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69th BIRTHDAY BASEBALL MUSINGS

[this post appeared originally on booktrib.com and has been expanded]
Three score and nine years ago I arrived on this earth. June 27, 1942. I beat future Red Sox shortstop RICO PETROCELLI by one year, “Mr. Florida Marlin” and onetime Oriole first baseman JEFF CONINE by several years and by even more JIM JOHNSON the one outstanding pitcher on the disturbingly under-achieving Baltimore Oriole staff.

Wonder of wonders, the Orioles did win an inter-league series with Cincinnati but St. Louis came to town and swept them and a .500 season is becoming less and less a possibility. Their starting pitching rotation is in a shambles – two of the supposed fixtures of the future BRIAN MATUSZ and CHRIS TILLMAN are back in the minors and JAKE ARRIETA has missed recent starts with elbow ailments. Jake is promising and has won 9 games but he rarely gets into the late innings putting great pressure on a mediocre bullpen. As the late managerial wizard SPARKY ANDERSON once said profoundly, “Without pitching you’re nothing.”

At least some of the O’s quiet bats have begun to come around with aging one-year signee DERREK LEE belting two big HRs in the two wins over the Reds. Lee is one of the classy acts in baseball, a superior defender at first base and a leader by example and do the Orioles ever need that kind of presence after so many years of losing. The surprisingly unproductive lefty bat of NICK MARKAKIS also has come alive though his RBI production remains weak. Another one-year signee VLADIMIR GUERRERO has also not produced out of the cleanup position.

I remind these Birds of one baseball’s deepest axioms:
A two-out RBI with a runner on third is one of life’s exquisite pleasures and you can quote me on that.

The best baseball scouts always stress that you cannot scout the game negatively. You must look for positives in players because baseball is based on failure and if you are looking for bad things you will find them. Better to look on the sunny side of talent until the shortcomings are too obvious to ignore.

Fans – most definitely including yours truly – should take this advice to heart and enjoy what promises to be a truly thrilling summer and early fall of baseball. The pennant races are heating up and what the late National League president Warren C. Giles once reportedly wished for could be coming true in 2011: Every
team around .500 by September with thus a chance to win.

With the exception of the Astros and Cubs and probably the Padres, Dodgers and Marlins in the National League and (yet again) the Royals and Orioles in the American League, all the other teams can dream of a push towards at least a wild card appearance in the playoffs. (To repeat a point in an earlier post I am NOT in favor of adding more playoff teams until the season is shortened to 154 games or less.)

The AL and NL Central races are particularly wide open. Milwaukee had opened up a three-game lead on the Pujols-less Cardinals but that vanished when the Yankees swept the Brewers convincingly while the Cardinals were sweeping the Orioles. I was at the Thursday June 30 day game when CC SABATHIA shut out the Brew Crew over 7 2/3 innings and struck out 13 including PRINCE FIELDER on three pitches with the bases loaded in the fourth inning. With third base open CC actually gave an unintentional intentional walk to RYAN BRAUN to dispatch Fielder with ease.

Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are right on the tails of the Cards and Brewers. The Pirates almost swept the Red Sox in Pittsburgh before the largest crowds in the history of their wonderful PNC Ballpark (a natural grass replacement for the dreary astroturfed Three Rivers Stadium). How wonderful to see the resurgence of the Pirates at least into the second half of the season. Pittsburgh is a great sports town and deserves a competitive Pirates team. So does Baltimore deserve a competitive team but as long as the farm system remains almost spectacularly unproductive that development looks like a long way off.

The late June news in the NL East thrilled the AARP crowd when JACK McKEON, 80, returned to manage the struggling Florida Marlins and DAVEY JOHNSON, 68, took the reins of the suddenly surging Washington Nationals. Johnson’s Nats immediately got swept by the Angels in Anaheim but they are still around .500 bringing some genuine hope to the nation’s capital for the first time in a long while.

Here’s hoping these two old school onetime World Series winners can deal successfully with players in the digital Twitter-mad environment of today.

LOW ‘N’ FISH ‘N’ CHIPS: Odds and Ends from Late June 2011
**There are stats, crazy stats and sometimes meaningful stats. Here’s one that does explain how punchless the Orioles offense has been until this past weekend. In a June 18 8-4 loss to the Washington Nationals the Birds managed just 4 runs on 18 hits! They set a record for having three batters have 14 hits among them – Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Derrek Lee - and yet none of them drove in or scored a single run.

**There is something called the OTV Differential on Mets broadcasts – a gyrating circle showing where a pitch was intended to arrive and where it actually landed at home plate. What will they think of next?!

**Brian Anderson, former lefthander with Indians and Diamondbacks and now Tampa Rays broadcaster, had these words of praise for the Red Sox 44-year-old knuckleballer: “At the end of the world the only things that will be left are cockroaches and Tim Wakefield.”

For the 4th of July weekend I will attend the annual inductions into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in Lubbock Texas, sponsored by the COLLEGE BASEBALL FOUNDATION.
The 2011 awardees are Duke shortstop DICK GROAT
U. of Arizona outfielder (and current Red Sox manager) TERRY FRANCONA Cal-Fullerton third baseman (and current Dodger 3rd base coach) TIM WALLACH
Southern University (New Orleans) catcher DANNY GOODWIN
Arizona State (and Texas Rangers) outfielder ODDIBE MCDOWELL
Two college coaches will be inducted posthumously:
BILL WILHELM (Clemson) and RALPH WALDO EMERSON JONES (Grambling). More on this event in July posts.

Remember: Take it easy but take it!

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