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!

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This is one of the last weeks when baseball will have a clear field without any other major competition from other sports. This is not to say Indy, F1, NASCAR, MSL, WNBA, Golf, Tennis and other sports on television are not major nor that they are important. But this is one of the last weekends before football begins to take over the minds of those writing about sports and how football draws so many viewers.

Which got one to thinking about baseball and exactly how is the state-of-the-diamond today. Once known at ‘America’s favorite sport’, there has been much written and talked about the overtaking of football as the top sport in America. Is baseball the cricket of American sports?

Jonathan Mahler in the New York Times last year asked the question, “Is the Game Over?”. He stated that the best indicator of baseball’s decreasing significance is baseball’s national TV ratings compared to those of pro football.

While sitting at Heathrow in the British Air lounge, a family traveling together with a couple of teen age boys, were gathered around one of the television sets and all were deeply into the intricacies of a cricket match. But the rest of the lounge could care less. In thinking about the state of baseball today, were we going down that same road as cricket? And, has football really taken over?

The national TV ratings are one indicating factor of football’s attraction in the Fall. It has a week full of hype before their single game during the week and they draw for that single game, big numbers on the national stage. Allen Barra wrote in The Atlantic last year (10.30.13) that “There’s no disputing that fact that football championship-game viewership dwarfs baseball’s championship-series viewership. But ‘The World Series vs. the Super Bowl’ actually stopped being a contest decades ago. Since January 14, 1968, when the Green Bay Packers beat the Oakland Raiders before an estimated TV audience of over 39 million, the Super Bowl has consistently drawn more viewers. The most-watched World Series game ever was Game Seven of the 1986 series between the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox, which was seen by around 38.9 million viewers.”

He also notes ‘Baseball’s appeal is largely regional, while football’s is national. Baseball is followed locally, generally by fans who go to games. Football is followed on TV by fans who seldom, if ever, go to the stadium to see the games in person: Back in 2000, a report by MLB’s Blue Ribbon Panel estimated that perhaps 96% of all of those who identify themselves as football fans have never been to a pro football game.”

In all honesty, baseball is one of the dominating television sporting events of all time. And it continues to draw huge, hidden numbers, dominating local numbers. For instance, on Friday evening, 16.104 million people watched broadcast television in America. In the meantime, on that evening, 17.213 million were watching cable television in America. Of that total, 5.591 million were watching baseball on local cable outlets throughout America. If baseball were all on one channel (or network), it would have ranked #3 behind CBS’ ‘Blue Bloods’ (5.91 million viewers) and NBC’s ‘Dateline (5.7 million viewers).

Five and one-half million viewers, on average for a game anytime during the week, multiplied by 162 games is one astounding total. It is also an whopping large amount of content. That is why cable operators are offering big bucks for baseball packages. And that is where the money is. Why? Because that is where the audience is, day in and day out. Take a look at some of the teams and you can see for yourself why baseball is dominant. In Milwaukee, while battling for a pennant, the Brewers can draw 40 some thousand into Miller Park. However, FOX Sports and the Brewers know they will draw 137,160 viewers on average. In New York, while the Yankees battle old age and have a hope for another chance at post season, they may fill their new park but they know 579,000 viewers will be watching YES and the game. You can’t build a ball park big enough to hold all those fans. And if you think that is big, try Toronto. While they may not fill the park every night, they draw an average of a half million fans on tv and a couple of weeks ago drew nearly 800,000 viewers.

Baseball IS America’s pastime. Nationally on TV it may not draw the huge numbers, but locally, it is king.

Play Ball!

Minnie, A Shadow Player.

