Cubs’ Coronation Clinched?

The darkened, standard time days of November are looming ominously in our near future and many people are anxious. Some of them are anxious about the presidential election but these are people who probably watch too much television, and as a perusal of the local listings for television programs demonstrates, these are probably not the sharpest tools in the box. As a glance at those same listings proves, there is also not a lot to choose from. No, what the most intelligent, educated, and kindly people are anxious about is: can anybody (especially my team) beat the Cubs? We are here to answer that question with a no holds barred, emphatic probably not. However, to quote yet another famous television star, Crazy Guggenheim, “You never know, you know?”

As of this writing, the San Francisco Giants would travel to New York for the one game heart attack to determine who will be bear bait. The Mets have been playing better ball than the Giants lately, but who hasn’t? It’s been a war of attrition throughout the major leagues this season with injury after injury and the Metropolitans have been right in the thick of that with a current roster that bears little resemblance to the one that started the season. Their vaunted starting pitching staff became the favorite of ambulance chasers, with only the old man of the bunch, Bartolo Colon, unfazed. The Giants win the Perversity Award after scratching and clawing to the best record in baseball at the All Star break, then getting most of their wounded back and subsequently losing 42 of their last 68 games, a cool .382 pace that has been the worst in baseball. With Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, however, they cannot easily be dismissed. It says here that they will be though because losing, like winning, is contagious. St. Louis,still alive, looks great one day and terrible the next. As a wild card team,they would be dangerous, however, because they have been demonstrably better in road games.

Among the National League division winners the Cubs have the most strength all around the diamond.Anthony Rizzo. John Lackey. Addison Russell.Kris Bryant. Aroldis Chapman. Jake Arrieta, etc. They have speed, defense, pitching, power, pitching, versatility, and pitching. The Nationals did surprisingly well despite the fact that howitzers were knocking down their troops almost as often as their chief divisional rivals, the Marlins and Mets. I would have rated them next in line before Stephen Strasburg and, even more importantly, Wilson Ramos were injured. I think they’re toast, but it’s hard to count out a Dusty Baker squad. The Los Angeles Dodgers just might be the ones to spoil the Cubs’ aspirations. They won the division after we all were counting them out, and it is definitely not the same old crew. Yasiel Puig is back from obedience school and doing well, Clayton Kershaw looks healthy, Kenley Jansen remains consistent, Justin Turner remains hot, but mostly, Corey Seager. Who played shortstop for them last year? Right. Plus Zack Greinke is still hurling for Arizona, the team that conceded the season when it chose its uniforms.

It looks like Baltimore will be traveling to Toronto for the wild card game in what the Sporting News affectionately used to call the Junior Loop. To determine the winner of this game, take a quarter and flip it three times calling heads each time with the bird of your choice in mind. One thing is not in doubt—the winner will have home run power.

It surprised me that the Blue Jays did not win the division and it pains me to be wrong about the Red Sox but I just didn’t know. I didn’t know how good Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley were going to be, I figured Craig Kimbrel wasn’t going to help, I thought Hanley Ramirez was finished, and I underestimated that young designated hitter. I still think that they are vulnerable on the mound, but it may not matter. Cleveland is very solid but late injuries hurt their chances. The Texas Rangers have been steadily marching along and Yu Darvish is looking good but both Darvish and Cole Hamels will have to look like their old selves to get very far in the post season. We’ll see. If I had to pick an A.L. team to have the best shot in the World Series it would be Boston. And of course, as you know, I’m never wrong. I was also a Bernie Sanders supporter.

CLOSE THIS

Santiago Casilla is and has been, as far as anyone can tell, a good, honorable man who stays out of trouble, makes friends easily, and has worked hard and successfully at his job, which for the past seven years has been pitching baseball for the San Francisco Giants. Lately, however, to speak his name among followers of the San Francisco baseball team is to induce moans and groans and calls for his banishment to the caves where lepers and people who vote for third party candidates have been sent. Why? Has he been molesting children, beating his wife, or refusing to stand for the National Anthem? No. He has been “blowing saves”. Manager Bruce Bochy, an overly patient man if ever there was one, has apparently had enough. The other night Bochy turned to others to protect a 4-1 lead in the ninth inning but Hunter Strickland and Steven Okert yielded five runs and the Giants lost an important game to San Diego, 6-4. So who will be the Giants'”closer” now? Many teams every season face the same question. How about this for an answer: nobody.

