Pure Baseball

Pounded.

There was something of a build-up to yesterday’s Twins – Rays game. A little bit of small-market buzz. Two of the hottest clubs in baseball, facing off. Yankees – Red Sox? Forget ’em! The Twins are playing the Rays! Hang onto your hats, sportsfans, this is going to be good!

Instead, the Twins were mercilessly pounded by the Rays, 14-3. Which brings to mind a couple of famous sayings, one by Catfish Hunter, “The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass every day,” and one by Joe Schultz, famous manager of the Seattle Pilots, which readers of Ball Four will likely recall.

Martin Perez started, and he gave up 6 (runs) in two and two thirds. 6-0. Zack Littell came in, and gave up 8 (runs) in four and a third. Just one of those games, I guess. Even the best team in baseball is going to lose a lot of games during the course of the long season. This was one of those. Goodbye. Game over. Round two tonight.

On a brighter note, I also finished reading my latest baseball book last night. But before I can talk about that, I need to talk about this one, that I read last year, and never got on the blog. Odd, that, because it was really a really good book. But I remember it got buried on the book stack on the desk, and then later it was moved back into the baseball library, and was just plain forgotten. Until now.

I was never much of a Keith Hernandez fan. Probably mostly because he was over there in the senior circuit, and I just didn’t see much of him. Plus, -10 points for being a Cardinal at one point in his career.

But I always new that he was a good ball player. Excellent fielder, excellent hitter. Maybe not a big threat to steal. But big deal. I’d have him on my club.

I noted a reference to Hernandez baseball smarts somewhere. Perhaps it was in the book I read with all the World Series stories. Anyway, it made me curious, and so I picked up a copy of Pure Baseball. And I learned a lot from Mr. Hernandez about the game. Turns out, I wasn’t such an advanced fan after all. There was (is) a lot I don’t know about the game. I suspected that was the case. As my friend Ghost once told me, “It’s a goddamn chess match out there!”

Reading this book is a lot like sitting in your man-cave, in your man-chair, having a few man-beers and watching baseball on your man-TV with Hernandez sitting next to you and with him explaining everything that’s happening. Except that would be pretty annoying, sitting with Mr. Know-it-all, listening to him pontificate on every play. So reading this book is actually better than having him there in person. And, in the book, he is actually sitting in his palatial NY penthouse apartment, watching baseball on his huge projection TV, and analyzing what’s going on. He watches two games, one in each league, and he covers them inning by inning, sometimes pitch by pitch, when it matters. And he’s got a lot of good stories and insights that he shares with you, and he’s annoying hardly at all.

For example, I learned about the intricacies of deciding who covers second base when you think a runner might go. If you’ve got a left-handed batter up and a guy on first, but the batter often takes the ball to left field, would it be smart to have the second baseman move to cover second? It’s a bit risky, Hernandez says – with the first baseman holding the runner and the second baseman moving to cover, it leaves a big hole on the right side of the field.

Hernandez, it turns out, was a student of the game, always watching and learning. Some players struggle with the game, the pitching part or the hitting part, and they need to focus on the inner game, the strategy and smarts, in order to keep up and stay in the show. I guess Hernandez was one of those other guys, though. He didn’t need to worry quite so much about the hitting and fielding, and was just naturally curious and attentive. He was so game-smart that his managers would sometimes let him set the defense when he was out there on the field.

Readers who are not serious baseball fans may possibly be bored (and annoyed) by this book. Maybe you’d rather not see baseball as a kind of chess match. Maybe you hate chess. Maybe you are writing a book that explains baseball as sort of like a game of checkers.

The serious baseball fan, though, the curious and attentive student of the game, is probably going to learn a few things from this book. And will probably end up thinking better of Keith Hernandez for having written it. Even if he did have to play for the Cardinals for awhile. He was really mostly a Met.

Good game, Keith.

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29 April 1904 – Louisville

newsboy-minneapolis-1904-b“MILLERS FALL DOWN WITH STICK”

Read all about it!

The millers lost yesterday to the colonels in Louisville, by a 3-1 margin.