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Before Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu or Yoenis Cespedes, there was Minnie Minoso. Thirty years ago this week, after 12 years of retirement and after 17 years in the Major Leagues, Minoso was activated by Bill Veeck, then owner of the Chicago White Sox an started as designated hitter, batting ninth, in the first game of a twin bill with the California Angels. In the second inning, with two outs and Chet Lemon on first base, he singled to left off Angels’ starter Sid Monge. At age 53, Minoso had become the second oldest player to notch a hit in a major league game (Jim O’Rourke had a hit at 54 years/21 days) and the second oldest to suit up after Satchel Paige had played at age 59 for Veeck’s Indians in 1965. Minoso would play three games in 1976, getting one hit in eight at bats. He played again in 1980 for the White Sox. In 1993 (at age 71) and 2003 (at age 81), he put on a uniform for the independent Northern League’s St. Paul Saints, becoming baseball’s first octogenarian and only seven-decade player. He was a 7 time All-Star and batted .298 for his career. He won the Golden Glove three times. In his 12 years with the Chicago White Sox, he batted .304.

Minnie Minoso is one of the famous Great Ten of Cuban baseball players. These are the Shadow Players. With one exception, all were terrific players who played in the shadow of having two handicaps, one was the color of their skin and the other was the unfamiliar language when grew up with, spoke and understood.

Certainly Luis Tiant would head the list as he pitched 19 years in the Show, winning 20 or more games four times and was an All-Star three times. He’s not in the Hall.

Tony Perez is the lone Hall of Famer of the Great Ten as he won two World Series as a player for Cincinnati and a 7 time All-Star and MVP in the 1967 game.

Tony Oliva was the 1964 AL Rookie of the Year and played 15 years for the Minnesota Twins becoming an All-Star 8 times. With a 3.04 lifetime batting average, it is seemingly improbable that he is not in the Hall of Fame.

Mike Cuellar won 20 or more game four times and was the 1969 Cy Young Award winner and four-time All-Star. He finished after 15 years in the Major Leagues with a 185-130 record and a 3.14 ERA. He is not in the Hall of Fame.

Dolf Luque, The Pride of Havana, was a legendary pitcher who spend 20 seasons in the Bigs. He had the second most wins of any Cuban pitcher and finished with 194-179 record with a 3.24 ERA from 1914-1935. In 1923, he went 27-8 with a 1.93 ERA for the Cincinnati Reds. He won the 1923 and the 1925 NL pitching title. He is not in the Hall.

Camilo Pascual for 18 season produced a 174-170 record with a 3.63 ERA, particularly with poor teams. He was a 7 time All-Star. Ted Williams said he had the ‘most feared curial in the American League’. In an era when pitchers were real pitchers, he had back-to-back 20 game win season and had 18 complete games in each of the 1962 and 1963 seasons and led the AL in strikeouts 1961 thru 1963. He is not in the Hall.

Bert Campaneris played in the MLB for 19 seasons and at one time in 1965, played all nine positions in a major league age, the first to ever do that. He was an All-Star 6 times and won three World Series titles in 1972, 1973 and 1974 with the fantastic Oakland A’s. The undisputed shortstop of his day, he is not in the Hall of Fame.

Two of the Great Ten were the Tainted Ones.

Rafael Palmeiro ended a 20 year career with Baltimore Orioles in 2005 when he gained his 3,000th hit. He is one of four players to have 3,000 hits and 500 home runs in his career (he hit 569 home runs). A 4-time All-Star, he escaped from Cuba with his family to Miami in 1964. Some say he was a juicer. While he is not in the Hall, others who took cocaine were admitted.

Jose Canseco hit 462 home runs in 17 seasons in the Major Leagues. A 6 time All-Star, e won two World Series with the 1989 Oakland A’s and the 2000 New York Yankees. He was the American League MVP in 1988 and was the first player to ever compile 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases in a season. He is not in Cooperstown.

But this is about Saturnino Orestes Armas ‘Minnie’ Minoso Arrieta, the fuel behind the ‘Go Go White Sox’ of the ’50s. To anyone growing up in the Midwest at that time, every team had their stars. In Milwaukee it was Eddie and Warren. In St. Louis it was Stan ‘The Man’ and ‘Country’. But in Chicago it was ‘Billy and Minnie’. Minnie was one of the most exciting players in his day and someone who belongs in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Play Ball!

 

It Was Night

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It had never been done before. The All-Star game would be played at night.

