erik lundegaard

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Friday April 29, 2016

The Better Pee Wee Reese Story

Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson in "42"

The myth, as portrayed in “42.” 

Some part of me thinks Ken Burns needed to see this “New Rules” bit from Bill Maher before he finished (or started) his Jackie Robinson documentary, which ran on PBS a few weeks ago. Maher goes off on liberals who dump on their own whiteness to make themselves feel better, and, based on the doc, I think Burns is suffering from some version of this. Maybe he feels guilty that, in his seminal “Baseball” doc 20 years ago, he bought into the Pee Wee Reese myth—that the Dodgers captain put his arm around Jackie Robinson at Crosley Field in Cincinnati to quiet his hometown racist crowd—so now he has to dump all over that narrative. Before, it happened. Now, it didn't. Unequivocally. Both times.

Here's Burns in Mother Jones:

Pee Wee is supposed to have walked across the diamond from shortstop to first base, which would've never happened, and put his arm around him. ... It didn't happen. There's no mention in Jackie's autobiography. There's no mention in the white press, and more importantly, there was no mention of it in the black press, which would've run 25 stories related to this.

It's the certainty that bugs me. It feels off. But who has time to double-check?

Joe Posnanski, it turns out, in a piece for NBC Sports called “The Embrace.” It's worth reading the whole thing.

Of the hand-on-shoulder story, Pos writes:

There is a compelling absence of evidence here. There isn't a single contemporary account of the embrace in any of the newspapers or magazines. This is enough for [author Jonathan] Eig, for Miller and particularly for Burns to conclude that the story, at least as popularly told, is a myth.

I would add that while primary sources are well and good, journalists, even good journalists, can often not only bury the lede but miss the story. Bill Madden talks this up in his book, “1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever.” The first time both World Series teams fielded African-American players (1954, Game 1), most sportswriters didn't even comment upon it. And a shortstop talking to, or putting his arm around, a first baseman prior to a game? I wouldn't be surprise that that didn't make the cut. What was the score? That's what fans wanted to know.

Posnanski then goes into the “why” of the myth. As in: Why do we need it? And from where did it spring?

The answer to the second question is interesting. A baseball historian, Craig R. Wright, of whom no less a figure than Bill James says, “I would trust Craig's opinion a great deal more than Ken Burns,” has researched the matter and believes that it did happen in some form. And he points Posnanski to a 10-part series that Jackie Robinson did with the Brooklyn Eagle's Ed Reid in 1949, where Jackie says the following: 

I'll never forget the day when a few loud-mouthed guys on the other team began to take off on Pee Wee Reese. They were joshing him very viciously because he was playing on the team with me and was on the field nearby. Mind you, there were not yelling at me; I suppose they did not have the nerve to do that, but they were calling him some very vile names and every one bounced off of Pee Wee and hit me like a machine-gun bullet.

Pee Wee kind of sensed the hopeless, dead feeling in me and came over and stood beside me for a while. He didn't say a word but he looked over at the chaps who were yelling at me through him and just stared. He was standing by me, I could tell you that.

Slowly the jibes died down like when you kill a snake an inch at a time, and then there was nothing but quiet from them. It was wonderful the way this little guy did it. I will never forget it.

Not fans; not necessarily Crosley Field; not hand on shoulder; but otherwise, there it is.

It's actually a better story. It's less paternal and feels truer. It comes straight from Jackie within two years of breaking the color barrier. And Jackie's widow, Rachel, corroborates, according to Posnanski.

So why didn't Burns pivot to this, the more interesting story, in his doc? Why was he so insistent about denying Pee Wee Reese completely? How did he manage to get it wrong twice?

Moments of grace are rare in this world. Why not celebrate them? 

