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NL Wild Card Drama + One Oriole Fan's Farewell to Buck Showalter

October 4, 2018

Tags: Tony Wolters, Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, Anthony Rizzo, Theo Epstein, Aaron Judge, Billy Beane, Bob Melvin, Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera, Joe Maddon, Paul Molitor, Buck Showalter, Joe Torre, Derek Jeter, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Bob Brenly, Justin Verlander, Kate Upton, Delmon Young, George Costanza (Jason Alexander), Jay Buhner, Ken Phelps, Zach Britton, Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Jones, Dan Duquette, Bear Bryant

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!

Picking Up The Pieces As The Oriole Rebuild Starts

August 5, 2018

Tags: Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop, Bobby Dickerson, Roch Kubatko, Buck Showalter, Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Manny Machado, JJ Hardy, Zack Wheeler, Aberdeen Iron Birds, Austin Hays, JC Escarra, Willie Rios, Brooklyn Cyclones Irish Night, Walter Rasquin

Don’t ever say there is no crying in baseball. When shortly before the trade deadline of July 31 the Orioles traded both pitcher Kevin Gausman (to Atlanta along with veteran reliever Darren O'Day) and second baseman Jonathan Schoop (to Milwaukee), many tears were shed by both young players.

The first time you are traded is always an emotional experience because you are literally being kicked out of the only baseball family you have known.

Baltimore infield instructor Bobby Dickerson, a baseball lifer, shed the normally stoic demeanor of a Buck Showalter staff member. As he tearfully explained to Roch Kubatko on the masnsports.com website, he had known Curacao native Schoop from the age of 16 - he had watched close hand the growing pains and emergence of the former Little League champion into a major league second baseman with a great arm and formidable power.

It wasn’t that Gausman and Schoop could walk as free agents after this season. (Which was why All-Stars Manny Machado, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach were all traded.) Their possibly big free agent bonanza won’t come until after 2019 for Schoop and after 2020 for Gausman.

Yet Gausman had never lived up to his billing as the number 4 player picked in the first round of the 2012 amateur draft. His stuff can be electric - a fastball clocked in mid-to-upper 90s and a considerably lower velocity for his split-finger sinking pitch.

But he never could develop a curve or slider to complement his two plus pitches. His pitch count invariably rose early in games and when he needed to make a big pitch, he often did not execute it.

Gausman has remained healthy and durable so he might become an innings eater for the Braves. He did lose his first start to Zack Wheeler and the Mets, 3-0 on Saturday night August 3, not getting out of the sixth inning. (As someone who roots for the Mets to be competitive in the NY market, I'm glad they held on to Wheeler at the trade deadline. He seems to be emerging as a very effective starting pitcher.)

Schoop has gotten off to a slow start with the Brewers, going 0 for 13 before he got his first hit on Saturday night. He will help them I am sure once he gets settled. He even has started one game at shortstop, his original position as little and minor leaguer.

I for one will miss one of the most genuine smiles that I have ever seen in an athlete.
It was a dream of Orioles fans that Schoop and his BFF Manny Machado might comprise a Baltimore double play combination for years and years. Now both are gone and no replacements are on the horizon.

(Interestingly, Machado, who only wanted to play short for the Orioles once JJ Hardy departed after last season, is now playing both third base and shortstop as LAD tries to win a 6th consecutive NL West title.)

So what does an Orioles fan do when his parent team is in disarray and there is no clear evidence yet that any of the minor leaguers received for our stars will really emerge? Try to find hope in the farm clubs, right?

I love the atmosphere and affordability of minor league baseball so I checked in on the Aberdeen Iron Birds' visit to the Brooklyn Cyclones this past Thursday August 2. It started off as a dream day with late breakfast on the boardwalk followed by nearly an hour floating around in the refreshingly mild and surprisingly clean Atlantic at Coney Island.

Alas, the New York-Penn League Short Season A game at MCU (formerly Keyspan) Park quickly spoiled a beautiful day. After taking a quick 1-0 lead on a single by center fielder Austin Hays (last year's Orioles Minor League Player of the Year) and a triple by first baseman JC Escarra, the Iron Birds quickly fell apart.

Southpaw Willie Rios never looked comfortable on the mound, kicking at the ground trying to find a good landing spot I guess. There has been a lot of rain around here lately and the pitching area must have been a little muddy. But nobody on the Iron Bird coaching staff talked to Rios about the problem.

After getting the first out, he walked two and then the defense fell apart. At-'em balls at infielders were misplayed and thanks to a bases clearing double by Cyclones DH Walter Rasquin it was soon 6-1. Then 9-1 after 2, and 12-1 after 3.

Four errors of commission in the first three innings and many more of omission, eg. not covering bases or throwing to wrong bases. Final score of 13-6 was deceptive - it was not a competitive game.

But it was fun to see Austin Hays collect a couple of hits and display his Pete Rose-style enthusiasm for the game. He was halfway to second on a foul ball he hit that the first baseman corralled near the stands.

It was Irish Night and thank God I wasn't raised a Brooklyn Dodger fan because the
entertainment of the evening was provided by a group of dancers called the O'Malleys!
I know that perfidy of moving the Brooklyn Dodgers to LA by Walter O'Malley happened 61 years ago but it remains a wound deep in the heart of old Brooklyn and those in the diaspora.

Well, that's all for now. Plenty of baseball left to muse and moan about. So in the meantime always remember: Take it easy but take it.

Musings On Tolstoy As The Woerioles Continue To Sink

June 28, 2018

Tags: Leo Tolstoy, injured Woerioles: Richard Bleier, Craig Gentry, Darren O'Day, Chris Davis, Zach Britton, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Buck Showalter, Dan Duquette, Peter Angelos

The great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy once observed that all happy families are happy in the same way and all unhappy families are unhappy in different ways. I've been thinking a lot about that observation as I watch from afar - on TV and internet - the continuing sinking of the once-proud Orioles franchise into the Woerioles.

There is little evidence that Tolstoy had any interest in baseball. In the heyday of the Soviet Union its leaders claimed that lepka was a game that preceded baseball but research has refuted it.

When I tried to explain in the 1980s the essence of baseball to a Soviet TASS news agency correspondent - "The ball is round, the bat is round, and you have to hit it square" - he chuckled a bit but muttered, "I don't get it."

So does Tolstoy's bon mot really apply to baseball? The season is soooo looooong that story lines do emerge like in a family saga. Yet I wonder if winning and losing are just the flip side of the same coin.

Winning teams exude confidence, shake off bad breaks, come from behind, get the big hit, and make the big pitch. Losing teams do precisely the opposite and usually are afflicted with injuries.

In the painful case of the Orioles, for example, no sooner had their bullpen, once considered a team strength, seemed whole again, steady lefty Richard Bleier came down with a season-ending lat injury and Darren O'Day went back on the DL.
A key reserve outfielder Craig Gentry, who would have been a fine role player on good Orioles teams, suffered a broken rib on a hit-by-pitch and he's out indefinitely.

I caught the last innings of the Baltimore-Seattle game on my 76th birthday after a wonderful dinner of food and drink and dessert. The Birds were trailing by only a run in the bottom of the 8th. One pitch could turn the game around, and voila! Chris Davis hit a three-run homer to give the Orioles a 7-5 lead. It was a rare moment of productivity for the seemingly permanently faded slugger.

In the top of 9th the once-impregnable closer Zach Britton, just back from a injury to his Achilles tendon, promptly blew the lead. Not even a scintilla of drama. First, a single to the amazingly productive outfielder Mitch Haniger - who came in a trade from the Diamondbacks - and then boom! two-run tying home run by Kyle Seager who is generally an Oriole killer.

You could almost feel the inevitable outcome ahead - a 8-7 Seattle win in 11 innings. The sad thing is the shell shock from so much losing - 23-56 as of this writing on June 28 - is etched on the faces of everyone clad in Oriole orange and black. Starting with manager Buck Showalter.

Ailing owner Peter Angelos doesn't like to fire people because he'll still have to pay them. I knew with so many key people heading to free agency at the end of this season - including manager Showalter and gm Dan Duquette - this could be a disappointing season. But no one expected the historic horribleness.

There is no easy solution to the mess. Maybe there is no solution. I have never been a supporter of cosmetic firings. So I will stop beating the dead horse.

And suggest (to myself as well as you, dear readers) that there are plenty of other teams to follow both in the majors and in the minor league and summer amateur ranks. Baseball is always rewarding if you don't get too too emotional.

