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Coping With The No-Baseball Blues

November 11, 2018

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

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

Donít get me wrong. Iím glad that Columbia football enters its last game of the season against Cornell at home this coming Saturday Nov 17 with at least a .500 record clinched. The Lions have already set a school record for most wins in a two-year
period - their current 5-4 added to last yearís 8-2 log and 2nd place Ivy League finish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I donít know any scout who thinks Tebow has a real chance to become a major leaguer. Yes, he is a very hard worker and big box office draw for his All-American boy image, enhanced even more because he reportedly was almost aborted as a fetus.

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

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

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

Machadoís intermittent hustle was on display throughout the post-season. He remains a major talent who will get paid a lot. I just hope the contract isnít for more than five years. I know heís only 26 and loves to play the game but never forget the old adage: ďItís never easy getting up early in the morning when you are wearing silk pajamas.Ē

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

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

His home town of Miami and its baseball-loving Hispanic population might be in his heart of hearts. But I donít think the Bruce Sherman-Derek Jeter ownership have deep enough pockets and enough of a contending team.

As for Bryce Harper, he supposedly turned down a 10-year $300 million offer to stay with the Washington Nationals. Even as an outfielder with a great arm I donít believe Harper is a better buy than Machado. Heís too surly and media-hungry for my taste. Despite his baggae, Harper will command a lot of dough.

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

OK Iíve said my piece on the subject of mega-money and mega-years. I wish the media wouldnít rub dollars and money in my face the all the time. Turning off the tube, clicking exit on the computer, and throwing out the newspaper can be a liberating feeling. Which I am doing right now.

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

How To Enjoy The Summer When Your Favorite Team Is 20-50

June 17, 2018

Tags: Orioles's 20-50 record, Juan Soto, Matt Adams, Adam Eaton, Wilmer Difo, Sonny Gray, Brett Gardner, Yoenis Cespedes, Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Brandon Nimmo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Monroe wins PSAL baseball title, College World Series

The above headline is not a typo. By winning on Father's Day 10-4 over the Miami Marlins, the Baltimore Orioles "improved" to 20-50 on the season with 92 games left to play.

The last time they had won at home at Camden Yards was Mother's Day. So how do you enjoy the rest of the season with your team hopelessly out of the pennant race?
The short answer is: Believe in the process and not just the outcome.

Baseball is such a magical game that every game provides something you have never seen before. Case in point: On Wednesday night June 13 I saw the Washington Nationals beat the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, 5-4. The key runs were driven up by two home runs by the 19-year-old rookie left fielder Juan Soto who because of injuries has been rushed to the majors.

What I'll most remember about this game is that the Nationals managed to get thrown out on the bases five times in the win. In the second inning, the first two batters got on base but Yankee starter Sonny Gray picked Soto off first base. (Soto did get even by hitting his first homer, a three-run job, off Gray in the fourth.)

Then Wilmer Difo lined to shortstop and Matt Adams was doubled off second base, a virtually unforgivable base running lapse on a play in front of the runner that too often occurs these days. As second man up in the third inning, Adam Eaton tried to stretch a single into a double but was thrown out by Brett Gardner.

So four outs were made on the bases in a span of FIVE batters. I never had seen that. For good measure Eaton was caught stealing in the eight inning. The Nats did win this game but they went up to Toronto and got swept over the weekend by the Blue Jays.

In one of the nicer stories of the MLB season so far, the Atlanta Braves are holding a narrow lead over the Nats in the NL East with the improved Phillies in striking distance. The Mets have hit such a skid that they even lost two games to the Orioles in the first week of June.

Without the oft-injured Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who evidently is out indefinitely, the Mets' offense has ground to a halt. The team is perilously close to falling over 10 games under .500.

There is a clamoring for them to trade their ace pitcher Jacob DeGrom, even to the Yankees, but I say: You build around him and perhaps another injury-prone talent, fellow right hander Noah Syndergaard.

What do the Mets and Orioles have in common? Aging rosters without speed and ownership by the Wilpon and Angelos families, respectively, whose increasingly involved sons don't have a good grasp of how to improve their teams' fortunes. Understatement of the year!

Yet miracles do happen in baseball! As I was finishing this post, the Mets pulled up a rally at Arizona that was reminiscent of their comeback in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the Red Sox.

Down to their last out and trailing 3-1, Jose Reyes kept the game alive by a bunt single. A former Mets star now on the verge of being released (if only the farm system had an adequate replacement). Pinch-hitter Jose Bautista, another veteran on his last legs, then doubled to score Reyes.

And on the next pitch Brandon Nimmo, a rare bright light on this Mets team and a rarity in that he hails from Wyoming where there is no high school baseball, hit a long home run. For good measure Asdrubal Cabrera, the plucky second baseman playing hard despite nagging injuries, also homered to make it 5-3 and the Mets won the game.

