(Blogathon ’16) Stacey Folkemer: Baseball is more than a game, it’s part of the family

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

Baseball has always been a part of my family life. I can’t remember a time when summer evenings didn’t include the ballgame on the radio or television, or when a holiday passed that my uncle didn’t offer his opinions on how to fix the rotation while my grandfather complained about a slugger who strikes out too much.

For most of my life, the Baltimore Orioles have been a bad baseball team. They’ve had their moments, but I was born after their glory years. And for my entire adult life until four years ago, the Orioles weren’t just bad, they were a laughing stock. But it was during those years that they became an even bigger part of my familial relationships as I grew into adulthood and my grandparents, especially my grandmother, advanced in age and became less a part of the everyday world.

If you have spent time with someone who doesn’t often leave the house, you understand how difficult it can be to come up with new and fresh things to talk about. My grandmother spent many of her last years confined to her home, limiting her ability to speak about things that she didn’t see on TV or hear about from someone else. But thanks to baseball, we always had plenty to say during our visits. She watched every game from her living room and had strong opinions on every player.

She and my grandfather were two very different types of fans. She was the ultimate pessimist. The Orioles were never good enough, they’d never going to return to their former glory with these players or this manager. It was an extension of her personality at large, where she was often times harsh but passionate for those people and things that she cared about. But she never gave up on them, even if she expected them to lose. If the game was close in the ninth inning, she couldn’t take it. She’d take refuge on the patio, smoking a cigarette and waiting for me to come out and tell her who won. If the answer was the Orioles, she’d smile but comment on how it’s just like them to almost throw it away.

My grandfather, on the other hand, has always been a baseball optimist. Even in the darkest years, as the O’s losing streak stretched across a decade, he always believed they could win. Every year during Spring Training, as reports flooded in that players were in the best shape of their lives, my grandfather believed them all. “They’ve got the hitters, the pitching might come around,” he’d say, as my grandmother and I disagreed and told him he was crazy. He and I had a conversation before the 2012 season in which he repeated the same optimism he’d shown every year prior, and I laughed at how misguided he was. We made a bet on their record, with him claiming they’d be over .500 and me stating that they didn’t have a chance.

Well, if you recall the 2012 season, the Orioles won 93 games, captured the Wild Card, and made it to game five of the ALDS before their season came to an end. I heard a lot about my pessimism that year, let me tell you. I still hear about it sometimes, almost four years later.

As a fan myself, I have to admit that I’m more like my grandmother. Even now, with the Orioles having four straight non-losing seasons and two playoff appearances since 2012, my natural instinct is to think the worst. The starting pitcher will always implode, the offense will never get a hit in the clutch, the Orioles of 2012-15 were a fluke.

I wish I didn’t have that attitude. Outwardly, I have tried to take on the more optimistic view that has always been modeled by my Granddad. Over the last few years I have argued on Twitter and my internet home of CamdenChat.com about how the Orioles are better than people think. When the game is on the line late I profess my faith in my team despite a sinking feeling in my stomach. I am trying to fake it until I make it, basically, but I don’t think I’ll ever be fully successful.

We lost my grandmother to cancer in 2008, so I was never able to share the winning Orioles with her as an adult. As the O’s participated in the 2012 playoffs, I thought about her a lot, wondering if she would have changed her pessimistic ways after watching the magical 2012 team. Probably not. We are who we are, after all. I imagine that she would have seen Jim Johnson’s implosion coming from a mile away (or at least claimed she did). She wouldn’t have witnessed Brian Matusz giving up a walk-off home run to Raul Ibanez in game three of the ALDS (she would have been on the porch, unable to take it) but she never would have forgiven Matusz for as long as he was in an Orioles uniform. But she still would have been ecstatic for our guys even as she cursed them, and I’m sad I didn’t get to experience that with her.

I have been able to spend the last four seasons of good Orioles baseball with my grandfather, and for that I’m grateful. Finally, he has seen a return on his optimism. The ultimate payoff would be a World Series win (though he, unlike me, has at least gotten to see three of those for the Orioles in his life), and maybe he’ll soon be rewarded for his faith in his team.

