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MLB18 Octoberfest: Brewers Battle Cry, ‘Win One For the Uecker!’

20 Oct

Don’t make East Coast travel plans just yet, Dodgers fans.

And keep your busy business hands off of those World Series ticket printing presses, MLB subcontracters.

Most important of all, don’t count those Pennant-winning (clucking) chickens before they’ve been hatched, baseball prognosticators.

For in the sage words of that renowned sport philosopher Yogi “It gets late early out there“ Berra, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Berra was a man who knew as much about sport competition at its highest level as about any other athlete in history, equaled in that knowledge by contemporaries in teammates Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, the Celtics Bill Russell and Bart Starr right there with the legendary receiver.

And the Point of all this don‘t-ing: The Milwaukee Brewers are still viable candidates to capture their 2d senior Pennant (Yes, it’s capitalized) in their 49 year history, though, this would be their first senior circuit variety.

Being down one game entering number six in a seven game, do-or-pass-away series (The word ’die’ or ‘dead’ has for some strange reason become taboo amongst media and minions) makes it more unlikely than likely that the Brew Crew, who last played in the fall classic when World Series day-games were in vogue (1982 vs the Cards, one at which I was in attendance, G5 @ County Stdm as the Brewers came from behind to best the Redbirds, 7-5, even as St. Louis would ultimately take the Series in seven (See; B.Sutter)), will nab the flag.

The men in Blue & White are on a roll, with lots o’ mustard.

Los Angeles of Chavez Ravine were down 2-1 and have taken two in a row after dropping their first home stand to the Milwaukee visitors.

Much grumbling on the Brewers’ bench over what they term “dirty” play by the Dodgers recent acquisition from Baltimore, 3rd- baseman, Manny Machado, he who, back in 2014, after receiving some chin-music from A’s moundsman Fernando Abad, tossed .., excuse me, lost a grip (as MM claimed and the League abided) on his bat to see it fly past the Athletics’ 3rd-baseman and nearly taking off his head. Words were exchanged, benches cleared, the umpires ejected both prinicpals and, as usual, no real blame was affixed.

But Milwaukee complainers may be spouting from a glass house, the kind where stones aught not be thrown from. The Brewers roster one of the biggest bad boys in baseball in the person of Ryan Braun, he who was suspended for PEDs, had that one over-turned, Braun cried foul on the test-taker for possibly being anti-semitic, was the next year suspended again, had THAT one upheld, did not apologize to that test-taker for his earlier criticism, was then banned for most of 2013 and has been batting at around a .280 clip.

First pitch for tonite’s contest: 8:39pE at Miller Park, Milwaukee.

Scheduled starting pitchers: Dodgers Hyun-Jin Ryu, 0-0 – 4.15 ERA (2018 playoffs) vs. Brewers Wade Miley, 0-0 – 0.00 ERA.

Wisconsinites and probably more than a few sentimental baseball fans from around the nation are pulling for the Beermeisters to see their long-time announcer, Bob Uecker (b.Milwaukee 1.26.34 or Illinois on an “oleo run” (?)) , who played in the majors from 1962 to 67, won a ring with the Cards in 64, began his play-by-play career with the newish Brewers on radio (71) where he calls it today and gained national notoriety on TV in the 1980s on Mr.Belvedere and The Tonight Show, return to the Series in the broadcast booth.

Ueck may be the only remaining Brewers employee from that 1982 season and has come to signify more than any other person in the organization the spirit of the Milwaukee franchise and the best of the major league game.

Prediction: Milwaukee wins Game six of the 2018 NLCS

StevenKeys
Can of Corn
Photo credit: Bob-Uecker, AP, wc.cca, 1977, ABC-Sports; Uecker, wc, 2011, Miller-Park, Steve-Paluch; Can-of-Corn
Posted: 10.19.18 @ 8:26pE, edit 10.20; Copyright © 2018

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MLB18 Octoberfest: Royals Flush, Tribe’s Charming, Wild-Card Waterdown & Brewers Oleo Run?

29 Sep

The more the merrier.

Typically, it’s an idiom I can get behind, for things like wedding parties, do-gooder rallies, pizza toppings, potato-chip flavors, yard-sale stuff, etcetera. But when it comes to baseball’s post-season, more is becoming less.

