Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Cardinals’ offseason

Baseball season is over. I’m not sure it’s even hit me yet.

Yes, I’m disappointed the Cardinals didn’t show better against Boston in the World Series. A team that hit well in the clutch all season failed to do much of anything in the clutch against the Red Sox. But I give

Jacoby Ellsbury a Cardinal? If I were making the moves for St. Louis this offseason, I’d try to make it happen.

credit to Boston; it’s not just about the St. Louis shortcomings.

The better team won. At least Boston was the better team for six games.

My wife and I watch a lot of baseball. She’s become a huge Cardinals fan, too, in the nearly five years we’ve been together. Before that, she was an unenlightened Royals fan. Sorry, had to take a jab. It’s a weakness.

Debbie (that’s my wife) takes a sentimental view of the Cardinals. She gets attached to players, to the point of even discussing the possibility that a player might not be a Cardinal from year to year makes her anxious.

I’ll use Carlos Beltran as an example. She loves Beltran and while understand that he’s now a free agent, she cannot imagine the Cardinals won’t bring him back.

I explain to her that economics enter into the picture. Beltran just finished a two-year, $27 million deal with the Cardinals. His production made that a good signing. But he’ll be 37 next season and he has slowed down some, especially as an outfield defender.

Does Beltran have another year or two in him of playing right field? Possibly. But at what price? And doesn’t he make more sense as a designated-hitter in the American League?

David Freese is another one of Debbie’s favorites. And mine. Freese was the player most responsible for the Cardinals’ 2011 world championship. He will go down in history as the hero of Game 6 of the World Series that year, arguably the greatest World Series game ever. And he’s a St. Louis native, to boot.

But Freese has slowed down. He had a bad season. He looks a step slower than he did in 2012 and, as a second-year arbitration-eligible player, he’s probably due to get a raise to $4.5 or $5 million per season.

That’s a lot to pay a third baseman who didn’t have much wallop in his bat this season and who is just an average defensive player.

The Cardinals have to go about improving their offense and with some big contracts coming off the books (Chris Carpenter, Rafael Furcal, Jake Westbrook, Edward Mujica, Beltran?) they can be aggressive.

So, today I’m wearing my Cardinals general manager hat. The team’s real GM, John Mozielak, has agreed to step aside while I construct five moves – realistic moves, I hope – that could make St. Louis an even better team in 2014.

I’m operating under the premise that the Cardinals have a lot of good, young pitching. Some of it should be expendable. So here are my five moves sure to produce another World Series club.

1. Sign Jacoby Ellsbury. It won’t be easy; Ellsbury is probably the most attractive center field candidate on the market and quite a few teams will make a run at him. But Jon Jay’s days as the St. Louis center fielder should be over. Ellsbury could give the Cardinals a speed element they have been lacking for a while now. And his presence in the leadoff spot would allow Matt Carpenter to hit second, where I think he would be even more productive. Offer Ellsbury a three-year, $51 million deal and see what happens.

2. Trade SP Lance Lynn, 1B Matt Adams, and CF Jon Jay to Texas for SS Jurickson Profar – Lynn can win games and he needs to pitch somewhere else. He is the one Cardinal who has never quite grasped what it means to be a Cardinal. Jay could be a good fourth outfielder for the Rangers, perhaps even a starter. But St. Louis has to move beyond Jay and find someone better to put in center field. Thus, my suggestion to sign Ellsbury. Profar was regarded as perhaps the top prospect in baseball going into the 2013 season. But in 85 games with Texas, he batted only .234. The Cardinals would be giving up a lot to get him, but the potential reward is mammoth. Texas might even ask for more than this package, believe it or not. In that case, proceed carefully.

3. Move Matt Carpenter to third base and let rookie Kolten Wong play second. This one will make some Cardinals fans nervous. Wong didn’t hit much after he was promoted to St. Louis in late-August and he made the biggest blunder of the World Series, getting picked off first base to end Game 4 with Carlos Beltran at the plate as the potential tying run. But I believe in Wong and I think that mistake, oddly enough, will be beneficial to him in his career. Carpenter is a natural third baseman and can handle that move well. It means Freese is out of a starting job, much to chagrin of my wife and many other David Freese fans. But the goal is to win games. Would the Cardinals keep Freese around as a bench bat? Probably not at his cost.

4. Re-sign Carlos Beltran. This is a tough one. Oscar Taveras, though he missed much of the 2013 season with an ankle injury, is still a hot prospect and one the Cardinals could plug into right field next season. But Beltran is such a good clubhouse guy and still a productive hitter. Taveras could be used as a fourth outfielder and get plenty of playing time at all three positions. I would offer Beltran a two-year, $20 million deal and see if it’s enough. And I would do everything I could to find 350 at-bats for Taveras.

5. Keep Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez in the bullpen, for now. Both of these guys have electric arms and could someday be great starting pitchers. But the Cardinals need them in the pen next season, if not longer. Former closer Jason Motte will return next season after having Tommy John surgery, but it’ll take him some time to regain form. Rosenthal, Martinez, Kevin Siegrist, Randy Choate, Sam Freeman and Motte would be an effective bullpen corps. The Cardinals might need to add another arm or two to that mix.

