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"Rubber Chicken" Circuit Gets Off To A Rousing Start in Baltimore" (corrected version)

This is an unsettling time for pro baseball as well as the USA as a whole. The Houston Astros, losers to the Washington Nats in a thrilling World Series, are being investigated for systematic sign-stealing over the past and prior years.

 

The Astros also had to fire a rising star in their front office Brandon Taubman for his actions in harassing women reporters who had written about Houston's decision to trade for closer Roberto Asuna while he was serving a suspension for domestic abuse.

 
The powers-that-be in MLB also want to contract 42 minor league teams by 2021, shorten the amateur draft to 20 rounds, and postpone the draft until August. They evidently think that a "Dream League" of undrafted players can be established to serve as a substitute for the terminated farm clubs.

 
With all the uncertainly in baseball at a time of declining attendance and interminably long games, I find it always stimulating to be in the company of scouts.  So on November 16th I traveled to Baltimore for the 49th annual dinner of MASA, the Mid-Atlantic Scouts Association. 


The event was held at [Rick] Dempsey's restaurant in Camden Yards and I'm happy to report that it was no "rubber chicken" affair.  Kudos to the Delaware North catering group for an exceptionally fine buffet dinner that preceded the evening's award presentations.

 
MASA's president is veteran Blue Jays scout Tom Burns, a former high school coach at Bishop McDevitt in Harrisburg, Pa. In his opening remarks, Burns noted that four players from the Mid-Atlantic region will receive 2019 World Series championship rings from the Nats.   Their triumph has been widely hailed by veteran baseball people because the Nats are led by GM Mike Rizzo, himself a former scout and son of former scout Phil Rizzo.

 
** 1. First baseman Ryan Zimmerman is from Virginia Beach, VA and University of Virginia. Zimmerman is the longest tenured Nat, playing on its first team in 2005 after the Expos moved from Montreal. He was signed by MASA's secretary Alex Smith, now scouting for Brewers.

 
(BTW One of my all-time favorite player development stories is that Zimmerman, Mark Reynolds, David Wright and the Upton brothers, BJ and Justin, all played for the same youth team, and all started as high school shortstops.)   

 
** 2. Lefty reliever Sean Doolittle - one of the baseball players most concerned about issues of social justice - went to high school in Medford, NJ, then played at the U. of Virginia a little after Zimmerman.  The son of an Air Force veteran and distantly related to the heroic World War II flyer Jimmy Doolittle, Sean's return from injury solidified the Nats' previously maligned bullpen.

 
**3. Daniel Hudson, who closed Game 7 of the Series for the victorious Nats, is also from Virginia Beach and went to Old Dominion in Norfolk VA, alma mater of Game 7 loser Justin Verlander.  His return to effectiveness after TWO Tommy John operations was another heart-warming aspect of the Nats' nearly-miraculous come-from-behind victories in FIVE post-season games.

 
** 4. Reserve first baseman Matt Adams went to high school in Philipsburg, PA, and was a 23rd round draft pick of the Cardinals out of Slippery Rock U. north of Pittsburgh. 


Though none of these players attended the dinner, two other active players were given awards and came to receive them. Lou Trivino was cited for "Outstanding Achievement". The Oakland A's reliever went to Upper Bucks [County] Christian HS and Slippery Rock.

 

Pitcher Jack Kochanowitz won the Amateur Player of the Year award.  The third round pick of the California Angels went to Hamilton HS in Bryn Mawr, Pa. and started his pro career this past summer.

 
The award is given in memory of Nick Adenhart, the Angels pitcher who went to Williamsport HS in Maryland and turned down a baseball scholarship to the University of North Carolina to turn pro.  On the night that Nick won his first game in the majors in Anaheim in early April 2009, he was killed by a drunk driver.

 
Veteran DC broadcaster Phil Wood, the dinner's witty MC, recalled some wise advice he received from Dick Bosman, who he introduced to receive a "Career Achievement" award.
"Get out of the press box and sit with the scouts and you'll learn something," said Bosman.

 

Bosman is the former pitcher with the second Washington Senators/Texas Rangers, Indians, and A's and the recently-retired minor league coordinator for the Tampa Bay Rays. In 1974 he threw a no-hitter for Cleveland against Oakland.  The following year he replaced Catfish Hunter in the A's rotation (as Hunter on a techicality became a free agent and signed with the Yankees). 

 

He went 11-4 in 1975 and 4-2 in part of 1976.  But unfortunately, Bosman's work as a player rep in the pivotal first decade of the Players Association curtailed his active career.  More on Bosman's life and career can be found in his informative book DICK BOSMAN ON PITCHING with Ted Leavengood, published by Rowman and Littlefield.

 
MASA awards also went to Stuart Smothers, back with the Yankees though he won the honor "Crosschecker of the Year" for work for the Phillies.  Smothers provided the vivid detail that growing up in south central LA he would rush home from school to catch Dale Murphy's at-bats on the Braves' superstation TBS.

