Tag Archives: MLB

Triple B Flashback: Orioles Rout White Sox and No One is There to Hear

Editor’s Note:  For the remainder of June we will be counting down our 10 favorite columns as we celebrate summer vacation. Coming in at number 2 on our countdown is a column from April 29, 2015.

Earlier today The Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox tested the baseball equivalent of the old adage about what happens when a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it.

Instead of a forest though the two teams were in the nearly empty Oriole Pak at Camden Yards for a Major League Baseball game in which the Orioles defeated the White Sox 8-2.

The National Anthem was still played, and a stretch was still made in the seventh inning complete with the John Denver song that has entertained Birdland for the better part of four decades but something was definitely missing.

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team to host a game with locked out fans. Photo R. Anderson

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team to host a game with locked out fans.
Photo R. Anderson

With only players, team officials, some scouts and members of the media allowed inside the Ballpark the game marked the first time in MLB history that fans were locked out of the Ballpark when a game was going on.

While there were fans who gathered to watch the game from outside the gates no ticketed fans were allowed through the turnstiles.

With no fans inside the Ballpark home run balls and foul balls went uncaught and parts of the Ballpark were so silent one could likely hear a pin drop.

Orioles Skipper Buck Showalter noted after the game that it was so quiet that he could hear the bullpen phone ringing from the other end.

As strange as playing in an empty Ballpark is today’s game was merely one of many things to occur during a strange week for the Orioles who briefly told fans that they could not leave the Ballpark on Saturday night and then saw games on Monday and Tuesday completely cancelled.

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and his teammates played a game in an empty Orioles Park at Camden Yards after MLB officials deemed it was unsafe to allow fans to attend. Photo R. Anderson

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and his teammates played a game in an empty Orioles Park at Camden Yards after MLB officials deemed it was unsafe to allow fans to attend.
Photo R. Anderson

The Orioles will also fly south this weekend for a “home” series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals.

The reason for all of the juggling of the schedule is protests that are occurring in the neighborhoods surrounding the Ballpark which have led to the city of Baltimore imposing a 10 p.m. curfew.

Even with all of the efforts to shorten the pace of play a regular MLB game could not be finished in time for fans to all get home before 10. Ironically though the game in the empty Ballpark was finished in just a little over two hours which might lead some to believe that the ultimate way to shorten the game is to lock the fans out all the time.

With police and National Guard troops trying to restore order within Baltimore to prevent future acts of violence and looting, the Ballpark will stay silent until it is deemed safe to once again play ball.

Part of the freedom Americans have is free speech and the ability to show displeasure with things in a way that very few other countries have.

The Orioles will fly south this weekend for a "home" series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals. Photo R. Anderson

The Orioles will fly south this weekend for a “home” series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals.
Photo R. Anderson

But there are limits to the protection of free speech. Just as it is illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire it is also illegal to burn buildings and other property as a form of protest.

The violence and destruction over the past few days takes away from those members of society who are trying to peacefully demonstrate and have their voices heard.

As is almost always the case a small minority of protestors escalated things to the level of violence so any generalizations about the behavior of all of the protestors would be false. Sadly, the actions of the few far out shadow any peaceful message that the many may have been trying to share.

And while a baseball game being played in an empty Ballpark is likely something that will be forever mentioned as part of Baseball lore and may even warrant a small exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame, it is those few individuals who turned to violent protests that caused the community of Baltimore to lose the economic benefit from at least six baseball games.

Granted two of the cancelled games will be made up as a doubleheader later in the season but the fact remains the protests took money out of people’s pockets.

Bars and restaurants near the Ballpark did not benefit from the game day crowds and the various vendors who sell peanuts and Cracker Jacks missed out on income from the games as well.

Hopefully the Orioles are able to come home to roost by the time of their next schedule home game, however, Major League Baseball has made it very clear that fans will not be allowed inside the Ballpark while protests are still actively occurring.

While it is certainly unfortunate that games are being played without fans and Camden Yards, the safety of the thousands of fans had to be taken into account so while it was a difficult decision to move out of Baltimore it was likely the only decision MLB felt they could make.

When the dust settles it is the images of the burning police cars and looting that most people will remember more than any peaceful demonstration that may have occurred.

In previous times of despair, such as the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, baseball has served as a way to unite the community and help heal wounds.

Hopefully baseball in Baltimore can once again unite the community to focus on being one Baltimore cheering together for the men wearing the orange and black.

That is not to say that Esskay hot dogs, and crab cakes can solve all of societies problems nor is diminishing the rights of citizens to engage in peaceful demonstrations to stand up when they feel they are being wronged.

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was one of two players to hit a home run with no fans there to catch it. Photo R. Anderson

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was one of two players to hit a home run with no fans there to catch it.
Photo R. Anderson

Regardless of whether one agrees with the protesters or not one should agree that they have the right to demonstrate within the boundaries of the law.

It is when those protests fall outside the boundaries of the law that action, even the difficult action of looking fans out of a Ballpark, must be taken to ensure that innocent people are not harmed.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see what sporting event will be aired next without any fans.

Copyright 2015 R Anderson

Hinchcliffe Wreck Shows Risk of Injuries are Part of Everyday Life for Athletes

Every day life is full of risks if one really stops to think about it.

There is the risk of stubbing one’s toe while fumbling in the dark all the way to the risk that someone will run into the back of your car while you are stopped at a light.

