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MLB-WS2017: Sabrmetrics, the Rush to Forgive & Ensconced In Anaheim..of Greater Los Angeles

19 Nov

Hail the Houston Astros, MLB17’s World Series champion.

Last year it was the Chicago Cubs ending the drought of all baseball droughts (1908) in taking the title which’d seemed pretty well in the Cleveland Indians’ grasp (4-3). This year it was a first-time winner, the Astros, who joined the Major club back in 1962 as the Colt .45s and having failed in their one prior Series opportunity in falling to the White Sox in 2005 (4-0), those Pale Hose nabbing their first WS in quite a spell (1917).

The opinion amongst media is that this Astros team is a template for the future MLB. Meaning, a steady, snoozy diet of numbers and more numbers (Zzzzz).

Why the Cubs (2016), Royals (2015), Red Sox (2013) and Giants (2014, 2012, 2010) weren’t touted as such, who knows? It probably has something to do with the fact these present champions are what some are calling a sabrmetric special, aka, analytics. There’s an apropos pun if there ever was one.

Houston operators in manager A.J. Hinch (formerly of the Athletics (See; Moneyball)), GM Jeff Luhnow and club PBO Reid Ryan all relied heavily on statistics, aka, “data,” to shape, guide their roster to the promised land, making the Astros the first sabrheaded organization to grab-hold of that brass ring.

But don’t bet the farm on Houston just yet, no matter how the numbers crunch.

Astros team ERA in WS17, a whopping 4.64.

Astros team BA: .230; OB%: .297; and SLG: .467. Those #s mean the Houston dudes hit poorly throughout but slugged for go-ahead runs in key moments as the Dodgers’ slightly better pitching faltered at the worst possible times (4.45).

Those numbers, the trophy, they suggest one word: Opportunistc. That’s a good trait but not one that’ll bedrock for a dynasty.

— — —

Not too surprising to know that winning a World Series is no guarantee for lifetime employment in the Major League baseball ranks as both former skippers of note, Joe Girardi (NYY 09) and John Farrell (BOS 2013) discovered in being fired post-playoff runs by their respective ball-clubs. John was canned after the Red Sox fell to the Astros in the 2017 ALDS, 3-1, Joe pink-slipped when his Yankees lost to the same Houston club in the ALCS, 4-3.

Not every owner accords that achievement (a WS title) with such an ephemeral appreciation. Some hold it close to their hearts, or so it would appear.

Case in point, billboard billionaire (OutdoorSystems) and Angels’ owner since 2003, Tuscon native Arturo Moreno. The wheeler-dealer seems to hold the view that such achievement should afford a manager his job as long as he wants to continue in the position. Bully for him.

Mike Scioscia completed his 18th year at the helm of the Halos at conclusion of 2017. It was his 2d consecutive sub-.500 finish, in a total of six. In all, Scioscia has compiled a 1570-1346 record (.538), managed seven post-season appearances, one 100-win year (08) and one World Series in 2002, the Angels only Pennant that resulted in a championship win over the Giants, 4-3.

♪♫ And the beat goes on ♪♫.

— — —

Consider how World Series 2017 will NOT be best remembered:

The Astros first MLB title.

It’s fan-friendly watchability: G5 (Astros 13-12) ended at 1:17 AM – EST.

Cries of foul for what appeared an official ball juiced to the threads.

Clay Kershaw finally performing, for one start (G1), anyway, like the pitching great his regular season stats have predicted for years.

No, it won’t be remembered best for any of those.

What World Series 2017 WILL be best remembered for is racism, it’s knowing expression through the Astros’ Yuli Gurriel and its appeasement by Major League baseball’s Cufflink-in-Chief, Commissioner Rob Manfred.

You could say, prejudice got a pass, until spring. Sigh.

The setting: G3 in Houston with the Series knotted-up at 1-1. It’s bottom of the 2d, the Astros’ Gurriel, a 33-year old Cuban in his first full major league season, hit’s a solo shot off of Dodgers’ starter and Japanese native, Yu Darvish (b.1986) who’d been a Texas Ranger (13) through the first-half of 2017.

After all the celebrating, taking his dugout seat and of course seeming in good spirits, Gurriel threw a racist brick at Darvish (Because Yu was thoughtless enough to toss a homer pitch?) in putting fingers to his eyes in childish Western-mimick of an Asian appearance, laughing and thinking himself cute. Not done, he also was overheard spewing the word chinito, meaning Chinese boy.

In Bugs Bunny speak, Yuli is a “maroon.” But he claims to understand this mental state, at least its wrong, so MLB, his ‘mates, Astros’ fans, major and junior media have all rushed to forgive the offender. How wonderful (ugh).

Commissioner Rob Manfred did not suspend YG, not even for one contest in a Series that went seven (I‘d have banned him from entering either stadium for two (2) games). Instead, Rob gave Gurriel a 5-game delayed supension to commence at the start of the 2018 season, assuming he’s still on the team. He turns 34 in June, per his birth certificate.

And with that deferred susp’n which presently amounts to no punishment at all, an awful message was sent to the public: In the rush to forgive and return to calm waters (Darvish took the high road but was in no good position to protest), racism will be tolerated by MLB if the offender “understands” his wrong, claims non-intent and an immediate susp’n in penalty might upset the balance of play when TV ratings ($) are at stake.

And what DIDN’T Baseball’s response do?

It didn’t help Baseball, domestically or internationally. That it was the Dodgers on the receiving end of Gurriel’s racist buffoonery works double damage to the national pastime’s image, the team that in Brooklyn under the Walter O’Malley, Branch Rickey, Mulvey & Smith ownership, rostered Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier (47) and has since been a leader in making the game a showcase of diversity for all races including Hispanic Central America (Fernandomania) and throughout much of the Orient (Nomomania).

It didn’t aid in the fight against racism.

It didn’t help Rob Manfred who is now a symbol of weak leadership, defined forever by his failure to take the bull by the horns.

