The Houston Astros got busted. They used cameras to steal signs and relay the information to their batters, gaining an unfair advantage over opposing pitchers. Their technological operation was undone by their $5 implementation. Come on, if you are using technology to steal signs, why bang a trash can to signal the batter. Do better.
MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred punished those involved in the sign stealing scheme. General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for the 2020 season. Unsurprisingly, both were immediately fired by Astros owner Jim Crane. Houston forfeitedtheir 1st and 2nd round picks in 2020 and 2021 drafts, and must pay a $5 million fine. The wait continues for former Astros Bench Coach and now former Red Sox Manager Alex Cora’s punishment. Cora was the mastermind of the scheme, so his punishment will certainly be stiffer as he brought his scheme to Boston. MLB will not punish active players, but this does not include former players such as new and now former Mets Manager Carlos Beltran. It is highly doubtful the Astros, and Red Sox, were the only ones stealing signs, they just got caught.
Opinions vary on the appropriate punishment. Sign stealing is not a big deal, move along. Give the Astros the death penalty and strip them of the 2017 World Series. The most idiotic assertion is this is worse than Pete Rose and his gambling. Rose controlled the Reds while betting on them. Yes he always bet on Cincinnati to win, but there is a problem. Rose had an additional vested interest in winning. If he over used a pitcher in a game he bet on, his actions influenced the next day’s game which he may not bet on. Managing a team should not be based on daily wagers. The Astros gained an advantage knowing a certain pitch was coming. This altered the outcome of games. Both Rose and the Astros are guilty of stupidity, among other things. However their baseball crimes are not the same.
The Astros MVP, complete with the wounds from getting hit to signal Houston batters. (ww.theathletic.com)
No perfect punishment exists. People will view the penalty as too lenient or too harsh. The teams Houston defeated have legitimate arguments that their opportunity to win was tainted. No one can change the past, but here is how to punish the Astros and dissuade future teams from creating sign stealing operations. First, Houston cannot hire a new General Manager or Manager until after the 2020 World Series. Obviously someone will assume both roles, but the Astros would have one less member of the front off and coaching staff. Second, Houston must host two home games which are not opened to the public. The Astros will pay game day staff for these days off. The games will be weekend games in June or July, not throw away games at the end of the season. Houston made millions winning, make them lose two games worth of income. Third, no regular season prime time games for two years. No Sunday Night Baseball. No special location games. No special attention. Fourth, make opposing players who had difficulty against the Astros and were subsequently sent down or released whole. If said player is within one year of reaching the 10 years necessary to receive an MLB pension, Houston must pay the player league minimum for the extra season and then cover their MLB pension for 10 years. If the player would not qualify for the MLB pension, Houston owes that player their highest one season salary each year for the next 10 years. These punishments are in addition to what was already handed down. Make the punishment long and annoying.
Obviously none of these additional punishments will occur, but you can dream. Houston did not just steal signs, they literally cost players and coaches jobs. Hopefully their cameras can see that too.
Teams tend to play one of two types of baseball, long ball or small ball. The rise of of analytics has shown sacrificing an out to advance a runner is not in a team’s best interest. Teams are shying away from small ball because, as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine so eloquently put it, “Chicks dig the long ball.” The roar of the crowd is much different for a Home Run than a Sacrifice Hit, Sacrifice Bunt. Instant offense versus a building block towards a potential Run.
Baseball has changed since the small ball era of the early 20th Century. The small ball era helped produce Eddie Collins and his 512 career Sacrifice, 120 ahead of second place. Clayton Kershaw is the active leader with 108, 334th all time. Small ball produced Ray Chapman’s 1917 single season record of 67 Sacrifices. Bert Campaneris’ 40 Sacrifices in 1977 are the most since 1929. Home Runs have replaced the Sacrifice. Teams swing for the fences. They no longer get them on, get them over, get them in.
A slugger’s value comes from hitting a baseball over the fence, not tapping it in the infield. The top ten Home Run hitters of all time have hit 6,680 Home Runs. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, and Frank Robinson have played a combined 213 Major League seasons. Only Pujols is active, with two seasons left before Free Agency or retirement. Occasionally these long ball titans sacrifice themselves for the team.