Thanks to a three-run home run by Red Sox second baseman Bobby Doerr, the American League defeats the National League in the first night All Star game in 1943, 5-3. In a game broadcast to GIs via shortwave radio around the world, Pirates’ outfielder Vince DiMaggio stood out for the Senior Circuit, hitting a single, triple and home run. This, the 11th All-Star game, was held in Shibe Park in Philadelphia, baseball’s first steel and concrete stadium. Connie Mack, who owned the Philadelphia A’s and Shibe Park, tried to install lights in 1938 and overcame neighborhood objections to have the first night game played at Shibe Park just four years earlier than the All-Star game, on May 16, 1939.

Prior to this All-Star game, the first to be held at night, American League manager Joe McCarthy was publicly accused of being flagrantly partial to his own Yankees when it came to selecting his starters. In a bold and controversial reply, he played the entire game without calling on any of the five Yankees on his bench. Due to the war effort, many of the previous standout players such as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Johnny Mize, Pete Reiser, Warren Spahn, Bob Feller and others were absent.

In the first inning, the National League took the lead on a run batted in by Stan Musial, who was making his first of twenty-four straight All-Star appearances. The senior circuit did not hold their lead for long as the American League began its comeback against Mort Cooper. With the junior circuit now up 5-1, Vince DiMaggio stepped up for the National League. He had singled as a pinch-hitter in the fourth and stayed in the game. Next, he tripled off of Tex Hughson in the seventh and scored on a fly ball. In the ninth, he hit a long home run off Hughson. Still, Hughson managed to wrap up yet another American League win for their eighth All-Star victory, 5-3.

So as you settle into your viewing room seats this Tuesday, think back to the night of the first All-Star game. Now it’s time to…

Play Ball!

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For a look at some silent, black & white film footage of the game, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rTpEhLIa58. The film shows crowd shots. Billy Southworth, Manager of NL team and Joe McCarthy, Manager of AL team. Ford Frick, President of NL, Commissioner Landis and AL President Will Harridge. Crowd. In the first inning for NL Hack singles, Herman singles sending Hack to third, Musial hits long sacrifice fly scoring Hack (all against Dutch Leonard) Crowd. Mort Cooper pitching in second inning for NL, Chet Laabs walks, Bobby Doerr comes up and hits three run homer scoring Laabs and Jake Early who also had gotten on via a base on balls.

Halftime.

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It has been a very interesting first half of the baseball season in 2014 as a couple of things stand out. First, there have been very few umpire disputes that have resulted in the old-fashioned kicking-up dirt and in-your-face heated arguments, spewing high blood pressure to transfer into a blast of spittle upon the face of the beloved ump. Not sure if that is a relief or something we should want back like the ‘No Pepper’ signs on the fence behind home plate. Regardless, the micro view of the slo-mo cameras from the many different angles make today’s baseball look like a reinvention of steam power into the combustible era.

Second is the excitement in several markets throughout America. Seventeen of the teams have officially hit the half way mark in the season. The winningest team in baseball is the Milwaukee Brewers, leaders in the Central Division of the National League. The top team in the American League is the Oakland A’s. There are three areas of North America that are entering the world of delirium. First there is Milwaukee. This week they had a three game series against the Eastern Division leading Washington Nationals and drew over 100,000 fans ON A MONDAY THRU WEDNESDAY time frame. Yesterday’s game was packed to the rafters as they defeated Colorado for the seventh straight game against the Rockies. Surprisingly they rank #8 in attendance with 78.5% capacity. Another area where baseball is king is the Bay Area. Both the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s lead their league’s Western Divisions. Both teams are loaded in pitching. Both teams are very exciting. San Francisco leads the major leagues in attendance with 99.4% of capacity while Oakland, in one of the worst stadiums in the world, is drawing 66.9% capacity. Then there is Toronto. They are in front in a very tight Eastern Division of the American league. With over 6 million people in their marketing area, they are the fifth largest city in North America and the largest on the Great Lakes, surpassing Chicago. They are drawing 54.2% capacity but unfortunately that places them only 26th among the 30 Major League Baseball teams. Only four American League teams rank worse (Chicago White Sox with 50.1% of capacity; Tampa Bay Rays while having a disastrous season at 50.0% of capacity; shockingly the high payroll team in Seattle with only 49.9% of capacity and the Cleveland Indians with 38.8% of capacity. FYI: the lowest team in the National League is the Arizona Diamondbacks with only 54.8% of capacity reached this season.)