I wouldn’t count on it, though. Have you seen the starting rotation?

Stacey Folkemer has been writing for Camden Chat, SB Nation’s Baltimore Orioles blog, since 2008. You can find her there or follow her @StaceyMFolk. She lives in Maryland with her husband, who is also a sports writer. In the winter she dreams of baseball. In the summer she watches it from section 334 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

This guest-post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

(Blogathon ’16) CONTINUUM CLASSIC- The time I wrote an obituary for the 2012 Baltimore Orioles’ playoff hopes. Whoops.

This piece from the blog’s archives is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

The Playoff Hopes of the Baltimore Orioles passed away last night at the age of 89 games, dying shortly after a 19-7 trouncing at the hands of the Minnesota Twins, who sometimes don’t even seem to score 19 runs during a single month. Although Hopes, who had not been seen this late since 1997, is still technically alive, doctors confirm that the prognosis is extremely grim and that it is only a matter of time before it is overtaken and destroyed by the American League East and the tough competition for the AL Wild Card spots due to a lack of starting pitching.

The Orioles’ Playoff Hopes leaves behind it’s brother, fellow Baltimore native Michael Phelps Olympic Hopes, as well as it’s distant cousin, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Playoff Hopes.

Services are the rest of the season. In lieu of flowers, send quality starting pitchers.

This piece from the blog’s archives has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

You can learn a lot watching an “empty” game

As you know, the Orioles and White Sox will be playing a game today in front of an empty stadium due to the recent events in Baltimore, with only themselves, journalists, and a skeleton crew of ballpark workers there to see it in person.

While of course the first thoughts should be for everyone in Baltimore in light of the unrest (whether peaceful protest or the violent riots that occurred on Monday), it should be noted that this unusual zero-attendance game will provide a unique look at baseball.

Now, I have, of course by definition, never been to a game with no attendance. But I have been to games that have been very close, with perhaps only a hundred or more fans there, tops. Go to a minor league game on a cold night with a chance of rain and you’ll have a chance to see it (as I have at times), or go to one of the lowest minor leagues, where they play games in large Spring Training facilities in front of crowds far, far smaller than the ballpark is meant to.

It is, in a word that will be said many times today: surreal.

For one thing, there is the fact that almost everything in the stadium is closed. Maybe one or two food stands will be open for the few fans who are there (this won’t be the case for the Orioles game today), and maybe you might still one or two vendors walking around hawking beer, but in general, it is a morgue outside of the seating bowl. They might not even turn on the TVs to show the game to anybody down below.

And yet, much of what the stadium’s PA system and video board play remain the same. They’ll flash out the birthday messages meant for people who probably left during the rain delay in the third innings, they’ll play walk-up music that echoes through the empty stands, they’ll give “fan of the game” awards to people who normally never get the awards because their seats are too expensive, and the mascots are able to give a good chunk of time to every kid in the crowd. Individually.

And, above all else, you can hear almost everything said above a conversational tone. You can hear the players actually call out “I got it, I got it,” and hear them swear after they do something wrong. I don’t know if the mics in Baltimore will be good enough to pick stuff like that up, but if they can, it’ll be a treat (and also NSFW).

Lastly, if it’s possible, baseball with little to no fans there is most definitely connoisseur’s experience. The few people there most definitely want to be there. There are no casual fans. And that is an almost zen-like experience.

The Previous BAL-KC Playoff Matchups… yes, there was one (and there could have been 3!)

Don’t believe the people who say that this ALCS is the first time that Baltimore and Kansas City’s baseball teams have met in the playoffs. It’s wrong.

Oh, to be sure, this is the first time the MLB franchises- the Royals and Orioles- have met. But it’s not the first time Kansas City and Baltimore have sent their nines against each other. It’s the second… and there could have been at least two more, had they been played. Using a few other resources, such as Baseball-Reference, SABR, and their joint wiki, here is the hidden history of Kansas City and Baltimore in the postseason..

