Category Archives: Baseball

The Harvey Haddix Rule And Extra Innings

Friday, February 10, 2017

THE HARVEY HADDIX RULE: An Exception to Extra Innings Change

Even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still say, “Play ball.”

While the Anthropocene is already in extra innings, and might well wrap itself up with one walk-off-into-oblivion Grand Slam, how long a baseball game might last is less speculative. Changes are afoot: A proposal to alter how extra innings (or what would be called “overtime” in other sports) is played in professional baseball has reached the first stage of implementation. Starting in the lowest levels of the minor leagues, any game that is still tied after the ninth inning will have the 10th inning start with a runner already in scoring position.

I can understand the impetus behind this rule change. Professional baseball is a continental traveling circus at this point, and athletes are highly paid performers. With ticket prices at exorbitant levels, one deserves to see them at their best, and to ask someone to play 16 innings and then head to the airport and fly cross-country in order to play a game the very next night tests the limits of reaction times. The rule would accommodate the social evolution of the game’s maturation as part of a globalized economy.

I tend not to favor rule changes in baseball. I savor the continuity of the game. But let us remember that the game itself went through radical changes before it finally settled on its current rules, and even less than a century ago the spitter was still a legal pitch. Like it or not, the DH is now firmly embedded in the game, and some people believe that the National League should give in and adopt that change, too. One recent change has long overdue: the banning of slides into second base outside of the base path.

I would be in favor of the change regarding extra innings, with the following variations:

1) the tenth inning starts with a runner on first. In point of fact, as every manager knows who watches his pitcher walk the first batter in an inning, the odds that that runner will score are uncomfortably high. What this rule will do is increase the value of the utility player who has worked hard at the craft of stealing bases. It will also create immediate tension in the game. Will the runner take off for second base? From the first pitch of the top of the tenth, the game’s momentum will swirl in expectation.
2) in regards to the DH rule, the National League should allow a DH for the pitcher in extra innings only. This will also increase the likelihood of a swift resolution to the game.
3) if the runner on first does not score after starting on first base in the 10th inning, then and only then does the runner start on second base. In the 11th inning, the pressure will truly build.
4) if the runner on second does not score in either the top or the bottom of the 11th, then the 12th inning starts with the runner on third.

There is one concern I have about this rule change. How would it affect the record book in regards to no-hitters and perfect games. As we all know from the sad fate of Harvey Haddix, it’s possible to throw 12 perfect innings of baseball and still lose a game. But let’s imagine a pitcher who has thrown a perfect game for nine innings and still must confront a duet of zeros on the scoreboard. The other pitcher has thrown an eight-hit shutout, and the game must go on to extra innings.

Allowing a runner to start the inning on the basepaths seems an affront to anyone who accomplishes the feat of nine perfect innings. Let’s call it the Harvey Haddix rule: if a pitcher has pitched nine perfect innings, the other team is not allowed a runner on base to start extra innings. This would not apply, by the way, to no-hitters; only perfect games. So my fifth point in the above list is non-negotiable as far as I’m concerned. The Harvey Haddix rule must be a part of this change to the baseball rulebook.

Finally, this rule change would indeed be a concession to those who stand up for tradition in baseball, but let’s talk about the real impact of concessions. The truth is that concession sales no doubt drop significantly in extra innings, and I have no doubt that the owners will be convinced to adopt this rule because it improves the bottom line of concession sales. By the 14th inning, the dwindling sales of soft drinks and souvenirs surely must make the owners go, “Let’s get this over with and start counting final receipts.”

Eric Fryer and the Hot Stove League

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Eric Fryer and the Hot Stove League

http://m.mlb.com/cutfour/2016/12/14/211174962/photo-snow-covered-pnc-park-is-gorgeous

For those readers of this blog who are not familiar with baseball terminology, the “Hot Stove League” is not a reference to a “league” of teams, but rather an almost archaic phrase that encapsulates fans of the game who must endure the winter with stoic curiosity. There is widespread agreement that the term originated during the second half of the 19th century in village stores of rural areas of the United States. Casual acquaintances, fellow churchgoers, and old neighbors would meet up on winter nights to speculate about the coming season, as well as to commiserate about the past season. At this point, with the United States still far short of 50 state composition, no major league team was more than a thousand miles away from its furthest competitor. Given the harshness of winter where the density of the clubs was distributed, the allure of tipping back on a chair in the vicinity of a warm stove must have been irresistible in an age with almost no technological connections. Needless to say, the term has little feasibility today. “HotStoveLeague.com” is a domain name on sale for $1,000, or so my search this morning turned up. I suspect the price will not go up in 2017. In fact, it will probably still be available in the next decade.

