Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Wrigley Bowl

This week the Illinois Fighting Illini and Northwestern Wildcats are playing in their respective bowl games, which are supposed to be the pinnacle of a good season. But Illinois and Northwestern already had their season's biggest game when they played each other in last month's Wrigleyville Classic--the first football game at Wrigley Field in 40 years. It was an electric atmosphere, and I remember it like yesterday.

When I first heard that my alma mater, Illinois, would be playing against Northwestern at Wrigley Field, it seemed like the perfect way to wake this sleeping rivalry. I had been to their 2008 game in Dyche Stadium and came away very disappointed; not only had the Illini failed to show up and earn their bowl eligibility, but the stadium wasn't even 70% full. What should have been a home game for Northwestern was instead a lackluster crowd split at about 50/50. Plus that day was cold. If I have to watch the Illini fritter away their bowl hopes against their rivals, it only adds insult to injury watching it happen while turning into an icicle.

The best college football rivalries with rich traditions are games like Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, Florida-Florida State, Texas-Oklahoma, Army-Navy, and so on. From a national perspective, Illinois-Northwestern is about as interesting as a UConn women's basketball game. (Apologies to Geno Auriemma.) When I was sitting in a frigid Dyche Stadium in 2008, there were six signs hanging for the seasons that Northwestern had gone to bowl games. While I knew Northwestern's 100-plus years of football history wasn't exactly filled with glorious conquests, I had forgotten that their grand total of bowl appearances as of 2008 was only six. I couldn't help but chuckle to myself at the time, although by game's end with the Illini's butts' kicked and mine frozen, there wasn't anything left to laugh about.

But everything changed when it was announced that the Illinois-Northwestern game was coming to Wrigley Field. The mystique of Wrigley meant that the rivalry would get some much-needed energy.  Finally, people other than diehard Illini and Wildcat fans would care about the game, even if only to see football played on a national baseball landmark.

On the day of the big game I hopped on the Purple Line train at Evanston's Dempster Street station and headed south. You always overhear the darnedest things on CTA trains. This time it was some guy with a big cello telling a stranger about his upcoming gig, how it would be the first time his father would see him with his new band and his hopes of making him proud; oh, and that he was dating two women--one of whom coincidentally happened to be a mutual friend of the stranger. Of course, cello guy asked him to keep this info secret. 

At the Howard Street Station I switched to the Red Line train. On the other track I could see the Holiday train with Santa's sleigh and toys, a quintessential Chicago tradition. Once on the Red Line, I had to stand and people were packed in like sardines. A woman and her two children were sitting practically beneath me. The kids, no more than ten and seven years old, were swearing regularly with f-bombs. Their mother had no problem with this and in fact joined in.

More and more people kept piling into the train at each stop. It was an uncomfortable ride that saw personal space invaded, but I was still in a good mood. Earlier in the day I had watched ESPN's College GameDay on TV. The whole crew was in Wrigleyville for the broadcast and the place was already buzzing. Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, and Desmond Howard always do a great job, but today they seemed to have a little more excitement in their voices. They also had Erin Andrews join them on the set for a while. When Ernie Banks ("Mr. Cub") led them all in the singing of Take Me Out To The Ball Game, it was a memorable moment.

GameDay also took a behind-the-scenes look at historic Wrigley Field. They showed the surprisingly small, cramped conditions of the locker rooms with a dearth of shower heads and a narrow, winding hallway where the players would have to walk single file for about 90 seconds to reach the playing field.  Think about that for a moment: Walking a minute-and-a-half through a narrow, dimly lit tunnel just to make it from the locker room to the field.

And of course GameDay covered the last-minute rule change. Due to the brick wall being way too close to the east end zone, the teams' offenses would have to head toward the west end zone for the entire game. Erin Andrews gave an in-depth report from the dangerous east end zone; and then ESPN went to their other sideline reporter to cover the slightly safer west end zone. (I think it's just a coincidence that I remember Erin Andrews' name but not the other guy reporting on the sidelines, whoever he was.)

C'mon guys. What would have been so dangerous about playing in this end zone?

Finally we reached the Addison Street stop. I got off, along with practically everyone else. Fans dressed in the dueling colors of orange and purple were everywhere. It was a bottleneck trying to get down the stairs and out of the station. My plan was to go west on Addison, but that would have been like trying to swim against a strong ocean current. Instead my path was pushed north along Sheffield Avenue where the masses headed toward the giant party known as "Wildcat Way," where tents, games, souvenirs, and a cover band playing rock songs entertained a sea of humanity. I finally latched onto a trash can and pulled myself out of the rapid waters near a bar called Murphy's Bleachers. With so many people passing by, I barely had enough room to tweet. The atmosphere felt like a bowl game.

Across the street from Murphy's is Harry Caray's statue. During preparations for the Illinois-Northwestern game, the statue was cracked. Some caring fan decided to help remedy the situation with a band-aid.

I took the scenic route around the stadium, soaking in the atmosphere. Finally I met up with Westy, a college friend who had gotten me the ticket. After going through Wildcat Way again (this time I literally rubbed elbows with Northwestern's marching band as we plowed our way through the crowd), we entered the stadium 

The Chicago Cubs painted their famous marquee purple in honor of Northwestern for the game. There was a steady stream of people going through here before the game to have their photos taken in front of it. Oh, the memories...

