Posts Tagged ‘Sandy Koufax’

Brandon McCarthy, Scored By a Liner

Especially for a pitcher, keeping your head in the game is not supposed to mean to the point where your head nearly gets taken off.

Oakland Athletics righthander Brandon McCarthy throws Los Angeles Angels hitter Erick Aybar a 91 mph cutter practically down the chute in the top of the fourth Wednesday night. Aybar hits it on the proverbial screws. The ball slams into the right side of McCarthy’s head like a bullet, knocking the righthander down on the mound.

Herb Score and Gil McDougald, call your offices?

Aybar’s liner was hit so hard and fast McCarthy had no chance to get his glove up to knock the ball down. The ball hit McCarthy above his right ear, seemingly, as he was in his follow-through. He was knocked around and bent over at the waist on immediate impact before crumpling to the mound, his back to the plate, falling over onto his haunches and finally into a sprawling heap.

Down and holding where the liner drilled him . . .

The entire population of the Oakland Coliseum, including those milling in the Angels’ dugout, cried in horror as McCarthy hit the deck and Aybar ran over first base following the putout. Believe it or not, there was a putout on the otherwise sickening play. The ball caromed off McCarthy’s head toward third base, where Josh Donaldson fielded it on the run and threw Aybar out.

Then, Donaldson ambled over to join the rest of his infield plus both the Oakland and Los Angeles trainers around McCarthy, who managed to sit up and run his hands through his hair, obviously trying to salve pain. Aybar lingered near and then forward of first base. He looked for all the world to see like a man who’d had a gun blast off in his hands completely by accident and seen a respected neighbour take the bullet.

“I didn’t see the ball until it was right on me. All I know is the ball got really big really fast.”—Herb Score.

Alberto Callaspo, the Angels’ on-deck hitter, squatted in the on-deck circle, leaning forward on his bat, shaking his head helplessly. Aybar returned to his dugout in due course and let his head fall into his hands in utter disbelief, promising himself to check on McCarthy as soon as possible.

He was fortunate that A’s fans these days are a civil bunch when it comes to accidents in honest play. When McDougald rifled his liner off Score’s eye in May 1957, the Yankee jack-of-all-trades was hammered with fan abuse enough. Never mind that McDougald had a gentlemanly reputation parallel to Score’s. (“It was,” New York Journal-American writer Til Ferdenzi wrote, “like Sir Lancelot felling Sir Lancelot.”)

The abuse didn’t stop the heartsick McDougald from calling the hospital constantly, even wresting from staffers the direct line to Score’s doctor, in order to keep track of the fallen righthander. More than that, Score’s mother got McDougald on the phone to reassure him about her son, and about himself.

“You feel really bad,” Aybar said to reporters, as translated from his native Spanish. ”[McCarthy]’s a good guy. You never want to hit anybody over the head, and he’s a good guy. Hopefully everything turns out all right and, God-willing, that he gets better soon.”

This wasn’t even close to the way the Angels wanted to finish what they’d started earlier in the week and sweep the high-enough-flying A’s. It certainly wasn’t the way the A’s wanted to go down, if they had to go down to the Angels. “You try not to let it linger,” Oakland catcher Derek Norris said after the game, “but it’s human nature for it to. Your heart goes out to your teammate. You battle with them throughout the course of the season, but we try our best to motivate us to win it for Mac.”

Applause as McCarthy leaves under his own power . . .

When McCarthy managed to get up at last and walk off the field under his own power—he’ll be held in hospital overnight and miss the A’s trip to Seattle—the standing ovation also included everyone in the Coliseum and everyone in the Angels’ dugout.

McCarthy went down for the count with the A’s still very much in the game, trailing a mere 3-1. In fact, the two sides played shutout baseball from the fourth through the eighth innings. The Angels stranded a pair of one-out baserunners in the sixth and stranded super rookie Mike Trout (a two-out walk, a stolen base) an inning later, while going on to wreck a one-out walk (to Kendrys Morales) with a double play. The A’s best threat the rest of the way was first and third with one out in the seventh, before Angels reliever Nick Maronde celebrated birthday number 23 by punching out Coco Crisp and Sean Smith for the side.

It wasn’t until the ninth that someone got really frisky. Eight someones, to be precise, all wearing Angels silks. Peter Bourjos opened with a walk and took second on Aybar’s followup base hit, before Norris’s miscue in front of the plate let Callaspo load the pads on a bunt. Pinch-hitter Macier Izturis wrung a bases-loaded walk and, after Trout (uncharacteristically) struck out, Torii Hunter turned the merry-go-round back on with a base hit. Albert Pujols’s strikeout wasn’t exactly in vain, with Izturis stealing home on the front end of a double steal (Hunter taking second), before Morales grounded out for the side and a 7-1 lead that would hold with only a two-out single and a strand from the A’s in the bottom.

Mussina had to convince himself everything wasn’t coming back at him . . .

But you can’t exactly fault the A’s if their hearts might have fallen out of it just a little bit.

Bang, bang! Or, as one fan tweeted, presumably from the ballpark itself, “like the ball hitting the bat twice.”

Just a year earlier, Colorado’s Juan Nicasio took one on a liner by Ian Desmond. Nicasio was caught in the neck, suffering a fracture that kept him down for the rest of 2011. In 1998, Mike Mussina, then with the Baltimore Orioles, took a comebacker the hard way and subsequently admitted it he struggled “getting over the fear that every ball I threw, every ball that someone made contact with, was not coming back at me.”

One of McCarthy’s own relievers Wednesday night knows the feeling only too well. Pat Neshek took one in a college game. Steve Shields, a journeyman reliever in the late 1980s and early 1990s, got it twice—once when he was in the Red Sox system, and once as a Seattle Mariner: in his second appearance of 1987, Hall of Famer Kirby Pucket lined one off his cheek, breaking it and causing him to miss a month. He didn’t exactly pitch well on his return.

Lou Brissie.

You don’t have to get it in the face to be taken down for any length of time—and even out. Now a popular Angels broadcaster, Mark Gubicza in 1996 was a veteran Kansas City righthander who took one off his left leg, suffering a fracture that caused him to miss the final half of his final Kansas City. Career essentially over, if you don’t count an aborted comeback bid with the Angels. Matt Clement’s career ended similarly: enjoying a career year with the 2005 Red Sox, he took a liner in the face from then-Tampa Bay outfielder Carl Crawford in July. He managed to make his next start, but the Crawford shot did to Clement what Mussina feared would happen to himself, and Clement was gone a year later.

Several generations earlier, Lou Brissie, the courageous Philadelphia Athletics lefthander, took a line shot off a leg from Ted Williams—on Opening Day, 1948. (Brissie had made his major league debut the previous September, in Yankee Stadium, on the day the Yankees honoured Babe Ruth.) What amplified the horror: the leg was the one Brissie begged military doctors to save, when they wanted to amputate, after it had been all but blown to bits in World War II battle. (Brissie needed 23 surgeries and a metal brace in order to even think about baseball, never mind impress A’s emperor Connie Mack with his courage.)

Brissie went down fast and Williams hustled over from first base to see if Brissie would be ok. “Dammit, Ted,” Brissie is said to have cracked, “why didn’t just pull the ball?”

