Sunday, August 21, 2016

A circuitous route to outstanding baseball fun

In the space of eighty hours this week I traveled 2,291 miles by Amtrak train, 180 miles by bus, around 12 miles on the Red Line on the Chicago L, 11 miles with Uber, 2.3 miles via private automobile, and walked about four miles. Those 2,500.3 miles of travel were well worth it for taking me to a couple of fantastic baseball memories. The Chicago Cubs are more famous than the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters (even though they're tied for the number of World Series victories achieved over the last 108 years.) But this week the Rafters put on a great show, and may well beat the Cubs to the big gonfalon in the sky.

Root, root, root for the Cubbies

Wrigley Field in Chicago is a baseball cathedral, one of only two ballparks in use in the majors that were built before 1960. Fenway Park in Boston, opened in 1912, is the other and is two years older than Wrigley. Plopped down in a primarily residential-and-sports-bar neighborhood on Chicago's North Side, Wrigley should be on the bucket list for anyone who enjoys baseball, even those such as Weisenheimer, an avowed Cardinals fan. I made my first trip to the field August 17, taking a slight detour on the way to a family reunion in Wisconsin.

The Friendly Confines are as advertised, at least once you get past the metal detectors and the cheeky gate guy who chides you for wearing a red cap (Spokane Indians) while he rifles through your camera bag. You can get a scorecard for $1.50, the beer is good and cold, there's not a bad seat in the house, and the Cubs have an enthusiastic and knowledgable fan base. I enjoyed this particular game with Jason Harber, a friend and Twins fan by birth who moved recently to the Windy City from Seattle and has become an avowed Cubs disciple. It helps that he lives just a hop and a skip from the ballpark and has a father-in-law with season tickets. Jason says he's aware of another club in town but somehow hasn't made it down to the South Side.

The Cubs eliminated all suspense pretty early in the game, logging five in the first inning, three on a homer by Jorge Soler, on the way to a 6-1 win over Milwaukee. Fans hung around the ballpark for a good while after the final out, with activities like the singing of the Go, Cubs, Go! song. I didn't know the lyrics, but was starting to catch on by the third chorus. The only Cubs song I know is A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request. Interestingly enough, both were penned by the late Steve Goodman. Do they still play the blues in Chicago when baseball season rolls around?

The Cubs have a pretty good club this year.

At the other end of the baseball spectrum

As noted above, the primary purpose of this road trip is to attend a family reunion in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. When the dates were set for our reunion activities, I looked up the schedules and was dismayed to note that the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, the town's club in the Northwoods League, was to complete its season the previous weekend. But upon awaking in Chicago the morning after the Cubs game, I received a text message from my aunt, Ann Kroll, a big fan of the Rafters. The Rafters had successfully navigated the summer collegiate league's playoffs and advanced to the championship series against the Eau Claire Express. Game one of the best-of-three affair was slated for that very evening at historic Witter Field in Rapids.

Me and Mr. Cub outside Wrigley Field. Let's play two. 
"I'm in!" I texted, also noting that Ernie Banks had been following me around all day.

I have some personal history with Witter Field. The Wisconsin Rapids White Sox of the Class-D Wisconsin State League played there for most of the years from 1941 until the league disbanded after 1953. Ma Weisenheimer did some work preparing the scorecards for the games, for which she was paid handsomely: an invitation to the team's season-end banquet and a ball autographed by the players. One of the players was my uncle, Carl Bathke, who toiled for the club in 1946 and 1947. The field was home to the Class-A affiliates for the Senators in 1963 and for the Twins from 1964 until 1983. I vaguely remember attending a Midwest League All-Star Game there during one family vacation, and one resource lists such games there in 1967, 1972, and 1973.

Witter Field during game one of the Northwoods League championship series.
I would travel by train from Chicago to Milwaukee, then by bus from Milwaukee to Wisconsin Rapids, scheduled to arrive in town at 7:40 p.m., 35 minutes after first pitch. I texted Ann at about 6:30 that the bus was on schedule. She replied that she had a ticket in hand for me and would shuttle me from the bus stop to my hotel and then the ballpark. (Ann is making a strong bid for favorite-aunt status.)

Some check-in challenges with the party ahead of me at the one-person front desk of the hotel delayed things a bit. I arrived at the game at 8:30-ish with the contest in the top of the fourth and the Rafters leading visiting Eau Claire 3-1. The Express clawed back into the game mostly by following the time-honored tradition of making the pitcher try to catch the ball. Several Rafter relievers had a little trouble with their fielding, and Eau Claire eventually went up 4-3 in the top of the ninth, sending a sizable and noisy visiting contingent of fans into hysterics with their cowbells and air horns.

