For 20 It’s Over

The crowds have gone home. Hot dog wrappers and paper cups litter the grandstand. There is a chill in the air. And, beyond the gates there is only the hope of a better season next year. The Reds, Brewers, Pirates, Phillies, Marlins, Braves, the Diamondbacks, Padres and Rockies join for a rare time, the Cardinals in the National League as the gates are closed and locked on their hopes for 2016. Their dreams of winning a pennant or the World Series is over. In the American League, the Twins, White Sox, and the World Champion Royals are joined by the Rays, the once mighty Yankees, the Mariners, A’s, Astros, Angels are joined by the Tigers, where dreams of a great season have ended.

Now, one of the most exciting times of the year begins with a shock and a bang. The playoffs begin on Tuesday.

But it is up to those fans, whose teams are no longer in the run, left to wonder ‘what if’. What if the Brewers had a 3rd base coach who didn’t cost so many games? What if the White Sox had realized that Robbie Ventura just couldn’t manage a winning squad? What if the Twins hadn’t gotten off to one of the most horrible starts any club has faced. What if the Yankee owners hadn’t gotten cheap? What if the Marlins hadn’t lost their stars? What if the Rays didn’t play baseball. What if the Braves hadn’t left Milwaukee? What if the Pirates got a manager? What if the Reds actually had a good front office? What if the Astros weren’t a flash in the pan? Unfortunately for them, they woke up. What if the Padres actually had a team? What if BillyBall actually worked? What if Arte Marino kept out of baseball decisions for the Angels? What if the Colorado Rockies moved to sea level? What if the Royal didn’t have Ned as a manager? What if the Phillies could actually rebuild? What if the Tigers were owned by the owner of another pizza company? What if the D’Backs had more than one player? What if the Mariners were owned by SONY? Who’d that matter? What if Cardinals didn’t get old? What if …. What if …

What if Vin Scully didn’t retire….we could all hope the dreams of tomorrow were closer than ever. Who else would weave into the balls and strikes, ‘The Yankees put pinstripes on their uniforms to make the Babe look thiner., ball one.’ Or, as he said this Friday about Giants second baseman, Kelby Tomlinson . ‘Everyone in his family has a name that begins with a ‘K’. And when their son came along, his mom loved the name Shelby so she called him Kelby. He comes from a small town called Elgin, Oklahoma. It only has 2,156 people. It is so small, they have a hardware store, a grocery store, a Sonic and a McDonalds’. His mom works……..ball two’.

Now most of us wait for the next year.

Other sports will be played. We’ll have Thanksgiving and begin our hectic shopping season. We’ll go to Grandma’s for Christmas. The chill of winter will grab us and then, once again, as the thought of flowers pop up through the snow, the thoughts of the sounds of spring in Florida and Arizona will grab us like a great friend and shake us into the new dreams of another year.

After all, if it can happen to the Cubs, it can happen to any team.

Play Ball!

It Was A Season To Forget For 29 Others

The San Francisco Giants are champions of baseball, once again. Their sold out season at home was a testament to their power in the West and throughout all of the game. The center of attention come spring will be Scottsdale. That is where they will begin to defend their title this past season and second in the past three years. For other teams it was a season to forget.

In Miami, what should have been a season to remember, became a nightmare quicker than you can say Fidel Castro. Of course when Ozzie said those two words, the beginning of the end began. Ozzie is no longer the manager of the Miami Marlins. He’s out of the fish tank. Now he can spout off about the aged dictator in Cuba all he wants with his profanity laced vocabulary. Así que lo siento. Me encanta el béisbol.

In Boston there was a tea party like only Beantown can deliver. They had fired the most successful manager in their history, who won not one but two World Series supposedly because he had lost control of his team. Guys were actually drinking beer in the clubhouse. Imagine that. Baseball players drinking beer in the clubhouse. After that horrible discovery was blabbed throughout New England on every fish wrap and sports talk mediums, there was a long debate between the candidates they would select as the next great Red Sox manager. Suffice to say the guy they should have taken grabbed the job with the Cubs before the Red Sox decided on Bobby Valentine. Yikes!

