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Coping With No Baseball: Giamatti's Lyricism Always Helps + Farewell to Willie McCovey

November 4, 2018

Tags: Bart Giamatti, Boston Red Sox champions: Alex Cora, Nathan Eovaldi, J.D. Martinez, Steve Pearce, David Price; Max Muncy, Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Tim Corbin, Willie McCovey (corrected on debut day), Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou, Willie Mays, Les Keiter, Robin Roberts, Ralph Terry, Bobby Richardson, Ted Williams, Barney Greengrass

"You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops." So wrote the late Bart Giamatti, baseball commissioner and onetime Yale professor and university president, in his classic essay "The Green Fields of the Mind."

How consoling are these words as Daylight Savings Time has ended for most of the country and we are faced with increased darkness until the arrival of the winter solstice around December 21. I watch my share of basketball and football and hockey on TV but it is no substitute for the drama and excitement of baseball.

Of course, we have our baseball memories, near and far, to sustain us. There is no doubt that the Boston Red Sox are worthy World Series winners. They showed it was no fluke that they won the AL East with a team-record 108 victories.

They eliminated the Yankees and defending champion Astros to win the American League pennant, losing only one game in each series. They won a generally well-played often gripping World Series in five games over the Dodgers, a bridesmaid for the second year in a row.

Perhaps the mettle of this year's Bosox squad was best exemplified by its reaction to its only World Series loss, a record-breaking 18-inning seven-hour-plus 3-2 defeat on Max Muncy's home run off Nathan Eovaldi.

Immediately thereafter brilliant rookie manager Alex Cora called a rare team meeting in the clubhouse to congratulate the team's effort. The team applauded Eovaldi's great six-inning effort out of the bullpen when he was listed as the Game 4 starter.
Big run producer J.D. Martinez said it might have been a loss but it was a great experience to compete in such a historic game.

Journeyman outfielder/first baseman Steve Pearce was voted the Series MVP for his batting heroics in the last two games. His solo homer tied Game 4 in 8th inning and his bases-clearing double provided the insurance runs in the 9th.

Pearce's two-run blast in the first inning the next night set the tone for the clincher.
It was a huge blow off losing pitcher Clayton Kershaw because it is hard to overestimate what scoring first means in any game, especially after the Dodgers had lost a four-run late lead in the prior game.

David Price won the final game with seven solid innings. A case could be made for Price to have won a co-MVP award although there were only five voters to assure that there was only one winner.

It was nice to see Price get the post-season monkey off his back because he had failed repeatedly in recent years to come up big in the playoffs. But this year he also won Game 2 with six solid innings and relieved effectively in the extra-inning classic third game.

Vanderbilt University baseball coach Tim Corbin has to be especially proud of his progeny because in addition to developing Price in college, another Commodore rookie Walker Buehler also pitched outstanding ball for the Dodgers.

Before I close, I want to remember Willie McCovey who passed away late last month from multiple ailments at the age of 80. He was one of many players who came up too late to help my first team the New York Giants who left New York for San Francisco after the 1957 season.

Imagine how McCovey and his teammates Felipe Alou and Orlando Cepeda would have fared with the short left and right field fences at the Polo Grounds. Certainly Willie Mays would have broken Babe Ruth's 714 home run record if he hadn't been consigned to the winds of Candlestick Park. At least he experienced five seasons in New York.

McCovey's debut in San Francisco was memorable. I happened to be listening to Les Keiter's recreating of Giant games on WINS radio on July 30, 1959. All Willie did was belt two triples and two singles off another future Hall of Famer Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts.

McCovey may be most remembered for a ball that became an out, the scalding line drive off Yankee pitcher Ralph Terry at Bobby Richardson that ended the seventh game of the 1962 World Series with the tying and winning runs in scoring position.

I prefer he be remembered for the body of his work on his field, including 521 career home runs, tying him with Ted Williams. He was a class guy on and off the field. He was always was accessible to fans and became a revered ambassador for the Giants who wisely named the water area beyond the right field fence at San Francisco's ATT Park "McCovey Cove."

There is a famous 100-year-old deli on the Upper West Side of Manhattan called "Barney Greengrass The Sturgeon King." Though McCovey never ate there, he heard about the sturgeon and had it mail ordered to the West Coast.

There is a picture of Willie in Barney Greengrass's window. I think of Willie "Stretch" McCovey when I stop in at Barney's and always will.

That's all for now. Again remember to express your vote on November 6th if we want our democracy to recover its balance. And never forget: Take it easy but take it!





