May 2012

Post Number 50 Honoring Sid Fernandez And Others Who Wore That Number

Image: mentalfloss.com

Congratulations.  You have been selected to take part in the 5oth post of this blog.  You receive no monetary prize, just entertainment or information (or perhaps both) as we look at some Major Leaguers who have worn the uniform number 50.  Of course a big thank you goes out to all of you have started at my very first post and have continued to follow me up to this point.   I hope you have just as much fun reading as I have had in writing.  May there be many more to come.

Back to the business at hand:

Sid Fernandez  El Sid wore #50 as a tribute to his home state of Hawaii which if you couldn’t figure out was the 50th state to enter the Union.   He spent 14 years in the Majors, mostly with the Mets and was death on left-handed hitters.   He was an earlier version of Randy Johnson minus the extra ten inches of height, eight MPH on the fastball and stick frame.  It was a deliberate, side-arm motion that made the lefty difficult to solve even for right-handed batters.  He pitched the most important 2.1 innings in Met history in Game 7 of the 1986 World Series.  After Boston jumped out to a 3-0 lead, Fernandez entered in relief of Ron Darling and allowed just a single walk while striking out four as the Mets finally tied the game in the sixth inning before winning the Championship 8-5.   Sid finished with 114 wins and a 3.36 ERA to go along with 1,743 strikeouts in 1,866.2 innings pitched. 

Image: bleacherreport.com

J.R. Richard  There will come a time where I will devote an entire post to James Rodney.  Right when I started watching baseball, he seemed to me like the most dominant pitcher of all time.   Unfortunately, his career was cut short when he suffered a stroke during the 1980 season.  I vaguely remember the picture of him being carted off the field in the Astrodome.  I seem to think he attempted a comeback in 1981 that was cut short because of the effects of the stroke.  Just think, for half a season, he was on the same staff as Nolan Ryan for the Astros.  Can you imagine facing those two on back to back nights?  Watch this clip of Richard dominating hitters.

Image: bleacherreport.com

Jay Howell  OK, he didn’t wear #50 for his entire career.  He did sport the big 5-0 with the A’s and Dodgers, the teams with whom he had his greatest success.  He came to Oakland from the Yankees in the big Rickey Henderson trade, totaling 61 saves in three seasons with the team.  Howell then landed with the Dodgers in 1988, saving 21 games to go with a 2.08 ERA as Los Angeles shocked the A’s to win the World Series.   For his career, Howell saved 155 games and recorded the victory in 58 other contests.  He made the All-Star team three times and finished with an ERA under 2.00 twice. 

Other famous number 50′s include Jamie Moyer, Matt Lawton  and Mike Timlin.  Let me know if you can think of any others.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Memorial Day Doubleheaders: A Tradition That Needs to be Revised

Bob Feller enlisting in World War II. Image courtesy of baseballinwartime.com

For a long time, Memorial Day doubleheaders (along with twinbills on July 4th and Labor Day) were traditions that held strong in Major League Baseball. In fact, as this article in The Atlantic points out, every National League team in the years 1940, 1952 and 1955 played doubleheaders on Memorial Day.  And while pursuit and love of money has wrecked  every tradition in sports, the ditching of the Memorial Day double-dip is something that remains and will remain disturbing until the tradition is revised.

No sport has had more of an impact on our society than baseball.  Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 making it easier for men like Martin Luther King, Jr. to further integrate America.  It was President Franklin Roosevelt who asked Major League Baseball to continue its normal business operations during World War II with one glaring difference.  Many professional baseball players enlisted during the war leaving the game thin on its biggest stars.  Legends such as Ted Williams and Bob Feller  gave up prime portions of their careers to fight for our country.  While there were no active Major Leaguers were killed in action, Harry O’Neill and Elmer Gedeon  had brief stints in the Bigs during the 1939 season and made the ultimate sacrifice.  Eddie Grant  was the only active player to be killed in action during World War IBaseballinwartime.com  is an excellent site for those of you interested in learning about ballplayers serving our country in its greatest time of need.

When I was driving home from work Friday, I wasn’t excited about the prospect of a three day weekend.  Was I glad to be spending more time with my family?  You bet.  However, Memorial Day is not a time for joy.  I wasn’t thrilled about getting an extra day because it symbolizes  the death of men and women who had still had much living to do.  They gave all so the rest of us left behind still had more to give.  Memorial Day should neither be about a radio station’s countdown list nor the “unofficial” start of Summer.   It is not about Vice President Biden patting himself and President Obama on the back regarding the death of Osama bin Laden.  And no, Rush Limbaugh our solders did not die so that the day we set aside for them is attached to some car company’s or some clothing apparel’s “blowout sale”.   On Memorial Day, we honor those who fought for and died for freedom first and everything else that unfortunately has come to symbolize this day should either be muted or toned down out of respect for our bravest Americans.

