first win of 2018: check

Always nice to get that first one done. Always feels good. And somewhat a relief.

(That shadow lurking in the background is the memory of the 2016 season.)

 

Yesterday the Twins knocked the Orioles, 6-2. Sano hit his first of the season, a solo shot in the first. Six nothing till the ninth, and the boys were working on a no-hitter with two-outs in the 8th. Gibson tossed six hit-free innings, striking out 6 (while also walking 5.) Pressly worked the 7th and 8th, and gave up the hit. Gabriel Moya gave up a two run homer in the ninth. Moya was acquired from the Diamond Backs for catcher John Ryan Murphy and rocked double A ball last year, earning a late season call up.

Berrios pitches for the Twins today, and I rate our chances with him on the mound as good.

I wonder what happened to John Ryan Murphy? The Twins traded Aaron Hicks for him, after a season where he batted .277 in 155 at bats with the Yankees. He was a second round pick by the Yankees, made steady progress through their minors, hit .270 and  then .246 at AAA. Then .146 for the Twins, followed by .236 and .222 at triple A. Then to Arizona, and I see he’s up in the bigs to start the season. Curious.

 

2018 Forecast

I’ve taken a pensive scan through the 2018 edition of the Twins, and at last come up with my 2018 prediction.

The positives I see:

  • Starting pitching – reinforcements have arrived, and Odorizzi and Lynn are, I think,  upgrades. And perhaps Berrios will continue to improve: (+2)
  • Third base – where maybe young Sano can somehow stay healthy this season: (+2)
  • Center field – where we hope to see continued Buxton improvement (+1.5)
  • DH – Where Logan Morrison brings some consistency and a substantial upgrade from last year’s rotating cast: (+2)

This puts the Twins 7.5 games up from last season. Let’s call it eight. That puts them at 93-69 at year’s end.

On the downside:

  • I’m not convinced yet that the bullpen has been improved.
  • Is Mauer really back?
  • Who’s out there at short?

So there’s a few questions heading into the season, but I counterbalance these with

  • Brian Dozier seems to be headed to free agency: will he up his game?
  • Our pitch-framing catcher is back
  • Can Eddie Rosario take his game even higher?

All together, I see all these questions as a break-even proposition. And that still leaves as at 93-69 at year’s end.

But wait. There’s the Hubris penalty.

  • I rounded up from 7.5, I might just as well have rounded down. Philosophically, it’s always better to assume the worst. (-1)
  • And then there’s just my general historic and well-documented over-confidence about the Twins. (-1)

And so this puts the Twins at 6 games up from last season, and 91 – 71 at season’s end.

Sound reasonable?

Unfortunately, Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projections say today that the Twins will finish at 82 -80 this season, scoring 789 runs, and giving up 784. Last year the Twins scored 815, and gave up 788. I’m not sure how they figure this club is going to score less runs than last year, but I’m sure they’ve put in all the numbers, the pitchers, the health factors, wind direction, economic conditions, seismic activity, global warming, bird migration patterns, oil prices, and bat velocities, and so 789 is probably a pretty good guess. Perhaps they know some things I don’t.

Still, I’ll be surprised if this team doesn’t score more, and give up less. There may be other factors that they’ve overlooked and that I took into account. Time will tell who’s right about this.

The hometown StarTribune stable of baseball mavens are just slightly more optimistic than the Prospectus stat-machine:

  • Pat Reusse: 89-73
  • Jim Souhan: 89-73
  • Chip Scoggins: 87-75
  • La Velle E. Neal III: 86-76
  • Sid Hartman: 85-77
  • Phil Miller: 83-79

Again, they probably are blessed with a wealth of arcane “inside” knowledge, drawn from deep within the inner sanctum of the clubhouse, that mere mortals not able to access. But I still think that they are being overly cautious. Probably because they have professional reputations at stake, and, as baseball writers, well there’s always a lot to criticize and they are happy to do so. And that, my friends, leads to a warped perspective, and a life of unhappiness.