It’s every pitcher’s worst nightmare. And not all of them handle it the way Lou Brissie and Herb Score did. “I talked to Gil and told him it was something that could happen to anyone,” Score would say in due course. “It’s just like a pitcher beaning a hitter. He didn’t mean it.” After missing the rest of the season recuperating, Score would lose his formidable arm—to faulty mechanics, by his own admission, after he tried coming back too soon from an elbow tear.

The medication that kept him pitching finally left him fearful of a line drive to the face . . .

Retiring at thirty, when he was still somewhere about ten dimensions beyond the top of his game, Sandy Koufax admitted he was prompted in considerable part by the medical regimen he underwent to keep pitching with his arthritic elbow. “[T]o walk around with a constant upset stomach because of the pills and to be high half the time during a ballgame because you’re taking painkillers, I don’t want to have to do that.”

He didn’t have to say it. Phil Collier, a San Diego Tribune reporter, who sat on the story of Koufax’s final season for a year until Koufax himself announced his retirement, said it for him. “He took codeine before he pitched,” Collier once said. “Because of the codeine, it affected his reaction time. He was afraid sooner or later someone was going to hit him in the head with a line drive.”

It was hard not to be grateful that Brandon McCarthy wasn’t on anything but his own power when he went down. That may be the only thing about which we can be grateful on McCarthy’s behalf right now. But it was hard not to remember Koufax’s halting admission to suffering every pitcher’s worst nightmare when looking at the number on McCarthy’s back.

Thirty-two.

Yes, children—minus Strasburg, this Nats rotation DOES have good postseason chances

Let’s try this again.

Assume the Washington Nationals will stick to the script and implement, some time in September, the exclamation point of the Strasburg Plan. Period dot period. Assume, too, that there’ll be enough blue murder screaming over the Nats torpedoing their own postseason chances. Maybe even some conspiracy theorists demanding a formal investigation, perhaps into whether someone isn’t buying the Nats off bigtime to tank. (Would the conspiracy theorists surprise you, really?)

Now, shove all that to one side and look at the Nats’ rotation without Stephen Strasburg.

Zimmermann—Without the Stras, he won’t be leading a rotation of pushovers . . .

Jordan Zimmermann—At this writing, Jordan Zimmermann leads the team with a 2.63 earned run average. If wins and losses are still your thing exclusively, dismiss him if you must as barely above a .500 pitcher, since he’s 9-8 through right now. Want to know how many no-decisions Zimmermann has on his jacket through today? Nine. If you define pitching well enough to win as surrendering three runs or fewer, he pitched seven of those nine games well enough to win, and in five of those seven the Nats did go on to win. So if you still look at wins and losses first and last, Zimmermann should have a 15-8 won-lost record through today.

What do you know. That would give him as many wins as Strasburg has and a mere two losses more. But Zimmermann’s quality stats include a 1.13 walks/hits per inning pitched rate (team lead), a 3.72 strikeout-to-walk ratio (second only to Strasburg’s 4.23), a 1.8 walks per nine rate, and a 0.8 home run rate. He also has 2.9 wins above a replacement level pitcher. I’m not exactly convinced the Nats would be in terrible postseason shape with Zimmermann at the top of the rotation.

Gio Gonzalez—He’d probably win the Cy Young Award if it were going to the most congenially quotable pitcher in the league. He has the second best winning percentage (.696) to Strasburg (.714) as of today. He’s also third among the rotation in ERA—with a nifty 3.28. He only has three no-decisions, and in only one did he pitch well enough to win, according to the above definition. So, instead of his current 16-7 won-lost record, he’d be 17-7, since the Nats went on to win that one game. If you want to cut him a break and say four earned runs or less is good enough to win, Gonzalez could—since the Nats went on to win all three of his no-decisions thus far—have a 19-7 record.

He’s got a 1.16 WHIP through today; he has a 2.80 K/BB rate, he has a 9.5 K/9 rate, and he has a 0.5 home run rate, if that matters to you. He also has 1.6 WAR. In a Strasburg-less postseason rotation, I don’t think you’d be in grave danger with Gonzalez as your number two man.

Edwin Jackson—Start and end with wins and losses and you’d start worrying here. After all, Jackson only has an 8-9 record despite his 3.53 ERA. He also has eight no-decisions, one fewer than Zimmermann. And, by the aforesaid measurement of pitching well enough to win, in six of those games Jackson did pitch well enough to win. The Nats only went on to win one of those games, alas, which would make Jackson a 9-9, but since four of them ended up as one-run games, and you’d like to think a pitcher working well enough to win or better than well enough should have come away with a pitching win. By that, Jackson should be 12-9.

His quality stats are solid for a number three man. He has a 1.17 WHIP and a 2.85 K/BB rate; he has a 1.1 home run per nine rate and a 2.8 BB/9 rate. Look at a Strasburg-less Nats rotation and, so far, you can’t really think of one good reason why this rotation can’t succeed come postseason time. Among Zimmermann, Gonzalez, and Jackson, they average to a 1.15 WHIP rate. Folks, that’s 1965 Los Angeles Dodgers, 1969 New York Mets, or 1971 Baltimore Orioles territory.

Ross Detwiler—The sleeper of the bunch. He’s 8-6 with a better than respectable 3.52 ERA. He has a pile of no-decisions in his own right as a starter (he’s also seen some very effective bullpen duty)—seven, to be exact. Of those seven, he pitched well enough to win six of them, and the Nats went on to win four of those. By that, Detwiler should have a 12-6 won-lost record.

Detwiler’s quality stats are just about even with Jackson’s. He has a 1.17 WHIP and a 2.31 K/BB rate; he has a 2.4 BB/9 rate and a 0.6 HR/9 rate. As a number four man in a Strasburg-less postseason rotation, it doesn’t exactly look as though Detwiler’s the weak link. It doesn’t even look as though the Nat rotation without Strasburg is a weak link.

The entire Nats pitching staff through this writing is worth 17.4 WAR. With Strasburg, the rotation is good for 13.5; without him, they lose a mere 2.6. Believe it or not, Zimmerman leads the rotation with his 4.0. Are you trying to tell me a rotation configured to equal 10.9 WAR would go into a postseason with a gaping handicap?

Of course there’s no way the Nats are where they are without Strasburg. Assuming they hold those levels the rest of the stretch, nobody else going to the postseason in the National League should assume the Nats rotation minus Strasburg would be pushovers. Whoops! you say—whaddabout postseason experience? Gotcha! There’s Edwin Jackson, and there’s all the rest, and shouldn’t the Nats bring every damn last weapon to bear they can bring including Strasburg?

Well, now. Let’s take a look at a few rotations that went into a postseason with little to no such experience to carry into it and see what they did:

A tale of two Hall of Famers—little did Kid Palmer know . . .

1966 Baltimore Orioles—The only pitcher on the entire staff with postseason experience was reliever Stu Miller (1962 San Francisco Giants). Who also led the team in ERA. Except for oft-injured lefthander Steve Barber, the Oriole starters were kids: Jim Palmer was all of 20, Wally Bunker 21, Dave McNally 23, and John Miller 25. You’d have given a staff like that three chances in a World Series against the last of the great Dodger teams of the middle 1960s. Those Dodgers still brandished Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, plus Claude Osteen as the number three rotation man and Phil (The Vulture) Regan having his career year out of the bullpen. The Orioles swept the Dodgers in four straight, though they did get a little help from Willie Davis’s fatal inning in a Game Two in which Koufax otherwise looked like his usual self until then. Maybe they had some incentive not to get another turn against Koufax, but whatever works, works.

