April 2009

Closing Argument

If you ever needed a freeze frame on the volatility of closers, you’re seeing it in Washington right now. Joel Hanrahan lost the job quickly, but not as fast as Manny Acta’s closer-in-waiting Garrett Mock. Instead we are told to expect a committee consisting of Julian Tavarez and Kip Wells. Until next week when Joe Beimel will come off the disabled list and either “join the mix,” or supplant those co-closers. And don’t forget that a year ago today, Chad Cordero was still active and supposed to eventually swap jobs with his impermanent replacement Jon Rauch.

It is not just franchises in chaos that remind us of how, if all managers are interim, then all closers (except, perhaps, Mariano Rivera) are temporary. Since Bobby Cox returned to the helm in Atlanta in 1990, this has been the succession (and I’m deliberately ignoring a couple of “closers for a week” like Joe Hesketh).

1. Joe Boever, 1990
2. Mark Grant and Kent Mercker, 1990
3. Mercker and Juan Berenguer, 1991
4. Alejandro Pena, 1991-92
5. Jeff Reardon, 1992
6. Mike Stanton, 1993
7. Greg McMichael, 1994-95
8. Brad Clontz, 1995
9. Mark Wohlers, 1995-98
10. Kerry Ligtenberg, 1998
11. John Rocker, 1999
12. Ligtenberg and Mike Remlinger, 2000
13. Rocker, 2000-01
14. Steve Karsay, 2001
15. John Smoltz, 2001-04
16. Danny Kolb, 2005
17. Chris Reitsma, 2005
18. Kyle Farnsworth, 2005
19. Reitsma, 2006
20. Ken Ray, 2006
21. Bob Wickman, 2006-07
22. Rafael Soriano, 2008
23. Manny Acosta, 2008
24. John Smoltz, 2008
25. Soriano, 2008
26. Mike Gonzalez, 2008-09

And they won stuff during that merry-go-round. Moreover, Gonzalez is formally Cox’s closer at the moment. Yet only last night did he pull out of a tie with Soriano for the team lead.

LOOK-ALIKES

Well here’s the oldest time-waster by a blogger: ballplayers who look like actors. But I think three of these are new; certainly two of them are bizarre.

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Khalil Greene and Sean Penn as Spicoli from  “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” – observed first, I think, long before Greene made the majors.

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But what about Rocco Baldelli of the Red Sox and the actor Aidan Quinn?

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This one jumped off the scoreboard at the Mets-Nats game Saturday. The new official publicity photo of Adam Dunn, and Will Ferrell?

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And my favorite, applying only when he has that lip-curl snarl while at bat, somewhat enhanced by the Yankee colors: Mark Teixeira and Little Steven Van Zandt in his “Sopranos” role of Silvio Dante?

MEANWHILE, WHAT I LOOK LIKE:

A maroon.

I have been pleading for a week for somebody to identify the “classical music” used by the Yankees during their otherwise tedious scoreboard “Great Subway Race.”

Did you know Danny Elfman was a famous 17th century classical composer?

I knew I’d heard it in the Pee Wee Herman movie. That’s because it’s part of the soundtrack of the Pee Wee Herman movie.

It’s “Breakfast Machine.”
 
Well thank goodness that’s over.

Answers

Firstly, I believe they may be, in no particular order, Russ Ohlendorf, Justin Maxwell, Micah Hoffpauir, and Jonathon Niese.

Ohlendorf, as alluded to previously, is your early frontrunner for the emergent starter of 2009 after his efficient work against the Padres (and apparently not mixing in his curve until his last inning; sliders and fastballs exclusively, previously). Maxwell, as alluded to previously, will probably have to get an audition in the Nats’ outfield after beating up the Mets today with a couple of singles, a couple of steals, and a couple of RBI. Hoffpauir, as alluded to previously, would get any time Derrick Lee misses after neck spasms forced him out this afternoon. And Niese would probably get the first shot at what may soon be an opening in the Mets’ rotation after the latest Oliver Perez “Human Torch” act.
The rest of the answers are from your posts. As mentioned earlier, political ones will be ignored (this is a politics-free zone) and abusive or irrelevant ones ignored. And we’re still looking for somebody to identify the snippet of classical music used by the Yankees during the otherwise intolerable “Great Subway Race” on their scoreboard in the brand new Empty Stadium.

Bygreenm1@nevada.eduonApril 26, 2009 4:32 PM

If I am correct, Bill Sharman was sitting on the Dodger bench during a big argument and the plate umpire–if memory serves it was Frank Dascoli–cleared the bench, meaning Sharman never played in a major league game but got thrown out of one..