I wonder if they write articles at the end of the season, talking about their forecast and the final outcome? Well, we shall see, gentlemen. We shall see.

 

By the way, here it is, baseball season, game 3, and it’s 26 degrees here, and there’s icy snow on the sidewalks, and there’s more snow predicted in the next couple of days.

I Protest!

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Fall Classics

Last week I finished reading Fall Classics, a nice little collection of contemporaneous writing focused on the great world series’ of the past. Very enjoyable pre-season reading! The book picks up with a 1903 article “Pittsburgh a Winner in the first Clash,” by Tim Murnane. I like the way those old time news articles had “sub-headlines” that brought out the key points:

Pittsburgh a Winner in the first Clash

Boston Beaten by a Score of 7-3

“Cy” Young is Off Edge and Bumped Hard

More than 16,000 Persons See Opening Contest

Boston the Favorite in the Game

Scheduled for Today

Murnane was a reporter for the Boston Globe, and his reporting on the game is a pretty detailed inning by inning recap:

In the third Collins made a fine catch of Wagner’s fly. Bransfield lined one to right that Freeman came in for and then allowed to go through him to the crowd for the three bases. Bransfield scored on Sebring’s single past LaChance.
Boston went out in order.
Beaumont opened the fourth with a grounder that was fumbled by Ferris. Clarke and Leach singled, scoring Beaumont. Wagner flied out to Parent, and Bransfield forced a man at second, Ferris making a clever running assist.

I thought I’d see if I could find an image of the original article online, with no luck on that. But I did learn two things:

  1. Tim Murnane (right) played a bit of ball himself, 1872-1884, with the Middletown Mansfields, the Athletic of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia White Stockings, the Boston Red Caps, the Providence Grays, and then finally the Boston Reds.
  2. While the first World Series was being played, there were a bunch of other ball games being played too! The Philadelphia A’s were playing the Philadelphia Phillies, (Americans 6, Nationals 0,) the Chicago Nationals were playing the Chicago Americans, (Nationals 11, Americans 0,) the Cincinnati Nationals were playing the St. Louis Americans (Nationals 7, Americans 6,) and the local team in Williamsport took on the New York Nationals (a ten inning draw, 5-5.)

The book doesn’t cover every world series of course. The editors, Bill Littlefield and Richard A. Johnson, have picked (in their opinion) the best writing of the first 100 years. Which comes out at roughly about forty chapters, generally one per year. I’ll not quibble with the choices. Plenty of good baseball to go around. A few favorites: the Murnane article was excellent, I thought, a great lead-off for the rest of the book. The 1912 set of short articles by Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, and Tris Speaker — probably ghost written, but nicely done and evocative of the time period. The 1948 article is also by a ball player, again probably ghost written, but it’s ol’ Satch, and I think has a bit of his personality. Roger Angell is here, of course, and he’s always a stand out. The 1991 Twins-Braves series is in the book, written by Dave Kindred, and that brings back some nice (but fading) memories.

Lardner’s piece on the 1919 series was not my favorite. Too bad there wasn’t another piece in here by Lardner. I’d hate to think all his writing was on this level. (Surprising that I haven’t yet picked up his vaunted baseball book, You Know Me, Al. It could be awhile before I go down that road, now.)

I was surprised that there was nothing on the 1908 series, as that is the greatest season of baseball ever played, some aver. But perhaps the series was anti-climax, and the writers had worn themselves out over the last week of the season, had no more to give for the series. That can happen, I guess.

The book is a veritable Hall of Fame for baseball writers: Ring Lardner, Damon Runyon, Jimmy Breslin, Haywood Broun, Red Smith, Dick Young, Murray Kempton, Pete Gammons. (How they left Roger Kahn out, I don’t know.)  With a line up like that, really, how could you go wrong? Forty chapters by an elite squad of top wordsmiths covering some of the greatest sporting events in recorded history?

It’s gotta be good.

And in the waning days of the long dark Minnesota winter, it was perfect.

Yu Lose!

