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.
By Richard Cuicchi | December 08, 2013 at 08:53 PM EST | No Comments
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | December 01, 2013 at 11:12 PM EST | 2 comments
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?
By Richard Cuicchi | November 24, 2013 at 09:39 PM EST | No Comments
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | November 17, 2013 at 09:40 PM EST | No Comments
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.”
By Richard Cuicchi | November 11, 2013 at 06:58 AM EST | 2 comments
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | November 04, 2013 at 06:48 AM EST | No Comments
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | October 28, 2013 at 05:50 AM EDT | No Comments
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.”
By Richard Cuicchi | October 22, 2013 at 05:51 PM EDT | No Comments
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | October 20, 2013 at 04:42 PM EDT | No Comments
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.”
By Richard Cuicchi | October 13, 2013 at 05:50 PM EDT | No Comments
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | October 06, 2013 at 07:49 PM EDT | 1 comment
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!
By Richard Cuicchi | September 29, 2013 at 07:37 PM EDT | No Comments
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | September 22, 2013 at 08:56 PM EDT | 1 comment
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?
b.Ken Griffey, Jr.
2.Which Major Leaguer had twin brothers who played in the minor leagues?
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?
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?
6.Match the Major League pairs of brothers-in-law
a. Joe Cronin
b. Eddie Stanky
e.Roy Smalley II
c. Gene Mauch
7.Which of the Major League Alou brothers was the father of Major Leaguer Moises 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.Itis 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.
By Richard Cuicchi | September 15, 2013 at 09:07 PM EDT | No Comments
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | September 08, 2013 at 08:47 PM EDT | No Comments
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | August 30, 2013 at 05:46 AM EDT | No Comments
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.
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | August 18, 2013 at 08:47 PM EDT | No Comments
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | August 11, 2013 at 08:52 PM EDT | No Comments
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | August 06, 2013 at 11:22 AM EDT | 2 comments
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.
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.
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | August 04, 2013 at 09:00 PM EDT | No Comments
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!
By Richard Cuicchi | July 28, 2013 at 09:03 PM EDT | 1 comment
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | July 21, 2013 at 09:22 PM EDT | No Comments
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | July 14, 2013 at 11:53 PM EDT | No Comments
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!
By Richard Cuicchi | July 06, 2013 at 06:32 AM EDT | No Comments
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).
By Richard Cuicchi | June 24, 2013 at 04:11 AM EDT | No Comments
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!
By Richard Cuicchi | June 17, 2013 at 12:45 AM EDT | 2 comments
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!
By Richard Cuicchi | June 09, 2013 at 08:23 PM EDT | No Comments
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | June 02, 2013 at 10:35 PM EDT | 1 comment
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | May 26, 2013 at 08:38 PM EDT | 1 comment
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.
By Richard Cuicchi | May 19, 2013 at 08:46 PM EDT | No Comments
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; andLarry and Lee MacPhail.The closest situation to the Ryans’ involved Taland 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.
Is this the starting lineup of the Seattle Mariners?Or possibly the Chicago Cubs?Did I miss Robinson Cano being traded from the Yankees?Why on earth would they do that?
No, this isn’t some joke, or someone’s set of bad picks for a fantasy baseball league team!In fact, this was the May 7 starting lineup for the New York Yankees, when they squared off with the Colorado Rockies.Yes, this was the latest edition of the Bronx Bombers.The Pinstripes.The Evil Empire.
This is the team cobbled together by the Yankees while their more familiar stars, the core of the offense for the past few years along with Cano, are on the disabled list—Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, and Mark Teixiera.
But wait…the Yankees’ record is 23-13 so far this year, one game ahead of the Red Sox and Orioles in the AL East Division.They have the second-best won-loss record in the AL.How can that be?A lot of people, including me, had written off the Yankees before the season started, saying they could not possibly repeat their offensive prowess of 2012, that they would hit two-thirds fewer home runs this year because of player losses to free agency over the winter and the injuries at the start of the season.
Yankee GM Brian Cashman had the daunting task to assemble a set of players that could keep the Yankees from sinking to the depths of the division early in the season, until their stars could return.Unfortunately, the Yankees’ farm system did not have “starters- in-waiting” who could fill the vacant spots.