You are correct sir, September 27th, 1951, and the very irascible umpire was Frank Dascoli. So Sharman saw a lot of action during his month in the majors, between that and the Dodgers-Giants playoffs. He just didn’t get to appear in any action.

The new stadium is across the street (admittedly a very wide street) from the old stadium. Things can be weird in this city, but major atmospheric changes crossing 161st Street isn’t one of them.I’d say lousy pitching is the more likely answer.

Byjbraskin@hotmail.comonApril 21, 2009 11:43 PM


This one is about the outbreak of homers at Empty Stadium. The geographical point is correct; several hundred yards north and about a hundred west of the old location should not create a wind tunnel. But this isn’t about geography, it’s about architecture. The wind tunnel is not natural, it’s man made, most likely by the open-air ring in the upper deck (replacing what had been solid wall in the old place) and the giant open-air entrances down the first and third base lines. The new Yankee Stadium is at the mercy of air flow that was walled off across the street. Whatever it is, it seems to remain in effect.


One quick question- is our intrepid blogger wearing his Superbowl XLIII press credentials? And if so…uh…why? Besides the inherent awesomeness, that is?Byjeremy.m.chao@gmail.comonApril 18, 2009 11:31 AM


This refers to a photograph from opening day. That is not in fact a Super Bowl media credential around my neck. It is a Super Bowl laniard. Apart from the phenomenal price changes, the biggest switch in the new park is the number of times one is forced to present one’s ticket. So I needed something to carry it in, and that’s what I happened to have lying around.


Keith what’s with the suit? Only baseball suits wear suits to the ball game. Leno or Jason wasn’t wearing a suit.And I bet Yankee Stadium was real quiet after that 14 spot Saturday…Nick C.,Countdown (and SF Giants) fanBynixie224@earthlink.netonApril 18, 2009 8:46 PM


Same photograph producing yet another style complaint. Frankly, the only times I’ve ever gone to a game in a suit, I was either doing a broadcast or a report from it, or, as it happened on opening day, I was heading straight down town to do my news show.


Besides which, the suit is ok at the yard once in awhile. Look at the difference it can make if you get to pose for a photo with a few viewers:


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The Washington Natinals

So that “Natinals” thing across Adam Dunn’s Washington uniform this past week?

That wasn’t a misspelling. That was an alias.
Membership on the Washington National League team right now would make any player try to pretend otherwise. Firsthand exposure to the Nats shows that ex-General Manager Jim Bowden has left another franchise in tatters, at least in the short-term. The outfield is a defensive mess, the infield wobbly, and the ace of the pitching staff makes his second major league start tomorrow.
Elijah Dukes nearly got himself killed on David Wright’s first-inning fly ball at CitiField this afternoon. Sunglasses still perched atop his cap, Dukes missed catching the ball by about three inches, and missed getting conked in the noggin by the same measurement. The presumed good news is that if Lastings Milledge was still playing center for Washington, the ball would’ve landed 40 feet behind him.
Dukes’ glasses were down in time for him to see, but not catch, Daniel Murphy’s fading fly in the sixth. Dukes slid, and the ball hit him in the glove. Murphy was credited with a single, presumably because, given how he plays the outfield, Dukes’ glove is considered part of the field of play, and not an actual piece of equipment.
Even Nick Johnson threw away a Mike Pelfrey sacrifice bunt in the third, and just for good measure back-up catcher Wil Nieves tried to gun down David Wright by throwing the ball to Dukes in the sixth. Starter Daniel Cabrera gave up five runs – only one earned, though the six hits and four walks were his problem.
This is not to say the Nationals are hopeless. No one who has seen him doubts Jordan Zimmermann is the real thing, and even with only Dunn to protect him, Ryan Zimmerman went 2-for-5 and was robbed of a third hit only by a Daniel Murphy slide that actually worked. Jesus Flores is one of the game’s most unsung two-way receivers, and Joel Hanrahan may have straightened himself out.
One of the intriguing questions facing new GM Mike Rizzo and the able and somehow-still-sane manager Manny Acta is whether or not to offload some of their supply of generic, identical outfielders (the A) Austin Kearns, Josh Willingham kind, and the b) Dukes, Lastings Milledge kind) and give Justin Maxwell a serious look in center. The recuperating former top prospect smoked a Brian Stokes fastball in the ninth off the top of the wall in right-center (in any other park it would have been an easy and a frightening homer). On the off-chance that Dukes might be convinced to pay attention and handle leftfield, and accepting Dunn as a necessity in the line-up, why not try Maxwell in center, and see if anybody wants any of the others.
The current Nats are going nowhere, and as the stories of Flores, Zimmerman, Zimmermann, and Hanrahan suggest, Acta and his coaching staff seem to be able to draw quick results out of younger, more focused players.
THERE’S BEEN A WILBUR HUCKLE SIGHTING

