erik lundegaard

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Wednesday October 14, 2009

What the World Series Needs

Must be tough being a columnist, coming up with an angle everyday, but can't say much for William C. Rhoden's angle in The New York Times two days ago:

Still, what Major League Baseball needs is a great World Series, a Series for the ages. And with all due respect to those two other potential matchups, it’s a Yankees-Dodgers World Series that could take the game back to its roots at a time when baseball desperately needs to recover a portion of the trust, if not the innocence, that it has lost in the steroid era.

First, I think there are three other potential matchups: Yankees vs. Phillies; Angels vs. Phillies; Angels vs. Dodgers.

Second, I don't think this is what Major League Basebal needs.

I understand the impulse. It's a classic match-up: the two teams that have met the most—11 times—in the fall (now almost-winter) classic. You have the Torre angle, the Manny angle, east coast and west coast. You have coast-to-coast and in living color.

But this is what the World Series needs more than that match-up:

  • 7 games
  • World Series weather
  • Day games
  • Games that end before midnight on the east coast
  • No games in November
  • No games on Halloween
  • No games, really, the last week in October

What the Series doesn't need is another appearance by the Yankees, who have been 39 times, more than twice as often as the second-most successful team (the Dodgers: 18 times), and who have a payroll twice as high as most other teams in the Majors, including the Dodgers ($208 million to $100 million), to ensure that they keep on coming.

There have been a lot of problems with the World Series in recent years but the Yankees not being there has always been a pleasure. Hell, it should be the Series' official motto:

The World Series
Yankee-Free Since 2003

Posted at 06:14 AM on Oct 14, 2009 in category Baseball
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Saturday October 10, 2009

Countown to the World Series—II

Fun fact! By this day, October 10, every World Series in the 1930s had ended:

  • 1930: Oct 1-Oct 8 (six games)
  • 1931: Oct 1-Oct 10 (seven games)
  • 1932: Sept 28-Oct 2 (four games)
  • 1933: Oct 3-Oct 7 (five games) *
  • 1934: Oct 3-Oct 9 (seven games) *
  • 1935: Oct 2-Oct 7 (six games) *
  • 1936: Sept 30-Oct 6 (six games)
  • 1937: Oct 6-Oct 10 (five games) *
  • 1938: Oct 5-Oct 9 (four games)
  • 1939: Oct 4-Oct 8 (four games)

What are the asterisks for? Mathematicians? Anybody?

Those are the years when there were no off-days (or even rain-outs) during the World Series. That's right. Despite traveling between New York and D.C. (in '33), St. Louis and Detroit (in '34), Detroit and Chicago (in '35) and, well, the Bronx and Coogan's Bluff (in '37), and travel being limited to 1930s-type travel, they played straight through. I don't know why we can't do this 70-80 years later. It's pretty awful scheduling the brunt of the World Series in November when the LCS's are allowing three days off per series—including in the middle of homestands. I mean, WTF? The fewer days off, the more teams will have to dance with those that brung them, including especially fourth and fifth starters. The more it'll be like the rest of the season. The better weather it'll be played in.

Countdown to the start of the 2009 World Series: 18 days. Every team has, at most, 10 games to play to get there. 10 games in 18 days.

Is baseball being run or run into the ground?

Posted at 03:14 PM on Oct 10, 2009 in category Baseball
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Friday October 09, 2009

Countdown to the World Series

Welcome to October 9, the day they played the final game of the World Series in the following years: 1966 (Orioles 4, Dodgers 0), 1961 (Yankees 4, Reds 1), 1958 (Yankees 4, Braves 3), 1949 (Yankees 4, Dodgers 1), 1944 (Cardinals 4, Browns 2), 1938 (Yankees 4, Cubs 0), 1934 (Cardinals 4, Tigers 3), 1929 (Athletics 4, Cubs 1), and, most infamously, 1919 (Reds 5, White Sox 3).

By this day, 29 World Series had already ended. Some quick facts:

  • Earliest final game of the World Series: Sept. 11, 1918, to accommodate World War I (Red Sox 4, Cubs 2).
  • Earliest final game of the World Series in a non-war year: October 2, in 1932 (Babe Ruth's called shot) and 1954 (Willie Mays' catch).
  • Earliest final game of the World Series after the 162-game schedule was instituted in 1961: October 6, 1963, when the Dodgers swept the Yankees in four games: Koufax, Podres, Drysdale, Koufax.
  • Earliest final game fo the World Series after the best-of-five playoffs were instituted in 1969: October 14, 1984: Tigers 4, Padres 1.
  • Earliest final game of the World Series after the best-of-seven playoffs were instituted in 1985: October 20, in 1988 (Dodgers 4, Athletics 1) and 1990 (Reds 4, Athletics 0).
  • Earliest final game of the World Series after the wild-card round was added in 1995: October 21, 1998 (Yankees 4, Padres 0).
  • Earliest final game of the World Series this decade: October 25, 2003 (Marlins 4, Yankees 2)

Countdown to the first game of the 2009 World Series? 19 days. The Series starts October 28, 2009. Only two World Series have lasted longer than this year's start date: Last year's, which ended on October 29, and the Sept. 11, 2001-interrupted season, which didn't end until November 4.