A set of veteran players, about whom several could be said were on the down-side of their careers, were acquired by Cashman.Guys like Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay, and Ben Francisco.Other newcomers include Chris Nelson and Brendon Boesch.Yankee part-timers and reserves from last year, including Brett Gardner, Jayson Nix, Christ Stewart, and Eduardo Nunez, have had to step up at times to fill starting slots.
Well, those guys, plus some reliable pitching performances from both the starter and reliever staffs, have not only kept the Yankees afloat, but have positioned the team as real contenders during the early summer months.
Fortunately, there are not just one or two hitters who have been carrying the Yankee club with high-powered offensive performances.It’s been more of a case of several of the “replacement” players contributing respectable performances…often a different player each day.Yankee fans were worried about not being able to hit home runs due to the losses.Yet they currently rank second in the American League in team home runs.Robinson Cano is putting up his usual numbers (.311/10/23).Veterans Travis Hafner (.269/6/18), Vernon Wells (.295/10/19), and Lyle Overbay (.254/6/20) have been pleasant surprises.
We shouldn’t overlook the contribution of the Yankees’ pitching staff towards the team’s success thus far.The starting rotation’s record is 16-10.They average six innings per outing.The team ERA is 3.70, good enough to keep them in games. “Old reliable” Mariano Rivera has 14 saves and leads a capable reliever staff.At the high level Rivera is performing, you have to wonder if he will consider changing his mind about retiring after this season.
Notwithstanding the low expectations of the team at the start of the season, manager Joe Girardi has done a superb job of juggling lineups every day with a set of role players.He has not had the luxury of fielding a fixed lineup for several days in a row.Additional injuries during the regular season, including those to Francisco Cervelli and Kevin Youkilis, have also contributed to this situation.However, Girardi does have the benefit of having Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera as leaders in the clubhouse.Plus, it seems the chemistry of this hodge-podge set of players is working well.Based on the team’s results to date, Girardi gets my vote for AL Manager of the Year through the first two weeks of May.
So, can the Yankees sustain this performance and stay in contention for the division title or a wild-card spot?Thus far this season, they have not been winning games by large margins, so one key to continued success will be their starting pitching.If Yankee hurlers can continue to hold up and fill a lot of innings, I believe the team can remain competitive.Realistically, Granderson may be the only one of the injured players who will actually contribute during the summer, so the replacement players must be able to continue similar performances, in addition to Cano.
The Boston Red Sox are another of the surprise teams in the American League at this point.I’m looking forward to some good series between them and this bunch of nondescript guys of the Yankees.
Do you think the Yankees can sustain their current performance?
By Richard Cuicchi | May 05, 2013 at 08:42 PM EDT | 1 comment
LSU’s baseball program has been a significant spawning ground for Major League Baseball talent since the mid-1980s.Of course, there were a number of former Major Leaguers who played at LSU in earlier years, but the frequency seemed to really take off in the 1980s, coincident with the arrival of Tiger head coach Skip Bertman in 1984. He propelled the LSU program into the big-time college arena. Furthermore, the tradition has continued up to the present day, since for the past four years, LSU has had a first-round draft pick in the Major League Baseball Draft.
We’ll take a further look at these new prospects later, but first I would like to recollect some of the other noteworthy LSU players of the past who later joined the ranks of Major League Baseball and represent the legacy these young newcomers are hoping to follow.There have been a total of 64 Tigers players who have appeared in the Major Leagues.
Former LSU players Connie Ryan, Alvin Dark, and Joe Adcock are certainly recognizable names by fans with an awareness of baseball history.With their college days occurring in the 1940s, these players are among some of the first LSU products to reach the Major Leagues.Each of them was selected to Major League All-Star teams, as well as having managed teams in the majors.Dark had a 13-year managerial career in the big leagues, including one World Series championship with the Oakland A’s.