Koosman, doing what even a Hall of Famer couldn’t, beating the Orioles twice in the ’69 Miracle . . .

1969 New York Mets—Not a damn one of them, not even veteran Don Cardwell, had postseason experience to speak of entering that postseason. The Mets had one bona-fide Hall of Famer in the rotation (Tom Seaver) and one bona-fide Hall of Famer (Nolan Ryan) as a spot starter and relief option, and about the only postseason experience either had was watching on the tube or in the stands. The Mets steamrolled the Atlanta Braves to win the first National League Championship Series, then won four straight—with Jerry Koosman, not Seaver, winning twice—after losing Game One of the World Series to a Baltimore Orioles team that, on paper, was supposed to make three squares a day out of those Mets.

1970 Cincinnati Reds—The first of the teams to be known as the Big Red Machine had one pitcher (Jim Merritt, a 20-game winner) who’d been to a World Series in 1965 (with the Minnesota Twins) but pitched only 3.1 innings in two relief appearances. Not exactly a well-seasoned veteran of the wars. After burying the Pittsburgh Pirates in three straight in the NLCS, they went down in five to the Orioles in the Serious.

1971 Oakland Athletics—These A’s featured a rotation topped by Vida Blue (having his career year) and Catfish Hunter (future Hall of Famer) and nobody with postseason experience. They got overwhelmed by the Orioles and their four 20-game winners in the League Championship Series, alas. Call it a dress rehearsal for what was to come—namely, three straight World Series rings.

1979 Pittsburgh Pirates—The Fam-I-Lee had one starter, Bert Blyleven, with any postseason experience, and that was a mere two-inning relief gig with the 1970 Twins whom the Orioles blew away in three straight. It may have been one of the classic full-team efforts—no Pirate pitcher was all that dominant in the World Series, other than Blyleven and closer Kent Tekulve—but the Pirates did win it in a seven-game thriller.

“One Tough Dominican . . .”

1982 St. Louis Cardinals—None of this rotation had postseason experience going in, and they didn’t exactly go in looking like a particularly threatening rotation. (Their best starter: Joaquin Andujar, whose 1.09 WHIP was the only one on the staff below 1.25.) The only pitcher on the whole staff with postseason experience was Jim Kaat, by then working as a relief pitcher who only started two on the season. The Cardinals ground out a seven-game Series win over the Brewers, but you couldn’t really say that either team threw a deadly rotation up there. (The Brewers, in fairness, had a rotation slightly worse than the Cardinals’ and two pitchers—Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Don Sutton—on staff, but Sutton was a mid-to-late season pickup and Fingers, of course, was the closer.)

1986 New York Mets—They had no 20-game winners, three starters with ERAs under 3, and nobody with postseason experience. After they steamrolled the National League in the regular season, they had to win the pennant the hard way against a feisty collection of Houston Astros, then win the World Series the hard way against a star-crossed collection of Boston Red Sox. If you looked at the rotation’s WHIP overall, it compares pretty favourably to that of this year’s Nats thus far.

1990 Cincinnati Reds—The stars of this show, arguably, were the Nasty Boys bullpen, among whom only Randy Myers (1988 Mets) had any postseason experience. In the rotation, only Danny Jackson (1985 Kansas City Royals) had been there, done that; in the non-Nasty bullpen contingent, only veteran Rick Mahler (who had sixteen spot starts during the season) had gone to any postseason, and there he’d pitched less than two innings for the 1982 Atlanta Braves. These Reds ended up stunning the A’s with a Series sweep after needing six to beat the Pirates for the pennant.

Young, loud, and snotty . . .

2003 Florida Marlins—No postseason experience ever among the rotation, including young, loud, and snotty (You lost! Go home!) Josh Beckett. Beat the Yankees in six in the World Series, after shoving the Giants out of the way in the division series but winning an arduous League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs.

2007 Colorado Rockies—Had six starters on the year, none of whom took postseason experience into these rounds. These Rockies swept the Philadelphia Phillies out of the division series and the Arizona Diamondbacks out of the League Championship Series—only to be swept out of the World Series, in turn, by the Red Sox.

2008 Tampa Bay Rays—No rotation postseason experience. Not quite as good as this year’s Nats with or without Strasburg. And they got rolled in five by the Phillies in the World Series, after taking the Chicago White Sox in four in the division series and wrestling to a seven-game LCS win over the Red Sox.

Lincecum—no experience necessary . . .

2010 San Francisco Giants—They made themselves into a no-experience-whatsoever postseason rotation. The only member of the 2010 Giants with any postseason experience of which to speak was Barry Zito (when he was with the early-2000s A’s)—and he’d pitched so horrifically in 2010 the Giants didn’t dare include him on the postseason roster. This took the Giants to a World Series against a Texas Rangers staff that had two postseason-experienced starters. (Cliff Lee and Rich Harden.) The “inexperienced” Giants rode that pitching and some very timely and half unexpected hitting to a five-game Series conquest.

Covering twelve teams since 1966 who took little-to-no postseason-tested pitching into any postseason, it shakes out like this: eight of those rotations proved World Series winners. One of those rotations, moreover, beat a rotation loaded with two much-experienced Hall of Famers including maybe the greatest peak-value lefthanded pitcher of the post-World War II era at least and possibly all-time at most.

An 8-4 World Series-winning record among the inexperienced over a 46-year span isn’t exactly a great reason to be alarmed that the “inexperienced” Washington Nationals rotation—with or without Stephen Strasburg—is going to be guaranteed dead meat going into this year’s postseason. If the Nats stick to the Strasburg Plan on behalf of keeping their man’s arm from breaking off long-range, it is not going to kill them going in if they go without him.

That doesn’t guarantee the Nats’ survival, of course. But it does suggest that the alarmists bleating about whether they’re shooting themselves in the feet or “cheating” their fans out of the best possible chances to win are bleating through their derrieres.

Post-Perfecto Studs and Duds

Humber.

While glancing around looking for the top WAR men on major league teams, I noticed Philip Humber through this writing has a -0.5 WAR. (He was due to return Tuesday night, after missing a month with an elbow strain.) Obviously, his perfect game in April didn’t exactly do him many favours; in fact, he may be on track to produce the weakest post-perfecto season’s performance among any pitcher who’s thrown a perfect game.

Up comes the curiosity. How did the men who’ve thrown perfect games in the modern era do to finish the seasons in which they pitched their masterpieces? Without counting Don Larsen, who pitched his in Game Five of the 1956 World Series and didn’t appear during the rest of that set, here’s how:

Young.

Cy Young—Perfect game: 5 May 1904. The rest of the way: We don’t have a game log for Young, but since he finished the season 26-16 with a 1.97 ERA and a 0.94 walks/hits per inning pitched rate, not to mention finishing 9.0 WAR, we can assume, pretty much, that he didn’t exactly struggle the rest of the season.

Addie Joss—Perfect game: 2 October 1908. The rest of the way: It was Joss’s last appearance of the season.

Charlie Robertson—Perfect game: 30 April 1922. The rest of the way: After the perfecto, which was Robertson’s second straight win following a season-opening pair of no-decisions, he went 12-15 and finished with a 3.64 ERA, still below the league average; he finished 3.9 WAR, further suggesting he pitched that season in volume enough of hard luck. Robertson finished his career with the lowest winning percentage among perfect game pitchers.

