Memorial Day Baseball

Braves 2012 Memorial Day HatMemorial Day is a day set aside to remember soldiers who have lost their lives in battle. It has also become the unofficial beginning of summer filled with swimming and BBQs. Lastly, Memorial Day is a day to enjoy a lot of baseball. All 30 teams are playing today, and a lot can happen.

After coming off back-to-back sweeps for a seven game losing streak, the Braves find themselves four games behind the Nationals and fourth place in the National League East. They need to turn it around and today could be the day. The Mets are surprising everyone being in second place in the East. There is still September, though. The Dodgers just about have the West wrapped up at the end of May, leading the second place Giants by 7.5 games going into today. This is essentially the same team that had a horrible 2011 season. It seems that the right ownership makes all the difference. The Reds are making me look like a genius holding onto first place by half a game in the Central.

In the American League it is even more exciting. The Rays can overtake first place and knock the Orioles down for the first time all season. If they do, we will see how the Orioles respond to adversity. Will they fold up and return to the bowels of the East, or will they step up and prove they are for real. The lead can also change hands in the Central division where the Indians are clinging to a half game lead over the White Sox.

There are a lot of things that can happen before the end of the season. There are a few of divisions that only have five games separating first place from last place. Some divisions are farther a part, but you can’t count anyone out yet. Any team can get hot and make a run. So on this Memorial Day, enjoy the games, enjoy the BBQ, but let’s not forget those who have sacrificed themselves for us.

A Memorial Day Surprise at Busch Stadium

Army SPC William Johanson-Kubin and Shelby FetschShelby Fetsch was supposed to throw out the first pitch at Busch Stadium last night. She was filling in for her boyfriend, Army SPC William Johanson-Kubin, who was supposed to be stationed overseas. He played the part of the catcher disguising his face with the catcher’s mask. After she threw the pitch, she was in for the suprise of her life.

After he revealed who he was , he took everything a step further and git on his knees and proposed to her. If you want to know her answer, you can head over to the Cut 4 blog and watch the video. The broadcast was a part of the “This One’s for You” broadcast that the Cardinals were showing on the Armed Forces Network to start the Memorial Day Weekend.

I have a lot of criticisms for Major League Baseball, but they always go all out to support our troops and make them feel appreciated. Every year on Memorial Day, July 4th, and September 11th, they always done their red, white, and blue hats that are always extremely popular with the fans. The appreciation for the troops dates all the way back to World War 1 when someone decided it would be a good idea to sing the National Anthem before the game to inspire nationalism. That practice has become common place.

Memorial Day is about a lot of things. It’s the unofficial beginning of summer so there are lots of BBQs, swimming parties, and relaxing. There is also a ton of baseball to watch. But let’s not lose sight of what Memorial Day is all about. It’s a day set aside to pay tribute to those who have sacrificed their freedoms, and even their lives, to ensure that we can enjoy our freedoms. We thank you for your service.

Lefty’s 16-mm Video of His Trip to Japan

Lefty: An American OdysseyIn 1934, Lefty Gomez, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and other American League and National League stars barnstormed in Japan. Gomez captured many images of the trip with his 16-mm camera. An excerpt from the forthcoming book Lefty: American Odyssey is featured in this week’s Sports Illustrated. Some of the intriguing video footage can be viewed, courtesy of Random House.

The video, described as “never-seen-before footage,” is compelling by itself. The included narrative successfully adds perspective to what would have been the perception of Babe Ruth travelling abroad to a country where he was revered. There is also the added perception of what the experience would have been like for the American baseball stars. This adds a great deal of depth and meaning to Lefty’s remarkable video.

The book can be previewed and purchased through Random House.

End of the Road for Kerry Wood

Kerry Wood after his final game1998 was an exciting time to be a Cubs fan. They had Sammy Sosa hit more home runs in a single season than anyone had ever hit, with the exception of Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds*. They also made the playoffs for the first time since 1989. 1998 was also the Rookie season of a pitcher who was supposed to be the anchor of a staff that would carry them to the promised land. His name was Kerry Wood. After, over 13 seasons, Wood announced his retirement yesterday.

There was a lot of hype surrounding Wood, and he lived up to it. In one of his first games in the Majors, he tied the Major League record by striking out 20 Houston Astros. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1998 after going 13-6 with 233 strikeouts. The playoffs didn’t work out as the Cubs would have hoped (they were swept in the first round by the Braves), but Cubs fans, and the rest of the baseball world thought it was a sign of things to come.

