erik lundegaard

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Sunday November 25, 2018

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Senators

Last night, vaguely benumbed by aquavit (skol!), I came across a new controversy involving Major League Baseball. It's not a good controversy, and it gets worse the more you hear about it. 

Apparently MLB donated $5,000 to the campaign of Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), who most of us know best from her “public hanging” comment. Earlier this month, stumping during the runoff against her opponent, Mike Espy, an African American, she said of a cattle rancher who was helping her campaign, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be in the front row.”

Given Mississippi's history of lynching black people, many were offended. Hyde-Smith was offended they were offended. Here's what she said during a debate with Espy last week:

For anyone that was offended by my comments, I certainly apologize. There was no ill will, no intent whatsoever in my statement. ... There has never been anything, not one thing, in my background to ever indicate I had ill will toward anyone. I‘ve never been hurtful to anyone. I’ve always tried to help everyone. I also recognize that this comment was twisted and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me, a political weapon used for nothing but personal and political gain by my opponent. That's the type of politics Mississippians are sick and tired of.

Same old, same old. I'm curious if “...invited me to a public hanging” is a Mississippi colloquialism, and, if so, what is its derivation? (One Southern writer says he's never heard of it, and it's “kind of creepy” regardless of the racial/lynching connotations.) 

Either way, she said something either tone-deaf or deeply offensive, never apologized, doubled down. 

And Major League Baseball donated $5,000 to her campaign. 

Here's the part where it gets worse: MLB donated the money several weeks after Hyde-Smith's comment. 

WTF? 

After the controversy erupted last night, MLB is now doing damage control. It asked for the donation back and issued the following statement:

“The contribution was made in connection with an event that MLB lobbyists were asked to attend,” an MLB spokesperson said in a statement Sunday. “MLB has requested that the contribution be returned.”

I like Chris Korman's take in USA Today: “We should talk about why MLB giving $5,000 to any senate candidate anywhere is even a thing.” Then he provides some links to MLB PAC's donations, which average about half a million during election years. He wonders over the donations and the lobbying. What is MLB after? What does it want? Particularly from a junior senator in Mississippi, which includes no Major League club. 

I hope the digging continues. I hope it clears away the fog of vagueness in MLB's official statement.

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Posted at 11:49 AM on Nov 25, 2018 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Friday November 23, 2018

Super Joe

I love this part of Joe Posnanski's post about his childhood crush Super Joe Charboneau and what he meant to Cleveland in the summer of 1980:

See, we needed Super Joe, needed him more than he could ever know. The city was dying, even as a 13-year-old, I understood that. More than 175,000 people — almost one-quarter of the city's population — had fled Cleveland in the 1970s. In 1978, Cleveland became the first city since the Great Depression to default on its loans; in the mind of a kid this meant the whole city had gone bankgrupt. Smoke billowed into the Cleveland sky. Potholes shook us to the bone. The reason we even have an Earth Day is that the Cuyahoga River caught fire. And no team had won a title since the early 1960s, before I was born.

These were desperate times. Every other day, it seemed, Cleveland had some cringe-worthy new slogan designed to make the city seem better.

  • New York's the Big Apple, but Cleveland's a plum.
  • The best things in life are right here in Cleveland.
  • We‘re a big-league city (with Little Leagues too!)
  • Cleveland’s a great place to live

We so badly needed Super Joe.

For some reason, I thought Super Joe was given the nickname “Joltin' Joe” during that summer, but Joey Poz makes no reference to that, and even on a Google search you only come back with 200 examples. After his Rookie-of-the-Year season, Charboneau played in only 70 games, with 210 plate appearances and a .211/.258/.371 slash line. Did any other Rookie of the Year fall so fast?

Poz also comes up with a great term, “the counterfeit hope of lousy teams,” that the Seattle Mariners should really, really pay attention to. 

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Posted at 02:31 PM on Nov 23, 2018 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Friday November 02, 2018

Willie McCovey (1938-2018)

How many ways was he a giant? In stature (6' 4“ at a time when most ballplayers didn't reach 6 feet); in San Francisco (of course); and ultimately of baseball. There was a musicality to his name. It rhymed. It's now the name of a cove on the other side of the right-field stands at Giants Stadium. SABR, in its tribute, calls this fitting since ”his ferocious swings always sent ripples of fear throughout the National League.“

Willie McCoveyWhen my guy, Harmon Killebrew, won the Most Valuable Player award in 1969, just as I was becoming baseball cognizant, McCovey was the first baseman in the other league who did the same. There's actually an interesting parallel between the two. Killebrew was a ”bonus baby,“ a player signed north of $4k who had to remain on the 25-man roster for two years, but his first full year in the Majors, 1959, was McCovey's first year overall. He debuted July 30 and went 4-4 with two triples and three runs scored. He hit his first homer, off Pittsburgh's Ron Kline, three days later. He only played in a third of the games that year, 52, but still won the NL Rookie of the Year. Unanimously. Meanwhile, in the AL, Killebrew led the league in home runs.