It is time for Bud Selig and company to revive the Memorial Day doubleheader.  It doesn’t have to be done in all cities but in one American League Park and one National League park per season.  It could be served as a remembrance and solemn celebration of all baseball has given this great country.   It will also remind the nation of why we enjoy all of the many freedoms that have been granted to us by our brave men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for all of us.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at www.venomstrikes.com

St. Louis Cardinals: Pro Sports’ Most Underrated Franchise

Stan Musial: “The Man” Image: nytstore.com

Over the last 30 years, they have appeared in six World Series, winning three of them.  In all they have won 11 titles, second in their sport to the New York Yankees.  The only other franchises with more championships are the Green Bay Packers, Montreal Canadians, Boston Celtics and Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers.  Other organizations with less pedigree are often looked at more favorably.  Yet when it comes to success, not many teams define that term better than the St. Louis Cardinals.

Go ahead, look at the all-time history of the franchise.  I’ll make it easy for you; click on this link.  Now then, did you see how many times they lost 90 or more games in a season over the past 90 years?  Three.  Even when they do  not make a postseason appearance, they are usually competitive.  In that same 90 year stretch, they have had one last place finish.  Even the Yankees can’t make that claim.  It doesn’t matter who manages the team, who makes the personnel decisions or who takes the field for them, you know the Cardinals will be a tough team to beat year in and year out.

Yet, there are so many more teams out there that make a lot more noise but don’t have the credentials of St. Louis.  As much as it pains me to say this, the Dallas Cowboys are one of those teams.  The Pittsburgh Steelers are kind of similar to the Cardinals but A-they get a little more recognition and B-they don’t have as many championships as the Redbirds.  The Red Sox and Phillies seem to have a lot more bark and definitely more positive press but if you combine their number of World Series titles, that number won’t reach the number won by the Cardinals.   And living in New York you always have to hear about the Mets, Giants, Jets, Knicks and Rangers.  Yet, those five teams have combined to win their sport’s championships 17 times only six more than that little old team in St. Louis. And fans?  I guarantee you those Cardinal fans are probably the best in sports.  Remember, obnoxious fans don’t make the best fans (hear that New York, Boston and Philadelphia)?

If you need any more evidence of the greatness of the Cardinals, consider this.  They lost Albert Pujols to free agency and Tony LaRussa to retirement.  Chris Carpenter has not pitched this season and now Lance Berkman is out at least two months.  Yet, after being in first place most of the season, they have slipped to second, only a half game out.  Would it surprise you if they won the division?  Heck, it shouldn’t surprise you if they make it back to the World Series.  So forget all of the sound and fury of all the other franchises.  Take a moment to respect the consistent and committment to excellence (sorry, not you Oakland Raiders) of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at www.venomstrikes.com

Johnny Bench and The Baseball Bunch: TV Magic

Image: baseballjourneyman.com

If you were a baseball fan as a kid in the early to mid 1980′s, there was one must-see show to watch.  Every Saturday afternoon, we would tune it to see Johnny BenchThe San Diego Chicken and the entire crew of The Baseball Bunch.  We watched to learn, we watched to see which player would make an appearance but most of all we watched because it was a load of fun.  Instead of running Hot Stove 15 times a day during the offseason, you mean to tell me MLB Network can’t find the time to put this classic program on once or twice a week?

You name it, they had.  Whether it was Bucky Dent using shaving cream to break in a glove, Ozzie Smith demonstrating wall ball to practice his fielding or Tug McGraw showing us how to grip the baseball,  The Baseball Bunch gave us impressionable youngsters the idea that if you followed their advice, you could succeed like them on the field.  For laughs, we saw Bill Caudill as an Inspector Clouseau look-alike, Tommy LaSorda as The Wizard and the Chicken performing stunts like pole vaulting into a wall.   Maybe a show like this would seem cheesy (not to me) in today’s reality-driven viewing society but back then it represented a more innocent and dare I say fun era.  Today, there are no shows like the Bunch that are shown nationally although most teams probably do have some sort of programming geared toward kids.    This seems to be the case not only in baseball but most other sports as well. 

MLB Network will be well-served to at least consider a revival of The Baseball Bunch or something like it.  Kids will be needed to sustain the game for future generations.  Judging by the attendance during the current season, baseball needs a lot more fans filling their ballparks.  For now we have memories, a DVD or two and the magic of YouTube to bring us back to Bench and company.  Relive one of those memories now by clicking here and seeing Tom Seaver use a Frisbee to teach kids how to throw a curve.

