Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Baseball and deaths in the family

Baseball has its history and its family secrets.  That's what makes it such a special game and sets it apart from every other sport.  We've paid an increasing amount of attention to the NFL, which at least goes back to before World War II, but basketball is still in its infancy, historically speaking, and hockey is trying to get an American audience to pay attention.

When you have a big family, with members that are aging, it's inevitable there will be surprises, tragedies, and death.  Last week Harmon Killebrew, the great slugging third baseman of the Minnesota Twins died.  There was no fan of the game that missed Killebrew's passing.  He was a Twins hero who could hit the ball a mile, a hall of famer, a former MVP.  Every baseball fan knows him, few Twins fans emerged from hearing the news dry-eyed. 

He didn't have a flaming fastball, or a searing slider, or even a sneaky curve, but for 15 years Paul Splittorff was a good pitcher for the Kansas City Royals.
Today the news of Paul Splittorff's death came across the wire.  Splittorff was not a Hall of Famer, but he was a very good pitcher for 15 years with the Kansas City Royals.  His record was 166-143 with a 3.81 ERA.  His years with the team included some of the most memorable competition with the Yankees in the playoffs in the 70's and early 80's. They were good teams with good players:  George Brett, Willie Wilson, Amos Otis, Frank White, John Mayberry.  His stablemates were good too-Dennis Leonard, Larry Gura, Steve Busby, and the always amusing Dan Quisenberry, were a good staff.  His death, at age 64, of complications from melanoma, is shocking, and that his passing was so private contributed to my surprise when I heard the news.

I had hoped to remember players like Splittorff, as well as Killebrew on this blog, but I've done a crappy job.  I plan to do better,

Monday, May 23, 2011

My name is Jack and I hit homers

sI just couldn't help myself.  Jack Cust homered in the first inning of the Mariners game in Minneapolis.  You go Jack. Hopefully Cust's second homer will come a little more quickly than his first.

Go git 'em Jack

Whither now Seattle Mariners?

The beloved M's are in San Diego, having won five straight and six of their last seven. The AL West Division is thin, and the home team have deposed the A's from third place. They are cellar dwellers no longer.  Despite their 22-24 record the Mariners are only 1.5 games behind the division-leading Rangers.  It's nearly Memorial Day, and by all accounts the boys in blue and silver were expected to be irrelevant.
The King.  Felix Hernandez left thirteen strikeout victims in his wake at Petco Park Sunday.

This is not a pretty team, at times.  They are bi-polar.  Their offense is vile. Crap.  Bad, with a capital bad.  In runs scored they rank 28th, and batting average, 29th, next to last, in the majors.  For the past two years, they've raised frustratingly stranding runners on base to an art form.  They are so bad at failing to score or advance runners with consistency, their un-funny follies should simply be termed "Marinersesque."  For example:

It's the third inning of the 2012 World Series, the Phillies lead the Yankees three games to none.  In a 0-0 ballgame, Jeter leads off with a walk and Robinson Cano, trying to hit the ball to right side and advance the runner, taps a soft liner back to Doc Halliday, who doubles Jeter off first.

Joe Buck:  Gee Tim, that was just poor execution.  When your team is struggling, you have to be able to execute and do the little things to help them score.

Tim McCarver:  Yeah Joe, you got that one right.  Playoff baseball is about execution and if you're going to beat Halliday and stay in this thing you've got to execute.That was just Marinersesque.

It's been nearly two weeks since the Mariners made Milton Bradley take his act on the stage, the first one out of town and called up Carlos Peguero and Mike Wilson.  Both are struggling to produce consistently, as one would expect of untried rookies.  Yet there's no denying, they both bring an athleticism and energy to the team that was lacking before.  Peguero homered twice in the last home stand and has looked both tremendous and clumsy in left field.  Friday's play at the wall to rob Jorge Cantu of a homer and throw to Brendan Ryan in time to relay to first base to double off Ryan Ludwick was a thing of beauty.  At other times, Peguero has been just short of making the great plays.  The dropped ball in the ninth inning of the same game is an example.  Wilson, trapped as the right hander in a platoon, hasn't had the chance to play much yet.  But Saturday's gapper was a game breaker and insured the demise of the even weaker hitting Padres.  It's unclear exactly how much these two young players will contribute to the offensive improvement of this team.  Just too small a sample size.
Michael Pineda leads the team with six wins and is only going to get better.  He's a hard worker and studies the game carefully-oh and he throws 97 mph with control.

