Sports: Pittsburgh Pirates

Yesterday, the season mercifully ended for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  It ended with Steve Blass being honored for 60 years of service, and Clint Hurdle being fired. Leave it to Pirate ownership to even screw that up.   It was two seasons, one before the all star break, and one after the all star break.  Before the All Star break, this seemed to be a gritty team, that seemed to be overcoming devastating injuries and was only 2.5 games out of first place, and only 1 game below .500 at 44-45.  Even though the all star game is considered the half way point, it is slightly beyond the half way point. There were only 73 games left in the season.  It was like a switch was flipped after the break.  The Pirates went on a total collapse and lost 24 of the next 28 games and the season was quickly over shortly after August first.  They went from this gritty battling team to a team that fought among themselves, got arrested, and simply could not play the game anymore. I feel that it was this stretch of games and the depth of the collapse that led to Clint Hurdle being fired.  What the hell the happened?

First the cold hard facts.   They were one of the worst pitching and fielding teams, in the National League.   One of the  three most important pitching stats are ERA+, FIP, and Whip.  The Pirate staff ranked Last in ERA+, 11th in FIP, and next to last in Whip.  Their strike out to walk ratio was 13th.   They went from a little above average in 2018 to one of the worst staffs in the National League. Going into this year, this was supposed to be their strength.  On defense they were even worse.   Defensive Efficiency Rating, they were last. Defensive Runs Saved, they were next to last.   Total Zone Defense, they were last.  They went from a below average fielding team to one of the worst in the National League.  They had the worst fielding 3rd baseman in all of baseball this year and maybe in this century.  They had only one player who fielded his position at above average,2ond baseman Adam Frazier.  Even Starling Marte was way below league average this year.  This could not be offset by having  only an average run producing team. Runs scored the Pirates ranked 10th in the league.   Their OPS+ was 7th and OBP was 9th.   However, this team was able to stay in the race for 89 games.  Let’s move on to some subjective things and things that were not done that could have helped this team.

Injuries were a big part of this season for the Pirates, when in other years they have been very fortunate in keeping players healthy.  But not all injuries were a bad thing. If it were not for injuries, Kevin Newman and Brian Reynolds would not have had the opportunities to have the good years they had, with Reynolds being the WAR leader at 3.9. It was the pitching injuries, that were the most devastating, in more ways than one.  Jamison Talion won’t be pitching until 2021 and he was the ace of the staff.  Every member of the starting pitching rotation spent some time on the IL.  When they came off the IL they still did not seem to be back to 100%.  Trevor Williams and Chris Archer never seemed to regain their form once they returned from being injured.  Despite the bad fielding the  team collapse can be tied to the total pitching collapse. During the 28 game stretch the Pirate pitching staff gave up an average of 6.3 runs per game. The four games they won they gave up 2.5 runs per game and the 24 they lost they gave up 6.9 per game.   It was just horrible and they had worse stretches than that, later in the year.   Then, there was the clubhouse tensions. Even though most of the fighting that was reported was after the 4-24 collapse you had to know that this was not a happy clubhouse from  the start of the season.  Usually clubhouse harmony is not an essential part of winning, but I think it is more important when the teams talent level is middle of the road.  I think you have to have a bit of mutual respect and loyalty on the team to get the most out of the unit.  I have always felt in years past that this  was the case with the Pirates.  They seemed to be a close knit bunch. That was not the case this year.   Management did next to nothing to help the team combat the injuries.  They could have gotten pitching help that was desperately needed and some defensive help.  It was like they knew this was coming and that the team was going to take the plunge.  In the end it cost Clint Hurdle his job and the future is looking bleak.   The pitching staff has to be almost completely rebuilt.  This will cost money and this ownership has not done this in the past.  As the GM likes to say they will look to improve internally.  Don’t look now but your innards are pretty well diseased.   Naturally they will look for a new manager.  Who they choose under the current situation won’t make any difference.    It’s going to take some bold moves to get this organization back to contend. Don’t hold your breath.

 

Golf

Golf, the game for the masses, that everyone can play and enjoy. You can play the game of golf until the day you die. People are playing golf in their nineties, and kids can start playing when they are five years old. It is the game for everyone, but is it. For what ever reason golf has always had some kind of unwritten caste system. There is really never an exclamation on why this wonderful game became this way. Even within the game, there was this elitist attitude with the general public, when it came to golf. The golf professional was looked upon as a lower class citizen, during the first third of the 20th century. During tournaments that were held at country clubs the golf professional was not allowed access to the clubhouse facilities. Speaking of the golf professional, their organization, the Professional Golfers Association of America, had in its  by laws until 1961, that in order to be a member you had to be Caucasian. Let that sink in for awhile.

