Watching Attanasio

Baseball is never ending. There is a rhythm and flow that predates rock and roll. It is part of past, present and future. It is there for us, on demand, as regular as running water. We know it is there and when we want it, it comes out. It is, after all, our heritage. It is an American legacy.

The temples where the game is played of green grass has a look all its own. There, the gods of the sport, now and before, play the game. Their ghosts are everywhere. Aaron and Banks. Williams and Mantle. Spahn and Mathews, Musial and Koufax. Jackie and Robin. Through the turnstiles, past the concession stands, into the venue itself, the opening is there and passing through, there it is…it is the place where magic will happen today.

Hope for the season ahead is ever present. This is the season when the heavens will open up and victory in the form of a World Series pennant will be ours.

For many of us, it is a way of life, passed down to us from our grandparents, parents or relatives. It is our legacy. When remembering the past, it is the time we spent with our grandfather and grandmother, Mom and Dad at the ballpark. For those who grew up in Wisconsin, the home team, our home team is the Milwaukee Brewers. So much had been seen there; the great players like Roger … ‘The Rocket’, perhaps the greatest pitcher the game has ever seen, or Reggie and Yaz, Cal and Randy Johnson, as well as Griffey, Jr. and Ichiro, the greatest hitter the game has seen in our lifetime. ‘The Brewers Win The Pennant’ with Simba, Robin, Pauly, Gimby, Stormin, Rollie, Vuch, Coop, Benji and the Harvey were all witnessed with family and friends, Moms and Dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. CC and Sheets, Prince and Braun, Greinke, Weeks and Nyjer, K-Rod and AxMan, brought the feeling back but fell ever so short.

This was a team that was brought to Wisconsin after the first great heartbreak of our sporting life, on a loan from the Schlitz Brewing Co. family to a car dealer’s son who would become the Commissioner of Baseball (after he was involved and found guilty in the collusion between the owners to keep players from earning their fair share through free agency) to fill the void left by the carpetbagger who moved the beloved Braves to that city down south.

We live in a world of globalization. We live in a world where the game is played by athletes everywhere. Milwaukee is a community that has diversified over the past half century as well. Today 39% of Milwaukee County is made up of Black Americans, 13% Latinos, 5% Asian Americans. It became a majority minority dominated city in 2000.

Today’s baseball team in the Cream City no longer reflects that diversity. Of the 40 man roster, there are only two Black Americans, one an aging Weeks nearing the end of his career and Davis, a young man just beginning his career. The Latino contingent is well represented, with some sixteen team members. There is one Asian, a Taiwanese pitcher who is yet to make it to the Bigs.

We no longer live in a Jim Crow era. Yet the team that is in Milwaukee has just two Black Americans. When they made a run for the pennant, the starting first baseman, second baseman and center fielder were black. Prince was beloved since he came up through the minors and would, fans thought, forever be an All-Star Brewer. Rickie was the college educated, All-Star second baseman. Nyjer was the center of joy. And he did get THE HIT. Together with Braun, Hart, Lucroy, Grienke, Vonnie, K-Rod and Axford they made their run which would be only the first of many to come. Today there is no Prince, no Nyjer, no Grienke, no K-Rod nor Axford. And there is no Hart. Rickie is waning, Vonnie is struggling and Braun is coming back from the unknown.

The team has no minority manager or coaches with the single exception of John Shelby who begins his third season on the coaching staff after joining the organization as outfield coach/eye in the sky, whatever that is; no upper management who are minority. Yet this is the governing body of the team that represents a majority minority city in the great Midwest. ‘A team is a reflection of the community it represents.’

The owner is from Los Angeles. There is little that is the same on Wilshire Boulevard or Pacific Palisades as compared to Pigsville or Lincoln at Kinnikinnick. In the City of Angels, Brats (with Secret Stadium Sauce) and beer are as foreign as sushi and wine are in Bayview. Brookfield is not Beverly Hills and Racine has kringle. Try finding that at Gilsons. This is a town where there are bubblers and kids wear rubbers on their feet when it rains. There is a separation here. It is not just distance, but a cultural misunderstanding that Milwaukee is the same as it was or the same as everywhere else. It is not. The Packers and Brewers, Badgers,  Bucks and Marquette belong to Wisconsinites, not Californians. Curley, Uecker, Crazylegs and Chones are our guys. Spencer Tracy, Fred MacMurray and Gene Wilder are our guys. They all, uncommon individuals and brilliant in their craft, who have all played at one time or another in California, are Wisconsinites through and through. The Brewers, every last one of them who ever played in the Cream City, belong to us.

