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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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Yankee-Red Sox London Slugfests Bring Back Memories of Phillies-Cubs 23-22 1979 Classic Re-Told In Kevin Cook's "Ten Innings At Wrigley"

I have my doubts that the two end-of-June slugfests the Yankees and Red Sox engaged in at London's Olympic Stadium will "grow the game" in Europe as both players and owners claim.  It was somewhat entertaining if you like lots of run-scoring and bizarre plays. 

 
My favorite moment was the amazing catch of a foul pop-up by Red Sox rookie first baseman Michael Chavis in the final game of the two-game series. He's not really a first baseman but injuries to regular Mitch Moreland and his capable sub Steve Pearce forced Chavis into an unfamiliar position.  

 
In a stadium built for track and field, now used for soccer and never for baseball, foul territory is huge. Far larger than either Oakland's cavernous Coliseum or Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  After not making a play on a similar foul on Saturday, Michael Chavis calculated the distance better on his second chance.  

 
Starting from between first and second, he raced into foul territory like a sprinter, slid, and made the catch with room to spare before he hit the wall. Yet I sure hope before the next series in 2020 between the Cubs and Cardinals, they somehow reduce the foul territory.  

 
Red Sox manager Alex Cora was very honest after the Yankees swept the games, 17-13 and 12-8.  "They are better than us right now," he said.  The Sox did show spunk by making games of each tussle, but their bullpen is in disarray. 

 
There is now talk of putting oft-injured starter Nathan Eovaldi in the closer's role when he returns. Yet I wouldn't count out the defending world champions from making a run, at least at the first wild card.  They still have the Four Killer B's in the heart of their lineup - Benintendi, Betts, Bogaerts, and Bradley Jr., all home-grown by the way. And I haven't even mentioned the big bopping Trump-supporting J. D. Martinez.

 

The six-run first-inning haymakers delivered by both teams in the 17-13 must have shocked the British locals used to seeing low-scoring soccer. In blessed baseball, nothing is new under the sun.  

 

To my mind the game brought back memories of the 23-22 10 inning game in May 1979 in which the Phillies scored 7 in the first only to see the Cubs respond with 6 of their own. Later in that game, Philly couldn't hold 15-6 and 21-9 leads and needed a Mike Schmidt 10th inning homer off future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter to give them the victory.   

 

Kevin Cook has brought that game back to life in "Ten Innings at Wrigley:  The Wildest Ballgame Ever, With Baseball At The Brink" (Henry Holt).  Cook, who recently authored the absorbing "Electric Baseball" about key characters in the 1947 Dodgers-Yankees World Series, is blessed with an almost pitch-perfect ear for pithy character revelations.  

 

Here is sportswriter John Schulian remembering  Cubs manager Herman Franks seated in his office "with his feet on his desk, eating chocolate donuts and smoking a cigar, ignoring questions."  There is Phillies manager Danny Ozark, the master of malapropisms, saying that an opening day ovation sent "a twinkle up my spine."

 

But when starting to feel the heat for failing to make the World Series with three straight playoff teams, Ozark branded Phillie fans as "the boo-birds of unhappiness."  To a player demanding more time on the field, Ozark scoffs, "His limitations are limitless."  


"Ten Innings" is a lively summer read, but what separates it from the usual light baseball reading are the sensitive stories of the players and their later lives.  Bill Buckner, who died just after the book came out, is remembered as a gritty ballplayer who played hard through nearly-crippling injuries. In a reflective moment before the start of the 1986 World Series, he even mentions a nightmare of missing a ball on defense.  

 
Dave Kingman, the other offensive power on the 1979 Cubs, is recalled as focused almost entirely on his home run output to the detriment of other aspects of his game.  He did draw many fans to Wrigley, prompting Cubs fan turned official team historian Ed Hartig to tell Cook, "He was bad in interesting ways."  Kingman's contempt for the press is well-described but he is now evidently living his life happily as a family man in Lake Tahoe. 

 

The most tragic story in "Ten Innings" centers on relief pitcher Donnie Moore who entered the game after starter Dennis Lamp was knocked out in the first inning.  (In one of the vivid details that permeate this fine read, Lamp's wife arrived late for the game and no one was eager to tell her what had happened.)  

 

Cook was able to interview Moore's daughter who provides many insights on the life of her talented tormented father who committed suicide in 1989 after failing to kill his wife. Observations from Moore's teammate and fellow moundsman Ray Burris are very moving, memories of happier times in Chicago 1979.    

 
That's all for now.  Next time I want to say a lot about the play "Toni Stone".  For now I just want to mention it is running through Aug. 11 at the Pels Theatre at 111 W 46th Street just west of Sixth Ave. in NYC.   The story of the first woman to play baseball in the Negro Leagues is extremely well-told, acted, and choreographed.  

 
Always remember:  Take it easy but take it! 

 

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