In Philadelphia and Milwaukee, great pre-season pitching staffs do not materialize to automatically put them into the playoffs. In Minneapolis, they found out that you can’t have a team built around one high-priced catcher. On the North side of Chicago, Dale Sveum is facing, like others who have taken over that franchise before him, another losing season which must be followed with a winning season or Sveum will have swum. On the South side of Chicago, they let a season of great leadership by one of their own disintegrate in September. St. Louis, Atlanta and Cincinnati had hopes crushed by the tidal wave known as the Giants. Arizona’s owner showed how he knows more about baseball than anybody because he has all the baseball cards Topps has ever printed. That makes him an authority. Unfortunately, Gibson can’t manage cardboard players. Houston was seen rushing over to the American League. They forgot to play ball in 2012.

Seattle had a season to remember. They gave up the greatest player in the game to the Yankees but had more great pitching performances at their stadium than anywhere on the planet ever. They are smiling in Seattle. Same with the fans in Washington, DC, where they were rewarded with a team that brought the city their first divisional championship. Quite an accomplishment for a City that had not seen a title winner since 1933.

Pittsburgh did it again. After a hot start, they faded badly. What do you expect from a team  that is managed by Clint Hurdle. Cleveland was never in the papers the entire season. Nor were the Padres. The New York Mets were non-factors this past season. Colorado disappeared in their own thin air plus their manager left after the season. Kansas City’s only claim to fame this season was hosting the All-Star game. The two ‘T-Towns’, Toronto and Tampa Bay had flashes of brilliance but not enough to put them in the big dance. On top of that, the Blue Jays lost their manager who became the head dude of the Boston Valentines.

Then there were the New York Yankees. The rapid loss of skills of A-Rod and the physical loss of The Captain, doomed the pinstripers this past season. In Dallas, the almost unexplainable coldness of Hamilton’s bat late in the season doomed the Rangers third attempt to win it all in three straight seasons. This franchise still hasn’t realized it needs pitching to win. Did you hear that Nolan Ryan? Remember what you did better than most? It wasn’t hitting. And what can you say about Detroit that hasn’t already been said?

That brings us to Baltimore. What a magical season Buck Showalter brought to baseball. 93 wins. Finally, Buck got his due. After rebuilding the Yankees and then getting fired; after building the Diamondback from scratch and setting all of the pieces together to win the World Series and got fired; after rebuilding the Rangers before he got fired; he took over a team that had won only 66 games the year before he got there and in two short years took them to the door of greatness.

Then there is Oakland and Billyball. The Athletics won the American League West title. And they played for the Championship of the American League. Go ahead. Name three players on the A’s besides Coco Crisp. They won an exciting 94 games. This was one of the most amazing stories in baseball. Billy Bean for President. He is the star of this franchise. Nobody understands the game better…on how to get the most out of talent like Mr. Bean.

On the other side of the equation is the Battle for LA. On one hand there is a billionaire who  bought a pig in a poke and thought he could win the American League pennant and finished third. On the other hand there are billionaires who not only  have to improve a team on the field but a stadium they play in and make it once again safe to go and see games. The Pujols Angels were only exciting because of one rookie. Their manager finally showed what he is made of. Arte has to take a look at his manager if he hopes to capture a title soon. As for the former LaLa Dodgers, they have gotten rid of all that has been bad over the past couple of years by taking out of the game the battling McCourts.

Which leads us to the Giants of San Francisco. Jack Elliot once said “Baseball is grown men getting paid to play a game.” In the City by the Bay, men enjoyed playing baseball this season like few before them. The had food fights before the games. One of their biggest boosters was an injured pitcher who played Ernie Kovacs routine of The Nairobi Trio in the dugout during the game. There were more than smiles. There was laughter and joy of being in a game they love to play. Pandemonium ruled. They put new gas into the gashouse gang. Think of them as the laughing gasers. They have all winter to smile the smile of victory.

Play Ball!

The Amazing Billyball Is As Exciting As It Gets Because Of DER

They play in one of the oldest stadiums in Spring Training. Their major league home is one of the last football/baseball combo stadiums of the ’60s. Yet the team that makes these two parks home is playing amazing Billyball. Today they are only three games out of first place in the American League West behind the mighty Texas Rangers. The Oakland A’s are making baseball history once again.

