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Three Cheers for Justin Verlander's Third No-Hitter, Two Boos for His Recent Boorish Behavior

There is no doubt that the Houston Astros ace pitcher Justin Verlander is one of the great moundsmen of our era.  He proved it again on the first afternoon of September by no-hitting the Toronto Blue Jays, 2-0, in a dramatic game at Toronto in which the only runs were scored on a two-run ninth-inning homer by the rarely used first baseman  Abraham Toro. 


Verlander was exuberant after the game as well he should have been.  His second no-hitter was also pitched at Toronto in 2011 when he was still a member of the Detroit Tigers.  In a post-game on-field interview he said he was glad that his former Tigers teammate Don Kelly, now the Astros first base coach, could be there.


Unfortunately, to me some of the glow of Verlander becoming only the sixth pitcher in MLB history to throw three no-hitters is dimmed because he has recently acted very boorishly.  When the Tigers in a rare 2019 victory beat him on a ninth-inning home run, JV threw a Trumpian fit after the game.  He wanted Detroit beat writer Anthony Fenech thrown out of the clubhouse.  Evidently he didn't like something Fenech had written. 


In a subsequent start, JV got thrown out of the game by the plate umpire for profanity.  He thought the ump had missed a call on a pitch. When his next pitch got ripped for a double into an outfield gap, he blew his stack at the ump.  The score at the time was 9-0 Houston. 



I thought Verlander understood some of the basics of how to behave on the field. I have a pleasant memory of a Memorial Day at Yankee Stadium a couple of seasons ago when JV tipped his cap to booing Yankee fans after he shut down the Yanks down for almost seven innings.  


I also remember vividly after Verlander got knocked out of a playoff game in Baltimore in 2014 - the last season that the Orioles seemed a legitimate contender - someone in the crowd held up a big sign:  KATE UPTON IS HOT; VERLANDER IS NOT.  (For those not in the celebrity sports cycle, supermodel Upton is now the wife of JV.)  


I have never bought the line that athletes should be "role models".  At best they should be seen as "craft models" that work their butts to attain excellence.  The great ones sustain excellence by continuing to work their butts off. 


Yet since athletes are more than ever constantly present in the public eye, there should be a code of minimally decent behavior.  I sure hope JV doesn't sink below this standard again.  


At a much more tragic level, it is now clear what I had long suspected.  An autopsy of the late Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, 27, found dead in a Texas hotel in early July has shown that he died of a fatal combination of alcohol, opioids, and fentanyl, a drug of a far greater potency than heroin.  


I think of all the players who wore Skaggs' #45 on their caps and uniforms.  Ditto the gesture of players three years ago, displaying the #16 of the late Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez who died in a Miami boating accident that took the lives of two of his friends.


Please, players and fans.  Think of your departed heroes as craft models not role models. And never forget:  "There is no wealth but life." 


Back next time with I hope less tragedy on the agenda, and a look at the playoff scrums in both leagues with the Yankees and Dodgers clearly pennant favorites but hardly shoo-ins.



Always remember:  Take it easy but take it.  

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"You Can't Take The Wiffle Ball Out Of The Game" and Other Tips for Surviving This Season From A Beleaguered Orioles Fan

Tip #1  Always keep the TV clicker nearby. If Orioles fall behind early - as too often they do with that woeful pitching staff - there are other games to watch. And movies on TCM and loads of good reading. 

Here's one book recommendation:  David Maraniss, A GOOD AMERICAN FAMILY: THE RED SCARE AND MY FATHER (Simon and Schuster, 2019)  Maraniss is the biographer of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Vince Lombardi as well as the author of THEY MARCHED INTO SUNLIGHT, the story of one month, October 1967, in the war in Vietnam and the anti-war demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin. 


His new book in understated effective prose tells the story of his father Elliott Maraniss's travails at the hands of the House UnAmerican Activities Commiteee (HUAC) after World War II.  Anyone who grew up in Brooklyn in the 1930s and is a University of Michigan Wolverine will want to read this book.


