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Tuesday, 17 November 2020 17:20

Who’s heading to the Hall in 2021?

Hall of Fame season is in full swing once again.

The 2020 ballot has landed, with the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) preparing to cast their votes for the players who will join the immortals of the game with plaques hanging in Cooperstown.

We’ve seen an explosion of inclusivity on recent ballots, with the writers voting in 22 players over the past seven years (and 12 in the last three). This has eased the glut of qualified candidates considerably, though there remain a number of problematic names that still clog the list.

This year, however, may change the calculus considerably. It’s a year without a clear first-ballot candidate; this year’s newcomers are a collection of very-good-but-not-quite-great players. This means that, for the first time in recent memory, the ballot has opened up. This means that 2021 might be the year that sees an extended holdover or two make the leap.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 28 October 2020 11:45

The fastest of them all – ‘Dalko’

Baseball is a sport of legends. The game’s devotion to and celebration of its long history means that titanic figures from the past remain important to the ongoing conversation. Men who haven’t played in a century or more are still vital parts of baseball’s narrative fabric.

And while the majority of those legends are recognized as titans of the game – accomplished hitters and pitchers, deft with the glove or on the basepaths – not all of baseball’s folk heroes show up in the major league record books. Indeed, there are players who, while never appearing in a big league box score, nevertheless became nigh-mythic figures.

Players like Steve Dalkowski.

The new book “Dalko” (Influence Publishers, $26.95) – co-authored by William A. Dembski, Alex Thomas and Brian Vikander – tells the story of Dalkowski, a career minor leaguer whose lightning bolt of an arm could never be properly be tamed. A figure whose career was wreathed in myth and whose subsequent life was one of struggle and strife, many claimed to have never seen his like before or since.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 20 October 2020 11:18

Dodgers-Rays: A 2020 World Series preview

An unprecedented baseball season is on the verge of concluding.

After a truncated regular season and an expanded postseason structure, all in the face of an ongoing pandemic, the World Series is set to begin. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays will be facing off for the 2020 MLB championship.

Even now, things will be different than ever before. Due to safety protocols and restrictions, the World Series will be played in a bubble, with all games taking place at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas – the Dodgers are ostensibly the “home” team due to a better record. Obviously, this isn’t how these players anticipated their season playing out, but at the end of the day, a ring is a ring.

And these guys want that ring.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 23 September 2020 12:17

MLB award races in 2020’s home stretch

Hard to believe that the 2020 MLB season has reached its end. As of press time, there are just a scant handful of games left in the strangest season we’ve ever seen. But before we reach the 60(ish) game mark and the season’s conclusion – and before we venture into the also-unprecedented 16-game playoff field – I thought it might be fun to check in with our season awards predictor.

Those who follow our baseball coverage here at The Maine Edge are aware of our usual Clubhouse Leaders feature, where we do quarterly predictions regarding the various MLB season awards – Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP. However, given this year’s circumstances, we mixed it up a little (a quarterly breakdown would have meant a story every 15 games or so – a bit much, right?).

We made our predictions at the start of the season and now, as we approach its end, we’re going to revisit and revise those picks. Let’s see how close I got, shall we? And how close I will get?

(Note: All statistics current as of Sept. 20)

Published in Sports
Thursday, 30 July 2020 12:56

MLB Awards Predictions 2020

So baseball is back, albeit in a whole new way.

Major League Baseball in 2020 will be unlike any season that we’ve ever seen. Instead of a leisurely 162 games unfolding over six months, we’re getting a 60-game sprint taking place in just over two months. The National League has the DH for the first time and MLB is experimenting with new extra innings rules involving the addition of runners. Oh, and 16 teams will make the playoffs.

So yeah. Different.

With the ever-looming threat of the coronavirus, it’s hard to say what will happen over the course of the season; just because they’ve started is no guarantee that they will finish.

For the most part, no one knows anything when it comes to sports prognostication. But this year, we ESPECIALLY don’t know anything. You might think that that would discourage me from making any sort of predictions, but you would be wrong. While I won’t be doing my annual season preview, I am going to offer up my picks for the winners of MLB’s major awards this year.

Feel free to hold me to these, but just remember – I have no idea what I’m doing.

Published in Sports

Despite the fact that the Major League Baseball season has yet to begin due to the circumstances of the pandemic (and a fair amount of contentiousness between the players’ union and the owners, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish), the MLB draft took place this week.

Granted, it’s a drastically different draft than any we’ve ever seen, lasting just five rounds and featuring any number of caveats and alterations. It is an historic event – and not in a good way.