So, after my moves, here’s what the Cardinals would look like in 2014.

C – Yadier Molina

1B – Allen Craig

2B – Kolten Wong

3B – Matt Carpenter

SS – Jurickson Profar

LF – Matt Holiday

CF – Jacoby Ellsbury

RF – Carlos Beltran, Oscar Taveras

The batting order:

Ellsbury, CF

Carpenter, 3B

Holliday, LF

Craig, 1B

Beltran, RF

Molina, C

Wong, 2B

Profar, SS

Bench – Tony Cruz (backup catcher), Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma, Shane Robinson, Taveras.

Bullpen – Rosenthal, Martinez, Motte, Siegrist, Choate, Freeman, Seth Maness.

Starters – Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller. Left-hander Tyler Lyons could also be plugged in here, or traded to Texas in the Profar package.

Thoughts, Cardinals fans?

 

Where are the Cardinals’ bats?

I’m going to admitsomething here that I didn’t even tell my wife.

I knew all day yesterday that the St. Louis Cardinals were going to lose Game 5 to the Boston Red Sox. Even with ace Adam Wainwright pitching. Even in St. Louis, where the Cardinals have been so difficult

Cardinals leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter, such a catalyst during the regular season, hasn’t been able to get it going in the postseason.

to beat this season. Even in a game of such high stakes with the Series tied, 2-2.

I just knew. I had very little emotion during the game, even, although it was tight. There were dramatic moments, but the drama escaped me. Because I knew.

I’m not sure how I knew. Or why I knew. I usually don’t know these things. I go into almost every Cardinals game I watch with an open mind and hoping for the best. There are times when I feel like the Cardinals are going to win.

But I don’t recall ever having such a strong premonition that the Cardinals were going to lose as I had before Game 5 on Monday night.

Why?

The Cardinals aren’t hitting. And they don’t look like they’re going to hit. I’ll give some credit to the Boston pitching staff and especially to Jon Lester, who is a stud. But St. Louis batted .330 with running in scoring position during the regular season. They’re batting below .200 in such scenarios in the World Series.

St. Louis has played in 19 World Series, won 11, and in only four of them have the Cardinals hit worse than the .218 they’re batting against the Red Sox.

There has been a huge drop-off in batting average and OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). During the regular season, St. Louis batted .269 with a .733 OPS. Against Boston, the Cardinals are batting .218 with a .577 OPS.

It got me to wondering about the World Series vs. regular season splits for the 18 other Cardinals teams that played in the October Classic.

The most drastic fall-off from regular season to World Series happened in 1930, when the Cardinals lost in six games to the Philadelphia Athletics.

The A’s used right-hander George Earnshaw and lefty Lefty Grove to stymie a Cardinals team that had batted .314 during the regular season with an .843 OPS. It’s one of the best offensive teams in history, but against the A’s the Cardinals scored 12 runs in six games and batted .200 with a .536 OPS.

Earnshaw and Grove pitched pitched 44 of the 52 innings in the World Series for the A’s.

The Cardinals had huge issues generating offense during a four-game sweep by the Red Sox in the 2004 World Series, too.

That St. Louis team included Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen in the middle of the order. MV3 was their nickname because each had a monstrous regular season.

The Cardinals batted .278 as a team in 20034 with an impressive .804 OPS. But against a hot Boston team, St. Louis batted only .190 in the World Series with an OPS of .562.

The Cardinals, in fact, are batting just .224 in their last four World Series appearances. Which makes the fact they’ve won two and are still alive in a third remarkable.

St. Louis has batted .250 or higher in only seven of 19 World Series. The Cardinals have batted .220 or below in five and .240 or below in 11.

Of course, hitting is tougher in a World Series. You’re facing top-notch pitching and the weather is normally much cooler than during the regular season. Pitchers have a distinct advantage.

But for the Cardinals to have gone this cold after a productive regular season offensively is a surprise. They’re not only not hitting, but they’re taking bad at-bats. St. Louis hitters are either too patient or not patient enough. They too often swing at pitches out of the strike zone or take pitches down the middle of the plate.

Maybe something will change in Game 6, when the Cardinals oppose Boston right-hander John Lackey. He’s hardly unhittable. Sure, Lackey has had a nice second half of the season, but he’s not the kind of pitcher who should dominate a lineup like the Cardinals will throw out there.

Then again, who knows? It’s difficult to see how St. Louis suddenly goes on a hitting barrage after five games – and really an entire postseason – of offensive futility.

I don’t have any strong feelings about Game 6 yet. Perhaps when I wake up Wednesday morning, something will hit me. I’m pretty sure it won’t be a Cardinal batter, though. Those guys aren’t hitting anything.

 

Charles “Goose” Doughty (1933-2013)

Goose Doughty was unlike any coach I’ve ever been around.