For professional athletes there are the every day toe stubbing risks that the average person faces along with the risk that in some cases they might be seriously injured or even die at work due to the inherent risks associated with what they do for a living.

James Hinchcliffe (shown in Winner's Circle after the 2013 Grand Prix of Houston) recently reminded people that driving Indy Cars is risky business. Photo R. Anderson

James Hinchcliffe (shown in Winner’s Circle during the 2013 Grand Prix of Houston) recently reminded people that driving Indy Cars is risky business.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, police officers, firefighters, and members of the military are among the many professions who also put their life’s at risk so in no way do I want to come across as saying that athletes are the only ones with risky professions.

There are countless men and women working tirelessly at dangerous jobs every day who deserve our thanks for keeping us protected.

Usually their jobs do not have them in arenas full of screaming fans while they perform the risky work though. In that way professional athletes really are in a league of their own when it comes to performing risky behavior in front of the masses.

One of those athletes who does risky work in front of the masses, Indy Car driver James Hinchcliffe, is in the Intensive Care Unit of an Indiana hospital following a violent crash during practice for the Indianapolis 500 Monday.

Hinchcliffe, or Hinch as he is known to many of his fans, suffered a puncture to the left upper thigh after a piece of the car’s suspension assembly pierced the driver cockpit, or tub, and went through his leg causing severe soft tissue damage and rupturing arteries.

According to some published reports after his car’s right front suspension failed, Hinchcliffe hit the wall with a force of 125 Gs and was likely traveling more than 220 mph when he hit the wall. It should be noted that G forces above 100, even in short bursts, can be fatal in some cases.

Unlike in other sports the same safety team travels to all Indy Car races. It is the quick work of that team that is being credited with saving the life of James Hinchcliffe following a wreck Monday. Photo R. Anderson

Unlike in other sports the same safety team travels to all Indy Car races. It is the quick work of that team that is being credited with saving the life of James Hinchcliffe following a wreck Monday.
Photo R. Anderson

Were it not for the fast action of the safety crew it is entirely possible that Hinch could have died from his injuries due to the blood loss associated with a ruptured artery.

While Hinch is alive thanks in part to enhanced safety features and procedures to handle injuries like his, it is likely that there will be new safety features added to the Indy Cars after the cause of the latest crash are revealed.

However Indy Cars will never be 100 percent safe any more than athletes in other sports can be 100 percent protected from the risks of getting seriously injured in their chosen fields.

Recent lawsuits from former NFL players show that injuries from playing sports can sometimes take years to manifest themselves as is the case with players stating that they are suffering from the effects of head trauma long after their playing careers have ended.

In response the NFL has new concussion protocols in place to try to lessen the risk of injury to current players from head trauma.

In baseball there has been a rash of injuries the last few years with batters and pitchers getting injured after having their heads and jaws make contact with a baseball traveling at high velocity.

Former Houston Astros pitcher J.A. Happ was lucky and evaded serious injury in 2013 when he was hit by  a ball on the mound while pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays. Happ's hit and others like it have led Major League Baseball to look at ways to better protect the players. Photo R Anderson

Former Houston Astros pitcher J.A. Happ was lucky and evaded serious injury in 2013 when he was hit by a ball on the mound while pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays. Happ’s hit and others like it have led Major League Baseball to look at ways to better protect the players.
Photo R Anderson

In response to the increase in head injuries Major League Baseball is developing new protective head gear that can be worn by both batters and pitchers to help lessen the impact of a ball to the head.

The actions by the NFL and MLB to protect their players is certainly to be commended but no system can totally prevent injury when it comes to sports.

This is not to say that all motorsports and contact sports such as football should be deemed unsafe and banned any more than I should have to bubble wrap my home to avoid injury from bumping into things in the dark.

The trick is to make things as safe as humanly possible for the athletes involved so that they can live to play, or in Hinchcliffe’s case, drive, another day.

Sports are much safer today than they were 10 years ago and 10 years from now they will be even safer. Innovations will continue to evolve in the world of sports as well as other fields.

As long as people learn and improve from each accident and injury than they serve a purpose in helping the industry as a whole become safer. Failure to learn from the issues would be a far more devastating scenario.

In time the Mayor of Hinch Town will again be spraying the bubbly of victory after he heals from his injuries. Photo R. Anderson

In time the Mayor of Hinch Town will again be spraying the bubbly of victory after he heals from his injuries.
Photo R. Anderson

I had the opportunity to meet Hinch when I worked with the Grand Prix of Houston. While platitudes are certainly thrown around a lot, I can say that James Hinchcliffe is one of the most easy going athletes I have encountered in any sport and is one of those athletes who seems to really enjoy what they are doing and understands that it is a privilege to get to do what they do for a living.

The road back to driving an Indy Car will not be an easy one but Hinch has shown time and time again that he has an ability to handle those turns with the greatest of ease. I would not count the Mayor of Hinch Town out just yet.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to move a few things so that I do not bump into them tonight.

Copyright 2015 R Anderson

 

Orioles Rout White Sox and No One is There to Hear

Earlier today The Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox tested the baseball equivalent of the old adage about what happens when a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it.

Instead of a forest though the two teams were in the nearly empty Oriole Pak at Camden Yards for a Major League Baseball game in which the Orioles defeated the White Sox 8-2.

