October 4, 2018
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!
August 5, 2018
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.
July 18, 2018
My take on the now-official trade of Manny Machado to the Dodgers is that I hope he realizes the microscope will now be grinding 24/7. (That's not the best metaphor I know but I never was very good in science classes despite attending Bronx HS of Science.)
Some of his last comments to MASNSports.com reporter Roch Kubatko indicated that the enormity of the change was only now beginning to dawn on him. Players are not robots or simply vessels of stats that can be transferred from one team to another as easily as the click on a computer.
Still, the Dodgers offense will likely get an uptick with him hitting in the middle of the lineup. I am sure Dodgers management will deal with the issue of what happens when incumbent shortstop Corey Seager returns from injury next spring. And what about Justin Turner the incumbent third baseman?
I rarely make predictions since I've always loved the baseball adage - "the farther away from the clubhouse the less you know what you are talking about." (A sanitized version of the adage!)
But I did say that the pre-season injury to Justin Turner would be a big blow to the Dodgers and they indeed got off to an awful start until he returned somewhat to form recently. Turner has been a versatile player in past so they'll find a spot for him.
Whether Machado is shortstop or third baseman of future for LA is an intriguing question. Manny will have many suitors as a free agent come November.
As for my Orioles, it remains to be seen if 21-year-old Cuban-born Double A outfielder Yusniel Diaz, the most heralded of the five minor leaguers received from LA, ultimately becomes a core piece of a rebuilt team. I am also curious to see if homegrown outfielders Cedric Mullins and currently injured Austin Hays can make the grade.
I expect another big trade chip to be sent away shortly when closer Zach Britton finds a new home. I think the Indians want him badly because of health issues and free agency looming for fellow left-handed reliever Andrew Miller. But I also think the Orioles would prefer sending Britton to National League.
I still watch the Orioles out of habit and a love that borders on - who am I kidding? -that actually overflows into addiction. They enter post-All-Star-Game play on a two-game winning streak after a 4-4 home stand that featured splitting four games with the hated Yankees (who trail Boston by 4 1/2 games but only 3 in the A-ILC (All-Important Lost Column).
The lineup without the powerful productive Machado batting third could be even more embarrassing than the one WITH Manny that is 41 games under .500. But call me a cockeyed optimist - I think they will be surpass the Mets 1962 debut of 40-120 and even the Tigers 1999 43-119.
The key always remains in baseball pitching. "Without pitching you got nothin'," Sparky Anderson wisely said. And if they are to become the real Orioles again and not the 2018 version I call sadly Woerioles, the starters must step up and not be Five Jokers and No Aces.
Before I close, I want to say goodbye to someone who left us recently, much too early of a heart attack at age 70. KEN RAVIZZA was a pioneering sports psychologist - born in Connecticut, graduate of the renowned physical education program at Springfield College in Massachusetts. He got his doctorate at USC, studying with among others Howard Slusher, a sports philosophy professor who later became a sports agent.
Ken rose to become both a widely published academic author and an applied sports psychologist in great demand by sports teams like Joe Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs and individual competitors like figure skater Gracie Gold.
Some of Ken's aphorisms that are indelibly etched in my mind include:
"Attitude is a decision."
"Never let the pressure of a situation exceed the pleasure you get from it."
"Learning to be comfortable while being uncomfortable" is a big key to success.
That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!
July 8, 2018
I confess. Many times I read headlines more than stories in both print and on line. The above "hed' was from an AP story, buried in the Sunday July 8 sports section of the World Cup-soccer-obsessed New York Times.
What a perfect example of the relativism of our age! Cano is sorry he failed the test. He claims he used it for a high blood pressure condition but the diuretic drug Furosemide is also known to be a good masking agent for PED use. Maybe he didn't want to use the female hormones that nabbed Manny Ramirez some years ago.
At least Cano spoke to the press when he visited the Seattle clubhouse this weekend. He didn't send his Brooklyn-born agents the Levinson brothers who also represented Cano's former Yankee teammate Melky Cabrera who was suspended a few seasons ago for PED use. (Cabrera is now in the minors, and the Levinsons' assistant who was fired for supplying clean urine for Melky is now reportedly suing the brothers).
Surprisingly, despite Cano's suspension for 80 games (that will end August 14 but keep him out of post-season games), the Mariners have surged into contention in the AL West, challenging the world champion Houston Astros.
If you like ironies, one of the big factors in Seattle's improved play is Cano's replacement at second, Dee Gordon (son of former star reliever Tom Gordon), who himself was suspended for 80 games last season for PED use.
I'm not generally a hanging judge on drug abusers in baseball. The Mitchell Report, released in December 2007, revealed that relief pitchers even more than hitters experimented with chemical enhancement. But collective bargained rules on testing must be upheld. It is a sadness for many Hispanic followers of baseball that a disproportionate number of drug violators have come from the Dominican Republic.
The failure of slugger Sammy Sosa to show any contrition for his enhanced home run total of over 600 homers has played a large role in his virtual banishment from the sport. There was a searching and poignant cover story by Jason Buckland and Ben Reiter about Sosa in the July 2-9 double issue of Sports Illustrated.
Before the College World Series, SI devoted a cover story by the excellent S. L. (Scott) Price to the travails of star Oregon State southpaw Luke Heimlich. While a teenager Heimlich had pleaded guilty to the sexual molesting of his 6-year-old niece.
The story of his plea had become public just before the CWS in 2017 and Heimlich voluntarily withdrew from the team before the Omaha event. He kept out of the public limelight but he privately denied that he violated his niece and only signed the confession to avoid a family-wrenching trial.
This season he was the star pitcher on the top-rated Beavers but he performed poorly on college baseball's largest stage. Oregon State still won the national crown. But for the second year in a row Heimlich went unselected in Major League Baseball's annual June draft.