And so the rumor surfaces today that the Yu Darvish race is finally over, and that the Cubs, the lowly woebegone Cubs, are, for once, victorious. .

The MLB Cubs website says 6 years, $126 million, and a new ultra-high-definition 1000-inch TV for his palatial locker.

 

On the bright side, well:

  1. The Twins have saved a whole lot of money.
  2. The Twins are now able to spend heavily on ten or fifteen 36-year-old former major league pitchers who think that maybe they’ve till got one more season to play.
  3. Money that would have been spent on Yu Darvish-based promotions: saved!
  4. He’s in the National League, where he’ll probably do very well, as they have pitchers batting in that league about 10% of the time. And so we won’t have to play against him very much.
  5. We won’t be forced to watch an ancient 36-year-old Yu Darvish laboring through the last years of his fat contract.
  6. Nor will we have to worry all the time about his most valuable arm being healthy.

Seriously, the Chicago Cubs have won the booby prize here. How many pitchers with huge free-agent contracts ever win, say… 18 games in a season? I ask you. Well, let’s look at a few of the top contracts for pitchers.

David Price – $217 million contract with the Boston Red Sox:
went 17-9 in 2016, with a 3.99 ERA
went 6-3 in 2017, with a 3.63 ERA

Clayton Kershaw – $215 million contract with LA Dodgers
2014: 21-3, 1.77 ERA, Cy Young, MVP
2015: 16-7, 2.13
2016: 12-4, 1.69
2017: 18-4, 2.31

 

 

 

Max Scherzer – $210 million contract with the Washinton Nationals
2015: 14-12, 2.79
2016: 20-7, 2.96, Cy Young
2017: 16-6, 2.51, Cy Young

Zack Greinke – $206.5 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks
2017: 13-7, 4.37
2017: 17-7, 3.20

Justin Verlander – $180 million with the Detroit Tigers
2013: 13-12, 3.46
2014: 15-12, 4.54
2015: 5-8, 3.38
2016: 16-9, 3.04
2017: 15-8, 3.36

There. Aren’t we fortunate that we didn’t waste our money on any of these guys?

 

 

 

Attic Find

I see an article in the NY Times this morning, about a pretty nice collection of old baseball cards that a guy found in his uncle’s attic, after his uncle passed away. The highlight? Nineteen unopened packs of Bowman baseball cards from 1948. That would be a pretty nice find. Especially as the article notes that finding one unopened pack is exceedingly rare.

The cards are up for auction now, with the Mile High Card Company, and I think it will probably more than I can afford. Currently the top bid is at $171,455, but there’s plenty of time left to get your bid in. They’re auctioning them off as a complete set, 19 of 24, and the display case is included.

I’ve never been a big fan of the 1948 Bowman set. I wouldn’t throw them away or anything, but there haven’t been many that have caught my eye. Here’s a nice example, though, the 1948 Bowman Stan Musial:

This card’s up for sale on ebay, and it goes for $12,500, being graded in mint condition. Stan was just 28 in 1948, but he looks younger in this picture.

The big question: I wonder if any of these packages will ever be opened?

 

Crazy ’08

It seems like I’ve been reading a lot of baseball books of late. It’s all relative, I suppose. After reading almost no baseball books in 2016, anything would seem like a big increase.

I’ve recently finished Crazy ’08, by Cait Murphy, a recap of the madcap 1908 baseball season, focusing primarily on the National League race between the New York Giants, the Chicago Cubs, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, while not ignoring the American League contest between the Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, and the Cleveland Naps.

This book caught my eye primarily because of my own efforts at covering the Minneapolis Miller’s 1904 season, and I wanted to see how Murphy approached this project. Murphy has the advantage of having an abundance of primary source material, as she is covering the major leagues in the big cities, where there were probably a few newspapers in each city covering the story. Murphy uses her sources well, (and footnotes exhaustively, for those who like that sort of detail,) and we get to enjoy a number of little background stories to the season which add depth and color to the story — such as how particular umpires are viewed in the different cities, and about the huge controversy and final resolution of the in-famous Merkle game of 23 September.

