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.
The Brewers need to pull the trigger again

Emerging major-league teams look for the window of opportunity to make a step-jump with their roster to put them in a position to contend for division titles, league championships, and ultimately a World Series ring.

Following the 2017 season, one of those teams was the Milwaukee Brewers.  They had been contenders for the NL Central Division title for a good part of the season, only to succumb to the Chicago Cubs who had a fantastic September that ultimately separated the two teams by six games at the end of the season.

Then before the 2018 season began, the Brewers realized that window of opportunity for a post-season berth was staring them square in the face.  They pulled the trigger with two key acquisitions that indeed put them on a path for another successful regular season.  In fact, the Brewers came within a game of advancing to the World Series last year for the first time since 1982.

The Brewers aggressively pursued outfielder Christian Yelich, who was part of the fire-sale the new Miami Marlins’ ownership undertook to dramatically lower its payroll.  Yelich had been an under-valued player at Miami, on the cusp of a breakout season.  The Brewers got Yelich at a bargain-basement price, giving up four minor-league prospects and none of the players on their active roster.

Brewers GM David Stearns didn’t stop there.  The Brewers signed free-agent outfielder Lorenzo Cain, a veteran outfielder with the Kansas City Royals who had been a member of their two World Series teams in 2014 and 2015.

Yelich wound up having the breakout season the Brewers were hoping for.  He was the American League’s MVP, as he posted career highs in practically every offensive category.  Cain brought speed and defense to the team, and he finished the season seventh in the MVP Award voting.

Furthermore, Jesus Aguilar was elevated to the starting first-baseman role in 2018, and he responded with an all-star season that included 35 home runs and 108 RBIs.

The Brewers’ newfound offense was complemented by a pitching staff that featured one of the best bullpens in baseball.  Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, and Jeremy Jeffress were dominant against the opposition’s best hitters with their high strikeout rates and low WHIP rates.  Rookie reliever Corbin Burnes was promoted to the team after the All-Star break, and he provided yet another set of strong performances out of the pen.

If the Brewers had a weakness in 2018, it was their starting rotation.  The Brewers best pitcher, Jimmy Nelson, missed the entire 2018 season due to injury.  They lacked a true ace on the staff, although Chase Anderson and Jhoulys Chacin turned in credible seasons.  Wade Miley, a free-agent starter who signed before the 2018 season, didn’t come into the rotation until after the All-Star break.  Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta were up-and-coming starters, but are still unproven in an entire season.

The Brewers have been relatively quiet during the off-season, particularly with respect to upgrading their starting rotation.  It seems the window of opportunity is still open for the Brewers to repeat as division winners and challenge for the World Series in 2019.  So, why aren’t the Brewers waiting to pull the trigger again?

It’s understandable they weren’t a contender for the top free-agent hurlers available over the winter, due to the club’s financial limitations as a mid-market team.  However, others they might be able to afford include Miley and Gio Gonzalez, both of whom spent time with the Brewers last year.  Marco Estrada and Drew Pomeranz are two other free-agents still available.

The San Francisco Giants are reportedly interested in parting with its ace Madison Bumgardner in a trade for the right package of playes.  The cost would be high for the Brewers, possibly including a combination of one of their top three bullpen guys and young pitchers Burnes, Woodruff, and Peralta.  Furthermore, Bumgardner would be a short-term rental for the Brewers, since he would be eligible for free agency after 2019.

However, MadBum would be just the type of pitcher that could put the Brewers over the top.  He’s certainly got a World Series pedigree, as he’s pitched the Giants to three world championships since 2010.

The Brewers can’t afford to be complacent though.  Competition in the NL Central Division will be tough again in 2019.  The St. Louis Cardinals would have to be favored due to the addition of all-star first-baseman Paul Goldschmidt and bullpen ace Andrew Miller.  And then you can never count out the Cubs, even though the seemed to have fallen off a bit since they captured the World Series in 2016.  Cincinnati was extremely active during the off-season, but they won’t contend just yet.

The Brewers helped themselves last week by upgrading their catcher position with the addition of Yasmani Grandal.  Reportedly they are in the market for a second baseman, too.  It seems like the time is now for the Brewers to also take some action to solidify their starting pitching.  It’s been an awfully long time since that last World Series appearance.

Baines' HOF election shouldn't justify a degradation of Hall standards

Harold Baines’ election to the Baseball Hall of Fame last month by the Veterans Committee still has a lot of people scratching their heads about the criteria some of the voters used to evaluate candidates.  It seems to be inconsistent with current thinking that utilizes more than the traditional metrics used since the beginning of the Hall in 1936.

On the other hand, if Baines is truly Hall-worthy, then perhaps some of the players, who fell off the ballot without receiving the required minimum of 75% of the votes during their years of eligibility, should be re-evaluated.  There is a formal process to do this through the Hall of Fame Veterans Committees, which is how Baines was elected last month and Allan Trammel and Jack Morris were elected a year ago.  However, the integrity of the process was called into question in Baines’ case.

The following tables illustrate the stats of some of the position players from Baines’ era (Group 1) that could be reconsidered.

Table 1 shows selected stats from an analytics standpoint, including the usual slash line (Batting Average/On-Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage), Adjusted On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS+), Wins Above Replacement (WAR), and Top 7 Years for WAR (WAR7).

Table 2 shows traditional stats (Batting Average, Hits, Home Runs, and Runs Batted In) for the same grouping of players as Table 1.  The Awards column includes All-Star appearances (AS), Gold Glove Awards (GG), first-place finishes for Most Valuable Player Award (MVP) and the number of finishes in the Top 10 for Most Valuable Player (MVP10).

For comparison purposes, Group 2 shows the same stats for Baines, as well as several other recent HOF inductees.  Group 3 contains retired players who will be coming up on the ballot within the next few years.  The players in this group are generally thought of as being sure-fire electees when their eligibility comes due.

The data shows there are a number of players in Group 1 who had better careers than Baines.  Dale Murphy and Bernie Williams are two that stand out based on a combination of their analytics and traditional stats.

Murphy was frequently among league leaders in home runs and RBI.  However, he suffered from playing for some poor Braves teams, as they had only three winning seasons in his 15 years with them.  When the Braves finished first and second in their division in 1983 and 1983, Murphy was the National League MVP.

Williams played during the Yankees dynasty years of 1996-2006, when they won six World Series.  He played in the shadows of the Yankees’ popular Core Four consisting of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettite.  The group really should have been called the Core Five, with Williams as an integral part.  Williams was their regular centerfielder throughout the dynasty years.  He was a five-time all-star that earned four Gold Gloves.

But then when Murphy and Williams, as well as any other players from Group 1, are compared to other recent Hall of Famers in Group 2, they don’t quite measure up.

Putting the Group 1 players up against the future Hall of Famers in Group 3 yields similar results.

The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) voters got it right with respect to the Group 1 players when they were on the ballot.  Baines should be considered an anomaly and not be used to justify a degradation of the standards for getting a bronze plaque in the Hall.  As good as players like Murphy and Williams were, they belong in the Hall of Very Good, not the Hall of Fame.

Table 1 – Selected Analytics Stats


Years Played







Group 1








Oliver, Al








Murphy, Dale








Hernandez, Keith








Mattingly, Don








Williams, Bernie








Parker, Dave








Grace, Mark








Garvey, Steve








Clark, Will
















Group 2








Baines, Harold








Biggio, Craig








Bagwell, Jeff








Piazza, Mike
















Group 3








Carlos Beltran








Adrian Beltre








Ortiz, David








Jeter, Derek









Table 2 – Traditional Stats







Group 1






Oliver, Al





7 AS, Bat Title, 3  MVP10

Murphy, Dale





7 AS,  2 MVP, 4  MVP10, 5 GG

Hernandez, Keith





5 AS,  1 MVP, 4 MVP10, 11 GG

Mattingly, Don





6 AS, 1 MVP, 4 MVP10, 9 GG

Williams, Bernie





5 AS,  1 MVP10, 4 GG, Bat Title

Parker, Dave





7 AS,  1 MVP, 6 MVP10, 3 GG

Grace, Mark





3 AS, 4 GG

Garvey, Steve





10 AS, 1 MVP, 5 MVP10, 4 GG,

Clark, Will





6 AS, 4 MVP10, 1 GG







Group 2






Baines, Harold





6 AS, 2 MVP10,

Biggio, Craig





7 AS, 3 MVP10, 4 GG

Bagwell, Jeff





 4 AS, 1 MVP, 6 MVP10, 1 GG

Piazza, Mike





12 AS, 7 MVP10,







Group 3






Carlos Beltran





9 AS, 2 MVP10, 3 GG

Adrian Beltre





4 AS, 6 MVP10, 5 GG

Ortiz, David





10 AS, 7 MVP10,

Jeter, Derek





14 AS, 8 MVP10, 5 GG


Casting my mythical 2019 Hall of Fame ballot

Harold Baines’ recent election to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee (now known also known as Today’s Game Era Committee) has caused quite a bit of stir again in questioning the criteria the committee uses in evaluating the candidates.  People who go strictly by advanced analytics practically choked on his election.  While I didn’t personally think Baines was Hall-worthy, I did feel sorry for him when his fine career was unfairly marginalized in the public arena by baseball pundits immediately following his election.

Indeed it’s sometimes hard to separate the sentimental view of players’ careers from the hard facts.  In my own case, it was Will Clark, my favorite player of the 1980s and 1990s.  I would have voted for him for the Hall of Fame, but in reality he should only be considered for the “Hall of Very Good,” just like Baines.  The facts are that Clark was among the best players in his first 6-7 years, but he just didn’t have enough years of peak performance to be elected.  The Veterans Committee apparently felt the same way; Clark failed to get enough votes in the recent special election of players from the 1987-Present era.

However, getting back to the matter at hand of my selections on my mythical Hall of Fame ballot for 2019, here’s my rationale.

Recapping last year, my selection of Hall of Fame players included: Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Curt Schilling, Larry Walker, and Gary Sheffield.

Jones, Guerrero, and Hoffman were all elected by the official Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) voters, as well as Jim Thome, a first-ballot selection whom I completely missed in my consideration.

Clemens, Bonds, Schilling, and Sheffield are players I have supported for several years now, and I’m continuing to put them on my make-believe ballot this year.

Clemens and Bonds are two of the best players ever in the majors.  No question about it.  However, a cloud of uncertainty continues to surround them because of their perceived PED use.  Their percentage of votes received last year were still well short of the required 75%, at 57.3% and 56.4%, respectively.  Their vote percentages represented only slight increases over their 2017 numbers.  In their seventh years of eligibility, will they get over the hurdle?

Schilling had a slight increase, too, but I’m afraid his off-the-field publicity faux pas in recent years will hurt his chances.  He compares favorably with Mussina in the various Hall of Fame ranking systems, except his career also included a resume of post-season performances that is among the best all-time.

Sheffield doesn’t get much consideration from BBWAA voters.  He was an impact player, a top 3 finisher for MVP three times, with six times in the top 10.  He achieved those regardless of the team with whom he played.  In fact, that may be one of his detractions—not being identified with a single major team during his 22-year career may have painted him with a reputation as just a “journeyman” player.  He’s also tainted by PEDs, since he admitted to using a steroid cream in 2002, although it occurred before the MLB instituted drug testing requirements.

Last year was the first time I had Martinez and Mussina on my list.  I was convinced by the baseball analytics experts that they deserved election.  I believe they will finally get the required minimum number of votes this year.  Baines’ election, with his career as a DH highlighted, will help Martinez’s case.  Jack Morris’ election last year by the Veterans Committee will further enhance Mussina’s case.

I’m going with Larry Walker again.  Currently in his ninth year on the ballot, he received only 34.1% of the votes last year. So his time is running out quickly.  He had some amazing individual seasons for On-Base Percentage, finishing at .400 for his career.  He was a complete player, since he was an MVP in 1997, could steal bases, and won seven Gold Gloves.

The top candidates making their debut on the ballot this year include Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte, Lance Berkman, and Roy Oswalt.

Pettitte, Berkman, and Oswalt would be good candidates for the “Hall of Very Good,” but don’t quite measure up to Hall of Fame quality, in my opinion.

I’m also passing over several hold-overs from previous ballot years--Omar Vizquel, Fred McGriff, Jeff Kent, Billy Wagner, and Scott Rolen--in favor of newcomers Rivera, Halladay, and Helton.

The all-time saves leader, Rivera will be a first-ballot selection.  He was better than reliever Trevor Hoffman who got elected last year.  Rivera was a huge factor in the latest version of the Yankees Dynasty during the 1996-2003 timeframe when they won six AL pennants and four World Series.

Halladay will have the sentimental factor working in his favor this year, because of his untimely death 13 months ago.  But a close look at the facts of this popular player’s career indicate he was dominant in his era as a starting pitcher.  He finished in the top 5 for Cy Young Award seven times, earning top honors in 2003 and 2010.  He was a true workhorse, leading the league in innings pitched four times and complete games seven times.

Helton was a hitting machine for the Colorado Rockies for 17 years, and it was during 2000 to 2005 that he was at his best.  In that period, he had a slash line of .344/.449/.626, while averaging 34 HR and 116 RBI.  His OPS+ during that timeframe was 158.  He was a three-time Gold Glove Award winner at first base.

So, recapping my ten selections for 2019, they are: Bonds, Clemens, Schilling, Sheffield, Martinez, Mussina, Walker, Rivera, Halladay and Helton.  Come January 22 when the official announcements of the ballots are made, let’s see how my selections compare.

By the way, I was glad to see reliever Lee Smith elected by the Veterans Committee earlier this month.  I felt vindicated that I had stuck with him over the years even though he had never received more than 50% of the BBWAA votes.  (He had dropped to 34.2% in his final year of eligibility in 2017.)

All-time baseball team featuring Christmas holiday names

Let’s put aside free agency, Hall of Fame candidates, pre-season predictions, and other essential topics of the Hot Stove season for a week.  All of them will still be around for us to debate after the first of the year.

The Christmas season is a time to have some fun, so I’ve come up with an all-time baseball team of major-league players whose names fit with a Christmas holiday theme.  Here’s a bit of background on each player of this eclectic team.

Starting Pitcher – Ervin Santana.  Okay, his last name isn’t exactly “Santa,” but it’s close enough.  Regardless, Santana wasn’t delivering any presents to the Cleveland Indians on July 11, 2007, when he threw a no-hitter.  The two-time all-star has won 149 career games through 2018.

Relief Pitcher – Clay Carroll.  Carroll had a lot to sing about as a member of the Cincinnati Reds “Big Red Machine.”  They won three National League pennants in the 1970s, including a World Series ring in 1975.  The two-time all-star posted an impressive 2.94 ERA during his 15-year career.

Catcher – Steve Christmas.  Of course, Christmas has the ultimate holiday celebration name.  But it’s too bad he wasn’t able to celebrate more on the playing field.  In 24 major-league games scattered over three seasons, Christmas batted a paltry .162.

First Base – J. T Snow.  J. T. Snow covered first base for the San Francisco Giants as effectively as a wintry snow covers the ground at Grandma’s house during the holidays.  He was a Gold Glove Award winner for six consecutive seasons while playing for the California Angels and the Giants.  Snow’s father, Jack, played 11 seasons the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams.

Second Base – Cookie Lavagetto.  Lavagetto is best known as the hitter who broke up Bill Bevens’s no-hitter in Game 4 of the 1947 World Series.  His all-star career was interrupted by four years of military service during World War II.  If his family made cookies for the Christmas holidays, they would surely have been an Italian-style treat.

Third Base – Gene Freese.  Freese had the best season of his 12-year career in 1961.  He helped the Cincinnati Reds put a December-type “freeze” on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ attempt to overtake them for first place during the final two months of the season.  It was the Reds’ first National League pennant since 1940.

Shortstop – Billy Klaus.  Had Santa Claus also been a major-league player, he probably would have hit better than Klaus.  Klaus was a weak-hitting shortstop with only 40 home runs and 250 RBI in 11 major-league seasons.  Billy’s brother, Bobby, also played in the majors, and he didn’t hit much either.

Outfielder – Candy Maldonado.  Maldonado helped to make sure his 1992 Toronto Blue Jays teammates’ Christmas stockings were filled with World Series candy (playoff shares), as he hit three post-season home runs in the Blue Jays’ first World Championship.

Outfielder – Jesus Alou.  Alou was no savior for his major-league teams, as he hit only 32 home runs in 15 big-league seasons.  He is best known for having been part of the first trio of brothers to play in the same major-league game, while with the San Francisco Giants in 1963.

Outfielder – Gift Ngoepe.  Ngoepe’s name isn’t a nickname; it’s actually part of his given name.  He is South Africa’s “gift” to baseball, since he’s the only major-league player in history born in that country.  The Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder made his debut in 2017.  His brother Victor is currently in the Pirates’ minor-league system.

DH – Rob Deer.  Deer is the closest name to “reindeer” I could find.  He made some appearances as a designated hitter, although he was primarily used as an outfielder and first baseman.  He managed to “rain” on opponents’ parades many times during his 11-year career, as he hit 230 career home runs.  But he also led the American League in strikeouts four times during 1984-1996.

Pinch-hitter – Turkey Tyson.  Unlike Ngoepe, Tyson’s real name was Cecil Washington, but he was known by “Turkey” during his professional career.  However, his only major-league appearance was as a pinch-hitter in 1944.  The 29-year-old got his “cup of coffee” in the big leagues when there was a shortage of players during World War II.

Manager – Charlie Dressen.  You can’t have turkey without the dressing for Christmas dinner, so Charlie Dressen is the closest name I could come up.  He played eight seasons in the majors, but it was as a manager that he made his mark.  He was the skipper of five different teams over 16 seasons between 1934 and 1966.  His teams won over 1,000 games, and his Brooklyn Dodgers captured two National League pennants in the 1950s.

Merry Christmas to all.

MLB Thinking About Outlawing Defensive Shifts

Major League Baseball’s front office R&D staffs may have outsmarted themselves.  Their strategy of using defensive shifts to cut down on the number of baserunners has had a positive effect in preventing runs.  But it’s also had an unintended effect of making the game less attractive to fans who want to see more offense rather than less.  Concerned about this situation, the MLB Commissioner’s Office recently stated they are now looking at potentially outlawing shifts.  It raises questions about whether that is an appropriate response.

For several years now, the latest generation of baseball analysts, aided by their new technology tools, have been looking at new opportunities for run prevention.  Prior to the analytics era, Major-league teams occasionally utilized extreme defensive shifts to combat some of the best hitters in the game.  Probably the most notable was the Cleveland Indians’ use of what famously became known as the “Williams Shift” against Boston’s premier hitter, Ted Williams, in 1948.  However, since 2014, the number of shifts has increased almost three-fold, as there were over 38,000 occurrences in 2018.

Teams even deployed shifts that left only one or two fielders on the left side of second base for specific left-handed batters.  These batters won’t attempt to hit to the opposite field to try to avoid an out.  And now with the emphasis on home runs, most batters facing a shift will more likely go for the home run, even risking a strikeout, rather than trying to hit a single to the opposite field.  The Dodgers’ Justin Turner was quoted as saying, “You beat the shift by hitting over it, not through it or around it.”  After all, in today’s game, the rewards for hitters are because of their home runs, not singles.

According to NBC Sports, left-handed hitters face the shift almost 30% of the time, whereas righties face the shift only about 9% of the time.  Texas’ Joey Gallo is the poster boy for left-handed major-league players refusing to try to beat the shift.  (By the way, he hit more home runs (40) than singles (38) during the season.)  Teams know that about him, so consequently he faced the second-most shifts in all of baseball last year.  Left-handed pull hitters like Gallo are being eaten up by the shift.

Teams have gotten clever with using analytics to identify hitter tendencies.  It doesn’t seem right that it should be taken away as a weapon for a team.  How is this different than using strategies to expose batters’ weaknesses in hitting specific types or locations of pitches?  Banning defensive shifts in baseball would be an analogous to something like the NFL doing away with blitzes or other defensive packages.  It’s become part of the game now.

Whatever happened to players trying to hit singles to the opposite field?  How about trying to bunt to the side of the field when there are no infielders?  It would seem like batters could learn how to take advantage of the shift, just like they have to adjust their approach when facing certain pitchers?  If they did, over time it would likely become self-correcting.  Can you imagine legendary hitter Rod Carew, who was a master at bat control, playing today against the shifts?  Teams just wouldn’t do it because he’d eat them alive.

Major-league baseball has a problem with fewer batted balls being put in play.  Home runs, strikeouts, and walks now account for over 30% of plate appearances, and run production has declined.  The question is whether eliminating defensive shifts would actually help the situation the most.  For example, limiting the number of pitchers used in a game might have more effect on run production (as well as contribute to reducing the time it takes to play a game.)

One of the options being tossed about is to limit the number of situations per game in which a manager can deploy a defensive shift.  I guess if this was done, we’d have to put another statistic on the scoreboard to keep up with the current count for each team.

There is a precedent for changing the rules to create more offense in the game.  Following the incredibly low scoring in 1968, MLB changed the height of the pitching mound from 15 feet to 10 feet to give pitchers less of an advantage over hitters.  The designated hitter (DH) was instituted in the American League in 1973 to make the game more interesting to fans.

Maybe those darned baseball geeks are just getting too smart.

Five Reasons Why Kyler Murray Will Choose Football

University of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray was awarded the Heisman Trophy Saturday night, becoming the latest two-sport athlete to win the prestigious honor as the country’s best college player.  Murray also has a baseball background and was drafted in the first round of the MLB Amateur Draft in June by the Oakland A’s.  In fact, he has already signed a contract with the A’s earning him a bonus of $4.66 million.

Murray is now faced with the decision of which sport he will pursue professionally, or whether he could possibly do both.  Former Heisman winner Bo Jackson (Auburn, 1985) has experience with this type of decision.  He wound up being an all-star player in both sports.  Prior to Jackson, a couple of other Heisman Trophy winners were also accomplished baseball players.  Vic Janowicz, who won the award in 1950 as an Ohio State running back, played two brief major league seasons with Pittsburgh before entering the NFL.  Howard “Hopalong” Cassady was another running back from Ohio State who also played baseball for the Buckeyes.  He won the Heisman 1955 and eventually became a baseball scout and minor-league coach in the New York Yankees organization after an eight-year NFL career.

Murray has already indicated he will not be returning to play a final football season at Oklahoma next year.  He is eligible for the next NFL Draft in April and is expected to be a late first-round or second-round pick, since young, top-flight quarterbacks are always in demand.  His major drawback as a potential NFL quarterback is his size; he’s only 5-foot-11.

Murray’s baseball agent, Scott Boras, had previously said his client will honor his commitment and report to spring training with the A’s in February.  The consensus of sports talk shows seems to favor Murray picking baseball as his career sport, largely because he may be too small for the NFL.

But don’t be too quick to dismiss his pursuit of an NFL job.  Here are five reasons why Murray will ultimately choose to play pro football:

  1. Despite his size, Murray has proven football skills, as evidenced by this year’s impressive performance, statistically one of the best ever for a college quarterback.  It can be argued that he was signed to a pro baseball contract based on his potential.  In fact, he played only one season of college baseball at Oklahoma as a regular starter.  It’s not a certainty he will become an accomplished professional baseball player.

  2. He’ll be a high draft pick in the upcoming NFL Draft because of his Heisman status.  There will be at least one team willing to take a chance on him as a viable QB.  If he makes it, the potential for an NFL quarterback’s salary would be comparable to an MLB salary.

  3. Murray will likely play right away in the NFL, or at worst in his second season if his team allows him a year to adjust to the pro game.  He’s looking at a minimum of three years to play regularly in major-league baseball, since he’ll require considerably more development of his batting and fielding skills.

  4. Assuming his football skills translate well in the NFL, his potential for superstar-level notoriety is greater as a football player.  The NFL does a better job than Major League Baseball in marketing and promoting its sport and players.  His NFL image will generate more off-the-field financial opportunities than a major league baseball persona.

  5. There was a reason Murray worked out a deal with the A’s that allowed him to play at Oklahoma this season.  He wanted an opportunity to prove his football skills at a high level.  There could be a scenario where he decides to give the NFL a try first; and if it turns out he’s not successful, he could always revert to baseball, where Oakland would still have the rights to him.

Unlike Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, who both played in the MLB and NFL simultaneously for a short period, Murray won’t likely try to play both sports professionally at the same time.  As an NFL quarterback, Murray will require considerable specialized coaching and preparation during the off-season, which would limit the amount of time he is actually available to play baseball.

There have been a few other Heisman winners with baseball interests, although they never reached the major leagues.

Chris Weinke had to weigh a scholarship offer to play football at Florida State against a pro baseball contract following his 2nd round selection by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1990 MLB Draft.  He initially chose baseball and played six seasons in the Blue Jays minor-league organization, before entering Florida State to play football.  He ultimately won the Heisman Trophy in 2000 as a 28-year-old and then played in the NFL for five seasons.

Ricky Williams (Texas, 1998) and Jameis Winston (Florida State, 2013) were Heisman Trophy winners with baseball in their backgrounds.  Williams played in the minors for the Philadelphia Phillies organization while at the same time playing football at the University of Texas.  Winston, a 15th round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2012, played baseball at Florida State.

Of course, Tim Tebow’s sports career is well-chronicled with his decision to pursue a pro baseball career after winning the Heisman in 2007 and having an abbreviated NFL career.  Tebow will enter his third season in the New York Mets minor-league system, targeted for the Triple-A level in 2019.  The verdict is still out whether he will reach the big-league club.

Although not a Heisman Trophy winner, current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was in a similar situation as Murray, except he was a senior in high school when he made his decision which sport to pursue.  After finishing high school, Mahomes, a pitcher who was the MaxPreps Player of the Year and whose father was a major-league pitcher for 11 seasons, was drafted in 2014 by the Detroit Tigers.  However, he opted to attend Texas Tech to play football instead of pursing a diamond career, and he has now emerged as one of the top QBs in the NFL this season.


Next-Gen MLB Family Ties

If you saw my email last week, you know I just completed my annual compilation of active major-league and minor-league players and non-players (managers, coaches, scouts, executives, etc.) who have relatives in baseball.  The number of family ties in baseball appears to be more prevalent than ever.

