The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Braves Make Fredi Gonzalez the Fall Guy for its Pathetic Team

The Atlanta Braves fired its manager Fredi Gonzalez last week in a move in which he was made the scapegoat for a team that was playing 9-28 ball.  But all the arrows shouldn’t have been pointed at Gonzalez.  The NL East Division last-place team is in the midst of a rebuilding transition in which the roster was completely overhauled from just a few years ago.  Frankly, the disheveled roster the team is fielding currently is the primary reason the team is doing their best imitation of the 1962 New York Mets which won only 40 games.

Gonzalez was metaphorically at the helm of a sinking ship whose deck hands were on their first voyage or were castoffs from their previous ships.  The Braves team is a mixture of young, inexperienced pitchers and journeyman position players.  Only first baseman Freddie Freeman can be considered a legitimate star on the team, and he’s the last holdover from the club that won the NL East Division in 2013.

Just a few seasons ago, the Braves featured a team under Gonzalez with as much potential as any in the major leagues.  On a team that was largely sourced from its farm system by GM Frank Wren, they had rising stars like Freeman, Brian McCann, Jacob Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, and Evan Gattis.  As for pitching, the Braves had developed some outstanding young arms such as Julio Teheran, Kris Medlin, Alex Wood, Mike Minor, and Craig Kimbrel, who became one of the best closers in baseball.  It appeared as though the Braves were on the verge of having another dynasty team like the Braves of the 1990s. 

The Braves had a second-place finish in 2014, although they did suffer a losing season with 79 wins. Braves management, under interim GM John Hart, decided over the winter of that year the team needed to re-make itself, similar to what the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros were in the process of doing.  The Braves didn’t re-sign young players who were eligible for free agency and traded away others for prospects, supposedly as part of their plan to stock their farm system with a new crop of budding stars. 

At about the same time, the Braves announced they would be building a new stadium in Atlanta for the 2017 season.  That planned event essentially became the target for putting the re-built team in place.

Consequently, the 2015 team, and currently the 2016 team, became devoid of players who could actually contribute to winning games.  Of the six starters used by the Braves this season, only two have more than 1-2 years of major league experience.  As a group, they average only 25 years of age.  Teheran is the only starting pitcher left from the young corps of a few years ago.  On offense, the Braves have scored the least number of runs in the National League, over a 100 less than the league-leading Cardinals, and have the least number of total bases, almost one-third less than the league-leading Diamondbacks.  They have hit only 18 home runs as a team, while Yoenis Cespedes of the Mets and Nolan Arenado of the Rockies each have 14 home runs individually.

Since Gonzalez took over from legendary Bobby Cox as manager of the Braves in 2011, his teams have posted one first-place finish, three second-place finishes, and a fourth-place finish.  His overall record through 2015 was 425-385.  That’s not the record of a bad manager.

However, it’s not unusual that managers of major league teams in rebuilding mode get the ax from management.  Bo Porter of the Astros and Rick Renteria of the Cubs are the most recent examples.  But Gonzalez had to know he was in a fairly tenuous situation.  Yet there was never any evidence he gave up or slacked off in getting the team to be competitive every day.  Even during last year’s losing season, Gonzalez got the diminished Braves off to a good start in April and May, before eventually succumbing to the rest of the division for a last-place finish.  Yet with one quarter of the season under the belt already, the 2016 version of the team is currently on a pace to win only 40-45 games this season.

If the Braves’ front office already knew that Gonzalez was not going to be the 2017 Opening Day manager, why did they start this season with him?  They probably they took advantage of his loyalty to the organization to shepherd what they figured would be a struggling team in 2016, while allowing the organization an opportunity to secure another skipper for the next year. The team’s poor performance likely pressured them to make the move with Gonzalez sooner.

Braves minor league manager, Brian Snitker, was promoted as the interim manager of the big league club.  While he has been a rising star in the managerial ranks, it’s not clear he will be retained either as the permanent manager next year.  The Braves have left open an option to find someone else.

It’s also not clear how the Braves will improve the team for the next season’s opening of the long-awaited new ballpark.  The pitching-heavy group of prospects they accumulated in the rebuilding process will still be untested.  However, they could use some of them in trades for more veteran players who can be immediately productive.  They could start that process later this year at the July 31 trade deadline, when major league teams starting juggling rosters again.  They should be an active participant in offseason player acquisitions.  In any case, they have their work cut out for them to field a competitive team for next year.

It’s a shame “good guys” of the game like Gonzalez sometimes get treated like he did.  With Gonzalez’ firing, the Braves’ front office deflected the attention from themselves for the team’s poor performance going back to last season.  It remains to be seen whether they can recover in time to meet their expectations for next season.

Could We See a Rare Chi-Town World Series?

This year’s versions of the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox are riding high right now, as both are in first place of their respective divisions.  The Cubs were largely expected to continue their winning ways from last season, while the White Sox are the surprise team of the American League this season.  It’s still early yet, but we could be witnessing the makings of a World Series between the two cross-town rivals.

A Chicago-centric World Series actually happened once before, in 1906, when the White Sox defeated the Cubs in only the third-ever World Series. Neither franchise has been highly successful in World Series contests since then. The Cubs last won the World Series in 1908 and their last appearance in the Fall Classic was in 1945 when they were beaten by the Detroit Tigers. The White Sox did manage to beat the Houston Astros as recent as 2005, but their previous championship occurred in 1917 against the New York Giants.  The Cubs are the ill-fated owners of the longest championship drought (107 years) of any professional franchise in all of the major sports.

In the history of the World Series, there have been 110 championship series between the American League and National League pennant winners.  In sixteen of those World Series, two teams from the same city opposed each other, the last in 2000 when the New York Yankees defeated the New York Mets.

Except for the World Series in 1944 when the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the now defunct St. Louis Browns, the Yankees have been a participant in the other fourteen World Series involving same-city opponents.  The storied Yankee Dynasty teams squared off with the Brooklyn Dodgers seven times during the 1940s and 1950s and the New York Giants six times during the 1920s, 1930s and in 1951.  

However, these counts don’t include the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants, who faced each other in the 1989 World Series. Some might consider the Bay Area teams to be in the same city.  Other cities to have been home to two major league teams at a point in history include Boston (Red Sox and Braves), Philadelphia (Phillies and A’s), and Los Angeles (Dodgers and Angels), but none of them have hosted World Series between their two teams.

This year’s Cubs currently possess the best record in both leagues.  Their torrid start of the season is their best since 1907, as Manager Joe Maddon has the club hitting on all cylinders.  Everyone expected their offense to be highly productive this year; it’s their pitching that has really exceeded pre-season expectations.

The starting rotation is headlined by Jake Arrieta, the best pitcher in the league, who has already hurled a no-hitter.  He has won seven of his eight starts and currently sports a 1.29 ERA.  John Lester and Jason Hammel aren’t too far behind, sporting four wins/1.96 ERA and five wins/1.77 ERA, respectively.  John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks round out the rotation which has stayed healthy so far.

Hector Rondon and Adam Warren, a solid offseason pickup from the Yankees, lead the bullpen staff.  Overall, the Cubs’ pitching leads the National League in ERA, least runs allowed, and WHIP.

The Cubs’ offense is scoring almost six runs a game.  Even though they lost Kyle Schwarber to the disabled list for the remainder of the season after only two games, their batting lineup has still been potent with Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell leading the way.

The White Sox have been almost equally impressive in the American League.  They find themselves among the top three teams in the league with the best record, after fourth-place finishes in their division the last two seasons.

Todd Frazier, who came from the Reds in the offseason, has been everything the White Sox had hope for from a slugging standpoint.  He leads the team with 12 home runs and 32 RBI.  Jose Abreu and Brett Lawrie have provided good offensive support around Frazier.

From a pitching standpoint, lefthander Chris Sale has been as good as the Cubs’ Arrieta this year.  He currently has eight wins in as many decisions and boasts a 1.67 ERA and 0.758 WHIP.  He’s been complemented by fellow starters Jose Quintana and Mat Latos, who have five victories apiece.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura is on the hot seat to produce a winner this season, since his teams have had only one winning season since his tenure started in 2012.  Over the past few years, his lackluster performance at the helm has challenged the recent trend of new breed of major league managers that didn’t have any prior managerial experience.  A division-winning team, and certainly a World Series appearance, would secure his job for a while.

Both the White Sox and Cubs face stiff competition to remain atop their respective divisions for the rest of the season.

In the AL Central, the White Sox have two-time defending American League champion Kansas City Royals to contend with.  With a record hovering around .500, the Royals have had an uncharacteristically slow start of the season but can’t be counted out yet.  The Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers figure to remain close as well.

Even though the Cubs currently have a nine-game lead, the NL Central is likely to shape up as a repeat of last year with the Cubs, St Louis Cardinals, and Pittsburgh Pirates vying for the division title and playoff spots.

It would be big news if either team would secure a World Series berth, especially the Cubs with their pathetic post-season history.  But it would be even bigger news if both of the Chicago clubs managed to face off against each other in the Fall Classic.  North Siders vs. South Siders.  Wouldn’t that be something?

NFL's No. 1 overall draft pick, Jared Goff, forsakes baseball heritage

When the Los Angeles Rams selected Jared Goff as the overall first pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, perhaps more than anyone else his father, Jerry, was well aware of the impact of the occasion.

Jerry Goff had some prior experience with pro sports drafts himself, since he was the third-round pick of the Seattle Mariners in the 1986 Major League Baseball Draft.  His career was comprised primarily of over 900 minor league games over twelve seasons, although he did manage to appear in 90 major league games with the Montreal Expos, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Houston Astros.  It’s likely that the biggest moment of his nondescript major league career came in his last game when he hit a home run.  He toiled for a dozen years and never made the big bucks as a baseball player.

The younger Goff was a three-sport standout in high school, but wound up deciding on football when he went to the University of California at Berkeley to play quarterback.  His career decision has now paid off, since he stands to sign for a substantial bonus and will likely be a starter within a couple of years.

In an interview on the MLB Radio Network, the elder Goff said he never pushed Jared towards baseball, although he was a standout shortstop through high school.  Ultimately, Jared showed better skills in football, and Jerry fully supported his son’s pursuit of the sport at the college level.

The vast majority of relatives of professional baseball players pursue baseball rather than choosing another professional sport.  As an indicator of this situation, over 800 professional baseball players, managers, and coaches in 2015 had a relative in pro baseball.  When considering the relatively few number of major leaguers whose sons choose professional football as a career, Jared Goff is in select company as the NFL’s No. 1 pick this year.


A look at a few of Jared Goff’s predecessors

Prior to Goff, the most notable son of a former major league player to pursue professional football was Tom Mack.  His father, Ray, had been a second baseman during nine major league seasons from 1938 to 1947.  Ray primarily played for the Cleveland Indians which included an all-star season in 1940.  Tom was the No. 2 overall pick of the 1966 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams, and went on to an NFL Hall of Fame career as an offensive guard with the Rams for 13 seasons.

Ernie Koy Jr. was an 11th-round pick of the New York Giants in the 1965 NFL Draft.  He had been a standout running back at the University of Texas and became a punter and halfback for the Giants from 1965 to 1970.  Ernie’s father, Ernie Sr., had been an outfielder for four National League teams from 1938 to 1942, when he compiled a career .279 batting average in 558 games.

Lee Riley Sr. was in the major leagues for only a cup of coffee (four games) in 1944, when most of the regular players were in the military service during World War II.  His son, Lee Jr., had a more substantial career in the NFL and AFL as a defensive back from 1955 to 1962 for the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, Detroit Lions and New York Titans.  However, another son of Lee Sr. would become more recognizable.  Pat Riley was the highly successful player and coach in the NBA.

New York Yankee immortal Yogi Berra also had sons who chose different paths in professional sports.  Tim Berra was the 17th round draft pick of the Baltimore Colts in 1974, but played only one NFL season as a receiver/punt returner.  Dale Berra played for eleven seasons in the major leagues, primarily with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The shortstop/third baseman posted a .236 career batting average in 853 games.  Yogi had another son, Laurence, who played sparingly for two seasons in the New York Mets organization.

Cory Harkey is the son of Mike Harkey, a former major league pitcher for the Chicago Cubs and four other teams during 1988 to 1997.  Mike is currently the bullpen coach for the New York Yankees.  Cory has been a tight end for the Los Angeles Rams for the past four seasons after attending UCLA.


A future in pro football?

There are several sons of former major leaguers who are currently playing football at the college level.  Perhaps we’ll see a few of them in the NFL soon.

Trey Griffey may have the best baseball lineage of all time.  He is the son of Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. and grandson of Ken Griffey Sr., a three-time all-star and owner of a .296 career batting average over 19 seasons.  Yet Trey chose football as his primary sport.  He is currently a senior wide receiver for the University of Arizona.

Torii Hunter Jr. was drafted by the Detroit Tigers out of high school in 2013, but chose to attend Notre Dame instead, where he currently plays both football and baseball for the Fighting Irish.  The wide receiver will be a starting senior in the coming season, while he has been a back-up outfielder on the baseball team.  Torii’s father, Torii Sr., was a five-time all-star and nine-time Gold Glove outfielder during his twenty years in the major leagues.

After leading his high school team to two state baseball championships, Patrick Mahomes chose to play football in college.  He is currently one of the nation’s leading college quarterbacks at Texas Tech.  In 2015 he completed his sophomore season with over 4,600 yards passing and 36 touchdowns.  Patrick is the son of Pat Mahomes, who had an eleven-year career as a major league pitcher, primarily as a relief specialist, during 1992 to 2003.

Dante Pettis is currently a junior wide receiver and punt returner for the University of Washington.  His father is Gary Pettis, a veteran of eleven major league years which included five Gold Glove awards as an outfielder.  Gary is currently a coach for the Houston Astros.

What's Wrong with the Astros?

Based on last year’s unexpected success, the Houston Astros were picked by many baseball analysts in this year’s pre-season prognostications to repeat their winning ways from last season.  However, despite those expectations, the Astros have struggled to win games so far this season.  Were they a fluke last year?  Did they overachieve?  Can they rebound this year?

In 2015 the Houston Astros surprised a lot of folks by leading the American League West Division from the start of the season until the middle of September, but finally succumbing to the Texas Rangers for the division title.  Yet they still made the playoffs, winning the American League wild-card game before losing to the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals in the Division Series.  It appeared the young Astros team had matured and jelled sooner than expected, after going through a complete rebuilding process the preceding four seasons.  Their organizational plan didn’t have them being competitive before 2016-2017.

So why have the Astros labored to put up Ws in the win column in April?  It’s actually pretty simple.  Pitching.  Their staff has given up the most runs in the league, and their ERA is over 5.00, almost double that of the league-leading Chicago White Sox.  They also have the worst WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) in the league as well.  They have one of the worse run differentials in the league, giving up 31 more than they have scored to date, an average of 1 1/2 runs per game.

Last year’s Cy Young Award winner, Dallas Kuechel, had two good outings at the start of the season, but now seems to be struggling with his consistency.  Collin McHugh has been the biggest disappointment among the starting staff.  After having a breakout season in 2015, it appears he may have over-achieved last season when he won 19 games and posted a 3.89 ERA.  This year his ERA is 6.65 in his first five starts, while yielding an average of 15 hits per nine innings pitched.

In an off-season acquisition, Astros starting pitcher Doug Fister seemed like a good pick-up at the time.  However, he hasn’t been effective either, not getting past six innings in any of his starts.  Veterans Mike Fiers and Scott Feldman haven’t fared much better either.  There’s some hope that Lance McCullers Jr. will provide a much-needed boost to the starting rotation when he returns from the disabled list around mid-May.  As a rookie last season, he was a pleasant surprise with a 3.22 ERA in 22 starts and an average of over nine strikeouts per nine innings.

The Astros bullpen has been similary mediocre as well.  Relief pitcher Ken Giles, another off-season acquisition who was thought to be a contender for the closer role, has been a bust.  He’s given up ten runs in 11 innings.  Closer Luke Gregerson has picked up only four saves so far, as his opportunities have been limited.

On the offensive side of the ledger, the Astros have been in the middle of the pack of the American League in terms of production.  While last year’s Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa hasn’t hit full stride yet this spring, newcomer Tyler White has picked up his slack.  Second baseman Jose Altuve has found a new power stroke with six home runs (he hit 15 in all of last year), while Colby Rasmus has been effective in the cleanup spot, leading the team in RBI.

Outfielder Carlos Gomez has yet to get untracked as a hitter, with a dismal slash line of .213/.241/.275, including no home runs and only two RBI.  Evan Gattis, who put up 27 home runs last year, hasn’t been on the field much due to injuries.

So, while a few of the Astros’ bats have yet to wake up in April, their offense still has the potential to be one of the best in the league.

2015 was manager A. J. Hinch’s first year at the helm of the Astros.  Since the club was in first place most of the season, he didn’t develop too many battle scars.  However, given this year’s rough start, he’ll certainly get an opportunity to fully test his managerial skills as he strives to get the team back into contention.  How he deals with the adversity of a struggling pitching staff and a team in last place will be key to their ability to rebound.

On their current path, the Astros are digging a big hole for themselves that could be very difficult to get out of.  Their only saving grace may be that the two leading teams in their division are currently playing a little over .500 ball, so no one has built an insurmountable lead thus far.  It’s not time for the Astros to panic yet; there’s still a lot of baseball to be played.  But some extreme concern would certainly be in order for the team and its fans at this point.  Stay tuned.

Trevor Story's Major League Debut Recalls a Story about a Player Named Boo

Trevor Story of the Colorado Rockies took everyone by surprise when he smacked two home runs in his major league debut game on Opening Day. He didn’t stop there, as he hit another four home runs through his fourth game.  Story is currently tied for second place in the home run category in the National League with eight home runs after eighteen games.

Story had previously played in the minors for five seasons, with only 61 games under his belt at the Triple-A level.  He hadn’t expected to be on the major league roster when spring training ended, but he got his opportunity with the Rockies when starting shortstop Jose Reyes didn’t participate in spring training while he was dealing with a spousal assault charge that occurred during the offseason.

Now, Story is making Rockies fans forget all about Troy Tulowitski, their former perennial all-star shortstop who was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays late in the 2015 season.

Story’s story has been truly amazing, but he’s not the first big league player to come out of nowhere to display such an unforeseen start.

Back in April 1945, Dave “Boo” Ferriss had as improbable a start to his career as anyone before him, Although the circumstances of Ferriss’s beginning of his major league career was somewhat different from Story’s, the result was nevertheless similarly unexpected and record-setting at the time.

Ferriss had been discharged from the Army Air Corps on February 24, 1945, because of an asthma condition.  Before his stint in military service during World War II, Ferriss’s actual pro experience was comprised of only 130 innings pitched in 1942 for Class B Greensboro, a Boston Red Sox affiliate. However, he had gained considerable experience when he pitched for service teams while stationed for two years as a physical training instructor at Randolph Field in Texas.

Like all the other teams in major league baseball, the Boston Red Sox roster had been depleted of its best players who were pressed into military service during World War II. In 1945 their regular pitchers, Tex Hughson, Joe Dobson, Mickey Harris, Earl Johnson, and Mace Brown, were serving in the military.

Ferriss was assigned to Boston’s Louisville minor league affiliate during spring training to start the 1945 season, but when the Red Sox lost their first eight regular season games, manager Joe Cronin immediately looked to his farm system for help.  Before making even one regular season start for Louisville, Ferriss was called up to join the Red Sox.

After five days on the bench he got the starting nod at Shibe Park to face the Philadelphia A’s in the first game of a Sunday doubleheader on April 29.  Before a crowd of 23,828, the 23-year-old right-hander from Shaw, Mississippi, got off to an inauspicious start in the bottom of the first inning. He walked the first two A’s batters on four balls; and after two more balls to the third hitter, he finally retired his first batter on a pop fly.  Ferriss wasn’t out of the water yet, as he walked the fourth batter in the lineup to load the bases.  However, he was able to get out of the nerve-wracking inning on a double play.

Ferriss would go on to yield five hits and three more walks to the A’s, but with the help of three double plays managed to hold them scoreless in his major league debut.  In the meantime, the left-handed hitting Ferriss was a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate, as the Red Sox won, 2-0.  Ferriss’s pitching gem over Connie Mack’s A’s was the first time that season a Red Sox pitcher had held the opposition to less than four runs in a game.

Ferriss got his second start of the season on May 6 against the New York Yankees.  Although the game was interrupted by several rain delays, including one of 47 minutes duration, Ferriss managed to complete the game and hold the Yankees scoreless, even though he surrendered six hits and four walks.  Ferriss collected two more hits and a walk, as the Red Sox put up five runs for the victory.

The Daily Boston Globe reported about the May 6th game, “In the opener, the Yankees, like the Nazis and Japs, learned that ‘Nothing can stop the Army Air Corps,’” referring to Ferriss’s second consecutive shutout win.

On May 13 Ferriss drew his third start against the Detroit Tigers.  He yielded his first run of the season in the bottom of the 5th inning with one out, ending a remarkable 22 1/3 scoreless inning streak at the beginning of his career.  His string of scoreless innings established a new American League record, formerly held by Buck O’Brien with 19 2/3 innings in 1911.

Ferriss went on to complete the game, although he wasn’t particularly efficient.  He gave up nine hits and four walks, but countered that with a season-high ten strikeouts.  Ferriss extended his hitting streak to three games with an RBI single, as the Red Sox won, 8-2.

Ferriss’s sensational start of his career became the talk of the New England area.  In an article about the ex-soldier’s three consecutive wins and his batting performances, the Daily Boston Globe drew a comparison of him with former Red Sox player Babe Ruth, as a pitcher who might also have a future as a slugging outfielder.

Part of the Ferriss fairytale that had built up through his first three big league games was based on a story about him that he had previously pitched ambidextrously in semi-pro leagues, having once pitched the first five innings of a game right-handed, then switched gloves to pitch the last four as a left-hander. Furthermore, while playing at Mississippi State College, he played first base left-handed and pitched right-handed.  While he would sometimes take fielding practice as a left-handed first-baseman, Ferriss never did pitch left-handed in a major league game.

On May 18, Ferriss was the starting pitcher against the first-place Chicago White Sox.  He pitched his best game to that point by giving up only one walk and four singles in a complete game shutout, 2-0.

Ferriss defeated the St. Louis Browns, 4-1, on May 23, then overwhelmed the White Sox, 7-0, for the second time on May 27.  On only three days’ rest against the White Sox, Ferriss tossed a one-hitter as he racked up his fourth shutout and sixth consecutive win.  He had now hurled 51 of his 54 innings without giving up a run, compiling an unbelievable 0.50 ERA.  Baseball pundits were beginning to wonder how long his winning streak could last.

In describing Ferriss’s popularity in New England and among fans across the nation, The Sporting News used a carnival ferriss wheel as an analogy for Ferriss’s thrilling consecutive winning streak over six different opponents, “Round and round the Ferriss wheel goes, and where it stops nobody knows.”

On May 31 Ferriss won his seventh consecutive game by striking out three and issuing three walks in the Red Sox victory over the Cleveland Indians, 6-2.  He continued to show his hitting prowess by contributing two hits in four at-bats.

At that point in the season, Ferriss was sporting a lofty .444 batting average and .545 on-base percentage.  In between Ferriss’s starts on the mound, Red Sox manager Joe Cronin was using his hitting talents as a pinch-hitter.  Four of Ferriss’s hits had come in pinch-hit situations.  Over the course of his career, Ferriss would go on to compile a .250 batting average, which is atypical for a pitcher.

After a relief appearance on June 3, Ferriss returned to his normal starting pitcher role on June 6 against the Philadelphia A’s, the team he defeated in this debut game.

In his quest for his eighth consecutive win in the first game of a doubleheader against the A’s, Ferriss had his worst outing to that point in the season, although he and the Red Sox ultimately claimed the victory.  He generously gave up fourteen hits and three walks, but the A’s batters weren’t able to capitalize on the flock of baserunners, leaving fourteen stranded.  Amazingly, Ferriss wound up yielding only two runs in the complete game win, 5-2.

Ferriss would lose his next start on June 10 against the Yankees, thus ending his impressive streak of eight consecutive wins.

At midseason Ferriss was on pace for a 30-win season, but he struggled with asthma during the last two months and had to settle for a 21-10 record.  Despite the rookie’s heroic efforts, the Red Sox ended the season in seventh place.

Many observers surmised that Ferriss’s success in 1945 was due in large part to having faced weak lineups of opposing teams because of the shortage of experienced players during the war. However Red Sox manager Joe Cronin, said about him, “That boy is no wartime ball player. He’d be outstanding in any era.” Ted Williams confirmed Cronin’s observation after hitting against Ferriss in spring training in 1946. Williams told reporters, “Ferriss will win. Don’t worry about him.”

Indeed in 1946 when all of the soldiers had returned from the war and team rosters were largely restored with its pre-war players, Ferriss proved he was no fluke, since he would win 25 games.  He would lead the American League with a winning percentage of .806, while helping the Red Sox to their first pennant since 1918.  He won Game 3 of the 1946 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Unfortunately, Ferriss’s career was cut short by an arm injury suffered during the 1947 season. Consequently, he would make only nine starts from 1948 to 1950.  Ferriss was the pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox from 1955 to 1959, and despite his shortened career he was elected to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2002.

Of course it remains to be seen how Trevor Story’s season will play out.  In any case, like Ferriss, he has already secured his place in baseball history for an improbable major league debut and start of his big league career.

Profile of 2016 Metro New Orleans Area College Players

I’ve updated my list of high school players from the Metro New Orleans area who went on to play at the collegiate and professional levels.  The list now numbers over 1,300 players and can be viewed at

I did some analysis of the 126 active college players from metro New Orleans, looking at various demographics of the high schools at which they prepped and the colleges they attend.  I realize this is probably of interest only to my readers from the New Orleans area, but here’s what I found.

Where Did They Came From?

Top 10 High Schools Attended

Jesuit (15)

Holy Cross (10)

Shaw (8)

Brother Martin (8)

Rummel (7)

Hahnville (6)

Mandeville (6)

Northshore (6)

St. Paul’s (6)

Lutcher (5)


Metro Region of High School Attended

Eastbank (47%)

Northshore (25%)

River Parishes (15%)

Westbank (13%)


Public vs. Private High School Attended

Private (56%)

Public (44%)


Where Did They Go?


Top 12 Colleges Attended

Delgado Community College (28)

Loyola University (14)

Spring Hill College (8)

Southern University (8)

Southeastern Louisiana (8)

Louisiana College (7)

William Carey College (6)

Nicholls State University (6)

University of New Orleans (6)

Tulane University (5)

Louisiana State University (5)

University of Louisiana – Monroe (3)


There are an additional nine former Delgado CC players who transferred to four-year universities.


College Level Attended

Division I (36%)

JUCO (28%)

NAIA (26%)

Division II (10%)


College Debut Years of the Players

2016 (36%)

2015 (28%)

2014 (20%)

2013 (15%)

2012 (1%)


State Attended

Louisiana (83%)

Mississippi (9%)

Alabama (7%)

Virginia (1%)

Legendary Scully to Hang up his Mike After This Season

Vince Scully is arguably the most popular Dodger since the franchise moved West in 1958.  He announced his retirement for the end of the 2016 season, and he won’t be hanging up baseball spikes, but rather his baseball microphone.

Scully’s field of play hasn’t been on the baseball diamond but instead in the broadcast booth, where he is starting his 67th consecutive year as the Dodgers’ broadcaster this season.  He never hit a home run in a World Series or pitched a no-hitter, yet his calls of some of the most unforgettable moments in baseball history during his tenure are just as memorable.

Scully’s patented voice is addictive.  Once you turn him on for a broadcast, he’s hard to turn off.  With Scully, you get more than the just balls and strikes called on every play.  His story-telling style sets the context for the player and the play with insightful stories and little gems of information that make listening to one of his broadcasts like sitting in a history class on baseball.

Scully’s voice has been likened to a musical performance because of the cadences and rhythm he employs to describe the baseball action.  His musicality is what people often remember.  It is little wonder he is often referred to as “The Voice.”

Since Dodger home games were two hours later than the time zone I live in, I have often gone to bed with ear plugs listening to Scully.  I remember how he once described a tense situation in a game, “There’s 29,000 people in the ballpark and a million butterflies.”

While Scully has called a lot of home runs, he could never be called a “homer” (a broadcaster who shows bias for their home team).  Scully says he learned early in his career to control his emotions and recognized he was broadcasting to fans of both teams.  Thus, he’s been one of the most objective broadcasters as you’ll ever find.

Scully got his start in major league baseball in 1950, teaming with future Hall of Famer Red Barber to call Brooklyn Dodger games.  When Barber resigned over a contract dispute with the Dodgers in 1953, Scully became the main guy behind the mike.

He moved to Los Angeles with the Dodgers in 1958, and he immediately endeared himself to new West Coast fans.  At about the time hand-held transistor radios became popular, fans began bringing them to the ballgames to listen to Scully call the action.

The Yankees offered Scully a job in 1964 to take Mel Allen’s place in the broadcast booth, but he turned it down to stay in Los Angeles.

In addition to calling Dodger baseball games, the versatile Scully was also a broadcaster for football, tennis and golf.  He teamed with color analysts like Hank Stram, Sonny Jurgensen, and John Madden to announce NFL games for CBS Sports.  He paired with the ever-popular Joe Garagiola to do NBC’s Saturday Game of the Week broadcasts and Lee Trevino for NBC’s PGA Tour golf coverage.

Scully was behind the mike for such momentous games as Fred Lynn’s grand slam in the 1983 All-Star game, Ozzie Smith’s game winning home run in Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS, the first official night game in Wrigley Field in 1988, and Kirk Gibson’s dramatic home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

Due to health reasons, around 2005 he began to limit his Dodger broadcasts to non-playoff games east of Phoenix.  Lately, the 88-year-old has been calling approximately 100 games a season, including all Dodger home games and selected games in San Francisco, San Diego and Anaheim.

