Friday, November 19, 2010

Flashback Friday: All Politics Wasn't Supposed to be Local in Baltimore

Jerry Hoffberger & Earl Weaver
Tip O'Neill popularized the phrase "All politics is local." Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn might well have disagreed.

In a move that irked Kuhn, Baltimore Orioles owner Jerry Hoffberger joined Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes on the Memorial Stadium mound for the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game Two of the 1979 World Series. President Jimmy Carter handled first-pitch duties nearly a week later before Game 7, but it was the local guy, a friend of Hoffberger, who raised Kuhn's ire.

Kuhn fined Hoffberger $2,500 for using the governor's services and, according to an Associated Press article, cited a rule that prohibited "movie actresses and actors, politicians and people of note" from handling first-pitch duties.

Time magazine picked up on the controversy.
"Kuhn, standing next to the Governor at the toss, was smiling, but his grin was deceptive. Hoffberger's choice violated a rule that all first-ball throwers must be approved by the commissioner, with politicians and movie stars acceptable only in rare circumstances. For disobeying the rule, Hoffberger, who last season sold his team to Washington Attorney Edward Bennett Williams, was fined $2,500 by Kuhn. Hoffberger has protested the fine and requested a hearing; Kuhn is considering the appeal."
Sports Illustrated also spilled some ink on the stare down.
"Hoffberger ... said he defied the rule because Hughes was a personal friend (not to mention a onetime pitcher in Class D baseball), and he said he might refuse to pay the fine. In his anger, Hoffberger claimed that Richard Nixon had thrown out the first ball at an American League playoff game in Anaheim; in fact, Nixon merely was an honored guest of California Angel owner Gene Autry. However, the Pirates did have Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornburgh hold a ball for photographers before a World Series game in Pittsburgh, after which the widow of former Pirate Manager Danny Murtaugh threw it."
Years later, Commissioner Kuhn had his say in the book, Hardball: The Education of a Baseball Commissioner (p. 232)
"Jerry emerged as president of the Orioles under the Williams ownership. Since the sale was not effective until November 1, 1979, Jerry was still the boss during the Pittsburgh-Baltimore World Series, during which he drew a fine from me for inviting Governor Harry Hughes of Maryland to throw out the first ceremonial ball. This was contrary to our sound World Series rule against using local politicians. It was a typical owners' trick designed to give the commissioner fits: invite a popular local governor to do the honors and then say how churlish the commissioner is for standing in the way. I let the governor go ahead and collected my fine with help from Williams."
Major League Baseball's Official Rules do not currently include any provisions about local politicians throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.

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Image: Clarence B. Garrett, The Baltimore Sun

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bringing the Heat ... Again

On Tuesday I mentioned some off-season baseball reading I'm doing thanks to the Barnes & Noble clearance rack. Today I want to revisit a book I read this summer because the publisher sent me a copy for free. Forget best-seller lists, my reading choices are strictly economic.

If you're looking for a well-timed book to read in the wake of the Year of the Pitcher, check out "High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time."

I wrote my review of High Heat on Roar from 34 in early July. I later posted a transcript of the interview I conducted with author Tim Wendel. Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from that conversation.

Wendel on the Joel Zumaya injury and the physical challenge of throwing triple-digit heat, an exchange made all the more interesting in hindsight given Strasburg's injury weeks after we conducted the interview.
Yeah. You know It pained me to see what happened with Zumaya, because Zumaya made the list of maybe the top dozen fireballers in High Heat in part because more of the potential and the promise more than anything he’s done so far. I guess it shows how fine the line is and how much stress, and torque, and punishment the arm takes when you’re talking about throwing this hard. At times we tend to take a lot of this for granted as fans or maybe people who cover the game.

Strasburg, for example, is doing phenomenal right now. I think he certainly has proven he’s more ready for prime time than the eight other guys he’s taking the field with half the time. I was watching the game when he was in Cleveland and he was having trouble with the mound and at one point he slipped and you just go “Oh!” All it takes is something like that and there goes a career.

Will Joel Zumaya ever throw as hard as he once did? I don’t know after watching the tape of what happened last night. You talk about Sandy Koufax who went literally in three weeks from a journeyman to all world and being able to suddenly spot his fastball and suddenly gain control of his curve. You look at the price he paid in terms of what it did to his arm, the arthritis, the types of medications he was taking just to get through those last couple seasons. Even someone like Nolan Ryan who could probably go out today and throw, I don’t know, probably 92 or 93, still just the mental anguish he went through.

I think sometimes we just kind of think “Oh yeah, somebody like Stephen Strasburg, he’s got it made” or somebody like Sandy Koufax, “Yeah, Hall of Fame,” and you don’t see the price and you don’t see the real things they had to go through. They all know this next pitch might be my last one. You had to think that’s what ran through poor Joel Zumaya’s head last night.
Wendel on Earl Weaver, Steve Dalkowski, and how good Dalkowski's stuff must have been if he made the High Heat list even though he never caught on in the majors.
He almost became the number one guy and actually Earl Weaver’s the one who kind of talked me down off that a little bit, which I found amazing because Earl Weaver did as much as anybody to get Steve Dalkowski in the major leagues or to get him as close as he did, but then Earl said, “No, I can’t make him number one because he never made the majors.”