There are rumors that the Kansas City Royals are in discussions with him but they remain unverified. I'm someone who believes that minors should not have the book thrown at them. In this specific case there is evidence that Heimlich took all steps to follow rehabilitation procedures and is not labeled a recidivist threat.
Saying this is not to make light of the victim's duress. It does remain a story that continues to draw my interest.
That's all for now as the Orioles's descent into the netherworld continues. By the next time I post, their main assets of Manny Machado and reliever Zach Britton may already have been traded. Whether the front office people who got the Birds into this mess have the ability to start the process to restore a respectable franchise remains a huge question. Since I have no answer and have my doubts, I will close: Let us pray.
Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
June 28, 2018
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!
December 14, 2017
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!
August 27, 2017
“Playing meaningful games in September” is all this baseball fan realistically wants.
Which is why the “outrageous sense of entitlement” of too many Yankee fans rubs me the wrong way, to put it mildly.
And lo and behold it’s possible after this weekend’s sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway that the Orioles might have a meaningful September after all. With 32 games to play, they are at back at .500 with a 65-65 mark.
Now carrying the remaining schedule in my wallet wasn’t such a bad idea after all. They return home for a 10-game home stand against Seattle, Toronto and the Yankees, the first and last teams with very realistic hopes for playoffs themselves.
Sunday’s 2-1 victory for O’s at Boston was the proverbial nail-biter. After outscoring Boston 23-3 in the first two games of the series, I expected a pitcher’s battle and got one.
I was happy that Doug Fister pitched well for Boston because he helped knock the Yankees out of the playoffs a few years ago, earning a special plaudit on our Yankee Elimination Day (YED) caps. It is always a special occasion when the Yankees are eliminated because they brag about their 39 post-season appearances but ignore their twice-as-many failures.
This Sunday August 27, the O’s made two runs in the first stand up against a suddenly slumping Boston offense that left 13 men on base.
My O’s still have many holes on offense and in starting pitching. Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo are not producing at bat but the slack has been picked up by talented second baseman Jonathan Schoop who just broke Roberto Alomar’s Oriole record for most RBI by a second baseman. And rookie Trey Mancini has been a godsend as a run-producer and near -300 hitter while adjusting quite well to his new position of left field.
Of course, any team with wildly inconsistent Ubaldo Jimenez in its rotation has mound issues. And last year’s star closer Zach Britton now has knee issues to go with his earlier forearm ailment.
Nonetheless there is hope in Charm City as the Labor Day weekend nears. A most lovely hopeful feeling that makes the foolish illusion of contention seem less foolish.
One final note on the series in Boston. The Red Sox NESN cable feed utilized former catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia as their color commentator. Though he made an interesting observation about location as a big factor in baserunners stealing signs from second base, he should be forbidden from using the word “great” until the next millennium. He also talked too much and too much of it was trite cheerleading.
Here’s a shout-out to the Milwaukee Brewers who beat the LA Dodgers in a series on the road this past weekend. It was the first series loss for the Dodgers since early June as they have a chance to break a regular season record of 116 wins.
Milwaukee is only two games behind the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs. As someone with strong affinity for the Wisconsin Badgers (I got my master’s and doctoral degrees in American History at Madison in the 1960s), it’s nice to see the Brewers get into the hunt for post-season glory.
That’s all for this time. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
July 10, 2017
The Orioles wound up the first half of the season - actually their first 88 games - with two wins on the road at Minnesota. It brought their record to 42-46, four under .500.
Hardly cause for hand-stands but it did provide a much needed boost after losing five in a row - three straight at Milwaukee to the improving Brewers and the first two in Minneapolis.
Manny Machado’s bat finally came alive this weekend - his batting average has languished in the low .200s for most of the season. For him to finish above .250 will be a quite achievement in 2017.
Adam Jones contributed two home runs in the Sunday finale, getting him out of a HR-RBI rut that seemed stuck forever at 14-35. I know modern analytics pooh-poohs batting average and RBI but it does reveal something about how a player's season has unfolded.
Oriole starting pitching remains historically bad. It was wishful thinking to expect young Dylan Bundy in his first full season as a starter to emerge as the ace. But as long as he is healthy, he looks like a keeper. Hard to say the same about any of the other starters.
Kevin Gausman, first-round pick and fourth in the country in 2011, continues to be the the biggest mystery. He looked like he had turned the corner in the last half of 2016. Even when he didn’t win - and he does have a sub W-L record for his career - he seemed to get out of jams and keep his team close.
Not in 2017 and the big leads he has blown boggle the imagination. It makes Oriole fans welcome the All-Star break. Anxiety will ramp up when he starts the second half against the Cubs at home on Friday July 14 - Bastille Day I hope for the home team not the visitors.
Let’s turn to the positive news. Zach Britton is back in the bullpen and he looked like himself finishing off Sunday’s game with a 1-2-3 inning - two ground balls and a strikeout. It helped that he had a six-run lead but it is hard to overestimate what his loss for most of this season has meant to the Orioles.
I have always believed that a standout closer as well as a peerless ace can be a league MVP. He not only brings confidence to his team when he is out there. Equally important his specter at the end of a game added pressure on the opposition to score early and often.
The bullpen may be the only area of strength the Orioles can use for trading chips before the July 31 deadline. That and Manny Machado who might not re-sign when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season.
It occurred to me that Darren O’Day, one of my favorite O’s (who by the way is of Polish descent not Irish - the family name is Odajowski), almost signed with the Washington Nats when he was a free agent. With the bullpen so obviously in need of upgrade down the turnpike, that might be a fit.
It says here, though, that the Orioles shouldn’t make hasty moves this month just to secure a wild card playoff spot. They need a major overhaul of the pitching staff and more speed in the lineup. That will take time and better scouting and player development.
