Book Review: The Year of the Pitcher

The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age
by Sridhar Pappu
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
(c) 2017 by the author

1.12 and 31.

The two numbers that essentially defined the 1968 baseball season.

The former is Bob Gibson’s earned run average for the season (basically, he only gave up one run for every eight innings he pitched); the latter is the number of games won by Denny McLain – the most in over thirty years. These stats epitomize the low-scoring environment of baseball in the 1960s. But rather than focus on the actual games of that season, Pappu takes a much broader look.

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Baseball by the Month

With April over, we are well into the baseball season. Things should start settling out now, as “small sample sizes” are a thing of the past. Trevor Story has got to cool off, the Phillies can’t really be as good as they’ve been, and the Astros can’t be as bad.

But it’s not just April that’s a special part of the baseball season. Every month all the way through to October has its own characteristic, its own “feel”.

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Baseball is Coming!

In just a few days, the 2016 baseball season will begin. So all the sports magazines and websites will soon be publishing their predictions (if they haven’t already) on what the final standings will look like. I cannot add anything to what they’re saying (most of what I could say will just be a rehash anyway), but I can still muse on what we might see in the upcoming months.

Can the Royals and Mets repeat?

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As the 2015 Season Winds Down

“Oh the days dwindle down
To a precious few….”

There’s just a few more days left in the 2015 baseball season – and what a ride it’s been. The Astros, Royals, and Cubs surprising everyone. The Nationals turning from odds-on favorites into a train wreck and then a dumpster fire. Wilmer Flores and the Trade That Almost Happened. Kershaw and Grienke making people think of Koufax and Drysdale. Shelby Miller unable to get run support. Bartolo at the Bat….

While the awards are announced after the end of the World Series, it’s worth noting that all ballots must be submitted before the playoffs start. So now is the time for all voters and baseball fans to make their selections.

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Into the Home Stretch

We’re into the last month of the baseball season, and the pennant races are heating up. With the first team (Cincinnati) having just been eliminated, it’s a good time to take a look at who’s in first and who’s likely to make the playoffs.

Things are clearest in the National League. Every team in first has a six game lead (at least, as of this writing), and the teams in second place don’t look strong enough to overtake them. Sure, it’s possible the Mets could collapse like they’ve done before, but even given that they’ll be carefully watching the work loads of their ace starters, there’s practically no chance that the near dumpster fire of the Nationals will get their act together in time to take any advantage of that. Look for the Mets to clinch before that final Mets-Nats series in Citi Field.

It must hurt to be the Pirates. In four of the other five divisions, they’d be in first place. But they have to play in the same division as the Cardinals, who seem a lock to win 100 games this year. And the Cubs have two teams to look up at in envy. At least the two of them get to play in that “wild card play-in” game…

The only thing really left to be decided in the NL is who will get home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs – the Dodgers or the Mets. The way things are likely to wind up, they’ll be facing each other. And given the results of their games against each other (the Mets have won 4 of the 7 games, outscoring the Dodgers by a total of 33-19), home field could be key. It’s “Kershaw and Grienke, then grab a hankie” vs. the Harvey-deGrom-Syndegaard Triumvirate. Should be fun!

There’s more to be decided in the American League. Only the Royals have run away with their division (who saw that coming?). The Blue Jays and Yankees are fighting it out in the AL East, and the Rangers are making the Astros look nervously over their shoulders. Right now, the wild card spots are still up for grabs, too. In addition to the second place teams in the East and West, the Twins, Angels, and Rays all have a good shot at sneaking in. I wonder what the tiebreaker scenarios look like…

Even if your team isn’t in the race, there are still things to be decided. Can Josh Donaldson keep up his torrid pace, and take the MVP from Mike Trout? Will the utter mess of the Nationals hurt Bryce Harper’s MVP chances? Will there be another no-hitter, triple play, inside-the-park home run, or steal of home? Will St. Louis Cardinals fans become even more insufferable? Why does Donald Trump get more popular the more offensive he gets? Who was that lady I saw you with last night?

