Archive for the ‘ Player Lists and Comparisons ’ Category

Who Are These Underrated Players?

If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know that I love writing about players (and teams for that matter) that don’t get as much love as they should.  After some doing some deep thinking while plunking three kids (including my son) at a Little League game on this borderline-oppressive for late May evening, it’s time for another one of those posts.  So it’s time for  you to get away from the madness of work (because I know that’s where you are reading this) and recognize some outstanding players that didn’t get all the kudos they deserved.

Harodl Baines is ready to make teh BP pitcher pay.  Image:  www.bleacherreport.com

Harold Baines is ready to make the BP pitcher pay. Image: http://www.bleacherreport.com

Harold Baines  My pal Jim wondered when I was going to get toe the former Chicago White Sox great, so buddy this one is for you.  Actually, he was a favorite of mine unless he played the New York Yankees, a team he absolutely owned.  When you look up the term “professional hitter”, you probably will see a picture of Baines smiling and with his signature wiggling of the bat.  For his career, he hit .289 with 384 home runs and an impressive 1,628 RBI’s with the Sox and four other teams over 22 seasons.  Most impressive perhaps is his 2,866 lifetime hits, 43rd on the all time list, seven behind Babe Ruth.  In eight postseason series, Baines hit .324 with five homers and 16 RBI’s.   He had two top ten finishes for the American League MVP and was a six-time All Star.  While he knocked in 100 runs or more only three times, he did exceed 90 RBI’s six times.  He also seemed to drive in the big run whenever the game was on the line.   I would say he and George Brett were the two guys I never wanted to see Yankee pitching face in the later innings.  The only thing missing from his career is a World Series ring; he made one appearance with the Oakland A’s in 1990.

Chili Davis  Before there was an Edgar Martinez as the prototypical designated hitter, there was Davis, the first Jamacian-born Major League ball player. The switch-hitter pounded out 350 career home runs with five different teams.  He totaled 2,380 hits and 1,372 RBI’s while batting .274.  He was never the best hitter on a team but you always had to be aware of his presence in the lineup.  While he drove in over 100 runs only once, he did compile 90 or more RBI’s in a season six times.  He was a winning player as he managed to grab three World Championship rings, one with the 1991 Minnesota Twins and two more with the Yankees in 1998 and 1999.   In fact, his final season in the bigs was very memorable.  In 1999, he had 554 at bats and clubbed 19 home runs to go along with 78 RBI’s and hit .269.  He closed out his career as a World Champion.  That’s not a bad way to end a fine career.

Lance Johnson  You might think the heat is getting to me or that I am stretching this to get another player on this list.  While I am toughing out the heat with some cold water, you are dead wrong about One Dog.  Anyone who leads the league in a category five times in a six-year span is a darn good player.  From 1991 through 1996, led his league five times in triples including an amazing 21 in 1996  with the New York Mets.  Only Curtis Granderson‘s 23 three baggers in 2007 exceeded Johnson’s total over the past 33 years (Willie Wilson had 21 in 1985).  He also led the AL in hits in 1995 with 186 for the White Sox and led the NL in the same category in 1996 with 227 for the Mets.  That ’96 season was the best of his career as he drove in 69 runs while hitting .333.  Johnson finished 18th in the MVP tally and made his only All Star appearance.  Johnson retired after the 2000 season with 117 triples, 327 stolen bases and a lifetime .291 average.

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

Rookie of the Year Memories

Tonight marks the first of the major awards given out by Major League Baseball, the Rookie of the Year award for both the National and American Leagues.  Quite a few players that have won this award have gone on to outstanding careers with some of them eventually reaching the Hall of Fame.  Men such as Willie Mays, Rod Carew, Willie McCovey, Cal RipkenDerek Jeter and Albert Pujols certainly fit this billing.  Still, there are many instances where ROY winners do not live up to their initial promise and there are some who disappeared from the game less than five years afer their initial glory.  Here is a look back at some players who I wish could have had more success after their initial big splash.