Country clubs are the last bastion of I want to play with my own kind, philosophy. The unwritten rule that many clubs would not allow minorities and people of the Jewish religion is still going on, but there has been some change recently. In the last 10 years there are more  country clubs allowing in their first African American members. There are still many all male golf clubs. There are many rules at most country clubs. Women can only tee off at certain times on the weekend, usually after 11am. The clubs try to make up for this my giving women a day like on Tuesday from 8 to 11 when they have the priority. WOW. There’s the men’s grill, and other rules and regulations that do not exist in what I would call the real world. The justification for these attitudes are we paid a whole lot of money to belong to this club and we will make the rules and play with who we want to play and associate with. If this has been the policy  for years to exclude minorities in country clubs and treat women as second class citizens, why has there been this gradual change to begin to open up the doors to a more diverse group of people. We all know it has nothing to do with a change in social consciousness or attitudes. It has to with $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. Yeah, no kidding. The country club world is hurting, and now needs more members to enjoy all those restricted amenities. This is all well and good. If this leads to more minorities being able to play and enjoy some of the finer golf courses that this country has to offer, great. If this leads  to better treatment of the female golfer, wonderful.   I am sure we may see more  of these positive changes as the golf economic crunch continues.  

This has been going on in golf for years and years, and I am not going to make judgements, or go on about golf’s apparent lack of social conscience.  My question here is, how did this simple game of knocking a little ball around to put it into a hole, develop  this elitist attitude. I am not sure, but here is what I think.  As golf became more popular over the years there was one thing discovered about golf when compared with other sporting endeavors.  Golf could humiliate you like no other sport could.   It’s so simple and looks so easy.   But when you miss that first 15 inch putt, make your first whiff, or take 10 shots to try and get out of a sand trap, before just picking up your ball and walking sheepishly to the next tee, you know that there is something wrong with this game or maybe it’s you. Now it’s bad enough to do this in front of your friends, but to do this in front of strangers, or in front of people that you perceive is  below your so called social standing, is even worse, and adds to the humiliation.  The solution is to simple keep them away, and play with your own kind, to suffer the shame with your dear friends, who know what you are going through. Let’s face it, humility is not one of the traits of captains of business. Golf is simply that game that brings out the worst and the best, out of everyone.  It is too mystifying to be believed, and impossible to explain to someone who has not been through it.  It is this lack of understanding of golf, that has led this great game to develop this caste system. See you on links.  I will be the one walking with my head down while shaking it from side to side.    

100% Mental Golf: Rounds 81 to 85

Back from vacation and back to the golf grind.   Five rounds of golf played with one of those a scramble,  and little progress to report.   The four individual rounds ranged from a low of 75 to a high of 82.  Again trying to make this game 100 % Mental is turning out to be way harder than expected.  When you are trying to improve, which we are all trying to do,  it is just about impossible to not try and tinker with some part of the swing.  I even brought back the old shoulder control swing for about  33 holes but abandoned that again.  The address position thing I was doing is gone.   Despite by being unhappy at times with my ball striking, my lack of scoring comes down to one big work this year.

PUTTING.   Despite my problems on the greens, which there are many, I am still able to keep my index in the low 4’s, with the latest on the 15th 4.2.  I am just not getting the ball into the hole.   The first thing I am going to change is what I do with the flagstick.  I have left it in for all putts this year.  Overall I think it helps you more than hurts but after doing it all year, I think there are two points that all the flagstick testers are missing.  All flagsticks are not created equal.  I play a variety of courses and I feel there is a difference on how some flagsticks receive a ball.  I do not think there is a standard diameter for flagsticks, but even if I am wrong,  I am not sure golf courses follow it totally anyway.  There is no question the hole looks bigger with the flagstick out.  100% Mental just kicked in.   It goes back to that old Ken Venturi saying that I have quoted before.  If the flagstick is out he trying to make the chip, and if he leaves the flagstick in the hole, then he is just trying to get it close.  So, on any putt under 30 feet, I am taking the flag out the rest of the season.   Longer putts I will decide on a case by case basis.   Sounds pretty serious doesn’t it.  The second thing I am going to do is try to make the most natural stroke for me that I can, and  not use any particular method.  The thing that got me out of my slump in 2017, and improved my putting immensely, was when I started to let my body move on putts. Since then, I have gone back and forth on this method over this 2 year period.  The problem is trying to make your body move on putts, is as bad as trying to keep it still on putts.  It distracts you from keeping your focus on making the putt.  We will see how this all goes in the coming weeks.

By now you see that the blog has a little different look and a slight change in the title of the site.   Since I am beginning to see that I am not going to find the answer after 9 years, I have decided to write about other subjects, that are near and dear to my heart.  They are Meditation, Food, Sports, and I will continue to write about Golf and the quest to find the answer.  Even though I feel I won’t find the answer I am not giving up either.   I will be playing about 4 times this week and we will see how it goes.

