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First 2019 YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever) Blog

“I can imagine a world without baseball, but can’t imagine wanting to live in one.”
The late great sportswriter Leonard Koppett expressed that spot-on feeling in 2002 a year before he died. (Quoted by his son David in the posthumous edition of “Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball," p478.)

In less than a month the greatest words in the English language will ring true again: “The pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training.” Yet I must admit as an Orioles fan I am not too excited. It’s unlikely that a team that lost 115 games in 2018 and has no recognizable strength at any position will improve significantly.

Yes, there is new management that is drenched in the analytic “advanced metric” side of the game. And I have never dismissed out of hand new information about our wonderfully confounding and complicated yet sweet and simple game of baseball.

But I also adamantly believe that you must never lose sight of character issues and aspects of the game that cannot be quantified. So I'll wait and see what happens with the new breed of "decision science" brainiacs led by new gm Mike Elias, a former Yale pitcher, and his right-hand man Sig Megdal (pronounced May-dell), a former NASA specialist who worked on, among other things, models to enhance astronaut sleeping habits.

As I write in mid-January, there are still no new teams for the marquee free agents in this year’s class, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, both only 26. Many in the establishment sports media are wailing about the broken free agency system.

In fact, I think the issue rests more in a player agent rivalry as much as in a broken system. Dan Lozano represents Machado, the same agent that conned Angels owner Arte Moreno into a 10-year deal with now-fading Albert Pujols.

Harper, who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated 10 years ago as a 16-year-old and his ego has soared since, is in the stable of Scott Boras. Boras' professed hero is Marvin Miller, the Players Association leader who was always confident some owner would break down and give what the player(s) wanted.

In 2019, however, it is light years from the heyday of Miller and his unheralded chief counsel Dick Moss who shepherded players through legal thickets to free agency.
Players now are far richer and perhaps sated, and managements are getting smarter.

After seeing Machado and Harper play for six years with their former teams (the Orioles and Dodgers for Manny, the Nationals for Bryce), it is clear that while both are great numbers producers, they are not the kind of leaders that make everyone on the team better.

If owners and managements are getting more careful about committing multi-million dollars in long term contracts, I am not complaining. As always, though, it is hard to side with the fat cat owners against players whose skills are extremely perishable.

So with well over a hundred serviceable veterans still unsigned, I hope it isn’t like last year when the Players Association had to hastily put together a spring training base in Florida for those still without contracts.

Turning to another big off-field subject, the Hall of Fame will announce next week the results of the regular voting for the Cooperstown class of 2019. Mariano Rivera will be virtually a unanimous choice.

Three other candidates have strong cases. Former stellar Oriole and Yankee RHP Mike Mussina compiled a 270-153 record with a 3.68 ERA. His walk-strikeout ratio was a superb mere 785 BBs and 2813 K's. His WHIP (combining walks and hits per inning) was an outstanding 1.192.

Even better stats were accumulated by the late outstanding RHP Roy Halladay who lost his life in his private plane accident in 2017. With the Blue Jays and Phillies, Halladay went 203-105, 3.38 ERA, WHIP 1.178, and an impressive BB/K ratio of 592/2117.

The case for the outstanding Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez is also strong but perhaps not as strong because his injuries confined him to a DH role for most of his career. He hit .312 for a career, very impressive in the age of multiple relievers. Slugging average of .309 with 2247 hits, 309 HRs and 2161. Also over his career he drew more walks 1283 than strikeouts 1202.

His stats to me are more favorable than Harold Baines were and Baines was elected
to the shrine last month in a vote by a special Veterans Committee. The former White Sox-Ranger-Oriole hit .289, slugged .465 with 384 HRs and 1628 in a 20-year career, much of it like Edgar M. limited to the DH role because of injury. He also had a negative BB/SO ratio of 1062/1441.

When eligible in the regular vote of the writers, Baines didn't receive even ten per cent of any vote. With his former White Sox manager Tony LaRussa on the veterans committee, it is hard not to see favoritism in his selection. (Longtime closer Lee Smith was also voted in last month, a less controversial choice but not one that I would have chosen.)