The National Anthem was still played, and a stretch was still made in the seventh inning complete with the John Denver song that has entertained Birdland for the better part of four decades but something was definitely missing.

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team to host a game with locked out fans. Photo R. Anderson

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team to host a game with locked out fans.
Photo R. Anderson

With only players, team officials, some scouts and members of the media allowed inside the Ballpark the game marked the first time in MLB history that fans were locked out of the Ballpark when a game was going on.

While there were fans who gathered to watch the game from outside the gates no ticketed fans were allowed through the turnstiles.

With no fans inside the Ballpark home run balls and foul balls went uncaught and parts of the Ballpark were so silent one could likely hear a pin drop. Orioles Skipper Buck Showalter noted after the game that it was so quiet that he could hear the bullpen phone ringing from the other end.

As strange as playing in an empty Ballpark is today’s game was merely one of many things to occur during a strange week for the Orioles who briefly told fans that they could not leave the Ballpark on Saturday night and then saw games on Monday and Tuesday completely cancelled.

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and his teammates played a game in an empty Orioles Park at Camden Yards after MLB officials deemed it was unsafe to allow fans to attend. Photo R. Anderson

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and his teammates played a game in an empty Orioles Park at Camden Yards after MLB officials deemed it was unsafe to allow fans to attend.
Photo R. Anderson

The Orioles will also fly south this weekend for a “home” series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals.

The reason for all of the juggling of the schedule is protests that are occurring in the neighborhoods surrounding the Ballpark which have led to the city of Baltimore imposing a 10 p.m. curfew.

Even with all of the efforts to shorten the pace of play a regular MLB game could not be finished in time for fans to all get home before 10. Ironically though the game in the empty Ballpark was finished in just a little over two hours which might lead some to believe that the ultimate way to shorten the game is to lock the fans out all the time.

With police and National Guard troops trying to restore order within Baltimore to prevent future acts of violence and looting, the Ballpark will stay silent until it is deemed safe to once again play ball.

Part of the freedom Americans have is free speech and the ability to show displeasure with things in a way that very few other countries have.

The Orioles will fly south this weekend for a "home" series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals. Photo R. Anderson

The Orioles will fly south this weekend for a “home” series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals.
Photo R. Anderson

But there are limits to the protection of free speech. Just as it is illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire it is also illegal to burn buildings and other property as a form of protest.

The violence and destruction over the past few days takes away from those members of society who are trying to peacefully demonstrate and have their voices heard.

As is almost always the case a small minority of protestors escalated things to the level of violence so any generalizations about the behavior of all of the protestors would be false. Sadly, the actions of the few far out shadow any peaceful message that the many may have been trying to share.

And while a baseball game being played in an empty Ballpark is likely something that will be forever mentioned as part of Baseball lore and may even warrant a small exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame, it is those few individuals who turned to violent protests that caused the community of Baltimore to lose the economic benefit from at least six baseball games.

Granted two of the cancelled games will be made up as a doubleheader later in the season but the fact remains the protests took money out of people’s pockets.

Bars and restaurants near the Ballpark did not benefit from the game day crowds and the various vendors who sell peanuts and Cracker Jacks missed out on income from the games as well.

Hopefully the Orioles are able to come home to roost by the time of their next schedule home game, however, Major League Baseball has made it very clear that fans will not be allowed inside the Ballpark while protests are still actively occurring.

While it is certainly unfortunate that games are being played without fans and Camden Yards, the safety of the thousands of fans had to be taken into account so while it was a difficult decision to move out of Baltimore it was likely the only decision MLB felt they could make.

When the dust settles it is the images of the burning police cars and looting that most people will remember more than any peaceful demonstration that may have occurred.

In previous times of despair, such as the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, baseball has served as a way to unite the community and help heal wounds.

Hopefully baseball in Baltimore can once again unite the community to focus on being one Baltimore cheering together for the men wearing the orange and black.

That is not to say that Esskay hot dogs, and crab cakes can solve all of societies problems nor is diminishing the rights of citizens to engage in peaceful demonstrations to stand up when they feel they are being wronged.

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was one of two players to hit a home run with no fans there to catch it. Photo R. Anderson

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was one of two players to hit a home run with no fans there to catch it.
Photo R. Anderson

Regardless of whether one agrees with the protesters or not one should agree that they have the right to demonstrate within the boundaries of the law.

It is when those protests fall outside the boundaries of the law that action, even the difficult action of looking fans out of a Ballpark, must be taken to ensure that innocent people are not harmed.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see what sporting event will be aired next without any fans.

Copyright 2015 R Anderson

 

Major League Baseball Takes Time Today to Honor a Trailblazer

We are a country that enjoys commemorating achievements in all shapes and sizes.

Some call it the American spirit while others might call it an attempt to ensure that the sacrifices of those that have gone before us are remembered long after they are no longer walking amongst us.

Just last week the 150th anniversary of the end of the United States Civil War was celebrated at Appomattox Court House, Virginia where General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant.

While Appomattox Court House is certainly among the central historical places in America, memorials of all shapes and sizes can be found from sea to shining sea as a way of helping to ensure that history is not forgotten.

Of course sometimes a memorial is not made out of brick and stone but is instead comprised of flesh and blood.

Today marks one of those occasions to remember and honor a flesh and blood memorial who, against all odds, changed the face of the country.

