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Thoughts on Winter Meetings, Hall of Fame Selections, and Doug Jones' Greatest Save

Though more and more it seems to me that these meetings are like a Made for TV event without much action, the Yankees certainly stole the show with the one-sided trade for the Marlins’ slugger Giancarlo Stanton.

Derek Jeter has certainly gotten off to a rocky start as the face of the Marlins, a team saddled with debt and a new stadium that doesn't draw fans. Why should they come because they've seen stars from their past 1997 and 2003 World Series winners sold off and in Stanton's eight years as a Marlin the team never experienced a .500 season.

Jeter didn't even attend the Orlando meetings. He was spotted in a luxury box at Monday night's Dolphins-Patriots game. It is a shame that commissioner Rob Manfred worked overtime to arrange the sale of the Miami franchise to Jeter and the real money man Bruce Sherman, a hedge fund executive whose last enterprise was buying and then selling or disbanding newspapers.

As an Orioles fan realizing that the glow of the Showalter-Duquette revival years starting in 2012 ended with a thud in 2017, there is foreboding that the trades of third baseman Manny Machado and star closer Zach Britton might be inevitable. Both can walk at the end of 2018 and so can manager Showalter and gm Dan Duquette and team leader and genuine Baltimore community presence center fielder Adam Jones.

It is doubtful that Machado can be signed to a long-term contract that could reach the $300 million level. Even in his off-year of 2017, he hit .259 with 33 HRs and 95 RBI along with his usual string of defensive highlights at third base.

He is represented by Dan Lozano of the Beverly Hills Sports Council who represents Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson also eligible for free agency after 2018.
A few years ago Lozano got Angels owner Arte Moreno to give Albert Pujols that lavish 10-year contract.

Since California needs a third baseman it wouldn’t surprise me if the Angels get into the bidding for Machado or Donaldson. Machado supposedly would like to play shortstop, his original position, but the Angels are set at short with the gifted Curacao native Andrelton Simmons.

The White Sox’s incumbent shortstop Tim Anderson is not an All-Star and the Chicagoans are supposedly seriously interested in Machado. But they won't part with the blue chip pitching prospects Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech the Orioles covet.

With the trade of Chase Headley back to the Padres, the Yankees have a hole at third base. Yankee fans have dreamed of getting Machado (and the Nationals Bryce Harper also eligible for free agency after 2018). But would the Orioles trade within the division?

They did it in 1976 on the dawn of free agency after the historic Messersmith-McNally arbitration decision. (See the opening chapter in my first book, “The Imperfect Diamond.”) The Yankee farm system is deep but whether they would aid the Orioles as they did in 1976 trading future Oriole stalwarts pitchers Scott McGregor and Tippy Martinez and catcher Rick Dempsey for pitchers Doyle Alexander and Ken Holtzman and catcher Elrod Hendricks seems doubtful to me.

Southpaw Zach Britton had a record-breaking almost perfect 2016 regular season but injuries marred his 2017 campaign. How long can he continue to throw his magnificent bowling ball-like 95 mph sinker? That is the big question for evaluators.

It might make sense for the O’s to keep Britton through at least the July 31 trading deadline. Machado may be beyond the Oriole budgetary capacity and could be gone before spring training.

My suggestion is that the O's should re-up Adam Jones as soon as possible. He is a genuine fan favorite and respected member of the Baltimore community. His center field defense may have slipped a little but offensively he has been quite consistent. He’ll strike out a lot but he’ll also produce consistent numbers in the 20-plus HR and 80-plus RBI category.

While they are at it, the O's should extend Jonathan Schoop who had a breakout year at second base. Another Curacao native, Schoop might take the home team discount because he has been with the organization since he was 16.

More baseball news of note recently has been the election by a Hall of Fame veterans committee of two Tigers stalwarts, shortstop Alan Trammell and bulldog starting pitcher Jack Morris. Trammell was the model of consistency in the field and at the plate.

One of the greatest tributes he ever received came from Oriole manager Earl Weaver. When Cal Ripken Jr. moved from third base to shortstop early in his career, Weaver’s simple advice to him was “watch Trammell.”

