Can baseball help us slow down?

The news seems to come at us with lightening speed.  No sooner do we start to digest the latest tweet, the current egregious statement by some state’s governor or a cabinet secretary or the most recent sign of climate change than here comes another and still another.  Who can keep up?  No wonder so many of us are depressed.  And many of us try to keep pace by constantly looking at our electronic devices to see the latest.  The pace can’t be doing us any good.

The other day there were two columns in the Boston Globe bemoaning the current state of baseball (The Red Sox and Yankees are killing baseballand fearing for the future of the game (I remember the good old days of baseball).  If you follow the game you know the arguments:  Games are too long and there is not enough action.  People want things to happen fast.  Only old people watch baseball and they are dying off.

Dan Shaughnessy argues in The Red Sox and Yankees are killing baseball:

The Red Sox’ average game lasts 3 hours and 23 minutes per game. Crushing all the competition. The Sox are a full seven minutes per game better than anybody else. That’s 700 minutes over 100 games.

The Sox step out. They grind. They take more time between pitches. They walk. They strike out. They strike everybody else out. Great product. They have seven-man meetings on the mound where everybody covers their mouths, as if they are protecting nuclear codes. Brandon Workman throws 44 pitches over 1⅔ innings, most of them curveballs in the dirt. Porcello throws 60 over two innings.

Thanks. Thanks for killing baseball.

Dan forgets to add that Porcello went on to pitch six innings.  And the Red Sox are not the only ones with all those mound meetings.  Should I remind him that teams are only allowed 6 a game now?  But I agree that the Sox could speed up their games a bit.  David Price should not take so long between pitches. (He actually does better when he’s faster.) I think it was Jerry Remy who once commented, “Get the ball back, get the sign, and throw it”.  And maybe they could start a trend by not stepping out of the batter’s box between every pitch.  But they also tend to score a lot of runs which, when you are hitting a lot of doubles and singles, takes time.  Many of their home runs are with men on base.

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Shaughnessy again

I spent last weekend in Cooperstown, celebrating this great game with more than 50 Hall of Fame ball players and over 50,000 fans who made the trek to celebrate the careers of Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Lee Smith, and Harold Baines. I spoke with Brooks Robinson, Johnny Bench, Randy Johnson, Eddie Murray, Wade Boggs, Dennis Eckersley, Jim Thome, Tony La Russa, Cal Ripken, Dave Winfield, and a raft of other Hall of Famers who love this game. The old and young men are not delusional. They know they have lost a generation of fans. They know the product is increasingly the purview of old folks who have a lot of time on their hands. They worry about the game’s relevance in a society of Instagram and Instant Karma. They feel it slipping away.

Who will be there to replace the fans who are dying off? Who will care about a sport populated by players who see no problems with the pace of play, and arrogant team analytics departments that stress successful strategies that push fans away?

I think that Major League Baseball can start by doing away with “instant” replay.  Who needs to sit and watch umpires with headsets waiting and waiting for some unknown person or persons in New York (I think that’s where they are.) to watch endless loops of videotape to decide if a call were right or not.  I think more than half the time the call stands because there is not sufficient evidence to over turn it.  Doesn’t that show maybe it isn’t needed?  Has anyone calculated how much time it adds to games?  Close plays give us fans something to talk about.

If MLB wants people to come to games maybe they should take the advice of Bob Ryan (I remember the good old days)

There is empty rhetoric at the top of baseball about finding ways to attract younger fans, but if that were truly the case teams would stop games on Saturday night, let alone Sunday. It used to be the best time to welcome families were weekend afternoons. But baseball has sold its soul to national TV and instead of 1:05 Saturday it’s 4:05 and, worse, 7:05. So much for that family time.

Sunday night baseball is an abomination.

But ultimately I look at the sports page in our local newspaper and read about all the kids playing Little League and American Legion baseball not just in Brattleboro, but all over Vermont, New England, and the country and realize they will be watching baseball.  And the rest of us should take a deep breath and go to a game or watch part or all of one on television or listen on the radio.  It will make us slow down.

