Two Weeks To Go

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This is the time to now see the final kick or sprint in the final leg of the marathon of a baseball season. We can see it around the league. You see sweaters in the stands and some players wear their long sleeves on field and jackets in the dugout. The hint of Fall is in the air and the chill of failure once again is heavy over those teams that dreamed of success just a week or two ago.

The Milwaukee Brewer are now on the outside looking in. Their fate was sealed on a cold Friday night in San Francisco on Labor Day weekend. At AT&T Park that evening the bottom of hope drained from their faces and bodies that was visible for fans to see. They could feel it. On their faces were no longer the Gomez inspired laughter and free spirit of life but now the glassy look of hope lost. Today they are six games behind the Giants in the wild card hunt. On that Friday they were in first place in the Central and ahead of the Giants. What two weeks in the world of baseball bring.

At present in the National League, it looks like the Nationals, Dodgers, Cardinals, Giants and Pirates are playoff bound. The Brewers and Braves are going to be pressing and fighting to overcome their recent decent.

In the American League, the magical Angels led by Trout with 33 home runs, Orioles, Tigers, Royals and Athletics are in but the Mariners are charging. The Blue Jays, Indians and Yankees are dreaming.

These are the only teams with winning records in baseball this season, exactly half of the teams.

Yet these last two weeks are important for another reason. This is the time for teams to get and remain hot. These will be the teams that will move through the playoffs and reach the league championships. That does not bode well for the A’s as they are not playing good baseball since their big trades in August. Perhaps the chemistry was broken. The Mariners, on the other hand are playing better and there seems to be a renewed strength in this team.

But the real battle in these last two weeks is for last place. It means you are the worse team in baseball. In soccer this team would be relegated to the minors and Nashville would be moved up to the majors next year. At present, the Texas Rangers, who will have a new manager next year is leading the pack. And those woeful Colorado Rockies are close behind followed by the Arizona Diamondbacks who by all reports will lose their manager this next season. Minnesota Twins still has a chance to reach the ultimate reverse pinnacle of failure. This is a team that should fire their manager, general manager and hitting coach, pitching coach and beer vendors.

So with two weeks to go before thought of pitchers and catchers reporting and dreams renew, here’s to those who succeed. It’s been a long run.

Play Ball!

Oh Me, Oh My

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One of the songs waffling in the air during a September in the Midwest is the sound of the crowd at the baseball stadiums. For those who expect to win, the sound is full of excitement. For those who are on the brink of collapse, the sound of pending failure is deafeningly muted in its outburst of last air escaping from a dying effort.

Down by two in the bottom of the night, with two outs and a runner on third, while two rookies tried in vain to deliver a key hit to extend the comeback, there was a crescendo from the crowd lifted by the hope that what might be could happen. But most in the park understood that this is where so few of these epic victories have taken place as the inevitable surly would happen.

Baseball in most cities in the Major Leagues have rarely seen the delight of a championship season. It is the hallowed ground of the Yankees and the Cardinals, the Dodgers and the Giants. Oh, there have been bursts of greatness in Oakland and once in Phoenix, Atlanta has had one and ironically, Miami and Baltimore have seen their share as have Minneapolis and Detroit, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Boston and Chicago, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and once years ago by a team no longer in Milwaukee. Even Washington saw it before most people who are alive today were born. But never has the World Championship flag flown in Houston or Dallas, Tampa or San Diego. Seattle has never seen it fly except in other team’s stadiums.

But now in the present era of the game, the team that now occupies a place in the major leagues in Milwaukee has never seen it fly at home. They came close one time when they had won the American League pennant, but never since…some thirty two years ago. And perhaps, after a gallant season where they were in first place in the Central Division for so long, since early in April until Labor Day, another season sounded a possible death knell last night as the crowd silently filed out of Miller Park into the gloom of another failed season’s night. And who else would have silenced the crowd but their brewery town rival from the western edge of the Mississippi River down on the Eastern edge of Missouri.

