the race

I was going to call this “breathing space,” with the Twins 5 and a half ahead of the Spiders today, but thought better of it. Breathing space can disappear in the space of four or five games, and there are plenty of games yet to play. Every game is playoff baseball now, everything counts, and everybody feels post-season drawing closer, and closer, and closer. (Cue: music from Jaws.)

Looking over to the National League, I see the Braves, Cards, and Dodgers all on top in their respective divisions. Coincidentally, the three teams that the Twins have already played in the World Series. So: rematch time?

Credit goes to the NY Times for this lovely representation of the Yanquis.

But first, of course, the Twins will need to overcome los Yanquis de Nuevo York.

Which is a tall task for anybody, but particularly for the Twins, who seem to be allergic to all New York teams, past, present, and probably future. Perhaps if we refer to them as the Phillies or the [insert Florida’s NL team name here] or the Diamondbacks… perhaps then we will do better.

With pennant fever raging, the Twins have gotten a few bits of bad news:

First, they lose one of their key starters, Michael Pineda, for the rest of the season, due to PED rule violation. This hurts, as Berrios and Gibson have been struggling of late, while Pinada has been getting stronger. Apparently Pinada took some over-the-counter medication, given to him by a friend, to help control weight issues? I guess that could happen. This must be awful for Pineda. After all, post-season is THE BIG SHOW, everyone plays all year trying to get into post season, and here’s his shot and suddenly, no, he’s out. How many chances do you get to go to the playoffs?

Which makes me wonder what players have gone a lot, and I suppose there are players out there who rarely get the chance. Who are the active players with fewest post-season games in their career? Are there any players out there who have played a long time and never gone to the playoffs? Which baseball team has the longest post-season drought?

Mariners fans; how do you stand it? It’s been 17 seasons since the Mariners have seen playoff ball. Seventeen long seasons. There are young Seattle baseball fans who have no memory of Seattle in the playoffs, and may not even know that playoffs exist. Perhaps they see the Mariners as the baseball equivalent of the Washington Generals? I think that’s the team that goes around the world losing to the Harlem Globetrotters. Anyway. Seventeen seasons. And the Seattle record so far, in 2019: 58-85. And yesterday they lost to the Astronats by the score of, uh… looks like…  21 – 1.

It may be some time before those Mariners get back to the big show.

Ernie Banks, sad to say, holds the record for most games played without seeing the post season: 2528 games, 19 seasons. Ouch. I have not yet found a source that tracks active players in this regard. I might examine the Mariner roster, for starters.

Anyway, besides Pineda, the Twins also may have to do without Byron Buxton, who’s injured his shoulder. There’s some talk of surgery. Byron has been a tough luck player.

And then, finally, the Twins also may have to do without Max Kepler, who also seems to be injured. That would be another tough loss, if he can’t come back. He’s having a heckuva year.

Oh, well. I suppose the Mariners would love to have these problems. There’s lot’s of baseball left to play, let’s just try to win the next one, tomorrow, in Washington. (Almost like a home game!) And let’s try to stay healthy too.

Pennant Fever!

Pennant races are a lot of fun.

Gone are the days when the Twins were winning every game and building a 12-game lead in the Division. Looking at the sports pages this morning, what do we find? Those scuttling Spiders from Cleveland have come back up from the depths. With the Twins loss yesterday (5-1 vs the Pale Hose) and the Spider’s win (9-1 over the Royals. Do the Royals have a nick-name? Do they have the worst club name in baseball?) we find the home town boys at 63-41, and those Spiders at 62-42, just a game back. A single game. And August beckons. While the Twins have meandered to a 5-5 record over the last ten, the Spiders have gone 8-2. And over July, while the Twins compiled a lackadaisical 10-11 mark, the Spiders went, uh… 17-4. That’s right. 17-4.

Ouch.

That’s some good ball they’ve been playing over there in Cleveland. And some falling-out-of-first-place ball by the home town boys.

