Tagged: baseball

SELL, SELL, SELL!!!

There is so much to umpiring that players, coaches, and fans never see. One tool an umpire uses in every game is selling a call. This is especially important on close plays. An umpire’s call is more convincing when they are loud and use their body. A quiet, subtle call can create doubt. No one agrees with every call and no umpire is perfect. What is important is getting the calls right. Reducing the number of incorrect calls is critical. It takes time for umpires to learn proper positioning when making the call. They need the correct angle, be close enough to see the play, but not so close that they cannot see the entire play, be stopped, and then make the call. Seems simple right? You get one chance to see the play, there is no instant replay in amateur baseball. Not every play is obvious. 

I am in my sixth season of umpiring and I still fail to sell a call from time to time. I have worked over 900 games and still make mistakes. Umpires make errors too. I was working the bases a few weeks ago. A pitcher picked off the runner at First, the runner dove into the First Baseman’s foot and was tagged out before he could touch the base. The First Baseman did not block the base. It was a close play. I should have sold the call with an emphatic out call, instead I gave a simple, controlled out call. The offensive team was not happy. An emphatic out call would have sold my decision better. Selling the call could have helped prevent any chirping from the dugout. There is something to learn in every game. I knew I needed to sell the call as soon as I made it, but it was too late. You cannot change the past. 

Greg Gibson sells his safe call on a close play at the plate. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

Umpiring is hard. Everyone wants perfection, but that is impossible. One of the most important things an umpire can do is learn from their mistakes, correct them if possible, and never make the same mistake again. Not selling a call is a mistake. There are situations where it can help prevent trouble later. Game management is critical for ensuring a game goes smoothly. Selling a call is a simple umpiring tool that goes largely unnoticed. People only pay attention to umpires when they make a call and when they disagree with the call. Selling a call is part of umpiring. When an umpire is loud and makes an aggressive call there is little doubt about how confident they are in their call. Instant replay has drawn added attention to professional umpires, but this scrutiny does not exist in amateur baseball. Selling a call helps an umpire be more convincing. There are no second chances. 

DJ

Drafting In The Ether

Life is better with friends. Covid has reinforced that humans are social creatures. Technology allows us to stay connected through phone calls and video, but there is no replacement for in person interactions. It appears the 2021 season is on track to return the baseball world to normal. Part of our baseball season is fantasy baseball. As I have said before, fantasy is what you make of it and we use it to broaden our knowledge and love of the game. 

We cancelled our 2020 in person draft hosted by our distinguished reigning champion Bernie at the last minute. He will host our next in person draft, hopefully in 2022. We did a traditional online draft again this year. Like so much during the Pandemic everyone joined a video call to talk and make fun of each other’s picks. Unfortunately with the online draft Jesse could only select each player once, definitely a flaw in the system. Despite this we carried on. Our stance on PEDs has not changed. Any player suspended for using PEDs is ineligible for our league and there are penalties if they play in a game. We had three dirty players selected this year which was met with laughter and then cursing by the person who drafted them. It is always great to see your opponent waste a draft pick. This is the beauty of social events like a fantasy baseball draft, any mistake and you are instantly mocked. The same is true when within an hour of the draft a player, Austin Nola, breaks a finger. Baseball is brutal. 

Fantasy baseball is a social event. Your team could win or be terrible. Regardless it is still a fun way to follow baseball with friends. We decided to make our fantasy league ridiculous in 2020, because we were not sure if the real season would last. This season we returned to a more normal points system. However we did keep the craziness in our upside down league so chaos can continue to run wild. Hopefully the chaos is confined to fantasy this year and not the actual season. 

I love fantasy baseball. I am excited for baseball, in all forms, to return to our daily lives. Covid has changed so much, something as meaningless as fantasy baseball can go a long way in getting you through the final stretch, hopefully, of this pandemic. I just need my team to stay healthy and not suck.

DJ

Wearing Both Masks

I miss the rainbow of colors on my legs and arms. The art left behind after a baseball crashes into my body. I do not miss the pain, I am not a masochist. I realized a few days ago that the lingering pain in my left leg from such a hit has finally dissipated. There was a certain spot where if my keys pressed just right would cause me to wince in pain months after my last game behind the plate. I miss baseball, but not the cost of having a front row seat. 

