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.
Early Season Awards

The 2014 Major League Baseball season is only two weeks old, but it’s not too soon to take notice of some of the best performances, prospects, and milestones of the new campaign.  There were some off-the-field incidents which also captured fans’ attention. 


I came up with the following “awards” to illustrate a few of the early highlights of the new season.


Best Pitching Performance

Andrew Cashner of the San Diego Padres pitched a one-hit shutout over the Detroit Tigers on April 11.  After giving up a single to the first batter he faced, he wound up pitching to the minimum number of batters in the game, while striking out eleven.  Cashner hurled a one-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates last September.


Best Hitting Performance

Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies went 6-for-6 with five RBI in a 12-2 win against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 4.  He was the first player in history with a home run and three doubles in a six-hit game.


Best Newcomer

Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox is making an early-season splash in the big leagues.  The first-year Cuban player is among league leaders in home runs and RBI after the first two weeks and is giving the White Sox hope for a competitive team.


Best Comeback Player

Until Opening Day this season, Grady Sizemore had not played baseball since 2011, because of back and knee injuries kept him off of the field.  Considered somewhat of a “project” during spring training camp, he wound up winning the starting centerfielder job for the Boston Red Sox.  Sizemore has demonstrated he has re-gained much of the speed and power that made him one of the best outfielders during 2006-2008.  He is hitting .333 with a couple of home runs during the first two weeks of the season.


Hottest Team

The Milwaukee Brewers have a nine-game winning streak through Sunday and lead the National League Central Division with Major League Baseball’s best record, 10-2.  Their pitching staff has started strong, leading the league with a combined 1.87 ERA.  They also won nine in a row in April in 2013, but that followed a 2-8 start to the season.   Will they be able to put away the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates in the coming months?


Fastest Player

Speedster Billy Hamilton is generally acknowledged as the fastest base runner in the big leagues.  He broke string training camp with the Cincinnati Reds, but has yet to make an impact with his legs.  He has managed only two stolen bases so far, since he is struggling to get on base.   However, after he adjusts to big league pitching, look out!  In 2012, he stole 155 bases at the minor league level.  Last year he stole 13 bases in 22 plate appearances in a late-season call-up with the Reds, after swiping 75 bases at the Triple-A level.


Most Impressive Milestone

Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera recorded his 2,000th career hit on April 4.  His 2-run home run in the eighth inning was the milestone hit.  Cabrera is the ninth player to reach this mark before his 31st birthday and the seventh youngest in history.


Friendliest Confines

Wrigley Field in Chicago is nicknamed “The Friendly Confines“, a phrase popularized by former Chicago Cub Hall of Famer Ernie Banks.  Wrigley Field is celebrating its 100th anniversary this season.  It is the second oldest major league stadium, after Fenway Park in Boston.  However, Wrigley hasn’t been so friendly to its host team, as the Cubs have finished in last place in the NL Central Division for the past four seasons.  The Cubs are off to a 4-7 start this season.


Most Valuable Dad

The New York Mets Daniel Murphy garnered a lot of attention when he missed the first two games of the season to be present for the birth of his child.  Talk show host Boomer Esiason of WFAN Radio in New York criticized Murphy for not insisting his wife have a C-Section before the start of the regular season, so that he would not miss any games.  Esiason later apologized to Murphy for his insensitive remarks.  However, there was overwhelming support for Murphy and his decision to be a father first, not a baseball player.


Most Unfortunate Catch

This award doesn’t go to a player, but rather to Don Baylor, a coach for the Los Angeles Angels.  Baylor was the honorary catcher for the ceremonial first pitch by retired Vladimir Guerrero at an Angels’ home game against the Seattle Mariners.  It turned out that Baylor fractured his right femur while catching the first pitch from Guerrero.  Baylor had to be helped off the field and underwent surgery the next day.


Most Syllables in a Name

The Chicago Cubs’ Emelio Bonifacio leads the Majors with nine syllables in his first and last names.  Through Sunday, he is also leading the National League in hits with 20, and is currently batting .435.  He could on his way to a record for most teams played with--the Cubs are his sixth major league team in his eighth big league season.


Best R-Rated Salute

On April 3, first baseman Matt Adams of the St. Louis Cardinals reached into the stands to catch a foul ball in a game against the Cincinnati Reds.  A fan out-gloved Adams for the ball, after which Adams showed his disgust by giving the fan a nudge in the chest with his glove.  In turn, the fan responded by giving Adams the “middle-finger” salute.


Baseball's Not Always A Family-Friendly Affair

A few weeks ago, there was a wire report of a baseball player trade involving minor leaguers Matt Scioscia of the Los Angeles Angels organization and Trevor Gretzky of the Chicago Cubs.  It was noteworthy because they are the sons of famous sports fathers.  Matt is the son of Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia, while Trevor is the son of “The Great One”, hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky.   There was another interesting twist to this transaction.  Matt was a prospect in the same organization as his father, but the Angels’ front office decided to part ways with Matt.  It’s not exactly the best way to enhance a family relationship.


Throughout baseball history, there have been numerous instances where family members in baseball were affected by similar front-office transactions or events on the field.  Some of these involved not-so- pleasant decisions or actions.   Following are some examples from my book Family Ties:  A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives.


Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith traded his niece’s husband Joe Cronin in 1934 and also his son-in-law Joe Haynes in 1948.  For the players’ sakes, hopefully these were just “business” transactions.


Al Campanis, general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, traded his son Jim to the Kansas City Royals in 1968.  Jim had played sparingly behind veteran catchers John Roseboro and Tom Haller for three years and didn’t figure into the Dodgers long-term plan.  It could be argued Al did his son a favor!


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


In Milt May’s second season at minor league Gastonia in the Carolina League, his father Pinky May was manager for Monroe in the same league.  Milt hit eleven home runs that year and ten were against his father’s team.  On several occasions when their teams opposed each other, Pinky had his son knocked down when batting, because Milt was such a threat at the plate.


Jeff Weaver was pitching for the Los Angeles Angels in 2006 but wasn’t pitching well, posting a 3-10 won-lost record.  In July, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals to make room for his brother Jered on the Angels team.  Jered went on to win ten straight games for the Angels that year.  Jeff wound up helping the Cardinals to a World Series championship.  I guess one could say it turned out to be a “win-win” for both brothers.


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


In the spring of 2010, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen became embroiled with his son Oney, who at the time was working in the scouting department for the White Sox.  When the outspoken Oney became publicly critical of the White Sox organization in a Twitter dialog, Ozzie put pressure on his son to resign, in order to avoid more trouble with the team.  And this advice came from a person who had a history of his own problems with public relations gaffes!


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

 


Why Baseball's Opening Day Should Be A National Holiday

I know this idea sounds like a cock-eyed one to some people, generated by some nerdy baseball fanatics.  But, in fact, an initiative spearheaded by Baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, with the help of Budweiser, was mounted to propose such an idea to the White House.  Over 100,000 signatures were collected for a petition, which was the minimum required to receive an official response from the White House.


Absurd idea?  Maybe, but hear me out.


National holidays are generally reserved for people or events we want to honor as foundational to our country’s history and heritage.   Over the years, I believe the game of baseball has been fundamental in promoting sports and leisure activities which have become integral to our American culture and life style.  Baseball’s Opening Day is a sports tradition that’s been around for over one hundred years.  There was even a time when United States Presidents routinely threw out the first ball in Opening Day ceremonies.


Opponents of this idea will argue that baseball is not the national sport any more, that we already have too many paid holidays for government workers, and that a baseball-related holiday would be a misuse of a long-standing practice.


Indeed, football fanatics believe baseball has been surpassed as America’s national pastime.   If you listen to radio talk shows and still read a newspaper, you might come to the same conclusion.  For example, in New Orleans, according to WWL 870 Radio and The Times-Picayune, the New Orleans Saints and LSU football are the only newsworthy sports, year-round!


However, as far as I know, “baseball” hasn’t been removed from the popular jingle which symbolizes some of the best traditions of our country, “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chrevrolet.”


Opening Day is indeed about tradition.  For a long time, the city of Cincinnati was awarded the privilege of “opening the Opening Day” every year with a home game by its Cincinnati Reds, which happens to be the first-ever professional baseball team.  For major league cities, it’s a common practice for fans to take off from work and school to attend the first game of the baseball season.  It’s an event they plan for.  Nowadays, many fans will even travel long distances to attend their favorite team’s Opening Day game.


Even in places where there isn’t a big league team, rabid baseball fans take a day off from work, or play hooky from school, and glue themselves to their TV sets or internet devices to catch as many MLB games as they can during the 10-12 hours of games are broadcast on Opening Day.  Fathers and sons cook hamburgers and hot dogs, play some catch in between games, and (if old enough) drink a few beers together to round out the special day.  My 35-year-old son and I still do that.  I suspect we’re not alone.


What was the White House’s response to Ozzie Smith’s petition?  Paraphrased, its message was, “while we are sympathetic to your request, it’s up to Congress to create permanent federal holidays.”  Well, at least there wasn‘t a “no” answer.  Maybe there’s still hope.


If someone on Capitol Hill thinks we need to restrict the number of national holidays, then I personally vote for dumping President’s Day and replacing it with Opening Day.  After all, Derek Jeter, Clayton Kershaw, and Miguel Cabrera are more popular today than Presidents Washington and Lincoln.


Thus, since Opening Day has the historical and sentimental tradition already associated with it, why not officially recognize it as a permanent national holiday?


Of course, Major League Baseball would have to stop hosting opening day games in places like Tokyo, Sydney, and Mexico City.  That’s just downright un-American and wouldn’t be fitting with an officially observed holiday!


Injury to Aroldis Chapman Reminiscent of Herb Score's, Almost 60 Years Ago

Last week the Cincinnati Reds’ fireballing closer was hit in the face by a line drive by Kansas City Royals’ batter Salvador Perez in a spring training exhibition game.  He is the latest of several major league pitchers who have been similarly hit in the past two seasons, spurring the on-going debate about whether pitchers should wear some type of protective cap.  It’s been a debate that actually started almost 60 years ago when Cleveland Indians pitcher Herb Score’s career was tragically derailed by a similar incident.


Score was heralded as legendary Hall of Famer Bob Feller’s successor with the Indians.  Between 1938 and 1952, Feller was among the most dominating pitcher in the big leagues.  His fastball was practically unmatched, among the first that was clocked at over 100 mph.  Then along came Score in 1955, as Feller was winding down his historic career. 


Score burst onto the scene in 1955 when he won sixteen games and led the American League with245 strikeouts, an American League rookie record and the highest total by a big leaguer since Feller set the top mark of 338 strikeouts in 1946.  Score struck out sixteen Red Sox in one game, nine in the first three innings.  It was no surprise when he was named Rookie of the Year for his performance.


He followed that sensational season with an even better one in 1956, as he posted a 20-9 won-lost record while compiling a league-leading 263 strikeouts and five shutouts.  At 23 years old, he was the starting pitcher in the All-Star Game.


Score started off the 1957 season in a similar fashion.  Reportedly, Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey offered the Cleveland Indians $1 million in cash for Score.  On May 17, when the Yankees were opposed by the New York Yankees, Score was hit in the eye by a riveting line drive back through the pitcher’s box by Gil McDougald.  Score had no time to react in an attempt to dodge the batted ball or put up his glove to protect himself.


At first, Score could not see out of his injured eye.  As part of his initial recovery, he spent eight motionless days in a hospital while in total darkness.  He was not able to finish the 1957 season.  Fortunately, it turned out he didn’t suffer permanent vision impairment, but he was never the same when he returned to the playing field.  He won only eighteen more games in his five remaining seasons, although some arm problems also contributed to his ineffectiveness.


A potential Hall of Fame career was derailed with one pitch over which Score had no control.  Not too many years before this incident, major league batters had routinely begun wearing batting helmets to avoid head injuries from off-the-mark pitches.  The question started being asked, “what about protecting the pitchers?”


Fortunately, Chapman’s injury isn’t expected to be debilitating.  He had surgery to repair a broken bone above his left eye.  He had a titanium plate inserted to stabilize the fracture.  The 22-year-old Cuban left-hander, whose fastball has been clocked at 105 mph, is expected to begin throwing within a couple of weeks and could pitch in game conditions in four to six weeks.


A much more serious injury was sustained by Oakland A’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy on September 5, 2012.  He was hit near the left ear on a comebacker off the bat of Erick Aybar of the Los Angeles Angels.  McCarthy suffered a life-threatening brain contusion, epidural hemorrhage, and skull fracture.  He required brain surgery, but remarkably returned for the start of the 2013 season.


During the remainder of the 2012 season, after McCarthy’s incident, pitchers Mickey Storey of the Houston Astros and Doug Fister of the Detroit Tigers were also hit in the head by batted balls.  However, neither occurrence resulted in loss of playing time.


Then last season, Toronto Blue Jays’ hurler J. A. Happ suffered a fractured skull and ear contusions as a result of a line drive by Tampa Bay Rays’ batter Desmond Jennings.  Happ went on the disabled list but later returned during the season.  The Rays’ Alex Cobb was hit on the ear by batter Kansas City Royals’ Eric Hosmer and went on the seven-day concussion disabled list.


So, in this era of increasing protection of athletes from serious head injuries, including the recent emphasis in professional football, where does the idea of protective headgear for baseball’s pitchers stand today?


Major League Baseball approved the use of protective caps for pitchers in time for 2014 spring training.  Their use is optional.  The caps contain a soft padding that is a bit more than a half-inch thicker in the front and an inch thicker on the sides than standard caps.  The engineered padding is designed to disperse energy of a batted ball upon impact with the protected area.  The padding adds seven ounces to the weight of a standard cap which currently weighs three to four ounces.


To date, big league pitchers are not lining up to test or adopt the new cap.  That’s somewhat understandable, as the cap may not be major league-ready just yet.  Even Brandon McCarthy’s initial reaction about the model he tried was that it was “too heavy” and “too hot” and “didn’t pass the eye test.”  However, he did acknowledge the product was headed in the right direction.


Others have noted that the new cap would not prevent some of the types of injuries that have occurred, like Chapman’s, since the ball struck him below the cap line.  Since the new protective cap covers only about 40% of the head, there have been suggestions that helmets or face masks should be incorporated into the protective headgear, in order to cover more of the pitcher’s face and temples.  However, Major League Baseball has not pursued that direction yet.  In any case, I can just see some of baseball’s traditionalists “poo-pooing” that idea.


It’s probably just a matter of time before some type of protective headgear will be adopted by some of the players.  But then we’ll always have the Fernando Rodneys of the game where the cap wouldn’t fit his purpose.  Rodney is a relief pitcher who routinely wears his cap a little off-centered because he thinks it throws off batters and would-be base-stealers.  In the meantime, we can only hope there no more players like Score, McCarthy and Chapman who incur life-threatening head injuries.


Opening Day Down Under

A Major League Baseball game will be played in Australia for the first time on March 22nd and23rd in Sydney, when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks open the 2014 baseball season there.  Reportedly, some of the players are not too happy with disrupting their spring training schedules caused by the travel logistics required to play the two regular season games during the trip.  Despite that, Major League Baseball seems intent on continuing to spread the word about its brand to the rest of the world.


Opening Day games have been played outside the United States and Canada since 1999, when contests were played in Monterrey, Mexico.  Tokyo was host to major league teams in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012.  San Juan, Puerto Rico was a site in 2001.


Actually, Australian natives’ participation as major league players goes back to some of baseball’s earliest beginnings in the 19th century in the United States.  As a 19-year-old, Joe Quinn was the first Australian-born major league player in 1884.  He went on to play fifteen seasons in the National League and one season in the newly-formed American League in 1901.


Craig Shipley was the first modern-day major leaguer from Australia.  By way of college baseball at the University of Alabama, he was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1984 and made his major league debut in 1986.  He had an eleven-year career in the big leagues for several teams, primarily as a utility infielder.


According to Baseball-Reference.com, a total of 28 Australian natives have played in the Major Leagues.  Among the current players from last season are Grant Balfour, Peter Moylan, Travis Blackley, and Liam Hendriks.


Over the years, hundreds of Australian players have made their way to United States to play professional baseball, although most of them never advanced past the minor league level.  However, many started their professional careers in the Australian Baseball League, which is partially owned by Major League Baseball, and predecessor pro leagues in Australia.  Additionally, the Major League Baseball Academy Program in Australia is providing baseball training and playing experience to amateur players.  Australia fielded a team in the Olympics, when baseball was still a sponsored sport.  More recently the Aussies have participated in the World Baseball Classic, although they have won only one game in the three years the tournament has been played.


Relief pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith, who last appeared in the majors in 2010 with the Seattle Mariners, is on the Arizona Diamondbacks spring training roster this season.  He is a native of Sydney, and is slated to pitch for Team Australia in an exhibition game on Thursday against the Dodgers and then on Friday for the Diamondbacks in another exhibition game against Team Australia.  Undoubtedly, he’ll be pretty pumped up to pitch in his hometown.


However, not all the players are approaching the trip with the enthusiasm as Rowland-Smith.  Most notably, the Dodgers’ star pitcher Zach Greinke, who injured his calf on the first day of spring training, created a bit of a stir when he initially complained that he shouldn’t have to make the time-consuming trip, because he needed the rehab time.  He has since back-tracked on his controversial comments.


Indeed, such a trip overseas causes a bit of disruption to the teams during the final days of Spring Training.  However, that seems to be taking a back seat to the MLB’s objective of expanding the world-wide appeal for its product.


Today we see major league players in the USA from all sorts of foreign countries.  Will we ever see big league baseball being played in other countries for an entire season?  It’s not likely in the near-term, unless a team is based in the Caribbean region, possibly San Juan or Mexico City, or maybe even in Havana someday.  League schedules and team travel between games wouldn’t be entirely impractical in one of those cases.  On the other hand, in the future it could be plausible for the MLB to expand its minor league systems to play in countries, such as Australia or The Netherlands.  Who knows, maybe one day we’ll see a big league batting champ who got promoted from an overseas minor league team!


My Quest for Derek Jeter's Autograph

Contributed by Mary Delhomme Cuicchi, guest blogger for TheTenthInning.com


I attended my first Spring Training games with my husband last week.  He is a Yankees fan, but did not yet have Derek Jeter’s autograph among his collection.  So my goal for the trip was to get Derek to sign a baseball.  I learned this would be Derek’s last season, so the pressure was on.


We attended a night game in Tampa where the Yankees played the Orioles.  I figured this might be my best chance to get Derek’s signature.  I wore my Yankees T-shirt and my “I Love Jeter” cap to enhance my chances to get him to sign for me.  However, since we did not arrive at the ballpark until about 30 minutes before the start of the game (since we had to drive from an afternoon game in Lakeland), I really did not get any chances before the game.  Fortunately, Derek was the DH in the game.  We had really good seats behind the Yankees dugout, but my screams to Derek, as he was on-deck, to get his attention went unnoticed.  So, I struck out in my attempt for that game.  But tomorrow would be another day.


The next afternoon, we saw the Yankees play the Rays in Port Charlotte.  This time, we got to the stadium when the gates opened.  I quickly identified the entrance to the Yankees dugout.  The advice from my husband was to push my way to the front, because ballplayers usually gave preference to young kids and pretty girls for autographs.  I tried to elbow my way into the crowd that had accumulated there and eventually got to the front with the help of a seasoned Yankees autograph-hound.


I soon realized there was no etiquette among the autograph seekers.  Grown men tried their best to muscle me (5’ 2” 130 pounds) out of the way.  Personal hygiene amongst these guys was apparently not a high priority.  After waiting for about 45 minutes and missing a chance at Ichiro’s autograph, I found out Derek was not even at the ballpark that day.  Struck out again!


My only hope now is that my cousins Jennifer and Christie, who live in Tampa and have season tickets to the Yankees spring training games, are able to charm Derek into signing a baseball for me.  I entrusted them with my newly learned autograph-seeking experience.


On a different note, for a “rookie” attending Spring Training for my first time, I learned some new baseball terminology during last week.  Getting “smoked” does not mean going out for a cigarette.  A “can of corn” is not something you get at the grocery store.  “Uncle Charlie” is not that elderly guy on the old TV series “My Three Sons.”  “Cup of coffee” doesn’t have anything to do with taking a trip to Starbucks.  You can’t simply say a batted ball bounced off the outfield fence--it “caromed”.  And “chin music” has no melody in the game of baseball.


So, I had my “cup of coffee” at major league autograph seeking.  I’ll hone my skills at some Zephyrs minor league games in New Orleans this season, and maybe I’ll get another shot in the big leagues soon.


There's Nothing Like Spring Training To Kick-Start The Season

Attending baseball’s Spring Training games is a good way to get you kick-started with the upcoming season.  You get to see some of the players with their new teams as a result of winter transactions.  You get a sneak-peak at the leading prospects the major league teams are touting.  You get to root for on-the-bubble veterans who are struggling to stay on a major league roster.  You can see many teams play in a short period of time.


Then there’s the non-baseball side of Spring Training where you get to visit the quaint, charming communities that host spring training sites, meet the rabid and hopeful fans of each team, and experience the gorgeous weather.


I got a chance to attend Spring Training games in Florida last week, escaping the Mardi Gras hoopla and what turned out to be horrible weather in New Orleans.  The trip included six games in four days at training sites in Clearwater, Bradenton, Lakeland, Port Charlotte, Fort Meyers, and Tampa, watching eight different teams.  My wife Mary, former-soccer-Mom-turned-baseball-fan, was my sidekick for the week.  (See her account of her first Spring Training experience in a separate blog post on this website.)


With all the extremely bitter cold weather in the Northeast and Midwest, the “snow-birds” were out in full force in Florida.  At each park we met some delightful baseball fans who were fortunate enough to escape the snow and ice in their hometowns.  They generally scoffed at our stories of unusually cold weather in the New Orleans area this winter-- several days barely below freezing temperatures. We found several fans who didn’t mind getting sun-burned in Florida’s 75-80 degree weather, because they could show off to their family and friends back home who were had been trapped in the cold weather.


Our ritual for each afternoon game was to get to the ballpark when the gates opened, a couple of hours prior to game time, to watch batting and infield practice.  It was usually a good time to see some of the players we might not see in the actual games.  Where else would one get to see Tigers manager Brad Ausmus taking ground balls at third base with his catcher’s mitt?


I’d have to say the Phillies’ Bright House Field in Clearwater was our favorite park.  It had all the amenities of a major league park, plus it was bordered by several practice fields where one could freely walk around to watch various training activities up close.  Of course, the Yankees’ George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa is the “Yankee Stadium” of minor league parks—it’s majestic- looking, embellished by a lot of history, and has the largest team store.


One of my favorite things to do at major league games is to assess if I’m possibly seeing a future Hall of Famer.  On this trip, Derek Jeter and Miguel Cabrera made my “can’t miss” category, as well former player and now Tigers coach Omar Vizquel.  Carlos Beltran and Ichiro Suzuki are on my “on-the-bubble” list.


I also look for any Louisiana connections among the players.  This time, I was able to see several in the games I saw.   Reid Brignac (St. Amant) of the Phillies and Xavier Paul (Slidell) with the Orioles are veteran utility players trying to secure regular season roster spots.  Garin Cecchini (Lake Charles) was a fourth-round pick of the Red Sox in 2011.  He appears to be in line for a big league role at third base within a couple of years. I was pleasantly surprised to see former LSU outfielder Mikie Mahtook (Lafayette) get a start in right field in for the Rays, but I think he is also a few years away from locking in a major league job.


Other top prospects we saw included Nick Castellanos, Gregory Polanco and Byron Buxton.  Castellanos is slated for the starting third base position for the Tigers on Opening Day.  Outfielder Byron Buxton of the Twins is Baseball America’s overall Number 1 rated prospect for 2014, and is expected to be ready for Opening Day in 2015.  Outfielder Gregory Polanco, the Number 1 rated prospect of the Pirates, will likely get a call-up to the majors during this season.  All of these guys lived up to their projections in the games we attended last week.


Since one of my special interests in baseball research is identifying major league baseball players with family relationships in baseball, I’m always looking for new instances for my list.  This past week, I found Nik Turley, a minor league pitcher in the Yankees camp.  If the last name sounds familiar to older Yankees fans, yes, he is a distant relative of Bob Turley, who was a Cy Young Award winner with the Yankees in 1958.  Also, new to my list is Josh Harrison of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  A three-year veteran utility player, he is the cousin of former major leaguer John Shelby.  In one game we saw last week, brothers-in-law Neil Walker (Pirates) and Don Kelly (Tigers) played against each other.


Of course, one of the most talked about topics of the spring is how the Yankees will fare with their new roster additions.  Unfortunately, we did not get to see their new pitcher Masahiro Tanaka play.  However, in one of the Yankees games we attended, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran were in the starting lineup, and Brian McCann had a pinch-hit appearance.  I’m one of the die-hard Yankee fans who believes these guys will bring the Yankees back to prominence.


Needless to say, it was a great trip.  I’d highly recommend it to any baseball fan that hasn’t yet experienced Spring Training.  We saw some good games and good players, had great weather, and met some really nice people (in fact, we have an offer by a couple from Pittsburgh to put us up when we visit there for a baseball trip.)  You can’t beat that!


Now Pitching, Tracy McGrady. What?

Yep, you read it correctly.  Former NBA star Tracy McGrady is trading his roundball for a hardball.  At 34 years of age, the former seven-time NBA All-Star and two-time scoring leader has been working out with the Sugar Land (TX) Skeeters baseball team of the independent Atlantic League.  McGrady last played in the NBA in 2012, but apparently he is not ready to give up on playing professional sports.  He says he wants to realize a childhood dream of playing baseball.


With a little tutoring from one of the all-time best hurlers in Major League Baseball, Roger Clemens, McGrady is trying his hand as a pitcher.  According to his Facebook page, McGrady has been practicing with the Skeeters for the past few months.  Clemens, who briefly played for the Skeeters in 2012 when he was contemplating a return to playing Major League baseball, has attended a few of McGrady’s workout sessions at Constellation Field to provide some pointers on the art of pitching.  Reportedly, McGrady has been able to throw in the 83-85 MPH range.


Chances are this is mostly about McGrady attempting to realize a fantasy through a well-scripted publicity plan.  While the independent baseball leagues are not affiliated with Major League Baseball organizations, their rosters are filled with pretty decent talent, former college and minor league players who are trying to stay active in the game.  There have been more than a few independent league players who eventually worked their way to the big leagues.  So McGrady may be out of his league this time, since he doesn’t have a strong baseball background to lean on.  However, I’m sure the Sugar Land team loves every minute of the recent attention he is garnering.  A contract with a celebrity like McGrady is sure to put some people in their grandstands, even if he turns to be only a “one-time wonder.”


However, there is indeed a precedent for athletes playing in both the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, even some at the same time.  There have been twelve instances of such two-sport athletes.


Most of these occurred in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, when salaries of the average athlete playing professional basketball or baseball alone were frequently not enough to support a family.  More often than not, these players had to seek off-season employment in professions like education, sales, or construction.  For a few gifted athletes, a second professional sport was just another job.  It probably beat selling cars or hanging wallpaper during the sport’s off-season.


One of the first professional athletes to compete in both sports was Frankie Baumholtz.  After playing in the inaugural season in what was eventually to become the NBA in 1946, he switched to baseball, where he played ten seasons in the majors compiling a career batting average of .290.


A name perhaps more recognizable to most people is Chuck Connors.  He is best known as the star of the TV series “The Rifleman”, which originally aired from 1958 to 1963, and now airs as re-runs on nostalgia TV channels.  In fact, he was a two-sport professional athlete before his career in TV and movies.  Like Baumholtz, Connors appeared in the first season of the league which was the forerunner of the NBA in 1946, with the newly formed Boston Celtics team.  However, he only played in only two seasons with the Celtics before turning his full-time attention to baseball.  Simultaneous with playing basketball, he had been playing in baseball’s minor league organization of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He made his major league debut with the Dodgers in 1949, but appeared in only one game for them, before being traded to the Chicago Cubs.  With the Cubs in 1951, he played 66 games as a left-handed first baseman and pinch-hitter.  After spending the 1952 season in the Cubs minor league system, he ended his athletic career altogether and pursued his acting career.


Six-foot, eight-inch Gene Conley was the first two-sport player to achieve a level of notoriety in both professional basketball and baseball.  In 1952, he had brief stay with the Boston Braves and also played forward for the Boston Celtics.  In 1954 with the Milwaukee Braves, Conley finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year Award voting.  The right-hander went on to being selected to the Major League All-Star team on three occasions.   His Major League baseball career spanned eleven years and also included stints with the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies, ending in 1963.  While playing baseball with the Red Sox, Conley also played basketball for the Boston Celtics and was a member of their legendary teams that included Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Bill Sharman, Sam Jones, and K. C. Jones.  The Celtics won three NBA Championships during Conley’s time there, including 1959, 1960, and 1961.  He played a total of six seasons in the NBA, ending in 1964.