Each year on April 15 Major League Baseball teams stop to remember Jackie Robinson. Photo R. Anderson

Each year on April 15 Major League Baseball teams stop to remember Jackie Robinson.
Photo R. Anderson

Aside from being Tax day April 15 is also Jackie Robinson Day which a day sat aside to pay homage to an achievement of courage and determination in breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

While many fans may have only heard of Jackie Robinson following the release of the movie 42, his impact on the game of baseball stretches back nearly 70 years.

On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first African American to step foot on a Major League Baseball field when he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The world of baseball for Jackie Robinson, and many other players like him, was far different from the world of baseball today.

I am not referring to jumbotrons and jumbo hot dogs or any of the other things that have found their way into the modern game of baseball. I am not even talking about the designated hitter.

Prior to 1947 there were no minority players on any of the teams in the highest level of professional baseball. It took an owner willing to do what others wouldn’t in Branch Rickey, and a player willing to withstand insults from on the field and in the stands in Jackie Robinson, to pave the way for those that came behind them.

For people of a certain age, like me, it is nearly impossible to picture a segregated baseball diamond. From my earliest recollections there were people of all shapes and sizes and races on the field.

Jackie Robinson Day at Minute Maid Park.  Photo R. Anderson

Jackie Robinson Day at Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

Look at the rosters of the 30 MLB teams today and one will find players from six continents.

None of that would have been possible without someone taking the first step to desegregate the diamond.

So it is fitting to take time to honor Jackie Robinson’s sacrifice and to ensure that generations who were not alive back in 1947 can learn the story and know that without the sacrifices of people like Jackie Robinson the world would be an entirely different place.

One of my favorite quotes is “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It was first stated in the early 20th century by George Santayana, but the phrase is still as true today as it was when first spoken. Society must continue to learn from history so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

During the annual celebration of Jackie Robinson there are always a select few who will state in various outlets Robinson’s inclusion in the Baseball Hall of Fame was based solely on him being first to break the color barrier and is not reflective of his playing ability.

Of course, a quick look at his career statistics show that based on the merits of his play alone Jackie Robinson is every bit of a Hall of Fame caliber player and is included as much for what he did as a player as well as what he did as a trailblazer.

As part of Jackie Robinson Day each player on every team wears the number 42 as a show of respect and solidarity.

In 1997, on the 50th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game,  Major League Baseball retired the number 42 on all teams in honor of Jackie Robinson. As part of the number retirement players who were still wearing 42 were grandfathered in and allowed to keep wearing the number for the remainder of their careers.

Following Mariano Rivera’s retirement at the end of the 2013 season no player will ever again wear the number 42 in Major League Baseball.

There are still trails to blaze in a variety of areas and memorials will continue to be built for those individuals who conquer that new ground. But each new trail that is blazed is built upon the foundation of those who showed the way through their own courage.

History is a great thing to honor but the promise of the future can be equally exciting.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to figure out how to keep track of all of these 42’s on my scorecard.

Copyright 2015 R Anderson

With Football Done, I’m Ready for Some Baseball

The National Football League season came to a conclusion Sunday with the playing of the Super Bowl where the Seattle Seahawks lost to the New England Patriots, who depending on one’s opinion, are either led by the greatest duo to ever exist on the gridiron in Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, or are led be the evil emperor and Darth Vader who commute to their games in a death star and treat the NFL rule book like a collection of suggestions.

There were of course allegations that the Patriots cheated their way into the big game by having their balls a tad bit softer then the rules allowed but the fact remains for the next year, like it or not, they get to call themselves World Champions.

Regarding those soft balls used during the first half of the AFC Championship game, the NFL’s investigation into just who let the air out is still underway. While the tin foil hat society can continue debating whether there was one lone deflator or a grassy knoll full of deflators, in the bigger picture the end of football season means that the arrival of the baseball season is that much closer.

Don’t get me wrong I enjoy football, but after six months of Omaha, hut, hut, I am beyond ready for the sights and sounds of the National Pastime to arrive.

I think if the powers that be of the NFL were honest with themselves, they would also admit that they are ready for another sport to take the spotlight for a while so that the league can recover from a season where players were often making headlines more for their off field activities than anything they did on the field.

That is not to say that baseball players do not have off field problems as well. In fact Major League Baseball is preparing for the return of Alex Rodriguez after a one and a half season suspension for getting caught putting things in his body that are not allowed.

While MLB prepares for the headaches of A Rod drama few can argue that the past season was one of the biggest public relations headaches for the NFL in its history.

Hopefully the NFL can use the offseason to better define policies and procedures to provide clear cut, consistent responses across the board when issues arise instead of the shoot from the hip inconsistent approach that took center stage this year.

Speaking of inconsistent approaches, the advertisements in this year’s Super Bowl were all over the map with very few hitting the mark of viral success for making viewers laugh or cry for the right reasons.

It is almost like all of the other ad agencies decided that the beer company that is famous for spots featuring horses and golden retrievers was going to win the hearts of viewers regardless of what they did so they just phoned it in when it came to their ads.

Another item hurting companies when it comes to Super Bowl success is the early release of their ads on the internet.

While one used to have to wait until Super Bowl Sunday to see the ads at great peril to their bladders, now many ads are released days and weeks before the big game meaning that any impact already occurs before the game.

