Friday, August 1, 2014

Saturday, May 3, 2014

"Close don't count in baseball" — Frank Robinson






Leave it to those Cuddly Cubs—and their publicity department—to confuse the issue and celebrate 100 years of baseball at Wrigley Field a year late.

Basically, here's the scoop: From 2013 to 2014 is just one year passing.  But in baseball, it's two seasons.  So, from 2000 to 2014, it's 14 years in time passed.   But it's fifteen baseball seasons: 2000, 20001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014--count 'em!)

So at the end of their first season in Weegham Park (Wrigley's original name) in 1914, baseball had played one year (by the Chicago Whales of the Federal League, who played there until the Cubs began playing there in 1916).

The Whales played there two seasons: 1914 and 1915.   When the Cubs played their first season there, then, it had been occupied from 1914 - 1916, which is THREE seasons, not two.  The confusion is that if I was born in 1914, I'd be two years old in 1916—but that's because I didn't turn ONE until 1915.  Wrigley Field was one season old at the end of it's first season in September 1914, not after a year passed, in April 1915.

Check the math: 1914 - 2014 is 100 years in time passing.  But it's 101 seasons of baseball played there.

Weeghman Park under construction in 1914.
So... what are they actually celebrating?  The one-hundredth anniversary of the construction of an edifice in Chicago, or a the history of a historic ball park which has featured a full 101 seasons of northside hardball?

I think it's the latter.  Who cares about the physical age of the grandstands (right)?   Isn't it really all about the baseball: The heroes and the great moments, the billy goat and the Homer in the Gloaming and Let's play two"?.  So when the Cubbies first took the field at Wrigley during the the 1913 home opener, it marked the 100th year of baseball played at venerable Wrigley Field.  Now that's something special!

That means that despite all the ballyhoo about this 100th birthday of the grandstands, 2014 actually marks the 101st season of big league baseball at Clark & Addison.

Leave it to the Cubs to miss the mark...


Sunday, April 21, 2013

"Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils" ~ Louis Hector Berlioz


Ben Revere during a typically frustrating 2013 moment.







Nice.

Last night I watched the Death March that exemplifies Phillies baseball in 2013, a 5-0 loss to the Cardinals that was broadcast live to the entire nation, apparently in an effort to get people to bed early.

Apparently $159,585,714 doesn't buy what it once did.

That's this year's opening day payroll.  Of course, in fairness, about $138,000,000 (over 86% of the team's salaries) of it is tied up in just ten players, or exactly 40% of the roster.  The other 13.5% of the salary money—about $21,585,714—is spread out over the remaining 60% of the players (15 of them).

You don't have to be John Maynard Keynes, or even Milton Keynes, to know the chances of that working are slim.  Baseball knows that.

The Big Piece: Ryan Howard sits.
The really interesting part of the monetary story is the fact that Philadelphia fans—and let's not forget Philly is widely known as being primarily a pro football and college basketball town—couldn't stop filling the park (and parking lots) for the Phillies in recent seasons, buying current and retro gear, and scarfing down cheesesteaks, barbecue, hot dogs, and beer to a fare-thee-well.  The club amassed cash extraordinarily.

Now, in the swan song year of the Rollins-Utley-Howard era (Ain't it funny how time slips away?), the club is saving $12,508,188 over last year's Opening Day roster of $172,093,902.  And, in actuality, they've saved far more because they salary-dumped guys like Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, and Joe Blanton before the end of last year.  They never fully paid out that $172M.  None among that myriad of banked Benjamins, however, can catch a fly ball or hit a slider.

Now I watch the Phillies' dreary games and I'm not at all surprised that many fans are apparently disguising themselves as rows of empty seats.  That's something this organization really deserves, and don't go blaming overpaid players:  The club happily forked over the cash for cost-certainty, and in an effort to tie up its stars and draw fans.

They forgot:  Winning baseball draws fans.  After that, the stars sell merchandise with their names on the back.  Baseball teams offer 81 expensive home games—too many for fans to come out very often to cheer a couple of popular players on lousy teams.

Probably because of the inordinate amount of money being shelled out this year to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Harry (Roy) Halladay, and Cliff Lee (to name a few), the suddenly parsimonious front office has cobbled together one of the worst rosters in recent Phillies memory.

Cliff Lee during last night's snooze-fest loss.
The starting rotation is erratic at best, and this year there's no Kyle Kendrick to plug into the five-hole for the mediocre-at-best and now injured John Lannan.  Kendrick's already getting the ball every fifth day, weakening further an already weak bullpen.

