This, That, and The Other Thing

It’s here. It’s that awful, sick feeling in my stomach that used to hit me every late July or early August when I would be folding newspapers for delivery and the sickening words would be right there in front of me with every step: BACK TO SCHOOL SALE. I would react about like Charlie Brown did when a batter hit his pitch right back to the box and undressed him. I believe the word that came immediately to mind was “shit!” Now, of course, I don’t have to go back to school but I do have to watch helplessly for the coming onslaught of football. Just avoid it, you say. Just watch your baseball and soccer and avert your eyes from 70 to 80 per cent of the sports pages. Sure. Easy as avoiding headlines about the latest from President Tweety. Training camp, oh boy. Thousands of college students eagerly going back to work on their brain damage. Raiders to Vegas, perfect. You can’t avoid it. There was a checker at one of the local markets who always wanted to talk about the 49ers and, before I renounced it all a few years ago I would jump right in. Yeah, don’t worry, Joe (Montana) doesn’t stay hurt for long and besides they still have Steve Young and Bill Walsh will think of something. I tried a couple of times to explain to him that I didn’t follow the Niners or even the game anymore but to no avail. “They were up by two touchdowns when I left for work!”  Oh, who’s that? “The Niners!”  Who are they playing? So it didn’t work. He retired and I miss him now, but not that.

Speaking of school, one of the first hard lessons that a class clown learns is that it’s not good manners to make fun of somebody’s name. After all, even if it is funny, a person really has no control over what he or she has been named, and it’s disrespectful. Plus it might get you a broken nose. I doubt that anyone giggled to his face when introduced to Matt Batts. What the hell, he was a good hitter. Still, I can’t help sharing what I think would be a riot of a bullpen crew. The White Sox recently promoted Aaron Bummer for relief help. He needs to join together with the Cardinals’ Seung Hwan Oh and the Oakland A’s guy Ryan Dull. “Who is that warming up in the pen, Mike?” Duane Kuiper might ask. “Oh” says Krukow. “Didn’t he pitch two innings last night?’  “That was Dull..” “All right, I’ll ask a more interesting question—isn’t he the one with a 7.54 earned run average?”  “Bummer.” Of course, the battery that no one dares make light of these days is Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey. And don’t forget, the Dodgers, at least for a brief time a few years ago, really did have Hu on first.

 

Our greatest analytical minds available are trying to explain why we are seeing so many home runs and, simultaneously, so many strikeouts. It makes for dull baseball, some of us think, but theories are always interesting when your favorite team is 31 games out of first place. So let’s do some comparing. Tweety tells all of his wives that they shouldn’t compare, but let’s go for it. Just because,we will compare the 1949 season, the 1999 season, and the current season. 1949 wasn’t exactly the dead ball era. Some guys, like Ralph Kiner and Ted Williams, were hitting lots of home runs. In all, teams hit 945 homers that year. The Brooklyn Dodgers had 152, led by Gil Hodges and Duke Snider with 23 each and Roy Campanella with 22. The New York Giants, led by Bobby Thomson‘s 27, accumulated 147. Those were tops in baseball. The Chicago White Sox, on the other hand, hit 43 as a team, or as many as the Splendid Splinter himself. Pitchers walked more batters than they struck out. The ball was put in play more because, while there were 4.07 walks per game, there were only 3.6 strikeouts per game. The 945 round trippers meant that 0.69 home runs per game occurred. Bases on balls, depending on the circumstances, are not particularly exciting, but I will add that a solo home run in a 12-3 game does not set my heart racing either. Both are more fun than a pitching change, but we’ll stay off that topic today.

Now to party like 1999, when 5.528 home runs were smacked. That was among 30 teams in a 162 game schedule, of course, so the average was 1.14 per game, or almost double the ’49 rate. Walks diminished to 3.68 per game. Strikeouts, however, soared to 6.21 per game, or about the same increase in rate as the homers. Bill James, stay out of this for now.

Now here we are in the 21st century, when ballplayers make enough to buy teams and orthopedic surgeons are all the rage. Right now, as of July 27, 2017, teams are receiving bases on balls at the rate of 3.258 per game, so slightly less than 18 years ago. The home runs are indeed up despite the commissioner’s office relentless attack on the use of performance enhancing drugs. We now get 1.2618 homers per game with a total currently of 3,836. That’s not really that much more than ’99, but what about the K rate? It’s a whopper. So far 25,059 batters have gone down on strikes, an average of 8.243 per game. Okay, now Bill James should explain whether the strikeouts are worth the power. I say probably not.

