Sports: Pittsburgh Pirates, Swooning Continues.

The Pirates showed that May was no fluke, as they stumbled and bumbled their way, to a 9 and 17 record in June. The highlight of the month was the 10 game losing streak. Again there were no surprises, unless you call the bad players, going from bad to worse a surprise. The few major league players they do have, played some solid to excellent baseball. If baseball only put 5 players and a pitcher on the field, the Pirates could make a run at the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Pirates, there are 3 other players that have to take the field. They are so bad, that they desecrate the game. They are so far below the performance of a major league player, that they could only be productive, at the AA level of the game. These players should not even be playing for Indianapolis, let alone the Pirates. The list, in no particular order, is Gregory Polanco, Kevin Newman, Phillip Evans, Ka’ai Tom, Erik Gonzalez, Michael Perez, and Ben Gamel. Here is their corresponding OPS+, with the league average being 100: 74,46,73,60,55,62, and 87. None of them have a WAR of over .3 and most are negative war. The Magnificent Seven, they are not. These players who cannot hit, average one walk per 13 plate appearances. The league average is one walk per 11 plate appearances. The 5 major leaguers, that the Pirates do have on their team, average one walk per 10 plate appearances. Obviously these players do not learn by example. They really do not learn by any method, really. They certainly do not try and improve their game.

Despite having an overall horrible month, the Pirates did improve their Defensive Efficiency to 12th in all of baseball, from 20th. Ke’Bryan Hayes is probably the main reason for this. He has been a defensive star and is still hitting above the league average with an OPS+ of 122. His bat has been slumping a little of late, but every hitter is going to go through this once in awhile. In less than a month of playing is WAR is already, at 1.0. The Pirates are 29th in runs scored, with the New York Mets dead last, but only 5 runs behind. They are fortunate to be 6 games over .500, and the Washington Nationals are feeling the 2019 vibe, all over again. It will be interesting to see, if the Mets can remain in contention, throughout this season, let alone stay in first plate. It shows you what great pitching can do, but can it hold up for another grueling 3 months. Sorry about getting sidetracked about the Mets, but it is really hard writing about the Pirates. Will the Pirates finally go for the full teardown by getting rid of 3 of the 5 major leaguers they have, namely Colin Moran, Adam Frazier and Jacob Stallings. I am only discussing position players, as there are pitchers, both starters and relievers, that could be gone at the trade deadline. Only time will tell, how far the Pirates are going to go, in tearing this thing down. I mean the Pirates are a thing. They are certainly not a baseball team. They are about as bad as I have ever seen, even though they do not have the worse record in baseball, at least for the moment. Remember, I witnessed the mid 60’s Mets, and believe me, they were better overall, than this group. It would be nice to see 7 DFA’s come August 1st, but I doubt that will happen. Hopefully, Hayes bat will get hot again, and the other 4 will perform, as they have been. I guess 5/9ths of a team is better than nothing, or is it? Will look at them again August 1. Maybe they will surprise, that would be nice.

Golf: U. S. Open Impressions

Yesterday, Jon Rahm won the U. S. Open in grand style, by birdieing the last two holes. He played a great round of golf, and was a very deserving winner. I watch some of every round in this U. S. Open, and the entire final round. This was one of the best Opens in a long time. The venue was set up perfectly and the weather co-operated by not having a lot of high winds. The leader board was crowded with some of the top players in the game, and some regular tour players, trying to make the big splash. In the middle of the final round, there were about 10 players within two shots of the lead. Everybody seemed to be going along just fine, when all hell broke loose on the back nine, and just about everybody fell apart, except Rahm and Lois Oosthuizen. It wasn’t until Oosthuizen took a very aggressive line on 17, and knocked his drive in the hazard, and barely missed a par saving putt, that you felt that Jon Rahm had the victory. I have to give Oosthuizen some credit, for taking the aggressive route, and really trying to make birdie on that hole, but unfortunately it did not work out. During the final round, there were many players, who had a chance to win, but none more so than Bryson DeChambeau. When he almost made the hole in one on No. 8 to take the outright lead, I thought we were going to have a repeat champion. Then after making a par on the par 4 10th hole, he decided to take 40 blows on the last 8 holes to fall all the way to 26th place. Bryson characterized his back nine as having bad breaks and just being “golf”. Let’s take a closer look, and also go back to Fridays round.