100% Mental Golf: Rounds 68 to 80

I am back to the 100% Mental Golf concept and my last 13 rounds have been pretty good. Ten of the thirteen rounds have been between 79 and 74.    One 74, four 75’s, two 76’s, one 77, and two 79’s.   A couple of blips in there with rounds in the 80’s, but over all some good if not spectacular scores.   I will be taking a small break from the game as we are heading for the beach for about five days.  The season is around half way through and I feel I am back on track with the original concept.

Again putting has been a problem, but with five rounds 75 and below it has had it’s good moments.   We played South Park today and this was one of  the 75 rounds and even though I hit a lot of good putts none of them found the hole.  I did not miss any short ones today and I had two birdie putts that were between six and 10 feet that I made. I have made some adjustments to my stance and posture and I think these may bode well for me in the future.   My short game continues to be plagued by some yipping but even that has not been too bad lately.  I am getting more comfortable with my new irons and getting use to the increased distance I am hitting the ball.  We have had a good stretch of weather during this time and that has  helped.

As I head into the second half of the season, one of the things I will be working on is trying to feel relaxed during the golf swing.   Can you be too relaxed while executing the golf swing, your short game, and putting. There are lots of instructors that think you can be.  I am not too sure this is correct.   Can you be as relaxed in your body, as when you are meditating, and still make a powerful golf swing.   Certainly any tension in your body can make executing the swing more difficult.  Not to get too deep here, but is there a spirituality in playing golf, which can be transmitted to the golf swing itself.  Can a relaxed body allow you to focus better and visualize the shot better.  I aim to find out in the coming weeks.  Won’t be playing the game for about a week, with the trip coming up, so will have to wait and see.  This has been some of the adjustments I have been making at address, with removing tension from my set up and grip.  There are others but again I have only been doing this over the last 3 rounds.  Small sample size, as they like to say on MLB Now.      See you in about 3 weeks

100% Mental Golf Rounds 35-47

I have played 13 rounds since the last blog on May 8.  It has been a bit of a roller coaster and I must say I don’t really know if I stayed the course of 100% Mental Golf. Maybe I should change the name to just 100% Mental.  Played a few courses for the first time this year such as Quicksilver, Hartmans, North Park and Highland Springs.  My scores ranged from 74 to 85.  During the stretch I have 4 rounds in the 80’s and 9 rounds in the 70’s. I had a run of three straight rounds in the 80’s from May 16 to 21.  This little streak caused some concerned, that a slump may be brewing and led to some of the things I did, which apparently helped as the next 5 rounds were all in the 70’s.

After the 3rd round in the 80’s, and it being the worse at 85, I decided that I had to do something a little different.   I decided to concentrate on my breathing while getting ready to hit the ball and during the swing itself.  Now this is not something that is new, but I did put a little different twist on it.   When reading about breathing and the golf swing the advice is to inhale on the backswing and exhale on the downswing.  I did not follow this rule.   I did not try to time my breathing with the golf swing  at all.  I just tried to follow my routine and swing.   My swing may have started when I was beginning my exhale or when I was in the middle of inhale.   I did this for all phases of the game, long game, short game and putting.  The results were quite good, with the very first round  coming in at 74.  The next 3 rounds were good also, 75, 76, and 77.    Then on Memorial Day at Highland Springs I got away from it and had a bad front nine of 5 over par and made another philosophical change that seemed to right the ship and shot 2 over on the back, to end with 79.  The front nine was a major putting problem with 21 putts contributing to the bad score. For now I am not going say what that philosophical change was.  What does this all mean?  I am not too sure.    Thinking of breathing during the golf swing may not be  better than any other swing thought that we usually do.   I am not quite  sure why I stopped the process on Monday.    Have not been able to play the rest of this week because of very unstable weather and I think I needed a little break anyway to mull all this over.  In the coming 2 weeks there is not going be a lot of golf played because next week I am  heading to San Diego to see the grandkids.  Maybe I will ask them, especially the 4 year old.

So where do I go from here and how does this affect 100% Mental Golf.  I will probably play 3 more rounds of golf before a I leave for San Diego and hopefully will learn more. I will go back to the breathing and on the next blog I will talk about the philosophy change whether it works or not. Feel like I am coming down the home stretch here.  Rounding 3rd and heading for home.  Just don’t know if I will be safe or out.

