Friday, April 20, 2007

Intricacies make Baseball a Game of Life

On April 19th, 2007, the St. Louis Cardinals were in San Francisco to play a day game with the Giants, a few hours after a 12-inning affair the evening before.

The Cardinals had Kip Wells on the mound while the Giants countered with lefty Noah Lowry.
Through the first four innings Wells was masterful on the hill as he was changing pitches beautifully and just doing whatever necessary to keep the Giants' hitters out of rhythm. If that wasn't frustrating enough, in the top half of the 5th inning, he even managed to rip a Lowry hanger into the left-field stands. Cardinals 2-0, have a day Mister Wells!

But in baseball you have to make plays. What may seem routine is only routine if the play is consummated entirely. Catch the ball, throw the the ball to a teammate who must also catch the ball. If any of that falters there's a baserunner as a result of the failure to execute. You try to shake that off but a few pitches later you have to remind yourself that there are no outs and that's a mind game that could take you out of yours.

In the bottom of the 5th inning, Ray Durham hit a routine grounder to Aaron Miles, the Antioch native, he gobbled it up and flipped it to Albert Pujols for out number one, uh, Pujols dropped the ball. Durham, hustling down the line was on first with nobody out. You cannot tell me this sort of thing doesn't rattle someone on the field. On the next pitch Ryan Klesko rapped one into triples alley, Durham scores from first and Klesko, well he got a triple. Next batter is Randy Winn. He battles Wells and eventually hits a ball up the middle and Miles going to his right snares the ball but in turning and throwing all in one motion throws a one-hopper to Pujols and Albert waves futilely at a ball that really wasn't that hard of a play. It bounced knee high and yet the error was given to Miles. (This may explain why Albert got the 2006 gold glove for National League first-baseman. The scorekeepers like him so much it affects their judgment when it comes to ruling a mishap that involves Senor Pujols.)

Klesko scored from third and the game was tied 2-2.

The entire complexion of the game changed because of a routine grounder that was not taken care of by the fielder and his teammate on the receiving end. It breathed life into a team that for four innings was befuddled and bamboozled at the plate. More importantly, for the hometown Giants, it rattled Kip Wells enough to take him out of the magical groove he had been in until that lapse.

When you hear sports being referred to as a game of attrition this is what they're talking about.
A Yogi Berra quote is usually apropos. "90% of the game is half mental."


Monday, April 16, 2007

An era of Slick Fielding Anemic Hitters

I ran across a website that had photos of ballplayers and it reminded me of my youth when I collected baseball cards. Those same cheesy photos (ball in front of glove, but instead of fielder looking the ball into his glove he's smiling for the camera) and I got to thinking about the shortstop position.

In the 1960s and 1970s, it was all about the slick-fielding anemic hitting shortstop.

So I dug a little deeper to find some interesting tidbits.

In 1969, Boston Red Sox shortstop, Rico Petrocelli, at 26, had a break out season in which he hit 40 homers. Up until that season 18 was the most HRs he hit. He tailed off to 29 in 1970 and 28 in 1971. I mean he wasn't a Brady Anderson, a player who had the most dramatic home run change in the history of baseball. (Anderson hit 50-HR in 1996. Up until that season 21 was his career best. After that monumental season he hit 18 in 1997-98. In 1999 he hit 24. In 2000 it was back to 19 and in 2001 he hit 8, right there with the shortstops of the 1960s and 1970s.)

Up until Petrocelli's monstrous season, the best home run hitting shortstop was Cub great (in fact he was referred to as Mr. Cub) Ernie Banks. The two-time MVP winner (1958 and 1959) had a run where from 1955 to 1960 he hit at least 40 homers every year but 1956 when he only hit 28.

Dagoberto "Bert" Campaneris, the shortstop for the KC/Oakland Athletics was very representative of the shortstop of his era. Slick fielding and base-stealer. When it wasn't him leading the American League (Junior Circuit) in stolen bases it was Luis Aparicio. (Even in recent history the leading base-stealers- Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins and Tony Womack- are shortstops.
But, in 1970, Campy cranked out 22 homers. Up until that season 6-HRs had been his career best.

I picked two years (1969-70) to just look around the major leagues to check out who the shortstop was and it was unanimous...slick fielding anemic hitting. In alphabetical order here's a list of the names and the teams for whom they played.

