Ebbets Field Lives!

Nice article in the NY Times today, about a die-hard Brooklyn Dodgers fan, Rod Kennedy, who finds the actual blueprints for Ebbets Field. In 1992, he finds them buried in the bowels of the sub-basement archives of the Brooklyn Department of the City of New York’s Building’s Department. “Like looking for the plans to the pyramids,” according to one city official.

It’s a good story.

In the depths of the Brooklyn Municipal Building’s sub-basement, in a dusty, shadow-filled room, with plans strewn across the floor, and everything covered with filth, apparently, (really? is that how they do that in Brooklyn?) Kennedy finds a rack of plans from 1912. A rack of grime-covered plans. Including the plans for the proposed new grandstand for the Brooklyn baseball club.

The city allows him to take the plans to find a proper  home for them, but — easier said than done. Organizations that he thought might be interested were either not interested or not able to take care of them properly. And so, for the next 20 years, the plans were in a mailing tube under his bed.

I won’t relate the rest of the story; it’s worth a read. But the actual plans are available online! (Though, unfortunately, with NYC.gov/Records watermarks plastered obtrusively all over them.) But take a look anyways!

I suppose, too, that I should also make mention that yesterday was to be opening day in the major leagues. But for unforeseen circumstances, which perhaps could have been foreseen. Not that anyone could do anything about that, really. Anyway. Opening Day! Yay.

 

K

With Spring in the air, all thoughts turn to baseball. What better way to prepare for the coming season than reading K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, by Tyler Kepner? Kepner has covered baseball for the NY Times since 2010, and in this book he explores the background and usage of baseball’s most popular pitches. The book is divided into (can you guess?) 10 chapters, each devoted to a specific pitch. Kepner researches the development of the pitch and the famous practitioners, and talks about where the pitch stands today in the current baseball pitching arsenal. He interviews a lot of ballplayers, and goes back to older written sources, such as Mathewson’s Pitching in a Pinch, Kahn’s The Head Game, and Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times.

As a precursor to the season this was a great read, long on stories and short on spin rate and over-analysis, though there is a sufficient amount of that, too. (How could you write about pitching today without talking about velocity and spin rate and photonic shift effect and all that?) But most of the book is made up of stories, pitchers talking about where they learned the pitch, how they throw it, and how the pitches have been handed down through the history of the league from pitcher to pitcher. That was an aspect of the book I really enjoyed, hearing about the Fraternal Order of Pitchers. The good pitchers are always looking to learn new weapons, and pitchers seem to readily share their knowledge with the young pitchers coming up, sometimes even if they are on different teams. There’s a “We’re all in this together” attitude. It’s pitchers vs. hitters, and it seems like the pitchers rarely win that contest. The object of pitching is to not let the other team score, and yet, every game, there is scoring. Every day, pitchers are beaten. Runs are scored. They are like lambs to the slaughter. And I think because of that, there’s the brotherhood of all pitchers as they battle against all odds for simple survival. Also, pitching is very idiosyncratic. Even though there’s a general way to throw a curve ball, and you can show someone how you do it, how you throw your devastating curve: just like this, put your fingers here, release here… but everyone’s hand and grip varies, along with the angle they throw from, how hard they throw, how and when they release the ball, which fingers they use. Telling someone how to throw the curve is only the first step. Each pitcher has to make the pitch his own, find his own way, find what works for him.

There are a few pitchers in here who were fortunate and found immediate success with a pitch. It just fits for them, their release, grip, everything, from day one. I think that they generally realize how lucky they are. Mostly though it’s a long haul of throwing, fine tuning, trying different things. The trick is to be able to perform time after time, to make the pitch day in and day out, without changing what you do. There was one pitcher, Roy Halladay, who was throwing his pitch well one day, and used a pen to trace his grip on the ball. He carried that ball with him for the rest of his career, and whenever he had struggles he would go back to that ball and get his grip back where it should be.

My favorite pitchers in the book were the guys who didn’t have the amazing arm and the crushing slider or forkball or whatever. The guys who had a bit of this and a little of that, and a lot of moxie. They kept learning, kept thinking, kept evolving throughout their careers. Guys like Jim Bouton (of course) who hurt his arm and lost his fastball and turned to the knuckleball. Or Jamie Moyer, who kept learning new things and pitched till he was 50. Those are the stories that resonated with me, and probably with a lot of people. Not everyone is lucky enough to have the physical gift, and even that may only take you so far. And if you can adapt and evolve, pay attention and learn,you could end up pitching awhile. (And probably this lesson applies to life in general, if you want to take it in that direction.)