Bryson blamed a lot of his back nine on bad luck. I attribute his horrible back nine to some of the worse thinking I have ever seen by a top player. I am not talking about bad thinking on one particular hole, like Jean van de Velde did at the final hole of the 1999 British Open, where he made a triple bogey, when he only needed a double bogey to win the tournament. DeChambeau’s bad thinking, is an overall bad approach to the game. It showed up on Friday, when he tried to reach I believe the first par 5 on the back nine in two. He hit a great shot, but it was just short, and rolled back down the hill about 50 yards, into a sand filled divot. That was a very bad break. This was time to take your medicine, and hit a nice little lob wedge, right into the throat of the green, which would have put him about 30 to 40 feet, right of the pin, for a birdie putt. Instead, he tried to hit the ball directly at the pin, over a bunker. He chunked the shot, right into that bunker, and exploded the ball over the green, and was lucky to chip back, and make a bogey. Then, when he drove it into the rough on Sunday, on the same par 5, instead of trying to get the ball back in the fairway, where he probably could have gotten home in three, he continued to hit the ball down the rough and wound up making a double bogey 7. He has a philosophy, that he can hit any shot he pleases, and get away with it. He has done this, in other tournaments, as his whole game lacks any type of strategy. When things go wrong for Bryson, he calls it just golf, and really learns nothing. Unless this philosophy changes, I do not see him ever winning another major. Only time will tell, of course. One things for sure, it is not for the lack of a golf game.

My overall impressions of the tournament were many. These guys make a lot of putts and shots around the greens. One of the odd things about this Open, was the number of truly great shots from fairway bunkers. Many times, the player who hit from the fairway bunker got closer to the hole, than his playing partner did, from the middle of the fairway. I am not going into specific instances, but it was interesting to see, that all the rough was not created equal. There were some spots that were particularly thick and then other areas where it was not near as penal. I am not talking about areas that were trampled down by the fans, speaking of which, it was also interesting to see players, trying to hit in these areas on purpose, rather than the fairway. It shows you, even the best players in the world are affected by hazards, that are close in play. It seems like no matter who you are you are not immune from the pressure of the U. S. Open. You saw it all Sunday, drives out of bound, impossible lies in bunkers, shanks, and even balls stuck in trees. Now, that’s bad luck Bryson. There are many golfers who have been in contention over the years that just don’t seem to be able to seal the deal. You have to wonder are they really trying to do anything different or are they just looking for the answer, too. In the end Jon Rahm stood out as the best player of the week, and took home the greatest prize in golf, the United States Open.

Sports: Pirates, Not Waiting Till June Too Take A Swoon

When we last took a look at the Pirates, they were 14-19, and were barely hanging on, to make something of the season. They nose dived, in more ways than one, to lose 14 of the next 20 games, gave up 20 runs in one game, and made one of the biggest bonehead plays, in the history of baseball. Two to the wins were walk offs, and one was in extra innings, or it could have been even worse. The collapse was a team effort, as all of their pitching, batting, and fielding stats fell dramatically. Their highest rank is FIP and Defensive Efficiency coming in at 19th and 20th, respectively. The rest of the pitching and batting stats are pretty pathetic with ERA+ and Runs scored coming in at 29th each. No one has hit less home runs than the Pirates. They have taken the deadening of the ball seriously. Even though I have called this a team “effort”, there have been players that have stood out by their extremely poor play. Some have not been surprising, but others had some better expectations.

Expected putrid players, that have lived down to their expectations, are Erik Gonzalez, Gregory Polanco, Wilmer Difo, Michael Perez, and 4 of the 5 in the starting rotation. The most disappointing players, who had higher expectations going into the season, are Kevin Newman and Phillip Evans. These players could be some of the worst players in Major League Baseball history. I am not going to waste my finger energy going over some of their pathetic slash lines. Some of their OPSes are not above the league leaders in slugging. As a group their plate discipline is terrible, with Erik Gonzalez being the worse, and they are all allergic to the walk. This group of players is the main reason the Pirates can not score runs. In the starting rotation there is only one pitcher, J.T. Brubaker, who has an ERA+ over the league average 100, at 107. OPS+ and ERA+ are statistics that compare player performances taking in ballparks and other conditions, with the league average being 100. Bryan Reynolds OPS+ is 143, and he has a WAR of 2.2. He is on his way to having an All Star season. Check out these OPS+: Gonzalez 50, Newman 40, Polanco 89, being paid 11 million this year, Perez 37, Difo 81, Evans 89. Now these ERA+: Keller 61, Kuhl 63, Cahill 59, Anderson 86, who if you listen to the Pirate announcers, you would think he is Sandy Koufax. Then, you had the Will Craig gaffe, with Javier Baez at first base, that cost the Pirates eventually 2 runs in a game they lost. I will say one thing in his defense. Why wasn’t someone on the field yelling at him, to tell him what to do. Both the radio and TV broadcast booths sure as hell were. Was it out of respect, or was the whole team dumbfounded speechless, on what they were seeing on the field. Perez could have taken one step, and tagged Baez, instead of trying to tag the runner. On one of the most bizarre plays in major league history, even though Craig took most of the heat, for the huge mistake, you could say, it was a team effort. Is there any hope for this team?

