baseball

“A Great Day For Baseball”: Presenting at the Women’s Baseball Conference

I had the honor of being selected to present at the annual Women in Baseball Conference this weekend, sponsored by SABR (Society of American Baseball Research) and the International Women’s Baseball Center. The event was hosted by Rockford University in Illinois, who are very involved in women’s baseball and research, including building a museum dedicated to the Rockford Peaches. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference went virtual this year, and was so glad to be a part of the 3-day extravaganza. There were so many interesting topics from men & women all over the country sharing their knowledge on racial and gender equality – there was even live music at one point!

My topic highlights the New York Giants of the early 1950’s, their manager Leo Durocher and wife Laraine Day, who became known as the “First Lady of Baseball.” Below is my my full speech from the event and video when it becomes available. Again, I want to thank SABR, IWBC, and Rockford University for the incredible opportunity.


Leo Durocher and Laraine Day were the original odd couple. She was a straight-laced Mormon who didn’t drink or smoke, and Durocher was one of baseball’s “ colorful characters” – rough around the edges, profane, and confrontational. He earned the nickname “Leo the Lip” for his bench jockeying during his playing days and the verbal abuse he gave umpires as a manager. But they say opposites attract so perhaps that explains the chemistry that brought the two very different personalities together which resulted in a benefit to baseball.

Leo Durocher was a second baseman and shortstop in Major League Baseball from 1925 to 1945. He played for the New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and most famously, the St. Louis Cardinals, where he was part of the legendary “Gas House Gang”, comprised of players known for their sloppy appearance and dirty tactics on the field. He won a World Series with them in 1934. He was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1939 where he became a player-manager and it was as a manager that he he truly excelled. It was also during this time with the Dodgers that he made his famous, cynical observation, “Nice guys finish last”, although he claimed he had phrased it differently. He continued to manage the team until 1948 when he was “offered” to Horace Stoneham, owner of the Dodger’s National League archrivals, the NY Giants. This was shocking for both Dodger and Giants fans at the time, but Durocher had worn out his welcome with Dodgers GM Branch Rickey. Durocher had been banned from baseball for one year in 1947 by then-MLB Commissioner Albert “Happy” Chandler for “associating with gamblers”, namely the associates of his close friend, Hollywood star, George Raft. Durocher always disputed this claim and blamed it on a feud he had with ex-Dodger’s GM, Larry MacPhail.

Laraine Day was born in Roosevelt, Utah into a large, wealthy family and was raised in the Mormon faith. She made her way to Hollywood while in her teens to try her hand at acting. She became known as a “B” movie actress, although she did appear in Alfred Hitchcock’s espionage thriller, Foreign Correspondent. However, she was best known for her recurring role as Nurse Mary Lamont in the Dr. Kildare movie series in the 1940’s.

Leo Durocher and Laraine Day met in 1946 during a chance encounter at an airport during a layover. The two could not have been more different: Durocher had a tough-guy persona and consorted with gangsters, gamblers and celebrities alike. Day was a devoutly religious woman who didn’t drink liquor or gamble, two of Durocher’s favorite pastimes. But they struck up a friendship and began to see each other regularly at various parties and public events. But there was one problem: Day was married. Her husband was a failed musician and heavy drinker named Ray Hendricks. At first, he accompanied Day and Durocher on several of their outings, but grew suspicious of Durocher’s interest in his wife. He confronted him about it and Durocher denied they were having an affair. Day didn’t want these innuendos to get out to the press. She and Hendricks had adopted two children, and she had her reputation to think of, as she was a popular Hollywood actress who was known for her wholesome image and “nice girl” roles.

Hendricks became angry and filed for divorce naming Durocher as a correspondent, which meant he accused him of having an affair with his wife, and in turn, accused his wife of infidelity. The divorce, along with a hearing before a judge was going to take a year stateside so in 1947 they flew to Mexico to get a “quickie” divorce and then crossed the border into Texas, and got married in El Paso. However, their marriage was found to be illegal, causing much embarrassment for both of them, and when the press found out the couple soon found themselves as a hot topic for the gossip tabloids. 1947 was a hellish year for Durocher, between the baseball ban by the Commissioner, followed by the stress and bad publicity from the marriage scandal. They were finally legally married in 1948, and Day wasted no time throwing herself into her new role as a “baseball wife.”

She familiarized herself with the game to such an extent that she could easily converse with players about their lives both on and off the field. Day wanted to help her husband’s team reclaim some of the spotlight stolen from them by a certain baseball team that played in the Bronx, the NY Yankees. During the late 40’s and early 1950’s, the Yankees were the undisputed kings of the sports world, boasting a pantheon of stars such as Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra. Day, along with NY Giants fans, felt their team was always playing second fiddle to the glorious and glamorous Yankees. Day came up with an innovative idea that she thought would showcase the Giants team and its players and increase their popularity. She used her professional knowledge and skill as an actress in front of the camera to host a ground-breaking TV program called, “Day with the Giants” which was a 15-minute feature that was aired on television before every Giants home game. It consisted of player interviews, and also interviews with the players’ wives and families. At the time, no team, not even the star-studded Yankees, had their own pregame show. Televised baseball was in its infancy in the early 1950’s and broadcasts consisted of the game on the field, and even then, they would only televise special events like the All-Star Game or World Series games. Day thoroughly enjoyed her role as on-the-field TV host. She was the first to show the networks, and major league baseball itself, what the future of the game could be by reaching out to existing fans, gaining new ones, increasing team popularity and visibility, and creating additional revenue through advertising and sponsors.

She was a great ambassador for the game. Always a lady in every respect, she was generous and gracious to all she encountered through her work in baseball. She went out of her way to make not only the players themselves feel special and appreciated, but also the sportswriters who covered the team, and gave many lavish luncheons, hosting them and their wives. Day was so respected and admired by sportswriters that she became the first woman to appear at the annual show given by the Baseball Writers Association New York Chapter in 1951, which presented an award for the time and effort she put into promoting the game of baseball.

Day and Durocher became a celebrity couple, making TV and radio appearances and were featured on the cover of the popular magazines of the era. Once scorned as immoral and reckless, they were now embraced by the public, who were impressed by their genuine affection for each other and the game of baseball. However, controversy found them again. An ugly incident raised the curtain on lingering problems below the surface of American society in the happy, carefree 1950’s.

Laraine Day, along with husband Leo Durocher, were featured on the cover of Sport Illustrated, a fledgling sports publication which had just launched in August 1954. Their first baseball team preview came in April 1955, featuring the reigning World Series Champions, New York Giants. Leo Durocher and wife Laraine are standing on either side of Giants superstar, black centerfielder, Willie Mays, and each had a hand on May’s shoulders. When the magazine hit the newsstands, it ignited a blaze of controversy. Angry readers sent hate mail to the magazine, threatened to cancel their subscriptions and boycott the magazine claiming it was an affront to decency to show a white woman touching a black man. Ironically, Willie Mays was Day’s favorite Giants player. By all accounts, she adored him and always sang his praises every chance she got. They both thought so highly of Mays that Durocher used to ask Mays to babysit for young son while they were on the road, taking the boy to the movies, etc.

Laraine Day and Leo Durocher divorced in 1960 but remained friends. After their divorce, Day lost all interest in baseball. She said, “When our relationship was over, so was my relationship with baseball”. She continued to work as an actress both in film and television until the 1980’s. She died in 2007. Durocher continued to manage various teams in baseball until 1973 when he retired. He was posthumously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager in 1994 by the Veteran’s Committee. In a final, loving gesture to both her ex-husband and baseball, Laraine Day accepted the award on his behalf and she spoke at the ceremony.

Bridget Mulcahy – A Great Day for Baseball – starts at 2:18:00

baseball

Dinger Bats: Handcrafted in the USA

I discovered Dinger Bats a couple of months ago during a chaotic time at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when quarantine was imposed and stay-at-home orders had been issued. More importantly,  MLB Spring Training had been abruptly cancelled and the future of the baseball season was in doubt. Sports equipment entrepreneur and owner of Dinger Bats, Kyle Drone, had a fundraising promotion selling T-shirts, where a portion of proceeds would be donated to local healthcare workers. I asked how I could help out, and he sent one of the shirts to me. I took some photos with it, and I got a great response. But I was intrigued by his main enterprise, which was manufacturing wood-bats, specifically ones made for Major League Baseball players.

I wondered how the pandemic and economic slowdown in this country had affected a small business like his. He was nice enough to let me interview him, and answer a few questions that inquiring minds want to know about the bat business. He also surprised me with a complimentary, custom major league-quality bat!! (scroll down for more photos)

1. Hi, Kyle. Can you tell me about the story of Dinger Bats from its inception as an idea to its fruition as a business? 

I was a catcher on the baseball team at a small college in Jackson, TN when in my Junior year the local Double-A affiliate (now the Jackson Generals/Diamondbacks AA) contacted my college coach and asked if I would be interested in being their bullpen catcher for the minor league season.  I accepted with the idea that I could be seen by minor league coaches and personnel and also get experience catching pro pitchers to hone my skills. 

I did this for two summers and became friends with several of the players. Often times, players didn’t have their cars, so I would drive them around to do their shopping, errands, etc. Instead of gas money, they gave me bats and other equipment. I ended up with quite a few bats, and became fascinated with learning more about the industry, and all of the different models and brands.

One of the players on the team was having a bad year at the plate, and I asked him why and he thought it could be because of the bats he was using. He said he didn’t know anybody in the big leagues that could give him a major league quality bat.  I asked him, “Would you try out some bats if I made you some?”  He said sure, he’d try them.  I spoke to my father, told him about the situation, and he agreed to help me. He bought a lathe and when I returned home we started production, and the rest is history.

Dinger offers players at every stage of the game the “S3 assurance” which is:

  1. Superior Wood
  2. Superior Craftsmanship
  3. Superior Customer Service

Players from little league to the Major Leagues use and praise Dinger Bats. Some notable past and present players on the Dinger Bat list include: Rhys Hoskins, Kyle Schwarber, Starling Marte, Brock Holt, David Freese, Hunter Pence, Josh Bell, Nick Swisher, Shane Victorino, Stephen Vogt, Matt Adams, and more. 

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2. What makes Dinger Bats stand out and make them unique from all the others?

My goal from the start and still today is that we wanted to provide every player at every level from tee ball to the big leagues the opportunity to have the best quality wood possible.  That is what we have been able to do successfully and continue to do that today. They are handcrafted in Ridgway, Illinois – a small town on the northern tip of the Shawnee National Forest.

3. What materials do you use?

The main materials we use are Hard Maple, Yellow Birch, and Northern White Ash.  They’re all very good materials but over the recent years Maple has become the wood of choice at most all levels.

Their M-series was designed to give anyone the opportunity to hit with the very best wood available. There is no better maple on the market today.

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3. How do you market Dinger Bats to professional players, young athletes, coaches, leagues, etc.? 

We primarily market by the grassroots approach of actually visiting camps and teams throughout the year and rely heavily on word of mouth at the professional level.  For young athletes we use social media, email, attend tournaments, etc. We are now starting to use influencers and advocates to help us in these efforts.

 4. Describe the process of making a bat from start to finish.

  • The raw material comes to us in the form of billet (a dowel) that is 37″ long and 2.8″ in diameter.
  • We weigh and grade each billet as they come in. We take the top 10% of the billets and that is our “MLB level” wood that anyone can buy as our M-series that we offer on the website.
  • We select the desired weight for the bat.
  • We run it through lathe with the program that I have created and in 90 seconds, a bat is cut.
  • We then use a semi automatic sander on the bat, cut off the excess, and cup the end of the barrel to the desired weight.
  • We paint the bat in the paint shop to the customers specifications and engrave with wood type, model, size, serial number and any personalization that may be requested.

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5. How has the COVID-19 pandemic and cancellation of all sports impacted the sports equipment industry and Dinger Bats specifically? 

The pandemic has slowed our business for this time of year significantly and has hurt the industry quite a bit, but hasn’t completely stopped us.  We luckily have great business internationally that has allowed us to keep going through this time.  But things keep getting postponed and even cancelled in the US and in my state of Illinois.  We hope that there is an end to this in the near future but it’s out of our control.  All we can do is keep going and have a positive mindset throughout the process.  I believe we will get through this and come out stronger in the end.

Thank you again to Kyle Drone and Dinger Bats for taking the time to answer my questions, working with me, and making a beautiful, custom bat for Cheap Little Swing. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to align my blog with great American businesses such as Dinger. I hope you will join me in supporting them during this time, too.

You can shop all of their bat models, hats, apparel, batting gloves and more on their website here.

Keep swingin’!