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Posted at 06:42 AM on Apr 29, 2016 in category Baseball
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Friday April 15, 2016

Rod Carew Tries On My Glove, 1970

Rod Carew tries on my glove, Met Stadium, 1970

A few facts and vague memories:

  • I'm the kid in the pink shirt in the center. It's my glove Rodney Cline is trying on. 
  • I think I was embarrassed by the pink shirt—not the color but the collar. Or I wanted to be wearing a T-shirt like my older brother (offering his glove for Carew to try on).
  • I was slightly embarrassed by the glove. I hadn't worked it in properly, and I had small hands, so the pinkie finger for the glove was particularly closed off. I think Rod made some mention of that. I think he counseled me to work on breaking in the glove better. 
  • It was a Stan Bahnsen glove that was bought for me at Korner Plaza in Richfield, Minn. A bit of irony, given my current feelings about the Yankees
  • Can you believe they didn't have any Twins gloves at Korner Plaza? None. No Killebrew, Oliva, Tovar, Carew. I mean Stan Effin' Bahnsen? You kidding me? 
  • It was Camera Day, Met Stadium, Bloomington, Minn., circa 1970. 
  • We have no idea who these other kids in the photo are. 
  • Nothing like a baseball stadium. 
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Posted at 12:14 PM on Apr 15, 2016 in category Baseball
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Wednesday April 06, 2016

Bryce Harper's Clown Cap, Bro

Here's the cap:

Bryce Harper: Make Baseball Fun Again

And here's his reasons for wearing the cap. It's basically an argument with baseball traditionalists:

“If a guy pumps his fist at me on the mound, I'm going to go, 'Yeah, you got me. Good for you. Hopefully I get you next time.' That's what makes the game fun. You want kids to play the game, right? What are kids playing these days? Football, basketball. Look at those players — Steph Curry, LeBron James. It's exciting to see those players in those sports. Cam Newton — I love the way Cam goes about it. He smiles, he laughs. It's that flair. The dramatic.”

Now I'm a Minnesotan, so bound by law to be a fan of the nondescript. When I was growing up in the days of Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, the Bud Grant-led Minnesota Vikings didn't even spike the ball; they just dropped it in the end zone like it was their job. I always liked that. Plus Cam Newton? Ewww. I'm a Seattleite now, so pick a Seahawk if you want me on board. Richard Sherman. Michael Bennett. Marshawn Lynch

Even so, I'm not averse to what Bryce is saying. But the cap? Let me count the ways it's a bad idea:

  1. Baseball is already fun. Isn't it?
  2. I mean, didn't you watch the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals? 
  3. Hey, how about that Eric Hosmer slide?
  4. Lorenzo Cain going first to home on a single? Twice? You try that sometime. 
  5. Or the 7th inning of that Texas-Toronto ALDS?
  6. Or Joe Posnanski's write-up about it?  
  7. Besides, that cap is waaaaaay too similar to Donald Trump's.
  8. Seriously, it's a clown cap, bro.
  9. More seriously: Why would you imply that your multimillion-dollar job playing a boy's game isn't fun? You do know what most people do for a living, right? 

On the plus side? Since Harper wants to be demonstrative, and wear his hair crazy, and make baseball “fun again,” he's that much less likely to sign with the New York Yankees after the 2018 season. 

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Posted at 06:14 AM on Apr 06, 2016 in category Baseball
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Monday April 04, 2016

Opening Day 2016: Your Active Leaders

  • SLIDESHOW: My favorite story about Opening Day comes via Joe Posnanski (who else?). One year, Moe Dabrowsky, a Chicago Cubs pitcher in the 1950s, ran onto Wrigley Field on Opening Day to see a fan holding up a sign: “Wait 'Til Next Year.” I kinda feel that way about the M's. But it's Opening Day (traditionally speaking), and we're required by law to believe all teams are strong, good-looking and above average. So let's check out the active leaders. Warning: Expect to see a lot of A-Rod.

  • BATTING AVERAGE: Miggy is known for clout but he's been the A.L. batting champion for four of the last five years, too. He's also the active leader with a .321 career average. The next three are former active leaders on the downhill side. Ichiro has gone from .333 in 2007 to .313 now; Pujols, a career .325 hitter in 2012, is currently at .312; and Joltin' Joe Mauer, .323 in 2013, is .312 today. 

  • ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Joey Votto's .423 OBP is the 14th-best in baseball history. No active player is close. No active player is even over .400. Miggy is second at .399.

  • SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: Albert leads this one by 18 points (.580 to .562 for Miggy), ninth-best all-time. But he used to be fourth-best, behind only Ruth, Williams and Gehrig, when he was slugging .628 in 2009. That's right: In six years, he's dropped 50 slugging points. And he has six more years on his contract, Angels fans. 