I must confess that I was quite a statistics nerd as a youngster but that was before the onset of computers and now I sort of resent a lot of them. The most meaningless stat currently bobbing around is the one called “saves”. If I start the ninth inning of a game with my team ahead, 6-3, and I give up a walk and three hits that score two runs but then get the third out I get a “save” in the 6-5 victory. Wow. If I start a game and give up two runs in the first inning and then leave the game after six innings trailing 2-1 and my team never catches up while losing, 3-1 for instance, the statistic I get is a “loss”. Now, which job performance was better? Some saves are well earned but as they accumulate it gets hard to tell the difference. Okay, that’s one objection to the relatively new status of “closer” on every pitching staff but I have more. I think it was over rated genius Tony LaRussa who started us down this path to absurdity. In 1987 LaRussa was managing the Oakland Athletics and he had on his pitching staff a 32 year old right hander who threw pretty hard but seemed on the verge of burning out as a starting pitcher. Dennis Eckersley was that pitcher. He was mostly a starter between his rookie year of 1975 and 1986. His best season was 1978 for the Red Sox, when he won 20 and lost 8 with 16 complete games in 35 starts. He was just about as good in ’79, winning 17 and losing 10 with the same earned run average of 2.99 that he had the year before and 17 complete games in 33 starts. That’s particularly impressive when your home field is Fenway Park. By ’87 some wear and tear was starting to show. LaRussa was putting together his machine like efficient team that won a World Series in 1989 and probably should have won a couple more. The A’s had Dave Stewart, a 30 year old reclamation project who averaged over 7 innings per start that year with 261 innings pitched, but other starting pitchers like Curt Young and Steve Ontiveros were not so hardy. So Eckersley became a relief pitcher and, like Greg Cadaret and Gene Nelson, was able to keep things within reach after early departures while the offensive machine that consisted of Carney Lansford, Terry Steinbach and the McBashroid Brothers developed their run scoring capabilities and the A’s became a .500 team.

The next season the A’s really blossomed and Eckersley also did in his new role. They won 104 games, finishing 13 games ahead of the Twins in the A.L. West. LaRussa was looking very smart, both for making Stewart his ace starter and for the conversion of Eckersley to ace reliever, not yet termed “closer”. Eckersley’s innings decreased from the 115.67 in “87 when he had started two games to 72.67 in “88 with a league leading 45 saves in 60 games compared to 16 saves in 54 games in ’87. The ERA decreased from 3.03 to 2.35. He wasn’t perfect, though, as Kirk Gibson might tell you. Then, in 1989, the A’s just about were perfect and so too was Eckersley as they added Rickey Henderson to the mix again and won it all.

This led, as things so often do, to other organizations asking themselves, “Why don’t we try that?” What was now different was not so much having relief pitchers but having more specialized roles. Tony effectively had said to Eck, “Go let it all hang out, because I’m only going to use you when we are ahead in the ninth, and then go pound some Budweisers”. Now, of course, we have seventh inning pitchers, eighth inning pitchers, left handed specialists, and some very insidious myths being perpetrated.

First, the idea of not using one of your supposed best pitchers unless you have the lead after eight innings is nothing short of ridiculous.We all know that the game is very often very much on the line before that. Waiting for the offense to get you a lead first is both insulting to the rest of your pitching staff and not showing much confidence in your batters’ ability to score late (oh, that’s right–not against any of the 30 lights out invincible closers).

