December 2011

A Review of 2011

2012 promises to be a special year.   Albert Pujols in Los Angeles, the possible Major League debut of Bryce Harper and the first full season of Stephen Strasburg will make for an interesting baseball season.  Away from the diamond, we will have a Presidential election, an Olympic Games and lower cable TV bills (or maybe not).  Before we say goodbye to 2011, let’s look at some baseball happenings that flew slightly under the radar.

-The emergence of Kyle Farsnworth as a big-time closer.  For years, scouts and analysts have raved about his close to 100 MPH fastball and sharp curve.  It always seemed to be mental hurdles that prevented Farnsworth from reaching his potential.  The big righty finally put together a wire-to-wire season worthy of his considerable talent.  His 25 saves and 2.18 ERA were big reasons why the Rays won 91 games and made the playoffs.  He will be expected to close again for Tampa, providing a little stability to both a position and a career that seems to be constantly in flux.  If Farnsworth can duplicate his 2011 season, expect Tampa to be knocking on the playoff door once again. 

-The revitalization of Lance Berkman.   OK, so a guy who made the All-Star team and finished 7th in the MVP voting maybe didn’t fly that far under the radar.  However, there was less focus on Berkman in the 2nd half when the Cards were declared dead and other stories emerged on the scene. As we look back, we can now examine how much of a turnaround it was for “The Big Puma”.  Berkman had subpar 2009 and 2010 seasons and many people wondered if it was a career that had seen its better days.  He fit in splendidly hitting fourth and fifth and helped keep St. Louis afloat when Pujols spent time on the DL.  With Pujols in California, he will be asked to at least replicate his 31 HR, 94 RBI .301 average from 2011.

The maturing Kansas City Royals.  When looking at their final 2011 record, one can assume it was just another typical 91-loss season for the Royals.  When looking more closely, it was a foundation season for the future.  Alex Gordon finally put together a season worth of his #2 overall draft selection.  Fellow #2 overall pick Mike Moustakas  got his first taste of the Big Leagues, finishing nicely after a very slow start.  And of course, there was the big splash in the form of Eric Hosmer, who homered in Yankee Stadium five days after his May 6th call-up from Triple A Omaha.  KC finished the season 15-10 in September exciting their fans so much that their attendance rose by 5,000 more per game during the month.  With highly touted Lorenzo Cain ready to take over in Center Field, the trade for Jonathan Sanchez and the signing of Jonathan Broxton, it is easy to see why 2012 can’t get here fast enough for the Royals and their fans.

These are just three of my favorite highlights from last season.  What are yours?  Feel free to leave comments in the section listed below this post.

Before putting a bow on 2011, I would like to acknowledge http://www.baseball-reference.com/ which has been an invaluable asset  in to this blog.  I would not be able to reasearch and write nearly as effectively without that website.

Happy New Year everybody!

Knuckle Up

Slower than a turtle walking uphill.

Dances faster than a politician under tough questioning.

Less powerful than a pebble hitting the ocean.

It’s………….the knuckleball.

The tantalizingly slow, catcher-twisting, hitter-confounding knuckleball,  practiced only by a few hearty souls over the course of baseball history.  Today, I believe Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey are the only two practitioners of this pitch in the Major Leagues.  That’s a shame because not only is it fun to watch the ball move around, particularly on a windy day, it also can save the arm of many a pitcher.  The grip and release of the ball allows these guys to pitch much longer than the average hurler.

There have been a number of pitchers throughout the course of baseball history that have had success with the knuckleball as their primary pitch.  Phil Niekro, Hoyt Wilhelm, Ted Lyons and Jessie Haines are all in the Hall of Fame.  Pitchers such as Wakefield, Charlie Hough,  Tom Candiotti, Joe Niekro and Wilbur Wood have carved out solid if not spectacular careers each spanning 15 years or longer.  In January 2011 the website bleacherreport.com came out with a list of the Top 10 knuckleball pitchers in Major League history.  Two traits all of these pitchers share are durability and no arm troubles.  Given the fragile nature of pitching, these are traits that cannot be underestimated.

