oyasumi

pretty self-explanatory, I guess.

extra innings
a runner’s shadow
down the third base line

                                     – John Stevenson
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A Minnesota Twins Christmas Carol?

stove - loc eI have been neglectful about the Twins doings in the HSL. Distracted by Roger Angell and also there’s the holiday season.

The Twins have been active in addressing needs, in pitching and in pitching and also in more pitching and catching. Contrary to my negative expectations, and against all historical precedent, they have opened up their strong box and started spending a bit of their gold. It’s almost as if there has been a little re-enactment of the Christmas Carol, with Uncle Carl coming back to advise the kids on generosity and the Christmas Spirit.

I can see it now…

pohlad as Marley

“But you were always a good man of business, sir,” faultered the eldest son, who now began to apply this to himself.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Baseball was my business. The Minnesota Twins were my business; the American League Pennant, the World Series, a baseball dynasty, were , all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Well, maybe not.

Still the Twins have, undeniably, been spending money, and acquiring needed players. The pitchers, Nolasco and Hughes, bringing back Pelfry, the return of the prodigal Kubel (which has stolen the spotlight from the return of Bartlett), And now the signing of catcher Kurt Suzuki, and the dealing of Mr. Doumit to the Braves for pitching prospect Sean Gilmartin. Compared with the old days, these Twins are wheeling and dealing. I am hanging onto my hat. What next??

We all realize of course that Hughes and Pelfry are iffy, and Kubel is iffy, (as is Bartlett, iffy) and Gilmartin, also iffy. I’m not sure what to think of Mr. Suzuki. He seems a bit like more of a known quantity. He’s got a .253 lifetime average, but only batted .232 last year, with 5 HR and 32 rbi. Defensively he only caught 8 of 65 attempted base stealers, 12%, and lifetime he’s at 26%., compared to Mauer’s 33% (and Doumit’s 24% and Pinto’s 45% last year, (6sb, 5cs)). Hopefully he’ll be closer to 26% than 12% next year (and certainly the pitching staff has a part in these stats.) Suzuki’s 30 years old, same as Mauer, and is probably slated to share catching duties with young Pinto at the plate, with the Twins hoping that Pinto will continue to hit big league pitching. Probably not at the .342 level of last season, but he did hit .307 in 119 games at AA ball, and .314 in 19 games at AAA. So we can hope.

We are Twins fans. We can hope.

In this regard, I was sad to see Liam Hendricks get claimed off waivers, though, by the Cubs. Even though he was 2-13 with the Twins in his career, with a 6+ ERA. I had hopes. This also makes me think about similarities between the Twins and the Cubs; something about the Cubs signing a pitcher off waivers with a 2-13 record and a 6+ ERA, something there sounds like… I don’t know. Very Minnesotan, I guess. The Cubs also can hope. Go Cubs!

Just noticed that Hendriks looks a bit like Kubel. Probably just the beard.
Or perhaps too many Tom & Jerry’s tonight.

Jason Kubel, Twins Head shot smLiam Hendriks, head shot

Late Innings

Well, I’ve finished Angell’s Late Innings, finally, and each chapter seemed better than the last. Here are a few thoughts I jotted down while reading.Late Innings by Roger Angell

1. Roger can really write. He’s got an eye for the small detail that makes the picture come alive and makes it real. Did you know that he was, for a long time, the New Yorker’s fiction editor? Or that he was the son of the New Yorker’s first fiction editor? Or that he was the step-son of E.B. White? Not that any of that means anything. But it’s probably not a coincidence either. In any case, the guy knows how to write, and even if you have minimal interest in baseball, the stories that he tells are a pleasure to read.

I like the comparisons (sometimes using like or as) that he draws, such as this example:

During his team’s spring games, Billy Martin always sits on a folding chair set up on the grass beyond the Oakland dugout, with his coaching staff – Clete Boyer, Art Fowler, George Mitterwald, Jackie Moore, Lee Walls, Camilo Pascual, Harmon Killebrew, and Eddie Mathews — ranged along side. The tableau suggests Napoleon on a knoll at Austerlitz or Jena, with Ney and Bernadotte and the other marshalls in close attendance. Mathews and Killebrew always seemed to sit together — one thousand and eighty-five lifetime homers leaning back in two little chairs, catching the sun.

2. Roger is thoughtful about things. Would that I were so thoughtful about life, though I suspect that being thoughtful about life is not necessarily the road to happiness.

