Keeping Score

I recently read Wait ‘Til Next Year, a memoir by Doris Kearns Goodwin about her life growing up as a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. An interesting part of her childhood was that her father taught her how to keep score during baseball games, so that she could listen to the day games, keep score, and then relate to him in great detail how the game went when he got home from work in the evening. The act of reducing a game to marks on a score sheet, and then elaborating from those marks the details and stories of the game helped her develop the ability to create a narrative.

This was the first book of hers that I’ve read, and let me tell you, she can create a narrative. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

Anyway, as an inveterate score-keeper myself, I enjoyed her account. When I go to a game, I almost always keep score. It keeps me in the game—despite all of the loud, between-inning distractions that are part of attending a professional baseball game these days—and helps me remember what’s gone on earlier with each particular batter.

Like Doris Kearns Goodwin, I learned from my father how to keep score. Unlike her, though, I don’t hang onto my scorecards after the game. She has notebooks full of old games that she kept track of. Me, I generally toss my scorecard in the first trash can I see once the game’s over. It’s great during the game, but I don’t have much use for it after that.

Another reason I don’t keep my scorecards is that I’ve always been somewhat deficient in the penmanship department, and my scorecards end up looking pretty sloppy:

Scorecard.jpg

I can tell what happened, but perhaps nobody else can. This was from a game in May against the Cubs. It was a rare Cardinals game for me this year, because, as you can see, the Cardinals actually scored some runs—five of them, as you can see (if you can decipher my scorekeeping … and they shoulda had more in the 8th). In most of the games I’ve been to this year, the offense has been pretty sparse.

‘The Cardinal Way’

Which brings us to “the Cardinal Way.” If you buy a scorecard at Busch Stadium these days, a whole page of the double-fold scorecard is devoted to instructing us how to keep score, supposedly the way the Cardinals do it.

CardinalsWay.jpg

In short, it’s radically different from the way I keep score, and from the way everybody I know keeps score. In the Cardinal Way, hits are signified by those little cross-like things—a single has one crosshatches, a double has two, etc. In the ‘standard’ way, you write 1B, 2B, etc., in the middle of the box, and then you can see how far the runner advanced in the inning by how much of the diamond is there; if he makes it around to score, there’s a full diamond inside the square for that at-bat. I think it’s a lot easier to see, at a glance, what’s happening using my way rather than the ‘Cardinal way.’

OK, so with my way, you can’t tell what direction the hit went to; in the Cardinal Way, that is signified by which way the top of the little cross points. You can also tell that Brock stole a base while Musial was batting, whereas with my method, you can’t tell when a stolen base occurred. Honestly, though, that’s information I can live without.

Neither method, though, helps in a busy game when there are lots of substitutions. In those games, the left side of the scorecard, where all the names are, gets completely jumbled, and it’s almost impossible to follow how the game went. The solution would be to have a scorecard that’s twice the size, so there’s room to note all of the changes and when they occurred, but I guess that’s just not practical.

Bottom line, it seems to me the Cardinal Way is a new trick this old dog isn’t going to learn.

A Fantasy Virgin

In this, my 58th year on the planet, I’m doing something for the very first time. Yesterday I drafted a team for a fantasy baseball league.

Yes, I’ve managed to avoid taking part in fantasy leagues until now, even though a lot of friends and family members participate. I figured I never had time for it, or I don’t follow sports that intricately to be able to do well. Actually, I love sports, but what I love is the drama of the games, and following the rises and falls of a given team’s chances throughout the season; individual players’ stats don’t really excite me that much.

But the last two years, my friend Kurt has asked me to help out at his fantasy league’s draft. This league is less hands-on than a lot of fantasy leagues. You draft a team at the beginning of the year, and then your players’ cumulative stats for the year are calculated for the league’s standings; you don’t have to decide before each game who’s in your lineup or whatever. Once your team is drafted, the only work you have to do is preparing for monthly free-agent nights in which you can drop players who are hurt or underperforming, and add players who aren’t already on someone else’s team.

Helping Kurt on his draft day was fun, and this year, when a slot opened up, I jumped at the chance to have a team of my own.

The league has 12 teams; I drew draft position No. 11, which is fine, because the draft “snakes”; in the even-numbered rounds, the teams draft in reverse order, so I had positions 11 and 14, then 35 and 38, etc. The draft consisted of 21 rounds, so there would be 252 players drafted. This fantasy league uses only players on National League, which of course makes researching players a lot easier. Also, though, it means the last few rounds of the draft feature a lot of players most people don’t know anything about.