To repeat: The game remains beautiful and surprising in so many ways. And here's a shout-out to Monroe HS from the Bronx who won the PSAL (Public Schools Athletic League) championship on Monday night June 11 at Yankee Stadium, dethroning Grand Street Campus from Brooklyn, 3-0.

And though the sound of the composite aluminum bat is jarring to baseball traditionalists, do give a look at the College World Series in Omaha through June 27 on ESPN. North Carolina and Mississippi State have moved into the winner's bracket with Arkansas leading Texas while waiting out a rain delay as I type this. Texas Tech and Florida are the last teams to get into action later tonight on Father's Day.

That's all for now. Back before the end of the month with a report on SABR's national conference in Pittsburgh. I'm chairing a panel on Branch Rickey's Years in Pittsburgh on Sat afternoon June 23 at 1p at the Wyndham Grand Hotel in the Steel City's downtown.

Always remember: Take it easy but take it!


Thoughts On The Eve of A Dream Cubs-Indians World Series

October 24, 2016

Tags: Kyle Hendricks, Clayton Kershaw, Dartmouth-Columbia football, Ryan Dempster, Jon Lester, Aroldis Chapman, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, Javier Baez, Andrew Miller, Bobby Valentine, Corey Kluber, Stetson University, Jacob DeGrom, Francisco Lindor, Anthony Rizzo

There was no drama this past Saturday night in the sixth game of the National League Championship Series. Kyle Hendricks, who has emerged as the number two starter on the 103-game-winning Cubs, shut down the Dodgers on two hits in 7 1/3 innings.

Meanwhile, from the very first inning Chicago bats pecked away at LA ace Clayton Kershaw. He yielded five runs in five innings as the Cubs rolled to a convincing 5-0 victory that propelled the Windy City Nationals into their first World Series since 1945.

For Dartmouth alums who had to be forlorn when my alma mater Columbia earlier in the day beat the Big Green, 9-7 - for its first Homecoming football win since 2000 - Hendricksí performance provided a great consolation. The onetime Texas Rangers farmhand became a Cub a few years ago in a trade for the now-retired right-hander Ryan Dempster.

Hendricks has been a revelation in 2016, moving into the second spot in the rotation behind southpaw ace Jon Lester and ahead of last yearís Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. With the experienced John Lackey in the fourth slot, you can see why the Cubs ran away with the NL Central this year. The trade deadline addition of Cuban fireballer Aroldis Chapman has also shored up the back end of the Chicago bullpen.

I havenít even mentioned the Cubsí versatile offense that was occasionally shut down by both the Giants and the Dodgers in the playoffs but not for very long. Second baseman Javier Baez is emerging as a star - he was co-MVP with Lester in the NLCS. He can play anywhere on the field, a trait that manager Joe Maddon finds especially useful.

Baez is too much of a hot dog for many people including me but if he delivers he will play and get plenty of airtime. But letís not just yet crown the Cubs as World Series champions for the first time since 1908.

Cleveland has endured a drought almost as long as the North Side Chicagoans. The Tribe hasn't won a World Series since 1948. They came very close in the 1990s losing two close Series in that decade - to the Braves in 1995 and the Marlins in 1997.

They have looked very sharp in the post-season, sweeping the favored Red Sox in three games and beating the Blue Jays in five in a very close and gripping ALCS. They have the American League reigning Cy Young award-winner Corey Kluber looking very much like an ace. He attended Stetson University in Deland, Florida, as did Jacob DeGrom, the Mets star pitcher who appeared in last yearís World Series.

A major story in the Indiansí rise centers on the left arm of Andrew Miller, a tireless reliever who has appeared this post-season as early as the fifth inning and as late as the ninth in a save situation. I cannot recall a pitcher of this magnitude who has been traded so often.

A top draft pick of the Tigers about 10 years ago, Miller didnít develop as a starter fast enough to suit Detroit. He was traded to the Marlins, then to the Red Sox where Bobby Valentine in 2013 during his one stormy year as Boston skipper converted him to a reliever.

He was traded to the Orioles at the 2014 deadline and helped my Birds to reach the ALCS where they swept away by the Royals. Miller then signed a four-year deal with the Yankees that obviously did not have a no-trade clause.

So late this July he wound up in Cleveland for four prospects, two of whom are considered future stars - outfielder Clint Frazier and pitcher Justus Sheffield. It is a deal that the Indians are very happy with.

There are many likable players on both teams. Smiling Tribe shortstop Francisco Lindor is a delight to watch on both sides of the ball. Earlier this season in response to the controversy surrounding Cleveland's longtime Chief Wahoo logo, he said, "I don't know much about it but he is smiling and I like to smile."

When asked after the Cubs' clinching 5-0 victory on Saturday what he planned to do with the double play ball that ended the game, first baseman Anthony Rizzo pulled it out of his pocket and said, "I'm gonna sleep with it."

It will be cold in Cleveland this week but hopefully not too wintry. I hope the elements remain playable when the Series shifts to Chicago for the weekend. Some fan base will be extremely happy come early November. Congrats to all of them in both cities and to the players and the management for getting this far.

