Saturday, March 26, 2011

Baseball Extra

Baseball oddities, flukes and sure-fire conversation stoppers*

Father of the Year: The father of John Ely is such a rabid White Sox fan that he refuses to attend games his son, now with the Dodgers, pitches against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Eye guy: Max Scherzer (Tigers pitcher) has one blue and one brown, a condition called heterochromia.

"Now I really mean it": Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg once walked the bases loaded on 12 pitches at San Diego State and then struck out the next three batters in nine pitches!

"Ship outta luck": The great-grandmother of Dodgers backup catcher A.J. Ellis had a ticket to travel from Hungary to England on the Titanic but was late and missed the boat.

It's all relative:  Padres infielder Lance Zawadki singled in his first major league at-bat, then scored on a triple by Tony Gwynn Jr., son of his college coach.

Dropoff dude:  Jorge Cantu of the Reds became the first player ever to get an RBI in each of his team's first 10 games, then finished the year with an RBI in only one of his last 36 games.

Extreme sports:  Howie Kendrick of the Angles was the only player last year (ever?) to end games with both a squeeze bunt and a home run.

Home Boy:  Royals shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt was playing his 208th game as a Royal when he stole his first-ever base for them--of home.

Smoke 'em inside: The press box in Cincinnati was evacuated on Opening Day last year when mop heads caught fire in a dryer.

Only in Philly:  On April 16 a fan there is charged with assault after he is accused of intentionally vomiting on an 11-year-old and her father.

Gold Glover?:  On April 22, the day Torii Hunter of the Angels is presented with his ninth Gold Glove he is in the lineup--as DH.

Tin Glover!:  Outfielder Chris Young was charged with a rare four-base error as Jayson Werth touches 'em all after Young misplayed his deep fly.

Strategy Gaffe of the Year:  The Yankees throw the first pitch of an intentional walk to Kendrys Morales of the Angels, change their mind and pitch to him and suffer the consequences--a three-run homer.

Good break, bad break:  The same Kendrys Morales has his season ended by a fractured leg suffered during the mob celebration at home plate following his walk-off grand slam.

Time Out:  Rockies catcher Miguel Olivo passes a kidney stone while batting in the 8th inning against Arizona, then returns in the ninth to line a single.

Deked by detonation:  Lastings Milledge of the Pirates, thinking he has hit a grand slam when fireworks are detonated prematurely in Pittsburgh, is tagged out rounding second in a jog after the ball is fielded off the wall.

Matchup throwback:  Brian Bannister, son of ex-White Sox hurler Floyd Bannister, wins the Gavin Floyd-Brian Bannister starting pitcher duel on May 16.

Miracle Man:  Angel Pagan hits an inside-the-park homer and starts a triple play against the Nationals, the first time a player has done both in the same game since 1955, the Elias Sports Bureau says.

Top target:  Austin Kearns of the Indians is hit by three different Rangers pitchers in the same game.

Makeup game:  After stranding a team record 20 runners the day before, the Rockies stage the first nine-run, bottom-of-the-9th-inning, game-winning rally in baseball history to stun the Cardinals, 12-9.

Footloose:  Cardinals rookie David Freese, on the Disabled List with a sprained right ankle, then drops a weight that fractures his left big toe.

Food fluke:  Garrett Jones of the Pirates misses a game when a piece of meat lodged in his esophagus must be surgically removed.

Food Fluke II:  A player suffers a major injury during a postgame celebration for the second time in the season as Florida's Chris Coghlan tears a meniscus delivering a shaving-cream pie to the face of Wes Helms.

Name game:  To become the all-time strikeout leader among left-handed relievers, Billy Wagner of the Braves fans Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton, who has the same name as the man with the second-most appearances among left-handed relievers.

So close but so far:  After 1,571 professional games, 33-year-old John Lindsey makes his big league debut by pinch-hitting for the Dodgers, but is removed for another pinch hitter before he sees a single pitch.

9-11 bombs:  On Sept. 11, 2010, there are three 1-0 games decided by a home run.

Payroll Schmayroll:  Javier Vazquez, at $11.4 million, is the highest-salaried healthy player ever to be left off his team's post-season roster.

Last Man Standing:  With the team out of options, Phillies pitcher Roy Oswalt plays two innings in left field (the team's first pitcher in 39 years to play another position), catches a flyball and makes the last out of the game as a batter in a 16-inning loss to Houston, his former team.