Pennant races are slow motion excitement. (Reminds me of the guy who said that baseball was 3 minutes of excitement crammed into 2 and a half hours.) Pennant races are methodical, clockwork, tumblers falling into place, day after day after day, incremental changes, subtle shifts. Home games vs. road games, off days, double headers, head-to-head play. Injuries and juggling rotations. Prospects up from the minors. Pitchers who are tired and laboring. Maybe a bit of a sore arm here and there. The late summer nights can be steamy. The darkness is approaching. The fans are growing surly and argumentative. Trades are made of promising youth, the organization’s future, for aging mercenaries of the bullpen who will maybe be able to help you today. Desperation is in the air. The pennant race is early playoff baseball. Every day is must win, and you can’t be lulled into thinking that there’s always tomorrow. That’s the peculiar danger of the pennant race. “Still plenty of time.” There’s only time if you win. Every loss kills you a bit. Every win by the other guys is a stab in the back. Tick tick tick tick tick. Time is suddenly gone. Time is ephemeral, fleeting, an illusion. Suddenly, there, the finish line! It’s right in front of you! Watch out!

That’s right. Welcome to the Twilight Zone of the baseball season.

Pennant races can be a little nerve-wracking.

Especially when your team has just gone 10-11, and the other guys don’t ever seem to lose.

Yesterday the Twins traded a promising young first baseman for some aging bullpen help, along with some prospects. Generally, fans here are considering this a win, though there is a lot of doubt expressed on the street about how much bullpen help Sergio Romo will provide. Which seems odd, given that he has 17 saves in 18 save attempts this season for the Marlins, and our bullpen has an ERA of about 4.41, which leaves a good deal of room for improvement. (Our bullpen has somehow created the illusion that it is better than 4.41. Maybe all the guys with 8 and 9 run ERAs have been sent down, and only guys with 2.72 ERAs are left?) I heard a few people say that Romo’s a “soft-thrower” who may very well have prospered over there in the Senior Circuit, where apparently the hitters can be fooled by that soft-throwing shit. That’s not gonna fly here in the American League, they say.

Well, we shall see, we shall see.

To acquire Mr. Romo, 36, and young pitching prospect Chris Vallimont, and a player to be named later, the Twins parted with young first baseman Lewin Diaz, who’s been pounding the ball in 90 games of A and AA ball: .294, 19 home runs, 27 doubles and 62 rbis. The story on him is that he’s having a “bounce-back” season this year, and the Twins would probably not protect him in the off-season by giving him a roster spot, given the Twin’s depth at first base. Given that detail, maybe this was an okay trade. Vallimont, 22, has speed and control and a 3.16 era in 22 starts in A ball.

Still, I hate to see Diaz leave. He’s having a heckuva season, and I have a feeling we’ll miss him in the future, when he’s pounding those soft-throwers over in the National League.

I wouldn’t be a very good baseball GM. I kind of hate trades. In my major leagues, you sign the best guys you can and then you develop them and then you play the game. Would I ever pull the trigger? Well, you can bet I would not trade Brunansky for Herr. That’s for sure.

Today:

Twins 11, White Sox 1
Royals 9, Spiders 6.

Good ol’ Royals.

They should have stuck with the Katz name. What were they thinking?

Kansas City Katz? Kansas City Royals?

You make the call.

 

 

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.

Zack Davis Wheat

Zack D.Wheat passed away on this date in 1972 at the age of 83.

A heck of a ball player. Batted left, threw right. Seems like he was initially known for his fielding skills, and developed as a hitter. Led the league in hitting only once, 1918, at .335. In both 1923 and ’24 he hit .375, and then hit .359 in 1925 at age 37. Played in the 1916 and 1920 World Series, losses to Boston and Cleveland. He finished up with 2884 hits in his major league career. Looking at the Dodgers career statistics leaders, Wheat is still tops in games played, plate appearances, hits, singles, doubles, triples, total bases,runs created, times on base, and hit-by-pitch. He’s number 3 in RBIs, behind Duke Snider and Gil Hodges. Number 2 in runs scored, behind Pee Wee Reese, and number 2 in extra base hits, behind the Duke.

