Gary Cohen (Mets), Dave Flemming (Giants), Andy Freed (Rays), Aaron Goldsmith (Mariners), Dave Jaegler (Nationals), Jeff Levering (Brewers), and Don Orsillo (Padres) share something in common. Each began broadcasting for a big-league team after honing his play-by-play skills with the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox. The pipeline runs deeper still. Dan Hoard (Bengals) and Bob Socci (Patriots) came to the NFL via the PawSox radio booth.
There’s a good chance that group will grow in the not-too-distant future. Will Flemming — Dave Flemming’s younger brother — has been calling PawSox games for the past four seasons, and many in the industry feel he’s of MLB quality.
He passed an important test this summer. Filling in for Tim Neverett, who was away for his father’s funeral, Flemming was alongside Joe Castiglione when the Red Sox hosted the Phillies on July 30. The game was a thriller, with Boston winning 2-1 in 13 innings.
“There were no low lights,” Flemming.said of his MLB debut “Not one. All of us in this profession dream of that moment, and to have it realized in that ballpark, with this Red Sox team against a good Philadelphia team — Price versus Nola — it was more than I ever could have dreamt of.”
He’s been imagining the moment for years. Despite his relatively young age — Flemming has yet to reach the big 4-0 — he’s no neophyte. His journey has included stints in Lancaster, Potomac, and Indianapolis. At each stop along the way — this is something all minor-league broadcasters can attest to — the frills have been few and far between.
Flemming put it this way: “You dream of the opportunity on every bus ride to Kinston, North Carolina, on every overnight trip from Rochester to Pawtucket when you get home, bleary-eyed, at 5 in the morning.”
Dreams sometimes come in the form of nightmares. Openings for big-league broadcasting jobs don’t come along often, and when they do the competition is fierce. The last thing you can afford to do is fumble an audition, which for all intents and purposes Flemming’s July cameo was.
He feels he came away from it unscathed.
“There’s all the practice, all the repetition, all the hard work, and you think that you’re ready to deliver on that big stage,” said Flemming. “But when those bright lights of the big leagues come on, you have to actually do it. I left Fenway Park feeling that no matter what happens from here, I’d proven to myself what I’d hoped is true — that I was ready for that scale, for that moment.”
Flemming handled play-by-play in the middle frames, and the call that most stands out to him was an RBI triple by Eduardo Nunez in the fifth inning. The back-and-forth that preceded it was part of that equation.
“Jackie Bradley Jr. singled, and Joe and I were speculating that he may run,” recalled Flemming. “I thought he would, and he did. That was the preamble to the call of Nunez hitting a hard line drive to center field, Odubel Herrera taking one step in before readjusting his route, and the ball sailing over his head to the wall. To be ready for that moment, to sense that Bradley was going to run, and recognizing that Herrera wasn’t taking the right angle… I was very pleased.”
By and large, so was a majority of the listening audience. The fact that a few of those ears may well have belonged to high-level broadcast executives wasn’t lost on him.
“The impact of it has a chance to change your life in a way that other games you’ve done haven’t,” explained Flemming. “There were nerves because of that, but in terms of the actual mechanics of the game, I treated it just like any of my other broadcasts. When I talked to my brother a few hours before I went on the air, he said to have as much fun as I can, engage with Joe, and be present in the moment. He said to let the game be the game.”
Stylistically, that essentially meant just being himself.
“My general philosophy on broadcasting is that it’s not about jamming stats and biographical information at the listener,” explained Flemming. “It’s more about describing the scene before you, analyzing strategy, and sounding as human as you can. I think that philosophy lends itself to big league baseball broadcasting.”
Ron Darling did color commentary for TBS during the ALDS and ALCS. Prior to Game 2 of the latter, I asked the Yale-educated former big-league hurler for an observation from what he’d seen thus far. Not surprisingly, it’s the men on the mound who had caught his eye.