Next time I'll say more about two very good reads - "Pitching With Dick Bosman" (Rowman and Littlefield) and Felipe Alou's memoir, "Alou: My Baseball Journey" (U. of Nebraska Press). For now 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 Salute JJ Hardy + My National Anthem Thoughts

September 25, 2017

Tags: John Montgomery Ward, JJHardy, Jose Bautista, Lance Lynn, Tim Beckham, Buck Showalter, Jonathan Schoop, Manny Machado, National Anthem suggestions, Columbia and Wisconsin football, Jonathan Taylor, Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Late 19th century Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward once sagely noted that baseball without sentiment would be a very empty game.

Oriole players and fans in Baltimore proved that point again on Sunday afternoon Sept. 23 when they showered shortstop J.J. Hardy with multiple ovations at the last home game of the Birds. Blue Jay fans gave the same loving treatment to Jose Bautista likely playing his last home game in Toronto.)

The icing on the cake for Hardy was hitting a two-run homer to give the O’s the lead in a game they won 9-4 over the Tampa Bay Rays. The Bird season went up in smoke weeks ago when the combination of historically horrible starting pitching and a homer-or-bust offense exploded the myth of contention.

A healthy JJ Hardy might have somewhat stopped the slide, but he was out since mid-May after suffering a broken wrist on a pitch from the Cardinals’ Lance Lynn. Last year Hardy missed considerable time after suffering a broken foot on a foul ball.

Hardy is not that ancient in baseball terms, having turned 35 in August. But the injuries and the decline in his above-average-for-shortstop home run power has been evident for some time. The acquisition of 27-year-old shortstop Tim Beckham from Tampa Bay, the 2008 number one draft pick in the entire country, has likely sealed Hardy’s departure.

Though not blessed with great speed, Hardy will always be remembered for his understated defensive brilliance and quiet clubhouse leadership. O’s manager Buck Showalter has called him “the best tagger I have ever seen.”

I saw a vivid example of Hardy's team-first attitude on a recent Oriole telecast. The clip showed Hardy demonstrating in practice his tagging techniques to his likely successor Beckham.

After a record-breaking August offensively, Beckham came down to earth in September. But it seems likely it is his job to lose come spring training.

Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, the deserved Oriole MVP of 2017, has been effusive in his praise of Hardy's helping him grow defensively. So has Manny Machado.

I hope Hardy's career continues somewhere in 2018 because he brings so much to the game. The son of a tennis pro and a golf pro has really made a great contribution.

Before I close today, let me put in my two cents about the protests around the National Anthem. Americans love symbolic gestures and ceremonial solutions that in my humble opinion generate more heat than light.

If I had my way, I wouldn’t play a National Anthem before EVERY game. Doesn’t it mean more when it is played infrequently only on special occasions? Every now and then, a sports team has even had the creativity to substitute the martial song of Francis Scott Key for the far more lyrical “America the Beautiful.”

I know this is unrealistic blathering by yours truly so let me offer this suggestion: Let’s keep the National Anthem rendition to under 90 seconds, OK? And it should be about the song not the singer.

The best rendition I ever heard came at Yankee Stadium about 15 years ago. The brass section of the U. S. Air Force Band performed it in 75 seconds. They called themselves
The Players To Be Named Later.

That’s all for now. Next time more detailed thoughts on the playoffs with an explanation of my sentimental hopes for a Washington-Cleveland World Series.

In the meantime my visceral fan's focus is now on football rooting for my two alma maters. Columbia is off to a 2-0 start for the first time in 9 years. It faces its first Ivy League challenge at Princeton on Sept. 30.

Wisconsin after a bye week will be trying to up their 3-0 record at home against tough Big Ten foe Northwestern on Sept 30.

BTW during the Badgers' 40-8 shellacking of Brigham Young in Utah, one of the announcers said that freshman running back Jonathan Taylor has developed genuine admiration for science expert Neil DeGrasse Tyson. That's the kind of tidbit I like to hear.

Always remember: Take it easy but take it. (

A Tumultuous End to April for my Orioles and Columbia Lions

May 1, 2017

Tags: Orioles-Yankees Apr 28-30 series, Kevin Gausman, Mark Trumbo, Aaron Judge, Buck Showalter, Vidal Nuno, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mychal Givens, Jayson Aquino, Chase Headley, Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, Brad Brach, Ubaldo Jimenez, Manny Machado, Caleb Joseph, Austin Romine, Jacob Ruppert, Joe Girardi, Aroldis Chapman, Bryan Mitchell, Logan Verrett, Kyle Bartelman, Ian Burns

The Orioles' first visit to NYC in 2017 was certainly eventful. The Friday and Sunday games will be ones remembered forever.

The weekend could have been a total washout and a sweep by the insanely hot Yankees who rallied from 9-1 and 11-4 deficits on Friday night to win 14-11 in 10 innings. Facing another devastating late inning loss on Sunday, the O's managed to hold on and win in eleven innings, 7-4.

On Friday night Kevin Gausman pitched four shutout innings in his first sustained good outing of the year and the Birds roared to a 9-1 lead. Mark Trumbo, MLB"S home run leader last year, contributed a grand slam, his first HR since he won on Opening Day with an extra-inning blast.

Two homers by powerhouse Yankee rookie right fielder Aaron Judge brought the Bronx Bombers closer at 9-4. The Orioles quickly responded to make it 11-4 as the game entered the bottom of the 7th.

After a dinky infield single, Bird manager Buck Showalter lifted Gausman for journeyman lefty reliever and former Yankee Vidal Nuno. It says here that Gausman's pitch count wasn't enormous and I wouldn't have lifted him. Of course, then there wouldn't have such drama.

Nuno showed why he has bounced from many teams by giving up a grand slam to Jacoby Ellsbury - the first ever for the former Bosox center fielder and the 100th of his career. Ellsbury may have an untradeable bloated contract but he is off to a good start as a veteran presence on a team that trends young.

It was now 11-8. Reliable Oriole relievers Mychal Givens and Darren O'Day restored order until the bottom of the 9th. The Oriole farm system gets a lot of criticism for its failure to produce many major leaguers but Givens is a great success story and tribute to Oriole player developers.

A former high draft pick/shortstop who never mastered hitting, Givens was converted to a hard-throwing semi-sidearmer. He is extremely effective against righthanded hitters and getting better against lefty batters. He also fields his position with the aplomb of a former shortstop.

On Friday night temporary closer Brad Brach was not up to the occasion. A local boy from Freehold NJ and Monmouth University, Brach committed the cardinal sin of walking the leadoff batter. Before long Yankee second baseman and former Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro belted a long HR to tie the game at 11-11.

Once the Orioles went down 1-2-3 in the 10th against Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman, I knew the game was probably over.

Yet being a baseball addict, I watched on my TV as rookie Jayson Aquino (being groomed as a starter) walked two in a row. After a strikeout of Chase Headley, a new Yankee the veteran Matt Holliday homered deep into right center for the victory.

After the game, Nuno and Aquino were optioned to the minor leagues and might not be back for a while esp. Nuno. Aquino is still a possible fifth starter for an extremely thin Orioles starting staff.

Saturday's day game was the one I attended in person and it fulfilled my worst expectations. Amazingly inconsistent Ubaldo Jimenez gave up two HRs to Yankee leadoff hitter Brett Gardner in the first two innings and it was quickly 5-0.

The game then followed the pattern that imperious Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert loved. Score a bunch of runs in the first inning and pull slowly ahead. Final score was 12-4 and it was never really a contest.

To give you a sense of the bad omens for the Orioles on Saturday, Chase Headley pulled a Manny Machado on Machado. The Orioles hot corner master smoked a ball down the left field line with double written all over it. (A cliche but a nice one IMHO).
Headley dove to his right and speared it as Machado looked on in astonishment.

There was a brief moment of hope when it was only 7-2 in top of the sixth with two men in scoring position and two out. Birds backup catcher Caleb Joseph was facing Yankee reliever Adam Warren. A single could make it 7-4, so I dreamed.

It was a great competitive AB for Joseph who fouled off a couple of pitches while bringing the count to 3-2. Alas, he struck out. His quest for his first RBI since 2015 had to wait.

Once the Yankees immediately answered those runs with a two-run HR by Yankee backup catcher Austin Romine, it was time to beat the crowd and head home.

