erik lundegaard

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Saturday August 13, 2016

A-Rod's Last Game...in Pinstripes Anyway

A-Rod's Last Game

Storm clouds 

Will the last player retiring from Major League Baseball please turn out the lights? 

Seriously, suddenly it seems like everyone's going like that. It's not Derek Jeter's farewell tour, which seemed to last for-fucking-ever. This month it's: Mark Teixeira is done in September. Prince Fielder is done now. Oh, and Alex Rodriguez is done now, too. So sayeth the Yankees.

There's a story with A-Rod that we're not hearing yet—the way the Yankees forced him out so quickly, with so little fanfare, with such disrespect, four homeruns shy of a mythical 700. It's not befitting the way one of the best goes out. Or maybe the best do go out this way: Both Babe Ruth (after age and owner lies and a trade to the Boston Braves) and Ken Griffey Jr. (after age and rumors and negative reports) retired on the same day, June 2, exactly 75 years apart. They were here and then they were gone. Not everybody gets the year-long birthday party Jeter got.    

In the first plate appearance of his last game, Alex hit a line-drive RBI double in the gap; then a few 6-3s, a K, and Joe Girardi let him play third for one ceremonial out in the 9th. I'm glad he got the double. Suddenly I wanted better for him. Suddenly I was rooting for him. But even the weather was against him. It literally rained on his parade—his pregame ceremony. It got cut short. People had to run for cover. Words were left unsaid. 

A-Rod's last game: grabbing dirt from the infield

Grabbing dirt, post-game: a fan again.

At the start of the year, per my annual slideshow, A-Rod was the active leader in nine batting categories. Who's taking over? Mostly Albert, with a little bit of Adrian, and an Ichiro and a Ryan tossed in:

  • Games: Adrian Beltre (2676)
  • At-Bats: Adrian Beltre (10,134)
  • Hits: Ichiro (3,002)
  • Home runs: Albert Pujols (581)
  • RBIs: Albert Pujols (1785)
  • Runs: Albert Pujols (1647)
  • Strikeouts: Ryan Howard (1810)
  • Walks: David Oritz (1299) --> Albert Pujols (1208)
  • Career WAR: Albert Pujols (100.7)

A-Rod retires 3rd all-time in RBIs, 4th all-time in homeruns, 5th in strikeouts, 6th in total bases, 6th in extra-base hits, 8th in runs, 14th in HBP, 20th in hits, 25th in games played, 25th in slugging percentage, 30th in doubles, 35th in walks, and 37th in OPS. He won three MVP awards, and should've won five. He's got a ring. There were two PED scandals. He was booed forever and even before the PEDs. It was the $252 million contract, the Slap Heard 'Round the World, the aura. He seemed to love himself too much but it was probably the opposite. He always seemed aware of himself in the moment. Part of himself seemed outside himself, watching. How did he play at that level that way? He actually seemed vulnerable. I've never seen a great baseball player so poorly outfitted with “fuck you” armor.

A-Rod last game: tears

So much coulda woulda shoulda. 

Even his retirement is in quotes. He's gone from the Yankees but maybe some other team will take him, and give him a shot at 700. We've got a month and a half of the season to go. I think that would be a great farewell: making noise, and gate receipts, for some team other than the Yankees.

A-Rod's last game: lucky 13

Lucky 13

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Posted at 06:52 AM on Aug 13, 2016 in category Baseball
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Friday August 12, 2016

Stay Rod: How Alex Rodriguez Finally Became Us

Alex Rodriguez

Jeter gets feted for a year, A-Rod doesn't even get a two-week notice. 

I find myself late in life rooting for Alex Rodriguez. That's how awful the Yankees are; that's how much they suck. They make A-Rod sympathetic. 