The Rafters' Andrew Turner dunked a single leading off the bottom of the ninth. Richie Palacios and Jake Lumley both followed with well-struck fly balls, both of which were tracked down by Eau Claire outfielders. That brought catcher Rob Calabrese to the plate. Calabrese crushed a towering fly ball on the first pitch that cleared the fence in left for a two-run shot that gave Wisconsin Rapids a 5-4 victory and even made the ESPN highlights.

You can hardly top an exciting finish and a win for the home team, but the party atmosphere at Witter Field made for a totally entertaining ballgame. I think there may still be some folks in the stands singing YMCA and other classics from the '70s. The public-address announcer kept asking if this was the most exciting Thursday evening of our lives. I'm pretty sure it wasn't for me, but it was a great deal of fun, and combined with the history of the place in the family lore it's one I'll remember for a good, long while.

I was sort of pulling for Eau Claire Friday night, because a victory by the Express would force a deciding game three back at Witter Field on Saturday (and potentially add another ballgame to my road trip.) Alas, it was not to be. Wisconsin Rapids scored six in the top of the sixth and romped to an 11-4 victory to wrap up their first Northwoods League title.

Top that, Brewers. See you in Milwaukee Monday night.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Tacoma Rainiers 13, Albuquerque Isotopes 1

Tacoma starter Adrian Sampson pitched six innings of one-hit ball and the Rainiers scored four runs in the first and never looked back in a 13-1 rout of the Albuquerque Isotopes on a sunny afternoon Sunday at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.

Sampson, a local prospect who attended Skyline High School and Bellevue College and was a fifth-round draft pick by the Pirates in 2012, hit a batter, walked two, and struck out two while throwing 82 pitches during his start Sunday. We'd suggest that the Mariner organization ask its starters to work a little longer to avoid future gaffes such as the untimely removal of Felix Hernandez from his start against Oakland on Sunday.

Offensively the Rainiers got off to a quick start. Centerfielder Herschel Mack "Boog" Powell led off the game with a leg double to center, a hot grounder that skittered off the glove of Albuquerque second-sacker Joey Wong. Shortstop Chris Taylor followed with a walk, and designated hitter Efren Navarro singled to plate Powell and make it 1-0. After first baseman Stefen Romero bounced into a fielder's choice, catcher Mike Zunino singled to score Taylor. One out later third baseman Ed Lucas lined a double into the left field corner to score a pair and it was 4-0.

Tacoma scored two more on four singles in the second, Romero blasted a homer with Taylor aboard in the fourth, and the Rainiers completed their day's scoring with a five-spot in the fifth, helped along by a couple of Isotope miscues.

Tacoma won three of four in the series that opened the Pacific Coast League season.

Your bus ticket to Hartford is ready

Albuquerque starter Shane Carle heads for the showers after
getting the hook in the fifth inning against Tacoma Sunday,
while his mates discuss how they plan to come back from a
10-0 deficit. They didn't; the Rainiers won 13-1. Photo:
Greg Scheiderer.
Albuquerque starter Shane Carle, a former tenth-round draft pick out of Long Beach State, served up the tasty meal of meatballs for Tacoma hitters. Carle's line: 12 runs, 11 earned, on 12 hits in four-plus innings. He struck out three, walked three, and hit a batter. For his next start they'll list his ERA as 24.75 and opponents batting average against him as a robust .522. Isotope manager Glenallen Hill was probably correct, if somewhat tardy, in removing his starter with no outs in the fifth. Carle was a respectable 14-7 with an ERA of 3.48 for AA New Britain last year. He may be headed back to AA if he doesn't get his ERA down below two dozen.

Every Tacoma starter had at least one hit, Powell leading the way with three hits and three runs scored. Romero had two hits and four RBI, and Taylor and right fielder Daniel Robertson had two hits each. Lucas was kept busy at the hot corner, logging six assists on the afternoon. Zunino was robbed of an RBI and saddled with an extra at-bat thanks to some poor baserunning in the second inning. He hit a booming fly ball to center with runners at the corners and one out. Taylor tagged at third and trotted plateward, expecting to score easily. However Romero inexplicably tagged at first and headed to second, where he was thrown out by Albuquerque center fielder Michael Tauchman and tagged before Taylor touched home.

Box score.