Some of Skip Bertman’s first LSU prodigies with substantial careers in the big leagues included Jeff Reboulet, Mark Guthrie, Albert (Joey) Belle, Ben McDonald, Russ Springer, and Curt Leskanic.They contributed to three College World Series appearances by LSU in the 1980s.Belle (whom ESPN’s Chris Behrman nicknamed “Don’t Call Me Joey”) was one of the most feared sluggers in the majors during the 1990s, hammering 351 home runs in that decade.Springer pitched for ten different Major League teams over eighteen seasons and appeared in two World Series.Guthrie was primarily a relief pitcher for fifteen seasons, including one World Series championship.
Moreover, under Bertman’s lead, LSU made seven College World Series appearances in the 1990s, capturing the NCAA championships in 1991, 1993, 1996, and 1997.After Southern Cal’s college baseball dynasty in the 1970s under legendary head coach Rod Dedeaux, LSU’s performance in the 1990s decade represents the next most dominant period by a team in the history of college baseball.Some of the stars from those teams, who progressed to successful professional careers, includedChad Ogea, Paul Byrd, Andy Sheets, Mike Sirotka, Todd Walker, Russ Johnson, Warren Morris, Kurt Ainsworth, and Brian Tallet.Byrd was an All-Star pitcher one year and finished with 109 career victories in fourteen big league seasons.Walker was a 12-year veteran with a very respectable .289 career batting average.
More recent Tiger alums that are still active in the majors include Louis Coleman, Mike Fontenot, Charlie Furbursh, Will Harris, Aaron Hill, DJ LeMahieu, Ryan Verdugo, and Brian Wilson.Yes, that’s the same Brian Wilson of the San Francisco Giants, who emerged as one of the all-time “characters” of professional baseball, with his popular beard and other whacky antics on and off the field.Hill has been selected to a Major League All-Star team.Following the 2012 season, Ryan Theriot did not accept free-agent offers as a utility player, and thus he concluded his eight-year Major League career which included two World Series rings.
The four 1st-round picks mentioned above include Jared Mitchell, Anthony Ranaudo, Mikie Mahtook, and Kevin Gausman.They are among 13 first-round picks from LSU in the past 24 seasons.Below is a detailed look at what’s currently happening with these prospects.
Jared Mitchell had just finished helping LSU capture its sixth College World Series title when he selected as the first-round pick (23rd overall) of the Chicago White Sox in 2009.The junior outfielder was named the Most Outstanding Player of the World Series.The White Sox immediately considered him one of their top prospects, because they liked him for his speed and quick bat.However, Jared’s career was slowed when he suffered a severe ankle tendon injury in spring training in 2010 and consequently missed the entire season.His rebound in 2011 and 2012 produced average seasons, but the White Sox still consider him among the next wave of minor league outfielders who should get a shot at the big leagues.However, at this point, Jared projects to be a platoon player in the majors.He started the 2013 season with Charlotte at the Triple-A level.
Anthony Ranaudo was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the first round, as the 39th overall pick in 2010, despite having a questionable year as a junior at LSU.In 2009, he had pitched the clincher of the College World Series championship for LSU and set expectations for a standout year with the Tigers in the next season.However, that didn’t occur, as Anthony dealt with a stress fracture in his elbow.The right-hander signed with the Red Sox in 2010 right before the college commitment deadline, based on posting a solid performance in the Cape Cod League that summer and proving that he was past the injury.After a 9-6 won-loss record in A-ball in 2011, he seemed poised to have a decent season in 2012, but he fell victim to injury again and pitched in only nine games.Still rated the 14th best prospect in the organization, Anthony started the 2013 season at Double-A Portland.He has won his first four decisions there, which included one outing of five no-hit innings.He’s on the radar of the Red Sox front office, who projects him as an eventual No. 2 or 3 starter.
Mikie Mahtook was the first-round selection (31st overall) of the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2011 Major League Draft.He had just completed an All-American season with LSU, when he led the SEC in batting (.383) and steals (29).He was a teammate of Mitchell and Ranaudo as a freshman starter on the 2009 College World Series title team. Mikie’s first taste of pro ball was in the Arizona Fall League in 2011.He split the 2012 season between A and AA levels, fashioning a decent .277 average, nine home runs, and 62 RBI. The Rays organization is impressed with his speed in the outfield, as well as on the bases. In 2013, he started the season with Double-A Montgomery, where he has already hit for the cycle this season.If he continues on his current path, he could find himself on the major league roster during 2014.He is ranked as the Rays 12th best prospect in their organization.