  • OPS: Similar story here. In 2009, Albert's 1.055 lifetime OPS was fourth-best all-time. Now he's at .977, 10th-best all-time. Then it goes Miggy (.961), Votto (.957), A-Rod (.937). 

  • GAMES, AT-BATS, HITS: Only eight players have ever played in 3,000 games, and A-Rod is 281 away at 2,719. Can he do it? He says he's going to retire after the 2017 season, which means he has to average 141 games per year. Last year he played in 151, so it's possible. After A-Rod, it goes Beltre/Ichiro for games and at-bats, and Ichiro/Beltre for hits. Ichiro is 65 away from 3,000. All former M's, btw.   

  • DOUBLES: David Ortiz starts out his final season as the active leader in doubles only because he out-doubled Albert last season, 37 to 22, putting him one ahead lifetime: 584 to 583. That's 18th-best all-time. If Papi hits 25 more this year he'll wind up 11th-all-time. Impressive. But the M's did get a month and a half of Dave Hollins. 

  • TRIPLES: Carl Crawford has been the active leader in this category since 2010 when he had 105. The next season he hit seven more. Then the inevitable slowdown with age: 2, 3, 3, and 2, for a grand total of 122. Jose Reyes is second (117), Ichiro third (91). Carl is 96th all-time. Another Crawford, Wahoo Sam, is the career leader with 309. An unbreakable record. 

  • HOMERUNS: A-Rod is about to become just the fourth man in baseball history to hit 700 homeruns—he's 13 away—but not much ballyhoo. Yes, PEDs. Yes, people don't like him. But this should be a bigger story. Then it goes Albert (560), Ortiz (503), Beltre (413), Cabrera (408). Can you guess the active HR leader still in his 20s? A surprise to me. 

  • RBIs, RUNS: A-Rod is eighth all-time in runs with 2,002, and fourth all-time in RBIs with 2,055. No active player is within 350 of him in either category. Another 21 RBIs, by the way, and he'll move past Cap Anson into third place, with only Ruth (2,214) and Aaron (2,297) ahead of him.

  • Ks, BBs: A-Rod is the active leader in both of these, but he excels in the K's: He's fifth all-time there with 2,220, and only 39th in walks (1,324). On the active list, Ryan Howard is second in Ks with 1,729, while David Ortiz is second in BBs with 1,239. BTW: Not many free free passes for A-Rod: he has only 97 intentional walks. Even Ichiro has more than that. Ichiro!  

  • STOLEN BASES: Speaking of: Last year Ichiro needed 13 SBs to get to 500, and he got 11. Barring tragedy, he'll get there this year. Or this month. He'll be the 38th man to do so. Carl Crawford, at 480, and Jose Reyes, at 479, will be No.s 39 and 40. Then there's not much: Michael Bourn and A-Rod tied for fourth with 326. I feel the need for some speed, MLB.

  • WINS: In the modern era, we've never had an active leader with fewer than 200 wins—Bunning/Drysdale, 209 wins in 1969, was closest—but that might end soon. Tim Hudson retired with 222 wins, Mark Buehrle (214 wins) is pondering same, while current active leaders Bartolo Colon (218) and C.C. Sabathia (214) aren't getting any younger. After them, it's John Lackey with 165. Of the kids, King Felix has managed 143 wins despite pitching for a unnamed team with a pretty crappy offense. 

  • LOSSES: This is also Bartolo, with 154, followed by Bronson Arroyo (131), C.C. Sabathia (129), John Lackey (127) and Jake Peavy (117). Interesting stat: Fernando Rodney, who never started a game in his career, who almost always enters a game with the lead, has nearly as many losses (55) as Clayton Kershaw (56). 

  • STRIKEOUTS: Onetime Yankee ace and current fifth starter C.C. Sabathia is on top with 2,574, with Colon second (2,237). But roaring up into third place is Felix Hernandez with 2,142. Expect him to be king soon.  

  • BASES ON BALLS: Once again, it goes C.C. (894), then Bartolo (856). On the all-time list, CC's walks are nothing: 163rd, tied with Bob Friend. In fact, this year is the first time the active walks leader is below 1,000 since Walter Johnson had 937 walks at the start of the 1921 season. Aren't batters walking more? This seems counterintuitive in the Moneyball era. 

