Thursday, May 26, 2011
“When a player is put in a different position than usual, the announcer will often say something like "the ball will find that player" and yesterday's play in the Yankee / Tiger game got me thinking that maybe the same can be said for injuries. We have all seen players who seem to always be injured, like a Ken Griffey Jr, for example. Just how much better a career could he have had if even just half the time he was injured, he had been injury free. Well yesterday it seems that injury, that has stalked Eric Chavez for the last 5-6 years, found him once again. The Yankees signed him to be a utility player, just play occasionally, and made every effort to keep his workload light, given his history. Then yesterday he breaks his foot RUNNING THE BASES...No one seemed surprised, everyone seemed to expect it, the bloggers have been predicting it since he was signed in January and one month into the season, it happened. I wonder what the over/under was. "An injury will find that player?" Yep I believe it is so.
To quote one of the most irritating men in all baseball announcer-dom - "Well you know Suzyn, you can never predict baseball" but then again isn't that what we just did ?”
The blog post by Mark Abruzzese in his Bronx Baseball Daily where he quotes Donnie Collins of the Scranton Times-Tribune: “A not so good sign is what Newman had to say on one of the Yankees’ injured relievers: “Prior is not close. That said, Prior did play some catch in the outfield before the game today, under the oversight of strength coordinator Lee Tressel. But it doesn’t look like Prior is going to be on the mound again any time soon.”
Abruzzese continued “It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything on Mark Prior so this is not good news. Prior went down with a groin injury about a month ago. For him to be that far away from what should be a minor injury with no sign of a return soon is simply not good. This is exactly what everyone should have expected though when the Yankees got involved with Prior. He simply cannot stay healthy. There is no reason to simply release him now, but if he ever pitches in the Bronx I will be shocked.”
So like Eric Chavez and Nick Johnson and Carl Pavavo, Mark Prior has entered Yankee lore as an oft injured, non productive free agent who is most likely never going to see the light of day in a Yankee uniform. Pavano was a bust, Johnson a bust, Chavez has a real chance to be a bust and Prior, who may not make the majors again, bust. When teams sign players like Prior and Chavez or Johnson they are hoping to catch lightening in a bottle. The Yankees have the distinct possibility of going 0/3 with this trio. Only the relative success of Garcia and Colon this season is keeping them from tipping over under the weight of disappointment.
Friday, May 20, 2011
MLB in its infinite wisdom has now made this simple concept into a public relations circus, complete with a bunch of games against teams in the opposite league. Natural rivalries abound (side note – how can the Atlanta Braves be the Red Sox natural rivalry. This is the crack in the MLB armor in this regard) with the two New York, two Chicago, two LA, two Bay, two Texas, two Florida, two Washington area and two Midwest teams facing off. But never known to let a good thing rest, the owners with $ signs in their eyes, make it interdivisional play and different teams appearing in ballparks that they only went to in the World Series before. I like some interleague play, I really do but the inequity of it – DH rule, weaker teams playing some and not others, are two examples, has removed some of the excitement.
Rainouts have created two situations in the Subway Series that we very rarely see – double headers with one game in each ballpark, only a few miles away in distance but worlds apart in tradition and ambience. Just the thought of ballplayers getting on buses and going to the other stadium is mindful of the little league and Legion Baseball caravans that were so much a part of my adult fatherhood.
I hate losing to the Mets. The only thing worst than losing to the Mets would be losing to the Red Sox and there has been quite enough SUCK this season so far with the Sox winning 5/6 games to date. I do not need to have loses to the Met added to the suckitude. The only time it could be worse would be if the Yankees ever lose to the Mets in the World Series. This is a height that the Sox / Yankees cannot meet as they will never meet in a World Series, the ultimate championship game. By the way, in the NY Mets / Red Sox World Series, I rooted for a plane crash.