Kevin Gausman is the most recent installment of first-round draft picks from LSU.Following his sensational season (12 wins, 135 strikeouts) with the Tigers in 2012, he was selected by the Baltimore Orioles as the fourth overall pick of the Major League Draft.He signed for $4.32M. The Orioles like his fastball (94-96 mph range), but he has also a good mixture of secondary pitches, including a fine changeup and slider.Along with Dylan Bundy, another highly rated Orioles pitching prospect, they figure to fill the No. 1 and 2 slots in the Orioles pitching rotation of the future.Some are predicting that could possibly happen as early as 2014, if they both stay healthy.Kevin started the 2013 season with Double-A Bowie and is expected to make his Major League debut sometime later this season.
Additional former LSU players currently in the minor leagues, still hopeful of getting to the “Big Show,” include Austin Nola, Leon Landry, Sean Ochinko, Ryan Schimpf, Matt Clark, Micah Gibbs, and Nick Goody.
I don’t expect LSU to maintain its streak of first-round draft selections in 2013.Even though there are some very good players on this year’s roster, those eligible for the draft are not likely to be first-round contenders.
Who gets your vote as the all-time best Major Leaguer from LSU?
By Richard Cuicchi | April 28, 2013 at 09:35 PM EDT | No Comments
There aren’t too many current baseball fans who remember the specifics of the careers of Paul and Lloyd Waner, brother teammates who starred for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the late 1920s and 1930s.Their nicknames were “Big Poison” and “Little Poison,” respectively, for good reason. Based on their career batting averages and on-base percentages, they were indeed “poison” to opposing teams’ pitchers, and each of their careers landed them a spot as a member of the elite Baseball Hall of Fame. Yet they were often overshadowed by other popular stars of their era—names such as Ruth, Gehrig, Ott, Terry, Greenberg, and Foxx.
However, the Waner name has recently re-surfaced in baseball news, because B. J. and Justin Upton, the current brother tandem of the Atlanta Braves, are being already lobbied by baseball writers and analysts for the category of “best brother teammates,” as a result of reaching a few hitting milestones shared with that the Waners and other brother combinations.
If you recall my TheTenthInning.com blog post of February 17, I wrote about the big splash the Uptons were predicted to make in Atlanta, after both were traded the Braves during the offseason.Indeed, they have caused a lot of stir there—especially Justin, who has hit twelve home runs in the first twenty-four games for the Braves.After a very slow start, B. J. now has three home run contributions of his own.Their presence has definitely helped to propel the Braves into an early lead in the National League East Division.
Justin and B. J. each homered in the same game for their first time on April 7, when they both hit dingers in the 9th inning to tie and then win the game.The last set of brothers to hit home runs in the same inning was 1996, when the Ripken brothers did it.On April 23, the Uptons slugged back-to-back home runs in a game against the Colorado Rockies, with the only other time in history involving Paul and Lloyd on September 15, 1938.So far this season, the Uptons have homered in the same game on three different occasions, the same number of times the Waners did it over 16 years as teammates.
Why aren’t the Waner brothers more well-known today? For one reason, they played most of their careers in Pittsburgh, which at the time would have been the equivalent of what is now referred to as a “small market” team.If Paul and Lloyd had played their careers in cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, or St. Louis, they might likely be more recognized for their achievements.Another factor was that Pittsburgh was often a “middle of the pack” team in the National League pennant races during the Waners’ years.The Waner brothers made only one World Series appearance, in 1927, which was very early in their careers.
Furthermore, Paul and Lloyd were not considered flashy players during their day, on or off the field—they just went about their business of playing ball.Even though they were excellent players of their time, they didn’t play for perennial champions and weren’t considered gate attractions or newsworthy players, when compared to some of their contemporaries.Those factors likely contribute to their often being overlooked when recalling the great players of the game.
However, the Baseball Hall of Fame recognized the achievements of Paul in 1952.When he ended his career in 1945, he was only the 7th player to amass more than 3,000 hits.By the way, there are still only 28 players in all of baseball history to reach this level.He led the National League in batting average in three seasons and was its MVP in 1927, as well as runner-up in 1934.In two other seasons, he hit .368 and .370 and still did not win the batting titles those years.He was literally a hitting machine.