A University of Duke basketball star, Dick Groat played one season in the NBA in 1952-1953, while he also was starting a career in Major League baseball.  He stuck with baseball and was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1960 while starring at shortstop for the World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates.  In 1963 he was runner-up for this award while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Groat was a five-time All-Star and compiled fourteen seasons in the big leagues, ending in 1967.


Dave DeBusschere was a two-sport star in college and wound up pursuing baseball and basketball simultaneously at the professional level.  However, he pitched in only 36 games for the big league Chicago White Sox during 1962 and 1963, and finished out his baseball career in the minors in 1965.  He debuted with the Detroit Pistons in the NBA in the 1962-1963 season.  At age 24, he was also the head coach for the Pistons for parts of two seasons and one full season.  He wound up playing thirteen seasons between the Detroit Pistons and the New York Knicks.  DeBusschere was an eight-time All-Star and won NBA titles with the Knicks in 1970 and 1973.  He retired as a player at age 33 and was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.


Like DeBusschere, Ron Reed played the two sports simultaneously. In fact, he played two seasons with DeBusschere for the Pistons during the 1965-66 and 1966-67 seasons.  He made his Major League debut with the Atlanta Braves in 1966, where he began his baseball career as a starting pitcher.  He was selected for the National League All-Star team in 1968.  However, in 1976 with the Philadelphia Phillies, Reed switched to a relief pitcher role and finished his career in 1985 after 19 total years.  He posted a career record of 146-140 with 103 saves.  Reed had the longest baseball career of the twelve two-sport players.


Danny Ainge made his debut in Major League baseball while still in college at Brigham Young University, where he was also playing basketball.  He played parts of three seasons as an infielder with the Toronto Blue Jays from 1979 to 1981.  He was a second-round draft pick of the Boston Celtics in 1981 and decided to give up baseball for a career in hoops.  He played fourteen seasons in the NBA with Boston, Phoenix, Sacramento, and Portland.  He was an All-Star selection for one season and helped Boston to NBA championships in 1984 and 1986.  He finished his NBA career in 1995.


The latest two-sport professional player was Mark Hendrickson.  In 1992, he was the 13th-round draft pick out of high school by the Atlanta Braves.  Instead of signing a contract, he chose to attend Washington State University, where he played both baseball and basketball.  He was drafted by Major League teams four more times while attending college, but decided on a professional basketball career after being the second-round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996.  The 6’ 9” Hendrickson played three seasons as a forward in the NBA with the 76ers, Sacramento Kings, and New Jersey Nets.  After being selected again in the MLB Draft in 1997 by the Toronto Blue Jays, he began playing minor league baseball while still active in the NBA.  He then switched full-time to baseball in 2001, when he reached the Triple-A level as a pitcher.  He made his Major League debut with the Blue Jays in 2002 and proceeded to play ten Major League seasons, split between the Blue Jays, Rays, Dodgers, Marlins, and Orioles.  He ended his baseball career in 2011 with a 58-74 record.


The remainder of the twelve players who played in both the NBA and Major Leagues include:  Steve Hamilton, Cotton Nash, Dick Ricketts, and Howie Shultz.  Though none of them reached any type of star status, they are primarily noted for their baseball careers.  Nash was a highly touted college basketball All-American at the University of Kentucky during the Adolph Rupp years.


According to Baseball-Almanac.com, baseball Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Ferguson Jenkins had brief stints playing basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters.


Of course, the most noteworthy NBA player who attempted to break into Major League baseball was Michael Jordan.  After winning three consecutive NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls, he turned his attention to pursuing a professional baseball career.  At age 31, Jordan played a full season in the minors in 1994 with the Birmingham Barons of the Chicago White Sox organization.  While he brought a lot of fanfare to minor league baseball, he managed to hit only .202.  He was back in the NBA for the 1994-95 season and eventually led the Bulls to three more NBA championships.


Perhaps Tracy McGrady has dreams of doing what Jordan couldn’t do—getting to baseball’s big leagues.  Although I think it’s highly doubtful McGrady will have much of a career in professional baseball, it makes for a good story, one that trivia buffs will recall for years to come.


Who Says the Braves Weren't Active in the Offseason?

When the Atlanta Braves didn’t acquire some free agents or make some trades during the winter, many baseball analysts and fans thought it was a mistake to stand pat with the team they currently have.  Even though the Braves won the National League East Division by ten games in 2013, there were some sentiments that the Braves needed to replace some key players lost to free agency and have a contingency plan for continued poor performances of a couple of other starters from last year’s team, in order to remain competitive.  However, the Braves took a decidedly different approach to the 2014 season.


During the offseason, the Braves lost one of the premier catchers in baseball, Brian McCann, to the Yankees in free agency.  They didn’t pursue the retention of two of their starting rotation pitchers, Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm.  Plus, with the disappointing performances of B. J. Upton and Dan Uggla last season, there were concerns that the Braves couldn’t afford repeat performances by these two highly priced veterans.  Since the Braves are a young team (slightly over an average age of 26 in 2013), additional veteran leadership in the clubhouse, even if filled by reserve players, would strengthen the team.


However, instead of offseason activity consisting of the usual pursuit of replacement or upgrade players through free agency or trades, the Braves chose to extend the contracts of five existing young players whom they believe will be core to their success for the coming years.  In each case, the extension has occurred before the player was eligible for free agency.  The extensions effectively lock in these key players at salaries which are projected to be considerably less than re-signing them later in free-agent bidding wars.


Braves president John Schuerholz and general manager Frank Wren are the architects of this strategy.  You may recall Tampa Bay Rays GM Andrew Friedman took this approach several years ago with one of his young stars, Evan Longoria, and it has paid off for the Rays.  But to use this approach for five players at the same time makes a bold statement about the confidence the Braves management has in each of these players.  While they have achieved some level of success in their short careers, it’s probably too early to tell whether they will continue to progress, thereby bringing value on the field commensurate with their salaries in the later years of their contracts.


The Braves are making a huge commitment to its young, home-grown players and are betting their future on them.  For the Braves team, these deals are about the certainty of annual payroll and averting expensive free-agent bidding wars in the future.  For the players, it’s about a long-term guarantee at a relatively young age.


According to MLB.com, in the past three weeks, the Braves have committed close to $225 million for first baseman Freddie Freeman (eight years, $135 million), pitcher Julio Teheran (six years, $32.4 million), closer Craig Kimbrel (four years, $42  million), shortstop Andrelton Simmons (seven years, $58 million), and outfielder Jason Heyward (two years, $13.3 million).  Altogether, these five players have played only a total of twelve full seasons in the big leagues.


In only his third full big league season, 24-year-old Freddie Freeman finished fifth in the voting for National League MVP last season.  He was runner-up for National League Rookie of the Year in 2011.  26-year-old Craig Kimbrel has put together three of the best seasons for a closer in quite a while, and that includes the stellar career of Mariano Rivera.  He has led the National League in saves for each of these seasons, and compiled ERAs of 2.10, 1.01, and 1.21.  He was Rookie of the Year in 2011.


Last season, 24-year-old Andrelton Simmons was a Gold Glove winner in his first full year in the Major Leagues.  He hit 17 home runs, and if his overall hitting can catch up with his fielding, he figures to be one of the best shortstops in the league.  23-year-old Julio Teheran was fifth in the voting for Rookie of the Year last season, which included a 14-8 record with 170 strikeouts in 185 innings pitched.


24-year-old Jason Heyward missed over 50 games due to injury last season, but he has proven he can play at the big-league level after just his fourth season.  He was runner-up for Rookie of the Year in 2010.  It is expected that Heyward will get another extension after this season so that he can be locked in for a longer term like his teammates.


As evidenced by these five players, the Braves have one of the top minor league systems in the big leagues.  In recent years, the results from their scouting and player development system are perhaps matched only by the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers.


So, will these off-season contract extensions help the Braves in 2014?  Not really.  The Braves didn’t add significant veteran presence and leadership.  They are counting on Evan Gattis, last year’s “feel good” story because of how he got the big leagues, to replace McCann behind the plate.  Brandon Beachy, who was injured most of 2013, and Alex Wood, another newcomer from the farm system last year, will vie for available spots in the starting rotation.  B. J. Upton and Dan Uggla can’t play any worse than they did in 2013, so any individual improvements they make should help boost the team this season.


Once again, the Braves will be looking toward their farm system to source additional regular season players.  Their Number 2 rated prospect, Christian Bethancourt, figures to be their catcher of the future, while Tommy La Stella is a highly regarded second baseman.  Both of them are likely to get a real shot sometime during the season if Gattis or Uggla should falter.


The Braves’ competition in their division should improve in 2014.  The Washington Nationals had an off-year in 2013 and figure to be in the hunt again for the division title they claimed in 2012.  The veteran Philadelphia Phillies team appears to be healthy again and should also be a stronger contender than in the past few seasons.


The New York Yankees had their “Core Four” in Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, and Posada, whom they retained for 15+ seasons as the backbone of the franchise.  Who knows?  A few years from now, we may be referring to these five Braves players as the “Core Five.”


What Derek Jeter Has Meant to the Yankees

Derek Jeter’s announcement this past week that the 2014 season would be his last was not entirely unexpected.  At 40 years of age, he’s coming off an injury season, and it remains to be seen if he can return to the Derek Jeter of 2012, a year in which many thought he might already be washed up.  Yet he delivered a 200-hit campaign.  He’s had one of the most productive careers in all of baseball, on one of the most storied franchises of all time.  On a team that has always had its share of superstars, just what has Jeter meant to the New York Yankees?


Coming out of high school, Jeter was the sixth overall pick of the June 1992 Major League Draft by the Yankees.  They had not had much of a track record with its first round picks, since Thurman Munson in 1968.  In fact, most of their first-round picks since Munson, if they even had a modest major league career, did it with other teams.  The Yankees frequently dealt away its top prospects to acquire highly sought after free agents.  Jeter certainly turned out to be the prize of the Yankees’ draft class in 1992.  Only four of the other Yankees’ fifty draft picks that year later had major league appearances.  Thus, in some respects, based on the Yankees’ draft history, Jeter may have been considered a long-shot at having a significant career with the Bronx Bombers.


At the time the Yankees signed Jeter, they had been in a twelve–year slump when it came to winning the American League pennant.  That would all change soon, as Jeter progressed rapidly through the Yankees farm system.  Combined with their previous signings of Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada, the Yankees had formed the nucleus of a team that finally broke through in 1996, when they captured their first World Series title since 1978.


In the 18 seasons since Jeter became their starting shortstop in 1996, the Yankees did not have to worry about who would be at the shortstop position.  Jeter was Mr. Consistency, as he never had an injury-plagued year except for last season.  He has been a 13-time All-Star selection.  His longevity and consistent excellence on the field likely contributed to a situation where many Yankee shortstop prospects were blocked from seeing action at the major league level with the Yankees.


A prior Yankee regime featured Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, for his dramatic home runs in the World Series in 1977 and 1978. Similarly, Jeter acquired the nickname of Mr. November for his superior post-season play and World Series appearances whose final games had extended into the month of November.  Jeter was a key contributor to seven American League pennants and five World Series championships in all.  The team’s seasons from 1996 to 2003 rank among the all-time dynasties of the Yankees’ legendary history, and Jeter was at the heart of that dynasty.


As much as Jeter has excelled on the field, many say his leadership in the clubhouse has meant equally as much to the Yankees team.  In 2003, Jeter was officially named the captain of the Yankees team, their first since Don Mattingly retired in 1995.  Jeter has been the longest tenured Yankee captain, a title he has also shared with Lou Gehrig, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph, and Ron Guidry.  Jeter has been the quiet type of leader, often dealing with player and team issues out of the public eye.  Consequently, he has earned the respect of his teammate, as well as his opponents.


Jeter’s career has spanned the PED era.  Like many other teams, the Yankees have been plagued with admissions and implications of PED use by some its high profile players, including Roger Clemens, Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, and most recently AlexRodriguez.  However, there has never been even a hint of Jeter’s association with PEDs.  He often denounced its use as having no place in baseball.


In a broader sense, Jeter has demonstrated class and dignity on the field, in his dealings with the press, as well as with the fans.  In an era of players making poor personal decisions in and out of uniform which have affected their careers, he has never publicly disgraced himself or the Yankees.  You never saw Jeter put himself above the team in a TV or newspaper interview.  He always upheld the Yankee traditions and has been an ambassador for the game in general.  Jeter’s personal situation accounts for one of the reasons why he has been the face of the Yankees and, many would say, the face of Major League Baseball during a troubling period for the game.  It’s now wonder why Jeter has appeared on countless baseball cards and magazine covers over the years.


Jeter will go down as one of the all-time Yankee greats.  A few years ago, ESPN New York produced a list of the 50 Greatest Yankees of all time.  Jeter was number 7 on the list, with only Berra, Rivera, Mantle, DiMaggio, Gehrig, and Ruth considered better.


There is a revealing story about one person’s prediction for Jeter’s career.  Then Yankees manager Buck Showalter, when asked what uniform number to assign rookie Jeter, instructed the equipment manager to give him Number 2.  Since the low numbers are generally reserved for Yankee star players, the equipment manager challenged the decision.  However, Showalter re-affirmed his conviction that he thought Jeter would eventually be well-deserving of this honor.  Twenty years later, it’s a certainty no Yankee will wear uniform Number 2 again.


I expect Jeter will get a similar send-off to retirement as former teammate Mariano Rivera did last year, including the heart-felt tributes from all the opposing teams and for his final game at Yankee Stadium.  It should make for an exciting year, especially if Jeter can rebound from last year’s injury and help the Yankees get back to the playoffs.  I personally will be looking forward to this season, to seeing Jeter’s classic inside-out swing that delivered many a clutch hit to right field.


Bullinger Brothers Are In a Rare Class

Brothers Jim and Kirk Bullinger grew up in the New Orleans area playing baseball at multiple levels and wound up realizing every boy’s dream of one day playing professional sports.  Since there have been approximately 18,000 Major League players in its 142 year history, the odds of a boy making the Major Leagues are pretty slim.  When brothers make it, the odds are even lower.  In fact, it turns out the Bullingers are two of approximately 800 players who had brothers that also played in the Major Leagues during those 142 years.  Additionally, by my count, they are among only 77 New Orleans area high school players who reached the Majors.


Both of the Bullingers had long professional baseball careers.  While they got a chance to play in Major League All-Star or World Series games, they each had their moments of fame in the big leagues and were ultimately inducted into the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame.  Below are brief recaps of their careers.


If you have further interest in additional New Orleans area high school players who went on to play college, were drafted, or played professionally, check out my latest compilation of over 1,000 players in a document at http://thetenthinning.com/articles.html.  The players’ hometown, high school team, college team, pro draft details, minor league years, and major league years are identified, along with other biographical notes.  You might find a relative or former classmate in the list.


 

Jim Bullinger


Jim graduated from Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie, LA, where he was an All-District player in 1982 and 1983.  He attended the University of New Orleans for three seasons, where he played shortstop for Coach Ron Maestri.  As a freshman, he was a member of the Privateers team that went to the College World Series in 1984.


Jim was drafted in the 9th round of the 1986 Major League Draft by the Chicago Cubs.


He spent his first four minor league seasons as a shortstop, but after struggling offensively, he converted to pitching in the 1989 fall Arizona Instructional League.  In 1990, he started 23 games between the Single-A and Double-A levels, posting a 10-10 won-lost record.  In 1991, he was 12-13, including starts in Triple-A.


After starting the 1992 season in Triple-A with 14 saves, Jim earned a promotion to the Cubs.  His first Major League season was full of memorable highlights.  He made his major league debut on May 27.    In just his third week in the Majors, he was named the National League Player of the Week for June8-14, when he recorded his first four saves in five outings.  He hit a home run in his first major league at-bat on June 8, only the third Cub to accomplish this feat, and the tenth pitcher in Major League history.  On August 30 at Wrigley Field, he pitched a one-hit complete game against the San Francisco Giants in just his third major league game as a starting pitcher.  He allowed a solo home run to Kirt Manwaring in the top of the 8th inning.


Jim spent most of the 1993 season back at Triple-A Iowa.  As a reliever, helped them win the American Association title and was named the MVP of the championship series.  Over the next three seasons with the Cubs he split his time between starting and relief roles.  In 24 games started in 1995, he won a career-high 12 games.


Jim was granted free agency by the Cubs after the 1996 season; he then played the 1997 season with Montreal Expos and had a short stint with the Seattle Mariners in 1998, his last in the Majors.  He continued to play professionally until 2005, with most of his seasons in independent baseball leagues.


During his seven-year Major League career, Jim posted a 34-41 record, 11 saves, and 5.06 ERA in 186 games.  All total, he played in 17 professional seasons.  He was inducted into the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013.


 

Kirk Bullinger


Kirk graduated in 1987 from Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie, LA.  As the starting shortstop in his senior season, he helped Rummel win the Class 4A state championship.  Kirk started his college career at the University of New Orleans in 1988.  He lettered there in 1989, but then transferred to Southeastern Louisiana University.  In 1992, he was 10-4 with a 3.18 ERA for the Lions.  He was named the MVP of the Trans America Athletic Conference post-season tournament and gained a victory in the NCAA West Regionals.


Kirk was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 32nd round of the 1992 Major League Draft.  His first three seasons in the Cardinals’ organization were characterized by low ERA and WHIP as a relief pitcher.


On April 5, 1995, he was one of three young Cardinals pitchers sent to the Montreal Expos as part of a trade that sent veteran pitcher Ken Hill to St. Louis.


Kirk made his major league debut with the Montreal Expos on August 30, 1998, when he recorded the first of his only two major league wins.  On September 26, he surrendered home run No. 68 to slugger Mark McGwire, when McGwire went on his historic run to break Roger Maris’ home run record with 70.


Kirk had short major league stints with the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies before latching on with the Houston Astros organization as a free agent in December 2001.  He returned to his New Orleans roots and pitched for the New Orleans Zephyrs, Triple-A affiliate of the Astros, from 2002 to 2004, which included seasons with 20 and 14 saves.  Upon the 20th anniversary of the Zephyrs, Kirk was named one of the top 20 players in the minor league franchise’s history.  His most extensive major league season occurred in 2004 with the Astros, when he appeared in 27 games as a reliever.


In 2005 at age 35, Kirk ended his career in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.  His professional career spanned 14 seasons.  Over his five Major League seasons, he appeared in 49 games, all in relief.  He compiled a 2-0 won-lost record, recorded one save and posted a 6.53 ERA.


Kirk maintained his New Orleans ties by securing a position with UNO as pitching coach in 2007 through 2009.  He was named the baseball head coach for Archbishop Shaw High School in 2013.  Kirk was inducted into the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.


Rivera: The Best in a Long Line of Proficient Yankee Relievers

With Mariano Rivera’s historic ride off into the sunset at the end of last season, the New York Yankees will have a new closer this season for the first time in 19 years.  During Mo’s long tenure as the stopper, the Yankees had the luxury of not having to worry during spring training about who would fill this role.  With the exception of the 2012 season when Rivera suffered a season-ending knee injury in May, Rivera has been the one constant on the roster they could always count on.  His place in the Hall of Fame certainly secured, he comes from a long line of Yankee relievers who were key components of many of their championship seasons.


So what will the Yankees do that Rivera has retired?  Over the past several years, there has been much speculation that David Robertson, Yankees middle relief pitcher, was being groomed as Rivera’s replacement.  A former University of Alabama pitcher, Robertson had been Mariano’s primary setup man since 2008.  A very effective one at that.  The 28-year-old right-hander has averaged 68 relief appearances per season, with a 2.76 ERA and 11.7 strikeouts per inning pitched.


Hedging their bets on Robertson, the Yankees signed closer Rafael Soriano for the 2011 season, although he wasn’t used in that role, in deference to Rivera.  Then, when Rivera was injured in 2012, Manager Joe Girardi’s original intention was that Robertson and Soriano would share the closer’s role in Rivera’s absence.  However, Robertson went on the disabled list himself from mid-May to mid-June, and Soriano secured the role permanently for the balance of the season.  But Soriano was let go by the Yankees at the end of 2012.


There’s still a lingering question about whether Robertson can effectively transition to the pressure-filled closer role, since the closer’s mentality and approach is somewhat different from the setup role.  During the off-season, the Yankees passed on veteran free agent closers Brian Wilson, Joe Nathan, and Grant Balfour, leaving Robertson the leading candidate on the team’s depth chart for 2014.


Rivera was not only the best-ever reliever for the Yankees; he was the best all-time in the history of the game.  Nevertheless, let’s take a look back at some of the exceptional Yankee relief pitchers that came before him.


Most people associate the great Yankee teams with big bats.  They think of monikers like Bronx Bombers, Murderer’s Row, the M&M Boys, and Mr. October.  Those teams’ starting pitchers weren’t too shabby either, with hurlers like Hoyt, Pennock, Gomez, Reynolds, Lopat, Raschi, Ford, Guidry, and Pettitte toeing the rubber.  


What we don’t generally connect with these dynastic teams are the relief pitchers. In fact, in the 40 years the Yankees have won American League pennants, a Yankee pitcher has led the league in saves 19 times.


In the early days of baseball, there was no such thing as a relief specialist.  That didn’t come about until the mid-1930s.  Starters were expected to pitch complete games and often did.  Whenever a starting pitcher exited a game early, another starter would come in.  Thus, for the first set of Yankee championship seasons in the 1920s, Yankee starting pitchers Carl Mays, Sam Jones, Wilcy Moore and Waite Hoyt also led the American League in saves.  But keep in mind, a saves leader in those days generally had less than ten.


In 1935, 32-year-old Pat Malone was made the Yankees relief pitcher, after having won 20 games twice with the Chicago Cubs.  When the Yankees won the 1936 pennant, all but nine of his 35 appearances were in a reliever role.  He won 12 games and led the league with 9 saves.


At the same time Malone was primarily pitching out of the bullpen for the Yankees, Johnny Murphy came along and was also employed as a relief specialist.  Murphy was the first Yankee relief pitcher who had a noteworthy career in that role.  From 1937 to 1943, he was the “go-to” guy with the game on the line in the late innings.  He won four American League saves titles in years the Yankees won league championships (1938, 1939, 1941, and 1942).  However, World War II would interrupt his career.  Then, 41-year-old Jim Turner served as the primary reliever in 1945 and led the American League in saves.


Joe Page was the next Yankee reliever to receive acclaim for his performance as a reliever.  Despite his occasional fits of wildness, he was the main guy in the Yankees bullpen from 1947 to 1950.  The Yankees won championships in 1947 and 1949, with Page leading the American League in saves with 17 and 27, respectively.  Page’s record of 27 saves (later tied by Ellis Kinder of the Red Sox in 1953) was the most by an American League pitcher until 1961.


When Page blew out his arm after 1950, Yankees Manager Casey Stengel resorted to the old-style bullpen when starters often doubled as relievers.  Allie Reynolds was used in this manner from 1951 to 1954.  Ditto for Johnny Sain in 1952 and 1953.  However, when switched to a full-time reliever in 1954, Sain led the league in saves with 22, although the Yankees finished second to the Cleveland Indians.  Bob Grim, who had won 20 games for the Yankees as a starter in his rookie season in 1954, led the league in saves in 1957 after he was switched to a relief role.  The Yankees won the pennant that year. 


When the Yankees won the league championship in 1958, Ryne Duren was the American League saves leader with 20.  Even with these league leaders on Stengel’s staff during the 1950s, it was not uncommon for front-line starters like Whitey Ford, Don Larsen, Bob Turley, and Tom Sturdivant to also pitch out of the bullpen.


Screwball specialist Luis Arroyo led the American League in saves with 29 in 1961, a year in which the Yankees lost only 53 games and captured the pennant.  It would be another 11 years before the Yankees would field another league leader in saves.


The Yankees acquired Sparky Lyle from the Boston Red Sox; he paid immediate dividends by leading the American League in saves in 1972, but the Yankees finished in fourth place in their division.  However, when the Yanks won the pennant in 1976, Lyle was again the league leader.  He also claimed the Cy Young Award in 1977.


Fire-baller Goose Gossage, acquired from Pittsburgh, supplanted Lyle as the Yankees closer in 1978.  He was a key contributor to the Yankees championship team that year, leading the league with 27 saves.  He also led the league in saves in 1980, but the Yankees could not get past Kansas City in the ALCS.


Left-hander Dave Righetti was American League Rookie of the Year as a starting pitcher in 1981, but three years later was transitioned to a full-time reliever by the Yankees.  For seven seasons, Righetti was among the top closers in the American League.  He led the American League in saves in 1986, but the Yankees did not win a pennant during his tenure.


In his second season with the Yankees, closer John Wetteland was a key factor in the Yankees’ return to the World Series in 1996, their first in 15 years.  He led the league in saves with 43 and was named the MVP in the Yankees’ World Series win over the Atlanta Braves.  Wetteland’s setup man in the bullpen in 1996 was Mariano Rivera.  Rivera’s performance was convincing enough to allow the Yankees to release Wetteland to free agency after his spectacular season, and Rivera succeeded him as closer in 1997.


Among his many career records, Rivera contributed three seasons as the saves leader in the American League, two of which occurred in years the Yankees won the league championship (1999 and 2001).


Of course, it remains to be seen if David Robertson will be a capable successor in this long history of former Yankee closers.  He’s been able to observe first-hand the premier closer in the game, Rivera, for the past six seasons, so it’s likely he’s picked up few valuable tips along the way.


Yankees Sign Tanaka, Import of the Year

Masahiro Tanaka will be wearing Yankee pinstripes during spring training in a few weeks, as a result of accepting New York’s offer of $155 million over seven years.  In a move of desperation, the Yankees put aside any lingering thoughts about containing team salaries for now and out-maneuvered Tanaka’s other final suitors, which reportedly included the Dodgers, Cubs, White Sox, and Diamondbacks.  The Yankees are hoping Tanaka will help them get back to the World Series, although they’ve had mixed results with previous Asian pitchers over the years.


The 25-year- old Tanaka is the latest edition of “phenom” pitchers to emerge from the Far East.  He posted a 24-0 won-lost record with a 1.27 ERA in 212 innings last season for the Rakuten Golden Eagles.  The right-hander gained notoriety last season when he threw 161 pitches in a Japanese championship series game, and then also threw out of the bullpen the next day.  He’s been among the top pitchers in Japan for the past three seasons.


Prior to Tanaka, Yu Darvish, currently the ace of the Texas Rangers staff, was the most recent highly sought-after Asian pitcher by Major League Baseball clubs.  He inked a lucrative deal with the Rangers before the 2012 season, and he’s paid huge dividends over his two seasons with a 29-18 record, 3.34 ERA and 498 strikeouts.  He was the American League Cy Young Award runner-up last season.


Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka signed an historic contract with the Boston Red Sox before the 2007 season, which required a $51 million posting fee by the Red Sox.  He rewarded the Red Sox by helping them win the World Series in his first season with them, and then he followed that with an 18-3 record the next season.


Sandwiched in between head-liners Matsuzaka and Darvish have been several other Asian pitchers to migrate to the USA, although not with the same hoopla that came with the bidding wars among big league clubs.  Chin-Mieng Wang, Huroki Kuroda, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara are a few of the more noteworthy examples who were pitching in the majors in 2013.


The Yankees franchise has lost some of their luster over the past few seasons.  They didn’t make the playoffs in 2013, their first absence since 2008.  While they did reach the playoffs in 2011 and 2012, they were solidly thumped by the Detroit Tigers in both years.  Yankee fans are impatient when it comes to not winning World Series.  Recently, this has been reflected by declining attendance at Yankee Stadium and lower TV ratings.  During this past off-season, they lost their best player, Robinson Cano, to Seattle through free agency.  The Yankees were desperate to return to prominence, even if it meant buying their way back.  After all, that’s been their history since current owners Hal and Hank Steinbrenner’s father, George, first owned the franchise in 1973.


The Yankees have done a decent job compensating for the loss of Cano, by signing top free agents Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran.  However, they were still missing a key cog—a front-line starting pitcher-- needed to solidify their chances to return as a playoff contender in 2014.  Veteran Andy Pettitte retired after the 2013 season; and the Yankees gave up on one-time 18-game winner Phil Hughes, who logged the worst season of his career last year.


That left the Yankees with CC Sabathia and Huroki Kuroda, both of whom essentially ran out of gas toward the end of last season; four-year veteran Ivan Nova; and a handful of unproven hurlers.  They were frantic to acquire a Number 1 or Number 2 pitcher in the rotation, but none of the available pitchers in free agency (Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Johan Santana) were assessed as being able to fill the bill.  That’s why the Yankees pulled out all of the stops to acquire Tanaka.  Despite some strong competition from the deep-pocket Dodgers and equally pitching-desperate Cubs, the Yankees were not going to be outbid.  They are counting on an immediate investment in Tanaka yielding an immediate return in 2014.