Baseball fans have one more year to hear “The Voice.”  If Scully were still making all the Dodger road trips in this last season, I’m sure the Dodgers’ opposing teams and fans would be inundating him with adulation and fond farewells similar to the way Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter exited their careers.

So if you’ve never ever heard Vince Scully call a game, or it’s been a while since the last one, make a point to tune in one of his broadcasts sometime during the rest of his last season.  It will certainly be a baseball memory to cherish for a long time.

Which Opening Day is the Real Opening Day?

There’s nothing like waiting until after the baseball season starts to make your pick for this year’s winners of the pennant races.  Hey, why not get all the last-minute advantages you can?  But then we now have three Opening Days for the Major League Baseball season, so maybe I’m not late after all in submitting my selections today.

In the interest of extreme prime time TV coverage, MLB has decided this year to add yet another full day to Opening Day.  For quite a few years now, the big league teams had been playing their first game on a Monday or a Tuesday (except for a single Sunday night game) to start the season in the first week of April.

That was bad enough for old-school baseball traditionalists like me, but now they’ve added Sunday, with a slate of three games, to the lineup of multiple Opening Days.  This just makes my annual case for making Opening Day a national holiday that much weaker—which day would we actually celebrate?

I say let’s bring back the old days when every MLB team started their season on Monday, and each year the start time of the Reds’ game in Cincinnati (as a tribute for being the first-ever professional baseball team) was purposefully ahead of all the other games that day.  Now that’s a genuine Opening Day.

2016 Season Predictions

I’ll get off my soapbox and get on with my predictions for this year’s division winners, playoff teams, and World Series champion.

I don’t know if it’s just me or not, but I’m finding it harder and harder to pick some clear winners in each baseball division.  Some say there is more parity among the divisions now, the MLB’s dream situation.  But I’m not so sure the parity is a result of more high-performing teams, but rather their mediocrity in some aspects of the game.  There are only a handful of the thirty MLB teams that have real balance between offense, defense and pitching.

My picks in the American League look strikingly familiar to last year’s playoff teams, but I may have a few surprise picks in the National League.

AL West

The Texas Rangers surprised everyone last season by winning this division, overcoming the Astros, another surprise team who had led for most of the year.  I’m picking the Rangers to repeat.  I like their offense, largely intact from last season.  They will be even better with a full year of Rougned Odor, the rookie who has already emerged as one of the best second basemen in the league.  The Rangers will also have the advantage of a full season of Cole Hamels in their starting rotation.

Last year’s results by the Astros advanced their expected timetable for being competitive by at least a year following their re-building efforts over the past 4-5 years.  Shortstop Carlos Correa showed he might be the next Alex Rodriguez, while Jose Altuve and George Springer will again be key to their lineup which strikes out a lot.  However, I believe their pitching staff, which included a Cy Young performance by Dallas Keuchel, over-performed last year.  I’m picking the Astros to finish in second place again.

Seattle under-performed in all areas as a team last year, and I see them staying in the middle of the pack again, unless Robinson Cano begins to excel like he did as a Yankee.  A shaky Angels‘ pitching staff and a weak A’s offense will keep them both contending for the cellar.

AL Central

As I suggested in my blog post in February, the Kansas City Royals are the “new” Yankees, a team which could compete for a World Series on a regular basis.  They have a deliberate design to their roster architected by GM Drayton Moore, and it is poised to produce for several more years.  I’m picking them to repeat again as division winner.

Second place is a toss-up for me, as all of the remaining teams could contend for different reasons.  However, I finally settled on the Detroit Tigers to edge out the Cleveland Indians.  While the Indians might have one of the best pitching staffs in the league, I believe the Tigers have better overall balance.  During the winter they addressed their pitching needs and then added Justin Upton to bolster an already pretty good hitting team.

While on improving tracks, the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins will fall short of the Indians for third place in the division.

AL East

There’s no clear winner for me in this division, largely because the depth of starting pitching for each of the teams is suspect.  Actually, the Tampa Bay Rays may be the strongest in that area, but they won’t generate enough offense to get them into contention.

However, I’m going with the New York Yankees as my pick for division winner.  Their lights-out bullpen consisting of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances will shorten the game for their starting staff who will only need to get into the 6th inning of games.  Yeah, I know the Yanks are still an old team, yet they still found a way to get into the wild-card spot last season despite some injuries to their aging roster.  I predict they’ll move ahead of the Blue Jays this year.

I’m taking the Toronto Blue Jays over the Baltimore Orioles for second place.  During the offseason, the O’s did add some big bats (Pedro Alvarez and Mark Trumbo) to an already potent offense, but their starting pitching will struggle.  The Blue Jays will sorely miss pitcher David Price who gave them a big lift in the second half of the season, but their young staff, led by Marcus Stroman, should be enough to get them into the playoffs again.  The Blue Jays offense is expected to score a lot of runs again this season.  This year the Red Sox are hoping Price can have a similar effect, but he can’t do it alone with an inconsistent supporting cast of starting pitchers.

NL West

I believe the Arizona Diamondbacks will have a break-out year in 2016 by winning the division and making their first playoff appearance since 2011.  With the addition of pitchers Zach Greinke and Shelby Miller, the D’backs will move ahead of both the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.  Plus, they already have the best hitter in the National League in Paul Goldschmidt.  Their Achilles heel could be their bullpen, but I’m thinking their front-office gurus, Tony LaRussa and Dave Stewart, will not be afraid to make some in-season adjustments if necessary.  (Footnote: This past weekend the D’backs lost all-star centerfielder A. J. Pollock to an elbow injury that may keep him on the disabled list the entire season.  This could materially affect their ability to win the division, but I’ve decided to stay with my original thinking on their projected finish anyway.)

I’m picking the Giants to finish second.  After all, they have won World Series championships in the last three even-numbered years, so they are automatically considered a contender again, right?  Seriously, while there are some questions about whether offseason additions Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto will actually provide a much-needed boost to Giants’ pitching, I think the change of venue for both hurlers will be good for them as they line up behind ace Madison Bumgarner.  The Giants have the best manager in the game right now in future Hall of Famer Bruce Bochy, and I believe he will do his magic again.

The Dodgers will miss the playoffs for the first time in three years, as Dave Roberts gets his feet wet as a first-time manager.  As usual, the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies will lag behind the pack.

NL Central

The three best teams in the National League last year were all in the Central division.  In 2016, the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Chicago Cubs could easily find themselves in the same boat again.  This division was the toughest for me to pick, but I’m actually going with the Pirates to raise the “Jolly Roger” and finally surpass the Cardinals.  The Pirates have a versatile roster, and I believe perennial MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen will be a big difference-maker.

Then I like the Cubs to edge out the Cardinals for second place.  The Joe Maddon “cult” following will continue to grow and keep the club energized.  On the field, the Cubs added some veteran leadership to last year’s young lineup with Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.  However if the team has a weakness, it would be in starting pitching, as there is a pretty good drop-off after Jake Arrieta and John Lester.

The Cardinals, who have been the best regular season team in both leagues for several years now, are going through somewhat of a makeover now.  Their farm system, probably the best in all of the big leagues, has indeed supplied some good prospects, but they will need more seasoning in order for the team to stay atop of the division.  I still believe they could be a wild-card contender though.

The Brewers and Reds are going through massive re-building efforts, and I don’t expect them to be competitive this year and maybe for a few years more.

NL East

Even though the New York Mets made a significant leap last year in getting to the World Series, I’m not buying into their being a repeat contender yet.  Yeah, I know they have some of the best young arms in baseball that overpower a lot of teams, but they will still struggle to score runs as they did last year.  Last year’s World Series against the Royals highlighted that weakness, and the Mets front office didn’t do much to change that.

I like the Washington Nationals to win the division.  New manager Dusty Baker will bring the type of winning attitude the club needs.  With his influence, I predict Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon will be best buddies by the end of the season.  They were a team marred by injury last season, so that will be a critical factor again.  I like Anthony Rendon to rebound with a big season to better support MVP slugger Bryce Harper.

I’m picking the Miami Marlins to finish ahead of the Mets for second place.  They were supposed to have contended last season, but the loss of Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton for significant parts of the season hurt their chances.  Plus, they were a team in disarray with interim manager Dan Jennings, who had never been in the dugout before.  New manager Don Mattingly will fix that, and we’ll see if new hitting coach Barry Bonds will have an effect on the team’s offense.

The Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are in the midst of their complete team make-overs and won’t contend for play-off spots this year.

Recapping my 2016 picks:

AL West – 1) Rangers, 2) Astros (wild-card)

AL Central – 1) Royals

AL East – 1) Yankees, 2) Blue Jays (wild card)

NL West – 1) Diamondbacks, 2) Giants (wild card)

NL Central – 1) Pirates, 2) Cubs (wild card)

NL East -- 1) Nationals

For the World Series, I’m picking the Rangers vs. the Giants, a repeat of the finalists for the 2010 World Series.  However, this time the Rangers will finally get their long-awaited World Series ring.

Are Baseball Geeks Making the Game Too Complicated?

I was recently reading some presentation material from the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) Analytics Conference held in Phoenix in mid-March, and it struck me that all the new advanced metrics being used by baseball’s analysts, general managers, scouts, and player development staff are significantly influencing the game.  Normally, I’m not a person who’s opposed to change, but I’m not so sure the evolution occurring in the game right now, being driven by data analytics, is good for maintaining a broad fan base.

At a time when the sport is already being challenged to preserve its current followers and attract a new, sustainable fan base, many aspects of the game seem to be getting more complicated to follow and understand.

We can thank the book “Moneyball” for starting the evolution about fifteen years ago, but the use of advanced data analytics has been growing exponentially since then.  All of the major league clubs are now spending significant dollars on staff and technology to develop baseball strategies that differentiate themselves from their competition.  A new breed of geeks has emerged in the game.  They scour all sorts of new baseball data sources, looking for an edge to put the right players on the field and implement game tactics that ultimately allow them to win more games.

No one can fault major league teams for wanting to win more games.  I wish the Yankees, my favorite team, would put up more Ws in the win column.  But trying to keep up with all the new baseball acronyms and terminology being directed by data analytics is often confounding and quite frankly frustrating.  If not careful, I’m afraid the sport will lose the casual fan versus gaining more.

What has resulted are new, derived metrics for measuring such factors as defensive runs saved by a fielder, the pitcher’s performance independent of his fielders, an outfielder’s efficiency in tracking down fly balls, an infielder’s range and velocity of throws, and the velocity of a pitched ball coming off a batter’s bat.

Furthermore, there is relatively new data being captured to measure player health.  It doesn’t come from the box scores or the radar measurement technology, but from more subjective input from the stringers (the officials in Organized Baseball who collect data about every pitch in major league and minor league games) who now record events such as players limping, catchers being hit in the head by foul balls, and players missing games due to minor muscle strains.

These are all intriguing types of stats, but when they become the predominant way in which a player’s ability and value to a team are measured, I believe the complexity increases for the average fan.

It makes me wonder if the game is being over-analyzed now.  For many years, we used simple metrics such as batting average, home runs, and runs batted in (for batters); and wins, losses, earned run average, and strikeouts (for pitchers) to evaluate player performance.  These metrics were representative of performance the average fan could actually see at the games.  Nowadays, the old-fashioned ways of evaluating players to tell which are fair, good, and best, seem to have been overtaken by a reliance on some major league back-office analyst crunching huge amounts of data with some complicated algorithms.

Call it being “old school” or whatever label you want, but I believe the folks in the business of baseball some are trying to make the game too much of a science.  If we’re not careful, all the fun will be taken out of the game.  If Yogi Berra were still around, he’d probably describe the situation by saying something like, “baseball is too simple of a game to be complicated.”  I’d agree with him.

Wineski Clan Could Stake Claim as NOLA's First Family of Baseball

Each spring gives us the chance to survey the landscape of baseball diamonds for new and returning players and coaches.  One familiar name that has been around New Orleans area playground, high school, and college fields for the past sixty years is the Wineski family.

If there was such an honor as the “first family of New Orleans baseball”, the Wineskis would surely be one of the finalists for it.  They are an accomplished group of relatives who have shared a passion for baseball spanning three generations.  Altogether there are nine Wineski baseball players that originated from the New Orleans area, including several who are still active in the game.

Lou Wineski Jr., who died in 2010, began this family tree that developed a baseball heritage, going back to his high school days at Holy Cross in the mid-1950s.  He had three ball-playing sons, Lou III, Bobby, and Ray.  They then produced a third generation of diamond players, including Lou III’s two sons, Paul and Ben; Robert’s two sons, Robert and Daniel; and Ray’s son, Peyton.

Growing up in New Orleans’ 9th Ward, Lou Jr. was an all-prep and all-state baseball player for Holy Cross High School (1955 graduate) before attending Loyola University on a baseball scholarship, where he obtained his degree in secondary education in 1961.

Lou Jr. taught and coached at Holy Cross before eventually owning and operating a furniture store in Chalmette.  He was a long-time volunteer coach in recreational sports in New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish.  His leadership led to the founding of the Holy Cross Athletic Association of which he was the first president.

The three sons of Lou Jr. learned to play baseball through their involvement at the playground with their father.  According to Ray, “There was a trickle-down effect from one brother to the next, as to how we became familiar with the game.  ”When asked about whether a competitive spirit existed among the three brothers, Lou III offered, “We were far enough apart from each other in age that we really didn’t have that much competition among us on organized teams.”  Their father didn’t push them to participate in baseball, but Lou III made note of the fact that it was an era before video games, and the entertainment options were more limited at the time.  Besides that, they liked hanging out at the playground with dad.

Lou III (1977 graduate), Bobby (1984 graduate), and Ray (1987 graduate) followed in their father’s footsteps by playing high school baseball at Holy Cross.

In 1977 Lou III played for the Holy Cross-based American Legion team that was state champion.  He also played for the New Orleans Boosters in the 1978 national AAABA tournament in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where they came within one out of winning the championship against Detroit in a 12-inning game.  Lou III recalls facing pitcher Orel Hershiser in the tournament, who went on to an 18-year major league career that included a Cy Young Award in 1988 as the National League’s best pitcher.

Ray remembers the entire family travelling to the tournament in Johnstown.  Coincidentally, it was a return trip for their father, who had played on the 1956 Boosters team that finished in third place in the national competition.

Lou III received a scholarship to play baseball at Nicholls State University.  The middle infielder was nominated as an All-American candidate in 1980 and became the team’s MVP in 1982.  He had an opportunity to sign as a non-drafted free agent with the major league Philadelphia Phillies organization, but opted not to pursue a pro career.

Ray missed his high school graduation ceremony due to playing in the high school state finals for Holy Cross against Rummel.  He appeared in a Louisiana state-wide all-star game at Alex Box Stadium on the LSU campus during his senior year.  He earned a scholarship to play baseball at Tulane University from 1987 to 1990.  Ray recalls that when he was being recruited by Tulane, Coach Joe Brockhoff acknowledged the Wineski family’s background in New Orleans area baseball.  Also an infielder, Ray played on Tulane teams that appeared in NCAA regional tournaments in Baton Rouge and Tallahassee.  He was a teammate of such players as Tookie Spann and Gerald Alexander, who went on to professional careers.

Lou III and Ray followed in their father’s footsteps again, this time as coaches at the high school level.  Lou III is in his 30th year as a coach, currently at Holy Cross, where he has spent most of his career.  He has also coached at De La Salle and St. Martin’s.  Ray is in his fourth year at Fontainebleau High School in Mandeville, after having worked as a territory manager for Shaw Industries.

The third generation of Wineskis includes Lou Jr.’s five grandsons who didn’t fall far from the baseball family tree.

Lou III’s two sons, Paul and Ben, continued the Wineski tradition of playing baseball at Holy Cross.  Paul graduated in 2003, played two years at Delgado Community College, and then finished at Nicholls State.  Ben graduated from Holy Cross in 2005, but did not pursue baseball further.  Paul also continued the Wineski coaching tradition and is currently at Riverside High School.

Bobby moved his family away from New Orleans in 2001, and his sons, Robert and Daniel, wound up playing high school baseball in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  Their 2007 team won the state championship.  Robert received an academic scholarship to Harvard University, where he played baseball.  Daniel competed for Gulf Coast Community College for two years before graduating in 2015 from the University of Southern Mississippi on a baseball scholarship.

Ray’s son, Petyon, played high school baseball at Fontainebleau, where he graduated in 2015.  His team won a district championship during his junior season.  He is the latest edition of the Wineski baseball family to play at the college level, as a freshman for Bishop State Community College in Mobile, Alabama.

As is often the case for many fathers, the Wineskis were often the coaches of their sons on area playground teams.  But it wasn’t until they found themselves having to coach their sons at the high school level that it became somewhat awkward.  Lou III, coaching Paul and Ben at Holy Cross said, “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do.”  Similarly, Ray coached Peyton at Fontainebleau.  Ray remarked about the situation, “It was sometimes hard to separate the coach and dad responsibilities.”  However, both coaching fathers said they were fortunate their sons’ talent took over on the field, making it easier to avoid favoritism situations with respect to their teammates.

One of the other common links on the baseball diamond across the three generations of Wineskis was the influence of the Scheuermann coaches from New Orleans.  Legendary baseball coach Rags Scheuermann was Lou Jr.’s college coach at Loyola, and he also coached Lou Jr. and Lou III on their respective New Orleans Boosters tournament teams.  Rags’ son, Joe, the highly successful coach at Delgado, coached Paul Wineski during his two seasons at the community college.  Furthermore, Joe was an assistant coach at Tulane when Ray played for the Green Wave.

When asked whether he thought family genes had much to do with the family’s tradition of playing baseball, Lou III remarked, “I’m sure it did.  You have to have a special talent to play the game at a high level.  But the baseball environment we grew up in also contributed to our being able to play at those levels.”

The Wineski family has hopes that a fourth generation of baseball players is in the works.  Paul and Daniel recently celebrated the births of their sons.

The Wineskis are one of several prominent baseball families from the New Orleans area.  Long-time followers of local baseball will remember other names such as Gilbert, Staub, Butera, Cabeceiras, Graffagnini, Hughes, Pontiff, Schwaner, Whitman, and Zimmerman.  The website has an extensive list of over 1,200 players from high schools in the New Orleans area that went on to play at college or pro levels.

Five MLB Players Poised for Big Years

Every spring there are a number of major league players who seem to be primed for a big year.  There are usually several scenarios that contribute to this, such as a player who is looking to have a breakout year, rebound from last year’s injury-plagued season, on the verge of stardom, or benefitting from a change of teams.

Last year, we had the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez attempting a comeback from missing the entire 2014 season of baseball because of his drug-related suspension.  Rookie Kris Bryant of the Cubs led all spring training hitters by slugging eleven home runs, thus laying his claim to a starting role at third base.  Dallas Keuchel was being positioned for the top of the rotation role for the Astros.

I’ve come up with five players I think are poised for productive seasons in 2016.  Indeed if these players are successful, I believe they will have significant impacts on their teams getting to post-season play and possibly winning a championship.

 Justin Upton

At age 28, Justin Upton has already logged nine major league seasons, where his 162 Game Average is 26 home runs and 84 RBI.  Despite these numbers, he’s become somewhat of a journeyman outfielder the past few years, since his 2016 team, the Detroit Tigers, will be his fourth in five years.  As a result, his offensive contributions have largely gone unnoticed and unappreciated.  The Tigers added Upton to their roster during the off-season, where he figures to add to an already potent offense that includes Miguel Cabrera, J. D. Martinez, Victor Martinez, and Ian Kinsler.  With that kind of power around him, Upton is expected to lift his game even further. The Tigers missed the playoffs in 2015 for the first time in five years.  With Upton and an upgraded pitching staff, the Tigers seem ready to be highly competitive in a tough division.

 Hunter Pence

The San Francisco Giants never really threatened the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers last season, and one of the reasons was that Hunter Pence was on the disabled list for two-thirds of the season.  The Giants missed his bat and hustle in the lineup, as well as his eccentric inspirational leadership in the clubhouse.  The Giants added some much-needed depth in their pitching staff with the acquisition of veterans Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija and thus figure to be in the hunt again for a playoff berth this season.  Pence will be back in right field full time and resume his a sparkplug role in their resurgence attempt.  After all, it is an even-numbered year and we all know what happened in the last three such years—the Giants won a World Series.

 Francisco Lindor

The Astros’ Carlos Correa stole most of the headlines last year as the next up-and-coming superstar shortstop in the major leagues, but Francisco Lindor actually wasn’t too far behind him in overall talent.  Lindor wasn’t a surprise to his own Cleveland Indians organization since he had been on their top prospect lists for several years, but he finally reached the maturity level to show that he belongs in their everyday starting lineup.  He showed surprising power for a shortstop after his major league debut in mid-June, as he hit 12 home runs in his 99 games.  He can hit pretty much anywhere in the lineup, but will probably wind up in the leadoff spot because the Indians don’t have other suitable candidates right now.  The Indians finished strong last year after a horrible start.  They may have the best starting rotation in the American League, so Lindor’s arrival in the big leagues comes at a good time, as they bid for their first division title since 2007.

 Anthony Rendon

The Washington Nationals’ Rendon had his breakout season in 2014, as he settled in at the third base position and began hitting like his all of his scouting reports projected he would.  As a result, he wound up in fifth place in the National League MVP voting that year.  However, he took a step back in 2015 when injuries befell him, and he also had to split time between second and third base.  He’s healthy now and back at third base, his normal position.  Rendon will combine with MVP teammate Bryce Harper to provide a solid 3-4 punch in the middle of the Nationals’ lineup.  New manager Dusty Baker will infuse a new attitude into a disorganized Nationals team from last season and Rendon should return to his 2014 form.  Both of these factors will contribute to a Nationals team that will pose a serious challenge in 2016 to the defending division and league champion New York Mets.

 George Springer

The Houston Astros surprised a lot of people in 2015, maybe even themselves, by leading the division most of the season and ultimately making the divisional playoffs through a wild card game victory.  Their well-designed youth movement kicked in at least one year earlier than even they considered, and outfielder George Springer has been a key part of that, along with Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa.  Through a season and a half of his major league career so far, Springer has been building up for a break-out season, which should happen this year.  Since his offensive game includes a good combination of power and speed, he should be good for 25 home runs, 85 RBI, and 20 stolen bases in a full 2016 season.  That type of production would help propel the Astros to another playoff season.

MLB at the Forefront of Developing US Relations with Cuba

Major League Baseball announced last week the Tampa Bay Rays will play an exhibition against the Cuban National Team in Havana on March 22.  It’s another sign that the sport is taking the lead in opening the doors wider to the forlorn country, helping facilitate the U.S. government’s intention to improve international relations with Cuba.  But there’s also a big reason why the MLB taking such a highly visible approach.

The last time an American major league team played in Cuba was in 1999, when the Baltimore Orioles played an exhibition game there. The door to American baseball in Cuba has been closed since 1959, when Fidel Castro’s rebels overthrew a pro-American government.  Prior to that, some of the U. S. baseball franchises had maintained affiliated minor league teams in Havana.

Cuba has shared a love for baseball with America, going back to the “sugar cane” leagues of the early 1900s.  Castro was a huge supporter of baseball in Cuba during his dictatorship.  Baseball is still king in Cuba.  But the shared passion for the sport has also been a source of contention between the two countries, since Cuban players are not allowed to freely immigrate to American soil to play baseball.

Fifteen months ago, the United States announced its intention to pursue the re-establishment of political and economic relationships with Cuba.  Since then, the MLB has applied for special permission from the U.S. government to allow teams to sign players in Cuba and is awaiting a response.  Approval would permit the MLB to negotiate a player-transfer agreement with the Cuban Baseball Federation.

Since the earliest days of the major leagues in 1871, there have been over 200 players from Cuba to play in the major leagues.  Current major league players who left Cuba to play in the U.S. include MLB All-Stars such as Jose Abreu (White Sox), Yasiel Puig (Dodgers), Yoenis Cespedes (Mets), Kendrys Morales (Royals), Aroldis Chapman (Yankees), and Yasmani Grandal (Dodgers).

Most of these players had to leave under personally dangerous circumstances in order to escape from Cuba and eventually find their way to the United States to play baseball.  However, these players formerly starred for Cuban national teams that were highly successful in international tournaments, and their skills translated well to the American game.  Indeed, the Cuban players have made an impact on today’s game.

There were a record 150 baseball player defections in Cuba last year, according to Cuban journalist Francys Romero.  The latest to attract significant attention included brothers Yulieski and Lourdes Gurriel, who deserted a Cuban team traveling in the Dominican Republic in February of this year.  They come from a prominent baseball family in Cuba, and their intention is to wind up in the United States to sign professional contracts.

The MLB has an obvious motive in encouraging the relations between the U. S. and Cuba.  They see a bevy of potential talent coming from Cuba and want to expand the possibilities of openly acquiring the best players coming from there.  Major league teams are licking their chops for the opportunity to find more players like Abreu, Cespedes, and Puig.

The MLB has had real success in recruiting and developing Latino players from the Caribbean, Central American, and South American countries, especially since the mid-1960s.  The major league organizations have already established baseball academies in several of the Latin countries to develop prospects, many as young as sixteen years old, in the American way of baseball.  Cuba is the next frontier for Major League Baseball.

Several Cuban-born major leaguers took a much publicized trip to Cuba during the winter as ambassadors for Major League Baseball, further contributing to the thawing of past relationships between the United States and Cuba.  The players conducted clinics with Cuban youngsters who had a keen awareness of their instructors, already their heroes.  Another benefit of the trip was the major leaguers were able to reconnect with family members and friends they had not seen since they defected from Cuba.

President Obama will attend the exhibition baseball game later in the month.  That’s a significant milestone in the two countries’ relationship, since the last American president to visit Cuba while in office was Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

It’s too early to tell how long it will take before the doors to Cuban baseball players will open wider.  A lot still has to happen politically between the two countries.  But you can bet Major League Baseball will be anxiously waiting to harvest more talent from Cuba.  In the meantime, the common love for the game of baseball will likely continue to be an avenue for making it happen.

Trio of Alou Brothers Made History in 1963

On September 13, 1963, brothers Felipe, Jesus, and Matty Alou made baseball history when they played in the same outfield for the San Francisco Giants.  At the time, the occasion may have been a promotional gimmick by the Giants, since Matty and Jesus were at the beginning of their careers, surrounded by uncertainty they would be sticking around with the Giants much longer since they were competing for regular jobs with their older brother and future Hall of Famers, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey.  Regardless, the feat hasn’t occurred again since.


As it turned out though, all three Alou brothers wound up having significant careers in the major leagues, altogether encompassing 47 seasons.  Felipe and Matty became all-stars, Matty won a batting championship, and Jesus was a member of two World Series championship teams.  Felipe also had a 10-year managerial career.


The Alous’ extended baseball family eventually included other major leaguers, nephew Mel Rojas and cousin Jose Sosa.  Felipe had several sons who also played professional baseball, including Moises who became a major league all-star himself.  Mel Rojas’s brother and son were minor leaguer players.


Following is a look back at the careers of the history-making Alou brothers.


Felipe Alou

Felipe began his baseball career with very humble beginnings.  Born into a poor family in the Dominican Republic, gloves made out of strips of canvas and bats lathed from scrap wood were his first exposure to baseball.  While he excelled in baseball and track as a youngster, it was his parents’ desire that become a doctor.  In fact, he enrolled in the university for one year with his tuition paid by the state.  But it soon became evident he would not have enough money for the books, clothing and food required to stay in school.


After attracting attention in the Pam American Games, the New York Giants signed him to a contract at age 20 and sent him to Lake Charles, Louisiana, in the Evangeline League.  He immediately became controversial because this league did not allow black players at that time.  His mother was a white native of Spain and his father was black.  However, the Louisiana governor’s office declared he was black, forcing the Giants to ship him to the Florida State League after only five games at Lake Charles.


Felipe was the first of the three Alou brothers to play in the major leagues.  Considered an everyday, consistent player, he played 17 total seasons, primarily with the Giants and Braves.  He broke in with the Giants on June 8, 1958, their first year on the West Coast.  It was at a time when Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Orlando Cepeda were getting all the attention on the club.  However, Felipe hit .316 and a career-high 98 RBI for the NL pennant-winning Giants in 1962.


After being traded to Milwaukee in 1964, he led the National League in at-bats and hits in 1966 and 1968.  He finished second in batting average to his brother Matty in 1966, the only time this happened in major league history.  That same year, he hit a career-high 31 home runs.   He appeared in the first League Championship Series in 1969, when Atlanta faced the New York Mets. 


Felipe was often placed in the batting lineup as a leadoff hitter.  On two occasions, July 26-27, 1965, and August 9-10, 1966, he hit leadoff home runs in consecutive games.  He is among the career leaders in leadoff home runs with 20. He combined with four other Giants players to hit consecutive home runs in the 9th inning of a game on August 31, 1961.  On another occasion, April 30, 1961, he hit one of eight homes in a game by Giants players against the Braves.  In 1968 he had a 22-game hitting streak with the Braves.


At the end of the 1969 season, Felipe was traded to the Oakland Athletics and finished his career in the American League by 1974.  During his career, he made the All-Star team three times.  Felipe was one of only three players in history to play for the Milwaukee Braves and Brewers teams.  Hank Aaron and Phil Roof were the others.


Felipe spent twelve years managing in the minor leagues, as well as many seasons of winter ball in the Dominican Republic. He became the first Dominican manager in the majors when he succeeded Tom Runnells of the Montreal Expos in May 1992.   He had previously coached at every level in the Expos organization.  Although he was noted for his low-key approach, his philosophy of managing was simple:  “Don’t be afraid to fail.  Play to win, don’t play not to lose.”  His initial Montreal clubs included his son, Moises, and nephew, Mel Rojas.


Felipe resurrected the Expos franchise, finishing first or second in four of his first five seasons.  He was selected the National League Manager of the Year in the strike-shortened season of 1994.  He led a young Expos team to the best record in the majors that year, but unfortunately the team did not play in the post-season, because of the strike.