Baines' election brought back memories of decades ago when the affable genuine Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch openly and successfully lobbied for several of his former Giant and Cardinal teammates to get selected to Cooperstown.

A Hall of Fame should be for the truly great not the merely good or very good. But since selections almost always are turned into a popularity contest, there is not much that I can do about that.

Before I close, I am distressed to report that my alma mater college basketball teams, Columbia and Wisconsin, have hit hard times. The Badgers looked very good in the pre-Big Ten season, but they have lost their winning touch in league play.
Likely All-American fifth-year senior Ethan Happ can only do so much, especially since he has great trouble at the foul line and never shoots outside the paint.

Columbia lost its best player, gifted if erratic point guard Mike Smith, to a season-ending injury. Unlike the resurgent football team under coach Al Bagnoli that produced a winning season despite multiple injuries, basketball has not yet learned how to win.

Yet the cage season is not even half-over so I try to believe in change for the better, and, of course, I always root, root, root for my team.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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Can The Dodgers Avenge Their 1916 Loss to Bosox? (updated)

One of the great things about baseball is more than any sport there is a living vibrant link to the past. Checking my old reliable Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia, I see that in early October 1916 the Red Sox beat the Dodgers in five games.

Babe Ruth was hitless in five at-bats but won game two, 2-1. He allowed only six hits, walked three and struck out four in a 14-inning complete game masterpiece. Ernie Shore won the first and last games and baseball's first Dutch Leonard won the fourth one.

Outfielders Harry Hooper and Duffy Lewis showed why they were a formidable regular season duo each hitting over .300 in the Series and future Hall of Famer Hooper led both teams with 6 runs scored.

Third baseman Larry Gardner only had 3 hits in the Series but two of them were homers, one of them a three-run job that won Game 4. Shortstop Everett Scott, another Bosox player who wound up with the Yankees in owner's Harry Frazee's fire seal deals, saved the first game win with a late game dramatic defensive robbery.

And let's not forget first baseman Dick Hoblitzell who did not contribute much offensively but has one of the great forgotten names in baseball history. The three games in Boston were played in Braves Field that had a larger capacity than Fenway Park. (A Boston-Milwaukee series would have delighted local historians because of the Hub town connection of each team but it was not to be.)

On the Brooklyn side, outfielder Casey Stengel tied for the team lead with 4 hits but produced only 2 runs. Jack Coombs won the only game for Brooklyn and would retire undefeated in Series action with a 5-0 record, the other four coming with Connie Mack's first Philadelphia A's dynasty.

The home run dominates the game in the 21st century and yet I firmly believe that pitching and defense still wins championship. Just look at LA Dodgers Game 7 win over the Brewers last night (Oct. 20).

Chris Taylor's sensational catch on Christian Yelich's two-strike screaming liner into the left center field alley preserved LA's precarious 2-1 lead. And let's not forget Manny Machado's remarkable 3-2 bunt that immediately preceded Cody Bellinger's game-changing two-run homer.

Little things still win baseball games. Appreciation of these nuances for me makes baseball the great game it is. I hope to live to see the day when the cutting comment, "Baseball is what this country used to be, football is what it has become," no longer is accurate.

As for the coming World Series, I like the Dodgers in six or seven. I think their starting pitching looks a little sharper than Boston's. Their bullpen too looks in better shape than Boston's, especially if closer Craig Kimbrel keeps near-imploding.
Winning the final game against Milwaukee on the road indoors has to also provide LA an amazing psychological boost.

The Dodgers accomplished what neither the Cardinals in 1987 or the Braves in 1991 could do in the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Silence screaming fans in a very hostile foreign environment. Whatever happens, let's hope they are good crisp games.

For five innings last night the drama of a game seven was priceless. Every pitch, every breath mattered. But when Yasiel Puig homered in the top of sixth off Jeremy Jeffress it was all over except for the countdown.

That's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it. And also remember to vote on November 6!
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