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Monday, July 27, 2015

San Francisco Giants: If Anyone Gets Traded, It's Brandon Belt

Looking over his shoulder, how apt.
With the clock ticking until the MLB trade deadline, the San Francisco Giants should be willing to give up only one major piece of the team, and that’s Brandon Belt.

I am one of many who have pulled for the Baby Giraffe since day one. I felt he was shoddily treated his early years in the big leagues, getting shuttled from the big club to the minors and back again on a seemingly regular basis. Then, was he a first baseman or a left fielder? That question, astoundingly, continues to play out. Belt has already played eleven games in left this season, two years after he played a full season at first (injuries kept him on the shelf most of last season. Though he did return to be a big difference in the post-season. You may recall the 18th inning in Washington during the NLCS).

You know why he’s been playing left field. It’s the same reason he should be the only Giant moved by the trade deadline. The reason is: Buster Posey.

There’s a sub-reason for this as well: Andrew Susac.

Posey is a better hitter when he’s not catching. It’s not a theory, it’s statistically backed.

But he’s a phenomenal defensive catcher. The Giants couldn’t consider moving Posey to first base until there was a good option at catcher.

Susac has proved to be that good catcher. I’m a bit biased towards Susac, having covered him when he played college ball for the Oregon State Beavers. Susac was one of the top players on OSU during those years. When the Giants drafted him it seemed like it would be an excellent fit. And it has been.

Susac played in just 29 games last season, his rookie campaign. This year, he’s already started 29 games at catcher and played in 41. The issue is that sliding into third base not long ago he sprained his thumb, and he’s now on the 15-day disabled list.

Might the Giants be hesitant to trade Belt because of Susac’s injury? Maybe, but probably not. Guys can get hurt any day, not just ten days before the trade deadline. Hector Sanchez, currently the Giants third catcher, isn’t exactly a bad backup himself.

With Susac, Posey, and Belt competing for two positions, the options are these:
  1. Move Belt permanently to left field. Then Posey is at first and Susac becomes the catcher. But Belt would be frustrated (although he wouldn’t say anything publicly). And it would cause friction in the clubhouse, because Belt hasn’t done anything wrong to lose his first base job. Resentment is not the sort of thing that will help the ballclub.
  2. Trade Susac. Then Sanchez is the adequate backup catcher, but nobody’s current idea of the “catcher-in-waiting.” Susac is a top backstop in the making, and to get rid of him would be incredibly short-sighted. Because the question is when Posey moves to first full-time, not if.
  3. Trade Posey. Then Susac is the starting catcher and Belt stays at first. This is obviously ludicrous.
  4. Trade Belt. Then Posey moves to first full-time and Susac becomes the everyday catcher.
It might help the Baby Giraffe to be moved anyway. Sometimes it seems like he’s pressing, like he’s afraid his job will be taken away.

Well, he’s exactly right about that.

A trade gives Belt a chance to become an everyday first baseman somewhere else. Then he can mature into the tremendous power hitter that we know he can be without having to look over his shoulder wondering when Posey’s going to take his job.

Frankly, this has been the biggest shadow hovering over the Giants season. Those three guys know that a decision needs to be made. I don’t see Belt moving permanently to left field. So he’s the odd man out.

Best of luck, Baby Giraffe. 

Like it's a relay handoff. Only missing the baton.

photos courtesy: ftw.usatoday.com, sfbay.ca 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Improving NBA Draft and NBA Summer League At The Same Time

I have always wanted to form an NBA D-League team made up entirely of guys who didn't get drafted. I would guarantee a spot on my team for Division One's highest remaining scorer, rebounder, assist man and shot blocker, plus several other categories I can't think of right now. I would also sign the highest stat guys from D-II. I guarantee we would win the league every year.

I mentioned this to a top basketball friend of mine, and he suggested that it would be better to form a team of those guys in the NBA summer league, so that they got to show their chops before the season began and get a chance to make a roster. Then a better idea developed.

We came up with the idea that the NBA Draft is only the lottery- 15 teams.

Then all remaining players who declared for the draft are pooled up and put on various NBA Summer League teams. Since all the games are played in the same gyms, it would be easy for the league to provide room and board.