When his players did something wrong on the basketball court, he never yelled at them. At least not that I saw. He would look down his bench, calmly tell one of his players to take off his warm-up, and the player who messed up would take a seat next to him.

Goose Doughty

Doughty would look at that player with some disbelief. He would raise his arms and verbally make a point. But he never yelled or screamed.

He treated his players with respect and they treated him with 250 City League wins at Heights during a 17-year basketball coaching career.

Doughty died over the weekend at the age of 80. He had been in ill health for a while. Just the other day, I asked former North basketball player Larry Dennis, who now oversees three recreation centers for the city of Wichita, if he had heard much from Doughty lately. Dennis said he hadn’t, but that he knew Goose – everybody called him Goose – was sick.

Doughty was passionate about kids. That showed in his coaching at Heights, but even more so in the summer tennis program he ran at McAdams Park for many years. Doughty believed in his community and wanted underprivileged kids to be subjected to a sport – tennis – that was seen as a suburban activity for the rich.

Yet so many kids played tennis at McAdams under Doughty’s watchful eye. A quiet sort, he promoted his tennis program as best he could. It was pretty much a one-man operation and one that Doughty rightly received credit and kudos for.

I always enjoyed talking to Goose. He had such an interesting background, from his playing days at Langston University in Oklahoma to a brief six-month stint with the Harlem Globetrotters. But Doughty never enjoyed talking about himself. He could come across as shy, but I don’t think that’s it. I think he was just uncomfortable talking about his accomplishments.

He much preferred talking about his Heights teams. He loved basketball but his calm and collected coaching style could lead to some undisciplined play from the Falcons. Goose’s players were never afraid of him; they regarded him more as a friend and family member than as a coach. So, when things would start to go bad, Doughty would simply shake his head on the sideline, sometimes looking upward in disbelief at some of the things he was seeing.

More often than not, though, the Heights teams coached by Doughty won. He had a 250-120 record and when he retired after the 1994-95 season he was the City League’s all-time winningest boys basketball coach. Yet Doughty’s teams at Heights never won a state championship.

The best team he had with the Falcons might have been his first, in 1978-79. It included forward Antoine Carr and guard Aubrey Sherrod, two of the best players in City League history. Both would go on to have outstanding college careers at Wichita State and Carr spent years in the NBA.

I was sad to hear of Doughty’s passing today. He made an impact on a lot of lives in Wichita and was one of the sweetest, most sincere people I’ve been around. Whenever I addressed Goose, he would cut off my greeting with, “Good, good, I’m doing good.” Or, “All right, I’m all right.”

Goose Doughty is a City League legend. More important, he’s a Wichita legend. The man made a difference. And he did so with grace.

 

Friday musings

* Come on. Cold and rain? And snow flurries?

* None of that really bothers me, but I feel most like a Kansan when I comment negatively on the weather.

* I was born in Winfield, raised in Derby. So, yes, I’m a Kansan.

* I’ve never eaten lobster. What’s so good about it, anyway?

* I’ve always been a picky eater. My family members never understood how it was that I could like ketchup and so dislike tomatoes. I’m not sure I ever offered up a very good explanation.

* As you may or may not know, I’m involved with a great new baseball organization called League 42. It’s for underprivileged kids, ages 5-13 (as of May 1, 2014) in Wichita and we’re starting leagues in the spring at McAdams Park. First, though, we have to get kids signed up. Our first of several Saturday Sign-Ups over the next few months will be held Oct. 26 – a week from tomorrow – at the McAdams Park rec center, 1329 E. 16th. It’s near 17th and Wabash. It’ll be from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and the cost is just $30 per family. Not per kid, per family. Plus, we’ll be providing much of the equipment, including a glove. Please, please tell your friends. Help us spread the word.

* The Cardinals play tonight in Game 6 of the NLCS against Los Angeles and I’m trying not to think about it. How is St. Louis going to solve LA lefty Clayton Kershaw? Can rookie Michael Wacha continue his mastery over postseason hitters? Will the Cardinals get some big hits? I’m a wreck, not sure I can even watch. But I’d be even more miserable if I tried not watching.

* I wonder often how I got to be such a die-hard Cardinals fan? My job has zapped most of that fan stuff, especially when it comes to Wichita State. I was just as much a Shockers fan when I was a kid and into my 20s as I was a Cardinals fan. But being around the team, covering the team, being responsible for unbiased reporting about the team caused my allegiances to Wichita State to disappear.

* When I was in high school, I wanted to do radio play-by-play for the Cardinals. Later, I had a pipe dream of working at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and covering the baseball team. I had the idea at the time that it would be a great job. A fun job. I’m glad it never happened. First, it would have meant that I could no longer be a Cardinals fan. And I would hate that. It’s fun to follow a baseball team, except when it isn’t. Which, come to think of it, is most of the time.

* I actually think the time of the season when it’s most enjoyable to be a Cardinals fan is when the season is over. I enjoy trade speculation, minor-league momement and all of the hot stove activities that help make baseball compelling. But once games start, it’s not fun unless the Cardinals win. And even then, there’s always the next game. And the one after that.