If there is one thing a person from Los Angeles knows, it is star-power. They know that if you have a star for your program or movie or team, people will come and fans will pay in record numbers to see them. It is as eternal as Cary Grant, Bob Hope or Babe Ruth. They don’t call Yankee Stadium ‘The House That Ruth Built’ for nothing. Mark Attanasio lives and works in Los Angeles. He occasionally shows up in Milwaukee as the owner. He should know more than most what a star does to propel a team and make money. The present team looks like a fragment of their former self. Yes, the payroll is manageable and the team will make money…a lot of money. What is our VORP? Who gives a crap. Enough with Keith Wollner. We want a PENNANT. We want to be competitive. We want it NOW.

A former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers in the old American Association, Bill Veeck, said, “Baseball must be a great game because the owners haven’t been able to kill it.” The fans will fill the stands. And records will be broken. But we need a Prince or a Price, a Tanaka or, hell, a first baseman who can play first base. It is time for change. It is time for an owner to get in touch with the city his team represents and a management who represents a constant path to victory. We are watching Attanasio.

We will be heading to Maryvale in February and again the gates will open and warm, brilliant sunshine will illuminate the field. The lines will be chalked and fans will press for autographs. The smell of brats and beer will fill the air and the boys from the team representing Milwaukee will take the field. Will this team have a chance to win the pennant or will this owner be like so many before him, make money on a fan base who will support them regardless of the outcome. He will earn it on the millions who will go through Miller Park. He will earn it from broadcast and telecast, mobile and digital rights. He will earn it from the advertising in the stands and on merchandise that is sold. He will make it from those over the limit teams who will spend monies to try to win the pennant and pay the  tax. He will earn it by paying for mediocrity on the field, in the dugout and in upper management. Can you spell Masahiro? David? Or, even Prince?

It is time to …

Play Ball!

For daily baseball updates, you are invited to go to: http://www.facebook.com/overtheshouldermlb   On Twitter, follow @overtheshoulde3

Magnification Of Blunders

With the wind whirling all around us, the center of the storm is often calm. We are in the center of baseball’s annual storm. The playoffs, where pitchers dominate and star hitters rarely come through in the clutch, was best described in Ernest Thayer’s legendary poem written in 1888 “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888”, first published in The San Francisco Examiner on June 3rd in that year. While we no longer have the Mudville Nine to worry about, today’s game during the baseball’s playoffs, still are dominated by good pitching.

Take for example game #1 of the NLCS: The visiting Dodgers put multi millionaire, Zach Greinke on the mound. With a 1-2 post-season record, his only career win coming against St. Louis for the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2011 NLCS, he responded with ten strikeouts and only one walk. However, that one walk would come back to haunt him as the runner scored on a double that should have been caught in centerfield. You might question, ‘should have caught’ statement because it was a ball, high off the wall, which would have been a good catch. But it was a catch that was possible to make. It was simply misjudged by Andre Ethier. Yet little is said about that play. Rather, the emphasis for pointing fingers is that Dodger manager, Don Mattingly, pulled his star first baseman and one of its best hitters, Adrian  Gonzalez, who had singled to put the lead run on first while the game was tied 2-2 and was hitting .333 in post season. No one knew that this game was going to go 13 innings and this was only the eighth inning. Dee Gordon came in to run and was quickly retired by a weak ground ball by rookie sensation, Yasiel Puig. One of the Dodgers star hitters was now out of the game. The point here is that he was ONE of the star hitters, not the only one.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;                                                           It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;                                                                         It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,                                                         For Casey, might Casey, was advancing to the bat.”

There were other hitters in the Dodger lineup to do what Gonzalez had done so well. There was Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Puig, Uribe, Ethier and Mark Ellis to deliver. But this game, during this time of the season is not about the hitters. It’s about the pitching.

The Dodgers were no longer calm in the center of the storm.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;                                       He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.                                                           And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go.                                                       And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

On the St. Louis side, steeped in tradition with one of their greatest marked by a symbol on their sleeves with the number 6 set in a circle, and legendary pitcher, Bob Gibson in the dugout before the game, did what every winning team has done from time in memoriam in the post season…they won the game with tremendous pitching.

You can’t forget the work of Joe Kelly, a Los Angeles area native, beginning the game with six solid innings coming off a 7-2 record since August 11th with a 2.32 ERA. Don’t forget, he struck out all of the Dodgers in the first inning and then struck out Gonzalez with runners on in the second and Puig with runners on in the third. It’s not the time to forget Randy Choate and Seth Maness for their combined shutout inning of work. Carlos Martinez had a good inning and then came Trevor Rosenthal, who struck out two in his great couple of innings.

But the shock of shocks, was John Axford’s second lifetime entrance into post-season play. The boy from Simcoe, Ontario, Canada, was traded by the Brewers to St. Louis (that’s another story for another day) after being counted on to be able to loose more TV viewers than NBC. When he came into a Brewer game this season, fans would change channels just to miss the predictable debacle that would surely follow. But here he was, banging his fastball and making an inning interesting. Giving up a hit and walking another, he came in with a fastball of old to strike out the not so mighty Casey of the Dodger Nine, former Cardinal Nick Punto, to allow the game to continue. This game didn’t end suddenly as most had previously when ‘Ax’ entered a Brewer’s game. It left many in Milwaukee wondering where was this performance a few months ago for The Crew? There’s ‘beer pride’ here. This moment of past glory now resided on the hill at Busch and not at Miller.