Nevertheless, the photograph of Three Rivers Stadium in the link above (and the off-stage image of the frozen river on the other side of the outfield walls) made me think of that term yesterday, and I celebrated my own version of it last night by watching Knuckleball, a film about the pitching careers of Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey. Much to my surprise, Linda enjoyed it quite a bit, too, in part because the film is not just about athletes, but an examination of what any meaningful undertaking involves: a willingness to persevere. The basic advice that retired knuckleball pitchers, such as Charley Hough, had for Wakefield and Dickey was that they had to believe that their best years would be when other pitchers had long been retired. I suppose one could describe knuckleball pitchers of the avatars of delayed gratification in professional baseball.

Almost every boy who has played baseball has tried to throw two pitches at some point, even if they are not pitchers. In loosening up one’s throwing arm before a game, or in my case playing catch with my brother in the back-yard, it was impossible to resist throwing a spitter and a knuckleball. I had better luck with the spitter, which dropped about two feet as my brother was about to catch my pitch. “What was that?” he asked. “An illegal pitch,” I said, “and it’s too bad it’s the only one I can throw half-decently.” The knuckleball pitch really is a curiosity, since it moves slowly enough that its lack of spin is perplexingly half-detectible. It seems as if one should be able to keep track of its trajectory, but those who play the position of catcher know far better how little fun it is to be behind the plate with a knuckleballer on the mound.

I suppose that my blog has taken the knuckleball pitch as a metaphor for its approach. One never knows what the subject might be on any given day: poetry, visual art, music, movies, theater, electoral politics, urban transportation, or health care. Today, for instance, one might reasonably expect to find part three of my sequence of entries on Charles Webb’s poetics and poetry; instead, I am going to write about personal memories of baseball and being a fan of a current MLB player.

When my father finished up his 20 years of military service as an enlisted man in the U.S. Navy, he moved his baseball and personal memories. When my father finished up his 20 years of military service as an enlisted man in the U.S. Navy, he moved his family back to San Diego County, mostly because he loved the mild winters. My parents had bought a small three-bedroom house in Imperial Beach when he was stationed in that vicinity in the mid-1950s, and they had rented it out after he got transferred to Norfolk for the tail end of his military career. As we packed up our belongings to head back to the West Coast, I realized that my experience of being a fan of professional baseball was about to change for the better. The three hour time difference would allow me to wake up and read the final outcomes of all the games, and not just the ones played on the East Coast. The morning newspaper in Norfolk was printed long before the games on the West Coast were finished being played, and it was irritating to have to wait until after yet another game had been played before finding out about the day before. It was the last reason on a long list of why I hated Norfolk, Virginia; it turned out to be the only thing that improved in my life for almost a half-dozen years.

In my pre-adolescence, I was extremely fickle about my favorite team at any given moment. In the summer of 1959, during the final year of my father’s enlistment, I grew enamored of the Los Angeles Dodgers, mainly because I liked the out-of-nowhere quality of a young rookie relief pitcher named Larry Sherry, who was said to throw a pitch, the slider, I had not heard of before. His rhyming name and (at the time) exotic pitch were immediately alluring to an impressionable young fan, who had also admired players on the Milwaukee Braves as well as the Pirates and Yankees. Joe Adcock, Eddie Matthews, Hank Aaron. What pitcher would want to face those hitters, except for that own team’s staff, headed by Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette? Two years after the Braves had beaten the Yankees, I was cheering for the Dodgers, although I admired the White Sox’s ability to win a 1-0 game with an eighth inning outburst of a walk, a stolen base, a sacrifice bunt, and a RBI ground-out.

The majority of casual fans tend to favor specific teams, and will follow them faithfully decade after decade. Over the years, I have found that I take more pleasure in noticing the minor triumphs and frequent stumbles of the journeyman player, the “Everyman” of an athletic career that owes more to effort than talent. There were certainly plenty of such players on the local team in San Diego, a Triple AAA farm club that featured players such as Kent Hadley, who moved to Japan after 1961 season, and Harry Simpson, who ended his career playing for the Mexico City Reds. Have glove, will travel. One player who epitomized the journeyman status of professional baseball was Jim Pisoni, whose talent was sufficient to serve as a back-up outfielder for a couple of teams, but who ended his career in San Diego in 1962. Indeed, for every player such as Tony Perez, who went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Cincinnati Reds and the Montreal Expos, there are dozens who linger in the obscurity of Triple AAA record books. I remember seeing Perez play in San Diego, and he brought an electricity to the field that left no doubt where he was headed as a ballplayer. More typical was the career of Art Shamsky, who will always be in the record books as one of the players to have hit four home runs in four consecutive at bats (though in Shamsky’s case, not in the same game).