A tip of the cap to Romine. Like Joseph he is a longtime minor leaguer in the same organization for his whole career. He is performing wonderfully on both sides of the ball during starting catcher's Gary Sanchez stint on the DL.

And though I missed it, I was glad that the final two runs on this desultory day came on Joseph's HR in the 9th No longer must he answer questions about his RBI dearth.

I did not expect Sunday's 7-4 Oriole 11 inning win. Especially after they blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the 9th. It was a game that lasted over four and a half hours and featured an ejection of Showalter on a disputed 9th inning balk call.

When he brought in closer Chapman for the 10th inning, Yankee skipper Joe Girardi moved reliever Bryan Mitchell to first base from the mound. The strategy backfired when Mitchell returned to the mound to give up the 3 decisive 11th inning runs with Trumbo delivering the tie-breaking RBI.

How fitting that Logan Verrett in his first appearance as an Oriole won the game with two shutout innings of relief. The former Met reliever had just been called up from Triple A the night before.

By contrast with the bizarre weekend drama in the Bronx, the Columbia Lions put on almost a clinical display of baseball Saturday in Philadelphia. They needed to sweep the Quakers to force a playoff after splitting two games in New York on Friday.

Sweep they did, coming from behind in each game. There were heroes galore but special mention must be given to slugging senior second baseman Kyle Bartelman and sophomore righthander Ian Burns who earned the second game victory with nearly 5 innings of shutout relief.

The one-game playoff will be this Saturday May 6 at 1p at Robertson Field at Satow Stadium in the Baker Field complex west of Broadway on 218th Street. We'll see if the Lions can repeat their amazing success in elimination games.

Yale awaits the following weekend in New Haven in the best-of-three series that will determine the Ivy League participant in the NCAA baseball tournament beginning on May 30.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it.

Orioles and Mets Face An Early Winter After Losing Close Wild Card Games

October 10, 2016

Tags: Noah Syndergaard, Madison Bumgarner, Conor Gillapsie, Jeurys Familia, Buck Showalter, Zach Britton, Mychal Givens, Darren O'Day, Edwin Encarnacion, Ubaldo Jimenez, Peter Angelos, Dan Duquette, DJ LeMathieu, Walt Weiss, Ted Williams, Daniel Murphy, Jose Lobaton, Devon Travis, Rick Porcello, David Price, Corey Kluber, Billy Blitzer, Jamie Moyer, Shawon Dunston

If you are a pure baseball fan, the pitchers’ battles that punctuated each Wild Card game last week were your cup of tea. Nothing like an elimination game to focus the minds of players and fans alike.

If you are emotional fans of the Mets and the Orioles, the losses were harder to take.
They must now face winter in the early fall. Nobody can criticize the effort of either losing Wild Card team, but when bats grow silent and runs are not scored, there is no way to win, especially in the post-season when pitching and defense matter more than ever.

The Mets lost a classic pitcher's duel with Noah Syndergaard going seven shutout innings but playoff whiz Madison Bumgarner pitching a complete-game shutout. Journeyman third baseman Conor Gillapsie's 3-run 9th inning HR off Mets usually effective closer Jeurys Familia was the deciding blow.

Gillapsie's moment in the sun was touching for Giants fans because he came up in the San Francisco organization but made his major league debut with the White Sox where he performed for two years. He then bounced around for a while until he returned to the team that first signed him. You see in baseball, you can go home again.

The O's 11-inning 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays was one that will be harder to forget. Manager Buck Showalter is being crucified for not using his perfect closer Zach Britton - 47 for 47 in the regular season - in the game. Buck might have made matters easier for himself if he just said to the press, “I wasn’t gonna use him until we had a lead.”

That’s how it works in regular season but the playoffs are different. There’s no tomorrow, to coin a phrase. As it turned out, the excellent relievers in front of Britton did do a marvelous job - two of them, hard-throwing converted shortstop Mychal Givens and soft-tossing sidearmer Darren O’Day, each got one pitch double plays.

However, going to starter Ubaldo Jimenez with one out none on in bottom of 11th inning was the disastrous choice. Within five pitches, Jimenez gave up two singles and the game-winning three-run bomb to Edwin Encarnacion. It was the top of the order and the big boppers were coming up for Toronto. That was where Britton should have been used.

I know it is so easy to second-guess, and the bottom line is the Orioles didn’t get a hit after the sixth inning. We had seen the offense disappear so often in second half of season. The illusion that the playoffs would be different faded quickly.

I sure hope the O’s make a strong effort to re-sign Mark Trumbo who produced Baltimore’s only two-runs in the wild card game with a homer that unlike his usual mammoth shots just sneaked over the left field fence.

I wanted the O’s to offer Britton a two-year deal before the season and buy out one of his arbitration years. Alas, owner Peter Angelos and gm Dan Duquette don’t do business that way. So now Britton’s one-year salary will probably escalate into the 8 digit category.

By contrast, the Colorado Rockies saw the promise in second baseman D. J. LeMahieu and offered him a $6 million-plus two-year contract before the start of 2016. Mahieu wound up winning the National League batting title.

My praise for the budding star is tempered by the poor decision by Rockies management to bench Mathieu for four of the last five games of the regular season so he could win the title over the injured Nats second baseman Daniel Murphy.

It was not Mathieu’s choice to sit but evidently management dictated it with the support of field manager Walt Weiss. It did not help save Weiss’s job as the New York metropolitan area native from Suffern was not rehired after four years on the job.

I find the contrast quite striking between Mathieu’s sitting and Ted Williams’ insistence on going for a genuine .400 average on the last day of the 1941 season. Williams could have sit out and protected a .3996 average that would be increased to .400.

The proud Williams insisted on playing and went 6 for 8 in a doubleheader against the Philadelphia A’s. He wound up with a .406 average, a revered number in baseball history that is not likely to be surpassed.

Without the Orioles, the post-season doesn’t provide me with a real outlet for my baseball passion. I do watch many of the games because as I’ve said many times on his blog, the only reason to play baseball is to keep winter away.

Before the games of Monday October 10, Toronto, riding a high ever since avoiding Zach Britton in the wild card game, is already in the AL division series after sweeping the Rangers. In hindsight, Texas’s poor run differential of only 8 runs over their regular season opponents doomed them.

Cleveland surprised Boston by routing Boston aces Rick Porcello and David Price, but they still have to contend with the Bosox in Fenway. If it comes to a game five in Cleveland, the Tribe should feel confident that their defending Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber can come through again with the kind of dominant performance he delivered in game 2.

In the National League, the Cubs convincingly dispatched the Giants in the first two games. Facing elimination, the Giants will throw the amazing playoff whiz Madison Bumgarner on Monday October 10 in an attempt to stay alive.

The Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers are playing the only series that looks like it could go the distance. A fan who loves baseball’s redemptive quality has to love Jose Lobaton’s game-changing 3-run HR on Sunday.

Only playing because his friend and Venezuelan countryman Wilson Ramos tore up his knee at the end of the regular season, Lobaton bounced into a bases loaded 1-2-3 DP in his prior AB. He was ready for a better showing next time around.

Redemption was the rule again when Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis started Toronto's winning rally against the Orioles. He had bounced into two double plays earlier in that game.

Because they are franchises that have long suffered, I’d like to see a Cubs-Indians World Series with the Cubs finally winning after an 108-year drought. Their loyal scout for 35-years Billy Blitzer - who brought Shawon Dunston and Jamie Moyer and others into their fold - deserves his ring. But I do want to see some memorable gut-wrenching baseball before winter comes prematurely to all of us ardent addicted fans.

That’s all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Orioles Showing Great Come-From-Behindability

June 10, 2016

Tags: My Oriole glory years article in "Nine" Magazine, Dan Nathan's "Baltimore Sports, " my Chautauqua August class, Tyler, Kevin Gausman, Michael Wright, Zach Britton, Buck Showalter, Byun-Lee Kim, injured JJ Hardy and Darren O'Day, Manny Machado-Yordano Ventura suspensions, Bergino Baseball Clubhouse, Jim Palmer's "Nine Innings To Success, " George Bamberger, Cal Ripken Sr. Earl Weaver, NYC PSAL championships, Daniel and Edgardo Alfonzo, Boston College baseball

As the weekend of June 10 begins, the O’s are a season-high 13 games
over .500. Despite the pundits’ dismissal of their chances, they are acting like they could contend for a long part of the season.

