Jimmy Piersall played for all of us

Jimmy Piersall

Jim Piersall died Sunday at the age of 87.  Many folks won’t remember his name.  He was a good ballplayer who played the game for parts of 17 seasons for the Red Sox, Indians, Senators and Angels. Piersall was known on the field chiefly for his excellent outfield defense.  He wasn’t bad with the stick either compiling a .272/.332/.382 career slash.  He hit .332 in 1961 for the Indians.  Hit 19 home runs for the Red Sox in ’57.  Not Hall of Fame numbers.  But he made a couple of All-Star teams, won a couple of Gold Gloves, and received some MVP votes.

When I was a kid, I’d watch the Game of the Week Saturday mornings with my Dad. Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese were the announcers, and it wasn’t unusual to hear Pearsall’s name come up in discussion. Even sainted Dave Niehaus would raise his name in remembrance when deep in some 8-0 whoopin’ by the Bash Brothers in 1989 and reminisce with soul brother Ron Fairly.

Pearsall was known publicly not so much for his performance between the lines, but his on-field antics.  He mimicked the movements of teammates and his manager. He was often ejected for arguing with umpires. He is best known for hitting his 100th home run and running around the bases backwards.

He was a bonus baby and signed with the Red Sox in 1950.  He quickly rose through the ranks and became a regular Red Sox in 1952.  Piersall began demonstrating erratic behavior and alienated his manager, Lou Boudreau and many of his teammates.  He was sent down to Birmingham, but his behavior continued and resulted in a series of ejections and suspensions

G.M. Joe Cronin, alarmed, took a personal interest in Piersall’s situation and had his situation diagnosed by a psychiatrist.  Jimmy was found to be suffering from bipolar disorder. Piersall recounts his behavior, diagnosis and treatment quite candidly in his 1955 book “Fear Strikes Out.” A second book followed in 1985, “The Truth Hurts.”  Piersall was never entirely free of his demons.  Though considered an on-field showman, his career is littered with outbursts and ejections. Yet, he continued playing until 1967.

Piersall went on to have a very productive life after baseball in broadcasting and coaching.

Mark Armour wrote a great article about Piersall for SABR, updated on his death June 3. It will provide far more detail than I can.

Piersall is one of those career good ballplayer kinds of guys. His 28.6 career WAR slots him in between Don Baylor and Tino Martinez.  We often overlook his baseball accomplishments in favor of his more “colorful” moments. The man could and did play, played the game well at a no-nonsense point in the game’s history.

But let’s not forget for moment what he overcame and when. I married into a family riddled with mental illness and bipolar disorder.  I watched family members struggle most of their adult lives with the condition, aided by the modern knowledge of brain chemistry and treatments that helped them lead productive lives.  That Piersall managed to play baseball at the highest level of competition, travel from city to city, change of place to sleep, change of food, away from the support of family and at a time when understanding and treatment of mental illness was in its infancy is remarkable.  His story serves as a reminder that anything is possible.

Jimmy Piersall 2

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Ariel Miranda is a thing

Ariel Miranda
Dude. Miranda wins complete game shutout against the Rays 7-1, strikes out nine.

With so much of the intended Mariners rotation scattered around so many trainer’s beds like ungathered bits of cord-wood, the M’s have plumbed the depths of their minor league system to burn innings.  If it’s Tuesday, insert Chase De Jong here. It’s been tough.

Smyly,  gone.  Felix’s mushy arm. Paxton, forearm messed up. Iwakuma, inflamed whatever.

All that is left of the original starting five is Yovani Gallardo, and we could only WISH he was gone. But that would leave yet another hole in a rotation that seems to have found some stability (except when Gallardo pitches.)

If there is one guy I would point to as an anchor to the rotation in the horrifying no-mans land that has been the 2017 season, it would be Ariel Miranda.

Look, before we take apart Miranda’s numbers and hail his solid season, just a nod to Christian Bergman and Sam Gaviglio. When the various collections of Chris Hestons, De Jongs, Dillon Overtons, and Evan Marshalls all exploded figuratively, and in the case of Marshall, literally, those two were called up and have literally served as doorstops.  Their stuff will never be confused with Koufax or Gibson (Bob not Kirk.) They will never be remembered with Joe “Iron Man” McGinnity, but they’ve kept the M’s in games long enough to score. They’ve given the Mariners and their fans an opportunity to remember there are still 104 games left to play, and they are only 2.5 games behind in the wild card standings, and they are only five teams left to jump over.