Bunning.

Jim Bunning—Perfect game: 21 June 1964. The rest of the way: He did go 12-6 (he finished 19-8), but he suffered three straight infamous losses during the equally infamous Phillie Phlop, the ten-game losing streak that cost the Phillies the pennant, when Bunning and Chris Short were wheeled out to start six of the ten and three each on two days’ rest. Bunning still ended the season with a 2.63 ERA; he led the National League in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.76) and lowest walks per nine innings (1.5), helped perversely by Sandy Koufax going down for the season in August when a baserunning injury (of all things) exposed his arthritic pitching elbow. (Never a hitter, Koufax was scrambling back to second base and made an awkward four-point landing on his knees and elbows; the next morning, his left elbow looked like his knee.) Bunning’s 1964 WAR: 5.1. He also incurred seven no-decisions following the perfect game.

Koufax.

Sandy Koufax—Perfect game: 9 September 1965. The rest of the way: The perfecto was Koufax’s 22nd win of the season; it shrank his ERA to 2.14. He lost his next start (his opponent: the Cubs, whom he’d just perfected) but—after coming out of the bullpen two days later to pick up a save on two line outs and a pop out—he went 4-0 with one no-decision, including nailing the pennant clincher on two days’ rest and throwing three shutouts during that stretch. Then, after a Game Two start that was somewhat shaky (he lost, in fact) perhaps due to a little exhaustion, he secured the World Series with two shutouts, the second also on two days’ rest. This was the most sterling exhibition of overall pitching following a perfect game the Show had ever seen until Randy Johnson pitched his perfecto in 2004. Koufax, by the way, finished 1965 7.6 WAR—he was, almost literally, more than half the Dodgers’ pennant by himself—and earned the second of his three Cy Young Awards. And he did it with an arthritic elbow that would mean the end of his career after the following (and show-stopping) season.

Catfish Hunter—Perfect game: 8 May 1968. The rest of the way: Somebody may have forgotten to send the Hall of Famer the memo that this was the Year of the Pitcher. The perfecto was his third win against two losses thus far; he went 10-11 the rest of the way, finishing with a 3.35 ERA. Final WAR for the season: -0.1.

Barker.

Len Barker—Perfect game: 15 May 1981. The rest of the way: In the strike-disrupted season, Barker went 4-6 the rest of the way with six no-decisions; in four of those, he pitched well enough to have won. He finished with a 3.91 ERA. Final WAR for the season: 2.3.

Mike Witt—Perfect game: 30 September 1984. The rest of the way: It was the Angels’ final game of the season and Witt’s 15th win against 11 losses. The perfecto shaved his final ERA to 3.47. Witt’s is still the only season-ending perfect game in Show history (Vida Blue, Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad, and Rollie Fingers had combined for a season-ending mere no-hitter in 1975) and the second beside Koufax’s to end in a 1-0 outcome. Final WAR for the season: 4.3.

Tom Browning—Perfect game: 16 September 1988. The rest of the way: After his perfecto against the Dodgers (he happened to wear the same uniform number as Koufax did: 32), Browning beat the Giants twice but took a no-decision against the Braves in a game he didn’t really pitch well enough to win, with six earned runs against him in eight innings’ work; the Reds managed to eke out an 8-7 win after he left the game. The following season, Browning took a perfect game bid against the Phillies to the ninth, where it was ruined by Dickie Thon’s leadoff single. Final WAR for 1988: 2.6.

Martinez.

Dennis Martinez—Perfect game: 28 July 1991. The rest of the way: El Presidente went 3-5 with a no-decision (he pitched well enough to have won the game; it was his first start after the perfecto), to finish the season 14-11 but with a 2.39 ERA. Martinez would eventually have the dubious distinction of throwing the last major league pitch to Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett—it was a wild pitch that broke Puckett’s jaw in late September, ending Puckett’s season, and may have contributed to the onset of the glaucoma that forced Puckett’s premature retirement the following year. Final WAR for 1991: 5.4.

Rogers.

Kenny Rogers—Perfect Game: 28 July 1994. The rest of the way: Rogers would have two more starts before the players’ strike ended the season in early August. He lost both, but he pitched well enough to win the first of those two starts. Final WAR: 2.6.

David Wells—Perfect Game: 17 May 1998. The rest of the way: Hailing from the same high school as World Series perfect gamer Don Larsen, Wells went from his perfect game to a 13-3 won-lost record the rest of the way. Which shouldn’t be surprising considering he had a season-average 6.78 runs to work with per game. He ended up leading the American League with a 1.05 WHIP, five shutouts, and a 5.62 K/BB rate, sterling pitching no matter how many runs you have to work with. 1998 WAR: 4.5.

Cone.

David Cone—Perfect game: 18 July 1999, on a day when Yogi Berra (finally reconciling with George Steinbrenner) and Don Larsen—the battery for that World Series perfecto—were in the park, with Larsen throwing the ceremonial first pitch to Berra before the game. The rest of the way: Cone went 2-5 the rest of the way with six no-decision games in four of which he pitched well enough to win. (The first of those had to be a real heartbreaker: four of the six runs he surrendered were unearned.) He finished with a 3.44 ERA but a 1.31 WHIP and only a 1.97 K/BB rate. 1999 WAR: 4.8.

Johnson.

Randy Johnson—Perfect game: 18 May 2004. The rest of the way: The oldest pitcher ever to throw a perfect game (he was 40 when he turned the trick), the Big Unit went 12-10 the rest of the season, but in the same stretch he had four no-decisions . . . in every one of which he pitched well enough to win. His season ended with a 2.60 ERA, a league-leading 290 strikeouts, and a league-leading 0.90 WHIP, good enough to finish second in the Cy Young Award voting. It was probably the best season overall by a pitcher with a perfect game on that season since Koufax and before Roy Halladay. 2004 WAR: 8.1.

Mark Buehrle—Perfect game: 23 July 2009. The rest of the way: Buehrle went 2-7 until season’s end, including four no-decisions in all of which he pitched well enough to win. Before the perfecto, he was 10-3 and had thrown only two games overall in which he didn’t pitch well enough to win. But the perfecto put him into some elite company above and beyond the feat itself: he became only the third pitcher (joining Young and Koufax) to throw a no-hitter and a perfect game and also win a World Series ring with the same club. 2009 WAR: 5.0.

Braden.

Dallas Braden—Perfect game: 9 May 2010; his game made Mother’s Day and Father’s Day (when Bunning turned his feat) days of perfect games, and for Braden the poignancy lie in his own mother’s death of breast cancer during his senior year in high school. The rest of the way: He went 7-11; he had four no-decisions in all of which he pitched well enough to have won. But his final totals included an 11-14 won-lost record, a 1.36 WHIP, and a 1.93 K/BB. He did end up leading the league in shutouts—with two. 2010 WAR: 2.2.

Halladay.

Roy Halladay—Perfect game: 29 May 2010, making for the first time perfect games have been thrown by two pitchers in the same season. The rest of the way: Partly by putting together winning streaks of six and five, respectively (the five finished his season), the Doc went 14-7 after that to finish at 21-11 with a 2.44 ERA, the league lead in shutouts and complete games, a league-leading 6.29 K/BB, and a 1.04 WHIP. Halladay became the first pitcher since Koufax to win a Cy Young Award in the same season in which he pitched his perfect game. He also became the first pitcher, period, to follow a perfect game by throwing a no-hitter in postseason play the same year, turning that trick against the Cincinnati Reds to open the division series. 2010 WAR: 8.3.

