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John Means Finds Ways & Introducing YIBBA + TCM Tips

For those of us who get irritated if not downright incensed by the prevalence of new-fangled statistics in baseball today - launch angles, exit velocities, spin rates - the game itself still nourishes us.  

 

John Means' no-hitter against the Mariners last week is a case in point. Oriole fans like yours truly are looking for any rays of light these days. 

 

Means' 113-pitch gem against the Mariners last Wed afternoon May 5 sure provided it.  It was not a fluke even if the Mariners are not a good offensive team. 

 

Means has been pitching very well since the end of last season.  But he had never gone beyond the seventh inning in his career or thrown more than 101 pitches.  He even said after the game that getting into the eighth inning was a big thrill. 

 

Means makes his first start against the resurgent Mets at CitiField this coming Tues May 11.  I'll be there with an in-person report next time around.

 

Am crossing fingers that Means doesn't think he has to pitch a gem every time out.  So boo to Oriole broadcaster Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, the last Bird to throw a no-hitter back in 1969.

 

Palmer has been talking too much about how Means' life will be changed and he'll know that anytime he's out on the mound he can do it again.

 

Happily, Means seems like a refreshingly grounded young man. Raised in Olathe, Kansas near Kansas City, he was an eleventh-round draft choice out of West Viriginia U. He never expected this kind of success but I think he can handle it with firm humility.

 

Everything he has said publicly indicates he knows baseball is a game by game, batter by batter, and pitch by pitch operation.  Never get caught up in the big picture of the forest or else the trees will crash around you. 

 

Tyler Kepner had a lovely lede in discussing Means' achievement in the Friday May 7 New York Times. "Throwing a no-hitter, one could say, is like lassoing the moon."        

 

The thought stayed with me when watching "The Right Stuff" on TV on Saturday night.

"Punch a hole in the sky!" Barbara Hershey tells Sam Shepard just before he goes out to break the sound barrier.  

 

Hershey was playing the wife of Chuck Yaeger, played by Shepard. The film holds up well - Philip Kaufman's 1983 adaptation of Tom Wolfe's classic book about the first bunch of astronauts. Clips of Bill Dana as Jose Jiminez, the first Hispanic astronaut, are shown from Ed Sullivan's show.  

 

(I remember Dana from the Steve Allen Show. "What are you going to do in outer space all by yourself?"

"I plan to cry a lot.")

 

Tyler Kepner is on a roll.  When Albert Pujols was suddenly released by the Angels last week, he remembered what Pujols told him four years ago:  "You don't retire. The game retires you."

 

He is at least 41 years old and a shadow of his former self. I realize it is very hard for an athlete to admit when it is time to hang up one's spikes. But how many more record-breaking GIDPs does Pujols need to get the message?  

 

I also wish Miguel Cabrera of the lowly Tigers would also decide to retire. He seems likely to fall short of his goal of 3000 hits, being 124 shy after the rainout on May 9.

 

Unfortunately, neither Angels owner Arte Moreno nor Detroit's Ilitch family worked out a deal where each player could have retired gracefully by the end of the year. And feted for their undoubtedly Hall of Fame careers.

 

Meanwhile, the Yankees have righted their ship with improved starting pitching and just enough hitting.  They are two over .500 after games of May 9.  

 

For those wondering how their longtime starter Masahiro Tanaka is doing in Japan, he pitched seven innings in his latest effort even if it was a loss. Tanaka is back pitching for the Rakuten Eagles, his first pro team that he joined as a teenager before he signed with the Yankees in 2014.  

 

The last stats I saw had his record at 2-2 with 3 walks, 20 strikeouts and a 3.00 ERA. Amazingly, he is not yet 34 so he obviously feels he has a lot more left in the tank.  

 

Jun Ogawa, a devoted fan and student of Japanese baseball, reported the news to me about Tanaka's last outing.  You will hear more from Jun in the weeks ahead.  

 

While working in the computer field in LA in the late 20th century, Jun became a devoted fan of the Dodgers. Like most Dodger followers, he is concerned about their current slump.

 

They started 13-2 but astonishingly, the defending world champions have not won back-to-back games since Apr 16-17.  They are barely above .500 as I post.

 

Blake Treinen is currently the only reliable reliver. The loss of young phenom Dustin May to TJ surgery and the extended absence of former MVP Cody Bellinger have not helped. The Dodger individual offensive stats don't look bad but the elixir of winning has certainly been missing.

 

Still a long way to go and no team is running away with anything anywhere in this MLB season. So sit back and enjoy the unpredictable drama of baseball.  So I say YIBBA (Yours In Baseball Before Analytics).  

.  

A follower of YIBBA believes that starting pitchers should want to go deep into games - it doesn't have to be a possible no-hitter for a pitcher to expect to reach the 100-pitch mark.  Why not make 120 the outer edge?  Why not enforce penalties against pitchers and hitters who dawdle before each pitch?

 

What is today doesn't have to be tomorrow. So I say loud and clear, YIBBA, YIBBA, YIBBA!