And it didn’t really help the Astros whose title is now tainted, reminiscent of the Italian national soccer team’s World Cup win in 2006 (Germany).

When deadlocked in the championship match, Marco Materazzi hurled a harsh, family insult to France’s superstar Zinedine Zidane who head butted the offender to the ground. ZZ of course received the red-card (expelled), Italy received the advantage in OT and went on to win the Cup yet left their pride on the field.

Astros won the Series. I don’t know how much Gurriel’s presence shaped the result. He did contribute. Exactly how much of a factor his presence in all games 4 thru 7 had is neither here nor there, for justice, doing the right thing, shouldn’t balance on whether the wrongdoer is a star player or off-the-bench reserve.

But as disturbing as Gurriel’s goof and Manfred’s knee-buckle was how the Astros rallied around their teammate, acting as if his friendly clubhouse persona absolved each of them from holding the Cuban to a standard of decency and he to any sort of symbolic sacrifice in Series time lost.

So much progress yet still a ways to go. I’m hopeful Yuri helps us get there.

Steven Keys
Can of Corn
Photo credit: can-of-corn; YuriGurriel, wc.cca, 7.23.17, Baltimore, K.Allison, 1.8m; MikeScioscia, 12.9.15, A.PardavilaIII, wc.cca, MLB-WinterMeet, 5.2m; RobManfred, wc.cca, 7.15.14, wc.cca, fanfest, A.PardavilaIII, 3.5m; Y.Gurriel, 7.23.17, wc.cca, Baltimore, K.Allison, 1.2m;
Posted: 11.18.17 @ 8:28pE, edit 11.19; Copyright © 2017

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MLB17 Chin-Music: Dodgers Drought Ends As Cubs Quench-Quest Begins Anew

24 Oct

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs NLCS proved something beyond the fact the best National League ball-club in MLB17 calls Chavez Ravine their home. It also proved that the post-season is a whole ‘nother ball-game where ANYTHING can happen and often does.

— — —

The post-script on the defending champ Chicago Cubs 2017 has seen them take the first step in starting another Championship drought, one they surely hope won’t come close to their last (1908 – 2016) which spanned five wars, nineteen Presidents and fifteen Ken Burns PBS series. Monopoly’s definitely in vogue.

If you exclude the Bruins first six (6) MLB championships in the calculation (1876, 80-2, 85-6), termed ‘pennants’ by the sabrheaded scribbler set who are about as sporting as a DMV clerk late for lunch, and start figuring from the World Series opener in 1903, the Northsiders averaged about one fall classic every two years the first decade (1906-08, 10), every four (4) up to the end of WW2 (1918, 29, 32, 35, 38, 45).

It is post-War when the Cubs really began to thirst for a Series return, about seventy (70) years having elapsed before last season’s true pennant (When a team goes as far as it can go in the competition (1876 – 1902, pre-playoff League titles), THAT’S a championship!).

— — —

Ironic now in that NLCS opponents Chicago and Los Angeles played the series almost in complete opposite of their late season forms.

The Dodgers are playing like champions now, yet crawled to the regular season finish line, winning their West division by going 17-24 (1-16 from 8.16 – 9.11) down the stretch and bobbling a good opportunity post-Home Run Derby (87 – 34) to best the Bruins 1906 wins mark of 116 (104).

The Cubs meanwhile had been playing like anything but defending champs, standing under .500 on July 9th (43 – 45). But they found their rhythm and played with seriousness the rest of the way, finishing a respectable 92 – 70 to take the Central division flag and hold out good hope of winning the franchise their second set of back-to-back World Series championships (1907-08).

All of it pointing to the fact that once the playoffs begin, anything can happen and pre-playoff predictions are mostly filler for the 15,000 corporate junior journalist sport blogs that monopolize the intenet landscape.

The post-season is an Athletes in Wonderland where expections are like that grinning Cheshire cat, here one day, gone the next. The best clubs give kitty the boot to take charge and make destiny their own.

The Cubs future still looks to be a bright one, having most of the players, the manager and Cufflink crew to contend again. And even were the Dodgers to take this Series, there’s no National League club that looks all that imposing. Junior Circuit’s not exactly bursting at the seams with juggernauts, either.

Los Angeles ended their own World Series drought in making it back to the fall classic for the first time since 1988. And as so often happens, the topsy turvy nature of post-season play had Tommy Lasorda’s underdog team up-ending the muscle-bound Bash Brothers from Oakland, 4-1, emotionally spurred by legendary limping pinch-hitter Kirk Gibson who seemed to hold Roy Hobbs “Wonderboy” in his hands in homering late to win G1 and set the title tone.

— — —

The Dodgers ended their Pennant drought by easily dispatching with Chicago, 4-1, but can Los Angeles quench their thirst for another cup o’ championship bubbly (10), or will the spirited American League flag-wavers the Astros bring home their first World Series trophy that opens Tuesday nite in Houston “♫ where you better walk right (H.D. Stanton) ♫?”

Both clubs are spirited and driven by sense of community.

The Astros are “Houston Strong,” bearing a uniform patch in honor of the vicitms and devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey, while the Dodgers have recently retired, long-time broadcaster Vin Scully, the above mentioned Kirk Gibson and the mission to reclaim the hearts of America’s largest metropolis (See; Angels, Rams & Chargers) as their mindful motivations.

Both managers in Dave Roberts (LAD) and A.J. Hinch (HOU) are fairly new at their respective helms, in their mid-40s and of like player pedigree. Hinch, however, has been indoctrinated into the sabrmetric school of thought (uniformed in Oakland for three seasons) while Roberts is more out of the baseball academy mold, i.e., enough with the numbers already, oy vey.

Both teams hit, field and pitch on most occasions, hence, the Pennants, but it is stalwart moundsmen in the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and Astros wily veteran Verlander who will set the tone, be the bellwethers and ultimately decide the outcome, each likely to get two (2) starts if it goes seven.

