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Coping With The No-Baseball Blues

November 11, 2018

Tags: Columbia football: Al Bagnoli, Kyle Castner; Wisconsin football: Jonathan Taylor, Alex Hornibrook, Jack Coan, Quintez Cephus, Yankee baseball: Brett Gardner, C.C. Sabathia, Patrick Corbin, Sonny Gray; Mets baseball: Brodie Van Wagenen, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom, Yoenis Cespedes, Tim Tebow; Manny Machado, Andrelton Simmons, Didi Gregorius, Bryce Harper, Matt Carpenter

It is not easy these months without daily baseball games. The silly season of free agent and trade rumors don’t do it for me (though I put in my two cents at the end of this blog.) Though I admire most of the other major sports, they don’t generally command my visceral attention.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that Columbia football enters its last game of the season against Cornell at home this coming Saturday Nov 17 with at least a .500 record clinched. The Lions have already set a school record for most wins in a two-year
period - their current 5-4 added to last year’s 8-2 log and 2nd place Ivy League finish.

In the fourth season under former outstanding Penn coach Al Bagnoli, my Lions in 2018 have been battered by multiple injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. But they have persisted, to use a word in vogue by liberal women politicians who I generally support.

Coming-from-behind-ability is the key to any winning team. Columbia showed it on the road against tail-end Brown in Providence this past Saturday. Down early 14-0 on two long plays, it looked to the weak in heart like a repeat of the previous Saturday’s blowout loss at Harvard.

But Columbia came alive in the second half and won going away 42-20. Senior Kyle Castner, a former top HS quarterback in Indianapolis, ran for three touchdowns out of the “wildcat” formation and passed for two more. I’m always glad when a player ends his college career on a high point.

Fortunes for my graduate alma mater the University of Wisconsin Badgers have not been as kind. Except for one game-opening drive sparked by sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor’s 71-yard TD run, the Badgers were no match on Saturday in University Park against the Penn State Nittany Lions. The 22-10 loss was not as close as the score indicated.

The only blessing in disguise perhaps for me personally is that Wisconsin might be closer to a date in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Thursday Dec 27 at 515p.
Sure hope they salvage some pride with a win at Purdue next week and at home against Minnesota after Thanksgiving.

The concussion issues of starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook from West Chester, Penna. and the evident inexperience of his backup, redshirt freshman Jack Coan from Sayville, Long Island, means the Badgers will have to dig deep to end the season on a positive note.

I never bought into the ballyhoo that they were headed for the playoffs. Too much inexperience on defense and the departure of wide receiver Quintez Cephus on rape charges doomed them early.

I sure hope Badger basketball can recover some of its own lost glamor in the upcoming season. Their first Big Ten game is early this year against Iowa on Nov. 30.

On the local major league baseball front, the Yankees recently re-upped for one more year two of their aging core players and clubhouse leaders, left fielder Brett Gardner, 35, and erstwhile staff ace C. C. Sabathia, 38.

The Yankees still need more starting pitching. They are rumored to be targeting southpaw Patrick Corbin, who had a fine year with Arizona Diamondbacks and reportedly wants to play in New York.

For his sake and that of the Yankees, I hope his temperament is more suited to the demands of Gotham’s fandom than Sonny Gray showed during his season and a half in the Big Apple. It is likely that Gray will be traded to a team in a less pressurized city.

As for the Mets, it remains to be seen what the surprise hiring of former agent Brodie Van Wagenen as their new general manager will be mean for the hopes of the Flushing Faithful. Never in baseball has an agent risen to a top chair on management’s side.

Van Wagenen has given up his role as agent representing such key Met pitchers as Jacob DeGrom, who should but not necessarily win the Cy Young award, and Noah Syndergaard. He also represented oft-injured Yoenis Cespedes and Tim Tebow, the great college football quarterback, pro QB washout, and aspiring Mets minor league outfielder.

I don’t know any scout who thinks Tebow has a real chance to become a major leaguer. Yes, he is a very hard worker and big box office draw for his All-American boy image, enhanced even more because he reportedly was almost aborted as a fetus.