When we first got to our seats, Wrigley's old school scoreboard showed Michigan as being up big on Wisconsin. That was surprising since it would be a big upset. But the scoreboard operator had indeed mixed up their scores and soon took those numbers down to reverse them. As darkness fell, the lights' glare on the scoreboard made it more difficult to read. Wrigley also doesn't have a big video monitor to see replays. All of these things, while frustrating at times, add to Wrigley's charm.

Our seats were fortunately here in the west end zone, so we go to see most of the action. In the east end zone someone held a sign that read, "Wrong Way."

A few empty seats were visible in the stadium and on the rooftops, but the place was packed and much livelier than what I had witnessed in Evanston two years earlier. The crowd was about 60-40 in favor of Northwestern. Our seats were in a Northwestern section, which was fine. Northwestern fans tend to be tame. They have more important things to worry about than their football team, so they're well behaved. And really, I wouldn't want to get into a putdown contest with them, because eventually it would devolve into Northwestern fans chanting "Puuuublic schooool." How can you top that putdown? (If anyone knows, please enlighten me.)

As for the game itself, the Illini got off to a hot start and rarely looked back. Mikel Leshoure rushed for an Illini record 330 yards in the 48-27 win. Although, Northwestern fought valiantly and the game was still in doubt heading into the 4th quarter. 

By the time the game had ended, night had fallen. It's hard to explain, but there's something magical about the way Wrigley's green grass glows at nighttime under the lights. It was a special moment to savor the Illini victory; a moment that was soon ended when some guy fell over backwards and smacked his head hard. Apparently he had gotten the bright idea to better admire the scene while standing on his seat -- and then it folded in on him. He said he was fine, and I hope that's true. I also hope he wasn't an Illini fan.

One of the oddities of this game's look was the wide open space in left field. I'm kinda surprised they didn't put temporary seats here to make even more money. At least all that extra green grass was pretty.

After walking south to Belmont to avoid the crowds at Addison, I found myself back on the Red Line heading north. The train was packed again, but this time I managed to snag a seat. Right in front of my nose was a purple leather glove with diamond-like stones in it, gripping the pole for support. The glove belonged to a woman in her 50s--obviously a rich Northwestern alum. She was part of a group of three couples, all about the same age. They were making plans to get off at Davis Street (in Evanston) for dinner. Someone complimented her on the gloves, and she replied that they were from Italy.  

A guy in this Northwestern group, I'll call him the "Ringleader," started asking others in the group some playful yet personal questions. One of the women declined to answer his question, citing that it was too much like the Newlywed Game and this was to a "public place." It was all in good fun. Then they looked out at the "Five Guys" burger place and started wondering out loud if there was also one in Evanston. I happened to know that there is, but there wasn't really room for me to turn around and talk to them, so I just listened as they pondered aloud. Some said there was, others said there wasn't. Finally the Ringleader asked one of the women, "Have you ever had a 'Five Guy?'" This then uncomfortably segued into the differences between men and women when it comes to fantasizing about ... ahem... more than one. This group of Northwestern fans, led by the talkative Ringleader, were having a good time discussing all sorts of subjects, including jokes about what anyone else in Chicago could have possibly been doing today other than being where all the action was at Wrigley Field. 

Then the train stopped at Jarvis, near the end of the Red Line. I couldn't see what happened, and I dare not turn around for fear of making eye contact with a mad man. But I heard what happened. As it turns out, I wasn't the only person who had grown tired of these clowns for the past half hour. Someone walked up to the Ringleader and went on an expletive-filled tirade, mentioning something about "going on and on about a silly game" and "if I ever catch you doing it again, I'll run across the field and..." I'm not going to repeat what the man said he'd do to the Ringleader, but I will say that if I'm ever sent to jail, he's the last person in the world I'd want as my cellmate. After he got off the train, there was dead silence. Before the door shut, I turned around to finally catch a glimpse of him. He was a big man dressed in a long dark coat and wearing a yellow beret. Yes, I said yellow beret. He was still facing the train, his face stone-cold serious, a dead ringer for an angry Ving Rhames.

A few stops later I made it back to Dempster and walked home. It had been a perfect autumn day for football. (Perhaps a little chilly in the second half after the sun went down, but that's football.) One of the things I'll most remember from that day in Wrigleyville was its festive and historic feel. On three different occasions I overheard various people use the exact phrase: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience." 

Maybe it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But if they do decide to play football at Wrigley again, that would be fine by me.

Monday, December 13, 2010

MLB Trivia: The 20-20-20-20 Club

In major league baseball, if a player can hit 20 homers, 20 triples, 20 doubles, and steal 20 bases in a season, then he is said to have joined the "20-20-20-20 Club." Only four players in the history of the game have accomplished this feat. The first two were Frank Schulte (1911) and Willie Mays (1957). Amazingly, the last two guys to accomplish the feat did so in the same year: Jimmy Rollins and Curtis Granderson in 2007.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

MLB Hit Parade: December 2010

December 30

KID K HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: Welcome back, Kerry Wood.

