Baseball’s Saddest Day

One of the people I follow on Twitter (I don’t recall who) called it “Baseball’s saddest day.” That’s probably an overstatement, but not by much. To put it bluntly, for baseball fans of my generation, Saturday sucked rocks.

In one calendar day, we lost two giants of the game. First came the news that we lost the man I always felt was the greatest manager of his time, Earl Weaver. Incredibly, a few hours later, came word that Stan Musial had also passed. Weaver was 82 when he passed away of a heart attack during an Orioles’ “Fantasy Cruise,” and Musial passed away at his home at the age of 92.

I’ve read a few of the articles written in the past 24 hours about Musial and Weaver, but for my money, as always, the best came from Joe Posnanski. If you read nothing else about these two legends, read Posnanski’s articles by clicking here (for Musial) and here (for Weaver). As per usual, I’ll be stealing a bit from Poz in this article.

I’m not sure I could come up with two more different men to represent the game we love together as they approach St. Peter’s heavenly gates. Stan “the Man” will arrive playing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” on his harmonica and be ushered straight through with a smile. Weaver, baseball’s self-described “sorest loser” will probably need to argue his way in. And that’s how it should be.

Musial is someone that Twins fans should be able to relate to. He’s the Cardinals’ version of our own Harmon Killebrew. I don’t think you could find a person who ever met either man who would have anything bad to say about him. He was a gentleman, a professional. You treated him with respect because of what he accomplished on the field and he treated you with respect because that’s just how he treated everyone.

Stan Musial (Photo: Getty Images)

Stan Musial (Photo: Getty Images)

How do Cardinal fans feel about him? They don’t just have a statue of Musial outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis… they have two of them.

They called him Stan “The Man” Musial. The nickname supposedly was given by a sportswriter after a game during one of Musial’s many amazing hitting streaks. The story goes that as Musial went to the plate, the fans started chanting, “here comes the Man.” Well, we all know how home town fans can do that kind of thing for their heroes, right? But here’s the thing… the Cardinals were playing in Brooklyn at the time.

But why shouldn’t he have been appreciated outside of St. Louis? After all, he treated fans on the road to 1,815 hits in his career… exactly the same number that he hit before his home fans in St. Louis.

His statistical accomplishments are simply amazing. They say he held so many batting records that they wouldn’t all fit on his Hall of Fame plaque. Seven batting titles. And, since batting average has fallen out of favor these days as a measurement of offensive productivity, he also led the National League in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS at least six times each during his career.

And you could probably safely assume he would have done so one more year had he not missed the entire 1945 season while serving in the military during World War II. (Imagine, for a moment, if Joe Mauer had missed a season or two in his prime while doing tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. There’s a reason they call it “the Greatest Generation.”)

I was not a National League fan as a kid, so I wasn’t as familiar with the NL stars as I was those in the Americal League. After all, I got to actually see Mickey Mantle, Al Kaline, Frank Howard and Brooks & Frank Robinson face off with Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva at the Met. I never saw Willie Mays or Hank Aaron play in person. Nor did I have the honor of seeing Musial play baseball in person.

But when you look at his numbers and you listen to people who did see him play… and those who were blessed to actually spend time with him… you know he was special. He was, after all, the Man.

I don’t think anyone would even pretend that Earl Weaver was as universally beloved as Stan Musial. Not anywhere outside of Baltimore, anyway.

But Musial’s greatness as a player was, to me, matched by Weaver’s greatness as a manager. It’s a cliché to say someone was, “ahead of his time,” but Weaver certainly was.

It’s disappointing to me that most of today’s fans probably just think of Earl Weaver as some kind of maniacal cartoon character of a manager, throwing tantrums and arguing with umpires. Then again, that’s an image Weaver certainly created for himself. But he was so much more than that.

WeaverOriolesHe saw things in players that others didn’t. The best example is probably Cal Ripken. Ripken primarily played third base coming up through the minor leagues. He was, after all, 6’4” tall and infielders that size played at the corners. But Weaver moved the rookie to shortstop where he successfully stayed for a very, very long time.

As Posnanski points out brilliantly, Weaver could have managed for Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s (at least for a little while). Weaver loved walks and believed outs were precious and therefore hated bunts. He figured out what a player did best and then utilized him in ways that took advantage of those strengths. Just as importantly, he avoided using a player in situations he was unlikely to succeed in. He was among the first to embrace the use of a radar gun for pitchers, but he was less concerned about the MPH of their fastball than he was about making sure their change ups were at least 10 MPH slower.