One has to understand that it will be another long season where the Hot Stove league always brings hope for the next season, where the Cubs could win this next year because they have all of these great young players. But settling back on a cold winter’s night with every next day is pewter gray, the thought will haunt how close the Brewers were to finally raising the crown this year.

But the assembled veterans who made first base their home really couldn’t pull off the power first base as Prince used to do for so many years. Scooter just turned out to be a rookie who couldn’t come through in the clutch while Rickey did an amazing job raising his average with so few attempts at Second. Jean was hit in the face with a bat by a team-mate in the dugout, lost his son in a season to be forgotten by him and all of us who hopes he never has to go through anything like this again. Davis performed OK in his rookie season, hitting with power sometimes when it really didn’t count and in need of an arm to control left. Go Go was just a shade off of amazing before he hurt himself again, and now the team misses his power of excitement and energy. Braun just looked hurt all year, unable to regain the powerful stroke that made him a superstar before his fall from grace. Now, sadly, he is just another ball player. Vonnie continued to pick at the corners into mediocrity where he could no longer blow the ball past the pesky hitters who continued to run the count to full. Lohse  just could not eliminate the one bad inning. Peralta, after an amazingly strong first five months, simply ran out of steam. Garza was a complete waste of a three-year, $50 million contract, no longer capable of being a stopper. Yet maybe there will be hope as Lucroy had a career season along with Maldonado who should be the catcher as Lucroy could solve the first base situation. Fiers was tremendous for the past month and the amazing Aramis was the real pro at third base who delivered with the bat and played a remarkable third, fielding superbly. No one plays the slow rolling grounder to third better.

When the great slump of 9 losses finally ended, the inexperience of the manager was exposed and his coaching staff, praised by the team announcers on television as hard-working, were overwhelmingly inadequate.

And on Saturday as the crowd quietly slipped out of the Miller gates, the field left behind was again witness to another close-but-no-cigar season of fading dreams.

Now the pewter gray days and cold winter nights are surely ahead as we head in the direction of Pigsville. But for the Cream City Nine, this year was better than most and with that as a memory, it is a blessing for those of us who have rarely seen the big flag fly above the place called home.

The Marquette will taste the same at Real Chili. The pepperoni and extra onion pizza will still be sensational at Balistrai’s in Tosa. And the Belvedere extra dry will be blessed at Elsa’s on Cathedral Square. Nothing will change. And the Brewers will miss the World Series Championship again.

Play Ball!

Winter Met The Brewers

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This was the weekend of a major showdown between two of the better teams in the National League. But what happened on Friday was that ‘Winter Met The Brewers’. Mark Twain hit the nail on the head when he said, ‘The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.’ Amen to that, Mr. Twain.

On Friday at the lovely AT&T Park in the City by the Bay, inside the park the temperatures dropped as the breeze picked up. It honestly felt like winter was breaking in after a warm, if not hot, summer. And with it, the Milwaukee Brewers played as if they were upset with their mothers who said they had to get out of the house and play, even if it was cold outside.

By the Fifth inning, jackets are pulled up around the neck and gloves were on. Hot cocoa was one of the most delightful drinks of the night. For the Brewers, their starting pitcher and his long reliever gave up 142 pitches in four plus innings, an incomprehensible amount of throws that were punctuated with balls rather than strikes. The pitches were flying everywhere, beneath the catcher, around the catcher, over the catcher’s head but rarely over the plate.

Some fans in the stands who made their way in life by getting autographs of the visiting players and selling them, said the Brewers seems very focused and serious about this game. They were not giving many autographs. In fact the only Brewer who did was the manager, Ron Roenicke. That is a bad sign as the Crew lost the game 13-2. It was one of the worst played games this team has ever played.

Scooter Gennett looked sloppy. The temporary shortstop Elian Herrera looked exactly like that…temporary. Carlos Gomez just couldn’t catch anything. Even Gerardo Parra came over to talk about the tricky winds at the ballpark and how it affected playing center field after Go Go let two triples fly over his head, something that rarely happens. And in addition, he had a really bad throw to home (rather than to second to keep the Panda to a single) made for a continuation of the flood gates lifted for the benefit of the Giants.