To put the exclamation point on this note of post season pitching importance, Lance Lynn’s work for two innings wrapping up the game and the win cannot be over looked nor over stated.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;                                                The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,                                              And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children should,                                         But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.

It’s not the magnification of blunders that decided this game. It wasn’t Ethier’s late start and misplay in center or a managerial decision that would do in the Dodgers on this long, long evening in St. Louis. It was pitching, namely for ‘Dizzy’ and ‘Daffy’s’ and ‘Bullet Bob’s’ legacies that brought victory to the team that plays under the Arch. And that was Friday. Same goes for Saturday’s games in both St. Louis and Boston.

Play Ball.

For more overtheshouldermlb, go to our Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/Overtheshouldermlb and LIKE us.

Road Warriors

What does it take to win a playoff spot? Good pitching is essential. Good, timely hitting is an absolute. Solid relief pitching is a must. But the one statistic that rules is this: you cannot have a losing record on the road. Road warriors rule.

Take a look at this season’s playoff contenders: Boston has the second best record in all of baseball and tops in the American League. Not only do they win in Fenway, but they have a winning record on the road…the second best road record in the league. Oakland also is a road warrior with more wins then losses. The Detroit Tigers were road winners over the season. Tampa was even with a 41-41 record.

Over in the National League, the only teams that are .500 or better are Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Los Angeles. Atlanta is one game under on the road. However, their home record is the tops in all of baseball.

Why is it these teams perform better sleeping on a Sealy away from home? The answer lies in the make up of the teams. Travel distances are one of the things to consider. Boston is part of a rather tight geographic fit in their division. But this brings up the issue that teams who have a big geographic spread and have to travel great distances should not do as well. While travel distances can be a factor they are not THE factor why a team plays better on the road than other teams.

Veterans are the key. Look at each team and see how age and wisdom contribute to a winning road record. Boston has regular position players Drew (30), Napoli (31), Pedroia (30), Gomes (32), Victorino (32) and Ortiz (37), all of whom have played on playoff teams previously. They are experienced road warriors. Oakland has Cespedes (27), Crisp (33), Callaspo (30) and Young (30), again, all have had playoff experience.

Perhaps you get the point. Experience in understanding a season is a marathon (not a sprint) and being able to kick it up into another gear, especially on the road, makes for a winning season on the road.

Pittsburgh may be the perfect case in point. Here is a team that finally has their first winning season in over 20 years. And their lineup is loaded with experienced road warriors who have had valuable playoff experience to support the likes of Alverez and McCutchen who do not. Morneau (32), Martin (30), Byrd (36), Barmes (34) all have playoff experience plus they have pitchers who have done so as well. A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano both bring added understanding to this year’s team, as does their manager, Clint Hurdle. He has won the National League pennant previously.

Then look at the Dodgers. Capuano (35), Greinke (29), Wilson (31), Gonzalez (31), Hairston, Jr. (37), Punto (35), Uribe (34), Young (36), Crawford (32) and Ethier (31).

Case in point: Nothing blends a team better than experience. The veterans are, at their very best, teachers. All of these teams who are fighting for a league pennant have young, exciting players on their roster. But those who succeed, especially on the road, have experience to guide the youth.

Humans are not unlike any heard of animals. Elephants look to their older members to guide them to water holes through a season, filled with drought and the unknown.

Experienced veterans are a the key to blending young and old while creating that thing called ‘chemistry’ that makes a group a team. That makes all of the difference in winning on the road. 

It’s going to be an exciting playoff.

Play Ball!

It’s Who’s Time

Labor Day weekend is a changing point for the fan. The first taste of ‘gridiron fever’ has been feed and few surprises developed, except for North Dakota State’s amazing upset. On the diamond, we already know who will be in and who will not make the playoffs, with a couple of exceptions. The biggest surprise of all is of course Pittsburgh. The Pirates will make the playoffs for the first time since the early ‘90s. Now it is time to make some predictions on who will win the big prizes and who will not be back. Of course, this is only one man’s view.

For the AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers. Nobody in modern baseball does what he does with a bat. There are only two that can be compared to him in the entire history of baseball…Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Yes. He’s that good. Yes. He is the MVP in all of baseball.

For the NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks. He plays in the middle of the night to most of the baseball world. So the world doesn’t know how good this young Gehrig really is. Stay up late one night and see the vision of young greatness.