Yep, one heck of a ball player. 

Wheat started playing ball in 1906 for Enterprise, and played for Wichita, Shreveport, and Mobile in the minors. In 1909 Wheat signed with the Brooklyn Superbas, and played with them and the Brooklyn Robins til 1926. He played in ’27 with the A’s, then in 1928 he played for the Minneapolis Millers in the American Association, where he hit .309 in 82 games. An injury to his heel ended his season and career.

After baseball he went back to his farm. He always went back to his farm in the off-season, and always maintained that he would happily farm if his baseball contract fell short of what he felt he deserved. He lost his farm in the Great Depression, operated a bowling alley for a bit, and then became a police officer. After almost losing his life in a car accident during a police chase in 1936, Wheat spent five months in the hospital recuperating, then moved down to Sunrise Beach, Missouri, where he opened up a hunting and fishing resort. He lived there for the rest of his days. It looks like beautiful country.

“He (Zack Wheat) was the most graceful left-handed hitter I ever saw. With the dead ball, many of his line drives were caught, but they were just shot out of a cannon almost every time up.” – Casey Stengel

 

“Zack Wheat was 165 pounds of scrap iron, rawhide, and guts.” – Buck O’Neil

 

“One of the grandest guys ever to wear a baseball uniform, one of the greatest batting teachers I have ever seen, one of the truest pals a man ever had and one of the kindliest men God ever created.” – Casey Stengel

That card up on top is a 1921 exhibits card. What a classic shot. I wonder who the photographer was?

Spring Fever!

Well here it is, Spring Training, 2018 edition.

Ain’t it grand?

The Twins of Minnesota are 4-4 so far, not that that matters at all, unless, of course, you are 0-8, in which case it would plant a nagging seed of doubt. 

The Twins continue their quest for Quality Pitching by signing free agent Logan Morrison, a hard throwing… uh… designated hitter/first baseman.

This helps our pitching by ensuring that our pitchers don’t have to face him this season, as he might very well have found a spot with some other American League team.

Additionally, this helps fill that troublesome hole at DH, where the twins only had Vargas and Mauer and Grossman and Sano and whoever to plug in there. Seriously, though, last year’s DHs only hit about .237 with a .711 OPS, (reliable sources tell me) so there was considerable room for an upgrade. And so Welcome Logan Morrison. And I refuse to call him LoMo.

In other spring news, the Twins best player, Brian Dozier, says that he’ll be a free agent after this season. Kind of a surprise, since he is their best player, and you might think that they might try to keep their best player.

But no, that’s not how the game works. It’s much more complex than that. I’m missing out on the intangibles, I guess, and the metrics, and the inner game. I am an old fashioned fan from a bygone era. That’s not the way things work in century 21.  I guess there’s a lot of angles on this that I am just not paying attention to. No, all I see is a guy who leads by example, a guy who works his butt off 162 games a year, is a great fielder and has a lot of pop in his bat and has contributed a TON to the success of the club and been a bargain on the bottom line.

Oh well. I’d best appreciate him while he is here.

The Twins have added some pitching in this off season. I’ve made mention of other acquisitions in previous post, but since then they’ve traded young prospect Jermaine Palacios for the wiley veteran Jake Odorizzi.

Odorizzi has a 40-38 3.83 lifetime mark, he’s 27 years of age, and went 10-8 with a 4.14 ERA last season with the 80-82 Tampa club. The trade has been greeted with some skepticism by Twins loyalists. Probably the fact that it came soon after the Twins failed to sign Yu Darvish added to the sour grape flavor of the trade. However, Twins fans are a resilient and hopeful lot, and so there is some talk that the Twins Brain-trust notices some statistical data that seems to indicate that better days are ahead for Mr. Odorizzi.