He didn’t over-manage. He said more than once that he believed it was the manager’s job to argue with umpires because he was the person the team could most easily do without during a game. Once the line up was set, he left it to his players to play the game and decide the outcome.

And his teams won a LOT of baseball games. His Orioles teams finished first or second 13 times in the 15 years he managed the Orioles between 1968 and 1982 and went to the World Series four times in that stretch. (Weaver did return for a short time to manage the Orioles in the mid 1980s, but I, along with most Orioles fans I know, choose to conveniently disregard that time.)

In fact, I blame Weaver and his 1969 and 1970 Orioles for keeping what I consider the best Minnesota Twins teams in the franchise’s history from reaching the World Series. Killebrew, Oliva, Carew and the rest fell in the AL Championship Series both years to Weaver’s teams. In fact, Weaver’s Orioles swept the Twins both years.

Yet I always liked Weaver. I think it probably has a lot to do with seeing a lot of Weaver in my father (and vice versa), who was a high school baseball coach during the 1960s. Whenever I watched Weaver manage a game, my mind’s eye saw my dad.

I get that many others never held Weaver with that kind of affection. His own players generally didn’t care for him. He pushed them hard. He rubbed them the wrong way. He treated umpires… and others… with a total lack of respect, at times. I know all that. I don’t care.

He once told a reporter, “On my tombstone, just write, ‘the sorest loser who ever lived.’” I suppose it would be appropriate to honor that request. But I hope they find room on that tombstone for one more word. “Winner.”

Yes, Saturday was a sad day for baseball fans in St. Louis and Baltimore, but just as sad for baseball fans everywhere. Musial and Weaver, each in their own starkly different ways, epitomized the game of baseball as it should be played and managed.

We like to say the game should be played “the right way.” These two men demonstrated as well as anyone that there is no single “right way” to play the game of baseball… and that’s what makes it great.

Thank you Stan and Earl. We’ll never forget you.

– JC

Butterflies With Hiccups – Iowa Style

I’m taking advantage of a bit of extra free time I have this afternoon to do another post of random news items (if you use a very generous definition of the word “news”), most of it with an Iowa connection today.

I played hooky this afternoon and watched the Twins and White Sox. True, I had to deal with the Comcast broadcast out of Chicago due to the MLB blackout rules and that means listening to Hawk Harrelson, but that’s what the mute button is for, right? I hear he left the broadcast booth in the 7th inning of the Twins 18-9 blowout of the Sox on Tuesday night and I have to admit I wish I had witnessed that.

As this MLB season winds down, I’m rooting for two things: First, as many of you know, I’m a bit of an Orioles fan, so I still have a team in contention. I still think the Birds are doing it with smoke and mirrors, but I really don’t care how they get the job done, I just want them to beat the Yankees over in the AL East and get in to the playoffs. (Admit it, you wouldn’t mind seeing JJ Hardy and Lew Ford in the playoffs, either.) Second, I’m hoping that the White Sox end up on the outside of the playoffs looking in AND that they finish just close enough that their losses to the Twins this year account for their failure to qualify.

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Miguel Sano

Speaking of playoffs, I’m driving over to Clinton IA this evening to catch game one of the best-of-three playoff series between the Twins’ Midwest League (Class A) affiliate Beloit Snappers and the Clinton LumberKings (Seattle’s affiliate). Clinton finished the MWL regular season on a 10-game winning streak (the last three of which came against my Cedar Rapids Kernels). I saw all three of the Clinton-CR games this past weekend and I think Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and their Beloit teammates have their work cut out for them. Either way, at least I’ll get to check off another MWL ballpark with my visit to Beloit tonight.

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There’s nothing really new on the Twins’ affiliation front for 2013. Now that the minor league regular season is over, teams that are interested in exploring new affiliation options (both MLB teams and minor league teams) can notify the MLB Commissioner’s Office or the president of minor league baseball of such. The teams are not allowed to state publicly that they’ve submitted that notification, however.

The powers-that-be will provide a list of potential affiliates to those teams by September 15. Then, and only then, are the various MLB and MiLB clubs able to start negotiating possible new partnerships with one another.

