erik lundegaard

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Friday October 24, 2014

The Greatest Baseball Giveaway Promotion Ever

The best giveaway promotion I've experienced at the ballpark was probably a bat night at Met Stadium in the early 1970s, back when they'd give away real bats, but reading Dan Epstein's “Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ‘76” (recommended), I came across another. It involved Bill Veeck, of course. 

Veeck (as in Wreck) was a low-rent baseball owner, frowned upon by his contemporaries, and always trying any stunt to get folks to come out to see his (usually lousy) teams. He hired the clown prince of baseball, Max Patkin, as a coach. Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ‘76He put Eddie Gaedel, a midget, onto the St. Louis Browns roster and in one game sent him up to pinch hit (he walked). In 1976, the year in question, he had his Chicago White Sox play in shorts for a few games and brought back fan favorite Minnie Monoso, who was 51 years old and had last played in 1964, for eight at-bats.But there was more:

In addition to his endless procession of “Ethnic Night” celebrations, on-field beer-case-stacking contests, and giveaway promotions ... Veeck also installed a shower in Comiskey Park’s center field bleachers, and convinced boozed-up Sox broadcaster Harry Caray to lead the crowd in a sing-along of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch of every home game. The latter would become a time-honored Chicago tradition, while the former instantly entered Comiskey lore. “It had a utilitarian function,” Veeck would later say of the shower. “It gets hot out there and people like to cool off. But it also attracts a number of young girls in bathing suits, and a certain number of young men who like to look at girls in bathing suits."

Indeed. But that's not the promotion I'm talking about. I'm talking about the parenthetical hidden by the above ellipsis:

—like “Ragtime Night,” where he gave away 10,000 copies of E. L. Doctorow’s best-selling novel—

Is that the greatest thing ever? Giving away a book? A novel? A literary novel written by the left fielder in my starting nine of the literary world?

That just makes me happy. It also makes me sad that I can't imagine any circumstances where anything similar might happen today.

Posted at 06:29 AM on Oct 24, 2014 in category Baseball
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Wednesday October 22, 2014

Breaking Down the Walkoff, Series-Ending Home Runs of Baseball's Postseason

I should've posted this yesterday, before Game 1 of the World Series, but life intervenes, as the Kansas City Royals, losers of Game 1 to the San Francisco Giants 7-1, must certainly feel by now.

So Major League Baseball tweeted this pic the day after Ishikawa's homerun last Thursday that gave the Giants the pennant. It's a list of all the post-season, walkoff, series-ending home runs. But there's an error. Can you spot it?

Walkoff, series-ending homeruns

OK, there isn't an error. I simply thought there was. I thought it was Ortiz. I assumed they were talking ALCS, when his walkoff homer in Game 4 simply kept the Sox alive, as did his walkoff single in Game 5. But Ortiz hit the walkoff in the ALDS against the Angels. Why didn't I remember that? 

Probably because, as walkoff, series-ending homers go, it was fairly forgettable. He hit it in the bottom of the 10th in a 6-6 tie to give the Red Sox the series three games to zero. Even if he hadn't hit it, even if the Angels had somehow come back in that game, the Red Sox still had a good chance of winning it all.

Let's break down the rest of these, shall we? (I'll highlight in red what's wanted in each column to make the homerun more exciting):

YEAR BATTER SERIES GAME INNING SCORE OUTS MEN ON COUNT
1960 Mazerowski WS 7 of 7 9th 9-9 0 0 1-0
1976 Chambliss ALCS 5 of 5 9th 6-6 0 0 0-0
1993 Carter WS 6 of 7 9th 5-6 1 2 2-2
1999 Pratt NLDS 4 of 5 10th 3-3 1 0  1-0
2003 Boone ALCS 7 of 7 11th 5-5 0 0 0-0
2004 Ortiz ALDS 3 of 5 10th 6-6 2 1 0-0
2005 Burke NLDS 4 of 5 18th 6-6 1 0 2-0
2006 Ordonez NLCS 4 of 7 9th 3-3 2 2 1-0
2014 Ishikawa NLCS 5 of 7 9th 3-3 1 2 2-0

What do we notice?

