Another Perfect Game. There Used To Be A Ballpark…

When Matt Cain pitched a perfect game at AT&T Park in San Francisco this week, he became the 22nd perfect game hurler in the history of major league baseball and the first Giant ever to accomplish such a feat in the club’s 128 year history. It seems that every month this season, someone is throwing a no-hitter. Why?

It got me thinking about an old Frank Sinatra song, written by Joe Paposo titled “There Used To Be A Ballpark”.  As he sang it, “Oh, there used to be a ball park where the field was warm and green, and the people played a crazy game with a joy I’ve never seen.”

In the days gone by, the ballparks seemed bigger. Sure, I was smaller and everything looked larger. But there was the Polo Grounds where Willie made his famous catch off of a Vic Wertz smash into deep centerfield during the 1954 World Series. That year center field was 483 feet from home plate (it had been moved in from 505 feet in 1949). Imagine, a center field that deep. In fact, in the entire history of the game at the Polo Grounds, only four players ever hit a home run over the center field wall. They were Luke Easter, when he was playing in the Negro Leagues in 1948 before he came up with the Cleveland Indians; Joe Adcock of the Milwaukee Braves on April 29, 1953. Lou Brock of the St. Louis Cardinals did it on June 17, 1962 and Hank Aaron of the Milwaukee Braves was the last player to do it on June 18, 1962. There is no ball park in the majors today to match these dimensions.

“How the people watched with wonder, how they laughed and how they cheered. Yes, there used to be a ball park…right here.”

Yet the Polo Grounds also had two short porches in left and right field. In left, only 279 feet allowed Bobby Thompson hit the ‘Shot Heard ‘Round The World’ in the famous 1951 playoff game against the Brooklyn Dodgers as the Giants went on to win the National League title. “The Giants win. The Giants win.” Down the right field line, it measured only 258 feet.

“And the air was such a wonder, from the hot dogs and the beer. Yes, there used to be a ballpark, right here.”

In modern times, Legendary Hall of Famer pitcher, Carl Hubble of the Giants threw a no-hitter in the newer version of the Polo Grounds (version IV from 06/28/1911 thru 09/19/1963) on May 8, 1929. Three Pirates reached base on two errors and a walk. No perfect game. On September 9, 1948, Rex Barney of the Dodgers hurled a no-hitter against the Giants at the Polo Grounds.  Again the three runners reach base for the Giants on one error and two walks, but no perfect game.

“And there used to be rock candy and a great big Fourth of July. With fireworks exploding all across the summer sky.”

Now, in the season of no-hitters every week, the Giants have their first perfect game in history. But they play in the modern ball parks that major league clubs call home. They are all smaller with nearly all having equidistant dimensions. AT&T has a centerfield that measures 399 feet from home plate. That’s a 9 iron for most golfers. Safeco Field in Seattle, where the center field is 405 feet from home, this past week saw six Mariner hurlers, including Kevin Milwood, Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League and Tom wilhelmsen combine for a no-hitter and  in April on the 21st, Safeco fans saw a perfect game by Chicago White Sox pitcher Phillip Humber against the Mariners. On June 1st, at Citi Field in New York, another no-hitter was thrown this season where the center field is 408 feet from home. This time it was by Johan Santana against the St. Louis Cardinals. On May 2nd, Jered Weaver fired a no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins 9-0 in Anaheim at Angels Stadium where center field is a mere 400 feet from home.

“And all the people watched in wonder, how they’d laugh and how they’d cheer. And there used to be a ballpark, right here.”

Why so many no-hitters and perfect games this season? Five no-no’s are unheard of. My theory is this: Pitchers have become used to the ‘standard stadium size’. In this era of balanced teams, ground balls are in abundance because of sinkers, two seam snapper’s and limited space in the outfield where bigger ballparks would force outfielder’s to play deeper than they do today. How many center fielder’s do you see creeping up into shallow center field taking away the Texas leaguer? How many long one’s do you see over the head of the center fielder today? Smaller ballparks bring the speedy outfielders in closer thus eliminating a number of hits that would drop in at fields like the Polo Grounds, Forbes Field, old Yankee Stadium, Brigg’s Stadium or Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium.

“Now the children try to find it and they can’t believe their eyes ’cause the old team just isn’t playing. And the new team hardly tries.”

