Results tagged ‘ Don Mattingly ’

2012 Previews: N.L. West

Yes, I know.

This is the latest “preview” of a baseball divisional race ever written. It is penned with the full knowledge of the Dodgers’ 10-3 start, and the injury swarm that seems to be forming in the Arizona outfield, and the demise of Brian Wilson. My apologies: I got kinda behind thanks to Ozzie Guillen and Fidel Castro and stuff.

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I’ve known Don Mattingly for just under 30 years now. To try to define the eternal nature of Opening Day in a piece for CNN in 1983 I interviewed the oldest old-timer on the Yankees, my late friend Bobby Murcer, and the youngest kid on the squad, a guy who was still wearing uniform number 46 named Mattingly. He didn’t say much, but somewhere there is still a tape of him as the interview closed, thanking me (for some reason). Several seasons, one batting championship, an MVP, and about five Gold Gloves later,  I remember going in to the Yankee clubhouse before a game to ask him one question, only to find him answering a question about selecting bats from a fellow fromSports Illustrated. Then there was a second question. And a third. And a tenth. And a twentieth. And Mattingly answered them all. A lifetime later, in his first trip back to New York as a manager, I watched him do every interview, sign every autograph, and smile at everybody who said hello.

Finally I asked him how, and why, he did it. “Why not? Doesn’t cost me much. I smile, or I do an impression of a smile, or I’m interested, or I try to be interested, and when I need something from that person, they usually do their best.” I thought that was deeply revealing, and although it might read a little cynical, I didn’t feel that it was. Don Mattingly is genuinely patient with everybody. But when the patience – as it inevitably must – runs out, he manages to simulate it a little longer than the rest of us.

This might define the greatest skill a baseball manager can have.

This might also define why, in his second season, Mattingly is beginning to be viewed as one of the game’s up-and-coming managerial stars. With no managerial experience at all, he willed a pretty limp ballclub with the worst ownership in the sport in at least a decade, which had four different closers, and exactly one guy with more than 65 RBI, to three games above .500 and the seventh best record in the league.

This does not mean he is going to put them in the playoffs this year. Simply put, the Dodgers are not going to get 224 RBI each from Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, nor 75 saves from Javy Guerra. They are going to be hard-pressed to compete if they don’t correct the disproportions of the offense through the first thirteen games:

PLAYERS                  HR               RBI

Ethier & Kemp          11                 36

Everybody Else          1                 24

“Everybody else” in LOS ANGELES seems to be named Ellis. They aren’t, of course. But they do have something in common. With the exception of Jose Uribe, they’re all pretty good defensive players, and as he’s shown early, his sub Jerry Hairston can often be a defensive revelation, at least in short bursts. The Dodgers also have a deep bullpen with a lot more depth available in Albuquerque. I am suspicious of the starting beyond Kershaw and perhaps Billingsley. Still, if the starters come through and the inevitable fits-and-starts of young Dee Gordon prove a net-plus, the Dodgers could compete in what is evidently going to be a depleted division.

ARIZONA looks like it will be struggling along with a makeshift outfield. This may not be a fatal thing; the team loves A.J. Pollock, and Gerardo Parra is at minimum an asset on defense. But I think the Diamondbacks and those picking them to succeed again in this division are really guilty of making assumptions about the pitching. Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy were both likely to correct downwards under the best of circumstances, Josh Collmenter’s success was illusory, Joe Saunders is a journeyman, Trevor Cahill an uncertainty, and Trevor Bauer a rookie who likes to run up on to the mound and throw a warm-up pitch all in one motion and I keep thinking of the late Eddie Feigner, the softball legend from The King And His Court. The dominant bullpen of 2011 is – even if it repeats its success – made up of spare parts (and a lot of them, spare parts the Oakland A’s traded for reasons other than money, which scares me). The Diamondbacks’ best bet might turn out to be a largely rebuilt rotation, made up of Bauer and Wade Miley and maybe even Tyler Skaggs, because I think starting pitching is going to decide the division.

That is what SAN FRANCISCO has. No offense, a lot weaker bullpen than everybody thinks (and that was before Wilson’s injury), and the sport’s second-worst management of young players next to the annual abuse drama in Cincinnati. But of course nobody since the 1971 Orioles has had exactly enough starting pitching, and even their four 20-game winners somehow contrived to lose the World Series. Here are Cain and Bumgarner under contract forever, and a revivified Barry Zito, and a Ryan Vogelsong who is surprising even the Giants with unexpected health – and yet there is Lincecum pitching as if that painful-looking delivery of his has become a painful-feeling delivery. With Eric Surkamp ailing and Jonathan Sanchez traded there is very little depth should something prove genuinely wrong with the Little Lord Fauntleroy of the Pitcher’s Mound.

And speak to me not of Santiago Casilla and Bullpen By Committee – the problem with the Committee isn’t the need to rely on multiple closers but the way that need deranges the roles of the set-up guys, and without the set-up guys fitting tightly into well-grooved slots, the 2010 World Champs don’t even make the playoffs. This team might fall away quickly, which would at least allow them to audition Heath Hembree as Wilson’s successor (unless Bruce Bochy decides it would be fun to give Guillermo Mota or maybe Al Holland a 47th shot).