The Expos operated with a lean budget and as a result the players were consistently among the lowest paid in the league.  Yet Alou was noted for being somewhat of a miracle worker by getting the most out the talent dealt him.  However, with the Expos competing in the same division with the best National League team of the ‘90s, the Atlanta Braves, they could never rise above a mediocre status.


He became the manager of the San Francisco Giants for 2003 and promptly led them to a NL West Division title by winning 100 games, their most since 1993.  He managed the Giants for three more seasons before becoming a special assistant to the Giants’ general manager.


During his playing career, Felipe compiled a .286 batting average, 2,101 hits, 985 runs, 206 home runs, and 852 RBI.  He was a three-time All-Star and finished fifth in the National League MVP voting in 1966, when he had a career year leading the league in hits, runs, and total bases.  As a manager, his career record was 1,033 wins and 1,021 losses.


In addition to major leaguer Moises Alou, Felipe had three other sons who played baseball professionally.  Luis Rojas was signed by the Orioles.  Jose Alou played in the Expos organization, while Felipe Alou Jr. played in the Royals organization.  He also had another nephew, Francisco Rojas, who played in the major leagues.



Jesus Alou

Jesus was the youngest of the three Alou brothers who played in the major leagues.  He was signed by the Giants as a 16-year-old and began his professional career in 1959 as a pitcher.  He converted to an outfielder and made his major league debut on September 10, 1963, with the San Francisco Giants. 


He played a total of six seasons with the Giants, hitting .298 and .292 in two of those seasons.  Like his brother Matty, he was not known as a power hitter, with 9 home runs and 52 RBI in 1965 being his career best in each of those categories.


When the National League expanded after the 1968 season, Jesus was drafted by the Montreal Expos from the expansion player list, but they traded him to Houston for the 1969 season.


He played three full seasons and part of a fourth for the Astros, and then was traded to Oakland just in time to help them into the World Series in 1973.  In 1974 as a reserve outfielder, he again appeared with Oakland in their third straight World Series.  He played for the Mets in 1975, sat out for two years, and then completed his career with two more years at Houston.  Beginning in 1972 he was frequently filling a pinch-hitter role and finished his career with 82 pinch-hits.


Jesus got six hits in a game on July 10, 1964, against the Cubs.  Each of his hits came off a different pitcher.  On July 17, 1966, he equaled a National League record when he grounded into a double play three times in the second game of a doubleheader.


For his career, he hit for a .280 average and produced 1,126 hits, 32 home runs and 377 RBI.  When he got his 1,000th career hit with the Astros in 1972, it made the Alou brothers the only major league trio to get over 1,000 hits in their careers.  In 1979, he was a coach for the Houston Astros.



Matty Alou

Matty followed his older brother’s footsteps with the San Francisco Giants when he made his major league debut on September 26, 1960.  He spent six seasons with the Giants as a reserve player, primarily because the Giants’ outfield was already crowded with such hitters as Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Harvey Kuenn, and his brothers.


Matty was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates after the 1965 season, and he immediately became a star as a full-time player.  He led the National League in hitting (.342) in 1966, beating out his brother Felipe, who finished in second place.  That year he was part of a .300-hitting outfield with Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente.  Matty would go on to be among the top ten in his league in batting average and top five in hits for five more seasons.  He is one of eight major league players who got 200 hits in a season (1970) and still batter under .300.


Following his five-year stint with the Pirates, he played with the Cardinals, A’s, Yankees and Padres, still managing to hit well.


Matty retired after the 1974 season with a .307 career batting average, 1,777 hits and 236 doubles.  He had very little power, as he hit only 31 home runs and 427 RBI over fifteen seasons.  In fact, in 1968 he went an entire season (558 at-bats) with no home runs. 


Matty appeared in World Series games with the Giants in 1962 and Oakland A’s in 1972.  He was a National League All-Star in 1968 and 1969.  Following his major league career, he played three years for the Taiheiyo Club Lions in Japan.

Are the KC Royals the new Yankees?

The Kansas City Royals are entering the 2016 season seeking their third consecutive American League pennant.  Just a few years ago, the Texas Rangers failed in their attempt.  Of course, it used to be pretty routine during the Yankee dynasty years for them to claim a string of consecutive pennants.  Despite being the defending World Series champion, practically no one is picking the Royals to repeat this year.  They don’t play with a lot of flash and don’t have marquee players, so they’re somewhat under-estimated and overlooked. However, we may be seeing the start of a new style of baseball dynasty.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore has constructed a team whose offense is built around hitters that make contact, don’t strike out a lot, and run the bases aggressively.  Their pitching mainly relies on a starting rotation that only needs to get into the sixth inning and then turns the game over to its “lights out” relief staff.  They don’t give up a lot of home runs and walks, and boast the third-best ERA in the league last year.

That’s not exactly the traditional recipe for championship teams, but the ingredients were good enough in 2015 when the Royals won the AL Central Division by twelve games, beat the upstart Astros and high-scoring Blue Jays in the playoffs, and then overcame the Mets’ dominant pitching to capture the World Series title.

The other key element of their winning formula was a team chemistry focused around a core of players who have come through the Royals’ system together and are tightly woven together by homespun skipper Ned Yost.  Yost is a throw-back manager, not one of the new breed of young game tacticians that seem to be taking hold throughout the league.  Yet he’s found a way to get championship results for the past two seasons.

The backbone of the Royals’ lineup includes home-grown players such as Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas, Luke Hochevar, Yordano Ventura and Kelvin Herrera.  Including the addition of Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar who were acquired by the Royals early in their careers, the Royals gave all of these guys a chance to develop as players, even though the team went through some lean years to get to this point.  A testament to the success of this deliberate approach was the selection of seven Royals to the All-Star Game last year.

In an era of significant movement of players among teams via trades and free agency, the Royals have managed to maintain consistency in their roster for the past few years.  Unlike almost every other aspect of the game, there are no analytics for measuring the value or contribution of this consistency to team success.  It’s a differentiator some other general managers in the league would love to have.

Apparently the Royals’ players are buying into the team’s approach, too, since free agent Alex Gordon inked a new four-year deal with the Royals.  Additionally, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas extended their current contracts by two years, before their arbitration years were expired.  These signings say a lot for team chemistry as well.

The Royals had some turnover in their pitching staff over the winter, with the loss of free agents Johnny Cueto, Ryan Madson, Jeremy Guthrie, and Franklin Morales.  But they’ve re-stocked with starters Ian Kennedy and Dillon Gee and will rely on last year’s late-season acquisition of Kris Medlin, all of whom fit the Royals’ model for starting pitchers who only need to go five or six innings.  Veteran reliever Joakim Soria was acquired to offset losses in the bullpen.  The Royals relish getting into the seventh inning with a lead, since their relief staff has been as good as any team’s.

History says the odds are against the Royals to repeat as American League champs for a third consecutive season.  In fact, some baseball analysts believe the Royals will have a hard time even repeating as division winners, since their competition figures to be improved over since last season.  The Twins are a young team on the rise, surprising everyone with a second place finish last season.  The Indians, who many had projected to win the division last year, has one of the best starting rotations in the league.  The White Sox and Tigers made key acquisitions during the off-season to bolster their lineups.

However, the Royals, with its team largely intact from last season, have the fundamentals and chemistry built for the long haul.  No, they’re not like the typical New York Yankee dynasty teams of yesteryear.  The Royals don’t have the big-name free-agent players and power-laden lineup.  They don’t play in a large media market.  They don’t thrive on controversy.

But what the Royals do have is a proven winning approach, one that we may be talking about for years to come.



Sons of the 1960s Bronx Bombers Had Big Shoes to Fill

The New York Yankees dynasty that began in the early 1920s continued into the 1960s with five consecutive American League pennants from 1960 to 1964.  Included in the streak were World Series championships in 1961 and 1962.

Those teams featured some of the greatest Yankee legends of the all-time, including Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Roger Maris.  In addition to these renowned players, several other regulars and backups on these Yankee teams had sons who eventually played professional baseball themselves.

It’s not unusual for sons to try to follow their father’s professions.  For example, how many families have produced multiple generations of doctors, lawyers, farmers and soldiers?  It’s been no different for the sons of baseball players.

But it does seem a bit remarkable that so many of the Yankee players of this era had sons who went on to follow in their father’s baseball footsteps.  Altogether, fourteen Yankee players produced 21 sons that pursued professional baseball careers. 

For the sons of the Yankee players, one might say they were born into baseball because of the environment in which they were raised.  A few of the sons were legitimate pro prospects coming out of amateur baseball at the high school and collegiate levels.  However, several of them only got a shot a pro baseball because of their father’s name and Yankee background, especially those sons who signed as undrafted free agents or as late-round draft picks.  A couple of the sons had significant major league careers, but most of the progenies didn’t make it past the low minors.

Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle came from a family of ballplayers from Oklahoma.  His two younger brothers, Ray and Roy, and a cousin, Maxie, managed to get tryouts with the Yankees organization, but lasted only a couple of minor league seasons, having nowhere near the talent of “The Mick.”  But their shortfalls didn’t deter Mickey from encouraging one of his sons, also named Mickey, to try his hand at the game.  One can only imagine the pressure on a son named Mickey Mantle trying to break into the game.  The younger Mickey played only 17 games for a Class A team in the Yankees organization in 1978 and quickly gave up the game.

One of the best catchers of all time, Yankee Hall of Famer Yogi Berra produced three sons who went on to play professional sports.  His oldest son, Laurence, was a catcher in the New York Mets organization, but wound up playing only a total of 22 games during the 1971 and 1972 seasons.  His son, Tim, however went in the direction of football, becoming the 17th round draft pick of the Baltimore Colts in 1974.  Tim played one season for the Colts, primarily as a punt returner.

Dale Berra had the most significant career of Yogi’s sons, as he had an 11-year career in the majors spanning 1977 to 1987.  However, the shortstop didn’t have his dad’s hitting ability.  His career batting average was a meager .236, to go along with 49 home runs and 278 RBI.  In 1985 and 1986, Dale also played for the Yankees, when his father was a coach for the team.

The son of Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford, Eddie, was an excellent college shortstop at the University of South Carolina, where Whitey’s former teammate Bobby Richardson was the head coach.  Eddie became the first round pick of the Boston Red Sox in the 1974 Major League Draft.  Although never a great hitter in the minors, he reached the Triple-A level before quitting baseball.

Roger Maris made his mark in Yankee history with his historic 61 home run season in 1961 and his two American League MVP campaigns in 1960 and 1961.  His son, Kevin, signed with the St. Louis Cardinals organization as an undrafted free agent in 1982.  However, it turned out Kevin didn’t have the same propensity for hitting as his father did, since the infielder played only one minor league season in which he managed to hit only .111 in 33 games.

As the slick-fielding third baseman on those Yankee teams, Clete Boyer was one of seven brothers who played baseball professionally.  Two of them, Ken and Cloyd, also played in the majors.  Clete had two sons, Brett and Mickey, who pursued professional careers.  Mickey, named after Mickey Mantle, played one season in the Oakland A’s organization, while Brett played five seasons in the Montreal Expos and San Francisco Giants minor league organizations, never rising above Class A level.

Tom Tresh was slated to be the heir apparent to Tony Kubek as the New York Yankee shortstop in the 1960’s, and he lived up to expectations as the American League Rookie of the Year in 1962.  Tom’s father, Mike, had been a former major leaguer during the late 1930s and 1940s.  Tom’s son, Mickey (also named after Mickey Mantle), attempted to become a third-generation major leaguer in the Tresh family, but he fell short after playing four minor league seasons in the Yankees and Detroit Tigers organizations.

Mel Stottlemyre broke in with the Yankees in 1964 and proceeded to play 11 seasons, winning 20 or more games in three seasons on his way to compiling 164 career wins.  Among his three sons that played professional baseball, the most prominent was Todd, who won 138 career major league games over 13 seasons during 1988 to 2002.  Mel Jr. had 13 major league appearances in 1992 with the Kansas City Royals, while he also pitched a total of six seasons in the minors.  Jeffrey pitched four minor league seasons in the Seattle Mariners organization from 1980 to 1983.

Bill Stafford pitched for the Yankees from 1960 to 1965.  As a member of the starting rotation, he won 14 games in each of the 1961 and 1962 seasons when the Yankees won World Series titles.  His son, Mike, was the 41st round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays out of Ohio State University in 1998.  A relief pitcher, Mike appeared in four minor league seasons that also included stints with the Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers.

Pitcher Stan Williams had two seasons with the Yankees as a spot starter and reliever in 1963 and 1964.  His son, Stan Jr., was a 38th round pick by the Yankees from the University of Southern California in 1981.  He played two minor league seasons in the Yankees farm system before leaving baseball.

Once touted as the Yankees’ potential center field replacement for Mickey Mantle whose injuries had begun to slow him down considerably, Roger Repoz wound up being a platoon player who was ultimately traded by the Yankees.  He had two sons that pursued pro baseball, albeit resulting in brief careers.  Craig was a third baseman who spent six minor league seasons in the Mets and Padres organizations from 1985 to 1990.  Jeff pitched sparingly in two seasons in Low A and Rookie League levels in 1989 and 1990.

Several other players who made brief appearances for the early 1960s Yankee teams also had sons in professional baseball.  The fathers included Deron Johnson (sons Dom and D. J.), Billy Gardner (son Billy Jr.), Lee Thomas (sons Scott and Deron), and Bill Kunkel (sons Kevin and Jeff).  Of this group of sons, only Jeff Kunkel made it to the major leagues.

Although the son of 1963 American League MVP Elston Howard wound up not playing professional baseball, Elston Howard Jr. did play at the collegiate level at Dade Community College in Florida and the University of Alabama.  When Elston Jr. was not drafted by a major league team, he didn’t pursue a pro baseball career.

Looking back in baseball history, the Cincinnati Reds “Big Red Machine” teams of the 1970s had a similar circumstance as the New York Yankees teams of the 1960s.  Sixteen Reds players during their championship era produced 23 sons that went on to play professional baseball.  Nine of the sons reached the major league level, most notably Ken Griffey Jr.

The 1960s Yankee fathers probably had visions of their sons being the next generation of Bronx Bombers who would continue the dynasty.  For the most part, however, the offspring of these Yankee players didn’t come close to measuring up to their father’s productive major league careers. Perhaps Moises Alou, the son of a major leaguer and a former major leaguer himself, said it best, “If a player can’t hit, field, or throw, it doesn’t matter who his father was.”

In many respects, the shoes which the Yankee sons were trying to fill were much too big to expect similar results as their fathers.

Big Papi Will Leave a Big Void in the Game

On his 40th birthday in November, David Ortiz announced that the 2016 season would be his last.  One of baseball’s most popular players has decided he will hang up his spikes after his upcoming 20th big league season.  The love affair he’s had with Boston Red Sox fans and practically all baseball fans will finally come to an end.  It’s a pretty safe bet he will be sorely missed in a lot of ways.

Big Papi has made a name for himself as one of the best clutch hitters of his era.  His late-inning heroics throughout his Red Sox career became legendary.  Perhaps the best example of this was during the 2004 post-season when Ortiz led the Red Sox to their first World Series championship.  In Game 3 of the ALDS, he hit a walk-off home run in the 10th inning to defeat the Angels.  In the ALCS against the Yankees, he hit a walk-off home run in the 12th inning of Game 4 and then a walk-off single in the 14th inning of Game 5.

Ortiz’s career could have ended after that season, and he still would have been a cult hero in Red Sox Nation forever.  Before the start of the next season in 2005, Red Sox ownership presented him with a plaque declaring him “the greatest clutch-hitter in the history of the team.”  But his heroics didn’t end there.

He went on to become one of the most feared designated hitters in the game.  He’s currently the all-time leader in home runs, RBI and hits for a DH, as he helped lead the Red Sox to two more World Series championships in 2007 and 2013.

Ortiz’s performance as a dreaded pull hitter has caused opponents to routinely employ shifts of its infielders to counteract his hitting.  It was reminiscent of one of Boston’s forefathers, Ted Williams, against whom a similar shift became popular in the late ‘40s and ‘50s.  However, the left-handed hitting Ortiz became adept at challenging the shift by settling for singles off of Fenway’s Green Monster, rather than continually trying to pull home runs past Pesky Pole in right field.

Over the years, Ortiz’s reputation with the Red Sox hasn’t ended on the field.  He became the face of the Red Sox to baseball fans.  He merely added to his popularity with the Red Sox Nation when he made his now-famous appeal, including a spontaneous expletive, to the city of Boston to “stay strong” following the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.

Ortiz’s playful exuberance for the game became the hallmark of his persona.  His big, infectious smile made him a fan favorite, both young and old.  Only Big Papi could get away with taking a “selfie” with a United States president, as he did with Barack Obama on a visit the Red Sox made to the White House in 2014.

The Major League All Star Game festivities last year featured the selection of the “Franchise Four” for each major league team, as determined by on-line voting by fans.  Ortiz was named, along with Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Pedro Martinez, as the four greatest players in Red Sox history. Without question, Ortiz has been the most popular Red Sox player since Yastrzemski.

Ortiz is poised for his last hurrahs in 2016.  It’s likely he’ll be making a farewell tour of major league stadiums in the style of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera in recent years.  But it doesn’t matter what type of season he’ll have in 2016 season.  His place in baseball history is already secured, perhaps even including a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  For sure, his uniform Number 34 will eventually hang in Fenway Park alongside those of Williams, Cronin, Yastrzemski, Pesky and Doerr.

Whether or not we are a Red Sox fan, we should savor the final moments of Big Papi’s career this upcoming season.  We’ll be awfully fortunate if he’s able to find a way to stay in the game after his playing days are over.  Otherwise, there’ll be a big void that won’t likely be filled soon.

Detroit Tigers Primed for Contender Role Again

The Detroit Tigers dominated the American League Central Division from 2011 to 2014, but then suffered a significant drop-off last year when they won only 74 games to bring up the rear of the division.  However, during the offseason the team filled some holes in the roster with a few key acquisitions that should result in a more balanced team for 2016.  They’ll need this additional help since the competitive landscape of the Central Division has changed significantly.  If the Tigers can maintain a healthy team, they are poised to be in the hunt for a playoff spot again.

The Tigers already had a good core of players with future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, and Justin Verlander, although Father Time is creeping up on each of them.  But they’ve also had some infusion of talent with relative newcomers like J. D. Martinez, Jose Iglesias, and Nick Castellanos in the past couple of years.

Except for David Price, their starting pitching was a liability last season.  Verlander and another veteran pitcher, Anibal Sanchez, missed significant time due to injuries.  When the Tigers were clearly out of contention at the end of July, they dealt Price to the Toronto Blue Jays.  No one else on their staff really stepped up to fill the gaps.

Furthermore, there has been a revolving door to the bullpen in the past few years.  Even during its division-winning years, the Tigers’ bullpen was its weakest link.  They’ve had a different closer for the past four seasons.

Al Avila is entering his first full season as Tigers’ GM (he took over for Dave Dombrowski last August), but he wasn’t shy during the off-season in getting the players manager Brad Ausmus needed to upgrade the team. 

The Tigers have allowed starters Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello to get away from Comerica Park.  The signing of David Price in late 2014 was thought to offset the outflow of good arms, but then they wound of dealing him at the trade deadline last year.  So one of Avila’s primary objectives during the winter was to shore up the pitching rotation again.

The Tigers won the bidding for free agent Jordan Zimmermann from Washington, and he’ll likely fit into the Number 2 spot between Verlander and Sanchez.  Veteran hurler Mike Pelfrey was signed as a free agent from Minnesota.  The Tigers are taking somewhat of a gamble on him in the starting rotation, since he’s been plagued by injury in two of his last four seasons.

22-year-old Daniel Norris came to the Tigers in the trade that dealt David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays.  At the beginning of 2015, he was rated the third-best left-handed pitching prospect in the big leagues, but he spent the majority of the season in the minors.  After the season he underwent treatment for thyroid cancer that had been diagnosed last April.  He’s expected to be in full form for 2016, and will be given a shot at the Number 5 slot in the rotation.

Needing to address the bullpen as well, Avila managed to sign veteran closer Francisco Rodriguez during the off-season.  Although Rodriguez has lost speed on the fastball that contributed to his nickname, K-Rod, he is coming off two solid seasons with the Brewers.  Avila also secured the services of Justin Wilson from the Yankees and Mark Lowe from the Blue Jays to be setup men for Rodriguez.

Avila didn’t stop with just adding to the pitching corps.  Centerfielder Cameron Maybin was acquired in a trade with Atlanta in November, where he has posted a solid season in 2015.  The nine-year veteran brought additional speed and defense to the team and was initially intended to fill a void in the outfield created by the trade of Yoenis Cespedes during last season.

But then the Tigers stepped up in January to sign Justin Upton, one of the top prizes of the free agent outfielders.  Still only 27 years old, he has nine major league seasons under his belt.  Based on past performances, Upton can be counted to add 25+ home runs and 85+ RBI, although he does have a relatively high strikeout rate.

So, imagine a middle of a batting lineup that includes Upton, Miggy Cabrera (the 2015 AL batting champ and league leader in on-base percentage), J. D. Martinez (a Silver Slugger winner in 2015 with 38 home runs and 102 RBI), and Victor Martinez (2014 Silver Slugger winner and league leader in on-base plus slugging percentage).  It may be prove one of the best in baseball next year.

The Tigers will need all the fire power they can muster, since the American League Central Division has suddenly emerged as one of the toughest.  The defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals returns most of its lineup in tact from last year, so one has to believe they will be in the mix again.  The Minnesota Twins, under new manager Paul Molitor, were the surprise team of the division last season when their young team made a run at the wild card spot, falling short by four games to the Houston Astros.  The Cleveland Indians were among the pre-season favorites in 2015, but got off to a miserable start, losing 14 of their first 21 games.  They finally pulled everything together at mid-season, but it was too late and they finished in third place.  The Indians figure to pick up where they left off last season.  Even the Chicago White Sox, who pulled up the rear of the division last season despite adding several free agent players the winter before, are expected to rebound.  Plus, they added hard-hitting third baseman Todd Frazier during this past off-season.

In only his second season at the helm, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was in jeopardy with his job at the end of last season due to the disappointing last place results.  However, with Avila taking over the GM job, he gave Ausmus a vote of confidence and retained him.

On paper, the Tigers have a formidable team.  They addressed several leftover issues from last season during the winter.  However, the health of several key players will be the biggest factor in whether they can regain their old spot atop the division.

5 Facts You Should Know About Junior

During the first week of the year, Ken Griffey Jr.’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame was the top baseball story.  He missed being a unanimous selection by only three votes, although he did garner the highest percentage of votes in the history of the Hall, besting Tom Seaver who was the previous holder of that distinction.

What a lot of people forget is just how good of a career Junior Griffey’s father had.  Of all the father-son combos in the history of the game, the Griffeys rank at the top along with Barry and Bobby Bonds.  George Sisler, Eddie Collins, Yogi Berra, Pete Rose, and Tony Gwynn are the fathers of some of the most recognizable father-son pairs, but their combined family performances pale those of the Griffeys.

From 1973 to 2010, there was a Griffey playing in the major leagues, as their careers actually overlapped, something that had never happened before.

So what should you know about Ken Griffey Sr.?

  1.  Griffey Sr. was born in Denora, Pennsylvania, the same little town that produced Stan Musial, the former St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famer.  Ken’s father Buddy was a left-handed third baseman who played on the same high school team as Musial in the 1930s.  Junior Griffey was also born in Denora (population around 9,000), likely making it the U. S. city with the highest number of Hall of Famers per capita.

  2. Griffey Sr. was a member of the famed Big Red Machine, the Cincinnati Reds teams of the early to mid-1970s that dominated the National League.  Griffey played on two World Series championship teams in 1975 and 1976.  His batting average with the Reds was .307, yet he was a minor star since he played on those Reds teams with future Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez.

  3. Griffey Sr. was also a member of the storied New York Yankee franchise, except he played there during its drought years during the 1980s when they failed to produce a division winner.  However, his 1985 Yankees team won 97 games but finished in second place behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL West Division.  Griffey’s teammates on that team included three future Hall of Famers--Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson and Phil Niekro, as well as Don Mattingly, Don Baylor, Ron Guidry, and Dave Righetti.

  4. When Junior Griffey made his major league debut in 1989, the father-son combo became the first to be active in the major leagues at the same time.  In 1990, nearing the end of his career, the Cincinnati Reds allowed Griffey Sr. to sign with the Seattle Mariners, where Junior was playing.  On August 31, they started in the same game for the Mariners, each collecting singles in the first inning.  In their game together on September 14, they hit back-to-back home runs.

  5. Griffey Sr. was a three-time National League All-Star, claiming the midsummer classic’s MVP title in 1980.  He contended for the league batting title in 1976 with a .336 average.  He had a career .297 batting average, compared to Junior’s .284.  Griffey Sr. had similar speed (200 career stolen bases to Junior’ 194), but far less power (152 home runs and .431 slugging percentage to Junior’s 630 home runs and .538 slugging percentage).  Together, they rank among baseball’s most prolific families in offensive categories.

7 Pitchers Key to their Team's Success

We're all familiar with the age-old adage that good pitching wins baseball games.  In 2015, the New York Mets were among the most emblematic teams in this regard.  Their staff of young guns kept them in contention for a playoff spot in the National League despite a woeful offense that didn’t kick in until the last two months of the regular season.  The Mets advanced to their first World Series since 2000, in large part because of twenty-something-year-olds Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Stephen Matz.

Every year, there are a handful of pitchers who rise to the occasion and help put their teams over the top to clinch division titles and playoff berths.  In the case of the Mets, several of their pitchers were key to the club’s advancement.

In addition to the Mets’ aces in 2015, there was Jake Arrieta with the Cubs, who had one of the best second halves of a regular season in the history of the game, resulting in the Cubs’ first playoff spot since 2008.  David Price won eleven games after he was acquired by the Blue Jays and enabled the rest of the Jays’ staff to step up in the Blue Jays’ first playoff position since 1993.

American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel came out of nowhere to lead the Astros to their first playoff appearance since 2005.  Zach Greinke had a career year with the Dodgers, even overshadowing his star teammate Clayton Kershaw, a previous three-time Cy Young Award winner.  Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances bolstered the Yankees’ bullpen, offsetting a relatively weak starting pitching staff, to get them into a wild-card game.

Let’s take a look at my predictions for who those key pitchers will be in 2016, the ones who will be crucial to their team’s drive to get into the post-season.

Clayton Kershaw

During the off-season, the Dodgers were unsuccessful in retaining Zach Greinke and acquiring one of the top free-agent pitchers to replace him.  Even if their efforts had been fruitful, the rest of their starting staff was still going to be questionable.  Consequently, that makes Clayton Kershaw’s season in 2016 all that more important to their being able to preserve a playoff spot for their fourth consecutive season.  Kershaw has demonstrated in the past he can carry the team on his back.  However, if he should suffer a down season, or become injured, the Dodgers won’t be in contention for a division title or a wild card spot at season’s end.


Johnny Cueto

It’s an even numbered year, so that must mean the San Francisco Giants are destined to win the World Series again, having captured championships in 2010, 2012 and 2014.  However, for that to happen, Johnny Cueto must turn in an exceptional season for the Giants.  Cueto was acquired by the Giants in the off-season, along with pitcher Jeff Samardzija, to upgrade an aging staff from last season.  If Cueto can return to his all-star form of 2014, he will be a much-needed complement to the Giants’ existing ace, Madison Bumgarner.  Together, I could see them routinely winning two of a three or four-game series most of the time.


Shelby Miller

The Arizona Diamondbacks surprised the baseball world when they won the battle to sign free agent Zach Greinke during this past off-season.  Then, trading for Shelby Miller of the Atlanta Braves signaled the baseball community they were serious about making a run for the National League West Division in 2016, not in another year or two.  There is little doubt Greinke will post another superior season, just as he’s done over the past few years with the Dodgers. Thus Miller will actually be more of a factor in determining whether the Diamondbacks can really compete with the Dodgers and Giants.  He played for a bad Atlanta Braves team last year, so he didn’t get much attention.  The Diamondbacks are betting he’s poised for a big season with a potentially division-winning team.


Corey Kluber

Kluber was the American League Cy Young Award winner in 2014, but his wins and ERA were significantly off from his banner year.  After a horrendous start by the Indians last season, Kluber pitched well enough in the second half to help them rally to an 81-win season.  Despite his success in 2014, Kluber has largely flown under the radar, yet he is crucial to an upstart pitching staff of the Indians team that is on the verge of breaking into the ranks of playoff contenders.  However, another subpar season from Kluber at the top of the rotation will greatly diminish the Indians’ chances for the playoffs in 2016.


David Price

Red Sox Nation was extremely disappointed with another last-place finish by its team, the third in its last four seasons (although a World Series championship was sandwiched in between).  Despite the acquisition of three new experienced starting pitchers before the 2015 season, the Red Sox pitching staff was one of the worst in the American League.  Enter David Price for 2016.  He is being counted on by the Red Sox to do the same thing he did for the Blue Jays last season, i.e., be a true Number 1 starter so that he takes the pressure off the rest of the Red Sox rotation.  Price is a fierce competitor and he has a way of bringing out the best of the rest of his team.  Price will be the difference-maker in the Red Sox being a cellar-dweller again or a contender for the division title.


Dallas Keuchel

Going into last season, the Houston Astros’ timetable for becoming a contending team was one to two years away.  They wound up advancing that schedule once the season got underway, managing to win a wild card spot after leading their division for most of the year.  One of the primary reasons for their unforeseen success was the performance of lefty pitcher Dallas Keuchel.  He had a break-out season (20-8 won-loss record, 2.48 ERA, 1.017 WHIP) that resulted in his winning the Cy Young Award.  He was clutch at his home field at Minute Maid Park, not losing a game there during the regular season.  He was an innings-eater last year, leading the league with 232 innings pitched.  The Astros lost starting pitcher Scott Kazmir to free agency over the winter and haven’t added a comparable arm thus far.  Keuchel will need a repeat performance in 2016 for the Astros to remain in the ranks of contenders.


