Tagged: Brewers

The Sunday Scuttlebutt

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It may be small consolation to their frustrated fan base, but if the Orioles can find someone halfway decent to patrol
left field, they can make an argument for having the best outfield in the game.
Center fielder Adam Jones has blossomed in his second season, adding a robust
bat to his already imposing glove. Right fielder Nick Markakis is now a
legitimate star, having elevated his game each of the last three seasons. Unfortunately, left field remains a problem for the Birds. Felix Pie (.158
batting average and .238 on-base percentage) has hit just as poorly in Baltimore as he did in Chicago, while utilityman Lou Montanez is no
more than a stopgap solution. A more immediate short-term answer might be found at Triple-A, where the
Orioles just assigned Joey Gathright, freshly acquired from the Cubs.
Gathright, who is still one of the three fastest runners in the game (I’ll vote
for Emilio Bonifacio and Brett Gardner as the others) and can handle left field
defensively. As to how much Gathright will hit, that remains the eternal
question…

 

On Saturday night, Steve Stone provided another example of
why he’s one of baseball’s best color analysts. During the broadcast of the
White Sox-Rangers game, Stone listed Josh Fields and Carlos Quentin as the Sox’
two best runners in terms of going hard into second base and breaking up potential double
plays. That’s just great information. How many color announcers even pay
attention to such overlooked aspects of baserunning, especially in an era when
hitting and pitching are so much the focus of on-air discussion? Keep up the
great work, Steve…

 

It’s really no mystery why Zack Greinke has been so
masterfully overpowering for the Royals. He has two phenomenal pitches–an
exploding fastball and a biting overhand curve–and throws everything in his
arsenal for strikes. His start to the season is no fluke; he’s a legitimate No.
1 starter that the Royals can build around for years to come. With Greinke, Gil
Meche, and Brian “The Animal” Bannister now in the rotation, and former No. 1
pick Luke Hochevar on the way, the Royals have the makings of a starting staff
that will contend–if not in 2009, then next summer…

 

Just how low have the Yankees sunk? Fresh off their
disheartening five-game losing streak this week, the front office decided that
answers to their problems could be found in journeyman mediocrities Kevin Cash
and Brett Tomko, recalled from Triple-A Scranton. Cash is the ultimate
good-field, no-hit catcher, a limited player of borderline major league capability.
Tomko pitched horribly for the Padres last season, despite the benefit of
pitching in Petco
Park half of the time. While
it’s undeniable that the Yankees have been hit with a crushing tidal wave of
injuries, it’s inconceivable that such a wealthy franchise has such little
organizational depth. It’s also an indictment of general manager Brian Cashman
and his stunning lack of attention to detail. Remarkably, Cashman failed to put
in a waiver claim on hard-hitting backup catcher Brayan Pena, who was demoted
to Triple-A Omaha by the Royals…

 

I understand that A.J. Hinch is a bright young mind who has
done well in developing Arizona’s
farm system. But wouldn’t it have made more sense for the Diamondbacks to tap
someone with at least some on-field experience in hiring their new manager,
especially in the middle of the season. There are some legitimate managerial
candidates who have track records in running ballclubs. Torey Lovullo is a
terrific young manager who has won two minor league titles in the Indians’
system. Why didn’t the D-Backs at least approach the Indians about the
possibility of hiring Lovullo? Another possibility would have been Davey
Johnson, fresh off his stint as manager of Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
Or perhaps the D-Backs could have stayed in-house by promoting bench coach Kirk
Gibson, who could have at least managed the team on an interim basis. Gibson
certainly doesn’t lack fire, which was one of the criticisms aimed at fired
skipper Bob Melvin…

 

Rickie Weeks, a notoriously poor fielding second baseman,
has been one of the game’s most improved defenders through the first five weeks
of the season. Much of the credit goes to new Brewers coach Willie Randolph, who
was hired as part of Ken Macha’s new-look staff. Randolph was one of the most
fundamentally sound second baseman of his era, so it’s no surprise that he’s
having such a positive impact on the talented but erratic Weeks…

 

