Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tigers Slump Now Over 100 Games Old

On July 23, 2007, thru 97 games the Detroit Tigers led their division, the American League Central, by a season-high 2 games and had the best record in the Majors at 59-38.  Detroit had a winning percentage of .606 and was one of only 2 ML teams in with a win percentage of over .600 on that date (Boston, .604). 

From that point on however, the 2007 Tigers fell apart, playing their final 65 games at a .446 clip with a 29-36 record.  It mirrored almost exactly what the World Series team of the previous season had done when the 2006 Tigers opened 76-36 (.679) thru 112 games, good for a 10-game lead in the division on August 7, only to finish 19-31 (.380) in their final 50 games and lose the division crown on the last day of the regular season. 

But, I digress.

Take the Tigers record from their high-water mark last season until the end of the regular season (29-36) and add it to their record this season (16-21) and you've got a ballclub which has won 45 and lost 57 in their last 102 games.  Win Percentage: .441.

The point here is that Detroit's slump didn't exactly begin with the Tigers 0-7 start here in 2008.  It began last July. 

While the Tigers have won 2 of their last 3 (Detroit's only wins in their last 8) we will have to wait and see if this is a trend or an anomaly.  Detroit's 4-0 against the Yankees this season and it is, of course, New York which provides the opposition later this afternoon in the middle game of the 3-game series this weekend between the teams. 

The good news continues to be the fact that Detroit plays in the AL Central where a .500 record--the definition of mediocrity--means (as of today, anyway) you are only a game out of first.  The Tigs are in fourth place (percentage points ahead of last-place Kansas City) but because nobody in the division is going good, the Tigers are only 3.5 games off the division lead.  The Wild Card standings are an eye-opener, though.  If you were thinking that even if they don't win their division the Tigers could still get into the playoffs as the Wild Card winner, Detroit's 10th right now in the Wild Card standings, 6 back of the leaders.  Please make a note of it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Time Makes Fools Of Us All

My guess is that opening with the words, "I was bored so..." is a poor way to begin an article, but I was and so I am.   

I was enjoying day 2 of my 2-day free trial of MLB.TV which I had been granted for "being a good customer" and was watching the Orioles at A's game because by the time I'd gotten home the Mets at Dodgers game was 12-love in the 6th and even the chance to catch the great Vin Scully at work wasn't worth watching that turkey.

I had, by the way, thoroughly enjoyed Day 1 of the two-day trial.  MLB.TV can't be beat.  Last night, I had the Tigers on the "real" TV and was able to simultaneously via computer keep on eye on the other teams in the division; watching Cleveland come back on a three-run shot in the 8th to win in New York, seeing Gavin Floyd almost throw a no-hitter against the Twins and wrapping up the night by enjoying Scully and seeing a rare inside-the-park homer at Dodger Stadium.  Like I said, I love the MLB.TV.  I swear that the first thing I'm going to do when I find work again is buy a subscription.

So, today, I had the Orioles on with Jon Miller (a fine broadcaster in his own right) doing play-by-play and he said something--I can't remember what--that made me think of a question I wanted an answer to, so I brought up Baltimore's Media Guide on the computer to find the answer.  I don't know if the Orioles PR Department is the best in baseball but I do know that their Media Guide used to be twice as thick as any other in the American League and that has to mean something.  It's as if the word "minutiae" had been invented just for them.  And if it had in fact not been, they certainly ran with it nonetheless.  Which is okay.  I'm a big fan of minutiae, especially when it comes to the baseball.

Whatever question it was I'd had, had got answered, but you know it's tough to put a Media Guide down and I found myself  reading the "History of Baseball in Baltimore" section.  Very interesting.  Right off the bat I realized hat I'd forgotten this bit of trivia: The Baltimore Orioles were a charter member of the American League in ought-3.  !903, of course.  After two less than stellar seasons, they moved to New York and became the Highlanders who later became the team whose name shall not be mentioned in this space.

