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Triple Play: Matt Harvey, Matt Adams, “42″

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Triple Play: Matt Harvey, Matt Adams, “42″

Posted on 15 April 2013 by Chris Caylor

Welcome to this week’s Triple Play. This week, we will be discussing the Mets’ new ace, a young slugger called Big City, and “42.” With the season being a mere two weeks old, all the standard small-sample-size disclaimers apply. With that out of the way, let’s dive in.

matt-harvey-mets

Who’s Hot: Matt Harvey, New York Mets

I mentioned Harvey in last week’s Triple Play. He’s only gotten better. Two weeks into the season, Harvey is thrilling fantasy owners with a 3-0 record, 0.81 ERA, 0.54 WHIP and 25 strikeouts (compared with just six walks in 22 innings). While he obviously won’t continue this pace, Harvey is showing enough dominance to help Mets fans forget R.A. Dickey. Harvey’s composure on the mound has to be exciting for Mets fans, especially when you realize that he just turned 24 in March. As an added bonus for fantasy owners, Harvey will not be pitching this week at Coors Field. That’s almost as good as another victory in itself.

Who’s Not: Aaron Hicks, Minnesota Twins

Hicks earned the starting CF job for the Twins with a sizzling spring, during which he hit .370 with 18 RBI and 18 runs scored. This led to hope that the 23-year-old would be an effective table-setter in front of Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham. The regular season has been a disaster for Hicks. Through his first 10 games, Hicks has whiffed 20 times and batted a ghastly .047. Worse, Hicks got himself in manager Ron Gardenhire’s doghouse due to a lack of hustle on a routine pop-up (that was dropped by Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain). It’s nothing new for a young player to start off cold, but a lack of hustle is the surest way for Hicks to find himself back in the minors. He is fortunate that the Twins lack decent alternatives. As a fantasy owner, though, you should not hesitate to drop him if there are better options sitting on your waiver wire.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .233/.277/.372, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 4 runs, 0 SB, 43 AB
Player B: .643/.667/1.214, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 5 runs, 0 SB, 17 AB

Player A is the Phillies’ Ryan Howard. Player B is St. Louis’ Matt “Big City” Adams. In addition to having a great nickname, Adams is having a great impact on the Cardinals. In just 14 at-bats (entering Sunday), Adams has punished opposing pitchers, while Howard continues to struggle at the plate. He was one of the players on my “do not touch with a 10-foot-pole” list when my auctions before the season. Adams, meanwhile, is adjusting to major-league pitching just fine, thank you. Actually, Adams’ situation right now reminds me of Howard’s situation with the Phillies in the mid-2000s. Each player had bashed his way through the minors and had an established first baseman blocking his path. In Philadelphia, it was Jim Thome. In St. Louis, Allen Craig is entrenched at first. Fortunately, the Cards have the luxury of using Craig to spell Carlos Beltran in right field, thus allowing Adams to start two or three times a week. If he keeps hitting this way, though, Adams is going to force his way into the lineup more regularly. What a wonderful “problem” for the Cardinals (and fantasy owners) to have.

Player A: 0-1, 7 K, 11.04 ERA, 2.73 WHIP
Player B: 3-0, 20 K, 0.40 ERA, 0.81 WHIP

Player A is the Blue Jays’ Josh Johnson. Player B is Justin Masterson of the Indians. Johnson is off to such a horrendous start that he could have been this week’s choice for Who’s Not. Several respectable baseball analysts have noted a decline in Johnson’s velocity compared to last season. Obviously, it’s early, but this is definitely not how most Blue Jays’ fans and fantasy owners envisioned the season starting in Toronto. On the other hand, Masterson is blossoming into a top-of-the-rotation starter in his age-28 season. In my AL-only auction league, Masterson went for the bargain price of $5, while Johnson fetched $24 from an optimistic owner. Right now, that is looking like money down the drain.

Random Thoughts on “42”

I tried to avoid reading reviews before seeing it on opening night because I didn’t want someone else’s complaints about the film in my head as I watched it. Didn’t want baseball historians nitpicking things, didn’t want film critics bashing the acting performances, cinematography, musical score or who knows what else. So, with that in mind, here are five things I took away from “42”:

1)     The acting was good. Not great, but good enough.

a. I had been apprehensive about Harrison Ford taking on the role of Branch Rickey. Would I be thinking to myself “Look, that’s Harrison Ford!” or would he immerse himself sufficiently enough that I could forget it was Ford beneath all that makeup?  I think he succeeded. He dominated his scenes without hamming it up or turning Rickey into a caricature. Bravo to Mr. Ford.

b. Chadwick Boseman’s role was difficult. The movie did not really allow for many nuances in Jackie Robinson’s character, since the film focused on a three-year span in Robinson’s life. During those three years, Robinson had to turn the other cheek; in other parts of his life, he was much more combative. Boseman wasn’t always 100% believable to me off the field, but on the field, he did well.