I have often wondered why we have not seen more knuckleball pitchers over the years.  Perhaps there is a stigma that comes with the pitch, which I suppose would almost be the equivalent of shooting free throws underhand.   That is short-sighted.  Not only are knucklers innings-eaters, they can cause havoc on opposing lineups.  How about if you have to face one of these guys after a day after seeing a guy who throws 98 plus?  Say you are playing the Tigers and the first guy you see is Justin Verlander.  Then the next day (or worse in a few hours) you face R.A. Dickey.  Don’t you think opposing batters would have their timing disrupted because of the difference in velocity?

I grew up watching Candiotti, the Niekros and Hough baffle hitters.  Sure, they could be wild at times because of the unpredictability of the knuckleball but it was fun watching hitters take these big cuts and come up empty.  There are worse things in baseball to be than a knuckleball pitcher.  Who among us would jump at the chance to be a .500 pitcher with an annual salary of $5 million dollars?

The Christmas Edition

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  Or so the song says.  As we get ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus, what would this blog be without a special Christmas post?  There have been a total of 67 current and former big league players  born on December 25th.  Without question, the best player born on Christmas (one of the best players born on any day for that matter) is Rickey Henderson.   Another Hall-of-Famer born on this day was Nellie Fox, who captured the 1959 MVP award with the White Sox, the last Sox team to make the World Series before 2005.  Rounding out this trio of Christmas Hall-of-Famers is Pud Galvin who played his entire career before 1900 and twice won 46 games in a season.

True to form, we will be looking at players who may not have been great but at least had some very nice careers.  Presenting the best three non-Hall of Fame players (who started playing in at least 1920) born on Christmas  starting with:

3-Manny Trillo  played 17 years in the Majors and was the starting second baseman on the 1980 World Series Champion Phillies.  He was a four-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner.  He was the 1980 NLCS MVP, one of the greatest League Championship series of all-time.  I always pictured him as light with the bat but his career .263 average and almost 600 RBI’s dispel that notion.

2-Jo-Jo Moore played his entire 12 year career with the New York Giants primarily as their every day Left Fielder.  He was a six-time All-Star and finished 3rd in the MVP voting in  1934.  During his career, the Giants won the 1933 World Series and made appearances in the 1936 and 1937 Series, losing both of them.  Moore was a career .298 hitter and the led the National League in at-bats in 1935 with 681.  

1-Ben Chapman had an outstanding 15 year career that began with the Yankees in 1930.  He was a four-time All-Star who knocked in more than 100 runs in 1931 and 1932.  He batted .292 in the 1932 World Series as the Yankees swept the Cubs.  Chapman led the American League in stolen bases four times with a high mark of 68 in 1931.  He finished his career in 1946 with a lifetime .302 batting average, nearly 1,000 RBI’s and 300 stolen bases. 

Here is wishing you and your families a very Merry Christmas.  God Bless You All!

He Did Have a Hammer

After reading this, you might wonder if I have dipped into the eggnog a little early.

You may ask if I need a straight jacket.

So here it goes:  Hank Aaron  is the most underrated player in baseball history.

WHAT?

I’ll say it again:  Hank Aaron is the most underrated player in baseball history.

Before I get escorted off to the “happy” place, allow me to explain. 

I wrote an entry not too long ago regarding underappreciated players.  There is a difference between underappreciated and underrated.  The underappreciated players I wrote about had great careers but are often overlooked.  I view Hank Aaron as being very much appreciated particularly when Barry Bonds was chasing the all-time Home Run record.  However, at least in my opinion, there are times that when people start listing all-time greats, Hank Aaron’s name is somewhat forgotten.  Living in New York all my life, Hammerin’ Hank seems to pale in comparison to Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mays and Mantle.  Each of these players possesses a characteristic for lack of a better term, that Aaron may not have.  Gehrig and DiMaggio have famous streaks, Mays is maybe the most exciting player ever and Mantle was a switch hitter whose tape-measure home runs are legendary.