While this approach may lead to fewer full bladders during the commercial breaks, it does take a little out of the Super Bowl experience and has changed the way the game is watched for many.

The commercials I enjoyed the most were the ones I did not have prior knowledge of. There is just something about seeing a Super Bowl commercial for the first time during the Super Bowl as opposed to seeing an ad that has already been trending for a week before the game.

Hopefully marketers will realize that the best ads are the ones that are a surprise to the viewer and the trend of premature commercial release will be reversed faster than a bad call by a referee.

Ad agencies are now on the clock and have a whole year to figure out their ads for the next big game. And with Super Bowl 50 coming next February, I am hoping for some truly epic commercials, as well as a game featuring some good teams with properly inflated balls and no Death Stars parked in the employee lot.

Whoever gets selected as the halftime performer also has a tough act to follow as by all accounts Katy Perry and her dancing sharks and roaring cat set the bar very high for all who come after her.

And while a pitcher shaking off a sign from his catcher does not provide the same sound bites as a quarterback calling an audible at the line, who knows, maybe one of the umpires will add “Omaha, you’re out” to his strike out call to help those fans who are going through football withdrawal until the start of organized team activities and spring games in a couple of months.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a baseball season to get ready for.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Are Tampa Bay Rays in the Midst of an Epic Meltdown or on the Verge of a Historic Comeback?

For the first decade of their existence the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were bad, really bad.

How bad?

So bad that if the Devil Rays early years were put to music they could easily include the lyrics stink, stank, stunk.

So bad that in those first 10 seasons of play, from 1998 to 2007, the team failed to end a single season with a winning record. In fact the most victories came in 2004 when they won 70 games.

Although the stingray tank at Tropicana Field remains the Tampa Bay Rays showed that the devil is in the details when they switched from being  called the Devil Rays to just the Rays after 10 losing seasons. The result of the name change was a trip to the World Series in 2008. Photo R. Anderson

Although the stingray tank at Tropicana Field remains the Tampa Bay Rays showed that the devil is in the details when they switched from being called the Devil Rays to just the Rays after 10 losing seasons. The result of the name change was a trip to the World Series in 2008.
Photo R. Anderson

But in a musical about face worthy of a Kenny Rogers song, the Devil Rays became the Rays in 2008 and they turned it around by not only posting the team’s first ever winning record but also managing to win the American League Pennant and earning a trip to the World Series in the process.

Since that turning around in 2008 the Rays have posted winning records in every season that followed and have made some more playoff runs to boot.

While they have yet to match the World Series run of 2008, the Rays have remained a threat to win the ultra-competitive American League East Division or Wild Card for the past six years.

That brings us to this year and a bit of history repeating as the Rays, who were predicated as World Series favorites by many experts, have taken an Olympic sized nose dive due to injuries and spotty offense that have them looking less like a perennial playoff threat and more like the Devil Rays of old.

With some key players lost for the season, and others going on and off of the disabled list with unusual frequency, the Rays have had their share of setbacks to overcome during the first quarter of the season.

In addition to injuries the Rays have had to battle through offensive slumps that have rendered many of the bats in the lineup silent.

Instead of being on track for the playoffs the Rays currently possess the worst record in all of baseball heading into a three game series against the Houston Astros.

It should be noted that the Astros started getting really bad around the same time that the Rays got really good.

The Tampa Bay Rays, holders of the worst record in baseball,  will look to turn their season around starting tonight when they begin a three-game series against the Houston Astros. Photo R. Anderson

The Tampa Bay Rays, holders of the worst record in baseball, will look to turn their season around starting tonight when they begin a three-game series against the Houston Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

After losing over 100 games for the past three years, the Astros are on pace to break even this season and possibly even post a winning record for the first time in years.

When the schedules were announced for the season few people would have believed that the Astros would have won five more games than the Rays heading into their weekend series.

After spending more on payroll than the frugal Rays had previously done, there were great expectations for this season. While the Rays could yet right the sinking ship that has become their 2014 season with each mounting loss the calls to trade away players grow louder as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches.

While the Rays are faced will calls to trade away players in return for prospects each season it is likely that a failure to return to competitive play could result in several current players being sent to new surroundings in July.

It is of course unfair to surmise that the Rays current rough season marks a return to the years of losing records. Teams have bad years now and then for a variety of reasons and usually bounce back within a year or two so there is no need to dust off those old Devil Rays jerseys just yet.

One need only look at the Boston Red Sox who won a World Series after suffering through an abysmal season the year before to see that one rough season is no cause to think that the sky is falling on a franchise.

The Rays still have time to turn the season around this year and have been known for late season heroics that have propelled them to victory in the past however the time to make that turnaround is decreasing.

A sweep by the Astros this weekend would likely be a huge blow for the Rays and would continue the downward spiral while a sweep by the Rays would be just the thing to move the season forward.

Time will tell which direction the weekend goes for the Rays but with each passing game the since of urgency grows a bit more to return to a culture of winning.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to get to.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Don Zimmer’s Passing is a Sad Day for Baseball

Don Zimmer, a baseball icon for the past six decades as a player, manager, bench coach and most recently senior advisor for the Tampa Bay Rays, passed away at the age of 83 today in Florida.

Upon learning of Zimmer’s passing Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig issued a statement stating that, “Like everyone in Major League Baseball, I am deeply saddened by the loss of my friend Don Zimmer, one of our game’s most universally beloved figures. A memorable contributor to Baseball for more than 60 years, Don was the kind of person you could only find in the National Pastime.”

