This 75th is a Real Peach! (Preview)

The state of Illinois celebrates its bicentennial in 2018, and subsequently, another milestone celebration is to take place: The 75th anniversary of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Why is the 75th of the AAGPBL significant where Illinois is concerned you may ask? The answer is because Illinois’ own Rockford Peaches were one of the original four teams in the league.

Image result for Rockford Peaches 1943
Rockford Peaches, 1943

In recognition of both the state’s 200th and the Peaches’ 75th, a feature story is set to appear in Celebrate Illinois: A Bicentennial Retrospective, a special edition of Shaw Media’s own Neighborhood Tourist magazine this June. The following are nonlinear excerpts from the piece:

Heading into 1943, baseball was in jeopardy amid the throes of World War II. With resources being shifted to the war effort and pro teams’ rosters depleted due to military induction, the professional game was in danger of being stopped. It was during this uncertain time that Major League Baseball executives stepped in to pursue a creative way to help keep America’s pastime continuing. Chewing gum magnate and then-owner of the Chicago Cubs, Philip K. Wrigley, along with Brooklyn Dodgers’ owner Branch Rickey among others, hatched their solution: The AAGPBL. Four Midwestern teams made up the original league: The Racine Belles, South Bend Blue Sox, Kenosha Comets, and Rockford Peaches.

The Peaches played their home games at venerable Beyer Stadium, located at 245 15th Avenue in Rockford. They were one of only two teams to play in every season of the AAGPBL’s 12-year history (South Bend Blue Sox) and were also one of the most successful, having won championships in 1945, 1948, 1949 and 1950. During that time the Peaches regularly drew large crowds to Beyer and became both a local and national sensation. With their team name derived from their unique peach-colored uniforms (actual peaches were used in the dye to make them), fans were joyed to watch them play the game – in its best, hardnosed form – but with some extra on-field theatrics where applicable. When asked about the latter, Peaches player Eileen Burmeister shrugged, and with a thick layer of self-deprecation, said “If God meant for us to play baseball, he would’ve made us any good at it.” The league became so popular in fact, that the original plans to end it in conjunction with the war’s completion in 1945 were shelved and the AAGPBL continued until 1954.

In the ensuing decades after the league’s end, much of its appreciation had sadly waned. That is, until Hollywood stepped up. While it was largely a work of fiction, Penny Marshall’s wonderful 1992 movie A League of Their Own reminded the masses what the Peaches and the AAGPBL meant to baseball and America. The influence this pop culture parallel of an important historical time had on people like Laura Daniels, a high school English teacher from Joliet and aficionado of the Peaches, was palpable. “After seeing the movie, I began to learn more about the real-life teams in the league. As a baseball fan, I found their backstories fascinating.” Daniels said. The movie ignited nationwide renewed interest in the league and the genuine respect found therein by people like Daniels was common. “As a curious little girl at the time, I found confidence and began to have genuine admiration of these women. We should be so lucky to have had that much historical impact literally built in our own backyards.” The movie was a smash, and it reminded folks that nearly 50 years earlier, the real Peaches were just getting started.

Wrought with the fright of the war, a part of America’s greatest generation answered the call in a different, remarkable way. Though the scale of the cultural impact these women had on the game of baseball as well as the nation itself wouldn’t be fully realized until years later, the Rockford Peaches and every other team in the AAGPBL showed everyone how America’s game is truly more than just a game.

Happy 75th, Peaches!

… full story coming June 2018.

 

Sources: http://www.rrstar.com/article/20140525/SPECIAL/140529678

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rockford_Peaches

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All-American_Girls_Professional_Baseball_League

Photo Credit: http://www.aagpbl.org/index.cfm/teams/1943/rockford-peaches/2

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Angry Attack: Cubs’ visit to Rivals Park in 1920 marred by stabbing

The following is non-edited, curated content from a story I wrote that appeared in the Joliet Herald-News on March 21, 2018. 

 

Joliet was a happening place nearly a century ago.

