Foul Balls; And 2010 Forecasts: NL East

Before we
wrap up the National League forecast, the Denard Span incident this afternoon
in Tampa (he hits his own mother with a foul ball – and she is wearing one of
his uniforms at the time) called to mind three equally unlikely events with
players and fans and balls flying into the stands:

1. August
17th, 1957. Richie Ashburn, who got to the Baseball Hall of Fame largely by
virtue of his ability to keep fouling off pitches he didn’t
like, until he got one he did like, fouled one off into the stands
at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. It struck – of all people – Alice
Roth, the wife of the sports editor of the newspaper The Philadelphia Bulletin. They
had to carry Mrs. Roth (and her broken nose) off on a stretcher. While
they were so doing, Ashburn, who was still
at bat and still fouling pitches off, hit Mrs. Roth with another foul

2. Of
course, on June 17th, 2000, Chuck Knoblauch of the New York Yankees picked up a
ground ball and threw it wildly towards first base. It instead hit a fan
sitting behind the dugout, breaking her eyeglasses. The fan, of course, was my

And perhaps the unlikeliest of the events: After Span got hit, the Associated
Press was reminded of the Bob Feller incident (reminded by Bob Feller, of
course). On May 14, 1939, when the Hall of Fame flamethrower was still just 20
years old, he threw a pitch at Comiskey Park which some member of the White Sox
fouled into the seats – striking Feller’s mother. May 14, 1939 was, of course,
Mother’s Day.

Now to
finish up the NL:

the obvious sleeper, if that’s not too much of an oxymoron. If Troy Glaus and
Jason Heyward produce as Atlanta expects them, Bobby Cox will have a
competitive final year. If they exceed expectations (and Heyward gives off the
vibe of a Pujolsian, From-Day-One-Superstar) the Braves might actually air out
the division. The rotation gets a little sketchy behind Hanson and Jurrjens,
and there is little or no room for injury (if Glaus gets profoundly hurt or
Heyward is Jordan Schafer
, Eric Hinske and Omar Infante will be playing nearly every
day). And of course it would not be the Braves without another new closer.
Here, updated from its first appearance in this space last summer, is the Bobby
Cox bullpen honor roll:

1. Joe
Boever, 1990

2. Mark
Grant and Kent Mercker, 1990

3. Mercker
and Juan Berenguer, 1991

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

Ligtenberg and Mike Remlinger, 2000

Rocker, 2000-01

14. Steve
Karsay, 2001

15. John
Smoltz, 2001-04

16. Danny
Kolb, 2005

17. Chris
Reitsma, 2005

18. Kyle
Farnsworth, 2005

Reitsma, 2006

20. Ken
Ray, 2006

21. Bob
Wickman, 2006-07

22. Rafael
Soriano, 2008

23. Manny
Acosta, 2008

24. John
Smoltz, 2008

Soriano, 2008

26. Mike
Gonzalez, 2008-09

Soriano, 2009

28. Billy
Wagner, 2010.

could make just two starters out of Anibal Sanchez, Nate Robertson, Andrew Miller, Sean West,
Ryan Tucker, Rick Vandenhurk, and Chris Volstad, the Marlins might be the
favorites. By mid-season this could be the most potent offense in the league,
because all Florida needs to produce seven house-wreckers in a row is for one
of the following three kids to live up to his promise: Logan Morrison, Gaby
Sanchez, Mike Stanton (if the Heyward-esque Stanton explodes to big league
quality, you put him in the outfield, you put the fabulous Chris Coghlan back at second or third,
and move either Jorge Cantu or Dan Uggla to first). Florida’s biggest question
mark is the bullpen, where Leo Nunez may or may not succeed.

All that
can be said about NEW YORK is: Sigh. I love the people who run this club, from
the ticket takers to the owners. But this year the wheels could fall off even
worse – and farther – than last. I think Jason Bay is a legitimate power
source, and I thought Jeff Francoeur a steal, but that begs the question of
what the Mets now expect from the guy who is still their top offensive
prospect, Fernando Martinez. If Bay, Beltran, and Francoeur are to be the
outfield for awhile, why is Martinez still there? Plus, the silence
about Beltran is ominous. The
ominousness of Daniel Murphy’s bat is silent. And there is nothing – nothing –
dependable in any of the three categories of pitchers, except for Johan
Santana, Pedro Feliciano, and Frankie Rodriguez, and the latter is just another
closer now. It is absolutely plausible that by June 1 the only questions will
be whether or not to give Ike Davis a taste of the majors, whether or not to
start screwing up Jenrry Mejia the way the Yankees messed with Joba
Chamberlain, and if some Japanese team will take Luis Castillo off their hands.

