icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Reflections on Following Playoff Baseball When Your Team Is No Longer In The Hunt

I was disappointed but not really surprised when the Orioles were swept out of the playoffs by the suddenly red-hot Texas Rangers who swept Tampa Bay Rays in two-game wild-card series.  Baltimore ended the regular season in a team-wide hitting slump with the possible exception of Adley Rutschman. 

 

And wouldn't you know it! Rutschman got only 1 hit against the Rangers and was outplayed by Texas catcher Jonah Heim, a former Oriole farmhand and fellow All-Star.  Adley also couldn't guide young pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer out of the second inning in their ineffective starts in the second and final games.   

 

I know it is a stretch to blame a catcher for a pitcher's inability to put batters away. But there were two instances when the games were still close that Texas batters kept fouling off pitches, obviously frustrating the hurlers.  Couldn't Adley have visited the mound to suggest some other pitches or at least console them?   

 

This is probably too picky. With Oriole bats largely silent, probably nothing could have changed the outcome. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Adley during the season. He has yet to play two full seasons in the majors and Rookie of the Year candidate Gunnar Henderson was in his first full season.

 

I believe they will be core members of a good team. Whether the Orioles become a great team remains to be seen. Spring training 2024 will be very important as the Birds try to figure out how to integrate top prospect Jackson Holliday, not yet 20, into the infield perhaps moving Gunnar permanently to third base. Also late-developing Joey Ortiz might find a utility role somewhere. 

 

EVERY SEASON IS DIFFERENT is one of the few accurate generalizations about baseball. The Birds have 16 players eligible for arbitration and one key Oriole, switch-hitting outfielder Anthony Santander, is eligible for free agency after 2024. 

  

Extending Santander would be one of my priorities if I had any influence.  He is in his prime, not even 30, is durable, and has been with the team the longest, a Rule 5 pick who played 6 years in the minors for Cleveland after they signed him as a Venezuelan teenager. 

 

He is an effective switch-hitter and an improving defensive outfielder.  He also can handle first base at least competently. In the last series of the regular season, he alertly threw out a Red Sox runner trying to go from first to third when couldn't scoop the ball cleanly on a double play throw.

 

I know there are a lot of outfielders and infielders on the farm waiting for their chance.  But I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping veterans who have been through the grind of a long season and who obviously love to play. 

 

Which is why I wouldn't be hasty in letting Kyle Gibson go.  He pitched very well in September, unlike 2022 when he faded out with the Phillies though he

did make their post-season roster. As I discussed in an earlier blog, Gibson talks about the art of pitching like a venerable schoolmaster, something the very young staff benefited from. He also led the AL with 24 double plays created + 1 in his brief but effective appearance in the final playoff game. 

 

Having no team in the hunt in baseball's "Final Four," I'm only rooting for good games with plenty of action and not over-reliance on home runs and

strikeouts. I guess because they are relatively new to the party, Texas and Arizona might be a nice World Series matchup.

 

If third baseman Josh Jung had not missed a few weeks with a hand injury, he certainly would be in the running for the ROY award that Henderson will probably win.  Jung is an impressive player on both sides of the ball.  Brooks Robinson was his idol and when Brooks found that out, he befriended him

and sent him all kinds of baseball goodies. (As I mentioned in my last post, there will always be more heartwarming stories about Brooks Robinson.)  

 

Arizona also has a very impressive rookie, outfielder Corbin Carroll who grew up a Seattle Mariners fan and used to watch Ichiro from upper deck left field seats and still idolizes him. With one early swing, Carroll's 430-foot HR off Brewers ace Corbin Burnes turned around Game 1 of the wild card series for Arizona and the Diamondbacks carried that momentum into sweeping the Dodgers as well. 

  

I wouldn't have wanted a Dodger-Yankee rematch, but I can live with a Houston-Philadelphia rematch if fate so decrees. Houston has reached the ALCS for the 7th year in a row, the last 4 under Dusty Baker who was not around when the Astros were caught in the high tech and low tech sign-stealing scandal. (PBS aired a valuable Frontline documentary on October 3 about this scandal with reportage by Ben Reiter, former Sports Illustrated reporter and author of a glowing book ASTROBALL but he has now reconsidered and even repented.  More on this subject in later blogs.) 