And Now For Something (Almost) Completely Different:
**Have you noticed that the tarp at Wrigley Field now promotes Reynolds Wrap? I hope the fabric is not made of tin foil.
**Kudos to the Milwaukee Brewers for using again their Mb cap logo that is designed to look like a baseball glove. I rank it up there with the late lamented Montreal Expo cap.
The Brewers are doing quite well in the standings, leading the Cubs by four games in the lost column. Their pitching and defense need upgrades but what team doesn’t except maybe Houston and LA Dodgers.
**Three cheers to Zach Granite who made it into the big leagues with the Twins in Saturday’s game against the Orioles. A 2013 14th round draft pick from Seton Hall U in S Orange NJ, the Staten Island native is still looking for his first hit though his at-bats have been impressive. He made a great highlight-reel catch on Manny Machado's drive to deep center during Sunday’s game.
**R.I.P. David Vincent, 67, a renowned SABR member who compiled an exhaustive log of home runs throughout baseball history. He was dubbed The Sultan of Swat Stats.
Among Vincent's delicious details were his discovery that Tigers 2011 teammates in Juan Encarnacion and Frank Catalanotto were the longest-named players ever to hit back-to-back home runs.
I only lament that too bad Jarrod Saltamacchia and Billy Grabarkewitz were not also in the lineup that day. And wouldn't it have been great if William Vanlandingham threw the gopher balls?
That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
July 4, 2017
Well, it's the mid-way point of the long long major league baseball season. And after their second straight non-competitive loss on the road against the surprising Milwaukee Brewers, leaders in the surprisingly mediocre NL Central, the Birds are at their low point of the season, 40-43.
What is to be done? The farm system is not producing and the varsity is not producing and I haven't even mentioned the staggeringly bad starting pitching. Baseball is a game of streaks - you want to keep the good ones going and the bad ones short.
Chances for success depend largely on good starting pitching and with the slump of young Dylan Bundy there is nothing remotely resembling an ace on the Oriole staff.
The imminent return of ace closer Zach Britton from a long stint on the disabled list with forearm discomfort will help, but will there be leads to protect?
Oriole offense is spotty at best and Manny Machado is having his worst year at the plate. How long ago seems 2012 when he came out of the minors in August to fill the gaping hole at third base with timely hitting and sensational defense. I even bought my first Oriole jersey in his honor.
Along with reliever Brad Brach, Machado may be the Orioles' best trading chip before the July 31st deadline. But his value is not as high as it once was. And I don't appreciate his blathering to the press that the team is trying hard and always thinking of "passing the baton" to teammates.
Manny, I don't call swinging at the first pitch and meekly popping up when down five runs in the top of the 9th in the Birds' latest loss "passing the baton." Team leader and virtual captain Adam Jones is not having a great year at the plate either. He hit only his 9th double of the year today but later was thrown out overrunning third base.
Jonathan Schoop (pronounced "Scope"), the Orioles' one All-Star in 2017 did work the count in his 9th inning AB today. On a 3-1 pitch he homered to cut the lead to 6-2. At least there was no dugout celebration for that essentially meaningless hit.
I was reminded of Mike Shannon's solo homer in the 9th inning of the Cardinals Game Seven loss to the Tigers in the 1968 World Series. After returning from his home run trot, he kicked the water cooler in disgust as if to say, "Too little too late."
But I am happy that Schoop, one of the great Curacao contingent on the major league scene, is getting recognition.
He could be the Oriole shortstop of the future with J.J. Hardy out with injuries until late this month at the earliest. But Schoop is such a great second baseman I'd be wary of that move.
Another possibility is moving Machado to shortstop his original position and one he craves to play. They could put Chris Davis at third or even Mark Trumbo. Defense would suffer but I just hope the Oriole front office starts being creative about plans to bring back the Orioles to contention within my lifetime.
Let me end on a happier more whimsical note.
**Did you know that three MLB teams have a Barnes in their bullpen?
Matt with the Red Sox, Jacob with the Brewers, and Danny with the Blue Jays?
**And for a while this year there were two Daniel Robertsons on AL teams.
Second baseman Daniel with the Rays and outfielder Daniel with the Indians. But the Tribe's DR was recently demoted to the minors.
That's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
June 12, 2017
For those who follow the Baltimore Orioles, things have gone south in a hurry. On May 10 we were 22-10 and it looked like a year of contention again. Since then the Birds have gone 9-20 and sunk to fourth place with improving Toronto ready to switch places with us in the cellar.
What we hope is the nadir happened this past weekend at Yankee Stadium. I went to the Friday night game with our best pitcher in 2017 on the mound, Dylan Bundy. He pitched creditably and left with the O’s trailing 3-2 after 6 innings.
Once oft-traveled Edwin Jackson came in, I expected the worst and wasn't disappointed. He immediately gave up two runs and I headed for the exits - something I don't like to do, but I did have to get up early to play tennis for the first time in 2017.
Sat. and Sun.games could have used mercy rules a la amateur baseball. Chris Tillman, whose aching shoulder may ultimately need surgery, gave up six in the first and 3 in the second before he was yanked.
The next day Kevin Gausman, the first number one draft pick of the Dan Duquette regime in 2012, was only slightly better, giving up 5 in the first before being knocked out in the 4th. He is presumably healthy physically, but mentally he must be hurting.
The jury is still out as to what Gausman's future competence might be. He must stay in the rotation because he still has great stuff and there are few other starting options. And Oriole brass must fear the specter of another Jake Arrieta being dealt away too hastily.
The absence of Manny Machado for the whole series - due to a freak wrist injury caused by Andrew McCutchen’s awkward slide earlier in the week - didn’t help matters. But Manny’s not having a good year and he needs to pick it up a lot for the Orioles to dream of contending in 2017.
