Ichiro facts and Western legends

liberty valanceA 1962 movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, was made by a trio of Hollywood legends, John Ford, John Wayne and James Stewart. The film is most often referenced because at its dramatic conclusion, came one of the greatest lines in movie history:

Ransom Stoddard [Stewart]: You’re not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?
Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

At some point, the facts about Ichiro Suzuki may be zig-zaging into legend territory, but its hard to tell from my vantage point here in the deep South, aka Miami. I get to say that since I grew up around folks who pronounced it ‘My-Ama’ and had a neighbor who played a mean banjo.

A sampling of recent articles about Ichiro and the facts, or legends-to-be, they report:

Joe Trezza – Miami Herald – Unique training and preparation:

Like all players, Ichiro will stretch. But he starts earlier than most players and won’t really ever stop … one of the few major-leaguers who doesn’t lift weights. Instead he prefers a rigorous flexibility routine that requires specialized machines, targets often-overlooked joints and promotes improved blood circulation….

Ichiro has been placed on the disabled list just once in 14 seasons. He does the routine up to four times per day — when he wakes up, before team stretches at the ballpark, before the game and again at home after the game.

What separates Ichiro from other players isn’t his work ethic. Instead it’s a meticulousness that touches every aspect of his preparation.

“He’s the most interesting man in the world,” Marlins hitting coach Frank Menechino said.

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The at bats Ichiro needs for 4,257

IchiroSuzuki-620x400Two major milestones are on the horizon for Ichiro Suzuki. An additional 134 hits would tie him with Pete Rose at 4,256 professional base hits. If he gets 22 hits beyond that, he would then reach the 3,000 hit threshold in MLB. An incredible accomplishment given that he spent his first 9 seasons in Japan before coming to the Major Leagues in 2001.

As fans, when we think of hitting, we are used to thinking about at bats [AB’s], but plate appearances [PA’s] is the more precise way to measure, since it includes walks and sacrifices which don’t count as AB’s. Barry Jackson has reported that while Ichiro’s base contract with the Marlins is for $2 million, it could increase up to $4.8 million based on additional PA’s. The bonuses start kicking in at 300 PA’s in increments of 50 up to 600.

So barring a major injury, which Ichiro has avoided throughout his 23-year professional career, getting enough PA’s is all that stands between him and international professional baseball history happening in Little Havana. In my informal review of how local bloggers have weighed-in on the subject, Joe Frisaro and Michael Jong’s article as of March 2015, both estimated 340 PA’s. Interestingly, in a Jan 2015 article before the Ichiro signing, Jong was much more pessimistic about Ichiro’s expected PA’s.

Here is a rundown on my starting point to estimate Ichiro’s 2015 PA’s:

  • 385 – Ichiro’s 2014 PA’s with Yankees
  • 340 – Estimated PA’s for Ichiro by Joe Frisaro & Michael Jong [March]
  • 300 – PA’s at which contract bonus begins to kick in
  • 201 – Reed Johnson 2014 PA’s with Marlins / Jong [January]

But how did they get to 340 PA’s? While Jong is very detailed in his use of analytics, he did not not specify his assumptions on getting to 340. Frisaro added up the PA’s by the 6 Marlins bench players used as pinch-hitters or reserved outfielders last year. As such, Frisaro’s 340 strikes me as too generous, whereas January Jong too stingy in allowing that Ichiro might only match Reed Johnson.

There is a consensus that Ichiro will not be platooned and will not play first base. So his role will be as the first pinch-hitter off the bench and a typical 4th outfielder, playing in case of injury or spotting starters a day off. Further, given that Yelich is a Gold Glove winner and Ozuna and Stanton are considered above-average defensively, it is unlikely that Ichiro will be used extensively as a defensive replacement.

Based on those factors, my search criteria for determining which MLB outfielders during 2014 best approximated Ichiro’s role in 2015, are as follows:

  • National League player – due to reprehensible DH
  • Started ≤50% games played – to avoid platoon players
  • Min 250 PA’s – below that level there is no chance for reaching records

Here are the 2014 National League outfielders who met that criteria:

That’s it. Even Snider’s 359 PA’s are a bit of an outlier, since he began the year as a starting outfielder.

Ichiro is on a 2-year plan to get 156 hits, or 78 hits per year. Unless the Marlins outfielders have a major injury, Mike Redmond will be hard pressed to get Ichiro more than 300 PA’s. Here are the number of hits 300 PA’s would translate to:

  • 74 – based on .264 batting average [Ichiro’s average last year]
  • 78 – based on .280 batting average
  • 84 – based on .300 batting average

It will be that close. While Ichiro is a famously classy guy, I wouldn’t blame Christian, Marcell & Giancarlo for always walking behind him. As a sign of respect of course.