Second, sorry, but I believe it has become rather obvious that there aren’t 30 lights out, invincible “closers” on the planet at any one time. Why pretend that there could be? Eckersley and Mariano Rivera are in the Hall of Fame as are other relief pitchers.They are deserving but, at least for now, they cannot be cloned. What made more sense was the way teams used bullpens previously, which I predict they will return to before too long. What do I mean by that? Well, for one thing,it’s bad enough to have starters who can’t go past five innings but then to also have relievers who can’t pitch more than one or who can only face batters from one side of the plate borders on lunacy. What we have today is quantity over quality. Let’s jump into the wayback machine for a short hop to 1977 just for argument’s sake. One World Series team from that season was the New York Yankees, who won a lot of games despite having rather spotty starting pitchers. Their bullpen wasn’t exactly invincible either, but fortunately they had Sparky Lyle, a lefty who toiled 137 innings at various times in various games with a 2.17 ERA and 26 “saves”. They also had righty Dick Tidrow, who could give them a long start OR a long relief session. He pitched 151 innings. Starters sometimes don’t get that many innings these days. And the Yankees won the whole thing. The Pittsburgh Pirates had fairly good starters led by John Candelaria in ’77 but they also leaned heavily on a bullpen that featured Goose Gossage (133 innings, 1.62ERA), Kent Tekulve (103 innings), Grant Jackson (91 innings with two starts) and Terry Forster (87 innings including six starts). The Philadelphia Phillies were perhaps the best example. They had four guys who could finish a game: Tug McGraw, Gene Garber, Ron Reed, and Warren Brusstar. They had 46 saves among them. Reed started 3 games and they all pitched between 71 and 124 innings while backing a starting staff that featured Steve Carlton and several Hail Marys.The Phillies won 101 games and the East Division that year. The physiology hasn’t changed that much in 39 years.

Third, there are young people today being trained to pitch as relievers. This is all wrong. Every pitcher should begin as a starting pitcher just like every batter should learn to field a position. Give up on them when they are 35, not 13. This is the worst of all the bad features.

Finally, something we’ve now heard so many times that we start to assume it must be true: it takes a “certain mentality” to pitch the ninth inning. Look, it takes a certain mentality to get out of bed every morning and get ready for a workday that could be dangerous and body wrecking or perhaps just boring and repetitive with little reward. People do it, however, to get the bills paid and try to support their children or at least themselves. I got your certain mentality right here. If you can pitch you should pitch and that’s what managers need to get across.

Ten From Thirty Equals Playoffs

Despite the fact that there are managers, coaches, players and even fans all over the baseball universe saying things like “We’re still in this thing!” and “Anything can happen!” we are going to commit a sacrilege here at Baseball Anarchy and call some winners. After all, it is Labor Day, a day that, aside from purportedly honoring people other than those in the insurance, banking and stock market businesses who actually work for a living, has traditionally been one where pennant winners have begun to show themselves. Of course, Labor Day also used to be the starting date for political campaigns for the presidency and other loathsome offices that will get voted on in November, but that was before the onset of perpetual campaigning and perpetual war.

If the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs do not win their respective division races then I believe that the Libertarian and Green Party candidates for president, whoever they are,will fight neck and neck to the end to see who gets their picture taken telling lies on Inauguration Day. So there are two. Kris Bryant and Jake Arrieta might collide on the field while Anthony Rizzo fights the Zika mosquito but Joe Maddon will get his deep and talented team deep into the post season anyway. I have to confess that I very rarely see the Rangers play because I was banned from the state of Texas many years ago because they found out that I didn’t believe that Sam Houston was born to a virgin mother and, even when their games are televised, I lapse into reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond or infomercials for self driving pogo sticks or something. Nevertheless,I have been made aware of the talent of players like Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Elvis Andrus and others and besides, they have a ten and one half game lead with 26 to play.

In the American League, if it ended today the other playoff teams would be Cleveland, Toronto, Boston, and Baltimore. It seems to me that there is an outside chance that the defending champion Kansas City Royals or the Detroit Tigers could get hot and surpass the Orioles but, other than that, it looks safe. It’s been fun to watch the Yankees not fade completely from contention after they more or less conceded at the end of July but they don’t have enough. The most interesting thing in that league is the important question of division title winners and while Cleveland looks good at the moment, the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Orioles all have their strengths. None of them have a starting pitcher that makes you choke on your sunflower seeds.

