THE BLAME GAME

THE BLAME GAME

On back to back days, we saw two Major Leaguers make major league heads up plays.  They literally ran the bases with their heads up, and took an extra base when others might/would have missed the opportunity.

In Toronto, this resulted in a confused umpire, a littered field, and a tie-breaking run scored (after an 18-minute review).

In Los Angeles, this resulted in an annoyed fan base, a tying run, and lots of blame.  But before we throw the bus in reverse and back over Corey Seager again; and before we deify Jimmy Rollins and claim how he would have done better, let’s make sure we allocate the blame properly (Editor’s Note: all allocations are wholly arbitrary).

Before we get started, refresh your memory of the play:


Coaches:  Let’s start here.  The Dodgers coaching staff readily admits that they worked on the shift and defensive responsibilities in Spring Training, but not much since.  Oh, and they only worked on it in connection with base hits, not bases on balls.  Oops.  If luck is when preparation and opportunity meet, then the Dodgers were never destined to be lucky.

Channeling Harry Truman, the buck must stop with Don Mattingly.  He played the infield – and damn well, I might add – so he could have prepared his team; but he has a team to run.  So what about the other coaches?  The Dodgers don’t have an official “Infield Coach” like many teams do, but they do have Davey Lopes (a former second baseman) and Tim Wallach (a former third baseman) on staff.  I guess if Bill Russell was on staff there would have been someone to speak with the shortstops.  An inexcusable lapse.  More on the coaches below.
Coaches Blame Allocation: 24.6%

Zack Greinke:  Corey Seager – in a momentary lapse into candor – mentioned that it may have been Greinke’s responsibility to cover third on the play.  Maybe.  But Greinke didn’t need to sprint across the diamond to keep Murphy at second.  When he received the ball from Grandal, he looked up and around, annoyed with himself for walking Duda on a 3-1 pitch.  He was actually looking right at Murphy (or at least in his direction).  Had Greinke been more focused on the baserunner(s) than his missing on the last pitch, he could have strolled back to the mound by venturing towards third base.  Would Murphy have risked a foot race when he had 90 feet to go and Zack had 65 feet, at most?  We will never know.
Greinke Blame Allocation: 20.4%

Corey Seager:  Give the young kid credit, he owned this…sort of.  He hemmed and hawed, but then took responsibility.  And while I don’t typically subscribe the to the “rookie mistake” theory, if it were ever true . . .

Let’s look at the facts: Shifts are rarely used in the Minor Leagues; Seager has been in the Big Leagues for six weeks, and this was only his 26th game at shortstop at the Major League level; he did participate in Major League Spring Training when this was worked on (again, only in base hit situations), and since that time he has played in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and now Los Angeles (i.e., three different levels of baseball for three different managers and three different sets of coaches, all in 6 months).

With all of that said, this was not Seager’s first rodeo; he has to be better than that (“that just can’t happen”).  When Murphy got to second base, Seager was standing right there – with his back to third base.  Now, one could argue he was near second because Murphy was on the move and there was a question as to whether the pitch was a ball or a strike, but it was clear that Duda had walked by the time Murphy approached second.  Simply put, Seager was being lackadaisical and not anticipating what could (and did) happen.

However, because of the positioning (within the shift), even if Seager had been paying attention and actually headed directly to third base, that is not dispositive.  Greinke would had to have thrown to a moving target at an extremely odd angle (picture a wide receiver on a crossing route) – not the world’s easiest play.  So, again, you can blame the coaches – this time for simply having Seager play so far out of position.
Seager Blame Allocation: 22.5%

Jimmy Rollins:  Before we go any further, let’s take a moment to discuss Jimmy Rollins.  A few things:

(1)  We all want to say what a pro Jimmy is and that he would not have made that “rookie mistake” and would have been in perfect position to either stop Murphy from taking the extra base or to tag him out.  Are we sure?  Do we know Rollins would have either been in a better position after the pitch and/or that he could have won a footrace that the younger/quicker Seager could not?

(2)  But, more importantly, if Rollins is the consummate professional that we have been hearing about, the hardened and wise old vet who cared more about winning than ego and took Corey under his wing and showed him the ropes, why didn’t he give Seager a heads up about that type of situation?  Surely someone with Rollins vast experience would have anticipated the play and passed along his knowledge to the young buck.  Maybe he did – and we just haven’t heard about (from anyone).

(3)  Now, we could again blame the coaching staff for playing Seager over Rollins in the biggest game of the year.
Rollins Blame Allocation: 6.8%

Yasmani Grandal:  Here is the big one; and the one that seems to be getting off scot free.  Insofar as I have not heard anyone talking about it, I assume you didn’t see it coming.  Well, start up the bus.

As the catcher, Grandal is the captain of the infield (I know, the shortstop has the same title), and he controls the game.  He is the only player on the field who can see everything in front of him.  Grandal was fully aware that a shift was being deployed and where every player was positioned.  Further, he was either the first, second, or third person on the field to know that it was ball four – and he knew before any of his teammates.  When he received the pitch from Greinke, he could see the entire field, and he had many options.

