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.
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.
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.
There is so much to write about the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. Game 3 was a classic. The final score of a few of the games have been misleading, but overall it has been an excellent Fall Classic. I will revisit the World Series soon.
The World Series drought for the Cubs has been well documented, to the point of nausea. Over 70 years since they last played in the World Series and over 100 years since they last won it all. This background was great leading up to the World Series, but as the series has gone on I am less interested in it and more focused on the here and now.
Take me out to the ball game, take me out to the crowd…(World Series of Dreaming)
Four years ago I had to opportunity to go to a game at Wrigley Field with Jesse. He was working in Chicago for a month and I flew over from New York to stay with him for a few days. We went to a game at Wrigley Field between the Cubs and Giants. We sat in the right field bleachers right behind Hunter Pence. It was a beautiful day game. Madison Bumgarner pitched for the Giants (I honestly did not remember him pitching until I looked up the game tonight). The Cubs were in the middle of rebuilding and were not very good that season. However, the Baseball Gods smiled upon us and the Cubs beat the Giants 6-4.
The most lasting memory I have, besides just being at Wrigley was singing Go Cubs Go after the final out. I am by no means a die hard Cubs fan. I grew up watching their games after I got home from school. I loved listening to Harry Caray announce the games and singing Take Me Out To The Ball Game. I felt a connection to the Cubs even as they were rebuilding, so watching them win a game then singing Go Cubs Go was magical.
The end of Game 5 of the World Series was a nice reminder of my experience at Wrigley with Jesse. Joe Buck managed to stay out of the way for a few minutes and allow the Cubs fans to sing Go Cubs Go on national television. There is something about listening to an entire stadium sing a song in celebration of their beloved team. For all the heartbreak and the decades of waiting, the Game 5 victory at Wrigley Field felt like a weight was lifted off Cubs fans. In some way that victory is enough to allow Cubs fans to wait until next year. The time, money, effort, and energy that many people put into baseball out of love can seem like a one way street, but there are moments like after Game 5 where it is clear that the love is traveling in both directions.
The Chicago Cubs have finally clinched a playoff series at Wrigley Field. Let that sink in for a moment. It only took the Northside faithful 99 years to see their beloved Cubs clinch a series at the Friendly Confines. None of that matters right now though. Chicago’s youth movement powered them past the best regular season team in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals. Both teams fought through the toughest division in baseball and survived to make the playoffs and we pitted against one another in the NLDS. Every baseball fan knows the lore of the Cubs. Wait until next year (the eternal optimist). The curse of the Billy Goat (very much real). Steve Bartman (the scapegoat for a team that fell apart after a fan did what any fan would do, try to catch a foul ball). Wrigley Field has kept the Cubs relevant even when the team was just plain awful. No matter how terrible the team was the bleachers were usually full even during mid-week day games. Wrigley Field was a destination for any and every baseball fan, including this one who sat in the right field bleachers three years ago during a Cubs victory against the Giants.
Some may call the Cubs, or some other team, a team of destiny. Others will say it is time to break all the curses and bring a World Series championship to Wrigley. Whatever you call them the Cubs are fun to watch. They are playing far beyond their years and appear to have the ability to make a run at winning it all. They are playing hard and with a style all their own. Manager Joe Maddon is managing the team the way he wants. He seems relaxed yet focused, which is rubbing off on his youth squad. They have escaped the Wild Card game, which was a bridge too far for the Pirates and Yankees. Undoubtedly, the Cubs have avoided the injury bug, which may have doomed the Cardinals. They have avoided the decisive Game 5, unlike the other remaining six team, where any and everything can happen, good and bad.
The Cubs were stripped down to the bones and rebuilt after a couple lackluster seasons following back to back seasons of playoff disappointments. Credit is due to General Manager Jed Hoyer and President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein for their masterful job in getting quality returns on their trades and through the draft. Both Hoyer and Epstein understood the task ahead of them and have seen the fruits of their labor. The Cubs might win the World Series this year, or they might not. Regardless how their season ends, the Cubs are relevant again. Go to any Cubs away game and it has the feel that you are at a Cubs home game. This can be annoying, but it speaks to the love and passion of the long-suffering fan base. The Northside faithful are hoping for a World Series championship. It is too soon to know if it is finally next year for the Cubs. However, regardless of what happens during the rest of the playoffs, the Cubs are moving on to the NLCS. This is good for these young players, for the Northside faithful, and for baseball. The game is better when every team has a legitimate chance to win it all every so often, and it is time for the Cubs to get their shot.
Parks and Recreation directors rarely get remembered, but as luck would have it one has lasted the test of time in Florida. In Lakeland, Florida sits Joker Marchant Stadium, the home of the Detroit Tigers’ Class A Advanced minor league team, the Lakeland Flying Tigers. The stadium was named after the late Joker Marchant, the aforementioned Parks and Rec director of Lakeland, Florida. Marchant was one of the people driving to keep the Tigers in Lakeland. The amazing story of the stadium is not it’s conception, but rather it’s longevity. The same facility was built in 1965 and opened in 1966 to bring the Detroit Tigers in for spring training, meaning that only three MLB stadiums are older: Fenway, Wrigley, and Dodger Stadium (Angel Stadium and the Oakland Colosseum also opened in 1966). The Tigers have returned every spring since, making the 2013 season their 47th season at Joker Marchant, but more surprisingly it will mark their 77th season returning to Lakeland for spring training.
The Tigers’ affiliation with the Flying Tigers will not end likely with the resigning of a Player Development Contract (PDC) in which major and minor league teams join new affiliations, since the Flying Tigers are owned outright by the main club in Detroit. Being owned by the big club with no PDC is not normal, actually only a few teams are directly owned by their parent team in this manner. Most minor league teams are independent of the parent clubs, bound only by their PDCs’ for a minimum of two years, with optional two year increments able to be added on when both parties agree. The Atlanta Braves are the oddball in this case, as they outright own all but one of their minor league affiliates, the Lynchburg Hillcats. The total number of minor league teams owned by their MLB affiliate and with no PDC is only 22 out of 240. Since this is baseball and stats need to be discussed, the Braves have 27.3% of all the teams held by their major league affiliate. The majority of the teams directly owned are in the Florida State League with eight, where several of the teams’ stadiums double as spring training facilities, and the Appalachian League, a rookie league with seven.
The city of Lakeland is a place fortunate to have an enthusiastic baseball community, Major League support, and the right weather to keep the fans and the players returning year after year. If you want to experience baseball history along the I-4 Corridor, stop by Tiger Town in Lakeland see what you find.