OBSERVATIONS: Smith, Stammen (Oh, What A Relief It Is)

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, excited that I can count the days until spring training on my toes and fingers, if I count my big toes twice.

—OH WHAT A RELIEF: Sitting in the bullpen waiting for a phone call that isn’t collect isn’t for everybody. It takes a special hombre, especially somebody with an erase button on their memory.

Starting pitcher Bill Singer once said, “The bullpen is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

On the contrary, Dan Quisenberry spent his professional lifetime working out of Kansas City’s bullpen. And when he retired he said, “I want to thank all the pitchers who couldn’t go nine innings and manager Dick Howser, who wouldn’t let them go nine.”

And the bullpen even has some perks, if you wear the right number. Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Kelly wore 17, but when Shohei Ohtani signed his $750 million deal with LA he wanted number 17. So he gave Kelly’s wife, Ashley, a new Porsche. Kelly now will wear 99.

That brings us to a pair of guys with local ties, both relief pitchers who represented this area with ultimate class.

After attending Wright State University, Joe Smith pitched 15 years in MLB for eight teams. He made 866 appearances and was 55-34 with 30 saves (mostly as a set-up guy) and a 3.14 earned run average.

Smith announced his retirement this week.

Then there is Craig Stammen, who attended Versailles High School and pitched for Tony Vittorio at the University of Dayton. He then pitched 13 years in the majors for Washington and San Diego.

Like Smith, he also won 55 games and saved six, and mostly, like Smith, was a set-up guy.

Stammen tried to pitch last spring but a bad shoulder pushed his fastball down to about 83 miles an hour, retirement speed.

His one dream was to pitch for the team he grew up rooting for, the Cincinnati Reds. It never happened, but it was close.

“I was a free agent after the 2019 season,” he said. “I had about the same offer from the Reds and my Padres team. The Padres came up on their offer a little bit, so I decided to show some loyalty and re-signed with San Diego.”

His loyalty paid off. Not long after his retirement, the Padres offered him the bench coach job. Tired of traveling and wanting to spend more time with his wife and four kids, he said no. No problem. The Padres offered him a position as special advisor to the general manager. He took it.

“I ran into former Reds manager Bryan Price not long ago,” said Stammen. “He told me, ‘I wish we had signed you. We sure could have used you.’”

Price could have used a few good men. . .no, a lot of good men. . .during his tenure.

—SEVEN GOOD MEN: On the MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects list, the Cincinnati Reds have seven players, the most of any team. Second best is the Baltimore Orioles with six.

Remember, though, many prospects are just suspects until they master all aspects. And I mean no disrespect. Nor am I being circumspect.

—WHAT CAN YOU DO?: Every coach that prepares his team to play the University of Dayton, tries to concoct a way to put handcuffs and leg irons around DaRon Holmes II, a pleasant young man with impeccable habits and an unselfish all-court game.

George Washington’s Chris Caputo was no different and his concerted efforts to map his team’s way around Holmes was a failure — 25 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and Caputo’s admiration.

Caputo tried mixing it up with single coverage, double coverage and stepping on his toes, knowing that Holmes plays with more brass than one finds in a Tijuana street band.

“We have a very good defensive center (6-10, 225-pound Nigerian Babatunde Akingbola),” said Caputo. “He had a hard time with Holmes. He’s a good passer. He’s obviously used to being doubled. He’s got good size and they’ve put a lot of good shooters around him.

“So you’re damned if you do (double team him) and damnes if you don’t,” he added. “You try to mix it up as best as you can. Holmes is probably the best player we’ve played against.”

—DRAWING EVEN: While perusing some statistics, Daniel Payne discovered an amazing note that went unnoticed after the University of Dayton-Rhode Island basketball game.

It was Rhode Island coach Archie Miller’s return to UD Arena, where he once coached. When the Flyers beat the Rhodies, it was UD coach Anthony Grant’s 137th victory as Flyers coach. And how many games did Archie Miller win as UD coach? 137.

—CHRIS WAS CROSS: Northwestern basketball coach Chris Collins enacted the tantrums of all tantrums at the end of his team’s overtime loss to Purdue this week.

