Adam Jones At The Plate

I still don’t really get the World Baseball Classic.

It’s going on now and handfuls of players from handfuls of teams leave their spring training and play together for their “homeland” teams.

It’s supposed to help make baseball a more global game.

A lot of baseball fans hate it, because it takes key players away from their real teams, exposes them to injury, and seems a little strange that it sort of just shows up every four years.

So, maybe you were too busy watching basketball last night … or drinking wine … or knitting … or watching CNN … or making an uncomfortable call to your parents to ask for a loan … or, seriously, I don’t know what you were doing last night, but maybe you weren’t watching Team USA play Team Colombia.

So, in case you missed it, let me help you out.

Team USA, like the teams from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, is filled with players with names you know.

Team Colombia is not.

This should have been one of those easy-peasy games.

It was not.

At the end of 9 innings, the score was tied, 2-2.

And, here we are … Bottom of the 10th, score still knotted at 2, two men on, two out.

Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones at the plate … he’s 0-and-2 (which Orioles fans will tell you is where you’ll often find him).

That was fun.

Tonight, Team USA – filled with names you’ll recognize – will battle it out against the Dominican Republic – even more names you’ll know.

Seriously, better than knitting. Or, the news. Even basketball.

6:30 p.m. EST Tonight. On the MLB Network.

Sitting Here, Thinking About “Len, The Slugger”

These last few winters, the story has been pretty much the same. The Baltimore Orioles need an outfielder. Preferably two, but at the very least one.

And, every January, Orioles management scoops up a still-available outfielder at a bargain price. The Orioles get the guy for a year, he has a great season – greater than anyone could have imagined – and then “poof” he’s gone the next season, to a far richer, more generous team.

This brings me, in the most meandering way, to the brief career and life of Len Sowders.

len-sowders

Len Sowders

Sowders played just one season in the majors — 1886. He was a Baltimore Oriole.

He was an outfielder (who moonlighted some at first). A so-so fielder. A left-handed batter with a .263 average from his handful of at-bats in Baltimore.  Not a lot of power, but still, .263 isn’t the worst you can do.

That puts him right around current O’s centerfielder Adam Jones’s .265 last season and Mark Trumbo’s .256, the Orioles’s one-season outfielder whose 47 home runs led all of baseball last year and who is now a free agent looking for much more money than the Orioles will offer.

This Trumbo homer last August was a grand slam.

Back in 1886, Sowders was picked up by Baltimore late in the season from a minor league club in Nashville.  Before Nashville, he’d played in Evansville, where he was also known for running a local fish business and for making loans with interest (fitting, I guess, that a man in the fish business was also a loan shark). He was, one newspaper assured readers, a good player and a strict church-goer.

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2016, The Year In Sports: “These Are Not Ordinary Times.”

Well, it was a really rough year, but at least it was a good year for sports!  Right?  Right!!

Penn State fans are very excited to be going to the Rose Bowl next week. Watch out for the tear gas, kids!

Sportswriters and pundits are wrapping up 2016 by telling you that even though the year sucked, it was still a great year for sports.

The year that …

Muhammed Ali died.

Miami Marlins Pitcher Jose Fernandez, 24, was killed in a boating accident.

Donny Everett, 19, a Vanderbilt freshman pitcher, drowned the day before his team played its first game of the college post-season.

The run up to the Summer Olympics in Rio — zika, crime, cost overruns, polluted water, more crime — was like a car chase scene out of Mad Max.

rio-2016-olympics-logo

 

Oh, and the entire Russian Olympic team was doping.

2016-olympic-alternative-doping-logo


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The Orioles Lose & The Dogs Won’t Stop Barking

My neighbors have dogs.

Not just a couple cute, shaggy, tail-wagging mutts from the local pound, but a kennel filled with hunting dogs.  Loud, hungry, and annoying dogs who start barking at about 5 each morning.

We live on a farm and by “neighbors,” I mean the people who live about a half-mile away through an old field that has too steep a drop to a creek bed to ever be a real pasture. (To reach these neighbors by road, you would have to drive out to the main road, take a right, and then another right, and then another right. By road, they are about five miles away. But, through the field, they’re much closer.)

I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure there are about 63 rabid wolf-hounds in that kennel and they haven’t eaten in days. They would probably chew your arm off if you got too close.

They don’t bark all the time, but when they do, they all do. They’re loud and their noisy discontent travels through the pasture like a storm cloud that opens up right over our house.

Some days they are louder than others. Like right now.

 

Last night in the AL Wild Card game, the Baltimore Orioles lost to the Toronto Blue Jays, the team that no one loves from the country that doesn’t even like baseball.

