Mariners Lack Bait

Here we are already a month into the new baseball season and so many things are still not clear. For instance, I can’t decide which new truck I should buy. In the early days of televised baseball, the choices were easier. All of the advertising was aimed at men, for one thing, although I suspected that it was really aimed at boys who were about 12 or 13 years old. You were supposed to shave, drink beer, and buy gasoline for your car, probably a Chevy. As I recall, I was supposed to shave with a Gillette blade, sting my face with some smelly after shave by Mennen, go get some high octane fuel pumped into my Chevy’s tank, and then get some Schlitz, all while the womenfolk smiled proudly in the background. Things are so much more complicated now, chiefly because you don’t get one ad per half inning but rather almost non stop plugs for any number of brands of the same thing. It wears me out.

Plus now I get stomach aches, because those pictures of all the various fast food nation items make me anything but hungry. That yellow gooey stuff that gets slowly poured over what Taco Bell tries to pass off as nachos that they have the gall to call cheese on their cravings value menu or whatever they call that! Just imagine paying millions to sell something for the people who just got ripped on marijuana at near midnight and only have two bucks in their pocket! And what’s the best phone deal? Damned if I can tell. I liked the deal where it was wired to the wall and I was able to speak and hear clearly to almost anyone anywhere and if it needed repair someone came to my house and fixed it. That was pretty good, even if it was tapped.

There are still a few good choices to be made, however, and one of them seems to be the Houston Astros to prevail in the American league West. Despite losing some key elements, like Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, and Brian McCann, they have so much of things like hitting, fielding, pitching, and running left that it doesn’t matter. They added Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve are healthy again, and Alex Bregman could get even better, so they don’t have much to worry about.

The Seattle Mariners looked very good out of the gate but I don’t know if it can last. Felix Hernandez looked more like Heathcliff Slocumb than Cy Young last year and, while the fearsome early power show from the likes of Edwin Encarnacion,Daniel Vogelbach, and Mitch Haniger has been impressive, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of depth on the squad. We who look favorably upon the Northwest Nine can only fantasize about how nice it would have been if Mike Trout had somehow been able to forsake the Fountain Valley Angels and become the center fielder for Seattle.

The Oakland Athletics have a very good, interesting team, a very bright manager in Bob Melvin, a ballpark that was pretty good before Al Davis called in an air strike, and disgusting ownership that has treated its fans shabbily for years and years. Matt Olson at first base and Matt Chapman at third promise to provide great defense and good power for years for whatever team they eventually play for. Ramon Laureano has been a real find in center field. The only element lacking for the A’s is a reliable starting rotation of pitchers, that element that used to be highly regarded throughout the game.

The Texas Rangers have a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and they are building a new yard for their fans to go to in order to watch them strike out and hit home runs. They are a bit lovable now though because they have Hunter Pence.

The Mission Viejo Angels have Mike Trout, the ghost of Albert Pujols, some very good defensive players like Andrelton Simmons, and eventually the fascinating Shohei Ohtani again, or at least half of him. Once they decide to get serious about the pitching portion of the game they might get past competing with Disneyland and start threatening the Astros.

Eastern Intrigue

It’s got to be the Phillies. I mean, look at all that power. Bryce Harper will hit at least 50. Andrew McCutchen had warning track power in San Francisco but now watch. Rhys Hoskins! The new Maikel Franco! Plus now they have J.T. Realmuto, who is probably better than Roy Campanella and Johnny Bench combined.

But wait! The Atlanta Braves were a little surprising last year but now they are confident and ready and they have Josh Donaldson. Great young pitching to go with Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies! Brian McCann is back.

Hold on, these New York Mets can’t ever be out-hyped. More strikeouts than Donald Trump if he was on welfare! Jacob deGrom, the five inning Steve Carlton!

Well, you can’t really blame those Eastern seaboard writers and talk show hosts. That whole Mueller thing just got lengthy and boring and the Democrats are way out to lunch. There had to be something more interesting to talk about and, in fact, the National League East Division will probably stay interesting all summer long.