“Almost every good pitcher I’m running across in the postseason has four, five, or even six different pitches,” said Darling. “Now, in my day we just called a fastball a fastball — we didn’t call it a four-seamer, a two-seamer, a cutter, a runner. But if you look at pitch usage, a lot of the really good pitchers, including Gerrit Cole tonight, have several pitches they use 10% of the time or more. I find that very interesting. In my day, commanding three pitches was the most important thing. Now they’re commanding — or at least trying to — five or six.”
Cole ended up not having great command during Game 2, but his full arsenal was definitely on display. Per our friends at Brooks Baseball, the Astros hurler threw 45 fastballs, 17 sliders, 17 curveballs, and 11 changeups. The thought process behind such a varied mix?
“The analytics are not only used by the pitchers, but also the hitters,” explained Darling. “If you’re a hitter worth your salt, you’re going to dive into the analytics and understand how they’re trying to get you out. A lot of pitchers are giving hitters a different look their first or second time — rarely the third — from what they saw the last time they faced each other.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
The Brewers’ creating a platoon advantage by using a phantom starter in NLCS Game 5 — left-hander Wade Miley was replaced by righty Brandon Woodruff after facing just one batter — evoked memories of a strategy employed by Earl Weaver in September of 1980. The Baltimore Orioles manager penciled a pitcher into the lineup card as the designated hitter, then pinch-hit for him when his spot in the order came up. On each occasion — 20 in all — it was a starter who wouldn’t be working that day who served as the phantom DH. A dozen times the phantom was named Steve Stone.
Weaver’s idea was simple. On the off chance that the opposing starter was replaced after facing just five or six batters, he could guarantee himself a left-right advantage in that first plate appearance, regardless of the handedness of the reliever. Weaver regularly platooned his DHs, so he had nothing to lose with the ploy.
MLB wasn’t pleased. That winter they enacted a rule requiring the designated hitter come to the plate at least once, unless the starter had already been replaced. Pinch-hitting in this scenario thus means taking a position player out of the game, not a phantom who was going to neither hit nor pitch.
When you tune in to watch the World Series on Tuesday, you presumably won’t be paying attention to Fenway Park’s baselines. At least not until a batted ball hits on or near one of them, and only then in terms of fair or foul. The actual composition of the boundary lines is unlikely to enter your mind.
They’re chalk. Right?
Only in part. Fenway’s foul lines — ditto the batter’s box — are a slurry of chalk mixed with water, and white latex paint. Now you know.
Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano spun seven shutouts during the regular season, and last Sunday he no-hit the Yakult Swallows in Game 2 of the Central League Climax Series. Widely regarded as the best pitcher in Japan, the 29-year-old right-hander boasts a sparkling 2.19 ERA over six NPB seasons.
Can we expect to see him stateside? Sugano has expressed interest in bringing his talents to MLB, but a hurdle stands in his way. The Yomiuri Giants have never posted a player — they’re said to be philosophically opposed to the practice — and that isn’t expected to change any time soon.
Which NPB teams have posted players? Glad you asked. Here are are some of the notables:
Nippon-Ham Fighters: Shohei Ohtani, Yu Darvish
Hiroshima Carp: Kenta Maeda
Rakuten Golden Eagles: Masahiro Tanaka
Seibu Lions: Daisuke Matsuzaka
Yakult Swallows: Nori Aoki, Kazuhisa Ishii, Akinori Iwamura
Orix Blue Wave (now the Orix Buffaloes): Ichiro Suzuki
The Seibu Lions have let it be known that they are amenable to posting Yusei Kikuchi. The 27-year-old left-hander went 14-4 with a 3.08 ERA this season,. Per a report in The Kyodo News, scouts from seven MLB teams were on hand for one of his September starts.
Wayne Krenchicki, who played for the Orioles, Reds, Tigers, and Expos in a career that spanned the 1979-1986 seasons, died earlier this week at age 64. A left-handed-hitting infielder, Krenchicki has his best success in Cincinnati, slashing .283/.350/.393 over 332 games. He later served as a minor-league manager.
