Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Monday, January 31, 2011

Is Hong-Chih Kuo Amongst the Best Dodger Relief Pitchers Ever?

Well if the Magic 8 Ball says it, who am I to argue?  The statistics over the past few years for Kuo are quite impressive.  Not quite "Gagnesque," during the steroid era, but who ever was that good?  Hong-Chih Kuo has been amongst the best relievers in the game.  Yes, he has been that good.  If only he could pitch more.

Kuo is about as good as he’s going to get.  Setting a Dodger record with the lowest E.R.A. for relief pitchers with over 50 innings pitched, he’s about as close to “lights out” as you’ll find.   The torque and twisting he engenders while firing his fastball almost has to be seen to believe. The injuries to his arm can attest to his “war-torn” image.
Just two seasons ago, it looked like Kuo had enough.  Having experienced two Tommy John surgeries early in his career, for the second time in a two year span, Kuo experienced elbow issues.  On May 2, 2009, after a few lackluster outings in April, Kuo was called upon to warm up in the bullpen and he proceeded to bounce 7 pitches and then throw another two to the Dodger infield from the left field bullpen mound.  They shut him down.  And reports were that Kuo had run out of patience and there was a good chance he’d hang up his cleats for good.   And who could blame him?  Coming back from one TJ surgery is tough enough, but two?  And then additional elbow surgery?  I could understand why Kuo was fed up.
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

But he came back.  After a three month layoff following another surgery, he lowered his E.R.A. from 6.75 one trickle at a time down to 3.00 to finish the season.  That wasn’t an easy feat when you consider that he would be called on by Torre to take out the lefthanded batter in a lefty vs. lefty matchup and would often be removed immediately afterwords.  Kuo’s longest outing from July 27 to the end of the season was one full inning, yet he still lowered that E.R.A. by 3.75 runs.
So last spring when a disappointed Kuo couldn’t pitch in an Overseas Spring Training assignment in his home country, I thought he was done.  But it turned out the fatigue he felt was common Spring Training “dead arm” issues and he regained his strength and was the primary set up man as the season started.

We, as Dodger fans, have been spoiled in the past decade with stellar relief pitching.  Gagne was no doubt the greatest reliever on the planet for 3 years.  That set the bar real high, and Saito delivered more than satisfactorily following Gagne’s departure.  It wasn’t only until recently that Broxton disappointed us, but the first portion of his career was very solid when compared to other closers in the game.
So now we have the fragile Kuo.  I understand why he hasn’t been named a closer by Dodger management.  1st, because he’s about to go through arbitration, so why grant him that role of closer and show an arbitrator how valuable he is to the organization?  2nd, because of his injury history and inability to pitch on consecutive days.
So if I were representing Kuo in an arbitration hearing.  These are the points I would hammer home:
* In two of the last three seasons, Kuo leads all relievers in Earned Run Average. (2008 relief pitching ERA of 1.69 and a 2010 ERA of 1.20).
* He set the major league record for retiring consecutive left handed batters in 2010.  They absolutely could not touch him.  He retired 36 consecutive lefties.  Lefties batted .095 against him for the season.

*     As the lone dominant player in the game from Taiwan, Republic of China.  He is instrumental in bringing in significant      numbers to the gate as evidenced in this "You Tube" clip where a certain Taiwanese contingent of fans (Upper Deck, 1st base side) reacts to the announcement of Kuo entering the game.

* He became the first Taiwain representative in a Major League All Star game with his 2010 appearance.  
* In 2008 Kuo was named set-up man of the year.
* In home games, he only gave up one earned run in 31 innings of work for a Dodger Stadium E.R.A. of 0.29.
* After being named the late season closer, Kuo saved 12 of 13 games.
* With a lifetime K/BB ratio of 3.0, (4.06 in 2010) and and K/9innings ratio of 10.5, (11.0 in 2010), he is among the best in the game.
* In 2010, Kuo gave up only 1 home run over 60 innings pitched.
So, Mr. Arbitrator, give Kuo his $3.075 million and tell Ms. Ng to have a seat.  Let her dedicate her efforts on making sure Loney doesn’t get the big money.

UPDATE: On Feb. 2nd it was announced that the Dodgers and Hong-Chih Kuo were able to agree to a new contract and avoid an arbitration hearing.  The terms of the one year deal are $2.725 million + additional bonus incentives that could add another $675,000 to it.

Hey, Look What I Found.

In a box labeled "Spring Training  2006," were a number of items that I had signed when I was in Vero Beach.  There is a signed photo of Grady Liddle, even a Jayson Werth signed photo.  Of course, Tommy signed a card, there's a Dioner Navarro signed picture along with a Rick Monday autographed photo.  There's also this sweet Dodger Mug that I never used.  And then I found these two gems.

