11th and Washington

11th and Washington: April 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Looking good for 99

Happy Birthday, Fenway!

This photo was taken in 1991 and remains one of my favorite photos I've taken, particularly from those early years.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stealing home on a '56 Topps card

Did a little Jackie Robinson research this morning, prompted by the 1956 Topps card shown above. I was curious as to when the slide into home may have occurred, presuming the scene depicted was based on a photograph of an actual occurrence. It was the number of the batter, really, that piqued my interest -- who is that? Through good deduction, dumb luck or whatever, it only took a few clicks to come up with the answer.

First, I suspected that it was a steal of home, because of the position of the batter so close to the plate, with his bat on his shoulder, gave me the impression that he had just stepped back. If Robinson was scoring on a hit, the batter would probably be further away from the plate, perhaps giving direction on whether -- and where -- to slide. Second, I figured that the opposing team was the Cardinals, based on the catcher's stirrups.

So I simply went to Baseball-Reference's Play Index (before I came across that list of Robinson's steals of home) and got the list of games in which Robinson stole a base against the Cardinals, then started clicking through box scores. Neither of his stolen bases in the two-steal game were of the plate, but the second one on the list -- August 29, 1955, was, and the play-by-play confirms that it was when starting pitcher Johnny Podres -- No. 45 in your '55 Dodgers scorecard -- was batting. Furthermore, Cardinals catcher Bill Sarni wore No. 15 in '55, and that certainly looks like a 5 on the back of the catcher; even if it's a 6, Sarni wore 16 in previous years with St. Louis.

Perhaps even more noteworthy: It was a triple steal to boot! That event didn't warrant much mention, however. In the New York Times story the following day, it had one paragraph dedicated to it, 10 grafs into the story. Podres' plunking of Stan Musial in a back-and-forth brushback spat grabbed the headlines and the photo. Musial was hit in the hand in the fourth inning but wasn't replaced until a double-switch in the seventh. (X-rays were negative, and he was in the lineup in Pittsburgh the next day.)

Compare that to the last triple steal, which wasn't even a straight steal of home (it involved a rundown), but did warrant its own headlines. It's so rare to even see a straight steal of home these days -- such an exciting play -- that the likelihood of a triple steal ever happening again has to be remote.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A different Opening Day

This one had a different feel to it.

At previous Mets openers (I know it wasn't Opening Day, Opening Day, but it's still the return of Mets baseball to its home ballpark, so I like to refer to it as Opening Day) in recent years, there's been that sense of optimism and excitement, anticipation of a promising season to come. Even last year, when there were more doubts than this year (more on that in a moment), I think I had a more positive feeling overall.

But last week, for the first time in several years, I just didn't feel that same sense of positive energy about the season to come. Last Friday, the feeling was more of hope -- desperate hope, not anticipatory hope. More, Oh please don't let this team finish in last place, and less, Let's shoot for the division and see if we can't fall back into the wild card.

But this year's Mets team, I think, is more of a mystery than last year's (hence the greater sense of doubt in 2010 than in 2011). Going into 2010, the thinking (here, at least), was that 2009 was so sabatoged by injuries that if the stars could just stay healthy and if David Wright could get comfortable in Citi Field, the team had to be good for at least 85-88 wins, which would put it in contention in September. But the doubts were still there that they could be healthy (and it didn't help that Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran started the season on the disabled list, that Jennry Mejia was in the bullpen when everyone felt he should be in the minors developing as a starte and that Mike Jacobs and Gary Matthews Jr. were on the team, period).

In 2011, though, I sense more of a feeling of curiosity. Nevermind the roster, the changes in the front office, the manager's office and the owners' bank accounts have us wondering more about what the future holds than what the past has brought. Sure, there were very few changes in on-field personnel besides the long-desired shedding of two particular contracts, and that should give us very little hope, but I think the installation of a new philosophy brought on by Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins has us wondering -- perhaps expecting -- this team to overachieve a little after so many recent years of underachievement. Instead of the "ifs" centering on the negative like last year -- "if Wright can't hit at home... "if Beltran's knee can't hold up ..." -- it seems to be more of a positive spin -- "if Dickey can repeat his breakout year ..." "if Beltran's knees can hold up ..." And maybe some of that comes from the fact that everyone seems to be picking the Mets last in the NL East, or at least no better than fourth. (Personally, I couldn't see them finishing last ... until this past weekend. But even that is just one series, one that showed a bullpen with some holes and perhaps one that wasn't yet in sync, and changes have already been made.)

