Baseball posts

Tuesday March 22, 2022

Twins Grin!

“The Yankees have been beating up on the Twins for almost 20 years now — it's one of the PosCast's favorite/least favorite topics. So we will cherish March of 2022, when the Twins somehow outmaneuvered the Yankees by dumping Josh Donaldson's overpriced salary on them and then using the money to get the jewel of free agency, Carlos Correa. Whoa! I don't know how long Correa will actually stay in Minnesota, but you get the sense he's just about ready to have the monster, 'bow before Correa' year and I'm sure the Twins would be very, very happy for him to have that season in Minnesota.”

-- Joe Posnanski, “The Baseball Whirlwind,” about the various trades/signings each team has made in the past two weeks.

Posted at 12:56 PM on Tuesday March 22, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Friday March 18, 2022

Ralph Terry (1936-2022)

Ralph Terry was on the mound for two of the greatest moments in baseball history.

The first was Bill Mazeroski's homerun that ended the 1960 World Series. That's a no-doubter. Mazeroski is the only player who ever did what every kid dreams of doing: hitting a Game 7, bottom-of-the-ninth-inning homerun that wins the World Series. And Terry was the guy who served it up.

The second moment, two years later, ended another World Series but it was kind of the opposite. In the '62 Series, the Yankees kept winning the odd games (1, 3, 5), the Giants countered with the even games (2,4, 6), and Terry started Game 7 for the bad guys. At that point, Terry had an unYankee-like 1-4 World Series record, but through five innings of Game 7 he was perfect: 15 up, 15 down, and the Yanks took a 1-0 lead in the 5th on Tony Kubek's double-play grounder. The first hit off Terry came from, of all players, pitcher Jack Sanford, who singled with two outs in the 6th. Willie McCovey got the second hit: a triple with two outs in the 7th. Neither man scored. It was still 1-0 going into the bottom of the 9th when Matty Alou led off with a single. The next two guys struck out, but that brought up the best player in baseball, Willie Mays, who doubled to right. How Matty Alou didn't score from first, I don't know. I've heard Maris made a good play in right. Anyway, that brought up McCovey again, who, on a 0-1 pitch, lined a rocket to right field—but right at second baseman Bobby Richardson, who was perfectly placed, one could say “shifted,” on the far side of second, closer to first, really. And the inning, game, season and series were over, along with you could say, Terry's ignominy. Imagine if that had gotten through. That's all Terry would be known for: losing Game 7s. Instead, it's the ying and yang of it.  

So why was that McCovey/Richardson moment so great? Because it inspired Giants fan Charles Schulz to pen this classic strip in the off-season:

The date on that one is Dec. 22, 1962. 

More than a month later, Jan. 28, 1963, he added another:

I always thought there were three such strips—going to one foot higher—but it's just the two. Even so, they're great. Every fan of every losing team relates. I certainly did after Super Bowl XLIX.

Terry had been recruited by many teams, including the Cardinals, but signed with the Yankees. Then he got caught in that NY-KC traffic. The 1950s Kansas City Athletics were a virtual farm-system team for the Yanks, and in June '57 he was sent down (along with Billy Martin, who was considered a bad influence on Mickey Mantle), and in May '59 he was recalled. His best season was probably '62, when he started 39 games, went 23-12, and led the league in wins, innings pitched, and homeruns allowed. He was good the next season, too, leading the league in WHIP, but he fell off in '64 and was traded to Cleveland ignominiously in October as a PTBNL (Player to be named later). In '66 he was traded back to the KC A's, and in August was purchased by the NY Mets, who, at the time, had a thing for ex-Yankees. He was released and signed and released for good in May '67. In his last game, he pitched in relief, two innings, and was perfect: six up, six down. The last batter he faced was one of the most fierce hitters in baseball: Dick Allen. He struck him out swinging. 

Born in Big Cabin, Oklahoma, Terry died on Wednesday in Larned, Kansas, from complications after an icy slip-and-fall this winter. He was 86.

Posted at 01:09 PM on Friday March 18, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday March 12, 2022

New Baseball Rules: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Hey, the 2022 owner lockout is over! Major League Baseball is starting again, officially on April 7, which is a good day for Opening Day. (I hate it when they play in March.) More good news: They're playing all 162 games, even though they're starting a week late. How are they doing that? Apparently by adding double-headers (good) and by adding three games at the end of the season (bad, since the postseason already bumps up against November).

As for the rest? My friend Tim breaks it down in a piece called “The new normal: CBA changes leave a sour taste,” on the Grand Salami site. There's the monetary stuff—who gets what percentage of our dough—which he deals with in straightforward fashion. Then there's the baseball stuff. How are they changing this game that we love? 

Are they, for example, making it easier for fans without cable to watch their home teams? No, we're still screwed on that. Are they doing anything to speed up the game? Probably. They're creating a beast called the “Joint Competition Committee” (what a monicker), which will consist of four active players, one umpire, and six reps/owners appointed by the Commissioner. (Meaning owners and Comm. Rob Manfred will have majority rule.) This group will suggest on-field rule changes that Manfred can implement within 45 days beginning in 2023.

