Openers

Baseball traces its origins back over two hundred years. The sport has evolved constantly since that time. Today’s game would be incomprehensible to the guys in a field in the early Nineteenth Century. Much like the English Common Law, changes in the rules have occurred to accommodate fair competition, or to gain a tactical advantage, without disturbing the balance of the game. One example is the Infield Fly Rule, which prevents a team from achieving a cheap double play by allowing a pop fly to drop and forcing runners.

The most dramatic change in my time has been the advent of the Designated Hitter, at least in the American League; but also widely in the minor leagues and college and high school and even Little League. When I played “beer league” softball, we had ten fielders, plus a DH and an “extra hitter”, for a batting order of twelve, two of whom did not play the field.

Other changes have been more subtle, occurring only over multiple years (at least, until the inexplicable surge in home runs in 2019). For example, starting pitchers now rarely throw a complete game, something that was still common in the 1960’s and fully expected before that. This led first to the advent of “closers” and then to the importance of “middle relief” and bullpens. For the first half of the Twentieth Century, the guys in the bullpen were failed – or injured – starters. There were few if any relief specialists. By the turn of the Century, teams were concentrating on closers and the bullpen almost as much as on reliable starters.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming. Having effectively truncated the responsibility of starting pitchers at the end of the game, in the past couple of years managers have begun to eliminate the role of a starter from the first pitch. Teams with strong deep bullpens have occasionally forsaken a starting pitcher entirely, instead using a reliever as an “opener” for an inning or two, to be followed by a series of middle relievers, and, if successful, the closer. The trends is not yet widespread, but it is surprisingly being utilized in the post-season, the most important games of the year. That suggests that it will grow in the future.

One perceived advantage of using an “opener” is rest for the starting staff. With the prevalence of five-man staffs, the need for further rest seems surprising. Rarely does any starter exceed two hundred innings any more, something that was common in the days of four-man pitching staffs and complete games. Sometimes a starter may be injured, and an opener is preferable to moving up the entire rotation to pitch on less rest, or hustling up an unproven minor leaguer for a spot start. Of course, the usual practice in past years would have been to throw one of the failed starters in the bullpen; but today those guys are all specialists.

The advent of the opener approach can also be attributed to sabremetrics. Managers now have access to statistics that show how many starters lose effectiveness after their first time through the opposing batting order. The second and third time through, “familiarity breeds success” for the hitters. Somehow, seeing a pitcher for the second time around creates more of an advantage than the pitcher feels in facing the hitter again. Someday this approach will yield a perfect game, where each of three hurlers faces nine hitters.

The downside of using an opener and a “bullpen game” is that all those pitchers will be tired, and some will not be available the next day. If the following day’s starter does not pitch deep into the game, the manager is left with a bunch of guys who have pitched the day before, and who may not be effective on a second straight day. The opener approach can easily snowball, to the point that the bullpen is being overused. The need for fresh troops has contributed to the expansion of bullpens to seven, eight, and even nine pitchers, with either one less starter, or fewer bench players. The latter is particularly true in the American League, where the DH Rule means fewer pinch hitters are needed.

Like so many other changes in baseball, the use of openers will spread, if the experiment is deemed to be successful. If so, I can even foresee a team that abandons starting pitchers entirely, in favor of ten or eleven or twelve hurlers who can pitch a few innings each, every other day or so. This novel approach would be a logical extension of how young pitchers are groomed for success. With the widespread use of pitch counts, for fear of arm injuries, few if any young pitchers throw 100 pitches in a game. Rather, the widespread gospel is to throw “as hard as you can as long as you can”, and then give way. (Note that this approach has arguably increased, not decreased, the incidence of severe injuries to pitchers.). It’s a system geared to produce hurlers who can last three of four innings, or one turn through the lineup.