From way out here in left field it looks very much as though the best of them all might just be the Washington Nationals. Yes, the team that God and Bryce Harper (who gets paid more) abandoned. All things considered, including defense, Anthony Rendon was probably their best player in 2018. If he stays healthy and Trea Turner gets healthy, the Nationals have a very sturdy lineup with the exciting probability that Juan Soto and Victor Robles are getting better. Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki make for a solid catching duo and Patrick Corbin adds a very skilled lefty starter to what had previously been the most hyped pitching staff in baseball before that award went to the Mets. With Harper gone to the Philadelphia bandbox, Michael Taylor should get more deserved time to patrol the outfield and that’s good for all of the pitchers.

Jake Arrieta and the other Phillies hurlers might not be so fond of the dimensions at Citizens Prank Park but McCutchen and Jean Segura add good veteran presence to the lineup and young starters Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, and Nick Pivetta could perhaps relax with a few 9-2 leads.

It’s hard to find a weak spot on the Braves, especially since Nick Markakis seems to have found new vigor at age 34. That infield looks mighty strong around the horn with Freddy Freeman at first and Donaldson at third.

And, yes, the Metropolitans will win their share of games, especially if they can relax and let Juan Lagares patrol center field regularly. Amed Rosario is an emerging star but Robinson Cano shows some wear and tear at 36.

As for the Miami Marlins, good on you, Derek Jeter, for showing a commitment to long term team building. Sixty three wins in 2018 was pretty good. It will be hard to beat that this year but good fortune is wished.

Who Wants It?

Most of out assumptions are based on what we have seen happen in the past. Most frequently we base these assumptions on the most recent past. For instance, if it’s been raining for three or four days, we tend to assume that we will have rain tomorrow. Therefore, of course, we are frequently wrong. No president could ever be worse than W. Wrong! They didn’t tow my car the last time I parked in that red zone so I’ll try it again. Wrong!

Lots of people are assuming that the Cleveland Aboriginals are going to win the title in the American League Central again this year. Well, in this instance, they are probably correct. That title, however, may not amount to much more than a hill of presidential rhetoric. That’s because winning the title in a division so much weaker than the others doesn’t necessarily mean that you are equal with the rest of the playoff participants. Cleveland does have a lot of good pitchers. Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer make for a very sturdy starting rotation indeed. Things do change though, and the rest of the roster does not look as bright and shiny as it had in the recent past. For instance, the lustrous Michael Brantley is now with Houston. The once bright and shiny all around star Hanley Ramirez is now Cleveland’s designated sitter and that doesn’t seem right.They are doing a bit of a makeover and it doesn’t look great from here. There is also a rebuild going on in Kansas City. The fact that the Royals are admitting that they need to start from scratch could mean that they will ultimately be the ones to dethrone Terry Francona and the Lakeside Lads. Not this year though.

Whit Merrifield broke through with a big season in 2018 for the Royals while playing several positions. Second base seems to be best for him. He combined with Raul Mondesi‘s son Adalberto for 77 stolen bases to remind KC fans of the glory days of speed and defense in the past. Mondesi plays a pretty good shortstop. It may be a while before any of the Royals pitchers reminds us of Bret Saberhagen, Dennis Leonard or Dan Quisenberry, however. With Salvador Perez out for the season, Alex Gordon is the sole remainder from the more recent days of Royals glory.

Detroit and Minnesota look as though they both have improved their teams. Every year we hear about how, no, really, this time the White Sox mean it. Sure. Eloy Jimeniz from the Dominican Republic is highly touted this year the way Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia once were. We’ll see. Chicago seems to be a lousy place for a pitcher and there are certainly not many Cy Young candidates on that roster. It’s Miguel Cabrera and a bunch of young guys in Detroit and Ron Gardenhire is the kind of manager that can make a good soup out of that. Jordy Mercer will not be an upgrade over Jose Iglesias at shortstop but he’s who they’ve got. Jose Berrios is a very good pitcher for the Twins but after him it is Question Mark and the Mysterians. Byron Buxton could help a lot if he could play center field every day and Max Kepler is a keeper in the outfield as well.

Let’s just say that the World Champions of 2019 will not be coming out of the A.L. Central. Of course that’s an assumption.

Midwest Brouhaha

One team is making strides toward getting back into contention. Another has apparently decided to take a few years off after being a strong contender that didn’t quite finish the job. In the National League Central, it is looking like the other three teams—Milwaukee, Chicago, and St. Louis, will be fighting it out all season long and, as usual, the one that gets the best pitching should win.