At an early age, therefore, I learned of the travails of any occupation, including the most glamorous one. Minor talents languish, no matter how much effort is put into it. The 10,000 hour rule does not translate into success, though it may draw a person some measure of admiration. I think of Ray Rippelmeyer, for instance, who never got to pitch an inning of MLB ball, despite several successful seasons for the San Diego Padres. Other players do manage to put together a very modest career that includes some playing time in the big leagues, and part of my fascination with the game is how it is like chess: the move of a single pawn at an early stage in the contest can shift the whole outcome.

My favorite player these day illustrates that kind of possibility. Eric Fryer is a back-up catcher who has played for several teams in the past half-dozen years, including the Pirates, the Twins, and the Cardinals. Last year, he played for both the Cardinals and the Pirates, and many Cardinal fans wish that the team had released Brayan Pena in mid-season instead of putting Fryer on waivers and allowing the Pirates to add him to their roster. Fryer had had an outstanding first half for the Cardinals, filling in for Brayan, who had injured his knee just before the season started. Brayan had a contract in place, though, and when he had finally appeared to be healed after the All-Star break, it was Fryer who was let go.

While Fryer “cooled off” considerably as a batter while playing for the Pirates, he nevertheless managed to get 15 hits in 74 at bats, including two doubles, one triple, and 8 RBIs. It was far better production than what Pena contributed to the Cardinals over the last three months of the season. In addition, Fryer patiently escalated the pitch count of opposing pitchers by drawing 10 BBs. From a fan’s point of view, a record of playing in 35 games in the second half of a season, and only racking up a .203 BA and an OBP of .291 in 88 PA (Plate Appearances) is hardly an adequate performance, even for a second-string catcher. And it isn’t. It was a weak second half of production at the plate by a AAA+ player who has played a back-up role for three teams over the course of six seasons and a career total of 124 games. Fryer’s lifetime batting average, by the way, is .250 exactly (63 hits in252 Abs, with a career OBP of .330.

And yet as the Cardinals cleared out their locker room at Busch Stadium and looked at the National League standing, they must have wondered if that one game difference in the Wild Card standing between their team and the San Francisco Giants might be attributed to the decision to waive Eric Fryer mid-season. If Fryer had played the entire season for the Cardinals, the odds favor an instance in which Fryer’s bat would have been productive enough to turn a narrow defeat into a narrow victory. The one-game difference bench player. Maybe two games, in fact. The irony is that statistical analysis would “prove” Fryer’s worth to be less than major-league caliber in the second half. The reality is it is very difficult to measure the exact worth of a player, especially when it comes to “small ball.” The following is a “small ball” instance of how Fryer might have made the difference on the Cardinals’ team in July, August, and September.

The case in point is nearing the homestretch of last season. On Sunday morning, August 28, 206, Eric Fryer’s performance during the previous seven games he had worked behind the plate for the Pirates was not what any manager of a Wild Card contending team would hope for. Clint Hurdle’s Pirates were only a game and a half behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card race, with slightly less than three dozen games to go. Since being picked up on waivers by the Pirates in July, he had slumped badly at the plate. He hadn’t exactly broken out of that slump the previous night, and yet his at-bat in the fourth inning of Saturday night’s game with Milwaukee could be considered the turning point of the game. Fryer came to bat with runners on first and second, one out, and the Pirates down by a score of 5-1 in a ballpark that has been their graveyard for the past decade. With the count of two balls and two strikes, Fryer fouled out three consecutive pitches, and then drew two balls to walk the bases loaded, after which three singles, a Milwaukee error and a groundout scored five runs, and enabled the Pirates to take a lead they never surrendered.

Of course, instead of drawing a walk that loaded the bases, Fryer could have swung at one of the five pitches he received subsequent to the two-two count and grounded into a double play, which would throttled the inning and left the score at 5-1. This is not to say that the Pirates would have gone on to lose the game. But it’s those fourth inning at bats that so often determine the course of a season. Probably every third game played by a team has such a moment within the first five innings; and Fryer’s most important AB on Saturday night exemplifies one of those “small ball” moments that can shift a season’s outcome. Most certainly, a similar performance with the Cardinals, if Fryer had kept playing for them all season, might well have landed that team in the post-season playoffs.

