Monthly Archives: February 2010

What Are You Going to Do When I’m Gone?

Earlier today, I was asked about designing a sports page for the website at, the radio station that I sometimes wander around. Considering I will no longer be affiliated with said station within the next few months, I wondered if I was really the guy to set up such a page. My website qualifications for somebody else’s site.

Anyway, it reminded me of Old Comiskey park and Old Ed Walsh. Zachary Taylor Davis, the architect of Comiskey Park, and later Wrigley Field across town, allowed Walsh to design the field dimensions, supposedly at the suggestion of Charles Comiskey. Walsh, a star pitcher, unsurprisingly made the field play into the strengths of himself and his fellow hurlers. In the park’s inaugural season, Walsh finished with a 1.27 ERA. Talk about your effective field designs! (Though he also lost 20 games that year.)

Walsh played another six seasons for the Pale Hose, but the park lived on for 80 years. He finished his career with the best ERA in baseball history at 1.82, but the White Sox never won another pennant with Walsh on the team. So his selfishly designed park worked out well for himself, I suppose, but it created an identity for a stadium that would last for years, for no actual reason.

What I think I’m trying to say is, I thing Tampa Bay should let Evan Longoria design their new ballpark. Or something like that.

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Spring is in the Air

Actually, it’s still freezing in Chicago, but the presence of every Major League team down in Arizona or Florida warms my heart anyway. Everyone’s favorite rite of spring, baseball season has begun. I always imagine that the players reuniting after the long off-season looks something like this. (Hey if you like that, check out the trailer.)

In reality, spring training is about as boring as could be, and I know that the players hate it, but it just feels so refreshing during that long, miserable winter to see the summer game back in session. Now, I wouldn’t feel I was doing my job if I didn’t give you all a history lesson while you’re here, so based on what I can gather, spring training has its origins more than 100 years ago. According to the great people at, it goes back to 1886 when the White Sox (Cubs) stopped in Arkansas to sober up on a barnstorming tour.

The thing is, in those olden days of baseball, they never really stopped playing because there were barnstorming tours all through the offseason. It only made sense to set themselves up in warm weather cities in the colder months before returning to the north come springtime. In fact, that’s what’s so funny about the term spring training. The reason they have to go down to Florida and Arizona is because it’s not spring yet.

Anyway, modern styled spring training leagues formed in the late 1940’s, and we’ve been dealing with the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues ever since. The games are uninteresting, but the system works. What better time is there to make wild claims about borderline prospects, pretend the Pirates have a chance at the playoffs and listen to announcers fall asleep during the televised games?

I guess I haven’t really painted such a great picture of spring training after all. Oh well, just know that I really do love this time of year in baseball, and you should too. Even if you don’t get to make the trip to see your favorite team working out, just remember, it’s only 40 days till Opening Day.

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Team Profile: 1914 Braves

The Miracle Braves

It’s about time I take a look back at another one of my favorite teams from years past: the 1914 Boston Braves.

The Boston franchise went through some big name changes early on, going from the Beaneaters to the Doves to the Rustlers, but they were pretty typically terrible no matter what they were called (though they did enjoy a little success under the Beaneaters moniker, prompting that one to be kept for 24 years). Things changed for the better when they became the Braves, the name they have kept to this day. Let’s not talk about that five-year period when they became the Bees.

Not everything turned around right away, but it didn’t take long. The Braves, who finished in last place their first year in 1912, improved to 5th in 13, and, What a shocker! they took first place in 1914! So what changed, really? Where did this team come from?

Well, the biggest difference was one Johnny Evers. Deemed washed up by the Cubs, Evers went along to Boston where he won the MVP, then known as the Chalmers Award in his first season. Ironically, his numbers were generally a little bit worse in 1914 then they had been the year before. And you don’t see too many players these days winning the MVP with a .279 batting average and 40 RBIs, but it was a different time, and the team won the World Series, so he must have been pretty good.

In fact, the Braves, statistically were an incredibly average team that year. Their .251 team average was identical to the league average and their 2.74 ERA, which might look great today, was only in the middle of the pack in 1914.

You can credit Joe Connolly’s power surge, hitting a whopping nine home runs or Bill James’ 26 wins and 1.90 ERA for some of the success. Neither guy played another full season, but they were big guns on this champion.

Whatever the case, the Bostons caught fire. After a characteristically slow start, the team finished the year on a 61-16 run. Yes, you read that correctly (assuming you read 61-16). They were 15 games out of first place on July 4 and finished the year 10.5 games ahead of second place.