Both Cy-clones have had their 2d season struggles and hope to etch better legacy onto all the hardware they’ve accumulated by-way of this October classic.

Verlander’s presently pitching in another stratosphere this post-season but in his two WS appearances, versus St.Louis (06) and then SF (12), he’s a combined 0-3 and an ERA (8.49) about as high as that aforementioned atmospheric layer.

Kershaw, though 2-0 this PS, still posts a 4.40 ERA on 17 game starts with a 6-7 W-L mark, both in opposite of stellar regular stats in .692 W%, 2.36 ERA and what managers-fans-&-mates always love, a spiffy 4-to-1 S/O-to-BB ratio.

Another player I plan to watch is Dodgers’ late-season pickup from the Metropolitans, veteran and former Verlander teammate in Detroit (WS 06), fleet of foot outfielder Curtis Granderson. Curtis has seen his best days as a Tiger and then Bronx Bomber but still plays strong, like a late-career Kenny Loften.

In his two World Series, the first with Justin versus the Cards in 2006, 2d with the Mets versus Kansas City, he, like Verlander, showed his youth in the earlier Classic (.095 / 1r) but had impact in the later, knocking in five (5) RBI, three (3) and six (6) runs (.250) in the losing effort against the champion Royals.

On that basis, and because I want to wrap this up, I’m tabbing LA in seven.

Steven Keys
Can of Corn
Photo credit: LA-Dodgers-logo, wc.cca; C.Kershaw, wc, ArturoPardavilaIII, 5.20.15; C.Bellinger, wc, 9.21.17, Peetlesnumber1; Cheshire-Cat, AliceInWonderland, JohnTenniel, 1889, wc; D.Roberts, wc, 12.7.15, A.PardavilaIII; Canned-corn
Posted: 10.24.17 @ 1:13aE, edit @ 4:15p; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 Pre-Play: Nobody Bullied the Beav and No One Needles the NFL, Kaep Krew

9 Aug

If you’re an NFL fan or root for Colin Kaepernick, not always mutually exclusive mental states, and feed those foibles by perusing online sport sites, you’ll know it has become common in recent years for certain players to have developed a cult-like following amongst the media, junior scribes, in particular. Individually, five names have received more press than probably every player combined, excepting Broadway Joe, of course, since the National went on-wire in 1920:

1) Johnny Manziel
2) Tim Tebow
3) Michael Sam
4) Colin Kaepernick
5) Richard Sherman

At this posting only one of the five, Sherman, has a job with our nation’s new national pastime (When a home run derby is your showcase event of the season, there’s big trouble) and soon to become international funfest (See; London).

Of the other four, it’s possible Manziel and Kaepernick could get a call for a 2017 quarterback tryout as injuries begin to mount in the League on commencement of training camps and contact. But that’s becoming more doubtful as the recent rapid-signing in Miami of free-agent QB Jay Cutler and longer-than-expected list of somewhat suspect number (#) ones (Kessler (CLE), McCown (NYJ), Hoyer (SF), Taylor (BUF), Glennon (CHI), Siemian (DEN), Savage (HOU)) penciled-in for 2017 strongly suggests about both their desirability.

For Tebow, who last played with the Jets in 2012, the chance of an NFL return is nearly nil. Tim’s rather particular (prideful), shunning CFL and tight-end talk, a spot for which he was tailor-made. Same holds true for Sam (nil) who never made a roster after being drafted late in 2014 (7 / 249), having two tryouts (STL / DAL), an invite to a combine and a brief suit-up with Montreal (CFL). Mike does, for some reason, have his own page at PFR.com, sans the Alouettes.

None of those deactivated states has stopped certain media from alternatively appeasing (groupies) or depressing (fans of sport) readers with a steady stream of stories seemingly designed to persuade, cajole or bully the League, its owners and neutral fans into giving three of the four another shot at the big time.

But “Eddie Haskell” couldn’t bully “Beaver Cleaver,” Reid & Pelosi couldn’t bully Dan Snyder, his Washington Redskins and the American Indian rank & file (See; WP “9 of 10” poll (2016)) and nobody bullies the NFL to decide who it hires and who it doesn’t. An exception: Ray Rice and women’s advocacy. The ex-Raven’s rehab appears real but his stigma sticks: Video is video, thanks to TMZ (ugh).

If you think that’s a poor analogy, then you never knew Leave It to Beaver (1957-63). It’s impact on Americana made Vince Lombardi’s power sweep look almost happenstance. And if you don’t know the sweep (Kramer – Gregg) you’d best bone up. Start in State of Ohio, then find George Halas (IL) and go from there.

Michael Sam

When Sam told the nation of his homosexual orientation just prior to the 2014 NFL draft, likely hoping to forestall his stock drop to a level so low he feared being undrafted entirely, his act was lauded by captured media as socially significant. It might have been more accurately called a self-serving act of leverage. A League that would appear unwelcoming to the first openly gay pro football player, college skill-set aside, might suffer a consumer backlash, so the Suits & Skirts may’ve thunk. Sam gets the call late from a Rams club seeking a re-location vote, then a tryout from affable Jerry Jones who is always looking for new renters (AT&T). The NFL looked open-minded, Sam got his cup o’ Gatorade® and everybody felt a little cheated.

Colin Kaepernick

Sherman recently claimed Kaepernick is being blackballed on his race. But that won’t fly. The NFL’s composition is overwhelmingly African-American. Others claim jingoism is motivating CK’s critics, arising from what appeared an anthem protest on police brutality, suspiciously timed as the former 49er’s starter-string in San Francisco looked to’ve run out. But America was born on protest (Stamp Act 1765). Refusing to stand at attention for the flag ceremony is disfavored but not necessarily offensive to most citizens of these United States. What owners may’ve found abhorrent (Tuesday nite ESPN reports Giants’ owner John Mara likes the Milwaukee-native to suit-up somewhere in the NFL for 2017) were Colin’s racist white pig socks. It doesn’t have to be a forgiveable act but until Kaepernick takes responsibility, even a re-signing won’t make him legitimate.

