Thursday, June 30, 2011

Baseball and Immigration

Baseball's midsummer classic is in Phoenix this year. Besides the heat (at least the stadium has a retractable roof) fans going to the game will probably encounter protesters reminding them of the state's tough anti-immigration laws.

The Arizona Diamondbacks had already been chosen to host the game before the issue exploded. When it did, players and human rights' groups urged MLB to move the game. That didn't happen.

Some Hispanic ballplayers have said they would avoid the All-Star Game this year. A U.S. senator has called for a boycott. There have been stories from time to time in the mainstream media, but the threat has not gained much traction. 

Commissioner Bud Selig, never shy about promoting the breaking of baseball's color line in 1947 (never mind that baseball had maintained that line and most in the game at the time would have just as soon let it stay in place), hasn't seen fit to speak out on the issue.

The NBA commissioner, David Stern, backed the Phoenix Suns when they wore "Los Suns" jerseys for a playoff game in May 2010. He called the gesture "appropriate." I wouldn't doubt that someone with an eye on the NBA's bottom line thought the league should have just ignored the issue. But to the Suns' and Stern's credit they didn't.

It's nice that baseball like to celebrate Jackie Robinson every year. MLB even stages a conference where racial issues are discussed.

Given that, it's stunning that Selig can't see a current issue that merits his attention. It's time for baseball's silence to end.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Everywhere You Click, Lists

The web is crazy for lists. Every sports site has them. At time they can be diverting. has made a sort of cottage industry out of them.

The reasons they are popular are obvious: they generate page views because of their slide-show format and any crazy idea can be presented. Maybe we have David Letterman to blame.

But one kind of list is beyond me. That would be the Power Rankings that various sites post for baseball and other sports. Generally, they are like the standings, with a couple of teams flip-flopped, I guess to generate comments. And most of the comments are predictable. Home team fans offended by the placement of their favorite.

Whenever I click on them, I feel immediately like I have wasted a few minutes I can never get back. Baseball is great for generating debates that can't really be answered. The arguments over who are the best player, hitter, pitcher, and team go on with no real resolution possible. That's what makes them fun.

The opposite is true of the Power Rankings. Everyday the standings in newspapers and on websites pretty much tell you who the best teams are. And at the end of the season they take the field for another month or so of games to determine the champion.

It's all determined on the field by the players and managers. So why bother with Power Rankings?

Now, as to choosing the best player ever ...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Memories of Yanks-Brewers

I'm not a big fan of interleague play, but the series that starts tonight with the Brewers visiting the Yankees does bring back fond memories of a time in the late 1970s and early '80s when the two had a heated rivalry. recounted some of the highlights -- brawls and nasty words mostly -- that marked the teams' meetings back then. I remember some of that, but mostly I remember some amazing moments between two of the top teams in the American League.

The Brewers were still playing in Milwaukee County Stadium and starting in the summer of '78 the place was rocking every night. And when the Yankees with Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry and the rest of the Bronx Zoo came to town, the old ballpark was even more electric.

One series stands out above the rest. It was early July 1978 and for the first time since the club moved from Seattle there was a reason for the fans to be excited. Robin Yount and Paul Molitor were rising stars; Gorman Thomas and Pete Vuckovich were the kind of nasty, blue-collar types Milwaukee loves; and Larry Hisle, Sal Bando and the rest propelled the team into the pennant race.

Just before the big series, the Yanks had come to town for a doubleheader. George Steinbrenner was livid about the makeup date. He bellowed that the Yanks had played too many days in a row. The Crew sent the Yanks home to rest with two losses.

Ten days later the Bronx Bombers were back for three in a weekend series. Game one featured Guidry, 13-0, at the time on the mound. He was knocked around before being sent to the showers after six, down 5-0. The hitting hero was Hisle, who hit two out of the park; one in the first and the other in the sixth. From the upper deck, his first home run looked like it was shot from a cannon.

Saturday night games at County Stadium were an event back then. This games was extra special. My parents, my brother, his wife and her family got tickets well before the season started. It being Milwaukee, we tailgated along with thousands of others. No chance of missing the first pitch.

Game two was tense, exciting and, for the Yanks, ended the same. Hisle again was the hero, sending a towering two-run blast off Gossage to give the Brewers the lead and the win. The crowd was wild after that. Beating the Yankees and Gossage (back then closer pitched more than one inning) was like being in heaven (except there was beer).

