Hot Stove #138 – A Season on the Edge
Just when we thought the Royals season might be gone, they win four in a row. Baseball. Let’s hope the winning streak gets extended tonight in Cincinnati.
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The Season Opens: The Royals season opener was in Cleveland on July 24. You would think that an opening game in July would be the warmest opener in Royals history. Not. The 2020 season opened at a moderate 79 degrees, well below the 91-degree Royals opener in Baltimore on March 31, 1998. For those Hot Stove readers outside the U.S., that’s 26.111 and 32.778 Celsius.
The Royals went 1-2 in their opening series in Cleveland. Meanwhile, the Miami Marlins went 2-1 over the Phillies in Philadelphia. The Royals then moved on to Detroit. The Marlins moved into quarantine. Several of their players and staff tested positive. A new term was added to the baseball vernacular – game postponed on account of pandemic.
As I watched games after the Miami situation, I was somewhat surprised that mask usage was spotty. Non-players were to be masked at all times, but managers and coaches often wore masks below the nose or down around the neck. It was not a good look. Then more bad news. The Cardinals had an outbreak after their fifth game and joined the Marlins in quarantine.
It was time to tighten up, and several new protocols were established. All teams now have compliance officers to monitor clubhouses and hotels. Failure to follow mask requirements can lead to suspension. Players and staff are not to leave the team hotel to go to bars, the mall or other populated areas. Clubs must set up a private area in the hotel that provides room for social distancing and has food and other amenities. All transportation (buses and planes) must accommodate social distancing, and surgical masks (rather than cloth) will be used for travel.
There are several other items, and the intent is clear. Although baseball does not lend itself to a bubble like the NBA and NHL, MLB needs to get as close to that as possible. There is talk that MLB could go to a modified bubble format for the playoffs. To reduce travel, all of the postseason games would be played in cities with multiple stadiums (Chicago, NY, LA, Bay Area), and the players could be isolated in team hotels. And to minimize any weather concerns, the final rounds could be played in Southern California.
The good news – no new outbreaks and Miami is playing again. With so many Covid-19 cases, the Marlins made 36 roster moves in a week, plus added nine new players through waivers, free agency and trade. When they started playing again, 17 of the players had not been on the pre-quarantine roster. How has that gone? Miami won five straight games to go to 7-1 and first place in the NL East. They then lost a couple of games, but as of today remain in first place.
The bad news – the Cardinals are still on hold, sitting idle with a 2-3 record. In comparison, the Royals have played 17 games. So the Cards have a lot of double-headers in their future. Another new rule: those double-headers will be two 7-inning games.
To check out how the new owners of the Royals are handling their first season, listen to this Steve Kraske interview of John Sherman.
Baseball at Kauffman Stadium: On July 31, the Royals returned to KC for their home opener. Rita and I honored the occasion by wearing our new Royals-themed masks. But our venue was Loose Park, not Kaufmann Stadium.
As for Kauffman Stadium, there are no fans, but the field, scoreboard and fountains still look great. As did the sky in this photo by Royals photographer Jason Hanna.
With the overlay of the pandemic and the manipulation of the rules, schedules and playoffs, some have wondered if the season is worth playing. What I know is that I was tired of Netflix and so love the ambience of a baseball game on TV. And we get new baseball stories to tell. Like these from the first two Royals games.
Game 1: The headline in SB Nation read Cleveland 2 – KKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKansas City 0. The Royals struck out 18 times against starter Shane Bieber and his relievers. This tied a team record – Roger Clemens fanned 18 Royals in a game in 1998.
Game 2: The game went into extra innings, triggering the new rule that each team starts any extra inning with a man on second (the “ghost runner”). The idea is to avoid long extra-inning games in this condensed season. In the top of the 10th, Brett Phillips went to second as the Royals ghost runner. Phillips moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and came home on a sacrifice fly. The next batter drew a walk and was thrown out stealing. The Royals had just scored the go-ahead run with NO official at bats. The ghost runner, two sacrifices, the walk and caught stealing do not count as official at bats. The run held up, and KC won their first game of the year.
