Once in a While a Steal Pays Off; Umpire Kellog: You can Ring My Bell;

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball today.

Baseball now isn’t Ty Cobb’s baseball, or the game of Lou Brock and Maury Wills.  Stealing bases, especially home plate is rare in this day of multi-millionaire players not taking risks.  But last night’s steal of home plate by the Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury would make Wills, Brock and maybe even Rickey Henderson smile with pride.  They all knew a little larceny could change a team’s momentum. The Yankees couldn’t have had less momentum by the fifth inning of last night’s game.  They had been swept by the A’s and lost 2 of 3 to the Mariners.  CC Sabathia had given a performance that could drive a man to drink.  He had left in the fifth after giving 9 hits and 3 runs to the Rays who were up 3-2.  In the home fifth, Ellsbury was on third and Didi Gregorias on second, both having singled and been moved over on a balk by Rays’ starter Matt Moore.  Moore went into the full windup Ellsbury broke for the dish. He barely scored ahead of the tag by the Rays’ receiver Curt Casali.  No Yankee had done a straight steal of home plate-Lou Brock style-since Derek Jeter managed  it in 2001. Spurred by the daring of the much-maligned Ellsbury the Yankees took off from there.  An inning later, they broke the tie on 3 singles.  They got two insurance runs on an Ellsbury double in the 8th and scored a 6-3 win.

The White Sox’ 5-0 win over the Rangers in Chicago wouldn’t get a mention here except for the weirdest tripple play you’re liable to hear about. Working with different partners I’ve heard a handful of tripple plays broadcast, and no play in the game is as easy to butcher from the broadcast booth as the tripple play. It should have been a Rangers’ rally.  The bases were full with nobody out in the visiting 7th.  Mitch Moreland hit what should have been a scoring fly ball to right field. One out.  Running from first, Ian Desmond assumed it was a base hit and took off. Mistake number 1. From right, Adam Eaton fired to his first baseman Jose Abreu and Desmond was a dead duck.  Even a bad throw couldn’t save Desmond who overran the bag. Mistake number two. On third, Prince Fielder never tagged up. He headed straight home thinking the ball was a base knock.  Mistake number 3.   Seeing the ball caught he had to get back to third and hopefully tag and score.  When the  throw came from first toward home he was heading back to third, and what to his wondering eyes should appear but base runner Adrian Beltre incoming from second.  With two men occupying third Fielder was tagged out. Could you broadcast that as it happened? The White Sox haven’t turned any sort of tripple play in a decade. Eaton,  with a taste for hyperbole equated the moment with marrying his wife and the birth of their son. What Mrs. eaton said if she saw that quote can only be imagined. She’s a onetime college softball player, so if she has been part of a tripple play she may see his point.

Umpiring this game has always been a thankless job. Shouts of “Kill the umpire,” were common in the earliest days of the game, and the men in blue hear a torrent of boos almost nightly.  The best umpire, like the best boxing referee is the one who goes unnoticed.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, once in a while the job is a painful one and last night was one of those moments. Umpire Jeff Kellogg, working the plate in the Mets-Braves game in Atlanta took a foul tip to the head and left after a single inning.  With all the protection the umpires wear it’s hard to imagine a baseball can find a spot to hit and hurt, but one did last night. As minor league games always_ have 3 umpires the injury to Kellogg caused no major problem.  The 3 remaining umpires carried on and the Mets beat the Braves 6-3. Games have carried on with 3 umpires before in the majors.  In the early sixties, when the Astros played in Colt Stadium, the merciless heat and humidity got the better of umpire John Jocko Conlan and he collapsed during a Mets-Colts game.  He was carried off with little fuss and the game continued. John McSherry was umpiring game 7 of the 1992 NLCS between the Braves and Pirates, but was overcome by dizziness and had to call it an early night. He missed the epic play when Frank Cabrera drove home two runs and the Braves beat the Pirates in the last of the 9th.  McSherry was umpire at home plate on opening day 1996 when he collapsed and died of a heart attack, the one game known postponed due to an umpire’s illness or death.

There will be a full slate of action today, much in the afternoon.  The Rays’ get their first look at Blake Snell, their top prospect.  He pitches against the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka. Since he joined the Yankees in 2014 the Rays have not beaten him. Texas sends Colby Lewis against the White Sox who have never bested him in 6 years. carlos Rodon will have to improve on his last outing to have any hope. He only lasted a third of an inning giving 2 walks and 5 hits on Monday, the shortest start for a White Sox pitcher since 2003. Clay Buchholz of Boston faces Mike Fiers of Houston. Fiers has been battered this season, not looking like the man who no-hit the Dodgers last year. Tyler Wilson of the Orioles and Chris Medlen of the Royals square off tonight.  Neither pitcher was with their present team a year ago and both are works in progress.

Andruw Jones is 39 today.  That’s hard for me to believe.  I remember him as a 19-year-old who I thought of as a punk when he hit 2 home runs off Andy Pettitte in game 1 of the 1996 World Series. I held my soon-to-be-fiancee in my arms and she cried, as Andy was her favorite pitcher. Jones was an All-Star 5 times between 2000 and 2006 all as a Brave.  From 2008-12 he was a journeyman bouncing around the game.  This was followed by two years in Japan at least one of which was  successful. He was a Japan All-Star in 2013 and his team won their World Series.

Guillermo Velasquez is 48 today.  He had been in the bigs with the Padres in parts of 1992 and 1993 when our paths crossed.  He was to play first base for the New Britain Red Sox in 1994 where I was one of the broadcasters.  Our public address announcer couldn’t say the name Guillermo.  By good luck I knew the short version of that name is Memo.  With my broadcast partner’s help I got in touch with the player and asked him, in my limited Spanish if the public address announcer could call him Memo.  This was OK with him, so we called him that on radio as well. He wasn’t too successful with us and soon moved along, never to be seen in the majors again.

Warren Spahn was born this day in 1921 and died in November 2003. The Buffalo native and lefthander put up 363 wins between 1942 and 1965. Having survived the Battle of the Bulge in World War II he laughed at the mightiest hitters the game had to offer, saying “Where is their air support, where are their cannons?”  With this mind set he was an All-Star 17 times over, starting in 1947 and ending in 1963. He led his league in wins 8 times while taking just one Cy Young award and one world series ring with the 1957 Braves. They lost the series a year later and were beaten by the Dodgers in a playoff in 1959. Only 5 men have wom more games than he, and all 5 are righthanders. His two no-hitters were tossed at ages 39 and 40. Both Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax hit their first career home runs off Spahn. He did some coaching and minor league managing after retiring from the game in 1965. By the way, his longtime teammate Hank Aaron hit  his first major league home run on this day in 1954 in St. Louis.


1 Comment
  • Tom M. Thomas
    April 23, 2016

    I have been present at two triple plays in my life, but feel cheated. Neither was made up of great defensive plays, both were due to pure sloppy base running. The first was a game between UMass and visiting American International College, and the second was in Pittsfield, Low-A ball.

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