Results tagged ‘ MLB ’

Spring Training thoughts

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged and I owe several of you for your kind comments reacting to my posts. It’s a fun way to connect with you, and I’m sorry I can’t take the time to answer all of your questions.

Spring Training is winding down and the season openers will be here this week. I still think we are losing that special feeling baseball has had over the years of having the first opener in the daytime in Cincinnati and the others a day later. In Japan? And at night? Stop it! Forgive me for being so traditionally minded. I’m all for progress that is in the best interest in the game, but this is not it for me. I know, TV swings the hammer and I have made a nice living from talking baseball on TV but I still think there could be some compromise instead of always deciding in favor of the financial benefits and not common sense. My grandchildren will never know how special Opening Day of baseball season should be because of the current approach. Okay, I’m off my soapbox.

How about the ridiculous injuries suffered by players this spring! I wouldn’t even mow my own lawn with a power mower because of the injury former lefty, Curt Simmons, suffered in the 50s. Nipped off some toes mowing his lawn. I remember Bobby Grich, All-Star second baseman, who signed a lucrative contract with the Angels and injured his back carrying an air conditioner up the stairs. Please guys, think about your career and your team and the investment the organization has in you before you do things that could ruin your life and your career — or your career and your life. Either way.

I enjoyed playing a little raquetball and basketball in the offseason, but it was for conditioning and recreation and I felt like I was in pretty good control of my actions.

Too much emphasis on stats, scores, and radar gun readings. Who cares? My point of reference would be the spring of 1975. One of my last spring starts befoe the season started was against the Red Sox in Winter Haven, Florida. Chuck Tanner had to take me out in the 2nd inning. I was hoping to go six or seven. Gave up nine runs, three or four home runs. Deron Johnson hit two, I think maybe Jim Rice and Freddy Lynn had one also. All the infielders played a few steps deeper than normal. Outfielders were out of breath chasing down the extra base hits.We all had a good laugh about it. I was 36 years old.

Today some would be up in arms saying things like “Is his velocity way down?” “Is his career coming to an end?” I started that season 5-0, went to 9-1 and then 13-5 at the All Star break and made the 1975 All star team.Do any of you Cardinal fans remember what David Freese‘s spring stats were in 2011?

My point is, the wind blows out in a lot of ballparks in Florida in the spring. Fly balls become home runs. Pitchers are just getting their arms conditioned. There is no incentive to win a game. It’s just practice, for crying out loud. Don’t worry about stats and wins and radar gun readings.

Let’s start paying attention when the bell rings, which for me is the first game in Cincinnati, no matter what the schedule says. I’m prepping for my season opener, which will be April 12 on MLB Network with Bob Costas. Marlins at Phillies. Hope it’s Halladay vs. Johnson.
PLAY BALL!!

The Hall, Hanley and Pete, and the Miracle League

Congratulations to Barry Larkin on being voted in to the Hall of Fame. I first saw him as a shortstop for the University of Michigan at the College World Series in Omaha back in the 1980s. Jim Abbott was on that team. Also, a first baseman named Casey Close. Who is Casey Close you say? He has become well known as a player agent for Derek Jeter.

I am very disappointed that Jack Morris did not get enough votes to gain election and I think Larkin getting in should cause voters to look at why they have never given Davey Concepcion more attention. This brings me to ask the question we hear often. Why does it take some players, who eventually gain election, so long to get there? What is the thinking process by the writers eligible to vote? Why are we as fans and former players asked to drink this bitter-tasting Kool-Aid year after year?

I read Richard Justice’s column on MLB.com over the weekend explaining and rationalizing why writers need time to gather more data and change their minds over a period of five to 10 — to sometimes 15 — years. Now I know writers, fans and former players like myself see things differently. As Roy (played by Robert Redford) said to Max (played by Robert Duvall) in The Natural, “Writers write, Roy, and players play.”

I respect what the print media does and how they have helped publicize the game of baseball. I enjoy blogging on occasion, and don’t have the writing skills they possess. I was a player and I understand who was good, great, overrated and underappreciated. Writers can only go by numbers, but players know far beyond the numbers who is deserving to be callled a Hall of Famer.  If you ask Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez (all in the Hall) and Pete Rose (who had a Fall of Fame career) about Concepcion’s value to the Reds, I think they would say he is as much a Hall of Fame shortstop as Larkin.

This is not meant to diminish Barry’s credentials , it’s meant to accentuate and raise awareness to Davey’s. Food for thought to you who are voters. Why do names like Vinny Castilla and Brad Radke and some others get votes? To give them a chance to tell their grandkids that they once received votes for election into the Hall of Fame? If that is true, then the writers that do that are devaluing the importance of gaining entrance to Cooperstown.

Do they really do enough research and homework? Couldn’t they find comparable Hall of Famers and have my friends at the Elias Sports Bureau compare some numbers and get good idea if a player was Hall-worthy and if so elect him on the first ballot? Enough already with jamming this “first-ballot guy” or “may get in some day” down our throats. If one does the proper homework, research and talking to the player’s contemporaries, you shouldn’t have to wait 10 to 15 years to decide.

My friend and teammate Bert Blyleven gets 13 percent of the vote his first year of eligibility, and then 79 percent 14 years later? I can’t make sense of it. I know, it’s the writers’ Hall of Fame and writers write and players play, and we have different opinions.