What if nobody comes calling from the NFL, where does Colin go from there? Oprah? That’d be nice, for him, when he and his co-author get a book done (I don’t know Dick’s writing skills but he does like a by-line (See; SI.com)). And believing in something (faith) is not enough. Wisdom, and no small amount of courage, do both matter. Protest can be passionate, or it can be theater if it lacks heart & soul (truth). And he can forget about autograph shows, they’re pro-diversity and patriotic, but the NBA célébrité will always be welcoming.

John Manziel

Johnny Football: He never did earn that moniker. Jon thought talent was the trick. So did Todd Marinovich, “Robo-QB.” He could matriculate in a typhoon but made drugs his love. Manziel could’ve been the greatest college quarterback in history but made booze his squeeze. We don’t really know anything’s changed at this posting. For a run-QB who never learned to take hits in the pocket, THE pro skill, Johnny Skittles can’t afford to have fun being stupid any longer. Like Colin, Jon never respected the game, or the business. That won’t be tolerated, not by owners, players, coaches, real fans or the almighty Sponsors.

Tim Tebow

It’s curious, Tim may be the only NFL signal-caller to have, in his one near-full campaign under center (2014 Denver), compiled a better than .500 record (7-4), led the most captivating team win-streak in recent memory (6-0), won a road playoff game (@ Pittsburgh) on a GWD touchdown strike, yet, the next season, be ungraciously traded away (Jets) where, for one season, he finished his brief career in a non-QB job as a decoy flanker-back (?). Curious, indeed.

Tebow’s fandom is still vast, kept current with his baseball venture in the Mets minors, one most likely to end in the same fashion to that of his pro football career when (if) on promotion he meets that “wicked” major league curveball, known to derail & dash many a career (See; Bull Durham (88)).

Most scribes never did subscribe to the Book of Timbo, hence, never did promote his cause for return. Bart Simpson just won’t rock to Christian hip-hop. Like all run-QBs, Tim’s skill-set proved limited (47.9 C%). But other wily field generals have too relied heavily on stoking emotional fires to wins & careers, Billy Kilmer comes to mind (1967: 10g, 47.5%, 0-4, 6t-11i (16y)), and Tim, had he been NFL retained, would’ve most likely seen his skill-set progress at least in the manner of fellow flashman CK: Never top tier (Brady / Moon) but a sufficiency to roster. And then nobody put fans in the seats, stadium and home, like Tebow did. The reality for the NFL is that flash-QB, with all his shortcomings (rabbit, RIF-fail), is here to stay, given his popularity in college by great success (titles / Heismans) and facilitator of coach-lite: Just give the Kid the ball and count the wins.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo Credit: NFL-wikiproject, Ixnay-Beao; C.Kaepernick, wc.cca, 10.27.13, D.Hartwig; M.Sam, wc, ED.Drost, 8.23.14; Starlito-T.Tebow-L.Garrett, wc, 11.1.12; J.Manziel, Kyle-Field, wc, shutterbug459, 10.20.12; J.Marshall, Topps, 1970.
Posted: 8.9.17 @ 12:39a EST, edit 8.10; Copyright © 2017

MLB17 Chin-Music: Derby Downtime Induces Cubs Late Season Delivery

1 Aug

Say hello to the new new Chicago Cubs! That’s no typo, I’ll explain.

The new Cubs were 2016 MLB champions. The new new Bruins are the current version that seems to have shaken off the malaise that had permeated their clubhouse from May into early July. When they needed runs on the board they couldn’t score ’em, when they sought to stop their opponents from crossing home plate they couldn‘t shut ’em down.

But the Northsiders recent run of winning ball (13-3) has seen them bounce the Brewers, season-long NL Central stalwarts, from the top perch last week, a change in divisional standing reinforced this past weekend when Chicago took 2 of 3 closely fought contests at Miller Park.

The change from enigmatic defending champs into a club with clout can be traced back to the 3-day Derby layoff in mid-July.

So begins the separation process where the eventual division champ comes into focus (some flag-grabbers have been crystal clear since springtime) and the also-rans start to fade in the dog-days of late summer.

Notice I didn’t write All-Star game layoff.

MLB’s mid-season shindig hasn’t been about its best ball-players for many moons now, not since Bud Selig & Sponsors decided at the height of the steriod surge (90s) to highlight the home run, putting muscle over what really matters, League rivalry and showcasing the variety of baseball skills from mound to mitt to making contact with the bat, be it single or space-shot.

Coming off their excruciatingly long awaited (1908) World Series win that had much the nation applauding, in relief more than anything, and Chicago’s worthy opponents, the Indians, shaking their heads (were up 3-1), the Cubs actually began their trophy season in fine enough form, going 13-11 in April.

But starting in early May and going to Derby time the Cubs looked downright pedestrian in a group not exactly brimming over with contenders.

Besides Milwaukee there hasn’t been much to crow about in either Midwestern bracket, be it Senior or Junior circuit, although Indians and Royals have, like the Cubs, fought their ways back into respectability at or near 10-games over (.500). All of which means this state of parity will ensure that the wild-card and half the division races will go down to the September wire.

The Bruins, like most clubs in 2017, have had their share of injuries. Blame, however, for their inconsistency lay in untimely hitting (7th in both runs (477) and RBI (454) (NL)) and dead bats (.244 BA (13) / 877 SO (9)). The champs can, as in 2016, still generally generate the 4-bagger (141 (5)).