Anyway, you can't predict a season based on 10 games, or even four (remember how good things looked after game four?), or even two weeks' worth. If the Mets are well back in last place come May 1, then I'll be severely disappointed, but until then, I'm just going to have to look at it as this group getting its footing. It's all I can do. I can't be one of those cranky, bitching, complaining, booing Mets fans. There's no enjoyment in that for me. I like to be happy, and sometimes it seems like those fans just can't be.

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Friday, April 08, 2011

A look back: Mets openers

Soon, Casey and I will be riding the rails out to Flushing for another Mets opener (and a Mr. Met bobblehead!). In celebration of baseball coming back to Queens for the season, I've pulled some photos from past openers. I don't have photos from each of the past 12 openers I've been to, but here's a sampling of what I do have.

My first opener, 1991

 Look at the price!

Coming off the train, 2004
Back for another season

Introductions, 2004
Opening Day at Shea, 2004

Groundskeeper Bill Butler's skyline, 2005
City in the outfield

Mr. Met coming off the 7, 2006
Off the 7

On the 7 for Shea's last, 2008
7 train approach

Presenting the good luck wreath, 2008
Presentation of the wreath

Citi's debut, from the video board, 2009
Blimp over Citi

After Citi's unveiling, 2009
From the platform, postgame

A bigger flag, 2010
Beneath the blue sky

David Wright's home run, 2010
Wright's home run

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

By the numbers: Mets home openers

We all know the success the Mets have had on Opening Day since losing eight of their first nine.

But with my 12th consecutive and 13th overall opener coming up tomorrow (the Mets are 9-3 when I've been there), I wondered how they've done in their first home game over the years. So I crunched the numbers ...

In the 49 openers leading up to this year, they've gone 31-18 (.633), edging opponents by a cumulative score of 201-189 (an average of 4.1-3.9 per game). A total of 1,907,740 fans have attended the games, averaging 38,933 per game. The contests have averaged 2 hours, 47 minutes, though nine of the last 10 have gone longer than three hours.

One of the more interesting openers to me was in 1997, when the Mets (and Yankees) opened with doubleheaders because of rain in New York (amazing that both the Mets and Yankees were scheduled to open at home on the same day, too). This twin bill was news to me because, as a junior in college in Indiana in the spring of '97, I guess I didn't follow the day-to-day ins and outs of the season as closely as I do now.

Tomorrow will be the Mets' first Friday home opener since 1995. They're 4-4 opening up their home schedule on a Friday, though they've won four of their last five. The full day-by-day breakdown:

Sunday, 0-1
Monday, 13-6
Tuesday, 9-7
Wednesday, 3-0
Thursday, 1-0
Friday, 4-4
Saturday, 1-0

Then there are the opponents. The Cardinals and Expos/Nationals have been the most frequent denizens of the opposite dugout, nine times each, so the Nats will claim the top spot with their 10th appearance tomorrow. In all, 12 different teams have appeared:

Atlanta, 2-1 (Mets' record)
Chicago Cubs, 1-2
Colorado, 1-0
FLorida, 2-0
Houston, 1-0
Los Angeles, 0-1
Montreal/Washington, 5-4
Philadelphia, 7-1
Pittsburgh, 3-5
San Diego, 1-1
San Francisco, 1-1
St. Louis, 7-2

The only clubs who haven't been here for the home opener are the Diamondbacks, Brewers and Reds, none of which is all that surprising: Arizona has only been around since '98, the Brewers only in the National League since then, and the Reds always open the season in Cincinnati, so they've never been an option in the 25 years when the Mets are home on Opening Day.

