Posts Tagged ‘Jim Palmer’

Boog Powell’s MVP Season

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

A native of Key West—the place where Pan Am began, the U.S.S. Maine sailed from on its last journey before exploding in Havana Harbor, and Ernest Hemingway maintained a legendary home—John Wesley Powell, also known as Boog, spent most of his 17-season career in an Orioles uniform.  One of those seasons—1970—resulted in him winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award.

Powell ran away with the MVP voting, gaining 11 of 24 first-place votes and 234 points.  The next four contestants weren’t even close:

  • Tony Oliva, Minnesota Twins (157)
  • Harmon Killebrew, Minnesota Twins (152)
  • Carl Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox (136)
  • Frank Howard, Washington Senators (91)

Memorial Stadium rocked with the cheers of Oriole Nation as Powell marched toward the coveted .300 batting average barrier, falling just short at .297.  Powell’s dominance at the plate reflected in 35 home runs, 114 RBI, and a .549 slugging percentage.

It was a banner year for Baltimore’s birds—they won the World Series after getting upset by the Miracle Mets in 1969.  Powell’s fellow Orioles did not fare as well with awards, despite outstanding seasons.  Baltimore’s legendary pitching staff boasted three 20-game winners—Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, and Jim Palmer scored in the top five for the American League Cy Young Award voting, but got eclipsed by Jim Perry of the Twins.

Powell said, “I think it’s a shame we were neglected for the other awards.  All of our three pitchers certainly deserved the Cy Young.  But I’m still elated at being chosen the MVP.  I feel it’s the highest honor in sports.”

Yankee skipper Ralph Houk won the American League Manager of the Year title rather than Earl Weaver, who helmed the O’s to two straight World Series.  A third consecutive appearance happened against the Pittsburgh Pirates in ’71—ultimately a losing affair in seven games.

Cheers, an NBC prime time powerhouse in the 1980s, used Powell to cement verisimilitude of Sam “Mayday” Malone—a fictional relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, a recovering alcoholic, and the owner of Cheers.  As the show’s theme song declares, Cheers is a bar, near the Boston Commons, where everybody knows your name.

In the first season episode “Sam at Eleven,” Sam’s former ballplayer pal Dave Richards, now a sportscaster, wants to interview the ex-Red Sox reliever at Cheers.  Sam talks about a dramatic moment when he faced Powell in the bottom of the ninth inning of the first game of a doubleheader.  During the middle of Sam’s story, Dave abandons for an interview with John McEnroe.  Diane Chambers, an intellectual waitress having an undercurrent of highly significant sexual tension with Sam, which gets resolved in a later episode when they succumb to their respective differences—he, a dumb jock stereotype and she, a condescending sort—asks what happened to “the Boog person” and Sam, obviously suffering from a punch to his ego, casually tells her that Powell grounded to third to end the game.

After some gentle and not-so-gentle verbal prodding from Diane, Sam talks about the injury to his psyche.  Then, perhaps in a moment of catharsis, he tells Diane about the end of the second game, which also found him facing Powell in the bottom of the ninth.

Sam’s story could not have taken place during Powell’s MVP year, however.  When Cheers left prime time in 1993, after 11 seasons, Sports Illustrated ran a biography of America’s favorite barkeep.  “Everybody Knows His Name” recounted Malone’s career based on dialogue throughout the series.  Sam Malone entered professional baseball in 1966, débuted in the major leagues in 1972, and ended his career in 1978.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 15, 2016.

10 Things I Love About Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Friday, April 14th, 2017

It is the birthplace of The Star-Spangled Banner, the resting place of Edgar Allen Poe, and the place where a stadium constructed during the nostalgia-soaked 1980s defines the paradigm for retro ballparks.

Baltimore.

Petco Park, PNC Park, and several others, indeed, have Oriole Park at Camden Yards in their DNA.  It began the erasure of the circular goliaths built in the 1960s for multiple sports, changing the game of ballpark architecture for urban planners, government officials, and fans.  Shea Stadium hosted the Jets and the Mets.  Going to the “Vet” for a sports fan meant either a Phillies game or an Eagles game.  Memorial Stadium gave Baltimore a home for the Orioles and the Colts.

Oriole Park ushered in a back to the future approach to creating a space where baseball can flourish.