With burgeoning local businesses and a strong sense of civic pride, plus the bonus of being a just short train ride to Chicago, “J-Town” was the place to be in a growing suburbia.

Social pastimes were also wildly popular as the roaring twenties began, in which baseball featured prominently. As it still is today, Joliet and the surrounding areas were a hotbed of baseball talent.

The Joliet Rivals Club, founded in 1907, were no strangers to baseball, having fielded local teams dating back to their early years. Even the Chicago Cubs paid a visit in the fall of 1920 to play against the Joliet Rivals, a semi-pro team named after the very park they played at. Sources also refer to the team by their former name, the Rivneas, a combined name of the Rivals and Northeastern A.C.’s of Joliet, who’s World War I-era roster was comprised of several former major and minor leaguers.

That the Rivals-Cubs game itself was played was not surprising, as in those days most major league clubs scheduled exhibitions against local semi-pro or college teams on their days off. These unofficial games were a means for the team to have real game action instead of a practice, and to give local teams and their fans a chance to see big league stars in action up close.

One such contest took place here in Joliet, on Thursday, September 30, 1920. The circumstances that surrounded this game however, have made it a rather infamous, if forgotten, episode of Joliet folklore.

With the Cubs en route, the buildup to the game was strongly publicized, with multiple articles appearing the week of the game in the Joliet Evening Herald News. An overflow crowd of more than 5,000 paid spectators (roughly 13% of Joliet’s population at the time), turned out on game day, more than twice filling the 2,000-seat capacity of Rivals Park (formerly Theiler’s Park before the Rivals Club purchased the property in 1919), on the corner of Broadway and Russell streets. Hundreds more crowded along the streets beyond the outfield, battling for the slightest vantage point. A parade to the ballpark from the downtown Elks Club where the Cubs were staying got the festivities underway, and once at the park fans shelled out 25 cents for a grandstand ticket, while the big spenders handed over a whopping $1 for a reserved box seat. Joliet mayor William Barber added to the fanfare by tossing the ceremonial first pitch on that autumn afternoon.

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Rivals Park in Joliet, IL circa 1920.

Joliet native Abraham Lincoln “Sweetbreads” Bailey took the mound for the Cubs in what was one of his only six career starts. Bailey, primarily a relief pitcher in his three-year major league career, held a 4 to 1 lead in the fifth inning when the Rivneas mounted a furious comeback that the Cubs couldn’t answer. Much to the delight of the overflow crowd, the Joliet club emerged victorious by a final score of 5-4. This of course was a tremendous triumph for the hometown team to knock off the Cubs, exhibition game or not. But the excitement didn’t end there.

Immediately following the game, as the Cubs players walked to waiting cabs to be taken back to their hotel, a fan emerged from the grandstand and waylaid Cubs third baseman Buck Herzog, igniting a fierce fight. During the scuffle, a friend of the instigating Jolietan brandished a knife and slashed Herzog across the hand and leg. Seeing the brawl unfold, two Joliet players, Frank Murphy and Nick Carter stepped in to subdue the attackers, ending the melee. Herzog returned to his hotel, no worse for wear except for what was later called a “slight scratch” on his hand.

As the story goes, the fan accused Herzog of being “…one of those crooked Chicago ballplayers” before launching his assault. This is significant when considering the motive behind the attack. It’s a longshot, but there is the possibility that the fan, if only a casual one, got his Chicago teams confused and was mistakenly referring to Buck Herzog as Buck Weaver, who just that very week was suspended along with seven of his teammates by Charles Comiskey amid accusations of throwing the 1919 World Series. This misidentified burst of violence then would be doubly ignorant if so, since Weaver’s banishment was highly unjust itself (though that’s another story altogether). But in an era long before the internet or even player names and numbers on their jerseys, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the attacker assumed this third basemen nicknamed “Buck” from Chicago was in fact the other third baseman nicknamed “Buck” from Chicago.