100% Mental Golf: Rounds 27-34

I have played 7 rounds since the last blog and not much progress has been made.  I did have 2 good rounds, a 76 at Fort Cherry and a 76 at Rolling Acre which has a par of 73.  The other 5 rounds were all in the 80’s at the familiar places, Scenic Valley and Fort Cherry, with one round at Pheasant Ridge.  The weather has not been too bad but we are getting rain at least every 2 to 3 days and I must admit I feel that I  have been playing soggy courses forever. This really isn’t an excuse for the bad rounds but it does get old having to clean your ball almost after every shot. I had the 76 at Rolling Acre this past Sunday and it was by far the best ball striking day of the year.  I hit 14 greens in regulation and made 3 horrible iron shots, that led to the 3 bogies.  My putting was not bad but obviously my ball did not find the hole on all those birdie putts. I thought this was going give me some momentum for the week, but both on Monday and Tuesday my game was off and it was hard to tell why. It is still very hard not to think the old fashion way of looking at your swing, when things go wrong even when you know that this is not the answer.    Let’s go back to the Sunday round which was a great ball striking day, and look at those three bad shots.  This may show what 100% Mental golf really means.

I had parred the first 4 holes and came to the 180 yard par 3 fifth hole.  The conditions were chilly and damp.  The hole is slightly uphill.   Even though the pin was cut on the left I chose to cut a 5 iron because I wanted to get the ball in the middle of the green. I was not flag hunting here and this was good thinking.  What was bad thinking, was that the 5 iron was not enough club in those conditions.  I closed the club down at impact and hit a dead straight pull about 35 yards left of the green .  Even with the over the top swing, I was not green high and the pin was in the back.  If I  would have hit a draw 5 iron or  cut the 4 iron, I am sure the results would have been better. From that point my play was stellar but missed about a 4 foot birdie on 8 and a twisting downhill left to right 12 putt on 9 to shoot one over on the front.   The 10th hole is a par 4 and I hit a nice drive down the right side of the fairway.  The pin was cut on the right front of the green and I had about 150 yards to the pin. I took dead aim at the pin which was a mistake.  I did not have a good picture of the shot and hit it way right almost 30 yards off line.   I parred the next 4 holes.   They moved up the tees on the 15th hole a par 5 and after two good shots I was about 40 yards short of the green on the right and the pin was cut on the mid right of the green.   The problem was my ball was on a pretty good down slope.  I tried to hit a high shot and wound up chunking it about 20 of the 40 yards.  Even though I was close to the green and should have played a more conservative shot which would have gone lower and slightly left of the pin and would have wound up around 8 to 20 feet from the pin depending on how far the ball had gone.  Then I went on to par the final 3 holes.

The mystery to me was my bad play on Monday and Tuesday.   But then, when I think about it, I went back to some physical remedies that I did not really need to do.  I am not going into what they were.  It does go to show you just how brainwashed I am when it comes to trying to “fix” your golf game when it does not need really fixing.  Bad decision making leads to bad swings.  Once that gets better then the scores will come.  See you next week.

100% Mental Golf: Rounds 20-26

Played seven rounds of golf since the last blog, and I am floundering a bit, and it may have been because of the last blog.  Lets get to the numbers: Fort Cherry 85   Scenic Valley 78   Ponderosa 77     Fort Cherry 79    Scenic Valley 77    Ponderosa  78    Scenic Valley  78.  Other than the horrendous day at Fort Cherry  the rounds were obviously consistent. If I wanted to be hard on myself, I could say, consistently lousy.  The weather was not great, mostly dark and dreary with some rain here and there, cool temperatures but with little to no wind.  The weather was not the issue.  The Fort Cherry round was a total disaster but I managed to right the ship to the point of making 5 pars and 2 bogeys on the last 7 holes.  Fort Cherry’s par is 70 so I was 13 over after 11 holes and everything was bad.    The rest of rounds were ok  with the normal things from keeping me scoring better.  We all know them.  Putting and short game, with some bad decisions mixed in.

What does the last blog have to do with all this?   I wrote, does 100% Mental Golf mean you totally ignore the physical side of the game.  My answer was no and I explained that I was making sure I was turning my body on my swing and gave this credit for my really good round of 75 at Scenic Valley.  Four days later I follow this round up with one of the worst of the year.  I repeat the question.  Does 100% Mental Golf mean you totally ignore the physical side of the game?  Now my answer is yes.  Now again this is for just us poor pathetic single digit handicappers who are stuck on the number.  How to get to a single digit handicap and be miserable, is another blog altogether.   I am not going to defend this position today, because maybe it will change again, but after the last 7 rounds, I don’t think so.  Obviously turning my body did not help me at Fort Cherry.  In the last blog I made the comment that there is a difference between thoughts and feelings.  Who cares.  Neither one is worth a good crap for very long on the golf course.  It boils down to the body and mind and how they function together.  I think now that some of our preconceived ideas about the golf swing, short game and putting are not right for our own particular golf game.   I am not going to get into specific examples, because this could change  by next week.

We will see what happens over the next few rounds.   I feel there should be 3 golf books that need to be written.

  1.  How to Become a Single Digit Handicap Golfer (At Least a 12)
  2.  How to Become a Scratch Golfer or Die Trying
  3.  Putting:  Get the Damn Ball in the Hole Any Way You Can

See you next week.