For the AL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Detroit Tiger. In one of the worst deals in baseball history, the Diamondbacks gave up on one of their true first round drafted superstars for who? Get this. In a three-team trade, Tigers get Scherzer for Edwin Jackson and sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees who sent Ian Kennedy to the D’Backs who was traded to San Diego for Matt Stites and Joe Thatcher. So, Scherzer (71-43) was traded for Thatcher (8-11 career). This year he is the best pitcher in baseball.

For the NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers. Inordinately talented, he is the best pitcher in the National League and perhaps in all of baseball. He is the one pitcher this year who ‘dominates’ in every game, even when he loses.

For the AL ROY: J.B. Shuck, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Batting .297 as lead-off hitter, he leads all American League rookies in hits. Has 2 HR and 33 RBIs. What makes this a tough choice is that he is from Ohio State but we needed someone from SoCal to offset THE Rookie of the Year in all of baseball. Saint Puig.

For the NL ROY: Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers. Descended from heaven, via Havana, and spread peace and grace upon Chavez Ravine as Düsseldorf mustard is to the Dodger Dog. OK. It’s Sunday. What do you want?

For AL Mgr Year: Ron Washington, Texas Rangers. With no star outfielder (Hamilton left for a place behind the Orange Curtain), half a season without their PEDBoy, without great pitching, he is in first place in the West and 16 ½ games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This does not make Arte feel good.

For NL Mgr Year: Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers. Idiot sports radio babblers ranted about how he should be fired. Then St. Puig descended upon the masses and magic came from each and every decision Donny Ballgame made. Who should be fired? Sports radio personalities in the City of Angels. Who should be hired? Donny Ballgame. His team is 20 games ahead of the 2012 World Champion San Francisco Giants who went from first to worst.

BYE BYE

The AL GM: Jerry Dipoto, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, signed Pujols, Hamilton, traded Segura for Greinke, whom he couldn’t sign and keep. Left his manager hanging. He got rid of Segura, an All-Star shortstop. That alone should get him fired. Plus he doesn’t know how to sell billboard space.

The NL GM: Michael Hill, Miami Marlins, for working under Loria  He should be fired just for making the decision to accept the job and work for Loria. His team is the worst in baseball’s National League, 33.5 games behind division leading Atlanta.

The AL Mgr: Ned Yost, Kansas City Royals.  He should be fired because his name is Ned Yost, which rhymes with ‘most’ but leaves a taste of burnt toast. Neddly just doesn’t know how to manage, particularly young players.

The NL Mgr: Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee Brewers. He should be fired because he is not ready to be a manager. He cannot manage his players nor his coaches. Must have had over 100 lineup changes in first 130 games. His team is 20 games behind Pittsburgh.

The AL Coach: Jeff Manto, Chicago White Sox. Poorest hitting team in the AL and the  poorest performing team in nearly all of baseball. If you can’t hit, you can’t score. If you can’t score, you can’t win.

The NL Coach: Ed Sedar, Milwaukee Brewers, the worst 3B coach ever in the history of baseball.

It’s just one man’s opinion. Now let’s go out for one more month and ….

Play Ball!

BANG THE DRUM

What is the deciding issue that separates a Manager from his weekly pay check? Hitting? Pitching? Decision-making? Hiring the wrong coaches? This is an interesting question when you consider the following. But you have to forget the illusion that has appeared in Philadelphia during the past 48 hours.

Your team has a starting line up with the leadoff hitter batting .298; the second hitter batting .352; the third hitter batting .300; the clean up hitter batting .300 and will get his 2000th hit later this month along with his 350th home run next month; the fifth hitter batting .321 with the balance of the line up hitting slightly above or below the team’s best hitting pitcher who carries a .222 batting average. Your first baseman is at .226; the catcher was hitting .227 (before he hit Philadelphia) and the second baseman carries a .182 batting average. Opposition teams know that your team can only hit while the first five hitters in your line up are at bat. Consider this: they hadn’t held the lead in 61 innings before Friday’s 3rd inning.

Bang the drum a little louder.

Your team has a pitching staff that has…a problem. Your #1 pitcher has a 4 – 5 record with an ERA of 5.05. Your #2 pitcher has a 1 – 6 record and has a 4.37 ERA. Your #3 pitcher has a 4 – 6 record with a 5.94 ERA. Your #4 pitcher has a 4 – 3 record with a 4.96 ERA. Your leading closer a couple of years ago has a 1 – 3 record with a 5.70 ERA. Do you know that fans turn to another channel when he is brought in? The closer you count on has a 2 – 1 record and a 0.92 ERA with 9 saves. But he is hurt.

Bang the drum a little louder so the whole world can hear.

Your team also does not have their regular first baseman that is on the DL, again, until sometime this summer.

You have made some unusual moves or non-moves as you continue to play a veteran second baseman who has clearly not performed up to his or anyone’s level both at the plate nor in the field, for the better part of two plus seasons.

Your catcher, before Friday, has not performed up to an acceptable level since his wife dropped a suitcase on his hand in their hotel room, last year, in Los Angeles.