Major League ball didn't return to Baltimore until 1954 when the St. Louis Browns moved there.  Interestingly, Baltimore's records begin, according to their Media Guide, in 1954.  They don't count the Browns records, much less the Orioles of 1903-04. 

I continued my reading of the Orioles' history and got to 1966 and Baltimore's World Series sweep of the L.A. Dodgers.  I was an actual Little League catcher when that Series was played but I still remember it.  Vaguely, but I remember. 

Remember I'd watched the Dodgers game last night?  The Dodgers came back to beat the Mets largely because when it looked like the game was going to get out of hand they brought in a relief pitcher who struck out 8, of note since 8 is only one shy of 9, and 9, as Scully pointed out, is the L.A. franchise record for most K's in a game by a relief pitcher. Talking about it, Scully recalled Baltimore's Moe Drabowski coming out of the pen to fan11 Dodgers in one appearance in that '66 Series, and that it is still a World Series record to this day.

Just recently, Sports Illustrated came out with a web feature that let's you read an on-line version of any edition they've ever published.  I did a search and found the issue containing the story of the 1966 World Series.  I remembered the cover when I saw it since I had been an SI subscriber at the time.  I was a precocious child. 

The story reminded me just what a remarkable feat Baltimore's four-game sweep of that Series really was.  Drabowski's 11-strikeout performance came in Game 1 when he relived in the bottom of the second inning.  L.A. had scored a run in the first and when Drabowski walked the first man he faced to force in a run, the Dodgers had scored in each of the first two innings of the Series.  They would not score again.  Not later in that inning, not later in that game, and not in Game 2, Game 3 or Game 4!  L.A.'s composite Series line score published below the game story in that edition said it all:

1 1 0  000  000  000  000  000  000  000  000  000  000  000

Baltimore batted .200 in the 1966 World Series, a record low by a winner, but when you hold a foe off the board for 35 consecutive innings...

After I read the story of the '66 World Series, I did another search and read some of the coverage of the 1967 A.L. pennant race--like the World Series of the previous fall one of the greatest of all time.  Four teams--Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota and Boston--had a chance to finish first heading into the final weekend of the season.  

There was a great story in the September 18, 1967 issue which referred to the "now prideless" Baltimore Orioles, the "bizarre" American League pennant race, "Boston's exciting young Red Sox" and an "improbable feat" accomplished by the White Sox pitching staff: blowing a 3-0 lead to the Tigers with one out in the top of the 9th on a Saturday before getting a no-hitter from Joe Horlen less than 20 hours later in the first game of a Sunday doubleheader which Chicago would go on to sweep.

The same issue contained SI's NFL Preview for 1967 and a story by Tex Maule about labor peace in the NFL, which had merged with the AFL the year before. It was in that story that I came across a quote which has to be among the all-time greats.  Maule was writing about efforts by the Teamsters Union to organize NFL players, primarily by "concentrating on Negroes".  Support for a union from the players was not widespread.  Here's a quote from a "veteran player" lifted from the Sports Illustrated story:

"A Jimmy Brown gets, say, $60,000 a year, and he's worth it. With a union, I think it would tend to level out salaries. We average maybe $15,000 over the league now. Is the union going to get all of us that much more? I don't think so. And it would probably cut out the shot at the big money."

Which brings us to the title of this piece.  We all know what unions have meant for player's salaries.  What were they thinking in 1967? 

Time, as I say, makes fools of us all.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Yankees Win! Thuuuuuuuuh Yankees Win!!!

Here's some pretty sad, pretty sick stuff. A 43- year-old mother is accused of running down and killing a 29-year-old man in the parking lot of a New Hampshire bar in the early hours of last Friday morning. She had a New York Yankees sticker on the back of her car and according to witnesses was being serenaded by on-lookers with a "Yankees suck" chant. So, she floored it and ran 'em over, killing one, injuring another:

You know...I like my baseball as well as the next guy, maybe a little bit more even, but at the end of the day it only means some freaking guy caught a flipping ball, or he did not. Geez us.