The Last Third

As we say goodbye to perhaps the last truly enjoyable World Cup in history, we need to realize that it is not a dream, it is a fact: the next one, in 2022, will be held in Qatar. Will the next Winter Olympics be staged in Death Valley? What the hell, it needs a little work but there are millions of euros and dollars and bitcoins to be made. They know about money in Qatar, a nation of 2.6 million people who enjoy the highest per capita income in the world. Football (soccer) in the desert! Oh well, we Americans have golf in the desert, don’t we? We celebrate diversity, at least on paper, but this is more like culture clash. Qatar is mainly under Sharia law. Alcohol consumption and illicit sexual relations are punishable by flogging. That might actually be preferable to what happens to miscreants here, who are often forced to endure game shows and televised poker. Apostasy and homosexuality are punishable by death. Apostasy, for all of you numerous  secular folks out there, would be equivalent, in the United States, to not liking barbecue.

How does FIFA make these decisions? Despite my access to Wikipedia, which knows everything, I don’t know. I suspect, though, that it is much like the way that the International Olympic Committee operates, in that wire transfers and luggage containing suitable forms  of currency insure that fairness applies in the selection of sites.

They don’t have any Putin or Trump types in Qatar. It’s a family affair, and guys like that are a waste of money. They have an emir, part of the Al Thani dynasty that has been ruling since 1825. The current dude is Tamim binHamad Al Thani and he gets his dough from natural gas and oil reserves.  The best thing that can be said about Qatar is that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates have cut off diplomatic ties with them.

Meanwhile, the major league baseball season slogs on toward the dog days. They call everything after the All Star Game the second half, but arithmetically it is really the last third. What significant things can be tallied after the first 98 games or so?

  1. THE KANSAS CITY ROYALS ARE DONE FOR
  2. FIRING MIKE MATHENY WON’T IMPROVE THE CARDINALS DEFENSE
  3. BRYCE HARPER WILL NOT WIN THE TRIPLE CROWN
  4. CLEVELAND WINS THE CENTRAL ON THREE WHEELS
  5. MILWAUKEE HAS PROBABLY PEAKED
  6. ATTENDANCE WILL CONTINUE TO FALTER IN MORE PLACES
  7. PRESIDENT TWEETY WILL ATTEND NO GAMES
  8. OAKLAND WILL CONTINUE TO BE A PLEASANT SURPRISE
  9. THE RAYS WILL NOT MOVE TO OKLAHOMA CITY
  10. WIN OR LOSE, BRUCE BOCHY WILL RETIRE IN NOVEMBER

Beginning of the End?

The average attendance at a major league baseball game in 2018 was 28,830. Not so long ago, that would have been considered good. That has been reported as a drop of 4 per cent from the previous season and it is 14.4 per cent down from a high of 32,785 in 2007, or right before  what the big banks and the un-regulators are calling the Great Recession. Six teams—Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Miami, Baltimore, Minnesota, and the Chicago White Sox drew their smallest attendance since they opened their newest home ballparks.

No one wants to mention the fact that many people have been priced out of going to a big league game but I believe that it has to be a fact. Of course, for many others it is not a problem. You can see them sitting there up close to the action, feeding their faces  and playing with their phones. Are these really baseball fans or just the people who can afford the “baseball experience”? I don’t know, but it makes me wonder. What I do know for sure is that it is a far different crowd than  I would see when I lived in the San Francisco of the 70s, either at Candlestick Park or Oakland-Alameda County Stadium. In 1973, just over one million tickets were sold for the Oakland A’s  season as they won the second of three World Championships in a row. Those were the A’s with Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Campy Campaneris, Vida Blue, and Catfish Hunter. The Giants finished third in the National League West that year and claimed a little less than 900 thousand sold tickets to see the likes of Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey, Chris Speier, and Bobby Bonds. Their average attendance was just over 10,000 so we could bring our own food and beer and buy a cheap seat and then move to a better one after everyone got settled. We had fun. The only bummer was traffic after the game (we weren’t stoned before the game) but we did not pay $30 to park the car.

It may ultimately be good for the game if some of the money goes out of it. Now, what the owners and their commissioner consider “good for the game” are ticket sales, television money, and sales of gear. The bills do need to get paid, but what I am thinking of as good for the game are things that maintain competitive balance, advance quality of play, and make the game more attractive to young players and old farts like me who would like to  attend once in a while.