 

Before I go, what would be this blog without a few TCM reminders:

M May 10 10p Norma Shearer in "Marie Antoinette" 1938

 

W May 12 915a Katherine Hepburn documentary

 

Sa May 15 12N "The Set-Up" great boxing movie with Robert Ryan 1949

  8p "The Big Heat" 1953 Fritz Lang directs Glenn Ford-Gloria Grahame, odd allies fighting gangsters 

 12M The return of Noir Alley with "Touch of Evil" 1953 Orson Welles directs, stars w. Janet Leigh/Charlton Heston

 

Coming Tues May 18 8p "Fatso" 1980  Anne Bancroft directs and stars with Dom DeLuise in dieting spoof

 

Wed May 19 6p "They Live By Night" 1948  Nicholas Ray's gripping tale of young Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell on the run from the law

 

8p "Judgment at Nuremberg" 1961  Stanley Kramer's 3-hour drama with Spencer Tracy/Richard Widmark/Marlene Dietrich

 

Th May 20 8:15a  "Fireman's Ball" 1967 one of Milos Forman's last films before he fled Czechosloakia

  930a "Operation Madball" 1957 with Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs

 

Fri May 21 1030p Samuel Fuller's "Crimson Kimono" 1959 with James Shigeta/Victoria Shaw

 

And always remember:  Take it easy but take it!   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First 2019 YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever) Blog

“I can imagine a world without baseball, but can’t imagine wanting to live in one.”
The late great sportswriter Leonard Koppett expressed that spot-on feeling in 2002 a year before he died. (Quoted by his son David in the posthumous edition of “Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball," p478.)

In less than a month the greatest words in the English language will ring true again: “The pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training.” Yet I must admit as an Orioles fan I am not too excited. It’s unlikely that a team that lost 115 games in 2018 and has no recognizable strength at any position will improve significantly.

Yes, there is new management that is drenched in the analytic “advanced metric” side of the game. And I have never dismissed out of hand new information about our wonderfully confounding and complicated yet sweet and simple game of baseball.

But I also adamantly believe that you must never lose sight of character issues and aspects of the game that cannot be quantified. So I'll wait and see what happens with the new breed of "decision science" brainiacs led by new gm Mike Elias, a former Yale pitcher, and his right-hand man Sig Megdal (pronounced May-dell), a former NASA specialist who worked on, among other things, models to enhance astronaut sleeping habits.

As I write in mid-January, there are still no new teams for the marquee free agents in this year’s class, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, both only 26. Many in the establishment sports media are wailing about the broken free agency system.

In fact, I think the issue rests more in a player agent rivalry as much as in a broken system. Dan Lozano represents Machado, the same agent that conned Angels owner Arte Moreno into a 10-year deal with now-fading Albert Pujols.

Harper, who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated 10 years ago as a 16-year-old and his ego has soared since, is in the stable of Scott Boras. Boras' professed hero is Marvin Miller, the Players Association leader who was always confident some owner would break down and give what the player(s) wanted.

In 2019, however, it is light years from the heyday of Miller and his unheralded chief counsel Dick Moss who shepherded players through legal thickets to free agency.
Players now are far richer and perhaps sated, and managements are getting smarter.

After seeing Machado and Harper play for six years with their former teams (the Orioles and Dodgers for Manny, the Nationals for Bryce), it is clear that while both are great numbers producers, they are not the kind of leaders that make everyone on the team better.

If owners and managements are getting more careful about committing multi-million dollars in long term contracts, I am not complaining. As always, though, it is hard to side with the fat cat owners against players whose skills are extremely perishable.

So with well over a hundred serviceable veterans still unsigned, I hope it isn’t like last year when the Players Association had to hastily put together a spring training base in Florida for those still without contracts.

Turning to another big off-field subject, the Hall of Fame will announce next week the results of the regular voting for the Cooperstown class of 2019. Mariano Rivera will be virtually a unanimous choice.

Three other candidates have strong cases. Former stellar Oriole and Yankee RHP Mike Mussina compiled a 270-153 record with a 3.68 ERA. His walk-strikeout ratio was a superb mere 785 BBs and 2813 K's. His WHIP (combining walks and hits per inning) was an outstanding 1.192.

Even better stats were accumulated by the late outstanding RHP Roy Halladay who lost his life in his private plane accident in 2017. With the Blue Jays and Phillies, Halladay went 203-105, 3.38 ERA, WHIP 1.178, and an impressive BB/K ratio of 592/2117.

The case for the outstanding Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez is also strong but perhaps not as strong because his injuries confined him to a DH role for most of his career. He hit .312 for a career, very impressive in the age of multiple relievers. Slugging average of .309 with 2247 hits, 309 HRs and 2161. Also over his career he drew more walks 1283 than strikeouts 1202.

His stats to me are more favorable than Harold Baines were and Baines was elected
to the shrine last month in a vote by a special Veterans Committee. The former White Sox-Ranger-Oriole hit .289, slugged .465 with 384 HRs and 1628 in a 20-year career, much of it like Edgar M. limited to the DH role because of injury. He also had a negative BB/SO ratio of 1062/1441.

When eligible in the regular vote of the writers, Baines didn't receive even ten per cent of any vote. With his former White Sox manager Tony LaRussa on the veterans committee, it is hard not to see favoritism in his selection. (Longtime closer Lee Smith was also voted in last month, a less controversial choice but not one that I would have chosen.)

Baines' election brought back memories of decades ago when the affable genuine Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch openly and successfully lobbied for several of his former Giant and Cardinal teammates to get selected to Cooperstown.

A Hall of Fame should be for the truly great not the merely good or very good. But since selections almost always are turned into a popularity contest, there is not much that I can do about that.

Before I close, I am distressed to report that my alma mater college basketball teams, Columbia and Wisconsin, have hit hard times. The Badgers looked very good in the pre-Big Ten season, but they have lost their winning touch in league play.
Likely All-American fifth-year senior Ethan Happ can only do so much, especially since he has great trouble at the foul line and never shoots outside the paint.

Columbia lost its best player, gifted if erratic point guard Mike Smith, to a season-ending injury. Unlike the resurgent football team under coach Al Bagnoli that produced a winning season despite multiple injuries, basketball has not yet learned how to win.

Yet the cage season is not even half-over so I try to believe in change for the better, and, of course, I always root, root, root for my team.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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