Another season in the sun begins next week. This will be my 6th season umpiring. The nervousness I felt umpiring the first season or two is mostly gone. It has been replaced by excitement. I am confident in my ability to correctly make the hard calls. While I am far from the best umpire, I believe I am equally far from the worst. Baseball can humble you with lightning quick speed. I have missed calls and the worst feeling is when that call changes the game. Players and coaches do not always know I missed a call, but I know. There is no shame in making a mistake, just never make the same mistake twice. 

I did not finish this game, instead I went to the hospital after taking a foul ball to the throat. (The Winning Run/DJ)

My legs feel good. My off season preparations are on track to survive and thrive the long season. Hopefully 2021 is a return to normalcy, even if it is not perfect. Not worrying about Covid spreading and the season shutting down at any moment. The constant rule changes to keep everyone safe. Hopefully those are now confined to the stories we tell. 

I am excited to return to the diamond. I have received the Covid vaccine thanks to my day job. I feel more confident working games, as the internal debate if it is responsible to be on the field hopefully fades as the temperatures rise. The sounds of baseball are back this week as I return to the field to work my first high school game in two years. While I feel protected, I will continue doing my part by wearing both masks to protect my face from the baseball and health from Covid. Things are looking up, but there are still a few innings to play before this game is over. We have hopefully reached the Seventh Inning Stretch. Let’s finish the game and be rid of Covid.

Happy Baseball!

DJ

9 Years Gone in a Flash

9 years ago a little idea to write about baseball led to the creation of The Winning Run. I have always loved the game and I thought writing would be a fun way to learn more. It would also give me an excuse to read more books and watch more games. A win-win situation. Fast forward 9 years and life has dramatically changed, but my love for baseball has not. I have learned a lot of obscure facts and connected players, events, and stats which have only fueled my desire to know more. 

The final game of the 2019 season as the Texas Rangers closed down Globe Life Park. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

I enjoy the research as much as the writing. The deep dives into the history and stats has given me a new appreciation for the small parts of baseball. I have learned how to understand the greatness of a player through both the traditional stats and the new ones. It all reminds me that it is impossible to understand everything about baseball, but nonetheless I continue the pursuit. I would like to believe my writing has improved in the last 9 years. The continuous researching, reading, writing, editing, and rewriting have surely had an impact. The Winning Run continues to be a source of enjoyment for myself and I hope for you as well. Thank you for reading my thoughts, research, and general ramblings about baseball. I am happy another season of baseball is upon us and am excited to continue enjoying the game together. 

DJ

Love Is Strange

Love makes people do some strange things. It can make you wake up at 3 AM to rock a baby back to sleep. It makes you think about someone other than yourself. It changes your plans, short and long term, just so you can be with someone. It changes everything. Love is strange.

There are different types of love. I may obsess over baseball, but it is always secondary to my love for my wife and daughter. As is my love for traveling, especially road trips. The summer of 2021 could be the intersection of my love for baseball and travel. Kevin and I have planned a roadtrip to see all 30 teams play at home in 30 days. Bernie will join us for the last week or so as well. Conservatively this road trip is over 15,000 miles of driving to watch a baseball game at each ballpark. There is no logical reason to undertake such a trip. No shame in seeing all 30 teams over a lifetime, or never. Baseball allows you to select your own adventure. I want to experience the absurd adventure that is 30 teams in 30 days. You only do this trip out of a burning love for the game.

Oakland Athletic’s game on our Honeymoon. My wife understands my love for baseball like no one else. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

Pulling off such a daunting trip is impossible without the love of my wife. Leaving her with our daughter for 30 days is tough. Toddlers are not always rational. It pains me that I want to do this trip. Missing my wife and daughter for 30 days already hurts and I have not driven a single mile. Life gives you difficult opportunities. I am not complaining, many people never have the opportunity to do such a trip. Love can be painful sometimes.

Covid will dictate if Kevin and I can do our 30 in 30 trip. If a single team does not allow fans then the decision is made for us. Regardless of what this summer brings, my love for baseball remains. More importantly the love of my life understands my love for baseball. She is willing to do the illogical so that I can do what I love, travel and baseball. Whether the 30 in 30 trip happens or not I am already a lucky man because of the woman I love.

Happy Valentine’s Day Panda Bear.

DJ

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.

Copy of 20191115_190938
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