Lucroy suffered behind the plate, first with a fast ball in an area you do not want a fast ball to hit and then just couldn’t get either of his first two pitchers to settle down.

Yet, for all of their frustration, the Cardinals lost to the Cubs and the Brewers who looked perfectly dreadful after a day off this week, were still in first place of the Central Division of the National League. Perhaps this team should not have a day off in any given week following a week in which they had two days off.

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Everything lookout out of sinc. And the punctuation on this story was the sad sight of seeing Rickie Weeks wait until the last of the batters to take batting practice. Here was one of the best hitters in the league before he suffered those injuries. Now, even though he is reduced to a back up role, he should be playing at second because Scooter simply does not seem up to playing in the big games without making errors.

It was a long night at the ball park. And the funny thing about it was that when you walked outside, it was much warmer than inside and the Brewers were no longer looking like a little league team. And they were still in first place. Go figure.

Oh well, that’s why they call it a marathon.

Play Ball!

He Did What?

As we are now in the last 40 days and 40 nights of the regular season in baseball, its time to clear out our mental wastebasket.

Let’s Hear It For The Tough Guys. Cleveland pitcher, Ray Caldwell on this date in 1919, was flattened by a bolt of lightning in his debut with the team. However, he recovered to get the final out of the game and defeated the Philadelphia A’s, 2-1. So you think you were tough!

In the first game of a double-header that was getting completely out of hand, on this date in 1940, Ted Williams came in from Left Field to pitch the last two innings against the Detroit Tigers in a 12-1 loss. For the record, ‘The Thumper’ allowed three hits and one run but struck out Tiger slugger, Rudy York and finished the game with a 4.50 ERA. By the way, Joe Glenn, who caught Babe Ruth’s last pitching appearance in 1933 was William’s catcher. In another rare occurrence in this game, Williams went 0 for 4 with a strike out batting fourth in the lineup behind Jimmy Foxx.. And that rarely happened in his entire career. He was batting .342 at the time.

Fans have a long history of second guessing managerial and umpire decisions. As for the latter, just look at Friday’s Milwaukee Brewer game in the 8th inning as it ended with an out called as Aramis Ramirez as he slid into third base and the Pittsburgh third baseman missed tagging the base. But how would you have liked to have been a coach or manager (Zack Taylor) for the St. Louis Browns on this date in 1951? In a season that produced just 51 wins and 102 losses, In another of Bill Veeck’s zany PR stunts, ‘Fans Manager’s Night’, a thousand fans behind the Browns dugout were given ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ placards to vote on decisions by the Browns coaches. The fans coach the Browns to a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia A’s.

Today in 1983, you would not want to be a Toronto Blue Jay. After six Major League seasons playing infield positions, Baltimore Oriole Lenn Sakata moved behind the plate to catch relief pitcher Tim Stoddard who had also just entered the game. The Blue Jays looked to take advantage of this situation but Stoddard was ready for them. He picked off, in order, Barry Bonnell, Dave Collins and Upshaw to record all three inning outs. It had to have been a record.

Probably would not have wanted to be Manager Paul Owens on this date in 1983. Pete Rose did not play in Philadelphia’s 5-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants which ended Rose’s consecutive games played street at 745. Owens had planned to use Rose as a pinch-hitter in the 10th inning, but Joel Youngblood ended the game with a two-run home run off Steve Carlton in the bottom of the ninth for the victory.

And, just for the record, what if there were a brief gust of wind on this date in 1894 in Washington, DC. Why you asked? Chicago catcher Pop Schriver became the first player to catch a ball dropped from the top of the Washington Monument.

And you thought you knew everything there was about baseball. Now you do know some of the crazier things about August 24th.

Play Ball!

