Archive for October, 2009

Whirled Series

October 27, 2009

October 27, 2009 . . . .

 That perfect Yankee-Phillie World Series matchup is the final chapter of the 60 storied seasons that began the year those same two teams first played each other for keeps in the 1950 World Series, swept by the New Yorkers.  Yet astoundingly, these six amazingly full decades have not in the least altered two facts astonishingly frozen in baseball history, whether written adverbially in 1950 or 2009:  The Bronx Bombers continue to have won the most undisputed (league’s best regular season record, i.e., true pennant, and majors’ best post-season record, i.e., World Champs) major league championships, and the “Fightin’ Phils” still have never won a one!  (See “Futility Streaks,” Art of the Article link.)  Even an inspired Philadelphia victory over the New Yorkers would not give them and their fans, at long last, their first ever, clear-cut, unchallengeable triumph.

 Let’s use and peruse that ’50 series, the “closest sweep” in fall classic annals (until the White Sox whitewash of the Astros in 2005) to return to Chicago for a worthwhile reminiscence:  the, if not infamous, famously unknown “Meeting of the Casimirs.”  The N.L. MVP in 1950 was none other than Phillie reliever supreme, major league save leader Casimir James “Jim” Konstanty (whom his future team Yankees edged 1-0 in his surprise Series opening start).  On July 11 in Comiskey Park that same season, former White Sox All Star Casimir Eugene “Cass” Michaels, now a Senator, doubled and scored for the A.L. as a pinch hitter, while Konstanty hurled a hitless, two-strikeout inning for the N.L. stars, marking the only time the only Casimirs in baseball history played (flawlessly, to boot) in the same All Star Game!

 Digressing again from that fortuitous digression just brought to us by MLB, we must return to New York City and the matter at hand.  The Phillies, coming full circle to avenge their 1950 “Whiz Kids” defeat, would bring home a second significant, if smaller success:  they can become the first team since the Yankees of the ’90s to repeat in the three-tier playoff era (and the first in the 21st century) and, in beating the posh Pinstripers head-to-head in 2009, would definitely deserve justifiable kudos, proper props and heavy hat-tipping for turning it all around, as well as continued encouragement for their now nearly Sisyphean task to really (and finally) “win it all”–next year!

Part II – New York Rites to Free Mason from Oblivion–
and A Fond Grim Reminder . . . .

 The Brian Doyles and Buddy Biancalanas of the world (I wouldn’t even mention Dusty Rhodes and Chuck Essegian but for the fact I just did), despite their unfathomable World Series numbers, have to stand (or lie) statistically with Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson et al. when it comes to unfailing success in October.

 That 1.000 BA, 5.000 OPS that stares back at us from the Classic’s ledger was first achieved by a defensive replacement who homered in his only career World Series at bat.  Jim Mason’s third-game 1976 Yankee Stadium home run against Cincinnati was a rare bright spot for the Yanks, who were summarily swept by the Big Red Machine.

 This perhaps doubtable achievement became Halloweenly redoubtable when it was eerily matched 29 years later by another defensive replacement in game 3 of a World Series sweep, when Geoff Blum shockingly homered in his one at-bat for the altogether shocking White Sox champs (see Ghosts of Octobers Past)!

 Jim (“Don’t Call Him James”) Mason, however, remains as the only man in baseball mystery to have homered in a World Series in his only post-season plate appearance, at once a perfect autumn opening and closing act . . . .

*          *          *          *          *

 Remembering another Yankee this October who in not making a World Series mark made his mark.  For can you imagine a Yankee All Star in the ’50s playing in five seasons for the Bombers but never in a winning World Series?  Highly mathematically improbable, to say the most!  But Bob Grim, after winning 20 games for the winningest Casey Stengel team of all (which, equally improbably, despite winning 103 games, missed the Series entirely, finishing in second place to the ready-to-be-swept 1954 Indians), pitched in the losing New York series of ’55 and ’57 and did not appear in the ’56 and ’58 victory runs.  So how should we remember fondly Grim?  Only as the only pitcher ever to both win 20 games his first season (1954) and be a major league save leader (1957) over the course of his career.  Who could ask for a more select company than our long-forgotten October star-crossed star, Robert Anton Grim.