For those who want to spend some time with video highlights, here are a few that caught my attention. Unique Jacob Junis double play. Mondesi manufacturing a double and a run. Nick Heath celebrating his first big league hit. Sluggerrr covers up the orange jersey of Marlins Man. Former Royal Christian Colon getting the Cincinnati version of the Salvy Splash. Cubs triple play. Outfield assists by two Dodgers, Mookie Betts and Chris Taylor. For a good Yakety Sax moment, click here and see the second video.
Lightning on the Mound and in the Sky: Last Friday night, Rita and I were watching the Royals game. We planned to take a break and switch to Bill Maher, but we delayed when we saw that Josh Staumont was coming on in relief for the Royals. He had gained national attention four days earlier when his one inning appearance put him among the MLB leaders in pitches exceeding 100 mph. CBS Sports gushed that the “Royals’ hidden bullpen gem might have the best stuff in baseball” (click here).
While I focused on the Staumont fastball, Rita noted his other main feature – the man bun below the back of his cap. He showed some good stuff, but slipped on the mound (wet from the rain) and was removed early to be sure he was not hurt. He returned this past Sunday and dominated for two scoreless innings.
Staumont’s lightning fastball was matched in the sky as seen in this photo by Jason Hanna.
1941 – Ted, Joe and Lonnie: I was born on August 9, 1941. Some of you are now calculating in your head, but you can stop. I turned 79 last Sunday. That’s 26.111 Celsius.
So I am old. But my pal John Ashford suggested another word for this. Seasoned. He was also applying it to himself, but he is a youngster – in his first year as a septuagenarian while I am in my last.
In the three months before I was born, from May 15 to July 16, Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 consecutive games.
In the month after I was born, Ted Williams finished the season with a .406 batting average.
Without doubt, two of the most significant individual performances in baseball history. DiMaggio edged out Williams in the MVP voting. Both followed with good seasons in 1942 and then each served three years in the military.
On the 50th anniversary of that 1941 season, Bush 41 (President George H. W. Bush) hosted Ted and Joe at the White House (video here).
George Brett at .400: Moving from one .400 hitter to another. Next Monday, August 17, is the 40th anniversary of a big day in Royals history. George Brett was batting .394 at the start of the game. He went 4 for 4, the final hit being a bases-loaded double that pushed his average to .401. That moment is captured below as he acknowledged the cheers of the crowd. I had given our law firm tickets to client Wayne Tenenbaum that day, and he periodically thanks me for giving him that memory.
George hovered around .400 for a month, getting as high as .407. He dropped below .400 after September 19 and finished the season at .390. Still the highest average since Ted hit .406 in 1941. The website U.L. Toothpick is tracking the Royals 1980 pennant-winning season with daily reports of the games and Brett’s chase for .400 (click here).
Pat Mahomes (Not Patrick): On August 9, 1970, I turned 29. On that same date, Patrick Mahomes’ father Pat was born. More evidence that I am seasoned. Below, Patrick with parents Pat and Randi in 1996.
Pat Mahomes played for six teams in an 11-season major league pitching career. His final MLB game was in 2003. Check out this clip of him in a 1999 game when he was pitching for the Mets. He knocked in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth and then took the mound to finish off the victory.
Both Pat and Patrick have a Royals connection. In 2006, Pat was pitching in an independent league and having an excellent season (11-4). He caught the eye of the Kansas City Royals who in June had hired a new general manager, Dayton Moore. The Royals signed Pat in August and assigned him to its top farm team in Omaha. Pat pitched in seven games at Omaha, but was released in September and did not make it back to the majors.
Fast forward 14 years. To great fanfare, Pat’s son Patrick recently became a part owner of the Royals. Dayton Moore is still general manager.
Negro Leagues Recognition: On Sunday, August 16, all players, managers, coaches and umpires will be wearing a ceremonial patch commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues. This was initially scheduled for June, but the pandemic intervened.