Well, not really, but his name came up on the field before the Mets and Nats played, and it permits me to address the dumbest of my Dumb Obsessions, and solicit your help.
Huckle was one of the two earliest products of the Met farm system to be summoned to the majors, from the low minors, in September, 1963. The other, Cleon Jones, was absolutely overmatched (.133 in six games). But Huckle fared far worse. A shortstop, he didn’t get into a single game, and never got another chance. His remaining claim to fame would be as Tom Seaver’s first professional roomate (Seaver said he never saw him awake, not once in any hotel room they shared – Huckle was an early riser who was dedicated to long walks at dawn).
I had heard of Huckle, but never of his fruitless cameo, until today. Photographer Steve Moore insists he was at several Mets’ games (and has the scorecards to prove it) with Huckle listed on the roster. Huckle would thus becomes the 51st member of the Bill Sharman Society, my list of players who can be proved to have been on major league rosters, but who never played in a major league game. The Elias Sports Bureau calls them “Zombies” but that doesn’t quite capture their sad fates. Sharman, of course, is the basketball Hall of Famer who originally doubled as a top outfield prospect for the Brooklyn Dodgers. After a stellar season in the minors, he was summoned to Ebbets Field in September, 1951, and spent the rest of the year on the Dodger roster. He never got a moment’s action – although one of the games he didn’t play in was that featuring Bobby Thomson’s famous homer.
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Wilbur Huckle, in spring training with the Mets in 1964 (no, there wasn’t an ion storm – age has withered the negative and thus my only copy of the print).
In any event, if you have any nominations for the Sharman Society, put them in the comments and I’ll be happy and grateful to research them.
NO REASON FOR YOU TO CARE DEPARTMENT:

But there are flaws in every new ballpark and I suspect the Mets will address this one, eventually. This is the view from what would otherwise be about fifteen of the best seats in the press box.
Again, not a complaint, just a laugh. And a possible explanation if a reporter tells his office he really didn’t see the pitch. Or the batter. Or the umpire.
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Things I Promised Not To Tell

Batting clean-up last night, Micah Hoffpauir of the Cubs
homered to erase Cincinnati’s only lead (off his rival Micah, Owings, no
less), walked, then lifted a sacrifice fly to put his team back in front.
“He’s going to get 350 at bats this year,” Lou Piniella told me as Hoffpauir’s
dominant spring training ended. “A little first, a little left, a little
right.” Lou being Lou, of course, after Hoffpauir showed what he could do with
those 350 at bats, he was due up with the bases loaded and a lefty reliever on
the mound. So Lou pinch-hit Reed Johnson for him, and Johnson promptly struck
out. Sigh.

Pitching Coach Joe Kerrigan never counts chickens in
advance, certainly not in Pittsburgh, but even in the middle of the spring he was
insistent he had been able to help Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf -
especially Karstens – with arm slots and release points. Are the last two
nights against Florida indicators that he was right, or just the odds breaking
against the Marlins?

The latest Pedro Martinez story – about some vague interest
by the Angels – is probably overblown, to say the least. A National League
General Manager who was incorrectly rumored to be interested, said a month ago
that people sure were getting hopped up over him handcuffing the Dutch team -
during the first week of spring training – and not hitting 90 on the radar gun
as he did so.

So far this year Daniel Murphy has dropped a fly in left to
cost Johan Santana a game, and, last night, after getting picked off by Yadier
Molina, and then deciding that the only way to get past Molina at the plate was
not to slide but rather enact a dance move, managed to slide out from under a
crucial fly ball in St. Louis. The Mets are in awe of the youngster’s plate
discipline but after Murphy’s tight night, manager Jerry Manuel suggested he
needed to relax and admitted “I guess I’m a little concerned.”

Another Cubs note. If you’re wondering how they hope to keep
Rich Harden
intact into the second half of the season, yes, they will occasionally
skip his starts or give him extra days off. Kind of like the Chien-Ming Wang
plan. Only without the euphemistic “tune-up in Florida.” And replacing him in
the rotation at some point, more likely with Phil Hughes than Ian Kennedy. But
Wang is just fine – there’s nothing to see here.

A last question. Does it seem to you like the Angels treat
Brandon Wood as if he owed them money? Like they let him up every once in
awhile so he can breathe, before they stick him back under the water?

By the way, the title of this post is facetious – it comes from an obscure reference in the movie “All About Eve.” No actual confidences were violated in the writing of this blog.

