Tagged: baseball

Come Back?

One by one the delaying, postponing, and/or canceling of baseball at every level has created an emptiness baseball fans have never felt. Spring Training was halted. The Regular Season was delayed. The college baseball season, including the College World Series, was canceled. The Little League World Series was canceled. Baseball’s return to the Summer Olympics was delayed, along with the rest of the Tokyo games, until 2021. Hall of Fame Weekend was postponed until next summer. The World Baseball Classic was postponed until 2023. Nearly every amateur baseball league from little league up to the Cape Cod League has either been delayed, postponed, or canceled. Baseball, like everything, has taken a beating from Covid-19. Some are eager to reopen society, while many others do not believe it is safe to do so. If Major League Baseball comes back this season will fans be allowed to attend games? Will fans want to attend games? What impact will the Pandemic have on the game?

There are so many unanswered questions about baseball right now. Dwelling on the problems and missing the game is heartbreaking. While we are selfishly eager for baseball’s return, many of us are also hesitant. We are caught between wanting to return to normal and not sure it is time to return to normal. There is nothing telling us when the perfect time for baseball’s return will be, however it is better to wait a little too long than to return too early. Returning early could restart the entire process. 

Orioles play the Chicago White Sox in an empty ball park
Empty stadiums could greet MLB’s return. (Jabin Botsford/ The Washington Post)

I do not know if or when baseball will return in 2020. I, like so many others, am following the advice of the public health experts who have devoted their lives to protecting humanity from things like Covid-19. What I do know is swinging a bat and throwing baseballs into a net is therapeutic. They are not a replacement for the game, but a band aid helping to keep me mentally healthy. 

As the weather turns warmer it is more difficult to replace the time and energy I normally devote to baseball. Warm weather means I am either umpiring, watching or listening to a game. Not this year. A summer without baseball is strange. The 1981 and 1994 Strikes did not give us an entire summer without baseball. Neither did World War I or World War II. Baseball did not stop for the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which was a mistake. This is an unprecedented stop in the game. Knowing what is right is easy, doing what is right can be more challenging. I know it was the right decision to delay the start of the Major League season. This was an easy decision. What is more challenging is waiting for baseball’s return, and returning at the appropriate time. I am beyond eager for baseball to come back, but I want it to come back when it is safe.

DJ

Score Book

Scoring a baseball game requires paper, something to write with, following the action on the field, and knowing what to write on the score sheet. We enjoy everything related to baseball, not just watching and playing. We indulge in baseball books, poems, music, and films. In reviewing them we cannot use a normal 1 to 10 ratings system. Even this we must make about baseball. 

Here is our ratings system to understand our opinions about our previous reviews and moving forward.

  1. Golden Sombrero
  2. Strikeout
  3. Walk
  4. Hit By Pitch
  5. Single
  6. Double
  7. Triple
  8. Home Run
  9. Grand Slam
  10. Walk-Off Grand Slam
Scorecard
The is no wrong way to score a baseball game, so long as you can read and understand what happened in the game. (The Winning Run/ BL)

Here are our past reviews and ratings. 

Books

Film

Music

  • My Oh My by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (Single)

Poetry

Moving forward we will use this ratings system in our reviews. We do not always agree, but the scoring is the opinion of the reviewer. Everyone wants to hit a Walk-Off Grand Slam, but not everyone will. Hopefully we find our own versions of Bill Mazeroski off the diamond. 

DJ

Bouncing Back

Spending a summer on the diamond takes a toll on an umpire, mentally and physically. Improving as an umpire requires studying the rule book and working on your mechanics so you are in position to make the call. Umpires must prepare and maintain their mental and physical fitness for their entire season. This becomes a grind, but if you love umpiring it creates more good days than bad.

Each November I take a break to recover from the long season. My legs are tired and need time to heal from the squatting, running, twisting, turning, stopping, and starting I subject them to from mid-March through Halloween. Once December rolls around I begin working out again. Sit ups, pushups, squats, stretching, and hiking. I ease back into shape, allowing my body to fully heal while strengthening any problematic area from the previous season.

This off-season was different. Instead of relaxing and recovering in November, my body revolted. I spent five days in the hospital with pneumonia. I was admitted with a 103 degree fever and a resting heart rate in the 140’s (mid-50’s is my normal). I was in bad shape. Simply watching TV was exhausting. However, thanks to modern medicine, I recovered. It was two weeks after returning home before I could climb the stairs without needing a break. I was forcibly glued to the couch, so I watched all of Ken Burns’ Baseball. Making the best of a bad situation.