While you might quibble with Murphy’s hyperbole regarding 1908 (“The best season in baseball history is 1908.”) 1908 certainly deserves consideration. The season is full of historic characters and exciting baseball. Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Frank Chance, Cy Young, Nap LaJoie, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh, Eddie Collins, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker, and even Bull Durham were all playing in ’08, and with both pennant races going down to the final days, the baseball was fierce and frequently unbelievable. For example, in the October 2nd game between Cleveland and the White Sox. Cleveland is 1/2 game behind the Tigers, and the White Sox are 1 1/2 back, and they’re both running out of time. Ed Walsh pitches for the White Sox and he is nearly flawless. He strikes out 15, gives up just four hits and a single un-earned run. (Curiously, Murphy says that Walsh strikes out 16 in that game. All the other sources I’ve looked at say 15. Odd that Murphy would make an error like that covering such a big game. Perhaps the pennant-race pressure got to her.) Anyway, Walsh strikes out 15, but he loses anyway. Cleveland wins 1-0, as Addie Joss throws a perfect game for the Naps. Chicago drops 2 1/2 games back with only four games left to play.

As the ol’ perfesser used to say, you could look it up. In the end, the Cubs beat the Tigers in the World Series, four games to one, with both clubs probably exhausted from the pennant race. I like that about old-time baseball. There’s the regular season, everyone going all out to end up on top. And then there’s the World Series. Not 5 rounds of playoffs. The two league champions meet for the ultimate test. I wonder if we would have seen the Tigers and the Cubs in the ’08 series if they had had playoffs? Probably not. How often do the two teams with the best regular season record show up in the World Series? I’d be surprised if that’s ever happened since wild card teams were introduced. Some say that it makes baseball more exciting, the fact that in the playoffs – “Anything can happen!”  I guess I don’t see it that way. I’d like the regular season, the long campaign, to have more importance than it does.

That being said, I really enjoyed this book quite a lot! Murphy made the season and the players and the pennant races come alive. It would be a perfect read in the dark days of December, when baseball is most distant and most needed. And it would be a perfect read tomorrow, too. Nicely done, Cait Murphy!

Roger Kahn, Memories of Summer

I recently finished reading Memories of Summer, by Roger Kahn, and enjoyed it quite a lot. Kahn’s book is a memoir, and roughly the first third of the book tells of growing up in Brooklyn, going to Ebbets field with his father, playing ball and going to school and discovering that he wants to be a writer. His father happens to know the city editor of the New York Herald Tribune, and this gets 19-year-old Roger an interview and a job as a copy boy in 1946. I particularly enjoyed this part of the book, stories of how Roger learned about newspapers and sports writing from some of the greats, such as Red Smith and Heywood Broun. In 1950 he became a copyreader in the sports department ($48/week; do they still have copyreaders?), and soon after that he was out on general sports assignments, covering everything except major league baseball. (They wanted their baseball writer to be older than the players, and I suppose that’s a good general rule of thumb.) But just two years later, at the wise old age of 24, Kahn gets dispatched to Florida to cover the Brooklyn Dodgers spring training. Those were different times, obviously, but I think this speaks to Kahn’s ability as a writer, that they thought he was ready.

His first year covering the Dodgers they win the National League pennant, and (no dilly-dallying in those day, no 8 rounds of playoff games) they play the lordly New York Yankees in the World Series, and Kahn covers this experience closely in the book, and brings home the drama and personalities in the story. And there are quite a few personalities involved: Jackie Robinson, Casey Stengel, Pee Wee Reese, Mickey Mantle, Roy Campanella, Allie Reynolds. The Yankees win it in 7 games, a hard fought, well-played series. After the game, (and about a million years ago,) a reporter asked Mantle about his off season plans.

At the age of twenty, Mickey Mantle had arrived, batting .345 with two important home runs. “Nice Series, young man,” Rud Rennie said. “What are you up to now?”