Outside of New York, you have Ted “Teddy Ballgame” Williams and Stan “The Man” Musial.  If you want to go back decades, names like Cobb, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner and Rogers Hornsby are almost mythical, kind of like from another world.  More recently you have Griffey and Bonds, two of the best players in any generation.  You have Pete Rose who, while not even close to the player Aaron was, is probably more well-known because of the hits records and his banishment for gambling.  All of these names seem to come to the more casual fan’s mind more quickly than Hank Aaron.

This is preposterous.  Simply put, Hank Aaron is the 2nd best player in baseball history behind Babe Ruth.  He is number one in career RBI’s, number two in career home runs and number three career in hits. Plus he had a lifetime .305 average and made the All-Star team 21 times.  He was a league MVP , finished in the top five seven other times and earned three Gold Gloves. To top it all off, he was a World Series Champion who hit .362 in two World Series and one League Championship Series.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is the epitome of dominance.  It sure seems as though Hank is being penalized for playing his entire career in Milwaukee and Atlanta.  How unfair.  Also, we know Roger Maris went through hell in his pursuit of Ruth’s single season Home Run record.   I would submit Maris had it easy compared to Aaron’s pursuit of Ruth’s career Home Run record.  Look at some of the vile quotes directed at Hank here.  You try going to work every day knowing this is what people are saying about you.  Yet, somehow Aaron did it and did it with class and tremendous poise.

Re-think your position people.  The baseball sun does not rise and set in New York.  Hank Aaron is baseball royalty,  the greatest player not named Babe Ruth.  Let me know what you think.  Is Hank Aaron underrated?  Or are these just the ramblings of a crazy person?   Now if you will excuse me, the eggnog needs just a “dash” more of rum.

Why MLB and Others Owe Pro Wrestling

First, a quick shout out to Jim (not the guy in the above photo) who planted this idea and is one of my best friends on God’s Green Earth.

I am a pro wrestling fan.  Not as big as I once was but I follow it enough that I know who holds all of the titles in the WWE.  Given how quickly the belts change hands these days, this is quite an accomplishment.  Although I can go on and on about the virtues of professional wrestling, I would like to keep it specific as it relates to baseball as well as the NFL, NBA and NHL. 

First an aside about those of you who snicker about wrestling.  Talk to me when you quit your love affair with television shows associated with anything Kardashians, Real Housewives or Bachelors.  They make pro wrestling look like Masterpiece Theatre.  Those shows are about as deep as a laundry basket.  Don’t tell me how dumb wrestling is when your idea of entertainment is a staged wedding with a helping of  liposuction topped off by a side order of botox.

But I digress.

Back to the wrestling and sports connection.  Did you ever notice that whenever a hitter comes to the plate, he is accompanied by music?  Or, how star relievers make their grand entrance usually to heavy guitars and drums?  That is exactly how pro wrestlers make their way to the ring.   Come on, do you think the people who choose “Enter Sandman” for Mariano Rivera  were doing something original?  They are about a decade too late.  The first one to use this song was THE Sandman from ECW.  On top of that, Mo would not come in to a game like this.  Trevor Hoffman used to enter to “Hell’s Bells”.  Sorry but the first one to use an AC/DC song was the late, great Chris Candido

And forget the hitters.  Many guys have different songs for each time they come to the plate.   How vain.  In fact there are even some hitters that use the same music that wrestlers use for their entrances.  I have heard more than one batter use the theme music for Stone Cold Steve Austin.  I also seem to recall that Johnny Damon has used the song “Metalingus” by Alter Bridge  before his at-bats.  Why is that relevant?  “Metalingus” was the long time ring entrance theme of the recently retired, one of the best wrestlers ever, Edge.   Speaking of Edge, his twin brother plays baseball for the Nationals, a fellow by the name of Jayson Werth.

The influence of wrestling is not limited to baseball.  How many times have you heard Guns N Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” at a football game right before a kickoff?  That was actually the music of Rick and Scott Steiner circa 1989.  The Michael Jordan Bulls used to have a distinctive tune played as their starting five was introduced.  That was used by Ricky Steamboat during his first WWE tour culminating at Wrestlemania 3 in 1987, long before its use by the Bulls.  Due to copyright isues and lazy research by me, this is a reasonable replica of it. 