The Cincinnati Reds acquired a pitcher who has shown great potential in the past but hit the skids in New York City. Sonny Gray remains a candidate as a staff ace but the rest of the starting rotation for the Reds is iffy. Tanner Roark had some success in Washington and there are young pitchers that scouts are high on but the Reds can only hope to pass Pittsburgh into fourth place with their staff as it is. They still have the venerable Joey Votto at first base, a solid catcher in Tucker Barnhart, an emerging star in third sacker Eugenio Suarez, and a double play combination of Scooter Gennett and Jose Peraza that is productive offensively. If they are patient with new skipper David Bell, good things may start to happen.

As for the Pirates, it’s probably fair to say that this is an organization that has quit trying, at least for a while, to win. The days of playoff and World Series contention were fun but the Buccos look like they will ride it out so long as the turnstiles are clicking and bide their time until the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals slow down. The trade for Chris Archer solidified a pretty good starting rotation with young talent Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove and Jordan Lyles but the lineup has lost a lot. Francisco Cervelli is a good player and a fine person but he and the others might be looking over their shoulders at Cincinnati in the battle for fourth in the Central.

From here it looks like the St. Louis Cardinals are going to have enough this time to win the division. Paul Goldschmidt really adds a lot to the offensive side and plays the best defense at first base that the Cardinals have seen since the days of Keith Hernandez. Pitching worries will be significantly lessened if Adam Wainwright comes all the way back and Miles Mikolas continues his 2018 success. Harrison Bader is a star in the making and Marcell Ozuna should be better in his second St. Louis season. Matt Carpenter makes them wish that the N.L. had the DH but hits very well.

The Milwaukee Brewers acquired two outfield gems before the 2018 season began in Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain and rode that and a very strong bullpen to a division title, edging the Chicago Cubs by a game. That is not a traditional formula for success, however, and it’s hard to see it happening again. There seemed to be a continual tryout going on in the infield last year and, while it seems to have settled down a bit now (Mike Moustakas at second base?) there are no defensive gems there except for shortstop Orlando Arcia, and Craig Counsell doesn’t seem to really trust him. They will score a lot of runs, as usual, but who on that pitching staff, other than Josh Hader, really scares you?

The Cubs still have enough talent to match the ego of manager Joe Maddon but there seems to be a lack of cohesion, possibly due to most of the roster being reduced to “roles”. There is no denying the ability of Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Willson Contreras, however,and Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana will keep them steady as they roll. They seem to be lacking a spark, but it could change when the weather warms. All in all, an interesting summer awaits us in this division.

It Won’t Be the Orioles

The American League East is where the reigning World Champions play, and the Boston Red Sox, despite being slow out of the gate, are apt to repeat. They have so many of the ingredients necessary for winning whereas their main rival, New York, has power hitting and a good bullpen. Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi, David Price, and Eduardo Rodriguez provide more than adequate starting pitching, and that remains a key factor in the game despite all of the efforts to marginalize it. The outfield defense is superb. We all watched Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, and Jackie Bradley Jr. perform well together last year and they hit a little bit too.  Importantly, Alex Cora  has been able to keep the focus on whatever it takes to win. It helps to have J.D. Martinez as designated sitter.

The Yankees won 100 games in 2018 and they could do it again. They have lots of muscle and a P.O.N.Y. League yard. If they were in the Central Division, Cleveland would finish a distant second. Aaron Boone is a smart manager and funny enough to keep the stress level moderate. If Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Gardner, and Aaron Hicks all stay in the lineup for most of the games, they could win the division.

Probably the most interesting team in the A.L. East this season will be the Tampa Bay Rays. They won 90 games last year while not many people were watching. It’s a good outfield with Tommy Pham, Kevin Kiermaier. and  Austin Meadows and Ji-Man Choi looks very solid as a first baseman with  a strong bat. Beyond all of the talent there is the  new fangled strategic thinking from manager Kevin Cash. The Rays employ what has come to be known as “openers”. Those are pitchers that pitch the first inning or two and then hit the showers no matter what. It means that the opposing manager can’t  stack the lineup the way that has always been done according to whether the pitcher is a righty or a lefty. Beyond that I don’t know what it means, but I think that Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, and Tyler Glasnow are considered actual starting pitchers which, these days, means they might go five innings.