There was no way I was missing the finale on Sunday afternoon. I went alone, scalped a ticket in the upper deck and watched the Brewers go for the sweep. They did not disappoint. They scored four in the first en route to an 8-4 victory.

That was the moment when everyone knew the Brewers were for real. They had swept the Yankees and beaten them five times in less than two weeks. From there it was a magical five seasons, culminating with a World Series berth in '82.

Monday, June 27, 2011

MLB's Money-Making Scheme

Would you pay just for the chance to buy these?
NOTE: My friend Jim Lynch is an actuary and wrote a blog post explaining how this works and why it can be a good opportunity for fans. I don't know if I totally agree with MLB doing this, but check out his blog.

Major League Baseball evidently subscribes to the theory that there's a sucker born every minute. And it's hard to dispute that assumption based on the MLB postseason reservations auction.

Fans are given the "opportunity" to purchase "reservations" for playoff games that their favorite team might play in. In other words, they get to pay money for the chance to buy the actual tickets. Oh, and if your team doesn't make the playoffs? Well, that's too bad. No refunds.

For years I have been disgusted by the ridiculous "handling fees" teams add to the price of each ticket. One year when the New York Mets added the fee (a few dollars per ticket) to playoff tickets, I called up the ticket office to complain. I was told that it was a lot of work to get the ducats sorted and sent out. I pointed out that I thought that was what the ticket office was for. Got nowhere with that bit of logic.

Then there's, a fine service that allows fans with extra tickets to sell easily. And the buyers are given guarantees. But even Stubhub can't resist gouging consumers. If you choose to print the tickets out on your own printer (with your own ink and paper) you have to pay an extra fee. I haven't met anyone who thinks that sounds fair.

But I may have to rethink all this. If MLB can get fans to pay them, just for the chance to maybe get tickets later, it makes me wonder why they bother playing the games at all. If they work at it I bet they could get some fans to just hand over the money. They could save a bundle by not paying players or needing stadiums.

They might as well try. After all Bernie Madoff got the Mets' owners and others to fork over millions for nothing. At least he pretended to be selling something.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Return of Davey Johnson

Davey Johnson's most recent managerial stop
was with Team USA.
Davey Johnson is back as a manager. The Washington National turned to him after Jim Riggleman walked out on his team in the midst of a hot streak.

Johnson has an interesting history as a skipper. During 14 years at the helm of the New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers, his teams team finished lower than second place only twice. And one of those was a team he took over during the season.

Despite that, the former Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves second baseman is not always considered among the top rank of managers of his era. A lot of that stems from his days in New York. The Mets were the most talented team at the time. They broke through in '86 with their wild World Series win over the Boston Red Sox. On the field, I always thought they won despite sloppy play.

But from the title year it was down hill. The Mets continued to contend, but were dogged by undisciplined behavior. I always thought they were sloppy in the field (although Keith Hernandez was a superb first baseman). Off the field, the team caroused and made headlines for unruly escapades. Johnson's tenure ended with many saying the team should have won more championships.

After the Mets, Johnson was out of baseball for a couple years. Talk radio was awash with rumors that Johnson had been blackballed. But no evidence was found that it was true.

Johnson finally got another job Baltimore, but ended up in a feud with owner Peter Angelos (although he's not exactly the easiest man to get along with). Jobs in L.A. and Cincy produced typical Johnson records: fine teams but no titles.

Now Johnson is back in the dugout leading another young team. I expect the team will continue to progress, but how far he can take them this season will be interesting to watch.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Another Baseball Quitter

Earlier this week, I wrote about Edwin Rodriguez quitting as manager of the Florida Marlins. I couldn't remember a skipper walking out on a team after so short a tenure with no obvious push from his employer.

It's didn't take long for another manger to quit on his team. And Jim Riggleman's resignation from the Washington Nationals is even harder to figure. The Nationals, a perennial doormat, have been on a hot streak. They've won 11 out of 12 games and are above the .500 mark.

But, according to the club's GM, Riggleman was upset that the Nationals wouldn't extend his contract beyond this season. So he gave them and ultimatum. The team accepted his resignation rather than accede to his demand for the extension. (Riggleman says the only ultimatum was his wish to talk to the owner about an extension.)