Photograph: Mookie Betts connects for a solo homer in the first inning on Friday, his first home run of three in the game’s first four innings.(JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF)

Life in baseball without Ortiz

Sorry, I’m not one of the fans that keeps begging David Ortiz to come out of retirement.  He says his feet and his knees hurt all last season, but he kept on playing.  I don’t think we want him crippled by continuing to play.  Besides, I just saw the Red Sox come from 5 down to win a spring training game against the Twins; I don’t think we have a lot of worries if they keep not giving up.  Yes, it is only spring training, and I kept not knowing who was playing for either team, but everyone was out there playing hard.  And there were some lovely plays.  So happy it is time for baseball again.  But can I ask whose idea it was to have 38 – that is 38 – spring training games on top of a long season?  Blame World Baseball, I guess.

But I really want to talk about the game itself.  I have to say that I despise Rob Manfred, the Commissioner.  I don’t think he understands the game and the beauty of it.  He wants time clocks and other things to speed up the game.  I would speed up the game by doing away with that stupid instant replay.  It generally shows the umpires to be pretty damn good and it takes a lot longer than an instant.

This is why I loved Nick Cafardo’s column in the Boston Globe the other day.  He begins

Oh, I hear the moaning about this and that and the slowness of the game. But I love baseball just the way it is. I hate that it is using artificial means to “improve” things.

I already hate instant replay because I think it adds to the interruption and extension of play more than anything. Oh yeah — we have the technology, so why not use it? Well, why don’t we just ignore the technology?

I long for the days of umpire/manager disputes. That made the game exciting, whether the call was right or wrong. I’d rather see that than taking 2½ minutes for a replay decision to come down from New York. How boring.

I guess I can live with the pitcher throwing the ball for an intentional walk as there weren’t very many instances of a misfire, but we can stop right there with the changes.

The game goes better for everyone when the pitcher gets the ball back and then pitches.  None of this walking around between every pitch business.  (I’m talking about you, David Price.)  But this is something pitchers should be taught; they don’t need a time clock.

And I love what Tony Clark, the current head of the Player’s Association had to say to Cafardo.  Clark is a former player himself, not a lawyer like previous heads.

While Clark indicated that the players were “OK” with instant replay — not a ringing endorsement — and the collision rules that protect fielders at second base and home plate, he also made a good point: Many players would like the game preserved. They were taught to slide hard into second. They were taught to try to dislodge the ball from the catcher.

“You grew up playing the game a particular way,” Clark said. “You fall in love with the game a particular way. You appreciate and respect that history.

“You also are willing to have conversations on ways to improve, and that will continue with understanding and appreciating that you never want to get so far away from the game itself that those who love the game no longer recognize it.”

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Tony Clark

I understand that people have short attention spans these days and that a baseball game that runs close to 3 hours seems like an eternity to many.  But we all need to take a deep breath and learn to relax.  Didn’t someone once write a book on the Zen of baseball?

Clark continues

What about this seeming obsession to speed up the game?

“There’s checkers and then there’s chess,” Clark said. “But again, I am a bit of romantic there. There’s so much going on in our game that when it doesn’t look like it, there’s things going on.

I love watching live.  Any game at any level.  But baseball on TV can be difficult.  The answer may lie in better announcers who notice things and tell us about them.  Can the irrelevant chatter about what they had for dinner and tell us about where the third baseman is positioning himself.  Stop talking about neckties and tell us about the outfield.  I noticed that Jerry Remy and Dennis Eckersley were doing more of that last year:  Do even more.  I admit that I sometimes watch without sound and like the radio because they are forced to tell you exactly what is happening.

I’ll let Cafardo have the last word

Baseball is one of the few games where you can sit down and watch and let things unfold in a natural way. If it takes a while, who cares? You watch because you love the game. So love the game.

Enjoy the season, baseball fans.

Photograph: Jeff Fannell

Being fired

It is the summer of being fired.  The man who made the phrase “you’re fired!” was fired from a bunch of stuff:  The Apprentice, Macy’s, NBC, and the list goes on.  But Donald Trump has not been fired by the Republican Party.  There is a way to go before the first caucuses and primaries so there is time, but as long as he stays at 25% of the Republican vote it will be hard to fire him as a candidate.