  1. The statues of Oriole icons are amazingly detailed.  When observing Jim Palmer’s left leg extended just before releasing the ball, you almost think the statue will come to life.  Brooks Robinson stands in a slight crouch, waiting for a line drive or ground ball.  Earl Weaver, hands in back pockets, appears ready for another argument with an umpire.
  2. The Baltimore Sun has an electric sign past center field with its shortened name—The Sun.  When there’s a hit, the “h” flashes.  An error prompts the “e” to flash.
  3. Baseball-themed plaques dot Eutaw Street outside the outfield perimeter, marking the spots where balls have landed.  One plaque sits on the exterior of a restaurant—Ken Griffey, Jr. knocked that dinger during Home Run Derby of the 1993 All-Star Game.
  4. A statue of Babe Ruth stands outside an entrance, reminding entrants that, while the Bambino found pitching success in Boston and earned legend status with home runs in New York, he is a Baltimorean.
  5. Cal Ripken, Jr. made baseball history at Oriole Park in 1995, when he eclipsed Lou Gehrig’s streak of 2,130 consecutive games.
  6. Pope John Paul II celebrated mass at Oriole Park when he visited Baltimore on his 1995 trip.  The NBC television show Homicide features Frank Pembleton, played by Andre Braugher, watching the Pope’s visit on television.
  7. On April 6, 1992, President George H. W. Bush threw out the first pitch for the first game at Oriole Park.  It was a fitting moment for the former first baseman for Yale.
  8. Baltimore’s rich train legacy permeates the ballpark.  Beyond right field, the former Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Warehouse stands as a testament to the city’s transportation past, occupied present by team offices.  Camden Yards is the site of the B&O’s rail yard in days of yore.
  9. DaveThe West Wing, and The Wire contain scenes at Oriole Park—the first two offerings focus on fictional presidents throwing out the first ball.  In an episode of House of Cards, the fictional vice president, Frank Underwood throws out the first ball; Kevin Spacey, an Orioles fan, plays the devious Underwood in the series.
  10. Baltimore’s communal feeling surrounds Oriole Park.  Its aura is one of friendliness.  Its history, one of the richest in baseball.  Major League Baseball planted a flag in Baltimore when the St. Louis Browns moved after the 1953 season, but it was not the first MLB team for the city.  Dating back to 1882, Baltimore had a major league presence.  When a game takes place at Oriole Park, it continues a legacy ignited by John McGraw, Hughie Jennings, and Wee Willie Keeler; bolstered by Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, and Jim Palmer; and cemented by Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Murray, and Earl Weaver.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on September 25, 2016.

 

The Hall of Fame Case for Tommy John

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Forget about the 288 wins.

Forget about the four pennant-winning teams.

Forget about the pioneering surgery that bears his name.

You might as well.  The Baseball Hall of Fame voters have.

Thomas Edward John, Jr., the Terre Haute native who stayed in his hometown to attend college at Indiana State University, stands overlooked and undervalued for his contributions to baseball.

In his 26-year career, John pitched for:

  • Chicago White Sox
  • Los Angeles Dodgers
  • New York Yankees
  • California Angels
  • Oakland A’s

He led the National League in winning percentage in 1973 and the major leagues in 1974; played on the Dodgers’ National League pennant-winning teams in 1974, 1977, and 1978; played for the American League champs in the strike-shortened season of 1981—the Yankees.

In eras gone by, when more pitchers stayed on the mound for the entire game, John led the major leagues three times in shutouts:

  • 1966 (5)
  • 1967 (6)
  • 1980 (6)

With just 12 wins short of the magic number—300—John stands on the cusp of Cooperstown; peers Bert Blyleven and Jim Palmer were inducted with 287 and 268 wins, respectively.  One can presume that at least 12 games in a 26-year career fell victim to a combination of error, lack of prowess at the plate, and a manager’s strategic errors.  It’s an interesting point, but, in the end, you are what your record is.  And John’s 288 notches in the win column stand as impressive.

It is, perhaps, the breakthrough surgery that Dr. Frank Jobe performed on the hurler in 1974 that is the most significant factor in an argument for John’s Hall of Fame membership.  At the time, Jobe was the Dodgers’ orthopedist.

Tommy John surgery rebuilds the elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) by using a tendon from another part of the body.  A torn or ruptured UCL can immediately put a period at the end of a pitcher’s career.  Only an injury warrants the surgery.  It is not a procedure for improving performance.

John won more games after the surgery than before it and played on three All-Star teams (1978-1980); his only other All-Star appearance happened in 1968.  To be a pioneering patient for a surgical procedure that’s become as much a cornerstone of the game as corporate-sponsored stadia.  Had Tommy John not gone under Dr. Jobe’s knife, somebody else would have.  Eventually.  But John took the risk.

When would another pitcher have been the first if John had stepped away from baseball?  1975?  1980?  How many careers have been saved because John opted for Jobe’s cutting edge idea?

Treating a UCL problem with Tommy John surgery has become de rigeur.  Hall of Famer John Smoltz sat out the 2000 season to recover from the surgery.  At his Hall of Fame induction speech in 2015, Smoltz warned teenage pitchers against going under the knife.  “I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there that this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 and 15 years old.  That you have time, that baseball is not a year-round sports.  That you have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports.  Don’t let the institutions that are out there running before you guaranteeing scholarship dollars and signing bonuses that this is the way.”