On the contrary, it is much more likely that the attacker was in fact referring to the well-known, open accusations Buck Herzog received just a few weeks earlier for conspiring to throw a game on August 31st against the Phillies at Wrigley Field.

“I’m sorry it occurred,” Herzog said, “but I couldn’t resist punching that fellow when he called me a crook.”

Although gambling on, and even throwing games had been occurring for decades, the breaking news of the Black Sox scandal forced the game of baseball at all levels to take a long, hard look at itself as it faced an uncertain future. If an outside force such as gambling could infiltrate baseball, heralded as the cleanest of games, then anyone accused of conspiring against the game was met with a multitude of harsh reactions. We will likely never know the full truth of the reason behind the attack on Herzog at Rivals Park that day, but it is interesting to speculate on both possibilities nonetheless.

Baseball continued as usual at Rivals Park until 1934, when the ballpark was redesigned to accommodate professional softball and later Little League baseball on the site. In doing so, Joliet’s first illuminated softball diamond was conceived. In recent decades, the Rivals Club has shifted focus away from organized sports, and now shares the lot with Haunted Trails amusement park. Yet the historic club remains an important, active participant in an ever-changing, but still baseball-rich Joliet, much as it did in 1907.

And certainly as it did when the Cubs came to town.

Special thanks and photo credit to Richard Rivera, Joliet Rivals Club President.

 

 

Sources:

Joliet Rivals Club, A Centennial Celebration: 1907-2007 by Marianne Wolf

Joliet Evening Herald News, September 26-Oct 1, 1920, microfilm at the Joliet Public Library

Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct 1, 1920

365 Oddball Days in Chicago Cubs History by John Snyder

https://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=MT19201001.2.25

 

 

Yu essentially have three years

Ok, so while that headline is just one of countless puns associated with new Cubs ace Yu Darvish’s first name, it’s more or less true: The Cubs have an extremely encouraging three-year window that begins now.

Call it the second three-year window of Theo’s plan, if you will.

Image result for Yu Darvish

The first such pane was a rousing success from 2015-2017, with three straight trips to the NLCS bracketing that oh-so-sweet World Series title in ’16. With pitchers and catchers commencing their first workout of the 2018 season later this week, Phase 2 of the plan has begun with a bang, with the signing of Darvish to a 6 year/$126 million (possibly $150 with incentives) contract. While seemingly a lot of cash, this deal puts Darvish’s AAV at $21 million and even with that hit, the Cubs are still well-under the luxury tax limit which means if Theo & Co. need to add a piece at the break, they’ll be in a very comfortable position to do so.

On the roster side, assuming that any opt outs don’t occur for at least three seasons (which very well could be by design as you’ll see), this Cubs rotation as it looks right now is solidified for at least that long. Jon Lester has three years left on his original deal, Kyle Hendricks won’t be in the arbitration camp for another year, Jose Quintana should stay put for another three years if the Cubs pick up his options, and another new Cub, Tyler Chatwood, inked a three year deal too.

Breaking the rotation down in terms of rollout, though it’s anyone’s guess as to how skipper Joe Maddon and new pitching coach Jim Hickey will adjust it, the rotation could look like this: Darvish – Lester – Quintana – Hendricks – Chatwood, with Mike Montgomery in the very valuable long relief/spot-starting role. I’d think most Cubs fans would feel pretty confident in such a staff, and rightfully so, as it’s one of the best in baseball.

Factor in the big paydays that are coming in the not too distant future for several of the superstar position players, and you have a pretty enviable situation with at least two and likely three years with excellent chances for more deep playoff runs with this roster effectively locked up. And that’s just the immediate future.

Of course, the Cubs expect to be good for many more years after these next three and there are a couple of huge factors to facilitate that long-term success of the club. First, there are some very lucrative revenue streams that are either just starting to flow in or have yet to be tapped, highlighted by a mega TV deal after the 2019 season. Secondly, behind the scenes of all these big club goings-on, is that this steadiness allows proper time and resources to replenish and restock the farm system with the best talent the front office can find. History shows they have a pretty good track record of such a thing.