My goal for every season is not necessarily for the Orioles to win it all, but for the team to be "Playing meaningful games in September" - the title of my first piece on the Orioles glory years 1960-1983 in Nine Magazine's vol. 22, #2.

My second more autobiographical essay will be out late this summer, "How A New Yorker Fell In Love with Earl Weaver's Orioles" in the Dan Nathan-edited volume, BALTIMORE SPORTS (U. of Arkansas Press).

While I'm plugging my activities, I'll be co-teaching a Baseball and American Culture at the Chautauqua Institution in western NY State in the first week of August. More information at ciweb.org

Admittedly the O's all-righthanded starting rotation doesn’t overwhelm anybody. But raw rookie Tyler Wilson and greatly inexperienced Kevin Gausman and Michael Wright have kept the Birds in games for the most part. The potent offense, however strikeout prone, leads the league in come-from-behind wins and Zach Britton has been a lockdown closer.

Kudos to manager Buck Showalter for not overworking a deep bullpen so far. And to Korean import-left fielder Byun-Soo Kim for patiently waiting for his chance after a slow adjustment to American MLB. He is now stroking the ball all over the field while hitting close to .400. His fielding is coming around, too.

Ah the wonders of a baseball season that because of the nature of the game nobody can predict (despite what the seemingly endless number of brainiacs tell you).
If anyone told you that the Orioles would be in first place in mid-June despite losing underrated shortstop JJ Hardy since early May with a foot injury and key setup man Darren O’Day with a hamstring strain for at least 15 days, they’d be lying.

Still a long long way to go in a 162-game regular season, but the Birds are showing that they are a confident bunch right now despite the questionable starting pitching.

They will also soon be without Manny Machado for up to four games. On Tuesday June 7 in Baltimore, he raced to the mound and punched Royals hot-tempered pitcher Yordano Ventura after being hit in the back by a high-90s fast ball.

Ventura received a 9-game suspension which means at most he loses only two starts. Machado stands to lose twice as many games.

Each had been suspended in prior years. Because of the DH in the American League, Ventura never has to face in the batter's box the wrath of the other team's pitchers.
Both players need to grow up and it says here that the penalties for further incidents should be much greater.

Back to the nicer side of baseball, I heard Jim Palmer speak earlier this month at the wonderful space known as the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse between the West and East Greenwich Villages just a little southwest of Union Square. His new book NINE INNINGS TO SUCCESS (Triumph) is a useful combination of incisive memoir and self-help advice.

As anyone who listens to his commentary on Oriole TV broadcasts, Palmer is a straight-shooter who doesn't sugarcoat his opinions. He has proudly been an Oriole his whole career and he gives homage to the great teachers in the organization.

From Cal Ripken Sr., he learned, "There are no shortcuts to success." From his revered major league pitching coach George Bamberger (later a Brewers and Mets manager),
he learned the importance of mastering the low-and-outside overhand fastball.

Readers will be fascinated by Palmer's measured and largely positive portrait of manager Earl Weaver. They were often antagonists - at times compared to Civil War Generals slovenly Ulysses Grant and perfectionist Robert E. Lee. But in this volume Palmer mainly remembers the late Weaver fondly for his obvious commitment to winning and getting the best out of every player on the roster.

One last tip for the lovers of baseball on the grassroots level.
On Monday June 13, Yankee Stadium will host the PSAL high school baseball championships.
The 4p Double A title game will feature Bayside HS, with leading hitter Daniel Alfonzo
(son of former Met star Edgardo), vs Eleanor Roosevelt HS.
The 7p game of the Triple AAA division matches Tottenville vs. Midwood.

Later in June a PSAL all-star will fly to Chicago to engage in a series of games against the Windy City scholastic all-stars. This competition has only recently been revived. It has a long history that dates way back to the early 20th century when Commerce High's Lou Gehrig slugged a mammoth home run in the Second City.

As a supporter of all northeastern area baseball, I'm also pulling this weekend of June 10 for Boston College tackling the University of Miami-Florida in a best-of-three series.
The winner goes to Omaha to join seven other teams for the College World Series from June 18-29.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!

There May Be No Place Like Home: On The Return of Chris Davis, Alex Gordon, and Yoenis Cespedes

January 26, 2016

Tags: Chris Davis, Peter Angelos, Scott Boras, Alex Rodriguez, Tom Hicks, Buck Showalter, Alex Gordon, George Brett, Yoenis Cespedes, Buck Showalter, Mike Trout

Most Oriole fans had resigned themselves to the departure of slugger Chris Davis to free agency. To the credit of the sportswriters covering the drawn-out story in Baltimore and nationally, they always mentioned the possibility that Davis might stay.

After all, he likes living in Baltimore, he loves hitting in Camden Yards, and it was manager Buck Showalter who knew him in the Texas Rangers organization and was glad to obtain him in a trade in 2011.

When owner Peter Angelos removed the reported offer of seven years and over $150 million from the table late last year, it was made clear that lines of communications were still open between Davis, his super-agent Scott Boras, and the Orioles’ octogenarian often irascible owner.

I for one had no problem with how the Orioles handled the negotiations. Boras always likes teams to think there is a secret bidder salivating over a coveted free agent. In the past that strategy has worked – Alex Rodriguez got his huge $200 million-plus 10 year contract with the Rangers in 2001 when former owner Tom Hicks started bidding against himself.

Angelos called that bluff and when no mystery team emerged, Davis accepted the original offer that reportedly was only sweetened a little bit. The day before Davis signed, Showalter went public with his advice he had given to Davis some time before he became a free agent.

“Is there anything at a Target that you cannot afford?” Buck asked. Davis ultimately decided that the grass was not greener in other franchises.

When Boras was asked at the news conference welcoming Davis back to Baltimore if Chris had any other suitors, Boras did deliver one of his more humorous lines: “You don’t talk about ex-girl friends at a wedding.”

Left fielder Alex Gordon’s return to the Kansas City Royals, the only organization he has ever known, played out similarly. His local roots went even deeper than Chris Davis’s. He went to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and was a number one draft choice of the team. Originally a third baseman, Gordon was billed as “the next George Brett.”

That was unfortunate, creating probably too much pressure. Gordon needed to return to the minors and learn the new position of left field. He has become a Gold Glover and a clutch player. The Royals’ chances of making a third straight appearance in the World Series in 2016 certainly weren’t hurt by his re-signing.

Yoenis Cespedes’ return to the Mets might be the most surprising. Reportedly he wanted six years in the $150 million total range. I stress “reportedly” because fans and writers outside the loop don’t really know what it is going on behind the closed negotiating tables. Numbers are thrown around loosely, usually by agents wishing for the highest number so they can get their cut immediately.

Cespedes came to realize that his streakiness at both the plate and in the field was costing him a long-term contract. So he signed for the reported $75 million for three years – not exactly chump change. He also has a buy-out of $27.5 million after one year if his value and consistency somehow increase in 2016.

Let me conclude this latest post with a nice baseball story that doesn’t involve money. Angels center fielder Mike Trout, arguably the best player in baseball today, has a passion for weather. The south New Jersey native discussed his passion in the media during the buildup to blizzard Jonas that brought the Northeast to its knees this past Saturday Jan 23.

That’s all for now – spring training is just a handful of weeks away. The college basketball season is heating up and both my alma maters Columbia and Wisconsin are showing signs of being contenders. A great time of year unfolds.

So more than ever always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Quandaries of September Baseball

September 11, 2015

Tags: Buck Showalter, Joe Girardi, taxi squad, Arthur McBride, Mike Vail, Rusty Staub, Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Harvey, Joaquin Andujar, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke

Orioles manager Buck Showalter always has something provocative to say. Though his team is relegated to a spoiler role this September after an AL East title in 2014, he is like the man in the old EF Hutton commercial: When he talks, you listen.

Showalter says that a major league season is really four seasons: Spring Training, Regular Season (through August), September, and October (and in the case of 2015 early November – a potential World Series 7th game is slated for November 5.)

Showalter and many others in the baseball trenches, including Yankees manager Joe Girardi, has a problem with the September season. They are upset at the expansion of rosters after September 1st. As many as 15 extra players can crowd dugouts when minor league seasons are over and prospects are called up to provide reinforcements.

Showalter has been vehement on the need for a limit on the number of active players for any game. He argues persuasively that it should remain 25, just the way it is earlier in the season. The rest can be “taxi squad” members, inactive for the day's game but available for duty in future games.