It is perhaps coincidental that strikeouts topped hits this season for the first time ever  and batting averages sunk to the lowest level since 1972. Launch angle enthusiasts and those who feel sexual excitement over 3 and 2 counts and pitching changes might want to consider the real thrills involved in things like triples, squeeze plays, and stolen bases. Late inning rallies can actually be more fun than all of the machinations involved with making sure you’re ahead after six innings.

There are many, many fun and exciting players out there today: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado, Francisco Lindor, Starling Marte, and on and on. Beyond the economic problems, the game needs a bit of a jolt. Right now, it is dangerously close to a basketball game dominated by the blowing of whistles.

 

Wrong About Right

For sixty seven per cent of the major league baseball teams, the season is over. In a short time we will add a few more. Has it turned out the way that you thought it would? No? Well, as sure as the skid marks on Brett Kavanaugh’s tighty whiteys, neither did it turn out the way any of the rest of us thought. That’s what makes it fun.

For instance, right here in this space on March 30, yours truly wrote, ” Atlanta and Philadelphia should continue to improve but I doubt that they are scaring Washington yet.” Perhaps Washington still isn’t scared but now we get to see how they treat Dave Martinez after brooming Dusty Baker for winning the division by 20 games. In addition, tension mounts as the baseball world anticipates the next destination for Bryce Harper, the greatest player alive who hasn’t won jack shit. My personal hope is that Harper becomes a Yankee while Andrew McCutchen signs with a team that shows him some respect. He is from Florida, you know.

Also in this space, concerning the Houston Astros, I penned (well, nobody pens anything anymore but it’s a nice word) on March 24, ” Every other team in this division looks like wankers in comparison.” Plus, on July 15, Baseball Anarchy declared, “Milwaukee has probably peaked.”

However, I’m not always wrong. Because, also on April 23, I wrote that there was”  …very little doubt that the Dodgers will not waltz to another title.”  It was more like a jitterbug. And, to boot, “The team that could give the Dodgers the most trouble in this division is the Colorado Rockies.” In a stunning reversal of form on July 15, my prediction became that “…Oakland will continue to be a pleasant surprise.”

So don’t worry, folks, I’ll still be a know it all next Spring.

It’s been a great season for surgeons, Christian Yelich, J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, Alex Cora, Max Scherzer, Blake SnellBob Melvin, Khris Davis, Justin Verlander, and Statcast among others. J.D. Martinez got the Arizona hitting coach fired by moving to Boston. It’s been a bummer for  Chris Davis and most of the other Orioles, Buster Posey, Johnny Cueto, and most of the other  Giants, and millions who were deprived of the ability to watch several games thanks to filthy Facebook Watch.

Now, it is the post season season and, despite FOX TV sports, this should be fun.

 

 

Therapy Session Revealed

It is the 21st century, after all, so in the spirit of full disclosure and forthright honesty I have decided to tell all, or nearly all, about my recent sessions with a mental health professional. I will call her Dr. Schmidt, although for obvious reasons that is not her real name. Here, then, is a partial transcript of the sessions.

 

BA:  I woke from a deep sleep and I felt very troubled. I dreamed that I was on a cross country trip on a Greyhound bus. Seated next to me on one side was that guy who does the Chevy commercials.  On the other side was the dude who does the Verizon ads who is always interrupting people he doesn’t know. Finally, just the other side of Oklahoma, I decided to move up front, right behind the driver. And the driver was Flo, that crazed Progressive insurance woman.

 

Dr. Schmidt: Why do you think that that was distressing?

BA: Well, it got me thinking. The Chevy guy kept asking me what three things I wanted most in a new truck even though I kept telling him that my 1984 Toyota had everything I needed. The phone dude kept hammering me with shit about things I have no use for. I think it means I’m watching too much baseball on TV. But the season isn’t over for another week and then there are playoffs. All the same ads over and over! I don’t want Nacho Fries!

Dr. Schmidt: Perhaps you could find another hobby. What other interests do you have?

BA:  Yeah. No. I like reading, cooking, other stuff. But I can’t give this up. I’m afraid I’m having some kind of personality change. It’s weird.