Smoltz is the only Tommy John surgery patient inducted into the Hall of Fame.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 22, 2016.

Jim Palmer’s No-Hitter

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

Jim Palmer began his major league career in 1965, when the Braves played their last season in Milwaukee, the Astros unveiled the Astrodome, and Bert Campaneris became the first player to play all nine positions in a major league game.

Throughout his 19 seasons—all in a Baltimore Orioles uniform—Palmer racked up pitching achievements like a Marylander devours crabs.  Often.

  • World Series championships (1966, 1970, 1983)
  • American League Cy Young Awards (1973, 1975, 1976)
  • 20-win seasons in all but one year between 1970 and 1978
  • Led the American League in innings pitched (1970, 1976, 1977, 1978)
  • Led the major leagues in shutouts (1975)
  • Led the American League in earned run average (1973, 1975)
  • Led the major leagues in earned run average (1975)
  • Led the American League in victories (1975, 1976, 1977)
  • Led the major leagues in victories (1975, 1976)
  • Led the American League in complete games (1977)
  • Led the major leagues in complete games (1977)

On August 13, 1969, the future Hall of Famer added a rare jewel to his crown—a no-hitter.  In an 8-0 shutout of the Oakland A’s, Palmer contributed with his bat as well as his right arm—a single, a double, a run scored, one RBI, and a walk that started a five-run tally in the seventh inning.  Associated Press began its account by emphasizing the 23-year-old right-hander “continuing his amazing comeback” after being on the disabled list; the no-hitter brought Palmer’s 1969 record to 11-2.

It was a glorious day for Baltimore.  Boog Powell rapped two hits and scored a run.  Brooks Robinson knocked a three-run home run—it was his only hit of the day.  Don Buford went three-for-four with two RBI.  Paul Blair and Frank Robinson had one RBI apiece.

After two years of limited work because of “assorted back and shoulder miseries,” described by AP, Palmer had an impressive 9-2 record in 1969 before tearing a muscle in his back, which prompted a stay on the disabled list beginning on June 29th.  When Palmer returned to pitch against the Minnesota Twins on August 9th, spirits lifted from Mount Washington to Fells Point.  It looked like the physical challenges were in the rear view mirror as Palmer notched a 5-1 victory over the fellas from the Twin Cities; he threw for six innings.

Palmer’s no-hitter occurred while the world experienced terrific events, with the adjective being used for both its original meaning as a derivation of the word “terror” and its adjusted meaning to describe something extraordinarily good.  In the four weeks prior to Palmer’s feat, Charles Manson masterminded a mass slaughter of Sharon Tate and six others, Apollo 11 made the first successful manned moon landing, and upstate New York prepared for a festival described as “3 Days of Peace and Music” at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel—the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

With a 109-53 record in 1969, the O’s had a 19-game differential from their closest competitor—the Detroit Tigers had 90 wins and 72 losses, respectable but not enough to eclipse the marshals of Memorial Stadium.  The New York Mets defied expectations by defeating the Orioles in the 1969 World Series, taking five games to accomplish the task.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 14, 2016.

Expos and Excellence

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

On September 29, 2004, Montreal bid adieu to its beloved Expos ball club.  And so, a baseball legacy faded into finality as the Expos transitioned to become the Washington Nationals.

Montreal never celebrated a World Series championship, but moments of greatness sprinkled across its major league tenure, which began in 1969.  Bill Stoneman, for example, stands as a bright spot, achieving twice what some pitching legends achieved once and others not at all—a no-hitter; Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and Jim Palmer fall into the former category while Steve Carlton, Lefty Grove, and Whitey Ford reside in the latter.

In the Expos’ rookie season, Stoneman threw a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies.  Although he walked seven batters, Stoneman retired the Mets with aplomb.  The New York Times noted, “There were no difficult plays by Stoneman’s teammates as only five balls were hit to the outfield.  Stoneman struck out nine.”

Both games had scores of 7-0.

Stoneman’s dual no-hitters belie a career win-loss record of 54-85 and 4.08 Earned Run Average.

Dennis Martinez retired 27 Dodgers on July 28, 1991 in a perfect game, the 15th time a major league pitcher reached that pinnacle of performance; 17 batters grounded out.  Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times noted the impact of the daytime schedule.  “Another factor, according to the Dodgers is that Dodger Stadium is toughest on hitters during afternoon games,” wrote Plaschke.  “It is even harder when Martinez is pitching, because in his windup he tucks the ball in his glove until the last possible moment.”

