Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Hey Umpy! He was **##!!** Safe!
In the great game of baseball, and in every other game involving officials who make judgmental decisions, there will always be some disagreement. Baseball managers vocalize their objections from the dugout, until the opportunity arises for them to climb the steps to enter the fray. That is when the fun begins.
Managers most often leave the dugout to protect their players. If there is a close play, or a decision regarding balls and strikes, managers leap to the situation to try to keep their players in the game. They often physically intervene, butting in between the player and the umpire to plead the case. The number of instances when an umpire changes a call are miniscule, but do happen occasionally.
Managers will dispute calls to try to change the flow of a game. They will leave the dugout to try to make points for the next opportunity when an umpire needs to make a call---to attempt to “level the playing field to his or her advantage.” Perhaps the next decision will go the other way as a “Make up call”.
Earl Weaver managed the Baltimore Orioles for seventeen years. He always had an opinion, and enjoyed sharing it with the umpires. Discussions would become arguments, leading to heated shouting matches. Umpires have their egos to protect, and some have nicely developed opinions about themselves. Earl had his axes to grind, his points to register.
When a manager “goes too far”, he is ejected, usually with a flamboyant arm gesticulation by the umpire. Going too far? That may entail arguing balls and strikes. Or perhaps the frequency of eye examinations. But when the line is crossed, umps will ask the manager to leave the field, and the dugout.
Weaver was ejected 98 times in his career. His antics following ejections are wonderful to watch. He often tapped the bill of the umpire’s hat with his own, like magpies dueling. He would then reverse the bill, and continue the argument. Eyes bulging, face beat-red, he would scream for justice. He often kicked dirt at the umpire, to help his position. He was even ejected from both games of a double-header.
John McGraw holds the record in the National League with 131 ejections. He heard “You are outta here!” more than “Would you like cream in your coffee, Sir?” Then again, he did manage almost twice as many games as did Weaver, mostly with the New York Giants.
“Sweet Lou” Piniella played with passion, and managed the same way. We saw him play many times at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto against the Jays. He was then in Yankee pinstripes. On one particular occasion, he seemed out of sorts. He argued with some fans near home plate when he was on deck. He snarled and grumbled at every called strike. Finally, when he whiffed near the end of the game, he had had more than enough. He quietly removed his batting helmet, placed it carefully on home plate, and began to smash it with the some motion that you use to ring the bell at the CNE. It exploded into several pieces after several serious blows.
At the end of every ball game, players enjoy a wonderful buffet laid out for them in their dressing room. Lou loved to hit, and did not like to fail. But if he struck out near the end of a game, he would destroy the buffet with his bat. By the time he was finished, the cold cuts were well embedded into the potato salad. Players would block his way from getting to the buffet, if they could.
He also loved chocolate cake. Sparky Lyle had a distinguished career with the Yankees as a reliever, and a prankster. He chronicled the following tale about Piniella in his book’ “The Bronx Zoo”. There was a fan in New York who baked the best chocolate cake in the world. It was Lou’s birthday, and she baked him a winner. It sat, front and centre in the dressing room before the game. “Happy Birthday Lou”.
Lyle formed a posse, and executed his plan. After the game, Lou rushed into the dressing room for his cake. Lyle’s accomplices grabbed him, and taped him to a pole---so that he could see the cake. With great fanfare, Lyle dropped his drawers and sat on the cake. Imagine Lou’s discomfort!
There is plenty of video of Lou kicking his hat around following ejections as a manager. He even fought with one of his own players, Rob Dibble, in the dressing room when he managed the Cincinnati Reds. He removed first base and threw it into the outfield. He was worth the price of admission.
Phil Garner, the manager of the Houston Astros, recently recalled the tantrum of one of his former managers, Alvin “Blackie” Dark. Dark was a little long in the tooth at the time, but still feisty. Dark removed the base, and ran with it in the field, on bad knees and ageing legs. The umpire followed him in hot pursuit. Dark finally hurled the base into the crowd.
Billy Martin was fired and hired more times than any other manager, by one owner, George Steinbrenner. He was feisty, and could inspire his team with his tirades. He was an excellent dirt kicker, and sometimes threw handfuls at the umps.
Hal McCrae played for the Kansas City Royals for many years, and managed them following his playing days. After every game, managers are required to submit to an interview process by the media. There are often asked very dumb questions. After one particularly bitter loss, McCrae addressed the media and mentioned that, in one situation, he wanted a particular left-handed hitter. A reporter then asked: “Did you consider using Brett for Miller with the bases loaded in the seventh?”