But there was another Don fired this summer in Boston.  Don Orsillo, the Red Sox television play-by-play announcer.  The public announcement was made in a very ungracious way by NESN and the Red Sox brass while Don was on the air.  We can only suppose that he had been told in advance.  Chad Finn wrote in his column for Boston.com

We’re veteran bickerers and dedicated cynics around here – hell, it’s why two sports radio stations are not just sustainable but successful in Boston. We can’t get a consensus on which glove Hanley Ramirez should take to work each day, and yet the support for Orsillo is overwhelming. It says something about the man, I think. It’s a remarkable tribute.

The genesis of the consensus and the disappointment is fundamental. You feel like you’ve lost a friend.

Orsillo has been a television voice of the Red Sox since 2001 and the sole TV voice since 2005, when the excellent Sean McDonough’s tenurecalling the team’s games met a similarly graceless end.

To add the icing to the not so edible cake was the lack of comment from the Red Sox management.  When Tom Werner finally spoke he basically said nothing.  Steve Buckley wrote in the Boston Herald

It was going to be impossible for the Red Sox and NESN to move the popular and talented Don Orsillo out of the television booth without there being a major public outcry.

Still, the situation could have been handled better — with better timing and a whole lot more candor. But the news of Orsillo’s ouster was leaked out, as often happens in these cases, and then Red Sox/NESN management got quiet instead of getting out in front of the story.

Which brings us to the question of the day: Why, exactly, is Orsillo being replaced?

The answer, in the opinion of Red Sox chairman Tom Werner and NESN president/CEO Sean McGrail, is that they believe Dave O’Brien, currently the play-by-play man on the radio side, will be an upgrade.

Don Orsillo

Don Orsillo

I listen to the radio quite a bit and, yes, Dave O’Brien is good.  But the combination of Orsillo and Jerry Remy is what I call entertainment.  I don’t want to debate the merits of various play-by-play announcers, but to pay tribute to Don Orsillo.

Don Orsillo has stayed on the air without betraying any of the bitterness he has a right to feel.  Unlike the Red Sox owners, he is a consummate professional.  He will land on his feet somewhere and that will be Boston’s loss.  I wish him well.

 

19 Innings

Last night I came home from a wonderful concert to find the Boston Red Sox up 1 on the Yankees.  I watched for an hour or so  as the Sox held on to the 3-2 lead.  The Boston Globe reports

The Sox took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning. Edward Mujica, filling in as closer in place of Koji Uehara, got two outs before falling behind Chase Headley. Mujica left a 90-mph fastball up and over the plate, and Headley lined it into the second deck in right field.

It was a terrible pitch in any situation, but especially with the game on the line.

It was the first earned run allowed by a Red Sox reliever this season, the streak ending at 10 innings. Uehara could be activated off the disabled list as soon as Monday and his return will be welcomed.

The New York Times reported it this way

Three times the Yankees scored in their last at-bats to keep the game alive, beginning with Chase Headley’s two-out home run in the bottom of the ninth, but they could not do it a fourth time when Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts scooped up Garrett Jones’s smash up the middle and started a game-ending double play.

The game dragged on so long that Mark Teixeira, who was 34 when it began, had turned 35 by the time it was over. By the end, there were only several thousand hearty souls in the stadium, which was so quiet that when a few fans broke out “Let’s go, Yankees” chants, they carried far enough for the players to hear.

Soon after the Chase Headley homer, I retreated to bed and to the radio.  At some point I dozed off and woke up to a report of a conference of the umpires that no one could explain.  I thought maybe someone had discovered some long forgotten curfew rule.  But no, it was the lights.  Because they went out first behind the broadcasting booth, the radio guys couldn’t tell.  The Times writes

As if the game were not already long enough, it was delayed in the 12th inning when nine banks of lights went out at the stadium, leaving the field dimly lit. It took 16 minutes for the lights to regenerate and for play to resume. The Yankees said the outage had been caused by a power surge through the stadium.

In inning 16, David Ortiz hit a homer breaking the tie and putting the Sox up.  But then as the Globe reported

Switch hitter Mark Teixeira [the Birthday Boy], batting righthanded against the righthanded Wright and his knuckleball, homered to left field in the bottom of the inning to tie the game.