 
Scout of the Year was Paul Murphy now with the Dodgers after stints with the Orioles and Phillies. MASA also welcomed into its Hall of Fame Shawn Pender and Paul Faulk, both of whom have served the Reds.

 
Well, in this time of uncertainly and unease, it is time to wish one and all a Happy Thanksgiving.  Andas always, please remember to "Take it easy but take it!"

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"The Ball Always Finds The Weakest Defender": Reflections on the Mets' World Series Loss

I attended Game 4 of the World Series on Halloween night. It was the second of three must-win home games in a row, and in all of them the Mets held the lead for much of the action. However, this year's surprise entry in the World Series could win only the Friday matchup.

I only get emotionally involved with the Orioles, my passion for over 40 years, but I feel for those who lived and breathed and died with the Mets. The old saying in baseball, "The ball always finds the weakest defender," proved true in the final games of the Mets season.

The Mets seemed in control of the Halloween game once standout rookie left fielder Michael Conforto hit the second of his two solo homers to give the Mets a 3-1 lead after 5 innings. Rookie southpaw Steven Matz, from nearby Stony Brook, showed great poise in
his first Series start (incidentally the only one by a left-hander).

However, the Royals narrowed the deficit to 3-2 entering the 8th inning. Inconsistent Tyler Clippard walked two Royals with one out. Jeurys Familia was called upon for a five-out save. In moments a defining moment of the Series arose.

The ball found the weakest defender as Eric Hosmer hit a spinning grounder towards second baseman Daniel Murphy. It went under his glove for an error that tied the game.

It felt almost inevitable when singles by Mike Moustaka and Salvador Perez gave the Royals a 5-3 lead that shutdown closer Wade Davis cemented with a two-inning save.

Yet there was more pain ahead for the Mets. It seemed unnecessarily cruel when the baseball gods determined that the game would end with Yoenis Cespedes doubled off first base on a weak liner by Lucas Duda to third baseman Moustakas.

A cardinal rule of baseball is: Never be doubled off first base on a ball hit in front of you. Of course, Cuban defector Cespedes listens to the sound of his own drummer. And that gaffe was yet another sharp blow to the Mets' chances.

In Game 5, the Mets held the lead even longer than in Game 4. Curtis Granderson, the Mets' most consistent player all season including the playoffs, gave Matt Harvey a 1-0 lead with a leadoff-home run in the bottom of the first inning.

You can never overestimate the importance of grabbing the lead in any game, especially a season-saving game.

Harvey protected the lead for eight shutout innings and the Mets' disappearing offense did scratch out a second run in the 6th on a sacrifice fly by Lucas Duda.

Yet as we look back in hindsight, the Royals had the Mets where they wanted them. This year's deserving Kansas City champions broke all kinds of records for scoring runs in the late innings.

And sure enough after Harvey talked manager Terry Collins into letting him pitch the 9th inning, Lorenzo Cain led off with a full count walk. Collins left Harvey in and Eric Hosmer followed with a run-scoring opposite field double.

It was now 2-1 with the tying run on second with no one out. Hosmer was pumped because his error had contributed to the Mets' second run.

Collins brought in closer Jeurys Familia. He did get ground balls from the three batters he faced. But with Hosmer on third and one out, the final defining moment of this Series came.

Catcher Salvador Perez, the unanimous MVP for his solid hitting and handling of the pitching staff, hit a grounder between third and short. Either David Wright or shortstop Wilmer Flores could have handled the tricky hop.

Wright fielded it cleanly but turned his back on Hosmer, no speed merchant but a clever baserunner. Wright threw out Perez at first base, but Hosmer broke for home and Lucas Duda's throw was way off the mark. The game was now tied 2-2.

After leading since the first inning, it was a tremendous blow to the Mets. You could almost see the body language sag, maybe most in team captain Wright.

To quote Yogi Berra, it was deja vu all over again. The memory of Halloween night's loss had to be fresh.

They were two outs from victory in Game 1 in Kansas City when Alex Gordon homered off Familia. The pattern was becoming very apparent. Great teams have great mental toughness as well as great talent and the Mets were exposed as having neither.

Once the Royals tied Sunday night's game it seemed inevitable that they would win. And sure enough, they pushed 5 runs across in the 12th. The lead-gaining single was a pinch-hit by reserve infielder Christian Colon who hadn't swung a bat in a game for over 40 days.

Redemption came to the Royals and it was richly earned. They left the tying run on third base in Game 7 last year against Madison Bumgarner and the SF Giants. They dedicated this year to changing the Series outcome and they sure fulfilled their dream.

Now winter has come for those of us who dearly baseball. The Mets provided many great thrills for their fans. Their great young starting pitchers all performed well under the brightest lights. That should augur very well for their future.

But the Mets obviously need better defense and more consistent offense. Murphy and Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes were thoroughly held in check by the Royals. Both may leave as free agents.

Much too early to handicap next season. Every year is always different.

For 2015 let us hail the Kansas City Royals who richly deserved their title.

That's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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