They lost in the 11th on a three-run homer.

The Orioles season is over.

Those damn dogs are rattling the walls of our house right now.

Sometimes on the weekends when the dogs are especially depraved and hungry, you can hear the dude over there yell at them.  “SHUT UP!  SHUT UP! SHUT UP!”  There is momentary silence and then the barking gets even louder.  Every single time. He yells at the dogs and they just start barking louder.  If I’m sitting on the porch, I’ll sometimes look over at Hell Hound House and say – just a little louder than the last time – “Yeh, dude, that’s still not working.”

The Orioles made some mistakes last night. Their bats were cold and, sure, O’s fans will spend the next five months second-guessing the decision by Manager Buck Showalter not to bring in their Cy Young-deserving closer Zach Britton, who, we are 100 percent certain, would not have given up a three-run homer in the bottom of the 11th to the Blue Jays (a team that, I think I’ve mentioned, no one even likes).

Oh, wait … the dogs just stopped barking. Just like that, it’s quiet again.

But, my heart is still going to be sad for awhile.

 

My Experts Are Way Better Than Your Experts

Last April, I asked several non-baseball “experts” to predict the post-season. To be one of my experts, the bar was set pretty high (or low depending upon which direction you’re looking). You simply needed to not know anything about baseball and not be a fan.

That April post is here: My Experts Predict the 2016 World Series

When one of my experts complained that he didn’t understand why the NEW YORK Giants were in the NL West, and I had to explain that the New York Giants played football, which is an entirely different sport, I had just the crack team of unpaid, uncaring experts that would make my predictions perfect.

When some of “my team” insisted that not only did they not know anything about baseball, but that they actively “hated” the sport, I knew I’d done well.

As the regular season came to a close yesterday, I want to commend my team of experts, because, quite frankly, they were often spot-on better than the paid baseball “experts” on TV, and on blogs, and in Twitter-ville.

Not to brag, but my guys are way better than your guys.

Who had the Red Sox winning the AL East?

Did you? Of course, you didn’t.

But, Clinton did.

Clinton picks the Red Sox

Who had the Orioles in the Wild Card?

You didn’t. (I knew you were wrong about that, but you were being stubborn.)

Hats off to Lindsey. She knew.  (So did I.)

Lindsey and Sarah pick the Wild Cards

(Lindsey’s daughter Sarah had the Braves in the Wild Card, which is sort of sweet. Wrong, but sort of sweet.)

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Monroe’s “Terrific & Terrible” Ken Dixon

In 1903, a mail train departing from Monroe, Virginia derailed 80 miles away in Danville.

monroe-virginia

Monroe, Virginia

This may not be something you know anything about. But, it was one of Virginia’s worst train crashes and is retold in the old country song, “The Wreck of the Old 97” that Johnny Cash once covered.

 

The derailment, the result of excessive speed and trying to keep the train and the mail on schedule, killed 11.

That pretty much sums up all I knew about Monroe. (And, to be fair, even that is mostly about Danville and when we get to Danville on this Virginia-Born Project, I’m sure you’ll hear about it again.)

That train wreck 80 miles away may be all anyone knows about Monroe, Virginia, because, if you set your GPS to Monroe, it will lead you off Business Route 29 and to an empty and desolate rail yard.

(You’re going to have imagine some train tracks running through a spooky, empty field. Editor/Husband told me to take a photo of the tracks. I said we didn’t need to bother because I was sure that we would find something better to show Monroe. I should listen more to Editor/Husband.)

When cities start to sprawl, the one-time little towns that were out on the edges start to dissolve or just get absorbed into a ghostly kind of suburbia. Who needs a grocery store when the big city, in this case Lynchburg, is just 10 minutes away?

We found railroad tracks, houses, churches, and a community center.

In case the GPS was lying, this sign is the only proof that we actually visited Monroe.

Monroe seems to be split today by Route 29, the four-lane highway that will take you south to Lynchburg in just a few minutes, or Charlottesville, about an hour north. Houses cluster on both sides of the highway.

monroe-virginia-route-29

Editor/Husband: “There’s a lot of Monroe, and there’s not a lot of Monroe.”

 

possum-island-road-monroe-va

While an island filled with possums sounds delightful, this sign was just a cruel tease. We saw no possums or island on this road.

Monroe was also the birthplace of Ken Dixon, who was born there in 1960 and pitched for the Baltimore Orioles between 1984 and 1987.

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Sweep. Swept. Swupt.

You may not think “swupt” is a word.

