Tag Archives: Major League Baseball

How to observe the Baseball Solstice

Since proposing that fans celebrate the “Baseball Solstice” last week, I’ve received a good amount of feedback and I really appreciate it. The response impels me to keep the idea going by suggesting how baseball fans might observe the solstice, which will be Friday, Dec. 30.

Over the past week I’ve been thinking about the right way to observe the arrival of the mid-point between the end of the 2011 World Series and the first games of Spring Training 2012.

What I propose is for fans to head to the nearest ball diamond, take a photo and share it with other fans. Use Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, PhotoBucket, Instagr.am, email or any other means of your choosing. But share the image, and tag it with “baseball solstice” if tagging is available.

The idea is to capture our fields of dreams in mid-winter, when our longing for the sport intensifies and the hope for a new season passes the halfway mark.

  • Take a photo of the snow-swept diamond at the park where your son will play T-ball come spring.
  • Snap a shot of the high school diamond where your daughter will open the softball season in a few months.
  • Head to the nearest minor league park and capture the desolation of the unattended ticket booths.
  • Drive to the nearest big-league park and fire away as in your head you hear the cheers that will fill the air on Opening Day.

Or maybe even better, point your camera to the yard or street where you first tossed a ball with your father or played Wiffle ball with your friends.

Taking a photo isn’t the only way to celebrate the sport, and if you can’t swing getting a photo, feel free to mark the observance in your own way.

Manager of the Year? Give an arm pump for Kirk Gibson of the Arizona Diamondbacks

Connie Mack

Can there be any choice but Kirk Gibson for manager of the year? After inheriting a dreadful Arizona team from 2010, he led the Diamondbacks to the NL West title. How can anyone top that?

Not only did the D-Backs win the West, they put the defending world champion San Francisco Giants out to pasture. Here’s how my ballot stacks up for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance Connie Mack Award for the top manager in baseball in 2011:

 

1. Kirk Gibson

2. Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers

3. Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia Phillies

To reiterate, Gibson is in a class by himself.

I put Leyland at No. 2 because of the remarkable job the Tigers did, clawing their way to the top in the AL Central. It wasn’t just Justin Verlander who put them there.

And let’s not overlook the fabulous season the Phillies had, running away with the NL East title and leading all major-league teams in victories.

The Giants cut two veterans, and the sobering reality of Major League Baseball

The San Francisco Giants shook up their roster today, jettisoning veterans Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada while calling up Brett Pill from the minors.

I’ve had days in my career like Rowand and Tejada are having, and I’ve also had a few call-up moments.

I congratulate Pill on his ascension to the big leagues, a move cheered by headline writers who won’t be able to resist plays on his name.

I feel badly for Rowand, who has had a lot of key hits for San Francisco in recent years and who helped the team get to the playoffs last year on the way to a world championship.

Tejada has done little for the Giants this season and hasn’t made much of an impression on me. I did pick him a couple of times for my fantasy baseball teams years ago, but that was just that: fantasy.

Today, the cold, harsh reality of competitive professional sports exacted its neverending vengeance on ballplayers past their prime. And it gave another kid a chance.

Cue the “Circle of Life.”

 

Baseball All-Star Game caps? Not for me

Anyone reading my blog knows I’ll buy a baseball cap at, well, at the drop of a hat. But the All-Star game caps just don’t do it for me, this year or any year.

The design is actually not bad. But I just can’t get excited about a batting practice cap. It’s so manufactured, not authentic like a real MLB cap.

If I were at the game and all its sideshows, I might feel differently.

 

The Ball Caps Blog 2011 National League All-Star ballot

The All-Star Game approaches, and it’s time to reveal my choices. Crazy, I know, but I believe the All-Star starters should be the best nine players from the league based on their present-year performance.

So here are my picks for the senior circuit:

Catcher – Brian McCann of the Atlanta Braves, a chest protector’s width ahead of Yadier Molina of the St.Louis Cardinals.

First base – Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds, edging Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers. I’m watching the words form here and still can’t believe I’m ranking Albert Pujols third.

Second Base – Rickie Weeks of Milwaukee, powering his way past Brandon Phillips of Cincinnati.

Third base – Placido Polanco of the Philadelphia Phillies, well out in front of the others.

Shortstop – Jose Reyes of the New York Mets. His year has been so awesome, I didn’t even bother to check the stats of anybody else.

Outfield – Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ryan Braun of the Brewers and Hunter Pence of the Houston Astros. I dare anyone to challenge the first two, and I give Pence the No. 3 slot based on his all-around play.

Starting pitchers: Roy Halladay of the Fightin’ Phils gets the start, with teammate Cole Hamels, Jair Jurgens  and Tommy Hanson of Atlanta and Jhoulys Chacin of the Colorado Rockies filling out a dream five-man rotation.

At closer, J.J. Putz of the Arizona Diamondbacks has the top stats, and Brian Wilson of the San Francisco Giants has been huge in so many close-game victories.

This is the ballot I’m submitting to the Baseball Bloggers Alliance for its annual All-Star team. My American League choices follow in another post soon.

Remembering – fondly – Jim “Grand Slam” Northrup of the Detroit Tigers

Jim Northrup, a power-hitting outfielder with the Detroit Tigers for many years in the 1960s and early 70s, died today at age 71. I read the sad news on my wife’s iPad just before dinner.