In search of perfection

My sweetie, the official scorer, and I have seen probably hundreds of games together by now and have never witnessed a no-hitter. We remind ourselves of this each game. At brunch at Mioposto Pizzeria before heading to Tacoma Sunday, our server, Mariel, noted us clad in our baseball jerseys (Sweetie wearing Edgar Martinez/M's, Greg wearing Rogers Hornsby/'51 Rainiers) and correctly deduced we were headed to a ballgame. Mariel said she'd only been to one game ever: Felix Hernandez's perfect game in 2012. Dammit.

Is something Wong?

Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong has a brother in the minors, but is not, so near as we can tell, related to Albuquerque's Joey Wong. Still, we think St. Louis should trade their ace starter to the Rockies for Joey just to find out if two Wongs make a Wainwright.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Bad trades are part of baseball

Annie Savoy knows whereof she speaks.

“Bad trades are part of baseball,” says the Susan Sarandon character in the opening sequence of the 1988 film Bull Durham. “Who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas for God’s sake?”

I got to thinking about bad trades as I was preparing the previous post about Nelson Cruz and researching the dubious deals made by the Mariners over the years. (Man, do I love!) Quite a few other masochists have considered this subject and posted their lists of the team’s terrible trades. Just about all of these lists include Woody Woodward’s swap of Randy Johnson to the Astros at the trading deadline in 1998, and Pat Gillick’s shipping of Ken Griffey, Jr. to the Reds in February of 2000.

I say hold on a second.

Randy Johnson

Johnson had a sour relationship with the club and was going to become a free agent at the end of the ’98 season. He was 34, there were concerns about his back, and he was putting up un-Big Unit type numbers (9-10, 4.33) in Seattle before the trade. Johnson was brilliant for the Astros (10-1, 1.28) after the deal, signed as a free agent with Arizona that offseason, and promptly won four straight National League Cy Young Awards. It would have been tough to get equal value back for that.

Yet Woodward did all right, getting Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, and John Halama in exchange for Johnson.

Garcia and Jamie Moyer were the aces of the staff for the 116-win club in 2001, the former going 18-6 with an ERA of 3.05. The Chief had five pretty good seasons for the M’s, amassing a record of 76-50. In mid-2004 Bill Bavasi traded Garcia and Ben Davis to the White Sox for Mike Morse, Miguel Olivo, and Jeremy Reed. Garcia wound up with 156 wins and a 4.15 ERA in 15 seasons.

Guillen spent a couple of years as the regular shortstop in Seattle, then became an All Star after being traded by Bavasi to the Tigers in ’04 for Juan Gonzalez (sadly, not the slugging one) and Ramon Santiago.

Halama was a journeyman who went 56-48 with an ERA of 4.65 over nine years.

Comparing the players by Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Johnson piled up a handsome 39.8 in the five years following the trade. Garcia did OK at 15.6 during that same span. Guillen was 15.1 WAR in his first five seasons as a regular and racked up career WAR of 27.7. Halama is practically the definition of replacement level; though he chalked up 4.7 WAR in his first season in Seattle, his career total was only 5.6. Woodward managed to get decent value out of a situation in which he had little choice but to make a deal.

Trading Junior

Gillick’s situation with Griffey was similar. The Kid wanted out of Seattle, wanted to play closer to home. With the gun to his head, Gillick got Mike Cameron, Brett Tomko, Antonio Perez, and Jake Meyer for the future Hall of Famer. It’s hard to see how anyone calls this a bad trade.

Griffey had only two really good seasons during his injury-plagued years with the Reds. His total WAR from 2000-04 was 8.5. Cameron in those same years racked up 19.8 WAR, including 18.3 in four years with the M’s. He was a far better player than Griffey over that span.

Tomko is essentially Halama. In fact, he had the same career ERA of 4.65, and went 100-103 over 14 seasons. Meyer never made the show. Perez was a utility infielder for four years with the Rays, Dodgers, and A’s.

The one interesting note about Perez is that in October of 2002 he was traded, along with manager Lou Piniella, to Tampa Bay for Randy Winn, who had a couple of nice years for the M’s, and he, Cameron, and Ichiro were a beautiful outfield to watch. Winn was dealt by Bavasi to the Giants in a deadline deal in 2005 for the legends Jesse Foppert and Yorvit Torrealba.

Winn was a useful player, but the deal that brought him to Seattle may actually be the worst in club history. The Mariners have had only four winning seasons and have not made the playoffs since Piniella’s departure.

The real worst trade

The Griffey deal does not belong on a list of bad trades. Seattle got the short end of the Johnson deal but did OK under the circumstances. What’s the real worst trade?