Sandy Alomar, Sr. has been a player, coach, or minor league
instructors for 49 straight years, dating back to 1960, his first year in
professional ball with the Los Angeles Angels’ organization. Yet, Alomar had
never managed even a single game–mostly because he had no such aspirations–until
this weekend.  Alomar’s debut took place
on Saturday, as he managed the Mets during Jerry Manuel’s one-game suspension
for incidental contact with an umpire. The Mets won that game against the
Pirates, 10-1, which means that Alomar will have a perfect record as manager
for awhile, at least until the next time that Manuel is suspended. Good for
Alomar, one of the solid men who have been a life-long servant to the game…

 

Of all the team statistics I’ve heard bandied about, none is
more shocking than this. The Phillies are a meager 3-and-9 at home in games in
which they have faced right-handed starting pitchers. That is simply stunning
for a team that is so heavily loaded with left-handed hitting studs like Ryan
Howard, Chase Utley, the switch-hitting Jimmy Rollins, and new sensation Raul
Ibanez. The Phillies’ poor record against righties is a severe indictment of
their shaky starting pitching, which has too often failed to keep them in
games. None of Philly’s starters–particularly ace Cole Hamels or the
prehistoric Jamie Moyer–have pitched anywhere near their 2008 levels.

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The Nickname Game: Team Names

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Beginning this week and continuing most Thursdays throughout the season, we present a new feature at Cooperstown Confidential. Though they have become somewhat of a dying art in the major leagues, nicknames are one of my favorite pastimes. They tell us more about teams and players, while adding some color to the game. In this week’s lidlifter, let’s examine some of the best secondary nicknames that have been given to some memorable teams over the last 100-plus years.


While
all current-day teams have official nicknames, there’s always been a tendency
to give some clubs more colorful names, as a way of paying tribute to unique
characteristics or personalities within the teams’ dynamics. Here are 12 of the
most intriguing names that have been given to teams over the years, either by
fans, the media, or by the players themselves.


“Hitless Wonders”: 1906 Chicago White Sox

Epitomizing
the depths of offensive frustration in the Deadball Era, the White Sox batted
.230 with a grand total of seven home runs in the regular season, yet still
claimed the American League pennant. The Sox might not have hit much, but they
drew a ton of walks and played little ball to the hilt, finishing fourth in the
league in runs scored. The White Sox then pulled off an ever larger upset in
the World Series, downing the crosstown Cubs of Tinker-to-Evans-to-Chance fame,
four games to two.

 

“Murderers’ Row:” 1927-1928 New York
Yankees

No
team nickname has matched the fame of “Murderers’ Row,” which actually
originated as a 19th century reference to an isolated row of prison
cells featuring some of the worst criminals of the infamous Tombs prison.  The baseball version of Murderers’ Row
included four future Hall of Famers–Earle Combs (batting leadoff), Babe Ruth
(batting third), Lou Gehrig (in the cleanup spot), and Tony Lazzeri (batting
sixth). The ’27 Yankees didn’t receive much punch from the bottom of the order,
where weak links like Jumping Joe Dugan and Pat Collins resided, but the top
six batters in the lineup did the damage of nine full men.

 

“The Gas House Gang:” 1934-1939 St. Louis
Cardinals

This
name originated with a neighborhood on the lower east side of Manhattan, where a violent group of young men
tormented citizens and came to call themselves the “Gashouse Gang.” The
Cardinals’ version of the “Gang” wasn’t quite as vicious as the street thugs,
but they did feature a number of ruffians, including infielders Leo Durocher
and Pepper Martin, outfielder Ducky Medwick, and ace pitcher Dizzy Dean. The
Cardinals of that era played a hard-nosed brand of ball, sliding hard into
bases, knocking over opposing defenders, and rarely backing away from on-field
brawls.

 

“Whiz Kids:” 1950 Philadelphia Phillies:

Coming
out of nowhere to win the National League pennant, Eddie Sawyer’s “Kids”
featured a day-to-day lineup of players almost exclusively under the age of 30.
The oldest regular was 30-year-old first baseman Eddie Waitkus, but the stars
were the 23-year-old Richie Ashburn and the 25-year-old Del Ennis. The starting
rotation was also headlined by two youngsters, Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons,
whose combined total of wins (37) nearly matched their collective age (44).