Can Orioles Turn It Around In September? & Other Late-Season Thoughts

September 2, 2016

Tags: AL wild card race, Orioles slide - injuries to Chris Tillman and Darren O'Day, Kevin Gausman, Gary Sanchez, Steve Pearce, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Mark Trumbo, Stephen Cardullo, Bryce Harper, Katie Ledecky, John Hagemann

As play begins on Labor Day weekend, the Orioles find themselves tied for the second AL wild card with the resurgent Detroit Tigers. The Houston Astros are nipping on their heels and the born-again Yankees with a lot of new blood are only two lost games behind Baltimore and Detroit.

The Yankees are regularly winning series these days, including recently cooling off defending World Series champion Kansas City. The Orioles are in reverse, losing series that they won earlier in the season.

They are now a long shot to win the AL East trailing the Blue Jays by four games and the Red Sox by two. Right now Boston leads the battle to host the wild card game but of course a lot can happen in September.

There are a lot of explanations for why the Orioles, a team that peaked at 18 above .500 in early August, have slipped. Most prominent is the failure of any consistent starting pitching. A troubling shoulder injury to 15-game winner Chris Tillman has obviously hurt as well as the multiple injuries to key reliever Darren O'Day.

No one has stepped up to fill the starter void although Kevin Gausman did momentarily stop the bleeding in a great seven inning-shutout performance at Yankee Stadium on the last Sunday in August. I was fortunate to attend that game.

Steve Pearce got his first RBIs in his return to the O's - a solo HR and a huge two-out bases-loaded single. He also threw out the Yankees wunderkind catcher Gary Sanchez trying to go first to third on a single with nobody out in the fourth.

Manny Machado was way off third base in a defensive shift but managed to get back to the bag to receive Pearce's throw. Turned out to be a huge play. Pearce left the game after top of 7th but his balky elbow is evidently all right.

Mark Trumbo hit a long HR for the insurance runs in the eighth. Most important the defense sparkled for the first time in a while, Machado and Jonathan Schoop making unbelievable plays. Probably was no accident that good starting pitching with a fast working Gausman kept the defense on their toes.

Alas, losing the following series to Toronto at home stopped any possible momentum.
The first "meaningful games in September" begin tonight Fri Sep 2 against the Yankees at Camden Yards. Since negative thoughts can cause considerable damage, I will refrain from any such exercise. Am hoping for the best by winning every series for the next month - that's the message.

RANDOM THOUGHTS:
**How about Stephen Cardullo of the Colorado Rockies? He made his major league debut
last week in a makeup home doubleheader against the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. He not only got his first MLB hit and first HR in game one, but he belted a grand-slam in the second game.

Not bad for a veteran of four seasons in independent leagues who made The Show at the advanced age of 29. That the Dodgers scored 8 runs in the last two innings to come-from-behind to win the second game put a damper on Cardullo's achievement, but to coin a phrase, they can't take that [debut performance] away for him.

**On the negative side, the Washington Nationals reigning MVP Bryce Harper still doesn't know the word "remorse." He was recently ejected from an extra-inning game for throwing his helmet at home plate after being called out on strikes. His team was already shorthanded in a game they eventually lost.

Afterwards Harper was still fuming at the plate umpire's call (which on replay didn't seem to me outrageously wrong). I guess when you are a megasports celebrity who hobnobbed with first pitch thrower/Olympic swimming champion Katie Ledecky before the game, you feel you can do anything without paying a price.

That's all for now - more on the dramatic pennant races coming up later this month.
Plus my report on the induction of revered baseball scout John Hagemann into the Hudson Valley Renegades Scouting Wall of Fame Friday night September 2.

Always remember - take it easy but take it!
(more…)

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 - September Stretch Drive Edition

September 2, 2014

Tags: Pittsburgh's PNC Park, Washington's Nats Park, Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park, Oakland A's, Calif. Angels, Caleb Joseph, Steve Pearce, Huston Street

The Dog Days of August have given way to the September Stretch Drive in Major League Baseball. Before I look at what September and October may hold for the contenders and pretenders, let me mention a couple of highlights from my whirlwind trip in mid-August to the new ballparks in Pittsburgh, Washington, and Philadelphia.

**PNC Park in Pittsburgh ranks deservedly high among the new ballparks in MLB.
I attended a Monday night game Pirates game against fellow contender/pretender Braves - hard to say which way either team is going though Pittsburgh is far closer to top than Atlanta where Washington is running away with NL East.

