Results tagged ‘ Nolan Ryan ’

2012 Previews: A.L. West

Imagine for a second this scenario: a New York team wins consecutive pennants. They lose the first World Series to a lightning-in-a-bottle fast-finisher from the other league. They lose the next year to another one-month-wonder despite twice being one strike away from sealing the deal in Game 6. The New York team owner – one of the most famous men in sports – has to decide whether or not to retain his popular, African-American manager after the latter tests positive for cocaine. This was after he built the batting order around a recovered addict, who then falls off the wagon in the weeks before he was to get a nine-figure contract extension.

Can you picture that? It would be Armageddon every day at that ballpark as the media – not just in New York but nationally – struggled merely to decide whether these misceants were to be called the worst chokers of all time, or a bunch of druggies, or the team with the owner who needed to be run out of the game on a rail for letting such tainted underachievement continue. It would be, to adapt Dorothy Parker’s phrase to baseball, a Fresh Hell every day.

Of course, you don’t have to imagine anything here but the geography. This is not the imaginary story of the most controversial New York team of all time. It’s the 2012 Texas Rangers – and only their worst headlines – and in one of the most meaningful and revealing truths about baseball, and sports media, and America itself, they remain one of our feel good stories.

It’s not just New York, by the way. The 180 degree difference in how the New York Baseball Rangers would be treated, would also be true of the Boston Rangers or the Philadelphia Rangers or the Los Angeles Rangers. Regardless of the venue, it’s amazing, and it’s real.

And it’s relevant to a preview of the American League West because it means what is largely the same team can try it again for the third straight year – without Josh Hamilton being traded for Ken Phelps or Ron Washington being replaced by Dallas Green. There are only two notable changes: a real closer in Joe Nathan, and C.J. Wilson being swapped out for Yu Darvish.

The former move seems to reduce the variables; the latter may do the opposite. Darvish is the prototypical Japanese pitcher – with slight deception in the delivery, a mastery of five pitches and about four subtle varieties for each of them, and a rubber arm (at least for awhile). But Darvish is something Nomo and Matsuzaka and the rest are not: he is a Giant. He is 6’5”, 215, meaning he’s bigger than Nathan and Colby Lewis, and at least taller than Josh Hamilton. So the four different fastballs come in as fast as 95.

Watching Darvish against Colorado last week was watching the biggest kid in Kindergarten playfully slapping all the other ones. Half of them fell unconscious to the floor. The others? He missed them and he fell to the floor. The Rockies got their licks in, but in six at bats against him, Cargo and Tulo struck out six times and didn’t look close on any of the swinging strikes. It is almost a given (since we still condescendingly look at even Japan’s greatest veteran stars as our freshmen) that Darvish takes the Rookie Award in the AL. He may take the Cy. He may also go 12-15. The question isn’t whether or not he’ll make American batters look bad most of the time, but whether he might make American pitchers look bad most of the time.

The Rangers have competition in Orange County, but the ANGELS are the most tragically snake-bitten of all teams, and investments like the zillions spent on Wilson and Albert Pujols have always ended in tears – usually the late Gene Mauch’s. Despite the addition of Pujols and the resurrection of Kendrys “Just Shake Hands” Morales, the Cherubs are nowhere near a match for Texas offensively (hell, the ’27 Yankees might not be). The Mark Trumbo third base play comes at considerable defensive risk, and the bullpen remains a series of risky albeit probably good gambles. Ironically, for all that money, the difference-maker for Mike Scioscia might be his fifth starter, either retread Jerome Williams or rookie Garrett Richards, who at times looked lights out this spring.

There might be something to watch in SEATTLE. My affection for Jesus Montero’s opposite field power has been elaborated upon here before. But there is a flock of young hitters around him who might also blossom, and not just Dustin Ackley. Smoak, Carp (hurt), Saunders, Liddi, Gutierrez (hurt), and behind them Catricala and another Fernando Martinez might make the Mariners Wild Card eligible in a year. Probably would’ve helped if they hadn’t traded Doug Fister, because the rotation gets dicey just about the time you ask “Kevin Millwood is still alive?”

My friend Bob Melvin gets his first full year managing again, in OAKLAND. He loves to do it and was born to do it, and if anybody can drag this team back into respectability after its latest re-casting, it’s Bob. Unfortunately, even though he only played 11 games there in his career, Bob might be the best first baseman he has, and that’s a problem. The base hits get thin once you get past the exciting Jemile Weeks and the possibly exciting Yoenis Cespedes. And I won’t write anything long-winded on the latter for fear of being accusedof being Cespedes-sesquipedalian.

Sorry.

It’ll be fun watching the A’s continue their role as baseball’s breeding and/or training grounds for B+ pitchers. Mulder, Zito, Hudson,  Harden, Haren, Street, Gonzalez, Cahill, Bailey, Anderson, et al. The new names are De Los Santos, Milone, Parker, and Peacock and maybe baseball can get on the stick and get the A’s into San Jose before they become eligible for the A’s Alumni Association, too.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST FORECAST:

TEXAS wins again, with Darvish filling the Wilson vacuum. LOS ANGELES/ANAHEIM/THE OC, afflicted by some calamity, still has enough to claim a wild card. SEATTLE approaches .500, and OAKLAND does better than you’d think.