Dr. Schmidt:Can you be more specific?

BA: I’ve started tolerating Alex Rodriguez. I’ve begun to accept things that I never thought I would. Like, maybe it’s okay that pitchers  take up half the roster and don’t have to work out of trouble. Maybe Tony LaRussa was right. Bryce Harper. There is one sign that I am still healthy.

Dr. Schmidt: What is that?

BA: Now I can’t think of it. This is bad. I even went off on a riff about defensive shifts. I was thinking that putting corner infielders and outfielders in foul territory might speed up the game and get outs that  aren’t being gotten now. Can I have some water?

Dr. Schmidt: What’s a corner infielder?

BA: And what the hell do they mean that Coors is cleaner? Crisper? Colder?  How do  you walk into a refrigerator and have one beer that is colder than the others? So I’ll probably be okay after the World Series. The Yankees can’t win it, can they?  I mean, I like Aaron Boone and Giancarlo Stanton and C.C. Sabathia and those guys, but it has to be the Sox, right? Unless it’s the Astros.  Short porch my ass (excuse me) and at least TBS for the American League but then Joe Buck oh my God!

Dr. Schmidt: Mr. Anarchy, I think we have to try to focus here.

BA: And the Dodgers, for crying out loud! Are they sure they don’t need a few more guys like maybe Felipe Vasquez? I don’t know that the DH is such a bad idea. Buck Showalter got a bad rap…

Dr. Schmidt: I’m afraid our time is up.

What a Load of Crap

Donald Trump will go down in history as the first president of the United States to attempt to simultaneously run the National Football League. What a great job he did with United Football League back in the day, too, remember? Most of the world has caught on to his game by now. He is the schoolyard bully type, the one who sets a fire in a waste basket in the school room so that no one will notice that he just crapped in his pants. Then he blames someone else.

Let’s be clear, I have no use for the game of football anymore. It finishes a huge distance behind futbol, or soccer, in my estimation. If I wanted to watch people deliberately hurting each other for money I would move back to the city. I do have respect for people who play and have played the game, however, and that includes Colin Kaepernick and anyone else who has suffered the slings and arrows from the Tweeter in Chief. Phony patriotism is one of the sure signs of a demagogue. Now, for the first time in my life, Nike has done something right. The Swooshtika spreaders have apparently incurred the wrath of the misled and ill informed by launching an advertising campaign featuring Kaepernick. Instead of just doing it, we are all encouraged to believe in something even if means sacrificing everything. I’ll bet that phrase took lots of time to get polished but we’ll give the Nike crew the benefit of the doubt on this one. I won’t make jokes like “What if I believed the world was flat and sacrificed my future in physics or something?”

I have taken a vow to push back against the use of the phrase “pushing back” but I got out the old thesaurus and decided to use the term “reply”. Or maybe “oppose”.What Trump and other authoritarians want is for all of us to do whatever we are told to do and just knock off the high minded opinion stuff and, especially, any organized action that demonstrates that we fell for the idea that we were supposed to be free. So if they say that protesting any incident of perceived police brutality really means that we have crossed over a big line that separates the good from the bad then we should believe them. Of course, the reality is that police brutality exists because many people, especially those in power, enjoy it and perhaps quietly  approve of it because the only way that our system can thrive is if the haves keep the have nots in their place, munching on Papa John’s  lousy pizza and washing it down with Coors or Budweiser pissy beer.

The Free Agent

I realize that things change with time because there are constant reminders. Potato chip bags don’t open with  a bite, or even with my hands . The same hands that used to open any jar with ease now require assistance. That penny on the sidewalk can stay there now. Everybody, it seemed, used to play baseball and youngsters identified with and dreamed of being like the best players in the game. These days, it seems like not so many people are playing the game and the heroes are the owners and general managers. Yuck.

Dan Topping and George Weiss were never heroes to me. Augie Busch, Charles Comiskey, forget it. Don’t get me started about George Steinbrenner or David Glass. No, I can’t gush the way that Alex Rodriguez does about all those shrewd rich guys who get Shohei Ohtani at a low price or know when to send an aging star packing before he costs more than he’s worth.  The people that inspire me and make me smile are people like Andrew McCutchen. However, the thought of seeing him in pinstripes, even if it is only for a few weeks, does not have me chuckling.