In 2012, major league baseball added a second wild-card team to the playoff picture in each League, further diluting an already watered-down competition pool. In truth, the problem probably begins with the fact there may be too many teams in baseball, period, thirty (30) in all.

It only stands to reason, that as the sport grew in the late 1800s from 6 to 8 to 10 to two Leagues (1901) to 24 to .. you get the idea, and batters feasted on the diluted, less skilled pitching pools with each increase in arms, that the same result likely happens on a team level and explains the so-so playoff quality we see in most given post-seasons where regular season stalwarts suddenly flop.

The quality quotient in any of the four major USA prof’l sport leagues (MLB NFL NHL NBA) probably ranges from 24 or 28 teams. But what city would refuse?

Expanding the franchise has become common business practice: Sport, Halls of Fame, movie genres (noir). Such is the privilage of monopoly, even as quality may suffer. And with a consumership that would only complain if their daily sugar allotment were cut in half, who’s gonna’ stop ‘em?

The junior circuit looks to be very competitive this October with the Red Sox, Indians, Yankees and defending champion Astros all serious contenders. But if the Beaneaters don‘t make to the Classic, think Wild-Card waterdown.

When the Houston Astros won their 1st World Series last November, it left just seven (7) ball-clubs who’ve yet to bag the MLB championship. And with the Giants (2010, 12, 14), Pale Hose (2005) and Northsiders (2016) all parched for decades and having recently quenched their thirst, the sense of urgency grows for those teams and loyal fandoms still without (gulp).

Enter, the Milwaukee Brewers (b.1969), still a dry state.

They got close to quench in 1982, taking the Cards to a seventh game when St.Louis’ split-fingered fastball specialist Bruce Sutter proved the difference in relief. It was one of the last Series to hold day games, one of which this writer attended, a 7-5 come-from-behind Brewers win at old, wide-open, chilly but sun-drenched County Stadium.

As those memories fade, Milwaukee faithful have had to satisfy themselves on meager servings, just two playoff appearances (08 / 11) and a new stadium (Miller Park 2001) in 35 seasons, funded in largest part by Wisconsin taxpayers in a $290,000,000 payout ($400M) and a 20-year (+/-) 0.1% sales tax. All prompting this writer to ask, ‘When does the real, serious, committed-to-winning-a-World-Series type investment in the ball-club come, owner Mark Attanasio?’ And by the way, happy birthday, Mark (9.29.57 NYC).

Both the Brewers and NL Central rival Chicago have locked up post-season spots with this weekend’s final slate set to determine the division champ and the NL’s best record, good for home-field advantage throughout the Pennant fight. At this posting, the Bruins stand one full game up on Milwaukee.

But while Cubbies have the aura of a champion (2016), it’s the Brew Crew who can boast the more imposing bat lineup and greater fielding finesse.

Milwaukee rosters the senior circuit’s two top 2018 MVP candidates in outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, an All-Star member of KC’s 2015 Series winner (AL: J.Martinez or B.Snell) (Winners: Yelich – Martinez). They also sport one of finest closing units in the majors in Jeremy Jeffress (1.33), flame-thrower Josh Hader (2.28) who made the Cubs look downright silly two weeks ago and team save leader Corey Knebel (16 / 3.78).

With the glove, the Beermeisters rank near the NL top in fewest errors (105) and favored fielding percentage (.982), attributable, no doubt, to their manager Craig Counsell who in his 16 MLB seasons, all in the National, was considered an infielder who took his job seriously (79e / .985).

The Brewers Achilles’ heel: Depth, a lack thereof (a common complaint around both leagues), and in particular, starting pitching.

No C.C. Sabathia (08) or Zack Greinke (11) late-season pick-ups this time around to bolster Brewers’ brawn (R.Braun: .254 / 61rbi / 20hr / 51r / 122g), not even for that rare Wisconsin baseball championship run, Attanasio choosing instead to sit tight on his ample wallet or having GM David Stearns do it for him.

The 2018 market wasn’t exactly bursting at the seams but, cmon, brother!

Besides Venezuela-born right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (15-8), no pitcher with 10 or more decisions is more than two games above .500. And while relievers can seal the deal (See: Sutter above (82)), quality innings that a solid starting staff can provide in the do-or-die post-season gauntlet are invaluable.

