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"Rubber Chicken" Circuit Gets Off To A Rousing Start in Baltimore" (corrected version)

This is an unsettling time for pro baseball as well as the USA as a whole. The Houston Astros, losers to the Washington Nats in a thrilling World Series, are being investigated for systematic sign-stealing over the past and prior years.


The Astros also had to fire a rising star in their front office Brandon Taubman for his actions in harassing women reporters who had written about Houston's decision to trade for closer Roberto Asuna while he was serving a suspension for domestic abuse.

The powers-that-be in MLB also want to contract 42 minor league teams by 2021, shorten the amateur draft to 20 rounds, and postpone the draft until August. They evidently think that a "Dream League" of undrafted players can be established to serve as a substitute for the terminated farm clubs.

With all the uncertainly in baseball at a time of declining attendance and interminably long games, I find it always stimulating to be in the company of scouts.  So on November 16th I traveled to Baltimore for the 49th annual dinner of MASA, the Mid-Atlantic Scouts Association. 

The event was held at [Rick] Dempsey's restaurant in Camden Yards and I'm happy to report that it was no "rubber chicken" affair.  Kudos to the Delaware North catering group for an exceptionally fine buffet dinner that preceded the evening's award presentations.

MASA's president is veteran Blue Jays scout Tom Burns, a former high school coach at Bishop McDevitt in Harrisburg, Pa. In his opening remarks, Burns noted that four players from the Mid-Atlantic region will receive 2019 World Series championship rings from the Nats.   Their triumph has been widely hailed by veteran baseball people because the Nats are led by GM Mike Rizzo, himself a former scout and son of former scout Phil Rizzo.

** 1. First baseman Ryan Zimmerman is from Virginia Beach, VA and University of Virginia. Zimmerman is the longest tenured Nat, playing on its first team in 2005 after the Expos moved from Montreal. He was signed by MASA's secretary Alex Smith, now scouting for Brewers.

(BTW One of my all-time favorite player development stories is that Zimmerman, Mark Reynolds, David Wright and the Upton brothers, BJ and Justin, all played for the same youth team, and all started as high school shortstops.)   

** 2. Lefty reliever Sean Doolittle - one of the baseball players most concerned about issues of social justice - went to high school in Medford, NJ, then played at the U. of Virginia a little after Zimmerman.  The son of an Air Force veteran and distantly related to the heroic World War II flyer Jimmy Doolittle, Sean's return from injury solidified the Nats' previously maligned bullpen.

**3. Daniel Hudson, who closed Game 7 of the Series for the victorious Nats, is also from Virginia Beach and went to Old Dominion in Norfolk VA, alma mater of Game 7 loser Justin Verlander.  His return to effectiveness after TWO Tommy John operations was another heart-warming aspect of the Nats' nearly-miraculous come-from-behind victories in FIVE post-season games.

** 4. Reserve first baseman Matt Adams went to high school in Philipsburg, PA, and was a 23rd round draft pick of the Cardinals out of Slippery Rock U. north of Pittsburgh. 

Though none of these players attended the dinner, two other active players were given awards and came to receive them. Lou Trivino was cited for "Outstanding Achievement". The Oakland A's reliever went to Upper Bucks [County] Christian HS and Slippery Rock.


Pitcher Jack Kochanowitz won the Amateur Player of the Year award.  The third round pick of the California Angels went to Hamilton HS in Bryn Mawr, Pa. and started his pro career this past summer.

The award is given in memory of Nick Adenhart, the Angels pitcher who went to Williamsport HS in Maryland and turned down a baseball scholarship to the University of North Carolina to turn pro.  On the night that Nick won his first game in the majors in Anaheim in early April 2009, he was killed by a drunk driver.

Veteran DC broadcaster Phil Wood, the dinner's witty MC, recalled some wise advice he received from Dick Bosman, who he introduced to receive a "Career Achievement" award.
"Get out of the press box and sit with the scouts and you'll learn something," said Bosman.


Bosman is the former pitcher with the second Washington Senators/Texas Rangers, Indians, and A's and the recently-retired minor league coordinator for the Tampa Bay Rays. In 1974 he threw a no-hitter for Cleveland against Oakland.  The following year he replaced Catfish Hunter in the A's rotation (as Hunter on a techicality became a free agent and signed with the Yankees). 


He went 11-4 in 1975 and 4-2 in part of 1976.  But unfortunately, Bosman's work as a player rep in the pivotal first decade of the Players Association curtailed his active career.  More on Bosman's life and career can be found in his informative book DICK BOSMAN ON PITCHING with Ted Leavengood, published by Rowman and Littlefield.

MASA awards also went to Stuart Smothers, back with the Yankees though he won the honor "Crosschecker of the Year" for work for the Phillies.  Smothers provided the vivid detail that growing up in south central LA he would rush home from school to catch Dale Murphy's at-bats on the Braves' superstation TBS.

Scout of the Year was Paul Murphy now with the Dodgers after stints with the Orioles and Phillies. MASA also welcomed into its Hall of Fame Shawn Pender and Paul Faulk, both of whom have served the Reds.

Well, in this time of uncertainly and unease, it is time to wish one and all a Happy Thanksgiving.  Andas always, please remember to "Take it easy but take it!"

