Going Once…Going Twice…SOLD!!!

Nothing in life is stationary. Things get better or worse, increase or decrease. Baseball, like life, is constantly changing with rule tweaks, changes in players and personalities. The game in 2019 is similar to the game in 1979, however, for all the similarities there are many differences. Most baseball fans want a piece of baseball. Avid fans create their own version of Cooperstown. Some want a few pieces, others want an entire wall or room dedicated to baseball. 

Baseball fans cannot compete with Bob Crotty and his private baseball collection. The Green Diamond Gallery is the largest privately owned baseball collection in the world. At least until Saturday when a portion is auctioned off. Crotty is closing The Green Diamond Gallery due to changes in his own life. Crotty and his family spend less than half their time in Cincinnati, so operating the passion project became increasingly difficult.  Change is constant. 

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The Green Diamond Gallery was a magnificent collection of baseball history. (www.greendiamondgallery.com)

There are several auction stages over the next year, as a life time of collecting is sold off. In the auction’s first round the most expensive item is a 1960 Mickey Mantle jersey, which is expected to sell for at least $150,000. Those on a smaller budget should expect to pay $300 for a Catfish Hunter signed baseball. Bidders could walk away with seats from the Polo Grounds, valued at $2,000. You could take home Ivan Rodriguez’s Gold Glove Award from 2000 or 2004, each valued at $7,500. Plenty of baseball history is up for bidding, hopefully your bank account is too.

I felt terrible when I heard The Green Diamond Gallery was closing. I had the opportunity to visit at the invitation of a member and listen to then Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson speak. Walking through the museum was as impressive as Cooperstown or the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. One man spent his time and money collecting  the history of the game. Breaking up the collection is heartbreaking, however I hope each item goes to someone who loves baseball and will cherish each piece as much as I cherish my own version of Cooperstown. Individuals and museums might possess specific items, but the history of baseball belongs to every baseball fan. Happy bidding.

DJ

Road Warriors

Elite pitching was supposed to rule the World Series, someone forgot to tell the batters they were overmatched. Stephen Strasburg pitched like many believed he would as the first overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft. Justin Verlander continued to struggle in the World Series, continuing the search for that first World Series victory. George Springer and Anthony Rendon sparked their teams at critical moments, while Jose Altuve continued collecting hit after hit as he chased the record for most hits in a single Postseason. Jose Urquidy rose to the moment, providing the Astros with five shutout innings. The Astros took advantage of Max Scherzer’s back injury before Game 5 and sent the World Series back to Houston with a 3-2 lead. Strasburg worked through a tough first inning, throwing 8 ⅓ masterful innings to force Game 7. Dave Martinez lost his mind and was rightly ejected for his over the top argument after Sam Holbrook called Trea Turner out for baseline interference.

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The baseball season is long, winning the World Series is the result of months of hard work. (Cooper Neill/ MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The Nationals and Astros gave baseball fans an exciting World Series with plenty of twists and turns. Not every World Series is exciting. Teams do not always create exciting games, however the 2019 World Series did. Congratulations to the Washington Nationals on winning their first World Series and thank you to both teams for giving baseball fans an exciting end to the season.

DJ

The End

Walking off the mound CC Sabathia knew he was finished. He had announced his retirement, but now the left arm that took him to the top of the baseball world could take no more. Sabathia had nothing left in his dislocated shoulder. This was the end.

CC Sabathia’s Major League career began on April 8, 2001 in Cleveland against the Orioles. He pitched 5 ⅔ innings of 3 run baseball for a no decision in a 4-3 Cleveland victory. Sabathia made 559 more Regular Season starts across 19 seasons. He compiled a 251-161 record, with a 3.74 ERA, 1.259 WHIP, 38 Complete Games, and 12 Shutouts. He played in six All Star games, won the 2007 American League Cy Young Award, and won the 2009 World Series with the Yankees. Along the way he battled addiction, fighting it when it meant stepping away from baseball in the 2015 Postseason.