One more pitch: He might just be the only Brewers employee remaining from that 1982 season, that being fabled announcer Bob Uecker (b.1.26.34) who began his radio run, long after his Illinois “ole-run (b.126.34),” way back in 1971. And I’ve gotta’ believe, everyone in the organization and America’s Dairyland would like to get it back to the World Series in small part for “Mr.Baseball.”

My two favorite Uecker quips:
“Sporting goods companies would pay me NOT to endorse their products.”
“I always thought (my) home run would keep Koufax outta’ the Hall of Fame.”

Third time’s a charm.

The 2017 Cleveland Indians reminded of that maxim that the playoffs are a second season when records mean little and opportunism means much.

As last season’s post-play began, the Indians were the American League favorite to grab their second Pennant in as many years when they played at a sizzling 55-20 (102-60) pace after the Home Run Derby & Family Fun Jamboree had completed in July (All-Star exhibition).

But as Cleveland’s baseball luck would have it, they flamed out in their first series by losing the Divisional to the Yankees (91-71) who did take the eventual champion Astros to seven games in the ALCS.

This year the Indians are closing out the regular campaign in more modest fashion (38-26 / 90-70 (9.29.18)) yet have coasted to their third consecutive American League Central division title, not exactly champagne-worthy when then the 2d place club (Twins) will finish with less than 80 wins.

As the Tribe holds the 3rd best mark of the AL division winners, Francona’s bunch will face the 2d best record-holder in Houston in the divisional. Home field does have real value but can prove ephemeral with one poor outing, flipping the advantage. So with expectations lower this time around, maybe Cleveland can pull off the upset themselves and find their way back to the fall Classic.

— — —

What in tarnation has happened to the Kansas City Royals?

It seems like only yesterday when, in 2015, KC grabbed its 2d consecutive AL Pennant on way to winning its 2d World Series title in franchise history (85 STL) when Ned Yost’s men easily toppled Senior Circuit foes, the New York Mets, 4-1. But since then, it’s been all .. down .. hill.

This 2018 version of Royals bears little resemblence to those champions.

They’re not quite as troubled as the Baltimore Orioles (45-112) but it’s gotten so bad that in a sad stretch from June 1st – July 10th, the Royals went a depressing 6-29, with losing streaks of 6, 9 and 10 games, respectively (oy).

The small ray of sunshine to break through the bleakness is that KC has actually been playing some of the best ball in the Majors these past few weeks. Since the end of August (24th) they’ve gone a respectable 19-13 to this posting date (9.29).

Why the tumble in the standings? Not eating their Wheaties®?

KC wasn’t exactly filled to the gills with talent when they were winning, so when the purse strings got a good tug from owner David Glass post-2015 (Wouldn’t want to build a dynasty, heavens no!), the talent level dropped down to the tail. Yost’s a fine manager but he can’t spin straw into gold.

But the Royals are still in Kansas City, so for that their fans are thankful (oy).

StevenKeys
Can of Corn
Photo credit: Terry-Francona, wc.cca, 12.9.15, Winter-Meet, A.Pardavila; Bob-Uecker, wc, 1977, AP-ABC; Yelich-Christian, wc, Sgt-J-Cervenka, 7.2.16, Ft-Bragg, NC, 1.67m, USArmy; T.Francona, 10.8.16, wc, Boston, A.Pardavila; can-of-corn
Posted: 9.29.18 @ 5:42pE; Copyright © 2018

MLB18 Chin-Music: Homer’s Ubiquitous But The Triple-Shot Is Still Baseball’s Most Intoxicating Moment

6 Sep

Query a hundred fans on baseball’s most exciting moment and you’ll quickly get a consensus: The home run, round-tripper, four-bagger, dinger, space-shot, big-blast, the tater. Versus visitors, the strike-out draws cheers but it’s the homer that flies fat in nearly everyone’s wheelhouse.

The roundtripper, even the exhibition variety, is why Major League Baseball’s July festival, traditionally termed the All-Star break, has, in recent years, supplanted the fall classic as the season‘s highpoint for muscle-lovin’ teens and the sabrmetrically-minded sportician.