  1. Surveying the field and realizing that third base was unoccupied, he could have run directly to third.
  2. He could have walked the ball back to Greinke – potentially even veering off towards third base to talk to Zack on their way back towards the mound.
  3. He could have waiting for Duda to touch first base and then immediately called timeout.  The prudent move would have been to walk the ball out to the mound while eyeballing both runners (again, they are both in front of him) to make certain he controlled the pace of the play.
  4. Realizing upon the ball four call that third base was empty, he could have yelled to Seager to get his ass over there.
  5. Or, he could lazily toss the ball back to Greinke and allow the play to unfold as it did.

Yet again, we could blame the coaching staff for starting Grandal – who couldn’t hit an obnoxious Mets fan if he was standing in the parking lot at Citi Field – in place of A.J. Ellis.  But, that blame could then be passed on to Greinke, who prefers Grandal behind the dish when he is pitching, and I am not sure we are in a position to argue with what has worked for Greinke this season.  But Grandal was there, and he didn’t do his job . . . at all.
Grandal Blame Allocation: 25.7%

So there you have it, plenty of blame to go around.

But, let’s be clear, the Dodgers didn’t lose Game 5 because the coaches and players failed in their respective duties.  They lost Game 5 because they went 2-13 with runners in scoring position; they lost Game 5 because after the first inning, they couldn’t put together quality at bats against deGrom or Syndergaard and were completely shut down.  You need to score more than 2 runs to win a make or break game, and they just didn’t do it.

The shame of it is that because they didn’t, there is a pretty good chance that Don Mattingly won’t get an opportunity to watch this team flail in the playoffs for a fourth straight season.  I guess we should get ready to welcome Bud Black to Chavez Ravine.

Royals-Blue Jays, 1985 redux.  Who you got?
Mets-Cubs, will the curse of Bartman and the Billy Goat continue?

More to come.

PLAY BALL!!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

On the day after my 16th birthday, as my street was filling with cars and my house was filling with teenagers (my parents were quite accommodating by leaving the continent shortly after I passed my driver’s test), Kirk Gibson gave us the greatest moment in Los Angeles sports history.  (Relax, Lakers fan.  This is not my opinion – it is based on many surveys on the topic.)  But, this happened on October 15th, so technically, not a birthday gift.

But on my 43rd birthday, the Rangers and the Blue Jays – two teams I really don’t care too much about – gave me a birthday gift of an entirely different sort.  They gave me the 7th inning (why is it always the 7th inning?) of Game 5.  A lot has been said and a lot has been written about that 7th inning, so I figured, why not . . .

If you have ever watched – or heaven forbid – coached a Little League game and seen the wheels come off the wagon, cued the circus music, and/or pulled your hair out in exasperation, you’re in good company.  Because Rangers fans and Jeff Banister (the Rangers’ manager) witnessed it all over a 53-minute period yesterday afternoon north of the border.

And the Rangers and Blue Jays gave us all a huge gift – one that I am sure Elvis Andrus wishes he could take back – by providing context to the difficulty of baseball.  Yesterday’s 7th inning gave us all a new appreciation for how hard the game of baseball is, why we cannot be shocked when our kids make errors, and new meaning to the phrase “that just can’t happen”.

A few angles, some of which have been covered, and some of which have not.

FAULTY THROW/HEAD’S UP PLAY

Russell Martin goes through the motion of doing something he has done probably hundreds of thousands of times – throwing the ball back to the pitcher.  No one would have expected the ball to careen off Sin-Soo Choo’s hand.  And yet, it did.  This happens in Little League, and we yell at our kid to be more careful.

But what got lost on that play, and I have only heard Jeff Banister reference it, is that Rougned Odor had his head up, saw the play unfold, and took off for the plate.  How often do we see Little Leaguers, and Big Leaguers alike, go back to the bag with their heads down, not paying attention to something as innocuous as a throw back to the pitcher?

If Odor had not sprinted down the line and crossed the plate before Josh Donaldson even picked up the ball, the play could have gone another way (e.g., the umpires could have ruled that their call of timeout did not affect the play because the runner didn’t attempt to score).  Odor was more than halfway down the line before home plate umpire Dale Scott called the play dead; and Odor finished his sprint and crossed the plate.  So, when Scott conferred with his colleagues and figured out that he spoke too soon, the guys in the replay booth confirmed that regardless of the time out call, Donaldson never had a chance to stop Odor, and thus the run was allowed.  We always teach that the one thing on a baseball field you can control is hustle.  For a few moments yesterday afternoon, it looked like hustle would be the difference between winning and moving on, and losing and going home.