After one of the most incredible turnarounds in sports history, I guess the World Series was just a formality. The A’s, though, had some star power of their own with guys like Home Run Baker, Eddie Collins and Stuffy McInnis. In fact, Philadelphia was a very formidable foe. They had won the championship the previous year and steamrolled the American League again in ’14 to 99 wins and an 8.5 game cushion over the second place Red Sox. It should have been a good series. But that’s not taking into account just how hot these Braves were. They finished the season 61-16! No, the Athletics were no problem whatsoever. They scored just six runs in a four game Boston sweep. Game three was a tight one, featuring a 12-inning battle, but the Braves prevailed 5-4 and the series was essentially over.

The Braves eventually returned to mediocrity, and didn’t win another pennant until 1948. But for one magical summer, they were kings. 65-16!

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Back To My Regularly Scheduled Rant

I said last week that I would elaborate on my stupid problem with baseball’s championship series, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what else to say. I had hoped I could figure something out by this time, but that is not the case.

My problem is simply that you can’t determine a baseball champ in seven days, but that’s not going to change any time soon. Since its been established that I am a crotchety old whiner, let me find something else to complain about.

Like how about the fact that Major League Baseball does not allow clips to be put up on YouTube? They pull any videos which is just murdering their publicity. All I want to do is watch Jonny Gomes racing in from the outfield to tackle a few guys, but the video is unfindable.

Baseball tried this thing with TV for a while too. That was just as stupid. The league office doesn’t seem to recognize a chance for positive press when they can get it. I think that all they need to do is check out the fate of the Chicago Blackhawks under Mr. Bill Wirtz to see how this works out.

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Giving Glavine his Due

I gave all my thoughts on Frank Thomas the other day, so I thought it was only fair that I at least mention Tom Glavine, who also officially retired last week.

I was never a Braves fan in my youth, so this guy was not nearly as big a part of my life. I have no great memories of watching him pitch when he was in his prime, and I always preferred Greg Maddux as far as dominant Braves pitchers went. In fact, I favored John Smoltz too. I think it was his postseason prowess that impressed me so. Now, there’s a guy who should be a first ballot Hall of Famer.

Well, I guess this whole Tom Glavine tribute hasn’t started out so well. Then again, I never said it would be a tribute.

Let’s see now, what memories do I have of the southpaw? (Thinking) (Thinking) Oh yeah, he was the signature on my second baseball glove. When I first got it, I thought the autograph was John G. Lavine. I spent a few days disappointed that I got a dud and trying to find out who this Mr. Lavine was, before I finally figured out that it said Tom Glavine.

My other Tom Glavine memory comes from actually seeing him pitch. It was the twilight of his career when my brother and I took the ‘L’ out to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs and the Mets on August 5, 2007. The evening was a problem for many reasons. First, when I got the tickets, I was told specifically that the seats were not obstructed. Usually they don’t tell you that. I should have known something was up. In fact, the seats were right behind home plate, but more directly, right behind a pole. That meant the entire center of the field was blocked for us, center field, second base, the pitcher’s mound and home plate. Not that that’s an important part of the field or anything, but it would be nice to be able to see it all.

Anyway, I wasn’t going to let the poor seats ruin my game. I went off to pick up my scorecard. The only problem is that there wasn’t a scorecard. Anywhere. In the entire ballpark every single scorecard was sold out.

Why was this such a problem?

Because Tom Glavine was sitting on 299 wins! I wanted a scorecard to commemorate a possible 300th victory, maybe my only chance to witness such an event.

Well, there was nothing else I could do about it, so I slouched into my seat and leaned over for the majority of the game hoping I would catch some of what was going on. It was an interesting affair. Alfonso Soriano injured himself, which probably cost the Cubs 100 victories that season, Kerry Wood came back from injury to the loudest ovation I’ve ever heard at a baseball game (that was fun), and eventually I found an open seat from which I could see some of the game.

It would have been better if I took my own picture at this game.

The whole stadium was crawling with Mets fans, a fact that bothered me unspeakably. Regardless of who you’re rooting for, there’s a very uneasy feeling associated with having the visiting fans dominate an opposing ballpark. I think so, anyway. The New York fans had plenty to cheer for, though. Glavine pitched a fine ballgame and Jason Marquis pitched for the Cubs (’nuff said).