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Not the Retiring Sort

The Decision

I retired a few weeks after I turned 67.  I am fortunate enough to have a decent government pension and generous medical benefits.  (My experience signing up for Medicare and in caring for elderly relatives suggests that the broader coverage and efficient administration is superior to private health care options, such that “Medicare for All” would make sense, if we could afford it.). I loved my job, yet I felt it was about time to turn the page.  I am not much of a relaxer, and a terrible golfer, so I need to keep busy.  That could take the form of part-time work, travel, volunteering, and writing (as here).  But, as others warned me, it’s an adjustment.

Advice from Retirees

The best advice I got was [1] don’t stop shaving; [2] don’t stop bathing; and [3] don’t sleep until noon.  Done.  Or not done.  Get out everyday and see folks and do things.  Even if it’s just a Shingles vaccination or a visit to the Pension Office or a run in the woods.  I joked to my wife that my days would be spent in the local coffee shop in the morning, the YMCA at midday, and the local bar in the afternoon.  I haven’t done those things.  I flew off to Florida to see my newest grandson the morning after my last day of work.  I came back and then drove to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for the annual fishing trip with four old friends (the timing of retirement to coincide with the annual October trip was no accident).  Now I’m giving this site the attention it deserves.

Feedback

I’d love to hear from other retirees.  Admittedly I’m a neophyte with much to learn.  Yeah, already had the mystery of what day of the week it was, since they all look the same now.  But there is a calendar app for that.  When someone wants to schedule something, it’s still fun to joke that I have no plans.  But amazingly my calendar is filling up fast.  Because it’s harder to say no to things during the day that I could never fit in when I was working.  I wonder if that is the experience that others have had.

Permanent Vacation?

Objectively, the way we typically handle retirement, similar to the way we handle vacation or time off, is unrealistic and defies common sense.  Typical U.S. firms work employees hard, seeking productivity, and skimp on time off, as compared to the rest of the world.  Those businesses pay for that shortsighted attitude in absence, delinquency, stress-related illness, and discontent leading to turnover.  I pushed back by reserving time for family vacations, after-school soccer and baseball and football games, teacher conferences, and the occasional mental health day.  It never hurt my career.  Plus I championed a policy at work to allow flexibility for employees to work from home on an occasional basis, something that canoe achieved with no loss of productivity; just a decrease in stress.

The Cliff

For me, like most, retirement is a bit like stepping off a cliff (I hope with a glider or parachute) – going from full-time responsibility to no responsibility beyond cooking and cleaning and laundry.  How could I be an essential cog in a busy office with considerable responsibility one day, and no job the next day?  Of course, I didn’t suddenly become incompetent or worthless.  Indeed, I have the nagging feeling that my skills are being wasted now.  I was raised to believe that “from those to whom more is given, more is expected”, and suddenly I am having a hard time paying anything forward.  A logical approach to aging would be to cut back gradually from five work days a week to four, then three, two, one, and full retirement, over a period of years.  I have a friend who is a dentist who did exactly that, in the course of selling his practice.  But for most of us, collecting a pension involves tax and legal bars to “double-dipping”.  There is a disincentive to continue working part-time, which is a shame.  Particularly when the extra income could come in handy some day.

Travels 

On the other hand, I can now extend a visit abroad to a month or more, renting an efficiency apartment monthly rather than a hotel room nightly, at considerable savings.  With wifi, I can stay in touch with family, and even work from abroad.  I look forward to getting to know a foreign place by living like a local, shopping for groceries, learning the language, riding the bus.  My wife and I have been fortunate to spend weeks in South Africa, New Zealand, and Costa Rica in recent years.    Wonderful; but it was hard to leave, and hard to move around so often.  We were only just scratching the surface.  Especially when compared to the expatriates we would meet, who had made the ultimate decision to move abroad.  None seemed to regret it, even the seeming isolation from family and friends.  Apparently those you left behind love to visit, when they have a place to stay.  So part of traveling for us will be auditioning other countries and towns as a possible place to resettle.  One lesson from travels thus far is how interconnected we are, answering emails and forwarding photos from the lodge in Kruger National Park, chatting  with my Mother while staring out at the Pacific in Costa Rica, solving a problem at work from a hostel on the South Island of New Zealand.  Small adjustments are necessary, such as realizing that NFL games start at 7:00 am Sunday morning in Hawai’i (and the sports bars are open for business).