Adam Dunn and Big Homer/Big Strikeout Guys of Years Gone By

Image: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

Adam Dunn belted his 14th home run this season on Sunday, clearly demonstrating he is over his nightmare 2011 season.   He has struck out a league leading 60 times and also checks in with a batting average of .243.  For his career,  he has slugged nearly 400 home runs, whiffed almost 1,900 times and owns a career bating average of .243.  He reminds me of many of the high power-high strikeout-low batting average guys from the 1980′s.  These players never get confused with the greats of the game but for a while they were certainly feared because of the home run potential they possessed.  In fairness to Dunn, he has had a much more prolific career than most if not all of them.  For five consecutive seasons, he finished with 40 or more dingers and 100 RBI’s or more six times.  In no particular order,  here are some of my favorites from the go-go 80′s.

Image: bleacherreport.com

Gorman Thomas: “Stormin Gorman” led the American League in home runs twice with 45 in 1979 and 39 in 1982,  the year of Milwaukee’s only World Series appearance.  Two is also the number of times he led the AL in strikeouts with 175 in 1979 and 170 in 1980.  While most people think of these types of players as lumbering First Basemen or Designated Hitters, Thomas was actually a pretty good Outfielder.  He ranked in the top three in putouts by a Center Fielder four times and ranked fifth in assists in 1982 with nine.  He finished his 13 year career with 268 home runs, 1,339 strikeouts and a .225 batting average.

image: chinmusik.net

Dave Kingman:  Kong thrived for seven different teams over the course of his 16 year stay in the Bigs.  He paced the National League in homers twice with 48 in 1979 and 37 in 1982.  While his overall batting average was a paltry .236, he did hit .288 in 1979 while also leading the league in Slugging and OPS that season.  1979 would not have been complete unless he also led in K’s which he obliged, fanning 131 times.  He also led the league in strikeouts two other times, 105 in strike-shortend 1981 and 155 in 1982.  My favorite Kingman stat has nothing to do with hitting.  In 1977, he became the only man to play for a team (Mets, Padres, Angels and Yankees) in all four divisions in a single season.   The final numbers are an impressive 442 homers  and a gigantic 1,816  strikeouts.

Image: bleacherreport.com

 

Steve BalboniThe Yankees sent “Bye Bye” to the Royals before the 1984 season for reliever Mike ArmstrongThis was a classic George Steinbrenner bone-headed decision, one of many, trading young, promising talent for a middle-of-the-road player who does nothing in New York.   Balboni immediately paid dividends for KC by launching 26 homers to go along with a healthy 139 whiffs.  Although the career numbers are not as gaudy as Thomas and Kingman, he does own something the other two do not:  a World Series ring.  In 1985 he led the club in round-trippers with 36 and the rest of the American League in strikeouts with 166 as the Royals took home their only World Championship.    Balboni eventually did play for the Yanks at least on a part-time basis in 1989 and 1990.  The 1990 campaign was his last as a semi-regular player and in typical Bye Bye fashion he deposited 17 balls into the seats in only 301 plate appearances.  Of course he also struck out 91 times and batted a robust .192.

I could spend all day reviewing the careers of these guys and men like Rob Deer, Pete Incaviglia and Tony Armas. If any of you can think of other players both past and present, I would love to hear about them.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Kerry Wood and Others Who Went Out on Top

Friday marked the end of one of the most star-crossed careers I have seen in my lifetime.  Kerry Wood said farewell after the game against the White Sox closing the book on what should have been, if not for injuries,  a fabulous body of work that would have rivaled the game’s greatest power pitchers.  Instead of reflecting on what could have been, let us celebrate  Wood’s last pitch:  a strike to Chicago’s Dayan Viciedo followed by an emotional sendoff which included a hug from his son as he reached the dugout.  Click here to see this fond farewell.

Wood is the not the only guy to end his playing days  in style.  Here are some other ones of note.

 

Ted WilliamsIn 1960 Teddy Ballgame put the finishing touches on a legendary career that touched parts of four decades.  The last one of his 521 home runs came on September 28 at Fenway Park vs. the Orioles in the bottom of the 8th inning.  This capped a remarkable season in which at age 42 he hit 29 home runs with a .314 average.  Enjoy a recap of the Splendid Splinter’s homer here .

   

Joe DiMaggioEverything on the ball field the Yankee Clipper accomplished was done with style and elegance according to those who watched him play.  He was also the ultimate winner, leading the Yankees to 9 World Series titles during his 13 year career.  How fitting it was that in the final plate appearance of his career, Joe D smacked a double to right field in the 8th inning of Game 6 in the 1951 World Series.   The Yankees won the game 4-3 and the Series 4 games to 2.  This was the final stamp on a career that is regarded as one of the greatest of all time.