Eric Bedard is my favorite story of the spring.  Opposing batters don't care for him quite so much.  Ask the nine Padres he struck out on Friday.
 The pitching, on the other hand, has simply been beyond expectations.  Win or lose, all five starters, Felix, Pineda, Bedard, Vargas and Fister, are giving the Mariners seven plus innings per start.  They put the team in a position to win.  In their last four games, the Mariners have allowed one earned run.  The pitching staff is ranked 5th in ERA and WHIP, and will only climb as numbers improve daily. The bullpen, except for the notorious four day run a week ago, when Brandon League repeatedly melted down in save situations, has been better than believed before the season began.  League, David Pauley, Jamie Wright, and Aaron Laffey have simply been very good.  The starters and big four bullpen staff have been so good that Jeff Gray, acquired a couple weeks ago on a waiver wire deal, hasn't pitched since he came over to the boys from Royal Brougham. The Mariners have a playoff caliber pitching staff that could take the team deep into the playoffs . . . if they only could score enough runs.
Despite his opening night meltdown, Jason Vargas has been a steady starter for the Mariners. 

Mr. Fister.  When he's on, he's very good.
So where does this leave the M's going forward.  This team was assembled as a rebuilding team.  I predicted it would win only 70-75 games.  We are just past the quarter pole and headed for the first third of the season at 54 games.  The Rangers suffered key injuries to their big run producers and closer and have not run away with the division flag.  The Angels are showing the weaknesses I believed they'd have.  Oakland, like Seattle, is run challenged, and two of their pitchers just went on the disabled list.  All four teams are within two games of each other but it's still early in the season.
Dustin Ackley is the heir apparent to the starting second base job; it's just a matter of time. He may be a very good hitter, but he isn't a savior.  The M's need at least one more bat.
There is a lot of comment on the blogs urging the Mariners to go for it and acquire the bats needed to win consistently.  At some point Dustin Ackley will come up and, hopefully, contribute to the Mariners' struggling offense. How quickly he will adjust to major league pitching is an open question.  Assuming he can make even modest progress as a major league hitter, he will be an upgrade over Jack Wilson and Adam Kennedy, and should take over the number two slot.  I was able to catch the Rainiers game yesterday and watched the young man play in the field.  He turned a couple of double plays, and hit an absolute laser over the right field fence for a game winning home run.  He will be ready soon, and will make a difference.

What about another bat?  A consistent uprgrade at left field, third base, or designated hitter are all possibilities in my mind. It's still early, but if the left field situation is unsettled, if Figgins and Cust continue to struggle, and the M's are close to the division lead, or (silly me) leading the division at the end of June, Jack Z must pull the trigger on a deal that will improve the Mariner offense.  The M's have a waning fan base, but during these little winning streaks, when the pitching is so dominant, maybe the best there is in the game right at this moment, there is a spark and every long suffering Mariners fan, waiting for a sniff of redemption believes, that with just a little help, we could win it all. Okay, our division.  We can smell it Jack, get us a bat dammit.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Have Love Will Travel--Six ways, count 'em

My son Pat has been talking about a sort of music club in which we share some songs that we like.  It's a way to be introduced to some new sounds.  It includes some of his friends, whom I like quite a bit and they have great musical influences, so I hope we get started soon.

I was kind of struggling with what I should share with some thirtysomethings, and I just decided to go for it and choose some artists I like.  One song I that really gets me is an old R & B tune by Richard Berry, "Have Love Will Travel."  In some respects the song is reminiscent of "Louie, Louie," also a Berry tune, with its simple chord progression, and down to basics lyrics.  I knew a couple of covers of the song.

The one that got my attention first actually was the theme for a Land Rover commercial a few years ago.  That's the 1965 cover by Tacoma's own Sonics.  The vocals are raw, the production is is fuzzy and distorted, the loud, blaring sax is right out in front.  It's a great version of the song, maybe my favorite, and it's so good.

Before there was punk, there were the Sonics from beautiful Tacoma, WA.

The other version I really love is by the Black Keys. The hard rock duo from Akron, Ohio include "Have Love" on the 2003 "Thickfreakness" album and it holds fast to the band's R & B roots.  Dan Auerbach's thick, sludgy guitar and gutbucket vocals recall the Sonics' version, but the arrangement is fresh and heavy.  Great stuff.
Dan Auerbach (guitar and vocals) and Patrick Carney are the Black Keys.  Their version of Have Love Will Travel rivals only the Sonics as  the best.

