Monday, July 26, 2010

hey blue!

Whether or not anybody pays attention to this, SFLOI will go on and it will likely be something great we all look forward to one way or another. Having said that, the reason I'm writing is that SFLOI is a great game because we make course corrections and police ourselves as we go. I never realized how much work and thought guys like Havelock, Tony, Gil, Don and Ian (and many others) have put into keeping our game exactly what it is: fun to play, sometimes a pain in the ass, but always something we all look forward to.

After yesterday, I think now may be one of those times we need to think about making some course corrections.

This is not directed at any individual. It is directed at all of us who have ever umpired. Myself included. What we all agreed to, was that if there was a close play the umpire was not close to - the players near the play would be consulted. They were to do their best to help make a fair, correct judgement. The umpire needed to take this into account and although it was strictly up to him in the end, he needed to consider what the players near the play were saying. What we all agreed to was we need umpires to not make close calls for their own team.

We strayed from this several times yesterday. The fact that it helped one team win over another is not the point. It's only one game and who won or lost is not really a big deal one way or another. The point is that yesterday's games were not a fun environment to play in and we were not able to enjoy ourselves as friends and teammates.

This is something I've noticed seems to happen more and more these days. Sal wrote about it a while back and I overheard that he will not be attending our games because of a similar issue. If that's the case, that's really a shame. We need guys like Sal who show up, play a good game, a fair game - and contribute to SFLOI with countless hours on things like our website. We cannot afford to lose guys like this because we violate the spirit of our game.

There are at least two other people I know of who no longer come to our games because it simply wasn't fun for them any more. They are both great players and helped raise the level of our play a great deal. The over-competitive behavior, unfairness of umpiring and the resulting arguments made the game less fun and something they could no longer see wasting their time on. We are all the poorer for their absence.

As I said before, I'm not giving myself a pass on this. I have been as guilty as anyone else. It's only natural that an umpire would want his own team to win. But that's why we discussed making sure umpires gave close calls to the other team and not make the strike zone impossibly small for pitchers. It is exactly why we said it's OK for an umpire to ask someone who is close to the play for help - and to trust that we're all going to honor each other by being honest.

SFLOI has prospered because, in my view, we have managed to maintain an almost impossible balance of competitiveness, fun and fair play. So I would ask that we try to think about how we can return to that for future games.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


A couple of good, close games this morning.

Game 1-- Appell 8, Hewes 6
Appell's team built an 8-1 lead and survived a late onslaught to win. A disputed call on a diving no-catch by Alex Rivera opened the floodgates in the 3rd inning, as Appell's team scored five times, keyed by Appell's 2-run single. Eric Schulman hit a 2-run HR down the LF line in the next inning, and it looked grim for Hewes's side. They scored 5 times in the fifth, however, including an Alex Rivera 3-run HR, and closed within 2. The tying run came to bat in each of the next two innings but Appell (1-3) slammed the door.

Game 2-- Parfrey 5, O'Connor 4
This game had an even more thrilling finish. With two outs in the 5th, Zach Nilva tripled to right-center and came around to score when the relay to third was off-line. This tied the game at 3, but Ian Lebowitz led off the top of the 6th with a line drive HR to deep left (his first since 2003!) to give Jim O'Connor a 4-3 lead. In the bottom of the inning, Havelock Hewes and Paul Geoghan had successive 2-out RBI singles, plating the tying and eventual winning runs. Parfrey (9-5) pitched a 1-2-3 7th for the win, and allowed only 5 hits overall, but walked 6, adding to his reputation as the Ollie Perez of SFLOI. Zach Nilva had 3 hits and scored 3 runs for the winners.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On Paper

At the start of the first game today a brief discussion occurred regarding the balance of the teams. On paper the Havelock Ewes had the hitting advantage over the O'Connor Conmen. Better team average, on base pct, homeruns, extra base hits, RBIs and slugging percentage.
But baseball (i.e. softball) is not a game played on paper. Whatever that intangible quality is that bonds players together to rise above their statistical mean was with the Conmen who bunched hits and made the most of Ewes' defensive lapses to score runs. It serves as a reminder that as predictable as we all may be as individuals, as a team we can accomplish much more.


