Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Archive for the category “baseball”

Blame Homgrem or Shermen?

Welcome to Cleveland, John Hughes. Are you ready to start?

The Cleveland Browns better hope Hughes, the team’s third-round draft pick, is ready for his close-up because it looks like they will need him this fall after starting defensive tackle Phil Taylor injured a pectoral muscle while working out on Thursday.

Of course he did.

“We’re awaiting results of the MRI,” Peter Schaffer, Taylor’s agent, told The Plain Dealer. “He’s staying positive. He’s got a great attitude. He’ll either be 100 percent or come back 100 percent.

Obviously this is an indictment of the lax attitude installed in Berea by team president Mike Holmgren. Or the lack of preparation on coach Pat Shurmur’s part. Or a referendum on owner Randy Lerner’s lack of involvement. Or it could just be that injuries happen.

We’re pretty sure it’s one of those things.

Look, these things happen – just look at Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs and Tampa Bay’s Da’Quan Bowers, who both have suffered torn Achilles tendons.

As it turns out, it’s fortunate the Browns selected Hughes, even if the original plan was to have him provide depth as a rotational player. Now he’s going to need to step up and play big-boy minutes.

Let’s hope he’s up to the challenge.

***

While the Browns were once again bad against the rush last season, finishing 30th in the NFL giving up an average of 147.4 yards per game, turns out they were not historically bad.

Before the 2011 season, there were just 19 defenses in NFL history that gave up more than 5.0 yards per rush for an entire season. Last year, four teams gave up five yards or more each time the opposing team ran the ball – Oakland, Detroit, New Orleans and Tampa Bay.

As bad as the Browns were, they finished 19th in the league with an average of 4.4 yards per rush allowed.

Not sure what that means – after all, it’s not just how many yards you give up but when you give them up – but thought it was worth pointing out.

***

Major League Baseball is reportedly ready to make the ridiculous fake-to-third, throw-to-first pick off play that never works and is one of the things that makes baseball increasingly irritating.

According to The New York Times: The Playing Rules Committee has approved a proposal to make it a balk, with MLB executives and umpires in agreement. The players’ union vetoed the plan for this season to discuss it further. MLB is allowed to implement the change after a one-year wait — no telling whether that would happen if players strongly object. 

 Under the new wording, a pitcher could not fake to third unless he first stepped off the rubber. If he stayed on the rubber, it would be a balk.

Works for us.

***

Sunday is the end of the Premier League season and all 10 games will be shown live in some fashion on Fox’s family of networks and ESPN2.

FX’s live coverage of Sunderland’s match with Manchester United (who are tied for the top spot with Manchester City) will feature in-game highlights (shown in the corner of the screen) of all the goals scored in the other match’s of the day. (h/t EPL Talk)

(Photo by Getty Images)

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Indian Fever goes national

The rest of the country is about to be swept up in Indian fever, as three upcoming Indians games have been picked for a national TV slot.

Fox will televise the Indians game at San Francisco on June 25 and the July 2 game at Cincinnati in its Saturday national telecast position.

ESPN will feature the Tribe and Giants on June 26 in its Sunday night slot.

Get ready for plenty of references to Willie Mays and Dusty Rhodes, Cleveland.

***

Kent State won its opening game in the Austin Regional of the NCAA Championship on Friday, beating Texas State in extra innings.

The Golden Flashes won 4-2 as pinch hitter Jason Bagoly came through with an RBI single in the top of the 11th inning.

The 24th-ranked Golden Flashes (44-15) advances to Saturday’s regional semifinal, where they will face the winner of the Texas-Princeton game.

“We’re in great shape,” said seventh-year head coach and Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year Scott Stricklin. “Everyone assumes we’re playing Texas. Princeton is a good team, but I think we are prepared to play Texas.”

***

What did we learn from the hearing between the NFL and players that took place Friday morning before Judges Steven Collton, William Benton and Kermit Bye of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit?

Well, the lockout is still on, but Judge Bye informed both sides that the panel would reach a decision in “due course.”

He also warned the panel could reach a decision that “neither party will like.” He further added, with a smile, “We wouldn’t be all that hurt if you go out and settle that case” on your own.

Whatever.

***

Which team will be foolish enough to sign wide receiver Plaxico Burress when he is released from jail?

As long as the team doesn’t rhyme with “Cleveland Browns” we will be happy.

***

Finally, some rough news for anyone who likes the summer tradition of corn on the cob (and who doesn’t?)