 Paul Revere and the Raiders covered the song back in 1964 on the B-side of a single.  It's not my favorite.  It's sort of the light version when compared to the Sonics and Black Keys.  Mark Lindsay's vocals are good, but the arrangement doesn't have that wonderful fuzztone or protopunk sound of their Tacoma colleagues. Something's missing here.
The most televised rock group in history-Paul Revere and the Raiders in all their glory
The Richard Berry and the Pharoahs original recording from 1959 is a good song.  Good lead and backing vocals, but lacks the raw power and ragged vocals of all the other versions.  Berry was a pop r&B performer, but doesn't have the rootsiness of Muddy Waters or Howling Wolf, so the edge is missing here. A regular performer in Seattle's black nightclubs, he also wrote Louie, Louie, and was an important influence on the nascent rock and roll scene as it struggled to find its voice.
The late Richard Berry

Sky Saxon was the lead vocalist for the psychedelic band The Seeds in the '60's.  Saxon released Have Love on an anthology of his music from the Seeds and solo projects in 2008, "Sky Saxon: King of the Garage Bands."  It's okay, but doesn't compare favorably with other versions. Ian Gillian, vocalist for Deep Purple and the original voice of Jesus Christ on "Jesus Christ Superstar," also recorded Have Love Will Travel for his 2008 live album Live in Anaheim.  Yeah, Gillian's got a great voice, but I don't find anything special here.  Just walk on by.

The late Sky Saxon

Ian Gillian

Have Love Will Travel became a staple of the Northwest rock scene, covered by a zillion bands, just at the roots of that sound were about to be drowned in psychedelia and the new folk movement.  It remains an important artifact in my continuing belief Northwest Rock is unrecognized and underappreciated by the rest of the country.  Have Love rocks hard, is danceable, and is fun.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Shootout on Edgar Martinez Way

Endured a sad weekend of Mariner baseball.  The White Sox are horrible, they've proved it to all of baseball for over a month, and the M's managed to lose two of three at home.  Mostly no hitting and sloppy play led to their demise.

The sad part is they steamed into Safeco on Tuesday the 3rd and dispatched a faltering Texas Ranger team in two of three games, were competetive in Pineda's Wednesday start.  They won the same way they'd beat up Boston and Detroit in the week prior by putting runners on base, tough pitching and good play in the field.  Chicago comes to town, and it's like we're in Kansas City again, with Wedge getting ready to let everyobdy have it.

The news out of Mariners HQ is not happy news.  Bradley and Langerhans have both been DFA'ed.  Zdurencik said there would be accountability this year and I guess this is a start.  Milton Bradley has not fulfilled our pipe dreams after the Carlos Silva trade last year that he could be an effective hitter for the M's. His recent onfield explosion and lazy play in left field left little doubt among fans he should go.  Both Ryan Divish in the News Tribune and Geoff Baker in the Seattle Times strenuously opined in their respective blogs that Bradley's time was up and should go before the official team announcement was made.

Moving Langerhans was more problematic, but the lefty journeyman couldn't adequately cover centerfield, and wasn't hittin' a lick. Too bad, I liked him in the three years he was here, but in the end you have to have talent. 

The M's called up Mike Wilson and Carlos Peguero to fill the roster spots of the dearly departed.  Peguero already had his cup of coffee during Justin Smoak's bereavement leave.  While he is big, strong and athletic, there is no reason to believe Peguero will rescue the Mariners from the black hole of hitting.  He may show very occasional power, but he will be strike out, hit for a poor average and show athleticism in the field.  He will be the left-handed bookend of the traditional vacant space in Safeco's left field.  Mike Wilson will be the right-handed bookend.  He's a somewhat less mobile version of Peguero, though with a slightly more refined approach to hitting-he'll also strike out a lot, maybe walk a little more, and hit an occasional boomer.  Not enough to scare anyone, however. It is said that Wilson is an athlete with a body like a Greek statue, and unfortunately he plays the field a lot like one.

I don't mean to be a pessimist.  I think the M's had few choices, and I think they've done what they can do to fill the wide open spaces in Safeco's spacious pasture.  It is what it is.  Those responsible have been carried from the field and it's time for new blood, because it can't be any worse.