Atlanta Braves: Sonny Jackson, the former base coach for Dusty Baker's Giants,
was the starting SS for the lowly Braves. His best season was 1966, as a Houston Astro when Joe Morgan was his second-baseman sidekick. In that campaign he hit 3-HR , batted . 292 and scored 80 runs. He never came close to these numbers again.

Baltimore Orioles- Mark Belanger

Boston Red Sox- Rico Petrocelli

Chicago White Sox- Luis Aparicio. Led in stolen bases quite often, like Campy Campaneris.
His best production year was in 1964, 10-HR, 57-SB. The player nowadays who best resembles Luis Aparicio is none other than Omar Vizquel.

Chicago Cubs- Don Kessinger

Cincinnati Reds- Woody Woodward in 1969. Dave Concepcion shared SS with Woodward in 1970. But with Concepcion, a slick fielder who could hit, the Big Red machine would evolve.
With the help of a blockbuster trade that brought Joe Morgan, Jack Billingham and Cesar Geronimo to Cincinnati.

Cleveland Indians- Jack Heidemann, Larry Brown and Eddie Leon.

Detroit Tigers- Tom Tresh, Mickey Stanley. Tom Tresh was the next New York Yankee star.
When Lou Gehrig left there was Joe DiMaggio. When DiMaggio departed there was Mickey Mantle and then came Tom Tresh. And in the beginning all the hoopla was accurate.
His home run totals: 1962-20, 1963-25, 1964-16, 1965- 26 and 1966-27. But to sum up his career, he was a shortstop converted into an outfielder. So while he accumulated good power numbers his fielding was anything but slick.

Houston Astros- Denis Menke. Good power numbers but again, lacked defensive skills to be thought of as a shortstop. I always thought of him as a third-baseman because that's where he ended up playing in Cincinnati. (My father got a kick out of his name because the pronunciation of Men-Key was the way the Peter Sellers' character- Inspector Clouseau- of the Pink Panther series, would say monkey. )

Philadelphia Phillies- Don Money in 1969. Larry Bowa in 1970.

Pittsburgh Pirates- Freddie Patek in 1969. Gene Alley in 1970. Alley and Bill Mazeroski were considered the best double-play combination in the majors.
Note: Mario Mendoza, of Mendoza Line line fame didn't arrive in the Steel City until 1974.

San Diego Padres- Enzo Hernandez in 1971.
San Francisco Giants- Hal Lanier in 1969 and 1970. In 1971 came Chris Speier.
St. Louis Cardinals- Dal Maxvill
WashingtonSenators/Texas Rangers- Eddie Brinkman
New York Yankees- Gene Michael
New York Mets- Bud Harrelson. A San Francisco State graduate.
California Angels- Jim Fregosi. A San Francisco native. May be best known for being the guy the Angels traded to NY Mets for Nolan Ryan, Leroy Stanton, Don Rose and Frank Estrada. Four for one and one of them went on to Cooperstown, NY.

Some managers will sacrifice the leather for a good stick. But it doesn't get you to the World Series and history proves it. Ernie's Cubs never won anything. Alex Rodriguez, a prolific home run hitter who has had his troubles in big games, is currently playing third base because Derek Jeter cannot be replaced as New York Yankee shortstop.

Since the game of baseball's inception it seems there has always been this understanding that a roster spot will be open for players who can hit. But that may be a bit overrated. Being able to hit keeps you on the roster and if you're in the Junior Circuit it may get you a spot as a designated hitter, but being able to catch and throw, doing what it takes to get outs, will get you onto the field of play.

How else can you explain the longevity of players like Dal Maxvill, Mark Belanger, Dick Schofield, Don Kessinger, Larry Bowa, Bill Russell and all of the other anemic hitters who were slick fielders?

The shortstop position is for someone who makes plays that result in getting the opposing team out. Hitting can be stopped by able-bodied defenders and crafty pitchers. Who can forget Ozzie Smith? A player, who was a pretty good hitter when it was all said and done, but it was his defensive wizardry that earned him entry into Cooperstown. He made believers out of all of us who saw his wizardry at the shortstop position.

Giant fans have had the luxury of watching a pretty good shortstop in Omar Vizquel. In his only two seasons- in the orange and black- he has captured the gold glove each season. I personally would like to see him finish his career as a San Francisco Giant.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Matt Cain fires a 1-hitter. Giants lose to the Madres 1-0.

