Hi all. Here’s how I see baseball on this Monday, Sept. 26.
Yesterday the baseball world grieved at the news of the death of Marlins’ pitcher Jose Fernandez. He was riding on a boat which crashed at high speed into a jetty, killing the pitcher and two friends. Today, somehow we try to begin the healing process even as we mourn. While yesterday’s Marlins-Braves game was cancelled, the Marlins will host the Mets tonight as scheduled. It’s a game Fernandez was due to start. His manager Don Mattingly wanted him to slow down a red-hot Mets’ team that still has visions of playoff games dancing in its heads. So Mattingly reworked his rotation so Fernandez would not face the lowly Braves but would be ready for tonight’s game. The home team has not announced who will start in place of their fallen comrade, and for me to guess would be just that-a guess which scribes like myself make way too often. As the headline said, the world won’t sop for our broken heart. Baseball will continue tonight in Miami even while both the baseball community and the much larger Cuban community mourn the death of a young superstar.
Across the country, the Dodgers won another NL western division in style, with solo home runs in the 9th and 10th to beat the Rockies 4-3. With the game tied at 2 through 8, the Rockies’ David Dahl hit a home run making it 3-2. But in the home 9th Corey Seager leveled the game with a blast of his own, and an inning later former Rockie Charlie Culberson beat his old team with a home run. Charlie had hit a walkoff two years before at Coors Canaveral against the Mets, but this time he hit one in a real ballpark with real money on the line. The Dodgers claimed their 4th western division in as many years-3 under Don Mattingly, now one under Dave Roberts’ baton. Now, both the Dodgers and Nationals can get their pitching in order for game 1 of their NLDS on Friday, Oct. 7. A fitting coda to this game occurred when Vin Scully took the mike, and believe it or not sang to his fans. Yes, Vin Scully sang. He’s been broadcasting since the only records available played at 78 RPM and 99.9% of radio was on the AM band. You might have thought he’d sing “Always,” from the movie “Pride of the Yankees,” or something else that was recorded on the Prehistoric label. But no, He sang an almost modern song, “Wind Beneath My Wings,” to the throng at Chavez Ravine and to his radio audience. Through the decades and the generations, starting on WMGM in New York, (now WEPN) and moving to several Los Angeles radio stations, Vin Scully’s voice was the voice of summer-first to Brooklynites and then to Angelinos. After a weekend series in San Francisco, that voice won’t be heard doing the playoffs, so last night was literally his swansong as he serenaded the fans who have loved him so long and so well.
In other games, both the Mets and Blue Jays have extended their leads in the hunt for their league’s first wild card spot and the home field advantage it brings. The Mets did so with a 17–0 rout over the Phillies. Broadcasters rarely are as frank as tv commentator Keith Hernandez was yesterday after a particularly bad play by the Phillies’ defense. He said “This team has one foot on the bus.” That’s something my broadcaster and I would say off the air, but if we said it into a hot mike I don’t remember us doing so. The Jays solidified their lead with a 4-3 walkoff win over the Yankees who have clearly thrown in the towel.
All the action on the MLB schedule is under the lights. Tanner Roark will try for his 16th win for the Nats at home against the D-Backs. He will figure prominently in the playoffs with Stephen Strasburg on the shelf. The pirates, who have lost 3 out of 4 have their playoff hopes on life support and the Cubs look to be the ones to disconnect their respirator. The Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks, with the league’s lowest ERA at 2.06 faces rookie Chad Kuhl (pronounced Cool.) Cool is what he’s been against the league-except the Cubs who have battered him in two starts. J.A. Happ has 20 wins for the Bluejays. If he wins tonight against the Yankees he will be the first Jays’ lefty to win 21, something even David Wells couldn’t do. The Yankees have won exactly 2 games since beginning a series with the Dodgers on Sept. 12. They took one out of 3 from the Dodgers, were swept in humiliating fashion in 4 by the Red Sox, took one out of 3 from Tampa and are now facing a 4-game sweep in Toronto. Bartolo Colon pitches against the Marlins. If anybody should be able to put aside his unhappiness at the loss baseball has suffered it should be the ancient Colon. At 43 he’s seen it all and done it all. If the Cardinals have any life left they should show it against the Reds who they face tonight in St. Louis.
Before I do any of today’s birthdays, I want to pay tribute to a man who was born yesterday, Sept. 25, 1917. I just couldn’t do another tribute yesterday after writing the obit for Jose Fernandez. Phil Rizzuto was born Sept. 25, 1917 and died August 13, 2007. While he was nearly 90 his death still hit me profoundly, because his voice was one of the sounds of my boyhood. My ex-wife and I were still on the same page in 2007 when he died, and she was as sad as I was. When she watched her earliest Yankees games on TV in 1989 he was one of their voices along with Bobby Murcer. Born in Brooklyn, Casey Stengel told Rizzuto to “Go get yourself a shoeshine box,” rather than playing baseball because of how short the Scooter was. However the Yankees saw something in him his future manager had missed. Except for 3 years in the Navy he was a Yankees player from 1941–1956 and a broadcaster for close to 4 decades thereafter. He was an All-Star 7 times-once in 1942 and the rest after 1950. His Yankees won 7 World Series while he played. He and Bob Murphy, the other voice of my childhood were elected to the Hall of Fame in the same year, 1994. While he wasn’t the only broadcaster to say “Holy Cow,” (Harry Caray and Earl Gillespie both did it while the Scooter was still playing,) he was best known for it because he had the largest audience until Caray Joined the Cubs. Rizzuto always said it was his way of not swearing. He had the radio mike in 1961 when Roger Maris hit his 61st, and was on TV during game 5 of the ALCS when first George Brett tied it with a 3-run home run, then Chris Chamblis won it in the 9th with a solo shot. As the years passed, especially on TV where he didn’t have to describe the game, he talked a lot about his wife Cora and their cat Rizzo, plus dropping in mentions of canolis-a favorite Italian pastry. He retired for good in 1996. Shhortly before his passing Yogi Berra said of him, “The last time I saw Phil, … he wasn’t there.”
The Rays’ Chris Archer is 28 today. The Indians drafted him from high school in round 5 of the 2006 draft. It took 6 seasons and two trades for him to reach the bigs and when he did it was with the Rays by way of the Cubs. He was an All-Star in 2015. He has had a brutal year losing 18 so far this year.
Former catcher and coach Dave Duncan is 71. The Dallas native broke in to the bigs at 18 with the Kansas City Athletics, and was with them beyond their move to Oakland until 1972 when his team won the World Series. He then played for Cleveland and Baltimore. He began coaching in 1979, with his longest run being as a Cardinal from 1996-2011. He also had spent nearly a decade coaching for Oakland through the 1995 season. He was an All-Star as a player in 1971. Four pitchers he coached took home the Cy Young award.
Bobby Schantz is 91 today. At five-six broadcasters felt they could call him “Little Bobby Schantz.” The little man lasted from 1949–64 in the game and put up a 119–99 pitching record. His longest run began with the Philadelphia Athletics under Connie Mack. He followed them to Kansas City, then was sent to the Yankees before 1957 where he spent 4 seasons. From there he was a vagabond, on 5 teams in4 years. He was an All-Star twice while pitching for Philadelphia and once in 1957 with the Yankees. His 1958 Yankees beat the Braves in 7 games in the World Series. He won 24 games and was MVP in 1952.