In 22 seasons, Barry Bonds hit 762 Home Runs and laid down 4 Sacrifices. Hank Aaron played 23 seasons, hit 755 Home Runs with 21 Sacrifices. Babe Ruth hit 714 Home Runs in 22 seasons and laid down 113 Sacrifices, more than the rest of this elite group combined. Alex Rodriguez Sacrificed 16 times in 22 seasons, while hitting 696 Home Runs. Willie Mays played 22 seasons, hit 660 Home Runs, and dropped 13 Sacrifices. Albert Pujols has played 19 seasons, hit 656 Home Runs with 1 Sacrifice. Ken Griffey Jr. hit 630 Home Runs over 22 seasons and Sacrificed 8 times. Jim Thome and his 612 Home Runs laid down 1 Sacrifice in 22 seasons. Sammy Sosa had 17 Sacrifices in 18 seasons while blasting 609 Home Runs. Frank Robinson dropped 17 Sacrifices in 21 seasons, with 586 Home Runs. Even the greatest sluggers of all time Sacrifice.
Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball with his power, yet he still played in an era where players were expected to bunt to help their team win. (www.captainsblog.info)
In 213 combined seasons, the greatest Home Run hitters laid down 211 Sacrifices. In an average season they hit 31.36 Home Runs with 0.99 Sacrifices. Their average career was 668 Home Runs and 21.1 Sacrifices, 30.2 Home Runs per Sacrifice. Even ardent believers in small ball know these players should swing the bat.
Jim Thome and Albert Pujols each have just 1 career Sacrifice. Thome and Pujols are not Rickey Henderson. They have hit a 32 triples, 16 each, and stolen 133 bases, combined. Only Pujol’s 114 steals break to top 1,000. Both sluggers were designed to trot around the bases, not sprint.
On July 3, 1994, Indians Manager Mike Hargrove looked to extend Cleveland’s 2.5 game over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, in a 7-7 tie against the Minnesota Twins, Eddie Murray laced the third pitch to Right for a lead off single. Hargrove signaled his young Third Baseman to Sacrifice. After taking a strike from Mark Guthrie, the 23 year old Jim Thome bunted, moving Murray to Second. Thome reached on an error by Third Baseman Chip Hale. Twins Manager Tom Kelly then replaced Guthrie with Carl Willis. Sandy Alomar Jr. greeted Willis with a swinging bunt down, loading the bases. Paul Sorrento followed with an RBI Single to Right, driving in Murray. Wayne Kirby fouled out to Third. One out. Kenny Lofton hit a Sacrifice Fly to Center, scoring Thome with Alomar advancing to Third. Two outs. Omar Vizquel flied out to Center. Three outs. 9-7 Cleveland. Thome and the Indians won 10-9 in 11 Innings, sending the Jacobs Field crowd home happy.
Jim Thome hit baseballs a long way, his talents were not best used bunting. (www.cooperstowncred.com)
The importance of the game, and Thome’s Sacrifice, were lost as the 1994 season stopped on August 12th. Cleveland was 1 game behind Chicago when the Strike began. The Strike claimed the rest of the 1994.
The St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Chicago White Sox on June 16, 2001. The Chicago Cubs led the Cardinals by 6 games in the National League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, White Sox pitcher Sean Lowe walked Placido Polanco on four pitches. J. D. Drew then Singled to Right. Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa looked to stretch the 6-3 lead. He signaled his Cleanup Hitter to bunt. In his 67th career game, Albert Pujols bunted the first pitch foul. On the second pitch, Pujols bunted the ball back to Lowe who threw to Second Baseman Ray Durham covering First. Polanco moved to Third and Drew to second. One out. Pujols has not Sacrificed again. Bobby Bonilla was Intentionally Walked to load the bases and replaced by Pinch Runner Jim Edmonds. Craig Paquette Singled to Right, scoring Polanco. Drew scored on an error by the Shortstop, Tony Graffanino. Edmonds stopped at Second. Edgar Renteria struck out looking as Edmonds stole Third and Paquette stole Second. Two outs. Mike Matheny grounded out to First. Three outs. St. Louis won 8-3.
