Tag Archives: San Francisco Giants

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

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MLB15 Chin Music: Giants Formula No Secret

26 Mar

Three World Series titles in five seasons (2010, ‘12 & ‘14). That’s impressive stuff.

And very satisfying too, especially for older Giants‘ fans, when you consider it took the East Coast transplants 50+ years to nab that first California-based crown after relocating (NYC) with the Boys in blue (LAD) in 1958.

..........Posey.wc.3.21.09.bryce.edwards.thmb

Ask some fans what they think of Bruce Bochy (Mgr) and GM Brian Sabean’s modern-day masterpiece in sport engineering and you’re likely to get the all too typical tight-fisted line: ‘It’s okay, but it’s not a dynasty.’

Some will dole out compliments like rare gems. Ugh.

But if you don’t toss the City of San Francisco a bouquet on this occasion, you’re not ‘baseball.’

What these Giants & Co. have accomplished is nothing short of tremendous, back-to-backs be damned. It’s in high league with the Belichick – Kraft Patriots and Popovich – Holt (Buford) Spurs: a formula for long, sustained success.

..........SFfan.6.6.14.wc.cca.thmb.S.Kelly

It’s all reminiscent of baseball dynasties of old: 40s Cardinals (1942, ‘44 & ‘46), 1910s Red Sox (1912, ‘15, ‘16 & ‘18) and San Fran’s down-state rivals, Dodgers, who started winning titles not long after hitting the LAX tarmac (1959, ‘63 & 65).

In besting their 2014 Series opponents the upstart Royals, no slouches themselves in giving the champs all they could handle (4-3), San Francisco proved to be more than that opportunistic club who just happen to get hot in a less-than-stellar playoff field.

Uh-uh. These guys have a system.

Brass Tacks

It’s no secret that it all begins with the money-bags, so to speak.

But you’ve gotta’ keep a scorecard to keep current on who exactly holds trump card for the Giants since Bob Lurie parted with ownership in January of 1993.

From what I can gather through a fairly haphazard search, Charles Bartlett Johnson appears to be Giants principal owner, having acquired controlling shares (‘11) after the death of Sue Burns (d.2009), who was the widow and heiress to the estate of her husband Harmon “Buzz” Burns who was principal investor of an assemblage that acquired Giants in 1993 and who then died in 2006. Peter Magowan was also an investor and managing partner from 1993-08, a post then assumed by later investor Bill Neukom who held it through 2011, when Larry Baer became chief money manager (CEO / MGP).

Who says rule by committee, or carousel, can’t make it all gel?

..........Sabean.wc.2010.btwashburn.thmb

The hands-on general manager is Brian Sabean who’s been wheeling & dealing in the post since 1996. It constitutes the longest running tenure of any horse-trader in MLB.

Sabean will engage in high-end free agency from time to time: Livan Hernandez (‘99-02), Kenny Lofton for a brief but useful stint (‘02) and Barry Bonds being the biggest name (’93-07). And that willingness to spend some has continued into the championship era.

In 2015, San Francisco is 4th in estimated payroll at $169.5M yearly, not far behind Boston ($178+) but well off the pricey pace of the Yankees ($211+) and largesse kings, the Dodgers (273.4) (spotrac.com/mlb/payroll).

There was Aubrey Huff (3B), signed at tail-end of a fine 13-year career (’10-12), who contributed to SF’s first WS title (‘10) in both the regular and post-seasons.

Pat Burrell (OF / 1B) was another star on decline the Giants signed up. He too contributed to the 2010 Pennant run, though, the tank ran empty by playoffs.

The Barry Zito signing is a memorable one.

The southpaw CY winner (‘02) brought a pretty penny in the 2006-07 free agent market when he exited Oakland for greener pastures. Barry averaged around $17M per in his 7 seasons with the Giants (‘07-13) but saw his ERA balloon and, excepting a bounce back in 2012 (15-8), saw his win-% take a dive.

..........Pence.wc.9.26.12.thmb.Ami221

Sabean’s faired better with free agents Hunter Pence and bridge pitcher Jean Machi.

In 2+ seasons in the Bay since coming from Philly, Pence has been steady at the plate, a regular face in Bochy’s line-up, playing a full state in both 2013 & ‘14 and played out of his cleats in Royals Series, batting .444 with 7 runs and 5 RBIs.

