The Milagro in the Sligo


Twenty years ago today, the Boston Red Sox played the Cleveland Indians in the 5th and deciding game of the 1999 American League Division Series.  This game became an instant classic due to the performance of the great Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez that helped clinched the series for the Red Sox.  I was reminded of this game because of this oral history compiled by Ian Browne on MLB.com.

It brought back memories of watching this game with Susan (many years before we were married and were new to living in the Boston area) at the Sligo Pub in Somerville’s Davis Square.  If I could find all the people who were in that dive bar that night and interview them for an additional oral history, I would, but I’m just going to have to rely on my own memory.  Susan and I didn’t have a tv at the time so we went looking for a bar to watch the game, but all the watering holes in Davis Square were so packed it was impossible to see the tv.  The one exception was the Sligo, a pub we’d never before entered.  The other bars were full of college kids, but the clientele of the Sligo was slanted toward middle-aged and the accents were clearly those of lifelong locals.  Nevertheless, we were welcomed to take a seat at a table and watch the game.

The Red Sox were the 81st year of their World Series drought, and lost to Cleveland in the 1998 ALDS. Pedro’s excellent season – including striking out 5 of 6 National League sluggers in the All-Star Game at Fenway Park – instilled hope among Red Sox fans that this would be the year.  But then Cleveland won the first two games, and worse, Pedro injured his pitching shoulder.  Somehow, the Red Sox came back and won the next two games in Boston, including a 23-7 drubbing in Game 4.  And so the series returned to Cleveland for the deciding game 5.  Pedro wasn’t expected to be able to pitch again and the Red Sox started the struggling Bret Saberhagen and hoped for the best.

The box score says that Pedro Martinez entered the game in the top of the 4th, but honestly those first 3 innings felt like a whole game in its own right.  The Red Sox scored 2 runs in the 1st, but the Indians came back and scored 3 in the bottom of the 1st and 2 more in the 2nd.  In the top of the 3rd, the Red Sox rallied again, and the Red Sox leftfielder Troy O’Leary came to bat with the bases loaded.  O’Leary hadn’t hit well in the series so far, but a man at the bar had faith in him.

“O’Leary is due! He’s gonna hit a homah!”

Lo and behold, O’Leary knocked the first pitch to right-center for a grand slam.

“You did it!” exclaimed several men at the bar.

“I didn’t do it, O’Leary did it.  I’m just some drunk guy at a bah!” the prognosticator demurred.

The Red Sox now had a 7-5 lead but it didn’t last long because the Indians scored another 3 runs in the bottom of the inning.  Then the Red Sox tied the game in the top of the 4th at 8-8.  It was in the bottom of the 4th when everyone was stunned to see Pedro Martinez heading to the mound to pitch.  Everyone was nervous, fearing that this slugfest was no place for an injured pitcher, hoping against hope that Pedro wouldn’t get smacked around too.

But Pedro had a calming effect on the game.  Cleveland failed to score in the bottom of the 4th – the first time they put a 0 up in any inning – and neither team scored in the 5th and 6th innings.  Things got so quiet that the barfly at the table opposite us put her head down for a rest.  At least she tried, but loquacious sportscaster Tim McCarver wouldn’t stop talking.

The woman lifted her head and shouted “Shut the feck up, McCavah!  You’re such a Chatty Cathy!” She punctuated this by putting her head back on the table. As Susan noted, there was a sense that no truer words have ever been spoken.

The Red Sox took the lead again in the 7th inning on a 3-run home run by none other than Troy O’Leary.  O’Leary tied a postseason record with 7 RBIs in a single game.  Meanwhile, Cleveland didn’t score at all.  In fact they weren’t able to get a hit off the amazing injured arm of Martinez.  The fans in the bar grew more optimistic that the Red Sox would win this game and advance to the American League Champion Series.  One guy prematurely anticipated that the Red Sox would beat the New York Yankees in the ALCS and then the  New York Mets in the World Series.

