Wednesday, July 13, 2011

2011 MLB All-Star Game - Inning by Inning

JT: Drinking beers and plugging movies in center field
I'm going to write about tonight's MLB All-Star Game, live from Arizona, with the first pitch scheduled for 8:00 pm Eastern -- yeah, right..  A few thoughts before that "first pitch" to get things rolling...

Much has been made about the number of All-Stars chosen this year -- 85 total -- with particular venom reserved for players who declined to appear in the game to nurse nagging injuries or, worse yet, simply take a full three days off.  I'm of the view that if you're chosen, you should go, unless you are actually on the disabled list.  If guys need a break -- and there wouldn't be a break without the All-Star Game in the first place, maybe you can make the the break four days instead of three.  Take Monday and Tuesday off,  play the game on Wednesday, and let everybody resume the regular season on Friday.  What about the Home Run Derby, you ask?

My next suggestion is to scale back or get rid of the Home Run Derby.  Yes, everybody loves those dingers, but this glorified batting practice is far too long -- three hours, really -- and pretty dreadful to watch in the first round.  We all felt bad for Rickie Weeks and Matt Kemp.  Or maybe we flipped over to Kill Bill.  By the way, it was interesting to hear ESPN's Nomar Garciaparra (a two-time participant himself) talk about how sore he was the next.  The fatigue factor might not bode well for the AL team, who had three starters (Ortiz, Gonzalez, and winner Cano) go into the final round last night. Both Gonzalez and Cano probably took around 60 home run cuts each.  That's a workout.

Given the potential for a slight American League power outage, I am sure that the National League -- especially the Phillies -- are welcoming the chance to assert their pitching dominance to gain the advantage in the World Series.  With Roy Halliday to start and Cliff Lee in the bullpen, NL manager Bruce Bochy has four or five innings of the game locked up right there, with Tim Lincecum and a host of other studs ready to go.  By the end of the game, I think AL manager Ron Washington will wish he had CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez, and Justin Verlander throwing.

I would expect a low scoring game for a while, with the NL breaking it open big after the fifth.  I have my bowl of peanuts and a fresh pitcher of iced tea ready to go. Now where'd I put the remote?

Going through the lineups during introductions, it appears that Yankees reliever David Robertson appears to be about 15 years old.  Good for him.  Nice to see THREE members of the Pittsburgh Pirates as All-Stars.  And on and on the pregame goes (The X-Factor?  Really?) culminating with Tim McCarver's awkward reading of the teleprompter.

Top 1st
Halladay is likely to be awesome.  One pitch, one out. Four more pitches, two outs.  Four more, inning's over.  Halladay is keeping the ball down in the strike zone, too.  Will he go two or three innings, is my question. AL 0, NL 0.

Bottom 1st
Weaver is very good, and underexposed, pitching as he does on the West Coast, for the other team in Los Angeles, and for a team that doesn't get much support outside of its limited fan base.  I don't expect at this point the National League hitters will fare much better. Batting second, there's Carlos Beltran -- nice to see him coming back into form, despite the strikeout on a change-up from Weaver.  Weaver is a fine pitcher, but his command looks a little off, evidenced by the walk to Kemp.  I would have liked to have seen Prince Fielder see a few pitches before swinging -- maybe Kemp could have stolen second.  As it turns out, Fielder swung at the first one and flied out.  That's it, Prince; give the Arizona fans another reason to boo. AL 0, NL 0.

Top 2nd
Nice play from Rolen to get the second out of the inning, as Halliday continues to be super-efficient.  A decent at-bat from Adrian Beltre, who saw about six pitches before a respectable fly-out to the opposite field.  That appears to be all we'll see from Halladay, who's making the start on three days rest.  His teammate Cliff Lee will likely take the next two innings. AL 0, NL 0.

Bottom 2nd
Now there's David Robertson in there, as Weaver -- whose knee has been bothering him -- could only go an inning.  No doubt a guy who can warm up quickly. And there's a noisy out, and an out only because of a a great play from Jose Bautista.  And now a single up the middle from Lance Berkman.  At least he won't be running.  After a good at bat from Matt Holliday, he's called out on strikes and Berkman is thrown out.  Yowza.  Looking back, honestly, I might have pinch run for Berkman -- Hunter Pence, anyone? AL 0, NL 0.