I’m not
the only person who believed Buster Olney’s story about PHILADELPHIA and Ryan
Howard – if not the plausibility of a swap for Pujols, then at least internal
musings about his decline against lefthanded pitchers and his decreasing
success against breaking pitches. When you are chewed up and spat out by Damaso
Marte, you are not exactly still in the same league as Pujols, or Adrian Gonzalez
for that matter. I’m a little suspicious of the assumed improvement in putting
Placido Polanco in at third (he’s 34, he fell off appreciably last year, he is
moving to a tougher position). Raul Ibanez seems to represent that Sword of
Damacles hanging over any team trying for three in a row (if you haven’t had a
significant position player injury in the first two seasons, you’re going to
in the third). I am not sold on the
rotation (Blanton, Contreras, Moyer, Kendrick – two of these guys must do well),
and the bullpen looks to be sketchier than a year ago.

There are
ways WASHINGTON can suddenly stop being a last-place team (the Ian Desmond
decision was superb – it needs to be followed by similar decisions involving Drew
Storen and Stephen Strasburg, and maybe new limbs grown by Jordan Zimmermann
and Chien-Ming Wang – quickly). Also, I think he’s a quality individual, but
the retention of Jim Riggleman as manager – after ten seasons that have produced
only one finish better than third (a weak second for the Cubs in 1998) – makes
little sense here. Unless Mike Rizzo is thinking of Pat Listach or Rick
Eckstein as a future big league manager, respectability for this club is going
to be the time it takes them to swap out Riggleman plus
the time it will take to break in his
replacement. Why not skip the first step?

I’ll take the long odds that the Braves’ breaks fall the right way and Cox goes
out with a winner in a tight race over the Phillies. The Marlins will hit a ton
but waste the brilliance of Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco by using 11
different fifth starters and half a dozen closers. The Mets will have their
nightmare collapse and be wondering if they can unload not only Castillo, but
maybe Beltran and Reyes, too. They will finish a few games ahead of the
Nationals – but only a few.


LEAGUE PREDICTIONS: As mentioned, I like the Braves, Reds and the Rockies for the division titles. The Wild Card would seem to be a battle between the Phillies and the Giants – I really like San Francisco’s rotation, and I really do not like Philadelphia’s chances of getting through another season without physical calamity. So let’s assume the Rockies finish with the best record – they should handle the Giants, and the Braves’ experience should make them favorites over the Reds. An Atlanta-Colorado NLCS? I think the Rockies win that one, as much as I’d be rooting for the man I always greet as the guy the Braves once traded to the Yankees for Bob Tillman, who had been traded to the Yankees for Elston Howard, meaning Coxy was as good as Elston Howard….



    You said: “All that can be said about NEW YORK is: Sigh.” I hope they do well this year anyway… for your sake. 🙂 Good luck!!


    Oh…. duh… thanks, Nightowl! In my defense (not sure I have one) I’ve been stumbling over and into things all day long (stubbed two toes on the same foot at different times) so I guess it’s just a clumsy day for me. Oops! 😀


    Here’s a twofer foul ball story for you – of the Little League variety. I’ll try to make this as succinct as possible.
    Summer of ’79, I’m pitching to a kid from my neighborhood (we’ll call him Ricky) and he manages to foul a high, inside pitch off of his own face. He ends up crying and goes to sit on his (enormous, loud-mouthed) mother’s lap down the first base line. His mother proceeds to yell at me for the next few innings.
    During Ricky’s next at bat his mother is really letting me have it, screaming that I’m a dirty pitcher and that I shouldn’t be allowed on the field. Ricky ends up swinging late at one of my offerings, lining the ball off of the leg of his mother’s lawn chair – causing it to bend in half and send her sprawling/rolling toward the team bench. After I struck out Ricky, she grabbed him and the broken lawn chair and left before the next inning.
    There was joy in Mudville that night.

  4. nightowl4music

    @Entireofitself Anything to help out a fellow F.o.O. 😉

    @Clarybird Bwhahahahaha ROFLMAO 😀 Talk about instant karma…….did either of them ever show up for a game again??


    @nightowl4music – IIRC, I think Keith is a Mets fan, as well, so Entireofitself wasn’t completely off the mark. 🙂

    @clarybird – Oh, for a time machine and a camcorder, to capture the footage of THAT event!!

    @Our esteemed blogger – And I thought the Knoblauch thing was an isolated incident. It’s apparently not too safe for women to be in the good seats at baseball games, LOL. I must say, the Ashburn tale neatly illustrates the phrase, “adding insult to injury!”

    As a PS, I was saddened that the 7th anniversary of Countdown wasn’t commemorated by anything more than those very fleeting clips at the start of the show. I was all psyched to see more classic footage as the #1 story, only to have my eyeballs assailed with images of Sarah Palin. Reading comments tonight on the “intertubes”, I’m not the only one who was disappointed, so I hope you’ll give us some retro goodness on your 8th anniversary…and LOTS more on the 10th anniversary! 🙂


    Stephen Hawking can no doubt rattle an equation off the top of his head, calculating the physical odds of a ballplayer’s own mother getting hit with a flying ball. The odds of that happening must be . . . staggering.

    Maybe these guys are really aiming for the ex-wife in the hope that the flying ball puts her out for a few minutes. But does that ever happen? Noooooo. Stoopid ball ends up smacking someone’s innocent mama instead!