Are the Yankees taking a big gamble with Tanaka?  Most scouting reports by major league suitors revealed he is the real deal, and his skills will translate well in the Major Leagues.  Reportedly, he has a good variety of pitches in his arsenal, although not as many as the successful Darvish.  Tanaka’s split-fingered fastball was called “the best I’ve ever seen” by one Major League GM.  Sure, there will be a transition from the Japanese League to Major League Baseball.  Japanese pitchers generally pitch only once a week, versus every five days in the US.  The strike zone and the baseball are different in Japan.  Japanese hitters generally don’t have as much power as American batters.  However, the better Japanese pitchers have successfully made the transition before.


The Yankees have some history with pitchers from Asian baseball leagues, going back to the 1996 signing of a young pitcher from the Japanese League, Katsuhiro Maeda.  He toiled in the Yankee farm system for five years before the Yankees gave up on him.


In 1997 veteran Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu received highly publicized national attention when the San Diego Padres purchased his contract from his Japanese team.  However, he refused to sign, saying he would only play for the Yankees.  The controversy surrounding his acquisition led to the current posting system which allows American teams to compete for Japanese pitchers, with pre-defined compensation going to the Japanese clubs.


The Yankees took the bait and did trade for the rights to sign Irabu.  After only a handful of minor league games, the Yankees anxiously thrust him into their starting rotation.  However, his pitching was only mediocre in two and one-half seasons with the Yankees.  He posted a 29-20 record for some very good Yankee teams, but had a bloated 4.80 ERA and didn’t often pitch deep into his games.  As evidence of the lack of confidence in him, the Yankees used him in only one playoff game during his three seasons, two of which the Yankees won the World Series.


The Yankees signed 20-year-old Taiwanese pitcher Chien-Ming Wang as a free agent in 2000.  They brought him along slowly until he made his major league debut in 2005.  The Yankees thought they had finally discovered gold in the Orient with Wang.  The right-hander posted three solid seasons, including two 19-win campaigns in 2006 and 2007.  At the top of the Yankees rotation at the beginning of 2008, Wang started off with another set of stellar performances, reaching his 50th career win (after 85 starts) earlier than any Yankee pitcher since Ron Guidry.  However, in mid-June Wang tore a ligament in his right foot while running as a batter in an interleague game, and his season was finished.  He attempted a short comeback in 2009, but was unable to return his former level of play.  Convinced his career was finished, the Yankees released him to free agency after that season.


The Yankees, who had been outbid by the Red Sox for Matusaka in November 2006, signed Japanese left-hander Kei Igawa in a reactionary move.  Igawa turned out to be a major disappointment, as he only made 16 major league appearances in five seasons in the Yankees organization.  That deal cost the Yankees $20 million over five seasons, not counting the $21 million they paid for the Japanese posting fee.


So, which type of pitcher will the Yankees get in Tanaka?  Yu Darvish or Kei Igawa, or someone in between?  Yankee fans are hoping for another Darvish.  The rest of the teams in the American League are hoping for another Igawa.  I suspect the Yankees would be satisfied with another healthy Chien-Ming Wang or younger version of Huroki Kuroda.


Tanaka will don Pinstripe uniform number 19, previously worn by some pretty good Yankee hurlers of the past, Dave Righetti and Bob Turley.  If Tanaka follows in their footsteps, that would be a pretty good outcome, too.


Are Kershaw's Best Years Ahead?

It was somewhat ironic that within a week of each other we saw Major League Baseball drop the hammer on Alex Rodriguez and Clayton Kershaw rewarded with the richest contract in history for a Major League pitcher.  They are both products of record-breaking financial deals for their superior baseball talents, but they are polar opposites in terms of personal makeup and character.  A-Rod’s career is all but done, but have we seen the best of Kershaw yet?


Kershaw’s new seven-year, $215 million dollar contract at age 26 is certainly reminiscent of A-Rod’s contract in 2000, when at age 25 Rodriguez inked a ten-year, $252 million dollar contract.  By age 20, they were both regulars in the big leagues with huge upsides.  In the last three seasons, Kershaw has pitched like a grizzled veteran with the Los Angeles Dodgers—he’s won two Cy Young Awards (oh, by the way, was runner-up for the third year), three consecutive ERA titles, two strikeout titles, and three WHIP titles.  Only a few Major League pitchers have come anywhere close to those accomplishments in their entire 15 to 18-year careers!


This offseason has seen several large deals where players are thought to have been overpaid by team owners in order to attract the talent to rejuvenate their franchises.  Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann are a few examples.  Is Kershaw just another in this era of deep pockets?  Perhaps.


However, consider that the Los Angeles Dodgers did with Kershaw what the St. Louis Cardinals (with Albert Pujols) and the New York Yankees (with Cano) would not—the Dodgers demonstrated a long-term commitment to their best player and their franchise.  Entering the prime years of his career, Kershaw will be the anchor of the Dodgers’ rotation for years to come.  Furthermore, in his short tenure, he has earned the honor of “face of the franchise” for the Dodgers.  Unlike a lot of superstars, he’s overly accessible to the media and fans; hence, his popularity is off the charts.  Sure, the new ownership of the Dodgers has supplanted the Yankees’ as having the deepest pockets in baseball and can afford to overpay, but I believe they made a good business decision, as well as a good baseball decision.  The Dodgers are seeking an immediate return to prominence in baseball, and they see Kershaw’s signing as key factor in getting there.


Of course, Kershaw’s early career has drawn a comparison to former Dodger pitching great, Sandy Koufax.  Koufax debuted in the majors at age 19, but it took him until age 25 before he started putting up “Hall of Fame” credentials.  Starting in 1961, his seventh season in the big leagues, he proceeded to post three Cy Young Award titles, four strikeout titles, and five consecutive ERA titles over six seasons—likely the best stretch of pitching performance in baseball history.  However, by age 30, Koufax’s career was over; his arm was worn out.


You don’t hear much rumbling from baseball players, executives, the media, or the fans about Kershaw getting too much money from this latest contract.  It’s a testament to his perceived value on the field to the Dodgers, as well as the personal respect he gets from his peers.


Part of that respect garnered by Kershaw comes from his personal traits.  I saw an interview with him where he said it was disrespectful of Sandy Koufax for sports writers and baseball analysts to put him in the same category as the legendary Koufax.  Kershaw comes across as having a deep respect for the game.  Some of his peers would be well-served to demonstrate that kind of humility.  Certainly, Rodriguez could have used a few doses of humility, versus PEDs, during his career.


In a similar vein, Kershaw has been acknowledged for his volunteer and philanthropic activities.  He established an organization, Kershaw’s Challenge, whose slogans include “using whatever you have been blessed with—talent, passion, or purpose—to give back to others.” He and his wife have been the sponsors for building and maintaining an orphanage in East Africa.  In fact, one of his remarks upon signing this latest lucrative contract was that they would now have significant additional resources to apply to his “Challenge” causes.  In 2012, he received the Roberto Clemente Award, which is given to the Major League player “who demonstrates the values Clemente displayed in his commitment to community and understanding the value of helping others.”


Can Kershaw avoid the same flameout as Koufax at age 30?  Kershaw’s devastating fastball and curveball have been likened to Koufax’s.  While Kershaw has already pitched 1,180 innings in five seasons, his workload has not been in the same realm as Koufax’s days when 300+ innings per season for a starter were not uncommon.  In today’s game, 220 innings pitched during the regular season are pretty much the norm for a front-line starter, especially when considering the use of five-man rotations and today’s heavy reliance on middle relief pitchers.


Kershaw has demonstrated a high level of consistency in his performance over his past three seasons.  One would like to think he can maintain his current domination during most of the seven years of this new contract, which will encompass the usual peak years (age 26 to 30) of a big league pitcher.  But then we are reminded of hurlers like Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito whose arms didn’t last after meteoric starts to their careers.  However, if Kershaw leads the Dodgers to a couple of World Series titles during this timeframe, his own legendary status will be cemented.


In a time when Alex Rodriguez’s character reflects poorly on the game of baseball, it is refreshing to have players like Clayton Kershaw come along; even if you don’t think he’s worth $30M a year or you don’t pull for the Dodgers.

 


Did You Know?

Getting anxious for the new Major League Baseball season to start?  To help tide you over, here’s a random set of notes based on events in baseball within the past few weeks.


Major League pitchers could be wearing protective headgear starting this season to help prevent injury from batted balls.  Brandon McCarthy and Alex Cobb are two recent examples of pitchers suffering serious head injuries from being hit on the mound.


Mark Mulder, who last pitched in the Majors in 2008, will be attempting a comeback this season.  The 36-year-old signed a contract with the Los Angeles Angels that would pay him $1M if makes the 25-man roster.  He has been a baseball analyst with ESPN.


Former LSU alum, Ryan Theriot, officially announced his retirement from Major League Baseball this month, after sitting out the 2013 season.  His eight big league seasons include two World Series Championships including one with St. Louis in 2011 and one with San Francisco in 2012.


Ed Lucas finally made his Major League debut at age 31 in 2013 with the Miami Marlins.  His ten seasons in the minors included time with the New Orleans Zephyrs last season.  A total of 230 players made their big league debuts in 2013.


Prior to this past week’s election of Tom Glavine, Mike Maddux, and Frank Thomas to the Hall of Fame, the last time three members were elected by the Baseball Writers Association in the same year was 1991, when Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount, and George Brett were elected.


The last time two 300-game winners were inducted into the Hall of Fame in the same year was 1973, when Warren Spahn (1942-1965) and Mickey Welch (1880-1892) were enshrined.


Rafael Palmeiro will fall off of the Hall of Fame ballot next year since he did not receive the required minimum 5% of the votes this year.  He posted career numbers of 3,020 hits, 569 home runs, 1,835 RBI, and .288 batting average.  He won the American League Gold Glove Award for first-basemen in 1999 even though he started only 28 games at that position.


The Baseball Writers Association revoked Miami sportswriter Dan Le Batard’s membership for one year, as a result of his turning over his ballot to baseball website Deadspin, which conducted a fan poll to determine which players would receive Le Batard’s votes.  Keith Olbermann reported this week that the current Vice President of the BBWAA, Jose DeJesus Ortiz, has publicly admitted in the past to using “crowd-sourcing” to fill out his ballot.  Is there a double standard here?


Masahiro Tanaka is the latest Japanese phenom pitcher to pursue Major League Baseball.  The posting fee set by his Japanese owner is $20M.  In November 2006, the Boston Red Sox won the rights to Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka with a posting fee of $51M.  The first ever Japanese player in the big leagues was Masanori Murakami who played for the San Francisco Giants in 1964.  The Giants bought Murakami’s contract for $10,000.


With Alex Rodriguez’s confirmed suspension for the entire 2014 season by Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees will have a rare opportunity to get under the $189M luxury tax ceiling. or they can enhance their chances to sign Japanese pitcher Tanaka.  The Yankees will not have to pay A-Rod’s 2014 salary of$25M.  His salary for the balance of his contract, 2015-2017, will be $61M.  What are the chances A-Rod will go to Japan to play baseball?


Former Yankee player and San Diego Padres broadcaster, Jerry Coleman, died this past week.  He is the only MLB player to survive combat in both World War II and the Korean War.  The Marine flew 120 missions between the two campaigns.


The first Spring Training game in the Grapefruit League is February 25 and February 26 in the Cactus League.

Yankees Love Red Sox Discards

Jacoby Ellsbury’s decision to bolt from Boston sent Red Sox Nation fans reeling.  How could a key cog in their two most recent World Championships defect to the Evil Empire?  If he had to leave, why didn’t he go some team other than the hated Yankees?  Why not somewhere harmless like Seattle or the New York Mets?


At seven-years and $153 million, the 30-year-old Ellsbury signed a deal with the Yankees, which is the third richest in history by an outfielder (following only Manny Ramirez and Matt Kemp).  The New York Daily News dubbed the Yanks’ new acquisition the “Ellsbury Dough Boy.”  You can hardly blame Ellsbury for jumping at that deal.  Plus, he gets to play for the contending Yankees, not the struggling Mets or Mariners.  If there is any consolation for the Red Sox, the Yankees overpaid to get Ellsbury, in their attempt to re-stock the team with some immediate impact players.


More than a few baseball analysts have argued that Ellsbury will not add considerably more production than current Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner, who made just under $3 million in 2013.  Furthermore, the injury-prone Ellsbury played in only 59% of the Red Sox games over the past four years.  However, the Yankees are betting that Ellsbury will take increase his home run totals by taking advantage of the relatively short right field fence at Yankee Stadium and post near-MVP seasons as he did in 2011.


Of course, Ellsbury is not the first Red Sox player to take a hike to the Bronx.  His decision to leave immediately evoked ever-stinging memories of Johnny Damon by angry Red Sox fans.  In a similar situation, Damon left the Red Sox only one year after their 2004 World Championship season to join the hated Yankee rivals.  At that time, Red Sox fans bemoaned the loss of Damon, as they rightfully should have.  He was a similar type of impact player as Ellsbury, as he helped the Yankees win two division titles and a World Series championship in the four seasons he played for them.  The Red Sox managed to win only one division title during that same timeframe.  It turned out the Yankees made a good decision by getting the retread Damon.


If you go back twenty years ago, there was another similar defection from the Red Sox to the Yankees that involved a high-profile player.  After eleven years with the Red Sox, Wade Boggs signed as a free agent with the Yankees for the 1993 season.  Unlike Damon and Ellsbury, Boggs, at age 35, was already on the down-side of his career, having previously claimed five American League batting titles from 1983 to 1988.  However, the hitting machine Boggs helped to propel the resurgence of the Yankees by contributing significantly to their World Series title in 1996, a goal he had not achieved with the Red Sox.


Pitcher Sparky Lyle began his big league career with the Boston Red Sox in 1967.  Within three years he had become their regular closer.  However, after the 1971 season, the Red Sox traded him to the New York Yankees for outfielder Danny Cater.  Lyle would go on to help the Yankees regain prominence in the American League.  He led the American League in saves in 1972 and again in 1976 when the Yankees reached the World Series.  In 1977 Lyle was a huge factor in the Yankees winning their first World Series in 13 years, as he won the American League Cy Young Award.  The Yankees repeated as World Champions in 1978, when Lyle shared the closer role with Goose Gossage.  Much to the chagrin of the Red Sox, Lyle’s acquisition by New York was one of their most gratifying in Yankee history.


However, by any measure, the best acquisition by the Yankees, and probably by any club in Major League history, was the purchase of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox after the 1919 season.  This is a well-chronicled story, but the historical significance of this transaction is that the Yankees, with Ruth, proceeded to become the most feared dynasty in baseball, and it began a period of 85 years of frustration by the Red Sox who were void of a World Series championship ring—hence, the origin of the “curse of the Bambino.”


Furthermore, in the two years following the Ruth acquisition, the Yankees struck two more deals with the Red Sox that further stocked their teams with players who also contributed to the Yankee dynasty with Ruth.  Waite Hoyte, Harry Harper, and Wally Schang were sent by the Red Sox in December 1920 for four Yankee players.  And then the following December, Everett Scott, Joe Bush, and Sad Sam Jones were traded to the Yankees for four players.


In all these cases, the Yankees capitalized on the acquisition of the Red Sox discarded players.  The change in scenery for these players brought championships to the Yankees.  Now the Yankees are hoping for the same outcome from Ellsbury, a return to the World Series.


Mike Trout Nixed Any Possibility of Sophomore Jinx

Do you remember “Super Joe” Charboneau?  1980 American League Rookie of the Year.  Great-sounding name.   Most popular player in Cleveland since Rocky Colavito.  For one season, he had everything, but then became the poster boy for sophomore jinx seasons.


This past season Los Angeles Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout avoided the fate of Super Joe.  In fact, he made a strong case for being named the American League MVP, an honor that also eluded him in 2012, when he couldn’t overcome the Baseball Writers Association’s selection of Miguel Cabrera.  After all, Cabrera had just achieved the first Triple Crown in 35 seasons.


Like Charboneau, Trout was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2012. Sabermetricians thought he had put together one of the best seasons ever as an MVP candidate, with his combination of hitting, power, speed, and defense—even better than a Triple Crown season. 


Trout’s 2013 sophomore season was just as impressive.  However, he finished second again to Cabrera for the coveted MVP Award.  The fact that Cabrera brought all the intangibles, in addition to league-leading offensive numbers, while also playing for a pennant-contending team likely factored into the baseball writers’ thinking.  However, in only two seasons, Trout has become the poster boy for the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) advanced metric.  But it’s not winning him MVP awards just yet.


Charboneau had been a long shot to make the majors in the first place, having quit for a time after his only his second minor league season.  Once in the big leagues, he enhanced his popularity with his flaky antics off the field (such as opening beer bottles with his eye socket).  However, he faded away from the baseball world after he slumped in his second major league season.  The sophomore jinx had taken effect, and he was out of baseball entirely by 1984.


Another flaky player, Mark Fidrych, had a similar career outcome as Charboneau.  Nicknamed “the Bird” for his strikingly wide-eyed resemblance to the popular Sesame Street character, “Big Bird,” the pitcher took the nation by storm in his rookie season in 1976.  His antics included giving the baseballs a pep talk before throwing them to batters.  Even though he didn’t make his first start with the Detroit Tigers until May 1, he started the All-Star game and was named the American League Rookie of the Year with his 19-9 record and league-leading 2.34 ERA.  However, an arm injury the next season jinxed his ascent to long-lived stardom, and he wound up pitching in only 27 more games over the next four seasons.


Sam Bowens wasn’t a Rookie of the Year Award winner, but he posted a solid rookie season in 1964 with the Baltimore Orioles.  The outfielder managed to hit 22 home runs, 25 doubles and 71 RBI for an Orioles team that was on the verge of becoming a perennial playoff team.  However, Bowens flopped after that season, as his batting average dropped 100 points to .163 in 1965.  He never regained his 1964 form.


Walt Dropo burst onto the Boston Red Sox scene in 1950 as a rookie, when he hit 34 home runs and 144 RBI while batting .322, numbers which propelled him to an American League Rookie of the Year selection.  It looked like Boston might have another Ted Williams in their lineup, but the sophomore jinx got the best of Dropo in 1951.  His numbers included a disappointing 11 home runs, 57 RBI and .239 average.  Unlike Charboneau and Bowens, however, Dropo managed to resurrect his career after the fall-off in his second season.  He went on to play in the big leagues for ten more years, although never at the level of his stellar rookie season.


Two other players who rebounded from their sophomore slump seasons were Gary Carter and Rick Sutcliffe.


Carter had been the runner-up for National League Rookie of the Year in 1975 with the Montreal Expos.  However, in 1976 his production fell off dramatically, when he could not regain his form following an early season thumb injury.  Carter rallied in 1977 by hitting 31 home runs and 84 RBI to go along with a .285 batting average.  He eventually became an 11-time All-Star, World Series winner with the Mets, and Hall of Fame catcher.


Sutcliffe won 17 games in his rookie season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1979, leading a starting rotation that also included veterans Don Sutton, Burt Hooton, Jerry Reuss, and Andy Messersmith.  For his efforts Sutcliffe was named the National League Rookie of the Year.  But then in his first six starts of 1980, he struggled with getting batters out. His ERA was over 8.00, when the Dodgers finally moved him to the bullpen to work out the kinks.  Sutcliffe’s pitching woes continued such that the Dodgers traded him to the Indians after the 1981 season.  With Cleveland in 1982, Sutcliffe figured out his problems and led the American League in ERA as a starting pitcher again.  His career stats included 171 wins games in his 18-year career.


Jim Nash, Harlin Pool, Roscoe Miller, Sam Mele, Bernie Carbo, and Geovany Soto are a few other Major League players who were impacted by the sophomore jinx.


Mike Trout squelched any thoughts in 2013 that his rookie season might be a fluke.  His major league start has been comparable to some of the best all-time in baseball.  I know it’s too early to predict after only two seasons, but his career as an impact player appears to be on a track to greatness.  Let’s hope he’s able to stay healthy and play for a contending team.


Do you have a favorite recollection about a player who suffered from the sophomore jinx?


First Family of New Orleans Baseball

Archie, Peyton, and Eli Manning are often referred to as the “first family of football,” with the father and his two sons each having significant careers in the National Football League.  Another New Orleans-based family, the Gilberts, can make a case for being the “first family of New Orleans baseball.”  However, unless you were a baseball fan of the first half of the 20th century, you may not know about them.  Larry Gilbert and his two sons, Tookie and Charlie, were each major leaguers, with the father also having a significant minor league playing and managerial career.


 Larry Gilbert

At the age of five, Larry’s right foot was caught in the wheel of an ox cart and was so badly torn that doctors wanted to amputate.  His mother convinced doctors to spare him of this surgery and after a year of nursing, Larry was able to walk again.  He first got involved in baseball as scoreboard boy at Athletic Park in New Orleans and later pitched batting practice to the New Orleans Pelicans.  He was originally signed as a pitcher in 1910 by Victoria of the Southwest Texas League, but switched to the outfield the next year.


 After playing two years with Battle Creek in the Southern Michigan League and one with Milwaukee of the American Association, Larry made his major league debut on April 14, 1914.  Larry’s major league career spanned only two seasons, but his 1914 Boston Braves team had one of the most remarkable seasons in major league history.  In last place at the mid-term of the season, the Braves proved to be a “miracle” team by winning the NL pennant.  They then beat Connie Mack’s favored A’s in a four-game sweep in the World Series.  Larry played part-time as an outfielder.  He hit .268 with five home runs and 25 RBI.

 

After 45 games and a .151 batting average in 1915, Larry was demoted to the minors.  After a couple of years in the high minors, he was purchased for $2500 in 1917 by the owner of the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association.  It was the highest price ever for a minor league player up to that time.  In 1919 with the Pelicans, he led the Southern Association in batting (.349), hits (171), total bases (237), and stolen bases (42).  When the Pelicans sold him to Cleveland following the season, Larry refused to report, saying he wanted to stay in New Orleans.  This relationship with the Pelicans lasted twenty-two consecutive years, first as a player, then as manager starting in 1923 through 1938, and also included the job of operating executive in 1930.  His last year as a player was 1925, at age 33.

 

Larry was lured away from New Orleans by Fay Murray, Tennessee livestock millionaire, for $100,000 to manage the Nashville Vols in the Southern League.  His annual salary exceeded that of New Yor Yankees manager, Joe McCarthy, by $10,000.   Larry managed the Vols from 1939 through 1948, and then as general manager and part owner until 1955.  He had turned down several managerial offers from major league clubs.  In 1940, he was named The Sporting News’ Minor League Manager of the Year.  His Nashville team recorded one of the best minor league seasons in history when they went 101-47 that year.

 

Larry is credited with discovering Mel Ott as a stubby little catcher in Gretna, Louisiana, across the Mississippi River from New Orleans.  Not signed by Larry at the time, Ott was sold to the New York Giants by a lumber magnate from Louisiana who had a semi-pro team.

 

Larry spent 25 years as manager of the Pelicans and Vols, and his clubs claimed 2,128 victories.  He won nine pennants and five Dixie Series titles.  He was responsible for sending 48 of his players to the major leagues, including the likes of Buddy Meyer, Zeke Bonura, Johnny Burnett, Tommy Henrich, and Eddie Morgan.

 

Known as a player’s manager, many doubted Larry would make a good manager because of his easy nature.  He was generally known to have no enemies, even players whom he had released.  His fairness and honesty were hallmarks of his character.

 

In his two-year major league career, Larry batted .230 in 117 games.  In 1,690 minor league games he had a .298 batting average, including 1,794 hits, 254 doubles, 101 triples, 59 home runs, and 383 RBI.

 

Larry had three sons who played professional baseball.  Charlie and Harold (Tookie) played in the major leagues.  Larry, Jr. played under his father in 1938 for New Orleans, but was forced to retire from active play due to a heart ailment. 

 

Charlie Gilbert

Charlie was playing for his father, Larry Sr., in Nashville in 1939 when he was sold to the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1940 season.  As a prospect, he was said to be reminiscent of his father as a player—natural player, fast, good knowledge of the game.  He was touted as the greatest 20-year-old outfielder the Southern Association had ever produced.

 

Charlie played 57 games with the Dodgers in his debut year, but also played 57 games at Montreal so that he could play regularly. However, he never reached the potential that had been earmarked for him.  In 1941, Charlie was traded to the Cubs, where he played for parts of four seasons.  In his final season, 1947, he led the National League in 40 pinch-hit appearances.  He retired because of an injured back.  Charlie later served as assistant general manager of the Nashville Vols team with his father.

 

Harold “Tookie” Gilbert

Harold got his nickname when his older brothers labeled him “rookie” while playing ball as youngsters, but Harold mispronounced it as “Tookie.”  Tookie, like his brother Charlie, was a highly touted schoolboy sensation in New Orleans.  Tookie was recruited heavily by six major league clubs and he literally picked the club he would sign with by pulling one name from a hat containing all six teams.  The New York Giants won the Gilbert “lottery” and he signed for $50,000.  Tookie excelled in his minor league debut in 1947.  In 1949, like his brother before him, Tookie played for his father at Nashville.  He blossomed with 33 home runs and a .334 average.

 

After starting the 1950 season at Minneapolis, Tookie was called up by the New York Giants to fill a talent shortage at first base.  He played in 113 games, but hit only .220 and four home runs.  However, he spent the next two years at Minneapolis and Oakland, hitting 29 and 31 homers respectively.  He returned to the Giants in 1953, but again he did not display the power he had shown in the minors.  He retired before the 1954 season, when it announced he would start the season in Minneapolis again.

 

In 1959, still only 30 years old, Tookie made a comeback with the New Orleans Pelicans in his hometown, in an attempt to help save the struggling Southern Association franchise.  He was twice elected civil sheriff in New Orleans before dying of a heart attack that resulted in car accident in 1967.

 

 

Seahawks' Russell Wilson to Play Baseball?

Last week the Texas Rangers drafted Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson during the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft at the conclusion of baseball’s winter meetings.  It wasn’t entirely a gimmick to garner attention by the Rangers, since Wilson has previously played professional baseball in the Colorado Rockies organization prior to playing in the NFL.  But I doubt that the Rangers have high hopes of convincing Wilson to change sports at this time, considering his current success as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.  Or even persuading him to play baseball during the football off-season.


But don’t automatically rule out any possibilities.  As improbable as it may sound, in fact, there is some history of cross-over between the two sports by professional athletes.  Two of the most noteworthy examples are Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson, both of whom played in Major League Baseball and the NFL at the same time.  There have also been a number of other two-sport players, although not as successful in both.  Nevertheless, being able to play professionally in two sports requires exceptional athleticism.


Russell Wilson was first drafted out of high school by a Major League club in 2007, in the 40th round by the Baltimore Orioles, but he chose to attend college.  In 2010, while playing baseball at North Carolina State University, he was selected by the Rockies in the fourth round.  He played two seasons of Single-A ball as a second baseman, but managed to hit only .229 and five home runs in 93 games.  At the same time, he was also playing football at NC State.  In 2011, he transferred to the University of Wisconsin in 2011 to play football, where the Seahawks drafted him in the3rd round in 2012.


When Bo Jackson left Auburn University in 1986, he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the first overall pick in the NFL draft.  Not wanting to play for the hapless Bucs, he opted to pursue professional baseball with the Kansas City Royals who had drafted him in the fourth round that year.  He was called up to the big league club in September 1986, and he went on to play eight seasons in the Major Leagues, including one All-Star season in 1989.  In 1987, the Los Angeles Raiders of the NFL drafted Jackson in the seventh round, and he played with them for four seasons, including one All-Pro season.  Jackson was successful in using his power and speed in both sports.  As an outfielder, he hit 31 home runs one season, and as a running back, he averaged 5.4 yards per carry during his career.  However, his career in both sports was cut short when he was plagued by hip injuries.  He actually attempted a brief return to baseball after hip replacement surgery.


Deion Sanders was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 1988 Major League Draft in the 30th round and began his professional baseball career that season.  He was the fifth overall pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 1989 NFL draft.  He began playing both sports in 1989, and once hit a Major League home run and scored an NFL touchdown in the same week.  Sanders was later signed by the Atlanta Braves, where he played in the 1992 World Series.  In all, he played nine seasons in the Majors and fourteen seasons in the NFL, where he was voted to the Football Hall of Fame as a cornerback and kick returner.


Brian Jordan played three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons as a defensive back, while he was also pursuing a professional baseball career.  He switched permanently to baseball after his 1991 NFL season, and wound up playing fifteen seasons in the Majors as an outfielder, including one All-Star season and one appearance in the World Series.


Football Hall of Famer John Elway signed to play baseball with the New York Yankees organization in 1982 after being drafted by the NFL’s Baltimore Colts as the first overall pick in the 1982 draft.  Elway refused to sign with the Colts and used a season in baseball to defer his arrival in the NFL so that he could sign with a different team.  In one season of Single-A ball with the Yankees, he hit a respectable .318 in 42 games.  In 1983, the quarterback signed with the Denver Broncos for whom he went on to play sixteen seasons, including two Super Bowl championships.