JENKS AND THE WHITE SOX are like a bad divorce. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Bobby Jenks.

December 16

BOB FELLER: The New York Times remembers the late Hall of Fame pitcher and WWII vet:
Joining the Indians in 1936, Feller became baseball’s biggest draw since Babe Ruth, throwing pitches that batters could barely see — fastballs approaching 100 miles an hour and curveballs and sinkers that fooled the sharpest eyes. He was Rapid Robert in the sports pages. As Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez was said to have remarked after three Feller pitches blew by him, “That last one sounded a little low.”

YOU DECIDE! Take a look at this year's Hall of Fame ballot and list your picks here.

December 12

CARL CRAWFORD AND THE UNSTOPPABLE SOX: This article is a perfect example of the enthusiasm surrounding Carl Crawford's signing with the Red Sox. But I'm not sure why the Red Sox receive praise for this while the Nationals are panned for the Jayson Werth signing. Both contracts are huge money over seven years for players who are relatively high risk. In some ways, the Crawford signing could be higher risk because so much of his game depends on speed -- and that can be taken away with an injury. I hope Crawford works out for the Red Sox, but it could be Ken Griffey Jr. all over again, minus the home town discount.

ALBERT PUJOLS: Could the Cubs go after Phat Albert in 2012? My hunch is no, but hey, it's fun to think about!

December 7

PAUL KONERKO talks have hit an impasse. Lots of White Sox fans are worrying about this, but let's wait and see. You want Konerko, but only at the right price. Let's not forget his disappointing 2007-2009 years, or the fact that he tends to play his best in contract years. (UPDATE: White Sox have re-signed Konerko. Looks like the right move to me, especially considering that his teammates and the fan base love him.)

PAYING THEIR RESPECTS: Wrigley turned into a Ron Santo shrine.


Chicago finally has a star basketball player in town again. It's only been 12 years. BTW, where can I buy that poster of Rose dunking on Oden?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Remembering Ron Santo

Many memories of Ron Santo have been flooding my mind today. Whether I was in high school doing homework on a Sunday afternoon, driving home late one October night to catch the end of a playoff game, or waiting in my car for a wedding to start on a hot July day, I can still hear Santo's voice expressing his passion for the Cubs.

If I were to describe Santo as a Cubs' radio analyst, I'd have you picture the most rabid sports fan you know. The type of fan who has a blind and undying love for the team and its players; and nearly lives and dies with the team's every play. That was Ron Santo. He was the ultimate Cubs' fan in the booth. 

But Ron Santo was also a great baseball player. How great? Well, some people think it's up for debate. Santo wasn't voted into the Hall of Fame during his lifetime, but many people say he should have been. One of those people is ESPN's Jayson Stark, who makes a strong case on his blog. Here's an excerpt from his book, The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History:
Ron Santo was almost certainly the greatest all-around third baseman of his time. Name ANY other third baseman from the 1960s you would rather have run out there than Santo. Maybe Brooks Robinson, if you ate a lot of crabcakes. And there's a case to be made for Ken Boyer, a similar player whose Cardinals teams at least finished first once in a while. But I'd still take Santo. Of the 23 third basemen who got to the plate 3,000 times during Santo's 15 seasons, he led all of them in homers, RBIs, runs scored, extra-base hits, walks and times reaching base. Only Dick Allen and Eddie Mathews outslugged him -- but Allen was so awful defensively, he had to be moved to first base, and Mathews was done as a full-time player by the mid-'60s. Finally, let's put Santo's eight straight seasons of at least 25 homers and 90 RBIs in perspective. From the end of World War 2 through the end of Santo's career, only two players at ANY position had streaks longer than that: Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. This was not an age where 40-homer, 125-RBI seasons were as prevalent as bad sitcoms. So the only fair way to evaluate Santo's numbers is from the perspective of HIS time, not our time.

Ron Santo might not be in Cooperstown yet, but he's already in Cub Nation's Hall of Fame. He's been there a long time, and we won't forget his legacy. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

MLB Trivia: Back-to-Back MVPs

Congrats to Josh Hamilton and Joey Votto for winning the 2010 AL and NL MVP awards. This is the first MVP for both players. The last player to win the NL MVP in back-to-back seasons was Albert Pujols (2008 and 2009). But the last player to win the AL MVP in back-to-back seasons was Frank Thomas all the way back in 1993 and 1994.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

MLB Hit Parade: November 2010

Nov. 28

REST IN PEACE, Leslie Nielsen.

Nov. 20

COLLEGE GAME DAY: So I'm heading to Wrigley Field today to watch my alma mater, Illinois, take on Northwestern.

As you've probably heard, the Big Ten stepped in at the last minute to say both offenses must head toward the west end zone. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney said, "The health and safety of our student-athletes is of the utmost importance." Yeah, right. If the health and safety of these student-athletes was of the "utmost importance," then the Big Ten would hand them skirts instead of helmets and have them play two-hand touch.