The short answer is no. I am always the optimist, however, and hopefully some good things could happen. Supposedly Hayes is going to be activated this week. That should move Gonzalez to the bench. Moran will come back this month I assume, and his bat, but not his glove, should be an improvement overall for the team. The sad thing about the rotation, is that the fill ins, have pitched better than the regular rotation. I see no hope for Chad Kuhl. The two, that I am hoping, will turn things around, are Newman and Keller. In 2019 Newman hit over .300 and I don’t mind typing this slash line, .309/353/.446, with an OPS+ of 109, and a solid WAR of 3. If he can approach those numbers anytime soon, it would be a huge lift for this team. Keller, who has become every other start Keller, needs to become every start Keller. Hopefully he can find some kind of consistency, and become a top of the rotation guy. I admit these last 20 games have been discouraging, in more ways than one, and I do not know what the schedule looks like this month, but if Hayes comes back, totally able to play, then maybe this team can have a competitive month. The rotation must improve, by finding some arms. If not, then sadly be ready for that 100 loss season. YUK!!!! I’ll next visit the Pirates, July 1.

Sports: Pirates, They Made It, Barely

The Pirates were 5 and 8, and heading into what I called a tough stretch of games, where they would play 15 of the next 20 games on the road. I wrote if they wanted this season to remain viable, they would need to be somewhere between 3 and 5 games below .500, at this point. After a promising 6 and 3 road trip, they really hit the skids, but managed to win yesterday, and are at 14 wins and 19 losses, 5 games below .500. The offense became putrid, which was the main reason for the slide. The OBP dropped to 21st from 8th. Their OPS+, which was 11th in the league at the 13 game mark, fell all the way to 29th. This team could not score runs when they were hitting, so naturally their run production went from 17th to 27th. Their fielding and pitching improved, which allowed them to go 9-11 during this 20 game stretch. The Defensive Efficiency Rating rose to 14th from 22nd, which is one of their highest rankings in about 6 years. Interestingly, their strike out rate took a big drop, to 25th from 11th. All the other pitching stats moved up significantly. Whip was 13th, ERA+ 18th, and FIP 14th, all up, from the mid to high 20’s after 13 games. The most disappointing stretch of games, were the 5 homes games, where they lost 4 out of 5 to the Royals and the Cardinals. The other disappointment, during this stretch, was the continuation of bone head plays. Come on guys, this is the Majors. The loss of Colin Moran will hurt an already struggling offense. Despite what Bob Walk says, Moran does not play 1st base all that well, and who knows, maybe if Todd Frazier gets some steady playing time, he may start to hit. He certainly fields the position better. All in All, the Pirates held it together, barely

I thought some things would have to happen for the Pirates to have success during this 20 game stretch. Most of them, did not happen, and yet the Pirates went a respectable 9-11 during this time. Ke’ Bryan Hayes did not come back, and now appears he won’t be back until at least June 1. This loss just keeps getting bigger and bigger, especially when you consider who is playing third base, but more on that, later. I felt that Polanco may start to contribute, but that did not happen. I guess you could say, he is missing in action, and really, it is no big loss. The K twins got better because one of them is not pitching and hopefully Keller finds a way to have two good starts in a row. Right now, he is on an every other start run, which I suppose is better than nothing. They did get rid of the strike out happy centerfielders, and got more production out of the position, but it was almost impossible to get any less. The starters seem to be going deeper, with Anderson going 8 innings yesterday. I think the bullpen was in such shock, that they almost blew the game. Until yesterday, the Pirates have not really had any good luck. Things were particularly bad in San Diego. They hit a lot of liners right at people, and San Diego just seemed to be able to find the hole, when needed. Yesterday, the Pirates did put on a bloop hit show to score 6 runs, so maybe that will turn this team’s luck around.