I hope for a seven game series that Cleveland with the home field advantage just might win. But I don't know and neither do the know-it-all analytic people. That's why they play the games - to find out who is best.

Thatís all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Thoughts On The Eve of A Dream Cubs-Indians World Series

October 24, 2016

Tags: Kyle Hendricks, Clayton Kershaw, Dartmouth-Columbia football, Ryan Dempster, Jon Lester, Aroldis Chapman, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, Javier Baez, Andrew Miller, Bobby Valentine, Corey Kluber, Stetson University, Jacob DeGrom, Francisco Lindor, Anthony Rizzo

There was no drama this past Saturday night in the sixth game of the National League Championship Series. Kyle Hendricks, who has emerged as the number two starter on the 103-game-winning Cubs, shut down the Dodgers on two hits in 7 1/3 innings.

Meanwhile, from the very first inning Chicago bats pecked away at LA ace Clayton Kershaw. He yielded five runs in five innings as the Cubs rolled to a convincing 5-0 victory that propelled the Windy City Nationals into their first World Series since 1945.

For Dartmouth alums who had to be forlorn when my alma mater Columbia earlier in the day beat the Big Green, 9-7 - for its first Homecoming football win since 2000 - Hendricksí performance provided a great consolation. The onetime Texas Rangers farmhand became a Cub a few years ago in a trade for the now-retired right-hander Ryan Dempster.

Hendricks has been a revelation in 2016, moving into the second spot in the rotation behind southpaw ace Jon Lester and ahead of last yearís Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. With the experienced John Lackey in the fourth slot, you can see why the Cubs ran away with the NL Central this year. The trade deadline addition of Cuban fireballer Aroldis Chapman has also shored up the back end of the Chicago bullpen.

I havenít even mentioned the Cubsí versatile offense that was occasionally shut down by both the Giants and the Dodgers in the playoffs but not for very long. Second baseman Javier Baez is emerging as a star - he was co-MVP with Lester in the NLCS. He can play anywhere on the field, a trait that manager Joe Maddon finds especially useful.

Baez is too much of a hot dog for many people including me but if he delivers he will play and get plenty of airtime. But letís not just yet crown the Cubs as World Series champions for the first time since 1908.

Cleveland has endured a drought almost as long as the Cubsí. They havenít won a World Series since 1948. They came very close in the 1990s losing two close Series in that decade - to the Braves in 1995 and the Marlins in 1997.

They have looked very sharp in the post-season, sweeping the favored Red Sox in three games and beating the Blue Jays in six in a very close and gripping ALCS. They have the American League reigning Cy Young award-winner Corey Kluber looking very much like an ace. He attended Stetson University in Deland, Florida, as did Jacob DeGrom, the Mets star pitcher who appeared in last yearís World Series.

A major story in the Indiansí rise centers on the left arm of Andrew Miller, a tireless reliever who has appeared this post-season as early as the fifth inning and as late as the ninth in a save situation. I cannot recall a pitcher of this magnitude who has been traded so often.

A top draft pick of the Tigers about 10 years ago, Miller didnít develop as a starter fast enough to suit Detroit. He was traded to the Marlins, then to the Red Sox where Bobby Valentine in 2013 during his one stormy year as Boston skipper converted him to a reliever.

He was traded to the Orioles at the 2014 deadline and helped my Birds to reach the ALCS where they swept away by the Royals. Miller then signed a four-year deal with the Yankees that obviously did not have a no-trade clause.

So late this July he wound up in Cleveland for four prospects, two of whom are considered future stars - outfielder Clint Frazier and pitcher Justus Sheffield. It is a deal that the Indians are very happy with.

There are many likable players on both teams. Smiling Tribe shortstop Francisco Lindor is a delight to watch on both sides of the ball. Earlier this season in response to the controversy surrounding Cleveland's longtime Chief Wahoo logo, he said, "I don't know much about it but he is smiling and I like to smile."

When asked after the Cubs' clinching 5-0 victory on Saturday what he planned to do with the double play ball that ended the game, first baseman Anthony Rizzo pulled it out of his pocket and said, "I'm gonna sleep with it."

It will be cold in Cleveland this week but not too wintry. I hope the elements remain playable when the Series shifts to Chicago for the weekend. Some fan base will be extremely happy come early November. Congrats to all of them in both cities and to the players and the management for getting this far.

I hope for a seven game series that Cleveland with the home field advantage just might win. But I don't know and neither do the know-it-all analytic people. That's why they play the games - to find out who is best.

Thatís all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Featured Work

History
Story of baseball's reserve system and the men who fought to change it
Biography/Sports
ďLowenfishís take is detailed and nuanced.... he doesnít look for simple answers; despite his own abiding admiration, he never sugarcoats or presents Rickey in anything other than a three-dimensional light.Ē
ĖDavid Ulin, Los Angeles Times