So that is it, three slightly more than interesting games with bragging rights in the balance. The Yankees with little to gain and everything to lose. We shall see how it goes.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
So last night (Wednesday, May 18) Girardi did something that I imagine has my buddy Maqz pulling out any remaining hair he has while wildly yelling and cursing at the TV screen. In a nutshell, Yankee pitcher Bartolo Colon, the round mound on the rebound, was pitching an absolute gem of a baseball game against the Orioles. In 8 innings he had allowed no runs and was clinging to a 1-0 lead. Colon had needed just 87 pitches, 80 of which were fastballs, over eight scoreless innings holding the Orioles to three hits and one walk while striking out seven. Girardi went with his “book” brought in Mariano Rivera, the best reliever baseball has ever seen, and he promptly blew the save, allowing a run to tie. The NY Yankees eventually won in 15 innings but Girardi followed the book and Maqz is now bald (well in the truthfulness department, Maqz is already bald but don’t let that get in the way of a good story, is my motto…). We are set up for the classic “second guess.”
Today’s newspaper articles, blog posts and sports talk radio are filled with the discussion of this action and opinions are extensive. But before dissecting the decision let me just say that Girardi was faced with an absolutely impossible decision to “get right”. A classic ”no win” situation is presented and everybody gets to pick sides. This is like how do you answer the question from your wife or girlfriend “Do you like this dress?” An affirmative answer often leads to the follow up statement “Well I hate it, it makes me look…add your own wife’s/ girlfriend’s descriptive words here” A negatory response leads to crying and screaming and who know what else. THERE IS NO CORRECT DECISION IN THIS CONTEXT. THERE IS NO CORRECT DECISION IN GIRARDI’S CONTEXT EITHER.
Think about it, If Girardi leaves in Colon and he even gives up a tying base runner, the first question he is asked in the clubhouse after the game is “Why didn’t you bring Mo in?” If Colon is kept in and succeeds, he is asked “Why did you warm up Mo, if you weren’t going to use him. If Mo comes in and gets the save Girardi is asked “How come you didn’t let Colon finish up, he only three 87 pitches?” If Mo blows the lead, everyone questions it. Girardi cannot win in this situation. Thank God the Yankees did.
As for my own personal thoughts on it let me say that Mariano is the best, 1-0 games are what you pay him the big bucks for. Baseball has changed over the years and complete games are just not as important as wins. This is why we now have 7th inning guys and 8th inning guys and we pay them accordingly. The decision to bring in Rivera is not a “button pushing” move, it is common sense move. He is the best, let him do his job. Girardi is not wrong here. I mean it’s not like he’s bring in Kyle Farnsworth or something. It is not like Mo is overworked right now or tired. Mo is the best we have, he is ready, willing and able, let him do his job.
So, that is it – plenty of room for discussion and difference of opinion but that is mine. The comment section below is for yours. Have at it…
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
In the last 5 years there have been 15 no hitters, with two by Verlander and two by Halladay, with one of those a perfect game. In the 5 years before that, there were 4 total, one a perfect game. Significant difference yes? In the last 10 years there have been 19 no hitters, 4 of which were perfect. In the ten years before that, there were 7, with two perfect.
Obviously in the last 5 years and the last 20 years, there has been statistically significant change. Could it be the drug testing with less hitters on "the juice"? Sure, but pitchers took steroids too, so why would only they become more dominant now. Plus there has been increasingly batting friendly parks that also negatively impact pitching performance. Yet with all that no hitters increased more than 300% over the previous 5 year span and more than 200% the five years before that.
What about the theory that the sport of baseball travels in cycles, that there is a glut of say good first basemen and so the scouts focus on different positions so potential players get not noticed because of their position. I think there may be some merit to this in terms of the offense but everybody, EVERYBODY, knows the game is pitching. You can have green hair, be five foot nothing but if you are left-handed or throw 95 miles an hour, you will get noticed. If you are left-handed AND throw 95 miles an hour, you have at least a one way ticket to the upper minor leagues at least with potential to get a look at the big show.
Personally I think that two things are happening. First the scope of the minor leagues has been improving over the last decade as more teams realize one way to keep costs down and deal with payroll issues is to have more and more youngsters out there with less MLB experience. This has the effect of better players, better development of young players, and more unknown players making the MLB rosters. In unknown situations, one can easily make the argument that the pitcher has some distinct advantages especially until the major league scouting reports catch up with the new product.