And what changes are being bandied about? According to Tim, “a pitch clock, larger bases, and severe restrictions on defensive positioning.” Me: Larger bases? Who looks at baseball today and goes, “You know the problem with the game, don't you? Those damn bases aren't big enough.” (Follow-up: If it increases SBs, I'm down with it.) Pitch clock, if it's enforced, seems fine. Limiting the shift, though ... I get it, but I'd rather market forces took care of that. Teams should put a premium on guys that can hit to all fields rather than beefy pull hitters. Also not sure how they'll implement/enforce it. What the parameters will be. How much out of position can a shortstop be, for example? And who decides?

Anyway, all that's in the future. What's in the present? Let's break it down Sergio Leone-style:

THE GOOD

  • Extra innings are extra innings again. No more stupid ghost runners.
  • Doubleheaders are doubleheaders again. Nine innings rather than 7. As God intended.
  • The amateur draft order changes. Instead of a last-to-first thing, there will be a drawing of the bottom six to prevent teams from tanking. Interestingly, I just rewatched the 30/30 doc “Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks,” much recommended, and the NBA did such a draft in '85 when the Knicks got Patrick Ewing. Seems smart. And dramatic.
  • Just five player options. Teams can now only option a player to the minors five teams per season. Which seems plenty. Let's get to know these guys. Even if they suck.

THE NEUTRAL (Sorry, Sergio, but...)

  • NL gets the DH. Tim really hates this one and I get it. You're reducing strategy—when to pinch-hit for a player who can't hit. But it is a player who can't hit—generally. So this doesn't bother me that much. I'm almost neutral on it. But in the great DH/No DH battle since '73, I thought it would only be resolved by war. Instead, barely a whimper from the NL. Kind of sad.
  • Every team will play every other team. To begin in 2023. Again, both bad and good. The AL/NL border wall was thick until the mid-90s and now it's porous. Everyone's getting through. At the same time, seeing fewer games against, say, the Rangers, sounds fun. At the same time, I miss league specificity. I miss the romance and mystery of the other league. I miss All-Star Games that mattered a little. Maybe I just miss my youth.

THE BAD

  • The playoff field grows from 10 to 12 teams. World without end here. When I was born in 1963, just two teams made the postseason: the pennant winners. From '69 to '93 it was four teams: the two division winners. From '95 to, what, 2012 or so, it was eight teams: the three division winners plus a wild card. Then it was 10 teams: the three division winners plus two wild cards, who would play each other in a die-or-day game. Now it's 12. We're playing 162 games, half a year, to eliminate 18 of 30 teams. And it'll only get worse. 
  • Game 163s are gone. You know, when teams tie and have to go sudden death? Yankees/Red Sox in '78, Mariners/Angels in '95, Twins/Tigers in '09? That excitement? Yeah, thanks but no thanks Bucky Dent, Luis Sojo and Carlos Gomez. We've had enough excitement for the season. We'll just trot out the mathematicians for this one. A formula will decide. 

THE UGLY

  • They're putting ads on uniforms. Let me repeat that: They're putting ads on uniforms! God, what fuckers. What greedy fuckers. According to Tim, a patch on every jersey and a decal on every batting helmet is now allowed. “How prominent these will be has yet to be revealed, but it's the first step toward NASCAR-like ad insanity or MLS-like team sponsorships that overwhelm a uniform.”

That last one hurts. It really does. And it's more evidence that the people who run baseball don't give a shit about baseball. It's more evidence that we need to save baseball from the people who run it.

Posted at 11:43 AM on Saturday March 12, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Tuesday March 08, 2022

Michael Schur for Baseball Commissioner

“I like it when faceless billionaires ruin things that bring joy to millions of people in order to make very slightly more money than they already had—which was, again, billions of dollars. I genuinely enjoy it when 30 anonymous rich lunatics display an utter lack of interest in protecting or caring for the national pastime they've inherited, and make children cry.”

-- Michael Schur, creator/producer of “Parks and Recreation” and “The Good Place,” on the Poscast with Joe Posnanski, talking about the 2022 baseball lockout. The first week of the season has already been canceled—91 total games—and we're on the verge of losing the second.

Posted at 08:56 AM on Tuesday March 08, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday March 05, 2022

Rob Manfred, Ownerous

This was the picture shared by millions of baseball fans on social posts this week: a smiling MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, canceling the start of the 2022 Major League Baseball season. On his substack blog, Joe Posnanski called it “a travesty of a press conference” and wondered aloud about Manfred: “He's certainly a smart guy. Cornell. Harvard Law. He can be engaging in the right setting. So why is he SO bad at this? Why does he say unbelievably stupid things all the time?”

Then he tries to break it down:

  1. He's petty. Example: Firing Ken Rosenthal.
  2. He seems to think he's only talking to the person he's talking with. Example: The above shot, which is Manfred apparently joking around with New York Post reporter Ken Davidoff, who is leaving the gig, and with whom Manfred has bumped heads. But you just don't do it. You don't cancel baseball games two years after 2/3 of all games were wiped out by a global pandemic, at a time when we're all craving normalcy, when the world is at war, you don't cancel games with a fucking smile.  
  3. He always seems unprepared for any question that comes along. Example: “That's how we've always done it” is never a good answer, for anything, in any situation, but that was apparently Manfred's answer on why baseball owners would not raise the luxury tax to at least match the level of inflation.