THREE (ARGUABLY FOUR) TIME’S A CHARM

#1:  Watch enough baseball games and see enough six hoppers up the middle, and you begin to wonder why batters even bother running up the line.  Shortstops from the age of 10 or 11 make that play sliding to their left and throwing in line with their body so often, and so easily, that it has become the definition of “routine”.  Add to the equation the true hops one gets on a synthetic surface, and I would not be surprised if the official scorekeeper had already jotted down “6-3” before the ball even got to Andrus.  But, the reason they put erasers on the back of pencils is that sometimes people make mistakes.  It is just that when Andrus booted an easy groundball to start the bottom of the 7th, if felt like more than an innocent error.  There was a certain foreboding.  If the game had a soundtrack, that is when the scary music would have started.

#2:  But when Kevin Pillar hit an innocent groundball to Mitch Moreland, it looked – for a moment – like Andrus’ error would be wiped out with a 3-6-3 twin killing.  And remember (this is for Red Sox fans from the mid-’80s) that Moreland has played first base all season because he is a considerably better defender than Prince Fielder.  But Moreland never got a good grip on the ball, threw a tricky, across-the-body and across-the-runner short-hop to Andrus, and the ball bounced away.  Could Andrus have made the play?  Sure, but it would have been a heck of a play; it might even had made SportCenter’s Top 10.  Bottom line, he didn’t.  Two batters, two errors, tying run in scoring position, lead run on base, no one out.

#3:  Ryan Goins then laid down a horrible bunt.  That will be lost in all this – in fact, I have not really heard anyone speaking about how bad that bunt was.  You lay down a 40 foot one-hopper to arguably the best defensive third baseman in the history of the game (easy, Orioles fans; I said “arguably”).  Beltre makes an perfect toss to Andrus, who drops the ball.  What have we been telling our kids since Wee Ball?  If the ball is above your waist, glove down; below your waist, glove up.  Andrus apparently missed that lesson.  Three batters, three errors, tying and lead runs in scoring position, still no one out.  (By the way, prior to yesterday, no team had ever made three errors in one inning in a deciding game.)

Ben Revere hits a hard shot to first.  For a moment, this looked truly to be the pitcher’s best friend: 3-2-3 and there would have been 2 out with 2 runners on.  But Dalton Pompey (on as a pinch runner) slides hard into the plate and takes out Chris Gimenez.  Legal play?  Dirty play?  Appropriate play?  Because so much happened in that inning, there has not been much talk of that.  The umpires did review it and decided it was legal (file that, Chase).  The game resumes; bases still loaded, but now – amazingly – a groundball could get the Rangers out of this.

#4:  Josh Donaldson hits a little looper behind second.  Infield fly?  The umpires ruled – instantly – it was not.  Catchable ball?  Odor determined – after a few backpedals – it was not.  Should Odor have done as he was taught – by coaches, not Robinson Cano – turned his shoulders and run back for the ball?  I think the outcome of the play inures to yes.

If Odor makes the routine catch, the bases remain loaded with two outs, and the Rangers still leading 3-2.  Would that have made any difference in Bautista’s at bat?  We will never know.

Better question: if the ball had been subject to the infield fly rule, would Pillar have taken off from third base after the ball landed in short right?  I have not heard that question asked of Blue Jays third base coach Luis Rivera, but my guess is he would not have run.

JOEY BATS (FLIP)

Depending on where you live on the baseball continuum, Jose Bautista’s bat flip was the greatest or worst thing you have ever seen.  Did Bautista disrespect Sam Dyson and the game of baseball?  Or did he do what we have been begging of baseball for a generation – provide some life, emotion, and excitement?  The answer to this question is really easy:

From April to August, Bautista is a showboat who should be drilled in his next at bat.  There is no place for that in that type of game.

In September and especially in October; and especially in the 7th inning of a deciding game; and especially in the 7th inning of a deciding game with the score tied; and especially in the 7th inning of a deciding game with the score tied that has already been fraught with emotions (both on and off the field); and especially in the 7th inning of a deciding game with the score tied, with emotions running high, when a batter hits a ball roughly 700 feet, then he damn well has the right to (a) admire the majesty of his shot and (b) toss his bat away with as much grandeur as he can muster in the moment.  Case closed.

Jose Bautista's bat flip

And Ranger fan, shut the hell up.  This isn’t on Bautista, Encarnacion (who was actually trying to be helpful), or Tulowitzki who did nothing (for the entire series, it would seem).

Thank you, Rangers and Jays.  You gave a baseball fan the best kind of birthday gift: an amazing inning that spawned another chance to writeabout the game I (we all) love.

Your turn, Dodgers and Mets.  Orel Hershisher (who will throw out the first pitch tonight), the Cy Young winning right-hander won the last deciding game played at Dodger Stadium, beating the Mets in Game 7 of the 1988 NLCS (is this starting to sound familiar?).

The next game was played at Dodgers Stadium three days later, 27 years ago today.  We all know how that turned out.

PLAY BALL!!

 

WORLDS/PLAYERS COLLIDE

WORLDS/PLAYERS COLLIDE

Two worlds collide, rival nations; it’s a primitive clash, venting years of frustrations.  Does the crowd understand?  Is it East versus West, or man against man?   (Extra points if you can reference the previous stanza (hint: it is a verse)).

It’s Biggie vs. Tupac.