Perhaps the greatest pitching run in recent baseball history belongs to CC Sabathia. In July 2008, less than a year after winning the Cy Young, Cleveland traded Sabathia to Milwaukee. The Brewers were chasing the Wild Card. After pitching six innings in his first start, Sabathia threw three consecutive Complete Games. The Brewers won his first four starts, and 12 of his first 13. In 17 starts for the Brewers, Sabathia went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and 1.003 WHIP. He threw 130 ⅔ innings, including seven Complete Games and three Shutouts. He was masterful on the mound, posting a 255 ERA+ with Milwaukee. 

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CC Sabathia was unstoppable in a Brewers uniform. The greatest pitching run in modern baseball history. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Despite his incredible pitching, the Brewers needed more to reach October. Between September 20th and 28th Sabathia started three games on three days rest. He delivered, pitching 21 ⅔ innings, winning twice, including a Game 162 Complete Game allowing the Brewers to squeak into the Postseason. Milwaukee would lose to the eventual World Series Champion Phillies in the Divisional Series. Sabathia put his team above himself, he could have refused to pitch at such an insane pace, by modern standards, as he headed into free agency. Sabathia’s selflessness and brilliance was rewarded by the Yankees with $161 million over seven years. 

Sabathia received the financial rewards from his incredible abilities on the mound. He earned the respect of Yankee fans, which was obvious by the ovation the Bronx faithful gave Sabathia after dislocating his shoulder. Despite his success in pinstripes, Sabathia’s incredible run in Milwaukee will remain the defining moment of his career. While Madison Bumgarner would not allow the Giants to lose the 2014 World Series, Sabathia’s run in Milwaukee was a three month grind we are unlikely to see again. 

DJ

One for the Road

Globe Life Park in Arlington may not have the history of old Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park, but it has been home for the Texas Rangers over the last 26 summers. Memories with friends and family were made, though most are never known to the masses. In those summers, the Rangers made back to back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011. Eight trips to October in all. Fans watched Hall of Famers Ivan Rodriguez and Adrian Beltre play. They watched Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, and Josh Hamilton play, but each will not reach Cooperstown for individual issues complicating their eligibility to play. Other players like Juan Gonzalez, Ian Kinsler, Prince Fielder, and Michael Young hold a special place in the hearts of Ranger fans. Memories were made.

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Jesse, John, and I had the privilege to attend the final game at old Yankee Stadium. Baseball is beautiful. (The Winning Run/ JJ)

This weekend the Rangers close Globe Life Park and their season against the Yankees. Texas closes their second stadium since arriving from Washington in 1972. Closing out stadiums is becoming a habit for Jesse, John, and myself. Globe Life Park will be our third  fine game attended. We sat in the left field seats as the Braves closed Turner Field and moved to the suburbs and SunTrust Park in 2016. Our first, and forever greatest, final game was sitting in the right field bleachers for the final game at old Yankee Stadium in 2008. The Yankees missed the Postseason for the first time since 1993, the House that Ruth Built did not see one final October. The history of old Yankee Stadium is unmatched in baseball. Closing out old Yankee Stadium was bittersweet, attending the Mets final home stand at Shea Stadium was not. Low flying planes, Shea shaking as we walked around, and Mets fans doing the wave remain vivid in my memory. It is hard competing with old Yankee Stadium. 

Jesse, John, and I do attend games together when stadiums are not closing. A late night decision to drive 10 hours to watch the Pirates play at PNC Park was fantastic. Baseball creates memories that last a lifetime. Attending a game is always enjoyable. So once more we are hitting the road to say hello and goodbye to a baseball stadium, creating our own memories like so many fans before us. 

DJ

Unpredictable

The beauty of baseball is its unpredictability. Any player in any game can achieve the impossible. Teams can also surprise. Regardless how knowledgeable you are about the game, even experts are not always able to predict baseball. 