FAN OF THE DAY:

Hats off to Ben Erdel. As part of his big night at Yankee Stadium last night, Brett Gardner let one of his Louisville Sluggers fly into the stands. Mr. Erdel and a much younger gentleman both had their hands on the rare souvenir – although only the younger gentleman had just managed to avoid getting hit with the helicoptering bat. Mr. Erdel took the bat, took a few steps, and then thought better of it, and generously did the right thing.

The younger gentleman now has a singular thrill from his first Yankee homestand, exceeding his previous one – being my nephew.

Here is Nephew, Jacob Smith, far left, and his bat, which was not stolen by either Katy Tur or Maegen Carberry.

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And here is Mr. Erdel, whose second prize is a blog posting (and a clear conscience, and one happy kid left in his wake). Thank you, Sir.

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The Home Run Menace

Don’t be fooled by that alarming statistic out of the new
Yankee Stadium, namely that the Indians and Yankees shattered the record for
the most homers hit in the first four games of a new big league park: 20,
compared to the 16 hit in the bandbox in Las Vegas back when the A’s had to
open up there.

Don’t be fooled. The problem is much worse.

That raw number excludes the two exhibition games the
Yankees played against the Cubs at the start of the month. That raw number
doesn’t address the bazooka-like quality at the new park, of any left-handed
hitter holding a bat. That raw number doesn’t address the variety of weather
conditions in which the homers have been hit.

Through circumstances unlikely to be repeated, I have thus far
attended all the events at the new facility, and thus I can not only
report on the 28 blasts that rocketed out of the place in the first six games,
I can testify to them. Let’s start by noting that 21 of them have exploded into
rightfield (and only a few have “just made it,” pretty much invalidating the
three- or four-foot shortening of the fence at some points, as compared to the
old Stadium). A 22nd was absolutely blasted by Jorge Posada to
dead-center (and it may be awhile before we see anybody do that again).

Two more were fluke jobs against the Cubs by Cody Ransom to
the corner in left. One actually struck the pole. Judging by body language
alone, Ransom’s freak bases-clearing double in the 8th Inning Sunday
against Cleveland certainly appeared to Ransom, and probably to leftfielder
Shin-Soo Choo, as a ball that was curving into the stands, foul, by twenty feet
or more. Choo only sauntered toward the corner. Ransom didn’t even follow the
ball and was staring at the broken bat handle in his hands. From my seat I get
a full view of the third base foul line, from the plate to the wall. I know
that I looked down, convinced the ball was foul, in the seats, and by a lot.

Only four traditional in-the-seats homers were hit to left in the first two exhibitions and four regular season games.

For all the air-gun blasts of Mark Teixeira, Ransom’s
hitting patterns may be the best clue so far as to what’s going on here. There
seems to be a jet stream, left to right, at all times. I speculated here
earlier that it is probably a fabrication of the open-to-the-air ring in the
Upper Deck combined with the open-to-the-air entrances at street level in the
corners, from which the playing field is visible. I think it was bad enough
Sunday that it blew Ransom’s ball, left to right, and fair. I think it’s been bad
enough this month to blow several balls already heading to right, far deeper
than physics should’ve allowed.

This does not discount another juiced ball theory (although
this theory must be incredibly flexible, to explain why juiced balls being hit
to LF aren’t pushing through the wind) and presumably the Posada homer Sunday
would’ve been a clear case of interference, or maybe just a ball caught at the
fence, if the new Stadium measurement was precisely the same as the old one).
It should also be noted, as it was noted here, that as early as the middle of
the Yankees’ first workout in the place on April 2, righty batters like Xavier
Nady were pointing to the seeming jet stream, and trying to go the opposite way
in batting practice. Thus it would seem that the wind currents are either the
only explanation, or, far and away, the most important one.

The question becomes, as Lou Piniella posited it after his
first experience with a wind that scared him as much as the gusts of Wrigley:
“Will it change when the weather does?” Obviously the vagaries of the climate
in April are not equivalent to the contrast between any April day and August.
But of the first six dates here, none have been identical. Review them with me
game-by-game.

1. Cubs-Yankees, Friday April 3: Left-handed hitters Cano
and Matsui take left-hander Ted Lilly deep in consecutive innings. Ransom hits
the LF foul pole off Lilly in the 4th. It’s a night game, the air
heavy and dank, 56 degrees and falling, and it rains starting in the 3rd
inning.

2. Cubs-Yankees, Saturday April 4: It’s now a 1 PM start,
colder, drier, much windier. Alfonso Soriano hits the hardest ball yet to LF
off Andy Pettitte. Then Jeter goes the opposite way off Rich Harden in the 3rd,
and Teixeira touches him in consecutive innings for homers to RF that looked
like the Mets’ Party Patrol shooting t-shirts into the stands. Ransom hits the
fifth homer of the blustery afternoon into the LF corner off Chad Gaudin.