 

 

Mailing It In

I know that I should be gearing up for the home run derby, but I promised my neighbor that I would whitewash his outhouse. I must admit, I do make a point of watching Giancarlo Stanton bat when the Marlins are on the tube but that is in an actual game. Plus hearing Chris Berman go apoplectic got old years ago.

With about 72 games to go for most major league teams, the magic seems to be missing in 2017. The two Central Divisions have close races going on but the Clevelands and the Cubs aren’t new faces this time. Will the Pirates get hot when Starling Marte returns? Not if they keep pitching the way they have been. It is good to see Andrew McCutchen doing well again, and Felipe Rivero is really good but they can’t seem to get the charcoal going. Kansas City seemed to be resurrecting things but the Dodgers just shut their mouths. Minnesota and Milwaukee remain interesting as they linger around .500 but mostly that’s because everyone else is, too. I would bet that Joe Maddon and Terry Francona  will guide their crews to the top before too long. They do, after all, have the talent, although Chicago’s starting pitchers have not been scary like last year.

Houston and Los Angeles just win, win, win. The Dodgers are more surprising to me  because I never saw Chris Taylor or Cody Bellinger coming. Seattle looked like competition going in but let’s all play for individual stats, it’s over. As for the Rockies and Diamondbacks, well done but, really, done. If Bellinger fades like Joc Pederson did a couple of years ago, Adrian Gonzalez will still be there or they could rent someone. Alex Wood may be a mirage but, again, rent. The Mariners are so disappointing that they are even behind the Whittier Angels.

As for the East, both of those divisions will continue to lead the majors in publicity and ESPN appearances. Everyone says that Washington should worry about their bullpen but I think it may be more practical to work on taking 9-0 leads. And the Bostons have a slim lead but it feels like separation is occurring. As the heat of summer relinquishes its hold on power numbers, the Red Sox offense may make more and more sense. Tampa Bay keeps improving and will be dangerous and it is doubtful that the Yankees will completely collapse, so there remains hope that a real race will continue. Miami, Atlanta, and the Mets could each make noise, but the Nationals , thanks to the rejuvenation of Ryan Zimmerman, have depth.

 

Right now, though, it’s a good time for a break. And the All Star Game is meaningless, as it should be.  Ahhh.

Stealing Signs and Other Felonies

One hundred years ago this July 1,a pitcher named Fred Toney of the Cincinnati Reds pitched a complete game three hitter to beat Pittsburgh 4-1 in the first game of a double header. In the second game of the twin bill, Fred Toney pitched  another complete game three hitter to win, 5-1. Now, I realize that a lot of things have changed since 1917. For instance, Fred Toney was not able to tweet anyone after the victories. Also, Babe Ruth was still pitching then, winning 24 games as a 22 year old southpaw for the Boston Red Sox, and no team in the major leagues scored more than 657 runs for the season, which in 1998 would have taken about a week. Those 657 runs were scored by the World Champion Chicago White Sox, managed by the venerable Pants Rowland and led by slugger Happy Felsch, who hit 6 homers and drove in 102 runs. The playing conditions were very different, according to people who were around at the time. Nevertheless, he allowed only six hits in eighteen innings on one day without, I might add, having his arm fall off.

Toney had a very good career, pitching 2,206 innings in 336 games over a twelve year span, winning 139 games and losing 102 with a lifetime earned run average of 2.69. That 1917 season was probably his peak as he was 24-16 in 42 starts with 31 complete games. Toney was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1888 and was buried there in 1953. He did not have a baseball coach as a youth. His initial training consisted of playing “drop ’em dead” with his friends. Drop ’em dead was a game of throwing fist sized rocks at tin cans mounted on sticks and Fred was apparently skilled at the game, so much so that a furrier from Winchester, Kentucky invited him up there to teach him how to pitch. They did not have a Nintendo version of drop ’em dead in 1917.

