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Bring on the no-hitters! Keep ‘em coming!

As crazy as it seems, I am once again writing about MLB’s promulgation of no-hit games. While I’ve alluded to the possibility of a record-breaking number of no-nos in 2021, I had no idea that said record might fall by the All-Star break.

And yet here we are, with two more no-hitters spun by big league pitchers last week – Spencer Turnbull of the Detroit Tigers shut down the Seattle Mariners on May 18, while New York Yankee Corey Kluber blew away the Texas Rangers the VERY NEXT DAY.

Depending on who you ask, this puts us at either six or seven no-hitters in just the first two months of the season.

(Officially, the number is six. Unofficially – and in my own humble opinion – it’s seven, because I am firmly in the “Madison Bumgarner’s seven-inning complete game no-hitter is a no-hitter” camp. I’m not going to relitigate that argument again here – just check out either of my previous no-hitter piece from late April to get the entirety of my feelings on the matter.)

So will we see that magic number fall this season? Is 2021 the year we finally cross into the realm of eight no-hitters and beyond? It certainly seems within the realm of possibility, though there are certainly factors working against it as well.

Published in Sports

Every couple of years, I find myself writing a variation of the same story. There will be a cluster of no-hit games pitched in the majors and I, as a fascinated student of baseball history, will wonder if we are about to see a season in which we get more than the record seven no-hitters we saw in 1990, 1991 and 2012 (I got to write about that last one).

But after the past week saw not one, but two no-hitters added to the total of the still-nascent 2021 MLB season, the question must be asked again: Is THIS the year of the no-hitter?

With no-nos thrown by John Means of the Baltimore Orioles and Wade Miley of the Cincinnati Reds within days of each other, the season’s total for no-hit games already stands at four – more than halfway there.

(Well, officially four anyway. Unofficially, it’s five, because I am firmly in the “Madison Bumgarner’s seven-inning complete game no-hitter is a no-hitter” camp. I’m not going to relitigate that argument again here – just head to the website and check out my piece from a couple of weeks ago to get the entirety of my feelings on the matter.)

So will we see that magic number of seven fall this season? It certainly seems within the realm of possibility, though there are factors working against it as well.

Published in Sports

PORTLAND – Minor league baseball is back for the summer of 2021!

The Portland Sea Dogs began their season – the team’s 28th as an organization in Maine’s largest city (though only the 27th on the field, due to 2020’s cancellation in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic) – on May 4 and are off to a hot start.

As a way of celebrating the return of minor league baseball to the Pine Tree State after a season away, we thought it might be nice to find some ways to celebrate our beloved AA team – a Sea Dogs sampler, if you will.

We’ve got a couple of Q&As here – one with the team’s President and General Manager Geoff Iacuessa, another with Director of Broadcasting and play-by-play voice Emma Tiedemann. Both were generous with their time and insight, offering up their thoughts about the upcoming season and what it means to be a part of the Portland Sea Dogs organization.

I figured I’d also offer up a quick rundown of some of the best players to ever wear the Sea Dogs uniform – there are a LOT of great players, so paring down the list wasn’t particularly easy – in an effort to celebrate the storied past of the franchise. It’s been over a quarter-century, after all; that’s a hell of a run.

Before we get into the other stuff, let’s take a moment to look at some of what fans can expect when they make their way to Hadlock Field in the coming weeks.

First of all, there have been a number of improvements to the facility since the end of 2019. The big one is the lighting, with the team having upgraded all of the lighting fixtures and integrating some dynamic lighting that will enhance player introductions, celebrate home runs or add another fun element to the seventh inning stretch.

The team has also upgraded their Red Sox Update Board, allowing fans in attendance at Hadlock to also keep track of what’s happening with the parent club in real time. Game data such as pitcher-hitter matchups will be there, as will score, inning, outs, count and all the rest. As for in-game Sea Dogs data, there’s plenty of that too, with an updated display that will provide both pitch speed for pitchers and exit velocity for batters.

In terms of attendance, the Sea Dogs are currently operating at a 28% capacity, though that number will change as the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 continue to shift. That means that just over 2,000 fans – 2,087, to be precise – will be allowed to attend a given game. It also means that the team will be selling tickets month-by-month, with sales for a given month beginning the month prior in order to maximize the team’s flexibility with regard to numbers.

Social distancing and other protocols are being met through the creation of seating pods of two to eight seats, each with a distance of at least six feet from any other pod. Masks will be required at all times, save for actively eating and drinking. Said food and drink will be ordered via mobile app or from service staff and will be delivered directly to the fan’s seat.

(It should be noted that among those concession options will be the beloved Sea Dog Biscuit, a personal favorite of mine now produced by iconic Maine ice cream company Gifford’s.)

Portland has a reputation as one of the country’s best minor league cities and the Sea Dogs are considered one of the top-tier organizations in all of MiLB. And even in the face of these many obstacles, we can rest assured that the folks in charge will do everything that they can to ensure an exceptional baseball experience for all. So head on out to Hadlock – it’s going to be a heck of a time.

Play ball!

Published in Cover Story
Wednesday, 05 May 2021 10:44

Red Sox Report Card – April 2021

It’s a well-known fact that despite my insistence on doing it every year, my predictions with regard to professional sports outcomes are pretty hit or miss. Sometimes I do well, sometimes I miss horribly.

This year, as far as the Boston Red Sox are concerned, it has very much been the latter.

I genuinely thought that I was resisting the tug of my little homer heart when I downplayed Boston’s chances in the 2021 season. As always, I hope for the best from this squad, but my eyes told me that this was not going to be a great year for this team. The numbers said much the same.

