2009 Season

Edition No. 26

December 23, 2009






As we head into the eye of the advancing winter storm and the madness of the Holiday Season, I gift you with this final 2009 issue of From the Bullpen.




We have updated on the website the record of final finishes to include the 25th HSL Campaign results from 2009.  As I have done for you in the past, allow me to make a few observations and comments on how the 2009 results impact upon our historical record of final finishes by each club:


Shamu’s championship season of 2009 is the third 1st place finish for Sir Charles’ beloved Cubs, counting the once-asterisked 1993 crown and the (shall we say) legitimate championship season of 2007.  Along with the Skipjacks (5), the Senators (4), the Tigers (3) and the Highlanders (3), Shamu is the fifth Hot Stove League manager to draft (at least) three championship teams.  Pretty select company, to be sure.


Shamu’s second championship in the past three seasons is the quickest repeat since Tricko’s Highlanders won it all in 1991 and 1993, during an historic six-year run of consecutive top three finishes.  The Cubs are the closest thing to a dynasty that we have seen in this Millennium.  After back-to-back 11th place finishes in ’04 and ’05, Shamu has righted his ship and steered it to four consecutive top five finishes.  2009 was the Cubs’ fifth money finish in 25 years of competition, and their thirteenth Upper Division finish in 25 years. 


The Chiefs’ runner-up finish in 2009 was their third last-place finish (as Ricky Bobby said, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”).  Actually, the Chiefs second-place finish was the fifth time that they have been the bridesmaid and not the bride, along with their runner-up finishes in 1990, 1993, 1998 and 1999.  This was the Chiefs’ seventh money finish in 25 years of competition, and their twelfth Upper Division finish in 25 years. 


The Cubs’ margin of victory over the Chiefs, 28.2 points, was only the fourth closest race in Hot Stove League history, to my surprise.  The closest ever was in 1991 when the Reds squeaked past the Tigers by the final tally of 14,215 to 14,209 points, a margin of victory of 6 points.  The next closest race was 1989 when the Tigers outlasted the Red Sox by a total of 13,435 to 13,427, a margin of 8 points.  The third closest finish was in 2002, when the Skipjacks held off the Reds by 14.3 points, at 9631.3 to 9617.0. 


Possum’s 3rd place finish with his Wahoos was his fifth 3rd place finish in the HSL, together with 1995, 1997, 2001 and 2002.  This was the Wahoos’ eleventh finish in the money in 25 years of competition, third in line behind the Highlanders’ remarkable thirteen money finishes and the Senators’ equally dazzling twelve money finishes.  However, in terms of finishing in the Upper Division, Possum is tied for tops in the league, with twenty Upper Division finishes in 25 years of competition, the same number as the Highlanders


The Tribe’s 4th place finish (their second ever) broke a skein of seven consecutive double-digit finishes, and marked their best season since the glory days of 1996, when they finished 3rd behind the Chiefs and Redbirds.  This marked Underbelly’s fifth Upper Division finish in 24 years of competition. 


The Monarchs’ 5th place finish was a three-step drop from last year’s runner up campaign, but their third Upper Division finish in three years of competition. 


Itchie’s 6th place finish broke his three-year stranglehold on 8th place in the league, and marked the Skipjacks’ thirteenth Upper Division finish in 22 years of competition.  Big deal. 


The Redbirds finished in 7th for the third time in their 17-year tenure in the Hot Stove League.  Prior to last year’s 10th place finish, the Redbirds had finished in 7th place both in ’06 and ’07.  With this period of malaise, the Redbirds’ overall record of five money finishes remains intact, and this tired club now has nine Upper Division finishes in 17 years of competition.


Mouse’s Bombers finished in 8th place, the third time that they have occupied this position in 17 years of play.  This was Mouse’s highest finish since 2005 when the Bombers finished in 5th.  Mouse’s squad is still looking for its first money finish. 


The Blues’ 9th place finish was the first time that they have ever finished in 9th place in 23 years of competition.  After last season’s title, McJester’s charges have nestled back down into the company with which they feel most comfortable.  In 23 seasons of play, the Blues have notched five Upper Division finishes, and their two Hot Stove League Crowns are also the two times that they have finished in the money.  It’s all or nothing for McJester’s boys.


The Highlanders’ 10th place finish was the first time in four seasons that they did not finish in the money, and their first Lower Division finish since their 11th place ending in 1998.  This remarkable franchise has thirteen money finishes, tops in the business, and twenty Upper Division finishes in 22 years of competition.  Nicely done, Tricko. 


The Bears notched their second 11th place finish in 23 years of competition, ending a six-year run of single-digit finishes.  Overall, the Bears have three money finishes in this league, and have finished in the Upper Division seven times in 23 years. 


The Tigers’ 12th place finish was their third in 25 years of play, together with their 12th place finishes in 2002 and 2003, which at that time was dead last.  Big Guy has seven money finishes in 25 years of play, and twelve Upper Division finishes, but none since 2006.


And that brings us to the Senators, who finished in 13th place for the second time in three seasons, and the fourth consecutive double-digit ending after three money finishes from 2003 to 2005.  All I can say is, there’s only one direction to go, and that’s up. 





