instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

April May Be The Cruelest Month But Don't Tell That To The Mariners, Rays, and Plucky Ivy League Nines

There is an old Russian proverb about illusions that heal and illusions that kill.  We have seen too many of the latter in our public life these days from the top down.

 

For baseball fans, there is nothing like a good start to a season to bring hope, however illusory. When I started this post, the Orioles - unanimously picked for last place in 2019 - had won two series on the road, in Toronto and New York. 

 
Improbable dreams of flirting with .500 at least through the spring danced through my head. The Yankees, who have lately treated the cozy confines of Camden Yards like batting practice, quickly dispelled that illusion with a three-game sweep.   

 
Two games were winnable by the O's but there is no reliable arm on the pitching staff, either starter or reliever.  "Without pitching you have nuttin'!" Sparky Anderson once wisely said.

 
Not that the Oriole offense is potent with the media now swooping down on the record-breaking futility of first baseman Chris Davis. He hasn't had a hit since last September but is still bound to the club with four more years left on his seven-year $161 million contract. 

 

He occasionally lines the ball hard to the outfield but they are only outs.  Then he relapses into his alarming pattern of striking out, both looking and swinging. 


Enough of these somber tones. Let me praise for now the surprise team of 2019 so far, the Seattle Mariners off to a 12-2 start including its opening two victories in Japan over the Oakland A's.   

 
They are scoring runs in bunches with uber-streaky shortstop Tim Beckham blasting homers and outfielder Mitch Haniger determined to prove that his excellent 2018 season was not a mirage.  I do wonder if they will have the pitching and defense - are you listening Tim Beckham? - to hold off the defending AL West champion Houston Astros who just swept the Yankees at home and are riding a six-game winning streak.  


The rise of the Tampa Bay Rays to the early AL East lead is not really a surprise. They won 90 games last year and their home-grown players are beginning to mature.  They made a great trade with Pittsburgh to obtain outfielder Austin Meadows and starter Tyler Glasnow - both have contributed mightily to the Rays' fast start. 

 

Alas, no one expects the exciting product on the field to improve home attendance. Rays management is so resigned to the lack of support at Tropicana Field, its indoor mausoleum in St. Petersburg, that the upper deck will be closed.

 

The Rays are following in the footsteps of the Oakland A's, a 97-game winner in 2018 that also sealed off the upper deck because of weak attendance.  New stadiums are nowhere in sight for either franchise, and I wonder if even new facilities will boost attendance.

 
Speaking of lack of fan support, college baseball in the Northeast is usually played in front of friends and family.  That doesn't mean the competition isn't high quality and fiercely contested. 

 
Last weekend, the Penn Quakers and Dartmouth Big Green played a historic 21-inning game in Hanover that set NCAA records for ABs and plate appearances.  Penn won 21-15 and went on to become the first team in 2019 to sweep a three-game series.

 
The Ivy League pennant race is building to a roaring climax in the next four weekends.  Defending champion Columbia, Harvard, and Penn are tied at 6-3 with Yale just a game behind.

 
Hard to beat the drama of the Yale-Harvard series in Cambridge last week.  Harvard pulled off a dramatic comeback by rallying with 9 runs in bottom of the 9th to stun the Bulldogs 10-8 in the first game. Senior slugger Patrick McColl capped the rally with a grand slam.

 

The comeback was so reminiscent of the Crimson's amazing late inning rally last May against Dartmouth that erased a 8-run deficit and enabled Columbia to make the post-season playoff against Yale. (In the 8-team league, the first two finishers qualify for a best-of-three championship series.)

 
Facing a sweep this past Sunday, Yale rallied with 3 in the 9th to salvage one game in the weekend series. Columbia also got stunned by a Princeton 6-run bottom of 8th rally but the Lions rebounded by winning a rubber match 2-1 squeaker between southpaw Ben Wereski with Jim Smiley getting the save. 