Watty’s colts only managed four hits off the colonel’s Egan, while the elongated Stimmel also tossed a fine game, giving up only six hits himself. Sad to say, poor base running may have played a part in the loss. Watkins can’t be happy about that. Apparently Maloney got caught napping at second base. I assume that billy-maloney-brg-bmeans he got picked off? Ouch! Maloney also got a couple of hits and sparkled out in right field, but I would think that Watkins will overlook those redeeming points and talk to him seriously about the importance of being highly alert while on the base paths.

I’m a bit concerned about the miller’s offence. (As I’m sure we all are.) Here’s the miller rally yesterday, as described by Our Man in the Field:

“The millers’ one score was secure in the fifth, when Oyler lined out a single, Stimmel sacrificed him along, and the shortstop stole third. McNichol bunted, and Dexter fielded the ball home, but Schriver dropped it, making the only miscue of the game.”

That’s probably going to be the nature of the millers’ offence this season: bunts, sacrifices, stolen bases, maybe an error thrown into the mix. I guess, in 1904, that was pretty much the nature of the game. Nowadays we think of the pre-Babe Ruth years as the Dead Ball Era, but back then it was just baseball. Nobody even noticed that the ball was dead. It was just part of the Great American Pastime. It’s a good thing that Watty has assembled a stable of speedsters.

On that note there was an interesting comment by Watty, in yesterday’s paper, I think it was. His theory is that it’s very difficult or impossible, really, to find much good hitting at this level of the game. If a guy shows he can hit, he gets snapped up by the big leagues. And that’s why he’s so focused on speed. Hitting across the league will be weak, and so he believes that the fastest team will create the most runs and thus come out as champions in the end. As long as they are awake out there on the base paths.

Yesterday, more bad weather, but they played anyway and played well. One error for the colonels, none for the boys from Minneapolis. Demontreville was sick, but McNichol played well at 3rd. Oyler was excellent at short. Watty says he will release both Ludwig excerpt-tacoma-times-12-april-1909-wm-ludwigand Roach shortly. Ludwig is apparently not fast enough, while Roach’s work “has been indifferent.” I wonder why he hasn’t released them already. Must be no fun for them. I hope he’s talked to them, and they don’t just read it in the papers. Maybe he’ll yet change his mind about Ludwig, who’s a fan favorite, a game player, and a fine young man, though perhaps not so fast.

Young Munch may twirl for the millers today. Census records seem to indicate that Gustave was born in 1876, which would make him about 28 in 1904. Which makes me wonder how old the rest of these guys are, if he’s “young” Munch?

millers-logo-tilt-glow-c

And in other news of the day:

excerpt-minneapolis-journal-29-april-1904-speed-mark-for-train-b

 

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.)

baseball-and-becket-b-sm

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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23 April 1904: Rebound

I feel a bit remiss, leaving the Millers languishing for so long at 1-1. I seem to recall that I was aiming at covering the year in a year, and for awhile, back in the spring, I was all up to date. Then life intervened, and then it was 26 September when last we heard from them, losing to the Mudhens, the vaunted Munch getting hammered in his Very First Game, when we were counting on him so much. I’m sure you have all been on the edge of your collective seats, wondering which way this would go. The beginning of the long slide down? Or the continuation of the hubris of spring?

04-23 stimmel headline

Archie Stimmel - SABR b

Well, good news, all. The boys rebounded the next day, behind the sterling twirling of The Elongated Stimmel. The final score was 7-1. Archibald gave up only 3 hits and no walks, going the distance. “He had great speed and used every kind of curve known to twirlers.” It was a tight 1-1 game in the fifth, but then Coulter came up with the bases loaded and “…the big fielder landed hard on a lob and sent the horsehide out to the centerfield bleachers. Everybody romped home before the ball was fielded in.” An inside the park home run, and that was pretty much all she wrote, especially the way the tall narrow Stimmel was throwing the bean. Coulter also got a double and a single, McNichol started at third for Demontreville and got three hits, and Leslie, starting at catcher again, also went 3 for 4. (Who is this Leslie guy?) It was a hit parade. But top honors go to Mr. Stimmel for totally stifling the Mudhens, leading the Millers to a 2-1 record.

Umpire Bausewine

Umpire Bausewine ran the game again. There were no incidents. Captain Fox held his tongue. Perhaps Umpire Bausewine has set the tone for his season.