That would present an opportunity to do a lot of research, to get to know the universe of National League players and try to figure out who the best 252 are, and in what order they should be placed. Me, I’m a newbie at this, and I chose to rely on the “experts” at CBSSports.com, where there is all kinds of research on players, with stats and rankings by position. I made a list of what I consider the top 75 players in the league—that would get me through the first six rounds—and printed ranking lists, by position, of all of the rest of the players.

My rankings were based on three-year stats, rather than last year’s, which, in retrospect, may have skewed my team a little bit. I wound up with a lot of vets on my team, and few youngsters. There could be guys there who are twilighting their careers and I just don’t know it yet. I guess I’ll find out over the next couple of months. I did land some very good starting pitchers, so I hope to do well in the ERA and strikeout categories, if nothing else.

But hey, it’s my rookie year. I’m only here to gain experience. As the season unfolds, I’ll understand a lot more about what it takes to do well in this league, and on next year’s draft day, I’ll be better prepared.

The way the league works, your team has 21 players (eight pitchers, five outfielders, two catchers, one each at the other four infield positions, plus one “corner infielder,” who can be a first or third baseman, and one “middle infielder,” who can be either a second baseman or shortstop.) Those players are ranked according to their cumulative stats for the season in eight categories: batting average, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases for batters, and ERA, wins, saves and strikeouts for pitchers.

Not that you care, but these are the players I ended up with:

Pitcher: Max Scherzer, Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, Joaquin Benoit, Shawn Kelley, Fernando Rodney, Carter Capps and Hector Rondon.

Outfield: Kyle Schwarber, Jayson Werth, Jay Bruce, Andre Ethier and Franklin Gutierrez

First Base: Brandon Belt

Second Base: Neil Walker

Shortstop: Corey Seager

Third Base: Jose Reyes

Corner Infielder: Martin Prado

Middle Infielder: Howie Kendrick.

Play Ball!

 

The Game After The Storm

It was 10 years ago tonight—July 19, 2006—that I had the best seats I’ve ever had for a baseball game, and it was one of the wildest nights I’ve spent at the ballpark.

My brother, who at that time worked for Anheuser Busch, which at that time was one of the better employers in St. Louis, somehow secured the AB Diamond Box tickets for that night and he gave them to me. Right next to the Cardinals’ dugout, just behind the photographers’ well. Truly amazing seats.

IMG_3568IMG_3573Unfortunately, as the players were finishing their pre-game warmups, the skies darkened, and it was clear—from the gray clouds in the background and from the weather radar that was put up on the scoreboard—that it was going to be a while before any baseball was played. The players rushed off the field, and, as the rain started to fall, the fans left the stands for relative safety inside.

 

As you can see from this video, “relative” is the operative word. The wind was whipping at near-tornadic strength, it seemed, and somebody got clobbered by this trash can. I was somewhere in that crowd, safe from the winds and the flying dumpsters.

IMG_3581The storm finally ended, and it was time to assess the damage. Unfortunately, the tarp covering home plate had been ripped up by the winds, so a long time was spent making repairs to the batters’ boxes. Finally, things got under way. The Cardinals played well; “Jimmy Baseball” Edmonds hit a home run, and they ended up beating the Braves 8-3.

(The night didn’t end so well for us, however; we got home to find that our power had gone out in the storm, along with much of the surrounding area. Luckily for us, though, it came on again the next morning. We’ve definitely had worse outages.)

A Not-So-Fictional Character

mets logoIn 1984, Jean and I flew to New York for my friend Geoff’s wedding. Our U.S. Air flight back to Chicago had a stopover in Pittsburgh. As we arrived at our gate at La Guardia, there was an unusual buzz in the terminal; the gate people were all smiling, and  there were lots of people signing autographs.

Before too long, we figured out that the autograph-signers were members of the New York Mets, gathering at the airport for their next road trip. And when it was time to board the plane, it turned out that they were on our flight, going to Pittsburgh for a series against the Pirates.

I had an aisle seat; across the aisle from me was a guy I didn’t initially recognize, but next to him was Keith Hernandez, who just a year earlier had been dealt from the Cardinals to the Mets in a very controversial trade. During the flight, while the other players were chattering and joking much of the time, Hernandez was for the most part pretty quiet in his seat, doing the crosswords and other puzzles in the paper. Also during the flight, I figured out that the other guy in our row was pitcher Mike Torrez.

Mike-Torrez
Mike Torrez as a Met (photo from Mets360.com)

It just so happens that the Mets had just wrapped up a series with the Cardinals in New York. As I read in my own paper, the previous day was a particularly tough game for the Mets: Torrez pitched a great game, giving up only one run over eight innings, but the Cardinals’ pitcher, Dave LaPoint, did even better, with a nine-inning shutout, and the Mets lost 1-0. (I love the Internet; it took me about 15 seconds to call up the box score for the game.) Even more heartbreaking for Torrez, it dropped him to 0-5 for the season, and it was one of the last games he played in the majors; he ended up being released by the Mets just a few weeks later and his career was all but over.

