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The Astros Sign Stealing Scandal and the Importance of Baseball to American Life


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Walt Whitman wrote:

I see great things in baseball. It’s our game — the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.

Baseball, can and should be that, but over the years as a culture and a country we have largely abandoned it in favor of more violent, and supposedly faster paced sports like football, which should be more honestly named slow paced, up-armored Rugby. True football is what we call soccer, a sport where every player, not just the kicker and punter can kick the ball, and where use of the hands to stop the ball by anyone except the goalkeeper is a penalty.

There is a lot going on in the world and in our country worth writing about today. I could write about the coming impeachment trials, the Democratic Party presidential race to the first primaries and caucuses, the crisis with Iran. They are all worthy of writing about. However, something troubles me more, because the issue goes to the heart of who we are as Americans, and what we have lost. That was revealed in the last few days when it was revealed that the Houston Astros and quite likely the Boston Red Sox have been implicated in a scandal that goes to the heart of the game, and to the heart of us as a people, and it is reflected in our culture, our politics, our religion, and the way we do life.

In the film Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones playing the character Terrance Mann, loosely based on the great author J. D. Salinger remarked:

The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.

But the latest scandal involving the upper management of the Astros and Red Sox has probably done more damage to the game than the 1918 Black Sox scandal, and the Steroid Era combined. This time upper management used technology to compromise themselves, their players, and the game itself. No member of the Astros and Red Sox World Series winning teams will escape question, including some of the best recent and young players to have played the game. The actions of A. J. Hinch, Alex Cora, Carlos Beltran and Jeff Luhnow, as well as others certainly to be implicated have harmed the game, and show the depravity of our win at all costs culture, embodied so well by President Donald Trump and our business elites. In sports this has best been seen in the NFL and both the NCAA Football and Basketball organizations, where it is all about winning, and money, with little regard for the players.

With the evidence released when the Mets parted ways with Carlos Beltran  after he was named in, but not suspended by MLB in their investigation of the Astros sign stealing scandal. At the time Beltran was a player, but video showed him along with other players watching the videos from the Center Field Camera as signals were being sent to batters. Another whistleblower revealed that at least some, if not all Astros batters had a buzzer embedded in their uniforms to alert them to the type of pitch coming.

I am sorry, call that whatever you wish cheating, and it is on a scale greater than the Black Sox Scandal of 1918 which resulted in the permanent suspension of eight players for life, including Shoeless Joe Jackson who played an amazing World Series but who was also illiterate, meaning that he probably did not understand the contract he signed to throw the Series. Likewise, the fact that the Pete Rose scandal, which involved his personal betting on games, did not significantly influence his teams record and got him banned from Baseball for life. Yes I will go even father, the PED/steroids scandal which ruined Hall of Fame careers for men who would have magpie it to the Hall of Fame with or without them pales in life significance to this scandal because all of the fact that it was so widespread in MLB. The reality is that all the great players stained with PEDs would have made the Hall of Fame without them, while hundred if not thousands of others, without their degree of talent never saw an increase in their performance tells me that talent, not drugs, was still key to the success of players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons. You don’t have to agree with me, but those are facts. In this case it was upper management, the team Manager, coaches, and b players working together to cheat.

As much as I dislike the Evil Dodgers and Yankees, they did not deserve to be cheated out of League or World Series championships by teams that cheated using technology to skirt the long-standing taboos of Baseball that stealing signs is illegal, immoral, and ignoble, especially when the entire management and many players are in on, is simply dishonorable.

My judgement, and yes I used the word “judgement” not feeling, is that the players who participated in this scheme, even those who turned a blind eye to it need suspensions and reprimands, and maybe bans from playing or participating in the Major Leagues, or any minor league teams associated with a major league franchise. If that applies to Shoeless Joe and the rest of the Eight Men Out, to Pete Rose, and the men who would based on their records be in the Hall of Fame even without their use of PEDs then these men, who did this in the playoffs and World Series, need to be punished even more severely. MLB and the teams concerned need to ban the participants in this cheating scheme from baseball. They need to do what  the NFL and NCAA by and large refuse to do.