Best of Both Worlds

Our goal is to show that a couple can travel all over the world, while keeping in touch, sharing, and working remotely.  Most “desk” jobs can now be done from just about any “desk” that has a high-speed Internet connection.  It could be a dining room table in Argentina, or a picnic table in Portugal, or a countertop in Australia.  For some the constant exposure of being connected is a curse.  For those far away in distant lands, that easy link to home is a lifeline that makes travel possible.  I was overseas in South Africa when a bed opened for my Mother in an assisted living facility.  She was on a waiting list, and we had a contingency plan in place.  My sons back home were able to oversee her transportation and help her move in, with limited guidance from me.  With the time difference, I took a call at 4:00 in the morning, confirming that she was safe and sound.  Naturally I would have wanted to be there; but honestly I could orchestrate the entire thing from 10,000 miles away, including a heartfelt call, clear as a bell.  We should use these amazing technological tools for good, without letting them overwhelm us.

Journey

At this point, I am only half a month into this retirement adventure.  Only this week have I been home long enough to settle into a routine.  I’m keeping busy.  I like it that my time is my own; but I can see how that blessing could be a curse, if the time is wasted.  Thus far my task list seems never-ending, to the point I wonder how I managed to accomplish anything at home, while working full-time.  I’ve spent time on future financial projections, something that was always rushed and decidedly half-assed before.  More time to read, to listen to podcasts and new music, to shop more carefully and thoughtfully for food to cook with more care and time.  Projects around the house that demand hours and even days.  Going to the gym at off-peak times.  Corresponding with friends and volunteering in the community.  And yeah, extra time on a gorgeous Fall day for a long walk in the woods, maybe with my headphones and a curated playlist.  In some ways, where I left off, only 43 years ago, when I took my first full-time job.

 

Debates

Not sure the current debate format gives the candidates fair or proper exposure. The lack of any depth is concerning. Sound bites and quips prevail over thoughtful reasoned answers. With a dozen contenders and pretenders on the stage, no one person gets a chance to catch their breath and elaborate. The benefit for the voter is thus limited.

A case in point is the posturing over the cost – to the middle class – of “Medicare for All”. Elizabeth Warren repeatedly stated (accurately) that her plan would reduce overall costs for health care. Bernie Sanders admitted that his plan (essentially the same plan) would raise taxes. Both were right. The plans would be funded by increased taxes – mostly on the wealthy. But patients would be spared premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, so that the overall bill paid would be less. Regrettably, the time it would take to recite this explanatory paragraph is time the participants did not have and were not given.

Kudos to Cory Booker for chiding others – notably Klubuchar and Buttigieg – who attacked Warren and created “Republican talking points”. As Beto O’Rourke demonstrated, it is possible to disagree on policy without being nasty and confrontational. Beto was the victim of a rather petty dispute over gun buy-back programs, which have been highly successful in places like Australia. The distinction between “mandatory” and “voluntary” programs is misleading. The usual model would ban purchase or sale of a weapon, say a military assault rifle, and give current owners a chance to sell their weapons, before they become illegal to hold at some point in the future.

This is not the election cycle for appealing to bipartisanship. That dog won’t hunt. Democratic voters recall how Obama genuinely pursued a “third way” in 2008, only to be eviscerated by the Senate Republicans. When McConnell won’t even allow a vote on a moderate judicial nominee like Neil Gorsuch (a clear violation of the Constitution), there is no middle ground. This is a war, forced by the opposition, make no mistake, and the public wants warriors. That is why Warren is surging in the polls, Sanders is holding his own, and Joe Biden – a fine man – is fading.