Once again, the Cubs front office has made moves that show they’re not only going for it right now, but they have orchestrated it with a tremendous business savvy that will serve the organization well for many years. Buckle up, Cubs fans. Yu (ok, sorry!) won’t want to miss this.

Photo credit: http://www.chicagonow.com/cubs-den/2018/02/yu-darvish-is-a-cub/

An interview with baseball historian and author, Gary Livacari

Today we’re honored to spend a few moments with baseball historian, author, editor of the greatest page in the history of facebook, and lifelong Chicago native Gary Livacari! In addition to contributing content to SABR‘s great BioProject and several books, Gary has just published the fantastic Memorable World Series Moments, a collection of great stories from various fall classics of yesteryear, going all the way back to 1909. In this book, Gary compiles all the interesting, humorous and strange tales from some of the greatest World Series’ and their heroes of past eras with a reverence and boyish fascination that we, as baseball junkies, can all relate to.

GaryBook

Gary, thanks for joining us today!

My pleasure!

So tell us, how did the idea of writing this new book come about?

I’ve always enjoyed writing, especially about baseball history, which is a subject I love and one that I happen to know a little bit about. I’ve been a SABR member for many years and have done numerous biographies for the SABR BioProject. For the longest time, I had been saying to myself it would be nice if I could combine my love of writing with my love of baseball history. I would often say to myself that “I have a book inside me somewhere, but I just don’t know what it is yet.”

That was the situation about four years ago when Ron Bolton asked me to join him as an editor of the Old-Time Baseball Photos facebook page. I started writing two or three short essays per week on different topics related to baseball history. It proved to be a great outlet for me, writing about subjects I enjoy. One of the continuing topics I wrote about over the years was “Famous World Series Incidents.” As time went on, I realized that I had written over 25 essays on different World Series’. Then the light bulb  went off: Why not compile all these essays into a book? There was my book, sitting right in front of my nose the whole time! So that became the genesis of the book, Memorable World Series Moments. 

Did you self-publish, or go through a publishing company?

I self-published. Amazon makes self-publishing, both e-book and paperback, very easy if you’re somewhat computer and tech-savvy. I had the entire project up and running and finished within six weeks, and it cost me very little. There’s a very limited audience for a niche subject matter like mine, so finding a conventional publisher for my idea would’ve been out of the question. So six weeks after coming up with the idea, I became a published author!

Why did you choose that particular publishing route so quickly?

One of my friends gave me the book Publish and Profit by Mike Koenigs. The theme of the book is how easy it is to self-publish, and how becoming a published author adds immensely to your credibility. It establishes you as an “expert” while opening up numerous doors (speaking engagements, etc.) Plus, it’s enormously self-gratifying. I suddenly had people asking me for my autograph which I humorously refer to as my “15 minutes of fame.”

What were the main differences in writing content for the book compared to your website, Baseball History Comes Alive! and the facebook page, Old-Time Baseball Photos?

Very little difference because my book is a compilation of short essays I had written and posted on my site and facebook page. I just did some editing prior to publishing the book. Plus I added to the book something I call Gary’s Handy-Dandy World Series Reference Guide. This is a compilation of World Series records and other bits of baseball trivia related to the World Series I had been collecting over the years. I thought this would be a good place to publish it.

Do you have a favorite chapter or story you wrote, and why?

My favorite chapters are the ones about famous World Series “goats” like Fred Snodgrass in 1912, Heine Zimmerman in 1917, Freddie Lindstrom in 1924, Ernie Lombardi in 1940, and Mickey Owen in 1941. For some reason, I had always been interested in these types of stories. Even as a little kid I had heard of these incidents, and always felt some sadness for these players who were blamed for losing the World Series. With just a little research, I found that almost invariably they were blamed unjustly. So I was glad to have the opportunity to write about them, hoping to do my little bit to set the historical record straight.

