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Baseball, Numbers Are Here!

Apr 01, 2014 -- 12:39pm

By Danny Clinkscale


    Baseball season is here and it puts me in a mood that you may not share....

     Numbers in tiny print make me happy.
     As baseball dawned the last couple of days, those days concluded with me doing something that I very much love to do. Send myself off to sleep by burying my head in the Baseball Encyclopedia. In fact, most times I have to jolt myself and say "get to bed buddy" because I am having so much fun tripping through the years of baseball history.
     It also remined me of two things that I think are absolute truisms, that I guess people can argue but I think are undeniable.
     Babe Ruth is the greatest hitter of all time.
     Lefty Grove is the greatest pitcher of all time.
     Have a stab at anyone else if you want, but just chew into some things that you might know about these greats from the same era, and maybe some things that you don't know.
     I think I probabably will get a lot of nodding heads, or "Well...Duh's" on the Babe, but just to cement things.... Using the most basic modern stat, Babe Ruth is the all time leader in OPS, one of only eight players over 1.000....leading in both slugging percentage and on base percentage. In a fourteen year span he led the league in OPS, every year but one, 1925, the year of his "Big Belly Ache", which was the PR version of the
day. He actually supposedly had syphilis. That'll drag you don't a titch.
     He led in homers 12 times, runs eight times, and RBI five times even though he hit third in the lineup (Lou Gehrig hit cleanup). But just raw totals don't tell the story at all, He changed the game, and he dwarfed what the competition was doing. He became the greatest game changer in the history of sports in 1920, when he hit 54 home runs, more than any other TEAM in the league. Nobody else in baseball hit more than 19, and only 13 players in the majors even had double figures. Baseball saw how the fans loved the long ball and they jacked up the ball, but it was still four year before anyone hit thirty, and that was Rogers Hornsby, the greatest right handed hitter in the history of the game. In other words, Babe Ruth could hit the equivalent of a wet sock over the fence, and baseball would never be the same.
     Probably a more spirited argument could ensue over what I also think is an easy call, that of Lefty Grove. And context is a big part of the picture. Lefty won 300 games on the nose, even though he played at a time when minor league teams were seperate entities not farm teams. They sold their top commodities to the major leagues. Grove pitched for the preeminent minor league team of the day in Baltimore, and they turned down offer after offer until Grove was 25, and the Philadelphia Athletics offered up an easy baseball record of $100,600.
     So despite that delay, he led the league in ERA a record nine times, wins four times, strikeouts his first seven years in the league, completed half of the games in his career. and also in a season where he won 28 games as a starter, he also LED THE LEAGUE IN SAVES! When Connie Mack broke up the Athletics, Grove went at age 34 to the Red Sox and despite pitching in Fenway Park led the league in ERA four times there, his last ERA title at age 39. But just like Ruth, the context of some of his acomplishments cinches the argument in my mind.
     His greatest year came in 1931 when he went 31-4 with a 2.06 ERA. Sounds great, and it is. But it also came in the second year after baseball juiced the ball for the second time, producing one of the greatest offensive years in history. Only one team in baseball had an ERA below 4.00. Lefty Gomez was the only other pitcher with an ERA below 3.00...a HALF A RUN BEHIND...and nobody else had an ERA below 3.00. That offensive year was actually a comedown from 1930, when they amped the ball. Nine TEAMS hit over .300. Hack Wilson drove in 190 runs in the NL, Lou Gehrig
184 in the A.L. Grove's season that year was 28-5 with a 2.54 ERA in a league where the ERA was 4.65 and the ERA runner-up was 3.31......and that was the season where he also led the league in saves.
     Case closed. I'm sure some of the numbers left you numb, but that is never the case for me. Sometimes in the winter I dig out a book filled with beautiful numbers in small type, but when the weather warms and the season begins it signals a right of spring and summer for me....dozing off with vision of OPS and ERA and adjusted runs and names like Phenomenal Smith and Izzy Goldstein and Danny Napolean.......
     Good night.

Area Schools Dancing to Different Beats in March

Mar 10, 2014 -- 12:01pm

By Danny Clinkscale


The state of our local teams is more than an interesting little footnote right now. One team (Kansas) has had smooth sailing most of the year, but just
as they are about to enter the Madness portion of the season, they suffer a rather disturbing loss, and have a major injury question. Another (Kansas State), had been enjoying a surprisingly good season that had them in in contention and including an always gratifying win against Kansas. But they have dropped three of four, and saw their 15-game home winning streak go down the tubes Saturday. The third - Missouri - has spiraled from undefeated and ranked to inconsistent, all the way to dreadful...and in all likelihood headed for the N.I.T...

     Kansas is the most exciting tale in all likelihood, they have the biggest upside...they also have the greater expectations so a fall would be mightier.
Kansas State has been seen as an overachiever, although that it more disputable after their league record dipped all the way to 10-8, so any postseason success might be seen as a bonus. As for Missouri I would think that they might just hope that their opponent in the N.I.T. would get the home game. I can't even imagine how few fans might waddle into Mizzou Arena for that non-event.

     The Jayhawks are such an interesting tale. They are wildly talented, but wildly young. It has not really manifested itself often in this season, although there have been a Bill Self high eight losses on the season. It is difficult to get your arms around what might happen in the tournament. Anything seems possible. The greatest of achievements or the bitterest of defeats seem equally likely, particularly if they have a compromised Joel Embid.

     Kansas State to me is playing with house money. Although a disappointing Big 12 tournament, and a first round exit from the Big Dance might make us all revisit what had seemed to be a crafty coaching effort by Bruce Weber. Consecutive first round exits would certainly be at least a conversation piece.

     Frank Haith would take that. Barring an SEC miracle run, his personal NCAA Mizzou toteboard will be two losses and a no-go. The overall body of work for Haith does not really warrant a hot seat, although I think there are Missouri fans who disagree with that. But the way that his team played down the stretch, certainly does make next season a big one...very big.

     The narrative can surely be switched by the games that are actually played here as the postseason begins.......Let's Dance 

Let's Smile, Stay Our Way In Pennant Race

Feb 20, 2014 -- 4:24pm

By Danny Clinkscale

    As I wind down my week at spring training, I will not gloat about the wonderful weather, but I will gloat about how enjoyable t is to talk baseball all
across our platform of four shows. One of the great things about doing an entire week of coverage is that you end up doing a fairly lengthy interview with almost every player who will make any difference this year, which is somewhat like having a conversation with them. You also end up having about 20 on and off the record conversations with he manager, a few with the GM and many with other officials.

     2014 is a keynote year for the Royals. They finally shed the shackles of having losing season after losing season by taking 86 games last year. Yes, they were a winning team, but I am not truly willing to say they were a team in contention. They buried themselves so deep that even playing winning baseball every month after the disastrous May, they really only got to the periphery of having an actual chance, still needing an almost unparalleled winning percentage to get there, which they weren't able to do. But it was a valuable first step.

     What it really wasn't was a chance to show they could handle truly pressurized baseball, which is the next step. Certainly listening to everyone here in Surprise, you would think that they are up to it. Spring training is always a time for optimism, but this is Joel Osteen on Prozac good
tidings. There are 22 players who are virtual locks to make the team. Most who won't don't think they are far away from being contributors. The expectation is that just about everyone with two legs will improve, and conversation about the competition is considered irrelevant.

     I've got to admit it's a bit eerie. It seems almost too good to be true. Maybe it is this reality. I have covered the Royals on a daily basis every year but one since 1994. That year was 2003, when I was the play by play voice of the T-Bones in their inaugural year. That was also the year of their only other winning record in that span. So waiting for the other shoe to drop is just a natural way of life.

     It would not be a good time for any backstep by this group. All the good work of last year would be seen as a fluke by a rightfully jaded fan base. I really don't expect that to happen, but there is this annoying little voice in the back of my head chirping about bad things. Will there be injuries, will Mike Moustakus continue to struggle, can the pitching be as good????..on and on.

     You know what? Shut up little voice. It's February. We deserve to wallow in it, all the Royals fans do. Come on down to Surprise, go out to the K, watch the games on TV. Let's smile our way into a pennant race...any maybe, just maybe...stay in it 

MidSeason Basketball Grades

Feb 08, 2014 -- 6:47am

By Danny Clinkscale

  It's time for some mideseason grades of the teams and the chaoch of our local BCS basketball teams, a convenient time to assess what has to be done to make the NCAA field, and/or get a seed that makes you smile....

