Writers Get One Right

November 19, 2010

As hard it might be for hardcore baseball fans to believe, sportswriters voting for the American League Cy Young Award overcame their historic prejudice in favor of wins and rightly recognized Seattle’s Felix Hernandez as the AL’s best pitcher. Winning only 13 games in back of the historically bad Mariner offense, King Felix nevertheless led the league in ERA, innings pitched, and batting average against; and finished second in strikeouts (by one).

And don’t give me that “What about C.C.?” crap.  Yeah, Sabathia led the league in wins with 21. Big deal — he went 10-1 against the three last-place teams in the league. The writers overlooked the wins and gave the Cy to the best pitcher in the league — by far.

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Sparky Anderson, R.I.P.

November 7, 2010

Sparky Anderson began to manage the Cincinnati Reds at exact time that I began to follow my hometown team: 1970.  I was 9, and Sparky was 36–both of us youngsters, in our own way.  And so were most of the players on his first team–no position starter was older than 30, and three–Johnny Bench, Bernie Carbo, and Davey Concepcion–were just 22 that season.  Sparky and his team grew up together–and I along with them.

Sitting on the deck at our house on Ellenwood, or sneaking my transistor under my pillow so I could listen to Al Michaels (and later Marty Brennaman) after Mom turned off the lights, I rooted for my team, with its prematurely white-haired manager and its collection of sluggers and speedsters.  (I cherished my Tommy Helms model baseball glove, even though he was neither slugger nor speedster, purchased three years later with my own money, earned from delivering the Dayton Daily News each afternoon.)  Listening to the games on WLW, I was too young to understand the import of Sparky’s approach to handling his pitching staff–not only was I 9, but a left fielder to boot–but as I got older I came to see that his “Captain Hook” persona was simply his way of making the best out of a generally league-average pitching staff.  And that approach helped make guys like Pedro Borbon, Rawly Eastwick, and local hero Will McEnaney stars in our eyes–young players bailing out “old” guys like Jack Billingham and Fred Norman (told you–“average”).

Sparky would walk from the dugout to the mound, head down, hands stuffed into the back pockets of his pants, or the pockets of his shiny red warmup jacket, depending on the temperature, taking small steps and being extra careful not to step on the first-base line–bad luck and all–then, on reaching the mound, take the ball from the pitcher and touch an arm to signal to the bullpen for yet another reliever.  Seemed like this scene played out two or three times every night–sometimes, every inning–and yet I didn’t mind the delays that inevitably ensued. I knew Sparky was trying to get another win by squeezing every bit of talent out of his pitching staff–and it worked.

The Reds won at least 95 games in six of Sparky’s first seven years.  Four NL championships. Two World Series.

And all of it done by a short, white-haired, constantly tanned, malaprop-prone little genius.

I was none of those — but Sparky was my guy.

God bless you, Sparky. And thanks.


This Day in American History — June 12, 1939

June 12, 2010

On this day 71 years ago, the Baseball Hall of Fame was dedicated in Cooperstown, New York.  The HOF currently has 292 inductees, my favorite of whom is Tris Speaker. The family and I traipsed to upstate New York to visit the Hall on Fourth of July weekend in 2002, and when we were there on July 5, an announcement was made over the sound system that Ted Williams had passed away earlier that day.

Here’s an amazing “Teddy Ballgame” piece of trivia: he won the American League Triple Crown twice—in 1942 and again in 1947—and in neither year was he voted the AL Most Valuable Player. Dimaggio beat him in ’47, but Joe Gordon—JOE GORDON!!—took the ’42 MVP award.  In that year, Williams led the AL in runs, homers, RBI, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and total bases. Gordon, meanwhile, led the league in two offensive categories—strikeouts and grounding into double plays. No wonder Teddy was always pissed at sportswriters. . . .


Just One More Thing I Wish I Had Written

November 5, 2009

yankees1One of the great baseball writers in the country is Joe Posnanski.  He almost always provides insight when he discusses the game, and he’s not a stat-o-phobe like many of his compadres.  I can’t wait to pick up his latest book, The Machine, about the Big Red Machine (it’s gotten rave reviews, and I’m sure it’ll be worth the read).

His latest blog post gets at exactly the feelings I (and many others) harbor about the latest World Series winners.  Of course I hate the Yankees—I think it’s actually built into my DNA somehow. But Joe explains why we shouldn’t buy the Yankee fans’ argument that spending the most money in the game doesn’t guarantee championships—why we should be a lot more outraged by their payroll than I already am. It’s definitely worth a read, especially on the day after the Evil Empire has cashed in yet again.