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MLB: Five things we learned in week 11

19th June 2012

Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein opens up about his time with the Boston Red Sox; perfect games; Roger Clemens acquitted of perjury charges

Theo speaks

Human beings don’t like to admit when they’re wrong. It’s a sign of weakness, supposedly, this despite people making mistakes on a daily basis. Better to say nothing than to indicate one’s self, society tells us. Even so, I often wonder why is it such a big deal to say, “Hey, I was mistaken, sorry about that.” You see this sort of stubbornness frequently during broadcasts of live sporting events. A replay will prove an analyst or play-by-play voice’s initial interpretation of a play to be incorrect, and only on rare occasions will the broadcaster say something like “I didn’t see that the first time, my mistake.” Personally speaking, just last week, I misspelled the name of the latest Cuban defects name, Jorge Soler. It’s embarrassing, and I’m not happy about it, but I’m not running from it.  Everybody out there has made mistakes before…now whether or not they are willing admit to them, that’s a different story.

So, having said all that, I am giving current Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein huge props for having the courage to come out last week before his new team took on Boston and admit to some shortcomings during his stint with the Red Sox. Epstein presided over the personnel as Boston won two titles in four seasons, a mean feat considering the Red Sox went 0-84 leading up the curse cracking “Idiots” of 2004. He departed after the infamous September swoon of 2011, in which the Sox dropped out of the playoffs despite enjoying a nine game lead at the top of the month. After doing what no GM in Boston hadn’t done in over 80 seasons, which is win it all, overall, you can’t really argue that Epstein’s legacy is safe. Still, in the fall out of last season, there has been focus on the latter half of his nine-year tenure, one that featured some pricey contracts that are stinking up Back Bay.

Pitcher John Lackey, who signed for five years at $82.5m, could not have been worse, is out for the year, and was front and center during fried chicken-gate. Carl Crawford who left the pressure-free dome in Tampa for a greener pastures (seven-years, $142m) hasn’t come close to matching his Rays stats, and hasn’t played a single game in 2012. To a lesser degree, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Bobby Jenks are black marks that have had impacts on the Sox over the past few seasons.

“If I have a regret about the way we handled that offseason (after the 2009 season), it was that instead of being more patient and saying, ‘We’ll strike when the time is right,’ there was a lot of pressure in the environment at the time to do something. If I learned a lesson from the offseason it’s never feel the need to do something.

Epstein was telling the folks at about the need to feed the beast, a phenomenon that teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox experience yearly. The success of the organizations must be kept up at all costs in order to rake in post-season revenue and quench the thirst of a fan base that needs a winner at all costs. This flies in the face of long term planning and the dreaded “r” word, rebuilding.

“Sometimes, on the business side, it’s important to sort of have something with some sizzle in an offseason. It’s the baseball operations department’s job to push back against that, just as it’s the business side’s job to sometimes advance those thoughts. It’s my responsibility if we got out of whack. And then you could always execute better, too. ... We didn’t execute well in big-name free agency.”

Even if everybody knows that Epstein saddled the team with a few expensive duds, Theo didn’t have to come out and admit to the world that he made some mistakes. With two titles under his belt, he had a license to walk away and leave all of it behind. Instead, he had the courage to be candid, and that may have been his best move yet.

Perfect research

Perhaps no North American sport is more intertwined with statistics than baseball. This isn’t news to fans of the game, which pour over numbers on a regular basis. Personally speaking, rarely a day goes by where I don’t look at stats from a team, a player, past or present, or a box score. Many times there’s no rhyme or reason for what I choose to look at, and stats often lead to stories you never knew. For example, the other day I decided to take a look at Babe Herman, a great hitter with an awful glove who was a bright spot on bad Dodgers teams in the 1920’s and 30’s. I checked out his page on and discovered that Herman played from 1926 to 1937, starting off in Brooklyn, before joining four other teams. He actually hit .393 in 1930 and didn’t win the batting title—Bill Terry did, hitting .401. Looking further at his page, Herman’s story took an unusual turn when he came back for 37 games with the Dodgers 1945, eight years after his retirement at age 42. Interesting, and naturally I had to figure out why and how that came about to satisfy my curiosity. It turns out that Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, needing a pinch hitter badly, wired Herman, and he hopped on the next plane from his California turkey ranch for Brooklyn. “He (Rickey) said all he wanted from me was six hits. I got those the first week I played and not one after that, age catches up fast.” It goes on, he was called upon again by Rickey, this time in 1951 (perhaps when the Dodgers were being caught by the Giants), but the then 48-year-old turned down the offer.