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest right hand power hitters of all time, bunting is not his most dangerous weapon. (Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)
The Cardinals lost to the Houston Astros on the final day of the Regular Season. Both teams finished 93-69. Houston was crowned Division champions by winning the season series 9 games to 7. St. Louis was the Wild Card. The Cardinals lost to the eventual World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks in a decisive Game 5 in the Divisional Series.
Baseball is a team game played by individuals. Players field ground balls, pitch, and bat alone. No one can help you succeed, but you can help others succeed. Backing up throws, turning Double Plays, executing a relay all help a team win. And yes, occasionally even the greatest Home Run hitters Sacrifice for the team.
As baseball changes, Sacrifices by players capable of putting a baseball into orbit inches towards extinction. The Sacrifice is becoming a lost art as light hitting pitchers in the National League dominate and the Designated Hitter in the American League decimates the Sacrifice. A slugger bunting is now more rare than a Perfect Game. This generation’s greatest sluggers have Sacrificed just twice. If Mike Trout ever lays down a Sacrifice, soak in the moment. It will be the first of his career, and possibly the last time an all time great Home Run hitter Sacrifices himself.
Eddie Cicotte takes the sign from Ray Schalk, winds and fires. OUCH! Cicotte drills the first Cincinnati Red, signaling the Chicago White Sox will throw the 1919 World Series. Baseball fans know what happened next. Eight White Sox players were accused, brought to trial, found not guilty, and then banned by new Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Chick Gandil, Eddie Cicotte, Happy Felsch, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Fred McMullin, Swede Risberg, Buck Weaver, and Lefty Williams were placed on the ineligible list, where they have remained ever since.
The Black Sox scandal overshadowed the 1919 World Series. The Reds were largely ignored. So too was Cincinnati Second Baseman Morrie Rath who received the painful signal. Rath played for four teams in six seasons between stents in the Minors from 1909 to 1920. Connie Mack bought Rath from the Reading Pretzels of the Tri-State League on August 21, 1909. A month later, Rath went hitless in his Major League debut against the Cleveland Naps. On July 23, 1910, after playing just 18 games for Philadelphia, Rath and a Player To Be Named Later, Shoeless Joe Jackson, were traded to Cleveland for Bris Lord. Rath played 24 games for the Naps before his demotion to the Baltimore Orioles of the Eastern League. He stayed in Baltimore through the 1911 season, when the White Sox selected him in the Rule 5 Draft. He played 249 Games for Chicago before he was sold to the Kansas City Blues of the American Association in August 1913. He was again traded to the Salt Lake City Bees for Dutch Ruether in November 1915. The Cincinnati Reds selected Rath in the 1917 Rule 5 Draft. He finally joined the Cincinnati Reds in 1919 after spending 1918 in the Navy.
Morrie Rath was the recipient of the most famous Hit By Pitch in baseball history. (www.sabr.com)
Rath played 565 Games for the Philadelphia Athletics, Cleveland Naps, Chicago White Sox, and Cincinnati Reds. He posted a career .254 BA, .342 OBP, .285 SLG, 521 Hits, 36 Doubles, 7 Triples, 4 Home Runs, 92 RBI, 291 Runs scored, 83 Stolen Bases, 258 Walks, 112 Strike Outs, and 14 Hit By Pitch. Defensively, Rath was a good, not great, Second Baseman. In 4,518 Innings he had 2,817 Chances, made 1,167 Putouts, 1,565 Assists, turned 200 Double Plays, 85 Errors, for a .970 Fielding %. Baseball history is littered with players like Rath. Playing for multiple teams with a few successful seasons, before fading into history.
October 1, 1919 was Rath’s most memorable game. The Reds hosted the heavily favored White Sox at Redland Field in Game 1 of the World Series. Reds Manager Pat Moran inserted Rath in the leadoff spot against Eddie Cicotte, who was 29-7 with a 1.82 ERA in the Regular Season. Rath waited as Cicotte fired his first pitch. SMACK! Rath trotted to First. Jake Daubert followed, singling to Right Center, Rath took third. Heinie Groh then flew out to Left, allowing Rath to score. 1-0 Reds.