*(with an assist from Athlon Sports.Com.)


Another myth exploded:  Contrary to popular belief, player movement has not increased since the advent of free agency. 

From 1958 to 1976, the era just before mass free agency in Major League Baseball, 23 percent of plate appearances and 26 percent of innings pitched were taken up by players who weren't on their teams' rosters the season before, according to a 2003 study by ace statistician Nate Silver.  The figures from 1977 to 1992, the era just after, are almost identical:  22 percent for hitters, 27 percent for pitchers.

Why do so many of baseball's highly prized young pitchers lose significant velocity during their first few years in professional baseball?

The consensus, according to experts polled by ESPN the Magazine, is not just an increased workload (pro hurlers start once every five days, amateur pitchers once a week) but basic physical maturity. The kid who threw 95 mph as a 165 pound high schooler may not throw that fast when he is older and heavier, as counter-intuitive as that may sound.

So scouts use the term "projectable" to define a phenom's arm.  Projectable bodies "fill out and get stronger, and the weight and muscle bring a stronger torso and more velocity." The problem:  A player's projectability can be badly misjudged.


What do these guys have in common:  Rich Dubee, Rick Kranitz,  Mark Connor,  Don Cooper, Rick Knapp, Rick Anderson, Jim Hickey, Bruce Walton, Mark Riggins and Bryan Price?  Answer:  They are all Major League pitching coaches!  Combined Major League won-loss record (for those who actually pitched in the majors--Dubee, Kranitz, Knapp, Hickey, Price and Riggins did not):  5-10. 

Now for the Major League batting coaches who are likewise (seemingly) unqualified:  What do Joe Vavra (Minnesota Twins), Kevin Long (New York Yankees), Derek Shelton (Tampa Bay Rays), Rudy Jaramillo (Chicago Cubs), John Mallee (Florida Marlins), Mike Barnett (Houston Astros), Jeff Pentland (Los Angeles Dodgers), Gregg Ritchie (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Rick Epstein (Washington Nationals) have in common?

None of these "batting coaches" ever came to bat in the major leagues.  But wait:  The New York Mets have a batting coach--one Dave Hudgens--who came to bat 7 times in the majors and managed 1 hit for a sickly .143 batting average.

What kind of "street cred" can these gentlemen have with their megabucks charges?  Are Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter--combined salary about $55 million a year--going to take the advice of Kevin Long to heart? If so, one wonders why.
I can understand how the likes of Earl Weaver, Walter Alston, Tony LaRussa, Jim Leyland and Sparky Anderson--to name a few men with outstanding  managerial records--can succeed with poor or non-existent (in the case of Weaver and Leyland) playing records in the Major Leagues if they have studied the game and have innate or developed leadership/motivational qualities.

But for the skill positions--pitching and batting coaches--one would think some kind of proven track record at the game's highest level would be a prerequisite.  And there have been stars in those positions--Bob Gibson, Ferguson Jenkins, Kirk Gibson to name some.  But their number seems to be dwindling--most likely due to the financial fortunes they have amassed during their illustrious playing careers--so the salary and hard work attached to being a member of a coaching staff has little appeal.  That Mark McGwire took the position of Cardinals batting coach was more an attempt to rehabilitate his steroid-tainted image than a desire to return to the game.

It says here.

Jim's Top Ten Gripes about Modern-Day Baseball
  • Players who have been in the league for years and haven’t learned to speak English.  Ichiro Suzuki was quoted about his inside-the-park homer in an All-Star game “through an interpreter.”  And he is not alone:  Hideo Nomo was another guilty party, and you can probably name a hundred more.  Sometimes it may be a dodge to avoid the media, and if so, it’s all the more galling.  They want the American dollar and all it brings, but . . . .  If I were baseball commissioner, no one would be allowed on a Major League 40-man roster until he passed an English proficiency exam administered by an independent agency. I would require all American players to take a Spanish course before playing winter ball.  And the Japanese leagues should require the “Gaijin” to learn Japanese as well. 
  • Players, such as Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs, who can’t hold on to their bats--with batting gloves and pine tar yet!  Ricky Gutierrez’s bat was always flying into the stands when he was with the Cubs!
  • Announcers who say “on the season” instead of “for the season,” as if all prepositions are interchangeable.  Then there's Milwaukee Brewers "analyst" Bill Schroeder, who is in love with superfluous verbiage:  "He can really throw the baseball.  . . . He can really hit the baseball.  .  . . He can really catch the baseball.  . . ."  (We know what game they're playing, Mr. Schroeder; we know it's not a soccer ball or a hockey puck out there.  "He can really hit," etc., would probably suffice.)
  • Those dozens of “checked swings” you see every game.  Hey, I know the ball comes in fast and can do funny things, but  . . . it happens way more often than it should.  Did this happen when Willie and Mickey walked the Earth?  Don't remember it.  Most of these alleged checked swings, of course, lead to time-consuming appeals to first- or third-base umpires, further slowing an already-slow athletic event.
  • The Pop-Ups.  No, they aren't harmless infield flies in this instance; I'm decrying the tendency of virtually every fan in front of you--after every crack of the bat, no matter what the outcome--to spring to his or her feet and block your view. These are the "fans" who don’t seem to realize that once the ball has soared over the bleacher wall, there’s really nothing to see, unless you’re fascinated by home-run trots.  These are fans who apparently take the word grandstand too literally.