The next 20 games will get us through the month of May. The Pirates will play 13 of the next 20 at home, which despite the last home stand, should be a plus. This is what I would like to see happen, with the personal, over this stretch of games. Erik Gonzalez needs to sit. In 110 plate appearances, he has walked twice. This has been his MO his entire baseball career, and it is not going to change. For what ever reason, he looks pretty good until he gets 3 balls on him, and then he swings at anything. The worse plate discipline I have seen in a long time. Try somebody else at third base. I don’t care who, there are numerous candidates. Gonzalez can always be used as a defensive replacement late in games. His OPS+ of 54 is horrific, with the league average being 100. He is good defensively, but not that good, to warrant him in the lineup, on a team that can not score. We are not talking about Javier Baez here. If and when Chad Kuhl gets healthy, he should be moved to the bullpen. He might fare better there, and I feel the rotation is better without him. Phillip Evans needs to get out of his slump. At least he walks, but his OPS+ is down to 88. This will be one of the keys during this 20 game stretch. If he continues to slide, then he needs to sit next to Gonzalez. Adam Frazier and Bryan Reynolds seem to have recovered from their 2020 hitting slumps, but Kevin Newman has not. It would be nice if he can start to hit. Finally, I do not understand what the Pirates see in Clay Holmes. Hopefully, they are right, and I am wrong. I think the Pirates have better talent on their roster, than him. If he proves me wrong, then these 20 games may be alright, because the Pirates use him a lot. Only Sam Howard, has appeared in more games this year. The Pirates have to play at least .500 ball through this stretch, if they are going stay competitive in the division. In order to reach this goal, this team has got to find a way to score runs. We will revisit the Pirates June 1.

Sports: Pirates 5-8, Pretty Amazing

The Pittsburgh Pirates have played 13 games so far this year, and have won 5. Considering all the things that have gone wrong, winning 5 games at this point, goes way beyond expectations. They have not been doing it with mirrors either, but I will get to the stats, later. The biggest thing that went wrong, is that they lost their best player, Ke’Bryan Hayes to injury, after the first game. It was a major blow, almost before the season started. Despite that, they won 4 more games. There does seem to be some hope for this team, since they split a 4 game series with the San Diego Padres, one of the better teams in the National League. One of the Padre games set baseball back about a hundred years, where the Pirate pitchers walked 13 batters, hit 3 more, and yet won the game rather easily, 8 to 4. There are some things to like about this team, and their manager.

Despite losing Hayes, and having no production, and I mean one big fat zero, from the centerfield position, the Pirates did not hit bad as a team. Their OBP is 8th in the Majors and their OPS+ is 11th. Unfortunately, that did not compute into as many runs as it could have, due to the fact, they only had 7 batters, each game, capable of putting the ball in play. In total runs, they are currently 17th. Even when they put Wilmer Difo in centerfield, who at the time was swinging a hot bat, he struck out 4 times and hung an 0 for 5 collar. The pitching and defense have not faired as well. In Defensive Efficiency, they are currently 22nd, which is still a little better, than they have done in the past. In all the significant pitching stats, walks, Whip, ERA+, and FIP, the Pirates rank between 24th and 27th. The only place where they are above average, is striking out batters, ranking 11th. So far, I love the way Shelton has managed. I do not know whose philosophy this is, but the way the bullpen is being managed is brilliant. Everybody is getting their chance to pitch in some high leverage situations, and there does not seem to be the proverbial 7th and 8th inning man. Yes, Rodriguez does seem be the possible closer, but with the Pirates leading 2-1 in the eighth against the Padres, it was Chris Stratton, warming up in the bullpen. The Pirates did score 3 runs in the eighth, but Stratton was warming up before they scored the runs. I hope this bullpen philosophy continues. He seems to be trying to have a very stable starting line-up, with none of what I call the strange Sunday line-up, that Clint Hurdle was famous for. The Pirates are going to play 15 of their next 20 games on the road. In order for this team to remain viable, they need to at least tread water, and stay somewhere between 3 and 5 games below .500. What needs to happen?

Hopefully, Hayes will come back sooner than later, and can stay healthy. There has got to be better production from the centerfield position. Forget the DH, right now the Pirates have 2 pitchers batting in the line-up as it stands now. That has to end soon, no matter how that is accomplished. Polanco is beginning to show some life. If he can continue, and stay healthy, and not hurt anybody else, like throwing a bat in the dugout, or running over Phillip Evans, then that will be a big plus. Hopefully, the base running and fielding will improve. It should, when Hayes comes back. Then, there is the K twins. I wish K stood for strike out artists, but instead stands for killing any chance of winning a game, when they start. Mitch Keller and Chad Kuhl have got to start pitching better. This is the coaching staffs biggest challenge at the moment, getting these two back on track, and staying on track. The whole rotation needs to improve. Nobody has gone 6 complete innings. That hopefully will start to happen. No matter how well Shelton can handle the bullpen, it needs a rest, once in awhile. With all the problems, and some bad luck, running into a red hot hitting Cincinnati team didn’t help, the Pirates won 5 out of 13 games. That doesn’t sound that great and the next 20 games could be difficult, but with any good luck, we will still see the Pirates right around .500 when we visit them again on May 10th.