Former pro players, especially those who only played in minors and never attained a major-league salary, see opportunities for their sons to excel through personal coaching and today’s competitive environment of club and travel baseball.  The prospect of attaining current-day salaries from major-league contracts is a real incentive to push their sons toward pro baseball.

Major-league scouts and front office personnel are sending their sons in larger numbers to the pro ranks as players.  Even if they never played at the pro level themselves, they frequently use their professional insight as a competitive edge to help their sons achieve success at amateur, collegiate, and ultimately professional levels.

Even the MLB Home Run Derby contests during the annual All-Star Game festivities provide another indication of the influence family ties have in the game.  A number of the recent major-league contestants have used family members to pitch to them, including Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, Todd Frazier, Robinson Cano, and Javy Lopez.  It’s apparent it’s not the first time these family combos have been in batting practice situations together.

The 2019 baseball season portends to produce another bumper crop of players with major-league bloodlines, who will be making their own major-league debut.  There are some very familiar names among the potential first-year players:  Bichette, Guerrero, Mazzilli, Biggio, and Yastrzemski.  Additionally, there are other players who are likely part of the next generation of MLB players with family ties.

The most notable of the potential rookies is Vlad Guerrero Jr., Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2018.  He is the son of Vladimir Guererro who was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame last year.  Vlad Jr. played in his third pro season at age 19 in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.  He split the season at the Double-A and Triple-A levels where he posted a combined slash line of .381/.437/.636.  The third baseman hit 20 HR and 78 RBI in a total of 95 games.  He is expected to make the big-league roster coming out of spring training next year.

Two of Guerrero’s minor-league teammates in 2018 were also sons of major leaguers: infielder Bo Bichette, son of four-time all-star Dante Bichette, and infielder Cavan Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio.  They had banner offensive seasons in 2018 as well.  They won’t likely make the big-league club right away in 2019, but don’t be surprised if they get call-ups during the season, as the Blue Jays start settling their roster for the next few years.

Mike Yastrzemski, who plays in the Orioles organization, is the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski.  The former 14th-round pick played his third season at the Triple-A level last year.  The O’s have started a complete makeover of their roster, and Yastrzemski could likely find himself as one of their new candidates for an outfield spot.  His father Mike formerly played at the Triple-A level in the White Sox organization, falling short of a major-league appearance.

L.J. Mazzilli is the son of former big-league player and manager Lee Mazzilli.  Like his father, he started out in the Mets organization, but was traded to the New York Yankees early last spring and played for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  He could eventually claim a big-league spot due to his versatility as an infielder and outfielder.

Besides Guerrero, one of the most talked about minor leaguers in 2018 was Fernando Tatis, Jr.  He figures to be one of the new stars for a San Diego Padres franchise starving for a new face of the team. Tatis is the son of Fernando Tatis, who played in the big leagues for five teams during 1997 and 2010.  The 19-year-old shortstop hit 16 HR and 43 RBI in 88 games for San Antonio, before missing most of the second half of the season due to injury.  He plays at an advanced level for his age, and the Padres will likely take advantage of that situation next year.

Kevin Cron, corner infielder in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, put up big number in 2018 at the Triple-A level that included a .309/.368/.654 slash line, 22 HR, and 97 RBI.  He is the brother of current major-leaguer C. J. Cron and the son of former big-leaguer Chris Cron.  As the D’backs ponder the potential trade of its all-star first-baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Cron would be at the top of the list as his likely replacement.

Left-handed pitcher Brandon Leibrandt had an impressive season with the Philadelphia Phillies Triple-A club, posting a 1.42 ERA and .868 WHIP in 20 appearances.  His father, Charlie Leibrandt, was a major-league pitcher for 14 seasons, amassing 140 career wins and a 3.71 ERA and making World Series appearances with the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves.

Cal Quantrill was a first-round pick of the San Diego Padres in 2016 and has progressed rapidly in their system.  He made a total of 28 starts in 2018 split between Double-A and Triple-A levels, compiling a 9-6 record and 4.80 ERA.  His father is Paul Quantrill, a major-league relief pitcher for 14 seasons who led the National League in appearances for four consecutive seasons.

Austin Nola is the brother of Philadelphia Phillies ace Aaron Nola.  Formerly an infielder who converted to the catcher position in 2017, he hit .279 last year for the Miami Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate New Orleans.  If the Marlins’ major-league catcher J. T. Realmuto winds up getting traded during the off-season, Nola could find himself in a backup role with the Marlins in 2019.

Kean Wong is an infielder/outfielder in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.  A fourth-round pick out of high school in 2013, he is the brother of St. Louis Cardinals infielder Kolten Wong.  At Triple-A Durham last year, Kean posted a slash line of .282/.345/.406, 9 HR, and 50 RBI.  He could see a promotion as a utility player in 2019.



Making Sense of Mega Deals

Superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado headline this winter’s class of high-profiled free agents.  They’ve established themselves as two of the game’s best players, and now they are seeking some of the biggest deals ever made.  They figure to command deals worth $31M to $33M a year for nine or ten years.  Sure, they’ve been highly productive players in their short careers to date, but it’s questionable whether clubs should invest that kind of money in long-term contracts.

With both players at age 26, they will be in their prime years for the next 5-6 seasons.  However, interested teams realize they will need to offer contracts with longer terms in order to attract them.  That’s because players generally can’t command another lucrative long-term deal once they reach age 30 or 31, if they only sign for a four or five year deal now.

In the past six to eight years many clubs have taken the approach to build their rosters through player development within their farm systems versus navigating through the veteran free-agent market.  The Astros, Cubs, and Yankees have recently proved this strategy works, while teams like the Braves and Phillies are on the cusp of reaping the rewards for re-making their clubs through more youthful approaches.  The Padres, White Sox, Marlins, and Orioles have recently embarked on similar strategies.

These teams don’t put all their eggs in one basket with a high-dollar deal involving a long-term in order to acquire a high impact player.  They don’t mortgage their future by sinking a sizable portion of their payroll into one or two players.  Most GMs have learned these deals don’t generally work out for the organization in the latter half of the contract terms, when the players have passed their prime years or become injury-prone.  Albert Pujols, Jayson Werth, and Alex Rodriguez are a few examples of this.

Giancarlo Stanton is the latest superstar to land a long-term lucrative deal, when he signed a contract extension with the Miami Marlins in 2016 valued at $325 million over 13 years.  When the Marlins’ new ownership group took over prior to the 2018 season, one of the first things they did was to trade Stanton as part of a massive payroll reduction initiative.  As a re-building, small-market team, the Marlins knew they couldn’t sustain Stanton’s salary for the long-term, despite the value he could bring as a player.  It turned out the Marlins didn’t get much in return for trading Stanton to the Yankees, largely due to Stanton’s no-trade status. But they did it anyway.

So, why are Harper and Machado attracting interest by several clubs despite their projected price tags?

MLB teams look for windows of opportunity where, if they can add one or two key players and dramatically increase their chances of competing for a World Series ring in the short-term, they will spend the extra bucks to put them in a winning situation immediately.  The Milwaukee Brewers did that last year when they added veteran outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain (although not with long-term contracts), and the team indeed made a valiant run for the National League pennant as a result of their contributions.

Harper and Machado are the type of players who can provide help to a club looking to get immediate results.  Whether clubs actually expect to keep them for the entirety of their contract is debatable.

It appears there are a handful of legitimate suitors of Harper and Machado.

The Washington Nationals, with Harper at the core of its lineup, had been favorites in several seasons to win the National League pennant, but ultimately fell short.  Wanting to retain Harper as a core player after he became a free agent at the end of the season, the Nationals made an offer of $300 million for ten years during an exclusive negotiating period.  Yet Harper and his agent Scott Boras turned it down.  Reportedly, Boras is seeking a staggering $400 million deal for his client.

On the other hand, it’s interesting that the Los Angeles Dodgers aren’t expected to re-sign Machado, whom they acquired from Baltimore as a short-term rental last year to backfill the loss of their regular shortstop Corey Seager due to an injury.  They already have the highest payroll in the majors and don’t want to be saddled with his long-term salary, even though they probably have the deepest pockets among the MLB organizations.

Other teams who have been reported to have interest in the two free agents include the Phillies, Giants, Rockies, and Yankees.  The Rockies and Phillies are two teams that appear to be close to making breakthroughs as viable playoff competitors. The Giants lack much-needed power in their lineup and are perhaps a few years out when it comes to making another run for the NL pennant.  The Yankees’ presence on the potential list of suitors raises some eyebrows, since they already have Stanton’s big contract; but don’t be surprised if Stanton is dealt to another club to make room for Harper.

Last year, several of the game’s top free agents weren’t signed until shortly before spring training.  There was speculation by the players and their agents that major-league owners had conspired to hold down the amounts and years of free-agent contracts.  Perhaps that could happen with Harper and Machado this year.  Interested teams are looking for creative ways to acquire these two players without having to mortgage their future.  So it will probably come down to a battle of wits and fortitude between the teams and these top players.

Trio of Franco Brothers Playing for Rare Place in History

Picture this:  on the baseball highlights show one evening, the sports anchor mentions that Wander Franco hit a game-winning home run for his team.  Well, which Wander Franco was it?

Initially that may sound like a foolish question, but it turns out to be a legitimate one, since there’s actually a trio of current professional baseball brothers with the same first and last name, Wander Franco.  The Dominican Republic-born brothers are still in their early careers, but if they ever get to the big leagues at the same time, they would likely cause a fair amount of confusion for baseball followers who will be challenged to keep them differentiated.

The pick of the litter of the ball-playing Franco brothers is the youngest, Wander Samuel, who at age 17 is already projected to be the next teen phenom in the majors.  He was the Number 1 overall international pick of 2017 by the Tampa Bay Rays and proved in his debut season in 2018 that the Rays were correct in their assessment of his potential.  The switch-hitting shortstop recorded a slash line of .351/.418/.587 at the rookie-league level, while posting 11 HR and 57 RBI in 61 games.  He was named Player of the Year in the Appalachian League.  The Rays’ investment of $3.85 million to sign Franco looks like it may turn out to be a sound one.

22-year-old Wander Alexander played in the San Francisco Giants organization last season at the Single-A level.  He is also a switch-hitter that plays both corner infield positions.  His numbers weren’t too shabby either, as his slash line consisted of .314/.351/.519.  He was originally signed by the Houston Astros as a teenager and spent four seasons in the low minors before being dealt to the Giants.

Wander Javier is the “old man” of the bunch at 23 years old.  The third baseman also currently plays in the Giants organization, after starting his career with the Kansas City Royals.  Playing at the Single-A level in 2018, he showed a tendency to strike out a lot, but also knocked in 65 runs while posting a .271 average.  He was named Offensive Player of the Year for his team.

Reportedly the brothers’ father (yes, his first name is also Wander) had a brief stint in the Chicago White Sox minor league system, although that isn’t substantiated in  In any case, he taught them the fundamentals of the game, and they were also influenced by uncles Erick and Willy Aybar, both of whom had major-league careers.

If the three Franco brothers wind up in the majors at the same time, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Altogether there have been only 20 sets of brothers in baseball history that were comprised of three or more major-leaguers.  Perhaps the most famous trio of brothers were the DiMaggios (Joe, Vince, and Dominic), who played at the same time in the late 1940s.  Each of them attained all-star status during their respective careers.

There were the Boyer brothers (Cloyd, Ken, and Clete) in 1955, and the Cruz brothers (Jose, Tommy, and Hector) played in the 1970s.  In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Delahanty, Mansell, and O’Neill brothers were among the first families with three or more siblings to play in the majors at the same time.

More recently, the Molina brothers (Bengie, Jose, and Yadier) played simultaneously during the 2004-2010 timeframe.  Among the three brothers, all of whom were catchers, they have played a total of 43 seasons, with Yadier still active.  Each of them has at least one World Series ring.

However, the rarest occurrence of three brothers playing at the same time happened when the Alou brothers (Felipe, Jesus, and Matty) actually appeared in the same game on September 10, 1963, for the San Francisco Giants.  In that game, they made all three outs in the 8th inning, with Matty and Jesus making pinch-hitting appearances.  On September 15, the three Alous manned all three outfield positions late in the game.

But there have been countless sets of multiple brothers who didn’t make it.

So it’s still a bit early to predict whether all three Franco brothers will reach The Show, since they have yet to prove themselves beyond the low minors.  Based on history though, the odds are against them; but don’t count them out just yet.

"Big Sexy" Making a Pitch for 22nd MLB Season

One would expect a 45-year-old major-league player to have already started his retirement.  Especially a pitcher who has logged 21 major-league years in his career, as well as another four in the minors.

Not Bartolo Colon though.  He has made it known he is interested in returning to the diamond for the 2019 major-league campaign.  Last season he appeared in 28 games for the hapless Texas Rangers.  Although he wasn’t particularly effective for the AL West Division’s last-place team, he was neverthelessl a workhorse for the club, having started 24 games and logged 146.1 innings, second most on the team in both categories.  He was one of 22 starting pitchers used by the Rangers last year.

Colon acquired the nickname “Big Sexy” a few years ago partly because of his portly build at 5’ 11” and 285 lbs.  In an era of well-chiseled athletes, one might mistake him for a guy in a softball beer league instead of a pitcher in the starting rotation.  In any case, the colorful character gets a lot of support from fans when he’s on the mound, and he looks like he’s having fun facing the game’s best hitters.

Since 1900, only 22 major-league pitchers have started as many games (552) as Colon, with all but five of them enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  He has accumulated 247 wins during his career, more than 12 pitchers currently with a bronze plaque in the Hall.  He was a Cy Young Award winner in 2005 with the Los Angeles Angels and has finished in the top six on three other occasions.

However, Colon is not so sexy from an analytics standpoint.  Last year his numbers included a bloated 5.87 ERA and 1.346 WHIP, while his ERA+ was a paltry 84 (100 is average).

So, why would a big-league team sign Colon for next year?

True, he doesn’t fit the profile of current starting pitchers that most teams are pursuing.  Despite his age, he gives struggling teams like the Rangers outings they can count on every five days.  He’s able to get outs without relying on a blazing fastball.  He’s a gritty pitcher who doesn’t give up a lot of walks.  Plus, he’s cost-effective.  In a time when the average veteran starting pitcher makes $6-10 million per year, Colon only cost the Rangers $1.75 million last year.

From a sentimental standpoint, he’s good for the sport.  For example, he received a lot of fanfare in a game against Seattle in May, when he was hit in the belly by a hard line drive measured at 101 MPH.  Fortunately he had the “padding” in his gut to protect him from serious injury, and he managed to throw the runner out and ultimately won the game.  A disastrous hitter at the plate, he slammed his first and only career home run two years ago, resulting in a raucous celebration by his Mets teammates.

Only nine other major-league pitchers since 1960 were still active at age 45.  They include names like Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan, Phil Niekro, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Randy Johnson, as well as productive long-timers like Tommy John and Jamie Moyer.

Colon’s career will likely fall short of getting him inducted into the Hall of Fame, but that’s not his goal right now.  He just wants to log another season, even if it is his 12th different major-league team.

Alex Cora: Luck or Genius?

Rookie manager Alex Cora led the Boston Red Sox to their best regular season ever with 108 wins.  His Red Sox then capped off the post-season with a World Series championship ring, in the process posting an astonishing 11-3 record over formidable opponents like the New Yankees, Houston Astros, and Los Angeles Dodgers.  Was Cora that good as the skipper of the BoSox, or was he just in the right place at the right time for the historic season?

Cora is only the fifth major-league manager to win the World Series in his rookie season.  Bob Brenly (2001 Diamondbacks), Ralph Houk (1961 Yankees), Eddie Dyer (1946 Cardinals), and Bucky Harris (1924 Senators) were the only managers to accomplish this unlikely feat.  He is the first Puerto Rican manager to win the Series.

His only experience in the dugout prior to the Red Sox was as the bench coach for the Houston Astros in 2017, when coincidentally the Astros won the World Series.  He had played 14 seasons in the majors with six different teams, including the Red Sox with whom he won a World Series ring in 2007 as a utility player.  After his retirement as a player, he spent four seasons as an analyst for ESPN.

In recent managerial hires, significant prior experience in coaching or managing hasn’t been at the top of general managers’ list of preferred skills for the candidates.  That approach has met with mixed results.  So Cora’s appointment as the new Red Sox manager had its skeptics, especially since the team had just won the AL East Division title the year before under well-experienced manager John Farrell.

However, Cora had the advantage of inheriting a very talented Red Sox roster.  Sure, they had missed David Ortiz’s bat in 2017, but they now had the latest version of the Killer B’s in Mookie Betts, Zander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Jackie Bradley Jr.  Furthermore, the Red Sox starting rotation boasted two former Cy Young Award winners in David Price and Rick Porcello, as well as the award’s 2017 runner-up in Chris Sale.  And then they had one of the best closers in all of baseball with Craig Kimbrel.  Going into the 2018 season with that type of talent in its core players, it was hard to imagine Boston wouldn’t be favored again to repeat as the division winner, regardless of who the manager was.

When Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski hired Cora, did he know something about the 42-year-old skipper the rest of the baseball world didn’t know?  Had Dombrowski perhaps hired the wrong Cora?  (Alex’s brother, Joey, has been a major-league coach since 2003, including multiple stints as interim manager, and was previously considered for permanent managerial positions.)  Was the long-time baseball executive taking a calculated chance with the relatively inexperienced Cora, knowing the Red Sox would be a strong contender in the division anyway?

Despite being a high-profile job, the Red Sox manager position had all the makings of being a reasonable situation in which to insert a first-time manager.  Frustrated Red Sox fans were ready to see Farrell go, despite his World Series championship team in 2013. (Four of his seven seasons as manager ended in 4th or 5th place finishes.)  Boston was projected in 2018 to be as good as, or better than, their division rival New York Yankees, who had their own rookie manager in Aaron Boone.  But it was naturally expected Cora would experience some snags throughout the season due to his greenness as manager.

However, it turned out there would be few missteps by Cora during the regular season.  Except for a dozen games before the All-Star break, the Red Sox held first-place throughout the season.  The team had added slugger J.D. Martinez right before the season started, and he became an exceptional replacement for Ortiz in the batting lineup.  Dombrowski further added several key role players later in the season, as well as added pitching depth.  Then Cora pulled all the right strings to stay ahead of the Yankees, and the Red Sox essentially clinched the division title by the first of August even though the Yankees won 100 games, too.

In addition to a star-studded lineup led by Martinez and Betts, Cora’s approach to managing the team turned out to be a key factor in the Red Sox’s success.  It was based on the effective utilization of his role players and an aggressive style of play, wrapped in an open communication style with his players.

Cora juggled the lineup practically every day, making good use of utility players Steve Pearce, Eduardo Rodriguez, Brock Holt, Blake Swihart, Ian Kinsler, and Christian Vazquez, most of whom could play multiple positions.  It wasn’t uncommon for one of them to be the star of the game with a clutch hit or a spectacular fielding play.

The Red Sox hit their share of home runs, but their game wasn’t solely based on the long ball.  Cora emphasized aggressive offensive play centered around putting the ball in play, use of the hit-and-run, and opportune stolen bases.

Cora’s overall communication style created a positive vibe and looseness among the players.  There was a calmness about him during games, and it seemed to rub off on his players.  He was reportedly good at letting his players know how to prepare for games, especially as he used various lineups.  He was usually able to put players in a position to succeed.

The Red Sox employ the new-styled analytics as much as any other major-league team, but Cora seemed to find a good balance of “playing by the numbers” provided by the team’s front-office analysts and his own observations and judgements of how his players were responding in various game situations.

In some respects, Cora was indeed lucky with the hand he was dealt as the manager of the Red Sox.  It’s not likely he could have won the World Series with Baltimore’s roster, which finished 61 games behind the Red Sox.  On the other hand, he did manage to defeat two very good 100-win teams, Yankees and Astros, to capture the American League pennant.

It’s too early to declare Cora a genius already, but he sure appears to be on a good path toward it.

It's All Hands on Deck for Pitchers in the Post-Season

Nathan Eovaldi’s performance in Game 3 of the World Series fell only one pitch short of outstanding, especially considering that he also pitched in Games 1 and 2.  The only blemish in his 97-pitch relief outing was a home run given up to Max Muncy in the 18th inning of the longest game in World Series history.  He had held the Dodgers scoreless since the 12th inning.  Normally, he would have started Game 4 the next day, but he was pressed into service when Game 3 turned into a marathon game.

Eovaldi is the Number 4 starter in the Red Sox rotation after Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello, but he’s not the only starter doing extra duty during the post-season.  Price also had a brief appearance in Game 3.

All of the post-season teams’ relief pitchers are getting extensive workouts, too.  During the American League and National League championship series involving 12 games altogether (5 ALCS and 7 NLCS), there were only five instances where a team used four or less pitchers.  In the two series, five different starting pitchers also made relief appearances.

During the regular season, “bullpenning” has become a mainstream strategy for use of the pitching staff.  Starters are being labelled “openers” by some teams, with the expectation that they only need to get through an opponent’s lineup once.  Then they turn the game over to the bullpen where right-lefty matchups are being managed, often resulting in five or six relief pitchers being used by each team.

Post-season games are following suit, except that the starters are also being pressed into relief service, while relievers like the Red Sox’s Joe Kelly and Milwaukee’s Josh Hader were seemingly making appearances every game.

Elimination games in the post-season are usually the situations when practically every pitcher, irrespective of when they last pitched and how many innings they pitched, has to be ready when called upon in close games.  Managers figure there’s no sense in holding back their best pitchers in these do-or-die situations.

Two of the more memorable World Series, 2001 and 2014, involved aces who were used to secure Game 7 victories for their teams in uncharacteristic reliever roles.  Hall of Famer Randy Johnson pitched the last 1 1/3 innings of the 2001 World Series for the Arizona Diamondbacks to defeat the New York Yankees.  He had previously won Games 2 and 6.  After winning Games 1 and 5 of the 2014 World Series against the Kansas City Royals, Madison Bumgarner pitched the last five innings of Game 7 for the San Francisco Giants in their win over Kansas City.

On one of the recent World Series pre-game shows, studio analyst Pedro Martinez offered the following advice:  “Every pitcher on the team should come to the ballpark with his cleats on, ready to pitch.”  Indeed, that’s been the state of thinking by the various managers during the post-season.


Was Aaron Boone's First Managerial Job a Success?

When the New York Yankees fired manager Joe Girardi following the 2017 season, I thought then that whoever replaced him would have an insurmountable task.  After all, what kind of organization fires the manager that just led them to a World Series?  I figured that after Girardi’s Bronx Bombers barely lost the 2017 World Series to Houston, the only way his replacement could be regarded as successful was to actually win the World Series in 2018.

Well, that didn’t happen.  Aaron Boone had been somewhat of a surprise by being named as the Yankees’ skipper replacing Girardi, since he had no coaching or managerial experience prior to accepting the job.  What he did have going for him was a family pedigree in baseball as a third-generation player.  He also he had been an MLB broadcaster for ESPN who was open to the newer thinking about the use of baseball analytics and the relationship required between manager and front office.  The big question at the time of his hiring:  were these factors enough to enable success in one of the most difficult cities in which to be on the big stage?

Boone would have the benefit of a roster that was already battle-tested, having won 91 games in 2017 and pushed the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros to the brink of defeat in the League Championship Series.  Then they added National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton during the off-season, further improving their chances to go all the way in 2018.  It was not unexpected when many pre-season prognosticators picked the Yankees to win the American League pennant and return to their first World Series since 2009.  It seemed the only potential fly in the ointment for this outcome would be Boone’s performance as an untested manager.

So what did Boone’s team of “Baby Bombers” do?  They just went out and won 100 games this year.  However, it turned out to be the third best in all of Major League Baseball behind division foe Boston, who won a franchise record of 108 games, and Houston, who won a franchise record 103 games.

For any of the other 27 MLB clubs, 100 wins would have been considered a highly successful season.  For any other first-year MLB manager, 100 wins would likely have earned him Manager of the Year honors.

Indeed, Boone overcame several obstacles thrown his way during the regular season.  They contributed to situations where he had little opportunity to stick with a set lineup day in and day out.  And yet the Yankees still managed to win 100 games.  Boone deserves credit for keeping things together.

He started the season with two rookies in his starting infield—Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, who replaced veterans Starlin Castro and Todd Frazier from the previous year.  But he also had veteran infielder backups Neil Walker and Ronald Torreyes, with whom he deftly juggled the lineup periodically.

Two of his mainstays in 2017, catcher Gary Sanchez and first baseman Greg Bird, had miserable seasons at the plate in 2018, forcing Boone to frequently use alternatives to offset their declines.  Again, he had to be creative with lineups that included Austin Romine at catcher, while Luke Voit, Tyler Austin, and Neil Walker took turns at first base.

2017 American League Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge, who hit 52 home runs last season, missed almost a third of this season due to a wrist injury from being hit by a pitch.  Boone resorted to using a number of reserve players and taking Giancarlo Stanton out of the DH role to backfill Judge in right field.

On the pitching front, Boone lost the services of starter Jordan Montgomery early in the season, and veteran Sonny Gray turned out to be largely ineffective against the better opponents.  However, Boone did have one of the better bullpens in baseball, and he had to frequently call on them early in game

Despite Boone’s efforts, Boston widened its lead over the Yankees in August, and pretty much coasted to the East Division title during the last month of the season.  The Yankees passed the first test of the playoffs by defeating Oakland in the wild-card game, but then was overwhelmed by the Red Sox in the Division Series.  Boone was criticized for not using his bullpen earlier in Games 3 and 4 against the Red Sox, when his starters let the games get out of hand in the first few innings.  These were situations where his relative inexperience perhaps affected the outcomes.

The Yankees organization measures success by World Series championships.  They’ve attained the most (27) in baseball history.  Thus, while Boone is to be lauded for his performance in leading the team to 100 wins, he didn’t get them the ultimate prize, the World Series ring.  He’s probably feeling a bit like Joe Girardi did at the end of last season, except Boone still has a job—for now.

