Diamonds are Forever

With baseball season just right around the corner, I’vediamonds-are-forever picked up a copy of Diamonds Are Forever at my local pre-owned book retailer. This is a good-sized book published in 1987 by the Smithsonian Institute, 159 pages full of baseball art and stories about the game we love.

The writing is mostly excerpts from longer works. Writers include John Updike, (“Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,”) Carl Sandburg, Ernest Hemingway, Roger Angell, Thomas Boswell, W.P. Kinsella, William Kennedy, Donald Hall, Steven King, and more. I hope Philip Roth is in there, but I haven’t spotted him yet. (Which reminds me, perhaps it’s time I re-read his The Great American Novel again. It’s been a good long while.)

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I really bought this book for the art. Some of these are familiar, and some I’ve never seen before. I loved this picture, to the left, of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett going toe-to-toe with an umpire. A lot of people don’t know that Beckett managed the White Sox for a few years back in the late 40s. Those were very dramatic years for the White Sox, though they didn’t win a lot of games. They were more focused on illuminating the tragi-comic nature of the human condition, by means of a legendary gamut of absurdist plays. One of the most well-known of these was the play of second-baseman Sonny Godot, who would take the cut-off throw from the outfield, but then keep the ball in his glove, pretending that he didn’t have it, though the whole crowd knew it was there. All the opposing runners would round the bases and score. Even though he did this every time, he continued to get cut-off throws, game after game. This was baseball for the thinking fan, the deeply thinking and ruminative fan, and, thus, the White Sox did not draw so well in those years. Which was just the way Beckett liked it. “The end is in the beginning and yet you go on,” he would say to the baseball reporters. In the end, a lot of the White Sox fans complained that they no longer understood the point of the game, and eventually Mr. Beckett got canned, which is the fate of all of us. Beckett-ball had its brief moment in the sun, and then that was it, back to Paris for Mr. Beckett. He never managed a professional club again, and, in his later years, denied that he had ever managed at all.

Anyway, back to the book. What’s not to like? Classic baseball prose. Any kind of baseball art you can think of. And it’s springtime. What could be better? Play ball, already.

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well, well, well…

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This would be a terrible baseball blog indeed, if some small mention was not made of the Chicago Cubs wonderful championship season. I don’t think I need go into details; the media juggernaut has certainly covered the story from every possible viewpoint. Let’s just say congratulations to a fun team. Congratulations also to the Cleveland club, who also excelled this year, and might very easily have been the champions. It was a magnificent World Series, very nearly approaching the ’91 classic.

The illustration above is from the Chicago Tribune, who has posted the front page story from the last time the Cubs won the series. I love those old newspapers! October 15, 1908. A totally different world back then, but still, baseball.

And here’s another nice item:

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I noticed that the Final Out Baseball from the 1908 World Series has gone up for auction. Current bid: $28,000 (plus the buyer’s premium, of course.) There’s still time to get your bid in!

Other than the world series, and the Cubs, well, there were the Twins. One of the most disappointing seasons ever. A good baseball blogger would perhaps have covered the disaster in detail, but I just just just couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was purely awful and, really, the less said about it, the better for everyone.

Just Awful.

But: we turn the page. Welcome to the 2017 Hot Stove League!

country store d fr

…in the midst of despair, a fleeting moment of cheer, or at least wonder…

The Twins incomprehensible excursion into the doldrums continues today, with yet another loss, 3-1, to the Pale Hose of Chicago. What can you say? Seven hits – one more that the Sox. One double. (The Southsiders got 4 doubles in their 6 hits.) A good pitching effort wasted. Duffy falls to 0-2, despite a 2.60 ERA. Woe, woe, woe is us.

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In the midst of this seemingly unending death march of a season, we note a small ray of sunshine falling upon the wings of the circling buzzards.

For Lo, young Tyler Duffy has struck out 4 men in an inning.

Tyler Duffy - 2015 - 4ksAll right, all right, it’s not that amazing. It’s been done before. In fact it’s been done 33 times in the American league, and 44 times in the senior circuit. In fact it’s been done recently by one of our own, Francisco Liriano, 5 June 2012. But still.

Duffy opened the seventh by striking out Brett Larie, and then struck out Avisail Garcia. But wait! The ball skips away, bouncing off the plate and away from our catcher (Centeno?) and when the dust settles Garcia resides at first. Well, then, Navarro doubles, and Garcia scores, making it 3-1. Duffy comes back to strike out Austin “Action” Jackson, for his third strike out of the inning. He then intentionally walks Adam Eaton, and then strikes out Jimmy Rollins (#4) to end the inning. One inning, four strike outs. All told, Duffy struck out 9 in 7 innings of work. In a losing effort. But still.