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I may have felt terrible, but you can still smile through the tough times. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

My recovery was slow, but steady. As my physical strength returned my voice failed. All of the coughing from the pneumonia brought stomach acid into my throat, causing blisters on the muscles surrounding my vocal cords. I could barely speak or eat. Through it all my wonderful wife navigated life as a single mom with two kids, a 6 month old and a 33 year old. 

Nothing prepares you for the inability to hold your daughter. The fear of dropping her because you are so weak is both terrifying and infuriating. Lots of sleep, healthy eating, slowly increasing my physical activity, the appropriate medication, and two cameras stuck down my throat my body and voice recovered.

The beginning of 2020 saw me feeling normal again. I could go through my normal daily routine. As the calendar turned to February, it was past time to begin preparing for the upcoming season. I was more than a few months behind in my offseason routine. The pneumonia took a severe toll on my physical strength and endurance. Low repetitions of push ups, sit-ups, squats, and short walks were difficult. I was 10 steps behind square one. Slowly my strength has returned. I will rely heavily on my mental preparations this season. I am not an umpiring veteran, but entering my fifth season I know how to prepare myself for the grind.

Umpiring is a privilege and this off season has shown how easily it can slip away. The experience I have will help me navigate the season. Baseball is an amazing game, but it is not life and death. I am excited to get back on the diamond. This season I have a new appreciation for the time and energy it takes to umpire at my best. Time will tell when Covid-19 allows my season to begin, but I will be ready.

DJ

Ken Burns’ Baseball

If anything positive can come from having pneumonia, it is the illness requires rest. Recovery is a slow process and the uninviting cold of Winter did not tempt me to leave my couch. Stuck at home for a month gave me time to watch Ken Burns’ documentary, Baseball. I have tried to watch the series before. The 11 episodes, each at least two hours long, are a commitment I normally struggled to keep. I would watch the first two episodes before wandering off. Life is busy until it comes to a screeching halt.  

It is impossible to include every piece of baseball history in a documentary. Baseball missed events and people, like Old Hoss Radbourn and his 60 wins for the 1884 Providence Grays. However, Ken Burns does an excellent job of delving into plenty of baseball history. Every documentary has flaws. Yet Baseballprovides plenty of segments that sparked excitement. Reminders of Pete Browning and the origins of Louisville Slugger. The dominance of Babe Ruth the pitcher. The unrelenting speed of Rickey Henderson. Die hard baseball fans too often focus on the trees and miss the forest of baseball. 

The original 9 Innings, episodes, end just before the 1994 Strike. Baseball began airing on September 18, 1994, just four days after acting Commissioner Bud Selig announced the Postseason was canceled. Not the best timing. Each inning examines a decade of the game, starting with the origins of the game. Burns spends time on the superstars, normal players, the biggest games and moments, and the people who shaped the game. He examines the rise of the National League and later the American League, the ill fated Federal League, and the greatness of the Negro Leagues. As the documentary progresses the abilities of the players becomes more evident, as little is left to the imagination by better photography and film. Players and personalities come to life. Watching the legends of the game play gives viewers an understanding why these legends live on far beyond their playing days.

KenBurns
Ken Burns’ Baseball is great for every baseball fan, from die hard to the casual fan. (Florentine Films)

Ken Burns does an excellent job using photographs, film, story telling, and interviews to express the beauty of baseball. The game and the people are not perfect, but he shows the good baseball has created. Baseball reminds viewers why they fell in love with the game and why they come back each summer. While books and other films highlight portions of baseball, Ken Burns  masterfully captures the game and creates an avenue for die-hard and casual fans to enjoy the history of baseball.

The 10th Inning covered much of my childhood and the years I fell in love with baseball. The feelings Baseball evoked are similar to the anticipation of Opening Day or walking out of the tunnel and seeing the green grass of a Major League field laid out before you. The butterflies and pure awe are captured in Baseball. Dedicate yourself to watching the series, it is a worthwhile reflection of the beauty and grandeur of the game. Baseball is ever changing and it is important to see the changes, good and bad, that led to the game played today. 

DJ

Sacrificing

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.

BabeRuthBunt
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. 

JimThome.jpeg
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. 

San Diego Padres v St. Louis Cardinals
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.

DJ

Thanksgiving Baseball

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. 

Diamond
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 

C: Klondike Douglass

1B: Billy Goeckel

2B: Joe Dolan, Harry Croft

3B: Red Owens

RF: Pearce Chiles

P: Red Donahue, Chick Fraser, Al Orth, Bill Bernhard, Jack Fifield, Bill Magee, George Wheeler

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. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

DJ

A Season In The Sun

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. 

Umpiring.jpg
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.

Freedom
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.

DJ