Buehler to be Heir Apparent to Kershaw as Dodgers Ace

If you watched the Braves-Dodgers National League Division Series game Sunday, you might be questioning the validity of my assertion in the title of this blog post.  Los Angeles Dodgers rookie pitcher Walker Buehler had a bit of a meltdown in the second inning of the game against Atlanta, yielding five runs as a result of uncharacteristically poor control.  It was looking like Buehler should have “taken the day off” like Ferris Bueller, but then he rebounded to pitch three more innings without yielding a hit while the Dodgers tied the game by the end of the fifth inning.

In any case, Clayton Kershaw’s not ready to be written off as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ No. 1 starter.  While he had a “down” year for him in 2018, he’s still a formidable ace, as evidenced by his recent sterling playoff performance against the Atlanta Braves in the second game of the NLDS.

But waiting in the wings for his turn at the top of the Dodgers rotation is Buehler, who showed in the tiebreaker game for the NL West Division title against Colorado that he’s ready for prime time.  He held the hard-hitting Rockies to just one hit in 6 2/3 innings, as the Dodgers won their sixth consecutive division pennant with a 5-2 victory.

Buehler’s ascent with the Dodgers has been quick, since it was only in 2015 that he was their first-round pick out of Vanderbilt.  He made his major-league debut last year in a late-season call-up with Los Angeles.  Then the 24-year-old right-hander was inserted into the Dodgers’ rotation in late April this season and was 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA in his first nine starts.

After going on the disabled list in early June for several weeks, he had a rough return to the rotation over his next four starts in which his ERA rose by a full point and he took two losing decisions.  However, he got back on track again by the middle of August and finished the season with an 8-5 record and a team-leading 2.62 ERA and 0.961 WHIP.  He was among the best pitchers in the National League for the last two months of the regular season.

In the critical tiebreaker game with the Rockies that decided the division winner, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts went with rookie Buehler on the mound over some of his other veteran pitchers.  Buehler showed he had ice in his veins as he stepped up to the challenge.  Buehler responded by holding the Rockies hitless for 5 1/3 innings before yielding a single to Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon.  Buehler pitched into the seventh inning before being lifted with a 5-0 Dodgers lead.

Kershaw had missed most of May and June this season with two stints on the disabled list with back problems, but finished the season strong after getting back into the regular rotation on June 28.  He completed the season with a 9-5 record and his highest ERA (2.73) since 2010.  It was his third consecutive season in which he has been on the DL with back injuries which significantly cut down his typical number of innings pitched.  At 30 years old, he has experienced a drop in his fastball velocity and has had to resort to other pitches for his effectiveness.

2018 was Kershaw’s 11th big-league season, and it was the first of his most recent eight seasons that he hasn’t been in the Cy Young Award conversation.  (He was won the award three times and finished second twice.)  Kershaw has been the most dominant pitcher of his era.  He has the lowest career ERA for any pitcher with at least 1,500 innings in the live-ball era that dates back to 1920.  Yet despite his career success in the regular seasons, his Dodgers team still doesn’t have a World Series ring.

It’s too early to say Kershaw’s career is on the decline, or that he may soon be in another uniform. (He has two years left on his current contract, but has an early-out option he could exercise now.)

Whenever that happens though, Buehler will be there to step in at the top of the Dodgers’ rotation.  Yes, he stumbled in Game 3 of the NLCS.  The ice in his veins melted temporarily, but he’ll still be the guy the Dodgers will be counting on in the big games down the road.

Tight Competition for MLB Post-Season Awards Expected

The MLB playoff teams are settled, although two tiebreaker games are scheduled for Monday to decide the final seeding in the National League.  There were a few surprises this season, with Oakland, Milwaukee and Atlanta becoming playoff teams for the first time in several years.  The other playoff teams were fairly predictable from the pre-season previews coming out of spring training.

While the individual post-season honors won’t be announced until after the World Series, it isn’t too early to speculate which players might take home the hardware for the Cy Young, MVP, and Rookie of the Year awards.  The competition for these honors is expected to be tight.  Of course, playoff performance by players is not considered in the voting by the baseball writers.

I’m going out on a limb early with my picks.  Several of them were not very predictable at the beginning of the season.

American League MVP

WAR (Wins Above Replacement) has become the standard for the metric used to evaluate the MVP candidates, because it represents the best overall assessment of players, factoring in all elements of performance by both position players and pitchers.  Want to guess who’s got the highest Offensive WAR this year?  Well, it’s the same guy who’s been the leader five out of the past six seasons--Mike Trout.  As a result, the Los Angeles Angels’ outfielder has finished first or second in the MVP voting in five of the last six seasons, winning the honor in 2014 and 2016.  There are strong arguments for him again this season, even though he missed more than 20 games due to injury.

However, when considering Total WAR, which adds in defensive performance, Trout is surpassed by Boston’s Mookie Betts, who led the league in runs scored, batting average, and slugging percentage.  Betts has been the most complete player this season, when also taking into account his base-running and fielding skills in the outfield.  His impact with the Red Sox, in perhaps their best season in history, has been immense.  He’s my pick for the AL MVP Award.

Two other players who received strong consideration by me are J. D. Martinez of the Red Sox and Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros.  Martinez filled the void in the Red Sox lineup, created by David Ortiz’s retirement at the end of 2016, for providing the big bat.  He finished with 43 HR and league-leading 130 RBI.  In many respects he allowed teammate Betts to be the type of versatile player he really is, versus Betts also having to be relied on to provide the thump in the lineup.  Bregman, who keeps getting better and better each year, was the Astros’ most consistent position player on perhaps the best team in the American League.  

American League Cy Young

The temptation for this award is to pick one of the tried-and-true aces who have been in strong consideration or won the award previously:  Boston’s Chris Sale, Houston’s Justin Verlander, and Cleveland’s Corey Kluber.  Kluber has won the award twice and Verlander once, while Sale has finished in the top five in the five previous seasons.  They each turned in masterful performances again this season, with all of them among the league leaders in ERA, strikeout rate, and WHIP.

Yet the hurler who gets my vote for the award is upstart Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay Rays.  The 25-year-old has been a top prospect of the Rays for several years, but didn’t really stand out in his first two major-league seasons.  He finally put it all together this season with league-leading ERA (1.89) and ERA+ (217), while his 0.974 WHIP, and 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings were among the leaders.  And if anyone still thinks number of wins is a useful metric, he led the league with a 21-5 win-loss record.  Snell had the highest WAR for pitchers.  He was a big reason Tampa Bay finished with their first winning season since 2013.  

American League Rookie of the Year

Going into the 2018 season, almost everyone was betting Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani would have the type of season that would make him a cinch for the Rookie of the Year Award.  Indeed, he started out with a bang, both at the plate and on the mound.  But then he began to have arm troubles in early June that led to his restriction by the team from taking the mound.  The Los Angeles Angels switch-player continued to appear in the lineup as a designated hitter and pinch-hitter that resulted in a credible slash line of .283/.361/.564 in 367 plate appearances.  He managed to hit 22 HR and 61 RBI.

However, the New York Yankees came up two pretty darn good rookie infielders this season:  Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres.  Third baseman Andujar gets my vote for the ROY award based on his slash line of .297/.328/.527.  He held his own on the homer-happy Yankees team with 27 dingers, tied for second-most on the team, trailing only Giancarlo Stanton.  He also finished second on the team with 92 RBI.  While Torres was effective, too, with 24 HR, 77 RBI, and a .271 batting average, he was a notch below Andujar.

Kansas City pitcher Brad Keller (9-6, 3.08 ERA) was tops among rookie pitchers in the league.  

National League MVP

The top MVP candidates this season were relative newcomers for this type of honor.  Past winners like Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, and Joey Votto, and perennial contenders like Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt were not at the top of the list this season.  Instead, Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, Chicago’s Javier Baez, and Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman were the headliners.

Among the position players in the National League, those four players topped the list for WAR, and I’m going with the WAR leader Christian Yelich as the winner.  (See my blog post from last week about Yelich’s impactful season for the playoff-bound Brewers.)  Baez was a close second choice for me, as he’s been the Cubs’ most consistent player this season by combining power, speed, and sterling defense.  He led the team in HR (34) and stolen bases (21), while leading the league in RBI (111).  

National League Cy Young

This will likely be the closest race among the post-season awards this year, with Washington’s Max Scherzer, Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola, and New York’s Jacob deGrom all strong contenders.  In my blog post of August 26, I wrote about how these three aces have been 1-2-3 in most of the key pitching statistics.  If Scherzer were to win, it would be his third consecutive award and fourth overall in his career.  Nola had a career breakout season for the Phillies as he’s achieved his “ace” status with a rising Phillies club.

But I’m picking deGrom as the winner of this award for the best pitcher.  Despite his meager 10-9 win-loss record, he was lights out when it came to earned runs yielded (1.70) and strikeouts per nine innings (11.2).  He led all players (including position players) in the National League in WAR.  

National League Rookie of the Year

There will be a close two-man race between Washington’s Juan Soto and Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr. for recognition as the best rookie of the season.  The 19-year-old Soto was so good that he is making Nationals fans not worry as much about the possibility of losing their star player, Bryce Harper, to free agency at the end of this season.  Soto’s slash line defies his age:  .292/.406/.517 in 116 games.  He’s hit 22 HR and 70 RBI.  His season was reminiscent of former Red Sox rookie, 19-year-old Tony Conigliaro’s, in 1964.

However, I’m voting for Acuna, who is only 20 years old himself.  He had similar numbers to Soto:  .293/.366/.552, with 26 HR and 64 RBI in 111 games.  According to advanced stats, Acuna was a better fielder than Soto.  But the deciding factor for me was Acuna’s role in helping the Braves win the division title.  Perhaps it’s unfair to introduce team performance into my assessment, but I believe he was an important spark for the Braves throughout the season.

St. Louis outfielder Harrison Bader and Los Angeles pitcher Walker Buehler will get some consideration as well.

A Change in Scenery Bodes Well for Christian Yelich and the Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich has always been a good player.  This season he has been a great player, so much so that he’s among the top candidates for National League Most Valuable Player.

What changed for Yelich?  He was traded to the Brewers during the Miami Marlins’ fire sale over the winter.  Since he broke into the majors in 2013, he had never played for a winning team before this season, and he had always played in the shadow of Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton.

When it became apparent new Marlins executive Derek Jeter intended to dismantle the Marlins roster of its highest-priced players after their sale to new majority owner Bruce Sherman.  Yelich made it known publicly he wanted out, too.

Yelich got his wish when the Marlins traded him to the Brewers in January 2018 for three minor league prospects and one of their up-and-coming stars, Lewis Brinson.

After narrowly missing the playoffs in 2017, the Brewers had been looking for a couple of players who could put them over the top in reaching their first post-season since 2011.  In addition to Yelich, they added veteran free-agent outfielder Lorenzo Cain from Kansas City.

Prior to 2018, Yelich had been a productive player for the Marlins, with a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award to his credit.  During his first five seasons, he had a respectable career slash line of .290./.369/.432 with an OPS of .800.  He had been a key element of a roster the Marlins were trying to assemble around Stanton, but Yelich hadn’t yet attained all-star status.  From a fan awareness standpoint, he took a back seat to Stanton who was the face of the Marlins.

The Marlins had already traded other key players in second baseman Dee Gordon and outfielder Marcell Ozuna over the winter, when Stanton opted to accept Miami’s proposed trade to the New York Yankees.  It became obvious the Marlins’ strategy was to shed payroll in order to reduce their operating costs, and Yelich figured he didn’t want to be left on a team that was destined for more losing seasons in the years to come.

26-year-old Yelich has responded to his new home in “Brew Town” with the best season of his career and possibly the best offensive performance in the National League.  He is currently leading the National League in batting average (.320), slugging percentage (.570) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.957).  He is hitting a career-high 31 home runs to go along with 93 RBIs.  Twice he has hit for the cycle.  He was selected for his first All-Star Game in July.

The Brewers have capitalized on his presence, as well as that of fellow newcomer Lorenzo Cain.  Also bolstered by the home run power of Travis Shaw and Jesus Aguilar, the Brewers held the first-place position in the NL Central Division for most of the first half of the season.  The Chicago Cubs overtook them after the All-Star break, but the Brewers have been able to stay within a handful games of the Cubs since then.  With a week left in the regular season, they are currently 2 ½ games behind the Cubs, but 2 ½ games ahead of the Colorado Rockies for the first wild card in the National League.  The Brewers haven’t appeared in the playoffs since they finished first in the Central Division in 2011.

Yelich hasn’t had to play second fiddle to anyone in Milwaukee.  He’s finally playing with a real playoff contender.  And that has to suit him just fine.

The "W" is Effectively Dead

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the tight race in the National League for the Cy Young Award, between Aaron Nola, Max Scherzer, and Jacob deGrom.  All three of them could make a legitimate claim for the title; but as I’ve followed them since then, I’ve become convinced New York Mets ace deGrom will emerge as the winner.

Whether deGrom winds up winning the award or not, his performance for the season will put another nail in the coffin for considering the “win” as a relevant statistic to guage a pitcher’s value to his team.

For the past couple of years, the true baseball statheads have been harping on the point that winning or losing decisions should not be considered an individual measure because of many factors which are not under the pitcher’s control.  They’ve finally convinced most of the baseball community the “W” should be de-emphasized, if not discontinued altogether.

To help prove their point, consider that the Mets inept offense has been a huge culprit in deGrom’s win-loss record this year.  In his 29 starts, the Mets have a 12-17 record.  In 18 of those starts, the Mets scored three or fewer runs.  In only five of his starts has deGrom yielded three or more earned runs.  His current 1.71 ERA is the second-lowest in the National League since Dwight Gooden posted a 1.53 ERA in 1985.

Actually, the notion that wins not being a good measure for pitching effectiveness has been around for a while.  When Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young Award in 2010, having barely recorded a better-than-.500 winning percentage with 13 wins and 12 losses for the season, it was considered heresy by many of the baseball analysts, particularly the old-timers.  He beat out David Price and CC Sabathia, with 19 and 21 wins respectively, who finished second and third in the voting.  Yet Hernandez won on the merits of his league-leading 2.27 ERA, while he was the workhorse of the American League with 34 starts and 249.2 innings pitched. 

So, how did professional baseball evolve to the point where pitchers’ effectiveness was measured by number of wins?  In the formative years of the sport over a hundred years ago, wins and losses were indeed relevant statistics for pitchers.  That was because most pitchers threw complete games and could largely be held responsible for limiting the total number of runs opponents were scoring in games.  Of course that presumption was flawed then, as it is now, but there weren’t other meaningful measures of pitcher effectiveness in place then, as there are now.  But with the conservative nature of most baseball historians and reporters over the years, there wasn’t much motivation to change, since ERA, strikeouts, and walks were also available as additional key performance indicators.

Nowadays the occurrence of complete games is a rarity.  The total number for the entire season so far, including both leagues, is only 40.  By comparison, Hall of Fame pitcher Cy Young, after whom the prestigious pitching award is named, had nine seasons (during 1891-1904) in which he pitched 40 or more complete games by himself. 

As is evidenced with deGrom and other pitchers, a win is not a true indicator of individual performance.  Other factors, such as the defensive play of a pitcher’s teammates, as well as how many runs his teammates score in a game, have a direct bearing on whether a pitcher is credited with a win or loss.  A starting pitcher, who yields to his team’s bullpen to finish a game, is dependent on subsequent relief pitchers to maintain a lead the team had when the starting pitcher was removed from the game.  Again, these are factors not under the pitcher’s control.

Despite the efforts by some (MLB Network TV host Brian Kenney is an example) to effectively kill the “W” statistic, it is still prevalently reported in game summaries and box scores as to which pitcher is credited with the win.  The astute baseball follower will recognize that the stat is meaningless, but it may take a few more years, maybe even another generation of baseball enthusiasts before this practice is finally discontinued.

Cubs Capitalizing on the Maturation of Javier Baez

The Red Sox have Mookie Betts.  The Indians have Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez.  The Angels have Mike Trout.  The Cubs have Javier Baez.

For Baez to be mentioned in this elite group of players is a big step for him.  But what they all have in common is they are “complete” players, guys who can do it all really well-- hit, field, and run.  Baez is making his statement this year that he belongs.  He’s progressed from top prospect status as an 18-year-old to MVP candidate at 25.

Baez was 18 years old when he signed out of high school as the ninth overall pick in the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft by Chicago.  He showed his potential two years later when he hit 37 HR and 111 RBIs in the minors.

He was tagged to be part of the solution to the roster overhaul the Cubs undertook in 2012 under new president Theo Epstein.  The Cubs gave him his first opportunity with the big-league club in 2014, but he struggled in his 52 games when he batted only .169.

Another year of seasoning at the Triple-A level was warranted, and Baez responded well with a .324 batting average, 13 HR and 61 RBI in 70 games in 2015.

Then he became an integral part of the Cubs’ rise to prominence in 2016 with their first World Series championship since 1908.  In his first full season with the Cubs, he demonstrated invaluable versatility for Cubs manager Joe Maddon by being able to play second base, shortstop and third base.  He recorded 14 HR and 59 RBIs while batting .273 during the regular season.  He was the MVP of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

He had another good season in 2017, but faltered during the post-season as the Cubs lost the National League pennant to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

2018 has been the breakout season for Baez.  He made his first all-star team and currently has 30 HR and 100 RBIs, which leads the league.  He became the first 20-20 player (at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases) for the Cubs since Corey Patterson in 2004.  Baez has drawn comparisons to former Cub second baseman, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, with his ability to hit, field, and run the bases.

With Cubs slugger Kris Bryant out of action a good part of the season due to injury, Baez has more than picked up the slack offensively.  He leads the team in home runs, RBIs, and slugging percentage.  He’s in the highlight videos practically every day with his aggressive base-running and dazzling plays in the field.

The Cubs are fortunate to have nurtured Baez as a young player.  He’s been instrumental in helping the Cubs get into position to win their third straight Central Division title and in the process has worked himself into the National League MVP conversation.

Cardinals' Mike Shildt Another Example of Bold Managerial Change

New St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt has the team’s fans energized and talking about being relevant again.  Not a familiar name among most baseball fans, Shildt was named the Cardinals manager on July 15, replacing Mike Matheny who had been a successful manager since 2010.  But with the Cards just barely playing .500 ball, the Cardinals’ front office felt like something needed to change and decided to pull the plug on Matheny.

Initially Shildt got an “interim” tag as the new manager; but after leading the team to a 26-12 record, he was named the permanent manager on August 28.  Usually, teams making this type of in-season change wait until the end of the season to evaluate the interim’s performance compared to other possible managerial candidates.  In any case, Shildt now has the Cardinals ahead of Milwaukee in the NL Central Division and making a run at the leading Chicago Cubs.

Shildt had previously been the bench coach for St. Louis, but he had quietly risen to the job after only having joined the major-league staff in 2017.  He’s had a remarkable ascent through the Cardinals organization.  He never played professional baseball and initially began work with the Cardinals a scout.  He started managing in the low minors in their farm system and eventually progressed to the top of their system.  An advantage he has as the big-league manager is that he’s already familiar with most of the players on the current roster who came up through the Cardinals’ farm system.”

It was a bold move by the Cardinals to remove Matheny, who was well-respected within the baseball community.  After having led the Cards to four straight playoff berths, including three division titles and a NL pennant in 2013, he had earned a reputation as one of the best baseball minds in the dugout.  But pressure mounted for a change this season when it appeared the Cardinals wouldn’t get into playoff contention for the third season in a row, trailing Chicago and Milwaukee.  With little optimism for a turnaround, Cards GM John Mozeliak pulled the trigger on Matheny two days before the All-Star break.

Fortunately for the Cardinals, Mozeliak’s change has worked so far.  The Cardinals have been 29-14 since Shildt took over and are now in second place 4 ½ games back of the Cubs.  In the month of August, they led all major-league clubs with a 22-6 record.

Shildt’s promotion is really no surprise in today’s managerial chess game.  After the 2017 season, veteran managers John Farrell (Red Sox), Dusty Baker (Nationals), and Joe Girardi (Yankees), all of whom led playoff teams last year, were replaced by the new breed of managers.  The new skippers have little or no managerial experience at any professional level, but bring a focus on newer thinking with respect to the use of analytical data to drive decision-making on the field.  Ironically, Matheny, himself, was one of the first of these new breed of managers at the beginning of the decade.

Shildt is an “organization guy,” entrenched in the Cardinals’ approach to playing the game right.  That came from the time he spent with George Kissell, the long-time coach in the Cardinals system, and some of Kissell’s disciples.  Shildt has benefitted from an influx of young players from the farm system during his short tenure.  He has received praise from his players and coaching staff and apparently has the rejuvenated team headed in the right direction—ideally to gain a berth in this year’s playoffs.

Former LSU Star Aaron Nola Making Strong Bid for Cy Young Award

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola went toe-to-toe with Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer last Thursday in a classic matchup of two of the best hurlers in the National League.  Nola came out the winner that time as the Phillies try to stay close to East Division rival Atlanta Braves, who led the Phillies by three games as of Saturday.

25-year-old Nola had already established himself as the best pitcher on a young Phillies team last year that finished last in the division.  This year he has emerged as perhaps the best pitcher in the National League on a team that is fighting for first place in the division.  He is one of the main reasons for the Phillies’ turnaround.  Nola is currently sporting a 15-3 record, good for first in the league in winning percentage.  Nola has the third-best ERA (2.24) and WHIP (0.981), while Sherzer and the Mets’ hard-luck pitcher Jacob deGrom are the other two National League hurlers at the top of these rankings.  These three pitchers are currently the top competitors for the National League Cy Young Award.

Scherzer, who has 16 wins to his credit this year, is working toward his third consecutive Cy Young Award.  He has claimed the award a total of four time during his 11-year career.  His 16 wins tops the National League, and he leads the league in strikeouts (244), WHIP (0.886), and Strikeouts Per 9 Innings (12.1).

DeGrom has been the victim of weak New York Mets team that’s had trouble scoring runs when he pitches.  His mediocre 8-7 record is somewhat deceiving, since he leads the NL in ERA (1.71), and is second in the league in strikeouts (204) and WHIP (.958).

When the Phillies acquired free-agent Jake Arrieta from the Cubs over the winter, many expected him to step in and become the ace of the staff.  Yet Nola has upped his game, building on his success during the second half of 2017, when he posted a 3.16 ERA.  Overall last season, he had a 12-11 win-loss record.

So, what are Nola’s chances of winning his first Cy Young Award?

All three pitchers are very close in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for Pitchers, a complicated calculation that attempts to consolidate all the various performance factors of pitching into a single value.  WAR doesn’t appear to differentiate any of the pitchers at this point.

If the Phillies wind up with a division title or gain a playoff berth, this could give Nola a qualitative edge over Scherzer and deGrom, whose teams are lagging behind the Phillies.  Although team performance shouldn’t factor into the individual award, some voters will give de facto consideration to the fact Nola has been instrumental in helping his team get into the playoffs.

In years past, voters for the Cy Young Award gave strong consideration to the number of wins by a pitcher.  Nola and Scherzer are currently neck-and-neck in this category, but nowadays pitching wins are no longer given much credence in measuring the effectiveness of a pitcher.  Thus, Nola’s impressive 15 wins (plus any additional he might gain during September) are almost a moot point.

With Scherzer having won the award in four previous seasons, he already has the reputation of being one of the best pitchers in this decade.  This intangible factor could enter into some voters’ rationale for giving him the edge over the other contenders, since their quantitative performance measures are so close.  DeGrom has finished in the top eight of the voting for Cy Young Award twice before.  This season is considered a breakout year for Nola.

One edge Nola may have is his record of 4-1, with a 2.03 ERA, against the Phillies’ two main competitors (Nationals and Braves) in the division.  Hence, when the Phillies’ biggest games have been on the line with Nola pitching, he’s come through in the clutch.

The bottom line:  unless one or more of these three pitchers gets injured or just falls to pieces during the balance of this season with a number of bad outings, it could very well be a toss-up with regard to who will take home the trophy as the league’s best pitcher.

This is Nola’s fourth major-league campaign.  He was selected by the Phillies in the first round (7th overall pick) of the 2014 MLB June Amateur Draft, after having a stellar career with LSU.

Nola compiled 30 wins (against only 6 losses) for LSU in three seasons (2012-2014).  He was the SEC’s Pitcher of the Year in both his sophomore and junior campaigns and the National Pitcher of the Year in his junior year.

He is one of seven former LSU pitchers who have made major-league appearances in 2018.  Kevin Gausman (Braves), Jason Vargas (Mets) are the other starters.  Relievers include Louis Coleman (Diamondbacks), Will Harris (Astros), Nick Goody (Indians), and Nick Rumbelow (Mariners).

The only other former LSU pitcher to ever receive strong consideration for the Cy Young Award is Brian Wilson, who finished seventh in the voting in 2010, when he led the National League with 48 saves for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

Acuna's Home Run Spree Was Good, But Donnie Baseball's Was Better

The Atlanta Braves are demonstrating they have the necessary grit and determination late into the season to remain a contender for a post-season playoff berth, their first since 2013.  One of the “Baby Braves” who is proving to be a key catalyst in their winning ways is 20-year-old Ronald Acuna Jr.

Acuna put on an impressive display of power from August 8 through August 15 that spawned a set of comparisons with major-leaguers before him.

  • He became the youngest player since at least 1908 to homer in five straight games.  Brian McCann was 22 years old in 2006, when he did it.

  • In three of his games, he hit a leadoff home run as the first Braves’ batter of the game.  The only other player in modern history to hit a leadoff home run in at least three straight games was Brady Anderson in 1996, when he did it in four games.

  • He tied the Braves’ franchise record for most consecutive games with a home run, joining the likes of Rogers Hornsby, Joe Adcock, Hank Aaron, Chipper Jones, and a few others.

Altogether during his eight-game stretch, Acuna hit a total of eight HR and 15 RBIs, while scoring 13 runs.  On August 10, he went homerless, but countered that with two on April 15.  His slash line during that period was an astonishing .471/.514/1.235.

