July 30, 2020
I told you it is going to be a weird year…
Most of you know the origin of B.A.B.E.S. – how the three founding members set out to prove that we could predict the results of MLB competition as well as any professional observer. Within five years, the mission had been accomplished, as this post from November, 2014, explained. https://babesbaseball.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/proving-my-point-too-well/. Of course, almost all of the success of the endeavor is due to members like you. I have not come close to winning the competition since I won the Rocky in our very first year, 2008, before there even was a Rocky (other than the namesake, of course). https://babesbaseball.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/remembering-rocky/.
My ability to predict team and player winners may be in a rut, but I still have the ability to make a cogent observation about baseball. Scroll down to my post on July 22, and you will see that I prophesied that this would be a weird year (no real miracle there). However, even I wasn’t expecting to be proven correct so quickly. On Thursday night, just 30 minutes before the start of the long-awaited season, MLB announced the addition of six teams to the post-season competition! How weird is that? I almost choked on the ballpark dog my concessionaire daughter, Kara, made for me, as we watched ESPN and waited for the NYY@WAS game to begin.
After finishing that dog, and then two more (only 72 short of Joey Chestnut’s record),
(photo courtesy of USA Today), I started to think of how the additional teams would alter our annual competition. The format now qualifies the top two teams in each division, as well as the next two teams in the league with the highest winning percentage, a total of eight from each league. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/columnist/bob-nightengale/2020/07/23/mlb-playoffs-expansion-baseball-2020-season/5497025002/. So, we could each simply add three teams to our current picks in each league, and then make sure that we have at least two teams from each division. That is not that big of a change, and would be easy for us to supplement. However, the more I thought about it, the more I believed that this would actually make our task easier.
We all struggled, I am sure, with those two wild card selections – which teams to include and which to exclude, and whether to, perhaps, pick three teams from one division. A post-season where you get to pick two teams from each division and then add two additional teams, seems to me to eliminate the hard choices. You can simply pick all of your “bubble teams.” Moreover, obviously, no one has picked any of these additional six teams to win the World Series, so it is unlikely that you would now reconsider and vault one of those teams over your previous selections. Therefore, adding the new selections would simply be adding possible points to the first round of the competition, and easier points, at that. I don’t think we need that. Also, we don’t want to create an outlier season that could ruin our historic statistics for percentage accuracy. (What does MLB do this year if a player bats .400?) (#%*!)
So, that is a very long explanation for why we are not going to make any changes to our competition. I did consult with a few of you about this and heard some interesting proposals, but I am the Commissioner, and I get to decide what is “in the best interest of B.A.B.E.S.” Accordingly, your picks are what they are; or, as Yogi Berra said: “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”
(Photo courtesy of The Sporting News/Getty Images)
How weirdly beautiful is that? And how perfectly applicable to 2020! Not to mention that the first game of the year was called due to a massive lightening storm and monsoon in D.C.. So NYY got a game-shortened W, just like the World Series winner will get a season-shortened title – maybe.
Things have to start looking up soon, right? Well, perhaps not, since some other last minute player developments will definitely have an impact on our picks, even if the rule changes don’t. Here are just a few of the weird developments in the first 7 days:
- Kershaw scratched from Re-Opening Day start.
- Juan Soto (my NL MVP) gets COVID-19.
- Verlander and Kluber (and others) down after one start
- Entire Marlins team goes into quarantine (and they lead the NL East!)
- So many other injuries! https://www.espn.com/mlb/injuries.
- LAD’s Joe Kelly suspended 8 games in a 60 game season! (for throwing at the Astros, even though he was not a Dodger in 2017)(and the Astros players still have received no punishment….)
Ok, enough craziness for the first report.
One positive note, in my opinion, is that the games themselves have been worth watching, even without fans. It is still MLB, and that is still a beautiful thing. But then, it is also human nature to want to watch a train-wreck in slow motion. You just can’t take your eyes off of it.
July 23, 2020
It’s Re-Opening Day – Let’s Play Two!