Because of the seemingly never-ending rain this spring, it is still too wet for many farmers to plant their corn. Normally, about 93 percent of the acreage farmers devote to corn has been seeded by May 29; this year the number was 19 percent.

If we can’t get our weekly corn fix from Szalay’s, things could get ugly this summer.

Life Before Sports Video Games

EPL Talk had a short post today about Subbuteo Table Soccer, a game that was popular in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The post is worth checking out to see brief clips of commercials for the game.

While we never played Subbuteo growing up, reading about it made us think about the tabletop games we played in the dark ages before video games took over.

First up was All-Star Baseball, where historic players were represented by circular discs. Each disc was divided into a pie chart, with each slice numbered to represent a particular outcome. If you were a homerun hitter, the slice corresponding to homeruns was large; and the rest of a player’s abilities was parceled out on the disc accordingly.

When the player batted, his disc was placed in a spinner, which the manager spun. When the spinner stopped, it pointed to a numerically coded play result. To find the result, the manager looked the number up on a chart that indicated the play (e.g. single, walk, or strikeout).

That was fun for a while, but the game was limited to the player discs that came with the game and there was no pitching option. So we eventually moved to Strat-O-Matic baseball, simply the greatest tabletop baseball game ever invented. How great was it? Pete Franklin used to advertise it on his SportsLine show, so you know it was good.

Strat-O-Matic offered all the major league teams, was much more statistically accurate than All-Star Baseball and, like the Madden video games, put out new rosters each spring for the Major League teams. We can still remember when the new cards would arrive every spring having to pull the perforated cards apart before we could start playing.

In addition to hitters, there were pitching cards as well, which could impact the outcome of a particular at bat (like J.R. Richards’ 313 strikeouts in 1979).

We played countless four-team, 50-game seasons during out childhood, with the Indians always being one of the A.L. And no, the Indians never won a World Series, no matter how hard we tried.

A side benefit was our math skills improved dramatically from calculating batting average and ERA for each player.

We also branched out into Strat-O-Matic’s football and basketball games, but they never really lent themselves to solitary play and we never really got into them as much.

Mattell’s Electronic Football caught out attention when it was released in the late ’70s and that turned into our gateway into video games. Starting with Tecmo Bowl, we ran the gamut of sports video games, from Punch Out to Blades of Steel to the various EA Sports franchises.

And while we still enjoy a good game of Madden or FIFA Soccer, we’ll always be glad we had the opportunity to experience the fun of tabletop sports games.

Reading is Fundamental – Baseball Edition

With the end of the All-Star break, the Tribe is ready to embark on the second-half of what could feel like a never-ending season. With that in mind, it’s time for some more book recommendations.

There are plenty of great (or very good) sports books out there for Cleveland fans, specifically, and sports fans in general. These baseball books are worth checking out; most should be familiar to Cleveland fans, some may not be. Some may no longer be in print, but if you can find a copy it will be well worth your time*:

  • Endless Summers: The Fall and Rise of the Cleveland Indians by Jack Torry. This book “takes the reader into the executive suites, lakeshore apartments and political backrooms where the men with money and clout made the decisions that transformed the Indians from World Series contenders in 1954 to pathetic losers for four decades.”
  • Our Tribe by Terry Pluto. “By reliving the stories of Lou Sockalexis, Bob Feller, Larry Doby, Rocky Colavito, Bill Veeck, Lou Boudreau, Omar Vizquel, Manny Ramirez and countless others, Terry Pluto relives the stories of his childhood and of his father’s childhood when the Indians were the only thing that mattered.”
  • The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a Thirty-Year Slump by Terry Pluto. “With the sharp-edged wit and keen eye for detail that have made him Cleveland’s favorite sportswriter, Terry Pluto looks at the strange goings-on of the thirty-plus years following the Indians trade of Rocky Colavito. Pluto draws insightful portraits of the men who’ve made the Indians what they were, for better or worse.”
  • Now I Can Die in Peace by Bill Simmons. OK, I know, it’s about the Red Sox but stick with me here. In his columns, with additional footnotes, Simmons captures the joy of finally seeing his favorite baseball team win a World Series. It’s an easy read and a primer for Cleveland fans on what it will be like when one of our teams finally wins.
  • Ball Four by Jim Bouton. Tame by today’s standards, but this book, one of the first baseball books I ever read, helped “shatter the myth of baseball players as heroes when it was published in 1970. Besides changing the public image of athletes, this book played a role in the economic revolution in professional sports. In 1975, it was accepted as legal evidence against the owners at the arbitration hearing which led to free agency in baseball. It also stands as a time capsule of life in the ’60s.”
  • Dealing: The Cleveland Indians’ New Ballgame by Terry Pluto. “Go behind closed doors in the Cleveland Indians front office as Pluto analyzes the team’s controversial moves to scrap a roster of popular stars and rebuild a new kind of contender following the 2000 season. Faced with an aging team, a mounting payroll and a shrinking budget, owners Larry and Paul Dolan and general manager Mark Shapiro worked to rebuild the team, closing out the 2005 season just one game shy of a playoff birth.” That was only five years ago; it feels like 50.
  • Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero by David Maraniss. “The Roberto Clemente that Maraniss evokes was an idiosyncratic character who, unlike so many modern athletes, insisted that his responsibilities extended beyond the baseball field. In his final years, his motto was that if you have a chance to help others and fail to do so, you are wasting your time on this earth.” This is an example of the new wave of sports biographies that take an honest look at athletes; not hatchet jobs, but just stories that show the true person, in both their triumphs and failures.