 

“Big Red Machine:” 1969-1976 Cincinnati
Reds

Some
newspapers and magazines began to refer to Cincinnati’s dynamic offensive team
as the “Big Red Machine” as early as 1969 and ’70, but the name really caught
on when the franchise steamrolled the rest of the majors in winning the ’75 and
’76 World Championships. That mid-1970s run included a four-game World Series annhilation of the Yankees, a series that too often seemed like Thurman Munson battling alone against Cincinnati’s entire 25-man roster. The cast of characters changed significantly from 1969
to 1976, with Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Bobby Tolan eventually giving way to
George Foster, Joe Morgan, and Ken Griffey Sr. The constants were Johnny Bench,
Tony Perez, and Pete Rose, though both Perez and Rose switched positions in
mid-stream; Perez moved from third to first, and Rose went from right field to
left field to third base. Combining power and speed, few teams in history have
matched the offensive potency of “The Machine.”


“Pittsburgh Lumber Company:” 1970-1976 Pittsburgh
Pirates

The Lumber Company name didn’t really take hold until the mid-1970s, but in retrospect, the 1971 world championship team should be included. Using
a free-swinging approach that might not have been fully appreciated by some
Sabermetricians, the Pirates pummeled their way to five division titles, one
pennant, and a World Championship during the first half of the decade. Other than
Willie Stargell and Bob Robertson, the “Lumber Company” didn’t like to take
walks, which they generally regarded as unmanly. Instead, Roberto Clemente, Al
Oliver, and Manny Sanguillen preferred to swing the bat early and often, and
they did it well, banging a parade of singles and doubles in a constant barrage
against opposing pitching staffs.

 

“Mustache Gang:” 1972 Oakland A’s

After
initially balking at Reggie Jackson’s spring training mustache, Oakland owner Charlie
Finley decided that he liked the new facial hair so much that he offered $300
bonuses to each of his players if they followed suit by Father’s Day. All 25
players took up the challenge, what with $300 being a lot of money to a major
leaguer in 1972. Even after the resulting “Mustache Day” promotion, most of the
A’s kept their mustaches; some took the trend a step further by letting their
hair grown long, while adding beards and heavy sideburns to boot. The new look
certainly didn’t hurt the A’s on the field, as Finley’s gang went on to win the
first of three consecutive world championships.


“The F-Troop:” 1973-1974 Atlanta Braves

The
Braves’ bench players came to call themselves the “F-Troop,” in reference to
the popular TV show that starred Ken Berry and Forrest Tucker. Although the
Braves finished fifth and third, respectively, in 1973 and ’74, they did have
some productive players in reserve. In 1973, backup catcher-first baseman Dick
Dietz hit .295 while drawing an amazing 49 walks against only 25 strikeouts.
Reserve first baseman Frank Tepedino hit .295 with 29 RBIs. And utilityman
Chuck Goggin batted .289 while showing the versatility to both catch and play
shortstop. Without Dietz and Goggin, the bench wasn’t nearly as productive in
’74, resulting in a quick fadeaway for the F-Troop nickname.


“The Southside Hitmen:” 1977 Chicago White Sox

The
’77 White Sox of Bob Lemon finished no better than third in the American League
West, couldn’t field a lick, and had the third-worst pitching in the league,
but still managed to win 90 games while creating a legacy that makes them one
of the most beloved Sox teams in memory. The hard-hitting, stone-gloved lineup
featured Jorge Orta at second, Eric Soderholm at third, Ralph “The Roadrunner” Garr in left,
Richie Zisk in right, and Oscar Gamble at DH, all the while wearing those awful
black and white throwback uniforms that featured collared shirts of the
“untuckable” variety. Finishing second in the league in runs scored, the
“Hitmen” made the summer of ’77 a fun one in the Windy City–and a final legacy to aging owner Bill Veeck.