Am I missing something? While I can understand the wish for job security, this could be a career killer for Riggleman. If he had stayed and the Nationals continued to play well he likely would have received a new contract. If the Nationals didn't want him around, surely another team would have jumped at the chance to hire a man who helped mold a young team into a group that plays hard and was on the rise.

If I was a general manger I would never hire Riggleman as a manager. I'd wonder if he was truly committed to the job and the team.

Maybe we really are becoming a nation of quitters. Politicians leave terms half finished; baseball managers quit even when their teams are doing well. Meanwhile, millions are begging for jobs and finding none available.

It really is hard to figure.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Law of Unintended Consequences

Sometimes a change comes with unexpected results. Take for instance the increasing use of relief pitchers over the last 30 years. With starters pitching fewer innings, more relievers are needed to pick up the slack.

More roster spots taken by pitchers means fewer slots for backup fielders and pinch hitters. That in turn puts more pressure on managers to use their benches in tight games and long extra inning games. So what to do about it?

One solution proposed by Jerry Crasnick on is to expand rosters to 26. There are other ideas. He quotes Detroit Tigers' Manager Jim Leyland as favoring a temporary increase in rosters for doubleheaders.

The logic behind expansion seems reasonable. The game has changed over the more than a century that rosters have mostly remained at 25. (The story mentions that rosters were larger for the first month of the season in the 1960s and at 24 for the 1986 season.)

But there are flaws in the idea. Many of the readers commenting on the ESPN story speculated clubs would use any extra roster room to add more pitching.

One idea that would give managers flexibility in the wake of minor injuries or an overused relief corps would be to adopt the NBA roster rules. Teams could carry say 27 or 28 players but only 25 would be active for any game.

Hopefully, Nolan Ryan's experiment in Texas to get Rangers' starters to pitch longer into games will succeed and teams will be able to carry fewer pitchers. I don't see that happening. So, if change is needed, let's try a revolving roster.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Everybody: Clichè, Clichè, Clichè, Clichè, Clichè

Jose Reyes and other players make me
 scratch my head when it comes to free agency.
The next time Jose Reyes comes to bat at Citi Field, Mets fans should change their "Jose, Jose, Jose" chant to "Clichè, Clichè, Clichè."

Reyes today uttered my least favorite baseball bromide. A free agent after this year and the subject of much speculation about whether he will stay with the Mets, the shortstop said he won't discuss a new contract until after the season.

He wants no distractions. And the cliche? Well, Reyes said on WFAN radio, "I want to be a Met" for my whole career. Really? Then I say get a deal done. Tell your agent to get the best deal from the Mets. And when he's done you'll sign. It's pretty simple.

Reyes is just the latest player to tell fans he'd really like to stay, without signing a contract. Prince Fielder has made similar comments about the Milwaukee Brewers. And C.C. Sabathia said how much he liked Milwaukee. In the end C.C. went to the New York Yankees who offered the biggest contract.

I find it tiresome to hear players utter nonsense like this. Can't these guys either say nothing or tell the truth. You know, something like, "I'm a free agent and I want the most money I can get. Sorry (insert home team here) fans, but you know you'd do it if you had the chance."

I have been told by almost everyone that the last part is surely what everyone would do. Even me. Well, I really don't think so. I actually find some things more important than money. And if I had the chance to decide between, oh, $100 million and $125 million, the least important factor to me would be money. Either way I'd be set for life.

I don't expect the players to agree. All I'd like is a little honesty. It's such a lonely word.

Monday, June 20, 2011

No Mas for Marlins' Manager

I don't recall a manager quitting in June the way Edwin Rodriguez abruptly left the Florida Marlins yesterday. It seems the club was as surprised as the fans must have been.

If club execs are to be believed, they were not considering making a change. (Although, the fact that there is no suggestion they tried to persuade the manager to stay might be a clue to how they really felt.) The Marlins are in a horrendous stretch (1-18 in June) after a good start. Injuries have a played a role in the team's poor play.

But for Rodriguez to quit without even the hint of a push from the front office is astonishing. He had experience in the minors as a manager and last year took over the Marlins as interim manager piloting them to a 46-46 record. He was the game's first Puerto Rican-born manager.

In a statement he praised the team for playing hard. He praised the organization. But he left anyway. One story had him quoted as saying he did what was best for the team.