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The “Cheap Little Swing” model – MA-32, professional Maple. 33″, 30 oz.
baseball · Books

Billy Martin: A Baseball Life

Billy Martin would have been 92 years old today had he not died in a car accident on Christmas Day, Dec. 25th 1989 in Upstate New York. I want to pay tribute to a man whose life was baseball, and reflect on his remarkable 38-year career as a Major League Baseball player and manager, and make a case for him to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Billy Martin was the embodiment of the motto, “he who dares, wins.” His style of play and management was one of aggression, intensity, and bravado. He was considered a brilliant field general, and many have hailed him a baseball genius and an innovator. Born Alfred Manuel “Billy” Martin on May 16, 1928, he was raised by his Italian-American mother and grandmother in a tough, working-class neighborhood in West Berkeley, California. Early on, he took his mother’s sage advice, “take shit from no one”, and made it his life’s credo. He embraced the underdog persona his entire life, even after he found success as a player and later a manager in Major League Baseball. He enjoyed a successful playing career as a second baseman for the New York Yankees, the team he would always be most identified with. He flourished under the tutelage of his mentor, Yankee manager Casey Stengel, and Martin won four World Series with them, and was named MVP (Babe Ruth Award) of the 1953 World Series for his heroics at the plate. Because of off-the-field issues, namely heavy drinking and nightclub brawls, he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics in 1957. Away from the Yankees, his teammates and friends, and especially Stengel, he floundered as a player, and his playing career ended in 1967 with the Minnesota Twins.

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My one-for-four would kill ya.” -Billy Martin on his reputation as a clutch player.

However, his baseball acumen and leadership skills had been noted by the Twins front office and they hired him as a scout, and then later as the third base coach for the big league club. Unfortunately, in an episode which would be repeated throughout Billy’s career, he had a physical altercation with the Twins travel secretary in a hotel lobby, and lost his coaching job. But the team’s owner recognized Billy’s value as a teacher and motivator, and offered him a job managing their struggling Triple A affiliate, the Denver Bears.

Thus began Martin’s managerial career, during which he created a blueprint for what would become his trademark ability to turn around losing teams. He lit a fire under the lackluster Bears with repetitive drills in game fundamentals, working with them tirelessly on “small ball” tactics like bunting and stealing bases, along with other game strategies such as the hit and run and squeeze play. Martin had been a gritty, hard-nosed player and expected the same from those who played for him. His time with the Bears was also notable for the relationships he formed. Bears third baseman Graig Nettles, who would later play for Billy with the Twins and Yankees was always amongst Billy’s biggest proponents. Also on the team was an aging pitcher, Art Fowler, who would become Billy’s close friend and his pitching coach for many years on the various teams he managed. It was also during his tenure as manager of the Bears that he first kicked dirt on an umpire when arguing a call. A dubious career highlight to be sure, but one that he became forever associated with. When the Bears’ season ended, Martin was offered the job as manager of the Minnesota Twins.

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I feel like I’m sitting on a keg of dynamite” – Twins owner Cal Griffith after he hired Billy Martin as manager.

The young Twins team was encouraged to steal bases, sometimes a double steal or the steal of home plate, even if they were not going to be successful. Martin knew that when a team was aggressive, and even a bit reckless it would set their opponents back on their heels, and instill fear in them causing them to play tight and make mistakes. He made the hit and run, bunts, and the squeeze play routine, as the idea was to put the ball in play and make things happen. Martin also had an extraordinary instinct for the nuances of the game and would frequently anticipate and counter opposing managers’ moves, much to the delight and amazement of his players – and to the dismay of the managers!

Aside from an amped-up running game, Martin also instituted other novel strategies, some which were ahead of their time. Despite his reputation as an old-school baseball man, Billy liked change and came to embrace the designated hitter when it came to the American League in 1973 (he even called for a Universal DH). He complained that baseball games were too long with too many unnecessary delays, and he recognized that computers and statistics could help managers make decisions about how players were used. He also employed the platoon, which he had learned from Stengel, to effectively exploit pitching match ups. Going a step further, he encouraged his players to play out of position if he needed their bat in the line up and no one was immune from these expectations, not even veteran players.

During his time as their third base coach, Martin had developed some unlikely bonds. The Latin players on the team were considered to be brooding malcontents, but in reality were homesick and frustrated at not being able to communicate effectively. Showing his softer side, Billy reached out to them and helped make them productive members of the team. The Twins’ Rod Carew was an immensely gifted but moody Panamanian-born infielder who had won AL Rookie of the Year, but had been inconsistent and was labeled as problematic by the front office. As manager, Martin took him under his wing, and turned him into one of the game’s best bunters and base-stealers. Carew has publicly credited Martin for helping to make him the Hall of Fame player he became. Said Carew of Billy, “He was my father and my brother. He did not just coach you. He nurtured you – the whole you.” Not only did the players as individuals benefit from Martin’s personal interest in them, but his leadership made the team markedly better and they recognized that. Even players who were not enamored with his style of managing and bristled at his extreme tactics, had to admit he usually got the results he desired.

Billy took the helm of a struggling, major league team and reversed its fortunes dramatically. The Twins went from 79 wins the previous season to 97 wins under Martin, won the AL West division and went on to the 1969 ALCS, but were swept by the Earl Weaver-led Baltimore Orioles. Martin was fired after the season, the front office citing a brawl with his own player (pitcher Dave Boswell) and his excessive drinking.

Next, he took the helm with the Detroit Tigers in 1971. He reshaped a dispirited team with bad clubhouse chemistry into a team who challenged the reigning ALCS winner Baltimore Orioles for the division. In 1972, the Tigers played for the AL pennant against a talented Oakland A’s team that featured star slugger, Reggie Jackson, a man who would later loom large in Martin’s life. The Tigers lost in the ALCS, and Billy was fired the following year after a lackluster season and arguments with the Tigers front office which he often made public.

Billy’s next stop was the Texas Rangers. In a state not known for its baseball, the Rangers were a bad team in last place in the AL West when he took the job as manager. Billy instilled confidence in players, made them believe in themselves and told them anything was possible. He encouraged them to take chances and risks, even if they failed. He showed them that if a team was aggressive and pushed the envelope, they would succeed, in large part because they always caught the opposition off-guard. He was nothing if not audacious, whether it be with his own players, the opposing team or the umpires. He was also an astute judge of baseball talent, and while he briefly was acting GM of the Rangers, he made some shrewd moves with their farm clubs that saved the team money and promoted quality, young players. As he had done so effectively in the past, Martin turned a team who had lost 100 games in back-to-back seasons into an over .500 ball club in one season. In 1974, he was voted Associated Press Manager of the Year, an award he would win a total of four times in his managerial career.

A theme that resonated time and again was Martin’s uncanny ability to rally the troops and get the team on his side. He was able to successfully foster an “us against them” attitude and an underdog mentality that motivated him in his own life. He was able to bring together different personalities and mindsets for one goal – to win at all costs. He led by example in that regard, whether it was arguing with umpires and getting ejected from games (sometimes before the games even started!) utilizing deception and sign-stealing, instigating on-field brawls, or tipping the postgame spread in the clubhouse after a tough loss. The players saw and believed that their manager deeply cared about winning, and always had their backs.

But once again, issues not directly related to baseball or how he managed a team became his undoing. Billy butted heads with the Rangers’ new owner in the 1975 season, and because the team wasn’t performing as they had been, Billy started drinking heavily and it affected his performance as manager. The Rangers also felt he had created a wild atmosphere on team charter flights with drinking, gambling, and girlfriends he brought along even though he was a married man. He also defied the owner on some trivial matters, but it gave him a reason to fire Billy. He was devastated, as he loved living in Texas and saw a bright future for the team.

I love this game, baseball is my life. But at this moment I feel like telling the game to shove it.” Billy Martin, after being fired by the Texas Rangers.

After the Rangers parted ways with Billy, he received a phone call that would change his life. It was from George Steinbrenner, the brash, new owner of the NY Yankees. He offered Billy the job he had always wanted: to follow in Casey Stengel’s footsteps and become the team’s manager. And so began a tumultuous, tortuous, tenuous, and, at times, terrific relationship between Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner. Martin would be hired and fired five times by Steinbrenner within a 14-year span. But Billy and George shared one important trait in common: their desire to win. Both men had strong personalities, each wanted their own way, and thought they knew everything about baseball, but there can only be one king of the castle. The power struggle that ensued nearly destroyed Martin’s professional reputation as a MLB manager and threatened his health and well-being.

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Like any shrewd businessman, Steinbrenner quickly identified a rival’s weaknesses and exploited them. Martin had many qualities which made him an excellent field general, but he could also be petulant, thin-skinned and insecure. Theirs was an unhealthy, symbiotic relationship from the start because each needed the other to be successful. However, Steinbrenner wielded the carrot and the stick, knowing that no matter how many times he hurt and humiliated Martin he would come back for more because he was obsessed with being a Yankee above all else. Consequently, baseball and its fans witnessed a disturbing co-dependence between the two men which bordered on a kind of workplace sadomasochism which spanned two decades.

Billy found the success he craved wearing Yankee pinstripes and his old number 1 uniform again, this time as manager. He was immediately embraced by adoring Yankee fans, who identified with his hard-nosed, tough guy persona. Because he had been a Yankee during the glory days of the 1950’s with Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra, they hoped he could return the team to greatness. Billy was a harsh task-master and an on-the-field disciplinarian. He made it clear to the team that you would play hard for him or you wouldn’t play at all. He took a Yankee team filled with talented, quirky characters like Sparky Lyle, Dock Ellis, and Catfish Hunter to the World Series in 1976, which exceeded everyone’s expectations, and the following year the Yankees won the pennant and went on to win the World Series. But it was not all smooth-sailing. He fought with Steinbrenner constantly over the running of the ball club and locked horns (sometimes publicly) with his superstar slugger, Reggie Jackson.

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1978 brought more drama. The Yankees were trailing the Boston Red Sox for the first half of the season and the pressure mounted for Billy. Steinbrenner was the embodiment of a nightmare owner – demanding, meddlesome, and intrusive. His continual hands-on approach drove Martin crazy, literally. He grew jittery, thin, and gaunt, and many close to him were worried about his health. He started to drink heavily, and one such episode resulted in indiscreet comments made to reporters about Steinbrenner and Jackson in an airport bar during a layover. He was forced to “resign” (or be fired by Steinbrenner) in an excruciatingly sad and painful press conference where he appeared on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He was replaced as manager by ex-Cleveland Indians star pitcher, Bob Lemon. The Yankees ended the season in a tie with the Red Sox for the division and had a one-game playoff at Fenway Park to decide who would play for the pennant. The Yankees won in dramatic fashion, and went on to again win the World Series for a second time. No one can say what the outcome of that season would have been had Martin still been at the helm.

However, fan backlash over Billy’s firing was severe and Steinbrenner was feeling the heat. In a bizarre turn of events, Steinbrenner shocked everyone in baseball when only less than a week after Billy resigned, he was announced as the Yankee manager for 1980 season at the 1978 Old-Timers Day at Yankee Stadium. It stunned and thrilled the crowd, who went wild over the news. Unfortunately, Martin made headlines in the 1978 off-season when he pummeled an insolent, junior sports reporter in Reno. Likewise, in 1979 he goaded a belligerent marshmallow salesman into a bar fight in Minnesota. Steinbrenner had enough of Billy’s antics and fired him before he ever took the reins again as manager. It was a very tough time for Martin in other ways, as it was the year that Yankee catcher and team captain, the beloved Thurman Munson, was killed in a plane crash. He and Billy were very close and Billy was devastated by his tragic death.

In a bit of baseball kismet, Billy was hired by the Oakland A’s in 1980 after his second dismissal by Steinbrenner. Iconoclastic A’s owner, Charlie Finley, who considered himself a baseball maverick and innovator, thought that Billy, who was from the East Bay, would thrive and flourish managing his hometown A’s. The franchise was operated on a shoestring budget and did things differently than the rest of baseball but had great success in the 1970’s. Since then, attendance and fan interest had waned, and Finley thought Martin could revive a floundering ball club and put “fannies in the seats”, as George Steinbrenner used to say. 

It seemed like an ideal situation for Billy – a young team, eager to learn from him, being back home in the East Bay near family and old friends, welcomed with open arms by the fans, no Steinbrenner looking over his shoulder or the relentless New York media dogging his every step. And yet…

Under Martin’s guidance, the A’s soon became the darlings of the sports world with their exciting, young players, namely future Hall of Famer and local kid, Rickey Henderson, and their vaunted “Five Aces” pitching staff which gave Billy a well-rounded team. The pairing of Martin and Henderson was a match made in baseball heaven. It was Billy who encouraged Henderson to burn up the base paths and use his talent and abilities to their fullest. He tutored him in the fine art of base-stealing and predicted he would break Ty Cobb’s single-season record for stolen bases, which he did. Henderson always gave credit to Billy for setting him on the path to Cooperstown. The A’s came alive under Billy’s leadership. They already had good clubhouse chemistry and he gave them the confidence they lacked. His style of management was dubbed, “Billy Ball” by an Oakland sportswriter. It was a style of play he had fostered his entire career as a manager.

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Turning around a team had to do with more than just win and losses for a franchise. Martin would overhaul a team’s collective psyche, and change the culture in the clubhouse and on the field. His transformation of a formerly hapless team generated excitement in the community, expanded the fan base, increased attendance at home games dramatically, and increased ticket sales, which for front offices was an all-important aspect of the business of baseball. Ownership changed when in 1980 Finley finally sold the club to the Bay Area Haas family, of Levi Strauss fame and fortune. The move improved the franchise monetarily, which also benefited the players, and it transformed the A’s into a well-run sports enterprise.

