Archive for the ‘Milwaukee Braves’ Category

Robin Yount’s Legacy

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

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The Milwaukee Brewers took time out from their otherwise forgettable season on Friday night to pay homage to Robin Yount, one of two of their inductees into the baseball Hall of Fame. It was the 20th anniversary of Yount’s retirement, and he was joined on the field by Milwaukee favorite Henry Aaron and reliever Rollie Fingers.

It was a good interlude, a chance for Brewers’ fans to forget about Ryan Braun, the slugger Milwaukee partisans believed would one day join Yount in Cooperstown: an event that seems unlikely now. Friday, then, was a confirmation of sorts. It is Yount’s legacy that matters in Milwaukee, not Braun’s.

But then, the numbers alone should be proof that it’s Yount that counts, regardless of Braun. For twenty years, the Hall of Fame shortstop (and sometime center fielder), defined baseball for Milwaukee. A lifetime .285 hitter, Yount won two Most Valuable Player awards, accumulated 3142 hits, was a doubles machine and stole 271 bases.

Even more important, particularly if you’re a Brewers’ fan, Yount rooted the game in Milwaukee — a city that had seen the Braves head to Atlanta and only belatedly inherited the crippled Seattle Pilots. The move of the Pilots to Milwaukee was so sudden that the Brewers’ original uniforms were Seattle retreads, with a new Brewers’ logo sewn on.

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Whatever Happened To . . .

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

It probably never occurred to anyone in Milwaukee that lefty Denny Lemaster’s real name was Denver Clayton Lemaster — or that he would become anything other than the rightful successor to Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, the best pitcher in Braves’ history, and one of the two or three best left handed pitchers in history.

A graduate of California’s pitching class of 1958 that included Dick Ellsworth and Jim Maloney, the Braves thought Lemaster would outshine them both. He certainly had the skills: a zippy and moving fastball, a top-to-bottom hook — and an intuitive grasp of the strike zone.

Lemaster’s command was his most potent weapon, a talent he says that he perfected as a boy from Oxnard who spent his pre-school hours throwing rocks at fence posts. I got so good at throwing rocks, I could knock a bird out of a tree whenever I wanted to, he told one reporter.

Lemaster signed a $70,000 bonus with the Braves in ’58 (a heady amount in those days — and, come to think of it, it’s not too shabby now), and arrived in the big leagues in 1962. He looked less than impressive in his first two years in Milwaukee, going 3-4 in ’62, then following that up with a 11-14 record in ’63.

It took awhile for Lemaster to learn his trade, but his early numbers are deceptive. In 1963 he was second in the Braves’ rotation behind Spahn who, even at 42, was among the best pitchers in baseball (he was 23-7 in ’63). Lemaster was the overlooked number two starter and a workhorse, throwing 237 innings and striking out 190.

Lemaster’s best year was 1964, when he was 17-11, but his ERA spiked. His style had changed: he threw harder, with fewer strikeouts, but had nearly as many innings. It was in 1964 that his arm first began to hurt (it was shoulder tendinitis), and he led the league in wild pitches.

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Gio Gets The Warren Spahn Award

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Washington Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez has been named the recipient of the 2012 Warren Spahn award, given annually to the major league’s top lefty and presented by the Bricktown Rotary Club of Oklahoma City and the Jim Thorpe Association.

Previous winners have included Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays, and C.C. Sabathia of the New York Yankees.

The award is named for Warren Spahn, the legendary left handed Hall of Fame pitcher for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves, who accumulated a 363-245 record in 21 year career.

Im honored to even be mentioned in the same breath as Warren Spahn and the past winners of this award. I truly am humbled by this recognition, Gonzalez said when he learned he’d been named the Spahn award recipient.

Gonzalez was named recipient of the award after going 21-8 with 207 strikeouts and a 2.89 ERA in his first season with the Washington Nationals. Gonzalez also made his second All-Star team and helped lead Washington to the NL East title.

Rays Shine Against Nats, Peralta Tossed

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

The big news of the night at Nationals Park will not be the D.C. Nine’s fourth straight loss, but Tampa Bay reliever Joel Peralta’s ejection for having a foreign substance in his glove. The ejection came just before the Nationals came to bat in the bottom of the 8th, when Nats’ manager Davey Johnson asked the umpires to inspect the glove of the Rays’ reliever.

The ejection immediately eclipsed the other news of the night — bad news for the Nationals, who dropped a 5-4 decision to Joe Maddon’s surging Rays. The Rays attacked Washington from the outset, putting five runs on the board against Washington starter Chien-Ming Wang in the game’s first three frames and holding the Nationals to just six hits in seven innings.