Meditation: Results

When you read or hear anything about life, or life coaching, it is always about the journey not the destination. It is about the process, not the outcome. This subject, results, could have been written under any of the titles, that I discuss. Food, how does it taste? Golf, what did you shoot? Sports, what was the final score? Meditation, what are the benefits? All the answers to those questions, have nothing to do with the process, but the results. On your job, you need to have results. What is the bottom line? Every boss has said, at one time or another, I do not want to hear about any excuses, I want results. We all want to get to our destination, whatever that may be. People set a goal, and some will have a plan to achieve that goal. The best laid plans can go awry, due to many unforeseeable circumstances. This philosophy, that what’s important is the journey, or the process, is just a way to help handle failure. I am not too sure, if that’s the reason, that coaches try to get their clients to think this way, but to have this results only attitude, is not something that is going to improve your health.

There is no question, the sports fan is at the top of the list, of the results only philosophy. You will see many fans tweet, that if my team does not reach the championship game or series the season is a failure. Now in professional sports you are really fighting the odds. There are 30 to 32 teams in each of the four major sports leagues. That means, that with everything being equal, there is only about 3% chance, that your team is going to win the championship. Now, we all know that everything is not equal, so there are going to be some teams that have a better chance than others, to win the title. The teams that do win the title, seem to have some process, or plan, and when it succeeds, then everybody tries to copy them to some degree, with various results, that are usually not as successful as the original team. One thing about the process it is not ignored, especially in golf. In fact the process is given too much credit, by some professional golfers, who have had success in the past. They have a had a great stretch of golf covering years, and run into a bump in the road, and will change coaches, and swings, to see if they can recapture their previous success. Sometimes they don’t even need a bump in the road, to completely revamp their swing, supposedly, trying to get better. The best example I know of this, is Tiger Woods. After winning the Masters by 12 shots, he changed his swing. Now because he went on to have great success, that decision is not questioned, as much as it should be. There are many other examples of this in golf, the most recent is Rory Mcilroy, who is going through this process right now. He is only ranked 11th in the world, I would be changing my swing, too. Is it really the journey, and process, and what are we to do if the results are not what we want?

To get the first part of question out of the way quickly, the answer is a resounding no. If this kind of thinking helps you, then go ahead and continue, but do not delude yourself into thinking, that results do not matter. The one factor that is forgotten about, when there is any successful outcomes, whether it be on a small or short term scale, or a large or long term scale, is luck. Yes, that’s right good old luck. We never give luck enough credit, whether it be good or bad luck. The reason for this, is if we think luck played a major role in our success or failure, it takes the results, out of our hands. It can also, make it seem like all the hard work we put in, may have been wasted, if we were not lucky. Instead of being grateful for our good fortune, we brush it under the rug, and try to forget about it, because we do not want to lessen our accomplishment. This doesn’t really lessen the accomplishment, it is just our perception. When our luck is bad, we don’t talk much about it then, because it looks like complaining. If it is not the journey or the process that is important, how are we to handle the less than desirable outcomes or failures. You have to handle failure with acceptance. In other words you almost have to be happy to fail. This will not stem your desire to succeed, but it will allow you to move on, and possibly try again, or move into a totally new direction, with a new plan. It is the process that allows you to try and find your path. There is that fine line between having faith in yourself, and continuing on the journey, or finding a new path toward a different life goal. It is the hardest part of the whole process, of finding your way through this life. Results are important, but the most important part of any result, is what you do with it once you get it.