As a kid growing up in Cleveland, I saw Northrup and the Tigers play many, many times, at Cleveland Municipal Stadium and on TV.  Northrup was seemingly always in the lineup, just one of several Tigers who had a lot of pop in his bat (Ray Oyler and Don Wert notwithstanding.)

Northrup bedeviled the Indians over the years, no time more so than when he belted two grand slams in one game against the Tribe in 1968. I remember it happening, and I remember listening to an Indians game a few nights later when Northrup hit another slam against the White Sox, giving him three in one week.

That was a magnificent year for the Tigers, and in a previous post I noted how vividly I remember Northrup swiping the microphone from one of the announcers in the Detroit locker room after the team had clinched the American League pennant.

Northrup never compiled the stats to be considered for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he was a good player for many years. May he rest in peace.

Is this another “Year of the Pitcher” in Major League Baseball?

In the past few days we’ve had two no-hitters in baseball, and one has to wonder whether we’re in for another outbreak of no-no’s as we had last year. Pitchers seem to have gained the upper hand again as the Steroids Era that produced the astronomical power numbers of just a few years back fades into history.

Major league batters this year are hitting an anemic .249 in the aggregate, and pitchers are hurling at a neat and tidy earned-run average of just 3.82.

Compare that with 2001, the year Barry Bonds slugged 73 home runs: The batting average for both leagues was .267 and the ERA was 4.47.

Over the hundreds of games played each year, the difference in the numbers in seasons with nine years intervening is substantial.

But are we nearing the pitching dominance of 1968, the “Year of the Pitcher” that drove baseball’s leaders to lower the pitcher’s mound to 10 inches from 15?

We’ve got a ways to go. The batting average that year across both leagues was just .237, and the ERA was an astonishingly low 2.98.

Back in 1968 a lot of people wigged out over the relative lack of scoring and the dominance of the pitching. As I remember, it was one exciting season capped off by a terrific World Series pitting “Better Than Any” Denny McLain and his 31 victories for the Tigers against Bob Gibson and his microscopic 1.12 ERA and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Detroit won in seven games in a series that had no shortage of thrills.

I could handle another season like that.

What’s the best time zone for baseball fans?

Road trips are rough on major league teams, particularly when making the big leap from Eastern time to Pacific time or vice versa. It’s also an issue for us baseball fans, who have to show nimble ingenuity to catch the broadcasts of our favorite teams.

This week it’s been a trade-off for me: the San Francisco Giants were at Citi Field in New York for a series with the Mets. I didn’t catch a single pitch of yesterday’s day game, which came smack in the middle of a busy work day for me out here in California.

The Cleveland Indians, however, were in Oakland for a series with the Athletics, and I managed to catch a few innings of one of the games on TV the other night. It was nice to see the Tribe live.

I spent most of the 80s in Central time in Illinois, Wisconsin and Nebraska. I have to say on balance it was easier to follow the Cubs’, Brewers’ and Royals’ road trips from there than it is to keep up with East Coast or West Coast teams from each respective time zone.

In my native Eastern time, I could gorge myself on all the Eastern and Central teams but the teams out west were a bit of a mystery.

The narrowest perspective came when I lived in New Jersey and worked in New York City. There was one team at the center of the universe, the Yankees, with occasional acknowledgment of the Boston Red Sox. (I can’t recall clearly, but I believe there was a National League team in the New York metro area.)

While the Internet has made baseball a full immersion experience around the clock, there’s still an advantage in living out West. The results come in from across the map as I watch or listen to an evening game. And newspaper coverage is more complete than it is in the east, because so many games finish after East Coast deadlines.

If I had to pick purely for baseball reasons, I think I’d keep my TV and transistor radio right here in Pacific time.

Walk-off grand slam lifts Cleveland Indians to best April record ever

Of all the surprises in this first full month of the 2011 Major League Baseball season, the most stunning has to be the improbable success of the Cleveland Indians. Winning 9-5 on a walk-off grand slam last night by Carlos Santana, the Tribe improved to 17-8, the most April victories in franchise history.

The Indians will try for No. 18 tonight. It would be their 12th straight home win.

Even at a distance of 2,500 miles from my hometown, I can feel the excitement.

As a lifelong Tribe fan, I know this streak likely won’t last. But I’ll enjoy it for all it’s worth.

After the first full week of play, some startling names atop the baseball standings

As I write this post, the Yankees and Red Sox (again!) are playing on the Sunday night telecast. If the Yankees win, they’ll manage a tie in first place of the American League East not with the Sox but with the Baltimore Orioles.

Whoa.

And check the AL Central standings. The Indians, who (be honest) most people on the planet expected to have a wretched year even by Cleveland standards, are on top.

No surprise in the AL West, where the Rangers have revived themselves and have raced to an 8-1 start.

Over in the National League, it’s not a big surprise that Philadelphia is leading the East. But Atlanta in the cellar? That’s a surprise. And so, frankly, is the Pirates’ .500 record in the NL Central.

Out west, the Rockies are out front and the defending champion Giants are in last place. Neither surprises me much, especially with San Francisco missing Cody Ross, who propelled their playoff offense last fall, and closer Brian Wilson off his game.

I’m glad some of the divisions are mixed up and confounding the experts. Wouldn’t it be great to see the Orioles take the AL East?