2)     The little things were brilliantly done. The CGI images of the stadiums in the film (particularly Ebbets Field) were gorgeous. The uniforms were as well. I’m not an historian, but if those things had not been done right, they would have bothered me. I also enjoyed the Red Barber-isms in the latter half of the film (Incidentally, Barber discovered Vin Scully. More on him below).

3)     The action on the field was pretty good. The sliding, the fielding, the baserunning all looked believable to me. And using an actual pitcher like CJ Nitkowski was a very savvy decision. As we all learned watching Bull Durham, it’s darn near impossible to teach an actor how to pitch without looking like a buffoon. Much better to leave something like that to a professional.

4)     The movie to which I compare “42” the most is “Miracle,” the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. Why? Because I already knew the story going in. The hockey team, made of up of college kids, stunned the world by beating the mighty Soviets, who routinely humiliated the NHL’s best. “Miracle” did justice to the story and then some. Would “42” do the same?

5)     In my mind, the answer is a resounding yes. Many baseball analysts have complained that the movie did not cover enough of Robinson’s life. That’s an apples-and-oranges argument to me. The movie sought to tell the story Robinson breaking the unwritten color barrier in major league baseball. It does that in grand fashion. It was not an attempt to chronic Robinson’s entire life, or even his entire career. Most importantly, writer-director Brian Helgeland did not take liberties with the action on the field just to enhance the story. The uncomfortable scenes with the Phillies manager Ben Chapman happened. Racist Dodger teammates really did circulate a petition against Robinson. Robinson really did hit a late-season, game-winning home run off the Pirates pitcher who drilled him early in the season. The movie is a terrific 30,000-foot view of Robinson’s 1947 season that will thrill viewers who don’t know Robinson’s story and should not disappoint those who do. That’s enough for me.

Bonus random thought

Vin Scully is a national treasure, reason #99,999: Listening to his description of the Dodgers-Padres brawl last Thursday was just priceless. No hysterical yelling, no denouncing of the Padres or ridiculous defense of Dodger players, none of it. Just cogent observation of the action on the field. As Matt Kemp spewed one particular profanity repeatedly at the Padres, Scully said this: “That’s fertilizer, Matt Kemp says. That’s fertilizer.” I found myself smiling at how Scully turned an R-rated moment into one appropriate for all audiences, while still conveying all relevant information to his viewers or listeners. If this is his last season broadcasting, then I’m going to savor it for all it’s worth.

Follow me on Twitter @ccaylor10

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uecker

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The Coolest Guy in the Room – Bob Uecker gets his day…and he didn’t even have to pay admission.

Posted on 04 September 2012 by Trish Vignola

How did a backup catcher who batted .200 during a famously forgettable Major League career wind up immortalized with a bronze statue outside Miller Park?

Few know that Bob Uecker found fame as a Major League broadcaster because of he failed as a Major League scout. Former Brewers General Manager Frank Lane sent Uecker to grade prospects in the Northern League in 1970. When the first batch of reports returned to Lane unreadable, slathered in the remains of Uecker’s last meal, Lane demanded a change.

MLB Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig, the Brewers’ owner at the time remembered Uecker as “the worst scout in baseball history.”

Well.

Selig decided to move him to the broadcast booth in 1971. Because of that seemingly small decision at the time, saving the sanity of his GM, Selig set the wheels in motion. Today, Uecker was immortalized alongside two Hall of Famers and the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

For 42 amazing seasons of entertaining Brewers fans, the Brewers made Uecker a permanent fixture outside Miller Park on Friday afternoon. His seven-foot statue joined similar tributes to Selig, who brought the Brewers to Milwaukee as well as Hall of Fame players Henry Aaron and Robin Yount.

“The baseball announcer becomes a link to their fans,” Selig said. “You go to Harry Caray, or Bob Prince in Pittsburgh, Mel Allen in New York, Vin Scully is legendary, a classic…That’s Bob Uecker here.”

Don’t forget. Although Uecker was a slouch on the field, he was never a slouch in the booth. His knowledge of the game, as well as some pretty amazing comedy chops, put Uecker head and shoulders above his cohorts.

Some highlights of the ceremony as seen on MLB.com:

– Uecker, on why he stayed in Milwaukee all these years: “It was a parole thing.”