Jack Morris won 254 games in his career, mainly with the Tigers where he was a key part of their 1984 World Series winners that went wire-to-wire after a 35-5 start to the regular season. I will never forget the enormous bear hug exchanged between Morris and catcher Lance Parrish after Morris's no-hitter that same magical year of 1984.

Maybe Morris is most remembered for his 1-0 10-inning shutout for the Twins over the Braves and John Smoltz in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

The regular election to the Hall of Fame will be announced in late January with the Braves’ switch-hitting third baseman Chipper Jones considered a shoo-in during his first year of eligibility. Slugger Jim Thome with his-600 plus career HRs and no taint of steroid use has a chance on his first try, and Vladimir Guerrero who came close last year might get the call as well.

The Ford Frick media award will go to Bob Costas who has served baseball with dignity and class for over four decades. Originally from the New York City area, Costas received his degree from Syracuse University’s powerhouse communications department and then St. Louis became his adopted home.

I love the story that when Costas first went to Stan Musial’s restaurant he left a tip of $3.31 in honor of Musial’s career batting average. That Musial wound up his career with 3630 hits, 1815 at home and 1815 on the road, has always been to me the gold standard for that elusive thing called consistency.

One political note of promise occurred on Tuesday Dec 12 when Democrat Doug Jones won the Alabama US Senate race against the alleged child predator and unrepentant Neanderthal Roy Moore. I like to think that Jones’s narrow triumph will go down in the history of our currently beleaguered republic as a Save far more valuable than the estimable reliever Doug Jones’s 303 career saves in his major league career from 1986-2000.

While I wait for spring training, basketball does involve me somewhat. Columbia’s men’s basketball record is 1-9 but they are young and are playing reasonably close games. Ditto for Wisconsin’s 5-7 record and 1-1 in Big Ten. As Tug McGraw said, “Ya gotta believe,” right?

So always remember: Take it easy but take it!  Read More 
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More Adventures In Grass Roots Baseball + Homage to Don Baylor and Gene Bennett

With the Orioles seemingly headed for a mediocre finish to a disappointing season,
I have found several other ways to stoke my baseball passion.

Yesterday - a blissfully warm but not too humid Sunday afternoon August 20th - I made my second trip to the Staten Island Yankees this season.

With a five game lead over the second place Aberdeen Ironbirds the Oriole New York-Penn League farm club, the Yankees are headed for the post-Labor Day playoffs. But yesterday the Lowell Spinners, a Red Sox farm, tamed them 3-1.

The first home runs of the year by Spinners catcher Nick Sciortino from Barrington, New Jersey were more than enough for Denyi Reyes to improve his record to 7-0 with six strong innings of relief. Reyes also set a franchise record with 24-plus scoreless frames. Staten Island righty Daniel Alvarez took the loss despite striking out 10 Spinners.

The game lasted just an amazing two hours and thirteen minutes. Perhaps it was the crisp and efficient work of plate umpire Jennifer Pawol who really kept the game moving. The only woman umpire currently in pro baseball definitely bears watching as a comer.

What a difference from the regular three and a half hour marathons that are marring major league baseball games this season. THE MULTIPLE VISITS OF CATCHERS TO THE MOUND IN EVERY HALF-INNING MUST STOP. If Commissioner Rob Manfred really wants to speed up “the pace of play,” curbing the catchers’ mound journeys is the obvious place to start.

It’s a shame that attendance is so poor in Staten Island. It is rare when the customers total over a thousand in the impressive 7,000 seat stadium overlooking New York harbor and just a short walk from the Staten Island ferry (which by the way is free!).

There are multiple explanations for the lack of attendance: Ticket prices higher than most minor league stadiums; reduction in food services; massive construction going on in the area for future hotels and outlet stores; several ownership changes in recent years.

But the product on the field remains good - unlike the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets New York-Penn League team, that is having a historically bad season. Attendance in Coney Island is down by more than half but still far more than the Staten Island Yankees.

Earlier last week I enjoyed the final days of the PONY League championships in Washington, Penna. just 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. The 14-and-under tournament has been going on since the early 1950s and the ballpark dedicated to PONY's first commissioner Lew Hays is a gem.