Also, Wrigley Field isn't the only baseball field hosting a football game today. So is Yankee Stadium.

FANTASY BASEBALL 365: Charlie Saponara and his untrusty sidekick, Joe, tackle the tough topics of Jose Bautista, Pablo Sandoval, and potentially overrated catchers. I'm biased in favor of this podcast because these are the topics I suggested via Twitter. Isn't social networking cool?

Nov. 17

WHAT DO YOU THINK was the worst MLB trade of the past 25 years? Hmm... the only thing this list is missing is every trade the Pittsburgh Pirates have made with Jim Hendry. (Although,in fairness, the guy who made all those bad trades for Pittsburgh now works for Hendry. Go figure.)


CHICAGO CUBS' WEEKEND HEADLINES: All Cracked up. "The Cubs continue with the unintentional metaphors for the 2010 season, having cracked the beloved Harry Caray statue in the prep for the Big Northwestern/Illiois game." Plus the Cubs have asked our bankrupt state of Illinois for $200 million to help fund their billion-dollar entertainment business.

HT: Carl Skanberg's Smells Like Mascot

Nov. 11

VETERANS' REFLECTIONS: Former Pro Baseball Players Reflect on War Service.

BOB FELLER'S TIME IN THE NAVY. This video is 10 minutes long, but it's Bob Feller in his own words and rather enjoyable for any WWII buffs out there.

WHITE SOX trying to repair damaged recruiting reputation in Latin America. "Re-establishing an honorable presence in Latin America has been placed in the hands of Jerry Krause, the former Bulls general manager and baseball scout who was hired last spring as director of international scouting with an emphasis on restructuring scouting in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela."

Nov. 10
SOX MACHINE: Why Alexei Ramirez was robbed of the Gold Glove. "Plain and simple, Ramirez made waaaaaaaaaaaaay more plays — and because of the error stat (and, going a step further, fielding percentage), he effectively gets punished for having more chances to make errors."

JOE MORGAN AND JON MILLER ARE OUT at ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. But who will replace them?

Nov. 7

2010 UPL BASEBALL Wrap-Up and Post-Season Awards: This year's manager of the year is Pauly.

THE WEATHER IS GETTING COLDER but the stove is heating up. For the third straight year, Schruender is rating a different MLB player each day of the offseason.


Welcome back, Conan.

Nov. 4

No manager in baseball history was more true to his nickname than George "Sparky'' Anderson. No manager ever loved the game more than Sparky. No manager did the job with the same relentless energy and enthusiasm as Sparky. No manager smiled as often as Sparky. No manager was more of a gentleman than Sparky. No manager was nicer than Sparky. Late in his career, Anderson asked the media to start calling him by his given name, George, saying no man in his 50s should be called Sparky. But, it never took. He was and always will be Sparky.

UNDERCOVER BOSS: This Sunday, November 7, at 8 p.m. on CBS, you'll get to see one of the Chicago Cubs' owners, Todd Ricketts, go undercover and work at Wrigley Field (taped last September).
Ricketts grew a beard and went undercover in September as "Mark Dawson," an out-of-work roofer who won a contest to appear on a TV show in which he is given the chance to earn a job on the grounds crew based on his performance during a week-long trial period.
He strikes out. "I was fired from the bathroom crew," Ricketts told Eric & Kathy Thursday morning on 101.9 FM The Mix.
He's given a second chance, though, and eventually does several jobs, including selling hot dogs, parking cars and working the grounds.
"The most exciting one was working the scoreboard," Ricketts said on The Mix. "It was the first time I'd been up there. It was only the second time cameras had been up there ... It's really special."

Nov. 2


Monday, November 22, 2010

The New York Yankees and Derek Jeter: Did You Know?

The New York Yankees are currently negotiating with Derek Jeter in an attempt to keep the face of their franchise in pinstripes. Through the years, both sides have prospered during their business relationship. In 1995, the year before Jeter became an everyday shortstop, the Yankees drew 1,705,263 fans to the park (below the American League average) and were valued at $185 million. This season the Yankees drew 4,298,655 fans and are valued at $1.5 billion.

Monday, November 15, 2010

MLB Trivia: How Many Baseballs in a Baseball Game?

Have you ever wondered how many baseballs are typically used in a major league baseball game?

It seems like a simple enough question, but finding the right answer online isn't so easy. When I Googled for the answer, the first Web page that popped up was from It gave a few different answers, one saying 40 to 50 baseballs were used per game, and another estimating 60 to 70 baseballs per game. It also said that, according to the MLB, the home team was required to have 90 baseballs on hand for a game. The only problem is that when I tried to verify this number of "90 baseballs" with an actual MLB source ( or otherwise), I couldn't find anyone else listing these numbers except for a Yahoo answers page regurgitating the same language and numbers. As far as I can tell, the aforementioned numbers are myths.