You are wrong. (Technically, you are right. But, today, you are wrong.)

To be swupt is to lose all four games of a four-game series to the Boston Red Sox. Which is what the Baltimore Orioles did this week.

Losing 2-5, 2-5, 1-5, 3-5. Or, to simplify things, losing the series 8-20.

(Orioles Magic? Orioles Tragic.)

Losing ugly and losing, at least for the moment, their hold of a post-season wild card spot.

With just one week left in the regular season, there aren’t many moments left to right this shaky ship.

Broadcasters and managers and players will tell you that it is very hard to win all four games of a four-game series. (They will also tell you that visiting teams hate four-game series for weird reasons … like players don’t like to stay in the same hotel and town for so long. It’s four games. It’s one game more than a typical three-game series. Are players seriously that sensitive that playing one more day is such a burden? You know what’s a burden? Watching your very most favorite team in the whole wide entire world give up five – FIVE! – unearned runs in a single game and then lose that game to the Red Sox, 5-1.)

The Red Sox must have been miserable this week what with the burden of this four-game series and all.

Here’s rookie Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi overcoming the sadness of a four-game series by celebrating following one of their wins this week by dancing like Michael Jackson.

benintendi

Look how happy they are! (The Orioles were happy once.)

Just for the record, the University of Virginia kept Benintendi, then a center fielder at the University of Arkansas, hitless during the 2014 NCAA Regionals Tournament.

I know, because I was there. Here’s an ESPN screen cap of the Baseball Bloggess and Editor/Husband watching it happen.

uva-vs-arkansas-regionals-2014

Sure, no one looks very happy, but Virginia shut out Arkansas that day 3-0.

The Orioles are seven games back and in third place in the AL East. They are a half game back of the second Wild Card spot.

Dear Orioles, There are nine games left to play. Fix this.

 

 

“Gentlemen, It Was Awful.”

T.S. Eliot said April is the cruelest month.

TS Eliot

T.S. Eliot, Public Domain

How did I get in this post?

Eliot didn’t mean baseball. If he had he would have said August.

But, Eliot was a baseball fan and, it’s said, his heart was broken when his team, the Red Sox, sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919.

So, yeh, he knew cruel.

(Hemingway once slammed Eliot’s writing by telling a friend that Eliot “never hit a ball out of the infield in his life.” Also cruel.)

The Baltimore Orioles are slowly tumbling down the AL East ladder.

They’ve been looking increasingly listless and pitiful, like a ratty old tomcat trying to hack out a hairball. So much hacking and all that comes out is a desperate, sad noise that sounds, best I can translate, something like, “Ggggackuck [brief pause] Aahkgggackuck [longer pause] geeeeeeack.” Then he stops, swallows, shakes his head, and starts all over again.

snowball 2 hairball

I mean, you still love that ratty old tomcat, sure, but mainly you’re just hoping you’re not the one who’s going to get stuck cleaning up whatever is trying so hard to come out.

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Like A Team Of Shaky Maracas

Baltimore Orioles utility infielder Ryan “Flash” Flaherty, who hasn’t pitched since high school, pitches the 9th in the Orioles painful 12-2 loss to the Houston Astros on Saturday.

I’m sitting here on the porch and the cicadas are so loud in the trees I can barely hear myself type.  (That would be a trite way to start except that it’s true.)

Seriously. Listen. I recorded them for you:

Cicadas are living maracas.

 

13,000 people have watched this YouTube video about how to draw maracas. This is what people do.

maracas

Not bragging, but I drew that.

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Milacki, Flanagan, Williamson, Olson

“Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play as a team is another story.” ~ Casey Stengel

Milacki Flanagan Williamson Olson No Hitter 7 13 1991

On July 13, 1991, in a game in Oakland versus the A’s, Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Bob Milacki threw a no-hitter.

So did Orioles reliever Mike Flanagan.

And, so did Orioles relievers Mark Williamson and Gregg Olson.

It was a four-pitcher no-hitter.

Not unheard of, but kind of rare.

In a game that prides itself on the power of teamwork, there’s an awful lot of focus on individual performance in baseball.

So, you may sniff a bit and say, “Hmm, four pitchers to get through a game? That’s no big deal.”

But, you’re wrong.

No hit is no hit. And, the A’s, including Jose Canseco, Harold Baines, Mark McGwire, and a young Mike Bordick, no hit that day.

(Baines and Bordick went on to play for the Orioles, and Bordick is, today, a color guy for Orioles games on television.)

Sure, there are a few of you Giants and Dodgers fans who are so used to no-hitters that you’re a bit surprised to learn that one team has never even had one.