The National League still has a race in the West except for the fact that the Giants decline since July 10 has now begun to resemble that of the 1978 Red Sox, although there is no discernible sign that they will somehow, as those Sox did, suddenly rise from their coma at the last minute. The playoff teams today would be Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and St. Louis if the Cubs would just go away and form their own division or something. It would surprise us all if any team but Chicago makes it to the World Series but we have been surprised before. These one game wild card playoffs and short series all around mean that the best team doesn’t always win but the team that wins can still call themselves the best. It’s not like the old days when one team from each league went straight to the World Series. Now it’s more fun for more people and then we can argue about it all winter if we can remember who all was involved. As for all you NFL fans, go pledge allegiance to the flag and take your Cialis.

Giants Shrink and Pirates Sink

It has been rather nice for the past few seasons to have my two favorite teams, the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates, contend for their respective division titles and participate in the post season. The Pirates had an especially long drought period before emerging as contenders in 2013 and many of us who have been around since J. Fred Muggs had as many viewers as the Kardashians recall the woeful days of Kiner’s Korner and perennial last place finishes before the happy World Champion days of 1960, 1971, and 1979. The Giants have been, for the most part, flourishing ever since they moved to the Phone Booth in 2000 but there were many years of suffering prior to that in the Bay Area because even when they were winning one had to endure Candlestick Park to see them in person and they almost moved to Florida.

It was good while it lasted but this year it looks like neither team has what it takes to make the playoffs. Oh, sure, the Giants are in second place and there are still many games to play but they have played at a .323 winning percentage since the All Star break after boasting a surprising 57-33 record that had many of us fooled. The Pirates have perked up lately, on the other hand, going 28-17 since June 24. The Cubs faltered a bit over a month ago, but that has been followed by another winning surge that has just about clinched the division title already. The Cardinals and Pirates still have decent teams but will probably wear themselves out just trying to be wild card entries.

The Pirates shot themselves in the foot in the off season. Whether or not they were deliberately conceding to Chicago, the winter additions of David Freese and Matt Joyce did not scare people around the league. The trade of Neil Walker was only going to make sense if Jon Niese became an 18 game winner, but he was 8-6 with a 4.91 ERA for the Bucs. Francisco Liriano went from being a good five inning pitcher to being a mediocre at best one, going 6-11 with a 5.46 ERA. Juan Nicasio has seldom been good. Starting pitching is really all that Pittsburgh needs and there is hope for the future. Jameson Taillon has looked good and others with promise appear on the horizon. The outfield remains perhaps the overall best in baseball, especially defensively. McCutchen obviously needs his dreads back but seems to be snapping out of a year long batting funk. Marte and Polanco both strike out a lot but are otherwise superb. The Bucs were hurt badly by the loss to injury of so many games by Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart and catcher is, after all, a vitally important position. The infield defense is not terrible but does not rate with the best either. Jaso and Freese were not acquired for their gold glove potential.

Meanwhile, the Giants’ sterling infield defense took a hit with the late July trade of third baseman Matt Duffy to Tampa Bay, where he is evidently going back to playing shortstop. The Giants received a mediocre left handed starter, Matt Moore, in return and acquired a lefty reliever, Will Smith, from Milwaukee as well in an attempt to shore up a wobbly pitching staff. Smith gets the mediocre tag as well and San Francisco will have to hope that Eduardo Nunez, a journeyman infielder who reminds no one of Brooks Robinson or Omar Vizquel, is highly productive offensively. He was an All Star for the Twins, but every team gets an All Star.

Don’t get me wrong, either or both of these teams could end up in the 2016 playoffs somehow and I’ll be happy if they do. There are proven veteran winners on both squads. As for the World Series, that would be a bit of a reach. For the future, a fresh injection of youthful enthusiasm may be needed if the Giants and Pirates are to regain badass status.