Team pitching’s been better than average (4.00 ERA (4 / 4.35 MLB)) even as staff stars Jon Lester (8-6) and Jake Arrieta (10-7) have regularly struggled. Encouraging signs as stretch-run nears are, 1) KC closer pick-up, tall Wade Davis (6’5 / 20sv / 2.12) is nearly always closing when given the chance which ain’t often this season; 2) middle-relief in Duensing (L), Edwards, Rondon & Strop has been effective with most ERAs around 2.50 (Hector 4.31 / 5hr) with fine ratios (BB-to-SO / H-&-R), and 3) team run-stoppage (401 (12)), a rank 4th best (Numerical ordering of league ranks around the web confuses and needs clarity) that lags behind League darlings the Dodgers (317) yet shows understanding of its necessity, especially come post-season.

The champs have been feeding off their new title like a baby feeds off its Mama. That’s good for awhile but now it’s time for the Wrigleyites to get onto solids, stand on their own two 2017 feet and take seriously the task of doing what their famous tough-as-nails forefathers did in 1908: Win their third pennant and 2d consecutive World Series championship (v. DET (4-1)).

Will today’s Central standings hold for the duration? Chicago has the edge over Suds City in experience so it’s certainly within realm of possibility that they’ll have the mental wherewithal to hold on the rest of the way. All one need do is get their playoff ticket punched for, once you’re in, regular season records mean little. That Pennant flag is up for grabs and ANYTHING can happen.

And ‘anything’ these days usually means the Los Angeles Dodgers fold-up their title-hunting tent pretty early (See; 1988). Senators (Nats) haven’t faired much better since they reconfigured in the nation’s Capital.

National League contenders Arizona (60-45 (3 games)) and Washington (62-41 (3)) are in the City of Big Shoulders to start the August slate and should prove a good test of the Cubs re-discovered moxie: Real or transitory?

But Milwaukee’s a feisty crew, appearing equal to the task of unseating their I-94 rival to the South. They’ve given up the lead but that mark of contendership does not wear-off easily. And if any ball-club knows how to stop a separation process (See; beer) it should be a team from Milwaukee tagged the Brewers.

Steven Keys
Can of Corn
Photo credit: JoeMaddon, wc.cca, A.PardavilaIII, 10.20.16; AnthonyRizzo, wc.cca, B.Grey, 8.1.12; Bryant-Machado-Reyburn, wc.cca, MD, 7.15.17, K.Allison; Cubs, 1908, G.Lawrence, wc.cca
Posted: 8.1.17 @ 4:22pE, edit 9.2 (“board”); Copyright © 2017

MLB17 Chin Music: Will Joe’s Cubs Need a Merkle Boner to Complete This Repeat?

17 Apr

“Merkle’s Boner:” It didn’t catapult the Chicago Cubs to the 1908 Series, their 3rd in as many years, but it did by way of that game’s 1-1 tie, provide the Bruins with a means, an opportunity were the National League schedule and standings to end in a tie (Cubs & Giants) requiring a playoff (4-2 CHI) to save their bacon.

In a nutshell, the Boner was a base-running blunder committed by Fred Merkle of the New York Giants in a stretch-run contest at the NYC Polo Grounds (9.23) versus their neck n’ neck nemesis, the defending World Series champion Cubs. It denied his the New Yorkers the win as Merkle had failed to fully advance and touch second-base on a teammate’s hit, preventing the runner from third and his cross of home plate from constituting the game-winning run.

At its essence is this lesson: Baseball, all organized sport, is a game of rules to be enforced, chief among them being the act of completion by its participants in letting the world know that the ball has been caught, the runner tagged or bag reached to finish the play, providing necessary clarity. No loose ends.

— — —

Merkle was born in Watertown, Wisconsin in 1888 (Cubs-land), not far west of Milwaukee, hometown of Al Simmons (b.1902). By all rights, Fred was a rookie when he miscued, having majored briefly in ‘07, a bit longer in ‘08 – 09 and finally full-time in 1910. He had a 16-yr career, was a quality major leaguer (.273), played in five (5) World Series, all losses, including one with the Cubs in 1918 (BOS) and could be argued was somewhat blameless in the blunder.

I can’t write to exactly when the rule of completion began to lose support, but it had, explaining in part why League officials had denied Cubs’ protest of the Pirates’ Warren Gill having pulled the same act a few games prior, even as a rule was on the books. But the point was made, a directive laid down for future enforcement and announced to relevant parties (teams) and crews.

Boner-game umpire and former player Hank O’Day needed no formal announcement for the stepped-up watch as he’d umpired the earlier Pittsburgh contest and made the call in ruling Merkle out for failing to complete the play (umpire and former pitcher himself, Bob Emslie, claimed to have not seen it).

Whether Giants Mgr John McGraw took the news to heart, instructing his team or considered the League position to enforce the completion of play to be an affront to his sensibilities, I do not know. Given Merkle’s on-field base-running (stop-short), a man who appeared possessing of an astute baseball mind, I’d hazard a guess it was the latter. What I do know is that notice had been given.

Like a double-stranded DNA virus, stubbornness is forever in all our blood-streams, countered in some by common-sense or today’s conformity craze often manifested in cliques & consumerism. But John, the talented player (1890s Orioles) and teacher, was stubborn as a mule in an age that seemed to pride itself on the trait (segregation, disdain for protective gear, safer stadiums, etc.).

Fred was the key figure in what you can call G1 of the Merkle Series. The 2d (G2) being the post-season playoff back at the Polo Grounds (10.8) where the brave Cubs (Pirates 1/2 behind) showed the baseball world who was boss in taking the tie-breaker without much trouble, 4-2. That was on the diamond. Big trouble occurred in Chicagoans having to field pre-game death threats and then fend off locker-room attackers to make an escape for their lives. The Bruins lived, then went on to best the Tigers again in the Series 4-1 to make the dynasty.

But it was the Boner-ball itself which would have an incredible story to tell, at one point tossed into the stands by Joe McGinnity to keep it away from the Cubs seeking to make the force before Merkle could return to complete it. With some strong arm tactic from the determined and tough as nails Bruins bunch, the ball was retrieved, handed to 2d-bagger Johnny Evers who made the formal force out which O’Day was obligated to enforce, nullify the run and declare the tie.