Remember, this was all done for no reason whatsoever, it’s just the sort of bizarre research many baseball fans do just for fun.

Lately, perfect games have been on my mind, with Chicago’s Phil Humber and Matt Cain tossing a pair this season. With Humber getting rocked in the games following his once-in-a-lifetime performance, (he was hammered again on Saturday for the White Sox vs. the Dodgers, five innings four runs on nine hits), and Cain allowing three runs in five innings during a solid outing on Monday night against the Angels, I thought it would be fun to look at what other pitchers did in their ensuing start after throwing a perfect game. The results varied as you can imagine…

There were great outings:

1988 Tom Browning of CIN vs. SFG: 8IP 5H 1R 1ER 1BB 4K
1981 Len Barker of CLE vs. SEA: 9IP 8H 3R 3ER 1BB 10K
1998 David Wells of NYY vs. PHI: 7IP 2H 2R 1ER 0BB 4K

Solid outings:

2010 Dallas Braden of OAK @ LAA 8IP 7H 4R 4ER 1BB 5K
1965 Sandy Koufax of LAD @ CHC 6IP 5H 2R 1ER 0BB 3K

And down right awful outings:

2012 Phillip Humber of CWS vs. BOS 5IP 8H 9R 9ER 3BB 5K
1968 Catfish Hunter of OAK vs. @ MIN 6IP 8H 8R 8ER 5BB 4K

As usual, I learned things during my research. Cy Young threw the first perfect game of the 20th century, (the first two happened in 1888), for his Boston Americans/Beaneaters as they were then known. Young, who once said “A pitcher has to be good and he’s got to be lucky to get a no-hit game” was even better in setting down 27 Philadelphia Athletics in order on May 5th 1904. However, for some reason, A’s manager Connie Mack sent up the pitcher, down 3-0 with two outs in the ninth, a curious decision for sure. I’d love to hear his reasoning for not sending up a position player. We know that in his next start vs. Detroit, he threw another six perfect innings. Thanks to the good folks at the Hall of Fame who assisted me in this research, we also know that Young went the distance, 15 innings, giving up five hits, while walking four and striking out five in a 1-0 victory.

Don Larsen, who famously tossed a perfect game in Game Five of the 1956 World Series, did it in front of the largest crowd to ever witness a perfecto, 64,519 at Yankee Stadium. He was rocked in his next start, which came in April of 1957, and manager Casey Stengel sent him to the bullpen for nearly three weeks, perhaps because of his lackluster performance.

Some of the smallest modern day crowds to watch a perfect game came in Oakland where Catfish Hunter made history vs. Minnesota in front of just 6,298. Some 42 years later the A’s nearly doubled the attendance for Dallas Braden’s gem vs. Tampa Bay, 12,288 were there to see it. Just 7,290 saw Cleveland’s Len Barker master Toronto at Municipal Stadium in 1981, and three years later, at old Turnpike Stadium, only 8,375 fans were in attendance as California’s Mike Witt was perfect against the Rangers. Those are some pathetic crowds for perfect games.

To me, the story surrounding Addie Joss’ perfect game vs. the White Sox on October 2nd 1908 is one of the more interesting accounts. Joss, a pitcher who played just nine seasons, and tragically died of tubercular meningitis before his tenth, was a phenomenal hurler for Cleveland, making the Hall Of Fame despite his short career. On the day, he matched up against Ed Walsh, who has also been enshrined in Cooperstown. All Walsh did was pitch a complete games, striking out 15, allowing a single run on four hits. Joss meanwhile needed just 74 pitches, the fewest of all 22 perfect games, a performance the New York Times called “The most astonishing clutch job baseball has had.”

The game has to be the best pitchers dual of all time with the possible exception of the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers on May 26th 1959. Bucs hurler Havey Haddix famously took a perfect game into the 13th inning but lost after allowing a run on a single hit. Meanwhile, Lew Berdette got the win, pitching 13 innings, allowing 12 hits but no runs.

Speaking of almost perfect, back in the modern era, R.A. Dickey threw his second straight one-hit complete game shut out as the New York Mets defeated the visiting Baltimore Orioles 5-0 on Tuesday. After setting a career record with 12 strikeouts vs. Tampa Bay last week, Dickey added a K to his high, setting down 13 Orioles on strikes, and is now 9-0 since his last loss back on April 30th. The knuckleball pitcher is said to be the first hurler to throw back-to-back no-hitters since Dave Steib did it for Toronto back in 1988. Dickey, 37, who didn’t have any real success in baseball until two seasons ago, has allowed just two runs in his last 48.2 innings of work, striking out 63 while walking only five batters, a remarkable stretch for the Mets ace who may find himself starting for the NL in the All-Star Game at Kansas City in July.

