October 4, 2018
The end of the regular baseball season is always a bittersweet time. There are playoffs ahead but October baseball is national not local (except for radio if your team is in the hunt.). I already miss the daily flow of games from all over the country and the amassing of steady incremental statistics.
The National League Wild Card game was historic in that two divisions ended in dead heats. That meant two one-game playoffs this past Monday Oct 1 to determine the division winner and automatic entry into the playoffs.
The Dodgers won at home over the Colorado Rockies and the Milwaukee Brewers won at Chicago to assure their places in the tournament. That meant the Wild Card game would pit Colorado at the Cubs’ Wrigley Field on Tuesday night Oct 2.
In a 2-1 13-inning thriller, the Rockies eliminated the Cubs. (I’m a New Yorker and have never called them the Cubbies and never will.) It was a wonderful ending for those of us who like to see the unheralded player - almost the last man on the 25-man roster - become the unlikely hero.
Around the bewitching bell of midnight CDT, it was third-string catcher Tony Wolters who drove in the winning run with a single up the middle. It was a tough experience for Chicago to lose two post-season games in a row at home but I think they’ll be back in future post-seasons.
A fully healthy Kris Bryant should help a lot. Maybe they’ll be able to get some wins and innings from the very expensive free agent bust Yu Darvish. Most of all, the team cohesion will have to return.
When the Cubs were in command of the division for most of the second half of the season, team leader Anthony Rizzo was quoted as saying that the team was made up of number one draft choices who don’t act like them. That grinding quality needs to return.
The American League Wild Card game the following night - Bobby Thomson Day October 3 - provided no such excitement. A now-healthy Aaron Judge slugged a two-run homer in the first inning and the Yankees were rarely threatened on their way to a 7-2 romp over the Oakland A’s.
Predictably, Billy Beane, the widely-hailed genius of the A’s, said that a playoff never tests the true value of a team, and usually effective manager Bob Melvin agreed. But like the Twins last year the A’s did not seem ready to play in such a high-pressured situation. A low payroll is no excuse for uninspired play though the Yankees are certainly formidable and peaking at the right time.
I grew up watching too many Yankees-Dodgers World Series in the 1940s and 1950s but we may be heading in that direction again. We’ll find out more in the next couple of weeks as the Yankees-Red Sox and Houston-Cleveland meet in the ALDS and the Dodgers-Atlanta Braves and Colorado-Milwaukee go head-to-head in the NLDS.
I'd like to see a rematch of the 1948 and 1995 with the Indians and Braves - Ryan Braun's arrogant unrepentant PED-abusing past makes it impossible for me to root hard for the Brewers though I have Wisconsin roots from the 1960s.
I'd like to see Indians win in seven though they too have a poster boy for PED abuse, Melky Cabrera. (Maybe he won't make the post-season roster.) But I know very well you can't always get what you want.
Meanwhile the baseball managerial firing season is in full flower. Cubs honcho Theo Epstein has assured the world that Joe Maddon will return in 2019 but not with an extension to the contract so he could well be considered a lame duck. Not likely given his innovative approach to life and managing.
Some people were surprised that Paul Molitor was fired in Minnesota but not me. I could see a look of near-resignation on his face in the latter stages of the season. In a very weak AL Central, the Twins finished second at 78-84 but only because they won a lot of relatively meaningless games at the end of the year.
The decision to not renew Buck Showalter’s contract in Baltimore was no surprise to anybody. A 47-115 season doesn’t look good on anyone’s resume.
It may mean the end of his managerial career though at 62 he still looks good on the surface. He certainly should be saluted for his many great achievements at turning around moribund teams - starting out with the New York Yankees in 1992 who had just come through their worst non-championship period after the 1981 World Series.
Buck left the Yankees after they lost a thrilling ALCS to the Seattle Mariners in 1995. He then became the first manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, starting with the team and setting the tone of the organization two years before they played their first game in 1998.
Just as in New York though, where Joe Torre took over essentially Buck’s team plus Derek Jeter and won the 1996 World Series, the Diamondbacks only went all the way in 2001 after Buck yielded the reins to former catcher (and now announcer) Bob Brenly. The addition of aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling didn’t hurt.
After managing the Texas Rangers for a few years earlier this century, he came to the Orioles late in the 2010 season. He turned the team around quickly and by 2012 the Orioles were back in the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
They won the AL East in 2014 and I’ll never forget the last great euphoric moment at Camden Yards. After beating the Tigers two in a row - a bases-clearing double by Delmon Young the deciding hit - a joyous Orioles fan carried a sign into the happy milling crowd: KATE UPTON IS HOT, VERLANDER IS NOT. (Justin of course now has the last laugh appearing again in the playoffs for the second year in a row.)
Buck’s last playoff game with the Orioles can be marked in 20-20 hindsight as the beginning of the end - when he chose not to use ace closer Zach Britton in the Wild Card game at Toronto in 2016. In fairness to Buck, every other bullpen choice in that game had worked like a charm.
But to channel George Costanza to George Steinbrenner in a classic Seinfeld episode, “How could you trade Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps?” I asked in wonderment sitting at the bar at Foley’s that night: “How could you choose Ubaldo Jimenez over Zach Britton in a double-play situation in a tied game on the road?!”
Buck’s last two seasons were not good in Baltimore and 2018 defied belief in its horror. He is moving back to Texas, this native of the Florida Panhandle who went and played at Mississippi State but owes a lot of his inspiration to meeting his father’s friend Bear Bryant at Alabama.
From his earliest moments in Baltimore - when he finished 34-23 in 2010 winning more games than the team had won before he arrived - he made all of us Oriole addicts proud and created lasting memories.