For those who say bigger parks created a better atmosphere for pitchers where no-hitters could be had, check the records. Now you can have center fielder’s hitting below the Mendoza Line but they are faster than a guy whose hair is on fire. Today in The Show, speed kills. And before the season is over, at this rate we will have 15 no hitters with 6 perfect games. Citi moved in their fences this season and you already have had a no-hitter in that ball park. It’s time to rethink the dimensions of the ballparks.

And the sky has got so cloudy when it used to be so clear. And the summer went so quickly this year. Yes, there used to be a ballpark, right here.”

For me, I love the home run and the grace and elegance of a triple is terrific. Doubles in the gap are nice. I love the chance of seeing the ball go beyond the reach of the outfielders. That is becoming more and more difficult in today’s game.

Ya Frank. There used to be a ballpark, right here.

April. A Season Of Adjustment.

Ron Roenicke, Manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, like members of his team, is going through the ‘season of adjustment’ as April is known in my world of baseball. Historically, April is just weird. It is a time when people do the darndest things.

For example, on Wednesday, Shaun Marcum, the starting pitcher for the BrewCrew lasted only five innings. That means an overused bullpen had to be called in an attempt to rescue a win. So far the bullpen for Milwaukee has looked a lot like it did a year ago in April. This year the Brewers have K-Rod before the All-Star break, but even he has looked shaky early this season. Last April, Axford had a tough beginning and then went perfect for the rest of the season. Although that streak continues for him, he has not looked as sharp as in the past. Needless to say, chances of succeeding when the two main bullpen aces have been used a lot lately: Slim.

Marcum left because he was throwing the ball all over the park, four walks, a wild pitch and nearly 100 pitches while getting only 15 batters out. Now he gets to sit down for five days before his next start. Record so far: 1 win. All of the starting pitchers have had less than stellar outings so far. Don’t you love April?

The leader, Roenicke, didn’t have a lot of sleep between Tuesday night’s game and Wednesday’s 1PM start. That must explain why he brought in Izturis to pinch hit for Ishikawa after Travis hit a home run earlier in the game. (That makes two dingers in two straight games.) Sure, the odds say that if you have a left-handed pitcher on the mound, you bring in a right-handed batter. So what if it was a left-handed pitcher on the mound. Ishikawa had just hit a home run off of a left hander a few innings earlier. And, before anyone says anything about Roenicke’s penchant for making sure all of his players get to play, this isn’t the Little Leagues where parents get upset because their kid sits on the bench all of the time but gets to bat because it is the rule of keeping everyone happy.

This is the major leagues. You don’t have to keep Cesar Izturis happy. It’s up to him to stay happy. Plus, he shouldn’t have even made the team this season. Taylor Green (.313), Erick Almonte (.324) and Edwin Masonet (.296) waste away in the minors while Izturis  (.200) gets the big payday toward the end of his career. If you saw these fellows play in Spring Training this year, you would know one of these players, Green, Almonte or Masonet got robbed by being sent down and Izturis got a free pass and a major league check.

While it is wonderful that Roenicke tries to keep everyone happy, is it really necessary when a player can’t succeed? One of the keys to a great manager is to put players into a position where they can succeed. Veteran or not, the Brewers were losing against a team they had beaten eleven straight times and they were playing at home. Ishikawa already had, in replacing Gamel, hit two home runs in two consecutive games. He was getting hot. And again, he hit the last home run off of a left-handed pitcher. He can’t fail in that situation because he has already proven he can hit in that situation. But bringing in Izturis as a pinch hitter off of the bench in place of Ishikawa?

In a game that is played on the field by the players, one thing that is sure to get a manager into trouble is when he tries to draw an inside straight with an aging ballplayer who can’t do it any more.

The Brewers are 8-9 in their first 17 games. They are 2-7 during day games. The are 1 game over .500 at home. Those are Cub statistics, not Brewer stats.

You win at home and split on the road. While technically they won on this 9 game home stand (5 wins and 4 losses), that will not win a pennant.

But it’s only April. Roenicke and the pitchers get the proverbial April pass for being occasionally insane. There are only five more games in the month of forgiveness or as we call it the ‘season of adjustment’.

Five more games, Mr. Roenicke. Then the foam comes off of the glass. The brats will get cold because there is no more kraut. Secret stadium sauce will run dry. And there will be no more fun in Pigsville. None. Nada. Sure you can blame the truck driver for delivering flat beer. You can blame the vendor for not remembering to bring in fresh kraut and sauce. But you can’t console the folks in the taverns of Cream City once May 1 comes around.