I didn't think I could get any more depressed than I was after yesterday's blowout loss to the Bums completed their sweep in our yard.

Nowhere to go but up? Giants bats have to wake up at some point, right? Right?

OK, this is not making me feel any better:

"At 1-6, the Giants have matched the worst seven-game start in franchise history
since the club moved to San Francisco in 1958 -- a nadir previously reached in
1967 and 1980. Another defeat Tuesday would equal the Giants' 1-7 mark posted in

Oh, my head. Time to find the Advil.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Cool Hand Luke

Cool Hand Luke.
Made in 1967.
Lucas "Luke" Jackson. Had to be a lot of newborn males named Lucas, after this Hollywood hit.

In the 1966-67 National Basketball Association season, the Philadelphia 76ers (Wilt, Hal Greer, Chet Walker, Wali Jones, Billy Cunningham, Dave Gambee, Larry Costello, Matt Goukas and Bob Weiss) defeated the Cincinnati Royals (Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas, Adrian Smith, Connie Dierking, Happy Hairston, Jon McGlocklin, Bob Love and Flynn Robinson), Boston Celtics (Bill Russell, Sam Jones, John Havlicek, Bailey Howell and a young Don Nelson), and the San Francisco Warriors, coached by Bill Sharman (Rick Barry, Nate Thurmond, Jeff Mullins, Tom Meschery, Clyde Lee, Alvin Attles and Jumpin' Joe Ellis) to win the NBA Championship title.

On the 76ers was a forward/center named Lucious "Luke" Jackson.
On the Warriors was a forward/center named Paul Neumann.

Cool Hand Luke. Isn't that the coolest name ever? To get this role you have to be a model. Someone the Hollywood industry feels is good for its image. Someone like Paul Newman.

I mention this because he's who I see, first thing, when I flip on my television to the movie channel. I get a Western. Hombre. (Just so happens this was the only other film Newman made in 1967. Had to look up history of Paul Newman to find the title.) Hombre was filmed in Santa Susana, California. Although, in my mind's eye, it was roughly 60 miles from a place I think of as heaven on earth: Scottsdale, Arizona.

Paul Newman as John Russell.
Barbara Rush as Audra Favor
Fredric March as Dr. Alex Favor
Cameron Mitchell as Braden.....Richard Boone as CiceroGrimes. Grimes was a character played by Boone splendidly enough to make one think he had a good shot at capturing "supporting actor" that year at the Oscars.
Diane Cilento as Jessie (hot redhead)
Margaret Blye as Doris Blake (hot blonde)
Peter Lazer as Billy Lee Blake
Martin Balsam as Mendez (had to be the worst latino-played by a gringo- ever on celluloid)
David Canary as Lamar Dean
Val Avery as Delgado (a part that was so masterful, Marty Balsam's Mendez almost seemed classic)
Frank Silvera as mexican bandit. He no say much, senor. But if you see this guy walking by you immediately think, bandito.

The cool Paul Newman portrayed, in 100 degree weather, is matchless. This movie was good stuff. I mean I laughed at the seriousness of everything and then choked up a bit at Newman's quick-drawled responses. Amorously smooth yet biting was the tone in Newman's voice that sent me into a tizzy by way of the laughs. (The Laughs are those times when, for some reason, everything looks so serious its nutty time and I'm gasping while grasping for my ribs.)

He was in Slapshot, a cult favorite for hockey fans with the Rocky Horror Show-type following. Was in several (more than a few) boxing flicks (Somebody Up There Likes Me..the Rocky Graziano Story), shot pool with Jackie Gleason, played poker in the Sting and has driven fast cars.

Why not baseball?

America's pastime should think the way Hollywood did in 1967. The industry picked Robert Redford for the Natural (Sundance Kid) but haven't offered Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy) a film he could make work.

Newman's wife, Joanne Woodward, is the cousin of former shortstop Woody Woodward. (The same Woody Woodward who, in 1968, was traded with Tony Cloniger, and Clay Carroll to the Cincinnati Reds for Milt Pappas, Bob Johnson and Teddy Davidson). Woodward was later a general manager for the Seattle Mariners in 1998 and 1999, so you would think there are ties to the Major Leagues.