As impressive as Acuna’s recent performance was, there was one even more notable in the annals of baseball.  New York Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly tied Dale Long’s major-league record of hitting a home run in eight consecutive games during July 8-18, 1987.

During his streak, “Donnie Baseball” accomplished a few other key milestones.

  • He hit a total of 10 home runs during the eight-game stretch.

  • He extended the hitting streak by delivering an extra-base hit in 10 consecutive games.

  • Two of his home runs were grand slams.  He wound up hitting a total of six slams that season.

Altogether during Mattingly’s stretch, he managed to hit a total of 10 HR and 21 RBIs, while scoring 11 runs.  His slash line was .459/.487/1.324.

Long’s record was set during May 19-28, 1956, while playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Seattle’s Ken Griffey Jr. also tied the major-league record during July 20-28, 1993.

Although not a record, Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Rhys Hoskins belted eight homers over nine consecutive games during August 19-27, 2017.  It wouldn’t be surprising to see more results like this and Acuna’s, with the recent increase in home runs throughout baseball.

If there was a blemish on Mattingly’s solid 14-year career, it was that he reached the playoffs only once (1995) with the Yankees.  Braves fans are hopeful Acuna’s rookie season is the first of many for the Braves as a contender for the post-season.

The Team Nobody's Talking About

The Red Sox, Astros, and Yankees have been getting the most ink as the three best teams in the American League.  It’s been well-deserved, as all three teams have balanced clubs and lots of star players.  The Red Sox appear to be on a pace to win the most games in a season since the Seattle Mariners in 2001.  The Astros seem determined to repeat as the World Series champion, which would be the first time since 2000 that was accomplished.  And even though the Yankees suffered a dramatic setback in their recent four-game loss to the rival Red Sox, they are still a cut above most of the rest of the league.

But one team that seems to get lost in the popularity war is AL Central Division leader Cleveland Indians.  Even the upstart Oakland A’s are getting more attention, because of their recent success and ascent as a wild-card contender.

Yet the Indians have been quietly separating themselves from the rest of the teams in their division, now more than ten games ahead of their nearest competitor.  Admittedly they are competing in the weakest division of both leagues this season, but they’re playing solid baseball in any case.  They’ll be assured of a playoff berth and will be getting geared up during the rest of the season to play the underdog role.

In reality, the Indians are no stranger as a top team in the American League.  Just two years ago, they were on their way to winning their first World Series since 1954, until the Chicago Cubs miraculously came back from a 3-1 game deficit to win their first title in over 100 years.  The Tribe won 102 games last year, only to lose to the Yankees in the Division Series.

Cleveland is close behind the Red Sox and Yankees in many offensive categories.  The Indians are being led by shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman Jose Ramirez, who will get considerable consideration as the league’s MVP.  Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez are the front-runners for the award because of their respective roles in the record-setting season of the Red Sox.  But a closer look at Ramirez’s record shows he’s right up there with them in all the key offensive stats except batting average.  In any other season, Lindor would be a worthwhile MVP candidate, too.

The Indians’ starting pitching is virtually tied with the Red Sox’s as the best in league, when considering Wins Above Average.  At the top of the Indians’ rotation are Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, both of whom can compete with anyone in the league when key games are on the line.

If the Indians have a current weakness, it’s their bullpen, which lags behind most of the other top teams.  However, they will get a much-needed boost from Andrew Miller, who has recently returned from two months on the disabled list, and Brad Hand who was acquired from San Diego before the trade deadline.

Because their lead in the division will be practically uncontested for the balance of the season, the Indians will have the luxury of strategically resting players and trying different lineup combinations as they get ready for the playoffs.  They just have to make sure they don’t get too complacent with their unchallenged lead.

Indians manager Terry Francona relishes the underdog role.  He realizes that Cleveland won’t garner as much attention as the higher-profile franchises like New York, Boston, and Houston.  He’s okay with that situation.  As the winner of two World Series titles as the manager for Boston, he fully understands the pressures that come with being a big-market team.  At this point, he’ll be happy to let those other teams deal with the added pressure, while his Indians fly under the radar.


Dodgers Desperate for World Series Ring

The Los Angeles Dodgers felt like they let a World Series championship slip through their fingers in 2017.  After defeating the defending champion Chicago Cubs for the National League pennant, they had their first championship rings in 30 years within their grasp.  But then they ran into George Springer and Charlie Morton of the Houston Astros.

After being nine games back of the division leader on May 1, the Dodgers managed to get back into contention on the backs of Matt Kemp and Max Muncy, two players who didn’t initially factor into their plans in spring training.  They now have a window of opportunity to contend again for a playoff berth and possibly their sixth consecutive NL West Division title.

However, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies are currently nipping at their heels again and don’t appear to be going away anytime soon.  Dodgers ownership desperately wanted that elusive World Series ring and took no chances to let it get away again, as they were active in the trade market in late July.

Los Angeles outbid a number of suitors in the Manny Machado sweepstakes that culminated at the All-Star break.  Machado, the Baltimore Orioles’ all-star infielder scheduled for free agency after this season, was the biggest prize leading up to the July 31 trade deadline.

The Dodgers gave up five prospects to get Machado, but they figured he could bring another big bat and solidify the Dodgers infield which has been plagued by injuries this season.  For now, they aren’t worried about whether free-agent Machado can be retained after this season.  That’s how dead serious the Dodgers are about winning this year.

For most clubs, the acquisition of a player like Machado would be enough to help ensure success, but the Dodgers didn’t stop there.  They upgraded their second base position by acquiring second baseman Brian Dozier from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for their current second baseman Logan Forsythe and two more prospects.  Dozier had been coveted by the Dodgers in prior years, and they finally seized the opportunity to grab him at the trade deadline.  Dozier brings veteran leadership and another big bat to their lineup.

Then when the Toronto Blue Jays had a fire sale on their pitching staff at the trade deadline, the Dodgers stepped up to get veteran reliever John Axford in exchange for yet another Dodgers prospect.  Pitching depth is always a need, and he was a nice addition to the Dodgers bullpen.

Major-league general managers are challenged to make decisions to give up highly-prized prospects for short-term help to put them in a position to contend for the playoffs.  Fortunately for the Dodgers their farm system has a stable of prospects they’re able to deal.  There were a total of 69 prospects traded by various teams leading up to the trade deadline, and the Dodgers dealt eight of them to secure their additional players.  However, many other organizations aren’t as talent-rich to be able to take this approach.

As of Saturday, only three games separated the Dodgers and their division rivals Diamondbacks and Rockies.  Those two teams took actions of their own at the trade deadline, although not as dramatic as the Dodgers.

With relief pitchers currently high in demand, the D’backs added relievers Matt Andriese, Jake Diekman and Brad Ziegler to re-inforce their bullpen.  The Rockies added reliever Seung-Hwan Oh.

There’s still a lot of baseball to be played.  It will be interesting to see if Machado and Dozier can provide the insurance boost that enables the team to win the division and get another shot at a World Series title.  But the Dodgers also happen to have two other things going for them -- a good pitching staff and a roster containing several players with the versatility to play multiple positions.  Manager Dave Roberts has a lot of options with this team.

Most major-league organizations would be thrilled with the Dodgers’ record of five consecutive division titles.  But not the Dodgers.

Over the past few years, they’ve replaced the New York Yankees as the organization with the biggest payroll in the game.  In a big way, they feel compelled to win a World Series ring now.  It’s been a long 30 years since Kirk Gibson hit the dramatic home run in the World Series to defeat the Oakland A’s.  Plus, they need to justify the use of their deep pockets.  Yes, they’re desperate.


Hall of Famer Slugger Mel Ott Figured Out Launch Angle, Exit Velocity 90 Years Ago

When Hall of Famer Mel Ott retired in 1947, he was third all-time in career home runs in Major League Baseball with 511.  He was exceeded only by Babe Ruth (724) and Jimmie Foxx (534) at the time.  Ott was the National League leader in home runs until Willie Mays surpassed him in 1966.  The native of Gretna, Louisiana, held the major-league record for most career home runs by a left-handed batter until Eddie Matthews overtook him in 1968.

One of the remarkable facts about Ott’s propensity for hitting home runs was that he stood only 5’ 9” and only weighed between 160-170 pounds, not exactly the physique one would typically associate with a record-setting power hitter.  For example, Ruth and Foxx were more prototypical home run sluggers at six feet tall or above and tipping the scale at 195 or more pounds.  So, what accounted for Ott’s hitting prowess?

Ott’s batting style is legendary for his high leg lift before making contact with the ball.  Practically every posed photo of Ott in his batting stance illustrated his novel leg kick.

In his biography about Ott (Mel Ott: The Little Giant of Baseball), author Fred Stein said Ott perfected this technique when he worked with Lefty O’Doul on his hitting in 1928.  Ott came to realize that lifting his right leg higher would have the effect of moving his weight more forcefully into the pitch, thereby giving his swing additional power.

Stein further wrote that Branch Rickey, the astute general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, felt Ott’s lifting his front leg was largely responsible for his powerful hitting.  Rickey’s assessment of Ott’s batting stance concluded, “You will notice that he lifts that front leg just as the pitcher releases the ball and he puts it down after he sees what sort of pitch is coming and where it is coming from.  That’s why he never is caught off balance or out of position.”

Thus, it would seem Ott was using the leg movement to get the necessary lift and power behind the ball to drive it over the fence with regularity.  Was Ott just a freak of nature with his strength, or is it possible he intrinsically understood the value of getting good launch angle off the bat and generating enough power and bat speed to create higher exit velocity?

It’s highly unlikely anyone had figured out the physics of hitting baseballs in Ott’s day, especially without the benefit of technology to provide informative data to facilitate such a discovery.  And if someone did figure it out 90 years ago, it surely wasn’t being talked about in baseball circles.  It’s only been in the last five years or so, with new advancements in technology and data analytics, that the popular hitting approach has been widely discussed and routinely measured.

Nowadays it’s fairly predictable how launch angle and exit velocity factor into a batter’s ability to generate home runs.  Home runs have been on the rise, in part because “average” hitters are being coached to adjust their hitting approach to achieve a higher number of home runs.  Examples include recent players like Scooter Gennett and Logan Morrison, who improved their home run output after having posted relatively mediocre numbers in prior years.

Gennett (5’ 8”, 180 pounds) is considered small by today’s standard for major-league players.  He is more similar in build to Ott than he is with most of his current teammates and opponents.  After hitting a total of 35 homers during his first four major-league seasons, Gennett belted 27 last year and is currently on a pace to exceed that this year.  With his current hitting approach, he has proved a player doesn’t have to be a giant like Giancarlo Stanton to put up respectable home run numbers.

If Ott knew something special about his hitting approach, he never let on that he did.  In an interview in Baseball Digest in 1944, he said he couldn’t account for his high numbers, “I dunno.  Perhaps it’s timing, coordination or something else.  I never stopped to figure it out.”

Whether he consciously realized it or not, Ott’s approach at the plate must have incorporated techniques (shifting weight from back foot to front foot, creating power from the hips, and leveraging the ground for power) that produced similar hitting results as current-day sluggers.  Those techniques placed him in an elite group of prodigious sluggers in his era despite his relatively small size.

Josh Donaldson of the Toronto Blue Jays utilizes an Ott-like leg kick to generate a lot of his power and bat speed.  He was one of the first major-league superstars to espouse the benefits of launch angle in generating extra-base hits and home runs.  His former teammate Jose Bautista is another hitter who effectively uses the leg lift for tremendous power.

Unlike most of the home run hitters today, Ott didn’t strike out a lot.  Over the course of his 22-year career, his 162-game-average for strikeouts was only 53.  By comparison, Aaron Judge struck out 208 times in 2017, while J.D. Martinez whiffed 128 times and Nolan Arenado went down 106 times.

Some pundits of Ott’s era believed that his career home run total benefitted from a short right-field porch at his home stadium Polo Grounds.  It’s true that Ott was a prominent right-field pull-hitter, although 37% of his homers were hit on the road.  Furthermore, it is noted that many of Ott’s home runs at the Polo Grounds wound up in the upper deck and would have cleared the fences of other parks, too.  Hence, that explanation as the primary reason for his mammoth home run output doesn’t entirely hold up.

Of course, there’s no way to exactly determine today what specific aspects of Ott’s hitting approach actually accounted for his impressive career home run total, whether there were elements of launch angle and exit velocity, or just plain old brute strength.  But it’s a pretty sure bet if Ott were playing today, he’d be right up there in the home run rankings with today’s sluggers and certainly little Scooter Gennett.

Pint-sized Altuve and Albies Reminiscent of Former New Orleans Phenom Allan Montreuil

Major leaguers Jose Altuve and Ozzie Albies look like boys playing among men on the baseball diamond, especially when their opponents are hulks Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.  The two diminutive infielders bring to mind a New Orleans native from yesteryear, Allan Montreuil, who reached the majors despite his five-foot-five, 158-pound stature.

Altuve is all of 5’ 6” tall, while Albies is the “giant” of the two at two inches taller.  Despite their relatively small size, compared to most of their teammates and opponents, they stand tall on the diamond when it comes to displaying their hitting and fielding skills.

Altuve is the reigning American League MVP for the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros.  Currently in his eighth major-league season, the second baseman has already won three batting titles and is currently on a pace to record his fifth consecutive 200-hit season.  He also shows surprising pop in his bat for a player his size, as he has slugged twenty or more home runs in the past two seasons.

Albies, in only his first full major-league season with the Atlanta Braves, made the 2018 National League all-star team.  He is the league-leader in runs scored with 74 runs, to go along with 20 home runs and 55 RBI at the All-Star break.  Also a second baseman, he is a big reason the Braves are contending for the NL East Division title this year.

Growing up in the 1950s in New Orleans, Montreuil typified the true definition of “phenom.”  A Times-Picayune story about Montreuil said he was the subject of a “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” cartoon, which called attention to his hitting feats as a two-year-old toddler.  At age six, he was reportedly already playing on a 10-year-old team at New Orleans Recreational Department (NORD).

In 1956, NORD was the state Babe Ruth champion, and when they advanced to the regionals, Montreuil, not quite 13, went 6-for-8.  In 1957, Montreuil’s NORD team progressed all the way to the Little World Series, only to lose its opening game.

He attended McMain Junior High and De La Salle High School, where he excelled in baseball, but was too small to play other varsity sports.  In his senior season at De La Salle, he was named to the Catholic League all-district team and the Louisiana all-state squad.  A standout shortstop in Babe Ruth, American Legion, and All-American leagues, his coaches included some of the most legendary in New Orleans amateur baseball history: Kevin Trower, Emile Evans, Fats Dantonio, Johnny Altobello, and Rags Scheuermann.

Throughout his early career, Montreuil had pursued every opportunity to play in the leagues available for his age.  When he became too old to compete in the All-American League in 1963, he took an opportunity to play in the collegiate Basin League in Kansas, where he led the league in hitting with .375 average and was named MVP.  Later that summer he also played with semi-pro Ponchatoula Athletics, who finished in second place in the National Baseball Congress tournament in Wichita, Kansas.

Montreuil played for Loyola University in New Orleans in 1962 and 1963.  The 20-year-old decided to forgo his other two years of college baseball, when he inked a professional contract with the Boston Red Sox who gave him an $8,000 bonus.  Danny Doyle, who had played for the New Orleans Pelicans minor-league team in 1946, was the Red Sox scout who signed him after the NBC tourney.  Montreuil was recommended by former Red Sox great Bobby Doerr, who had seen him play in the Basin League and liked him as a hitter.

Kevin Trower, Montreuil’s coach on Babe Ruth teams, commented to the Times-Picayune after the right-handed hitting infielder signed his pro contract, “I lived half a block from Allan.  He was a child prodigy who handled himself like a major-leaguer when he was three years old.  Nobody taught Allan to hit, or field, or throw.  He was born with the natural physical actions of a pro and the baseball instinct of a Hall of Famer.”  He added, “I have coached him on my team and against him, and have always been convinced that Allan was born to play in the major-leagues.”

Johnny Altobello, who coached Montreuil on De La Salle prep and legion teams, offered this assessment to the Times-Picayune: “In a ball player, a scout looks for a boy with a strong arm, who can run, hit and field.  Allan can not only do all of those things, but best of all, he can think and always make the right play.  Allan’s height is not handicap.  He can do everything and more that 6’ 2” man can do in baseball.”

Montreuil reported to Boston’s Class A affiliate Waterloo Hawks for his first pro season in 1964.  It appeared he would continue to live up to his “phenom” billing, as he got off to a hot start with the bat.  He was named Topps Chewing Gum’s Player of the Month in May.  He wound up hitting .328 with 15 home runs, 63 RBI and 25 stolen bases for the season.  He collected 90 walks and struck out only 28 times in 479 plate appearances.  He was named the North Division’s shortstop for the Midwest League All-Star Game.

He was promoted to Double-A Pittsfield in 1965, but his batting average would drop off 70-80 points each season (compared to his rookie season) during the four years he was with them.  He got a brief promotion to Triple-A Tacoma during 1967, when he filled in for an injured player.  In 1968 Montreuil was a member of the Pittsfield team that won the Eastern League regular season title.

The Red Sox had Rico Petrocelli and Mike Andrews ahead of Montreuil on the major-league roster and gave up on him after the 1968 season.  He started the 1969 season with Double-A San Antonio in the Chicago Cubs organization, but then was promoted to Triple-A Tacoma where he was a member of the Pacific Coast League playoff champions.  For the entire season, he improved his batting average to .283 in 98 games.

Then for the next five seasons, Montreuil played with the Cubs Triple-A clubs at Tacoma and Wichita, but didn’t post outstanding seasons that warranted a permanent promotion to the big-league team.  Plus, Chicago had infielders Don Kessinger and Glen Beckert entrenched on their major league roster.

When Beckert went on the disabled list in late 1972, Montreuil finally got his call-up to the big-league club.  He made his debut on September 1, going 1-for-5 against the San Diego Padres.  However, he wound up sitting out two weeks with a pulled hamstring.  Altogether he played in five games for the Cubs, hitting for only a .091 average.

In an interview with the Times-Picayune, Montreuil said about his debut game, “Of course it was quite a thrill to play in a big league park, to wear a big-league uniform.  I hit the ball well five times, but it was right at somebody four of them.”

Cubs manager Whitey Lockman said about Montreuil’s brief stay, “He didn’t get a chance to play an awful lot.  He did a good enough job for us.  He hit the ball real well in one game.  He’s never had a real chance, though, to prove he could hit in the big leagues for an extended period of time.”

Montreuil played his last season in 1975 with Double-A Midland.  At age 31 after 12 seasons in the minors, he quit baseball as a player.  Following that, he considered taking a scouting job for a major-league organization.  When New Orleans was being considered for a major-league franchise upon opening the Louisiana Superdome in 1975, he had hoped to land a job in baseball related to the new franchise.  But, the big-league club never materialized in New Orleans.  Montreuil wound up going into business for himself in the New Orleans area.

Considering the 12 seasons he spent in the minors, he was figuratively in the majors for “only a cup of coffee.”  In an interview with the Times-Picayune, he said his main complaint about his career was he didn’t play enough in the majors to qualify for a pension.  In effect, he felt like he got nothing back for his long commitment to pro baseball.

His physical size was comparable to former major-league players of his era, such as Nellie Fox, Phil Rizzuto, Albie Pearson, and Freddie Patek.  In today’s game, he would be compared to mighty mites Altuve and Albies.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have their hitting skills at the professional level, which ultimately limited his opportunities to land a regular spot on a major-league roster.  However, he did leave a legacy as one of the legendary amateur players of the New Orleans area.

Montreuil died in 2008 at age 63.

MLB's All-Star Games Filled With Memorable Moments

The 89th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be played Tuesday at Nationals Park in Washington, D. C.  The Midsummer Classic, as it’s often referred to, is really the only competitive showcase of all-stars of the three major U. S. sports.  Of course I’m biased, but can anyone remember specific highlights of an NFL or NBA all-star game?  Some of baseball’s greatest moments have come in All-Star Games.

The first MLB All-Star Game was conceived by Chicago sportswriter Arch Ward as a one-time promotional event associated with the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. With the sport’ biggest stars participating, it turned out to be such a success that it evolved into an annual contest.  With the exception of 1945, when commercial travel restrictions were in place during World War II, the game has been played every year since 1933.  During 1959 to 1962, Major League Baseball hosted two games each season.

As the National Football League and National Basketball Association gained popularity in the 1950s, they, too, instituted all-star games to showcase their talent.  However, both of those sports’ events have evolved into perfunctory games in which the defensive elements have become practically non-existent.  The NFL Pro Bowl Game now strongly resembles amateur flag football, while the NBA All-Star Game is dominated by uncontested dunks and three-point shots.  The National Hockey League All-Star Game actually does a better job of resembling its competitive regular season games than the NBA and NFL.

Of course, one of the factors that makes all the sports’ all-star games attractive is the involvement of their fans to select certain members of the teams.  MLB started this practice for its first all-star game in 1933.  Before the advent of the internet, all-star voting ballots could be obtained by attending a game in a major-league stadium.  Nowadays, on-line voting is by far the predominant method of fan voting.  Ballot stuffing through internet-based voting is a problem the MLB has to guard against.

But even in the old days of paper ballots, the Cincinnati Reds fans cast enough ballots in 1957 to vote seven of their eight starting lineup of position players to the National League All-Star team.  The situation caused MLB Commissioner Ford Frick to step in and replace two of the Reds players on the National League all-star squad.  As a result, fan voting was discontinued and not re-instated until 1970.

Following are just a few of the unforgettable all-star game performance over the years.

In the first All-Star Game in 1933, it was only fitting that Babe Ruth hit the first home run.  The 38-year-old Sultan of Swat was winding down his outstanding career by then, but he still had enough pop to homer off Wild Bill Hallahan in the bottom of the third inning of the American League’s 4-2 victory.

In 1934 National League starting pitcher Carl Hubbell wowed baseball fans by striking out five consecutive American League all-stars that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Fox, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin.  However, the AL team wound up scoring six runs in the fifth inning to win 9-7.

Not known for his home-run hitting, St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Red Schoendienst smacked a homer off Ted Gray in the 14th inning to propel the National League to a 4-3 victory in the 1950 classic.

Stan Musial hit a walk-off home run off Frank Sullivan in the 12th inning of the 1955 All-Star Game to give the National League a 6-5 win.  Musial would ultimately appear in 24 All-Star Game classics.

The 1967 contest was the longest in All-Star Game history to that point.  Cincinnati Reds third baseman Tony Perez broke up a 1-1 tie in the top of the 15th inning with a dramatic home run off Catfish Hunter to give the National League a victory.  In 2008, there was another 15-inning game won by the American League, 4-3, when Michael Young drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly off pitcher Brad Lidge.

Reggie Jackson hit what is remembered as the longest home run in the 1971 All-Star Game.  The A’s slugger hit a mammoth shot off Dock Ellis at Tiger Stadium.  The ball hit a light tower on the roof above of the second deck and was estimated to travel 532 feet.  The American League’s victory broke an eight-game winning streak by the National League.

The 2002 All-Star Game ended in a 7-7 tie after 11 innings, when both teams ran out of available pitchers.  Beginning in 2003, the MLB Commissioner’s Office declared that the winning league of the All-Star Game would be awarded home-field advantage in the World Series, to prevent future tie-game results.  It was further evidence that MLB All-Star Games were considered more than just casual exhibition games.

Before interleague play began in 1997, the annual All-Star Game was seen as a marquee event that facilitated the matchup of baseball’s best hitters and pitchers from both leagues for the first times in their careers.  For example, it was a rare opportunity in the 1950s for fans to see a Whitey Ford facing off with an Ernie Banks in a classic confrontation where neither player is holding back his effort to get the best of his opponent.  Now, even with interleague play, it’s a treat to see a showdown between Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout in an All-Star Game scenario.

Of course, the MLB All-Star Game has had its share of unforgettable quirky events, too.

Diminutive San Francisco Giants pitcher Stu Miller is most remembered for a balk he committed in the 1961 All-Star Game, when his delivery on the mound was interrupted by a big gust of wind at Candlestick Park.

When Randy Johnson’s fastball flew behind the back of batter John Kruk in the 1993 All-Star Game, Kruk was so intimidated by Johnson he merely waved his bat at his next pitches, making for an easy strikeout.

I’ll be glued to the TV on Tuesday night to see what this year’s game will bring.

BoSox and Bronx Bombers Will Duke It Out to the Finish

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox appear to be in a fight to the finish.  They are like two heavyweight boxers going toe-to-toe in a slugfest.  Mid-way through the current bout for first place in the East Division, they are pretty much even in points (win-loss record), and neither one appears to be going down for the count any time soon.

The boxing analogy is indeed appropriate.  The Yankees and Red Sox are practically deadlocked in a tight race in the East Division.  Since May 1, the two teams have been in first or second place, never more than 2 ½ games apart.  They are both offensive juggernauts, only surpassed by the West Division’s Houston Astros in a few categories.  In head-to-head competition so far this season, the Yankees have won five of nine games from the Red Sox.  Neither team shows any sign of faltering.  They are both on a pace to win over 100 games for the season.

Of course, what’s at stake is a first-place finish in the division, so that a risky wild-card playoff situation is avoided.  In a one-and-done wild-card game, a season filled with excellence, like both teams are currently demonstrating, can go down the drain with one unlucky inning.

The Yankees have had mixed results from the last two times they finished the regular season with a wild-card berth.  Last year the Yankees finished in second place behind the Red Sox, but got past a relatively weak Minnesota Twins team in the wild-card game.  The Yanks defeated the Indians and then almost got into the World Series, losing the AL pennant in seven games to the eventual champion Houston Astros.  However, recall the Yankees were put out of the post-season in a wild-card game loss to the Astros in 2015.

The highly successful Red Sox and Yankees are amazingly being led by first-year managers, Alex Cora and Aaron Boone, respectively. They are pushing all the right buttons, and neither manager has blinked so far in the showdown through the first half of the season.  They are making the MLB manager’s job look easy, but just ask another first-year skipper, Dave Martinez of the Washington Nationals, how easy it really is.