Whenever my Sweetie, the official scorer, and I talk about bad trades one of us usually says, in Annie Savoy accent, “Who can forget Jason Varitek AND Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb, for God’s sake?” Slocumb notched 10 saves in 11 opportunities down the stretch in 1997 for the M’s team that won the A.L. West, but wasn’t actually very good. He saved just three and had an ERA of 5.32 the following season. His career WAR was 5.6 in 10 seasons.

Varitek, on the other hand, was a switch-hitting catcher with power—he was Crash Davis!—and piled up 24.3 WAR in a 15-year career. Lowe pitched 17 seasons and was 33 WAR. That was a lousy trade.

I thought of it again last year when the M’s shipped Fernando Rodney to the Cubs. I figured that if Woodward had been the general manager in Chicago we could have gotten Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta for this “proven closer.”

What may eventually be acclaimed as the M’s worst trade ever is the February 2008 deal in which Bavasi sent young slugger Adam Jones to Baltimore for the great Erik Bedard. Bedard’s career WAR was 17.3, but only 4.3 of that came after the trade. Jones has already piled up 27.5 WAR with the Orioles. Who needs a gold-glove center fielder with a great bat, anyway? Oh, and by the way, we also gave Baltimore FOUR OTHER GUYS in the deal. Chris Tillman has developed into a solid starting pitcher, George Sherrill was a useful left-handed reliever, Kam Mickolio pitched in 29 games in the bigs, and southpaw Tony Butler was a career minor leaguer. Word at the time was that Bavasi needed to win or he'd be sacked. In this, at least, he was correct. He was fired June 16 with the team already 17 1/2 games out and in dead last. Bedard, alas, didn't help turn things around.

Some folks list the Mariners' 1996 swap of David Ortiz to the Twins for Dave Hollins among the worst ever. It didn't turn out well, but I give Woodward a pass on this one. Ortiz was 21 at the time of the deal. He was 17 when they signed him out of the Dominican Republic, and had knocked around the M's system for three years before the trade. In parts of six seasons with the Twins he amassed just 2.5 WAR. A free agent after the 2002 season, he signed with Boston, hit 31 homers in 2003, and was off to the races. But it was seven years later, and there was really no sign that Ortiz would blossom into a Hall of Fame contender. The hell of it is that this trade was a case of the Twins trying to get something, anything, for a guy who was going to be a free agent. Hollins played just 28 games for the Mariners and signed with the Angels for 1997.

One good trade

This post makes it sound as though the Mariners have never made a good trade. On the contrary, they made what is possibly the best trade in baseball history, at least as judged by television situation comedies, swapping designated hitter Ken Phelps to the Yankees on July 21, 1988 for a young outfielder by the name of Jay Buhner. The deal was so bad for the Yankees it was ridiculed on an episode of Seinfeld.

Ironically, less than a week after making the best swap in franchise history, general manager Dick Balderson was fired by the Mariners. Manager Dick Williams had been sacked earlier in the season, and the club was in last place and 20 games out. And thus began the Woodward era.

Bavasi or Woodward?

The names of Bill Bavasi and Woody Woodward are all over the bad trades list. They had some successes.

Woodward hired Piniella, drafted Alex Rodriguez, and dealt outfielder Darren Bragg to Boston in 1998 for Moyer. Many folks thought that was dumb at the time. Bragg was a speedy young spark plug and Moyer a 34-year-old soft-tossing lefty. Moyer pitched for the M's for parts of 11 seasons and won 145 games, which is tops on the team's all-time list, though Felix Hernandez will likely pass him in about a month. In August of 2006 we made the same mistake Boston did, trading too-old Moyer at age 43 to the Phillies for essentially nothing. He kept going until he was 49 and won 58 more games. (As a total aside, it may tell you something about the Mariners' mostly sad history as a franchise that the list of its ten winningest pitchers includes Joel Piñero and Gil Meche.)

But Woodward made some other lulus, too. July 31, 1997 may go down as the darkest day in M's history. On the same day as the Slocumb trade, Woodward moved young outfielder José Cruz, Jr. to Toronto for Paul Spoljaric and Mike "Two Run" Timlin, so named because two runs came in whenever he pitched. Nothing like trading a slugging outfielder for some bullpen "help." Maybe Woodward didn't have a good breakfast or enough coffee that day. He also engineered the disastrous 1995 trade of Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson to New York for the completely mediocre Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock.