The Black Sox lost the 1919 World Series and were then banned from baseball. (www.worthpoint.com)
Reds pitcher Duth Ruether allowed an unearned run in the Second. Cicotte walked Ruether to lead off the Bottom of the Third. Rath dropped a sacrifice bunt to Cicotte moving Ruether to Second. However, Daubert and Groh failed to drive Ruether in, stranding him at Second. The game remained tied 1-1.
The wheels came off for Chicago with two outs in the Bottom of the Fourth. Runner on first when Greasy Neale reached on an infield hit. Ivey Wingo then singled to Right, scoring Larry Kopf. Dutch Ruether tripled to Left Center, scoring Neale and Wingo. Rath Doubled to Left, scoring Ruether. Daubert singled to Right scoring Rath. Chicago’s frustrated Manager Kid Gleason pulled Cicotte for Roy Wilkinson who retired Groh. 6-1 Reds.
Morrie Rath was a good player that would have faded into history if Eddie Cicotte did not hit him to begin the 1919 World Series. (www.cincinnati.com)
Rath lined into an inning ending double play in the Sixth and grounded out to Short for the second out of the Eighth. The Reds won Game 1, 9-1. Rath went 1 for 3, 1 Double, 1 RBI, 2 Runs scored, 1 Hit By Pitch, and 1 Sac Bunt. Defensively he had 4 Putouts and 2 Assists. In Rath’s only Fall Classic, he played all 8 Games, with a .226 BA and .333 OBP. He collected 7 Hits, 1 Double, 5 Runs scored, 2 RBI, 4 Walks, 2 Stolen Bases, and 1 Hit By Pitch. In the field, he played 72 innings, in 40 Chances he had 21 Putouts, 17 Assists, 2 Errors, and 4 Double Plays.
Morrie Rath played his final Major League game a year after the 1919 World Series. He went 1 for 5 in a 6-3 Reds defeat on the final day of the season. Cincinnati finished third in the National League, 10.5 games behind the Brooklyn Robins. On January 4, 1921, Rath was one of three Players To Be Named Later and $10,000 traded to the Seattle Rainiers of Pacific Coast League for Sam Bohne. He ended his career playing 124 games for the San Francisco Seals in 1921. After retiring from baseball, Rath returned to suburban Philadelphia to run a sporting goods store.
In 2008 the Tampa Bay Devil Rays dropped the Devil, becoming the Tampa Bay Rays. Changing their name also changed their fortunes. The Rays have a .535 winning percentage, much better than the Devil Rays, .399. Tampa is winning roughly 22 more games a season since the switch. In 12 seasons as the Rays, Tampa Bay has won at least 90 games seven times, made the Postseason five times, won the American League East twice, and reached one World Series. The Rays success has come while averaging 27th in team payroll.
Tropicana Field was not always home to success. The Devil Rays began play in 1998 and struggled through the 2007 season, their last as the Devil Rays. They averaged 25th in payroll, including ranking 10th in 2000. The 2004 season was the Devil Rays best, winning 70 games and did not finish last. Tampa Bay finished 4th, three games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Every expansion team has growing pains as they build a competitive team. Tampa Bay received no breaks in the Expansion Draft. None of their first five draft picks played more than three seasons in Tampa Bay. Teams need players to build around and the Devil Rays did not find a franchise player in the Expansion Draft.
The Devil Rays held the first overall pick in the 1997 Expansion Draft. Tampa Bay selected Florida Marlins pitcher Tony Saunders. In 1997, the 23 year old lefty started 21 games for the Florida Marlins, going 4-6 with a 4.61 ERA and 1.464 WHIP in 111.1 Innings, allowing 57 Earned Runs, 12 Home Runs, 64 Walks, and 102 Strikeouts. Saunders pitched in the Marlins Postseason run to their World Series victory. Saunders, a young lefty with Postseason experience, was a logical first pick.