August Is the Cruelest Month

I’m not going to call them the dog days because I like dogs too much. Our hounds are smarter than most people. When it’s hot, they sleep. They don’t grill. They don’t drive to the beach. If the furniture isn’t cool enough, they lie on the floor. Outside, if the ground isn’t cool enough, they dig themselves a cooler bed. Most people aren’t so smart.

For instance, even though it’s hot, some people put on pads and helmets and try to send each other to the hospital. Why can’t the NFL and its goofy fans wait for foul weather, as in ice and wind and rain and snow, at least? In that kind of weather, football almost makes sense. Real futbol, or soccer, players have the intelligence and the courage to play in what is essentially their underwear, but even so they tend to wait for cooler temperatures.

Last week there was no Sunday night baseball on ESPN. Why? Apparently football is so damned popular that they thought more people would watch an NFL exhibition game than an actual summer game that is enjoyable. Life was better before the media all consolidated. Life was also better before education became devalued to the point that so many people were so ignorant that they thought Donald Trump was smart. Ronald Reagan, Rupert Murdoch and various other thugs led us into a dark alley and sapped us silly.

I realize that I’m not with the majority here. I grew up in western Pennsylvania, where if people found out that you didn’t love football you might have been reported to the House Un-American Activities Committee and banned from the bars. Gosh darn it, though, we have already ceded September through February to the football crowd, so why do we have to give them August as well? It wouldn’t hurt nearly as much if there was still competition and one network could show football and another baseball and perhaps another badminton or whatever but no, we all have to watch the same thing or else the ads, which been repeated hundreds of times already, won’t have any effect. Do people really buy Viagra or that Flex Seal stuff because they see it on television? I guess they do.

The melancholy is deeper this August because, as if the political conventions weren’t enough, we also are distracted by the Olympics and the televising thereof. Look, I like many sports, especially badminton, but there are two rather big things wrong with the Olympics. First, the extremely corrupt “organizing committee” that goads various dictators and their minions into destroying entire neighborhoods to build temporary structures while they “clean up” the streets from natives who don’t look so much like they want a new Lexus as they do a place to sleep and something to eat. It’s “good for the economy” the same way that sending the Mafia your grocery money would be “good for the economy”. Second, the revered athletic contests have been reduced to just another television show. That show as presented to us in the USA! USA! feels as though it was produced by Leni Riefenstahl and company with its schmaltzy music and USA centered themes. Thus, as with those political conventions, every four years that pass makes them less and less attractive.

There could be a merger of it all in four years, though, if Curt Schilling keeps his promise to run for president. As the last few weeks of the pennant races wear down, the best one can do is pay as much attention as possible to the drama that is being nudged aside like an overripe apple. Ichiro Suzuki makes us smile as he passes the famed Roberto Clemente on the all time hits list. Can the Cleveland Caucasians hold on in the American League Central? Will the Dodgers continue to track the Giants down, even without Clayton Kershaw? Will Baltimore, with Manny Machado attaining super stardom, beat back those other birds from Canada? Ah! I’m starting to feel better already.

 

Rolling the Dice

If the 2016 major league baseball season continues as it has been going, sixty five per cent of the players involved in the trades made just prior to the August 1 deadline will soon be on the disabled list with many due for surgery. At least that’s how it seems to be going. Traders in horseflesh always know, however, that it is a bit of a gamble and yet the dice were rolling this late July ¬†almost as frequently as they do for an old Strat-O-Matic player such as myself.

Questions, as always, abound. What, for instance, will the Mets do with Curtis Granderson now that Jay Bruce, a lifelong right fielder, is aboard? Yoenis Cespedes seems to be the center fielder, Michael Conforto has been hyped as the left fielder/superstar of the future, Juan Lagares is hurt but still around, and Justin Ruggiano has been recently acquired as well. Perhaps the brain trust realizes that injuries are bound to persist so it’s good to keep their options open.