NYY @ WAS – Cole v. Scherzer, 7:08 p.m. EDT
SFO @ LAD – Cueto v. Kershaw, 10:08 p.m. EDT
And for your edification, or amusement, here are my picks in our race for The Rocky, 2020, along with a hint at my logic:
NL East – WAS (Either Scherzer or Strasburg will start nearly half of their games!)
NL Central – STL (Flaherty wins the Cy Young)
NL West – LAD (Roberts’ job is on the line this year, for sure)
NL WC – ATL (they slip without Donaldson, but not out of the post-season)
NL WC – MIL (Craig Counsell is underappreciated)
NL Pennant – LAD (Dave Roberts is a nice guy)
AL East – TBR (could there possibly be a better year for David to slay Goliath?)
AL Central – MIN (Bomba Squad adds Josh Donaldson? Wow.)
AL West – HOU (Only one path to redemption)
AL WC – NYY (I said in the off-season that they would win it all, but I don’t have to pick them!)
AL WC – OAK (Will Billy Bean ever win it all? This would be a good year.)
AL Pennant – TBR (David slays both Goliaths – HOU and NYY)
World Series – LAD (David runs out of stones for his sling, to the benefit of Dave and the Dodger fans. It’s been 31 years since the last title! Kurt Gibson’s moment was magical, but it is time for an updated highlight.)
NL Batting Title – J. Turner (free agent year, and you know LAD can’t pay him now)
NL Cy Young – Flaherty (historically good 2d half of 2019 continues in 2020 half-season)
NL MVP – Soto (WS champ at 21; MVP at 22)
AL Batting Title – T. Anderson (best player no one knows, and about to go B2B)
AL Cy Young – Morton (an ex-Astro takes it, just not Cole)
AL MVP – Donaldson (monster year in MIN could lead them to title)
You still have time to join the competition. Just email your selections to firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the day.
(Can you name this park?)
July 22, 2020
And then there was one…
After waiting 122 days past the originally scheduled MLB Opening Day, we are finally down to just one more day. 2020 was supposed to be the year with the earliest domestic Opening Day ever (March 26), but instead it will have the latest. July 23 is usually the second week after the All-Star Break, a point when most teams are approaching 100 games played, and when the players start to look toward the stretch drive to the post-season. That is certainly consistent with 2020’s reduced 60-game schedule, that will start tomorrow with NYY@WAS – Cole v. Scherzer. The whole season will be a stretch-drive, and every team will be in it!
Much has been written already about what a weird year this will be. Here is just one example, from ESPN’s Jeff Passan. https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/29514092/the-weirdest-mlb-season-ever-start-here-how-baseball-2020-play-out. And now, news is breaking that Mookie Betts will sign a $365 million contract extension with LAD, with a $65 million signing bonus! Does that sound weird for an industry that is projecting a 70% reduction in revenue this year? Perhaps the same justification for that deal can be used to explain the stock market, where the Dow Jones average closed today above 27,000. Pandemic? What pandemic? Obviously, it is not just MLB that is having a weird season. And this is, after all, the 13th year of our B.A.B.E.S. competition. Just a coincidence, right?
But apparently, MLB is going to have a season, and I think it will be weirdly beautiful. I watched NYY@NYM on MLB Network Monday night, and the sole focus was on the game! There were no distractions in the stands, and very little else for the commentators to comment on, except the game! One of them said, in fact, that this year the game is going to have to sell itself. I, for one, have no doubt about the success of that pitch. (See the B.A.B.E.S. mission statement at the top of our masthead!)
My love for the greatest game will not be diminished by a short season, or the absence of key players who have “opted-out”, or even the appearance that each game is a practice. It is still baseball – Major League Baseball – and that is all that counts for me. Let’s Play.
July 7, 2020
The MLB Schedule is out, but so are many players!
Despite some high-profile positive Covid-19 tests – Freddy Freeman, Joey Gallo – the overall infection rate of the players, coaches and staff tested was less than 2%. Apparently that was encouraging enough for MLB to go forward with the short-season, for the schedule was released yesterday.
