Insider Trading

The trade deadline is July 31st.  Anticipation for the deadline begins a few weeks, maybe a month, before the 11th hour.  But the work that goes into making a big deal is practically a year-long process.

As a journalist, it’s easy to get lost in the immediacy of breaking news.  Many of us work our sources trying to find out who will snag the Cliff Lee’s and Roy Oswalt’s of that year, but few of us pay attention to the process.  

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey, right?

While milling around various ballparks the past few months, I started to pick the behind-the-scenes brains in baseball.  

None of the details were shocking, but I found the leg work to be quite interesting.  The sheer number of people and hours it takes to land one player put into perspective the tenuous nature of making a deal.

I don’t think it will come as any surprise the work starts early, but I was taken aback by how early.  

Most teams begin to really assess their needs in May, but the real planning is already taking place during the offseason.  One team employee told me it’s not unusual for him to be in a casual meeting with front office officials during the winter when he’s suddenly writing names on a napkin.

Even before a club heads to Spring Training, they need to have a dual plan in place.   Plan A will be necessary if a team is in a competitive position and is looking to buy.  Plan B  (the less desired) comes into play in the event a club has failed to meet expectations and feels the need sell.

And these plans are not of the simple, ‘buy versus sell’, variety.  

Teams have specific players already in mind who they may want to have wearing their uniform, and which players of their own they’d be willing to sacrifice.

Months before the season, scouts and front office officials look at each team in the league, trying to determine which might be interested in their own veteran players in the case of a sell scenario.

On the flip side, these same clubs know the needs of each opposing team in the event they are buyers.  This allows them to have a tentative package of prospects and/or Major Leaguers they may be willing to give up in order to gain a key piece.

Teams have, at the very least, an idea of potential targets and sacrificial lambs before the first pitch of a season is even thrown.

I was also a little taken aback by how long these executives and scouts can keep a secret.  Club employees say most teams begin exchanging names and setting the ground work for potential trades as early as mid-June.  However, deals almost never come together for at least another month; often during the final minutes of deadline day.

And after all of that leg work, the final decision usually comes down to one guy–the general manager.  In some cases the team president may have a say (as well as the owner), but the onus almost always falls on the GM.  

When the final moves are made on July 31st, only the front office will know how long they’ve been in the works.

Beyond Baseball

To err is human; to forgive is divine.”

Alexander Pope

Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was so close to perfection.  In the ninth inning of a game against the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday, June 2nd, Galarraga had retired 26 batters and had yet to allow a hit or a walk.  Neither he nor his teammates had committed an error.  Galarraga was one out away from a perfect game.  Until he wasn’t.

Jim Joyce called Jason Donald safe at first and suddenly Galarraga was preserving a shutout instead of celebrating history.

Seconds after the blown call, outrage hit the baseball world.  Columnists furiously typed angry words calling for Commissioner Bud Selig to reverse the call.  Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook were instant gathering places for mobs of angry fans wanting Joyce’s head on a platter. 

Everyone wanted to fight.  Except the one person who was knocked down.

In the midst of the chaos and confusion, Armando Galarraga calmly walked back to the mound.  He didn’t argue the call or make a scene.  Instead, he recorded the 28th out of the night and hit the showers.

I think what has been lost in the “perfect game that wasn’t”, is this: We did witness perfection, just not in the form we are accustomed.

Instead of seeing all zeros in the morning box score, we saw greatness in the way a man carried himself following outrage and adversity.

It would have been easy for Galarraga to rip Joyce and blame him for all he had lost in that instant.  Galarraga could have huffed and puffed and threw a Gatorade tub down.  Instead, he acted in a manner I believe most of us can only wish we could duplicate.

In the clubhouse following the debacle, Galarraga said this about Joyce and the incident. “He really feels bad.  He probably feels more bad than me.  Nobody is perfect.  I give a lot of credit to that guy.  [An Apology] doesn’t happen.  He apologized.  He feels really bad.  Nobody is perfect.  What am I gonna do?  His eyes were watering and he didn’t have to say much.  His body language said a lot.” 

The only guy to who the perfect game really matters is one of the few keeping his emotions in check.

Yet one day later, the outrage among the masses is growing.  Whether it is network television dissecting the missed call or talk radio hosts giving a laundry list of reasons of how Galarraga was wronged, it seemed as if most people were missing the bigger story, the more important point.

Galarraga was undoubtedly upset at what will not go in the record books, but instead of holding a grudge, he accepted an apology.

It is not an easy task to not only admit a mistake, but issue a genuine apology.  Jim Joyce could have skipped out after the game.  He could have issued a “statement” or denied his wrongdoing altogether.  But he didn’t.

It is not an easy task to accept an apology.  Armando Galarraga could have declined to speak with Joyce.  He could have blasted him for weeks.  But he didn’t.

Joyce acted with true remorse, which was only possible because Galarraga extended forgiveness and compassion. 

Galarraga understands what many of us do not.  Feats of greatness do not need to be recorded.  They do not need to be reversed to be made right. 

Galarraga knows within himself he threw a perfect game.  He knows a mistake was made, but that error does not take away an accomplishment – HIS accomplishment.