Well, with two full games played, there’s a front page article in the 23 April sports section: “Too Early to Size Up Teams.” Thanks, Captain Obvious.

“Until the team has played the rest of its eastern games, however, it will be impossible to make any accurate predictions in regard to its finish. In fact, the team will not have a fair test until it reaches Minneapolis, and has played a few games on its own ground.”

Nice of them to let us know that it’s too early to know. It says that the eastern writers are all giving credit to the Millers for playing “a scrappy, gingery game.” Well, that’s what we want to see.

The writer then goes on to say that the Millers look weak with the stick, not that any conclusions can be drawn after only two games. But they still look weak with the stick. Watkins says it’s hard to get a good hitting club in the minors as the good hitters are quickly snapped up by the majors. His thinking is that a team that is fast and with strong pitchers, and fair hitting support, has more chance of winning than a team of hitters who are deficient in base running, fielding and team work. Well, we shall see about that, I guess. We shall see.

One thing is for certain: it’s too early to tell anything for certain.

Another thing, though, that is certain, is that Watkins has assembled a very fast club. Will they be fast enough???

In fact, former Miller pitcher Guy Converse is in town, having just been released by Winnipeg, and being picked up by the St. Paul club. “That is the fastest bunch I ever saw,” Converse reports. Manager Egan of the Winnipeg club agrees, saying that the average first division club has two or three fast men, but Watkins has six who are sprinters, and good ball players besides. “Sullivan, Maloney, Coulter, Fox, Oyler, and Demontreville ought to simply burn up the paths this season. I do not see how Watkins can help landing well up in the race.”

6 April 1904: it would be an error an inning — if the game went 14 innings.

From the Wednesday evening edition of the Minneapolis Journal.

Frosty Thomas - Minneapolis Journal - 3 April 1906

The Millers eked out a victory on the Illini again yesterday, topping the youngsters by a 5-3 margin in a “tightly contested” match. Kudos to Frosty Thomas, who pitched the first five innings in fine form, showing “considerable speed,” and allowing only one hit to the youth of Illinois.  Rusty Owens then came in to finish the game; he allowed three runs, but two of them came in on bad throws by Demontreville. This speaks to the importance of accurate throws, as mentioned before. A hard toss is no good if it is off into the cheap seats, Mr. Demontreville. You must do better, young man.

Demontreville, it turns out, has a sore arm! But even with the two errors and the sore arm, our scribe has climbed up on the Demontreville bandwagon:

Nevertheless, his work was good. He covered considerable ground and gives promise of being a very clever third baseman.

A very clever third baseman. So noted.

Lee Demontreville b

Demontreville – a very clever third baseman

Offensively the Millers didn’t show much against the college pitchers. Five hits. Demontreville scored on an error and two sacrifices. Errors let in another run in the fourth and two more in the fifth. I guess everybody’s a bit rusty out there in the field. Chalk up 8 more errors for the Little Perfessers of Illinois, while the Millers committed 6 gaffe’s of their own, including 2 by Lally at first, who had thought that first base would be so easy. Think again, Mr. Lally.

With 14 total errors in the game, I’m not sure that “tightly contested” is accurate. It sounds more like a circus out there, a comedy of errors. Keystone cops. Madcap fun. Can anybody catch the ball? To be fair, Lally did get 6 put outs and 8 assists in the game. Which seems a bit odd. 8 assists? Oyler at short had 3 put outs and no assists, and Lally at first had 8 assists? Curious. Makes me think I may not be reading the box score correctly. But what else could the little “a” stand for? Perhaps the college boys were all lefties, or working on a “bunt it to Lally” game plan, testing the new first baseman?

This weekend Watkin’s Warriors wend their way to Springfield for two games against… well, an un-named opponent. Perhaps there are some sporting Springfeldians who will take the field.

the pawns of summer

We were standing in the coffee line at Dunn Brothers, early this summer, and I was telling Ghost about that article I read, about baseball losing its audience.

“Boring?” he said, “How can people think that?”

“Exactly!” I replied. “It’s not boring at all!”

“No!”

“Far from it!” I said.

“Are you kidding me? It’s like a chess match out there!”

“Yes! A chess match!”

baseball chess b