The Oakland A’s had the worst record in baseball when Billy was offered the job as manager. By the end of 1980, Billy’s first season, they had improved their overall record in just about every category, including the most important – games won. But the best was yet to come. 1981 stunned even casual baseball observers as the A’s bolted out of the gate at the beginning of the season causing Time magazine to put Billy on its front cover with the caption, “It’s Incredible!” Unfortunately, 1981 was the year of the strike-shortened season and the A’s were in first place when games were halted in June because of the strike. After games resumed in August, the A’s slipped a little but made it into the postseason, and went all the way to the ALCS to play against Billy’s old team, the NY Yankees, who swept them.

As if following a script, Billy became frustrated the following season by injuries to players and losing streaks. Despite having been given more authority as the A’s de facto GM (he is credited for drafting Jose Canseco), Billy was becoming restless and maybe even bored. He had accomplished his primary goal, which was to turn a bad team into a winner, so as soon as the going got tough, Martin seemed to give up, or at least lose interest. The A’s front office, sensing a change in his mood, decided to let him go. They knew, just like everyone else in baseball, where Billy really wanted to be.

The Yankees hired Billy to be the team’s manager for a 3rd time for the 1983 season. He would remain with the team in some capacity until his death in 1989. He had a good team with some players left over from the past like Ron Guidry and Graig Nettles and also had some rising stars such as pitcher Dave Righetti and first baseman Don Mattingly. But he could never recapture the magic and success of his earlier time with the Yankees in the 1970’s. It didn’t help matters that Steinbrenner went back on his word not to interfere with the team and that caused problems, as well as Martin’s usual liquor-fueled behavior off the field. He was fired for a fourth time at the end of the season and replaced by his old friend and teammate, Yogi Berra.

When that didn’t work out either, Steinbrenner brought Billy back in 1985 and things were looking up for the team until the last month of the season when they went into a downward spiral which culminated in a violent brawl between Martin and one of his pitchers, Ed Whitson, in a hotel bar in Baltimore. He was fired again (technically demoted to special assistant) and replaced by his former player, Lou Piniella. By now, everyone knew, including Billy, that he wasn’t going anywhere so Steinbrenner upped his salary to keep him around and made him a very happy man by declaring August 10, 1986 Billy Martin Day at Yankee Stadium. They retired his number 1 and gave him a plaque in Monument Park alongside the other Yankee legends. In an emotional speech Billy declared, “I may not have been the greatest Yankee to ever put on the uniform, but I was the proudest.” That statement is his epitaph on his gravestone in Gates of Heaven Cemetery in New York.

Billy was made the manager again for the 1988 season but was injured in a fight at a Dallas strip club during the season and was also abusive to umpires, doing his dirt-kicking routine, and was suspended by the league who by this time had grown tired of his act. Steinbrenner relieved him of his duties for the final time and he again assumed the role of special advisor to Steinbrenner. Before his death in 1989, he told friends and former coaches he anticipated returning as the Yankees’ manager in 1990. After Martin’s untimely death, George Steinbrenner admitted he felt remorse and guilt for not helping Billy conquer his drinking problem or requiring he seek professional help in order to manage the Yankees.

Billy Martin was an enigma. He was a man who needed professional baseball to give his life meaning, purpose, and an identity he could be proud of. But he also bit the hand that fed him – frequently. As a MLB manager, he was involved in tempestuous relationships with team owners, players, opposing managers, and most famously, umpires. While his on the field demeanor was considered colorful and sometimes clownish, it was his off the field behavior that more frequently got him into trouble. Franchises were embarrassed by his unseemly conduct and heavy drinking in public which often resulted in violence. He was self-sabotaging in that he couldn’t stand success very long, and always found a way to undermine himself. He had a restless spirit and it seemed he was always in search of the next challenge or a new proving ground. He was a complex man, yet he was simple in his desire to be loved, respected, and admired by those in his profession. Perhaps in his darker moments, he felt he wasn’t truly deserving. Whatever his shortcomings and struggles with personal demons, one thing is clear and cannot be disputed – he loved baseball.

He’s a good manager. He might be a little selfish about some things he does and he may think he knows more about baseball than anybody else and it wouldn’t surprise me if he was right.” Casey Stengel on Billy Martin as a manager.

Why isn’t Billy Martin in the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager? There are those who say he doesn’t deserve to be there, enshrined with the other baseball managers whose success on the field of play also brought them accolades. The confusing and always-evolving Veteran’s Committee has renamed and divided baseball eras yet again, so there are now four committees who vote on those eligible for admission. Martin has been on the ballot a few times, but he hasn’t come close to receiving enough votes to be elected and that is puzzling. He certainly had the tenure and additional requirements, but it seems there are other factors involved in the decision. He had his enemies and detractors, but what long-time manager doesn’t? Many claim the merry-go-round of hirings and firings by the Yankees hurt his credibility and devalued his importance. Some say his mercurial personality, controversial public behavior, perceived disrespect for umpires, and constant warring with owners has kept him from being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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Author Dale Tafoya, whose recently published book, Billy Ball (Lyons Press, 2020) examines Martin’s time as the Oakland A’s manager, had this to say when asked about Billy’s Hall of Fame snub:

“Billy Martin had a tendency to challenge establishment, which probably has played a factor in the Veterans Committee not voting him in. Being fiery and aggressive was a part of his DNA. He was a drinker and fighter, but he was also one of the colorful characters of the game and a dugout genius. As a manager, he saved professional baseball in Texas in 1974 and Oakland in 1980. He sparked a baseball renaissance in every city he managed, but his shelf life was very short at every stop. Billy was an attraction and had drawing power. Players are typically the face of a franchise, but he became so popular that he was the face. He was born for baseball.”

His record of achievement in a 16-year managerial career compares favorably with his contemporaries who are in the Hall of Fame, namely, Earl Weaver and Whitey Herzog:

Billy Martin career stats as manager: Win % .553/ 2 pennants/ 1 World Series Championship (1977 NY Yankees)

Earl Weaver was a model of managerial stability who spent his entire 17-year career with the Baltimore Orioles. It must also be noted that while Weaver managed only one year more than Martin, he had twice the number of ejections by MLB umpires (94) than Martin did (46).

Career stats as a manager: Win % .583/4 pennants/1 World Series Championship

Whitey Herzog had an 18-year career as the manager of several teams in both the AL and NL.

Career stats as a manager: Win % .532/3 pennants/1 World Series Championship (St. Louis Cardinals)

And for what it’s worth, “the Elias Sports Bureau proclaimed Martin the best manager in major league history, based on modeling that found that Martin’s teams won 7.45 more games per year than they should have as predicted by statistics, higher than any other manager.”

“Without reservation I would call Billy the most brilliant field manager I ever saw. He was unmatched. None of us felt up to him.” Baseball Hall of Fame Manager, Tony La Russa

Billy Martin’s contributions to the game of baseball as a manager ought to take precedence over his personal failings. His achievements on the field of play should transcend the ever-changing landscape of social attitudes and expectations as it has for the baseball brethren that have gone before him. His accomplishments as a MLB manager are remarkable and indisputable. To completely transform a professional sports team within a few months defies logic; to do it several times is akin to magic.

Billy Martin was indeed a sorcerer in spikes; a Pied Piper in pinstripes who urged his teams to follow him to baseball’s Promised Land of victory and glory; a miracle worker who resurrected lifeless teams and willed franchises to rise from the ashes of defeat and despair.

However, his greatest legacy in baseball is a simple one: he helped others believe in themselves. That is the ultimate triumph, both in sports and in life, and the one that brings the most joy.

Rest in Peace, Billy Martin.

baseball

It’s Not Summer on the Cape Without Baseball

Collegiate baseball on Cape Cod, Massachusetts has been a mainstay and summer tradition since 1923. The “Cape Cod Baseball League” was officially sanctioned by the NCAA in 1963 for college athletes, and that is when it took off as a way to view the top college talent in the country from June to August every summer. But not this year.

This annual tradition has come to a screeching halt because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the various restrictions nationwide that have made it difficult to stage a sporting event of any kind. There was a lot of uncertainty swirling around the game for about a month, and the Cape Cod Baseball League officially announced this past week they have voted to cancel their 2020 season.

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While it was the right decision under the circumstances, there’s no question this will affect not only college players, but the communities and businesses who provide tremendous support to the teams throughout the season.

It denies a lot of young players the opportunity to showcase their skills to scouts from MLB organizations who flock to the east coast every summer. For many years, the Cape Cod League has been the premier league for top college talent. Players are invited to participate, typically during their sophomore summer. If a player is very talented, they may even be invited as a freshman. The way it usually goes, a player will be selected in the MLB Draft in the June of their junior year. Right now, there are more questions than answers on when baseball will resume at any level of the game, but it must make these young men feel stressed and anxious as they look toward their future.

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In my opinion, I think this might open the door for more senior signings than usual. Between the abbreviated draft rounds and not having any kind of collegiate season, players will need to be seen for a longer period of time in a competitive environment. I know scouts and organizations have a tremendous amount of data and information on players, but they always want more. That will be difficult to obtain between now and next year, as there is still so much uncertainty. 

In summer 2017 upon graduating from college, I flew to Rhode Island where I was a baseball operations intern for the Newport Gulls in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Just like the Cape Cod League, the NECBL invites players (typically freshman) from top college programs that later will go on to be drafted as well. Our team had players from Stanford, UCLA, Vanderbilt, and Florida State just to name a few. Last June, the Gulls in particular had 18 former players drafted, most notably Vanderbilt OF JJ Bleday who went 4th overall. (MIA)

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The NECBL has yet to officially announce they are cancelling their season, but it is expected to come any day now with a vote from team owners. Although Newport has a lot of tourism for other reasons and is an affluent area, I was surprised to see how beloved the Gulls were. The fans packed the old ballpark at Cardines Field (Babe Ruth played here!) every night. Local restaurants and shops sponsored the team and promoted us throughout the season with banners, giveaway items, etc.

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I had the chance to do a little bit of everything as an intern — broadcasting, reporting, and was the on-field emcee for games. One of the most well-known phrases heard at Gulls games came from our sponsor, a local glass repair company called Newport Glass. Every time a Gulls pitcher struck out an opposing batter, a shattering sound effect came over the PA system as I belted out on the microphone, “Better Call, Newport Glass!” 

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The collegiate leagues in New England are handled in a very quaint manner and it’s a very homespun atmosphere. The rickety wooden stands, beach chairs, and red, white, and blue bunting is quintessential Americana. You forget for a minute that baseball nowadays is driven by statistics and technology.

After our season was over, some of our best players were invited to be a part of the Cape Cod League playoffs. I was lucky to be able to work at Chatham Anglers games, which was a truly memorable experience, especially considering this was the final season for manager John Schiffner, who had a long 25-year career there.

It’s going to be very different and difficult in these communities, but they have more important things to worry about right now. They will look toward the future with hope, when baseball returns to Cape Cod.

baseball

Hunter and Lexi Pence Hit One “Out of the Park” with Coffee Blends

When I heard that Lexi Pence of Let’s Get Lexi” and wife of Hunter Pence, was releasing a coffee blend through her new venture, Pineapple Labs, I just knew I had to try it. As a woman in the baseball community and fellow coffee enthusiast, I figured this would be a fun and creative way to combine both of my passions. I’ve had a love for coffee and cooking/baking for as long as I can remember. I’m always looking to discover new flavors/blends and methods to brewing, as well as learning about the business side of it all. Her first creation, “Good as Hell” is a Sumatra blend with pineapple upside cake flavor, staying on-brand with the pineapple theme, of course.

The packaging is just as bright and lively as you would expect from its name. A stunning pink bag and tropical font will put a smile on your face every time you reach for it. Good vibes all around!

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They included a cute Hunter & Lexi sticker to put on your laptop, coffee cup, water bottle, etc. as well as a brew-guide which I will link here for reference. They recommend grinding to a medium-fine consistency. I hand ground the beans myself using an antique (but trusty) Italian coffee grinder I had at home, but you can use whatever you have on hand or purchase a simple one like this here.

The coffee has a nice brown/amber color to it, and is very aromatic. The flavors jumped out right away — slightly sweet, with fruity undertones bringing out that pineapple upside down cake flavor. This energetic but smooth blend was just what I needed to start the day. I was curious to try it iced, so I made another pot of Good As Hell and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. I poured it over a glass of ice and tried it plain first, then added some of my favorite creamer. 

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It’s a hit! The chilled coffee had a piquant taste, and the fruity undertones came out even more in the iced version. Now that we are heading into the summer months, I’ll be feeling “good as hell” whether I’m in the mood for a early-morning hot coffee or an icy afternoon pick-me-up. 

Today, Hunter Pence joined in on the fun and added a compliment to his wife’s first release — his own blend Static Boom. According to the website, it’s an Ethiopian blend with notes of star fruit, lemongrass and early grey. Yum, that sounds delicious!

Something ever cooler about this release is that 100% of proceeds will go towards two great causes making an impact with Covid-19 efforts right now: No Kid Hungry, in San Francisco and Southern Smoke Foundation in Houston, TX benefiting the food/beverage industry and restaurant workers. 

I can’t wait until the Static Boom set (shown above) arrives in the mail this April. It has a manly, bold vibe with the geometric shapes and fresh colors meant to represent the coffee flavors. Visit Pineapple Labs to purchase!

Especially with current events happening right now, there’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the kitchen to boost your mood and provide some comfort. Working from home can be challenging, but when I have an incredible pot of coffee freshly brewed, it makes the day more enjoyable.