 

1923 Little World Series: Kansas City Blues def. Baltimore Orioles, 5-4

Throughout history, there have been many incarnations of a Triple-A World Series, pitting the best teams in America that aren’t Major League. And in 1923, we had the only time that we can be sure Kansas City and Baltimore played each other in a postseason series, as they faced each other in a best-of-9 series, at the time going by the name “Little World Series”, although the Sporting News also referred to as the “Junior World Series”. It was a match-up between the American Association and the International League.

Winning the IL for the fifth straight season, the 1923 Orioles were in the midst of perhaps the greatest minor league dynasty in history, as they would ultimately win the IL every year from 1919 to 1925. Under Jack Dunn- best known for being the man who discovered Babe Ruth- they’d gone 111-53 to win the pennant by 11 games over Rochester, and would later be named as the 19th greatest minor league team in history. Their roster was stacked with players who either had or would have major league careers.

The most notable, of course, would be 23-year-old future Hall-of-Famer Lefty Grove, who pitched to a 3.11 ERA as he set the IL record for strikeouts in a season that year with 330 Ks in 303 IP. However, his 27-10 record wasn’t even the best on the team- that belonged to the 29-year-old Rube Parnham, who went 33-7 with a 3.18 ERA. The righty, interestingly enough, only pitched in six MLB games in his career for the 1916-1917 Philadelphia Athletics.

Also on the Orioles that year was Grove’s fellow Hall-of-Famer Chief Bender, then 39 years old, who had pitched in all but one of his 459 career MLB appearances on the mound (in addition to some small stints as a position player). Pitching in 18 games with Baltimore, he was less than effective and had a 5.03 ERA.

Other notable Orioles included Tommy Thomas (who would go on to pitch parts of 12 seasons in the big leagues), 2B Max Bishop (who tied for the IL lead in HR at 22 and who would go to 15th all-time in MLB OBP), Jimmy Walsh (who had been primarily an outfielder in the majors during the 1910s) and Clarence Pitt, a mid-season acquisition from Rochester who hit .357 in 1923 but who never played a MLB game.

In contrast to the runaway Orioles, the Blues had been in a neck-and-neck race before grabbing the AA title. In fact, in a article dated Sept. 30 in the October 4 issue of Sporting News, it was said that it would be “almost a miracle” if they were to come through in their race with the St. Paul Saints. That same article, entitled “St Paul Counting Team As Safely In”, is in fact more of a preview of a Saints-Orioles series than anything. But Kansas City won an astounding 10 of their last 11 games to finish the year with a 112-54 record, the second best in the history of the American Association and just barely ahead of St. Paul at 111-57. Unlike the Orioles, the Blues lacked many big names or future stars, instead being made up mainly of older veterans, such as their 37-year-old player-manager Wilbur Good (who’d played parts of 11 years in the bigs), 30-year-old Bunny Brief (who had already played all 184 of his MLB games), and 36-year-olds Beals Becker (who had been second in the 1914 National League batting race) and Lena Blackburne (most known for his role in the infamous “rubbing mud” that is placed on baseballs before being put in play). There was also 25-year-old Dud Branom, who hit .348 but would ultimately only have 30 games with the Athletics in 1927. Pitching-wise, the Blues were led by Jimmy Zinn, who went 27-6 with a 3.94 ERA, and Ferdie Schupp, who went 19-10 with a 4.23 ERA. Also in the rotation: Ray Caldwell, winner of 134 career MLB games.

Bad weather plagued the Little World Series, and in fact it ended after MLB’s World Series. Starting on October 10th in Kansas City, it didn’t end until October 25th- 16 days later- in Baltimore, where Kansas City won the 9th and deciding game 5-2, defeating Grove and Parnham in the final game behind homers by Bill Skiff and Brief. It was only because of Baltimore’s play at home that the series had even gotten that long, as Kansas City had gone 3-1 to start the series.

That would be the last time Baltimore and Kansas City would have two professional baseball teams meet in the playoffs… but it’s not the last time that it could have happened.