That precipitated one of the classic manager meltdowns in the history of the game. Video of the episode is well beeped, but McCrae manages to get across his point by clearing the room---of microphones, tape players, reporters, and television cameras. That signaled the end of his managerial career.
This entire discussion was initiated as a result of a classic performance of a minor league manager from Asheville, North Carolina. Joe Mikulik lost it in a recent game, and went through the entire gamut: removing bases, throwing bats, kicking dirt, and even pouring water from a water bottle on home plate so that the umpire could see it more clearly.
Ah, the great game of baseball!
Check out the videos at foxsports.com/bestdamn, and scroll down to a photo of “Sweet Lou” screaming at someone. There are 50 videos of various sports personalities in these meltdown situations. This is not strictly a baseball phenomenon. Ask Don Cherry!
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Take Me Out to the All Star Game
On Tuesday, July 11th, the city of Pittsburgh will host the Major League Baseball All Star game for the fifth time. The game will be the focus for baseball fans for a couple of hours; however, the weekend leading up to the game will have an assortment of activities---some associated with the game.
Canadians got a taste of All Star fever when the game was hosted by Montreal in 1982, and in Toronto in 1991. There are Fan Fest activities, and the traditional Home Run Derby. The winner of last year’s slugfest? Why Bobby Abreu, of course. He was designated to represent Venezuela at that time, as MLB was gearing up for its World Championships held this past spring. The other finalists were: Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Lee, and David Ortiz. Jason Bay represented Canada. Unfortunately, he neglected to wear his long ball shoes, and did not register one dinger in the contest.
Bay will be a most popular All Star at this year’s event because he plays for the Pirates. He is having another outstanding season, having already copped a “Player of the Month” award in the National League. He also was the “Rookie of the Year” in his initial campaign in the Big Leagues.
Bay is not the only Canadian on the All Star ballot. There are three others, which may be the largest number of Canucks ever: Justin Morneau from the Minnesota Twins, Mark Teahen from the Kansas City Royals, and Corey Koskie from the Milwaukee Brewers.
Since the first All Star game played at Comiskey Park in Chicago, there have only been seven other Canadians to play the game. In no particular order: Paul Quantrill-born in London, but residing in the foothills north of Cobourg; Jeff Heath-Fort William; Eric Gagne-Montreal; Larry Walker, Maple Ridge, BC; Jeff Zimmerman, Kelowna, BC; George Selkirk, Huntsville, Ontario.
George “Twinkletoes” Selkirk began his major league career in a slightly unpopular fashion---he replaced Babe Ruth in the New York Yankees outfield. In fact, he took Ruth’s number 3, and wore it for his entire career. No Yankee has worn that number following Selkirk’s retirement. Selkirk played in two All Star games---in 1936 in Boston at the Braves Field, and in 1939 at Yankee Stadium.
Selkirk played nine seasons for the Yankees, and retired with a lifetime batting average of .290. His nickname was derived from his distinctive manner of walking.
He was part of the Dynasty---when the Yankees ruled the world of baseball. He has World Series rings from 1936 to 1939, and from 1941. He left the game following the 1942 season, joined the Navy and became an aerial gunner in the Second World War. He returned to baseball to coach, manage, and to teach---and was the General Manager of the Washington Senators.
Selkirk passed away in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in his eightieth year in 1987. He is an inductee to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Mary’s, Ontario.
The first All Star game was held at Comiskey in Chicago in 1933. The American League won the game, 4-2, led by Babe Ruth’s home run. Attendance was 49 200. There was no game in 1945, but there have been mid-season classics every other year.
The National League still had bragging rights for the tilt, having won 40 of the 76 games played. There have been two ties. Since 1988, however, the American League has won 15 of the 20 games played.
Positional players, that is everyone with the exception of the pitchers, are selected by the fans. All Star ballots are distributed at games prior to the All Star break, and fans may choose their favourites by punching out those damn little pieces of paper to make the appropriate holes in the ballot. Are they those famous “chads” from the Florida fiasco?
The Toronto Blue Jays’ Troy Glaus and Vernon Wells are on the ballot. There is also room for fans to write in Alex Rios’ name. A true Jays fan would do just that. Naturally, there are more ballots distributed and completed south of the border. That explains why there are so many Yankees and Mets chosen by the fans. There are also on-line ballots. Fans may vote 25 times! But only until June 29th. Yikes! Talk about stuffing the ballot box! Go to MLB.com.
Managers choose the pitchers, as well as a few other players. Every team must have a representative. Common sense occasionally prevails.