At the end of the summer league, the draft continues in order.

It would draw more interest to both events. A guy who wasn't given much of a chance before draft who kills it in summer league then becomes highly coveted in the second half of the draft. A guy who's a bad teammate drops down and maybe doesn't get drafted at all.

Either way, the cream rises to the top. Who flourishes with new teammates? Which small-college guy proves he's a leader and worthy of a draft spot? Who's shown to be a jerk?

Right now the teams don't know this until after they draft and sign a guy. This way everybody learns at the same time.

Imagine the intrigue. If you have the 4th pick in the lottery, would you rather keep that or would you rather trade "down" to draft the top summer league guy? Summer trading would be much more interesting.

Obviously this would involve changing the timing of free agency and stuff like that, but it would end up being more beneficial to everybody. The second half of the draft would be in mid- to late-July, providing a ratings spike in the dog days of summer and just before NFL and college football training camps begin, so the only real competition would be baseball.

This seems like a no-brainer.

After that, I'd still want to have my D-League team. They'd still win.

photo courtesy: nba.com

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Day the NBA Playoffs Ended 2015

A happy group that the playoffs are done
Nearly two months ago when the NBA Playoffs began, I posted a list of things that were going on or anticipated to happen. Several years ago, a group of us decided to keep a list like this every year because the NBA Playoffs are too damn long (just like the rent is too damn high). It's easy to forget how long it lasts because we get caught up in day-to-day stuff. But now that the Golden State Warriors are NBA Champions, it's time make you feel nostalgic for April (yes, really) with this year's follow-up list.

Playoffs begin April 18th
108th day of the year (257 left)

Playoffs end June 16th
167th day of the year (198 left)

It took 59 days for the playoffs to occur in their entirety.
Days until Apple Watch release (April 24th):
It's been 54 days since the Apple Watch was released. I have seen exactly one "in the wild" since then. Remember when you couldn't go anywhere without hearing about its impending release? Since then.... not much.

Days until NFL Draft (April 30th):
48 days since Famous Jameis Winston got drafted first by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and future MVP and Super Bowl winning Marcus Mariota was picked second by the Tennessee Titans. Maybe we should be doing a new list, the length of Jameis' career. I kid, I kid. He'll wander around the league for years. That is, if the NFL still exists in 10 years.

Days until Kentucky Derby and Pacquiao/Mayweather (May 2nd):
46 days since American Pharoah began his history-making run and Mayweather won a strategically sound but ultimately unexciting bout. I didn't bother noting the day of the Belmont Stakes because when was the last time any horse won the Triple Crown? Oh yeah, it happened this year. I really hope that BOA, the co-creator of this list, got a couple of bucks for his efforts.

Days until David Letterman’s last show (May 20):
The last true late night talk show host has been retired for 28 days, exactly four weeks ago. Yet oftentimes I still think during a weekday, "I wonder who's on Dave tonight?" I've only been thinking it for oh, 30 years. It's a habit.

If you haven't seen the very end, take the time:

Days until summer begins:
7 days. It's a week until summer starts. Let that one sink in.

Days until 4th of July:
19 days until America's biggest holiday. Kind of cool that the playoffs began 76 days away, if you know anything about the American Revolution and stuff.

Days until Christmas:
192 shopping days left. Have you started? If you have, you're crazier than I thought you were.

Best team in MLB:
AL: Detroit Tigers, 9-2 
NL: New York Mets, 9-3

As of June 16:
NL: St. Louis Cardinals, 43-21
AL: Houston Astros, 38-28
Interesting coincidence that those two teams have the best records, isn't it?

FYI, the Tigers are now in 3rd place in the AL Central at 34-31 and the Mets are still leading the NL East at 36-30

Worst team in MLB:
Milwaukee Brewers, 2-9 

As of June 16:
Philadelphia Phillies, 22-44 (14 games behind the Mets)
The Brewers are still in last place in the NL Central at 24-42 (and were the first team to first their manager, Ron Roenicke, on May 3rd- 45 days ago).  