  

Stopping Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez will be a key for the Rangers and the Phillies if they beat Arizona (I am happy to mention Alvarez because I misspelled his first name in a recent blog).  Houston also has a feel-good story in the return of smooth-swinging Michael Brantley after injuries that cost him almost two seasons.  

 

It should be noted that Philadelphia, if they dispense with Arizona, will have home-field advantage against Houston but not against Texas who will be playing in a closed new stadium. The raucous Philadelphia crowd and the team's potent offense will be ready for anything, of that I am sure. Since Arizona won only 84 games and the other 3 finished with 90 wins, Arizona will always start on the road and finish on the road if their series run long.

 

One other item of interest for this young octogenarian is the age of the managers.  Torey Lovullo is the baby of the group at 58 = he grew up in LA, a show biz kid whose father produced TV's "Hee Haw" among other shows.   Then we have Canadian-born Rob Thomson, 60, who was Joe Girardi's trusted coach in both New York and Philadelphia before he replaced Girardi in late May 2022. 

 

Bruce Bochy, back from his 3-year retirement and previously winner of three World Series rings with the Giants, is 68, and venerable Johnnie "Dusty" Baker, Jr. checks in at 74.  Their matchup will be fascinating to watch. They prove that retirement is overrated.     

    

That's all for now - take it easy but take it, and stay positive test negative. I am happy to report I am on the mend from my mild Covid positive but

I intend to keep on masking in indoor settings.      

1 Comments
Post a comment

"Drunk On Analytics? Sober Up!" and Other Thoughts On Baseball and The Arts - Mid-June edition

I've never been a master of the sound bite. I did come up with "It's a big book about a big man" to describe my 600-page Branch Rickey biography. 

 

i surprised myself at the beginning of June when, as the trailer for the 1951 comedy-fantasy "Angels in the Outfield" was being loaded into a DVD player for my talk about that movie at the annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, I blurted the above advice to those drunk on analytics, Sober Up! 

 

I went on to mention that when Branch Rickey was once asked how much of baseball he really knew, he replied, "No more than 55%." Yet baseball now is overwhelmed with Ivy League and elite business school grads who think their new-fangled statistics will provide answers for baseball's eternal imponderables. 

 

Too often these young guns dismiss the opinions of eyes and ears scouts with a lot more experience. 

I've often wondered how Branch Rickey - who died almost poetically in December 1965 not long after giving a speech on "Courage--Physical and Spiritual" - would have responded to the wave of high-powered technicians who have taken over virtually every franchise. 

 

He would have loved new information I am sure of that, but he also would have warned about relying too much on data and forgetting that the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life.

 

One of the things I learned in researching "Angels in the Outfield" was Rickey's role during his first year as Pirates president and general manager in bringing some of the filming to Forbes Field early in the 1951

season.  It was the honeymoon period for Rickey in Pittsburgh after losing the power struggle to Walter

O'Malley for control of the Brooklyn Dodgers after the 1950 season. 

 

With the encouragement of Rickey and talented producer-director Clarence Brown, Pittsburgh minority owner Bing Crosby was one of four people who made cameo appearances in "Angels," speculating on if angels could possibly help a team.  The other three were Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, and songwriter Harry Ruby.

 

With partner Bert Kalmar, Ruby wrote such immortal tunes as "Who's Sorry Now?", "A Kiss To Build A Dream On," and "Three Little Words," which was the title of the 1950 bio-pic starring Red Skelton as Ruby and Fred Astaire as Kalmar.  Ruby also wrote "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" for his good friend Groucho Marx, a song that appeared in the movie "Animal Crackers" and later was a theme song on Groucho's quiz show "You Bet Your Life".  

 

Yet Harry Ruby loved baseball more than anything on earth. Ruby was a so-so infielder who once actually gave up a movie gig to play in an exhibition game for the Washington Senators.  Albert von Tilzer, composer of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," was not a baseball fan and he signed his copy of the song "to Harry Ruby who should have written this song."