There is nothing wrong with borrowing a good idea.  There is no question baseball and other sports have been influenced by a certain aspect of professional wrestling.  I think it is about time we give credit where credit is due.

That’s the bottom line…brother.

Miami Nice? Maybe Not

The Miami Marlins have had quite a month.

They were THE talk for much of the Winter Meetings.  It seemed every big name free agent was linked to the Fish at some point.  And they indeed made a big splash by signing Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell as well as very nearly signing Albert Pujols.  The new Marlins stadium was shown to the world.   There was the debut of the new uniforms.  They even changed their name from “Florida” to “Miami”.  But there was one story that broke this month that I am sure the new-look Marlins would love to bury.

It was reported in the December 3 edition of the Miami Herald that the SEC was looking into the financing of the new ballpark.  The manner in which the stadium built was so controversial that it resulted in the recall of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez.  It seems the taxpayers in the area will be on the hook for nearly 80% of the over $600 million in costs associated with the project.  When you also factor leaked financial information to Deadspin and that they had to be pulled kicking and screaming to spend their revenue sharing money on payroll, it is clear something is rotten near South Beach.

As for the team itself, there is no guarantee that even with a new stadium the Marlins will have long-term box office success.  For 20 years, the Dolphins had the professional sports market in South Florida all to themselves.  However, I remember being in Ft. Lauderdale one time and all week it was reported the Dolphins may be blacked out because there were plenty of seats still available.  Did I mention this was a playoff game and Dan Marino was still the QB?  And trust me, wait until you see all of the empty seats at Miami Heat home games….unless of course if the Knicks and Celtics are in town.  The novelty of the new stadium will wear off and when it does the Miami Marlins will not have the weather to blame anymore.

I used to champion the Marlins as a good organization.  No matter how much they were downsized, the club always managed to stay somewhat competitive.   I know how much Major League Baseball wants the Marlins to succeed in Miami.  However, the people of Dade County have been given the shaft by the organization because of the stadium boondoggle.  Its fans have been hoodwinked into believing their team was poor when the reality is they put little money into the product. With the SEC starting to turn up the heat, the Miami Marlins may cease becoming Miami Nice.  Not even Crockett and Tubs will be able to bail them out.

Pick One, Please

It is time for Major League Baseball to choose one or the other.

What do they say, in New York, you are either for the Yankees or the  Mets; in Chicago you are either for the Cubs or the White Sox.  You must choose sides.  No rooting for both teams.

So the powers that be in baseball should decide.

DH or no DH?

Personally, I would rather have no Designated Hitter.  There are nine players on the diamond; all nine of them should hit.  One argument DH proponents make is that most pitchers are automatic outs.  That is true in most cases but so what?  Does every hitter, 1 through 9 have to be an offensive force?  Plus, there are  good-hitting pitchers such as Dontrelle Willis, Carlos Zambrano and Micah Owings that have the potential to hit  consistently as well as put one out.

Another reason people favor the DH is it extends the playing time of great players such as Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield  and Eddie Murray.  Others will argue that if weren’t for the DH we would not have been able to be treated to the career of Edgar Martinez.  Well as long as these outstanding players were able to hit their respective teams would have found a way to put them in the lineup.  Just take a look at Barry Bonds.  Anyone who watched him play during his last couple of seasons knew that he could barely move in Left Field because of major knee issues   He was still enough of a force at the plate that he led the National League in walks his final two seasons. 

I digressed a tad so back to the main point.  There needs to be uniformity in Major League Baseball regarding the use of a Designated Hitter.  As much as I would rather have pitchers hitting, I could live with a DH as long as BOTH leagues use it.  With the re-aligning of the leagues starting in 2013, there will be an interleague game every day.  It is silly to continue to have two sets of rules, one for the AL parks and one for the NL parks.  It would be like the NBA having no three-point line for the Eastern Conference and a three-point line for the Western Conference.