My first column for this site was a tribute to the late Earl Weaver and now it is time to say goodbye to another icon from my past who shaped my earliest memories of the game of baseball and was someone who I was excited to see during my most recent trip to Spring Training.

As a kid collecting baseball cards there were certain faces that jumped out of the two dimensional cards and showed a life of baseball knowledge behind their eyes.

Don Zimmer spent 66 years in professional baseball as a player, manager and bench coach.

Don Zimmer spent 66 years in professional baseball as a player, manager and bench coach.

While the logos on their hats may have changed as they moved from team to team, Don Zimmer, Lou Pinella, Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, Sparky Anderson, Joe Torre, and Earl Weaver just had the look and sound that one would expect a Major League Baseball Manager to have.

While I never had the opportunity to meet Zimmer as I did with Earl Weaver both men nonetheless reminded me of what a true baseball manager should be, someone a little rough around the edges who is willing to charge the mound or kick some dirt on an umpire’s shoes when the situation calls for it.

A moment of silence was held before the seventh inning stretch of the Baltimore Orioles versus Texas Rangers game and more celebrations honoring Don Zimmer are planned in the coming days.

The Rays will honor Zimmer with a moment of silence at Thursday’s Rays-Marlins game at Tropicana Field and will conduct a special pregame ceremony prior to the Rays-Mariners game on Saturday.

Don Zimmer (far right) served as a special adviser for Joe Maddon after joining the Tampa Bay Rays when Lou Pinella was the manager.  Photo R. Anderson

Don Zimmer (far right) served as a special advisor for Joe Maddon after joining the Tampa Bay Rays when Lou Pinella was the manager.
Photo R. Anderson

From a player who nearly died following a pitch to the head resulting in a metal plate being placed in his head, Don Zimmer used his 66-years in professional baseball to shape generations of players.

It would take days to recount all of the accomplishments from Zimmer’s career but there is no doubt that his death leaves a larger than life void on the game of baseball.

Once his playing career was over, Zim, as he was known, managed the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs. Zim also managed the New York Yankees for 36 games in 1999, while Torre recuperated from prostate cancer.

A frequent fixture in the dugout as Yankees bench coach, Zim left the Bronx and went home to Tampa to serve first as bench coach under Pinella and then later under Joe Maddon with the Rays.

The Rays honored Zim in a truly Tampa Bay Rays way when they immortalized him with a Zim Bear giveaway. The Zim Bears were so popular that a second batch of bears was added to keep up with fan demand.

It is a sad fact that the baseball icons of my youth will all someday pass away just like Earl Weaver and Don Zimmer have.

Each generation has their favorites and it is always a little sad when they are no longer with us as it can feel like a piece of our own youth is dying along with them.

When we are young looking up at these larger than life figures on the baseball diamond it can be easy to think of them as almost immortal but as we age we realize that they are flesh and blood just like us.

Thankfully despite their passing away they will live on in the memories of fans and in Don Zimmer’s case they will live on in the form of a teddy bear with his face on it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time to reread Zim’s autobiography.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

 

Power Outages and Home Runs have a Groundhog Day Feel to Them

For three days in a row last week the power in my neighborhood was turned off to allow crews to work on the lines following a blown transformer.

This meant that for three nights in a row last week I had to reset various clocks around my house.

I could just as easily have ignored the clocks and left them to blink “12:00” for as long as they wanted since at any given time I have a cell phone and a watch that can both tell me what time it is.

Instead each evening I made the rounds from clock to clock setting the correct time since, despite all of the advancements in portable time telling technology, it is still nice to have clocks around the house that can show me the time when I am being too lazy to look at the watch on my wrist.

By the time the third night of power outages rolled around the act of resetting clocks had me feeling a bit like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day.

George Springer became the first rookie to hit a home run in seven straight games since 1937 earning him Rookie of the Month honors for May. Photo R. Anderson

George Springer became the first rookie to hit a home run in seven straight games since 1937 earning him Rookie of the Month honors for May.
Photo R. Anderson

For those who may be unaware of the film it centers on Murray’s character waking up and reliving the same day again and again and again.

No matter what Murray’s character does the previous day, by the time the alarm clock goes off in the morning he is once again faced with the task of reliving Groundhog Day.

It is a cute film that once again shows that Bill Murray is comfortable working around animatronic rodents as he first demonstrated in the classic coming of age tale “Caddyshack.”

Around the same time as my power outage, and repeated clock setting, fans of the Houston Astros were also experiencing a certain “Groundhog Day” effect as right fielder George Springer hit home runs in seven consecutive games from May 21-29.

While resetting clocks night after night can get tedious, knocking the ball over the fence night after night certainly does not.

The Houston Astros hope the combination of Jose Altuve (#27) and George Springer (#4) leads them back to the postseason after a yearly 10 year drought. Photo R. Anderson

The Houston Astros hope the combination of Jose Altuve (#27) and George Springer (#4) leads them back to the postseason after a yearly 10 year drought.
Photo R. Anderson

In fact, Springer’s seven home runs in seven games was the most home runs by a rookie in a week since Rudy York of the Detroit Tigers in 1937.

Springer finished the month of May with 10 home runs which had not been done by a rookie since Mark McGwire in 1987.