The fundamental lesson from 2016 is that the “middle” in American politics is vanishingly small. A campaign intended to combat extremism with moderation is doomed to fail as weak and lackluster. The tacking to the middle that served Bill Clinton so well in 1992 and 1996 was of no use to Hillary in 2016. That and a condescending, inept campaign leadership turned a sure win into too close a contest. Combined with Republican vote suppression and Russian manipulation of social media, and millions of alienated Sanders supporters (largely stonewalled by the Clinton campaign), allowed a failed developer disapproved by a majority of Americans to steal an election, despite trailing by nearly 3,000,000 votes.

The way to avoid that sorry result is to nominate a strong candidate who stands for something. Voters in distress don’t waste much time on labels like “progressive” or “liberal” or “conservative”. They want solutions to problems like low wages, high health costs, underfunded public schools, and climate change. Polls show they embrace approaches like the Green New Deal and Social Security for all, because they are bold strokes that really confront critical problems and leapfrog over gridlock.

So, the antidote for Trump is not a return to normalcy but a clean departure that deals with problems, rejects greed and misogyny and racism, and delivers results. The lesson from the Obama years is that a bold stroke like the Affordable Care Act, so controversial when narrowly adopted (God bless John McCain), becomes a popular policy when given a chance to work, even stripped of some of its components. The argument now is not about abandoning it, but how to extend its benefits to more people.

This is not a time for moderates like Klubuchar or Buttigieg or Booker, however pragmatic and even-tempered they may be. The public senses – correctly – that plodding along and seeking incremental changes is moving deck chairs on the Titanic, when dealing with greenhouse gases and inequality and soaring healthcare costs. Trump, who pretends to deal in bold strokes, captivated those who were down on their luck and desperate for solutions. But life is not a reality show. What those folks really need, and should want, are Warrens’s many plans for action, Medicare for all, and he Green New Deal and the economic spurt that it would spur.

Whoever becomes the nominee, he or she would have a wealth of talent to draw from on threat stage. Kamala Harris would make a dynamic Attorney General. I would create a cabinet-level position to deal with climate change, with Tom Steyer in charge. Bernie or Warren as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Tulsi Gabbard or Mayor Pete as Secretary of Defense. Andrew Yang as Secretary of Commerce. Joe Biden, finally, as Secretary of State. Cory Booker at HUD. Klubuchar as Majority Leader. And so on. We are going to need the first team.

Those who fear Trump will repeat are ignoring the facts and the polls. One remarkable result is that Trump’s approval rating has hovered around 40%, never ever exceeding 50% at any time. His divisive rhetoric and “playing to his base” means he has no path to a majority. Without Russian interference, with all votes counted, he would have lost in 2016. His fabled base, small as it is, has nothing to show for their support. They were suckers to believe that he would help them, the industrial workers, coal miners, opioid victims. Regardless of who the Democrats nominate, they are looking at an overwhelming victory over the least popular incumbent ever to run for re-election.

Impeachment versus ballot box is a false choice. The Constitution mandates both. When the President has subverted foreign policy, protecting an ally from an adversary, to politics, and has obstructed justice, he is subject to impeachment and trial and, based on the admissions and accumulating evidence, conviction and removal from office. It’s not an either/or. Regardless of the outcome of the impeachment, there will be an election in 2020. As several of the candidates said last night, we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

It infuriates me that the same people who worship the Founders can be terrified of the Constitution. It truly is a brilliant document, and the impeachment process, like the process for resolving disputed elections, is pure genius at work. Shame on the Supreme Court for cowering at the thought of letting Congress – as mandated by the Constitution – resolve the designated Florida vote in 2000. At bottom it is a process issue. It was nothing short of cowardly for the Court to interrupt the process and declare a winner, without any basis to do so. Al Gore may have seen himself as statesmanlike for accepting the result, but the clear majority of voters who supported him were silenced. Let’s not make the same mistake, and shy away from the process that was designed for exposure of “high crimes and misdemeanors”.