Who has access to the best library of historical baseball photos? This person should be flipping through page after page to find someone who looks similar to Paul Newman because Mister Paul needs to be in a baseball classic before the proverbial bucket is kicked.


Friday, April 6, 2007

Nattering Nabobs

To hear the "Baseball Press" tell it, you'd have to conclude that the Giants have absolutely Zero chance to make the playoffs this year.

Sports Illustrated predicts the Giants will finish dead last in the National League West. Yep, they're picking the Giants to finish behind even the beleaguered Colorado Rockies.

The San Francisco Chronicle is only slightly more optimistic. They pick the Giants to finish in 3rd place, ahead of the Diamondbacks and Rockies, but still well out of the playoffs. Both of the Chronicle baseball writers -- Henry Schulman and John Shea -- pick the Dodgers to win the division. Ouch.

But perhaps the most negative assessment comes from the national publication Sports Weekly (formerly known as Baseball Weekly before they added NFL coverage.)

Sports Weekly employs 14 baseball writers. In their recent "2007 Predictions" issue, exactly NONE of these 14 Weekly writers predict that the Giants will make the playoffs. 11 of the Weekly's scribes agree with Shea and Schulman that the Dodgers will take the division while two pick the Rockies (!) and just one writer predicts that the Padres will repeat as Division Champions.

The Wild Card predictions go to the Padres (5), Phillies (3), Mets (2), Cubs (2), Dodgers (1) and even the Brewers (1).

The Weekly has a big companion piece about how the last few postseasons have featured teams that were big surprises that went on to postseason glory. They go on to list teams they think might "surprise" in 2007. None of the 14 writers picks the Giants to "surprise" this year. Three writers pick the Diamondbacks as this year's surprise NL team. Other votes went to the Brewers (4), Rockies (2), Pirates (!) (2), and the Braves, Reds and Cubs (1 apiece) as this year's "surprise" NL team.

The Giants do appear twice in the Weekly's pre-season lists. Two writers pick the Giants to be the "biggest disappointment" in the National League this year.

Taken together, that, friends, is a whole lotta consensus amongst baseball "cognoscenti" that the 2007 Giants are in for a season of frustration and failure.

To read all these dire scribblings, you'd have to conclude that the Giants have no absolutely no hope this year. I mean, why even show up? The Baseball Press has written us off here at the beginning of April.

I guess that makes the Giants bona fide underdogs.

And, as they say, the actual games do still have to be played.

As I'm sitting here typing this, I have next to my computer a souvenir cup from Candlestick Park -- one that commemorates 40 years of Giants baseball in San Francisco.

It just seemed appropriate, somehow, to bust out an artifact from the 1997 season as I read all of these predictions of doom for our 2007 Giants.

Play ball, baby.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Paul Waner...Big Poison

Paul Waner was Big Poison and his brother Lloyd was Little Poison.
As the story goes, it was believed that Paul got his nickname from the fans in Brooklyn. Because of the pronunciation of some words, politely referred to as Brooklynese, fans were saying "big person" but it sounded like Big Poison. If not for the fact that Lloyd was actually taller which makes this accusation somewhat inappropriate. The origin of the nicknames are otherwise unknown.

In 1927, the year he won the National League Most Valuable Player award, he set a major league record with extra-base hits in fourteen (14) consecutive games. Also, during that season, on May 30th against the Chicago Cubs, Jimmy Cooney leaped in the air to rob Big Poison of a hit and turned it into an unassisted triple play.

Famous for his ability to hit while hung over, when Waner gave up drinking in 1938, at management's request, he batted only .280. The only time he failed to hit .300 for the Pittsburgh Pirates. (He started his Pirate career in 1926, after spending 1923-25 with the Pacific Coast League's San Francisco Seals.)

As Casey Stengel said, in complimenting his base-running skills, "He had to be a very graceful player, because he could slide without breaking the bottle on his hip."

Waner was also near-sighted, a fact Pirate management only learned late in his career when he remarked that he had difficulty reading the ads posted on the outfield walls. Fitting him with glasses, however, interfered with his hitting, as now Waner had to contend with a small spinning projectile rather than the fuzzy grapefruit-sized object he had been hitting before.

(This may explain his hitting the sauce. He may have preferred blurry over crystal-clear. And if his nickname of Big Poison had anything to do with his drinking, it's interesting to note how much better he did while under the influence than when he wasn't in a fog.)