That offensive production was enough to make Springer the fourth member of the Houston Astros to be named Rookie of the Month, joining Hunter Pence (May 2007), Kirk Saarloos (July 2002) and Roy Oswalt (August 2001).

There is no doubt that George Springer will hit more home runs in his career just as there is no doubt in my mind that another power outage at some future point will have me once again climbing up on step ladders to change blinking clocks.

Such are the routines of life, the power will go out and power hitters will keep giving the fans souvenir balls through the art of the home run.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a strange urge to listen to some Kenny Loggins songs while watching a dancing gopher.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Jeter Farewell Tour Hits a Slump

As the Derek Jeter Farewell tour rolls into its second month the namesake of the tour finds himself in a bit of a hitting slump.

Of course slumps in baseball are part of the game. So the fact that Derek Jeter is in one, on the surface, is no cause for concern.

Below the surface however trouble is lurking in the form of how to handle an extended slump.

While benching players in a slump is commonplace, how does one bench a player in the middle of a Farewell Tour without ruffling the feathers of the fans who have paid their money for one last look at the Captain of the Yankees?

The Derek Jeter Farewell Tour and gift giving kicked off at Minute Maid Park against the Houston Astros. Other teams may not feel so giving if Jeter does not suit up when he gets to their towns. Photo R. Anderson

The Derek Jeter Farewell Tour and gift giving kicked off at Minute Maid Park against the Houston Astros. Other teams may not feel so giving if Jeter does not suit up when he gets to their towns.
Photo R. Anderson

In recent days the manager of the Yankees, Joe Girardi, (who also was a teammate of Jeter’s) has been asked by various media outlets about the possibility of benching Jeter or moving him down to the bottom of the batting order if his production at the plate does not improve.

While Girardi responded by saying that every option remains on the table, to date Jeter is still in the lineup most days trying to hit his way out of the slump while the Yankees have dropped a couple of games to division opponents.

Benching Jeter is certainly within the purview of a manager to do but will added pressure be brought to ensure that Derek Jeter plays in each of the cities on the tour?

Last year during the Mariano Rivera Farewell tour Rivera decided to not play during a visit to play the Houston Astros since he wanted his last memories of the mound to be when Jeter and Andy Pettitte came to take him out of his last game at Yankee Stadium.

While many in attendance at Minute Maid Park were certainly disappointed to not have the opportunity to see Mariano play, as the chorus of boos rocking the rafters when each pitcher not named Mariano Rivera came out of the Yankees’ bullpen demonstrated, in hindsight one can certainly respect Rivera’s wishes.

Of course Rivera only had to be on for one to two innings a game so he faced less pressure than the expectation for Jeter to be on the field for nine innings a game.

There will be people in each of the remaining cites on the farewell tour that will have purchased their tickets with the sole purpose of seeing Jeter play one last time.

While the time may come this season when benching a slumping Jeter is in the best interests of the Yankees as a whole there will likely be more Ballparks filled with booing fans in the event that Jeter does not take the field during his final visits to each city.

Derek Jeter is certainly not the first athlete to falter down the stretch during their careers.

In fact, comparisons to Jeter’s current slump and that of a former NASCAR driver on his “victory tour” can certainly be made.

NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip, like Derek Jeter had trouble knowing when to call it a career. Photo R. Anderson

NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip, like Derek Jeter had trouble knowing when to call it a career.
Photo R. Anderson

In 2000 Darrell Waltrip entered what was to be his final year as a race car driver in a season dubbed his “Victory Tour.”

With full sponsorship from a “big box” retailer and a marketing campaign to boot, the Victory Tour begin with all of the brashness and pomp that one had come to expect from the driver nicknamed “Jaws.”

While few drivers could compete with Waltrip during his prime, the fact remained that the 2000 season was far from DW’s prime as a driver.

In fact, by the time Waltrip’s Victory Tour rolled around it had been eight years since the three-time series champion had been to victory lane.

Waltrip had to use a Champion’s Provisional to qualify for most of the races and when those dried up there were many races that he failed to qualify for.

When Darrell Waltrip's car looked like this he won the Daytona 500. Photo R. Anderson

When Darrell Waltrip’s car looked like this, he won the 1989 Daytona 500.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course even in the races where Waltrip did qualify he was often many laps down or out of the race by the time the checkered flag waved.

While Derek Jeter still seems to have more in the tank than Darrell Waltrip did at the end of his career the fact remains that both men likely held on a little too long making their farewell tours seem a little sad for fans who remember the way they were in their prime.

Despite the lackluster “Victory Tour” Darrell Waltrip was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for is many career accomplishments. There is little doubt that regardless of how his farewell tour goes that Derek Jeter will end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame so few can argue that both men weren’t champions for the bulk of their careers.

By the time his "Victory Tour" rolled around in 2000 it had been about eight years since Darrell Waltrip saw victory lane. Derek Jeter is hoping his farewell tour ends with a World Series title. Photo R. Anderson

By the time his “Victory Tour” rolled around in 2000 it had been about eight years since Darrell Waltrip saw victory lane. Derek Jeter is hoping his farewell tour ends with a World Series title and does not just have him running laps as was the case with Waltrip’s last year.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course there will still be moments where the Derek Jeter of old shows through this year but fans need to temper their expectations and realize that more times than not there will be strikeouts and hitless nights.