Secondly I think this growth of younger talent has helped to smooth out the dearth of talent that occurred with expansion and more teams being created such that there were more players at this level. After the minor leaguers, those with some talent, get moved up to the majors, the teams need to scout more, sign more talent and develop it. If you have one guy with talent, you have to figure he has a 10% change of getting to the majors but if you have ten players with talent, then there is a much greater chance that one makes it to the Big Show. It is easy to see this now a days because with all the ever expanding baseball coverage – blogs especially. Much more attention is paid to the minor league and development of players. I can remember years ago, a friend Maqz told me about a kid in the Seattle Mariners minor league system and the only way to find out more about him was to check regularly in the Sporting news, because that was just about the only place for a fan to get information about someone like Tino Martinez.
So, what do you think?
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Bad News Bears – I mentioned this briefly in the previous post but do believe it is entitled to a bit more explanation of why it gets cut. Good, wholesome idea and plot – unruly kids, drunk coach, improbable odds and a bit of magic creates a memorable film. However, the sequeals killed it and in reality, I need more than a bunch of foul mouth kids, drunk coach and pratfalls and mistakes to think it deserves classic status. Entertaining? Yes, Good baseball movie? Yes again. In the same league as some of the best? No, not this film. But I do give kudos to Walter Matthau who seems to have been born to play that role.
“This quitting thing, it's a hard habit to break once you start”
Pride of the Yankees – This is what passed as a great baseball movie back in 1942 when it was released. It wasn’t about baseball, it was about relationships. Where are the car crashes, where are the explosions? No really, it is a look inside a complicated man and the relationships he has with the various people in his life – his parents, domineering mother, wife, sports writers and teammates as well as the public. Problems – multiple, starting with the fact that Gary Cooper was not an athlete, was right handed and they reversed the film to make him accurately bat left handed but then considerably altered Gehrig’s speech to the fans at Yankee Stadium on Lou Gehrig Day to better fir the tenor of the film. With such a well covered event, it would be like having Charlton Heston part the Red Sea in the “Ten Commandments” with an iPad. That plus there is so little baseball playing shown, in part due to Cooper, a fact that is covered with stirring montages of stadiums and pennants and other similar images. Come on people, play ball why don’t you.
“Is it three strikes, Doc?” “You want it straight?” “Yeah”. “It's three strikes.”
Bang the Drum Slowly is a melodrama staring a then unknown Robert DeNiro. Again this is not about baseball but rather is a drama set in a baseball uniform. These guys could have been any other sports figures by changing very little. Good moving film, just not one deserving of the Hall of Fame Bus Tour.
“Skip the facts, just gimme the details.”
Major League – Not much to see here I must admit. Sure, some funny parts and lines but no lessons learned except that sometimes fiction (Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn” plays out in reality (Charlie “Two and a Half Men Meltdown” Sheen). Just not enough to warrant inclusion in the classic baseball extravaganza.
"I’m tired of pretending I’m not a total bitchin’ rock star from Mars." (woops, sorry, quoted the real Charlie Sheen…)
“Vaughn's been looking good out there today. “ “Don't worry, he'll blow it.”
(You tell me which quote is more appropriate and truthful…)
A League of Their Own – This was the toughest one to eliminate and I will admit right from the start that should we expand this to the Top Six Baseball Films, it gets the nod as next one in. It is funny, historically based, full of baseball lessons that are real. A bit too much “girly stuff” for my taste in a baseball movie but the acting and directing and pace are all winners in my book. Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Jon Lovitz, Garry Marshall, directed by Penny Marshall. American Classic. Put it in the bullpen and be ready to call it in, but it just does not make my starting five.
“Well I was just wonderin' why you would throw home when we got a two-run lead. You let the tying run get on second base and we lost the lead because of you. Start using your head. That's the lump that's three feet above your ass.: Are you crying? Are you crying? ARE YOU CRYING? There's no crying! THERE'S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL! Rogers Hornsby was my manager, and he called me a talking pile of pig shit. And that was when my parents drove all the way down from Michigan to see me play the game. And did I cry? NO. And do you know why? Because there's no crying in baseball. THERE'S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL! No crying!
A list of movies I would not even have considered…
The Rookie – good movie with Dennis Quaid, almost made it to the also ran status
Air Bud, Seventh Inning Fetch - enough said
The Babe starring an incredible simulated Babe in John Goodman nor The babe Ruth Story with William Bendix
BASEkatball – remind me to tell you the Mrsfabp story about this classic
Ed – the monkey and Matt LeBlanc, what were they thinking?