Bavasi's successes aren't so obvious. His best moves may have been the signings of Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson. While his stats were deflated by Safeco Field, Beltre was a fine player for Seattle. Sexson is generally regarded as a bust, but he had two relatively productive years before falling off in his final season with the M's. In addition to the above moves, Bavasi's 2006 swap of Shin-Soo Choo for Ben Broussard goes down as a bust.

Perhaps one day we will do an analysis to figure out which former GM lost the most WAR in trades.

Beware, ye who would trade for a pitching ace

The notion of going out and getting a good pitcher is what often leads to trouble. Savoy’s favorite trade was a slugger for a hurler; Pappas had reached double figures in victories for eight straight seasons before being traded for Robinson in 1965. He did it eight more times after the deal and won 209 games in his career. Robinson immediately had an MVP season for the Reds and hit 254 of his 586 career home runs after the swap.

Broglio. Who else cut out these
baseball cards from the backs of
cereal boxes?
As a Cardinals fan, I am forever thankful to the Cubs for their trade of Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio. It must have made sense at the time. Broglio had won 18 for St. Louis in 1963, while Brock was 25 and in his third season as a regular and batting about .260 when the deal was made. Broglio went 7-19 in two-and-a-half seasons in Chicago, and then was out of the game. Brock made the Hall of Fame. There were four other guys in the deal. You’re more of a baseball nut than I if you can tell me anything about Jack Spring, Paul Toth, and Doug Clemens. Bobby Shantz was also part of the swap, hanging on as a mop-up reliever at the end of his 16-year career.

Other notorious bad trades involving pitchers include John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander, Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen, Steve Carlton for Rick Wise, Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields (the elder; Delino Jr. was one year old at the time of the deal), and Christy Matthewson for Amos Rusie.

Naturally, we benefit from hindsight as we look back at how these trades came out. But who besides Woody Woodward didn't realize that the Slocumb deal was a big mistake.

Now, what will you give us for proven closer Joaquin Benoit?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Get 'em on, get 'em over, get 'em in

The onset of baseball’s spring training has caused painful memories to emerge that I had managed to repress since October. Memories of a Seattle Mariners team with a dismal .311 on-base percentage that still managed to hit into 123 double plays. Memories of a club that was already six games off the pace and effectively out of the AL West race by May 1. Memories of a disappointing club that got the manager, Mr. Lloyd McClendon, and GM Jack Zduriencik sacked.

Nelson Cruz was more successful in 2015 than most players
the Mariners have brought in to add a little pop to the lineup.
Yet though he hit 44 home runs and batted .302, he drove in
just 93 runs. It turns out that hitting over .300 with at least 40
homers and fewer than 100 RBI is pretty rare, and it happened
twice last year. Photo: Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons. 
Even the seasonal bright spot had an odd disappointment. Nelson Cruz was the slugger brought in to add some pop to the club’s anemic lineup. Seasoned Mariner watchers, understandably pessimistic about whatever move the club makes, expected the usual flop, ala Kevin Mitchell, Richie Zisk, Gorman Thomas, or Jeff Cirillo, to name just a few of the duds who suddenly lost their mojo upon arrival in Sodo. Boomstick broke the mold, cracking 44 home runs and hitting .302 on the season. Despite this, Cruz drove in only 93 runs, and 44 of them were his own self, so Cruz sent just 49 teammates plate-ward on the season.

Later I noticed that National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper hit .322 with 42 home runs and just 99 ribbies. Arbitrary cutoffs are what baseball is all about, so I got to wondering how many other players have hit over .300 with 40 or more home runs and fewer than 100 RBI. Today I did the research. The list is surprisingly short. Though there were two such occurrences in 2015, there have been only five others in the history of the game, and all of them have been by big-name players, including the game's two most prolific sluggers. Which now seems obvious, since inclusion on the list means you hit .300 with 40 taters.

The last time it happened was in 2003, when Barry Bonds smacked 45 homers while batting .341 that year, yet had only 90 RBI. Bonds played in 130 games in '03 and had 550 plate appearances. His chances to drive in runs were reduced somewhat by 148 walks, 61 of which were intentional.

Before that you have to go back to 1994, when Ken Griffey, Jr. hit .323 and clubbed 40 round-trippers but drove in just 90 runs. This particular occurrence deserves a bit of an asterisk, though, as the season was cut short by a strike. Junior played in just 111 games and had 493 plate appearances. Had the season progressed to its typical 162 games he might well have approached 60 dingers and gotten the ten more ribbies he needed to avoid this list.

Baseball’s one-time home run king made the list twice. Henry Aaron batted .300 and hit 44 home runs while driving in just 97 runs in 1969, and he went .301-40-96 in 1973, both with the Atlanta Braves. Aaron played just 120 games in ’73 when he was 39 years of age. In ’69 he played 147 games and led the National League in total bases.