The Pittsburgh Pirates never should have traded McCutchen. When they did, I was happy that he went to San Francisco, but only selfishly because the Giants needed a good outfielder and I would be able to see him play more frequently. He said all the right things at the time but it had to be tough on Steel’s dad to leave the place where, thanks in large part to him, baseball became fun again after years and years of losing. He got off to a slow start with the bat this season, but Cutch is a steadying influence on the field and in the dugout  and everyone knew that he would eventually come around . His adjustment to playing right field full time rather than his accustomed center field also was  less than smooth at times, partly because right field in San Francisco is windy and difficult. Again, his demeanor and professionalism were reassuring. Still, beyond that professionalism and stoicism, it was possible to detect a bit of sadness and discomfort in McCutchen, who had to be missing his role as The Guy in Pittsburgh.

Andrew McCutchen was a first round draft choice of the Pirates in 2005. When he was 22 years old, in 2009, he played 108 games for the Pirates and was one of the best rookies in the National League. He batted .286 with 12 home runs, 54 runs batted in, and 22 stolen bases. Pittsburgh won only 62 games that first season and only 57 the next but it was obvious to all that they had a good one in center field. In 2011, they got up to 72 victories and in 2012 the Buccos flirted with .500 before finishing 79-83. The big breakthrough for Cutch and the Pirates was in 2013. The years and years of losing ended as Pittsburgh finished with 94 wins, two games behind St. Louis in the Central Division. They beat Cincinnati in the wild card game but then lost to the Cardinals in the Divisional Series. Andrew McCutchen was the National League Most Valuable Player with  superb center field coverage, a .317 batting average and a .911 OPS. In the next two exciting seasons, the Pirates would again finish two games behind the Cardinals. They lost the wild card game in 2014 to eventual champion San Francisco, and the 2015 wild card game to the Cubs.Respectability had indeed returned to Pittsburgh. At the core of the rejuvenation was McCutchen. When he signed the six year contract that expires after this season, McCuthen said, “I will remain the same, show up every day and give it 100 per cent for my team, do everything I can to help my team win.”  And he did.

The Pirates fortunes slid back in 2016 and ’17 as McCutchen’s performance went from great to merely very good. They had good young outfielders available and were in the mood to save money. McCutchen went to San Francisco. That’s not the kind of move that  a team with a solid, winning tradition makes. It’s not the kind of move that a team with a loyal fan base makes, either, because this is a player who is a shining example for young fans and players of how to conduct yourself on and off the field. You ought to keep him aboard as he ages and begins to lose some of the skills that made him so great and helped your team finally succeed. Give him some days off and keep him around to do his thing as younger players develop. So there he was, a bit lonesome in San Francisco, and the Giants did the “smart” thing on the last day of August. They, too, should not have traded him.  A player of high skills, still just 31, treated like excess baggage while a temperamental loser like Hunter Strickland, who should have been released a year ago, takes up space in the bullpen.

McCutchen will soon become a free agent. The Yankees will have no use for him but can be proud that they forced the once proudly dreadlocked warrior to shave his face. Some lucky team will sign him. I hope that whoever does sign him will show the respect for him that Cutch always has for the game.

 

The Answer Man

It’s not easy being a self appointed expert. For instance, Jeff Sessions. Here at Baseball Anarchy, we are not in danger of sudden dismissal, so therefore we can keep it going as long as anybody cares. To be sure, as sure as truth is truth, many of you care. That’s why we receive so many questions. It is our mission in life to answer these as best we can. The following are some of the best.

 

From Rusty Gates, in Topeka: Okay, so there is a trade deadline every July 31. I’m confused by the fact that some players get traded in August as well. What’s the deal?

