Archive for October, 2019

Nine Random Thoughts on the 2019 Season

October 31, 2019

Goose Goslin (the Nats can’t win in DC without him)

In honor of the nine innings in a game, here are nine thoughts about the 2019 season in no particular order:

1. Congratulations to the Washington Nationals on winning the World Series. It’s a first for them and the first victory for Washington since 1924. Walter Johnson got the win in game seven in 1924.

2. Although DC has now won a World Series since 1924, no Washington team has ever won a home game in the Series without Goose Goslin in the lineup. He died in 1971.

3. Further congratulations to the Houston Astros for a great World Series. I’d picked them in April and got within three innings of being right (which is pretty good for me).

4. There were a ton of home runs and strikeouts this season. I’d like to see considerably less of both in 2020.

5. I worry about Christian Yelich. There have been a number of really good ballplayers who’ve gotten hurt and became shadows of their former selves, never returning to the top rungs of the game. I hope he isn’t one of them.

6. Mike Trout proved he’s still the best player in the game. But he’s beginning to get hurt a lot. As with Yelich, I hope it doesn’t diminish his abilities. In Trout’s case, he needs to appear in one game next year to log 10 years and punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame. By contrast, Yelich has only seven seasons in the big leagues.

7. Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols continues to move up on the all-time charts. He’s currently 17th in runs (one behind Frank Robinson), 15th in hits, fifth in total bases, seventh in doubles (four behind George Brett), sixth in home runs (four from Willie Mays), and tied with Cap Anson for fourth in RBIs. All stats from Baseball Reference.

8. In an era consumed by offensive stats, did you notice that the Giants had a team fielding percentage of .989? I know fielding percent isn’t the be all, end all of fielding stats, but Seattle’s .978 was the lowest in the majors. Fielding has really improved over the more than half century I’ve been watching (and listening to) the game. I consider that a good thing.

9. We have now had consecutive Hispanic background managers (Alex Cora and Dave Martinez) who’ve won the World Series. It’s partial proof of how much Hispanics mean to the game. As far as I know, Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez are the first two Cubans to bat back-to-back in a lineup.

Now on to 2020.

Eddie and the Pitcher

October 24, 2019

“The Left Arm of God”

“Hey, Jewboy, what’s wrong with your guy?” Back in the mid-1960s you could hear lines like that in a Texas Panhandle high school. Frankly, maybe you still can. This time it was aimed at my buddy Eddie.

From everything I’ve read and seen, my high school was fairly typical. There were just under a thousand kids in three grades (9th grade was at the Junior High) and they acted pretty much like most high schoolers act. The rich kids had their own clique and the rest of us had our groups It seems that “clique” was reserved for the “in-crowd,” so the rest of us were assigned to the nebulous title “group. No body had “posse” or “crew” in their groupthink vocabulary yet. My group was pretty eclectic, particularly religiously. There were two Dave’s, one Baptist, the other Pentecostal. Jim was Baptist; Mike a Catholic; Kretz was Lutheran; Wilbur was a Nazarene; Jon was Episcopalian; Bill was trying to be an atheist (I lost touch with him and never did find out if he made it or not) and Eddie was Jewish. That last caused a bit of a stir because there was some obvious and some latent Anti-Semitism in the school (there were all of two Jewish kids in the entire school, both male) and it did create a certain amount of animosity toward our group.

In 1965 most of the kids in the school who paid attention to baseball (which was most of the boys and a significant number of the girls) were Cardinals fans. Most of the rest were Yankees fans, not so much because of any pull toward New York but because the Yanks were winners (I was guilty of that in football because I was, and still am, a Packers fan–and have still never been to Wisconsin). But when the 1965 World Series began no one much knew there was a team in Minnesota named the Twins so they became, by default, Dodgers fans. Which brings me to Eddie’s problem.

Sandy Koufax was the Dodgers best player, he was Jewish (I didn’t know that and I’m not sure if Eddie did), the first day of the World Series was the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, and Koufax refused to pitch on the holy day. To a number of people around the school his stand was close to openly throwing the Series and somehow Eddie was at fault.

“How dare this guy put his faith ahead of his sport.”  “What kind of heathen is he?” I actually heard cracks like that. All of those type comments from people who were utterly horrified that you could no longer pray in school or at the football game (Our team was lousy, so I’m reasonably sure a lot of unanswered prayers were uttered during the course of the game). No one seemed to catch the irony of that.