In one chapter he thinks about hitting, and talks in depth to a wide variety of hitters about how they approach it. He spends another chapter following the career of a pitcher playing semi-pro ball, and looks at the motivations and arrangements made for the love of the game. In one of the later chapters of the book he writes about his experience going to see a ball game with Smokey Joe Wood, and naturally he asks him a few questions, to which Wood responds with limited enthusiasm.

        “People come by and see me all the time,” he had said,  “People I don’t even know, from as far away as Colorado. Why, I had a fellow come in all the way from Canada the other day, who just wanted to talk about the old days. They all  want that, somehow. It’s gone on too long.”

It had gone on for him, I realized, for as long as most lifetimes. He had played ball for fourteen years, all told, and people had been asking him to talk about it for nearly sixty years. For him, the last juice and sweetness must have been squeezed out of those ancient games years ago, but he was still expected to respond to our amateur expertise, our insatiable vicariousness. Old men are patronized in much the same fashion as athletes; because we take pride in them, we expect their intimacy in return. I had intruded after all.

Roger Angell 23. The time period covered in the book was the dawn of free agency. No one knew how that would turn out, and many — even Mr. Angell, to some degree — had serious concerns that it might mean the End of The Game. Well, it wasn’t, but I remember this time period, and I remember how amazing the players’ salaries suddenly were to everyone. Roger did not side with either the owners nor the players – though he did tilt towards the players a bit; he does not seem to have a high opinion of the baseball ownership of that time, who he portrays as not-so-bright, paternalistic, greedy, and ill-informed. He also felt that the players were being paid too much money, but he saw too that if it wasn’t them, it would be the owners getting the money. As the owners would never “open the books” to show their business data, why would anyone believe that they were barely making ends meet? Not to mention the capital gains, the steady appreciation of the value of the teams, as they were bought and sold over the years.

Now, of course, the dollar amounts from the 1980s seem like chump change. (Well, to today’s major-leaguers, anyway.) But back then, a million dollars was real money. It was a great day for organized labor. Here’s to the arbitrator that made it possible.

4. There were a lot of names in these pages that were so familiar at one time, but that I hadn’t heard in a long long time. It was like stepping into a time machine. Tom Seaver. Pete Rose. Billy Martin. Reggie Jackson. Yaz. Thurmon Munson. There’s a long profile piece on Bob Gibson that was a very good portrait of a guy who was pretty quiet during his amazing career and who never really talked much to the press. Gibson was intimidating, both on and off the mound, and when Angell spends a few days with him, talking about his career and about Bob Gibson, we learn a lot.

5. The book is so evocative of the seasons of the year. There are lengthy sections set in spring training, when the air is fresh and everything is new again. A time of rejuvenation, for Angell, after the long winters of dismal news coverage on baseball labor strife. And then there’s coverage set in the heart of the summer, the hot nights, good games and bad, the season slowly pivoting, failure for most, success for those fortunate few. And then the stories about the World Series, so often played in the cold and the dark now, the days shortening, the season distilled into a few memorable games, innings, and pitches. Again, time machine. Angell’s language and careful observation takes you into a particular time of year, though it may be December in Minnesota.

6. He is so knowledgeable about baseball history and about how that history figures in the enjoyment of the game. In covering some game of the Kansas City Royals, he says of their park,

Like any Holiday Inn, the stadium appears forever new (it was opened in 1973),  and thus without history — the wrong overtones for a sport so devoutly attached to its ancestors and its family records.

Baseball lends itself to a certain amount of atavistic enjoyment. It brings to mind eternal verities and tropes, springtime, growth and fresh new grass, autumn, the harvest, the gathering of the fruits of a summer of labor. There is a religious sort of comfort in baseball.

7. Years. How long has Roger Angell been writing about baseball? How long has he been a fan? Well, he’s been writing about the game since 1962. Fifty-one years. That’s a goodly stretch of time. He brings that to his writing, the sense of history and evolution of the game, that knowledge of the players, present compared to the past.roger Angell 4

8. Well, he’s 93 now. I think he’s been a fan since day one.

9. Angell is a Boston fan, and there’s a lot in there about Boston fans, and Philadelphia fans, and Angell perceives a common approach amongst many of their fans to the game. They stand off a bit, and protect themselves. Don’t get wrapped up, and then don’t get hurt. Don’t let them hurt you. Keep them at arm’s length. Don’t believe.