Toronto appears to be one of the teams that are packing it in for a while but they did lock up Randal Grichuk.

I left out the San Diego Padres when I was sizing up the National League West but, now that they have that jerk Manny Machado they will probably do as well as the Baltimore Orioles did last year. Just kidding. I’m blaming my error on the grosbeaks but, speaking, or rather writing, about the Orioles, they have come out of the gate looking competitive, but do they really still have Chris Davis at first base? Here’s hoping that they can win 60.

Citizen Aliens

Perhaps if someone referred to you as a black headed grosbeak you might take offense. Would they be implying that your skin resembled a zit faced teenager with a huge schnozz? The ornithologists among us would know, however, that they  would be referring to Pheucticus Melanocephalus, one of the most beautiful birds in the world. We are accustomed to these creatures visiting us every spring and summer and entertaining us while they consume sunflower seeds by the bushel while providing wonderful music  and visual entertainment as well.  Despite not having Green Cards, they arrive from central Mexico every year right around Opening Day, take food without paying for it, make babies out of wedlock, and then head back across the border around the end of August just as your favorite baseball team is falling out of contention. They haven’t arrived yet this season, which accounts for the fact that I’m not really ready for the 2019 season. However, here it is.

The prophets and sages of baseball today have already anointed the Los Angeles Dodgers as the winners in the National League West but the schedule will be played anyway. And, while admitting to a huge supply of prejudicial blood cells, this correspondent is not so sure. For one thing, and check with Bill James if you want, never in history has one season repeated itself exactly the following year. For another, the Colorado Rockies proved themselves willing and able to dethrone the team that has now won the last half dozen divisional titles last year, and they are still very good. For another, Justin Turner missed a third of the season in 2018 and the late bloomer is now 35 years old. Clayton Kershaw made 26 starts last year and let’s see how many he’ll make this year. Yeah, I know. I was all ready to say that they can’t all be hitting so many home runs again and then they smacked eight on Opening Day. Plus they have more money than Donald Trump never left for tips when he should have. Whatever they lack in quality they find in quantity. Still, Chris Taylor. Max Muncy? David Freese?  I don’t know.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are mailing it in. Patrick Corbin moved to D.C. Paul Goldschmidt went to where he will be properly appreciated. They still have Zack Greinke, who they may be tempted to utilize the way the Monrovia Angels use Shohei Ohtani. Jake Lamb every day? Seventy wins.

San Francisco Giants fans are hoping that the infield of Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, and Evan Longoria can all make 140 plus games, and that Buster Posey really did get that hip fixed, and that Madison Bumgarner pitches for them all season for a change.  That’s a lot to hope for, but just as the Giants are being universally written off, I’m not so sure.

It says here that the Rockies have the best pitching—what?–yes, that’s so plus Nolan Arenado, so it might be a good year for the purples.

Now if those grosbeaks would just show up, we could get started. Last year it was April 16. They don’t care about the damned wall.

Promise Broken

My generation, the one referred to so arrogantly by The Who half a century ago, is quite possibly the largest collection of spoiled brats in the history of human life. I’m only including the forever young who were born in the United States, of course, because that’s how we think. From Howdy Doody to Dick Clark to the Beatles the mass media, particularly television, catered to us every step of the way. For one thing, there were so many of us. What a market! For another, many of us had parents who lived through The Depression and The War, and, as a result, were determined that their kids were going to have everything that they had been forced to do without. What a great, great market! So, everywhere we went, we took over. Elementary school, high school, college, prison, you name it. It still goes on at assisted living facilities and graveyards.

While deep in thought as the new year began, your correspondent made a resolution. Why not drop all of the negative bile I’ve been belching forth (and aft) about the wretched changes to what used to be our national pastime–the constant whining and yapping about the designated sitter, the lost art of starting pitching, the crass commercialization, and Joe Buck? Maybe I really should have spent the entire winter speculating about which major league organization was going to turn Bryce Harper into the next Albert Pujols. Maybe I should just go with flow and forget about all of those things that went missing, like sacrifice bunts, going the other way, and affordable tickets. I was probably just getting old and crusty and wanting everything, including baseball, to be just like it was in the days when cars had drivers and the average person didn’t know what everyone else in the country had for lunch.