All that hurt Eddie a lot. He was aware of being what most of the school saw when they saw someone Jewish. He was, for all intents and purposes, the view much of the school had of Jewish people. It was a tough burden to bear.

And then the Dodgers lost game one (the game Koufax would not pitch), then game two (a game he did pitch). Then over the weekend the Dodgers won games three and four to even the Series. Game five was Monday and much of the school hung on the transistor radios kids (and teachers) brought to school. Koufax pitched a four hit shutout to put the Dodgers ahead three games to two. They lost game six and Koufax pitched game seven on two days rest. Another shutout, this time giving up only three hits, gave the Dodgers the championship and Koufax the Series MVP.

The next day was a Friday and everyone was talking about the Series and Koufax’s pitching performance. While we were wandering down the hall, one of the biggest loudmouths in school wandered over to us and slapped Eddie on the back.

“Hey, Jewboy, your guy did alright yesterday.” And he was off.

Eddie told us he thought it was a step in the right direction. A small step, but a step.

 

Something New Under the Sun

October 17, 2019

Goose Goslin (the Nats will have to win without him)

When the 2019 season started there were two teams who’d never punched a ticket to the World Series. That’s about to change with the Washington Nationals winning the National League pennant (the other team plays in Seattle). Whether in Montreal or Washington, the franchise always came up short.

The history of baseball in the nation’s capital is less than spectacular. In fact, it’s pretty awful. There were a handful of teams in the NL in the 1800s. None of them did much. With the arrival of the American League, a new team, the Senators, didn’t do any better. The last (and only) time the Washington team won a World Series was in 1924. Walter Johnson was on the mound when they won game seven. They lost in 1925 and again in 1933. The last time there was a World Series game in Washington, Mel Ott hit a 10th inning home run to win both game five and the Series for the New York Giants (who are now in San Francisco). The Senators were in so few World Series games that Hall of Famer Goose Goslin played in every World Series game in Washington history. Fellow Hall of Famer Sam Rice appeared in all three Series’ but only in one game in 1933.

In the late 1960s MLB got the bright idea of putting a team in Canada. For reasons unknown to me they picked Montreal over Toronto. The big Montreal Exposition had been scheduled (Expositions and World’s Fairs were a big deal back then) so they called them the Expos. They managed to get to the playoffs in the strike shortened split season of 1981, getting passed the Phillies. Then they ran into the Dodgers and lost the pennant to a Rick Monday home run (shades of Mel Ott). They managed to get back to first place in 1994, then the strike hit and there were no playoffs. I don’t know if they hoisted a banner saying they were NL East champs or not. The Expos went into a downward spiral and ended up moving to DC, where they’ve made the playoffs sporadically, never winning a pennant. All in all, not a terrifically successful franchise.

So now we’ll see how a Washington team does without Goose Goslin in their lineup. Good luck to them.

The Disaster that is the Dodgers

October 10, 2019

Dodgers logo

There is a silver lining to what happened to the Dodgers in this year’s playoffs. Between 1907 and 1909 the Detroit Tigers lost three consecutive World Series’. Between 1911 and 1913 the New York Giants did the same. With their loss last evening, the Dodgers can’t join that pair.

The Dodgers are a good team. Heck, I could probably win 50 games as manager of this team, and no one is ever going to confuse me with a big league manager. But this team can’t win. There are a lot of reasons for that. First, the Washington Nationals are a genuinely good team and should help make the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals a terrific series. That’s simply something beyond control of the team playing in Los Angeles.

But there are things the Dodgers can control. They are never going to win for a couple of reasons. One of those is that they can’t win with Dave Roberts as manager. The man goes too much by the book. I don’t care how well a player is pitching (or hitting) when the book says take him out, out the guy goes. And when Roberts decides to go against the book, a very rare occurrence, you get things like the garbage that happened in game five. In the 10th inning the pitcher puts three men on without an out being registered and is allowed to pitch to one more guy who proceeds to park it in the stands for a four run Washington lead. The response from Roberts? Let him pitch to more guys. He gets an out, but then gives up another hit. At this point the Dodgers closer is brought in (at least Jansen did his job right). I ask you, does that make sense?

Another reason the Dodgers aren’t going to win is that the continue to trust Clayton Kershaw in the postseason. How’d that work out? It’s not like it’s the first time he hashed a game, he’s been pretty good at it for the entire Dodgers postseason run over the last several seasons. My wife will tell you that I cringed when he came in last night. After he got the man out in the seventh she told me, “Well, he got the guy.”