Game 1: O'Connor 4, Hewes 1
Jim O'Connor (8-5) scattered 7 hits in another fine pitching performance. Freddy Melendez was 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI. Havelock Hewes was touched for three runs in the first but recovered to pitch well and keep the game close.

Game 2: Melendez 6, Parfrey 4
Phil Ciccone (2-for-3, HR, 3 RBI) broke a 2-2 tie with a bases-loaded, 2-out, 2-run double. Freddy Melendez followed with a 2-run single, and that proved to be enough of a margin for the win. Ian Parfrey backed his own pitching by going 3-for-3 with a home run and 2 RBI. Melendez (8-4) retired Fred Lang as the winning run; there would be no Lang Bang walkoff today.

Also, earlier in the week, Riverdale thrashed SFLOI 13-4, getting 7 innings from long reliever and winning pitcher Jim O'Connor. Ken Walker was 4-for-5 with 2 doubles and a 3-run homer, and Bill Vernick had 4 hits as well.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

GAME OF 7/11

Stoeth 5, O'Connor 4 (11 innings)

In one of the more thrilling SFLOI contests of recent years, Laura Stoeth (6-0) remained undefeated by throwing shutout ball over the final 9 innings. O'Connor's team lost an early 4-1 lead, as Stoeth's team scored twice in the 5th, started by a Freddy Melendez triple, and capped by a sac fly from Freddy's son Kelvin. That was it until the 11th, when Brian Hernandez led off with a hard line single off of Dave Sommers' glove, and alertly advanced to second on Alex Rivera's flyout. An intentional walk to Ian Lebowitz and a pitcharound of Freddy Melendez set up Havelock Hewes to be the hero, as he lined a single to right-center over a drawn-in infield for the win. Bill Vernick drove in two for the hard-luck losers.

Earlier in the week, SFLOI lost a similar heartbreaker to Tony Connor's Duke alums, 7-6 in 11 innings. SFLOI led 4-1 early, but fell behind 6-4, and fought back to tie with a Glen Lawrence RBI single in the 8th inning and a Derek Martinez sac fly in the 9th. However, David Larado led off the 11th with a bunt single, and scored on Tyler Patla's bomb to deep left. Glen Lawrence had 3 hits for SFLOI, and Rob Anapol doubled and drove in two. Tony Connor (1-1) pitched an 11-inning CG and had 3 hits for the Duke team.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

SFLOI Interview #1: Tony Connor

I interviewed SFLOI founding father Tony Connor over a pitcher of beer at the Firehouse, on the night that LeBron James made his somewhat puzzling decision to join the Miami Heat, and immediately after Tony had defeated his arch-nemesis Havelock Hewes 7-6 in 11 innings on the Great Lawn. The conversations are re-constructed from my notes.

Tony began the interview by saying that he had invented the Tree Rule, which I suppose makes him the Carl Perkins of that rule, and Havelock is Tree Rule Elvis.

Tony described the formative years of SFLOI, which began with a single game he organized in 1982.

Bill McLaughlin: Who was there?
Tony: Lee Lowenfish, maybe... not Havelock...
Bill: So how did Havelock get involved?
Tony: I met him through Lee, who is a baseball author as well... Havelock had a TV show, New York City Baseball, on cable. He interviewed me, though I've never seen the tape. I was promoting my baseball book, "Baseball For the Love of It," doing interviews, book signings, that kind of thing. I invited Hav and Lee to join... a lot of the early players came from WBAI... you know WBAI?
Me: (vaguely) I've heard of it...
Tony: Well, on WBAI there was a show, "Home Fries," with Fred Hershkowitz and Lee... I played on the WBAI Turtles for one season, with Peter Bochan, Dave Metzger, Fred Hershkowitz, Rich Schraeder-- who would later be Mark Green's campaign manager, Milt Mankoff. We had a league of lefties, politically... The league was a lot more co-ed than it is now. We had a lot of players from Columbia University, where my wife was a grad student. She was a good player, as good as Sue Kostner.
Havelock: She was. Better maybe.

In the interests of accuracy, I should mention that the hitting stats do not back this up, though Havelock also said that Tony's wife Paula was a very good pitcher and fielder.