It’s the Big Apple vs. Hollywood Glitz and Glamour.

It’s 1988 all over again, and the stakes are – in the words of the Mike and the Mad Dog – “uuuuuge!!!”

When the best pitcher on the planet could not – yet again – get a playoff W, Game 2 took on all that much more importance.  And when the Dodgers found themselves trailing 2-1 in the 7th inning (why is it always the 7th inning?) on Saturday night, with one out and runners on the corners, and Howie Kendrick at the plate, who knew – who could possibly have guessed – the firestorm that awaited in that otherwise innocent 100 feet between first base and just beyond second?

More than East Coast / West Coast, the battle that has ensued has spread to “old school vs. new school”.

It has extended out to guys who rub some dirt vs. the Sabermetricians who count every inning and every out in terms of dollars.

It has touched those who subscribe to the unwritten rules vs. those who abide by the official MLB rule book (see also, When is a Rule a Rule? June 10, 2015).

It has pitted in-game umpires against league officials.

It most likely has led to showdown between Matt Harvey and Chase Utley (or possibly Corey Seager and some other suspecting Dodger better).   (Editor’s Note: It has been reported that the Mets have specifically instructed Matt Harvey not to retaliate.  We shall see.)

And, the fact of the matter is, regardless of how much is said, how much is written, how many games Utley is forced to sit, no one and everyone is correct.

  • It was a dirty play.
  • It is how the game is played.
  • It was, depending on your interpretation, within the rules.
  • It was, depending on your interpretation, a violation of the rules.
  • It was, depending on your viewing angle, a “neighborhood play” not subject to replay review.
  • It was, depending on another angle, a force play perfectly subject to replay review.

Does that clear it up for everyone?  If not, and if you have not read and/or listened to everything written and/or said about this in the past few days, here is a brief summary:

Chase Utley breaks up a potential double play by sliding hard into Mets’ shortstop Ruben Tejada.  Hardnosed play?  Yes.  The way Utley has always played?  Yes.  A play that happens dozens of times every season?  Yes.  A potential rule violation?  Yes.  Could it have been ruled an inning-ending double play with no runs scored for the Dodgers?  Yes.

MLB Rule 7.09(e): It is interference by a batter or a runner when . . . [if], in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead.  The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate.  In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner.

Said differently if you are a Dodger fan with two working eyes: “uh oh!” and “phew!”

If you live in Queens or otherwise really like the color orange, you might also note Rule 5.09(a)(13):

A batter is out when a preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play.

The umpires on the field had the right – but not the obligation – to call Utley and Kendrick out.  They chose not.  We can agree or disagree with that assessment, but now let’s head around the neighborhood.

Although not technically in the rule book, for the sake of safety, umpires will typically record an out (and typically at second base – has anyone ever seen it called anywhere else?) in the course of an attempted double play without the fielder actually touching the base while in possession of the ball.  For this to occur, it must look like an out, with the middle infielder catching the ball cleanly and then turning and throwing on to the next base.  It goes without saying “but I’ll say it anyway” (tip of the cap to Vin Scully) that this is done to protect players from the potential harm that could come from colliding with incoming base runners.

So, you ask, wasn’t Tejada in the “neighborhood” when he didn’t touch second base?  Well, according to the umpires, he was not, because he was not in the process of turning a double play.  Rather, he was reaching behind the bag to receive a throw coming from an odd angle, with very little likelihood of turning the double play (which, in hindsight, is quite ironic).  Thus, Utley was not out – in the first instance – on the front end of the “neighborhood play”.

As a side note, after the play Utley was laying on the ground beyond second base and Tejada was sitting on the ground with the ball in his hand.  Had Tejada been so inclined, and had Tejada not had a broken leg, he could have tagged Utley out, obviating the need for the instant replay review.  But, since the umpire called Utley out, Tejada had no need to do so.

As for the instant replay, as I am sure you all know, the “neighborhood play” is not reviewable.  That is a judgment call by the umpire in the moment, and no drone in New York can overrule that judgment.  However, that same guy sitting in a dark room in New York can opine on whether or not a player touched the bag with the ball on a force out.  Once the umpires ruled no “neighborhood play”, it became a typical force play, which is subject to review.  I can feel blood pressure rising at Coney Island.

But, you (and by “you” I mean Keith Olbermann and others) claim that Utley “abandoned his effort to run the bases” when he left the field and went to the dugout, so he should have been called out.  Au contraire, mon frere.  Once the umpire called Utley out, he has the right – and most likely the obligation – to leave the field of play.  After the review revealed him not to be out, he had the right to reassert his position – but where, exactly?  What is fascinating, and I have not been able to find anything written about or anything in the rule book, is that Utley was not technically “safe” after the review, he just wasn’t “out”.  In the same way a batter is not to out after a dropped third strike, but he is not safe either.  Or when a runner slides past home plate to avoid a tag – not safe or out, just in limbo.  Utley never touched second base and left the field from the shortstop position.  Could the Mets have tagged Utley on his way back on the field?  Like the reasoning behind New Coke . . . no one knows!!