So instead of kicking and screaming about the great “injustice” Galarraga has experienced, maybe it is best we see the true justice taking place: forgiveness.

I truly think this is a much better story to share with future generations than another notch in the record books.  You may make a bad decision on the diamond or in life, but acting with class is always the right call.

Catching Lightning in a Glove. Twice.

The Colorado Rockies are a mere 18-years old, so it would seem fitting that a young, upstart pitcher would be the first to crack the club’s pitching history books.  On April 17, 2010, Ubaldo Jimenez threw the first no-hitter in franchise history by blanking the Atlanta Braves.

Everyone has heard or read the game story.  We all know by now that Jimenez walked six batters, threw 128 pitches, and changed his delivery mid-game en route to his no-no.  What, or rather who we don’t know much about- is the man behind the plate. 

Miguel Olivo caught the Jimenez no-hitter that night in Atlanta, and unlike the pitcher and the franchise, it wasn’t his first.

It would be easy to look past Olivo.  In his ten-year big league career he’s played for six different teams: three years with the White Sox; two years with the Royals, Mariners, and Marlins; one year with the Padres, and this season with the Rockies.  But quietly, Olivo has been catching some of the game’s rising stars.

The 31-year old catcher (he’ll be 32 in July) caught his first no-hitter in 2006 while with the Marlins.  On September 6th of that year, in just his 13th Major League start, Anibal Sanchez no-hit the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Olivo also spent last season on the receiving end of a Cy Young Award winner, the Kansas City Royals’ Zack Greinke. 

And this year, he’s calling pitches and catching no hitters for Ubaldo Jimenez. 

Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca is not at all surprised that Olivo’s pitchers have so much success, “He has the imagination.  He doesn’t call typical pitches in typical situations.”

It can be understood that all of the praise for such an accomplishment is heaped to the player on the mound.  But his battery mate is integral to the outcome.  Apodaca said that during the Jimenez bid for a no-hitter, he only communicated to the right-hander through Olivo. 

And that is a lot of pressure. 

Olivo said when closing in on such an accomplishment, he is just as nervous as his pitcher, “I don’t want to call the wrong pitch.  I don’t want to mess it up.” 

In fact, Olivo was so nervous jogging out of the dugout before the ninth inning, he could barely feel his legs.  “In the ninth inning when I put on my chest protector and my mask, my legs were shaking.  When McCann hit the ground ball to second base, I just froze at home plate.”

But when Clint Barmes scooped up the McCann grounder and fired it to Todd Helton, the feeling was anything but uneasy for Olivo,.

“That is an amazing feeling.  It’s like when you win the World Series.  Because no-hitters, not that many people do it.  Anybody can come to the big leagues and hit a home run, hit a single.”

But not everyone can be a part of history, not just once, but twice, and then be perfect himself just a few weeks later. 

On a chilly Denver day in mid-May, Olivo had a gem of his own against the defending NL champs, the Philadelphia Phillies.  Olivo hit a walkoff home run in the tenth inning, propelling the Rox to a 4-3 win. 

The catcher also went 5-5 that day.  And of course, it wasn’t the first time.

Sounds of Silence

Sounds fill every day, hour, and minute of our lives.  Even as we drift to sleep, the world is never completely silent.  Many of these noises are identifiers; a siren signals trouble, a robin’s song is a sign of spring, and in Milwaukee, Bob Uecker’s voice means it’s baseball season.  

Milwaukee Brewers infielder Craig Counsell, a Milwaukee native, said it best, “He’s part of your summers in Milwaukee if you’re a baseball fan.”

It was Easter Sunday in 1987.  (April 19th to be exact.)  The Brewers were riding an 11 game winning streak to begin the season.  My family was in the car, on our way to my aunt’s house for the holiday, with the Brewers trailing the Rangers 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth.  Suddenly, the car was filled with a familiar sound, it was Bob Uecker’s signature home run call, “Get up, Get up, Get outta here, Gone!”.  A Rob Deer solo home run and a two run walk off homer by Dale Sveum later, the Brewers had number 12.

And I had a lasting memory based on voice, not vision.

Think back on the classic voices of the game, Scully, Harwell, Kalas, Caray, and Uecker; How many baseball fans directly link some of their fondest memories to the picture these voices painted?  It seems ironic how a voice has left so many indelible marks.

Dotting our childhoods were the faint harmony of balls and strikes that followed us into adulthood.  No matter what changed around us, the game, and it’s storytellers stayed the same.  A comforting constant in an ever changing world.

Which is why the next three months will feel so odd for me, and thousands of other Brewers fans.  Bob Uecker, the voice of the Brewers, will leave the team to have heart surgery on April 30th.  His absence will leave a void the size of Lake Michigan over the airwaves.

In my 30-plus years, I can not remember a summer without the guy everyone affectionately calls “Uke”.  And sadly, his time away from the game, is another sign that even baseball is subject to change.

In Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit the voices have already changed.  And unless Vin Scully decides to stay a little longer,  L.A. is the next city to retire a legend.  

A game that is rich in history is slowly turning the dial to a new future.

Thankfully, we’ll always hear the memories.