Philip Humber—Perfect game: 21 April 2012. Lots of ex-Mets have thrown no-hitters after leaving the team, before Johan Santana finally broke the 50-year0ld spell this year, but Humber is the second ex-Met (Cone was the first) to throw a perfecto. The rest of the way, thus far: He has two wins, four losses, and four no-decisions; in three of the no-decisions he’s pitched well enough to win. In only one of his losses on the season thus far did he pitch well enough to win. This is not good for a pitcher who’s been averaging 5.08 runs to work with per start. 2012 WAR through this writing: -0.2.

Cain.

Matt Cain—Perfect game: 13 June 2012; he tied Koufax for the most punchouts (14) in a perfect game. The rest of the way, thus far: Cain took a 7-2 record with a 2.42 ERA to the mound when he started his perfect game; since then, he’s 2-1 with two no-decisions in both of which he pitched well enough to win. At 10-3 with a 2.56 ERA, Cain has a decent chance of at least matching Halladay’s performance following his perfecto. 2012 WAR through this writing: 2.4.

"Yeah, Baby! Believe It!"

As I suspect was the case for numerous Met fans—since the day they were born or otherwise—it took me over a week to process that what seemed so long impossible finally happened. It took a mere 8,119 games before a Met threw a no-hitter. And it couldn’t have been thrown by a nicer guy except, maybe, for Tom Seaver. Who just so happens to have lost one of the seemingly infinite Met no-hit bids when Jimmy Qualls, bearing no other reason for fame, broke up his bid in 1969.

And it took very little time for my first suspicion to bear fruit, after manager Terry Collins, who agonised over letting Johan Santana go the distance and finish his jewel against the St. Louis Cardinals, knowing Santana’s health history and what was missed in 2011, announced that he’d give his marksman a couple of extra days rest before sending him out again. Santana himself had proclaimed good health and a solid bullpen session between starts, so I wondered whether Collins—whose performance this year just might be lining him up for a Manager of the Year award—hadn’t overshot his mark.

With David Wright (5) bounding over to join the party, Johan Santana and catcher Josh Thole celebrate after Santana punched out Series MVP David Freese to finish the first Met no-no . . .

Turned out that he had. The Yankees jumped all over an over-rested Santana a week after Santana vapourised fifty-plus years of Met pitching frustration, launching their way to a three-game sweep that continued what the Washington Nationals, taking two of three prior, started earlier in the week. The sweep put a dent in the Mets’ otherwise fascinating 2012 emergence as a National League East power playing slightly over their own heads collectively.

Collins made no bones or excuses about it. He manned up, faced the press, and said point blank it was his fault for resting Santana the extra days. He’s come a long way from the exposed hot wire who managed himself out of Houston and Anaheim before the turn of the century.

Koufax walked five no-hitting the Original Mets . . .

But back to the no-hitter heard ’round the world. Around Citi Field, they called him Nohan Santana. In the clubhouse, thanking his teammates—and especially Mike Baxter, whose running-down catch of Yadier Molina’s seventh-inning drive kept the no-no alive and sent Baxter into the wall and onto the disabled list—Santana let his usual modesty dissipate for one moment of unapologetic joy. “Yeah, baby!” he bellowed. “Believe it!”

When Santana punched out David Freese, last year’s World Series superman, to finish off the Cardinals, it was a flourish even the most dreamy of Met fans couldn’t have imagined. They might sooner have imagined the first Met no-hitter coming against a ho-hum club with the final out at the expense of maybe a ho-hum hitter. Who’d have thought it would come against the defending world champions, with the finishing touch against the guy who earned the Series MVP with a performance from somewhere out of The Twilight Zone?

Other than the purported blown call on Carlos Beltran’s would-have-been double (I’d have had a hard time calling it myself, since when the ball hit the chalk it was far closer to the foul side), maybe the lone rap on the Santana no-no was the five walks. Some rap. It didn’t seem to bother anyone when Sandy Koufax walked five en-route no-hitting the Original Mets almost fifty years to the day earlier. And nobody is taking anything away from Johnny Vander Meer walking eight in the second of his back-to-back no-hitters.

Holloman in brief triumph . . .

Jim Maloney

When St. Louis Browns rookie Bobo Holloman pitched a no-hitter in his first major league start (poor Holloman would be back in the minors before season’s end) in 1951, he, too, walked five. When Cincinnati Reds ace Jim Maloney (arguably their best pitcher in the mid-1960s, until shoulder trouble compromised his career before a torn Achilles tendon ended it) took ten innings to no-hit the Chicago Cubs in 1965, he walked ten. (A few years later, against the Houston Astros, Maloney walked five while no-hitting them . . . the day before Houston’s Don Wilson would no-hit the Reds for his second career no-no.) Hall of Famer Jim Palmer walked six while no-hitting the Oakland Athletics in 1969. Nolan Ryan’s second and fourth of his seven no-hitters featured four walks each; his third featured eight. Future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson walked six while no-hitting the Detroit Tigers in 1990. Dwight Gooden (one of those ex-Mets who moved on to pitch a no-no) walked six in his no-no.

Already, Santana traveling in company ranging from distinguished to extinguished.

Howard Ehmke is remembered best for his thirteen-strikeout World Series performance when he was at the end of his major league career. He isn’t that well remembered for throwing a no-hitter, pitching for the Boston Red Sox, against the team for whom he’d nail that Series jewel, the Philadelphia Athletics. Ehmke walked five in his no-no, too, against six strikeouts. Ted Lyons, one of the few reasons to watch the post-scandal Chicago White Sox of the mid-1920s, walked four while no-hitting the Red Sox in 1926.

What about no-hitting a World Series entrant, never mind champion, the season after they appeared in a Series? Carl Hubbell brought that one off in 1929, no-hitting the defending National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates. Tex Carleton, a Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, flattened the defending champion Reds in 1940. A year later, Lon Warneke of the Cardinals would flatten the defending world champion Reds. He, too, walked five during his jewel. Dick Fowler of the A’s dispatched the defending American League champion St. Louis Browns (yes, Virginia, there really was such a team, once) in 1945. Vern Bickford of the Boston Braves walked five while taking care of the Dodgers in 1950. The second of Virgil Trucks’s (Detroit Tigers) two 1952 no-hitters came on the Yankees’ dime.

And leave us not forget Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series: He beat the defending world champions in the process.

Perry, pre-K-Y . . .

Hoyt Wilhelm is a Hall of Fame relief pitcher, but once upon a time he was a starter. And, once upon a time, he, too, threw a no-hitter. In 1958. Against the defending American League champion Yankees. The knuckleball specialist, by the way, walked only two. Koufax’s second no-no (1963) came at the expense of the defending National League champion San Francisco Giants. Tom Phoebus of the Baltimore Orioles no-hit the defending AL champion Red Sox in 1968, not long before Gaylord Perry of the Giants no-hit the defending world champion Cardinals—the day before Ray Washburn of the Cardinals no-hit the Giants, all this the year before Maloney and Wilson pitched their back-to-back ballets.