The 33-yr. old Machi bounced around baseball for a decade before signing with Frisco (‘11). His first foray into the post-season (‘14 / 7.94) was nothing to write home about (Venezuela), but his regular-season contribution over 2+ seasons is substantial: 126 IP, 2.71 ERA, 106-31 SO/BB.

Like the Zito (K), the Tim Lincecum deal proved another pricey – dicey outlay.

After taking consecutive Cy Youngs (‘08-09), Tiny Tim was re-signed & rewarded by the Giants with just compensation. From 2010 – 14, “The Freak” had a salary that averaged just over $16M per season. And then like Barry, Tim got the yips, going 61-62 with and a 4.09 ERA. SF has won three titles in his on-going term.

The Madison Bumgarner contract takes some sting out of the dour deals.

..........Bumgarner.wc.9.3.13.SDDirk.thmb

The big, 25-year old left-hander and 2014 World Series MVP has been notching more Ws than losses (67-49 / 3.00), limit’s the free-pass (1-to-4 BB/SO) and looks a veritable bargain, re-signing at an average of $11M yearly for the next five.

The recently departed Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval (BOS / $18M (6y)) may offer a twist on Branch Rickey’s famous line, “sometimes the best (deals) are the one’s you don’t make.”

The 3rd-bagger’s absence will be felt. Pablo was a steady presence at the hot corner, fine production and key cog in Giants ‘12 and ‘14 title machinery (.500 / .429 (WS)). But his scoring was just fair-to-good (74rbi / 62r (avg)) while the glove never spun gold, though, it’s fair to say awarding, especially for leather, can sometimes be less-than objective.

It’s also fair to say that assessing the soundness or deafness of a particular contract from 100,000 arm-lengths away, can be a somewhat dubious endeavor.

So what does one glean from all this?

The Giants have been willing to dole out ducats to build & sustain a winning way which, while no guarantee of championship(s) (See: LAD & LAA), can’t be dismissed through sabermetric smoke & mirrors if a significant & sustainable success is sought by the brass.

Posey Primer

Every dynasty has one: a primer. A player that ignites the charge to championship play. He serves as base material from which victory is forged and all will coalesce.

The St. Louis Cardinals have Yadier Molina.

In New England it’s been Tom Brady, while the Ravens had Ray Lewis.

Spurs primer has been Tim Duncan.

Blackhawks recent title take began with Toews, Kane and the wily, Marian Hossa.

The Joe Torre Yankees took off with Jeter & Rivera.

And for the Giants it’s been Georgia-born catcher, Buster Posey.

..........Posey.wc.Cbl62.4.4.11.1.thmb

It should be no surprise then, that the start of San Fran’s World Series run coincides with Buster’s rookie campaign when he was awarded the NL’s Rookie-of-the-Year.

The numbers are impressive but not suspiciously gaudy.

In five seasons, Posey’s averaged 68 runs, 20 dingers and 80+ RBIs per, digits which would bump up slightly had he not been taken out of action early in 2012 due to a home-plate collision with Scott Cousins (FLA). It left the 2-time All Star with a broken ankle, out for the remainder and spurred on a new base-running rule that takes Buster’s name and is designed to limit home-plate havoc.

As a back-stop, Leesburg’s finest is not quite in class yet with Johnny Bench or Yadier, not many are, but he’s skilled, commits few errors, has led the NL in Caught Stealing category (’12 (38)) and holds a not-too-shabby career-% (31.9).

And lucky is the Manager with a capable man behind home plate who can also make good contact with his bat. A career .308 hitter, Buster, who’s set to turn 28 on Friday (3.27.87), won a batting title (and MVP) in 2012 with a whopping .336.

But nothing speaks to a top-flight catcher like the one that can coax pitching staffs to win championships. And on that count, Mr. Posey is a highly decorated ace.

Vive la Bochy!

They say when you’ve got your health you’ve got everything.

Unfortunately for most of us it’s not until we suffer that serious illness or debilitating condition that that sentiment really hits home.

..........Bochy.wc.cca.4.4.11.Cb162.thumb

If he didn’t already (he’s closing in fast on 60 (4.16.55)), Giants skipper Bruce Bochy has taken that sentiment to heart, no pun intended. A whole new perspective, no doubt.

Bruce underwent an operation last month to have stents inserted after he’d felt out of sorts following his club’s annual physical exam given during spring training (“Giants Bruce“ / ESPN (AP) / 2.20.15).