What was your biggest challenge and biggest reward from writing this book?

The biggest challenge was learning how to format the manuscript for publication completely by myself after I had finished the writing. I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of solving all the technical issues that arose, so that it would be truly self-published. I found a couple e-books on the internet on self-publishing, and, to my amazement, I was able to complete the project without too many stumbling blocks. The biggest reward has been the positive feedback I’ve received. Most of the people who bought the book seem to genuinely like it!

What is it about baseball history in general that you find so appealing and interesting?

That’s an interesting question. I’ve been a Cubs fan since 1955 when I was 5 years old. I have fond memories of sitting on my Grandfather’s lap watching Cubs Sunday doubleheaders on our old black-and-white TV after Sunday dinner. I’ve been a baseball fan ever since. Those were wonderful old days, so there’s definitely an element of nostalgia for the past locked into my psyche. I’ve often said if you ask any baseball fan how he became a fan, you’ll almost always find a story similar to mine.

There’s just something about the “old days” of baseball that I’ve always found fascinating. I wish I could find the words to express this fascination. I think it’s basically an intangible, almost subconscious thing. I know it’s there, but I can’t really explain it. I’ve always been an avid student of American history (I’m somewhat of an authority on the Civil War), so perhaps that has something to do with it. In studying baseball’s past you can’t help but learn a lot about America’s past. Baseball is just intertwined into America’s history. But it’s deeper than that, part of one’s “makeup.”

Any plans for publishing more books in the future?

You bet! Now that I’ve got the first one successfully under my belt, I’m constantly tossing ideas around in my mind. And I wouldn’t mind doing something with Mr. Kevin Trusty!

Neither would I! I think we could come up with a fascinating project(s) and look forward to seeing what’s on the horizon there. Thanks for your time Gary, and congratulations on a great book! 

Thank you!

 

Buy Memorable World Series Moments here

Visit Baseball History Comes Alive!

Check out Old-Time Baseball Photos on Facebook!

Some History Is Hard to Repeat

If you ask Cubs fans to describe the 2017 season, many will say, “disappointing.” Perhaps that’s because of the way the season ended, in a completely flat offensive effort in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Maybe it’s also because something just looked off about this team all year, and they never fully clicked for whatever reason.

The tunnel vision vantage point may feel somewhat bleak, but stepping back, the panoramic view is pretty damn bright.

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For if this season was “disappointing” and yet still yielded a 92-win Central Division title and a playoff run to the NLCS for the third straight year, that’s something to be pretty content with given Cubs history.

There’s that word again: History. As in, the past. As in, last year is over. As in, I think that’s where some of the fans’ disdain for how this season went down began. Here, then, is a good time to remember one of the chief lessons in baseball: No team, game, or season is ever the same.

The Plan worked. 2016 was magical. Not just because of the 108-year World Series drought ending, but in the way it happened. It was as close to an ideal season as any team could have. Literally a dream come true for long-suffering Cubs fans. In addition to having the deepest and most talented team in all of baseball, the Cubs enjoyed a red hot start that carried throughout the whole season save for a rough stretch just before the All-Star break. More importantly, this was a team with the rarity of near complete health all season save for Kyle Schwarber, who’s absence before coming back to be one of the World Series heroes was perfectly filled by the depth and flexibility of his teammates. Throw in the NL MVP, two Gold Glove winners in your starting nine, and two of the five starting pitchers in your rotation finishing second and third in Cy Young Award voting, and you have a recipe for a Championship season. And so it was done. (Not without three exciting series’ in the playoffs capped off by the greatest Game Seven of all time of course, but that’s another story altogether.)

Image result for Cubs World Series

2016 was as close to perfect as it gets. 2017 was not. And that’s ok.

For whatever reason, this year’s team stumbled early and often. The starting pitching wasn’t nearly as sharp, many bats slumped at once, there was a rash of injuries to several key players who missed significant time, the bullpen didn’t always hold serve and the platinum defense of 2016 regressed significantly. It took until after the All Star break for something to finally set right with this group, when they emerged from 5.5 games back on July 15 to win the division at the end of September. But still, something just didn’t look right.