I mean, I wasn’t being what they call a purist, was I? I just wanted my own baby boomer golden days of the mid sixties and late seventies, didn’t I? At least the early DHs were aging stars of my youth like Henry Aaron, Rico Carty, and Frank Robinson. Didn’t mind that.  Perhaps the old timers of my youth were nostalgic for the days of Smoky Joe Wood, who, in 1912, won 34 and lost 5 for the pennant winning Boston Red Sox while completing 35 of his 36 starts and coming out of the bullpen seven times  for a total of 344 innings pitched. Or maybe some other folks missed the 40s, before the days of Jackie Robinson, when almost every runner had a good chance of scoring from first base on a triple. So , begrudgingly. it became apparent that my song was getting too many plays and it was time to get with it. Kind of a cranial liposuction. Ah yes! That feels better. Let’s talk about launch angles and spin rates. What’s good for General Motors is good for the country, even if the country is China, where they will soon be making Teslas as well.

Then I read about Tom Seaver. He’s been diagnosed with dementia and will no longer make public appearances. Seaver and Nolan Ryan, who briefly were teammates on the New York Mets, were strong legged, long lasting pitchers that, if anyone wished to learn  proper technique and conditioning, were ideal models of the craft.  I’m indebted to writer Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle, who dug up some quotes by Seaver from years ago that warmed my heart.  He told the NewYork Daily News that …”All this babying of pitchers—pitch counts and innings limits—is a bunch of nonsense.”  In case you didn’t know, Seaver pitched 20 seasons, had 231 complete games, won 311 games, and has a lifetime earned run average of 2.86 and 3,640 strikeouts. In another interview years ago he  said, “These people today don’t understand what it means to walk off the mound after holding the other team down for nine innings….the effect it has on players in the other dugout. By coddling a guy, you’re teaching him to fear his innings pitched.   Where are you going to find the next Bob Gibson or Steve Carlton unless a young pitcher is pushed? You won’t.And I guarantee you most of these guys would like tp pitch more and realize their full potential.”

Okay, I fell off the wagon. We do have guys like Max Scherzer and Madison Bumgarner and Justin Verlander. Jacob DeGrom and Cory Kluber also qualify. But it will take years and years to retrain everyone’s minds, so I might as well give up. It’s as likely to happen as Sunday doubleheaders.

Number 20

When you are ten years old and delivering the afternoon newspapers to the households on your route, you are not thinking that you are in the golden age of anything.  As the skin on your hands darkens from the news hot off the press you are reading the headlines. Don’t know what the Suez Canal is about and honestly don’t care much. What is exciting, though, is the news on the inner pages about the three team race for the National League pennant. Upstart teams in Milwaukee and Cincinnati are making the Brooklyn Dodgers, the team that ran away with the pennant last year and finally beat the Yankees in the World Series, fight for every game in order to repeat. It’s not the golden age of anything. It’s always been this way, right? This is what your dad and your older brothers and everyone is talking about, right?

The Braves had finished 13 and a half games out in second place in 1955 and the Reds, sometimes calling themselves the Redlegs during the McCarthy weirdness of the 50s, were buried in fifth, 23 and a half games back. Things got very different the next season for Cincinnati as they added a 31 year old  right handed pitcher named Brooks Lawrence, who became a 19 game winner, and a 20 year old outfielder named Frank Robinson. Robinson, who was born in Beaumont, Texas but grew up in  Oakland, California, made quite a difference for the Reds, who finished two games behind the Dodgers in ’56. The Braves, who would win it all the following season, finished one game out. Robinson became rookie of the year in the National League . He batted .290 and his 38 home runs were the most ever tallied by a first year player. He stole 8 bases and played a stellar left field  in addition to becoming a right handed slugger to join Wally Post  countering the lefty power threats Ted Kluszewski, Gus Bell, and Ed Bailey on the Reds.  That team tied the New York Giants record  team total of 221 set in 1947.