Glavine left in the 7th with a 5-2 lead, but the Mets padded their lead with a few late scores and it was 8-3 as Billy Wagner came on to finish the game in the ninth. There was a feeling of excitement pulsing through the park, and although the Cub fans were still pulling for the Cubs, you could see them start to give in to the moment a little bit. And as angry as I was all game with the Met faithful, I joined them whole heartedly when Mike Fontenot ended a long at bat with a groundout to second for the final out.

There’s nothing you can do during such a moment other than to cheer and just be impressed. In the history of baseball, only a couple hundred thousand people have ever witnessed a pitcher’s 300th victory live, and to be one of them was pretty special. So to Tom Glavine, one of the game’s classiest guys and one of the great pitchers of the last several decades, I raise my glass. Cheers.

I just wish I had a scorecard from the game.

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Celebrating Frank Thomas

Growing up in Chicago in the early 1990’s, so much of my childhood was formed by the larger than life figure known as The Big Hurt. Since he has recently retired, I felt I should say a few words about the man.

During my youth, and before the steroids boom of the latter part of the decade, Frank Thomas was the draw in Chicago. It is somehow easy to forget now, especially after having passed through the era of the bloated slugger, but for a 3 or 4 year stretch, Thomas was the most feared hitter in the American League. I may be overstating it, but it really is easy to forget how much different the game was from a power standpoint just 20 years ago. Before the strike in 1994, he was on his way to one of the great offensive seasons of all time. His on-base and slugging numbers were higher than anyone’s since the 1940’s, and have not been touched since, except by a roided up Barry Bonds.

The stretch between 1991 and 1997 is one of the great seven-year periods ever. His OPS during that time only spent one season below 1.000, and that was in 1992, when he actually led the league at .975. The .487 on-base percentage that he posted in the strike shortened 1994 is still the best mark since Ted Williams, discounting Bonds’ early 2000s numbers, of course. Despite a couple subpar seasons in ’98 and ’99, he bounced back in 2000 with one of the best offensive years in his career.

There are certainly some down sides for Frank Thomas. For one, he was a DH. As a firm believer that no designated hitter belongs on a baseball field anywhere, let alone the Hall of Fame, it speaks even louder, I think, for how good Thomas was in the 90’s that I would argue so fervently for him. He remains one of the greatest offensive forces in the last 50 years, and let’s face it, he did most of his damage while a first baseman.

The last several years of his career weren’t always pretty, but they were rarely ugly. He missed a lot of time with injuries, including almost the entire 2005 season, the only one that ended with a World Series win. It is not as though he didn’t earn his ring, however. In his limited time on the field, he hit a remarkable 12 home runs in just 105 at bats. Extrapolate that to a full season, and he’s got 65 dingers. Those are Glenallen Hill numbers! After leaving the White Sox, he nearly won another MVP in Oakland before slowing down somewhat after his 40th birthday.

Frank Thomas was never a media darling, and he probably shouldn’t have been. He wasn’t the most personable guy around, and his recognition by both the media and the public probably suffered from that for much of his playing days. But it seemed like his image swung towards the end of his career. The feud with Kenny Williams notwithstanding, the public appeared to take his side more often when he began to speak out against steroids, turning him into an aging hero of sorts. No one is beyond suspicion in this day and age, but Thomas’ career arc makes it very hard to believe that he was on steroids.

Over his 19 seasons in the American League, Frank Thomas hit 521 home runs with a .301 batting average, the first player to retire with that many home runs and that high an average since Hank Aaron. He was one of the most exciting players I’ve ever had the benefit of seeing and one of the best hitters I probably ever will. It is a bit of a shame that his career had to end with him sitting at home for a year waiting for some team to call, but that will not lessen his Hall of Fame induction 4 years from now. Frank Thomas is the greatest player ever to wear the White Sox uniform, and he’s going to be tough to beat.

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What’s Wrong with a Series?

The Super Bowl this past week has forced me to think about the championship events in other major sports as well. Football’s big game is obviously a lot different from a seven game series in baseball, basketball or hockey. But does the popularity of the Super Bowl stem entirely from the fact that one game to decide everything is more exciting than a best of seven? Or even the fact that football is the United States’ most popular sport these days? I don’t think so. I think it comes from the fact that to some extent, the football championship, as opposed to baseball, makes a little bit of sense.

The World Series was a really novel concept when it began back in 1903. Sure, it had its problems in those days, but it was still a great exhibition between the American League champ and the National League champ. There was no really great honor in winning this silly little series because the winner of each league had to go through a long rigorous season to win the pennant. THAT was an accomplishment! Playing well for a week didn’t make anyone the best team. Still, egos got the best of everyone which led to the 1904 Giants’ boycott of the series when they didn’t even want to take the field with the inferior league, but we’ve come a long way even since then.