[TRIVIA INTERLUDE: Do you know the origin of the term “taxi squad”? The powerhouse Cleveland Browns football team of post-World War II fledgling All-America Football Conference – AAFC – were owned by taxicab magnate Arthur McBride. They were so loaded with talent that rather than lose good players in a roster crunch, McBride put surplus talent on his taxicab payroll to keep them.]

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem any groundswell of support visible for season-long 25-man active rosters. For managers like Showalter and Girardi who think long and hard about relief pitcher-batter matchups late in the game, the extra roster members make life more difficult than necessary.

Baseball wasn’t always run this way. For many seasons after World War II and perhaps into the 1960s, rosters of up to 35 were the rule through mid-May. Then cuts were made to send the extra men back to the minors for more playing time.

That makes more sense to me, but right now it seems the system is designed to reward the poorer teams who can bring up fresh faces in September to give their fans some hope for next year. But success in September can be very illusory.

New York Mets fans will remember how Mike Vail’s splashy September in 1975 - .307 BA, 3 HR, 17 RBI in 162 ABs - led them to trade proven run producer Rusty Staub. That didn’t work out very well did it? Vail never came close to establishing himself and Staub went on to many more productive years.

This is not a dig at Mets fans that should be enjoying every moment of their spectacular rise to the top of the NL East, aided in no small measure by the spectacular flop of pre-season World Series favorite Washington Nats.

Don’t worry, Mets fans, about whether Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes will re-sign for the future. Or how many innings suddenly Dark Night-like (instead of Dark Knight-like) Matt Harvey has left in his arm.

Enjoy every moment of this surge, and when the time is near, then worry about how to deal with likely playoff opponent L.A. and the Dodgers one-two punch of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. After all, since starters even great ones rarely throw complete games, bullpens determine victories these days and LA's isn't outstanding. Kershaw also has had a history of post-season failure that could linger.

Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. There is much of September left and sometimes pressure and fatigue can create slumps.

“Yaneverknow,”, Joaquin Andujar loved to utter his one word of explanation of baseball. And RIP Andujar, 62, who died earlier this week of complications from diabetes.

For now, as always, remember: Take it easy but take it!

No Baseball Excitement In Baltimore This September

August 31, 2015

Tags: Baltimore Orioles, Buck Showalter, Dan Duquette, Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, Andrew Miller, Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Joe Torre, Hudson Valley Renegades, Goldklang group, John Kosciak

It is hard for an Orioles fan to face the disaster the 2015 season has become. Since 2012, “Playing meaningful games in September” had returned as a happy Birdland mantra.

It won’t be chanted this September. A four-game sweep at home by the resurgent Minnesota Twins followed by a 1-6 road trip at defending AL champion Kansas City and surprising Texas has put Baltimore four games under .500 and in danger of falling into the AL East basement.

The two biggest culprits have been the lack of consistent starting pitching and a homer-happy strikeout-happy offense that produces little else. The defense has remained solid and at times spectacular, but you have to score some runs. When you don’t, the pressure on mediocre pitching to be perfect builds to impossible levels.

There is still a full slate of September games to be played, mainly in the AL East where the O’s so far have a 26-24 record. Playing spoiler is not what Oriole diehards expected in March though I did pick them for 4th.

I thought the starting pitching was overrated and the loss of free agent outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis would create a void in the offense. Having top reliever Andrew Miller bolt to the Yankees didn’t bode too well either.

The MLB's 2014 executive of the year Dan Duquette thought he could piece together an outfield from bargain-basement free agent pickups but the strategy failed miserably.
Losing Markakis to the Braves really hurt because he played hard and played hurt and he played every day.

I can understand why Duquette probably convinced owner Peter Angelos not to give a fourth year to both Markakis and Cruz, but in Nick’s case he had been a loyal Oriole for 10 years and deserved the reward.

Though his new team the Braves are rebuilding in a very difficult way for Braves fans, Markakis's numbers are excellent. And again he was always more than the numbers.

The state of the Oriole farm system has improved and the worst thing a franchise can do is to throw money wildly into the free agent market. Unfortunately, the Orioles stand to lose its biggest run-producer Chris Davis (wildly streaky that he is) and useful southpaw-though-no-ace Wei-Yin Chen to free agency after the season.

So it is not an easy time to be an Orioles fan. There have been no rabbits in manager Buck Showalter's hat this season. However, there is some core young talent that should be given reasonable multi-year contracts, esp. third baseman Manny Machado, an emerging though still immature star, and All-Star closer Zach Britton.

Alas, I will watch the last weeks of the regular season and the post-season with interest but devoid of the passion of the true fan.

I’ve always liked Joe Torre’s explanation for why he returned to managing after years in the broadcast booth. “I missed the winning, . . . and the losing,” he said.
When games matter and there is always hope for tomorrow and the day after, that is what baseball rooting is all about.

I will also keep an eye on the waning days of the minor league season in the New York City area, esp. the short season New York-Penn League that ends its regular campaign on Labor Day, followed by two short best-of-3 playoffs.

There is quite a race going down to the wire in the McNamara division of the NY-PL.
Only a half game separates the Staten Island Yankees, the Hudson Valley Renegades (the Tampa Bay farm club), and the Aberdeen Ironbirds (the Orioles affiliate).

In late August I saw the SI Yankees and the Ironbirds split a doubleheader in front of an intimate crowd at the lovely ballpark on New York Harbor, only a short walk from the Staten Island ferry. BTW the ferry is a free ride in each direction and remains one of the great attractions of NYC.

A tip of the cap to the HV Renegades, one of the Goldklang group of minor league franchises. On Sat Sep 5 at 5:30p, before the regularly scheduled 7:05p game against Aberdeen, veteran scout John Kosciak will be the 14th talent hunter honored with a plaque on the Dutchess Stadium Wall of Fame.

Kosciak, now a pro scout with the Pirates, has worked in baseball for more than three decades. As a Houston Astros scout, he was instrumental in signing of budding star outfielder George Springer from the University of Connecticut.

That’s all for now. 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

Tags: Denny McLain, Jim Palmer, Storm Davis, Mike Flanagan, Kevin Appier, Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson, Jason Giambi, Buck Showalter, Andy Pettitte, Ubaldo Jimenez, Nine Magazine, Richard Galliano, Dizzy's Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, JJ Hardy, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, Brian O'Connor, Karl Ravech, Kyle Peterson, Aaron Boone, Gus Craig, Jordan Serena, George Thanopoulos, Austin Bossart, Ronnie Glenn, Tanner Anderson, Mike Martin, Joe Purritano, Tyler Servais

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…)

"Anything Can Happen In A Short Series," Is Felix Hernandez Worthy of Another Cy Young, and The Derek Jeter Farewell Tour Finally Ends

September 29, 2014

Tags: No game 163's after all, Felix Hernandez and his ERA adjustment, David Price, Dave Righetti, Madison Bumgarner, Nick Markakis, Aaron Loup, Caleb Joseph, Marcus Stroman, Buck Showalter, Orioles Post-Season Prospects, Derek Jeter's Last Home Game, 7th umpire for the World Series

And now the 30 MLB teams that began the season with hopes in spring training have been reduced to 10. And while there was a chance that there could be three game 163’s after action on the final Sunday of the regular season, none of them materialized.

Oakland won at Texas and Seattle thus lost out on the second wild card in the American League. Late July acquisition David Price, the onetime stellar southpaw of the Tampa Bay Rays, came up big for the Tigers and they won the AL Central for the 4th consecutive year.

But runner-up Kansas City still made the post-season for the first time since 1985 and they will host the Athletics in the Winner Take All Wild Card game on Sept 30. Their hopes will rest on righty James Shields, another former Tampa Bay Ray hurler, versus southpaw Jon Lester, himself a late July acquisition plucked from the Red Sox by A’s gm Billy Beane.

In the National League Pittsburgh lost two in a row at Cincinnati and the Cardinals won the NL Central again though the Pirates and St. Louis could meet again in the NL Championship Series. The Pirates will have to get through the San Francisco Giants in the Wednesday NL Winner Take All game. The home field crowd at the wonderful PNC Park should give them a big boost.