Answer:Rusty, it can be confusing. As you know, major league baseball is a really big business. Therefore, management is a little more difficult than managing, say, your local Dairy Queen. Millions and millions of dollars are at stake, talent evaluation is crucial, and legal expertise is required with contracts for players. Tickets need to be sold. Back in the day, the way it worked was, if the Yankees were worried that somebody like Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle might have sprained his ankle badly on a water sprinkler or something, they could just open the safe and send a bag of money to a team like the St. Louis Browns or the Kansas City A’s and pluck a Norm Sieburn or a Joe DeMaestri and go on about the business of winning a pennant. Sometimes they would have to include a player they wanted to be rid of like Billy Martin. Now, with free agency. the amateur draft, and revenue sharing, it is much more difficult. Teams in contention feel the need to add to their rosters because confidence in the players already assembled is a thing of the past and players like Dallas Keuchel get all upset if you don’t “…make a move” to strengthen your chances to play in October, as they say. Teams out of contention are wont to rid themselves of expensive players that they may have gambled on incorrectly  who are also about to become free agents. Any feelings that the players have regarding having to move to a different team are still largely ignored. After all, now they make enough dough to live wherever they want, and wives and children don’t have contracts. So before August, it has mostly to do with “prospects” who can help the out of contention teams  in exchange for “established stars” that might help contending teams succeed. The established stars, such as Manny Machado, are also referred to as “rentals”. Buster Olney and others even get into the international signing money aspect but , for brevity’s sake, we won’t go there. In August, a player cannot be traded without clearing waivers. Say what? So, if the Giants want to trade Andrew McCutchen, or the Mets want to trade  Jerry Blevins, those players must first be offered to every other team before any deal can be made. If a team claims the player, “waivers” can be revoked. Let’s have a drink.

 

From Cheryl Gettis in Oshkosh: Is it me or does the pitch count thing seem to be getting out of hand to anyone else?

Answer:It’s not that long ago, Cheryl, that war was not considered a permanent thing and that baseball managers and coaches watched the way a pitcher was throwing more than counting how often he did. I think we are approaching the day when pitching prospects have Tommy John surgery in high school just to use it as a base line, so to speak. For me, it is telling that pitchers now build up their arm strength to achieve 100 pitches per outing rather than nine innings, which is considered cruel and unusual punishment. Madison Bumgarner or Max Scherzer is blowing the opposition away and we are supposed to believe that they can’t finish. It’s considered smart and useful for batters to run up counts and foul off lots of pitches so that the starter approaches the century mark before the fifth inning. Can we consult Bob Gibson on this? Yet, it is the bullpen, full of hard throwers  who can actually pitch a whole inning, sometimes two days in a row, that we are really to fear because they are all “lights out”. so why are we in a hurry to get to them? I’ll have another cold one.

 

From Bill James in Biloxi:  The 2018 Boston Red Sox are on pace to challenge the best winning percentages of any team in baseball history and they have a wide lead over the Yankees in the A. L. East. Are they really that good?

Answer: Yes.

From Jess Tellme in Yreka CA: Isn’t it great the way that MLB has been so creative with special jerseys and caps and stuff for different holidays and the players’ weekend with nicknames and the Little League look?

Answer: No.

The Greatest

Last Saturday, almost eleven years after his last appearance as a ballplayer, the San Francisco Giants retired Number 25, which last was worn by Barry Bonds. It was a festive occasion for the most part even though it continued their recent marketing strategy of living in the past.  It was a real thrill to see so many of the past greats: Willie McCovey, Jim Leyland, Gaylord Perry, Dusty Baker, and others. I don’t think Jeff Kent was there. Former team mates like Kirk Reuter and Royce Clayton were also good to see. There is still a bit of sheepish uneasiness among many baseball  people surrounding the likes of Barry Bonds and others from the Embarrassing Era. Such is not the case, however, with the Godfather, Willie Mays.

 

Mr. Mays, like his outfield partner Bobby Bonds and his godson Barry, has not always been the most charming speaker. He was charming Saturday and funny and sincere. He wants Bonds in the Hall of Fame, and he wants the Giants to build a statue of Barry near their ballpark right away. I’d much rather watch ballplayers play ball than talk, but I’m glad that I tuned in in time to hear Mays talk.  Willie Mays is 87 years old now but I was still taken aback when he was finished and a woman  helped him make it back to his chair with tiny little baby steps. That’s because this is the same man that I watched on film after I got home from school on September 29, 1954. The film showed him racing into that vast center field area in the Polo Grounds in New York to deprive Vic Wertz of the Cleveland Indians of an extra base hit in what has ever since been remembered as one of the greatest World Series defensive plays ever made. Mays, typically, has always said he’d made better plays than that one. The Cleveland team had finished the American League season with a record of 111-43, a full eight games ahead of the New York Yankees, but after that play they lost the game in ten innings when Dusty Blanketty Blank Rhodes hit a pinch homer. The Giants beat them in four straight. It wasn’t all Mays, of course, but that was the kind of effect he had on baseball in his 22 seasons.