Baseball is essentially a peaceful and pastoral game, that when onne understands it makes a part of your heart. It is timeless in a time in an age where time is the enemy to be defeated. It is relatively slow paced, like reading books and classic literature, listening to well reasoned speeches and debates like the Lincoln Douglas debates, debates of substance, not sound bites. It is the fact that most Americans regardless of their political or religious beliefs revel in memes and sound bites, violence and speed, rather than reason, reflection, and respect for our institutions, laws, and conventions which have led us to today.

President Trump and his authoritarian Presidency didn’t just appear out of thin air. Our culture, changed. We came to value short term profits, social Darwinism, and amoral violence conducted by men in uniforms, some military, some law enforcement, and some in sports. They vicariously live the violence that we worship as the cornerstone of power.

Bill Veeck, who was the owner of a rotten White Sox franchise for years said:

Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off.

I hope that Major League Baseball makes a clean sweep. The National Football League hasn’t done it, but if baseball does it may again become America’s game, and it may bode well for our society as a whole, even more than religion or politics. I hate to say it, but I have to admit that I have come to like soccer as much or more than baseball. Yes, FIFA has its corruption, but it’s a game that is very hard to cheat at, regardless of the amount of technology available, and the desire to win.

By the way, in 2017 I wanted the Astros to win, without knowing the full story of how they got there.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Designed to Break Your Heart: Baseball Season Ends

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late commissioner of baseball and literary giant A. Bartlett Giamatti once wrote:

It breaks your heart.  It is designed to break your heart.  The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.” (A. Bartlett Giamatti, “The Green Fields of the Mind,” Yale Alumni Magazine, November 1977)

Last night when the Kansas City Royals came back to defeat the New York Mets in extra innings, the won their first World Series in thirty years and ended the 2015 baseball season and with it a lot of hearts broke, as they do every year at this time. It is not just that somewhere along the way our favorite team loses, but it is the how for many people, like me, that baseball is more than a game, but has an incredible spiritual component.

This year none of my teams made the playoffs, except for our local Triple-A International League affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, the Norfolk Tides. That being said the post-season was interesting and had a lot of great stories within the story of the post-season playoff series and the World Series. The Royals picked up where they did last year after they lost a heartbreaker to the San Francisco Giants and continued to win even when it looked like the opposition, whether it was the Astros, Blue Jays or the Mets was poised to win. I am not a Royals fan but as a lover of baseball I have to say that they are an amazing team.

However, the season is now over, and for me winter is now officially here, and yesterday was dreary with a lot of rain. The official beginning of winter for me starts with the end of the Fall Classic.

With the end of the season one of my places of solace from the cares of the world. Really, when I came home from Iraq, baseball was one of the few things that helped to calm my soul from the demons of PTSD, TBI, major depression, anxiety, and often-suicidal thoughts. I can agree with Sharon Olds who wrote back in the early 1970s “Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.”

In a world where so many things are unsettling baseball is reassuring. In the run-up to the 2016 general election where the politicians, pundits, and preachers, the “Trinity of Evil” use every means available to raise the levels of fear and anxiety of people, it is even more so. In such a world baseball is a safe-harbor for me, as Mark Kramer wrote, “Baseball is a harbor, a seclusion from failure that really matters, a playful utopia in which virtuosity can be savored to the third decimal place of a batting average.”

Now I wait for Spring Training 2016 begins and the pitchers and catchers, including a number of friends start reporting, and with that my spring will begin.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Mama Bear, Contraceptives & the Cubs

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late, great, Chicago Cubs broadcaster, Harry Caray, made a darkly humorous comment that once again seems to have come true. Caray said, “What does a mama bear on the pill have in common with the World Series? No cubs.”

The Chicago Cubs under the direction of former Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon had a great season. They reached the playoffs as a Wild Card team, and knocked out the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division series.