You can’t make these things up.

Bang the drum.

You hired a new hitting coach who has obviously performed fairly well considering they are 20th in hitting with a .258 batting average. After all, your team has a third of the major leagues that are performing worse. The real problem is they don’t hit when it counts. Your team has only produced 216 runs. That means they don’t win a lot of games. In the last 48 hours, this team accomplished back-to-back wins for the first time since April. Wow!

You have a pitching coach who has not performed while his chargers are second to last in the league (they rank 28th out of 30 in all of the major leagues with a 4.56 ERA). But this should not surprise anyone considering his past record. Prior to his current team, his pitching staffs finished in the bottom four of the entire Major League in ERA.

Your team’s fielding ranks #26 with a fielding percentage of .981 with 38 errors.

There have been very few teams to be able to hit their way into a championship, especially if your team only has five hitters. In baseball, it’s all about pitching…fielding…running…then hitting. Hitting is for show. Pitching is for all the dough.

You have a third base coach who does not know how to stop an aging, injured runner rounding third and finding it impossible to score on a double. This same coach can’t keep a young runner from being picked off both 2nd and 3rd in the past couple of weeks.

When you consider that you learn how to run the bases in grade school, this team’s performance day in and day out is laughable. Watch one of their games and the odds are that one of their base runners will make a blunder. Who’s coaching these guys? These are fundamentals of the game.

Bang the drum a little louder.

Your record as a manager is 200-178, with a record this season of 21-33 (.389), 15 1/2 games behind St. Louis and last in the Central Division of the National League thru Sunday morning; a 6 wins and 22 loses in May, tied for the worst record in franchise history. And that was when they were in Seattle as a first year team (they had in improbable 6-22 record in August, 1969). Sibbi Sisti was a coach on that team. Bang The Damn Drum!

Nelly Furtado, a Grammy Award winner, whose song, ‘Bang The Drum’ repeats a phrase throughout the lyrics:

Bang the drum a little louder

So the whole world can hear

The whole world can hear”

It’s time we bang the drum a little louder so the whole world can hear, even in Los Angeles where the owner is drinking his Miller beer.

Play Ball!

Smelling The Rosin Of Spring

The off-season is filled with visions of money stacked tall and wide. It is that time to make THE haul in a baseball players career. Today’s top pitcher on the Market for a new contract is Zach Greinke. He may not be the best pitcher, nor even the best pitcher on his new team. But he will be one of the best paid pitchers in baseball.

It is all built on hope. The hope of the Los Angeles Dodgers is to win a pennant and another World Series. The hope of Zach Greinke is to have the biggest bank account in whatever neighborhood he decides to land in. But there are severe problems in achieving both of these hopeful goals. First, there is the champion San Francisco Giants. Second, there is chemistry. Third, there is history.

The San Francisco Giants have won the World Series two of the past three years. Here is a team that has the players in place with an understanding that it takes all 25 to make a successful season. They also have one of the deepest pitching staffs in baseball. They also have the best pitcher in the National League, Matt Cain. Plus, they have an excellent manager of the game. Nobody today manages crises better than Bruce Bochy.

Chemistry is an important ingredient in making up a championship ball club. It is the glue that holds a team together in tough times and the power behind the bonding that makes the good times even greater. Greinke has some interesting issues when it comes to this particular element. Can the highest paid pitcher on your staff be only the second best on your staff? Can the introverted guy meld into the blend that is La La? Sure, the news that will be coming out of Camelback Ranch this spring will be full of hope and how well Grienke will be fitting into those Boys In Blue. He’ll be shown laughing with what’s his name, Matt Kemp, in Center Field. He’ll be throwing down a few with what’s his name, Adrian Gonzalez, who just got here from Boston at First Base. He’ll be seen in a picture, smiling, alongside what’s his name, Clayton Kershaw, the 24-year-old, number one pitcher on the staff. But there will be Donny Ballgame attempting to manage it all. And there will be exhortations from Tommy saying that the second coming of the Dodgers to Los Angeles is well on its way and that he will shout from the top of his lungs, “Bleed Dodger Blue, Baby”.

That brings us to number three: history and Grienke’s six year, $147 million dollar deal in the National League. Zack’s history in the N.L. with the Milwaukee Brewers was spectacular at home. He never lost a game at home in Milwaukee. But on the road, it was a different story. What happens on the road when he hits his non-winning bumps, far away from the palm lined driveway in the Hills of Southern California? Could anguish set in behind the doubts he will have to live up to because of the immense amount of money he is making? No one will be able to console him because no one knows how to talk to him. He doesn’t really do that. But the real doubt that will haunt him is that he is not a #1. He was number two in Milwaukee. He was number two with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Yet he is being paid #1 salary by a desperate team.