It should be added that in the second game of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, September 16, Fryer had two official Abs, with a RBI, one hit, and a run scored. The Pirates won both games. In the game in which Fryer played, the score was 7-3, with a sacrifice fly RBI by Fryer and a walk in the ninth inning on which he then scored on Pedro Florimon’s double.

All of this was taken note of when the Cardinals decided to offer Fryer a minor-league contract for the coming 2017 season. He’s guaranteed a job yet one more year, and a journeyman professional ballplayer can ask for little more. His wife and he had twin sons in the middle of the last season, bulking his family up to five offspring, so another year of working as a professional athlete is mandatory. It’s a career that disrupts one’s family life, but making a salary of several hundred thousand dollars will certainly help provide for that family’s well-being in one’s absence. I wish him the best of luck. He has an earnest intelligence about his approach to the game that I admire and his gregarious self-discipline is inspiring.

I’ve never been a Cardinals fan, but if Fryer ends up being the primary back-up catcher to Yadier Molina, I might well put aside my aversion to a team associated with a family-owned brewery that I detest. Molina is truly one of the exceptional players in the game today. Last season, forced to take on catching duties above and beyond a normal pace, Molina still batted .304 and had an OBP of .358. Go ahead and call being his back-up catcher a second-rate career. I would call it a gratifying honor for a life devoted to learning a skill in which passion still matters.

Fryer is not the only journeyman who played with more than one major league team last season to sign a minor-league contract, in recent weeks, for the upcoming season. This kind of arrangement, in which a player is not on the 40 man roster of a team, allows teams to provide depth at various positions so that a sudden surge in injured players won’t catch them short-handed in mid-summer. Alex Presley signed with Detroit Tigers, for instance, and Erik Kratz signed with the Cleveland Indians, while Matt Hague has returned from a year in Japanese baseball to toil for the Minnesota Twins as a “depth” player. They both know that they might spend the entire season at Triple A, but due to the strength of the players’ union, at least they are being decently paid for remaining available as potential substitutes. Travis Ishikawa remains unsigned, however, and it’s possible that his career as a professional athlete is over. At least he has that glorious moment of hitting a championship game winning home run to savor in the transition to retirement as a player. Finally, now that Chase Lambin has retired as a player and started a career as a coach, I wonder who is the oldest player in the minor leagues to have never had a single at-bat in the majors? Chasing the dream, they call it. Here is a link to a more realistic appraisal of being a marginal figure in the show business of athletics: “They like you. They just don’t like you, like you.”

http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/just-a-bit-outside/story/the-full-meaning-of-signing-a-minor-league-deal-021315

Danny DeVito’s “THE RATINGS GAME” and the October Surprise Debate

Sunday, October 2, 2016

“THE RATINGS GAME” – Danny DeVito’s Minor Masterpiece and the Donald Trump Surprise Debate of October 25

One of my colleagues at CSULB, Charles Webb, has written a score of poems that seem likely to become pedagogical models of “Stand Up Poetry,” a mode he has promoted in several influential anthologies. Webb, however, is not the person who coined the term. Inspired by the title of Edward Field’s collection of poem, “Stand Up, Friend, With Me,” Gerald Locklin and Charles Stetler applied the term to a post-Beat, “reader-friendly” kind of poem that emphasized humor and popular culture. Among Webb’s best known poems is a paean to “low culture” art in which Webb bemoans (in a straight man fashion) his inability to recall the important signifiers of canonical literature and culture, and instead cackles with self-satisfied pleasure as he recalls the art that truly matters to him, which features nothing other than low, gross humor. On the surface, Webb’s rhetoric is beguiling; upon re-reading, one discovers its flaw in leaning too heavily on inductive logic. Nevertheless, it is a charming example of Webb at his best.

The narrator of Webb’s poem is a fringe-niche consumer of mass industrial culture. His protestations of a preference for low culture are dourly undermined by his acknowledgement of the social expectations of his imagined persona as a cultivated individual. While analysis of Webb’s poem calls for taking this ambiguous tension into consideration, the allegiance to low culture that the poem accentuates is at the heart of any media-based target audience. As ripe as that subject might be for comic display within popular culture, few efforts have been truly successful. One exception is Danny DeVito’s “The Ratings Game,” which came out in 1984. It is a minor masterpiece in its satire of corporate culture’s manipulation of the status quo.

