instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

When The Marathon Becomes A Sprint + Homage to Don Welke (1942-2018)

As I have said many times, all any baseball fan should ever ask for is to play meaningful games in September. That hope was long dashed this season (and probably for many future seasons) in Oriole land and for too many other teams this year. (Sure hope we are not seeing the rise of a permanent baseball underclass.)

For those teams still in the hunt, there is nothing like the agony and ecstasy of baseball in late September. When the number of games is reduced to just a handful, the pressure and tension can be excruciating. In a rare unqualified statement about baseball, it says here that the teams that win have the players who can stay intense without being tense.

The five teams in the American League playoffs are already set. The Red Sox and Indians have clinched their divisions, the defending World Series champion Astros will likely clinch the AL West this week (if not at lowly Toronto, then definitely at very lowly Baltimore).

The only dramatic question in the AL is whether the Oakland A’s or the Yankees will host the wild card game on Wednesday October 3. Most likely it will be the Yanks because they have to lose three games out of their last six and the A’s must win all of their remaining five for the wild card game to be played in Oakland.

The National League is far more intriguing. Only the Atlanta Braves have clinched a division title so have no worries about an elimination game. The Cubs are stumbling a bit but still lead the Brewers by two games in lost column. The soaring Dodgers only lead the Rockies by one lost game.

The Cardinals, under once-interim now-permanent manager Mike Shildt, are the most threatened with the most difficult schedule. Last night (M Sep 24) they threw away a key rain-interrupted game to the Brewers. They lost 6-4 with the eventual winning run scoring on an ill-advised errant throw to first base by pitcher Bud Norris that allowed the tie-breaking run to score from third.

Kinda ironic that erratic former Oriole Norris is subject of St Louis boo-birds because supposedly he was nicknamed Bud as a three-year-old because he liked to sip Budweiser!

I love the story of Shildt, a baseball lifer from Charlotte, North Carolina who grew up in the 1970s when the Orioles had their Double-A team in Charlotte. He was a jack-of-all-trades - ballboy, gofer, clubhouse attendant, you name it.

He is the rare MLB manager that never played pro ball. But he has imbibed the Cardinal Way that started with Branch Rickey and continued by George Kissell, Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, and so many more.

The Redbirds will have to play better defense if they want to make the playoffs. And gulp! after two more with the Brewers at home, they end the season with three at Wrigley Field. Though not yet a lock, it seems the Cardinals and Rockies will fight for the second wild card with Colorado hosting the Phillies and Nationals at home.

I want to conclude this post with a fond remembrance of the late Don Welke. One of the great scouts of our era, Welke died in San Diego on Wed Sep 19 just a few days shy of his 76th birthday. He was still scouting for the Padres at the time of his death.

Starting out as an associate scout with the Cincinnati Reds in the 1960s (as the future Big Red Machine was being formulated), Welke enjoyed a career that spanned major contributions with the expansion Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays and later the Orioles, Texas Rangers, and lastly the Padres.

During Pat Gillick’s induction speech at the Hall of Fame earlier this decade, he singled out Welke (and Bob Engle) for special commendation. It was Welke’s scouting that brought first baseman John Olerud and pitcher Pat Hentgen to Toronto. He also tried valiantly to sign Jim Abbott but the remarkable one-armed pitcher opted for the U of Michigan instead.

Welke became a world traveler in his later years and did a lot of international scouting. He was part of the staff for the gold medal-winning American baseball team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Welke’s roots were in the Midwest. His early career almost reads like a traveler’s guide to that region. He liked to call himself a Harvard man, that is, a graduate of Harvard HS in Illinois.

He attended and graduated from Carthage College in Wisconsin but never played pro baseball. Instead he started a career in coaching and education as a graduate assistant at Eastern Michigan U in Ypsilanti. From 1970-75 he was the coach at Concordia College in Ann Arbor.

I had the good fortune to meet Don on a few occasions. I have an especially warm memory of his appearance on a panel that I moderated on scouting for the annual NINE Baseball Magazine conference in Phoenix.

He wasn't an advocate of analytics and its new terminology - low-key wit and pithy perception were his trademarks. “I always look for the player who makes the game look easy,” he once said, knowing of course that the game is never easy.