The ball is a spring training game used ball.  A foul ball that eventually ended up at my feet.  It has a weak signature, but an autograph from Frank McCourt nonetheless. The photo I had Mr. McCourt sign a few days later.  I wonder how these two items will be viewed years from now.  Could they be perceived the same as a Walter O'Malley signed ball and photo are in Brooklyn today?  Any predictions?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Adventures in Babysitting

David and Eric, my grandkids, Little League Photo from Summer 2010

I have been taking a few days away from the blog as my grandkids have been staying with us for four days while their parents get a short vacation.  Sometimes I forget how difficult being a parent of youngins can be.  It is really a full time job.  I have cooked a lot this weekend and the house is a mess.
So now on day three, Sunday morning, I type this with a bit of a stiff neck after concluding the night where two of the three ended up in our bed.  I think I spent half the night with a little foot pounding my lower back.   And I got the best of it because me wife REALLY took a pounding from them.

Sofia, our grandaughter

So, as much as I’d love to keep up the pace with an almost daily posting, it simply wasn’t possible.
I’d love to indoctrinate them all into rooting for for the blue, but being in Giant country, they are slowly being indoctrinated in Giant ways.  And the World Series win doesn’t help matters as I try to lean them towards the Dodgers.  I simply have too much competition.  There are some things that can’t be controlled I guess.  But I won’t give up.  As you see in the pictures I took below, something that won't make their Gnat fan uncles too happy, I'm trying.

So my goal this weekend was to get them away from the video games and outside to actually participate in sports.  But we had rain, so that idea sort of went out the window.
On Saturday morning I took David, my six-year old grandson, to the recycling place to turn in cans and bottles for money.  What is it about that?  I could hand him a $5 bill and he won’t think twice about it, but then when he sees a bunch of cans and bottles to turn in, “Woah!!! That’s awesome!”

It has been fun, but I'm exhausted.  And I gotta go because I am being asked by David where the pancake mix is, "what in the world are they doing in the kitchen?"

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Strange Turns and Coincidences in this Small World

So for years I have followed certain blogs and posted on message boards.  But finally, with some encouragement from my wife, I started this thing up.  And in order to get a following, sometimes you need to nudge a person you admire.

I did that with Roberto Baly from “Vin Scully is my Home Boy.”

I have followed his fine blog for a while now and I really enjoy his humor, enthusiasm and perspective.  The man is truly awesome and I really enjoy his blog.  He’s also at the cutting edge, regularly breaking stories and providing references to other websites and blogs.
So I fired him off an email and invited him to look at my site.  Roberto is so awesome that he immediately read it and endorsed it.  Something he really didn’t have to do.  Much of my readership has come directly from Roberto’s short blurb and his listing of my blog on his site.
But here is the interesting thing.  After chatting with him via email, it turns out that our lives practically mirror each other.
Both our wives are from Nicaragua.  I have traveled there once and Roberto is planning to.
We both have connections to Argentina.  Roberto with family there and I having lived there.  He has direct ancestry from Turkey, and my maternal grandmother was born there.
Then it gets real odd.  He posts a story about a Baseball Academy being built in Nicaragua.  I comment on it and mention that my wife has a niece that works in the News industry down there, where she is a news anchor on Channel 2 in Managua. I mentioned that perhaps she could do a story on it.  He then mentions that his wife has a cousin that works in TV news there too. He checks...she’s at channel 2 also, hosting a talk show.  My wife talks to her niece and sure enough, her niece and Roberto’s wife’s cousin know each other well.
The cousin of Robert's wife: Berta Valle, Canal 2, Managua, Nicaragua

My wife's niece, Yunaisy Garcia (far right), Canal 2 News Anchor, Managua, Nicaragua.

But here is where it gets real strange.  I had mentioned in a posting or my bio, (not sure where), that I had grown up in Hacienda Heights, CA.  Out of the blue, Roberto asks me if I went to Los Molinos Elementary School.  Well, uh, yes, for 6 years of my young life.  Its where I had Little League practice, where I lost my first tooth, had my first schoolyard fight with a bully, and dunked my first basket, (never mind that the hoop was only 8 ft high and I was 15 years old).  Turns out Roberto went there too.  I just burst out laughing.  My wife shook her head saying.  “You two have got to meet.”

The old stomping grounds, Los Molinos School, Hacienda Heights, CA

My 6th grade photo, can you tell it was 1973 by the clothes we were wearing?  Yeah, I'm the smallest kid in the class, front row, next to my teacher.

One last note, something that I forgot to mention to Roberto.  Living in a house directly across the street from this school was (at the time) Montreal Expos Manager Gene Mauch.  In all the years living there, I never saw him once, but it wasn't for lack of trying.  A few of my buddies went trick or treating at his house one year and said he gave them a handful of snickers bars.  Man, was I jealous!