The protagonist of “The Ratings Game” is an amateur auteur in the fullest sense of the term. Vic DeSalvo, played by Danny DeVito in his first directorial effort, is a successful businessman who yearns for cultural status, but is rebuffed by the Hollywood crowd. Undeterred by his initial failures, DeSalvo manages to get his cartoon show a slot on a nationally syndicated broadcast schedule. I haven’t seen this movie, which was a cable television project, for over 30 years, and yet I recall with a smile on my face — as wide as that of Webb’s narrator — the moment in which Established Power smirks at Underlings: “Congratulations,” the network executive says to DeSalvo, “your show will premiere on October 10, (pause) the first night of the World Series.”

To put it mildly, DeSalvo knows he is doomed. With bottomed-out ratings, his show will not likely make it to the second month, let alone a second season. DeSalvo won’t give up without a fight, however, especially after his fiancé, Francine (played by Rhea Pearlman), reveals how “ratings” are actually determined. As the victim of sexist politics in the office, she has no qualms about getting revenge, and they set about plotting to humble a system stacked against them.

I mention “The Ratings Game” (which has finally been released on DVD) because the current schedule of debates between presidential candidates includes an evening featuring the alternative choices of Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. The Free and Equal Commission has organized a debate to which all prominent candidates have been invited. The likelihood of Trump and Clinton both showing up for this debate and thereby according minor party candidates an appearance of being on an equal footing is about the same odds as the Chicago Cubs asking me to pitch the first game of the upcoming playoffs.

However, as I wrote this post, Trump’s habitually asymmetrical strategy gave me pause: might not Trump show up? It would be a couple of hours of free publicity in which he could harangue Jill Stein as the “real” Hillary Clinton, the “alternative” who represents the socialist agenda that lurks behind Clinton’s policy-driven campaign. Next to Johnson, of course, Trump would seem like a foreign policy maven, a wonk ne plus ultra. What’s to lose? Well, I suppose that Fox Sports would resent any distraction from one of its crown jewels, but the White House is at stake, and that requires sacrifices from all interested parties, doesn’t it?

By now, of course, you’ve guessed what Trump’s misfortune would be in choosing this “alternative” debate as a surprise outlet for his fulminations. Yes, this debate is scheduled for the first night of the 2016 World Series (October 25). Good luck, Ms. Stein. I can’t wait to see the Cubs finally begin to break the longest drought in American sports.

“Brazen” — Homage to Vin Scully’s Final Dodger Stadium Broadcast

Sunday, September 25, 2016

On the Occasion of Vin Scully’s Final Dodger Stadium Broadcast

Today opened with some very sad news for all baseball fans. Jose Fernandez, one of the most brilliant and joyful young pitchers in the game, died in a boating accident Clint Hurdle, the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, spoke of how inspiring Jose Fernandez was as a player and of how he will be missed by the entire game.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2016/09/25/pirates-manager-offers-deep-powerful-statement-on-jose-fernandezs-death/

Since today will mark the last broadcast from Dodger Stadium by Vin Scully, I wanted to pay tribute to him by reprinting in my blog a poem I wrote a quarter century ago, and which poet and editor Lee Rossi published in his magazine, Tsunami. I sent a copy of it to Vin Scully, and he responded with a handwritten note that I treasure as a highlight of my correspondence.

SLOW CURVE
for Vin Scully

“He’s taking a huge lead off second base.
There’s no other word for it but brazen –
that’s a great word, brazen – whatever
happened to brazen?” A great verb, too.
Brazen it out, the desire a veteran squeezes,
when his best pitches sprawl and he must depend
on location and luck. July’s road trip,
twelve games in ten days, interinanimates
August’s eight-game winning streak. I remember
Scully, in the fermenting middle of an inning,
suddenly talking about “The Brothers Karamazov,”
and not just a reference either. A couple
of sentences. It was very endearing,
as though Scully were saying to the few
who’d read it – I know you’re listening
because my voice comforts you, a small boy
crouching under bedcovers, a transistor radio
simmering next to your ear, the lesson
of anonymity and surprise: September, 1964,
Scully announces the Cardinals’ pinch hitter,
a kid called up from the minors two days before,
he hits a three-run homer and the Cardinals win
and no one hears from the kid again.
Sometimes I want a game to last all night.
I’m tempted to turn the radio off in the seventh
or eighth inning so I can wake and pick up
the paper, not knowing who came from behind
and who let another’s heroism spoil
in June’s truculent humidity, the drought of July
spinning into the resilience of August,
the chilly rains of April and September.
Oh extra innings and the ground rule double!
“He’s taking a huge lead off second base.” –
and I scramble back and skip out again,
taunting the catcher and shortstop of fate
and the future, knowing there’s only a few seasons
left to spit and slide, but I won’t quit,
aging as I am in a narrow bullpen,
fingering the red seams for that new pitch
that will redeem my summers in Salinas,
Butte and Albuquerque, the slow curve
that will bring me the brazen, blazin’ glory
I’ve dreamed of each night before sleep
whacks my next pitch deep to center field.

