November 11, 2018
It is not easy these months without daily baseball games. The silly season of free agent and trade rumors don’t do it for me (though I put in my two cents at the end of this blog.) Though I admire most of the other major sports, they don’t generally command my visceral attention.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that Columbia football enters its last game of the season against Cornell at home this coming Saturday Nov 17 with at least a .500 record clinched. The Lions have already set a school record for most wins in a two-year
period - their current 5-4 added to last year’s 8-2 log and 2nd place Ivy League finish.
In the fourth season under former outstanding Penn coach Al Bagnoli, my Lions in 2018 have been battered by multiple injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. But they have persisted, to use a word in vogue by liberal women politicians who I generally support.
Coming-from-behind-ability is the key to any winning team. Columbia showed it on the road against tail-end Brown in Providence this past Saturday. Down early 14-0 on two long plays, it looked to the weak in heart like a repeat of the previous Saturday’s blowout loss at Harvard.
But Columbia came alive in the second half and won going away 42-20. Senior Kyle Castner, a former top HS quarterback in Indianapolis, ran for three touchdowns out of the “wildcat” formation and passed for two more. I’m always glad when a player ends his college career on a high point.
Fortunes for my graduate alma mater the University of Wisconsin Badgers have not been as kind. Except for one game-opening drive sparked by sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor’s 71-yard TD run, the Badgers were no match on Saturday in University Park against the Penn State Nittany Lions. The 22-10 loss was not as close as the score indicated.
The only blessing in disguise perhaps for me personally is that Wisconsin might be closer to a date in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Thursday Dec 27 at 515p.
Sure hope they salvage some pride with a win at Purdue next week and at home against Minnesota after Thanksgiving.
The concussion issues of starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook from West Chester, Penna. and the evident inexperience of his backup, redshirt freshman Jack Coan from Sayville, Long Island, means the Badgers will have to dig deep to end the season on a positive note.
I never bought into the ballyhoo that they were headed for the playoffs. Too much inexperience on defense and the departure of wide receiver Quintez Cephus on rape charges doomed them early.
I sure hope Badger basketball can recover some of its own lost glamor in the upcoming season. Their first Big Ten game is early this year against Iowa on Nov. 30.
On the local major league baseball front, the Yankees recently re-upped for one more year two of their aging core players and clubhouse leaders, left fielder Brett Gardner, 35, and erstwhile staff ace C. C. Sabathia, 38.
The Yankees still need more starting pitching. They are rumored to be targeting southpaw Patrick Corbin, who had a fine year with Arizona Diamondbacks and reportedly wants to play in New York.
For his sake and that of the Yankees, I hope his temperament is more suited to the demands of Gotham’s fandom than Sonny Gray showed during his season and a half in the Big Apple. It is likely that Gray will be traded to a team in a less pressurized city.
As for the Mets, it remains to be seen what the surprise hiring of former agent Brodie Van Wagenen as their new general manager will be mean for the hopes of the Flushing Faithful. Never in baseball has an agent risen to a top chair on management’s side.
Van Wagenen has given up his role as agent representing such key Met pitchers as Jacob DeGrom, who should but not necessarily win the Cy Young award, and Noah Syndergaard. He also represented oft-injured Yoenis Cespedes and Tim Tebow, the great college football quarterback, pro QB washout, and aspiring Mets minor league outfielder.
I don’t know any scout who thinks Tebow has a real chance to become a major leaguer. Yes, he is a very hard worker and big box office draw for his All-American boy image, enhanced even more because he reportedly was almost aborted as a fetus.
But I sure hope for the sake of the Mets and their fans that Brodie has more up his sleeve and in his evaluating brain than suggesting Tebow could play in Queens later in 2018.
Well, we’ll know more soon. The winter meetings are in Las Vegas from Dec. 9 to 13 - I'm going for the first time in over a quarter-century and will have impressions to share in a later blog.
Also about where the top free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will wind up here are my thoughts.
Machado’s intermittent hustle was on display throughout the post-season. He remains a major talent who will get paid a lot. I just hope the contract isn’t for more than five years. I know he’s only 26 and loves to play the game but never forget the old adage: “It’s never easy getting up early in the morning when you are wearing silk pajamas.”
Possible destinations? Phillies with a lot of cash to spend? But they also have demanding blue collar fans without the large Hispanic population Machado supposedly craves.
The Yankees? Possibly with Didi Gregorius not due back from Tommy John surgery into late in 2019. The Angels if Manny is willing to play third base alongside the brilliant shortstop Andrelton Simmons?
His home town of Miami and its baseball-loving Hispanic population might be in his heart of hearts. But I don’t think the Bruce Sherman-Derek Jeter ownership have deep enough pockets and enough of a contending team.
As for Bryce Harper, he supposedly turned down a 10-year $300 million offer to stay with the Washington Nationals. Even as an outfielder with a great arm I don’t believe Harper is a better buy than Machado. He’s too surly and media-hungry for my taste. Despite his baggae, Harper will command a lot of dough.