Ken Holtzman’s second of two career no-hitters came at the expense of the defending NL champion Reds in 1971. So did Rick Wise’s (Philadelphia Phillies) no-no the same season. Jim Bibby’s (another ex-Met—well, Met product, anyway—to throw a no-hitter, alas) 1973 no-no came on the dime of the defending World Series champion A’s. So did Dick Bosman’s (Cleveland) in 1974. Terry Mulholland of the Phillies no-hit the defending NL champion Giants in 1990. Another team of defending Giants fell to Kevin Millwood (Phillies) in 2003. Mark Buehrle’s perfect game took care of the defending AL champion Tampa Bay Rays in 2009.

Belinsky–no-no a go-go . . .

On the other hand, there’s a no-hitter thrown by two pitchers combining, on a defending World Series champion, in which their team lost—Steve Barber and Stu Miller of the Orioles pulled that one off, losing 2-1 to the Tigers in 1967. And let’s not forget Bo Belinsky. In 1962, the Los Angeles Angels rookie/playboy won his fourth straight major league start by no-hitting the Orioles. A month an a half later, the toast of Hollywood was toast on the losing end when Earl Wilson of the Red Sox no-hit the Angels.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, Santana probably couldn’t care less. It was enough for him to end half a century of Mets absence from the no-hit rolls pitching it, as he phrased it to a wild Citi Field crowd, “in the best city for baseball.” For a guy whose career threatened to be ended by shoulder trouble just a year or so earlier, Santana was being too modest. It was a special performance. By a genuinely great pitcher. Against a bona-fide contender and defending Series champion. With a deep meaning for fans of the team whose uniform isn’t such a laughing matter this season, anyway.

That’s something nobody can take from us Met fans. Since the day they were born, or otherwise.

“Yeah, Baby! Believe It!”

As I suspect was the case for numerous Met fans—since the day they were born or otherwise—it took me over a week to process that what seemed so long impossible finally happened. It took a mere 8,119 games before a Met threw a no-hitter. And it couldn’t have been thrown by a nicer guy except, maybe, for Tom Seaver. Who just so happens to have lost one of the seemingly infinite Met no-hit bids when Jimmy Qualls, bearing no other reason for fame, broke up his bid in 1969.

And it took very little time for my first suspicion to bear fruit, after manager Terry Collins, who agonised over letting Johan Santana go the distance and finish his jewel against the St. Louis Cardinals, knowing Santana’s health history and what was missed in 2011, announced that he’d give his marksman a couple of extra days rest before sending him out again. Santana himself had proclaimed good health and a solid bullpen session between starts, so I wondered whether Collins—whose performance this year just might be lining him up for a Manager of the Year award—hadn’t overshot his mark.

With David Wright (5) bounding over to join the party, Johan Santana and catcher Josh Thole celebrate after Santana punched out Series MVP David Freese to finish the first Met no-no . . .

Turned out that he had. The Yankees jumped all over an over-rested Santana a week after Santana vapourised fifty-plus years of Met pitching frustration, launching their way to a three-game sweep that continued what the Washington Nationals, taking two of three prior, started earlier in the week. The sweep put a dent in the Mets’ otherwise fascinating 2012 emergence as a National League East power playing slightly over their own heads collectively.

Collins made no bones or excuses about it. He manned up, faced the press, and said point blank it was his fault for resting Santana the extra days. He’s come a long way from the exposed hot wire who managed himself out of Houston and Anaheim before the turn of the century.

Koufax walked five no-hitting the Original Mets . . .

But back to the no-hitter heard ’round the world. Around Citi Field, they called him Nohan Santana. In the clubhouse, thanking his teammates—and especially Mike Baxter, whose running-down catch of Yadier Molina’s seventh-inning drive kept the no-no alive and sent Baxter into the wall and onto the disabled list—Santana let his usual modesty dissipate for one moment of unapologetic joy. “Yeah, baby!” he bellowed. “Believe it!”

When Santana punched out David Freese, last year’s World Series superman, to finish off the Cardinals, it was a flourish even the most dreamy of Met fans couldn’t have imagined. They might sooner have imagined the first Met no-hitter coming against a ho-hum club with the final out at the expense of maybe a ho-hum hitter. Who’d have thought it would come against the defending world champions, with the finishing touch against the guy who earned the Series MVP with a performance from somewhere out of The Twilight Zone?

Other than the purported blown call on Carlos Beltran’s would-have-been double (I’d have had a hard time calling it myself, since when the ball hit the chalk it was far closer to the foul side), maybe the lone rap on the Santana no-no was the five walks. Some rap. It didn’t seem to bother anyone when Sandy Koufax walked five en-route no-hitting the Original Mets almost fifty years to the day earlier. And nobody is taking anything away from Johnny Vander Meer walking eight in the second of his back-to-back no-hitters.

Holloman in brief triumph . . .

Jim Maloney

When St. Louis Browns rookie Bobo Holloman pitched a no-hitter in his first major league start (poor Holloman would be back in the minors before season’s end) in 1951, he, too, walked five. When Cincinnati Reds ace Jim Maloney (arguably their best pitcher in the mid-1960s, until shoulder trouble compromised his career before a torn Achilles tendon ended it) took ten innings to no-hit the Chicago Cubs in 1965, he walked ten. (A few years later, against the Houston Astros, Maloney walked five while no-hitting them . . . the day before Houston’s Don Wilson would no-hit the Reds for his second career no-no.) Hall of Famer Jim Palmer walked six while no-hitting the Oakland Athletics in 1969. Nolan Ryan’s second and fourth of his seven no-hitters featured four walks each; his third featured eight. Future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson walked six while no-hitting the Detroit Tigers in 1990. Dwight Gooden (one of those ex-Mets who moved on to pitch a no-no) walked six in his no-no.

Already, Santana traveling in company ranging from distinguished to extinguished.

Howard Ehmke is remembered best for his thirteen-strikeout World Series performance when he was at the end of his major league career. He isn’t that well remembered for throwing a no-hitter, pitching for the Boston Red Sox, against the team for whom he’d nail that Series jewel, the Philadelphia Athletics. Ehmke walked five in his no-no, too, against six strikeouts. Ted Lyons, one of the few reasons to watch the post-scandal Chicago White Sox of the mid-1920s, walked four while no-hitting the Red Sox in 1926.

What about no-hitting a World Series entrant, never mind champion, the season after they appeared in a Series? Carl Hubbell brought that one off in 1929, no-hitting the defending National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates. Tex Carleton, a Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, flattened the defending champion Reds in 1940. A year later, Lon Warneke of the Cardinals would flatten the defending world champion Reds. He, too, walked five during his jewel. Dick Fowler of the A’s dispatched the defending American League champion St. Louis Browns (yes, Virginia, there really was such a team, once) in 1945. Vern Bickford of the Boston Braves walked five while taking care of the Dodgers in 1950. The second of Virgil Trucks’s (Detroit Tigers) two 1952 no-hitters came on the Yankees’ dime.

And leave us not forget Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series: He beat the defending world champions in the process.

Perry, pre-K-Y . . .

