Saturdays Suds: Baseball & Beer #84 Solemn Oath Warning Track Power

27 03 2021

I always love doing this series.  I was super excited when I saw this beer was coming from Solemn Oath, a fairly well-known and established brewery in the Chicagoland area.
Brewery: Solemn Oath Brewery in Naperville, IL

Beer: Warning Track Power

Description:  “Hazy Pale Ale featuring Citra, Sultana, and Azacca hops brewing in collaboration with The World Wiffle Ball Championship.”

This is a hoppy hazy beer on the lighter side of the ABV spectrum. Was a tasty crusher with an awesome can design.

Medium:  4 packs of 16 oz stickered cans, and I’m sure there was some draft available.

How it’s related to baseball:  This is about as good as it gets for this blog.  They have copied the 1987 Topps design (my all-time fave) and it’s a collaboration with the World Wiffle Ball Championship.  There’s also some sneaky Guaranteed Rate Field (U.S. Cellular?  New Comiskey?) stuff going on in the background.  This came out when nobody was allowed in baseball parks, but it would do well at the craft section of the Sox ballpark!

RIP Hank Aaron, 1934-2021

24 03 2021

As an irregular and irrational baseball fan my whole life, I can’t describe the sadness I felt when I learned Hank Aaron died.  In the world of twitter today, it was reported outlets early the morning of January 22nd.  I remember hoping it wasn’t true – ESPN, CNN/SI and other major outlets were silent for over an hour that morning.  I thought maybe it was a mistake –  that Atlanta paper/website surely will go out of business.  In all the sadness brought by COVID-19, I knew that his last tweets from his account was about 10 days or two weeks earlier of him getting the COVID-19 vaccine.  I thought about the misinformation that would spread about COVID vaccines.

But mostly I thought about a hero who I’d never seen play but meant so much to my baseball fandom.

Alas, the first reporters were correct and at some level were just doing their job.  To report the passing of a legend, and more importantly, an American hero.

Hank Aaron is the first name in the baseball encyclopedia.  Just before his brother, Tommy Aaron.  It’s fitting, for so long he was the record holder of the most important record in the game.  Once that record was broken, it seemed to lose much of its luster.  In a way it was the baseball’s Berlin wall, the last abdication of the throne of America’s game to the NFL.

I’m still at a loss for words about Aaron’s death.  I met him for about 20 seconds getting an autograph.  I’ve pulled an autograph of his from a Topps pack.  Both were when he was older and clearly couldn’t pen a gem like he could in his youth or middle age.  In a way, that was all the more special.  Aaron’s beauty was always that he was human in a way that Babe Ruth (or comic book Bonds) never seemed.  When he died, he was not the greatest living player – that would belong to Mays or Bonds depending on how you want to consider PEDs.  But he was the game’s biggest icon, and a month later I still don’t feel like going through his biography on SABR like some of the other players who’ve passed away.  Pointing out that he won the 1957 MVP feels fairly insignificant.

I’d say this – Tom Stanton has a great book about the build up to Aaron’s record breaking homer to pass Ruth.  I plan on reading that again this year (and I never read a book twice!).

Rest in Peace Hank, you had a hammer and you used it to shape our country for the best.

RIP Don Sutton, 1945-2021

21 03 2021

Less than 2 weeks after Tommy LaSorda died, another Dodgers great passed away when Don Sutton died on January 19th after a long battle with cancer.  After Seaver and Niekro – Sutton was the third 300 game winner of the past year.

Sutton was a model of consistency.  He came up to the Dodgers’ big league club in 1966 at the age of 21 and went 12-12 over 225 innings for the team.  He was the 4th starter for the NL champions – but there was a lot to say for being that reliable for a top notch team.  He overlapped that one season with Sandy Koufax – Koufax (who is only 9 years older than Sutton), was finishing up the most dominant pitching stretch in modern history.  He would retire after the Dodgers were swept in the World Series by the Baltimore Orioles.  Sutton didn’t get to pitch in that World Series – and the disappointment at the game’s greatest stage became something of a theme for this all-time great.

That aside, Sutton became a workhorse like quite a few of the great pitchers of that era.  He threw over 200 innings for 20 of the next 21 seasons – only missing the 1981 strike season when he pitched 159 innings and would have almost assuredly met that mark in a full season.  Even in 1987 at the age of 42, he missed the 200 mark by a mere 8.1 innings.