*Special thanks to Roberto Baly for granting me permission to post this story.  Don't forget to check out his blog at : www.vinscullyismyhomeboy.com

Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Open Letter to Commissioner Bud Selig on the Dodger Ownership Situation

Dear Commissioner Selig,
Please Mr. Selig.  It’s time to do something and to invoke the “best interest of baseball” clause to protect Major League Baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers and their fan base.  Force the McCourts to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Your legal team needs to come forward and put an end to this ownership that never should have happened in the first place.  
This is a franchise on the verge of financial collapse. And how can that be when they draw 3.5 million fans a year?  It is simple.  There is complete mismanagement by the present ownership.  I will present to you over a dozen points that serve as evidence that the present owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers are breaking laws, mismanaging funds, completing underhanded back-room deals, are out of money and living on credit, and have questionable mental faculties intact.  It is time to oust the McCourts as stewards of this baseball institution and historic franchise.

  1. The Dodger Dream Foundation and its mismanagement:  In 2007, the McCourt ownership paid a $400,000 salary to Howard Sunkin, Frank McCourt’s former liaison in public affairs, out of $1.6 million collected for the Dodger Dream Foundation.  This 2007 disclosure, in a story broken by the New York Times, showed that the foundation was completely misleading to the fans and merited disciplinary action by MLB when it occurred.  The New York Times reported that Sunkin’s salary was more in tune with someone heading a charitable foundation that collects in the neighborhood of $100 annually.   This egregious use of charitable contributions has drawn the scrutiny of the California Attorney General that is currently investigating this case.  And Sunkin continues on the payroll to this day.
  2. Ownership has spent ridiculous amounts to live lavish lifestyles, all on the fan’s dollar.   The McCourts have used the team as a personal credit card.  Florists, hairdressers, tailors, real estate, security, private jets, lavish hotels, country club memberships.  They own several multi-million dollar estates.  But “own” is misleading.  They purchased the property on credit, using the Dodger franchise as collateral.  I understand that persons in ownership positions have a certain standard and image to uphold, but the McCourts have overdone it.  Some of these costs are just way over the top. 
  3. Frank McCourt has paid his sons hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary annually when they were not even working.  One has been attending school at Stanford, another is running a surf shop on the beach.  Neither play a significant role with the club.
  4. There have been massive firings and departures of good organizational people.  Ross Porter, Derrick Hall, Tommy Hawkins, Dan Evans, Jim Tracy, Paul DePodesta.  And those are just some of the firings we are aware of.  There are the low level, Dodger employees for decades that have been let go.  Tommy Hawkins, a well respected executive that is very careful with his choice of words said this about the dismissal of many loyal Dodger employees following his departure from the organization: “These are hard-hat people that make an organization go.  If you find out, please let me know why they were fired.  I can’t fathom why.”  (http://articles.latimes.com/2005/dec/01/sports/sp-simers1/2 )  
  5. The spending of funds on Russian Faith Healer Vladimir Shpunt to send “positive energy vibes” to the team.  He is a man that admits to know nothing of baseball.  He reports that he sends “positive energy” from 3,000 miles away while watching a game on television.  This eccentric actually had an input and the McCourt’s ear with regard to the firing of Jim Tracy, Paul DePodesta, and player personnel moves.  He received a six figure salary.  The McCourts have been very tight-lipped about his hiring, knowing full well how ridiculous this looks.  My question is:  Who’s next?  Miss Cleo? ( http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jun/10/sports/la-sp-dodgers-psychic-20100610 )
  6. The reckless and unbendable risk taking Frank McCourt took by refusing to settle in his divorce settlement.  This move tied the franchise’s hands financially by not allowing the Dodger team to upgrade in player personnel moves right at the stretch drive when the team was a mere 5 games back in the standings.  Worst of all, McCourt and his mouthpieces have refused to acknowledge this fiscal restraint, lying to the fan base as the only real contracts added are backloaded, paid by the previous team or they contain deferred payment provisions, (which is my next point).
  7. The backloading of contracts and the numerous deferred payment contracts, that will hamstring the franchise for years to come, paying for players no longer with the team.  These are obvious moves from an owner that has no money and is living on borrowed time as he waits for what he hopes to be a massive new TV contract to fall in his lap when his current FOX TV deal expires in 2013.
  8. Forcing newly signed players to contribute to the “Dodger Dream Foundation.”  This resulted in a Players Association grievance that forced MLB to take a stand.  You should know about this problem Mr. Selig, since you had to address the union on it and announce that such clauses in contracts are disallowed.  Thank Mr. McCourt for that.
  9. Frank McCourt's litigious history and personality.  The man has made his mark in the business world by taking people out.  He sues and sues until he gets what he wants.  He has virtually no former business associates with whom he left on good terms.  This is how the man gained his fortune with the Boston waterfront property.  He swindled his partners and sued them.  McCourt's slash and burn mentality scorches everything in his path as he moves ahead to greener pastures. ( http://www.laweekly.com/2010-08-05/news/dodger-dog/ )
  10. You created this mess by pushing for the approval of McCourt by other MLB owners.  You knew full well that prospective owners are not to have debt in excess of 40% when arranging the purchase of a new club.  Everyone knew how highly leveraged this purchase from Fox was.  Still the sale went through.  It is time for you to undo the mess you created.  Estimates today put the McCourt debt upwards of $ 800-900 million.  
  11. Reports have been made public that Frank McCourt has attempted to secure loans to pay his wife alimony.  He actually did get a loan from his brother for that purpose.  Worst of all, it is reported that financial institutions will not loan him money due to his precarious financial standing and credit.  Court documents in the divorce proceeding repeatedly emphasize Frank McCourt’s risky financial moves.( http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/01/sports/la-sp-dodger-finances-20100902/4 )
  12. Frank McCourt’s back door dealings to attempt to build an NFL stadium on Dodger Stadium Property without consulting City Officials or MLB.   These secretive meetings took place in 2005 shortly after NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue had publicly backed the L.A. Coliseum Commission in its effort to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles.  This completely caught the L.A. City Council off guard, as they had been investing significant resources in the Coliseum Commissions bid.  Personally I like the idea of an NFL team playing at Dodger Stadium property, but the problem with McCourt was that he attempted to do this in secret, behind everyone’s back.  When it was disclosed what he was doing, he lied about it and said it was “exploratory and a back-up plan.  Witnesses to his activities state otherwise.
  13. The raising of average Dodger ticket prices by over 60% and the raising of parking fees by 50%.  At the same time, player payroll remaining around the $100 million dollar mark.  I will admit that Dodger ticket prices were the best in baseball for decades and there was a need for an adjustment here, but payroll did not raise commensurately with those revenues, and that is unfair to the fan base.