Random Thoughts on the 2015 All-Star Game

Pete Rose did pretty well in the pre-game show. A little work on knowing when to stop talking and let the other guys speak, and he’ll be OK. He’s got a wealth of baseball knowledge, and is a fine raconteur.

The “Franchise Four” was a pretty neat idea. Rather odd comparing the young expansion teams to the “classic” franchises. Evan Longoria is a very good player, but he’s no Mike Schmidt. But every team does have players to be proud of.

So, Nolan Ryan’s a “Franchise Four” with three teams! Hmm!!!

To those complaining about the selections: This was done via a fan vote. For all the problems with that method, keep in mind that the results will probably be forgotten before the season is out. Sure, you could simply pick the four players with the highest career WAR over their time with the team, but where’s the fun in that?

Same thing goes for the “Greatest Living Legends”….

Mike Trout reminds me of Johnny Mize or Ted Kluszewski. Not just the skills, but the clean-cut, square-jawed, wholesome good looks.

Johnny Mize, Mike Trout, Ted Kluszewski

Johnny Mize, Mike Trout, Ted Kluszewski

By the way, that home run of his was no “monster blast” (like McCutchen’s upper deck shot later in the game). It traveled something like 340-350 feet. Would have been caught in center field… Heck, it would have been caught in right center (370′ to the wall).

In a pitching-heavy era like the present, a low-scoring game is to be expected. Makes for somewhat dull viewing, unfortunately. 24 of the 54 outs were recorded via the strikeout.

Speaking of strikeouts, did anyone else notice that when Jacob deGrom struck out the side in the 6th on 10 pitches, not one of the batters so much as made contact? Looking, looking, swing and miss. Looking, looking, outside, swing and miss. Three swings and misses.

A three-run lead going into the bottom of the seventh, with plenty of top-notch pitching arms available? And all of the big bats for the NL already out of the lineup? Yeah, it’s pretty much over.

While it’s nice to win, the All-Star Game MVP Award is probably the least significant of all the pieces of hardware a player can get. It’s the equivalent of a “Player of the Game” award – the kind where the local radio station gives you a free dinner for giving them a post-game interview. Yeah, there are a lot of great names in the list of winners. But that’s simply because the players in an All-Star Game are already likely to be great players. There’s more luck than talent involved. The list of winners includes such legendary players as Jeff Conine, Garrett Anderson, and Terry Steinbach….

The 2015 All-Stars

The voting has closed for this year’s Baseball All-Star Game. But even while it was still open, there was a lot of chatter about What’s Wrong With The Voting. It’s nothing new. Fans always gripe about both the voting and the selection process. Being able to complain is part of the fun. One of the lesser complaints is that every team is required to have a representative on the rosters. Often, this means that a “clearly deserving” player is left out. However, when you get right down to it, every team has at least one player who deserves to be an All-Star.

Without further ado, here are the best players on each team.

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Baseball Season!

We’re finally underway. All the preparation, all the planning, and almost all the wheeling and dealing are done. It’s time to get out on the field and play ball!

This season looks to be a very good one. There’s a heck of a lot of parity (the sort that the NFL can only dream about), with no clear leader in five of the six divisions. It’s actually easier to list the teams that don’t have a chance at the playoffs than to run down all the teams that can honestly dream about playing in October. There’s also an immense number of good young players to watch and root for. It’s a great time to be a baseball fan.

Of course, it’s practically obligatory for even a semi-serious fan to offer their predictions for the coming season. Most of these come out before Opening Day. But since I’ve been a bit lazy (and one or two games don’t matter that much over the long haul), here’s my prognostications.

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The New Commissioner

Rob Manfred has officially taken the reins as Commissioner of Major League Baseball. He inherits a sport that is in better shape than a lot of people seem to realize. Financially, baseball as a whole is doing very well. Attendance is high and steady, even at a time when fans have many more ways to follow the sport than showing up in person. A lot of the griping one sees is from people who don’t appear to be fans anyway.

But there are a few issues that need to be addressed, and it looks like Mr. Manfred is willing to jump right in and get down to business.

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