Jan 20

Baseball Mourns Losses Of Musial And Weaver

The television sound was off, but I didn’t need words to know this was sad news. Why else would there be grainy black-and-white images of Stan Musial unleashing that powerful swing out of an awkward stance?

Musial passed away last night, not long after former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver died, and the sports world was suddenly without two legends. Despite polar opposites in terms of temperament, both were unique and left an indelible mark on baseball.

MUSIAL: Stan the Man.

Weaver was the fiery manager of the Orioles who built his championship teams with superb starting pitching and the three-run homer. Musial was overshadowed by Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, but was as lethal with the bat as any of them. Others were more spectacular and played in flashier markets than St. Louis, but Musial personified baseball in his town and throughout middle America.

Having worked in Baltimore covering the Orioles, I learned quickly now woven Weaver was into the fabric of that town, and traveling numerous times to St. Louis, and saw that city embrace Musial to where two statues of him are outside Busch Stadium.

The beauty of baseball is how the sports rolls on with one generation of greatness following the other. However, there are those few who transcend their times and will be remembered through the ages.

There’s sadness in the losses of Weaver and Musial in that they are gone, but also that many of us never got a chance to witness their greatness in person. And for that, we are all the poorer.

Dec 04

Could Orioles Be A Player For Josh Hamilton?

HAMILTON: Pointing towards Baltimore? (AP)

There are answers that can only be found by looking into a man’s eyes. Even then, there’s an element of doubt.

Looking into R.A. Dickey’s eyes, the Mets must know he wants to play here and believes his Cy Young was no fluke. Even so, there’s always some pause.

If there’s a reluctance with Dickey, imagine that with Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton, who, when healthy and off the wagon, is one of the sport’s top five talents, if not the best.

We know the Mets won’t, and the Yankees say they want to cut payroll to be below $189 million for the 2014 season and beyond, so they aren’t player for Hamilton.

That doesn’t mean it is an empty market for him. The Rangers are playing it wisely and letting Hamilton field offers. They believe they have sufficient talent without him, but also think Hamilton might come around and believe the team that cared for him is his best option.

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Nov 14

Dickey Wins NL Cy Young; Now Show Him The Money

R.A. Dickey was just named the NL Cy Young Award winner, collecting 27 of 32 first place votes.

Dickey was a sub-.500 pitcher entering the season, but had a year for the ages going 20-6 to become the first knuckleballer to win the award. Prior to the end of the season, Dickey was asked what winning would mean to him.

“It would put a silver lining on an otherwise sad season,” Dickey said. “That’s one. Two is, it’s something fantastic to celebrate with the fan base.”

He reiterated that sentiment in a statement just released by the team.

“I want to thank the BBWAA for this prestigious award,” said Dickey, who became the first knuckleballer to win the Cy Young Award. “I owe so much to my teammates for their support during the year, especially Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas, who did such a great job behind the plate all season. I’d like to thank the fans. They stood behind me every time I took the mound. I wouldn’t have won this award without them. To have my name linked to Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden is quite humbling.”

Dickey joins Seaver (1969, 1973 and 1975) and Gooden (1985) as the only pitchers in team history to earn the NL Cy Young Award.  He finished tied for second in the majors with 20 wins, led the NL in strikeouts (230) and was second in the NL in ERA (2.73).  Dickey recorded 27 quality starts in 2012 to lead the majors and became the sixth 20-game winner in franchise history.

Dickey was named to his first All-Star team in 2012 and established a franchise record with 32.2 consecutive scoreless innings from May 22-June 13. Dickey became the first NL pitcher since 1944 to toss back-to-back one-hitters when he one-hit the Rays on June 13 and the Orioles on June 18.

“All of us here at the Mets congratulate R.A. on winning the Cy Young Award,” said Mets COO Jeff Wilpon in the statement. “R.A.’s tremendous accomplishments this season were a thrill for everyone in the organization and our fans. This recognition is a tribute to his hard work and determination.”

“This is fitting recognition for a remarkable season,” said Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson.  “We are very proud of R.A. and what he achieved in 2012.”

Said manager Terry Collins: “It was an honor to work with R.A. throughout the year and have a front-row seat to his historic season. R.A. is a great teammate, fierce competitor and even a better human being.  No one deserves this award more than him.”

There is one more plateau for Dickey to reach this year, and that is to be signed to a long-term contract extension. The Mets already picked up his $5 million option, but there is speculation he would be traded if a deal can’t be reached.