There is something wrong in COLORADO and it is being obscured by the ultimate feelgood story for rapidly aging fans and writers alike (“Guy Who Cubs Wanted To Make A Minor League Coach 29 Years Ago Wins Big League Game”). It’s lovely to see Jamie Moyer still successful when his exact contemporary Bo Jackson already has an artificial hip and is throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, but it does remind me of Phil Niekro’s relative success in his career codas in New York and Cleveland: What is this, baseball during World War II? All the non 4-F’s are on the richer teams? Where are the Moscosos and the Chatwoods and the Pomeranzes and the Whites and why did you trade for them if you weren’t going to use them? And by the way, why are you auditioning a 37-year old first-time closer? And how come there is no actual third baseman, nor even one in AAA to fill in until Nolan Arenado is ready?

This means SAN DIEGO might sneak out of last place. Cory Luebke is on the verge of greatness and Chase Headley might be joining him. If Carlos Quentin comes back early enough to make any kind of contribution the Padres will have a better day-to-day line-up than the Rockies. Their rotations and bullpen already seem about even (though I’m not sure who takes over for Huston Street when they deal him at the deadline).

THE 2012 NL WEST FORECAST:

OK. You give me a 10-3 start and the injuries in Arizona and San Francisco and I’ll take the still-long odds against the Dodgers, with the Diamondbacks second, Giants third, Padres edging the Rockies for fourth. The problem, even with two weeks of baseball clarifying the view in the crystal ball, is that all five of these teams have paper-thin depth and another injury (Ethier again? Maybe Tulowitzki’s six early errors are hinting at one?) could topple all forecasts.

THE 2012 OVERALL FORECAST:

Again, kind of late. But I do not abandon my forecasts even when the early season suggests they’re bad ones (I’m looking at you, Phillies). In the NL I’ve already picked the Phils, Cardinals and now Dodgers. The east will produce both Wild Cards, probably the Braves and Nationals, and I guess I like the former (though now we see just how much a built-in one-game playoff will blunt not just the last-day excitement, but also predictions – you’re supposed to pick two wild cards and then choose which will win their single-game decider?). Let’s assume the Wild Card winner knocks off the best record (probably St. Louis) and the Phils’ experience propels them past L.A. That means a Braves-Phillies NLCS and I can’t see anybody beating the Phils’ front three.

The American League is a little easier. Tampa, Detroit, and Texas win the divisions. The Angels and Jays are the Wild Card and the Angels are likelier to win that. Detroit has the weakest division and thus the best shot at the best record, but sadly all that pitching and all that offense only prevails over intervals of ten games or more when the defense is as bad as it is. Thus the Wild Card Angels over Detroit, Tampa (finally) over Texas, and the Rays over the not-quite-good-enough Cherubs in the ALCS.

This leaves me with the same Rays-Phillies World Series I wrongly picked last year, which proves that even making your seasonal predictions 15 days into the season may not be any advantage at all.

Either Of These Guys Look Familiar?

(c) Jon SooHoo, Los Angeles Dodgers

The first time I interviewed the gentleman at the right, he was a week shy of his 22nd birthday, and I was just past my 24th. We each had bad mustaches and dark hair. Several things have occurred since.

The Dodger uniform does still look a little strange on Don Mattingly, but it’s the same smile and the same generosity of time. Trivia about our 1983 interview for CNN: it was on Opening Day, and I chose him because it was his first. My other interviewee was the late Bobby Murcer, because it was his sixteenth.
Also, at that point, Mr. Mattingly wore uniform number 46, and had already experienced the first of eleven managerial firings that marked his career of thirteen years (plus seven games in 1982). By contrast, Mattingly became a coach in 2004 and spent seven years doing it – all under one manager.

Chuck Tanner

I cannot convey to you how frightening it was to be a frequent presence on a major league baseball field at the age of 17. Every player seemed to be about 30 feet tall, and every club official and stadium security officer seemed to be within 30 seconds of chucking me back into the stands, no matter how many credentials I might have had. And the team managers? Ralph Houk? Billy Martin? Earl Weaver? 


To see them approach was to feel the fight-or-flight instinct surge in my veins. And not in that empowering, life-affirming “fight” way, sadly.
I was a photographer, nominally working for the hobby magazine Mike Aronstein had inexplicably put me in charge of the year before, Collectors Quarterly. Certainly we had need of our own images of big league ballplayers, but in fact I was on an illicit mission to snap them for an upcoming second set of the “SSPC Pure Card” baseball cards Mike had published earlier in that year of 1976. I had written the backs for the first set, and another fellow had taken most of the photos for them, only it turned out he didn’t really have any ballpark credentials and was only on the field because he’d been a batboy and knew all of the cops at Shea Stadium and they just let him sneak in. When the leagues and the clubs and Topps and the courts Topps sued us in found out about that, he wasn’t going to again get to be on any fields for a long, long time.
So Mike had written the obligatory letter to the Yankees supplying copies of the magazine and asking them to give me, usually no more than once or twice a homestand, pre-game access to the field to take photos of the players. My instructions were simple: get anybody you can, especially guys in new uniforms. Action shots, candid shots, whatever – but you’ll also have to get some portraits. You’ll have to ask the players to pose for you.
Gulp.