Top 3rd
And here's Cliff Lee, who these days is the best pitcher in baseball. Curve is working. Three up, three down.  Lineup changes should start soon, with the AL losing a chess piece by having Robertson pitch the second. AL 0, NL 0.

Bottom 3rd
Seattle rookie Michael Pineda is pitching now -- very good, and very composed for a 22-year-old. Weeks bats for the second time in the game now with two outs.  Time to guess of a pitch and try to jack one out.  Wow --strikeout on a filthy pitch down and away.  Will Washington let the rookie pitch another inning? AL 0, NL 0.

Top 4th
I like the substitutions of Hunter Pence and Justin Upton in outfield.  After one out, Adrian Gonzalez puts one just over the fence in right-center.  That's how good Gonzalez is -- a little mistake from Lee and A-Gon puts a run on the board.  And, with Fielder dropping the pop-up by Bautista, there's another reason for the Arizona fans to boo.  And there are the boos.  With a cheap little flare by Lee's former teammate Hamilton, Bochy goes to Tyler Clippard, the politest-looking man on either team.  Adrian Beltre singles to left, but for some reason Bautista tried to score from second and was thrown out easily.  Feh.  You have to let Clippard get those outs in a situation like this, with big bats up and down the lineup.  AL 1, NL 0.

Boo -- I mean, hooray! (photo from AP)
Bottom 4th
I like CJ Wilson as a left-hander here in the fourth, as well as Youklis at third.  "Infield single" by Beltran.  But, Fox, do we have to have a poolside interview with Justin Timberlake?  Single by Kemp.  Getting interesting here with two on and no outs.  The home run from Prince Fielder should limit the boos from the Arizona crowd for the rest of the night. Needless to say, I was wrong to like Wilson pitching here, as his command is a little off and he's leaving pitches up in the strike zone.  Wilson settles down and finishes the inning with 22 pitches, but the damage is done. NL 3, AL 1.

Top 5th
Votto in at first, with Clayton Kershaw on the mound now, a pitcher that the bottom of the AL order doesn't see much. Not much going on in this inning -- and it's three up three down, with Votto making a nice play at first to close out the inning.  NL 3, AL 1.

Bottom 5th
Migel Cabrera at first, Howie Kendrick an second, Johny Peralta at short, Ellsbury in center, with Walden pitching.  Here's where the lack of real aces for the American League is starting to show.  Tulowitzki singles, Castro is the pinch runner, Castro steals second. Rolen strikes out (again), when a proper ground ball to the right side of the infield would have moved the runner over.  Not a good night for Rolen.  Interesting detail on screen, showing the replay of how Walden sneaks off the rubber and closer to the plate during his delivery.  Castro steals third.  Weeks hits a little grounder back to the pitcher, who throws out Castro at home, with Weeks now at first.  I totally understand Weeks stealing second in this situation.  Can the NL get a balk here, please?  This is the second inning in a row that the AL pitchers have labored, so I would expect (another) error from the AL before the end of the game.  Weeks scores from second on Ethier's single, with Ethier being tagged out between first and second, probably drawing the throw from the cutoff to ensure the run scores.  It took Walden about 20 pitches to finish that inning. NL 4, AL 1.

Top 6th
Brandon Phillips in and second, Castro at short, Pablo Sandoval at third, with the outstanding Jair Jurrjens opening the inning to Ellsbury, who strikes out.  Two more up, two more down.  None of the AL hitters looked comfortable.  Nine outs to go for the American league and they're done.  NL 4, AL 1.

Bottom 6th
Matt Joyce in left, Carlos Quentin in right, Matt Wieters behind the plate, with Chris Perez pitching.  These guys are all good, but very young.  In the field right now, the lack of stature among the AL players is quite apparent.  Kemp flies out, but Joey Votto could be trouble in his first at bat here. Nope, he struck out -- but at least he swung hard.  Yader Molina gets a nice double off his former teammate, much to Perez's amusement.  And a quick fly out by Justin Upton -- patience, Grasshopper! -- ends the inning.  Another run would have been worth working for there.  NL 4, AL 1.