The first player to ever hit over .300 with at least 40 home runs and not drive home 100 or more runs was the Commerce Comet, Mickey Mantle, back in 1958. Mantle hit 42 homers that year and batted .304, but had just 97 RBI.

There was quite a bit of “missed it by that much” as I did the research for this list. For example, there was almost a third member just last season, when near-MVP Mike Trout hit 41 home runs and drove in 90, but hit “only” .299. But a cutoff is a cutoff (something many Mariner outfielders seem to know nothing about, but that’s for another article.) In fact it is fairly unusual for players to hit 40 home runs and not reach 100 RBI, regardless of batting average. Adam Dunn may be the poster child on either side of this; he hit 40 or more dingers six times and drove in at least 100 runs in four of those seasons, never hitting above .266.

There's long been a debate about whether "clutch" hitting exists. I don't believe that it does, and for Cruz, it is easy to find a reason that he logged fewer RBI than most guys with his sort of numbers amass. Austin Jackson and his .302 on-base percentage batted first or second 75 times for the Mariners last season. Logan Morrison (.302) led off 20 times. Even Rickie Weeks batted at the top of the order occasionally against left-handed pitching until his .263 OBP (and numerous other shortcomings) led to his release. Seth Smith, though not a prototype leadoff man, batted first or second 40 times and had a .330 OBP. Smith was actually McClendon’s best choice for the top of the order until Ketel Marte arrived at the end of July and put up a respectable .351 OBP for the rest of the season. In August and September McClendon pretty much settled on Marte in the leadoff spot and Kyle Seager at number two, though Seager's OBP of .328 isn’t all that great, either.

Cruz wasn't denied many RBI chances because of the intentional walk, even though he was the team's most productive hitter. He walked 59 times last season, just nine of them intentional. And he didn't fold under the pressure of batting with runners in scoring position; he hit .291 in that situation, just a tick below his overall season numbers. There just weren't that many guys on base for him, and the team didn't have anyone who was really good at getting to first base. Cruz himself was the club OBP leader at .369; maybe HE should have been leading off.

It seems that the Mariners as an organization have had a “walking is for sissies” philosophy in recent years. Swing the bat, be aggressive, they would preach. There must have been a zillion times last season when an M’s hitter would be battling a 1-2 count with several foul balls, and the pitch tracker (if you believe that's not just an intern in the back room putting a dot on a box) would show the pitcher hadn’t yet thrown a strike. One hopes that the hiring of Edgar Martinez (career OBP: .418) as hitting coach means that this approach has been rightly scrapped, and that Edgar can convince these guys to work the count a little, take an occasional walk, and rip the good pitches.

So let’s get some guys on base, set the table for the boppers, and watch Cruz morph into Ben Broussard.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The untimely second death of Dave Henderson

I was sad to see that Dave "Hendu" Henderson passed away from a massive heart attack this morning at age 57. According to The Seattle Times Hendu had been suffering from kidney problems for several years and had a transplant earlier this year.

Hendu was the first-ever draft pick of the Seattle Mariners, but gained most of his playing fame through playoff heroics with the Red Sox and Athletics. He later returned to Seattle and was a commentator on M's broadcasts for a number of years. I thought he was terrible at first, but eventually it seemed he may have had some coaching, slowed down his delivery a little, and made some good contributions to the games.

The ashes of a 1985 season Dave Henderson APBA card, and
photo of my stadium where the dice were not kind to him.
Hendu actually "died" for the first time back in 1986. He was on my team in an APBA league and was playing dismally; the dice were not kind to him. Hendu had hit .241 with 14 home runs during the 1985 major league season, but the following year in APBA he was batting just .188 with no dingers and just four RBI in 27 games. The real-life Hendu often lost the grip on his bat after a strikeout, and it would go pinwheeling out onto the field or into the stands. I had a number of the 13s on his card circled, designated to be lost-bat Ks, for added realism in the game.

After another agonizing whiff in a key situation, I lost patience, took Hendu's card out to the Hibachi and torched it, then cooked up a tale about his death in a fiery auto accident. I still have his ashes, which were on display in my dice "Big A" stadium for the rest of the season. My Angels won their division that year, going 54-26 behind Ron Guidry (12-3, 2.25) and Tommy Herr, who hit .344. Despite Hendu's disappearance, I had plenty of Henderson on the club, which also included Rickey and Steve.