 

A couple of major league managers, Andy Green of San Diego and Dave Roberts of LaLa Land,recently got excited about the possibility that base runners on one team were stealing signs and relaying that information to batters. Alex Wood, a Dodgers lefty starter was indiscreet enough to tell an umpire that he was going to “drill” an opposing batter if it didn’t stop. Well. My limited experience playing organized baseball probably affects my judgement here, but I have never understood the outrage. Your runner at second sees the catcher indicate (he thinks) that the location of the pitch should be outside and attempts to convey that information to the hitter. So what? Are you saying that that is cheating? Gosh. Is the hidden ball trick cheating? Is throwing to first to see if the batter was thinking about bunting cheating? Look, just get better at signing, okay? Plus, I’m probably wrong, but I think perhaps that more than a few batters are a little like I was in that 1) they quite possibly don’t see the message; 2) they are not looking anywhere except at the pitcher’s throwing hand and 3)they don’t remember the signs anyway. The anger seems to be real, and it goes back to the earliest days, like the old story that someone was stealing signs for the Giants with binoculars out in center field back in the Polo Grounds days. Whatever. I’m a slow learner sometimes. It took me many years to understand why they call it the hit and run and I am still not completely clear about how to score a fielder’s choice. But come on, people. There are many other issues to get the red ass about.

Like, for instance, the apparent collective insanity about bullpens and “closers”. If the game is on the line in the seventh inning or even earlier, and I am so itchy with hemorrhoids and anxious to show no faith in my starter that I have to amble out to the mound and make a pitching change, I am going to bring in the best pitcher I have available to put out the fire in the game and my butt. I am not “saving” him and hoping that we have a ninth inning lead to protect. That’s just jive, but everybody seems to accept it.

Also, poor to ridiculous attempts at humor by former athletes “back in the studio” on television during and after games. If you can’t be insightful or actually funny, shut up. It’s embarrassing. That means you, Shaquille O’Neal, Pete Rose, and Nick Swisher. This Independence Day, I’ll be thinking about Fred Toney. I’ll be thankful for the wonderful folks at Baseball-Refernce.com for historical information as well.

Exclusive Report! Senate Intelligence Testimony

Having been subpoenaed by the select U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee on Baseball, the author of Baseball Anarchy decided that, since he isn’t on Twitter, it would not do any good to refuse to testify, and so he agreed to answer questions no matter how ill informed and free of clues the questioners might be. Here, then, are some excerpts from the session as transcribed without redaction attributable to  persons having knowledge of the facts who cannot be named because they don’t remember who they are or why they were present.

 

Senator Feinstein: Isn’t it true that, back in April of 2017, you stated before this committee that the Boston Red Sox were without question the strongest team in the American League East and that, furthermore, other experts’ predictions that the Yankees would be strong were, in your words, “…bullcrap”?

BA: Thank you, Senator, and I just want to say that I consider it an honor and a privilege to appear before you today in this musty, airless room with high humidity and a lot of distinguished cockroaches. That’s really not a word I would use, Senator Hairdye. I believe I said “horseshit” but it’s been some time and a few ales ago. At the time, we had every expectation that Rick Porcello would pitch better and the offense would  produce even without Big Papi, as we refer to him in the parking tunnels. I think that no pennant has ever been won or lost  before June 20th. In fact, if you look back only 39 years…

Senator Franken: What about the Twins? You, among others, were laughing at their chances back in March, but if we look at the standings, well, once again, you were misinformed to say  the least.

BA: Well, Al, can I call you Al? Well, again, the Minnesota team lost 103 games a year ago with about the same roster. If we are going to be credible, we can’t fly in the face of results we have certainty about if we are going to predict results we have no certainty about, can we? Paul Molitor, geez, he is going to have some effect. And Joe Mauer, now there is a fellow that we’ve been tracking for a number of years now and there is no question but that, you know, the concussion thing, and Jack Morris doesn’t pitch there anymore, and it’s been a while since Kirby Puckett or Rod Carew, if you know what I mean.

Senator Feinstein: This committee is well aware of your credentials in the field, Mr. Anarchy. Nevertheless, it seems beyond comprehension that you would tell us to expect a tight race in the American League West before the Houston Astros just blew everybody out of the water, if I may get a little military here.

BA: One thing I have learned in all my years of misleading adventurists is that almost nothing can be comprehended in a group that is so dedicated to mendacity and the obfuscation of truth, the misplacement of justice, or the general misreading of the American way. Just like my distinguished inquisitors when they are on the campaign trail, I am sometimes thrown from my horse of knowledge by the irritating facts of life but, yet, we all know it comes down to pitching. And injuries could yet play a part.

Senator Harris: You stated previously that the Giants would not contend this season. Yet, you couched it in terms that seemed to want to make us believe they were not terrible. What happened there?