But let’s discuss Morris and compare him to Jim Bunning. Both former Tigers. Jim is in the Hall. Frank Dolson, a longtime writer covering the Phillies when I played there in the 1970s, campaigned intensely for Bunning. Frank would say ” He won over 100 games in each league”. He threw a perfect game in the NL and a no-hitter in the AL. He won 224 games in his career over 17 seasons.

Morris won 254 and helped three different teams win World Series titles. His 1-0 complete game extra-inning performance in the 1991 Series was more impressive to me than Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956. With due respect to the Senator from Kentucky — the pitcher we affectionately called “The Lizard” because of his slinky frame and motion — Morris is more worthy of induction than Jim, and Jim obviously is worthy or he wouldn’t be there. It took the veterans committee to finally get him in.

I just read where seven teams did not have a starter who pitched 200 innings this year. Morris did that 11 times, several times going over 250 innings and once exceeding 300. Forget his high ERA. He didn’t care if he won 6-5 or 6-0. He just wanted to finish the game and win. And he had 173 complete games in his career. Bunning had 151.

Still, I’m open to your opinions if I’m wrong on my thinking on this issue.

On to Hanley Ramirez and Rose. So it’s a big deal to be asked to play third base instead of shortstop. For 10 or 15 or however many millions they pay Hanley, I would be honored to play right field, second base, third base, left field or first base if it helped my team win a championship. That’s what Pete did. Only player to play at least 500 games at five different positions. Never complained about it. Sparky Anderson asked him to do it and he did it. Ah, the days of no entitlement.

Lastly , to put baseball and life in perspective. I recently played in a charity golf event to benefit the Miracle League. It was hosted by Angel Hernandez, a Major League umpire. Several former and current umpires and players participated. The Miracle League’s motto is: “Every child deserves a chance to play baseball.”

Harmon Killebrew was passionate about it. Johnny Bench hosted an event to help raise money for it. It takes a special rubberized field. Kids play in wheelchairs and they have all kinds of afflictions. They all congratulate the player who does something special like hitting a home run, regardless of what team they are on. The game has the happiness and innocence it had when I was a kid. I love it. Check it out sometime.

Only a month away from… “Pitchers and Catchers report tomorrow!”

REFLECTIONS ON 2011

First, thank you to those of you who read my blog and to the nice comments I have received. It’s fulfilling for me to be a part of MLB Network both on television and on the internet. Keeps me in touch with the game and those of you who love it like I do.

Some former players can walk away from it and not miss it. Some leave it and later wish they could get back in in some capacity. I have been fortunate to stay involved in some form as a player, coach, TV analyst and blogger, as well as making appearances for establishments like the Bob Feller Museum and other firms that ask me to appear at baseball functions for the past 55 years.

I am looking forward to my fourth season — hard to believe it’s MLB Network’s fourth year already — working with my partner and friend, Bob Costas, on several games, as well as appearing in the studio from time to time.

2011 was an exciting year for baseball, climaxed by that memorable final day of the season and then the surprises and drama of Postseason heroics by the Cardinals and David Freese.

It was interesting to anticipate and guess who some of the award winners would be. All very deserving and not totally unexpected. I wish with all my heart that Ryan Braun will be cleared of any wrongdoing. He is some player and had been a model of good behavior. I wish Prince Fielder could stay in Milwaukee. Those fans deserve another shot at having a championship team. Probably fantasy on my part.

The season, as all seasons do, had its sad moments. My friend and former teammate , Harmon Killebrew, passed away in May. It was an honor to speak at his memorial service in Minneapolis. Harm is probably the most admired and respected athlete in Midwest sports history, and the comments I got from friends and colleagues about him being the most humble and polite Hall of Famer are true. A gentle giant as a slugger, yet relatively small in physical stature. Just 5’10″, but powerful. Thanks to MLB.com for remembering all of those in the baseball family who passed away in 2011.

I wish all of you a safe New Year’s weekend and a healthy, happy 2012. I hope your team has a good year and keeps and holds your interest right to the end.

With the wild card (and eventually wild cards, plural) it giving more teams hope, my wish is that the decision-makers reward the division winners with home games, more rest for the pitchers, or whatever it takes to give them a decided advantage in Postseason play. It’s nice for fans to see what teams like the Cardinals did last year, but the most difficult thing to do in sports is to excel over an entire season. You have to overcome injuries, slumps by hitters and pitchers and grueling travel at times to win when you’re not at full strength. A lot of teams could win a World Series these days if they qualified by just having a streak like the Cardinals but you have to perform over six months — not just two weeks — to win a division.

It won’t be long until we hear or read those magic words: “Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow!” I hope I can hear it for many more years.

Happy New Year!

All deserving of the awards

Been a while since I’ve blogged. Not a lot going on yet as the Hot Stove season is still pretty tepid. Guess the next “big story” will be… who is going to manage the Red Sox and restore some stability to that team?

But for right now the stories in the news are the awards. Not any real surprises. All deserving. You can always make a case for your favorite player based on what team you root for and that’s a good thing. Some Dodger fans are probably upset that Matt Kemp didn’t win the NL MVP. If he had won, some Brewer fans would have been miffed. I think we have to put all this into proper perspective and realize our game and awards that go along with it are not solving any major problems in the world like unemployment, hunger, security, and many more. It’s just a game, and anytime you’re a candidate to receive an award, it’s an honor to just be considered. The buzz phrase these days is “an honor to be in the discussion.” That’s true.