It is almost fitting though equally sad that Adam Jones has probably also played his last game in Baltimore. This effervescent modern player and the old school manager formed a unique bond during the Orioles’s good years.
Jones’s free spirit but obvious desire to win allowed Buck to loosen up some of his old-school rules. So on hot days Buck allowed the Orioles to take batting practice in shorts. It was Jones who insisted that Buck take a bow out of the dugout when he won his 1000th game as a manager.
It’s sad that this year from hell lowered Showalter’s lifetime record to under .500 with the Orioles. The road up will be a hard one and the Orioles are also looking for a new general manager with the decision to not rehire Dan Duquette.
Ownership remains in flux with the Angelos sons in charge now with patriarch Peter ailing. It can’t be worse than 47-115, can it?
So let me close with a big thank you to Nathaniel “Buck” Showalter for the pride and joy he brought to the Orioles and their fans for many years.
That’s all for now - always remember: take it easy but take it!
August 13, 2018
It now seems a foregone conclusion that the Orioles will wind up with the worst record in their modern history. After being swept at home in four games by the sizzling Red Sox this past weekend of Aug. 10-12, they sit, or more accurately, slump at 35-84.
Their worst record in Baltimore was the 1988 team that lost its first 21 games and finished 54-107. With 43 games left in the regular season, the Orioles have to play nearly .500 baseball to avoid that ignominy. It's not likely but I still watch most of the games on TV.
(By the way, I am fortunate to afford MLB's Extra Innings package of virtually all of the major league games. In Baltimore, though, if you cannot afford cable TV there is now NO free home TV of the Orioles any more. It is another blot on the mismanagement of the franchise.)
Still, I like to think it is more than masochism that keeps me involved. Not always but sometimes the turnaround of a team is prefigured by the last weeks of a bad season.
It is true that individual stats in September (and sometimes April) can be misleading but the formation of a team concept can happen late in a bad year. Mookie Wilson, one of the ignitors of the 1984-1986 Mets, has said that the team turned around when Frank Howard managed them late in 1983 before Davey Johnson took over in 1984.
A possible core player of the Orioles future Cedric Mullins arrived in Baltimore for the Red Sox series. The mid-round draft choice from Campbell University in North Carolina went 3 for 4 with two doubles in his first game and acquitted himself well in all four games both at the plate and in the field.
Incumbent center fielder Adam Jones for the time being is the right fielder and he has said all the right things about Mullins bringing youth and fresher legs to the team. There is no doubting Jones' genuine charitable interest in his adopted home of Baltimore. He even paid for the transportation of the nearby Washington DC African-American Little League team to its regional championship games.
I just hope he plays right field better than in his first game yesterday (Sunday August 12). He committed an error failing to pick up a ball in the corner on his first attempt.
It led to an unearned run in an eventual 4-1 loss.
Later he took a bad route on Oriole nemesis Mookie Betts' drive to right, turning a single into a double and allowing fleet Jackie Bradley Jr. to score from first with a key 9th inning insurance run. (Everyone this year on the Red Sox is a nemesis of the Orioles but at least they are not the Yankees!)
I do want to close with another ray of hope in this dark season in Baltimore - the re-emergence of left fielder-first baseman Trey Mancini as a feared hitter. After a horrible first half of season, he is beginning to hit the ball and drive in runs.
He cares so much that I know he was disappointed that he only produced one run in his two bases-loaded at-bats yesterday. But he worked the count in both ABs and there are signs that his prolonged slump may be over.
Here's another nice story to end with. David Bote (pronounced like Jerry Grote) is a journeyman Cubs infielder who hit the pinch-hit walk-off grand slam to give the Cubs a 4-3 victory over the Nats on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball this past Sunday Aug. 12.
Six years ago, Bote was on a religious mission in Africa when he heard he had been drafted in the 18th round. He didn't rise immediately in the Cubs' farm system but slowly he did get better. He has become a useful fill-in when stars like Javier Baez and now Kris Bryant are injured. He was ready when his name was called on Sunday night.
That's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
July 10, 2017
The Orioles wound up the first half of the season - actually their first 88 games - with two wins on the road at Minnesota. It brought their record to 42-46, four under .500.
Hardly cause for hand-stands but it did provide a much needed boost after losing five in a row - three straight at Milwaukee to the improving Brewers and the first two in Minneapolis.
Manny Machado’s bat finally came alive this weekend - his batting average has languished in the low .200s for most of the season. For him to finish above .250 will be a quite achievement in 2017.
Adam Jones contributed two home runs in the Sunday finale, getting him out of a HR-RBI rut that seemed stuck forever at 14-35. I know modern analytics pooh-poohs batting average and RBI but it does reveal something about how a player's season has unfolded.
Oriole starting pitching remains historically bad. It was wishful thinking to expect young Dylan Bundy in his first full season as a starter to emerge as the ace. But as long as he is healthy, he looks like a keeper. Hard to say the same about any of the other starters.
Kevin Gausman, first-round pick and fourth in the country in 2011, continues to be the the biggest mystery. He looked like he had turned the corner in the last half of 2016. Even when he didn’t win - and he does have a sub W-L record for his career - he seemed to get out of jams and keep his team close.
Not in 2017 and the big leads he has blown boggle the imagination. It makes Oriole fans welcome the All-Star break. Anxiety will ramp up when he starts the second half against the Cubs at home on Friday July 14 - Bastille Day I hope for the home team not the visitors.
Let’s turn to the positive news. Zach Britton is back in the bullpen and he looked like himself finishing off Sunday’s game with a 1-2-3 inning - two ground balls and a strikeout. It helped that he had a six-run lead but it is hard to overestimate what his loss for most of this season has meant to the Orioles.