By the end of May I think I had screwed up the courage to ask a few guys to pose before each game. I remember Jim Colborn of the Brewers actually asking me what the magazine I claimed to represent was, and my promising him to send a copy to him, and then he kindly stood still for a few portraits. But by early June, I believe all my other conversations with the big leaguers consisted of “Pardon me, Mr. —-, may I get a couple of shots of you for Collectors Quarterly magazine?” followed by the answer “grunt” or “no” or “silence.”
Then the Oakland A’s came to town. It wasn’t official yet, but with Reggie Jackson and Ken Holtzman traded to Baltimore, Jim Hunter long since gone to New York, and Vida Blue, Joe Rudi, and Rollie Fingers on the block before the June 15 trade deadline, Oakland was already in its post-Championship Era. Still a forceful team that would nearly win the A.L. West that year, but truly in decline. They had their third manager in four years (and would, in fact, trade him that winter in one of owner Charles Finley’s desperate efforts to suck the value out of anybody who might want out of his rapidly collapsing club). We only had a photo of this manager in his previous uniform, and so of all the A’s, I approached him first to pose.
“Pardon me, Mr. Tanner, may I get a couple of shots of you for Collectors Quarterly magazine?”
Chuck Tanner beamed at me. “Of course you can, son.”
He stuck out his hand.
I had no idea what to do.
“I’m Chuck Tanner,” he said, both affably and sincerely. A faint bell dinged slowly in the back of my slow-moving mind. He’s shaking hands with you, dummy. I introduced myself.
“Very nice to meet you, Keith. What do you need me to do?”
I coughed out something about just standing there.
He laughed. “Can I smile?”
I laughed and snapped a few shots.
“I’m an amateur photographer,” he said, pleasantly.
I admitted I was too and suggested he could probably tell that.
He laughed again. “No, I wasn’t suggesting that. I’m just noticing you’re not using a flash but you’ve got me sort of side-saddle to the sun. If I move here it’ll probably come out better.”
This went on for several minutes. Not once did I get the impression that Chuck Tanner was trying to mock me or criticize me. He made it seem the most perfectly natural thing in the world for a major league baseball manager to take the time to give the most elemental of tips to a photographer, an hour or so before a ballgame. Then came something I couldn’t believe.
“Do you need me to get you any of my players so you can shoot them, Keith?”
You can guess how the rest of this went. Before I knew it, Dick Bosman and Paul Lindblad and Jim Todd were jogging in from shagging flies in the outfield to volunteer for my shaky camera lens. And as the old, beloved and lamented ritual of infield practice loomed and the media had to get off the field, Chuck Tanner walked back towards his dugout and stopped by and asked if I’d gotten everybody I needed. “Next time you’re back, find me first and I can get you anybody you want.”
I would meet Chuck Tanner again and again as the years went by. I was there as the reporter for UPI Radio as his Pirates won the 1979 National League Championship Series, and when I reminded him of how he had helped me at Yankee Stadium he either remembered it or did an amazing job pretending to, and then waved away security guards who tried to interrupt him while he gave a five-minute interview to the least important network radio reporter at the game. 
A year later, as I took the subway out to Shea Stadium to cover a Mets-Pirates game, I saw somebody who appeared to be Pittsburgh coach Alex Monchak sitting across from me, and then realized the guy to his left was clearly Kent Tekulve, and the fellow standing up holding on to the overhead bar sure looked like Tanner in a jacket and tie. I looked at him, he looked at me, and he suppressed a smile and brought his forefinger to his lips. 45 minutes later, on the field, he walked over and thanked me for not blowing their cover. “It’s so much faster to come out on the subway than the team bus,” he said. “The station is right next to our hotel and it’s really a nice ride, at least on the way out. Wait – you’re that radio photographer guy, aren’t you?”
Chuck Tanner, as you know, died yesterday at the age of 82. When he came back to the big leagues as manager of the White Sox in 1970 he was considered the best managing prospect in the minors. The Pirates thought enough of him to trade Manny Sanguillen to Oakland for him in the winter of 1976-77 (rendering those great shots I’d gotten of him – positioned per his excellent photographic advice – useless) and when the Pirates finally let him go, the Braves quickly snapped him up. He only made the post-season once, winning the World Series in 1979, so Pittsburgh will tell you he is a Hall of Famer anyway. 
And of course I would whole-heartedly agree. And I won’t even bother to address his credentials. May I have done once for somebody what he did for me, and countless others.
SPEAKING OF CARDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY:
Chuck Tanner would appreciate this, for the leavening of the sadness, and the continuity of the game, and the nostalgia – and the photography.
I have the privilege of showing you an uncut sheet of the 2011 Topps Heritage Baseball Refractors Series. The glossy metallic treatment causes the sheet to warp a little, but you should be able to live with it. Topps has done another superb job on recreat
ing the historical original, in this case the 1962 set: you’ll notice nearly all the Mets and Astros are capless (just as they were in ’62, for far different reasons) and the lettering and the posing is very precise. 
Of particular note, in Row 8, fourth from the left you’ll find a rather clunky airbrush job in which a Phillies’ cap is poorly painted onto Cliff Lee’s head. This is not a mistake, but more of a deliberate reference to a 1962 card of catcher Sammy White, who joined the Phils of that year just as those cards were going to press, and who appeared in a kind of reddish-pinkish artist’s charcoal colored hat in the same kind of purgatory-like blank environment Mr. Lee seems posed in.
There is one disturbing image – Row 3, third from the right. It’s the first Topps card, I believe, showing Don Mattingly in any uniform other than the Yankees. Not to say he doesn’t deserve it, it’s just that no matter how often I look at it, it doesn’t compute:
IMG_2558.jpg