Summer Catch – please…
Fever Pitch – Jimmy Fallon AND Drew Barrymore, in the same movie?
Monday, May 16, 2011
I have another friend whose knowledge and baseball acumen I have a great deal of respect for. He played everything from t-ball to Legion Ball, was a Hhgh school starter and played in college for 4 years. He has coached baseball on the JV and varsity high school level and is now an athletic director. He was a prominent manager and winner in several of my fantasy baseball leagues. I trust his judgment in sporting endeavors, particularly baseball. We have had the discussion a number of times and he has told me that wins in April mean just as much as wins in August. To win 96 games in the long baseball season, you must win 16 a month, so yes they are all the same.
This, points to the metaphor of the baseball season being a marathon and not a sprint. Sprints can be lost in the first 10 yards, marathons are rarely won or lost before twenty miles is complete. If you have a poor start in a sprint, or lose your stride late, you lose. Have a bad start to a marathon or get some cramps mid race, you can recover and still do well. Yes, all things being equal, all baseball games are equal.
But my poor friend Bill raises an important consideration. He has been a Red Sox fan for maybe 50 years and has witnessed the Promised Land 2 times, with a mitt full of finishing out of sight. On the other hand, my team has a mitt full of World Series rings, but one major failure against the Red Sox. Yet we are in the same boat. No wonder the games take on so much more significance. For him, it is the symbol of failure, ineptitude, having the obvious waved in your face. For me, it is the world’s worse baseball moment, picked at like a big scab on the skinned elbow of life. Easy to forget and put behind you, but just one touch away from a bloody mess.
So, do some baseball games count more than others? Yes, yes they do. Wins and loses to rivals are more virtuous or more painful than to anyone else. Have your very own “Boston Massacre” in 1978, and enjoy the smiles for weeks, months, even years. Be there for the Yankee collapse in 2004, you have a scab to pick at any time you want.
I’m just glad that I have connections with such savvy, educated and passionate fans who understand the karma thing, who realize that what goes around, comes around, who are fans first.
Yes, I am talking to you…
Sunday, May 15, 2011
…and it reminded me of this story from a number of years ago:
My brother-in-law KML of Manhattan Man fame, and I once hatched this great idea for a vacation extravaganza. A long bus trip where we would visit the major sports Halls of Fame – NFL in Canton, OH, Baseball in Cooperstown, Basketball in Springfield, MA and Hockey in Toronto, Canada. We figured we would have plenty of beer on board and serve stadium food like hot dogs and peanuts and chili and nachos and pretzels and well you get the idea. We also figured that we would need to provide some entertainment to the masses onboard and thought that sports movies would be the best thing we could provide. When we got to the baseball movies we realized that there way too many for the trip and so we had to narrow it down to just the best of the best. I forget what ones we came up with that day but when I was thinking about this today. I figured I would give you a list of the ones I would want to see and why, and which ones don’t make the cut. Here they are:
Baseball movies to see, in no particular order (YEMV!):
The Natural – great book, good movie even if a bit overdone. It depicts an era of baseball that is awash in its innocence and reflects it in just how the characters are presented. Plus, the homerun off the lights stanchion gives us the fireworks display we all love.
“Pick me out a winner Bobby.”
Bull Durham – This movie seemed to give a fairly realistic look at life in the minor leagues. I think that is why I liked this film as much as I did. Kevin Cosner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins give quirky, earthy performances as 3 bit players in a Passion Play about baseball and life. Every baseball fan knows of a Crash Davis type, hard working but always destined to be in the minor leagues but with lots of knowledge to impart. Nuke Laloosh, he of the million dollar arm and ten cent brain (you hearing this AJ Burnett) and Annie Savoy, one of the original baseball annies. This movie really understands how baseball as life fits into our experience and existence and ends up being a lot more than a simple baseball movie.
“Man that ball got outta here in a hurry. I mean anything travels that far oughta have a damn stewardess on it, don't you think?”
The Sandlot – Kids playing baseball has been part of movies since the Little Rascals or even before. But they can be divided into several genre – over the top kids / Bad news Bears; kids with animals or other unbelievable things / that baseball playing monkey, Angels in the Outfield; Fictional stories / where the young kid becomes a manager and team wins; and the only really good kind of kid baseball movie, like The sandlot, which is about a kid’s coming of age because there is baseball.