UNRELATED NOTE:

Love the Braves taking a flier on third baseman Juan Francisco. He may amount to nothing, but he is capable of a Jose Bautista like breakout, and he’s no more of a load defensively than Cabrera or Trumbo. He was dying a slow death in Cincinnati where I believe Dusty Baker never played him two games in a row. Because he isn’t 37.

No Tex, Lots Of Texas

The bad news for the Yankees is that Mark Teixeira suffered a Grade 2 strain of the hamstring and will miss the rest of the season.

The good news for the Yankees is that likely means he’s only going to miss one game.
Ron Washington, concurring that to beat this crumbling but still dangerous New York team requires treating them like vampires, did exactly that the last two nights, managing as intensely in the 9th Inning as he did in the 1st. The results are obvious and the Yanks’ best news is probably that ex-Golden Gloves boxer “Grim LeRogue” didn’t get close enough Monday night to try to beat up Alex Rodriguez in some kind of expression of obsession with actress Cameron Diaz.
The Rangers did it for him, and not just to A-Rod. As it proves, should’ve been a sweep. The questions are obvious: why wasn’t Joe Girardi satisfied with five two-run innings from A.J. Burnett? How is Sergio Mitre at the playoffs without a ticket? Just leave the pile of queries in a box for the next manager.
One non-ALCS note: Barry Bonds at the Giants game. Just me or did it look like he lost weight? From his head!
Let’s go to the pretty pictures:
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More than a little fuzzy (sorry). But the gentleman leaning on the seat ahead of him, hands together, upper left, is Nolan Ryan. In the lower right, Mayor Mike Bloomberg. This was taken Monday Night, but each deserves a shout-out. Bloomberg stayed until nearly the final out of each Yankee debacle and despite the vast numbers of empty seats, Ryan politely stayed in his 6th row locale.

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Delighted to find Mgr. Washington is a viewer of the tv show. We had two nice chats pre-game and he did a heckuva job. On the right of course, Martha Stewart, who, so long ago, on Opening Day, took a picture of me and tweeted it to her followers, so tonight I took this picture and tweeted it to both her followers and my own.
Big celeb night, half the cast of Saturday Night Live in the front row (Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, Fred Armisen, Kenan Thompson, Jay Pharoah, producer Lorne Michaels and that could’ve easily been this week’s host Emma Stone). Across the aisle from Martha: Mark Cuban. Upstairs, Michael Jordan and Jay-Z. 
And any of them could’ve pitched better than Sergio Mitre.
One more photo, this is from Monday night – a friend of the blog. That is your Toronto Blue Jays’ rehabbing reliever and author (hard at work at his sequel to the now classic Bullpen Gospels, to say nothing of trying to explain pitching to me) Dirk Hayhurst:
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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.

 

The Hall, And The Meaning Of Stats

Don’t look it up. Try (at least first) to figure it out. I’ll answer it at the end of this first part of the post – and I’m doing it this way to underscore why a malleable attitude towards statistics and Cooperstown is mandatory.

Here goes: Who led the American League in home runs in the 1980’s?
Somewhere else on the web, somebody dismissed my support (and that of the 400 BBWAA electors who voted for him) of Bert Blyleven by claiming you can’t put a pitcher in the Hall of Fame who averaged only 13 wins a season.
A-hem…

Pitcher                                             Wins Per Season

Bob Gibson                                             14.76

Gaylord Perry                                          14.27

Allie Reynolds*                                        14.00

Tom Glavine*                                           13.86

Sandy Koufax                                          13.75

Steve Carlton                                           13.70

Chief Bender                                            13.25

Early Wynn                                              13.04

Bert Blyleven*                                          13.00

Dizzy Dean                                               12.50

Dazzy Vance                                            12.30

NOLAN RYAN                                           12.00

         * not in Hall of Fame


You can make a million different arguments about what this statistic means – and then move on to whether or not it really means anything in terms of the Hall. But the Blyleven (exactly 13 wins a year) versus Ryan (exactly 12 wins a year) comparison certainly is startling.
A much fairer, and slightly more subjective, view of the issue is provided by what we might call “Adjusted Wins Per Season.” It’s not a complicated formula. You just assess a pitcher’s “incomplete seasons” – only half a year in the majors, or less, or the last year when they were released on May 15th, or, particular to Koufax, the first two seasons of his career in which he was forced to stay on the major league roster (but was seldom used) because of a then-extant rule requiring such treatment for any free agent signed to a ******** bonus. You then throw out these “rump years” (and any scattered wins gathered in them) and re-divide.
Let’s do this for the same mix of a dozen pitchers, HOF and NON-HOF, as above:

Pitcher                     Adjusted Wins Per Season        “Rump” Seasons

Dizzy Dean                               16.50                                 Three

Sandy Koufax                           15.9                                   Two

Steve Carlton                            15.52                                 Three

Bob Gibson                              15.50                                 One

Allie Reynolds*                         15.17                                 One

Tom Glavine*                            15.05                                 Two

Dazzy Vance                             14.92                                 Three

Gaylord Perry                            14.27                                 One

Early Wynn                               14.19                                  Two

Chief Bender                             14.13                                 One

Bert Blyleven*                           13.00                                 None

NOLAN RYAN                            12.76                                  Two

         *not in
Hall of Fame

As usual when you research something – however trivial it might be – unsought data turns up. In this case it would include the suggestion that the voters need to reexamine the candidacy of Allie Reynolds. Somebody else interesting turns up in that “adjusted” category – Ron Guidry, at 15.27.