There was a new article posted online at the website of one of the local CR TV stations (KCRG) this week, but it really didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know. KCRG is owned by the same company (SourceMedia) as the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the report was written by the Gazette writer, Jeff Johnson, that covers the Kernels beat. Johnson has written about the affiliation issue a couple of times already this season and I think he has a pretty solid sense of what’s about to happen.

I’m optimistic, at this point, that I’ll be watching future Twins play baseball at Perfect Game Field here in Cedar Rapids for the next few summers, but the Kernels Directors (essentially, the team’s “owners”) still have a few questions they should be asking the Twins (such as, “Are you planning on buying a MWL team and moving it to St. Paul in a couple of years?”) before anyone is going to sign a deal. As soon as I hear more, I’ll post something, but I don’t expect to hear a lot before the end of September.

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Since this is an Iowa-centered post on a baseball-centered blog, I thought I would mention this little piece of news, as well.

How many of you have seen the movie “Field of Dreams”? Everyone? I thought so.

How many of you have visited the site near Dyersville, in Eastern Iowa, where the movie was filmed? Did you even know the site has been a mini-tourist attraction, complete with cornfield-bordered baseball field, pretty much ever since the movie was released? No? Well now there’s going to be even more of a reason for you to visit, especially if you have kids who play baseball or softball.

Go the Distance Baseball LLC plans to build a $38 million youth baseball/softball complex at the Field of Dreams site. The complex will include 24 ballfields of varying sizes (over and above the original field, which apparently won’t be altered).  The company received approval of a $16.5 million sales tax rebate from the Iowa Legislature & Governor last spring and now have a $5.1 million property tax rebate from the Dyersville City Council, as well.

New Field of Dreams complex (from their Facebook page)

Here’s the artist’s rendering of the site:

Sounds like Ray Kinsella is hearing more voices, doesn’t it? He and his tractor are going to be kept awfully busy plowing under all those other fields. Almost makes me want to get back in to coaching youth baseball. Almost.

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This is rivalry week down here in Iowa. It’s the week of the annual Iowa – Iowa State football game, which I know is of very little interest to much of anyone outside our state’s borders. But it’s a big deal here. It’s in Iowa City this year, which means that’s where I’ll be spending most of my Saturday.

I’m a Hawkeye season ticket holder, but I’m not “anti-ISU” like a lot of people are. I went to high school over in central Iowa, about 40 miles from Iowa State’s campus in Ames. My parents were even ISU season ticket holders for a few years (back in the days when Johnny Majors coached the Cyclones), so I saw a game or two back then. I enjoy taking jabs at my ISU-fan friends and co-workers, but I really don’t mind them having some success on the football field from time to time.

But not this Saturday.

The trophy case in the Iowa football complex that is built to hold the various traveling trophies that the Hawkeyes play for is empty at the moment, with all three of them currently in the possession of various rivals. It’s time the Cy-Hawk Trophy resumes its rightful place in Iowa City.

It may feel a bit lonely for a while, but come September 29, after the Gophers have been sent packing, Floyd of Rosedale will be there to keep it company.

– JC

Knuckleballs at the Ballpark with the Internet (bloggers)

Blogger Day with FSN (L to R: John Bonnes, Me, Bill Paker, Aaron Gleeman, Nick Nelson and the FSNorth Girls, Angie Avestruz and Kaylin Cockriel)

This past Thursday I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a baseball game at Target Field as the guest of Fox Sports North. In addition to myself, Twins bloggers Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Nick Nelson, and Bill Parker were all in attendance to take in a day game against the Orioles and help Fox Sports promote their recently upgraded GameConnect service.*  A great big thank you to Becky Ross and Laura Beshire from Fox Sports for hosting us, and Robby Incmikoski for stopping by the suite to talk to us and share some of his humorous baseball stories from the recent past.

I brought my father along with me last Tuesday.  It was nice to bring him along as my guest, an opportunity for me to repay him for bringing me to so many Twins games in the Metrodome in the early/mid 90s when I was a young boy.  We arrived on the suite level (just above the Legends Club) about 40 minutes before the first pitch so we took some time to wander around and check out a part of Target Field where we had never been before.  The suites are arranged around the infield lines from first base, back to home plate and then over to third.  In addition to being numbered, the suites are named after Minnesota lakes. My father and enjoyed looking at the images of the lakes and reminiscing about fishing trips at Pelican Lake or a vacation up north at Kabetogama Lake, as we walked through the halls.  On the wall opposite the suites were pictures, poster sized baseball cards, and paintings of great Twins players and management dating all the way back to the origins of the Minnesota Twins franchise as the Washington Senators.  I knew the names of a lot of those Twins greats (Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Bob Allison) but my father could remember watching these guys at Met Stadium.