– Costas, on the statue’s company: “If you walk on the plaza and listen closely, you can hear Henry’s statue begging to be relocated to Lambeau [Field]. When word of this got out, pigeons all over the Midwest relocated to Milwaukee to pay their respects.”

– Yount, via video message, standing in front of the Colosseum in Rome: “He’s been around so long, I think he played here.”

– NBC executive Dick Ebersol: “One thing I want to set straight right now — Bob did not have to pay for the statue. I know that’s been going around.”

– Hall of Famer, Hank Aaron: “I want to go back to the time when we were playing in Atlanta, and I was in a semi slump. You were always in a slump.”

Contrary to the stories he told over the years, Uecker was actually a terrific high school baseball player. He signed with his hometown Braves in 1956. By 1962, he made it to the Majors as a 27-year-old backup catcher. Uecker was traded to the Cardinals in 1964, just in time to win his only World Series ring. Uecker went on to play for the Phillies and finally finished his career with Braves again, this time in Atlanta.

A talent scout for the Tonight Show discovered him at a nightclub owned by jazz trumpeter Al Hirt in 1969. It opened the door to more than 100 appearances with Carson. As a sports satirist myself, Bob Uecker just went from a second rate backup catcher to the coolest guy in the room.

Carson, people!

Uecker’s appearances on Carson were followed by his popular Miller Lite commercials, a starring role on the ABC sitcom “Mr. Belvedere” and of course…the Major League series of films. Let’s face it folks. Bob Uecker permanently skewed our view of the game… in the best way possible.

“One of the great privileges of my life, and of Bob’s life, was to really know Johnny Carson well,” said NBC executive Dick Ebersol. Ebersol was head of the network’s Late Night division at the time of Uecker’s debut. “And Johnny told me on more than one occasion, including about two months before he died, in a very raspy phone call [because] he had a form of emphysema … that Bob Uecker was the most original humorist he had ever known, that it all came from Bob’s gut, from Bob’s soul. He was not surrounded by an army of writers. He was, legitimately, in Johnny’s mind, the funniest man he ever knew.”

Wow.

Ebersol employed Uecker on a series of other shows, including three Wrestlemania broadcasts. Regardless of his success, Uecker never left his spot in the Brewers’ broadcast booth. Selig revealed that even the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner once tried to secretly lure Uecker away.

What?!

Other attendees included former Tonight Show band director Doc Severinsen, Hank Aaron’s wife, Billye, and Uecker’s cast mates from “Mr. Belvedere.” Former Braves teammates Joe Torre, Johnny Logan and Felix Mantilla attended as well as former Brewers – Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, Jim Gantner and Gorman Thomas. Nearly 20 current Brewers including Ryan Braun also broke their usual pregame routine to attend.

“We have a rich tradition in Milwaukee here, and we can’t celebrate it enough,” Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said. “Today is really a blessing, and really, one of the nicest days in my years of ownership.”

Uecker spoke after the big reveal of his statue, which depicts him standing casually with his hands in his pockets. After pulling the curtain away, Uecker turned to emcee Costas and asked, “What do you want me to do?” Costas replied, “What do you want to do?” Uecker responded in typical Uecker fashion… “I want to get my money back.”

Let’s not kid ourselves. If Uecker played today, none of us would have drafted him to our fantasy baseball teams. (Ok. Maybe I would have.) The point is we would all kill for his post-baseball career. Ok. Maybe I would.

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Fix my broadcast booth

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Fix my broadcast booth

Posted on 15 June 2012 by Bill Ivie

Baseball broadcasting has reached an evolutionary point.  The game, the fans, and the information available has outgrown the current structure.

Let me explain.

Those that know me know that I am a baseball fan.  I love the game as a whole.  While, admittedly, I am a huge fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, I will watch any team play any game if it is available.  Thanks to the world of the internet and streaming video, that is quite readily available to me on a regular basis.

Through the magic of MLB.TV, I can choose which broadcast team to listen to.  While at times this gives me the added benefit of listening to legendary voices like Vin Scully, it also provides me the opportunity to listen to broadcasters talk about players that they know.  Let’s face it, we’ve all heard a national broadcaster or an away broadcaster mispronounce a name or say something about a player that home town fans cringe at.  Home town announcers tend to know the ins-and-outs of their players a bit more than visiting announcers who are basing their research on media guides and stats.  Some of the worst home town announcers can still give more insight to a local player than even the best out of town announcer can.