Maybe there is not enough about the happier, latter years of Elliott's career as an editor of Madison's insurgent newspaper the "Capital Times".  Or more detail on his love of sports, a man who ghost-wrote columns for Olympic sprinter Eddie Tolan (father of future major leaguer Bobby Tolan who incidentally almost tested the reserve clause before Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith did - see my book THE IMPERFECT DIAMOND). 


Or more on a baseball-loving father who took his young sons to the airport in Cleveland to welcome home the Indians after they won the 1954 American League pennant.  Yet I say that this recounting of how a "premature anti-fascist" and World War II army captain became victimized by Cold War hysteria offers absorbing and essential reading. 

Tip #2 - Take pleasure in little glimmers of hope your beleaguered team now and then provide.  Like the Saturday night August 17th debut of Hunter Harvey, a former Baltimore #1 draft pick who has been marred by injuries in the first years of his minor league career. 

Harvey threw a scoreless 8th inning with two strikeouts in a 4-0 loss to the Bosox.

Here's to a healthy and long career for the son of former Angels closer Bryan Harvey who drove through the night from North Carolina with Hunter's girl friend to be there for his son's MLB debut.

Tip #3: Enjoy the variety of stories that make every season interesting and different. 

For example, a long piece by Tim Kurkjian to commemorate the August 12, 1994 strike that led to cancellation of the World Series elicited some interesting comments from two first basemen who lived through it:   

Minnesota's Kent Hrbek was to retire at end of that season.  When the August 12 strike dragged on to the sad cancellation a month later by commissioner Bud Selig, Hrbek took the cup from his athletic supporter and nailed it to a wall in his house where it still stands.

(Speaking of Selig, his memoir FOR THE GOOD OF THE GAME is worth reading for the viewpoint of a small market owner who rose to be commissioner. More in the next blog.) 

Atlanta's Fred McGriff made this interesting observation to Kurkijian: the abuses of PEDs were caused by allowing players to bring their personal trainers into clubhouses.

For those of you who save your Sports Illustrateds, the double issue in late July/early August with Serena Williams on the cover contained some memorable baseball stories.  Emma Baccellieri's "Stuck in the Mud" about the Delaware River mud still used by umpires to rub the gloss off new baseballs is a keeper.

So is her piece "The Atlantic League" about the independent league that with the full backing of MLB is trying innovations to speed up the game and heighten offense. Last week I saw the Long Island Ducks rout the York Revolution at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip.

The cozy ballpark that seats over 7,000 does not show its nearly 18-year old age. (Although they need more screens to protect fans from foul balls.)  There were a few early glitches in the TrackMan electronic umpire giving info to the plate umpire.  (Don't dare call it a robot.)

My big problem with the technology is that there is no adjustment to the strike zone during an at-bat.  If you watch good hitters, they don't always take the same position at the plate even within an AB. 

Once again, common sense should dictate the encouragement of better umpiring not falling prey to blind belief in the Great God Technology.  If you see replays over and over again, I remain impressed at how good most of the umpires are at calling balls and strikes. Please let's remember the old age, "It's better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong."

Tom Verducci deserves a kudo for his story in the same SI double issue, "The Last of the .400 Hitters".  They were two minor leaguers, Aaron Pointer who did have a cup of coffee with the expansion Houston Colt 45's and is the brother of the famed rhythm and blues Pointer Sisters, and Darryl Brinkley who never was drafted or made The Show.

Yet New Yorker Darryl Brinkley who starred at Sacred Heart U. in Fairfield CT in the late 1980s persevered to become a productive minor leaguer and Caribbean League Hall of Famer.  Only the failure to obtain transportation in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 kept him from making the Orioles in Sept. 2011.

Let me close with some great words from coach Mike Roberts who earlier this month won the Cape Cod Baseball League championship for the third time in his storied career.   In the glow of the victory of his Cotuit Kettleers over the Wareham Gatemen, Roberts, the former North Carolina and South Carolina head coach and father of former Orioles All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts, told 


"You've got to love the backyard first and that's where it happens. . . . You can't the take the wiffle ball out of the game."   

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

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