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When The Marathon Becomes A Sprint + Homage to Don Welke (1942-2018)

As I have said many times, all any baseball fan should ever ask for is to play meaningful games in September. That hope was long dashed this season (and probably for many future seasons) in Oriole land and for too many other teams this year. (Sure hope we are not seeing the rise of a permanent baseball underclass.)

For those teams still in the hunt, there is nothing like the agony and ecstasy of baseball in late September. When the number of games is reduced to just a handful, the pressure and tension can be excruciating. In a rare unqualified statement about baseball, it says here that the teams that win have the players who can stay intense without being tense.

The five teams in the American League playoffs are already set. The Red Sox and Indians have clinched their divisions, the defending World Series champion Astros will likely clinch the AL West this week (if not at lowly Toronto, then definitely at very lowly Baltimore).

The only dramatic question in the AL is whether the Oakland A’s or the Yankees will host the wild card game on Wednesday October 3. Most likely it will be the Yanks because they have to lose three games out of their last six and the A’s must win all of their remaining five for the wild card game to be played in Oakland.

The National League is far more intriguing. Only the Atlanta Braves have clinched a division title so have no worries about an elimination game. The Cubs are stumbling a bit but still lead the Brewers by two games in lost column. The soaring Dodgers only lead the Rockies by one lost game.

The Cardinals, under once-interim now-permanent manager Mike Shildt, are the most threatened with the most difficult schedule. Last night (M Sep 24) they threw away a key rain-interrupted game to the Brewers. They lost 6-4 with the eventual winning run scoring on an ill-advised errant throw to first base by pitcher Bud Norris that allowed the tie-breaking run to score from third.

Kinda ironic that erratic former Oriole Norris is subject of St Louis boo-birds because supposedly he was nicknamed Bud as a three-year-old because he liked to sip Budweiser!

I love the story of Shildt, a baseball lifer from Charlotte, North Carolina who grew up in the 1970s when the Orioles had their Double-A team in Charlotte. He was a jack-of-all-trades - ballboy, gofer, clubhouse attendant, you name it.

He is the rare MLB manager that never played pro ball. But he has imbibed the Cardinal Way that started with Branch Rickey and continued by George Kissell, Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, and so many more.

The Redbirds will have to play better defense if they want to make the playoffs. And gulp! after two more with the Brewers at home, they end the season with three at Wrigley Field. Though not yet a lock, it seems the Cardinals and Rockies will fight for the second wild card with Colorado hosting the Phillies and Nationals at home.

I want to conclude this post with a fond remembrance of the late Don Welke. One of the great scouts of our era, Welke died in San Diego on Wed Sep 19 just a few days shy of his 76th birthday. He was still scouting for the Padres at the time of his death.

Starting out as an associate scout with the Cincinnati Reds in the 1960s (as the future Big Red Machine was being formulated), Welke enjoyed a career that spanned major contributions with the expansion Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays and later the Orioles, Texas Rangers, and lastly the Padres.

During Pat Gillick’s induction speech at the Hall of Fame earlier this decade, he singled out Welke (and Bob Engle) for special commendation. It was Welke’s scouting that brought first baseman John Olerud and pitcher Pat Hentgen to Toronto. He also tried valiantly to sign Jim Abbott but the remarkable one-armed pitcher opted for the U of Michigan instead.

Welke became a world traveler in his later years and did a lot of international scouting. He was part of the staff for the gold medal-winning American baseball team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Welke’s roots were in the Midwest. His early career almost reads like a traveler’s guide to that region. He liked to call himself a Harvard man, that is, a graduate of Harvard HS in Illinois.

He attended and graduated from Carthage College in Wisconsin but never played pro baseball. Instead he started a career in coaching and education as a graduate assistant at Eastern Michigan U in Ypsilanti. From 1970-75 he was the coach at Concordia College in Ann Arbor.

I had the good fortune to meet Don on a few occasions. I have an especially warm memory of his appearance on a panel that I moderated on scouting for the annual NINE Baseball Magazine conference in Phoenix.

He wasn't an advocate of analytics and its new terminology - low-key wit and pithy perception were his trademarks. “I always look for the player who makes the game look easy,” he once said, knowing of course that the game is never easy.