You might remember that Miranda came over in a trade with Baltimore. The M’s sent an overpriced and underperforming Wade Miley to the Orioles for the Cuban refugee who had struggled as both a reliever and as a starter at the major league level. Miranda finished 2016 trying to find himself, but it was my belief he’d pitched his way into the 2017 starting rotation.

Not so fast. By the end of spring training Miranda was ticketed for Tacoma until Smyly went down with his injury. And given how things have turned out that’s been a good thing.

Let’s be clear, Miranda isn’t perfect, but as depleted and challenged as the Mariners starting rotation has been in 2017, he may as well be. Miranda can throw too many pitches and burn up his available innings in a game, and he allows too many home runs. But since his May 9th start in Philadelphia when he was basically incinerated in a 3.1 inning outing, Miranda has been pretty good.  Two short starts in National League ballparks in close games when Servais decided to pinch hit, but he has allowed two or fewer runs in the five games since Philly, including Sunday’s masterful complete game victory over Tampa Bay.

Here are some of Miranda’s accomplishments thus far.

  • He’s made each of his scheduled starts, 12 to be exact.
  • Miranda is 25th among the 80 pitchers ranked at ESPN for WHIP at 1.16
  • He’s ranked 30th on ESPN and 20th on Fangraphs for WAR among pitchers at 1.5 and .9 respectively
  • He has passed Wade Miley in walks, wins, WHIP, and FIP.

If James Paxton stays healthy and remains in the rotation as its ace, there is little reason to think Miranda isn’t a reliable lefty partner.  Maybe not a number two guy, but as close to it as this team may get this year.  It’s also likely hitters will begin to know him a little better and he may struggle more as the year continues.

I don’t believe Sunday’s complete game win was an accident. I still don’t think we’ve seen the best of Ariel Miranda yet, and he’s a guy worth watching.

Now, a word about Yovani Gallardo.

 

Why I remain a Mariners fan

mike Zunino slam
Mike Zunino’s grand slam capped the M’s scoring in Saturday’s win over the Rays at Safeco Field 9-2.

I wrote this as a fanpost over on Lookout Landing.  Coming on the heels of what I hope is a Mike Zunino coming-out party I wanted to celebrate.  I was limited to 800 words, but every one of them is true.  It’s hard to be a Mariners fan sometimes.  But if you’ve lived in this area as long as I have, and if you live for baseball, as I do, it’s hard not to surrender your heart to the olde towne team.

Yes, I don’t feel like they take very good care of my heart at times.  And I do stomp out the door angrily for a night, or a week or ten days when they are absolutely unwatchable. But I am linked to the Seattle Mariners, and will be until the day I can no longer see or hear.

Why I am a fan of the Seattle Mariners 

I’m not sure I’m the oldest reader at LL, but at 61 I’m certainly not the youngest.  I’ve been a baseball fan as long as I can remember, and my first heroes were ballplayers.  It was Mays and McCovey, and then Koufax and Drysdale.  I could never understand why my friends wouldn’t let them all be my heroes at the same time.

I grew up in Shoreline, not far from the home of the late, great Chris Cornell.  My dad took me to Sicks Stadium to see the Rainiers, and then the Angels. In 1969, something special happened and major league baseball came to Sicks Stadium as the expansion Pilots.  Don Mincher, Tommy Harper and fightin’ Ray Oyler were the guys we followed in the box scores. I loved the Pilots, and if they were dreadful, well, they were our dreadful team, Seattle’s team.

As I prepared to enter high school, two terrible things happened.  Kent State, and the Pilots, who went to spring training as Seattle’s team, took a right turn and became the Brewers.  They were our team.  It felt like having my heart broken for the first time.  If only I could have been a better fan, gone to more games, cheered a little louder they would have stayed and maybe won.

That summer I moved to the Bay Area and became a Giants fan. But Willie,  Stretch and Marichal left. I basked in the A’s glory years with Reggie, Catfish, and Campy until Charlie Finley began to part them out too. I stayed for five years. When the University of Puget Sound called me back to finish my degree, Seattle was different in every way. Sicks Stadium was gone, but the Kingdome was rising in its place.

When the M’s became a thing in 1977, I immediately latched on to them and have been in love ever since. I’ve seen good players come and go.  I’ve seen some great games and some terrible ones.

I saw Jim Presley’s extra inning grand slam to beat the Angels on opening night in 1986 and I cheered with my family when Junior hit his first homer in 1989. I saw Kevin Millwood’s combined no-hitter in 2012.

I also watched Mike Schooler blow up on opening night in 1992 and saw Jose Mesa punt the save in the first Safeco game. In my only playoff game, Roger Clemens threw a one-hitter at the M’s in the 2000 AlCS. In 2014 Fernando Rodney walked four Athletics to lose a game that would have gotten the M’s to the playoffs.