Marcus Stroman

Unless you are a Toronto Blue Jays fan, Marcus Stroman is not a household name among most other baseball followers.  However, he now he is now sitting in the Number 1 starter slot in the Blue Jays rotation.  That’s a lot of pressure on a young pitcher who’s logged only 157 innings in his major league career.  After winning 11 games in 2014, Stroman came back from knee surgery which occurred at the beginning of last season to start four games in September, winning all four.  And then the Blue Jays looked to him in their post-season run, as he got three starts.  With veterans David Price and Mark Buehrle now gone from the Blue Jays, Stroman is on tap to anchor the staff.  If he responds as well as he previously has in his short career, then the Blue Jays have a good chance to repeat as the American League East Division champs.  If not, the Blue Jays will struggle.

New Hall of Famer Mike Piazza Defied the Odds

It was no big surprise Mike Piazza was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this past week.  After all, he was the best offensive catcher in the history of the game.

However, in 1988 when Piazza was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 62nd round of the Major League Amateur Draft, no one would have bet then that Piazza would wind up in the hallowed hall in Cooperstown.  That’s right, he was selected in the 62nd round, 1,390th out of the 1,433 players selected in the draft that year.  Not exactly a good omen for a future Hall of Famer.

Players selected in the rounds higher than 35 are generally considered longshots at getting to the big leagues.  Occasionally, the later rounds are used by teams to make token selections of sons of baseball owners, executives, and managers who don’t have a high probability of lasting more than a few years in the low minors.  Heck, even the 18-year-old daughter of Chicago White Sox general manager Ron Schueler was selected in the 43rd round of the 1998 draft.  Of course, her selection was a gimmick, but it was indicative of how the later rounds were often times considered by the major league organizations.

Piazza almost didn’t get selected in the 1988 draft at all.  As a high school player in Pennsylvania, Piazza hadn’t attracted much serious attention from pro scouts.  He went on to play baseball for two years in college, but it was only through the intercession of his father’s good friend, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, that he was chosen by the Dodgers in that draft.

Then, only when Lasorda promised the Dodgers’ scouting organization that Piazza would convert to catcher (since there was a general shortage of players at that position at the time), did he get signed for a meager $15,000 bonus.  Piazza had never played regularly at the catcher position before.

Piazza may have initially been a neophyte as a catcher, but it turned out he could definitely hit.  He had a breakout year in his third pro season when he hammered 29 home runs.  He played winter ball to hone his catching skills and build up his confidence in playing the position.

After a late-season call-up with the Dodgers in 1992, Piazza became the Dodgers’ regular catcher the next season and ultimately earned National League Rookie of the Year honors, based on his 35 home runs, 112 RBI and .318 batting average.  He was named to the All-Star team and won a Silver Slugger Award.

Piazza followed up the 1993 season with five more consecutive seasons with All-Star and Silver Slugger honors with the Dodgers and a better than.300 batting average.  He finished as runner-up in the MVP voting twice, in 1996 and 1997.

In 1998, he was traded to the Florida Marlins after he could not come to contract terms with the Dodgers.  However, after only five games with the Marlins, he found himself in a Mets uniform in New York.  From 1999 to 2002, he proceeded to make the All-Star team and capture the Silver Slugger Award in each year; and he helped the Mets to a National League pennant in 2000.

The 2003 season began a decline in his usual offensive production, although he was named an All-Star for two more seasons with the Mets.  After a stop in San Diego, Piazza finished out his career with the Oakland A’s in 2007.

Over his 16-year career, Piazza compiled a .308 batting average, 427 home runs (396 as a catcher, the most in baseball history), and 1,335 RBI.

Despite his outstanding career, Piazza received the required 75% of the votes in his fourth year of eligibility.  So, why did it take that long for a player with such an illustrious career?  He was adversely impacted by the suspicion of PED use during his career, although there was never any specific evidence against him.  The baseball writers who vote on the candidates have largely been opposed to voting for PED users, even if only by implication.  Jeff Bagwell has been similarly impacted during the same timeframe due to a similar perception, but he came within a few votes of also being elected this year.

A significant aspect of Piazza’s election is that it could signal the start of a cultural shift with regard to how Hall of Fame voters view other players who used or were suspected of using PEDs during their careers.  Most notably, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are in question (each having received only 40% of the votes to date), but there are other future candidates, such as Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Andy Pettitte, Ryan Braun, and Alex Rodriguez, who will face the same issue.

While Piazza made his mark because of his offense, he actually turned out to be a good performer as a catcher, too.  Recent comparative studies by advanced metrics gurus showed that Piazza was one of the best catchers of his era in keeping the ball in front of him, as well as in pitch framing.  Piazza was the number-one catcher for eleven pitching staffs during his career, and ten of the eleven finished in the top five in ERA.

As the first catcher to be elected for the Hall of Fame since Gary Carter in 2003, Piazza is the 17th catcher overall to be inducted.  Along with Carter, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, and Carlton Fisk are the only other Hall of Fame catchers who played after the 1940s.

Piazza will receive his Hall of Fame plaque later this summer alongside Ken Griffey Jr., who fell only three votes short of being a unanimous selection, yet broke Tom Seaver’s record for highest percentage of votes for a first-timer on the ballot.  In contrast to Piazza’s being the 62nd round pick in the draft, Griffey was the first overall pick in the 1987 Major League Draft and is the only inductee who has that distinction (since the amateur player draft began in 1965).

Piazza was definitely a long shot to even reach the majors when he began his professional career, much less become a Hall of Fame performer.  Perhaps Lasorda had a premonition.  Maybe Piazza’s use of PEDs was more fact than suspicion.

In any case, Piazza’s selection gives hope to every future late round pick that anything is possible.  It may also give a ray of hope to players involved with or affected by PEDs.  Yes, hope for even getting into the Hall of Fame.

The 2015 Year in Review -- Through The Tenth Inning Blog


In looking back at The Tenth Inning’s blog posts during 2015, I managed to capture several of the major highlights and topics of the baseball season.  Before diving headlong into the new baseball season, let’s review some of the best of 2015.  I’ve provided the publication dates (noted in parenthesis) of the related pieces I wrote in the blog, in case you missed them during the year.

I was worried about what baseball would be like without Derek Jeter (February 8) who had ended his illustrious career at the end of 2014 season.  Jeter had filled the highlight reels during his 20-year career with some of the best teams in Yankee history.  But then along came Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros (September 6) in July of last season.  The 20-year-old shortstop’s ascent into the big leagues made us think back to 1995 when Jeter first cracked the Yankee lineup.  Correa may ultimately make us miss Jeter a whole lot less.

Correa is just one of a number of new, young players who emerged in 2015.  I wrote that the Cubs’ Kris Bryant was the real deal early in the season (May 17) and indeed he was named the National League Rookie of the Year after the regular season.  Both of these guys are part of a youth movement that seems to be dominating the sport now (August 2).

The 2015 season was the year several of the traditionally hapless teams made big impacts and now appear to be on a trajectory of being league-leading teams in the next few years.  With their new manager Joe Maddon, I thought the Cubs were being burdened with high expectations going into the season (January 26), but they delivered with a playoff team in 2015, ahead of schedule.  The Astros also came out of the gate with a strong rush and could no longer be labelled the L’Astros (May 2).  At mid-year, it was apparent the Mets had the pitching talent to get them into the playoffs, but I wasn’t sure they could generate enough offense July 5).  The acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline gave them the lift they needed, and I made a case for his being voted the MVP of the league (September 20).

However, it was Daniel Murphy who emerged as the most unlikely offensive star for the Mets during the playoffs (October 25).  He managed to hit home runs in six consecutive playoff games, although he later floundered during the Met’s defeat in the World Series.

Several trends became more evident in baseball during the year.

Major league clubs are hiring new-style managers who don’t necessarily have prior managerial experience (June 15).  Dan Jennings of the Florida Marlins was a prime example, taking over for fired Mike Redmond during the season (May 24).  However, the Marlins’ experiment failed when Jennings was fired after the season.

Baseball analytics have become entrenched in how major league teams plan and develop their rosters and how managers carry out game tactics (March 15).  Until the general fan base understands more about the new methodologies being driven by this technology, many of them will be surprised by some of their favorite team’s actions in the front office and on the diamond (December 20).

The 2015 season saw the introduction of the 20-second pitch clock in the majors.   I wrote that the concept was not really new, having been piloted back in the 1970s in the Texas League (February 1).  It was feared the players would balk at its use, but the implementation pretty much went without a hitch.  I believe the next major technology innovation in the game will be the Robo-Ump (August 16).

Two of baseball’s “bad boys” were in the headlines during the year.  Alex Rodriguez made his improbable comeback with the Yankees and actually won over many disbelieving fans with his play on the field and his behavior off the field (April 26).  When I suggested that Rose should be given a pardon for his gambling sins back in the 1980s (February 22), it drew some fairly strong sentiments from a few blog readers that I was being too soft on Rose.  Apparently, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred agreed with those sentiments, since he didn’t grant Rose’s request for re-instatement in baseball in December.

We lost two of baseball’s most beloved patriarchs and ambassadors in 2015.  Perhaps they had the best nicknames as well.  Minnie Minoso (March 8) died at age 89 on March 1, while Yogi Berra (September 27) died at age 90 on September 22.

With one of my special interests being New Orleans area baseball players, several of my blog posts had a New Orleans flavor.

My biography of former major leaguer John “Fats” Dantonio appeared in the SABR-published book “Who’s on First:  Replacement Players in World War II” (March 29).  Johnny Giavotella, currently of the Los Angeles Angels, is the latest of the major leaguers who prepped at Jesuit High School in New Orleans (December 13).

I had the opportunity to interview two former professional baseball players from New Orleans who played during the 1940s and early 1950s.  I wrote about Nolan Vicknair (March 22) and Norman McCord (August 30), who didn’t make it to the big leagues; yet they are an important part of local baseball history.

Another of my special interests, baseball’s family relationships, was the topic of a blog post (November 22), in which I provided an update of the players, managers, and coaches in pro baseball during 2015 that had a relative in baseball.  There were almost 800 in my latest list.  There was high reader interest in my compilation posted on my Baseball’s Relatives web site, resulting in breaking into the list of Top 50 fan sites on’s blog network.

Throughout the year, I provided biographies of several major league families with baseball bloodlines, including the Boyers (February 25), Perry’s (April 12), Delahanty’s (July 19), and Seagers (November 15).  Around the annual Major League Baseball Draft, I wrote about how baseball bloodlines are one of the factors in which players get drafted (June 7).

2015 was great year for baseball.  Looking forward to another in 2016.  Let the countdown to Spring Training begin.



Junior Griffey Headlines List of 2016 Hall of Fame Hopefuls

Ken Griffey Jr. is a sure lock for Baseball Hall of Fame election on this year’s ballot.  No question about it.  Even though he played until 2010, he probably could have been sent to Cooperstown back in 1999, when he was voted by fans as a member of the Major League Baseball All-Century Team—yes, that team that included Ruth, Gehrig, Aaron, Mays, and other immortals of the game.

Griffey tops the list of first-time candidates for the Hall of Fame Class of 2016.  There are indeed some other players on the list with Hall of Fame type of careers, but it’s doubtful any of them will be named on the minimally required 75% of the ballots of the baseball writers who do the annual voting.

In my “fantasy” ballot last year, I cast only eight votes, opting to withhold my final two selections (John Smoltz and Gary Sheffield were on the fence for me).  It turned out I was completely wrong about Smoltz, who was elected in his first year of eligibility.  Thus, my eight votes last year included Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Lee Smith, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Barry Bonds and Rogers Clemens.  In addition to Smoltz, Johnson and Martinez got the required votes in their first year as well.  Biggio made it in after coming within a couple of votes of being elected in 2014.

For my votes this year, I’m sticking with my carryovers—Bagwell, Piazza, Smith, Bonds and Clemens.  I realize the PED cloud still hovers over each of these players except Smith, but I’m sticking to my guns.

Piazza may be the best offensive player at the catcher position in the history of the game.  Bagwell was dominant at first base during the 1990s.  Despite their performances, their “suspected” PED use has surely kept them out of the Hall to date.  But there’s been no hard evidence against either of these two guys.

With regard to Bonds and Clemens, I’m on the side of those who believe that until Major League Baseball instituted drug testing for PEDs, there can be no reason to exclude players for eligibility for Hall of Fame induction.  35% of the voters in 2015 apparently subscribed to this belief too, but there are still strong sentiments against their elections and that’s not likely to change any time soon.

I know I’m in the minority again about Lee Smith’s election, but I think the value of relief pitchers has been vastly under-rated by voters in the past.  He’s third on the all-time saves list and he was in the Top 5 of the Cy Young Award in three seasons.  I believe Smith suffers from not having played for playoff and World Series caliber teams.

Besides Griffey, the cream of the crop of new first-timers on the 2016 ballot includes Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner, and Jim Edmonds.

Out of this group, I’m casting another vote for a relief pitcher, Trevor Hoffman.  Only the great Mariano Rivera is ahead of his 601 career saves.  Plus, Hoffman finished as runner-up for the Cy Young Award twice and had two other Top 6 finishes.  He compiled a career 2.74 ERA and averaged 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

For my final three votes, I’m picking Tim Raines, Gary Sheffield, and Curt Schilling.

As mentioned previously, I was tempted to put Sheffield on my ballot last year.  Like Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry, Sheffield is not identified with one specific team, having played with eight different clubs over his 22-year career.  But it didn’t seem to matter what team he player for, as he was in the Top 10 for MVP voting in six seasons (representing five different teams).  He was a 12-time All-Star selection and captured five Silver Slugger Awards.

Tim Raines was the second-best leadoff batter of his era, trailing only Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson.  He led the National League in stolen bases for four consecutive seasons and is currently 5th on the all-time list.  He had eight seasons of 90 or more runs scored in a season, including one with 133.  He had eight seasons hitting over .300, including a league-leading .334 in 1986.

Curt Schilling gets my vote largely because of his differentiation as a clutch post-season player.  With three different teams, he was a member of four World Series championship clubs, including the Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Red Sox (twice).  Overall, his post-season record was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA.  However, his regular season performances included several highlight years.  Schilling was runner-up for the Cy Young Award three times during 2001-2004, and had a Top 4 finish in 1997.  His career won-lost record was 216-146, and he had 3,116 career strikeouts (currently 15th on the all-time list).

Yeah, I’m picking Schilling over Mike Mussina who accumulated 54 more career wins than Schilling.  But Schilling outdid him in career ERA, strikeouts per nine inning, and WHIP, in addition to posting his legendary post-season performances.

Griffey could legitimately be elected with 100% of the ballots including his name, although that has never happened before.  History shows that at least one of the baseball writers will pull a publicity stunt by leaving Griffey off, just for the sake of being different.

We will start to see the effect of a couple of relatively recent rule changes by the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

In 2014, the Hall amended the maximum number of years an eligible player can be on the ballot from 15 to 10 years.  This is intended to help minimize what has been a problem at times with carryover players creating a backlog from year to year.  That could mean Mark McGwire will fall off the ballot if not elected this year, while Tim Raines would be taken off after 2017.   On this year’s ballot, Alan Trammell (currently in his 15th year) and Lee Smith (in his 14th year) were grandfathered with the old timeline when the new rule was instituted.

The BBWAA is enforcing a minimum of ten consecutive seasons covering baseball on a beat by its writers.  The number of baseball writers who cast ballots this year is being reduced by approximately 90, as the BBWAA is cleaning house of writers who no longer actively cover the sport.  Over time, this could have an effect on how writers treat players during the PED era.  The common thinking is that as the veteran, baseball traditionalist type of writers are removed from voting privileges, currently eligible players such as Bonds and Clemens (and David Ortiz and Andy Pettitte in the future) will gain more traction in being elected.

The 2016 Class of the Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced on January 6.

It's a Whole New Ballgame Now

Cubs and Astros fans will be riding a high going into the 2016 season.  After their exciting 2015 seasons in which both made it to the playoffs before they were expected to, the organizations have a lot to look forward to.  After all, they have now emerged from several consecutive seasons lost to re-building efforts.

Both clubs proved their similar organizational strategies—practically re-building their teams from scratch-- could work.  A few years ago, that approach seemed pretty drastic, but nowadays it’s becoming a viable solution for clubs to become more competitive at a reasonable cost.  Now, the Braves, Phillies, and Reds have comparable programs underway.

There are a new set of paradigms major league clubs are employing to build and maintain their organizations, often times making it difficult for baseball followers, particularly long-time loyal fans of a franchise, to understand the rationales.

It seems now that major league owners and executives are deciding their overall organizational development strategies by whether they can compete for a World Series within a couple of years.  If so, then a few key trades are made through free agency to fill the gaps.  The Boston Red Sox are a prime example of this approach.  During the off-season, they spent big bucks to acquire a much-needed Number 1 starter in David Price and a top-notch closer in Craig Kimbrel.  They are all-in for a run at the AL pennant in 2016.

Similarly, when the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired pitchers Zach Greinke in a free agent signing and Shelby Miller through a trade, it made a big statement about their intentions to compete for a division title next year, not within a few years.

Otherwise, many of the major league clubs are deciding to clean house of its larger salaries and starting over with younger prospects and players who bring value largely based on new advanced analytics.  That’s what the Reds and Phillies are doing now.  Consequently, their lineups will primarily consist of little known players to many of their fans.  In fact, in the final two months of the 2015, the Reds’ starting rotation consisted entirely of rookie pitchers.

Most of the new models being used by franchises to build for the long-term center around acquiring younger players, with high potential or upsides but at lower costs.  The players usually can be controlled by the club for 3-5 years before they become eligible for arbitration.  Then the players are sometimes traded for more prospects when they can bring relatively high values in the marketplace, despite the fact the players had become part of the core of their team.

Between 2010 and 2012, the Houston Astros shed its core of veteran players consisting of Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee, and Michael Bourn and opted to go on a youth movement to re-stock the team.  Astros fans were frustrated during the process and transition, but three years later the team was competing for the division title and got into playoffs for the first time since 2005.

Their success in 2015 was the culmination of its intensified focus on scouting and player development over several years.  The Astros now have a new core of young players (George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel, and additional top prospects in their system) they can control for several years.

Similarly, the Chicago Cubs, through their own re-building efforts, have a bevy of young players that should serve them well for several years to come, including Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, and Javier Baez.

Gone are the days when the primary strategy was to lock up multiple premium players in long-term contracts, in an attempt to make a run at a World Series.  All too often that resulted in teams getting too old and getting saddled with expensive payroll costs for players that subsequently became non-productive.  Classic examples of such franchises were the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies.

Years ago, minor league prospects were usually throw-ins in major player trade transactions.  Now, organizations aggressively seek other teams’ top prospects in exchange for a veteran they can no longer afford.  Just within the past month, two overall Number 1 major league draft picks, 2013’s Mark Appel and 2015’s Dansby Swanson, were involved in key trades before they ever played in the majors.  That was practically unheard of before now.

How organizations currently put together their teams has evolved.  Player selections are now heavily influenced by advanced metrics, not only for hitting and pitching, but also including defense.  In building teams, organizations are making use of relatively new metrics, such as runs prevented, defensive runs saved, runs created, batting average on balls in play, and productive outs made, to identify players who fit their strategy.

No longer are the traditional metrics, such as wins, saves, batting average, runs batted in, and fielding percentage, sufficient.  They only tell part of the story about a player’s abilities.  This is why players like outfielders A. J. Pollock and Kevin Kiermaier, not your traditional offensive threats, are attractive to general managers.

It seems like building and maintaining viable major league rosters has become more complicated than it used to be.  There are many more dimensions of the game that have evolved and must be considered by general managers, directors of scouting and player development and the managers on the field.  That may indeed be the reason why many major league organizations have recently turned to Ivy League-type MBAs to run their organizations.

In many respects, it’s not our grandfather’s game anymore.

Giavotella Part of Rich History of MLB Players from Jesuit High School

Johnny Giavotella played his first full season in the major leagues with the Los Angeles Angels in 2015, after spending four partial seasons with the Kansas City Royals.  He is one of eleven former Jesuit High School (New Orleans) players to reach the major leagues and one of over fifty from that school to play professionally.

Giavotella turned in a credible season at the plate, hitting .272 with 4 home runs and 49 RBI, while filling a vacancy at second base for the Angels after veteran Howie Kendrick decided to pursue free agency at the end of 2014.  He had been a stellar player at the University of New Orleans before turning pro.  He was selected in the second round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft by the Royals.

Historically, Jesuit High School in New Orleans has been one of the more well-known high schools across the nation noted for turning out baseball players that go on to play professional baseball.  Several of the former Blue Jays wound up playing significant roles in the long history of the sport.  The baseball tradition of professional players from Jesuit dates back to the early 1900s.

Larry Gilbert Sr. was the first Jesuit player to reach the big leagues in 1914 with the Boston Braves.  He was a right fielder for the legendary “Miracle Braves” team which remarkably won the National League pennant that year after still being in last place on July 18, eleven games out of first place.  The Braves went on to sweep the Philadelphia A’s in the World Series.

However, Gilbert would go on to make his mark in professional baseball as a manager rather than as a player.  He became skipper of his hometown New Orleans Pelicans in 1923 and led the team until 1938.  Gilbert was lured away from the Pelicans by the owner of the Nashville Vols, with whom he managed from 1938 until 1948 and then became general manager and part-owner until 1955.  His clubs claimed 2,128 victories and nine Southern Association league titles.  Gilbert reportedly turned down multiple offers during his career to manage major league teams.

After following in their father’s footsteps at Jesuit, two of Gilbert’s sons, Charlie and Harold “Tookie”, continued the family legacy by going on to play major league baseball as well.

Charlie Gilbert, from the Jesuit Class of 1937, reached the big leagues at age 20 after playing for his father at Nashville.  The highly touted outfielder signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1940, but played only one season with them.  He spent parts of three seasons with the Chicago Cubs before going into military service during World War II.  After one more season with the Cubs and two with the Philadelphia Phillies, he retired in 1948 due to a back injury.  He never reached the potential for which he had been earmarked.

Like his brother Charlie, Tookie Gilbert, was a widely sought after schoolboy sensation in New Orleans.  From the Jesuit Class of 1946, he was heavily recruited by six major league organizations, and he literally picked the club he would sign with by pulling one name from a hat containing all six teams.  The New York Giants won the Gilbert “lottery” and he signed for $50,000.  Gilbert, a first baseman, made his major league debut with the Giants in 1950, but wound up playing only two seasons before retiring in 1954.  He made a comeback with the New Orleans Pelicans in 1959, attempting to help the struggling franchise survive.

Jesuit’s baseball team during Charlie Gilbert’s senior year also included two other players, John “Fats” Dantonio and Connie Ryan, who attained major league status.

Fats Dantonio, from the Jesuit Class of 1937, began his professional baseball career in 1939.  He played at low levels in the minors for four seasons before getting an opportunity to sign with his hometown New Orleans Pelicans in 1942.  He had received a medical exemption from military service during World War II, but was required to work in a defense-related job instead of enlisting.  In one of his seasons with the Pelicans, Dantonio worked at a shipyard in New Orleans, playing only in the team’s home games.

However, Dantonio, a good-hitting catcher, played well enough to attract the attention of Branch Rickey, who was then the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Because of the general shortage of professional players during the war years, Dantonio got called up by Rickey as a replacement player for three games with the Dodgers at the end of the 1944 season.  He appeared in 47 games with them in 1945, but didn’t play well enough to stick with the big league club after most of the regular players returned from military service in 1946.  Dantonio continued to play in the minors and retired from baseball after the 1948 season in which he played for the Pelicans again.

Connie Ryan, from the Jesuit Class of 1938, was the first person to receive a full baseball scholarship from Louisiana State University.  However, he opted to sign a professional minor league contract in the middle of his sophomore year in 1940.  By 1942, he had reached the majors with the New York Giants.  Ryan would go on to play for five different teams in a 12-year major league career.  The infielder was a National League All-Star with the Boston Braves in 1944.  After his playing career ended in 1956, Ryan eventually became a major league coach for the Braves and Rangers.  He also served as an interim manager for both Atlanta and Texas.

Another former Jesuit player who benefitted from the shortage of players during war-time years was Ralph “Putsy” Caballero.  From the Jesuit Class of 1944, Caballero was signed out of high school at the age of 16 by the Philadelphia Phillies and made his major league debut on September 14, 1944.  He is the youngest third baseman to ever play major league baseball.  Primarily a backup player, Caballero proceeded to have an eight-year major league career with the Phillies that included a 1950 World Series appearance against the New York Yankees.  He retired from professional baseball after the 1955 season.

The Jesuit High School player with the most celebrated major league career is Rusty Staub.  Except for Gretna native and Baseball Hall of Famer Mel Ott, Staub is the most accomplished professional player to come from the New Orleans area.  He was a member of the Jesuit Class of 1961, and he also signed out of high school with the then Houston Colt .45’s (now the Astros) for a reported $100,000 bonus.

At age 19, Staub made his major league debut with Houston on April 19, 1963.  He ultimately garnered over 500 hits each for the Astros, Expos, Mets, and Tigers.  Altogether he accumulated 2, 716 career hits, currently 62nd most in major league history, to go along with 292 home runs and 1,466 RBI.  Rusty was selected for the Major League  All-Star team six times.  A fan favorite at each of his major league stops, the outfielder/first baseman finished his career in 1985, after 23 seasons in the big leagues.

Will Clark wasn’t far behind Staub in terms of his impact at the major league level.  From the Jesuit Class of 1982, he first achieved national recognition as a college player at Mississippi State University and a member of the 1984 USA Olympic baseball team.  A year after being the second overall pick in the 1985 Major League Draft, Clark became the regular first baseman for the San Francisco Giants.  An intense player on the field, he helped lead a resurgence of the Giants to prominence in the National League, including a World Series appearance in 1989.  Clark finished in the top five of the National League MVP voting four times throughout 1987 and 1991.

Clark later played for the Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals, with his last season in 2000.  Injuries curtailed his playing time during the latter part of his career.  However, in his 15-years he collected 2,176 hits, 284 home runs, and 1,205 RBI, while hitting for a .303 average.  His smooth left-handed batting swing was the basis for his nickname, “The Natural.”

Two other former Jesuit players, Jim Gaudet (Jesuit Class of 1973) and Ryan Adams (Jesuit Class of 2006), had brief major league careers.

Currently, Mason Katz (Jesuit Class of 2009) is aiming to extend the Jesuit tradition.  He is slated to play at the Double-A level for the St. Louis Cardinals organization in 2016.  The infielder, who played collegiately at LSU, was a 4th round draft pick of the Cardinals in 2013.

For more information about Metro New Orleans area baseball players who played at the college, minor league, and major league levels, visit

Is Price Right for the Red Sox?

Lefty ace David Price inked the largest dollar contract for a pitcher (7 years for $217 million) with the Boston Red Sox last week.  With Price 30 years of age and a so-so record in post-season play during his career, did the Red Sox overpay for Price?

The Red Sox most certainly did.  Price will effectively earn one million dollars for each of his regular season starts.  The deal is reminiscent of the kind for which the New York Yankees used to be criticized during the George Steinbrenner era.

Given their desperate situation involving two consecutive last-place finishes in the American League East Division, the Red Sox didn’t care if they had to overpay Price in order to lock up a legitimate Number 1 starter at the top of their rotation.  They’ve had a void in that slot since John Lester left the team, and the results have been ugly.  They didn’t figure to have a decent shot at getting the other top free agent pitchers available in the market, and they don’t want to part with their top prospects in a trade for a top-flight hurler.  So they overpaid to secure Price.

But it’s a pretty sure bet the Red Sox approached the deal with eyes wide open.

They don’t expect Price to still be at the top of his game in the latter years of his contract.  He probably won’t even be with Red Sox through the full term of the contract.  The BoSox are looking for results in 2016.  They expect Price to do for them what he did for the Toronto Blue Jays last season (9-1 record and 2.30 ERA after the July 31 trade deadline), which was to put the rest of the pitching staff on his back to carry them to a division title.  Along with the acquisition of top-flight closer Craig Kimbrel from the Padres earlier in the off-season, all of a sudden the Red Sox have a very credible pitching staff that includes a lot of options for how its other current pitchers can be used.

The Red Sox are looking to take advantage of a relatively balanced East Division.  None of the teams in the division is head and shoulders above the rest.  Price and Kimbrel could give the Red Sox the edge they need to be in serious contention again.  The “win now” mentality spurred by these acquisitions seems very plausible.

Boston has already started a youth movement with its position players, with youngsters like Xander Bogaerts, Blake Swihart, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Travis Shaw already getting necessary experience under their belts.  With the leadership of veterans David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, and healthy Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, the Red Sox are poised for a resurgence.  David Ortiz has already announced the 2016 season will be his last.  Red Sox fans would love nothing more than seeing Big Papi going out as a world champion again.

Boston’s new President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, wants to make an immediate impact for the team.  He has a prior relationship with Price from his days as general manager in Detroit, which is probably another reason he was comfortable doling out the big bucks for Price.  He knows exactly what he is getting and he knows what Price can mean to the struggling franchise.  As he successfully demonstrated with the Tigers, Dombrowski fully understands that teams win with pitching.

Dombrowski and the rest of the Red Sox front office aren’t worried about Price’s mediocre record in past post-season play.  It wasn’t a factor in their decision to acquire Price.  They know they have to win the division or capture a wild card spot during the regular season first, and Price is their guy to lead that effort.  At his first press conference as a Red Sox player, Price was asked about his past performances in the post-season.  He jokingly countered that he had been saving most of his wins for the Red Sox Nation.

In the past, major league organizations have been burned by some of the big dollar long-term contracts they’ve signed with pitchers with practically only 2-3 years remaining in their prime.  The Price transaction conjures up memories of deals for pitchers like Barry Zito and C.C. Sabathia, whose teams didn’t achieve their full value.