There were notable offensive quirks by many players throughout the year. Kris Bryant hit .295 with 29 homers but only drove in 74 runs. Kyle Schwarber knocked out 30, but only hit .211 and that was due to a surge after coming back from the minors where he was sent after a couple months of living far below the Mendoza line. Addison Russell wasn’t the same, missed time with an injury and didn’t duplicate his production from the year before. Stalwart veteran Ben Zobrist had his struggles, and battled his health all season. Willson Contreras was having a monster year before being sidelined on the DL. Jason Heyward, under much scrutiny after a dreadful ’16, actually managed to hit 30 points higher and improved across the board in every offensive category, and yet still didn’t really pass the eye test and was benched for the second straight year in the playoffs for lack of production. Not that it was just him though, the entire team went flat against the Dodgers, losing four games to one and scoring only eight runs in the five games, all on home runs. The book was closed on 2017 with a major ebb, after not a lot of flow.

As I sit here writing this and listening to the excellent (and in context, very atmospheric) Pearl Jam – Let’s Play Two: Live At Wrigley Field record, I perhaps should be disappointed in the way this season ended, but I’m really not. In fact, I’m encouraged. For a team that battled through a lot of injuries, inconsistent play, individual struggles, and balls-to-the-wall competition in the division from the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals (and earlier, the Pittsburgh Pirates), and still emerge with a third straight trip to the NLCS…well, its something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. So really, 2017 wasn’t all that bad.

Granted, I’d be furious right now had 2016 not happened. In fact, I might start to believe that it never would happen.

In some ways, 2017 sort of felt like playing on house money. Sure I was hoping for a repeat, but baseball is the hardest sport to land a consecutive championship, so expecting one was a little unrealistic, even with the bulk of the 2016 team still here. The good thing however, was there was no pressure anymore. For all of the erroneous Curse believers, it was gone. Mission accomplished, and now we as fans could focus on the present and no longer the forlorn barrage of “what ifs” and “there’s always next year’s.” Cubs fans expect to win now, and make deep playoff runs, and for the third straight year, that’s what happened. Now this team can gear up for 2018 with a renewed focus, new faces on the roster and on the coaching staff (following the firing of pitching coach Chris Bosio yesterday), and perhaps a sense of unfinished business too.

Just remember, no team, game, or season is ever the same.

Four months until Spring Training…

Image result for Pearl Jam Let's Play Two

 

Sources: https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHC/2017.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHC/2016.shtml

 

Photo Credits: http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/baseball/cubs/ct-cubs-game-7-world-series-tv-ratings-20161103-story.html

http://m.mlb.com/cubs/tickets/info/cubs-destinations-wrigley-field-trips

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjXwOWCuYTXAhWI8oMKHV7cAL8QjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.showclix.com%2Fevent%2Fpearl-jam-lets-play-two87812744294032&psig=AOvVaw0xrtS0fXRSbJPjz-8UVSoy&ust=1508769092530088

2017 MLB Predictions

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Well folks, here we are! The 2017 season has arrived (today is Opening Day in fact, so I realize I’m a bit late on this.) I debated all offseason on whether to do a predictions post, but in the end, and by the end I mean about 4 minutes ago, I decided why not? So, here goes it, my prognostications for this year:

AL EAST

  1. Boston Red Sox – They’re loaded. Having David Price banged up to start the year won’t help, but picking up Chris Sale will, as he historically has dominated the division.
  2. Toronto Blue Jays – Balanced and potent. They should be in the picture.
  3. Baltimore Orioles – Talented and consistent, and Buck Showalter will keep them relevant.
  4. New York Yankees – Could easily finish higher. 2-5 in this division could end up anywhere.
  5. Tampa Bay Rays – Should be competitive, but an overall lack of offense will likely keep them at a distance by September.