October in April

Here is the view from early April of what the pennant races should look like in early October, after all the dust has settled on what should be a memorable 2016 regular season.

NL East:  The Mets have dominant starting pitching and good defense, so they can afford a punch-and-judy offense in a big home ballpark.  Once again the Gnats have retooled and have a new manager and the MVP, but the same holes, good enough for second place and a Wild Card trip to the playoffs.  Miami has Stanton and a healthy Jose Fernandez and should be better, in third.  My beloved Phillies are on the long road back, with Mikail Franco taking his place as one of the new generation of stars, but the loss of Aaron Altherr in a thin OF hurts.  The Bravos are a year behind in their dismantling, and still have to hit bottom before rebounding.  They will suck in their tanking year.

NL Central:  No one thought the Red Sox would ever win until they did, and the same holds for the Cubs.  They have the best team in the Division and the League, and a great manager.  They’ll get to the World Series this year, and what happens then is anybody’s guess.  You have to admire the Pirates for doing more with less than anybody else, but their pitching is stretched too thin.  That leaves the depleted Cardinals, who will resemble the team that limped home last year, and not the front-runners from last Spring.  The Brewers won’t be competitive, and the Reds have been in fire sale mode, with nothing left.  They look like the Sixers of baseball

NL West:  The baseball Giants are a trendy pick in an even year, but I resisted, until the Snakes lost A.J. Pollock, and the Trolley-Dodgers began looking like a M.A.S.H. unit.  This should still be a close race, but it looks like AZ and LA will be fighting with one hand (presumably in a sling?) tied behind their respective backs.  Oh yeah, the Padres and Rockies are in this Division too – as cannon fodder for the good teams.  Neither has any chance of competing this year.  Or next year.  They suffer in the strange twilight of not yet hitting bottom and no plausible road back.

AL East:  Intriguing.  I seriously think that any one of the five teams could win the Division under a plausible scenario.  My personal favorite has to be the Blue Jays, who have a lineup of sluggers and still solid pitching; although these things are not won on paper.  The Rays have improved remarkably and steadily, and part of that is just getting good pitchers healthy again and playing great defense.  That thing about not winning on paper applies to the Red Sox, who improved themselves and are sentimental favorites in Big Papi’s last year; but will fall short.  Sure the Yankees spent some money, as per usual, but they have age and holes in the lineup and pitching staff and at closer.  Which brings us to the Orioles, who are good enough to be competitive, but not good enough to win.

AL Central:  I like the Motor City Kitties as a rebounding dark horse this year.  Last year, they didn’t deserve to be favorites, but were not a dreadful as their record.  Another fascinating dark horse is the Twinkies, who have slowly built up a nucleus of talented young players and smart free agent acquisitions.  The Champion Royals get no respect; but that’s their fault, for not replacing Cueto or Zobrist.  And the Native Americans probably deserve better than fourth place, but they fall slightly short in talent.  Even the Pale Hose look to be better, and in truth this may be a year when no team in this Division wins or loses more than 90 games.

AL West:  I fully expect Houston to continue their remarkable improvement, with all that young and improving talent, right into the World Series.  They are very good and getting better.  Their closest pursuer should be the instate rival and defending champ Rangers, who could finish second this year with last year’s record.  Look for the Mariners to be improved.  The Halos look old and depleted to me.  And you’ll notice all the talk of Billy Bill has died down since the A’s tanked; although in fairness that may be because the other teams have borrowed the approach.

Wild Card:  In the NL it’s the Gnats over the Pirates.  While over in the AL the Royals beat the Twinkies.

LCS:  Cubs over the Mets in seven memorable games for the NL crown.  in the AL, it’s Houston over the Blue Jays in an equally-exciting seven games.