Lloyd was selected for the Hall of Fame in 1967, by vote of the Veteran’s Committee, although his career was not as illustrious as his brother’s.Lloyd accumulated 2,459 career hits and finished with a .316 batting average.He was voted to the All-Star team only once, compared to Paul’s four selections. However, I believe if Lloyd were coming up for election to the Hall of Fame today, there is a high probability he would not be voted in, since he compares with more recent players such as Al Oliver, Bill Buckner, Bill Madlock, and Johnny Damon, who are not likely to get inducted into the Hall by today’s standards.
Together, Paul and Lloyd hold career records in several offensive categories for brother combinations.They lead all brother tandems in Games Played (4,541), Hits (5,611), Runs (2,827), and Batting Average (.326). Their combined performances in these categories top the numbers of other prolific brothers such as the DiMaggios, Ripkens, Boyers, Alomars and Alous.
While the Upton brothers’ relative youth (B. J. is 28 years old and Justin is 25) and their performance to date suggest they may be on a track to eventually be considered among the “best brother combinations,” I believe their youth may also work against them.It remains to be seen whether they can sustain the types of productive years and relative success they have enjoyed thus far in their respective careers.Certainly, they have a long way to go to be in the same league as the oft-forgotten Waners.
By Richard Cuicchi | April 21, 2013 at 08:07 PM EDT | No Comments
I was thinking of writing a full movie review about the recently released film about Jackie Robinson, “42.”But then I realized I’m probably the least qualified person to technically critique a movie, as this is the first current one I’ve seen since “Moneyball” in 2011.
However, for what it’s worth, I thought “42” was inspirational, educational, and well worth seeing.I thought I was already familiar with Robinson’s and Branch Rickey’s roles in the integration of Organized Baseball and their eventual impact on society in a broader context.But most of what I previously knew about Robinson and the times he endured while breaking the color barrier in baseball, I learned through a few books, magazine articles, and a limited number of TV highlight clips.
Unexpectedly, what the movie “42” did for me was to attach some “real life” characterization to Robinson, Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and their opponents, even if done through actors like Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford, who claimed to have no interest in athletics.It provided me an opportunity to more than just imagine or guess at what they went through during that historic time.Through the movie’s script and the first-rate acting, I got to visualize Robinson’s courage, determination, fear, anger, despair, pride, and triumph as he broke into the previously exclusive white man’s game.I got to see Rickey’s foresight, persistence, commitment, and intelligence in orchestrating Robinson’s introduction into major league baseball. I got to see how many of Robinson’s teammates and opponents, as well as baseball fans, initially treated him.Consequently, I have a much better appreciation for Robinson and the other individuals in their roles in history.
Some of the internet chatter about “42” from baseball purists consists of challenges and commentaries about the actual historical accuracy presented by the movie. They expressed numerous views that some of the baseball facts surrounding the story were presented in error. For example, the game-winning home run hit by Robinson in the last game of the regular season to propel them into the World Series did not actually occur in the last game.For me personally, the film was close enough to having the requisite correctness in order to make the characters, the story, and the settings credible.Historical accuracy of every technical aspect of baseball during that time was secondary to the movie’s message.
Baseball is the ultimate “generational” game.That is, its history and lore are passed down from one generation of fans to the next; there are comparisons of players and teams from one generation to another; generations of fathers and sons share many memories of baseball games and the players. However, I sometimes think Robinson’s significance is being lost by recent generations, unfortunately including many young ballplayers. This movie is needed in order to continue to tell the story of Robinson’s legacy.For me, his societal relevance and impact, by breaking the color barrier, is the reason why he is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, not because he was a much better baseball performer than many of his peers. God bless them, Don Newcombe and Ralph Branca, Robinson’s former teammates with the Dodgers, won’t live forever to recount their personal experiences of what Robinson was like as a person and why what he was able to accomplish was so important. There’s a reason why Major League Baseball decided in 2003 to permanently retire Number 42 from all teams’ active rosters.Indeed, this movie is much needed.
Even if you aren’t an ardent baseball fan, I recommend you see “42.” It provides insights into Jackie Robinson as a person, as well as an historical perspective we should all remember, so we can pass on to the next generation.
