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Pre-Thanksgiving Hot Stove League Thoughts

It has been a long time since I posted. So let’s see what major events happened between September and mid-November.

**Our President was re-elected convincingly in the electoral college and by over three million popular votes, a smaller margin than 2008 but still impressive given the hateful racially-tinged barrage he faced from Republicans from the very day he took office in 2009.

I say: Godspeed to Barack Obama as he tries to spearhead the continuing revival of our economy. And in so doing makes our surly easily angered public understand that we are blessed with more personal freedom than probably any people in the world. And that it would be a good idea to share the wealth and opportunity more equitably.

**Where I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan not far from my alma mater Columbia, we were spared the worst of Hurricane Sandy. But it was heart-breaking to read and watch TV and hear stories of personal friends who lost homes and remained without power and heat for more than two weeks after Sandy landed.

Just like Bill Clinton after the Oklahoma City massacre in 1995 President Obama showed genuine compassion for the victims. It certainly didn’t hurt his re-election chances when he toured the stricken sites on the Jersey shore in the company of New Jersey Republican governor CHRIS CHRISTIE. It also provided probably a lasting image for Christie to draw on as he possibly contemplates his own run for the Presidency in 2016.

So now onto baseball.

I remain grateful that I had a season to follow raptly and often rapturously as my Orioles made the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

Among the highlights of a season that saw them reverse 2011’s 69-93 record was a 18 inning mid-September win in Seattle. I stayed up until 4am to watch on the MLB Extra Innings Package ADAM JONES come through with the big hit and virtually automatic closer JIM JOHNSON notch the save (I also stayed up on Election Night until 2am to hear Obama’s victory speech – the least I could do.)

**I never expected the Orioles to catch the Yankees for the AL East division crown because they had 10 chances to pass them in September and early October and never could close the deal. But they did make the playoffs even though they had to go on the road to beat the fading Rangers in the first-ever Winner-Take-All battle of the two wild cards.
The NL Wild Card game will always be remembered for the infield fly rule call that was probably not an infield fly. It cost the Braves a chance to move on to the Division Series.

I have long said: DO AWAY WITH SIX UMPIRES IN PLAYOFF GAMES. Even the best umps have little experience with that configuration. They are used to four-man crews and keep it that way. Or if you must have the extra two umpires, station them at the foul poles as they do in Japan. Let them call home runs fair or foul like back judges under the goalposts in football. But let the third and first base umps have their regular duties down the outfield lines.

**Back to my Orioles. A key Baltimore win was delivered on the next-to-last day of the regular season by totally unheralded righthander MIGUEL GONZALEZ who wasn’t even in spring training for the Orioles. The former Mexican League hurler beat Tampa Bay’s JAMES SHIELDS 1-0 on a humongous 4th inning home run by CHRIS DAVIS.

Though Davis strikes out an enormous number of times, he was a key performer throughout the year and deserves a chance to play every day in 2013. Whether that means giving Davis the first base job over possible free-agent-to-be MARK REYNOLDS will be a big decision for Baltimore brass in the off-season. Reynolds turned out to be a remarkably effective defensive first baseman once he was switched from third. But can they put in with his declining offensive production?

**I attended the third game of the American League Division Series against the Yankees that saw Miguel Gonzalez again pitch brilliantly. He left with a 2-1 lead after seven innings. But Jim Johnson gave up a solo HR in the bottom of the 9th to 40-year-old RAUL IBANEZ pinch-hitting for the struggling ALEX RODRIGUEZ. As if that magic weren’t enough for the Yankees Ibanez won the game in the bottom of the 12th with a leadoff home run off BRIAN MATUSZ the failed starter-turned-lights out-reliever.

To Jim Johnson’s credit he saved the fourth game and only an overpowering complete game performance by the Yankees’ southpaw CC SABATHIA in the deciding fifth game kept the Orioles from advancing further.

**With the marvelous view from 20/20 hindsight it is clear that the Orioles softened up the Yankees for the Tigers to sweep them in the American League Championship Series. But because baseball can be so dramatic and yet so unpredictable, the Tigers were then swept by the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.

**So 2012 came to an anti-climatic end. But as a former New York Giant fan I was happy to see the Giants win their second World Series in three years. And there is talk that like in 2010 the Giants will bring their World Series trophy to their former home to celebrate anew their title. Will send out a special post if that happens.

**That so many ex-Yankee front office people and coaches worked for the Giants made the victory even sweeter for those of us who cannot abide the Yankee outrageous sense of entitlement.

Here is just a partial list of ex-Yankee Giant personnel:
General manager BRIAN SABEAN;
Player development honcho and former reliever on 1977-78 Yankees DICK TIDROW;
Pitching coach DAVE RIGHETTI
First base coach ROBERTO KELLY who Yankee fans can take solace in realizing that his trade to Cincinnati brought the Yankees the invaluable right fielder Paul O’Neill; And last but not least hitting coach and multi-lingual Latin American recruiter HENSLEY MEULENS, a native of Curacao.

**Shortstop JJHARDY won his first Gold Glove for his consistent play at the key position. Catcher MATT WIETERS and center fielder ADAM JONES also won their second Gold Gloves. From the earliest days of baseball building defensive strength up the middle has been a key to success. And it was nice to see the Orioles get credit for their resurgence by having honors awarded to Hardy, Wieters and Jones.

Of the three Jones was probably the least deserving because he still had lapses in the field. Though the awards were given based only on regular season play, I must note that Jones misjudged in Game 3 of the Division Series against the Yankees DEREK JETER’s fly ball and played it into a triple that tied the game at 1 before RAUL IBANEZ’s home run heroics snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the 9th and 12th innings. But there is no doubt that Jones has improved his game in all aspects.

That’s all for now, dear readers. But back to you before the end of the year with more thoughts on the upcoming season including the Toronto Blue Jays’ huge trade with the Florida Marlins that at minimal immediate cost netted them shortstop JOSE REYES and two premium pitchers (at least at one time) MARK BUEHRLE and JOSH JOHNSON.

For now on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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