The run of teams that were good and almost good from 1995-2003 was wonderful.  It had the entire Puget Sound area excited, and it was tremendous to be part of that. I’m a teacher and the M’s were always the talk of our school.  The wins, the home runs, the latest Dave Niehaus call. Edgar and Junior, Danny and the Unit, Buhner and Boone. I remember like it was yesterday.

It’s been a long time since this team was really good.  There were some good seasons.  And lots of terrible seasons.  It’s the number of terribles that make it hard to be a fan. Baseball is a process, one in which a team should be constantly building toward success. The guys in charge, Mariners-in-chief, have done stupid, and there’s been an awful lot of stupid for a long time. I’m under no illusions when the team is bad, and I don’t hesitate to call them out.  That’s the privilege of being a fan.  But I don’t ever walk away, give up, and say never, never, never. Never is a long time.

When that happens, all a fan can do is cheer the players.   Ichiro’s hitting.   Felix when he was young and on fire.    Remember Guti in 2009 when he was the best center fielder ever? And I keep cheering today when Nelson Cruz goes deep, or when Cano makes the play behind second that looks so easy, like he’s in a rocking chair. Yes, the pitching may be as bad as pitching can be, but there’s always something for a fan to applaud.

I’ll always be a baseball fan first.  It’s nice that the Seahawks win, but I don’t live or die for football. No, the leisurely pace of baseball is fine for me. I suppose I could choose another team to root for.  But I learned a lesson early in life that if you don’t love your team enough, if you can’t manage an occasional cheer even when they’re bad, your team just might decide to leave town. Yes, it’s been a long time since the M’s were in the playoffs, but I’m proud to be a Seattle Mariners fan, and I know some day I’ll be rewarded too.

M’s survive 4-4 road trip through hell

ariel-miranda-620-620x370

Ariel Miranda pitched just well enough to pick up a couple of wins in the M’s 4-4 road trip to Washington D.C., Boston and Denver. 

Eight days ago I reflected on the challenges faced by the Mariners as they set off on an eight-day road trip to Washington, Boston, and Colorado.  I suggested that, given the current state of the Mariners pitching staff and their offensive struggles, the M’s could consider a three win road trip a success. When they convincingly clobbered the Rockies 10-4 last night at Coors Field, Seattle earned a 4-4 road split.  This was almost miraculous given the quality of the opponents and way the trip began.

The first two games in Washington met all our worst expectations as the Nationals lit up Christian Bergman for 10 runs in four innings on the way to a 10-1 stroll through the mess that is the Mariners pitching staff. The following day, Sam Gaviglio allowed four unearned runs in the first inning on the way to a 5-1 loss. The M’s continued their offensive lethargy, which the pitching just wasn’t good enough, and it looked like the trip could end 0-8.

But Ariel Miranda pulled a rabbit out of his hat and managed to still the Nationals potent offense to win 4-2.  Though the five-inning outing wasn’t his best effort, it was far from his worst.  A nearly spotless effort by the bullpen over four innings held on for the victory.

If the first two games in Washington seemed shaky, the first two games in Boston made the ride through Nationals Park seem like a summer breeze. Back to back shutouts, 3-0 and 6-0 illuminated the Mariners mysterious offensive futility that persisted from the White Sox series and resulted in a RS/RA of 9-52 over eight games.

But somehow in the Sunday finale at Fenway, Christian Bergman found whatever was missing in D.C. and shutout the Bosox through 7.0, and the Mariners found a way to score, beating their AL East rivals 5-0.

At 2-4 the Mariners limped into Coors Field to face the NL West-leading Rockies. The Boston finale seemed to cure them of what ailed the Mariners as they combined decent pitching performances with sufficient offense to sweep the Rockies 6-5 and 10-4.

The Mariners open a ten game home stand against those same Rockies tonight.  At 24–29 they return home in pretty much the same condition in which they left.  Their pitching staff is still dependent on guys who should still be toiling in the minors.  Their offense is wildly inconsistent.  Too many key guys are on the DL. 53 games into the season, we should have a pretty clear idea of who these guys are.

I don’t think we can say that.  With Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyley still on the DL and no clear date set for their return, the M’s will continue with Bergman, Gaviglio and Miranda.  And what happens to an ineffective Gallardo with Paxton returning and others looking like they might be back next month?

How will the projected return of outfielder Mitch Haniger affect the trio currently playing?  Certainly the performance of Ben Gamel has earned him consideration for time in one of the corners as Jarrod Dyson struggles with the stick.

