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 Day Sam Holbrook Ate A Pickle

It was a beautiful day in Houston, with the roof closed at Minute Maid Park. The Houston Astros were hosting the Milwaukee Brewers. Four pitches into the game, Milwaukee’s starting pitcher, Zach Greinke, who was going for his 10 victory of the season before he All-Star break, with a runner on third, raced to the first base bag to take a toss from Hart. The ball, Greinke and the runner arrived at the base at the same time. “SAFE!” came the call from the first base umpire, Sam Holbrook.

Thus began one of the strangest plays in baseball history. Greinke, upset at himself for not getting to the base in time, threw the ball down in disgust. The first base umpire ejected him from the game. Greinke had said nothing. It was the umpire’s interpretation that Greinke had thrown the ball down to disgrace the umpire’s call.

Truth be told, there must be a story of tremendous proportion behind all of this. Why else would such a thing happen? Umpires are not supposed to affect the outcome of a game.

Back in the day, Sam Holbrook was raised a good student who earned his bachelor’s degree and his Master’s degree from Eastern Kentucky University. He came up to the Major Leagues as an umpire in 1996 after spending time in the Appalachian League, Midwest League, Carolina League, Texas League and the International League. He played the game while in college. With a nod to Woody Allen, “Those who can’t play …. umpire.”

Through the years, Sam has had a bit of a rep. Of import is that Sam Holbrook lead all umpires in ejections in 2006 with 11 tosses. He now has, with the eviction of Mr. Greinke,  44 ejections in his career in The Show.

But what few people know is, Sam can’t help himself. Even the higher ups in the baseball establishment find all of this hard to believe. You see, it seems Sam is a pickle fanatic. His preference: kosher dill. The more sour the better. ‘He loves them sour dills that make your face perk all up and purse the lips tight while fightin away the bitter taste. Them’s good eatin, Sam.’

It’s just a guess, but he probably went over to The Swinging Door after the game Friday and instead of chewing on the peppers that are in the bowls on the tables, he chose instead to munch on a fresh kosher dill…but this was a Texas Pickle. Pucker power. The Swinging Door down in Sugarland, across the railroad tracks, is a CzechMex barbeque joint of tremendous reputation. Note I said, CzechMex as in Czechoslovakia. It seems immigrants from that land came to Texas and loved TexMex so much they put their own twist on things. The Texas Pickle is a result of all that. They are just pickles revisited. You take a large container of dill pickles, drain, add copious amounts of sugar, lots of tabasco, add garlic slices and ‘re-pickle’ them. Voila! Texas Pickles.

Sam can probably tell you all about the pickle. Did you know that cucumbers were probably first pickled 4,500 years ago in Mesopotamia? Sam would know that. Asia consumers more pickles per capita than any other region. Sam must know pickles. Pepperoncini is a pickled pepper, also called Tuscan pepper. Sam knows.

Sam, Sam, Sam.

What you eat is who you are. Sam must have eaten a sour pickle on Friday (hopefully he didn’t eat it for breakfast on Saturday). How else could you possibly imagine what he did at Saturday’s game in the first inning after four pitches. Umpires are not supposed to affect the outcome of a game. By throwing out Greinke after four pitches of Saturday’s game, he violated the basic rule of an umpire.

No more pickles for you, Sam. No mo.

The next time you see Sam at a ballpark near you, please, do not give him the pickle. Trust me.

Play Ball.