A second-round Major League Draft pick out of high school in 1990, Chris Weinke tried his hand at professional baseball for six seasons in the Toronto Blue Jays organization before starting his college football career at age 26, playing for Florida State University.  The quarterback was awarded the Heisman Trophy in 2000 and later played four seasons in the NFL.  Weinke never appeared in a Major League Baseball game.


Ricky Williams played four seasons of professional baseball while attending college at the University of Texas on a football scholarship.  In the Philadelphia Phillies minor league organization from 1995-1998, Williams never played above the Single-A level, and wound up dropping the sport after he was selected as the fifth overall pick of the New Orleans Saints in the 1999 draft.  Williams played eleven seasons in the NFL, rushing for over 10,000 yards in his career and making the All-Pro Team in 2002.


An All-State football and baseball player at a Louisiana high school, Josh Booty chose baseball after being drafted by the Florida Marlins as the fifth overall pick in the 1994 Major League Draft.  He played in only 13 big league games over three seasons with the Marlins and finally gave it up to return to football.  He played quarterback for two seasons at LSU in 1999 and 2000.  Booty was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the 6th round of the NFL 2001 draft, but never played in the NFL’s regular season.


The most recent Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 2012, and he also plays baseball at Florida State University.  A pitcher/outfielder on the 2013 Seminoles team, Winston, who says he plans to play baseball again this coming spring, was quoted as saying he “wanted to be better than Bo Jackson.”


The above examples of two-sport stars all occurred in the past 30 years.  Going further back to the 1950s and 1960s, some Major League Baseball players who enjoyed stellar college football careers included Jackie Jensen, Carroll Hardy, Harry Agganis, Chuck Essegian, and Jake Gibbs.


Other former Major Leaguers who also played professional football include Jim Thorpe, Ernie Nevers, Ace Parker, and Tom Yewcic.


So don’t count out Russell Wilson just yet.  If he and his Seahawks teammates win a Super Bowl this year, he just may be looking for his next challenge to be in baseball.


Free Agents Reaping Benefits of Baseball Owners' Big Pockets

One of the signs that Major League Baseball is doing well is the availability of money to sign free agents this off-season.  It seems baseball owners go through cycles of conservatism and free-wheeling with baseball salaries, and this year it appears to be an off- season of wheeling and dealing.


According to Forbes, Major League Baseball franchises are seeing continued increases in year-over-year revenues.  The rapid rise in local and network television rights, as well as the success of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, are major contributors to the increase in valuations of baseball clubs.


As a result, we are seeing situations where clubs are not afraid to spend big money on player contracts as well as overpaying on free agent signings.


We thought baseball owners and general managers had learned their lessons with long-term, mega-deals such as those inked by Alex Rodriguez, Barry Zito, Albert Pujols, Jayson Werth, and, Prince Fielder.


However, Robinson Cano is the latest beneficiary of such a deal, as a result of his agreement this past week with the Seattle Mariners to a 10-year, $240 million pact.  The Yankees made it clear early on they were not interested in making a deal above $180 million, so Cano’s new agency, headed by popular rapper, record producer, and entrepreneur Jay-Z, looked for other options and found a taker.


For the 2013 season, the Red Sox went to the free agent market to fill gaps in their lineup.  Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, David Ross, and Shane Victorino wound up making significant contributions to help the Red Sox win the World Series.  It looks like some clubs are trying to emulate that success with a willingness to overpay free agents to get the ones they believe will make them relevant for the 2014 season.


The New York Yankees are an example of baseball clubs who are making good business decisions, but not necessarily good baseball decisions.  They were not relevant in 2013 despite having a club that hung in the race for a good period of time.  When they fell victim to significant player injuries on an already aging team, they turned to a group of second or third tier players like Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, and Lyle Overbay whom the fans dismissed because these players no longer carried a big-name status.


Now, the Yankees’ off-season acquisitions of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran remind us of the 1980s era of George Steinbrenner—signing big-name free agent players in their 30s to try to bring an immediate pennant.  These three players will automatically bring the Yankees into the relevancy discussion again and consequently will create some excitement for the fans.  That’s good business, but bad baseball, because both Ellsbury and McCann signed relatively long-term deals as “middle-agers”, and Beltran will be 37 years old next year with a three-year contract.  The Yankees are not re-stocking the team with younger players, and their farm system is pretty dried up at the moment for big league-ready prospects.


It used to be that players in the last year of their contract had to put up big numbers to capitalize on the free agent market.  Phil Hughes is a prime example this off-season.  He won only four games for the Yankees in 2013, yet he signed a three-year, $24 million deal with the Minnesota Twins.  Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants is another.  He signed a two-year contract extension for $35 million despite the fact that for his last two seasons he has been the worst starting pitcher in baseball.


On the surface, these two signings appear to be “overpay” situations, but are indicative of the mindset of some GMs.  Another example involved the Phillies who signed veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher Carlos Ruiz to deals that are paying generous salaries for players nearing the end of their careers.


On the other hand there are still a couple of clubs who are building their teams through player development, generally avoiding the big free-agent signings.  In recent years the Cardinals and Rays have been turning out some very productive players through their farm systems and translating that into success on the field.  Some other smaller-market teams are following this philosophy, but understand it will take years to achieve results.


With all the big-name player signings before baseball’s Winter Meetings this week, it makes you wonder else could happen?  It just might be a boring week, if general managers have already exhausted their trade budgets.  But somehow, I doubt it.


If I Had A Baseball Hall of Fame Vote

The official 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was released last week and unfortunately (at least for me) I’m not on the list of members of the Baseball Writers’ Association who receive the ballot.  Maybe we should have some sort of “fantasy league” for the annual Hall of Fame voting, where baseball enthusiasts could cast their votes and have them tallied to compare with the writers.


The usual debates have begun about who will be announced as the selections on January 8.  Will there be any first-ballot picks this year?  Will any of the carryover players from last year be selected?  Was the shutout of all candidates last year warranted?  Should the players linked with suspected performance-enhancing drug (PED) use be voted in?  Are “clean” players of the PED era being unjustifiably snubbed by some voters?  I have my own thoughts about these as a “fantasy” voter.


First of all, my criteria for voting for a player would include the following factors:  the player has to be dominant at his position in his era, as evidenced by repeated seasons among the league leaders in several categories; the player has been recognized for “best player” awards such as MVP, Cy Young, Gold Glove, and Silver Sluggers; the player’s career has included appearances and performances in post-season play, as an indicator that he was a key contributor to winning teams in the most competitive games. 


My over-riding philosophy is that the Hall of Fame should include only the “best of the best” players.  My expectation is that the Hall includes only the top 1-2% of the players in the game.  Admittedly that will exclude a lot of really fine players over the years.  Hence, this approach requires a somewhat arguable dividing line that separates the stars from the superstars when making my selections.


So here are my fantasy 2014 votes.


Let’s start with the new entrants on the ballot this year.  The cast of superstars who are eligible for election the first time this year include Frank Thomas , Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Larry Walker, Jeff Kent, and Mike Mussina.


Maddux and Glavine are unquestionably atop my list this year.  I think they are both legitimate first-rounders in any era.  In fact, I don’t know why Maddux would not be on 100% of the ballots this year, surpassing Tom Seaver who has the record for being on 98.84% of the ballots in his first year.  By the way, the last time former teammates were elected to the Hall in the same year was 1984, when Dodgers greats Don Drysdale and Pee Wee Reese were enshrined.


Frank Thomas is my other selection from the 2014 eligible players.  Besides his outstanding seasons in the 1990s, anyone with the nickname of “Big Hurt” has to be in the Hall, right?  I drew the line on Walker, Kent, and Mussina , not viewing them in the “best of the best” category.


From the list of carryovers from previous years, pitcher Jack Morris, who is in his 15th and final year of eligibility, gets my vote.  He gets considerable criticism for his career 3.90 ERA, but he won more games in the 1980s than any American League pitcher and his teams won three World Series.


Relief specialist Lee Smith also earns my vote.  He’s definitely in the same class as current Hall of Famers Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage as all-time best stoppers.


I thought Craig Biggio should have been selected as a first-rounder last year (getting close to the required vote with 68.2%), but I believe he was a victim of some voters choosing to send in blank ballots in protest over the PED issues.  He gets my vote, since he is among the career leaders in hits, runs scored, and doubles.  Oh, by the way, he excelled as a starter at three positions over his career—catcher, second base, and outfielder.


Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza suffered unfairly from the veil of suspicion around their possible PED use.  However, they are both on my list of vote-getters this year.  Mike Piazza may be the best offensive catcher to ever play the game.  If elected, he would undoubtedly be the lowest draft pick (62nd round in 1988) that was selected to the Hall.  Talk about a guy who exceeded everyone’s expectations!


Bagwell, one of Biggio’s “Killer Bs” teammates with the Astros, was a perennial leader for MVP voting during most of his career, winning in 1996.  In addition to his average of 34 home runs as season, he was an adept fielder at first base, a high total bases hitter, and even stole 30 bases in two different seasons.


I’m passing over the rest of the prior year carryovers highlighted by Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly, Alan Trammell, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, and Curt Schilling.  They were all fantastic players but they don’t make my cut for “best of the best.”


The question then arises about the prominent players who have been at the center of the PED era, including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Sammy Sosa.  In their first year on the ballot in 2013, Bonds and Clemens garnered only 36-37% of the vote.  Obviously, many of the voters were trying to send a strong message of disapproval.  Before last year, McGwire, Sosa, and Palmeiro never received any serious consideration either.


Normally, I’m fairly conservative or “old-school” around such controversial issues that challenge the history and tradition of the game.  However, on this one, I think a look back in history several years from now will show the PED era was just another dark period which challenged the integrity of the game, but was remediated.  Players’ use of foreign substances, corked bats, and amphetamines during past years were not among baseball’s brightest moments either.


I think Bonds and Clemens are two of the greatest players in history and hence deserve to be inducted, despite the dark cloud cast by the PED era.  I shouldn’t have to take the stance that they were both Hall of Fame caliber players before their suspected PED use or that they never failed a publicly disclosed drug test administered by Major League Baseball.  But if those factors actually make a difference to someone, then that just makes my case stronger.  By any measure, Bonds and Clemens were outstanding talents and among the “best of the best.”


Thus, I’ve cast all of my ten votes.  Realistically however, based on past years’ voting (except for last year when there was a shutout), only two or three candidates will get enough votes to be inducted in this year’s class, despite the fact we have the deepest ballot of exceptional candidates in several years.  Who would be your fantasy picks?


Fathers Enjoying Their Son's Success

Former New York Mets player, Lee Mazzilli, was labelled a “phenom” at age 18, being drafted directly out of a Brooklyn high school as a first-round pick in 1973.  Three years later, he made his Major League debut with the Mets and made the National League All-Star team within four seasons.  Fast forward forty years and Lee’s son, L. J., joined the professional ranks this season as the fourth-round pick of his father’s former team.  The Mazzillis are just one example of many incidences of former Major League fathers seeing their sons follow in their footsteps, start to enjoy some success, and pursue making their own name in the sport.


The younger Mazzilli played his first professional season in his father’s home town of Brooklyn for the Mets’ Class-A affiliate.  He is playing in ballparks where his father previously coached and managed at the minor league level before becoming manager of the Baltimore Orioles for two seasons.  As his career progresses, L. J. will have the advantage of advice from a father who knows what it’s like to play in New York City, as well as having hung around the stadium environment while growing up.


Eric Young Jr. was headed to Villanova on a football scholarship when, after some heart-to-heart discussions with his father, he decided he would make baseball his career profession.  Eric Sr. was an experienced advisor, since he was a 15-year veteran of the Major Leagues.  Eric Jr. reached the big leagues himself in 2009 with the Colorado Rockies, but got a change in scenery this season, being picked up as a free agent by the New York Mets, where he broke into an everyday outfielder role.


Eric Jr. wound up leading the National League in stolen bases this season and is expected to be a part of the Mets’ rebuilding.  His father, who also had a stint with the Rockies, was a similar type of player, excelling on the base paths, accumulating 465 stolen bases over his career.  Now a baseball analyst for the Houston Astros’ broadcasts, Eric Sr. relishes the idea of being able to work in games in which his son plays.


After ten Major League seasons as journeyman middle reliever, 36-year-old Jason Grilli had a breakout year in 2013, as he was entrusted with the closer role for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He responded with a league-leading 29 saves and 1.99 ERA by the All-Star break, before suffering an injury that sidelined him for almost six weeks.  Jason was a big component of the Pirates’ resurgence as a playoff team in 2013.


Jason’s father, Steve, had also been a Major League pitcher in the 1970’s, but appeared in only 70 games during his four-year career.  Hence, he never achieved the success of his son, so he was indeed a proud papa when Jason pitched the final inning for the National League in the All-Star Game in New York this season.


Wanting to give his son Jacob every chance to succeed in professional ball, Lee May Jr. taught him to switch-hit while he was playing at the college level.  It paid off, as Jacob was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the third-round of the June 2013 draft.  Lee Jr. had also been a high draft pick in 1986, the 21st overall selection by the New York Mets, and he wound up playing in the minors from 1986-1993.  Their bloodlines also include Jacob’s grandfather, Lee Sr., who was a three-time All-Star during his eighteen-year Major League career from 1965-1982.  With Jacob’s switch-hitting plus his speed, he projects to be a player more like his father than his grandfather, a power hitter who slugged 354 career home runs in the big league.


Baseball runs deep in another May family.  Derrick May Jr. is an outfielder drafted in 2012 by the St. Louis Cardinals, but he chose to attend college over signing. Both his father (Derrick Sr.) and grandfather (Dave) were former Major League players.  If Derrick Jr. can reach also the big leagues, their family would be only the fifth three-generation combination in history.


Delino DeShields is an up and coming prospect in the Houston Astros organization.  He was a first-round selection out of high school in the 2010 Major League Draft.  As a kid, he got a taste of the Major League environment while accompanying his father in big league clubhouses.  He got to hang around such stars as Ripken, McGwire, and Sosa, since they were teammates of his father, also named Delino, a thirteen-year veteran of the Major Leagues.


It turns out the younger Delino is a base-stealer in his father’s mold.  Now the elder Delino is pulling for his son to gain some maturity on the field so that he can become an integral part of a revitalized Astros franchise.


Kevin Romine has reason to be doubly proud of his baseball family, since he has two sons, Andrew and Austin, who have reached the Major League level.  He coached them from the time they played tee ball as children.  Kevin had a seven-year big league career as a reserve player for the Boston Red Sox.  So when he got calls from Austin, a second-year catcher with the Yankees this season, about helping him with his swing, Kevin was all too ready to provide objective advice.  Andrew, who played at Arizona State University like his father, was a fourth-year big leaguer this season with the Angels.


During the 2013 season, George Frazier and his son Parker shared a common dream, more than the normal aspirations of your average father and son.  They both had careers in the Colorado Rockies organization.  George, a former Major League relief pitcher from 1978-1987, had been a member of the Rockies broadcast team for seventeen years.  Parker, a pitcher like his father, came up through the Rockies organization reaching the Triple-A level.


Thus, George waited anxiously for the day when he could do play-by-play with his son on the field for the Rockies.  However, their unique dream ended with Parker being traded to the Cincinnati Reds organization during the season.  George will have to settle for calling a game with Parker on the opposing side of the Rockies, still destined to be a special moment.


In early April of the 2013 season, big league fathers of several Cleveland Indians were honored at Progressive Field with ceremonial first pitches before the game.  Five current Indians, including manager Terry Francona, coach Sandy Alomar Jr., and players Nick Swisher, Michael Brantley, and Zach McAllister, caught tosses from their respective fathers who were wearing their son’s uniform.


Francona’s father, Tito, spent fifteen seasons in the majors from 1956 to 1970.  Alomar’s father, Sandy Sr., was an infielder from 1964 to 1978 and then served a long-time big league coach.  Swisher’s father, Steve, was a reserve catcher from 1974 to 1982.  Brantley’s father, Mickey, was an outfielder for the Mariners from 1986 to 1989.  McAllister’s father, Steve, was the only father of this group who did not appear in the majors.  However, after a short minor league stint, Steve has been a Major League scout.


For these guys, it was like playing catch in the back yard again.  It was probably hard to tell who was more proud—the fathers or the sons.


Naturally, every father wants to see his son have success in life.  But it’s an especially proud feeling when the son achieves success in the same profession.  Baseball fathers are no different.


These are just a few of the father-son combinations in professional baseball today.  I was able to count over 150 such combinations where the son was active in 2013, either in the majors or the minors.


If this article has peeked your interest in baseball’s many family relationships, check out my book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives, which contains over 3,500 players, managers, coaches, scouts, owners, executives, umpires, and broadcasters who have a relative in professional baseball.  The book can be purchased at http://thetenthinning.com/booksreviews.html.


History Shows Yankee Backstops Are Key To Dynasty Teams

Several times in New York Yankees history there have been periods of “Dynasty” teams, more than any other franchise.  Most of these Yankees’ teams were carried by the big bats of “Bronx Bombers” like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Maris, Jackson, and Jeter, and pitching staffs that included aces such as Hoyt, Pennock, Gomez, Lopat, Ford, Guidry, Rivera, and Pettit.


If you study carefully the makeup of these teams throughout the years, there has been another consistent component among them.  They each featured outstanding catchers, guys who helped carry the Yankees to multiple World Series championships, while also achieving individual honors such as multiple All-Star selections that further illustrated their dominance. 


In the 113 years of the Yankees franchise, 60 of their seasons were manned by only six players who served as the primary catcher of the team.  These six catchers were involved in 35 of the 40 World Series appearances the Yankees achieved, and they also contributed for 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.


Following is a brief rundown of these six Yankee Dynasty catchers.


Wally Schang had the shortest stint as the Yankees’ primary catcher of this group and is also the least well-known.  However, from 1921 to 1924, Schang put together four solid seasons as he helped the Yankees to three World Series appearances, including their first ever championship in 1921.  He had previously played in World Series contests with the Philadelphia A’s and Boston Red Sox.  Noted for his defensive skills, Schang was a career .284 hitter over 19 major league seasons.  He was the only one of this Yankee catching group who did not come up through the Yankees’ farm system.


Bill Dickey had the longest tenure in this group as the Yankees’ backstop.  At age 22 he became the regular catcher in 1929, and he filled that role until 1943.  During that stretch, the Yankees made eight World Series appearances, winning seven of them, including five consecutive titles from 1936-1939.  Dickey was among the top six players in the American League MVP voting in each of those five seasons.  Serving as the bridge between the Gehrig/Ruth and DiMaggio years of the Yankees, Dickey was selected to All-Star teams in ten of his seventeen career seasons.  Dickey was Number 57 of Baseball’s 100 Greatest Players of the 20th Century as determined by The Sporting News in 1999.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1954.


Yogi Berra is the most famous of the catchers in the group.  Tutored by Bill Dickey on his catching skills, he became the regular Yankees catcher in 1947 at age 22, which began a string of fourteen seasons as catcher, including thirteen as an All-Star selection.  During that stretch, he was a participant in eleven World Series, winning eight of them, including five consecutive titles from 1949-1953.  Berra was the American League MVP in 1951, 1954, and 1955.  In 1960, he started sharing significant time with Elston Howard as the team’s catcher.  Later, primarily an outfielder from 1961 to 1963, Yogi made an additional three World Series appearances.  Altogether, he is the all-time leader in World Series appearances with fourteen.  Over his 19-year career, he was selected to the American League All-Star team in fifteen consecutive seasons.  Berra was also honored on the 100 Greatest Players roster as the Number 40 selection.  He was voted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.


Elston Howard began his Yankee career in 1955, but since he was essentially blocked from attaining the starting catcher’s position by All-Star Berra, he did not become the primary starter until 1961.  Used as an outfielder, first baseman, and part-time catcher up until then, 1960 was a turning point season when Howard and Berra largely split catching duties.  Howard made the most of his time as the regular catcher beginning in 1961, when he contributed to the Yankees’ consecutive World Series appearances from 1961 to 1964, while winning in 1961 and 1962.  Over his entire career, Howard played in nine of the Yankees’ World Series.  He was voted the American League MVP in 1963 and was selected to All-Star teams from 1957 to 1965, during his 14-year career.


Thurman Munson became the regular catcher for the Yankees in 1970, a season in which he was named the American League Rookie of the Year.  Unlike his predecessors in this elite group of catchers, it took six seasons for Munson to make his first World Series appearance in 1976.  The Yankees repeated in 1977 and 1978, winning two of the three years.  Munson’s career was cut short at age 32 when he was tragically killed in a private airplane crash during the 1979 season.  He was named the American League MVP in 1976 and was selected to seven All-Star teams during his 11-year career.


Jorge Posada spent parts of three seasons with the Yankees before becoming the regular starting catcher in 1998.  His starting role began a string of six years in which the Yankees dominated the American League with five league championships from 1998 to 2003.  Although they were a perennial post-season team during the balance of Posada’s career, the Yankees made only one other World Series appearance in 2009.  Posada played on World Series championship teams in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009.  He was selected to the American League All-Star team five times during his 17-year career.  Posada was among the top six MVP vote-getters in 2003 and 2007 and twice won the Silver Slugger Award.


It could be argued that Yankee catcher Pat Collins should be included in this group.  However, he played only three seasons (1926-1928) with the Yankees during his career, although each of those seasons involved a World Series appearance.  However, I decided not to include Collins since the Yankees used many part-time catchers during those seasons, with Collins starting only 93, 74, and 45 games, respectively.  I don’t believe he was a dominant catcher like the other six I have presented.


Thus, I believe there is a strong correlation between the Yankees’ dominant catchers and their teams’ dominance over the years.  Besides the three seasons mentioned above involving Collins, there has been only one other season (1981) in which the Yankees won an American League pennant without the presence of a dominant catcher.


In looking at some other franchises that could be classified as dynasties for a period of time, I can make a similar argument about their catchers being at the heart of their dominance.  Johnny Bench was the key cog in the Big Red Machine years from 1970 to 1976, when Cincinnati went to four World Series.  Mickey Cochrane helped two different teams (A’s and Tigers) get to five World Series between them during 1929-1935.  Roy Campanella was a mainstay with the Dodgers from the late‘40s to the mid ‘50s, when they won the National League pennant five times in eight years.


Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals certainly makes my case from the current big league players.  With Molina as the primary catcher from 2005 to 2013, the Cardinals have reached the World Series three times.  Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants might eventually be considered in this category as well.


So what does this portend for the current and future New York Yankees?  In 2013, their catcher position was filled with what I consider a group of “back-up” players.  A few years ago, it appeared as though prospect Jesus Montero was being groomed by the Yankees to assume the catcher’s spot after Posada.  However, Montero was dealt in a trade with Seattle before the 2012 season for some much-needed pitching.


There is currently a catcher from the Dominican Republic in the Yankees farm system, Gary Sanchez, who has been on numerous “top prospects” lists since he first signed professionally at age 17.  However, after his fourth professional season in 2013, he has played in only 23 games above the Single-A level.  Sanchez will still be only 21 years old next season, so maybe he just needs more seasoning and could possibly be ready by 2016.  Will the Yankees wait that long and gamble that Sanchez will actually pan out?


Surely, they won’t want to wait too long before getting back into contention for the playoffs and beginning the next “Dynasty.”


Astrodome Likely Headed for Demolition

In this past week’s elections, the citizens of Harris County in the Houston area rejected a bond proposal to raise $217 million to renovate the currently vacant Astrodome into a multi-purpose event center.  Thus, unless some privately-backed venture steps up with some hefty investment, the first-ever domed stadium for professional sports, often heralded as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” for its architectural ingenuity at the time of its construction, is likely destined for demolition.  Home to the Houston Astros baseball team from 1965 to 1999, the Astrodome was a history-making venue which became the first model for multi-purpose enclosed stadiums all over the world.  And personally, it was also where I had the opportunity to create some long-standing memories.


The Astrodome ushered in several new innovations in stadiums and professional sports.  When live Bermuda grass on the baseball playing field didn’t work out as originally conceived, Monsanto devised a new artificial turf, appropriately named “Astroturf,” which became the standard for enclosed stadiums, as well as being utilized in some of the newly built outdoor stadiums.  Furthermore, the stadium introduced a cutting-edge air conditioning system, a four-story high scoreboard that had programmable animation, and luxury boxes, all of which would become standard features of modern stadiums.  The state of Texas is often noted for doing everything in the biggest way possible, and certainly the Astrodome was indicative of that swagger and spirit.


The Houston club’s nickname was changed to “Astros” in conjunction with the opening of the new stadium for the 1965 baseball season.  In the previous three seasons of the franchise’s history, they had been called the “Colt .45s” and played its home games in Colt Stadium which seated 32,000 fans. I’ve read accounts where the fans in attendance at that stadium had to deal with severe conditions involving mosquitos, heat, and humidity.  So the new enclosed, air-conditioned Astrodome provided much-welcomed relief.


I recall as an early teenager growing up in Mississippi that one of my cousins got a chance to go see an Astros game in the new stadium in its inaugural year.  Back then, it was a big deal for us to go see any major league game, much less one at this new historic stadium.  Boy, was I was really envious!  Yet it took me another 20 years before I actually attended a game in the Astrodome.


In 1985, my buddies from work and I started making annual trips to Houston to watch a weekend baseball series.  We did that for several years and enjoyed seeing some good games and good players during that time.  Specifically, I vividly remember watching Nolan Ryan warm up in the bullpen before one of the games and hearing the catcher’s mitt pop like a cannon.  It prompted a spirited debate among my cohorts and me as to whether we thought we could even put the bat on one of Ryan’s fastballs.  Even though we were in our forties at the time, it became a personal challenge to our long-gone baseball abilities.  After that game, we managed to find a nearby public batting cage, where we each of us tried our hands at 80-85-mile-per-hour pitches (about 10 to 15 miles slower than Ryan’s pitches) from the pitching machine.  Well, I think only one of the five of us even made contact.  So much for that fantasy!


On another trip, I fractured the tip of a forefinger trying to snare a foul ball off of the bat of Keith Hernandez of the St. Louis Cardinals.  No, I didn’t manage to get the ball!  Sometimes, I still feel the pain in my finger from that injury, or is it just the memory of not catching that foul ball?


In 1999, the last baseball season of the Astrodome, I got a chance to attend the second-to-last regular season game of the Astros in early October.  I remember chatting with a number of long-time Astros fans who had mixed feelings about baseball no longer being played there.  Their fond memories of the games in the Astrodome were somewhat conflicted by the advent of the replacement stadium, Enron Field (whose name was later changed to Minute Maid Park), one of the new-style baseball stadiums that was also an enclosed but with a retractable roof.


Some of the memorable games in the Astrodome included:


April 9, 1965 – The first-ever indoor major league baseball game was played between the Astros and New York Yankees in an exhibition contest.  Mickey Mantle hit the first home run in the new stadium.


July 9, 1968 – The Major League All-Star Game was played indoors and on artificial turf, both firsts.  The National League team won, 1-0, with Willie Mays scoring the only run.


October 10, 1980 – The Astros played their first playoff game in the Astrodome in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.  The Astros won in eleven innings, with starter Joe Niekro hurling ten shutout innings.


September 26, 1981 – Nolan Ryan pitched his fifth career no-hitter, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers.  , 5-0.  Ryan’s gem included eleven strikeouts.


October 8, 1986 – Astros pitcher Mike Scott struck out 14 batters in a 1-0 shutout of the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series.


October 9, 1999 – The last baseball game in the Astrodome was Game 4 of the National League Division Series between the Astros and Atlanta Braves.  Houston lost, 7-5.


Because the Astrodome is such an historical landmark for being the first of its kind in sports, there still appear to be groups in Houston who don’t want to see it razed like other similarly outdated, huge sports arenas across the country.  However, the recent vote in Houston has put a nail in the coffin, so to speak.  I suspect that the Astrodome hosted a few of those automobile demolition derbies in its heyday.  However, the next demolition event there may involve the Astrodome itself.


Hot Stove League Fills The Void

As usual, the World Series ended the baseball season on a high note, particularly if you were a Red Sox fan this year.  But after only one week, I’m already starting to have withdrawals.  Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby was noted for saying, “People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell them what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.”  Well, I counted 101 more days of staring out the window before the first major league club reports to Spring Training next February.


Fortunately, in the meantime, baseball fans have the Hot Stove League to enjoy.  (By the way, yet another reason baseball is still “America’s game”-- it has a name for its offseason.)  In the old days, die-hard baseball fans in the winter stood around the wood-burning stove in the general store or the barber shop, debating the best players, the best teams, and who was going to win next year.