“Baseball was life! And I was good at it... real good.”
Eight Men Out – Besides being life, baseball is also a teacher and this movie focuses on the lesson we learn when we cheat. This movie is about the darkest era of modern baseball history, the 1919 Back Socks Scandal where the Chicago White Socks threw the World Series that year. The eight team members were banned from baseball because of it and one, Shoeless Joe Jackson, has never made the Hall of Fame despite deserving such an honor based on his performance on the field. In an odd tip of the cap to the current era, Pete Rose showed us that the “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it award” goes to him for betting on baseball and not being allowed in the Hall of Fame despite fine batting credentials that would have made him a hero under any other circumstances.
“Regardless of the verdict of juries... no player who throws a ball game... no player who undertakes, or promises to throw a game... no player who sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a ball game are discussed, and does not promptly tell his club about it... will ever play professional baseball again.”
Field of Dreams – Of all the movies mentioned, this is the one that always brings a tear to my eye. This is the movie that seals the “Baseball is life” meme in me. When Ray Kinsella has the opportunity to play catch with his father again, it never fails to touch a part of my own life, my relationship with my father, regrets about that relationship and the healing power of baseball that I have hoped I have passed on to my own son. Corny, perhaps, but real in every sense of that word. I also tear up when Dr. Graham, as a kid steps out of the field of dreams to save Ray’s daughter, perhaps one of the greatest fictional acts of kindness ever filmed.
“Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Next up, a look at the films that did not make the Hall of Fame for me in the film department
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Time for a first pitch…
Way back when, before soccer moms and mini vans and the sissification of childhood sports, the first sport we learned was baseball. And we had to learn it. Not just the skill of hitting and pitching and catching, but the strategy of it, the drama of it, right down to the scratching and spitting part of it. We carried photographs of our favorite players on bubble gum stained cardboard. We were taught the skills and expectations by a coach or manager. Even today, professional players will find ways to single out the coaches from their young life. We see it often in the All Star Game Homerun Derby where any number of players has used former coaches to pitch to them as they try to reach for the stars. A tribute to the education process.
In professional baseball, more than the manager, who generally is a push button manipulator of his team, with media savvy and personal motivation expert, the unsung heroes are often the batting and pitching coaches who must attempt to help the players, who absolutely everything about their craft, in getting the most out of their skill sets. Yes, that was sarcastic, as I think most sports players in all different sports are more prima donnas than empty vessels looking to be filled with knowledge, but I digress.
I want to focus on one such coach, Kevin Long of the NY Yankees. After a successful college career, he was a journeyman player for the KC Royals for about 8 years, and whose best major league career facts are that he had a good college and minor league career. However over the last 3 years he has been tutoring and perhaps saving some major league careers in the process. Three current players have shown significant progress in their batting skill as a result of working with him. Curtis Granderson, who has gone from the edges of the scrap heap in Detroit to leading the AL in home runs right now, Nick Swisher , who was a good player but not outstanding, to an all star performer, and Brett Gardner from minor leaguer to batting leadoff in the major leagues. Long also has had a hand in the possible resurgence of Alex Rodriguez’ career after a severe hip injury and the rise of Robby Cano to a certified major league hitter after a spotty minor league career.
I do believe that coaches like Long, are modern day shaman. He seems to have the power of knowledge, even if he could not know it for himself. He is a “healer”, a mediator and guider of souls. He is treated with the reverence and status befitting of an elder. He is a restorer of balance in the baseball world.
Friday, May 13, 2011
There may be occasional cross posts with my other blog, Penguin Droppings as sometimes baseball is undistinguishable from life itself. Please suffer these in silence, or perhaps with just a rhythmic chant of “T Fab P, clap clap, T Fab P…” My theme will be baseball in general with a generous focus on the NY Yankees. To all my Red Sox fan readers, I say pstbbbbb!!! But don’t worry, there will be plenty for everybody.
I hope to show you a path to tranquility through the simple art of pitching and catching, of trying to hit a round ball with a round stick squarely, of pastoral strolls along the gravely base paths of life, all the while just trying to get home. I hope you will enjoy reading this as much as I have enjoyed thinking about it and writing it. Feel free to express your support through the comments process but please, no doing the wave, no matter how well I write something or how bored you might be with it!