Mark Fidrych-1976-Unfortunately, I was only three years old when “The Bird” was the word not just in baseball but everywhere you went.  The Detroit Tigers’ righthander would manicure the mound, talk to the ball and receive curtain calls after every home start on his way to a 19-9 record while leading the American League in ERA with 2.34 and complete games with 24.  Fidrych started the All-Star Game and finished second in the Cy Young race to Jim Palmer.  Because of his laid back demeanor and eccentrics on the mound, everyone loved the Bird as evidenced by the crowds that filled stadiums all season long every time he pitched.  Just weeks into the 1977 season,  Fidrych’s arms went “dead” as he put it, and it was not revealed until 1985 that the injury was a torn rotator cuff.  He pitched in just 27 games between 1977 and 1980, his career over at age 25.

Joe Charboneau-1980-Back in the late 1970’s the Cleveland Indians needed something to energize the fortunes of a proud but downtrodden franchise.  In 1980, it came in the form of “Super” Joe Charboneau, their 25-year old outfielder who captured ROY honors with 23 home runs, 87 RBI’s and a .289 average.  A song popped up in Cleveland called “Go-Go Charboneau” whose melody I can hear in my head but alas, can’t find a copy of online at the moment.  Sadly, back injuries derailed a promising career and he played in a total of 70 games in 1981 and 1982 before being forced to retire at age 27.

Pat Listach-1992-Listach, a fifth round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1988 draft, Listach was called up to Milwaukee during April 1992.  From there, he helped spark a surprising Brew Crew team all the way to a 90 win season , good for second place in the AL East behind the eventual World Series Champions, the Toronto Blue Jays.  Listach stole 54 bases to along with 93 runs scored and a .290 average in capturing ROY honors.  He was never able to re-capture his initial magic and never played in the Majors after 1997, his last appearance in a game at the age of 29.  Listach is currently the 3rd base coach of the Chicago Cubs.

Overlooked MLB All Stars From the Past

 Growing up, I couldn’t wait for the All Star Game.  It was a chance for me to see all of the best players I would only see once or twice per season.   Since the advent of instant highlights and additional channels, some of that novelty has worn off.  I also am not a fan of the game determining World Series home field advantage.  That being said, it is without question the premier All Star game in sports.  With that in mind, here is a look at some former All Stars that deserve some more recognition.

Greg Luzinski-“The Bull” was a four-time All Star who was a vital member of five playoff teams with the Phillies and one with the White Sox.  He finished second in the 1975 MVP race when he led the league in RBI’s with 120.   His best year came in 1977 with 39 home runs, 130 RBI’s and a .309 batting average.  After winning the World Series with Philadelphia in 1980, he moved to Chicago where in 1983, he helped the Sox win their first ever American League West title.   He retired after the 1984 season with career numbers of 307 homers, 1,128 runs driven in and a .276 batting average.

 

 Richie Zisk-This two-time All Star’s appearances came in 1977 with the White Sox and in 1978 with  Texas.  His start to the ’78 season and as a member of the Rangers was a memorable one as he launched a game ending home run off  of Rich Gossage who was making his first appearance as a Yankee.  Ironically, not only did Zisk and Gossage share the same agent, Jerry Kapstein, but they were also traded for each other prior to the 1977 season with Zisk going to Chicago and Goose going to Pittsburgh.   The Outfielder/DH’s best season was with the Sox when he batted .290 with 30 homers and 101 runs batted in.  His last three seasons were productive ones with Seattle and after the 1983 season he retired with 207 home runs, 792 RBI’s and a .287 average.