Fans of the Pittsburgh Pirate must be a bit confused. Last winter the erstwhile contenders in the National Central traded hometown favorite Neil Walker to the Mets in exchange for left handed starting pitcher Jon Niese. It seemed to be justifiable at the time because everyone was running out of patience with Jeff Locke  and Niese seemed to be the type of guy whose career could be rejuvenated in the land where folks drink Iron. Hurlers such as A.J. Burnett, Vance Worley, and Francisco Liriano had revived themselves under pitching coach Ray Searage and manager Clint Hurdle with the help of some really fast outfielders. It did not work out well for Niese as a Pirate and so they shipped him to the Mets in exchange for Antonio Bastardo, a lefty reliever they had lost through free agency over the winter to New York. So now the Buccos have about the same team they had last year except for no Neil Walker.

The Bucs say they haven’t thrown in the towel, but they also sent closer Mark Melancon to Washington. That gives Dusty Baker a good excuse to ignore Jonathan Papelbon. Of course, there is always the chance that Melancon will get injured, or perhaps Papelbon can go to the Old Closers’ Home in Atlanta.

I wouldn’t wish Texas on anyone not named Bush but it’s good to see Carlos Beltran out of the Yankees pinstripes. The catcher Jonathan Lucroy from Milwaukee and Beltran may be all that the Rangers need to win the American West but I would still not count out the Astros.

The Dodgers probably gained the most from all of the dice rolling. They now have a superb right fielder in Josh Reddick who knows how to play the game and another pitcher who is good when he’s healthy (Rich Hill) to add to their list of sometimes available hurlers. How will the Yasiel Puig drama play out? The Dodgers don’t have to care now. Unless, of course, Reddick gets hurt.

The Cleveland Caucasians will be happy to have excellent lefty Andrew Miller in the bullpen down the stretch, and here’s hoping all goes well for Terry Francona & Co. the rest of the way. They may regret cutting loose Juan Uribe, however.

The San Francisco Giants may have taken the prize for the most risky roll of the season. Matt Moore has been a five inning starter when healthy but that hasn’t been a whole lot of time. To get Moore, the Giants parted ways with a very good third baseman with great baseball smarts in Matt Duffy, who will now, unfortunately, have to play in the K-Mart of baseball palaces, Tampa Bay. They acquired speedy Eduardo Nunez from the Twins a week previously as a supposed backup. In that role, Nunez would have been fine. Defensively compared to Duffy, it’s a big step backwards whether Nunez or Conor Gillaspie plays third. Then again, Duffy is on the DL now and they all might join him by next Monday. Roll the dice.

 

The Cuban Comet

If you mention the 1951 baseball season to anyone old enough to remember visors on automobile windshields,without variance they will begin to talk about the miracle of Coogan’s Bluff. That is the story of the New York Giants, who trailed the Brooklyn Dodgers by thirteen and a half games on August 12 that season but won 39 of their last 47 games to catch the Dodgers and force a three game playoff for the National League pennant. In the third game of that playoff at the Polo Grounds, Bobby Thomson hit one of the most famous home runs in baseball history with rookie Willie Mays on deck to snatch the pennant away from the Brooklyn Bums and the great comeback was complete.

That enabled the Giants to participate in the World Series, which they lost to Casey Stengal’s Yankees four games to two after winning two of the first three. The Yanks made it three pennants in a row in ’51 and would go on to win again the next year and the next in what seemed at the time to be inevitable domination. In retrospect, however, it seems to me that a strange, three team trade made on April 30 of that season might have kept Cleveland from advancing to the World Series instead of New York. That trade brought Lou Brissie, a left handed relief pitcher, to a Cleveland team that featured a big four of starting pitchers that started 130 games among them and completed 69 of those. The four–Mike Garcia, Bob Feller, Early Wynn, and Bob Lemon, were all right handed, so no doubt there was the need, at least occasionally, for a good lefty. Two other leftys, Johnny Vander Meer and Dick Rozek, were on the roster but saw very little action so Brissie in his 54 appearances showed value with an earned run average of 3.20 including four spot starts. The Chicago White Sox sent hard hitting but immobile outfielders Dave Philley and Gus Zernial to the Philadelphia A’s where they could help new manager Jimmy Dykes draw fans if not win games. Zernial would lead the league in home runs that year. Brissie went to Cleveland from Philadelphia and Cleveland sent backup catcher Ray Murray and lefty Sam Zoldak to Philadelphia, where he pitched about as well as Brissie. The A’s sent backup outfielder Paul Lehner to Chicago, where he didn’t play much. That might have been because the White Sox, as part of this complicated deal, obtained from Cleveland Saturnino Orestes Armas Minoso. In other words, they made out like bandits.