There will also likely be nights coming up where Derek Jeter is not even in the lineup.

In a perfect world Jeter would want the farewell tour to end with a sixth World Series title for his career which still could happen despite any potential benchings or extended slumps.

Unlike Darrell Waltrip, who was left to mainly fend for himself on the track, there are eight other players on the field with Jeter at any given time to help pick up the slack as the team moves towards October.

But even if the Yankees do give Jeter the final World Series title the whispers of him hanging on too long will still continue just as they do for every athlete who finds themselves staying around while the mind is still willing but the body is weak.

For every Ray Lewis who retires with a Super Bowl title in his prime there are countless other athletes who just don’t know when to say when.

Now if you’ll excuse me, in the words of Darrell Waltrip it is time to boggitty, boggitty, boggitty.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

All-Star Game Fan Voting is Still a Bad Idea

Anyone who has visited an official  Major League Baseball web page recently is likely to have noticed that the fan voting portion of All-Star Game balloting has begun.

Between now and July 3 fans can stuff the ballot box with the hopes of seeing their favorite players take the field Tuesday, July 15, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Inclusion in the MLB All-Star Game is certainly a hot ticket for the players selected since unlike other All-Star games in sports, the MLB game has the feeling that it is being played to win by both sides.

Of course some added incentive to win was added a few years back when home field advantage in the World Series was given to the league that won the All-Star Game.

The All-Star Game also allows players to show off their home run swing during the Home Run Derby leading up to the big game.

Even the players not selected to the game get the benefit of a few days off to spend with their friends and families.

Catcher Jason Castro of the Houston Astros was named to his first All-Star Game last season. Photo R. Anderson

Catcher Jason Castro of the Houston Astros was named to his first All-Star Game last season.
Photo R. Anderson

All in all, there is little to find fault in when it comes to the All Star Game. However,  there is one particular aspect of the MLB All-Star Game season that needs to change.

That element of All-Star Game party foul is the fan vote. I know I will get lots of grief for saying this but I do not believe that the fans should be voting for the All-Star participants.

Sure, people will say that as a reporter I am being unfair to the common fan by saying that only members of the media and league officials should have a vote but let us examine what the fan vote portion of the All-Star voting really entails.

Unlike say the election for the President of the United States where a registered voter is allowed to cast a single ballot there are no such restrictions for MLB balloting. In fact, excessive voting is encouraged by the 30 teams who offer various prizes for filling out excessive amounts of ballots.

This is also the time of year where Ballparks will be filled with super fans who take their devotion to their favorite players to the extreme by filling out boxes and boxes of ballots.

That boys and girls is called buying votes no matter how you slice it. And yes I am not trying to say that electing representatives to the All-Star game is more important than electing the President.

Sadly I would not be surprised if more people vote in the All-Star race than the general elections to decide who will run the country though.

All Star Games often have all the pomp and circumstance of a political campaign including campaign buttons. Photo R. Anderson

All Star Games often have all the pomp and circumstance of a political campaign including campaign buttons.
Photo R. Anderson

As part of the ballot stuffing certain power voters submit hundreds if not thousands of ballots. Of course it stands to reason that they are voting for their home town favorites so it becomes a battle of which team has the most active fan base in selecting some of the leaders of the voting pack.

So instead of an All-Star game where the most talented individuals at a given position are selected to represent both their team and their league, the All-Star Game becomes like high school with only the popular kids getting in to the party.

Granted, sometimes the most popular player is also the best player at that position but there has been a long history of players with better stats getting left out.

Let us use Cal Ripken, Jr. as an example. As noted numerous times, Cal Ripken, Jr. was my favorite player to follow growing up along with Don Mattingly.

Few could argue that Cal Ripken, Jr. was a great ballplayer and every bit deserving of induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot.

Cal Ripken Jr. had a Hall of Fame worthy career but some late career All-Star Game selections seemed based more on past performance than current stats. Photo R. Anderson

Cal Ripken Jr. had a Hall of Fame worthy career but some late career All-Star Game selections seemed based more on past performance than current stats.
Photo R. Anderson

But as happens with all of us as we age we are not as productive as we once were. So despite declining skills Cal Ripken, Jr. still was selected to All-Star games late in his career when he was still widely popular but no longer the best player at his position.

There are examples of players on the disabled list getting a large amount of votes for inclusion as well.

Regardless of what Derek Jeter does on the field this year it is a no brainer that he will be elected to the All Star Game during his farewell season.

In fact even if Jeter is somehow on injured reserve fans will likely still vote him onto the infield at Target Field for the American League.

Another wrinkle in the All-Star game is the rule that all 30 teams need to have at least one representative selected.

This rule helps ensure that no team feels left out and harkens to the age where everyone gets a participation ribbon regardless of where they finish in the race.

And yes there are good players on bad teams but am I really to believe that a player on say the Astros is playing at an All-Star level?

Granted there is probably not a perfect solution for balloting due to the fluid nature of the game and the ballots being released  over two months before the game.

But, The fact remains I do not feel that allowing fans to vote as often as they can based on their ability to pick up enough ballots at the ballpark makes a mockery of the whole process.

And for those people not wanting to spend a week in Minnesota there is always the Atlantic League All Star Game in Sugar Land.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I will not be filling out an All-Star ballot but I will start to plan my menu for the All-Star game tailgate.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson