In Praise Of The Bullpen

“The two most important things in life are good friends and a strong bullpen.” ~ Bob Lemon (Cleveland Indians Pitcher, 1941-1958. Manager of the Royals, White Sox, & Yankees.)

What’s the difference between my good friends and the Orioles’ bullpen?

None of my friends melted down on Monday night. (Also, not as much spitting. Thank you for that.)

The Baltimore Orioles’ bullpen fell apart Monday night in Arizona. (It’s was a pitchfork-hot 108 in Phoenix yesterday, but that was nothing compared to the meltdown inside Chase Field.)

One by one the Oriole relievers came out to the mound. One by one, they gave up runs. Tying runs, go ahead runs, tying runs, go ahead runs.

Finally, with the game tied in the ninth, Darren O’Day, the trusty sidearmer, came out, threw one ball – just one lousy pitch. Emphasis on lousy. Homerun. Game over.

Oh sure, we all have bad days. But, I’m grateful that I don’t have thousands of people peering over my shoulder, second-guessing, and jeering when I have mine. It’s a gift, I think, to endure a bad day in the shadows … where no one can see you sulk.

The Orioles weren’t the only team with a leaky bullpen last night. By the end of the night, there were three blown saves recorded in that game. THREE. And, only one belonged to the Orioles. The Diamondbacks won, despite two blown saves from their relievers.

So, a bad night to be a reliever.

Baseball fans say that a lot.

But, instead of jeering and heckling and second-guessing, I’m here to praise the bullpen. The Orioles bullpen. Every bullpen.

Next to Umpires, the most thankless job in baseball.

It’s where starting pitchers are punished. A few bad outings, a few hinky pitches, and a starting pitcher is banished to the ‘pen. One is seldom “promoted” to the bullpen.

(And, how about the use of “hinky” in a sentence? I should stop right now.)

It’s where mascots are crammed together, squeezed in tight with the relievers, as they await a race around the warning track.

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If you look carefully, you can make out the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cat relievers in the bullpen trying to ignore all the mascots.

It’s where Minnesota Twins’ relievers spend a year patiently waiting for that one brief perfect moment to prank the cameras. Oh, come on I know you want to watch … here.

Twins punchout

It’s where pitchers catch homeruns in their caps.

It’s where rookies carry backpacks filled with candy and snacks. (What else is there to do while you wait for your starting pitcher to fall apart?)

sean doolittle

MLB.com @Cut4 via Twitter

A’s Reliever Sean Doolittle’s Twitter Bio says this: I get to play baseball with my friends for a living and sometimes they even let me be pitcher for an inning!

It’s where no one ever gets to be hero and everyone is the goat eventually.

When you come in from the bullpen and fail, most likely you’ve cost your team the game. Even the greatest bullpen pitchers will fail from time to time. (Yes, even Mariano Rivera.)

They will be booed and heckled. Mercilessly. By the time they come into the game, your nastiest hecklers are already well into their cups … many, many beers to the wind. The more beer, the louder and stupider the heckle. It’s a fact.

When bullpen pitchers succeed, when they hold the lead, you won’t hear a word. The batters will be rewarded for scoring plenty of runs. The starting pitcher will be lauded for not letting a game get away. The bullpen? Hey, they were just doing their job.

Remember Jay? My new favorite thing to do is bounce ideas off of him. So, Jay, what do you have to say about relievers?

It is the nature of the role that relief pitchers make you nervous. The term “relief” implies you aren’t the real thing — you are on standby in case something happens – i.e., a relief valve. That is why relief pitchers got no respect at all until they invented euphemisms to class them up — thus, the “closer” – sounds important; “set-up guy” – sounds tricky; “long man” – actually sounds superfluous, but you get the idea.

There are a lot of things that can go wrong in a game. My Editor/Husband will moan like a cat with a hairball whenever a bad play unfolds. But, when the bullpen gets lit up, that’s when he gets really animated. (“Animated” is sort of like heckling but without all the beer.)

A position player can strike out once or twice in a game. But, as soon as he does this … all is forgiven.

crush landing

A starting pitcher can have a tough first inning, but somewhere tonight in America a broadcaster will say, “He’s settled down from a shaky first.”

Bullpen pitchers don’t have the luxury of a shaky first.