 

 Mike Mussina:  The Moose wrapped up an outstanding career in 2008 by winning 20 games for the first time.  Number 20 came on the last day of the season in Boston.   Although he was not on the mound for the final out, it was a noteworthy accomplishment as we will probably never again see a pitcher retire after winning 20 games in a season for the first time in his career.  Relive this once in a lifetime moment by clicking here

I am sure there are dozens of other examples about ending a career with a flourish.  Who will be the next player to provide us with such a memory?

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at www.venomstrikes.com

Houston’s Carlos Lee: How Can Such a Good Career Have Had Such Rotten Luck?

Image: blog.houstonpress.com

Timing is everything.  Take a look at the contract of Carlos Lee.  He signed a 6 year, $100 million dollar contract with the Houston Astros before the 2007 season.   During the 2006 season, he had been traded from Milwaukee to Texas in an attempt by the Rangers to make the playoffs.  In signing the deal with Houston, Lee was going to a team that finished second in 2006 and made the playoffs the prior two seasons, advancing to the World Series in 2005.  I understand the Astros offered him an outrageous amount of money but how would he know his new team would begin to decline before bottoming out last season with 106 losses?

Actually, the move to Houston wasn’t the first time Lee was a victim of rotten timing.  He was a member of the White Sox for six years until being traded to the Brewers after the 2004 season.  Wouldn’t you know it but Chicago ended up winning the World Series in 2005.   So let’s have a quick recap.  Lee comes up to the Majors in 1999 with the White Sox.  He gets a very brief taste of the postseason with the 2000 Central Division winning White Sox.   He gets traded to Milwaukee the winter before Chicago wins their first title in 88 years.  He then moves on to Texas in mid-2006 before signing his big deal with the Astros.  In 2008, one old team, the Brewers, made the playoffs for the first time in 26 years while the second former team, the Rangers go to back-to-back World Series in 2010 and 2011.  And he missed out by a season the most successful three-year run in Astros history.   It’s hard to feel sorry for a guy who has made over $110 million dollars in his career but Carlos Lee sure does make me try.

In the midst of all this rotten luck is the fact El Caballo has had one heck of a career.   He has hit 30 or more home runs in a season six times to go along with seven seasons of 100 or more RBI’s. In 13 plus seasons, his career numbers read 352 homers, 1,304 runs knocked in and a .287 batting average.  He has also been proven to be durable, playing in 160 games or more five times.  It is a shame that he has played his entire career without the proper recognition it deserves.  He most likely will not be back in Houston next season, just as the Astros have begun to claw back to respectability.  I would like to see a contending team take a chance on the big guy so he can remember what it is like to be in a real playoff hunt.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

We Want the Reds to Take the Training Wheels off Aroldis Chapman

Image: zimbio.com

The numbers so far this season are eye-popping:  14 games, 18.1 innings pitched, 6 hits allowed, 32 strikeouts, 5 walks and a 3-0 record with a 0.00 ERA.  In a game earlier last week, Aroldis Chapman threw 3 pitches over 100 MPH in one at bat to Rickie Weeks.  Weeks, no slouch at the plate, had no chance against Chapman.  He struck out, yet another victim of the wonderful left arm courtesy of the Reds‘ fireballer.  Whether you have seen it or not, it is worth another look.   The question is:  when will Cincinnati remove Chapman from the role of setup man to either the closer’s role (I hope not) or a spot in the starting rotation (Yes, Yes, YES)?

My feelings about starting vs relieving are quite clear.  You don’t take a guy with the stuff Chapman has and make him a one or two inning pitcher.  He should be in the rotation.  That being said, I don’t have a problem with gradually bringing him along until he gets acclimated to life in the Major Leagues.  And while Sean Marshall has been doing a decent job closing for Cincinnati, inserting Chapman into that role for the remainder of this season could be a game-changer.  It is clear he has electric stuff and allowing him to throw 100 MPH heaters and 90 MPH curves in the ninth inning is a dynamic most contending teams would take in a minute.  A move like this can put the Reds one step closer to winning the NL Central.