Six of the home openers have gone to extra innings (three wins, three losses), and in home openers that weren't on the season's Opening Day, the Mets are 13-11 -- leaving them at 18-7 on Opening Day in New York.

And for individual achievements, the Mets' winningest pitcher in home openers is the man who holds the Major League record for most Opening Day starts: Tom Seaver, who was 6-0 at Shea with the April bunting. Following him are Jerry Koosman (3-0) and Dwight Gooden (3-2). Al Leiter (2-0) is the only other pitcher -- Met or opponent -- with more than a single victory.

Three visiting pitchers have lost more than one opener (Gooden is the only Met to have done so). Steve Rogers lost with the Expos in 1976 and '78 and Livan Hernandez dropped decisions with the Marlins in '99 and the Nationals in '06. The losingest pitcher? That would be Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, all with the Phillies: '72, '75, '82 and '83. Seaver got the wins in '72 and '75 and was the starter in '83, but the win went to Doug Sisk after Seaver was pulled and the Mets scored twice in the seventh in a 2-0 victory.

Here's hoping for more good numbers tomorrow, when R.A. Dickey gets the start in his first Mets opener against Jordan Zimmermann in his first, and the Nats franchise's 10th.

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Minor League Opening Day!

It's going to be a week or more before I get to a game in the great Garden State, but it's still wonderful to know that, across the country dozens teams are taking the field. And MiLB.com has a great new feature on its schedule page: Rather than sifting through the long list of every game across the country, you can click on the logos at the top of the page to filter out just the leagues in your area or see who all the affiliates of a certain organization are facing. Good stuff.


Monday, April 04, 2011

Most obnoxious fans in the NL East?

Interesting how Shane Victorino answers that question. This graphic appears in ESPN The Magazine's baseball preview package (an issue I'm just getting to now after finishing SI's). As it explains, there's one for each division asking players to answer only with cities within their divisions. It'd be interesting to see what Victorino would've answered if he was asked about all NL cities, considering the beer shower he took in 2009. Also, as an outfielder, he's closer to the cheap seats (at least the ones closest to the field vs. the upper deck) in whatever ballpark he visits, so I'm sure he hears it from the fans in every stop along the way.

I think it's funny how he says he "feels bad." To me, using that phrase indicates how truly ruthless they can be.


Missing out on New Jersey's openers

Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to make it to the Trenton Thunder home opener on the 14th.

But Kei Igawa will. (Thanks to Paul for the heads-up.)

It turns out that Brian Cashman's biggest bust -- and the all-time wins leader (32) at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, which earned him the cover spot on their record book last year -- has been pushed even further from New York. Looks like the Thunder will have a $4 million long reliever and fifth starter.

What a way to spend $46 million, huh?

Here's hoping Tony Franklin doesn't overwork Igawa.

And a change in my schedule will keep me from Thursday's BlueClaws opener as well. They'll raise their 2010 South Atlantic League championship banner that night. Up through 2005, I'd attended every BlueClaws opener and had made a couple since then, too. But it's just as well, considering their history of cold, damp opening nights.

The Claws released their roster over the weekend and it features 2010 first-round pick Jesse Biddle and, among the returning players, second baseman Jeremy Barnes, who played at Notre Dame. Biddle ranks eighth among Philly prospects in Baseball America's rankings and Lakewood outfielders Domingo Santana and Aaron Altherr rank ninth and 10th, respectively.

For the heck of it, here's a list of important dates for New Jersey minor league teams in 2011:

April 5
Thunder FanFest, 3 p.m.
BlueClaws vs. Monmouth, 6:05 p.m.

April 7
Lakewood BlueClaws home opener, 6:35 p.m.

April 14
Trenton Thunder home opener, 7:05 p.m.

May 3
Camden Riversharks home opener, 7:05 p.m.

May 6
Somerset Patriots home opener, 7:05 p.m.