AL CENTRAL

  1. Cleveland Indians – Like Boston, they’re loaded and hungry. Will the 69-year World Series drought come to an end?
  2. Kansas City Royals – Injuries decimated them last year. If healthy, they should contend.
  3. Detroit Tigers – Getting older, but don’t count them out just yet.
  4. Minnesota Twins – Imploded last year but they have lots of youth and talent. If they can gel, they can finish higher.
  5. Chicago White Sox – Finally in a needed rebuilding mode and seem to be doing it right. Some feel there’s still enough there to be competitive all season, but it could be a rough year on the south side, especially if the long-rumored trade of Jose Quintana actually happens.

AL WEST

  1. Houston Astros – Good talent mix up and down and they’re ready to win. Dallas Keuchel is the key cog in their rotation. If he bounces back, it’ll be a huge plus for them.
  2. Texas Rangers – Solid, though may need to find an arm or two. Should be in the race all season.
  3. Seattle Mariners – Could be a sleeper team. Balanced lineup, little gray area on their pitching staff, but they feel ready to win this year.
  4. Los Angeles Angels – Should be better if they stay healthy but not quite ready to challenge the division.
  5. Oakland Athletics – The rebuild continues.

NL EAST

  1. Washington Nationals – Will we see the Baker Effect part II? Lots of pressure for this team to advance in the playoffs. They have the roster to do so.
  2. New York Mets – The most formidable starting rotation in the bigs, but they must stay healthy. If they do, this team could be extremely dangerous.
  3. Miami Marlins – Talent to be competitive, but depth and potential emotional hangover from the tragic death of Jose Fernandez will be factors.
  4. Philadelphia Phillies – Continuing rebuild, but trending up. Could grab a few more wins than people expect.
  5. Atlanta Braves – Lots of people seem high on this team to finish middle or upper in the division. They still are likely a year away, but like the AL East, positions 2-5 could be in any order.

NL CENTRAL

  1. Chicago Cubs – The defending World Champs are the best team in baseball, unequivocally. Sustaining that success now becomes the challenge, but this team has the depth, youth, flexibility and brains to do so.
  2. St. Louis Cardinals – Instantly better with the signing of Dexter Fowler, but losing Alex Reyes for the season was an unexpected blow. Still, there’s enough here to remain in the playoff picture.
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates – Arguably the best outfield in baseball and plenty of promise in the infield too. Will it be enough to climb back into the race?
  4. Milwaukee Brewers – Need pitching. Likely a mid-lower division finish looms.
  5. Cincinnati Reds – The full rebuild continues.

NL WEST

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers – Strong overall team and Dave Roberts proved in his first year as skipper he’s a trusted leader. If Rich Hill steps up to solidify their rotation, another division title awaits for these guys.
  2. San Francisco Giants – Picking up Mark Melancon was huge for them to bolster their bullpen, but a lack of big bats in their lineup could be a detriment. Still, a team of very good, dependable players will keep them on pace with the Dodgers all year.
  3. Colorado Rockies – Another potential sleeper team who could surprise. Pitching is always a question mark here, but there is a very potent lineup and solid defense that could enable this team to win.
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks – New managers always bring some new questions, but overall a lack of depth will be a major hurdle come the dog days of summer.
  5. San Diego – In rebuild mode.

There you go, folks. We’ll see how it shakes out as the season progresses and check in at the All-Star break to see how my semi-educated guesses are playing out. Enjoy the season!

 

Photo Credit: http://bsndenver.com/it-is-time-for-major-league-baseball-to/

A Draft Day Adventure

Lost in a world of fantasy, look what you’ve done to me.”

Yeah, that was a nod to a sizable hit song from 1982, remember? No? What about the Canadian rock band Triumph, who wrote it? Geez, what about the mega hit “Fantasy” by Aldo Nova? How about…crap, never mind. You may have known somewhere in the far recesses of your subconscious mind that these songs existed, but their details were very sketchy, at best. Basically, you don’t remember these songs any more than I remembered just how to play fantasy baseball.