  • ERA: Clayton Kershaw led this stat last year with an astonishing 2.48 career ERA. Then he improved upon it. He's now at 2.43. Adam Wainwright is half a run behind at 2.98, following by Big Madison Bumgarner at 3.03, David Price at 3.09, and King Felix at 3.11. 

  • INNINGS PITCHED: If Mark Buehrle doesn't come back this year, for the first time in the modern era the active leader in innings pitched will be under 3,000: C.C. at 2,988.2, following by Bartolo at 2,980.2. Just a few years ago we had a 5,000-IP guy (Greg Maddux, 13th all-time), and even more recently we had a bunch of 4,000-IP guys (Roger, Randy, Jamie), so this is all quite new. 

  • COMPLETE GAMES: Give C.C. credit: A bad year last year, but he still managed another C.G. to go up to 38. But give Bartolo credit, too. At 41, he managed another CG to keep pace at 36. Eventually, though, this will be C. Kershaw's, who, at 27, already has 21 CGs.

  • SHUTOUTS: Bartolo's reign will be shortlived. Last year, he managed another for 13 career, but Clayton Kershaw pitched three more for a total of 12. C.C. also has 12, Felix 11. Not too long ago, we had guys in the 60s (Blyleven, Ryan); then 40s (Clemens), then 30s (Randy), then 20s (Hallady). I could see Kershaw reaching the 20s again. #KnowHope. 

  • SAVES: F-Rod, atop this list with 386 (7th all-time), will always have a place in my heart for destroying the Yankees in the 2002 playoffs. Joe Nathan, who's trying to make a comeback, is second (377), while MVP-choker Jon Papelbon is third (349). Man to watch? Craig Kimbrel, fifth, with 225. He turns 28 in May.

  • WAR FOR PITCHERS: C.C.'s reign will be short-lived. Since the 2012 season, he's added only .7 for a career 54.1 WAR while King Felix has added 16.4 for a career 49.8 WAR. Then there's the guy in fourth place, Kershaw, who in the same 3-year span has added 22.8 in WAR for 47.2. BTW: Can someone get Kershaw a better nickname? The Claw? Kid K? Please. 

  • WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: It goes A-Rod (118.9, 12th all-time, ahead of Lou Gehrig, behind Ted Williams), then Albert (99.7), Beltre (83.8), Beltran (68.4), and Miggie (64.7), who's dinged for his D. Rounding out the top 10: Utley (62.3), Ichiro (58.4), Cano (55.1), Teixeira (52.4), Ortiz (50.4). Of course, in the end, that's not what it's all about. 

  • EXIT MUSIC (FOR A SLIDESHOW): This is what it's all about. *FIN*
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Posted at 05:43 AM on Apr 04, 2016 in category Baseball
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Wednesday March 30, 2016

Who's Most Due After the Cubs?

The baseball season is about to begin and the Chicago Cubs of all teams are among the favorites. Joe Posnanski makes his case for the hapless wonders in a piece called “This Is the Year,” which includes this anecdote:

 “We came out of the dugout for opening day,” Cubs pitcher Moe Drabowsky remembered, and this was way back in the 1950s. “And we saw a fan holding a sign: ‘Wait ‘Til Next Year.'”

Chicago CubsMade me laugh out loud. Also made me think of lthe Seattle Mariners today. Which raises the question: If the Cubs make it to the World Series for the first time since 1945, or god forbid win the World Series for the first time since 1908, who will take on the mantle of Hapless Wonders? Who is most due after the Chicago Cubs?

Let me make the argument for the Ms:

  • We are the team with the longest current postseason-less streak in baseball: We last saw October in 2001.
  • We are one of eight teams that has never won a World Series.
  • We are one of two teams that has never even been to the World Series.
  • This despite the Hall of Fame talent on the team in the 1990s: Griffey, A-Rod, Randy Johnson, Edgar, Jay Buhner, Tino, etc. We had Omar Vizquel for a time. We had Ichiro. Has any team had that much talent with so little to show for it?

All telling points. But some part of me wanted to chart it. I wanted to figure out with data points which team was most due. 

I started out with “Years Since Post-Season,” then quickly added “Years Since Pennant” and “Years Since World Series,“ since that’s what it’s all about, Alfie.