Following are a few interesting facts around the time when desegregation of baseball was occurring:
John Wright, a Negro League pitcher from New Orleans, was signed by Branch Rickey a couple of weeks after Jackie Robinson in 1945.Like Robinson, John was assigned to play in the Dodgers’ minor league organization in 1946, but he never did reach the majors, returning to the Negro Leagues in 1947.
In 1943, two years before Rickey signed Robinson with the Dodgers, Bill Veeck tried to purchase the Philadelphia Phillies while he still owned the minor league Milwaukee Brewers.Veeck’s intention was to stock the weak Phillies club with Negro League stars in order to make it immediately competitive.However, Commissioner Kenesaw Landis and the other team owners squashed the deal.
It was almost a decade after Robinson’s major league debut that the Boston Red Sox put a black player in its starting lineup.Infielder Elijah “Pumpsie” Green made his major league debut on July 21, 1959, thus making the Red Sox the last major league team to integrate.
What did you think of “42?”Are you one of the those people who were disturbed by some of the baseball inaccuracies in the movie?What did you think of Boseman and Ford playing Robinson and Rickey—were they credible?Do you agree the historical significance of Robinson’s accomplishment in 1947 is being lost?
By Richard Cuicchi | April 14, 2013 at 08:43 PM EDT | 1 comment
Baseball diamonds in the New Orleans area have come alive again with the onset of Spring.There’s always the hope that new stars will emerge, whether a high school freshman who is pitching in his first game or a New Orleans Zephyrs prospect trying to break in with the parent club, the Miami Marlins.Furthermore, this time of year is always a good occasion to reflect back on the stars of the past.
The history of amateur baseball on the West Bank of New Orleans has produced many stellar players over the years.There is a rich tradition of baseball in West Bank playgrounds like Harvey, Terrytown, Mel Ott Park, and King’s Grant, as well as high schools like Archbishop Shaw, John Ehret, and West Jefferson.Prominent in a recent publication of a New Orleans-based website are a number of West Bank-based ballplayers who went on to play collegiately and professionally.
As the name suggests, http://www.neworleansbaseball.comis a website devoted to the history of baseball in New Orleans at several levels—high school, college, and professional .One of the recent articles posted on the site (http://www.neworleansbaseball.com/articles/richardcuicchi.html) contains my compilation of an expansive list of baseball players who played for high schools in the New Orleans metropolitan area and later continued their careers at the college, minor league, and major level levels.Among those players catalogued are names that long-time New Orleans baseball enthusiasts will easily recognize.
Following are brief highlights of selected West Bank players from the list.
Undoubtedly, the most notable West Bank baseball player of all time is Mel Ott.In 1926, at the age of 16, he was recruited straight out of then Gretna High School by the New York Giants (0302) and immediately brought up to the major league club under the tutelage of Giants manager John McGraw.He became the regular right fielder at age 19, and proceeded to become one of the most feared sluggers in history.In 22 major league seasons, the 5’ 9” left-handed hitter bashed 511 career home runs, second only to Babe Ruth when he retired as a player in 1948.Ott’s career total of 1,860 RBI still ranks 12th all-time in major league history.Mel managed the New York Giants from 1942 to mid-way of 1948, but his teams never finished higher than 3rd place in the National League.Nicknamed “Master Melvin”, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951.Mel Ott Park in Gretna is obviously named in his honor.On March 7, 2009, on the anniversary of his 100th birthday, Mel was further celebrated by the City of Gretna with the dedication of life-sized bronze statue at the Visitors Center, illustrating his trademark high leg kick as he swung the bat.
Lou Blanda attended West Jefferson High School and then Tulane University, where he pitched for the Green Wave from1963 to 1965.In his senior season, Lou tied for the team lead in wins with five, as Tulane posted a 15-10 record while playing in the Southeastern Conference.Lou’s father also played baseball for Tulane.
The first African-American to compete in a varsity sport for any college in the Southeastern Conference was Steve Martin. After playing high school baseball at Marrero High, the outfielder began his Tulane University career in 1966 and lettered for three years.