“The Bronx
Zoo:” 1977-1979 New York Yankees

This
nickname became popular because of the book of the same name written by Sparky
Lyle and Peter Golenbock. “The Bronx Zoo” served as a perfect description of a
team where arguments took place on a daily basis, players fought in the showers
(Cliff Johnson vs. Goose Gossage), the team’s center fielder (Mickey Rivers)
spoke in a language all his own, and Lyle himself routinely sat on birthday
cakes delivered to the clubhouse.  It was
all in a day’s work with the Yankees of the late seventies.

 

“Riders of the Lonesome Pine:” 1981 Detroit Tigers

The
’81 Tigers finished out of the playoff money during the split season and the
bench players really were nothing special, but they deserve credit for coming
up with one of the most colorful nicknames for a backup squad of players. “The
Riders” included the wacky (Johnny Wockenfuss and that wonderful leg-crossing stance), the obscure (Ron Jackson, Mick
Kelleher, and Stan Papi), and the forgotten (Lynn Jones and Ricky Peters).

 

“Harvey’s
Wallbangers:” 1982-1983 Milwaukee Brewers

This
nickname was a natural, given the first name of manager Harvey Kuenn and the
team’s ability to hit home runs at a moment’s notice. Stormin’ Gorman Thomas
led the American League with 39 home runs in 1982, while Cecil Cooper and Ben
Oglivie also cracked the 30-home run barrier. The “Wallbangers” advanced to the
seventh game of the 1982 World Series, but fell back in ’83, finishing fifth in
a stacked American League East. Two future Hall of Famers, Paul Molitor and
Robin Yount, played as regulars for the ’82 Wallbangers, while two others, Don
Sutton and Rollie Fingers, contributed to an underrated pitching staff.

 

A Smattering of Intelligence–Wild Card Races, Political Races, and Bull Durham

So who has the advantage between the Brewers and Mets, who are currently locked in a flat-footed tie for the National League wild card? Both teams will be at home for the final weekend, but both face potentially annoying competition. The Brewers will host the Cubs, the best team in the league this season, in a three-game weekend series at Miller Park. Even though they’ve already clinched a division title, the Cubs will field their A-lineup against the Brewers, but they really have no tangible incentive to play all-out this weekend. The same could be said of the already-eliminated Marlins, who will engage the Mets in their Shea Stadium swansong, but would love nothing better than to play the role of spoiler against New York. No one needs to remind the Mets that it was the Marlins, angered by the showboating of Jose Reyes, who eliminated them on the final day of the season in 2007. I see a different outcome this time, with Jerry Manuel providing a calm hand, Carlos Beltran delivering at least two big hits, and Luis Ayala emerging as a bullpen savior over the final weekend…

It’s amazing to me how many baseball bloggers–some of whom I enjoy reading frequently–simply can’t resist talking politics on the eve of the November elections. Will Carroll and Scott Long of Baseball Toaster, along with Steven Goldman of the YES Network, have regularly included political commentary relating to the Obama-McCain race for the White House. On the one hand, their decisions to mix politics with baseball talk are understandable; the blogs belong to them, and they can do what they want. On the other hand, they do bill themselves first and foremost as baseball writers. In a sense, it’s a kind of false advertising, creating an expectation of baseball conversation for the reader, then using a bait-and-switch and turning the talk over to politics. My opinion on this issue remains the same. There are plenty of avenues for political discourse across the Web, ranging from the Keith Olbermann side of the equation to the Bill O’Reilly perspective. I believe that the large majority of people want baseball from a baseball site, which is why I will continue to refrain from offering political sermons at MLB.com. I’m not pretending to be Ariana Huffington or Sean Hannity here. Besides, I’d much rather discuss the merits of Rico Carty, Tommy Davis, Robinson Cano, or David Wright…

Speaking of politics, there was no discussion of that topic–absolutely none–at last week’s Hall of Fame “Voices of the Game” event featuring Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Robert Wuhl and Bull Durham director Ron Shelton. After film critic Jeffrey Lyons interviewed the four film notables, the Hall solicited questions from fans, who were asked to write down their questions. Several fans submitted written questions about the Hall’s 2003 boycott of Robbins over his anti-Iraq War stance, but those queries were not used during the program. There was also no opportunity for fans to converse with the actors one-on-one, since no photo session was held afterwards, as has often been the custom at such Hall of Fame events. Instead, Robbins, Sarandon, and company were whisked away to their cars immediately after the program.