The Devil Rays took Tony Saunders with the first overall pick in the 1997 Expansion Draft. (Jonathan Kirn/Allsport/ Getty Images)
The 1998 Tampa Bay Devil Rays struggled, finishing 63-99, 16 games behind the fourth place Baltimore Orioles. In 31 starts, Tony Saunders went 6-15 with a 4.12 ERA and 1.570 WHIP in 192.1 Innings, allowing 88 Earned Runs, 15 Home Runs, 111 Walks (league leader), and 172 Strikeouts. Saunders pitched 7+ innings in 10 starts, allowing 3 runs or less in nine of those starts. He won twice. In four of those starts, Saunders pitched 8 innings, allowing three runs or less, yet he lost all four starts. Saunders received 3.37 in run support, while Major League teams averaged 4.79 runs per game. Tony Saunders pitched well for the expansion Devil Rays, despite his record.
Tampa Bay and Tony Saunders entered the 1999 season full of hope. The Devil Rays sought to play more competitive baseball and Saunders looked to build upon his success. Entering play on May 26th, the Devil Rays were 22-24. An expansion team hovering around .500 a quarter of the way through the season had many hoping the Devil Rays would soon contend. The Texas Rangers were visiting Tropicana Field facing the surprising Devil Rays. In the Top of the Third Inning, the Rangers had runners on first and third with two outs, trailing 3-2. Tony Saunders had a full count on reigning American League MVP Juan Gonzalez. Saunders took the sign from John Flaherty and uncorked a Wild Pitch. Gonzalez trotted to first, Rusty Greer moved to second, and Luis Alicea scampered home to tie the game.
Tropicana Field fell silent except for Tony Saunders screaming, writhing in pain on the ground. The pitch broke the humerus bone, the bone connecting the shoulder and elbow, in Saunders’ left arm. Training staff tried helping Saunders up, but the pain was too much. He was carted off the field and taken to the hospital. His season was finished and his career was in doubt.
Professional baseball players are tough. They play through pain and injury throughout the long season. A year after breaking his arm Tony Saunders was pitching again. His rehab assignment began with the Charleston RiverDogs, Tampa Bay’s Single A team. Saunders pitched in two games, throwing 5 Innings, with a 1.80 ERA and 0.800 WHIP, allowing 2 Hits, 1 Earned Run, 2 Walks, and 3 Strikeouts. He was promoted to the St. Petersburg Devil Rays, Tampa Bay’s Advanced A team. Entering the Third Inning of his second game, Saunders had pitched 7 Innings with a 3.86 ERA and 1.429 WHIP, allowed 7 Hits, 3 Earned Runs, 3 Walks, and 3 Strikeouts. Then it happened again, Saunders broke his arm throwing a pitch. His Major League career was over.
Tony Saunders broke his arm throwing a baseball. The Devil Rays future rested on his left arm. (www.mlb.com)
The Devil Rays retained their rights to Saunders through 2004, when they released him. Less than a month later the Orioles signed Saunders. He pitched in Spring Training for the Orioles, but spent the 2005 season pitching for the Mesa Miners of the independent Golden Baseball League. He pitched 9 Games in relief, going 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 1.600 WHIP. He threw 10 Innings, allowed 9 Hits, 2 Earned Runs, 7 Walks, and 8 Strikeouts.
There are no guarantees in baseball. Tony Saunders is not alone in having his career cut short by injuries. However his injuries were particularly gruesome. The future of the Devil Rays rested on his left arm, it took years for Tampa Bay to recover. Tony Saunders’ efforts to continue his baseball career did not go unnoticed. He received the 2000 Tony Conigliaro Award from the Boston Chapter of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America. The annual award is given to a Major League player who best overcomes an obstacle and adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination, and courage. While the award cannot replace his career, it is important to recognize Saunders’ perseverance in his comeback attempts.
Tony Saunders’ final career statistics: 3 Seasons, 61 Games Started, 2 Complete Games, 13 Wins, 24 Losses, 4.56 ERA, 1.528 WHIP, 345.2 Innings Pitched, 343 Hits, 175 Earned Runs, 33 Home Runs, 204 Walks, and 304 Strikeouts.
Oh, what could have been in Tampa Bay.