Cary Livingston prepped at West Jefferson High School before being selected out of high school in 1968 by the San Francisco Giants in the 22nd round of the major league draft. However, he passed up that professional opportunity to attend Tulane University, where he became one of its all-time best players.He was a four-year starter for the Green Wave from 1969 to 1972, when their won-loss record was 79-26.His career batting average was .337, including a then school record .390 in 1971.Cary was the team’s Most Valuable Player in 1971 and 1972.His Number 12 was retired by the Green Wave.
An All-District and All-Metro New Orleans catcher at Archbishop Shaw in 1977, Sam Dozier then lettered in three seasons at Tulane University.He was captain of the Green Wave during his senior season.Sam won a state title as coach of St. Martin’s High School in 1991 and also later coached at Jesuit High School.
Paul Mancuso played at Archbishop Shaw High School and was one of the stars on the 1978 Shaw-based American Legion team that won a state title. He signed with the University of New Orleans in 1979 and wound up lettering all four years he attended.In 1981, the lefty led the Privateer pitching corps with 10 wins and 73 strikeouts.In 1982, he repeated as the team’s strikeout leader.Paul signed with the Minnesota Twins organization in 1982. He pitched for four seasons with them, and his best season in 1984 included a 12-7 record, 18 saves and 1.86 ERA. He pitched one season for the San Diego Padres organization before ending his career.
Kenny Wilson prepped at John Ehret High School, where he was an All-District and All-City selection twice.He landed a scholarship with the University of New Orleans, where he lettered from1982-1985.When the Privateers advanced to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1984, Kenny was the designated hitter against powerhouse teams such as Texas, Michigan and Oklahoma State.The first baseman batted .328 for the season, as UNO finished as as the 6th ranked team in the nation.
Joe Zimmerman finished his senior season in 1983 at Archbishop Shaw High School with a 12-0 won-lost record and 1.90 ERA.His post-season honors included 4A State MVP, All-City MVP, and All-District MVP.The right-hander signed with LSU for the 1984 season, and he lettered for the Tigers in 1986 and 1987.He was named to the All-SEC Academic teams in 1985 and 1986.
A product of Terrytown Playground, Steve Stanson chose to play high school baseball for Holy Cross.The left-handed hurler posted a 26-7 won-lost record in three varsity seasons for the Tigers.He was selected to Class 5A All-State and All-Metro New Orleans teams in 1994.Steve signed with the University of New Orleans, where he immediately made an impact as a freshman in 1995 with an 8-3 record and 2.20 ERA.He was named the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year and selected to the Freshman All-American team that season.He went on to letter in two more seasons for the Privateers.
Blair Barbier was a standout player at King’s Grant Playground before selecting Brother Martin High School to play baseball and football. He lettered in four baseball seasons at Brother Martin, culminating with a 5A state title in 1996. He earned All District, All-Metro New Orleans and All-State honors that year.He was drafted out of high school by the Tampa Bay Rays, but chose to attend LSU instead.As an LSU freshman in 1997, Blair played second base and batted .353 with 15 home runs and 57 RBI.The Tigers won the College World Series, and Blair was named to the Freshman All-American team.As the third baseman on the 2000 Tigers team, he helped win a second national championship.Blair hit three home runs during the College World Series that year and was named to the All-Tournament Team.Blair followed his collegiate career with four minor league seasons (2000-2003) in the Chicago Cubs organization and one season in the independent Northern League.
Scott Tranchina was a four-year starter for Archbishop Shaw High School.As a senior in 1995, he was selected to the 5A All-District team.He set a school record of 20 career home runs at Shaw.His collegiate career started at Wallace State College (Hanceville, AL) in 1996, when the right-handed pitcher posted a 6-3 record, helping his team to a second-place finish among Alabama’s junior colleges. He transferred to the University of New Orleans in 1997, but was redshirted that season due to shoulder surgery.He then proceeded to letter in 1998-2000 at UNO before signing with the Chicago Cubs organization in 2000.He posted a 14-10 won-lost record in 67 games over two minor league seasons at the Single-A level.