That may wind up being the case with Price too, but for now the Red Sox don’t care what happens a few years down the road.  For the sake of the loyal fans of the Red Sox Nation, they can’t afford to be division cellar-dwellers again in 2016.  In that context, the price is right for the Red Sox.

Gridiron Takes Precedence for Several Sons of Major Leaguers

While there are countless examples of sons following in their father’s footsteps to play professional baseball, every once in a while, the son of major leaguers go against the family bloodlines to excel in football.  This year’s football season has several sons of major league fathers making a name for themselves on the gridiron.

Some major league fathers don’t try to force their son into following in their footsteps to play baseball, because they don’t want to put undue pressure on their son to match their own accomplishments.  When the son turns out to be an all-around athlete with talent in multiple sports, it is easier for the father to encourage the son to take up a different sport.

When a young boy’s father was named one of the fifty greatest living baseball players at the end of the 20th century, one can understand why the youngster might shy away from trying to fill his father’s shoes as a professional baseball player.  Well, that’s the situation Trey Griffey found himself in, growing up as a youngster.  His father was Ken Griffey, Jr, a thirteen-time major league all-star who slugged 630 home runs during his illustrious 22-year career.  The elder Griffey has an excellent chance of being elected to the 2016 class of Baseball’s Hall of Fame on his first ballot.  Trey’s grandfather, Ken Griffey Sr., was also an all-star outfielder in the big leagues.

Trey, a batboy for Team USA on which his father played in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, chose to play football at an advanced level instead of pursuing baseball.  As a senior in high school in Florida, he caught 73 passes for 11 touchdowns.  Trey is currently a wide receiver for the University of Arizona Wildcats.  A few weeks ago, here raced 95-yards for a touchdown on a pass he caught against rival Arizona State.  The 6‘ 3”, 195 lb. junior has played in six of the Wildcats’ games so far this season, which has also included appearances as a punt returner.

Torii Hunter recently retired from major league baseball after a 19-year career that included four all-star seasons and nine Gold Glove awards as an outfielder.  His son, Torii Jr., was good enough as a baseball player to be selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 36th round of the 2013 MLB Draft, even though he did not play during his senior year of high school due to broken leg.  Instead, Torii Jr. bypassed pro baseball, choosing to accept a football scholarship from Notre Dame.

In 2014, Torii Jr. was named the Offensive Newcomer of the Year for Notre Dame.  As a junior wide receiver this season, Torii Jr. has played in all of Notre Dame’s games, collecting 24 receptions for two touchdowns.  He also has some football roots in his background, as his grandfather, Monshadrick Hunter, played college football at Arkansas State University.

Similar to Hunter, Patrick Mahomes Jr. played both baseball and football in high school.  The son of Pat Mahomes Sr., who had an 11-year career as a major league pitcher, Patrick Jr. was drafted out of high school in 2014 by the Detroit Tigers in the 37th round.  The pitcher/outfielder led his Whitehouse (TX) High School team to two state championships in baseball.

As a high school senior, Mahomes Jr. passed for fifty touchdowns.  He is now the outstanding sophomore quarterback for Texas Tech University, passing for 4,283 yards and 32 touchdowns for the 7-5 Red Raiders this season.

Dante Pettis is the son of former major leaguer Gary Pettis, who was a four-time Gold Glove winner as an outfielder during his 11-year major league career.  Dante is currently a sophomore football player at the University of Washington, where he has 25 receptions for one touchdown, as well as one touchdown on a punt return.  He was named to this year’s Pac 12 All-Academic Team.  Father Gary is the third base coach for the Houston Astros.

Sons of former major leaguers currently playing in the NFL include Corey Harkey and Kyle Williams.

Harkey, is in his fourth season as a tight end for the St. Louis Rams.  His father, Mike, was a major league pitcher from 1988 to 1997, finishing with a 36-36 record.  Mike is currently the bullpen coach for the New York Yankees.

Kyle Williams was drafted out of high school by the Chicago White Sox in the 47th round of the 2006 MLB Draft.  However, he opted to attend Arizona State University to play football.  The wide receiver played in the NFL from 2010 to 2013, but has missed the 2014 and 2015 seasons due to injury.  Kyle is the son of Ken Williams, who had a major league stint as an outfielder from 1986 to 1991 and is currently a senior executive with the Chicago White Sox.  Kyle’s two brothers, Kenneth and Tyler, have played minor league baseball.

Shane Buechele, the son of former major leaguer Steve Buechele, is a 4-star prospect as a high school quarterback in Texas.  He has already committed to the University of Texas for the 2016 season.  Father Steve was an 11-year third baseman with the Rangers, Pirates and Cubs and is currently the bench coach for the Texas Rangers.

There is an age-old debate about whether genes or environment are a determining factor in the success of sons following their fathers’ sport.  The son of a major leaguer who excels in football versus baseball suggests that the son indeed inherits the father’s athleticism regardless of the sport being played.  In any case, it makes for a fascinating story when it happens.

Baseb(All) in the Family - 2015 Player Relatives List

With the 2015 baseball season behind us, it’s time to provide my annual compilation of the players, managers and coaches from the season who had family relationships in professional baseball.  The count this year is 783; but while I scoured all the major league team media guides, many baseball websites, and countless new stories for updates, most assuredly there are still additional players I have yet to identify.


My interest in this aspect of baseball history began when collecting data for my book Family Ties:  A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives, published in 2012 containing data through the 2011 season.


Since then, I have continued compiling a comprehensive set of family ties information.  The latest 2015 Family Ties list ( can be found on my “Baseball’s Relatives” website on the blog site.


Below is a sample of interesting facts from the 2015 list.


Minor leaguer Jonathan Roof has nine relatives in baseball.  He is the son of former major leaguer Gene Roof, who had four brothers that played professionally.  Jonathan also has two brothers and two cousins that played.  One of the cousins, Eddie Haas, spent over 50 seasons in baseball as a player, coach and manager.


A’s pitcher Drew Pomeranz’s great grandfather, Garland Buckeye, was a major leaguer from 1918 to 1928.

This year’s list includes several sons of former All-Star players (noted in parenthesis):  Ryan Ripken (Cal Jr.), Jordan Hershiser (Orel), Mariano Rivera III (Mariano), Justus Sheffield (Gary), Cam Gibson (Kirk), Tony Gwynn Jr. (Tony), and Patrick Palmeiro (Rafael).

Rays pitcher Brad Boxberger was a major league first round draft choice in 2009, as was his father Rod Boxberger in 1978.  2015 draftee Tyler Nevin and his father Phil (1992 draftee) were both first-round picks.

Pitcher Casey Coleman is part of a three-generation family of major league pitchers.  His father Joe pitched between 1965 and 1979, while his grandfather, also named Joe, pitched from 1942 to 1955.  Both of them were named to All-Star teams.

Veteran Washington Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth’s father (Jeff Gowan) and stepfather (Dennis Werth) were both professional players.  Jayson’s grandfather, Dick Schofield Sr., also played in the majors.

Eddie Gaedel gained fame in baseball as being the only midget to appear in the major leagues.  In a stunt produced by St. Louis Browns’ maverick owner Bill Veeck, the 3’ 7” Gaedel drew a walk in his only plate appearance in 1951.  Eddie’s nephew, Kyle Gaedele who is 6’ 3”, currently plays in the Padres organization.

Joe Jackson of the Texas Rangers organization is the great nephew of legendary Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was banned from Organized Baseball after the 1920 season for his involvement in the Black Sox Scandal.      

Pitcher Randy Wolf’s brother, Jim, is a major league umpire.  There is an agreement between major league baseball teams and the umpire’s association that Jim will never call balls and strikes when brother Randy is on the mound.

Rangers’ designated hitter Prince Fielder and his father Cecil rank third all-time among father-son combo home run hitters, only behind Barry and Bobby Bonds and the Ken Griffeys.

The following current players have had better careers than their fathers (in parenthesis) who also played professionally:  Mike Trout (Jeff), Kris Bryant (Mike), Michael Brantley (Mickey), and Nick Swisher (Steve)

This version of the 2015 Family Ties List contains 711 major league and minor league players who have a relative in professional baseball.  There are also 72 major league managers and coaches.


These 783 players, managers and coaches have a total of 1,094 family relationships with players, managers, coaches, scouts, executives, and broadcasters from the major league teams and their affiliated minor league teams, independent leagues, and the Mexican League.  Obviously, several of the players, managers, and coaches have multiple family relationships.


Below are more details about the makeup of the players, managers, and coaches in the entire list.



The 711 players in 2015 included 233 active major leaguers and 478 with only minor league experience.


233 players with major league experience had a total of 331 relatives in professional baseball

  • 25 had major league relatives active in 2015

  • 102 had major league relatives active before 2015


478 players with only minor league experience had a total of 619 relatives in professional baseball

  • 62 had major league relatives active in 2015

  • 221 had major league relatives active before 2015



The 72 major league managers and coaches had a total of 124 relatives in professional baseball

  • 8 had major league relatives in 2015.

  • 17 had major league relatives active before 2015.


The Milwaukee Brewers had two managers and five coaches that represented 22 family relationships in professional baseball.



74 amateur players drafted in 2015 had current or former relatives in professional baseball.

  • 55 were sons of pro players, while 25 were brothers

  • 46 of the draftees had relatives with major leaguers experience

  • 31 of the draftees did not sign pro contracts in 2015



22 players with relatives in baseball made their major league debuts in 2014.  15 of their relatives had major league experience.



The average number of players (major and minor league), managers, and coaches with baseball relatives for the 30 major league organizations was 24.

  • The Royals and Red Sox were the organizations with the most relatives, both with 41.  The Cubs (9) had the fewest.

  • The Orioles (13) had the most 2015 major leaguer roster players with a relative in professional baseball.  The Angels, Dodgers and Red Sox each had 12 players.

  • The Rockies and Cubs both had the fewest with 3 players.



The 2015 independent baseball leagues had 47 players with relatives in professional baseball.

  • 11 of the players were former major leaguers with relatives.

  • 27 total relatives had major league experience.


The 2015 Mexican League had 16 players with relatives in professional baseball.

  • 9 of the players were former major leaguers with relatives.

  • 9 total relatives had major league experience.


Seagers Aim to be Next Trio of Major League Brothers

There are currently three Seager brothers in professional baseball.  Kyle and Corey have already played in the big leagues, while Justin is still working his way through the minors.  If Justin actually makes it to the majors, the brothers would be in some rare company in major league baseball history.

Joe, Dom, and Vince are the most noteworthy of baseball’s big league brothers. Without even mentioning their last name, they are recognizable to most baseball fans with an interest in the game’s history.

A few of the other multiple brother families who reached the major leagues over the years include the Alous (Felipe, Jesus, and Matty), the Boyers (Clete, Ken, and Cloyd), the Drews (J. D., Tim, and Stephen), and the Pacioreks (Tom, John, and Jim).

The Molina brothers—Yadier, Bengie and Jose—made history when each of them, who played catcher, won World Series championships with their respective teams during the 2000s.

Altogether, there have only been twenty sets of brothers, involving three or more siblings, who have played in the big leagues since 1871.  The Delahanty family had the most brothers appear in the majors, with five, between 1888 and 1915.

Coming from a baseball family had its advantages for the Seager brothers.  Their father played college baseball and he instilled in each of them a passion for the game at very young ages.

Kyle was the first of the Seager brothers to reach the majors.  He was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the third round of the 2009 Major League Draft out of the University of North Carolina.  Two years later, at age 21, he made his debut with the Mariners and has been their regular third baseman ever since.  In 2014, he was selected as an American League All-Star.  For his career, Kyle’s been averaging 23 home runs with 80 RBI.

A first-round selection in the 2012 Major League Draft, Corey made his major league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015 after the September 1 call-up.  The Dodgers had so much confidence in him that he supplanted veteran Jimmy Rollins as the Dodgers’ shortstop in the playoffs.  At age 21, Corey showed an uncommon maturity at the plate.  He’s being counted on to be part of the Dodgers’ core of players for years to come.

Justin is in his third professional season in the Mariners organization, but has struggled somewhat offensively since his debut in 2013.  Still only 21 years old, there is still time for him to progress, with his focus on becoming the third brother to break into the majors.

Hot Topics for the Hot Stove Season

For some baseball enthusiasts, the end of the World Series signals the start of a much-needed rest from the long baseball season.  For others, the sports is just beginning to heat up again.  It’s the start of the Hot Stove season, named for the era when people gathered daily around a stove at the barber shop or general store during the winter to re-hash the baseball season just completed and speculate on what was going to happen next season.

Looking back at this time last year, the Hot Stove season was highlighted by some surprisingly aggressive free agent acquisitions, including a few by several unanticipated teams who were determined to make an immediate impact in 2015.  Controversial topics included the questionable benefits of the newly proposed 20-second pitch clock and the rule change involving the prevention of collisions at home plate.

Let’s take a peek at some of the hot topics that are surely to be discussed and debated over the coming weeks until pitchers and catchers report to spring training next February.

Of course, the availability of players in the free agent market during the off-season is always at the top of the list in terms of importance to most of the teams.  Annual player drafts and internal player development activities within a team’s organization are how clubs build for the long term.  Free agency and trades are how organizations re-stock and re-shape their rosters in the short term.

The supply of free agent starting pitchers this off-season is relatively high, in fact, so much so that it could affect the prices of some of the players due to the high availability.  At the top of the list are high-profile hurlers Zach Greinke, David Price, Jordan Zimmerman, Johnny Cueto, and Yovani Gallardo.  The big market teams are usually the primary buyers of this top level of talent.  It will be interesting to see how they play against each other in the bidding wars for these players.

In contrast, there is a shortage of relief pitchers in the free agent market, in particular, closers.  The Dodgers, Tigers, and Phillies are among the teams with the most needs.  However, more teams will be turning to their farm systems for help or searching for previously untapped talent among veterans.

The San Diego Padres, under its new GM A. J. Preller, made some bold and expensive acquisitions in the free agent market last off-season, but they didn’t produce near the results the club and its fans expected.  A big question this year will be what position the Padres will take on free agency going forward.  Will they re-trench themselves with lower salaries or continue to be aggressive in order to find the right mix of players?

There have already been some managerial moves by several teams since the season ended.  One job that remains open is with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  It’s been reported the Dodgers’ front office prefers candidates who are first-time managers with an adeptness in the new style analytics, although veterans Ron Roenicke, already in the Dodgers organization, and former Padre manager Bud Black could be in the running.

Don Mattingly opted not to stay with the Los Angeles Dodgers, apparently having already sewn up a multi-year managerial job with the Florida Marlins when he resigned.  Will he be a good fit with a relatively young Marlins team who may not be as talented as some of his Dodger teams that won the last three National League Division titles?

Dusty Baker bucked the trend of new style managers hires when he was tapped by the Washington Nationals as their new skipper, after they couldn’t reach a financial agreement with Bud Black.  With a history of being well-liked by the players of his former teams, Baker should be a good fit for the Nats’ following the clubhouse turmoil they experienced late in the season.  But many people are questioning whether Baker is too much of an old-school manager to be effective with todays’ integrated approach which seeks to combine front-office planning and strategy with on-field tactics and decision-making.

Front-office shakeups in the Red Sox, Phillies, Tigers, Blue Jays and Mariners organizations promise to make the times interesting for those teams.  Their new leadership has some key decisions to make.

How much longer will the Red Sox and Tigers continue to make David Ortiz and Miguel Cabrera the cornerstones of their respective teams?  Will the Blue Jays look to replace aging pitchers Mark Buehrle and R. A. Dickey immediately?  What is the timeframe for the Phillies to make their club competitive again, after deciding to let go of veterans Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jon Papelbon, and Ben Rivere last season.

The Mariners were a big disappointment last season, since many people favored them to win the American League West Division and even advance to the World Series.  While they have already swapped out previous manager Lloyd McClendon for first-year manager Scott Servais, will there be some player movements as well?

The New York Mets’ deficiencies in hitting depth and infield defense were exposed by the Kansas City Royals in the World Series.  For the Mets to repeat as National League pennant contenders, they can’t afford to stand pat on making some improvements in these areas.  Will they be forced to offer up some of their young, highly-prized pitching staff as trade bait, in an attempt to remedy those deficiencies?

Will the San Francisco Giants continue their streak of winning the World Series in even-numbered years, as they did in 2010, 2012, and 2014?  Their ace Madison Bumgarner will need a lot of help in the starting rotation for them to repeat.  Will they be in the market for one of the top free agent pitchers?

The Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, and Texas Rangers surprised the baseball world by making the playoffs last season.  Were they “one-year wonder” teams, or are they now geared up for perennial post-season appearances?  Do they need to make any critical moves to keep them in contention for 2016?  If so, it will likely be in their pitching.

Who will be the surprise teams of 2016?  It seemed like the Minnesota Twins were on the cusp of rising as a serious playoff contender under first-year manager Paul Molitor.  If the Cleveland Indians can find a couple of middle-of-the-order sluggers in free agency or via trades, they already have the pitching to be in the running next year.

The Kansas City Royals’ approach for putting together a winning roster continues to impress baseball strategists and analysts.  It’s been evident during the last two World Series the Royals were executing an organizational plan to play winning baseball.  Will other clubs try to emulate the Royals’ approach which includes putting the ball in play with a lineup of contact hitters, shortening the game for starting pitchers by having a solid bullpen that prevents scoring after the sixth inning, and fielding a very athletic team capable of aggressive base-running and stellar defense?

Off the field, will we finally see Pete Rose gaining re-instatement in Major League Baseball that will allow him to be eligible for a job in pro baseball and ultimately being considered for Hall of Fame election?  It was intriguing to see Rose and Alex Rodriguez in the spotlight for Fox Sports’ coverage of the post-season.  Was it intentional on Fox’s part to help these guys salvage their tarnished images resulting from their past transgressions with betting on baseball and performance enhancing drugs?

Speaking of Hall of Fame, Ken Griffey Jr. is expected to be the only shoo-in election among the first year candidates on the 2016 ballot.  Relief pitcher Trevor Hoffman (second only to Marino Rivera in career saves) will get a considerable number of votes, but he was not a first-year ballot type of player.  Among the carryovers from last year, Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell should finally gain induction, despite the previous hints of their suspected PED use.  The number of Hall of Fame voters will be about 20% less that last year.  It will be interesting to see whether this will have any material effect on the results.

There are a myriad of other topics that will be the subject of baseball talk shows and social media over the coming months.  But the above list should give us plenty to ponder and follow as we start to prepare for 2016.  Most of us don’t have a hot stove to hover about any more, but it should be exciting all the same.

World Series Reflections

What a Game 5 last night!  The Royals did it again, coming from behind after it seemed the Mets had clinched a victory going into the 9th inning.

At the end of the night, as well as for the entire Series, the Kansas City Royals took advantage of the Mets’ overall lack of hitting, sloppy play in the field, inability to throw out runners in steal attempts, and relative inexperience in playoff situations.  The Royals didn’t let the Mets’ hard-throwing pitching staff rattle them.  Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard’s comments after Game 3, in which he admitted his game plan was to shake up Royals leadoff batter Alcides Escobar with a high, hard fastball on the first pitch of the game, only provided the Royals more impetus to take the Series.

The Royals’ ability to come from behind was the difference-maker in the Series.  During the regular season, Royals manager Ned Yost didn’t get a lot of credit for what seemed like a cake walk to the division title.  However, he was masterful during the World Series in putting his ball club in a position to make those come-from-behind victories.

The Royals achieved some level of revenge from last year’s defeat in the World Series against San Francisco.  It was just too bad for the Mets that they were the object of this year’s reprisal by the Royals.

If you read last week’s blog post about Daniel Murphy, it looks like I put the gris-gris on him.  After his record-setting division and league championship series performance, he laid a big goose egg in the World Series.

The Mets missed Murphy’s bat against the Royals.  He had only three hits in 20 official at-bats, zero home runs, and zero RBI.  Then his misplay on the ground ball in Game 4 that allowed the Royals to come from behind in the eighth inning may be the biggest gaffe in the annals of World Series play since 1986, when Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner let Mookie Wilson’s ground ball go through his legs, which propelled the Mets to win the Series.

Murphy’s Law caught up with Daniel Murphy after all.

There was an unusual record set in Game 3 of the World Series.  Below is an account of what occurred.


Royals’ Mondesi Makes Record-Setting World Series Debut

A major league player’s first at-bat is always a day to remember.  Regardless of how long ago it occurred, the player will always be able to recall the date, the stadium, the inning, the score, the pitcher faced, the pitch count, and how he fared in that first plate appearance; it’s one of those red-letter days he will always cherish.

So what if the player’s first major league game happens to be an appearance on the biggest stage in baseball, the World Series?  That has to create one of the biggest moments of a player’s career, but at the same time it almost seems unfair to put an unseasoned player in that situation.  Well, that’s exactly what happened to Raul Mondesi Jr. on Friday in Game3, as he made a pinch-hit appearance for the Kansas City Royals in the top of the fifth inning.  It was the first time a major league player made his debut in a World Series contest.

The 20-year-old Mondesi was inserted into the game as a pinch-hitter for pitcher Danny Duffy with the Royals down two runs.  The Royals were hoping Mondesi could somehow get on base to create an opportunity to use his tremendous speed as a baserunner.  However, Mondesi struck out swinging in the at-bat, being overmatched by Met’s pitcher Noah Syndergaard who was reaching 100 mph at times early in the game.

Prior to his record-setting debut, Mondesi had never played above the Double-A minor league level in his career.  He was a surprising last-minute replacement (for Terrance Gore) on the Royals’ roster for the World Series, not even having been activated for earlier post-season games.

While Mondesi was seemingly thrust into the pressure-filled moment of the pinch-hitting appearance, it said a lot about the confidence Royals manager Ned Yost had in one of their top prospects.

Mondesi’s historic moment was somewhat reminiscent of Andruw Jones’ World Series debut in 1996.  The Atlanta Braves’ outfielder was only 19 years old when he played for the Atlanta Braves against the New York Yankees in the post-season classic that year.  However, Jones did have the advantage of having played in 31 regular season games and eight post-season games, prior to his first World Series appearance.

Mondesi’s father, Raul Sr., was also a major league player, including seven different teams during 1993 to 2005.  Ironically, the elder Mondesi, the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 1994 and a career .273 hitter with 271 home runs, never got his shot at playing in the World Series throughout his lengthy 13-year big league career.

Baseball Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Andre Dawson, and Ralph Kiner never got an opportunity to play in a World Series during their entire illustrious careers.  Mondesi is already one up on them and his dad.

Mets' Daniel Murphy Defies Murphy

There’s a new folk hero in New York City, and his name is Daniel Murphy.  The Mets’ second baseman has had an historical post-season this year though the League Championship Series, including winning the LCS MVP award, yet he was probably the most unlikely of heroes on the Mets team going into the playoffs.

In their coverage of the baseball’s post-season, Fox Sports had one of the best lines about the newfound Mets star: “If things can go right for Daniel Murphy, it will.”  Surprisingly, Murphy defied the traditional definition of Murphy’s Law when he hit a home run in six consecutive post-season games, helping to propel the Mets to their first World Series appearance since 2000.

Murphy’s offensive heroics complemented the Mets’ lights-out pitching performances in defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs to emerge as the National League pennant-winners.

During the two playoff series, Murphy surpassed Carlos Beltran’s record for home runs most consecutive games set in 2005.  Altogether, Murphy hit seven home runs among his thirteen hits.

It is somewhat ironic that the Mets were panicking back in July when it was struggling to score runs.  Their offense was practically non-existent when they made some much-needed moves before the trade deadline on July 31.  Cespedes, who was acquired from Detroit, gave the Mets the offensive boost they needed, along with an already very solid pitching staff, to clinch the National League East Division.

Murphy was one of the most improbable Mets players to step up with power in the playoffs, since he hit only 14 home runs all season.  He had homered in back-to-back games only once in his six-year career.  One would have expected big-dollar-contract guys like Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson or David Wright to be the one to carry the Mets’ offense rather than Murphy.

He had such a hot bat that the Cubs in Game 3 decided to give him respect as though he was Barry Bonds at the plate, intentionally walking him to get to Yoenis Cespedes.  Murphy would have never been given an automatic pass in that situation in the past.

Going into the playoffs, what Murphy did have going for him was that he is a consistent contact hitter, having struck out only 38 times in 528 at-bats during the regular season.  He’s been an above average hitter throughout his career with a .288 batting average.

However, one of the amazing things about Murphy’s hitting performance is that it came against some of the premier hurlers in the National League this season—Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, Jon Lester, and Jake Arrieta.

In addition to his timely hitting, Murphy made an impact for the Mets with his aggressive base-running and defense.  His heads-up steal of third base, because the Dodgers failed to cover the bag after they had implemented a defensive shift, led to a tying run at a crucial point in Game 5.  His game-ending stop of a hard-hit grounder in the hole to end Game 1 against the Cubs was reminiscent of a Brooks Robinson defensive stab.

On a team that has more popular players from it young pitching corps, Murphy assured himself a spot on the Mets’ post-season wall of honor, along with Donn Clendenon (1969), Rusty Staub (1973), Ray Knight (1986), and Mike Piazza (2000).  Mets fans will forever recollect Murphy’s performance during this post-season.

One big question that has arisen is whether the six days off between the League Championship Series and the World Series will have an effect on Murphy’s hot streak, as well as on the Mets team in general.  However, if Murphy could miraculously add two more games to his streak, he would tie the all-time record for most home runs in consecutive games, jointly held by Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly, and Dale Long.

Movie buffs will recall that “Back to the Future” had the woeful Chicago Cubs finally winning the World Series thirty years into the future, which happened to be in 2015.  However, the screenwriters never anticipated that Daniel Murphy would be around to spoil that prognostication.  He joined the billy goat, the black cat, and Steve Bartman as the latest of “curses” to plague the Cubs’ pursuit of their first World Series championship since 1908.

Murphy says he can’t explain his timely surge in power during the post-season.  That’s part of the beauty of the game.  Sometimes things happen without justifiable logic.  Murphy is just hoping the traditional meaning of Murphy’s Law doesn’t kick in during the upcoming World Series.

Playoffs Highlight Several of Baseball's Unwritten Rules

In the excitement of the major league division series, several of baseball’s long-standing traditions were put front and center of a national TV audience and drew a lot of discussion and debate among the baseball analysts, talk show hosts, and fans. 

The culture of the game is changing and what we have seen in the playoffs are challenges to what some call the “old school” traditions and practices of the game.  With more focus on safety and an acceptance of more emotion to be displayed on the field, a different sense of style and esthetics of the game is evolving.  We are starting to see some of the some of the old school ways fade away.

The Division Series has produced some of the most controversial plays and events of the long baseball season and at the heart of many of them are the unwritten rules of the game

In the Dodgers-Cubs division series game, Dodger second baseman Chase Utley’s slide into Mets infielder Miguel Tejada to break up a crucial double play created a lot of furor among Mets fans because Tejada’s leg was broken on the play.  Utley was not called out and eventually scored a run.  However, after the game, Major League Baseball reacted with a decision to suspend Utley for two games due to his reckless (some called it “dirty”) slide. 

But in fact, those types of plays around second base are fairly routine, and no one has ever been suspended for it.  Players are coached to take the infielder out on a potential double play, particularly when a tying or go-ahead run is at stake.  It’s been like that for over 100 years.  Most recently, the Cubs’ Chris Coghlan was involved in a similar play against the Pittsburgh Pirates near the end of the regular season, rendering the Pirates’ infielder Jung-Ho Kang unable to play in their wild-card game.  It turned out that situation was generally accepted as “how the game was supposed to be played.” It’s true that Utley’s slide was reckless.  But when the suspension was issued for Utley, it drew criticism from many baseball traditionalists who argued, “Why now?”

Player safety has become paramount in professional sports, including baseball.  Triggered by this Mets-Dodgers game, baseball’s rules for sliding into second base, similar to Scott Cousins’ collision with the Giants catcher Buster Posey at home plate in 2011, will likely be addressed by Major League Baseball in the off-season.  Once that happens, then suspensions for reckless offenders will be appropriate.  The MLB rule change implemented in 2012 to avoid home plate collisions has worked, and it’s highly plausible a comparable rule change for second base collisions will have a similar effect.

Another situation involving unwritten rules was highlighted in the whacky 53-minute-long 7th inning of Game 5 of the Rangers-Blue Jays series.  Jose Bautista’s bat flip “heard around the world” after his 7th-inning home run sparked controversy over what is acceptable player behavior in dramatic game situations.  The unwritten rule in baseball has always been that a player doesn’t attempt to show up or disrespect an opposing player or team on the field.  Recall a game in 2013 when then Braves catcher Brian McCann admonished Brewers’ hitter Carlos Gomez on the field for his celebratory lap around the bases following a home run that eventually resulted in a bench-clearing incident for both teams.

In Bautista’s case, the question became:  was it just raw, innocent emotion on his part or was he actually taunting the Rangers with his emphatic bat flip during their amazing turnaround in that inning?  The situation caused us to reminisce about former Blue Jays player Joe Carter who celebrated following his dramatic game-winning home run in the 1993 World Series (the last time the Blue Jays were in the post-season).  In Carter’s case though, practically no one objected to his festive jaunt around the bases.

Expectedly, Rangers pitcher Sam Dyson, who served up Bautista’s go-ahead home run, didn’t appreciate the slugger’s reaction.  After the game Dyson said he thought Bautista’s action was being disrespectful to the game.   However, I believe most baseball fans endorsed Bautista’s exuberance following his home run and denounced baseball’s time-honored tradition in this case.

In some respects, the culture of the game needs to change in order to remain a viable spectator sport.  The attention the game has generated, by occasions like Bautista’s bat flip, makes for good promotion of the sport.  After all, baseball has often been criticized for being too staid and too serious, unlike its football and basketball counterparts where every play is seemingly celebrated by its players.  Increased emotional outbreaks on the baseball field for special moments like Bautista’s would actually be good for the sport, and I can envision an evolving change in decorum among its players.