I’m happy for all the winners and the ones who didn’t win should feel good about being in the discussion, because they had to have very good seasons to be in consideration. Justin Verlander winning the AL MVP may have been somewhat of a surprise to some because you have certain voters — and there was at least one again this year — who don’t even give a pitcher any consideration for MVP. I understand their thinking, because — and please, this is not to be meant as a condescending comment — they have never played Major League Baseball and don’t realize the impact a starting pitcher has on the outcome of a game.

I’ll digress from the theme of awards for a moment and give you my opinion on why. Why do you think in a seven-game series you see such a variety of scores and winners and losers? It’s mostly determined by who the two starting pitchers are, and who the home plate umpire is that game. The electronic policeman (one of the worst things to have looking over the shoulder of a home plate umpire) has made calling balls and strikes more inconsistent than ever before. Before electronic policemen, you knew before the game started if it would be a “pitcher’s zone” today (i.e. the late Ed Runge) or a “hitter’s zone” (i.e. the late Ed Hurley). You pitched accordingly. Those three individuals dictated the outcome of the game more often than today.

With pitch counts, innings restrictions, and relief specialists, that has changed. I think that those things I referred to make Justin Verlander a better choice than ever because he did what pitchers did decades ago in an era where it is more unusual. When you saw his name listed as the starting pitcher, you knew the Tigers were going to be difficult to defeat. I’d give plenty of credit to the closers as well, like Valverde…  and how many titles would the Yankees have won in the past 15 years without Mariano Rivera?

Okay, I’m a former pitcher so I see things differently than a position player but that’s my story and I’m not changing it.
Sooo… Congratulations to all the award winners and congratulations to all who were in the discussion.

Wow! Another ‘Oh What a Night”!

A little over a week ago I blogged about a great night I experienced at the MLB Players Alumni Association dinner in New York. Last Friday, courtesy of Rawlings Sporting Goods, I think I had an even better one.

I’ll give you the overview first. The theme was Gold Glove Awards. The emcees were Joe Piscopo with help from Dennis Haysbert. If Dennis’s name is not familiar to you he is the new “Voice of God” since Bob Sheppard is no longer with us. He was Chico in the movie Major League, and currently does the TV commercials for Allstate. A warm, gentle guy.

Here’s something I found out about Dennis while chatting with him at the VIP reception. He was a linebacker in high school. Grew up in Northern California. Intercepted a pass one night thrown by…..Keith Hernandez! Dennis and Keith got a chance to reminisce about their high school football days.

I’ll fast-forward to the final events of the program. Jerry Seinfeld performed 30 minutes of the funniest stuff I’ve ever heard. What a talent. Good, clean, clever humor. And then, to close it out… the original cast from Jersey Boys sang a few songs finishing with… “Oh What a Night”!

We have Mike Thompson, Senior VP of Marketing for Rawlings and Robert Parish, CEO of Rawlings to thank for by far the most enjoyable awards dinner I have ever attended. They had a lot of help from a lot of people too numerous to mention. The Alumni Association helped get us former players involved. This year’s awards were presented to the recipients by former Gold Glove winners, including my former teammates Bob Boone, Keith Hernandez, and Ozzie Smith. Ozzie also was inducted into the Rawlings Gold Glove Hall of Fame. He is the fifth inductee. The others: Brooks Robinson, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and — here’s the shocker — me! I was so humbled to hear my name mentioned with those four Hall of Famers. Very cool — or maybe in today’s culture I should say, “Wicked cool!”

I had one other personal best moment. Yogi Berra was presented with the Rawlings Lifetime Achievement Award by my friend and broadcast partner, Bob Costas. When I presented the pitchers awards to Mark Buerhle and Clayton Kershaw, I told the audience how cool it was to tell people I had the privilege of facing Yogi in 1960! He is an American treasure. Tommy Lasorda was awarded the Heart of Gold Award. Here’s the full list of this year’s winners. The other presenters were Frank White of the Royals, new White Sox mananger Robin Ventura, Dave Winfield, Tony Gwynn, and Andre Dawson.

Here is an example of how baseball has grown in public appeal as far as the number of fans and media exposure: When I was awarded my first gold glove after the 1962 season, I didn’t even know they had such an award. I was raised by a dad who was an avid baseball fan. Read The Sporting News cover to cover back when it was “The Baseball Bible.” (It never mentioned other sports. When they started covering other sports, he cancelled his subscription.)

So, I’m reading The Sporting News after the 1962 season, and I see my picture along with Al Kaline and Brooks Robinson and others who were voted by the players, coaches, and managers as Gold Glove winners. I called my dad and told him, “I just won an award I never heard of. Something about being a good fielder.”

The following season, a Rawlings rep presented it to me before a game. My teammates Earl Battey and Tony Oliva also won those awards during their careers. Now, we have a special night attended by several hundred people with all this top entertainment in a prestigous New York hotel, The Pierre , to honor the winners. The gloves and baseballs on the trophies are laced with 24-karat gold! I was going to ask Rawlings if they could retrofit the 16 I have plus the special Gold Glove Hall of Fame edition with 24-karat gold!

It was truly a night to remember and I hope Rawlings continues to stage it. In the early 90s, Brooks Robinson and I were the first two inductees in the Gold Glove Hall of Fame. We had a dinner event at the World Trade Center to commemorate it. Cal Ripken received one of his Gold Gloves at it. Then… poof! The awards dinner disappeared. Don’t know why, but I’m glad they’ve brought it back.