Sport: Pittsburgh Pirates 2021

In a few hours from now, the Pittsburgh Pirates will embark on the 2021 season. This will be the first full season of the Ben Cherington-Derek Shelton regime. The predictions for this season are dire. One headline read, the Pirates embark on their 2021 season, and they are going to be terrible. One person on MLB Network predicted they would lose 115 games, which would be one of the worst seasons in Pirate history. This is all because the Pirates are on the rebuild, or are they? When pressed about this, Ben Cherington has refused to say the word rebuild, and nobody seems to notice. If the Pirates are rebuilding and/or tanking, why didn’t they get rid of everybody. They only made 3 trades, and yes, they added a lot of prospects, to the point, that they have moved into the top 10 of minor league systems. But they still have Adam Frazier, Colin Moran, Kevin Newman, Gregory Polanco, Jacob Stallings, Erik Gonzalez, Richard Rodriguez, and Steven Brault. With the exception of Polanco, all of these players have value, and would have brought even more prospects to the team. The one excuse that is made, is that these players will have more value at the trade deadline, and will bring even more prospects, as the Pirates languish in last place in July and August. The other reason given for such a poor season this year, is how bad the Pirates were last year. They had a record of 19 and 41, which would compute out to 51 and 111 for a 162 game season. In my view, the Pirate management looked at last season as a lost season, anyway. Instead of trying to win games, management decided to evaluate talent for 60 real games, and I think they succeeded. During the 60 game season, they played players all over the place, and used a different batting order, almost everyday. This led to some surprising cuts at the end of spring training. The most surprising in my view was Geoff Hartlieb. He has looked very good at times, and last year had an ERA+ of 127. Obviously, at least for right now, the Pirates feel they have better options in the bullpen, than Hartlieb. The same thing can be said for Edgar Santana, another pitcher with decent major league experience and an ERA+ of over 120,the last 2 years that he pitched. Not putting Cole Tucker and Todd Frazier on the opening day roster, is significant. What kind of season do I think the Pirates are going to have?

I think this team will play right around .500 baseball, and with any luck will finish with 85 wins. Now things won’t have to be perfect, for them to do this, but a few things will have to break their way. The rotation is very thin, and they will have to avoid any more serious injuries, like what’s happened to Steven Brault. He looks like he may be able to return in June, but who knows. The infield is solid and hopefully will have some improved hitting from Frazier and Newman. Moran at first base may be a disaster, but I think Phillip Evans may wind up as the regular first baseman, and Todd Frazier may come up and fill some of that void. Hayes at third, will be solid, no matter what he hits, and hopefully he reaches full potential this year. The outfield does not have a lot of depth but again Evans and Adam Frazier can fill in there, but I hate to see Frazier move off 2nd base, where he really seems to have found a home. Hopefully, Brian Reynolds can get his hitting stroke back, and I am confident he will. Then there is Gregory Polanco, the 11 million dollar man. Hopefully he does not run into anybody and end their season like he did last year. Since 2014 he has had 3 decent seasons for the Pirates and 4 horrific seasons either due to poor play or injury. He practically destroyed his body, sliding into second base in 2018, and has not been the same since. He has become the project of the Pirates hitting coach, Rick Eckstein. If Polanco can stay healthy and have a 2 to 3 WAR season it will go a long way in helping the Pirates, be a competitive team. The bullpen should be solid, and it will be interesting to see how Shelton handles the various arms, and how the Pirates are able to finish close games. I think one of the biggest keys, will be if Richard Rodriguez can develop into the main high leverage guy, and if he doesn’t who will. We will all see what happens with this young Pirate team. Every 10 games I will do a blog on how the season is going. I watch every game they play when televised. I also watch the game with no sound. I am not going to listen to Joe Block, ask questions, that my grandson would ask, who is just learning the game. Could this season be one where they might lose a record number of games? Maybe, but I do not think so. See you at the 10 game mark. HAPPY OPENING DAY! Let’s go Bucs!

Sports: Opening Day, The Best Day Of The Year

That’s all you have to say is opening day, and everybody knows that means the first day of the regular season in baseball. This opening day, is even more significant, as baseball tries to have the first normal regular season in sports, since the pandemic began. It all begins on Thursday, and for me, this is the best day of the year. I know that pro football has supplanted baseball, as the most popular sport, in America, but there is only one sport, that is called our National Past Time. There is still nothing like it. It should be declared a national holiday, and kids should be off school, to either see the games in person or watch them on TV. This year many kids are off, thanks to the Easter break. This year baseball is doing it right, with all 30 teams starting on the same day. Even though around here, it will be far from a spring day, you know the good weather is about to begin. The days will be getting longer, and the wonderful days of summer are just around the corner. There will be that nice secure feeling, that you are about to settle in, to that long, and beautiful 162 game season, that was so missed last year. Yes, the 60 game season was better than nothing, but just barely. Sixty games of regular season baseball, well, it’s just not right. It seemed it was over in an instant, and baseball was very fortunate, that the best two teams made it through the expanded playoffs. This year with the exception of the 7 inning doubleheader, we are totally back to the way things use to be in baseball. The playoffs are the same this year, as they were before Covid, with 5 teams getting in, from each league. As of now, there will be no DH in the National League. Hopefully baseball will be able to maneuver through this long regular season, with no major Covid problems.