Top song on Billboard:  
Huh, the first thing that's not changed since April 18th on this list. However, it's not consecutive. This is the 9th week for this track at the top spot as Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" featuring Kendrick Lamar, the number two track, was number one for a bit in between during the time frame we're discussing.

Note: I have heard neither of these songs and have no idea what I'm talking about here. I might as well be trying to explain Harry Potter plots.

Top song on ITunes:  

Again: I have no idea what this is. I just know that somebody will see the "Uptown Funk" notation and say "Oh man, that song is so old." When it topped the charts less than 60 days ago.

Top grossing movie on April 18:
Fast and Furious 7

Jurassic World
And it's not even close.

Game of Thrones Season 5 episodes shown:
GoT showed episode 10 and ended Sunday, June 14th. So, apparently, did Jon Snow

Mad Men Final season episodes left:
My favorite drama series of the last decade ended on May 17th, 31 days before the NBA Playoffs did. Because I'm a slowpoke, I still haven't watched the final episodes. Actually, I have five to go, so that works out pretty well for me. 

Top “talker” stories:
Apple Watch pre-release

Jeb Bush, presidential candidate
Donald Trump, presidential candidate
Golden State Warriors, NBA champions
(In related news, Rolling Stone still publishes a print edition)
St. Louis Cardinals hack Houston Astros using techniques that Ferris Bueller would find primitive. Note to people: change your password- at minimum- when you change jobs.

Average U.S. gas price:
$2.446/gallon via fuelgaugereport.com


U.S. Temperature extremes (Farenheit):
94 at Death Valley, CA

10 at Buena Vista, CO

June 16th:
117 at Death Valley
35 at Stanley, ID, Orr, MN and Embarrass, MN
There's a town named Embarrass? How do I not remember seeing this on any of those lists?

High temperature in Tracy, CA


Finally, if you had put money on Andre Iguodala to win NBA Finals MVP on April 18th... you'd be rich.

photos courtesy: brunchnews.com, tatango.com, huffingtonpost.com

Thursday, May 28, 2015

San Francisco Giants: Two Third Basemen Enter, One Third Baseman Leaves

I didn't realize that when Casey McGehee accepted his demotion to Triple-A Sacramento from the San Francisco Giants that, well, he only kind of went.

According to the guy who knows these things, because McGehee said okay to the demotion, he becomes part of the 40-man roster and is available for immediate call-up if they need him. If he'd fought the assignment, his road back to the big leagues would have been much more difficult.

And let's face it, he knows he's in trouble. After winning comeback player of the year with the Florida Marlins last year, he's not come close to that form the first two months of the season. And it seems like every time that Matt Duffy has replaced him, he's torn the cover off the ball and fielded third base awfully well. Now Duffy is the third baseman and McGehee isn't.

Part of that reason is because of McGehee. In spring training, according to that same report, McGehee tutored Duffy at third and even made a point to talk to him after the demotion to say "This is baseball, guys get sent down every day. Don't feel bad for playing well."
"Hey, it's Duffman!"

Of course in the offseason the Giants had to go out and get a legit third baseman after Pablo Sandoval left. They couldn't have just handed the job to Duffy. But at the same time, they also clearly felt that Duffy was the heir apparent if McGehee struggled. Weirdly, McGehee made the decision easier because of the help he'd given Duffy.

So once again the Giants are handing over the starting job in the infield to another kid they hoped would eventually be the starter, just not this soon.

Hey, it worked out last year for Joe Panik.

photos courtesy: sfchronicle.com, aroundthefoghorn.com

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Indianapolis 500 And The Next Generation Of Auto Racing

I still enjoy watching the Indianapolis 500 (the 99th running is Sunday, May 24th, 1pm ET, ABC) but have been disappointed in recent years because the reason the 500 first came into existence- and all auto races, for that reason, has gone away. But there is a way for it to have a revival, and I have no idea why it hasn’t happened yet.

When cars were first being invented and developed, auto races drew huge crowds of enthusiastic spectators who were there because they’d never seen a car. (Same goes for early air shows.) But in addition to the regular folk, there were investors. Basically, auto races were mechanized versions of Shark Tank, except everybody showed their product at the same time. The winners got prize money as well as investors. Henry Ford, whose first auto company had failed, sunk pretty much all he had and won a prestigious Detroit auto race to create the FoMoCo that way. (The link is totally worth the 8:45 of your time.)