Frankly, all of those things are shocking except for Billy Beane’s exceptional overseeing of a team with a huge budget limitation and a continual exceeding above expectation as the A’s continue to drive the Western Division in the American League.

As for Milwaukee, who would have thought that Doug Melvin would have put together a team this good. A critic of his methods, I have to admit through the first half of this season, he should be given the Billy Beane Award for the most Outstanding General Manager of the Year trophy. He has put together a splendid bullpen by trading one of the City’s most favored players, Aoki, for an unknown left hander in Smith, who has performed way above expectation. The first base fix with Overbay and Reynolds was masterful in bringing veteran leadership to the club and a solid defensive and occasional offensive performance day-in and day-out. The revival of Rickie Weeks has given Scooter Gannett the time to adjust to Big League pitching and provided Milwaukee with great depth at second. Khris Davis is continuing to develop as a key player for the team in left allowing Braunschweiger to learn how to play right field and concentrate on something other than the mess he created last season. Then there is Jonathan Lucroy. Pound for pound, he is the best catcher in baseball this season. Offensively, there is no match. In the clutch, there is no match. He is single-handedly taken leadership of the team and molding it into a winner only Melvin could have seen before the season began. Then there is the manager, Roenicke. He has proven that this year, with four right handers and four left handers in the bullpen, he can manage as well as anyone in the game. So far, I am the one who has to eat crow IF he continues to lead the team to victory and the Central Division Championship, the national League Championship and the World Series kings.

But…we are only half way in the marathon that is known as a baseball season.

Play Ball!

The Spirit

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Years ago, there was a man who set baseball on its ear. He was fast and crafty. He did things with a flair. And the opposing players always had to have their heads on a swivel to make sure he wasn’t doing something that would be spectacular and cause them to look foolish. Yesterday, Jackie’s spirit was in full evidence as the kid from the Dominican Republic, the crafty young shortstop of the Milwaukee Brewers, put on a display that baffled many of the baseball veterans who had never seen what he did before in the history of the sport.

To set the stage, with runners on second and third, Jean Segura came to the plate in the thin air of the Colorado Rockies home field. He was intentionally walked with two outs to load the bases for the pitcher, Wily Peralta. Then it happened. The pitcher, Christian Friedrich, threw a wild pitch, which bounced back to the first base side of the diamond in foul territory to the right of the first baseline. Instantly, while the catcher was retrieving the ball, Mark Reynolds came home from third and scored as the catcher, Michael McKenry,  lofted the rebounded ball over the head of the pitcher who was covering home plate and going back to the backstop again. At that time, Aramis Ramirez, from second came home to score the second run. The pitcher at this time was against the backstop next to the Brewer dugout, retrieving the ball, head down and dejected over what had just happened. The catcher, facing home plate was bent over with his hands on his knees doing the same thing. Both felt terrible because two runs had scored with two out on a single wild pitch.

During all of this despair for Rockie fans everywhere, unseen by anyone on the Rockies team or staff, was Jean Segura, moving cautiously from first to second and then from second to third. Pausing slightly as he rounded third, he suddenly burst home and was half way down the third base line barreling toward home plate when the pitcher, finally caught him out of the corner of his eye and tried to run and dive to tag him out before he too would score. The burst of speed…the craftiness of his effort from first and his brilliant fade away slide into home, leaning his back toward the pitcher’s mound and away from the diving pitcher coming in from the backstop scored.

It was a moment one who saw the play will never forget. Imagine, the bases loaded before the pitch, all scored on one wild throw by the pitcher.

Now here’s the unfairness of this play. The pitcher, who caused at least the first and third runs to score, would not be charged for any runs as they were all unearned even though he caused this craziness to happen. But I digress.

The moment went to the Brewers and The Spirit of Jackie was in full view at Coors Field in Denver on Saturday.

Play Ball!