Speaking after the loss, Johnson said that Wang’s mechanics weren’t right, that he was throwing his shoulder out before bringing his arm forward — a problem that Johnson said that he and pitching coach Steve McCatty had identified and would fix. “It’s our job to get him right,” he said. “And we’ll do it.”

Johnson added that he was not yet thinking of substituting long reliever and former starter Ross Detwiler as the team’s fifth man in the rotation. “I’m not going to make a decision on the basis of one bad outing,” he said. Wang pitched just 3.1 innings, throwing 77 pitches before being pulled.

The good news for the Nationals was the recently returned outfielder and middle-of-the-order bomber Michael Morse connected for his first home run of the season. Morse, who also hit a scorcher past Rays’ pitcher David Price, now seems to be reaching mid-season form after being sidelined for all of April and May. Ian Desmond also connected, for his eleventh of the year.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Nats’ skipper Johnson said that he’d heard “chirping” about Peralta’s use of a foreign substance on the ball all the way back in Spring Training, then all but said that the report came from a Nationals’ player. “He used to play for us you know,” Johnson said. “It’s not like I’m making it up.”

Color commentator Ray Knight also weighed in, smiling at his own reminiscences of pitchers who went once-too-often to the back of their head, their mouth or the bill of their cap in doctoring their pitches. “Lew Burdette was famous for this,” he said. So true — Burdette was famous for spitting tobacco into his glove and throwing a nasty sinker, which helped account for his stellar record in sending the Milwaukee Braves to consecutive World Series.

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Bud Selig’s Nightmare — And Triumph

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

The Commissioner of Baseball is objective, right? He’s the caretaker for the game, the objective overseer who makes certain it runs right — and each season his fondest hope is that the best team wins, no matter who it is. But in a most fundamental way, fans of the game know that’s a crock: baseball is a business. At the end the year, what’s important is the bottom line.

Which is why the 2011 Brew Crew are Bud Selig’s nightmare, it’s the team that keeps him awake at night. For the truth is that, if the Yankees and Phillies make it to the World Series, baseball will benefit from television viewer ratings in two of the most important media markets in the U.S., while if the Brewers and Tigers (say) make it to the series, the numbers will . . . well, they’ll be less good.

The numbers don’t lie. Since the mid-1980s, baseball’s post-season television numbers have suffered an overall decline, and it’s worse if a big market team isn’t playing. While the 2009 Phillies-Yankees ratings weren’t any great shakes (as compared to 1986 — when the Mets and Red Sox played each other), they were a damned sight better than 2010. If the Brewers beat the D-Backs, and then the winner of the Phillies-Cardinals tilt, those post-season numbers will continue to slide.

Of course, this view can be totally wrong. The Brewers have turned into one of the most successful teams in the sport, and not just on the field. This year the Brewers set an all-time attendance record, selling 3,068,781 tickets — which made them seventh in MLB in total attendance, and fourth in the N.L. And this in baseball’s smallest metropolitan area.

The story of the Brewers is, in fact, the best business story in the major leagues. After limping into Milwaukee from Seattle in 1970, the Brewers built a fan base and a new ballpark — cultivating a market wedded to the Green Bay Packers in a town with rust belt and failing industries. The man who authored this transition was Bud Selig.

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Lowe, Bullpen Subdue Nats

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

It’s a lousy realization, but it’s true: the Washington Nationals have a very good bullpen; but if Wednesday night is any indication, the Braves’ bullpen is better. After giving up a home run to the relentless Michael Morse, the Braves’ bullpen of Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel came on to pitch three innings of perfect (hitless and walkless) baseball, and the Nationals went down to defeat in Atlanta, 3-1.

Of course, one of the reasons the Braves’ bullpen is good is that they follow a solid starting staff. On Wednesday, the starter-of-choice was Derek Lowe, the tough veteran who has had his ups-and-downs, but who seems to match up well against the Anacostia Nine. Wednesday was no different. Lowe pitched a solid, if not brilliant, six innings. He gave up just three hits while striking out six.

While Nats’ skipper Davey Johnson criticized his team for not being aggressive at the plate, he praised Lowe. “He kept the ball down pretty much all night,” Johnson said. “I thought he really had command of the outside corner. He pitched a good ballgame. We didn’t get much offensively. I like us being aggressive. I thought we got some pitches to hit, but some days it’s like that.”

But Johnson’s most effusive praise was reserved for Braves’ relievers, fast becoming acknowledged as the best in baseball. “Their back side of the bullpen has been almost unhittable. You have to get the Braves pretty early,” Johnson said. The truth is in the stats: O’Flaherty picked up his 25th hold, Venters his 28th, while Kimbrel notched his 41st save. Kimbrel’s save set a rookie record.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: For some reason, the Braves have always produced good power hitters. The current generation’s long ball artist, Chipper Jones, compares well with Braves’ great Eddie Mathews who (if it weren’t for Mike Schmidt) would be considered the best hitting third baseman of all time. There’s also Henry Aaron (of course), who defined greatness for the Braves.