Stay safe, support a great cause, and have an awesome cup of coffee while you’re doing it. 

Happy brewing, and keep swingin’!
-Bridget
baseball

Where Does MLB Go From Here?

With the start of Spring Training just around the corner, some teams are still scrambling to put together a coaching staff as the dust settles from the MLB cheating scandal that emerged in early January. 

Starting with the Houston Astros’ shocking fall from grace, which resulted in the firing of their highly-regarded GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch — to the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox who were tainted by their association with the notorious Alex Cora, the mastermind behind the elaborate sign-stealing scheme. 

Houston, reeling from the bad publicity, hired MLB living legend Dusty Baker as their manager hoping he will repair the team’s image and restore their respectability. It seems the Astros, once the leader in the use of advanced analytics in baseball, are reversing course and going old-school. As of this writing, the Red Sox have yet to hire a manager. (Update: The Red Sox are planning to hire bench coach Ron Roenicke as manager once MLB concludes their investigation into the sign-stealing scandal). On top of losing Alex Cora at the helm, they also find themselves facing financial woes.

With all of this turmoil swirling around MLB, which has undoubtedly alienated some fans and left people questioning the integrity of the game, Rob Manfred took a “bull-in-a-china-shop-approach.” In one of his first interviews since the scandal broke, he went on Fox Business News to discuss the controversial decision to implement the electronic strike zone (robo umpires) in the minor leagues this season. 

It was an odd decision given the vulnerability of technology used on the field of play. You could see the puzzled reaction on the interviewer’s face while Manfred nervously explained why he thinks this is such a great idea.

This is a time to encourage fans to embrace the game. How does having an electronic strike zone restore the wholesome, nostalgic image of baseball as America’s pastime?  They have already tried out this technology in the Arizona Fall League to mixed reviews and now they intend to implement it in the minor leagues. Next stop — MLB.

I’m not against exploring new technology that can improve the game, but Manfred’s timing is off. Coming on the heels of an embarrassment to the league, it’s strange he would pivot from a technology-driven cheating scandal to a hot button subject like this. I don’t think Rob Manfred knows how to “read a room” very well and he is out of touch with what the average baseball fan cares about. 

There’s also an ethical question here. Just because you can do something, technology wise, doesn’t mean that you should. If anything, this scandal should serve as a reminder that technology is not infallible and can be manipulated by those who seek to gain from it. 

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Retiring manager of the San Francisco Giants, Bruce Bochy, put it simply in one of his last interviews when commenting on the state of baseball, “I hope the game isn’t lost to technology too much. It should still be about people.”

 

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In Baseball, If You’re Not Cheating, You’re Not Trying

Cheating is as old as the game of baseball itself. It has evolved over 150 years of professional baseball to become an art form. Whether it be stealing signs, doctoring the baseball, or loading a bat, the objective has always been to gain an advantage on the opponent. Throughout the decades, we have seen the art form evolve as new, sophisticated methods became available. Telescopes, binoculars, two-way radios, even Morse Code, have all been employed by various baseball teams. It has generally been accepted that non-tech tools are permissible. These include spies in the stands, runners on base relaying signs to teammates, or even from the on-deck circle. However, most become uncomfortable when high-tech apparatus is employed. Things like using a smart phone to take pictures or relay messages, or the Apple Watch, which the Boston Red Sox were sanctioned for using when they played the Yankees in 2017. In 2018, the Cleveland Indians accused the Houston Astros of planting an operative in their dugout and taking pictures with a phone during the ALCS.

The San Francisco Giants are not immune to such controversy. Their magical, late-season run to catch the Dodgers in 1951 has been tarnished somewhat by the revelation that the Giants were stealing signs using a telescope positioned in the Giants dugout in centerfield at the Polo Grounds. The Giants came from 13 1/2 games back in August to tie the Dodgers at the end of the season, and force a 3-game series tiebreaker. Outfielder Bobby Thomson hit a walk-off, 3-run homer to win the game and the NL pennant. Russ Hodges’ call of the “shot heard ‘round the world” is one of the most iconic moments in baseball, and perhaps in all of sports. Thomson himself always insisted he didn’t receive any signals, nor was aware of any signs being relayed for that particular homerun. It’s unfortunate that the specter of dishonesty has somewhat lessened what the team had accomplished that season.

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Fast forward to 2019, and the Houston Astros, the 2017 World Series Champion and 2019 ALCS pennant winners, find themselves in the eye of the storm once again. Former Astros starting pitcher, Mike Fiers, came out publicly after the World Series was over, and accused the Astros of cheating by putting a camera in the centerfield area of Minute Maid Park in order to steal the catcher’s signs and then relay them to their hitters. Ironically, the Astros are considered a cutting-edge organization who were one of the first franchises to employ extensive use of advanced analytical data in assessing players and making on-field decisions. Their manager, A.J. Hinch, was heralded as the new breed of MLB manager – young, relatively inexperienced, and compliant when it came to carrying out the front office’s instructions. They seemed to be doing everything right ever since they jumped from the National League to the American League in 2013. So if a team like this feels they need to cheat to gain a bigger advantage, what does it say about all those numbers they are crunching up in the front office? Maybe there’s a “knowledge gap”, and advanced analytics aren’t enough when you are up against an opponent with a clever game plan.

Some in the sports world are talking about how this will end badly for the Astros, and they might even be stripped of their 2017 World Series Championship. But that would be a draconian response which would hurt the players and other team personnel who weren’t directly involved with this covert operation. After all, MLB didn’t punish players who used PED’s by erasing their personal achievements from the record books, which included breaking hallowed baseball records. Another problem for MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is that the Astros have been at the forefront of criticism directed at MLB regarding what many believe is a “juiced” baseball. MLB bought Rawlings, the company that makes the baseballs in 2018 and since then all sorts of records have been shattered. In a 2019 All-Star Game interview, Justin Verlander publicly accused MLB and Manfred of purposely altering the ball to increase homeruns and offense. Verlander called the situation “a f—ing joke.”

As the Astros await a MLB investigation into the accusations against them, questions arise about cheating, and how much of it is really going on around the league. If cornered like a rabid dog, will the Astros take others down with them, possibly calling out those who have also used less than honest methods to win games? And who’s going investigate Major League Baseball? If the Commissioner is tinkering with the baseballs in an effort to gerrymander offense, then he is guilty of compromising the integrity of the game. Given all of this, how can MLB, without a shred of hypocrisy, hold one of its teams to a higher standard than it holds itself?

 “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.” That adage has been attributed to various sports figures, and there exists in our society a grudging admiration for those who dare to break the rules as part of a win-at-all-cost mentality. There’s also another saying, known from the classroom to the boardroom, that if you’re going to cheat, be smart about it and don’t get caught. Perhaps success made the Astros arrogant and reckless. They certainly aren’t the first to learn that lesson the hard way, and they won’t be the last.

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MLB Managers: Still Skippers of the Ship? + Offseason Updates

The MLB regular season may be over, but the grind never stops when it comes to writing about baseball. As the San Francisco Giants search for their next manager, it’s become  clear that a new breed of manager has emerged.

In my first article as a Contributor for Fansided on Around the Foghorn, I raise the important question: are MLB managers still skipper of the ship?

Read my article there + be sure to keep up with all my off season content there as well!

Keep swingin’!

-Bridget

baseball

Where Have All The Scouts Gone?

Scouting has been a part of professional baseball since the 19th century. In those days, baseball teams had to rely on word-of-mouth tips and the scouts they employed to ferret out baseball talent across the country. There was no amateur draft until 1965, so teams signed players largely on the recommendation of scouts, and often times the scouts had the authority to sign players themselves.

Baseball America recently published an article called, “A Concerning Future for MLB Scouting” (Ron Morris, February 4, 2019). It examined the current trend in baseball of teams reducing their scouting staffs. The article states that Houston Astros had fired eight members of their scouting department during the 2017 season. Seven months later, the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau laid off its five remaining scouts. It is estimated that 60 scouts in total were let go in 2018.

If this continues, you will see a significant reduction in the number of scouts working in Major League Baseball. The reasons for this change are many. Most notably, the use of detailed, advanced analytical data by MLB teams to evaluate players. As front offices have become more open to using statistics and technology to assess players, traditional scouting has become increasingly superfluous. Other factors have also affected the role of the scout, such as national showcases that gather together top amateur players, and the emergence of non-professional scouting websites such as Prospects Live and Baseball Prospectus that give detailed and accurate evaluations, including videos, that can act as previews or preliminary looks for pro scouts. MLB has also recently partnered with USA Baseball to create the Prospect Development Pipeline, which facilitates connections between Major League teams and high school players, using technology and statistical data to help franchises make decisions regarding future draft targets.

On the face of it, these seem like practical ideas whose time has come. It eliminates the elaborate network of scouts each team has to maintain and the related costs. It also sounds very egalitarian to rid the game of personal opinion and bias. We are told that’s what advanced statistics do. In the past, players were often evaluated based on subjective criteria that had little to do with whether or not a player had the ability to play baseball successfully at a professional level.

While it may be true that statistics don’t lie, they often tell an incomplete story. By relying on technology alone to make assessments, gut-feelings, hunches, and instincts fall by the wayside. Seen as antiquated and unreliable appraisal tools, teams are now favoring a more detached, clinical approach. However, even with this type of analysis, players can still fall through the cracks. This is where traditional scouting is most valuable. Scouts can recognize a player’s potential, and are able to place a greater importance and emphasis on intangibles like character or make-up, which is impossible to quantify using statistical data alone.

While some older scouts have trouble adjusting to the new technology used in baseball, the younger ones are more open-minded to incorporating it into their scouting methodology. Most scouts still use the “five tool” standard to assess players, however, many will also include statistical data to assist them with their evaluations. Besides being an integral part of baseball history and tradition, scouts reinforce the human element in a game that is becoming increasingly reliant on computer-driven data and other forms of technology, thus diminishing the importance of the men (and sometimes women) who make assessments about players for MLB franchises.

Scouts often develop personal relationships with players, acting as mentors throughout their careers, giving them guidance, advice, and encouragement. My 88 year-old grandfather has told me stories about growing up as a teenager in the housing projects of East Harlem. Come spring, he and his friends would play baseball (or stick ball) in the streets or empty lots. One cold, March day, he had joined a group of guys who were playing ball on a makeshift field . He was an aspiring left-handed pitcher, and even at that age he knew enough to take it easy when warming up in the frigid temperatures. He noticed an older man standing nearby, intently watching him throw. Eventually, the man approached him and told him he was a scout for a sand lot league in Queens – the same league Yankees Hall of Fame left-hander, Whitey Ford, had pitched in as a teen. He told my grandfather to bring his glove and come to the field to join a team that was being assembled for the season. “He saw something in me”, my grandfather said, “and his belief in me gave me confidence.” Let’s see advanced statistical data do that.

*An interesting book I recommend on the history of scouting is “Can He Play?: A Look at Baseball Scouts and Their Profession” by Jim Sandoval and published by SABR in 2011

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Commissioner Rob Manfred Wants MLB Pitchers to Play “Beat The Clock”

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is a man obsessed. His fixation with pace of play rule changes has become all-consuming. It must keep him awake at night, tossing and turning, trying to come up with the next idea to shave a couple of minutes off a Major League Baseball game. Currently, Manfred’s in a lather because of the recently released ballpark figures for 2018 which show attendance was down from the previous year (although attendance has been declining over the past 10 years), and the TV ratings for the World Series were not as good as they had hoped. While there are many causes one can point to, Manfred has decided to focus on pace of play as being the main culprit. He’s already implemented some changes at the Major League level – the new version of intentional walks, shortened replay review, limiting mound visits, etc. In the minor leagues, it’s even worse. Without a players’ union to protect them, they are guinea pigs for Rob Manfred’s radical experiments. In an attempt to speed up the game, a digital clock looms behind the pitcher threatening him with a called “ball” if he exceeds the 20-second time limit. In the Arizona Fall League this year, they have reduced the time on the pitch clock to 15 seconds, much to the young pitchers’ displeasure.

The psyche of a pitcher is fragile. It’s a long held observation that the pitcher is the most vulnerable position in baseball. There’s a lot of pressure on them, now more than ever, with enhanced media scrutiny along with lucrative contracts that many of them are receiving. Pitchers are also creatures of habit. Anything that upsets their routine on the mound can have dire consequences. A large part of being a successful pitcher is having great mental focus and concentration. It goes without saying the threat of a pitch clock hanging over you is bound to be a disruptive force.

San Francisco Bay Area writer and blogger, Grant Brisbee, of SB Nation and McCovey Chronicles, won the 2018 SABR Analytics Conference Research Award for his fascinating and entertaining article,Why Baseball Games Are So Damned Long.” In it, he compares two nearly identical ball games. One is from 1984, and the other from 2014. He found there was a difference of 35 minutes between them. He broke it down inning by inning, including TV commercials, but his conclusion was that it’s all the pitcher’s fault. They were taking too long between pitches compared to their 1984 counterparts. Brisbee thinks that if they were more efficient in their methodology it would speed up the game considerably.