Good Luck Retirements?

So now that Gil Meche has quit, does that mean the Kansas City Royals are going to win the World Series this year?

Too laughable for words? How about Milwaukee, because Trevor Hoffman has hung ‘em up while still theoretically still with the Brewers?
If you haven’t clicked away by now, don’t think for a moment that I’m suggesting there’s a predictable correlation between any of these things, but there is a not insubstantial list of occasions in history in which a prominent player – or even star – has retired only to see his last team go on to win the World Series the following fall.
Three of the game’s All-Time greats managed this impossible and dubious trick. Stan Musial was a World Champ in three of his first four seasons in the majors (’42, ’44, ’46 – he spent 1945 in the service) and then slogged it out with some pretty bad Cardinals teams for the next 17 years before retiring after the ’63 campaign. He then watched from the distant front office as the Birds won it all in ’64.
The other two immortals managed to miss out together. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker had been forced out of their player-manager jobs in Detroit and Cleveland respectively after a gambling scandal hit the American League in the late ’20s, and concluded their careers as teammates with the 1928 Philadelphia A’s. They left (Cobb to true retirement, and Speaker to a pinch hitting/managing gig with Newark of the International League), and the Athletics won the 1929 Series. Speaker had won crowns in Boston and Cleveland, but though he was in the Series in his second, third, and fourth full seasons in the majors in Detroit, the Tigers lost all three of those Classics and for everything else he did, Cobb could never claim he won a Series.
The most touching example of this impeccably bad timing would obviously be Don Mattingly, who arrived just after the Yankees lost the 1981 World Series. Mattingly suffered through the worst of the Steinbrenner years at Yankee Stadium from 1982 to 1993 without once seeing the post-season. Mattingly’s ’94 Yanks, a pretty good team, were snuffed out by the strike, and in ’95, when he finally reached the playoffs after having announced his retirement, they blew a chance at what would’ve been his only Series appearance by coughing up the 2-0 lead to the Mariners. The Yankees, with Tino Martinez in Donnie Baseball’s stead at first base, went on to win the Series in 1996.
Amazingly there are at least two other Yankee first basemen who did the same thing, although neither had as much to complain about as did Mattingly. George McQuinn retired after the 1948 season, just before the Yanks went on their run of five straight Championships. But McQuinn had already gotten his ring with the ’47 Yankees.
McQuinn’s retirement opened up a path for Joe Collins to take over much of the work at first base in the Bronx. Collins was hardly cheated: he only played eight full seasons but was on six World’s Champs. When the Yanks decided to trade him to Philadelphia after they lost the 1957 Classic, Collins retired – and New York rebounded to win the 1958 crown.
Mathematically, with all those titles, it’s not surprising that there are at least four other Yankees on this strange list. They began asking “where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” in the winter of 1951 when he retired. With nine rings in just thirteen years on the field, the Yankee Clipper did not get shortchanged. Nevertheless, New York won two more in his first two years away from the game. The talented Jerry Coleman, still going strong in the Padres’ booth just 53 years later, quit the Yanks after the ’57 loss to Milwaukee and, like Collins, missed the ’58 crown. His fellow Yankee infield stalwart Gil McDougald retired after the ’60 loss to Pittsburgh and thus missed the ’61 win over Cincinnati and the ’62 victory over San Francisco. And of the most recent vintage, Mike Mussina’s triumphant climax to his great career, his first 20-win season in his swan song of 2008, also meant he missed out on what would’ve been his only ring in 2009.
This list is probably incomplete; I confess to having done it off the top of my head. But Pee Wee Reese is on it, retiring from the 1958 Dodgers and so on their ’59 Series winners only as a coach. If you want a manager, take Earl Weaver. He retired from the Orioles after 1982. They won it under Joe Altobelli in 1983. Making things worse, the Birds soured on Altobelli in ’85 and Weaver un-retired for two unhappy seasons. 
There are a couple of judgement calls, too. Tim McCarver called it quits from the Phillies at the end of 1979 and went into the broadcasting booth, only to be activated in September, 1980 when rosters expanded. But he was back in civvies for the World Series triumph, which would’ve been his first since St. Louis in 1964. There is also the iffy case of Harvey Haddix. The Baltimore Orioles traded the veteran pitcher to Milwaukee in August of 1965, but Haddix told the Braves he was intending to retire in a month and they shouldn’t waste money or players on obtaining him. In fact, his last major league game was on August 28, 1965, so I’ll leave it to you as to whether or not he qualifies on the bad timing roster considering the ’66 edition of the Orioles won the Series.
Lastly, the most frustrating case I can recall would have to be that of Mel Harder, the Cleveland Indians pitcher for whose Hall of Fame candidacy Ted Williams never stopped lobbying. Harder joined the Tribe in 1928, eight years after they’d taken the Series under player-manager Speaker. He won a tidy 223 games before finally giving up after his 20th season in Cleveland, in 1947. The Indians promptly won the 1948 World Series, in no small measure because of their rookie pitching coach – Harder himself. He stayed in that job through 1963 (and obviously the Indians never won the Series after his first year). To expand our terms a little bit, when the Indians let him go, Harder quickly hooked on as pitching coach of the Mets (five years before their Championship). He would move on to the Reds in ’66 and stay through 1968, exiting just before The Big Red Machine rose to prominence.
So if the Royals or Brewers surprise everybody this year, maybe you know why.