It’s a very serious, highly skilled procedure but a fairly common one today as Mr. Bochy was up & around, out of the hospital and back on the diamond in fairly short order.

..........Bochy.ejectd.6.23.07.wc.dennis.thmb

Not yet amongst that inglorious hierarchy of manager ejectees the likes of Earl Weaver (94) or Paul Richards (80: 1-every-23g (Totalprosports.com)), the native of France (BB’s father served in US Army (Wikipedia)) was a catcher (1978-87) and has a full appreciation for the unhealthy art of umpire argumentation and antagonization (64 +/-).

That appreciation will have to find a new outlet of expression.

This 2015 MLB season will mark Bochy’s third decade of managing (1618 – 1604). We who love baseball, even as some of us know Hank O’Day’s (HOF ’13) 1908 “Merkle Boner” ruling to be entirely correct (Cub Power!), want to see the Giants frisky version of Walter Alston occupying the San Francisco dugout for many years to come.

...........canned corn

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo Credits: B.Posey, Cbl62, 4.4.11, wc.cca; B.Posey, B.Edwards, 3.21.09, wc; SF.Fan, S.Kelly, wc, 6.6.14; B.Sabean, wc, ptwashburn, 2010; H.Pence, 9.26.12, wc, Ami221; M.Bumgarner, wc, SD.Dirk, 9.3.13; B.Posey, wc, Cbl62, 4.4.11; B.Bochy, wc, Cbl62, 4.4.11; B.Bochy.ejected, 6.23.07, wc, dennis; canned corn.
Posted: 3.25.15 @ 9:36pm EST
Stat support provided by Baseball-reference.com

Chin Music’14: Batty for Balls & Strikes

28 Oct

Forest for the Trees

In an age of monopoly where one brand or theme will hog the shelf, baseball too has its fair share of conforming, domineering trends.

On the diamond, it’s been performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), drag-pants, walk-off bunny-hop hysteria, maple bats (& their attendant shards), sugar-water baths, shave-cream pie-in-the-face and hair, lots & lots o’ hair.

Cue the Cowsills, please:

Let it fly in the breeze
And get caught in the trees
Give a home to the fleas in my hair
A home for the fleas
A hive for the buzzin’ bees
A nest for birds
There ain’t no words
For the beauty, the splendor, the wonder
Of my…
Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it
Long as God can grow it
My hair…,
I want it long, straight, curly, fuzzy
Snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty
Oily, greasy, fleecy
Shining, gleaming, streaming
Flaxen, waxen
Knotted, polka-dotted
Twisted, beaded, braided
Powdered, flowered, and confettied
Bangled, tangled, spangled, and spaghettied (“Hair (‘69)”)!”

In the marketing & media biz it’s the billion-dollar fantasy fad, its kissing cousin in the promotion department, sabermetrics, and the ever-present ranking that stock the shelf.

On TV, the new wave in producer-think has given viewers such innovations in coverage as graphic sound-effects (“Bam! Wham! Sock! Zap! Ka-pow!) and the always scintillating in-game dugout interview (Zzzzz). “Holy perfect pitch, Batman!”

And when it comes to the talking heads, the bias is downright batty.

.............bat.english.1875.wc.cca.PSM.thumb

Color-commentators and in-studio analysts will whittle a whole 9-inning contest down to one topic: balls & strikes. Aaron Boone and Orel Hershiser must talk about it in their sleep. ‘Uh, what, what’s that honey, a slider low & outside is his money pitch? Oy vey!’

Typifying of the trend was the Baseball Tonight segment on Sportscenter (ESPN) following Giants G2 win over host Royals (7-2).

Karl Ravech presided over a panel of experts that included Kurt Schilling, Barry Larkin & John Kruk, all of whom spent 10 minutes talking of nothing else but pitch selection, as if it were the ‘be all and end all’ of baseball. It ain’t.

But the batty breakdowns are just one more de-humanizing trend that mistakenly proclaims sport to be entirely quantifiable with numbers, category or ranking.

Unless there’s fantasy tie-in, saber-think considers it boring, trite and unprofitable.

Sport technicians couldn’t have gotten away with this 50, hell, 10 years ago. The adults would not’ve stood for it. They’d have demanded more, in substance and humanity.

With the NFL cruising along, poised to knock Jesus off his long-held perch atop the Sunday ranking (AM game), its biggest rival in the sporting biz in baseball has hard enough time getting and keeping viewers glued to the tube and is ill-advised to bore the begeebers out of fans in a simple kow-tow to some intangible trend in quantus.

