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Three Cheers for Dusty Baker & Patrick Mahomes + Farewell Phil Rizzo & A Don't Miss "La Traviata" (with corrections)

At a tumultuous time in American history, when such phrases as "the rule of law" seem so antiquated to men in power, it is nice to see that every now and then in the world of sports, good things happen to good people.  Dusty Baker's return to the managerial fold as Houston Astros manager and QB Patrick Mahomes's MVP performance in Kansas City's Super Bowl victory qualify for me as unquestionable good news items.

It will be most interesting to see how Baker leads the Astros after their off-season of disgrace. Both Houston GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were suspended by commissioner Rob Manfred for a year for their roles in tolerating the sign-stealing scandal that evidently was concocted by players, led by Carlos Beltran and bench coach Alex Cora (both of whom lost their 2020 managerial jobs - Beltran with Mets, Cora with the Red Sox).

Astros owner Jim Crane felt that suspension was not severe enough punishment so he promptly fired both Luhnow and Hinch.  In hiring Baker as Hinch's successor, he has chosen a man who is old school in the best sense. In his 19-year MLB career as a hard-hitting solid left fielder - .278 BA, .432 .SA, 1981 H, 242 HR, 1013 RBI, and for the modern age an impressive BB-K ratio of 762-926 - Baker was never on the disabled list.

After establishing himself in 1972 as a four-year regular with the Atlanta Braves, Baker was traded to the Dodgers where he became a key contributor on the Dodgers 1977-78 NL champions and 1981 World Series winners.

Dusty has belied the old saw that good-to-great players don't make good managers.  His previous teams - Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nats - all made the playoffs, and he now  gets a chance to earn that elusive first World Series ring.  (His 2002 Giants lost in seven games to the Angels.)

At 70, Baker will be the oldest manager in the big leagues, but he certainly is young at heart. Houston's new GM, James Click, was just plucked from the Tampa Bay Rays front office where he had worked not long after his graduation from Yale in 2006.

The Click hiring shows that the craze for "analytic" information will not diminish in Houston. Tampa Bay has been in the forefront of the movement to bring so-called "better ball" information into baseball operations. 


Except for adding his longtime aide former major league infielder Chris Speier, Dusty will be keeping Hinch's coaching staff including bench coach Joe Espada, who was on Joe Girardi's Yankees staff, and veteran pitching coach Brent Strom who at 71 is a year older than Dusty. 

Mets fans may remember that Strom broke in with them in 1972, but he never won a game for them. He was 9-15 for other MLB teams before he started on his long trek to become one of the most respected pitching coaches in the game.  

I don't like making predictions, but it says here that Baker will keep the Astros in contention during what should be a spirited AL West race among the refurbished California Angels under Joe Maddon - himself a very lively 66 - and the perennial bridesmaid Oakland Athletics.



As for Patrick Mahomes leading the Kansas City Chiefs to a stirring come-from-behind Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco Forty-Niners, I was delighted that this son of former major league pitcher Pat Mahomes has reached the pinnacle of the gridiron sport.  


Who couldn't smile at the picture of 5-year-old Patrick shagging flies with his father before the Mets' home World Series games in 2000?  Papa Pat was actually ineligible for the Series, but he had been a big part of the 1999 Mets playoff team.


So from an early age, young Pat knew what it was like to be around pressure-filled games. He understood early on that "pressure is a privilege" (to quote the title of one of tennis great Billie Jean King's books - BTW, Billie Jean Moffitt King's older brother Randy was a standout relief pitcher primarily for the Giants.) 

Throughout his high school years young Mahomes used to call himself "a baseball player playing football."  Things changed when he excelled at Texas Tech and now he is atop the football world.  Here's hoping he has a good chance at repeating in 2021.

But N. B. (Note Well)! In this age of free agency and unremitting celebrity, it is harder than ever to repeat as champion.

Before I close, I want to salute the memory of the hard-working baseball scout Phil Rizzo, who passed away late last month at the age of 90.  A Korean War veteran, Phil never made the majors as a player, but he devoted himself afterwards to finding talent for many professional teams. 

He was working for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 where Mike Rizzo was scouting director when the Dbacks won the World Series over the Yankees. In what I think was as a blessing from the baseball gods, Phil Rizzo lived to see his son Mike Rizzo, GM of the Washington Nationals, win the World Series last October.


The current Metropolitan Opera production of Guiseppe Verdi's "La Traviata" is a memorable experience.  I saw the production, directed by stage veteran Michael Mayer, on Monday night Feb. 3 with an emergency Alfredo sung by Korean tenor Won Whi Choi. 

After an understandably tentative first act, he grew into the role in the final two acts. The rest of the cast was superb - soprano Aleksandra Kurzak from Poland and bassist Quinn Kelsey from Hawaii. The Met Orchestra, this night led by Londoner Karel Mark Chichon, and its chorus comprise one of the great ensembles in the world.   

I never appreciated until last night's performance the profundity of the gripping second act. The confrontation between Alfredo's father Germont who insists that courtesan Violetta give up Alfredo to save the Germont family name brought me to tears.

There are six more chances to see "La Traviata" ("The Fallen Woman"):

Wed Feb 26, Sat Feb 29, Th Mar 5, W Mar 9, F Mar 13, and Th Mar 19, all at 730p except for Sat Feb 29 at 830p.   

Rush seats at affordable prices are sometimes available on day of performances.   The casts may change but this is an evening not to be missed. Check out metopera.org


That's all for now as pitchers and catchers are poised to report before Valentine's Day.

Always remember:  Take it easy but take it. 

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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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