erik lundegaard

Baseball posts

Sunday June 21, 2015

Hit-By-Pitch Breaks Up Scherzer's Perfect Game: Blame Tabata, the Umps, or the Elbow Pad?

It's such a Baseball 101 moment that it came up in the first inning of the first baseball game my Lebanese friend Robert ever went to:

“So what if the ball is outside the strike zone and the batter swings and misses?” Robert asked. That's a strike, too, I said. “What if the ball hits the batter?” That's a hit-by-pitch, I said, and the batter goes to first base. “So how come the batter gets out of the way?” he asked. “Doesn't he want to go to first?” Well, I said, if the umpire thinks he didn't try to get out of the way, then he might not let him go to first base. Besides, it would hurt. The ball is small and hard and thrown between 85 and 100 miles per hour. “Yes,” Robert agreed. “That would hurt.”

I should have added: It's a rare call when a batter is hit and the ump doesn't award him first base. He has to be pretty blatant about not getting out of the way of the pitch.

Was José Tabata blatant about not only not getting out of the way of a 2-2 slider from Max Scherzer, who was working on a perfect game with two outs in the top of the ninth? In real time, it's tough to see what's going on but when you slow it down it's obvious that not only did Tabata not get out of the way, he kind of leaned into it. On purpose? To break up the perfect game? Or because we tend to meet conflict halfway?

Either way, he got first base. So instead of Max Scherzer becoming the 24th pitcher in baseball history to toss a perfect game, he became, a batter later, the 289th to throw a no-hitter.

Oh, and despite what I said to Robert, it didn't look like it hurt all that much, either. I've seen articles all over the place today, saying “Blame the umps” or “Don't blame Tabata” but maybe the argument should be “Blame the elbow pads.” Because if his elbow had been unprotected? Jose Tabata might've actually tried to get out of the way of that pitch. 

Jose Tabata breaks up Max Scherzer's perfect game

Jose Tabata, practicing what Sheryl Sandberg preaches.  

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Posted at 06:20 AM on Jun 21, 2015 in category Baseball
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Monday June 15, 2015

Fred Wenz Update

Fred WenzI always forget to check the “other” IM inbox on Facebook. There's the main one (InBox) and then the other (“Others”), which usually contains Kickstarter requests and/or insults. But today I found this little gem, dated 5/19:

Where Have You Gone, Fred Wenz?

As of an hour ago, he was alive and well, passing through Lancaster County, PA. I met him in an Amish lantern shop where he has apparently had business dealings over the years. After he left, the shop owner showed me that very baseball card, signed by Fred himself. Fred is a lot heavier now, but a very jovial, easygoing guy. I think you may be right about him cutting up when he posed for that picture. He spoke of playing in the last game ever in Connie Mack Stadium as a thrill in his career. 

Here's my original post on Fred Wenz that led this gentleman to me. 

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Posted at 01:45 PM on Jun 15, 2015 in category Baseball
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Thursday May 28, 2015

Bob on Bob: My Father's Memories of Bob Feller

Apparently I've gotten my father to not only read Joe Posnanski but add comments. For Memorial Day, Joe, who is not exactly known for being pithy (and we're all the better for it), wrote a simple paragraph on Bob Feller and his WWII service, to which my father added, in the comments field, a pertinent trivia question: In 1941, the year Ted Williams hit .406 and Joe DiMaggio had his famous 56-game hitting streak, who led the league in hits? Obviously not either of those two.

I'll let him give the answer:

The answer is Cecil Travis, Washington Senators shortstop, and, at 28, a nine-year veteran. His lifetime average at that point was .327, which tied him with Honus Wagner for the highest among shortstops.

Now the sad part: He spent four years in the Army in World War II, froze his feet in the Battle of the Bulge and had three mediocre part-seasons when he returned home, still ending at .314, the highest among AL shortstops.

Unlike Feller, he didn't say what the war cost his baseball legacy. He was modest to a fault, claiming that he was a good player but not good enough for the Hall. Some people disagreed, among them Feller and Ted Williams, but he never received a single vote for the Hall of Fame!

(BTW: On Poz's site, check out the guy below my father's post who crunches the numbers and surmises that Travis probably would've made the Hall if not for the interruption.) 

Believe it or not, all of the above is throat-clearing. What I really wanted to post was what my father emailed me yesterday morning:

Two connections I had with Bob Feller: I was at Shibe Park in Philly on the night that, according to his autobiog, “Strikeout Story,” was the game in which he had his best stuff ever. If memory serves he had 13 or 14 strikeouts after five innings, set to break his record of 18, but he slipped coming off the mound and had to leave the game. The only player he didn't strike out was an outfielder named Barney McCosky, who was a hitter in the Cecil Travis vein.

Secondly, he cost me my job as an usher at Griffith Stadium in Washington. As usual, when he pitched there were more than the usual number of fans in attendance, and because of the crowd size I was assigned to sit along the left field foul line, on the field, to collect any foul balls. A fan behind me complained that he couldn't see over my cap, so I jokingly gave it to him to wear. Apparently Clark Griffith noticed the usher out of uniform and ordered that he be cashiered.