As cars and companies got better, the competition increased. The best way to back up a claim that your car was the sturdiest/fastest/most reliable was to win a race. The longer and the more involved, the better. At the time Indianapolis rivaled Detroit as the car capital of America. Both places were heavy manufacturing cities that made quality product and both were extensive rail hubs. It made sense that a big track would be built somewhere. Auto parts manufacturer Carl Fisher wanted the best track to be in Indianapolis, so he made it happen.

The Indianapolis Speedway was built precisely to be the best racing track in America- for anything. The first “race” at the speedway was a hot-air balloon trial. The first machine race was motorcycles. Fisher wanted it to be a proving ground for any motorized transport. The races got longer and longer. That a race eventually went 500 miles was inevitable. It proved that a car could run at speed, at high RPMs, fairly continuously for that amount of time and that many miles.

Auto races, and the 500 in particular, then became the place to test new innovations in cars. It’s well documented that the first rear-view mirror was on Ray Harroun’s Flying Wasp, the first winner of the 500 in 1911. He had it installed because he didn't have a riding mechanic like every other car in the race to see what the other cars were up to. Turbochargers, seatbelts, specialized tires, the list goes on. If it wasn’t invented for the 500, it was quite often perfected there. If it’s a mechanized part of your car, chances are it- or the manufacturer it comes from- came to prominence in Indianapolis.
See what's right above the #32 and in Harroun's sightline?
As the cars in the 500 got more and more specialized, factory-built racing gained a following as well. Take the car off the showroom floor and see what it can do. That, in addition to moonshiners, is how NASCAR got started. The phrase “Stock Car” is part of the acronym NASCAR, but that’s about the only stock part left in the circuit.

So now that races of all kinds are miles and miles removed from where they originated 100-plus years ago, why not return to the origin of races for the next generation of cars?

In other words; why is there not already a series of races exclusively involving electric cars? Why is there not already a series involving alternative-energy vehicles? If somebody wants to prove that the propane car is more feasible and better than an electric car, have them race each other in a controlled environment- you know, a racetrack- for 500 miles.

The innovation part is also due for a revival. Right now a Tesla battery can last about 250 miles. Wouldn’t a series of endurance races force the Tesla engineers to experiment in much better and more effective ways than wind tunnel tests and running a car up and down an abandoned airstrip? Google says they have an electric car, they’d like to think it’s better than a Tesla. Hell, Google wants to show that the driverless car is the way to go.
In the words of Jack Palance in Shane: Prove it. Have a regular Tesla race a Google driverless car for 500 miles. Like you wouldn’t watch that.

A series of alternative-energy vehicle races would also allow the small players to compete with the big boys. An entry fee is an entry fee. If you can pay it, you’ve got a team in the race. Like Indy 500s of years past, those races would speed up innovation and the public would again be the benefactor. Not to mention that many of those who question alternative-energy vehicles would be won over.

The next Henry Ford is right now making an alternative energy vehicle in her garage. She’s got ideas that will revolutionize the industry. But she can only afford to make a few prototypes. She needs that opportunity to get it out front of the public and find some Shark Tank-like investors. She needs a race that she can win. Which racetrack will give her- and the other inventors- the chance? Carl Fisher would be angry if it happened anywhere else but his place.

Oh, it's green because it's an electric race car. I get it now.
 photos courtesy: ims.com, vanderbiltcupraces.com, greencarreports.com

Monday, May 18, 2015

David Letterman and the End of The Late Night Talk Show

I remember the first time I saw David Letterman on television. It was the mid-1980’s, I was on vacation and my aunt and uncle had just gotten a VCR. My uncle occasionally watched Letterman, so we secretly timer-taped a show (an ordeal at the time) and put it on the next afternoon as a surprise treat.

I remember his reaction distinctly. He had been talking Letterman up. When we put it on, he said “Oh, I don’t really like him, he’s just the best thing on when I can’t sleep.”

