February 2012

A.J Burnett is Looking For a New Start in Pittsburgh

After almost two decades of living in the baseball wilderness, the Pittsburgh Pirates are on the verge of becoming a steady contender in Major League Baseball.   In Andrew McCutchen, they have one of the premier Centerfielders in the game.  Neil Walker and Joel Hanrahan are two of the of best players at their respective positions.   While they may not be playoff-bound in 2012, the Bucs should give contending teams plenty of fits.  One of those players who would love to create havoc on opposing hitters is the newly acquired A.J. Burnett.

The story of Burnett, particularly the last three seasons has been scrutinized ad nauseam.   Big arm, great stuff and questionable mental makeup and durability have all been terms used to describe him.  He had his best season in 2008, just in time to exercise an opt-out clause in his Toronto Blue Jays  contract worth 5 years and $55 million dollars when it was signed.  At the  time, he had two years remaining on his deal.  So before the 2009 season, the New York Yankees  gave him a 5 year, $82.5 million dollar contract.  His career stats to that point were 87 wins and 76 losses with an ERA of 3.92.   To award that contract to Burnett even though his stuff at times was electric was crazy.  Besides the less than impressive win-loss record  and average ERA, there was some durability concerns as he pitched more than 200 innings only three times in his ten seasons and the fact his own worst enemy most times was himself.  In short, there was no way his performance was going to match his contract.

I do not like dislike A.J. Burnett.   In fact, I like the guy a lot.   If you include the playoffs, he started over 100 games for the Yankees in his three seasons in New York.   He put to rest any concerns over his dependability.   In the 2009 World Series, with the Yankees down a game, he pitched seven innings of one run ball to right the Bronx Bombers ship on their way to winning the Series.   His final game in the Bronx was an important win in Game Four of the 2011 ALDS.   Sure the overall numbers weren’t great.  But the Yankees should have known better than to throw all of that money at Burnett knowing the pitfalls.  And the so-called knowledgeable New York fans should have known that his contract was grossly out of line with his past performance.  They should have booed the organization for that, not Burnett.

I really hope the A.J. Burnett is happy in Pittsburgh.  I would love to see him duplicate his 2008 season of 18 wins and 10 losses and help the Pirates to their first winning season in 20 years.  Perhaps if you still don’t like him, maybe this story courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will change your mind.  Here is to you, A.J.  The Pittsburgh fans will appreciate you more than New York fans ever did.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and at www.venomstrikes.com

The Legacy of “The Big Train” Walter Johnson Chugs On Today

Sorry I have been away for a while.  But I have been rather busy.  I also write a blog on the Arizona Diamondbacks  which you can find at  venomstrikes.com.   Not only will you find good reads by me but also by fellow staff members Chris Czar, J. Levi Burnfin  and Tyler Roberts.  Now as I return to you my faithful readers, I would like to go back to the past…as in almost 100 years ago to a guy whose name still resonates today as perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time.  I would love to write about him since I either hear or read his name at least three times per week   That would be the man known as “The Big Train”, Walter Johnson.  

Now before going any further,  I am sure some of you will point out his numbers are so daunting because of his era.  There was also no integration in baseball at that time.  Fine, I get it.  You still have to be mesmerized by the awesome statistics he compiled over his 21 seasons.   Go ahead, which number do you love the most?  Is it the 417 career victories, good for 2nd behind Cy Young’s   511?   How about his insane 1913 season of 36 wins, 7 losses with a 1.14 ERA?   Maybe the number that really sticks out is 110 as in the number of career shutouts tossed by the Train, a record that will never be broken.   In fact, I guarantee no pitcher will come within 60 shutouts of that number.  All of these amazing stats were recorded by Johnson with the Washington Senators, whose unofficial motto was “First in War, First in Peace, Last in the American League”.

Two of Johnson’s most endearing records lasted for over 40 years.  He held the record for most consecutive scoreless innings (56) until it was broken by Don Drysdale  in 1968.  His 3,508 strikeouts was a legendary record early in my baseball fandom that was broken by Nolan Ryan in 1983.  Another Johnson mark that will never be approached is his total innings pitched of 5,923, good for third all time.   Perhaps the ultimate honor for Big Train came in 1936 as he was part of the first class to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  That recognition, the equivalent of Mount Rushmore, gives Walter Johnson one more name:  Immortal.