My father and Danny Gladden (who may or may not be my step-mom’s all-time baseball crush).

Eventually we made our way into the suite, introduced ourselves to the rest of the bloggers and their guests and settled in with a couple of beers and brats to take in a game of baseball.  In the past when I have attended games I am usually locked into the on field action.  I know who is on deck, who is warming up in the bullpen.  I like to watch the ways that players communicate with each other between plays and I am always trying to decipher the signs coming in from the dugout or third base coaches.  Up in the suite, hanging out with the bloggers I found myself spending time socializing and talking about baseball things not necessarily happening on the field below.  Numerous times I found myself searching the scoreboard to find out not just what the score was, but what inning it was and who was ahead.

After the game was over (the Twins bullpen ultimately coughed up the lead in the 8th) we joined the Twins Geek, Aaron Gleeman and Nick Nelson at the Fulton Tap Room for a beer (compliments of Mr. Gleeman) before heading back to the car and returning to Wisconsin.  All in all it was a really fun day and I cannot thank FSN enough for giving me a chance to spend a day doing the things I love: tweeting, watching baseball, and spending time with my father.

*The GameConnect webpage designed to be a tag-along feature to enhance your game watching experience.  It is updated live and provides a plethora of stats and has an integrated twitter feature to connect you to social media.  While you are not going to grab a bunch of advanced stats GameConnect gives you enough information to heighten your awareness of what is going on in the game.  The Twitter feed is a little clunky, but it searches Twitter and pulls in tons of tweets referencing the current game.  It is a great place to find new twitter followers and gives other Twins tweeters a chance to find you.  

-ERolfPleiss

The Cure For What Ails You

I’m not going to go through a recitation of all of the ailments currently afflicting the Twins. If you want to go through all of that even more than you have already, you can click on any one of about a dozen of the blogs in our Twins blogroll over on the sidebar (including Howard Sinker’s return to his “A Fan’s View from Section 219” blog… welcome back Howard!). Instead I’m going to focus on a cure.

If ever there was a team that appeared prepared to provide a cure for what’s ailing the Twins, it’s this week’s opponent, the Baltimore Orioles.

If you haven’t paid much attention to the O’s lately, you might wonder why I’d make that comment. After all, Baltimore got off to a 6-1 start during the first couple of series of the year. But things have not gone so well over the past week or so for the Birds. They’ve lost seven games in a row and have been scoring runs at a pace that almost makes the Twins’ offense look productive by comparison. Almost.

They’ve also been bitten by the same injury bug that has chewed its way through the Twins clubhouse. Don’t look for old friend JJ Hardy out there at shortstop for the O’s, he’s down with a strained oblique muscle. They’re also missing pitchers Justin Duchscherer and Brian Matusz.

We’re all familiar with the early season struggles of Francisco Liriano (0-3, 9.42 ERA), but if you wanted to conjure up a cure for Frankie’s ills, I’m not sure you could do much better than the lineup he’ll face tonight in Baltimore… not to mention his opponent on the mound. Chris Tilman sports an 0-1 record and a 7.30 ERA covering three starts, during which he’s amassed just 12 and 1/3 innings pitched.

In fact, the only game in this series that looks to have to potential to be a bit of a pitchers’ duel is game three on Wednesday, when Nick Blackburn takes his 3.06 ERA up against the Orioles’ Zach Britton, who’s been pretty much the O’s lone reliable starting pitcher. Britton sports a nifty 2.75 ERA over his three starts.

Take aim! Eutaw Street beyond Camden Yards' RF fence (Photo: Brian Cassella-Times)

This would also appear to be a good series for Jim Thome to resume his assault on 600 career home runs. Not only is Oriole Park at Camden Yards known as a hitters’ park, but all four of the O’s starting pitchers this series are right-handers and Baltimore pitchers have already given up 19 home runs this season. That means Jimmers should get plenty of opportunities to put a ball out there on Eutaw Street. In fact, this would be an ideal time for Justin Morneau to find that home run stroke and the way Jason Kubel is swinging the bat, he could add a few taters to his total, as well.