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I think he fails to take a few things into consideration. One is that a starting pitcher in 1984 wasn’t making anywhere near the amount of money that any MLB pitcher makes today. Those were the pre-strike days, before a strong player’s union, CBA’s, arbitration, and high-powered agents upped the ante for everyone involved. However, earning more money also brings with it increased expectations and pressure. Consequently, pitchers might need a few more seconds to take a deep breath and get it right.

Despite what Brisbee claims, I believe there are more and/or longer TV commercials and downtime now between innings and that affects the game in other ways. While the actual length of TV ads might be similar (although the 2014 game contained 10 more minutes of commercials) these breaks from game action do affect the players. There’s a lot waiting of around for things that have nothing to do with baseball, whether that’s because of commercials that run long, or on-field promotions that don’t finish in a timely manner. Perhaps because of this, pitchers have been conditioned to “conserve their energy” and have been lulled into a more relaxed state than their predecessors.

Commissioner Manfred sees this extra half-hour of game time as the root of all evil. He attributes the drop in attendance, lack of viewership and loss of popularity among young people to pitchers holding onto the ball 20 seconds longer. It all boils down to that. He is trying to micro-manage a critical position in the game by making a scapegoat of the most important defensive player on the field.

Manfred will be at the MLB franchise owner’s meeting taking place this week. According to sources, he’s going to try and convince owners to implement the pitch clock in the Majors for the 2019 season. However, they are not the ones who need convincing. It’s the Player’s Association (MLBPA) that objects to it, and the owner’s might not want to go toe-to-toe with them over this issue when the collective bargaining agreement negotiations loom in 2021. What might happen is an agreement to use the pitch clock during MLB Spring Training and see how that goes.

Like the perennial and popular TV game show “Beat the Clock”, pitchers are now competing not only against the opposing team, but against time itself. That’s a departure from the fundamental concept of the game. Clocks have always been anathema in baseball. The beauty of the game is that it’s timeless – in every sense of the word. Its ebb and flow has a pace of its own creation. To try and change that would destroy the very essence of what makes baseball an iconic and beloved American institution.

Original post: https://bellyupsports.com/2018/11/commissioner-rob-manfred-pitchers-clock/

baseball

Giants Prospects Shine but Scorpions Can’t Strike Mesa

Tonight at Scottsdale Stadium, the Giants prospects showcased their talent under the bright lights in the Arizona Fall League. RF Heath Quinn and C Matt Winn both started tonight’s game, with Quinn going 1 for 4. Astros right-hander Forrest Whitley took the mound for the Scorpions, who is currently ranked No. 8 overall on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects List. After a leadoff triple rattled him, it was clear he didn’t have his best stuff from the get-go. He didn’t seem to have command of his secondary pitches as well as he did in previous starts. Though he had a rough first inning giving up 2 earned runs,  he settled in nicely and ended up collecting 5 strikeouts.

Chase Johnson, Sam Wolff, and Melvin Adon from the #SFGiants all contributed in relief for 3.1 innings and 6 strikeouts between them. However, Oakland Athletics prospects Skye Bolt and Eli White provided the offense and energy Mesa needed to secure a 2-1 victory and move into sole possession of first place in the AFL East Division.

I’ll be covering the Salt River Rafters tomorrow (10/23) at 12:35 pm as they take on the Surprise Saguaros. Follow me on Twitter for more AFL coverage! @bridgetmmulcahy

baseball

There’s Cheating in Baseball? (Tell me something I don’t know)

There’s another cheating controversy swirling around MLB, and the Houston Astros are once again at the center of it all. This time, it involves stealing signs using electronic devices (phone/camera). Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports that the “spy” is Kyle McLaughlin, who’s not listed as an official Astros employee, but was photographed aiming a cell phone camera into the Indians’ dugout during Game 3 of the American League Divisional Series in an apparent attempt to steal signs or information. This information was reportedly relayed to the Astros dugout and in turn the players would send signals to the players on the field by clapping or hitting objects.

I’ve written about cheating scandals earlier this year, which involves the Astros pitching staff and the whistle-blowing Cleveland Indians pitcher and Driveline enthusiast Trevor Bauer. You can read that article here.

For over 100 years, stealing signs has been an accepted and allowed part of baseball. What is not allowed is enhancing it using equipment (binoculars) or technology (Apple watch/iPhone). We’ve seen this happen recently, ironically with the Boston Red Sox, who were then sanctioned for it by the MLB. They released a statement to clarify you cannot use electronic devices during a game to gain an advantage over your opponent.

It’s apparent the Houston Astros are doing what it takes to win. It’s the playoffs, and players and managers are pulling out all the stops in order to do so. But there is a fine line between cheating and being competitive.

We’ll see what the aftermath of this situation will be, but I do know this problem will be increasingly difficult for the MLB to police as technology becomes more advanced and easier to conceal.

baseball · River Cat Tales

The Minor Leagues: Why Winning is Important

The minor league season is a long and grueling one. The 140-game regular season is the most baseball that these young men have ever played in their lives. By all accounts, it’s exhausting. There are very few off-days and countless hours of travel, mainly by bus. Minor league baseball players are considered professionals. They are not paid much (which is a bone of contention and a blog topic for another time), but MLB franchises insist they are not working, but receiving training and instruction in order to take the next step and eventually make it to the majors.

Each organization has its own philosophy regarding the strategy for their farm system. For some, developing prospects is a priority, and they spend a lot of time and money on the best coaches and instructors, from short-season through Triple-A. Others consider it a crap shoot. They concentrate mainly on the top prospects, and if other guys end up doing well, that’s great. Some organizations could care less whether their minor league teams win or lose. After all, they’re not making any money from this, and the win-loss record is meaningless. As one baseball insider told me, “nobody cares.”

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that a lot of the teams who stress winning and success in their minor league system also do well at the Major League level. Baseball America usually ranks the top farm systems throughout the MiLB – perennial top 5 candidates include the San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and St. Louis Cardinals. They have great player development, typically draft well, and pay a lot of attention to their minor league operations.

Sometimes, this pays dividends for the Major League club. For example, the Dodgers have had consecutive NL Rookie of the Year winners and are stacked with talent up and down their farm system. But then, there’s the Padres…. Despite the fact of having the #1 ranked farm system, it hasn’t really gotten them anywhere. There could be a lot of reasons for this such as front office/coaching issues, but they have not been able to have their talented young players segue into the majors in a way that will help them at the MLB level.

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The Tulsa Drillers, currently the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers have won the Texas League Championship for the first time in 20 years. Interestingly, the Dodgers have 3 minor league teams in the postseason this year.

The MiLB playoffs are finishing up right now, with the various leagues typically having a best-of-five championship series. After a long season, it’s a nice reward for players who have worked hard for many months. Again, there are those who don’t think this kind of thing is very important, but I strongly disagree. I think fostering a winning culture at every level of professional baseball is essential for a franchise’s future success. Besides giving players on-field instruction, it’s also beneficial to teach them how to win. I feel an organization should instill the desire to gain a competitive edge, and encourage them to take pride in their accomplishments. Winning builds team unity and camaraderie among teammates – guys who they will probably still be playing with at other levels.

I want to congratulate all of the participants and winners of the 2018 MiLB playoffs and also all of the MiLB players for their achievements this season.
*Top photo: The Lexington Legends, Class A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals claim the SAL league title. This is their first league win since 2001.

baseball

What A Difference A Bay Makes

With Matt Olson’s walk-off heroics in extra innings tonight, the Oakland A’s find themselves just one game behind the mighty Houston Astros, who were all but a shoo-in to win the Division a month ago. Since the All-Star break, the A’s have gained momentum and have been winning, and winning, and winning…..

The players believe in themselves and each other, and don’t find the task at hand too daunting. They play with energy, emotion, and passion – they’re young and hungry and they crave success. Meanwhile, across the Bay, there’s a team who has achieved the goal that the A’s seek – and they did it 3 times within a 5-year period. The San Francisco Giants are everything the Oakland A’s are not: aging, lackluster, and just going through the motions. Sure, they have a lot of stars -big names and the big contracts to go along with them. The ownership and front office of this storied franchise find themselves with their hands tied financially, unable to make the necessary moves to revitalize the team’s flagging fortunes. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for the organization and its fans alike. It must be tough to gaze across the Bay and see a cut-rate ballclub playing in a squalid, antiquated dump rolling towards the postseason, whipped cream and all!

Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics Coliseum MLB Baseball game

There are no real stars on the A’s, other than a couple of savvy veterans like Lucroy and Piscotty, the hometown boy. They don’t have anyone that MLB.com would plaster on their front page, or be considered one of the faces of the game. They have the third lowest payroll in the league, however, they’ve had a good farm system for a long time and know how to develop their young players.

General Manager Billy Beane has become a baseball legend in his own time. Supposedly, this is his last year at the helm of the franchise. We will see what happens, but if that’s true, he’s determined to go out in style. And he’s giving one final big push to his team.

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Make no mistake about it, Billy Beane is the ultimate Puppet Master, pulling strings behind the scenes on everyone from the players to the manager/coaches, and even the media.

There’s a little over a month left of the regular season, so it remains to be seen who will win the Division and/or the Wild Card. Whatever happens, Billy Beane wants to finish his tenure in a blaze of glory with his team, the Oakland Athletics, leading the charge.

baseball

The Real Boys of Summer

Summertime has a rhythm uniquely its own. The subtle cadence of warm, summer nights – crickets chirping, bullfrogs croaking, and the crack of a wooden bat as it meets a baseball. All of these things evoke the timeless, leisurely pursuit of summer.

For the amateurs on the field of play, Little Leaguers and summer collegiate teams alike, it’s the season to prove yourself while gaining valuable learning experience.

There are dozens of summer collegiate baseball leagues around the country, some more famous than others. But even the lesser known leagues provide young men the opportunity to become accustomed to wooden bats, the kind they use in Major League Baseball. High school and colleges use aluminum bats to save money and to instill confidence in young hitters.

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In my area, we have the Great West League which is comprised of 6 teams from Northern California and Southern Oregon. The newest addition to this summer wood bat league is the Lincoln Potters. They play their home games at McBean Stadium located in Lincoln, California. They have opened some eyes around the region in their first few seasons. The Potters led the Great West League in home runs in 2018 with 68, and also set records in runs scored with 522, 452 RBI, and 383 walks.

The teams themselves are great, of course, made up of earnest young men trying to achieve something for all their hard work during the summer. But what really makes it special is the atmosphere at these small ballparks. The community support is tremendous – the game I attended they had a big turnout with over 1,000 people in the grandstands. The boisterous, vocal crowd was made up of seniors, families, kids, teenagers, and baseball junkies like me!  They were loud and proud as they cheered their team on to a 12-4 victory.

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Last summer, I was fortunate enough to get a position as an intern for the Newport Gulls baseball team, of the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL). This is a prestigious East Coast league, made up primarily of top college freshman coming from elite college baseball programs. I worked in baseball and gameday operations, and I did everything from printing programs, to being the on-field emcee and sometimes even doing some broadcasting. It gave me hands-on experience in what it takes to run a baseball organization and stage a game. There are some aspects  that most people never think about such as compiling the rosters, getting the mascot ready, organizing on-field games and entertainment, the first pitch, national anthem, and other pre-game ceremonies.

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It was fun, but also a lot of hard work. Most days started at 8:30 am, and finished around 9 pm, so it was a long and hectic day. The Newport Gulls play in a historic stadium named Cardines Field. It’s believed to be one of the oldest ballparks in America dating back to 1893 – even Babe Ruth was said to have played there. The town of Newport itself is a beautiful and scenic coastal town, synonymous with sophisticated summer activities like polo, yachting, and touring gorgeous, historic estates.

Without a doubt, the most famous collegiate league of all is the Cape Cod League in Massachusetts. There, the best prospects are seen by scouts from MLB franchises amid top-notch competition. I had the opportunity to go to the Cape Cod League in 2017, which is an unforgettable setting with teams like the Chatham A’s and Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. Traveling around the Cape and New England was also a fun experience, with places like Martha’s Vineyard a short ferry ride away.

Baseball in the summertime is a quintessentially American experience, and one I encourage all lovers of the game to take in and enjoy.

baseball · Books

Smoky Joe Wood: Remembering a Baseball Legend

This past weekend, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York inducted six former players. Every year, the Hall of Fame balloting stirs controversy – who deserves to get in, who doesn’t, and who’s been snubbed. While this seems to occur year in and year out, there are some baseball payers who will never be enshrined in the Hall of Fame and many believe they deserve to. One of these players is former Boston Red Sox right-handed pitcher Smoky Joe Wood. Born Howard Ellsworth Wood on Oct. 25, 1889 in Kansas City, Missouri, he was raised in Colorado and later he and his family moved to Kansas, which is where he started to play baseball. 

Smoky Joe Wood pitched in the Dead Ball Era, arguably the most difficult time to play baseball in America because the ball had no life at all. Home runs were rare, and the ball, which was never changed during the game, was filthy. It was covered in dirt, spit, licorice juice, chewing tobacco, etc. and it was hard for batters to see. This was the era of “small ball” where strategy was paramount, employing such tactics as steals, daring base running, and bunting. In other words, any way to get on base and score would do. In those days, there was no way of knowing how fast a pitcher threw a ball – no accurate scientific measurements like radar guns or Statcast technology. But that’s exactly how legends are born. He earned his nickname of “Smoky Joe” because of his blazing fastball. In the jargon of the day, they said he threw “smoke.” The ball blew by hitters so fast they couldn’t even see it.