“New York, New York – DOUBLE HAMMER!!!” he repeated like a mantra.

The Red Sox did indeed win the game and the ALDS with Pedro no-hitting the Indians for the six innings he pitched.  The game went down in history as the Martinez Milagro. Susan and I pledged to return to the Sligo to watch the Red Sox if they had a chance to clinch the ALCS.  Sadly, the Red Sox lost the ALCS in five games to the Yankees, although the one game they won was another classic in which Pedro outpitched hated former Red Sox Roger Clemens.

The Great Baseball Card Bubble of 1987


I saw this tweet the other day and I had to laugh because it brought back memories of the time in my childhood when I was deeply invested in the baseball card collecting hobby.  I can’t remember when I started collecting baseball cards, but sometime in the early 80s my uncle gave me a large number of cards from the 1978 Topps set.  To this I added current cards from wax packs my parents would buy me, hoping to get cards of the two New York City teams and some of the big stars of the day like Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Murray, George Brett, and Fernando Valenzuela.

Oddly, my baseball card hobby actually preceded my baseball fandom by several years, but by 1985 when I started following baseball intensely, my card collecting also picked up. Now I I would my money from birthdays and such at corner stores on wax packs hoping to get my favorite team (now solely the Mets), the best players of the day, and hopefully complete the set.  I started getting Baseball Cards Magazine and learned a lot about the history of baseball cards going back to the 1950s when Topps started, and even earlier cards made by no longer extant companies.  I also learned that Topps was not alone, but had competitors named Fleer and Donruss, and soon a company called Score would release a set with color photos on both sides of the card!

Baseball Cards Magazine informed me that older cards were most valuable, but there were also error cards from more recent sets that were rare and valuable.  I searched my cards, but alas, never found the rare variants. Another type of card considered valuable is the rookie card, which is the very first card issued for a particular player by any company.  Sometimes rookie cards were issued before a player even made their Major League debut, and I found I had a Mark McGwire card from when he was on the USA baseball team in 1984. The Baseball Cards Magazine price guide said my card was worth $15 (I never sold it though).

Towards the late 80s, the baseball card hobby began shifting more and more toward emphasis on collecting rookie cards.  It helped that a large number of young players began emerging as potential stars at that time.  Wally Joyner, pictured above, was the first rookie player elected to start in the All-Star Game ever in 1986, and in 1987 even more rookies made the All-Star rosters.  Soon the ads in the back of Baseball Cards Magazine were all selling lots of rookie cards by the 100s for players like Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Will Clark, Mike Greenwell, Mark McGwire, Gregg Jeffries, Benito Santiago, Kevin Seitzer, Ruben Sierra, Cory Snyder, Danny Tartabull and of course, Wally Joyner. The hope for collectors is that by buying up lots of cards of players when they were young would make them more valuable for resale when they became Hall of Famers. The hobby became less appealing to me the more it became an investment vehicle like the stock market.

Of course, none of these players were inducted into the Hall of Fame, and most of them weren’t even superstars.  Bonds, Canseco, and McGwire were superstars but are also among the most prominent players to have their legacies tarnished by using performance enhancing drugs. I avoided buying the lots of rookie cards, although I was convinced to save up my money to buy the 1987 Topps Traded set, which had 132 cards of players traded since the original 1987 set was published and included the first cards of several “prominent rookies.” I believe I saved up $15 plus shipping & handling to get this set by mail order.  This spring when I was in a baseball card shop in Cooperstown, I saw the exact same set for sale for $10.  The lots of rookie cards that my fellow hobbyists invested in 30 years ago have similarly not appreciated in price.

