And this shall be a sign unto you…

April 3, 2012

This past weekend my son Jack and I carried out our annual end-of-Spring Training ritual. We watched one of my favorite movies, “Field of Dreams.”  Notice I said one of my favorites.  It is not one of his or either of his sisters’, who have now grown out of the tradition.  But Jack is just 10 years old and therefore still willing to do something his Dad wants to do.

In one scene Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella is sitting on the first base side of Fenway Park looking for a sign. But not a hitting sign from the third-base coach or the Red Sox dugout. Rather, Ray is waiting for a prophetic sign, like the one he received earlier while working in his cornfield in Iowa where he heard the urgent but whispering Voice famously promise “if you build it, he will come.”

The sign Ray anticipates at Fenway first appears on the scoreboard: the lifetime stats of Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, Chisolm, MN: “NYG, 1 G, 0 AB,” and then is amplified by the Voice exhorting him to “go the distance.” Ray and his battery mate, 60’s radical author Terrence Mann, correctly interpret this sign (or signs) to mean that they must go to Chisolm in search of the MLB “veteran” with the shortest of all careers. Of course Ray finds the now 70-something Dr. Archibald Graham walking the Chisolm streets at midnight with the calendar magically turned back sixteen years to 1972. Ray offers to turn it back another 50 years if Moonlight will come to play baseball in Iowa, a place where dreams come true.

I love it when baseball signs are boldly given, correctly interpreted and successfully executed.  We should all have our lives so tightly organized that our every move is directed by a point to the manager’s nose in the dugout, relayed to us by a rub of the third base coach’s belly and followed by a tip of our cap in the batter’s box to acknowledge our orders. “Give me some of that cheese.”

In preparing my B.A.B.E.S picks, I’m always looking for instructive signs even though I don’t have a manager or a coach.  MLB.com is my most reliable source (NYY’s Pineda to the DL, for example), but I will admit that on occasion I have looked for a more Divine indicator or a more spiritual revelation.  Well, I don’t own a cornfield and I’ve never heard voices (about baseball, anyway), but I can now say with confidence that I have been given a miraculous sign from a MLB scoreboard, not unlike Ray Kinsella.  And mine is from 18 years ago, which trumps Ray’s flashback by 2 years.  Take a look at the attached photograph and I will explain.

I have kept this picture on my office credenza since shortly after it was taken in February, 1994, at the old Arlington Stadium during the Rangers’ winter carnival. That was the year the Rangers would began play in the Ballpark in Arlington, but the fan event was held at the old stadium to encourage fans to buy pieces before it was demolished.  I was goofing around on the field when my wife took this picture of me “leaping” to make a catch at the left field wall (I couldn’t jump even then, although I still had hair).  The scoreboard operator had set the out of town scoreboard for Opening Day games (I thought), but in the upper right hand corner you will see that FLA is mistakenly listed as MIA.  As we all know, the Marlins began play in 1993 as the FLA Marlins and have been known by that name continuously – until this year. The scoreboard operator was apparently just making these games up because I have researched them and none of the teams listed actually played each other on Opening Day 1994.  Over the years, I have shown this picture and pointed out the MIA/FLA mistake to anyone who had the misfortune to wander into my office and mention anything remotely related to baseball.

Well, I was looking at the picture myself last week while pondering whether to follow a hunch and pick the Marlins to win the NL.  It was then that I realized that the scoreboard operator hadn’t really made a mistake about the Marlins’ name and that he only thought he was scheduling ficticious games in 1994  In fact, he was accurately predicting what would happen eighteen years later on Opening Day, 2012:  STL @ MIA.  He might have added “Wednesday night, April 4, 8:05 EDT, ESPN.”

How can I ignore a sign like that?

So, for your amusement you will see in my attached picks that I have selected MIA as the NL champ. I have also picked the Marlins to win the NL East, which would be their first division title even though they have won two World Series!  Feel free to follow the Divine Revelation given to me. Just don’t blame me if I mis-interpreted the sign.  It could also mean that the Cardinals are going to repeat.  As Ray’s wife Annie says in “Field of Dreams,” that’s a real non-specific voice you’ve got there.”