As a 20 year old in 1951, Mays played 121 games for the Giants after an early season call up from their Minneapolis farm club. After a slow start,he became Rookie of the Year and New York won the famous “miracle” pennant in a playoff over the Brooklyn Dodgers after being 13.5 games behind on August 12. It occurs to me that it has now been 45 years since Mays played his last game. Therefore, before the honor gets bestowed on Mike Trout or Bryce Harper or some other relative newcomer, let me just say that he is definitely the best I’ve ever seen. Until further notice, he’s the greatest.

Mays missed most of the 1952 season and all of 1953 while performing military service, something that neither Trout nor Harper will have the opportunity to enjoy. That absence took so much out of his game that, when he returned in 1954, he was the National League Most Valuable Player, winning the batting title at .345 with 41 home runs. While he was gone, the Giants finished second and then fifth, 14 games under .500.

So it looked as though the Giants would be in the World Series every year that Mays was with them. However, the Dodgers and the Braves had some good players too. Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier and the National League in particular was eventually flooded with good players that played a different, better type of game than previously featured. The Giants fell to third in 1955 and then sixth the next two seasons as attendance dropped dramatically.  Mays was doing his part, cracking 51 homers in ’55 and becoming a prolific base stealer as well.

The dramatic change came in 1958 when they moved to San Francisco so that Walter O’Malley’s Dodgers could have a California partner. The Giants’ fortunes improved and they remained contenders for most of Willie Mays’ tenure and won another playoff over the Dodgers in 1962 but that was the only World Series for Mays as a San Francisco Giant. He got there again in his last season, playing for the New York Mets at the age of 42.

It’s really not possible to use numbers to demonstrate what Mays did for his teams despite whatever Bill James says. Let’s give it a go, however, while bearing in mind that his base running, his fly chasing, his throwing arm, and his mere presence made everyone on his team play better. He led the league in stolen bases four times, in triples three times, in OPS five times.  His 660 home runs are 92 fewer than Barry Bonds.His 140 triples were 63 more than Barry Bonds. His 6,066 total bases were 90 more than Bonds. They both played 22 years.

Impertinent Potpourri

Well, shut my mouth. Way, way back a long time ago, in April when the flowers were just beginning to bloom, the ice was melting, and the rain perhaps beginning to subside, I dismissed the Pittsburgh Pirates as a team that did not look as though it was trying very hard to succeed. They had traded Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. They were still employing David Freese on a full time basis, they probably wouldn’t win 70 games and blah blah blah. After they got off to a hot start they slowly but surely faded and I smugly assured myself that, sad though it was, I had been correct. Whoops. They won eleven straight games, regained a pulse, and now look. They have traded for a solid, experienced 29 year old starting pitcher with strong character! Chris Archer came at quite a cost, since Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow remain  in the vast potential category, but this should help, not only in the standings but also in the hearts and minds of faithful but sometimes skeptical followers. I stand corrected on wobbly knees.

That doesn’t mean that I’m going to change my calcified mind about the designated sitter. My spirit sank as I heard Tim Kurkjian on ESPN say that, in the 46th season since it was adopted by the American League, he was ready for major league baseball to add it to the National, or Superior, League in the interest of uniformity. Well, screw uniformity. Already they have homogenized the umpire crews and the foul (fair) lines and dismissed the league presidents for no good purpose at all. Okay, here is an argument that I haven’t used strongly enough previously but, damn it, now I’m mad. The San Francisco Giants, and I’m sure they are not alone, have a player on their roster who claims that he has never appeared in a batter’s box before, going all the way back to high school. Of course it is a pitcher. His name is Andrew Suarez, and this is maddening, disgusting information. If these bozos insist on having a designated sitter, it should only be permitted in the major leagues. The idea that we will tell teen aged ballplayers that they cannot learn to hit, or to field, or to run bases, or to bunt, or for that matter, to pitch goes against every good instinct that human beings possess. Besides that, it is stupid beyond comprehension. While I’m at it, let me foam at the mouth about training pitchers to be relievers! Balderdash! Everybody please let kids learn how to play ball or else quit wasting money taping PR spots that encourage them to “play ball” (but only how the coach says to play, and only to win, not learn). And now, we “build up arm strength” to 100 pitches, a magic number that is absurd. Harrumph!