Not that this matters, as — in this case — Odorizzi is a Junior Circuit veteran, and I’m sure someone has studied this, and I’ll have to look for the answer, but, as the pitchers in the National League get to pitch against pitchers, rather than against designated hitters, I wonder, on average, how that rewards their ERA and other stats?

Answer: Well in 2007 there was an article in the NY Times (Alan Schwarz, 7 January 2007) that looked at this. There probably have been more since, and by more Sabermetric publications, but for me I think the NY Times is sufficient. Looking at 29 pitchers that moved from the National League to the American League, and 28 pitchers that moved from the American League to the National League, he found that National League pitchers that moved to the American League had their ERA increase by .70. (Pitchers that moved from the American League to the National League decreased their ERA by .85. Probably got an extra bit of boost from sheer exuberance.)

Which perhaps helps to partly explain why Mr. Darvish decided to go with a National League club, rather than the Twins.

[Again, [[editorial comment]] it would be nice if the Ameican League gave up on this “Designated Hitter” experiment, and went back to letting the pitchers bat. But I digress.]

Speaking of Darvish, I notice:
a.) he’s 6’5″ tall. I had no idea. 220 pounds. In pictures he somehow doesn’t look so big.
b.) he’s sick. Hasn’t pitched yet for the Cubbies. “No worries” he says. Still. Is that any way to start the season? Hope he feels better soon.

Literary Corner

I finished reading The Player: Christy Mathewson, Baseball, and the American Century, by Philip Seib, months ago. So long ago I can’t remember what I was going to say about it. Oddly, the book has Tampa Bay Times News Library stamped on it. How it got to Half Price Books in Maplewood is anybody’s guess. And why would it ever wind up in a newspapers “News Library” anyway? Maybe Christy Mathewson is still newsworthy down there, or perhaps it’s just a review copy. Anyway, this was a good book.

“At one point he was offered a chance at some easy money by lending his name to a Broadway bar. All he had to do was let it be called “Christy Mathewson’s” and show up for 10 minutes once or twice a week. He was told he could make thousands of dollars a year from the venture. He turned it down, later telling his mother, “If I had to make money that way, I wouldn’t want any.”

Well, I guess the times have changed a bit.

The book presents a pretty well-rounded view of Mathewson, who does seem to have been quite a likable guy, besides being one of the best pitchers in the history of Organized Ball. One funny thing is that he got along famously with his manager, John McGraw, who was no choir boy. In fact the two lived together for quite awhile.

Christy Mathewson2.gif

Seib does a nice job of setting Mathewson and baseball within the context of the time, which adds emphasis to Mathewson’s role in popularizing the game. The book is an easy enjoyable read, and full of enjoyable anecdotes and baseball history. This was a great book to pick up in the cold darkness of the dead of winter. Thanks, Mr. Seib!

Mathewson would definetly get a spot in my starting four:

1. Walter Johnson, with that big side-arm heat of his.
2. Christy Mathewson
3. Bob Gibson
4. Three-finger Brown or Sandy Koufax
5. Lefty Grove (Kind of crazy having him be number 6, but really, how can you pick?)

Also in the running:

Grover Cleveland Alexander, Ed Walsh, Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn, Dizzy Dean, Bob Feller, and Jim Bouton. (Hey, pitching isn’t everything.)

 

Well, well, well…

So it’s the Astros of Houston, is it?

Champions of the World. The Houston Astros.

Faithful readers may recall my innate antipathy for the Astros of Houston.

Which is a bit odd, as, after all,  Jim Bouton was once an Astro.

But no, I never warmed up to the Houston club. Not until the 7th game did I come to the realization that better the Astros than the Los Angeles (formerly of Brooklyn) Dodgers. Houston, it turns out, is more deserving than Los Angeles.

Ahh, well. The mysteries of emotion and affection. Congratulations to the Astros of Houston. Heckuva season, heckuva series.It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro.

And: Chalk up another one for the junior circuit. That’s 65 championships for the American League, vs. 48 for the National League. For those of you keeping score at home.

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!