If Hollywood were to make a movie, the Paul Waner story, who would you want to play the part? Dudley Moore, God rest his soul, is no longer with us.

KevinMarquez as taken from Baseball

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Keeping the Dream Alive

In the January 31-February 6th issue of USA Today Sports Weekly was a wonderful article by Paul White about players who seemed to be the next best thing but have been unable to stay in the major leagues. For one reason or another they are stranded in the minor leagues.

Every roster has these journeymen (a generic description). The official term is six-year free agent. This is a phrase that leaves as indelible a mark on someone as a bad reputation. Erasing this mark, like fixing your credit report, can be next to impossible. No matter how hard you work at correcting this "flaw" there seems to always be a chink in the armor and you are back at square one.

So you start over.

What touched me was that I play ball. It won't make any headlines and I'm okay with that as long as I can contribute to my team. I'm thinking, this has to be what motivates these players who are past their prime and yet they continue to play a game they have loved since they were little kids.

Every major league roster has players of this ilk. These ballplayers are the backbone of baseball. It's important that teams have ballplayers and not people who play ball.

These players exemplify the greatness that is baseball. Because some of us can never get enough and we want to see that others enjoy it as much as we do, we will do whatever we can just so long as we are a part of the game of baseball. (To me, the Bad Company song Can't Get Enough is about baseball with a girlfriend.)

Oft times we get away from the game because we think there are other priorities in our lives that need more attention. So we tend to that business. Then when things should be okay we still have this uneasy feeling about how things are in our life. Time goes by and someone asks if we would be interested in doing something baseball related and suddenly the passion is reborn.

So you dig for that Bad Company album -- their first -- and put on the song Can't Get Enough and your girlfriend begins to purr...

-- KevinMarquez

Well, I'll take whatever I want
and baby I want you
You give me something I need
Now tell me I got something for you

lyrics from "Can't Get Enough"


The Can't Get Enough reference is merely to say that there are other things AND BASEBALL.

It's not all mushy...
Well, here's an example of mushy lovey dovey lyrics from the song Misty that could be baseball related..

On my own
will I wander through
this wonderland alone
Never knowing my right foot
from my left
my hat from my glove
I'm too misty
and too much in love
Look at me

No thanks.

KansasCity - Oakland Athletics

While doing a crossword puzzle the clue was: First AL reliever with 30 saves in a season (1966
Kansas City A's)..The answer is Jack Aker.

So I looked at that 1966 roster and on it was a 20 year-old Rick Monday, 20 year-old Jim "Catfish" Hunter, 21 year-old John Blue Moon Odom and 22 year-old Sal Bando.

In 1967, Reggie Jackson, Dave Duncan and Joe Rudi joined the fold. All of these players (Monday, Hunter, Odom, Bando, Jackson, Duncan and Rudi) came up from the A's farm system.

In 1968, the Kansas City Athletics moved west to Oakland and a 21-year old named Rollie Fingers was added to the roster, also via farm system. The A's posted an W82 L80 season and you could see the team was coming together.

In 1969 the A's were W88 L74 ..Traded Danny Cater to Yankees for Al Dowling

In 1970 the A's were W89 L73. They added a 20-year Vida Blue to the roster from their farm system as well. That year they had 3 pitchers combine to hit 10 homers. 5 for John Blue Moon Odom, 4 for Lew Krausse and 1 for Catfish Hunter. Also, Gene Tenace joined the fold, again from their minor league farm system.

In 1971, the A's traded Rick Monday to the Cubs for Ken Holtzman and they went on to become Western Division champs with a W-101 L-60 season. They also traded Don Mincher, Paul Lindblad and Frank Fernandez to the Washington Senators for Mike Epstein and Darold Knowles.

That year Vida Blue was the MVP and Cy Young award winner. The A's were on their way.

In 1972, 1973 and 1974 they would win the World Series title.
The team was made up largely from their farm system, something they have always had together.

How else do you lose a Jason Giambi, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Miguel Tejada and most recently Barry Zito and still compete for the division title? Their farm system, like the Los Angeles Dodgers, is unparalleled and that is why both organizations have a gluttony of talent in which to offer when a superstar is being shopped around. Also, because they are chock-full of talent they can get by without offering huge contracts to players because they know they have someone waiting in the wings, ready to show their wares at the major league level.

Kevin Marquez