I found an interesting (dubious) record for Sutton – he has the most at bats in MLB history without a homer.

Back to the postseason.  What struck me with Sutton was how unlucky he seamed to be as far as getting a World Series ring.  He lit the minor leagues on fire in 1965, going 23-7 at A and AA level but wasn’t called up when the Dodgers won the World Series.  The next year he was debatably the Dodgers 2nd best pitcher but didn’t get to pitch in the World Sereis – with the Dodgers down 3-0, Walter Alston passed him over for Don Drysdale for game 4 (Drysdale pitched great in a 1-0 loss, the Dodgers issue was their hitting which scored 2 runs in the whole series).

The Dodgers made 3 more World Series in his tenure with the team – losing 4-1 to Oakland in 1974, then dumping back to back series to the Yankees in 1977 and 1978.  After 15 seasons with the Dodgers, Sutton left via free agency to join the Astros in 1981 – and of course, LA won the World Series.  In 1982, he was traded to the Brewers, who lost to the Cardinals 4-3 (in fairness, he contributed greatly to that loss).  In 1985 he was with the fabled Angels who lost the ALCS in 7 games to the Boston Red Sox.

He went back to the Dodgers in 1988 for his last season, and though he didn’t finish the season there, he technically notched that World Series ring.  He retired as (and still is) the Dodgers all-time leader in just about every cumulative statistic – though Clayton Kershaw could pass a few of those (or at least strikeouts).

RIP to an underrated pitcher!


RIP Tommy LaSorda, 1927-2021

19 03 2021

It didn’t take long for 2021 to continue the trend of us losing Hall of Famers.  On January 7th, after years of scares from heart troubles, a heart attack claimed the life of former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.

Lasorda’s baseball life was incredible.  If he never went into managing, he would have been footnoted as a great minor leaguer who just didn’t make it at the next level.  He won 136 games in the minor leagues – 110 of them at the AAA level.  He’s the Montreal Royals (the Dodgers’ top farm team from the 40s and 50s) all-time leader in wins and is in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.  Yet he pitched in a total of 26 games at the Major League level and never notched a pitching victory: 0-4, 6.48 ERA, 37 K, 56 walks and 53 hits in 58 innings.  Clearly he had good stuff that he couldn’t control.  He did get one save!  Though I think that may have been retroactive – before MLB actually called it a stat.

Lasorda may have been the victim of bad timing, he lost 2 years (1946-47) while enlisted in the Army.  But he also was part of a great organization in the Dodgers.  He threw pitches to Roy Campanella.  He was on the same staff of Sandy Koufax and Don Newcombe in the Majors and with Don Drysdale in the Minors.  He was teammates with Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges and (with the KC Athletics) Enos Slaughter. He pitched (albeit poorly) for the the “Dem Bums” team that ended the Dodgers World Series drought.

His managerial record is stellar.  1,599 wins, 2 World Series wins and 2 more appearances.  If you just looked at those 20 years at the helm for the Dodgers I don’t think that would make him the slam dunk Hall of Famer that he ended up being.  From 1948 on, with the exception of 1956 when he was with the A’s and Yankees organizations, he was a Dodger.  70+ years affiliated with the same organization in just about every capacity (minor leaguer, major leaguer, scout, minor league manager, major league coach, major league manager, front office executive and consultant).  And the pizazz and general fun that he was known for, which is well captured in the card above.  He lived a good, long life, and though the Dodgers are the reigning champs – they will miss not having Lasorda as a part of their organization for the first time since they moved to Los Angeles.

RIP Tommy Lasorda – 1927-2021.

RIP Phil Niekro, 1939-2020

11 03 2021

Back to catching up on a few more of these posts.  The next Hall of Famer who passed away doesn’t hit home for me like Joe Morgan did, but Phil Niekro’s passing does make me sad how many 300 game winners have passed away.  I am guessing Randy Johnson will be the last of that club.

Since I came into card-collecting age in the late 80’s – my cardboard memories of Phil Niekro are not with the team where he spent the overwhelming majority of his career.  In fact, the 1988 Topps Record Breaker subset (2nd in the middle row) with his brother is easily the card I think of first for him.

