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George Bellows, American Artist and Shortstop

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George Bellows,
“Sweeney, Idol of the Fans, Had Hit a Home Run”

The National Gallery in Washington D.C. currently has a wonderful retrospective of George Bellows in its main wing.

That sentence has nothing to do with baseball. Yet. Bellows is a favorite artist of mine, his explorations and character studies of early 20th-century New York, the underclasses, the boxing matches in seedy bars, the tenements, as well as his later works on the sea and Woodstock.

I went to the exhibit today and found out that Bellows, one of the main figures of the Ashcan School of Art, one of the major artists of turn of the century America, could very easily have become a famous baseball player. And now I have a new favorite artist. Read more…

A Most Unlikely No-Hitter

ImageI’m a tremendous Mets fan. Huge. Not that I have to defend my stake as an uber-fan, but:

*I was at one of the NLCS games in 1986 against the Astros (no, sadly, I don’t have mementos signifying which one, but I do have a fantastic/lame picture of myself with a lifesize Dwight Gooden cutout at the stadium from that evening). I was at John Rocker’s return to Shea, Rick Ankiel’s meltdown, the final Game 5 of the Subway Series surrounded by Yankee fans in the upper deck. I was at a Louisville sports bar surrounded by Cardinal fans when Endy Chavez went airborne and Carlos Beltran froze. I have the 1986 Mets videotape and get misty whenever Wild Boys plays, and remember exactly where I was when Backman dove outside the line to get to 1st. I suffered through Bobby Bo, Vince Coleman, Juan Samuel.

This is all to say that I missed the first eight innings of Johan Santana’s no-hitter Friday night. I was on stage, because I’m an actor. And that’s what I do. I got off stage (the show was only 75 minutes) to a text from a friend and fellow Met fan – who was also at that Louisville sports bar with me – telling me to get to a television. I saw the final inning. Thank God. And even if Santana’s arm falls off his next outing, it was worth it. It was.

But this post isn’t about Johan Santana’s blessed no-hitter. This is about somebody else, well, somebody else’s game. Read more…

Render unto Adam Dunn What is Adam Dunn’s

Smash?

I offer this to praise Adam Dunn, not to bury him. Which seems weird, because the thing  that spurred me to write this was an anti-record that he didn’t break. On Friday, May 11th, Dunn had the opportunity to tie the major league record for most consecutive games with a strikeout. He was at 36, and was one game shy of the record set by pitcher Bill Stoneman from 1971-72. But Dunn instead went 2-for-2 with a double, homer, and two walks. Boo.

Yes, boo. Nobody’s paying attention to Dunn this year. Hell, with the exception of last season, it seems like nobody pays attention to Dunn. And that’s kind of sad. He’s having a great year so far. OBP just shy of .400, SLG over .600. He’s already matched his homer total from last year, with 11 through Saturday’s game.

They paid attention last year. Because Dunn had an atrocious, repulsive, asshat 2011. Just terrible. I imagine if I were a White Sox fan, and I watched him play day after day, batting .159 for the year, with a slugging percentage of .277 — worst in the American League for players with 400 or more at-bats — I would break all of my fingers, solely to keep myself from jamming them down my throat and throwing up. Read more…

Harperite or Troutist?

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Rivalry! Rivalry! Please?

The injury to Ryan Zimmerman and the general uselessness of a disgruntled, aging, and underperforming Bobby Abreu led to a seismic development in MLB fandom last week, with the promotions of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.

Though Trout enjoyed his still-qualifies-for-rookie-status 120 at-bats last summer, these two outfielders, both born in the early ‘90s, both ambitious, focused, and sporting hyper-natural talent, could have their promotions become a bellwether turning point for the league. Not because of Harper’s “once in a generation” power, or Trout’s omni-likable talents, but because of their extreme youth combined with their projections over their careers, as well as the era they blossomed out of.

The two are the youngest – and already two of the most talented – players in their respective leagues, Harper at 19 and Trout at 20. In 2005, Matt Cain started seven games at the age of 20 and Felix Hernandez started 12 games at the age of 19. But for the combined star power and future potential of the two youngest in the leagues? Maybe 1984, with Dwight Gooden and Jose Rijo (yes, he broke in with the Yanks). But really, you may have to go back to 1926, when teenagers Mel Ott and Jimmie Foxx were patrolling the field, but neither of them became everyday players until two years later. Read more…

The Joys of the Unathletic Pitcher

More awkward old guys, please.

One of the great things about going back and watching the movie Major League is how aberrant junkballing pitcher Eddie Harris (played by awesome character actor Chelcie Ross) seems in 2011. An old, unathletic guy on the mound, looking like, really, just an everyman putting everything into a toss that may or may not make it to the plate. Mostly, it’s knuckleballers like Charlie Hough (left) and Phil Niekro, when you think about a shapeless guy on the mound heaving it towards far more athletic-looking batters.