“More feeling,” producers.

Joe Maddon Sweepstakes

It came as no shock, but the timing was a bit surprising, when noted Rays manager Joe Maddon decided to opt-out of his contract w/Tampa Bay on Friday, a team he’d guided for 9 seasons, including a pennant-winner in ‘08.

The reason? Take your pick:

1) Money, or lack of it, from an ownership (Sternberg) who was unwilling to pay for either players or proven leadership (Mgr), but now wants to move that to Montreal;

2) A dispassionate fan-base who got more worked-up over Jeter than their own Rays;

3) Craves a bigger market w/bigger spotlight and more plentiful opportunities.

Rays’ President Matt Silverman: “We’re turning the page (ESPN 10-24).” Guess so.

Marc Topkin of TBT (ESPN 10-24) believes Gabe Kapler, a former Rays player, is on a short-list, and that the Rays may consult with players on their choice. The players? Huh. Asking the students who they want for a teacher. A club going nowhere fast.

............Maddon.4.1414.wc.cca.K.Allisonthumb

Maddon’s agent Alan Nero has stated Joe is “prepared to take a year off,” unless “the situation is right (“Joe” / TSD (Pioneer Press) / 10-25 / M.Birch). Ballsy.

Joe’s a popular guy, outside the Boston and New York areas. But even there, that disdain is accompanied by an overall respect for the man’s managerial talents, just as long as he’s not in the opposite dugout from their beloved Bombers & Beaneaters.

If he does sit for a spell, the opportunities will grow.

Dodgers

Only a man who’d managed a Yankees’ dynasty (Torre) might see LAD as anything less than baseball heaven. Donny “Baseball” is set in blue, at least for 2015, so says GBM. If Dodgers don’t look playoff primed post Home Run Derby & Family Fun Extravaganza (all star week), the non-negotiation negotiations may start in earnest with JM.

Cubs

Some folks idea of a good laugh, but Cubbies have won more games (10,551) than any other ball-club, excepting the Giants (10,780), and fielded what’s arguably the greatest team in history (1906 – 10). So there‘s that.

Beyond their glory and status as America’s most beloved sports team, owner Ricketts and GM Epstein are set to spend serious specie on the man who can do for Northsiders what Moses did for the Israelites. BoSox rebirth was grand, but this’d be a national celebration.

Current Cubs’ skipper Rick Renteria receives good marks for his performance since signing a 3-year deal in 2013. Maddon might like the challenge, and the payoff.

Mets

As it stands today, Terry Collins will be managing the final year of his contract in 2015 with the Mets holding an option for 2016. Anywhere Maddon would land will be a challenge to build a winner, but New York is New York.

Small market clubs

Not a likely destination for one of Maddon’s reputation and asking price (reported to be $5M), but don’t rule ’em out as Joe might just favor being ‘big fish in a small pond,’ and the tempered expectations that wade in the water. If the money’s right, small may win.

California Dreamin’

Though Royals are regal opponents, Giants are “one small step (win)” away from certain baseball dynasty, but “one giant leap” from ever becoming California’s favorite club.

.............Hollywood.8.3.07.Sorn.wc.cca.thumb

As the Cowboys will always be America‘s Team, so too the Dodgers will forever hold a special place in hearts of most Californians. Title droughts won’t change the sentiments, not as long as these two franchises remain true to their missions to field competitive ball clubs and honor their storied pasts in uniform & logo. Nike don’t know style.

The Giants do have one, outside chance to win over hearts & minds of Californians.

If San Francisco can string together multiple, championship campaigns, relatively close in time, and the Dodgers continue to come up short, they might win over the Golden State.

............GoldenGate.wc.cca.1.1.07.R.Niewiroski.thumb

Their Oakland rivals across the bay were on the verge (Swingin’ As (‘72 – 74) & Brothers Bash (‘88 – 90)), but couldn’t keep the good times rolling, not with the financial frugality of Moneyball running the operation.

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credit: Batman – Girl, 8.24.67, ABC, wc.cca; english bats, 1875, wc.cca, PSM; J.Maddon, wc.cca, 4.14.14, K.Allison; Hollywood, 8.3.07, Sorn, wc.cca; GoldenGate, wc.cca, R.Niewiroski, 1.1.07
Posted: 10-28-14 @ 2:16pm EST