I have always believed that a standout closer as well as a peerless ace can be a league MVP. He not only brings confidence to his team when he is out there. Equally important his specter at the end of a game added pressure on the opposition to score early and often.
The bullpen may be the only area of strength the Orioles can use for trading chips before the July 31 deadline. That and Manny Machado who might not re-sign when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season.
It occurred to me that Darren O’Day, one of my favorite O’s (who by the way is of Polish descent not Irish - the family name is Odajowski), almost signed with the Washington Nats when he was a free agent. With the bullpen so obviously in need of upgrade down the turnpike, that might be a fit.
It says here, though, that the Orioles shouldn’t make hasty moves this month just to secure a wild card playoff spot. They need a major overhaul of the pitching staff and more speed in the lineup. That will take time and better scouting and player development.
And Now For Something (Almost) Completely Different:
**Have you noticed that the tarp at Wrigley Field now promotes Reynolds Wrap? I hope the fabric is not made of tin foil.
**Kudos to the Milwaukee Brewers for using again their Mb cap logo that is designed to look like a baseball glove. I rank it up there with the late lamented Montreal Expo cap.
The Brewers are doing quite well in the standings, leading the Cubs by four games in the lost column. Their pitching and defense need upgrades but what team doesn’t except maybe Houston and LA Dodgers.
**Three cheers to Zach Granite who made it into the big leagues with the Twins in Saturday’s game against the Orioles. A 2013 14th round draft pick from Seton Hall U in S Orange NJ, the Staten Island native is still looking for his first hit though his at-bats have been impressive. He made a great highlight-reel catch on Manny Machado's drive to deep center during Sunday’s game.
**R.I.P. David Vincent, 67, a renowned SABR member who compiled an exhaustive log of home runs throughout baseball history. He was dubbed The Sultan of Swat Stats.
Among Vincent's delicious details were his discovery that Tigers 2011 teammates in Juan Encarnacion and Frank Catalanotto were the longest-named players ever to hit back-to-back home runs.
I only lament that too bad Jarrod Saltamacchia and Billy Grabarkewitz were not also in the lineup that day. And wouldn't it have been great if William Vanlandingham threw the gopher balls?
That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
March 5, 2017
I have my rooting passions as readers of this blog well know. It's the Orioles big time in baseball and we'll see if they will confound the nouveau stat-crazed pundits (hereafter cited as NSCP) who always confine them to the nether regions of the AL East yet again in 2017.
Too early to tell with the season opening nearly a month away. Just hope the O's World Baseball Classic participants stay healthy as they depart to their national teams: Jonathan Schoop to Netherlands-Curacao team; Wellington Castillo and Manny Machado to Dominican Republic team; Adam Jones and Mychal Givens to Team USA.
My rooting chops have stayed fresh pulling for the Wisconsin Badgers and Columbia Lions in basketball. Wisconsin like the Orioles has always been a "less is more" kind of team - no superstars or "one and done" recruits heading to the pros, but a team of good players who are less than 5-star recruits who know the importance of defense and ball movement.
So it was maddening to see Wisconsin lose five out of six at a time when they should be getting fine-tuned for post-season play. So it was nice on Sunday March 5's Senior
Night sendoff that the Badgers played a solid second half to rout Minnesota, 66-49.
The Golden Gophers had been winners of eight in a row and led by two at intermission. But after being limited with foul trouble to five minutes in the first half, sharpshooting senior guard Bronson Koenig played a big role in the Badgers' second half surge. As did his three senior teammates Vitto Brown, Nigel Hayes, and Zak Showalter.
Coach Greg Gard gave credit to freshman backup D'Mitrik Trice for keeping the game close while Koenig was saddled with two early fouls . Gard praised Trice, a heralded high school quarterback, for having rare leadership skills in someone so young.
"I've always told him that if you can lead 10 men in a huddle, you can lead four men on a basketball court," Gard quipped.
But Gard still has no solution for the horrid foul shooting that has permeated the whole team, especially Hayes and key sophomore forward-center Ethan Happ. He has suggested that the woes might only be settled by incense burning and the incantations that were used in the baseball satire "Major League."
Sadly, on Saturday night March 4, Columbia lost its chance to squeeze into the fourth and last spot in the Ivy League's first-ever post-season tournament. They played Yale hard in New Haven, but the Bulldogs rallied from a 13-point first half deficit to win by four points.
Penn won the final spot by coming from behind to beat Harvard, 75-72, on their storied home court of the Palestra in Philadelphia. The Quakers will meet top seed Princeton, undefeated in league play, on Saturday and Harvard and Yale will play the other game with the winners meeting on Sunday. All games will be at the Palestra as will the women's tourney featuring favored Penn plus Princeton, Harvard, and Cornell.
I have problems with a 6-8 team like Penn making the men's playoff. It would be purer competition if Princeton were awarded with a bye for their sterling record. And let Yale and Harvard meet for the right to battle the Tigers with no fourth seed for a small eight-team league.
League officials will meet in May to see how the first tourney worked out.
My guess is that they'll keep it this way for both men's and women's tournament for another year or two. It would be nice though if people thought of rewarding the regular season winner with something special.
Well, that's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
September 11, 2016
The only way to stay relatively sane in a tense pennant race is to invoke the mantra again and again: “If we win every series, we will make the playoffs.” Though like most Oriole fans I have been disconsolate at the O’s fade since they were a season-high 18 games over .500 in early August, they just won two big series on the road.