I love JJ Hardy as one of the most underrated Orioles in my lifetime. But his home run power is gone and his assortment of injuries has slowed him in the field.
Though the Birds don’t have a replacement for Machado at third, maybe it is time to move him to his desired position at shortstop. And see how he likes being paired with his pal at second Jonathan Schoop who has really blossomed this year as a rare Oriole clutch hitter.
Some feel that Schoop with his great arm could be a successor to Hardy at short. Seemingly the Orioles have more options in-house at second than third.
The big problem remains starting pitching. And now that Darren O’Day has his own shoulder injury to deal with on the DL and closer Zach Britton is out until probably the All-Star Game, the relief corps is hurting, too.
So how does one cope when his team goes belly-up? If you love the game, there is consolation everywhere - watching high school and college ball and other major league teams without emotional involvement. (Dispassion can only go so far, I hasten to add.)
And reading and talking about the game always brings me pleasure. On Fri June 2, the last day of the 28th annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, I gave a talk at the Hall of Fame based on my trip to Cuba over New Year’s in 2016.
I called it: “If We Had Known He Wanted To Be A Dictator, We Would Have Made Him An Umpire: Reflections on Castro and Cuba’s Ardent Love of Baseball.” The great quotation comes from either Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, the first great post-World War II Cuban star in MLB, or pitcher Conrado “Connie” Marrero who pitched in MLB for five year in the 1950s before living the rest of his 100-plus years in Cuba.
There is no doubt that Fidel Castro genuinely loved the game though it is only a myth that he was really a pro prospect. He probably had more talent as a basketball player though again not of pro quality.
Fidel was a canny enough politician to realize that most Cubans of his generation shared his passion for baseball. After all, the game took off in Cuba as an act of rebellion against the Spanish colonialists during the 10 Years War in the 1870s. It has continued its popularity though the defections of Cuban stars since the early 1990s has gravely weakened Cuba’s impressive amateur baseball organization.
As always at these chock-filled-with-papers conferences, there was no way to hear everything. But many presentations left a lasting impact with me. I'll mention one in closing, the BasebALZ Reminiscence Program of Austin, Texas.
Scotland took the lead in 2009 by creating a program to use sports memories to help
Alzheimer's patients connect with the past and discuss their stories in the present.
There are now over 200 programs in Scotland dealing mainly with memories of soccer and cricket.
There are only three projects started so far in the U.S. but the one in central Texas has had some very rewarding success. Jim Kenton talked about one Alzheimer's patient in a wheelchair who had barely spoken for three months.
When prodded about his baseball memories, he suddenly remembered a game when Jack Kramer on the 1946 Browns, threw a ball out of Fenway Park after a bad call by the first base umpire. He also remembered that it was on an anniversary of D-Day and George Metkovich led off that day. SABR researchers later confirmed the accuracy of the reminiscence.
More on the Symposium next blog - That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!
April 17, 2017
Being a secular Jew who does not observe most of his religion's holidays, I had no
guilt pangs about going to a college doubleheader on Easter Sunday yesterday.
My alma mater Columbia salvaged the last game of its four-game series against division rival Cornell thanks in large part to long balls by slugging junior (more…)
December 11, 2016
Did anyone really expect that there would be another labor shutdown in baseball? Hey, man, this is the 21st century - the age of labor peace in baseball is upon us after the bitter battles of the last century ultimately cancelled the World Series of 1994.
Remember the old line? The warring sides of owners Reinsdorf, Selig & Company versus Fehr, Orza, and The Living Specter of Marvin Miller did something that neither World Wars I or II could do - cancel a World Series.
That was then, and this is happily now where the new Basic Agreement signed on the eve of the Winter Meetings assures more peace through the 2020 season.
This is not to say that the baseball business has no problems. Poor attendance and poor stadiums in Oakland and Tampa Bay remain very serious issues.
The rumor is that MLB would love to return to Montreal and maybe even enter Mexico City. There are reportedly billions of dollars in Portland, Oregon - including some from the Nike treasury - salivating over the prospect of obtaining the Athletics.
Yet no decision is imminent.
For his role in labor peace and pushing for expanding playoffs and its resultant TV
bonanza, retired commissioner Bud Selig was elected to Cooperstown's Hall of Fame during the Winter Meetings.
I think Bud's plusses obviously and justifiably outweighed the minuses of his role in the collusion against free agents in the 1980s and his looking the other way during the rampant invasion of PEDs in the 1990s.
As for the actual player transactions at the meetings, held for the first time at the new National Harbor casino resort outside Washington D.C. the consensus is that the
Red Sox bolstered their starting pitching staff by trading for Chris Sale, the outstanding left-hander of the White Sox.
I wonder though if his temperament off the mound could be an issue when he makes his home in the pressure-filled confines of Fenway Park.
Remember that Sale is the fellow who was in the middle of a revolt of the White Sox last spring training when team management banned first baseman-DH Adam Laroche from bringing his teenaged son into the clubhouse.
Laroche, who clearly was on the downside of his career, suddenly retired rather than face that indignity. Last I heard he and his son were doing plenty of hunting and fishing.
Sale was also the fellow who was so distressed at wearing a retro uniform last season that he cut up not only his own uni but some of his teammates’ jerseys, too. Sale reportedly said that he only wants to win and this new-old uniform was just a sign that the team was more interested in marketing than winning.
For this act of childish insubordination, Sale got slapped on the wrist and suspended for only one game. We’ll see how this volatile temperament plays out in Boston. He undoubtedly has great talent, is young, and has a team-favorable contract.
But I always shy away from predictions in December. Let the countless number of "analytic" rags/websites proclaim that because the Orioles did nothing except add a couple of minor league outfielders, they will finish 10 games under .500 in 2017.