This issue of Tsunami also contained writing by Amy Uyematsu (an exceptionally fine poem entitled “The Woman Gaugin Chooses to Paint”); Richard Garcia (“Chickens Everywhere”); Tim Donnelly; Mary Armstrong; Lyn Lifshin; Charles Webb; and B.Z. Niditch. Leland Hickman, who had died on May 12, 1991, was the featured poet. Two of his poems, “Hay River” and “Blackwillow Daybreak,” were reprinted as the centerpiece of the issue.

It should be noted that I am posting this after the Dodgers came back from a 3-2 score in favor of the Colorado Rockies. With two outs in the ninth inning, Corey Seager summoned his inner Kirk Gibson as a way to honor Vin Scully and hit a home run to tie the score. Then, an inning later, Charlie Culberson hit his first home run of the entire 2016 season to win the game and clinch the division title for the Dodgers.

Post-Script added on October 2, 2016

Here is a link to Vin Scully’s tribute to his fans and his farewell address from San Francisco.

http://m.mlb.com/news/article/204697686/vin-scully-wraps-up-career-in-vintage-form/

The Baseball Races of 2016: Two Months to Go

August 7, 2016

If the baseball season were a race track, this year could be said to be leaving the backstretch and heading into the far turn, With slightly more than fifty games left to play, the teams that have floundered are spread out like listless mounts being ridden by wistful jockeys, while the superior teams are holding their respective positions at a steady clip. Here is a ten day spread of the total win records of the top teams in the National League:

Midnight, Thursday, July 28, 2016
Chicago Cubs – 60 wins
Washington – 59 wins
San Francisco – 59 wins
LA Dodgers – 57 wins

Miami – 55 wins
St. Louis Cardinals 54 wins
NY Mets – 53 wins
Pittsburgh Pirates — 52 wins

Midnight, August 7, 2016

Chicago Cubs – 68 wins
Washington – 65 wins
San Francisco – 63 wins
LA Dodgers – 61 wins

Miami – 58 wins
St. Louis Cardinals 58 wins
NY Mets – 56 wins
Pittsburgh Pirates — 55 wins

With the acquisition of Arnoldis Chapman for the duration of this season, the Cubs are virtually a sure bet to be in the playoffs. In a similar manner, if the Nationals and Giants fall short of making the playoffs, it will be a long winter for their fans. They will not be saying, “Wait til next year,” but “What the hell went wrong last year?” For the second quartet of teams, however, the allure of the only possible playoff spot has already reached postseason intensity.

The Pirates, sad to say, have emphatically run up the flag and signaled that their season is not going to finish in the post-season win, place, or show list. In trading Mark Melancon, their very consistently successful closer from the past two seasons, the management of the Pirates has all but said to their team’s locker room that they have fallen short this year. Three rookies have already started games this season as fill-ins for faltering or injured veterans. The majority of the starting rotation (Niese, Liriano, and Locke) has performed at a level that one would more often associate with the pitching staff of the Minnesota Twins the past couple of seasons. (Niese and Liriano have also gotten shipped out, in separate transactions from Melancon’s eviction.) Even so, if Andrew McCutchen was having another All-Star season, the team might still be in the Wild Card race. Unfortunately, McCutchen is having a season as disappointing as Bryce Harper’s. As it stands, it’s highly likely that the Pirates could revert to their more familiar pattern of a losing record.

In some ways, I feel as if I have already entered the Hot Stove League portion of the year. This is especially true since the presidential election is in full swing and getting more and more of the attention that it deserves. Still, one needs some means of keeping one’s distance from that which one has little control over, and my childhood affection for baseball still provides the best escape. I am not unaware of the irony that most fans of professional baseball teams are probably voting for Trump. Certainly those who attend MLB games on any regular basis are probably supporting Trump. All of us succumb to some level of cognitive dissonance, and I pretend that the company I keep in this hobby is not relevant to the pleasure I experience. On the other hand, my appreciation for baseball derives in part because at least the players are individuals whose talents are judged objectively. Unlike the fashion show of American poetry, in which talent and knowledge are far less important than your professional connections, baseball players have to make it on their skills and determination to get better. Poetry, as a public art, is a social game. The game of baseball is a democracy of merit.