We got to discussing Tony's Little League coaching, which has brought such fine athletes as Zach Nilva, Alex Rivera, and Rob Anapol into SFLOI, and then, as the conversation sometimes will when a face is on every single TV screen in the bar, it turned to LeBron.

Bill: I don't see why athletes have to be role models.
Tony: A 12-year old kid doesn't see it that way. They're not like you; they're imitators by nature.
Me: And they see these athletes snorting coke and beating up hookers...
Tony: LeBron's different, of course.
Bill: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a giraffe.

So, I learned something I never knew about my cousin, and LeBron chose Miami, and the talk returned to softball.

Tony: I always kept stats. I think that's very important. Havelock expanded the statkeeping when he took it over in 1985, and Joe Gerber took it even further-- he's an accountant--
Bill: When did you start using a computer for the stats?
Tony: I don't know. In the early years I did them on a typewriter, later a word processor...

Havelock then tells a story about how his son Duncan got a pack of baseball cards in the mid-eighties and was disappointed that he didn't get a Joe Balento card.

Tony: There were several players who grew up with us. Carl Weinberg was 14 when he started playing, Joe Balento, my son Paul was 8.
Me: I've noticed some strange statistical seasons (Paul Connor had a season with one hit and 25 walks; Davey had a season with 5 hits and 26 walks). I guess SFLOI didn't have an Eddie Gaedel rule.
Tony (laughs): They played over the general objections of the league. Bobby Naranjo-- you've heard of him?-- in particular.
Me: Can we get back to your book for a moment? For example, I've read Marvin's baseball book, and it's rather abstract. Not your typical book about teams and players. What is yours like?
Tony: Well, I met with the majority of Hall of Famers still living at the time... I did two-hour interviews, 27 or so. I was still young enough to be in awe of them. I was 33 when I started the book, 36 when it came out... it was an incredible thrill, meeting Mickey Mantle, Yogi, Whitey Ford...
Me: What was the best interview of the bunch, and which one was the worst?
Tony: Eddie Matthews was probably the most interesting one... it wasn't exactly a good interview... we basically just got drunk together. He played in small markets his whole life-- Milwaukee, Atlanta... in New York he would have been a superstar with those 500 home runs. We had a long night of drinking and talking... but he was not very articulate. Stan Musial was a great interview. Another unrecognized player, because of where he played. He could do everything, even pitch. I interviewed him on a golf course. Nice guy. Musial said he knew what the pitcher was going to be pitching when he was in a good groove. He said he was psychically tuned in to read the pitcher's mind.

I asked if Tony had gotten to Ty Cobb, forgetting that Cobb died in 1961 and would have been close to a hundred years old had he lived.

Tony: We've got some serious students of oldtime baseball here. Marvin, Lee, Hav, Joe Balento too. You know Lawrence Ritter? He wrote "The Glory of Our Times," and he wrote the intro to my book. I had Roger Angell's assistant on my team one year. He (Angell) wrote some great stuff on baseball as well.
Me: Have you read any Bill James?
Tony: I met him once, at a SABR convention in 1982. He brought a different viewpoint to baseball writing-- more objective, analytical-- you've read him, I'll bet, and Seung, and Sal too...
Me: Yeah.

One of the recurring themes of the night was Tony's objection to my scoring all kinds of double plays in the DP category instead of just ground ball double plays.