If I took the time, I could provide you more facts that the McCourts need to be gone, (i.e. stiffing Vero Beach, failure to pay taxes, etc...).You need to do your part to save this fan base from the mismanagement of this ownership.  Recent reports indicate that this divorce settlement will enter another phase of legal battles that will not even hit the court room until 2012. ( http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/dodgers/2011/01/the-dodger-divorce-and-the-philosophy-of-fear-i-know-im-scared.html ).  This really has to stop.  I am hopeful that you have a legal team in place that is ready for a battle.  I trust that MLB could oust McCourt and appoint a receiver to protect the fan base and Major League Baseball.  I'm sure MLB has a legal team that could easily prove  that these numerous moves made by McCourt has harmed the franchises value and MLB's reputation in general.

Please do your part and rid us of this destructive ownership.  Dodger fans would like to concentrate on baseball.


Evan W. Bladh Sr.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Binoculars and Adventures in the Left Field Pavilion

The memories of the event have faded.  Was it 73 or 74?  Did it happen on the first pitch of the game?  Was Don Sutton on the mound or was it Doug Rau?  As the years go by, the story gets bigger, the facts are murkier.  The laughs louder.  Here is what I remember.
I was in Junior High School.  My brother, Taylor, was probably entering his senior year of high school.  We spent three summers attending probably 20 Dodger games in the Left Field Pavilion.  We’d leave in the early afternoon and he’d drive the beat up VW bug that had was probably the ugliest car in town.  Sometimes we’d cram several of his High School friends (Craig, Kevin, Brent) in that car and I’d sit in the far back compartment of the bug, since I was probably 4 inches shy of being 5 feet tall and as limber as a slinky unwrapped on a Christmas morning.   Claustrophobia was not an issue for me.
Sometimes our fellow Strat-O-Matic buddy, Mike Smith, would come along too.  (Mike later obtained fame as a star prep football,basketball and volleyball star at our alma mater, Hacienda Hts., Los Altos High.  He also starred at BYU, 1st Team all American for three years, and 13th overall pick in the 1988 NBA draft by the hated Celtics.  He now announces for the Clippers).  That in itself is another story to be told at another date.  I just need to reach out to him for his permission. 
Taylor would park that VW at the softball field next to the Police Academy that has since been paved over for additional Dodger Stadium parking.  I remember sometimes he’d park up the hill, depending on whether we needed to push start the VW.  We’d walk to the ticket booth and purchase Pavilion seats for dirt cheap.  I seem to remember that a child’s ticket cost $1.75.
We’d first scan the Pavilion for batting practice home run balls and could find them if we were quick enough to be the first to arrive.  Pavilion seating was festival seating back then.  First come first served.  I look at YouTube videos of regulars that attend games there now and its sad to see people chained to assigned seats, but I guess it was only a matter of time before that happened.  And come to think of it, back then, the popular games that would sell out would require you to sit at an assigned seat.
So on this particular day, we brought some binoculars that my dad had purchased.  Now these binoculars were really cool for the early 70’s.  They had a zoom lever to the right, and you could get a real close up on the action at the plate, even from the Left Field Pavilion.  The problem was that once the ball was hit, it was almost impossible to track it.  That fact was going to prove costly on this particular day, August 27, 1974.  Yes, thanks to the miracle of baseball-reference.com, I found the box score.  It wasn’t difficult.  (Link: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/LAN/LAN197408270.shtml )

