At home at fenway

Keeping on eye on Dustin, Papi, Youk & a few good books

Archive for December, 2010

Stanford showed UConn a few unfamiliar sights

Posted by athomeatfenway on December 31, 2010

Geno & Shea ponder the path to defeat.

The Uconn women saw a few things from Stanford tonight that they had not seen in years.

A sold out house of raucous opposing fans.

A team that UConn could not wear down with speed, athleticism, size and depth.

A team that out-rebounded them.  43 to 36 on this night.

A team that hip checked them, jumped in front of them, and pressed ball handlers without let up.

A team that scored FOUR uncontested buckets on breakaways.

Opposing post players that followed their misses with twisting under-the-hoop put backs that would be the envy of any team’s front court.

A senior guard on the opposing team that personified toughness, clutch shooting and leadership equal to if not greater than any UConn Player on the court.  Senior Stanford guard, Jeanette Pohlen, that is.

And the UConn Women saw a few unfamiliar things in themselves, too.

Maya Moore, taken out of her game, standing with hands on hips watching play rather than hustling to stay with her man.

Maya Moore playing most of the game and scoring 14 instead of notching 20 points in  28 minutes as in a typical romp.

Maya Moore, yielding first scoring option status in the final minutes to Kelly Faris, whose heart was as big as the State of Connecticut. Faris scored  a career high 19 points.

A game in which UConn was down 10 points (or more) for 10 minutes or more.

One entire game in which UConn did not hold the lead once.

Stanford was focused, ballsy, physical and equal to the task.

There is a large gap between #1 and #20 in the Womens poll.  I get a boot out of it when UConn Women Fans get a taste of Husky vulnerability.   It doesn’t happen often enough.

A regular season loss is the best protection against a loss in March.  Geno should keep 5 or more Top-10 opponents on the schedule every year.

Credit Geno for scheduling 5 Top-10 non-conference opponents this year.

Credit Stanford with a ton of poise and talent.

Tara Vanderveer’s team has all the tools and intangibles needed to capture a national title this year.

One can only hope for a March rematch.

Stanford Prof Condy Rice & pal whoop it up.

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Bob Feller, an American Hero

Posted by athomeatfenway on December 17, 2010

When I was a kid in the early 60’s growing up in the rural Westfield section of Middletown, CT, there was an old schoolhouse with three classrooms and a library.  Built in the 1920’s, the schoolhouse was a charming throwback to days when the surrounding farm kids walked to school, just as we did. 

The neighborhood was agricultural, but there were Capes and Ranches built upon some of the sprawling former pastures.

As you might expect, there were still farms in the neighborhood.  The barbed wire cow pasture of the Bysiewicz Farm formed the boundary of left & left center fields in the school’s ball yard.

Susan Bysiewicz, secretary of the State of Connecticut, is of that same family.

Funny how farms produce good values, strong performers, and leaders.  Battling wind, rain, droughts, blizzards and insects is a hard testing ground, and seems to produce sound core beliefs about hard work and responsibility.

There was a small Sports book section in that school library.  My favorite books were about Carl Hubbell and Babe Ruth.  The Almanac there cited the all time record for K’s in a season by a right handed pitcher as owned by a man named Bob Feller.  Robert William Andrew Feller.

Like the farm family that produced CT’s Secretary of State, the Feller Family was of course a farm family, growing wheat, corn and soy beans and raising livestock in Van Meter, Iowa —  since 1886. 

Feller rode horses, drove a tractor and stood behind a plow.  When asked about how hard it was to complete 36 games in 1946 he said it didn’t compare to the hard work on the farm.

I had the opportunity to chat with Feller in 1999 at a gathering of the World Series Club of Hartford County, which will host Jim Lonborg and Mark DeJohn next month, by the way.

Feller was gracious, rugged, articulate, direct, opinionated and funny.

He signed my copy of STRIKEOUT STORY, his 1948 book, and demurred over the photo of his Mom in it, quietly connecting to his past.

His formal speech to the Club was the best of the dozens I have attended because he was, to me, the biggest all-time star to ever present himself to that group, and frankly, I couldn’t believe a guy who was 82 at the time seemed to still be at the height of his intellectual capacity.  He was clear as a bell and strong as a steer.