*When Charlie Hough retired from the game in 1994 at the age of 46, he was 26th in career strikeouts with 2,362. He’s now 41st., passed by the likes of Clemens, Johnson, Pedro, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Schilling, etc, and, the latest, Javier Vazquez last September. Charlie Hough. That has to be the strangest name on the current top 50 K leaders. He was only in the top 10 in strikeouts four out of his, um, 25 seasons. He was only in the top 10 for Ks/9 IP once. Hough is sandwiched between Sandy Koufax and Robin Roberts. According to Baseball-Reference, Hough’s Career Pitcher WAR is 37.5, or 156th all-time. Of the top 50 career strikeout leaders, Hough is second-to-last. Only Vazquez is behind him, and Vazquez will probably pass him this year. Hough was an All-Star once. He got four votes in the 2000 Hall of Fame ballot. I wish I could watch him pitch now. Watching Tim Wakefield isn’t the same. Sure, he’s a late-40s knuckleballer, but Niekro and Hough – they looked legitimately like grandparents.

Which brings me back to my point. Read more…

Neftali Feliz Becomes Tricksier

Neftali Feliz Gets his Preciouseses

A fair bit of brouhaha surrounded the strange end of the Rangers-Royals game on May 18th. And it leads to the possibility that one of the game’s best relievers just got maybe a little better, despite a mini-meltdown last night.

Starting with the bad: After Neftali Feliz gave up a game-tying, save-blowing homer on the first pitch phenom Eric Hosmer saw, he walked Jeff Francoeur.

Let’s not blow by that statement. It’s up in the air whether Feliz has suffered a little control trouble this year; following last night’s game, he’s walked 11 and struck out just 8 through 13.2 innings this year (albeit with a large DL stint); this is compared to his 71:18 K-to-walk ratio in 2010. But a closer look at his situational walks reveal perhaps a different story: Read more…

Not a Jock – Sam Fuld

Short Diabetic Statisticians Can Fly!

Sam Fuld has played above his head. He’s been a wonderful story so far, but a player with a career minor league slugging percentage of .405 who was old for each level of the minors won’t keep up his legendary status among baseball fans or even Rays fans. Since a 4-for-4 game against the White Sox on April 18th that raised his batting average to a season-high .396 and his OPS to 1.035, Fuld hit a 9-for-62 skid (as of May 5th), and is currently at .261, and will be relegated, most likely, to Fernando Perez-type status soon. Fourth outfielder with speed, possible defensive replacement. Oddly, Perez was included in the trade that sent Matt Garza to the Cubs and Sam Fuld (along with Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee to the Rays. Oddly again, Perez has his own Not-a-Jock column here.

But Sam Fuld is insanely mega-fun to watch, and kinda constitutes a nerd, and warms my damn heart. And he’s not a typical jock. For example: Read more…

The Big Red Steal

Bruuuuuce!

On December 9th, the Cincinnati Reds agreed to a six-year, $51 million deal with Bruce, a contract almost exactly the same as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ agreement with the slightly-younger Justin Upton last March (six years, $51.25 million).

And for some strange reason, the Reds’ multi-year signing of the fan favorite made almost no news. Well, in Cincinnati it did. But nationally, it was something of an afterthought next to the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez mega-contracts, the Cliff Lee Sweepstakes, and the usual merry-go-round of veteran bats jumping teams. Read more…

King Felix, Owner of Argyle Socks, Wins Cy Young

He doesn't win ugly, but man does he fill out a uniform. Hubba hubba?

In the wake of the AL Cy Young voting, for some reason, and despite David Price coming in third place, stories abound pitting the Cy Young Award winner and best pitcher in the American League this past year against third-place winner C.C Sabathia with headlines noting his paltry win accumulation, like:

“With only 13 Wins, Hernandez Earns Cy Young” (New York Times)

“Hernandez, 13-12, Wins Cy Young” (Philadelphia Inquirer)

“Hernandez Overcomes 13-12 Record to Win Award” (the BBWAA itself)

This is kind of like writing “Hernandez, Owner of Argyle Socks, Wins Cy Young.” Or “King Felix, Whose Favorite Movie is Ghost Dad, Wins Award.”

Hernandez, by every metric except wins, was the best choice this year. And it’s fantastic that Hernandez got 21 out of 28 first-place votes. He was on every single ballot, though two writers – I’ll get to them in a second – named him fourth and fifth. Read more…

Justin Morneau Sends a Poorly Thought-Out E-Mail

If the fences are at 300 feet, we'll win 162 games!

The Minnesota Twins made the playoffs this year. Easily, too. They finished six games ahead of the White Sox, and it wasn’t even much of a race for the last two months. They also had the best home record in the American League with a 53-28 record. Who can argue with that?

Justin Morneau, that’s who. In the latest ‘hitter who doesn’t like the spacious measurements of his ballpark,’ the concussed first baseman replied in an email to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about how disappointed he was that the front office hasn’t decided to pull the fences in at the Twins’ gorgeous new Target Field.

So…a couple of things. Read more…