The “Tip Your Cap” campaign of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum continued to draw celebrities to honor the centennial of the league. Check out the main website here. One of my favorites is from Mike Stoller, co-writer of the song “Kansas City” (click here).
Kansas City and the NLBM got national coverage in a Toyota ad featuring 91-year-old Jim Robinson who played for the Monarchs in the 1950s (click here). There is also a good behind-the-scenes video of how the ad came to be (click here).
Graduation – Emersyn: Granddaughter Emersyn was scheduled to graduate with her Blue Valley North class at Municipal Auditorium on May 17. The pandemic intervened, and the ceremony was delayed more than once. It was finally held on July 31 on the football field where the graduates could spread out. That day, we posed for a photo with Emersyn at Loose Park and then played it safe by watching the ceremony via streaming.
Ray Webb – Perhaps You’ve Heard of Him. There is a new tribute post on the Lonnie’s Jukebox website. It features my late great friend Ray Webb and was emailed to those on my contact list who I guessed knew or had heard of Ray. So if I missed anyone, please click here for the post. If you did not know Ray, you still might like the stories of a guy who introduced himself with “Hi, my name is Ray Webb, perhaps you’ve heard of me.” Ray and I crossed paths socially and in politics, law and business. One of our early joint ventures was when I served as campaign manager for his run for state rep fifty years ago (1970!).
Lonnie’s Jukebox – Dion and Bill Shapiro: As public radio fans in KC will remember, Bill Shapiro hosted Cyprus Avenue, a rock ‘n’ roll show on KCUR. It ran once a week for 40 years. When Bill ended the show in 2018, I wrote a tribute to him in Hot Stove #75. Bill died in January this year. Earlier this summer, I got a couple of reminders of Bill.
The first came during the “Radioactive” remote fundraiser for KCUR. In a segment of the show, Bill’s producer Ron Jones delivered a moving memoriam to Bill.
The other came on a heads-up from David Welte who sent me a Wall Street Journal article on Dion’s new album, Blues With Friends. I listened to the album on Spotify and could almost hear Bill doing a Cyprus Avenue show on the album.
Each of the 14 tracks features Dion with a guest artist. Bill likely knew something about every one of them, and I’m sure he would have had plenty to say about Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison. The guest artists are really just backup, as the 80-year-old Dion is front and center. He wrote all but two of the songs. Another favorite of Bill’s, Bob Dylan, did the liner notes for the album.
For me (and David Welte), Dion is a golden oldie from our high school days in the late 1950s. Dion (DiMucci) was the lead singer for the doo-wop group Dion and the Belmonts. In 1959, the group was on a bus tour with several other rock ‘n’ roll acts. After playing at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Dion was offered a seat on a charter plane to the next stop. He declined because he could not afford the $36 cost. Three other stars from the tour took the plane. You know what happened.
Dion became a solo act in 1960 and charted nine top-ten hits. One of those was “Abraham, Martin and John,” and I thought of that when I heard “Song for Sam Cooke (Here in America)” on the new album. This “Sam Cooke” song speaks to civil rights issues from 60 years ago, but it is still timely with our current events. The lyrics are superb and include a mention of Cooke’s civil rights anthem “A Change is Gonna Come.” The lyrics also include references to two hits from my high school days, Sam’s classic “You Send Me” and Dion’s debut hit with the Belmonts, “I Wonder Why.”
Now, for your listening pleasure (click on the song title to listen):
Dion and the Belmonts – “Teenager in Love” (1959)
Dion – “Runaround Sue” (1961)
From Blues With Friends (2020):
Dion with Joe Bonamassa – “Blues Comin’ On”
Dion with Van Morrison and Joe Louis Walker – “I Got Nothin’”
[Van Morrison’s 1968 song “Cyprus Avenue” was the namesake of Bill Shapiro’s KCUR show.]
Dion with Paul Simon – “Song For Sam Cooke (Here in America)”
My thanks to Bill Shapiro for his continuing inspiration.