In July of 2009, Little Lee and I sat on the field at Cooperstown, witnesses to the workmanlike remarks of Jim Rice and the oddly coherent words of Rickey Henderson.  Bob Feller was present on the dais.  He always made it to Induction Day.  But to his unending credit, he said that the day that a steroid user like Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds became a HOF’er would be the day he would stop gracing Cooperstown with his presence.

His character was just one more thing to like about Feller.

Patriot.  Hard worker.  A man who honored his country, his obligations, his family and Baseball.

They don’t grow them like Feller anymore.

Rest In Peace, Rapid Robert.

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Yankees: Be Happy Lee in Philly !

Posted by athomeatfenway on December 14, 2010

This was not the first time that the Yankees lost out on Cliff Lee in 2010.

On July 9, TV reports announced that the Bombers were very close to completing a deal with Seattle to make Lee a Yankee.  Then a last minute trade sent Rangers top prospect Justin Smoak  to Seattle and landed Lee in Arlington, disrupting Yankee plans.

At the time, Smoak said he felt honored to be the main bait in a deal that landed a guy who looked to be in the hunt for the 2010 Cy Young Award with an 8-3 record, a 2.34 ERA, and 5 complete games in 13 starts.

But despite how heated the bidding for Lee was, it should be noted that his second half performance in 2010 was far from Cy-worthy.   Smoak’s reverence may be as unnecessary as the disappointment felt by Yankee fans today.

Truth is that Cliff Lee may not be healthy enough to warrant a 5 year contract.  He was on the needle to recover from an abdominal strain when playing for Seattle this year, and he went back on the needle to pitch into August and September for the Rangers.

Cliff pretty much spent the month of April taking injections and resting.  He made his first start on April 30, thus missing 5 starts.  He was very good throughout May to July, making a stellar 14 quality starts in 16 tries.

The injections were of platelet-rich plasma, the powers of which for healing muscle strain are as mysterious as those of aspirin.  Mysterious, and in-demand by rich athletes.  Tiger Woods and Hines Ward are users.

After six weeks of treatment and recovery in March & April, Lee was back on the hill for the Mariners.

It is a risky proposition to give a 32 year old pitcher with a recurrent injury $106 million for 5 years.  The Yankees might not be so disappointed this time next year if Lee pulls another muscle and takes a hiatus.

The media frenzy over the competition has occluded more than just Lee’s health history.  There is the matter of his contributions to the 2010 campaign for Texas.  Today’s AP wire story on the Lee signing by Philly said,” Seattle traded Lee to Texas in July, and Lee pitched the Rangers into the World Series for the first time.”

Did he ?  Yes, he had a great D.S. & L.S. before recording a 6.94 ERA in the W.S..  But he didn’t propel Texas into the playoffs.

The Rangers won their Division by 9 games.  In the 11 starts Lee made for Texas, the Rangers lost 7 times including a string of 5 consecutive losses that were also non-quality starts from Aug. 11 and 31.  His ERA in that stretch was 5.21.

Funny thing happened after that point in time:  Cliff had more injections and sat out almost two weeks in September.  He then came back and posted a 1.61 ERA over 4 starts in that month.

Now I like the September, and I like the May through July.  But his April and August were throw aways.  If the pattern of injury and decline continues in Philadelphia, no way will the Phillies be getting their money’s worth.

So take solace, Yankee fans.  Your team is at a clear disadvantage against the refurbished Red Sox, but at least you have not been set to take another Pavano-like fall with Cliff Lee.

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Reggie Jackson: All Star Games, fibs & fleas

Posted by athomeatfenway on December 13, 2010

Reggie Jackson, sometimes accused of lying or exaggeration in his playing days, was asked on MLB TV recently how he felt about giving up vacation time to play in the All Star Game back in the day.

To paraphrase, Reggie replied that he usually lit out of the ASG right after its conclusion because players didn’t have their own private

planes back then, and, they had to scramble back to their team.

He further said that in his “14 or 15” AS games, he usually played 9 innings, implying that All Star Games were more demanding when he played.

I don’t know why that sounded like B.S..  Maybe it was tone.  Maybe it was a memory of Billy Martin telling the Press that (in reference to Steinbrenner & Reggie), “One’s convicted, the other is a born liar.

Maybe that was it.

But it did sound like B.S..  So I checked it out.

Reggie was selected for 14 All Star Games.  He started in 10 of those games.  He started in 6 of his first 7 between 1969 & 1977.  He started in 4 out of his last 5 ending in 1984.