So here are the true facts.  Doug Rau was on the mound.  It wasn’t the first pitch or first batter of the game.  Don Kessinger batted first and he singled.  Jose Cardenal, with the massive 'fro, was batting second in the lineup.  My brother and I had settled gown and were watching the action with binocs.  Cardenal really lays into a pitch.  I mean it was belted.  I drop the binoculars and try to track the flight of the ball.  “Hey, there it is, its coming our way,” I thought.  I grabbed my mitt.  Got it about half way on.  Reached out for it to my left.  It hits the tip of my webbing, glances off and someone else snags it.  “Man! Are you kidding me!  I had that thing!”    Kevin, one our VW riding buddies said to me, “How did you miss it, it was right at you?”
So we watched the remaining 54 outs in misery.  How do you enjoy a game after that?  I remember the Dodgers rallying and scoring a ton of runs, (final score was LA 12, Chicago 5), and thinking about the how I had dropped my possible once in a lifetime chance.  I simply couldn’t allow my 13 year old mind to enjoy that game.

I have since had a chance at redemption,  it only took 27 years.  I  caught a foul ball on the loge level in 2001.  Barehanded in fact.  And I snagged a foul ball at Vero Beach Spring Training game in 1998 or 1999, but I didn’t catch that one.  I picked it up on the aisle and it was, after all, an exhibition game.  But never have I had another chance to catch a home run.
There’s a guy that currently sits in the Left Field Pavilion that I  really respect.  He films himself catching batting practice home runs and then he posts them on YouTube.  His YouTube moniker is Dodgerfilms.  He actually filmed himself catching an live homer hit by Andrew McCutchen last season, and he was featured on ESPN.  It’s quite amazing that he could track the flight of the ball, fiim it and catch it.  That takes skill and a lot of practice.  
So anyway, that's my sad story., and you'd think that would be the end of it.  Well, think again.  Let's fast forward to August, 2000.  I receive a birthday package in the mail from my brother,  Inside was what appears to be a game used signed baseball.  There's a note from Taylor that reads, "Try not to drop this one."

I didn't.  I can tell you this, I have NEVER taken a set of binoculars to a game since.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Meaning of UZR

 I recognize that determining a players defensive skills is a difficult chore.  We know that the amount of errors committed doesn’t tell an accurate picture all the time of a players defensive skill.  How many balls did a statue (Eric Karros comes to mind) never get to, thus he didn’t commit an error.  Other defensive miscues such as missing a cut off man, failing to cover a base, bad reads and jumps to balls, and various mental errors can’t be quantified easily in the field.
I have to admit, the Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) Statistic was something I wasn’t too familiar with.  I had to do some research on it to get a feel for it. It’s a complicated formula that divides the field into 78 zones.  You figure out the number of balls in play in each zone and then number of balls in which plays are made to determine a baseline average for fielders of each position.  Then you compare that baseline average to the actual performance of a particular player.  If he gets to less balls than the baseline average, his rating is in the negative and if he gets to more, then it is a positive rating.
So UZR is a stat that determines coverage of the field and the value a player has in getting to balls in the general area of his position.  The UZR does a commendable job at determining a players defensive value by measuring his coverage of the field when compared to his peers.  And in that statistic, Matt Kemp’s 2010 performance was absolutely horrid.  To put it in perspective, the next to worse outfielder in UZR rating was almost twice as good as Kemp.  
A UZR of 0.00 equals the positional average.  So as a player you want a UZR in the positive territory.  And Kemp had a 2009 UZR of +3.9 during that Gold Glove award winning year.  His drop in 2010 of  -24.0 is not only horrendous, it’s a historic deterioration.  According to UZR, Kemp was 7 times worse the fielder than he was the previous year.
So why all this attention to UZR?  Well, I looked into it because the MLB network and Larry Bowa are talking about it.
I understand Larry Bowa probably has an axe to grind since he was not renewed to the Dodger coaching staff.  Mattingly apparently wanted him back, but word is that Colletti disapproved his rehiring.  Bowa's  comments on the MLB network Hot Stove show have a tinge of a rancorous tone to them.  Last Friday’s comments were again particularly negative towards his favorite target, Matt Kemp.  But in all fairness to Bowa, they probably were not too far off in terms of accuracy.  

We all know it, Matt Kemp regressed defensively last season in unspectacular form.  While the network proceeded to show footage of a number of fielding errors by Kemp.   Bowa commented about the Dodgers and then Matt Kemp.  Here is how that conversation went:
Greg Amsinger:  “What changes do the Dodgers need to make if they’re going to be more competitive in the N.L. West?”