So, the Orioles bullpen had a bad night. But, they’ve had plenty more good nights.

So, yay, for the bullpen.

And, relievers everywhere.

For Moe Drabowsky, the wacky prankster. For Mike Marshall, who in 1974 became the first reliever to win the Cy Young (and in true quirky reliever fashion actually became a big league pitcher simply because he wanted to study pitching arm injuries for his PhD.)

And, for every reliever who has had a bad game … or blown a save (or two or seven). Rest up, guys, because we’ll need you to be ready to try again for us tomorrow.

#5: The Yankees Go To Shreveport

The game is full of subtlety,

Of science and of art,

Where mind and brain

Beneath the strain

Must carry out their part.

 

But when it comes to climax stuff

Beyond the final scoff,

Give me the bloke

With mighty poke

Who tears the cover off.

~ Grantland Rice, New York Tribune, March 15, 1921

 In today’s installment of “Spring Training Is Way Better Than Sitting In A House Without Power During A Freak Snowstorm In March” … let’s head to Shreveport, Louisiana.

 March 1921.

Spring Training with the New York Yankees. (And, you know this better be good if I’m going to spend a post talking about the Yankees.)

See, Spring Training wasn’t always Grapefruits and Cactus.  Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, and Alabama were all popular destinations in the early years of baseball.  Teams just seemed to wander around.

Spring Training over the years has evolved into a structured program to polish up one’s skills with weight training, fielding drills, batting practice, and conditioning programs.  (Even, most happily, Yoga. Big shout out to the Oakland A’s and Baltimore Orioles who have mentioned their Yoga programs in recent weeks.)

Back in early 20th century however, Spring Training was really just a time to get everyone back together, detox from the excesses of the off-season (mineral hot springs were especially popular), burn off winter weight, toss around a medicine ball, and try to get back into some sort of playing shape.

After a few rowdy Spring Trainings in Jacksonville, Florida (highlighted by more than a few “drunken orgies”), the Yankees moved their spring headquarters to Shreveport in 1921 because of its isolation (and because it was, ostensibly, a dry town).  Safely away, they hoped, from the devilish temptations of booze, broads, and brawling. 

Shreveport – in the midst of its own crazy oil boom (and not very “dry” at all) – would be a place where Babe Ruth and the rest of the team could focus on baseball.

Oh, did I not mention Babe?

George Herman Ruth.  Baltimore native.  The man who bestowed one of the most successful and enduring curses on the Boston Red Sox.  He did some other stuff too, hit some homers, changed the face of baseball, you know, that sort of thing, but I think I hit the high points.

New York Yankees, Spring Training 1921. Babe Ruth is there in the center.

New York Yankees, Spring Training 1921. Babe Ruth is there in the center.

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Free Baseball!

I love that broadcasters call extra innings in a game “Free Baseball”. 

No one calls it “Free Basketball” or “Free Football”.  (Do they?)

Basketball has “overtime”, which is probably the dullest thing they could have come up with.

Football has its “sudden death”, which is appropriately violent, and, given the frightening increase in head injuries and permanent debilitating damage the game does to many players, is probably a fair-enough description.

But, “free baseball” is a gift.  You’ve sat through two … maybe three hours already … and still, the baseball gods shower you with more. Ten innings, 11, 12 … in the case of the Baltimore Orioles, don’t be surprised if you get to 18 innings before it’s all done (and the right fielder ends up pitching).

That the Orioles have a crazy major league record in consecutive wins in extra-inning games (16 in a row at last count, the most consecutive wins by a team in extras since 1949) makes it a bit sweeter, I know.

But still.  “Free Baseball.”  Yay!

My last blog post was way too long. Consider the last 200 words “Free Blog”. Even though the whole thing was free, the last 200 words was even more free … a little bonus gift to those of you who kindly slogged through the first 500 words.

So, I want some “Free Baseball” on this blog, too. So, here are some things floating around on the Internet that are free and perhaps even baseball related.

Just a few bonus innings this time.  Enjoy!

10th Inning ~ Shoeless Joe Jackson, 2012 Edition

Only A Game is a terrific NPR sports show. A few weeks back they did a story on ballplayer Joe Jackson, a many-times great nephew of Shoeless Joe Jackson. Jackson, the Shoeless one, is arguably the greatest ballplayer to ever swing a bat in Chicago. He, sadly, lost his legend when he got mixed up in the 1919 Black Sox scandal. This is one of those quirky, sweet baseball stories, that reminds you how important the rich lore and history of baseball is to the love of the game.  Click here to listen.