KANSAS    A    
The Jayhawks were expected to be a good team, but one that would take some time to develop. That turned out to be true to a degree but the learning curve didn't linger into the conference season. Kansas dropped a game to Long Beach State on January 5 just before the Big 12 season, their fourth loss of the year. There was a touch of panic, but that was quickly turned on it's head when Kansas ripped through four straight ranked teams among their 7-0 start in the league. They dropped one at Texas, but didn't let that linger as they grabbed a big road win at Baylor. They seem to have a prescription of across the board ability that allows them to absorb a bad night by more than one key player.
There is no big suprise in the fact that Bil Self is getting it done in a brand new scenario for him. Sixty percent of the Jayhawks scoring is coming from freshmen, and pretty much across the board, the key components of the team have showncontinual improvement. Self has massaged the ridiculous expectations for Wiggins and allowed him to grow at a regular pace. Joel Embid was supposed to be a project, but instead has become a force, and maybe most important, his handling of Naadir Tharpe, from basic benching to perhaps an all-conference player has been masterly. Shock and awe,  Self has done a great job.
This is an overall grade of the Cats play, not how close they have played to their probable potential. When you look at what K-State has to work with, they probably have done a very good job. Their best weapons are either freshman like Marcus Foster or limited players like Thomas Gipson. Coach Bruce Weber himself has pointed out the limitations of this squad. But they have also showed the ability to beat quality teams. Their game agaist Texas Saturday is pretty vital.. You would kind of have to at least pencil in a loss on Big Monday and two losses this extended weekend would stick the 'Cats at 5-6 in the league and with nine losses overall...and they have three out of four on the road to follow. Still a tough team to get a handle on, we will know a lot more about 10:30 pm on Monday night.
Maybe should be a bit higher. Not only is Weber working with a lesser deck, but he also was able to flip a switch at a time when his team looked like a team that would struggle to get to the NIT. When clicking, his motion offense produces great looks at the basket, and the 'Cats defensive work seems rather amazing when you look at the collection of athletes. He still has a lot of coaching to do if he is going to be leading his team in the NCAA  tournament.
This might be too good a grade for the Tigers. Yes, they have a lack of depth, and their frontcourt is made up of willing grinders, but they also have three hard-to-guard players who should create matchup problems. The dynamics of their "shoot it if I feel leather" offense is somewhat problematical, but the other aprt is their inability to take charge of games early against supposedly lesser opponents. Missouri has continually gottne themselves in holes on the road, and not put teams away at home since their undefeated runout at the start of the season, since then they are 6-6. The game against Mississippi on Saturday either lets them beat up people at home to follow with a free mind, or to start to grip, needing to about win 'em all.
Read the above and you know what I mean. Not being able to create an better offensive environment than one that has your team 319th in the country is not acceptable. The Tigers as mentioned have not started games well. That's not a very good testimony to what goes on the chalkboard before the game. I won't rate him lower because he has kind of had to construct his roster in creative ways, to say the least. There is real opportunity to improve this the rest of the way. One piece advice I would give him. Get in the dance and  win at least one...three straight years of one and outs would have tongues wagging.
This is when is starts to get fun. The rest of the season is like a final in college that is worth three quarters of your grade.
Get your make up work done.

How To Judge Chiefs Season

Jan 07, 2014 -- 12:42pm

By Danny Clinkscale

      How are we to judge the Chiefs season?????

     The answer to that really can be simple or it can be complicated. The simple answer would be yes. The Chiefs were a 2-14 team last season and they won eleven games this year, so pure mathematics would make this teams performance a rousing success, and I would say that I generally agree with that.
     Besides just the record, the Chiefs also radically improved on offense as the year went on. They had a breakout season from last years number one draft pick Dontari Poe, they definitely seemed to find a second running back in Nile Davis, and also showed that they have good depth on the offensive line.  Most importantly, Alex Smith showed that he is a quarterback that the Chiefs should be able to count on for at least a few years.
     That's the simple side. What happened after the Chiefs went to 9-0 makes judgements about the team quite difficult. A definite positive was the fact that an offense that looked like it was just a caretaker to provide just enough points for a stingy defense actually became the strength of the team. That was because not only did Alex Smith and his mates become a weapon, the other phases of the game started to wilt....badly. The Chiefs offense really looks like a thing to build on in the future because they accomplished quite a bit with no elite recievers and lackluster tight end play. And then in the playoff game they showed that even without Jamaal Charles, they could light up the scoreboard.
     But in the end the Chiefs special teams became spotty. Opposing returners often got good yardage. The field goal kicker had the second worst percentage of his career, and his lack of a big leg is shows with his sub 70 percent record outside of 40 yards. In the playoff game the Chiefs turned down a 57-yard field goal at the end of the first to throw a Hail Mary, and then hit the 39-yard line on the final drive (a 56 yard field goal) and still apparently had no thought that was close to good enough.
     Far and away however, the biggest area of confusion comes on the defensive side of the ball. Through nine games, the Chiefs aere easily the top defense in the league. Points allowed was frighteningly low, sack and turnovers were delightfully high. But once the Jeff Tuels and Terrelle Pryors of the world were in the rear view mirror, it all hit the fan. In the back half of the season the Chiefs became the WORST defense in the league, and capped it off by spitting up a 28 point lead in the game with the Colts, allowing six touchdowns, four on drives of less than two minutes. This all with five Pro Bowlers on defense, and Derrick Johnson (who somehow didn't get chosen), too.
     The Chiefs ended up with one win over a playoff team, they played the worst schedule in the league, and their strength of victory at .335 was the worst as well, with only two teams below forty percent. They clearly were a product of that schedule, but to their credit, they didn't lose a game to a bad team either. There is definitely something to be said for that.
     So it's difficult to say what the Chiefs are going forward. What is clear is that the Chiefs are going to have to get better to even be a good team next year. Moving onward and upward from 11 wins does not appear to be a likely scenario. The Chiefs play the AFC East, and more pointedly, the NFC West, and they play in what ended up being the toughest division in football.
     Chiefs fans should smile when they think of the 2013 season. But a quizzical look on your face would probably be appropriate as we look to the future.