These days, my son – and to a lesser extent, my daughter – has taken up an interest in baseball card collecting.  Baseball cards have come a long way, and following the innovations of that first Score set now have color photos on both sides on high-quality card stock.  Unfortunately, this means one can no longer buy a pack with pocket change at the corner store, but have to spend several dollars for a pack at a specialty shop.  Instead of a rookie card bubble, my son is drawn in by the chance of getting limited edition cards inserted into packs that have actual player autographs and swatches of game-used uniforms and equipment (which strikes me as eerily like the relics of Christian saints).  While I can’t say these cards are worth what my son is paying for them, it is nice that they are actually something unique and pleasant to look at. You can’t say that for a lot of 100 Wally Joyner rookie cards.

2019 MLB Postseason Predictions and Preferences


Well, the Major League Baseball postseason is upon us again.  I’ve defied the orthodoxy about having just one favorite team and followed my beloved New York Mets since childhood and my hometown Red Sox since moving to Boston 21 years ago.  For the first time since 2014, neither one of my favorite teams will participate in the postseason.  To add insult to injury, teams that I absolutely despise – the St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, and Atlanta Braves – will all be in the competition to add to their massive piles of pennant flags and World Series trophies so their stuck-up fans can lord it over the rest of us peasants.

My strategy in a postseason like this is to root for underdogs and teams with long droughts of winning pennants and championships.  As a Mets fan, I’m supposed to hate the Washington Nationals, but I’ve never been able to build up the enmity since the only time the two teams were both good enough to battle for the NL East title was 2015, and Mets got the better of the Nats that season.  The Nationals have consistently been a top-notch team the past decade, but have famously never won a postseason series.  Plus, I have a lot of friends in the Washington area and it would be nice for them to see their team get of the schneid.

The other National League team I’ll be rooting for is the Milwaukee Brewers.  Like the Nationals they are a franchise dating back to 1969 (they played one season in Seattle before moving to Milwaukee in 1970) and have never won a World Series.  The Brewers have one pennant flag from 1982 when the team still played in the American League.

Over in the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays are the franchise with the most futility, having won only won pennant (2008) since joining MLB in 1998.  The Oakland A’s historically have won a lot of World Series (9, with the most recent in 1989), but in recent decades they have become an underdog favorite for succeeding despite low payrolls and a decrepit stadium.  Honestly, it would be a delight to see smart, small market teams like the A’s and the Rays upset big money teams like the Yankees and Dodgers.

The remaining AL teams are the Minnesota Twins and the Houston Astros.  I have a soft spot for the Twins, a team that has won two World Series, most recently in 1991.  A Twins championship would also be a victory for a small-market team, albeit not quite the extent of an A’s, Rays, or even Brewers championship.  The Astros won their first and only World Series in 2017, so can’t really be viewed as an underdog, but they’ve put together a solid, likable team and I wouldn’t begrudge them a second championship.

Just out of a twisted curiosity, I’d love to see a World Series matchup between the Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers, the two teams who switched leagues, to the distress of baseball purists everywhere.  Another fun matchup would be the Washington Nationals versus the Minnesota Twins, a franchise that played as the Washington Senators until 1960.

With that said, here are my preferences and predictions:

NATIONAL LEAGUE

WILD CARD GAME

Preference: Nationals defeat Brewers
Prediction:  Brewers defeat Nationals

DIVISIONAL SERIES

Preferences: Braves defeat Cardinals, Nationals defeat Dodgers
Predictions:  Braves defeat Cardinals, Dodgers defeat Brewers

CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

Preference: Nationals defeat Braves
Prediction: Dodgers defeat Braves

AMERICAN LEAGUE

WILD CARD GAME

Preference: Rays defeat A’s
Prediction: Rays defeat A’s

DIVISIONAL SERIES

Preferences: Twins defeat Yankees, Rays defeat Astros
Predictions: Yankees defeat Twins, Astros defeat Rays

CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

Preference: Twins defeat Rays
Prediction: Astros defeat Yankees

World Series:

Preference: Nationals defeat Twins
Prediction: Astros defeat Dodgers

Previous preferences and predictions:

Book Review: Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella


Author: W.P. Kinsella
Title: Shoeless Joe
Narrator: Grover Gardner
Publication Info: Blackstone Publishing, 2011 (originally published 1982)
Other Books Read By the Same Author:

    • The Iowa Baseball Confederacy
    • Box Socials
    • The Thrill of the Grass
    • The Mocassin Telegraph and Other Stories
    • The Dixon Cornbelt League, and Other Baseball Stories
    • Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa: Stories
    • The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt: Baseball Stories
    • Red Wolf, Red Wolf: Stories
    • Magic Time

Summary/Review:

W.P. Kinsella was one of my favorite authors growin up and this is one of his classic books. Most people will be familiar with this novel as the source for the movie Field of Dreams.  The basic gist is that a baseball crazy man named Ray Kinsella marries a woman from Iowa and together they purchase a farm.  Ray gets a mystical message “If you build it, he will come” and knows that it refers to disgraced baseball star Shoeless Joe Jackson.  He builds a baseball field on his farm, and Shoeless Joe appears, followed by the rest of the 1919 Chicago White Sox players banned from baseball for throwing the World Series.

Ray gets more missions from the mysterious voice: to take reclusive author J.D. Salinger to a game at Fenway Park, find the curiously named Moonlight Graham who played in one baseball game and never came to bat, and the Oldest Living Chicago Cub player.  Bringing this odd group together, Ray is also able to reunite with his (dead) father who played baseball in his youth, and his (living) identical twin brother who ran away from the circus.

What I forgot about this book is that it is largely a series of conversations focusing on philosophy, dreams, American identity, and fatherhood.  It’s a great blend of magic and the quotidian.  And the fictional version of J.D. Salinger is a hoot, and one can only hope the real Salinger was something like that.  The book holds up and perhaps even better than I remembered from an adult perspective.

Favorite Passages:

“You don’t have any witnesses.  What if it was all a hallucination? Religous fanatics are known to have delirious visions.  You’re obviously a baseball fanatic.”

Recommended books:
Rating: *****

Photopost: Cooperstown


My son and I took an overnight trip during spring break to Cooperstown to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.  This is my fourth trip to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame.  I have mixed feelings about Cooperstown.  On the one hand, Cooperstown is an absolutely gorgeous village and its fun to drive the winding roads through scenic farmland to get to the town and its excellent museums.  On the other hands, the story of baseball being invented in Cooperstown is completely fabricated, and places with much better claims on being the place where baseball was invented in New York City, New Jersey, and New England would be a lot easier to get to for most visitors.  Cooperstown needs the Hall of Fame more than the Hall of Fame needs Cooperstown.

That being said we had a great time walking through the town that was largely empty of people, visiting the baseball memorabilia stores, and taking in the exhibits at the Hall of Fame.  I took a lot of photographs including the plaques of all my favorite Hall of Famers and posted them in this web album.

A stately church building.
A cheerful yellow house.
All-American Girls Professional Baseball League uniforms.
The hats worn by Nolan Ryan for each of his no-hitters.
Statue of Ted Williams.
The Phillie Phanatic trapped in a glass box.
Peter pays due reverences to the 2018 World Series Champion Red Sox exhibit.

 

Movie Review: Pelotero (2011) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “P” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “P” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Paris is Burning, Pete Seeger: The Power of SongProhibition, and Punk’s Not Dead.

Title: Pelotero
Release Date: 2011
Director: Jonathan Paley, Ross Finkel and Trevor Martin
Production Company: Makuhari Media
Summary/Review:

The Dominican Republic is a small nation on an island in the Carribean, yet it produces 20% of the professional basebally players in the United States. Pelotero, also known as Ballplayer, focuses on two young prospects who hope to be signed by a Major League Baseball team, Miguel Angel Sanó and Jean Carlos Batista.  Historically, Dominican players have received smaller signing bonuses than players in the United States, Candada, Japan, and elsewhere, but in recent years new records for bonuses have been set. Sanó is expected to challenge that signing record.