Fortunately, I've found the correct answer. It comes from a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article written by Mark Roth and titled, "MLB: The true life story of baseballs." In the article, Roth reports on an actual game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers. That game used 104 baseballs, which is about 15 fewer than average, according to the Pirates' equipment manager. So not only is it ridiculous to say that an MLB team is only required to have 90 baseballs on hand, the average number of baseballs used in a game is about 120.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thank you

Time sure does fly. Now that the 2010 World Series is over, this blog has made it through three complete baseball seasons (started in April 2008). I've really enjoyed having this outlet to write about baseball, and I hope that every now and then you might find something worthwhile here. A big thank you goes out to everyone who stops in, as well as to those who comment.  

One of the neat things about this year was getting to see both Pauly and Lisa start to blog more. (Although, Pauly hasn't blogged as much recently. Maybe we'll have to get on him about some basketball posts soon.) Another neat thing about this year was a new tradition established by the Chairman: Not finishing in UPL Baseball's top two. I'd like to see that tradition continue long into the future.

Speaking of traditions, I also started one. During this season, I tried to have a baseball trivia question ready every Monday morning. I hate Monday mornings, but I like trivia questions. So I figured that a Monday morning trivia question would give people something to look forward to on that most dreaded of days. At the very least it gave me something to look forward to. I had fun coming up with the questions and learned a few things along the way.

I haven't yet decided what to do with the trivia question during the offseason. I'm toying with the idea of switching it up. Instead of it being in a question format, maybe I'll make it a "Did You Know?" That way the knowledge shared can be a little more obscure and something different from what I've been doing the past many months. We'll see.

Thanks again for reading; and remember, if your team didn't win this year, there's always next year.

Monday, November 1, 2010

MLB Trivia: Sweeping the World Series

Sweeping the World Series is difficult. However, since 1950, the New York Yankees have managed to do it three times. And during that time span, only two other franchises have swept the World Series twice. Can you name those other two franchises? (Hint: This question isn't as hard as it seems. First, think about which teams have won at least two World Series since 1950. Then see if you can recall which of those teams got at least one sweep. Good luck.)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

MLB Hit Parade: October 2010

Oct. 31

Oct. 30

JOSH HAMILTON: "I could smell weed in the outfield. It was crazy. I was looking at the cops a couple of times during the game." So far all the World Series' drama has been off the field...

I still haven't made it to the rooftops for a game. One of these days...

Oct. 29

Parents, don't let your kids dress up as a bearded thong for Halloween.

NO WAY, JOSE? Jose Guillen part of HGH probe. This might explain why he's not on the Giants' roster right now. And while I'm usually a staunch supporter of innocent until proven guilty, this is Jose Guillen we're talking about...

Oct. 28


Funny and true, except at the end. I don't think this phone can do anything to stop people from keeping their noses in their smartphones. Unfortunately, I'm also guilty of this ridiculous behavior.

Oct. 26
CLIFF LEE'S wife was harassed by Yankees fans. Some people think that this will cost the Yankees a shot at Lee in free agency. I doubt it. Every fan base has idiots. The important things here are that the Yankees offer Lee the most money and that his wife likes the city of New York. 

THE BACKWARDS K to end your team's postseason. It already has happened twice this year (with both Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard being caught looking). But how many times has it happened in postseason history? Not many.

IN DEFENSE OF A THREE-MAN ROTATION? "I was soon persuaded that the three-man rotation was the way to go in the post-season after a conducting a study with Sean Forman on the impact of pitches thrown and rest days on performance. In our analysis of games from 1988 — 2009, estimates showed that days of rest had very little impact on performance. On average, every rest day lowered a pitcher’s ERA by about 0.015; however, the estimate was not statistically different from there being no effect. It seems that most of the recovery benefits that pitchers receive occur in the three days of rest between starts."

More on pitcher recovery times here.

Oct. 24

BENGIE MOLINA has it made. No matter what, this year he's going to win a World Series ring.

ESPN's 30 FOR 30 SERIES continues this Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST with Fernando Nation.

Nicknamed “El Toro” by his fans, Fernando Valenzuela ignited a fire that spread from LA to New York—and beyond. He vaulted himself onto the prime time stage and proved with his signature look to the heavens and killer screwball that the American dream was not reserved for those born on U.S. soil.

In this layered look at the myth and the man, Cruz Angeles recalls the euphoria around Fernando’s arrival and probes a phenomenon that transcended baseball for many Mexican-Americans. Fernando Valenzuela himself opens up to share his perspective on this very special time. Even 20 years later, “Fernandomania” lives.

Oct. 23

CONGRATS TO THE RANGERS! In all the best stories, somebody slays the giant. How fitting it was for Alex Rodriguez, who made disparaging remarks about the Rangers being "me and 24 kids" when he was traded, to be struck out for the final out by one of those kids, Neftali Feliz, throwing 97 miles an hour.

WHO IS THIS mystery woman?

JOSE BAUTISTA: Looking ahead to 2011, will Joey Bats turn out to be a one-hit wonder? This was a good article. Although, it didn't directly mention OBP. If you're curious, Bautista's OBP in 2010 was a very good .378. In 2009, Mark Reynolds' OBP was only .349. It's also interesting to note how Reynolds' 2010 numbers reverted back to basically what he did in 2008. I've put a big question mark on Bautista for 2011, but I would certainly rate him higher for 2011 than I rated Reynolds for 2010.