Trade Deadline Head Scratchers: It’s nice to see the Phillies get Wilson Ramos back to the National League East, but shouldn’t Tampa Bay have gotten something in return? Hmm…Wasn’t Tommy Pham one of the Cardinals’ bright spots? What happened?

The Seattle Mariners have two more months to stop surprising us…here’s hoping they don’t.

What the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants have in common besides being .500 teams is a constant parade back and forth from the disabled list for too many players and a season long hope on the part of their fans that they will eventually catch fire and have a winning streak….doesn’t look like it is going to happen.

The Best Football Practice Ever

Mid October in western Pennsylvania brings those days that can be stifling hot in the afternoon but perhaps blessedly cool at night. Football weather. Ben Franklin Junior High School was holding practice after school as usual and there I was, perspiring and waiting for the coaches to call for the wind sprints that would mean it was just about time to head for the showers. Football games could be fun but practice was drudgery and I wanted the shower and, more than that, I wanted to remove that tight fucking helmet that gave me headaches every day. Suddenly we could hear yelling that was coming from somewhere other than the coaches. What was it? Word passed quickly. The Pirates won! Really? Yeah, really!

Bill Mazeroski had led off the bottom of the ninth inning in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series and Pittsburgh beat the New York Yankees, 10-9, and were the new World Champions!

I was in Catholic school the year before and one of the teaching nuns had told us that the Blessed Virgin Mary had appeared before a young girl and told her that, in 1960, something was going to happen to change the world for the better. No one knew what that would be and some speculated that it would mean that there would be world peace and Russia would become a Christian nation once again, but, no, here it was, plain as could be: the Pirates won!

There was extra bounce in my steps as I walked home from practice. I couldn’t wait to see my friend Bob McWilliams. Bob was an all right guy, smart, great athlete, industrious , a good student. But he had three flaws: a very hot temper, boastfulness, and, worst of all, he was a Yankees fan. He had loudly and forcefully bragged about how the Yanks were going to make mincemeat out of their National League rivals. I would not be so bold as to taunt him, but I sure did want to see the look on his face. Neither of us could be objective about it then, but in reality that Pittsburgh team had an edge on the Yankees because they went through that season with few injuries, had very good starting pitchers, and, except for Dr. Strangeglove (Dick Stuart at first base), they were very strong on defense with Don Hoak at third base, Bill Virdon in center field, Mazeroski at second base and, of course, a guy named Roberto Clemente in right field. They also had a tough as nails relief pitcher named Elroy Face. He threw a fork ball, which I could neither describe nor throw.

My brother Paul jumped into his Pontiac and headed for Pittsburgh right after he got off work to join in the big party and I can only imagine how much fun that was. It was a big deal. The last time the Pirates had been in the World Series was 1927. That gave them the privilege to get smoked by the Yankees in four straight games. Then came a long period of relative mediocrity prior to the late 1940s when the franchise really hit the skids. The low water mark was 1952, when the Buccos won 42 and lost 112. Ralph Kiner was the big draw in those days, lofting home runs over Kiner’s Korner and leading the league in homers year after year while the Bucs lost and lost and lost. Murray Dickson somehow won 14 games (and lost 21) for that 1952 team but on that roster were young guys like Dick Groat, Bob Friend, and Vern Law.

They started to get serious about it in the mid fifties. Kiner’s Korner was dismantled and defense became part of their game as Virdon, Clemente, and Mazeroski helped Friend and Law trim their earned run averages and the team slowly but surely emerged as contenders. In 1958, the Pirates finished second, eight games behind Milwaukee. In 1960, they finished seven games ahead of Milwaukee. Those Braves had Joe Adcock, Henry Aaron, and Eddie Mathews, but Pittsburgh outscored them 734-724. Those Braves had Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, and Bob Buhl but the Pirates outpitched them.