 Speaking of missing World Series, I suddenly am thinking of a great player (and guy) who, while never playing in one, literally made Series history!  Do you know this bit of baseball essentia?  By dint of hint:  in 1929, seven of the top eight A.L. batting leaders were future Hall of Famers, but the man who led them all was not!  Who was he?  He co-starred with Joe E. Brown in the baseball film, “Slide, Kelly, Slide” (he was a classically trained singer), learning all the angles of the camera and eventually creating the official World Series film anthology we still so treasure today.  Of course, the answer is the great batting coach (and a champion at .369, alas, without playing in a championship game) Lew Fonseca.  A unique individual on and off the field, there can be none in lieu of Lew.

 Thanks for the World Series memories . . . .

Taking Note

October 14, 2009

O, that 163rd game–among the greatest wins for those Twins, and the Metrodome was never louder! And when were there ever two well-deserved, inadvertent standing ovations in the same game? Let me explain . . . .

With one out in the top of the eleventh, Minnesota called upon their recently acquired veteran, lefty Ron Mahay, to try to reserve the 5-5 tie, facing Tiger centerfielder Curtis Granderson, the man who, by the way, became in 2007 the only player in the history of baseball to surpass 100R, 20 2Bs, 20 3Bs, 20 HRs and a .300 BA in a season–but allow me to resume our session of more apropos digression.

When Mahay struck out the left-handed-hitting Granderson swinging, and was dutifully replaced by manager Ron Gardenhire, the crowd wildly cheered the southpaw as he strolled off the mound with his job very well done.

But what Mahay had secretly accomplished in this moment was an unimaginable attainment, a 13-year accumulation of obscured moments, unmatchable, I venture, for at least the rest of baseball eternity: By avoiding a loss in this last regular season game of 2009, Mahay had pitched for eight different big league teams, with a 1.000 W/L pct. season for each of them! His 1-0 mark for the Twins capped an amazing run that started in his first year pitching for Boston in 1997, carrying through his entire nomadic career since: Oakland, Florida, Chicago, Texas, Atlanta, Kansas City and Minnesota! His total of nine 1.000 seasons included three 1-0’s, three 2-0’s, two 3-0’s, and one 5-0.

Does Ron Mahay, heading for his first post-season appearance, belong with the immortals? Does this incidence of some skill fueling much coincidence, making, at best, the most meaningful of mostly meaningless figures possible, while ending a simmering symmetry unsought, entitle the reliever a trip to Cooperstown without buying a ticket? Of course not, yet is not that what makes the unfolding of such successes even more pleasurable to observe? And upon further review, in another sense, maybe it does . . . .

In 1995, a young centerfielder named Ron Mahay made his major league debut for the Red Sox, playing five games as an outfielder. By the time he returned to the majors in ’97, Mahay had been converted–to a pitcher. Have any other Red Sox outfielders also pitched for them? Only Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper, so to paraphrase Groucho, any such club that would have Ron Mahay as a member, he’d be honored to join!

And on this “Mahay Day,” a second “unbeknownst” had the overflow crowd still standing, wildly waving their Homer Hankies. For Alex Casilla’s season-long (and seemingly hopeless) battle to cross that dreaded “Mendoza Line” of a .200 BA, after his .281 ‘08 campaign dramatically ended with his game-winning bouncer into right field that not only sent the Twins and their fans into the playoffs and the accompanying appropriate delirium, but raised Casilla’s batting average, on this last at-bat of the year, from an embarrassingly forgettable .199 to a never-to-be forgotten .202! It was no wonder that they could not stop cheering . . . .

The ensuing chatter concerning the “fatigued” Twins’ disadvantage in heading to New York for Game #1 of the LDS presupposed the Twins couldn’t lose to the Yanks on their own merits. For inspiration, they could recall the “absolutely drained” NY Giants going into Yankee Stadium the next day following Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard round the world” and beating the Bombers 5-1.

And, to further note the interconnectedness of all things baseball (and the 10-fold tenuousness comprising its indestructible history), only Jackie Robinson’s last regular season game heroics, combining his 9th inning, game-saving impossible diving catch and 14th inning game-winning homer that forced, ironically, Brooklyn’s lasting heartache in the 1951 Giant-Dodger playoff, made not only The Flying Scotsman’s equally implausible heroics but, more or less importantly, this paragraph about the “winning 2009 one game one less than the losing 2008” Twins (who had one player, Orlando Cabrera, become the only man ever to be on the winning team two consecutive years in a deciding game #163, and another, Joe Crede, the only one disabled for both) possible! And now, back to the playoffs . . . .