However, there is another unwritten rule in baseball which may not fall by the wayside any time soon.  This one has to do with pitchers who are expected to retaliate against opposing teams by intentionally hitting their batters, after the pitcher’s own teammates have been knocked down or the opposing team has shown up the pitcher’s team.  One of the playoff games highlighted this situation.

In the National League wild card game between the Cubs and Pirates, Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta was intentionally hit by Pirates relief pitcher Tony Watson when Arrieta was batting in the 7th inning.  Watson’s retaliatory plunking of Arrieta came after Arrieta had hit two Pirates batters earlier in the game, although Arrieta was never given a warning by the umpire.  Words were exchanged when Arrieta trotted to first base.  And then, with emotions high, both teams’ benches emptied, resulting in a Pirates player being ejected from the game.

Knock-down pitches have been used in big league baseball ever since over-hand pitching was instituted in the game back in the 1880’s.  The official rule in baseball now says a pitcher will be automatically ejected from the game when hitting a batter after being warned once by the umpire.  But that doesn’t seem to provide a huge deterrent to teams.  Until it becomes a player safety issue, the practice seems destined to continue.

The unwritten rules of baseball are as much a part of the game as the official rules.  They have been integral to the game’s history and tradition.  But like a lot of other things these days, we should expect some of them to change, too.

Could We See the "Battle of Texas" for the AL Pennant?

When MLB did their balancing of its two leagues in 2013, moving the Houston Astros to the American League, there was probably some anticipation a new baseball rivalry would emerge.  Well, that’s exactly what’s happened this season between the Astros and the Texas Rangers.  And now it looks like we might see them battling for the American League championship.  In a state better known for its football, baseball is definitely garnering a lot of unfamiliar attention this October.

The Rangers lead its American League Division Series with the Toronto Blue Jays, two games to one in the best-of-five series, while the Astros also have a 2-1 lead over the Royals.  Should the Rangers and Astros both win their division series, they will face off in a battle for the American League pennant.  That would be a first for the state of Texas. 

Ironically, neither the Rangers nor the Astros were expected to be in the race for the playoffs this season after the grim showings they made in 2014.  Texas dropped to a dismal 67-95 record in 2014, after capturing 91 wins the previous season.  Houston won only 70 games in 2014, continuing a string of six consecutive losing seasons.

Texas sunk to the bottom of the division cellar last season as a result of pitching injuries, and they wound up using forty different pitchers throughout the year.  They were a team in turmoil at the end of that season, and Ron Washington was ousted as manager, even though he had led the team to back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011.

Houston was thought to still be in re-building mode for 2015.  Having the first-round pick in the major league draft for the past few seasons, they had stocked their minor league system with numerous top prospects.  Their player acquisition strategy has been more focused on building for the future through the draft, rather than using free agents to improve their number of wins in the near term.  They, too, fired their manager, Bo Porter, at the end of last season.

Based on last year’s results, baseball analysts weren’t giving either team much of a chance to be more competitive this season.  In my own pre-season prognostications, I had picked the two teams to bring up the rear of the American League West Division, fighting only for bragging rights in the State of Texas.

But all that would soon change.

The Astros broke out of the gate with a fast start in April.  They took an early lead in the division, but many thought it was only because the more favored Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels were under-performing.  However, the Astros managed to keep its lead until mid-September.  Their core of young players, led by Jose Altuve, George Springer and rookie Carlos Correa, was starting to pay off.  Starters Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh were routinely turning in solid performances on the mound.  The Astros were especially good at home, finishing with a 53-28 record for the season in Minute Maid Park.

I had a chance to see the Rangers play a three-game series against the Red Sox in early June.  It was evident then their offense was potent, with proven hitters like Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, Mitch Moreland, and Shin-Soo Choo.  But their pitching had questions, due to key injuries to several of their established staff including Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Neftali Feliz.

The Rangers resorted to a practically new pitching staff led by newcomer Yovani Gallardo, who had been a great pickup from Milwaukee during the off-season.  It turned out their new staff was able to keep them relatively close to the Astros and actually overtook them in mid-September when the Astros slumped somewhat.  The Rangers finished 46-28 in the second half of the season.

Both teams helped themselves at the July 31 trade deadline when it became apparent they had a good shot at the playoffs. With the Astros obviously ahead of their plan for being contenders, they decided to secure several veteran players to round out the roster.  The Rangers acquired ace pitcher Cole Hamels from the Phillies to help solidify their starting rotation.  They were also aided by the return of several previously injured players.

The potential matchup of the Astros and Rangers would make for a good post-season series, even though the Rangers actually had the Astros’ number during the regular season, winning 13 of 19 contests.  Although the Astros are relatively inexperienced as a playoff team, it doesn’t seem to faze its players.  They showed a lot of grit in beating the Yankees in the win-or-go-home wild-card game.  The Rangers have already avenged last season’s last place finish with a division title, but don’t seem content to stop there.   

The good part about a potential Rangers-Astros league championship series is that one of the teams from the Lone Star State will advance to the World Series.  Football just might have to take a back seat for a while.

Statue Dedication Fitting Tribute to Boo Ferriss

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the pinch-hitting exploits of Dave “Boo” Ferriss during his major league career with the Boston Red Sox.  Actually, his hitting was a sidebar to his outstanding pitching performances in his first two seasons with the Red Sox in which he won 46 games, garnered Rookie of the Year honors in 1945, and won a game in the 1946 World Series.  However, in many respects, his pro baseball career paled in comparison to his accomplishments and impact on Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi.

That was evident this past weekend when Delta State hosted the ribbon-cutting of a bronze statue in Ferriss’ likeness at the baseball stadium on its campus.  The event was part of a ceremony in which the university also named its stadium for Tim and Nancy Harvey, who made a significant gift that enabled the renovation of the stadium and Ferriss Field, encompassing new grandstands, dugouts, and other improvements.

During his 46 years in baseball, Ferriss played and coached before some huge crowds, but possibly none were more noteworthy than the turnout for the dedication event on Saturday.  A standing room crowd overflowed from the five hundred chairs placed on the baseball diamond, packed with Delta State officials, former players, and friends, all of whom came to honor the 93-year-old Ferriss and the Harvey family.

Ferriss’ Delta State career included 26 seasons as head coach, 639 victories, four conference championships, and three Division II College World Series appearances. He also served the university in its development foundation, raising funds for the college.

Yet a couple of other stats mentioned during the dedication were equally as important and impressive.  Over 90% of Ferriss’ players at Delta State completed their degrees, and over 170 of his former players went on to coach in some capacity during their own careers.  So the impact Ferriss had on others’ lives is practically immeasurable.

Furthermore, several of Ferriss’ former players, like Tim Harvey, have given financially over the years to the university’s baseball complex that now includes an indoor practice facility, administration building, and a museum devoted to Ferriss’ career.  Their significant contributions were a reflection of the deep respect and admiration for their former coach.  Consequently, as mentioned by one of the speakers at the ceremony, Delta State has one of the finest facilities in all of college baseball, not just among the Division II schools.

Ferriss’ remarks during the ceremony provided many insights into his character.  He was humbled by the honor being bestowed on him.  He was grateful for having had such a long baseball career and association with Delta State.  He praised his wife, Miriam, for her untiring support of him when coaching.  He spoke of his pride for his children, David and Margaret.  Ferriss also expressed pride for his players and the successes they achieved in their own careers.  Many of those former players looked to Ferriss as a father figure during their time on the Delta State squad.

And Ferriss showed his humor through some of the baseball stories he related to the audience.  Like the time he was ejected from a game against Southern Mississippi after arguing for 27 minutes over some rules with an umpire.  Like regretting having cut the would-be famous author John Gresham from the Delta State baseball team as a freshman, laughingly noting the university’s stadium might now be domed if he hadn’t.

Ferriss has received just about every honor there is, including the Red Sox Hall of Fame, the State of Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the Delta State Sports Hall of Fame, the Mississippi State University Sports Hall of Fame, the American Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, and on and on.  On Saturday Delta State President William LaForge also inducted Ferriss into the inaugural class of “Delta State Legends,” a distinction LaForge envisioned would be awarded over time to only a select number of impactful employees of Delta State.

In addition to his former players, Ferriss is affectionately called “Coach” by many people who never played baseball for him, because he was the face of Delta State baseball for so long.  Many of those folks wished they had had a chance to play for him.  He had that kind of impact on people.

My Favorite Yogi Berra Photo

Yogi Berra’s death last week triggered the re-appearance of many images from his legendary Hall of Fame career with the New York Yankees. Most people probably recall seeing iconic photos of Berra jumping into Don Larsen’s arms following Larsen’s perfect game in 1956 and the controversial call over Jackie Robinson’s slide into home under Berra’s tag in 1955.  But my favorite photo of Berra is one that is seldom seen.  It shows a very young Berra and the greatest Yankee of all time, Babe Ruth.  (Unfortunately, my blog administration software won't let me imbed the photo with the text.)


At the time of the photo, which was probably taken in 1947, it provides a glimpse into two different eras of the Yankee dynasty. The photo shows the widely popular Ruth with a then relatively unknown Larry Berra, before he became popularly known as Yogi.  Berra looked like a typical rookie, just happy to be in the big leagues, in awe of shaking hands with the greatest player in history.  But that would ultimately change.

I can imagine that the picture was taken at the suggestion of a news photographer trying to do the upstart Berra a favor, securing a photo opportunity with the legendary Bambino.  The 22-year-old Berra was just beginning to break in as a regular in the Yankee lineup during that season.  An emaciated Ruth, who had retired from baseball in 1935, was only one year from his death at age 53 resulting from a bout with cancer. 

Ruth was larger than life, even after he finished his playing career.  He was the one person most responsible for making baseball America’s national pastime.   Ruth saved the sport after its darkest moment from the 1919 Black Sox betting scandal by capturing the nation’s attention with his historic home runs seasons.  His celebrated home run prowess made him one of the greatest sluggers of all time.

However, Berra eventually became a member of Yankee royalty himself.  His career earned him a spot as one of the most revered pinstripers in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park, the figurative Yankee Mount Rushmore, alongside Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle.

Berra’s nickname, Yogi, became synonymous with Yankee baseball in the 1950s, just as Babe was for Ruth in the 1920s.  Berra’s accomplishments included three American League MVP awards, while finishing in the top four of the MVP voting in four additional seasons.  He was a member of a record ten World Series championship teams with the Yankees and named to the all-star team for fifteen consecutive seasons.  When Berra finally retired from playing in 1965, he was often regarded as the best catcher of all time.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

Yet while there were similarities in their respective impacts with the Yankees and on baseball in general, Berra and Ruth had widely dissimilar personas.

Berra wasn’t the most physically gifted ballplayers at five-foot-seven and 185 pounds, while Ruth was a barrel-chested six-foot-two, 215 pounds.

Ruth was called the Sultan of Swat, conjuring an image of strength and power.  Berra’s nickname came about because he was once told he resembled a meek Hindu yogi.

Berra was the lovable guy, a favorite of all of this teammates.  Outside of baseball, his popularity was such that the ever-likable animated character, Yogi Bear, was named after him in 1958.

Even though they both came from humble backgrounds, Ruth developed a garrulous, center-of-attention type of personality as a result of his popularity, while Berra maintained an innocent, reserved side.  Ruth once sat out the start of a season reportedly because he had eaten too much during the offseason and couldn’t recover quickly from resulting stomach problems.  Berra was a virtual altar boy on Yankee teams noted for its hell-raisers like Hank Bauer, Mickey Martin, and Billy Martin.

Ruth was always good for a quote in the top baseball news stories of his day.  Berra was noted for coming out with offhanded, witty malapropisms and contradictory expressions that often had nothing to do with baseball.  He became famous for his “Yogisims,” even outside of the baseball world.

Yankee Nation lost one of its biggest stars last week, a guy who went a long way after that brief moment shaking hands with the Babe.


Yoenis Cespedes Making a Strong Case for MVP

Yoenis Cespedes was just what the Mets needed.  Back on July 4th, the Mets were 4 ½ games behind the Washington Nationals.  Their pitching, led by a strong corps of young arms, was outstanding, but their anemic offense just wasn’t scoring enough runs.  There were worries by Mets fans whether they could overtake the Nationals.  The pinnacle of the Mets’ ineptness at the plate was a game on June 27 in which they left 19 runners on base in a13-inning loss, while scoring only one run in the entire game.

You may recall in my blog post on July 5 that I labeled the team the “Mediocre Mets” as a contradiction to their historically popular “Amazin’ Mets” moniker, because they lacked offensive punch at the time.

Since Cespedes was traded to the Mets from Detroit at the July 31 trade deadline, he has practically had a season’s worth of offense, for an average ballplayer, in just six weeks with the New York Mets.  In his first 45 games with the Mets, Cespedes was batting .283 with 17 home runs, 10 doubles, three triples, 42 RBIs and 36 runs scored.  As of Saturday, the Mets are now seven games ahead of the Nationals and have practically sewn up the NL East division title with 14 games left to play.

Last week a national media discussion surfaced about whether Cespedes should be considered for National League MVP with less than half of a season of influence on the team.  Of course, the award is typically earned for a full season’s body of work, but Cespedes’ historic play and the dramatic turnaround he has helped the Mets make since August 1 certainly supports a reasonable claim.

Cespedes helped the Mets cinch their credibility as a legitimate contender for the division title and post-season play.  His acquisition by the Mets was just what the doctor ordered for the ailing bats of the Mets.  All of a sudden, the other bats in the Mets lineup woke up, too.

Cespedes ranks among the best in-season acquisitions a major league club has ever made.  For the Mets organization, it is reminiscent of 1998 when they picked up catcher Mike Piazza in late May, who then went on to hit 23 home runs, 76 RBI and a .348 average during the rest of the season.

Cespedes’ situation raises again the ongoing debate of what constitutes the criteria for the MVP Award.  Clearly, the Nationals’ Bryce Harper can makes his case for being MVP with his hands-down best performance in the National League based on his offensive production.  But the argument can be made that Harper is in fact the best player in the league, but not necessarily the most valuable player for providing the most impact for his team.

Is there a precedence for Cespedes capturing the MVP award after being traded in mid-season?  I couldn’t find a player who had pulled this off before, but there were a number who were traded during the season and wound up getting strong consideration for MVP.  Pitcher Sal Maglie was acquired by the Dodgers on May 15, 1956, and finished second in the MVP voting to teammate Don Newcombe.  Second baseman Red Schoendienst was acquired by the Milwaukee Braves on June 15, 1957, and finished third behind teammate Hank Aaron and Stan Musial.  First baseman Fred McGriff was traded to the Atlanta Braves on July 18, 1993, and finished fourth in the voting, as did outfielders Shannon Stewart with the Twins (acquired on July 16) in 2003 and Manny Ramirez with the Dodgers (acquired on July 31) in 2008.

Cespedes was initially thought to be a “rent-a-player” by the Mets for the balance of this season, but his thrilling late-season output now raises the question of whether they should pursue a multi-year contract after this season.  29-year-old Cespedes has become an instant icon in New York, and it will be interesting to see if the Mets decide to keep him around with a long-term contract.

Although Cespedes has been in a bit of a funk at the plate in the past four games, it does not erase the results he has brought to the Mets.  He probably won’t capture the league’s MVP honors.  However, in the long-suffering Mets fans’ hearts he will forever be remembered for the division championship he helped them win in 2015, their first since 2006.

You see, Cespedes is helping to put some “amazing” back into the Amazin’ Mets.

It Ain't as Easy as it Looks: Position Players Try Their Hand (and Arm) as Pitcher

As a high-schooler, did you ever try to persuade your baseball coach to let you throw a few pitches in a game, even though you had never pitched before in your life?  You probably got a response like “it ain’t as easy as it looks.”

Well, shortstop Brendan Ryan of the New York Yankees didn’t likely have to plea too hard with manager Joe Girardi to get on the mound on August 25 against the Houston Astros.  It was a blowout of a game, with the Astros walloping the Pinstripers, 15-1, hence the opportunity for Ryan to get some action on the hill.  Girardi decided not to fully waste valuable bullpen arms in the undoubtedly losing cause, as he inserted Ryan as the pitcher in the eighth and ninth innings after the Astros had already put up its fifteen runs against three earlier Yankee pitchers.

It’s actually not that rare for position players to “pinch pitch” in games with lopsided scores.  Other position players who have performed this dubious feat in 2015 include first baseman Ike Davis (A’s), outfielder Clint Robinson (Nationals), and first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones (Yankees).  Outfielder Jeff Francoeur has made two relief appearances for the hapless Phillies this year.  Infielders Nick Franklin and Jake Elmore pitched in relief in successive innings for the Rays against the Nationals on June 16.  Cubs catcher David Ross pitched a perfect, 3-up-3-down inning against the Brewers on May 9, throwing nine strikes out of eleven pitches while tossing junk balls no faster than 75 mph.

Over the years, there have been several notable position players who got their momentary chance on the mound.  Ted Williams, Rocky Colavito, and Wade Boggs were among them.  Slugger-outfielder Jose Canseco got a little overzealous in his lone appearance on the mound while playing for the Texas Rangers in 1993.  In the course of giving up three runs, on two hits and three walks, he wound up over-extending himself with 33 pitches in his single inning.  Canseco required Tommy John surgery two months later.

One of my regular blog readers, Ashley, requested a few weeks ago that I try to identify major league pitchers who made permanent switches from being position players.  What I found were generally two types of players who made the career change:  those who were looking to extend their careers and those who figured out they had a better chance as a big league pitcher from the outset.

Tim Wakefield started out as a first baseman when he was drafted in the 8th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1988.  After a poor first minor league season, he switched to pitching full-time in 1989, and was in the major leagues by 1992.  He had developed a baffling knuckleball, and it became the primary pitch in his repertoire for 19 big league seasons, over which he compiled 200 career victories.  Wakefield won a World Series with Boston in 2004.

Dick Hall originally came up with the Pittsburgh Pirates as an outfielder and second baseman, making his major league debut in 1952.  He converted to pitching after the 1954 season in which he hit a paltry .239 with two home runs and 27 RBI in 112 games.  By the early 1960s he had become a premier relief pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles, helping them to three World Series appearances.

Mel Queen was signed by the Cincinnati Reds organization out of high school in 1960 as a third baseman.  He paid his dues in the minors, eventually converting to an outfielder.  He earned a major league roster spot with the Reds in 1965, but managed to hit only .200 in 48 games.  In 1966, he began his transition to a pitcher while in the minors, following in the footsteps of his father who had been a major league pitcher from 1942 to 1952.  In 1967, Queen threw a shutout against the San Francisco Giants in his first major league start for the Reds and went on to win 14 game that season.  He pitched in the majors until 1972, and then became a pitching coach for several major league clubs.

Likely the best player to turn to pitching after starting out as a position player was Bob Lemon.  He made brief appearances with the Cleveland Indians in 1941 and 1942 as a third baseman before entering the military service in 1943 during World War II, missing three baseball seasons.  Upon his return from the war, he re-joined the Indians, but this time as a pitcher, although he would still occasionally play in the outfield.  Lemon wound up pitching for the Indians until 1958, accumulating 207 career wins while garnering 20 or more wins in seven seasons.  He didn’t forget how to hit, as he managed to slug 37 home runs over the course of his pitching career.  Lemon was elected the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.

One of the players who converted to pitcher in an attempt to stay around in baseball longer was Granville “Granny” Hammer.  He had made his major league debut as a 17-year-old during World War II, when there was a shortage of players.  By 1948, he had secured a starting job at third base for the Philadelphia Phillies, which he held for ten seasons.  Granny was a member of the 1950 Philadelphia “Whiz Kids” who went to the World Series.  He was selected for the National League all-star team in three seasons.  By 1958, he had lost his starting job with the Phillies, and in 1961 at 34-years of age, he converted to a pitcher with the Kansas City A’s in order to extend his career.  However, after a couple of minor league seasons, he made only a handful of major league appearances with the A’s as a pitcher before he retired.

Johnny O’Brien was somewhat unique in baseball because he and his brother, Eddie, were one of only eight sets of twins to ever play in the major leagues.  Moreover, Johnny added to his distinction with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1953 as a second baseman.  He and his shortstop brother made history that year by becoming the first set of twins to play in the same game for the same team.  However, they had both lost their jobs to infielders Dick Groat and Bill Mazeroski by 1956.  Johnny then tried his hand at pitching, but never really got traction in the position.  O’Brien had three losing decisions in 16 appearances in 1957 and was out of baseball altogether after 1959.

Hal Jeffcoat was the starting centerfielder for the Chicago Cubs in his debut year of 1948.  However, he became a part-time outfielder from 1949 to 1953, when he struggled to show any power at the plate.  Jeffcoat converted to a pitcher for the 1954 season, without ever spending any time in the minors to hone the skill.  He proceeded to pitch as both a starter and reliever during the balance of his career which ended in 1960.  He finished his career with 39 wins and 25 saves.

There have been other players who made the switch to pitching.  However, with a few exceptions like Bob Lemon and Tim Wakefield, most of the conversions did little to significantly enhance the careers of the players.

It ain’t as easy as it looks.

Carlos Correa Makes Us Not Miss That Jeter Guy

Every once in a while a young prospect comes onto the baseball scene and immediately gets the label of “phenom”.  Yet in today’s sports media world that fosters instant popularity and sensationalism, we find that label is often premature and misused.  However, Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros is currently living up to this early career billing.  Some baseball experts even go so far as to say the 20-year-old rookie is already the best shortstop in the game.

But if you’ve had withdrawals from not having Derek Jeter in baseball in 2015, after his illustrious career of twenty seasons, you need to follow Correa who seems destined for a Jeter-esque career.

After being the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2012, Correa has been on every Top Prospects list ever since he signed a contract with the Houston Astros.  Now twenty years old, the native of Puerto Rico is the third youngest player in the American League.  Correa made his major league debut on June 8, perhaps hurried by an injury to Astros’ shortstop Jed Lowrie.  You see, Lowrie had come to the Astros from Oakland in the off-season to be the regular shortstop in 2015, while Correa was supposed to get additional seasoning in the minors.

But the Astros are not regretting their decision to promote Correa when they did.  He has responded, not like a wide-eyed rookie looking for directions to the ball-park every day, but like a grizzled veteran who really knows what it takes to win games.  And the Astros are indeed winning games.  Since he arrived, the Astros have been out of first place for only eight days.  Currently in first place by two games, the Astros look like they will make their first post-season appearance since 2005.

Correa made an immediate impact with the Astros.  Right off the bat, he was selected the Rookie of the Month for June.  Since 1950, only two players younger than 21 have reached 50 hits in fewer games than Correa:  Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame.  Correa is the first shortstop in at least 100 years to hit 9 home runs in his first 42 major league games.

Through 73 games (Sept. 5), Correa’s stats include 16 HR, 46 RBI, 11 SB, .279 BA, .346 OBP, SLG .509.  He leads the Astros in slugging percentage (SLG) and on-base plus slugging percentage (OBS).  But despite what the stats tell, his teammates have marveled at the maturity he already brings to his game.  Unlike most rookies, Correa demonstrated instant ease as a major leaguer.  He gained the respect of the team’s veterans early on.

Whether Correa is already the best shortstop in the game is a moot issue right now.  It makes a great story for his national appeal, but that’s not what Correa is all about as a person.  Besides, the Blue Jays’ all-star shortstop, Troy Tulowitski, would likely take issue with bestowing “best shortstop” honors to Correa right now.

In any case, Correa draws comparisons to some of the all-time greats at the shortstop position.  He has the physical size of his role model, Derek Jeter.  He has the bat of a young Alex Rodriguez, the glove of Omar Vizquel, and the speed and range of Ozzie Smith.  One other highly regarded shortstop with whom he often gets equated is Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, who was exceptional with the bat and the glove.  How’s that for setting some high expectations for Correa?  He wears jersey No. 1 for where he was picked in the draft, but also for the Astros’ expectations that come with it.

On an Astros team whose average age is only slightly over 26, Correa fits right in alongside their other young stars, Jose Altuve and George Springer.  Given a little more time, these guys may make Astros fans forget all about the Killer Bs (Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, and Lance Berkman) of almost a generation ago.  There seems to be little doubt Correa is on his way to becoming the face of the Astros for many years to come.

Correa has real potential to be in the class of past phenoms like Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, and more currently Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.  But it’s true that for every Griffey or Trout, there are probably ten projected phenoms, like Tim Beckham (first overall pick of Rays in 2008) or Matt Bush2004) (first overall pick of the Padres in 2004), who flopped altogether or didn’t quite live up to the label.

However, Correa seems to be on the baseball highlights shows every night, showing off spectacular plays whether at bat or in the field.  It looks like he will be around for a while.

Now, remind me again, what was the name of that Yankee shortstop from last year?

Norman McCord Took His Cuts at Pro Baseball in Growth Era

Shortly after World War II ended, organized baseball experienced a significant growth in the number of its minor league teams and consequently the number of players.  Big league organizations like the Cardinals and Dodgers had more than 20 minor league teams in their system.  The number of unaffiliated teams in the minors also grew.  It was a time and era when baseball was truly the most popular sport in the country.

Baseball scouts were aggressively recruiting new players to fill the rosters of those minor league teams.  Norman McCord of New Orleans was one of those young players being pursued.  After he finished his first year of college in 1948, he was told by baseball scout he had major league potential.  He seized an opportunity to take a crack at professional baseball and hopefully make a career of it.  But unfortunately it didn’t work out that way for him, although McCord harbors no regrets about his brief pursuit.

McCord played baseball for four years at Warren Easton High School, though he missed most of his junior year due to contracting yellow jaundice.  His coach, Jack Dowling, was an old-school baseball man, and he encouraged McCord to play.  Warren Easton had some history in producing major league players, as alumni Al Jurisich and Jack Kramer had both appeared in the 1945 World Series.  McCord recalls that St. Aloysius High School was their main competitor during his years, and he remembers playing against Jesuit’s Tookie Gilbert, another future major leaguer.

McCord graduated from Warren Easton in 1947.  That summer he was named one of Louisiana’s outstanding players and traveled with a team of all-stars to Baltimore, Maryland to play in a three-game series against a Canadian all-star team.  He began to have thoughts of playing professional baseball when the minor league New Orleans Pelicans expressed interest in him by having him participate in a work out with the team.  A Boston Braves scout would take him to lunch to talk about playing baseball and once gave him a bat.

However, McCord enrolled at Southeastern Louisiana University in the fall of 1947 and played baseball as a freshman during the 1948 season.  As a 6-foot-3, 190 pound first baseman, McCord recalls hitting around.280 with 6 home runs that season.  In a write-up about the team in the college newspaper, he was hyped as a “future All-American.”

McCord decided to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the summer of 1948, accepting a $2,000 bonus, which was a lot of money for a youngster back then.  McCord is quick to point out that highly touted Mickey Mantle received only $1,100 as his bonus to sign out of high school with the New York Yankees a year later.  By his own admission, McCord says he got “swell-headed” by the money and decided to leave college.  He figured it was his best chance to play big league baseball.

His first minor league assignment was with Class D Tallahassee of the George-Florida League.  One of his teammates there was Frank Thomas, who would go on to play in the majors for 16 years, making All-Star teams in three seasons.  McCord recalls about Thomas, “He was a country boy who could knock the daylights out of the ball.”  Indeed, Thomas lived up to his billing, as he went on to hit 286 homers in the big leagues.

19-year-old McCord struggled in 30 games with Tallahassee, hitting only .152.  In August, he was sent to Leesburg, another Class D Pirates affiliate in the Florida State League.  It was after his move to Leesburg that McCord realized he had been trying to hit with a heavy 36-inch bat with Tallahassee, and he believes it probably contributed to his low average there.  With Leesburg, his batting average improved to .260 in 20 games played.  However, he was released by the Pirates at the end of the season.

In 1949, still thinking he could compete in the minors, McCord got assistance from local sportswriter Hap Glaudi in landing a contract with Class C Baton Rouge of the Evangeline League, which was an unaffiliated team at that time.  A week before the regular season was to start, McCord injured his right leg.  He was sent by the team to the LSU Athletic Department to assess his condition, which turned out to be a torn quadricep.  After a rehab period, he played in ten games with Baton Rouge, but still could not run at full speed.  He was eventually released by the team.

McCord was acquainted with New Orleanian Jesse Danna, who was the manager of the Valley Rebels in the Georgia-Alabama League.  Danna arranged for McCord to get a tryout with his team, but he re-injured his leg and sat out the remainder of the 1949 baseball season.

McCord didn’t get a call from pro baseball the next season, and he decided to move on with his life.  He says he developed a love-hate feeling about the game immediately after that.  He commented, “I didn’t keep up with the game very closely for several years after that, and I missed out on following some of the best young players in major leagues develop their careers.

Despite his disappointment with the professional game at that time, he continued to play baseball in the New Orleans area.  From 1950 to 1960, he competed in the semi-professional Audubon League.  Those teams routinely included former minor league players, and McCord recalls playing against New Orleans natives such as Nelson Nocheck, Jesse Danna and his brother Charlie, all of whom had previous minor league experience.  McCord’s team, Beachview Tavern, won the league championship in 1959.

In 1950, McCord went to work for Commodity Credit Corporation, a division of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, for 35 years.  He played on company-sponsored softball and basketball teams in the local CAA League from 1954 to 1960, when his teams won numerous league championships in both sports.

McCord, who will turn 88 years old in October, says he often thinks about what could have been if he had been able to stay in professional baseball.  He noted, “Regrettably, an injury curtailed my attempt to advance in professional baseball.  But even though I didn’t make it further, it was an exciting time to be playing baseball.”

McCord is one of over 1,250 players identified in the Metro New Orleans Area Player Database that can be retrieved at  It includes high school players who went on to play at the college and/or professional levels.