I turned the radio off after the Teixerira’s homer.  The game, however, continued.

The Sox went up, 5-4, in the 18th inning on an RBI single by Pablo Sandoval. The Yankees tied it on a double by Carlos Beltran that Hanley Ramirez misplayed in left field.

Luckily, the Sox have some young guys.

Two young players had enough energy to win the game for the Sox. Xander Bogaerts, 22, singled with one out in the 19th inning. After Ryan Hanigan walked and Esmil Rogers threw a wild pitch, 22-year-old Mookie Betts delivered a sacrifice fly to center field.

Bogaerts, who was 4 for 4 in extra innings, easily beat a weak throw by Jacoby Ellsbury.

“I’m glad I was able to do something,” said Betts, who was 1 for 8 and had struck out four times. “I’m just glad we won. That was the best thing that could have happened.”

Bogaerts also helped end the game in the bottom of the inning. With Ellsbury on first and one out, he made a smooth pickup of a ball hit by Garrett Jones to start a double play.

Xander scores the winning run in the 19th.

Xander scores the winning run in the 19th.

Alex Speier from the Globe collected some stats from the 19 innings.  Here are a few.

The 6-hour, 49-minute affair was the longest in Red Sox history and the longest home game in Yankees history. That duration doesn’t include a 16-minute delay for a brief light outage.

■ Xander Bogaerts entered the game with a robust .364/.462/.545 line. Through the first nine innings, he dropped that line to .267/.353/.400. He then reached base in five straight plate appearances — all in extra innings — with a walk and four straight singles in extra innings, boosting his line back up to .421/.500/.526.

■ Per Elias, Bogaerts is the first Red Sox player since at least 1947 with four or more hits in extra innings. Alex Rios, in 2013, was the last big league player to do it.

Betts and Pedroia each had 10 plate appearances, tied for the most by any team member since at least 1914. They joined Jim Rice, Jerry Remy, and Dwight Evans as the only Sox players to hit double-digit plate appearances in a game in that 102-season expanse, with the trio of Rice, Remy, and Evans having done it in a 20-inning, 8-7 home loss to the Mariners on Sept. 3, 1981.

Starters Wade Miley (90) and Nathan Eovaldi (94) combined to throw 184 pitches. Each bullpen then threw more pitches than the two starters combined. Yankees relievers logged 238 pitches. Members of the Red Sox bullpen combined to accumulate 206 pitches. “That’s crazy. That’s insane,” said Miley. Wright got to 78 pitches in his five innings of work for the win. Rogers tallied 81 pitches in 4 2/3 innings.

■ The Yankees bullpen pitched a mid-game shutout, working nine consecutive scoreless innings from the seventh through the 15th inning.

■ The Red Sox left 20 men on base, tied for the fourth-most in a single game since 1945.

I suppose a true fan would have made it to the very end, but I was happy just to wake up this morning and find out the Sox had won.

Photograph:  BILL KOSTROUN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Writer’s block

I’ve been quiet for a few days.  Have lots of things I’m thinking about and have started some posts, but not finished any of them.  Is it because I am depressed and anxious about the upcoming election?  (I keep reading about the evils of a Republican takeover of the Senate and fear that voter turnout will be low.)  Or is it because there is no fall excitement with the Red Sox in the World Series?  (Although I have to say the games have been exciting with the Royals and Giants.)  Maybe I’m suffering from sleep deprivation since I have a cat who has decided she needs attention at 10:30, 11:30 and between 12 and 1 am.  I think she may be having delayed moving anxiety.  Whatever.  I still don’t sleep.

Then I came upon this humor piece from the New Yorker by James Thomas  

Well, here you are, looking at this, trying, hoping, floundering, scrabbling, wishing, dying to find out the mystery of “how to” write a sentence. Or possibly you have tried write sentence and failed utterly.

Ideally, you’ll aim to begin on the left (in this case, with the word “ideally”), head right (through the middle of the sentence), and stop at the far end of the sentence (in this case, right here).

