Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

When Did Baseball Become An Aquatic Sport?

Rick Kaplan

OAKLAND (August 22) – Performance-enhancing substances are not the biggest threat to the integrity of the game. Neither are juiced baseballs or corked bats.

No, it’s the water !!

H20 is rising around our ballparks, threatening to momentarily turn the Grand Old Game into a water sport.

It may have begun innocently enough in 1973 with the Esther Williams-esqe waterfall and fountains beyond the centerfield fence in Kaufmann Stadium in K.C. Then there was the inclusion of a swimming pool at Bank One in Phoenix in case anyone wanted to get in some laps while the Snakes were getting shut out . . .

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Maybe we should have known something fundamental was happening when the Angels introduced their improbable paper mache whitewater tribute to Walt Disney. Wasn’t Jim Edmonds enough of an attraction in centerfield?

But it was Giants’ Phone Bill Park that has attempted to elevate San Francisco Bay to the exalted status of an epic target of legendary slugggers, such as distant MLB light towers, unreachable upper grandstand facades, and notorious streets such as Waveland, Landsdowne, and Flatbush.

Upper deckers. Light tower missiles off the bat of Redford and Reggie. Assaults on gothic copper facades by the Mick. A suprise Sky Dome dish of spaghetti and hardball, compliments of Chef Canseco.

Screaming, clawing, clomping fans scrambling to corral a wildly bouncing, streetwise, careening baseball outside a hundred ballparks across North America. Historical markers in our heads of the seat where it landed, the catwalk it disappeared into, the impossible “win-a-suit-sign” it almost hit.

But Splash Hits? REI members in wet suits fishing atrociously bobbing baseball flotsam out of the Bay. 41 times in six seasons? That is special?

While ESPN seemed fascinated with Ryan Howard’s fly fishing in the Susquehanna at the All-Star game home run hitting contest in Pittsburgh, I was waiting for David Hasseldorf to surface with Pie Traynor’s First Splash Hit.

Will there be a moat around every new Mallpark? Water hazards in play in right field? Where will Lew Wolff find water in Fremont?

When we were kids it was a sacrilege to get a baseball wet.

It still is.

Besides, I still like the very cool slogan seen around the Coliseum on a number of t-shirts, “Splash Hits 0, World Titles 4”


It’s tough assessing ballclubs in an era of constant injuries and player moves.

I think Marty Lurie’s recent “ten best” list was a good start. Very noticeable and completely sensible was the inclusion of only one NL nine in this group, the Mets.

And if the Mets’ already shaky pitching takes any more hits, the AL could easily claim all ten spots and solidify the Senior Circuits’ new status as a 4A (AAAA) league.

The default of the Nl sure makes these kind of overview columns easier to write, having to survey only the fourteen AL teams, instead of all thirty MLB clubs!

I think the Mets are unlikely to stretch a World Series beyond five games. Even five would be an accomplishment in view of the Cardinal and Astro debacles of the last two years.

So, let’s look at some of the AL teams that seem to be playing well in order to find a likely champ. It’s the hottest team that usually fares the best in the post-season. That’s why so many wild card teams have been ultimately successful recently. They had to get hot and beat out some very hungry clubs to get to the fall, and it just seems to carry over, i.e., the Angels, the Marlins, and the Red Sox in 2002, 2003, and 2004.

Another factor that frequently takes on great importance in the post-season is the ability to win one-run games. The champion White Sox led the majors last season with a 35-19 mark, and then swept the Astros by a total of only six runs in the four games. (Interestingly, the 2004 champs, the Red Sox, had a sub-.500 record in one-run games)

IN 2006, the Tigers hold the best one-run record, 22-13, but it’s the Athletics who have won 15 out of 18 one-runners (making them 24-17 overall) since June 6, by far the best in baseball, while the Tigers have gone 12-8 during the same period. And there are signs of fatigue among the phenomenal young Tiger starters.

The A’s have embarked on one of those second-half runs that everyone in baseball now expects from them at this point in the season. The difference this season is that there are reasons to believe that there will not be a September collaspe as there was in both 2004 and 2005.

Two of the reasons are off-season acquisitions Frank Thomas and Milton Bradley. These two, in Thomas with his completely restored intimidating presence and game-breaking ability, and Bradley with his charisma and leadership, give the entire A’s line-up a different look and feel than at any time since the late eighties-early nineties Bash Brothers mini-dynasty.

Together with a tremendous defense and very solid pitching, which may even be augmented by Rich Harden in a relief role down the stretch, and one of baseball’s best benchs, and adequate team speed for the first time in memory, this is MLB’s most balanced baseball team.

To put it bluntly, there are simply not very many teams which can pitch, catch, and get timely hits and when-needed outbursts of power. This combination is going to take Oakland deeper into the post-season than at any time since 1990.

The A’s current opponent are a great example of why balance is so necessary. The Jays can rake, and they have the best righty, Roy Halladay, in baseball. But they are flat out one of the most horrible defensive teams I have ever seen, and this constantly hurts them (What happened to Benjie Molina, probably the AL’s best catcher when with the Angels?). And you can’t win close games with no defense.

The Yankees are as intimidating offensively as anyone on the planet. But can they send out a dependable starter in the post-season following Mussina and a recently iffy Wang? Johnson? Wright? Corey Lildle? You tell me.

Despite the impressive addition of Carlos Lee, for those who think Kev Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Adam Eaton (last start: 11 hits in 5 innings), John Koronka (6 hits, 3 BB in 1.1 innings), and John Reinicker-Robinson Tejeda-Seth Feldman-Edison Voquez (8 hits, 3 BB in 3.2 innings) can pitch consistently, you might be right in another two or three years.


This is really getting old. Glenn Kuiper was again explaining to us that “there is some opinion” around MLB that the World Baseball Classic was detrimental to the health of numerous pitchers who participated in that wonderful display of international baseball.

His shining example of WBC abuse was Bartolo Colon, who has been on and off the DL most of the season. Does Glenn, or Ken, remember that Colon came out in the second inning of the 2005 ALDS, pre-dating the WBC, with shoulder problems (the game in which he was heroically relieved by young Ervin Santana)?

Did Tim Hudson, or Mark Mulder, go the the WBC? CC Sabathia? Jon Garland, who has stunk most of the season?

If you can stand any more about this topic, please see my “ERAs Way Up: Don’t Blame the WBC” from May 2 on this website.

As for Esteban Loaiza and his loss of velocity, who knows? The important thing for the A’s is that he looks more effective right now than at any time since 2003 and his twenty-one win season with the White Sox, and that is probably the biggest development potentially for this club in a while, more significant by far than even dropping a twin bill to the gritty Royals. My hat’s off, until further notice, to Billy Beane.


1 Anonymous { 08.23.06 at 1:55 pm }

Ryan Howard would have to “cast” about 250 miles east of Pittsburgh to fly fish in the Susquehanna.

Do you have any access to, um, facts?

2 Anonymous { 08.23.06 at 10:54 pm }

Dear Anonymous,
Artists use lies to tell the truth. Others may use the facts to tell lies.
Thanks, Rick

3 Anonymous { 09.22.07 at 1:13 pm }

4 Anonymous { 09.22.07 at 1:50 pm }

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