Game Six and Kenya?

Baseball fans know that Game Six of the 1986 World Series was a big moment in the history of the grand ol’ game. Who knew that Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell, Ray Knight, Calvin Schiraldi, Bob Stanley, and of course, Bill Buckner resonated with Kenyans? Apparently, they did, because a group of students recently got together and re-enacted the wild series of events of October 25th 1986 and posted it on YouTube. The result is that one of the craziest things I have ever witnessed has once again become one of the craziest things I have ever witnessed. Reenactment or not, I still get goosebumps when I hear Vin Scully say “The Mets are not only alive, they are well, and will play the Red Sox in Game Seven tomorrow.”

Here is the real thing, in case you missed it over 25 years ago.

Grounded Blue Jays

Perception is often different than reality, but at least on the surface, 2012 seems like the year of the injury. That said, with clubs across baseball nursing millions of dollars of contracts back to health, don’t expect any tears for the Toronto Blue Jays, a team that for the most part, managed to evade the bug, that is, until last week when three-fifths of the Blue Jays rotation went down. Brandon Morrow was hurt on Monday, Kyle Drabek on Wednesday and then Drew Hutchison on Friday. The trio have made 37 of the Jays 66 starts, and now the club will have to dig deep into their farm system to try and stay afloat in the AL East, baseball’s toughest division. Toronto had been holding their own before the injuries, two games over .500, just 6.5 games behind the Yankees, sweeping the Phillies, another team familiar with injuries, this weekend before heading on a potentially season-defining ten game road trip to Milwaukee, Miami and Boston without the bulk of their starting pitching.

Of the three injuries, Drabek’s (4-7 4.67 ERA)  is the worst, a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament that may require Tommy John surgery and a recovery period of 12-16 months. Morrow (7-4 3.01 ERA), who has been enjoying a breakout season that included a league leading three complete game shutouts, will be out at least a month with a strained left oblique muscle. The rookie Hutchison (5-3 4.60 ERA)  had lowered his ERA by two runs in his last seven starts in his bid to become more consistent. The 21-year-old will miss at least a month, perhaps more, with a strained UCL.

“This is a challenge,” manager John Farrell told the Toronto press before Saturday’s game against the Phillies. “. . . and it provides opportunities for others.”

Lefty Brett Cecil, who was called up from AAA Las Vegas, held Philadelphia to two runs in five innings in Toronto’s 6-2 victory in front of just their second sell-out crowd of the season on Sunday.  Long-man Chad Villanueva will take a rotation slot, and Jesse Chavez, claimed off waivers from KC earlier this season, and also promoted from Las Vegas to fill the void will start for the very first time in the Bigs this week.

Roger That

In the latest blow to government prosecutors seeking to punish ballplayers for allegedly lying under oath, Roger Clemens was acquitted of all perjury charges on Monday relating to accusations that he obstructed justice and lied to Congress in testimony regarding use of performance enhancing drugs.

“It’s a day of celebration for us,” The Rocket’s attorney Rusty Hardin said following the reading of the verdicts. “Justice won out.”

Justice in the courts, but whether or not baseball fans will subscribe to the jury’s ruling is another matter entirely. Also up in the air is how the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will treat Clemens when he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2013. Clemens, 49, isn’t alone in this department as fans and writers begin to sort through the mess that is the steroid era. Former New York Times baseball columnist Murray Chass wrote this week on his blog about Mike Piazza and his tell all book that’s been in the making for roughly three years. It’s due to be published after a BBWAA vote that could see the former Mets and Dodgers catcher writer enshrined in Cooperstown. Chass wonders if Piazza, who he says had acne on his back, a tell tale sign of steroid use, might use the book to admit to using performance enhancing drugs, putting the Hall in a quandary as the catcher could be inducted after the 2013 vote. Should Chass’ theory come true, it would be a tricky situation related to a complicated era in baseball history.

Meanwhile, the government is licking its wounds once again, less than a year after Barry Bonds got a 30 day home sentence following his felony obstruction conviction, one that Bonds is appealing. Clemens faced a maximum prison term of 30 years after a trial that featured no less than 46 witnesses over 26 days. However, for many baseball fans, the Rocket’s Hall of Fame trial is still to come. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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