All in all, a fun read. I learned a few things. And I’m working on my knuckleball. Because you never know, you know? Maybe, some day… maybe…

Roger Kahn

I was saddened this morning to see the news that Roger Kahn has passed away, in Mamaroneck NY, on Thursday February 6th. He was 92.

Roger was a wonderful writer. After finishing school at New York University, (studying poetry, among other things,) he started out at the New York Herald Tribune in 1948 as a copy boy. He must have been pretty talented, as he was soon writing for the paper, initially in a variety of roles, and then, at the young age of 25, he started covering the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952. Maybe that sort of promotion was more common back then, but I doubt it happened very often. (There are no “copy boys,” anymore. Those days are long gone. Too bad. A lot of great writers started out as copy boys. It was probably a great education for a writer.) Kahn covered the Dodgers for two seasons, and learned the art of sports writing from some of the masters, such as Red Smith and Heywood Broun.

Twenty years later, Kahn wrote about those Dodgers again in the baseball classic The Boys of Summer. (Checking my book list on the blog, it’s astonishing that I haven’t re-read this lately. It’s now officially on the “To Read” list. What the heck kind of a crummy baseball blog is this, anyway?)

The Boys of Summer made Kahn famous and is undoubtedly his most read work, but I picked up another of his titles recently, Memories of Summer, which was also  wonderful. I particularly enjoyed Kahn writing about his up-bringing and how he came to be a baseball writer, and about his experiences covering the Dodgers.

Kahn was a thoughtful and graceful writer. His profiles of ballplayers are intimate and nuanced. This being February, it’s the perfect time of year to pick up one of his books and enjoy the summer game.

I thought Kahn might have won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, but I just checked the list, and I don’t see his name. Unfortunate. He is certainly deserving, and I’m sure he would have enjoyed the honor. Now it’s too late for that, but they should still put him on the list.

“Ebbets Field was a narrow cockpit, built of brick and iron and concrete, alongside a steep cobblestone slope of Bedford Avenue. Two tiers of grandstand pressed the playing area from three sides, and in thousands of seats fans could hear a ball player’s chatter, notice details of a ball player’s gait and, at a time when television had not yet assaulted illusion with the Zoomar lens, you could see, you could actually see, the actual expression on the actual face of an actual major leaguer as he played. You could know what he was like!”

      • Roger Kahn, The Boys of Summer

Good game, Roger.Thanks for all the books.

Finally: the 2019 Recap

Congratulations to the Minnesota Twins on winning the American League Central Division. Congrats in particular to Rocco Baldelli, who wins Manager of the Year award in his rookie season. When was that last done? And when was the last time the Twins had the Manager of the Year? (As if we didn’t know.)

The Twins finish the regular season with an respectable 101-61 record. (And congratulations Sid Hartman on having the closest prediction this year!) How did the Twins do it? How did they wildly out-perform all expectations? How is this remotely possible?? Have we slipped into Bizzaro World somehow?

No, it’s not Bizarro World. This is real life. And here they are:

The Top 10 Reasons why the Twins Totally Rocked in 2019

  1. Obviously, they (The Front Office) got extremely lucky. Or — and this must be fairly considered — just maybe they know what they are doing? The free agent pickups of last off-season all produced, and I would be very tempted to label the Brain Trust as geniuses, were it not for their 2018 off-season acquisitions, which were largely terrible. (LogMor? All those pitchers?) And so, for me, the jury is out, still, on whether the Front Office is made of Brainiacs or whether they had a lucky roll of the dice.
  2. La Bomba. With the totally magnificent Nelson Cruz leading the way, the twins launched more rockets than the North Koreans. It was an impressive display. AND we even managed to out-homer los yanquis malditos, 307-306. Kepler hitting 36 was a pleasant surprise. Garver hitting 31 and Polanco hitting 22 were bigger surprises. I wasn’t expecting 32 from Rosario. And Cron and Schoop popped for 25 and 23. Pretty nice line-up.
  3. Latin America! Shades of Calvin Griffith! The Twins looked off shore for baseball talent, and Latin America answered the call. (Okay, Germany also contributed.) Cruz, Sano, Arraez, Astudillo, Adrianza (TripleA), Gonzalez, Polanco, Schoop. And Max Kepler.
  4. Rocco Baldelli. His calm demeanor steadied the club through the rough spots, and his juggling of the pitching staff was worthy of the Flying Karamazov Brothers. Here’s a surprise: Baldelli was ejected twice this season. It’s kind of hard to imagine. How did I miss those games? I imagine the ejections must have been on some obscure technicalities, too many bats in the bat rack, perhaps, or submitting the lineup card in pencil, or wearing illegal socks. That’s it, Baldelli! You’re Outta Here!