I have been following baseball, and the Pittsburgh Pirates since 1958. I will write about the 2021 version of the Pirates on Wednesday. With all those statistics, baseball helped hone my math skills, which in turn, helped me to get into veterinary school. I played the game right through the 60’s until I became obsessed with golf. Baseball to me, is still the best sport to watch, and follow, and by far the most interesting. The most unique thing about the game, is that there is no clock. In order to win a baseball game, a team has to accomplish getting the last out of the game. There have been many times, where teams have never been able to do that. There is no running the clock out in baseball. Baseball is by far the most historic game we have, beginning organized play in 1876, with the birth of the National League. The game has had its ups and downs, through out history, just as America has. It was the No. 1 game in America for almost 100 years, until football took over in the late 1960’s. It is the sport that has it all. Even though there is the team concept, you have that mano a mano confrontation between the batter and the pitcher. Baseball has more strategy in one game than football does in an entire season. Baseball is the only sport whose head man is called a manager. The game and the team needs to be managed, not coached. This week, we will feel as close to normal as we have been in over a year, when opening day arrives. Let’s hope that America’s Pastime, is just the beginning of those normal feelings, as we push past this pandemic.

Golf: Sam Snead

Sam Snead is the golfer, that is most overlooked, when talking about the greatest golfers of all time. Other than Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, there is not a lot of argument given, for anybody, to join them. in the discussion of the greatest golfer of all time. In fact, in some rankings, you might find Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Bobby Jones, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Walter Hagen, and even Harry Vardon ranked ahead of Snead. The biggest reason for this, is that Snead has this gaping hole in his record, of never being able to win the U. S. Open. He finished 2ond four times, and the one that stands out, is the 1939 Open, where he needed just a par to win the tournament, and made a triple bogey 8, to fall to 5th place. Snead said, that he thought he needed a birdie to just tie for the lead, and played the hole aggressively, which resulted in the 8. Such a thing would have never happened today, with all the scoreboards around. It is not to say that he would have parred the hole, but he certainly would have played it differently. But Snead’s career had many more highlights, than lowlights.

He won 7 major titles, 3 Masters, 3 PGA’s, when it was a match play tournament, and one British Open. He has 82 official PGA tour wins, and but also a total of 142 professional wins, including being the only man to win an LPGA event. It was in 1962, a par 3 event in Florida, and Snead defeated 14 LPGA players including Mickey Wright. It was held the previous year with 24 men and women playing, and Snead finished 3rd, losing by 2 shots to Louise Suggs. Snead joined the tour in 1937, and over the next 25 seasons won at least one tournament every year, except for 1943, due to military service, 1947, and 1959. He won the Greensboro Open for the 8th time, in 1965, at the age of 54, making him the oldest winner of a PGA tour event, to this day. He won on the senior tour in 1980, making him the only golfer to win senior and regular tour events over 6 decades. Snead made a lot of noise on the PGA tour, even when he was in his sixties. He made the cut at the U.S. Open at age 61, which is a record. He finished in the top ten in three consecutive PGA Championships at ages 60 to 62. In 1974 at 61-62 years of age, he played in 13 events, made the cut 11 times, and finished in the top five 3 times, a 2ond, a 3rd, and a 4th. In 1979 at age 67, still competing on the PGA tour, he was the youngest player to ever shoot his age. On longevity alone, this man could be considered the greatest of all time. His greatest year was 1950. Playing in 25 tournaments, he won 11, finished second in 5 and 3rd in 2. Yet, Ben Hogan was voted player of the year, because of his comeback, and winning the U.S. Open, his only win that year. Before Tiger, Golf Digest voted Snead the 3rd greatest golfer of all time, behind Nicklaus and Hogan. There has always been, some kind of prejudice against Snead, for some reason, in the golfing press.

Snead had this kind of down home folksy persona, but he was, also, pretty much of a skin flint, and was always looking for ways to make money, from everyday activities. There were many stories from the Greenbriar, where he was the pro, where he would ask to join a group, then ask for 100 dollars, from each member of the threesome, to do so. He was notorious for not tipping caddies, and for keeping all his money in cans, buried in the back yard. Nobody in the media, really wanted to ordain this guy, with the G.O.A.T. tag. The U.S.G.A. never seem to like Snead either. The method of croquet putting, where you straddle the line, was invented around 1961, and was being used in sanctioned professional events. It wasn’t until Snead started using it in 1967, to combat the yips, that the USGA got all up in arms about it, and banned the method in 1968. Snead was considered double jointed, meaning he had hypermotility in his joints. There is the famous picture of Snead kicking the top of a door frame when he was in his seventies. How much this helped his swing will never be known. Sam Snead was just a better and more natural player than Ben Hogan. When you think of the greatest golfer of all time you can not simply look at statistics. Think of a beautiful and powerful swing that created some of the finest shots in the history of golf. Think of somebody who played competitively, on the PGA tour, for over 40 years. Think of Sam Snead.