Possible destinations? St. Louis needs a lefty bat to join Matt Carpenter who is too streaky for my taste. But maybe St. Louis not a big enough market for the media-lusting Harper who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16! Phillies and Yankees again?
OK I’ve said my piece on the subject of mega-money and mega-years. I wish the media wouldn’t rub dollars and money in my face the all the time. Turning off the tube, clicking exit on the computer, and throwing out the newspaper can be a liberating feeling. Which I am doing right now.
Still, always remember: Take it easy but take it!
June 17, 2018
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!
January 26, 2016
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!
November 2, 2015
I attended Game 4 of the World Series on Halloween night. It was the second of three must-win home games in a row, and in all of them the Mets held the lead for much of the action. However, this year's surprise entry in the World Series could win only the Friday matchup.
I only get emotionally involved with the Orioles, my passion for over 40 years, but I feel for those who lived and breathed and died with the Mets. The old saying in baseball, "The ball always finds the weakest defender," proved true in the final games of the Mets season.
The Mets seemed in control of the Halloween game once standout rookie left fielder Michael Conforto hit the second of his two solo homers to give the Mets a 3-1 lead after 5 innings. Rookie southpaw Steven Matz, from nearby Stony Brook, showed great poise in
his first Series start (incidentally the only one by a left-hander).
However, the Royals narrowed the deficit to 3-2 entering the 8th inning. Inconsistent Tyler Clippard walked two Royals with one out. Jeurys Familia was called upon for a five-out save. In moments a defining moment of the Series arose.
The ball found the weakest defender as Eric Hosmer hit a spinning grounder towards second baseman Daniel Murphy. It went under his glove for an error that tied the game.
It felt almost inevitable when singles by Mike Moustaka and Salvador Perez gave the Royals a 5-3 lead that shutdown closer Wade Davis cemented with a two-inning save.
Yet there was more pain ahead for the Mets. It seemed unnecessarily cruel when the baseball gods determined that the game would end with Yoenis Cespedes doubled off first base on a weak liner by Lucas Duda to third baseman Moustakas.
A cardinal rule of baseball is: Never be doubled off first base on a ball hit in front of you. Of course, Cuban defector Cespedes listens to the sound of his own drummer. And that gaffe was yet another sharp blow to the Mets' chances.
In Game 5, the Mets held the lead even longer than in Game 4. Curtis Granderson, the Mets' most consistent player all season including the playoffs, gave Matt Harvey a 1-0 lead with a leadoff-home run in the bottom of the first inning.
You can never overestimate the importance of grabbing the lead in any game, especially a season-saving game.
Harvey protected the lead for eight shutout innings and the Mets' disappearing offense did scratch out a second run in the 6th on a sacrifice fly by Lucas Duda.
Yet as we look back in hindsight, the Royals had the Mets where they wanted them. This year's deserving Kansas City champions broke all kinds of records for scoring runs in the late innings.
And sure enough after Harvey talked manager Terry Collins into letting him pitch the 9th inning, Lorenzo Cain led off with a full count walk. Collins left Harvey in and Eric Hosmer followed with a run-scoring opposite field double.
It was now 2-1 with the tying run on second with no one out. Hosmer was pumped because his error had contributed to the Mets' second run.
Collins brought in closer Jeurys Familia. He did get ground balls from the three batters he faced. But with Hosmer on third and one out, the final defining moment of this Series came.
Catcher Salvador Perez, the unanimous MVP for his solid hitting and handling of the pitching staff, hit a grounder between third and short. Either David Wright or shortstop Wilmer Flores could have handled the tricky hop.
Wright fielded it cleanly but turned his back on Hosmer, no speed merchant but a clever baserunner. Wright threw out Perez at first base, but Hosmer broke for home and Lucas Duda's throw was way off the mark. The game was now tied 2-2.
After leading since the first inning, it was a tremendous blow to the Mets. You could almost see the body language sag, maybe most in team captain Wright.
To quote Yogi Berra, it was deja vu all over again. The memory of Halloween night's loss had to be fresh.
They were two outs from victory in Game 1 in Kansas City when Alex Gordon homered off Familia. The pattern was becoming very apparent. Great teams have great mental toughness as well as great talent and the Mets were exposed as having neither.
Once the Royals tied Sunday night's game it seemed inevitable that they would win. And sure enough, they pushed 5 runs across in the 12th. The lead-gaining single was a pinch-hit by reserve infielder Christian Colon who hadn't swung a bat in a game for over 40 days.
Redemption came to the Royals and it was richly earned. They left the tying run on third base in Game 7 last year against Madison Bumgarner and the SF Giants. They dedicated this year to changing the Series outcome and they sure fulfilled their dream.
Now winter has come for those of us who dearly baseball. The Mets provided many great thrills for their fans. Their great young starting pitchers all performed well under the brightest lights. That should augur very well for their future.