In a 2015 interview for Fox TV Sports that I accessed this morning via Google, Welke compared scouting to playing in one key way: you have to possess “the ability to be better than the next guy . . . and . . . have the courage to be risky some times.”

Welke is survived by three sons. He will be sorely missed. At least in the age of the internet we have everlasting access to his wit and wisdom.

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

On The Sad Return of the Woerioles Plus Other Nicer Stories

The old canard, “You can’t win a pennant in April but you sure can lose it,” seems truer than ever. The Orioles’s offensive futility is so bad that I turned off a game on Monday night April 30 when they were only trailing 2-0 in the 7th.

So I missed them tying in the 9th at Anaheim against the Angels. Only to lose it in bottom of the inning. Once-reliable reliever Brad Brach must be feeling the pressure of his impending free agency because he has not been effective this year.

(It reminds me of similar problems for Bud Norris in his last year as a Bird. Norris, who won the last post-season game the Birds played in 2014 against Detroit, has landed for the time being with Cardinals.)

Oriole starting pitching was considered a big issue in 2018 and it remains that way. Now the bullpen, the defense, and the anemic offense have all been revealed as defective.

But one thing I will NOT do is pile on against my bedraggled team like Joe Posnanski did this week on mlb.com rehashing the 21-game losing streak to start the 1988 Oriole season. Instead I always find something remarkable to write about baseball on its many levels.

Here's even a tip of cap to the Yankees that won a thrilling day game at Houston on May 3, earning a series win, 3 out of 4 against the defending world champions.

Down 5-3 going into the top of the 9th (after leading 3-0 going into the bottom of the 7th), they scored 3 runs on the dreaded leadoff walk, a few singles and sprightly base running by their impressive rookies Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres and pinch-hitter Aaron Hicks.

Team speed is so undervalued in baseball and it is nice to see games won with legs and not just massive home run-hitting forearms. Houston’s bullpen ineffectiveness might become an issue as the season wears on.

Maybe Seattle and the Angels with Mike Trout and the young Japanese import DH-pitcher Shohei Otani might challenge the Astros. Meanwhile, it looks like the nomination for AL Least might be the AL Central where the Indians have sputtered out of the gate though its less-heralded rivals have been even worse.

In the NL East, the youth movement in Atlanta seems about to pay off as the Braves came into CitiField this week and swept the Mets convincingly. They have moved into first place in the very early going.

Former Oriole Nick Markakis is providing veteran leadership and great all-around play. He didn't want leave to Baltimore but management didn't want to pay him for the fourth year of his contract.

On the college baseball front, Yale is a virtual lock to host the best-of-three Ivy League championship in New Haven on May 19, and 20 (if necessary). Dartmouth has a one-game lead in the lost column over Columbia that is really two games because the Big Green won 2 out of 3 against the Lions at Dartmouth earlier in the season.

Columbia needs to sweep Cornell at Ithaca on May 12-13 and hope that Dartmouth loses two games of their remaining six against Princeton at home and Harvard in Cambridge. There is also a 4-4 tie against Penn that the Big Green may need to resume if that game becomes crucial.

Columbia ended its home season with a series victory against Penn. The Lions’s senior leader second baseman Randell Kanemaru hopefully dodged a serious injury in the climactic rally to win the rubber game.

Last year’s league MVP got on base after being hit in the “lower stomach” with a pitch. He moved to third later in the inning and then tried to score on a wild pitch. After a violent collision with the Penn pitcher at home plate, he was called out.

There are no replay provisions in the Ivy League but it looked like a bad call. Worse, he was writhing in pain after landing on his left shoulder. His right throwing shoulder has been aching all year forcing his shift to second from third base.

Fortunately there was no major injury. He has a chance to end his career on the playing field, ideally for fans of Columbia, playing deep into the spring.

In the Big East, perennial powers St. John’s and Seton Hall square off on Fri May 11 at Seton Hall at 4p. Both will make the Big East tournament that will be in Ohio May 26-28.

In the Big Ten, Rutgers has a 6-9 league record but is 23-18 overall after spanking Columbia 15-4 in a mid-week game on May 1. Mets third baseman Todd Frazier's alma mater may have a chance to do some damage in the playoffs.

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
 Read More 
Be the first to comment