Maybe that's the way the world works now. Politicians (like Sarah Palin) quit midterm without so much as a thought. Maybe it's the era I grew up in, but I think it shows a lack of character. Barring health problems or a family crisis, Rodriguez should have stuck it out and fought hard to turn the team around.

He must have fought hard to put himself in position to be a major league manager. I can't imagine working that hard and then just surrendering.

If he couldn't stick it out after a bad month, maybe he wasn't cut out to be a major league manager after all. Now Marlins fans can root for Jack McKeon to turn the team around like he did in 2003.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fathers, Sons & Baseball

I always kept score when I was a kid.
My Dad taught me how.
Some my fondest memories growing up were summer days spent with my Dad in the upper deck of County Stadium watching the Milwaukee Brewers, somehow always expecting a win no matter how bad the team was that year. And there were plenty of bad years back then.

My Dad was a schoolteacher so he was around more in the summer. Fortunately, the Brew Crew moved to town in 1970, when I was 11. It was the perfect age to form a bond. It didn't matter that for the first several years that the team was never close to being a contender.

We generally sat high above home plate in the upper grandstand. I don't recall the exact price, but I know it was less than $3 (I found a ticket in the lower grandstand on eBay with a face value of $3). Whatever the cost the memories are priceless.

Warm afternoons and evenings with my Dad learning how to watch a game and try to out think the managers. Unlike some of my friends who liked to roam around the stadium, I never wanted to miss a pitch.

And then there were the odd things that happened in the stands. Fans too drunk to know where they were or what they doing, with beer cups (yes, vendors used to pour beer into wax cups from glass bottles) stacked at their feet. Dad would tell me stories of the old Brewers, a Triple-A team owned for a time by Bill Veeck.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Angels Top Franchise?

The Los Angeles Angels have been ranked the top baseball franchise and second in all of sports by ESPN The Magazine. My first was reaction was mild surprise. I don't think I would have thought as them as the best, but they have been a contender for years with little ownership drama and good attendance.

What shocked me is where the New York Yankees landed: 75th. Really? I despise the Evil Empire as much as the next non-Yanks' fan, but this doesn't seem possible.

The three most important things as owner needs to do are field a competitive team; give fans a positive experience at the game; and make money. It's hard to see where the Yankees fail at that.

For 90 years, or nearly the double the time the Angels have existed, the Bronx Bombers have won more World Series than any other team. And it's not close. They play in the most famous stadium; the newest version of Yankee Stadium has great sight lines, amenities, a Hall of Fame and, of course, the famous monuments (including the garish ode to George Steinbrenner).

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mark Cuban: Problem Owner?

Mark Cuban is nothing if not entertaining.
MLB should rethink its antipathy to letting him own a team.
So Fay Vincent, former baseball commissioner, decided the time was right to rain on Dallas Maverick's owner Mark Cuban's victory parade. Vincent said in an ESPN Radio interview that Cuban would be a problematic owner for Major League Baseball.

Apparently, the ex-commish finds Cuban doesn't meet a little known quality needed to own a team: being a gentleman. I guess taking to the airwaves and insulting a man two days after his team won the NBA championship is part of being a "gentleman."

It's funny how the owners who get closest to the fans are the ones who their colleagues can't stand. I've mentioned Bill Veeck before. He was the ultimate stand in for the average fan. Crippled (he preferred that description) in war, he wanted to make sure everyone had a good time, even if the teams he owned were at times awful.

But he had a soul, too. He didn't shy from hiring blacks after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Larry Doby was the first in the AL, for Veeck's Cleveland Indians. And he added Satchel Paige. And those Indians did make it to the World Series.

While Cuban hasn't done anything quite so notable, his greatest offense is, I suppose, tweaking authority. That puts him squarely on the side of the millions of people who would love to say what's on their minds, but feel constrained for various reasons like needing to make sure they don't get fired.

Cuban sometimes goes too far and pays a financial price in fines. But he's always colorful. And the Mavs have been a contender for years. Cuban clearly knows how to build a winner. But MLB has brushed off his attempts to buy the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs.

It's time for baseball to give him a chance. The fans will love it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rain Delays Without Rain

I sat down to watch some baseball tonight and was encountered by a modern phenomenon: games delayed by rain with no precipitation falling. The games in question were in Atlanta, where the New York Mets were to play the Braves, and Chicago, where the Milwaukee Brewers were to take on the Cubs.

