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"Collecting Lottery Tickets" - What Oriole Baseball Has Come To - Plus A Shout-Out to "Toni Stone"

 

I guess the trade this past weekend of the Orioles' most reliable pitcher Andrew Cashner to division rival Red Sox was not surprising. He will be a free agent at the end of the season, and conventional wisdom says that the Orioles couldn't expect much in value for him.

 
Baltimore got two 17-year-old Venezuelans playing in the Dominican summer leagues, outfielder Elio Prado and infielder Noelwarth Romero. Both are undoubtedly years away from making The Show if they ever come close to the majors.   

 

According to Dan Connolly, the diligent Oriole correspondent for "The Athletic" online subscription website, the Orioles are "collecting lottery tickets" as they go through the complete "rebuild" of their largely unproductive organization. 

 
My response to that explanation is:  Who is going to pitch for the rest of this season?

The once-heralded Dylan Bundy went on the injured list after he gave up seven runs in the first inning of his first post-All Star Game start.  His knee was hurting during his warmup, but he didn't tell anybody until after he got shelled. 

 
Rookie southpaw John Means, the Orioles' lone All-Star this season, got rocked by Tampa Bay in his first post-ASG start.  He can't be expected to carry a full load.

 
Couldn't the Orioles have gotten more for Cashner, 32, who is having a career year - 9-3 for a team that has only 28 wins?  I would hate to think that the hasty trade was made because they feared that he - like Bundy - could get injured before the July 31 trade deadline.

 
What pains me about the Cashner trade is that he wanted to stay in Baltimore. He was committed to the rebuild. The Orioles were his fifth major league organization and he was looking for a home, especially now with his wife expecting. 

 

He was a Cubs first round draft pick in 2008, signed out of TCU, the same program that produced former Oriole hurler now with Phllies Jake Arrieta and Cardinals corner infielder Matt Carpenter.  Ultimately Cashner was traded to the Padres in the Anthony Rizzo deal and later spent time with the Marlins and Rangers. 

 
Signed to a two-year contract before the 2018 season, Cashner became a leader of the Orioles, not just the pitchers. I think I'm a pretty good judge watching on TV of who is faking intensity and who isn't.  You could see that the bearded 6' 6" hurler cared about competing and winning. 

 
His passion reminded me a little of Pete Vuckovich, the Brewers right-hander who I vividly remember once competed so hard during a playoff game against the Yankees in the 1981 strike-marred season that he refused to leave the mound despite throwing up, evidently battling some kind of ailment.

 
There was another admirable aspect in Cashner's background.  Understanding his son's passion for baseball, Andrew's father built a diamond in the back yard of the family home in Texas for Andrew to practice on. 

 
Oriole manager Brandon Hyde was effusive in his praise of Cashner, wishing him well in Boston except when he pitched against the Orioles.  I enthusiastically second that sentiment as he makes his debut tonight (Tues July 16) at Fenway against the Blue Jays, another "rebuilding" team.

 
Oriole fans are now fearful that first baseman/right fielder Trey Mancini may be the next to go.  He is currently in the worst slump of his career, but he continues to play hard and welcomes the role of young veteran leader on an unproven team. The converted infielder Mychal Givens will probably be dealt to teams looking for bullpen help.

 
We lived through a wave of trades last year at this time: Manny Machado to the Dodgers (now doing fine with the Padres on his $300 million plus contract); Jonathan Schoop to the Brewers (now a regular contributor on the AL Central first-place Twins); Kevin Gausman and Brad Brach to the Braves (where Gausman has been injured and ineffective and Brach, now with the Cubs, is also struggling).   

 
There are glimmers of hope in improved Oriole minor league play at the Double A Bowie level and the lower minors at Delmarva (Low Class A) and Aberdeen (Short Season). But it will be maddening if the Orioles unload Mancini and Givens and other players and get so little in return as what they received for Cashner. 

 
The new regime can't be thinking that Hawaiian shirt and straw hat fedora giveaways will substitute for a real plan for the future, can they?  Don't want to answer that question!

 
At least, for fans of other teams, there is plenty of excitement and weeks of hope, however illusory, ahead.  By its very nature, baseball always surprises.  

 

For example, nothing was more astonishing than former Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud's three-homer game against the Yankees last night Monday July 15. His third dinger, a 9th inning blast off Aroldis Chapman, led the spunky Tampa Bay Rays to a 5-4 victory. It kept alive the Rays' flickering hopes of catching the Yankees in the AL East divisional race.

 

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT! 
Before I close this latest post, I want to urge you in the New York City area to see "Toni Stone," playing through Sunday August 11 at the Laura Pels Theatre (115 W 46th Street just west of Fifth Avenue). The comfy Pels is one of the theaters that is part of the Roundabout Theater group.

  

Rarely does a solid piece of historical research, Martha Ackmann's "Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone" (Lawrence Hill Books/Chicago Review Press, 2010), get transformed into exciting theatre. Thanks to Lydia R. Diamond's adaptation, "Toni Stone" succeeds in viscerally bringing to life the remarkable story of the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues. 

 
There is a bravura performance by longtime Off-Broadway luminary April Matthis in the title role. She is aided by a supporting cast of eight talented male actors playing a variety of roles. Kudos must also be given to the crisp direction of Pam McKinnon and the brilliant choreography by Camille A. Brown.

 
I was enthralled from the opening of the first act when Toni Stone delivers a monologue in praise of the wonder and drama of baseball. (The writing reminded me of Roger Angell's elegiac essay, "On The Ball," from a 1976 New Yorker magazine, anthologized in "Five Seasons"). 