10. Bill James makes an appearance in the book. Angell talks about the Royals with some true blue Royals fans, and Bill James is one of them. Angell tips his hat to James’s statistical work on baseball, but the conversation is not about that at all. It’s fans, talking about baseball, and the trials of baseball, Royal’s style.

To wrap up – I feel that there’s a lot more I could say — I’ll just point out the most recent Roger Angell, in the New Yorker on October 31, 2013 – “Papi and After” — a few thoughts from Angell on the Red Sox most recent championship…

Winning almost all the time has a lot to be said for it, but not quite winning, barely missing again and again, keeps you whining and breathing, and might even be more fun in the end.

Again, thanks Roger Angell, for all the stories and all the baseball over the years.
Good Game.

BOOKS ROGER ANGELL

Happy Birthday Leo Cardenas!

Leo turns 75 today!

Leo Cardenas - Super Value b

I always liked Leo Cardenas. He was a great fielding shortstop, and he always seemed to come up with the big hit.

Leo broke in with the Reds in 1960, and only played three years for the Twins, 1969-71, but those were pretty good years, with Oliva, Killebrew, Tovar, Carew, and Cardenas anchored the defense as the everyday shortstop. Pretty good acquisition for the Twins; they traded pitcher Jim Merritt for him, and Merritt had some good seasons for the Reds, going 17-9 in 1969, and 20-12 in 1971. (And 1-11 in 1972. What happened there? He was never the same after that. Probably arm trouble. Yup. Elbow injury.)

Leo had a .257 lifetime batting average, and 118 career home runs. From the Twins he went to California, then Cleveland, then a couple years with Texas. He lives in Cincy now, and I guess thinks of himself as a Red. To me, he’s a Twin.

Happy Birthday Leo! Good game!

Leo Cardenas - beacon award

Late Innings, by Roger Angell

Well, I am almost done with Roger Angell’s Late Innings, a collection of articles he published originally in the New Yorker, covering

…the spring of 1977 to the late summer of 1981, and also about the substrata of the sport — money, celebrity, power, traditions, and social change — that lie beneath its green and ordered fields.

In the front of my book — a well-worn hardcover, sans dust jacket, with coffee-stains across its blue front-boards — it lists Angell’s other works, up to 1982. Two of them I’ve read, The Summer Game, and Five Seasons, and another I would like to read and will have to look for – A Day in the Life of Roger Angell. Since 1982, he’s added a few more to the list: Season Ticket – A Baseball Companion, Once More Around the Park – A Baseball Reader, A Pitcher’s Story – Innings with David Cone, and Let Me Finish. I think I’ve read Season Ticket, but the others, no, I’ll have to look for them.

I sat down in the coffee shop this afternoon – a grey Minneapolis December day, the ground covered with dirty snow, and jotted down a few notes about the book, starting with the thought – If you are the sort of person who likes to spend your time thinking and reading about baseball, then you’ve probably read Roger Angell. But if not, you have got to read Roger Angell. No one writes about baseball better than Roger Angell.

Roger Angell

And, coincidentally, in looking for a picture of Angell to include with this post, I discover that just this very week he was the winner of the annual J.G. Taylor Spink award for “meritorious contributions to baseball writing” – and the first writer to win this award without being a member of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America. For more on this, there’s a nice article by Jim Caple on ESPN; but I’ll just stop here today and say, Yay! Roger Angell! Richly deserved. Good game, Roger. And thanks!

if you build it…

lowertown pk a fr - mtpmcg0413 sm - 4444

They’ve released “updated design renderings” for the St. Paul Lowertown Ball Park, and naturally, the critics speak loudest and get the most attention.

Lowertown ballpark Broadway-Entrance-FINAL

I think the biggest complaint, and one I happen to agree with, is that the more modern design doesn’t really fit in with the old buildings of the old warehousey neighborhood. I agree, and I would have preferred to see something more traditional in appearance. (The scene above roughly corresponds in location to the photo at the top of the page.)

On the other hand, it’ll probably be okay. It’s certainly a big improvement from what’s there, and the open space and sky will be nice for the farmer’s market next door, I think. And again, it’s a huge improvement over where they play currently.

Lowertown ballpark Concourse-View-FINAL

On the third hand, I wish it wasn’t going to be in Lowertown, as I’ve always liked that neighborhood for what it was, and this reeks of gentrification and “progress.” I think they should have, instead, tore down the old Daytons/Marshall Fields/Macy’s in downtown St. Paul, and squeezed the ball park in there.

The-site-St.-Paul-arial-view 2

But nobody asked me.