The Free Agent

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Answer Man

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


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

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


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

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


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

Answer: Yes.

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

Answer: No.

The Greatest

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Impertinent Potpourri

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Third

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

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

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

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


The Best Football Practice Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweden Looks Good In N.L. West

Here we are now, more than halfway through the baseball season, and I need to catch up. I’ve been so entranced by the World Cup going on in President Aqualung’s summer home  that I totally missed LeBron James’ signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. Was that before Brazil beat Mexico?

There are some great races going on, though, aren’t there? ESPN’s favorite teams, the Red Sox and Yankees, figure to be neck and neck all the way to October with an excellent combination of new faces and veterans, new managers and packed ballparks. I wish the Sunday crew could be Dave Flemming and Tim Kurkjian along with Jessica Mendoza, replacing those boring, humorless men she is working with presently. While I’m wishing, I wish Matt Duffy could get traded to a contender that plays in a real ball yard. The Rays somehow have once again come up with a good team, but there have to be people somewhere in Florida that enjoy baseball, and they deserve a better site. I will go out on a limb and predict that Chris Sale, Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and company will prevail with Alex Cora leading the way but I do have an awfully strong bias despite Aaron Boone. It’s become surprising when the Orioles or Blue Jays win any game, and Neymar is skilled but his theatrics are worse than Ronaldo’s.


Cleveland has a comfortable lead despite uninspiring play and it feels as though a team like Russia or Japan could liven things up in that division. Seattle has been the Uruguay of the A.L. West, quietly knocking teams off without a lot of hype. As much fun as it has been to follow the rousing success of Houston, the Mariners have made things pleasantly interesting whereas the Montebello Angels have been the Germany of the division, all expectation and no greatness. Here’s hoping that the Shohei Ohtani experiment succeeds again when he gets back in there because he is truly fun, unlike Disneyland.

The East Coast baseball pundits forgot to tell the other teams how good the New York Mets were or what a Hall of Fame outfielder Michael Conforto is but they are always ahead of the curve. You will find no speculative remarks here about what might happen before THE TRADE DEADLINE but the way things look now the Braves are for real and Philadelphia is almost there. As for the apparently cursed Washington team, they had better stop getting injured and start living up to expectations or they will be forced to change their  nickname to Senators. Miami was expected to be like Egypt but they have been a little more like Iran.

It’s great to see Scooter Gennett leading the league in batting average and it’s also great to see Cincinnati within shouting distance of Chicago. Like Tom Seaver, Matt Harvey was traded to the Reds near the end of his career. I wonder if Joe Maddon wishes he had Jake Arrieta rather than Yu Darvish? I have been off the Brewers bandwagon since Harvey’s Wallbangers but one has to like the way that team is put together. Tough call in that division, but it won’t be the Pirates. They are starting to remind me of the Oakland A’s, bringing up interesting young players who will eventually play somewhere else.


While the Cubs may be equivalent to Spain before it is all over, it’s hard to put a World Cup tag on any National League West team. The title is there for the taking, so maybe Belgium. It’s a four team race for sure with the Padres making life miserable at times for the contenders. I’m leaning toward the Dodgers at this point but Arizona started winning again when Paul Goldschmidt starting hitting again and when A.J. Pollock plays they are better on offense and defense so…but the Giants might be getting Cueto and Samardzija back so…it may come down to penalty kicks.

Brave New World Series

There is a bit of a push going on now to get the baseball world even deeper into the 21st century by eliminating the calling of balls and strikes by human umpires. The idea, which you may recall was the same idea when replay umpires hidden in a cavern beneath the bar on the ground floor of an 88 story skyscraper in New York City were appointed to review certain plays that managers chose to appeal, is to “get it right.” Well, that certainly was a noble idea. Like many noble ideas, it hasn’t really worked, but everybody gets another beer break. And it fits in well with the direction our society as a whole is going.

Look at all the time that had been wasted while the likes of Frank Robinson, Earl Weaver, and Lou Piniella snarled from the dugout or even marched on to the playing field to contest the balls and strikes that mere humans were calling to the detriment of their players. My goodness, isn’t it better now that the invisible gods of video recording can look at all angles, throw the Ching, and pronounce the scientific facts? Well, of course it is. It’s fair (or foul)! And it’s the future, which is always better. We are sold on the fact that robots are better than people, perhaps even for sex. Those pot bellied umpires don’t need the work. In San Francisco, New York, all major and minor cities, the neighborhoods of old are being replaced by towering buildings with impressive views of other towering buildings. Inside some of those tall structures, the rich will bed down with other rich folks and they will have robots repairing their driverless cars, robots shopping for their bland food, and robots setting up their electronic viewing rooms. They can choose to watch Korean television if they like and watch Kim Jong-un, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, tell his victorious people that they no longer need to fear a nuclear strike from the United States. Or they can choose to watch the latest version of MLB, as long as it isn’t on Facebook Watch.