Anyone who thinks my father should write more about his baseball memories, raise your hand. Mine's already up.

Cecil Travis, Washington Senators

Cecil Travis

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Posted at 02:21 PM on May 28, 2015 in category Baseball
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Saturday May 16, 2015

When Billy and Reggie Met

From “Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius,” by Bill Pennington:

When the A's came to Minnesota for the first time [in 1969], Billy was irked when Oakland's twenty-three-year-old slugger Reggie Jackson slammed two home runs as the A's built a 7–0 lead. When Reggie came to the plate late in the game, two pitches whizzed by his head. Jackson charged the Twins pitcher, Dick Woodson. The benches cleared.

“That's the kind of manager Billy Martin is,” Reggie said after the game. “If someone is beating his club, he's going to put a little fear in that team's heart. I don't blame Woodson. He was following orders. I blame the manager.”

Billy denied he was throwing at Jackson and said that as the two teams were being separated on the field, Jackson threatened him. “He yelled at me that he was going to get me,” said Billy, not looking overly worried. “I want somebody to write that so that if we ever get in a fight, he won't be able to sue me and say I started it.”

Billy Martin, Cesar Tovar, 1969 

Billy Martin with leadoff hitter Cesar Tovar on Camera Day in 1969. Despite improving the team by 18 games and taking them to the first ALCS, he would be dismissed at the end of the season for 1) getting into bar brawls, and 2) pissing off the owner. Twins fans were pissed off by the dismissal for years. 

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Posted at 07:23 AM on May 16, 2015 in category Baseball
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Monday May 11, 2015

Why Do We Remember What We Remember? Oct. 4, 1970

It's a vague memory.

My parents were at Pearl Park on a Sunday afternoon playing volleyball but my brother Chris and I didn't go. Had I been sick? (I was a sickly child.) Was I faking it to get out of going to Pearl Park? (I didn't like Pearl Park much.) Or was it because the Twins were on TV?

That afternoon, they were playing the Orioles in the American League Championship Series, but for some reason my father thought they didn't have a chance. And he was right. He also probably wanted us to get out and exercise in the fresh air rather than watch our professional athletes lose to their professional athletes on the boob tube. He was right about that, too. But Chris and I stayed behind.

1970 ALCS game 2Here's what I remember. At one point in the game, the Twins two best players, Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva, hit back-to-back homers, and Chris and I went a little crazy, throwing throw pillows around and generally mucking up the living room. I remember it being a kind of futile celebration because the Twins didn't win. (They didn't win any of those ALCSes against the O's.) We also didn't clean up after the celebration, so when my parents returned home from volleyball, the living room was still a mess and we got chewed out for it. I remember thinking the chewing out was somehow unjust. “But Killebrew and Oliva went back-to-back!” I said, or something like it. No good. We were punished in some way. The Twins were punished in another. 

Here's what I wonder: Why do I remember this?

  • Because Killebrew and Oliva went back-to-back?
  • Because we were admonished?
  • Because it was the first time we were allowed to be in the house by ourselves? (Chris was 9, I was 7.)
  • Because I knew we should've cleaned up the mess in the living room but still felt betrayed that we were admonished since Killebrew and Oliva went back-to-back, which is surely a cause for a messy celebration?

Here's what I love about the Internet: I can find out the exact day that happened.  

Even pre-Interent it would've been fairly easy with the right book. It was obviously one of six games—the two best-of-five series the Twins played with the O's in 1969 and 1970, in which they never won a game. Just get the box scores. Find out when did Killebrew and Oliva both hit homeruns. See if it was in the same inning.

But with the Internet, and BaseballReference.com, it's so much easier. Bing, boom.

It was Oct. 4, 1970, Game 2 of the ALCS (the Twins had lost the first one 10-6), bottom of the 4th inning, Twins down 4-0. Leo Cardenas walked and Killebrew followed with a homer. Then Oliva hit a homer. Suddenly it was 4-3. We were back in it. Time to whoop it up. Time to throw throw pillows.

Looking over the game, the 5th innning is when it gets interesting. First, the O's loaded the bases with nobody out when Stan Williams was summoned to replace Bill Zepp. He got: foul out, fly out, strike out. Nobody scored. Nice! Then it was the Twins turn for futility. With one out, Stan Williams (again) walked, Cesar Tovar singled, and Leo Cardenas singled. Except for some reason Williams was sent home on a single to left and was thrown out at the plate. So instead of the bases loaded with one out for Harmon Killebrew, it was two men on with two out, and Harmon popped up. We had a chance to chase O's starting pitcher Dave McNally. Instead, McNally went the distance, and even hit a double in the top of the ninth to start a seven-run rally that really drove the nail into the Twins' coffin. Final: 11-3.

By this point, though, I was probably getting reamed for the messed-up living room.

Photo: Early Topps attempt for live-action baseball cards led to some less-than-spectacular results.

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Posted at 09:28 AM on May 11, 2015 in category Baseball
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