 

Al Oliver circa 1971 Image: Pirates’ MLB websiite

Al Oliver-“Scoop”  was one of the best players of his era, a career spanning 18 seasons and six teams.  At age 24, he was the starting Center Fielder for the 1971 World Champion Pirates, a team that featured Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell who flanked him in the outfield.  Oliver was a seven-time All Star who sported a superb .303 lifetime batting average.  His best season was in 1982 when he led the National League in batting (.331), RBI’s (109), hits (204), doubles (43) and total bases (317).  His outstanding playing days finished after the 1985 season in which his lifetime numbers included 219 home runs and 1,326 runs batted in while appearing in 2,368 games.   Oliver is definitely one of the most underrated players of the last 40 years.

There are plenty of other former All Stars who often get overlooked.  These three guys I saw play while growing up and immediately came to mind when the idea for this post was formed.

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

Don Mattingly and My Other (Sort Of) Facebook Friends

I am sure all of us have had interactions with players in one form or other.  Most of them have occurred during the process of getting an autograph at a book signing, before a game or some other place that may or may not be out of the ordinary.  The following are three players who that if Facebook were around back in the day, I might have become friends with these guys.

Don Mattingly-What a way to begin this list.  Donnie Baseball is my favorite player of all time.  The only occasion where I have ever had chills at a sporting event was before Game 1 of the 1995 American League Division Series.  As I heard his name announced during the introduction of the starting lineups, I felt goosebumps up and down my body.  The real Yankee Stadium was electric and I remember feeling so good for Mattingly as he sprinted out to the field, running away from all the memories of all those previous horrible Yankee seasons. 

Anyway, the first non-autograph encounter with my baseball hero occurred before a game at the Stadium in 1984.   About 35 minutes before the game, the players were warming up and Donnie was in my and my sister’s line of sight as he was playing a game of catch.   There was  a decent amount of fans hanging around when all of a sudden my sister screamed out, “M-A-A-A-T-T-I-N-G-L-Y-Y-Y-Y!!”.  He turned toward us and as my sister and I were waving frantically at him, he shielded his eyes and waved back.  She was so loud, Bob Sheppard probably heard her.

My other contact with Mattingly took place roughly three years later as we were driving over the George Washington Bridge.   While cruising on the upper deck of the bridge heading back to New York,  my Dad glanced in his rear view mirror and said, “I think Don Mattingly is in the left lane”.  I turned and saw that it indeed was him so I told my father to beep his horn.  He obliged and when I waved at Donnie, he acknowledged me with a salute and kept on driving.  Two waves, two moments I will never f0rget.

Ron Kittle-He was the 1983 American League Rookie of the Year with the White Sox.   In the middle of the 1986 season, was traded by the Chisox to the Yankees and it was the following February at Spring Training where I “met” Kittle for the first time.  After a workout, fans always used to wait for players in the parking lot in the hopes of getting an autograph or to say a quick hello.  Kittle soon emerged and and a bunch of us went to greet him.  He was signing for everyone when he came to me as I handed him his Fleer or Topps 1984 card.  He looked at it and said, “I am sorry but I don’t do business with them, I can’t sign it”.  Confused, I asked him to sign something else which he happily obliged.  I didn’t understand then and I still don’t now as his picture was used on both cards, why couldn’t he sign one of them?

My second story about Kittle doesn’t involve meeting him.  Instead, on June 29, 1987, my fourteenth birthday, Ron Kittle hit the only inside-the-park home run of his career during the first inning.  The Yankees would go on to beat the Blue Jays 15-14 in a wild affair that was decided thanks to a Dave Winfield grand slam in the top of the eighth inning.  Perhaps this was a makeup by Kittle to me for not signing my baseball card.

Dell Alston-He had a short career from 1977-1980 but did come up through the Yankee organization.   I think it was in 1982 when my other sister was still in high school when Alston made an appearance at her school one night for a charity basketball game.  I don’t remember much about him other than getting his autograph and saying hello.   I found out later on that he did attend Concordia College and played ball there.  Concordia was the school my wife graduated from some 25 years after Alston was there.  While it wasn’t direct contact like Kittle and Mattingly, the family connections are enough to make him a “friend”.

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

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

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

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