With lots of home games in June against some pretty good teams in the Rockies, Twins, Rays, Astros and Blue Jays, the M’s have to figure out how to win consistently if they are going to jump over the seven teams in front of them in the Wild Card chase.  Not impossible, but every passing game in the wilderness makes it more difficult.

Go M’s

Whither now Mariners?

 

Mariners lose again 2
Ariel Miranda watched Jose Abreu circle the bases after tying the score 1-1 in Friday night’s loss to the White Sox. The Mariners notched one hit against Jose Quintana and the Pale Hose. 

The M’s head out on a tortuous road trip, with a series is Washington, Boston, and Colorado.  The Nationals and Rockies are division leaders, and although the Red Sox haven’t quite caught fire yet, they could do so any time.  Maybe preying on some woeful Mariners pitching will get them started.

The M’s find themselves 20-25 after a terrible homestand.  They began by winning two of three against the last place A’s, but could do nothing with a White Sox team that came into Safeco Field struggling. After managing a run on one hit Friday night, the Mariners offense went meekly, losing 16-1 on Saturday, and 8-1 on getaway Sunday.

Saturday’s immolation came at the hands of fellow arsonists Yovani Gallardo and Dillon Overton.  Together they surrendered nine and five runs respectively over 3.2 and 4.1 innings. Utilityman Mike Freeman pitched the last  inning and allowed the final run. I wonder if he can start.

Sunday’s conflagration began at the hands of Chris Heston, who allowed seven runs over three innings. While Dan Altavilla chipped in the eighth run just for good measure, the remaining four innings were well-managed by James Pazos, Steve Cishek, Mark Rzepczynski and Casey Lawrence.

Yes, the pitching sucks.  At 226 runs allowed, the Mariners have provided more opposing offense than any team in the American League.  More than any team in baseball except the San Diego Padres.

Unfortunately Seattle’s offense has likewise spun down the drain while facing the White Sox.  Over the last three games, the M’s were outscored 26-3.  But you already knew that. Taking it a step further, the M’s totaled only 40 hits in the seven game homestand.  That’s less than six hits per game.  It’s pretty tough to score much without hits.

It could be they’ve just struggled without Robinson Cano in the lineup. Perhaps they’ve been in such early holes, players have tried to do too much.

But the bottom third of the Mariners order with an inconsistent Jarrod Dyson, a catcher tandem of Tuffy Gosewich and Carlos Ruiz, and a Taylor Motter who is showing why he’s a great utility guy, but not quite ready for the daily big time, makes it hard on the other six guys.  Kyle Seager is not all the way back. Danny Valencia is still finding his way.  Guillermo Heredia and Ben Gamel are learning.  Nelson Cruz and Jean Segura can’t carry the team, though they’ve certainly tried.

And hovering over all this mess, is a barrelful of injuries.  We hear reports of who is improving and when we might see them.  Who is having setbacks and who is not.  But, it’s not clear who will be ready when.  Paxton and Haniger back maybe when the team returns from the road trip.  Felix . . . maybe, whenever?  Iwakuma sometime in June.  Smyly, end of June.  Cano will be added to the roster Tuesday.  Zunino has already replaced Tuffy. That’s not likely to be enough.

What’s clear, is the Mariners season is teetering on the brink. They are hopelessly behind the Astros unless that team and its stadium is destroyed in a meteor strike. The M’s are 5.5 games behind the second Wild Card spot.  That number isn’t hopeless, and the league has done a gentlemanly job of staying close to our boys. But there are seven teams in front of the Mariners, and one, the Texas Rangers, has gotten blazing hot. It could be that the M’s catch fire when they get their walking wounded back. Or not.

What is certain however, is this road trip is next on Seattle’s list of crosses to bear. Eight games against quality teams that play well at home.  In the five games in National League parks, they’ll be without their best hitter.

With 117 games left to play it’s hard to say this is the pivotal road trip of the year.  But if the M’s can’t pitch; if their offense hides in the clubhouse and they can’t find a way to win at least three games, it’s hard to see how they get in and stay in the Wild Card chase.  It’s also not hard to imagine M’s management taking this team apart if this spiral continues.

Go M’s.

 

Finally, something to cheer

Christian Bergman

Jean Segura leads the American league in batting, hitting .359.  The man is a machine, seemingly living on base. Nelson Cruz leads the league in RBI’s with 36, a couple behind Nationals 1B RyanZimmerman and tied with all-everything Nationals OF Bryce Harper for the MLB lead. We should celebrate that Jarrod Dyson has eight Defensive Runs Saved and tied the league record for being hit by a pitch three times in a game.