July 2nd is the big date in the Dominican Republic when 16-year-old players are able to sign with major league teams.  We watch Sanó and Batista over several months of early 2009 as they practice and audition for several teams.  They speak of their bonuses which they expect will be able to lift their entire families out of poverty.  The bonuses will also be used for the coaches who run the training academies on the island who do not get paid except for a comission if the player gets a bonus.  Because players cannot sign until they’re 16 and bonuses are smaller for older players, there is a history of fraud, where players (and their families, coaches, and agents) fake their ages and/or use performance enhancing drugs.

Unfortunately, both of Sanó and Batista fall under suspicion of age fraud, and undergo lengthy MLB investigations.  Due to the ongoing investigations, no team will sign them on July 2nd.  There’s a suspicion in Sanó’s case that the investigation is being used to force him to sign for a lower bonus, and the effort to prove his age involves a series of humiliating medical tests and confirmation of official documents.  In the end, Sanó is signed for less than expected to the Minnesota Twins, while Batista is suspended for one year, and signs with Houston Astros the next year.

Just a side note, this documentary has some excellent reggaeton tracks deployed in the soundtrack.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

The grim, exploitative reality of Dominican baseball is played out on the screen.  There’s a lot riding on the hope of a signing bonus, although only a smal portion of players will be signed, and then a tiny fraction of them will make it to the major leagues.  Many people in this film use terms that make these young men sound like commodities, which I find very disturbing.

Miguel Sanó made his Major League debut with the Twins in 2015, and played in the All-Star Game in 2017, and is still with the Twin but starting the 2019 season on the injured list.  Jean Carlos Batista played a few years in the Astros’ minor league system, but doesn’t appear to be in professional baseball anymore.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

The most direct comparison to Pelotero is the 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams which focuses on two boys from Chicago who enter into prestigious high school basketball programs with expectations for the future in college and NBA basketball.

The Arm is a book that focuses on programs – sometimes exploitative – that focus on training young players in the United States and Japan to become effective pitchers.

Source: Hoopla

Rating: ***1/2


019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Podcasts of the Week Ending April 14


The Memory Palace :: Jackie Mitchell

The story of the first woman to play on a professional baseball team, most famous for pitching in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees and striking out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Hidden Brain :: Radically Normal: How Gay Rights Activists Changed The Minds Of Their Opponents

The acceptance of LGBTQ people in the United States has improved radically in a short period of time.  Hidden Brain explores what brought about the change in attitudes, and questions why other groups discriminated against have not seen as much positive change.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Birdsong

Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?  Perhaps because they have something important to say.

99% Invisible :: Froebel’s Gifts

The origins of kindergarten date to the late 18th-century when Friedrich Froebel came up with the idea of teaching young children through the structured use of educational toys.


Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

2019 Major League Baseball Predictions


Time begins on March 28th, when a new Major League Baseball season starts and all the teams are tied for first place (well except in the AL West where Seattle and Oakland have already played two games in Japan).

Here are my predictions for how the 2019 will come to an end.

NL East

The Phillies aggressive offseason will give them the NL East title, although the Nationals will be neck-and-neck with them over the season. The Braves will regress a little after last season’s division championship.  The Mets sadly will continue to lack the offense to support the stellar pitching. And Miami will continue to be mediocre.

Philadelphia
Washington (wild card)
Atlanta
New York
Miami

NL Central

The Cubs will reclaim the NL Central and Milwaukee will capture the wild card.  I’m honestly not sure how the rest of the division will shake out, because the Reds and Pirates have the talent to surprise, but then again the Cardinals could be better than 3rd as well.

Chicago
Milwaukee (wild card)
St. Louis
Cincinnati
Pittsburgh

NL West

The boring old Dodgers will continue to dominate, while improvements in the Padres will help them snag a distant second place.  The Rockies will regress after their 2018 Wild Card season and Arizona and San Francisco will each drop down a notch.