Why are they desperate? San Francisco is the king. L.A. is the pretender. L.A. hates to be second to any city, especially to the City By The Bay. Least we forget, it takes more than just a great home field starting pitcher. The San Francisco Giants have a bullpen besides great starting pitching and a proven manager with a team loaded with chemistry.

But, this is what the Hot Stove is all about, isn’t it. You can talk about hope forever. You can talk about the pros and cons of paying Greinke whatever. All the time you are doing this, you can almost smell the rosin of spring. It’s only a few weeks away.

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!

A Case For #28 As MVP

 

All-star, silver slugger award winner, Prince Fielder is an undisputed MVP candidate of the American League this season. Case in point: in 2011 he was the insurance behind the National League’s MVP, Ryan Braun. that assured pitchers threw would rather pitch to Braun in the third position in the batting order than take their chances with the ever dangerous Fielder in clean up. In 2012, he was the insurance behind the American League’s first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, Miguel Cabrera. In the clean up position, Fielder was again the biggest threat. Pitchers have learned that they just don’t like pitching to #28. He is that dangerous. Cabrera was the beneficiary.

This is not to take anything away from Braun or Cabrera. They are both great baseball players and superb hitters. Both earned their achievement titles.

But how dangerous is Fielder? In both 2011 and 2012, he played in all 162 games. In 2011 he had 170 hits. In 2012 he had 182 hits. Last year he had 36 doubles while he collected 33 doubles this season. He hit 38 home runs while driving in 120 RBIs last season. This year he hit 30 home runs and drove in 108 RBIs. As for the RBI total, you probably can’t have too many men on base when the Triple Crown winner is hitting ahead of you. Last year he hit .299 and this year hit .313. Perhaps the most amazing stat is the fact that he walked 85 times while striking out only 84 times.

He will get better. This was his first season in the American League. Despite inter league games, he had to learn all of the pitchers in a new league.

So, who is better than Prince Fielder as an MVP candidate in the American League? Is it a Triple Crown winner or Michael Trout of the Angels, who had a very good rookie season?  Detroit won their division and moved on to the playoffs. The Angels finished out of the running. MVP is all about who got you there not who might have gotten you there. Remember, Prince played in more games and hit as many home runs as Trout did. Plus he’s playing in the playoffs once again.

Play Ball!

 

 

 

 

 

#23 Maybe #1

For many of us who grew up in the land of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan or Ohio, the cool breeze of fall leads to one destination: Pasadena. The ‘Granddy of Them All’ is the goal for every kid who steps on the gridiron in the breadbasket. It’s the time the kids from the Midwest get to strap it on against the kids from the Pacific Coast. No matter where you live in Rockford, Rochester, Akron and the many other cities that mark this region of blue-collar workers, the goal is there. This year our team will make it to the Arroyo Seco where the Rose Bowl resides.

He was like us all. The difference: he was a natural from Pontiac. Tough, determined and very athletic, the schoolboy star became an All-American wide receiver who won the Big Ten football title while attending Michigan State. His tough, Ditka-type mentality along with great speed and agility, made him a sure pick for pro ball. When the draft came, the Cardinals picked him. But just when everyone expected him to jig, he jagged. Who wanted to play for the Racine-Chicago-St. Louis-Phoenix-Arizona Bidwell’s?

During college, his football coach, Darryl Rogers, suggested he go out for baseball. In only one collegiate season he hit .390, with 16 home runs and 52 RBI in 48 games. He jagged to the Tigers. His career was filled with honors. Two World Series championship rings, one in the American League (1984) and one in the National League (1988). One NL MVP (1988). A Silver Slugger (1988) and 2 time All-Star.

Oh ya. He hit what was probably the most famous home run in Dodger history. It is one of the most famous in World Series history. Just ask Hall of Fame pitcher, Dennis Eckersley. Strike one. Strike two. Ball, outside. Ball, again outside. Foul ball. Ball again. Mike Davis is on the move toward second.

“But, we have a big 3-2 pitch coming from Eckersley. Gibson swings, and a fly ball to deep right field! This is gonna be a home run! Unbelievable! A home run for Gibson! And the Dodgers have won the game, 5 o 4. I don’t believe what I just saw! I don’t believe what I just saw! Is this really happening, Bill? One of the most remarkable finishes to any World Series Game…a one-handed home run by Kirk Gibson! And the Dodgers have won it…five to four; and I’m stunned, Bill. I have seen a lot of dramatic finishes in a lot of sports, but this one might top almost every other one.” (Jack Buck)

The other day, in the tunnel that takes one from their seats to the club beneath the stands behind the plate at Chase Field, if you are on the 3rd base side, you get to pass the entrance to the Diamondback’s locker room and their dugout. It is one of the great hidden gems in all of baseball, as you will undoubtedly meet any number of players and coaches as they go back and forth from dugout to locker room. Surprisingly, the players and coaches  are very accommodating. Most have smiles and acknowledge you with a ‘how ya doing’ or ‘great to see you’ without ever having met you before. This close. This intimate. This is unbelievable. These are the guys in the Show. That’s Kennedy. “How ya doing, Up?”. “Goldie”. “Let’s get’em tonight.” “Thanks.” “See ya.” “Have a good game.” Talking with the guys. Guys talking to us.