After a month of playing sporadically at first base for Cleveland, Minoso, given the condescending nickname Minnie in the states,played 138 games for the Pale Hose as their first Black Face. He was the opposite of Zernial and Philley as a fast, talented outfielder with a strong throwing arm. He also played 68 games at third base. He finished first in the American League in stolen bases with 31 and in triples with 14 as he helped Chicago become the GO GO Sox. He was third in OPS at .922, sixth in total bases with 265,fourth in doubles (34), fifth in on base percentage (.422), fifth in slugging percentage (.500), and second in batting average (.326). He was also probably first in fan appreciation.

Cleveland won 93 games that year and it has been speculated that the emergence of Al Rosen as their third baseman could have been part of the reason Minoso was deemed expendable. Rosen had a fine season himself with 24 homers and 102 runs batted in. There are other things to speculate about when this trade is considered, however. While it is true that Orestes Minoso was technically a rookie, there is little doubt that the baseball world knew of his exploits playing in Cuba, Mexico, and the Negro leagues and also little doubt that the quality of play in those leagues was comparable to the so called big leagues, more so perhaps than anyone was willing to admit. It had only been four years since integration of the major leagues had begun and teams like the Yankees and Red Sox were still years away from accepting reality. Cleveland already had Larry Doby and Luke Easter. Was there, as many believe, a quota? It’s the only thing that makes sense to me. I grew up about 80 miles from Cleveland and about 50 miles from Pittsburgh and I will always remember one of my elders saying , when he visited us after church one Sunday in the mid 50s,that Cleveland and the Pirates “…have too many niggers ..” on their teams.

The Yankees won 98 games that year, which will always be remembered as Joe DiMaggio‘s last and Mickey Mantle‘s first. Their team earned run average was 3.56 while Cleveland’s was 3.38. New York scored 798 runs to Cleveland’s 696. Both teams hit 140 home runs. The Yankees stole more bases, 78 to 52, had an equal number of doubles (208) and more triples by 13 (48 to 35). Is it becoming more clear how Minoso may have helped close the gap offensively? The Yankees had become known as the Bronx Bombers, but in reality their big weapon was defense, especially up the middle with DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto at shortstop and Jerry Coleman or Gil McDougald at second base. The defense in Cleveland was spotty. Jim Hegan was great at catcher and Doby superb in center field but the infield with Ray Boone at short, Bobby Avila at second, and Rosen did not compare favorably at all. Doby patrolled center well but had two statues, Bob Kennedy and Dale Mitchell, on either side of him. So Orestes could have been a big help there as well.

We weren’t that far from Brooklyn vs. Cleveland World Series in 1951 and I suppose all seasons are that way somewhat and that social factors are always involved, even in the games we play and watch with each other.

Orestes Minoso went on to have a career that should have been capped with selection to the Hall of Fame. He played in nine all star games. He won three gold gloves. His lifetime batting average was .298, his on base percentage was .389, his slugging percentage was .459. He tallied 205 stolen bases in an era where they were not considered important to many teams (White Sox not included). He hit 336 doubles, 186 home runs, and 83 triples. He was frequently hit by pitches. The man from La Habana accumulated all those great numbers but also, more importantly, was damned fun to watch. Minnie Minoso was maximum ballplayer.