May 13-16
Bryce Harper and Hagerstown at Lakewood (he is one of the top prospects in all of baseball)

May 26
Newark Bears home opener, 11 a.m.

May 31
New Jersey Jackals home opener, 7:05 p.m.

June 21
South Atlantic League All-Star Game, Delmarva

July 13
Eastern League All-Star Game, New Hampshire
Atlantic League All-Star Game, York

Aug. 30
BlueClaws home finale, 7:05 p.m.

Sept. 1
Thunder home finale, 7:05 p.m.
Jackals home finale, 7:05 p.m.

Sept. 3
Bears home finale, 6:35 p.m.

Sept. 15
Patriots home finale, 6:05 p.m.

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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Sports Illustrated baseball preview history: The 2011 update

It's really not a surprise, is it? The Phillies go out and land Cliff Lee, giving them -- on paper -- the best starting rotation since the 1993 Braves, and it lands the starting five on the cover of Sports Illustrated's baseball preview issue.

The only reason I balked and wondered if they'd go with Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in Boston is because this Phillies cover is unprecedented. (Plus, a Boston cover wouldn't have been a stretch; the magazine does pick the Red Sox to beat the Giants in the World Series.) A team has been represented as the main cover image in consecutive years -- the Yankees in 2002-03, with the entire starting rotation on that '03 cover -- but never before has one player appeared in the cover's main image in back-to-back springs. Until now, until Roy Halladay. He had the cover to himself last year, and this week he's off to the side as the other four stand behind Lee, but the placement doesn't matter. In becoming just the fifth player to appear on the cover's centerpiece twice (joining Willie Mays, Steve Garvey, Mark McGwire and Derek Jeter), Halladay is the first to do it two years in a row.

I won't rehash the full breakdown from last year, but I will update the relevant statistics.

Team appearances:
Red Sox, 7
Yankees, 6
Phillies, 5
Cardinals, 5
Dodgers, 5
Orioles, 3
Giants, 3
Reds, 3
Mariners, 2
Indians, 2
Royals, 2
Twins, 2
Mets, 2
Pirates, 2
Tigers, 2
Brewers, 1
D-backs, 1
Rockies, 1
Cubs, 1
Rangers, 1
Padres, 1
A's, 1
Expos, 1
Angels, 1
Nationals, 1

That's a total of 61 teams on the covers (accounting for two or more players sharing the spotlight in some years). Through last season, 22 of those 60 teams (before this year's Phillies) made the playoffs, with the results as follows:

Won World Series, 6
Lost World Series, 5
Lost ALCS, 2
Lost NLCS, 1
Lost ALDS, 6
Lost NLDS, 2

The Phillies last year became the first featured club to fall in the NLCS. When it comes to regular-season standings, the editors have hit on top-two teams more than the other positions combined:

1st, 20
2nd, 13
3rd, 15
4th, 6
5th, 2
6th, 2
7th, 2

Here are a few more team-related numbers:

Won 100, 6
Lost 100, 2
Player with a new team, 12
Defending champs, 13

As for individual accolades, Halladay became the third player whose cover appearance foretold a Cy Young season, the third to win 20 games, the 36th to have an All-Star season and the 10th to lead the league in at least one major category:

Hall of Famers, 16
Retired, 2
MVP, 2
Cy Young, 3
All-Star, 36
Broke record, 2
20-game winner, 3
Led league, 11

And finally, by putting the Philly five on the cover, SI has widened the gap between starting pitchers and any other position (each player counts once, not as a group, meaning the starters went from 20 to 25):

C, 4
1B, 10
2B, 1
3B, 6
SS, 5
OF, 19
SP, 25
Manager, 2
Owner, 1

Moving forward, we have regional inset images to consider. They began in 2009 with Carl Crawford, Justin Morneau, Dustin Pedroia, Manny Ramirez, David Wright and Carlos Zambrano. Last year, they included Matt Kemp, John Lackey, Brian McCann, Albert Pujols, CC Sabathia and Troy Tulowitzki. This year, we have Robinson Cano and, presumably, others, but they're not online yet. I'll update when they appear.

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