11th Inning ~ Charlie Mars

Charlie Mars is a Mississippi singer/songwriter. We saw him in concert last week and he was very, very good. His tie to baseball? Well, I was following the Oriole game on my phone at the show. OK, a tenuous tie at best. But, the Orioles won and I really like Charlie Mars, and his new song is currently free on Amazon. So there you go. Click here for the song.

12th Inning ~ Oakland A’s Do The Bernie Lean

I love teams that truly embrace and encourage their crazy fans. Those are the fans who love their team unconditionally, and will do whatever is necessary to cheer them on. This year, the Oakland A’s celebrate those fans who dance the “Bernie Lean” at games. The Bernie Lean is, if you don’t already know, the zombie-like, arm-flailing dance born from the “Weekend At Bernies” movie from 1989. Bernie was dead in the movie, by the way, which greatly influenced how he got around in the film. Here’s the video from Oakland … it’s crazy, stupid. But, the A’s get in on the joke, and I like that in a team. Click here to watch (Bernie Leaning, optional).

5-4-3, Triple Play!

It’s an even greater thing of beauty when it looks … effortless.

From last night’s game … A’s – Twin’s.

5-4-3 … Triple Play!

Embedding a video into a temperamental blog?  Not so effortless.  But, it should take you to the clip.

Do I Tweet, Do I Call, Do I Just Watch?

I was watching an Orioles game the other day.  On television.  And, after a couple innings I went and got my Droid (no iPhone for me, I like to be a contrarian), and started following the comments from people who were at the game and “tweeting” about it.

And, I wasn’t sure.  Was that a good thing?  Or just a noisy distraction?

After all, some of the tweeters had some nice observations.  Some were even based on statistics and facts.

So perhaps it made my game-watching experience a bit richer.

Still, it’s always so strange to look out into the crowd and see so many people with their heads down.  They aren’t even watching the game.  They’re watching their emails, texts, and tweets.  They’re talking on their cellphones.

Oh, sure, a few hardy souls are scoring the games, counting pitches, and creating their own pencil-marked treasure trove of statistical data.  They’re allowed to have their heads down from time to time.

But, do you know how many videos exist of people catching foul balls while talking on their cell phone?  Trust me … a zillion.  But, I like these two guys best … because they’re a nice contrast.

First, meet Mr. Excited … he’s an A’s fan and had two chances at a foul ball.  A’s Fan Catches Foul Ball While on the Phone.

Now, here’s Mr. Ho-Hum … he’s a Twins fan who has somehow let a foul ball interupt his phone call.  I like the “Oh, yeh, hey, no big deal, I do this ALL the time,” smile at the end.   Twins Fan Catches Foul Ball, Keeps Talking

Part of what first drew me to baseball was the ability to cocoon yourself inside the stadium, away from the stresses and challenges of real life.  A whole new world was inside.  No one can find you, unless you want to be found.  The grass is always lush and green (and, nowadays, real!).  A perfect view of the field.  A crazy array of food and drink — and someone willing to bring it right to your seat!  A giant mascot running around.  And, three hours … or more … of nothing to do but watch a game on a lazy day.

So, it’s kind of sad to see my cozy baseball sanctuary invaded with smart phones and tablets and other distractions.

In that respect, I’m a purist.  Or, I’m boring and a bit twee.

But, then again … I’m the first person to watch a video of something zany that happened at a game and that a fan was quick to capture on their phone.  (The streakers earlier this season at Baltimore games?  Banned from television, but, yeh, I watched ’em all on YouTube.)  And, the tweeters often see things that the cameras don’t catch.

In which case, I’m a hip, techno-saavy Droidster.

Oh, and here’s one of the streakers.  Although, as you will see, the term “streaker” is fairly loosely defined here, since he neglected to take his pants off.

I guess I’ll just be happy to walk the middle way — as Yoga always reminds us, being balanced is best!  So, yay, for the purists who enjoy the true “getaway” from the world that a baseball game offers.  And, yay, to those folks who share their games with those of us on the outside.

And, yay, for that A’s fan who finally caught a foul ball!