I still don't get his quick, easy dismissal from the Yankees and possibly from Major League Baseball. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, David Ortiz, all of these guys go on season-long farewell tours; they're feted and gifted in opposition ballparks. We're forced to listen to encomium after encomium. A-Rod, four homers shy of 700, gets a Sunday presser in which the Yankees announce with as little fanfare as possible that his last game is Friday. See ya, don't wanna be ya. They're on a youth movement, sure, but even Mark Teixeira gets to last the year. So what happened behind the scenes? I'm not the only one wondering this. 

It makes you feel a little sorry for the guy. It shouldn't have been like this. 

I remember when teenaged girls screamed for him—the summer of '96. They brought placards to the Kingdome that read “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel.” Sometimes when he came to bat it was like Sinatra in '43, the Beatles in '64. 

Here's the profile I wrote about him back for the April 1999 issue of The Grand Salami, the Mariners alternative fan magazine. I've highlighted a few things that feel a little ironic and sad now:

Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez (3)
Nickname: A-Rod; Young Buck
Height: 6'3“
Weight: 195
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Born: 7-27-75 in New York, NY
Family: Don’t worry, he’s still single
Signed thru: 2000 season
Agent: Scott Boras
Acquired: M's first pick (first pick overall) of 1993 draft
Major League Debut: July 8, 1994
Quote: “I think that character is what proves out over a long season.” 

He’s Kid Dynamite, Superman, the Flash. He goes 40-40 from the middle infield and lunges sinking stuff over the opposite field wall. Wherever he travels opposition managers scowl, pitchers worry, and teenage girls squeal. He’s one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World and the most protected great hitter in the game. He was so good, so young, that it seems he’s even managed to stay younger longer than the rest of us. And he’s all ours for another two years. Then? That’s been the great guessing game in the sports press lately. Seattle can’t afford both Griffey and A-Rod, the reasoning goes, and Griffey seems a likelier candidate to stick around. So whither A-Rod? Cubbies? Dodger Blue? The latest rumor swirls around the Mets—so he and Jeter can pal around New York together. Think they’ll get any dates? 

Yeah yeah, I had a bad encounter with him. Yeah yeah, the way he left us for all that dough, then whined about being on a losing team, then finagled a trade to the team that kept winning, the Yankees, then didn't win with them for a number of years. I guess that was just desserts. His first year with them was the year they did what no team had never done: lose a 7-game series after being up 3 games to none. A-Rod contributed with the slap heard 'round the world. He hit 2 HRs in that series, with an .895 OPS, after crushing the Twins with a 1.213 OPS in the ALDS, but Yankee fans are spoiled shits, and he got a rep for choking. He didn't for the Ms in the postseason but he subsequently did for the Yankees. He sucked in the ALDSes in 2005 and '06 and was only so-so in 2007. Quick exits, all. Good times. Then the revelations of PEDs. The banishment. The boos. They didn't like him much in the Bronx. They cheered him a bit in 2009, sure, when they helped them win the World Series again, but that was an anomaly. He kept trying to win their hearts but their hearts were with Jeter, the man who wouldn't move over for the better shortstop. That was Yankee fans' ”team player.“ Is it A-Rod's lot in life to leave where he's beloved and stay where he's booed? There's tragedy there; he feels Shakespearean.

If you go by Baseball Reference's WAR, Alex Rodriguez is the 12th-greatest position player to ever play the game, sandwiched between Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. He should be a legend, but he's leaving as a footnote. Jeter left as a spoiled child, with parties everywhere, with his childish antics about getting a game-winning hit in his last, meaningless game in the Bronx. Alex just feels like he's been downsized. They didn't even have the courtesy to give him a two-week notice. He's the company man the company doesn't give a shit about. He's finally us.  