Of course, a big factor that helps both managers is that their rosters are loaded with talent.  The Red Sox added free-agent slugger J. D. Martinez during the off-season, while the Yankees acquired 2017 MVP Giancarlo Stanton in a deal with the Miami Marlins.  These big-time acquisitions signaled that both teams were willing to pull out all the stops this year to get back to the World Series after several years of absence.

Stanton is complementing the new core of the Baby Bombers that includes Judge, Sanchez, Bird, Gregorius, Torres, Hicks, and Andujar.  Martinez, who leads the league in home runs and RBIs, has been a nice addition to Boston’s young core of Betts, Benintendi, Bogaerts, Bradley, and Devers.  Both teams have youth on their side, as the batters of both teams remarkably average only 27 years of age.  Only the Chicago White Sox having a younger offensive lineup in the American League.

Not only are their won-loss records pretty much even, but the two teams are very similar in almost every other respect.  Here’s a comparison of the American League ranking of the two teams in several key offensive categories:

Batting Category


Red Sox

Runs Scored



Home Runs



Slugging %



On-Base %



On-Base Plus Slugging %







It’s a similar situation in the key pitching categories in the American League.  The Houston Astros are the leaders, but either the Yankees or the Red Sox are second or third in most of the rankings.

Pitching Category


Red Sox

Runs Allowed



Earned Run Average



Walks and Hits per 9 Innings



Strikeouts per 9 Innings



Fielding Independent Pitching







The Yankees’ pitching staff is headlined by 24-year-old Luis Severino, while 18-year veteran CC Sabathia seems to be getting better in his elder years.  The Red Sox have four starters with nine or more victories.  Both clubs have reliable relief staffs.

Of course, both teams need to stay injury-free during the second half of the season.  The Yankees have starting pitchers Masahiro Tanaka and Jordon Montgomery on the DL right now, which will likely push them to acquire some help for the starting rotation at the trade deadline at the end of the month.

The two teams will face off four more times in August and six more times in September, including a three-game series on the final days of the regular season at Fenway.  Unless one of the teams can deliver a knockout punch sometime before that last series, the division race should come down to the final bell.

Switch-Pitcher Pat Venditte in Rare Company

On my annual baseball trip to major-league games a few weeks ago, I got a chance to see a once-in-a-lifetime novelty in a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves.  Pat Venditte, a switch-pitcher appeared in the game for the Dodgers.  His uniqueness is that he is ambidextrous and he threw pitches with both hands in the game.

Switch-hitting batters are very common in baseball.  Some of the best players in history have been players who batted from both sides of the plate.  Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, and Chipper Jones come to mind pretty quickly, but there are countless others.  In today’s game with so many teams using up to five or six relief pitchers in a game, having switch-hitters in the lineup is an effective weapon to combat the use of lefty-righty matchups by opposing managers.

However, not so common are switch-pitchers.  In fact, they are among the rarest of players in the long-history of the game.  Only Greg Harris has accomplished this feat in a modern-day major-league game in 1986 with the San Diego Padres, but he only threw to a handful of batters with each hand in his only ambidextrous appearance.  Supposedly, pitchers Tony Mullane, Elton Chamberlain, and Larry Corcoran also did it in big-league games before 1900, but I suspect their situations might have been just exaggerated stories handed down by word of mouth over the years.

Venditte is a legitimate ambidextrous pitcher though.  He has spent his entire professional career throwing with both hands.  In the game I attended, he faced six batters in his relief outing in the sixth and seventh innings.  He gave up a run on three hits in his 2/3 inning pitched, as the Dodgers defeated the Braves, 7-3.  He was able to switch hands a couple of time during his appearance.  He has a specially-made glove that allows him to use it on either hand.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts says he views Venditte as being two pitchers in one, as he works out of the bullpen.  Similar to the use of switch-hitters in the batting lineup, Roberts has additional options with Venditte when navigating through opponents’ lineups with his relief staff.  “The thing that stands out about Patrick is the ability to get a bad swing,” Roberts said.  “That translates into guys being uncomfortable and not seeing him well, there’s a little funk in there, and soft contact.”

Venditte was a non-roster invitee with the Dodgers during spring training this year, when he demonstrated he could still get batters out.  He earned a job with the big-league Dodgers in mid-May after a solid start with their Triple-A affiliate Oklahoma City, where he posted a 1.53 ERA.

The 33-year-old Venditte says he starting throwing with both arms when he was three years old.  A natural right-hander, his father encouraged him to pitch from both sides of the mound.  However, all during his path through amateur baseball, he had to prove to his coaches he could be effective with both hands.

Venditte gained national attention when he was selected by the New York Yankees in the 20th round of the 2008 MLB Draft out of Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.  He spent seven seasons in the Yankees organization, reaching the Triple-A level briefly before being granted free agency after the 2014 season.

The Oakland A’s signed him for the 2015 season, and he finally made his major-league debut on June 5 of that year.  He appeared in 26 games for the season, compiling a 2-2 record and 4.40 ERA.

He played parts of the 2016 season with Toronto and Seattle, although he recorded only 15 appearances between them.  He had a credible season with Philadelphia’s Triple-A club in 2017, posting a 9-5 record and 3.36 ERA in 52 relief appearances.

Shortly after his appearance against the Braves on June 8, Venditte was optioned back to Oklahoma City to make room for a needed position player on the Dodgers roster.  But chances are good that he will get a return visit with the big-league club once the long season takes its toll on the pitching staff.

On Saturday there was another unique display of dexterity by Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Vince Velasquez.  He received a blow to his throwing arm from a hard-hit line drive from a Washington Nationals batter.  Unable to use his right arm, Velasquez had the presence of mind to quickly pick up the ball with his left-hand and throw the runner out at first base.  Although not in the same category of Venditte’s capability, the play was impressive nonetheless.

For all my Mississippi Delta blog readers, you will be interested to know that Shaw native Boo Ferriss, Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer, was ambidextrous, although he never did pitch in a major-league game with both hands.  However, he did amaze sportswriters of his day by frequently playing first base left-handed during Red Sox batting practices.  A natural right-hander, Ferriss didn’t need to pitch left-handed, as he compiled 51 career wins against only 18 losses before he injured his arm in mid-1948, effectively ending his career.

MSU's Rally Banana the Latest in Baseball Superstitions and Rituals

The Mississippi State baseball team got a lot of ink and air time during the NCAA regionals and College World Series for its introduction of the rally banana as a way to spur the team to win several games involving dramatic walk-off home runs and hits.

We’ve heard of baseball teams employing rally caps, rally towels, and even rally monkeys before.  But rally bananas?  It seemed like an off-the-wall idea for a superstition bringing good fortune, but apparently it worked until the Bulldogs ran into the hot-hitting lineup of Oregon State in the CWS semi-finals.

“Rally” paraphernalia is just one of the many superstitions and rituals that have been part of baseball for since the game’s early days.  During 1880’s infielder Cap Anson would not talk to his starting pitcher on game day because he thought it would contribute to his pitcher staying focused.  Members of the 1894 Baltimore Orioles drank a glass of turkey gravy before each game to bring them luck.

Players usually adopt these seemingly crazy actions because they are looking for something to attribute their good fortunes on the field and then want to make sure they can maintain it.  Often that results in a superstition or ritual, many of which are pretty bizarre.  Following is a selection of some of the most noteworthy in baseball lore.

Hall of Famer Wade Boggs ate chicken before every game.  Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield would eat a pound of spaghetti before games he pitched.

“Yankee Clipper” Joe DiMaggio would step on second base when running from the outfield to the dugout.  Oakland A’s Jason Giambi wore a golden thong to get out of a slump and supposedly convinced a few other players it worked.

Houston Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio never washed his batting helmet despite collecting years of dirt and pine tar.  Slugger Reggie Jackson wore the same batting helmet with the Angels that he had used while playing for the Yankees, of course re-painted with the Angels logo.

Pitcher Charlie Kerfeld wore a Jetson’s T-shirt while playing with the Houston Astros.  It supposedly brought him luck because the Jetson’s dog was named “Astro.”  Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer Willie Stargell never used a bat with his own name stamped on it.  In the 1950s and 1960s, Pirates first baseman Dick Stuart would throw a piece of gum across the plate during each at-bat.

One of the most notable player rituals in the batters’ box includes David “Big Papi” Ortiz, who would spit on his batting gloves and then slap his hands together.  Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra had a routine of adjusting his batting gloves on every pitch.  His ritual became so popular that practically every 12-year-old amateur player wound up mimicking his glove adjustments.  Former Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians first baseman Mike Hargrove was called the “human rain delay” for his time-consuming routine during each at-bat.

There were a couple of pitchers who gained notoriety for their antics on the mound.  Upon entering a game as a reliever, former Cardinals pitcher Al Hrabosky would turn his back on the batter, roll the ball between his hands, slam the ball into his glove, turn around quickly and stomp back to the pitching rubber before throwing a pitch.  1970s pitching sensation Mark “The Bird” Fidrych’s antics included talking to the baseball and smoothing out the dirt on the mound with his hand.

Over the years, many players have resorted to wearing the same socks or t-shirt without washing them during a hitting or pitching streak.  Former Houston Astros slugger Glenn Davis re-used his chewing gum every day during his hitting streaks.  Other players have resorted to pre-game rituals in the clubhouse to ensure their luck was maintained.

Perhaps one of the most well-known superstitions in the game involves teammates refraining from mentioning to a pitcher that he has a no-hitter while he is in the middle of throwing one.  It’s considered a jinx to the pitcher if someone does, including the broadcasters in the TV/radio booth.

Former Mets and Cubs relief pitcher Turk Wendell may have been the king of superstitions and rituals.  With four seasons of 70 or more appearances, he had a lot of opportunities to demonstrate them.  His repertoire included having the umpire roll a new ball to him; eating black licorice instead of gum or tobacco; brushing his teeth between innings; waving to his centerfielder at the start of each inning; slamming the pitcher’s resin bag down hard on the ground; and taking an exaggerated hop over the foul line.

There has actually been a precedent for Mississippi State’s rally banana.  The Dominican Republic national team featured a rally plantain they used during their eight-game sweep in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.  Pitcher Fernando Rodney, who recorded seven saves during the series, was the keeper of the plantain.  Unlike the Dominican team that won the WBC championship, State’s luck with the banana ran out against a very talented Beavers team in the CWS.

If you have another favorite baseball superstition or ritual, I’d like to hear from you in the Comments section.

Baseball's Family Ties Replenished by 2018 Draft

The annual Major League Baseball Draft kicks off the update of my Family Ties database of baseball’s family relationships for the new season.  I still believe Family Ties is the most comprehensive compilation of current and historical data about the many relatives in baseball.  It continues to be one of my favorite topics in baseball research.

The amateur draft usually has an interesting group of draftees, and the 2018 class of selected players was no different.  I’m always curious to find out the new baseball offspring of some of my favorite players I followed over the years.  Each draft year brings another set of novel stories surrounding many of the selected players.

For example, this year we have another potential third-generation player, two brothers selected in this year’s draft, a first-round draftee whose brother was also a previous first-rounder, players who are the third brothers in the same family to be drafted, and a few “courtesy” picks in the late rounds.

Here are some of this year’s crop of relatives with their stories.

Kody Clemens was picked out of the University of Texas in the 3rd round by Detroit.  He is the third son of seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens to be drafted.  Koby played in the minors and independent leagues from 2005 to 2014, while Kacy is in his second minor-league season in the Toronto Blues system.

Austin Piscotty from St. Mary’s College in California is the third brother in his family to be drafted by a major-league team.  Brother Stephen is currently an outfielder with the Oakland A’s, who also drafted Austin in the 38th round.  Jacob Maton (39th round by Seattle Mariners) is another player drafted with two brothers in pro baseball.  Two of the most recent three-brother families to appear in the majors were Yadier, Jose, and Benji Molina; and Stephen, JD, and Tim Drew.

Noah Naylor was the 1st round pick of the Cleveland Indians.  His brother Josh was also a first-rounder in 2015 by the Miami Marlins.  Some noteworthy major-league brothers who were first-round picks in past years include Andy and Alan Benes; JD, Tim and Stephen Drew; and Dimitri and Delmon Young.

Parker Meadows was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 2nd round.  His brother Austin, who made his major-league debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, was a 1st round pick in 2013.

Former MLB pitcher David Weathers has a son Ryan, also a pitcher, who was a first-round selection by San Diego.  Thirty years ago the elder Weathers was a 3rd round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Antonio Cruz, a third-generation player, was selected out of high school by the Houston Astros in the 37th round.  He is the grandson of Jose Cruz, son of Jose Cruz, Jr., and brother of Trei Cruz, who was drafted in 2017.  There have been only four occurrences of three-generation major-league families in history.  One of them, the Boone family, comprised of Ray (grandfather), Bob (father), and Aaron and Brett (sons), had a fourth generation player (Jake) drafted last year, but it remains to be seen if he will actually make the big-leagues.

Brothers Andrew and Christian Jayne were both drafted out of a North Carolina high school this year.  Andrew was taken in the 19th round by the Baltimore Orioles, and Christian was selected in the 27th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Brothers Blaze and CJ Alexander were also drafted this year.  Blaze was taken by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 11th round, while CJ was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 20th round.

Kyle Murray was a first round pick of the Oakland A’s.  He was projected to be the starting quarterback for University of Oklahoma this coming fall.  However, the A’s have already signed him for a $4.6M bonus, but agreed to allow him to play for the Sooners this fall.  He is the nephew of Calvin Murray, a former major-league outfielder.

Aaron Ashby was drafted for the second time in two years.  The nephew of Alan Ashby, the pitcher improved his draft position from 25th round last year to the 4th round by the Brewers this year.

Xavier Valentin, the 19th round pick of the Texas Rangers, has extensive baseball bloodlines, two uncles and a brother who played in the majors.

Other former major league pitchers who had sons drafted this year include Kevin Tapani, Tom Browning, Bill Sampen, Scott Sanders, and Kevin Brown.

Former major-league position players who had sons drafted include George Bell, Benji Gil, Benito Santiago, Brian Turang, Damion Easley, Tony Graffanino, George Arias, Chad Kreuter, Rich Amaral, and Jeff Conine

Two stars of last year’s World Series champion Houston Astros had brothers selected in late rounds by Houston.  Carlos Correa’s brother J.C. was taken in the 33 round, while Alex Bregman’s brother AJ was picked in the 35th.  However, neither draftee is expected to sign this year.

TV talk show host Larry King’s son, Cannon, was picked by the White Sox in the 37th round.  Cannon’s brother, Chance, was drafted last year by the White Sox in the 39th round, but did not sign with them.  As high-round picks out of high school, the brothers were most likely courtesy picks by the White Sox, since their father is an avid baseball fan.

The MLB Draft usually includes a few players whose legacy is not in baseball.  This year Adam Hackenberg was selected by the Royals in the 39th round.  He is the brother of Christian Hackenberg, who played quarterback for the NFL New York Jets.  Justin Lewis was the 12th round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks.  He is the cousin of NBA player Chuck Hayes and the NFL’s Richard Sherman.

Stay tuned for more updates to Family Ties.  Check out my Baseball Relatives website at if you haven’t visited it recently.

Toronto Blue Jays Continue Familial Pattern

The Blue Jays selected Griffin Conine, a hard-hitting outfielder from Duke University who was the second round pick last week.  His father, Jeff Conine, was a two-time all-star in the big leagues during his 17 years, primarily with Florida and Baltimore.  The younger Conine is the latest in the line of the organization’s players to have a relative in professional baseball.

It’s as though the Blue Jays have a specific strategy to select and develop players who have relatives with major-league experience as former players, managers, coaches, and front-office personnel.

Indeed there are some benefits of having such players in the organization.  The value of picking players who are sons of former pro players is that the offspring already have some familiarity with the pro baseball environment.  As youngsters, many of them have been around major-league clubhouses with their fathers.  They already have expectations of what the major-league grind is like and usually come with a strong work ethic instilled in them by their ball-playing fathers.

Of course, the major downside is that the youngsters feel the pressure of living up to their dad’s reputation.  If the son isn’t very good, it doesn’t matter what the name on the back of his jersey is.

The Blue Jays’ major-league and minor-league rosters are chocked full of players with family ties in baseball.

The most prominent of their minor-leaguers with baseball bloodlines play for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Double-A affiliate of the Blue Jays.  They feature the sons of three former MLB all-stars, including two Hall of Famers.

The best of those players is currently one of the hottest hitters in all of the Minor League Baseball. Third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the son of newly elected Hall of Famer Vlad Guerrero Sr., is only 19-years-old but presently has 11 home runs, 55 RBI, and a blazing slash line of .407/.457/.667.  At the rate he is going, he could easily get a call-up to the Blue Jays later this year.

Cavan Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, plays second base for the Fisher Cats.  After playing collegiately at Notre Dame, he was selected in the fifth round by the Blue Jays in 2016.  He is also a productive hitter with 13 home runs and 44 RBI, boasting an impressive slash line of .306/.432/.662.

Fisher Cats shortstop Bo Bichette is the son of former 1995 National League MVP runner Dante Bichette, who was a four-time all-star with the Colorado Rockies.  The younger Bichette, a second-round pick out of high school in 2016, is currently hitting .278 with four home runs and 26 RBI.

Further down in the Blue Jays’ farm system is another legacy of a baseball legend.  Kacy Clemens, the son of seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, is with Single-A Lansing where he plays first base and is batting .301.  If the younger Clemens was to be promoted to the Fisher Cats to join the other three existing sons, they would become an “All in the Family” infield.

A similar situation has actually happened once before in a major-league game, although the players involved were brothers.  Brothers Aaron (second base) and Brett Boone (third base) and brothers Barry (shortstop) and Stephen Larkin (first base) appeared in a game together for the Cincinnati Reds on October 27, 1998.

Elsewhere in the Blue Jays system, there are other instances of family ties, including additional players, coaches, and front-office personnel.

The Blue Jays’ major-league team includes several players with baseball bloodlines.

Outfielder Dwight Smith Jr., has split time between Triple-A Buffalo and Toronto this season, after making his major-league debut with the Blue Jays in 2017.  Smith’s father was an outfielder with four major-league teams during 1989 to 1996.

Infielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was promoted to the Blue Jays from Double-A New Hampshire this year.  He is the brother of current Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel.  Their baseball lineage includes their father, former Cuban star player and manager Lourdes Gurriel Sr.

Toronto outfielder Dalton Pompey’s brother, Tristan, was drafted last week by the Miami Marlins in the third round.  Tristan has previously been drafted by the Blue Jays.

Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna is the son of Roberto Osuna Sr., who played in the Mexican League.  His cousin, Antonio Osuna, also played in the majors.  Relief pitcher Joe Biagini is the son of Rob Biagini, who played a couple of years in Giants’ farm system.

A couple of other Blue Jays minor-league players with relatives in pro baseball include Brandon Grudzielanek (son of former major-leaguer Mark Grudzielanek) and Tim Lopes (brother of Christian Lopes, currently in the Texas Rangers system)

On the Blue Jays’ major-league coaching staff are Brook Jacoby, Dane Johnson, Luis Rivera, Jason Phillips, and Tim Leiper, all of whom have relatives in pro baseball.  Former major-leaguers Roberto and Sandy Alomar Jr., brothers whose father also played in the majors, are special assistants within the Blue Jays front-office organization.

Could the Blue Jays become the first team in history to field a major-league starting lineup comprised of players each with a relative in pro baseball?  They just might be on a path to do exactly that.

I Don't Like the Way Baseball Has Evolved

Call me old-school.  Say that I can’t handle change.  Tell me I’m a product of the Deadball Era.  I don’t care.  Some others might be hesitant to admit it, for fear of being shamed by the new-age baseball analysts and commentators and other baseball enthusiasts.  But, I’m not afraid to say it--I just don’ like the way the game of baseball has evolved over the past five to seven years.

Data collection technologies and baseball analytics are at the root of the changes occurring.  I understand the value of data analytics.  I worked a long time in information technology for a couple of Fortune 500 companies, where I learned to fully appreciate how comprehending your company’s essential data can offer new insights in how to increase revenues, reduce expenses, improve productivity, and enhance customer satisfaction.  Gaining those insights can fundamentally change your business.

A few years ago, some Ivy League MBA-types figured, “why not apply data analytics methodologies and technologies from the business world to the game of baseball?”  It was as though the basic stats used in baseball for over 100 years weren’t sufficient enough anymore.  Baseball analytics gave life to metrics that only the real baseball geeks (many of them sabrmetricians) previously talked and wrote about.  It started a trend that has consumed the sport now.  You can’t watch a game on TV nowadays that doesn’t reference many of the new metrics.

Analytics are currently used by every pro baseball organization in practically every facet of the sport including roster creation, player selection and development, player health, opposing team and player assessments, and contract negotiations.  By and large, I think it has been good for baseball organizations who, like all other industries, are trying to optimize their business operations.

But it didn’t stop with just the back-office operations of the sport.  Game strategies and decisions are also being heavily influenced by the use of data analytics and are being determined before the games are played, not as the games are happening.  (Remember the Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitching situations in the World Series last year?)  I saw a recent article saying the two most important skills of major-league coaches have evolved to being able to throw batting practice and using the SQL database programming language to navigate the massive amounts of data available to teams.

If you watch any MLB game now, you’re likely to see most pitchers, particularly relievers, throwing in the upper 90s and frequently breaking 100 mph.  Hitters are all about extra-base hits--singles are only marginally valuable.  Strikeout rates for many hitters are in the 20-30% range.  A third of all plate appearances don’t result in a ball put in play—they’re either a strikeout, walk, or a home run.  Fielders, especially infielders, play all over the field using shifting strategies.  It’s not uncommon for a team to use six or more relief pitchers in a game.  Stolen bases and bunting are no longer a strategic part of an offensive strategy.  Pitch framing by catchers is viewed as a skill equally important to digging pitches out of the dirt.

If baseball people had mentioned these as predominant scenarios just ten years ago, most of us probably would have laughed them off.

Yet they are real and are not going away, but I’m not sure they’re all that good for the game.  The game has given way to a simple “throw hard, swing hard” mentality.  A lot of the other intricacies that defined the game for so long don’t seem to be as relevant anymore.  I think the game is losing some of its allure because of this shift.

Baseball has become dominated by new-fangled terminology (much of which is facilitated by data analytics) such as spin rate, launch angle, exit velocity, route efficiency, defensive shifts, defensive runs saved, and runs created.  Basic familiar stats such as saves, wins, RBI, and fielding average are now being debunked as relevant measures of player performance.  Even the most casual fan could count or calculate these basic stats, but nowadays you need a PhD in mathematics and Amazon’s cloud computing services to figure out some of the newer metrics.

Part of the folklore of baseball has involved such things as the tracking of career leaders in various statistical categories.  For example, we all know Mariano Rivera as the all-time saves leader with over 600 saves, and Rickey Henderson’s Hall of Fame career was largely based on his ability to draw walks as a leadoff batter and steal bases.

In the future, will we know Aaron Judge’s career launch angle or Clayton Kershaw’s career spin rate?  I hope it doesn’t come to that.

Little-Known Josh Hader Now Making a Name for Himself

If you haven’t heard of Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Josh Hader, you might want to get familiar with him.  In fact, go out and start buying his baseball cards now before he really becomes a house-hold name.

No, Hader’s not up there yet with the likes of fellow relievers Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, or Craig Kimbrel, but he’s definitely on his way.  But when a reliever averages nearly 18 strikeouts per nine innings, there’s something special about him.  Hader has been one of the top breakout players of the season so far.

Hader was initially drafted out of high school in the 19th round by the Baltimore Orioles in 2012.  He was traded to the Houston Astros the next year, and then was bundled with other prospects in a trade to Milwaukee in 2015.

Hader doesn’t have a pedigree as a reliever.  He has been on the top prospect radar for several years, but as a starter.  He was brought up by the Brewers during a playoff push last year, but his first role was as a middle reliever out of the bullpen.  He wound up making 35 relief appearances in which he posted an impressive 2.08 ERA, 12.8 strikeouts per 9 innings, and a WHIP under 1.00.  Yet, he didn’t earn a single vote in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

The Brewers determined that Hader had more value as a reliever, so he returned to the bullpen in 2018 and has picked up where he left off in 2017.  He capped off a great month of April when got national attention striking out eight batters in 2 2/3 innings, the first pitcher in modern era to do it.  He finally got well-deserved, as he was named the National League’s Relief Pitcher of the Month.  He is on a pace to post a 5.4 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which would be the highest ever for a relief pitcher.

Hader is somewhat of a throwback to the day when relievers routinely pitched multiple innings.  Relying primarily on his fastball and slider, 12 of his 18 appearances have involved more than one inning.  Of course, Brewers fans will recall they had one of the best relievers in all of baseball with Rollie Fingers in the early 1980s.  Fingers pitched in an era when relievers typically went multiple innings in an outing.

The Brewers are currently leading the NL Central Division.  Hader has been a key factor in their success to date.  He just may be the difference in the Brewers getting to the playoffs this year, their first since 2011.  In any case, he won’t be the unfamiliar reliever much longer.

The Baby Braves Are Showing Signs of Maturity

A couple of years ago there were the “Baby Bombers” of New York, aptly named when the Yankees roster became populated with young prospects that came up through their system or were acquired in trades.  It was part of a makeover of an aging team that wasn’t living up to the Yankee tradition of championship seasons.  Indeed, the Yankees’ fortune changed such that they are now considered one of the best clubs in all of baseball.

We now have the “Baby Braves” of Atlanta, who embarked on a similar, but even more dramatic, turnover of its roster several years ago and now appear to be coming of age.  Atlanta currently leads the NL East Division, led by a young core of players who have caught the attention of the baseball world.

If this Braves story has a familiar ring to it, just four years ago we were talking about another core of young, home-grown players on the Braves roster that projected to put them a long-term position of competitiveness.

That group included Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, and Julio Teheran, all of whom had been granted contract extensions even though they collectively had only 12 full seasons under their belts at the time.  For the Braves’ management, these extensions were about the certainty of annual payroll and averting expensive free-agent bidding wars in the future.