This year, there will also be a “Futures” game. Potential major league players suit up to strut their stuff---to catch the eye of a bird dog looking for raw talent. The game will be played as a Team USA against Team World. Gary Carter will manage the American squad, and Ferguson Jenkins will be at the helm of the rest of the world. Both, incidentally, are also inductees to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
Jenkins relishes the opportunity to work the game: “These young men need exposure. This is their way of showing their talents to the world. Maybe these young men will be in the big leagues in a year or so. It’s important for them to play well.”
Carter currently manages the St. Lucie Mets in the advanced Class “A” Florida State League. He also has a bit of history with Jenkins, the Chatham, Ontario native.
“I didn’t face Fergie at the height of his career, but I do remember one incident. I hit a home run off him at Wrigley Field. In my next at bat, he hit me. In the old school, that’s the way things were done.”
All in all, an exciting time for baseball fans. Peanuts, Cracker Jacks, and I’ll be home when I get there.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
One Down, Two to Go
With the season a little over one-third completed, the Toronto Blue Jays find themselves in a most familiar position---a dog fight with the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The object of the exercise is to finish the season in a position to play in the playoffs---no matter what it is---wild card, first, second---anywhere, but with the right to play.
The enigmatic Yankees are supposed to be spiraling downward, according to many serious American baseball pundits. Their bullpen is in chaos, they have too many players ailing and injured. And yet they stand atop the division, looking down at the rest, gloating in their disarray. They have a way of finding new heroes to replace the old. The current Bronx favourite is Melky Cabrera---and the fans like his style—calling it “the Milky Way”. Yikes! He snatched a home run away from Manny Ramirez recently, to preserve a victory over the Red Hose---creating instant legendary status.
The Jays continue to hover nearby. They will face the Yanks and the Red sox many times before October, and they will all have ample opportunity to beat up on each other. It will be a matter of survival, perhaps not necessarily of the fittest.
Jays’ fans are thrilled with the off-season acquisitions, in particular---Overbay, Glaus, Molina and B. J. Ryan for starters. With the game on the line, Ryan storms in from the bullpen like a bull into the arena. The bull’s chances for survival are not good, whereas Ryan has been superb for the Jays.
He has brought a sense of confidence to the team, a trust that the job will be done. At six feet, six inches, and a little more than two hundred and fifty pounds, peering down from that mound of dirt, he commands attention. There is a spark of enthusiasm every time the bullpen door opens and Manager Gibbons sends him out to work.
There were doubts about the young Jays middle infielders before the season started, and those doubts still linger. The Jays are now employing Edgardo Alfonso at second base, and he recently turned in a gem of a play to save a game against the Orioles in the late innings. Alfonso has a career .978 fielding statistic, most adequate. His current performance at the plate is puzzling, to say the least. For many years he starred with the Mets, and established outstanding batting statistics in New York. His career batting average is .285, very respectable. Unfortunately, he has struggled in the batters’ box with the Jays, hovering around the .100 mark. Many National League pitchers fare much better.
Doc Halladay has again pitched superbly, recovering nicely from the broken leg which shelved him for most of last year’s season. Chacin has six wins, Lilly and Janssen five apiece. But the Jays stand 24th in the overall statistic of Earned Run Average, critical to success. Hopeful fans watch the progress of starter A. J. Burnett, as he attempts to find his way back into the rotation.
The Jays are Number One in hitting in the Major Leagues, led by Alex Rios. He has established himself as one of the premier hitters in the Bigs, a threat every time he steps to the plate. Like a young Griffey, or a Vladimir Guerrero, he hits with power to all fields, and has an arm that is well respected in right field. Johnson, Hillenbrand and the new big boys also contribute significantly to the Jays’ success at the plate.
But it all comes down to pitching, pitching, pitching. The Jays must get quality innings from all of their hurlers to lock up a post-season position. Everyone knows that. It just isn’t quite that easy.
To wrap up. Sincere apologies to all readers for the tardiness of this article. I was hauled off to Pearson in Toronto, shuttled to Fort Lauderdale, and dragged onto a cruise ship. It finally docked in Rome, almost two weeks (and ten extra pounds) later. I kept screaming: “No more lobster, no more Alaskan King Crab!” To no avail.
Thank God for channel changers at this time of year. Stanley Cup finals, NBA finals, The French Open in tennis, always golf, a little Nascar, and the CFL pre season is in full swing! Not a bad thing at all! Tough to get off the couch!
A trip to Rogers Centre is in the works. Jays and New York Mets, and a chance to see Carlos Delgado, who is also having a fine season. Sunday, June 25th. Field Level seats and Franklin Coach for $ 60. Call 399-2278 for details.