Doctor Doctor give me the news
I’ve been battling a second bout of Covid this last week which has given me a chance to watch a lot of television, old shows I haven’t seen in ages, some inspired playoff hockey and a lot of baseball. The Royals looked good in their two-game winning streak. How pathetic is that, when you consider two games the high-water mark of the year? That got me thinking, when was the last time they had a five-game winning streak? How about a ten gamer?
Their last five game streak was a six-game streak from July 20-26 in the 2021 season. The last ten game streak? You have to go back almost ten years, all the way to June 7-18 of the 2014 season, when they won exactly ten in a row. They’ve had ten game losing streaks since then, twice to be exact in 2018 and 2019. I get it. It’s hard to win ten in a row. It’s also difficult to lose ten in a row unless you really stink.
I must admit, it was painful to watch Esteury Ruiz and Brent Rooker with Oakland. Rooker is having a great season, and I’m happy for him. Barring injury, or a horrific slump, it looks like he’s a good bet to crank 30 home runs and drive home close to a hundred. Sure, he has some flaws as a player, but is just another in a long line of guys this regime has given up on too soon. Meanwhile, the Hunter Dozier experience rolls on. Sigh.
I’m Your Captain
Watching the Royals, I started to wonder if Sal Perez can somehow put together a few more outstanding years and somehow, someway, garner enough votes to get into the Hall of Fame. No, not the Royals Hall. He’s a unanimous lock for that, complete with a statue. I’m talking about the real deal in Cooperstown. Right now, his measurables are a little light compared to other catchers who are enshrined. As of this writing, he’s at 1,311 hits, 230 home runs, 752 RBI and 33 WAR. Carlton Fisk, for example, has twice as much WAR, over 1,000 more hits, 140 more home runs and 480 more RBI. Perez is more comparable to someone like Javy Lopez, the former Braves standout, who ended his career with numbers similar to where Perez is now. Lopez was a terrific player, but not quite Hall-worthy.
Who’s the catcher in the hall who probably shouldn’t be there? Many say Rick Ferrell, who played 18 seasons from 1929 to 1947. Ferrell ended his career, which was a fine one, with almost 1,700 hits and a .281 batting average, but he only hit 28 career home runs to go with 734 RBI which was good for a little more than 30 WAR. He was an eight-time All-Star and had a terrific career, but in retrospect, not Hall-worthy. If Salvy can somehow keep father time at bay for say five more seasons and add another 600 plus hits, 150 more home runs and 400 or so more RBI to his totals, then he may have a legitimate shot. He’s a rarity among players, one who keeps getting better with age. And he’s a joy to watch.
Blue eyes crying in the rain
The week got off to a somber start with the news of Vida Blue’s death at the age of 73. If you were lucky enough to witness Blue’s early years, it was something you’ll always remember. He was originally drafted by the Kansas City Athletics in the second round of the 1967 draft. Charlie O. Finley made a lot of mistakes during his tenure as owner of the Athletics, but he also had a few good moments. One of those good moments, and there weren’t many, was his scouting department’s ability to identify, draft and sign topflight talent once major league baseball instituted a draft. For three consecutive years from 1965 to 1967, the Athletics drafted and signed as free agents the core of a team that would become a dynasty.
Blue made his debut in 1969 in his age 19 season. In 1970, in just his sixth career start, he threw a brilliant one-hitter against the Royals at Municipal. The only hit being a two-out, eighth inning single from Pat Kelly. Ten days later he threw a no-hitter against the Twins, the only blemish being a walk to Harmon Killebrew. He had an electric fastball and a knee buckling curve and was a threat to throw a no-hitter every time he took the mound.
When you think about Vida Blue, it all comes back to his magical 1971 season. That was the summer of Vida. As a 21-year-old, he went 24 and 8 with a 1.82 ERA. Using his distinctive high leg kick windup, he struck out 301 batters in 312 innings of work. He won the MVP, Cy Young and appeared on the cover of several national magazines. He was a national phenomenon. Everyone wanted to get a 1971 Vida Blue baseball card. Even though I hated the A’s, I remember opening the pack that contained my Blue card, and quietly rejoicing a bit. On the card, Vida is leaning over, with a big smile on his face, giving the peace sign. Understand, this was at the height of the Vietnam War and a player giving the peace sign on his ball card was unheard of. It was also super cool. It remains one of my all-time favorite baseball cards.
The good times wouldn’t last. Blue rightfully asked for a raise after the season and the skinflint Finley refused. Blue elected to hold out. Eventually baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn intervened and got Blue back in uniform. It wouldn’t be the last time the Kuhn got involved with Blue and Finley. Blue pitched for 17 seasons, winning 209 games in a career worth 45 WAR. He played for the Royals in 1982 and 1983, coming full circle back to the city where he’d been drafted. I’ve always thought he should be in the Hall of Fame. If you saw him pitch, before he got worn down by the innings he threw and the battles he endured with his idiot owner, you’d agree.
Back in late September 2021, I went to see the Quad City River Bandits play. I wrote about the game and surmised that some prospects like Nate Eaton, Maikel Garcia and Nick Loftin would soon be in Kansas City. It’s 2023 and those young men either are or - in Loftin’s case - will be soon playing in Kauffman.
I also wrote this about the Bandits starting pitcher that night: “If the Royals have three or four better pitching prospects than him in their organization, then they are loaded at pitcher. He’s 6’6 and throws with an easy, fluid motion. His fastball has some serious pop, and he kept the Cedar Rapids Kernels hitters off balance all night. I expect to see him in the Royals rotation in the next couple of seasons”. The pitcher’s name is Anthony Veneziano and turns out that the Royals are not loaded with pitchers, young or old.
Unfortunately, Veneziano is stuck in AA, and having a great season I might add, while the Royals brain trust desperately tries to salvage the fractured remains of their vaunted 2018 draft class. Veneziano is now 25, in what I’d consider the prime of his pitching career and should be in Kansas City. Meanwhile, the Royals continue to try to work miracles with Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, Asa Lacy and Jonathan Heasley. Kris Bubic, perhaps the best of the 2018 class, is gone for at least another season and Brady Singers’ progress has evaporated. Why not give Veneziano twenty starts to see what he has? Or they could fall back on organizational ineptitude and baby step him though AAA at 26 then finally to KC at 27 or 28. What a waste that would be.
Speaking about ineptitude, how about the Oakland A’s? I’ve got a ton of respect for Billy Beane and the job he’s done, under increasingly difficult circumstances over the years. Now it looks like the A’s are moving to Las Vegas. I’m not surprised, as the city of Oakland seems content to let their last Major League franchise walk away. If the move happens, it’ll be the fourth city for the A’s.
I sometimes wonder, in an alternate universe, what things would look like if Charlie Finley had tried to stay in Kansas City. What would the stadium look like? How many World Series championships would they have won? How many players would be in the Hall of Fame? Impossible, I know, especially since Finley created the same problems in Oakland that he castigated Kansas City for. Had the A’s stayed put, we’d have lost something too. We may have never known what a great owner Ewing Kauffman was. Royals stadium would have certainly been a different design. We never would have experienced the satisfaction of finally getting past the A’s in 1976, or the joyous summer of 1977 or George Brett’s magical attempt to hit .400 or the wonderful 2015 championship team. Had the A’s stayed put, there wouldn’t be tens of thousands of 40 to 45-year-old men (and more than a few women) named Brett living in Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. Things don’t always work out how we want them to but usually the way they’re supposed to.