In a 2015 interview for Fox TV Sports that I accessed this morning via Google, Welke compared scouting to playing in one key way: you have to possess “the ability to be better than the next guy . . . and . . . have the courage to be risky some times.”

Welke is survived by three sons. He will be sorely missed. At least in the age of the internet we have everlasting access to his wit and wisdom.

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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A Farewell To Marty Adler + Late August Baseball Thoughts

It came as a shock to me last week when word came on Facebook that Marty Adler had died suddenly of a stroke at the age of 76. He was not a household name in the world of baseball fandom but he sure touched the lives of people who knew him.

A retired junior high school principal from Brooklyn, Marty Adler singlehandedly created a Brooklyn Dodger Hall of Fame to preserve the legacy of the team of his youth. His passion was the primary reason why IS 320 was named in 1977 after Jackie Robinson. The building bordered where the third base stands of Ebbets Field, destroyed by a wrecker’s ball in 1960, once stood.

I met Marty when I hosted “Seventh Inning Stretch” on WBAI- Pacifica Radio during the 1980s. He knew his Brooklyn Dodger history intimately as only a real fan could. He praised Bruce Edwards as an under-appreciated catcher on the 1947 Dodgers during Robinson’s rookie season. He was tireless in promoting Gil Hodges for Cooperstown, a cause still not completed. It was Marty who years later pointed out to me that the hustling Dodger in a photo in the Brooklyn Cyclones gallery was shortstop Charley Gelbert - (I had only known of Gelbert as a St. Louis Cardinal whose career was cut short by a hunting accident.)

For almost every year from the early 1980s through the mid-1990s Marty organized ceremonies at “Welcome Back to Brooklyn” Day in Prospect Park. Adler also planned many dinners to honor returning Dodger heroes and some of their rivals.

At one of these events Bobby Thomson even apologized for causing so much pain to Brooklynites. (I’m not one of those who believes in the overhyped story that Thomson knew what pitch was coming from Ralph Branca on 10/3/1951, but that is a discussion for another time.)

Marty was responsible for two of my favorite stories. The first must have happened in 1985 when my sciatica first flared up and I limped over to Brooklyn to interview the year’s honorees. Mickey Owen, the catcher known for missing third strike in the 1941 World Series, was one of the returning heroes. He was still quite an athlete, intent on becoming the oldest ever to run marathons. There I was decades his junior hobbling around with my tape recorder while he offered exercise advice on strengthening the muscles around my back.

The second story is about Marty pointing out to one of his young sons the housing project on the hallowed ground of Ebbets Field.
“The Dodgers once played there,” he said.
“Yeah, Dad?” came the reply. “What floor?”

There was a wonderful outpouring of emotion for Marty Adler at the packed funeral in Woodbury, Long Island on Tuesday August 13th. Never have I heard such laughter amidst the tears.

I hope the memory of a kind, honest, sports-loving, and sports-participating man is bringing consolation to his wife and childhood sweetheart Linda, their two sons and the grandchildren he doted on. The family suggests that donations in his name can be given to the Sloan-Kettering hospital in Manhattan.

**How hot have the LA Dodgers been? Until they lost on Sunday Aug 18 and Monday Aug 19 they had not lost back-to-back games all summer. They seem to have a secure lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

**Superscout Don Welke, a special assistant these days for the Texas Rangers, observed recently that he used to think assessing prospects was a 75:25::talent:makeup proposition.
Now he feels it is more like 55:45. Not surprising given how publicized the world of baseball is these days. The need for having a stable makeup and a solid work ethic is greater than ever.

That’s all for now. As I feared the Orioles’ playoff chances are slipping away but there is still some faint hope among the true believers that they can start the kind of winning streak they really haven’t enjoyed all year. "Love is blind," I guess.

No words of wisdom on the A-Rod/A-Roid controversy. Except let the hearings play out and remember that the evidence against him was purchased from a source who will not come to arbitration or court with clean hands.

Remember even more that nothing can kill baseball – though many owners, players and pundits continually try to do it.

And most of all, always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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