But in fact, it’s the three-bagger which is baseball’s most exciting event, that is assuming that no owner (Nick Mileti) ever again holds a “Ten-Cent Beer Night (Municipal Stadium 6.4.74).”

— — —

It’s Baltimore-born Babe Ruth (1895-48), the man who sportswriter Jimmy Cannon so aptly pegged “a parade all by himself,” that is frequently cited for making the long-ball the game’s most popular moment (1914-35 / 714 HR).

Once he’d completed his conversion from moundsman, and a good one (94-46 / 2.28 BOS), to a near everyday outfielder in his final Boston season when he clubbed 29 round-trippers (1914-19), the HR barrage began. In his first foray in pinstripes, the Bambino hit a then whopping 54 tators in just 142 games.

Though in a league all his own, Ruth did have his competitors.

Another American Leaguer, oft overlooked Ken Williams (Browns – Orioles), did his part to boost the big blast by socking close to 200 homers from 1920 to 29 on a career .319 batting average. Power AND contact were clearly in vogue.

Kings of Clout in the senior loop included lanky Fred “Cy” Williams (Cubs / Phillies) who became the first major leaguer to retire with 250+ dingers (1930: 251hr – .292), and Rogers “Raja” Hornsby who won two homer titles in the 20s and amassed 301 four-baggers by the time he’d hung up his spikes in 1938.

That the game would turn into a slugfest might’ve been a foreseeable consequence when, in the 1910-11 off-season, Cufflinks decided to ditch the dead-ball in favor of a lively, jackrabbit variety to boost offense by adding cork to what had been, since late 1800s, a simple rubber & twine core composition.

As part of that mission to increase run output, the spitter and other manner of doctoring would be outlawed (20), while practice of using a ball until the hide came off was banished in favor of regular replacement, which also allowed fans to keep the prize when gotten, a practice begun by AL founder Ban Johnson.

By the mid-20s the home run had firmly established itself as the new staple in baseball’s diet, peaking in 1961 when Highlanders Maris & Mantle, challenged Ruth’s 1927 mark of 60. Roger bested it by one, Mantle finished at 54.

Then things settled down .. for a time.

Willie Mays (1965) and the Big Red Machine’s big blast, George Foster (1977), both slammed fifty, while Hammerin’ Hank Aaron surpassed the Bambino’s 714 career mark in the summer of 1974 (755).

But a plague was soon to permeate the game, Stateside and abroad.

Not game-fixing this time (19) (That’ll return, now that the ivory-towered Robes have given a green-light to the co-mingle of sports and betting (Murphy v. NCAA)), but a sickness where players, though seeking to improve their play for better pay, began to do so in an unhealthy, unfair and corrupt manner.

The plague is drugs. Not the recreational variety that surged in the 70s, but one referred to today by its acronym, PEDs, performance enhancing drugs.

The permeation was not stealth.

It arrived in the early 1980s, mostly, not always, in younger players.

Some, like the brash Bash Brothers were atypically muscle-bound and began to collect Pennants fast (88-91). Others, already showing major capability (Bonds Clemens Palmero) chose badly in dismissing the morality (cheat) and played catch-up to fatten stats, paychecks and heads, literally, only to be given a pass by a greed-driven media (repeat PED suspendee Alex Rodriquez employed by Disney-ESPN in 2017), indifferent Commissioners and a scared player union.

The evil element ushered in cheating, unaccountability, dishonesty and greed, not just in players, managers and owners who all benefited from the ill-gotten surge in power, but the fans who looked the other way, and still do, in misguided hero-worship and collectibility craze.

Exactly who, how many and specific season it was first introduced won’t ever be known (some users have been exposed, a few have, kind of, sort of, came clean), but we DO know one of its biggest proponents in Canseco was the first to go public in exposing the epidemic in his 2005 best-seller, Juiced (ReganBooks). Jose’s had his hand on “the chicken-switch” not long after publication (back-tracking, etc.), but what’s done is done.

Since the plague permeated the game on a swiss-cheese testing policy (Cano 2018), pro baseball has become a fraud, worsened on a Commissioner Rob Manfred who skews the balance in allowing batters body armor and worse, enables racism (Astros’ Yuli Gurriel WS2017): No truth means no trust which means MLB is no longer America’s national pastime. That honor goes, not to the NFL, NBA or NHL, but to gambling.