It’s hard for me to judge the value of managers. Probably Molitor (Manager of the Year, 2017) would have done just as well as Baldelli, with a club hitting 300 homers. It’s kind of like how the President gets the credit or the blame for the economy, when they don’t have that much to do with it. Maybe the same with managers. I’m sure it’s a hard job, working with 25 guys who want to play and win and all. Not a job I would want. I’d want to email in the lineup card each day, and then watch the game on my computer. My substitutions would appear flashing brightly on a screen in the dugout.

  1. The Bullpen. Our starting rotation was, to be frank, largely unimpressive, and so a good bullpen was a necessity. The Twins were criticized in the off-season for not bolstering their bullpen, but it turned out pretty okay, as they made do pretty much with in-house arms. In fact, an argument could be made that the Twins had one of the better bullpens in MLB in 2019. Possibly. Depends on what numbers you want to look at. But no matter how you look at it, they were better than expected, and that made a huge difference. Was it coaching? Maturity? Health? Magic? Whatever.
  2. Nelson Cruz. Reminded me a bit of… who? Puckett? Killebrew? Nelson had fun out there and set an example of how to play the game. He helped keep the club on an even keel throughout the season, and he pounded the ball in a businesslike fashion. Probably the most important free agent pick up in the club history. Or, I should probably say, one of the most important, with a nod to… Joe Niekro? Chili Davis? Black Jack Morris?
  3. Pitching coach Wes Johnson gets a tip of the cap. Hard to judge his efforts. Team ERA went down from 4.5 to 4.18. I compared the team pitching stats from 2018 and 2019, and I see slight general improvement. What stood out was 452 walks given up in 2019, compared to 573 in 2018. There were 10 intentional walks in 2019, compared to 34 in 2018. Five balks in 2019, none in 2018. Hmmm. Hmmmm. Well, less guys on base = less guys who can score. Maybe Wes told the guys, throw strikes, and that was all it took.
  4. Jake Odorizzi – There were disappointments in the pitching department, but Jake Odorizzi was not one of them. On the contrary. The 29-year-old slab artist dropped his ERA from 4.49 to 3.51 in 2019, and made the all-star team. He had a few health problems later in the season, as pitchers will, but he was a solid dependable starter, and those are in short supply. Definitely the Twins Pitcher of the Year, in my book.
  5. Mad Max Kepler in right field. Stepped up his game in a major league way, from OPS of .727 in 2018 to .855 in 2019. Thirty-six homers, 90 rbis, and a solid outfielder. Is there more to come?
  6. Mitch Garver claimed the catcher spot with another giant step forward in his game, raising his OPS from .745 to (gulp) .995! Yowza. Seven homers in 2018, 31 in 2019. Mitch Garver had a monster season. They say his pitch-framing improved as well. Which is also very important.

There are, of course, numerous Other Factors that could be mentioned. But how much time does one have to go on and on about last season? Times moves on, and there’s plenty to worry about in 2020. For instance, and maybe you better sit down for this… there are rumors that Steady Eddie Rosario might be trade bait? Eddie Rosario? Well, that’s food for thought. I guess there are a lot of young guys in the minors that can swing the bat. They need a chance. But… Eddie? For what? Pitching?

Let me consider that. I’ll get back to you. But how about those Senators? I mean the Nationals. How about them? Congrats to the DC club. Not actually a division winner, but still, by the grace of God, Champions of all Major League Baseball. Dozier gets a ring! Happy to see that. And Kurt Suzuki too!

Let the Hot Stove League Commence!

Good ol’ Halsey Hall

 

Halsey Hall, for those not in the know, was a newspaper reporter and broadcast journalist in the Twin Cities, and covered the Twins on radio with WCCO and Herb Carneal from 1961 to 1972. He passed away in 1977 at age 79, but the legend lives on, and the local branch for SABR is named the Halsey Hall chapter.

They’ve put a nice little bio of Halsey on line, it’s practically mandatory reading for all true fans of the Minnesota Twins.

Holy cow!

Halsey said it first, and he said it best.

Hall Carneal and Scott

Good game, Halsey