Regulation play begins July 23 and is scheduled to run through September 27. Each team will play its four division rivals 10 times, and then play each of the five teams in its corresponding division of the other league four times, for a total of 60 games. The post-season will follow the same format as a normal year, so all of your selections will be the same.
The deadline for getting me new picks is 6 pm, July 23, when the first pitch of the year will be thrown by a NYY starter to the WAS lead-off batter (probably Gerrit Cole to Trea Turner – not a bad way to start the season). As always, I will simply renew your picks from last year if I do not hear from you (and remember, that approach won the Rocky for Gus Pompa in 2018).
Feel free to encourage any of your friends to join in. Although we have had many surprise results in our first twelve years of B.A.B.E.S. competition, this selection process should be the most unpredictable – just like everything else in the world in 2020.
As always, I recommend that you keep an eye on the status of players leading up to the re-opener. In addition to injuries and Covid-19 positive tests, valuable players continue to opt-out of the season. The Braves’ Nick Markakis joined that list yesterday.
Happy 4th of July, 2020 – seriously
It is an unusual time in every respect in America, and chances are you are enjoying a muted holiday celebration – especially if you are a baseball fan. Most of the ballparks across America today looked like this one in Fort Marcy Park, Santa Fe, NM – empty.
In fact, minor league parks will remain vacant for the entire season, as all MiLB play has been cancelled for the first time in its 120 year history. https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/29390182/key-questions-minor-league-baseball-officially-cancels-2020-season.
As I mentioned in the last post, it remains to be seen if MLB will be able to play its shortened season, but the teams have nevertheless begun to prepare. So for now, you should continue to work on your picks but pay attention to the daily news. LAD’s David Price announced today that he is opting out of the season, and LAA’s Mike Trout is reportedly considering doing the same. These decisions by key players, and the sprint to the finish in a 60-game season, will make this an especially difficult year to predict the winners. https://www.mlb.com/news/top-summer-camp-storyline-for-every-mlb-team.
I am working on my picks while also trying to predict who will be the winners in the struggle for America’s future. What will the country look like on July 4, 2021? That is exceptionally hard to imagine, but here’s hoping there will at least be baseball in all of the parks across the land.
God Bless America and let us Play Ball. Please.
June 25, 2020
Are we going to play ball, or what?
I was beginning to think that my well-intentioned Memorial Day post of the Naval officer playing “Taps” would actually become a cynical requiem for the 2020 MLB season. There is still plenty of cause for cynicism, but at the moment it looks like there will be Major League baseball played this year. COVID-19 could still have something to say about that. https://www.si.com/mlb/2020/06/26/baseball-coronavirus-return-big-questions. However, it appears that the MLBPA has accepted the owners’ terms for commencing play even if the two sides can’t agree on anything else, including whether the process has created a labor cause of action for bad faith negotiating.
Was I prophetic in my New Year’s 2019 post? Did Rob Manfred pass or fail his first big test? https://babesbaseball.wordpress.com/2018/12/31/fields-of-change-2019/. We shall see.
Given the resumption of play in the midst of the pandemic and on-going labor strife, it is going be a truly weird season. https://www.si.com/extra-mustard/2020/06/24/mlb-return-coronavirus-health-protocols. But at least almost all of the crazy changes that were being proposed for the shortened season will not be implemented. https://www.mlb.com/news/mlb-announces-2020-regular-season.
Only the DH in the NL and starting a runner on second base in all extra-innings will directly affect play on the field. These are in addition to the previously announced changes such as the minimum number of batters a reliever must face. https://www.mlb.com/news/mlb-rule-changes-for-2020-season. The likely result will be some surprise post-season qualifiers and perhaps an unexpected World Series champion. But that is why they play the games, and why we try to predict the winners.
I will update Homeplate with more details as they become available, but for now start working on those picks. Opening day is estimated to be July 25, only 4 weeks away. In case you have forgotten in the extended off-season, here is a link to the picks you need to send me before Reopening Day.