Top 7th
With Jair Jurrjens starting the seventh, I think the game is likely over if he can manage three outs. With Andrew McCutchen in center, the NL defense now is very strong all around.  I like how Fox flashed an on screen ad for Moneyball when Youklis ("The Greek God of Walks") came up.  Youklis delivers a single, and Bochy, taking no chances, brings in Craig Kimbrel.  First pitch, 97 miles per hour, but Kimbrel's command is a little off, and he walks a patient Paul Konerko.  Kendrick did his best to work the count, fouling off a couple of pitches, but he grounds out to end the inning.  Six outs left for the Americans.

Bottom 7th
Michael Cuddyer at first, Michael Young at third, with Brandon League pitching.  Button up your damn shirt, League.  Naturally, he gives up a single to Hunter Pence.  Strikeout by Castro, but speedy Pence goes to third on a passed ball.  League throws very hard -- close to a 100, pitch after pitch.  And Pablo Sandoval goes inside out fora ground rule double down the left-field line, Hunter Pence scoring easily.  Not a bad spot to pinch hit Gaby Sanchez in this spot: Swing away, big guy!  But he flies out. NL 5, AL 1.

Top 8th
Johnny Ventures (1950s pop idol?) is on to pitch in the 8th,   Howie Kendrick and Jocaby Ellsbury make sure they catch their late flights out of town, and Heath Bell does the Fat Man Sprint-and-Slide in from the bullpen. That was not really very cool at all.  Peralta pops out, and Heath Bell gets his 20 seconds on SportCenter. NL 5, AL 1.

Bottom 8th
Ogando is on to pitch for the AL, but the game has the feel of being over.  One out, two outs.  Jay Bruce pinch hits, and Gio Gonzalez comes in to pitch to him.  It's some hot lefty-on-lefty action, people.  Look at us managing the game people! And Bruce strikes out.  Epic.  Half inning to go.  NL 5, AL 1.

"How many outs we need, Skip?"
Top 9th
Some more substitutions have been made, but it's getting late, and from what I can tell another one of those Pirate all-stars, Joel Handrahan, is in to close out the game. Or is he?  My beard is getting itchy, and that usually means something.  Hanrahan strikes out Michael Young, who looks miffed that he whiffed.    Hanrahan is actually throwing about 100 miles an hour at the top end.  They must like him in Pennsylvania with that chin fringe.  But Castro and Bruce collaborate on an error, and puckish Carlos Quentin is on. Here comes the AL.  Will Matt Joyce of the Tampa Bay Not-the-Devil Rays be able to keep things rolling?  Joyce singles to right, and Jay Bruce uncorks a mighty throw home to nobody.  Runners at second and third with two out.  It's time for Bochy to bring on The Beard!  One pitch, fly ball to shallow right.  A few more, and it's a ground out to the shortstop. Final score: National League 5, American League 1.

Looks like the obvious was true here.  The National League's pitching depth was the difference, with Prince Fielder making up for his weak showing in the Home Run Derby by smacking a three-run homer that was the deciding hit in the game.  Didn't go too late for me, and it looks like nobody was seriously hurt.  I learned that I have a lot of movies to go see this summer, but I won't go to Friends with Benefits, no matter how many times JT asks.  Home field advantage for the National League in the World Series; I'll be watching that.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Blackout: The Untold Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training