But I sure hope for the sake of the Mets and their fans that Brodie has more up his sleeve and in his evaluating brain than suggesting Tebow could play in Queens later in 2018.

Well, we’ll know more soon. The winter meetings are in Las Vegas from Dec. 9 to 13 - I'm going for the first time in over a quarter-century and will have impressions to share in a later blog.

Also about where the top free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will wind up here are my thoughts.

Machado’s intermittent hustle was on display throughout the post-season. He remains a major talent who will get paid a lot. I just hope the contract isn’t for more than five years. I know he’s only 26 and loves to play the game but never forget the old adage: “It’s never easy getting up early in the morning when you are wearing silk pajamas.”

Possible destinations? Phillies with a lot of cash to spend? But they also have demanding blue collar fans without the large Hispanic population Machado supposedly craves.

The Yankees? Possibly with Didi Gregorius not due back from Tommy John surgery into late in 2019. The Angels if Manny is willing to play third base alongside the brilliant shortstop Andrelton Simmons?

His home town of Miami and its baseball-loving Hispanic population might be in his heart of hearts. But I don’t think the Bruce Sherman-Derek Jeter ownership have deep enough pockets and enough of a contending team.

As for Bryce Harper, he supposedly turned down a 10-year $300 million offer to stay with the Washington Nationals. Even as an outfielder with a great arm I don’t believe Harper is a better buy than Machado. He’s too surly and media-hungry for my taste. Despite his baggae, Harper will command a lot of dough.

Possible destinations? St. Louis needs a lefty bat to join Matt Carpenter who is too streaky for my taste. But maybe St. Louis not a big enough market for the media-lusting Harper who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16! Phillies and Yankees again?

OK I’ve said my piece on the subject of mega-money and mega-years. I wish the media wouldn’t rub dollars and money in my face the all the time. Turning off the tube, clicking exit on the computer, and throwing out the newspaper can be a liberating feeling. Which I am doing right now.

Still, always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Thoughts on Winter Meetings, Hall of Fame Selections, and Doug Jones' Greatest Save

December 14, 2017

Tags: Giancarlo Stanton, Derek Jeter, Bruce Sherman, Rob Manfred, Buck Showalter, Dan Duquette, Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Adan Jones, Jonathan Schoop, Dan Lozano, Josh Donaldson, Albert Pujols, Arte Moreno, Andrelton Simmons, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Chase Headley, Scott McGregor, Tippy Martinez, Rick Dempsey, Ken Holtzman, Doyle Alexander, Rick Dempsey, Jack Morris, Lance Parrish, Alan Trammell, Cal Ripken Jr., Earl Weaver, Bob Costas, Stan Musial, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero

Though more and more it seems to me that these meetings are like a Made for TV event without much action, the Yankees certainly stole the show with the one-sided trade for the Marlins’ slugger Giancarlo Stanton.

Derek Jeter has certainly gotten off to a rocky start as the face of the Marlins, a team saddled with debt and a new stadium that doesn't draw fans. Why should they come because they've seen stars from their past 1997 and 2003 World Series winners sold off and in Stanton's eight years as a Marlin the team never experienced a .500 season.

Jeter didn't even attend the Orlando meetings. He was spotted in a luxury box at Monday night's Dolphins-Patriots game. It is a shame that commissioner Rob Manfred worked overtime to arrange the sale of the Miami franchise to Jeter and the real money man Bruce Sherman, a hedge fund executive whose last enterprise was buying and then selling or disbanding newspapers.

As an Orioles fan realizing that the glow of the Showalter-Duquette revival years starting in 2012 ended with a thud in 2017, there is foreboding that the trades of third baseman Manny Machado and star closer Zach Britton might be inevitable. Both can walk at the end of 2018 and so can manager Showalter and gm Dan Duquette and team leader and genuine Baltimore community presence center fielder Adam Jones.

It is doubtful that Machado can be signed to a long-term contract that could reach the $300 million level. Even in his off-year of 2017, he hit .259 with 33 HRs and 95 RBI along with his usual string of defensive highlights at third base.

He is represented by Dan Lozano of the Beverly Hills Sports Council who represents Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson also eligible for free agency after 2018.
A few years ago Lozano got Angels owner Arte Moreno to give Albert Pujols that lavish 10-year contract.