But let’s face it, looking out on the burned twisted wasteland that is the Mariners pitching staff, this team needs a hero, a pitcher who can lead this team to the promised land of post season baseball.  Actually, they need several heroes, but we’ve got to start somewhere.

Last night Christian Bergman threw a 7.1 inning two-hit shutout at the Oakland A’s last night.  The A’s shouldn’t be mistaken for the ’27 Yankees, the 2016 Cubs, or even this year’s Houston Astros, but a dominant pitching performance in a year when virtually every Mariners pitcher is broken or, at best, capable of surviving six innings in a cage with a beer league team, is nothing to sneeze at.

I’m not sure if Christian Bergman is that hero the M’s need.  If he is, he’ll have to prove it every fifth game. But I do know it is the first sort of dominating pitching performance a Mariners starter has had since. Ariel Miranda’s seven innings of shut out ball in a 7-1 win over the Marlins on April 17th.  Yep, that’s more than a month ago.

The M’s, Blowers and Sims, or anybody else can promote all the six innings of muddle Mariner pitchers have managed over the past week, but it just isn’t good enough. Tonight Sam Gaviglio will take his place on the Safeco mound to make his first major league start.  He’ll try to brush away the memories of various Dillon Overtons, Ryan Webers and Chris DeJongs and elevate the team to levels we all hoped for when things were rosy in March.

But every day is a new game.  Every start is just the next one. Today, let’s celebrate Bergman’s excellent performance and hope for another from Gaviglio as the White Sox roll in to town.  We need all the heroes we can get.

17-17 With Every Day a New Adventure

rogers centre

After administering a whupping to Philadelphia’s godawful bullpen for two games, the M’s head in to Toronto’s Rogers Centre to meet the Blue Jays for four games.

I’m not sure which is the bigger story? After five weeks of struggle the M’s have fought their way back to .500.  Or the M’s have four-fifths of their projected starting rotation entering Spring Training on the DL.

Add to the starters, relievers Evan Scribner, Evan Matthews, Steve Cishek, and Shae Simmons.  Add to the pitchers, all everything outfielder Mitch Haniger. Add to the injured, an ineffective Mike Zunino and Leonys Martin and the team that trundles into the Jays’ home is pretty different from the one that rolled into Houston on April 3rd.

The Mariners won five of their last six.  That’s no small feat.  But let’s not get too smug.  They beat an injury-riddled Angels team, a bad Rangers club, and a Phillies crew that may be good some day, but today has a breathtakingly terrible relief pitching.

If all the injuries and moves on the pitching merry-go-round haven’t induced vertigo and oxygen depletion, news today the M’s have additional losses to their roster. Robinson Cano’s tweaked quadriceps will keep him out of the lineup.  Mike Freeman will fill in at second base.  And if things couldn’t be weirder or worse, Cuban players Guillermo Heredia and Ariel Miranda were having visa issues at the border and were not expected to get to Toronto in time for tonight’s game. Miranda isn’t scheduled to pitch tonight, and Taylor Motter will take Heredia’s place in left field.

In addition, Jerry Dipoto has been anything but idle today as he sucks up any potential pitching reinforcements that might aid his ailing staff.  The M’s recalled Zac Curtis from AA Arkansas directly to the big club, and sent right hander Dan Altavilla to AAA.  They also claimed RHP Casey Lawrence from the waiver wire.  He’d been DFA’ed by Toronto.  Dipoto also purchased the contract of RHP Justin DeFratus of the independent Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. De Fratus is bound for Arkansas.  He also snagged  RHP Tyler Cloyd from the independent Somerset Patriots.  Cloyd will go to Tacoma.  Both have major league experience, and De Fratus was once a Mariner property.

Phwah, I hear you exclaiming.  It’s the Blue Jays. They suck!  Well, you’re right, sort of.  The Jays, not unlike the M’s, got off to a slow start and did a swan dive into an empty pool their first 25 games or so.  But they’re improving.  The M’s will be running youngsters Chase DeJong, Dillon Overton and Christian Bergman out to start games that would have been pitched by Felix Hernandez, James Paxton and Hisashi Iwakuma.  They are fly-ball pitchers about to do their business in one of the biggest homer-producing parks in the major leagues.

We are often reminded the M’s have, correctly, scored the second most runs in the American League behind the Yankees.  But they are also third in most runs allowed.

The M’s need to at least split this series before coming home to face a pesky (at least for the Mariners) A’s team, and the White Sox who have hung around the .500 mark with their surprising pitching.

Go M’s