    OK friends, I’ll add an epilogue to the Clarybird chronicles of 1979.
    To give you an idea of what Ricky’s mom looked like, just think of the Milwaukee Brewers “Barrel Man” mascot from the 70’s.
    Yes, Ricky and his mom kept coming back throughout the years, but I don’t remember ever receiving any more verbal abuse. I was a reasonably mild-mannered, respectful kid back in my childhood and never gave this woman a reason to dislike me. Whereas I once avoided this woman’s gaze in hope of avoiding her ire, from that point on, I couldn’t help but smirk whenever I saw her – knowing it was killing her inside because she knew why I was smiling.
    To his credit, Ricky was a pretty nice kid, in spite of his mother (and hen-pecked father), and we were always reasonably friendly to each other.

    Much belated condolences for the loss of your parents. Keep up the good work – it is because of you and (The Shadow) Rachel Maddow, that I have followed these past few elections just like the pennant races. As Stan Lee would say “Excelsior!”

  8. jeterandiborn62674

    Keith, in your predictions do you have one NLDS match-up between the Rockies and the Giants? Because that can’t happen. The Rockies would have to play the East or Central winner with the fewest wins.


    Looks like your Phillies prediction is already coming into fruition—Blanton’s hurt, and I find it hard for them to keep relying on Ibanez and Utley, both of whom aren’t getting younger. The Braves’ rotation may be thin, but they have a younger core, and if this isn’t their year, 2011 will be. It should be a close race regardless, with the Marlins playing spoiler (their rotation is thinner than Atlanta’s).

  10. edfromfb

    Couldn’t agree more on Jim Riggleman, Mr. Olbermann. As much as I’ve heard that Manny Acta was awful in his first go-round as a skipper, I think he was the perfect manager for a team that’s building the way Washington is, through the draft, and by acquiring other teams’ young talent in return for veterans with expiring contracts.

    The Nationals should have let Acta grow with the team or replaced him with the sort of up and coming manager who would be part of their long-term plan instead of Riggleman, who figures to guide them through a few more losing seasons and then step aside.

    You might be right about Listach too, Lou Piniella referred to him as, “one of the game’s rising managerial stars,” when Washington hired him as 3rd base coach a few years back. Thanks for taking a serious look at the Nationals instead of a chance to get some easy jokes in on the Nats. With Strasburg, Zimmermann, Zimmerman, and hard-nosed pitchers like John Lannan, the rest of the East will come to regret giving Washington all the high draft picks they’ve been forced to take.

    Ed –

  11. tribegal

    When I heard of the Denard Span incident from a friend of mine yesterday, the first thing I thought of was … well, Chuck Knoblauch & Keith’s mom.

    But my second thought was the astonishing coincidence that it happened on the very same day that this Peanuts comic ran in daily newspapers. Uncanny.
    Onward … since April is not only the beginning of the baseball season, but National Poetry Month as well, and given that baseball & poetry traditionally go together,* I’m off to compose the saga of Clarybird, Ricky’s mom, and the broken lawn chair — a story that surely has “epic poem” written all over it. 🙂

    Two short postscripts, one re: Keith’s entry on the fantasy baseball draft. Casey Blake is worth way more than a dollar. Nothing flashy, just solid, steady, a reliable 20 HRs/80-90 RBIs year in, year out, and — not that these qualities can be revealed in statistics, I guess — a good clubhouse guy w/ a dry sense of humor. Just a good egg … a bargain at 10x the price.
    I also regretted the lack of ballyhoo for Countdown’s 7th anniversary, but on the other hand, nothing will ever top the appearance of Sesame Street‘s Count von Count on Countdown‘s 1st anniversary show. Nothing. (Geez Louise, was it that long ago? I remember it as if it were the other day …)

    *Several baseball poems are listed on the American Academy of Poets’ National Poetry Month Web site. (Currently, the link they give to Marianne Moore’s “Baseball & Writing” is incorrect, but you can find it here. It’s worth a look.) They don’t provide the text for Donald Hall’s “Baseball,” but the literary magazine AGNI has an excerpt — “The Ninth Inning.” (“In New Hampshire, late August …/asters begin a late pennant drive/ in front of the barn; pink hollyhocks/ wilt and sag like teams out of the race.”)

  12. historymike

    Ashburn was taking batting practice one day and an opposing player told him he’d had a fight with his wife and she was sitting in a particular location. Ashburn hit the first pitch on a line two seats from where she was sitting. The guy yelled out, “Two seats over and you’ve got her!”

    Ted Williams once threw his bat–not so much into the stands; he just threw it–and it hit the housekeeper of the then-Red Sox GM, Joe Cronin.

  13. pepefreeus

    Mike Stanton’s unwise trade away from the Braves in mid-1995 is rarely remarked upon, but it’s always stuck in my craw.

    His perennial presence in the middle of key October innings for the Yankees was always a mixed thing for me. I liked him personally and was happy for his success but I couldn’t help but wonder how well he would have been doing as a set up man or closer back in Atlanta.

    Hoping for a happier set of circumstances in six months time.

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