But what's really wrong with Rob Manfred is he's the owners' guy—as almost all MLB commissioners have been since Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

You look at the history of these guys and wonder how it is that baseball survived all these years. Off the top of my head, I'd give props to Happy Chandler, who helped integrate baseball, and A. Bartlett Giamatti, who had a genuine love of the game and a poetry to him. Otherwise we have: Landis (racist, tyrannical), Ford Frick (asterisk, though helped expand baseball across the country), William Eckert (nada), Bowie Kuhn (the Gerald Ford of baseball commissioners), Peter Ueberroth (collusion, megalomania), Fay Vincent (nada II), and Bud Selig (an owner). 

And now this guy. Where did he come from? In another post, Posnanski writes about how the luxury tax is basically a salary cap, and he goes into the history of both, and we get a surprise ending:

In 1994, the owners decided to go to the wall for a salary cap. Their idea was essentially like in football and basketball — they would tie salaries to revenue, and they would set the cap so that 50% of the revenue went to the players. The owners wanted the players to counter with a higher percentage, even it was a MUCH higher percentage, but it goes without saying that the players wouldn't even negotiate if a salary cap was involved.

There's a particularly poignant scene in the classic [book] “Lords of the Realm,” where one of the owners' lawyers approached my friend Steve Fehr (a union lawyer and brother of union head Don Fehr) at the All-Star Game and basically shouted at him, “Give us a number! Give us a number! Give us a number!”

That owners' lawyer's name: Rob Manfred.

I had to do a doubletake on that one, even though I should know better by now. World is corrupt, world without end. Manfred is still the owners' lawyer, he just has a different title.

Poz also reminds us that April 15, 2022 is the 75th anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson played his first Major League game, integrated the then-national pastime, and helped pave the way for what was to come. It should be a day of celebration in parks around the country.

Happy Chandler, we hardly knew ye.

Posted at 10:42 AM on Saturday March 05, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday February 19, 2022

Pitchers and Catchers and the Rest of Us

MLB pitchers and catchers were supposed to report last week but the only reporting going on was the journalistic kind about the owners' lockout, which has already officially delayed spring training games and may soon get worse.

Thursday, Joe Posnanski had a thing or two to say about it all. He says there's no larger issue at stake besides money. All the problems baseball currently faces? 

The players have caved on all of that. They've given up on getting earlier free agency. They've given up on getting earlier arbitration. They do not seem interested in getting minor leaguers a living wage. They do not seem to know how to stop major league teams from manipulating service time. As far as I know, they have not pressed to right the absurd wrong of the MLB pension plan excluding older players who didn't play four years (the rule now is just 43 days of service).

Despite all its problems (the three outcomes, declining BAs, declining ratings, an inability to let local fans watch their favorite team without a cable company intermediary), Major League Baseball is afloat in money; they just don't know how to share it. Players Union as well. Poz's line about a living wage for minor leaguers is cutting.

Even so, Poz makes clear, this lockout is all on the owners. He also makes it clear that the players aren't the only ones being locked out:

There are a million more examples of [Baseball never having a completely good day], but none more horrifying or heartbreaking than the billionaire owners telling everybody that they would rather fight for the last dollar than play ball. At some point, surely, they will get the players to cave properly — this is, after all, how they got to be billionaires in the first place — and the game will return, and all of baseball's myriad problems will be exactly as they were, and we fans will come back because this game has a grip on us.

In the meantime, pitchers and catchers and the rest of us are locked out. The owners will tell us when they've gotten rich enough to let us all back in.

Italics mine.

Posted at 10:32 AM on Saturday February 19, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday February 12, 2022

Poz Squishes Commish

“On Thursday, someone asked [Baseball Commissioner Rob] Manfred if owning a baseball team is a good investment. 'Historically,' he said, 'the return on those investments is below what you get in the stock market—what you expect to get in the stock market—with a lot more risk.'

”Now, this is such unrepentant BS that I'm stupefied Manfred actually said the words—like, I just don't get the guy at all. I mean, it's not hard to look up that since 2002 MLB team values have gone up almost 600%, which is twice as much as the S&P. And risk? There is literally—LITERALLY—no risk at all in buying a baseball team. None. It's the safest investment on earth.

“And for proof, you need only look at the last four team sales:

  • 2020: John Sherman bought the Kansas City Royals for $1 billion from David Glass [who bought it] for $96 million...
  • 2020: Steve Cohen bought the New York Mets for $2.45 billion from Fred Wilpon. ... His Mets were generally terrible, and his baseball instincts were famously off-key. The team's value increased roughly 662%.
  • 2018: The Marlins were sold for $1.2 billion despite being one of most troubled franchises in all of baseball...
  • 2018: Frank McCourt—FRANK BLEEPING McCOURT—who was so bad an owner that FOE (Friend of Owners) Bud Selig had to appoint a special watchdog to oversee the Dodgers because of all the shady things McCourt was doing ... sold the Dodgers for $2 billion, a pitiful 437% return on his investment. With McCourt gone, the Dodgers, according to Forbes, are now worth $3.57 billion.