Ozzie Smith was never a power hitter, he hit 28 home runs in 19 seasons. No one predicted Smith would hit the game winning home run in Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship series. Jack Buck’s memorable call of “Go Crazy Folks” sealed the home run in baseball history. Smith did not hit another home run until May 31, 1988. Unpredictable.

Phillip Humber’s 16-23 record and 5.31 ERA are unremarkable, yet on April 21, 2012 he was perfect. Perfect Games are unpredictable, but Humber’s was almost impossible. Ineffectiveness after perfection forced Humber out of the Majors in 2013. 

Prior to each season experts, and The Winning Run, predict which teams will make the Postseason and win the World Series. This season 18 of MLB Radio’s experts made predictions. As expected some were right and some wildly wrong. However, their mixed prediction results have a glaring hole in one particular Division.

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Some predictions are easy, some are not. (MLB Radio)

The experts loved the Yankees, good call, and the Red Sox, not so much, in the American League East. New York has won the Division, but once again Tampa and their 92 wins got no love. Tampa’s low budget machine produced another winning teams while Fenway’s big budget will sit at home in October. The American League Central was predictably a two team race between Cleveland and Minnesota. The rest of the Central will finish at least 25 games back, the experts picked the wrong team as the Twins lead the Indians by four games. They knew the contenders, but picked them in the wrong order. The American League West was easy, 18 of 18 picked the Astros. Good Call.

The National League Central was a toss up between the Brewers, 2 of 18 experts, Cardinals, 5 of 18, and Cubs, 11 of 18. These teams have battled all season with the Cardinals taking control as Milwaukee continues fights on without Christian Yelich and the Cubs fade away. 10 of 18 picked the Dodgers in the National League West. Oddly the other eight picked the Rockies, who are heading for a last place finish. Ouch.

The shocking ineptitude of the experts is the National League East. All 18 experts whiffed on the Division, as none predicted the reigning Division champion Braves would repeat. The Marlins predictably struggled, leaving just four teams. The favorite in the East was the Nationals. A rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin should deliver a Division title. The Phillies added Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto. This firepower in the Philadelphia lineup should have made them at least competitive. The rebuilding Mets got one vote from Rob Bender. No love for Atlanta. 

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Ronald Acuña has emerged as a potential superstar in Atlanta. (FOX Sports Florida)

The Braves did not lose or add a superstar, they tinkered. Atlanta’s biggest move was signing Josh Donaldson for one year. A full season from Ronald Acuña also helped. Predicting baseball is hard, but one would think at least one expert would believe in the defending Division champions. The team steadily improved before winning the East by 8 games over Washington. The Nationals can win 90 games and look poised to return to October as a Wild Card. 

Ultimately teams simply want to make the Postseason. Every team has a chance to reign supreme in October baseball. Winning the Division as easily as Atlanta has in 2019 should give experts pause about their predictions in the future. Teams can have surprisingly good seasons, but Atlanta simply improved on their 2018 season. Baseball is unpredictable, but give credit where credit is due. The experts did not believe the Braves were real in 2018 and predicted their demise in 2019. Experts may understand the game better than most, but baseball always follows its own unpredictable path. This is what makes it the greatest game.

DJ

Ducking Responsibilities 

Umpires must continually work to master a million small skills. Everyone knows umpires focus on balls and strikes, safe and out. However, no one tells you everything else associated with being a baseball arbiter. One of the most visible of these skills in need of mastering is training yourself to not flinch or duck when a pitch is aiming straight for your face. 

No one likes getting hit in the face, not umpires, not fighters, not anyone. Luckily baseball has learned over time that using protective equipment is a good idea. No matter how good the equipment or slow the pitch, taking a baseball in the face hurts. There are massive differences between pitches thrown by a 9 and 19 year old. The 9 year old will knock sweat in my face and maybe move my mask. The 19 year old will move my mask as the inside of my mask sounds like a car crash. 

Fortunately, thus far in my umpiring career I have avoided serious injury. I have weathered every shot to my head well, the worst being a foul ball to the throat. Baseballs have rearranged my mask. I have stumbled due to resting on my heels, instead of my toes. The time I need after getting drilled in the face has been to check my mask for damage and to clean the sweat off my sunglasses. I have never had my bell rung or felt concussed. 