“Uh huh, but they’ll send him out in the eighth and he’ll hash it then,” was my reply. There is a touch of Jeremiah in me.

The man is incapable of doing well in the postseason and yet, relying on his regular season reputation, which is justly earned, the Dodgers keep sending him out in critical situations. Hasn’t worked yet.

And while I’m at it, enough with this “Kershaw is the best pitcher the Dodgers ever had” nonsense. I give you the following stats for Clayton Kershaw in the World Series: ERA-5.40, Whip-1.163, walks-8, strikeouts-27. Now another set of World Series stats representing another Dodgers lefty whose last name begins with a “K”: ERA-0.95, Whip-0.825, walks-11, strikeouts-61. I used only World Series stats because the other rounds of playoffs didn’t exist when the other guy pitched. When Kershaw starts putting up stats close to the second set, then we can think about calling him the “best.”

 

MVP and finishing the season

October 9, 2019

Kirk Gibson’s 1988 MPV Award

There seems to be something of a debate going on about who should win both the National League and American League MVP award. Of course that’s always true, but this year there is a uniqueness about it. Two of the favorites, one in both leagues, are injured and ended up on the disabled list as the teams came down the stretch toward the playoffs. There are people who argue that both (or one) was good enough that to win the MVP award without finishing the entire season and other people who argue that missing as many games as both missed disqualifies them for the award. As you’ve probably figured by now, I have an opinion on the matter and I’m not about to not tell you what that opinion happens to be this season.

Obviously the two players involved are Christian Yelich in the NL and Mike Trout in the AL. And it shouldn’t surprise you that I’m split on the matter. If I had a vote in the AL MVP race it would go to Trout. Despite missing almost 30 games, Trout still led the AL in WAR, slugging, OBP, OPS, OPS+, was sixth in runs scored, second in home runs, ninth in RBIs, eighth in extra base hits, and second in walks. I keep hearing the announcers in the playoff games touting particular players and I look those guys up and Trout is still the best. I go with him.

With Yelich it’s a different story. He still has terrific numbers, but when he went down, his team was outside looking in at the playoffs. Without him, the team moved into playoff position. If that’s true, how valuable can he be (Trout’s team wasn’t in playoff position when he went down and never got there)? So my pick is Cody Bellinger. Yeah, I know, I’m a Dodgers fan and it’s something of a “hometown” pick even if I’m not from LA (been there once, on the way to Viet Nam), but he’s still my guy for the NL MVP award.

Feel free to disagree (and be wrong).

“The Outlaw League”: a Review

October 3, 2019

Cover of “The Outlaw League”

Haven’t put up a book review in a while (actually haven’t put up much of anything for a while) so I thought it was time to change that. Here’s a look at The Outlaw League and the Battle that Forged Modern Baseball by Daniel R. Levitt.

Levitt, a SABR stalwart, takes a look at the 1914-1915 Federal League in his book. It’s a book more about the back story of the league and the workings of the other established leagues than it is about the actual playing of games. He gives us a quick, but incisive view of the men (and they were all men) who planned and created the Federal League. They were all rich and all interested in making money through baseball. He also tells us about the people, and here there is one woman (Helene Robison Britton of the Cardinals), who ran the established leagues and how they went about attacking the new league. Ballplayers take second place to the owners in the book, but there are sections on significant players like Joe Tinker and a quick look at Dave Fultz and the Players Fraternity, something like a modern union, that came out of the dust up between the Feds and Organized Baseball.

Levitt shows us the money disparity between the existing leagues and the new Federal League (the other team owners had a lot more money), and points out that many Organized Baseball teams (both the National and American Leagues) were in towns that were larger than the Federal League teams and thus had access to more fans. He concludes that the existing leagues eventually won the war with the Feds for these reasons and because the NL and AL owners, led primarily by Ban Johnson, Gerry Herrmann, and Barney Dreyfuss, were more adept at the use of the courts and contracts, had an already established structure that worked, and the already mentioned advantages of both more money and a larger fan base.

The book is certainly worth the read if you are interested in either the baseball of the era, or the workings of big business in the period just prior to World War I. It was published in 2012 and is available in paperback for $18.95. I got my copy at Barnes & Noble, but it is also available on line.