3. Indians-Yankees, Thursday April 16. It’s a beautiful,
sunny day with no excessive wind. 56 degrees – at least ten degrees warmer than
the second Cubs game - and it
feels warmer still. This time Posada (batting righty) takes Cliff Lee over the
wall in center. Damaso Marte gives up blasts to Sizemore (RF) and Martinez (LF).

4. Indians-Yankees, Friday April 17. Now it’s warmer still,
63 at game time. In a 6-5 game, six homers are hit, all into various distant
locales in right, including two by righthanded batters (DeRosa and Jeter).

5. Indians-Yankees, Saturday April 18. Again the temperature
jumps around ten degrees and it’s a preview of summer. We start later in the
afternoon (3:43 EDT) and there are no fewer than eight homers, six to dead
Right and another by DeRosa to Right/Right-Center. Counting the exhibitions, we
are already up to 25 homers in five games here.

6. Indians-Yankees, Sunday April 19. Now the weather
plummets. It’s 17 degrees cooler at game time and a breezy wind makes it feel
colder. And we still get three more homers, two to rightfield.

So basically at this point we have five different kinds of
weather conditions (six if you think Thursday and Friday are radically
different) and the only pattern, based on very skimpy evidence, is that we
might be seeing homers rise as temperatures do.

Uh-oh.

Steinbrenner Stadium Illustrated:

I earlier noted the one major architectural anomaly in the new
place and finally got a decent shot at it. All the other deck facings at each
tier are absolutely symmetrical except this one:

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Yep. The official Steinbrenner Box – although he has not yet
been seen in the perch that guarantees occupants are actually about ten feet
“closer” than anybody else. This is to say nothing of the direct view provided
into the Yankee dugout, which can be used to stare daggers at Joe Girardi.

Baseball Photo Of The Week:

Courtesy my friend T.S. O’Connell at Sports Collectors Digest:Nothing less than a photo of the front display at a
Woolworth’s store, apparently in the New York metropolitan area, in the spring
of 1952. He has figured out what would today be the estimated value of what
seems to be 231 unopened, pristine boxes of 1952 Topps Baseball Cards. He has
apparently not even included the value of two partial uncut sheets hanging in
the window, one of which shows a Warren Spahn card, and the other both an Enos
Slaughter and a Duke Snider.

Gaps In My Education:

This is driving me more nuts than usual. I abhor things like
“The Great Yankee Subway Race” – not on any kind of “purity” level, but simply
because people sit there and think there is some legitimacy to the competition
when it’s only an animation. Stories abound of a foolish Yankee employee of the
past who actually thought the outcome was performance-based, or somehow
randomly-generated, and who actually wagered on the outcome, not knowing that
his opponent could simply call up his friend in Scoreboard Operations and say
“Make sure the B-Train wins tonight.” Also, the “B” is the local version of the
“D” train – how could it ever win? And at many times of day the “D” terminates
two stops before The Stadium. Maddening, I tells ya.

But what I want to know is: what is the name of the piece of
classical music which serves as the soundtrack for the “race.” I may have known
it once, but that brain cell is long since hors-de-combat. Anybody know?

That New Ballpark Smell

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In the summer after my eighth birthday, my parents brought me to Yankee Stadium for the first time and gingerly explained that the building in which we sat had been built way back in 1923. “That was before either of you were born!,” I exclaimed with remarkably adult grammatical structure.
Weeks later, a Hastings-On-Hudson village program of some sort sent a busload of us kids to the upper deck at Shea Stadium. I looked around in the greenish lighting, at the cracked cement, and the rusty bolts, and the overhead fixtures that looked like our back porch light at home, and the building that vibrated in the wake of the jets overhead, and told the adult that if Yankee Stadium had been built in 1923 as my parents said, Shea Stadium must’ve been built in 1886.
Shea was three years old at the time.
It is in that context in which the Mets’ new home must be judged. The first 100 most important facts about CitiField are identical: it ain’t Shea. While the now-leveled stadium was a genuinely praiseworthy attempt to mix civic expenditure with private business, and use modern technology to build a facility suited to both football and baseball, it was a dump from day one.
Thus, yes, apart from the marvelous “Ebbets Field Wrapper” that reduced to tears a friend of mine who once had season tickets to the original, and apart from the Rotunda that Bud Selig said he came to this game to see (and he saw the original), it is Coors Field plus Jacobs Field plus Citizens Bank with a few echoes of the Polo Grounds and Tiger Stadium in the overhanging rightfield porch. But it ain’t Shea.

Also, that Rotunda looks very retro at night — especially with Rickey and Robinson on the wall there.