Here's what I wrote about him in August 2000:

Is there a publication that isn't writing about Alex? Even the Wall Street Journal (August 11th) got into the act. Freelancer Allen Barra gushed, ”Simply put, he is the most irreplaceable player in the major leagues. He is a more effective hitter than Mr. Griffey and a much better fielder and base-runner than Mr. Piazza. He hits with more power than Mr. Jeter...“ Love all that ”Mr." talk. One thing that the fact-checking Journal got wrong, though, was its assertion that Mr. Rodriguez might stay in Seattle because Safeco Field is a hitter's park. Um, no. But winning's #1 with Mr. Rodriguez and the Mariners are winning. And Mr. Gillick's smart enough to keep signing the players that can keep us winning, and Mr. Rodriguez is smart enough to know that. And who knows? Maybe M's owners (Messrs. all) are smart enough to move in the fences a little if it means keeping our Mr. Rodriguez. I.e., Stay Rod.

Not to be. Godspeed, Alex. 

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Posted at 05:42 AM on Aug 12, 2016 in category Baseball
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Thursday August 11, 2016

3,000 for Ichiro

Ichiro sleeve tug

An icon, with an iconic gesture.

This is the first thing I ever wrote about Ichiro Suzuki. It was in the April 2001 issue of The Grand Salami, an alternative Mariners fan magazine, for which I was in charge of player profiles: 

Hey, when did we pick up this guy? Just kidding. Ichiro comes to the M's with quite a bit of fanfare, and a playing record whose numerological significance seems something out of folklore: He won 7 straight batting titles with the Orix Blue Wave, 7 straight Gold Gloves, and was named to 7 straight “Best Nine” All-Star teams. And he's only 27. He has a .353 lifetime batting average and Michael Jordan stature in Japan. Yet he's given it all up to try to become the first Japanese position player to make it big in the bigs. Can he do it? That's the question. The U.S. players he's been compared to keeps leveling off: from Johnny Damon (hitting plus power) to Rod Carew (hitting with no power) to Brett Butler (hitting, but not Rod Carew-type hitting). How does .353 translate into English? We hope well.

This is the second thing I wrote about Ichiro Suzuki. It was in the May 2001 issue of The Grand Salami:  

Well, that didn't take long. In his first game he looked a little overmatched against Oakland's Tim Hudson—and admitted as much in a post-game interview—but that didn't stop him from dropping a key bunt-hit to help win the game. Four days later against Texas (and You-Know-Who), Ichiro went deep in the 10th inning for the game-winner. The following week against Oakland, he made a throw from right field (now capitalized: The Throw) which defied physics, nailing Terrence Long at third. A week later he robbed Raffy Palmeiro of a homerun at Safeco. What's next? Lightning shooting from his fingertips? Ridding the universe of evil-doers—or at least Scott Boras? And we haven't even mentioned the way he slaps that sweet single between third and short, his speed on the basepaths, and his quiet efficiency in an age of blowhard swagger. To paraphrase an old ad slogan: You Gotta Love This Guy.

On Sunday, the guy we were wondering about in March 2001 and were so amazed by in April 2001, became just the 30th player in Major League Baseball history to join the 3,000-hit club. He did it with a triple—only the second guy to ever do that.

My favorite stat comes via BaseballReference.com, and needs no embellishment from me:

3,000 hit club by age 26 

My oh my. 

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Posted at 09:27 AM on Aug 11, 2016 in category Baseball
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Monday July 11, 2016

Donald Trump Before Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS

Via ESPN's 30 for 30 doc, “Four Days in October.” He's talking about the way the Red Sox have battled back from a three-games-to-none deficit:

Oh, you have to respect them. I mean they've had great fight, great comeback, and now we'll see if they can take it all the way. But the Yankees are the Yankees and George is a winner.

Final score: BOS: 10, NY: 3.

Donald Trump WRONG before Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS

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Posted at 01:15 PM on Jul 11, 2016 in category Baseball
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Monday May 16, 2016

The Team with the Longest Postseason Drought

St. Louis Browns 1944 pennant

Apparently it doesn't pay to name your team the Browns. (Cf., football, Super Bowl)

It began with a simple thought: The baseball team with the longest, current postseason drought is my Seattle Mariners, who haven't been since 2001, when they won 116 games but got killed in the ALCS by the New York Yankees, 4 games to 1, including a 12-3 drubbing in the final game in the Bronx. Manager Lou Piniella had promised a Game 6 back in Seattle, and, as the outs dwindled down, the Yankee faithful taunted him, their former beloved skipper/right fielder, with “No Game 6! No Game 6!” Salt in the wound: Joe Torre used Mariano Rivera in the 9th inning with a 9-run lead—even though Mo had pitched an inning the day before and hardly needed the workout. Torre and Mo would get theirs a few weeks later in Arizona.