Then it was McCovey's turn, believe it or not, to fight for playing time. According to Joe Posnanski in his tribute, the Giants were loaded then and didn't have an obvious spot for McCovey. Or his obvious spot, first base, was taken by Orlando Cepda (another musical name), who was NL Rookie of the Year in 1958, and who led the league in homers and RBIs in 1962. Nice problem to have, Giants. McCovey didn't play a full year until 1963 when he was often in left field. He didn't play a full year at first base until 1965. 

But McCovey and Harmon? Some kind of synchronicity there. They were mirror images. NL/AL. Black/white. ”Stretch“/”The Fat Kid.“ Both were quiet. Both had the most powerful swings in their league. They were homers/RBIs/walks guys who hit the thing a country mile. For their MVP years, their lines are somewhat similar:

PLAYER  HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
Killebrew 49 140 145 .276 .427 .584 1.011
McCovey 45 126 121 .320 .453 .656 1.108

Ditto their career lines.

PLAYER G H 2B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Killebrew 2435 2086 290 573 1584 1559 1699 .256 .376 .509 .884
McCovey 2588 2211 353 521 1555 1345 1550 .270 .374 .515 .889

Killebrew hit more homeruns in the 1960s than anyone (393), while McCovey was fifth (300), but that was in part because of limited playing time, a tougher league, and a tougher ballpark to hit it out of. Was this why McCovey seem more respected? He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer while the Hall passed on Killebrew three times before deciding ”What the hell.“ 

I wish I'd gotten to see McCovey play more. We saw AL teams in Bloomington. But I was certainly aware of him: Topps, NL Leaders, Baseball Digest, and ”Baseball Stars of 196-whatever.“ Not to mention Peanuts. 

Why couldn't McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher?

I'd always assumed this was a random game, and the three feet was what was necessary to hit the ball over the wall. I think I was an adult before I realized, no: Schulz, a Minnesota boy now living in northern California and rooting on the Giants, was lamenting the end of the 1962 World Series. The Giants were playing the hated Yankees and losing Game 7 1-0 in the bottom of the 9th when Matty Alou led off with a pinch-hit bunt single. Ralph Terry struck out the next two batters, but then Willie Mays hit a double to right. Some part of me wonders, without seeing the footage, how Alou didn't score on that. Two outs, double to right, speedy baserunner? But he didn‘t. Some part of me also wonders why Terry stayed in, but that was baseball then. He stayed and faced McCovey, who hit a screaming line drive ... right at second baseman Bobby Richardson. Game, series, season over. Cue Charlie Brown’s lament. Was it McCovey's most famous at-bat? Probably. Cue Shelley: Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

I suppose he's lucky he saw a pitch during that at-bat. Nobody wanted to pitch to him. Killebrew led the AL in intentional passes three times, with 18, 15 and 20. McCovey? Four times: 45, 40, 21 and 25. The 45 IBBs were during his MVP year, and they set a record. The 25 were in 1973, after his black-ink days, when he was 35. And they still didn't want a part of him. 

Walter Alston: ”When he belts a home run, he does it with such authority it seems like an act of God.”

Sparky Anderson: “If you pitch to him, he’ll ruin baseball.”

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Posted at 02:05 AM on Nov 02, 2018 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Monday October 29, 2018

What Glory, Price! Red Sox Win 9th World Series Title

Another baseball season is done and for the ninth time in its history the Boston Red Sox are world champions. That moves them ahead of the Giants (8) and ties them for third all-time with the Athletics. Second is the Cardinals with 11. First is the Yankees with 27. It's still no contest. 

You know what I would worry about if I were a BoSox fan? They‘ve never won a title after the 19th year of a century. All of their titles are clustered at the beginning of each century: 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918 and then nothing for 80+ years. Then: 2004, 2007, 2013, 2018. Smoke ’em if you‘ve got ’em, I guess. But it couldn't happen twice. Could it?  

Boston Red Sox win World SeriesI'm bummed for Clayton Kershaw, who takes the “Can't pitch in the postseason” mantle into another off-season. I'm happy for David Price, who shed his mantle in the last two weeks. After winning the pennant-clinching game against the Astros (his first postseason victory), he started two of the five World Series games, going 2-0 in 13.2 innings with a 1.98 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP. Has any pitcher had such numbers in such a short series and not won the MVP? Instead it went to Steve Pearce, whom the Sox picked up on June 28. The Red Sox were his 7th team in 11 years. He did well for them (.279/.394/.507) and in the series went 4 for 12 with three homers and a double. He walked four times and drove in eight. He scored five runs. 

Who decides the MVP? “A committee of reporters and officials in attendance.” For some reason I thought pitchers won it often but this century it's happened only four times: 2001 (RJ/Schilling), 2003 (Josh Beckett), 2008 (Cole Hamels) and 2014 (Madison Bumgarner). My brain must still be back in the ‘80s and ’90s. From 1987 to 1997, pitchers won it every year but two (Pat Borders and Paul Molitor in the two Blue Jays years). Back then, it was like QB for Super Bowl MVP. 

Alex Cora, meanwhile, becomes the 11th innaugural-year manager to win the World Series since the advent of the playoff system in 1969. It's the most common tenure for a World Series-winning manager. Go early and often, I guess. 