Nowadays, hard-core baseball fans have media outlets like the MLB Network which has radio and TV shows that “talk baseball” year-round, examining in detail the past season’s highlights and disappointments, as well as making predictions on what will be in store for next season.  Whether your favorite team won the World Series or finished in the cellar, you start setting your expectations during the Hot Stove season, hopefully with a lot of optimism.


So, taking a look ahead, here’s a sampling of what we have to look forward to this winter.


The Yankees have several key player issues to deal with.  Will Alex Rodriguez get a reduced suspension?  At the rate he seems to be hacking off the Commissioner’s Office, will he even be in uniform?  While the Yankees would like to dump the remainder of his salary, sadly, he is the best third baseman they could put on the field right now.  Reportedly, Robinson Cano is asking for a 10-year, $300 million deal as he enters free agency this winter.  In past years, the Yankees wouldn’t have hesitated to shell out the dough for Cano.  However, the climate seems to have changed about such long-term deals.  My bet is that Cano will ultimately decide to return to the Yankees with a six or seven year deal.   No other team with a need for Cano is likely willing to step up to plate with a longer-term.  Shortstop Derek Jeter signed a one-year contract.  Will this be his last season?  Will the Yankees be able to count on him as the regular shortstop?  With number of outstanding team concerns going into the winter, I admire manager Joe Girardi for signing up for a contract extension.


Bud Selig has announced his retirement as commissioner after the 2014 season.  Will we see the first former major league player, Joe Torre, get a shot at the position?  Or will Rob Manfred, currently the Number 2 guy in the Commissioner’s Office, be promoted?  I would be happy with Andy MacPhail, the widely respected, former executive with the Twins, Cubs, and Orioles, replacing Selig.


The Kansas City Royals appeared to be on the verge of breaking out from the middle of the pack in 2013.  They have not seen playoff action since 1985, when they won the World Series.  Will they be the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates of 2014?  Has their core of young players finally come of age to contend in the AL Central Division?


Speaking of the Pirates, after their surge this past season, it will be interesting to see if they can become a perennial playoff team.  In order for the Pirates to contend on a regular basis, I believe they still need to add some offensive punch in their regular lineup, similar to what they did late this season with veteran pickups like Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd.


In addition to Cano, the free agency market will include a few more desirable players, but none with the level of impact that Cano can provide.  Will Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Napoli stick around Boston for a chance at a repeat season?  The Braves’ Brian McCann seems destined for a change and would provide many clubs with a solid catching upgrade, including the Yankees.  Carlos Beltran finally got his World Series appearance after sixteen years, but you have to believe he wasn’t satisfied with the outcome.  I’d like to see him seek a return to the Cardinals for another shot.  Chin-Soo Choo will be another coveted outfielder.


While David Price has one more year on his contract with the Rays, reportedly the Rays are willing to deal him, because they have a number of young pitchers who can pick up the slack and Price is at a peak market value.  He could be the piece of a puzzle to move a team from “pretender” to “contender” status.  But at what cost to the acquiring team?


There is a proposal before the major league owners to institute instant replay in the upcoming season for many plays in addition to the current boundary calls for home runs.  This seems destined to gain approval, and I expect there will be a few games whose outcomes will be changed by instant replay that wouldn’t have otherwise been by umpires’ best effort game-calling.  But will it make the overall product (the game) better?  Will we see more dead time, while plays get reviewed, added to games whose average elapsed times are already too long?  Will the use of instant replay eliminate the most controversial plays?  Will there just be more rules for fans to be aware of, for example, what constitutes reviewable calls?  As you can probably tell, I’m biased against the use of instant replay?  I don’t think baseball needs to become more like football to remain a viable, engaging sport.


So far this offseason, there are three more teams (Reds, Nationals and Tigers) who appointed new managers without any managerial experience, not even in the minors.  It seems the Cardinals’ Mike Matheny and White Sox’s Robin Ventura have started a new trend.  Like Matheny who replaced veteran Tony LaRussa, these three new new-style managers are taking over for long-time managers for teams that are already pretty good.  Can these new guys reasonably expect similar results?  I suspect other clubs will be watching to see if they can.


As you can see, I have more questions than answers about many of the topics queued up for the upcoming season.  However, that’s what the Hot Stove season is good for—to question, debate, gossip, analyze, and predict.  Except today, the old hot stove has been replaced by blogs, Twitter, radio call-in shows, and informational websites.


Carlos Beltran Gets Well-Deserved Shot at World Series

I don’t think I’m alone in saying I have a new appreciation for St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran.  He’s garnered a lot of press in the post-season for finally getting to play in a World Series in his 16th major league season.  It’s a feel-good story for a veteran for whom many have great respect as a player.  However, when you look deeper at his career, Beltran is more than just a one-time, feel-good story.


While Beltran has had a noteworthy career (2,228 hits, 358 home runs, 1,327 RBI, .283 batting average), he is not generally considered among baseball’s elite players.  Part of that is due to the fact he has not played on big marquee teams for most of his career.  Plus he’s not the flashy or flamboyant type of player that normally attracts a lot of media attention.


However, his performance in this post-season has certainly not gone unnoticed.  Here’s a sampling of some of the key clutch plays in which he’s been involved, both at bat and in the field:


  • His eighth-inning home run off Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Mark Melancon tied Game 3 of the National League Division Series.
  • In Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he caught a fly ball and threw out Mark Ellis at the plate in the top of the tenth inning to preserve a tie game.
  •  In that same game, Beltran hit a walk-off single off of reliever Kenly Jansen in the bottom of the 13th inning to give the Cardinals a win.
  • In Game 1 of the World Series, he made a remarkable running catch, stealing a surefire home run from David Ortiz while running into the outfield fence.


Yet, this is not his first dance in post-season play.  This year is his fourth season to make an appearance in league playoff series.  He has just not been fortunate enough to have his teams reach the pinnacle of the World Series in his three previous attempts.  Unquestionably though, it has been no fault of Beltran’s.


In 2004, his Houston Astros team came within a game of reaching their first-ever World Series, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games of the National League Championship Series.  Beltran hit four home runs in the League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves, and then another four home runs in the League Championship Series.  In a total of twelve post-season games, he also managed 20 hits, 21 runs, and 14 RBI while having an on-base-percentage of over .500.  The Astros did reach the World Series in 2005, but Beltran has moved on in free-agency.


In 2006, while playing for the New York Mets, Beltran once more ran into the buzz-saw of the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, losing in a disappointing seven games again.  He helped power the Mets team with three home runs.


It would seem that Beltran may have gotten on the winning side when he signed as a free agent with the Cardinals after the 2011 season.  Indeed, the Cardinals made a run in 2012, barely squeaking into the playoffs with a wild card win against the Atlanta Braves.  The Cardinals went on to defeat the Washington Nationals to earn a berth in the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants.  Nevertheless, good fortune was not on his side, as his team lost in seven games to the Giants, denying him of a World Series for the third time in his career.  This time Beltran contributed 15 hits, six doubles and three home runs in his playoff games. 


Even though his three post-season performances ultimately ended in defeat, Beltran could easily wear the label “Mr. October.” But you have to believe he was frustrated by not reaching the elusive World Series games.  Of the active players in 2013, only Miguel Tejada and Torii Hunter had played more career games without making a World Series appearance.


So that brings us back to 2013.  Beltran contributed his usual offensive punch for the Cardinals, with 30 doubles, 24 home runs, 84 RBI, and .296 batting average.  The switch-hitting outfielder was selected to the All-Star team for the eighth time in his career.  With the Cardinals’ having the best overall record in the National League, they entered the post-season as the favorites to reach the World Series.


The Cardinals delivered on the expectations by discarding the Pirates and Dodgers in the division and championship series, largely based on their talented pitching staff.  Consequently, Beltran has finally realized his long-time goal.  Ironically, the dramatic catch he made in Game 1 of the World Series caused him to exit the game in the third inning due to a rib injury he incurred on the play.  Determined not to be sidelined further, he showed a lot of grit by playing with the pain, and he was back in the lineup for Game 2.  Remarkably, he responded with two key hits and an RBI as the Cardinals evened the Series.


In Games 3 and 4 Beltran continued to play through the pain, and he factored into a couple of the Cardinals’ runs, as the Series evened up again, 2-2.  I’m betting this Series will go to seven games, and I would not count out Beltran as coming through in the clutch.


Does Beltran finally get a championship ring this year?  Does he enhance his “Mr. October” legacy?  Don’t know, but it sure would be nice to see him add this accomplishment to his fabulous career.  He’s definitely one of the good guys in baseball.  Good on the field.  Good off the field.  A testament to that is he received MLB’s 2013 Roberto Clemente Award this past week as the player “who best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement.”


Ferriss Recalls First Red Sox-Cardinals World Series Matchup

The Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals are facing off in the World Series this week for the fourth time in history.  In 1946 and 1967, these two storied franchises played against each other, with the Cardinals denying the Red Sox their first-ever title.  In 2004, the Red Sox finally turned the tables, by winning their first World Series in their 103 year history with a four-game sweep of the Cardinals.  The 1946 Red Sox team featured pitching sensation Dave “Boo Ferriss, who won 25 games and lost only six that season.  I caught up with him this week and got his insights into that first Series matchup.


When the Cards and Red Sox first opposed each other in 1946, it was the Red Sox’s first appearance in the post-season classic since 1918, when Babe Ruth pitched them to a World Series title.  On the other hand, the St. Louis Cardinals were more recent veterans of the Series, having appeared in three consecutive world championship titles in 1942 through 1944 and finished second in the National League in 1945.  In the first full season when major league players had returned from military service in World War II, the improbable 1946 Red Sox won the 1946 American League pennant by 12 games over the Detroit Tigers. 


Ferriss, in only his second major league season, led the Red Sox pitching staff which also included 20-game winner Tex Hughson and 17-game winner Mickey Harris.  The Red Sox offense was headlined by Ted Williams, who returned to baseball in 1946, following service in World War II.  Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, and Dominic DiMaggio were among other star players who traded in their military uniforms for their baseball uniforms and helped propel the Red Sox to the American League pennant.


Ferriss remembers that the two teams were pretty evenly matched.  He felt the Series could have gone either way.  He recalls the Cardinals had a scrappy offense with starters Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Whitey Kurowski, Red Schoendienst, Harry Walker, Terry Moore, and Marty Marion.  Joe Garagiola was a 20-year-old rookie catcher. The Cardinals had not hit many home runs during the regular season, but led the league in hits and runs scored.


Even though Ferriss was the ace of the Red Sox staff, he did not start Game 1 of the Series.  When I asked about that decision, he said he believes manager Joe Cronin likely waited to start him in Game 3 at Fenway Park, because he had a 13 consecutive game winning streak there.  Cronin’s decision held up, as Ferriss hurled a six-hit shutout at home to defeat the Cardinals, 6-0, after the two teams split the first two games in St. Louis.


The Series went even after six games, so it was up to Ferriss again to shut down the Red Sox in Game 7.  He wasn’t as sharp as Game 3, giving up three runs on seven hits through four and one-third innings before being lifted for reliever Joe Dobson.  The Red Sox evened the score in the top of the 8th inning with two runs.  However, the Cardinals regained the lead for good in the bottom half of the inning, on Enos Slaughter’s infamous scamper home from first on Harry Walker’s double.  The Cardinals had won their third World Series championship within five years.


It was interesting that Ferriss referred to his star teammates as the “big guys,” not putting himself in that category, even though he had won 47 games in his first two major league seasons.


He sees the Red Sox-Cardinals Series being evenly matched this year, similar to 1946.  Having been a pitcher, of course, he likes the pitching matchups the two teams will put forth.  I told him I thought he should be throwing out the first pitch at one of the World Series games in Fenway.  In his usual humble manner, he responded he didn’t travel much anymore, but was perfectly okay watching the Series from his living room.


Ferriss, who will turn 92 years old later this fall, resides in Cleveland, Mississippi.  He was elected to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2002.  His biography, Boo:  A Life in Baseball, Well-Lived, was published in 2008.  The Boo Ferriss Baseball Museum is on the campus of Delta State University in Cleveland, where Boo coached his teams to 639 career victories.  The “Ferriss Trophy” is awarded annually to Mississippi’s best college player.


Greg Maddux: A Master of Pitching Efficiency

Adam Wainwright hurled a masterful complete game for the St. Louis Cardinals to clinch the Division Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates on October 9.  Complete games by Major League pitchers are pretty scarce these days.  To put it in perspective, during the 2013 regular season, there were only at total of 124 (out of 4,862) games where the starting pitcher threw a complete game.  Thus, when someone pitches a complete game in only 78 pitches, it amounts to an even more impressive outing.  That’s exactly what Greg Maddux did on July 22, 1997, against the Chicago Cubs.  It turns out that performance was no fluke either.


While Maddux’s game was impressive, actually the record for the least number of pitches in a complete game is held by Red Barrett of the Boston Braves, who needed only 58 pitches to defeat the Cincinnati Reds on August 10, 1944.  That contest was his most outstanding game at that point in his career.  However, he did manage to win 20 or more games in two later seasons and finished with a 69-69 career won-lost record.


Nonetheless, Maddux’s accomplishment was one of several comparable performances during his career.  Pinpoint control was his hallmark, so it was no surprise that he could hurl a game like the one in July 1997.  In fact, twenty days earlier, he had pitched a complete game in only 84 pitches against the New York Yankees.  Furthermore, his start prior to that, on June 27, took only 90 pitches to defeat the Philadelphia Phillies.


There’s additional evidence his outings were not “one-time wonders.”  In 1995, Maddux recorded ten complete games, including ones with pitch counts of 82 and 88 in consecutive games in June, and then 88 and 91 within eleven days in August.  Those victories certainly contributed to his league-leading ERA of 1.63 and 19-2 record in 1995, perhaps the best Major League season of his storied career.


Lastly, Maddux again accomplished back-to-back complete games with 89 pitches on September 7 and 13, 2000, against the Florida Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks.


To put his low pitch count performances into further perspective today, the major league average for number of pitches per nine innings pitched has been around 147 (per May 3, 2011 article on junkstats.com).


Following is a breakdown of Maddux’s proficient 78-pitch game in 1997.


He faced 31 batters, yielding five hits, walking none, and striking out six.  63 of his pitches were strikes, with 33 of those coming on contact with the ball.  The most number of batters he faced in any inning was five.  The maximum number of pitches in any inning was twelve.  The Cubs’ lineup included Shawn Dunston, Ryne Sandberg, Sammy Sosa, and Mark Grace, certainly no slouches at the plate.  The Braves won the game, 4-1, which lasted only two hours and seven minutes.


One would think that perfect games would be obvious candidates for the lowest pitch count games.  However, for the last twelve perfect games since 1984 (for which pitch count information is readily available), the lowest pitch count was 88 by David Cone in 1999. Only three other perfect games in that timeframe were under 100 pitches.  So, the perfect game situations don’t necessarily equate to high probabilities.  It makes Maddux’s performances all the more remarkable.


Using Maddux as the model, the candidates for low pitch count games will not likely include power pitchers, who might strike out 10 or more batters, thus requiring more pitches.  Instead, the pitcher who is more likely to be efficient with their pitches has good control, is always around the plate and inducing contact early in the count, and is good at changing speeds, thus keeping batters off balance.


Maddux is certainly one of the game’s all-time best starting pitchers.  He is a shoo-in as a first-ballot selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame in January, based on his career numbers of 355 victories (8th best all-time), 3.16 ERA, 3,371 strikeouts (10th best all-time), four Cy Young Awards, and 19 Gold Gloves.  Perhaps his Hall of Fame plaque biography will also include the label “Mr. Efficiency.”


MLB Playoff Teams Have a Family Flair

The occurrences of family relationships in the game of baseball continue at a high rate.  When scanning the rosters of this year’s Major League playoff teams, it provides evidence that there remains a prevalence of family connections among players and coaches.


A June 4th online article of Baseball America reported a talent pool for the 2013 Major League draft that included over 160 amateur players who had some type of family tie – a brother, father, grandfather, cousin,  or uncle who was also involved in baseball at a professional or collegiate level.  So, the pipeline is still being filled with new players with family ties in the game, whether past or present.


I counted 78 players and coaches on the rosters of this year’s ten playoff teams who had a relative.  Below are some examples of baseball family trees from this year’s MLB playoff contenders.


Atlanta Braves

It was well-publicized at the beginning of this season that brothers B. J. and Justin Upton were expected to lead the Braves into the playoffs.  Second baseman Elliot Johnson had three brothers, Leon, Cedric, and Isaac, who were drafted by major league teams, although only Leon played professionally.  Third baseman Chris Johnson’s father, Ron, was a former major leaguer and a coach for the Boston Red Sox.  The Braves’ assistant hitting coach, Scott Fletcher, was part of a three-generation baseball family. Scott’s father and son, Richard and Brian respectively, both played in the minors.  Backup catcher Gerald Laird’s brother, Brandon, also has major league experience.


Cincinnati Reds

Pitcher Sean Marshall’s twin brother, Brian, was a pitcher in the Red Sox organization who did not reach the majors.  There have been only eight sets of twins who both played in the big leagues.  Infielder Todd Frazier has two brothers in professional baseball—Jeff, who played in the majors with the Tigers, and Charlie, who played in the Marlins minor league organization.  Cesar Izturis’ major league brother, Macier, played with the Blue Jays in 2013, while Ryan Ludwick’s brother, Eric, played for four major league teams during 1996-1999. Reds’ batting coach Brook Jacoby was also a member of a three-generation baseball family.  His father, Brook Sr., played minor league ball, while his son, Torrey, was drafted by the Diamondbacks in 2007.


Pittsburgh Pirates

Second baseman Neil Walker has three family ties in professional baseball: his father, Tom, was a pitcher for four major league teams during 1972-1977, his brother-in-law is Don Kelly, currently playing for the Detroit Tigers; and his older brother, Matt, played in the Tigers and Orioles minor league organizations.  Pirate infielder Josh Harrison is the brother of Vince Harrison Jr., who was an infielder for the Rays, Mets and Marlins organizations, and is also the cousin of former major leaguer John Shelby.  All-Star reliever Jason Grilli is the son of Steve Grilli, a major league pitcher during 1975-1979.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

Infielder Dee Gordon and outfielder Scott Van Slyke both have major league fathers.  Adrian Gonzalez’ brother, Edgar, played two seasons with the Padres in 2008-2009.  Zack Greinke and Andre Ethier have brothers who briefly played at the minor league level.  Dodger manager Don Mattingly’s son, Preston, was a first round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2006, but never played above the Single-A level in the minors.  Third base coach Tim Wallach has three sons, Brett, Matt, and Chad, who have played professionally, with Matt currently being a top prospect in the Dodgers organization.  In 2011, the Wallach family received the Ray Boone Family Award by the Baseball Professional Scouts Foundation.


St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals coaching staff has some strong family ties.  Manager Mike Matheny and third base coach Jose Oquendo have sons who are currently playing at the college level.  Bench coach Mike Aldrete’s brother, Rich, was also a former major leaguer.  Assistant hitting coach Bengie Molina’s brother, Yadier, is an All-Star catcher for the Cardinals.  Their other brother, Jose, played for the Tampa Bay Rays this season.  All three Molina brothers are catchers, and each has won a World Series title.  Matt Holiday’s brother, Josh, is currently the head coach for Oklahoma State University, a position previously held by their father, Tom.  Both Tom and Josh also had brief minor league careers.


Cleveland Indians

The Indians’ coaching staff also has a history of family relationships in baseball.  Former major leaguer Tito Francona is the father of Indians manager Terry Francona.  Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. is the brother of Hall of Famer Robby, and their father, Sandy Sr., was a long-time major league player and coach.  Third base coach Brad Mills has a son, Beau, who was a first-round pick of the Indians in 2007.  Hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo is the son of Dutch, who played in the minors from 1952-1959.  Nick Swisher and Michael Brantley’s fathers played in the majors.  Jason Giambi’s brother, Jeremy, is a former major league teammate with the Oakland A’s.  The Giambis hold the record for the most home runs in a season by a major league brother combination in 2000. Indians pitcher Zach McAllister’s father, Steve, is a scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks.


Tampa Bay Rays

As mentioned above, catcher Jose Molina has two brothers on the St. Louis Cardinals club.  Their father, Benjamin Sr., is an inductee of the Puerto Rican Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame.  Delmon Young’s brother, Dmitri, was a major leaguer from 1996-2008.  They were both first round picks in the Major League draft.  Sean Rodriguez’ father, Johnny, has been a scout for several major league organizations.  Sean’s brother, Robert, was a former catcher in the Nationals organization.  Jose Lobaton’s brother, Jose Tomas, was a minor leaguer from 1993-1999.  Third base coach Tom Foley is the father of Brett, who is an area supervisor scout for the Rays.

 

Oakland A’s

Jemile Weeks’ brother, Rickie, plays for the Milwaukee Brewers.  Veteran pitcher Bartolo Colon has a brother, Jose, who was a pitcher in the Indians organization.  Pitcher Brett Anderson’s father, Frank, was a college baseball coach.  First base coach Ty Waller has two brothers, Reggie and Kevin, who played in the minor leagues.  Third base coach Mike Gallego has a son, Nick, who is a minor leaguer in the Rockies organization.


Detroit Tigers

Pitcher Justin Verlander’s brother, Ben, is an outfielder in the Tigers organization.  Catcher Alex Avila’s father, Al, is currently the assistant general manager for the Tigers, while his cousin, Nick, is a pitcher in the Tigers organization.  Alex’s grandfather, Rafael, is a former Latin American scout for the Dodgers.  First baseman Prince Fielder is the son of Cecil Fielder, a major leaguer from 1985 to 1998.  Their combined career numbers for home runs and RBI put them near the top of the all-time lists for fathers and sons.  Omar Infante’s brother, Asdrubal, was a pitcher for one season in the Tigers minor leagues.  As mentioned previously, Don Kelly is the son-in-law of former major leaguer Tom Walker and the brother-in-law of current Pirates infielder Neil Walker.


Practically all of the Tigers’ coaching staff has family ties in baseball.  Manager Jim Leyland’s son, Patrick, is a catcher/first baseman in the Tigers organization.  Batting coach Lloyd McClendon’s son, Bo, played briefly on a Tigers’ minor league club.  First base coach Ron Belliard has a cousin, Rafael, who played 17 seasons in the big leagues.  Third base coach Tom Brookens’ twin brother, Tim, was a minor league infielder, and his cousin, Ike, pitched part of one major league season with the Tigers in 1975.  Bench coach Gene Lamont’s son, Wade, played in the Tigers farm system.  Bullpen catcher Jeff Kunkel is part of a three-general baseball family.  His father, Bill, was a major league pitcher for three seasons, while his son, Jeff, played in six seasons in the Tigers’ minor leagues.


Boston Red Sox

Manager John Farrell has three sons involved in baseball.  Jeremy is an infielder in the Pirates organization.  Shane is an amateur scouting assistant with the Cubs after having been drafted by the Blue Jays in 2011, but Pioneer League.  Assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez’s son, Victor Jr. is an international scout for the Red Sox organization, while son Miguel is a catcher in the Red Sox minor leagues.  Third base coach Brian Butterfield is the son of Jack Butterfield, who was vice president of player personnel and scouting for the Yankees organization.  Bench coach Torey Lovullo has a son, Nick, who was a draft choice of the Blue Jays in 2012.


On the playing field, several Red Sox players have a legacy of family relationships in baseball.  Shortstop Stephen Drew has two brothers who were former major leaguers.  J.D and Tim Drew were selected as Major League Baseball first-round draft picks, as was Stephen.  Jarrod Saltamacchia’s brother, Justin, played one season in the Braves minor league system.  Jonny Gomes’ brother, Joey, played ten seasons in the Rays and Padres organizations and the Independent Leagues.  Rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts has a twin brother, Jair, who played for the Red Sox organization in the Dominican Summer League.


No Close Shaves For This Red Sox Team

The bearded Boston Red Sox team entered into the post-season with the American League’s best record.  They were hardly challenged all season long, having lost no more than three consecutive games.  The now infamous beards being sported by practically every team member has been a unifying factor for the squad, as they accomplished an admirable “worst to first” season in 2013.  There is no apparent evidence that their winning ways, or their beards, will get trimmed in the postseason.


The Red Sox are making their first post-season appearance since 2009.  They experienced a serious meltdown over the past two seasons.  In 2011, they were riding high atop the American League East Division up until the final month of the season, only to wither away down the stretch, even failing to make the playoffs.  Manager Terry Francona lost his job over that performance.  Bobby Valentine took over as skipper of the team for the2012 season which proved to be a disastrous move.  The team lost 93 games, third worst in the American League, and finished dead last in their division.  Valentine simply lost control of the team with his volatile style of management, and the Red Sox Nation gladly rode him out on the rails.


When John Farrell was hired as manager for the 2013 season, there was renewed hope for the fans.  Farrell had been a popular, well-respected pitching coach for some of the former winning Red Sox teams.  In fact, there was somewhat of an uproar when Red Sox ownership did not aggressively pursue him as Francona’s replacement.  However, the club still needed some new players to replenish the team.  And they needed some spark to put them back on a winning track.


Free-agent stars Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford turned out to be short-timers who were dumped during the 2012 catastrophic season, along with carry-overs Josh Beckett and Kevin Youkilis from the last World Championship team of 2007.  During the offseason, the Red Sox went after some proven players, although not of a high profile or elite status by acquiring David Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, and David Ross.  The Red Sox still had some of its core of winning players, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury.  Along with a returning veteran pitching staff, the media and fans were cautiously optimistic about the new season’s outlook for the Red Sox.  However, their main competition was expected to be the Toronto Blue Jays who went crazy in the free-agent and trade markets and wound up stocking its team with a truckload of new “big name” players.  Furthermore, the Baltimore Orioles, a 2012 playoff team, and the Tampa Bay Rays, figured to be in the hunt for the division title again.


The new Red Sox players, led by Napoli and Victorino, brought a workmen-like approach to the club.  Their characteristics included a gritty, grind-it-out style of play, dirty uniforms, and of course, the beards.  Along with Pedroia, who already fit that same mold, these Red Sox seemed to find something to rally around and effectively rejuvenated the attitude of the club.  Then, all of the players started growing beards in a demonstration of unanimity.  It soon became a ritual for the players to tug on each other’s beard after a clutch hit or spectacular play in the field.  The team’s facial hair was somewhat reminiscent of the champion Oakland A’s of the early 1970s, when their players made their statement by wearing mustaches.


Whether the beards had anything to do with their success or not, the Red Sox led the American League East Division for the vast majority of the season; there were only 18 days when they were not in first place.  They won 97 games for the season—quite a turnaround from 2012!  The pitching staff overcame some stumbling blocks from season-ending losses of three of their bullpen staff, Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Miller, and Andrew Bailey by mid-July.  Koji Uehara stepped up as the closer and pitched brilliantly down the stretch, including 27 consecutive batters (equivalent of a perfect game) retired at one point.  Starter Clay Buchholz was on the disabled list for three months, but Felix Doubrount and late-season acquisition Jake Peavey picked up the slack there.


However, the Red Sox had no difficulties with their offense.  They scored 150 runs more than the average of the rest of the American League teams.  As a team they had the highest on-base percentage and slugging percentage of any team in the league.  Just when it was thought Big Papi Ortiz may be starting to wind down his career, he responded with one of his best seasons.  Napoli and Pedroia were big run-producers, while Daniel Nava had a breakout season.


The Blue Jays turned out to be a total disappointment in 2013, victims of high expectations from spending a ton of off-season money on high profile players.  They finished last in the AL East.  Tampa Bay had a lackluster first half of the season, challenged the Red Sox briefly for first place in early August, but then fell out of serious contention during the month of September.


I expect Detroit to be Boston’s toughest opponent in the American League playoffs.  If the Tigers’ starting pitchers can give a lot of innings, their offense can match up well enough to defeat the Red Sox in seven games.  However, I don’t think the Tigers’ bullpen will get the job done.  Regardless of who the Red Sox face in the World Series, I think they will prevail for their third World Championship in ten seasons.  As a die-hard Yankee fan, it pains me to make that prediction, but I guess I have to be honest with myself.


Since the advent of free agency, Major League baseball players no longer have to hold off-season jobs to supplement their baseball income.  However, I suppose if any of the Red Sox players need extra work after the playoffs, they could audition for roles on the TV show Duck Dynasty.  They certainly have the look!


The Sandman Exits After A Record-Setting Career

It’s not often you get to see the best player in history at his position.  That’s exactly what we’ve experienced with Mariano “Mo” Rivera of the New York Yankees.  This summer he has been taking his farewell bows at the ballparks of his Yankees’ opponents, and without exception he has been arguably received as the most professional and respected player of his era.  A sign held by a Red Sox fan at Fenway Park in Mariano’s last game there on September 15 proclaimed him as “The Only Yankee We Will Miss.”