The matchup of well-traveled Edinson Volquez versus Giants’ ace southpaw Madison Bumgarner should be a gripping one. I will never forget Giant pitching coach Dave Righetti, the former Yankee closer, gushing over Bumgarner’s abilities after the Giants won the 2012 World Series: “He just looks like a pitcher!”

Left out of The Big Dance – if you allow me to use the basketball post-season phrase - are the Seattle Mariners who won 87 games, a vast improvement over recent fallow years. But they will always rue a late season horrid road trip that cost them a chance at the playoffs.

“King” Felix Hernandez could not stop the bleeding and got lit up by the Toronto Blue Jays in his next-to-last start of the season. He might still win another Cy Young award but I don’t like the way his case has been artificially bolstered.

MLB changed a hit into an error in one of Hernandez’s losses thereby making his ERA lower than another Cy Young contender the Chicago White Sox’s star southpaw Chris Sale. Cleveland’s Corey Kluber might have the best credentials for the Cy Young but too often votes go by raw numbers and reputation.

The post-season should provide a lot of excitement. I have never been a predictor but it will be interesting to see if the Orioles can turn it on in October after clinching very early on September 16. "Playing Meaningful Games in September" is the title of an essay on The Orioles Glory Years 1960-1983 that will be published shortly in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture.

An irony of September 2014 is that the last two weeks of the regular season saw the Orioles playing Meaningless Games in September. After the early clinching manager Buck Showalter decided that resting his everyday star outfielders Adam Jones and Nick Markakis made sense, esp. since Markakis got drilled behind his shoulder blade by Toronto southpaw Aaron Loup. Catcher Caleb Joseph also almost got hit in the head by Blue Jay righty Marcus Stroman in the same series resulting in a five-game suspension for the promising Stroman.

Showalter decided that it was not worth it going all out for the best record in the league over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. What distressed Showalter and all us ardent Oriole fans (I call myself a CON man - Certified Oriole Nut) were the fielding lapses in the last games of the season. Third base became a sink hole, reminiscent of the days before miraculous Manny Machado arrived in August 2012 and helped to propel the team to the playoffs.

Machado is gone for the season with an injury to his second knee and my guess is that the utility man Ryan Flaherty gets the start on Thursday October 2 against the Tigers.
If the team gets as far as AL Championship Series Chris Davis, who surprisingly filled in well at third base, will be eligible beginning in the third game. But that it is a long long
way off.


Jeter Scripts Another Special Yankee Stadium Moment
I love baseball because surprise and unpredictability is at the heart of the game. And never bet against Derek Jeter doing the dramatic on the largest stage.

On Thursday night Sept 25 in the last home game of his 20 year career as a New York Yankee, he doubled in the first run of the game and quickly scored the second. In mid-game, showing more range than usual, he started an excellent double play to nip the Orioles’ speedy Adam Jones (a videotaped ruling overturned an umpire’s on-field call).

With the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th inning, Jeter hit a slow roller to short that wouldn’t have been a double play. But normally reliable, indeed brilliant Baltimore shortstop JJ Hardy didn’t even get a force play as he threw past newcomer Kelly Johnson at second base. Two runs scored and the Yankees went into the 9th inning with a 5-2 lead.

Fate struck in Jeter’s behalf again. Yankee closer David Robertson gave up two long home runs to tie the score. But in the bottom of the 9th Jeter was up with the potential winning run on second. As he had done so many times before, Captain Clutch slammed a game-winning single to right field.

After the game losing pitcher Evan Meek, a journeyman who will not make Baltimore's post-season roster, expressed almost delight that he would be linked in baseball history with Jeter’s last great hit. Such is the reputation that Jeter has among his peers.
And needless to say, he is a saint to his legion of fans some who paid up to $10,000 for tickets to his final Yankee Stadium appearance.

Enjoy the post-season beginning with the Wild Card games. And I'm glad to learn that there will be 7 umpires at the World Series. One will umpire behind home plate for the first game, go to right field for game two, and then the replay booth for the remaining games.

I have long advocated a replay chief being on the scene of the game. Maybe this development can avert the overturning of a key call from someone hundreds of miles away from the action. Let the best teams win and the baseball be memorable. Of course I want the Orioles to go all the way and perhaps avenge 1971 and 1979 against the Pirates.
Whatever happens, I hope that a team clearly wins and there are more heroes than goats.

And always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Giving Pearce A Chance, Deep Depth, and Other Wonderful 2014 Oriole Storylines

September 17, 2014

Tags: David Simon, Steve Pearce, Chris Davis, Earl Weaver, Caleb Joseph, Dan Duquette, Buck Showalter

I first heard the phrase “Give Pearce A Chance” (a takeoff on a famous John Lennon song) in a July Sports Illustrated piece by David Simon, creator of the HBO series set in Baltimore, “The Wire”.

I use it all the time now – thank you David - because the saga of Steve Pearce, the 31-year-old journeyman who was even designated for assignment early this season (left off the active roster for a few days), is one of the best stories in the season.

Pearce hit a first inning three-run home run in the AL East division-clinching game that brought the Orioles their first title since 1997. For good measure Pearce hit another one the next night, bringing his seasonal total to 20, three more than he hit in his entire career. His batting average is on the cusp of .300 and his RBI total is nearly 50.

Pearce is now a fixture in the lineup, often protecting cleanup hitter Nelson Cruz as the #5 hitter. He also runs the bases hard, breaking up many a potential double play, and providing superior defense at first base.

What a godsend Pearce has been now that last year’s homer king Chris Davis has been suspended for 25 games for taking the stimulant Adderall without written permission. Davis had flunked one drug test already but for reasons known only to himself he continued to use the speed-like drug.

(Adderall is probably a performance-enabling drug not a performing-enhancing drug, but the collective bargaining agreement in baseball doesn’t make a major distinction – though the penalty for repeat violation is less drastic for Adderall than it is for steroids.)

Missing due to physical injury All-Star players third baseman Manny Machado and catcher Matt Wieters, the Orioles have stunned much of the baseball world by running away with the division flag in the usually hotly competitive AL East.

How have they done it? The answer can be found in one of late Hall of Fame Oriole manager Earl Weaver’s favorite phrases, DEEP DEPTH. When Wieters went down in May the Orioles brought up career minor leaguer Caleb Joseph who has been excellent. He receives well, throws out more than 40% of base stealers, and in one stretch hit home runs in five consecutive games.

Joseph is also known to be a good impressionist. He does one of manager Buck Showalter that breaks up the clubhouse. He also can mimic general manager Dan Duquette but he keeps that one to himself. “Buck can only send me to the minor leagues,” he has explained sagely. “Duquette can release me.”

Showalter and Duquette might be in line for Manager of the Year and Executive of the Year awards that are voted before the post-season begins. I don’t want to jinx the team’s chances of winning their first World Series since 1983, but the Buck and Dan show has been a pleasure to watch in 2014 as both seek to win their first World Series rings.

Showalter taught the Yankees of the early 1990s how to win but it was Joe Torre in 1996 who took them to the World Series victory stand. Buck was the first manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks expansion team but it was Bob Brenly who led them to the 2001 title. Showalter also was at the helm of the improving Texas Rangers last decade but it was the recently resigned Ron Washington who led them to the 2010-11 World Series.

When he took the Oriole helm late in the 2010 season, Showalter wryly noted that he looked forward to finally walking down the aisle with someone he raised.

He immediately embraced the Orioles’ proud past that made them the envy of baseball during their glory years from the late 1960s through the early 1980s.
Framed photos of the six Oriole Hall of Famers, in action photos with their teammates, now adorn the halls of the modern clubhouse at Camden Yards: pitcher Jim Palmer, manager Earl Weaver, the Robinsons – Frank and Brooks – and Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.

During the great 2012 season of rebirth (when they made the playoffs as a wild card but lost in the divisional round), the six Oriole Hall of Famers were honored by statues created by talented sculptor Toby Mendez. They now grace the area beyond the center field fence at Camden Yards.

GM Dan Duquette has a similar history of near-misses in his career. He built a contending team in Montreal under manager Felipe Alou but the 1994 strike wiped out the World Series that year (leaving Showalter's Yankees similarly frustrated). Later he ran the Red Sox, but he was his successor Theo Epstein who got to enjoy the end of the so-called Curse of the Bambino in 2004 with a repeat championship in 2007.

Away from major league baseball for nearly 10 years, Duquette never left the game. He created a summer college baseball league in his home area of western Massachusetts and remained interested in the international game.