B.T. recently (definition:  sometime in the past three months or so) provided me with the sports section from the Journal Star from July 9, 2009, which included a total cheeseball article from Ken Hambleton about his recent ballpark tour with his wife and fellow sportswriter (so to speak) Ryly Jane Hambleton, which includes Kenny Boy’s ranking of the current major league ballparks from best to worst.  In reading this article, I realized just how good we have it in Omaha with Mike Shatel and the other Omaha World Herald sportswriters, because they are actually good at what they do.  If I was the editor of a junior high newspaper, I would send Hambleton’s article back to him with more red marks and scratch-outs than one of Shamu’s HSL Draft cheat sheets.  Pure pablum.  In fact, it would have to be a lot better to even reach pablum. 


Listen to this sparkling prose from Kenny:


“New parks are pretty, usually framing downtown in the background of the outfield . . . .”


New parks are “pretty”?  This is the best that you can do, Ken?  Cat got your tongue?  Dog steal your thesaurus?


Here is some more of his crackling commentary:


“Pretzel dogs at Baltimore are very good.”


“Cleveland used to have crummy food but great mustard.  That’s still the case.”  (Way to turn a phrase, Ken.)


“Traffic is a mess in Philly.”


“Washington’s metro rail hasn’t had a deadly crash (until a couple of days ago) for many years.”


“Philly had the best scoreboards, but had the crummiest (I guess the word “crummy” is at the top of his adjective list) ‘Find the ball in the hat’ type of stuff.”


“Cleveland had the worst scoreboards.  Too junky.”


And on and on.


But as bad as his use of language is, what’s even worse is his commentary on the ballparks.  Look at this one:


“There isn’t much difference between Nationals Park, built in 2008, and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, built in 1992, and all those in between.  The new parks were built with baseball and fans in mind.”


Can you even believe that he would compare Nationals Park with Oriole Park at Camden Yard, and “all those built in between”?  What a discriminating palate.  What an astute observer of baseball park architecture. 


Put less kindly, what a hack. 


While I feel sorry for Scott and Denny and Bob if they have to regularly read this clown as their primary chronicler of sports in Lincoln, I am heartened to know that there is a job waiting for me at the Lincoln Journal Star if I ever decide to make a career change.  I won’t even have to submit my own work, I can simply turn in one of Joe’s or Will’s papers that got a B or B+ and I expect to be a shoe-in to replace Kenny. 


Am I wrong here?  Read him for yourself, and let me know. 




I am almost done reading another excellent book from Tom Boswell, entitled “Cracking the Show,” which is basically another collection of his newspaper articles.  Good God, I love this man.  I could read his stuff every single day, and for the most part, I do.


Anyway, Boswell has a chapter in the book called “Won’t Fade Away,” which includes an article about Fernando Valenzuela dated May 20, 1989, captioned “Valenzuela Syndrome.”  The subject of the article is the overuse of rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela by the Dodgers between 1982 and 1987, and the impact it had on his career.  At the time he wrote the article, Fernando was still pitching for the Dodgers, but was coming off of a 5-8 season in 1988 and a 14-14 campaign in 1987, and was showing all the signs of being washed up.  Although he finished the 1989 season with a record of 10-13, at the time Boswell wrote his article, Fernando was winless, and as said by Boswell, “reduced to junk balling.”  As Bowell put it, “the Los Angeles Dodgers have all but ruined him.  They didn’t mean it.  They just didn’t know then what everybody’s learning now:  The faster you rise, the faster you fall.”


Boswell later asks the question, “How slow is Fernando?  When utility man Mickey Hatcher pitched in the Dodgers’ blowout recently, the radar gun clocked him at 82 mph—the same speed as Valenzuela, who sometimes can’t get to 80.  This is the same man whose fastball once set up 1,048 strikeouts in seven years.”


After reading this great article, I looked up Fernando’s stats.  Sure enough, he was abused badly by the Dodgers.  In his rookie campaign in 1981, Fernando pitched 192.1 innings, finishing with a 13-7 record, with 11 complete games and 8 shutouts.  The following season, 1982, they pitched him 285 innings, including 18 complete games.  In 1983, it was 257.0 innings and 9 complete games.  In 1984, it was 261 innings and 12 complete games.  In 1985, 272 innings and 14 complete games.  And in 1986, 269 innings and 20 complete games.


After Boswell’s article, Fernando continued to pitch, bouncing around from the Dodgers to the Angels to the Orioles to the Phillies to the Padres to the Cardinals, notching a 45-63 won-loss percentage over his last eight years after going 118-90 between 1980 and 1988.


I am including the full text of Boswell’s three-page article on Valenzuela Syndrome, which you can access through this link, if you want to read the entire work.  He makes a pretty convincing case on abuse by overwork. 




As I mentioned to several of you at our Hot Stove League lunch yesterday, Itchie and I had a terrific trip to Dallas a couple of weeks ago to see the Huskers take on the Texas Longhorns for the Big 12 championship.  Jerry Jones’ new stadium is amazing, and as you walk up to it, you feel like you are about to board the Starship Enterprise, the place is so huge.  What a game, and what a finish.  Other than Itchie trying to steal away my new girlfriend by plying her with alcohol, it was a trip for the ages. 




Looks like we should have full attendance at our Winter Meeting on Friday, January 8. Thanks to Tricko for lining us up with hockey tickets and a place for us to fete Shamu in style. 


Thanks to Mouse for lining up our holiday lunch yesterday at Jams.




This will be the last issue of From the Bullpen for the season.  As we close the book on 2009, let me just say one more time how much I appreciate all of your friendship and support during my year of personal difficulties.  There is nothing better than talking baseball to lift a guy’s spirits, and there’s nobody I would rather talk baseball with than the twelve of you. 


God bless you all, and may you and your families all have the happiest of Holiday Seasons.