For the second year running, there is no back-up first baseman—at least not one that doesn't weaken the team defensively at another position when he runs out to first.

Take, for example, last night.  Howard's groin was apparently still giving him grief.  Slip a back-up first sacker into the lineup?  Nah.

You move your best defensive right fielder to first where he's an adequate fielder.  Then you move your left fielder to right field, where he hadn't started all season long (it being, by the way, a position where he has a track record of poor play).  Then take your back-up shortstop and start him in left field for only the third time in his career.

Sheesh.

What a lousy roster, when one tweaked groin weakens a team at three of the eight defensive positions.

It'd be different if this bunch could hit.  But that appears at this point not to be an option, unless an opposing starter is having a really off-night on the mound or a rival is forced to bring in a rag-armed reliever.

Time is already hanging heavily around this gloomy team.  Lord, it's going to be a looooong season…

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"In youth the days are short and the years are long. In old age the years are short and days long" ~ Pope Paul VI


Cardinals caps at the Vatican








Bill Arnold of San Francisco (via Nick Cafardo of the Globe) compiled the following list of home run leaders during the reign of each Pope.  What does it mean?  That these guys could hit the long ball…


Pius IX (1846-76), Charley Jones, 6

Leo XIII (1878-1903), Roger Connor, 138

Pius X (1903-14), Frank Schulte, 73

Benedict XV (1914-22), Babe Ruth, 162

Pius XI (1922-39), Babe Ruth, 552

Pius XII (1939-58), Ted Williams, 482

Cardinals helmets in the dugout
John XXIII (1958-63), Hank Aaron and Harmon Killebrew, 174

Paul VI (1963-78), Hank Aaron, 437

John Paul I (1978), Jim Rice, 13

John Paul II (1978-2005), Barry Bonds, 703

Benedict XVI (2005-13), Albert Pujols, 312


Saturday, March 2, 2013

"I've developed a new philosophy... I only dread one day at a time" ~ Charlie Brown






Just some thoughts during a shiveringly chilly Spring evening...

* Am I the only one who worried when I saw Ryan Howard sporting a little pot belly during the "Febru-any" Subway commercials?  My hope was that they were filmed last November.  Now that I've seen the Big Piece in camp, though, it's quite obvious they were not.

What is this--1968?--and the big fella's in Clearwater to play himself back into shape after spending the winter working at his cousin's filling station?  Not only does he look slow on the bases, but even when jogging to the dugout from first after an inning on defense, it looks like he's running underwater.

While the success of the 2013 Phillies isn't predicated on Howard's footspeed, I just don't see a lot of good coming from an aging $25,000,000 player who isn't terribly fit...


John Mayberry, Jr., appears to be the antithesis of what he was last spring.  This year he's staying on top of the ball, his stroke looks quicker (with less "finger" in his grip), and even his eye seems to be improved.  It says here that the Phils will be mighty glad they kept the long, lean Mayberry around for the 2013 season.


*  Despite a great initial effort from new set-up man Mike Adams, will he be enough to stem the tide?  Last year's club missed the playoffs for want of a set-up man, but you're crazy if you think he's going to pitch in 70+ games.  That means that last year's Kiddie Corps bullpen is going to have to get better--a tall order in a sports world that features the notorious "sophmore jinx."  Ask Mike Stutes and Antonio Bastardo about that...


*  And don't think that the Phillies won't have to way overpay, in terms of prospects, for the trade deadline starter they'll assuredly need.  With Kyle Kendrick returned to the starting five, he now won't be there to plug in when someone goes down.

Signing a decent, significant free agent would have been a wise move, only costing the Phillies money (something they've plenty of), and stopping the hemorrhage of young players (something there are far fewer of) the club has sent away in recent seasons.  A signing would have made questionable southpaw John Lannan (left) the bullpen's new Kendrick in 2013, and dubious inventory veteran Aaron Cook the first man up in AAA.  Now Lannan (a fellow associated with many squalid Nationals teams of recent memory) is already penciled into the rotation, and Cook is looking to make the club.

Yikes.  This is an obviously talented staff at the top, but with all of the depth of a wading pool.


*  The Phillies, sporting a roster that really is quite aged in key spots, once more goes into a season hoping the club stays almost completely healthy, allowing them to compete.

Are you as worried as I am?  Sheesh...


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Welcome back, Baseball...