Nice planning.

Posted at 09:44 AM on Oct 09, 2009 in category Baseball
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Tuesday October 06, 2009

My Top 5 Metrodome Moments

the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

The Metrodome knows how to go out with a bang, doesn't it? No meaningless final baseball game there.

On September 30, 1981, I was at the Twins final game at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn., and it was about as meaningless as they come. A cold drizzly day, a loss to Kansas City, a speech by Calvin Griffith. It was the last home game of a godawful baseball season split in two because of a June/July work stoppage. The Twins were abyssmal in the first half (17-39) and merely lousy in the second (24-29), and overall finished in last place in the seven-team A.L. West. Yes, behind even Seattle. Attendance in that final game reflected their record, and the gametime temperatures (in the 50s), and the day of the week (Wed. afternoon). Only 15,900 bothered to show up to say good-bye.

In the middle of Calvin's speech, one of those 15,000, a lanky fan with long hair, jumped onto the field and loped from first base to home, where he did a bellyflop onto the plate; then he stood, arms raised, like he'd accomplished something. Since no security guard stopped him, others jumped onto the field, too. They ran the bases, gathered infield dirt, tore up the grass. They tore up seats and signs. My friend Brian McCann and I dropped onto the field, too, ran the bases, gathered nothing. Former cross-country runners, we'd brought socks to keep our hands warm, and we walked out to left-center field and took turns tossing the balled-up socks to one another, as if the balled-up socks were a ball, as if were making a great catch against the wall. It was fun but melancholy. We were 18 and already nostalgic. We were all moving indoors.

The final regular-season game at the Metrodome was supposed to be Sunday but the Twins went on a tear, winning 16 of their last 20, and caught first-place Detroit on Saturday, stayed even with them Sunday—both teams won—and beat them in a 12-inning, back-and-forth, incredible 163rd game this afternoon. No hippies rushed the field. No seats were torn up. It was a party, not a wake, and now the party's moving outdoors.

Everyone and their brother is counting down their favorite Metrodome Memories—Hrbek's grand slam in '87; Puckett's catch and game-winning homerun in '91; Gaetti and Brunansky and Morris and Knoblauch and Hunter and Santana and Mauer and Morneau. Here's mine. It's limited to the games I went to, which wasn't many. I was living in Taiwan during the '87 Series, Seattle during the '91 Series. The only post-season game I attended at the Metrodome was Game 1 of the 2006 ALDS, Oakland vs. Minnesota. My boss had a luxury suite and me and my friend Dave P. got in on the action. Except there wasn't much action. We had Johan Santana going, the surest thing in baseball, but freakin' Frank Thomas hit two homeruns, and the Twins lost, 3-2, on their way to being swept by the freakin' A's, who would then lose to the freakin' Tigers in the ALCS, who would then lose to the freakin' St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, in what was, give or take a Yankee trouncing, a pretty lame post-season.

Here are my moments. I'd love to hear yours:

  • 5. Murderball at the Dome. In May 2006 I invited family and friends to the company suite for a Twins/Mariners matchup. Around the seventh inning, the son of my friend Jim Walsh, leaning out of the box, pointed out someone on the walkway below and Jim began to chat him up. I assumed an old friend. But it was Mark Zupan, the poster boy for the 2005 documentary “Murderball,” a scene from which had topped my MSNBC list of the top 10 scenes of 2005. A bunch of us went down, talked to the dude, and had a great time.