”And with all this as background that anyone can look up, Rob Manfred is telling us that baseball just isn't that great an investment—which, by the way, might not be something the guy running baseball should claim. I say this with love of the game in my heart: Rob, seriously, when you're thinking about saying stuff like this, call me. No judgment. No cost. No rehashing of past mistakes. We all just want to get this beautiful game going again.“

-- Joe Posnanski giving both barrels to Manfred in an article that was really about the DH: ”A Designated Hitter for All." I love Poz letting loose—particularly against Manfred.

Posted at 09:13 AM on Saturday February 12, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday January 27, 2022

Dreaming of Extra Innings

I was with Patricia and one of her friends and there was a ballgame on television, Yankees vs. Marlins, and I was trying to see the situation and the score but it was all a bit blurry. Wait, what inning was it? Was that right? The 19th? When was the last time I'd seen a game go to 19 innings? The year before MLB had adopted that stupid ghost-runner-in-extra-innings rule, as if professional baseball players were little leaguers who had to make it home in time for supper. But here was a bona-fide extra-inning game. 19 innings!

Later, I was telling Patricia and her friend what happened. They weren't interested but I kept talking and they indulged me. I told them it was the bottom of the 19th, Yankees were up, bases loaded and two outs. I kept thinking of the ways they could win without even a hit. A passed ball. A misthrow back to the pitcher. And just as I was thinking it, it happened. The first pitch was a ball, or called a ball, though it seemed to catch the upper right corner of the plate. (We hadn't really seen the pitch on TV; we'd only seen its electronic recreation from behind the plate.) The catcher threw back to the pitcher, who wasn't paying attention—maybe he was mad about the call?—and the ball bounced off the back of his glove and ricocheted into left field. The guy on third trotted in with the winning run as the crowd went wild and the Marlins right fielder jogged disgustedly after the ball. I noticed he was tall and wore number 99, most likely in homage to the Yankees' gargantuan right fielder, Aaron Judge.

Posted at 07:37 AM on Thursday January 27, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Wednesday January 19, 2022

Half!

Reading Joey Poz on the first round of the dopey new NFL playoff system, he began by talking about upcoming changes to Major League Baseball, and it sent shivers down my spine:

OK, so as you probably know, when baseball returns — whenever that happens to be — there will be more teams making the playoffs. The specifics are still up in the air, nobody has agreed on anything, but it looks like 14 MLB teams will start making the playoffs beginning in 2022. That's 14 out of 30. That's almost 50%. ...

I long ago stopped fighting the baseball playoff fight because it's clear that I'm just not in the same place as most baseball fans. American sports fans, in general, love playoffs. And I get that. Hey, I love October baseball as much as anybody.

It's just that, I love regular-season baseball even more, and the more teams that make the playoffs, the less that baseball from April through September means. I can't for the life of me make sense of playing 162 games basically to eliminate the Pirates, Orioles, Diamondbacks and Marlins. 

I'm with Joe. It's ridiculous to play a 162-game season to eliminate only half the teams. One third of the teams—our current system—is bad enough. But half? And I'm saying this as a Mariners fan whose team hasn't made the postseason in 20 years. But I wouldn't want them to do it cheap. I certainly wouldn't want to pay for playoff tickets for a team that shouldn't even be there. We get in cheap and pay expensive. 

Can you imagine a team with a losing record winning the pennant? Or the World Series? 

But the greedy fucks who run things don't listen to us. I'm getting sick of it. If they did this, expanded to 14 teams, would I lose interest in the game? I might. Between all the strikeouts and homeruns, between the steroid scandals and spider-tack scandals, my interest is already waning.

Posted at 11:14 AM on Wednesday January 19, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday December 09, 2021

Tony O, HOF

Finally. Finally.

Last Sunday, 12 of the 16 members of the Golden Days committee—made up of baseball players, executives, historians and journalists—voted for my man, and after 39 years and 23 tries, and by the narrowest of margins, Pedro “Tony” Oliva was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. He will be inducted on July 24, 2022, alongside his former teammate, pitcher Jim Kaat, pioneering Black/Latino player Minnie Minoso, and former Brooklyn Dodgers player and New York Mets manager Gil Hodges, who were all elected by the Golden Days committee. A second committe, the Early Baseball Era Committee, voted in Negro League greats Buck O'Neil and Bud Fowler. Of the six, only Oliva and Kaat are still alive. 

Frequent visitors here know the photo of me and Tony-O, taken on Camera Day 1970, by my father. It's an often-used avatar of mine in this digital age, and it gives some sense of how much I loved the man as a kid. As an adult, I'm sort of curious why. I knew he was great—my father and the daily papers told me so. I liked how he looked—he had a pleasant face. I liked the musicality of his name. I think those were the main things. His face might've been the biggest part of it, to be honest. He was very handsome and very calm looking. 

In 1964, he burst onto the scene with one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time. Only five rookies in baseball history have won a batting title, and the others were three 19th-century players and Ichiro Suzuki—who, of course, had alreaady played 7+ seasons of professional ball in Japan—so Oliva really stands alone. But he didn't stop there: He also led the league in runs, doubles and total bases. The next year, he won the batting title again. Roger Angell, at the beginning of his decades-long career as our baseball Boswell, wrote in The New Yorker about how the '65 Twins won the pennant because manager Sam Mele retooled with a new set of coaches: Johnny Sain taught Jim “Mudcat” Grant and Jim Kaat this, and Billy Martin taught Zoilo Versalles that, then Angell adds:

Finally no coaches at all were allowed near young Tony Oliva when he approached the plate, and he wound up with his second batting championship in as many years in the majors. Oliva, an outfielder who bats left, has leopardlike reflexes and great speed in the field, and he may become the best American League hitter since Ted Williams. 