Despite the fear and danger, umpires must train themselves to accept the punishment while doing their job. You must trust your equipment and the catcher. Umpires can only control their equipment; properly maintaining and replacing as necessary. They can never control the catcher. Even the best catcher will miss a ball from time to time, they cannot block everything. Sooner or later every umpire gets hit in the mask. It is a matter of time. Trusting the catcher to do their job is sometimes about lying to yourself as your equipment and body take the pummeling.  

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Umpiring can be painful when the baseball misses the bat and the catcher. (The Winning Run/ JJ)

Flinching means you missed the pitch. The eyes are the camera umpires use to call balls and strikes. If the camera is moving it is impossible to accurately call close pitches. Pitches two feet outside or down the middle are easy, pitches on the corner turns umpiring into a verb.

There are two primary reasons I flinch, although I flinch less now than when I began umpiring. The first reason is obvious. A pitcher is throwing fastballs you can hear coming. Rule #1 of umpiring is self preservation. Stay down and make the call, but never trade your long term health for one pitch. A pitcher, signed to play Division I baseball, throwing 90 MPH, the pitch is coming towards my face, and I have the slightest doubt about the catcher’s ability. Yeah sorry people, I am ducking. There is usually minimal grumbling, but I know I must plant myself behind the plate. If I stay in position while my mind is screaming for my body to move, I will flinch less and gain confidence. Players, coaches, and fans do not agree with plenty of calls, even correct ones. If you lack confidence to make the difficult correct calls, what other calls are you missing? Confidence and ability breed each other, just avoid overconfidence.

The second reason I flinch is less obvious. I flinch more umpiring younger aged baseball, because the pitch is slower and the catchers tend to miss more pitches. I have time to think, which is one of the worst things to do on a baseball field. I will not move on a 55 foot fastball going 80 MPH, but I will flinch on one traveling 45 MPH. Remember Rule #1 of umpiring? Those 45 MPH fastballs will not break you, but they can be death by a thousand pitches. The younger baseball games are perfect for training yourself to not flinch. Staying in position prevents your moving into harm’s way. Raising up exposes your thighs and torso. Crouching keeps you safe behind your gear and stance. Raising up creates a larger target. Training yourself to stay down is critical in preserving your health and safety. People do not rise to the occasion, they sink to their level of training. Raise up your level of training.

Flinching and ducking are usually unnecessary. The catcher catches the pitch and you are safe. Pitches coming at your face often end high and/or inside to the batter for easy ball calls. However, coaches pick up on your habits and if you flinch and duck too often they have a reason to complain. If an umpire is not doing their job, countering the complaints becomes more difficult. Doing your job as an umpire is just like playing. The little things done well add up to successful. 

I am undefeated as an umpire, every game I get better and improve. I have not made the correct call every time, but I learn from my mistakes. I never care who wins, regardless of what a few coaches have suggested. Umpires go unnoticed when they do their job well. Ducking your responsibilities is easy, but staying put and making the call is better.

DJ

Because The Game Is On The Schedule

True professional ball players continue playing hard even when the game means nothing. Baseball changes gears in August. The trade deadline has passed, the contenders and pretenders made moves, and the teams with no hope for the Postseason continue their march through the remaining season. The Major League season is a long, tough journey of 162 games in six months. No weekends off and few true off days with no games or travel. Baseball is a hard game played by hard people. 

No matter how much a player loves the game, playing for a lost cause is difficult. Few are surprised by the losses piled up by the Marlins and Orioles, yet players continue playing hard in this long season. Imagine doing that over an entire career. 