* Casual fans have it made. But feel free to invest in a team. In a player. In something. You casual fans make me sick.

* Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig fascinates me. What an unbelievable athlete. I’ve watched him closely in the NLCS and while he started slowly, he picked things up offensively during the three games in Los Angeles this week. I thought Puig was undisciplined at the plate in Games 1 and 2 in St. Louis, when he struck out six times. But I was impressed by how he laid off of good breaking pitches in the Dodger Stadium games and even took a couple of pitches to right field.

* I found myself wondering whether Puig will be a superstar. He has all of the makings, but will have to overcome his emotions. At least I think he will. Playing at such an emotional high for 162 games will burn him out. Then again, Puig is a different animal. He’s a beast. It’s going to be fascinating to see how he develops. I don’t think there’s any middle ground. He’ll either be one of the game’s greats or a monumental bust. Right now, I’m going with the former.

* I am embarrassed by how long it has been since I read a book. I do read a lot of magazines, some even that make me think. Does that count? Or is the fact I haven’t read a book in ages something I should be ashamed of? I have a bunch of books in my office at home. They look so good on the shelves. But they’re dusty.

* Oklahoma is going to open up a can against Kansas on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence. Not because the Sooners are good. But because they’re angry, coming off a blowout loss against Texas. And let’s face it, KU isn’t capable of stopping OU. I have it 40-17, OU.

* The Chiefs will go to 7-0 on Sunday by beating the Houston Texans, who have descended from 12-4 last season to one of the three or four worst teams in the NFL this season. Yeah, like that’s normal.

* Folks prop up Denver as the heavy favorite to reach the Super Bowl from the AFC. Hold on just a second. The Broncos are explosive offensively, but their defense has gone south. Or, rather, opposing offenses have gone south against the Denver defense. Or north, depending on the quarter. Now I’m confused. Anyway, Kansas City’s defense is a more reliable entity than the Broncos’ offense, in my opinion. So, I think KC gets one of the two games against the Broncos and has a great shot at winning the division and getting to the Super Bowl.

* I cannot lie, part of my optimism for the Chiefs’ chances is based on a woeful schedule. But it’s pretty much the one the Broncos play, except that Denver has to play on the road at Indianapolis and New England. The Chiefs play Indy at Arrowhead and don’t play the Patriots.

* And who else in the AFC is even a threat? The Patriots, I suppose, although I just can’t see that offense getting to a Super Bowl? Baltimore? The Ravens can’t run the football and are allowing quarterback Joe Flacco to get maimed. Cincinnati? Does Cincinnati ever do anything? Miami? Tennessee? I’m telling you, the Chiefs are in this thing. Denver is not invincible.

* I love the name “Tamba Hali.” I wish it was mine.

* I’ve been on a real dill-flavored sunflower seeds kick lately. I’ll probably buy a sack for the trip to Lawrence tomorrow. I think it disgusts my wife when I chew them, but I don’t ask for fear she might make me stop. That’s the kind of thoughtful guy I am.

* I never chewed tobacco, so there’s that. Even though I played a lot of baseball in my youth, the thought of putting that nasty stuff in my mouth was disgusting. Remember, I don’t even put tomatoes in my mouth.

* Cheer for the Cardinals tonight. Please. It’s the least you can do. And have a great weekend. We’re planning a double feature Sunday at the Warren: “Gravity” and “Captain Phillips.” I don’t think we’ll be able to fit in “Machete Kills.”

 

 

Memories of a sports writer

I have taken my son to the airportfor a flight he needed to catch many times over the years.

It’s called being a single parent when the other single parent lives in Ohio. So it was common for Jeff to fly from Wichita to Columbus and back at least a couple of times a year. I never liked putting him on a plane but his happiness helped. He was always enthusiastic to visit his mother, who was also his friend and confidant. And happy, too, to see his stepfather and sister and other family members, of course. Jeff is close to all of them.

Today, I once again took my son to the airport. Only this time his wife and stepdaughter, Airyn, were along. They’re not visiting his mother; he’s paying respect to his mother, who died in January. Jeff and his family are joining up with his stepfather, sister, brother-in-law and two nephews for a Caribbean cruise to celebrate her life.

The cruise just happens to coincide with Jeff and Shannon’s one-year anniversary, which is Sunday. It’ll be a wonderful blend of joy and sadness. But the sadness will be mixed with the great memories Jeff and the rest have of his mother and everyone will regale the stories to be told.

Working in the business I’m in and raising a son was challenging, as I look back on it. I had to arrange for people to take care of Jeff when I was gone on trips covering Wichita State’s basketball and baseball teams. One of those who helped with the babysitting at the time was, ironically, a Wichita State baseball pitcher, Jaime Bluma. He was dating the girl who I hired to take care of Jeff, who was still in grade school at the time.

Jeff and I lived in quite a few places after my divorce from his mother. I’m counting four until we settled in a place on West Bella Vista for about nine years. They were some of the best years of my life. I always had that fatherly bond with my son, of course, but it was strengthened by our time together in that house.

