the election of Rob Manfred to replace Bud Selig as commissioner is good news for those who never want the continuity of the baseball season to be disrupted again.
There was a last-minute attempt, evidently masterminded by White Sox and Chicago Bulls basketball owner Jerry Reinsdorf, to prevent the seamless transfer of power from Bud Selig to Manfred. It got no traction and the vote to approve Manfred was made unanimous by the 30 baseball owners before their meeting broke up in Baltimore on Thursday August 14.
Manfred is an experienced lawyer who arrived in baseball in the early 1990s. He was witness to the nuclear summer of 1994 when the players went on strike and in early September the owners unilaterally cancelled the playoffs and the World Series.
Manfred soon rose to power as the chief management labor negotiator and has been instrumental in the two decades of labor peace that ensured and looks like will continue for the foreseeable future.
He has kept his personal preferences close to the vest. It will certainly be interesting to see where he comes down on such issues as the increasing length of games, the continuing failure to attract younger audiences to the game, and the four-decade-old-and-still-counting split on the designated hitter used in one major league and not the other.
Personally I have never liked the DH but with interleague games every day now it becomes an increasing disadvantage for American League pitchers to hit when they are not trained to do so. Also I have been convinced by the argument that since the DH is not utilized in World Series game in National League parks, it does put the American League at a distinct disadvantage.
As for increasing the pace of the game, I'm all for a clock to be utilized at all major league ballparks limiting a pitcher's dallying before throwing a ball. Such a clock exists in college conferences these days - 12 seconds in some cases - and it would be a good start.
That’s all for now – next edition of the YIBF Journal comments on my travels on the road to varying baseball spots from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, Washington DC to Manchester, New Hampshire and the New York outer boroughs.
Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
August 12, 2014
I am writing this entry overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee on Cow Island just a short boat ride from the small central New Hampshire town of Moultonborough in the Lakes Region of the “Live Free Or Die” state.
I am here to share a few days at a special friend’s bucolic cabin. But in our amazingly interconnected world, I haven’t been too far from my smartphone.
I was thrilled last night to follow a little bit of the Orioles’ come-from-behind victory over the Yankees. Always a double treat, my team winning and the Yankees losing in one swift stroke.
Despite the final 11-3 score, it wasn’t an easy win because the Birds trailed 3-2 going into the bottom of the 5th. But Chris Davis, trying unsuccessfully not to be overburdened by pressure to repeat his sensational 2013 season, hit a long home run to give Baltimore the lead and they won going away.
Davis was only in the game because he was substituting for Manny Machado whose right knee buckled during a third inning at-bat. Maybe fortunately, it was Machado’s right knee not the left one that was operated on during the off-season. The Birds were already missing shortstop JJ Hardy with a recent finger injury.
Any lengthy loss of Machado and Hardy, the cornerstones of the Orioles’ interior defense, would be a big blow to the Orioles’ pennant hopes. Yet the 2014 team has shown impressive resiliency.
**Early in the season All-Star catcher Matt Wieters was lost to Tommy John elbow surgery. But unheralded career minor leaguer Caleb Joseph has stepped up to become a solid defensive player and timely hitter with home run power.
**Another career reserve Steve Pearce filled in admirably at first base when Chris Davis was injured and played solidly as a left fielder. “Give Pearce A Chance” was a clever slogan coined by David Simon, creator of the HBO series about Baltimore “The Wire,” in a memorable piece in a recent “Sports Illustrated” with LeBron James' return to Cleveland on the cover.
When Pearce’s production fell off, David Lough, a rare Oriole blessed with speed, shook off his season-long slump to contribute. Manager Buck Showalter has also deftly given left field playing time to designated hitters Delmon Young and Nelson Cruz, the latter whose bat carried the Birds early in the season and now may be heating up again. Cruz may be the ultimate streaky hitter - incredibly productive for a while and incredibly impotent at other times. And with a streak hitter you must ride it out good and bad.
On the mound, how about these unexpected examples of productivity?
**Brad Brach, obtained in minor league deal with Padres, fulfilling an important long relief role in the bullpen.
**Zach Britton, out of options after failing a few times as a starter, becoming very effective as a closer.
Britton has made manager Showalter a prophet because before the season started Buck suggested that Zach could emerge as a valuable piece of the puzzle. He compared him to starter Chris Tillman who last year was also out of minor league options and emerged as an ace. In recent outings Tillman is giving signs that he is ready to reprise that role in 2014.
PRESENT MEETS PAST!
The Orioles’ surge to the top of the AL East has coincided with the 60th anniversary of the modern franchise. On Friday August 8, I attended a celebration of the team’s rich history - a remarkable story of how the woebegone shell of the St Louis Browns arrived in Baltimore in 1954 and in 12 years became World Series winners. And from 1969 through 1983 were probably the most admired franchise in baseball.
The anniversary events began with a luncheon sponsored by the Orioles Advocates, a community group that has supported the team since the early 1960s. The Advocates are currently sponsoring a project to bring baseball equipment and coaching to the youngsters in Nicaragua who love what used to be called our national pastime.
Representatives from many decades of Orioles history relived their glory days at the luncheon. They later attended the series opener with the Cardinals in which Tillman pitched six and two-thirds strong innings and six Oriole homers punctuated a 12-2 rout.
After the game, a rare laugher for this year's Orioles, a laser light show of historical highlights entertained a near-capacity crowd.
At the Advocates luncheon held in the impressive Warehouse that adjoins Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Frank Robinson was particularly eloquent in saying that the six years he played in Baltimore from 1966-1972 were the highlight of his career. “You can’t get lost in this city,” Robinson fondly remembered about the adulation in most of the neighborhoods of what is called Charm City by local boosters and is indeed a "huggy city," as a friend of mine once expressed it.
Robinson had nothing but praise for how the current regime of general manager Dan Duquette and manager Showalter have welcomed the stars from the glory years of Oriole teams and urged them to mix with the current squad.
The theme of the rich legacy of the Orioles was picked up on by other luncheon speakers including:
**1960s reliever Eddie Watt who never expected to make the 1966 Orioles and had to give up his apartment already rented in Rochester the top minor league city then of the Birds
**current Oriole conditioning guru and former outfielder Brady Anderson who has been instrumental in improving the physical condition of key Bird relievers Brian Matusz and Zach Britton
**Frank Robinson’s fellow Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson – looking well after serious bouts with illness and injury.
**The unrelated but fellow pitchers on the 1979 and 1983 American League champions, Dennis Martinez and Tippy Martinez.
**Catcher Chris Hoiles and closer Gregg Olson representing teams that didn't make the playoffs but contributed on the field and made many fans off the field.
It is much too early to anoint the Orioles of 2014 as a division winner and a true playoff contender but their position is an enviable one. 7 games in the lost column over both the Yankees and Blue Jays as of this writing. “It is theirs to win,” Brooks Robinson said.
That’a all for now – always remember: Take it easy but take it!