I've missed you.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Without discipline, the Army would just be a bunch of guys wearing the same color clothing" ~ Frank Burns










Here we find ourselves in the annual Winter Wasteland of Sports.  The Super Bowl is over, and, while the Phillies' Spring Training supply truck is rolling down I-95 with its crates of bubble gum and sunflower seeds, we're left to forage for something meaningful among the carcasses of college basketball teams killed by "one-and-done."

Spring Training, though, is just days away...

At this time of year, football and baseball are overlapping in my mind, and that's esoecially true given the state of the Eagles new coaching hires--especially Shaun Huls of Naval Special Warfare Group 2 [pictured, left], the Philadelphia Eagles new sports science coordinator.  Here are some details from Pro Football Talk:

According to USA Today, Huls was the strength, conditioning and combatives coordinator for Navy Special Warfare, meaning he was training Navy SEALs before he took a job in which he’ll be training the Eagles.
That’s a surprising background for someone to become an NFL assistant coach, but with [Chip] Kelly, maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise. In a 2010 interview with the New York Times, Kelly said that in preparing his Oregon team for the up-tempo style that he prefers, he employed a lot of the same conditioning techniques that he had learned about from studying the way the Navy SEALs train [below, left].

 Let's hope the Birds have greater success with this program than the cross-state Pittsburgh Pirates.  Here's some info gleaned from MLB Trade Rumors about their similar program:

Pirates prospects spent this past weekend in Florida performing military drills directed by former Navy SEALS, Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. General manager Neal Huntington and assistant GM Kyle Stark implemented the program, which started at 5 am daily and included running along the beach with a telephone pole, flipping truck tires, and diving into sand piles. Earlier in the year Stark emailed his players, encouraging them to “Dream and be creative like a Hippie. Have the discipline and perseverance of a Boy Scout. Be crazy and take risks like the Hells Angels.” 

Kovacevic calls the Pirates' actions inexplicable and indefensible.

Players dreaded the activities and team officials feared them, Yahoo's Jeff Passan reports. MLB executives expressed skepticism about the program’s effectiveness. "I didn't like it,” one person told Passan. “Nobody did. They don't know what they're doing."

Top prospect James Taillon once suffered a non-serious knee injury during the program’s hand-to-hand combat component, Passan reports.

The website later added: Outfield prospect Gregory Polanco told Kovacevic that he injured himself in an unconventional drill that included sprints through ice water and leaping into a sand pit. 

Now, admittedly, the break-'em-down aspect of NFL training camp and two-a-days and summer temperatures already produces a more hardened athlete than the pastoral build-'em-up drills of baseball's eternal spring.  Still, one wonders how, exactly, NFL players will react.

At Oregon, as it is on any FBS campus, Chip Kelly, the head coach, was the veritable God of the Gridiron.  His proclamations were law, as long as they didn't violate NCAA rules, and woe unto the player breaking one of Kelly's commandments.

Chip now enters a landscape in which Titus Young lines up in the wrong spot just to spite his coaches, former Super Bowl stud Brandon Jacobs tweets his way to a release before this season's big game, Anquan Boldin says he'd just as soon retire if cut by the Ravens, and player agents are already violating NFL tampering rules by soliciting interest in their potentially free-agent clients in advance of the March free agency period.  And that's just to name a few differences.

While the NFL rules the players with an iron hand, or at least tries to (look at the Bountygate fiasco in the Big Easy, and continual issues regarding player safety), players in the league are a different animal than those whose scholarships could be snatched away without warning down in the college ranks.

Here's a Huls bio from butteyouthnow.org:

Shaun Huls Bio: Shaun Huls is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Special Warfare Group Two where he coordinates the strength and conditioning and injury prevention programs for the Navy Seal Teams at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Norfolk, VA. Previously, Shaun was at Hampton University as the Director of Athletic Performance where he coordinated the strength and conditioning  programs for all 16 sports. Shaun came to Hampton from the University of Nevada where he served as the Head Baseball and Assistant Football Strength and Conditioning Coach.  There he also served as the Coordinator of Performance Nutrition for all Wolf Pack athletes.  From 1996-2001, Huls worked at the University of Nebraska's Husker Power. As Head Baseball and  Assistant Football Strength and     Conditioning Coach at Nebraska, Huls coached the 1997 National Championship football team as well as prepared three Big 12 Champion and two World Series baseball teams. Huls has trained numerous current National Football League (NFL) players and professional baseball players. His work with elite athletes also extends to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA fighters, track and field, wrestling, and swimming Olympians. Huls is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (C.S.C.S.) and the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Association (S.C.C.C.)