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Tall, athletic, and baby-faced, he got his start in professional baseball impersonating a female on the barnstorming Kansas City Bloomer Girls Team, which was made up primarily of men dressed as women.  As a teenager, he pitched with a pro team in Hutchinson, Kansas, establishing a name for himself on the baseball circuit. He was already known for his speed ball, and they nicknamed him, “The Kansas Cyclone.” The Red Sox soon heard about him, and purchased his contract in 1908. The American League was a fledgling entity, having only been around for 6 years, and they were trying to compete with the more established National League for players and fans.

Wood soon became a sensation in Boston with his combination of youth, good looks, and his skill on the mound. He was the toast of the town – a big celebrity and hero to the loyal and rabid Red Sox fans. The press dubbed him “Smoky Joe” Wood, as his fastball gained a reputation around the league. 1912 was a banner year for him. It was the best year of his career as a pitcher. He complied a record of 34-5, pitched 344 innings, faced 1,258 batters, with 258 strikeouts, and an ERA of 1.91 for the season. There was so much hype surrounding Wood that they arranged a matchup between he and Washington Senators superstar pitcher Walter Johnson a.k.a. “The Big Train.” When Johnson was asked by reporters who had the better fastball, he replied, “Listen, mister, there’s no man alive that can throw harder than Smoky Joe Wood.” The game took place at Fenway Park on September 6th, 1912 and Wood beat Johnson 1-0 in a true pitcher’s duel. 

The season culminated in the World Series of 1912. At 22, Smoky Joe Wood won 3 games in the series vs. John McGraw’s mighty New York Giants, one of which was against arch-rival Christy Mathewson. 

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Just as 1912 had been a great year for Joe, 1913 was just the opposite. It was an unlucky year for him, as he became ill with appendicitis before the season started. Then, Joe slipped on wet grass in the outfield one day and broke the thumb on his pitching hand. He may have tried to come back from that injury too soon, or also might have injured his right shoulder when he fell, but whatever the reason he was not the same pitcher after that. He began to throw wild, issued a lot of walks, and his arm strength diminished, as did the velocity on his fastball. After every game, the pain was so bad he couldn’t eat with his right hand or lift his arm above his shoulder for a week afterwards. We now know he had a torn rotator cuff, which was not repairable in those days. Amazingly, he continued to pitch on a regular basis even with debilitating pain. Even more astounding, is that he still won a lot of games. 

Joe Wood pitched 344 innings in 1912, which is remarkable by today’s standards. Like his contemporary, Cy Young, he often pitched both games of a doubleheader. Perhaps it’s no surprise that he injured his arm so early in his career considering the amount of innings and games pitched, and the velocity with which he threw.

His final season as a pitcher was 1915. Joe took the next season off to focus on getting healthy.  In 1917, the Boston Red Sox sold Smoky Joe Wood to the Cleveland Indians. He reinvented himself as an outfielder, and became a very good one, batting .366 one season. Through it all, he was always viewed by his peers as a man who competed with courage and grace, even in the face of adversity.

In 1922, Wood left the Major Leagues for the Ivy League. He was still a young man but physically broken and exhausted from trying to play through a multitude of injuries. He accepted a position as coach of the Yale baseball team, and he managed there for the next 20 years.

In 1985, Yale gave Wood, who never finished high school, their prestigious Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters. It was conferred by Yale President, Bart Giamatti, who later became commissioner of Major League Baseball. Joe Wood died in July of that same year at 95 years old. 

There have been references and stories throughout the years about Smoky Joe Wood, not only in baseball circles but in popular culture, as well. He was mentioned in the 1989 movie, “Field of Dreams”, as one of the Dead Ball Era players who magically emerged from the cornfield. In Shohola, Pennsylvania, the location of the Wood family homestead, there is a local legend about ghostly apparitions of long-dead players such as Joe Wood, Tris Speaker, Babe Ruth, and others tossing around a baseball on deserted country roads late at night.

Interestingly, Joe Wood’s son, Bob Wood, threw out the first pitch at an American League Championship Series game at Fenway Park in 2004. Some Red Sox fans believe it broke the Curse of the Bambino for the Red Sox, helping them to win their first World Series since 1918.

Smoky Joe Wood is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He simply did not have the statistical requirements for admission because he didn’t play long enough at any one position to achieve them. Although he will never be enshrined in the Hall of Immortals, his legend still lives on amongst baseball fans who know the history of the game and appreciate his contributions to it.

baseball

Sights and Sounds From The Minor Leagues

Here’s a highlight video I made documenting the first half of the regular season for the Sacramento River Cats, Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.

I hope you enjoy it, and let me know what kind of content you would like to see on Cheap Little Swing in the Minor Leagues for the rest of this season.

You can also follow me here for LIVE TWEETS, VIDEO, INTERVIEWS, AND OTHER RIVER CATS/TRIPLE A BASBEBALL CONTENT ⇒  @R_CatTales

baseball

Cheap Little Minute

Cheap Little Swing reporting live from Raley Field in West Sacramento, CA. Home of the Sacramento River Cats, AAA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.

Post-game notes:

  • Johhny Cueto (RHP San Francisco Giants) made an excellent rehab start for Sacramento Friday evening.  He pitched four shutout innings while allowing four hits and a walk and striking out six.
  • Kyle Tucker, top Astros prospect, extended his hitting streak to 18 games.
  • Chase d’Arnaud hit a 3-run HR to put the River Cats up 4-0 . He’s headed to the All Star Game in Columbus Ohio on July 11th.

See you at the ballpark!

baseball

The Code: Looking Into the Unwritten Rules of Baseball

The Illuminati has nothing on baseball. As far as secret societies go, the world of baseball can seem like a dark and mysterious labyrinth. Once you are admitted into the fraternity of baseball, you are expected to abide by unwritten rules of conduct that have been around for over 100 years.  There are obvious ones such as, ‘never talk about a no-hitter in progress’ or ‘don’t bunt for a hit when up big late in a game.’ However, this is about what’s expected of each player that goes beyond being able to field his position. Most players will say it’s all about Respect – respect for the game, respect for their teammates, and also for the opposition. As a player, you want respect and are expected to show it to others, including those in the first base dugout. Problems arise when a team, player, or manager feels they are being disrespected, which can result in intentional plunkings, bench-clearing brawls, ejections, suspensions, fines, etc.

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In order to be considered a true secret society, you need to have your own hidden language. Well, baseball has that covered too! The signs and signals that managers, coaches, pitchers, catchers, and virtually all position players use in a game can change frequently and are purposely complex to prevent the opposition from stealing them. It is a never-ending game of deception. Stealing signs is a a part of The Code, and is only a violation if you use technology to do it. This is well  illustrated by an incident that took place in 2016 between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, where the Red Sox were caught using an Apple Watch to relay the Yankee catcher’s signs to their hitters. This is not only a code violation, but MLB sanctioned the Red Sox and declared no Apple Watches are allowed to be used in the game.

Code violations include things like a hitter showing up and embarrassing a pitcher i.e. flipping your bat, gesturing and taunting, admiring home runs, etc. Batters will often be intentionally hit by a pitch for these disrespectful infractions and for other things like digging in or crowding the plate. A pitcher doesn’t necessarily have to hit a batter to get his message across. If he has sufficient control, he can use the knockdown or brushback pitch to intimidate and instill fear. However, a pitcher in the American League, where they use the designated hitter, doesn’t have to face the music if he hits a batter because he never comes to the plate. Consequently, one of his teammates will receive punishment instead. It’s not only the players who retaliate, but the managers as well. A pitcher might be ordered by their manager to hit a certain batter, and if he doesn’t do it, then he is also breaking a code within a code – or a sub code, if you will.

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Sometimes, players will take matters into their own hands. If they feel they’ve been intentionally hit by a pitch, they might charge the mound (Reggie Jackson is believed to be the first player to do this) and administer justice to the pitcher. This could result in a bench-clearing brawl, a spectacle which has a long-standing tradition in baseball. An on field brawl can also occur spontaneously with little provocation if two teams have an intense rivalry (Yankees/Red Sox, Giants/Dodgers) or have an ongoing feud. The Code is strongly evident in these situations as all players on the field, dugouts, and bullpens are expected to participate in a brawl. The exception being those in the clubhouse or on the disabled list. You are expected to get your butt out there and stick up for your teammates! Those who fail to do so have broken The Code and can be criticized (sometimes publicly), ostracized, or might possibly be traded or sent down to the minors.

Another attack on The Code is MLB’s decision to start issuing warnings after the first intentional hit by pitch, therefore not giving the other team a chance retaliate in accordance with the Code. This disrupted the whole fabric of The Code and baseball’s inherent systems of justice and retribution. This “eye for an eye” formula has worked pretty well throughout the years all things considered. But now, Major League Baseball wants to impose its will on the self-policing of the game. They mistakenly feel that people are turned off because of occasional on-field violence. They want a family-friendly game devoid of brutality and negative perceptions of players. It’s just the opposite. It brings excitement, passion and emotion to a game that can sometimes seem long, monotonous, and robotic.

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A baseball team and its clubhouse has an “us against them” tribal mentality. Teams circle the wagons against their enemies which is not only the opposition, but also the media and outsiders who have never played the game and don’t understand its inner workings. With the 24-hour news cycle, which includes sports websites and blogs, and social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram. Facebook, and Snapchat, players and teams are scrutinized and examined intensely and in a way they were not in years before. Back in the day, if a Yankees pitcher beaned a Red Sox batter, and then a bench clearing brawl ensued, you may or may not read a summary of what happened the next day in the sports column. Now, there is an immediate reaction in the form of video, in-depth analysis, and opinions from so-called “experts” who quickly pass judgement on a situation they’re not a part of. Everyone seems to have a take on the latest baseball controversy, including fans who will fire off comments and criticisms directed at players and management.

Nowhere is the code more important or upheld so strongly as in a baseball clubhouse. It’s often referred to as a sacred place, where an atmosphere of trust has been built between teammates. To paraphrase a famous travel ad, “what happens in the clubhouse, stays in the clubhouse.” These men spend almost 9 months out of the year with each other, and often spend more time together than they do with their own families. They have to feel like they have each other’s backs at all times because the game they play is a difficult one. It demands a lot from them, both physically and mentally. They have to show unwavering support for one another, through good times and bad. If they feel betrayed, that can upset the delicate balance in a clubhouse and have a domino effect which will show up on the field of play and can affect performances and the outcome of a season.

Baseball is special precisely because of things like The Code. No other sport has such a unique way of policing itself and “taking care of business.” I’m sad to say, but constant scrutiny and modern sensibilities seem to be eroding what was once an important and cherished baseball tradition.

baseball · River Cat Tales

Catching Up With Trevor Brown

I recently had a chance to talk with Sacramento River Cats catcher Trevor Brown. Trevor made his Major League debut with the Giants in 2015. We discussed the Giants-Dodgers rivalry at all levels, his draft day, and special baseball moments he’ll always remember. Below is a transcript of this candid interview:

Q: Hi, Trevor. Thank you for talking with me today. Tonight, the River Cats are facing the L.A. Dodgers Triple-A affiliate, the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Can you elaborate on the rivalry between the two teams and if it also extends to the minor leagues?

A: Definitely. I think whenever we play the Dodgers, there’s a little bit more intensity from the players and the coaches, too. There’s a competitive increase in all of us. They want us to beat the Dodgers at every level, it’s not just in the big leagues. 

Q: There’s also a personal side to the rivalry for you. You had your first major league home run against the Dodgers in 2016. What was that experience like for you?

A: I grew up in L.A., that’s where I’m from so it was a cool experience for me. Not that I necessarily wanted to be drafted by the Dodgers, but I followed them growing up, so it was a little bit ironic too. The home run also broke up a no hitter, and we ended up winning later in a walk-off.

Q: They just held the 2018 MLB Draft – tell me what draft day was like for you.

A: Draft day is very stressful. A lot of us have expectations, not necessarily who we want to be drafted by, but that’s our dream – to be drafted by a major league franchise. For me, it was a lot of watching and waiting. When you finally get your name called, it’s the coolest feeling. I remember calling my parents, and within 30 minutes they were at the store buying Giants gear!

I want to congratulate all the guys who got drafted – it’s a big accomplishment. Growing up, everyone’s dream is to play in the big leagues, and that next step is getting drafted. It’s a great day for everybody. 

Q: You’ve recently returned from the disabled list – how are you feeling, and what are some of your goals for the remainder of the season? 

A: Staying healthy is #1 for me. Last year and this year I’ve had some unfortunate luck with a few concussions and other things. My goal is to play the rest of this year injury free. I’m finally feeling comfortable again and like I can play at 100%.  I want to continue getting better every day. I think I made a pretty good impression in spring training this year. Since I’ve been here (Sacramento) I’m showing the coaches I’m getting better every single day. It’s an uphill climb, and there are going to be peaks and valleys, but I just want to end on a good note. 

*Thank you again to Trevor Brown for his time and cooperation.

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Special thanks to AGHN Productions for helping to conduct this interview and providing photos used in this article.

Keep up with my coverage of the River Cats here:

Twitter: @R_CatTales

Instagram: @river_cat_tales   

Snapchat: @R_CatTales 

 

Keep swingin’!