Last Friday night was another example of how priviliged I feel to continue to be involved in the great game of baseball for over 50 years. And to add to the night, there was a singing of the national anthem with the National Guard Color Guard standing on stage and a salute to veterans and wounded warriors in attendance. Proceeds from the dinner were given to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Rawlings, thank you for a 24-karat gold night of enjoyment!

Oh what a night

Not late December back in ’63 like The Four Seasons sang, but last night in New York City at the Milennium Broadway where the Legends for Youth Dinner was held. It is a project of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.

It was extra special for me for a few reasons. I was the second president of the MLBPAA. They’ve had just three. The first was Jim Hannan, a former Major League pitcher and one of the 17 founders of the Alumni Association. The current one is Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson.

Because of my efforts back in the formative years of the Association, the MLBPAA presented me with a Lifetime Achievement Award. I was probably more qualified for the “Start Me Up” award. I got involved in the late 1980s between jobs as a TV announcer. The main thing I did was recognize that of the handful of employees we had at that time, Dan Foster seemed to me to be the one who really had the welfare of the Association in his heart. He had a passion for it and I trusted him. I recommended to the board that we retain Dan and eliminate the rest. We were a bare-bones operation at that point. I was paid expenses only and Dan would become the only paid employee. We had a couple hundred dues-paying members at that time.

Fast-forward to today… Dan has done a fantastic job leading the organization. There are now over 6,000 members. Former players and baseball employees from many different departments have joined, as well as current players — and there is also a membership category for fans. That’s what made last night rewarding for me.

The award was nice, but the real joy was to see the cross-section of those who attended. Former players highlighted by all-time Yankee favorite Don Mattingly and a pair of Hall of Famers (Brooks Robinson and Orlando Cepeda). Brooks presented the community service award named for him to Jim Thome. Executive Sandy Alderson attended. Current players who were nominated for the Alumni Heart and Hustle Award: Michael Cuddyer of the Twins, Neal Walker of the Pirates, Ian Desmond of the Nationals, and the winner: Torii Hunter of the Angels.

I mixed and mingled with former teammates Jim Lonborg, Larry Christenson, and Bob Boone. The Players Association was represented by former player Steve Rogers, and people from MLB.TV, MLB.com, and the league office were there. B.A.T., or Baseball Assistance Team — the organization that helps former players who have special needs — was represented. This is why that was so rewarding to me. In our early days, we were not totally accepted by some of the other baseball organizations. Now, we are all on the same page, tugging the rope in the same direction. As it should be.

Our mission is to involve former players in various activities to promote the game of baseball and support charitable causes. It is being done worldwide with clinics, golf events, and autograph sessions. One example was when colorful auctioneer Jon Warden, a member of the 1968 World Champion Detroit Tigers, asked us to raise our bidding paddles if we would be willing to give $50 to provide a baseball clinic for a day for kids who could not afford to do that . One bidder pledged to sponsor 50 kids! That’s $2,500. Several sponsored 10, and many sponsored smaller numbers.

As Jon said, “Once a Major Leaguer, always a Major Leaguer” — whether you were there for a day, a year or a decade. Another reason the night was special. No member carries more importance than another, whether he is a Hall of Famer or a player who played for just a short time. Special for me was the person who presented my award. My friend and broadcast partner on MLB Network, Bob Costas, did that as well as help emcee the event along with another friend/announcer, Gary Thorne.

Well, I think you get the picture. It was a great night for baseball. I’m very fortunate to have been a part of it.

Congratulations and perspective

First and most importantly, congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals for winning the 2011 World Series in the most dramatic, exciting, and improbable manner. Who knew after being 10 1/2 out they could do this? Obviously they did, and that’s all that matters.

Let’s allow them to enjoy what they accomplished. I know from being a member of the 1982 World Series-winning team how Cardinal fans love and support their team. As great a baseball town as there is in America. Baseball rules there.

I wanted to give myself a day after Game 6 and not make a knee jerk reaction to the way that ended and what was in store for the Rangers after losing that one. Unless they could have pitched Sandy Koufax in his prime in Game 7, I thought their chances were very slim that they would win it.

In 1982, I remember after John Stuper pitched a remarkable complete game win Game 6, outpitching Hall of Famer Don Sutton, that our chances of winning Game 7 were excellent. As a player, you can feel it. You know the team that had it in their grasp and couldn’t hold onto it had lost something. In my opinion, what players lose is “fluidity of motion.” It really shows up in the pitching motion. This offseason, I hope to get a chance to do a segment on this subject on MLB Hot Stove. I have some guests that have studied it and written about it. One of them is a former player, Buddy Biancalana.

Here is my perspective on what we saw in the past 10 days. I am currently in Cincinnati with Johnny Bench and several Hall of Famers that all won Gold Gloves for fielding excellence: Ozzie Smith, Ryne Sandberg, Eddie Murray, Al Kaline, and Andre Dawson. We had an interesting Q and A at Green Diamond Gallery, one of the most impressive collections of baseball memorabilia you will ever see outside of Cooperstown. Owned by a wonderful man, Bob Crotty, a local businessman. Everyone agreed that Game 6 may have been the most exciting game in World Series history. Ranks with Game 6 of 1975.

But… I think we need to define your definition of “great.” I thought Game 7 of the 1991 series was a great game because of the pitching and the strategy by the managers. Tom Kelly of the Twins and Bobby Cox of the Braves. It was won by the Twins, 1-0. A memorable pitching performance by Jack Morris. Our own MLB Network analyst John Smoltz also pitched well. This game had very few mistakes. Drama and tension from the 1st inning as to who was going to score first.