May 25, 2020 – Memorial Day
No matter what you are doing today, even if it is still sheltering-at-home, please remember that the freedom to do that or any other activity in America was purchased with the blood of thousands of brave soldiers. We may debate the wisdom of the governmental authorities directing the response to COVID-19, and we may oppose the current or former wars in which the Nation has been embroiled, but we should agree at least that the sacrifices made for our country in each of these efforts is worth remembering.
(Tower Life Building, San Antonio)
It’s May 1st – We get to turn the page!
(photo from Nolan Ryan Foundation)
For many years Mrs. Commissioner (a very talented photographer) has been making a 12-month family calendar. Each month features photos highlighting events we enjoyed in that month the previous year. Consider it our personal Time-Hop app or Facebook Memories page. The calendar hangs in our kitchen and so we see it multiple times every day. Usually by the end of a month – regardless of whether it has 28, 29, 30 or 31 days – the photos get a bit too familiar, and we anticipate the new ones for the next month.
Well, we have just completed a month with 30 days, but of course we have been in the kitchen for virtually EVERY HOUR due to the COVID-19 quarantine. We may never want to see April 2020’s pictures again! Fortunately, May 1st has finally arrived and we get to turn the page. This may have been the most anticipated turn of the calendar in our family’s history, even though the pictures are not particularly historic. (If only there was a MLB ballpark somewhere in those cityscapes!)
(photos courtesy of Mrs. Commissioner, although not all her work)
While we are still somewhat in quarantine, as of today certain businesses in Texas can also begin to turn the page. Restaurants and stores can start admitting customers today up to 25% of occupancy capacity under Governor Abbott’s latest executive order. So I assume that we will venture out tonight for our first public engagement since March. This should be a May 1st that we will remember for a while, and it should create some good pictures that will be worth reviewing on our calendar come May 1, 2021.
I already have one historic May 1st memory that is imprinted on my brain. It is of a 44 year-old Nolan Ryan striking out future Hall-of-Famer Robbie Alomar for the final out of his 7th no-hitter on May 1, 1991. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9m_Kk4kzAY.
And, yes, I remembered that this happened on this date without being reminded of it by any sports website. It was during the time that I was a die-hard Rangers fan. Practically every time Big Tex pitched it was memorable, but this one even more so.
(photo: Louis DeLuca, Dallas Times Herald)(what a great photo! The essence of Big Tex -striding off the mound with even the Blue Jays’ coach looking defeated in the background next to those two zeroes – no runs, no hits, no problem!)
I wasn’t at the game, but I watched it on television from my home about twenty miles from Arlington Stadium. I remember thinking that I had about as much chance of getting a hit off of Ryan from that distance as did any of the Blue Jays from 60’, 6”! And that Toronto team was on its way to the post-season with several All-Star players in addition to Alomar. The box score proves that this was certainly one of the most dominating performances ever by a 44 year-old pitcher. https://www.baseball-almanac.com/boxscore/05011991.shtml, with 16 strike outs, no hits and only 2 walks. There wasn’t even a particularly note-worthy defensive play as is so often the case in no-hitters and perfect games.
This is the closest TOR came to getting a hit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_cHwJYAwm0. Compare that to this catch that saved Mark Buehrle’s perfect game. https://www.mlb.com/video/wise-robs-homer-saves-perfecto-c5699065. Dewayne Wise had to catch the ball twice, once over the fence in his glove and then again on the warning track with his bare hand! No extraordinary fielding was needed to preserve the historic event this night. The Ryan Express was simply unhitable on May 1, 1991. His mastery made even the notoriously stoic Ryan smile. And who knew that he had such a nice smile? You have to love the joy that sports accomplishments can bring out in even the most understated of men. We need it now more than ever, and I can’t wait to experience it live again. I would happily turn the page to this picture every day.
(photo from Nolan Ryan Foundation)
Thanks, Nolan, for giving us all something to smile about, even 29 years later. Happy May Day!
April 20, 2020
“Happy 4/20 Day!”
I awoke at 5:40 a.m. to the ding of a text from my eldest daughter sending me this greeting. My first thought was, ‘alright! TBR v. HOU, Snell v. Verlander!’ Then I remembered that there would be no live baseball game on this 4/20 because of Covid-19. I then also realized that she wasn’t talking about baseball, although she is as much of a fan as any of my three children.