Heir Apparents, Part Two

As promised over the weekend, part two of the “Informed Speculation” about the likeliest successors for each American League managerial post where the incumbent to vanish tomorrow. As I offered in the NL version a few posts down, the breakdown of where the 30 current skippers came from, offers the speculator little hope he’s right:

Managers promoted from own AAA team            0

Managers promoted from coaches                     6

Managers already working in organization           5

Hires directly from other organizations               19

That makes identifying those heir apparents a dicey game. Nevertheless:
BALTIMORE: The Orioles believe Brad Komminsk, managing for them at Bowie, is one of the minors’ top prospects. Fans of the 1983-87 Braves will find this more than a little ironic, since they considered him one of the minors’ top prospects as an outfielder. Interestingly, the other guy in the NL thought to be in Komminsk’s class in the same era? Billy Beane of the Mets, better known as Mr. Moneyball. For outside hires the O’s are said to like Phil Garner.
BOSTON: An interesting question now that Brad Mills has moved on. Before Joe Girardi got the Yankee job, there was a brief whiff of a rumor that Boston pitching coach John Farrell was a candidate there. Between his rapport with the staff and his front office experience, he would seem a likely managerial prospect. Tim Bogar is also highly regarded.
CHICAGO: Joey Cora. Like Oquendo in St. Louis, this is only if somebody else doesn’t get him first.
CLEVELAND: I thought Sandy Alomar (Junior) would be a big league manager back when he was the potent catcher for the Tribe, and I still think so. No change is anywhere near imminent – they like Manny Acta’s style.
DETROIT: Oddly given Jim Leyland’s approaching 25th anniversary of taking over the Bucs, I don’t hear a lot about this. Two men who succeeded him in Pittsburgh, Gene Lamont and Lloyd McClendon, would be obvious choices.
KANSAS CITY: John Gibbons. Hiring a recently dismissed, no-nonsense ex-manager as your bench coach, is the standard process for anointing an heir apparent.
LOS ANGELES: Having already spun off one top manager (Joe Maddon), Mike Scioscia might have another one or two. Ron Roenicke is the bench coach, and Dino Ebel has a ton of minor league managerial experience.
MINNESOTA: Since the Twins hired Gene Mauch in the off-season of 1975-76, only once have they looked outside the organization. In fact, only once have they not looked to their own coaching staff – and even then they hired a coach (Ray Miller from the Orioles, in mid-season 1985). Johnny Goryl, Billy Gardner, Tom Kelly, Ron Gardenhire, and who? This would point us at Scott Ullger.
NEW YORK: Another one not likely to be soon addressed. Third base coach Rob Thomson seems too low-key, bench coach Tony Pena too peripheral. They do think highly of ex-Reds’ skipper Dave Miley, who has produced two firsts in four years managing at AAA. Could there be a Don Mattingly reunion? Only if they ask him – before the Dodgers do.
OAKLAND, SEATTLE: No earthly clue.
TAMPA BAY: Could easily be bench coach Dave Martinez. New hitting coach Derek Shelton was a helluva managing prospect in the Yankees’ system.
TEXAS: See the entry for Kansas City above. Clint Hurdle has “Clint Hurdle will replace Ron Washington for at least the rest of the season, Nolan Ryan said,” written all over him.
TORONTO: Nobody’s said anything formally but it’s Brian Butterfield. He’s been training for this since switching from minor league player to instructor in 1984, but he’s still only 52. Unless the Jays feel some burning need for a name to succeed Cito Gaston, or the desire to bring in a 1993 Toronto great like Alfredo Griffin or Huck Flener, it’s Butterfield. The other prospect in this system, though just a year and a month away from the active roster, is Sal Fasano.

 

Remember The Mayne

For more than a decade, one of the pleasures of popping on to a big league ballfield was the frequency with which I would run in to the peripatetic catcher (and, once, winning pitcher) Brent Mayne. When his career ended with the Dodgers in ’04, a little part of my youth went with it.