Things didn’t quite work out like they were supposed to in the early going, though. Wood missed the entire 1999 season due to Tommy John surgery and many wondered if the Rookie phenom would be able to return to form. Fears were calmed by 2001 when he went 12-6 and lead the league with 266 strikeouts. The Cubs added Southern California phenom, Mark Prior to their rotation and they seemed more poised than ever to finally get the brass ring that had eleuded them for so long. For the benefit of Cubs fans that may be reading this, I will not go into the 2003 playoffs.

Wood had a few more good years, but started to struggle. Then the unthinkable happened. He was traded from the Cubs to the Cleveland Indians. After 10 years on the Cubs, it was over. He went from a starter, to a reliever, and Cubs fans were behind him every step of the way. He did OK on the Indians, but was then traded to the Yankees. After a year on the Yankees, he made one of the classiest moves in sports. He called the Cubs General Manager and said that he wanted to play for the Cubs. After telling Wood that they could not afford him, he agreed to play for much less than he was worth because he wanted to be a Cub one more time.

The Cubs have struggled mightily for a few years now. Their fanbase doesn’t care. They’re used to it. Such devotion is limited to one team in professional sports – The Cubs. The most intensely loyal fans of any team in any sport. There were many signs on the final game of a 100 loss season that said “There’s Always Next Year”. There are even more on opening day that say “This is the Year”. When Kerry Wood was in his prime, those weren’t just hopeful signs. They had reason to believe. Fittingly, Kerry Wood ended his career with a strikeout. During over 13 seasons, he gave Cubs fans a lot to be hopeful about.

You can read a tribute to Wood by diehard Cubs fan, The Fair Base Ballist here.

The Brett Lawrie Suspension

Brett Lawrie throwing his HelmetBrett Lawrie is learning that he cannot throw his helmet down in anger over what he thinks is a bad call. After his actions on Tuesday, Major League baseball levied a four game suspension and a fine. The suspension came when umpire Bill Miller called two pitches strikes that Lawrie thought were balls. After he struck out looking, Lawrie was livid. He threw down his helmet and it hit Miller.

Some are saying that his suspension is very light considering that an umpire was struck with an object as a result of his aggression. Whether it was inadvertent, or not, is not the point. When Delmon Young was in the minors he was upset at a called strike, threw his bat and it hit the umpire. He received a 50 game suspension for that one.

Last week, when Cole Hamels intentionally hit Bryce Harper in the back with a pitch (formerly, a common practice in baseball), he received a five game suspension. That is longer than what Lawrie got for hitting an umpire with his helmet. Is that the right message? The argument can be made that Hamels was not really suspended because he is a pitcher and he didn’t even miss a start because the Phillies had an off day. While, technically that is true, it still goes down in the books as a five game suspension.

I am in favor of the suspension. What Lawrie did was uncalled for and should not be a part of baseball. I’m sure he did not mean to hit the umpire, but he should not have thrown his helmet. I’ve been warned by umpires at all levels about throwing my helmet, and I have seen teammates get tossed for throwing helmets. Whether the suspension was long enough is up for debate.

Do you think Lawrie’s suspension was long enough?

VIDEO: George Brett’s Pine Tar Home Run

George Brett celebrated his birthday yesterday, so in honor of that, here is the most famous ejection of all time. I hope you enjoy it.

Awful Ideas: Expanding the Balk Rule

Pick Off AttempytYahoo! Sports reported last week that Major League Baseball (MLB) was considering expanding the balk rule to include the infamous fake to third-throw to first move. MLB and the playing rules committee have agreed to make this play a balk, but the Player’s Union vetoed it for further review, but this rule can come into play as early as next season.

The balk is already one of the most, if not the most, controversial rules filled with grey areas and judgement calls. In section eight of the official rule book under “PItchers”, the word balk appears 14 times. If you talk to 10 baseball “experts” you might get five different answers. Everyone has a different line of what is, and what is not, a balk. Why muddy up the waters even more?

Adding to the absurdity of this rule is that the move hardly ever works. It might have worked 10 times in the 140 years of baseball. It’s not a move that is supposed to work at the Major League level. It is simply a move by the pitcher to let the runners know the he knows they are there. Another reason is does not work is because they have seen it since Little League. It fooled them then. It’s a great way for young pitchers to get anxious runners out at first when they are in a tight spot.

In his article for Yahoo! Sports, Kevin Kaduk points out that the move is unfair to left-handed pitchers because they cannot fake a throw to first without being called for a balk. It is ridiculous to change a long standing rule in baseball that would only apply to very few circumstances that also almost never results in an out. It would be like right-handed pitchers complaining that it i unfair that lefties can more easily pick off runners at first base.