          Jackie Robinson, the African-American baseball player who, in 1947, was the first person of color to play in the modern major leagues, was on the vanguard of desegregation before most people in the country ever heard of him.  During Robinson’s time as an Army officer during World War II, he was court-marshaled for refusing to move to the back of a bus, although he was later acquitted of the charges.  In 1945, having signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson would still have to face, in 1946, a spring training in Florida with his assigned team for that season, the minor league Montreal Royals.  During six weeks 1946, Robinson faced the first wave of racist resistance to his taking the field with white players in Florida communities such as Sanford, Deland, Jacksonville, Miami, and – to a lesser extent – Daytona Beach.
            The book Blackout, by College of Charleston professor Chris Lamb, finally tells the often overlooked story of Jackie Robinson’s first spring training.
            The color line is baseball was bound to have been broken sooner or later.  The conservative, dictatorial first commissioner of baseball – Kenesaw Mountain Landis – had died, a vocal African-American and socialist press corps was demanding desegregation of the national pasttime, and black veterans who had fought racism and political oppression overseas were not going to tolerate it on American soil any longer.  Add to these factors the tremendous amounts of money to be made by winning teams in the postwar major leagues – well, the talent of black ballplayers could no longer be ignored by the white baseball establishment.  The Dodgers’ general manager Branch Rickey supported segregation in large part because he wanted to win:  Jackie Robinson would be but one of the black players that would help the Dodgers to a championship in the 1950s.
            Chris Lamb, the author of Blackout, does an tremendous job of depicting the outright suffering Jackie Robinson and his wife Rachel endured in that spring of 1946.  Transportation and accommodations were so bad that the young Robinsons were unable to make the full trip by train from Los Angeles to Florida.  In the Florida panhandle, they were simply kicked off the train.  And, when they finally arrived in Daytona Beach, by bus, several days late, frustrated and humiliated, there was no place for them to stay and few places to eat.  The Robinsons could rely only upon the generosity of an informal and inconsistent network of black citizens for their daily needs.  Daytona Beach, proud home to the activist Mary McLeod Bethune and to Bethune-Cookman College, was in fact the most hospitable place they could find.
            Daytona was marginally tolerant of people of color, but most other communities were not.  Across the state, not only were the health care, transportation, and school systems segregated, but so too were restaurants and hotels, the bathrooms and drinking fountains, the beaches and swimming pools, as well as actual baseball fields.  In many places, Robinson would suit up and take his position, only to have police officers order him off the field.  Some grass and dirt, by law, was for whites only.  Often, Robinson wasn’t even allowed to sit next to his white teammates on the bench.
            Again and again, author Lamb has unearthed horrifying examples of just how commonplace and brutal jim crow was during the 1930s and 40s, and, balancing that, he finds as well many heartening stories of those now-forgotten heroes who helped Jackie Robinson along the way.
            Somehow, although he came as close to quitting that spring as perhaps during any time in his baseball career, Robinson made it through.  He played when he could, and when the season started, he was the Montreal Royals starting second baseman, leading them to 100 win and the league championship, leading the league it hitting, baserunning, and fielding.  The following year, as many of you may know, he started the season with the major league Brooklyn Dodgers, putting a far more public face on the cause of desegregation.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Fan of MLB.TV

     As much as I try to be in favor of the little guy (the smaller guy?) I have to admit that when it comes to sports, I'm a bit of a corporate shill.  Because I hate paying any more money than I must to the wretched cable television providers, on and off for years I've subscribed to Major League Baseball's audio package and made do with the basic cable slate of baseball games available on basic cable -- the national telecasts and regional coverage of both the Marlins and the Rays.  That's actually a pretty good range of baseball to watch, and I was able to listen to my team (the Red Sox) with the live audio feed of Boston's radio coverage for all 162 games.  It worked for me for several years.

     One issue related to baseball and television has always been the sport's arcane blackout rules -- I have attached the blackout map to the left here, but to see a full version of the map, click here.  The current blackout map is a leftover from the 1970s, when teams had regional broadcast networks and geographical access to both the signal and the team meant something.  The result of this completely silly system is that, if you live in the state of Iowa, you could have games of the Royals, Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals, Twins, and Brewers blacked out through any media.  If you're overseas -- as I was for much of the summer of 2004, when the Red Sox made their championship run -- you can't access the games online, either.  The obvious solution, of course, is that everyone, everywhere, should have access to all the games. Period. More viewers and listeners means more revenue; people who want to ballpark experience will still go to the park, even if parking is $20 and a beer is $10.