TODAY'S LUNCH: Who knew that my neighborhood hot dog place, Wiener and Still Champion, had a blog? Plus major props to the guy who ate the Triple Undisputed (a.k.a. 911) in 16 minutes

Oct. 19

BASEBALL IS HER BOYFRIEND: Now Micah Chapman is who I'd call a dedicated baseball (and Rangers) fan. 

RYNO IS DISAPPOINTED that he didn't get the Cubs job. I think the Cubs made the right move by giving Mike Quade two years. As for Ryne Sandberg, I wish him the best. My hope is that next season he's able to get some type of major league coaching job.

Oct. 18

THE NEXT CARLOS GONZALEZ: Tim Dierkes goes in search of the next CarGo. Of the people on his list, my bet would be Jason Heyward.

BASEBALL BLOGGERS ALLIANCE names Buster Posey and Neftali Perez as their rookies of the year. It's kinda fun to go through and check out all the different baseball blogs that were involved. I found many that I hadn't seen before.

Oct. 16

I'M STILL ROOTING AGAINST THE YANKEES, but I just had to post this picture of George W. Bush and Nolan Ryan watching the Rangers' 8th inning implosion last night during Game 1 of the ALCS:

My cable was out so I missed the show. Probably just as well. The above picture tells me exactly what happened.

Oct. 1-14

ERIC SHOW: Remembering the tortured life of Eric Show. "The 12-year-old boy sat in the rear of his father's car, getting an earful. This was 1968, the year of the pitcher in the big leagues, the year of Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA and Denny McLain's 31 wins. But in the backseat of a white Mercury Comet, it was not the year of a Pony League pitcher named Eric Show. His father, Les, was in a rage. He had just watched young Eric walk a batter, hit a batter and generally have a mediocre day. It had triggered the scariest part of Les: his temper."

ANOTHER CUBS BLOG: "A lot of people, including the Cubs owner, spend time trying to think of ways to improve Wrigley Field. Me? I've already got the answer and it's been done before. Here, have a look for yourself.  It's pretty cool what you can do these days."

COLUMBUS DAY: There has never been an MLB player with the last or first name of "Columbus." But there have been a few minor leaguers with the name. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

MLB Trivia: Saving the World Series

Mariano Rivera has the most career saves in the World Series with 11, nearly doubling Rollie Fingers who is second all-time with six. The most saves that Rivera has gotten in a single World Series is three, and there are four other pitchers who have accomplished that feat. However, only one pitcher has ever gotten four saves in a single World Series. Can you name him? (Hint: This record was accomplished at some point in the 1990s... by a Yankee.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

MLB Trivia: LCS Long Balls

Cody Ross already has three home runs in this year's National League Championship Series. The record for the most home runs in a League Championship Series (LCS) is four, and nine players have done it. However, the record for most career homers in LCS play is 13. Can you name the player who holds this record? (Hint: He's an active player, but his team didn't make this year's postseason.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

UPL Wrap-Up: Where I Went Wrong

The UPL baseball season wrapped up earlier this month. Here are the final standings:

I went back and looked at what the standings were during the All-Star break and there wasn't much movement for the most part. Although, that's not to say that the season didn't have a dramatic finish. On the final day Phatsnapper managed to sneak past Hats for Bats to take the crown. I don't think we've ever had that happen on the last day in UPL Baseball before. (One year we did have a tie, though.)

Congratulations to Rupert (Phatsnapper) on his championship season! And I also should point out that both Pauly (Hats for Bats) and CJ (JimmyDix) both had remarkable turnaround seasons. Pauly's team played well enough to take the crown, but it just wasn't meant to be.

After my 6th place finish, I'm left trying to pick up the pieces. Going into this season, I listed most of my strategy for this keeper league. But there was one 800-pound gorilla in the room that I didn't want to talk about. I might as well talk about that now.

If you look at the history of warfare, armies have a tendency to fight the "previous war." Basically, military planners most carefully study the past war, what went wrong and what went right - and more importantly, what they could have done better. And so what happens is that when a new war breaks out, a seemingly solid strategy is to see how your current environment is similar to a past environment, then apply what was learned from that experience in order to best perform in the current war. It's not a bad strategy. In fact, it's probably a necessary component to any great strategy. But if you rely too much on what would have been a seemingly perfect strategy for the previous war, you can end up in big trouble.

In the UPL, we get to keep 18 players from season to season. For a team at the top of the pack, this sounds like a great deal. But it's really a double-edged sword. Things can change quite a bit from season to season, and in a non-keeper format you can change your roster swiftly with the times. When you have to keep 18 players, it can sort of feel like you're stuck in a quagmire.

Granted, my team had plenty of talent heading into this season. And I made some blunders along the way. But if I look at my top 4 picks from 2009, three of them heading into 2010 wouldn't have rated worthy of top 4 picks in my book (Carlos Beltran, Aramis Ramirez, Manny Ramirez) due to their problems with missing significant playing time the previous season. If we had done a complete re-draft, I think there would have been many opportunities to upgrade my team.