To be fair, the skies in Atlanta looked foreboding and there were severe storms in the area (and the storms did roll over the stadium). But in Chicago a gray sky wasn't particularly threatening. In fact, Brewers' TV color commentator Bill Schroeder said it hadn't rained in an hour.

A shot of the Chicago radar showed light green patches coming through Chicago. Schroeder observed, "Radar is the worst thing that's happened to baseball." He added that when he played for the Brewers the heads groundskeeper, Harry Gill, didn't use radar. Gill would "call Madison and see if it's raining. Then he'd call Waukesha and ask if it's raining. No? Good, let's go."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Extra Baseball Everywhere

Robin Ventura celebrated his game-winning HR,
preventing him from completing his trip around the bases.
If it seems like there are a lot extra-inning games this year, it's because there are. Baseball is on a pace to have 261 such games this season, which far surpass the pervious high.

Thank god MLB has not seen fit to change the rules like hockey has to make sure tied games don't take all night (sometimes they last to another day if curfews are reached). Even a sloppily played game can seem like a classic if it stretches on into bonus panels as my sports editor friend Jerry call them.

I've written about a couple of my favorite extra-inning games already: A Gaylord Perry gem (he lost) against the Milwaukee Brewers, and a wild game between the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves.

The most tense such game I ever witnessed in person was the "Robin Ventura Grand Slam Single" game. The setting was Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS. The Atlanta Braves were leading the series, 3-1. The Mets' season looked like it was coming to an end in the 15th inning when the visitors took a 3-2 lead.

But the Mets came back to ties on a bases loaded walk in the bottom half of the frame. Through a steady rain Ventura launched a 1-1 pitch over the right-field fence. The Mets and the fans began the celebration. After touching first, Ventura failed to round the bases. A walk-off grand slam became a single in the scorebook.

Turns out two other grand slams have met similar scoring fates. One was by Dalton Jones of the Detroit Tigers on July 9, 1970; the other when Tim McCarver passed a runner on July 4, 1976.

Joe Adcock of the Milwaukee Braves lost his May 16, 1959, home run in a game in which his hit beat the greatest mound performance ever. His lost round-tripper happened during Harvey Haddix's 12-inning perfect game in May 1959. The game was scoreless until the 13th. Haddix still on the mound lost his perfect game when Felix Mantilla was safe on an error. A sacrifice and an intentional walk to Hank Aaron set the stage.

Remember, Haddix still hadn't allowed a hit. Adcock hit one out, but Aaron head to the clubhouse after touching second. An odd ending to an amazing night.

Monday, June 13, 2011

End to Broken Bats?

Hazard of the game for fans?
It seems baseball has turned to a government lab to try to stop the plague of broken bats that are sent flying at fans and players, sometimes causing serious injury. Earlier this season, a woman at a Kansas City Royals' game suffered serious injuries when hit by one of the missiles.

The Associated Press reports that there has been a 50 percent reduction in broken bats since the problem's peak in 2008. We'll have to take baseball's word for that. It still seems like there are many more now than there were a generation ago. In fact, I don't recall pieces of wood flying into the stands until recently.

I applaud the move, but it sure seems like more should be done. Even Toyota was forced into recalling cars and addressing its errant acceleration problems in less time. And that's saying something.

What's missing in baseball is any sense of outrage over the problem. Three years ago much was written about it. Now, though, the announcers I hear mention it, but act as if buying a ticket to a game should include the chance of being speared between bites of a hot dog. (It is interesting that the more you pay for a seat the higher your risk. Do any other businesses use a model that puts their best customers at highest risk?)

Part of the problem, I think, is that players today don't know how to hold a bat properly. I was always taught that the label should face you. Hence this story as recounted from Baseball Almanac"Yogi (Berra), I came up here to hit, not to read." -- Hank Aaron in the 1958 World Series as an answer to Berra after being told to turn his bat around so he could "read" the label and not break the bat.

I see many players today holding the bat with the label turned so it partly faces the pitcher. Another suspect has been the switch in the type of wood used. And then there's the ultra-thin handles in vogue today.

In the end, tt doesn't really matter what's caused the problem baseball need to move quicker. And while they are at it, they should tell the players to stop throwing their bats in the stands.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

15-Team Leagues? No!