Casey Stengel saved lefty Whitey Ford for the third game since it would be played at Yankee Stadium after the first two in Pittsburgh. So the Pirates jumped on right handed starter Art Ditmar in the first game for three first inning runs and held on to win behind Vern Law, 6-4. Then New York started making Bob McWilliams a prophet by routing Bob Friend, Clem Labine and others 16-3 in the second game. On to New York, where Ford shut out the Bucs ,10-0, on four hits. Game four was huge. If the Yanks won, the prospect of not returning home was real. Bill Skowron homered off Law in the fourth inning to make it 1-0. Then Law took over. He had two hits, including an RBI double in a 3 run fifth inning. Virdon’s single drove in Law and Smoky Burgess and the Pirates went on to win,3-2. Roy Face relieved Law in the 7th after a Johnny Blanchard pinch hit single and retired all eight batters he faced. The fifth game put Pittsburgh in the driver’s seat as they won 5-2.Pirates manager  Danny Murtaugh wasn’t fooling around. After Bob Cerv singled and took second on Hoak’s error, he intentionally walked Mickey Mantle–in the first inning!

Back to the Iron City for game six. Bob Friend was clobbered again and Whitey Ford pitched another shutout. 12-0 Yankees. Bob Turley startedthe seventh game for New York. Rocky Nelson started at first base against the righty. Nelson, a journeyman first sacker who was around for spot starts and late inning defense in relief of the slugging Stuart, smacked a two run homer in the first. In the second, Stengel lost patience with Turley after Burgess led off with a single and brought on Bill Stafford. Hoak walked and Mazeroski beat out a bunt to load the bases. Law hit into a pitcher to catcher to first base double play and Stengel looked smart as ever. But Virdon hit a two run single to right to make it 4-0.

In the fifth inning, Bill Skowron, whose autographed picture I went and got at a Loblaw’s supermarket even though he was a Yankee, homered off Law to make it 4-1. In the sixth, the seemingly inexhaustible Law surrendered a single to Bobby Richardson and a walk to Tony Kubek. Once again, Murtaugh turned to Face, who also was not inexhaustible. Mickey Mantle’s single scored Richardson, and then Yogi Berra cracked a three run homer to put the Yankees ahead, 5-4.

A significant thing happened in the seventh although it did not involve a run scoring. Burgess singled, and Joe Christopher ran for him.

In the top of the eighth, with two out, Berra walked.Then Skowron singled. Blanchard singled to score Berra with Skowron taking third. Clete Boyer, that fine fielding third baseman who seldom got hits but often hit it far when he did, doubled and Skowron scored. So Stengel let his reliable reliever Bobby Shantz bat with a 7-4 lead and Shantz lined out to Clemente for the third out. In the bottom of that inning, Gino Cimoli pinch hit for Face and singled. Cimoli had been a good addition to the team because Virdon wasn’t hitting left handers well and Cimoli ran well and could handle any outfield position. Then Virdon hit what looked like a double play grounder to Kubek at short but the ball took a bad hop and hit Kubek in the neck. Put the ball in play, boys, because you never know. Joe DeMaestri replaced the injured Kubek. Dick Groat singled to score Cimoli and it was 7-5. Jim Coates replaced Shantz and Bob Skinner‘s sacrifice bunt moved runners to third and second. Clemente’s infield single scored Virdon to make it 7-6. Then Hal Smith, the catcher who replaced Burgess when he had been run for, cracked a home run and the Pirates took a 9-7 lead. Ralph Terry replaced Coates.

Murtaugh brought in Bob Friend, so successful during the regular season but so ineffective in two World Series starts, to finish off the Yankees. He didn’t. Richardson singled. Dale Long, a former Pirate who had struck home runs in eight consecutive games for them back in ’56, was now another in a long line of lefty slugging aging hitters that the Yankees like to pad their roster with, singled to right as a pinch hitter for DeMaestri. Harvey Haddix replaced Friend as Yankees fans licked their lips. Roger Maris fouled out to the catcher Smith. Mantle singled to score Richardson with Long going to third. Gil McDougald ran for Long and scored when Skowron grounded out to short. So it was 9-9, but just for a while.

The world had been wicked for a long time, but now it had corrected itself. And Casey never managed another game for the Yankees, but he did a great job in 1960. Except perhaps for that Ditmar thing.