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"Pain and Glory" Sums Up Nats' Miraculous Season; It's Also A Great New Pedro Almodovar Film

"'Pain and Glory' might be a good title for a film on the MLB season that will likely end with Houston's come-from-behind triumph over the Washington Nationals in the World Series.  Momentum "waves" in baseball are amazing creations but they can vanish as quickly as they arise." 

That, dear readers, was the opening paragraph for an end-of-season summation I started after the Houston Astros limped into Washington for the middle three games of the World Series. They had lost the first two games at home to the red-hot Nats, winners of eight post-season games in a row and the outlook looked dim. 


Yet in baseball's marvelously unpredictable ways, it turned out that the Astros were alive and well.  And the Nats maybe tried too hard to bring the first World Series victory to Washington in nearly a century.  They scored only 3 runs total as the Astros swept three convincingly. 

Yet the staunch arms of Stephen Strasburg and ailing Max Scherzer carried the Nats to victory before stunned full houses in Houston expecting the Astros' second World Series win in three years. 


For the first time ever in the 115-year history of the World Series, the visiting team won every game.  Since the Series went a full seven, it is a record that will never be broken, only tied. 


The Nats are very deserving champions, coming from behind in each of the five elimination games they played - one against the Brewers in the Wild Card game, two against the Dodgers in the divisional series, and these last two in Houston.

I thought Will Harris, who gave up the lead-changing Game 7 home run to Howie "Grand Slam" Kendrick (Kendrick had knocked out the Dodgers with a grand slam in the divisional series), gave a very sportsmanlike quote after the game:  "I think I made a pretty good pitch.  He just made a championship play for a championship team." (Quoted by Ken Davidoff in the New York Post, October 31st.)

I jotted some other wonderful quotes during the intense month of October for those teams lucky to play that deeply into autumn.  Here are a couple more:

"The lights shine brighter, but you can't get blinded by them."  Tampa Bay Rays catcher Travis D'Arnaud on the atmosphere of October.  Travis never could quite put it together for the Mets but contributed significantly to the Rays' run that took the Astros to the final game of a five-game series.

"Those who can, evaluate; those who can't, measure." Nats gm Mike Rizzo defending his use of advance scouting by his staff of older veteran scouts and special assistants.  Quoted by Bob Nightengale in USA Today, October 24, 2019.


The high-tech-drenched front office of the Astros has done away with advanced scouting by human beings.  They think video and the latest developments in "advanced metrics" are an adequate substitute. Maybe they shouldn't be so sure of themselves. 


BTW according to the New York Post, the founder of sabrmetrics Bill James recently resigned from the Red Sox as they are refiguring their front office. He reportedly said he should have left two years ago.  


It is always a sad day when baseball leaves us and we must face winter alone.  But there's plenty of off-season news to keep us occupied.   If the 2019 season was a very rare one when no manager was fired, the axes have come down with a vengeance in October.

There will be at least eight new managers in 2020 with the Mets opening still very much in doubt. The former Met infielder Tim Bogar may be one of the finalists and from the little bit I have heard from people I respect, he would be my favorite.  He was the Nats' first base coach in this championship year and has worked for other organizations. 


But the former agent/turned Mets gm Brodie von Wagenen might be looking for a bigger name.   He let a so-called "big name" Joe Girardi slip away to the Phillies, but it says here that he won't regret it.  Girardi won his only championship with the 2009 Yankees, and his switch from number 27 to number 28 - for the next championship - never materialized. 

It is hard to believe that there won't be a changeover in Seattle.  With the NL pennant for the Nats, born the Montreal Expos in 1969, the Mariners are now the only one of the 30 MLB franchises that has never been in a World Series.


But there have been no rumors of a change in Seattle.  How long can a team peddle the memories of now-retired Ichiro Suzuki and quickly-fading "King Felix" Hernandez to its fans?

Before I conclude this Halloween evening post, I corrected one of my many cultural shortcomings by seeing my first Pedro Almodovar movie last week.  His cinematic reverie "Pain and Glory" about the creative block of a film director/writer played by the marvelous Antonio Banderas is highly recommended.

Madrid and its environs comes alive in this film as Mexico City did in last year's Oscar-winning film "Roma".   Both begin with opening water scenes that immediately draw one into the artist's malleable world.  An original music score by Alberto Iglesias provides an alluring background touches to the film.

In addition to Banderas's absorbing performance, the gorgeous and talented Penelope Cruz shines in flashbacks as Banderas's mother. Julieta Serrano, who frequently is cast in Almodovar's films, adds a somber quality as his mother as an older woman; Asier Flores is charming as Banderas's precocious character as a boy, and Asier Exteandria adds proper melodramatic flair to his role as an actor who has long feuded with Banderas but loves the chance to play in roles created by his friend/adversary. 

This film is not "in wide release," as they say, but is certainly worth a jaunt down to the Angelika Film Center on Houston and Mercer Streets on the Soho-Greenwich Village border.

That's all for now.  Without baseball life will be less rewarding but I'll be around trying to take in as much of the sporting, musical, and movie culutre of my "home town".  In the meantime, always remember:  Take it easy but take it!    


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