There was a lot more than statistics about Frank Robinson, though. He was a fierce, proud competitor to say the least. His tall, thin but muscular frame crowded the plate. He also led the league in another category that rookie season. He was hit by a pitch 20 times. In his career, which lasted through 1976, when he was playing manager of the Cleveland Indians, Robinson got plunked 198 times. He feared no one, and buzzing him probably hurt pitchers more than it helped them. His first year was Jackie Robinson‘s last, and he took up the cause proudly and gracefully.

He led the National League in intentional walks four consecutive years, from 1961 to ’64. Cincinnati went to the World Series in 1961 and contended for the next couple of seasons under manager Fred Hutchinson, notably finishing just a game behind the Cardinals in ’64 as Hutchinson fell ill with cancer. They had added another Oakland product, Vada Pinson, and had become more of a running team with solid pitching. By the way, if those days had been the golden age of anything, it had been the golden age of the dominance of excellent athletes from the Bay Area like Willie Stargell, Joe Morgan, Curt Flood, and Robinson. Robinson was a high school basketball player at McClymonds High with  a guy named Bill Russell. It’s difficult to imagine any team anywhere  with a pair of  prouder winners or more fierce competitors than Frank Robinson and Bill Russell.

We all know the story of how the Reds decided that Frank was old at 30 and traded him to the Baltimore Orioles, where he became the MVP of the American League in 1966, his triple crown season. Not incidentally, the Orioles became winners for a long time while Cincinnati disappeared until 1972.

It was a genuine thrill to see Frank Robinson hit a home run in his first game as the first black skinned manager in the major leagues even if it was embarrassing to know that it took that long. He was the same kind of manager  as he was a player—good, and tough. No one messed with number 20 without regretting it. He may have been more popular had he been less honest. He has gone and left a lot of popular losers in the dust.

Don’t Just Make a Move–Sit There!

Right here, right now, it looks as though the Boston Red Sox are an absolute cinch to repeat as World Champions in 2019. So let’s all go back to bed and I’ll talk to you in October.

Wait—just kidding. Sort of. There seems to be a correlation between how much reverence and attention are given to the business world and how, at the same time, the business world, at least here in the Disunited States, continues to plummet toward the bottom of the outhouse. So to speak. It takes a lot of famotidine to get through all of the jibber jabber on ESPN or mlb.com etc. about who is going to sign famous roughhouser Manny Machado or famous dullard Bryce Harper before the season starts in, oh, 65 days or so. All we can seem to talk about are free agents and trade rumors. If there exist any up and coming young baseball players  who might crash through and make us forget these guys we are not hearing much about them. Perhaps that is because the headlines that they might create would not qualify for what those in the know refer to as “click bait”.   All of the teams appear to be salivating at the prospect of adding that one star that puts them in contention to play for all the marbles  when the leaves change colors and fall.

Except, of course, for the San Francisco Giants. The Giants are to be commended for finally realizing  that last year and the year before that and the year before that have little effect on the here and now other than by providing memories, both good and bad. They have hired a new brain trust in Farhan Zaidi, who made his bones with Oakland and the Dodgers, and he has wisely refrained from making roster moves just so he can say that he did. They have re-signed pitchers Derek Holland and Will Smith, which didn’t seem to get President Schicklgruber or Nancy Pelosi off the front page. The big moves for the Giants so far have been to expand the size of  the scoreboard so that people with binoculars in Menlo Park can see that Kelby Tomlinson is batting .183 every time he comes up and to change the name of their ballpark again. We can stop calling it the Phone Booth now because AT&T has relinguished the “naming rights” to another Bay Area monument to greed and stupidity, Oracle. This is the huge, wealthy company that has made billions by supplying unsuspecting business owners with practically useless software that costs so much money that no one will admit that it stinks. It is said that many employees of Oracle, which was the last name of the building that the Warriors played home games inside, say that the letters making up the name Oracle stand for One Real Asshole Called Larry Ellison but that cannot be fact checked. Naming rights getting sold seems like a really huge scam but, since it is being played on people like Ellison, who personally also owns the face of greed, who cares?

Maybe Zaidi and the Giants will fool us all and sign Harper or Machado tomorrow. What is truly sad, however, as the winter days of raging storms draw closer to their end, is that more and more attention is drawn to all of these transactions as if they have no affect on the real human beings that get shuffled around to all of the various rosters. No, this is not to say that we should pity these millionaire players or their families. It’s just that the game that is played with bats and gloves and balls seems to be playing second fiddle to the games played by billionaires with cash and stocks and real estate. That game is about as much fun as trying to play with Larry Ellison’s software.