We haven’t even turned the calendar year and doomsday is already predicted for the Birds. Just like last year when the Birds finished 16 games over .500
Now if I were running the team, I’d have extended brilliant closer Zach Britton before 2016 and started to buy out some of Manny Machado’s arbitration years. In case you haven’t noticed, fans have no control over these things. So we wait and hope.
Meanwhile I am keeping my rooting chops in shape by following both basketball teams of my two alma maters, the Wisconsin Badgers and the Columbia Lions. Trending up right now are the men of Madison and the women of Morningside Heights.
The Columbia women, under rookie coach Megan Griffith (a former Lion player and Princeton assistant), are 7-2 with a do-it-all star forward in junior Camille Zimmerman.
The expected-to-do-well male Badgers are 9-2 with a heavily senior squad. They have many great stories as well as great players.
Senior guard Bronson Koenig has become very visible as a role model for the Ho-Chunk tribe of native Americans. His lineage comes from his mother's side.
Senior forward Nigel Hayes has supported many of the causes associated with "Black Lives Matter" activists.
In a fascinating pure basketball story, sophomore center Ethan Happ, a first cousin of Toronto Blue Jay southpaw J. Happ, is a potent inside force on both sides of the court. But it remains to be seen if he EVER attempts a basket from outside the paint!
Ivy League and Big Ten seasons don’t begin until after Christmas but watch this space for more news. I maintain hopes that Columbia men and Wisconsin women with new coaches and young teams show progress, too.
And always remember: Take it easy but take it!
October 10, 2016
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!
September 11, 2016
The only way to stay relatively sane in a tense pennant race is to invoke the mantra again and again: “If we win every series, we will make the playoffs.” Though like most Oriole fans I have been disconsolate at the O’s fade since they were a season-high 18 games over .500 in early August, they just won two big series on the road.
They head to Boston two games behind the first-place Red Sox and tied with Toronto for the two wild card positions. The Tigers and the sizzling Yankees are two games back and Houston, Seattle, and Kansas City are still alive in the tight race. (There is less drama in the NL but there is a tight race for the two wild cards in progress between the Cardinals, Giants, and Mets.)
To beat the Tigers two out of three at Comerica Park gave the Birds a big boost. ‘Twas especially nice after they lost the Friday night opener 4-3 despite a solid effort
from Kevin Gausman. Reliever Brad Brach lost the game on an 8th inning solo home run by Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez who may not be able to run any more but he still can hit, especially from the left side.
On Saturday the Birds jumped on obviously still-rusty Jordan Zimmermann for two HRs in the first inning and they were never headed in an 11-3 win. Adam Jones homered on the first pitch of the game and Chris Davis followed with a two-run dinger.
It was a rare laugher for an Orioles team that has been struggling in close contests because of a homer-or-bust offense. Reborn Ubaldo Jimenez came through with seven solid innings and catcher Matt Wieters iced the game with two homers accounting for 5 RBI.
Sunday’s rubber game was a taut classic from the first pitch to the last. In the 3-1 Baltimore victory 15-game winner Chris Tillman pitched six strong innings in his first start in three weeks, sidelined because of shoulder bursitis.
Newcomer Michael Bourn showed he was born again by hitting a two-run homer off Detroit ace Justin Verlander and Jonathan Schoop’s solo homer added an important insurance run. Schoop is striking out too much these days and perhaps his swinging for the fences is hurting his all-around proficiency at the plate.
Yet the Orioles are an ultra-aggressive team at the plate and they continue to play solid defense. Adam Jones made two outstanding catches mid-game that maintained the Orioles lead. And back on the horse in the 7th inning, Brach pitched a solid inning.
Mychal Givens – he of the 95 mph sidearm fastball – got Miguel Cabrera to hit into an inning-ending DP in the 8th. Zach Britton got his 41st consecutive 2016 save in the 9th not before yielding two base runners. But he was in control, keeping the ball on the ground when it was hit.
Holding Cabrera hitless in the three games was a key to the series win. It was playoff baseball of great intensity with Cabrera in the middle of a good deal of testiness. Gausman on Friday stared down Miguel on more than one occasion.
Sunday’s game saw both Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo complain in the first two innings that Cabrera’s awkwardness with his feet around first base left them vulnerable to being tripped and seriously injured. Fortunately, no further incidents occurred in the game.
I don’t predict outcomes, and it is amusing how the proliferating pundits' websites are filled with percentages of what will happen for the rest of the season. Baseball is a game of inches and penalties, as Branch Rickey as usual wisely said, and the only way to watch it successfully is pitch-by-pitch without preconceived notions.
One thing that MUST be corrected by next year is the over-expansion of September rosters. Teams play from April through August with a 25-man roster but come September 1, the full 40-man roster is eligible to play. Teams have been using as many as 12 pitchers in a single game.
It’s just not right and must be modified. Orioles skipper Buck Showalter and others have called for a taxi squad for September games. Before a series, a team must list no more than 30 people eligible for the games, they argue correctly.
Another issue that has marred games all season is the incessant meetings on the mound, especially between pitchers and catchers. That number must be reduced by
rule to only a handful.
In spite of these irritating flaws, it is great to be alive in September, isn’t it?
Let the games continue in all their beauty and yes agony.
August 22, 2016
It is hard being an Orioles fan right now but as you dear blog readers know I have been loyal to a fault since 1970.
I guess we've reached a certain point in this summer slide where we have to say without sarcasm that Sunday’s rain-delayed 5-3 loss to Houston was respectable (after giving up 27 runs in the prior two games). There is enough time to straighten the ship but a schedule of facing contenders doesn’t get any easier.
“To be the best you have to beat the best” is a mantra that Branch Rickey and all winning sports leaders have invoked. So tough schedules have never been an excuse for bad play.
Neither have easy schedules been an excuse for coasting into the playoffs. How well I remember Earl Weaver going ballistic when a writer would say, “If you play only .500 ball the rest of the way, the opposition must play over .750.”