Ty Cobb  once said the following about Johnson:  “His fastball looked about the size of a watermelon seed and it hissed at you as it passed.”  Many a hitter left the bat on his shoulder as a fastball courtesy of the Train whizzed past him.  For more facts, stats and photos on Walter Johnson, check out the official website here.  More than 100 years after his big league debut, Walter Johnson still casts an imposing shadow over the game of Baseball.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and at www.venomstrikes.com

Jamie Moyer: Ageless Wonder, Class Act

This is the time of year where predictions about the upcoming season are starting to be made.  So I would like to make my own for 2012 even if it is off the beaten path.  Jamie Moyer, recently signed to a minor league deal by the Colorado Rockies, will make the team out of Spring Training and proceed to set his career single season record for victories with 21.   OK, so maybe that is a little bit of a stretch.  However, wouldn’t that be a blast, watching a 49-year-old pitcher continually fooling hitters almost half his age? 

Right now, Moyer’s career win total is 267.  While he may not be able to reach 300 wins, he could realistically end up with 275 or 280.  His ERA will finish over 4.00.  If he finally decides to retire at age 51 with 281 wins, can we possibly think about him for the Hall of Fame?   I understand the Hall of Fame is for greatness, the immortal players and having numbers like Moyer’s can in some people’s eyes, reduce the Hall’s stature.  However, the word Fame indicates that a person is well-known for something special.  What baseball fan doesn’t know about Jamie Moyer, a guy who has won more games in his forties than anyone else in history?  If he can stick around for a couple of years and compiles a record of 13-8 with a 4.20 ERA at age 51, isn’t that a worthy accomplishment?  That is something that hasn’t been done and probably won’t ever be matched.  I am not saying he deserves to be enshrined; all I am saying it is something that should not be easily dismissed.

Another reason why I am rooting for Moyer is because he is one of the most charitable people in sports.   Through his website, http://www.moyerfoundation.org/, Jamie and his wife Karen have raised millions of dollars toward organizations that help children in distress.  Their most recent event, the Dream Catchers fundraiser held in New York City on November 11th, received $325,000 in donations.   In a sports world where negative headlines and over-the-top personalities dominate the coverage, it is great to see standout people such as Jamie Moyer live good, clean lives and influence millions of people in a positive way.

Perhaps the fact he does not play in New York and never has is why Jamie Moyer’s comeback story has not received much national coverage.  A 3-0 April would certainly warrant extra attention.  Perhaps obtaining 300 wins  is out of  Moyer’s reach at the moment.  However, since he underwent  Tommy John surgery at age 48 and is now back pitching 18 months later, would you bet against him?

Start the Countdown

The calendar says February 1st which means we are entering the final days before Spring Training.  Those of us that are not fans of cold weather felt a slight rise in temperature today.  Then again, here in the Northeast, today feels like Spring already.  All we need are some leaves on the trees, longer days and oh yeah, the first pictures from Florida and Arizona.

January is finally done.  Usually, the month feels like an eternity as we await the first glove popping and the first bat cracking.  This year’s warm weather has certainly helped quite a bit but for us baseball nuts, January couldn’t end fast enough.  The time between the last out of the World Series and the first throw of Spring Training seems a lot longer than three and a half months.  Thankfully since 2009, we have had MLB Network to occupy us.  Their daily doses of Hot Stove, Intentional Talk and Clubhouse Confidential along with their array of specials have kept us entertained all Winter long.

I do follow other sports.  I realize the Super Bowl is this weekend.  However, if your team is not  in it and because of the two-week wait between Conference Championship games and Super Sunday, the game loses its luster.   For the record, I am a Cowboys fan.  Let the jokes begin.  I am also a big St. John’s basketball fan (class of 1995) and if they ever won the National Championship I might rank it as my all-time best sports moment.  Then there are the New York Islanders, a team I root for but not with the same intensity as the other teams mentioned.

It is baseball, though that gets my juices flowing the most.  With the season in striking distance, my book of choice is Steinbrenner by Bill Madden.  I have  pulled out my 1979 Topps set and I also attempted to throw a splitter with an orange.  Yes, baseball is almost back and not a moment too soon.

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