Since I was awake I decided to go for an early walk with our dog and my outlook was brightened by the beauty of my hometown, which I have been seeing a lot more of these days with no baseball to occupy my time. As I walked I was reminded of how much I enjoy living downtown when it includes vistas like this one.
This is no urban jungle, at least not one in the pejorative sense of the term. And that made me think of the term “concrete jungle” which brought back to mind my least favorite ball park, Tropicana Field.
(SDO@TBR, August 14, 2016, St. Petersburg, FL) Was ever a park more inappropriately named? This view challenges my assertion on 4/13 that a ball park is beautiful at work or at play. I love (not!) how the carpet goes from green to brown to simulate the outfield warning track. Does the player have to look down to see the color change or is he expected to discern it in his field of vision? Can he see down while looking up? Of course, he might as well look down as it is no harder to see the ball from that posture than it is by looking into the white teflon roof. There may also be concrete in those supports holding up the roof, but there is undoubtedly concrete under the synthetic turf. It is an ugly, cavernous concrete mall, not a tropical field, and it should not even be called a ballpark. And, other than during a pandemic, more people go to the retail mall than to this baseball one.
I could have used this photo also in my 4/13 reference to “Silent Spring.” I think the announced attendance that night was under 10,000, and the actual attendance was around 5,000. It was so quiet that we could hear the hot dog vendor in right field from our seats all the way over in left field.
So, no doubt, were they actually playing MLB games today, the TBR players would have been happy to be in Houston, even if they did have to worry about banging trash cans. Hey, at least they would be harder to hear in Minute Maid than at The Trop.
And I know Bob Marley loved kettle drums. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEP90YLHDCE.
April 15, 2020
Happy Jackie Robinson Day!
MLB may not be playing live games this year on the day it named in his honor back in 1997, but at least we also don’t have to worry about filing our tax returns on this Jackie Robinson Day. Let’s all hope that when the extended IRS filing deadline comes around on July 15, we all will again be enjoying in the ballpark of our choice the great game that Jackie played so beautifully .
Long-time B.A.B.E.S. members may recall my observations about the movie “42” when it was released in 2013. I plan to watch it again tonight with my son, which should be an excellent two-hour break from quarantine. We all remember Robinson as a great and ground-breaking ball-player. One who knew him well, Negro League great Buck O’Neil, may have best summarized Jackie’s impact on our country as a whole:
“Before Martin [Luther King Jr.], there was Jackie, before Rosa Parks, there was Jackie, before Brown v Board of Education, there was Jackie, before the Civil Rights marches in the South, there was Jackie, before Thurgood Marshall was named to the Supreme Court of the United States, there was Jackie, and before President Truman desegregated the military, there was Jackie.”
I would add this: “before Jackie Robinson, baseball and our country were incomplete.”
Here is the link to my earlier post if you are interested. https://babesbaseball.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/of-course-you-can/.
April 13, 2020
(U. S. Cellular Field, Aug. 16, 2015)
Okay, so it wasn’t Spring, but the photo above was the closest one I could find in my personal archives depicting an empty stadium. Jack and I got to the ballpark very early that Sunday afternoon in Chicago, even earlier than we usually do, and I remember intentionally taking advantage of the emptiness of the stands to take this picture. It did not stay that way for long.
A ballpark is a beautiful place regardless of whether it is at work or at rest. That is true even for a park that was described as a “concrete behemoth” despite having been designed by the same firm that oversaw the simultaneous construction of Camden Yards, the now-classic park that ushered in the era of retro-parks and opened only one year after “New Comiskey” debuted on Chicago’s South Side in 1991.
Personally, I liked U. S. Cellular more than the critics, although it has been improved by several renovations in its now thirty-year history. I do wonder, however, why they positioned it away from the downtown view, which could have been spectacular from our seats in the right field upper deck. Unfortunately, we had to go down the steps and pose on the concourse to get the Second City in the background.
