Month: June 2017

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.