“Headin’ back to Oklahoma. I got me a job working down in the mines.”

“Work in the mines? The winning share is more than $6,200. You don’t have to do that now.”

“Yes, I do,” Mantle said. “You know my dad died, and I got seven dependents who’re counting on me.” Mantle named three brothers, a sister, his mother, and his wife.

“That’s six,” Rennie said.

“A baby is due in March,” Mantle said. “I don’t know whether I’ll be in the electrical crew or the pump crew or whatever.” The Yankees’ slugging hero of the series smiled pleasantly. “I’m just lucky the mining company offered me a job.”

The second part of the book traces Kahn’s career after he leaves the newspaper, and features some chapters that focus on some individual players, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays in particular. These are thoughtful and personal character studies; Kahn tells us a lot about these legends, in a subtle and natural way.

Many of you baseball fans out there are familiar with Kahn’s other huge best-seller, The Boys of Summer. That seems like it was written a hundred years ago now, (published 1972, so, really, only 45 years ago) and it is well worth re-reading. Kahn brings the same care and skill to this book, and leaves me wanting more. And so I’m planning on tracking down another Kahn book, The Era, 1947-1957: When the Yankees, the Giants, and the Dodgers Ruled the World. 

Nice to note that Roger is still with us, 89 years old, and I hope writing another book.

Good game, Roger!

It is Good to be in First

Well, the Twins won their first game of the season. We need to take a long moment to acknowledge that fact, and to appreciate it. When was the last time they won the opening game of the season? That was just back in 2008, only some 9 years ago. Some of you older readers might remember that game, a 3-2 triumph over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Livan Hernandez got the win for the Twins, and Mauer, Cuddyer, and Lamb got the RBIs. (Mike Lamb. Third base. Hit .233 in 81 games.)

Here’s to being in first, and getting that first win under our belt. Some of you may recall that the first win was a bit difficult to get last year. But this is a new year, and a new ball club. In their 7-1 win, the Twins put together an impressive rally in the seventh, scoring six runs on three consecutive bases-loaded walks, followed by a couple of singles. Way to be patient up there at the plate! Good eye, Good eye! Walks as good as a hit. Attaboy. I’ll bet the joint was rocking as the balls kept piling up, one after another, inexorably, and the runners slowly trotted from base to base to base. Oh, yeah: Baseball is back, my friends. Baseball is BACK.

In honor of the opening of baseball season, the Library of Congress has a post on their blog, “Champions of America: Early Baseball Card.” There’s a nice picture of the Brooklyn Atlantics in the post, which goes on to say that the Atlantics won championships in 1861, ’64, and ’65, and their season extended into the winter, when they put on skates and played on frozen ponds. I suppose that ice-baseball just didn’t catch on, or we’d be seeing it today.

The post also points to the Library’s collection of early baseball cards, which I believe I may have mentioned here previously. They have a fairly nice collection of about 2000 cards dating from 1887 to 1914. The original collector of these cards, Benjamin K. Edwards, gave the collection to poet Carl Sandburg, who donated the collection to the Library in 1954.

Which made me think that a Chicago guy like Sandburg must have written some poems about baseball. But I only find one tonight:

Hits and Runs

 

I REMEMBER the Chillicothe ball players grappling the Rock Island ball players in a sixteen-inning game ended by darkness.
And the shoulders of the Chillicothe players were a red smoke against the sundown and the shoulders of the Rock Island players were a yellow smoke against the sundown.
And the umpire’s voice was hoarse calling balls and strikes and outs and the umpire’s throat fought in the dust for a song.

 

Carl Sandburg, 1918

I haven’t been able to find any information on whether Mr. Sandburg rooted for the Cubs or the White Sox. It seems like a poet would most likely root for the Cubs. Nelson Algren, on the other hand, I could see him being a White Sox fan.

More research is needed.

Finally, I just came across a nice article in the NY Times, about new Twins Executive Vice President and Chief Baseball officer Derek Falvey. The article gives me hope, unlike many of the articles in the NY Times these days.