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Also, if CitiField averages even half the oddities of this opening night, it will be a place of weirdness not unlike Ebbets Field was.
In ascending order of fulfilling The McCarver Rule (“At every game you will see something, or at least a combination of things, you have never seen before”), here are the top unique or unlikely events from the park’s opening:
8. The Mets’ first game in their field featured a hold by Duaner Sanchez (released by the Mets last month), and a save by Heath Bell (traded by the Mets in 2006).
7. Somebody decided that the best way to christen a ballpark replacing a stadium notorious for 45 deafening seasons in the flight paths of LaGuardia was to have a military jet flyover complete with near-sonic boom.

6. The home team’s starting pitcher fell off the mound with two out in the second, laughed it off, and proceeded to give up four straight hits, including the opposing starting pitcher’s first in the big leagues.
5. That other pitcher to christen the ballpark, Walter Silva, was not listed in the Padres’ Media Guide and his biography had to be disseminated to the media via a photocopied sheet.
4. In an almost literal case of opening night jitters, the game was decided when the eminently reliable Ryan Church dropped Luis Rodriguez’s fly for a three-base error, and then Rodriguez scored on a flinch of a balk by Pedro Feliciano.
3. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg got a foul ball off the bat of Fernando Tatis in the 9th Inning, even though he was sitting behind the home plate screen.
2. Six innings earlier, a stray cat desperately trying to exit the field leaped onto the low fence directly in front of New York Governor David Paterson.
1. The first batter in the first inning in the first game in CitiField, Jody Gerut, homered – the first time in baseball history a new stadium has been so christened.

Harry Kalas, RIP

T.S. Eliot wrote it, in an utterly different context:

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
As much as all of us adhere to April as a time of rebirth in our shared game and the greater life it symbolizes, the month can just as easily take away, as give. Remember John McSherry? A wonderful man, that rarest of umpires beloved by players even if they thought he missed a call, dead on Opening Day in Cincinnati, dying as he prepared to do what he loved.
And this year, today, it’s Harry Kalas, the gifted and unmistakable voice of the Phillies, who collapsed and died just before the team’s game in Washington this afternoon. Of his endurance and wisdom and style, you probably knew – over nearly 45 seasons he had grown into the league of the Scullys.
But just as importantly, Harry had one of the best senses of humor about himself I’ve ever encountered. In the ’90s at ESPN Radio, my Philly-based colleague Tony Bruno and I regularly lapsed into a bad impression of Harry, especially for names that were easily elongated. Harry never did, but as him, we could take the phrase “here’s the two-two pitch to Mickey Morandini” and make it last fifteen seconds.
This, needless to say, bled into my narration of highlights on SportsCenter, after two or three years of which, I happened to draw as my only play-by-play assignment, an Astros-Phillies game at The Vet. Bruno came out with me to the ballpark and introduced me to Harry who immediately asked “So, Keith, how many innings of me are you going to?” He then laughed loudly and offered me any help I might need – volunteering, on the spot, a couple of tips on why the Phils would be resting some of their regulars.
I can also say, having known his son Todd, first of the Mets and now of the Rays, nearly as long as I knew Harry, that Harry must’ve been a pretty good parent, because Todd’s as good a guy as you’d want to know.

New York, New York

Two new major league ballparks, opening in the same city, in the same week. Hard to believe, never to be duplicated.

Not counting the other time it happened.
In New York, no less. With one of them being built for the Mets.
We have to be a bit generous in our geographical definitions (“New York” consisted only of Manhattan until 1898 when Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Richmond were merged in as part of “Greater New York”). And we have to be a bit generous in our stadium definitions (a 19th Century “major league ballpark” could be constructed in a manner of days).
Nevertheless, on Thursday, April 22, 1886, Erasmus Whitman, owner of the original New York Mets, opened his magnificent new stadium for the American Association club at the former St. George Cricket Grounds on Staten Island (a stone’s throw from the current ballpark of the Yankees’ A-ball affiliate). Whitman owned the Staten Island Ferry and the ballclub was just another draw to get people to ride it.
On Sunday, April 25, 1886, the Mets’ American Association rivals in Brooklyn opened brand new Ridgeway Park, a facility they would use only on Sundays. Two parks in four days, just like the Yankees and Mets are doing this week.
For the record, a quick thumb through Philip J. Lowry’s bible of baseball stadia, Green Cathedrals, the “two new parks, one city” trick also happened on at least two other occasions. In 1884, Boston’s Union Association team unveiled two different new fields, Dartmouth Street Grounds (April 30), and Congress Street Grounds (date unknown). And in 1889, the Giants opened the first of the three versions of the Polo Grounds at 155th Street and Eighth Avenue in New York. Weeks later, Brooklyn’s Washington Park burned to the ground and was rebuilt very promptly as an enlarged and significantly changed facility, also called Washington Park. Again, two new parks in the same city in the same year.
I hope to bring you extensive, irrelevant, snapshot filled coverage of the startups at Citifield and Yankee Stadium Junior in this space.