The Mariners began 2019 winning 13 of their first 15 games. Things were looking up for Seattle’s Kyle Seager. In eight seasons with Seager, the closest the Mariners have come to the Postseason was finishing second, nine games behind the Rangers and three out of the Wild Card in 2016. The October drought for Seattle and Seager appeared ready to end after the hot start this season, but it was a mirage. The Mariners are 35-69 since and are 10 games out of fourth place in the American League West. Kyle Seager continues extending his lead as the active player with the most games played without playing in the Postseason. He has played 1218 games, 200 more than second place, Jean Segura

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Kyle Seager plays hard, even though most days there is nothing to play for in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear/ Getty Images)

Kyle Seager is outpacing his contemporaries, but he is not halfway to breaking the all time record. 2,528 career regular season games played, zero Postseason games. Mr Cub, Ernie Banks, sits atop the career leader board of being a true professional. The always cheerful Banks had two brushes with the Postseason. On August 16, 1969, the Cubs led the Mets and Cardinals by nine games. Chicago then proceeded to finish the season 17-26, including an eight game losing streak. The streaking Mets raced past Chicago on their was to a World Series Championship.

In 1970, the Cubs finished five games behind the Pirates. Chicago led Pittsburgh by five games in mid-June before falling and remaining a few games behind the Pirates for the rest of the season. Banks was a part time player in 1970, retiring retire after the 1971 season. Mr. Cub never played October baseball. Luke Appling, Mickey Vernon, and Buddy Bell can relate. This quartet are the only members of the 2,400 games played without playing in the Postseason club. No one wants to join the club. 

Pitchers have time to think between games, a luxury not given to position players. Even Mike Marshall and his record 106 relief appearances for the 1974 Dodgers, had days off. Zach Duke and Steve Cishek have pitched the most games among active pitchers without pitching in the Postseason. Duke has appeared in 570 games, but never a Playoff game. He was on two Postseason teams, the 2011 Diamondbacks and 2012 Nationals. However, both were quickly eliminated before Duke pitched. While Duke has the most games pitched without pitching in a Playoff game, Steve Cishek has not even sat on the bench during the Postseason. Cishek has pitched in 556 games, but not one in the Postseason. While Duke and Cishek are due a Postseason reward, they are not alone as Felix Hernandez’s greatness was wasted in Seattle. King Felix has 411 career starts, but none in the Postseason. Seattle last made the Postseason in 2001, four seasons before Hernandez arrived. Despite Hernandez’s dominance, the Mariners have finished within 10 games of the Division winner just twice in his career, 2007 and 2016. Injuries and a rebuilding team does not give much hope for King Felix to ever pitch in the Postseason.

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Even perfection on the mound could not help Felix Hernandez reach the Postseason. (Dean Rutz/ The Seattle Times)

Pitchers give their arms to baseball and Lindy McDaniel was no different. He pitched in the most Regular Season games, 987, without pitching in the Postseason. The closest McDaniel came to the Postseason was in 1966 while pitching for the Giants. San Francisco was tied for the National League lead on September 1 before losing seven of their next 10 games. The Giants never recovered, losing the Pennant to the hated Dodgers by 1.5 games. McDaniel is not alone in never tasted October baseball. Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins made 594 career starts, the most ever without pitching in the Postseason. The majority of his career was with the Cubs as they sought to exercise the Curse of the Billy Goat, yet Jenkins’ closest brush with October was with another cursed team, the Red Sox. In 1977, Boston battled the Yankees and Orioles all season, but when the Red Sox lost their lead in mid-August their season was over. The Red Sox and Orioles both finished 2.5 games behind the Yankees. Jenkins spent a few seasons pitching for the Rangers before returning to Wrigley in the twilight of his career. Never again coming close to October baseball.

Professional baseball is a grind. The excitement of the season wanes as the summer heat punishes players marching through the Regular Season. The season’s true dog days are in August for teams with nothing left to achieve. Some players are seeking new contracts or securing jobs, while others are playing just because it is their job. Hustling down the line, making a diving catch, sacrificing your body becomes more difficult when the season is lost but there are still games on the schedule. While baseball focuses on those making a Postseason push, remember the rest of baseball are professionals and continue to play hard. They show up everyday because the game is on the schedule.

DJ