Tag Archives: Major League Baseball

Looking toward a possible grim reality: no baseball in Amarillo

I am trying to equivocate as much as I can, using the word “possible” in front of “grim reality.”

I am fearing the worst for my former neighbors up yonder in Amarillo, where they are waiting for the start of the minor league season featuring the defending Texas League champion Amarillo Sod Poodles.

The worst is that there might not be a season to celebrate.

I watch the “Sod Squad” fan club on my Facebook page. It is full of hopeful statements from fans. I want their hope to be well-founded. I want them to be able to cheer the Sod Poodles into their second season in existence. Their first one was epic, winning the Texas League title against the defending champion Tulsa Drillers.

It’s just that the coronavirus pandemic has spooked athletic leagues and associations everywhere. Major League Baseball is trying to figure out how to play a 100-game schedule, how to split the two leagues into three divisions and how to play all their games in Florida, Arizona and Texas … with few if any fans watching in person.

Minor league ball isn’t that far along.

I want there to be baseball this spring and summer. I am leery of it returning this year given the loss of life that is occurring at this very moment.

The Sod Poodles have what must be one of the more devoted fan bases in all of minor league baseball. I love reading their Facebook posts. I draw from their enthusiasm.

Now that I live a good bit distant from Amarillo, I am hopeful to see the Sod Poodles play when they venture to nearby Frisco to play the Roughriders. Trust me when I say I would cheer loudly for them even as I am surrounded by Roughrider fans.

My gut is telling me it might not happen this year. Let’s start preparing for the worst.

The other big shoe drops in sign-stealing scandal; more to fall?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Red Sox have fired their field manager, Alex Cora, for his role in a scandal involving another American League baseball team.

The Red Sox had no choice but to follow the Houston Astros’ lead. The Astros canned field manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow after Major League Baseball announced they would be suspended for the next season.

What did everyone do here?

Well, the Astros were accused of using high-tech devices to steal signs during the 2017 World Series against Los Angeles Dodgers. They went far beyond the usual techniques used for many decades to swipe signs.

Cora was bench coach for the Astros in 2017. Therefore, he was a principal culprit in the sign-stealing matter.

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred had warned all big league teams about the consequences if they persisted in this activity. The Astros ignored the warning … to their peril.

And so, now Alex Cora is out of a job.

The axe had to fall on the Red Sox field boss.

To its credit, Major League Baseball has become hypersensitive to cheating on the field and is seeking to take charge of this problem.

Astros cheated their way to World Series title? Yes, but let ’em keep it

I have thought for years that stealing signs is part of baseball’s charm. Players on the field seek to pilfer signals the catcher gives to the pitcher as well as the signals that come to the hitter from the third-base coach.

However, the art of signal stealing has its limits, according to Major League Baseball, which had leveled season-long suspensions to the field manager and the general manager of the Houston Astros, who won the 2017 World Series. The Astro ownership, though, went a step further: the two men suspended got fired; they’re gone.

So what’s the future of this scandal? It’s not over, more than likely.

I was a bit baffled by all the hubbub over the Astros’ cheating scandal. As I said, my sense for many years has been that signal theft is part of the Grand Old Game. I sought the counsel of a gentleman — a former colleague of mine — who knows the game well. He answered in an e-mail to explain it to me. Here is what he said:

It was done via technology. A camera was set up in centerfield directed at the catcher. There was a monitor in a video room next to the Astros dugout and the signal was seen and relayed through claps, whistles or banging on a trash can to the batter. This is much different than the gamesmanship that has gone on for decades of players trying to decipher signals while on the field. In other words, a runner gets on 2nd base, can see the signals and somehow relays that to the batter, or someone in the opposing dugout has figured out the third base coach’s signals.

In 2017, there was some signal-stealing via technology because of the added use of cameras for replay reviews. Commissioner Rob Manfred sent out a harsh memo telling teams to stop or there would be reprisals if they didn’t. The Astros arrogantly continued to do so. 

The Red Sox are also about to get nailed for doing something similar. Alex Cora is the manager. He was the bench coach for the Astros in 2017 and reportedly came up with the system. He may be looking at a lifetime ban.

OK, it’s clear to me now.