Still … even with no games, the game marches on.

Let’s take a look at Boston’s 2020 draft, a collection even more truncated than most thanks to the loss of their second-round pick as part of the organization’s punishment for sign-stealing. Instead of two dozen or more new additions, we’re looking at just four. And yet, even with that low number of selections, the Red Sox and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom managed a few surprises.

Published in Sports

Baseball is a sport of interlocking contradictions. It is a team sport built on a foundation of individual battles. It is rigidly structurally defined initially – three outs, nine innings, nine players – while also being utterly open-ended – there’s no clock and extra innings could technically extend to infinity. It is many things in one and one thing among many.

And so, obviously, the game makes for a wonderful framework in which to discuss Buddhism.

That discussion is at the center of Donald S. Lopez’s new book “Buddha Takes the Mound: Enlightenment in 9 Innings” (St. Martin’s Essentials, $19.99). Dr. Lopez is considered by many to be this country’s preeminent public Buddhism scholar, having published a number of books exploring Buddhist concepts in accessible ways. However, this latest offering might be the most accessible yet.

Lopez has been entangled with the study of Buddhism, first as a student and then as a professor, for half a century. However, his connection to baseball – specifically, his beloved New York Yankees – extends even long, all the way back to his childhood. By bringing his two passions together, Lopez is able to use each to build upon the other, creating a thoughtful and wryly funny book that entertains even as it enlightens.

Published in Livin'

Baseball is a game of decisions, both on the field and off it. And when we talk about Major League Baseball, well – there are A LOT of choices that need to be made. Whether we’re talking about in-game strategy or front office maneuvering, the sport is rife with opportunities to make decisions.

But how do we know if they’re the right ones? How do we know if we’re truly making optimal choices or if we’re being guided (or misguided) by subconscious belief systems and biases of which we may not even be fully aware?

Answers to those questions are among the many things that Keith Law is delving into with his new book “The Inside Game: Bad Calls, Strange Moves, and What Baseball Behavior Teaches Us About Ourselves” (William Morrow, $28.99). It’s an effort to make accessible the behavioral science behind the inherent biases that can impact our decisions, baseball or otherwise.

By walking us through the conscious and unconscious influences that impact how baseball works, Law gives us a new perspective on the intricacies of the sport – a perspective that matches the more data-driven and analytically-inclined model followed by 21st century practitioners of the game.

Published in Sports

Anyone who has been paying attention to baseball over the past half-decade is aware that the game has never seen this many home runs. Single-season records for homers has been broken and broken again, both by individual teams and by the league as a whole. More than ever before, the long ball has become the central part of the game.

There are a number of factors that enter into this. Analytically-inclined executives have made their way into positions of power in front offices all across the sport. Changes to the ball itself have undoubtedly played a significant part. Strikeouts no longer carry the stigma that they once did.

And then, there is the evolution of the swing itself.

It’s that last notion that Jared Diamond, national baseball writer for The Wall Street Journal, addresses in-depth with his new book “Swing Kings: The Inside Story of Baseball’s Home Run Revolution” (William Morrow, $28.99). It’s a deep and broad exploration of those coaches on the fringes whose refusal to be bound by the status quo led to brand-new thinking about how we swing the bat, as well as the players who made (or remade) themselves into explosive hitters by accepting some unconventional wisdom and thinking outside the box.

Published in Sports

When I first heard about “The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball's Afterlife” (University of Nebraska Press, $27.95) by Brad Balukjian, my reaction was pure and basic: “God, that’s a f---ing good idea.”

Even after a decade-plus of literary reviews, I can count on one hand the times that I was legitimately envious of the idea behind a book. Not necessarily the best books or the most interesting books, but the ones with an underlying premise that spoke directly to me.

“The Wax Pack” is one of those.

Balukjian, a lifelong baseball fan, undertook a simple, yet deeply fascinating adventure. He bought a pack of Topps baseball cards from 1986, the year he got into collecting. He popped the decades-old gum into his mouth and flipped through the 15 cards, regaling himself with ghosts of seasons past. And then, he packed up his life and embarked on an epic road trip, a cross-country voyage in which he hoped to make contact with the players he found when he peeled the paper from the titular wax pack.

The result is something unexpected, a thoughtful exploration of fandom that also serves as a glimpse of the different directions a faded athlete might go. And in the process of delving into this sports-loving memory hole, Balukjian himself becomes more present, undertaking an effort to look back at his own history.

Published in Sports
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