Alas, not quite. Joe Henry once sang that you're only as good as you're knees, and Tony's knees undid him. He led the league in hits three more times, in doubles three more times, and in 1971 he won his third batting title along with his first slugging title, and to most baseball fans he probably seemed Cooperstown-bound. At that point, his career slash line was .313/.361/.507, and most of that during the toughest pitchers' era since the dead ball era. Probably tougher. In deadball, you had Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie and Shoeless Joe Jackson, all hitting .400 for the season, but highest active career batting average in 1971 was Roberto Clemente's: .318. Oliva was among the best in the game. 

Then he missed most of the '72 season with knee injuries, and when he returned his power wasn't the same. His SLGs went from the .500s to the low .400s, and his batting average kept slipping: .291, .285, .270. In 1976, he hit .211 in 67 games, most of them as a pinch hitter, with just one homerun and only three doubles. He just couldn't leg anything out. His last hit, Sept. 19 against the California Angels, was indicative. In the top of the 7th, in the midst of a rally, he pinch hit for Bob Randall, rifled a single to right to tie the game, and then was immediate removed for a pinch runner. He appeared in two more games and that was that. 

As a result, his career numbers never looked great to Hall of Fame voters. Sure, he hit .304, but that meant less as batting average was devalued by the Bill Jameses of the world for OBP. His final slash line was .304/.353/.476. He never even got to the lower echelon of counting numbers, such as 2,000 hits (1,917) or 1,000 RBIs (947) or 400 doubles (329). Advanced stats such as WAR said he was pretty good, a 43, but no more. Even I thought, “Yeah, no. Fat chance.”

Oddly, there's another Bill James stat that changed my mind on all that: the Black Ink test. It indicates how often a player led the league in a category, and thus indicates their dominace, or not, during their career. This is how Baseball Reference explains it:

  • Four Points for home runs, runs batted in or batting average
  • Three Points for runs scored, hits or slugging percentage
  • Two Points for doubles, walks or stolen bases
  • One Point for games, at bats or triples

The average Hall of Famer is a 27. Tony Oliva? He's a 41. He's currently 48th all-time, ahead of George Brett, Wade Boggs, Tris Speaker, Frank Robinson and Joe DiMaggio.

Another is the Gray Ink Test (top 10 in batting/pitching categories). The average Hall of Famer is a 144. Oliva is a 146. 

There's also the Hall of Fame Monitor, also created by Bill James, with 100 meaning a likely Hall of Famer. Tony O is 114. 

Anyway, he's in, and there's been a spark of joy in my chest all week as a result. 

Posted at 05:21 PM on Thursday December 09, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Monday November 08, 2021

The 2021 World Series: Got Dingers?

Last week was a busy one and I never followed up on the World Series and my shitty prediction of same. The morning of Game 1, I laid out all the reasons why the Astros would win it all (boiled down: they hit, they hit, they hit) and not only did the Braves win in six but the Astros didn't hit. The best-hitting team in the Majors in 2021 got cold at the wrong time.  

ASTROS AVG OBP SLG
Regular Season .267 .339 .444
ALDS .288 .371 .432
ALCS .277 .341 .451
World Series .224 .298 .299

They were shut out twice and almost no-hit in Game 3. Only Michael Brantley hit regularly: .333. I didn't get why Dusty Baker didn't move Kyle Tucker up—or why he was batting so low in the first place. (.294 for the season, .286 for the Series.) When No. 3 man Alex Bregman turned ice cold, hitting .095 for the Series, Tucker, or maybe Yuli Gurriel, seemed a good replacement. Instead Dusty went with Carlos Correa. I guess?

Beyond that, it was just a dull Series. Except for Game 4 (when the Braves battled back from a 2-0 deficit) and Game 5 (Astros, 4-run deficit), no leads changed hands. None. Braves jumped out to an early lead in Game 1 and it was never close. Astros jumped out to an early lead in Game 2 and it was never close.  In Game 6, after Series MVP Jorge Soler's monster 3-run homer in the top of the 3rd, the Astros never even brought the tying run to the plate. In the 3rd they got a man on; erased in a double play. In the 4th, a man on; erased in a double play. In the final five innings, down 6-0, then 7-0, they managed three singles in three separate innings—two by Brantley—and never moved any of them along. At the end, in the bottom of the 9th inning of the last game of the 2021 season, Brantley led off with a single and was stranded at first. The Series in a nutshell.

So instead of the Astros winning their second title, tying them with the Mets and Royals for the most among expansion teams, the Braves won their fourth. Before this, they had a title per city: Boston (1914), Milwaukee (1957), and Atlanta (1995). Now Georgia gets the deuce. Four titles after almost 120 years doesn't seem like much but it actually ties them with the Tigers for ninth-most in baseball history: Reds and Pirates have five, Dodgers seven, Giants eight, A's and BoSox nine, Cards 11, and the Yankees, those bastards, a bit out front with 27. Braves move ahead of the ChiSox, Cubs, Twins and O's, all of whom have three, and the Indians and Phillies, who have two apiece. 