You know, I think part of it is just the mythic element. You’ve seen Bull Durham, the Nuke LaLoosh character being in a sense the myth of what Dalkowski was. That was certainly helped by the fact Ron Shelton, who went on to be a Hollywood writer and director, was in the Orioles organization about four or five years behind Dalkowski. He never played on the same team as Steve, but he knew all the stories and such. The stories of his fastball are just epic, and I think that’s part of what the appeal is too; here you have a very almost very docile guy who wears spectacles at least part of his career. He doesn’t look like an athlete at all. And yet boy did he have a gift. I think in an odd way that really appeals to people. He didn’t look like a Ryan or even a Feller. He looked like some guy you’d walk by on the street, and yet you put him on a mound, granted he couldn’t throw a first strike half the time, but as near as we can tell he threw potentially 104 to maybe 107 miles per hour.
And finally, Wendel on the time Tim Lincecum was blocked from the visitor's clubhouse at Nationals Park.
One of the great times I had doing High Heat was in Washington at the Nationals ballpark with Tim Lincecum, and we’re looking to enter the visitor’s clubhouse. The guy guarding the door wouldn’t let Lincecum in, in part because Lincecum kind of like this short, skinny, punk skateboard kid. And me and another guy are like, “No, he’s actually won a Cy Young.” And because Lincecum didn’t have his ID there was a bit of a hubbub for a few minutes until they let him in. I thought that was pretty interesting, somebody like Tim Lincecum could be part of this whole equation, too.
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Were the Orioles Quitters?

On multiple occasions during the past 13 losing seasons it has seemed, from a fan's perspective, that the Baltimore Orioles quit during the second half of the season. It makes sense since quitters never win and frankly neither do the Orioles. 

From 30-3 to the late summer swoon, circumstantial evidence abounds. But it turns out there's testimonial evidence as well.

I'm currently reading John Feinstein's "Living On the Black" (Thanks, Barnes & Noble clearance rack), which chronicles the 2007 seasons of pitchers Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine. Mussina offers many interesting anecdotes, including a statement about playing on teams that approach the second half of the season in a manner similar to that of a high school senior facing his final weeks before graduation. It's baseball's version of senioritis.

Were the Orioles quitters during Mussina's time in Baltimore? [Vote in the Roar from 34 poll on the sidebar.]

Here's the relevant section from the book (emphasis added):
"Player meetings in baseball are rarely emotional, and it isn't often that anything especially brilliant or revealing is said. This meeting was no different. Pettitte was the right person to call the meeting and start it because he was the one pitcher on the staff who had pitched well. His point was simple: What we're doing isn't good enough. Yes, we've been injured, and yes it's early (it is, of course, a long season),  but this was unacceptable.

He was talking, for the most part, to the starters. The bullpen hadn't been that great, but it had the excuse of being overused because of the starters' incompetence.

Mussina, the other veteran in the room, also spoke. He pointed out that he hadn't been much use to the team in April but went on to talk about what was expected when you pitched for the Yankees. 'I've been on teams that began circling days on the calendar trying to get the season over with from the All-Star break on,' he said. 'Believe me, it's not fun. And it really wouldn't be fun here. That can be tough, but it's what's expected ....' "
Was Mussina using hyperbole in his clubhouse speech, or did he believe his teammates had quit on him the in the past? If so, when?

At the time Mussina made the comments he had yet to experience a non-playoff season with the Yankees.  So if he was wasn't exaggerating for effect (which is possible), he was referring to the Orioles.

Mussina played for the Orioles from 1991 through 2000. The O's finished with a losing record in five of those seasons: 1991, 1995, 1998, 1999, and 2000.  We can remove the '98 and '99 seasons from consideration. Baltimore had solid second-half records both times (41-33 in '98, 42-33 in '99).

Next to go is 1995. The Birds were an even 38-38 in the second half of the '95 season, won nine of their last 10 games, and posted a 16-11 record in August.

That leaves the 1991 and 2000 seasons.

The 2000 Orioles went 36-40 in the second half, won eight of their last 12, and finished the months of July, August, and September one game under .500. Hardly the stuff of champions, but also not the obvious mark of quitters. 

In 1991, the Orioles went 34-48 after the All Star Break and lost seven of their last 10. So the guess here is that Mussina thinks the '91 Orioles phoned it in after the All-Star Break.

Mussina entered the big leagues on Aug. 4, 1991. It's possible that the young, eager pitcher encountered a dour clubhouse atmosphere that left an indelible impression on him. In other words, his first cup of coffee was bitter. And as we fans can tell you, losing is an acquired taste.

It's also worth noting that Manager Frank Robinson was fired at the end of the 1991 season. So perhaps the Orioles quit on a manager they expected would soon be gone. Kind of like they did with Dave Trembley. But that's a topic for another day ....

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Related Reading on Roar from 34:

-Moose Was a Great Bird

-The August Swoon is a Myth

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The View from Sarasota - Upgrades at Ed Smith Stadium

The 2010 baseball season is in the books. The preface to the 2011 season comes on Feb. 13 when pitchers and catchers report. In the meantime, Roar from 34 has some photos of the renovations taking place at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, courtesy of Sarasota resident and FOB (friend of the blog) Norm Schimmel.

Here are the details about the renovation.
"Ed Smith Stadium is undergoing extensive improvements which will dramatically transform the ballpark aesthetic and radically expand areas and amenities for fans. Enhancements to the fan experience include the addition of a two-story concourse with shaded views of the playing field; a new stucco fa├žade with tile accents; refurbished stadium seats directly from Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore; additional private suites and party facilities; and a state-of-the-art audio/video system and video board. Improvements to the player facilities include new dugouts and bullpens; a new half field with AstroTurf; refurbished batting cages; and a practice field with the same dimensions as Oriole Park at Camden Yards. All of these upgrades will be finalized in time for next year's spring training games."