More than 31,000 attended a game in which there was no particular promotion. They stayed rooting despite a six-run first for Atlanta. Pirates even brought the tying run to plate in 6th inning but bad base-running did them in.

Sound system was mercifully not too loud so one could converse with a neighbor. Like at the best of minor league parks, there was constant activity on the field during the half-inning breaks. But again nothing too loud or in bad taste.

Sight lines and concessions are very good. The location on the three rivers that surround the verdant city of Pittsburgh is very lovely.

Lots of sculptures dot the outside of the park including one of Roberto Clemente and a jubilant cap-waving Bill Mazeroski after his glorious 1960 World Series-winning home run over Yankees. And there are a lot of restaurants in the area that make a fan want to stay around for a long time.

**Nats Park in the Navy Yard SE section of Washington, D.C. is not as homey as PNC Park. But of course Washington is not as homey a city as Pittsburgh. There is some grandeur to the park but the seats are not as close to the field as in Pittsburgh.

As a New Yorker I felt at home seeing Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack and Blue Smoke
available. But there is too much cuteness in the names of the other concessions – Pop Fly Popcorn, Steak of the Union, and the like.

I wore my Oriole cap to the night game against the Diamondbacks – a Washington rout determined by another early six-run inning. I received the kind of verbal abuse I often get at Yankee Stadium wearing the same cap. So there is a genuine local rivalry brewing between Washington and Baltimore which augurs well for the baseball business in the DC-Balt beltway.

**My fourth visit to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia for a Wed. aft. day game was pleasant. The stadium has a carnival aspect with many booths outside the lower deck - former Phillie slugger Greg Luzinski has a food concession.

The day game with the Seattle Mariners proved to be the most competitive tussle I witnessed. Phillies rallied to win 4-3, showing off the kind of strong bullpen that enabled them to no-hit the Braves on Labor Day. Cole Hamels ran out of gas in both games but clearly he remains a top-of-the-rotation kind of starter.

The only sad aspect to the day was sparse attendance. Reminded me too much of the barrenness at CitiField in Flushing. It’s the price of the Phillies and the Mets no longer being contenders.


And now time to analyze what we may expect in September on eve of playoffs:
The Washington Nationals have the best record in the National League and a comfortable lead in the NL East. The other spots are wide open with this historically-minded New Yorker looking forward to another Giant-Dodger showdown in the NL West while the Cardinals-Pirates-Brewers battle for the NL Central crown.

Returning to contention after some down years in the AL West, the California Angels have the best record in baseball. They stunningly swept a four-game home series against the Oakland Athletics the weekend before Labor Day.

So many pundits anointed the A’s as a Series lock when they made July trades for Cubs pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel and Red Sox ace Jon Lester.
Journeyman Hammel finally delivered an overpowering performance on Labor Day holding surprise contender Seattle to three hits in a 6-1 victory.

Samardzija and Lester have pitched well in their new rental uniforms – both will probably leave as free agents in the off-season – but Oakland has stopped hitting consistently. They probably miss their Cuban star and cleanup hitter Yoenis Cespedes.

The A’s now likely face a one-game play-in wild card elimination to just make the playoffs. But so much can change in September.

Thus discussion of “magic numbers” to clinch make me nervous. Never far from my mind is the specter of Boston’s 7-20 record in September 2011 that cost Boston manager Terry Francona his job.

An excellent manager of players and personalities, Francona resurfaced in Cleveland in 2013 and a great September led them into the wild card game that they lost to Tampa Bay. The Indians are lurking in the hunt for the same game in 2014.

So are the Yankees who still have eight games remaining with the AL East leading-Orioles who trail the Angels by three games for best record in the AL. The Orioles are a feel-good story with sterling contributions from unheralded players like career minor league catcher Caleb Joseph and perpetual fringe outfielder-first baseman Steve Pearce.

“Give Pearce A Chance” could be the motto for the 2014 Orioles but he has been sidelined for a few days with a dread abdominal injury that the team hopes is minor.

The Birds’ roster does seem to have the “deep depth” that legendary late manager Earl Weaver craved. But, please, not too many magic number prognostications – though as of this writing it is 19 – the number of combined Oriole wins and Yankee losses to bring Baltimore its first AL East crown since 1997.

My closing words this week come from the Angels’ new closer, Huston Street, a veteran of many teams and someone with a fine athletic lineage – his father James Street was an outstanding championship-winning U. of Texas-Austin quarterback.

“The media’s job is to remember. My job is to forget . . . everything but the next pitch.”

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!












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