Chapman should be fully adjusted to playing ball in America.  2011 was his first full season in Cincinnati and he issued 41 walks in 50.1 innings pitched.  You can see why another he could use half a season more in the bullpen.  However, if Cincy can swing a deal for another closer and someone like Mike Leake is still struggling,  Chapman needs to be put in the rotation.  Think of his value as a starter to that of a left-handed version of Stephen Strasburg.  Not only does Strasburg help his team pitching 7 innings every fifth day but he also helps at the box office.   Chapman, if and when he becomes a member of the rotation will carry that same type of electricity.   Every start becomes an event bringing lots of attention and dollars to Major League Baseball.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Wash This: Rangers’ Ron Washington is an Elite Manager

Image: zimbio.com

I was watching Sunday night’s Angels-Rangers game when ESPN posted a brief timeline of how the Rangers transformed themselves into a top-tier Major League Baseball team.  It included the hiring of Jon Daniels as General Manager, the trades that netted Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Josh Hamilton and the ascension of Nolan Ryan as the team President.  What was not metioned was the choice of Ron Washington as the team’s manager, yet another oversight of the game’s most underappreciated field boss.

If you read this blog on a semi-regular basis, you might think I do nothing but drool over the Texas Rangers.  The truth is, I admire them greatly and feel they have the best franchise in the game right now.  I was going to stay away from them for a while until the game Sunday night and those graphics appeared.  No matter what he does, it seems Ron Washington will not get the credit he deserves.  When people think of top managers in baseball, his name is nowhere to be found.  All we hear are names like Valentine, LeylandScioscia, Guillen and about 10 others before anyone gets around to mentioing “Wash”.   Most of the credit for the Rangers’ success goes to Ryan and Daniels and they deserve a lot of it, for sure.  However, if the blueprint is laid out by the two of them, don’t they need a good Manager to carry out their plans?  What exactly has Washington NOT done to not be mentioned as one of the top skippers around?  

After they lost the 2010 World Series, people questioned if Texas was too deveasted in defeat.  That question was answered when the reached the Fall Classic in 2011.  Then, it was they lost their best pitcher, CJ Wilson to the Angels who also happened to sign Albert Pujols.  How exactly has Texas responded so far?  They are argueably the best team in the game.  A BOATLOAD of the credit deserves to go to Wash but again, about 100 stories overshadow him  including the insane idea of banning the fake third-to-first play.  All I know is this:  before he took over as Manager, the Rangers had won exactly 0 playoff series.  Since he has taken the helm, he has gone to back-to-back World Series,  one strike away from winning the organization’s first Championship.

Wash finished second in 2010 and third in 2011 for AL Manager of the Year.  This year, after the Rangers win the World Series title, maybe he can finally get the respect he deserves by winning the award this season.   However, if the Orioles finish with around 85 wins, count on Wash to be hosed when that distinction goes to Buck Showalter.  It would be yet another slap for perhaps the best Manager in baseball.

What’s in a Name? The Mets’ Jordany Valdespin Knows

Image: dailystache.net

Admit it, you saw this coming.  You knew that once the New York Mets recalled Jordany Valdespin from the Minors that he was destined to do something big, such as winning Monday night’s game over the Philadelphia Phillies with a three run home run.  So how did you , the seasoned baseball fan (and even those of you who think the term “battery” refers to Duracell) know that the rookie was headed for stardom?  That’s easy.  It is all about the name.

Jordany Valdespin has to be one of the greatest names in baseball history, so much so that I will use both his first and last name every time I mention him in this blog, in casual conversation and on my next phone call at work.   For a guy that had 7 at bats before Monday, Jordany Valdespin was mentioned almost every inning of every game this season.  It was “Jordany Valdespin can pinch hit later” or “Jordany Valdespin has options left when player X comes off the DL”.  In fact, Jordany Valdespin ordered a pizza from the Party City Tent while dressed as Mr. Met.  I don’t recall Howie Rose ever bringing that up, but I know it’s true.  If there is nothing else to learn about the 2012 season,  I will at least have learned the name Jordany Valdespin. 

So there he was pinch-hitting against Jonathan Papelbon  in the top of the ninth with the game tied at 2.  The Mets had two runners on with two outs.  You knew Jordany Valdespin was bound to come up big.  After all, the world was overdue for a Papelbon meltdown.  And this was the perfect opportunity for Jordany Valdespin to make up for all of those times his name was heard but he was never seen.  We knew he had a big hit in him.  Not even in any of our wildest dreams did we think it would be a three run dinger.  In case you were under a rock, check it out here.  Not only was it his first Big League hit, but the resulting blast gave the Mets a 5-2, come from behind victory on a night Roy Halladay  looked unbeatable. 

The Mets have certainly been interesting so far this year.  No team has endured the lowest of lows followed by the highest of highs quite like them.  Even if the team goes into the tank the rest of the way, you know that Jordany Valdespin not only has the most memorable hit but also the most memorable name.  You won’t forget him even if he does hit .150.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamodbacks at www.venomstrikes.com

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