(Sorry, San Diego Padres … it’s still you.)

Seven pitchers had no-hitters last season – five came after the All-Star Break.

Just one this season so far. (Congratulations, former Oriole, reigning Cy Young, and current Cub Jake Arrieta!)

But, see! Even I have wandered off into the land of individual excellence and in less than 200 words, I’ve abandoned those four Orioles pitchers – including two (Milacki and Williamson) that even seasoned Orioles fans don’t really remember – and this is supposed to be about them.

Since becoming the Baltimore Orioles in 1954, there have been only five Orioles no-hitters.

Hoyt Wilhelm versus the Yankees in 1958.

Steve Barber and Stu Miller versus the Tigers in 1967.

Tom Phoebus versus the Red Sox in 1968.

Jim Palmer versus the A’s in 1969.

And, Milacki, Flanny, Williamson, and Olson 25 years ago this past week.

(For the cruel readers out there – and I know some of you by name – I know what you’re asking, so here … the Orioles have been on the receiving end of a no-hitter seven times, most recently last season.)

13 Jul 1991: Pitcher Greg Olson of the Baltimore Orioles prepares to throw the ball as the scoreboard behind him shows that he has pitched a no-hitter during a game against the Oakland Athletics. (Getty Images)

See, even Getty Images can’t get the game straight. Olson threw one no-hit inning. Milacki threw six. Flanny and Williamson, one each.

(Oh, and it’s Gregg Olson, not Greg Olson.)


BALTIMORE, MD – CIRCA 1991: (L-R) Paul Kilgus #17, Mike Flanagan #46, Mark Williamson #32 and Gregg Olson #30 of the Baltimore Orioles pose together for this portrait prior to the start of a Major League Baseball game circa 1991 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. (Getty Images)

Oh, for crying out loud. That’s Bob Milacki on the left, not Paul Kilgus.

Come on people, how hard can it be? These four pitchers threw a combined no-hitter!

(Kilgus did, indeed, pitch briefly for the Orioles in 1991, but I had to look that up to make sure. Fun Fact: he looks nothing like Bob Milacki.)

milacki kilgus

Milacki was cruising through six when he was hit on the hand by a comebacker.

That might have done in both Milacki and the no-hitter. But, the ball ricocheted off his hand and bounced right to first baseman Randy Milligan for the out.

Milacki’s day was done. Although bruised and swelling, his hand wasn’t badly injured, and he argued to stay in the game, to no avail.

“I thought I could still pitch with it,” he said afterwards. “They didn’t want me to risk it. I was very disappointed. You never want to come out of a game like that.”

The Orioles scored just two runs – catcher Chris Hoiles batted in beloved utility guy Chito Martinez in the fifth and outfielder Mike Devereaux homered in the sixth.

Flanagan, Williamson, and Olson each pitched one hitless inning. The game ended. The Orioles won.

Thanks to Orioles closer Gregg Olson, who shared this 30-second recap online. Otherwise I’d have no video to share.

“There was no raucous celebration,” The Baltimore Sun reported the next day.  After striking out Harold Baines to end the game, “Olson walked off the mound the same way he did after each of his first 18 saves. The Orioles took the field slowly, as if they still were trying to digest what had happened.”

“It kind of seemed like nobody knew what was happening,” Olson told The Sun. “There weren’t really any diving plays or great plays to save it. Bob Milacki is the guy who deserves all the credit. If he had been out there [in the ninth], there would have been a dog pile on the mound.”

“Perhaps it was the [Oakland] crowd that set the tone,” The Sun continued. “Fans began leaving the stadium before the game was over, apparently unimpressed over only the second four-pitcher no-hitter in major-league history.”

(There have been other multi-pitcher no-hitters, including a couple six-pitcher affairs, since then.)

The Orioles are surrounded by former players today – like Jim Palmer, Boog Powell, Rick Dempsey, and Cal Ripken – who stay close to the team and remind fans of the O’s two World Series championships (in ‘66 and ‘83).

This season the O’s are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their 1966 trophy with special events and promotions.

50th Anniversary 1966 World Series Patch

So, maybe the 25th anniversary of that understated, but still wonderful, four-man no-hitter has gotten lost. And, that’s a shame.

Because nothing says teamwork like a no-hitter shared.

There have been 295 no-hitters in major league baseball. Babe Ruth threw one. And, yes, dear Orioles readers, Ubaldo Jimenez threw one for the Rockies in 2010.

And, on July 13, 1991, Bob Milacki, Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson, and Gregg Olson threw one, too.

Orioles As No Hit Line July 13 1991

Box Score