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. has 15 hits in 29 at bats with the Suprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League. His slash line is an otherworldly.559/.690/.517. Small sample size? Sure. He’s still the game’s top prospect.
Per MLB.com’s William Ladson, Jim Riggleman has been told by the Cincinnati Reds that he won’t be returning as the team’s manager next season.
The White Sox are reportedly considering using Matt Davidson as a two-way player. According to veteran Chicago sports scribe Bruce Levine, the slugging corner infielder has been given permission to work on his pitching skills over the offseason. Davidson threw three scoreless innings in mop-up duty this year.
“We played guys were 0 for 15 and 0 for 17 against Luis Severino,” answered Cora. “We get information from Zack (Scott) and the analytics department as far as swing path and pitch usage — all the cool stuff that some people like and others don’t. We use both. There’s a balance.
“People talk about small sample size, but what small sample size? Especially now, in the playoffs. There are guys who are 3 for 5, and you look at the at bats and there are three bloop singles, or a bunt against the shift. We use the information that is provided and make a conscious decision on who is going to play.”
You probably won’t see Mookie Betts at second base when the Red Sox play games three, four, and five of the World Series in Los Angeles. Alex Cora would obviously love to keep both Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. in the lineup, but with no DH and J.D. Martinez guaranteed to play, that’s not going to happen unless Betts becomes the modern-day version of Mickey Stanley.
Fans of a certain age will remember the Tigers playing their Gold Glove centerfielder at shortstop in the 1968 Fall Classic. Stanley did have big-league experience at the position, although it was a mere nine games and 68 innings. The gambit worked. Detroit bested St. Louis in seven games.
Betts was drafted as an infielder and has played 15 games, and 128 innings, at second base as a big-leaguer. While nearly all of those reps came in 2014, he did play six innings at the position this summer. So however unlikely it may be, we could see Betts there next weekend, right?
“There’s always a chance,” admitted Cora. And why not? Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell played Travis Shaw — a lumbering horse compared to Betts — at second base 39 times this season. Sometimes a manager needs to be bold.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Being a female baseball reporter wasn’t easy in the 1970s and 1980s, and for Jane Leavy it meant some fraught encounters with Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin. The New Yorker’s Zach Helfand talked to her about those challenges.
At The Athletic, Steve Buckley wrote about the large number of Red Sox fans in Canada, particularly in Nova Scotia and the other Maritimes.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Don Newcombe, who pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1949, 1955, and 1956 World Series, currently serves as a special advisor to the chairman for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Newcombe is 92 years young.
It was in the news this week, so you probably know that George Earnshaw started games 5 and 6 of the 1930 World Series for the Philadelphia A’s. You probably don’t know that Lefty Grove got the win in relief of Earnshaw in Game 5, one day after suffering a complete-game loss in Game 4.
Bob Gibson started nine World Series games — all with the St. Louis Cardinals — and threw a complete game in eight of them. He started three Game Sevens.
The Boston Red Sox beat the Brooklyn Robins by a score of 2-1 in Game 2 of the 1916 World Series. The contest went 14 innings, with Babe Ruth going the distance for the win.
The Philadelphia Phillies won their first ever World Series title — in the franchise’s 98th season — on this date in 1980. Steve Carlton got the win, his third of the series against the Kansas City Royals.
Elston Howard, the first African-American to play for the New York Yankees, announced his retirement on this date in 1967. Howard debuted in 1955 and eight years later became the first African-American to cop AL MVP honors. The Yankees retired Howard’s number 32 in 1984.
Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig combined to go 16 for 27, with seven home runs and seven walks, in the 1928 World Series. The Yankees ousted the Cardinals in four games.
Keith Hernandez drove in eight runs during the 1982 World Series. Six of them came in the final two games as the St. Louis Cardinals rallied from a three-games-to-two deficit to beat the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Chicago White Sox are only team to never play a winner-take-all postseason game (per Tyler Kepner of The New York Times).