Hendu's APBA death later turned out to be a ruse; it turned out fans of the team had kidnapped him after a loss in Cleveland, and released him after the season was over. He was soon traded. The authorities are still trying to figure out whose remains were found in that rental car in Cleveland.

It is perhaps testament to APBA mania that I still have the charred remains of a Dave Henderson card that I burned in a fit of pique 29 years ago, and that I still have and could find my team's final stats from that season. I retired from that league after 1991; it is still running, though, and has been continuously since about 1969. They switched to Diamond Mind baseball some years ago.

Rest in peace, Mr. Henderson.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Tacoma Rainiers 2, El Paso Chihuahuas 0

Justin Germano pitched a complete-game, seven-hit shutout and Patrick Kivlehan hit a two-run homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth as the Tacoma Rainiers defeated El Paso 2-0 June 28 at Cheney Stadium. The game was certified as a dandy by my Sweetie, the official scorer, as it featured fewer than five runs scored total, a victory margin of less than three, and no errors.

Justin Germano
Germano was masterful, if not overpowering, in going the distance on a warm but cloudy summer afternoon. He struck out five and did not walk a soul. The one weakness in his game was the leadoff double, which he surrendered in three different innings, but only once were the Chihuahuas able to advance the runner beyond the keystone sack, and that was in the sixth inning when they squandered what turned out to be their best chance to score against Germano.

El Paso second sacker Rocky Gale led off the top of the sixth with a two-bagger against Germano and moved to third on Abraham Almonte's fly ball to center field. That brought up Chihuahua shortstop Mike McCoy, who lofted a fly ball to Kivlehan in medium-deep left field. Gale tagged and headed for the plate; Kivlehan's throw was high, and Tacoma backstop John Hicks had to go up the ladder a bit to get it. Gale, however, inexplicably decided not to slide, and Hicks tagged him for the final out of the frame as he attempted to cross the dish standing. The score remained tied at 0-0.

Jason Lane, a former big-league outfielder now trying to stick as a pitcher at age 38, was the hard-luck starter for El Paso. The southpaw Lane went 7 2/3 innings and allowed no runs on seven hits, struck out two and walked just one. Tacoma's only real threat in the first seven innings came in the fifth, when Kivlehan and Zach Shank, a second baseman recently called up from Double-A Jackson after an injury to Leury Bonilla, stroked back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners with two out. Rainier shortstop Chris Taylor grounded to short to end the inning.

Tacoma chased Lane in the bottom of the eighth. Taylor singled with one out and, after a flyout by Shawn "Oh, Really? No" O'Malley, Rainier first baseman Jesus Montero grounded a single through the hole at short. That brought up Justin Ruggiano, Tacoma designated hitter who, in an apparent message to Mariner management about his recent demotion from the big club, had hit three home runs and driven home seven the night before. El Paso manager Jamie Quirk came out with the hook and brought in righty Jerry Sullivan to face Ruggiano. The strategy worked for the moment, as Ruggiano whiffed.

The Chihuahuas put Germano into a little hot water in the ninth. Gale led off with an infield single, as Taylor and O'Malley nearly collided as they tried to field his chopper; Taylor grabbed it, but his throw to first was late. Gale moved to second on a groundout by Almonte, who wasn't able to get down a good bunt. McCoy then dunked one into shallow center for a base hit that put runners on the corners with one out.

Patrick Kivlehan receives congrats from
Tacoma manager Pat Listach as he
rounds third base following his game-
winning home run in the ninth inning
against El Paso Sunday. Photo: Greg
That brought Tacoma manager Pat Listach to the mound, causing Weisenheimer and my Sweetie, the official scorer to lament, as we often do, about the lack of complete games in baseball these days. But it appeared that the main reason Listach went to the hill was to give home plate umpire Jeff Morrow an earful about a non-strike call during McCoy's at-bat, which both Germano and Hicks had also done with considerable emphasis moments before.

Listach left Germano in there. The next batter, El Paso center fielder Jake Goebbert, dunked a Texas-Leaguer toward left on which Taylor made a fine, over-the-shoulder catch for the second out. Left fielder Alex Dickerson then flied out to left to end the frame.

In the bottom of the ninth against Sullivan Rainier center fielder Leon Landry singled with one out. Hicks then hit into a 5-4 force, and Kivlehan drilled one over the fence in right for the game-winning homer, his 14th round tripper of the season.

Box score.