Sports: Baseball, Eliminating the Great at Bat

Anybody who watches or follows baseball, knows what the great at bat is. For those of you that don’t, the great at bat, is where the batter battles the pitcher, by fouling off pitch after pitch. The pitcher will throw between 10 to 15 pitches, and once in awhile more. No matter what the batter does, strikes out, makes an out by putting a ball in play, or gets a hit or a walk, the announcer will say, that was a great at bat. I absolutely agree 100%. It is also very BORING and TIME CONSUMING. As the pitcher gets more and more frustrated by the batter fouling off all those pitches, he usually slows down his approach. In the era of 100 pitch counts, the pitcher is using up 10 to 15% of his limit on one batter. Other than the appreciation of the great at bat, there is nothing good about the great at bat. It slows the game down, it is by far, the longest period of time in the game, where there is little, or no action, except the pitcher throwing, and the batter swinging, and fouling off pitches. It wastes the pitcher talents, by having to throw so many pitches, to one batter. The problem is the foul ball. Baseball has never really known what to do with the foul ball. In the beginning, it was hard to define, and through the years the definition changed. The one thing that has never changed, is there is no penalty for foul balls, except when you foul off a bunt attempt, with 2 strikes, and your out. This all needs to change, if baseball is going to move along in the 21st Century, and add some excitement to the game. It will take a couple of simple, but bold rule changes to make this happen.

We need to make 3 the magic number in baseball. We already have 3 strikes your out. We need for 3 fouls to be an out. Foul balls would become a separate entity. Finally, walks would be reduced to 3 balls. Let’s look at what this would do. The most pitches any batter would face would be 7. The new full count would be, 2 balls, 2 strikes, and 2 fouls. This would be the first true full count, because on the next pitch something is going to happen. The batter is going to strike out, foul out, walk, or make an in play hit, or out. There would be this defined end point, to the pitcher-batter confrontation. It would be the first time in baseball history, that you would know, that something was going to happen, on the next pitch. There would be this new, and I’m sure some would call odd strategy situation, when a batter would foul off the first two pitches. He could take 2 strikes in a row. However, does the pitcher groove two strikes, thinking the same thing. Would the batter take those strikes, or would he go after those pitches risking hitting the 3rd foul ball, and making an out. With these rules in effect, the starting pitcher would have more of a chance of going deeper in the game. Pitchers would be forced to throw the ball over the plate more. The 3 ball rule may not get more balls in play, but it would make walks happen faster. These two rule changes would keep the game moving. It might not cut down how long a 9 inning game lasts, in time, but in that time frame, there is going to be a lot more action. Baseball is realizing that people can not spend 3 to 4 hours at a baseball game. We now have the 7 inning doubleheader, and a runner on 2ond, to start an extra inning. Baseball needs to continue to catch up to the times, and have a game that is going to have continuous action, and not a spot in the game, where one batter fouls off pitch after pitch after pitch, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. This is the best way to get new fans to start watching, what use to be called the national pastime.

I would be remiss, if I did not mention the NFL Championship games, where my predictions were 50-50, just like flipping a coin. Even though I thought Kansas City would beat Buffalo, I thought Buffalo would give them a better game. They jumped out to that 9-0 lead, when Kansas City muffed a punt, and Buffalo recovered on the 2 yard line. But after that, the Chiefs dominated the action, for a fairly easy 38-24 win. Is Tom Brady riding some kind of destiny thing? I don’t know, but two teams in a row have handed him victories. The Packers weren’t quite as bad as the Saints, but a 50+ yard touchdown pass with 12 secs left in the half, that wasn’t even a Hail Mary, was horrific. Then boom, a fumble to start the 2ond half, returned to the 8 yard line. One play later, Brady threw a touchdown pass, and the Packers put themselves in a huge hole, that they could not overcome, even with Aaron Rodgers. Will the fates be kind to Tom Brady for a third time, who knows? I will be watching, the game only, as I speed through every one of those God blessed commercials, and the ridiculous half time show, on my DVR.