They head to Boston two games behind the first-place Red Sox and tied with Toronto for the two wild card positions. The Tigers and the sizzling Yankees are two games back and Houston, Seattle, and Kansas City are still alive in the tight race. (There is less drama in the NL but there is a tight race for the two wild cards in progress between the Cardinals, Giants, and Mets.)
To beat the Tigers two out of three at Comerica Park gave the Birds a big boost. ‘Twas especially nice after they lost the Friday night opener 4-3 despite a solid effort
from Kevin Gausman. Reliever Brad Brach lost the game on an 8th inning solo home run by Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez who may not be able to run any more but he still can hit, especially from the left side.
On Saturday the Birds jumped on obviously still-rusty Jordan Zimmermann for two HRs in the first inning and they were never headed in an 11-3 win. Adam Jones homered on the first pitch of the game and Chris Davis followed with a two-run dinger.
It was a rare laugher for an Orioles team that has been struggling in close contests because of a homer-or-bust offense. Reborn Ubaldo Jimenez came through with seven solid innings and catcher Matt Wieters iced the game with two homers accounting for 5 RBI.
Sunday’s rubber game was a taut classic from the first pitch to the last. In the 3-1 Baltimore victory 15-game winner Chris Tillman pitched six strong innings in his first start in three weeks, sidelined because of shoulder bursitis.
Newcomer Michael Bourn showed he was born again by hitting a two-run homer off Detroit ace Justin Verlander and Jonathan Schoop’s solo homer added an important insurance run. Schoop is striking out too much these days and perhaps his swinging for the fences is hurting his all-around proficiency at the plate.
Yet the Orioles are an ultra-aggressive team at the plate and they continue to play solid defense. Adam Jones made two outstanding catches mid-game that maintained the Orioles lead. And back on the horse in the 7th inning, Brach pitched a solid inning.
Mychal Givens – he of the 95 mph sidearm fastball – got Miguel Cabrera to hit into an inning-ending DP in the 8th. Zach Britton got his 41st consecutive 2016 save in the 9th not before yielding two base runners. But he was in control, keeping the ball on the ground when it was hit.
Holding Cabrera hitless in the three games was a key to the series win. It was playoff baseball of great intensity with Cabrera in the middle of a good deal of testiness. Gausman on Friday stared down Miguel on more than one occasion.
Sunday’s game saw both Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo complain in the first two innings that Cabrera’s awkwardness with his feet around first base left them vulnerable to being tripped and seriously injured. Fortunately, no further incidents occurred in the game.
I don’t predict outcomes, and it is amusing how the proliferating pundits' websites are filled with percentages of what will happen for the rest of the season. Baseball is a game of inches and penalties, as Branch Rickey as usual wisely said, and the only way to watch it successfully is pitch-by-pitch without preconceived notions.
One thing that MUST be corrected by next year is the over-expansion of September rosters. Teams play from April through August with a 25-man roster but come September 1, the full 40-man roster is eligible to play. Teams have been using as many as 12 pitchers in a single game.
It’s just not right and must be modified. Orioles skipper Buck Showalter and others have called for a taxi squad for September games. Before a series, a team must list no more than 30 people eligible for the games, they argue correctly.
Another issue that has marred games all season is the incessant meetings on the mound, especially between pitchers and catchers. That number must be reduced by
rule to only a handful.
In spite of these irritating flaws, it is great to be alive in September, isn’t it?
Let the games continue in all their beauty and yes agony.
August 1, 2015
The overhyped July 31st Major League Trade Deadline has come and gone. It could very well happen that the old adage will come true again: “The best trades are the ones you don’t make.” But in this age of incessant TV and internet coverage, you would think that Armageddon was near if your team didn’t make a trade.
The games on the field remain the best barometer for how your team is doing.
Toronto has been struggling to get over .500 all season. Yet many pundits are proclaiming they “won” the deadline deal process by nabbing shortstop Troy Tulowitzki from the Rockies and southpaw David Price from the Tigers.
‘Taint so easy, McGee (boy, am I showing my age referring to Fibber McGee and Molly the Golden Age of Radio couple.) Toronto still has bullpen issues that obtaining 42-year-old LaTroy Hawkins in the Tulowitzki trade is not necessarily going to solve. Adding Mark Lowe from Seattle may help.
The Jays are also not deep in starters even adding Price. And amazing how short memories are in baseball. The financially-strapped Tampa Rays traded Price a year ago and many pundits again declared the Tigers winners of Deadline Day.
What happened? The Orioles swept Detroit in three games, neutralizing their top ace Max Scherzer (now with the Nats), knocking out fading Justin Verlander, and beating Price 2-0 in the clinching game.
Yet I understand Toronto’s acquisitions – the Jays haven’t made the post-season since 1993 when they won the second of back-to-back World Series.
What a difference a year makes! Bud Norris won that clincher for the Orioles over Detroit but was designated for assignment on Trade Deadline Day. After winning 15 games in 2014, he fell to 2-7 in 2015 and was demoted to the bullpen.
My Orioles have been underachieving from spring training on. I saw it coming – that they were basically a .500 team - but it doesn’t make it any easier to watch. Watch I still do because I love their defense, especially now that shortstop JJ Hardy has returned to anchor it.
A prime example was the great 8-4-2 relay – Adam Jones-Jonathan Schoop-Matt Wieters – that saved the Friday night July 31 8-7 victory over the Tigers. The good news was that the O’s made up an early 6-0 deficit. The bad news was that pending free agent southpaw Wei-Yin Chen put the Birds in such an early hole.
Hardy’s power bat may be on permanent hiatus, but he remains a pleasure to watch on the defensive side of the ball. With Manny Machado at third and Schoop at second, both healthy again after serious knee injuries, the Oriole infield should be in very capable hands for a few years.