Mariano’s exit from Major League Baseball might have happened in 2012, when he suffered a freak knee injury while shagging balls in the outfield during batting practice one day in May.  Even though he was 42 years old, he was determined not to end his career on a sour note, underwent surgery in June to repair a torn ACL, rehabilitated himself over the winter, and was back in his familiar role as the closer for the Yankees at the start of the 2013 season.  Once again, he was taking the field from the bullpen in the ninth inning of games to his signature entrance tune, “Enter Sandman” by the heavy metal band Metallica (hence, his nickname “The Sandman”).


ESPN recently released its list of the 50 greatest players in New York Yankee history.  Mariano was fifth on the list.  Only Pinstripe immortals Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle were ahead of him.  Legends Berra, Jeter, Ford, and Dickey round out the list’s top ten players.  That’s some pretty elite company!  Mariano has done his part to extend the legendary aspects of the Yankee franchise.  He will certainly wind up with a plaque in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.  In fact, maybe the Yankee should have already erected his.  Mariano’s uniform number 42 is being retired by the Yankees.  He is the last player to wear this number for any Major League team, since it was declared in 2003 by Major League Baseball to be unavailable for all active players, in honor of Jackie Robinson’s career.


To put Mariano’s career in another perspective, being the all-time best at his position would put him in the circle of greats like Lou Gehrig at first base, Johnny Bench at catcher, and Rickey Henderson as leadoff batter.  The right-hander’s cut fastball ranks among the all-time great pitches, in the same company as Sandy Koufax with his curveball and Nolan Ryan with his legendary fastball.


Other renowned relief pitchers, such as Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Dennis Eckersley, are all in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Mariano will surely be joining them when he becomes eligible, as his career has clearly outpaced all of theirs.  Want to take bets on Mariano being a unanimous pick on the first ballot?


Mariano entered professional baseball at age 19.  One might have guessed then there would be something special about him.  In his first professional season in 1990 in the rookie Gulf Coast League, Mariano worked mostly in relief, compiling a 5-1 record and 0.17 ERA.  To help him qualify for the league ERA title, manager Glenn Sherlock had to give him a start on the last day of the season. All Rivera did was pitch a no-hitter. 


He was switched to a starting role but suffered a setback with an arm injury in 1993.  He bounced back in 1994 with a 10-2 combined record over three levels of the Yankees’ minor league organization.  In the September 1994 issue of Yankees Magazine, an article provided this observation about him, “Keep an eye on Mariano Rivera.  He is a control artist and a pleasure to watch.”  Boy, did that ever turn out to be accurate!


Mariano was brought up to the major league club as a starter, making his major league debut on May 23, 1995.  He started ten games, winning four of them, but finished the season in the bullpen.  In 1996, Mariano appeared in middle relief for the Yankees, as they captured their first World Series Championship since 1978.  The closer for the team was World Series MVP John Wetteland, who took Mariano under his wing.  Wetteland wound up signing with the Texas Rangers as a free agent over the winter, and Mariano claimed the Yankee closer role in 1997.  He promptly recorded 43 saves with a 1.88 ERA, and the rest is history, as they say.


Baseball won’t likely see a closer of Mariano’s quality and longevity again.  His career stats include most games finished (952), most saves (652), fourth lowest ERA (2.17), and third lowest WHIP (1.000).


His closest contemporary was Trevor Hoffman (another likely future Hall of Famer) who amassed a comparable number of saves (601) in the regular season with three teams, but did not have nearly the impact on his teams in post-season play as Mariano did with the Yankees.  This aspect of Mariano’s career was where he truly separated himself from all other relief pitchers.  He appeared in 96 post-season games over 16 years, finishing 72 of them and posting 42 saves and a 0.70 ERA.  He yielded only two home runs and issued only 22 bases on ball in 141 innings pitched in the post-season. The Yankees missed the playoffs only three seasons during Mariano’s 19-year career, and he was a major force in the Yankees’ winning five World Series championships during his tenure.


Furthermore, Mariano has been a classic gentleman on and off the field.  You never saw him going after a batter by throwing him some chin music.  You never saw him tackle an opposing batter like Nolan Ryan did with Robin Ventura, or throw a broken bat at a runner like Roger Clemens did with Mike Piazza.  You never saw Mariano pounding his chest, fist-pumping, or stomping off the field after closing out a game.  He finished games demonstrating grace and dignity for the Yankees and respect for the opposing teams.


In his final Major League All-Star Game appearance this season, he made a dramatic entry from the bullpen to the pitcher’s mound.  He received a standing ovation from the entire stadium, including the players and coaches of both teams who emptied their dugouts and stood cheering on the field to pay tribute to him.


As part of his farewell tour this season, Mariano made a point to visit the front offices and clubhouses at each opposing ballpark to pay tribute to the off-the-field, behind-the-scenes personnel of those clubs.  He has been the ultimate professional on and off the field, simply a class act all around.


At age 43, Mariano posted another stellar season this year.  He had the most saves (44) of any pitcher in their final season, breaking Robb Nen’s record in 2002.  This was Mariano’s ninth season with 40 or more saves.  He and Andy Pettitte, long-time Yankee teammate and starting pitcher, have the most win-save combinations (72) of any two pitchers in history.  One of his catchers toward the end of this season, J. R. Murphy, had not been born when Mariano began playing professional baseball in 1990.


Mariano is likely among the last of the career “single-team” players in baseball.  As the baseball player market has evolved, the likelihood that many players will spend their entire careers with only one team has gotten rarer.  Todd Helton, the Colorado Rockies first baseman also retired this season after his 17th campaign with his only Major League team.  Like Mariano, Deter Jeter has also been with the Yankees for 19 years and will extend his string if he plays next season.  These guys are the last of a dying breed.


During a press conference in the final weeks of this season, Yankee manager Joe Girardi left the door open for Rivera to return in 2014.  Girardi said he thought Mariano was still at top of his game and wanted him to know he would be welcomed back.  That is just wishful thinking on Girardi’s part, but he is just facing the realization that the Yankees’2014 roster will be very tentative going into the offseason.  He’ll surely miss the presence and consistency of Mariano. However, it does beg the question of whether Mariano will eventually get back into the game in some capacity after his playing days--perhaps as a pitching coach or in player development.  He certainly possesses the credentials.


So, here was a man with humble beginnings in his native Panama and a professional career that began as a starting pitcher, and he winds up being the best relief pitcher of all-time.  This past week, “The Sandman” exited as baseball’s latest legend.


Mariano, thanks for the “Mo”-Ments.


Family Ties Baseball Quiz No. 2

The following quiz tests your knowledge of baseball’s family relationships.  Answers will be provided next week as "comments" to this blog post.  Check back to see how you did.


1.    Which Major Leaguer did not have a brother who played in the minor leagues?

a.      Barry Bonds

b.      Ken Griffey, Jr.

c.      Carl Yastrzemski


 

2.    Which Major Leaguer had twin brothers who played in the minor leagues?

a.      Mickey Mantle

b.      Red Schoendienst

c.      Ken Boyer

d.      None of the above


 

3.     Which Major Leaguer had two sons in professional sports, one in the Major League Baseball and one in the NFL?

a.      Tony Gwynn

b.      Doc Prothro

c.      Yogi Berra


 

4.    Match the Major League Baseball player and his wife in another major sport

       a. Don Drysdale

d.      Mia Hamm (Olympic Soccer)

      b. Ray Knight

e.      Ann Meyers (WNBA)

.     c. Nomar Garciaparra

f.        Nancy Lopez (LPGA)

 


5.   Which Major League General Manager’s daughter was selected in the Major League Draft in 1993?

a.      Ron Schueler

b.      Pat Gillick

c.      Syd Thrift


 

6.    Match the Major League pairs of brothers-in-law

      a. Joe Cronin

d.      Milt Stock

      b. Eddie Stanky

e.      Roy Smalley II

      c. Gene Mauch

f.       Sherry Robertson


 

7.    Which of the Major League Alou brothers was the father of Major Leaguer Moises Alou?

a.      Matty Alou

b.      Felipe Alou

c.      Jesus Alou

d.      None of the above


 

8.   Which Major League father-son combination had the most number of major league years in their combined careers?

a.      Jim and Mike Hegan

b.      Barry and Bobby Bonds

c.      Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr.


 

9.   Which set of Major League brothers never appeared as teammates in a major league game?

a.      Stephen and Barry Larkin

b.      Paul and Rick Reuschel

c.      Stephen and J. D. Drew

d.      None of the above


 

10.  Which set of Major League brothers hold the record for most combined home runs in a major league season?

a.      Joe and Vince DiMaggio

b.      Hank and Tommie Aaron

c.      Jason and Jeremy Giambi


The above questions represent just a few of the items of information in my book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives.  It is a fantastic reference book with 363 pages containing extensive research about baseball’s family relationships.  Family Ties can be purchased at TheTenthInning.com or online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Manning Bowl III Kindles Memories of Baseball

Yesterday ‘s NFL contest between the Manning brothers was their third such game in which they went head-to-head as opponents.  How often do fans of any sport get to see two high-performing professional players, who also happen to be brothers, face off as competitors in the same game?  In the Mannings’ case, they have both led their teams to Super Bowl championships and currently rank among the best quarterbacks in professional football.  Baseball has a long history of sibling confrontations on the field.  The most recent one occurred in May of this year, when Colby Rasmus of the Toronto Blue Jays hit a double off of his brother Cory of the Atlanta Braves.  It was the first time they had played in the same game since high school.


Many of us have experienced seemingly intense rivalries with our siblings while playing pickup games in our back yards or on neighborhood sandlots.  Indeed, they are some of our best memories, despite being unheralded moments.  However, can you imagine the emotions of two brothers who are competing against each other on a big stage such as a major league stadium?


Let’s take a look at some of the earlier occurrences of siblings as opponents in the big leagues.


Jesse and Virgil Barnes were the first pair of brothers to face each other as starting pitchers in the major leagues on May 3 1927.  In all, they opposed each other ten times, with Jesse winning five contests and Virgil three.


Phil and Joe Niekro each had long careers in the majors, and consequently they wound up pitching against each other nine times in the regular season.  Forty years after the Barnes’ first occurrence, Phil (with the Braves) outdid Joe (with the Cubs), 8-3, on July 4, 1967.  In 1979, the Niekros tied for the National League lead in wins with twenty-one.  Phil defeated Joe for his 20th win that season.  Joe hit only one home run in his 22-year major league career, and that was off brother Phil on May 29, 1976.  While the Niekros may have beat up each other as opponents from time to time, they wound up as the brother combination with the most combined wins (539) in major league history.


On the other hand, a contemporary pair of pitching brothers with the Niekros, Gaylord and Jim Perry, faced each other only one time in their combined thirty-nine seasons of pitching.  They were opponents on July 3, 1973, in a game between the Indians and Tigers.  Gaylord took the loss for the Indians.


Brothers Stan and Harry Coveleski pitched for different major league teams in the American League from 1916 to 1918, but they refused to start against each other.  However, they did wind up pitching in a game on Labor Day in 1916, when Stan was knocked out of the game in the first inning by the Tigers and Harry pitched in relief later in the game.


Greg and Mike Maddux were the first rookie brothers to pitch against each other in the same game on September 29, 1986.  Greg (with the Cubs) defeated Mike (with the Phillies), 8-3.


In a specially arranged move, Detroit Tiger Pat Underwood made his major league debut on May 31, 1979, against his brother Tom of the Toronto Blue Jays.  Pat was a 1-0 winner his debut, yielding only three hits in eight and one-third innings, while Tom pitched a complete game in the loss.


Furthermore, there have been numerous instances of major league brothers opposing each other as batter versus pitcher.


Alex Gaston of the Boston Red Sox broke up brother Milt’s (with the St. Louis Browns) no-hitter in 1926, hitting a single with one out in the ninth inning.


The St. Louis Browns’ Rick Ferrell almost broke up kid brother Wes’ no-hitter on April 29, 1931; but the official scorer ruled Rick’s at-bat an error, and Wes claimed his pitching gem the Cleveland Indians.  On July 19, 1933, in a game between the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians, Wes Ferrell (with the Indians) yielded a home run to brother Rick (with the Red Sox) in the fourth inning.  Wes also hit a home run in the same inning.  This was the first time brothers on opposing teams homered in the same game.  As a footnote, pitcher Wes wound up with more career home runs than his catcher brother.


On May 6, 1885, Providence pitcher Con Daily faced his brother Ed (with Philadelphia) in Ed’s first major league at-bat.  Con hit Ed causing him to be removed from the game.


Following are additional occurrences of major league siblings opposing each other in the same game.


Additional brothers to hit home runs for opposing teams include:  Al and Tony Cuccinello (1935), Joe and Dominic DiMaggio (1950), Graig and Jim Nettles (1972, 1974), Hector and Jose Cruz (1981), Bret and Aaron Boone (1999, 2000), and Felipe and Cesar Crespo (2001).


Clete and Ken Boyer competed against each other in the 1964 World Series, with the Yankees and Cardinals, respectively.  In Game 7, they each hit home runs.  They had played against each other professionally for the first time in Game 1.


On September 4, 1988, Donell Nixon led off for the San Francisco Giants, and his older brother Otis led off for the Montreal Expos, marking one of the few times in major league history that brothers led off a game for opposing teams.


On April 5, 1993, Cal Ripken Jr. and brother Billy played their first game as members of opposing teams.  They had previously played together with the Orioles from 1987 to 1992 as the middle infield combo.


These and other accounts of brothers who played with and against each other in the major leagues are included in my book, Family Ties:  A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives, in a chapter titled “Teammates and Opponents.”  Click on the "Store" link to find out more information about how to purchase this book.


Pirates Aim to Raise the Jolly Roger for the Post-season

This past week the Pittsburgh Pirates recorded their 80th win of the season, thereby attaining their best record in twenty years.  In fact, they hold the record for the most consecutive seasons with a losing record, a streak they will surely break in the next few days as they compete for the National League Central lead.  Going into the last three weeks of the season, this division promises to be the most pressure-packed in the Majors, as the Pirates are rivals St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds are separated by only two games.  The Bucs have already accomplished a great deal by contending for the division lead this far into the season but only a post-season berth would bring satisfaction now to the franchise and its fans.  For the past twenty years, the Pirates have taken a back seat to the Steelers football team and Penguins hockey team of the Steel City, and hoisting the traditional pirate banner, the Jolly Roger, for the post-season would signal a return to sports prominence for baseball in that city.


The last Pirates team to have a winning record was the 1992 club spearheaded by Barry Bonds.  That season culminated a three-year run of 96, 98, and 95 wins, with post-season appearances occurring in each.  Jim Leyland, currently the skipper of the Detroit Tigers, was the manager of those winning clubs.  The Pirates moved from the National League East Division to the newly- formed Central Division in 1994, as part of Major League Baseball’s expansion.  From the beginning, many observers believe the Central Division has been the weakest division in the Majors, and the Pirates certainly contributed to that notion for nearly twenty years.


The Pirates have teased its fans during the past two seasons by showing signs of breaking loose of their losing ways.  In 2011, they were in first place of the NL Central Division at the All-Star break, but quickly folded shortly thereafter.  Last season, they boasted a 62-46 record on August 7, but then lost 37 of their final 54 games.  Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle has been at the helm since 2011, and much can be attributed to him for their progression over previous seasons.  He’s been able to field competitive lineups with relatively unproven talent, as the Pirates have been among the more thrifty Major League franchises in terms of player payroll.  In 2013, the Pirates have finally turned the corner.


On the field, the Pirates’ pitching has been the main reason for their advancement into the winning ranks this season.  The starting rotation currently includes several reclamation projects from other teams, but they’ve performed well for the Pirates.  A. J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Wandy Rodriguez have given the Pirates innings, with Liriano leading the team with 15 wins.  Younger starters Jeff Locke and Gerritt Cole have been moderately effective, but are demonstrating they are the future of the Pirates’ pitching staff.


A nice surprise this season has been the Pirates’ bullpen which has actually been better than the starting rotation.  Collectively, they have posted an 18-6 record and each of their ERAs are below 2.60.  Journeyman Jason Grilli stepped up into the closer role for the first time in his career, and he had been spectacular with 30 saves before going on the disabled list in late July.  Setup man Mark Melancon was forced into the closer role in Grilli’s absence, and he has not missed a beat.  He has recorded 11 saves with an ERA is 0.87.


Andrew McCutchen is the main cog in the Pirates’ offense.  With the highest Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in the National League, he is a legitimate MVP candidate with 19 home runs, 76 RBI, and a .322 average.  He is the face of the Pirates and is signed through 2017, so Pirates fans will enjoy his high performance for some time.  Leading the team in home runs (32) and RBI (87), Pedro Alvarez provides additional thump in the lineup.  In his first full season in the majors, Starling Marte is proving to be a solid find by the Pirates as a non-drafted free agent.  He is challenging for the NL lead in stolen bases.  Veteran catcher Russell Martin came over from the Yankees in the offseason and has proven his on-field leadership again by handling a productive pitching staff.


General Manager Neal Huntington acknowledged this is the year the Pirates will make a serious run for the post-season.  Consequently, gearing up for the tight division race in September, the Pirates recently added more offense with the acquisition of veterans Justin Morneau, John Buck, and Marlon Byrd.


Of course, the Pirates are aiming for the Central Division title in order to avoid the one-game play-in as a wild card team under the new league playoff structure.  Because of their past history of losing seasons, they may not be the favorites going into the last three weeks of play.  However, they are probably the most hungry of the three contending teams because of the long drought they’ve experienced.  For sure, the Pirates will be fun to follow in the coming days.

1996 Dodgers Fielded a United Nations Pitching Staff

Latin American countries have long-supplied players to the big leagues, the earliest in 1902, although it wasn’t until the 1950s that they really become commonplace.  Several Asian players have posted games this season in Major League Baseball that further illustrate the game has fully embraced an international talent pool of players.  Furthermore, Major League teams now have players who were born in Italy, Australia, and the Netherlands.  However, the 1996 Los Angeles Dodgers were somewhat unique at the time by staffing its starting pitching rotation with a truly international flavor.


Before reviewing that distinctive Dodgers team, let’s take a further look at the proliferation of international players in today’s game of baseball.  According to the MLB Commissioner’s office last April, 28 percent of the MLB players on the 2013 25-man opening day rosters were born outside of the 50 United States.  The Dominican Republic was most represented with 89 players.  Venezuela was second with 63, then Canada (17), Cuba (15), Mexico (14), Puerto Rico 13), and Japan (11).  The overall percentage was just shy of the 2005 record of 29.2 percent.  The percentage of foreign-born players has roughly doubled in the last twenty years.  In an August 2006 study by the American Foundation of National Policy, the number of foreign-born players in 1995 was 13.74 percent.


In 2013, Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers has continued to wow big league fans by hurling five games with 14 or more strikeouts.  Japanese veteran Ichiro Suzuki of the New York Yankees, joined an elite group of players this month by recording his 4,000th career hit as a professional.  Korean pitcher Hjun-jin Ryu has been a pleasant surprise for the NL West Division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers by posting a 12-5 record and 3.08 ERA.  Yasiel Puig (Cuba), Jurickson Profar (Curacao), Xander Bogaerts (Aruba), and Alex Liddi (Italy) are promising rookies with bright futures in the majors.


Getting back to the Dodgers team of 1996.  Their regular starting rotation included Hideo Nomo from Japan, Ramon Martinez and Pedro Astacio from the Dominican Republic, Ismael Valdez from Mexico, and US-born Tom Candiotti of Italian descent.  Amazingly, these five pitchers accounted for 152 starts of the Dodgers’ 162 games that year.  (As a side note, when’s the last time that happened?)  A sixth pitcher, Chan Ho Park of South Korea, started the other ten games for the Dodgers, but he was also used as a reliever.  Consequently, this combination of international players, all pitchers, was the first of its kind in the majors.  If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought the Dodgers had recruited its players from the United Nations.  Can you imagine the task Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza had in communicating with these guys on the field?


The Dodger organization was among the first in Major League Baseball to pursue the acquisition of Asian pitchers, at a time when other teams were securing pitchers who were defecting from Cuba.  In 1994, Park had become the second Asian pitcher in the big leagues following Mansanori Murakami of the San Francisco Giants thirty years earlier.  Nomo made his MLB debut with the Dodgers a year later than Park.  International recruiting was apparently a Dodger organizational development strategy, as 45 percent of their players on the 1996 team were from outside the United States.


So, how did this select group of pitchers fare in 1996?


Hideo Nomo had made his Major League debut in 1995 and wound up being the National League Rookie of the Year.  The 27-year-old right-hander followed that with another stellar season in 1996, compiling a 16-11 record and 3.19 ERA for the Dodgers.  He finished fourth in the Cy Young Award balloting.


Ramon Martinez, who came up through the Dodgers system, led the team in winning percentage in 1996 with a 15-6 record and posted a 3.42 ERA.  The 28-year-old, who was the brother of ace pitcher Pedro Martinez, was the highest paid pitcher on the team at $4.8 million per year.


Ismael Valdes, at 22 years of age, was already in his third major league season.  The right-handed hurler posted a 15-7 record and 3.22 ERA in 33 starts.


Pedro Astacio had not pitched well as a starter in 1995 and wound up being relegated to the bullpen for the Dodgers.  In 1996, he worked his way back to the starting rotation and had a credible won-loss record of 9-8 and 3.44 ERA in 32 starts.


The only American in the starting rotation in 1996 was Tom Candiotti, a 38-year-old journeyman knuckleball pitcher.  In his fifth season with the Dodgers, he was the only starter with a losing record, 9-11.


23-year-old right-hander Chan Ho Park had been the first Korean to pitch in a Major League game in 1994.  In his first full season in the big leagues in 1996, Park primarily worked as a middle reliever for the Dodgers, but as mentioned above he was also used as a spot starter.  He finished with a 5-5 record and 3.64 ERA.


Led by this stellar pitching staff, the Dodgers finished second in the National League West Division, only one game behind the San Diego Padres.  However, they captured the wild card spot for the playoffs, but were swept by the Atlanta Braves in three games in the League Division Series.


Peter O’Malley, the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was quoted as saying, “Now baseball’s community is the world, and a team should reflect its community.”  That was true of the Dodgers in 1996, and today it is largely true of all of the Major League teams.


Database Collects New Orleans Area Baseball Player Information

I recently published an updated version of my Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Players Database.  It can be viewed on my website, The Tenth Inning, at http://thetenthinning.com/articles.html.

 

The purpose of this database is to provide a means for consolidating and maintaining information about some of the history of local New Orleans baseball.  It contains an extensive index of college, drafted, minor league, and major league baseball players who started their baseball careers at the high school level in Metro New Orleans.  There are almost 1,000 players included in this latest version.  The players span almost a century of high school baseball, and practically every high school during that time frame is represented.  You’ll find such recognizable names as Mel Ott, Rusty Staub, Will Clark, and Mel Parnell, all of whom were prominent players in the big leagues.  And you’ll also discover scores of former local heroes who never got a chance to play at the professional levels.

 

College and Major League Baseball media guides are sources of much of this information.  Baseball-Reference.com is a source for major league and minor league baseball players, where associated hometown, high school, college, and draft information are listed.  Equally essential, local New Orleans SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) chapter members have been an excellent channel for identifying players, particularly those who played before published media information became widely available.

 

Below are some highlights from the New Orleans area players in the database who reached the Major Leagues:

 

  • 77 players reached the Major League level.  (It should be noted I have identified another 13 players who were born in New Orleans and reached the Majors, but they are not included in the database because they did not play high school ball there.)


  •  6 players have seen action in the Majors in 2013 (Will Harris, Aaron Loup, Johnny Giavotella, Logan Morrison, Xavier Paul, and Chad Gaudin)


  • 1 player in the Baseball Hall of Fame (Mel Ott)


  • 6 Major League All-Stars (Mel Ott, Rusty Staub, Will Clark, Mel Parnell, Howie Pollet, and Connie Ryan)


  • 12 Major League Baseball first-round draft picks (a few include Will Clark, Mike Fontenot, Mike Miley, Frank Wills, Billy Fitzgerald)


  • 5 Major League managers (Mel Ott, George Strickland, Lou Klein, Connie Ryan, and Ron Washington)


  • 3 sets of Major League brothers (Charlie and Tookie Gilbert, Ray and Lenny Yochim, Jim and Kirk Bullinger)


 

Over 350 of the players reached the minor league level of baseball.


Over 700 of the players listed in the database attended college.  As you might expect, they primarily played at local colleges such as University of New Orleans, Tulane, Loyola, and Delgado Community College.  Moreover, LSU leads a number of other state colleges represented, such as Southeastern Louisiana, Nicholls State, University of Louisiana Lafayette, University of Louisiana Monroe, and Grambling.


Jesuit High School has provided the most (12) players in the Major Leagues, the most recent being Johnny Giavotella.  In the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, in addition to Jesuit, schools like S. J. Peters, Warren Easton, Fortier, and St. Aloysius produced more than their share of professional baseball players from the New Orleans area.  During the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, the area Catholic schools were a large source of players.  More recently, it seems the Northshore and River Parishes high schools have been predominant in sending players to the next levels.


Al Jurisich and Jack Kramer played at Warren Easton High School, and they eventually played against each other in the 1944 World Series involving the Browns and Cardinals.


A number of high school players wound up playing for their hometown New Orleans Pelicans minor league baseball club.  Some examples include: Al Briede, Jesse Danna, Al Flair, Larry Gilbert Jr., Pel Hughes, Al Jurisich, Pete Modica, and Lenny Yochim.  Larry Gilbert Sr. played and managed for the Pelicans.


Several local players went on to serve as head baseball coach at Tulane University:  Ben Abadie, Robert Whitman Sr., Milt Retif, and Joe Brockhoff.


A sampling of the prominent baseball families (brothers and multiple generations) from the New Orleans area include the Graffagninis, Pontiffs, Schwaners, Staubs, Scheuermanns, Hughes, Gilberts, and Cabeceiras.


The database illustrates that there is indeed a long, rich tradition of baseball in the New Orleans area that has encompassed all levels of the game.  I encourage you to pass along the website address to others who might enjoy this type of New Orleans area baseball information.  The database is a continuous, work-in-progress effort, and I’m always interested in getting additions and corrections.  My contact information is included in the players list on the above website.


2013 Dodgers Reminiscent of 1914 "Miracle" Braves

The Los Angeles Dodgers are the “comeback” team of 2013.  Ironically, there were very high expectations of the Dodgers coming into the season, but then they performed miserably for the first two months of the season such that many people had written off the season for them.  But since July, they’ve had one of the most productive strings of games in history.  A look back in history almost a century ago reveals a similar turnaround for a team within a single season.  The 1914 Boston Braves, who became known as the “Miracle” Braves, produced a similarly dramatic run in the second half of the season that eventually landed them a World Series Championship.


On June 21, the Dodgers were playing below .500 with a 30-42 won-loss record.  They were mired in last place of the National League West Division.  Injuries to several key players had plagued them early.  Since then, they have lost only nine games out of fifty-one, and currently command a 7 ½ game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks.  They are now clicking on all cylinders, getting solid pitching and hitting and winning “come-from-behind” games.  There has been a huge energy and momentum built up by the team due to the play of exciting players such as Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-ji-Ryu.  While there are still a lot of games to play, it currently appears the Dodgers will fulfill their pre-season expectations, despite the rocky road on which they began the season.


Let’s take a look at the comparison with the Braves team.


Before 1914, the Boston Braves had perennially been “cellar dwellers,” habitually finishing in the lower half of the National League.  In fact, they had only one winning season (1902) since 1900.  The club seemed to be in a constant state of change in team leadership.  In 1913, George Stallings became the ninth Braves manager since 1900.  They even had trouble keeping the same team mascot name during that time, going through such names as Beaneaters, Doves, and Rustlers, before settling on the Braves in 1912.  Therefore, at the start of the 1914 season, the prospects for Boston’s campaign appeared to be no different from their recent past.


Indeed, the 1914 season started out for the Braves the way it was expected.  They won only four of their first twenty games.  Then between May 20 and July 10, they fashioned somewhat of a turnaround with 26 victories out of 50 games.  However, they were still nine games below .500 and in last place, 11 ½ games behind the league-leading New York Giants. They continued to rack up the victories and finally got to a .500 record (45-45) on August 1, good enough for fourth place in the league.


A nine-game winning streak ended on August 7 but left the Braves only 7 ½ games behind the leader.  On September 2, they captured first place.  Except for two days in early September, the Braves remained in first place through the end of the season.  To put icing on the cake, they posted another nine-game winning streak from September 24 to October 1, and wound up capturing the National League pennant by 10 ½ games over the Giants.  This dramatic finish represented a 25 ½ game swing since July 4.  In addition to the Giants’ folding in September, the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates posted uncharacteristically mediocre seasons that also contributed to the Braves’ rise to the top of the league.


As the Braves began to climb in the league standings, then Boston Red Sox president, John Lannin, offered the use of Fenway Park to the Braves during the remainder of the season.  The Braves’ fan following came together, and the Braves wound up leading the National League in attendance in 1914.