Jim Walsh and Mark Zupan at the Metrodome, 2006

  • 4. Caffeinating Jordy. My sister, Karen, found it funny that I was nervous about being solely responsible for my nephew, Jordy, 5, for an August 2006 weekday afternoon game, but I was. I imagined, in the huge crowds, taking my eye off him for a second, turning around, not seeing him. Jordy? Jordy? That panic. Nothing like it happened, of course. We had box seats along the first-base side for Francisco Liriano's comeback game, but Liriano, injured worse than they thought, lasted, I believe, three innings. Jordy lasted five. At first I tried to get his attention away from the puzzles in his program and onto the field by talking up numbers: on the players' backs, and on the radar gun that measured the speed of each pitch. He liked this last part—even if it was the fact of the number, rather than what the number represented, that impressed him. “Wow: 93 miles per hour!” he said. “Wow: 72 miles per hour!” he said. Then I made a rookie mistake. Buying him a slice of pizza, I asked what he'd liked to drink with it. Lemonade? Coke? Oh, Coke? You want Coke? I think I bought the medium, 20 ounces, for a kid who'd never had caffeine before. By the time I gave him back to his mother at the nearby Star-Tribune, he was climbing the walls. Literally. The two rode the elevator to the third floor and Jordy tried to scale those walls. No need to thank me. It's what uncles are for.
  • 3. Precursor to the '87 magic. In September 1987, a month before I left for Taipei, Taiwan, I went to a game—my first game at the Dome in a long while—with my friends Dave P. and Terri, who had recently moved (for Terri), or moved back (for Dave), to Minneapolis. The Twins were in the thick of a division race but attendance was slim. We got bleacher seats and kept moving about: Now in left, now in center, now in right. Which is where we were sitting when Kirby Puckett won the game in extra innings with a homerun. Exciting! People cheered a bit, then went home. They expected little because Minnesota never won big. Minnesota comes in second: the '65 Series, four Super Bowls, the presidential elections in 1968 and 1984. That's how we roll. So imagine my suprise, a month later in Taipei, hearing about the huge roar of the crowds at the Dome, and the frenzied fans waving...what? Homer whatsis? When did that start? I got the final skinny listening to the radio in the Chens' living room in the middle of a flood: “The Minnesota Twins, behind the pitching of Frank Viola and the decibels of the Dome, beat...” Half a world away, I made my own noise.
  • 2. Kent Hrbek is trying to kill me! In April/May 1991, a month before I moved to Seattle, Dave P. and I bought some scalped tickets, then moved closer and closer and closer. This was the year after the year the Twins finished in last place, so it was a sparse crowd again and easy to move down. By the middle of the game we were maybe 10 rows back on the homeplate/third-base side of the field, but closer to homeplate. Kent Hrbek, a lefty, was up. Here's what Dave remembers: ducking, as the foul ball rocketed towards his head but curved towards mine. Here's what I remember: my hand stinging, and the ball about 10 rows behind me. “If you had worse reflexes, you could've wound up in the hospital!” friends told me. “If I'd had a glove, I could've caught it,” I responded.
  • 1. A one-hop strike to third. In August 2006, our publisher got an invite for a post-afternoon-game fundraiser at the Dome. You'd go on the field, meet Tony Oliva, play a softball game. Sounded fun. The publisher couldn't make it but asked me if I wanted to go, and I brought along my sis and her family, and the old man, who even in his 70s plays softball three times a week. Meeting Tony-O again was fun. He was one of my favorite players growing up, and the recipient, on a long-ago Camera Day at Met Stadium, of the butt-hug visible on the bio page. Everyone else gave him fundraiser-provided baseballs to sign but I brought along that picture. “Who's this handsome fellow?” he said, looking at it. One of the organizers took a Polaroid of me and him, along with the picture, 35 years after the original. The greater fun that evening, though, was shagging flies in left field. I'd been playing softball in a tavern league for about 10 years, and was a serviceable fielder with a pretty accurate arm. With someone hitting fungoes from third base—baseballs not softball—I tracked them against that teflon roof and caught them in that Major League stadium. One ball I caught near the warning track, and a bit of the kid got ahold of me. I threw the ball hard against the wall, speared it on a hop, turned and threw a one-hop strike to third base. Just like the big boys. OK, just like the young kids.

R.I.P., ya big marshmallow. You were the only Major League stadium I ever played in.

Posted at 11:05 AM on Oct 06, 2009 in category Baseball
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Sunday October 04, 2009

Straight Line to the Hall of Fame

It's the last day of the regular season, and possibly the last day we'll see Ken Griffey, Jr. playing Major League baseball, but just check out this photo, taken, I believe, Tuesday night, when Junior, who's 39, and an old 39, hit his 17th homerun of the season and 628th of his career:

It would be hard to draw a straighter line than the one you get following the angle of his head to his arms to his bat. It's beautiful.

Junior's put up amazing stats in his career—particularly if, as seems likely, he's one of the few guys who didn't take steroids all this time. Steroids help you heal faster and Junior's been nothing but injured this decade. Even so, he has 630 career homeruns, fifth all-time, after Mays, Ruth, Aaron and Bonds*, so really fourth all-time. He's 16th in RBIs (14th). He's got 10 Gold Gloves—all with Seattle. But it's more than the numbers. Junior is just beautiful to watch. As an old man I'm gonna be the guy going, “Yeah yeah yeah. But you should've seen him play.”

EXTRA: Via MLB's site, here's the 630th, and possibly last, homerun of his career.

Posted at 08:52 AM on Oct 04, 2009 in category Baseball
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