B.A.B.E.S. member Matt Bardwell, obviously a North Sider with his Cubs hat, and his lovely wife Jenna were our hosts that day, even on the South Side. Matt was runner-up for the Rocky in 2014, but I guess he was satisfied with the consolation prize, the Cubs’ 2016 World Championship. (Not as great as winning the Rocky, but it will do.) You can see the impressive skyline of Chicago in the background. That would have made an iconic outfield view, much more so than the sliver of Lake Michigan you can see on a really clear day. (Go back to the picture above and zoom to the left of the Xfinity sign in left field, and you can almost make out a sail boat on the water between the buildings.)
As we continue to wait out the COVID-19 virus and hope for the return of baseball, I have been reviewing many of my photos from the nineteen parks Jack and I have visited together. If this continues, I may spend the rest of the Spring reliving those good times. Father and son ballpark photos may be all that I have to post in the weeks to come, and if so I hope you will enjoy seeing them as much as Jack and I have enjoyed posing for them. I am also doing quite a bit of writing and some reading, so I should have a few other thoughts to share during this Silent Spring. Obviously, we still have a ways to go before things return to “normal.”
Here is a picture of Market Street in downtown San Antonio on a work day last week. Living in downtown, I have had very little trouble social distancing. The Riverwalk may not be silent, but it is very, very quiet.
As you may know, the term “Silent Spring” was coined by Rachel Carson, or her editors, as the title for her ground-breaking book published in 1962. It was the first work to challenge the aggressive use of pesticides in agriculture as well as other chemicals being used in the heavily industrialized second half of the Twentieth Century. She warned that the overuse of chemicals (she did not advocate for elimination of them, as is often suggested) would ultimately have a devastating effect on wildlife, leaving us in an eerily silent season. Her work is considered by most experts to be the beginning of the modern environmentalist movement, and she is credited with having a significant impact on the health of the planet. You can read more about her at this link.
I have not actually read Silent Spring, but given the current pandemic quarantine, and the absence of Spring baseball, I think I will check it out. Obviously, we have some new hazards in the United States and around the world to become educated about. Although no one seems to know if the COVID-19 is a naturally occurring or man-made killer, my guess is that man had something to do with it, and that is not even considering my theology. There is a theory being espoused, however, that not every consequence of COVID-19 is bad. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/03/25/fact-check-coronavirus-crisis-benefiting-environment/2908300001/. I am no scientist, but I can say that the San Antonio River is running a little clearer these days.
Of course, San Antonio itself is always beautiful, in my biased opinion.
This is my commute to the office, when our building isn’t under a lock down. Who knows when that will next be?
One thing I do know for certain, however, is that when baseball returns, it will play a major part in healing our nation and other parts of the world who have discovered the beauty of the greatest game, like Japan and Korea and Australia. Almost all B.A.B.E.S. members will remember the amazing impact MLB had on our country after the 9/11 attacks. The COVID-19 killer has shown no prejudice based on borders. Therefore, the nationalistic video clip I have posted several times of President Bush throwing out the first pitch in Game 3 of the 2001 World Series in Yankee Stadium is not truly applicable. Yet, baseball provided the platform for that incredible moment of national healing, and I never get tired of watching it.
In many ways, this new threat to America and the world is a much greater threat to us and to baseball than were the terrorist attacks. Then the continuation of play depended largely on the security of our borders and the expertise of game day operations officials and local law enforcement. Obviously they did a stellar job then and have continued to do so for the nearly twenty years since 9/11/01. But this killer is harder to stop at the border and even harder to detect in a crowd. So it seems almost certain that when baseball does return it will be without fans in the stands, at least at first. If that occurs, then every game will be like the one BAL and CWS played in Camden Yards in 2015 after many days of rioting in Baltimore put the city under semi-martial law.
If that happens, our Silent Spring will continue at least for the players. Perhaps the game-day operations officials will figure out a way for fans to Zoom-in to the ballpark sound system and cheer on their teams. But silent or rowdy, live or telecast, there are two words I can hardly wait to hear:
© JSR 2020