Oh well.

I was a huge Johnny Carson fan at the time because I was getting into comedy, and Carson was the best place to watch new stand-up consistently at the time (remember: virtually no cable). After watching Carson be a genius, Dave was kind of hard to understand for 12-year-old me, even though his comedy in theory was more appealing to my generation. Well, the rest of my generation probably wasn’t listening to a lot of Smothers Brothers or Bob Newhart. But I was. Eventually I found more modern comedy- George Carlin had a lot to do with that- and slowly I began watching the NBC 11:30 to 1:30 block, aka Johnny and Dave, pretty regularly. I didn’t go to many parties as a teenager, why do you ask?

When Carson announced his retirement in 1991, NBC didn’t believe that Letterman could change his show to make it palatable for 11:30 and went with Jay Leno. I saw Leno do stand-up when I was 12, and he was phenomenal. (You’re going to have to trust me here. Leno’s standup in the mid-80’s was out of sight.) He was Carson’s permanent guest host so the decision was not wholly unexpected. I thought Dave deserved the show because he was clearly Johnny’s choice to replace him, but Leno was not as goofy as Dave was at the time. Dave promised he could do a proper 11:30 show and NBC didn’t believe him.

There is a lot of irony to David Letterman retiring now that the internet is a force. Dave’s early late-night run began when you could really only see his stuff if you stayed up and watched it when it aired, unless you knew somebody with a VCR- and they wanted to play the tape for you. His late-night stunts- jumping onto walls in a Velcro jumpsuit and wearing a suit made of Alka-Seltzer and getting dunked into water (Rice Krispies suit and milk, same idea as well) and elevator races- would have been perfect for today’s viral world.

You're gonna have to trust me, this was huuuuuge.
More of the stunts had to do with Carson than you might think. When Carson got the rights to produce- and therefore choose- the program that followed The Tonight Show- (a deal negotiated by his lawyer extraordinaire Henry Bushkin- read Henry’s book if you’ve ever been even remotely interested in Carson) he gave the show to Letterman with plenty of caveats in the deal to ensure that Letterman wouldn’t copy Carson’s show and water down both shows as a result. This is incredibly funny in retrospect because at the time NBC had the only sustainable late-night franchises, cable basically didn’t exist, the internet was “the future” and very few people had a VCR to time-shift anything (or even invent the word time-shift). Anyway, the three biggest stipulations were: 

One, no extended monologue. Johnny essentially demanded the rights to the seven-minute late-night monologue! This forced Dave to just do a few “remarks” and I believe helped in the creation of the “Top Ten,” a way to do lots of jokes on a topic but not in a monologue setting.

Two, a long-forgotten clause regarding guests called “21 and 8.” To preserve an idea of “exclusivity,” a guest that appeared on Carson couldn’t appear on Letterman for the next 21 days, and a guest on Letterman couldn’t appear on Carson for the next 8 days. Carson also had this clause for the early days of Saturday Night Live. Can you imagine if “21 and 8” still existed? A guest in New York often does Letterman, Fallon, Seth Myers and hosts SNL that week!

Three, Johnny forbid Dave to have a big band like Doc Severinsen and company. NBC didn’t give “Late Night” much of a budget anyway, so Letterman decided on a four-piece rock combo. In another budget move, they combined the role of sidekick and band leader with Paul Shaffer handling both roles.

Those clauses- and others- forced Letterman and his staff to get creative with his comedy and his guests. Lots of the people Letterman and his producers wanted as guests in the early days weren’t guys that Carson wanted anyway, so it wasn’t a huge deal. Chris Elliott wasn’t exactly on Carson’s wish list, you dig? (Paul and the World's Most Dangerous Band never played any Glen Miller, either.)

After Carson retired and Dave went to CBS, he extended the monologue, the band added a brass section and the stunt comedy slowly went away. The Late Show was the spiritual successor to Carson’s Tonight Show, never mind what NBC wants you to believe. Now that Dave is retiring, it’s obvious that he is the true last link to Carson. The Tonight Show used to be the only show you could see celebrities in a casual interview format. It therefore required Carson- and Jack Paar before him- to make conversation.