A couple of quick questions/asides:

  • If Ruben Tejada does not get injured, just fails to turn the double play, are we having this debate right now?  I think not.
  • If Tejada does not get injured, but Utley did, what is the collective reaction?  It is amazing to me that Utley doesn’t have a concussion or something worse.  Check out the impact of his head on Tejada’s knee and then on the base path.  Some have averred that he ran off the field without his helmet because he was so dazed and confused from the collision.  Do we care?  Is that a case – like I say to my kids – “that’s what you get . . .”?

  • This same injury happened last month in Pittsburgh to Jung Ho Kang.  As far as I can tell, outside of Western Pennsylvania, the only person who made an issue out this play was Buster Olney.  Where was the outrage when a small market player went down?

In fairness, however, a large market player got taken out at second base, and no one said a word.  Tell me if this play looks familiar:

But that was 38 years ago.  Some might say that times have changed.

Anyway, back to Saturday night.  The Mets claim a violation of Rule 7.09(e) and believe the discussion ends there.  Utley and Kendrick are out, the 7th inning ends, the Mets get six more outs and head home up two games to none with Harvey on the hill to close it out.

The Dodgers claim that the umpires properly interpreted the rules, Utley was within the baseline and within the rules of the game.  Tejada didn’t record the force out, everyone is safe, Kiké Hernandez scores, the game is tied, and the Dodgers score three more runs to even the series.

Joe Torre and MLB claim “[A]fter thoroughly reviewing the play from all conceivable angles, I have concluded that Mr. Utley’s action warrants discipline.  While I sincerely believe that Mr. Utley had no intention of injuring Mr. Tejada, and was attempting to help his Club in a critical situation, I believe his slide was in violation of Official Baseball Rule 5.09(a)(13), which is designed to protect fielders from precisely this type of rolling block that occurs away from the base.”

While I don’t necessarily disagree with Torre’s appraisal, I don’t believe we can have ex post facto interpretations or punishments.  If the crime warrants a punishment, it needs to be called a crime at the time.  Had the umpires invoked either 7.09(e) or 5.09(a)(13) on the field Saturday night, I would not have balked.  But, the fact of the matter is that they did not.  They were there, they saw it in real time, and they elected not to invoke the rule(s).  It is not appropriate for Torre to Monday Morning Quarterback and throw the book at Utley.  I feel pretty confident Utley’s representatives and the MLBPA will make a strong case that this play happens all the time without punishment.

As of this writing, Utley has appealed his suspension, and it will not be heard before Game 3.  Thus, Utley is free to play.  Whether or not he does will be Don Mattingly’s call (ostensibly, as the left-hand hitting second baseman, he should be in the lineup against right-hander Matt Harvey, but Utley hasn’t exactly been hitting balls as hard as he has been hitting shortstops, so Kendrick may get the start in any event).

But regardless of what happens in the Chase Utley Incident, this rule will be changed (or, as some might say, actually enforced).  In the same way that the home plate rule changed after Buster Posey’s collision was the straw that broken the catcher’s ankle, there will be a new rule for plays at second base.

The rule will most likely require that (a) runners actually slide, with at least one appendage fully extended (take a look at Utley’s leg when he made contact with Tejada); (b) runners must actually slide (i.e., their bodies must hit the ground prior to making contact with the fielder); (c) runners must slide directly to the base, not at the fielder; and (d) as my personal suggestion, a runner must be able to maintain contact with the base after he completes his slide (there is no reason it should be legal for a guy to end up near left field just because he could have touched the base at some point in his slide).  Some variation on the above theme will be in place before the first pitch is thrown next April 3rd.

And, as sure as I am typing this, old school guys will bitch and moan and complain that wimps are ruining the game.  And then the furor will die down, players will make plays and stay on the field, and the game will evolve in the same way it always has and always should.

For now, we have the Astros trying to out-Royal the Royals, who spent the 8th and 9th innings showing the Astros that the Royals are still the Royals.  We have the Rangers learning, first-hand, how/why the Blue Jays outscored their opponents by 221 runs this season (second most: the Cardinals with 122).  And we have Jake Arrieta – the most unhittable pitcher on the planet (he has allowed 4 runs in his last 97+ innings) – going against the Cubs’ arch-rival Cardinals in the Friendly Confines.  I know I say this often, but really, does it get any better than this?!!?

PLAY BALL!!

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY . . . WHAT’S NEXT?

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY . . . WHATS NEXT?

It seems like just yesterday – but it was actually more than a year ago – that I started writing this blog.

As I am certain you all recall, it was the A’s-Royals Wild Card game that inspired me to put fingers to keyboard and share my thoughts and musings with all of you.  I guess history will be the judge of whether or not that was a good idea.

In any event, I have now reached my Paper Anniversary.  When I first started writing, my goal was really just to share my random thoughts, and to see if I could tie them in some coherent manner to something related to pop culture, raising kids, middle (ahem) age, and, of course, baseball.  Again, history – and you all – will be the judge of whether or not I was successful in that endeavor.