But the Mets obviously need better defense and more consistent offense. Murphy and Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes were thoroughly held in check by the Royals. Both may leave as free agents.
Much too early to handicap next season. Every year is always different.
For 2015 let us hail the Kansas City Royals who richly deserved their title.
That's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
September 11, 2015
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!
August 23, 2014
It caught my eye while recently surfing the internet. Toronto left-hander Mark Buehrle was tipping his cap to White Sox fans in Chicago after being knocked out of the box in the bottom of the 6th inning.
Buehrle was signed and developed by the Chisox and was a key mound stalwart when they won the World Series in 2005. He left for the Florida Marlins as a free agent and then was traded to Toronto but obviously a lot of his heart was left in the Windy City.
It seemed that Buehrle was fighting back tears as he saluted the Chicago fans, who also cheered his first inning appearance on the mound. His emotion reminded me of something wise that Ken Griffey Sr. said as his son – the fabled Ken Griffey Jr. – was contemplating leaving Seattle for free agency. “The team that signs you cares the most about you,” Griffey Sr. noted sagely.
The younger Griffey ultimately opted to OK a trade to Cincinnati where he grew up. However, because of accumulated injuries and the ravages of age, he never had the impact that he had in Seattle.
David Price, the Rays’ southpaw ace traded to Detroit at the July 31st deadline, received a similar heartwarming welcome on August 21 when he pitched in Tampa for the first time as a member of the opposition. Whatta game Price pitched, too, a one-hitter but he lost it 1-0 on an unearned run in the first inning.
Tampa Bay was the scene for another poignant baseball moment a week ago when Alex Cobb of the Rays faced off against Brandon McCarthy of the Yankees. Both pitchers have bounced back, literally, from being hit on the head with line drives – Cobb last year in June and McCarthy in September 2012 while pitching for the Oakland A’s.
Never underestimate the courage of pro athletes in any sport to get out there on the firing line as soon as possible from an injury, however serious. It is what is meant by being a competitor and “getting it.” Kudos to David Adler, a writer for mlb.com in Tampa Bay, who made a point to note the back story of the Cobb-McCarthy matchup that Cobb won though McCarthy pitched very well. Cobb, whose front leg gyrations are even more pronounced than most Japanese pitchers, was the hurler who bested Price 1-0 in that classic recent game.
COULD THE DEADLINE DEALS BE BACKFIRING?
Too early to bash media darling general managers Billy Beane of the A’s (who traded center fielder Yoenis Cespedes for ace southpaw Jon Lester) and Dave Dombrowski who traded his center fielder Austin Jackson for Price. Both A’s and Tigers have struggled mightily since the deals but plenty of time to correct their ships. After all, it is still August with more than three dozen games (two NFL regular seasons) to play before the playoffs start.
There remains a wise old adage, "Sometimes the trades you don't make are the best ones."
And never forget that players are not robots and may not seamlessly fit into their new environment. Nor forget the side-effect of trades being telling your existing players that they may not be good enough to win it all.
EARLY THOUGHTS ON THE NEW COMMISSIONER
On the labor relations front in baseball, the election of Rob Manfred to replace Bud Selig as commissioner is good news for those who never want the continuity of the baseball season to be disrupted again.
There was a last-minute attempt, evidently masterminded by White Sox and Chicago Bulls basketball owner Jerry Reinsdorf, to prevent the seamless transfer of power from Bud Selig to Manfred. It got no traction and the vote to approve Manfred was made unanimous by the 30 baseball owners before their meeting broke up in Baltimore on Thursday August 14.
Manfred is an experienced lawyer who arrived in baseball in the early 1990s. He was witness to the nuclear summer of 1994 when the players went on strike and in early September the owners unilaterally cancelled the playoffs and the World Series.
Manfred soon rose to power as the chief management labor negotiator and has been instrumental in the two decades of labor peace that ensured and looks like will continue for the foreseeable future.
He has kept his personal preferences close to the vest. It will certainly be interesting to see where he comes down on such issues as the increasing length of games, the continuing failure to attract younger audiences to the game, and the four-decade-old-and-still-counting split on the designated hitter used in one major league and not the other.
Personally I have never liked the DH but with interleague games every day now it becomes an increasing disadvantage for American League pitchers to hit when they are not trained to do so. Also I have been convinced by the argument that since the DH is not utilized in World Series game in National League parks, it does put the American League at a distinct disadvantage.
As for increasing the pace of the game, I'm all for a clock to be utilized at all major league ballparks limiting a pitcher's dallying before throwing a ball. Such a clock exists in college conferences these days - 12 seconds in some cases - and it would be a good start.
That’s all for now – next edition of the YIBF Journal comments on my travels on the road to varying baseball spots from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, Washington DC to Manchester, New Hampshire and the New York outer boroughs.
Always remember: Take it easy but take it!