Royals Offseason A Big One

Nov 03, 2013 -- 6:22am

By Danny Clinkscale

    The off season has officially begun for the Kansas City Royals, an offseason that will shape

whether the Royals started a winning era last year, or if it was just a nice pleasant summer.
     There has already been good news that reflects both on the recent past and the future, with five Royals being
finalists for Gold Gloves, three of them winning. While I believe that Eric Hosmer is overrated with the glove, he still
is a fine defender and joins extremely worthy choices Alex Gordon (third straight), and Salvador Perez. These are
fine young players that provide a great nucleus, but a small nucleus.
     Yesterday Ervin Santana and Bruce Chen officially became free agents. The Royals will make a qualifying offer
to Santana, but they won't to Chen. They aren't being meanies to Bruce, you have to offer the average of the top 125
salaries in baseball to a free agent to recieve compensation if he leaves, and that is a cool $14.1 million, which obviously
Chen would grab out of the hands of Dayton Moore before the ink dried. I think the Royals will sign Chen, he's great
insurance in a variety of areas. I think, however that it is virtually certain that the price for Santana will be so high that
it wouldn't be wise to pay it, even if they were inclined to do so.
     So after posting the best ERA in the American League, easily the most important reason for their success last year, they
are going to be hard pressed to emulate that this year. They basically are in a positon where through a trade, free agency,
of the elevation of a young pitcher, they have to replace 211 innings of the ninth best ERA in the league, that while
everyone else has to do just as good a job as they did last year. That will be tough duty.
     That means that the Royals are in all likelihood will have to take a significant step up on the offensive side, where they were the
11th best offense in the American League. As an example, they scored about 150 runs less than the champs of their division,
the Detroit Tigers, obviously almost a full run a game. They aren't going to make that up, but they have to improve, and
the assertion by Ned Yost late in the year that all the players who weren't strong offensively last year will improve is laughable.
     You have to hope that the likes of Mike Moustakus and Alicides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain at least get somewhat
better offensively, or frankly they can't hit the field. Then you have to add in some badly needed moves to boost the attack.
The first rumblings of the offseason are that the Royals are shopping Billy Butler, and while I think that makes a lot of sense
for a lot of reasons, the first of which is to get Salvador Perez some breaks behind the plate, it also would create a problem.
An already feeble attack would be compromised further.
     Baseball is flush with cash, and while the Royals are hamstrung a bit by a local television deal that they signed through
the end of the decade, misreading the tea leaves three years ago in Mister Magoo fashion, they still have plenty of money.
They either need to spend some of it, or they face a virtually impossible chore in taking the next step. I say virtually impossible
because the Rays and the A's have done it the frugal way. The Rays are probably the better example because the Royals front office
in no way seems to be the sabermetrically driven group that Billy Beane's is. Churning out pitcher after pitcher after
pitcher from their system like the Rays seems to be the Royals goal, but they have yet to do it. Period. Danny Duffy is the only starting
pitcher drafted by this regime to start a significant amount of games. Yordano Ventura got a couple late in the year. That has
to change.
     But you can't do it all from within. And from without usually means opening the wallet. The Royals have some heavy lifting to do in this
offseason, But the good news is that the reason that the lifting is important is to propel the Royals into true contention from a
spot as a winning team, not merely working to become respectable. That makes this offseason just what the season that preceded
it was.........more fun than we have had in a long, long time.
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