But he spent 20 (plus 1 additional start) of his 24 seasons with the Braves, and was a phenomenal knuckler who ate up a ton of innings for some pretty bad Braves teams.  In his career, he only pitched in 2 playoff games – 13 years apart the Braves made the 1969 and 1982 NLCS – both times swept by the eventual World Champions.  He went 0-1 with an OK 3.86 ERA over 14 innings in his 2 starts.

He was born in Blaine, Ohio, just a little past the Ohio River from West Virginia and his family moved a mile or so east to Lansing shortly after he was born.  His father, a coal miner who played some baseball in his free time, taught him the knuckleball when he was about 8 years old.  Phil practiced the pitch with his best friend growing up – John Havlicek.  Pretty amazing that in about 6 years – considering Phil, his younger brother Joe and Havlicek – the same tiny town of 500 or so could produce 26,000 NBA points and 539 MLB wins!

They attended Bridgeport High School one town over, Havlicek went on to play basketball for Ohio State while Phil was signed to play in the Braves minor league system.  Here’s a great article on Niekro and Havlicek growing up.

Niekro struggled at first, nearly getting cut from class D ball.  For comparison, Havlicek (despite going to 4 years of college and being a year younger) made it to the NBA 2 years ahead of Niekro, and Phil didn’t come up to MLB for good for another 3 years after that.  Some of that was his knuckle ball – it was hard to catch.  Some of that was that he spent 1963 away from pro ball in military service.  And finally, in 1964 when he did come up as a reliever, he was soon sent back down because the Braves realized he was good enough to become a starter.  After two more years of back and forth – he came up for good in 1967, going 11-9 with a 1.87 ERA (his lone ERA title).

From there, he became a steady workhorse for the Braves.  He went 23-13 in 1969, winning the division clinching game for the Braves that year and notching a second place Cy Young finish (which meant he got 1 vote – Tom Seaver was the runaway winner).  He has been quoted saying that was his best year – but I think he’s selling his seasons in the late 70’s short.  He probably deserved the Cy Young Award in 1978, when he threw 334 innings (74 more than winner Gaylord Perry).  But the Braves offense was awful and writer’s of the time weren’t going to reward a 19-18 record.

Here’s some highlights of looking through his statistical accomplishments – and I must say, I didn’t realize how good he was!

  • Niekro was the last pitcher to throw over 310 innings in a season (342 in 1979), and only Steve Carlton (304 the next year) has thrown 300 since.  Those 342 innings pitched were in his age 40 season!
  • From 1977 to 1979 he averaged 336 innings pitched per season, and over a 7 year span from 1974 to 1980 he averaged over 300 IP!
  • His 5,400 innings pitched place him 4th all-time, and the 3 guys ahead of him (Cy Young, Pud Galvin, Walter Johnson) all pitched before 1928.
  • In that 1979 season he led the National League in both wins and losses (I believe he’s the only player to do this).  He went 21-20.  Niekro and Wilbur Wood (24-20 in 1973), are the only pitchers to have 20 wins and losses in the same season since the Dead Ball era.  Nobody has had more than 34 decisions since that season.
  • Niekro won his 300th game at the age of 46 – throwing a shutout for the Yankees and becoming the oldest pitcher in history to throw a shutout (Jamie Moyer has since eclipsed that record).
  • Niekro is incredibly underrated, in part because his teams were really bad.  His career WAR of 97 is 6th since the dead ball era – behind only Clemens, Grove, Seaver, Maddux and Johnson.  That puts him ahead of Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan.  He is the all-time leader in WAR for the Braves since they moved to Atlanta – and only Spahn and Aaron have a higher WAR with the Braves franchise.  That puts him ahead of Mathews, Chipper, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Murphy, and Andruw Jones.  Yet it took the BBWAA 5 tries to elect him!

Of course, you can’t think of the older Niekro without mentioning his younger brother.  Joe, who died 14 years before Phil, was also a great pitcher.  He didn’t use the knuckleball as much his brother at first, but eventually started to after he joined his brother in Atlanta in the 1973 season.  The 539 wins they accumulated are the most of a brother duo – and they did get to play 2 seasons in Atlanta together and the end of the 1985 season in New York.

RIP to an underrated legend!