1929 Negro World Series: The Kansas City Monarchs would have played the Baltimore Black Sox

The Negro Leagues were infamously disorganized, with record-keeping at times being hit-or-miss and the with league schedules often haphazardly taking place between barnstorming tours and other exhibitions. In addition, there was the problem of money (several Negro Leagues ended up folding long before integration) and, of course, the racism they faced, which often closed them out of stadiums and hotels. So, with that in mind, perhaps it is isn’t surprising that the Negro World Series (also called the Colored World Series, depending on the era) was an on-and-off affair. Well, in 1929, it was an “off” year, thus depriving the world of a matchup between the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League and the Baltimore Black Sox of the short-lived American Negro League.

We’ll never know what would have happened had they done so, but any such series would have featured at least three Hall of Famers: Jud Wilson (with Baltimore), Bullet Joe Rogan (with Kansas City) and Andy Cooper (also with Kansas City).

1939 Negro World Series: The Kansas City Monarchs would have played the Baltimore Elite Giants

Ten years later, the Negro American League champion Kansas City Monarchs would have faced the Negro National League champion Baltimore Elite Giants. But, like in 1929, the Negro Leagues World Series was not in existence at the time.

That was a shame, as this series would have been even more star-studded than the 1929 edition would have been. Hall of Famers Hilton Smith, Turkey Stearnes and Willard Brown, as well as Buck O’Neil (who should have been a Hall of Famer for his work off the field alone), were on the Monarchs, while the Elite Giants had a 41-year-old Biz Mackey and a 17-year-old catcher named Roy Campanella.

We’ll never know what might have happened, but it really fires up the imagination, doesn’t it?

So, there you go, the previous playoff match-ups between Baltimore and Kansas City. Oh, sure, two of them never really happened, but, still, that’s way more than is needed to render any claim that this is the first time that Kansas City and Baltimore have met in the playoffs false!

 

Your 2014 Baltimore Orioles, AKA “Where The Hell Did These Guys Come From?”, a Q&A

Last night, the Orioles won, walking off the Yankees in the 9th to lower their magic number to 3. It seems all but inevitable that they will clinch their first AL East pennant since 1997 within the next few days, perhaps as early as tomorrow.

And yet, many are likely asking: “Where the hell did these guys come from?”

It’s not a bad question, as the Orioles have continued to win, even after losing not one (Matt Wieters), not two (Manny Machado), but three former or current All-Stars to either injury or, in Davis’ case, suspension. In fact, if anything, they seem to have gotten better with every big player they’ve lost.

So, to answer some questions about the Orioles, here’s a Q&A:

Okay, so, the Orioles do still have Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, right?

Yes. They do.

And both of them were actually developed in the Orioles farm system?

Only half correct. Markakis was 100% home grown, but Adam Jones was originally in the Mariners system and was acquired in a trade for Erik Bedard back in 2008.

Oh, bummer for the Mariners. Anybody else from that trade on the Orioles roster?

Chris Tillman. Currently 12-5 with a 3.29 ERA.

Wow, the Mariners really screwed that up, didn’t they?

Yes, yes they did.

By the way, alongside Tillman, the Orioles rotation has done pretty good this year, what’s their story?

Wei-Yin Chen, a lefty who is currently 15-4 with a 3.59 ERA and some of the best control in the league (he has had the 5th lowest percentage of BB/9 in the AL this year), was acquired from Japan, where he was a member of the NPB Chunichi Dragons. Before that, he played in his native Taiwan.

Ubaldo Jimenez was acquired as a free agent this last offseason, and has not lived up to his $50 million dollar contract, with a ERA approaching five. It’s highly unlikely he’ll be a starter during the postseason.

Bud Norris was acquired from Houston in 2013 in a trade for L.J. Hoes and a minor leaguer.

Miguel Gonzalez was signed as a free agent in 2012, having never reached the Majors during his time in the Angels or Red Sox systems. He’s 9-8 with a 3.28 ERA.

And, finally, there is Kevin Gausman, the lone member of the starting rotation who is 100% Orioles. Although he was up and down between Baltimore and AAA Norfolk this year, at least some of that had more to do with taking advantage of MLB service time rules than his actual performance (he has a perfectly respectable 3.57 ERA). Only 23 and one of the top prospects for Baltimore, he loves powdered donuts and has a fastball that can hit triple digits at times.