     This year, I signed myself up for the big leagues' online video service, MLB.TV, and three weeks into spring training, I am thrilled.  Even with the basic package, I've been able to choose from about a half dozen spring training games all month, and, during the regular season, over 2000 more games. Not only that, all of those games are archived, so if I miss a good matchup from a few days before, I can always watch a replay on my own time.  And, if my eyes need to be busy, I can listen to the radio broadcast as well.  The connection is great, the picture is clear, and the controls are very easy to use.  The package costs me about $20 a month.

     Even better, for a few more dollars, I can download to my iPhone an app called At Bat 11, which gives me the same package of video and audio on a fully portable device.  Although the video on a 3G connection can be a little laggy, WiFi works just fine, and audio is no problem no matter what the connection.

     I hate to rave about MLB.TV and At Bat 11, but I am raving.  For the serious baseball fan who might watch a fair amount of out-of-market games, it's worth the money.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go listen to a few innings of the Cardinals-Red Sox in the back yard while the kids play in the pool.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

2011 Barcalounge Skipper Fantasy Baseball League

     With Spring Training just around the corner, I would like to put out a public invitation to anyone out there who might be interested in joining the 2011 Passing Notes Fantasy Baseball League, informally named the Barcalounge Skippers.  Ideally, I would like to have 20 teams in a standard 5x5, head-to-head format with an automatic draft a few days before the regular MLB season starts.  We'll follow all the standard settings for the Yahoo! fantasy baseball setup.
     If you are interested, contact me through this website's comments (I won't post your information), or send me a private message through Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace.  State your case as to why you should be a league member. From time to time, over the course of the season, developments from the Barcalounge Skippers might just make it onto the website or podcast. Batter up!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Barcalounge Skipper - Refrain from Qatar

     In a very silly statement, FIFA President Sepp Blatter, has suggested that gay folk attending the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, "should refrain from any sexual activities."  Setting aside the matter that Qatar gave women the right to vote in just 1999, that alcohol consumption is largely forbidden, it remains very clearly on the books that "sodomy" (unnatural sex acts) between consenting adults is illegal in the country, and punishable by up to five years in prison.  Without knowing too much about Qatar, however, I would hate to indulge in the sort of speculation that fans the flames of anti-Islamic sentiment. One would imagine that, in practice, those with the money and prestige to travel to watch the World Cup would be largely free to eat, drink, and be merry in whatever manner they please -- provided they do it in the social "free trade zones" of tourist hotels and other venues.
     No, my beef is with Sepp Blatter, who, although he might think what he thinks about gays and lesbians, should have kept his mouth shut -- even if it ran the risk of offending the Qatar monarchy. Although Blatter naively insists that by 2022, discrimination will not be an issue, I am more skeptical.  If we can skip right over the bigoted jokes about soccer being gay, or this or that team as being gay, or this or that player as being gay, those of us who are secure in our straightness will understand that, for most of the secular free world, if you are marketing anything, you should generally market to as many people as possible.  If I have the money, I'm not sure I'd be going to the 2022 World Cup.  Maybe I'd give my money to one of my gay friends or relatives, so they could travel there just to have sex in the privacy of a Qatar hotel room.
     Then again, maybe most people at the World Cup just want to watch some soccer.  At $150 a ticket, before travel, food, and lodging expenses, I'd certainly much rather be thinking about soccer than about people I don't know having sex in a way that doesn't interest me.
     The real story here isn't about sex and sexuality, or the more broad problem of alcohol consumption in a "dry" nation -- it's about having a modern, secular, global event in a nation that wants to be modern, secular, and global only as a matter of status, but the rest of the time prefers for most of its day-to-day workings to be antiquated, doctrinaire, and provincial.  Sepp Blatter has had a long and mixed tenure as the head of FIFA, and this seems to be another sign that it's time for him to leave.  And before it's too late, let's find another place to host the World Cup in 2022.  How about the Netherlands?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Barcalounge Skipper - San Francisco Giants Win

I realize I'm not breaking any news here.  What a great MLB postseason for pitching and for smaller-market teams with modest budgets, low ego-factors, and genuine team spirit.  I am completely contented that almost all of my playoff picks were incorrect.  I now know what it means to "Fear the Beard."