Thus the name: Talk. Show.

Kings of Late Night
After Dave, that doesn’t exist. (Maybe Stephen Colbert will be more of a traditionalist than I am expecting he will be.)

A Talk Show emphasizes what? Talk. It does not emphasize lip synching or celebrity Pictionary or hula hoop contests.

A true talk show host can make any guest look good, and even mostly pretend to be interested in a terrible movie or sitcom. The most succinct and accurate thing I’ve ever heard about Carson as an interviewer is from Dave Barry’s new book, “Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster).”

As Barry explains, his first book, in 1982, had gotten some national recognition and he was invited to be on Carson. He writes, “I was on for seven minutes at the end of the show, and it went pretty well, because I was being interviewed by Johnny Carson, who could make any guest appear spontaneously funny, including Hitler.”

At a book signing/lunch with Barry not long ago, he explained that he had never been interviewed on a talk show before that Tonight Show appearance, and it went so easily he thought that all talk show interviews were like that. But after doing a few more interview appearances on similar shows, it became very obvious to Barry that it was a great interview because Carson was the one doing the interviewing.

He could not be more spot on. Carson didn’t need pre-arranged skits to make the guest look good. He just did that in seven minutes of sitting there talking. That’s what will go missing with the absence of David Letterman from late-night TV. In the beginning he just made people he liked look good. Now he makes everybody look good, but he’s the only one who still has that skill to that extent (and even then he’s a notch below Carson).

If you don’t believe me that late-night talk has changed forever, check the category description for Kimmel or Fallon or Meyers or Letterman or Conan O’Brien or anybody you like to watch who does a show like this. It’s not labeled as “talk” any more. It’s “comedy.”

Carson was funny, but it was about the conversation. Letterman believed the same thing. And that’s going to be the biggest black hole in late night.

And all of late-night “comedy” will become shows that are only worth watching when I can’t sleep. My uncle had it right, he was just 30 years too early. 

Hail and Farewell

Monday, May 11, 2015

12 Cities You Never Knew Had Major League Baseball Teams

The Baltimore Orioles-Chicago White Sox "no fans allowed game" reminded more than a few people about the previous MLB record-low attendance record of six, set by the Troy Trojans and Worcester Worcesters in the second-to-last game of 1882. Officially the O's/Sox game broke that mark, but fans actually wanted to go to that game. In 1882, not so much. Anyway, that got me wondering if Troy and Worcester are the most obscure MLB cities of all time. As it turns out, they're on the list, but they're not number one.  All of these teams played (and folded) by 1900 in one of the following major leagues- Bill James and Rob Neyer notwithstanding- the National Association (1871-1875), National League (1876-present), American Association (1882-1891), and Union Association (1884). (The one-season 1890 wonder known as The Players League had teams in "Major League" cities.)

12.    Providence, Rhode Island
Team: Providence Grays
League: National League
Years: 1878-1885
Record: 438-278

The least obscure team on this list.The Providence Grays were a powerhouse in the early National League, winning two pennants. Old Hoss Radbourn won a record 59 games in 1884, and the Grays defeated the New York Metropolitans of the American Association in the first-ever league post-season tournament, or “World’s Championship.” The Grays also have some claim to being the first MLB team with an African-American player, William Edward White, who played one game in 1879. John Montgomery Ward also pitched the second perfect game in history for the Grays in 1880. But a year after winning the “World’s Series,” the Grays folded due to financial problems.

11.    Richmond, Virginia
Team: Richmond Virginians
League: American Association
Years: 1884
Record: 12-30 (partial season)

The southernmost team in MLB history until the Houston Colt .45’s of 1962, the Virginians were a late season call-up in 1884. The American Association expanded to 12 teams that season and Richmond applied to join but was not accepted. When another expansion team, the Washington Statesmen, folded in early August, Richmond’s Eastern League team was asked to take their place. The Virginians accepted (to the dismay of other Eastern League teams). The Virginians campaign was not very successful. After the season, the AA contracted back to eight teams and Richmond was not allowed to remain in the league. The Virginians went back to the Eastern League and folded after the 1885 season.