 

baseball

UNDRAFTED

Yesterday was the 1st and 2nd rounds of the 2018 MLB First-Year Player Draft, so I thought it would be a good time to post an interview I did with two ballplayers in a men’s amateur baseball league in my area. Watching young men get drafted by MLB franchises, many of them right of high school, makes you realize how special and rare it is to be chosen to play professional baseball. Most ballplayers never make it to the pros for various reasons. The two men I interviewed reflect this reality.

I hope all those who were fortunate enough to have been drafted truly appreciate the unique opportunity they’ve been given. For others, though, just to be able to keep playing the game they love has to be enough.

baseball

I Love a Man in Uniform

Throughout the history of baseball, it’s not just the equipment that has changed. The uniforms that baseball players wear have evolved over the 150 years that professional baseball has been played. The baseball cap is iconic, and has become a part of everyday American attire. The image of a baseball player in his uniform is something that evokes the nostalgia of a bygone era when baseball was truly the National Pastime.

The issue of uniforms has come to the forefront recently in Major League Baseball for a few reasons. Ben Zobrist, outfielder for the Chicago Cubs, has stirred controversy on social media when he revealed that the league wants to fine him for wearing all-black cleats, a color that is not approved for the Chicago Cubs uniform. Zobrist has vigorously defended himself, claiming he’s doing this to honor baseball’s past, as he plays for an old franchise in one of the oldest ballparks in the league. In other words, he’s going for a retro look that harkens back to the days of Cubs great, Ernie Banks. Here’s a part of his statement:

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Likewise, teammate Willson Contreras has also been sanctioned by the league for wearing a sleeve under his jersey that depicts the Venezuelan flag.  He balked at their threat of a fine.

In recent years, there have been a lot of other instances involving footwear that do not conform to the requirements set by the league for each franchise. From the league’s/Manfred’s perspective, this is all about money and promoting a brand. Each franchise has its own logos, colors, unique name, etc. These things translate into billions of dollars annually in sales for the league. According to Forbes, merchandise sales have remained constant at about $3 billion per year for the past 10 years. Consequently, it’s normal for the league to want to protect their MLB brand and the revenue it brings. On the other hand, players are annoyed by the league’s heavy handed reaction to what they see as a non-problem. One player complained that Manfred and the league want to “grow the game” by appealing to a younger audience and letting player’s personalities come through. But then, they come down hard on those who want to have some harmless fun and express themselves.

What is a uniform? The dictionary definition is: “dress of a distinctive design or fashion worn by members of a particular group and serving as a means of identification.” In other words, everyone needs to look the same, whether it be a police department, military unit, or a baseball team. A short history of baseball uniforms reveals many changes born out of necessity, style, innovations, etc. The earliest uniforms were made of a woolen material, which must have been so uncomfortable, especially in the hot and humid summer months on the east coast and Midwest. No wonder they wore them so baggy!

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Mike “King” Kelly, one of baseball’s first big stars, and the first professional athlete to give his autograph to fans.

In the Dead Ball Era, the uniforms were similar but the jerseys looked simpler. They would wear colored socks, hence the names, “Chicago White Stockings”, “Boston Red Stockings” etc.  In 1916, the Cleveland Indians became the first team to wear numbers on their jerseys.

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This is a photo I took at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. August 2013.

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Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb

In the 20’s and 30’s, uniform pants got longer and baggier, and stirrups were introduced to be worn over socks as an everyday part of ball players uniforms. Why did they wear stirrups, you may ask?

According to the New York Times, it was a safety measure. Before colorfast dyes, a player who got spiked by an opponent could get blood poisoning if the dye were to run into the wound. They began to wear white “sanitary hose.” The stirrup’s unique double arched opening allowed the foot to fit into the spike while also allowing the player to wear two pairs of socks.

1928-gehrig-ruth
Yankee legends Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in their iconic Yankee pinstripes.

Throughout the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, uniforms got more lightweight, made with fabrics like polyester, nylon, rayon, etc.

They also kept getting tighter… (1969)

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And tighter….. (1979)

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And tighter…… yikes! (1988)

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In the late 90’s, things changed. Gone were the stirrups, and the pants now had elasticized bottoms. In the 21st century, they further evolved to include a throwback style worn below the knee and longer pants with no elastic that extend over the shoe.

cf15ef779f8cd9566b5386a2480d2e16--hunter-pence-baseball-photos      World Series Giants Rangers Baseball

These two styles are what most players wear today. However, stirrups are making a bit of a comeback as players in both the major and minor leagues are wearing them again.

As a side note, Majestic had been making MLB uniforms for several years, but Under Armour was set to take over beginning in 2020. Due to financial problems, though, they have backed out of the deal and Nike will reportedly be making them come the 2020 season.

We don’t know what will happen with the Zobrist/MLB controversy, but I suspect they will reach a compromise that will appease both the players and Major League Baseball.

*Title of this blog article is taken from a song title by British New Wave band “Gang of Four.”

baseball

The Umpire Strikes Back!

In this post, I’m going behind the mask to find out more about those mysterious Men In Blue. What makes them angry? What makes them smile? I’ve conducted an interview with a MiLB (minor league) umpire that works in the South Atlantic League. Prepare yourself for candid responses and fascinating insights into one of the most difficult jobs in the game.

1.What is your background in baseball, and what made you decide to become an umpire?

I grew up in a baseball family, so as long as I can remember, it’s been a big part of my life. I started playing when I was 5 or 6 and I never really wavered from that.

My dad was extremely involved at our local little league park, so when I was 12, he started me umpiring pitching machine games. As funny as that sounds, I thought it was the coolest thing at the time. I kept umpiring throughout high school and college just for extra money, but at a certain point I figured out I was pretty good at it, especially for my age. One thing led to another and I started doing higher level games. Before I knew it I was umpiring at the Division I level and was getting ready to go to Professional umpire school to compete for a job in the Minor Leagues.

2As a Minor League umpire, part of your job is to teach young players to respect the game and play it the right way. Tell me more about how you do that.

This is a tough one. What a lot of people don’t know is that professional baseball is very different than baseball at any other level. There is a high level of respect that is expected from everyone. Managers, players and umpires are all expected to communicate on a first name basis. The commonly known phrases of, “Hey, Blue! Where’s that [pitch]!?” or even, “Hey, Coach. How are we doing today?” are extremely taboo. Anything other than, “Hey, Justin…” or “Hey, Tim…” is considered disrespectful.

The second difference is the lingo used to navigate a situation that you as a player, or manager, believe that the umpire missed. I think this is an area that most young players struggle with, but can be a great tool in your arsenal if you play your cards right.

Say, for example, there’s a pitch that is called a strike that you thought was outside. Your emotional instinct is to turn around and say, “Come on, man! That pitch is outside!” This is a reasonable thought to have. These players work hard and every pitch counts. But this game changes for players the second they realize the umpires are not trying to “stick it to them.”

These umpires at the professional level are competing for jobs too. They want to get every call right. When guys realize that, they will start to ask questions like, “Hey man, is that on the corner?” or “Is that as far as you’re gonna go?” They know that it probably was a ball, but when phrased like that, it gives the umpire an opportunity to own up to his potential human error. That’s when the game changes. Personally, if I miss a pitch, I’ll tell the guy I’m sorry, straight up. Now there’s no confrontation and you are truly working together. That’s the goal.

3. I know that umpires are under a lot of scrutiny. Do you feel pressure to be perfect and make the right calls?

Absolutely there’s pressure, but it’s not how you’d think. Obviously, we want to get the call right every time. That’s what we work for. But the reality of the situation is that we are still learning. Just like the players, we are in the Minor League’s so that we can develop. We know that we are going to miss plays. It’s inevitable. What we don’t want, is to miss a play because we were in a bad spot to see it or we called it too fast or any number of reasons that we can control. All umpires watch film after games. We replay all of our tough calls. We talk to our peers and our supervisors about how we could have gotten better looks or been in a better spot, etc. The goal of that is to not make the same mistake twice. If we can do that, then that’s a win.

4. How do you deal with the haters? Players, managers, coaches, and fans who are vocally critical of you and the job you’re doing. Do these personal attacks get to you sometimes?

I think guys deal with it differently. I can’t really speak for anyone else, but I know for me I just try and block out as much as I can. Self-evaluation is a big part of this career. You have to know in your heart that you are right or wrong, and that has to be enough. If that’s not enough for you, then this job isn’t for you.

5. What word best describes the life of a MiLB umpire: glamorous or grueling?

I think it starts off glamorous, but it is definitely a grind. 140 games in 150 days plus Spring Training and post season assignments, year after year, wears on you both physically and mentally. 

6. In the baseball world, there’s still a push to replace the home plate umpire with an automated strike zone. Do you think this will ever happen?

Absolutely not! No one, and I mean no one who has ever played the game at this level wants that. It may be tempting at times, but the home plate umpire erases the human error by players. The curve ball that clips the bottom of the zone but bounces, the running fastball that clips the edge of the plate, but almost spins the catcher around trying to catch it, the slider that clips the corner, but goes to the backstop… All of those would be strikes in the digital world. Do umpires miss pitches, yes. But they “correct” just as many pitches as they “miss,” if not more. Replay as a whole has been good for baseball, but this is going too far.

7. Next season, in the MiLB Mexican League, there’s going to be two female umpires. How do you think that will work out, and do you see a time where there will be female umpires in the majors?

I believe 100% that there will be a female MLB umpire at some point in our lifetime. There are a lot of great female officials out there. Two of them have been hired recently by Minor League Baseball and are currently in the system. It’s people like them that are really pioneering this career for women and heightening the level of interest for this profession. It’s an exciting time for the game.

baseball

Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?

Trevor Bauer threw down the gauntlet. He publicly stated that he believes some pitchers in MLB are doctoring their balls – and I don’t mean tending to an ailment in a sensitive area! While he says he’s not singling out any one team in particular, he does only mention the Houston Astros in his statement. Trevor Bauer is a pitcher in the Cleveland Indians starting rotation, and The Indians also happen to be American League rivals of the Astros, and were eliminated by them in the 2017 ALCS. Here’s a portion of Bauer’s recent public statement regarding this matter:

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Let’s backtrack a little bit for those who aren’t familiar with the controversy that’s currently swirling around MLB. Some people in baseball, and Trevor Bauer is one of them, think pitchers are using a sticky substance in order to increase a ball’s spin rate and therefore enhance a pitcher’s performance. Higher spin rate translates into more, and different movement on a ball which then results in more strikeouts.  Bauer feels very strongly about this subject because he thinks it’s putting pitchers who choose not to do it out of fear of reprisal at a competitive disadvantage. He has cited instances where pitchers are punished for having a foreign substance in their gloves, on the ball, etc. They are publicly humiliated and thrown out of games and/or suspended while others are doing the same thing and getting away with it. He just wants to level the playing field. He thinks that MLB should acknowledge the benefits of sticky substance, whether it be pine tar, sunscreen, or something else and permit its use during a game by allowing pitchers to put it on the back of the mound next to the rosin bag. He has no problem with that. What he doesn’t like is umpires, officials, and managers who look the other way for whatever reason, but other times will put a pitcher under scrutiny and single him out.

As an observer of the game, it seems to me that the Commissioner’s Office and MLB is trying to compensate for what they did to the ball in 2016/2017. Everyone knows the ball was altered- for one thing, the cover of the ball is slicker than it used to be and the seams/stitching is flatter making it harder for pitchers to grip and throw breaking balls as effectively. A lot of pitchers complained they were developing blisters on their throwing hand when they never had them before. There was a lot of grumbling last season over this from pitchers, managers, coaches – and agents. Pitcher’s careers were being affected by the league’s desire to exponentially increase offense with this new ball. So I think this is their way of saying, “Ok, we have to do something to counter that.” If you think about it, it’s not fair. They have used technology to enhance the ball and increase offense, but what about the defense? Sports, just like everything else in life, needs balance for it to work and stay credible. I think that MLB’s implicit response is, “you can do it, but just don’t get caught.”

However, there’s also a perception of the game that goes back well over 100 years – that there is a lot of cheating in baseball. Today, MLB wants to appear squeaky clean and morally virtuous to the American public. They’ve been trying to move away from the taint of PED’s and close that embarrassing and ugly chapter, and present themselves as wholesome and pure, so they can reclaim the crown of the “National Pastime.” They don’t want the cheating stigma to rear its ugly head once again.

There has been a long and colorful history of cheating in baseball – spitballs, corked bats, pine tar, stealing signs in overly innovative ways (binoculars, Apple Watch) and of course PED use. For baseball to admit that pitchers are using something on the ball would diminish the league’s credibility and weaken it.

So is Trevor Bauer a courageous, gutsy major league whistle-blower? Or a whiny, jealous troublemaker? Time will tell. But I do know one thing, it should be an interesting weekend of baseball when the Cleveland Indians travel to Houston to play the Astros in a 3 game series.

Let the spin begin!

 

** Title of post is taken from the Irish rock band, The Cranberries, 1993 album.

baseball

Why MLB Should Allow a Regular Season 30-man Roster

The one thing most MLB teams have in common so far this season is injuries to key players. Virtually no team has avoided the injury bug. Whether it’s a starting pitcher needing surgery, or a position player’s prolonged stint on the DL, many teams have been struggling to make up for these losses while trying to remain competitive.