But there have been others: Dale Murphy (with 398 HRs), David Justice (with a measly 305), and Joe Adcock — with 336. What’s shocking about Adcock is that he’s arguably one of the greatest Braves’ of all time, but has not made it into the Braves’ Hall of Fame.

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Del Crandall’s Sayonara Slam

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Del Crandall’s Sayonara Slam: On September 10, 1881 (that’s 129 years ago yesterday), the Troy Trojans beat the Worcester Brown Stockings (or Ruby Legs, as they were also known) by a score of 8-7. The teams (let alone the game) remain unremarkable in baseball history (the Trojans and Brown Stockings were only in the National League for a few years each), except that — at least so far as anyone can tell — the game’s last frame was marked by a baseball rarity called a “Sayonara Slam.” A “Sayonara Slam” is not simply a home run that ends the game (nor is it simply “a Japanese home run”), but a blast that comes in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the bases loaded. On September 10 of 1881, the first Sayonara Slam in major league history (so far as we know) was registered when Hall of Famer Roger Conner (a lifetime batting average of .316) came to bat for the Trojans with two outs in the 9th. With the bases loaded and the Trojans trailing 7-4, Conner (the leading home run hitter of the 19th century), parked the baseball beyond the centerfield fence — and the Trojans won, 8-7.

Let’s be clear: while it’s not known when or how the term Sayonara Slam first came into use, its most proper definition is of a player who bats in the last inning with the bases loaded, two out, with his team down by three runs — and hits a grand slam home run to win the game. Oddly, the last recorded “Sayonara Slam” (to say a hit is a “Sayonara grand slam” is redundant, don’tchaknow), took place in Japan on July 18 of this year, when the Yokahama BayStars victimized the Yomiuri Giants in the bottom of the 9th with a “gyaku-ten sayonara” — a game ending grand slam home run (and get this: former Nats’ wannabe Termel Sledge, playing for the BayStars, hit a home run to bring his team within three). It doesn’t appear that regular stats are kept of Sayonara Slams (or, at least, I can’t find it), but we know that the Phillies’ Bo Diaz hit one against the Mets on April 13, 1983 — which, according to an entry in his biography, was only the 11th in baseball history. The Diaz blast won the game for the Phillies, 10-9.

Perhaps the most memorable Sayonara Slam came on September 11, 1958 — when Milwaukee Braves tough guy Del Crandall came to the plate with the bases loaded against the no account Phillies, who were then mired in a century long slump. Milwaukee had entered the final frame of the first game of a doubleheader at County Stadium behind 4-0, with their hopes of a win fading fast. Which was a surprise, because Milwaukee ace Lew Burdette had pitched a tight game, giving up only a few hits to the Ponies. Even so, the scoreboard at Milwaukee County Stadium told the tale. With Milwaukee in the pennant race, the game was seen as key to the Braves’ hopes for another appearance in the World Series. With nobody out in the final half-frame, Milwaukee bopper Johnny Logan tripled before Eddie Mathews fouled out, but Logan scored from third. Score: 4-1. Henry Aaron then reached on a single, George Crowe made an out, but the next two batters — Chuck Tanner and Bennie Taylor — were able to reach base on wounded duck hits. The bases were loaded with two out when Crandall came to the plate. The savvy backstop worked the count to 3-2, but then launched his grand slam into the bleachers in left field: it was a perfect (a classic) three-and-two, two outs, bases loaded “Sayonara Slam.” Final Score: Braves 5, Phillies 4.

Crandall is an interesting story. The California native wasn’t a great hitter, but Hank Aaron called him “a hell of a defensive catcher.” He might have been the best defensive catcher of his time: he won four gold gloves, made eight All Star appearances, and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated (which did not seem to harm his career). He hit home runs for Milwaukee in their two World Series’ appearances — in 1957 and 1958. Crandall became somewhat of a legend for being a tough talking no-nonsense player . On the first batter of the first game he caught for the Braves (who were then in Boston) he was ejected by umpire Jocko Conlan for questioning Conlan’s called balls on the first two pitches from the Braves’ pitcher. Conlan came out from behind Crandall, stooped over the plate with his brush, and then looked Crandall in the eye. “Ain’t no busher gonna come up here and tell me how to call a game,” he told him. Crandall eyed Conlan and shook his head. “You can shove your ‘busher,’” he said. And Conlan tossed him.