Can a robot throw Bruce Bochy or Don Mattingly out of a game? Sure!  “Mr. Boatchee, please step on the moving gray line and remove  your shoes. You may spit”

No reason to stop with the umps. Players are antagonistic, temperamental, and prone to injury. Our new wave of fans by and large prefer video games anyway. Why shell out millions of dollars to schlubs like Mike Trout, Max Scherzer, or Bryce Harper when a new VGX1157R will work for years with just a few battery charges and still produce 32 degree launch angles at exit velocities of 101 mph ? I can dig it.



Some Pleasant Surprises

It’s the middle of June and the baseball season is rushing by faster than the president’s lawyers can make up stories. It’s a weird biological thing the way a year seems like forever when you’re ten years old and a month  seems like a minute when you’ve got a few decades in the books. Let us pause, then, before Labor Day is suddenly upon us, and take a look at some of the pleasant surprises going on around the major leagues, both with individual players and with teams.

The Milwaukee Brewers placed Scooter Gennett on waivers in the spring of 2017 even though he was a serviceable infielder  who was 27 years old and had batted .279 for them with 35 home runs and 160 runs batted in over four seasons of play after they had drafted him in 2009. Now he is one of the few stars in the Cincinnati Reds dugout, having upped his offensive out put considerably. In a season and a half with the Reds, Gennett has hit .311 with 39 homers and 114 RBI.  The Reds have a hitter friendly home field , but Milwaukee is pretty friendly as well. So I don’t know if the Reds are truly surprised or not, but it certainly has been pleasant so far for them.


Gorkys  Hernandez is 30 years old and seemed to be nearing the end of the line with his baseball career in 2017 as part of the musical chairs outfield routine that the San Francisco Giants were staging during their dismal 98 loss season. This spring, the odds were against Hernandez even making the roster. Andrew McCutchen had come aboard, Hunter Pence had a big contract that  meant that he would probably hang on despite his decline in production, Gregor Blanco was back, and some youngsters from the minors were going to be given every chance to bring the Giants what they needed, which was some power hitting. Hernandez is a pretty good if not great outfielder with good speed but , as in previous trials with Detroit, Miami, Kansas City , Pittsburgh and Miami, the bat was not an asset. He had a good enough second half last year to finish at .255, but with no home runs in 348 plate appearances. Somehow, due in part to injuries to other players, Hernandez has suddenly blossomed as a power threat and established himself as the regular center fielder for the Giants. He is currently batting .285 with seven home runs, which makes him a slugger by San Francisco standards.

The Los Angeles Dodgers did not appear to have room for one time all star Matt Kemp this season but they got him back in a trade with Atlanta that seemed to have more to do with salary dumping  and other contract issues that only an MBA could understand. Kemp is now 33 years old, but he had seemed to be in decline in recent seasons  due mostly to injuries. Kemp was simply brilliant in 2011 when, playing for the Dodgers, he batted .324 with 39 home runs, 115 runs, 40 stolen bases, and 126 RBI. Plus, he possessed a very strong throwing arm, could play any outfield position, and was a fierce competitor. Injuries took their toll after that and in 2014 he had what then appeared to be his last full season in Los Angeles, batting .265 with 25 homers and 89 RBI. They gave up on him ever returning to glory and shipped him to the San Diego Padres. Kemp did pretty well for the Padres but they changed their minds about what direction they were taking, as the general managers say. and in 2016 he was traded to Atlanta. In 56 games there after 100 with LA, he totaled 35 homers and 108 RBI. Last year, he helped the young Braves roster develop and contributed a .276 average with 19 homers in 115 games. So here he is back in southern California kicking ass. As of today he is hitting .338 with 10 homers and 41 driven in after 63 games played. The Dodgers, with all of their troubles, have to be happy.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise has been Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford.          As noted, the Giants had a miserable season in 2017 and it was especially difficult  for Crawford, who endured a sudden and unexpected death in his family. He has always been a brilliant defensive shortstop and , over the years, developed into a solid hitter as well. His numbers were not terrible in 2017 but they fell off somewhat as the Giants fell into disarray. Now he is playing like the MVP of the National League. In April, he floundered with a .189 batting average with 3 runs batted in.In May and June, so far he is ripping it at a .439 pace that has brought his numbers overall to .338 with 8 homers, 30 RBI, and absolutely filthy defensive work. He, and the Giants, are quite happy at the moment.