The word broke this weekend that MLB is considering a realignment plan. I have written before that I think a radical remaking of the leagues is in order. But the new plan calls for two 15-team leagues. I can't think of anything I'd like to see less.

Equal leagues will almost assuredly mean interleague play every day. What a mess. Down the stretch of the season with playoff spots on the line division rivalries should be the order of the day.

Instead, baseball could have a pennant contender playing an also-ran from the other league. And if they try to remedy that by matching, say, power rivals like the New York Yankees and Mets, fans would be distracted from what should be baseball's most exciting time.

This is such a bad idea I have almost no doubt that it will come to pass. Each time interleague play starts, I find myself less interested in the games than at other times. They almost seem like exhibitions to me. I'm much more passionate when the Brewers are playing the Cardinals, the Reds or the Cubs. Those are true rivalries that determine who makes the playoffs.

I have a soft spot for Bud Selig, without there'd likely be no baseball in Milwaukee, my hometown. But the idea of two 15-team leagues should be forgotten. And then maybe we can work on banishing the designated hitter.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cards' La Russa Hard to Like

UPDATE: The Brewers swept the Cardinals this weekend and I was right: it is oh so sweet to beat Tony La Russa's team.

Tony La Russa will be managing in his 5,000th game tonight when the St. Louis Cardinals visit Milwaukee in a key early series with the Brewers. Only Connie Mack, who sat on he bench in his suit for 7,755 games, managed more.

That La Russa has made out the lineup card so many times over more than three decades is a testament to his ability. He took the Chicago White Sox to a division title, the Oakland A's to three pennants and a World Series title, and the Redbirds to two pennants and a title.

None of the teams he has managed have been accused of overspending. La Russa has chosen his coaches well, especially Dave Duncan, who seems to have a magic potion that turns suspect pitchers into stars.

And yet La Russa is difficult to like. Part of it, I am sure, is that he has never managed my teams. But it's more than simple partisanship.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What Inning Is it Anyway?

Nyjer Morgan finally realizes he hit the game-winner.
Baseball seasons are long and every so often a player's mind wanders and a boneheaded play results. Benny Agbayani flipping the ball into the stands with only two outs comes to mind. The errant toss let two San Francisco Giant's runners score in the August 2000 game. The Mets managed to win anyway.

Rarely do such brain locks result in anything positive for the player of his team. The most famous mistake by a player, Fred Merkle, has forever been known as Merkle's Boner, in which the New York Giants' player forgot to touch second base at the end of a key 1908 game. (The ruling led to the Chicago Cubs last World Series winning team.) Although Merkle was following common practice, he was still called out on the play.

Nyjer Morgan of the Milwaukee Brewers just have might have pulled off such a feat last night. The center fielder came to bat in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on second and the score tied. Morgan lashed a double down the right field line. Morgan's teammates streamed out to second base to congratulate him.

Morgan was confused. Turns out he thought it was the eighth inning and admitted he might have been more relaxed because of his mistake. Maybe the folks who run the Miller Park scoreboard will just misnumber the innings in similar situations in the future; call it a new kind of home field advantage.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Twins Are Coming: What Would Sarah Palin Say?

Goose Goslin got his nickname
from his rather large nose.
Perhaps as Ben Revere dashed home with the winning run for the Minnesota Twins this afternoon, he yelled out a warning to the Cleveland Indians. OK, probably not. That's just the way I imagine Sarah Palin would report it.

In reality, Revere, on a mission to score, issued no warning to the enemy. But seeing a player with such a distinguished last name triggered memories of baseball name games of my youth.

Harry Caray was famous for fooling with players' names, often pronouncing them backward, for no apparent reason. Bill Melton of the Chicago White Sox thus became Llib Motlem.

Other name games took a little more thought. For instance, creating a list of players whose names fit their positions. How could Rollie Fingers, Bill Hands or Three-Finger Brown been anything other than pitchers?

Another list would include players whose names had a common theme, animals perhaps. For that list you might find Kevin Bass, Steve Trout, Dizzy Trout, Rabbit Maranvile, Rob Deer, Moose Skowron, Catfish Hunter, Jimmie Foxx, Nellie Fox, Tim Salmon, Ducky Medwick and the two Gooses (Geese?), Goslin and Gossage.