What we have seen in the past 10 days has not been great baseball by Major League standards. Start where you wish: Poor execution of attempted sacrifices, baserunning mistakes resulting in pickoffs at crucial times, inconsistent control by pitchers, poor situational hitting like advancing runners with productive outs, failing to score runners from third with less than two outs. Certainly not Gold Glove standard fielding. And probably a lot more.

So before we put the stamp of greatness on Game 6, let’s decide for ourselves what our definition of greatness is. For me, Game 6 was as exciting from the 8th inning on as any game ever. Without as much media coverage, you might make a case for Game 7 of the 1960 series where Bill Mazeroski hit the walk-off homerun to win it for the Pirates. Check out that box score on Retrosheet.org, one of my favorite baseball websites. Chock full of interesting stuff.

My dad told me about a certain lefty who pitched in the majors back in the 20s or 30s. His first name was Bill. His control was erratic. On days he couldn’t find the strike zone, like C.J. Wilson during this series, they called him “Wild Bill.” On days he threw strikes, he was “Sweet William.” Too many Wild Bill days for the Rangers in this series.

One of the things I learned early in my career — the hard way, like Texas learned — was “It’s not the long ball that will beat you, it’s the bases on balls.” Was it an example of the detailed printouts teams have today showing how to pitch every hitter down to the centimeter? Has the art of pitching been replaced by scientific and statistical information?

I know some of that is helpful, but here’s an example of the art of pitching. 1st inning last night. Texas leads 2-0. Albert is up. Two out,nobody on base. We’ve heard all series long: pitch around him, don’t let him beat you. I respect him as a great hitter, but my thinking there might have been “I’m going to throw Albert a little 3/4 batting practice fastball and say, ‘Here it is Albert, see how far you can hit it.’” He may have hit it 500 feet! But he may have popped it up, because he wasn’t expecting a nice little cookie right down Broadway. If he hits it out, I still lead 2-1. What are the percentages,since the game seems to be driven by those these days, of giving up back to back homeruns? I’d rather think like that then think defensively and walk two guys.

I was having a discussion with one of the pitchers I coached when I was Pete Rose’s pitching coach in the mid-80s: Tom Browning. He won 20 games as a rookie that year. Doubt if he hit 90 very often on the radar gun. Pitched a perfect game in 1988. He was never afraid to challenge a hitter. Threw strikes. Threw his pitches with conviction. Like, “I dare you to hit this.” Not “I don’t want you to hit it” or “I’m afraid you might hit it.” I get the impression from watching games and talking pitching with various baseball people that that kind of thinking doesn’t exist much anymore. David Cone was that kind of pitcher. Art over stats.

I have loved this time of year since 1945, when I followed the World Series between the Cubs and Tigers. Can name every pair of teams that participated right up to the present. Why? I got to listen (and eventually watch) every game as a kid because they were in the daytime. Are we so interested in every rating point and dollar that we have become allergic to sunshine and fresh air?

My grandsons, age 14 and 10, love Derek Jeter. Who doesn’t? But, they can’t become a fan of the entire game like I did — including the great history of the game — because with the games on late they, won’t get hooked on it like I did. They couldn’t stay up to watch the last innings of Game 6. What a shame. I know I’m going down a dead end street with that thinking, but I just have to vent a little because I remember how special it was for me as kid to look forward to hanging on every pitch.

Well, it’s been a great month to be a fan and it may have created a few new ones….Now it’s time to study the horses for the Breeders Cup championships coming up next weekend. Then the President’s Cup golf event. And soon — sooner than it used to be — we’ll hear “Pitchers and catchers report next week.” I always look forward to that…

Moneyball and Game 7

Just to stay in baseball mode before this 2011 season comes to an end tonight or tomorrow night, I went to see Moneyball last night. It’s a must see for a few reasons. It’s very entertaining. It holds your attention. Art Howe will not be pleased with the way he looked. Artie always appeared to me to look like an ex-Marine. Shiny, bald head, good physique, excellent posture. He wasn’t portrayed like that in the movie. And “Wash” is leaner than he looked in the movie. Bille Beane should be pleased. Brad Pitt! Wow, Beaner. Good on ya.

I have a lot of respect for Billy and the way he has worked to make the A’s competitive with limited funds, but each time I talked to him on the phone (which was usually on speakerphone from Brian Cashman’s office), I would tell him, “Moneyball for me is having Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson healthy and starting 34 to 35 games a season. That’s a winning formula.” (Brian occasionally would have me sit in his office with him before Yankee games and talk about the game during the 12 years that I worked for MSG and YES.)

It is also important for the baseball fan to see to really understand the thinking that went into putting the 2002 A’s together. I was not pleased with the way they portrayed the scouts. These guys put a lot of time in to evaluate talent and try to project who will be a Major Leaguer. We all know that is hard to do.

If you want to entertain yourself on a rainy day, get the Elias Sports Bureau book on the first 25 years of the MLB Draft. From Rick Monday, who was the first player ever drafted, to Ben McDonald who was the number one pick 25 years later. Very interesting to see who made it and who didn’t and how high or low they were drafted. Remember Mike Piazza’s draft round? Look it up sometime. What the modern sabermetric guys use to select players who might help their team — like Peter Brand does in the movie and now many of today’s GMs do — are the batting statistics of players already in the big leagues like Scott Hatteberg. That’s not fair to the scouts who are hired to pick amateur players and project if they’ll ever be big leaguers.