Here Come The Yankees?

New York (American) opens 0-2 against what it likes to think is its weakest divisional foe. Sabathia’s ERA is 12.46 and is, by nearly five runs, the best among the starters, and Wang got two-thirds of his outs on the ground and still got torched. Oh, and Teixeira’s 1-for-9.

Too early to panic? The Pirates already gave Andy LaRoche a day off “to breathe” (there’s your problem son, you’re not breathing) and they’re in Pittsburgh. This is New York, the capital of sports panic ever since Andrew Freedman used to change managers of the Giants every two months in the 1890’s. Let the panic party begin.
If A.J. Burnett follows the pattern (and I don’t think he will; he was lights out in the spring), there will be a full-fledged hair-on-fire week until the new Stadium opens. The Yankee mantra after Alex Rodriguez’s injury/operation/house arrest was “we have all the pitching; we don’t need to score runs.” This ignored just how little protection Teixeira would be afforded in a Rodriguez-free line-up, or the dubiousness of Gardner’s capacity to create (think Michael Bourn), or the uncertainty of how much of Posada would make it back.
If the Yanks go 0-3 the only question will be whodoes the panicking. Do not rule out The Boss. Although he was reported to be “in and out” in Tampa, the only time I saw George Steinbrenner his presence offered a complete contradiction. His wheelchair was being pushed towards the elevators near the Press Box of the stadium now named for him – always a shocking thing to see for the first time. On the other hand, he was bright-eyed and when my friend David Cone gingerly went over to say hello – fearing he’d have to reintroduce himself – Steinbrenner happily yelled “I can see it’s you David. I wish you were still pitching for me.”
Sabathia, of course, got lit (nine runs each, I believe) his first two starts last year, and should be fine when he finds his rhythm, presumably well in advance of any 21st Century reenactment of The Ed Whitson Saga. And in wagering sanguine on Teixeira, I’ll now repeat my warnings from last weekend, with the endorsement of no less a sage than Lou Piniella: in the new Yankee Stadium, a lefthanded hitter might just as well stand at the plate with one of those t-shirt-shooting bazookas and aim it at the porch. “Pitch to the center of the park,” Lou said last Saturday, “because if you pitch to right field we’re gonna run out of baseballs.”
The real fear is about Wang. He was not sharp in the spring, he was not sharp in the exhibition game in the Bronx, he was not sharp in Baltimore. There is nothing worse than reading about other people’s fantasy teams, but an AL-only auction with ESPN fantasy experts, I watched Wang get nominated 93th overall and draw a final bid of $4. There was still money on the table (Erik Bedard had just gone for $9; John Danks would go two names later for $9). There is no expectation that the 19-game winner will suddenly reappear – and for the Yankees this belief is dogma.
If these fantasy dollar figures tell you anything you will injure yourself trying to suss out this league. Short rosters (19 players) mean the $260 goes further (about 18% further). Nevertheless: I thought I was going crazy bidding Sabathia up to $49. Halladay promptly went for $58 and Liriano for $50. I put my money on my Teixeira-related mouth ($56) to the titters of the cognoscenti. Miguel Cabrera went for $75. And the boast: Nelson Cruz for $5, eleven nominees before Carlos Pena hammered at $38.
Enough. I just said there’s nothing worse than reading what I proceeded to write two paragraphs about.
Lastly, thanks to all who sent condolences about my mother. In an era of Mantle, Murcer, Munson, and later Reggie and Catfish, her favorite player was always Roy White, which should tell you all you need to know about her fandom.

Marie Olbermann, 1929-2009

(Much of this post is based on a script written for tonight’s television show)

marie olbermann smiles copy.jpg

 

My mother passed away Saturday night.

This remembrance is not going to be a medical history – though lord knows Mom was the world’s foremost authority on her own health. Nor is it going to consist of me telling you she was the proverbial saint; although I can hear her saying: “go ahead; I‘m not going to disagree with you.Who’s going to contradict you? It is not going to be a full biography – suffice to say she was a gifted pre-school teacher and a legendary authority on opera and, somewhere, she is going to be genuinely disappointed that I didn’t get Placido Domingo to sing at the memorial service.I thought instead it was best to focus on something for which she became, and remained, pretty famous, literally until the day she died.

My mother was one of the best-known baseball fans in this country. She attended Yankees from 1934 through 2004, and she watched or listened to every one she didn’t go to, up until last month. My guess is, she went to at least 1500 of them, most in Box 47E in the suddenly “old” Yankee Stadium.