Mostly, though, the Red Sox victory solidified their claim as Team of the Century. Since 2000, the Yankees have been to the postseason most often (15 times), and are tied with the Cardinals for the most LCSes (9). But then it's a four-way tie for most pennants (4) between Yanks, BoSox, Cards and Giants. Cards and Yankees have two World Series championships. Giants have three. Boston is on top with four. 

Of course, the Red Sox were the Team of the Century in 1918, too. 

Here are MLB's longest current droughts:

  • World Series championship: Cleveland Indians (1948)
  • Pennant: Washington Nationals (b. 1969), Seattle Mariners (b. 1977), Pittsburgh Pirates (1979)
  • LCS appearance: Washington Nationals (1981 as Montreal Expos)
  • Postseason appearance: Seattle Mariners (2001)

Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 13. 

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Posted at 02:06 AM on Oct 29, 2018 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Tuesday October 23, 2018

Of the 16 Original Teams, Who Hasn't Played Whom in the World Series?

Tonight we get the second match-up ever between the Red Sox and Dodgers in the World Series. The first was in 1916.

Back then, the Dodgers were in Brooklyn, enjoying their first pennant, while the Red Sox, who had a young pitcher named Babe Ruth on their staff (who won Game 2, pitching 14 innings of 1-run ball), were the best team in baseball. They'd won every time they gone to the World Series—1903, 1912, 1915—and they would win this one, too, 4 games to 1. They would win in 1918. The future was theirs. The whole century was theirs. 

Dodgers Red Sox World SeriesAll of this has made me wonder if the Red Sox had played every one of the original eight NL teams in the World Series. 

Turns out they‘ve played seven. They’re missing the Braves—their old Boston rivals. Wouldn't that be something? We might‘ve gotten that this year but for a few breaks. Maybe we’ll get it next year.

That, of course, raised another question: Has any of the original 16 teams played all eight of the other league's original teams in the World Series?

The answer is the obvious one: the Yankees, of course.

They‘ve won 40 pennants, so it would be pretty amazing if they’d missed any of the original eight. They'd actually collected all eight by 1957 when they knocked off the last one, the Braves, then in Milwaukee. Hell, the Yanks have at least doubles on every NL original team. Here are the numbers:

Yankees Opponent No. of WS matchups
Cubs 2
Phillies 2
Pirates 2
Reds 3
Braves 4
Cardinals 5
Giants 7
Dodgers 11

All 11 of those Yankees-Dodgers matchups, by the way, were between 1941 and 1981. If you were watching the World Series then, you had a 27% chance it was Yankees-Dodgers. Oy. If you were watchingn between 1947 and 1956, you had a 60% chance it was Yankees-Dodgers.

Other fun facts:

  • The Phillies have faced the fewest original 16 opponents in the World Series—just three: Red Sox in 1915, Yankees in 1940 and 2009, Orioles in 1983. They‘ve never beaten any of them. The Phils’ two World championships are against expansion teams: the 1980 Royals and the 2008 Rays.
  • The AL team with the fewest original 16 WS opponents? White Sox and Indians: four each. 
  • Senators/Twins (6 times), Pirates (7), Reds (9) and Cubs (11) are the only teams to have only played original 16 teams in the World Series. 
  • The most common non-Yankees matchup is a three-way tie between Giants/A‘s, Red Sox/Cardinals and Tigers/Cubs. Each has met in the Series four times. 
  • Besides the Red Sox, the other teams that just need one more to complete the set are the Dodgers (need: Tigers) and Giants (need: Orioles).
  • Expansion teams have made up almost half of MLB since 1998, but only once, in 2015 (Royals vs. Mets) have they faced each other in the World Series.

For the completists out there, here’s what each original team needs to complete the set:

AL   1 2 3 4
White Sox vs. Phillies Pirates Braves Cardinals  
Indians vs. Phillies Pirates Reds Cardinals  
Twins/Senators vs. Phillies Reds Cubs    
Orioles/Browns vs. Braves Cubs Giants    
Tigers vs. Philllies Braves Dodgers    
Athletics vs. Phillies Pirates      
Red Sox vs. Braves        
Yankees vs.          
NL   1 2 3 4 5
Phillies vs. White Sox Indians Twins Tigers A's
Braves vs. White Sox Orioles Tigers Red Sox  
Pirates vs. White Sox Indians A's    
Reds vs. Indians Twins      
Cubs vs. Twins Orioles      
Cardinals vs. White Sox Indians      
Dodgers vs. Tigers        
Giants vs. Orioles        

The 21st century is beginning the way the 20th century did for the Boston Red Sox. They've been to the World Series three times—2004, 2007 and 2013—and won all three. Now they face the Dodgers, who, for an added touch of irony, are managed by Dave Roberts, the man whose stolen base in the 9th inning of Game 4 of the ALCS began the turnaround for the Sox. Will he help stop the resurgence he began? Or will they keep winning? Maybe the future, the whole century, is theirs. 

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Posted at 12:50 AM on Oct 23, 2018 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
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