BA: Hindsight is 20/20, especially when you don’t know that Al Queda might force Madison Bumgarner to get on that bike or that Bruce Bochy would decide to only use Mark Melancon in save situations even though there are never save situations. And look at what Pittsburgh got for him, pretty good, huh? Did you think Ichiro would be hitting .226 now? No, and you can’t tell me that Buck Showalter knowingly put together a pitching staff that can’t get anyone out or that the Rays would still be in the league or any of that stuff. Our intelligence is only as good as our brains. Can we have lunch now?

The remainder of the testimony took place in closed session so we are now free to speculate on what was or wasn’t said.

Questions,Questions

Is Matt Harvey in the Hall of Fame yet? Can anyone catch the Houston Astros? There are only 108 games left. Here’s a safe bet: it won’t be the Azusa Angels. Mike Scioscia was looking so smart and his team was so good just four seasons ago, and it’s not his fault that Mike Trout got hurt, but can we all stop pretending that those head (and hands) first slides are a good idea? Especially into first base, it’s a bad idea. It’s been proven that continuing to run is faster, and the idea of Brandon Belt‘s huge foot meeting the hands you need to bat, throw, and scratch yourself with  is unpleasant.

 

Is Hunter Strickland a brain dead heaver? I realize that many pseudo-sports fans only are interested in anything that culminates in bloodshed and histrionics and I also realize that Bryce Harper has the look of an extra in Deliverance but that was as childish a  display of temper mixed with clueless selfishness as ever I have witnessed . Of course, a peacemaker got injured. Happens every time.

What’s the matter with Andrew McCutchen? My theory was that his results dropped off in conjunction with the loss  of his dreadlocks but since teammate John Jaso isn’t doing so hot with  his dreads it is possible that I’m wrong. That Pirates team needs to start playing defense and loosen up, so maybe Clint Hurdle should grow dreads.

Did you see this coming? At the end of May, Manny Machado was batting .210 and the Baltimore Orioles were falling out of contention. Meanwhile,  the defending champion Chicago Cubs were going 0-for-California  with a very, very quiet offense. And, the Diamondbacks and Rockies had just quietly been passed by the now first place Dodgers with the Giants, apparently still living in the past, struggling to stay ahead of the Padres, a dozen games behind.

Why did Jeb Bush drop out of the bidding to buy the Marlins from the loathsome Jeffrey Loria?  Was it because MLB wouldn’t let the turnstiles be operated by his vote counting buddies?

Do people really still follow basketball in June? It’s bad enough that the men are still playing but to have  the WNBA  just starting its season is a travesty and an insult to the players who truly have a superior game to the male version but are forced to compete against outdoor sports in the summer. They should all quit and go play where they are actually appreciated.

 

 

 

TOPSY TURVY

The 2017 major league baseball season has now passed the one quarter mark, so while it may still be appropriate to say “It’s early!”, it is no longer apt to say that it is new. The most significant thing about the season so far has to be the way that several teams that have been post season regulars in recent years have stumbled out of the gate and looked , well, bad in the first six weeks. And at the same time, Cincinnati, Colorado, Milwaukee and Arizona have surprised people by their winning ways.

 

For instance, Kansas City. The 2015 champions do not look very scary to American League Central opponents at this point. Pitching and defense made the Royals hard to beat as they played in the World Series in 2014 and ’15 but, while Jason Vargas has been a very surprising star so far, the rest of the staff has been sub par while the team struggles to score runs. We all knew that Cleveland had gotten better than Kansas City but the fall to last place has been as much of a shock as the Minnesota Twins’ rise to the top of the standings after their 103 loss 2016 season.

Texas and Toronto both appear to have found their way after terrible starts, but the vulnerability shown early may persist after injuries to key players like Adrian Beltre and Josh Donaldson return to action because Houston and the New York Yankees have been winning a lot and may just continue to win. 2014 seems like a very long time ago to the San Francisco Giants.  Despite winning five of their last seven games, the Giants have a record of  47 wins and 67 losses since the 2016 All Star break and, without Madison Bumgarner , they may  have lost their status as a contender in the N.L. West for quite a while. St. Louis looked bad in April but, as they somehow always manage to do, they have caught fire and are second only to the mighty Milwaukee Brewers in the Central.

There have always been June swoons and late surges so the four and a half months to follow will no doubt contain some reverting to form, but what keeps things interesting is the fact that, as Joaquin Andujar reportedly once said, “You never know, you know?”