But the most fascinating is the comparison it provides for Blyleven and Ryan. Their ERA’s are similar, their 20-win seasons are similar (and unimpressive: Ryan, 2; Blyleven, 1), their average seasonal win totals are similar (adjusted or not). The differences are the no-hitters and strikeouts, and while I would agree they are enough to have made Ryan the first-ballot Hall of Famer he was, I don’t see how their absence has left Blyleven to decades of also-ran status.
By the way, the answer to the trivia question at the top: Mike Schmidt led baseball (and obviously, the National League) in homers in the ’80s with 313. Dale Murphy was second with 308. Eddie Murray was third overall with 274 and thus led those who played in each league during that decade. But your American League top homer man of the ’80s, and fourth overall in the game, was Dwight Evans with 256. I happen to think Evans deserves serious consideration for Cooperstown – but surely not for that stat.
CAVEAT EMPTOR

Fell victim to myself – and was contacted by a bunch of other suckers – to an eBay scam that, while clearly focused to rip off specialists in a very small branch of baseball memorabilia collecting – serves as a reminder to think carefully about the ingenuity people can muster while pursuing the proverbial ill-gotten gains.
To eBay’s credit, in my case at least, it and PayPal refunded my money, even as the seller claimed he was the victim, and smeared, and all the like. The ID was “tarheels17032″ and the man, a Randy Howard operating out of a post office box in suburban Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, put up for bid a “box” of vintage 1971 O-Pee-Chee baseball cards (the Canadian version of Topps). The illustration showed the retail box, and in it, 36 seemingly unopened packs in good shape. Upon arrival, I couldn’t resist opening a pack.
I was surprised, initially, as to how easy that was. The packages were barely sealed. As a kid, I actually opened packages of these cards when they originally came out, and they were stuck together for the long haul. But the biggest surprise awaited inside. The cards had clearly not spent the last 39 years in those packages. Some had creases and seriously stubbed corners, others didn’t. At least two cards that were not directly facing the gum in the packs, nevertheless had damage from having had gum stuck to them. The packages were in better condition than the cards – a physical impossibility if the packs had been unopened.
Unless we were dealing with cards granted the ability of locomotion, which had escaped their packs and managed to somehow injure themselves, then return home like salmon swimming back to spawn, there was something seriously amiss here.
Mr. Howard at first agreed to “take a look” at the cards if I wanted to return them to him. He then refused delivery at the post office in Dauphin, Pa. When I filed a complaint with eBay, he wrote: “First of all, please re-read my description. No where do I EVER describe in any of my auctions that something is ‘unopened.’ I’m not the original owner nor do I profess to be. I specifically state in my auctions to ask any questions prior to end of auction. I also state that all items are sold as is…”
As the complaint moved through eBay, he later posted that I had tampered with the packages. Needless to say, the eBay folks did not exactly buy that (since I had a registered mail receipt marked “refused” – he could not have seen the packages). Nor did they buy the ‘I never explicitly said these were unopened packs’ defense.
My travails with memorabilia sellers are not your concern. But when several other collectors advised me that there were several instances of this exact kind of rip-off involving supposedly unopened packs, I thought it merited mention here. The story as I understand it is that either two people working in cahoots, or one using two different eBay ID’s, buy up old empty card boxes, and empty wrappers that match the boxes. Lord knows where they get the gum, but they fill the “packs” with off-condition common cards, seal them just closed enough, then stick them in the empty box, and make big money selling not vintage unopened packs or boxes, but garbage.
Once eBay returned my money I thought it would be fascinating to open up Mr. Howard’s packs to see what was inside. Not one of the packs didn’t include something impossible. Several packs included not 1971 O-Pee-Chee cards (yellow backs), but ordinary 1971 Topps (green backs). The O-Pee-Chee cards were issued in series that year, so all the cards in each pack should have been restricted to Series One, Series Two, or Series Three, etc. But many were intermixed between the series. Topps and O-Pee-Chee made their money on making sure kids had to keep buying to get a full set, so they had state-of-the-art “randomizing” processes to be certain there were lots of doubles in a box and never anything like a run of cards in numerical sequence in a given pack. Nevertheless, nearly all the packs came out that way (one produced numbers 234, 235, 238, 240, 241, 242, 243, 244). And virtually every card in the box was a “common” – no stars, no rare cards.
But the piece de resistance was the fact that the battered cards in that first tentatively-opened pack proved to be just the start, in terms of damage and bad condition. You do not have to be a collector nor a detective to doubt that this card had always be in that pack:
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Seriously?

                                              

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