For the best firsthand account of what happened before, during, immediately and days after (playoff) the Merkle boner, Evers’ personal narrative is required reading and found in that early baseball classic, “My Greatest Day in Baseball” by famed sportswriter, John P. Carmichael (A.S. Barnes & Co., 1945).

If the greatest pitching staff in history (Brown, Pfiester, Lundgren, Taylor, Reulbach, Cole, Overall (1906-10)) was the wind behind the sails of the dynastic Cubs, it was the smart play of its infield in Bronzed trio of Bear Cubs Tinker (Mgr Federal champion Whales (1915)), Evers (Chalmers MVP Miracle Braves (1914)) and 1B-Mgr Chance, as also overlooked 3rd-sacker Harry Steinfeldt and catcher John “Noisy” Kling, that constituted the tar & nails keeping it all ship-shape.

Did Evers have a bias? I wouldn’t be surprised. But the same goes for any Giants or New York scribe who might weigh-in. Bottom-line, John was in the best spot to tell it like it was. And what a tell! Merkle melee has to be the greatest moment in MLB annals, at least on par with Ruth’s called shot (‘32), Jackie’s debut (‘47) and Rose’s slide home to win an All-Star (‘70). Movie material, for sure.

Merkle’s Boner is more than an infamous miscue. It created four maxims:

1) MLB is a rules-bound game;
2) Completion of play is not just quaint, it’s part of the product;
3) Failure to enforce the rules will be the game’s ultimate demise; and
4) The 1906-10 Chicago Cubs are the greatest baseball team in history.

— — —

Can Joe Maddon’s Cubs match their tough-as-nails forefathers to win a handful of pennants (4) and that not-all-too-common back-to-back Series tandem?

The knee-jerk would say, ‘No, it’s too tough, and they not tough enough.’

To the first part, the 2017 Cubs appear as well-stocked and managed as anyone. And as they’ve done it once already (ring it), that air of confidence puts them in the top tier of hopefuls. To the second, not many of us are as tough as they were back in the dead-ball days. Not many as sentimental, either.

Bruins are off to an inauspicious start at 6-6. A come down off their 103-win season in 2016 would be no surprise. Teams today just ain’t what they used to be (Cubs 1906-10: 116, 107, 99, 104 & 104). If the pedestrian play keeps up, the dog-days (June 20 thru August) will be a real mettle-test for the Northsiders.

But with their talent, sound skipper, a tenacious spirit to defend their title and a little bit o’ luck, these Cubbie bears can make it back to the fall classic in 2017. And if they go through the Bruce Bochy Giants to get there, all the more fun.

Steven Keys
Can of Corn
Photo credit: ChicagoCubs, wc.cca, 1917, sports logo; F.Merkle, NYT, C.Conlon, wc, 1912; CoogansBluff, wc, MerkleBonerGame, 9.23.1908; J.McGraw-F.Chance, wc, LibraryofCongress, GG.Bain, 5.2.1911; J.Evers, wc, 1910, LoC, P.Thompson; J.Maddon-B.Bean.VPSR&I, wc, 10.26.16, A.PardavilaIII; Can-of-corn
Posted: 4.17.17 @ 2:19pm EST, edit 6.21; Copyright © 2017

MLB16 Chin Music: Cubs Win Is Just More Cloudburst For Rainmaker Epstein

6 Nov

Those Sporting Gods are a funny bunch of deities. Not funny like a “clown,” oh no, but curious, like that monkey on PBS (“George”).

sportingmeetinggods-wc-1630-cv-poelenburgh-3mAt times they seem asleep at the wheel, having no interest whatsoever in the goings-on of sport, letting just about any Whosit on a hot-streak hoist the Title hardware (‘86 Mets, ‘06 Heat, ‘15 GSW, ’14 Seahawks), then, at other times, the Sporting Gods just can’t keep their all-guiding hands off of the controls.

It’s the latter practice that looks to’ve been in operation for major league baseball’s World Series 2016 that pitted two Title-starved opponents in the Cleveland Indians against the Chicago Cubs.

The Gods must’ve had themselves a good long laugh.

Not with the winning Bruins (4-3), the team most pre-season prognosticators pegged to take the title, but in affecting the crazy course by which the Cubbies finally navigated their way, once again (‘07-08), back to the champion’s podium.

As for the Indians, Mgr Terry Francona and Cleveland brass will have ’em back.

chancemcgraw-5-2-1911-gg-bain-loc-wc-66kEmphasis on the adverb ‘again’ as most people, even the raucous revelers on State Street, have no idea (interest) that there were times, like in the 1880s (Cap Anson, King “Hook-Slide” Kelly, John Clarkson) and then early 1900s (Chance, Evers, Tinker, Brown, Kling, Overall, Steinfeldt, Reulbach) when the name Chicago Cubs struck fear into the hearts of men, even the likes of Cobb, Wagner, McGinnity & McGraw.

First, the Gods put the Tribe out front (3-1), building hope for their frustrated fans who hadn‘t had a championship since Red River was in the theaters (“Yeeee-ha!” (‘48)), then they set the Cubs, who hadn’t even taken a pennant since that heart-wrenching year of 1945 (FDR – WW2), storming back to even it up at three, most of their wins coming on the road, no less, at Progressive Field.

And if that weren’t enough to trigger the PVCs, then the deciding game seven (7) goes extra innings (Zzzzz), has a rain-delay and had baseball writers pulling their hair out not knowing which title they were gonna’ post (’Cleveland, City of Champs!’ or ‘Cubs Win, Cubs Win, Cubs Win!’).

james-wc-4-27-8-k-allison-3-8mEven a kingly presence in the crowd (LeBron James) couldn’t turn the trick for the Tribe.

But if there are any fans in sportdom who can fully appreciate both the lows of losing the big match (Indians) and then the cathartic joy that comes with winning the Chalice of a Champion (Cavaliers), it would be those who reside in and around the Forest City, Ohio.