Then, there he was. Looking down at a piece of paper in his left hand, shuffling toward the dugout, looked up briefly and said, ‘Hi’ as he moved on past and into the dugout. Another ‘Hi’ in the land of dreams. He looked like an older man, shaggy stubble of a beard, an old athlete well past his prime. But he was undoubtedly ‘Gibby’, the hero of East Lansing, Detroit, Los Angeles and certainly soon to be in Phoenix.

This is a tough man. He takes no guff. Going back to his days in Detroit (the first eight years he was there) he became a free agent in 1985 but received no meaningful offers and therefore re-signed with Detroit. He knew it. Baseball knew it. Baseball ownership had been in collusion and in 1988, an arbitrator moved that MLB owners colluded against the players in an effort to stem free agency. Seems nothing changed between players and management from the time of Comisky to Selig. Owners are owners. Players are chattel. Gibson took free agency immediately and went to the land of Dodger Blue.

He was a Sparky Anderson player. Tough. Straight-laced and to the point. There he was the student. In Dodgertown he appeared to be outspoken and disciplined, something never said about the team since they flew across the nation to reside in Hollywood. He chastised the team for being unprofessional and brought about a winning attitude through the full strength of his personality. He openly criticized the team and became the de facto leader. His intensity and absolute determined attitude made the powder blue into a fighting blue. The Dodgers became tough under Gibson. Some say he brought back the Brooklyn spirit (us against them) to Los Angeles. The result? They became winners once again. They were once again the Dodgers of Robinson and Hodges, Pee Wee and Campy, Erskine and Newcombe. More than anyone, it was Gibson who brought them to this point.

Skip forward a decade or so. Now he was a bench coach in a very lonely Diamondback’s dugout for a manager nobody remembers. After a few really horrible months, crowds thinning and losses mounting, D’Back’s fired their manager and moved Mr. Gibson up to an ‘interim’ position as manager of their ball club. It was a move that saved money with management not caring what would happen the balance of the season. Gibson was an old baseball man who would step in place and marshal the troops until they could find someone who might bring them back to a pennant fight. After all, if their previous manager couldn’t do it, why would you think Gibson could do any better?

What he did in the final few games of 2010 was a miracle. These same bunch of guys who literally wallowed in defeat learned to become winners. There was only one thing that happened. Kirk Gibson became their manager. It is absolutely as plain and simple as that.

But the Diamondback management, since the days they forced out Colangelo as the owner, have been helter skelter. This GM in. That GM out. The owner interferes with everything. He criticizes the players and drops hints to his journalist pals about this and that. Announcers are fired because they don’t wear a logo T-shirt. Loyalty is non existent. Important decisions are hard to come by.

Beyond all odds, prior to the next season, mercifully, the ‘interim’ tag was thrown away and Gibson became full-time manager. It was the best decision this owner has ever made, certainly better then his purchase of the T-201 Honus Wagner (The Gretsky) baseball card.

Before the season began, Gibby asked around, including his old Dodger coach, Tommy Lasorda, what he would look for in selecting a good coaching staff. Lasorda simply said, ‘get the best’. Get the guys that every player looks up to.’

Gibson is no dummy. He quickly surrounded himself with the finest coaching staff in baseball. For batting coach, who better than Don Baylor (former NL Manager of the Year. 1979 AL MVP, hit 139 RBI in single season. 19 years in the Major Leagues.) Charles Nagy, Pitching Coach, 3x All Star (Cleveland) pitcher (129-105) in 14 years. Eric Young, First Base Coach, All-Star (Colorado), Silver Slugger (1996) in 15 years. Matt Williams, Third Base Coach, 5x All-Star, 4x Gold Glove, 4x Silver Slugger. Only player to hit home run for three different teams in three different World Series (Giants-1989, Indians-1997 & Diamondbacks-2001). Alan Trammell, Bench Coach. 3x All-Star, 3x Silver Slugger, 4x Golden Glove, MVP World Series (1984). Hit .343 in 1987. One of only three players to play 20 or more seasons for the Tigers (Ty Cobb & Al Kaline).

If you are a player for the Diamondback, who do you want to look up to and ask if you have a question? This is the best coaching staff in baseball. Result? The Arizona Diamondbacks were the surprise team of the season in 2011. Result? Gibson was NL Manager of the Year (2011) with nearly all of the same players he had inherited from the previous regime.