(That he was an ALL Star starter at both ends of his career is a testament to his home run power and personal charisma.  And Reggie would agree with that.  After all, when a handsome, ripped Jose Canseco shocked the world with titanic moon shots in 1986, Reggie told the media that the person Jose most reminded him of was, well……himself.)

Here’s the year-by-year break down of the Jackson ASG selections:

1969: Started & played 5 innings.  1971: Pinch hit for Vida Blue with a HR off Dock Ellis.  1972: Started & played 10 innings.  1973: Started & played 8 innings.  1974: Started & played 9 innings.  1975: Started and played 6 innings.  1977: Started and played 4 innings.  1978: selected, but did not play.  1979: Played 3.5 innings.  1980: Started and played 4.5 innings. 1981: Started and played 3.5 innings.  1982: Started and played 4.5 innings. 1983: selected but did not play.

1984: Reggie started and played 3.5 innings in his final ASG.

There is a heroic dimension to this story that must be appreciated.

As he came out of these games, he was replaced by marginal men like George Hendricks, and Hall of Famers like Jim Rice, Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield.

In All Star appearances that spanned 3 decades, he was on the field with Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente & Ernie Banks as well as Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken and Darryl Strawberry.

His long sailing All Star ship was steered by Managers from Mayo Smith to Harvey Kuenn to Joe Altobelli.

It’s a stellar run.

Still, he did exaggerate some in that TV interview when he suggested he was usually on the field for 9 innings. Out of 14 ASG’s, he played in 9 in which he appeared in 4.5 innings or less, including 2 in which he only sat on the bench.

But what’s a little self-embellishment among friends ?

As much as I look skeptically at Reggie’s current “devotion” to the pinstripes, as much as I suspect he’s always placed himself way above any team or colleague, I can’t help but like Reggie Jackson.

The record also shows that Billy Martin liked Reggie when he wasn’t driving him crazy.

So what lying was Billy referring to any way ?

I couldn’t find an answer easily by googling, but I did dip into three vintage Bomber books and instantly whiffed the ego driven battle that drove Martin to make that comment.

In Sparky Lyle’s 1979 book, The Bronx Zoo, he wrote, “Reggie is now saying that Billy makes up excuses for not playing him, which I can’t understand.  Reggie once went up to Billy and said, ‘I don’t want to play because so-and-so is pitching.’.  Then after the game George wanted to know why he didn’t play.  Reggie turned around and said, ‘Beats me.’”

That type of Reggie story is not a unique.

In Billy Martin’s 1987 book, Billy Ball, he wrote that Reggie defied him right before the “liar/convict” fiasco. Martin suspended Jackson for his defiance.  Upon returning from the suspension, says Martin, Reggie called a press conference and explained that he had done nothing wrong to deserve the suspension.  The public charade by Reggie made Martin boil.  Martin was soon further enraged when Coach Dick Howser told him that Reggie had just lied to Steinbrenner about spending his banishment working out.

Martin then lost it.

Manipulations.

Misrepresentations.

In Jackson’s 1984 book, Reggie, he retells the banishment story and the ensuing liar/convict episode without any mention of speaking to the media upon returning.  He said he was crushed, that he no longer wanted to play, that he was defeated, that he intending to apologize to his team mates (and not Billy) but circumstances prevented him from doing so.  He never mentions that he played innocent with the press.  He wrote that he just reported, stayed mum, & next thing you know Cedric Tallis was telling him that Billy had uttered the unutterable, and the cleaver was falling.

It sounds like Reggie was an All Star at playing games in the clubhouse as much as he was on the field.

But there is no outrage here.

Who am I to judge a man who hit 563 HR’s before steroids entered the game ?

Big players have big egos.

Big egos bring blind spots.

In time, and with the perspective of age, an All Star perhaps bends the truth a little whereas he broke it cleanly as a younger man.

It doesn’t matter to me.  He’s still the young muscle man who bashed an impossible  dinger into the light tower at Tigers stadium four decades  ago.  That’s the Reggie I will always recall.  Young, earnest, and as far as I knew, honest.

Every dog has a flea or two.

So if a fan chooses to ignore how Babe frequented whorehouses, and that Ted was a lousy family man, or that a young Rapid Robert spoke against rookie Jackie Robinson, well I won’t complain.

I’m getting older, too.

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