Drawing on recommendations of veteran scouts Ray Poitevint and especially Fred Ferreira (who was with the Yankees when they developed the haul that produced Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera and Ramiro Mendoza in the early 90s), Duquette brought two key starting pitchers to Baltimore: Miguel Gonzalez from the Mexican League and Wei-Yin Chen from Taiwan via the Japanese pro leagues.

No one can predict how the playoffs will turn out. Some pundits think that the early clinching by the Orioles could make them rusty when playing for keeps begins again on Thursday October 2 against an opponent still to be determined.

Personally I don’t think that will happen. The team is too resilient and hungry. And there remains an outside chance that the Orioles could still nose out the California Angels for best record in the American League and home field advantage throughout all the playoffs.

For the moment as an Oriole fan for nearly a half-century it is time to celebrate and relax a little and be ready to turn on the faucet full-bore in early October.

And always remember to Take It Easy But Take It!

YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever) JOURNAL, Salute to Orioles Present and Past Edition

August 12, 2014

Tags: Chris Davis, Manny Machado, J.J. Hardy, David Simon in "Sports Illustrated, ", Steve Pearce, Buck Showalter, Chris Tillman, Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Caleb Joseph, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson

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.

Several examples:
**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!












YIBF JOURNAL, Camden Yards Edition

July 4, 2014

Tags: Camden Yards visits, Buck Showalter, Joe Maddon, sculptor Toby Mendez, Donald Schaefer, Lowenfish's Two Laws of Baseball Dynamics

I’ve written in this blog in prior years about growing up a baseball fan from the late 1940s onward and how the magical number of (2) appeared in the baseball listings for the big holidays of Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day to honor the dead of World War I), the Fourth of July, and Labor Day (which incidentally for those of you planning late summer activities is the earliest possible in 2014, Sept. 1.)

Since the 1970s modern baseball has given up the holiday doubleheader and virtually all scheduled two-for-the-price-of-one doubleheaders. And most players and managers are very glad for that because most twin bills are split and nobody working in baseball really likes spending all day at the ballpark to win and to lose.

Yet on my 72nd birthday on June 27 I couldn’t resist the day-night doubleheader between the Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays at Camden Yards. O’s skipper Buck Showalter and Rays manager Joe Maddon dripped with sarcasm at the scheduling of these games to keep their players at the park from nearly dawn to midnight but it proved to be a personal delight for me – even if my Orioles only split and then lost the Sat and Sun games.

Baseball doesn’t require victory every day to enjoy it immensely. (You hear that, Yankee winnites?) And if you’ve never been to Camden Yards, the first and the best of the newer urban ballparks, put it on your bucket list. It was nice to see people gathering before the games at Toby Mendez's sculptures behind the center field fence. Erected during the 2012 revival season of the Birds, they honor the six Oriole Hall of Famers from Brooks Robinson to Cal Ripken Jr.

Once in the stands at Camden Yards the views of the field from almost section are good and sometimes spectacular. My perch for the Friday and Saturday games was from the first-base-right-field side. Reminded me of storied Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street where the amenities may have been minimal but so many seats were angled directly at the pitcher’s mound and infield. And the impressive 19th century warehouse that now houses Oriole offices hovers protectively over the field.

In Sunday’s game I sat in the upper deck third base side, affording me a stirring view of the Baltimore skyline with the restored Camden Station a major part of the thrill. Its two cupolas with clocks atop are quite arresting.

A strikingly thin skyscraper also caught my eye, a building that once housed Donald Schaefer’s office – the former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Governor who was a driving force in getting approval for Camden Yards after the football Colts fled to Indianapolis in the middle of the night early in 1984.

I do have some quibbles about the Camden Yards scoreboard operation. Rarely did the names of the players at bat and the defenders in the field display in unison. So if you wanted to know who was in the field when the opponent was at bat, you were disappointed.

Also in Sunday’s game, a couple of innings after Tampa Bay had broken it open with their biggest outburst of the year, a 7-run 6th, the Orioles substituted freely but the public address announcer did not say in what place in the order the new players were batting.

These are little things but baseball is made of a series of little things that lead to the big thing known as victory. Nonetheless it was a memorable visit to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and made the first days of my 73rd year on earth most pleasurable.

That’s all for now. The Orioles were rained out on Fourth of July and now face another day-night doubleheader in Boston on Saturday the 5th. They are actually percentage points ahead of Toronto in first place and for the first time in 2014 seven games over .500.

But remember Lowenfish’s Second Law of Baseball Dynamics is:
NO TEAM IS A TRUE CONTENDER UNTIL IT MOVES TO 10 GAMES OVER .500 AND STAYS THERE.

Lowenfish’s First Law of Baseball Dynamics, noted here in past seasons, remains:
NO FOUR-RUN LEAD IS SAFE UNTIL THE GAME IS OVER.

Always remember, most of all: Take it easy but take it!

Another YIBF Journal, Father's Day Edition

June 15, 2014

Tags: Jim Bunning, Buck Showalter, Orel Hershiser, Delmon Young, JJ Hardy, Charlotte Knights BB&T Stadium, Jesus Aguilar, Tommy Hanson, Mitchell Boggs, Jared Mitchell, College World Series, Mike Gillespie, Augie Garrido

Happy Father's Day to Dads and their loved ones! 50 years ago - on June 21, 1964 to be exact - Jim Bunning threw a perfect game against the Mets at New York's brand-new Shea Stadium. I went with my father and it wasn't an exciting game because the Mets trailed early. But the drama built up, of course, and Bunning struck out John Stephenson to end the game. He then headed to be introduced on Ed Sulivan's CBS-TV Sunday night "really big shew".

And now let's turn to Quotations from Orioles manager Buck Showalter. The Baltimore skipper worked as an ESPN commentator in between his Texas Rangers and Orioles jobs. He has a gift for the terse insight that this sound bite-happy world of ours requires. As the O’s try to assert themselves in the AL East, here’s a sampling of the baseball-savvy bon mots of Baltimore’s baseball boss:

**“This game has a way of embracing you or spitting you out.”
Said by Buck after the Orioles nail-biting Flag Day June 14th 3-2 victory over the Jays.
Opportunistic base-running by Delmon Young and brilliant shortstop play by JJ Hardy prompted this comment. (Hardy mysteriously has lost his power at the plate, perhaps because of lingering back issues, but his defense is exquisite – I highly recommend turning one's eyes away from computer screens to watch it.)

**”If you have one good pitch, you can compete in the big leagues.
If you have two good pitches, you can win in the big leagues.
If you have three good pitches, you can dominate.”
--Buck quoting ace pitcher-turned-broadcaster Orel Hershiser.

“There are four ways you can leave the major leagues.
You can TALK your way out of it.
You can PARTY your way out of it.
You can EAT your way out of it.
You can PLAY your way out of it.”
Showalter wisely recommends the last.

AN HOMAGE TO BB&T STADIUM in Charlotte, North Carolina.
A week ago I paid a visit to the new home of the Charlotte Knights the White Sox affiliate in the International League. It’s located across the street from the Carolina Panthers’ NFL home.

I was quite amazed that despite torrential rains the game was played with only a 75 minute rain delay. The drainage system at BB&T Stadium is excellent, and I was impressed by the swift manner in which Knights’ personnel used modern suction equipment to remove wet spots and puddles from the outfield.

The game turned out to be a slugfest won by the division-leading Columbus Clippers, an Indians affiliate, over the tailend Knights. Charlotte starter Tommy Hanson, once a promising Braves righty, was lit up early by a home run by Indians prospect Jesus Aguilar. Neither Hanson nor his first reliever former Cardinal Mitchell Boggs gave evidence that they might be heading back soon to The Show.

The Knights fell behind early but they had some moments with a rally that knocked out Clippers starter Gabriel Arias before he could qualify for a win. Jared Mitchell, former star LSU football and baseball player, blasted a homer but his BA remained under the .200 mark so I think his development is still lagging.

But I was really glad I got to see BB&T Stadium with its spectacular view of downtown Charlotte. It was Bark in the Park day and many fans brought their pooches to parade around the rapidly drying grounds. Retired wrestling star George “The Animal” Steele also was on hand to throw out a first ball from nowhere near the pitching mound. And the concessions were quite good.