Hoyt Wilhelm is a Hall of Fame relief pitcher, but once upon a time he was a starter. And, once upon a time, he, too, threw a no-hitter. In 1958. Against the defending American League champion Yankees. The knuckleball specialist, by the way, walked only two. Koufax’s second no-no (1963) came at the expense of the defending National League champion San Francisco Giants. Tom Phoebus of the Baltimore Orioles no-hit the defending AL champion Red Sox in 1968, not long before Gaylord Perry of the Giants no-hit the defending world champion Cardinals—the day before Ray Washburn of the Cardinals no-hit the Giants, all this the year before Maloney and Wilson pitched their back-to-back ballets.

Ken Holtzman’s second of two career no-hitters came at the expense of the defending NL champion Reds in 1971. So did Rick Wise’s (Philadelphia Phillies) no-no the same season. Jim Bibby’s (another ex-Met—well, Met product, anyway—to throw a no-hitter, alas) 1973 no-no came on the dime of the defending World Series champion A’s. So did Dick Bosman’s (Cleveland) in 1974. Terry Mulholland of the Phillies no-hit the defending NL champion Giants in 1990. Another team of defending Giants fell to Kevin Millwood (Phillies) in 2003. Mark Buehrle’s perfect game took care of the defending AL champion Tampa Bay Rays in 2009.

Belinsky–no-no a go-go . . .

On the other hand, there’s a no-hitter thrown by two pitchers combining, on a defending World Series champion, in which their team lost—Steve Barber and Stu Miller of the Orioles pulled that one off, losing 2-1 to the Tigers in 1967. And let’s not forget Bo Belinsky. In 1962, the Los Angeles Angels rookie/playboy won his fourth straight major league start by no-hitting the Orioles. A month an a half later, the toast of Hollywood was toast on the losing end when Earl Wilson of the Red Sox no-hit the Angels.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, Santana probably couldn’t care less. It was enough for him to end half a century of Mets absence from the no-hit rolls pitching it, as he phrased it to a wild Citi Field crowd, “in the best city for baseball.” For a guy whose career threatened to be ended by shoulder trouble just a year or so earlier, Santana was being too modest. It was a special performance. By a genuinely great pitcher. Against a bona-fide contender and defending Series champion. With a deep meaning for fans of the team whose uniform isn’t such a laughing matter this season, anyway.

That’s something nobody can take from us Met fans. Since the day they were born, or otherwise.

Tommy Lasorda, On and Off a Writer's Hook

I was reading Steve Henson’s charming profile of a spring training day in the life of Tommy Lasorda this morning. Now 84, Lasorda puts in twelve-hour days as perhaps the Dodgers’ number one ambassador on and off the field, touring around the gathering fans and driving his golf cart from spot to spot checking the major and minor leaguers alike. (“You couldn’t hit my curveball,” Lasorda, a one-time relief pitcher, needled Dodger outfielder Matt Kemp. “You know what I used to say when they played against me? ‘Your heart belongs to mama but your behind belongs to me’.”)

Lasorda (front and center, at the base pad) still loves to teach . . .

And I rued, just for a moment, the afternoon I could have had a chance to talk to Lasorda even briefly if I’d wanted the chance.

December 2006. I still lived in southern California, writing free-lance, including what I thought was a pleasant (if that’s the right word) obituary for Larry Sherry, the one-time Dodger relief ace (he nailed a World Series and its MVP for the Dodgers in 1959), who had just lost a long battle with cancer. To my surprise, the piece (for a long-since-defunct Web journal) attracted a pleasant note from Sherry’s son-in-law, who a) was delighted to learn of a spring training incident involving his father-in-law*, of which he’d had no prior knowledge, and b) invited me to come to the old righthander’s funeral.

I accepted the invitation. And I sat in the absolute rear of the sanctuary, having no wish to intrude further. When the affectionate service concluded at last, I could see Lasorda milling about with a few other baseball figures easily enough recognisable. (Sparky Anderson was among them; even those whose knowledge of baseball equals mine of animal husbandry would have recognised him, too.)

Sherry’s son-in-law found me (my mugshot accompanied my piece, so I wasn’t that difficult to spot) and we shook hands, exchanging a few muted condolences. Then he invited me to join the company at his home in a short while. I sensed that Lasorda and the other baseball men (Anderson, Sherry’s catching and coaching brother Norm, other assorted Dodgers past) would be there as well, but I sensed, too, that there might be some discomfort about if it were to be known that a writer was among them. I couldn’t be certain, absolutely, but I didn’t think these men had gathered around for the prospect of chatting with a writer.

So I declined politely enough, saying something along the line of it wouldn’t seem proper for me, since I never met Sherry or knew him anywhere as well as his family and his baseball fraternity. His son-in-law accepted that, and we exchanged likewise pleasant goodbyes and God-speeds before I returned to my car and drove home. As I traveled back up the notorious 405 freeway to my then-home in Huntington Beach, I began to have a second thought or two. Had I really blown a shot at Lasorda, who’s said to be just about the single most accommodating man in baseball in Pacific Coast captivity? For that matter, had I really blown a shot at Anderson, who would die four years later?

By the time I arrived home, I shook it off. I’m still sure I did the right thing. It probably would have been an experience and a half getting a dose of live Lasorda, maybe in any circumstance, even if he’d blown me to one side questioning my manhood, my sanity, my taste, and my manners. (There are those, I’m sure, who would swear that a dressing-down from Tommy Lasorda is worth a hundred motivational speeches from just about anyone else.) Another time, another place, I thought to myself as I re-entered my apartment.

I suppose I could have allowed a moment of hubris and told myself, “Tommy Lasorda and Sparky Anderson? They’re baseball’s Energizer bunnies. They keep going . . . and going . . . and going . . . ”  Anderson would be gone in 2010, alas. Lasorda doesn’t exactly seem mortal, and you have to ponder whether an octogenarian post-coronary (Lasorda’s 1996 heart attack prompted his retirement as the Dodgers’ manager), who finishes his twelve-hour days with a vigorous treadmill-in-the-pool workout and seems less worn for it than men two-thirds his age or younger, hasn’t found some elusive longevity secret.

Lasorda has made his career on the premise of doing what he thinks the Right Thing, for and by the Dodgers, for and by the game. He’s come a very long way from the marginal relief pitcher who was finally cut by the Brooklyn Dodgers to make room for a talented but wild lefthanded kid about whom he snorted, “He’ll never make it.” (The kid was Sandy Koufax.) He’s long survived the worst day of his major league life, the day he decided—with the Dodgers one out from going to the 1985 World Series—that it was absolutely safe to allow relief pitcher Tom Niedenfeuer to pitch to St. Louis bombardier Jack Clark with two on and first base open. This son of an immigrant stone quarry truck driver, who used storytelling to teach and discipline his children, has long established himself as baseball’s O. Henry, if you can imagine O. Henry carrying eight division titles, four pennants, two World Series rings (one before and one after Jack the Ripper wrecked his ’85 plans), and a Hall of Fame plaque on his resume.

Maybe I’ll bump into him yet, one of these days.

——————————————–

* — The incident involved the spring 1961 day on which Sandy Koufax, freshly relieved of a windup flaw that had kept him from seeing the full strike zone when he delivered his hard-flaring fastballs and voluptuous curve balls, landed the starting assignment in a B-squad game against the Minnesota Twins in Orlando, where the Twins then trained. With Norm Sherry behind the plate, and veteran first baseman Gil Hodges managing the squad for the day, Koufax—whom Hodges had told would need to pitch seven innings—wiggled out of a first-inning bases-loaded jam by striking out the side, en route to throwing seven hitless shutout innings with eight punchouts.