Earl would growl, “Are you telling me we are going to lose half our games?!”
It is up to a genuine contender to play like a champion regardless of the teams on the other side of the ball. And since before the All-Star Game, the O’s have played sub-.500 ball.
The lack of depth in the farm system -- from starting pitching to speedy guys who can manufacture runs -- lies at the heart of the problem. The loss of fleet rookie outfielder Joey Rickard to a hand injury has really been a major blow.
I was at the game at Yankee Stadium a month ago when I heard the thudding sound of his hand colliding with the hard auxiliary scoreboard in right field. Rickard’s broken finger has not sufficiently healed and he won’t be ready to play until sometime in September.
Still, it is too early to throw in the towel on 2016. The O’s remain only two lost games behind Toronto and Boston, but clearly the confidence from leading the AL East for much of the season has been shattered. Someone on the starting pitching staff must step up with a deep effort to allow so-far-perfect closer Zach Britton to work his late game magic.
CONCLUDING BASEBALL THOUGHTS:
**There must be a rule passed in the off-season to place a limit on how long a replay challenge can take. Three minutes might even be too long. You can split hairs on different camera angles, but the cost of disrupting the flow of the game is too great.
Here's a good question to ask in all walks of life these days:
“ISN'T IT BETTER TO BE VAGUELY RIGHT THAN PRECISELY WRONG?'
**I see where it is becoming fashionable again to criticize baseball for being too slow a game for the instant gratification of today's age. I beg to differ.
From my vantage point, baseball doesn’t need a clock between pitches. It needs some courage from leadership to stop batters from adjusting batting gloves after every pitch, and to limit the number of visits of catchers to the pitcher to one per AB or maybe only a few per inning.
Then the natural flow of the game could proceed the way it was intended.
**How about the response of Philadelphia Phillies fans to the return of Chase Utley in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform? He received a standing ovation before his first at-bat, something he admitted he was looking forward to. He received more ovations after hitting two home runs, including a grand-slam.
The emotional bonds between fans and players run very deep, even after a hero has been traded. Utley was a mainstay on the Phillies teams that won 2008-09 pennants and the 2008 World Series. His three-word victory speech at the 2008 parade, “World F----n’ Champs,” won’t ever be forgotten in Philadelphia.
Though New York Mets fans have a far more negative view of Utley for his hard injury-causing slide into Ruben Tejada in last year’s N.L. playoffs, there is no doubt that the Southern California native has always played the game very hard.
Philly fans’ warm reaction to Utley’s return reminded me of something baseball’s first forgotten late 19th century labor hero John Montgomery Ward once said: “Without sentiment baseball would be a very empty game.”
That’s all for now. As the song goes, “See you in September.” And always remember:
“Take it easy but take it.”
June 10, 2016
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!
May 2, 2016
I've decided to let the larger world of cyberspace meet one of my alter egos, Teny Ymota.
It is an acronym for The Earl of NY Your Man On The Aisle. The Earl of course is homage to the late great Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver. Your Man On The Aisle comes from my need for aisle seats at games and concerts and plays because of my osteo-arthritic knees. Forgive me if this is TMI.
The 2016 Orioles surprised us all with a seven-game winning streak to start the season. They have now cooled off and fallen a half-game behind the Red Sox as the first week of May begins.
Only overly emotional baseball-mad people agonize over early season standings - did someone call me? No, seriously folks, standings don't really mean anything until late summer. With the introduction of two wild cards in each league, they may mean even less. But you do see trends by May & as always solid starting pitching rotations is a big key.
The Orioles have gotten surprisingly good work from their young staff although none of them have yet pitched late into games. I like the idea of young right-handers Kevin Gausman, Tyler Wilson, and Mike Wright all getting chances to succeed in the rotation.
The shoulder issue of another right-hander free agent acquisition Yovanni Gallardo has given the youngsters their chance to step up. Veterans Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez round out the rest of the all right-handed staff.
Closer Zach Britton sprained his ankle Sat. night trying to make a great play on a drag bunt. It doesn't look serious enough to send him to the DL. Zach has vastly improved his defense on the mound and his loss for any length of time would be very serious.
The Birds were not so lucky with shortstop JJ Hardy who will be out for over a month.
He suffered a hairline foot fracture when he fouled a ball off of it. Hardy is a very underrated defensive shortstop whose bat has come alive again this year.
The Orioles do have in-house replacements. Manny Machado, the shortstop of the future who almost miraculously four years ago became a great third baseman with no experience at the position, can slide over to short. Supersub Ryan Flaherty can fill in at third which will probably be the first realignment that manager Buck Showalter tries.
I can also foresee former Reds shortstop Paul Janish coming up soon from Norfolk. He's a better shortstop than Flaherty and we know how well Manny can play third. I think Machado is a mature enough of a pro now to handle either position until Hardy's return.
There is also the possibility that another free agent pickup Pedro Alvarez could go to the hot corner. He's no defensive whiz - Pirate fans learned that - but he's kinda young to be a dh and he is beginning to hit a little. Alvarez could also switch positions for a while with first baseman Chris Davis who is a far better athlete and baserunner than people realize.
I have always loved Ryan Flaherty and what he has meant to the team but his long-term future as an Oriole seems very cloudy now. The Orioles must see what they have in Hyun Soo Kim, the new outfielder from Korea. Also playing time is needed for Nolan Reimold and Rule 5 rookie Joey Rickard in the outfield which means another newcomer Mark Trumbo goes to DH where Alvarez has been for most of the year.
Never a dull moment in Orioleland but the J. J. Hardy injury will mean more defensive uncertainty than anyone wanted.