I still live close to the place and when I’m headed over to get onto I-235, I always drive down Bella Vista street so that I can see that house. It’s always going to be a special place to me and, I hope, to Jeff. Honestly, though, I’m not sure it’s quite as special to him. Maybe. I don’t ask.

We eventually moved from that house when I got married again, but that didn’t last. So we landed in an apartment downtown at Eaton Place. Jeff was early into his college days at the time and we spent nearly a year and a half there until we moved back into the familiar neighborhood near 21st and West.

He moved out in 2008, met a wonderful woman and got married last fall. I met a wonderful woman in February, 2009, and got married almost three years ago.

The two Lutz boys made it through all of the drama, angst and joy that comes with single parenthood, and single child-hood, and today I picked my son up and drove him to the airport.

Like the old days. Except this time he has a wife to be with and a 7-year-old to be entertained by. They gathered their luggage from my car and went on their way to what will be a great vacation, filled with tears and laughter.

Jeff has encountered more of the world than he had when I used to send him off on a plane. He’s a young family man now.

All grown up.

 

What to do with Lawrence-Dumont

It was interesting today as we had Wichita city council member Jeff Longwell, Wichita Wingnuts majority owner Steve Ruud and Wingnuts/National Baseball Congress general manager Josh Robertson joined us on Sports Daily.

Is Lawrence-Dumont Stadium as we know it on its final legs?

We talked about the future of baseball in Wichita and what might become of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. It was an interesting discussion that lasted an hour, from 10 a.m. until 11. And we’re going to bring back these folks and others for future baseball roundtables.

Before the return of affiliated baseball to Wichita can be discussed – the Wingnuts are an independent organization, owned and operated by Ruud and his partners – there has to be a decision about the future of L-D Stadium.

It’s a Wichita landmark, one of the most important and historical facilities this city has. But it’s rundown and deteriorating at a rapid pace. I believe a decision must soon be made to either tear down the facility and build a brand new ballpark or replace the grandstand area with a newer, more fan-friendly park.

Everyone on the panel today was in agreement that Lawrence-Dumont’s days are numbered. And that’s encouraging. The issue is, of course, how to play for a new baseball stadium or what that is renovated on a large scale. We’re talking millions of dollars, maybe as many as $50 million.

Details of financing are murky, of course. Especially since there has not been any official decision on how to move forward with talks of a new or renovated L-D Stadium. What we talked about today were idealistic notions of baseball in Wichita.

I was surprised during our conversation when Longwell, during our on-air conversation, offered me a post on the soon-to-be-formed board of directors for the National Baseball Congress World Series and to lead a charge to find public and private support for a new or renovated baseball stadium.

My role as a journalist won’t allow those things to happen, but I was flattered. And I think he was serious. I think.

I am passionate about both the NBC and this city’s need for a quality baseball stadium. Preferably, that stadium would stand in the same place Lawrence-Dumont stands now. It’s in a perfect place with a picturesque view of downtown Wichita over the right- and center-field walls. And, closing in on 80 years of age, it’s a hallowed place for many Wichitans. So yes, by all means, let’s keep the baseball stadium in that spot.

The roundtable participants today floated several interesting ideas, many of which concerned what could be done to accentuate the baseball stadium. Longwell mentioned a restaurant at the ballpark that was open year around. Robertson talked about several amenities, including team clubhouses behind the dugouts and turning the current clubhouses beyond the left-field fence into an indoor training facility with a weight room.

The imagination runs wild when it comes to ways Lawrence-Dumont could be improved and modernized. And with some development happening on the west bank of the Arkansas River, the stadium could be a center piece to all kinds of new activity.

Why not an ampitheater near the ballpark? Citizens and city leaders have long discussed the need for one in Wichita’s core area.

I’m thrilled that this discussion is happening. And I want to do what I can to make certain it continues. So, look for the baseball roundtable to become a regular feature on Sports Daily as we enter the fall and winter months. You can’t ever talk enough local baseball. Right?

 

Yasiel Puig

I’m a St. Louis Cardinalsfan. You probably know that. You’re probably sick of me talking and writing about it.

Monday night, the Cardinals were put off by the demonstrative display by Los Angeles Dodgers right

Yasiel Puig.

fielder Yasiel Puig after he crushed a line drive to right field. He flipped his bat at the plate, stood to admire the shot, then realized it wasn’t going to leave Dodger Stadium.

So he turned on the after burners – and for a guy who is 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds this guy has wicked after burners – to make it a triple.

I’m old school in some ways, but I also recognize Major League Baseball needs a player like Puig. And it needs him in the postseason, creating controversy and showing off his talents.

I desperately want the Cardinals to win this National League Championship Series. With all of my heart. And I can work up a good amount of hatred for Puig if I need to. He’s an easy player to dislike, especially if he’s playing for the other side.

But I sure wish the Cardinals had him. Not only is he Can’t Miss Television, he looks like a Can’t Miss Superstar. I do have a few reservations and one is that Puig’s emotions burn so intensely that they might cause him to crash and burn at some point.