Even as every team championship and player award now takes on a taint, there ARE individual efforts in the game that escape the stench of corruption and greed. And one of those is the triple. That’s right, the three-bagger.

Typically, it’s the most thrilling single-act in the game of baseball.

In the days before rocket-shots became commonplace, the national pastime’s focus was on the manufacture of runs. That meant keeping the other team off base with mindful moundsmen and sure-handed fielding, then getting your guys on those bags in any way possible: Singles, doubles, walks, bunt-hits or hit-by-pitch-free-on-boards when batting helmets were non-existent.

The triple, falling short of that rare home run in earlier, fence-less battlegrounds, was the managers’ dream. If gotten one early in the order, a mere single, sacrifice fly or wild-pitch would result in a score which meant plenty when pitchers usually went the distance and 2-0 outcomes were common.

In the 1910s, cork was added to the ball’s rubber core and ushered out the dead-ball era to begin the golden age of homers, triples and .400 batting averages.

It was the decade when John McGraw’s rough & tumble New York Giants were winning games like nobody’s business, though, on three pennants couldn’t close the deal (0-3) against the Philadelphia Athletics (1910-11, 13) or Boston Red Sox (1912, 15-16, 18), both teams who were winning World Series like big business. Big until the 1920s Yankees started ‘murdering’ and ‘bombing.’

The year 1912 marks the apex of single-season, individual triple total when Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder John Owen “Chief” Wilson (6’2”) set the single-season mark that still stands to this day with 36 tres (114). It would be Chief’s most outstanding personal career stat in a fine overall season where he batted an even .300 (2nd of back-to-backs) on 94 ribbies and double-digit taters at eleven (11), pretty nifty in the soon to cease Dead-Ball era.

In the team sense, Chief Wilson is most memorable as a capable sophomore starter on the Honus Wagner led Pirates championship club of 1909 when the Buccaneers bested the Ty Cobb – Sam Crawford Detroit Tigers in seven games in one of the era’s top World Series tussles.

Unrelated but curious that only two seasons later in 1914, MLB instituted a rule that gives the batter-baserunner 3-bases (triple) if a fielder throws their hat or glove at the ball in attempt to stop or slow its progress (1001 Fascinating Baseball Facts, Nemec & Palmer, 1994, P/I-Ltd.).

The triple was on the brain, collectively speaking.

More recently, only three other players since the Royals’ George Brett (79), Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins (07) and Twins Christian Guzman all reached the 20T mark, have surpassed it: Royals’ Willie Wilson (85) and the Mets’ Lance Johnson (96) bagging 21 each and the Tigers’ Curtis Granderson running-out 23 in 2007.

Taking a gander at the career totals, it becomes evident very quickly that left-handed batters have a clear advantage to tacking on that extra third bag.

South-saw, Sam Crawford leads the way with 309, followed by long-time teammate, Ty Cobb at 295 and super shortstop Honus Wagner, one of only three righties (one a switch-hitter Roger Connor) in the top-ten, comes in third at 252.

And often described as spindly-legged, Babe Ruth himself, he who clouted home runs like he downed hot dogs, topped the double-digit triple mark four (4) times, tallying as many as sixteen (16) in his monumental 1921 season when he hit 59 taters, scored 177 runs, slugged .846, batted-in 168 and averaged .378. Phew!

As of this posting, only one man, Ketel Marte of the Diamondbacks, has even reached as many as ten (10) triples in either loop in the 2018 MLB campaign.

Why has the triple become a such rare commodity post-World War 2?

Unlike their sporting predecesors, today’s ball-cap wearer is unwilling to take the chance in stretching a double into a triple when shorter fences, the liveliest ball in history, batter body-armor (face-masks) that skews the balance and a still present PED boost, all make the home run a nearly every-inning possibility.

StevenKeys
Can-o-Corn
Photo Credit: Owen-Wilson, American-Tobacco-Company, LoC, wc.cca, 1909; Owen-Wilson, 1912, The-Sporting-News, wc; Sam-Crawford, The-Sporting-News, wc; Curtis-Granderson, K.Allison, 2011, Baltimore, wc; Canned-corn
Posted: 9.6.18 @ 12:00aE; Copyright © 2018