In addition to these players, the Braves roster consisted of other young players that included B. J. Upton, Evan Gattis, Brandon Beachy, Alex Wood, and Christian Bethancourt.  Overall, the Braves seemed to be pretty set for the next few years.

However, the 2014 Braves wound up in second place in their division, but failed to have a winning record and finished 17 games back of the Washington Nationals.  This came after having won the division the year before.

John Hart was brought on as general manager after that season, and he rapidly dismantled the team his predecessor, Frank Wren, had assembled.  Hart ultimately dealt away all of the players except Freeman and Teheran, in exchange for a lot of pitching prospects and high draft picks.  The Braves organization also became very focused on the international player recruiting process.

The Braves’ strategy became one of-building a competitive team to coincide with the opening their new stadium in 2017.  The organization acknowledged they were going to get worse before they got better.  And they did just that.  They won only 67 games in 2015 and 68 in 2016.

Well, the new stadium opened as planned, but the team was only four games better (25 games out of first place) than the previous year.  But one could start to see some of the prospects and younger players emerging.

It appears the strategy employed by the organization a few years ago is producing dividends.  The Braves have a slim lead in the division this year.  The offense has been sparked by 20-year-old outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and 21-year-old second baseman Ozzie Albies, the two youngest position players in baseball, backed by veterans Freddie Freeman (still only 28 years old) and Nick Markakis.

Albies, only 5-foot-6 and 165 pounds, is in the mold of the Houston Astros’ mighty mite Jose Altuve—he packs a lot of punch in a small body type.  As of Saturday, Albies led the National League in home runs and total bases.  Since Acuna Jr. was promoted to the big leagues on April 25, the Braves have won 13 of 15 games on the road.  Their teammates are awed by the two youngsters’ ability and confidence.  They are being compared to the former youth combo of Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker, when they played together as 20 and 21-year-olds for the Detroit Tigers in 1978.

Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson are two other young players making an impact with the Braves.  Swanson, the overall No. draft pick in 2015, struggled a bit with his hitting in his first full season last year, but now seems to have made the appropriate adjustments.  A 2017 all-star selection, Inciarte is an all-around player, as he is one of the better center fielders in baseball and currently leads the National League in stolen bases.

Julio Teheran (still only 27 years old) leads the starting rotation.  He’s been a workhorse on the staff, with 30 or more starts, since 2013.  He’s joined by relative newcomers Sean Newcomb, Mike Foltynewicz, and 20-year-old Mike Soroka.  Veteran pitcher Brandon McCarthy has been outstanding since coming over from the Dodgers last year.

The relief staff of mid-20s pitchers has been pretty impressive, too.  Arodys Vizcaino has stepped up as the closer, while Shane Carle and A.J. Minter have ERAs under 1.00.

There are still question marks about whether the Braves are having a breakout season this year or are just be another middle-of-the-pack team.  The Washington Nationals were expected to be the runaway winner of the division again, but it looks like they will have some stiff competition from the upstart Braves and possibly the Phillies and Mets, too.  We’ll have to wait and see if the Braves have truly come of age.

Prince Albert a Sure Bet to Join Baseball's Royalty

Albert Pujols joined one of the most elite groups in baseball with his 3,000th career hit last Friday night.  He had already accumulated over 600 career home runs.  Upon achieving that combination of milestones, he became only the fourth player in Major League Baseball history to reach both.

Pujols joined previous 3,000-hit/600-HR club members Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Alex Rodriguez.

However, the elite group is defined as much by who is not included, as it is by those Pujols joined.  For example, it does not include Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Stan Musial, all of whom are considered among the all-time greatest players in the sport and of course have a bronze plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Pujols is a sure-fire, dead lock to get his own plaque one day.

Pujols has experienced two distinct parts of his career, currently in the 18th season.  His record with the St. Louis Cardinals from 2001 to 2011 is as good as anyone’s in history.  In fact, if the first-baseman had ended his career after 2011, he would still be elected to the Hall of Fame.  His performance during that period was that impactful.  Only a handful of players have ever attained Hall of Fame status with fewer significant seasons.  For example, Hall of Fame pitchers Dizzy Dean and Sandy Koufax were each elected largely on only six outstanding seasons during their 12-year careers, but their situations involved circumstances in which their careers were prematurely cut short due to injuries.

During that 11-year period which started when Pujols was 21 years old, his slash line was an amazing .328/.420/.617.  He accumulated 445 home runs and 1,329 RBI.  He was National League Rookie of the Year in 2001, and he finished in the Top 5 of the MVP Award voting in 10 of his first 11 seasons.  He captured the award in 2005, 2008, and 2009.  Pujols led the Cardinals to three World Series, winning in 2006 and 2011.

Pujols’ first 11 seasons remarkably paralleled first-baseman Lou Gehrig’s first full 11 seasons (1925-1935), during which the Yankees slugger’s slash line looked like .342/.446/.637, to go along with 377 home runs and 1,557 RBI.  Pujols also wasn’t too far behind Babe Ruth’s 496 home runs and 1,441 RBI during the Bambino’s first full 11 seasons as a position player (discounting Ruth’s first few years primarily used as a pitcher).  That’s pretty impressive company for Pujols.

But then beginning in 2012 at age 32, Pujols’ production took a dramatic downturn compared to the standard he had set for himself in the prior 11 seasons.  Through 2017, his slash line had dropped to .262/.319/.459, although he was still averaging 28 home runs and 98 RBI per season.  For many other major-league players, however, those numbers would have been more than acceptable.  During his time with the Angels, Pujols has been on only one play-off team.

Pujols’ decline coincided with his being acquired as a free agent by the Los Angeles Angels, after the St. Louis Cardinals decided to not re-sign him after the 2011 season.  Cardinals management was heavily criticized for not retaining the marquee player in baseball at the time.  However, they were unwilling to shell out Pujols’ market value in a long-term contract.  The Angels signed Pujols to a mega-deal worth $240 million over 10 years.

However, neither Pujols’ change in scenery nor his big bankroll were the reasons for his offensive drop-off.  He didn’t age well, primarily plagued by plantar fasciitis in both feet.  Although he has played through the injuries for most of the time, his 2013 season was ended in July when he went on the disabled list (though not choosing to have surgery.)  The Angels have been forced to use Pujols as a DH much of the time to help him deal with the pain.

When the Angels promoted top prospect Mike Trout in 2012, they reckoned to have one of the best offenses in the game, led by the combination of Trout and Pujols.  However, Pujols didn’t deliver as expected; but Trout did his part, and in fact his career started much like Pojuols’ did with the Cardinals.  Trout was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2012 and has recorded six Top 4 finishes for the MVP Award in his first six full seasons, including first place in 2014 and 2016.  One wonders what the Angels could have been if Pujols had been able to sustain the performance he experienced with the Cardinals.

The Angels are saddled with a contract that still owes Pujols $87 million after this season.  His contract, along with the one Alex Rodriguez had with the Yankees, have become prime examples of why most major-league organizations now avoid such deals.

It’s not clear whether Pujols will finish out his contract with the Angels, which ends in 2021 when he will be 41 years old.  But one thing is pretty certain, Prince Albert, as he became known in St. Louis, will go down as one of the premier players in the history of the game, regardless of how or when he completes his career.

1970s: a Heyday for New Orleans American Legion Teams

The Louisiana high school baseball playoffs are about to begin, and within a month the American Legion regular season will follow.  Legion baseball in New Orleans is as strong as it ever has been since its beginning 90 years ago.  Within a long history of success at the state level, the New Orleans-based Legion teams of the 1970s were among the most dominant, as they won 9 of 10 state championships.

In the first Louisiana American Legion state championship game in 1928, Shreveport YMCA defeated the Beekman’s entry from New Orleans.  A year later, the New Orleans White Sox defeated Monroe for its first state title, and New Orleans area-based teams have now won a total of 58 state championships.  Five of those teams went on to win the American Legion World Series, the most recent being Jesuit-based Retif Oil in 2012.  Many of the Legion players from the New Orleans area went on to have success at college and pro levels.

The 1930s were another decade of dominance by New Orleans, with Zatarain Papooses largely carrying the load.  However, a distinction of the 1970s was that five different teams contributed to the nine state titles:  Rummel captured four, Holy Cross won two, and Shaw and Redemptorist each took one.

In 1970 Rummel-based Schaff Brothers defeated Lake Charles Stevedores in a three-game series.  Pitcher Joe LaSalle and first baseman Bill Surcouf were the stars of the final championship game.  Rummel High School coach, Larry Schneider Sr., was the coach of the Schaff team.

Schaff Brothers repeated at state champion in 1971, when they defeated Ruston’s T. L. James Contractors.  LaSalle was the winning pitcher in the championship game for the second straight year.

Ruston avenged their loss from the previous season by winning the 1972 state title over Shaw’s Tasty Bread team.  It would be the only year in the decade a New Orleans area team did not win the title.

Redemptorist TAC Amusements defeated Lake Charles Stevedores in two games for the 1973 title.  Bob Dean went the distance on the mound for TAC, while Bruce Bono led the offense with three hits.  Legendary high school and amateur league coach Skeeter Theard was the TAC skipper.

Schaff Brothers returned to the championship round in 1974 and swept New Iberia in two games.  At one point, Schaff had a 30-game winning streak.  Rick Zibilich, Vince DeGroutolla, and Matt Bullinger were among the team’s talented group of players, eight of whom would go on to play college baseball.  Schaff ultimately advanced to the American Legion World Series in Roseburg, Oregon, where they won two of four games for a third-place finish.  The 1974 Schaff Brothers team tied with the 1980 Jesuit-based Odeco Drillers for honors as the best American Legion team of all-time in New Orleans, as determined by a panel of former players, coaches, and sportswriters organized by New Orleans sportswriter Ken Trahan in 2009.

Odeco Drillers won the state title in 1975, the first championship for a Jesuit-based team since 1965.  They defeated Monroe in two games in the championship series.  Brian Butera, Jim Gaudet, and Drew Lukinovich were among the stars of the team.  Gaudet would eventually play in the majors for the Kansas City Royals.

Schaff Brothers got their fourth state title in seven seasons in 1976, qualifying them as one of the “dynasty” Legion teams from the New Orleans metro area.  Schaff defeated Lafayette Burger King in a tight championship game in Lafayette.  Then for the second time in three years, Schaff appeared in the American Legion World Series in Manchester, New Hampshire.  However, they fell short again of getting the national title.  Ken Francingues was one of the star pitchers, while David Stokes and Gus Malespin provided offense.  Stokes was named the Region IV Player-of-the-Year, while Malespin captured the Legion’s national honor.  All three players advanced to play at the college level, while Francingues and Malespin also played professionally.

Holy Cross-based Saucer Marine defeated Bossier City Legionnaires in two games for the 1977 state championship.  It was the first Legion title for a Holy-Cross-based team since the 1940s, when they captured three.  Billy Hrapmann (Tulane), Lou Wineski III (Nicholls State), Don Bourgeois (Southern Mississippi), and Armand Sinibaldi (UNO) went on to play at the college level.

Behind the 13-strikeout performance by Conmaco’s Paul Mancuso, the Shaw-based team defeated Layafette Burger Chef for the 1978 state championship.  Greg Delaune and Darren Barbier were the hitting stars for Conmaco.  Delaune later played at Tulane. After playing at the University of New Orleans, Mancuso pitched five seasons of minor-league ball.

Dickie Wentz pitched Jesuit-based Odeco Drillers past Lake Charles Abe’s Grocery in the third and deciding game of the 1979 state finals.  It was Frank Misuraca’s second win as coach for Odeco in five years.  Tim Parenton and Steve Riley recorded key hits in the game.  Parenton later coached at several colleges, as well as a stint in the pros in the Tampa Bay organization.

Nico Van Thyn, former sportswriter and editor from Shreveport, recently coordinated a compilation of information about all the Louisiana American League state champions for the past 90 years.  He has plans to make this information publicly available through various media outlets.  His compilation was used as a source for some of the material presented here.


Remember back in 1981 when Fernando Valenzuela took the baseball world by storm as a relatively unknown Mexican-born pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers who won his first eight games of the season?  He fueled a period of “Fernando Mania” that had baseball fans excited all across the entire country, not just in L. A.

We’re witnessing a similar situation this spring, except now the national sensation is Shohei Ohtani, a Japanese two-way player with the Los Angeles Angels, who may well be the re-incarnation of a young Babe Ruth.

Unlike Valenzuela, 23-year-old Ohtani came into this season with a lot of hype from the recruiting period last fall involving virtually every MLB team, which eventually resulted in his signing with the Los Angeles Angels.

Baseball analysts and commentators speculated whether Ohtani would play as a pitcher or position player, since he had excelled in Japan in both capacities.  (In 2016, he posted a 10-4 record with a 2.12 ERA and .957 WHIP, while recording a .322 batting average with 22 HR, 67 RBI, and 1.004 OPS).  Of course, as part of their sales pitches, MLB suitors promised he could do both, even though most observers estimated his pitching ability was ahead of his hitting.  In reality, no major-league player had been effective as a routine two-way player since Babe Ruth’s early days in the majors over 100 years ago.

During spring training though, Ohtani wasn’t overly impressive as a hitter or pitcher.

In his first outing as a pitcher, the slender right-hander struggled with his command, and his fastball wasn’t topping out like it has been advertised.  But most people were quick to write off his performance as just needing more time to adjust to the major leagues.  He was better in his next appearance, recording strikeouts for all eight outs in 2 2/3 innings, but still gave up two runs on four hits.  However, he did display an effective slider as his secondary pitch.

Ohtani was then relegated to pitching on the back diamonds for the rest of the spring.  In his last tune-up against minor-league hitters before the season started, his performance was still uneven, as he walked five batters, hit a batter, and threw two wild pitches.

As a hitter, he wasn’t the same player he was in Japan either.

All in all, his stats for the spring included an 11.77 ERA and a .107 batting average.  He didn’t fulfill the expectations initially set for him from his Japanese career, but it was speculated he just needed more time to adjust, including some time in the minors to polish his game.

However, the Angels took a gamble and kept Ohtani on the major-league roster as they broke spring training camp.  Perhaps they were thinking they couldn’t send him down to the minors from a marketing standpoint.

And then Ohtani demonstrated why spring training stats can sometimes be misleading. Here’s a recap of his first few major-league games:

  • Opening Day:  he got a hit in his first at-bat as the Angels’ DH.

  • April 1:  he won his first start as he pitched six innings, yielding only three hits and a walk while striking out six.

  • April 3:  he went 3-for-4 including his first home run and three RBI

  • April 4:  he went 2-for-5 including a two-run home run off Cleveland’s ace Corey Kluber.

  • April 6:  he homered in his third straight game

  • April 8:  in his second start, he flirted with a perfect game, when he struck out 12 batters before giving up a single in the 7th inning.

  • April 12:  he hit a three-run triple

Ohtani’s combination of having a homer in three consecutive games and posting a double-digit strikeout game as a pitcher in the same season made him only the third player in history to accomplish this feat.  Babe Ruth did it in 1916 and Ken Brett in 1973.

These are the kinds of performances baseball fans had expected, and Ohtani is now fulfilling the pre-season hype his signing had originally generated.  Not surprisingly, the comparisons to Babe Ruth immediately emerged, and Ohtani-mania is well underway.

Of course, Ohtani isn’t the first Asian pitcher to attain significant notoriety in Major League Baseball.  Before him, there were Hideki Irabu, Hideo Nomo, Chan-Ho Park, Chien-Ming Wang, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and most recently Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish.  Most of them achieved periods of success  in the United States, and Ohtani appears to be on a similar path.

Through April 13, Ohtani is batting .367 (11-for-30) with five extra-base hits, including three home runs, 11 RBIs and three walks in the eight games in which he batted this season.  He’s been just as impactful on the mound, going 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 18 strikeouts over 13 innings.  Ohtani was scheduled to make his third pitching appearance on Sunday against Kansas City, but the game was postponed due to weather conditions.

The fans in Los Angeles surely welcomed Ohtani this season.  Even though the Angels already have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, they’ve played in the post-season only once in Trout’s seven seasons.  They’re hoping Ohtani’s bat and arm can provide the extra boost to get them a playoff berth this year.

Didi Gregorius Becomes Capable Shortstop Replacement for Derek Jeter

When Yankees living legend Derek Jeter retired from baseball after the 2014 season, there was a lot of concern among Yankees fans about how the club would backfill the irreplaceable star.  After all, he was one of the biggest reasons the Yankees hadn’t suffered a losing season during his 20-year tenure.  No one could reasonably be expected to fill his shoes, unless GM Brian Cashman went out and traded for another premier shortstop.

Furthermore, during the time Jeter wore the pinstripes, he had virtually blocked all Yankees shortstop prospects from getting any time in the majors.  Consequently, there were pretty slim pickings from candidates in the Yankees’ organizational pipeline to inherit Jeter’s spot in the lineup.

Cashman indeed reached outside of his organization to find Jeter’s replacement.  After the 2014 season, he came up with Didi Gregorius from the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Other than for his unique name, Gregorius hadn’t garnered much attention during his three partial seasons in the majors.  He was initially signed by the Cincinnati Reds in 2007.  He was born in The Netherlands, but spent most of his life in Curacao, historically an unusual breeding ground for major-league prospects.  The Reds then traded him to Arizona after the 2012 season in a three-team deal that also included the Cleveland Indians.

Before going to the Yankees, Gregorius had a reputation as a good-fielding, light-hitting player, certainly not in the same stratosphere as Jeter.  His signing by the Yankees raised more than a few eyebrows, even though they were in the process of revitalizing the team with younger players.  He had some big shoes to fill.

However, Gregorius responded with a decent debut season with the Yankees in 2015.  He had a respectable season as the regular shortstop, when he hit 9 HR and 56 RBI while batting .265, all career highs to that point in his career.  The Yankees managed to claim a wild-card spot that season, only to lose to the Astros.

In 2016, Gregorius upped his game when he found a home-run stroke that led to 20 dingers for the season.  Jeter had last hit 20 or more home runs in 2004, so Gregorius’s improvement was a pleasant surprise for the Yankees.  He also drove in 70 runs while improving his batting average to .276.

2017 was an even better season for Gregorius even though he missed most of the first month of the season due to injury.  He wound up hitting 25 homers and drove in 87 runs, batting in the cleanup spot for a good part of the season.  The Yankees hit the most home runs in the American League, while featuring Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge, who hit a rookie record of 52, and Gary Sanchez, who smacked 33.  The team came within one game of getting to the World Series, as Gregorius did his part by slamming three home runs in post-season play.

When Giancarlo Stanton was acquired by the Yankees over the winter, it was naturally assumed the slugger would bat in the cleanup spot.  But Gregorius, a left-handed hitter, has maintained his cleanup role so far, sandwiched in between the right-handed hitting Stanton and Sanchez.

So, while Gregorius is no Jeter (who generally batted at the top of the order and hit .310 and had an OBP of .377 for his career), he has found his niche in the potent Yankees’ offense.  Often overshadowed by the other members of the Baby Bombers, Gregorius hasn’t yet been mentioned in the same breath as other premier American League shortstops like Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts, and Manny Machado.  But he is rapidly changing that perception.

Jeter got his bronze plaque in the Yankee Monument Park last year, alongside Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra and other legendary players.  Gregorius won’t likely be joining that elite group of Yankees greats down the road.  But right now, there aren’t too many people complaining about what he’s doing for the Yankees.

You're not going to believe these pre-season picks

Well, Major League Baseball finally got it right by having all 30 major-league teams play their first game of the season on the same day, a true Opening Day, versus spreading it out over a few days like it’s been done for the past several years.  I’ve long advocated for baseball’s Opening Day to become a national holiday, but how could you celebrate a holiday when it’s spread over several days?

I’m a few days late in getting out my pre-season predictions before Opening Day, but it’s no big deal since I figure it’s shaping to be a pretty boring regular season anyway, with regard to the division races and wild cards.


It will be boring from the perspective that I think all of last year’s division winners will repeat again this season.  Boston, Cleveland, and Houston in the American League.  Los Angeles, Washington, and Chicago in the National League.  With the exception of the Red Sox, they aren’t viable challengers who can overtake last year’s winners, unless of course last year’s winners should unfortunately incur injuries to key players.  Repeating division winners can make for a boring regular season.  Each of those six teams is returning a strong club; and even though the Red Sox and Nationals have new managers in 2018, they figure to be very capable of leading their veteran teams.

The only division that might be contentious is the AL East where the Yankees will give the Red Sox a good run for its money for first place, like they did last year.  A lot of people are picking the Yankees to win the AL East because they believe the addition of slugger Giancarlo Stanton will propel them to overtake the Red Sox.  I don’t see Stanton and fellow slugger Aaron Judge repeating their “career years” from last season, when they both led their respective leagues in home runs.  Plus, it is unrealistic to think Yankees first-year manager Aaron Boone’s, with his lack of actual managerial and coaching experience, will be as good as 10-year veteran manager Joe Girardi, who came within one game of getting the Yankees to the World Series last year.  The “Baby Bombers” will have a good team again, but will have to settle for a wild card spot again, finishing behind Boston.

Now, here’s the really crazy part of my predictions for this year.  In addition to the Yankees, the other three wild-card spots will be repeat teams from last year, too.

The Minnesota Twins helped themselves in the offseason with the addition of veteran players in some key spots.  I predict they’ll win the other American League wild-card spot again.  The Los Angeles Angels will be better this season, too, so they could be the top challenger to the Yankees and Twins for a wild-card spot, but ultimately will fall short.  I don’t expect new Japanese two-way player Shohei Ohtani to provide the Angels the impact everyone is expecting this year.  The Angels have open questions in their pitching staff.

In the National League, Arizona and Colorado will outpace the Brewers and Mets for the other two wild-card spots.  The Rockies added much-needed depth to their relief staff.  The Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt will continue to lead a good offensive team that will be without the slew of home runs from J. D. Martinez in the last half of last season.  I’m picking them to repeat even though the Brewers, who were on the verge of reaching the playoffs last year, added veterans Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to bolster their outfield, while the Mets hired former Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway as its new manager to harness their young stable of horses on the pitching staff.

Based on history, I realize the odds of every playoff team from last year, including the wild cards, repeating this season are practically zilch.  It’s never occurred since the divisional playoff system began in 1969.

However, here’s where I deviate from last year’s overall results.  The Astros and Cubs will win their respective leagues, but the Cubs will prevail over the Astros in the 2018 World Series.  Cubs manager Joe Maddon will figure out a way to re-focus his team this season to re-capture the magic of the 2016 team.  For Cubs fans though, that really wouldn’t be such a boring season after all, would it?

Who Are the MLB's MIPs?

So, your first question probably is, “What’s an MIP?”  Some new baseball statistic or sabermetrics jargon?  Or is this just a typo—was it meant to be MVP instead?

MIP is my acronym for Most Indispensable Player.  It’s similar to the more familiar acronym MVP (Most Valuable Player), but I’m using MIP to identify the player on each MLB team who would most likely impact their ability to get to the upcoming season’s playoffs.  It’s a prospective, forward-looking identification, whereas MVP is usually a post-season determination of impactful players of a team.

MIPs aren’t necessarily the best players on their team.  In many respects, identifying MIPs is a subjective exercise.  However, it’s intended to be the player on a team’s current roster that they can least do without, perhaps due to injury.  Or it’s the player who, if he doesn’t perform as expected, will negatively impact the team’s ability to reach the playoffs.  A player’s intangibles, not just their historical performance stats, are also considered.  A team’s depth of players (or lack thereof) could also be a factor.  I acknowledge that picking MIPs is a largely a subjective process, but that’s what makes this an interesting exercise.

So, who are the MIPs for each MLB team for the upcoming season?

To start with, I’ve selected an MIP for one team in each of the six divisions, providing my rationale for why I’ve picked them.

AL East Division – New York Yankees:  Gary Sanchez.  One might naturally expect newly acquired slugger Giancarlo Stanton or 2017 Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge to be the MIP selection for the Bronx Bombers because of their home run prowess, but I’m going with Sanchez.  As I wrote in my blog a couple of weeks ago, I believe Sanchez is the key to the Yankees returning to their dynasty status.  The catcher is the glue in the multi-talented lineup.  The Yankees have enough big bats to pick up the slack of a Judge or Stanton if they were to post just an average season, but Sanchez would be really hard to replace if the lineup were without him.

AL Central Division – Minnesota Twins:  Brian Dozier.  Dozier provides a lot of pop at the plate for his second base position that normally doesn’t expect a lot of offense.  The gritty player has also developed into a Gold Glove winner.  Besides teammate Joe Mauer, Dozier is the guy who has been the constant factor in a young Twins lineup.  I selected Dozier over pitcher Ervin Santana, who is the ace of the Twins pitching staff.

AL West Division – Houston Astros:  Jose Altuve.  Altuve is a good example where the team MIP also happens to be the MVP.  Perhaps the best testament of Altuve’s importance to the team is the fact the Astros recently signed him to a 5-year, $150M+ contract extension that carries him through 2024.  The athletic Altuve, who was the 2017 American League MVP, is the sparkplug of the team.  His teammates seem to thrive on his clutch hitting ability.  He leads the team in hits and stolen bases, and can also provide power at the plate.  I selected Altuve over other Astros’ impact players, Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Justin Verlander.

NL East Division – Atlanta Braves:  Freddie Freeman.  The Braves still have a ways to go to be a contending team, but they’d be much further away if Freeman weren’t around.  The first baseman’s become the cornerstone of a young team in re-building mode.  When the Braves organization shed a number of its players a few years ago to start their rebuilding process, it was Freeman they kept.  Outfielder Ender Inciarte was my second choice for the Braves.

NL Central Division – Milwaukee Brewers:  Chase Anderson.  Anderson had a breakout year in 2017 and now he on the rise to the role of ace on the staff.  He’s still not a household name among the league’s leading players, but then neither are most of the other Brewers players.  Milwaukee got close to reaching the playoffs last season and will contend again this year if Anderson stays healthy and continues to progress.  I gave the nod to Anderson over fellow pitcher Jimmy Nelson.