A recovering alcoholic, Martinez plodded through a minor league stint in the Expos organization after nine seasons as a favorite on the Orioles pitching staff.  “I look back and see the faith that I had, and the reaching out for help that I did, and I think, it is paying off now,” said Martinez.  Climbing his way back into the major leagues, Martinez kindled pride in his hometown—Granada, Nicaragua.  Kevin Baxter, also of the Los Angeles Times, explained, “Edgar Rodriguez, a sportswriter at El Nuevo Diario, said each of the country’s radio stations broke into their normal programming to report the perfect game.  That was cause for loud celebrating in the neighborhoods around his paper’s office.”

To call it a “masterful performance” is to do it injustice, like saying the Aurora Borealis is nice to look at.  “Though there weren’t advanced pitch-tracking systems back then to break down every Martinez offering that day, you’d swear he threw 50 of those trademark knee-buckling curveballs,” wrote Jonah Keri in his 2014 book Up, Up, & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball & the Ill-Fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos.

The perfect game was not an outlier for Martinez in 1991—he led the National League in Earned Run Average with 2.39.  And it was not the only marvel for Montreal during its series with Los Angeles.

Two days prior to Martinez’s accomplishment.  Mack Gardner threw nine no-hit innings; the Expos did not score either.  Los Angeles punctured hopes for the metropolis that Mark Twain dubbed “City of a Hundred Steeples” during a  visit in 1881.  Keri explained, “Dodger Lenny Harris opened the bottom of the 10th with a high chopper over Gardner’s head [Expos shortstop] Spike Owen charged, tried to field the ball…and dropped it.  A frustrating misplay, but with the ball hit that slowly, Owen would’ve had no chance to get Harris either way—it was an infield hit, busting the no-hitter.”

Daryl Strawberry won the game for the Dodgers with an RBI single in the 10th inning to bring Harris home.

Final score:  1-0.

Although Gardner cleared the Dodgers for nine innings, Major League Baseball’s scoring paradigm labels a game as a no-hitter when the pitcher’s team scores.  Hence, Gardner did not technically pitch a no-hitter.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 22, 2015.

1969

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

As described by German Prussian politician Otto von Bismarck, politics is the art of the possible.  So is baseball.  When the New York Mets defeated the Baltimore Orioles to win the 1969 World Series, possible elevated to miraculous.

Once again, National League baseball thrived in New York City.  It was a long wait, too.  There were only two World Series between 1947 and 1957 that did not have either the Giants or the Dodgers representing the National League.  After the 1957 season, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants departed for Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively.  With fan bases mourning the loss of their teams, the Mets offered an outlet for those who did not want to—or refused to—switch allegiances to the Yankees.  Those fans were used to excellence, however, not mediocrity.  Or worse.

Débuting in 1962, the Mets leapt to new heights in futility; the team’s record was 40-120.  Successive seasons offered no solace:

1962 (40-120)

1963 (51-111)

1964 (53-109)

1965 (50-112)

1966 (66-95)

1967 (61-101)

Rooting for the Mets, in turn, became a pastime requiring emotional endurance.  That changed when Gil Hodges took the managerial reins in 1968.  Though still below .500, the Mets vaulted to a 73-89 record.

Momentum continued in 1969, resulting in a 100-62 record for the so-called Miracle Mets.  Tom Seaver tore through opponents like a flame through a box of Kleenex tissues, ending the season with a 25-7 record, 205 strikeouts, and a 2.21 ERA.  Unsurprisingly, Seaver won the 1969 National League Cy Young Award.  Cleon Jones batted a career-high .340, placing third in the National League, behind Pete Rose and Roberto Clemente.  Jerry Koosman won 17 games, notched 180 strikeouts, and had a 2.28 ERA.

Though impressive, the Mets faced an American League team exploding with dominance—the Orioles ended the 1969 regular season with a 109-53 record, largely a result of phenomenal pitching:

Mike Cuellar (23-11)

Dave McNally (20-7)

Tom Phoebus (14-7)

Jim Palmer (16-4)

Conventional wisdom favored the Orioles.  Conventional wisdom was wrong.  The Mets won the 1969 World Series in five games.

Miracles replaced miseries.

In 1969, the Corleone family first appeared in Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather, Led Zeppelin released its first album, Richard Nixon became the 37th President of the United States, Boeing’s 747 airplane made its first flight, Willie Mays became the first baseball player in the major leagues to hit 600 career home runs since Babe Ruth, journalist Seymour Hersh broke the story of the My Lai massacre, Chemical Bank’s Rockville Centre branch unveiled the first Automatic Teller Machine in the United States, Golda Meir became the first—and, to date, only—female Prime Minister of Israel, the New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, Dr. Denton Cooley implanted the first artificial heart, Sullivan County in upstate New York hosted a three-day festival called Woodstock, Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon, and the Montreal Expos earned the distinction of being the first MLB team stationed outside the United States.

1969 was a year of achievement in politics, science, technology, sports, literature, entertainment, and journalism.

For baseball fans, however, 1969 was a year of miracles.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 16, 2014.