I should add that, for the Series, the Braves hit slightly worse than their regular season numbers, too, except in one category: 

BRAVES AVG OBP SLG
Regular Season .244 .319 .435
NLDS .234 .315 .383
NLCS .260 .321 .422
World Series .239 .303 .443

Over the six games, the Astros scored 20 runs but only two via the long ball—two solo shots by Jose Altuve—while 18 of the Braves' 25 runs came via homers. This worries me. I was hoping the Astros would be a fun, slap-happy, keep-the-line-moving team, a la the 2014-15 KC Royals, and show GMs a better path to better baseball. Instead, the lesson for GMs is the same dull one: Got dingers?

Well, at least we had a season.

Posted at 09:30 AM on Monday November 08, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Tuesday October 26, 2021

2021 World Series: Cheaters vs. Tomahawk Chops

A few quick thoughts before Game 1 of the 2021 World Series tonight. 

First, it's not an ideal series: The Cheaters vs. The Tomahawk Chops. Yay.

Me, I'm rooting for the Cheaters. I figure most teams cheat, Astros got caught, oh well. But the Tomahawk Chop is loud, stupid, incessant, racist. Shut it down. And right now, the best way to shut it down—the only way, really—is to shut down the Braves. So go 'Stros. 

But can the Astros do it? The Braves, after all, have already taken down, rather handily, the 95-win Brewers and the 106-win Dodgers. Surely they can add the 95-win Astros to their belts.

Maybe. But if I had to bet, I'd bet on the Astros. 

In the regular season, the two teams had pretty good pitching staffs. The Braves seem to have a few more standouts but overall the two teams were neck and neck in the stats. The Astros had the seventh-best ERA in the Majors (3.76), the Braves the eighth-best (3.88). Astros' team WHIP was 1.23, Braves 1.24. Astros struck out more (1,456 to 1,417), but the Braves walked fewer (516 to 549). I'm not seeing a big advantage for either team on the mound. 

But at the plate? Astros. 

With the possible exception of the Red Sox, the Astros had the most well-balanced offensive attack in baseball this season. They ranked first in singles (962), third in doubles (299), and ninth in homers (221). The Braves got them beat with the long ball, ranking third overall with 239, but rank only 14th in doubles (269), and shockingly, 29th in singles (779). Only my Mariners hit fewer singles than the Braves. And if you combine singles and doubles, the source of relentless “keep the train moving” offenses that often do well in the postseason, the Astros rank first while the Braves rank 24th. This is also where you can't point to the Dodgers or Brewers and go, “Well, the Braves handled them, so they'll handle the Astros,” because the Dodgers ranked 18th in singles and doubles and the Brewers ranked 27th. The Astros offense is designed to constantly put pressure on a team. They put the ball in play. They had the second-fewest strikeouts in the Majors and the ninth-most walks. They're relentless. 

TEAM H 1B 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG
Astros 1,496 962 299 14 221 569 1,222 .267 .339 .444
Braves 1,307 779 269 20 239 549 1,453 .244 .319 .435

Of course, that's over the 2021 season, and this is a short series, and, as the saying goes, anything can happen. Eddie Rosario might continue to be the second coming of Mickey Mantle. Or someone else might step up. Or Astros' bats might grow cold. 

But if I was a betting man, I'd bet on the 'Stros. Go Cheaters! Stifle the Tomahawk Chop!

ADDENDA

GAME 1: So far I couldn't be more wrong. The Braves scored on the third pitch of the night, in the first three innings, and again when they needed to widen their cushion. They outhit the Astros 12-9 and won 6-2. Everything about the Astros evening was “almost.” He almost got the ball, he almost tagged that guy, the ball almost went out. Both teams left nine men on but it felt like the Astros were way worse. They were always behind and could never break through. It was a blue-ball evening. But they did break Bravers' starter Charlie Morton's leg with a comebacker. Dude still threw 16 more pitches. That's Bob Gibson territory.

GAME 2: OK, this is more along the lines of what I was thinking might happen. In the first, Altuve doubled, Brantely sacrificed him to third, Bregman sacrificed him home. In the second, with one out, we got: single, single, infield single, single to left and an error/mental lapse by Eddie Rosario who threw to third base with no one covering. Then a two-out single for another run. That made four runs on five singles. The Astros led the Majors in singles this year, and by a long shot, and they didn't strike out much, and if you keep putting the ball in play, the Eddie Rosarios of the world will make mental lapses. That said, the Astros got as many hits in this game as they did in the first game (9), they just strung them together better. And the Braves were unlucky. A lot of their early swings were rockets right at someone. The World Series is tied at one game apiece, but the games themselves have rarely been close. In both games, one team took an early lead, a 3+ run lead by the second inning, and never reliinquished it. Now we move to Atlanta.

Posted at 12:24 PM on Tuesday October 26, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Sunday October 17, 2021

2021 MLB Postseason: I Should Be Rooting for the Braves But I'm Not

We've got four teams remaining in the 2021 Major League Baseball season and I'm trying to figure out who to root for. 