Listening to people go from calling Peyton Manning the best quarterback in NFL history to saying he’s not even the best in the league now just because of one game last week is kind of ridiculous. But it does follow that so much more can be made of one football game than can be determined from a week of baseball. It takes 4 or 5 good pitchers to make it through a season and only 2 to win a World Series, but after the grueling 162 game year, everyone is willing to crown somebody just because they can win 4 out of 7. I’m not impressed.

I have a lot of thoughts on the issue, and I’m rambling now. I’ll continue to post my feelings on this matter over the next few days. Hopefully I can figure something out by next time.

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Build Me a Statue!

The Brewers announced this week that they will be erecting a 7 ft. tall monument to Bud Selig at Miller Park, to be unveiled August 24. Yes, Bud Selig, the man who has almost single-handedly killed my interest in Major League Baseball. If somebody is willing to build a statue for the man who instituted the Wild Card, started interleague play, tried to contract the Expos and Twins, ruined the All-Star Game and World Series in one shot back in ’03, abolished the American and National League offices, allowed the 1994 strike that called off the World Series for the first time in 90 years, watched steroids rule the game for the next decade and has just been generally incompetent for the last 20 years, then I’ve got to think I can come up with a list of guys who deserve statues in Milwaukee too. Just off the top of my head:

  • Paul Moliter
  • Eddie Matthews
  • Bob Uecker
  • Charlie Grimm
  • Ben Sheets
  • Cal Eldred
  • Dave Nilsson
  • Dan Plesac
  • Gorman Thomas
  • Jerry Royster
  • Arthur Fonzarelli (Wait, this one actually already exists)
  • Oprah Winfrey (Who couldn’t use an Oprah statue?)
  • Adonis Terry (I just really like his name)
  • Joseph Schlitz

I look forward to hearing the completion dates of these.

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Itsy Bitsy Spiders

Baseball today is not exactly the way it was in the old days. I love to look back on some old stories that you wouldn’t and couldn’t hear about today.

One of my favorite examples is that of the Cleveland Spiders. It has been well documented the last few years that the Spiders had the worst season

ever back in 1899. It gets brought up every time a bad team has any chance of approaching the mark. The reason they were so bad, though, is not so well known, At least, I don’t think so.

The Spiders were real contenders in previous years. In fact, they hadn’t had a losing record since 1891. Things changed when the team’s owners, the Robison brothers, Frank and Stanley, went and bought up the St. Louis club, previously known as the Browns but soon to be renamed by the new owners.

The Robisons decided to combine their two properties and loaded the St. Louis team at the expense of the Spiders. Included in the Cleveland to St. Louis transfer was player/manager Patsy Tebeau, the cantankerous star who once assaulted an umpire for calling a game due to darkness. After the reloading, the Browns’ name was changed to the Perfectos, a name that became humorous when, in 1899, they finished in just 5th place, 18.5 games away from the pennant.

As for the Spiders, their 20-134 record pretty much speaks for itself. But that won’t stop me from speaking a little more for it. Here’s just one number to chew on: the team ERA was 6.37…in the dead-ball era! After the season, the Spiders were kicked out of the National League never to be heard from again.

A post script on Patsy Tebeau: After his playing days ended in 1900, he opened his own saloon. He killed himself at the age of 53.

Oliver "Patsy" Tebeau

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Slidin’ to the 1800s

We are now just 11 days away from what would have been the 144th birthday of Slidin’ Billy Hamilton. True, that means next to nothing to most people, myself included, but I felt it was a good way to open the discussion on one of the great ballplayers of the 19th century.

Billy Hamilton led the National League in hitting twice in his career, but interestingly, the only year he hit .400, he finished 5th in the league. In 1894, his .404 batting average was fifth in the league, trailing Sir Hugh Duffy’s Major League record .440. Hamilton also stole 100 or more bases 3 times in his career plus one season of 98 and one of 97.

More importantly, the 19th century seems to be the forgotten era of baseball. No, I guess not forgotten, it’s just that everyone who was there is dead now. I’m going to do my best to start remembering more about that time period. Hey, remember Dummy Hoy? No? Really? Well, look him up then.

And I think we should give a salute to Lip Pike. Aside from Lip being his real first name, short for Lipman, this guy was awesome because he was the all-time career home run leader until 1879. Yep, throughout his career between the National Association and the upstart National League, Lipman hit a whopping 20 round trippers! Take that, Babe Ruth.

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