ON THE COLLEGE FRONT - The Columbia Lions finished in a tie for second with Penn in the Gehrig Division of the Ivy League. They got bragging rights for second because they beat the Quakers three out of four this past weekend. But Princeton clinched the crown by winning four at Cornell. Dartmouth still could catch Yale for the Rolfe division crown. Winner of the Rolfe plays Gehrig winner Princeton with the NCAA bid on the line.
The 11 members of the Columbia Class of 2016 finished with the second most wins in school history, topped only by the Class of 2015 that won three Ivy League titles in a row and in 2015 won three games in the Miami regional.
The class of 2016 can still hang their heads high. Left fielder Robb Paller slugged many home runs and hit for a high average in the course of his final season. Starter Adam Cline pitched solidly as did Kevin Roy before he succumbed to elbow woes that curtailed his last college season.
If ever a save was gotten in the sixth inning of a game, it was provided by senior pitcher George Thanopoulos who struck out two Quakers with the bases loaded in the Lions 9-8 win in Saturday's second game. Senior Thomas Crispi got the win and seniors Logan Bowyer, John Kinne, and Nick McGuire went a combined 9-13 with 5 RBI and 7 runs scored in their final appearance as Lions.
Quite a legacy, fellows, and thanks for the memories.
NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT . . .
Here's a Teny Ymota tip from the arts - Check out "Born To Be Blue," a 97-minute film inspired by the tumultuous artistic life of jazz trumpeter-singer Chet Baker. It stars the very talented music-loving Ethan Hawke in the Baker role.
A marvelous actress from London of Nigerian-Scottish descent Carmen Ejogo shines in the role of a composite of the women in Baker's life. The film is directed by Robert Budreau. Its images and sounds have stayed with me despite seeing it a few weeks ago.
That's all for now - always remember: Take it but take it.
February 25, 2016
The first pictures from the spring training camps in Florida and Arizona are always tonic for the soul of this baseball nut. Nice to realize that every team will remain 0-0 until early April when the records start to count.
I find it ridiculous to rank teams before games really matter, but the 24/7/365 world (more…)
September 28, 2015
They have been the epitome of inconsistency. Most recently they swept the Nationals in Washington but then went on to Boston and not only were swept but were shut out three times – the first time they endured such embarrassment in 58 years.
I never thought they would really contend in 2015 because they did not replace Nick Markakis’s consistency and Nelson Cruz’s power and presence in the lineup. I didn’t think their starting pitching was as good as team management thought.
I was sadly proven right in both cases. I would have loved to be wrong.
The specter of more free agent defections looms after the regular season ends mercifully on Sunday Oct. 4. And the farm system, though not as bad as some of the pundits claim, doesn’t look like it will provide quality replacements for the most likely Orioles to leave, slugger Chris Davis and southpaw starter Wei-Yin Chen.
Trades are possible and so are some less expensive free agent signings. However, the glitter has faded from Orioles gm Dan Duquette, last year’s MLB Executive of the Year.
In the last two years Duquette has traded three starting pitchers who are helping other teams considerably. The Orioles’ return was negligible though I have hopes that backup catcher/solid hitter/Baltimore native Steve Clevenger might stick for all of 2016.
Jake Arrieta is the most notable loss, starring for the Cubs who have made the playoffs in the first year under the helm of former Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon.
I am not going to cry too much about this trade because Arrieta simply could not
put it together in Baltimore after being Opening Day starter in two seasons.
He’s not yet 30 and pitchers can bloom late. According to the New York Times excellent national baseball reporter Tyler Kepner, Oriole coaches discouraged Arrieta from throwing across the body for fear of inconsistency and injury.
The Cubs have allowed Arrieta to be himself and he has rewarded them with an astonishing year. Not only baseball’s first 20-game winner of 2015 but becoming nearly unhittable and rarely scored upon.
As the future of Oriole starting pitching is murky at best, the Red Sox can look forward to years with southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez who Duquette traded late in 2014 to rent reliever Andrew Miller. Miller helped the Orioles to the playoffs but then signed as a free agent with the Yankees where he has been a shutdown closer.
Late this season, believing that Birds were only one bat from real contention, Duquette traded young righthander Zach Davies to the Brewers for the rental of Gerardo Parra. Parra has not been the answer at the plate while Davies has shown promise in Milwaukee with a victory over the Cubs already under his belt.
I realize that ardent fans can let emotions eclipse reason so maybe I’m going too far when I say that Davies has potential Greg Maddux-type abilities. But signed after high school he did improve every year working up the minor league ladder.
Duquette and manager Buck Showalter are signed on for at least the next three years in Baltimore. Though Duquette flirted with taking the presidency of the Toronto Blue Jays last off-season (a position recently filled by longtime Indians executive Mark Shapiro), I presume he will stay on the job.
I just hope that the future of my favorite team doesn’t seem as bleak as it does at the current time. One thing that I would highly recommend though is the rewarding with longer than one-year contracts Manny Machado and closer Zach Britton.
Along with a healthy second baseman Jonathan Schoop their performance has
made the Orioles usually worthy of watching this disappointing year.
AN ATTEMPT AT PUNDITRY: Looks like the playoffs will be very exciting again and maybe even a Wild Card play-in between Astros and Angels before they start. Defending American League champion Kansas City has lost a lot of games in September as well as its closer Greg Holland to likely Tommy John surgery.
It is true that the Royals have not had meaningful games to play for weeks. They must be thinking that they can turn it on when it matters. That remains to be seen.
Toronto has passed them for best record in the American League and thus home field throughout the playoffs. They could make the World Series for the first time since 1993.
David Price has become the ace they had lacked and despite the injury to another late-season pickup/shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, they are showing that they know how to win.
I don’t watch the National League as closely as the AL but the Cardinals are on pace to win 100 or more regular season games. Despite many major injuries they are like the Timex watch – “they just keep on ticking.”
So a week before the playoffs I am leaning towards a first-ever Toronto-St. Louis World Series. But I think the Pirates, Cubs, Mets, Dodgers in the NL and the Yankees,
Rangers, Astros or Angels or less likely Twins, will disagree firmly.
For now always remember: Take it easy but take it!
August 31, 2015
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!
“Champions Are Made When No One Is Watching” and Other Observations From The Mid-July Baseball Scene
July 20, 2015
I saw a T-shirt with the above saying while watching workouts prior to a Hudson Valley Renegades game earlier this month. The wearer of the shirt, Tampa Bay Rays minor league catching instructor Paul Hoover, didn’t know the origin of the saying but it is a beauty - A testament to the hard work and long hours needed to make a champion in any sport.
Meanwhile on the MLB front, parity is the rule though I would argue parity=mediocrity. The number of regular players batting under .200 is astonishing.
Mario Mendoza, who actually was a career .215 hitter, is beginning to look like Roberto Clemente.
Dumbest play I saw on TV – Ervin Santana of the Twins, back from his PED suspension for the surprising Minnesotans, kept throwing to first base to keep a runner close with two out in the 8th inning of a game in which he led 5-0.
You have a solid lead and you have one of the greatest closers for the 9th inning Glen Perkins in the bullpen. And you are worried about a man on first stealing second on you?
Baseball fortunes can change in a twinkling. Perkins blew his first save of the year at Oakland on Saturday night July 18 and Sunday the A’s routed former Oakland lefty Tom Milone in a 14-1 romp.
Supposed pre-season contenders Oakland and Seattle are mired in the lower regions
of the AL West. The so-far-elusive winning streak could bring each near .500 and a shot perhaps at a second wild-card berth.
The build-up has begun for the trade deadline on July 31st. The MLB TV network will have a week of programming leading up to that date. I fear the pressure to improve teams will mount exponentially with the air coverage.
My Orioles finally won a series after losing four in a row and going 3-11. It destroyed the edge their 18-5 run in June had given them. Their mid-week series at Yankee Stadium starting Tuesday night July 21 will give them a better idea of where they will stand once the dog days of August begin.
The Yankees will not be easy to catch but a four-game lead is not an overwhelming obstacle. If the Oriole starters pitch well and the hitters rediscover how to hit with runners in scoring position. If not, then failure to hit with RISP will mean RIP 2015 season.
The Birds still have 8 pending free agents on the roster. They include big ones like Chris Davis, who has proven very agile and effective in right field, catcher Matt Wieters (slowly recovering from Tommy John surgery), starters Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris (recently demoted to the bullpen), All-Star setup man Darren O’Day, and at times useful relievers Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz.
Of course, fans cannot control any of these decisions. For now I’m trying to enjoy the possibility of "playing meaningful games in September." The youthful powerful brilliant play on both sides of the ball of youngsters Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop has been a joy to watch. Also the so-far-almost-flawless effectiveness of closer Zach Britton.
That’s all for now – this is Teny Ymota (The Earl of NY Your Man On The Aisle) reminding you always – “Take it easy but take it.”
August 12, 2014
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.
**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!
June 24, 2014
I hadn’t decided to go to the opener of the June 20-22 Oriole-Yankee series at Yankee Stadium until Friday morning. Got myself through StubHub an upper deck seat on the aisle giving me plenty of room for my aching right knee to stretch out.
Didn’t realize that the seat would also provide me plenty of exercise because there was constant traffic of fans in my row coming back and forth back and forth from concession stands. Watching the game for them was obviously of secondary importance. They didn't even get involved in the wave that kept many of the crowd involved on this pleasant evening.
The late Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner had the best line about what the wave is good for:
"straightening your shorts."
Though Yankee starter Hiroki Kuroda no-hit the O’s for five innings, I didn’t think that streak could last because his pitch count was elevated. And sure enough the Orioles rallied with two runs in the 6th. But they couldn’t add more runs - a persistent problem in 2014.
Once again Lowenfish’s Law – no four run lead is ever safe until the game is over – proved correct. Usuallly reliable O’s closer Zach Britton couldn’t get the third out in the bottom of the 9th though he had two strikes on Mark Teixeira with two out and a man on first.
Teixeira walked, was pinch-run for, the latest Big Buck Yankee free agent addition Brian McCann singled in a run, and on a 3-1 count another free agent Carlos Beltran blasted a long home run to left center to win the game.
The Orioles showed their resiliency by winning the next two games convincingly,
6-1 and 8-0. In the Sunday afternoon shutout they beat another big ticket Yankee signing Japanese phenom Masanori Tanaka. And to add to the O's recent surge the following night they limited White Sox star southpaw Chris Sale to six innings. And they came from behind to win on their own walkoff homer by Chris Davis.
Walkoff homers – a term likely coined by Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley – are quite rare. And the ones that turn defeat into victory in one swing of the bat are unforgettable.
I still remember nearly 40 years ago when Orioles second baseman Bobby Grich won a game in Baltimore by beating the Red Sox reliever Jim Willoughby. And while the memory won’t be as warm, I think I’ll always remember how Beltran spoiled my Friday night. But fortunately not the entire weekend.
Lots of baseball still to be played, of course. Question marks on the mound and in the lineup continue to perplex followers of the Orioles. Even though this seems like a year of parity or mediocrity, my LD (Lively Dinosaur) roots incline me not to get too enthusiastic until my team is at least 10 games above .500.
But I am certainly keeping the faith and if the starting pitcher-winners this weekend Bud Norris and Chris Tillman and bullpen arms T. J. McFarland and Tommy Hunter continue to pitch well, 2014 might be another fun summer in Baltimore.
I will be in attendance this weekend in Baltimore when on my 72nd birthday the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays tangle in a June 27th day-night doubleheader. Impressions of that experience and more next time we meet.
In the meantime always remember: Take it easy but take it!