Monday, April 22, 2013

M's and double plays

The Seattle Mariners are overachievers.

The other day after listening to the M's lose 2-1 in 14 inning to the Tigers--a game in which they hit into three twin-killings and had the potential tying run thrown out at the plate in the bottom of the 14th--I wondered aloud on Facebook how a team that gets so few baserunners and whiffs so often mangages to hit into so many double plays.

DP. It's happening to the M's a lot.
This evening I dug up the stats, and the numbers are truly amazing. Through Sunday's games the Mariners are 27th in Major League Baseball in on-base percentage (a paltry .285) and second in whiffs (167) yet somehow they have managed to lead all of baseball, grounding into 20 double plays.

I vaguely remember Bill James writing that the highest-scoring teams hit into the most double plays and leave the most men on base. I didn't dig up the reference, but the logic, as I recall, was simply that all three are to a great extent a function of having a lot of guys ON base. So for Seattle, a club that has a low average, draws few walks, and strikes out a ton, to lead the league in GDPs is quite an accomplishment. It could simply be that we've got a lot of slow guys who hit grounders. Even on the rare occasion when someone gets on first, it's just the pitcher's best friend waiting to happen.

One other interesting stat: The M's are tied for 26th in the majors in runs scored with 61. The three teams they've outscored are all National League clubs that let their pitchers bat. Nevertheless, let's be thankful for the Miami Marlins. Miami is last in baseball in scoring with a meager 43 runs in 19 games. Their team OPS is .557, average .212, on-base .271, and slugging .286. As a team they have six home runs already; they're "on a pace" for 51 taters for the season. As pathetic as we think the Mariners' offense is, they're outscoring Miami by nearly two runs per game.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Three great shows: August, LLL, and Two Trains

Weisenheimer has been pretty quiet of late, but we've seen three fantastic plays over the last month and just had to share.

Top of the list is Balagan Theatre's incredible production of August: Osage County, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts, directed for Balagan by Shawn Belyea. It's not just the play of the month, but possibly the best show I've seen in at least the last couple of years. It's a great text, and Belyea gets outstanding performances from a cast of 13 that includes some of our favorite local actors.

Shellie Shulkin as Violet Weston, left, dispenses some truth
to daughter Barbara Fordham (Teri Lazzara) in Balagan
Theatre's production of August: Osage County. Balagan
photo by Truman Buffett.
Everyone is so good that it feels a bit unfair to single anyone out, but I must. Charles Leggett is outstanding as Weston family patriarch Beverly, though he's only around for the first 20 minutes or so and spends the next three hours offstage either at the bottom of the lake or in the morgue. Teri Lazzara is dynamite as eldest daughter Barbara Fordham, returning to the old homestead to take charge now that dad is gone. A trio of folks who I tend to think of as great comic actors--Chris Ensweiler, Lisa Viertel, and Kate Jaeger--turn in superb, mostly serious performances (though there's plenty of comic relief in Osage County and Jaeger in particular has some funny lines). Gordon Carpenter is charming and totally creepy as Steve Heidebrecht, fiancé of Jaeger's character, Karen Weston.

Even given this great cast, the show belongs to Shellie Shulkin, who is an absolute tour de force as the pill-popping, chain-smoking, truth-telling matriarch of the clan, Violet Weston. Playing drunk or stoned is tough; it's easy to wind up just goofy or sloppy. But Shulkin nails it, and I expect the family likes her better when she's wasted, because in her more lucid moments she's blunt, vicious, and just high-octane mean. It's a truly remarkable performance.

Hats off to everyone; I'm tempted to rate August: Osage County as the best among the many great shows Balagan has done, though I remain partial, too, to Elephant's Graveyard of 2009 and to the very first Balagan show I saw, Othello in 2008. Longtime readers of this blog may recall that Weisenheimer serves on the board of Balagan Theatre, but this doesn't make me biased. Still, go see for yourself; the show runs through April 27 at the Erickson Theatre Off Broadway. Tickets here.

Mike Dooly was oh-so-creepy as Costard
in Seattle Shakespeare Company's Love's
Labour's Lost
. Photo: John Ulman.
Across town at Seattle Shakespeare Company they put on a really fine production of Love's Labour's Lost, directed by John Kretzu. We were especially pleased that, at the end, we were pretty sure the women weren't going to come back in a year and hook up with King Ferdinand and his dumb-ass team of frat boys. We thought that Samara Lerman was super as the princess of France.

Some of the most shining individual performances came from the supporting characters. Mike Dooly was amazing, creepy, yucky, and totally creepy as Costard, the clown. Clowns are scary anyway, but this one is one of the toppers yet. Believe us, kids, when we say you don't want to find Dooly under your bed. Outstanding in a more comical and lighthearted way were George Mount as Sir Nathaniel and David Quicksall as the goofy Spaniard Don Adriano de Armado. Quicksall, in fact, came out as top character in Seattle Shakes' bracket battle, their version of the March madness meme, this despite my vote for Costard over the Don in the quarterfinal round.