Knowing Sherry and clubhouse man Nobe Kowano would alert the Dodger brass to what they now had on their hands, after six seasons of frustration that the raw talent wasn’t getting the warranted results, Koufax was in the mood to celebrate. Big time. Upon their return to Vero Beach, Koufax and Larry Sherry ducked into nearby Port St. Lucie for a late pizza and some youthful revelry. The problem was that they arrived back well past curfew, enraging manager Walter Alston—whose room in the spring barracks just so happened to be across from Koufax’s and Sherry’s rooms. Koufax was the first to feel Alston’s wrath until Sherry plodded around afterward; Alston forgot Koufax for the moment and went after Sherry, pounding on Sherry’s door and, in the process, smashing his diamond-encrusted 1959 World Series ring.

The following day, Koufax, Sherry, and Alston were aboard a team bus. The early silence was broken when Koufax—who has always had a playful if not always well-chronicled sense of humour—couldn’t resist. “Hey, Larry,” he called to Sherry, “had your door appraised for diamonds yet?”

Tommy Lasorda, On and Off a Writer’s Hook

I was reading Steve Henson’s charming profile of a spring training day in the life of Tommy Lasorda this morning. Now 84, Lasorda puts in twelve-hour days as perhaps the Dodgers’ number one ambassador on and off the field, touring around the gathering fans and driving his golf cart from spot to spot checking the major and minor leaguers alike. (“You couldn’t hit my curveball,” Lasorda, a one-time relief pitcher, needled Dodger outfielder Matt Kemp. “You know what I used to say when they played against me? ‘Your heart belongs to mama but your behind belongs to me’.”)

Lasorda (front and center, at the base pad) still loves to teach . . .

And I rued, just for a moment, the afternoon I could have had a chance to talk to Lasorda even briefly if I’d wanted the chance.

December 2006. I still lived in southern California, writing free-lance, including what I thought was a pleasant (if that’s the right word) obituary for Larry Sherry, the one-time Dodger relief ace (he nailed a World Series and its MVP for the Dodgers in 1959), who had just lost a long battle with cancer. To my surprise, the piece (for a long-since-defunct Web journal) attracted a pleasant note from Sherry’s son-in-law, who a) was delighted to learn of a spring training incident involving his father-in-law*, of which he’d had no prior knowledge, and b) invited me to come to the old righthander’s funeral.

I accepted the invitation. And I sat in the absolute rear of the sanctuary, having no wish to intrude further. When the affectionate service concluded at last, I could see Lasorda milling about with a few other baseball figures easily enough recognisable. (Sparky Anderson was among them; even those whose knowledge of baseball equals mine of animal husbandry would have recognised him, too.)

Sherry’s son-in-law found me (my mugshot accompanied my piece, so I wasn’t that difficult to spot) and we shook hands, exchanging a few muted condolences. Then he invited me to join the company at his home in a short while. I sensed that Lasorda and the other baseball men (Anderson, Sherry’s catching and coaching brother Norm, other assorted Dodgers past) would be there as well, but I sensed, too, that there might be some discomfort about if it were to be known that a writer was among them. I couldn’t be certain, absolutely, but I didn’t think these men had gathered around for the prospect of chatting with a writer.

So I declined politely enough, saying something along the line of it wouldn’t seem proper for me, since I never met Sherry or knew him anywhere as well as his family and his baseball fraternity. His son-in-law accepted that, and we exchanged likewise pleasant goodbyes and God-speeds before I returned to my car and drove home. As I traveled back up the notorious 405 freeway to my then-home in Huntington Beach, I began to have a second thought or two. Had I really blown a shot at Lasorda, who’s said to be just about the single most accommodating man in baseball in Pacific Coast captivity? For that matter, had I really blown a shot at Anderson, who would die four years later?

By the time I arrived home, I shook it off. I’m still sure I did the right thing. It probably would have been an experience and a half getting a dose of live Lasorda, maybe in any circumstance, even if he’d blown me to one side questioning my manhood, my sanity, my taste, and my manners. (There are those, I’m sure, who would swear that a dressing-down from Tommy Lasorda is worth a hundred motivational speeches from just about anyone else.) Another time, another place, I thought to myself as I re-entered my apartment.

I suppose I could have allowed a moment of hubris and told myself, “Tommy Lasorda and Sparky Anderson? They’re baseball’s Energizer bunnies. They keep going . . . and going . . . and going . . . ”  Anderson would be gone in 2010, alas. Lasorda doesn’t exactly seem mortal, and you have to ponder whether an octogenarian post-coronary (Lasorda’s 1996 heart attack prompted his retirement as the Dodgers’ manager), who finishes his twelve-hour days with a vigorous treadmill-in-the-pool workout and seems less worn for it than men two-thirds his age or younger, hasn’t found some elusive longevity secret.

Lasorda has made his career on the premise of doing what he thinks the Right Thing, for and by the Dodgers, for and by the game. He’s come a very long way from the marginal relief pitcher who was finally cut by the Brooklyn Dodgers to make room for a talented but wild lefthanded kid about whom he snorted, “He’ll never make it.” (The kid was Sandy Koufax.) He’s long survived the worst day of his major league life, the day he decided—with the Dodgers one out from going to the 1985 World Series—that it was absolutely safe to allow relief pitcher Tom Niedenfeuer to pitch to St. Louis bombardier Jack Clark with two on and first base open. This son of an immigrant stone quarry truck driver, who used storytelling to teach and discipline his children, has long established himself as baseball’s O. Henry, if you can imagine O. Henry carrying eight division titles, four pennants, two World Series rings (one before and one after Jack the Ripper wrecked his ’85 plans), and a Hall of Fame plaque on his resume.

Maybe I’ll bump into him yet, one of these days.

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* — The incident involved the spring 1961 day on which Sandy Koufax, freshly relieved of a windup flaw that had kept him from seeing the full strike zone when he delivered his hard-flaring fastballs and voluptuous curve balls, landed the starting assignment in a B-squad game against the Minnesota Twins in Orlando, where the Twins then trained. With Norm Sherry behind the plate, and veteran first baseman Gil Hodges managing the squad for the day, Koufax—whom Hodges had told would need to pitch seven innings—wiggled out of a first-inning bases-loaded jam by striking out the side, en route to throwing seven hitless shutout innings with eight punchouts.

Knowing Sherry and clubhouse man Nobe Kowano would alert the Dodger brass to what they now had on their hands, after six seasons of frustration that the raw talent wasn’t getting the warranted results, Koufax was in the mood to celebrate. Big time. Upon their return to Vero Beach, Koufax and Larry Sherry ducked into nearby Port St. Lucie for a late pizza and some youthful revelry. The problem was that they arrived back well past curfew, enraging manager Walter Alston—whose room in the spring barracks just so happened to be across from Koufax’s and Sherry’s rooms. Koufax was the first to feel Alston’s wrath until Sherry plodded around afterward; Alston forgot Koufax for the moment and went after Sherry, pounding on Sherry’s door and, in the process, smashing his diamond-encrusted 1959 World Series ring.

The following day, Koufax, Sherry, and Alston were aboard a team bus. The early silence was broken when Koufax—who has always had a playful if not always well-chronicled sense of humour—couldn’t resist. “Hey, Larry,” he called to Sherry, “had your door appraised for diamonds yet?”