10.    Troy, New York
Team: Troy Haymakers, Trojans
League: National Association (Haymakers), NL (Trojans)
Years: 1871-1872 (NA), 1879-1882 (NL)
Record: 28-25 (NA), 134-191 (NL)

Troy is the former home of not one, but two former MLB franchises. The Haymakers were descendants of the very first organized baseball team in the area and were considered “competitive” in the very first “pennant race” (a loosely-organized competition of various teams) in 1869, just four years after the American Civil War ended. The Haymakers finished 6th in the first-ever league, the 1871 American Association, and dropped out partway through 1872.
In 1879 MLB returned to Troy when a club not associated with the first one was accepted into the National League. This franchise was not as successful as the NA version, never finishing over .500 or higher than 5th place. Worcester happened to be their biggest rival, a story I'll get into later in the list.

9.     Rockford, Illinois
Team: Rockford Forest Citys
League: National Association
Years: 1871
Record: 4-21

The Forest Citys were one of the first teams to actually pay players, albeit illegally, getting Albert Spalding (co-founder of Spalding Sporting Goods), among others to wear their uniform while still claiming amateur status. When the first professional league, the National Association, formed in 1871, Rockford was an easy choice for inclusion, but Spalding and other top players left the club before the season began. Future Hall of Famer Cap Anson was on the team as a 19-year-old and played well, but the Forest Citys couldn’t compete otherwise and had money troubles throughout the season, mostly involving travel costs. When Anson decided to play for Philadelphia in 1872, Rockford’s fate as a major league city was sealed.

New Haven's Howard Avenue Grounds

8.    New Haven, Connecticut
Team: New Haven Elm Citys
League: National Association
Years: 1875
Record: 7-40

By 1875, the first pro league, the National Association, was on its last legs. The Elm Citys are notable for winning just seven games and still finishing 8th in a 13 team league. That’s what the NA was by 1875 (pennant winning Boston went 71-8, the best season in history, and only three teams finished over .500). Two of New Haven’s starting outfielders batted under .160 and their “best” starting pitcher went 4-29. Second baseman Fred Goldsmith would eventually become a pitcher and win 20 games four times for Chicago. Of the three Connecticut-based National Association Teams, only Hartford would ever get an NL team and they would be gone after 1877. The other team is still to come on this list.
(If you want to read about every single Elm City game, this is the place to go.)

7.     Elizabeth, New Jersey
Team: Elizabeth Resolutes
League: National Association
Years: 1873
Record: 2-21

In the National Association, a $10 entrance fee got you into the league and a chance to compete for the pennant, and many outmanned teams tried their luck at it. The Elizabeth amateur baseball team was one of them. The Resolutes hired a few players, turned pro, paid their entrance fee and began competing for the 1873 league title before realizing it was a bad idea. The Resolutes second and final win was against the pennant-winning Boston Red Stockings in the first game of a double-header on July 4th. Boston then won the second game 32-3. Elizabeth quit the Association about one month- and seven losses- later. Although New Jersey has had minor league baseball almost continuously since, Elizabeth and the Newark Peppers of the Federal League in 1915 are the only MLB teams in state history.

6.     Middletown, Connecticut
Team: Middletown Mansfields
League: National Association
Years: 1872
Record: 5-19

Middletown was the first ballclub to realize how silly the National Association was- or maybe they were just severely deluded. By paying a few players in order to become “professional” and giving the Association their $10, the Mansfields (named after a Union Civil War General) were allowed to compete- by rule- against Boston, Philadelphia, New York and the other “pro towns.” The Mansfields had been a decent amateur town-ball team, but competing against the Albert Spaldings and Boston Red Stockings of the world was a different story entirely. Seen as interlopers and not taken seriously, the team was not treated fairly wherever they went, and travel costs skyrocketed as attendance worsened (a direct cause and effect). The Mansfields folded up in early August after losing ten straight, but hold the distinction as Connecticut’s first MLB franchise.