Hang on, so those five guys and Chris Tillman have been the Orioles rotation this year? It looks like a bunch of guys who’d be mid-rotation guys on other teams.

Yeah. Feels that way, doesn’t it? In fact, if you were to look at FanGraphs’ pitching WAR leaders, you don’t see an Oriole until you get to 47 on the list- Tillman, who’s just ahead of Kyle Gibson of the Twins. If you were to look at the rotation’s FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching, basically what a pitcher’s ERA would be like if they were pitching in laboratory settings with average fielding, luck, etc.), you’d see none of them have one under 4.

So, perhaps the Orioles’ rotation is playing over it’s head, getting lucky and taking advantage of the offense supporting them and the defense behind them. Another way to look at it, though, would be that perhaps having 5 steady mid-rotation guys is better than having one or two aces followed by more questionable pitching. I don’t know.

Okay, enough about pitchers? How about the long-ball?

Nelson Cruz was probably among this past off-season’s best free agent signings, as he’s worked his way from PED-suspended disgrace and poor fielder to dinger-pounding DH (currently 39 on the season), although he has cooled off significantly in the second half of the season, only hitting 11 of the 39 after the All-Star Break.

Go on…

The next highest number of home runs on the Orioles is 26, by Chris Davis, who isn’t available. Adam Jones has been having a good power year, though, and is currently at 25 homers for the year. Steve Pearce, a super-utility/backup 1B/backup OF, has been having a career year at the plate with 17 HRs. He’s another good free agent signing.

Say, where did the Orioles get JJ Hardy, again?

They acquired him from the Twins in 2010 for such immortals as Jim Hoey and Brett Jacboson.

Who?

Exactly.

So, who is Jonathan Schoop and how do I say his last name?

He’s a international free agent signing from Curaco, a member of the WBC Honkballers, long one of the top infield prospects in the Orioles system, and his last name is pronounced like “scope”.

Thank you.

You’re welcome.

Now, where’d the bullpen come from?

The bullpen is basically made up of failed starting pitching prospects. Closer Zach Britton? He was a starter coming up. Same for Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter (Hunter was initially a starter for the Rangers, and was acquired in the same deal that brought Chris Davis to Baltimore) and Andrew Miller (who the Orioles acquired in July from Boston). Only Darren O’Day has never started a game in the big leagues. He, by the way, was taken off waivers from the Rangers back in 2011.

So, anybody else notable?

Delmon Young. David Lough. Ryan Flaherty. The Orioles have plenty of guys who you know you remember still being in the league but can’t quite remember much about. Well, Ryan Flaherty has been with the Orioles since he was acquired in the 2011 Rule 5 draft, but still.

So, really, how are the Orioles doing this?

They made some good acquisitions, a good bullpen and lineup, and the pitching is good enough. Also, they sacrificed Wieters’ UCL and Machado’s knee to the baseball gods. Only rational explanation.

Images of Game One of the ALDS

Baltimore was miserable on Sunday: it was cold, the sky was dark, and then it rained. And rained. And rained. And then, finally, Game One of the American League Division Series, which was eight innings of exhilaration and one of the loudest crowds I’ve ever been in followed by another inning where Camden Yards became a morgue. And my camera’s batteries were rather finicky, totally ruining many other opportunities for photos.

So, here we go (after the jump):

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Obituary: The 2012 Baltimore Orioles’ Playoff Hopes

The Playoff Hopes of the Baltimore Orioles passed away last night at the age of 89 games, dying shortly after a 19-7 trouncing at the hands of the Minnesota Twins, who sometimes don’t even seem to score 19 runs during a single month. Although Hopes, who had not been seen this late since 1997, is still technically alive, doctors confirm that the prognosis is extremely grim and that it is only a matter of time before it is overtaken and destroyed by the American League East and the tough competition for the AL Wild Card spots due to a lack of starting pitching.

The Orioles’ Playoff Hopes leaves behind it’s brother, fellow Baltimore native Michael Phelps Olympic Hopes, as well as it’s distant cousin, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Playoff Hopes.

Services are the rest of the season. In lieu of flowers, send quality starting pitchers.