First, all of the die-or-die games involved the Yankees. They won two ALCSes that way and lost the big one in '60. 

And isn't it amazing how many of these games were knotted up by divisibles of three? Three of them were 3-3, three were 6-6, one was 9-9. Only Carter's (5-6) and Boone's (5-5) weren't.

Carter's was the only one where his team was behind, too. For all the others, it was a tie game. He was also the only guy behind in the count: 2-2. Nobody else even had a strike on them.

But if Carter's homer is highlighted in red three times in the above chart—indicating a pretty high level of excitement—why don't I think of it that way? Why do I think of it as ... dull?

Here:

  1. It wasn't the final game of the Series; it was just Game 6 of 7.
  2. There was only one out. 
  3. The Blue Jays were going to win it all anyway.

This last one is an intangible, not much talked about by statsheads, but it's huge to me. I was watching that game in '93, and once Mitch Williams started walking guys and giving up hits you knew it was over. His only out that inning was a fly ball to deep left by Devon White. The Blue Jays, back then, were the bad boys of baseball. They'd won it all in '92 and the Phillies seemed monumentally overmatched against them in '93. It's a wonder they won two games.

Who's the underdog? That's the intangible. That's why Aaron Boone's homer in '03 was more annoying than exciting. Sure, his team came from behind in the bottom of the 8th against one of the best pitchers in baseball history to tie it; but his team was the New York Effin' Yankees. In the previous seven years, they'd been to the World Series five times, and won it all four times. They're the definition of the overdog. 

Chambliss' in '76? A little better since the Yankees hadn't been to the Series since '64 and hadn't won it all since '62. But that team was already annoying. They were Billy Martin's bulliles. No one outside of the Bronx liked them. Plus the Kansas City Royals had never even been. And there went their first shot. 

That's why, of the above, Mazeroski's is still the ultimate walkoff homerun. It was the do-or-die game for both teams, and his team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, was the massive underdog. And it was in the World Series, not the ALCS or the NLDS.

But how does Mazeroski's shot rank with Bobby Thomson's “Shot Heard 'Round the World”? And why isn't that one included in the above?

Because it wasn't officially the post-season. It was a best-of-three playoffs that was considered part of the regular season. Cf. Twins-Tigers in 2009, Mariners-Angels in 1995.

But if you did count it, it would look like this:

YEAR BATTER SERIES GAME INNING SCORE OUTS MEN ON COUNT
1951 Thomson n/a 3 of 3 9th 2-4 1 2  0-1

Do-or-die game, his team's behind (by 2!), he's behind in the count. Plus the Giants were underdogs. They'd been way behind in the standings all year, made a great run (with some telescopic help), and hadn't won the pennant in 14 years. Although, yes, just how much could the hapless Brooklyn Dodgers, Dem Bums, be “overdogs”? Not by much. Pennants in '47 and '49, but no titles. Ever. They were hardly the Yankees. And they'd integrated baseball.

It's close, though. Maz or Thomson? Who would you choose? My gut says Maz, since it was in the World Series and against the effin' Yankees. But that game was tied, while Thomson's team was two runs behind. Plus there's Russ Hodges' call—the greatest call of all time

What would the ultimate walkoff, series-ending homer look like? It should be for some hapless team, like the Mariners, against some powerhouse, like the Yankees or Cardinals. Extra innings would be great but not necessary. Maybe something like this:

YEAR BATTER SERIES GAME INNING SCORE OUTS MEN ON COUNT
2015 Busick WS 7 of 7 9th 1-4 2 3  3-2

Touch 'em all, Mr. B!

Posted at 08:54 AM on Oct 22, 2014 in category Baseball
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Wednesday October 15, 2014

Quote of the Day

“I don't like that word: 'Unbelievable.' Don't use that word. Nothing is unbelievable.”