Every year The Winning Run attempts to predict the upcoming baseball season. We are comically wrong every time. This year in our baseball group text we tried predicting each World Series game. The winning team and the score. This was purely for fun with no real research, just our gut feelings on which team had the best chance to win each World Series game. We were terrible at predicting single games. The more predictions we make the better, one would assume, we became at them. However, we do not have the budget or resources of the Las Vegas sports betting books, and it shows. The World Series is fading away, so is a good time to revisit our sad game by game World Series predictions.
Derek- Astros 4-2
Jesse- Astros 4-0
John- Nationals 2-0
Bernie- Astros no score offered
Derek- Astros 7-4
Jesse- Nationals 6-3
John- Praying to Saint Ruth
Bernie- Astros 6-3
Kevin- Tanning on the beach
Derek- Astros 6-5
Jesse- Nationals 7-2
John- Nationals 5-3
Bernie- Nationals 7-4
Kevin- Nationals 4-3
Derek- Astros 3-1
Jesse- Astros 3-2
John- Nationals 5-3
Bernie- Nationals 8-5
Kevin- Nationals 6-3
Derek- Astros 7-3
Jesse- Astros 7-2
John- Nationals 6-4
Bernie- Astros 3-1
Kevin- Building sand castles
Derek- Nationals 6-3
Jesse- Astros 6-1
John- Nationals 7-2 The only perfect prediction
Bernie- Nationals 5-2
Kevin- Watching the sunset
Game 7 with MVP
Derek- Astros 7-4, Jose Altuve
Jesse- Nationals 9-7, Juan Soto
John- Nationals 8-3, Anthony Rendon
Bernie- Nationals 6-1, Juan Soto
Kevin- Nationals 5-3, Stephen Strasburg
Correctly predicting the winning team, game by game:
Game 1: John
Game 2: Jesse
Game 3: Derek
Game 4: Derek, Jesse
Game 5: Derek, Jesse, Bernie
Game 6: Derek, John, Bernie
Game 7: Jesse, John, Bernie, Kevin
Number of winning teams correctly predicted:
Predicting the outcome of a single baseball game is difficult. The World Series is even more challenging. The outcome of a Yankees-Orioles game in July is much easier to foresee. New York was a juggernaut during the Regular Season and Baltimore was looking towards next season during Spring Training. New York won 17 of 19 games in 2019, the outcome was rarely in doubt. Predicting a single game with two good teams is much more difficult.
The joys of baseball turns grown men into little boys. (David J. Phillip/ AP)
Derek was the only one to believe in Houston in Game 3. He correctly predicted the outcome of Games 3 through 6, but his faith in the Astros led his astray in Game 7. Jesse was the only one to believe in the Nationals in Game 2. His winning ways returned in Games 4 and 5. After missing Game 6, Jesse predicted Washington would win Game 7. John began his predictions on fire, as the only one to predict Washington’s Game 1 victory. However he went cold until crunch time when he predicted Games 6 and 7. His Game 6 prediction was the only perfect prediction as the Nationals won 7-2. Bernie came on late, predicting the final three games correctly. Houston pushing Washington to the brink of elimination in Game 5 and the Nationals responded by winning Games 6 and 7. Kevin was on a three hour delay with his predictions from California, but he nailed his Game 7 prediction and Stephen Strasburg winning the MVP.
Looking at our inability to predict each game of the World Series should leave little doubt in the accuracy of our 2019 Regular Season predictions. We will revisit those predictions closer to Spring Training. Predicting baseball is hard, but we have fun in our futile attempts.
Congratulations to the World Series Champion Washington Nationals. If someone claims they knew the Nationals would win the World Series in late May they are one of two things. They are a delusional Nationals fan and a liar. Probably both. This is the beauty of baseball, undying faith in a hopeless cause. The other 29 teams and their fans know next year is their year.
Thanksgiving is most closely associated with football not baseball. The cool weather, football on television, and pick up games before the Thanksgiving meal. Baseball is over and Spring Training is months away. Thanksgiving is the best holiday, in my opinion. It is simple, come together with family and friends, enjoy each other’s company, and appreciate all the good in your life while stuffing yourself until you can barely move. The irony is obvious.