WS:  These curse things, Bambinos and Goats, tend to last about a century.  The Baby Bears win a World Series over a Houston team that has a few titles in its future.

Thumbs Down

In my spare time, when not rooting for the Phillies, I’m entranced by the Cubbies, in part because they are now managed by my Lafayette College classmate, Joe Maddon, in part because I am in Chicago once or twice a year, and in part because they have not won a World Series in over a century.  The Cubs came dangerously close this past year, and they are gearing up for a serious run in 2016.  But a recent splurge to sign Jason Heyward to a bloated long-term contract is not going to help them.  It’s a step backward, IMHO.

Nothing against Heyward, or any athlete who accepts the money that professional sports owners are foolish enough to dole out.  It’s a business. I get that; but I still don’t have to like it.  I don’t begrudge Heyward the $184 million over eight years.  It’s just that only a few teams can afford that kind of coin, so it skews the competitive side of things (or would, if the teams spent their money wisely).  And these ridiculous contracts contribute to inflation at the ballpark.  Soon it will be hard to find a decent seat for under $50 bucks at Wrigley.  Oh, I’ll gladly pay it, fool that I am.  That’s not the point.  The point is, there is some kid whose dad or mom won’t be able to afford that; whole families will forego a trip to a major league baseball game; like football the game will continue to lose its proud working class roots, and become entertainment for the privileged classes. Which sucks.

What makes this worse is that Heyward is nowhere near worth that kind of money.  I’m not sure any outfielder who is not Bryce Harper or Mike Trout is worth that salary commitment.  Definitely not Jason Heyward, a .268 lifetime hitter, with all of 97 HR in six full major league seasons.  He has never driven in more than 82 runs in a season.  Last year for the Cardinals he drove in 60 and scored 79 in a full season, with 13 HR.  He was an All-Star once, in his rookie year.  If you prefer better metrics, he is one season removed from slugging .384 and an OPS of .735.  Mediocre. Oh, and in the post-season, a robust .208 BA.

Some would point to his speed, but this is a dude who is 6 foot 5 and 245 pounds.   His 23 SB last year were the most ever.  His average of 75 runs scored per year does not suggest blazing speed or wizardry on the base paths, either.  He’s not a bad player; but his total offensive contributions have been modest, to be kind.

Which leaves us with his much-touted defensive abilities.  He’s won three Golden Gloves as an outfielder, including last year, when he was fourth in OF assists with 10.  The advanced metrics are inconclusive.  His range factors, career and last year, are slightly below the league average.  His fielding average is slightly above the league average.  According to Baseball Reference, he was worth four fielding runs above average last year.  By a different measure, he saved the Cardinals 24 runs.

By the “Wins Above Replacement” metric, Heyward gained St. Louis two defensive wins in 2015 beyond what a typical OF would have yielded.  Based on the above stats, it’s hard to see where those two wins would come from, even in a 162 game season.  The total “WAR” figure is 6.5, good for 9th in the league, which, if I understand the math, means that Heyward somehow gained 4.5 more wins offensively, as compared to a replacement player.  That’s even harder to see, given that he was well into the middle range of offensive statistics.  My problem with WAR is that is doesn’t really tell you how a player makes the team better.  I find it hard to believe that the Cardinals won that many games, solely due to Heyward.

An issue for the Cubs is where to play Heyward.  His natural position is RF, which fits with his strong arm and limited range.  The incumbent there is Jorge Soler, an exciting young player with vast potential, already signed to a long-term contract.  It makes we wonder why the Cub management would overpay Heyward, when they are already set, and with a player who arguably has a higher ceiling.  Neither guy should be sitting on the bench next season.