So here I sit, at a crossroads.  Do I delve into Year Two, or close up the laptop and call it a career?  I arguably have now published more words than J.D. Salinger; so maybe now is the time to head into seclusion (don’t think I didn’t hear those sniggers).  However, before I head off to Cornish, I need to figure out “what’s next?”.

Starting on Friday, we will again see the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs – that ain’t news.  They have won the NL Central three years running, and, for good measure, they won 100 games this season.  And they did that while losing huge swaths of their lineup to injury.  Here is a brief sampling of starters who were out of action for considerable periods of time:

  • Adam Wainwright (P): Tore his Achilles in his fourth start, and then missed the next five months.  He has miraculously returned as a reliever for the post-season.
  • Jaime Garcia (P): 3 stints on the DL.
  • Randal Grichuk (LF): 2 stints.
  • Jordan Walden (P): 60-day DL.
  • Jon Jay (CF): Two stints (which may be a record low for him).
  • Matt Holiday (LF): He only went on the DL twice, but he was hobbled at all times in between.
  • Matt Adams (1B): Two stints, including the dreaded 60-day.
  • Lance Lynn (P): He escaped with just one appearance on the 15-day DL.
  • Carlos Martinez (P): He’s gone for the season.
  • Jason Heyward (RF): He goes on the DL at least once a season, and this year was no exception.
  • Yadier Molina (C): He avoided the DL, but that is just because his injury happened too late in the year.  They are somehow retrofitting a robo brace for the torn ligament in his thumb to allow him to catch in the playoffs.  Mike Marshall he is not.
  • Stephen Piscotty (LF): This guy somehow avoided both death and the DL after a massive collision with Peter Bourjos during the last week of the season.  In case you haven’t seen it:

Suffice it to say, it was a rough year for the Cards.  But no matter.  Mike Matheny, the no nonsense, play ‘em as they lay, even-keeled Midwesterner just said, “Next man up”.  The team responded to adversity each and every time by looking forward, rather than behind.  Their goals never faltered, even when their health did.  That approach culminated in a division championship, a return the playoffs, and home field advantage through the NLCS (if they make it that far).

My favorite television show of all time – as anyone with whom I have ever discussed this topic knows all too well – had a lead character whose catch phrase was “what’s next?”.

As the series progressed, this “what’s next?” question was asked with considerably less derision, but it signified that, as the chief executive, he was done and ready to move ahead.

Can’t we have Jed Bartlet in the next presidential debate?  Sorry, I digress.

As I mentioned in a postscript to my last posting, I lost the stepfather of a dear friend last week.  Amongst this man’s many and varied qualities was his want/desire to keep looking forward.  After hearing of his death – as we are want to do – I began reminiscing about my interactions with him over the years.  Recall that I first met this man when I was 10 or 11 years old.  He housed me, fed me, drove me, and never missed an opportunity to parent me during my preteen and teenage years.  But, later in life, when I saw him less frequently, he never missed an opportunity to impart some pearl of wisdom.  The following is a story I related to his wife after his funeral:  I ran into Allan shortly after I graduated from law school.  He gave me a handshake that he twisted to assert dominance, and then turned it into a hug, and said “congratulations”.  He then said his version of “what’s next?”.  I remember in vivid detail his telling me that I had accomplished a great deal, but now I have to set new goals.  1 year, 5 year, 10 year goals.  He said the only way to accomplish anything in life is to look ahead and push yourself to achieve.  He wanted to know “what’s next?”.

At many times in my life I have had no choice (okay, I did have a literal choice, but not one a rational person would make) but to look ahead and ask “what’s next?”.  It was in the moments of doubt, of fear, of confusion, when the only way out was forward; the only salvation was what was next.  Even if it was just a short-term goal – a week, or a day, hell, even a few hours (newborn hours can feel like days and weeks), I had to keep moving.  In the words of W.H. Auden, I had to “stagger onward rejoicing”.

Now, I am no paragon of forward movement.  I, like everyone else, take time to wallow in the past, to have little pity parties, to remember with longing an easier time.  But I try not to dwell there.

Allan gave me great advice that, in my mid-twenties, I didn’t actually heed.  In fact, it wasn’t until my early thirties, when Martin Sheen – making what was supposed to be a guest appearance in the pilot episode of Rob Lowe’s new NBC drama – looked at his team in the Oval Office and directed them to push ahead.

Athletes, like pretend White House staffers, need to have a short memory.  They cannot dwell on prior failures, they need to look forward to the next shot, the next pass, the next at bat.

The Astros didn’t look back at three straight 100+ loss seasons between 2011-2013; they didn’t look back at their near collapse (14-16 in September) that forced them to play in the Wild Card game rather than winning the division outright; and they didn’t look back at the 27 World Series championships that their opponents has previously won.  They got in, and they won on Tuesday, and then they said, “what’s next?”.

