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New York Scouts Dinner and A Memorable Basketball Saturday

The annual Hot Stove League dinner sponsored by the New York-area baseball scouts has always provided many memorable moments. Last Friday's 52nd annual gathering at Leonard's of Great Neck maintained the fine tradition.

Several ovations were deservedly bestowed upon dinner organizer Billy Blitzer whose 35 consecutive years with the Cubs were finally rewarded in November. But emcee Ed Randall, who joined Billy in donning a Cubs World Series shirt, couldn't resist telling some jokes that no longer apply.

My favorite: "What would Jesus tell the Chicago Cubs?" Answer: "Don't do anything until I come back."

Guest speaker Art Shamsky called his experience on the 1969 Mets the highlight of his career. He said the team's success permanently inscribed his name in the book of New York heroes. He added that he didn't mind having a dog named for him in the "Everybody Loves Raymond" TV show.

Shamsky shared some tales of earlier Mets teams. After beginning their first two seasons losing 9 and then 8 games in a row, the Mets were rained out the following year in their first series in Cincinnati. Before their home opener, announcer Ralph Kiner quipped, "The Mets are off to the best start in their history."

Cincinnati scout John Ceprini, the winner of the group's prestigious Turk Karam award as Scout of the Year, was moved by Shamsky's appreciation of his career. Ceprini paid homage to the mentors who had encouraged him on his path towards scouting.

San Francisco Giants scouting honcho John Barr, who was awarded the Jim Quigley award for service to baseball, concluded the evening with some indelible insights into the scouting profession.

"Listen to the sound off the bat," George Digby, who signed Wade Boggs, told him.

"Who can help us win?" asked Joe McIlvaine, who was with the Mets when Barr started in his career in the 1980s. (Barr went on to work with the Orioles where he signed number one draft picks in Ben McDonald and Mike Mussina.)

"Sit on a guy . . . See him when he fails . . . See him in another sport where he is not so dominant. . . . How comfortable does he look?"

No need to attribute these quotations to anybody. They are eternal truths - if only the number-crunchers and "advanced metrics" people would understand.

I do take solace in the great saying - "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care about who gets the credit."

Before I close, I must kvell a bit about my dream basketball Saturday. All three teams that I follow closely won games and I saw two of them in person.

My girl friend's alma mater Davidson, avenging a loss at home earlier in January, walloped Fordham at the marvelous oldest-in-country Rose Hill gym in the Bronx.

My alma mater Columbia held on to beat Harvard on Morningside Heights and improve to 3-1 tied with Yale and Harvard and 1/2 game behind Princeton.

And my graduate alma mater Wisconsin rallied to beat Rutgers in overtime at Madison Square Garden. The Badgers are living on the edge in recent games but they sure know how to win.

Redshirt sophomore center Ethan Happ, first cousin of Blue Jays LHP J. Happ, scored 32 of Wisconsin's 61 points. He only went 8-16 on the foul line and that shortcoming remains a major problem. Yet all other aspects of his game - footwork, quickness, willingness to learn, and will to win - Happ inspires hope!

To make Saturday January 28 a day to live long in Wisconsin annals, the hockey team also won an overtime game at the Garden over Ohio State in the evening.

And here's one more overtime story - the Columbia women's basketball team, picked for last in the Ivy League, beat Dartmouth in FOUR overtimes on Friday night. They lost by only 2 at Harvard the following night. As an unrepentant puller for underdogs, these developments are most promising. (I attended Columbia's other 4-overtime win about a quarter century ago.)

I wish the Knicks well but I cannot lose sleep over THEIR four-overtime loss on Sunday to the Atlanta Hawks. Until there are changes in ownership at the Garden,
I fear the Knicks will be spinning their wheels.

Well, that's all for now. Pitchers and catchers report in two weeks, tournament time nears in basketball, and the days are getting longer. A really exciting time of year in spite of all the political uncertainties.

So always remember: Take it easy but take it!  Read More 
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Orioles and Mets Face An Early Winter After Losing Close Wild Card Games

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!
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