So, I also promised a few thoughts on the individual awards.  I’ll be brief because most of you probably have stopped reading already, anyway.  I assigned these picks a 10 point value because I believe that, with the exception of the batting title there are really only about 10 legitimate candidates in each league. That number might be 20 for the batting title, but there are certainly 5 or 6 players that we know will be near the top of the league in hitting.  So in reality the list of candidates is not that hard to compile.

In the NL MVP race, two major players have moved off the board (Pujols and Fielder) and another (Braun, the REIGNING MVP) may have blown his chance to ever win the award again (as any criminal attorney or Calvinist theologian will tell you, there is a big difference between “not guility” and “innocent”).  The guy who should have won it last year (Kemp) will have a new owner to support his second run at the award – and even the Triple Crown.  The now #1 first baseman in the league (Votto) may just also claim the title of MVP.  Ozzie may actually push all the right buttons to produce the season everyone has been waiting for from his new third baseman (Ramirez).  A catcher could win it (Posey) by leading the Giants’ excellent pitching staff and proving that he really was the reason they won their first title in the city by the bay two years ago.  A reconstruction job in Denver could win it for the guy so many of us picked last year (Tulowitski). Or some “new” guy may have the good fortune to leap into the limelight (Giancarlo Stanton – new in name only; Montero in ARI, still unknown despite leading the team to the play-offs last year) or someone may be able to stay in the limelight for a little while longer (David Freese, Lance Berkman – I had to mention my favorite player).

In the AL MVP race, you have to start with the two NL transplants – Pujols and Fielder. How can you not when last year the league wasn’t good enough to produce an MVP from the postion players?   (I still think that was a travesty. Just as was Braun winning it over Fielder.)  Miguel Cabrera should be tempted to aim a few throws from third to first at Justin Verlander’s head.  I guess I also have to mention ARod, Cano and Tex, but I don’t really want to.  Curtis Granderson was the star of that team last year and may be again this year.  The right side of the Red Sox infield is pretty good, but without Ellsbury Boston might have lost every game it played last September. Longoria and Bautista are legitimate candidates, but I really can’t think of anyone else. Oh wait, Mariano Rivera at age 42 or Yu Darvish at 24.  And I didn’t even mention any Rangers’ position players.

In the NL Cy Young, it’s got to be a Phillie (Halliday, Hamels, Lee), Giant (Lincecum, Cain), Dodger (Kershaw), D-Back (Kennedy, Haran) or Cardinal (Wainwright), right?  Nope, it’s going to be a Marlin: Josh Johnson.

In the AL Cy Young, everyone will likely stick with Verlander, but personally I just don’t see it. Ian Kennedy had better numbers in the NL and he didn’t win the Cy Young or the MVP.  Sabbathia is always a safe bet. Lester could win it, but I have a feeling that they may stop celebrating Valentine’s Day in Boston. Pick any of the Rays’ starters, but start from the #5 slot. Matt Moore may just be the best pitcher in the league even if he only has 3 Major League starts.  You could select 1-3 on the Angels’ staff and not be laughed at, but I’m going with # 1, Jared Weaver.  No one seems to think the Rangers have an ace, but don’t discount Nolan’s impact on Yu Darvish.  President Ryan will get his money’s worth.

Batting title winners?  Look for your own signs. I’m tired and going to bed.

P.S.  I understand no one got my reference in the title to the last post.  “Sweet Parity” was not just a description of the enjoyment we should get from more teams being in the hunt for the World Series title.  It was also an allusion to the 60’s Broadway play, “Sweet Charity” which is the story of a chorus dancer (in the original French version, she’s a hooker) who comes close to marrying a rich businessman.  Alas, he dumps her at the altar, but she does not dispair. She picks herself up and dances off stage as the curtain falls with these words: “and she lived HOPEFULLY ever after.”  Isn’t that what every Cub fan does?

fyi, to see the 1994 picture, see Miamiherald.com and search “Fishbytes” archives for “1994.”