A few years ago, during a spring training game, I tuned in to see a national broadcast do something truly unique.  They did not send their own announcers, they did not find former players to talk about baseball in their day, and they did not send superstar names to cover the game.  They grabbed an announcer from each team.

This year, during a game against the San Diego Padres, the St. Louis Cardinals Fox affiliate (Fox Sports Midwest) ran into some major technical difficulties.  Their neighbors in the next booth over, calling the game for Fox Sports San Diego, were not having the same issues.  What ensued was a combined broadcast booth for the rest of the game.

In both cases, information was the most accurate I have ever recalled.  There was in depth information on every hitter, comments in context with every pitch, and a banter that was true conversation and did not feel rehearsed.

How would I fix the television broadcast booth?  I’m glad you asked:

  • One announcer from each team in the booth
  • Each announcer provides play-by-play when his/her team is at bat
  • The other announcer provides color commentary while his team is on defense
  • Roaming interviewers should be from the home team and focused on the crowd
  • A national “expert” would be provided for dugout interviews, inside information, etc.

The end result?  A baseball game that is more informative and complete for all fans.  Conversations on air that are taking place for the first time instead of two guys trying to build some chemistry.  A more streamlined broadcast that is truly less biased towards either team.

Ultimately, I want things like Baseball Night In America to truly become a staple on television.  Giving the fans true “experts” that are knowledgeable about the teams on the field as well as the game overall will improve the experience for all involved.

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JackieRobinsonSmall

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Major League Baseball Commemorates Jackie Robinson Day This Week

Posted on 14 April 2012 by Trish Vignola

It’s Jackie Robinson Day (April 15th) and this year is a bit more special than before. It’s the 65th anniversary of the Hall of Famer’s Debut in 1947. League-Wide participation on April 15th will include all players wearing Robinson’s number 42, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) clinics, special ceremonies in Major League Baseball ballparks, including one featuring the Robinson family at Yankee Stadium and the debut a National Jackie Robinson Day public service announcement voiced by Hall of Famer Vin Scully.

Maybe it’s the old historian in me, but I really love Jackie Robinson Day. It’s a celebration of a great man and the recognition of Baseball’s role in American history. “When Jackie Robinson took the field in Brooklyn 65 years ago, he transcended the sport he loved and helped change our country in the most powerful way imaginable,” said Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig. “It is a privilege for Major League Baseball to celebrate Jackie’s enduring legacy each year, and we are proud that every April 15th, our young fans around the world have an opportunity to learn everything that the Number 42 stands for – courage, grace and determination.”

Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s wife and founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, comments, “It gives us great pride to commemorate the 65th anniversary of Jack’s barrier-breaking accomplishments.” “This anniversary serves as a reminder of Jack’s enduring legacy and the profound impact he had on America. It is my hope that this commemoration serves as an inspiration to all as we look to unite behind our common goals.”

Some of the pregame ceremonies will include home clubs featuring Jackie Robinson Day jeweled bases and lineup cards. A little showy at best, but there will also be special video shown in-stadium highlighting Jackie’s story and nine values. The Jackie Robinson Day PSA will trace Baseball’s diverse history of legends and today’s stars back to Jackie Robinson. If you are not lucky enough to get to a ballpark that day, the video will feature in order of appearance All-Stars Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Kemp, Ichiro Suzuki and Mariano Rivera, as well as Baseball Legends Frank Thomas, Tony Gwynn, Ozzie Smith, Eddie Murray, Rod Carew, Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson. In order to grow the game, especially amongst the United States ever growing diverse population, it is absolutely essential to celebrate how Baseball doesn’t exist in a vacuum. What other sport can say that it played a major role in actually changing social and cultural mores in the country.

Similar to what they did in Japan, MLB is also taking to the local communities. On Sunday, April 15, 2012, Major League Baseball and RBI will host a baseball and softball clinic on the baseball field in Macombs Dam Park (Bronx, NY) for 200 young boys and girls from programs throughout the New York-area. This MLB youth initiative is designed to give underserved young people and communities the opportunity to play baseball and softball, encourage academic success and teach the value of teamwork and other important life lessons.

At some point in the late twentieth century, MLB sincerely fell out of touch with the American people. Nowhere is this more evident than with the 1994 strike. When Baseball came back, it suddenly had company – children playing Basketball and Soccer were vastly outnumbering children playing Little League. These sports (especially Basketball) offered more scholarships and opportunities for children in urban areas, suddenly making Baseball look like a relic of a bygone era. If MLB is looking to protect the future of the game, initiatives like Jackie Robinson Day are far more important than any baseball academy they can start on foreign soil.

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