I didn’t make him feel any better, as you’ll see in a minute.

This was in the days when St. Louisans still liked Hernandez. He’d had a great career with the Cardinals, and was a leader on the team that one the 1982 World Series. We didn’t know, in 1983, why Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog wanted to trade him so badly that he took only two nobodies in return. Early in 1985, however, Hernandez was implicated in a cocaine scandal, and we all found out what it was that Herzog had suspected. All kinds of revelations hit the fan around the time Hernandez was forced to testify in court. One thing that Herzog said I thought was funny; he said that rather than taking a leadership role with the team, Hernandez would sit in the clubhouse and do crossword puzzles.

That’s my Keith!

That was the smallest of the revelations; Hernandez didn’t have much nice to say about Herzog in return, and he quickly went from a tragic hero to Public Enemy No. 1 in St. Louis.

Anyway, back to the plane ride. I was talking with Torrez a little during the flight, about what, I can’t remember. Probably about the rarity of them taking a non-charter flight. When we landed in Pittsburgh, all the Mets got up to get off, and I mentioned to Hernandez that we missed him in St. Louis. “Well, there are some things we can’t do anything about,” he said.

The thing is, Torrez was also a former Cardinal; he came up in the Cardinals organization, in fact. But that had been a long time ago; he bounced around to quite a few teams during what was a pretty successful major league career. If I knew about the Cardinals connection in his past, I didn’t remember it then. So there I was, literally talking right over Torrez—a former Cardinal—and telling Hernandez the Cardinals missed him. That couldn’t have felt good for Torrez, who was already undoubtedly miserable after the previous day’s game.

*****

So why am I writing about this now, almost 29 years later? And what’s the point of that title?

Well, I’m currently reading the book Shoeless Joe, by W.P. Kinsella. You know this book, even if you’ve never read it. It’s the book that the movie Field of Dreams was based on. I’m loving the book, just like I love the movie, every time I watch it. Say what you will about Kevin Costner, but the guy has made three fantastic baseball movies. (What’s the third one, you ask? For The Love Of The Game. Check it out sometime.) Anyway, Field of Dreams is one of my all-time favorite movies, and although there’s no way I can judge the book objectively, it’s shaping up as one of my favorites also.

The funny thing about the book is how Kinsella uses real people as characters. The reclusive author that Ray “kidnaps” in the movie is a character named Terrence Mann, but in the book, the character is J.D. Salinger. Yes, the J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye. And in the book—in the scene I’m reading right now—when Kinsella and Salinger get to Fenway Park to watch a baseball game, the Red Sox pitcher is … you guessed it, my not-so fictional flying buddy, Mike Torrez.

In the book, he gives up two homers and a triple in the first inning.

Torrez was the Rodney Dangerfield of baseball: despite a a 17-year career with 185 wins and a World Series ring, he just never got any respect.

Ready Or Not, Baseball Season Starts In One Week

I had some time before work this morning, so I took a walk around downtown to take some pictures. I gravitated toward Busch Stadium to see how “Ballpark Village” is coming along, visit the statue garden, and see if the yard looked ready for baseball.

Well, it might be ready, but it’s hard to tell underneath all that snow. Yesterday, St. Louis got hit by a freakish snowstorm, with lots of wet, heavy snow—up to a foot in some areas. We got eight or nine inches at home; downtown looked to have a little less, but still a pretty good load for Palm Sunday.

The Cardinals’ season starts a week from today, but their home opener isn’t for a week after that. That should be enough time to thaw the place out.

As usual, please feel free to click on any image below to see a larger view.

List: Top Five Fixes For Major League Baseball

Fixing baseball from the ground up

OK, let’s be clear: we all love baseball. We’re Americans; it’s our sport. But we all know that baseball has problems. Here are my suggestions for ways to make it better.

Will any of these be implemented in our lifetimes? Not a chance, particularly the further down the list you go.

5) Dump The “Uncaught Third Strike” Rule. If you strike out, you’re out, simple enough. This rule comes into play way too often in the kids’ league I’m involved in. I suppose it adds some …Keep reading

Spring Training

Really? Baseball already?

Spring training began this week. Well, last week, if you count pitchers and catchers.

Forgive me if I don’t share the reverence that some apparently feel for the phrase “Pitchers and catchers report…”

This morning, it was 20 degrees in St. Louis. Early April is six weeks away, but there’s a reasonably good chance that we’ll still have winter-coat weather on opening day. I have personally …Keep reading