Then again, Puig is only 22. He’ll mature as he gets older, most of us do. Most.

Then again, how mature do I want Puig to become?

He’s good for business and baseball needs all the business it can get. Swamped by the popularity of football fantasy leagues and football gambling – not to mention the actual football being played on the field – even baseball’s postseason gets swept up.

Puig is perfect for prime time.

Nobody can watch this guy play and not form an opinion. You either love him or you can’t stand him and there’s no middle ground. That seems to be just the way Puig wants it.

I hate the guy, but I also understand how important he is to the game.

Puig is electricity personified. I can’t think of the last time baseball had a guy so big and so fast. Bo Jackson, maybe? But Jackson wasn’t 6-3, 245.

Puig is like a Labrador puppy, wild and crazy and full of misfit energy. He cannot be tamed. And I wonder whether he should be.

Baseball is a great sport, my favorite sport. I appreciate the game’s history and its unwritten rules and laws. Puig smashes many of them into a million pieces and I’m trying to decide how I feel about it.

It’s never OK to show up a pitcher, which is exactly what Puig did to the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright by tossing his bat and grandstanding. In a regular-season game, that’ll definitely get you a baseball to the rib cage on your next at-bat. But Puig got away with it because the game was so tight.

Puig gives every at-bat a theatrical feel. He looks askance at umpires, smiles when fooled on a curve ball as if to say I’ll get the next one, and treats a strike out like the end of the world. By the way, there were 99 ends to Puig’s world during the regular season, during which he batted .319 with 19 homers and 42 RBIs in only 104 games.

Puig batted .436 in 26 June games after being called up from the minor leagues. In September and October, though, Puig has batted only .214. He still burns hot, but has been cold at the plate for weeks.

So his two-hit game against the Cardinals on Monday night was a breakthrough. And, the Dodgers hope, a sign of things to come.

He for sure opened the eyes of the Cardinals, who have been asleep offensively for a few games now. That they lead the Dodgers, 2-1, in this series is a minor miracle. Credit their pitchers.

Puig is probably doing himself no favors by drawing so much attention to himself. That will just make opposing pitchers work that much harder to get him out. Baseball is a tough enough game without creating your own obstacles.

Then again, I can’t imagine Puig even being cognizant of how much more difficult he is making the game. He’s a thoroughbred of rawness who plays a Play Station version of the game. He misses cutoff men and catches fly balls with a lackadaisical approach.

But when he turns it on, as he did rounding the bases for his triple Monday night, he’s something to behold. He causes me to wonder just how good he could be.

Ultimately, Puig can be as good as his ability and mentality carry him.

The ability is there in abundance. The mentality? Let’s just say it’s not as obvious.

 

The Redskins debate

About 16 years ago, I wrote something I’m not proud of. I wrote a commentary about the “Redskins” nickname at Wichita North, a counterpoint to a piece written by my Eagle colleague, Rod Pocowatchit, who thought the right thing to do was to drop the name.

I argued otherwise.

I’m offended, you’re offended, all God’s children are offended.

You can’t walk down the street these days without upsetting somebody.

Some of the big news in Wichita recently has involved two Native American women who take offense to Wichita North High School’s mascot.

The Redskins.

They say it’s derogatory. They say North’s nickname should have nothing to do with Native Americans, and they’re intent on getting it changed.

They feel strongly about the subject, and they have formulated well thought-out reasons for their outrage.

But I strongly disagree with their premise. The identity of North High, which has a rich tradition in academics, sports and everything else, is woven through its mascot. If you haven’t witnessed a North High cheerleader war dance before a basketball game in the North gym, you have missed something.

It is something that celebrates Native Americans and makes the rest of us think about what a rich and beautiful culture they have.

North High is almost a Native American museum, and its mascot is a proud reference to that culture. At least, I’m sure it was intended that way.

That’s part of what I wrote. And do you notice what word is almost totally missing?

Redskins.

I used the words “Native Americans,” plenty. But not “Redskins.”

Why?

Because “Redskins” is an offensive term. It was offensive then and it’s offensive now. And whether or not most Native Americans are offended or not, “Redskins” should not be a nickname at North or anywhere else.

What made me come around on this issue?

Time, I suppose. A changing culture, maybe. Better understanding, I hope.

More from my column from a different time:

“When schools choose mascots, they generally try to go for something they’re proud of. Whoever decided that North athletic teams should be named “Redskins” didn’t make the decision out of disrespect.”

Now how in the world would I know that? North gained its nickname a long, long time ago, when the world was a much different place. We’re evolving, amidst all of the pain, suffering and insensitivity involved with evolution. It’s commonplace for folks to view a sensitivity toward racism and slander with a jaundiced eye. They’re not offended, so why would anyone be offended?

I’ve been reading a lot of that kind of drivel today after NBC’s Bob Costas used his Sunday Night Football halftime platform to suggest that the Washington Redskins change their nickname. With predictability, many Americans have attacked Costas today.