Los Angeles
San Diego
Colorado
Arizona
San Francisco

AL East

The Red Sox won’t win as many games as last season but neither will the Yankees.  The Rays, Blue Jays, and Orioles will each be a little bit better than 2018, but the division will still shake out in the same order.  Excepting the Orioles, this is probably the strongest division in baseball & its a shame that only 3 teams can make the postseason.

Boston
New York (wild card)
Tampa Bay (wild card)
Toronto
Baltimore

AL Central

Cleveland will once again win the AL Central, largely for lack of competition within the division.  I expect the Twins will be the only other team to finish over .500, and the remainder of the division could shake out in any order.

Cleveland
Minnesota
Chicago
Detroit
Kansas City

AL West

The Astros, like the Dodgers, will continue to make the regular season a formality.  Oakland may challenge for the Wild Card, but I don’t expect much from the rest of the division.

Houston
Oakland
Los Angeles
Seattle
Texas

WILD CARD PLAYOFFS:

Washington defeats Milwaukee
Tampa Bay defeats New York

DIVISIONAL SERIES:

Houston defeats Tampa Bay
Boston defeats Cleveland
Washington defeat Chicago
Los Angeles defeat Philadelphia

CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES:

Boston defeats Houston
Washington defeats Los Angeles

WORLD SERIES:

Somehow the Miracle Mets swoop in and win it all on the 50th anniversary of their first championship!

Podcasts of the Week Ending March 16th


Twenty Thousand Hertz :: The Booj

In a world where every movie trailer sounds exactly like every other movie trailer, how does one make their trailer stand out?  The story of The Booj and other elements common to the blockbuster movie trailer formula.  Confession:  I love the sound of The Booj, but can live without the cheezy song covers.

Radiolab :: Asking for Another Friend

This episode investigates several mysteries, including people who don’t clean up their dog’s poop, racist dogs, and why the New York City subway plays the opening notes of a song from West Side Story.

Re:Sound :: Lefty Disco

The first story is the oddly fascinating story of how discrimination against Black and gay people, a radio shockjock, and a baseball double-header collided to become a disastrous promotional event and The Night That Killed Disco.

Best of the Left :: Democratizing our presidential elections (National Popular Vote) ​

The Electoral College is anti-democratic and despite what its supporters say does not help smaller states.  This episode discusses alternatives such as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, replacing “winner take all” with proportional allotments, and eliminating the Electoral College entirely.


Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Book Review: The Only Rule Is It Has to Work by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller


Author:Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller
TitleThe Only Rule Is It Has to Work
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne  and John Pruden
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2016)
Summary/Review:

A pair of stats geeks with a podcast are given the opportunity to run a baseball team to see if they can test the concepts of sabermetrics – the empirical analysis of baseball – in a real world setting.  The team they get to try this on is the 2015 Sonoma Stompers who play in the low-level independent league, the Pacific Association.  They face challenges of having a manager and players go along with their unorthodox suggestions for playing baseball, as well finding talented players to sign to the team, since the Pacific Association doesn’t attract the best talent.  To surprise of many, the Stompers do very well, dominating the league in the first half.  The authors are honest enough to admit that it wasn’t always their ideas that contributed to the overall success.  But success has its downside as it leads to many of the Stompers’ best players getting signed to contracts on teams in better leagues, leaving the Stompers weakened for the second half and postseason. Nevertheless, I did find myself drawn into their account and caring very deeply about how the Stompers would do that season.  The book is an interesting case study of putting sabermetrics into action and the real life challenges it may face, as well as just being an interesting baseball story.

Recommended booksThe Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports by Jeff Passan, Stolen Season: A Journey Through America and Baseball’s Minor Leagues by David Lamb, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, and Wild and Outside: How a Renegade Minor League Revived the Spirit of Baseball in America’s Heartland by Stefan Fatsis
Rating: ***1/2