I kind of hoped that they would have won the World Series this year, even though I believe that should the Cubs ever win the World Series that Jesus will return. I am a big fan of Cubs starter Jake Arietta who I know from his time in the Orioles organization and time in Norfolk, and I do have a soft spot for the Cubs. In fact about six years ago I wrote, “it all comes down to baseball, just as everything else in life. My belief is that when the Chicago Cubs win the World’s Series that we’d better start looking to the East, and pronto.” Since the “amazin’ Mets” beat the Cubs in the National League Championship Series I will have to assume that the perousia (the Greek word for the second coming) will again be delayed, at least until next year.

  
The Mets swept the Cubbies in large part due to the hitting of Daniel Murphy who hit his sixth consecutive home run, breaking a playoff record.  It looks like the Mets will now play the winner of the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays American League Championship Series, which the Royals now lead three games to two with the series going back to Kansas City on Friday.

  
So, until we know something else, here is to the Mets, who made my season by defeating the evil Los Angeles Dodgers in their National League Division Series last week. As a diehard San Francisco Giants fan I have to salute the Mets, who have been amazing this year. As for the Cubbies, there is always next year. They have nothing to be ashamed of this season; they are a young team, they made the playoffs and beat the only team to win 100 games. It is not the World Series, but it is not bad.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Exemplar of Defense the Oriole Way: Paul Blair Orioles “Motormouth” and Golden Glove Dead at 69

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Paul Blair the legendary 8 time Gold Glove Center Fielder of the Baltimore Orioles American League and World Series teams of the 1960s and 1970s died yesterday at the age of 69. He died just under a year after his Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver did, both while doing things that they loved.

Blair was bowling in a celebrity bowling tournament in Pikesville Maryland after completing a round of golf when he complained of not feeling well and slumped over unconscious. He died shortly after arrival at Mount Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.

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Blair was born in Cushing Oklahoma but grew up in Los Angeles California. He tried out for the Dodgers but was rejected because they did not believe that he was big enough. The Mets signed him to a minor league contract in 1961. After being left unprotected by the Mets he was drafted by the Orioles in 1962. He moved up through the Orioles farm system and gained his nickname “Motormouth” in 1963 by his manager Harry Dunlop while playing with the Stockton Ports of the California League, it was something that he would relate to me in 2003 when I met him in Mayport Florida and I gave him a Ports hat to autograph. The nickname was revived when he got to the majors by Frank Robinson and Curt Blefary.

After a six month tour in the Army Reserve in 1964 he returned to the Orioles where he became the starting Center Fielder. Known for his speed and skill in the outfield Blair was awarded 8 Gold Glove awards, seven consecutively between 1969-1975. The record of 8 was a record for outfielders only broken by Ken Griffey Jr.  Blair’s career fielding percentage was .987, he only had 57 errors in 4462 chances.

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In a 1997 interview with USA Today Baseball Weekly Blair said of his defensive prowess “I was taught to play defense. Back in our day it was pitching and defense. Our philosophy (the Oriole way) was don’t make the little mistakes that cost you ballgames. That is the way we won over such a long period of time.” Earl Weaver said of Blair’s speed in the outfield “I never saw Paul Blair’s first step.” Orioles All Star Don Buford who played alongside Blair for 5 years noted “When you talk about the greatest defensive center fielders, he was right in the mix.”

Blair hit for a lifetime batting average of .250 with 1513 hits and 134 home runs, an average that may have been affected by being severely injured when he was beaned by Angels pitcher Ken Tatum in May of 1970.

Blair won two World Series rings with the Orioles and another two with the Yankees and was voted to the 1969 and 1973 All Star team. He is the only player to get five hits in an ALCS game when he did so in the final game of the 1969 ALCS against the Twins. After his playing career he coached at he high school and college level and served as an outfield instructor with the Yankees and Astros.

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I met Blair twice in 2003 and 2005 when he doing goodwill tours to military bases. On both occasions we had time to talk. In Mayport Florida I was able to spend over an hour with Blair, the late Hall of Fame 1st Baseman of the Twins Harmon Killebrew, Hall of Fame Pitcher Ferguson Jenkins as well as John Tudor, Manny Sanguillen and Jimmy Wynn. I really enjoyed Blair’s stories about his time in Stockton, which I consider my home town as well as his stories about his playing days. He was a joy to be around.