That was yesterday. Now is another year. Without any superstars, without the great pitching staff of the San Francisco Giants. Without the rah-rah of the Magic invested Dodgers, here come the D’Backs, within 2 in the loss column. This isn’t the Roeneke led Brewers, 16.5 out of first. This isn’t the Ozzie led Marlins, 14.5 out of first or the Manuel Phillies 16 out of first place at the beginning of August. These are the Gibson led Diamondbacks. Tough as their manager is. Strong as their manager is. Single-minded as their manager is.

Since he has worn that jersey number since he was a kid, #23 may just be the #1 manager in all of baseball. Other than he, who has done what he is doing? For many, we don’t believe what we are seeing.

Play ball.

Romo-Them’s In The Land of Lombardi

It was to be a great series, the Philadelphia Phillies against the Milwaukee Brewers. At least that’s what most thought would happen in the City of Brotherly Love at the beginning of the season. Here were two teams loaded with pitching talent, ready to take on the world as a preliminary face-off of the National League Championships in October. That was not to be the case. The Brewers limped into Philadelphia fresh from a three game losing sweep by Cincinnati and trailed the Reds by 10 games in the loss column at the time. They were only moments away from unloading a bunch of talent because they couldn’t or wouldn’t keep them to make a run for the pennant.

There are some fundamental flaws in the team structure this year. The first baseman, Cory Hart, a right fielder who is just learning to play the position because the regular first baseman is on the DL for the season. The second baseman, Week’s, is not fielding nor hitting, two vital flaws in anyone’s game. The current shortstop-of-the-moment is playing because the starting shortstop is on the DL for the season. The third baseman, Aramis Ramirez is a doubles machine. He has 35 doubles this season and is one of the bright spots on the team. The left fielder (we call him Mr. Braun in the land of beer and sausage and, yes John…cheese curds), after a very difficult off-season, is playing better than he did last year when he won the league MVP. The center fielder (whoever plays that position) is missing in action. The right fielder, Aoki, is a huge surprise and playing above what anyone expected. The catcher, Maldonado, is also a wonderful surprise but he had to move over for the starting catcher (Lucroy) who came back Thursday from the DL (he had broken his hand when his wife dropped a suitcase on it during the Dodger series way back in June). And that leaves the pitching.

Want a migraine? Strangely, starting pitching has been fairly good of late for the Brewers (forgetting last night’s Wolf-mare). Now that may all change. So you want relief pitching? So do the Brew Crew. The relief pitching has been a disaster. They have lost at least 19 blown saves in games that were in the bag. Only Philadelphia in the National League have a worst blown save percentage (comparing this year to last year) than the Brewers. While the Phillies are -23.0 vs last year, Milwaukee is -18.3 in save percentage in 2011/save percentage in 2012 difference. Both Philadelphia and Milwaukee were playoff teams last year. The Phillies have a save percentage of 62.5% this season. Milwaukee has a miserable 52.9%. The major league average save percentage is 69% this season. You get the picture.

Then there is the hitting, or lack thereof. Only Braun is hitting above .300 (with a .313 batting average, a league leading 28 home runs and the second best RBI total with 70 and an OPS of 1.002. Aoki, who could win the Rookie of the Year honors, is hitting .280. The starting catcher, Maldonado, who came up from AAA Nashville after Lucroy went on the DL is hitting a respectable .272 while Ramirez is hitting .286 and an OPS of .845. That’s it. They are the only batters above .270. Hart is hitting a disappointing .260; Gomez who alternates in center field is hitting .244 while Morgan the other center fielder is at .228; the shortstop Izturis is at .220 while Rickie Weeks, former All-Star second baseman last season is struggling at .209. When your middle can’t hit, you will loose.

As for the ‘Fightn’s’, they were 15 games in the loss column behind the Eastern Division leading Washington Nationals. In order to get to the playoffs, they have to jump over four teams in their division. Only the Cubs, Padres, Rockies and Astros have lost more games this season. And these are the fearsome Philadelphia Phillies. These guys won the entire thing just a couple of seasons ago. So what happened? Milwaukee was swept again.

The twisting in the wind began after that last loss in Philly and before you could spell Greinke, he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for three minor leaguers quicker than you could spell Greinke’s wife’s former profession, that of a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.

Of all that is holy, that just isn’t right. No, not that the Brewers got nothing in return for a front line pitcher but because his wife was one of Romo-them’s in the land of Lombardi. That would make any cheese head spit out a perfectly good bratwurst.

It’s been that kind of week. That kind of year. Only 62 regular season games left, boys and girls. Fourteen and one-half games out, ten under .500. Only six teams have lost more games in the National League this season.

There is a hint of a breeze beginning to blow from the North this year across Pigsville and Miller Valley, earlier than anticipated. Green is replacing Blue in the jerseys. What a horrible thought. And it isn’t even August yet.

If baseball is a game built upon hope and prayers, it is time to hit the kneelers, bring out the beads and say after me, “Hail Mary full of grace”.

Play Ball!

072912