History is the analysis and interpretation of the human past that enables us to study continuity and change over time. It doesn’t say how long ‘over time’ has to be. But in yesterday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, the A’s third baseman, Brandon Inge threw out Pedro Ciriaco at first base in the top of the third inning. What few knew was that ‘pop’ he heard in throwing that ball across the diamond was a season ending right shoulder dislocation which will undergo surgery…season ending surgery.

But he didn’t really tell anyone how badly it hurt him. In the bottom of the third, he went to bat with two runners on. He promptly slapped a double to right, driving in both runners and the A’s were on their way to their 8th straight victory and the crowd was in their glory with impersonations of Bernie Lomax and his celebratory dance. After all, this was Bernie Weekend at the old ballpark. Terry Kiser, the actor who played Bernie in the “Weekend at Bernie’s” movies threw out the first pitch at the beginning of the game. “Lean like Bernie” is the promotional call this weekend. Inge was out of the game and out for the season in a way few will be able to recreate.

The whole season for the A’s will be hard to recreate. Here is a team that was destined to finish last. But somehow, the best General Manager in baseball, Billy Beane, is pulling off another magical season. First he pulled his magic by signing Yoenis Cespedes, a 27 to 37-year-old center fielder/DH to hit this season and many more. This Granma, Cuba (yes, Granma) native is hitting .300 and an OPS of .858. In left field, Jonny Gomes, is hitting .253 and won Friday evenings match. Josh Reddick, in right field, has hammered 28 home runs while driving in 73 RBIs. But who many believe is the key to this team, came in an unusual manner.

The trade that brought Stephen Drew was announced over the club’s public address system in the middle of the seventh inning of a game at the Coliseum with the Twins. He suffered a horrible, season ending injury last season while a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, sliding into home plate in a collision with the Brewer catcher. He was not only out on the play, but out for the season. While recovering this season, he was publicly called out by the D’Backs majority owner suggesting that Drew was taking his time getting his injured ankle back to health. But then again, who listens to what the D’Back’s owner says. The trading of Drew was in the air even before that public spew by the owner.

Yet, Billy B understood the value of Drew. And with his usual magic, he traded for Drew for a 17th round draft pick. Can you imagine that? He got one of the best shortstops in baseball for a 17th round draft pick. That’s must be what makes Arizona so good.

Then there are the Brandon’s. Brandon Moss, the first baseman (who went 4 for 5 on Friday’s drubbing of the Bostonians). He’s hitting .254 with 15 home runs. Brandon Inge, now officially out for the season. Brandon Hicks, Drew’s backup at short hitting well below the Mendoza line. Then there is Brandon McCarthy, the tallest Brandon at 6.7″ with an 8-5 season going for him with an impressive 3.10 ERA. It is my belief that Billy is really trying to get every Brandon in baseball to play for the team and then change the name of the team to the Brandon’s, thus giving him an added injection of cash in new jersey sales that he will need until they get approval for a new stadium in San Jose. “Come get your East Bay Brandon Jersey’s”.

The real reason, however, why the A’s are doing so well is that they are playing great defense with timely hitting. Using a relatively undervalued metric called DER (Defensive Efficiency Rating), the A’s are regarded the second best defensive team in major league baseball. OK. We know this is the home of Moneyball. DER rates how well a team converts “balls in play” into actual outs. The A’s do this extremely well.

Then there is the old man himself, Coco Crisp patrolling center field. He’s hitting .260 but his defense is exceptional, leading us back to DER. You only get a great DER if you have great DER up the middle.

But, can defense win a pennant? Any team that has an outfield of great first names (Yoenis, Coco, Jonny, Josh and Collin) has to play great defense. It’s the All-Smucker outfield. (“With a name like Smucker’s, You Have To Be Good”).

No. It’s none of that. It’s all about Billy. First it was Moneyball. Now it is DER ball. Here’s to you, Mr. Beane. Maybe this season you will get your pennant. We’ll all be pulling for you.

Play Ball!