Nov 13

Manager of the Year: Davey Johnson and Buck Showalter

The Manager of the Year award will be announced this afternoon by the Baseball Writers Association of America. You don’t usually see managers of perennially good teams win the award because they are expected to win. The writers prefer rags-to-riches stories, but sometimes it is harder to win with a bullseye on your back.

I agree with the consensus, which has Washington’s Davey Johnson and Baltimore’s Buck Showalter the heavy favorites.

JOHNSON: As we remember him.

No Mets manager has won the award, which was instituted in 1983, for those wondering about Gil Hodges. San Francisco’s Dusty Baker – who is a candidate – beat out Bobby Valentine in 2000. As far as Johnson in 1986, he probably wasn’t considered after his declaration the Mets “would dominate,’’ that year.

He made no such statement this spring.

NATIONAL LEAGUE: Baker and San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy are also under consideration, but both their teams were recently in the playoffs, with the Giants winning the World Series in 2010.

As for the Nationals, they have been traditionally bad since moving to Washington from Montreal.

The expectations for the Nationals heightened this year with the influx of free-agent Gio Gonzalez, return of pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg and rookie Bryce Harper. The Nationals were considered in some circles to compete for a wild-card, but won 98 games.

Johnson had more to deal with this season than many realized. He’s been more comfortable with veteran teams, but was patient with the young Nationals. And, despite what he thought privately, he handled shutting down Strasburg, which was a controversial decision in the sport.

The Nationals were ousted in five games by St. Louis – Mike Matheny, who replaced Tony La Russa and didn’t have Albert Pujols, should also be considered – but that experience should be something to build on, much like the disappointment of his Mets losing in 1985 to the Cardinals.

AMERICAN LEAGUE: Showalter, who won the award in the 1994 strike season, and Joe Torre in 1996 and 1998 won the award for the Yankees.

American League finalists include Oakland’s Bob Melvin and newcomer Robin Ventura of the White Sox, both with Mets’ ties. Melvin worked in the Mets’ minor league system and interviewed for the job won by Terry Collins, and Ventura played for the team, 1999-2001.

The Orioles hadn’t had a winning season since 1997, coincidentally, the last year Johnson managed the team.

Behind the Yankees, Boston and Tampa Bay, the Orioles were given no chance to win and .500 was the goal. Instead, they won 93 games and took the Yankees to five games in the ALDS.

The Orioles were 29-9 in one-run games and went 16-2 in extra innings, including their last 16. In addition, Baltimore had just a plus-seven runs differential.

Did Showalter do it with mirrors? It seems that way as the Orioles made 178 roster moves involving 52 players; had only one starter make as many as 20; and didn’t have a .300 hitter.

They also prevailed down the stretch without their best hitter, Nick Markakis.

As much as Ventura and Melvin did, Showalter is the clear choice.

 

Oct 28

On Cheering For The Giants Or Tigers And If Lincecum Gives The Mets Any Ideas About Mike Pelfrey

When covering an event, I pull for good storylines and fast games. I don’t cheer for the teams I have covered. Never have; never will. Instead, I want good things to happen to good people. When you are around a group for nearly nine months, you get a feel for how hard these guys work and how much they care.

Even so, there are those who feel differently. When covering the Orioles, a nationally known columnist stood up in the pressbox and railed at third base coach Cal Ripken Sr., when a Baltimore runner was thrown out at the plate.

PELFREY: Could new role change his career? (AP)

I can’t tell you how many times when covering the Yankees or Mets when I saw radio reporters and those from the smaller papers wearing team colors or caps.

But, that’s just me. What about you guys with October again without the Mets? I know most relished the Yankees getting swept. Lot’s of people root for the underdogs, hence there was a following for the Orioles and Athletics.

What about this World Series?

I’d like to see the Giants because I respect how they play the game. They hustle, play good defense and pitch. Boy, do they ever pitch. The Giants are proof positive a team can succeed without power if they play the game the right way. Conversely, the Tigers also pitch, but they have mashers in the middle of their line-up, and we all know power is the great eraser. In that respect, the Tigers are much like the Yankees.

Only this time great pitching shut down their offense.

I’ve always been a great fan of pitching and defense. It makes for tighter, more intense games. To me, 2-0 is far more compelling than 9-6. It just is. Every once in awhile and 11-10 game can be interesting, but it isn’t a clean game.

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