Collins went berserk on the sidelines with one second left and was ejected. And he was comically animated toward the Purdue fans as he made his exit, stage right.

And who could blame him? The officials granted Purdue 46 free throws and only eight to Northwestern. Northwestern outgoaled Purdue, 38-33.

The kicker, though, was that near the end of the game what should have been an offensive foul against Purdue was called a blocking foul against Northwestern.

On that call, Collins rampaged on the sidelines like somebody pick-pocketed his wallet. . .and, well, he thought the officials pilfered he game.

—THE TITAN(ICS): Some folks disputed my assessment that 0-22 Mississippi Valley State is this season’s worst Division I basketball team.

“How about 0-22 Detroit Mercy?” one asked. Yeah, how about ‘em?

Amazingly, the misnamed ‘Titans’ (More like the Titanics) only lost to Ole Miss by one when they missed a shot at the buzzer. And Ole Miss hasn’t lost at hoe all season.

They lost in double overtime, 102-99, to Robert Morris when they led by 11 with seven minues left. And they’ve had a couple other two-point defeats. Mississippi Valley State has come close to victory just once.

In other Mercy games they’ve lost by 41, 35, 34, 32, 30, 32 and 22.

And the NCAA Evaluation Tool has Mississippi Valley State No. 362 among 362 Division I schools and Detroit Mercy is next-to-last at 361. So there.

—GOING, GOING GONE: As more and more of my contemporary sports writers leave us, it leaves me wondering, especially when I listen to one of my favorite singers, George Jones.

“…Who’s gonna fill their shoes, who’s gonna stand that tall?”

And my answer? Nobody.

—QUICK QUOTATIONS: More stuff said on and off the baseball field:

From Kansas City relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry: “Reggie Jackson hit one off me in Kansas City that is still burrowing its way toward St. Louis.”

From Alvin Dark, who managed Oakland, San Francisco and Cleveland: “With the A’s we depended on pitching and speed to win. With the Giants we depended on pitching and power to win. With the Indians, we depened on an act of God.”

From Pittsburgh’s Kevin Young on his team having 12 players on the injured list: “We have a lot of guys hurt, so all we can do is put our best foot forward and try not to sprain it.”

From Rod Carew on Reggie Jackdson: “The only thing Reggie Jackson can do better on a baseball field than me is talk.”

From Mickey Rivers, also talking about Reggie Jackson and the candy bar named after him: “The only thing missing in the Reggie Bar is mustard.”

From Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller on NBA legend Michael Jordan trying to play baseball: “He’s not a natural hitter and he couldn’t hit a curveball with an ironing board.”

From Ron Tingley on Charlie Hough’s tough-to-hit and tough-to-catch knuckleball: “He can embarass the batter on one pitch and embarass the catcher on the next pitch.”

From outfielder Rick Monday on Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, a lover of food: “Tommy is the only manager in the majors who eats his post-game meal with a letter opener.”

From former Phillies manager Danny Ozark after his team played bad: “We were as flat tonight as people used to think the earth was.”

From former Reds broadcaster Waite Hoyt when he heard a sculpture of Johnny Bench sold for $975: “In my day, for $975 you could buy a live catcher and his entire family.”

From former spitballer Gaylord Perry while announcing his retirement: “The league will be a little drier now, folks.”

—PLAYLIST NO. 14: Running out of songs? Not yet. Fortunately, there is a never-ending supply of memorable music:

It’s A Heartache (Bonnie Tyler), I Think We’re Alone Now (Tiffany), The Flame (Cheap Trick), I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues (Elton John), One More Try (George Michael), I Won’t Back Down (Tom Petty), Too Much Heaven (BeeGees), Africa (Toto), Southern Cross (Crosby, Stills & Nash), Guitars, Cadillacs (Dwight Yoakam).

I Want To Hold Your Hand (Beatles), Lean On Me (Club Noveau), Sweet Home Alabama (Lynard Skynyrd), Maggie May (Rod Stewart), Footloose (Kenny Loggins), Highway To Hell (AC/DC), Like A Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan), Cold As Ice (Foreigner), Please Mr. Postman (Marvelettes), Come On Feel The Noise (Slade)

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