He might have been the first player who actually said to me “I used to watch you when I was in high school” and could prove it – he was a senior at Costa Mesa High in California when I got to KTLA in Los Angeles in 1985 – and he probably was about as close to my own age as anybody who could’ve said that, could’ve been (I would be about nine years his elder). Brent never failed to ask about family and mutual friends and career milestones, and his reputation as a strong and affable teammate was widespread throughout the game.
None of that conflicts with the bizarre events of the past week that got such play at the website Deadspin, that began at Brent’s blog:

there was ONE instance in all my years of catching where I gave away a pitch to a hitter. In other words, I told the hitter what was coming. And that instance was JT Snow’s first big league at-bat. It was my second year in the Bigs and we were playing the Yankees in Kansas City towards the end of the season. Neither team had much to play for and JT was one of the expanded roster call-ups for the Yanks.


…as I past (sic) JT to squat down, I mumbled at him “fastball outside.” He promptly drilled a double to left field and that was that. Like I said, that’s probably not why he got his first hit, he may have been too nervous to even hear me. 


Brent gives the background in great detail: he and J.T. Snow had grown up together, from Connie Mack Baseball through the colleges into the minor leagues. The thought of him reaching the majors while Mayne was catching – the fulfillment of it all, was just too much, and like probably dozens of guys before him, Mayne decided to try to give a pal a break.


Except, J.T. Snow went 0-for-5 in his first big league game. It was indeed against the Royals, in Kansas City, on September 20, 1992, and Brent Mayne was catching. But there was no double to left; in fact Snow struck out once and hit into a double play for a neat debut of six outs created.

When the story was questioned, Brent put up another post with an apology and a completely Mayne-like explanation, worth both a laugh and a ‘that’s all right, Pal!”:

I was hanging out with George Brett a lot those early years, so my memory is all pops and crackles. It’s tough to remember on two hours of sleep a night…


I know for sure that he was playing for the Yanks. I know for sure it was towards the end of the season. I know for sure it was JT! So I’m thinking one of two things. One, could it have been in New York instead of KC? Or two, I told him the pitch and he lined out instead of doubled. I may have twisted a line out into a double in my memory (it does make it a little better story.)


The Retrosheet boxscore of that first game I linked to above gives Snow’s AB’s in his debut game as follows:

2nd Inning: Flied to left

3rd Inning: Flied to left

6th Inning: Grounded out, third to first

7th Inning: Lined into a doubleplay, first to third

8th Inning: Struck out


Aha! Now we’re getting somewhere. 7th inning: lined into a doubleplay, first to third. No wonder Brent Mayne’s memory is playing tricks on him. He tipped his buddy J.T. in hopes of getting him his first hit (in his fourth at bat, not his first) and instead he lines into a double play.


Except the Royals had started that top of the 7th leading 3-2. Retrosheet again:

YANKEES 7TH: B. Williams doubled to center; 

Velarde singled [B.Williams stayed at second]; 

Mattingly doubled [B. Williams scored, 

Velarde scored]; 

Tartabull grounded out (first unassisted) 

[Mattingly to third]; 

MAGNANTE REPLACED GORDON (PITCHING); 

Hall tripled [Mattingly scored]; 

R. KELLY RAN FOR HALL; 

Snow lined into a double play (first to third) 

[R. Kelly out at third]; 

3 R, 4 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  

Yankees 5, Royals 3


I do not think Brent Mayne would have tipped a pitch to his own son, with Tom Gordon having just surrendered the tying and lead runs in the 7th on a Mattingly double, and Mike Magnante having been greeted by Mel Hall with an RBI triple and only one out.

I know, I know – by now nobody’s interested in this saga any more, not Mayne, not Snow, maybe not you. But I began wondering if there was some other game, some other at bat, some other something that created this phantom memory in my old friend’s head. 

We have all the resources we need – Retrosheet is a heckuva site – and it turns out that between 1992 and 2004 there were 22 games in which J.T. Snow batted while Brent Mayne was catching. Most notably, Snow not only didn’t get his first big league hit off a Mayne tipped pitch – he didn’t get any hits off a pitch Mayne called, tipped or otherwise, until his fourth season in the majors. That would’ve been an RBI single on May 14, 1995, when the Angels visited Kansas City. It broke Snow’s debut skein of 0-for-11 in Mayne-caught games in ’92 and ’93 (Mayne didn’t play a single game against the Angels in ’94).

In point of fact, J.T. Snow didn’t do very well at all with his old friend behind the bat:

Games: 22

At Bats: 80

Hits: 17

Average: .213

Doubles: 3

Triples: 0

Homers: 2

RBI: 8

The first Snow double didn’t come until July 4th, 2000, by which time Snow was with the Giants and Mayne, the Rockies.


So, with this mystery still unsolved… did I ever tell you about my other friend who claimed every game he pitched against an opposing batter he didn’t like, he hit him? What a liar that guy was! He faced him five times and only hit him in three of the games!

Then again – he was counting spring training.