-- Buck O'Neil (1911-2006), former Kansas City Monarch and all-around baseball saint, to Joe Posnanski, which Pos posted on his Facebook page this afternoon after his and Buck's team, the lowly Kansas City Royals, 29 years removed from the postseason, swept the Baltimore Orioles to win the AL pennant. The Royals have now played eight postseason games in 2014 and won them all. They make me believe that anything can happen. (Well, except that, Mr. B.)

The American League Champion Kansas City Royals, 2014

“Please don't interrupt, because you haven't heard this one in a while. Kansas City Royals, champions of the American League. Honest.” (With apologies to Shirley Povich.)

Posted at 03:40 PM on Oct 15, 2014 in category Baseball
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Tuesday October 07, 2014

The National League is Boring the Pants Off Me

At the start of the post-season, before any one-game Wild Card playoffs, I wrote a post about my rooting interests. I even provided visual representation. Here was the American League, from favorite (left) to least (right):

American League 2014 postseason

I'm mostly rooting for the underdogs, the starving fans. The Royals hadn't been in the post-season since 1985, the Orioles hadn't been to the World Series since 1983, so 1 and 2. Sure, the Tigers have had a good run in recent years but they hadn't won it all, and it's Detroit. If I'd been consistent, I probably would've gone A's before Tigers, but ... hobgoblins. No surprise that my bottom-rungers are AL West teams: the rivals of my Mariners.

In the NL, similar rationale:

National League 2014 postseason teams

Pirates hadn't been to the World Series since '79, Nationals had never been, and Dodgers, despite a good record this century, hadn't been since way back in '88 (the Kirk Gibson series). Giants? They went in 2010 and '12, winning both. Cards? They went in 2004, 2006, 2011 and last year. They won the middle ones. So no contest there. Of the 10 total teams, I was rooting for anyone but the Cards and the Giants. 

What happens? Here's the AL results:

American League Championship Series

Not bad! Good for me, good for baseball. There, we're guaranteed a team that hasn't won the pennant since at least '85. 

The National League was a different story:

The National League Championship Series

You just want to say, “Really? These guys? Again? Can't you do any better?” There, we're guaranteed a team that hasn't won the pennant since ... 2012. Yay.

The Cards are the worst. They've been to the postseason 11 times this century, and have now made the NLCS nine times. That's two more times than the despised New York Yankees have this century. And their closest NL rivals in LCS trips? The Giants, of course, with four. But that's a huge gap. The Cards keep beating the teams I'm rooting for: Dodgers this year, Dodgers last year, Nats in 2012, Brewers in 2011. They're the team that just keeps showing up. They're the team that won't go away.

Now what? Root for the Giants? Crap.

If this continues I might have to add a “Cardinals Suck” category to the blog.

Posted at 08:53 PM on Oct 07, 2014 in category Baseball
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The Meticulous Fall of the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies

I'm sure this has been talked about elsewhere, particularly in Philly, but I had to comment on it. Because I've never seen a team that went from the pinnacle (World Series champions) to the depths (last in their division) so meticulously; that hit every rung on the ladder on its way down. It's almost impossible to be this precise in such a chaotic world. 

It goes like this.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Philadelphia Phillies won the 2008 World Series in six games over the Tampa Bay Rays.They were champions of the world. OK, champions of Major League Baseball, but that's like being champions of the world, no matter what some say. 

Year by year, this is what they've done since:

  • 2009: Lost the World Series, 4-2
  • 2010: Lost the NLCS, 4-2
  • 2011: Lost the NLDS, 3-2
  • 2012: Finished 3rd in its five-team division, 81-81, 17 GB
  • 2013: Finished 4th in its five-team division, 73-89, 23 GB
  • 2014: Finished 5th in its five-team division, 73-89, 23 GB

The precision in their fall is amazing. It should actually be applauded. Fans should hold up signs: 9.6. It's the Greg Louganis of falls.  

The good news for its fans? The team can't fall any lower. Well, worst team in baseball, I guess. They'd have to lose a dozen or so more games. If that manage it, I'm changing my score from 9.6 to 10. That's perfection.

Has any other team ever done this? Does anyone know? 

Posted at 05:58 AM on Oct 07, 2014 in category Baseball
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