 

An autodidact who never finished high school in NYC, Ruby became an avid collector of original classic editions. it was said that his favorite evening would be spent reading the works of Thomas Aquinas and the latest edition of the Sporting News.   

 

**Among the highlights of the Cooperstown Symposium was a sweet tone-setting keynote speech by Tyler Kepner, New York Times national baseball writer. Like most of us, he fell in love early with the glass-enclosed bulletin board next to the Hall of Fame that always lists the results of the prior day's games. He added that the difficulties of reaching centrally isolated Cooperstown - 70 miles west of Albany - matches the difficulties of the game of baseball itself. 

 

**Lipscomb University profs from Nashville, Tenn. Willie Steele and Mark McGee, presented fascinating papers on the genuine baseball love of bluegrass legend Bill Monroe and country singer Conway Twitty, respectively.  Born Harold Lloyd Jenkins, Twitty was a star HS baseball player in Helena, Arkansas and had he not been drafted for the Korean War, he might have signed with the Phillies. 

 

**Judith Hiltner, co-author with Jim Walker of the outstanding Red Barber biography, gave an informative talk on the writings of the memorable broadcaster after he left the radio booth.  As early as 1969 he was calling for baseball to broaden its interest among women and the younger generation. 

 

**Chris Bell, English professor at U. of N. Georgia, explained how he used the terse and crisp text on the back of baseball cards as a tool for getting students to appreciate clear writing.  In an effort to demystify hallowed texts, he said that he also suggested edits to the awkward language of the Second Amendment!

 

Next year's Symposium will be held from May 29-31 at the Hall of Fame. For more info, contact either Cassidy Lent at clent@baseballhall.org or Professor Bill Simons at william.simons@oneonta.edu 

 

And now for news about the high school and college baseball playoffs. Congrats to the PSAL baeeball champions, Hunter winners over Metropolitan, 2-1 in the AA final, and Tottenville conquerors of Luperon, 7-4 in the AAA final. 

 

Both games were played on M June 12 at Yankee Stadium earlier than schedules because of threatening weather. 

 

The Final Eight is set for the College World Series starting in Omaha on F June 16. The winners of each

double-elimination bracket will square off in a best-of-three series June 24-26. 

 

For the first time in recent memory, there are two heavy favorites, #1 seed Wake Forest, seeking to match their only title of 1955, and perennial contender #2 Florida. But the Joaquin Andujar Rule applies to college baseball as well as pro baseball, Youneverknow!   All games to be televised on ESPN/ESPN+ with times listed as EDT.

Fri at 2p Oral Roberts vs. TCU followed at 7p Virginia vs. Florida

Sat at 2p Stanford vs. Wake Forest followed at 7p by Tennessee vs. LSU 

 

Before I close, here is a tip on an excellent play closing Su June 18 at the Manhattan Theater Club's home in the historic City Center on 55th St between 6-7 Aves in Manhattan.

Rajiv Joseph's absorbing and humorous two-character play "King James" set in Cleveland from 2008 through 2016 during the years of Lebron James' arrival/departure/return. 

 

Without ovedramatizing the black-white differences in the characters, playwright Joseph and director Kenny Leon drive home salient points but the love of basketball exudes throughout. Excellent performances by Chris Perfetti and Glenn Davis, the latter artistic director of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater where the play originated. 

 

Su Jun 18 Father's Day PBS Channel 13 and other areas of the country will get to see Ted Green's documentary, "The Best We've Got: The Carl Erskine Story".  Narrated by Charley Steiner, Long Island native and former Yankee/now Dodger broadcaster, this is must-see fare.

 

The first half is devoted to Carl's emergence as a Brooklyn Dodger pitcher and proud teammate of Jackie Robinson.  The second half is the story of Carl and Betty Erskine's devotion to their son Jimmy who was born with cognitive challenges.

 

Thanks to the efforts of the Erskines, both of whom are still with us, Jimmy and others have led full lives, competing in Special Olympics and holding down jobs. Indiana, once a state that lagged miserably in the area of support for the challenged, is now a national leader. 

 

That's all for now.  Always remember: Take it easy but take it,  and stay positive and test negative. 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

    

2 Comments
Post a comment