Larry Bowa: “Well obviously they’ve helped their pitching staff.  They’ve picked up a couple of starting pitchers.  But I think the one area that stood out last year.  I personally, this is my own opinion, I think Matt Kemp has got to go to one of the corners.  Because you have three guys in the rotation that are fly ball pitchers, and if you look at the National League West, Center Field is huge in every ball park.  And you can’t let fly balls drop or get bad jumps on fly balls.  So I think it is important to move him to the corner.  On the other hand, you’re going to be sacrificing some offense.  Obviously do the Dodgers have enough offense, to move him to one of the corners?  Are they going to use Gwynn in center field or do they go the other way, keep Kemp in center field and you have Gibbons and Thames maybe to platoon in left field.  It’s going to be up to the manager which decision he wants to make.
They then post this graphic on the screen:

Amsinger: “This is not a good stat for Matt Kemp in case you’re wondering.  Zone rating, and that’s his number...the worst in all of baseball among center fielders.  Here are the parks you’re talking about in the N.L. West,
(they show a graphic of the dimensions of each NL West ballpark) 
“...and this is your view, what you saw as a third base coach.  There’s a lot of room to roam in Dodger Stadium and all the other ball parks.”

Bowa:  “It’s unbelievable, Colorado, Arizona, San Francisco, San Diego, and you’re getting a lot of balls that should be caught that are dropping in or going to the wall. And for some reason, I don’t know if it was his concentration last year or it was just an off year, he was just a completely different player than he was two years ago. Maybe with a new year, he might go back to his old form, but last year, there were a lot of deficiencies in him playing center field.”
So obviously this entire segment was pre-planned.  They had graphics of each ballpark, video footage of Matt Kemp errors, and zone rating stats all lined up for now what appears to be Bowa’s weekly attack on Kemp.  
We all witnessed it last year.  Matt Kemp played an awful center field.  From 2009 Gold glove winner to the worst center fielder in the game...that’s what they are saying.  I’m hoping that all this motivates Kemp to shut up the wonks that are so quick to criticize his 2010 performance.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Other Sandy (Part Two)

(continued from previous post)

A biographical piece on Sandy Amoros  would address his following years in the majors, his minor successes and eventual fall from elite status.  Eventually resulting in a trip back to the minors and a trade from the only organization he knew, his return to his homeland and the changes he faced in Communist Cuba.  
1956 was an average  year for Amoros , where he hit .260 with a career high 16 homers.  He even came within an eyelash of breaking up Don Larson’s perfect game.   Larson in his book, The Perfect Yankee, (a batter by batter accounting of his perfect game), said Sandy's slice down the right field line was within 3 inches of being a homer.   But overall  it was a disappointing series and his 1 for 19 performance in the  '56 fall classic was a precursor of things to come.  In 1957 his playing time diminished as rookie all-star Gino Cimoli replaced him in left field.  By 1958 Amoros was back at Montreal in the minors.  The following year he was traded to Detroit, where he was only called up to the big club for part of the 1960 season.  After that, Sandy could only find a full time baseball gig in Mexico, with the Mexico City Reds.  Amoros finished his major league career being one week short of service time that would allow him to collect a major league pension.
It would narrate the story of his relationship with Fidel Castro.  The job offer that he turned down to manage a team in the newly formed Cuban league, and the consequences he faced for standing up to the dictator.  The stand he took against him and the eventual suffering and political persecution that he encountered because of it.  It would address the confiscation of his property, the loss of all his possessions, the political persecution he faced and his struggle to return to the United States.

He was a national icon in Cuba.  A hero everywhere he went.  Children idolized him and in that baseball crazy country, the world was on his shoulders.  But then the revolution happened and things changed.  In 1960, during a friendly pick up game amongst friends, Fidel Castro arrived, with camera crews on hand, he wanted to participate. "Before Castro showed up we were going to have a good game," says Amoros. "When he came, we had to do differently. We were better players, so it wasn't fun anymore."  (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1068575/2/index.htm#ixzz1BkHCNLHY)

Fidel Castro at photo op during pick up game.

In 1962 Fidel Castro approached him to be the manager of one of the teams in a newly created Cuban League that Castro created.  There had been talk about Cuba getting an expansion Major League team, but with the change in political climate, that  would never happen.   Amoros was still playing and he wanted to continue doing that by going to Mexico City again.  “I told Castro I didn't know how to manage.  I could play, why would I want to manage?"   Privately, Amoros had qualms about working for the government.  Castro did not take Amoros's refusal lightly. He stripped Amoros of his ranch, car, all his assets and cash.   Amoros was detained in Cuba and not permitted to report for the 1962 Mexican League season.   "Castro would not let me out," he says. "I don't want to talk bad about him." In 1981, Amoros told The Sporting News, "I don't like the guy. I thought he was loco. When I refused [to manage], that's when the trouble started."   (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1068575/2/index.htm#ixzz1BglQdcLJ)
It would investigate the Brooklyn Catholic Charities group that stepped up and sponsored Amoros so that he could obtain a visa to return to the United States in 1966.
It would discuss his deteriorating health, his severe diabetes, his drinking problem, the loss of his marriage and family.
Amoros’ decision to reject Castro’s offer cost him deeply.  His celebrity was now underground.  He and his family lived a life concealed from Cuban society.  "I hardly left my house except to go to the corner. I did not go to restaurants or cabarets. Sometimes to the movies. But they are putting on Russian and Czech movies, and I did not understand them well. We lived on two pounds of rice for a month in Cuba. One pound meat for two weeks. Beans? Two pounds a month. For me, Cuba was better before. Castro wanted my daughter to enter a youth organization, but I didn't let her."
A drinking problem developed as Sandy’s restricted activity brought on a deep depression.  Permitted to leave in 1967 along with 64,000 other Cuban outcasts, Brooklyn Catholic Charities sponsored Sandy's family and provided him a coaching job within the Catholic Youth Organization.   