Normally I'd root for the team with the longest drought. Here's what it looks like when you figure out each team's last pennant/last World Series title:

  • Los Angeles Dodgers: 2020/2020
  • Houston Astros: 2019/2017
  • Boston Red Sox: 2018/2018
  • Atlanta Braves: 1999/1995

No brainer. I should be rooting for the Braves.

How about historically? Total number of pennants/titles:

  • Los Angeles Dodgers: 21/7
  • Boston Red Sox: 13/9
  • Atlanta Braves: 9/3
  • Houston Astros (est. 1962): 3/1

This one's trickier—but, as an aside, it is fascinating that the Red Sox have done so well in the World Series. Every time they went in the first 20 years of a century they won: 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918, and then 2004, 2007, 2013 and 2018. It was the other 80 years when things fell apart. Maybe that's a reason to root for them? See them finally win a Series in the last 80 years of a century?

The Dodgers are the opposite. They have more NL pennants than anyone but failed in 2/3 of those—mostly because they lost their first seven in a row. Since 1955, they're .500. 

Braves? They're their own brand of pathetic. They never amounted to much in the early days and played second fiddle to the Red Sox in Boston. They've moved three times and have one title per city: Boston in 1914 (moved after the '52 season), Milwaukee in 1957 (moved after the '65 season), Atlanta in 1995. Most of their pennants, five of the nine, are from the 1990s, when they were good, with an out-of-this-world pitching staff, but couldn't close the deal. I would argue that the one time that team did win it all was against the best team they faced—the '95 Indians.

Anyway, historically, it's Astros or Braves.

How about payroll? I like rooting for have-nots.

  • Los Angeles Dodgers: $267 million/1st overall
  • Houston Astros: $194 million/4th
  • Boston Red Sox: $184 million/5th
  • Atlanta Braves: $147 million/12th

The Braves aren't exactly have-nots but their payroll is half that of the Dodgers. So: Braves.

As for historical postseason rivalries? What matchup sounds the best? 

vs. Boston Red Sox Houston Astros
Atlanta Braves   1997-Division 1999-Division 2001-Division 2004-Divison 2005-Divison
Los Angeles Dodgers

1916-Series 2018-Series

1981-Division

Astros were NL until the 2013 season and mostly a punching bag. They faced the Dodgers in 1981 in a true division matchup (split season: winner of the first half vs. winner of the second half), won the first two games and then lost the next three. Against the Braves, they lost in '97 (three and out), lost in '99 (four and out), lost in '01 (three and out again), before finally turning the tables in '04 and '05. Astros fans, I'm sure, remember, and wouldn't mind having another shot at the Braves. Revenge is a dish best served in the World Series. 

The Dodgers and Red Sox first faced each other in 1916, when the Dodgers were called the Brooklyn Robins (after manager Wilbert Robinson) and the Red Sox pitching rotation was anchored by a young phenom named Babe Ruth, who, in Game 2, gave up an inside-the-park homer to Hi Meyers in the 1st inning, then put up goose eggs for the next 13 innings until the Red Sox won it in the bottom of the 14th. In 1918, Ruth ran his scoreless innings streak to 29 2/3—a World Series record until Whitey Ford broke it in 1961. (“A bad year for the Babe,” someone quipped.) That fifth title for the BoSox, a record at the time, wasn't matched until the Athletics won their fifth in 1930; then the Yankees in '36, the Cardinals in '44 and the Giants in '54. The Dodgers didn't win their fifth title until 1981. Eight of the original 16 teams, and 22 teams overall, have never won five titles.

Oh, and they faced each other again 102 years later, in the David Price-Steve Pearce World Series. Boston won in five.  

But the coolest matchup to me would be the two teams who haven't faced each other, both of whom started out in Boston: the one-time Boston Americans (now Red Sox) vs. the one-time Boston Red Stockings, Red Caps, Beaneaters, Doves, Rustlers and Bees (now Braves). 

So to recap who I should root for:

  • Recent: Braves
  • Historical: Braves, Astros
  • Payroll: Braves
  • Matchups: Braves, Red Sox

So it's pretty obvious: I should be rooting for the Braves.

And yet I find myself rooting against the Braves, and with a passion. And here's the reason: The tomahawk chop. I hate the thing.

And it isn't even original to them? It started at Florida State for the Seminoles? Then migrated to KC for the Chiefs before Braves fans, with hints from the organist, adapted it for the '91 team? 

It is effective, I admit: this repetitive warlike chant resounding throughout a stadium of 50,000 people. It's just embarrassing. In an age when the Washington football team has dropped “Redskins” and the Cleveland baseball team has opted for “Guardians,” this Atlanta team is still known as the “Braves” and its mostly white fanbase still chants the “tomahawk chop.” The less we hear of this thing, the better. 

Anyway, against all logic, I find myself rooting for the Boston Red Sox. Maybe because that's the one champion that'll annoy Yankees fans the most? The Red Sox would be the third team to 10 titles, following the Yankees (who won their 10th in 1943) and Cardinals (2006). They'd truly be the team of the 21st century, with five pennants and five titles. (Second-best Giants have four pennants and three titles). And they'd finally break the back-80 jinx. 