Germano loves Weisenheimer and Sweetie

This was the second game we have seen Germano pitch this season, and he's been outstanding in both. Back on May 17 he pitched six shutout innings in a 4-0 win over Las Vegas. Overall this season he is 7-3 and Sunday's shutout lowered his ERA to 2.83. Germano has given up no runs or walks in 15 innings when we're present this year. We suggest that the Rainiers pay our way to all Germano starts, home and away.

Dog day afternoon

The game was played on dog day, apparently known as K-9 innings, which seems a ridiculous idea even if the opponents are named the Chihuahuas. The pup sitting in our row, just behind the statue of Ben Cheney in section K, was reasonably well behaved, only growling two or three times at other passing canine spectators whose looks he, for whatever reason, did not like. Remind us to be absent the next time Fresno is in town, in case it's Grizzly Bear night. I wonder if, the next time the Albuquerque Isotopes visit Tacoma, the first five thousand fans through the gates will receive a pound of pure plutonium.

Work, work, work

Goebbert, the El Paso center fielder, made eight putouts, including five in a row in the sixth and seventh innings.

Orel exam

We noticed the name Jordan Hershiser on the El Paso roster and, sure enough, his pop is former Dodger hurler Orel Hershiser. Jordan didn't play Sunday, but on Saturday night, in his second career appearance in a game above A-ball, he surrendered the third of Ruggiano's home runs.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Tacoma Rainiers 4, Albuquerque Isotopes 1

Forrest Snow pitched seven innings of one-hit ball and Shawn "Oh, Really? No" O'Malley hit a two-run homer as the Tacoma Rainiers beat the Albuquerque Isotopes 4-1 June 14 at Cheney Stadium on a simply gorgeous sunny Sunday afternoon.

A gorgeous day at Cheney Stadium as the Rainiers defeated
Albuquerque 4-1. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.
My Sweetie, the official scorer, and I have never seen a no-hitter, and we always point that out to each other once each side has a safety in a game. Today's contest was as close as we've come, but it wasn't that close. Albuquerque's lone hit of the day was an emphatic one, a booming, 410-foot leadoff triple to left center in the top of the second by Isotope center fielder Drew Stubbs. Snow, who is a tall drink of water out on the mound at 6'6", did his best to strand Stubbs. He got Albuquerque catcher Dustin Gameau to squib one right in front of home plate, and Tacoma backstop Steve Baron pounced on it and fired to first to retire Gameau for the first out, with Stubbs holding. The next batter, second-sacker Angelys Nina, hit a fly ball to fairly shallow center field. Stubbs tagged and scored as Leon Landry's throw was weak and off line.

Tacoma took the lead for good in the bottom of the third when shortstop Chris Taylor hit a one-out single off Isotope starter Yohan Flande, and O'Malley followed with his third home run of the season, a no-doubt blast over the fence in left center. The Rainiers added single runs in the sixth and eighth. They could have had more, especially in the sixth, when they had the sacks full and one run already in with no outs, but three straight shallow fly balls didn't advance a soul.

Forrest Snow.
Snow was a little wild, as he walked four and struck out three in seven innings of work, leaving after throwing 98 pitches, 57 for strikes. He evened his record at 4-4 and lowered his earned run average to 2.43. Edgar Olmos closed it out for Tacoma, retiring Albuquerque in order in the eighth and ninth, striking out three of the six batters he faced and notching his first save of the year. Tacoma piled up 13 hits, with three from Carlos Rivero and two each from Taylor, O'Malley, and Landry. Taylor, recently banished to Tacoma after a short stint with the big club, was robbed of a third hit when his leadoff screamer in the seventh was snared on a leaping grab by first-sacker Matt McBride. Baron was the only Rainier without a knock. Tacoma somewhat limited its scoring chances by hitting into two double plays and having two runners thrown out stealing; squandering baserunners seems to be an organizational imperative at all levels.

Marte out

It was disappointing not to see top prospect Ketel Marte. The shortstop broke his thumb June 1 and will be out for at least four more weeks. He's hitting .343.

Montero makes the play

Jesus Montero will probably never make anyone forget John Olerud defensively down at first base, but he made a couple of nice plays Sunday. His diving stop of a hot grounder by Albuquerque right fielder Roger Bernadina turned what looked like a base hit into a 3-1 out. In the fourth Montero made a nice pick when Taylor fielded Gameau's grounder deep in the hole at short, whirled, and fired a short-hopper to first.

No free parking

We were a bit surprised to be charged $10 for parking at Cheney Stadium Sunday. It has been $5 since we can remember. It may be the first parking hike there since 1967. Nevertheless, a 100-percent bump is a little surprising. Our car needs washing, badly, and for that price they could have done a little detailing!

Box score