Serendipity

Thanks to an innocuous folk singing group called the Serendipity Singers, back in the seemingly innocuous early 60s, I learned what serendipity means. I used a dictionary, which many who have entered the world only after the Google Age began may be unfamiliar with, he said, almost ending his sentence with a preposition. The dictionary informed me that serendipity (from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip) is the faculty of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for, which the Serendipity Singers’ songs may or may not be. That, of course, brings us to Ralph Kiner and other baseball topics for today.

I mentioned the other day that the first major league ballpark  that I ever visited was Forbes Field, one of the former homes of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I wanted to know more about that place, which was built in four months in 1909. The Pirates played their home games there, with Schenley Park and the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning nearby, from June 30, 1909 until June 28,1970, when it was replaced by Three Rivers Stadium, which had better sight lines but little else to offer. My source, by the way, for this information is an excellent book published in 1992 entitled Lost Ballparks by Lawrence S. Ritter. John Forbes was a General from Britain who killed Indians and others  and captured Fort Duquesne from the French in 1758 and renamed it Fort Pitt. He didn’t know squat about baseball but got a park named after him back before parks started getting named after clever sounding corporations like Smoothy King.

Forbes Field had its charms, and one of them was that it was a great yard for hitting triples but not home runs. Perhaps that is why, to this day,I prefer triples to home runs and throws from deep right field toward third base like Roberto Clemente used to make. However, before the 1947 season began, the Pirates acquired  a right handed hitting outfielder and first baseman from the Detroit Tigers for $75,000. His name was Hank Greenberg and he was a great power hitter. In 1946, Greenberg had hit 44 home runs and driven in 127 runs for Detroit. So why did they sell him? Well, he was going to be 36 years old and 75K was a lot of money in those days but who knows? The Tigers finished second with him, and then they finished second without him. Anyway, Pittsburgh management made a decision. To assist their new slugger, they moved the bullpens out to where the left field fence had been at Forbes Field and put up a new fenced  enclosure that was soon dubbed Greenberg Gardens. That shortened the distance for a homer to left field from 365 to 335 feet. As it turned out, Greenberg, who had hit 50 doubles and 41 homers for the Tigers in 1940 and 58 home runs in 1938, did not set a home run record for Pittsburgh in 1947. Despite missing most of the 1941 and 1945 seasons and all of ’42, ’43, and ’44 due to military service, he proved himself as a slugger with 306 career homers before the ’47 season. So the Pirates had reason to expect more than what he produced in what became  Greenberg’s final pro season. In 119 games, he batted .249 with 25 home runs and 74 RBI.  However, serendipity yielded  Ralph Kiner.

Pittsburgh had finished seventh in 1946, 34 games behind St. Louis. Attendance was 749,962 for an average of 9,615 people, which would be a death blow to a franchise today. They were not good, obviously, but they had some players—Al Lopez, Elbie Fletcher, Billy Cox, Fritz Ostermueller, and a 23 year old outfielder named Kiner. When Greenberg arrived, he took time to show young Kiner how to be selective at bat and get good pitches to hit. Ralph Kiner’s home run output that season increased from 23, his 1946 total, to 51, along with 127 RBI. So even though Greenberg played just the one year, the 75K was no doubt worth it. The Pirates tied the Phillies for last place in ’47 but the attendance soared well over the million mark all the way through 1950. Kiner remained a fixture through 1952, clubbing 40,54,47,42,and 37 homers before being traded to the Chicago Cubs, where he played two seasons before finishing his career in Cleveland and then becoming a beloved broadcaster for the New York Mets. He will always be associated with good attendance combined with terrible winning records in Pittsburgh. The Pirates finally decided to start improving the whole team after hitting bottom in 1952 with a record of 42-112.

The song most remembered by the Serendipity Singers was Don’t Let the Rain Come Down, an apparent appeal to the universe at large to protect the singers because their roof had a hole in it and they might drown. Sort of like praying for a home run slugger because you don’t want to fix the roster, or roof. I looked up that forgotten song on Google.