Kretzu made some great choices as director and created a marvelous and memorable show. We hope he will be back at Seattle Shakes again. Love's Labour's Lost closed up April 7.

Finally we saw August Wilson's Two Trains Running directed by Lou Bellamy at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. The top-notch cast included some OSF favorites (Kevin Kenerly, Josiah Phillips, Kenajuan Bentley, and Tyrone Wilson) and some Ashland newcomers (Terry Bellamy, Bakesta King, and Jerome Preston Bates.) Bellamy was fabulous as Memphis, the owner of the diner where the action takes place. King was grand as his comically slow-moving waitress. Kenerly amazed as usual with his character Sterling, the ambitious ex-con who finally gets the ham for Wilson's character Hambone.

Two Trains Running was pure pleasure, a marvelous story, expertly directed, with a strong, professional cast. Kudos to set designer Vicki Smith for creating the diner in the condemned building. It worked beautifully. It's the kind of home run that happens often in Ashland.

You've got time to see this one; it runs at OSF through July 7.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

M's promotions continue to baffle

It's been nearly three months since the last Weisenheimer post because I've been waiting until I had something really important to say: The Seattle Mariners' promotions can be baffling.

The latest chin-scratcher is "Beard Hat Night" which is coming up on Friday, April 26 when the M's play the Angels. They were in full-plug mode for this promotional event during last night's broadcast. The giveaway item is accurately and descriptively named, but as Ansel Adams once said, there is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept. There's the sharp image at left. The fuzzy concept is a knit cap with a knit beard attached. On those cold, Safeco Field evenings in April, you'll be able to keep your chin warm! Want one? The first 20,000 fans through the turnstiles next Friday get one free. At current attendance rates, this would leave quite a few extras that could be distributed at homeless shelters and other places where cold chins are a problem. Still, I'm sure that many folks are busy ordering tickets just to get a beard hat to add to their Mariner memorabilia collection.

Who thinks of this stuff? We wonder if the beard hat concept was cooked up to honor manager Eric Wedge, who is sporting a beard these days; my Sweetie, the official scorer, wants to fine him $100 for each day until he shaves it off. Maybe it was a nod to bearded pitcher Brandon Maurer, though a rookie hurler with an ERA of 9.95 isn't typically the sort upon whose shoulders (or chin) a big gate attraction is built.

More mysterious than beard hat night is the following evening's promotion. April 27 at the Safe will be Dustin Ackley bat night. As of this writing Ackley is batting .143 with an OPS of .356. Will the Ackley autographed bat given away that game have holes in it? This reminds me of the beloved bat I owned as a kid. It was christened the "Ray Oyler Toothpick" in honor of the outstanding shortstop who hit .165 for the Seattle Pilots in 1969.  Oyler's career-high seven homers that year helped drive his OPS up to .526, which dwarfs Ackley. (I apparently had an affinity for light-hitting shortstops as a kid; I still have my Dal Maxvill (career average .217) model baseball mitt.)

In his defense, Ackley has been on a tear. He was batting only .091 a week ago; if he continues on this hot streak he may be above the Mendoza Line by next Saturday. Otherwise, he may set a record for lowest batting average by a guy who has his name on bat night.

At right is a photo of my favorite M's promotional item ever--or at least part of it. "Anything Can Happen" was the team's official slogan in about 1984, and this medallion was once attached to a keychain that was given away at a game one night. I thought it was such a funny slogan--the "anything" that happened was a 74-88 record that year, the second-best in the team's dismal history to that point--that I used the keychain for many years. The chain broke ages ago, but I still keep the medallion in my spare-change dish just for a laugh.

Nothing yet tops the 2011 giveaway of the Franklin Gutierrez flyswatter, unless it's the J.J. Putz soul patch, pictured at left. I don't own one, but there's one for sale at Gasoline Alley Antiques, which has a lot of M's stuff in stock, including a certificate that proclaims "I was in attendance for Gaylord Perry's 300th Career Victory." The certificate is autographed by the Hall of Fame pitcher. There were few of those issued; attendance at the May 6, 1982 milestone game at the Kingdome was 27,369. Famously, two days later "Funny Nose Glasses Night" drew 36,716. That particular giveaway was hatched as something of a joke; the 1981 jacket night commercial below, with outfielder Tom Paciorek, started it. There's a great story about the night on the M's website. According to the yarn, people were interested in the glasses and, in true War-of-the-Worlds fashion, believed the promotion was real and called the team to ask when it was. They made it happen the following year. Also interesting to consider: three of the promotions on this page feature whiskers. I wonder how many other hairy promotions the M's have run over the years. Not sure if Buhner or Boonie Buzz Cut Nights count.

Say what you will, beard cap night is certainly creating a fuzz; er, buzz. After all, they tricked me into writing about it.