If you do decide to check one of these out, you won’t be disappointed. And remember to shop at your local bookstore. If you don’t have one in your area and are in the Hudson area, it’s worth a stop at The Learned Owl.

*Summaries are all taken from the individual book jackets.

Indian Fever Starts Today

The Wahoo Warriors open their 109th season of baseball this afternoon against the White Sox. Optimism is running, well, tepid is probably the best way to put it.

The consensus puts the Tribe around 75 wins – that’s the over/under in Vegas – with the Beacon Journal’s Sheldon Ocker going high – 82 wins – and Sports Illustrated going low – 66 wins. Everyone else falls into the 75-win range, with the five Plain Dealer writers splitting at two with 75 (Bud Shaw & Bill Livingston), two with 76 (Terry Pluto & Dennis Manoloff) and Paul Hoynes with 77. The New York Times puts the Tribe in fourth place, saying “The Indians should score but will struggle on the mound as they wait for a new wave of talent to mature.”

So what to expect this year? How can the Indians top most expectations? A solid start to the season would help. It’s no secret that the Indians struggled in April & May under Eric Wedge, so a reasonably good start will help things out. If the Tribe can pick up one win they weren’t expecting each month of the season that would add six wins to the 75 and put them at .500. Since most people believe the division can be taken with 88-89 wins, can the Tribe pull out a few more and contend? It’s hard to see that happening, at least this year.

One of the best things that could happen is also one of the worst for the Indians – a deep playoff run by the Cavs. Since everyone will be hyper-focused on the Cavs until June, there will be no pressure on the Tribe early in the season. However, if we all get up the day after the Cavs season ends and find the Indians 10 games under .500 and 12 games out of first, we’ll collectively hit the snooze button until training camp starts for the Browns. Apathy is far, far worse than indifference.

We’ve all been down this road before with a rebuilding team. Sometimes, like in the ’90s, it works. More often for the Tribe it turns out more like the 1970s. The 1996 book Total Indians recalls how fans were optimistic about a young team in 1977 that seemed to be building a core of young players in Buddy Bell, Rick Manning, Charlie Spikes, Duane Kiper, Dennis Eckersley and Jim Kern. That year, the Indians added 20-game winner Wayne Garland via free agency only to see him tear his rotator cuff that spring. Manager Frank Robinson didn’t make it through the season as the team lost 90 games. Two months into the season GM Phil Seghi traded reliever Dave LaRoche for two players and $250,000 to keep the team afloat. The team lost 31 of its first 57 games.

The following year the break-up of the team continued when the Indians traded Eckersley (who ended up in the Hall of Fame) before the season and Bell (six Gold Gloves) after the season for some spare parts.

They summed up the decade by saying “The Indians’ treadmill to nowhere, as usual, was running at full speed.”

Sound familiar to anyone?

Now we’re left to wonder what to make of the coming season. Do we root for Travis Hafner to return to his old self because it will help the team, or because it will increase his trade value? Do we want Grady Sizemore to make the leap to the next level, even though it would mean he would be pricing himself out of Cleveland? That’s the joy of being a Cleveland fan in today’s unbalanced Major League Baseball.

In any event, it will be an interesting season with lots of young players who will hopefully show significant progress during the season.

For a look at what they’re saying in the other Central Division towns, check out:

Chicago Sun-Times

Detroit Free Press

Kansas City Star

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

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