When PONY started locally in 1951 it stood for Protect Our Neighborhood Youth. But the idea caught on nationally and internationally of having a league for players who were too old for Little League but not ready for Babe Ruth League on adult diamonds.

PONY soon changed its acronym to mean Protect Our Nation's Youth. Its first president was baseball-loving comedian Joe E. Brown who served effectively from 1953 to 1964.

Brown, whose baseball films from the 1930s especially his favorite "Elmer the Great" are now available on DVD, provided a motto for PONY when he said, "Teach them to play by the rules and they will live by the rules."

Future major leaguers who played in the PONY tournament range from Jim Abbott to Robin Yount, the Alomar family to Mookie and Willie Wilson, the Bonds family to Darrell Strawberry and Jim Thome, and on and on.

The 2017 champions came from Covina, California - located just a few miles east of Los Angeles. They won the title with a thrilling 3-1 extra-inning victory over Seoul, Korea.

The heroes for Covina were pitcher James Jimenez who threw seven strong innings and blasted a two-run homer in the top of the 8th off a light pole to provide the margin of victory. Catcher and leadoff hitter Hector Bautista forced the game into extras by a two-strike two-out seeing-eye single in the top of the seventh.

The game was televised on local cable which meant the half-inning delays were almost as long as the tiresome hiatuses that afflict MLB. Seoul’s manager was also thrown out of the game for arguing balls and strikes causing a delay of more than five minutes.

Nothing could spoil the beauty of the event, however. A real slice of late summer Americana nestled in so-called “Little” Washington, Pa. Lew Hays Stadium is only a few miles from PONY League headquarters in Washington, that adjoins the home park of the Washington Wild Things in the independent Frontier League.

And for those who can't get enough of baseball, next to the independent ballpark is the college home park of the Washington and Jefferson Presidents. There was no independent game going on last week and college ball is restricted to the spring. It was still a thrill to be surrounded by actual baseball and imagined baseball of the future.

I must conclude though on a sad note. More vital baseball people were lost to the great beyond recently. I am referring to the departure of eminent player-manager-coach Don Baylor, 68, and renowned scout Gene Bennett, 89.

Baylor fought quietly and valiantly a long battle against multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. He was the 1979 American League MVP for the California Angels AL West champions that lost the ALCS to Baylor's first team the Orioles. He never wanted to leave Baltimore and wept when told of the trade that saw Reggie Jackson leave Oakland for Baltimore before the start of the 1976 season.

Like his teammate in Baltimore Lee May, who I eulogized in the last blog, Baylor was far more than his impressive numbers: 18-year-career, .267 BA, .436 SA, 2135 H, 338 HR, 1236R 1286 RBI.

He served as a DH in three consecutive World Series, losing with 1986 Red Sox and 1988 Athletics and winning with the Twins in 1987, going 5 for 13 in that seven-game thriller. He was also the first manager of the expansion Colorado Rockies and served many teams as a valuable batting coach.

A native of Austin, Texas, Baylor integrated his elementary school and thought about playing football for the local Texas Longhorns before wisely choosing baseball. He was an active member of the Players Association and a key contributor to many charities including the Cystic Fibrosis Association. He will be missed very much.

So will the longtime Cincinnati Reds scout Gene Bennett who was a bulwark of the only organization he ever worked for. Raised in Branch Rickey's Scioto County in southern Ohio on the Kentucky border, Bennett's minor league career as an outfielder was curtailed by injury.

Offered a chance to manage or scout for the Reds, he took the advice of his mentor
Rickey: "Choose scouting over managing!" Baseball's wise man stressed to Bennett that as a scout you can find almost every season someone to help the organization, but if you are a manager and are given a bad team, you can be fired.

Among the prizes Bennett found for the Reds were southpaw Don Gullett, Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, right fielder Paul O'Neill, and third baseman Chris Sabo. Bennett was very active in the Wheelersburg Little League which now bears his name.

He will never be forgotten in Scioto County. I am pretty certain that the annual January Portsmouth Murals banquet will be dedicated to him this coming year.

That's all this time - but always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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