 

This weekend Yale hosts Columbia in a big three-game series - a rematch of last year's championship series swept by the Lions. Lots of scouts will attend the likely first game matchup of aces Josh Simpson (Columbia) and Scott Politz (Yale).  

 
More on this and other sizzling events on many levels of baseball next time. Finally weather seems to be getting as warm as the competition.

 
For now always remember: Take it easy but take it.

 

Be the first to comment

Thoughts As We Approach Memorial Day

Thoughts As We Approach Memorial Day

I began posting this entry while listening to an old-fashioned two-for-the-price-of-one doubleheader on the radio. Alas, John Sterling’s self-absorbed droning and I fear his fading eyesight made his play-by-play unreliable and so I switched to TV.

Ah for the good old days when you could turn down an annoying TV announcer
and listen to the radio. That's not possible any more as the TV broadcast is several seconds ahead of the radio feed.

It was a make-up twinbill with the red-hot Indians leading the Yanks 1-0 after 6 innings. Cleveland's ace JUSTIN MASTERSON completed a 1-0 shutout but the Yanks won the second game 7-0 behind a rookie southpaw VIDAL NUNO.

Both teams are surprising the pundits in the early going. In fact, at 10 games over .500 as games started on May 13 (and ended on May 17), the Yankees were leading the American League East. Solid starting pitching and the presence of Mariano Rivera at the back of the bullpen has enabled the Yankees to withstand the losses of the superstars (in salary anyway) of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson. Granderson is back now and perhaps Teixeira within the next month though Lyle Overbay has proven a very worthy replacement.

Cleveland’s pitching will be suspect throughout the year but reclamation project Scott Kazmir has begun to pitch well and so has Yankee retread Zach McAllister. And the Indians will hit with budding star catcher Carlos Santana (no relation to the guitarist), second baseman Jason Kipnis (a member of the Jewish tribe), shortstop Asdubral Cabrera and center fielder Michael Bourn, the expensive free agent pickup, providing some hope up the middle. Former Yankee Nick Swisher and former Oriole Mark Reynolds add to a potent lineup.

Vidal Nuno has been recalled by the Yankees since Andy Pettitte went on the dl again with an upper back injury. But the Yankees continue to win with VERNON WELLS providing a lot of pop in left field and he is still a good defensive outfielder. Players who can perform on both sides of the ball remain very valuable commodities.

I will have a lot more to report early next month. Am delivering a talk on "The Glory Years of the Baltimore Orioles 1960-1983" on Wednesday afternoon May 29 at the opening session of the 20th Annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture.
I never miss an opportunity to go to the Brigadoon called Cooperstown about 200 NW of NYC and 75 miles west of Albany. And I never miss a chance to talk about the Orioles the team I fell in love with when I lived in Baltimore in the early 1970s.

I've stayed with them through all the ups and downs of the last 40 years. The 2013 edition has some serious starting pitching issues that will have to be straightened for them to contend again. But it is consoling to know that with Buck Showalter managing and Dan Duquette as the general manager there are steady knowledgeable men at the helm.

The AL East as forecast will be one wild ride all year and might as well as sit back and enjoy it while of course agonizing from time to time.

For me May 2013 will go down as Cooperstown Month. I attended the opening of the "Diamond Mines" exhibit at the Hall of Fame on the first weekend in May. It was a special evening with tears flowing from so many on hand to see scouts honored at baseball's central shrine.

Hall of Famer Pat Gillick spoke eloquently as always about the vital role that baseball's talent hunters have played in constantly bringing new blood into the game. One of baseball's most devoted octogenarians Roland Hemond, who has been working in baseball since the 1950s, was equally moving in his praise of scouts. As was Roberta Mazur, director of the Scout of the Year Foundation who since the mid-1980s has been working to see scouts honored in Cooperstown.

"Diamond Mines" will return at least two years and hopefully will become permanent with its artifacts of stop watches, radar guns, and most intriguingly, scouting reports on at least 12,000 players provided by at least 300 scouts.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!  Read More 
Be the first to comment