But previous pennants and World Series championships should count against you, right? How can the Yankees or Cardinals be ”most due"? They can't. At first I just took away one point for every pennant and two for a championship, but that didn't seem enough; so I bumped it up to 2 and 4, respectively. I gave extra points for the teams that never won a title (+5), or never even went (another +5).

Oh, and I counted current cities rather than franchises. In the chart below, the Nats only go back to 2005, when they moved to Washington, rather than to 1969, when they were born as the Montreal Expos. It's a judgment call. I asked myself: Did the years in Montreal matter to Nats fans? Did the year as the Seattle Pilots matter to Brewers fans? This goes for pennants and trophies, too. Those Philly A’s pennants didn’t wind up in the Oakland column. Ditto Boston/Milwaukee Braves for Atlantans. There's no right answer here. It just felt like it made more sense going with the city. 

But it still didn’t seem right.

It took me a while to figure it out, but it really came down to the Pirates. They were skewed. They’d made the postseason the past few years, so lost points there; but they’d hardly gone anywhere in those postseasons. One and out twice, and the LDS. They had the longest dry run for the LCS, 24 years, since Sid slid, and that should be reflected in some way. So I added another column for LCS, which also bumped the numbers of the Reds, Padres, and Braves. And the M's. Yay.

The result?

TEAMS  Y/Post Y/LCS Y/Penn. Y/WSC Xtra Penn. (-2) WS titles (-4) TOTAL
Chicago Cubs 1 1 71 108   -20 -8 153
Seattle Mariners 15 15 39 39 10     118
San Diego Padres 10 18 18 47 5 -4   94
Milwaukee Brewers 5 5 34 46 5 -2   93
Cleveland Indians 3 9 19 68   -10 -8 81
Houston Astros 1 11 11 54 5 -2   80
Pittsburgh Pirates 1 24 37 37   -14 -20 65
Texas Rangers 1 5 5 44 5 -4   56
Minnesota Twins 6 14 25 25   -6 -8 56
Colorado Rockies 7 9 9 21 5 -2   49
Baltimore Orioles 2 2 33 33   -12 -12 46
Washington Nationals 2 11 11 11 10     45
Atlanta Braves 3 15 17 21   -10 -4 42
Tampa Bay Rays 3 8 8 18 5 -2   40
Miami Marlins 13 13 13 13   -4 -8 40
Cincinnati Reds 3 21 26 26   -18 -20 38
Arizona Diamondbacks 5 9 15 15   -2 -4 38
Toronto Blue Jays 1 1 24 24   -4 -8 38
Oakland Athletics 2 10 26 27   -12 -16 37
Los Angeles Angels 2 7 14 14   -2 -4 31
Los Angeles Dodgers 1 3 28 28   -18 -20 22
Chicago White Sox 8 11 11 11   -12 -12 17
New York Mets 1 1 1 30   -10 -8 15
Detroit Tigers 2 3 10 32   -22 -16 9
Philadelphia Phillies 5 7 7 8   -14 -8 5
Kansas City Royals 1 1 1 1   -8 -8 -12
San Francisco Giants 2 2 2 2   -12 -12 -16
Boston Red Sox 3 3 3 3   -26 -32 -46
St. Louis Cardinals 1 2 3 5   -38 -44 -71
New York Yankees 1 4 7 7   -80 -108 -169

So Cubs on top, followed by the Mariners. Padres and Brewers are neck and neck. Then the Cleveland Indians, who, after the Cubs, have the longest championship dry run. They haven’t won it all since 1948.

Some would put the Indians ahead of the Pads, Brewers and Ms in hapless points, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree: 68 years, boy. On the other hand, they did make it to the World Series when they had all that talent in the mid-90s, even if they lost to the Braves in ’95 and the Marlins in heartbreaking fashion in ’97. The M's never went. 

Which raises another question: Do you get extra points for coming so heartbreakingly close like the '97 Indians, who were a decent Jose Mesa half-inning from a championship? Do you lose points for being a heartbreaker? How do you quantify heartbreak?

The chart's a work in progress; it can definitely be tinkered with. Suggestions welcome. Think of it as a conversation starter rather than stopper. 

One thing we can all agree on: the team least due. By my calculations, the New York Yankees need a half century of utter backbreaking futility, of not even touching the post-season, just to break even; just to be where the Tigers are right now. May they get there. 

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Posted at 06:16 AM on Mar 30, 2016 in category Baseball
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