Hall of Famers and Numbers Without Wings

They don’t give me a vote.
I was once gratified to read somebody argue that they should, but if I remember correctly this was written by somebody else who also didn’t get a vote, but probably should. 
The logic behind that assertion will presumably decrease as time goes by. But it is staggering to consider that for decades, writers elected – or prevented the election of – dozens of players who they literally never saw play in a game that mattered. By the time Ron Santo was first seen by future Hall of Fame voters working in Baltimore, Boston, and all the other American League cities save for Chicago, L.A., and New York, he was a worn-out 34-year old part-time second baseman who had already hit 337 of the 342 homers he would ever hit. Seeing them on television has been the actual qualification for some large number of voter-nominee interactions since television began.
But I digress. Capsule summaries of the candidacies of those on the new ballot just released Friday:
Roberto Alomar: No, just barely. I don’t think he was as good as Sandberg and I always said Sandberg shouldn’t go in before Joe Gordon. I’m not judging Alomar on the spitting incident, I’m judging him on the fact that for whatever reason, at age 34 he not only turned from a superstar into a fringe major leaguer, but he also turned into a millstone around the neck of a franchise. The bad taste may fade with time, but right now I couldn’t vote for him.
Harold Baines: Yes, just barely. He’s hurt by the 2,866 hits – he’s in that Buckner zone. Everybody else who got to Buckner’s level of hits (2,763) has gotten in, or will, or is Pete Rose.
Bert Blyleven: Definitely. Fifth all-time in strikeouts now (passed by Clemens), by any measure one of the game’s great curveballers, and 287 wins. And by the way, those 3,701 strikeouts? They came with only 1,322 walks. 

Andre Dawson: Yes. Farcical he has had to wait.
Andres Galarraga: I just don’t see it. 399 homers in the power era just doesn’t get there.

Barry Larkin: A great player and one of my favorites, but I don’t recall ever during his playing career having had even that Alomarian sense that this could be a Hall-of-Famer. If we’re looking to put a Reds shortstop in Cooperstown, it should be David Concepcion.
Edgar Martinez: The first test of how the DH-as-position will resonate through history. I can see electing pure DH’s but to me the batting bar is a little higher for them than other batsmen who field. Two batting championships and a RBI title is not sufficient. Ferris Fain won two batting championships, too, and I don’t see a big argument for him in Cooperstown (and he did it in consecutive years, too).
Don Mattingly: Sigh, no. I wish. The back injury killed his chances – he dropped from superior to slightly-above-average. For competitive fire, diligence, class, yes. But we don’t do it that way.
Fred McGriff: Amazingly, yes. Here is the silver lining to the steroid era. Suddenly his 493 homers and ten 30-home run seasons look surprising, even refreshing, considering the worst thing he was ever accused of taking were Boring Pills. No offense, but when the Yankees had to bribe Toronto to take Dave Collins off their hands in the winter of 1982-83 and the Jays said “OK, but you have to take Dale Murray off our hands – and we want this kid McGriff,” the Yanks would have been better off saying “take Mattingly.”
Mark McGwire: Hall of Fame? For what? For pretending to Congress that nothing happened before that steroid hearing? Fine. You got your wish. Nothing happened. Your lifetime numbers are 0-0-.000. And by the way, why is it ok for him to just waltz back in as batting coach of the Cardinals? Would we let Bonds come back in? This is unacceptable, and it gives credence to the very disturbing claim that race is at play when it comes to the punishment of steroid cheats. Mark McGwire is a steroid cheater.
Jack Morris: Another beneficiary of a little perspective. I used to flinch at that 3.90 ERA. There seems very little doubt that Tom Glavine will go in on the first ballot at 3.54. I’m looking more at the 254 wins and the clutch performances. Aye.
Dale Murphy: Yes. Preposterous that he’s had to wait. Two-time MVP, thought he was tailing off at the end of one season so he went to the Instructional League that fall to work on his hitting, turned himself from a defensive disaster to a star centerfielder, and was cooperative with every fan, reporter, and vendor. During his era as an every-day starter, 1978 through 1991, he was baseball’s leading home-run hitter, and he’s not in because he hit 398 homers and not 400? And we’re seriously considering Edgar Martinez before him?
Dave Parker: To be fair, something of a victim of expectations. But when he came up he was thought to have been the best all-around talent to ascend to the majors perhaps since Mays. 339-1493-.290 with 147 steals, two batting titles, and no homer crowns, isn’t very much, I’m afraid.
Tim Raines: No. It is very close. Maybe the steals should earn him a spot. The rest of the offensive production just doesn’t.
Lee Smith: Here’s a startling question: who led his league in saves more often during his career? Lee Smith, Mariano Rivera, or Trevor Hoffman? The answer is Smith (four), though Rivera (three), and Hoffman (two) can still do something about it. But doesn’t it at least suggest Smith’s 478 saves should be taken seriously, too? I vote yes.
Alan Trammell: No. I wish it were otherwise.
I do want to see how many guys vote for Shayne Reynolds.
THE UNEXPECTED BENEFIT OF WATCHING MLB NET’S ‘ALL-TIME GAMES':
There are at least two big heavy fascinating books devoted to no less a topic than the attempt to record all of the uniform numbers worn by big leaguers. It may not fascinate you, but it fascinated two guys, including the eminent researcher Mark Stang, to take the time to do the research, and two publishers to pay the costs.
That’s why an odd vigne
tte from an odd MLB Network choice for one of its “All-Time Games” is fascinating – to a few, anyway. It’s a black-and-white video of the Montreal Expos outlasting the Pittsburgh Pirates at Jarry Park in Montreal on September 2, 1970. And at mid-game, rookie announcer Don Drysdale starts commenting to his partner Hal Kelly about the odd spectacle he’s seeing in the visitors’ bullpen. 
This – and forgive the photographed screen grab – is the spectacle:
IMG_2007.JPG
COURTESY MLB NETWORK