 
As a black tomboy in segregated America, Toni Stone had a hard time gaining acceptance.  "People weren't ready for me," she told Martha Ackmann when belatedly - she died in 1996 - she was rediscovered in the last years of her life, living for decades as a nurse in the SF Bay area.  "I wasn't classified. I was a menace to society."

 
But what an exciting achieving life she led - good enough to replace Hank Aaron as second baseman on the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952 when he went into the Braves organization. A versatile woman athlete better than the legendary Babe Didrikson.  Good enough to play semi-pro baseball into her 60s in the Bay area. (Many thanks to Minnesota's great baseball historian Stew Thornley for his help in providing some additional details.)

 
It is a credit to Lydia Diamond's script that she has streamlined a lot of the stories in Toni Stone's life. She establishes a good dramatic flow without overburdening us with facts that could overwhelm the non-sports fan. Blessedly, the script rarely gets preachy.

 
My only quibble is in the misleading treatment of Gabby Street, the former major league catcher and World Series-winning manager, who befriended teenaged Toni when she enrolled in 1935 in his St. Paul, Minnesota baseball school.

 
A baseball traditionalist from the Deep South, best known as a member of the Washington Senators who once caught a baseball thrown from the Washington Monument, Street at first wanted nothing to do with Toni's desire for baseball instruction. 

 
She wouldn't accept no for an answer and ultimately Street realized that Toni's passion and talent were genuine.  For her 15th birthday he even gave her a pair of baseball spikes, a gift she always treasured.  So I felt it was a rare cheap shot for Toni in the play to say that Street was a member of the Klan. 


Despite this one jarring note, I still heartily recommend seeing "Toni Stone" at the Laura Pels Theatre through Aug. 11. The play moves to the Arena Theatre in DC in the fall and early next year in San Francisco.

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

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"Troubling Off-Season Trend Continues As Cubs Snag Yu Darvish At Reduced Rate"

I’m not the first person to note that in America 2018 the line between real headlines and satirical “Onion” headlines is very small. The headline in today’s post actually appeared this past weekend on Sports Illustrated’s si.com website.

Yu Darvish, the talented righthander from Japan who is partly of Iranian descent, has reportedly signed a 6-year $126 million contract with the Cubs. SI considers this amount a “reduced rate” for a pitcher with a history of injury who bombed out not once but twice in the World Series that the Dodgers lost last season to the Astros.

There are reports that three other big-name free agents - outfielder J.D.Martinez, pitcher Jake Arrieta, and first baseman Eric Hosmer all represented by super-agent Scott Boras - are thinking of sitting out some of the regular season - unless they get the years and the dollars they want, especially the years.

Hosmer, the defensively-solid line-drive hitting first sacker, is the youngest of the three at 28. San Diego reportedly wants him very badly, and reigning first baseman Will Myers is willing to move to left field to accommodate him. But Hosmer reportedly wants eight years instead of seven and a total amount of more than $160 million.

Boras, an avowed admirer of Marvin Miller (ignoring that Miller loathed agents that stressed the individual over the union), thinks there will always be an owner who will break down and want that "moose on the wall" and pay anything for it. He might yet be right.

How much is too much remains a good question. It is clear that the MLB Players Association has been outwitted by management in the five-year collective bargaining pact that still has three more years to run.

But it is just silly and petulant for some agents and players to threaten to boycott spring training. Maybe the eloquent but inexperienced Tony Clark needs more legal help at the MLBPA offices. But bad deals happen all the time in business and you live with it, fellas. Even at the "reduced rate" of tens of millions.

The key to building consistent contending teams remains a good organization that is constantly replenishing the system with high ceiling talent under control for at least a few years. A lot easier said, I know, than done.

BEFORE I LEAVE TODAY HERE’S A REPORT FROM THE THEATER:
Michael A. Jones’s play “The Black Babe Ruth” about Negro league legendary slugger Josh Gibson (played by Dave Roberts) is well worth a trip to the Theater for the New City in east Greenwich Village - 1st Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets.

Gibson's relationship with Satchel Paige (Daniel Danielson) is well conveyed. Kudos to the guitar and vocal work of Perci Prince that provides the glue connecting the scenes.

You have eight more chances to see this well-acted and crafted play through Sun Feb 25. Th-Sa at 8p, Su at 3p.

I was thrilled to be part of a panel after the Sun Feb 11 matinee that discussed the Negro leagues and baseball integration. With fellow SABR members Ralph Carhart and Phil Ross and playwright Jones, we covered a wide range of topics about baseball in segregated times.

I was glad to give homage to the pre-Jackie Robinson pioneers, among them Moses Fleetwood Walker, who briefly broke the color line in 1887, and Rube Foster organizer of first Negro league after World War I. Thanks to good work by moderator Janelle Lester, the producer of "The Black Babe Ruth," we got great contributions from the audience.

On the big topic of why there are fewer AfAms playing baseball today, the consensus was football and basketball, esp. the rise of Michael Jordan, has eclipsed baseball among the young people. Actress Daphne Danielle lamented that in her home state of Alabama there are many well-maintained baseball fields that are barely used.

I cross fingers that the increasing awareness of football’s physical dangers might provide an inroad for baseball. But it needs the kind of leadership that baseball scout John Tumminia has shown with his "Baseball Miracles" project bringing clinics to the underprivileged at home and overseas.

Check out baseballmiracles.org More on that remarkable development next time.

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