I wonder, though, how many Native Americans attacked Costas? Or African Americans? Or Hispanics? Or the other vast array of minorities that make America a much more colorful place than it was when a school’s sports teams were routinely named “Redskins.”

I look at what I wrote years ago with surprise that I could think that way. North is a special place to me. My son graduated from there in 2001. It is my favorite high school and one of the reasons is because of the beautiful architecture of the school and nearby landmarks, including the Minisa Street Bridge. The school is a museum of Native American culture and art.

So why diminish all of that with the nickname “Redskins?”

More of what I wrote:

“It’s their school. It belongs to the students and to the North High alumni and to the thousands and thousands of people who have attended school there.

Not very many of those students, including a significant number of Native Americans, have complained. Apparently, they see the mascot as reverential, which obviously is the way it was intended.

How it is interpreted now by what seems like only a few is worthy of discussion, but not much else. It’s always important for society to asses its standards of decency, and occasionally to make changes in that regard.

My son, Jeff, was an eighth-grader at Hadley Middle School when I wrote the piece. I was excited to send him to North and proud that he’s a graduate.

But I’m not proud that he’s a “Redskin.” And I’m not proud of what I wrote 16 years ago.

North is the most diverse high school in Wichita. My wife graduated from North in 1979. I know hundreds of North people and I’m sure many will be upset with me for this blog. But I’m counting on a few to understand where I’m coming from and to work toward finding a more suitable nickname, one that truly does glorify the Native American culture and makes that group as proud of North as the rest of its constituents.

 

 

 

Friday musings

* Since writing about minor-league baseball and Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in my blog and in the newspaper recently, I’ve received a lot of feedback. Which proves to me that both topics are hot-button issues in Wichita, even though Wichita has a spotty record of support for affiliated minor-league baseball.

* Some have reacted to those blogs and columns with an assertion that bringing back Wichita State football should take precedence over trying to entice a major league baseball organization to plant a Double-A or Triple-A team in Wichita. But this isn’t a choice. Why can’t Wichita, if its citizens and university boosters and fans decree, have both?

* I’m on the fence about WSU football. But I’m certainly not against having a team representing the Shockers. It’s been 27 years now since football was dropped at Wichita State. There are a bunch of hoops that would need to be jumped through and hurdles that would need to be jumped over before football could be in the picture. But if there are enough people who want it, and enough people who want to help fund it, then by all means let’s push for WSU football. Trouble is, there’s no evidence that enough people – especially those with deep pockets – are interested.

* Building a new baseball stadium and enticing an MLB franchise to put a team in Wichita are government issues, mostly. Next week, onSports Daily,we’ll be talking to some city leaders and baseball leaders about the state of baseball in Wichita. That show will happen Wednesday and will include, we hope, city manager Robert Layton, city council members Pete Meitzner and Jeff Longwell, Wichita Wingnuts majority owner Steve Ruud and Josh Robertson, general manager of the Wingnuts and National Baseball Congress World Series, which is owned by the city. It should be an interesting day.

* Once again, we have learned how important pitching is in the game of baseball. Thanks to St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright and Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander for the most-recent reminders.

* Are the Oakland Raiders a serious threat to the Chiefs’ 5-0 start? I’d like to think so. I’d love to see the Raiders-Chiefs rivalry approach what it was back in the day, a long, long time before many of you were born. But I just don’t see Oakland rising to the occasion at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs are due for a letdown game. They’re a good team, not a great one despite the record. But I don’t see the Raiders as the team to sneak up on Kansas City.

* I have Baylor scoring at least 45 points against Kansas State on Saturday afternoon in Manhattan. Which means the Wildcats have to score at least 46 to have a chance to win. Don’t see it. Baylor is better on defense this season, though still not a juggernaut. But the Bears have a lot of jugger and naut in their offense and might light the Cats up for 50 or more. I’m thinking more 45-28, though. And I am looking forward to watching the Bears.

* I expect more musical chairs at quarterback for Kansas State, frustrating as that is becoming.

* Kansas will be lucky to score at TCU on Saturday.

* I listened briefly to Charlie Weis’ radio show the other night and was struck by how difficult those things must be to do for a coach whose team is showing no signs of life. Host Bob Davis was doing his best to ask relevant questions, but it has to be difficult. Give Weis credit – he does his best to answer questions and he does have personality. But if there has been progress at KU since he took over from the disastrous two-year reign of Turner Gill, I’m not football-savvy enough to detect it.

* Cardinals vs. Dodgers? Should be a good series. If St. Louis can sweep the first two games at Busch Stadium – a big if, I realize, since the Cardinals will be facing Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw – they might be able to get two more at Dodger Stadium. LA lefty Hyun-Jim Ryu was ineffective in his NLDS start against Atlanta and the buzz is that he’s injured, although that hasn’t been confirmed. And LA manager Don Mattingly skipped Ricky Nolasco in the series against Atlanta, choosing to go with Kershaw on three days rest. It’s big for the Cardinals to open this series in St. Louis, where they’ll have a better chance of beating Greinke and Kershaw.