You can imagine then, that I was a little concerned heading into last weekend’s draft, feeling like a mechanic from the 1970’s who started working on cars again in 2017 after a long time away. Sure, cars still have four wheels and an engine, but what makes them actually go is radically different from what he remembers.

Image result for Fantasy baseball draft

This 2017 season is not my first foray into the world of fantasy baseball per se, but it is my first jaunt into this modern age of the game. You see, the last time I delved into this universe, the internet didn’t quite exist and you had to mail in your draft picks and lineups. Yes, that mail. So, here we are today and after some weeks of not-too-strenuous convincing and courting by a group of friends whom I share a mutual passion not only for baseball but specifically the Cubs with, I joined their league. Mind you, this is a league that is some 16 years old, give or take a foggy year or two at it’s inception during those joyous college years. Yep, this is me: Don’t try and join a startup league with fellow noob’s (as legions of basement-dwelling World of Warcrafters might call me), or a basic online league like I participated in, sort of, once before. Nope, just join a full 12-team keeper league full of veteran, extremely smart, analytical players. It’s going to be fun they said.

I started my prep with no singular direction, and outlined a list of players at each position without too much intricate research. I honestly had neither the time, nor the die-hard inclination. As a league rookie, I first got to participate in a mini-expansion draft with a fellow new team to the league and, actually, I think I did OK here. Selecting from a short list of available players who weren’t kept from last season, I managed to snag Johnathan Lucroy, Adrian Beltre, Brandon Crawford and Javier Baez. Not a bad start.

Draft day arrived and I was filled with excitement and anticipation, but also a modicum of fear as I didn’t want to completely Lewis Skolnick myself in front of a room full of long-time players. The auction rounds came and went, and my initial goal was to try and spread the wealth a bit to get a decent number of good players. Five buys later, mission accomplished. It was then that things began to trend in a direction that was less than upward, but not entirely to the trajectory of the Titanic‘s ultimate buoyancy in the North Atlantic, either. When it was all said and done, I took a look at my roster, feeling pretty OK about my performance. While I didn’t get remotely close to every player I had targeted (who does?), I still felt I had a roster of players who could deliver consistency in multiple categories. On second look however, I noticed two overarching themes:

Youth.

Health.

I don’t have a lot of either on my roster.

I do seem to have a good amount of power with guys like Lucroy, Beltre, Mark Trumbo, Giancarlo Stanton, Wil Myers, and Mr. Do-It-All Charlie Blackmon (easily my best pick of the draft.) Then comes a bench with what ended up being multiple catchers, but whom can also DH, a semi-surprising 22nd-round pickup with Josh Bell, and Kansas City utility man Whit Merrifield, who sounds like an Alpha Beta pledge at Adams College if ever there was one.

While the position players may be adequate, the pitching staff is cause for concern. Anchored by three injury/loss-of-stuff risks with Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Zack Greinke. A couple mid-level starters with James Paxton and Gio Gonzales round things out with Sam Dyson and Kyle Barraclough (whom I admittedly drafted about 12% due to his name), in the mix as well. Draft snafu #2 happened nearly too late of course, when I realized somewhere around the 19th round that I had no true closer, and all the big guns were long off my board. I had to settle, for now, on Huston Street, who promptly began suffering from some sort of ailment (again.) Not a great sign. But sort of fitting, in a way. I’m the dumbass who overlooked that spot on my roster.

What’s the point of all of this you ask?

None, really. I just wanted to write something, I haven’t written about fantasy baseball before, and figured I’d throw this yarn of shameless self-deprecation out in the universe and open the floor to mocking, laughter and sneers. Hopefully it works out and I can maintain something above the level of animal excrement for the season.

But I’ll keep an eye on that waiver wire too.

Photo Credit: https://media2.fdncms.com/chicago/imager/fantasy-hell/u/magnum/5786463/fantasybaseballflat_by_johnny_sampson_image.jpg