Since California needs a third baseman it wouldn’t surprise me if the Angels get into the bidding for Machado or Donaldson. Machado supposedly would like to play shortstop, his original position, but the Angels are set at short with the gifted Curacao native Andrelton Simmons.

The White Sox’s incumbent shortstop Tim Anderson is not an All-Star and the Chicagoans are supposedly seriously interested in Machado. But they won't part with the blue chip pitching prospects Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech the Orioles covet.

With the trade of Chase Headley back to the Padres, the Yankees have a hole at third base. Yankee fans have dreamed of getting Machado (and the Nationals Bryce Harper also eligible for free agency after 2018). But would the Orioles trade within the division?

They did it in 1976 on the dawn of free agency after the historic Messersmith-McNally arbitration decision. (See the opening chapter in my first book, “The Imperfect Diamond.”) The Yankee farm system is deep but whether they would aid the Orioles as they did in 1976 trading future Oriole stalwarts pitchers Scott McGregor and Tippy Martinez and catcher Rick Dempsey for pitchers Doyle Alexander and Ken Holtzman and catcher Elrod Hendricks seems doubtful to me.

Southpaw Zach Britton had a record-breaking almost perfect 2016 regular season but injuries marred his 2017 campaign. How long can he continue to throw his magnificent bowling ball-like 95 mph sinker? That is the big question for evaluators.

It might make sense for the O’s to keep Britton through at least the July 31 trading deadline. Machado may be beyond the Oriole budgetary capacity and could be gone before spring training.

My suggestion is that the O's should re-up Adam Jones as soon as possible. He is a genuine fan favorite and respected member of the Baltimore community. His center field defense may have slipped a little but offensively he has been quite consistent. He’ll strike out a lot but he’ll also produce consistent numbers in the 20-plus HR and 80-plus RBI category.

While they are at it, the O's should extend Jonathan Schoop who had a breakout year at second base. Another Curacao native, Schoop might take the home team discount because he has been with the organization since he was 16.

More baseball news of note recently has been the election by a Hall of Fame veterans committee of two Tigers stalwarts, shortstop Alan Trammell and bulldog starting pitcher Jack Morris. Trammell was the model of consistency in the field and at the plate.

One of the greatest tributes he ever received came from Oriole manager Earl Weaver. When Cal Ripken Jr. moved from third base to shortstop early in his career, Weaver’s simple advice to him was “watch Trammell.”

Jack Morris won 254 games in his career, mainly with the Tigers where he was a key part of their 1984 World Series winners that went wire-to-wire after a 35-5 start to the regular season. I will never forget the enormous bear hug exchanged between Morris and catcher Lance Parrish after Morris's no-hitter that same magical year of 1984.

Maybe Morris is most remembered for his 1-0 10-inning shutout for the Twins over the Braves and John Smoltz in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

The regular election to the Hall of Fame will be announced in late January with the Braves’ switch-hitting third baseman Chipper Jones considered a shoo-in during his first year of eligibility. Slugger Jim Thome with his-600 plus career HRs and no taint of steroid use has a chance on his first try, and Vladimir Guerrero who came close last year might get the call as well.

The Ford Frick media award will go to Bob Costas who has served baseball with dignity and class for over four decades. Originally from the New York City area, Costas received his degree from Syracuse University’s powerhouse communications department and then St. Louis became his adopted home.

I love the story that when Costas first went to Stan Musial’s restaurant he left a tip of $3.31 in honor of Musial’s career batting average. That Musial wound up his career with 3630 hits, 1815 at home and 1815 on the road, has always been to me the gold standard for that elusive thing called consistency.

One political note of promise occurred on Tuesday Dec 12 when Democrat Doug Jones won the Alabama US Senate race against the alleged child predator and unrepentant Neanderthal Roy Moore. I like to think that Jones’s narrow triumph will go down in the history of our currently beleaguered republic as a Save far more valuable than the estimable reliever Doug Jones’s 303 career saves in his major league career from 1986-2000.