Free agent-to-be Chris Davis is more than adequate at first base but recent addition Minnesota castoff Chris Parmelee was truly excellent at first – if only he could find his batting stroke. Davis played a surprisingly good right field, filling in for a while the huge hole left when Nick Markakis departed to Atlanta as a free agent.
However, Parmelee was designated for assignment on Trade Deadline Day when the Orioles received left fielder Gerardo Parra from the Brewers in exchange for promising minor league righthander Zach Davies.
Now that the hoopla is over for July 31st it is time to take careful note of how your teams are playing in the dog days of August. As humidity increases and the sun keeps beating down, staying in condition and keeping firm one's readiness to win are more important than ever.
GOOD AND SAD NEWS ON THE SCOUTING FRONT
A well-deserved kudo is in order to the Goldklang Group of minor league franchises for continuing their project of honoring baseball scouts at their different ballparks.
On August 7, the Charleston (South Carolina) River Dogs will erect a plaque in
honor of current Giants scout Ed Creech.
Later in the summer the St. Paul Saints will honor Mike Arbuckle, long with the Phillies and now with the Royals, and the Hudson Valley Renegades will honor longtime Astros scout John Kosciak.
The sad news is the passing on Cape Cod on July 31st of Charles “Buzz” Bowers, a renowned New England scout. Buzz was one of the first scouts inducted into the Goldklang group’s Scouts Wall of Fame. He was joined by Lenny Merullo, who also passed away earlier this year.
Bowers was a contemporary and friend of a fellow pitcher Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. Like Roberts, Bowers attended Michigan State and both also played in the Vermont college summer league. Buzz considered former Reds hurler Ray Fisher, the legendary U. of Michigan and Vermont summer coach, his greatest mentor.
Buzz never made it out of Triple-A for the Phillies but began his scouting career with Philadelphia and later worked for the Dodgers.
In 1992 he went to work full time for the Red Sox. The legendary scout Bill Enos, who died in January 2015, named Bowers as his replacement.
Among the future major leaguers Bowers signed were infielder Lou Merloni, now a Boston sports commentator, and pitcher Carl Pavano, who after some success in Boston was traded to Montreal with fellow righthander Tony Armas Jr. for Pedro Martinez.
A scout is not only judged by the future big leaguers he signed, but by his commitment to evaluation of all players and devotion to the game. Buzz Bowers got high marks in all these areas.
A long-time high school teacher and coach, Buzz liked being around young people. He was not one of those nay-sayers he thought the "good old days" were better.
He was a firm believer that the measurement of talent had improved immensely since he was a player. He also was impressed by how many young pitchers starting in high school realized the importance of the changeup.
I was fortunate to spend an afternoon with Buzz Bowers on my first visit to the Cape Cod summer league five years ago. I will never forget his insight that he picked up from Bill Enos: “You don’t have to be drafted to play in the big leagues.”
Well, that’s all for now. I will be making my second trip to Cape Cod baseball next week and will be back to you with more stories from that legendary league next time.
In the meantime Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
Pre-Birthday Oriole Musings + Hail to the Virginia Cavaliers, Winners of Their First College Baseball Title
June 25, 2015
I turn 73 on June 27. For a good chunk of my birthdays since I became an Orioles fan nearly a half-century ago, I’ve spent them watching my team in person. Ah the steamy humidity in 1969 – Bethlehem Steel Night at old Memorial Stadium – when the Birds pounded Denny McLain, a year removed from his 30-win (more…)
May 18, 2015
The first few weeks of the season have been painful and disconcerting for Orioles fans. Results of spring training exhibition games don’t usually indicate the season ahead – the Tigers had a worse Florida record than the lackluster O’s and they are in a dogfight with defending American League champion Kansas City at the top of the AL Central division.
Sadly, the O’s spotty play in games that didn’t matter has been reflected in the regular season. The O’s have not yet put together a good winning streak and languish near the bottom of the AL East three games under .500 after 35 games.
With a 127 games left, no need to panic yet with the suddenly slumping Yankees only five games over .500 in first place. But signs of mediocrity do abound in Birdland. They get on an offensive roll and the arms fail them. Currently, the pitching has been stellar but the bats are in slumber. And the stellar defense has broken down too many times.
Historically, Orioles fans have not put up for long with bad play. As if fans of any kind can do anything about it except whine and wring hands to the point of injury.
So far attendance has held fairly well, a good sign given the loss of five home games because of the recent urban riots.
An unadulterated bright day occurred yesterday (Sunday May 18) when rookie right-hander Mike Wright made his major league debut and hurled 7 1/3 sparkling shutout innings in the O’s 3-0 victory over the Los Angeles Angels. It salvaged the final game of a three-game home series that the Angels won with earlier 3-1 and 6-1 victories.
Wright is a third round draft choice in 2011 out of East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, who has worked his way steadily up the minor league ladder. He was organizational Pitcher of Year in 2013, slumped badly at the beginning of 2014, but recovered by end of season and so far in 2015 he has combined quality stuff with growing maturity.
Wright was 3-0 at top Triple A-affiliate Norfolk, VA when called up for an emergency start because Chris Tillman, the team’s ostensible ace, had back stiffness and fellow starter Bud Norris has had a prolonged bout with bronchitis and ineffectiveness.
Garrett Richards was the Angels hard-luck loser on Sunday. He gave up the only run the O’s needed on a wild pitch in the fourth inning scoring Adam Jones from third.
Jones manufactured the only run Wright needed in the 4th inning with a swinging bunt down the third base line.
Jones then sped from first to third on Delmon Young’s single up the middle. Reigning AL MVP Mike Trout plays a very deep center field and though blessed with great speed and a good arm, Trout could not stop Jones from getting the extra base. Jones was thus positioned to score the run on Richards’ wild pitch.