I think the decision to avoid political discussion during the program was a smart one, but the Hall should have at least broached the subject at the beginning of the event. A Hall of Fame spokesman could have briefly explained the reasoning behind the 2003 boycott and how that rationale changed in 2008–and then be done with the issue. I believe that such an announcement, which would have effectively served as a disclaimer, would have satisfied most reasonable fans.  

Monday’s Bunts and Boots–Durham, Posada, and Holtzman

If the Milwaukee Brewers don’t make the playoffs, Ned Yost will surely be fired. That’s one of several conclusions that can be drawn after the Brewers announced their second major mid-season trade on Sunday. The acquisition of Ray Durham, coming on the heels of the pre-All-Star break addition of CC Sabathia, gives the Brewers needed depth and versatility. Although Durham has played almost exclusively as a second baseman throughout his career, I could see the Brewers using him as a Tony Phillips-like superutility player. The switch-hitting Durham could platoon with the disappointing Rickie “Hands of Stone” Weeks at second base, while also filling in at first base and perhaps even the outfield, assuming that Yost is willing to be daring. Durham’s ability to get on base, coupled with his occasional power, makes him a useful player. He also helps balance a lineup that leans far too much to the right side. Other than Prince Fielder, the Brewers haven’t had much left-handed hitting. Durham, a stronger presence from the left side, gives them a little bit more.

The Brewers really have no excuses now if they fail to make the playoffs. It’s debatable whether they’re as good as the Cubs, but they certainly have more talent than the Cardinals, whom they are currently trying to catch in the wild card chase. With All-Star talents like Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Sabathia, and Ben Sheets, the Brewers should beat out the overachieving Cardinals. If they don’t, the Ned Yost bashers will have their most convincing evidence yet that it’s time to make a change in the Brewers’ dugout…

Do you want to hear the good news or the bad news on the Yankees? The good news involves their standing in the AL East; they’re only two and a half games behind the Red Sox and four and a half games behind the Rays. The bad news is that their roster has been rendered a M*A*S*H unit, with Jorge Posada back on the disabled list, where he joins Hideki Matsui, Chien-Ming Wang, and Phil Hughes. With Posada’s right shoulder continuing to bark, the Yankees are looking at the real possibility that he won’t play again in 2008. Even if he does manage to suit up, he can forget about doing any catching the rest of the season. That leaves the Yankees in a quandary. As good as Jose Molina has been defensively, he is the kind of offensive non-entity that the Yankees can no longer afford to carry.  With their offense already devalued by Matsui’s injury and the wear-and-tear to Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu, the Yankees need a catcher who can hit at least a little. Some of the available candidates include Baltimore’s Ramon Hernandez, the Rangers’ Gerald Laird, Cincinnati’s David Ross, and the Padres’ pair of Josh Bard and Michael Barrett. Brian Cashman won’t have to break the bank for any of those receivers, but he will have to part with at least one prospect in any deal, something that he’s been reluctant to do up until now…

In a year that has already seen the passing of Eliot Asinof, W.C. Heinz, and Jules Tygiel, the baseball world lost another writing giant over the weekend. Jerome Holtzman, the unoffficial dean of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, died after a long illness. He was 82. Holtzman is best remembered for spearheading the invention of the save statistic, but his legacy encompasses far more than that. For years, he successfully covered both the Cubs and the White Sox as the guardian of the Chicago baseball beat. He wrote a terrific oral history, No Cheering in the Press Box, which chronicled the memories of some of the game’s early writers. He also provided some unique memories to other members of the BBWAA, as they delighted in watching him verbally spar with Dick Young, the dean of New York City baseball writers. Holtzman and Young might not have liked each other, but they were both impressive old-school chroniclers of the game’s history.