Right now, the only Orioles hitter that’s been making solid contact is second baseman Brian Roberts. If you think Kubel and Denard Span are feeling a bit like they’re having to carry the load for the Twins, pity Roberts who doesn’t even have a partner to share the load with.

The Twins return home after this series and the Orioles will be hosting the Yankees and Red Sox as their homestand continues after our guys leave town. I’m sure both of these struggling teams are looking for this series to provide a cure to their recent ailments. Let’s hope it’s the Twins that come away with that cure.

Getting their first series win of the season on the road in Baltimore would go a long way toward making everyone, players and fans alike, feel better.

– JC

Flipping The @MinnesotaTwins The Bird

Some of you may still recall my rant a week or so ago about the absurd, insane, unfair, and downright indefensible blackout rules that prevent me (and all of my fellow Iowans) from watching Twins (and Brewers and Cardinals and Royals and Cubs and White Sox) games online. I mentioned somewhere in that rant that this would be my 51st and final year as a Twins fan if the rules don’t change by next year… which I know they almost certainly won’t do.

Many of you, I’m sure, believed that vow to be nothing more than an emotional (over)reaction to a situation that has, after all, existed for years and that I would eventually calm down and remain a lifelong loyal Twins fan. It’s a fair assumption.

It’s also going to prove to be an erroneous assumption. I’m going to burn all of my Twins gear… 3 jerseys, 3 Spring Training sport shirts, at least 3 caps, and more t-shirts than I can count… on Opening Day 2012 if the Twins still insist on including Eastern Iowa in their “protected home market”, despite FSN not bothering to do what it takes to actually get carried on a local cable provider.

In fact, I’ve already chosen the team I plan on devoting my fandom to, in place of the Twins. I’ll be trading in my navy and red for the black and orange of the Baltimore Orioles.

As a matter of fact, thanks to those absurd, insane, unfair, and downright indefensible blackout rules, I’ve actually already watched more Orioles baseball than I have of the Twins.

And I gotta say… I’m loving this year’s Orioles team.

I expected them to be better than they have been in several years. In fact, in my “offbeat predictions” post last week, one of the limbs I went out on was to predict the O’s would finish second in the AL East this year. That was before Baltimore went on to win their first four games of the season, with a sweep of the Rays down in St. Petersburg and before the Red Sox lost their first six (and counting) games of the season!

As you may be able to tell, I’m actually getting excited for this team. The “veteran” sluggers they brought in to shore up their offense haven’t even started hitting yet. Vlad Guerrero finally hit his first HR of the season tonight, Derrek Lee has just one (as of the 5th inning of Thursday’s game, which I’m watching as I write this), and Mark Reynolds still hasn’t gone yard. (It seems the Twins aren’t the only team yet to get much thunder out of the heart of their batting order.)

JJ Hardy in his (and my) new colors

But Brian Robers has been hot and good old “number 2 in your program and number 1 in your hearts” JJ Hardy has been a double machine. He may only have three hits on the season, but they’ve all been two-baggers. And the young starting rotation has really done a nice job so far.

It’s actually kind of fun to root for a young-ish team on the rise (hopefully), that’s been built by former Twin GM Andy MacPhail and is being managed brilliantly by Buck Showalter. Only the Twins, among AL teams, had a better record from August through the end of the regular season last year than the Orioles did.

As an Orioles fan, I still get to vehemently root against the F’ing Yankees and the East Coast Bitch Sox.

Of course, the BEST part about becoming an Orioles fan is that I get to actually watch them play every game. OK… not EVERY game… for example, later this month when they host the Twins, I WON’T be able to watch those games (thanks to the absurd, insane, unfair, and downright indefensible blackout rules).

But there’s a chance I’ll be in Baltimore the last week of April and they’re hosting the Red Sox for three games that week, so there’s a very real possibility that I’ll actually be watching my first regular season MLB game in Camden Yards, instead of Target Field, this season.

I’ve even started checking out some of the Orioles blogs (scouting the future competition, you might say). There don’t seem to be nearly as many as the umpteen million Twins blogs around so I think maybe that’s a lineup that could use me!

And with that.. YESSSSSSSSS Adam Jones just tied the Tigers 4-4 in the sixth with his first HR of the season!

I wonder if there’s a song I need to learn. Ah well… until I find out, I’ll just stick with…

~You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant~

– JC