So after all their fun n’ games, why’d the Gods tab Chicago the winner?

If there’s one thing the Divinities will not tolerate, something they simply abhor, it is the haphazard stewardship of baseball records.

If you write about rounders often you will come to rely on the wealth of statistics made available on the web at baseball-reference.com. The same sort of repository exists for many of the major American merriments. When you cut through all the sabrmetric snooze (WAR, OPS, etc.), the site’s smorgasbord of stats is a tremendous baseball resource for which this user is grateful.

gold-medieval-ring-wc-sonofthesands-britain-146kBut when the boys who run the site brazenly decided in-Series to award championship rings to the Indians (appearing as a gold icon next to the relevant year in the “Postseason” section (all now removed)), as early as the close of game three (3) with Tribe up 2-1, the Sporting Gods decided on a winner: The Cubs. There’s that, and the fact that the Northsider’s dry-spell for a World Series winner (1908), whether based at West Side Grounds or Weeghman – Wrigley Field, had Cleveland’s beat by 40 years. Plenty parched.

— — —

He was near demigod status in his role shaping the Francona Red Sox teams that ended their own championship drought in 2004 and reigned again in 2007. But in doing the same for the parched pin-strippers on Chicago’s Northside (See Also; GM Jed Hoyer), Theo Nathaniel Epstein (b.12.29.73 (NY)) left behind the wunderkind tag and joined a select group of baseball executives (GM – PBO), builders who, when funded ($), create dream seasons and dynasties. It’s a membership that includes Branch Rickey (OH) and Ed Barrow (“born in a covered wagon in Springfield (Ill.)(Wikipedia)).” Big stuff.

inherit-tracy-wc-1960-ua-54kBut with progress comes a cost, a quid pro quo. You gain something, you give something up. For the Cubs and their followers that price may be the ‘lovable’ they’ve been serving up since 1945.

Spencer Tracy (“Henry Drummond”) spoke to this yin-yang thing in Stanley Kramer’s highly acclaimed Scopes Monkey Trial movie, Inherit the Wind (‘60):

Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it.
Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, ‘All right, you can have a telephone but you lose privacy and the charm of distance.
Madam, you may vote but at a price. You lose the right to retreat behind the powder puff or your petticoat. And Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.’”

The faithful, Cubs ownership in the Ricketts family and Manager Joe Maddon, both deserving of the Rainmaker tag themselves, the sports media, all have failed to consider what it will really mean to the Cozy World of Confine now that the Cubs have won their 3rd World Series championship.

epstein-wc-slingsby-9-8-10-688kThe red, white & blue Bruins have built so much out of “nothing” it became the most beloved brand in all of sports. Everybody likes the Cubs, even before 2016. The undying love they engender in their fans nationwide is admired on par with Yankees’ prowess in play.

Winning changes everything. Fenway fans in their 40s understand that. There’s a new expectation, standard in Bean Town and Chicago, too. Anything short of a World Series title gets an incomplete grade. Tension rises, especially amongst the fair-weather fan who jumped the bandwagon and has wherewithal of a wet peanut.

Finally breaking that championship drought (’04 (1918 v Cubs)) can be cathartic for those who still hold the pain from chances that got away (‘67, ‘75, ‘86). But it’s a different mood in Boston these days. Success is sweet but it can be a pretty girl with a fickle heart: Warm when in clover, cold when the chips are down.

And that’s half hyperbole.

The victory parade down Michigan Avenue in November, so thick with confetti The Fugitive could’ve eluded police for days, was a beautiful sight to behold.

chicago-mi-ave-wc-4-9-11-l-fuss-2-8mA man who knew a thing or two about progress was at the Allied controls when the Cubs were in spring training and about to embark on a season that would take them to what was to be their last NL pennant and fall classic prior to 2016 (1945). That man was U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 – April 12, 1945 (d. Warm Springs, GA)):

This is what 4-termer FDR, the standard by which all Presidents are measured, had to say about progress: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much (Yankees & Cardinals), but whether we provide enough for those who have too little (Royals (2015) and Cubs (2016)).”

Hooray for progress!

.....canned cornSteven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credit: T.Epstein, wc.cca, 10.22.16, A.PardavilaIII; Sporting(MeetingGods), wc, 1630, CV.Poelenburgh; J.McGraw-F.Chance, wc, 5.2.1911, GG.Bain, LoC; L.James, wc, K.Allison, 4.27.8; gold-medieval-ring, wc, Britain, Sonofthesands; Inherit-the-wind, S.Tracy, UA, 1960; Epstein, wc, 9.8.10, S.Slingsby; MichiganAve., wc, Chicago, L.Fuss, 4.9.11, Canned-corn
Posted: 11.5.16 @ 9:57pm EST; Copyright © 2016

MLB16 Chin Music: Angels Weep But Gods Still Favor Pujols & Trout

29 Sep

It won’t be the question that keeps Anaheim Angels’ braintrust fidgeting when their 2016 season ends with conclusion of Sunday afternoon’s game against the visiting Astros. More likely it will be the implementation, whenever that might be, of the painful answer they already know: Mike Scioscia has gotta’ go.

Mike’s a pretty brilliant baseball mind. No doubt on that point (.541 (17)). And in his day, a pretty nifty ball-player, too. A two-time All-Star and champion (1981, ‘88), he was a mainstay backstop with Southern California rival, the Dodgers.

scioscia-wc-12-9-15-a-pardavilaiii-5-2m-wintermtgJim Fregosi (1979-81) and Gene Mauch (1981-82, ‘85-87) made the Anaheim Angels of Greater Los Angeles Metro respectable but it was Scioscia who finally molded and managed them to that brass ring, the 2002 World Series title (v. SF). To date it’s the Angels only pennant and championship.

But if it’s not working, and it hasn’t been for six of the last seven seasons, it’s gotta’ be fixed, that is, if you (owner) still have designs on winning again.