Ichiro reminds us why we are fans

The only embargo being lifted in Miami in 2015 relates to an islands nation with a proud baseball tradition dating back to the 19th century, Japan. As such;

I, generic Marlins fan of Hispanic background, being of some mind and impeccable Miami ethnicity — to wit, privileged to have stepped on or into the following; Orange Bowl, Miami Senior High, St John Bosco Catholic Church, Miami-Dade College, FIU, UM, McDonalds, Cuba, Bon-Bon Bakery, 5th Street YMCA, and the Aquarius Lounge — hereby declare the games of the MMXV Miami Marlins to be open and free of resentful fan embargoes, at least until the next treacherous personnel move.

Why now you ask? Is it because of the Stanton signing? Sure that helps, but that signing’s most significant value to angry fans is the realistic timetable it provides as to the end of Loria’s ownership. No the main reason to move past our resentments is the arrival of the great Ichiro Suzuki to play on hallowed Orange Bowl grounds within our Little Havana neighborhood.

ichirobanner2
To go from being represented by Ozzie Guillen to Ichiro Suzuki, is to go from the relentlessly profane to the height of professionalism. Ichiro is a worthy successor to Mariano Rivera as the best combination of sustained excellence and class MLB has to offer. Baseball royalty resides in Little Havana for 2015.

A bridge too bizarre. Such journeys can’t happen all at once. You need a Mike Redmond buffer. Unlike the Corleone’s, the attention-starved Marlins management only lately have recognized their need of buffers or class.

The profaneness about the Miami Marlins was not limited to their manager in 2012. The team owner, playing the proverbial geek desperately trying to curry favor with the cool kid, happily informed Guillen of how many F-bombs he had used in his initial address to the team in front of Showtime cameras. Never wanting to be left out, the team president also dropped an F-bomb in a choreographed pep talk to Marlins office personnel. If loving Ozzie was wrong, these jock-sniffers didn’t wanna be right.

Marlins managment were committed to Ozzie all the way through Spring Training. Then came April 2012, then came the long con, as Jeff Passan might say. But our sports hatred of Loria is no long-term reason not to follow and support Miami’s MLB team based in Little Havana.

My next Marlins blog post will discuss a possible target date for Ichiro reaching 4,257 career hits. He is 134 away and we need to explore how Redmond can find the needed AB’s over the next, hopefully, 2 years.

Sorry Garcia, Ichiro’s coming for your boy.

Good teams don’t blow this many saves right?

Geez, can’t a fan’s gut instincts ever be right?

Here are the thoughts of Marlins fans [OK me] after Heath Bell’s blown save on Tuesday:

Good teams don’t lose games when they rally from 7 runs down. Good teams don’t blow these many save opportunities. I mean it’s probably happened before, in the way that everything has probably happened before in MLB, but you probably gotta go way back.

So I set out to find a National League [the DH league is dead to me] playoff team who were at the bottom of the league in terms of blown saves. I had to go all the way back to the 2011 World Champion St Louis Cardinals.

  • 2011 Cardinals blown saves – 26
  • 2011 NL average blown saves – 20
  • 2011 Marlins blown saves – 19
  • 2012 Marlins blown saves – 12
  • 2012 NL average – 10

But surely those Cardinals didn’t have a game were they were down 7, came back and blew the game in extra innings? No they had one where they were down 8, came back and blew the game in extra innings. It happened against the Reds, it happened at home and it happened almost one year to the date of the Marlins loss, on July 6th 2011.

Alright, alright, but before those Cardinals, what other playoff teams …

  • 2010 – Cincinnati & Philadelphia were above the league average in blown saves, but not significantly
  • 2009 – LA Dodgers made the playoffs and led the league in blown saves

I could go on, but its a sunny day. Turns out that blown saves may be a better indicator of a team that has a lot of late leads, more than it is an indicator of whether a team can make the playoffs. So ask not for whom the Bell trolls, Oviedo and Bonifacio will soon be back.

On pins and creedals

Fans have a creed too. Unlike the Church, ours is not spelled out or even welcoming. Our creed is a winnowing process based on loyalty. Doubting one’s team in between playoff games earns you a lifetime ban from this church. You show loyalty to a team whose ownership are cartoonishly dishonest about their business dealings, we are impressed.

Think about it. Since the end of the 2005 season, being a loyal Marlins fan would put you near the top of the Fan pyramid as surely as Gordon Cooper was atop the Astronaut pyramid on May 21st 1963. The Marlins had at least one fan with the right stuff. His name was Louis Mendez, Sr. and the stuff he used were commemorative pins.

Louis Mendez, Sr. – The Pin Man

I’ve heard it mentioned–and I agree in part since I was there with a few of my Emmaus brothers–that if we had to pinpoint the moment the Miami Marlins began benefiting from a home field advantage at their new ballpark, it happened in a May 21st game against the Colorado Rockies. In the 4th inning of that game, Giancarlo Stanton hit a bases loaded home run against Jamie Moyer. That’s one way to describe it.