The Birds’ vital insurance runs came in the 8th inning thanks to more hustle by Jimmy Paredes, the surprise member of the 2015 Birds, Baltimore’s only other .300 hitter right now along with Jones. Paredes beat out an infield hit to second and after an error raced home on Jones' two-run double.
No one knows for sure if Mike Wright stays up in Baltimore permanently. His mid- 90s fastball and command of off-speed pitches on Sunday certainly opened a lot of eyes in Baltimore. With supposed future ace Kevin Gausman now on DL and needing more innings at Norfolk, I for one want Wright to get another start or two to prove that yesterday was no fluke.
I give the Orioles credit for not over-reacting to the slow start to the season by making massive changes to the roster as Boston and Toronto have done. But time is growing short to see if the roster that came out of spring training is what will remain as the core and supporting cast for the rest of what is so far a disappointing 2015.
Meanwhile on the college front, it won’t be until Memorial Day Monday May 25 that the Columbia Lions, my other great rooting interest, find out what regional the NCAA will send them to. Stay tuned.
Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
Yours in Baseball Forever, Teny Ymota (The Earl of NY, Your Man on The Aisle)
May 4, 2015
Before an enthusiastic home crowd at Robertson Field at Satow Stadium, Columbia on Saturday May 2nd won its third elimination game in seven days, beating Penn, 4-2 to earn the Gehrig Division title in the Ivy League. Seven solid innings from George Thanopoulos, two spotless relief innings from Kevin Roy, and solo home runs by Jordan Serena, Logan Bowyer, and Dave Vandercook provided the margin of victory.
Rested Rolfe Division-winner Dartmouth comes into Robertson/Satow on Saturday afternoon May 9 for a best-of-three championship series to determine the Ivy League winner and the automatic NCAA tournament bid. Columbia is trying for its third consecutive title and third straight playoff victory over Dartmouth. If the Saturday doubleheader is split, a single winner-take-all game will be played on Sunday.
The Ivy League college season in the Northeast is regrettably short so to witness bonus baseball in May is a real treat. There used to be an old saying that Ivy League players are “half-baked potatoes – not good enough to eat but too good to throw away.”
The level of play has definitely improved in recent years, and recent graduates of both division-winning programs are working their way through the minor leagues - notably Columbia outfielder Dario Pizzano with the Mariners affiliate at Double A Jackson, MS, and Dartmouth's second-third baseman Joe Sclafani with the Astros organization also in Double A.
Of course, for most Ivy League athletes the championship games will be the high point of their careers which makes for intense competition. I dislike the ping of the aluminum bat as much as anybody, but don't let that irritation keep you away from the action.
I highly recommend a visit this weekend to picturesque Satow Stadium on the banks of the Hudson River, a little bit up the hill northwest of the corner of 218th Street and Broadway in northern Manhattan.
Meanwhile, Major League Baseball has entered its crucial second month. The biggest surprise so far has to be the Houston Astros, riding a 10-game winning streak with an 18-7 record. The long-dormant Astros are the only team above .500 in what was once considered a strong AL West division.
Houston’s early emergence is not totally shocking. They have a budding mound ace in Dallas Keuchel and the defending AL batting champion in pepperpot second baseman Jose Altuve who is playing like a future MVP. They also have a star-in-the-making in right fielder George Springer from the University of Connecticut.
How I love it when players from the Northeast make their mark in their majors!
Cold weather prevents talent in this area from playing as many games as their counterparts in Florida and Texas and California. But since baseball is a game of character and adversity, tough conditions harden the players. It could well be that agile and powerful George Springer is on his way to join another great product of this region, southern Jersey’s Mike Trout of the Angels.
What the Astros have to watch out for is a bad streak once their long winning streak eventually ends. The Mets won 11 in a row and have since lost 7 out of 10 but still hold on to first place in the NL East.
With so many games to play, position in the standings is less important than consistent play and winning as many series as you can. Which is why two game and four game series are annoying to many in baseball. It is very hard to win a four game series against one team but inter-league play every day has necessitated this crazy-quilt unsatisfying scheduling.
A record must have been set on Saturday May 2 when TWO games ended with base runners being hit by batted balls. The victimized teams were the Angels who lost a 5-4 game to the Giants when pinch runner Taylor Featherston was hit by the ball, and the Diamondbacks who lost 6-4 to the Dodgers when Jordan Pacheco was similarly struck heading to second base.
It was a tough weekend for Pacheco. In the top of the 13th inning in a scoreless Sunday game against the Dodgers, Pacheco was tagged out at home plate trying to score on a wild pitch. After a throw from catcher Yasmani Grandal, reliever J.P. Howell made a remarkable behind-the-back tag to nip Pacheco by an eyelash. Moments later, Grandal homered to give the Dodgers a dramatic walkoff win.
Nothing matches, though, what the Orioles went through this past week. Rioting in Baltimore after the death in police custody of 25-year-old African-American Freddie Gray forced the Orioles to postpone two of three home games with White Sox and to transfer its entire weekend series to Tampa Bay.
On Wednesday afternoon one game was played with the White Sox before an entirely empty stadium at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It was a first in the long history of MLB – a game without fans. Kudos to Oriole catcher Caleb Joseph who mimicked signing autographs for invisible fans before the game.
Back in the Orioles glory years of the 1970s and early 1980s, another Oriole catcher Rick Dempsey entertained fans during rain delays by pantomiming Babe Ruth running the bases. It looks like the Birds have another appealing receiver on their roster.