NL West Division – Los Angeles Dodgers:  Clayton Kershaw:  Perhaps Kershaw is the least surprising of all the MIPs, but indeed the Dodgers team rides on the shoulders of the best pitcher in baseball.  His performances set the tone for the rest of the team.  The Dodgers have won five consecutive division titles, and Kershaw is the main reason for their results.  Third baseman Justin Turner is my second choice for Dodgers MIP, although this teammates Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger get most of the Dodgers’ ink.

Below is a list of MIPs for the rest of the MLB teams in each division:

AL East

Boston Red Sox – Chris Sale

Toronto Blue Jays – Josh Donaldson

Tampa Bay Rays – Chris Archer

Baltimore Orioles – Manny Machado


AL Central

Kansas City Royals – Salvador Perez

Cleveland Indians – Corey Kluber

Chicago White Sox – Jose Abreu

Detroit Tigers – Mike Fulmer


AL West

Oakland A’s -- Kendall Graveman

Texas Rangers – Adrian Beltre

Los Angeles Angels – Mike Trout

Seattle Mariners – Nelson Cruz


NL East

Philadelphia Phillies – Jake Arrieta

Washington Nationals – Bryce Harper

New York Mets – Yoenis Cespedes

Miami Marlins – J.T. Realmuto


NL Central

Cincinnati Reds – Joey Votto

Pittsburgh Pirates – Josh Harrison

St. Louis Cardinals – Carlos Martinez

Chicago Cubs – Anthony Rizzo


NL West

San Francisco Giants – Madison Bumgarner

Colorado Rockies – Nolan Arenado

Arizona Diamondbacks – Paul Goldschmidt

San Diego Padres – Eric Hosmer

Gary Sanchez Next Catcher in Line to Extend Yankees' Dynasty

Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are getting most of the publicity this spring on the New York Yankees team.  Stanton’s addition over the winter has baseball analysts and fans drooling about the prospect of what the two behemoths can do offensively, including comparisons with past legendary Yankees power duos, Ruth-Gehrig and Mantle-Maris.

But the guy who just might be the key to the next edition of the Yankees Dynasty is catcher Gary Sanchez.  It should come as no surprise, since each of the previous Yankees teams that produced championship streaks were built around a standout catcher, even though players like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson, Derek, Jeter and others drew most of the attention over the years.

Sanchez has been a top Yankees prospect from the Dominican Republic since he first signed as a 17-year-old in 2009.  In his first pro season in 2010, he was already being rated the Number 2 prospect in the Yankees organization by Baseball America.  His future potential continued to be evaluated highly in annual prospects lists.  It took him six years to finally make his major-league debut with two games in 2015.  But the Yankees front office was patient with his development, since he started out at such an early age.

He began the 2016 season at the Triple-A level, but then got a permanent call-up to the Yankees in early August.  He proceeded to put on one of the best power displays by a rookie during the final two months of the season.  In only 53 games, he slammed 20 home runs and drove in 42 runs, while posting a slash line of .299/.376/.657.  He provided a much-needed offensive boost to help the Yankees stay in contention for a wild-card spot, before the team crumbled during the last two weeks of the season.  Sanchez finished second to Detroit Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer in the voting for American League Rookie of the Year.

Sanchez is an integral part of the Yankees’ youth movement that began to materialize in 2016.  He is one of the Yankees’ new “Core Four” which includes Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and Greg Bird, all players who came up through the Yankees farm system like the original “Core Four” of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettit, and Mariano Rivera, who played a generation ago.

Last year Sanchez blossomed into the full star the Yankees were expecting from his early days in their farm system.  In 122 games (he missed a month early in the season due to injury), he slammed 30 home runs and 90 RBI and won the Silver Slugger award for catchers.  He combined with Judge to become a feared one-two punch in the lineup.  When the Yankees led the American League in home runs, the team acquired the label “Baby Bombers,” in a reference to the “Bronx Bombers” of the 1920s and 1930s.  Sanchez and Judge brought the Yankees to the brink of their first World Series since 2009, leading the Houston Astros 3-2 after Game 5 of League Championship Series before losing the last two games.

In the 115 years of the Yankees franchise, 60 of their seasons were manned by only six players who served as the primary catcher of the team.  Those six catchers were involved in 35 of the 40 World Series appearances the Yankees achieved, and they also contributed to 24 of the 27 World Championship teams in the franchise’s history.  To help put those startling numbers into perspective, during the Yankees’ longest dry spell without a post-season appearance (1982-1994), they had seven different regular catchers in just those thirteen seasons.

Here’s a quick review of those six accomplished catchers and the impact they had on building and maintaining the Yankees Dynasty

The first was Wally Schang, who contributed to three World Series beginning in 1921.  Bill Dickey was the Yankees catcher from 1929 to 1943, winning seven of eight World Series appearances.  Yogi Berra became the regular catcher in 1947 and held the job until 1960.  During that time, he was a participant in eleven World Series, winning eight of them.  Elston Howard supplanted Berra as the regular Yankees catcher in 1961 and helped the team win two of four consecutive World Series appearances.  Thurman Munson played in three Yankees World Series during the 1970s, winning two.  Most recently, Jorge Posada, one of the famed Yankees “Core Four” of the late 1990s and 2000s, played on four World Series championship teams.

Of course, Yankees fans would like nothing more than to have Sanchez become the next in line of elite Yankees catcher leading them to more World Series championships.

White Sox Broadcaster Hawk Harrelson: After This Season, "He Gone"

One of the signature calls of popular Chicago White Sox television broadcast announcer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson is “He Gone,” frequently used after an opposing batter strikes out.  But after the 2018 season, Harrelson will be the one gone, as he retires after this final season to call White Sox games.  It will cap a 34-year broadcasting career that began in 1975.

The 75-year-old Harrelson has been a favorite of Chicago area fans since 1982.  His witty, colorful broadcasting style included the use of several signature phrases and his assignment of nicknames to White Sox players.  He’s what’s called in the broadcasting industry a “homer,” a broadcaster who openly roots for his home team on air.  They are usually admonished for showing partiality to their home team during broadcasts, but Harrelson seemed to get a pass in that regard.

Nicknamed “Hawk” for his distinctive facial profile, Harrelson played nine major-league seasons with four different clubs.  His breakthrough came in his third season with the Kansas City Athletics in 1965 when he hit 23 home runs and 66 RBI.  However he was traded in mid-season in 1966 to the Washington Senators.

Kansas City re-acquired him again in 1967, but abruptly let him go less than three months later when he openly called out A’s owner Charlie Finley over the firing of manager Alvin Dark.  The Red Sox signed Harrelson for the final month of the season to replace injured Tony Conigliaro, and he helped them win the American League title in a close race with Minnesota and Detroit that wasn’t decided until the last day of the season.  Red Sox teammate Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown that season, and Harrelson jokingly took credit for Yastrzemski’s success by claiming Yaz got all the good pitches, because opposing pitchers didn’t want to face Harrelson behind him in the batting order.

The 1968 season with the Red Sox would be the best of his career.  He hit 35 home runs and led the American League with 109 RBI.  He finished third in the balloting for Most Valuable Player.  He played his final three seasons with the Cleveland Indians.  He retired from the Indians in mid-season in 1971 at age 29 and briefly pursued a professional golf career.  Harrelson is often credited with the regular use of batting gloves in baseball, with the first ones actually being re-purposed golf gloves.

Having gained popularity for hosting a half-hour TV show while playing in Cleveland, Harrelson landed his first broadcasting job with Boston in 1975.  He later signed on with the White Sox broadcast team in 1981 and served as the general manager of the team for a brief period in 1986.  It was a disastrous year in which he fired the team’s manager and assistant general manager.  He held jobs with the New York Yankees and with national baseball game broadcasts before returning to the White Sox as a broadcaster in 1990.

Over the years he has developed several signature calls, including “He gone” and “Grab some bench” when an opposing team’s batter struck out.  He used “You can put it on the board, yes!” when a White Sox player hit a home run, and he often referred to White Sox players as the “good guys.”

Of all the nicknames he came up with for White Sox players over the years perhaps the most famous ones were “Big Hurt” for White Sox slugger Frank Thomas and “Black Jack” for pitcher Jack McDowell.

Harrelson is certainly no Vince Scully, former long-time Dodgers announcer, from oratorical standpoint, but the Hawk has his own entertaining style that has made him one of the more popular announcers in the game.  The White Sox are paying tribute to Harrelson by having his long career commemorated on the cover of their 2018 baseball media guide.

Major League Baseball in Florida Will Stink in 2018

It’s been a relatively slow Hot Stove season.  Hasn’t been very hot with respect to off-season trades and free agent signings.  With MLB spring training camps opening this past week, five of the Top 10 free agents still haven’t been signed.  There are over 80 free agents still looking to catch on with a team.

However, the two MLB franchises in the State of Florida have been providing most of the sparks that have generated the little activity that has occurred.  But it’s not been the type of sparks that have gotten fans of the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays revved up for the upcoming season.  In fact, the two teams are headed for what portends to be some very hard times this season.  More bluntly, they will stink.

Tampa Bay and Miami have struggled to be contenders in recent years for different reasons, but they could very likely hit all-time lows in in 2018.  Both of them are currently fully committed to an approach that builds the organizations to be contenders for the long-term.  It’s not a new strategy, as the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs have proven, but it’s the timing the Florida teams have chosen that has some baseball people baffled and certainly most of their fans pretty upset.

There was no love lost for Jeffrey Loria by Miami fans when he sold the Marlins franchise to a new ownership group with Derek Jeter as the face of the organization.  Loria had angered many of those fans for making too little investment over the years and a having penchant for bad decisions.  Miami faithfuls saw Jeter as one of the most successful baseball players in history and were hopeful his success and image would carry over to his role as an owner.  What the fans didn’t necessarily know was that Jeter and his partners’ plan called for dumping their better players with higher salaries to get overall payroll under control and then start a re-building effort with top prospects.

Many folks thought the Marlins roster at the end of 2017 was within a few players of putting them into contention for 2018.  They already had the National League MVP, Giancarlo Stanton, locked up for a long time.  Other younger players like Dee Gordon, Christian Yelich, Marcel Ozuna, and J.T. Realmuto had formed a core, along with Stanton, that appeared to be set for the next few years.  The Marlins’ biggest need was in pitching depth, both starters and relievers.  It was argued that addressing those needs would be the quicker plan to put them into contention.

Instead, the Marlins transacted eight different trades that got 21 players in return, most of them top prospects and not able to help the team immediately. But now all their established stars are gone, except for Realmuto, and it’s not unlikely he will be dealt away soon, too.  Ironically, each of those players were highly sought out to fill critical needs of other teams trying to fill a hole in their roster that could be the difference-maker in their getting to the playoffs.  Why didn’t the Marlins just do that themselves?

In 2017 the Marlins finished in second place in the NL East, albeit 20 games behind leader Washington Nationals.  The result of their winter activities will likely put them in the best position to finish last in 2018 and probably for a few years thereafter.  The franchise already had a problem with home attendance, but it will get worse with the team they put on the field this year.  But Jeter and his front office team will have at least accomplished one of their organizational goals—getting the team payroll down to peanuts.

The Tampa Bay Rays have won 80 games in two of the last three years.  But their problem has been having to compete in perhaps the best division in baseball with the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles.  Their success has largely been built around its pitching staff, with the organization well-known for developing young pitchers.

Apparently not convinced they will be in the hunt for a play-off spot in 2018, the Rays have followed the Marlins’ approach of moving its players at the top.  Six of their seven top home run hitters in 2017 are no longer with the team.  Most notable are long-time Rays third baseman, Evan Longoria, the face of the franchise since he arrived in 2008, and Logan Morrison, who hit 38 home runs last year.  Additionally, two of their best pitchers, Alex Cobb and Jake Ordorizzi, won’t be with team this year.

Two other top-flight players, pitcher Chris Archer and outfielder Kevin Keirmaier, are still with the team in spring training, but they could likely become bargaining chips later this year at the trade deadline.  Faced with the possibilities of being part of a weak team this spring, Keirmaier has publicly expressed interest in being traded now.  That’s a poor reflection on the team.

Tampa is in a similar situation as Miami in terms of home attendance.  They were last in the American League last year with 1.2 million.  Dismantling the team over the winter will almost assuredly have them continuing to bring up the rear.  Rays ownership has an active initiative to build a new stadium in the Tampa area, a critical factor in being able to hold on to the franchise.

However, in the meantime, the Rays will be a bad team.  Their fans won’t have much to cheer for.  The biggest baseball highlight for the Tampa area this year will probably be watching the star-studded Yankees play their spring training schedule at Steinbrenner Field in the city.

It’s not a good time to be a Marlins or Rays fan right now. The good news is that both teams have a plan for eventually becoming competitive again.  The bad news is that it’s going to take a while for their plans to pay off, if ever.

Celebrating MLB Players with Negro League Heritage

Black History Month is a good time to look at Major League Baseball players whose baseball heritage stemmed from the Negro Leagues.  Of course, it’s well-known that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in MLB in 1947, and until then African-American ballplayers could only play professionally in the Negro Leagues.  It was only natural that their offspring would take up the game, too, except their sons and grandson finally had the opportunity to play on the game’s biggest stage.

Historians have difficulty pinpointing the exact beginning and ending dates of the Negro Leagues, but it’s generally accepted that the organized leagues existed from 1920 to 1950.  During that time, there were countless players on numerous African-American teams, although official records don’t exist for all of them.  However, there are indeed many Negro League players whose careers are well-chronicled.

There have been a number of major-leaguers whose fathers or grandfathers played in the Negro Leagues.

Among current players are brothers Rickie Weeks and Jemile Weeks, whose grandfather Victor Weeks played briefly with Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues.  Just when the Major League Baseball opened up to African-American players, Victor got injured and ended his baseball career prematurely.  Ricky and Jemile’s father played college baseball at Seton Hall and Stetson and passed on his love of the game to his two sons.  Ricky is a 14-year veteran of the big leagues, primarily playing for the Milwaukee Brewers.  He had an all-star season in 2011.  Jemile has appeared in six major-league seasons as a reserve player.

Going back to the 1960s, Luis Tiant made his major-league debut with the Cleveland Indians and proceeded to play 19 years, including eight seasons with the Boston Red Sox with whom he became one of the premier pitchers in the American League.  He accumulated 229 career wins.  Luis’ father, Luis Tiant Sr., a native of Cuba, played in the Negro Leagues from 1926 to 1948, while also playing professionally in his home country.

Bob Veale was a menacing pitcher at 6-foot-6, who made his debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1962.  He posted all-star seasons in 1965 and 1966 and played on the Pirates World Series championship team in 1971.  He won 120 games over 13 years, while posting a career 3.07 ERA.  Before embarking on his pro career, he pitched batting practice as a teenager to the Birmingham Black Barons team.  Bob’s father, Robert Veale, played briefly with the Newark Eagles.

Nate Oliver was a reserve infielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1962 to 1967, making one World Series appearance with them in 1966.  After two more seasons split among the Giants, Yankees and Cubs, he would play several more years in the minors before becoming a minor-league coach and manager.  Nate’s father, James Oliver Sr., played briefly in the Negro Leagues during 1941-1945.  James Oliver Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, is named after him.  Nate’s brother, Jim Oliver Jr. played one season in the minors in the Cincinnati Reds organization.

In the 1970s, Lyman Bostock Jr. was an up-and-coming major-league star, when the 27-year-old was tragically shot and killed in Gary, Indiana, in 1978, in a domestic dispute involving two other acquaintances.  Lyman had two seasons when he hit .323 and .336 for the Minnesota Twins.  His father, Lyman Bostock Sr., played for the Birmingham Black Barons from 1940 to 1946 and the New York Cubans in 1948.  He reportedly helped future Hall of Famer Willie Mays learn the game when he played one season with the Black Barons before reaching the majors.

Vic Harris was a reserve infielder for five different major-league teams during 1972- to 1980.  Vic was the son of William Harris, a Negro League player whose career included a season with the Pittsburgh Crawfords team that included legendary African-American players Satchel Paige and Jimmie Crutchfield.

In the 1980s, Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd captured the nation’s attention with his popular nickname, when  he posted three seasons with double-digit wins for the Boston Red Sox during 1984-1986.  He played a total of ten major-league seasons, ending his career in 1991.  His father, Willie Boyd, reportedly played briefly in the Negro Leagues.  His uncle, Bob Boyd, was the first African-American player signed by the Chicago White Sox organization in 1950 and went on to play nine major-league seasons.

Garry Templeton was a major-league shortstop for 16 seasons (1976-1991), mostly with the St Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres.  He is often remembered for being involved in the trade that sent future Hall of Famer from the Padres to the Cardinals.  As a Cardinal for six years, Templeton twice hit above .300 and never below .288, while logging two all-star seasons.  However, his career batting average with the Padres was only .252.  Garry’s father, Spiavia Templeton, reportedly played in the Negro Leagues, although there is no official record of it.  Garry’ son, Garry Templeton Jr., played two minor-league seasons and six independent-league years, before becoming a scout and minor-league coach and manager.

Brian Giles was the third generation of his family to play pro baseball.  The infielder made his major-league debut with the New York Mets in 1981 and went on to play five more seasons, including time with the Brewers, White Sox, and Mariners.  He was a career .228 hitter.  His grandfather, George Giles Sr. played in the Negro Leagues from 1927 to 1938.  In one season he batted .429 for the Kansas City Monarchs.  Brian’s father, George Giles Jr., played in the low minors from 1953-1955.

There were also a handful of major league players who got their start in the Negro Leagues and then had sons who also played pro baseball, although were unable to advance to the big leagues.

Don Newcombe was a Negro League player before he joined Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949, when he earned National League Rookie of the Year honors.  He played a total of eight seasons with the Dodgers, compiling a record of 123-66, including the 1956 season we he won both the MVP Award and Cy Young Award.  After playing for several more teams, he retired in 1960.  His son, Don Newcomb Jr., played one season of minor-league ball in 1984

Larry Doby began his Negro League career at age 18 in 1942 and eventually became a star with the Newark Eagles.  When the color barrier was broken in the Major Leagues, Doby became the first African-American to play in the American League with the Cleveland Indians.  He went on to a Hall of Fame career that ended in 1959.  His son, Larry Doby Jr., was an outfielder for three seasons in the minors from 1979 to 1981.

Minnie Minoso played four seasons with the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues before making his major-league debut with Cleveland in 1949.  He was a seven-time all-star during his 17-year major-league career.  He finished among the Top 4 in the MVP Award voting in four different seasons.  He was a career .298 hitter.  His son, Orestes Minoso, played five seasons in the Kansas City Royals organization from 1971 to 1977.  His grandson, Sam Macias, played two minor-league seasons in the White Sox organization in 2013 and 2014.

There is one three-generation major-league family whose family tree began in the Negro Leagues.

Brothers Jerry Hairston, Sr. and John Hairston were major-leaguers whose father, Sam Hairston Sr., started in the Negro Leagues, played in the majors in 1950 for the White Sox organization, and then became a major-league coach.  Jerry had the more significant career, playing all but 51 of his 859 career games in the White Sox organization during 1973 and 1989, while John played only three major-league games for the Chicago Cubs in 1969.  Sam’s two grandsons, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Scott Hairston (sons of Jerry Hairston Sr.) had substantial major-league careers themselves.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson Traded to the Yankees. Say What?

One of the stories that got buried in the post-Super Bowl media coverage last week was Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson being traded to the New York Yankees.  Wait, isn’t that the wrong sport?  Actually not, since the Texas Rangers had previously drafted Wilson and technically had the baseball rights to him.  Sure, the trade to the Yankees was a publicity event for the Yankees and Wilson, but there have indeed been legitimate two-sport stars in pro football and baseball over the years.

Wilson was a high school baseball star in Virginia and was initially drafted out of high school by the Baltimore Orioles in the 41st round of the 2007 MLB Draft.  However, he went on to play baseball and football for three seasons with North Carolina State University and played two seasons in the Colorado Rockies minor league system during his college years.  The Rockies had drafted Wilson in the fourth round of the 2010 draft.

He transferred to the University of Wisconsin for his 2011 senior year to play football and ultimately decided on football as his career sport, signing with the Seattle Seahawks after a third-round selection in the 2012 NFL Draft.  He has become one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL, winning the Super Bowl in 2013 and being selected for four Pro Bowls.

Wilson won’t likely try his hand at pro baseball again, but the latest former NFL player to pick up a bat and ball was Tim Tebow during the 2017 season.  He signed with the New York Mets organization to play in the Arizona Fall League in 2016, although he had not played baseball since high school.  The 29-year-old Tebow, who had been out of pro football since 2012, then appeared as an outfielder in the low minors with the Mets last season, demonstrating only marginal success (.226 BA, 8 HR, 58 RBI).

Two of the more noteworthy two-sport stars involving football and baseball are Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders.  They got to the major leagues via different paths, after starring in both sports during college.

Even though Jackson was a second-round pick of the New York Yankees in the 1982 MLB Draft, he attended Auburn University from 1982 to 1985, culminating his fabulous college football career as the Heisman Trophy winner.  He also played baseball for three seasons with Auburn, including a junior season with a slash line of .401/.500/.864, 17 HR, and 43 RBI.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made him the first overall draft pick in the 1986 NFL Draft, while MLB’s Kansas City Royals drafted in the fourth round that year.

While still at Auburn, Jackson believed that Tampa Bay had intentionally taken him on a visit to its football facilities that was not approved by the NCAA, in order to sway his decision to play football.  As a result, he was subsequently forced to quit Auburn’s baseball team during his senior season.  Consequently, he forewarned Tampa Bay he wouldn’t sign with them if they took him the draft, but they did anyway.  Jackson instead signed with the Royals and made his major-league debut in a September call-up later that season.  Jackson went on to play seven more seasons in the big leagues, including an All-Star Game appearance in 1989 when he homered in his first at-bat for the American League.

Jackson signed with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1987 after they drafted him in the seventh round.  He proceeded to play four seasons with them while still playing baseball.  However, he suffered a football career-ending hip injury during the playoffs with the Raiders in January 1991.  He attempted a comeback in the major leagues after hip replacement surgery that caused him to miss the entire 1992 baseball season.  A modern-day “Bionic Man,” he wound up playing parts of two seasons in 1993 and 1994 with the Chicago White Sox and California Angels before retiring.

After being drafted out of high school by the Kansas City Royals in the fifth round of the 1985 MLB Draft, Deion Sanders decided to play football and baseball at Florida State University.  During his junior year, the New York Yankees drafted him in in the 30th round, and he wound up signing with them to play in the minors during 1988.  He returned to Florida State to play his senior season in football, when he won the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in college football.  The Atlanta Falcons picked the All-American defensive back/kick returner in the first round (5th overall) in the 1989 NFL Draft, and he became an All-Pro selection by 1992.

Sanders’ pro football and baseball careers overlapped from 1989 to 1995 and in 1997.  After two years with the Yankees, he played with the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, and San Francisco Giants in baseball.  Following five seasons with the Falcons, he played for the San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, and Baltimore Ravens.  A six-time All-Pro selection, Sanders was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.  He was a career .263 hitter in the majors and batted .533 for the Braves in the 1992 World Series against Toronto.

Jackson wasn’t the only Heisman Trophy winner to have a career in pro baseball.

Vic Janowicz was a triple-threat player for Ohio State, winning the Heisman in 1950.  He initially passed up pro football offers to play baseball.  He reached the majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1953, followed by another season in 1954.  Altogether he appeared in 83 games as a reserve player, hitting .214.  He returned to football with the Washington Redskins in 1954, and after his 1955 season as a starter at running back, he suffered a serious brain injury in an automobile accident that left him partially paralyzed and ended his athletic career.

Howard “Hopalong” Cassady was another Ohio State running back who won the Heisman in 1955.  He also played baseball in college, leading the team in home runs in 1955 and stolen bases in 1956.  Cassady signed with the Detroit Lions in 1956 and was a member of the NFL Championship team in 1957.  He played seven seasons with the Lions and later played for the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles.  After his pro football career, Cassady eventually got back into baseball as a scout and minor-league coach in the New York Yankees organization.

Ricky Williams is best known as the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Texas and later an All-Pro running back in the NFL.  However, he also played professional baseball while in college.  He had been drafted out of high school in 1995 by the Philadelphia Phillies in the eighth round and wound up playing four seasons in their organization as an outfielder.  He was a career .211 hitter in 170 games.

Chris Weinke began his pro career in baseball as a 1990 second-round pick out of high school by the Toronto Blue Jays.  He rapidly progressed through their farm system as a first baseman, reaching the Triple-A level in 1995 as a 22-year-old.  However, after one more season, he quit baseball to pursue a football career.  He enrolled at Florida State University in 1997 to play football for head coach Bobby Bowden, who had previously recruited him in high school.  As the starting quarterback, he led the Seminoles to a national championship in 1999.  In 2000 he won the Heisman Trophy at age 28.  After playing his NFL rookie season in 2001 with the Carolina Panthers as the starting quarterback, he served four more seasons as a backup.

Current Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston was the youngest player to win the Heisman Trophy in 2013 while playing for Florida State.  He was drafted by the Texas Rangers out of high school in 2012, but decided to attend college instead.  He was an outfielder and pitcher on the Seminoles’ baseball team, but never pursued a professional baseball career.  He was the first overall pick by Tampa Bay in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway was a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Denver Broncos.  But before he began his pro football career, he played one season in the New York Yankees organization in 1982.  He was selected by the Baltimore Colts as the first overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft.  However, his father advised that Elway not play for Colts head coach Frank Kush, who had a reputation as a hard coach to play for.  Elway threatened the Colts that he would not sign, but would play pro baseball instead.  Ultimately the Colts traded him to the Broncos for offensive lineman Chris Hinton (the fourth overall pick in the draft) and a future first-round pick.  Elway would go on to play 16 seasons with the Broncos and is now the head of football operations for the team.

Before the days of the NFL becoming a lucrative sport for players, it wasn’t uncommon for gridiron players to cross over to baseball.  NFL-MLB combo players from that era included Pro Football Hall of Famers Jim Thorpe, George Halas, Ernie Nevers, Greasy Neale, Cal Hubbard, and Ace Parker.