Sentences have been around since the dawn of paragraphs, and indeed since before that, for sentences are essentially the building blobs of a paragraph. Right here, if you’re looking closely enough, you may notice that what you are now reading in fact is a sentence. But also—some will have noticed even more well—what you are reading is a paragraph. And I could go further than that, even, to declare that you are also reading words, letters, and indeed this entire page. Nobody thought you could do it, but here we are now and aren’t you having a good time?

All I need to do according to Mr. Thomas is write a bunch of sentences and blob them into paragraphs and before you know it I will have a post!

Even furthermore, you’re reading everything that has ever been wrote, but you’re starting with just this bit, because reading everything at once would be too much for anyone to attempt. Too much words in one go is unacceptable, and your writing should reflect that. Keep it concise and don’t stuff your sentence with unnecessary, superfluous, gratuitous content that smothers your prose, muddies your intentions, confuses the reader, clogs up the page with excess text, pads out the work with inelegant drivels, irritates the eye, examines giraffes, and renders your point unclear.

Also, keep your paragraphs short.

How importan is spelling? Well, very important. I don’t know why anyone would even ask that. If you have any sef-respect, you ought to be diligent about and with regard to spelling. If words are the bulding blocks of a sentence—and I would argue that yes, they are—then spelling is the stuff that holds them togteher.

Maybe tomorrow, after absorbing all this advice, I will finish one of my draft posts.  After I finish planting my bulbs for the spring.

Lady writer

Illustration from Mindy’s Muses @ mindysmuses.blogspot.com

 

Baseball and Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter will play his final major league games this weekend against the Red Sox.  A while back there were some rumors that if the Yankees were out of the wild card race, which they are, he would skip Boston.  But they were just rumors.    The classy man he is will be in Boston to play out the season, but he won’t play short.

And what a way to end his career in New York last night.  A walk-off hit.  David Waldstein wrote the New York Times story.

He almost started crying as he drove himself to Yankee Stadium in the afternoon. He had to turn away from his teammates before the game when they presented him with gifts, so overcome was he by the emotion. In the first inning, he said, he barely knew what was happening, and later, in the top of the ninth, his eyes welled with tears to the point that he worried that he might break down in front of the crowd of 48,613.

But when the time came for Derek Jeter to get a game-winning hit, to add another signature moment to a long list of achievements over his 20-year career, he knew exactly what to do, and seemingly no one doubted that he would.

With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Jeter stroked the winning hit and ended his Yankee Stadium career the way he had ended so many games — with both arms raised in celebration. The 6-5 win over the Baltimore Orioles was his 1,627th regular-season victory as a Yankee.

Jeter celebrates

Jeter celebrates

Will he be the first unanimous pick for the Hall of Fame 5 years from now?  The speculation, which has already begun, will just build over the next few years.

After the game, Jeter was greeted on the field by his former teammates Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams, as well as his longtime manager Joe Torre, and he hugged them all.

When the congratulations were over, and with the Orioles standing in their dugout watching, Jeter walked out to shortstop for a solitary moment of reflection.

“I wanted to take one last view from short,” he said.

When the team goes to Boston for its season-ending series, he said, he will play in one or two games, but only as the designated hitter.

“I’ve played shortstop my entire career,” he said, “and the last time I wanted to play was tonight.”

It is the end of a career played with only one team, without scandal, without a hint of drug use.  I hope this isn’t also the end of that type of ball player.  Pedroia, are you listening? 

Photograph: ELSA/GETTY IMAGES

Baseball, money and Sandy Koufax

When I read what ballplayers, even marginal ones who spend most of their time in the dugout, are making these days, I have  reactions from “Wow.  That’s a lot of money.” to “Well, they have pretty short careers.” to “I guess ticket prices will go up again” so I was very interested in Michael Beschloss’ piece in the New York Times this morning. 

I was a pre-teen when Sandy Koufax first came to baseball.  I kept a notebook with clippings and newspaper articles about him.  A close friend was a New York Giants fan and so I moved over to follow the Brooklyn Dodgers, abandoning my hometown team, the Phillies.  Baseball was one of the things we often watched on television as a family and I learned a lot about the game from my father and grandfather.  But back then, every game was not televised and after we acquired an early transistor radio, I would often listen outside in the afternoons when I could pick up the Dodger games from New York.  I was devastated by their move to Los Angeles until I figured out that at night I could pick up team broadcasts from all the National League teams east of the Mississippi which, back then, were almost all the teams in the league.  I would figure out who the Dodgers were playing and find that station staying up far into the night listening to the games when they played in California.  I particularly tried to listen when Sandy pitched.