My family’s Thanksgiving menu usually looks like this: turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, corn on the cob, macaroni and cheese, rice, dinner rolls, pudding, cookies, brownies, pies including apple, pumpkin, and rhubarb, followed by a nap. My brain wanders after the sudden halt of baseball. Lost in my thoughts, I wondered, could I create the ultimate Thanksgiving team out of players with food names? The players would return for one game in their prime. The only catch is their names must be on the menu.
This Thanksgiving game will take place in Philadelphia on November 23, 1899 against the Phillies. The Phillies complete their best season playing in the Baker Bowl, finishing 94-58, third in the National League, 9 games behind the Brooklyn Superbas. Our menu team will assume the identity of the Boston Beaneaters, there is no greater food inspired team name.
Every baseball field is beautiful. The Baker Bowl has been lost to history, but there is never a bad place to play baseball. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Phillies owner John Rogers wants to capitalize on the teams’ success and put a few extra dollars in his pockets. Manager Bill Shettsline is looking for one more victory in his sophomore campaign with the Phillies. Shettsline submitted the following line up.
Philadelphia Phillies Starting Lineup
2B: Nap Lajoie (Hall of Fame)
RF: Elmer Flick (Hall of Fame)
LF: Ed Delahanty (Hall of Fame)
1B: Duff Cooley
CF: Roy Thomas
C: Ed McFarland
3B: Billy Lauder
SS: Monte Cross
SP: Wiley Piatt
Philadelphia Phillies Bench
1B: Billy Goeckel
3B: Red Owens
RF: Pearce Chiles
Partnering against the Phillies this Thanksgiving is future San Diego Padres owner Ray Kroc. Kroc and General Manager Billy Beane lured Philadelphia Athletics Manager Connie Mack to Boston. Mack submitted this line up:
Boston Beaneaters Starting Lineup
RF: Billy Hamilton (Hall of Fame)
CF: Ty Cobb (Hall of Fame)
1B: Hank Greenberg (Hall of Fame)
LF: Jim Rice (Hall of Fame)
3B: Pie Traynor (Hall of Fame)
SS: Barry Larkin (Hall of Fame)
C: Spud Davis
2B: Cookie Rojas
SP: Rube Waddell (Hall of Fame)
Boston Beaneaters Bench
C: Mike Napoli
1B: Stuffy McInnis
2B: Pumpsie Green
SS: Luke Appling (Hall of Fame)
RF: Sam Rice (Hall of Fame)
LF: Zack Wheat (Hall of Fame)
CF: Turkey Stearnes (Hall of Fame)
P: Smokey Joe Williams (Hall of Fame), Catfish Hunter (Hall of Fame), Bob Lemon (Hall of Fame), Rube Marquard (Hall of Fame), Rube Foster, Pud Galvin (Hall of Fame), Rollie Fingers (Hall of Fame), Jeurys Familia, Brownie Foreman
Baseball is unpredictable. The Beaneaters and their delicious lineup appear to have the edge over the Phillies. However, even the best teams lose. Simulating the game would never perfectly create such a game. Instead take a moment to appreciate the long history of baseball, the men who have played, their strange names, and be thankful for everything good in your life, especially baseball.
All good things must come to an end. My season on the diamond ended early due to pneumonia. It was not how I wanted to end my season, but my body had other ideas. I love umpiring. My skills for playing baseball did not take me far. Umpiring gives me the opportunity to stay on the field. Beginning in March and ending in October, I umpired roughly half on half of the days in between. The nights not spent umpiring are spent at home due to rain or welcoming my daughter to the world. The time spent calling games compared to the pay umpires receive does not always line up. Umpiring is a terrific side job, few make a living just umpiring. Umpires juggle responsibilities away from the field so they can be a part of the game they love.
There is good and bad with everything in life. We too often dwell on the bad. The desire for more money, more time doing what we love, more time with those we love. 2019 was my fourth season umpiring. I have worked hard to become a better umpire, I am infinitely more confident in correctly making tough calls. Every game has plenty of easy calls. Pitch is thrown to the backstop. Ball. Easy roller to the second baseman who flips to first while the runner is half way down the line. Out. I do not get paid for these calls. Umpires are paid for making the difficult calls. Bang bang play at first. Tag grazed the leg of a runner at the plate. Batter called out on appeal for missing a base on an inside the park home run. These calls are when umpires make their money. Even when we are correct half of the crowd is upset. The best games call themselves and umpires go unnoticed. Not every game is the best game.