A SEALS-like program was obviously not loved by Pittsburgh's powerless minor league prospects.  And although Huls [left] has plenty of prior experience working with collegians (and even big league ballplayers), it will be very interesting to see how the NFL's rank and file respond to any of Chip's boy's possible requests to 'go commando.'

Saturday, January 26, 2013

"Frugality is misery in disguise" ~ Publilius Syrus






Whew!

My head is still spinning from the dizzying spending spree of the Philadelphia Phillies this off-season!

To review, the Phillies were dead in the water regarding the NL Pennant Race last July, so they cleaned house, dumping the salaries of Shane Victorino ($9.5 M), Joe Blanton ($8.5 M), and Hunter Pence ($10.4 M).  That was after the team had also jettisoned Jim Thome ($1.25 M) and Chad Qualls ($1.15 M).

Not only were pro-rated savings realized last year, but all of those guys came off the books, meaning the team's payroll dropped a whopping $30,800,000 from Opening Day 2012 to Opening Day 2013, before the 2012 season was over!

Stir in the salaries of Jose Contreras ($2.5 M), Placido Polanco ($6.5 M), Ty Wigginton ($2 M), Nate Schierholz ($1.3 M), Brian Schneider ($0.8 M), Vance Worley ($0.5 M), David Herndon ($0.5 M), Michael Martinez ($0.49 M), and Josh Lindblom ($0.48 M)—all shown the door after the 2012 campaign—and the savings reached a staggering $45,150,000.  And that doesn't include whatever pitcher Trevor May, also traded, made last year in the minors.

We just couldn't wait to see how the Phils would parlay out that dough in search of a World Championship.

Now in all fairness, the Phils were forced contractually to issue some raises: Jonathan Papelbon gets another $2 M, Carlos Ruiz gets $1.3 M, Kyle Kendrick gets $1.5 M, Laynce Nix cops another $0.2 M, Antonio Bastardo a cool $0.9 M, and Cole Hamels rakes in an additional $4.5 M.  And, don't forget, Kevin Frandsen [right] will receive a raise from his unknown 2012 minor league salary—let's figure that for around $0.5 M.  And there'll be the difference between Schneider's salary and that of a full season of Erik Kratz in 2013, probably $0.4 M.

That still left a bountiful $31,210,000 to spend on this year's exciting Opening Day roster, compared to 2012!

Then the shopping spree really began:  Aging Michael Young and his $16,000,000 salary came aboard.  Of course, the Phils are only on the hook for $6,000,000 of it, since it's worth $10,000,000 to the Texas Rangers just to have him playing elsewhere.

Surgically repaired bullpen set-up piece Mike Adams is joining the club to the tune of $5,000,000.

The Phillies lavished $2,500,000 on 2012 minor leaguer John Lannan, who couldn't crack the Washington Nats' staff.

Young Ben Revere was acquired in trade, and will likely cost the team in the neighborhood of $500,000.

The club's latest huge acquisition is ponderous outfielder Delmon Young [left], a loathsome character whose inept fielding makes him a human blooper-reel.  He'll make $750,000 in base salary, but, in the contract clause voted 'most likely to be ridiculed,' Young can earn another $600,000 if he can lose 8 pounds and keep it off.

Oh, and the team claimed minor league pitcher Mauricio Robles off waivers from last-place Seattle.  Of course, his minor league salary is a wash with Trevor May's.

So what's the grand total on the Phillies off-season spending extravaganza?  How about: $15,090,000?

Now, that's life-changing money and seems like a lot for most of us, but the Phillies are playing it pretty slowly.  That leaves just as much—an amazing $15,120,000—still to spend!

Now, Pence signed with Giants this year for $13,800,000, so the Phillies obviously have their collective eyes on someone just as big—or bigger!—or else they just could have simply kept Pence, and still could have done all they this winter did as well!

Yeah, I know a million or so of that may be eaten up in tiny raises for young roster players (Galvis, Brown, Stutes, etc.), but I just can't wait to see what kind of free agent or international signing the Phillies will make that will devastate the rest of the National League East.  Or maybe they'll just be taking on a big contract in trade, sending a couple of lukewarm prospects to some team for an expensive star!

But… um… nah.  It couldn't be that, after years of watching the populace throw money at them, the team's owners will now bail on the city and put a mediocre team on the field as a 'thank you' to both the fans and guys like Roy Halladay [right], Cliff Lee, and the rest of the veteran players whose window of opportunity for a World Series title is shrinking daily, could it?

No way.

Uh… right?