LF will be manned by Kyle Schwarber and/or Kris Bryant, two young sluggers whose offensive production promises to far exceed Heyward’s.  Each is a defensive liability in the OF, but those limitations can be hidden in LF.  Schwarber can also catch, and Bryant played acceptable 3B last year, but each is expected to get time in the OF next year.  The Cubs also have 2009 Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan (Heyward was second in 2010), who has similar career numbers to Heyward (.268 BA, .340 OBP, .411 SLG vs. .268, ,353, 431 for Heyward); but is considered a below-average fielder and more of a fourth OF.

And the Cubs signed two-time All Star Ben Zobrist as well.  Zobrist’s career OPS of .786 is equivalent to Heyward at .784.  He is a super utility guy who can play 2B, 3B, and all three OF positions.  At $14 million bucks a year, he is not going to sit the bench, even for a guy making $23 million.  In theory he was signed to play 2B; but the Cubs have a bunch of young talented infielders, even after trading Starlin Castro away.  Javier Baez has power and speed and vast potential.  Addison Russell presumably takes over for Castro at SS.  Zobrist will play plenty of games in the OF, mostly in CF.

With this group, I’m not convinced that Heyward is an everyday player.  Meaning, if I were Joe Maddon (we both attended Lafayette College at the same time; but his success – richly deserved – has far surpassed my modest legal career), I would not sit Zobrist, or Bryant, or Schwarber, or Soler, or Baez, just to play Heyward.  Sure, Heyward is in the mix, but he is not the dominant player that his contract would suggest.  He does not stand out offensively, and the case has not been made that his defense would justify sitting any of the others.  None of the aforementioned would qualify as the mediocre “replacement” player in the WAR computations.

My point is, the Cubs, having added Zobrist and John Lackey, had a great chance to run the table in 2016, without Heyward.  Why pay such an obscene amount of money to a guy who, on merit, might not crack the Opening Day lineup for this team?  They are among the wealthiest of MLB teams, but that is a lot of money to pay for what amounts to a spare part.  Clearly management sees Heyward as a key part of the everyday lineup, but where?  Speed at the top, sluggers (including Anthony Rizzo as the cleanup hitter) in the middle, the highest I could see Heyward would be 7th, maybe 6th, but not enough pop for 5th in that lineup.

One thought I do buy into is that losing Heyward hurts the Cardinals more than signing him helps the Cubs.  Heyward’s offensive contributions were more important in a weakened St. Louis lineup last year.  Only Matt Carpenter topped 2o HR, and no one drove in more than his 84 RBI.  The Cards are looking at an entirely new outfield of Stephen Piscotty, Tommy Pham, and Randal Grichuk, LF to RF.  Each has the potential to eclipse Heyward someday.  None has played a full season in the bigs.

At the end of the day, which is to say the end of the season, St. Louis may miss John Lackey as much as Heyward.  They’re clearly expecting Adam Wainwright to pick up where he left off, as a dominant #1 starter.  That might happen.  They are also counting on four younger starters to pitch as well as they did last year, when each of Wacha, Martinez, Garcia, Lynn arguably enjoyed a career year.  That might happen too.  Or, as the stat heads would say, they could, collectively, regress to the mean.

Chicago should be the favorite to win the Division in 2016, over the Pirates and the Cards; but not because of the Heyward signing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dads & Sons

Baseball is a special gift passed on by dads to their sons, and their daughters, too (though not in my experience, with three sons and no daughters).  No one like me, who lost their father, before having kids, can easily forget the scene, in “Field of Dreams”, when Kevin Kostner, as Ray Kinsella, gets to introduce his dad to his grandkids.  On a ball field, where they can have a catch.  I’ve been to that ball field, in Dyersville, Iowa, where I had a catch, and thought of my Dad, and my kids.

My Dad remembered seeing Lou Gehrig, his favorite player, hit a long  home run to centerfield off of the Philadelphia Athletics in Shibe Park, between the LF grandstand and the flagpole, a distance that was 447 feet when I much later saw Phillies games in what became Connie Mack Stadium.  The distance was even longer, back when Lou was still playing.