Buzzie Bavasi heard of his plight and consulted with Walter O’Malley.  It was agreed, the Dodgers offered to place him on the 25 man roster for one week so that he could earn a Major League pension.  He brought the lineup card to home plate for one week.  Amoros, who had been nicknamed “Sandy” while a minor leaguer, due to his muscular physique and similar appearance to a popular boxer of the era, Sandy Saddler, was merely a shell of what he used to be physically.  He weighed 140 lbs.  Diabetes was affecting his deteriorating health.  After a nine day period in which he followed the Dodger team to Houston and Philadelphia, he returned to the Bronx where he had a job at a T.V. and electronics store.   But the alcoholism took its toll and his wife and daughter left him and went to Miami.  Shortly thereafter, the store he worked at burned to the ground and he was jobless.

Again, aid arrived as New York Mayor John Lindsey was tipped of his dilemma and he provided him employment in the city’s  recreation department.  That job served as his source of income until Lindsey left office in early 1970’s.  Unemployment followed and deteriorating health as well.  His leg killed him, but pride kept Amoros from letting anyone know.  As his MLB pension started to arrive in 1977, Amoros moved to Tampa and lived off the $450 check and menial labor jobs that he could find.

Amoros ignored the leg problem for ten years until it was impossible to do so, and by then it was too late.  Forced to check in to a Tampa hospital in 1987, gangrene and circulation problems forced doctors to amputate below the knee.  Former teammate Chico Fernandez heard of his situation and contacted Joe Garagiola and Ralph Branca at MLB Baseball Assistance Team (BAT).  They were instrumental in paying Sandy’s medical bills, finding him an apartment and an artificial leg.

Periodic appearances at Vero Beach Spring Training events and in signing ceremonies supplemented Amoros’ income.  He took pride in his baseball achievements.  The lone pitcure mounted on his wall  in his Tampa apartment was a framed photo commemorating his catch, given to him as a gift at a Dodgers Spring Training event in 1985.  But in his last days, he lived in need of assistance in a barren apartment.  Eventually Sandy moved in with his daughter in Miami, when pneumonia and the deteriorating diabetic condition made him completely unable to care for himself.  Sandy died there on June 27, 1992, a few weeks before he was supposed to return to Brooklyn for the Coney Island Sports Festival.  An autograph signing and memorabilia auction was set up, where the proceeds were to help defray his medical costs.  He never made it. 

1956 Dodgers: Furillo, Hodges, Amoros, Robinson, Snider, Reese, Gilliam, Maglie, Alston

I set this project aside about a year ago I had started doing the internet research on it and realized to give it a real chance, I’d need to travel to the backroads of Cuba and to the areas of Brooklyn, Miami, and eventually Tampa where Sandy resided in his last days.  I’d need to seek out former major and minor league teammates that as time passes, are passing away each year.  This is a story that needs to be told. but it needs the proper dedication, research and time.  Time is running out, witnesses to this great story are advancing in age.  I hope it isn’t too late.

Amoros and Mickey Mantle pose at Ebbets Field before 1955 World Series Game

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Other Sandy (Part One)

There is a book out there that needs to be written.  If I I could take a sabbatical from work, I would attempt to write it.  It is a story of triumph and tragedy.  Of a person rising from the depths of poverty to the riches of fame and acclaim, only to return to the despair of destitution, of homelessness and loneliness. 
It is a story that needs to be told of a man born in a foreign land in extreme poverty, left fatherless at the age of three and how he learned the game of baseball as a child and rose to prominence.  
It would chronicle his climb and progression in the sport as he ascended through the Cuban Leagues, the Cuban National Team, the United States Negro Leagues and eventually his acquisition with the Major League Brooklyn Dodgers.
It would tell the story of a young Dodger scout named Al Campanis, who signed the young Cuban star immediately after witnessing his speed and knowing he had a star in the making before him.
Edmundo Isasi Amoros, born in 1930 in Matanzas, 50 miles east of Havana, Cuba, he descended from a rich Afro-Cuban heritage.  A short ball player,  listed at 5’ 7”, 170 lbs.  He had decent pop for a  player of his size and stature.  Campanis recognized his amazing speed, bunting skill, defensive prowess and power that he generated from amazing wrist strength.   “Miracle wrists” is what coach Billy Herman called them.  (Kahn, Roger, The Boys of Summer,  Harper and Row, New York, 1972, p. 172).  Camapanis remarked on Amoros’ speed saying, "I saw him hit a ball on one bounce to the second baseman and nearly beat it out."   (Dawiduff, Nicholas, “The Struggles of Sandy A,” Sports Illustrated, July 10, 1989).  He was bound for the big leagues on the fast track.