Though I lacked any athletic skill as a youth, the abstracted and rule-bound choreography of the game always fascinated me. One youthful memory of baseball, in particular, involves rulebook questions. The idea of this language game was to test one’s knowledge of the rulebook by creating improbable situations and asking what you would do if you were the umpire. The historic triple play that the National pulled off against the Giants the other day, in which the first baseman snagged a low line drive (first out), stepped on first to catch the runner off the bag (second out), and threw to third, where the fielder stepped on that bag to nab the runner way down the line (third out), made me think of a variant on that play.

Suppose, instead, the runner on first keeps complete balance as the ball is hit almost parallel – and just barely fair — down the first base foul line, and he lunges back to the base so quickly that the first baseman doesn’t try to double him up after making a catch just six inches off the ground, but instead throws directly to the third baseman, where the runner has been more careless and anticipated too intensely the chance to sprint home. This runner, who plays catcher and has far below average speed, twists his ankle slightly as he scrambles back to third and sees the first baseman’s throw go astray, bouncing off the fence behind third base and rolling towards the left fielder, who is charging in. Both the runners on second and third use this error to tag up and advance, and when the left fielder fumbles the ball, the runner from second base decides to head to the plate, too, for he stayed closer to the bag and had tagged up in the instant the first baseman’s throw was darting towards third, and took off for third the instant the ball skipped past the third baseman’s glove.

Unfortunately for the team at bat, the exceptionally quick runner on second — sprinting head down once he sees the third base coach’s signal to head home — passes the runner hobbling from third before he gets to the plate (second out), and the runner on third ends up being tagged out on an extraordinarily precise throw by the left fielder. Now that would be the most unusual triple play ever.

One way this outcome could turn into a trick question would be to imagine that the throw from the left fielder hits the runner from second base, thereby allowing the runner from third to touch home plate without being tagged. Does the runner from second being out (at the instant he passes the runner on third) affect the status of the ball in play?

Whatever answer you might give, the chances are that this century will end without a 3-7-2 triple play (with an “E” inserted for the first baseman’s errant throw), except in my private tape loop pleasure of watching the slow motion uncoiling of each existential, imaginary pitch, and that is the exquisite solace this game has given me for over a half-century.

Realistic Fantasy Baseball League

Baseball has been the sport of choice for poets to be fans of; Marianne Moore is one of our leading advocates for following the game. (Ron Silliman and Joe Sadie come to mind immediately as contemporary examples.) Moore’s loyalty to the Dodgers over the decades indicates that she would make a great manager for the kind of team I propose today, which is a reaction to people who ask if I’d like to join a fantasy baseball league. The concept that has made this hobby popular is the indulgence of pretending that one is the owner of a major professional sports franchise, and that one can select from the draft pool of free-floating athletic signifiers the players who will bring the greatest imaginary success.

I am more interested in realistic fantasy, which is to say that people should be forced to pick players that reflect their actual economic conditions. Are your life-time earnings an average of $30,000 a year? Then you should be limited to average players. This wouldn’t mean that you would be forced to select players that don’t try very hard or give some extra hustle (three cheers for Mickey Hatcher). Like you, they work very hard and the results are just sufficient enough to keep the rowboat from getting any closer to the waterfall.

Here are my choices for the core starting line-up of a fantasy baseball team in 2015, with the statistics of their spring training games (as of this morning, March 27), along with their career averages:

Alex Presley – Right Field (Spring Training, 7 for 31)

(over 1000 career ABs, a .259 hitter)

Casey McGehee – 3rd Base (Spring Training, 14 for 43)

(almost 2500 career ABs, a .264 hitter)

Travis Ishikawa – Left Field (Spring Training, 8 for 39)

(almost 900 career ABs, a .259 average)

Garrett Jones – First Base (Spring Training, 7 for 40)

(almost 2800 career ABs, .253 average)

Nate McLouth – Center (Spring training, 2 for 5)

(over 3000 career Abs, .247 average)

Michael McHenry – Catcher (Spring training, 6 for 31)

(over 700 careers Abs, .245 average)

Steve Tolleson – Second Base (Spring training, 8 for 26)

(almost 300 career Abs, .241 average)

Clint Barmes – Shortstop (Spring training, 5 for 27)

(almost 3600 career Abs, .246 average)