And perhaps the Orioles as a team are beginning to catch fire. They won three out of the four games played in these unusual circumstances. They are heading to New York for a week – two inter-league games with the Mets followed by a four-game series with the red-hot Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Center fielder Adam Jones continues to sizzle with a batting average over .400 and sparkling play in center field.
T. S. Eliot famously said April is the cruelest month – I guess he didn’t like the coming of flowers and new blooms – but in baseball May is usually the most revealing month. We’ll see how the pennant races look by the end of the month. More than 60 per cent of the time, division leaders as June begins are in the playoffs come October.
That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever), Teny Ymota (The Earl of New York, Your Man On The Aisle)
October 6, 2014
I was blessed to have tickets in the upper deck at Camden Yards this past Thursday and Friday as the Orioles began their three-game sweep of the favored Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series.
The first 2 innings of Game 1 reminded me of the Marvelous Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns middleweight bout of 1985 – a classic battle that after fierce action saw champion Hagler knock out Hearns in the third round. That Hearns hailed from Detroit may have influenced my analogy.
Oriole starter Chris Tillman struck out the side on 14 pitches as the Sea of Orange-clad Baltimore fans went wild. Nick Markakis led off the bottom of the 1st with a single off defending Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. He went to second when Alejandro DeAza, a late July pickup who has boosted an Orioles lineup missing All-Stars Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Matt Wieters, was hit by a pitch.
Irrepressible Adam Jones, the team leader who can be very undisciplined at the plate, grounded into a double play to momentarily quiet the crowd. But Nelson Cruz, the greatest one-year free agent signing in recent memory, picked Jones up by homering to right center field.
But the Tigers answered back immediately when the unrelated Martinezes, Victor and J.D., belted back-to-back homers. However, Markakis singled home a run in the bottom of the 2nd to give the Orioles a lead they wouldn’t lose.
A pattern was set for the first 8 innings of the first 2 games – every time one team scored the other team answered back immediately. That’s the goal of every team, but only the good and possibly great teams actually execute it on the field.
A JJ Hardy home run gave the Orioles a huge insurance run in the bottom of the 7th. So Miguel Cabrera’s mighty two-out blast to right center in the top of the 8th
only brought the Tigers to within one run.
Then as advertised the Detroit bullpen imploded for 8 runs in the bottom of the 8th.
I don’t think Alejandro DeAza will ever forget hitting 2 doubles in the same inning, the last one driving in the last two runs of the outburst.
Yet the final score of 12-3 Orioles was very deceptive – it was a tight game until that last half-inning. And the power potential of the Detroit lineup 1 through 6 was positively frightening. By contrast the last three spots were very weak, an Achilles heel for Detroit almost as bad as the horrendous bullpen.
Friday’s day game saw the second of Detroit’s three Cy Young winners Justin Verlander match zeros with O’s Taiwanese southpaw Wei-Yin Chen until the bottom of the 3rd when Nick Markakis got his first HR off Verlander in 50 career ABs.
In keeping with the Hagler-Hearns theme, the Tigers answered with lightning quickness. In less than ten pitches, Chen gave up five runs, the last four coming on a
3-run HR by JD Martinez – a godsend for Detroit after unbelievably released last winter by the Houston Astros – and Nick Castellanos.
The Orioles answered in the bottom of the 4th when JJ Hardy singled home Adam Jones who had started the inning with a single up the middle. I had almost prayed that Jones would have a good post-season after his failures in the 2012 ALDS.
And his single up the middle was a good omen.
The Orioles knocked Verlander out of the box in the sixth inning - Hardly the dominating performance expected of a Cy Young winner. I chuckled at a sign in the crowd:
KATE UPTON IS HOT, VERLANDER IS NOT (with a circle and slash through “not”).
However, Anibal Sanchez, only recently activated from the disabled list, came in to pitch two perfect innings of relief. And when the Tigers got an insurance run in the top of the 8th, it was 6-3 Detroit.
Yet another good omen appeared when a perfect relay from Jones to second baseman Jonathan Schoop to catcher Caleb Joseph nailed lumbering if mighty slugger Miguel Cabrera at the plate.
It was a HBP to Jones with one out in the bottom of the 8th that started the winning four-run rally. That a former Tiger Delmon Young stroked a bases-loaded pinch-hit lead-gaining double was ironic.
Perhaps even more ironic was that the hit came only two hours before sundown and the start of Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement in the Jewish religion.
As a member of the Tigers in 2012 an intoxicated Young had been arrested in New York in the wee hours one morning after spewing anti-Semitic epithets and knocking to the street a target for his rage.
He was sentenced to sensitivity training and reportedly has since developed a genuine relationship with a Detroit-area rabbi. Once the number one draft pick in the country of the Tampa Bay Rays, Young has been a model citizen in Baltimore and has become an extremely productive pinch-hitter and occasional designated hitter.
And Delmon knows baseball and epitomizes the aggressive hitting philosophy explained by Adam Jones: "Tee it high, let it fly." When asked afterwards if he was hoping for a double, Young replied, "I wanted to hit a grand slam."
The crowd responded to Young's heroics with an outburst that veteran Baltimore fans
said was the loudest ever heard. I haven't been to many Oriole games in Baltimore recently but the chants of "We Won't Stop!" and "This Is Awesome" were quite impressive.
So was the outpouring of fan love for Nelson Cruz - "Cruuuuuuz!" - a regular chant since
he established himself as a consistent offensive force in the lineup. He is a free agent after the year and he has liked his time in Baltimore. But we'll see at age 35 next year how many suitors he will have. Probably a lot.