For us, what’s next is an epic battle: Cubs v. Pirates; Arrieta v. Cole; NL Central v. NL Central.  By the time some/most of you read this, that game will be over.  And what’s next will be the rest of the playoffs and the Fall Classic.

For me, what’s next on this page will be more musings, more rants, more posts.  The laptop is open; the MLB post season is here; the stories will write themselves.

PLAY BALL!!

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE . . .

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE . . .

Here I was, dropping my son off for his bar mitzvah tutor, when I heard on the radio that the Royals had just won their division and were headed back to the playoffs.  If this had been a movie, everything around me suddenly would have been blurry and wavy, and the next thing I knew I would have been sitting in my mom’s Chrysler New Yorker, wearing brown corduroy OP jeans, and two Lacoste shirts (one inside the other for that ultra-cool double collar look).  My K-Swiss sneakers would have been tooth pasted to their finest white hue.

What the hell just happened?  Did I hitch a ride in Marty’s DeLorean?  (Apropos of this post, you get bonus points if you can recall the date Marty climbs into that time machine.  Answer below.)  The Royals winning the division, bar mitzvahs every weekend, a new Rocky movie about to hit theaters.  Is it 1985 all over again?!?

A few weeks ago I had my 25-year high school reunion.  As those things go, it was a really good time.  It’s always nice to see familiar (if slightly more aged) faces, and reminisce about times of yore.  In some ways, that never gets old – even if we do.  Fitting, I guess, that Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” became a huge song and video (remember music videos?) in 1985.

My reunion, combined with having two kids in middle school, combined with the news that the Royals won their division, has made me somewhat nostalgic.  Is history repeating itself?  Am I doomed to relive my awkward early teens again.  Will I need 1.21 gigawatts to get back to normal?  Do those days really “pass you by”?

There is a little game a I like to play, either to put things in context or just to make me feel very old.  Here goes: we are as far today from 1985 as 1985 was from Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a mid-town bus in Montgomery.  For some, flannel suits, fedoras, and fire hoses were as good as it gets.  But 30 years hence, a great deal had changed; and the 30 years after that, even more has changed – just not as much as you might think (just ask the good folks at the Today show, which has been on the air and seen it all (since 1952)).

  • In 1985, I was walking the halls trying to figure out if this or that girl liked me or was willing to “go” with me;
  • Today, I think/hope/fear that my boys walk the halls of their respective schools wondering what that sideways glance from this or that girl means.
  • Ronald Reagan was trusting but verifying at the beginning of his second term (Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union in 1985);
  • In the current race for the White House, every politician worth his or her salt continues to throw around Reagan’s name as if they even remotely understand or represent his legacy.
  • Phil Collins played Live Aid in Philadelphia and London on the same July day;
  • In 2015 we are reduced to EDM shows and a bevy of I Heart Radio events all over the country.
  • For reasons still unexplained, New Coke was released in 1985;
  • Coke, trying to be healthy, recently introduced Coca-Cola Life, which is supposed to have less sugar and be made with more natural ingredients.  Let’s see how long that lasts.
  • “We Are the World” was recorded in 1985 (whatever happened to Kim Carnes?);
  • And yet, in 2015, people are still dying of hunger and disease in Africa.
  • If you walked into a restaurant in 1985, you heard this for the very first time: “smoking or non”;
  • I was just in the South, and it was shocking to be in any establishment that still allows smoking (note: they do exist).
  • Letterman presented his first Top Ten list in 1985;
  • Letterman presented his final Top Ten list a few months ago.
  • In 1985, we had one of the worst cases of police brutality in U.S. history: an aerial assault dropped by the Philadelphia PD on a house occupied by a black liberation group – killing 16 people including 5 children (anyone ever know about this?  I didn’t);
  • 30 years later (and 60 years after the Birmingham Bus Boycott), there have been more than 1,000 Black Lives Matter demonstrations held worldwide.
  • Shockingly, 1985 was the only year in the past 35 without a mass shooting in the United States;
  • We have had 45 this year alone (two on Thursday).  (Another topic for another time.)
  • We listened to “Like a Virgin” (and some of us thought that might be forever);
  • Madonna begot a whole industry of pop stars who writhe on stage and on YouTube (if you can name five or more, you have a preteen daughter).
  • At the theaters we watched The Breakfast Club and Rocky IV; and at home we rented our first movie from Blockbuster (“be kind and rewind” . . . or get charged);
  • Some our children have no idea what a “Blockbuster” is; hell, they don’t even know what a red Netflix envelope looks like.  But they certainly understand the concept of renting movies.
  • The name Rocky Dennis meant something to us in the mid-eighties;
  • Now the name Malala Yousafzai means something to us.
  • Scientists in 1985 discovered that Aqua Net was putting a hole in the ozone layer;
  • In 2015 it was reported that the hole in the ozone layer is finally closing up.  And the good news is that it looks to be completely shut by 2100!  Shares in Aqua Net sore.
  • Christa McAuliffe was selected to be the first civilian in space (she died with six other astronauts on January 28, 1986);
  • In March, Scott Kelly went to live on the Space Station for 6 months while his twin brother Mark stayed back on Earth to test the effects of space travel.
  • In 1985, kids the country over got their first taste for free (not crack, you sickos); Nintendo was introduced;
  • This year Oculus Rift was introduced so that our kids could give up their own reality and live in virtual reality.
  • And in 1985 adults got their own first fix (not coke, you deviants, that happened much earlier); Windows 1.0 was released;
  • In 2015, iOs 9.0 was introduced.  As my kids might ask, “what are Windows?”
  • In sports, we had “Da Bears” and a continuation of the Lakers/Celtics rivalry.
  • And today we have “Deflategate”, but neither the Lakers nor the Celtics are any good.
  • In 1985, Hulk Hogan, Mr. T., and Jimmy Snuka took on Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff, and Bob Orton in WrestleMania 1  (Muhammad Ali was the special guest referee).
  • Roddy Piper, Dusty Rhodes, and 13 other WWF WWE wrestlers all died in 2015.  Since 1985, 62 current/former wrestlers died before their 50th birthday (27 before their 40th birthday).  And Ali is on a special cover of SI this week honoring his life.
  • Further to that thought, the first scene in Rocky V is a flashback to Rocky IV, wherein we find the Southpaw shaking uncontrollably in the locker room after beating Drago.
  • The end of 2015 will give us Concussion.  Have we had our addled heads in the sand for more than 30 years?
  • Side note related to Da Bears and Rocky and Concussion, have you seen 2015 Jim McMahon?  If not, don’t – just hold tight to your memory of 1985 Jim McMahon.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same . . . on the diamond.