Tim McCarver and I had a discussion recently about “money ballplayers” and “Moneyball” players. There’s a difference. Yogi Berra and Kirby Puckett were money-ball players not necessarily moneyball players. As a former pitcher, I would love to have had them look at two or three pitches before they swung, and not attack the first one that looked hittable. Facing them with a count of 0-2 or 1-2 would have been more comfortable than having them swing early in the count. Check out their walk/strikeoout ratios sometime on Baseball-Reference.com.

A Moneyball player may get on base more than some free swingers and  score a fairly high number of runs, but will they get the key hits to win close games?  In the movie, Peter Brand points out how they can replace the runs they lost when Jason Giambi left  by cobbling together what Hatteberg and a couple others could do in aggregate. They looked at total runs scored. Can’t agree with that theory. You can score 10 runs a game for 3 straight games and then only 1 a game for the next 3. total 33. over 5 a game. you’ve still probably won three and lost three.

So what I want is a team like the Yankee teams of the late 90s before Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez got there. O’Neill, Martinez, Brosius, Girardi, Jeter, Bernie Williams, Knoblauch, and others scored four or more runs a high percentage of the time and with good pitching, and with Mo and Wetteland pitching at the end of the game, they had quite a run. Not many MVP or Cy Young awards. Bernie won a batting title, but the trademark of that team was consistently scoring four or more every game. Their winning percentage when they did was by far the best in the AL. Atlanta was the gold standard for that in the NL. Why? Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine, Avery, Millwood.

My point about the Yankee lineup is none of them were the prototypical Moneyball batters. They were all good situational hitters, good two-strike hitters, made productive outs to move the runners up a base. Those are money-ball players. With no disrespect to Jason Giambi or Alex Rodriguez, it may surprise you that during my 12 seasons covering the Yankees (1995-2006), my all-time Yankee team would have Tino Martinez at first base and Scott Brosius at third. Neither one a Hall of Famer or MVP, but they knew how to play the game on both sides of the ball. Outstanding fielders, baserunners, and situational hitters. I think most teams could afford them both. They’re not superstars that will command a five-year, double-digit million-dollar contract.

Regardless of my opinions on the theory behind it and whether you or other baseball people agree, see the movie. I had a flashback when Billy Beane had to tell Mike Magnante he was cut from the roster. At least Mike was told in person. After 25 seasons in the majors, I got a phone call during the All-Star break in 1983  from Cardinal GM, Joe McDonald, telling me they were releasing me and had purchased the contract of Dave Rucker, a promising lefty they acquired from Detroit. I thought it was tasteless and classless. Still do.

At the time, 25 years was the longest anyone had ever played in the majors. Tommy John and Nolan Ryan passed me after that. TJ pitched for 26 seasons, Nolan 27. But as time went on, I realized that you either leave the game on your terms or the game’s terms. As they say in the movie, the game will tell you when you’re no longer wanted or needed. It might be when you’re in your 20s or when you’re 40. I was 44. Very fortunate. The film has a few tender moments like that. The times Billy Beane and his daughter shared were poignant.

That’s my Jeffrey Lyons critique of Moneyball.

Just a thought looking ahead to Game 7, if there is one. Always fun to try to think what the managers might be thinking. For the Cardinals, Carp starts, Westbrook is ready to go early, then it’s matchup time. For the Rangers, “Harry” starts –”Wash” is a loyal guy — Feldman next since the Cards may have a lot of righthanded batters in the lineup, then Holland ready for the right situation and Ogando, Adams and Feliz to follow. Nothing really surprising about that. Just trying to have fun thinking along with the managers.

A final thought. A lot of time was devoted to hearing Tony’s reasoning for not being able to bring Motte into Game 5 in the 8th. Not enough time to get ready. One of many things I learned from Eddie Lopat and Johnny Sain — my two favorite pitching coaches — was to have the relief pitchers throw from the bullpen mound before or during batting practice. Nothing stressful, just loosen up like you would before you get called on during the game. Almost game-ready. Then stop. Now, when the phone rings and it’s your call, you can get ready in a hurry.

Ted Power and John Franco took to that nicely when I coached them in Cincinnati in the mid 80′s. I did it myself when I was with the Cardinals in the early 80s. I found out that with six to eight pitches in the ‘pen and another eight that I’m allowed from the mound when I got called in, I was ready.

Speaking of calls to the bullpen. I always enjoyed guessing whose name was called when Dave Ricketts, our bullpen coach in St. Louis , answered the phone. The choices the year we won the World Series in 1982 were Mark Littell, John Martin, Jeff Lahti, Doug Bair, myself, and Bruce Sutter. I can honestly say that Whitey Herzog was so consistent in who he wanted for different situations that I was right on close to 100 percent of his calls. He was a master at matching up the right pitcher for the right batter.

Hope the weather has improved in St. Louis…

Whew! A day or two off might be a welcome relief

Wow!  Can’t remember seeing so many bizarre things happen in one game! And… it’s the World Series!

Mix-ups, miscommunications, unusual moves, unusual results.

First, I always believe that managers know their players and what they can and can’t do better than any of us. I can only comment on what I would do if I were pitching or what I learned from watching players that I played with and against  and managers that I played  for and apply that knowledge to try to figure out what is going on between the lines and in the minds of those involved down on the field.