It’s not just ‘not working’ at Angel Stadium, it seems to have slipped into reverse. From 98 wins (‘14), to 85 (‘15) to 70-whatever this 2016.

Apart from that well-meant but somewhat ill-advised Josh Hamilton signing, you can’t really lay much blame at the doorstep of Angels’ owner Arte Moreno.

scioscia-wc-4-7m-7-23-11-k-allisonNumber one, he’s forked out the moolah in massive amounts to top talent in recent years in hopes of re-capturing the glory of the early 2000s, stars enough to make a tiny All-Star team, contract-money enough to fund a tiny space program but results so small the hardware would barely furnish the mantel in a “Tiny House (ugh).”

Two, Arte’s loyal, especially to dedicated employee who brought a long suffering franchise their first championship. That’s a rare thing today, in big business or small. And then how was Moreno to know Vlad Guerrero would turn out to be post-season pedestrian (17g (‘05-08): 1.rbi, 0.hr, 7r).

The ouster of Scioscia is a move many in baseball have probably pondered at each season’s end since 2012. That year marked the Halos third consecutive absence from the post-season after having made the grade in six of eight seasons prior in that successful span from 2002 (WS) thru 2009.

Since that well-deserved World Series victory in 2002 the Angels have been ignominiously bounced from six of those playoffs, going 1-12 in four divisional series, just slightly better in the two American League Championships at 3-8.

Point being, the Angels post-title decline has been clear n’ steady. There have been respites by way of playoff appearances, some in bunches (‘04-09), one set-apart (‘14), none of them at their opening having conveyed a strong sense of World Series Wherewithal (See; Above).

morenofan-wc-j-miller-6-9-7-188kIn his defense, the Pennsylvania native (11.27.58) has had his share of untimely injuries (Hamilton, Weaver, etc.) and line-ups somewhat lacking in both pitching (starters – mid – close) and hitting, particularly contact men (.300), though, such bats are at a premium today in free-swinging MLB and Angels 2016 team-BA does trend well (.260 (6-AL)).

Current Halos’ GM Billy Eppler, a sabrmetrics adherent, has only been on the job a year and can’t be expected to shoulder much blame for current malaise, though, his number fixation (WAR, OPS, etc.) does not invite hope. Any administrative blame to be doled out must be born by Bill’s predecessor, Mariners current GM in Jerry Dipoto (2011-15), along with farm-system (Mike LaCassa) and scouting (Ric Wilson) directors. Get the big bucks, you get to bear the brunt.

But line-up deficiencies, whether they be in All-Star caliber or utility players, those workaday guys that can fly under-the-radar yet meet important team needs that don’t necessarily get quantified in sabrmetric – fantasy reports, plague nearly every team in both loops.

Even baseball’s 2016 version of the NHL’s Presidents’ Trophy winner (regular season’s best) in the Chicago Cubs (Did I just write that? Good sign, Bruins-backers), have an Achilles heel or two which Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein must lose a wink or two fretting over every nite they hit the hay (Zzzz).

pujols-4-14-12-laawc-1-26m-m-olearyTwo men you can’t fault for Angels “free-fall from ecstasy (Skowron)” are Albert Pujols and Mike Trout.

In four full and one partial season (99g / 2013) with Halos, Albert, finishing his 16th MLB run and a likely 1st-ballot HOF’er when he hangs up his spikes, has clubbed 490 (+/-) ribbies and 146 taters, 29 per, on average. Pretty terrific production for a man in his mid-30s.

How many more runs of bountiful the Sporting Gods afford Al is hard to predict.

He turns 37 in January but is seems a well tuned machine and wouldn’t surprise if he produced for 2-3 more years. But one thing this fan, and AP himself most assuredly, would not want to see is that career BA dropping below the .300 mark. It currently stands at .309 but he’s been well off that average since exiting the Gateway City and will likely fall below the hallowed marker with 1-2 more full seasons of play. It’s something to ponder, anyway.

trout-wc-7-24-11-501k-md-k-allisonMike, a fan favorite due to his easy adjustment to the majors, daring style of play and, though seems in need of work on driver attentiveness (“CHP Says…” / ocregister / 9.1.16 / Schwebke & Sudock), shows a spirit for the game and concern for others, finishes up his 6th season in Anaheim and stands as a strong AL-MVP candidate, leading the loop in OB% (.441), BBs (113), likely to reach the 30 and 100 plateaus in HRs and RBIs respectively and has surpassed the 100 mark in runs-scored for the fifth time in his relatively short MLB career. He’s presently leading in that latter category (122) in a year when it‘s a good chance that 20+ players will reach the century mark in runs.

It would not be hyperbole to write that the rise of Hamiltonism (See: Billy (198 runs in 1894)) is in no small measure due to the corresponding rise in Troutonics.

Back to Mr. Scioscia. He is an Anaheim legend and will have his number or name retired. But Mike and his betters should keep in mind that all good things come to an end and change, too often today instituted haphazardly for no good reason but to keep the pay-checks coming, can in fact work a real benefit, for the franchises and legends in question (See; Curly Lambeau, Tom Coughlin, Casey Stengel & Mike Babcock whose Red Wings record compares to Mike‘s own).

What the contract between Scioscia and Moreno states in its particulars (term, payout, etc.), this writer need not know. Such agreements, if wisely drafted, contemplate the multitude of circumstance, including the above postulated.

.....canned cornSteven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credit: M.Trout, wc, MD, K.Allison, 7.23.11; M.Scioscia, 7.23.11, wc, MD, K.Allison; M.Scioscia, wc.cca, 12.9.15, A.Pardavila, WinterMeet; Moreno-Fan, J.Miller, 6.9.7, wc; A.Pujols, wc, 4.14.12, M.O’Leary; M.Trout-Fan, 7.24.11, MD, K.Allison; Canned-corn
Posted: 9.29.16 @ 4:40pm, edit @ 10:17 EST; Copyright © 2016