More recently, Carroll Hardy and Brian Jordan played both major sports.  Jake Gibbs was an All-American quarterback at Ole Miss and was drafted by both AFL and NFL teams in 1960, but opted for a major-league career with the New York Yankees.  Jay Schroeder played four seasons in the Toronto Blue Jays organization before becoming a Pro Bowl quarterback for the Washington Redskins.

Russell Wilson will probably get a chance to work out with the Bronx Bombers during spring training in Florida.  He’ll get to hang out with Yankees sluggers Aaron Judge and newly acquired Giancarlo Stanton, two of the largest players in the majors at 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-6, respectively.  Wilson would relish the thought of having those two studs blocking for him on the Seahawks’ offensive line.

Baseball's Free Agent Market Not Keeping Pace with Stock Market

It’s been a record-setting time for the U. S. stock market during the past year (even considering the jolting sell-off it experienced last week).  Investor optimism has contributed to a thriving market.  However, it seems Major League Baseball hasn’t shared the same optimism with regard to its free agent market.  There are only a couple more weeks before pitchers and catchers start reporting to spring training, and yet there are still a boatload of unsigned free agents out there.

Only three of the Top 10 free agents have been signed to date, including Lorenzo Cain, Carlos Santana, and Zack Cozart.  Only half of the Top 50 have signed, and there remain over 100 unsigned free agents.  Until Cain signed with the Milwaukee Brewers last week for five years, no player had inked a deal more than three years during the off-season.

Still available are top-flight players such as J. D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.

There are usually only a handful of unsigned players this close to spring training.  It’s got baseball people scratching their heads why.

It seems that major league front offices have determined that it’s generally bad business now to sign free agents in their early thirties to long-term mega deals.  Of course, those players figure it’s their prime time to land lucrative deals.  They want to lock up longer contract terms that keep them from having to compete in the market multiple times before their eventual retirement.

However, too many GMS have been burned by such deals in past years.  Only a few actually worked out favorably for the clubs.  All too often, the players’ production on the field falls off significantly in the latter years of their contract, and teams wind up not getting their money’s worth.  Sometimes it’s due to the players’ health dwindling before the end of their terms, or their increasing age naturally diminishing their skills.

Consequently, the clubs get stuck with players they can’t use in order to be competitive.  For example, the Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly carried over $100 million on their payroll in 2017 for players who were not on their current roster because the team ultimately decided to dump them before the end of their contractual commitments.  Former American League MVP Josh Hamilton finally came off the Los Angeles Angels payroll in 2017, but he hadn’t played for them since 2014.

One of the strategies being employed by practically all the major league clubs, including the usual high spenders, is to get under the payroll luxury tax limit (a form of salary cap), so as not to pay overrun penalties to MLB.  In the past, the cap hadn’t prevented clubs like the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox from going out and signing the best free-agents in the marketplace, but most clubs are holding down payrolls now by focusing on building their rosters through the annual amateur draft and player development.  In this way, the teams have contract control of its younger players for five to six years at salaries much lower than that of veteran free-agents.

Of course, the free agents in their thirties are frustrated with the current situation.  They feel like they aren’t getting their due financially.  Their agents are encouraging them to reject lesser offers, while GMs seem to be steadfast in holding the line on their preferred contract terms.  This stalemate is the main reason there are over 100 players still unsigned.

In fact, it has some player agents beginning to hint at the possibility of collusion occurring among the GMs in their efforts to hold the line on contract terms and salaries.  That’s a pretty heady assessment at this point, one that would get the players’ union awfully riled up if there was some merit to it.

But what is likely happening is that many teams are positioning their payrolls now to be able to afford some of the premium free agents coming onto the market after the 2018 season.  It’s expected to be a bumper crop with superstars like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Adam Jones, Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, Andrew McCutchen, and Clayton Kershaw being available.

Fans of teams finishing low in their division’s standings are starting to think their favorite team is “tanking,” purposefully not signing available free agents that can improve their team in the near term, but rather are content re-building with youth for the longer term at a much lower payroll.

However, there are some good players out there now for teams on the cusp of breakthroughs.  The Milwaukee Brewers recognized this and recently added outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, who represent significant upgrades to a team that nearly captured a wild card spot last year.

The next few weeks will be interesting to watch.  Who will finally give in?  The players or the teams?  Will this off-season be an anomaly with regard to free agent signings, or is this truly the wave of the future?

Will Top Prospect Vlad Guerrero Jr. be the First to Join His Father in the Hall?

In many respects, it’s ridiculous to predict the Hall of Fame career of a player who has played less than 200 minor league games.  Yet it’s tempting to do so when the player is rated the top hitting prospect in the minors, and he also has the baseball bloodlines of a Hall of Famer.

While his father played major-league baseball during 1996 to 2011 and was recently elected to the 2018 class of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Vlad Guerrero Jr. is just starting to blaze his own trail in professional baseball as an 18-year-old.

Guerrero Jr. just completed his second season in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, after collecting a $3.9 million bonus during the international signing process in 2016.  He began this year at Single-A Lansing and then got a mid-season promotion to High-A Dunedin.  Between the two teams, he managed to hit 13 home runs and drive in 76 runs, while hitting for a .323 average.

He was recently named the top hitting prospect in the minor leagues, attaining a rating of 80 (out of a possible 80) by baseball analysts at MLB Pipeline.  It is the first time a prospect has ever received that rating in the hit tools category.  Guerrero Jr. is the third overall top prospect in all of Major League Baseball and the top-rated prospect in the Blue Jays organization.  While he still requires some maturing, it’s not out of the question he could be playing in the big leagues in 2019.

He is being compared to current major-leaguer Miguel Cabrera, who began his major-league career in 2003 at age 20, went on to win two MVP Awards, and is a cinch as a future Hall of Famer.

Guerrero Sr. garnered 92.9% of the vote in his second season of eligibility for the Hall of Fame.  He will be first player to go in as an Angels player, even though his career also included significant time with the Montreal Expos.  He is the third Dominican player to be elected, following pitchers Juan Marichal and Pedro Martinez.

Guerrero Sr. was a five-tool talent, finishing his career with a .318/.379/.533 slash line.  With a reputation as an unconventional hitter, he collected 449 home runs, 1,596 RBI, and 1,328 runs scored.  His career accomplishments included nine All-Star selections and eight Silver Slugger Awards.  In his first year with the Angels in 2004, he was the American League’s Most Valuable Player, leading the Angels to a first-place finish in the AL West.  He made his only World Series appearance with the Texas Rangers in 2010.

Guerrero Jr. continues the family tradition in professional baseball.  In addition to his father, uncles Wilton and Julio played pro ball.  Wilton was a major-leaguer from 1996 to 2004 with four teams, while Julio played in the minors with the Red Sox organization.  He also has two cousins, Gabriel and Gregory, who are currently in the minors.

Guerrero Jr. is one of several sons of former major leaguers currently in the Blue Jays organization.  Second baseman Cavan Biggio is the son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio.  First baseman Kacy Clemens is the son of seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, while shortstop Bo Bichette is the son of Dante Bichette, a four-time all-star.

In addition to Biggio, there are several other Hall of Famers with sons or grandsons currently toiling away in the minors or in college.  They include Cal Ripken Jr., Ivan Rodriguez, Tom Glavine, Carl Yastrzemski, and Harmon Killebrew.  Then there’s also Mariano Rivera, a sure-fire lock to be elected to the Hall in 2019, with a son currently in the minors.

So, what are the odds of Guerrero Jr. getting into the Hall?  The reality is there has never been a father-son player combination in the Hall.  Not even prolific duos like the Griffeys (Ken Sr. and Ken Jr.) and the Alous (Felipe and Moises).  Lee and Larry MacPhail, baseball executives from the 1930s to 1960s, are the only father and son currently in the Hall of Fame.

We’ll have to check back in about 25 years from now to see if the Guerreros are actually the first players.  (Although it probably won’t be me doing the checking.)


Now Hoopsters, the NOLA Pelicans Have a Baseball Heritage

Locals in New Orleans know of a locally-produced song whose refrain is “ain’t there no more,” which refers to popular businesses and landmarks of the Crescent City that ceased to exist over the years.  The current New Orleans Pelicans are now an NBA team, having changed their mascot name from the Hornets for the 2013-2014 season. However, for many old-time baseball enthusiasts the Pelicans will always be remembered as the local professional baseball team, even though it “ain’t there no more.”


The last time the Pelicans name was associated with a baseball franchise in New Orleans was in 1977. Let’s take a nostalgic look back at that time, the team, and its players.


Prior to that team, Organized Baseball had not fielded a baseball team in New Orleans since 1959, the last year of existence for the previous New Orleans Pelicans who had a near continuous presence since 1887.  When minor-league baseball owner A. Ray Smith offered to relocate his Triple-A Cardinals franchise to the city for the 1977 season, folks in New Orleans thought it only natural that they would have a professional baseball team again, hopefully leading to a future major-league club.  In fact, at the time, the city had a relatively new stadium, the Louisiana Superdome, where such a team could play.  The planners and designers of the Superdome had conceived and developed a baseball configuration, in anticipation of eventually getting a major-league baseball team.  Securing the minor-league Pelicans in the city seemed like a good next step.


The 1977 Pelicans finished with a 57-79 won-lost record, placing last in the four-team West Division of the American Association, a Triple-A league.  The attendance at Pelicans games was 217,957, outpacing all teams in the American Association except league champion Denver Bears (288,167).


So, who were some the players for the New Orleans Pelicans in 1977 and whatever became of them in baseball?


Outfielder Benny Ayala made the American Association’s post-season All-Star team in 1977.  He led the Pelicans with 18 home runs and finished second in RBI with 78.  He went on to play 10 seasons in the majors, appearing in two World Series with the Baltimore Orioles.


As a rookie, Pat Darcy pitched for the Cincinnati Reds in the 1975 World Series against the Boston Red Sox.  However, he appeared in only three games for the Pelicans in 1977, and shortly afterwards he was out of baseball due to injuries.


Steve Dunning was a first-round draft pick (2nd overall) in 1970 for the Cleveland Indians and went straight to the majors from Stanford University.  He hurled 10 complete games in 24 starts for the Pelicans, but led the team with 13 losing decisions.  He wound up only winning 23 of his 64 career major-league decisions.


Of the pitchers on the Pelicans team, Pete Falcone had the most extensive pitching career in the big leagues, as he posted a 70-90 major- league won-lost record over ten seasons.


Outfielder Dane Iorg made his major-league debut for the Philadelphia Phillies on April 9, before being sent to New Orleans in a mid-June trade with the St. Louis Cardinals.  His major-league playing career covered 10 years, and he appeared in two World Series, with the Cardinals in 1982 and the Kansas City Royals in 1985.  His post-season batting average was .522.  His brother, Garth Iorg, was also a major league player.


Second baseman Ken Oberkfell made his major-league debut with the St. Louis Cardinals on August 22, 1977, after being one of the key players for the Pelicans.  He had a distinguished 16-year major league career, batting .278 and appearing in two World Series, in 1982 with the Cardinals and in 1989 with the San Francisco Giants.  Oberkfell returned to New Orleans when he managed the Zephyrs as a Mets Triple-A affiliate in 2007 and part of 2008.


Catcher John Tamargo hit 10 home runs and 42 RBI for the Pelicans.  He also returned to New Orleans in 1998 as the manager of the Triple-A Zephyrs in the Astros organization, when they won the Pacific Coast League championship. Tamargo’s daughter played for the Colorado Silver Bullets (a women’s professional team from 1994-1997), and his son is currently a minor-league coach.


At age 32, Tony La Russa was the “old man” of the Pelicans team, whose average age was 25.  He made his major league debut in 1963, and the 1977 season was his last as a player.  He appeared in 50 games for the Pelicans as a utility infielder, but managed to hit only a meager .188.  He became one of the most successful managers in major-league history, leading teams to six league championships and three World Series titles.  He amassed over 2,700 wins in 33 years of managing the Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s, and St. Louis Cardinals.  La Russa was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2014 and currently works as a special consultant for the Boston Red Sox.


Jim Riggleman was second on the Pelicans club with 17 home runs.  Although he never appeared in a major-league game as a player, Riggleman went on to a major-league managerial career of 12 seasons for the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals.


A native of New Orleans and an East Jefferson High graduate, Barry Raziano was a 30-year-old pitcher for the Pelicans who appeared in 20 games in relief.  However, the 1977 season with the Pelicans was his last in professional baseball.


Randy Wiles, a New Orleanian who pitched collegiately at LSU, was a 5th round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973.  He appeared in three games for the Pelicans in 1977.  However, he made his major-league debut with the Chicago White Sox in August 1977, his only season in the majors.


Pelicans owner Smith decided not to return to New Orleans for the 1978 season, instead moving the franchise to Springfield, Illinois.  New Orleans never did get its much anticipated and desired major-league franchise.  The Superdome never really did hit the big time as a baseball venue, only hosting annual college baseball tournaments and some major-league spring training exhibition games for several years in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.  However, professional baseball did return to New Orleans in 1994, when the Milwaukee Brewers re-located its Triple-A Zephyrs team from Denver. The Zephyrs (now Baby Cakes) have also been associated with the Astros, Mets, Nationals, and Marlins major-league organizations.  The team will be entering its tenth season as the Triple-A affiliate of the Marlins this spring.


Many old-time baseball fans, who recall the baseball Pelicans, thought it was sacrilegious for the basketball team to adopt the Pelicans name.  On the other hand, most of the New Orleans basketball fans welcomed the change, because they never really did take to inheriting the Hornets name from Charlotte, when the NBA franchise transferred for the 2002-2003 season.  In any case, for Tom Benson, the New Orleans Saints owner who now also owns the NBA franchise, Pelicans seemed like a logical choice, particularly since he already owned the rights to the sports franchise name, a little-known fact that became evident at the time of the change in 2013.


Even though the 1977 Pelicans only lasted one season in the city, they still contributed to the long, eventful baseball history of New Orleans.  Yes, it’s true Pelicans baseball “ain’t there no more,” but thanks to past efforts of local baseball historians Arthur Schott and Derby Gisclair (developer of, the Pelicans will always be remembered for its baseball heritage.


Casting My Mythical Hall of Fame Ballot

This year’s ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame doesn’t have a large number of new superstar candidates competing for votes, as some prior years did.  Consequently, one might think it’s easier an easier task to make ten selections this year.  On the other hand, the situation causes a serious (and difficult) review of the carryovers from previous years, looking at players that had been passed over for one reason or another.

Every year that I fill out a “fantasy” Hall of Fame ballot, I try to put myself in the official voters’, the baseball writers’, shoes.  It causes me to think hard about the candidates who are real and suspected PED users.  Should they be allowed to enter the Hall?  How much weight should be placed on the more objective analytics versus being influenced by other career accumulation measures used in the past, like 300 wins, 3,000 hits, and 500 home runs?  Should off-the-field image affect a player’s voting?  These questions and others create some great debates around the annual voting.

So what’s my mythical Hall of Fame ballot look like this year?

To recap last year, I voted for Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Lee Smith, Gary Sheffield, Trevor Hoffman, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling.

Bagwell, Raines, and Rodriguez received the required percentage (75% or greater) of votes cast by the writers.  Apparently the voters discounted the suspicions about Bagwell and Rodriguez having been PED users.  Raines was elected on his final appearance on the ballot.  However, Smith fell off the ballot in his 15th and final year on the ballot, as he was able to garner only 34.2% of the votes.

I’ve decided to carry forward my other six votes from last year to 2018.

I’m sticking with Sheffield even though he collected 13.3% of the votes last year.  On the website, there is a similarity score for each major-league player, indicating other players who have had comparable careers.  7 of the 10 players (such as Mel Ott, Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle, and Frank Robinson) on that website designated as similar to Sheffield are already in the Hall of Fame.  Two of the other players, Chipper Jones and Carlos Beltran, are very likely to become future inductees.  Sheffield’s career suffers from the fact that he played for 8 different teams during his 22-year career.  Apparently many voters view that with a negative connotation.  Furthermore, he wears the PED suspicion badge like Bagwell and Rodriguez did.  In any case, I don’t see him making a significant jump in this year’s tally, but I’m not changing my view.

Hoffman narrowly missed getting elected last year with 74% of the vote.  Guerrero was in a similar situation with 71.7%.  Both will get over the hump this year.

I have been a proponent of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens for the Hall for several years now, despite their struggles with the PED issue.  Both increased their percentages to around 54% last year, signaling there continues to be a softening of the writers’ points of view on the issue.  This will be a pivotal year (their sixth year of eligibility) with regard to their ultimate election.

Curt Schilling still gets my vote this year, despite a negative image problem which has been self-induced by the controversy he created on several national social and political issues.  His numbers for Career Strikeouts (15th all-time), Strikeout/Walk Ratio (5th all-time), and WAR for Pitchers (26th all-time) indicate he is comparable to the top pitchers of his era, plus his post-season performance is among the best in history.  However, he suffers from not having won 300 career games (he retired with 216) and not having won a Cy Young Award.  Schilling got 45% of the vote last year, but that was a decline from 52% the year before.

So that leaves room for four new picks for me this year.

Chipper Jones heads the list of new entrants on the ballot for 2018, and I think he’ll be a first-ballot selectee.  His slash line is outstanding with .303/.401/.529.  He has one MVP Award among three top six finishes to his credit and was selected to the all-star team eight times.  He compiled 468 home runs (33rd all-time) and 1,623 RBI (34th all-time) during his career.  His Offensive WAR is 87.4, which is the 25th all-time best.  He is one of the key reasons the Atlanta Braves were a dominant National League team in the 1990s.  The third base position is one of the least populated in the Hall, and Jones will be a worthy addition.

Three other first-timers in 2018 I considered, but didn’t include in my final ten votes, were Jim Thome, Johan Santana, and Omar Vizquel.  I’ll come back later to explain why.

Instead, I am opting to vote for three players who are carryovers from previous years:  Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and Larry Walker.  I haven’t voted for any of these players in prior years, simply because I thought there were more worthy players ahead of them.

I have been convinced by the baseball gurus who specialize in Hall of Fame player analysis that Martinez is Hall-worthy, even though he was used primarily as a designated hitter.  This is his ninth year on the ballot, and the official voters in the past have obviously given him more consideration than I have, since he reached 58.6% of the votes last year.  His career On-Base Percentage (.418) is the 21st best all-time.  His career Batting Average is .312, but remarkably he never led the league, even though he posted years with .343 and .356.  Martinez had six consecutive seasons when his On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS) was .993 or better.  He was a seven-time all-star.  Martinez’s election will likely open the door for other players who were primarily DHs during their career.

I was never a big fan of Mike Mussina before, as I thought his 270 career wins were a bit over-rated.  He didn’t win 20 in a season until his last in 2008 and he never won a Cy Young Award.  But peeling back the onion a bit more revealed that he is 24th all-time in career WAR for Pitchers (82.7).  He is 23rd all-time in Strikeouts/Walk Ratio.  There were six seasons when he had no fielding errors, in route to capturing seven Gold Glove awards.  Mussina was in the Top 10 for ERA in 11 of his 18 seasons.  He collected 51.8% of the votes in his fourth year on the ballot in 2017.

Larry Walker gets my tenth vote.  He compares favorably in the advanced career metrics (WAR, JAWS, etc.) with players like Chipper Jones and Vladimir Guerrero.  He led the National League in hitting for three seasons with averages of .350, .363, and .379.  He posted his best major-league season in 1997 when he led the league in HR (49) and OPS (1.172).  Oh, by the way, he also hit .366 and knocked in 130 runs, as he won the MVP Award that year.  He was a five-time all-star and six-winner of the Gold Glove.  Walker is in his 8th season on the ballot and would have to be considered a long-shot at this point for election since he collected only 21.9% of the vote last year.

Manny Ramirez is the one obvious player missing on my ballot.  I think he’s actually the best player on the carryover list, but I’m leaving him off because he actually failed MLB tests for PEDs during his career.  Right or wrong, that’s where I draw the line with respect to the PED issue.

Admittedly, I gave preference to carryover players Martinez, Mussina, and Walker over first-timers Thome, Santana, and Vizquel.  The latter three have more time to be considered for election.  Thome will be a strong contender due to his 600 career home runs.  Santana had a stretch of six consecutive seasons where he finished in the Top 7 of the Cy Young Award voting, winning it in 2004 and 2006.  Vizquel is regarded as one of the best-fielding shortstops of all-time, having captured 11 Gold Gloves. He is 43rd on the all-time hits list with 2,877.

In the past three years (2014-2017) of Hall Voting, there were a total of nine player-inductees, not counting the ones elected by veterans committees.  In the three years prior to that (2011-2013), there were a total of three.  The sabrmetric perspective on career evaluation has definitely influenced this increase.  I’m on the side of more players being voted in, versus voting that tends to limit the number of honorees.  I think the chances of another bumper crop are high this year, since Hoffman, Guerrero, Jones, and Martinez have decent chances to attain the 75% minimum vote.

The 2018 inductees into the Hall will be announced on January 24.  It’s too bad my votes won’t count.

A Tale of Two Griffeys: One Very Good, One Dominant

There have been nearly 250 father-son combinations to play in Major League Baseball.  History shows that it’s pretty rare for both the father and the son to excel on the diamond at a high level comprising leadership in batting or pitching categories, all-star selections, and post-season appearances.

Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Tony Perez, and Earl Averill had major-league sons with marginal success as big-leaguers themselves, while Joe Wood and Ed Walsh’s sons were in the majors only long enough for the proverbial “cup of coffee.” Pete Rose’s son spent 21 years in the minors, but managed to get into only 11 games in the Big Show.  The sons of Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, and Mickey Mantle never made it out of the low minor leagues.

On the other hand, there are a few good examples of father and son careers that were both highly successful.  One of those was Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr.

Ken Griffey Jr. was simply one of the best players in baseball history.  In 1998 The Sporting News came up with their list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players of all time which included Griffey Jr. who was then only 28 years old.  He joined legendary players such as Ruth, Aaron, Cobb, Williams, Mays, Musial, and DiMaggio.  The ultimate honor for a baseball player is his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  Griffey Jr. came closest of any player to being a unanimous Hall of Fame inductee in 2016, garnering 99.3% of the baseball writers’ votes.

Griffey Jr. had the distinction of being the first player in history to appear with his father in the same major-league game.  19-year-old Griffey Jr. and his 40-year-old father, Ken Sr., were teammates with the Seattle Mariners in 1990 when they first played together on August 21.  Three weeks later they hit back-to-back home runs in the same game.

While the Mariners’ roster featuring both Griffeys may have been somewhat of a publicity stunt at the time, Griffey Sr.’s own career was nothing to sneeze at.  His performance is often overshadowed by his son’s superstardom.  Even though he wasn’t a Hall of Famer like his son (Griffey Sr. received a meager 4.7% of the votes in his only year of eligibility in 1999), Griffey Sr. did manage to log a few All-Star seasons and claim two World Series rings.

Here is more background and comparison of the careers of the two outstanding players.

Both Griffeys were born in Denora, PA, which was also the birthplace of Stan Musial.  Griffey Jr. shares the same birthday as Musial.

Griffey Sr. began his professional career at age 19 in 1969, being drafted in the 29th round by the Cincinnati Reds.  However, he didn’t make his major-league debut until August 25, 1973 at age 23.  Griffey Jr. was the first overall pick in the 1987 MLB Draft by Seattle when he was 17 years old and made his major-league debut on April 3, 1989.  Griffey Jr. went on to play in 22 big-league seasons, while his dad recorded 19 seasons.  Both were outfielders.

Griffey Sr.’s career slash line (Batting Average/On-Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage) was .296/.359/.431 compared to Junior’s .284/.370/.538.  The biggest contributor to their difference in Slugging Percentage was Junior’s 630 career home runs, currently sixth on the all-time leader list.  Griffey Sr.’s highest season was 21 home runs, as he managed to hit only 152 during his career.  Junior led the American League in round-trippers in four seasons and hit 40 or more in seven seasons.  Griffey Sr. had the edge over his father in Batting Average, as he compiled nine seasons with .300 or better.

Griffey Jr. was selected to 13 All-Star teams while his father appeared on three, including an All-Star Game MVP Award in 1980.  Griffey Jr. also captured the award in 1992.

In addition to Junior, Griffey Sr. had another son, Craig, who took up a pro baseball career from 1991 to 1997.  Craig appeared in seven minor-league seasons in the Mariners and Reds organizations but managed to reach the Triple-A level for only a handful of games.  Griffey Jr.’s son, Trey (Ken Griffey III), pursued football over baseball as his sport of choice.  He wound up playing wide receiver for the University of Arizona for four seasons, had tryouts with the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins, but has yet to make an active NFL team roster.  With no expectation of pursuing a pro baseball career, Trey was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 24th round of the 2016 MLB Draft as a tribute to his father (Griffey Jr.’s uniform number with the Mariners was 24.).

Griffey Sr.’s biggest claim to fame, and perhaps his most significant accomplishment over his son, came as a member of the fabled Cincinnati Reds’ “Big Red Machine” teams in the early-to-mid 1970s.  He helped the Reds win the World Series in 1975 and 1976.  Junior played on three post-season teams, two with Seattle and one with the Chicago White Sox, but his teams reached the American League Championship Series only once.

Griffey Jr. attained a peak salary of $12.5 million in four seasons with Cincinnati.  He earned a total of $151.7 million during his career.  Of course the economics of baseball were different when Griffey Sr. was playing.  He collected a little over $10 million during his entire career, with his highest annual salary being $1.15 million for Atlanta in 1987.

The Griffeys rank among the top major-league father-son duos for combined career performances.  They lead all pairs in career hits, and rank second all-time behind Barry and Bobby Bonds in games played, runs scored, home runs, and RBI.

In addition to the Bondses, other successful major-league father-son combos include Felipe and Moises Alou, George and Dick Sisler, Gus and Buddy Bell, and Mel and Todd Stottlemyre.

Former big-league stars Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Craig Biggio and Dante Bichette currently have sons in the low minors trying to follow in their father’s footsteps.  Perhaps one of these will be successful in forming the next great MLB father-son duo.