But I can't complain. I knew the rules ahead of time and made my own bed. Here are my top three regrets for this season, and they all boil down to not being aggressive enough:
1) Not getting more value for the #3 pick (in essentially the 19th round). I drafted Octavio Dotel to address my closer situation, but in hindsight, there was more league-wide demand for Aroldis Chapman than I realized. I had assumed that after Jason Heyward and Stephen Strasburg, there weren't any rookies who people were willing to trade away value to get. But I think I was wrong there. Had I drafted Chapman (or just  traded away the pick pre-draft), I could have probably gotten something better than Dotel.
2) Not addressing shortstop. I went into the year hoping that Jason Bartlett would have a .390 OBP with 30 steals. That would have been nice. But it didn't happen, and my backup plans for SS didn't work out either. At one point I thought about trying to trade for Troy Tulowitzki, and maybe I should have. But I kept thinking that a viable option at SS would just fall into my lap. It never happened.
3) Not fixing my starting rotation sooner. Part of this is bad luck. I mean, my starting pitchers were absolutely brutal the first month of the season. It's impossible to predict something like that. However, I could have done a better job of holding pitchers out of the lineup and searching the waiver wire for better short-term, and possibly long-term, solutions.

My goal was to win the league again this year, but at the very least I wanted to finish on the podium. So a 6th place finish is disappointing. The past 5 or so years I've been bouncing between first and middle of the pack. I still have a long way to go if I'm to field a contender year in and year out. The Chairman (O.N. Thugs) has made a habit of this, and really, so has C-Lauff (IamJabrone).

It was a fun season. Looking ahead to next year, I'll have to refine my strategy a bit. But then again, that part never ends.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jim Joyce Doesn't Know Why He's Home for Playoffs

With the 2010 MLB Playoffs now in full swing, only the league's best teams are still playing. The same is true of umpires. After a season-long evaluation, the top-rated umpires get to work the postseason. Unfortunately for Jim Joyce, the ump who blew an historic call earlier this year that cost Tigers' pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game, he won't be working these playoffs.

"Yeah, I was surprised that they didn't pick me," says Joyce, who enjoys Christmas lighting as a hobby and once was told that he might be related to Irish author James Joyce, according to
his MLB profile page. "Maybe there was some type of technical glitch or clerical oversight. When you really think about it, I had a helluva good season as an ump. I should be working these playoffs, not stuck at home like the Pittsburgh Pirates."

You might think that sitting at home and watching the MLB playoffs wouldn't be all that bad, but Joyce has found it maddening. "I've seen so many blown calls on TV, it's unbelievable," says Joyce. "Did you see what Paul Emmel did to
Jason Heyward in the 9th inning of Game 3 in the Braves-Giants series? Heyward took five pitches and instead of getting a walk, Emmel inexplicably called it a strikeout. The only way I'd say Emmel got that entire at-bat right would be if it were Opposite Day.

"And what was Hunter Wendelstedt thinking in Game 2 of Yanks-Twins when he didn't ring up
Lance Berkman in the 7th inning? I have no idea," says Joyce. "Or how about both Jim Wolf and Jerry Meals missing that check swing call on Michael Young in the Rays-Rangers series? I really felt bad for Joe Maddon, and believe me, when Maddon was giving Wolf the business, I was right there with him standing and screaming at my TV for both Wolf and Meals to get their heads out of their butts." 

Historic mistake: On June 2, 2010, Jim Joyce calls the runner safe even though he was obviously out. Perhaps the most infamous blown call in MLB history, Joyce single-handedly cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game. Could this be the reason he's not allowed to ump in this year's playoffs?

Despite Joyce's frustrations with not being in the playoffs and having to watch other umps consistently miss critical calls, he tries to keep things in perspective. "Being a major league baseball umpire is a tough job. It's not like being an NFL ref, where you can basically just make any call you want and then let the cameras bail you out on a replay."

When asked if his blown call that cost Armando Galarraga a once-in-a-lifetime chance at the record books might be why he didn't receive a high enough umpire rating, Joyce scoffs at the notion. "Look, that was an honest mistake, and I've apologized for ruining that kid's shot at baseball immortality," he explains. "Besides, Galarraga isn't even in these playoffs. And if he were, I'd be sure to give him a make-up call or two." 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Crocodile Tears: CryBabies League Wrap-Up

Back in April I blogged about the head-to-head CryBabies League that I had joined for fantasy baseball. At the time I was in 6th place and had been destroyed in Week 1 by the Mush Heads. Here's how I ended that post:
We'll see how things go. Right now I've circled Week 8 on the calendar. That's when I can get my revenge against the Mush Heads.

Sadly, things didn't turn out the way I had hoped. Yes, I somehow managed to get my team into first place for one magical week in late June or early July, but then the wheels fell off. A bunch of my players slumped and/or got hurt, including pitchers Stephen Strasburg, Ricky Nolasco, and Josh Johnson. But the worst part was that I Iost all four regular season matchups with the Mush Heads -- and he knocked me out for good in the first round of the playoffs. That means I was 0-for-5 on the season against the Mush Heads. That was brutal! 