The righthander in mid-pitch is John Lamb (of the Pirates’ odd Lamb/Moose/Veale pitching staff). The lefty awaiting the throw is George Brunet, and he is not an outfielder loosening up his arm to replace Roberto Clemente. He’s a lefthanded pitcher – one who pitched fifteen seasons for nine different teams, plus thirteen more in the American minors, plus teams in Mexico up until nearly the day he died in 1991 – whom the Bucs had obtained from the Washington Senators three days earlier.
And he is wearing uniform number 4. Drysdale says to Kelly that Brunet is going to change the number as soon as possible because: a) pitchers just don’t wear “low numbers” like that, and b) Brunet has told him so. Left unspoken is the fact that Brunet, listed at 6’1″, 195, was probably closer to 220 by the time he got to Pittsburgh, and they probably gave him number 4 because, in that first year in which double-knit unis were ever used in the majors, it was likely the only shirt they had that fit him.
Both those big heavy uniform books show Brunet wearing only 22 for Pittsburgh. Yet, there he is, a few moments later, years ahead of Toronto’s Number 7 Josh Towers, actually getting into his second game as a Pirate, wearing the number they would eventually get around to retiring in honor of Ralph Kiner.
IMG_2008.JPG
COURTESY MLB NETWORK

As an utter sidebar, I loved watching this game until I realized that the second of my two trips to Montreal as a kid to explore unbeatable, electric (and frigid in August with aluminum seats)  Parc Jarry, was exactly one week before this game was played. Alors! This game is newer than the last time I actually saw that old field!

Win, Or Lose Job

So the scenario has almost completely played out: Joe Girardi’s misuse of his bullpen, and the forces of nature, have combined to push Game Six of the ALCS to Sunday. It is a game that likely will determine whether or not Girardi is still Yankee manager on the 15th of next June.

If the Yankees beat the Angels Sunday Night their intended World Series rotation will be unchanged and they will still be able to throw lefthanded starters against the Phillies at least four times and probably five. Two posts back you’ll see the key southpaw splits for Phils’ lefthanded and switch bats, but the money line remains Ryan Howard’s nightmarish production at home against lefties: one homer, eight RBI, a .178 batting average, a .290 slugging percentage (numbers that suggest they’d be better off starting Eric Bruntlett at first base in those match-ups. Or Miguel Cairo. Or Chris Wheeler).
But if the Yankees lose the Sunday Night game, Girardi is facing a choice of three unpleasant futures:
a) The Angels win Game Seven. It is hard to believe that Girardi, with a year left to go on his contract, would not be the scapegoat for the Yankees’ collapse. It might be one of those old-fashioned quick firings, too, especially if George Steinbrenner is even tangentially involved in the decision, especially with Don Mattingly ‘in play’ as at last a nominal candidate for the Indians’ managerial job.
b) The Yankees win Game Seven. But with the rotation plans scuttled by the extended ALCS and the weather, they have no choice but to open the World Series behind A.J. Burnett on Wednesday and Chad Gaudin on Thursday. CC Sabathia might yet shine on three days’ rest, but he’s not going on two. The Yanks would no longer be favorites, for at least the first two games, and perhaps for the Series. Whereas they still get the opportunity to fire Sabathia and then Andy Pettitte in Philadelphia in Games Three and Four next weekend, to use them both twice in the Series, he’d have to use them both on short rest, and there would be absolutely no way to use Sabathia three times. In short, the extension of the ALCS to a seventh game would move the Yankees from the chance to pitch them each twice in the first five games, to the prospect of having pitched them each only once in a Series that could conceivably be lost in five games.
Presumably that would cost Girardi his job, too – only about a week later.
c) The Yankees beat the Angels and despite the astrayness of the best laid plans, also beat the Phillies. Yet in the back of the minds of everybody who counts at Yankee Stadium is this unspoken doubt that they can be confident that Girardi – entering the last year of his deal and doubtless pushing for an extension – knows how to manage a bullpen. Even Defending World Champion Yankees can change managers (ask Billy Martin and Bob Lemon)  when things start slowly or unhappily the next season.
And yet all of those unhappy events are nearly obscured, if not totally forgotten, if they still put away the Angels in Game Six. Remarkable on how the game turns on such seemingly small things.
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