Fifty years ago this spring, three Hall of Fame pitchers planted the seeds that would change baseball’s harvest irrevocably, and for the better. One seed kind of opened the door for the other, if indirectly, but once baseball’s field was tilled for the other (kicking and screaming, of course) the game’s and perhaps the country’s worst fears proved largely unfounded.
Roger Angell at 93 still reports to The New Yorker every day to read fiction for the magazine and, here and there, write yet another one of his symphonic essays from the diamonds and the stands. Next summer, he’s going to make a trip to Cooperstown as an honoured guest.
At a Baseball Assistance Team dinner over a decade ago, Joe Pignatano—once a reserve major league catcher whose career began with the Brooklyn Dodgers and ended with the New York Mets; later a respected Mets bullpen coach—eased himself into a stool behind a table. His old Brooklyn Dodgers teammate, Sandy Koufax, was stationed behind the same table, signing assorted memorabilia and bric-a-brac.
“Hey,” a voice hollered, “how come he gets to sit there?” Koufax flashed a grin and replied, “Roomie seat.”
“Late success,” Sandy Koufax once mused, “is quieter.” I’m not entirely convinced it’s true in Homer Bailey’s case, since he’s gone from a seventh-overall 2004 draft pick to a shaky major league beginning despite the ballyhoo to standing on top of the world, or at least the PNC Park mound with his Cincinnati Reds owning the National League Central, and himself proving, at long enough last, he belonged in any serious Reds rotation plans.
Especially for a pitcher, keeping your head in the game is not supposed to mean to the point where your head nearly gets taken off.
Oakland Athletics righthander Brandon McCarthy throws Los Angeles Angels hitter Erick Aybar a 91 mph cutter practically down the chute in the top of the fourth Wednesday night. Aybar hits it on the proverbial screws. The ball slams into the right side of McCarthy’s head like a bullet, knocking the righthander down on the mound.
Herb Score and Gil McDougald, call your offices?
Let’s try this again.
Assume the Washington Nationals will stick to the script and implement, some time in September, the exclamation point of the Strasburg Plan. Period dot period. Assume, too, that there’ll be enough blue murder screaming over the Nats torpedoing their own postseason chances. Maybe even some conspiracy theorists demanding a formal investigation, perhaps into whether someone isn’t buying the Nats off bigtime to tank. (Would the conspiracy theorists surprise you, really?)
Now, shove all that to one side and look at the Nats’ rotation without Stephen Strasburg.
While glancing around looking for the top WAR men on major league teams, I noticed Philip Humber through this writing has a -0.5 WAR. (He was due to return Tuesday night, after missing a month with an elbow strain.) Obviously, his perfect game in April didn’t exactly do him many favours; in fact, he may be on track to produce the weakest post-perfecto season’s performance among any pitcher who’s thrown a perfect game.
As I suspect was the case for numerous Met fans—since the day they were born or otherwise—it took me over a week to process that what seemed so long impossible finally happened. It took a mere 8,119 games before a Met threw a no-hitter. And it couldn’t have been thrown by a nicer guy except, maybe, for Tom Seaver. Who just so happens to have lost one of the seemingly infinite Met no-hit bids when Jimmy Qualls, bearing no other reason for fame, broke up his bid in 1969.
I was reading Steve Henson’s charming profile of a spring training day in the life of Tommy Lasorda this morning. Now 84, Lasorda puts in twelve-hour days as perhaps the Dodgers’ number one ambassador on and off the field, touring around the gathering fans and driving his golf cart from spot to spot checking the major and minor leaguers alike. (“You couldn’t hit my curveball,” Lasorda, a one-time relief pitcher, needled Dodger outfielder Matt Kemp. “You know what I used to say when they played against me? ‘Your heart belongs to mama but your behind belongs to me’.”)
Sandy Koufax has made annuals visits to the New York Mets’ spring training camp in Port St. Lucie for several years. His longtime friendship with beleaguered owner Fred Wilpon is one reason; his longtime friendship with manager Terry Collins has become another. This time, his first spring visit focused on two young Mets pitchers, Bobby Parnell and Matt Harvey. The Hall of Famer talked mechanics with Parnell and confidence with Harvey, who said he was “blown away” by Koufax’s visit.