If it's any consolation to me, the Mush Heads went on to win the championship. So congratulations are in order for Michael Hayes and his Mush Heads' season of glory. I also should give props to Steroid to Heaven, who won the regular season and finished runner-up in the tournament to the Mush Heads.

Despite my poor performance, it was still a fun season. I'll leave you with this video that perfectly illustrates how confident I was going into the season -- and then what happened when reality hit.

MLB Trivia: Pitching a Perfect Playoff Percentage

Lots of pitchers have gone undefeated in a single postseason. But only three pitchers have had a perfect 1.000 winning percentage in a single postseason while pitching 40 or more innings. Two of those pitchers were Orel Hershiser (1988) and Curt Schilling (2001). The third pitcher is still active. Who is he? (Hint: This player has pitched in this 2010 postseason for an AL team.)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Rare Baseball Feat, But Does Anyone Care?

Certain individual feats catch the imagination of MLB fans and journalists. Two that come to mind would be hitting for the cycle and throwing a no-hitter. These feats involve elegant number combinations and signify a player's excellent performance. They're also relatively rare. Since 1876, there have been 269 no-hitters; and since 1882, there have been 291 occurrences of hitting for the cycle. Doing the math, that's about two no-hitters and two cycles per year.

On a similar note, a couple years ago I posted a question for which I didn't have an answer:
When was the last time a player had two steals and two homers in the same game? 
It led to an interesting discussion, with Pauly finally tracking down a box score that showed Carlos Beltran accomplishing the feat in 2004. I was glad to know that it had been done, but I was still wondering how many times it had been done. So the mystery lingered.

From mid-2007 through 2009, I scoured box scores nearly every day during baseball season in hopes of noticing a player who accomplished the feat, but I found none. I also did an occasional web search to see if I could find answers in baseball history. I even tried asking Jayson Stark on Twitter. But other than Pauly's Carlos Beltran find, I was coming up empty. Just how rare is it for a batter to go for two homers and two steals in a single game? The answer was proving to be elusive.

Until now.

Thanks to Sean Holtz of Baseball Almanac, he searched his digital box score database which goes back nearly 100 years (early 19-teens) and has provided what might be the most complete answer available. According to Holtz, the feat has only been recorded 13 times. This means that hitting two homers and stealing two bases in a single game is about as rare as throwing a perfect game, which has been done 20 times.  

So who are these legends of the game that we've never heard about? Here's the list of 13 men known to have hit at least two homers and stolen at least two bases in one game:

#, Name, Date, Team, Pos
1. Jack Fournier, 1921-05-21,STL,1B
2. Don Kolloway*, 1941-06-28,CHW,2B
3. Tommie Agee, 1971-07-22,NYM, CF RF
4. Joe Morgan, 1973-04-15,CIN,2B
5. Howard Johnson,1987-07-11,NYM,3B
6. Dante Bichette, 1994-06-27,COL,RF
7. Kirk Gibson, 1995-05-28,DET,DH
8. Gary Sheffield, 1995-09-18,FLA,LF
9. Chipper Jones, 1999-09-05,ATL,3B
10. Carlos Beltran, 2004-08-27,HOU,CF
11. Rafael Furcal, 2005-04-15,ATL,SS
12. Chris Duffy, 2006-09-07,PIT,CF
13. Ryan Spilborghs, 2009-05-02,COL,CF LF

*All the people on this list hit exactly two homers and stole exactly two bases in their games, except one. Don Kolloway hit two jacks and was an absolute jackrabbit on the bases with four steals.

Now, in fairness, our data for perfect games goes back further than our data for these 2-homer/2-steal games. And it appears that going for two homers and two steals in a game has become more common since 1994. This could be for a variety of reasons. But still, since 1994, only eight guys have gone 2/2 in a game and only seven guys have thrown a perfect game. I'm willing to concede that throwing a perfect game is a more impressive feat, but hitting two homers and stealing two bases in a game is much more difficult than hitting for the cycle.

So why doesn't going 2/2 in a game get more media attention? I obviously missed Ryan Spilborgh's 2/2 in 2009, even though I had been trying to keep an eye out for it. Going back and reading that game's recap is actually funny because, aside from the box score, there is no mention of the special achievement. The article simply says, "Spilborghs homered twice and drove in three runs."

Maybe what we need to do is create a name for going 2/2 in a game. After all, throwing a "no-hitter" and hitting for "the cycle" sound cool and give symbolic meaning to these special feats. Perhaps we could name going 1/1 in a game as "[Blank]," and then 2/2 would just be "Double [Blank]." Any suggestions for a name out there? You never know, if we toss out five or six ideas, one of them might stick. One day we could hear Joe Morgan on Sunday Night Baseball say, "Hanley Ramirez just got a [Blank] with that steal. Now a [Blank] is what they call getting a homer and a steal in the same game. Back in my day, one time I got a Double [Blank]. That's two homers and two steals in a game."

But I digress. The important thing is that at least now we know. So the next time a player on your favorite team comes up to bat in the top of the 9th with two homers and a 12-3 lead, rather than rooting for him to hit that third homer, which has been done hundreds of times, you might want to instead root for him to single and steal second and third. Then he'd join a much more exclusive club.