The question remains: Should Major League Baseball rescind the World Series title the Astros won? I would argue “no!” I am not sure it can be proven that the cheating was the difference between winning and losing the Series. Absent proof, then the Astros should keep the title as baseball champs.

And if the commissioner drops the hammer on Alex Cora and bans him for life, then a lifetime ban ought to have the weight of … a lifetime ban.

What’s more, my hope is that this mess doesn’t deter players from stealing signs on the field the way they have done since the time they threw out the very first pitch. Hey, it’s part of the game!

Expect the Sod Poodles’ fan base to hold up during off season

Teams that take cities by storm, which is what happened with the Amarillo Sod Poodles’ minor-league baseball franchise, can be expected to develop a loyal fan base during the season of play.

Now the season is over. The Sod Poodles won the Texas League pennant with a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the league’s defending champs. The team dispersed; the players, manager, coaches and team staffers all went home.

The fans who flocked to Hodgetown by the thousands for every home game have remained in Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle. My hunch is that they’re still feeling all warm and fuzzy over the championship their team won in their first season in existence.

I get the sense, seeing some of the fans’ social media posts, that they’re going to remain ardent supporters of the team as they await the start of the 2020 Texas League season.

They’re talking about meeting on occasion at a local eatery in southwest Amarillo. The Home Plate Diner — where I had a meal or three during my years in Amarillo — serves meals in an establishment with a baseball theme. There happens to be a fantastic portrait of Mickey Mantle on the wall … but I digress. The restaurant management plans to cater to the Sod Poodles fans who gather to talk about this or that about the season just passed and the future seasons that await them.

I am thrilled at the response the community delivered to the Sod Poodles. I am impressed with the venue built on Buchanan Street in downtown Amarillo. I am delighted at the new life being breathed into the city’s downtown district largely as a result of the enthusiasm generated by the baseball team.

Season No. 1 has come to a highly successful conclusion. We cannot know what Season No. 2 will bring, whether there’s a repeat in store or whether the team will rebuild as the Soddies’ parent club, the National League San Diego Padres, looks to place AA athletes with AAA ballclubs … or even with the major league club.

I get the sense the offseason enthusiasm will hold up. I mean, social media do have a way of helping keep the embers hot. The Sod Poodles’ fans are using social to something that looks to be close to maximum advantage.

Why comment on the Soddies? Let me count the reasons

I don’t know this to be fact, but there well might be some eyebrow-raising among Amarillo baseball fans regarding these occasional blog posts from someone who no longer lives in Amarillo.

So, with that I’ll provide an answer … or three.

I am a baseball fan. A big part of me wishes I could attend Amarillo Sod Poodles baseball games at Hodgetown. I cannot, given that I now live in Collin County. Still, my interest in baseball goes back to my boyhood. I love watching the game. I loved playing the game, although I didn’t work hard enough to become good enough to play it for any length of time.

I once was a longtime Major League Baseball fan. I followed Mickey Mantle’s career from the early 1950s until it ended prior to the start of the 1969 season. My mornings from April to October every year compelled me to look at the sports pages of my hometown newspaper to see how Mickey did the night before.

I love the game of baseball! So, there’s that.

I am proud of Amarillo’s downtown revival. I lived in Amarillo long enough to watch its downtown transform from a moribund, semi-conscious business district into something that is taking deep breaths and is reviving before our very eyes. I am glad to know the Sod Poodles, the AA baseball franchise that relocated there from San Antonio, are a big part of that revival.

I want to comment on that revival whenever I get the chance or sense there’s something new and worthy of commentary.

My interest in the city hasn’t abated since our departure. My wife and I departed Amarillo in the spring of 2018. We settled initially in Fairview, tucked between Allen and McKinney just north of Dallas. Then we moved to Princeton early this year. I am getting acquainted with the politics of Princeton and Collin County.

However, one doesn’t spend nearly 18 years commenting in local media about a community’s health and well-being and live there for more than 23 years without retaining an interest in the goings-on.

My interest is strong. I like commenting on positive trends I see developing there. Yes, I also intend to keep my eyes and ears open to matters that deserve a more critical look, and I have done that on occasion.

As for the Amarillo Sod Poodles, well … I intend to make my former city’s business my own business.

I appreciate the interest in what I have to say. To those who might wonder why I bother, I do so because I feel like it.