Posted at 12:56 PM on Sunday October 17, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday October 09, 2021

MLB to Fans: Drop Dead

This is the way it used to work when I was a kid in the 1970s.

You’d see your favorite team (in my case, the Minnesota Twins) on your local TV station (Metromedia Television 11), but not much of the rest of the league. Most home games were blacked out, if I recall, but you’d get a lot of the away games. There was also a “Game of the Week” every Saturday afternoon, hosted by Curt Gowdy, so you could see other teams, even National League teams. Then there was the postseason. I still remember running home from elementary school to catch World Series games in the afternoon but that changed rapidly. The first night-time World Series game was in 1971, Game 4, and TV ratings doubled (shocker), so the next season every weekday World Series game was played in the evening. Back then, the World Series was set up  2-3-2 and began on Saturday, so, assuming no postponements and seven games, plus two travel days, four of the seven were still day games. That changed in ’77 when they began to start the Series on a Tuesday. Now you’re down to two day games. And in ’85, when the LCSes went to best-of-seven and the Series start returned to Saturdays, MLB said screw it, night games all the time. The last day World Series game happened in 1987, Game 6, and that was apparently the result of fan pressure. Joke was on them: The game was played at the Metrodome.

Anyway, the point is, when I was a kid, you’d see other teams occasionally, and your team a lot.

This season I saw other teams a lot and my team barely. I saw other teams because I paid $29.99 a month for MLB.TV. I barely saw my team, the scrappy Seattle Mariners, who won 90 games despite a negative run differential and the worst team batting average in the Majors, because those games are blacked out on MLB.TV. I assume they’re blacked out because ROOT Sports Northwest has exclusivity within its market (five states, believe it or not: WA, OR, ID, MT and AK), and somehow MLB hasn’t brokered a deal with them so fans can have easy access to the team.

To watch the Mariners, I had three options:

  • Get cable again (fuck that)
  • Get a VPN and change my IP address so it’s outside those five states (I’m not much of a cheater, nor tech savvy, but I should’ve explored this better)
  • Stream the games via a DirecTV sports package for $84.99 a month (fuck that)

But at least I had the MLB.TV account and other teams.

Until the postseason. Then those games went away, too. Wednesday night, I contacted MLB’s customer service to ask why. Here’s the response I got, via text, after about a 15-minute wait:

Your subscription included only regular season games. To access postseason games, you must purchase a postseason subscription for MLB.TV and authenticate with a Pay TV provider.

When I asked for the names of Pay TV providers, they sent me this link with a throng of alphabet-soup companies: Among them, Arvig, Cox, DirecTV, RCN, ATT U-Verse, and Wow! (BTW: Isn’t Wow! in the first column the same as WOW! in the second? Can’t MLB at least hire a copy editor?) 

Of course, I didn’t have any of them. I was SOL.

But so is MLB, it seems. It has a dwindling fan base that skews old, fewer and fewer people have cable (down from 76% in 2015 to 56% in 2021, according to the Pew Research Center), and MLB has made no good, easy way for that dwindling fan base to watch either their own team or the playoffs. Baseball is keeping its own fans from enjoying its own product. Remarkable.

But then, I don’t think the people running Major League Baseball think of fans like me as their customer base. Their customer base is Arvig, Cox, RCN, Wow!, etc. Keep them happy, they seem to think, and everything will be just fine.

Posted at 02:14 PM on Saturday October 09, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Sunday August 22, 2021

Miggy Hits No. 500

Miguel Cabrera went yard today for his 13th homer of the season and the 500th of his career, and to me you just have to celebrate. He's such a joyous figure. Even the Toronto home crowd gave him a standing ovation today. Plus it's been a slog getting there.

At the end of the 2016 season—when Obama was president, mind you—Miggy had hit 446 for his career, 54 short, and that seemed like a season and a half back then. But then injuries and age hit hard, and the Covid pandemic didn't help, and he had to pick up the rest piecemeal. Over five seasons he went: 16, 3, 10, 12, 13. In his rookie season, he slugged .468, and after that, through 2016, it was never below .500. After 2016, it was never above .500, and more often than not it wasn't above .400. So today's a good day. 

He did it old-school, without any 50-HR seasons, the way Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew and Mike Schmidt did it before him. His career high was 44, which he hit twice. He's the 28th guy to join the club, and the first since David Ortiz in 2015. We only had two in the 2010s after a record nine in the 2000s. It's a rare event again, which is nice. Not even sure who's next in line. Nellie Cruz, another joyous figure, has 443 but he's 40—although he still has pop: 27 so far this season. Giancarlo at 332 has a shot if he stays healthy. Mike Trout at 310, same.

Miggy is also 45 hits shy of 3,000. That's gotta be reachable, and if so, he'll join the even more exclusive 3,000/500 club: Just Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols. 

My favorite Miggy homer isn't even on this list, of course, since it happened in the World Series. Worth a watch again. As is No. 500. They're kind of similar, aren't they? Opposite-field jobs, one as a 20-year-old rookie who had just been brushed back by Roger Clemens, the other as the grand old man of baseball everyone was cheering for. That's how quickly it goes. Touch 'em all, Miggy.

Posted at 01:20 PM on Sunday August 22, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
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