Can you guess what year we had the following division winners?

Royals — Blue Jays — Cardinals — Dodgers

If you guessed 1985 and 2015, you would be correct.

Can you guess what year the following happened in baseball?

  • The Mets exceeded all expectations behind a young, stud, fireball-throwing right-hander.
  • The Dodgers won behind two pitchers who will finish in the Top 5 for the Cy Young Award.
  • The Blue Jays won with a team full of mashers.
  • The Royals won – for the second year in a row – with a combination of middling hitting, middling starting pitching, speed, defense, and an awesome bullpen.

Again, if you guessed 1985 and 2015, you would be correct.

Here are a few other similarities that make you wonder if you flipped to the wrong page on the calendar:

  • Don Mattingly is front and center.  In 1985, he was the AL MVP; in 2015, he managed a division winner and will be fired unless he wins the World Series (very Steinbrenner-esque, don’t you think?).
  • Pete Rose is in the news.  In 1985 he became the all-time hit leader.  In 2015, he sought reinstatement to the game from which we was banned.
  • A Van Slyke will be in the outfield in the playoffs (Andy begot Scott).
  • We may be looking at a Royals-Blue Jays ALCS.
  • We may be looking at a Cardinals-Dodgers NLCS.
  • We may be looking at an I-70 World Series – much to the chagrin of Fox executives.
  • Is that Jesse Barfield wearing #29 or Jose Bautista wearing #19; Lloyd Moseby (#15) or Edwin Encarnacion (#10); George Bell or Kevin Pillar (both #11)?  Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
  • Does the outfield of Lonnie Smith-Willie Wilson-Darryl Motley remind anyone of the outfield of Gordon-Cain-Rios?
  • Oh, and one last thing that hasn’t changed in 30 years: Vin Scully’s voice still makes everything okay.  (Appreciate him folks, it sounds like last year may be his last!)

Near the end of the 2015 season, we had a childish brawl in the Nationals dugout.  Near the end of the ‘85 season, we had what I believe to be the most childish – yet understandable – act I have ever seen on a professional baseball field.  In case you forgot, check out the 0:45 mark of this video:

As we turn the calendar from September to October, we enter my favorite month of the year.

Some may take April, with Opening Day, the Boston Marathon, and the end of the cold winter.  Others may take June and the beginning of long, warm days filled with BBQs and the beach.  You can have your November and your Thanksgiving feast.  I will give you December and your holiday cheer.

But for me, I will take October.  The weather starts to cool; shorts are put in drawers and sweaters are pulled off shelves; the sun may rise later and set earlier, but that just means cooler morning runs.  Besides my birthday and Halloween, October represents the crescendo.  We have all kept a keen eye (but maybe only a single eye) on baseball for the past six months; but now we focus our attention.  Starting next Tuesday, we will have meaningful baseball every night for two fortnights, with the lone exception being the answer to the above trivia question.  The playoffs are so close, I feel like Wolfman in “Top Gun”.

PLAY BALL!!

Trivia Answer: October 26, 1985/2015 (the former also being the date of my bar mitzvah; the latter being the only day in October this year without baseball).

p.s.  In 1985, I spent nearly as much time at my friend Josh’s house as I did my own.  Thus, I spent a great deal of time with Allan Sheinin, who died this week.  My thoughts and prayers are with the entire Sheinin/Smaler clan.  Rest in peace, Allan.  Now you can skip the Pritikin and have a whole new set of potential Amway customers!!