Sportsmanship is alive and well in St. Louis

Sportsmanship lives. It flourishes in the hearts of baseball fans who flocked to a ballpark to cheer for a man who no longer plays for their home team, but who has conducted himself with grace and dignity throughout his magnificent Major League Baseball career.

Albert Pujols spent the first 11 years of his Hall of Fame-quality career playing for the St. Louis Cardinals. Then the prospect of bigger money came calling and he ended up signing a lucrative contract with the Los Angeles Angels. A different city, team and a different league.

There were reportedly some hard feelings when Pujols left St. Louis, where he had been compared to the late Stan “The Man” Musial, the greatest Cardinal of them all.

Pujols’s stellar career is winding down. He is approaching 40 years of age. The Angels came to St. Louis to play the Cardinals in a three-game set at Busch Stadium.

How did the Cardinals fans greet Albert Pujols when he stepped into the batter’s box for the first time Friday night? With a two-minute standing ovation.

Then just this afternoon, Pujols cracked career home run No. 646 into the left field seats. The fans reaction? They stood and cheered … again! They kept cheering after Pujols entered the dugout. They stood longer and cheered some more, forcing Pujols to come back onto the field, tip his cap to the fans, who responded with even louder cheers.

This is what sportsmanship looks like. This is how players with class treat their fans with class and how fans respond with class when the player comes back wearing an “enemy” uniform.

We hear a lot of about boo birds pouring catcalls onto the field at players who burn their bridges when they depart their teams for greener and more lucrative pastures.

I am heartened to realize that surely isn’t always the case.

Well done, Albert Pujols and well done, also, St. Louis Cardinals fans.

Why isn’t this guy in the MLB Hall of Fame?

I can’t believe I’m thinking of this, but I am and I feel the need to state my piece.

Bill Buckner died this week at the age of 69. He crafted a stellar Major League Baseball career that ended in 1990. He collected more than 2,700 hits; he compiled a .289 batting average; he won the National League batting title in 1980; he batted more than .300 in seven of his years playing in the big leagues. Buckner appeared in several All-Star Games. He played for more than 22 years in both the American and National leagues.

Oh, but he is known to most baseball fans for one play. It occurred in the 1986 World between the Boston Red Sox (Buckner’s team at the time) and the New York Mets. In the sixth game of the series, Mookie Wilson of the Mets hit a “routine” ground ball to Buckner, who was playing first base. Buckner bent down to catch the ball — and then watched it scoot between his feet under his glove.

Error on Buckner! The Mets scored the winning run and went on to win the World Series.

For that play, Buckner was vilified, scorned, ridiculed, hassled and harassed for the rest of his career and beyond. The Red Sox eventually brought him back to honor him. The fans who once booed at the sound of his name stood and cheered him that day.

Which brings me to my central point: Is that single play responsible for this fine player being denied enshrinement in baseball’s Hall of Fame?

Players with far less impressive stats are in the hall. I think, for instance, of Pittsburgh’s Bill Mazeroski, a second baseman who — in my view — is in the HoF because of one hit: a Game 7 walk-off home run to win the 1960 World Series against the New York Yankees.

Buckner’s window for induction into the HoF induction has been closed for a long time. The old-timers committee cannot even let him in.

It’s a shame. The guy could hit a baseball. Absent that one play in the 1986 Fall Classic, he could field his position, too.

For what it’s worth, I think he deserved induction into the Hall of Fame . . . right along with Bill Mazeroski.

How much would The Mick, Say Hey and The Man earn?

Whenever I read reports about the salaries being paid to today’s pro athletes, I am drawn back to when I was a kid who idolized earlier athletic icons.

Mike Trout, the best Major League Baseball player on Earth, has signed a deal worth $430 million over the next 12 years. He plays centerfield for the Los Angeles Angels, who want to keep him on their roster seemingly for the rest of his playing career.

Wow! That is a ton of scratch, man.

I won’t argue the point about the rightness or the wrongness of these salaries. It’s what sports franchise owners are willing to pay. If they’re willing, then athletes are entitled to ask for it.

Still, I cannot help but wonder what some of these iconic athletes I used to admire would earn. Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Henry Aaron, Ted Williams? I figure it would be in the gazillions!