I got to see Johnny Callison, then my favorite player, hit an inside-the-park home run in old Connie Mack Stadium, when his long fly ball landed on a catwalk at the bottom of the RF scoreboard, and bounced, as the opposing right-fielder jumped and swatted desperately at it.  Nothing quite like an inside-the-park HR.

I attended the first game at Philadelphia Veterans Stadium, in 1971, and later each of my sons would see many games there.  Ben and I saw Chase Utley hit his first major league HR – a grand slam!  Ben and I also were at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, to see Wilson Alvarez of the White Sox pitch a no-hitter against the Orioles.  My son James somehow became a fan of the old Montreal Expos of the mid-1990’s, with Tim Raines, Andres Galaraga, Dennis Martinez.  And my youngest, Michael, was with me when Citizens Bank Park opened with an exhibition game against the Indians, on a cold rainy day.  We thought the game would be called, and headed up late, when we heard it was still on, just delayed by the storm.  Most fans stayed away, and we were free to wander about the stadium and explore.

What I remember of that first visit to the new ball park is that first glimpse of the impossibly green field, under the lights on a gray blustery day, looking inviting and perfect.  So improbable amidst the brick and concrete and iron in an industrial area.  So much like the first view of the magical green field at Connie Mack Stadium, just as incongruous, in the middle of North Philadelphia row houses and urban decay.  As a kid I could not quite believe that was real grass and dirt, so my Dad took me down to the field after the game.  On that cold rainy day opening Citizens Bank Park, I could attribute those tears in my eyes to the wind, and not the pure joy I was feeling.

One night, as a kid, I went to a game at Connie Mack with my Dad.  He drove one of his big Buicks, and we arrived early enough (or the crowd was small enough) to park in the lot next to the stadium.  Parking spots were scarce, so the cars were parked head-to-toe, which meant that no one could leave early, or until the driver of the car ahead appeared.  After the game we hustled down to the lot, only to find that the car had a flat tire.  The cars were packed so close together that Dad could not find room to use the jack or remove the tire.  We waited until everyone else had made their way out, honking at us, leaving us in a big empty parking lot.

As my Dad finally worked on replacing the tire, he noticed a door open across the street at the ball park, and two figures emerge.  He told me they must be ballplayers, so why not take our scorecard and get an autograph?  Needless to say, I ran over and asked.  One of the guys bent down and signed.  I ran back, and in the dim light inside the Buick, my Dad read “Ray Culp” – a solid if unspectacular right-handed pitcher who would go on to have a long career.  I was pretty proud.  Then my Dad asked, “Why didn’t you ask the other guy too?”  And I froze.  No idea.  I was too excited.  I asked my Dad if he knew who that was.  “Jim Bunning”, my Dad laughed.  The year was 1964, and Jim Bunning had pitched a perfect game, and was leading the Phils in the pennant race that would culminate in a legendary collapse.  But all I could think of was what I had just missed.  My Dad gave me a hug and said, “next time”.  Jim Bunning went on the become a United States Senator from Kentucky.  Ah, no autograph.

I’ll post a recent photo of my sons and me at a Phillies game, still living the dream.  They know that I will not leave a game early, no matter what.  It’s the nature of the game itself.  No matter how far the Phils are behind, something special might happen – – an inside-the-park home run, or a triple play, or maybe just the debut AB of a guy who ends up in the HOF.

Here’s an example why my sons know not to ask to leave early.  Years ago, before they were born, I attended by first (and last, regrettably) Grateful Dead concert, in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Driving back north that night, we got as far as Richmond, Virginia.  The next morning, at breakfast, I happened to read in the local paper that the irrepressible Jim Bouton was attempting a comeback with the Braves.  So of course we went to the afternoon game, with the Rochester Red Wings.  Bouton sat in the bullpen and didn’t pitch.  But we did see a rare 5-4-3 around the horn triple play on a ground ball.  A Dead concert and a triple play in less than 24 hours!