Working the plate. The ball is in flight, the possibilities are endless. (The Winning Run/ JJ)
Happily I had more moments of joy than headache this year. One player and two coaches ejected themselves. The player barreled over the catcher, launching himself like he was Pete Rose. An easy malicious contact call. The coach did not argue, only asking if the player would miss the next game of the tournament. I told him to ask the tournament director, not my decision. The coaches ejected themselves for arguing. People are allowed to disagree with my calls, but there is a limit. The first coach continued arguing a tag at the plate after I answered his questions. Ask for clarification, but then we move on. You will not continue yelling from the dugout two batters later. The second coach disagreed with my safe call on a missed tag. No problem. However you are gone when you claim I am biased in favor of the other team. I never care who wins. Bye bye.
Baseball turns adults into kids again. The thrill of the game can consume you. There is a satisfaction in knowing I correctly made a difficult call. Few calls turn me into a little boy like a triple play, and this year I called four of them. Triple plays are usually a line out with runners stealing. The runners are doubled off or tagged before they realize what happened. The strangest triple play of the year was the last. I was behind the plate. Bases loaded. The winning run, mercy rule, on third base. The batter popped a high fastball straight up, to the third base side of the mound. This in the early afternoon, and the sun was directly overhead. The runners held expecting a catch. I called infield fly, batter out. One out. The third baseman lost the ball in the sun, turning away as the ball fell to the ground. Seeing the ball on the ground and the batter nearing first, the runner on first took off for second before realizing no one else was running. The third baseman recovered and threw to first. The runner never reached the base, his slide left him short. Tag. Two outs. When the ball was thrown to first, the runner on third broke for home. After applying the tag, the first baseman fired a strike to the catcher who tagged the runner on the foot as he slid home. Three outs. Triple play. Here comes the coach, clearly not happy. I was not sure what he was about to ask me as each out was obvious. “Mr. Umpire you gotta be louder when you call infield fly, we never heard you.” “Coach I promise you I announced infield fly loud enough for the entire ballpark to hear me.” His first base coach walks by, “Our guys screwed up, for once the umpire knew the infield fly rule.” Conversation over.
Some times you get to work amateur games on professional fields, such as UC Health Stadium, home of the Florence Freedom of the Frontier League. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The more games you umpire the more situations you handle. You learn how to stay warm early in the season when the temperature hovers around freezing and the wind is blowing. You learn how to stay cool during July tournaments with temperatures touching triple digits with no clouds or shade in sight. You learn to delay a game because the sun is blazing straight in and no one can see the ball. You learn how to quickly get an ambulance for a second baseman who broke their leg attempting to double off a runner that failed to tag up on a lazy fly ball. You learn to work through a painful weekend tournament when the catcher misses the second pitch of the first game and your elbow swells requiring ice, ibuprofen, and compression to maintain movement in the joint.
Umpiring shows you the great, the weird, and the strange of baseball. You see the comedy of errors and the miraculous. You work with umpires that are graceful and others who are not. I love my time on the field, it connects me to baseball like nothing else in my life. Every game is an opportunity to learn and grow. As the season winds down your body tells the story of your season. Lingering soreness from getting hit, tired legs from squatting and running around the field to make calls, bruises that never go away. The constant dirty laundry and thin layer of dust constantly covering your equipment, clothes, and car. Baseball begins when the weather teases you that the long, cold winter is ending. It ends with the return of that cold. Rain, heat, and wind do not care about baseball, but baseball cares about them. Calling balls and strikes on a windy field is different when the pitcher is 10 and when they are 18 and will play baseball in the SEC next season. The weather, skill of the players, and strain of the season alter each game, yet it is still just baseball every time I step on the field. I love umpiring and I love baseball. There is nowhere else I would rather spend a large part of my year than on the diamond. See you in the spring.