MadBum's Pinch-Hitting Reminiscent of "Boo" From a Different Era

San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy was second-guessed over his decision to insert his star pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, into a game on August 19 as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 9th trailing by a run.  But that’s not the first time a manager has called on a pitcher to pinch-hit.  In fact, there was a Boston Red Sox pitcher from the 1940s, Dave “Boo” Ferriss, who routinely made pinch-hitting appearances for his team.  And he was pretty darn good at it.

A native of Shaw, MS, Ferriss made his major league debut in 1945 during the last season major league baseball was affected by World War II.  Ferriss, relatively unknown at the time, was labeled “just another war-time pitcher” by the press.  They figured he was merely another replacement player who got an opportunity to play in the big leagues because many of the regulars were still serving in the Armed Forces.

However, the right-handed Ferriss took the baseball world by surprise when he won his first eight consecutive starts of the season.  He would go on to compile 21 wins for the season, earning Rookie of the Year honors for his pitching performance.

Like the Giants’ Bumgarner, Ferriss happened to be pretty effective when taking his turns at the plate.  He wasn’t an automatic out when he came to the plate.  In a number of contests, he helped his own cause by getting a timely base hit or drawing a walk to keep his team in the game.  In his first major league game on April 29, the left-handed hitting Ferriss got three hits, which made a lasting impression on Red Sox manager Joe Cronin.  In a game against the Chicago White Sox on June 29, starting pitcher Ferriss slammed a 3-run homer in the 9th inning to propel the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory.

In 1945, in his 140 total plate appearances, Ferriss banged out 32 hits and drew 19 walks for a .267 batting average and .367 on-base-percentage.  Those numbers were exceptional for a pitcher and actually better than the average position player in the league.  His extra base hits included 7 doubles, a triple and a home run, and he drove in 19 runs.

Consequently, when Cronin found himself needing a runner on base in a critical situation, he often turned to Ferriss for pinch-hit help.  Ferriss made 26 pinch-hit appearances in 1945, recording a .423 on-base percentage.

In 1946, Ferriss proved his pitching performance of the previous season was no fluke, when he won 25 games for the Red Sox and led them to their first American League pennant since 1918.  He recorded wins in his first 10 decisions of the season, then had a 12-game consecutive winning streak during the year.

With Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, and Dom DiMaggio returning from military service in 1946 and generating a lot of runs for the Red Sox, there wasn’t much of a need for Ferriss’s pinch-hitting services.  He entered games in only 5 pinch-hit appearances that season, while his overall batting average dropped to .209.

Cronin reverted to using Ferriss again as a frequent pinch-hitter in 1947.  He made 19 pinch-hit appearances, recording a batting average of .378 with runners in scoring position.  His overall batting average for the season was .273, and again he drove in 19 runs.  Not too shabby for a country boy from the Mississippi Delta.

Unfortunately, Ferriss’s career was cut short when he suffered a shoulder injury during the 1947 season and tried to play through it, which is what pitchers were expected to do back then.  However, he developed a “dead arm” in 1948 and made only 9 starts during the season.  Essentially, his career at age 26 was over, although he tried brief comebacks in 1949 and 1950.

Looking back, it makes one wonder if Ferriss should have considered a comeback as a position player and hitter, similar to what St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel did in 2005, after losing his ability to throw strikes.

On the day before Bumgarner’s fateful out on August 19, he had responded to Bochy’s call for a pinch-hitter with an RBI-single in the 7th inning against the Cardinals.  Perhaps Bochy was pressing his luck by using him again in that next game.  Bochy was grilled about his decision to not use other available Giant hitters on the bench.  Or was Bochy sending a message to the Giants’ front office that he desperately needed to upgrade his hitting depth on the roster?

But then on August 21, Bumgarner amazingly hit his fifth home run of the year.  By the way, Wes Ferrell of the 1931 Cleveland Indians holds the record for most home runs (9) in a season by a pitcher.

Perhaps Bochy, like Cronin in the 1940s, simply happens to have a lot of confidence in his star pitcher’s ability to hit, too.


Footnote:  Boo Ferriss, currently 93 years old, is one of only two surviving members (along with Bobby Doerr) of the 1946 American League Champion Boston Red Sox.  After his playing career, Ferriss was the pitching coach for the Red Sox from 1955 to 1959.  He was head baseball coach at Delta State University, where his teams won 639 games over 26 seasons.  Ferriss was elected to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2002.  The Ferriss Trophy is awarded annually in his honor to the top college baseball player in Mississippi.

It's Only a Matter of Time for Robo-Ump

Without a lot of fanfare three weeks ago, a professional independent league baseball game in California had balls and strikes called without a plate umpire.  It’s true that an “indy” game is a far cry from a major league game, but it’s only a matter of time before Major League Baseball adopts currently available technology to replace this part of the plate umpire’s job.

The game will eventually have a “Robo-Ump” doing the job, using the PITCHf/x technology currently in use at every major league ballpark to track the speed, location, and trajectories of pitched baseballs from the pitcher’s mound to home plate.  Thus it can tell where a pitched ball passes through the batter’s strike zone.  The technology uses multiple cameras to make its measurements, and its accuracy is phenomenal.

Similar to the debates on expanding the use of use of instant replay, the biggest hurdle to implementing this capability will be the emotional arguments from baseball traditionalists and purists who will say it’s a sacrilege to consider using automation in a stadium booth to call balls and strikes on the field.  I can just hear the laundry list of dissenting views now, “Human error has been part of the game since it was founded.  It would take away a key part of the nostalgia of the game.  Every batter has a unique strike zone.  The ump’s calls are accurate enough.  The game of baseball is changing enough already.”

How will a batter argue calls with Robo-Ump?  How will Don Mattingly and Buck Showalter intimidate Robo-Ump to try to gain an edge in a hotly contested game?  Well, that’s the whole point of using Robo-Ump—there won’t be any need to argue balls and strikes anymore, because of the high accuracy of this system.

Umpires’ calls have wrongly decided the outcomes of games and seasons before.  In the past, we accepted this just was part of the game.  Some of our most vivid memories of crucial plays from from past years involved a missed call by an umpire.

Yet, the use of instant replay has highlighted the fact that umpires’ judgements on close plays are often incorrect.  The overturn rate is about half, and now we’ve come to expect “getting it right.”

In fact, major league plate umpires’ calls of balls and strikes are actually pretty accurate today.  But if they are accurate 95% of the time now, why not attain 99% if the technology will enable it?  About the only time it might fail is if there is a computer glitch.

Some people feel the sport is already becoming too sanitized for the sake of absolute accuracy.  Robo-Ump is only going to add to that feeling.  However, in today’s game, increased accuracy seems to be trumping nostalgia and tradition.

There will be some other consequences from the adoption of Robo-Ump, but they won’t likely deter its implementation.

As a result of using this new technology, we’ll eventually wind up with a bunch of nondescript, no-name umpires.  We’ll miss having the umpires whose name recognition was largely defined by their antics on the field when controversial balls and strikes occurred.  No more umpiring legends like Ron Luciano, Nestor Chylak, Bruce Froemming, or Hunter Wendelstadt.

In the same vein, there will be fewer manager ejections from the games, because the skippers won’t be able to argue with Robo-Ump on the calls on balls and strikes.  How many times did a heated exchange between a manager and a home plate umpire ignite a team for a come-back rally?  Not anymore, with Robo-Ump.

Recently, catchers have been trying to improve their effectiveness in pitch framing as a technique to get more called strikes by the umpire.  There won’t be any need for that skill anymore with the Robo-Ump implementation.

With the additional clarity the technology will introduce, the use of Robo-Ump will also contribute to speeding up the pace of the game, a recent emphasis of Major League Baseball.

It won’t be necessary for home plate umpires to be crouched over the catcher’s shoulder any longer, and hence they won’t be subject to hard-hit foul balls jarring their face mask or nicking some other ill-protected body part.

The use of robots to call balls and strikes is not a brand new idea.  In the mid-1960s, major league player Charlie James came up with a concept for an electronic umpire as part of his engineering class project while at Washington University.  He estimated the cost of such a device would cost $50,000, at the time thought to be relatively expensive.

It may take a while before Robo-Ump is actually implemented in the major leagues, but like it or not, it will eventually become another part of the evolution of the game, just like instant replay and the pitch clock.  I imagine Billy Martin and Earl Weaver will turn over in their graves when it does.

Baseball's Family Bloodlines Occasionally Create Bad Blood

There have been a lot of situations in baseball resulting in heart-warming stories about family members involved in the sport.  For example, there have been sons of major leaguers who grew up hanging out in the big league clubhouse with their dads and then reaching the majors themselves.  There have been brothers playing against each other in the minors, but rooting for their sibling to make it to the “Show.”  Occasionally, brothers have realized childhood dreams by playing on the same team at the major league level.  Front office executives have drafted their sons to give them their first break into professional baseball.  And there are many more.


However, the familial situations in baseball haven’t always involved happy circumstances.  What some family members have found out is that baseball is indeed a business, and bloodlines don’t always guarantee loyalty and enduring support between them.


Below are some examples of not-so-pleasant cases that have occurred between family members over the years.


Washington Senators’ owner Clark Griffith traded his niece’s husband, Joe Cronin, to the Boston Red Sox in 1934 and his son-in-law, Joe Haynes, to the Chicago White Sox in 1941.  Cronin was eventually elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame.


The daughter of San Diego Padres general manager, Jack McKeon, married Padres pitcher Greg Booker.  Booker played with the Padres from 1983 through 1988, but was considered an embarrassment because of his mediocre performance.  McKeon, not wanting to upset his daughter by trading him, kept Booker even though the fans booed him mercilessly.  However, in 1989 McKeon finally traded his son-in-law to the Minnesota Twins.  After the 1990 season, Booker was out of baseball altogether.


Al Campanis, general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers, traded his 24-year-old son Jim to the Kansas City Royals on December 15, 1968.  Jim has played sparingly with the Dodgers for three seasons and became expendable when the Dodgers relied on veterans Tom Haller and Jeff Torborg as their primary catchers.


In Milt May’s second professional season in 1969 for Gastonia of the Carolina League, his father, Pinky May, was manager for Monroe in the same league.  Milt hit 11 home runs that year and 10 were against his father’s team.  On several occasions, Pinky had his son knocked down by his pitchers because Milt hit well against his team.


As Roger Clemens was training for his participation in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, he pitched batting practice at the Houston Astros spring training camp.  The first batter he faced was his son, Koby, a 2005 high school signee of the Astros.  Koby hit his father’s first pitch over the left field fence.  On the next time he faced his son, Roger showed who was in charge, when he jokingly buzzed him high and tight with a fastball.


Jeff Weaver was pitching rather poorly for the Los Angeles Angels in 2006, with a 3-10 record, and he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals to make room for his brother, Jared, on the Angels team.  Jared went on to win 10 straight games that year for the Angels, while Jeff helped the Cardinals to a World Series championship.


George Susce Sr. did not try to put pressure on his son, George Jr., to get into baseball.  He then allowed his son to make up his own mind with regard to which team he would sign.  In 1951 at age nineteen, George Jr. made a decision that cost his father his job.  George Sr. was a coach for the Cleveland Indians, when his son accepted a bonus to sign with the Boston Red Sox instead of the Indians.  This prompted the Indians to fire the father, although the rival Red Sox later hired him.


In the spring of 2010, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen became embroiled with his son, Oney, who at the time was working in the scouting department for the White Sox.  When the outspoken Oney became publicly critical of the White Sox in a Twitter dialog, Ozzie put pressure on his son to resign to avoid more trouble with the team.  Oney was eventually let go by the White Sox.


Eddie Dyer was managing the Class C Scottsdale team of the Middle American League in 1930, when he cut his brother, Sam, who was trying out for the team.  Eddie was influenced by well-respected Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey, who did not consider Sam a big league prospect.


Don Zimmer was traded by the Cincinnati Reds to the Los Angeles Dodgers in January 1963, after his uncle William H. Zimmer was named to the Cincinnati club’s board of directors.  Don’s career spanned over sixty years as a player, coach, manager, and special assistant.


Family bloodlines have been an integral part of baseball’s history and lore since the sport’s inception in the 1870s.  But occasionally there have been cases where the bloodlines caused some bad blood between family members.

It's a Young Man's Game

When Alex Rodriguez made his major league debut with the Seattle Mariners in 1994 at age 18, he was the youngest player in the league.  Strangely enough, turning 40 years old last week, he is among the oldest players in the sport.  He’s now the “Ancient Mariner” of baseball because the sport is being dominated by younger players.  Twenty of the players in the All-Star Game a couple of weeks ago were age 25 and under, the most in history.  These guys were five years old or less when A-Rod broke into the big leagues.

I recently saw a stat on the website that 11 of the 30 major league teams had a player 25 and under leading them in Wins Above Replacement, a metric for evaluating comparative performances of players.  That tells me that youth is not watering down the quality of the players coming into the game.

The average age of all the teams in Major League Baseball in 2015 is 28.6 years.  The Yankees and Reds are the only teams with an average age of 30 and over this year.  Ten years ago, there were ten teams in this category, and there were no teams with an average age under 27.2 year.  This year the Astros’ average age is 26.3, with the Diamondbacks (26.8) and Cubs (26.9) not far behind.  Yet the relatively younger age of these teams hasn’t been a detriment in their competitiveness, since the Astros and Cubs are in the mix for playoff spots.  For a sport that has historically embraced the use of older players (e g., Jamie Moyer pitched until age 49 in 2012), that may now be changing.

The youth movement didn’t just happen this year.  It’s been in the making for a while.  However the emergence of many young stars who are now excelling in the game has brought new attention to the situation.

Here’s a sampling of some of the top players 25 years old and under.  Despite their youth, they have already been dominating the game.

Mike Trout has one American League MVP title to his name, being a runner-up twice.  He’s been MVP of the All-Star Game twice.  He has already been compared to some of the greats of the games.

Madison Bumgardner has already won three World Series championships.  He was the MVP last year in one of the most memorable Series performances in history.

Bryce Harper, the National League Rookie of the Year at age 19, has been an All-Star twice and in the race for the MVP Award this year.

Giancarlo Stanton already has 181 career home runs, while being selected to three All-Star Games.

Jose Fernandez was third in the National League Cy Young Award voting in this rookie season at age 20.

Jose Altuve is a three-time All-Star who led the American League in hits and stolen bases last year.

Freddie Freeman is already in his sixth major league season, including two All-Star appearances.  He’s been averaging over 90 RBI per season.

Jason Heyward is also in his sixth major league season and is generally regarded as the best defensive right-fielder in the game.

Many Machado has emerged as one of the best-fielding third baseman, and he can hit for power, too.

Michael Wacha debuted the majors just one year out of college, hurling three wins for the Cardinals in the 2013 post-season.  He’s having an All-Star season this year, after suffering arm injuries in 2014.

Sonny Gray has already recorded 30 wins since July 2013, essentially the equivalent of only two full seasons.

Newcomers in 2015 include youngsters Kris Bryant, Joc Pederson, Carlos Correa, Noah Syndergaard, and Mookie Betts.  They are already making positive imprints on the game with their performances.

The youth movement is definitely a good thing for baseball.  It comes at a time when the sport recognizes it must attract a younger base of regular followers and fans to remain popular.  The increasing number of younger players on the field is generating excitement and naturally helping the sport’s marketing pitch.  The fact that younger players are generally more accessible via social media and are more visible in media advertisements also enhances their potential appeal to younger fans.  A business indicator of the growing popularity of these younger players is that they rank among the top sellers in uniform jerseys.

This emergence of today’s young stars has been compared to baseball’s era of the early-to-mid 1950s when there was a dominance by young upstarts named Mays, Mantle, Aaron, Mathews, Robinson, Banks, Kaline, and Ford.  That’s some pretty darn good company. Perhaps we are seeing the development of a new Golden Age of the game.

Five Teams That Need to Make Essential Trades Before the Deadline

The week before the Major League Baseball trade deadline on July 31 is one of the most critical timeframes of the season.  It is the point in time when major league teams decide if they want to be contenders versus pretenders, buyers and/or sellers, for the remainder of the regular season.  I’ve come up with five teams who need to make essential trades to remain in the hunt for the post-season.

All sorts of questions enter into the decisions teams must make, when determining their future, now and later.

Do they take the short-term or long-term view for their team make-up?  Do they sacrifice a top prospect they have been developing in their system in order to acquire a veteran who can fill a hole on the roster now?  Do they “rent” veteran players who can be counted on to help them down the stretch in the current season, but will command top-end salaries in free agency after the season?  Can they get commensurate value for high-profile players with high salaries who no longer fit into their long-term plans?  Do they forgo the remainder of this season, because they are so far out of contention, in order to get top prospects who will be productive a few years from now?

It’s these kinds of decisions that can make or break a general manager and determine which teams are enhancing their chances of getting into the playoffs.

With the current level of parity among the teams in most divisions, most of the clubs will be trying to stay in contention longer.  This situation is likely to trigger a fair amount of activity before the trade deadline.  Some teams will only tweak their rosters without committing significant dollars, while others with deep pockets won’t mind securing the expensive rentals who will be available on the market.

At the beginning of last week when I initially began compiling my list of teams that needed to make some moves, the Houston Astros were one of my top teams I thought needed to make some moves.  I figured they needed to acquire a veteran pitcher who could give a lot of innings to solidify their starting rotation heading into August.  Indeed on Thursday, they pulled the trigger on acquiring Scott Kasmir from the A’s.  I was thinking someone like Mike Leake of the Reds would fill the bill, but getting Kazmir accomplishes the same objective.  The Astros gave up two minor league prospects for Kazmir, but they could afford to do that since their farm system is has been building for several years now and is currently pretty deep.  It was a good move to keep them in contention for a playoff spot, something they hadn’t fully expected at the beginning of the season.  It’s likely they will look even further to bolster their bullpen.

Since the Astros’ deal is already done, here are my next five teams that need to make a move.

The New York Met desperately need some boost in their offense to provide more run support for their excellent pitching staff.  That fact came to focus last week when Mets hitters were a pathetic 1-for-25 with runners in scoring position during an 18-inning game with the Cardinals.  Someone like Justin Upton of the Padres would be ideal.  Although he would definitely be a rental for the balance of the season, the Mets’ opportunity for a long-awaited return to post-season play is this year—they can’t put it off until next year.  With David Wright’s status for returning successfully from injury this season still in question, the Mets also need an upgrade at third base, allowing Daniel Murphy to return to his normal position at second base.  Chris Johnson of the Braves or Aaron Hill of the Diamondbacks could be that guy.

The Toronto Blue Jays have the opposite need from the Mets.  Currently in second place in the AL East, the Blue Jays have all the bats they need with Josh Donaldson, Juan Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Russell Martin.  However, they need to bolster both their starting rotation and their bullpen in order to stay in contention. The Blue Jays need to capitalize on the fact that their division is up for grabs this year, but they won’t get to the post-season by standing pat.  The Blue Jays have the financial wherewithal to get closer Jonathan Papelbon, whose salary the Phillies would love to shed this season.  I’m not sure the Blue Jays would be in the hunt for a top-flight starter like aces Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto, but someone like Jeff Samardzija or Mike Leake would serve them very well.

The Chicago Cubs recognized a few months ago that “wait ‘til next year” could actually be this season.  Their young team has really stepped up to the competition.  They won’t overtake the Cardinals in the NL Central Division, but they could give the Pirates a run for their money for second place.  But what they could use is a big bat from the outfield.  Justin Upton would be a good fit on Chicago’s South Side too, but others that could provide the Cubs the needed help include Carlos Gonzalez, Yoenis Cespedes, or Jay Bruce, all of whom have been rumored will be considered for trade by their respective clubs.  The Cubs could also benefit from more bullpen depth.

Even though the Los Angeles Dodgers are currently riding atop the NL West Division, their starting pitching staff has been decimated by injury.  Zach Greinke and Clayton Kershaw are presently pitching at a “lights-out” level for the Dodgers with their respective consecutive scoreless inning streaks.  However, the Dodgers can’t expect to stay in the division lead riding on just those two workhorses.  The team tapped into their big bankroll during the winter to do a huge make-over, so why should they stop now in order to protect their division lead for the balance of the season?  The Dodgers will be out front in attempting to acquire Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto and even David Price if the Tigers are willing to depart with him now.  But they’ll need yet another starter if pitcher Brett Anderson winds up going on the disabled list.  Don’t be surprised if Dodger outfielder Yasiel Puig is used in a trade to get some top-flight pitching.  But I don’t think the Dodgers will relinquish shortstop prospect Corey Seager, whom everyone will want.

The Kansas City Royals need additional starting rotation help, not so much to win the AL Central Division, but to be able to compete effectively once they get into the post-season play.  They need an ace at the top of the rotation—a shut-down pitcher who can absolutely be counted on to turn the fortunes of the team in a positive direction when needed.  When they lost James Shields to free agency after last season, they really didn’t replace him.  True, they’ve done really well so far this season without Shields, sporting the best record in the American League, but that won’t ensure success in a playoff scenario.  The Royals believe this is their year to win the World Series this year, after the Giants burst their bubble last season.  I expect the Royals to be in hot pursuit of one the best pitchers on the market, whether that’s Hamels, Cueto, Price, or Yovani Gallardo of the Rangers.

One might think there are several additional teams who need to made critical trades in order to stay in contention for a wild-card spot in the playoffs—the Twins, Rays, and Rangers.  However these teams are playing well above the expectations of them at the beginning of the season.  I think they’re willing to forgo adding pieces now, if it means giving up key prospects in their player development plans.

I believe the Yankees, who have a reputation for wheeling and dealing in the open market, will stand pat on a big trade for starting pitching, despite the fact they need some depth.  They are pretty high on a few of their prospects that are close to reaching the big leagues and won’t be willing to part with them now.  In fact, Luis Severino, one of their top pitchers in the minors, may well get a promotion to shore up the staff later in the season.

The Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox have pretty much already written off this season, so they could be among the biggest sellers before the trade deadline.

The outcomes of whatever trades are made over the next week are sure to have an impact.  There are still many teams with a chance at a playoff spot.  It seems to me that more baseball GMs are willing to be aggressive and take some chances.  That only makes for an exciting time for the last two months of the regular season.

Delahanty Brothers Made Baseball a Family Affair

You may not have heard of these baseball-playing brothers, but the Delahantys had five to appear in the major leagues, the most siblings of any family in history.  They played in the very early years of the game, ranging from 1888 to 1915.  Their careers ranged from Ed, who is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, to Tom who appeared in only nineteen major league games.  Brothers Jim, Frank and Joe had stints that fell in between those two extremes. A sixth brother, Will, briefly played professionally, but did not reach the majors.


Shortly after the Delahantys’ run, the O’Neill family had four brothers in the big leagues.  And, of course, the most famous of multiple major league brothers are the DiMaggios, Joe, Dom and Vince, of the late 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s.


More recently, the three Molina brothers—Bengie, Jose, and Yadier--captured national attention when each of the catchers played on World Series championship teams in the 2000s.  Yadier earned another World Series ring another in 2011.


Currently, Kyle Seager of the Mariners has two minor league brothers who have a good chance to reach the big leagues.


Following is a brief biography of the five major league Delahanty brothers.


Ed Delahanty

Ed was one of six total Delahanty brothers and five to play in the major leagues.  They hold the record for most siblings to reach the major league level.  The best of the lot, Ed began his professional career in 1887 with Mansfield of the Ohio State League, where he hit .351.  After 21 games in the Tri State League in 1888, the second baseman was sold to Philadelphia of the National League for the then-record sum of $1,900.  He made his debut on May 22 as the second baseman and went hitless in the game.  A day later he got his first of 2,597 career hits off George Borchers of Chicago.


His first five years were solid by most standards, but they would actually pale against his stellar performance during the last eleven years.  He jumped to the Cleveland club of Players League in 1890, only to return to Philadelphia the next year.  By then, he had primarily become an outfielder and led the league in slugging average in 1892, based on his 30 doubles, 21 triples and six home runs.  He put on a 6-for-6 performance on June 2, 1890, and would repeat this feat again, playing for Philadelphia on June 16, 1894.


Although playing in the deadball era, the 1893 season would be his best power season, hitting 19 home runs and 146 RBI.  It would also be the first of seven seasons that he would hit for an average of greater than .350.  He hit .407, .404, and .397 in 1894-1896, but did not lead the lead in any of these years.  On July 13, 1896, he became only the second player in history to hit four home runs in a single game.  Only nine more players have accomplished this feat since.  On July 13-14, 1897, he reeled off 10 consecutive hits for Philadelphia.  Between 1891 and 1895, he teamed with Billy Hamilton and Sam Thompson to form one of the best outfields in history.  All three would be elected to the Hall of Fame.


In 1899 he did finally lead the league with a .410 average, as well as hits, doubles and RBI.  On May 13, 1899, he clouted four doubles in a game, thus becoming the only player in history to hit both four home runs and four doubles in single games.  He had a 31-game hitting streak during the 1899 season.


With the upstart American League trying to establish itself, Ed was offered $4,000 to jump to the Washington club of that league in 1902.  After a counter offer from the New York Giants, he reluctantly made the switch to Washington and proceeded to lead the American League in hitting with a .376 average.  He is the only player to lead both the American and National leagues in hitting.


On July 2, 1903, Ed disappeared from the team in Detroit a second time within a week, after being suspended. There was a report of a man fitting Ed’s description who had created a disturbance aboard a Michigan Central train bound for New York on the night of July 2.  When the man, who had been drinking, began to terrify passengers with an open razor, the conductor removed him from the train when it reached the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.  A night watchman spotted him attempting to walk across the Niagara River railroad bridge to the U. S. side, and he plunged into the river below.  For one week, teammates, family and friends had no inkling of Ed’s whereabouts.  On July 9th, the player’s body was found washed ashore, about 20 miles from the bridge.  It was never determined whether the death of the 35-year-old was an accident or suicide.


Over his career, Ed hit for a .346 average, 4th on the all-time list.  He got 2,596 hits, 100 home runs, 1,464 RBI, 1,599 runs scored, and 455 stolen bases.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945, the third youngest Hall of Famer to die.


Ed was the best of the Delahanty brothers who appears in the majors.  Jim had a thirteen-year career, but the others, Frank, Tom and Joe, played sparingly.  A sixth brother, Willie, starred in the minors and was signed by the Dodgers, but before he could report for National League duty, he was hit in the head by a pitched ball and soon gave up the game afterward.


Frank Delahanty

Frank was the youngest of five Delahanty brothers to play in the major leagues.  Sixteen years younger than his famed brother, Ed, Frank made his professional debut in 1902 with Atlanta of the Southern League.  The outfielder played three more seasons in the minors before making his major league debut with the American League New York Highlanders in August 1905.  He batted .238 as a semi-regular in 1906.  He had been sitting out the 1907 season while studying medicine at Baldwin Wallace College, near Cleveland, when the Yankees traded him to the Cleveland club managed by Nap Lajoie.  He would later return to the Yankees in 1908 when they bought him from the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association.


In 1909 he began five seasons in the American Association, playing the outfield for Louisville, Indianapolis, St. Paul, and Minneapolis.  His batting averages ranged from .237 to 276 during that timeframe.  When the Federal League was formed to challenge the American and National leagues in 1914, he signed with Buffalo and later Pittsburgh, only although the league folded in its second year.  He spent one more season in the minors before retiring.


Over his six-year major league career, he played 286 games, hitting for a .226 average, 5 home runs and 94 RBI.  In 1,189 minor league games, he collected 1,095 hits for a .254 average and stole 260 bases.


Jim Delahanty

Jim was the second-best of the family of Delahantys who would play in the major leagues.  His major league career was just starting when his brother Ed’s was abruptly ended by his tragic drowning in 1903.


He played three minor league seasons before making his major league debut on April 19, 1901, with the Chicago Cubs.  He appeared in only 17 games that year and then only seven with the New York Giants the next year.  He played two seasons with Little Rock in the Southern Association, leading the league in hitting (.383) in 1903.  He became the regular third baseman with the Boston Beaneaters in 1904. This began a series of moderately productive seasons, when he also played for Cincinnati, St. Louis Browns, and Washington.  He was traded by the Senators to Detroit for Germany Schaefer and Red Killefer in August 1909, and he arrived just in time to help the Tigers win their third straight pennant.  In World Series play, he led the Tigers in hitting, but they lost to the Pirates in seven games.


Jim would have three more good seasons with Detroit, including the best of his career in 1911.  He hit for a .339 average, with 30 doubles, 14 triples and 94 RBI, as Hughie Jennings’ club finished in second place.  He played a full season with Minneapolis of the American Association in 1913.  In 1914, he jumped to the Brooklyn team of the Federal League, and when the league folded in its second year in 1915, he played until 1916 in the minors.


Jim played every position except catcher during his career.  His fielding average was an unimpressive .939.  Offensively, he compiled a .283 batting average, 191 doubles, 60 triples, 18 home runs and 489 RBI.  In 830 minor league games, he hit for a .305 average, based on 948 hits.  Four of his brothers, Ed, Frank, Joe and Tom played in the major leagues and another brother, Will, played in the minors.


Joe Delahanty

Joe was one of five Delahanty brothers to play in the major leagues.  He made his professional debut in the New England League in 1897, where he hit for a .344 average in 25 games.  He then played two and a half seasons in the Atlantic League where he hit .344 and .469, before progressing to the Eastern League in 1900.  He rapped out 30 triples in 86 games in 1899.  Joe played both infield and outfield positions.  In 1903, he briefly played in the Southern Association for 48 games and hit .371, in between stints with Montreal, Worcester and Buffalo.  In 1906 and 1907 he started in the outfield for Williamsport of the Tri-State League and led the league in hitting in 1907 with a .355 average.


He arrived as a 31-year-old rookie with the St. Louis Cardinals in in 1907, but his debut year was brief, playing only seven games.  The outfielder/second baseman, played two more seasons with St. Louis, but did nothing significant to help some woeful teams that finished more than 50 games out of first place.   The right-handed hitter batted .255 and 44 RBI in 1908 and .214 with 54 RBI in 1909. Joe returned to the Eastern League where he played two seasons with Toronto.  In 1912 he played 60 games in his final professional season split between the United States League and New York State League.