Although the last CBA gave MLB players a few additional off-days, the MLB regular season is still very long, and that’s not including Spring Training and an expanded postseason. It’s ironic that Commissioner Manfred is so concerned about the length and pace of games, yet seems oblivious to the length of the season itself, the number of games played, and how that can adversely impact a player’s health, performance, career and ultimately, the franchise they play for.

Expanding the active roster to 30 players would give teams some breathing room and allow them to configure their line-ups in a way that would make sure all players would be contributing, and also give injured players enough time to fully heal and come back at 100 percent.

There could be a rule which would automatically allow expansion, such as two players or more from the active roster who are on the Disabled List for 7 days or more. A team wouldn’t be limited to calling up a corresponding player for each injured player, but could add up to 30 total. Teams would then have to trim their roster back to 25 after all active roster players returned from the DL. That way, a team has access to additional players when they need it, yet the historical integrity (since 1914) of the traditional, 25-man roster is still intact. 

Not all teams would be required to carry 30 players on the roster. For some, injuries may not be an issue.  That can be left up to the GM/front office of individual MLB franchises. However, by giving every team this option, it takes pressure off the GM, manager, coaches, and the players themselves.

For instance, a team with injuries to two of their starting pitchers can plug holes with starters/relievers from the 40-man roster that they can mix and match. It’s not ideal, but perhaps preferable to making a trade or otherwise acquiring a new player.

College baseball teams can have 35-man rosters at their disposal to compensate for injuries and player unavailability, why not allow a modified version for the big leagues? Commissioner Manfred has shown no aversion to adopting rec league softball rules in order to, in his mind, improve the game and make it more watchable. With some creative thinking, and borrowing a bit from the college game, MLB can address concerns about the reality of injuries, and make them less impactful and devastating for teams, players, and the fans.

Recipes

Texas Sheet Cake

This Texas sheet cake (AKA chocolate buttermilk cake) is so velvety, fudgy, and best of all, simple to make – the perfect dessert for any family/friends gathering you’re having this fall. It’s neat because you pour the frosting over the cake when it’s still hot – no need to be patient here. One secret trick and tip for the frosting is to make it with Coca-Cola, that’s right, the soda! I used regular, and have even heard people have success using root beer. You can experiment with that yourself, but it gives it an extra zing to the frosting. Or, you can just use regular milk as stated in the recipe and it’s just as rich. You can also add pecans or walnuts to the frosting in this for extra Southern flare and flavor.

You’ll need:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 sticks butter (real, salted)

For the Icing:

  • 1 1/2 sticks of butter (real, salted)
  • 1/2 cup milk (or try the 1 can of cola- I used regular)
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 1-lb box powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS:

For the Cake:

  1. Grease a 10×15 baking pan (or spray with cooking spray) and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to incorporate ingredients then set aside.
  3. Combine buttermilk, eggs and vanilla extract to a small bowl then mix well and set aside.
  4. Add cocoa powder to a small saucepan then whisk in water until smooth. Add butter then stir and heat over medium-high heat until boiling. Remove from heat.
  5. Pour hot cocoa power mixture into bowl with flour mixture then stir to incorporate. Add buttermilk mixture then whisk all ingredients together for one minute.
  6. Pour batter into prepared pan then bake for 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven then prepare icing.

For the Icing:

  1. Combine milk, butter and salt in a small saucepan then heat until butter is completely melted. Remove from heat then stir in vanilla extract.
  2. Meanwhile, sift together powdered sugar and cocoa into a large mixing bowl (the sifting is optional but it prevents lumps in the icing). Pour hot milk/butter mixture into bowl with powdered sugar and cocoa powder then stir until smooth.
  3. Pour icing over hot cake. If you’d like, you can add chopped pecans or walnuts on top of the frosting for extra crunch and texture.
  4. Let cake rest for a few hours before serving to ensure the icing sets up some before cutting the cake.
  5. Once the cake is cool, cover then store at room temperature.
Recipes

End-Of-Summer: Key Lime Pie

What a refreshing, slightly tart, airy and delicious treat! I enjoy making this classic dessert all summer long and into the fall months – there’s so many different combinations you can play with as well.

You can choose to purchase a pre-made graham cracker crust in your store’s baking section, or make this homeamde one here:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 10 full sheet graham crackers)
  • 5 Tablespoons (70g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar

Cheesecake

  • 4 8 oz. packages of PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup key lime juice
  • 1/3 cup sour cream or plain yogurt, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon key lime zest
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature

Toppings: whipped cream, fresh berries, key lime or regular lime slices

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).

Make the crust: Use a food processor to pulse the graham crackers into fine crumbs. Pour crumbs into a medium bowl and stir in sugar and melted butter until combined. Press firmly into the bottom and slightly up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Pre-bake for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow crust to slightly cool as you prepare the filling.

Make the filling: Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and granulated sugar together on medium-high speed in a large bowl until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the lime juice, sour cream, vanilla extract, and lime zest then beat on medium-high speed until fully combined. On medium speed, add eggs, one at a time, beating on low speed after each addition just until blended. Pour over crust.

Bake cheesecake for 45-50 minutes or until the center is almost set. Run knife or metal spatula around rim of pan to loosen cake; cool before removing rim. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.

Add optional toppings like whipped cream dollops, lime peel, etc. if desired. Serve and enjoy! Cover and store leftover cheesecake in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Recipes

M&M Confetti Cake

  • 2 boxes confetti/rainbow chip cake mix, plus water, vegetable oil and eggs called for on cake mix boxes 
  • 2 containers whipped vanilla frosting
  • 2 cups M&M’s® chocolate candies
  • 1 cup M&M’s® minis chocolate candies
  • 3/4 cup assorted sprinkles
Directions:

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease or spray two 8-inch round cake pans; place 8-inch round piece of cooking parchment paper in bottom of each pan. Grease or spray parchment paper. In large bowl, beat 1 box cake mix and ingredients called for on box with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds, then on high speed about 2 minutes or until smooth. Spread in pans. Bake as directed on box. Cool 10 minutes; run knife around sides of pans to loosen cakes. Gently remove from pans to cooling rack; remove parchment paper. Cool completely, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, repeat to make 2 more layers.

2. Flatten cake layers by trimming off rounded tops, then cut small rounds out of center, using a 4-inch round cutter or wide-rimmed glass works, too!

3. To assemble cake: Place 1 uncut cake layer on cake stand or serving platter; spread 1/3 cup frosting on top. Top with 1 layer with center removed; spread 1/3 cup frosting on top. Top with second layer with center removed; spread 1/3 cup frosting on top.

4. Fill cake with candies and candy sprinkles. Gently press candies to level; top with full cake layer. Frost side and top of cake with remaining frosting.

Recipes

Ina Garten’s Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds 

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

1/3 cup good olive oil 

1 lemon, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick 

1 yellow onion, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick 

2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced 

1 (4-pound) chicken, backbone removed and butterflied 

1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio 

Juice of 1 lemon 

Directions

Watch how to make this recipe.

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Place the thyme, fennel seeds, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in a mini food processor and process until ground. Pour the olive oil into a small glass measuring cup, stir in the herb mixture, and set aside.
  3. Distribute the lemon slices in a 12-inch cast iron skillet and distribute the onion and garlic on top. Place the chicken, skin side down, on top of the onion and brush with about half the oil and herb mixture. Turn the chicken skin side up, pat it dry with paper towels (very important!), and brush it all over with the rest of the oil and herb mixture.
  4. Roast the chicken for 30 minutes. Pour the wine into the pan (not on the chicken!) and roast for another 10 to15 minutes, until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 155 to 160 degrees.
  5. Remove the chicken from the oven, sprinkle it with the lemon juice, cover the skillet tightly with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Cut the chicken in quarters or eighths, sprinkle with salt, and serve hot with the pan juices, cooked lemon, and onion.
Books

Top 10 Mickey Mantle Books

1. The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood by Jane Leavy

This is one of the best sports biographies in my opinion, aside from the athlete or sport it’s about. Beautifully written and thoroughly researched, it reveals with stunning insight both the talents and the demons that drove Mickey Mantle.

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Mantle: The Best There Ever Was by Tony Castro

The most recent addition to my collection, The Best There Ever Was quickly became a favorite for a Mantle aficionado like myself. The intimate and never-before-published details of his personal life and stories I had not heard before gave me more insight into Mickey the man and baseball player. Especially in today’s day & age where analytics and statistics are paramount, Castro successfully argues that cannot fully capture Mantle’s greatness. I consider myself to be quite “old school” when it comes to not only the way the game is played, but the culture of baseball. I appreciate Mantle’s story told in such a pure, authentic way and it makes me nostalgic of a time that I did not get to experience, but The Best There Ever Was makes me feel as though I did.

2. My Favorite Summer: 1956  by Mickey Mantle and Phil Pepe

I’ve read it over and over and it never gets old. If you are a baseball fan and have never read a book about Mickey, I’d suggest this one. The story of an average man with above-average gifts and  courage who gave his all to the game, and through it to millions of Americans – hours of grace and moments of  glory.

3. Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son by Tony Castro

Heartfelt and a balanced portrait of an American hero. Mantle’s story has been told by others, though not with the detail in this one by Castro.

4. The Mick by Mickey Mantle with Herb Gluck

5. All My Octobers: My Memories of Twelve World Series When the Yankees Ruled Baseball by Mickey Mantle

Very nostalgic, and love ’em or hate ’em, the New York Yankees are an integral slice of Americana. The superstars seem to shine brighter there than in other markets. They transcend sports and become a part of American life.

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Dimag & Mick by Tony Castro

This was a joy to read. They are two of my favorite players and enjoyed reading new things about both of them. Being from Northern California and living in San Francisco, DiMaggio has always been one of my favorites to read about. My family is Italian and grandmother is from Tuscany, so it doesn’t get better than an Italian and baseball connection.

6. Classic Mantle by Buzz Bissinger

So many photos  had never seen before and some othe great ones. Great book to keep out and display.

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7 by Peter Golenbock

This was a great read and a lot of inside stories that are raunchy, interesting and exciting which is right up my alley. You can’t have a book about Mantle without a lot of sex in it – which this did, but so much more too. It’s extremely well written, and I can sense through his writing the appreciation he has for the greatness and tragedy of his boyhood hero who rose from the depths of poverty in rural Oklahoma to become one of the most beloved athletes of the twentieth century. “7” fully encapsulates Mantle.

7. Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, The Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age by Allen Barra

I found it to be tremendously insightful about two of the biggest stars in baseball’s Golden Age that led very parallel lives. The story of Mays and Mantle is also the story of America in the middle of the 20th Century. The author also did an excellent job of showing the human side of both men and what was happening behind the scenes.

8. The Education of a Baseball Player

Great book. Mantle some great insight into the game as well as his personal life. A very quick and enjoyable read, great tips for young and up and coming ball players too.

9. A Season in the Sun: The Rise of Mickey Mantle by Randy Roberts

A rich, detailed exploration of the Mantle legend.

10. The New York Yankees of the 1950s: Mantle, Stengel, Berra, and a Decade of Dominance  by David Fischer

A great book for any Yankee fan or baseball fan who appreciates the game’s history and this era. The 50’s was the decade when America discovered television and television discovered the Yankees. What a time it was, and what great heroes the Yankees provided for a country  discovering the joy of baseball and baseball players were made into superstars. Fischer rediscovers that time in this book, and what a treat!

Recipes

Wine Sorbet Floats

This is the perfect summer evening treat, and easy to put together in a pinch but looks so sophisticated, too. Enjoy!

Keep swingin’!

You’ll need:

  • Sorbet or sherbet. I used homemade nectarine sorbet I made myself, but any store bought kind (or peach) will do.
  • White zinfandel or sweet rose wine.
  • Raspberries

Assembly: In a wine glass, scoop 2-3 spoonfuls of sorbet into glass. Pour wine over it, as much as you’d like but enough to soak in with the sorbet. Top with raspberries.

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Recipes

Fudgesicle Ice Cream

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 package (4 ounce size) instant chocolate pudding mix
Directions:

Place ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and combine until well blended. Pour into freezer bowl, turn the machine on and let mix until mixture thickens, about 20-30 minutes.

Transfer to an airtight container and store in the freezer. You can also freeze them into an ice cream mold/popsicle form for an on-the-go handheld version. I bought these from Amazon, but you can find them at other online and local retailers.

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Tips:

Hint #1: You can use sugar-free pudding mix as a healthy-alternative or lower fat milk too but it won’t be as creamy.

Hint #2: use chocolate milk instead of regular for an extra chocolatey treat.

Recipes

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • ¾cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1½teaspoons mint extract
  • 3 drops green food coloring
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

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Directions:

Mix together milk, whipping cream, sugar, salt, vanilla, peppermint extract, and green food coloring. Whisk until combined, then cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours or until thoroughly chilled. I’ll often make my mixture the night before. Pour into the insert of ice cream maker and make according to ice cream maker instructions.

Next, fold in 1 heaping cup of small chocolate or mini chocolate chips. Add more or less as desired.

Lastly, pour the ice cream into a freezer safe container and place it into your freezer for 4 to 6 hours or overnight. In my opinion, overnight is best for firmer ice cream. Enjoy!