As we all know, it all started in Washington for Mr. Smith. But the professional journey that began when Seth Smith was playing in Pasco, Washington in the Northwest League and continues, as with the aforementioned Mahay, with a playoff guest spot, is more interesting than you (or he!) would think, if we set the way-back machine merely to 2007. Talk about his unduplicatable feat: .500 or better batting average in result season, division playoff, league
championship and World Series, all thanks to the miracle of small statistical sampling or, less alliteratively, data dearth!

Barry Codell

P.S. Time for “Name that BAM (right before “The BOP is right”) on the Barry Code Network!  How closely, how correctly have you observed the 2009 season? Here are 10 names to determine 5 who had more averaged bases batting than at-bat outs (BAM over 1.000).  Separate them from the 5 who had more outs than bases (BAM under 1.000):

1. Troy Tulowitzki
2. Matt Holliday
3. Joey Votto
4. Evan Longoria
5. Carlos Pena
6. Adam Dunn
7. Ben Zobrist
8. Derrek Lee
9. Hanley Ramirez
10. Chase Utley

The answer will be found in the latest entry on the Barry Code’s “Art of the Article” link—and thanks to all for playing!

Taking Note

October 1, 2009

September 29, 2009

To all my baseball-speaking friends, I write from Chicago, the center of the baseball universe, the only city where teams from both leagues have played since 1900 (that makes 220 seasons, exactly half of which I’ve been privileged to see unfold), home of the White Sox (formerly the White Stockings), the Cubs (formerly the White Stockings!), and Don Sevcik’s Barry Code.

At the Don’s gracious invitation (see Michael Coreolone, Godfather III” “They keep pulling me back” scene), I will share a note-taking of what I take note, beginning here with herewith an ample example from today’s games, which I call “A Tale of Two Homers” . . . .

As Chris Iannetta’s thrilling pinch-hit 11th-inning home run cleared the right field fence to ensure Colorado’s 7-5 win over the Brewers (an hour after Huston Street nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for the Rockies, and two hours following the season’s most unnerving “Go Cubs Go” denial rendition by the usual capacity Wrigley Field crowd), I realized that a formerly unimaginable feat of futility touching two centuries had come to pass:  those wriggly cubbies were ensured of finishing a tenth straight full decade without a World Series triumph, today being clinched away from playoff play!  (Conjure the 1909 Cub fan, disappointed his team could not repeat their title run!  Who could know the non-title streak could and would grow to over 100 years?)

Another case of a non-Chicago game being drawn back to the equator of Chicago baseball history was the Twins-Tiger division showdown this afternoon in Detroit.  Chicagoan Curtis Granderson unwittingly made sure Hall of Fame Soxer Hoyt Wilhelm’s unnoticed relief record streak of 5 straight under 2.00 ERA seasons was safe when his seemingly futile homer settled in the seats against the great Joe Nathan, consigning the Minnesota right-hander to no more than 3 such consecutive years, despite saving the 3-2 win.

How all baseball roads lead to Chicago!  How about this bit of essentia (opposite of trivia!)?  Two All Star sluggers, homer and RBI leaders during AL careers, playing their penultimate seasons in Chicago, both with a 1.000 W/L pct. and ERA under 2.00, pitching in their final big league seasons.  Hint:  Each had a previous season pitching with ERA of 0.00!  Answer:  Jimmie Foxx and Rocky Colavito (Foxx played for Cubs, Colavito for Sox).

Speaking of the Sox, this current and last week of baseball’s latest season and decade has, of course, both 20th and 21st century Chicago written all over it.  Hearing the season-ending fascination with Yankee and Angel offensive juggernauts reminds me to remind you that the top scoring team of this decade–and the only one to score more than 6 runs per game (unless the Yanks average 20 runs per game their last 4)–was indeed the Frank Thomas-led 2000 Chicago White Sox.  And (too strangely) coincidentally, the highest scoring team of the first 10 years of the 1900s was a White Sox club also playing in their first year of that decade, averaging nearly 6 runs per game!  (A good springboard to peruse the Don’s “Team Stats” comparisons, with similar BOPs and BAMs, despite a nearly 200-homer difference between the 100-year-apart Sox sockers!)

Another high comedy highlight from the West Coast night:  ex-Sox and Cub David Aardsma (first in baseball history’s alphabet–move over, Henry!) closing out Seattle’s 6-4 victory over Oakland, assuring both a losing season and last place finish for the movie-minded Moneyball A’s of guru Billy Beane!

Thanks all, for all!