I believe that if one side were chosen, the DH would stay and be implemented in the National League.  The players’ union wants it as that means more jobs for them.  I would say if it were put to a vote  every American League owner would vote yes.  Many National League owners are probably not on board but I am sure if they were some sort of financial compensation, those owners would be willing to change their minds.  One way or another a decision should be made soon.  So I ask you, the fans:

DH or No DH?

Tampa Time

So as we leave behind the Winter Meetings, my questions is this:  Who had the best week?

The Marlins with Heath Bell, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle?  Not a bad guess but no.

The Angels with Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson?  They sure had a good one but not the best.

Herman Cain and his Presidential campaign?  Um, no.

The answer would be Matt Moore and the Tampa Bay Rays.

In case you missed it, the Rays gave a five-year contract plus three one year club options to a 22-year-old pitcher who has made a grand total of 5 Major League appearances.  The five-year portion of the contract is worth a total of $14 million and the three club options bring the total value of the deal to just under $40 million.  This seems a bit crazy for such an unproven commodity, don’t you think?

Such is the life a small market team.  And nobody does this better than the Rays.

David Price’s first contract, before he even stepped on a Major League mound was for six years.  Evan Longoria, one week into “The Show”, signed a deal that covers a total of nine years.  If Matt Moore turns out to be no better than a .500 pitcher, his contract is still a reasonable $2 million per year and change up until the club options.  If Moore is everything Tampa think he is, then the deal is a steal.

So what you have right now is a core of Longoria, Price and Moore locked up through at least 2015.  Each of the deals doled out by the Marlins and Angels are loaded with potential pitfalls.  Sure the Pujols contract will be great the first three or four years but what about the last three seasons?  Talk about an albatross.  Can Wilson live up to the big free agent money?  Will Heath Bell come crashing down like so many other closers?  Can Buehrle stay durable?  And can Jose Reyes play more than 120 games a season ever again?  For the Marlins, that is not even taking into account the headache known as Hanley Ramirez.

Short term, both the Angels and Marlins will benefit because each player signed will provide a significant upgrade to their teams.  However, how are those Pujols and Reyes contracts look around year 5?  Consequently, the Rangers, Mets and Cardinals will suffer short-term because there is no quick solution to replace those star players, Then again, these franchises will gain some much-needed payroll flexibility in a couple of years. 

The Tampa Bay Rays will benefit both now and the forseeable future.  What the Moore contract shows is that three potentially significant players will be together and most likely productive.  When you also consider that key players such as James Shields, Ben Zobrist and Jeremy Hellickson are under Tampa’s control until at least 2015, this team won’t be going away.  And if they lose some or all of these free agents, you can bet that their productive farm system will have players ready to go.

Show Them Some Love

Lists.

Sports fans are forever coming up with lists. The top ten hitters of all time. The ten best QB’s of the 1990′s. The worst free agent signings since 1975. The best pizza toppings. On and on it goes. Rankings can be fun, rankings can be boring. The important thing is that each of us has a list and for the most part they are not wrong unless Rey Ordonez was at one time higher on your SS list than Derek Jeter. You are disqualified from this and any future discussions.

This blog will also comprise a list from time to time of a certain topic. Today’s edition will be the first of many posts that may start some debates, end some others and prove once and for all that lists can be a great conversation starter for the shy and socially awkward. Without further adieu, I present the three most underappreciated players of the last 30 years.  Why three?  Five and Ten are always used and besides, these three guys popped into my head immediately.

3. When baseball fans think of all time great Red Sox players, the name Dwight Evans usually is overlooked. Boy is that a mistake.  “Dewey” hit 385 home runs with almost 1,400 RBI’s.  He hit 30 or more homers in a season three times and knocked in 100+ runs four seasons. His 256 home runs from 1980-1989 was tops in the American League for that period. In addition to his bat, he also was a stellar Right Fielder with a cannon for an arm.  Take a look at his famous catch and throw in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Evans also owns a record that will never be broken. He hit a home run on the very first pitch of the 1986 season. He even had a cameo in the 2011 movie “Hall Pass”.  While he is not expected to make the Hall of Fame, Dwight Evans surely was one of the best players of his time.