I was hoping that I would get another chance to meet up with Blair. That won’t happen now so I will just say Rest in Peace.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Mark of Cain: Matt Cain Pitches 22nd Perfect Game in MLB History

Celebration by the Bay (Photo: Jason O Watson/Getty Images)

I was just about to go to bed but had the MLB Channel on when I began to pay attention as Harold Reynolds began to say in the top of the 5th inning of the Giants-Astros game “to Call your friends because history is being made by Matt Cain.” On a night were Met’s pitcher R A Dickey pitched a one-hitter and in a season that had already seen 4 no-hitters including a Perfect Game by Phil Humber, this was more than amazing.

Matt Cain on firing Strikes:  (Photo: Jason O Watson/Getty Images)

The first Cain was not known for his pitching skills and ended up with a mark that remained with him the rest of his life, not mark any of us would want. Tonight another Cain, Matt Cain now has a mark, but not like the biblical Cain, Matt Cain pitched the 22nd Perfect Game in MLB history and the first in the 130 years of the Giants Baseball Club.

I have been a Giants fan since I was a kid. Back on August 24th 1975 my dad took my brother and me to Candlestick where we saw Ed Halicki no hit the New York Mets. In 1976 John “the Count of” Montefusco no-hit the Braves in Atlanta. It was almost 33 years before the Giants got another when on July 10th 2009 Jonathan Sanchez no-hit the Padres facing 28 batters, one more than a perfect game due to a fielding error.  Hall of Fame pitchers for the Giants to pitch no-hitters have included Christy Matthewson, Carl Hubble, Gaylord Perry and Juan Marichal.  But no Giants pitcher had ever pitched a perfect game.

Melky Cabrera’s Leaping Catch at the Wall  (Photo: Jason O Watson/Getty Images)

The perfect game is one of the most miraculous and magical moments in all of sports simply because anything, a bad pitch or an error or a bad call can end the bid, who can forget the call by Umpire Jim Joyce that kept Armando Galarraga from a perfect game in 2010. The novel The Perfect Game which became the Kevin Costner film For the Love of the Game does such a wonderful job of portraying the miracle. It seems that nights like this, the pressure, the miraculous and unbelievable catches made in the field and the ability of a pitcher to get out after out. Cain understands this, he has taken 5 no hitters into the 7th inning during his career and never got the no-hitter.

Gregor Blanco Making his Diving catch in the 7th  (Photo: Jason O Watson/Getty Images)

Cain is one of the best pitchers in the game. During the 2010 World Series Cain pitched 21 1/3 innings without giving up a run. This year he is 8-2 with a 7 game winning streak and a 2.18 ERA.  The performance was one of the best ever even in a perfect game. Cain dominated with 14 strike outs tying the Major League mark set by Sandy Koufax in 1965. Cain helped his cause by getting a hit and scoring a run. The first pitcher since Dennis Martinez to get a hit in a Perfect game since Dennis Martinez in 1992.  Cain threw 125 pitches, the most in a perfect game in MLB history.

Buster Posey celebrates with Matt Cain  (Photo: Jason O Watson/Getty Images)

Several great defensive plays helped bring on the magic. Melky Cabrera made a leaping catch at the left field wall in the 6th inning and Gregor Blanco who came out of nowhere to make a diving catch going toward the wall on the warning track on a hit that looked as if it would be the first hit and go for extra bases.

The Giants also set a record by scoring 10 runs in a Perfect Game.

Matt Cain left his mark on Baseball tonight and hopefully he will continue to give those that love the game more of these memories.