His career overlapped with his brother Jim’s, but they did not play against or with each other.  For his career, Joe hit .238 with 4 home runs and 100 RBI in 269 games.  In 1,423 minor league games, his statistics were much better:  .303 average, 287 doubles, 170 triples, and 55 home runs in 5.405 at-bats.


Tom Delahanty

Tom had the briefest career of the five Delahanty brothers who played in the major leagues.  He made his professional debut in 1894 with Peoria of the Western League, where he hit .297 in 101 games. He made his major league debut at age 22 with the Philadelphia Phillies on September 29 of that same year.  He got one hit in his only game on the same team as older brother Ed.


The second baseman spent the 1895 season in the minors, hitting .290, three home runs, and 29 doubles and stole 65 bases for Atlanta in the Southern Association and also played 16 games for Detroit of the Western League.  He played 17 games with Cleveland and Pittsburgh of the National League in 1896 and spent most of the season with the 4th-place Toronto of the Eastern League.  In 1897 he played one game for Louisville in the National League and split the rest of the season between the Western League and Atlantic League.  After two more minor league seasons, he appeared in three games for Cleveland again.  In his remaining six additional minor league seasons, he managed to hit above .300 on three occasions, including 1903 when he also managed Denver of the Western League.


In his three-year career, he played in a total of 19 games, hitting .239, no home runs and 6 RBI.  In his 13-year minor league career, he hit for a .295 average and scored 1,001 runs in 1,304 games.  He collected 1,545 hits, 212 doubles, 78 triples and 26 home runs.  His four brothers, Ed, Frank, Jim and Joe, played in the majors between 1888 and 1915.  Another brother, Will, also played in the minors.  His brothers, Joe and Jim, were on the same team with him at Allentown in the Atlantic League during 1898 through 1900.

A Flunking Grade on My Mid-Season Report Card

As we head into the Major League All-Star break, it’s a good time to assess the interim results of the season.  My blog followers who know me pretty well can attest to the fact that I didn’t make any flunking grades in school.  Unfortunately that aptitude hasn’t translated well this year with regards to my pre-season Major League division leader predictions picks.  I get a big fat “F” on my mid-season report card for my picks.

You see, out of twelve teams I selected for the top two spots in each of the six MLB divisions, I only got five of them correct.

Here’s a recap of my predictions, showing my pre-season pick as the first number and their current standing as the second, as of Sunday:

  • AL East:  Orioles (1), (3); Red Sox (2), (5)

  • AL Central:  Indians (1), (4); White Sox (2), (5)

  • AL West:  Mariners (1), (4); Angels (2), (1)

  • NL East:  Nationals (1), (1); Marlins (2), (4)

  • NL Central:  Cardinals (1), (1); Pirates (2), (2)

  • NL West:  Dodgers (1), (1); Padres (2), (4)

My best predictions were in the National League, where I got all three of the division leaders right so far.  However, it was a much different story in the American League where only one of my six top-2 picks is bearing out.

In retrospect, I was the victim of over-estimating teams that made big splashes in the off-season with many new acquisitions.

The Red Sox, White Sox, Marlins, and Padres were among the most active during the winter in trying to upgrade their teams with new players, but have been among the most disappointing with their results thus far.  Their situations have re-emphasized a popular belief that just adding a collection of good players doesn’t matter, if the team chemistry doesn’t develop with them.

The Marlins and Padres have already fired their managers because their team’s new expectations weren’t being fulfilled.  Although managers John Farrell of the Red Sox and Robin Ventura of the White Sox may make it through the rest of this season, they will be on the chopping block after the season if they can’t show significant improvements.

Another factor affecting the division races is the amount of parity that has become more prevalent in major league baseball.  Who would have thought that teams like the Twins, Astros, Rangers, and Diamondbacks would be relevant in the first half of the season?  They were supposed to still be in re-building mode, perhaps another year or two away from being contenders.  Yet they each have stepped up this year and are affecting the standings of their respective division.

I know I hadn’t anticipated the surprising success of these teams for this season.  In fact, I had forecasted that the Astros and Rangers would be battling each other for last place in the AL West Division.  Instead, they have been pushing the Mariners, whom I had boldly predicted would win the American League pennant, to the bottom.  The Astros have been in the lead practically the entire season, although a recent surge by the Angels has the Astros a half-game behind.  The Astros’ core of relatively little-known pitchers has been outstanding, and their offense has been stimulated by a bevy of home runs.  It’s true the Astros batters also strike out a lot, but their team formula has been working for them thus far.  On the Mariners’ front, with the exception of Nelson Cruz, their offense has been woeful.  The ballpark in Seattle may be too big for Robinson Cano, who hasn’t put up the power numbers he displayed in New York.  Consequently, Cruz is not getting much protection in the batting lineup.

In the American League Central, I had the Indians and White Sox at the top, but they are currently bringing up the rear instead.  The Tribe got off to a really bad start, and it looks like they will be hard-pressed to overtake the Royals and Twins.  I had figured the Royals were a one-year-wonder last season when they won the American League pennant.  However, they are sporting the best record in the American League right now.

The American League East Division is probably the one most up in the air.  Only six and one-half games separate the last place Red Sox from the division-leading Yankees.  Going into the season, I thought the revived Red Sox offense would score enough runs to offset a questionable starting rotation.  But that hasn’t been the case.  The Yankees have taken advantage of an overall weak division, led by the surprising Alex Rodriguez, who sat out all of last season, and Mark Teixeira, who avoided his usual slow start of the season.  Except for die-hard Yankees fans, no one expected this aging team to be where they are currently, me included.

Far and away, the Cardinals are the best team in all of baseball this season.  They seem to plug-and-play all the members of their entire roster really well.  As a result, they haven’t been particularly slowed by their injuries or temporary slumps.  Plus their pitching, led by Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and a solid bullpen, has been stellar.  I had picked the Pirates, along with the Cardinals, as the top two teams in the National League Central, and indeed they are right where I anticipated—by far my best predictions.  The Cubs have generated a lot of excitement with their young club, but it’s doubtful at this point that they can overtake the Pirates.

The Nationals are in first place in the National League East Division where I predicted them, but they aren’t getting much competition, except for the Mets.  As I wrote in last week’s blog post, the Mets’ pitching is among the best in the league, but they aren’t getting adequate run support to seriously challenge the Nationals.  The Marlins are a big disappointment for me.  I’m not a big fan of new manager Dan Jennings.  And now with slugger Giancarlo Stanton on the disabled list for up to six weeks, things will only get worse for them.  I had predicted the Nationals would win the National League pennant, but right now I’d have to say the Cardinals have the edge because they have been so consistent.

As I forecasted, the Dodgers are leading the National League West Division, but my second pick, the Padres, are currently only ahead of the lowly Rockies.  The Padres made some key acquisitions in the offseason, but those new players haven’t yielded the commensurate dividends yet.  Perhaps new Padres manager Pat Murphy can infuse a turnaround.  Despite this being an odd-numbered year, the Giants (who won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014) are hanging tough in the division.  As mentioned above, the Diamondbacks have been among the surprise teams in the first half, only three games behind the second-place Giants.  Paul Goldschmidt just might carry the D’backs on his back to stay in contention.  

The good news about the baseball season so far is that only four teams out of thirty are currently doomed for a wild-card spot in the playoffs.  That has the potential for producing some exciting, down-to-the-wire races in late September in both leagues.  Who knows?  If the parity among teams continues during the balance of the season, it might actually work in my favor such that I might still be able to squeeze out a higher final season grade.


Mets Pitching Talent is Amazin'

When New York Mets pitcher Steven Matz made his major league debut a week ago, he was the icing on the cake for a stellar starting pitching staff the team has assembled over the past few years.  Many observers argue that five of the Mets’ young hurlers are already the best in baseball and have the potential to lead the club to reclaim the “Amazin’ Mets” tag they acquired in some of their past successful seasons.  Yet, unless the team starts scoring more runs on a regular basis, all this star-studded talent will go to waste, and they will just be the latest version of the “Mediocre Mets.”

Jonathan Niese and Dillon Gee have been in the Mets starting rotation since 2010 and 2011, respectively.  As reliable day-in, day-out starters, they were deemed to be key players in leading the Mets to prominence again.

However, all that has changed in just a few short years.  These two guys are already being supplanted by a newer crop of pitchers that have been groomed in the Mets farm system and have been harvested by the big league club.  Each of these more recent pitchers fits into the current mold of pitching that I call the “flame-thrower” generation, with all of them consistently throwing in the 95-97 mph range.

26-year-old right-hander Matt Harvey was one of the top pitching sensations of the 2013 season, until he hurt his arm in late August.  He still wound up fourth in the voting for the National League’s Cy Young Award.  He required Tommy John surgery and missed all of the 2014 season, but has rebounded in fine form this year.

25-year-old Zach Wheeler also captured a regular spot in the Mets rotation in mid-2013 and then solidified his status with a full season in 2014, compiling an 11-11 win-loss record.  However, he too required Tommy John surgery after that season and is missing the entire 2015 season.

Then 27-year-old lefty Jacob deGrom was the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 2014, posting a 9-6 record and 2.59 ERA.  He is currently showing that last season was not a one-hit-wonder type of year.

Now, the latest installment of the Mets’ pitching corps in 2015 includes 22-year-old Noah Syndergaard and 24-year-old Matz.  Although the jury is still out on how these two will ultimately fare, all the indicators are pointing in the right direction.

Surprisingly, the one old-timer in the Mets starting rotation, 42-year-old Bartolo Colon, doesn’t seem to want to end his career.  He started his professional career in 1994, when most of the youngsters of the Mets’ staff were still playing T-ball.  However, he is leading the staff with nine wins, although he gives up the most earned runs of the staff.

The Mets are now experiencing a problem with not enough spots in the rotation to keep all these pitchers busy.  With Niese and Gee still in the mix, the Mets have recently moved to a six-man starting rotation.  The veteran Colon is actually the odd-man out as a starter.

Matz’s performance goes down as one of the best major league debuts in Mets history, but it was indicative of how the Mets’ season has been going.  While pitching 7 and 2/3 scoreless innings, Matz provided all the team’s offense himself, banging out three hits and driving four runs.

You see, the Mets have a big problem scoring runs.

The Mets’ offense as a team has been woeful so far.  They rank last or near last in the National League in practically every hitting category.

When deGrom is pitching, the Mets have been scoring an average of only 2.18 runs per game, fifth-lowest in the league.  Harvey has been backed by only 3.08 runs, 15th lowest.

The veterans of the starting lineup include Curtis Granderson and Michael Cuddyer, but they’ve barely been average thus far in contributing to run production.  It’s true the Mets offense has been hampered by injuries to regulars David Wright, Daniel Murphy, and Travis d’Arnaud, but there haven’t been adequate replacements to backfill them.

Hence, the Mets have had to resort to a run prevention strategy to win games.  The Mets pitchers have held up their end of this approach with the fourth-lowest ERA in the league, a strikeout rate of nine per nine innings pitched, and 2.5 walks per nine innings pitched.  Not bad for a collection of 20-something-year-olds.

Fortunately for the Mets, no team in the National League East Division has been running away with the league lead so far.  Despite their offensive miseries, the Mets were only four and one-half games behind the league-leading Washington Nationals, as of Saturday.

However, with the type of pitching staff the Mets have, they should be solidly in first place in the division that includes several weak teams.  A big question remains whether the Mets will be a buyer at the trade deadline at the end of July in an attempt to boost its offensive production.  Unlike the cross-town rival Yankees, the Mets have never been a team that bought a title.  However, if they don’t acquire some help for the pennant stretch the last two months of the season, they will waste their fine pitching.

The Mets would likely be willing to put up pitchers Niese and Gee as trade bait, but one or both of them might not be enough.  Prospective sellers will probably want one of their other young aces who would be at the top of the rotation.

This current young core of Mets aces is reminiscent of some great Mets pitching staffs of the past.  In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the Mets’ staff featured guys like Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, Gary Gentry, and a very young Nolan Ryan.  In the mid-‘80s, Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Rick Aguilera, and Bob Ojeda were the Mets’ pitching headliners.  Both of these groups of hurlers produced World Series teams.

It will be interesting to see if this Mets’ pitching staff can turn out the next version of the Amazin’ Mets.

A Bumper Crop of Rookies in 2015

Chicago Cubs rookie third baseman Kris Bryant captured a lot of the headlines coming out of spring training when he was sent to the minors to start the season, even though everyone knew he was ready for his debut in the Big Show.  Sure enough, when he got called up by the Cubs at mid-April, he didn’t disappoint us.

Meanwhile rookie Joc Pederson, who got a brief call-up at the end of last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, has been in the starting lineup for them since Opening Day, and he’s responded like a veteran.  The Dodgers apparently anticipated his ability to step in and step up to the starting centerfielder role, when they traded away super star centerfielder Matt Kemp during the winter.

These are just two examples of rookies who have made big impacts on their teams thus far this season. Further evidence that big league clubs are looking to their rookies in a big way is revealed by the fact that 24 former first-round draft picks have already made their major league debut since the beginning of this season.

We’ve seen several big league teams start to harvest their top minor league prospects this season, after going through extensive re-building periods.

The Chicago Cubs are one of them.  There were debates over whether the Cubs were positioned themselves for a breakout year this season or in 2016.  But it looks like they’re all in for 2015.  Bryant and rookie second baseman Addison Russell are now entrenched in the Cubs’ starting lineup, joining rookie Jorge Soler in the outfield.  Rookie Kyle Schwarber was recently called up to the Cubs as a DH and backup catcher.  Slugger Javier Baez is just waiting to join the team from the minors, although there isn’t an obvious roster spot for him at the moment.  These guys are all integral to the youth movement going on in Chicago, and it’s paying off with their being in contention for second place in the NL Central Division.  It’s an exciting time to be a Cubs fan.

The Houston Astros are another team that had seen some really lean years in the past eight years.  The team have been on a concerted plan to use their player development system to re-build its future.  They have capitalized on their past draft investments this season with the promotion of Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr. and Preston Tucker.  By all accounts from his recent advancement to the big league club, shortstop Correa is seen as a “can’t miss” star of the future—a young Alex Rodriguez.  McCullers stepped into the starting rotation and responded well; he’ll be around for years to come.  Surprising everyone, the Astros have held the first-place position in the AL West since April 19, and these youngsters figure to help them maintain this position in the division.

Several high profile rookies who got their chances for promotion due to injuries suffered by their teams include Blake Swihart, catcher for the Red Sox; Joey Gallo, third baseman for the Rangers; Randal Grichuk, outfielder for the Cardinals.  All of these players were first-round draft selections.

In addition to the Astros’ McCullers, some rookie pitchers who have demonstrated their projected potential include Noah Syndergaard of the Mets, Carlos Rodon of the White Sox, and the Rangers’ Chi Chi Gonzalez.  Each of these hurlers were first-rounders in past drafts, too, but they pitch now like they’ve been around for a while.

Christ Heston made his major league debut in 2014, but maintained his rookie status this season because he didn’t pitch the minimum of 50 innings last year.  He hurled this season’s first no-hitter for the San Francisco Giants, in only the 13th big league start of his career.

Pat Venditte is relatively old for a rookie, at age 29, but he captured the nation’s attention in his major league debut for the Oakland A’s on June 5 by pitching with both arms in the same game.  He wasn’t the first to do this in the majors, but he is the first major league switch-pitcher on a regular basis.

Highly-touted Byron Buxton made his major league debut with the Minnesota Twins on June 14, after being the No. 1 rated prospect in the minor leagues for the past two years.  The 21-year-old five-tool outfielder is being looked to by the Twins to help them maintain their fantastic start of the season.

Someone who didn’t have a lot of fanfare at the beginning of his major league career, like Buxton, was Devon Travis of the Toronto Blue Jays.  Before he went on the disabled list on May 17, the rookie was one of the leading offensive second baseman with 7 home runs, 26 RBI, and a slash line of .271/.336/.504.

Similarly, rookie Billy Burns of the Oakland A’s wasn’t one of those high draft picks, as a 32nd round draft selection in 2011, but he is now 6th in the American League with a .322 batting average.

Three noteworthy rookies who came into Organized Baseball through foreign country routes include Cuban Yasmany Tomas, who is hitting .320 as an infielder/outfielder for the Arizona Diamondbacks; South Korean Jung Ho Kang, an infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates who is batting .274; and Cuban Alex Guerrero, who has hit 10 home runs and 29 RBI for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

We should expect another wave of top prospects to get call-ups in the balance of the season.  Players like the Phillies’ Aaron Nola, the Mets’ Stephen Matz, and the Dodgers’ Corey Seager are waiting in the wings to get their shot in the big leagues.

There’s still a lot of baseball to be played in 2015, however, the current front-runners for Rookie of the Year appear to be Bryant, Pederson, and Syndergaard in the National League, while Correa, McCullers, Burns, and Travis are contenders in the American League.  But, of course, it’s not too late for someone else to emerge.

Looking back in history, one of the most prominent rookies was Fred Lynn of the Boston Red Sox.  He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1975 and also captured the league’s MVP Award, the first player to win both awards in the same season.  Ichiro Suzuki, who is still active with the Miami Marlins, took both awards in 2001.  We may not have a Lynn or Suzuki among the bumper crop of rookies this year, but my bet is that we’ll see a number of them propelling their teams towards the post-season in this “year of the rookies.”

An All-Star Team of Baseball Dads

As I’ve commented many times on this blog site, baseball is a game of family ties, one generation passing down their love and knowledge of the game to the next.  Baseball has more family relationships than any other professional sport.  So, it’s only fitting on Father’s Day that I give you my proposal for an all-star team of baseball dads, major leaguers who had one or more sons that also played in the big leagues.

Through the 2014 season, there were 219 major league players in history who had a big league son.  That’s a pretty rare group considering there have been over 18,000 major league players in the history of the game.

Here’s my “All-Dads” team made up of some pretty darn good players.  The team includes some fathers who were Hall of Famers, while the others were selected to multiple Major League All-Star teams.  One of the team’s players had both a father and two sons who were major leaguers.  Two of the father-son combinations actually played together as major league teammates, perhaps the ultimate accomplishment of a family with baseball bloodlines.

CYogi Berra.  Berra is a Hall of Famer and one of the all-time best Yankee players in history, playing on ten World Series championship teams.  He won three American League MVP Awards and was a fifteen-time All-Star.  Yogi’s son, Dale, was a major league infielder from 1977 to 1987.  Dale was coached by his dad when he played for the Yankees in 1985.  Yogi had another son, Laurence, who played briefly in the Mets minor league organization.  Yogi is still living at age 90.

1B – George Sisler.  Sisler was a Hall of Famer who played from 1915 to 1930, primarily playing for the St. Louis Browns.  His career batting average of .340 ranks as 16th best in history.  He twice hit over .400 in a season.  He was the National League MVP in 1922.  George had two major league sons, Dick and Dave.  Dick was a first baseman like his father, appearing in the majors from 1946 to 1953.  He made one National League All-Star team in 1950.  Dave was a journeyman pitcher from 1956 to 1962.  A third Sisler son, George, was a minor league player from 1939-1942 and wound up serving as president of the Triple-A International League from 1966-1966.

2B – Eddie Collins.  Collins was a Hall of Famer who appeared in the majors from 1906 to 1928.  He ranks 11th on the all-time hits list with 3,335.  He played on four World Series championship teams with the A’s and White Sox and was named the American League MVP in 1914.  Eddie’s son, Eddie Jr., played for the Philadelphia A’s as a utility outfielder from 1939 to 1942.

3B – Buddy Bell.  Bell was a second-generation major leaguer, who appeared in the big leagues from 1972 to 1989, primarily with the Rangers and Indians.  His father, Gus, had played for fifteen seasons as an outfielder in the National League during 1950 to 1964.  Buddy was a career .279 hitter, made the All-Star team five times, and was named a Gold Glove winner six times.  Buddy had two major league sons, David and Mike.  David had a twelve-year career with six major league teams during 1995 to 2006, hitting for a .257 average.  Mike’s major league career consisted of only 19 games with the Rockies.  Buddy had a third son, Ricky, who played in the minors for 10 seasons.  The Bells are one of only five three-generation major league families.

SS – Maury Wills.  Wills is best known as one of the premier base-stealers in the history of baseball.  He dominated the 1960s when he led the National League six consecutive seasons in stolen bases.  The highlight of his career was breaking Ty Cobb’s long-standing record with 104 in 1962, on his way to capturing the National League MVP title.  The slick-fielding shortstop played on three World Series championship teams with the Los Angeles Dodgers and was a five-time All-Star.  During 1959 to 1972, the shortstop was a career .281 hitter and ranked 20th on the all-time list for stolen bases.  Maury’s son, Bump, played six major league seasons as a second baseman for the Rangers and Cubs.  He compiled a .266 career batting average.

OF – Bobby Bonds.  Bonds brought both power and speed to his career that lasted from 1968 to 1981.  He was one of the first consistent 30-30 players, compiling 30 or more home runs and stolen bases in a single season.  The outfielder finished his career with 461 stolen bases and 332 home runs, as he made three All-Star teams and captured three Gold Glove awards.  However, he also struck out a lot, as he is 19th on the all-time list with 1,757.  Bobby’s son, Barry, was one of best hitters of all time in baseball history.  The outfielder was a seven-time MVP in the National League.  He ranks in the top-five of all time in career home runs, slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging percentage, runs scored, total bases, RBI, and bases on balls.  He won a string of Gold Gloves from 1990 to 1998.  Bobby had another son, Bobby Jr., who was an outfielder in the minors from 1992 to 2002.

OF – Ken Griffey Sr.  Griffey was a member of the Cincinnati Reds’ Big Red Machine of the 1970’s.  He compiled a .296 career batting average during 1973 to 1991, primarily playing for the Reds and Yankees.  He was an All-Star three times and a member of two World Series championship teams.  Ken’s son, Ken Jr., was one of the most prolific home run hitters (630) in history, currently ranking sixth on the all-time list.  Also an outfielder during 1989 to 2010, Junior was a 13-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove Award winner.  He began his major league career in 1989 at age 19 and was named to the All-Century Team in 1999.  Ken Sr. had another son, Craig, who played outfield in the minors from 1991 to 1997.  Ken Sr. and Ken Jr. made major league history in 1991 when they became the first major league father-son combo to play as teammates in the same game for the Seattle Mariners.

OF – Tim Raines Sr.  Raines had a spectacular 23-year career, with over half of his career with the Montreal Expos.  He had six consecutive seasons with over 70 stolen bases, leading the National League from 1981 to 1984.  His 808 career stolen bases ranks 5th on the all-time list.  The seven-time All-Star had a career .294 batting average, along with 1,571 runs scored (53rd on the all-time list).  Tim’s son, Tim Jr., was an outfielder for 75 games during 2001 and 2004.  Tim Sr. and Tim Jr. had the privilege of appearing in the same major league game as Baltimore Orioles teammates in 2004.

DH – Cecil Fielder.  In the first half of the 1990s, Fielder was as feared a slugger as there was in the game.  He led the American League in home runs twice (including 51 in 1990) and RBI three times, while finishing as runner-up for the MVP Award twice.  He was a three-time All-Star, compiling 319 career home runs in a 13-year career primarily with the Tigers.  Cecil’s son, Prince, is nearing his father’s career home run total in his 11th season as a big leaguer, including 50 in 2007.  Prince has been an All-Star five times so far, while also garnering three Silver Slugger Awards.

UT – Pete Rose.  I created a Utility Player position for this all-star team because Rose was a major league All-Star at four different positions:  second base, outfield, third base, and first base. Rose is the all-time hit king of Major League Baseball.  He also ranks first all-time in games played and at-bats.  He was in the top ten of the National League MVP voting ten times, winning in 1973.  He was a member of three World Series championship teams with the Reds and Phillies.  Pete’s son, Pete Jr., played in only 11 major league games in his career, even though he spent 21 years in the minors and independent league ball.

P – Ed Walsh.  Walsh was one of the dominant pitchers of early 20th century baseball.  He once recorded 40 wins in a season, while earning 195 victories in his career that lasted from 1904 to 1917.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  His son, Ed, pitched for the White Sox from 1928 to 1932, compiling only eleven victories.

P – Joe Niekro.  Niekro and his brother, Phil, hold the major league record for the most career wins (539) by a pair of major league brothers.  Joe managed to get 221 of those victories during his career that lasted from 1967 to 1988.  He finished in the top four for the Cy Young Award in 1979 and 1980, seasons in which he won 20 games.  Joe’s son, Lance, was a first baseman for the Giants for four seasons during 2003 and 2007.

Mgr – Connie Mack.  Considered one of the pioneers of the early game of baseball, Mack has a record that will never be broken—53 years as a major league manager during 1894 to 1950.  He had led the Philadelphia A’s to five World Series championships by 1931.  After that, however, his teams were generally in the lower second division of the American League.  Still, he managed 3, 731 victories during his career.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Connie’s son, Earle, played a total of five major league games for his father during 1910 and 1914 and later became a coach, scout, and part-owner of the A’s.  Connie had two other sons, Roy and Connie Jr., who were involved in the operations of the A’s franchise.

New Managers Making Impact Despite Lack of Experience

The 2015 season began with a new crop of managers taking the helm of big league clubs.  The current trend is that teams are making hires with little-to-no managerial experience.  These new hires are running teams that needed significant change to help turn around their teams from 2014’s performance.  Several of them have in fact had dramatic impacts on their clubs.  The question remains if they can sustain the results.  Let’s take a look at how they are doing so far this season.

But first, a little bit more background on the current managerial landscape in Major League Baseball.  The last sixteen managerial hires since the 2011 season had a total of thirty-two years of experience as a big league manager prior to 2015, and that includes Lloyd McClendon who had six years and Joe Maddon who had eleven prior seasons.

For the 2015 season, in addition to McClendon (Mariners) and Maddon (Cubs), the newcomers included A. J. Hinch (Astros), Paul Molitor (Twins), Kevin Cash (Tampa Bay), Chip Hale (Diamondbacks), and Jeff Banister (Rangers).  Only Hinch had any prior major league managerial experience, consisting of two seasons with the Diamondbacks.  Furthermore, first-time managers Dan Jennings and Craig Counsell claimed their new jobs after the season started, when the Marlins and Brewers fired their incumbent managers after dismal starts.

Other relatively new managers in the game today (with their prior years’ experience indicated) include Brad Ausmus (1), Mike Matheny (3), Bryan Price (1), Robin Ventura (3), Walt Weiss (2), Matt Williams (1), Ryne Sandberg (2).

By contrast, the remaining fourteen big league managers have an average of almost eleven years of experience.  Bruce Bochy is the dean of the current managers in his 21st season.

So far, the Houston Astros have made the most dramatic improvement from last year.  They have been leading the American League West Division since April 19, after finishing fourth or fifth in the division since they transitioned to the American League in 2013.  New Astros manager A. J. Hinch has been a strong influence on a relatively young team.  He did have experience as a manager with the Diamondbacks a few years ago, which may be a factor in his doing the best job of the newcomers so far this season.  However, through Sunday, they had lost eight of their last ten games, so it will be interesting to see if Hinch can get them over this bad spell of play.

In Texas, Jeff Banister has recently led the Rangers through an impressive upswing such that they are only two and a half games behind the Astros.  The Rangers were pre-season picks to battle the Houston Astros for last place in the American League West Division.  This prediction was largely based on an ailing pitching staff and doubt about whether Prince Fielder could return to past performances as a feared slugger.

Indeed, through the month of April, it appeared the Rangers’ pre-season prediction would come true, as they lost 7 of 21 games.  However, in May Banister led the Rangers through a dramatic stretch, winning 19 of 30 games.  Now, they are only a game and half behind the division leading Astros.  Banister managed to juggle a made-over pitching staff.  The team has bought in to Banister’s leadership after the firing of previous Rangers manager, Ron Washington, who was a favorite of the players, while they finished at the bottom of the West Division last season.  Banister has facilitated a renewed excitement and energy on the Rangers team.

The Minnesota Twins didn’t figure to be in the American League Central Division race before the season started.  However, with a little over one-third of the season being completed, the Twins are surprisingly in second place, only a one and a half games behind the Kansas City Royals.  First-time manager Paul Molitor has taken a relatively young team and figured out how to win games, despite low offensive production and a pitching staff that is among the lower third of the league.  Their month of May was one of the best in baseball, when they clawed their way into the first-place spot for a few days.  However, the Twins have run into a June swoon, so it will be interesting to see if Molitor can continue to keep them competitive in the long season.

Similar to Texas, the Tampa Bay Rays weren’t in the conversation at the beginning of the season as being any kind of contender in the American League East Division.  What little offense the Rays had was largely dismantled during the off-season, so their outlook was largely contingent on how well their pitching, would hold up in 2015.

In following the departed veteran manager Joe Maddon, new manager Kevin Cash had big shoes to fill in Tampa.  Yet the Rays now find themselves tied for first place in the division along with the Yankees.  Some would argue that the Rays have taken advantage of a division that is relatively weak from top to bottom, while others say Cash was just the right kind of guy to lead this club into the post-Maddon era.

Of the first-time managers starting the 2015 season, Arizona’ Chip Hale has had the roughest road so far.  They actually are not playing bad baseball, being only two games under .500.  But their in-division rivals, the Giants and Dodgers, have a clear edge over the rest of the clubs.

There are some recent precedents for successful first-time managers.  Mike Matheny’s Cardinals finished as the runner-up to the Giants for the National League pennant in 2012.   Matt Williams’ Nationals finished with the best record in the National League in 2014.  Brad Ausmus’ Tigers won the Central Division title in 2014.  They’ve proven that prior managerial experience is not always a prerequisite for success.

Of course, it’s a long season.  There’s still a lot of baseball to be played.  However, each of the teams with new managers would love the opportunity to be in the same position at the beginning of September as they are today.