The nominees for pleasant surprises as teams are Seattle, San Diego, Atlanta, and Detroit. Detroit? Well, the Tigers came out of spring training looking like a AAA team and then Miguel Cabrera got hurt. Ouch! Here they are, though, in second place with a 31-36 record and now the big guy is back. San Diego is in the same boat. We tabbed the Padres as the only sure non contender in the National League West, but they too are 31-36 after a thoroughly miserable start and they are in the fight, at least for now.  As for the Braves, they are tied for first in the N.L. East. That might  be due to all of the injuries suffered by the Washington Nationals early on in the season but, at the same time, the young Braves have been good and are having fun. That’s the idea, right? Just ask the Astros. Also, Astros, what the hell is up with the Mariners? Just when we all decided that they were no longer contenders BOOM! It’s a great game.







Where Has Joe DiMaggio Gone?

My fellow Americans, seldom in the history of this great nation of ours has so much excitement, so much preparation, so much energy been brought forth and, especially, so much media hype been wasted on the damned  major league draft. How must Rick Monday feel today? Wasn’t he the first guy drafted back in 1965, when Volkswagens were cool and we all thought war was temporary?  I mean, it’s crazy enough that the NFL and the NBA televise their drafts with all of the speculation and expert analysis and heart rending interviews, but now baseball too? And as we have seen with The Apprentice, Dancing With the Stars, and countless other time wasters, if you put it out there, people will watch. Here is what no one connected with the “show” will say: most of these players are never going to make it to the big leagues. Also, remember when it was more fun to watch a ballgame than to watch people sign contracts? Okay, I’ll change out of my cranky pants and move on.


Last Saturday, the Chicago Cubs beat the New York Mets, 7-1, in 14 innings. The interesting fact sheepishly told by the AP account was that the Cubs accomplished this victory despite striking out 24 times. I checked the boxscore. Yep. And go to hell, spellcheck, boxscore is a word. Break it up when you write something interesting. There was another 14 inning game that night. The Nationals beat the Braves, 5-3.  In this game, Washington lead off batter Trea Turner struck out five times while going 0-for-7. Before this, Turner had impressed me as a bona fide top of the lineup guy. Wow! It just so happens, however, that I had caught a game on Fox that Tom Verducci was working earlier that same day. Therefore, I now have come to realize that this is, as he said, Today’s Game. Along with defensive shifting, 13 pitchers per roster, and $12 beers,  we all should stop being curmudgeonly and accept that, in Today’s Game,  this is what comes with getting what we really want, which are home runs. Okay, Mr. Verducci, I am with you. Please, though, give us crotchety old folks some slack. It’s just that, when we were growing up, striking out was bad. Whiffing was not cool and led to jeering, not cheering. One of the major steps forward in life for me , after learning to walk, was putting the bat on the ball and making it go somewhere. My baseball playing days were not that long and, by high school, the best I could do was play slow pitch softball, teenagers playing an old man’s game but having fun. Striking out was really not cool there.


I played in the C.Y.O. league on the St. Joseph the Worker team. We had a guy named Danny McCart who was big and slow but could hit the ball a mile. Sort of a Hank Sauer or Gus Zernial type, although he probably fielded better than those two. So he was our big power guy. There was a problem, though. The field where almost all of our games were played had no outfield fence or any fence at all, unless you count the backstop. Consequently, most of Danny’s majestic, long, arcing drives were caught by outfielders for outs. I was envious of his power, but I soon figured out that line drives that make infielders knees buckle were more effective. So this has stayed with me.


Something else has stayed with me during this lust for long balls era. Joe Di Maggio struck out 369 times in 13 seasons while hitting 361 home runs as a right handed batter playing his home games at Yankees Stadium. Ted Williams struck out 709 times in 19 seasons while thumping 521 homers. I guess they set a bad example, but guess what? Even players who were not All Stars or Hall of Fame candidates had similar ratios. Verducci pointed out something that should have been obvious to me by now but wasn’t. He said that the average pitcher in Today’s Game is striking out batters at the same rate that the legendary Sandy Koufax did. So I’m trying to go along with you, Tom, but in my dreams there are starting pitchers hurling 16 inning shutouts with about five strikeouts.