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Fast Max

Dee Gordon was a joy to watch on Friday as Jimmy Nelson tried in vein to stop him from stealing second base. Not once but twice as he scored both times he was on base. In an interview, he credits Davey Lopes for assisting him in this extraordinary art of grabbing an extra base and forcing the opposing team to shift into another zone while he is on base. You could see him cheat toward second on each pitch attempt which forced Nelson to try to catch him off base time and time again. In one span Nelson threw more pitches to first than to home. When Gordon got to the grass cut approximately six feet off first base, everyone in Dodger Stadium knew that he was about to light out. And boom. He was gone. He had stolen on the pitcher Nelson who probably had never seen anyone like Gordon on first before. Wait until he gets to Cincinnati and meet Billy Hamilton (not to be confused with Billy Hamilton of the Boston Braves who ranks #3 on the all-time stolen base list).

In the annuals of ‘The Show’, there are all kinds of base stealers. Certainly one is ‘The Rickie’ Henderson as he stole everything in sight. But back in the day, there were a couple of other guys who flashed spikes better than most.

The guy who get much of the early century attention is Ty Cobb. He was just mean. Going into a base, he would flash his spikes like a knife wielder at a butchers stand. More than one took the cuts Cobb delivered as he slashed his way into the Hall of Fame.

No one every mentions Max Carey. Ty Cobb was, in the early days of the game, regarded as the greatest base-runner of all time and yet Max Carey (born Maximilian George Carnarios) had a better base-stealing record than Cobb. Carey stole 738 bases in 18 years of major league competition, an average of 41 per game. Cobb stole 892 bases in 24 years in the big leafs, an average of 37 per season.

H.G. Salsinger, in his ‘The Umpire’ column in The Detroit News August 12,1951, noted ‘While attending Concordia College, he adopted the name Max Carey when he played his first professional baseball game in order to retain his amateur status. The name would stick his entire career.’

He played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1910 until 1926. He played his final three and a half years with the Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers) before retiring in 1929. He managed the Dodgers from 1932 to 1933. He was also the manager of the Milwaukee Chicks and the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. He entered Baseball’sHall of Fame in 1961.

Carey led the NL in base stealing for 10 seasons while Cobb led the American league for only six. Carey set an all-time record in 1922 when he stole 51 bases in 53 attempts. He still leads in the stealing of home plate.

The customers packed the ball parks to watch Cobb run bases but who ever paid money to see Carey run? And who ever mentions Carey’s name when base-stealing is discussed?

Milwaukee Brewer fans haven’t seen too many stolen bases since the days of Molitor. Pauly still holds the Brewer record with 412. Maury Wills less the Dodgers as he stole 490 in his career. Dee Gordon ranks #692 in all time stolen base history in baseball. It’s a long way to Max Carey’s rank on the list. But unlike Carey, people do pay to see him play and steal that base.

Play Ball!

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The ‘K’

Photo by Charlie Leight/The Arizona Republic

Photo by Charlie Leight/The Arizona Republic

In baseball, few teams can match the near insanity of the front office of the Arizona Diamondbacks since new management took over a few years back and shuffled Jerry Colangelo off to Team USA. The man who brought major league baseball to the desert is no longer visible in the stadium he built nor with the team he created. Colangelo knew one thing, the old William Paley theory that it is all about talent, stars, because like radio and television of the Paley era, baseball is driven by star power. They sell the tickets. But nothing does that better than winning. And Ken Kendrick’s (The ‘K’) leadership, since his coup of Colangelo in 2004 to become the Managing General Partner of the club has proven one thing: he doesn’t know what a star is nor is he willing to put the money into the game to draw stars to one of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas to play ball. All of the waving of flags to tell the world that they were serious contenders in the great Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes this past winter was all bluster, just like everything else he does in a sport which he knows nothing about except for the cardboard variety found on Bowman, Topps, Fleer, Goudey and the T206.