In case you are wondering, no one has ever struck out 5 in an inning. It seems to me like that should have been done, back in the early days of the game. But no. Scripture says, no.

Other Twins who have accomplished the four K feat: Well, Walter Johnson (we get to claim him,) Liriano, as mentioned, Scott Baker, and Phil Hughes (when with the Yankees.)

Chuck Finley (with the Angels and then with the Clevelanders) did this 3 times. That’s kind of amazing.

Anyway. Another loss. But perhaps four strikeouts in an inning… even though it was in a loss… perhaps that’s a sign that fickle fortune… perhaps…

8-21, -11.5, and the madness of crowds

Well, this probably tells us a lot about me. I am the guy that goes down with the sinking ship. Or, looking at this another way, there is generally no room on the bandwagon when I am finally ready to climb aboard.

Stubborn? Overly-cautious? Dim-witted? Faith-based? Optimistic?

(Faith-based baseball?)

Well, call it what you will, 8-21 is still 8-21, and ain’t nobody is happy about that.

So: what’s to be done? Or, (from my perspective) should something be done?

I went for a nice bike ride yesterday, my second of the summer. It was a surprisingly good ride, given that I am old, out of shape, it was 90 stinking degrees yesterday, and breezy. And I didn’t take any water with me. So, oddly enough, it was a very good ride anyway. First of all, I had a head wind when I started out, heading west, and so I set reasonable expectations for myself. Ninety degrees, no water, headwind: relax and do what you can do. I set an accomplishable goal for the ride, and then kicked it up a bit as the ride progressed; I was going to go 4.5 miles out and then turn around, but ended up going 5.6 miles out before heading home. I stopped at a favorite bakery on the way home for a icy glass of water and a hot cup of coffee, took a break in the shade, and then headed home with a great tail wind, which punched my speed up very nicely.

While at the bakery I happened to pick up the sports page. It is bad enough to be 8-20; do not make it worse by reading the sports page. There was an interview with Twins owner Jim Pohlad, who expressed confidence in Molitor and Terry Ryan, to the obvious amazement of the writer. It was like: Seriously. Dude. You aren’t going to fire them? Seriously?

Kudos to Mr. Pohlad for not panicking.

It caused me to reflect on the purpose of the newspaper, which is to sell newspapers. Probably you don’t sell a lot of newspapers if you are telling the crowd things they don’t want to hear. Perhaps these writers really think that there should be a house-cleaning at the Twins HQ, but perhaps they are writers paid to write and entertain and sell newspapers. I don’t know. It’s probably some of both.

It also caused me to reflect a bit upon the madness of crowds. When things are going wrong, the crowd will want action. Something must be done! What are newspapers for, if not to stir the crowd to action? Do SOMETHING!

But it is certainly easy to criticize and carp. (As I am doing now.) This one writer said something to the effect of how foolish it was to have Sano in right field, and they had an accompanying picture of a 30% collision out in right, Sano and Nunez. Well, it made me curious about how Sano is doing out there, and so, what do you do? You look at the statistics. His range factor (this morning) is 2.06, which is 10th out of 26. He’s got 48 total chances out there, which is 17th, but he’s only played 23 games out there, which is 22nd on the list. He’s got 1 error, which ties him for 4th on the list, with 17 other guys with 1 error. (A couple of guys have 2 errors. One guy has three.) No assists.

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Okay, you can’t tell everything from statistics, but I don’t see any red flags here. The guy is a third baseman, I guess, but he’s doing a decent job in right field. While right field is certainly difficult, this is not rocket-science. Catch the ball. Throw the ball to the right place. CALL FOR IT. I think Sano can handle that. He may not be the best right fielder in baseball. But we don’t happen to have that guy sitting on our bench, either.

Ahh, well. I’m going on way too long here. Baseball is a funny game. To be fair, most of the local scribes didn’t pick these Twins to win much, pegging them at second, third, and fourth. Perhaps they were right in their estimations. But I think that you gotta have some patience. Teams go through rough spots. You have to have some faith in your estimations about the kind of team this is. Don’t go running off half-cocked. Settle down. We’ve had some injuries, we’ve had some bad breaks, we haven’t played well. We haven’t hit, we haven’t pitched. I’d give these guys a chance to get this sorted out.

Lesson learned today: set reasonable expectations, whether you are going for a bike ride or reading the sports page.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to start bailing out a bit here. We seem to be listing a bit.

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