Paul Maholm (Left-Handed Starting Pitcher) (Spring, 12 innings pitched, 2.19 ERA)

(over 1500 career innings pitched, 4.30 ERA)

Edinson Volquez – Starting Pitcher (a disastrous spring)

(over 1000 career innings pitched, 4.44 ERA)

BULLPEN

Zach Duke – Relief Pitcher (very poor spring)

(over 1100 career innings pitched, 4.46 ERA)

Yoervis Medina

Tom Wilhemsen

Charlie Furbish

Back-up catcher

Eric Fryer (spring training, 6 for 25)

(over 100 career Abs, .246 average)

Steve Lombardozzi (spring training, 9 for 29)

(slightly over 775 career ABs, .266 average)

Don Johnson – (spring training, 3 for 19)

(career .236 hitter with 57 homers)

Sam Fuld (currently with the Oakland As)

(career .235 hitter, good glove though)

If this team (filled out by players of equal caliber) won 65 games in the course of a 162 game season, it would be very lucky. Still, this team would be fun to watch, especially on those rare days when they were in the groove and defeated the team that has a line-up of All-Stars. Ideally, it happens in mid-May, a mild Sunday afternoon getaway game on the road.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

I can’t wait for opening day to arrive.

 

 

 

 

 

Kirk Gibson and Charles Olson

Monday, August 19, 2013

The approaching 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit home run has coincided with the Los Angeles Dodgers winning an astonishing number of games in the second half of this season. Although it’s been decades since I’ve cheered with any enthusiasm for the Dodgers, I am pleased to see the team doing well, if only because Vin Scully has endured more mediocrity in recent years than any Hall–of-Famer broadcaster should be saddled with. For his sake, I would be pleased to see the Dodgers do well in the postseaon playoffs.

In the drumbeat boosterism that is beginning to build towards what the local economy hopes will be a Dodger triumph in the World Series, this quarter-century celebration of Gibson’s limp-off dinger is an all too obvious item on the restaurant menu. Sure enough, the Los Angeles Times trotted out a long column by Bill Plaschke the other day that reviews some of the background contributions to Gibson’s sole at bat in that series. Most of the key elements in the story, however, are not particularly insightful revelations. In particular, Gibson’s use of a scouting report to anticipate the pitch that Dennis Eckersley was going to throw is fairly common knowledge, and anyone who has followed the game at all knows that Gibson has previously credited Mike Davis’s steal of second base with helping him settle in at the plate and focus on the basic task of getting a single and simply tying the game at 3-3. A pinch-runner could then have been used to finish off the job of rattling the Oakland A’s confidence in their odds-on status of being the team favored to win the Series.

There’s been at least one game this year, in fact, in which a similar comment to the one Gibson made years ago about how Davis’s steal affected his equanimity at the plate. In mid-May, the Cleveland Indians were playing the Seattle Mariners in Cleveland in an extra-innings game that was tied at 3-3. According to Jordan Bastian’s coverage of the game, a two-out walk to Drew Stubbs (who has struck out 113 times in 354 Abs this season and drawn only 28 bases on balls) proved to an unforgiving extension of the inning by the Mariners’ pitcher. As with Mike Davis’s two-out walk in the 1988 game, the subsequent stolen base altered the approach of Jason Kipnis, whose comment after hitting a home to win the game was very similar to Gibson’s recollection of his most famous at-bat: “I knew that I had to go up there and just get a single — just slap it,” Kipnis said. “That approach may have helped me stay back on his offspeed.”

In other words, as with writing a poem, don’t try to do more than needs to be done to resolve an immediate adversity. That’s easier advice to follow, of course, about a conservative game, such a baseball, as opposed to choosing a course of “self-action with Whitehead’s important corollary: that no event / is not penetrated, in intersection or collision with, an eternal / event.” Furthermore, the hyper-masculine environment of professional baseball remains a problem in drawing any analogous permutations of potential choices with outcomes. The word missing from Olson’s reminder at the end of “A Later Note on Letter #15” is one of gender assignment: Are “the poetics of such a situation … yet to be found out” patriarchal or matriarchal, or is there a new androgyny yet to articulate its plural capacities? (In one of the poems called “Elements” in “Great Slave Lake Suite,” Leland Hickman included a slight variation on Olson, describing his context at Fort Providence in Canada as the “poetics of this situation not yet figured out.”)

Nevertheless, the intersection of familiar cycles with a seemingly infinite variety of personal circumstances makes both baseball and poetry prime subjects of my daily meditations.