As recently as March 13th, Mets Manager Jerry Manuel came over to me before his team’s exhibition game against the Tigers in Lakeland, Florida, and asked me how she was. He was the fifth or sixth active baseball figure to do so, this year. They have averaged at least one or two a month, for nearly a decade. Last Saturday afternoon, not six hours before Mom died, a New York Yankees executive made reference to that which had made Mom famous in the ballparks.

And trust me: Mom loved being famous in the ballparks.

Even if that fame had to be achieved in the way it was, on June 17th, 2000, when the sudden, and growing, inability of the ill-fortuned second baseman Chuck Knoblauch to make any kind of throw, easy or hard, to first base, culminated in him picking up a squib off the bat of Greg Norton of the White Sox and throwing it not back towards first, but, instead, off the roof of the Yankees’ dugout where it picked up a little reverse english and smacked my mother right in the bridge of her glasses.

Chuck was in the middle of losing his beloved father at that time and though I thought I “got” what that meant to him, I didn’t really understand it until today as I wrote this, and struggled to find the right keys, let alone the right words.

In any event, for three days in 2000, Mom was on one or both of the covers, of The New York Post and The New York Daily News and Newsday. She was somewhere in every newspaper in America.

And all this happened, while I was the host of the Game of the Week, for Fox. Literally sitting in a studio in Los Angeles, watching a bank of monitors with a different game on every monitor and recognizing instantly what must have happened (based on a lifetime of knowing the camera angles in the ballpark in which I grew up). I said, maybe too matter-of-factly, “that probably hit my mother.” The crew laughed and I repeated it. More laughs. Then the next shot was of an older woman being led up the aisle towards an aid station – my mother.

I actually got to do a highlight cut-in for the broadcast by Joe Buck and Tim McCarver of a game at Dodger Stadium, and said, as I remember it: “Chuck Knoblauch’s throwing problem is getting personal. He picks up Greg Norton’s grounder, bounces it off the dugout roof and hits… my mother. I’ve talked to Mom, she’s fine, she’ll be back out there tomorrow. Joe? Tim?

Silence.

The next week we pre-taped an interview, me in our L.A. studios and Mom in my childhood home (the photo of her above is from that conversation, and my thanks to my old boss at Fox Sports, David Hill, for letting me re-run the interview tonight on tv). I concluded it by noting my status as a memorabilia collector and asked her if she’d give me the baseball with which she was hit. She said I could bid on it like anybody else. For the rest of the year, any time Fox broadcast a game from Yankee Stadium, Mom got on tv. We even talked about her during the World Series broadcasts that fall, during which began the ritual that continues still: players - players who were at the game, players who only heard about the game, players of all kind – ask me about my Mom.

Since the day it happened, I’ve been told Chuck Knoblauch has been mortified by it. Chuck: give yourself a break.You made her famousShe loved it. She couldn’t have been happier if they had let her pinch-hit for you.

A full circle, that is.

It was my mother who was the fan in our family. My Dad likes the game enough, but the Yankees traded his favorite player and he’s still mad at them. This happened late in 1948. But it was Mom who introduced me to the game, and in my teenaged years when we went nearly every day, it was she who trundled me and my sister to the ballpark. It was on her tv that I came to love the sport, and by her side that I began to understand it. And, sitting next to her, that I began to understand that I was not going to be any damn good playing it and if I wanted “in” – maybe I’d better try talking about it.

Thus was born a career, the results of which you see now. At least half of the ham comes from her – she was an aspiring ballerina – and when I keep talking and talking – for good or for ill – that’s pretty much all her. What I don’t have evidence of, are the thousand hours she spent driving me to and from school so I could work on the newspaper or announce the hockey game. In retrospect it’s obvious she was – to adapt a phrase — a Media Mom.

It was the proverbial “sudden illness” – in the best of senses: She had no apparent symptoms until two weeks ago; she was not severely afflicted until ten days ago; the treatment she received lessened her pain; and she never awakened and thus never had to hear – nor did any of us have to say - you have terminal cancer. I’m not going to end with a harangue about how you need to go see your doctor (because not feeling so bad does not mean you aren’t sick) though you should keep that in mind. Knowing that those who have watched or read my work have always overwhelmed me with their support, and how personally they take all this – if you are so inclined, instead of flowers or cards, make a donation to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, or St Jude’s Hospital, they do such important work there.

Marie Olbermann is survived by her husband - my Dad, by my sister Jen and her husband, and their two kids, Jacob and Eve – Mom’s grandchildren. She’s survived by her cousins Robert and Bill Schlumbohm, and their families; by just about everybody in baseball… and… by me.

Good night, Mom, and good luck.

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