COLLEGE WORLD SERIES IN FULL FLOWER:
The eight-team double elimination competition began in Omaha yesterday with Cinderella UC-Irvine staging a late rally to beat Texas, 3-1. It was a matchup of septuagenarian coaches Mike Gillespie of Irvine versus Augie Garrido of Texas. Both have won the CWS with other schools – Gillespie with his alma mater USC and Garrido at Cal-Fullerton before his last title at Texas in 2005.

In the evening game Vanderbilt held on to beat Louisville, 5-3. The deadened bats have reduced the offense in the college game so games are usually low-scoring. So a premium is placed on pitching and defense and the sacrifice bunt and the bunt for a hit take on more importance.

I’m enough of a purist to miss the thwack of the bat - I still cringe at the ping from the metal bat. But the intensity of the games and the usually close competition have won me over.

Father’s Day matchups are another surprise team Texas Tech versus Big 12 rival TCU and Virginia versus Mississippi. All aired on ESPN2 with the final best-of-three series starting on Mon June 23.

More on the CWS next time as well as word on the upcoming inductions into the College Baseball Hall of Fame near the Texas Tech Lubbock campus.

In the meantime the YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever) always advises:
Take it easy but take it!

Salutes to My Sportsmen of the Year: Buck Showalter and Bruce Bochy

December 31, 2012

Tags: Bruce Bochy, Buck Showalter, Bob Melvin, Paul Richards, Davey Johnson

Pitchers and catchers are only 45 days away (or less) from reporting to spring training, but on the last day of 2012 I still feel like looking back at the 2012 major league season. Though neither BRUCE BOCHY nor BUCK SHOWALTER even won the manager of the year award in their respective leagues, I consider them my Sportsmen of the Year. (more…)

Reverie While Waiting Out Rain Delay before Start of Orioles-Yankees AL Division Series

October 7, 2012

Tags: 2012 Orioles, Manny Machado, Nate McLouth, Buck Showalter, sculptor Toby Mendez, Eddie Murray, Edward Bennett Williams, Brooks Robinson

I’ve been an Oriole fan for over 40 years and have suffered quietly if painfully during the last 15 years of the Birds’ under-.500 futility. The 2012 season has been a reawakening of hope in Baltimore and among the diaspora of intense fans like yours truly.

Universally picked for either last or the next-to-last rung of the tough AL East, these Birds managed by BUCK SHOWALTER have been over .500 all season, quite an accomplishment given their recent past. And they caught fire in early August and became a worthy contender when two unusual moves worked like a charm on the Orioles lineup and defense.

NATE MCLOUTH, a former All-Star outfielder with the Pirates whose career had nose-dived since 2009, was installed as the left fielder. And 20 year-old shortstop of the future MANNY MACHADO came up from Double A Bowie to become a rock-steady and often spectacular third baseman though he had only played two games at that position in the minor leagues. What had been a truly horrible Oriole defense became one of the best if not the best in the league.

Both McLouth and Machado contributed heavily with the bat, too. I was at Machado’s second home game at Camden Yards on August 9 and all he did was belt his first two home runs. Where once the chants of “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie” for retired Hall of Fame slugger EDDIE MURRAY rang throughout Baltimore, now I could hear the beginning of a new chant for “Manny, Manny, Manny.” I even heard a fan in the bathroom singing the words “Manny, Manny” to the 1950s pop hit, “Volare.”

Speaking of Murray, the onetime reclusive first baseman was one of six retired Orioles, all Hall of Famers, to be honored with sculptures by local artist TOBY MENDEZ that will be permanently displayed beyond the center field fence at Camden Yards.

There is no doubt in my mind that the beginning of the long years of gloom in Birdland began when owner EDWARD BENNETT WILLIAMS insisted on the trade of Murray after the 1988 season. After the Orioles’ last World Series triumph in 1983, the “Oriole Way” of patient development through the minor leagues and discreet free agent acquistion was replaced by the Indiscriminate Free Agent Fix that never works but owners almost always succumb to.

Murray was not to blame for the decline in pitching and defense and intelligent hitting that afflicted Baltimore after the 1983 World Series year but the impatient Williams was battling a terminal cancer that would soon claim him. Though the Orioles surprisingly contended in 1989, the year after the Murray trade to the Dodgers for three less than memorable players, it was not a team made for durable consistency and it quickly fell back into mediocrity.

Murray did return near the end of his career to hit his 500th home run in Oriole garb but a great chance to have a team built around the solid play on both sides of the ball of Murray and CAL RIPKEN JR had been lost.

Happily, 2012 has been a year of both resurrection on the field and remembrance of past glory. Like Murray Cal Jr was honored with his statue this season as were FRANK ROBINSON (whose trade from Cincinnati after the 1965 season led directly to the Orioles first World Series championship in 1966), pitcher JIM PALMER, still an insightful broadcaster, manager EARL WEAVER, and last but least late in September BROOKS ROBINSON.

Brooks has not been in good health and his ceremony was delayed until the next-to-last day before the end of the home season in late September. I attended this event along with a capacity crowd that later watched the Orioles win the second game of their three-game sweep of the cellar-dwelling Red Sox.

Brooks looked very dapper and filled was with enthusiasm for the current Orioles. “How about dem Birds?” he chortled more than once. He was joined at the ceremony by all the other statue awardees as well as former teammates AL BUMBRY and MILT PAPPAS and former Baltimore Colt running back LENNY MOORE.

Brooks told many stories about his glory days, always with his trademark self-effacement. As the Associated Press sportswriter GORDON BEARD said when Brooks retired in 1977, “They might name candy bars after Reggie Jackson in New York but they name babies after Brooks in Baltimore.”

I write this post as the rain delay seems to be coming to an end in Baltimore. What would be an Oriole-Yankee series in Charm City WITHOUT a rain delay? As always in this most surprising season the Orioles are underdogs to the powerful Yankees with their nearly $200 million payroll.

But I think the men in Black and Orange have a fighting chance to move one step closer to their first league pennant since 1983. And to have hope in October is the greatest emotion for a baseball fan.

On Friday night October 5 Manager Showalter won his first playoff game since 1995 (when he was the skipper of the Yankees) as the Orioles dethroned the Texas Rangers 5-1 in the Winner Take All Wild Card Game. Unheralded southpaw JOE SAUNDERS
outpitched Texas' highly paid Japanese import YU DARVISH.

Right-hander JASON HAMMEL, another unheralded hurler discarded by both Tampa Bay and Colorado, was poised to go head-to-head with the Yankees' big time southpaw CC SABATHIA with other obscure pitchers following him in the rotation, the Taiwanese import southpaw WEI-YIN CHEN and Mexican League veteran MIGUEL GONZALEZ. With JIM JOHNSON anchoring an effective bullpen the Orioles have a chance to win every game though of course no guarantee it will happen.

To repeat, though, to have hope after years in the darkness is a wonderful feeling.
Stay tuned for further commentary on how this amazing year ultimately turns out.

In the meantime, always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Meaningful Games in September Have At Last Returned to Baltimore

September 5, 2012

Tags: Orioles pennant fever, Buck Showalter, Nick Markakis, Manny Machado, Miguel Gonzalez, Dan Duquette, Fred Ferreira

It has been 15 years since the Orioles could look forward to playoff baseball.
15 depressing miserable years during which the big bullies of the A. L. East the Yankees and the Red Sox used to come to Camden Yards and watch their fans turn Baltimore’s beautiful retro Oriole Park at Camden Yards into home games for the opposition. (more…)

On The Edge of Contention Orioles Enter The Dog Days of August

July 30, 2012

Tags: Close 2012 pennant races, Baltimore Orioles, Buck Showalter, Eddie Murray

The 2012 major league baseball season is certainly exciting and unpredictable if not always artistically pleasing. Clearly the age of the raging steroid users is over with home run totals way down and the dominance of pitching once again coming to the fore.

The late great Hall of Fame manager SPARKY ANDERSON once pithily explained the essence of baseball: "Without pitching you're nothing." (more…)

Wow! Thoughts on August Dog Days and Minor League Revival

August 31, 2010

Tags: Oriole Resurgence, Buck Showalter, Ray Miller, Johnny Oates, Pat O'Conner and Minor League Baseball, Red Sox Hanging In

August did not bring much relief from the stifling heat and humidity in New York City and environs. They were dog days indeed and thanks to a very interesting point noted by Larry Dierker the versatile former pitcher-broadcaster-author in one of his regular mlb.com commentaries, in ancient Egypt a dog was actually sacrificed (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