Plaza in Matanzas, Cuba. Birthplace of Edmundo Istasi Amoros
It would address experiences he faced in the states, the racism of Jim Crow laws, the challenges of a new language and culture and how he still succeeded as a standout  minor leaguer outfielder in Brooklyn organization for clubs in St. Paul and Montreal. 
As a youngster in Cuba, he witnessed the Dodgers training in Havana and was immediately taken by Jackie Robinson.  Amoros soon began to pattern his game after Jackie, using his best asset...blazing speed and daring baserunning. Edmundo quickly rose through the ranks in the Cuban Leagues, and was selected as an outfielder on the Cuban national team.  He led his national team to the championship of the Caribbean Games in Guatemala City in 1950 by hitting .370 with 6 home runs and twelve RBI in the series.  Shortly thereafter he was signed by the Negro League New York Cubans.  From there Campanis scouted and signed him to a contract with Brooklyn. (Costello, Rory, “Sandy Amoros,”  The Baseball Biography Project, link: http://bioproj.sabr.org/bioproj.cfm?a=v&v=l&bid=2711&pid=238#_ednref29)
He progressed in the Minors, leading the International League in hitting with a .353 clip at Montreal. By 1954, he was the starting left fielder with the defending NL Champs.  He hit memorable homers in a pennant clinching victory and in game five of the ’55 Series.
Snider and Amoros celebrate pennant clinching victory in 1955, where they each hit two home runs.
It would cover his struggles in the Major Leagues on a team of superstars and future Hall of Famers and it would be a story told by his teammates that reached out and befriended the young man.  Additionally it would tell the story of the Cuban community in New York and how he sought refuge among them.  And it would address the friendship with fellow Cuban teammate Chico Fernandez who would step up later in his life to assist him in a time of need.
Carl Furillo tried to speak Spanish with him and attempted to teach him English.  Roy Campanella would joke with him and keep him company on road trips. Amoros was the only latin player on that Brooklyn team for a time.  But he never got a grasp on the English language and there are those that believe that held him back from becoming a standout player.  Eventually, Chico Fernandez, his fellow Cuban and minor league teammate made the big club in 1956.  They would jump in his car and go to Manhattan to Latin clubs for music and dinner.  Brooklyn embraced the young star.  The Dodgers were the perfect fit for the young Cuban  with their diverse roster and history of innovation and integration.  The borough was an ideal place for him to break into the Major Leagues.  
It would cover the baseball highlight of his life, and how he was a World Series hero.  The incredible catch and series winning play in Yankee Stadium on October , 1955.  

The catch ranks right up there with the greatest clutch plays ever.  Game 7, Yankee Stadium.  Dodgers up 2-0 in the 6th.  Runners on 1st and 2nd with none out.  Yogi Berra sliced a drive down the left field line.  Amoros was playing him to pull in left center field.  Dodger pitcher Johnny Podres said,“I thought, Sandy, you better get on your horse to catch this one!”  Berra stated,”If he wasn’t left handed, he’d have never caught it.”  Baserunner Gil McDougal, “...I was a dead duck.”

Amoros’ stabbing catch, cat like reflexes, instant jarring stop, pivot and return throw was instrumental in not only recording the out, but turning a rally stopping double play.  3 innings  later, the Dodgers had won their first World Championship.

Sandy Amoros catches Yogi Berra's 6th inning drive in game 7 of the 1955 World Series,  Billy Martin puts on the brakes in the lower portion of the photo.  This catch proves to be the key defensive play of the series as the Dodgers win their first World Series Championship, 4 games to 3.

Then it would chronicle the celebration, as he returned home as a hero to Brooklyn and to Havana, Cuba.  
Brooklyn was a borough in euphoria.  Amoros returned to Cuba as a national hero.  He was a source of national pride to Cubans.  A World Series hero.  A celebrity back home.  Even as his career sputtered to an end, Amoros was beloved in his home country. (Dawiduff, Nicholas, “The Struggles of Sandy A,” Sports Illustrated, July 10, 1989). 

At the pinnacle of his life and baseball career, it appeared that Amoros’ future was very bright.  But tragically from that moment on,  Sandy Amoros’ life would start to slowly slide downhill with a series of setbacks, bad breaks and adversities.
(to be continued...)