    (Memo to Popups and other dilettantes: The stands are tiered; if everyone remains seated, everyone can see just fine, especially those who aren’t in a position to leap up 78 times a game, such as the young mother with a toddler on her lap; the fan who is trying to balance drink, hot dog and scorecard on his or her lap; more than a few older or handicapped folks . . .  or those with just a bit more sense.)
  • The Incidental Fan:  These are the folks afflicted with weak or overstressed bladders (due to epic consumption of grain-based beverages), poor attention spans or a lack of interest in the on-field action, so frequent are their forays to concession stand, concourse or restroom.  But all of these actions force the actual serious spectator to accommodate them, by--guess what?—Popping Up themselves.
  • The Tyrannical Vendors:  Herewith SZSEZ's Law of Ballpark Seating: The closer your seat is to the field,  the more opportunistic view-blocking vendors will be in the vicinity.  All of these irritants are exacerbated by the boorish manner of these roving peddlers with the refrigerator-sized metal boxes strapped to their bodies as they curtly order you to “Pass this down!” as they hand you hot dog, condiment packets and foam-dripping beer cups and then wait impatiently for you to complete their transaction by passing bills and coins back to them.  “Didn’t know I was on the payroll” is my usual retort to the more boorish of the breed.
  • The Whistler: This is the fan, almost always male, with a penchant for producing eardrum-splitting sounds for no apparent reason—a man who wouldn’t dream of doing this at his workplace, in a house of worship or while engaged in a romantic pursuit.  But at the ballpark?  Approximately every 17 seconds he will feel compelled to place index fingers in corners of mouth and let loose.  Please tell us why, whistlers: Anthropologists are standing by.
  • The Seat Kicker:  This subspecies can be of either sex and can be found (a) swinging a crossed leg to and fro so that it strikes your seatback on a maddeningly regular basis or (b) plopping his or her feet (shod or otherwise, clean or otherwise) on top of the seat next to you so they are almost as close to your head as your sunglasses.  Threats of bodily harm may be required to remedy this situation.
  • The Valley Girls:  More times than I can count I have found myself seated near a gaggle of giggly preteen girls on a group outing,  girls whose presence at an athletic event is truly puzzling, so oblivious are they to the on-field action and so unrelated to it is their nonstop conversation.  Suffer this fate and you will be “treated” to nearly three hours of boyfriend gossip, unpopular-girl bashing and a rundown of who or who isn’t cute in their class or in the ongoing parade of fans, vendors and assorted ushers.  This daylight pajama party is interrupted only for the purposes of emitting high-decibel shrieks whenever their favorite "hottie" player's name is announced.

    Crowd control at today’s ballparks is largely an oxymoron.  Because if it truly is a crowd, the only possible control, realistically, is self-control, so outnumbered are the controllers. Ask anyone who’s been in or near a soccer riot. And therein lies the problem:  Today’s athletes are better educated than their predecessors, but the fans who are watching them?  Not so much! I don’t know where the Cubs will finish this year, or the White Sox either, but when it comes to decline in fan incivility, “Hey, baby, we’re No. 1!”  Any manners any mother may have taught these folks, any consideration for their fellow man that they may exercise elsewhere, are apparently checked at the gate.

    So if you’ve got tickets to Opening Day, don’t take me out to the ballgame.  Maybe later in the season--if I can get a seat in a skybox far from the proverbial madding crowd.
Any reproduction of the description or the accounts of this diatribe without the express written consent of the beleaguered author is strictly prohibited.

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