Anyway, the thought was this: What other teams have held this ignominious title: Team with Longest Postseason Drought (LPD)? 

Last year, I knew it was the Blue Jays, the other '77 expansion team, which hadn't been to the post since 1993, when they won their second World Series in a row. Of course they then went in '15 (bat flip, etc.) but lost to the eventual World Champion Kansas City Royals ... which had been the team with the longest postseason drought before them. 

But what about earlier? And which of the original 16 teams was the last to get to the postseason?

So I crunched the numbers.

Interesting tidbit: the 15th of the 16 teams to make it to the World Series was the St. Louis Cardinals, which didn't go until 1926, and which now has more championships than any NL team.

As for last? That was the other St. Louis team, the Browns, which didn't make it until 1944, then lost (to the crosstown Cards), and never went again until they moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles. By the time '44 rolled around, it had been 41 years of famine for the Browns, and 18 years (since the start of the '27 season) with the LPD title. 

Who took over the mantle in '45? The Boston Braves, which had been only once, back in '14. They held the title for four years until they made the Series in '48, when it passed onto the Phillies, pennantless since '15, who went two years later. So the ChiSox/BlackSox got it. 

Here's a chart. Search for your favorite team:

TEAM W/ LPSD PERIOD YEARS YRS W/TITLE
St. Louis Browns 1903-1944 41 18
Boston Braves 1914-1948 34 4
Philadelphia Phillies 1915-1950 35 2
Chicago White Sox 1919-1959 40 9
Pittsburgh Pirates 1928-1960 32 1
Phil/ KC/ Oakland Athletics 1931-1971 40 11
Chicago Cubs 1945-1984 39 13
Cleveland Indians 1954-1995 41 11
Texas Rangers 1961-1996 35 1
Mon. Expos/Wash. Nationals 1981-2012 31 16
Kansas City Royals 1985-2014 29 2
Toronto Blue Jays 1993-2015 22 1
Seattle Mariners 2001-? 15* 1*

* and counting

Trivia learned along the way:

  • The last of the original 16 teams to make the postseason in the new, post-1969 playoff format? Cleveland Indians. In 1995. Ouch. 
  • The last team, original or expansion, to make the post-season? The Rays in 2008. The second-to-last was the D-backs in '99.
  • Which team has made it to the post-season the fewest times? The Marlins. Just twice: 1997 and 2003. But they won the World Series both years. So: compensation. 
  • The original 16 team that's been to the postseason the fewest times? Not the Cubs. It's their crosstown rivals, the White Sox, which—even in the era of expanded playoffs—have only made the postseason nine times. Two expansion teams, the Astros and Angels, have been more often (10). Hell, the Cubs, pennant-less since 1945, still have more pennants (10) than the ChiSox have postseason appearances (9).
  • Only one franchise from each expansion year has won a World Series title. Isn't that odd? In '61, we got the Senators/Rangers (visited Series twice, lost twice) and Angels (title: 2002). In '62, the Astros (went once, lost) and Mets ('69, '86). Among the four teams of '69, the Royals are far and away the most successful: four Series and two championships ('85, '15). No championships for the Padres (been twice), Brewers (once), Expos/Nationals (nonce). And so on. '77, it's Blue Jays (two titles) over Mariners (never been); in '93, Marlins over Rockies; '97, D-backs over Rays. Odd little phenomenon. Will end soon but it's interesting it's worked out this way so far.

This dive into the stats, by the way, did nothing to curb my hatred for the Yankees. The opposite. More on that later. 

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