I read these “sports” stories today and wonder whether competent sports writing these days requires advanced degrees in economics. These news stories revolve around “salary caps,” and “room” at the top of teams’ payrolls and all those complications that muddy it all up.

Congratulations, Mike Trout. You’re set for several lifetimes. Behave yourself and — dare I say it? — don’t get hurt!

RIP, Willie McCovey

Oh, man. This saddens me.

Willie McCovey has died at the age of 80. He was a first-ballot member of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. He led the National League twice in home runs.

He was considered at the peak of his career to be the “most dangerous hitter” in baseball. The term “dangerous,” I reckon, had something to do with how hard he could hit a baseball.

I want to share a brief Willie McCovey story here, just to let you know, I suppose, that I have been able to get around during my life.

In August 1964, I ventured to San Francisco after winning a trip by selling subscriptions to my hometown newspaper, the Portland Oregonian. I wasn’t yet 15 years of age.

We got to attend a baseball game on that trip at Candlestick Park, where the San Francisco Giants played hardball. They played the Cincinnati Reds that day. I got to see two other Hall of Famers that day: Willie Mays for the Giants and Frank Robinson for the Reds.

Willie McCovey, though, did something quite impressive that day. Candlestick Park was known as a place where the wind howled in from San Francisco Bay. The outfield was exposed to that wind, and it was blowing that day briskly into the stadium.

McCovey, who hit left-handed, managed to blast a home run out of Candlestick Park, over the right-field fence, straight into that hideous wind and into the bay, which came to be known as McCovey Cove.

It was quite a thrill to see McCovey hit a home run that day. If memory serves, it gave the Giants the only run they scored that day; the Reds won the game, with Robinson hitting three home runs into the left field seats.

But … this tribute is about Willie McCovey. Yeah, he could hit a baseball. He could hit it hard.

May he rest in peace.

World Series is over … and I don’t really care!

There clearly is something wrong with me.

Once upon a time, when I was a much younger individual, I cared about the Fall Classic, the World Series of Major League Baseball. I watched every inning, every pitch, every hit, every throw from the outfield.

This year? I didn’t watch any of it. Not a single, solitary moment of the Series that ended with Boston Red Sox beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games.

Fine. Put away the bats, balls, gloves, resin, chalk and wait’ll next season.

I cannot tell you precisely when my disinterest took root. I have said that free agency helped ruin my interest in the game. That was when MLB decided to let players shop themselves around to the highest bidder when their current contracts were up. That meant few players stayed with the same team that brought them all that fame, stardom and, um, money.

For that matter, my favorite Hall of Famers are the guys who played their entire careers for one team: Tony Gwynn, George Brett, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Mike Schmidt, Cal Ripken Jr., Robin Yount … you get the idea. OK, I’ll concede to favoring a few other non-single-teamers as well. Henry Aaron, Willie Mays and Nolan Ryan come to mind.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it has nothing to do with the game, which is still fun to watch. Yes, I’ll watch a game on occasion during the regular season. The postseason? All those playoffs — the division series, the league championship series, then the World Series? Pfftt!

It didn’t used to be this way. Believe me. When Bill Mazeroski hit that Series-winning home run for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960, defeating the New York Yankees in the seventh game after being outhit for the Series by the Yanks, I went into a funk for an entire offseason. 

As recently as 1991, I had great interest in the World Series. That year, the Minnesota Twins beat the Atlanta Braves, also in seven games, in what — in my mind — was the most remarkably well-played World Series in the history of the event. Every game was won by the home team; many of the games were decided in the bottom of the final inning; the clutch hitting, base-running and fielding was stellar in the extreme.

I was a huge Mickey Mantle fan. Each day from April through much of October started the same for me: I got up, went out to get the paper, I went directly to the sports page to read the box scores from the previous day’s game; I wanted to see how Mick did at the plate.

That was then. These days, well, I couldn’t care less about it.

I do still love the game, when I can fire up enough interest to watch it at the Major League level.

Hey, it just occurs to me: Amarillo, where my wife and I lived for 23 years before moving away, is going to welcome a Double A minor-league franchise next spring.

That is where I’ll get my baseball fix whenever we travel back to the High Plains.

Don’t give up on me just yet. It’s still the Grand Old Game.