Added cheers were bestowed upon "Nick Mar-Ka-Kis!" and "J.J.Hardy!" two quiet leaders who could also be wearing other uniforms in 2015. My sense is that Markakis wants to stay with the only team he has ever played for and the Orioles will either pick up a $16-$17 million option or extend him at perhaps a slightly lower annual salary.
Hardy is an unrestricted free agent after the World Series. With the latest knee injury to Manny Machado, I would be very wary of letting Hardy walk away.
I returned home to New York to watch on TV on Sunday October 5 as the Orioles completed the sweep. Bud Norris, making his playoff debut, outpitched the third Cy Young winner in the Detroit arsenal David Price. It was Cruz’s two-run home run in the 6th after a Jones single that provided the necessary runs in a 2-1 victory.
Cruz’s home run just sneaked inside the right field foul pole. Impeccable five-out relief work from southpaw Andrew Miller - another free agent after the season - brought the game to closer Zach Britton who was shaky. He immediately gave up back-to-back doubles to the formidable Martinezes to cut the lead to 2-1.
But the bottom of the Detroit order was as wanting as their bullpen. A clever move by Oriole manager Buck Showalter to walk home run threat Nick Castellanos to set up a double play worked perfectly when inexperienced Hernan Perez grounded into a 5-4-3 DP that sent the Birds into their first AL Championship Series since 1997.
Looking ahead, beginning on Friday Oct 10, the Orioles will have home field advantage against the surprising Kansas City Royals who also dispatched the heavily favored Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in three straight. Obviously this will be a more demanding series because after a few years of underachieving the Royals have arrived with their great bullpen and blinding speed and emerging left-handed power threats in first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas.
The battle of underdogs vying to become AL top dogs should be a very interesting one.
And I expect the Orioles will continue their fine tradition of excellent choices for Star Spangled Banner singers.
Shining particularly well before Friday's game was the operatic soprano from Richmond, Virginia, Chelsea Buyalos who delivered a stirring rendition in under 1 minute and 20 seconds. Her "God Bless America" was poised and beautiful, too.
Never forget, dear readers, that the only reason to play baseball is to keep winter away.
As always, I sign off YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever!) and urge you to
Take it easy, but take it!
April 18, 2013
In the old days one didn't make an intelligent comment on the current baseball season until Memorial Day. Of course in the old days there were only 16 major league teams, eight in each league, and everyone played each other 22 times, 11 home and 11 away.
With the crazy quilt schedule of today, all symmetry is lost. The Yankees are hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks this week and the LA Dodgers come into Baltimore over the weekend. The sense of "league" is gone even though the dh remains in AL home games for both teams and no dh for anyone in NL parks.
I'd like to see the dh abolished but it likely won't happen. But I would like to see one year or two where the dh is used in the NL parks and no dh in the AL parks. And then one could decide on that experience its future.
Early analysis of any season is always risky but it sure looks the consignment of Yankees and Red Sox to the nether regions of AL East was premature. New Red Sox manager John Farrell (their former pitching coach) has seemingly revived the potent one-two punch of lefty Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz and free agent signings, the speedy Shane Victorino and first baseman Mike Napoli, have provided punch. Longtime dh David Ortiz returns to action at end of this week and right now Boston has the early lead in the AL East.
Close on Boston's tail are the Yankees Newcomers, leftfielder Vernon Wells, corner infielder Kevin Youkilis and dh Travis Hafner, have provided big hits. As his speedy center fielder Brett Gardner. They won their recent first series over the Orioles behind sturdy pitching of CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda.
In the first game they were aided by a three-run error by Adam Jones, the Gold Glove center fielder of 2012 who has been clanking too many balls in 2013. I count at least three games already where Jones, seemingly more interested in styling than catching, has not made plays that must be made if your team is really a contender.
It may be too early to jump off a bridge while proclaiming the return of a team I used to call the Woerioles. But there are clearly chinks in the armor of the surprise playoff 2012 team.
Brian Roberts went down with a hamstring injury in the third game of the season, and the oft-injured gritty second baseman cannot be counted on in the future. The offense would have been far more productive with a healthy Roberts, but that dream has died.
The starting rotation remains a work in progress with only Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez evidently capable of getting through six innings. Current fourth and fifth starters Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman are woefully inconsistent. Lefty Zack Britton is in the minors trying to work his way back. Slightly built bulldog Steve Johnson is on a rehab assignment and he should be able to help soon.
And most ominously, heralded 20 year old Dylan Bundy is on the shelf with arm issues.
They are saying he needs to strengthen his arm. Well, this is a workout fanatic who I always worried about doing too much in that regard. I am fearful that there are serious issues with someone who was considered the top pitching prospect in all of baseball.
How true former Oriole manager Paul Richards was when he said, "You can never have too much pitching." So danger signs ahead in Baltimore though obviously plenty of time to right the ship.
One last screed: WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OFFICIAL SCORING? It seems that home scorers do not want to charge any errors these days. I was at the Sunday night rubber match of the Yankee-Oriole series last week. Gifted O's third baseman Manny Machado made three bad plays, two definitely errors and none were charged.
Last night in Baltimore Adam Jones did not get an error for misplaying a short hop in the outfield that cost at least one base, probably more.
Watching the MLB Extra Innings package on TV provides more examples of questionable official scoring. I know the decisions are not always easy and there are rules to follow but I do not like the trend I am seeing.
Speaking of seeing will catch "42" for a second time next week. Am glad it is getting attention and Harrison Ford does get inside Branch Rickey quite well.
That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!
November 19, 2012
It has been a long time since I posted. So let’s see what major events happened between September and mid-November.
**Our President was re-elected convincingly in the electoral college and by over three million popular votes, a smaller margin than 2008 but still impressive given the hateful (more…)