Then there are the players who perhaps collected nicknames based on their eccentricities. Dizzy Dean, Goofy (Lefty) Gomez, and Daffy Dean (although his nickname seem to have been hung on him to match his brother's sobriquet).

Maybe because baseball offers more time for reflection (between innings and, nowadays, between pitches as batters fiddle with their batting gloves), but no other sports seems to generate so much chatter like this. Or maybe it's all the beer that fans (and Harry Caray) consume that leads to all this nonsense.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Baseball Wild for Sons

The Griffeys played together in Seattle.
I have to admit that I don't follow much about the baseball draft. Maybe a story or two will catch my attention. But I haven't heard of most of the players let alone ever seen them play, and most won't be in the majors for years. I tend to forget about all but those who start to show some promise.

One story did catch my eye today: An astonishing number of players have been drafted who are sons of star athletes. There are the sons of Wayne Gretzky, Ivan Rodriguez, Dante Bichette and Kevin Seitzer. The list includes others, including the offspring of former catcher Joe Oliver.

My favorite, though, is the great-nephew of Eddie Gaedel, the diminutive player whom Bill Veeck sent to the plate as a stunt. Kyle Gaedele (yes, he has an extra 'e'), played college ball at Vanderbilt. At 6-foot-4, he is more than 2 1/2 feet taller than his ancestor.

It all makes me ponder the nature/nurture question and how it impacts sports. The sons of players obviously have a genetic leg up on the competition. But they also get an early baseball education. They hang out around players at the ballpark from a young age. They get to hit in big league stadiums. The culture is part of them. Stories of Prince Fielder hanging out with dad Cecil and Barry Bonds with father Bobby are well known.

Ken Griffey Jr. managed to carve out a legacy greater than his father's fine career as a member of the Big Red Machine of the 1970s. Dick Sisler was a good player, but never matched his father, George, as a hitter. Sandy Alomar had two sons hit it big, Sandy Jr. and Roberto. Maybe he has the father-son daily double, although others have had multiple sons in the majors. Jerry Hairston has Scott and Jerry Jr. and Cal Ripken had Billy and Cal Jr.

I have no doubt it will be hard to miss what happens to the careers of some of this year's draftees. It will interesting to see where they end up in a few years.

Monday, June 6, 2011

No Forgetting About Steroids

I've written about it before, but the long shadow cast by baseball's steroids era is hard to get away from. For me, unfortunately, it makes me wonder about feats like Jose Bautista's home run binge for the Toronto Blue Jays.

For those who would like to just forget about those lost years, this morning's story about ongoing questions about Alex Rodriguez's relationship with a doctor accused of dispensing performance-enhancing drugs to other players, had to be a gut check.

A-Rod, who has Hall of Fame stats and has admitted using steroids, can't get away from the issue. Just last week, MLB was questioning the New York Yankees about the third baseman's cousin who travels with A-Rod. The same cousin who suggested he use the very substance that got him in trouble in the first place.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Can't Escape Prince Rumors

Rumors of Prince Fielder's next destination
 are hard to avoid.
The last month or so has been a great time be a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers. After a listless start, the Crew has gone 19-6, the best record in baseball since May 9. The off-season moves to shore up the pitching are paying dividends and the hitting stars Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are off to great starts.

But all is not tranquil. The rumors are already starting about where Fielder, a free agent after the season, will wind up in 2012. It's the archrival Chicago Cubs (that would be galling!) one day, the Baltimore Orioles the next. Or maybe the New York Mets. I hope somehow the big man remains a fixture at Miller Park, but it seems highly unlikely.

It's a sad fact of baseball that free agency often casts a shadow over a current season. The first time I remember it happening was during the 1991 World Series. Jack Morris pitched the Minnesota Twins to a World Series Victory. In the postgame show after Game 7, speculation was rampant about who Morris would sign with for 1992 (it was the Toronto Blue Jays.). So much for basking in a victory.

I'm not against free agency. Sure, it would be nice if team payrolls were more equal. But I doubt that will change. And even if Fielder leaves, the Brewers won't be an also-ran. They've done a good job locking up young players like Braun, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and Yovani Gallardo. Their starting rotation is locked up through at least next season.