The Braves opposed the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series in the post-season.  They extended their hot streak from the regular season and swept the A’s in four games.  It would be another hapless 34 years before the Braves appeared in the World Series again.


Some of the key players on Manager Stallings’ team included Johnny Evers at second base and Rabbit Maranville at shortstop.  Evers was a 12-year veteran who had just come over from the Chicago Cubs.  He wound up being voted the Most Valuable Player of the National League.  The 22-year-old Maranville, on the other hand, was relatively new to the league, but he managed to lead the Braves with 78 RBI and finished second to Evers in the MVP voting.  Both of them were eventually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.


Pitchers Dick Rudolph, Bill James, and Lefty Tyler carried the Braves’ starting rotation the entire season.  Among them, they accounted for 68 (72%) of the Braves’ 94 winning decisions.


Of interest to New Orleans baseball fans, Larry Gilbert, Sr., a native New Orleanian and graduate of Jesuit High School, was a member of the Braves championship team.  He was a 22-year-old rookie that appeared in 72 games as an outfielder.  He had batted .268 with five home runs and 25 RBI during the regular season, but made only one plate appearance in the World Series.  For Larry, the season would be the highlight of his big league career.  He played part of the 1915 season with the Braves and then spent the balance of his baseball career in the minor leagues.  Larry played for the New Orleans Pelicans from 1917 to 1925, and also managed the Pelicans from 1923 to 1938.


Considering the Braves’ history and woeful start of the 1914 season, combined with their meteoric rise during that same season, the adjective ”Miracle” seems duly appropriate.  The Los Angeles Dodgers are hoping their season outcome will match that of the Miracle Braves’ historic season in 1914.  However, the main difference between the two teams was the expectations of each team going into their respective seasons.  I don’t believe that “Miracle” should describe the Dodgers’ season if should they win the National League pennant.  I think “Comeback” Dodgers would be more fitting.


What's Good About Baseball?

My blog last week focused on the adverse fallout from the Biogenesis Scandal and the troublesome ills of the game and its players which were widely exposed to baseball fans.  If you’re like me, you are more than ready to put all that negativity behind you and get on with finishing a promising set of division races leading up to postseason play.  It’s time to direct our attention and energy to “what’s good about baseball.”  Whether they involve events, trends, teams, or personalities, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate the game of baseball.

Following are my views on some of the positive aspects of the game.  I believe these are just some of the reasons why fans of baseball persist in making the claim for the designation of “America’s Pastime.”

 

The Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays, and Oakland A’s, all small-market teams, are in contention for post-season play.  They represent a relatively recent breed of teams whose organizational model is to build their teams through player development and smart trades involving best value, versus the large dollar, free-agent signings intended to provide immediate payoffs of division championships.  These teams are wisely using the annual amateur drafts to stock their teams with prospects and are typically hanging on to them as opposed to using them as trade bait for more established, highly coveted stars in the free-agent market.  The use of these types of strategies is gradually changing the landscape of the game, in effect saying you don’t have to be perennial big spenders like the Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, and Phillies to be successful.  Overall, this is a good situation for the game.

 

The wild card system in the post-season has re-invigorated the final two months of the regular season.  For the ten available post-season slots, there are still fourteen teams who are contenders for them in mid-August.  Only the National League East Division appears to have a run-away leader, in the Atlanta Braves.  The other five divisions have two or more teams remaining in the chase, with their championships still up for grabs.  The new system now allows the possibility that three teams in the same division can make the post-season (two as wild-cards), such as the current situation with the American League East.  The current wild card situation even caused a few teams to alter their player trade strategies at the July 31st trade deadline, because they were still in contention.  Obviously, keeping as many fans as possible engrossed through the final day of the regular season is good for baseball.

 

Baseball has a new crop of young players that have captured the attention of fans everywhere, including those such as Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Manny Machado, Matt Harvey, Yasiel Puig, and Jose Fernandez.  The excitement they have created for their teams and the game in general has a renewal effect.  Many of them are making All-Star teams and gaining other forms of media recognition at a young age, and they appear to be on a path of replacing the Mariano Riveras, Derek Jeters, and Roy Halladays as the next generation of superstars.  We can only hope these younger stars will continue to play the game the right way.

 

In fact, an outcome of the Biogenesis case is that many players and managers are speaking out against cheating and for harsher penalties in order to renew the integrity of the game without the use of PEDs.  This is encouraging for Major League Baseball, as peer pressure from teammates may wind up being the biggest factor for changing the culture of PED usage.

 

The use of advanced baseball metrics, sometimes referred to as “sabrmetrics,” figures prominently in the terminology and analysis of the game of baseball.  It allows objective measures to be used to evaluate various facets of the game.  It is challenging the validity of some of the traditional statistics as ways to effectively assess actual performance of players and teams.  Whether one fully subscribes to this approach or not, it has directly influenced the game, since many general managers, scouts, managers, and related baseball personnel have used it as input to team personnel decisions, on-field strategies, and team plans.  The use of advanced metrics will never fully supplant less objective, often times emotional, discussions about the various facets of the game.  In any case, I personally like all the banter between the different camps.

 

Mariano Rivera will retire at the end of this season as the best relief pitcher in all of baseball history.  He is a sure-fire future Hall of Famer and will be one of those players you look back on twenty-five years from now and say, “I’m glad I got to see the best.”  He has been on a farewell tour of the big league ballparks this season and is deservedly getting the adulation of fans that recognize he has performed his entire career with class and integrity.  Perhaps the most heart-warming tribute to Mariano occurred when the players of the National and American League teams in the All-Star Game in July came out of their dugouts to applaud his fine career, as he entered the game in the eighth inning.

 

Off the field, legendary broadcaster Vince Scully may be nearing the end of his illustrious career at age 85.  With the likes of Mel Allen, Ernie Harwell, Jack Buck, and Harry Kalas gone, he is the last of a generation of “voices of the game” who have entertained and enlightened fans for many years with his distinctive style of play-by-play game-calling.  Will there ever be another one like Vince?

 

One of the splendors of the game of baseball is that it encompasses many dimensions that have fans and media on both ends of their spectrum.  Whether it’s about legendary or rookie players; large-market or small-market teams; players and non-players in the game; or old-school traditional points of view versus more modern analysis of the game, the good part is that you don’t have to pick one end or the other of the spectrum of these various dimensions--you can enjoy them all.


Winners and Losers in the Biogenesis Scandal

Monday’s announcement of the suspensions of twelve Major League players due to their involvement in the Biogenesis Clinic situation unfortunately will not put the issue to rest, thanks to Alex Rodriguez.  While he was delivered a 211-game suspension by Major League Baseball (which carries through the 2014 season), he decided to appeal his punishment, whereas the other suspended players accepted their penalties.  Rodriguez’ case will likely drag out the issue until after the 2013 season, and perhaps longer.  However, at this stage of the process, there have been some clear winners and losers from this scandal.  Let’s take a look at a few.


Winners


Major League Baseball – While A-Rod’s appeal keeps a cloud over the game for a while longer, in the long-term, MLB is the biggest winner.  It was a good day for the business of baseball.  They sent a strong message to the players that PED cheaters will be punished, even those who do not fail drug tests, which was the case for most of the twelve implicated players.  In effect, MLB is saying to the players, “don’t think you take something illegal and not get caught.”  It appears there is consensus among the league, the union, and the players that baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement will get revised to implement more severe penalties for future transgressions.  That’s a strong testament that the game is headed in the right direction to fixing the PED issues.  MLB is also standing tall in professional sports in general, by being proactive in dealing with PED usage.  Many suspect players in other sports have a similar problem, so maybe this will trigger those sports to take similar actions.


Major League Players – Prior to the Biogenesis case, there weren’t many big league players speaking out publicly against PED usage.  They were mostly silent due to potential conflicts they would have created with their players’ union, as well as concern for creating disruption within their own teams.  However, that has changed within the past few weeks, as some prominent players (e. g., Dustin Pedroia, Matt Kemp, and Evan Longoria) have come forward to express their disdain for PED usage and desire to clean up the game.  Strong words, like “cheater” and “selfishness,” have been used to characterize the offending players.  This openness and bluntness is good for the game, as peer pressure from clean players can be one of the biggest factors in chasing PEDs out of the game.


Bud Selig – This one is arguable because Commissioner Selig is one of several culprits, along with the players’ union and team owners and staff, accused of allowing the PED issue to escalate to the point it has.  Many believe Selig and his office turned a blind eye to suspected steroid usage in the late 1990s, and his actions to remedy the situation have been too little, too late.  That may be true, but I give him credit now for pushing the Biogenesis case to closure.  Reportedly, MLB spent a lot of money and got its ducks in a row to get at the bottom of the information leak about the dealings of the Biogenesis Clinic in Miami.  Some baseball analysts are claiming Selig is taking this belated strong action because he wants to preserve his legacy as a successful baseball commissioner.  Regardless, without his current leadership on the PED issues, this could have easily been another suspicious story that was swept under the carpet, with no fundamental change occurring.  I believe Selig’s role in resolving the problems will ultimately be considered in a favorable light.


Gio Gonzalez and Danny Valencia – These two current Major League players were linked with the initial probes of the Biogenesis Clinic, but their names were subsequently cleared by Major League Baseball on Monday.


 

Losers


Alex Rodriguez – As I wrote in my blog on July 29, A-Rod has ruined his career.  His selfish desire to be considered the best in baseball overcame him.  Yes, he has managed to get back on the field with the Yankees this season, but he has managed to lose all his credibility in the game.  His decision to go through the appeal process related to his suspension on Monday will only further tarnish his image.  He can forget election to the select membership of Baseball’s Hall of Fame.


Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers – These two teams are in the midst of division title chases, but now have an additional hurdle to overcome with the critical losses of All-Star slugger Nelson Cruz for the Rangers and All-Star shortstop Jhonny Peralta for the Tigers.  Their teams and their teammates are victims of the suspended players’ poor decisions to be associated with Tony Bosch of the Miami clinic.  Will they be able to recover with replacement players?  If one or both should not reach the playoffs, that will be a disappointing situation for the team and the players.


New York Yankees – The Yankees’ brand has been tarnished with Rodriguez’s involvement in Biogenesis and the related drama that played out in the media leading up to Monday’s announcement of the suspensions.  That could be said of any other team with a player being suspended due to PED usage, but more so for the storied franchise, which has its own image of greatness to preserve.  Furthermore, the Yankees will have to deal with the continued distractions of the Rodriguez appeal.  In another sense, they are “losers” in that they will apparently not be able to easily rid themselves of A-Rod’s remaining salary due under contract.  Reportedly, that was one of their goals in the negotiations around A-Rod’s suspension.


Mariano Rivera – He is negatively impacted because the final seven weeks of the season, which should be a celebration of his career with his announced retirement, will be marred by the presence of Alex Rodriguez on the team.  Attention that should be going to Mo will unfortunately be diverted toward A-Rod.


Players Who Didn’t Reach the Majors – The Biogenesis suspensions remind us of the baseball players who struggled to reach the big leagues, but didn’t because some other player used PEDs to gain the advantage during a close competition for a roster spot.  Of course, these can’t be fully proven, but you have to believe it occurred more than a few times over the years PEDs have been associated with the game.  It’s a shame for the players who wanted to play the game right.


Hall of Fame Candidates – Those candidates suspected of using PEDs, but not proven, will now have a steeper hill to climb to attain baseball immortality.  Examples include Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza.  The Biogenesis outcome advances the position of many current Hall of Fame voters who believe that even a suspicion of PED usage, in addition to players who have admitted to PED usage, warrant omission on their ballots.  Similarly, the increasingly prevalent use of the term “cheater” to describe PED users from the Biogenesis scandal further will solidify these voters’ opinions of players like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa.


Only time will tell if some of these winner-loser designations will pan out as I have suggested.  Despite the desire of many baseball fans who want the PED issue to be put behind them for good, unfortunately I think we will be hearing and reading about this for a while longer.  Instead, many of us would rather focus on “What’s Right With Baseball,” not all this negative stuff.


Pennant Races Heat Up Over the Summer

Several Major League teams got hot over the summer which will make the pennant races thrilling for the last two months of the regular season.  While many folks were predicting at the beginning of the season a Blue Jays and Nationals contest in the World Series. it appears neither will be in the final hunt for playoff berths.  Detroit, Boston, and Oakland currently lead their respective American League divisions, while Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles are atop the National League divisions.


Since June 1st, the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers have been playing well enough to achieve the best records over June and July.  However, as well as the Rays have played over the past two months, they are still a game behind the season-long consistent Red Sox in the American League East.  The Dodgers have made the most dramatic improvement in the National League since June 1, with their 36-18 won-loss record through Saturday.  While the Rays and Dodgers employ different means to team assembly, they both appear to be on track to get to the same end—post season appearances.


The Dodgers last appeared in the playoffs in 2009.  There were high expectations for them at the start of  this season, with some marquee player acquisitions that started during last season and continued over the winter, including Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez and Zach Greinke.  Their new ownership, with a lot of money to spend and hoops legend Magic Johnson as the face, injected new vigor in the franchise.  They appeared to take the approach that winning a championship needed to occur immediately and they were willing to buy it.  However, the Dodgers got off to a miserable start this season primarily due to injuries to Ramirez, Crawford, Matt Kemp, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly, and many analysts were counting them out of the pennant races early on.


Then along came Cuban rookie Yasiel Puig, who took Dodgerland by storm at the beginning of June.  He was able to re-ignite the team and lead them to progressing on a solid winning track.  Zach Grienke, after missing several starts due to injury from an on-field altercation, also picked up the team along with Puig.  However, the best player on the team right now appears to be Hanley Ramirez.  Perhaps his World Baseball Classic participation on the Dominican team, prior to the start of the Major League season, gave him new inspiration to lead a winning team.  After having played only four games due to injury, he rejoined the team on June 4.  He is currently hitting .370, and his OPS is 1.081.  Kemp has been a non-factor for the team for most of the year, playing in only 62 games due to injury.  If he gets healthy again, he could provide an additional boost late in the season.


As expected, Greinke has bolstered the starting rotation headed by ace Clayton Kershaw, who has recorded 10 wins along with his 1.87 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 168 innings.  Korean rookie Hyun-jin Ryu has been a pleasant surprise with 10 wins and a 3.15 ERA, as he picked up for Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly who both have been on the DL for most of the season.  Chris Capuano and Ricky Nolasco, who was recently added from the Florida Marlins, round out the Dodgers rotation.  Kenley Jansen and Brandon League have bolstered the bullpen.


Manager Don Mattingly has kept a cool head throughout the ups and downs of the season thus far.  There was talk during the low points of the early season that he would be on the chopping block, perhaps swapped out for struggling Angels’ skipper Mike Scioscia, a former Dodgers player, after the season.  However, the team’s winning ways these past eight weeks have squelched all that chatter for now.  If the Dodgers don’t win this year, his job may indeed be in jeopardy from impatient ownership.


Before the season began, Tampa Bay figured Toronto would be its primary competitor, since the Blue Jays had overhauled its lineup with a bevy of new players during the offseason.  Instead, the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles appear to be the Rays’ main competition.  In fact, there are many pundits who believe the American League East Division will wind up supplying three teams (Red Sox, Orioles, and Rays) in the postseason, boasting two wild-card entries.


The Rays, under GM Andrew Friedman, take a different tack from the Dodgers on building teams.  The Rays’ 2013 team payroll is $57 million, third lowest in all of Major League Baseball.  Compared to East Division opponents Yankees ($228M), Red Sox ($159M), Blue Jays ($118M), and Orioles ($92M), the Rays get the best value for their relatively small payroll, based on their performance on the field.  They have built their pitching staffs over recent years with player development from within the organization.  They don’t rely on a few superstars to carry their team.  The Rays have shown they are not afraid to unload good players who no longer meet their criteria for best value, as evidenced by the trading of Carl Crawford, B. J. Upton, James Shields, Rafael Soriano, and Matt Garza over the past few years.  Their successful team-building formula has produced three playoff teams in the past five years.


The 2013 edition of the Rays is again built on good pitching.  All-Star Matt Moore heads the starting rotation this year, as former Cy Young Award winner David Price is having a bit of an off-year by his standards.  Jeremy Hellickson has accumulated 10 wins, despite a 4.60 ERA.  Their bullpen is led by closer Fernando Rodney.


The Rays’ offense is largely led by committee--James Loney, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Kelly Johnson, and Matt Joyce.  No one really stands out head-and-shoulders about the rest of the team, but they seem to step up when the games are on the line.  Highly regarded rookie Wil Myers, who was called up on June 18, shows potential to live up to expectations of him, as he provides the Rays additional power for the balance of the season.


Perhaps the MVP of the team is manager Joe Maddon.  He finds ways to win with an absence of superstars.  Instead, he is beating the competition with a set of role players.  On June 23, they were in last place in their division, although still playing above .500 and only five games back of the division leader.  Maddon didn’t panic then and won’t likely pale for the balance of the season against the Red Sox and Orioles.


The Rays and Dodgers are just two of the fascinating teams this season.  The Pittsburgh Pirates seem to be gaining status as “America’s team,” as they attempt to end their drought of 21 years of not having a winning season and more importantly to secure a spot in the postseason.  They have been more popular than the legendary football Steelers this summer—when’s the last time that happened?  The Oakland A’s may be the Majors’ best team since last year’s All-Star break up to today.  They were a Cinderella-type winner last year, but no one can regard them that way anymore.  The Red Sox Nation is delirious over its resurgence this season.  I don’t think they expected themselves to be this good this year, not after winning only 69 games in 2012.  This year, only the Red Sox and Atlanta Braves have had winning records for the entire season.   And don’t count out the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.  They have been two of the most solidly built organizations over the past few years and should be considered perennial contenders for post-season play.


If you haven’t paid close attention to the baseball pennant races so far this season, now is the time to start!


A-Rod A Fallen Baseball Hero

Once at the height of Major League Baseball, Alex Rodriguez has fallen to the depths of “we can’t get him out of baseball fast enough.”  What a shame!  How could he let this happen?  Was he naïve?  Was he stupid?  Did his ego get the best of him?  Did he get bad advice?  Was he seeking perfection?  All of these questions come to mind as we await the impending disclosure of his involvement in the Miami Biogenesis Clinic case and how Major League Baseball and the New York Yankees will correspondingly react.

I guess I’m mostly disappointed in Rodriguez--disappointed that he did not use better judgment.  He had the talent to play in the majors at age 19.  Not many players accomplished that.  He was personable, and good-looking.  He was on the wall poster of a lot of kids’ rooms. He was on the cover of all the major baseball magazines and appeared on countless baseball cards.  He had star appeal from the outset of his career.  He was going to be a sure-fire Hall of Famer.  He was “A-Rod.”  How could he throw that all away by getting involved with performance enhancing drugs?  It makes you wonder if it ever crossed his mind that he would be risking his fabulous career.


In Selena Robert’s 2009 biography of Rodriguez, A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez, it was conveyed that A-Rod was very driven by the image he wanted to project to the media and fans.  He was especially cognizant of how he compared to Yankee teammate Derek Jeter.  After all, A-Rod had to change to the third base position for the Yankees in deference to shortstop Jeter.  Jeter was the face of the Yankees franchise, and ARod coveted that role.  Furthermore, A-Rod wanted to be an icon like the legendary Joe DiMaggio.


In many respects, his pursuit of advancing his image may have accounted for his involvement with PEDs.  He wanted to be the best.  It is likely that, had he not used PEDs, his offensive numbers would not have been as high, but they still would have put him in the company of the all-time best players of MLB.  Even when it appeared A-Rod’s skills might be declining in 2009-2010, as compared to the standards he set early in his career, he was still one of the most productive hitters in the game.  What is so bad about hitting 500 home runs versus 650 home runs?

 

A story broke in Sports Illustrated in February 2009 that A-Rod had used steroids in 2003 while playing for the Texas Rangers.  Before the 2009 season he came clean on national TV by admitting to using steroids early in his career at Texas.  His explanation was that he was “young and stupid.”  His confession came at a time when public admission (specifically that of David Ortiz, Jason Giambi, and Andy Pettitte) was generally viewed as absolution for baseball’s mortal sin of using PEDs.  A-Rod anticipated his image would inevitably be restored.  However, he was being called “A-Roid” and “A-Fraud.”  Were we somehow supposed to feel sorry for him?  Even after this admission, he apparently continued to take PEDS that were more difficult to detect through normal drug testing.


Did his professional associates and medical advisors convince him he would never get caught?  Was he so driven to be the best ever?  Did he think he was above Major League Baseball?  For most of us who have a love for, but never played, professional sports, we can't relate to this behavior or attitude.  I think he suffered from an “illness” with symptoms of idiocy and gullibility.


A-Rod had a huge target on his back ever since he signed that first long-term contract with the Texas Rangers and later a colossal extension with the Yankees.  His critics made the case that he was being over-valued in the long-term deals.  However, I don't fault him for being able to get such lucrative contracts.  His agent and marketing consultants apparently did a fabulous job.  But I believe A-Rod’s financial success also contributed to his immense self-image and fed his growing ego.  In retrospect though, his contracts later became examples for many clubs to shy away from those types of deals.  (Except, I still can’t figure out why the Yankees agreed to the10-year extension after the 2007 season.)  A-Rod is currently owed $86 million from 2014 to 2017, according to Baseball-Reference.com.


There has been much speculation about how Major League Baseball will deal with Rodriguez as a result of his involvement with Biogenesis.  Following Ryan Braun’s suspension last week for the rest of the 2013 season for his involvement in the case (which we still don’t know what that was), some believe A-Rod’s punishment will be more severe, including possible suspension for life.


I heard a radio interview last week with former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent that he believes current Commissioner, Bud Selig, is considering a lifetime expulsion.  Because of this threat, A-Rod is reportedly negotiating to preserve the amount of money owed under his current contract.  A more likely scenario is that A-Rod will be suspended through the 2014 season.  After that, who knows if he’ll be physically able to compete at the Major League level again?  He’ll turn 40 in 2015.  Perhaps Japan or Korea will be in his future.


It is apparent the Yankees don’t want A-Rod back on the field in pinstripes, regardless of how well he might play.  And they could really use the help now with a struggling offense.  The two parties have been sparring in the press.  The Yankees have been mischievously manipulating Rodriguez about his medical condition and this past week successfully delayed his return from a rehab assignment in the minors until the first week of August.  Unquestionably, they would like to get out from under A-Rod’s remaining contract years.  I suspect that they feel like their Yankees’ brand and reputation have been tarnished enough, that it’s time to cut their losses.  The situation is analogous to going through a divorce in the public media.


I, along with a lot of people, would like to see baseball’s PED issues finally put to rest.  I’ve noticed an increase in the number of current players who are speaking out to express their disdain for the players continuing to use PEDs and to help ensure the game’s integrity is fully restored.  The MLB Player’s Association has recently been uncharacteristically silent on the current state of things.  Hopefully, Biogenesis is the trigger for starting to make PEDs a thing of the past.


Unfortunately, Rodriguez will fall into the same category as Clemens, Bonds, Palmeiro, and Ramirez--some of the greatest ballplayers of our generation and perhaps of all time, but whose careers will forever be tainted by PEDs.  They are fallen heroes—baseball heroes gone bad.


Too bad, A-Rod.


Atlanta Braves Spoiled My Chance at Seeing Baseball History

August 1st will mark the 35th anniversary of Pete Rose’s attempt to break the National League consecutive-game hitting streak held by Wee Willie Keeler. Keeler’s record was 44 games, set in 1897, which is twelve shy of Joe DiMaggio’s 1941 all-time Major League record of 56.  I was fortunate to be able to attend Rose’s game against the Atlanta Braves on August 1, 1978, one in which he had the opportunity to break Keeler’s record.  I have had the good fortune to attend about 60 or so Major League games in my lifetime, and this was the most historically significant game I attended.

 

Of course, I had been tracking Rose’s pursuit of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, which started on June 14.  I happened to be attending a training class related to my work in Atlanta the week starting July 31.  It was one of those courses that involved 10-hour class days and had a very rigid schedule.  However, there was no way I was going to miss this game!

 

So, when Rose tied Keeler’s record of 44 games on July 31, I informed (note I didn’t say “requested”) my training instructor the next morning I would be leaving class early in order to see the game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.  I was lucky the instructor was also a baseball fan; hence, he was supportive of my quest and actually detailed out the public transportation bus route for me.  However, he cautioned me there would only be a few buses that would be returning to downtown Atlanta after the game, and I should be especially mindful of the time so as not to miss them.

 

I arrived at the ballpark in time to see the last of the batting practice swings by the Cincinnati Reds.  Recall that in 1978 some of the remnants of the Big Red Machine teams were still around--Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, George Foster, in addition to Rose.  It was quite a thrill to see these guys who were already immortals in my eyes.  I saw Rose spend time with a youngster in a wheelchair down on the field before the game, and I remember thinking, “what a great guy Pete must be.”

 

I was one of 31, 159 fans in attendance at the game, a nice crowd on a weekday.  There was an air of “something special’s going to happen tonight,” in an anticipation of Rose breaking Keeler’s record.

 

Rose led off the game with a walk for the Reds against Braves starter Larry McWilliams and scored the first of three runs for the Reds in the first inning.  Okay, it wasn’t a hit, but it wasn’t a bad start.

 

Rose came up again in the top of the second and hit a line drive back through middle, only for McWilliams to snare it just as the ball appeared to have already passed him.  A few inches to the left or right, or a slower reflex by McWilliams, would have resulted in a single to centerfield and new National League record-holder.  Dang it!

 

Rose grounded out to the shortstop in the 5th inning and then lined into a double play, third to first, in the 7th inning.  Things were now looking pretty grim for his breaking the record.

 

By the end of the 7th inning, the game was out of hand for the Reds.  Dale Murphy and Bob Horner of the Braves had each hit home runs in the 5th, as did Barry Bonnell in the 7th.  The Braves scored five more runs in the bottom of the 8th to further secure the victory.  However, the game was running long on time, and I began to worry that I might miss the last bus back to my hotel.

 

Rose was scheduled to bat again in the top of the ninth, so I rationalized I couldn’t leave the game then.  My strategy became one of leaving my regular seat to search for the stadium exit closest to the bus stop outside the stadium and then watch the final inning in a seat near that exit.  In that way, after Rose batted, I could minimize the amount of time it took to catch the last bus.  Thus, before the top of the 9th inning, I found that exit, with the help of a stadium attendant, and wound up being the only person sitting in centerfield, since most of everyone else, except some Rose fans, had pretty much gone home in the blowout game.

 

Rose was due up in the third spot in the top of the 9th inning.  I was thinking the odds were good that he would finally get the historic hit to keep his streak alive.  Furthermore, there was no additional pressure on the Braves to close out the Reds in a hitless fashion, after banging out 21 hits and 16 runs themselves.  Braves’ relief pitcher, Gene Garber, had already pitched the 7th and 8th innings.  Surely, he had tired somewhat.

 

Well, Garber had other thoughts about the 9th inning.  Apparently he wanted to finish the game quickly, but not for the same reason as I.  He wound up striking out Junior Kennedy and Vic Correll for the first two outs.  As Rose came up to bat, I was struggling to see well from my centerfield viewpoint.  Regardless, I just wanted him to get that hit.  Garber turned out to be a bulldog on the mound that night and also struck out Rose for the final out of the game.  Thus, the consecutive-game hitting streak had ended, with Rose still tied with Keeler.

 

I did wind up catching the bus back to my hotel on time.  But it wasn’t any consolation though, as I was truly disappointed in not seeing an historic baseball moment in person.

 

In 2012, I got an opportunity to meet Pete Rose in person in Las Vegas.  I had understood he spent a lot of days there now signing autographs at a store in a huge shopping mall.  I brought him a complimentary copy of the book I had recently authored, Family Ties:  A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives, since he and his son, Pete Jr., are prominently mentioned in the book.  Despite my gift of the book, he still made me pay $75 for his autograph, and he generally appeared unappreciative of the book.  When I happened to mention that I had been at the game in which he snapped his hitting streak, he was not too interested in discussing the game or the streak.  Consequently, his aloofness affected my opinion of him as a person.

 

However, I have to acknowledge Rose was indeed the "Hit King," except for that 0-for-5 night in 1978.


Was Puig Worthy of an All-Star Selection?

The month of June in Major League Baseball was practically dominated by rookie phenom Yasiel Puig, especially in DodgerLand.  His fan appeal brought back memories of “Fernando-Mania”, when Mexican-born pitcher Fernando Valenzuela captured the nation’s attention in 1981 with his unexpected emergence for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Much of the internet and sports talk show chatter in the last couple of weeks have centered around whether Puig was worthy of an All-Star Game selection, despite his short stint in the Majors thus far.

 

Normally, I am pretty conservative when it comes to following the tradition and preserving the integrity of the game of baseball.  However, in this case, I landed on the side of the “Pick Puig” camp in thinking his selection was indeed deserved and good for the game in general.