If this goes through, along with the expansion of the playoffs, 2013 will be a very different MLB, and not for the better.

Negro League Players Get Their Just Due

Negro League Baseball MuseumRawlings announced, yesterday, that they would award Gold Gloves to nine players (one at each position) who played in the Negro Leagues. It is a great gesture by Rawlings to award these deserving players. The players will be announced in a ceremony and awards will be given on June 28th. It will be held at the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, MO, just ahead of the All-Star Game.

I cannot think of a better way to kick off the All-Star game festivities, than this long-overdue ceremonies. The players will be selected by a six person panel. One person on the panel is Bob Kendrick, the President of the Negro League Baseball Museum. He described the selection process this way:

These awards will recognize those players who didn’t make the jump to the Major Leagues and recognize exclusively Negro Leagues performances.

This announcement comes right on the heels of baseball-reference.com ending their years long project and adding Negro League player stats to their great site. this has ben a great year for the Negro League Museum, which is fitting as it is Negro League legend Buck O’Neil’s 100th birthday. During his life, O’Neil was an incredible ambassador for baseball and a true credit to the game. What a great tribute to his legacy.

This is a great gesture by Rawlings to do this. The Negro Leagues grew out of a result of a horrible “gentleman’s agreement” that kept African-American players out of the Major Leagues for nearly 80 years. The players made the best of a horrible situation and they are finally getting the credit they deserve. My hat is off to Rawlings.

To keep up with the Negro League Baseball Museum, be sure to follow @NLBMPrez on Twitter.

Cole Hamels Shouldn’t Be Suspended

Cole Hamels (Philadelphia Phillies) hitting Bryce Harper (Washington Nationals) with a pitch.Yesterday, Cole Hamels intentionally threw a pitch at Bryce Harper (video). While Bryce Harper was on base, he stole home, and Cole Hamels was bit by Jordan Zimmerman when he came up to the plate. Clearly, Hamels lost the battle, but more importantly, it was kept on the field and it was over and done with.

Today, Major League Baseball (MLB) announced that they would suspend Hamels for five games, basically one start. The length of the of the suspension is not the issue. The issue is the knee-jerk reaction of MLB to hand out suspensions for hitting their current “golden boy.” I’m not against Bryce Harper, in fact, I really hope he blossoms into a superstar and transcends the sport to attract new fans, but getting hit by a pitch, even intentionally, is part of the game.

Bryce Harper seemed to understand that when he trotted to first without a word to Hamels, or anyone else on the Phillies. Hamels seemed to understand it when he trotted to first after getting hit by a pitch. What will come of Zimmerman? Was he also in the wrong for hitting Hamels? It was just as intentional. Where should it end?

I have written many times about this subject in the short history of this blog, and I concede that I will probably have to write about it many more times. Pretty soon, pitchers are going to get so hamstrung that they will throw everything down the middle for fear of a suspension or hitting a batter. It’s ridiculous. I do not applaud Cole Hamels for hitting Harper intentionally, but I do applaud his honesty.

Say it Ain’t So, Mo

As the world knows by now, Mariano (Mo) Rivera tore his ACL during batting practice and will be out for the remainder of the 2012 season. Before the season, Rivera announced that this season would be his last. However, with the injury, he announced that he would return in 2013 to complete his remarkable Major League career.

Any way you look at it, Rivera is the greatest closer of all-time. He is the all-time leader in career Saves He is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and could pave the way for pitchers like Lee Smith to take his rightful place in Cooperstown. His career ERA for the regular season is an astonishing 2.21. It’s even more impressive when you consider that Rivera pitched his entire career in the American League, and he pitched most o his career in the heart of the steroids era.

When you look at his numbers in the postseason, it is even more astonishing. He was outright unhittable. His career postseason ERA was a minuscule 0.70. In 141 innings in the postseason, he gave up only 11 runs and just 2 home runs. It was almost a sure bet that the game was over when Mo entered the game. As sure of a bet as there ever has been, anyway. He also won five World Series rings.

It is fitting that Rivera will end his career on the mound, instead of in batting practice. I applaud the decision to come back in 2013. I have never been a fan of the Yankees (especially after they beat my beloved Braves in 1996 and 1998), but it is almost impossible to not have respect for a guy like Rivera, who represents everything that is right with the game. Hopefully, he can come back in 2013 and dominate hitters just like he always has.

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