Here’s another. A 22 year-old hit a grand slam off a 49 year-old pitcher who was was in MLB before the hitter was born. The pitch came in at 72 mph and came off the bat at a record speed of 122 mph. It was a home run even a Roy Hobbs would have bragged about, if he drank.

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For whom the Bell gets pounded

John Donne’s best known poetry might hit too close to home for Heath Bell to appreciate right now. No surprise there, everything associated with Bell is hitting well at this point. But instead of visiting a sports psychiatrist, he might be better off googling the 16th century English poet, satirist, lawyer, priest and defier of King James I.

The bad news is that Heath Bell has blown both of his saves opportunities. The good news is that he was practically unhittable is his lone low pressure appearance. See his performance to date in 2012.

Pictured is the rumored, but to date unverified by The Elias Sports Bureau, landing spot of a Jay Bruce home run earlier this season.

For whom the bell tolls a poem — No man is an island
[aka The Reliever’s Lament] — by John Donne
[no relation to Dominick John Dunne]:

No man is an island
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Ozzie Guillen: The language made me do it

I don’t have a problem with Ozzie Guillen remaining as the manager of the Marlins. I don’t have to like the manager to be a Marlins fans. But I can’t do the wink wink about the press conference apology. Here’s what Guillen said:

It was misinterpreted. What I mean in Spanish, when he asked me in Spanish, I was thinking in Spanish

Which of course raises the question in what language did Chicago sports writer Rick Telander speak to him in 2008 when he replied with the same answer:

And I asked him this: “Who’s the toughest man you know?”
His response, which took me by surprise: “Fidel Castro.”
Why?
“He’s a bull—- dictator and everybody’s against him, and he still survives, has power. Still has a country behind him,” Ozzie replied. “Everywhere he goes, they roll out the red carpet. I don’t admire his philosophy; I admire him.”

As someone who’s been a big Marlins homer, disliking the manager will be a nice change of pace. How big a homer have I been? I was upset when John Boles was let go. At least once a day, I lament Jorge Cantu not getting to 30 home runs in 2008, which would have meant that the Marlins entire infield accomplished the feat, a first in MLB history.

So back off or ‘marcha asi atrás,’ in case Guillen is having this read to him.

The Marlins corporate strategy is the obvious big loser here. The fact that most [all?] of the local media who make their living directly or indirectly reporting on the Marlins support Guillen staying may just be a reflection of their first-hand knowledge of the man, but the fact that their opinions align so neatly with their self-interest is a little too convenient.

Marlins fan spiritual defense kit

Somewhere outside of Philadelphia on Monday, a goat’s life will come to an abrupt end because Heath Bell couldn’t keep his fastball down on Easter Sunday.  Such are the realities of having a practicing Santero managing a MLB team.  It’s a cut throat business.

Now that some Marlins fans have come to see Ozzie Guillen as an adversary, we need to prepare in case we find ourselves cornered by the powerful Babalao. Fortunately, at a recent Little Havana garage sale, I came a cross a wonderful research paper, ‘A Study of Divination within Santería, an Afro-Cuban Religion, as a Psychotherapeutic System’ by Lawrence J. Levy, M.S. While reading the paper, I alternately imagined myself as Guy Montag and Beldar Conehead. It was heady stuff. Literally.

A core Santería belief is the following:

The seat of the soul is the head, and therefore to strengthen the ‘Orisha’ that lives in the head of every human, it must be fed a mixture of grated coconut, honey, and cocoa butter. This mixture is placed on the head and then covered by a white hat or kerchief. The process is called ‘rogación de la cabeza.’

Bang, there it was, our defense kit.

But first I had to get the thought out of my head that if Orel Hershiser had been given the ‘Orisha’ nickname instead of ‘Bulldog,’ he would be in Cooperstown today.  Talk about an intimidation factor.  Heck Tommy Lasorda, who gave him the Bulldog nickname, spent a lot of time in Cuba, why couldn’t he … I digress.

Never have to say you’re sorry to the neighborhood Babalao again


But knowing the ingredients for the Babalao survival kit wasn’t enough. How to mass produce them and have them available at critical moments? Enter late night infomercials. I just want to note two things. The ingredients in the Glossy Locks shampoo are exactly what is needed to protect our inner Orisha’s and you don’t have to enter a botanica to obtain it. ‘Nuf said.

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Ozzie Guillen: Marlins Manager admires our enemy

Update on April 10: Rick Telander with the Chicago Sun-Times reveals that Guillen made very similar comments about Fidel Castro back in 2008. So anyone arguing that his comments don’t reflect his beliefs, would be relying on something other than logic.

But I regret writing that Guillen was now “my enemy” in the original blog post. Too strong a word for the likes of a baseball manager, or an accountant for that matter.