So the future looks bright. But it sure would be nice to enjoy the present without having to consider the future without Prince.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Six Baseball Games, 48 Hours

Ben Oglivie hit three homers in a game,
helping to make my baseball weekend a success.
A Harvard student has used a computer to plan the fastest possible way to visit all 30 major league ballparks. His itinerary takes him 34 days and three hours to complete the entire Junior and Senior Circuits.

I think every fan has given thought to visiting all the stadiums. Some have done it to great fanfare over one, extended trip. Others have checked them off their mental list as the years passed by. I have been to 17, although some were replacements in cities that got new ballparks, like Milwaukee and Minnesota.

I'm sorry I never made it Tiger Stadium. I did see games between the Yankees and Mets in Shea and Yankee Stadiums on the same day. I imagine at least several hundred fans did that, though. And I once saw the Brewers play an afternoon game in Milwaukee and the White Sox in Comiskey Park at night.

I did manage a feat, almost by dumb luck, which I don't think anyone will ever top. I saw six major league games in a 48-hour span. Thank god games were routinely played in under 2 1/2 hours. I don't think I'd make it today.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Joyce & Galarraga Team Up

Jim Joyce made the wrong call a year ago,
but now he has a book out
with pitcher Armando Galarraga.
Maybe now I have seen it all. Umpire Jim Joyce and pitcher Armando Galarraga have teamed up to write a book about Joyce's blown call that cost the hurler a perfect game. I know Galarraga famously accepted Joyce's apology, but I never imagined a day when a player would be co-author with an ump who messed up.

I'm not against anyone peddling his story for a buck (I'm a laid-off journalist who wishes he had a great story to sell), but "Nobody's Perfect: Two Men, One Call, and a Game for Baseball History" opens the kinds of issues that baseball seems to have trouble dealing with.

In this case, ESPN reports that Joyce will not work any games in which Galarraga pitches. That's fine. For now, it won't matter; Galarraga has been sent to the minors by the Arizona Diamondbacks (his gem last year was tossed for the Detroit Tigers). But is it so easy to ensure that bias doesn't enter Joyce's calls?

Suppose Galarraga makes a triumphal return to Phoenix and helps keep the D-Backs in the division race. If Joyce works any of the team's games, is it unreasonable to think he might be unconsciously pulling for his writing partner to get to the playoffs? After all, they have a relationship that goes beyond the field, and the more attention Galarraga gets the more books might be sold.

By all accounts Jim Joyce is a very good umpire. The players voted him the best, and that was after he blew the call last year. I don't think he'd intentionally make calls based on his business deal. But I do believe baseball has opened a can of worms by allowing an umpire, who is supposed to be impartial, to go into business with a current player.

This is not the first time baseball has fallen short when it comes to the appearance of impropriety. When Randy Wolf, lefty starter for the Milwaukee Brewers, pitches, his brother, Jim, an umpire, is not allowed to call ball and strikes.

But somehow baseball has decided it's OK for him to work the bases in those games. That means he could have to make a call on a close call involving his sibling. Baseball really doesn't see a problem with that?

If it were up to me, Jim Wolf would work only American League games. That way there'd be no suggestion of bias. Baseball likes to take grand stands against perceived bias. Pete Rose was banned for betting on his team. That's all well and good. But it needs to be consistent in making sure any hint of bias is quashed.

In these cases involving umpires it has fallen well short of the goal.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Just Who's Overrated?

Alex Rodriguez's off-the-field antics often
 draw more attention than he'd like.
I'm no fan of Alex Rodriguez, or any player who used performance-enhancing drugs, but it's hard to believe that a Sports Illustrated poll of major league players decreed him the most overrated player. Joba Chamberlain and Derek Jeter held down the next two spots on the list. It's interesting that all three are Yankees.

I suspect this vote against A-Rod has little to do with on-field accomplishments, or even use of PEDs. It seems to me A-Rod's behavior hasn't helped him gain his colleagues' esteem: off the field he often comes across as disingenuous; on the field he does off things like trying to slap the ball out of a fielder's glove.

The reaction of the players parallels that of Hall of Fame voters. Players who the press didn't like -- Jim Rice, of the Boston Red Sox, comes to mind -- often have trouble getting elected. Other players, who the press portrayed as likable, have smoother paths to the Hall. Kirby Puckett, of the Minnesota Twins, who some thought didn't measure up to the honor, comes to mind. - MLB