5.    Worcester, Massachusetts
Team: Worcester Worcesters
League: National League
Years: 1880-1882
Record: 90-159
The biggest NL rival of the Troy Trojans (see entry #10) and the other team involved in the MLB game with just six fans watching in the second-to-last game of 1882, a record that stood for more than 130 years. The reason for the record-low attendance was because the teams already knew they would not be in the league the next year. A new league, the American Association, had begun in 1882 and specifically gone after big cities, a move that worked and forced the NL to respond. Troy and Worcester were dropped and for 1883 the NL added teams in Philadelphia and New York, both teams that survive today (as the Phillies and the San Francisco Giants). Worcester was already in trouble because it was so close to Boston, the class of the league at the time, and never came close to competing for the NL title. In its first season Worcester pitcher Lee Richmond threw the first-ever perfect game in MLB history, but that was the franchise’s peak.

4.    Wilmington, Delaware
Team: Wilmington Quicksteps
League: Union Association
Years: 1884
Record: 2-16 (partial season)

Like Richmond (see #11), the Quicksteps were a late-season team call-up from the Eastern League in 1884, but instead of the American Association, Wilmington joined the Union Association, a one-year league plagued with troubles from the beginning. (Many historians question as to whether it should be considered a major league at all.) The Quicksteps had won the Eastern League easily- as well as their first UA game- but many of their players then jumped to other UA teams and the Quicksteps were in quicksand. Their .111 winning percentage is the lowest for any Major League franchise ever (the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, widely considered the worst team in history, had a .130 percentage, but at least they played an entire season). Wilmington was a “filler” franchise and fans weren’t interested in the slightest. They remain the only major league franchise in any sport in Delaware history, even if it was only for a month.

3.     Fort Wayne, Indiana
Team: Fort Wayne Kekiongas
League: National Association
Year: 1871
Record: 7-12

If you want to win a trivia question any day of the week, ask who won the first-ever MLB game. The answer is the National Association’s Fort Wayne Kekiongas, who beat the Forest Cities of Cleveland on May 4, 1871. That Fort Wayne played, much less won the game, is remarkable in itself. As an amateur team the club had been butchered by the first ever pro team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, by scores of 86-8, 41-7, and 70-1. But they paid their ten bucks and the Association had to accept them. The first scheduled game was to be the day before between Cincinnati and Washington, who had many former Red Stocking players, but that game was rained out, leaving Fort Wayne and Cleveland the distinction of playing the first-ever league game. That game was probably Fort Wayne’s highlight as a franchise, as they only lasted 18 more games.

2.     Keokuk, Iowa
Team: Keokuk Westerns
League: National Association
Year: 1875
Record: 1-12 (folded mid-season)

The Keokuk Westerns paid their $20 (the price got raised) and got to join the NA for the league’s final season. Part of the reason several NA clubs reorganized as the National League for 1876 was to prevent tiny towns like Keokuk- population about 15,000 at the time- from starting the season, failing, running out of money, and quitting. Which is exactly what the Westerns did, folding after their June 14th game against the New York Mutuals.

The location was about the best thing it had going.

1.    Altoona, Pennsylvania
Team: Altoona Mountain Citys
League: Union Association
Year: 1884
Record: 6-19 (folded after 25 games)

It’s close to a toss-up as to whether Keokuk or Altoona should be the most obscure team in MLB history, but Altoona has the better story. The Mountain Citys were a last-minute addition to the UA, which only had seven teams less than two months before Opening Day and was desperate for an 8th- Detroit, Pittsburgh and Hartford had turned them down. Altoona was a baseball-mad town, so it was hoped that plus its prime railroad location in the middle of the other UA teams would help the small town- just 20,000 at the time- play with the big boys. But the franchise started by getting mauled by eventual pennant-winner St. Louis and fans soon realized it was a hopeless cause. A great Yogi Berra quote is “If people don't want to come to the ballpark how are you going to stop them?”  and that was Altoona’s undoing. The most obscure MLB team in history played their last-ever game on the final day of May 1884, 46 days after the franchise began. By the end of the season, their nickname was the "Altoona Unfortunates."

Big thanks to the information-gatherers at BaseballChronicles.com, Baseball-Reference.com and SABR.org for doing the legwork.

photos courtesy: BaltimoreSun.com, theartspaper.com, forumotion.com, city-data.com