I don’t believe the apology. I don’t believe the PR cleanup efforts. I do believe that Guillen’s comments had an intention. I do believe that he was putting Cuban-Americans on notice. I do believe that the same sort of brain which embraces Santería is more than capable of admiring Fidel Castro. Ozzie Guillen is a friend of my enemy, so he is now my enemy.

I see it as a duty never to lose sight of the fact that the colorful Venezuelan is also a Castro “admiring” Santero. I doubt this sentiment towards Guillen, especially in Little Havana, the new home of the Miami Marlins in case you haven’t heard, would make me unique. But I do think I’m in a unique position [no readers or advertisers to worry about offending] to dispel some of the rationalizations which will attempt to suggest that Guillen misspoke when he volunteered his admiration for Fidel Castro:

  1. He can’t really admire Castro since “he has lived in Miami for 12 years.” — Miami has a very diverse Spanish speaking population. As in any other diverse community, there are rivalries and resentments among the different nationalities. As the first group to immigrate, the largest and most established, Cuban-Americans are a natural target for resentment. What is the best way to thumb your nose at Cuban-Americans? You speak well of a dictator and regime that has caused them [us] great pain. It’s a no-brainer. Which makes it an even more likely a tactic by a Santero.
  2. There is another word for “statements without intention.” — Beliefs. Besides I believe that Guillen did have an intention with his comments. He was putting Cuban-Americans in their [our] place and marking his territory. Saying that about Castro sends the message, ‘I don’t care if it is Miami, I’m Ozzie and I don’t hold back, even [or especially] for you guys.’
  3. Read Guillen’s ‘denial’ carefully. “I’m against the way he [Castro] treats people and the way [he has treated] his country for a long time. I’m against that 100 percent,” he said. I can interpret that to mean that Castro had the right idea, but stumbled in the implementation. That sentiment can co-exist with his admiration for his staying power. Given Guillen’s background, beliefs and education, it’s a mistake to look for an intellectual rationale in anything he says. But sending messages? He’s all about that.
  4. Recall that Guillen was critical of the anti-communist community in Miami which voiced its displeasure with Magglio Ordonez during the World Baseball Classic in 2009.
  5. Temperamentally, admiring Castro would be consistent with someone who liked Hugo Chavez, as Guillen did in 2005. He has since come around on Chavez, in part I assume because of the damage done to his country, Venezuela. But since Guillen has no skin in the Cuban game [until now], the Castro admiration likely didn’t merit a similar reconsideration. Again, no one ascribes actual thinking to any Guillen thoughts. He’s merely thumbing his nose at a rival Latin community in the most flippant manner possible.
  6. Still in the background, I expect this rationalization to gain steam during the week. Guillen was drunk. In an unrelated [to date] story, it was reported that Guillen is so frequently drunk on the road that it actually is seen as a positive in terms of his social skills. Hey isn’t Miguel Cabrera a babalao too? If Santería ever needs a sponsor, can I suggest Budweiser?

The Sun-Sentinel’s Dave Hyde posed the key question, “Can Ozzie get away with saying even this?” I hope not. But if he stays, I hope fellow Marlins fans, especially those of us who have views about Cuba which are more heartfelt than those of the drunken Santero, will communicate our enmity towards Guillen whenever possible. And let’s keep in mind that in order to truly earn Guillen’s admiration, it should be an enmity without an expiration date.

Here’s another thought. Having caught up to Frank Haith, did Karma catch up with Loria and Samson during the eternal cart ride with Ali on opening day?

Union squares off with PETA in Marlins aquarium dispute

Marlins Park saltwater aquarium

Appearing alongside a Lawnmower Blenny which had lost a fin during an elaborate 1st Communion party and had not been able to perform since, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka leveled his harshest attack yet on the PETA organization which had advocated the use of “robotic fish” in the saltwater aquarium at the new Marlins Park. Trumka stated, “those are jobs which should be going to species of Americans. Everyone knows the world of robotics is a right-wing scam underwritten by the Ed Koch brothers. Those PETA guys wouldn’t know a coral reef from Coral Gables.”

When the Blenny was asked if he had any comments on the aquarium issue, he replied “no, but I urge all Americans, even those with freshwater aquariums, to reject the new Ryan budget proposal.”

Vowing that they would never allow themselves to be out-outraged, PETA fired back at Union president Trumka.   They released a video of PETA’s talks with the Marlins in which Trumka was allowed to participate. In the video, Trumka appears to confuse the material the Marlins were touting as helping to protect the fish, by limiting how much the aquarium would vibrate, neoprene, with neosporin.  Trumka can be seen in the grainy video, asking “how in the world will they would be able to spread the material on the fish without clogging up their gills.”

Thanks to my friends at Hardball Talk for the idea and they are hereby absolved of all puns.

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