While I wait for spring training, basketball does involve me somewhat. Columbia’s men’s basketball record is 1-9 but they are young and are playing reasonably close games. Ditto for Wisconsin’s 5-7 record and 1-1 in Big Ten. As Tug McGraw said, “Ya gotta believe,” right?

So always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Orioles Honor 1966 Champs + Musings at All-Star Game Break

July 11, 2016

Tags: 1966 Orioles, Oriole Advocates Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Moe Drabowsky, relief pitcher Eddie Fisher, Ubaldo Jimenez, Joe Smith, Jonathan Schoop, Andrelton Simmons, Curacao talent pipeline

On Friday July 8th the 1966 World Series champion Baltimore Orioles were honored at a luncheon sponsored by the Oriole Advocates, a longtime charitable organization in Charm City. There was also an evening pre-game ceremony at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. More than a dozen players and coaches from Baltimore’s first World Series champion gathered for the events.

Of course, Hall of Famers Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson attended - both have established roots in Baltimore since their playing days, Palmer as an excellent TV analyst and Robinson as a truly beloved year-round resident.

No surprise that slugging first baseman Boog Powell was also on hand – his barbecue stand is a popular feature at Camden Yards.

Unfortunately, Frank Robinson did not come, citing a previous commitment.
His arrival in a pre-1966 season trade from the Cincinnati Reds was the catalyst that put the Orioles over the top in 1966. He went on to win the Triple Crown and American League MVP, the only season incidentally that he ever led the league in batting average, home runs, and RBI.

Though not there to hear the plaudits, Frank Robinson’s role on the 1966 team was universally praised. His intense desire to win was infectious. Some teammates even thought that the moment he hit a home run in his first batting practice was the moment the whole team knew they would win it all.

The most amusing speaker was knuckleballing relief pitcher Eddie Fisher (no relation to the pop singer who married Debbie Reynolds and then Elizabeth Taylor).
A retired golf director for the Oklahoma tourism department, Fisher said he developed the knuckle ball because "my spitter was so slow that it dried up before it reached home plate."

After the late Moe Drabowsky pitched over six innings in relief and won the first game of the 1966 Series over the favored Los Angeles Dodgers, the bullpen was not needed. Fisher said that he warmed up a couple of times just to get on television. He added that he thought about applying for unemployment because he hadn’t worked at all in the Birds' stunning four-game sweep.

Sadly, Friday's day of celebration ended on a sour note when Ubaldo Jimenez imploded again in a starting role for the 2016 Orioles. Baltimore fans are generally not savage – they are more likely to cheer sacrifice bunts and the animated ketchup-mustard-relish race on the ballpark scoreboard than boo the home team.

But after being knocked again in the second inning, Jimenez heard the catcalls. He is
still owed $27 million through 2017 so an outright release is not likely yet. But there is much speculation that his place in a very suspect starting rotation may have been irretrievably lost.

The happier news is that the Orioles bounced back to win two close games on Saturday and Sunday. The also-ran Los Angeles Angels were in a giving mood and the Orioles were gracious hosts and accepted the breaks.

On Saturday former Mets reliever Joe Smith dropped the ball before he started to pitch. A balk was called, allowing the O’s to tie the score at 2-2. Emerging star second baseman Jonathan Schoop gave the O’s the lead with a RBI single in the 8th inning.

On Sunday shortstop Andrelton Simmons, like Schoop a native of the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, let an easy popup fall in short left field. It set up a big insurance run in an eventual 4-2 Orioles win.

The O’s enter the All-Star Game break with a two game lead over Boston with Toronto right behind. The Yankees pulled to .500 with a 3-1 series win at Cleveland.
They are only 8 back of the Birds in the lost column. The Birds make their first trip to NYC July 17-20 and they will be crucial for both teams, especially the Yankees.

Lots of baseball still to be played. Even teams totally out of the playoff races like the Braves in the NL and the Twins in the AL are playing better.

As always the team that wins will not necessarily be the best team but the team that plays best down the stretch. After their sizzling start, the Cubs have looked mortal and what was once a 14 game lead over the Pirates has been cut in half. The Cardinals are even a little closer than Pittsburgh.

So as always in baseball as in life the advice is the same: Take it easy but take it!

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