2. It is stunning that a player who had over 2,700 career hits, was an MVP, finished in the top 5 for MVP four other seasons and earned three Gold Gloves never garnered more than 24% for the Hall of Fame ballot.  Yet, that is the case of “The Cobra” Dave Parker.  If Willie Stargell was the heart of the 1979 World Champion Pirates, then Parker was its meat and potatoes, batting .310 with 25 home runs and 94 RBI’s one year after winning the National League MVP.  That same season he uncorked one of the most famous throws in recent memory at the 1979 All Star game. Later in his career, he helped lead the A’s to the 1989 World Series Championship. Unfortunately, his legacy is tarnished by his involvement in the 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials which spotlighted his heavy cocaine use. It is sad that this incident has hung over the fine 18 year career of Dave Parker.

1. Usually guys that lead their league in a prime offensive category four times during the course of their careers have a certain amount of notoriety. That is not the case of the “Mad Dog”, Bill Madlock.  Madlock won the National League batting crown four times (1975, 1976, 1981 and 1983) over the course of a 15 year career.  The players that have won more batting titles than Madlock like Ted Williams, Ty Cob and Stan Musial are all legendary names in baseball history.  Even Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn and Rod Carew are all first ballot Hall of Famers.  Madlock nearly won a fifth batting title in 1982 losing out to Al Oliver.  Think about it, a guy who finished in the top five in batting average five times and was a three-time All Star only topped out at 4% of the Hall of Fame vote!  I get it, his stats are dwarfed by George Brett and Mike Schmidt, perhaps the two greatest third basemen ever who played during his time.   I am not stumping for the Mad Dog for Cooperstown but I would like him to be mentioned as one of the best hitters of his generation. 

To be continued….

Break This

Records are made to be broken.  Isn’t that how the saying goes?  Well in baseball there are some records that most likely will live forever.  Cy Young’s 511 wins immediately comes to mind.  So does Nolan Ryan’s 5,714 strikeouts.  Most people agree Cal Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive games played record is safe as well as Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak.  There is one record that is just as unbreakable, one that rarely gets talked about in this age endless, mindless stats.  It has nothing to do with most home runs hit at night, career wins in April or who has the most RBI’s when the moon is full on the same day I ordered the soup instead of the salad.  And while the records listed above and countless others are held by Hall of Famers and superstars, this record is held by someone who owned a career record of 119-121 with a 3.44 ERA.

Say hello to Johnny Vander Meer and his two consecutive no-hitters.

On June 11, 1938 Vander Meer tossed his first no hitter for the Cincinnati Reds against the Boston Bees and on June 15 he hurled his second gem against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Oddly enough, 1938 was not his best year. In 1942, he was 18-12 with a 2.43 ERA as opposed to 15-10, 3.12 in 1938. He was with the Reds in 1940 when they won the World Series but injuries limited him to 48 innings pitched. For his career, he led the National League in strikeouts three years in a row (1941-1943). Only four other pitchers in National League history have matched that feat. So while Vander Meer was a pretty good pitcher, his career numbers pale in comparison to the other record holders.

Since 1900, there have been a total of 229 no hitters through 2011. That works out to be a little over 2 per season. Some of the greatest pitchers in baseball history such as Greg Maddux and Whitey Ford have never thrown one. As you have already figured out, you need a great deal of luck when throwing a shutout much less a no hitter. I believe Mark Buehrle in 2009 threw a perfect game and then a perfect five innings before allowing a hit in the sixth. That maybe the closest someone has come to tossing consecutive no-no’s.

Johnny Vander Meer’s no hit mark should be mentioned among the most unbreakable records of all time. Outside of Cy Young’s record for wins, this is the oldest of the so-called unbreakable records. It was set almost 75 years ago; Ryan stopped playing after 1993, DiMaggio’s streak was set three years AFTER Vander Meer’s and Ripken ended his games streak in 1998. More attention should be paid to a pitcher after he throws a no-hitter so we can see if he can come close to the “unhittable” Johnny Vander Meer.

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