Now I need to try to calm down enough to get some sleep.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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8020 Games and Finally….a Miracle for the Mets: Johan Santana Pitches First No-No in Mets History

Johan Santana celebrates after striking out David Freese (Photo Ray Stubblebine/Reuters)

“A pitcher’s got to be good and he’s got to be lucky to get a no hit game.” Cy Young 

The New York Mets ended a 50 year drought as Johan Santana no-hit the St. Louis Cardinals tonight in New York. It was the longest that a team had gone in MLB history without a no-hitter and leaves the San Diego Padres as the only team in the Majors with 43 years without a no-hitter.

Santana threw 134 pitches as the Mets shut-out the Cardinals by a score of 8-0. After going down 3 balls and no strikes to David Freese Santana came back to strike out the Cardinal’s slugger to cinch to no-hitter.  Santana joined Phillip Humber of the White Sox and Jared Weaver of the Angels to pitch the 3rd no-hitter of this still young season. For Santana and the Mets it was a cause for celebration.  The Mets are not strangers to having good pitchers on their staff but despite this and having won two World Series titles but had never had one of their own pitchers whose ranks include David Cone, Greg Maddux and Tom Seaver ever pitch a no-hitter as a Met.

Santana a three time All-Star and two time AL Cy Young Award Winner has 136 career wins since entering the Majors with the Minnesota Twins in 2000.  Santana had missed the entire 2011 season after having surgery to repair a tear of the anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder. No pitcher had ever returned from that type of surgery and Santana entered the season just hoping to return to his pre-surgery form. After the game Santana said “Coming into this season, I was just hoping to come back and stay healthy and help this team….” Manager Terry Collins had planned on limiting Santana to 110 pitches but in the 8th inning Santana let his manager know that he “felt good.” Collins left his starter who had thrown a shut-out in his last outing against the Padres in the game. Santana recounted the conversation:

“He came right next to me and he just told me that I was his hero. At that point, I told him, ‘Listen, I’m just going to try to go out there and do my job and try to go as deep as I could in the game.’ And tonight, he was not going to take me out of the game — no chance.”

As in any no-hitter it seemed that the God of Baseball was with the pitcher. Sandy Koufax once said “You’ve got to be lucky, but if you have good stuff, it’s easier to be lucky” and such was the case with Santana this first day of June.  In the 7th inning Santana’s effort was saved when Mike Baxter made a dramatic catch of a Yadier Molina fly ball on the warning track in which he was injured and had to leave the game. He was also aided by a foul call of a ball hit by Carlos Beltran down the 3rd Base line which 3rd Base Umpire Adrian Johnson ruled foul but which the replay appeared to show as a fair ball when it crossed over the bag.

The no-hitter equals the number pitched in 2011.  It is possible that there could be a record number of no-hitters as pitching has again become dominant in the Major Leagues.  We will have to see how that works out but as a fan of great pitching and baseball drama I wouldn’t mind seeing a couple of more this season.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Portrait of America: Baseball and Budget Battles

“Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.”  Saul Steinberg

Baseball is a game of tough decisions, compromises and suspense that at times seems to go on forever. In it there are times where we see courage and fear, good luck and bad, the necessity of patience about fate and the importance of sober self-esteem. It is very much like the system of government in American life at times.  It is somewhat slow to watch at times and during the middle of the season to casual observers it seems that nothing is really happening but as the pennant race begins the trading deadline approaches and the tough decisions are made to each team to try to win the pennant.

In the budget fight we saw Nancy Pelosi not even submit a budget last year, something that was almost like watching the Mets implode on and off the field, and then a new team entered the race totally upsetting the established order, the Tea Party.  After that we saw a debate that seemed to go on forever at a fever pitch. Finally the opposing sides agreed to a deal like a major trade with many parts and ramifications that needed to be worked out in order to get the deal done. They managed to get it done before the trading deadline.

The cuts were deep compared to what were offered in the beginning. Now like baseball more details need to be worked out and the teams have to figure out the long term fixes for the greater problem.

I’m not going to say much more tonight as I spent the night watching the Braves defeat the Phillies and coverage of the other games and baseball headlines on the MLB Network.

The budget stalemate kept me in town to cover duty this weekend but at least I know that my people will get paid and that I will not have to furlough my civilian workers that care for our brave Marines and Sailors.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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