His idea of running a baseball club is all about dollars and cents. He is not a benevolent owner. He calls out his players, much like they did in the old days in the coal mines of West Virginia. Two years ago he had one of the best right fielders in the game. It didn’t matter to the guy who thinks he can say anything and not have it land back on him. He called Justin Upton an “enigma,” saying it’s time for the 24-year-old right fielder “to be a consistent performer.” When’s the last time you heard a last place owner say that to his star player through the media. Then he called out his star shortstop, and longest tenured player on the club at the time, Stephen Drew saying, according to the New York Times, “the shortstop already should have returned from the ankle injury he suffered’ a year earlier in a horrible break during the Brewers/D’Back series. “I think Stephen should have been out there playing before now, frankly. I’m going to be real candid and say Stephen and his representatives are more focused on where Stephen is going to be a year from now than on going out and supporting the team that’s paying his salary.” Sure. Every player wants to play for this guy.

Then this season, with the team still trying to get equilibrium from their beginning series a million miles away in Australia, giving up an important home series against the rival, Los Angeles Dodgers, the baseball card collector hired LaRussa, the former manager who was just put into the Hall of Fame after winning World Series titles on the back of players who were juiced but said nothing. He has been brought in to evaluate the performance of CEO Derrick Hall, General Manager Kevin Towers and the manager, Kurt Gibson. Tony is now running the team but has never been in a front office position before. Obviously a guy who can call in relief pitchers is absolutely qualified to be the head dude for a bubble gum card collector.

This is not an inditement of baseball card collectors. Some of my best friends are in that fraternity. What one has to look at is the record and see where it has taken the team since Kenny K has taken leadership over the defeated Colangelo.

Colangelo brought a major league team to Arizona. Kendrick has brought a team to open a season to Australia. Even so far?

Colangelo won a pennant and a World Series. The ‘K’ has made it to the post season Wild Card game once. Ah…that’s lacking a bit.

Colangelo had talent and kept it. Kendrick has had talent and forced them to leave because of his penchant for opening his mouth. Opps.

Colangelo had created a likable broadcast and television team to be the bridge between the team and it fans. The ‘K’ fired its likable announcer on television for not wearing a polo shirt. Why would Darren do something like that? What a defiance of authority.

Colangelo always built up his players. Kendrick said: “I’ll be blunt with you and say there have been certainly whispers about Luis Gonzalez. Because he’s such a high-profile guy and you can make a case of his numbers 5 years ago vs. his numbers today and therefore he must have been doing something.” Ouch!

Colangelo was everywhere talking up the team throughout the community. Kendrick is not anywhere except to complain. Well, he does make appearances when he is hiring someone.

Colangelo made some great trades for stars. The ‘K’ made some trades of stars. Tomatoe, tomato.

The Arizona Diamondback’s starting lineup for Game #1 of the 2011 National League Wild Card playoff game against the Milwaukee Brewers was:

SS Willie Bloomquist..Granted Free Agency signed with Seattle
2B Aaron Hill…………Still in Phoenix. BA .250  HR  9   RBI  50  K2 80
RF Justin Upton……..Traded To Atlanta for Martin Prado traded to NYY
C   Miguel Montero…..Still in Phoenix. BA .254  HR 11 RBI 59  K2 73
CF Chris Young………Traded to Oakland for Cliff Pennington & Heath Bell
1B Lyle Overbay……..Released in 2012. Now a Brewer.
3B Ryan Roberts…….Traded to Tampa Bay for Tyler Bortnick.
LF Gerardo Parra……Traded to Milwaukee for minor leaguers.
P   Ian Kennedy………Traded to San Diego for Matt Stites & Joe Thatcher.
RP Brad Ziegler………Still in Phoenix. W4 L2 SV 1 ERA 3.16 IP 57.0  SO 48  BB 21
RP Bryan Shaw………Traded to Cleveland for Didi Gregorius
PH Sean Burroughs…Granted Free Agency signed with Minnesota. Out of BB.

With all of that taken into consideration, there is only one question to ask: who is Tyler Bortnick?

Today, the Arizona Diamondbacks are the fourth worst team in the major leagues, 15 games under .500. Perhaps it is time to bring back Jerry.

Play Ball!