However, uncertainty, refreshing though it may be, never completely obliterates solid, reliable, scientifically proven facts. I will present some of those here as a reminder that, just as the tweet commander in chief always has his steady hands on the udder, I mean rudder, of state, so does the resolute baseball fan always  have some things to maintain his or her faith based fanaticism.

1.Whoever or whatever buys the Miami Marlins from the loathsome Jeffrey Loria, even if it includes one of the Bush brothers, the team and baseball in general will be better off. This is a team with a lot of young talent, as was the Montreal Expos before baseball’s version of Donald Trump ruined that team.

2.Some day, perhaps within our lifetimes, the crazed obsession with using half of each team’s roster with pitchers will come to an end. When that happens, the games will speed up. Plus, there will be fewer 17 and 18 inning games that result from the current lack of pinch runners and pinch hitters and defensive replacements in favor of eight guys who can’t face more than four batters.

3.WAR, hunh, good god y’all, what is it good for? Ah, absolutely nothin’ will be recognized. This means in sabremetrics as well as international relations.

4.The denigration of a particular statistic, that is, the winning pitcher in each game, will cease. Learning how to pitch (and field, and bunt) to win was a long tradition in the game before the current fascination with velocity and other side issues came along and it will come back as teams tire of spending gazillions of dollars on contracts with guys who don’t throw very often or very long after age 20. As with #2, economics will eventually prevail. Yes, we should insist that the starter goes at least five innings even though his relief might pick up some wins for only getting one man out. The first pitcher I ever heard of that was limited to 100 pitches was Billy Swift back in 1993 after arm trouble of some sort. Now, they go to spring training  with the goal of building up their arms to 100 pitches. With this system, Nolan Ryan and Robin Roberts would have had average seasons of 3 wins and 11 losses with 4 strikeouts per game. Teen aged pitchers will again learn the merits of sticking to fast balls and resting their arms with a thing called off season. Some surgeons may need to take second jobs.

5.With little in the way of recognition other than highlight videos, outstanding defense will remain the way most solid teams  succeed.  Headlines and hype aside, the Brandon Crawford and Alex Gordon types will usually be on more winning teams than the Chris Carter and Yasmany Tomas types.

6. We will never stop missing Vin Scully.

Smoking II Originally published May 14 2017

Everybody was doing it. My position was like your mother’s. If everybody was crossing the highway blindfolded, would you do that? If everybody was poking themselves in the eye with a sharp stick, would you do that?

Mickey Mantle smoked, I knew, because a big ad in the sports magazine said so. Probably Joe DiMaggio too. I still thought it was stupid. We all wanted to try it because, what the hell, your dad did. Your big brothers too. Maybe even your mom and your big sister. Priests. Nuns, for all I knew. So we tried it but I was only doing it on the dare and, once I showed I could cough like all those guys coming back from the war, I said screw that. It stinks and it hurts. Also there was the time my father discovered my Chesterfields in a drawer. Pretty embarrassing to be that dumb. There wasn’t any real punishment for getting busted. After all, he was the guy who drove me to the family market with the window down in all types of weather so he could spit out all that crap he was coughing up with the boxes of Smith Bros. cough drops on the dash. There was plenty of coughing all around. They didn’t show that too much in the movies where all the cool people were firing up fags left and right. I was asthmatic at an early age and missed a lot of school with respiratory stuff.

Chewing tobacco was the baseball thing; still is, I guess. Nellie Fox with that squirrel mug did not look attractive to me but he was a hell of a player. Many others of course. We had a neighbor who was a truck driver and his thing was to mow his lawn while smoking a stogie with a pinch of snuff going at the same time and breaks for sipping dago red. We all admired Joey. But chew was, and is, way too gross for me. Adults did a lot of stupid things but I wasn’t going to be like that.

When someone got gassed on the base paths or after doing something strenuous, well that was a clue that this young man was a smoker. There were more than a few who were really good at 12 or 13 years old but who began to look suddenly old by 18 or 19. At the same time, if you were growing up to be a man there were certain things expected of you and then, if you did what was expected, well, you could choose your personal rewards and they were your own business and no one else could say shit. I understood that somewhat, but why anyone would choose such unpleasant, smelly things to do was a bit beyond me. I liked running as fast as I could more than just about anything. I had really had enough moments of difficult breathing and saw no reason to add more. That was for dumb asses.