I know that there are clippings in that notebook (which is probably in a storage box somewhere) about the Koufax-Drysdale holdout in 1965.  Beschloss writes

In 1962, the star Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax invested in a West Hollywood motor inn, which was renamed “Sandy Koufax’s Tropicana Motel.” Down Santa Monica Boulevard from the famed Troubadour club, these “74 luxurious air-conditioned rooms” — rented at “popular prices” — came to lodge some of the biggest musical acts of the period: Alice Cooper, Bob Marley, the Mamas and the Papas, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and the Doors. “I don’t know which made me more excited,” said one guest, “to be in Sandy’s motel or to be in a room right beside Sly Stone, from Sly and the Family Stone.”

The early 1960s were not the era of players like Miguel Cabrera, whose eight-year contract extension in March will give him the bountiful sum of $248 million. A major league star of that earlier time was well paid, but not so lavishly — given the relative brevity of most baseball careers — that he had no need to take an off-season job or plaster his name on a motor hotel or cocktail establishment like “Don Drysdale’s Dugout Lounge” in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Van Nuys. In 1965, Koufax was earning $85,000. Drysdale, his fellow Dodgers pitcher, took in $80,000. (Each salary would equal slightly less than $600,000 in 2014 dollars.)

That fall, the two men tried to overturn the usual year-to-year method of major league baseball bargaining, which Koufax called “negotiation by ultimatum” from management. He and Drysdale, friends who had served together in the Army, jointly demanded that the Dodgers pay them a million dollars over three years, divided equally between the two of them. When the team went to Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., for 1966 spring training, Drysdale and Koufax staged a double holdout. “Ballplayers aren’t slaves,” Koufax told reporters, “and we have a right to negotiate.”

Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale after winning the 1965 World Series

Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale after winning the 1965 World Series

The two held out for most of spring training – 30 plus days.

The 32-day boycott persisted almost to the end of spring training. During the “war of nerves,” Koufax cranked up the pressure by telling the press that he and Drysdale needed time to “reflect on what we want to do with ourselves if we don’t play this season or ever again.” Furious that his star pitchers were guilty of the heresy of bargaining with him through an agent, the Dodgers’ owner, Walter O’Malley, sputtered, “Baseball is an old-fashioned game with old-fashioned traditions.”

Then Drysdale, anxious about supporting his family, told his partner he could hold out no longer. Koufax, who suffered from an arthritic left elbow and was secretly planning to quit at the end of the 1966 season, let Drysdale inform management that they wanted to settle. Drysdale finally told Bavasi, “I’ll sign for $110,000 and Sandy will sign for $125,000.” (In 2014 figures, this would still be less than a million dollars for each pitcher.)

Now we have a Player’s Association and everyone has an agent.

Koufax did retire around the same time I went to college.  Drysdale pitched until 1969.  Koufax as elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972, Drysdale in 1984.  But beyond  being remembered their pitching talent, today’s sports figures should thank them for taking that first step.

Koufax’s new salary was nearly the same as that of Willie Mays, the best-paid man in baseball. Concerned about possible holdouts by other players, Bavasi insisted the following year that the Koufax-Drysdale tactics “only worked because the greatest pitcher in baseball was in on it,” and vowed, “It will never happen again.”

But Bavasi was wrong. The holdout changed the relationship between baseball management and players, paving the way for the big money game of our day. Just after the standoff ended, Arthur Daley of The New York Times called the settlement “baseball’s first collective bargaining arrangement,” writing, “There are aspects of unionism to it and no one in this sport of rugged individualists ever was confronted with such a thing before.” Koufax later agreed that his partnership with Drysdale was like a labor union — “a very small union, just the two of us, Don and myself.”

Drysdale died much too young in 1993, but Koufax still works with the Dodgers and just this spring was the catcher to Vin Scully’s first pitch.

Photograph:  espn.go.com