 

However, it turned out Puig was unsuccessful in several opportunities to make the National League team.  Manager Bruce Bochy passed over him in picking the alternates following the fan voting for the starters.  Then Puig was among five National League players put forward for the final roster spot, again determined by fan voting.  He wound up coming in second place to Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves.

 

So, one might argue that the normal All-Star player selection process was followed, he had his opportunities, and the result is what it is—Puig will sit this one out.

 

Critics of Puig’s selection say he hasn’t played enough games to prove he is of All-Star caliber, that there are other quality players who have played the entire season and are more deserving.  Other detractors say Puig hasn’t paid his dues yet at the big league level, and his selection would weaken the traditional standard of what it means to be an All-Star.  Phillies pitcher Jonathan Papelbon said of Puig’s potential selection to the All-Star team, “It’s an absolute joke…to me it does an injustice to the veteran players that have been in the league eight, nine or ten years…”

 

However, my case for Puig being on the team was that he was the first player to win National League Player of the Month (for June) in his first month of being on a Major League roster.  He was also the NL Rookie Player of the Month, only the fifth time in history a player has won both awards in the same month.  Puig hit .436/.467/.713 for the month of June, the highest batting average ever by anyone in his first month, according to Elias Sports Bureau.  His 44 hits in June were the second highest of any player in the first month of his career.  Oh, by the way, Puig also had three outfield assists.

 

Before Puig made his debut on June 3, the Los Angeles Dodgers had posted a 23-32 record.  In the month of June, the Dodgers were 15-11 with Puig, and were 46-46 overall as of July 12, only 2 ½ games out of first place in the NL West Division.  Do you think Puig made an impact in his 37 games?  Indeed, he has brought life to an otherwise listless, under-performing team.

 

Reportedly, Puig has not made many friends among his opponents.  Some have been critical of his “all-out” style of play—that he’s too aggressive on the bases and reckless in running into walls and diving on the ground for plays in the outfield, suggesting a bit of showmanship.. Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly was quoted as saying, “he probably irritates the other team.”  Perhaps Puig lacks maturity at this early stage of his career, but doesn’t his approach on the field get you excited about seeing him play?

 

Whether or not you like it, there is the factor of the relatively recent rule that the winner of the All-Star Game now determines home field advantage for the World Series.  I can make an argument that I want the best players on the team.  Isn’t Puig one of the best players in the National League right now?  With the game on the line in the 9th inning of the All-Star Game, would you rather have him pinch-hitting, or Marco Scutaro, one of those “twelve-year veterans” Bochy named as an alternate?

 

Let’s face the truth.  The Major League All-Star Game is a game for the fans.  It’s true that Puig didn’t win the final spot in the fan voting.  I have no argument with Freddie Freeman beating out Puig.  Freeman should have been one of the alternates anyway, based on his performance this season.  However, it says something when Puig’s total number of fan votes was the fourth highest all-time.  Major League Baseball has a dream player from a marketing standpoint in Puig.  They need more young players with fan appeal like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Matt Harvey and Manny Machado.

 

So, unless there is a last-minute substitution of Puig for one of the current members of this year’s All-Star team, who may opt out because of injury or other personal reasons, we’ll have to wait until next year to see him in the midsummer classic.

 

Well, don’t forget that Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio had played in only 57 games before his first All-Star selection in his 1936 debut year.  Puig has only managed to do in one month what it took others in the league three months to accomplish this season!


Baseball Relatives Prominent in the Mid-Summer All-Star Classic

This year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game on July 16 in New York will mark eighty years since the first mid-summer classic.  In my book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives, I noted that the All-Star Game is just one of many themes in understanding how baseball’s family relationships have permeated the game over the years.  This year’s All-Star teams will be no exception.

 

Before I delve into the history of baseball’s relatives as participants in the All-Star Game, I’d like to quickly review the beginnings of this event in 1933.  The game was initially conceived to be a one-time charity event in conjunction with the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933. It was suggested by Chicago Tribune sports editor, Arch Ward, not by the officials associated with Major League Baseball.   From the very beginning, it was proposed that the fans be allowed to vote on the roster of players.  Naturally, that idea caught on because the fans saw an opportunity to see a “dream team” collection of baseball’s star players of the day.   However, some of the Major League owners were skeptical of the inaugural game, because they were concerned it would set a precedent of continuing to be a charity event, if the game was repeated as an annual occurrence.

 

Of course, the annual game did continue.  With the exception of the war year 1945, there has been an All-Star game each year since 1933.  During the years 1959-1961, there were actually two All-Star games played each year.

 

Eighty years ago, the first All-Star game included brothers Rick and Wes Ferrell.  Other players on the All-Star squads, Bill Dickey, Paul Waner, and Tony Cuccinello, also had brothers who played in the big leagues. All-Star Earl Averill would have a son who was a major leaguer.

 

The 2013 All-Stars include Robinson Cano, Yadier Molina, Prince Fielder, and Jason Grilli, each of whom has a relative in Major League Baseball.   In 2011, when Cano participated in the Home Run Derby competition prior to the All-Star game, his father Jose, a former Houston Astros player in 1969, pitched to his son.  Fielder’s father, Cecil, had been an All-Star selection for three years in the early 1990s.

 

The three DiMaggio brothers (Joe, Dominic, and Vince) made twenty-two All-Star teams between them.   From 1936 to 1952, at least one DiMaggio brother played on an All-Star team, except for 1945 when the game was cancelled due to travel restrictions during World War II.  Joe and Dominic were teammates on All-Star teams on six occasions, but only once did they appear as starters in the same game.

 

In 1942, Mort and Walker Cooper were starting battery mates, the only such combination in All-Star history.  They were both starters, representing the St. Louis Cardinals, in 1943 as well. 


When Buddy Bell appeared in the 1973 All-Star Game for the American League, he and his father Gus became the first father-son combination to appear in the mid-summer classic.

 

In the 1990 All-Star Game, brothers Sandy and Roberto Alomar were selected to play, while their father Sandy , Sr. was named a coach for the American League.  Sandy and Roberto Alomar are the only set of brothers to appear as both teammates and opponents in All-Star Game contests.

 

The only father-son combination to be named Most Valuable Player in the All-Star Game were Ken Griffey, Sr. (1980) and Ken Griffey, Jr. (1992).

 

Family Ties can be purchased at http://thetenthinning.com/store.html.


Mississippi State Vies For First CWS Title

#HailState.

 

Mississippi State is starting its pursuit of the College World Series championship today against UCLA.  Not Vanderbilt, not South Carolina, not Florida, not LSU, all of whom were the more likely SEC contenders for the national title, based on recent history. This is the sixth consecutive year an SEC team has made the CWS finals.  However, for the first time in my 40+ years of following my alma mater, I’ll join a lot of ‘Dawgs fans in getting a rare opportunity to root for them to accomplish what they’ve never done before—a national championship in baseball, or any other major college sport for that matter.

 

This year’s field of CWS participants had some non-traditional teams—Louisville, Indiana, North Carolina State, along with surprising Mississippi State.  Some might argue this year’s overall lineup of teams was one of the weakest in the history of the Series.  MSU last appeared in the CWS in 2007, but the last time they had a serious chance at the title was in 1985, when Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, and Bobby Thigpen were headlining the team.  There have been seven other CWS appearances by MSU going back to 1971.  However, the team has averaged only a bit over one win per series in these nine appearances.

 

While MSU may not have the history of CWS winning experience as some of the other college baseball powerhouses, make no mistake about it, the Bulldogs have a strong baseball tradition in the South.  In fact, a case can be made that the Bulldog program, under head coach Ron Polk, was responsible for the rise in popularity of college baseball as a spectator sport, when they began drawing up to eight or nine thousand fans for regular-season games back in the early 1980s.  In fact, on April 30th of this year the Bulldogs drew 14,562 fans at Dudy Noble Field for a home game against Auburn.  Did you know that MSU holds all ten of the top ten attendances for NCAA campus baseball games, of all time?

 

Hunter Renfroe, Adam Frazier, Ross Mitchell, Kendall Graveman, Chad Girodo, and Jonathan Holder headline the 2013 edition of the Bulldogs under head coach John Cohen.  Shortstop Frazier, a sixth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates this year, was on a hot streak as a hitter in the Super Regionals and has carried it over into the CWS.  Mitchell has an amazing 13-0 record as a relief pitcher.  Graveman, an eighth-round selection of the Toronto Blue Jays, has a 3-0 record in four NCAA tournament appearances.  Chad Girodo has a 9-1 record for the season and was selected in the ninth round by the Toronto Blue Jays.  Holder recorded his 21st save of the season over Oregon State last Friday.  Outfielder Renfroe was an All-SEC player this year and the thirteenth overall pick of the 2013 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres.  


In May, Hunter Renfroe was awarded the Ferriss Trophy as the top college player in Mississippi.   The annual award is named after Dave “Boo” Ferriss, who was actually Mississippi State’s first baseball scholarship athlete in 1940.  Ferriss is the State of Mississippi’s most famous baseball legend, having been inducted in the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame and later coaching Delta State University to 639 wins.

 

I spoke to Boo (we are both natives of Shaw, MS) this past week and asked him about MSU’s chances against UCLA.  He was optimistic that the Bulldogs could win it all. He felt that their balance of pitching and hitting would match up well with the Bruins.  Of course, Boo likes Renfroe’s bat.  He joked that the power hitter’s professional signing will likely make him more money than all the other residents of Copiah County, from where Renfroe hails.

 

So, I’m using this opportunity to brag about Mississippi State baseball.  Let’s hope the bragging rights will include a national championship later this week! 


#HailState.


How I Spent My Father's Day Weekend

You probably remember in junior high school how you were required to write an English paper on your class trip to the local museum or the state park.  Well, for this week’s blog post, I decided to give you my “trip report” of my Father’s Day weekend in Miami, attending a three-game series between the Marlins and Cardinals.


My son Lee and I had planned this trip back on Opening Day.  We usually try to make a trek to a different Major League ballpark each year.  Since Marlins Park just opened last year, it made our short-list.  Plus, we have the New Orleans Zephyrs’ affiliation with the Marlins. I grew up in the Mississippi Delta at a time when Jack Buck and Harry Caray were broadcasting Cardinals’ games throughout the region, so I had a connection there too.  It turned out Lee and I were going to see the Major’s best and worst teams this season.


As I mentioned, Marlins Park opened for the 2012 season.  It is settled among quaint neighborhoods of the Little Havana area of Miami.  The stadium is very reminiscent of Houston’s Minutemaid Park—modern architecture, retractable roof, all the modern fan amenities—a very colorful, sheik-looking facility.


Unlike the iconic stadiums like Wrigley and Fenway, which exist in similar neighborhood settings, versus the newer downtown stadiums, the fan experience outside the stadium has still yet to develop.  It is sorely lacking, as in non-existent, the neighborhood bars, food vendors, and baseball memorabilia shops.  But you have to acknowledge that those historical parks probably took years to develop their current atmospheres.  However, while Marlins Park is a very pleasant stadium for watching a game, it won’t likely wind up on the future list of historic parks, like PNC Park, Camden Yard, and the new Yankee Stadium.


Hard-core fans like Lee and I were disappointed that the stadium did not open until an hour and 15 minutes before the games.  We did not see the home-team Marlins take batting practice or have much time to roam the stadium before the games.  Lee frustratingly Tweeted the Marlins organization that “they were missing out on a great opportunity” to get more fans engaged in the major league experience.


I was excited that two of my fantasy league pitchers, Jake Westbrook and Lance Lynn, would be starting the Friday and Saturday games for the Cardinals.  But as it turned out, both pitchers got shellacked by the Marlins and wound up with game ERAs over 10.000 and WHIPs over 2.00, categories in which my team were already pretty dismal.  Sometimes, I’m better off not paying attention to my fantasy team’s players.


The Marlins played well on Friday and squeaked out a win, 5-4.  It was their 20th win this season, the lowest on the Majors—yes, even lower than the Astros!


Saturday’s game was a slugfest.  Each team batted through the entire order in the first inning! The game ended in a 13-7 victory for the Cards, with both teams accounting for a total of 28 hits.  Carlos Beltran hit a home run from both sides of the plate, a fairly rare occurrence in one game.  Marlins Park has a cavernous field, but Beltran managed to hit each of his home runs down the foul lines.


The Fish dominated on Sunday.  Ricky Nolasco held the Cardinals to three hits in seven innings.  The Marlins’ Juan Pierre was a hitting machine and helped propel the Marlins to a 7-2 victory.


For the series, the Marlins’ club had only two former Zephyr players in the starting lineup of position players, for a single game each—catcher Rob Brantly and outfielder Justin Ruggiano.  However, we did get to see former Zephyr hurlers, Nolasco, Steve Cishek, Dan Jennings, and Tom Koehler, who started Saturday’s game.  Slidell, LA native, Logan Morrison, has recently come of the disabled list, but he did not make an appearance in these games.  (I guess “LoMo” needed time to catch up on his Twitter activity!)  Each time Lee and I have attended a big league game, we try to assess whether we may be seeing a future Hall of Famer play.  I think we came up short this time.  Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina are indeed All-Star-type players, but will likely fall short of Hall of Fame election.  The book is probably still out on the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton, but he shows promise of being a dominant player.


The attendance at each of the games was around 16,000.  There were actually more Cardinals’ fans there, based on the amount of red shirts in the stands.  It’s sad to see the Marlins’ franchise struggle like that at the gate.  There had been such high hopes last year with the new stadium, a new manager (Ozzie Guillen), and a re-stocked team.  I was among those last season who predicted that the Marlins would actually win the National League pennant.  Boy, was I wrong, along with a few more folks.


However, over the winter, owner Jeffrey Loria dumped his high profile, high-salaried players, and consequently Giancarlo Stanton and Juan Pierre are pretty much the only recognizable players now on the roster, unless you happen to be a relative of the other players.


After baseball, food is next in line for Lee’s and my favorite things.  We typically like to try the local cuisines on our baseball trips.  So, this weekend we indulged ourselves on Miami’s fare of mojitos, cubano sandwiches, Cuban mac-and-cheese, and black beans and rice.


Even though the Saturday contest was filled with a lot of offense and excitement, perhaps the biggest highlight during the game for Lee and me was another game, in the College World Series -- Mississippi State vs. Oregon State.  With both of us having our college days tied to Mississippi State, I have to admit this other game had our primary attention for the first half of the Marlins’ game.  Twitter was our only vehicle for getting batter-by-batter updates during the college game.  Lee’s Blackberry battery ran out by the fifth inning, and I was down to less than 20% power on my iPhone near the end of the college game.  However, we managed to cheer the ‘Dawgs to a 5-4 comeback victory.  The fans in the seats around us were a bit dumbfounded when we were “high-fiving,” hooting, and hollering between innings of the Marlins’ game.  It appeared to them we were attending a different game…in a way, we were!


On the flight back to New Orleans Sunday night, Lee and I were keeping tabs of the LSU-UCLA score in the College World Series.   Of course, there would be nothing better than seeing Mississippi State and LSU play for all the marbles in the championship game!   Even though LSU lost its first game, I still have hopes of seeing the two SEC teams square off in the final series.


All in all, the trip to Miami was a great way to spend a Father’s Day weekend—with family, baseball, and food.  I’ll take that kind of trip any day!


Father's Day All-Star Team

As Father’s Day approaches later this week, naturally it‘s a good time to reflect on what our fathers have meant to us, how they’ve influenced our lives, and how much we appreciate them.

 

It’s only fitting in observance of Father’s Day that we have an all-star team comprised of Major League players who were fathers of Major League sons.  It is my hope these fathers were “all-stars” off the field as well.

 

1B – Tony Perez, Hall of Famer, father of Eduardo Perez and Victor Perez (minor leaguer)

 

2B – Eddie Collins Sr., Hall of Famer, father of Eddie Collins Jr.

 

3B – Buddy Bell, five-time All-Star, father of David Bell, Mike Bell, and Ricky Bell (minor leaguer)

 

SS – Maury Wills, five-time All-Star, father of Bump Wills

 

OF – Pete Rose Sr., seventeen-time All-Star, father of Pete Rose Jr.

 

OF –Tony Gwynn, Hall of Famer, father of Anthony Gwynn Jr.

 

OF –Tim Raines Sr., seven-time All-Star, father of Tim Raines Jr.

 

C – Yogi Berra, Hall of Famer, father of Dale Berra and Larry Berra Jr. (minor leaguer)

 

SP – Ed Walsh, Hall of Famer, father of Ed Walsh Jr.

 

RP – Jeff Russell, two-time All-Star, father of James Russell

 

DH – Cecil Fielder, three-time All-Star, father of Prince Fielder

 

Manager–Felipe Alou, father of Moises Alou

 

Coach –Jose Cruz Sr., father of Jose Cruz Jr.

 

Coach – Sandy Alomar Sr., father of Sandy Alomar Jr. and Roberto Alomar

 

As with any all-star team, there are always a few worthy players who are left off because there just aren’t enough available spots.  There are some pretty good baseball fathers among my group of reserves:  George Sisler, Bobby Bonds, Ken Griffey Sr., Bob Boone, Mel Stottlemyre, and Pedro Borbon, Sr.

 

Baseball’s numerous family relationships are not limited to just the players.  Practically every role in the business of baseball has been filled with examples of people who also had relatives in professional baseball.

 

Below are some baseball fathers, whose sons and grandsons followed them in the same baseball capacity:

 

Owner – William Wrigley Jr., father of Phil Wrigley and grandfather of Wiliam Wrigley III

 

Executive – Larry MacPhail, father of Lee MacPhail and grandfather of Andy MacPhail

 

Scout – Bob Fontaine Sr., father of Bob Fontaine Jr.

 

Umpire – Ed Runge, father of Paul Runge and grandfather of Brian Runge

 

Groundskeeper – Emeril Bossard, father of Gene Bossard and grandfather of Roger Bossard

 

Clubhouse Manager – Lou Cucuzza Sr., father of Rob Cucuzza and Lou Cucuzza Jr.

 

Broadcaster – Harry Caray, father of Skip Caray and grandfather of Chip Caray

 

All fathers should be honored as “all-stars” on Father’s Day, even if they didn’t play sports.  My own father was an “all-star,” yet he never set foot on an athletic field.  (As a farmer, his “fields” were filled with rows of cotton and soybeans.)  However, Dad surely watched enough sports events in which my four siblings and I participated, and he tirelessly transported us back and forth to innumerable practices and games.  That’s what made him an all-star to us!

 

The above baseball family relationships are just a few of the 3,500 relatives mentioned in my book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives, which can be purchased at http://thetenthinning.com/store.html.

 


Rasmus Brothers Oppose Each Other in Reunion

On May 27, the Rasmus brothers did something they had never done before.  Cory, a pitcher who had just been called up to the Atlanta Braves, faced his brother, Colby, who plays outfield for the Toronto Blue Jays, in a Major League Baseball game.  It was the first time they had played each other in anything other than a high-school scrimmage.  Colby hit a double off of Cory, as the Blue Jays defeated the Braves, 9-3.  In what was his Major League debut, Cory yielded three earned runs in two innings pitched.  The last time two brothers were matched up in a pitcher-batter confrontation in a Major League game was in 2010, when Jared and Jeff Weaver faced each other.


Colby and Cory are only part of an active baseball family.  Their brother Casey is playing Single-A baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, while a fourth brother, Cyle, played college baseball at Columbus State University in Georgia.  Their father, Anthony, was a 10th round draft pick of the California Angels in the 1986 Major League draft, and he went on to play three seasons of minor league ball.


Colby was the first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005.  Prior to the 2009 season, he was the No. 3 ranked prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America.  At age 22, he wound up as the regular centerfielder with the big league club that season and finished eighth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.  However, in July 2011, he was part of an eight-player deal that sent him to the Toronto Blue Jays.  His best offensive power season was in 2012 with the Blue Jays, when he homered 25 times and knocked in 75 runs.


Cory, almost 18 months younger than Colby, was the first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in 2006.  The right-handed pitcher switched to a reliever role in 2012, and had only pitched in 20 games at the Triple-A level when he was brought up by the Braves in late May.  There have only been six previous sets of Major League brothers selected as first-round picks in the major league amateur draft.


Coming out of Liberty University, Casey was the 36th round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in 2011.  The catcher is currently playing at the Single-A level in the Braves organization.


The Rasmus brothers’ recent opposition evokes some historic matchups of Major League brothers from the past:


  • Alex Gaston of the Boston Red Sox broke up brother Milt’s (St. Louis Browns) no-hitter in 1926, hitting the first pitch for a single with one out in the ninth inning.


  • On July 19, 1933, pitcher Wes Ferrell (Cleveland Indians) yielded a home run to his brother Rick (Boston Red Sox).  Wes also hit a home run in the same inning, the first time brothers on opposite teams homered in the same game.


  • Joe Niekro (Houston Astros) hit only one home run in his twenty-two year major league career—and that was off his brother Phil (Atlanta Braves) on May 29, 1976.


  • Greg (Chicago Cubs) and Mike Maddux (Philadelphia Phillies) were the first rookie brothers to pitch against each other in the same game, on September 29, 1986.


If Casey were to also reach the big leagues, the Rasmus brothers would become only the 21st family of three or more brothers to play in the Major Leagues.  The DiMaggios (Joe, Dominic, and Vince) are the most noteworthy brothers with this distinction.  The most recent set of three siblings playing in the Majors were the Molina brothers (Yadier, Bengie, and Jose) during 1998-2012.  Yadier and Jose are still active today.  There were four O’Neill brothers playing in the Major Leagues during 1901-1928, and five Delahanty brothers during 1888-1915.  You can bet the Rasmus family is pulling hard for Casey!


In Chapter 13 of my book, Family Ties:  A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives, there are many fascinating facts about baseball relatives who were opponents or teammates.  Family Ties is an extensive reference for the many family relationships in baseball, containing information on over 3,500 players, managers, coaches, scouts, umpires, broadcasters, executives, and owners who had relatives in professional baseball.


You can find out more information about Family Ties at the "Store" link above.


All-Star Team of Military Veterans

On Memorial Day, as we honor the service men and women who died while in the United States Armed Forces, baseball followers should recall the Major League players who died while serving in the military.  Three big league players died overseas during World War I.  Eddie Grant was the most notable, as he was killed in action in France.  Major Leaguers Elmer Gedeon and Harry M. O’Neill were killed in action during World War II.  Major Leaguer Robert O. “Bob” Neighbors was never found after missing in action following a bombing mission during the Korean War.


Memorial Day is also a time to remember all veterans of the Armed Forces, so I’ve taken the opportunity to nominate a “Military Veterans” All-Star team of Major League players who interrupted their baseball careers with service in the Armed Forces.  To round out the club, I’ve also incorporated a manager, two coaches, an executive, and even an umpire. 


There are quite a few Hall of Famers among this group and yet many of them missed baseball seasons in the prime of their careers.  Who knows how many victories Bob Feller would have posted or how many home runs Ted Williams would have slugged had they not missed those years!


Our sincere gratitude to all who served this country so well over the years—and not just the ballplayers!


Here’s my All-Star team:


1B – Hank Greenberg, one of the first Major League players to enlist during WW II, initially in the Army.  Later enlisted in the Air Force where he rose to the rank of Captain with four battle stars. He missed the entire 1942-1944 seasons and part of 1945.  HOFer.


2B – Charlie Gehringer, at age 39, enlisted in the Navy after the 1942 season during WW II and became a Lieutenant Commander. HOFer.


3B – Frank Malzone, missed the 1952 and 1953 seasons due to service in the Army, prior to his first Major League season. 6-time All-Star.


SS – Rabbit Maranville, missed most of the 1918 season during WW I, enlisting in the Navy and serving on the USS Pennsylvania as a gunner. HOFer.


OF – Ted Williams, missed almost five full seasons as Navy air corps pilot during World War II and 39 missions in the Marines’ air wing during the Korean conflict. HOFer.


OF – Joe DiMaggio, missed three full seasons while in the Army during WW II.  HOFer.


OF – Johnny Mize, spent three years in the Navy, stationed on a Pacific island during WW II, missing the 1943-1945 seasons. HOFer.


C – Bill Dickey, missed the 1944 and 1945 seasons while in the Navy during WW II. HOFer.


DH – Ralph Kiner, spent the 1943-1945 seasons in the Navy during WW II. HOFer.


LHP – Warren Spahn, spent 1943-1945 and part of 1946 in the Army during WW II. Fought in the Battle of the Bulge, receiving a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.  Received a battlefield commission. HOFer.


RHP – Bob Feller, spent 1942-1945 seasons as chief specialist on the USS Alabama during WW II, earning five campaign ribbons and eight battle stars. HOFer.


RP – Hoyt Wilhelm, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and received a Purple Heart during WW II, missed the 1943-1945 seasons. HOFer.


Mgr – Ralph Houk, saw combat action in WW II from 1942 to 1945, achieving the rank of Major.


Coach – Danny Ozark, spent three years in the Army during WW II, fighting at the Battle of the Bulge and Omaha Beach, receiving a Purple Heart and five battle stars.


Coach – Billy Hitchcock, spent 1943-1945 in the Army Air Corps during WW II, receiving a Bronze Star.


Exec – Larry MacPhail, enlisted as a private and rose to rank of Captain during WW I; served as a Colonel as special assistant to the Undersecretary of War during WW II. HOFer.


Ump – Nestor Chylak, served in the Army during WW II, seriously wounded in Battle of the Bulge.

 

Below are a few “honorable mention” players, not because of their play on the ball field, but due to their service on the battle field:


Moe Berg, fluent in twelve languages, a counter-intelligence spy during WW II in a military organization that was the forerunner of the CIA , serving after his playing career.


Hank Bauer, served in the Marines from 1942 to 1945 during WWII, receiving two Bronze Stars, seeing action at Guadalcanal.


Al Bumbry, awarded the Bronze Star for service in Vietnam during 1969 and 1970, prior to his Major League career.


Lloyd Merriman, trained as a pilot near the end of WW II, then served as a jet pilot with 80 combat missions in the Marine Corps during the Korean conflict, missing the 1952-1953 seasons.

Ryan Father-Son Duo Now Adversaries

Reid Ryan’s appointment as President of the Houston Astros organization this week means he’ll have to be careful about swapping baseball insights and information with his father, Nolan, who is currently CEO of the Texas Rangers.  Since they are now opponents in the American League West Division, you can bet they’ll be guarded about the baseball operations of their respective teams.

 

This unfamiliar situation represents another “first” for family relationships in Major League Baseball.   While there have been numerous father-son combinations of executives in baseball history, there has never been a duo who was active for opposing teams at the same time.

 

Reid is certainly no newcomer on the baseball landscape.  A former 17th round draft pick of the Texas Rangers in 1994, his professional playing career was short.  A standout pitcher at Texas Christian University, his was a case of not being able to fill the shoes of his fireballing father into the big leagues.  However, he found his calling in baseball ownership and operations, when he helped form Ryan-Sanders Baseball in 1998, which now owns the minor league franchise of Round Rock (Triple-A, Rangers affiliation) and Corpus Christi (Double-A, Astros affiliation).  Both franchises have been highly successful under Reid’s leadership as President and CEO.

 

Houston Astros owner, Jim Crane, selected 41-year-old Reid to replace George Postolos who resigned from the Astros.  Reid will have the daunting task to produce a huge turnaround with the Astros.  Currently in last place in the American League West Division, on a pace to win only 45-50 games this year, Reid will have to use all of his skillsets to lead the change into a contending team.  Prior to Reid’s appointment, Houston had been following a track to re-build the organization through personnel development within the organization.  Having the first overall draft picks last year and again this year should help that.  It will be interesting to see if Reid affects this strategy. Furthermore, with a losing club for the past several years using a cast of “no-name” players, the Astros’ home attendance has dwindled, and it will be another huge task to win back disillusioned fans.

 

In March, the elder Ryan lost his title as President of the Texas Rangers to Jon Daniels, but retained his role as CEO.  It prompted speculation that Nolan was possibly on his way out of the Rangers organization.  However, in mid-April, the Rangers re-affirmed his CEO role as a vital part of the management team to produce another pennant for the Rangers.  Now, with Reid’s new position with the Astros, there has been further chatter that Nolan may return to his old stomping grounds with the Astros in some advisory role that will support his son.  However, for the moment, they will have to be bitter rivals.

 

There have been other father-son duos in baseball executive roles at the same time, but they both worked in the same organization.  Some of these include: Buzzie and Peter Bavasi;  Bob Carpenter, Jr. and Bob Carpenter, III; and  Larry and Lee MacPhail.  The closest situation to the Ryans’ involved Tal  and Randy Smith, who were active in key front office positions at the same time (President of the Houston Astros and General Manager of the Detroit Tigers, respectively), but they weren’t working for opposing teams in the same league.  

 

My book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives, has an extensive chapter devoted to family relationships in the owner/executive ranks of Major League Baseball.