And yet, here we are. The Red Sox led the American League in wins in the month of April, going 17-10 and sitting atop the American League East, a division in which I didn’t think they would even contend. And yes, there’s plenty of time for them to come back down to Earth, but for at least the first month, they are one of the teams to beat. It’s never great to be wrong, but this time certainly stings less than most.

On to the Report Card.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 27 April 2021 10:58

New rules lead to no-hitter nonsense

When is a no-hitter not a no-hitter?

That’s the existential question raised by Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Madison Bumgarner’s performance on April 25. In the second half of a scheduled doubleheader against Atlanta, Bumgarner pitched a complete game shutout and didn’t allow a single hit to a Braves batter.

Exciting, right? Bumgarner joins Joe Musgrove of the San Diego Padres and Carlos Rodon of the Chicago White Sox this season in pitching a complete game and shutting down the opposition without allowing a single hit.

But in the eyes of Major League Baseball, it’s not a no-hitter. Not officially.

See, MLB has had a rule in place since 1991 that states that for a no-hitter to be officially recognized, the pitcher must complete at least nine innings. Games in which the pitcher does not reach that benchmark are not counted as no-hitters in the eyes of the league. MLB’s current rules, in effect since last season, state that doubleheader games are now scheduled for seven innings. This means that Bumgarner’s gem, while a complete game, doesn’t count as an official no-hitter.

But should it?

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 30 March 2021 22:16

MLB’s possible milestones for 2021

Among the many secondary and tertiary benefits of a regular-length baseball season is the fact that fans might get more of a chance to see some historic accomplishments from players, numbers that place them among the best of their generation.

Baseball is a game that has always held its own history in high regard. And one of the best ways to keep track of that history has been through statistical milestones, numbers that have come to act as a sort of distillation of greatness. Round numbers that represent on-field brilliance in an easy-to-understand way.

Granted, changes in the game are in turn changing these milestones. The way the game is played and the meaning of the numbers being tallied isn’t what it once was; the sabermetric revolution has altered how we look at these statistics. Still, there’s something undeniably special about those iconic career marks. While their relevance may fade someday, we’re not there yet.

Published in Sports

Believe it or not, Opening Day is almost upon us.

In just a few days, Major League Baseball will hit the field for the start of the 2021 season. It remains to be seen how teams will respond this year, after the truncated season of 2020. And this year will be plenty different as well. Teams will be playing before a limited or no audience. COVID issues may (and almost certainly will) still arise. There’s even talk of some change in the physical makeup of the ball itself.

It will be different. And yet … the bat will still crack. The glove will still pop. Familiar faces will display their usual excellence and unknowns will display unexpected transcendence. And for the more data-driven – the numbers will continue to tell you the truth. The joy of that part of baseball is that there will ALWAYS be more numbers.

We all love it for different reasons.

So we’ll see if the Los Angeles Dodgers can become the first back-to-back MLB champs in a generation. We’ll see if MVPs Jose Abreu and Freddie Freeman can follow up on their award-winning seasons. We’ll see if Cy Young winners Shane Bieber and Trevor Bauer can manage a second straight great year. We’ll find out which young phenoms are the real deal and which are fool’s gold, which long-timers are out of gas or still have a little left in the tank.

It’s a complicated time in the world, and sports fandom is not exempt. Whether you think these games could be happening more safely (or not happening at all), the reality is that the 2021 season is going to take place, for better or worse. Here are one man’s thoughts on how that season might play out.

Play ball!

(Division winners = x; Wild Card winners = y)

Published in Cover Story

Of all American professional sports, baseball is the one that is most enamored of its own history. Celebrating the past is a big part of the game, looking back at the legends and comparing the players of today with those from previous generations.

The thing with history, however, is that it isn’t always good. And baseball isn’t immune from that reality; there are plenty of unfortunate truths scattered throughout the misty fictions of the game’s rose-colored retrospect.

Among the most scandalous of the pastime’s past times is the throwing of the 1919 World Series by the Chicago White Sox. Dubbed the Black Sox scandal, this was the story of eight players from the White Sox conspiring with gamblers to fix the Series in favor of the Cincinnati Reds. But despite rumors and whispers about the fix that began before that Series even reached a conclusion, it wasn’t until the fall of 1920 that the wheels of justice truly began to turn.

Eight players – first baseman Chick Gandil, third baseman Buck Weaver, shortstop Swede Risberg, utility infielder Fred McMullin, pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams and outfielders Happy Felsch and Joe Jackson – would ultimately be banned from the game for life for their actions, though they took varying degrees of responsibility; some confessed, some recanted and some professed their innocence until their dying day.

Baseball historian Don Zminda’s “Double Plays and Double Crosses: The Black Sox and Baseball in 1920” (Rowman & Littlefield, $36) offers an in-depth look at the White Sox during that 1920 season, digging into the details in an effort to illustrate how the looming shadow of the scandal may have impacted the team – both on the field and off – all while also addressing the other historic happenings of that season, from the cultural explosion of Babe Ruth’s record-breaking bat to the tragic death of Ray Chapman, the last MLB player to die from being struck by a pitched ball.

It’s also a look into the convoluted path that justice took, with backbiting and infighting among the game’s supposed guardians leading to sham investigations and other CYA behaviors that would ultimately result in the powers that be deciding that baseball needed an arbiter, thus leading to the creation of the office of the Commissioner, first occupied by Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, whose lengthy tenure would create ripple effects of its own.

Published in Sports

Dustin Pedroia has been a part of our lives for a long time. But I think we all knew that the inevitable was coming. On Monday, he confirmed that his retirement from the Boston Red Sox, bringing to an end a stellar career, albeit one that ended far too soon due to unfortunate injury.

His comeback effort spanned years, and even a year ago, he was still pushing toward that goal. But the inevitable reality of his injury led him to finally – officially – say goodbye.

Published in Sports
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
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