* I like Detroit’s pitching against the gritty Boston Red Sox. But the Tigers have been a spotty offensive team of late and the Red Sox’s hitters will be more patient than the Oakland hitters were against Detroit’s pitching staff. Having ace (Verlander is a co-ace the way he’s pitching in the playoffs) Max Scherzer ready to go in Game 1 will . . . what? . . . Anibal Sanchez is pitching in Game 1 for Detroit?

* I would go Scherzer, who pitched one inning of relief in the Tigers’ Game 4 win over Oakland on Tuesday. Are you telling me Scherzer isn’t ready for Game 1? He’s the horse. He’s the man. Interesting decision. I’m looking forward to reading and hearing more about this pitching choice today. I wouldn’t be surprised if it changes.

* The Eagles are still the Eagles. Their performance Monday night at Intrust Bank Arena was spectacular. These guys are in their mid-60s and still sound and play great. Now I have to figure out a way to get to Los Angeles in January to see them perform in one of their six dates at the renovated LA Forum.

* Andre Braugher is the reason to watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It’s a good show, even though Andy Samberg gets on my nerves. Not Samberg, really, but the character he plays.

* Claire Danes could easily go over the top with her performance as Carrie on Showtime’s Homeland. And there are times when she steps right up to the cliff. But Danes plays her manic character so well. Well enough, in fact, that as I was watching her the other night I wondered to myself whether she’s the best actress since Meryl Streep? Is that crazy?

* I love the Kapaun Mount Carmel-Bishop Carroll game tonight at Cessna Stadium. It’s great to have a meaningful City League game this deep into the season. That doesn’t happen enough in this league, which has been very top-heavy for a long time now. Too top-heavy.

* Lots of folks believe Kapaun wins this game. And they back up their claims. But I think Carroll answers this challenge the way the Golden Eagles always answer challenges. Until somebody beats BC, how can I pick someone to beat BC? So I’m going with BC.

* Have a great day and weekend. And root for the Cardinals. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Memories of a sports writer

I’m often asked (OK, once in a great while),what kind of athlete I was when I was a kid.

When you write about sports, thus insinuating that you know a lot about sports, people can be taken aback.

When I’m asked about my past exploits in sports, it usually goes something like this: “Lutz, you think you’re an expert. What did you ever do in sports, ya bum?”

Well, I was far from being a standout. I played a lot of baseball and basketball as a kid and I made a lot of baseball All-Star teams. I was a pretty good pitcher/infielder as a kid, but eventually just a pitcher. I was a good enough hitter, though, to bat in the middle of the lineup of most of my youth teams. I hit some balls out of the park, though not many.

I pitched in high school at Derby and had a pretty good senior season. I shut out Campus, 5-0. I often tell people that’s the highlight of my high school athletic career. It’s not the best highlight in the world, but at least it’s a highlight.

I learned to shoot a basketball from a young age and because of the many, many, many hours I spent in my backyard shooting a basketball. My dad put up a makeshift goal and I would pound the basketball on the grass until there was no grass. The hard dirt provided a good surface.

Trouble is, I never bothered to play much defense. I blame my friend Doug Baber for that. We often played two-on-two games together and Baber was a relentless defender. He loved playing defense; actually got something out of it. I never understood but I was more than willing to let him do the dirty work as long as he fed me the basketball for most of the shots.

He went on to have a solid high school basketball career because of his willingness to play hard and defend. Meanwhile, I rarely played because of my unwillingness to play hard and defend. Funny how that works.

But I was always a decent pick-up basketball player after high school because I could shoot. And there are no coaches for pick-up teams, so nobody was screaming and yelling at me because of my porous defense, although I’m sure my teammates wanted to.

I didn’t play much football. I went out for the junior high team in eighth or ninth grade and they stuck me on the line to block people. I quickly decided that was no fun, so I quit. I hate it now that I quit because I don’t believe in quitting. But I quit then. I was a quitter. It’s painful to admit such a fallacy, but I think it’s important to express my somewhat weak nature during my junior high (they call it middle school now) days.

Bowling was fun. I joined a league when I was in grade school and we competed at Derby Bowl every Saturday morning for a while. I kind of got the hang of it and was pretty good.

I never played golf as a kid and only dabbled in tennis. I didn’t start golfing until several years after high school and always wished I would have started earlier.

Tennis wasn’t my thing, but ping pong was. I could beat all of my friends and actually entered an intramural tournament at Wichita State when I was in college. I advanced pretty far, as I recall. For some reason, I was always good at putting spin on the ping-pong ball. Who knew?

I was never much for the winter sports because, well, who wants to go outdoors in the winter? I didn’t hunt or fish as a kid. I played baseball, basketball and some football. But it was mainly baseball and basketball and I can’t even imagine the amount of hours I spent playing, watching and being interested in those sports.

I loathed running, so track and field wasn’t my thing. I couldn’t jump very high or run very fast. And my motto has always been: If you can’t do something well, why do it? It’s taken me far in life.

So, next time you want to ask me what I did to make me think I’m some kind of sports guru, remember this blog. Because this is what I did. Exciting stuff.