Last night’s game was a second-guesser’s delight. Lots of things to question players and managers about. Here are some of the things that puzzled me and what I would have wanted to ask some of the participants about:

Let’s start with the result. Texas won 4-2, but it didn’t seem as “clean”  or well played game that a 4-2 score would indicate.

C.J. Wilson walked through a minefield of base runners through five innings to survive by surrendering just two runs. Not all his fault. The Rangers were a little sloppy with their fielding. I cringed when he came out for the 6th.

Chris Carpenter deserved to be the winning pitcher. The curve to Adrian Beltre just a smidge too high and a smidge too much inside. Other than that pitch and the one Mitch Moreland smoked, he was terrific.  Give up two solo home runs in that park to that lineup, and you’ll win probably eight out of 10 times.

So why would Albert or Tony put a hit-and-run sign on with Albert hitting? I ask because when I played with Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew, he never wanted the runners to be in motion when he was at bat. First, they were already in scoring position, because Harm was one of the most dangerous home run threats of his era. He hit 573 of them. Secondly, when the runners were in motion, it distracted him… and tempted him to swing at close pitches he would normally not swing at. Like most power hitters, he hit into a lot of double plays. So what. Maybe the purpose of the hit-and-run has changed, but during my era of playing, the hit-and-run’s purpose was to make the middle infielders move and open up a hole to get runners on first and third. Staying out of the DP was secondary.

I’m puzzled in learning that Albert puts on a hit-and-run sign a lot. Didn’t think it would be necessary. Also, the hit-and-run usually is easier to execute when you have a pitcher that is a) almost always around the plate with his pitches; and b) quite easy easy to make contact with his pitches. Feliz is neither. He misses the strike zone by a lot, and he’s difficult for a hitter to make contact.

I would never suspect a hitter of Albert’s caliber would use the hit-and-run a lot. I know he doesn’t strike out as much as he walks or as much as most home run hitters do, but from a pitcher’s point of view i think I’d rather have him hit-and-run and try to make contact than to sit on a pitch, take a balanced swing and cost me two runs with a homer.

I have seen that the purpose of the hit and run has changed from what its intention was when guys like Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox used it in the 50s for the White Sox or Dick Groat when he hit second for the Cardinals and Pirates. Fox struck out 13 times in 1959 in over 600 ABs, Groat 35 times in 1960 in over 600 ABs. Both guys won MVP awards. That was the typical hit-and-run type batter. Soooooo, that’s why it’s puzzling to see a hitter like Albert use it. He’s certainly capable of making contact, except against Feliz it’s a low percentage.

Now, about the bullpen mixup… It’s a stadium design flaw if the bullpens are not in view of the team dugout. Manager and pitching coach should be able to see who is or isn’t warming up. When the phones broke down years ago, we’d have individual signals from the bench for each reliever. Make a big circle with your hands if he was a little heavy; stroke your chin if he had a beard; arm up high for the taller of the two lefties. Plenty of ways to do it.

When the bullpen and dugout phones were connected to the stadium switchboard, they had three-digit extensions. The directory was on a card on the wall in the dugouts and the bullpens. In Detroit, the home bullpen was down the left field line, and the guys in the home dugout couldn’t see it.  The Tigers’ late inning pitcher was lefty Hank Aguirre. As a starting pitcher, I would get bored and restless on the days I wasn’t pitching, so I’d sneak down to the pen. Drove the bullpen coach crazy. Clyde McCullough or Bob Oldis or whoever it was at the time.

One day we got a couple of runners on base and, for fun, I decided to call the Tiger pen and in a muffled, disguised voice I quickly said, “Get Aguirre up,” and hung up. He got up and started to warm up. It was the 4th inning. They recognized it after a short time and sat him down.

Lots of bullpen pranks went on in those days. The late Moe Drabowsky tried to order Chinese takeout to be deilvered to the bullpen one day. I never imagined things like what happened in last night’s bullpen mix-up could happen with today’s technology. I admire Tony La Russa for being very cool about it after the game. I can only imagine how he felt not having Motte ready to pitch to Napoli instead of “Scrabble.”

Now, “Wash”… Was it really just a gut feeling and you hoped he’d get lucky, or you liked the way the stars were aligned when you allowed Murphy to bat against the lefty? If it was fielded cleanly, it would’ve, should’ve, could’ve been a double play. That would have been an interesting answer to get from him if that happened.

But it didn’t. The Rangers got a break and eventually won the game even after a hit batsman and a walk. And the game ended on a strikeout that could have resulted in all kinds of trouble for Texas, as Mike Napoli had to chase the ball down the first base line and flip it to first for the final out. That ball could have gone in a different direction easily.

All in all…Carpenter pitched well enough to win. Wilson worked his way out a lot of  situations where the Cardinals could have broken the game open and led by a lot. Credit him for that. It’s always an interesting topic: Was it poor hitting or good pitching? The guy is their ace and won 16 games. That didn’t happen by accident…

I think both managers may have interesting decisions to make tonight or tomorrow regarding their starting pitchers, because the early report is that  Game 6 may be postponed and played on Thursday. That would be a nice break for the Cardinals. If it goes seven, Carpenter might be available to start that game. Derek Holland could come back for Texas fresh off his gem on Sunday night.

This baseball is a great game, isn’t it?  Can’t wait to see Game 6, whenever that is played.