Tony: Because hitting into a double play is a sign of bad hitting. It means you hit the ball right where the pitcher wanted you to. I hate double plays. That's why it took Jim Rice so long to get into the Hall-- all those double plays. I had one year I hit into about 12 double plays (note: it was actually 9, in 1989), and I probably didn't hit into one for a couple of years after that. And still, every time I come up with a man on base, Havelock says, "let's get two!"
Me: He says that when I'm up too.
Tony: You came up with the bases loaded last week and he said, "let's get three."
Me: Didn't happen... I wanted to ask about your career as a hitter. Some people turn in the same season over and over again, but your career numbers are all over the map, some years you hit for power, some years for average...
Tony: In 1996, I broke both wrists... and I had Lyme disease... that took awhile to come back from. And earlier, I gained about 20 pounds when my baby was born... and afterwards, it's hard to hit when you can't get a good night's sleep. In 1998 I started the Riverdale league, and I must have had a thousand at bats that year. Played for Duke, too, it was something like 8 games a week (Tony hit .547 with 73 RBI in 1998).
Me: And you're the alltime leader in doubles and triples...
Tony: I got a lot of those because I know how to slide.
Havelock: You still slide?
Tony: Yes. I learned to slide from my high school coach. Nothing fancy, no fallaways or head first slides. I just don't give them anything to tag me with. You can tag the tip of my toe, if you can find it...
Me: There's a story I've heard about Gil (Schmerler) teaching you to hit for power.
Tony: Yeah, he said something to me. We were playing at Riverside, with that wall, and Gil said, why don't you try hitting the bottom half of the ball? And when I did that, I had just enough power to get them over. Take Hank Aaron-- he hit 750 homers, and a lot of them just cleared the wall. All you've got to do is hit it enough to get it over. When I was young, I hit first or second mostly, and then later I somehow learned to hit for power. It helps to have a fence you can aim for, like at Riverside.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Thanks to everyone who braved the insane heat and made this weekend a success. By game 5, there was a cloud of flies circling me, which I took to mean it was probably time for a shower (or an embalming). Here are the recaps.

1. Melendez 6, Rosengard 4
Melendez's team took an early 4-2 lead, but it took RF Ian Parfrey throwing out Dave Sommers at first on an apparent bases-loaded single to keep the game from being tied in the 4th, and in the 6th inning, Bill McLaughlin did score the tying run on a botched rundown attempt on trail runner Derek Martinez. In the bottom of the inning, Fred Lang came up with the bases loaded and no outs, and lined the go-ahead single to center.

2. Martinez 7, Parfrey 6
Parfrey took a 4-2 lead into the 5th, but allowed 5 runs to score, keyed by Glen Lawrence's 2-run single. Furious comebacks in the 6th and 7th innings fell just short, as Martinez (3-5) struck out Fred Lang with two on in the 6th, turned an acrobatic 1-8-3 DP on Marvin Cohen's chopper down the first base line in the 7th, and then retired Zach Nilva with 2 on to end the inning. Brian Hernandez hit a monster HR into the trees in left for Martinez's team. Ben Indek had 3 hits in a losing cause.

3. Melendez 11, Hewes 0
Bill McLaughlin (3-for-4, 2B, 4 RBI) led the offensive attack against Havelock Hewes. Freddy Melendez backed his 5-inning shutout with 3 hits including a double and a triple. Ian Parfrey and a walk-on named Edward in a vintage Pirate jersey also had 3 hits each.

4. Parfrey 10, Hewes 7 (8 innings)
The action shifted to the Great Lawn on Monday, courtesy of Joe Gerber. Parfrey's "Paisans" battled back from a 5-2 deficit to score twice in the 6th on RBI doubles by Joe Gerber and Joe Geller, and once in the 7th as Bill McLaughlin tripled to lead off the inning and subsequently scored on an error. In the top of the 8th, Parfrey's team scored 5 times. McLaughlin drove in a run with a double, then Parfrey (4-for-5, 3 RBI) hit a 2-run single to right-center. Ross Barkan (3-for-5, 3 RBI) singled in another run, and then Parfrey "stole" home on an erroneous flip back to the pitcher. Hewes's team (aka Connor's Compadres) loaded the bases with one out, and did get 2 runs back on a groundout and a Chris Hall single, but Hewes grounded out as the tying run. For the winning team, Mike Palma added 3 hits, and Glen Lawrence (playing first base!) had a key assist, recovering an overthrow and gunning out a runner at third to snuff out a 6th inning rally. Hewes's team was paced by Rob Anapol (3-for-4, 3B, 2 RBI), and Zach Nilva and Bill Vernick (in his first at bats of 2010) also had 3 hits.

5. Melendez 3, Nilva 2
Freddy Melendez (7-4) won his 3rd game of the weekend against SFLOI's unluckiest pitcher. Nilva pitched well, but Freddy singled in 2 runs in the 3rd inning for an insurmountable margin. Nilva's team scored twice in the 4th but Freddy retired Zach and Alex with the bases loaded to escape further damage, and then retired Josh Balsam with two men on in the 5th inning of a game shortened by darkness and extreme heat.