Lots of good things in this World Series

A lot of fans on the East Coast are obviously disappointed that the Yankees, Red Sox or Phillies are not in the World Series. I don’t think it’s a shock that Texas is in again, but the Cardinals’ stretch run to get in was like the great Zenyatta — a super horse that thrilled us with her late running style last year. There’s always the articles on the TV ratings that indicate not as many fans are interested in the World Series without the big names in it. Well, get over it. The teams that deserve to be there are there and there are a lot of good things happening for baseball.

Those of us that love and appreciate the game to see enjoyable baseball — no matter who the participants are — can’t help it that the bigger market teams with larger fan bases aren’t in it. Neither can the Cardinals or Rangers. In no particular order here are some of the things that have been nice to see in the first four games.

Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler are getting some national exposure for the second-straight year. Thet are putting on a great show.

David Freese is healthy and showing why he may be a breakout slugger next year.

Very cool to see a different side of Nolan Ryan. A side that I never saw from the dugout competing against him for over  10 years.

Mike Maddux is the next Dave Duncan.

Not that he needed it, but Albert (Like Reggie,he doesn’t need a last name.) is showing fans what a complete player he is. This isn’t his first rodeo on the national stage, but more and more fans are getting to see what St. Louis and a lot of the NL has seen for a decade. Forget the little blip about not being around to answer for deflecting the relay throw in Game 2. If the East Coast media think he’s too sensitive to handle occasional criticism in those markets, so be it. He belongs in St. Louis anyway.

The Rangers were not a fluke last year. They are very World Series worthy.

Ron Washington is an uninhibited breath of fresh air.

Michael Young is moving up the ladder several more rungs as a Texas sports hero. Plays the game the way we were all taught to play it.

In the first four games, baseball has shown the biggest reason it is different from other games and more unpredictable… Football has the same QB game after game. Hockey the same goalie most of the time. Basketball, the same starting five night after night. But the big reason a team can score 16 runs one night and zero the next is because… drum roll… the starting pitcher. There’s a different one starting every game. I love that about the game.

Being a former pitcher I always enjoyed the challenge of knowing that along with the opposing starter and the home plate umpire you had a chance to influence the outcome of the game more than any other position. You need guys making plays behind you, but we have seen that if you pitch with some energy and are in control of what you’re doing like Chris Carpenter does and Derek Holland did last night and trust your stuff, you can shut down any lineup.

Tony La Russa is showing why he will go into the Hall of Fame as the most visible example of  a “scientific baseball manager” opposed to the ones who are there and went more by instinct like Sparky and Casey and Whitey and Lasorda and Earl. They were prepared and applied some statistical history into their decision-making, but not to the extent that Tony does.

You may not agree with his moves and how he makes more pitching changes than most and I feel is more responsible for controlling the running game from the bench than any other manager — or his serious, studious manner — but the man has his team prepared to exhaust every effort to win until the last out is made. He leaves nothing to chance. He competes from inside. You seldom see it expressed visibly.

Umpires are human. What a shame that one or maybe a few members of the media cast a bad light on that industry by questioning Ron Kulpa’s integrity by referencing that he’s from St. Louis after he missed a call that favored the Cardinals. Will someone please take their credentials away? If baseball can find a way to quickly — and I hope very quickly — to review some calls, we could use replays to get the calls right. It will be better for the game and the umpires. Technology has allowed us to see things we never could see in the past.

This is a wish, not something I’ve enjoyed. Is the FOXTrack or strikezone box we see on our screen 100% accurate? If so, you understand why the home plate umpire’s interpretation of the strike zone is like tonite’s starting pitchers. They’re all different. I’d like to see an endorsement from MLB or the TV networks that use it to verify that is 100% accurate. My understanding is that if one piece of the baseball touches the borders of the strike zone it’s a strike.

Then we’ll be comfortable sitting at home knowing how well the umpire is judging balls and strikes and MLB will be able to help train umpires to improve as home plate umpires and we’ll know if it really is a ball or strike. I see the pitch go over the plate near the letters or knees and the electronic box doesn’t seem to show it the same. The third part of knowing if the box is accurate is it will help me determine if I need another eye test soon!

The pitchers that can get the last six outs are really special in today’s game, even if they do keep managers on the edge of their seat at times (i.e. Feliz in last night’s game). When I played for the Cardinals in 1982 and Whitey Herzog was the manager, he was the first manager I heard say, “I’m going to build my pitching staff from the 9th inning back.” With Bruce Sutter pitching the 9th and occasionally the 8th and 9th, we won the World Series.

Tim McCarver is showing us why he is who he is as a baseball analyst. With insight like telling us: Gene Mauch, longtime big league manager and excellent teacher said ,when an infielder goes to his right, he should try to field the ball with the webbing in his glove, it’s softer… David Freese is playing shallow at third and Kinsler is a pull hitter? Bingo. Kinsler pulls it down the line past him. And many more ‘pearls’ that I’ve been hearing from Tim, He’s the best.

He’s analyzed more World Series games on TV than anyone since games have been televised. Pleased to say I learned a lot from Timmy when I got started analyzing games. I was his teammate for over three years in Philadelphia and we spent a lot of time on the bench talking “IB” , player speak for inside baseball.  That was stuff that became very helpful when I started my announcing career.

I hope the people who vote for the announcers that get inducted into the announcer’s wing of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown vote Tim in this year. He deserves to be there. As fearless and candid and brutally honest and objective in the booth as he was in the dugout and on the field.

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