A sampling of additional West Bank players from the New Orleans Area Players List referenced above include:Chase Dardar, Greg Delaune, Marc Dejardins, Brad Farizo, Darin Fernandez, Lloyd Hecard, Lucas Fortenberry, Jason Fortenberry, Terry Joseph, Webster Garrison, and Chuck Voorhies.
Do some of youNew Orleans area residents recall additional baseball stars from the West Bank?Use the blog’s Comments feature to add your favorite recollections.
By Richard Cuicchi | April 08, 2013 at 06:29 AM EDT | 1 comment
Each new baseball season brings optimism for dazzling young stars, players coming back from injury, and teams who last season said “wait till next year.”There is excitement over exceptional player performances.Unfortunately, Opening Week also spawns disappointment and discouragement over players who got off to a bad start, experienced early season-ending injuries, or abandoned their loyal fans from last year.The new season ushers in some new contenders and pretenders in the division races.And, it even shapes a few new characters that capture everyone’s attention.
I know the season is only one week old, but I’ve fashioned some interim “awards” to illustrate some of the highlights and reactions of early season results from Opening Week:
Baltimore Orioles’ Chris Davis became only the fourth player in history to hit a home run in each of the first four games of the season.He had 17 RBI to go with the home runs in the first week. Last year, Chris had 12 RBI in the entire month of April.
Best Pitching Performance
Yu Darvish was one out away from a perfect game on Tuesday, when the Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez hit a ball through Darvish’s legs to ruin his chance at immortality.Along the way, Darvish struck out 14 Astros batters.In a look back in history, Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller hurled an Opening Day no-hitter for the Cleveland Indians in 1940.
Most Despised Team
Many fans were thrilled to see The Evil Empire finally get some humility.Red Sox fans got to thump their chests as the their team handily thumped the New York Yankees in the first two games, the first time since 1982 that the Yankees have lost their first two home games at the beginning of the season.The Yankees had six new players in the Opening Day lineup.They finished 2-4 for the week.
Most Despised Player
The Angels’ Josh Hamilton was booed mercilessly on Thursday when he made his return to Dallas (yes, that “football town”) to play his former team, the Texas Rangers.Ranger fans took great pleasure in seeing Hamilton go 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
Best All-Around Player
In the 8h inning of the Opening Day game against the San Francisco Giants, Dodgers hurler Clayton Kershaw hit his first major league home run, which was the go-ahead run, in his 4-hit, complete game shutout performance.Hall of Famer Bob Lemon was the last pitcher to do this on Opening Day, in 1953.
Most Likely to Repeat Performance of Last Year
Bryce Harper slugged two home runs on Opening Day.Mike Trout, Robinson Cano, Giancarlo Stanton, and Josh Hamilton have not carried over their 2012 performances yet.(Unfortunately for me, Cano and Stanton are on my fantasy baseball team.)
Most Dubious Record
In Roy Halladay’s first start, he struck out 9 batters in 3 1/3 innings pitched, the most in the first 10 outs of a game.However, he gave up 5 runs on 6 hits and 3 bases on ball, and took the loss against the Braves.
Best Feel-Good Story
Evan Gattis of the Atlanta Braves made his major league debut on Tuesday and hit his first major league home run on Wednesday.At age 19, he had given up playing baseball and had given up on life in general.Now 25, he’s had a most improbable rise to the major leagues.
Most Talked About New Player
Jackie Bradley, Jr. of the Boston Red Sox was the talk of the town after Opening Day.He made the jump from Double-A to the Major Leagues after only two minor league seasons, playing only 61 games at the Double-A.He drew three walks and scored a run in his major league debut to help defeat the Yankees.
Most Likely Cellar Dweller
Despite an impressive (and surprising) Opening Day win over the Texas Rangers, the Houston Astros showed their true ability with 43 strikeouts in their opening series with the Rangers.For the first six games, Astros batters have 74 strikeouts and 39 hits.They may ultimately challenge the 1962 Mets team for most losses in a season.
Best Comeback Performance
After missing most of last season due to knee injury, Mariano Rivera got a nice save for the Yankees against the Red Sox.His outing gave hope that he can have a productive year in his already announced last season.By the way, he recorded his 69th save for teammate Andy Pettitte, the most wins-saves by any combination of pitchers in history.
Most Home Runs by “U”
Dan Uggla,Justin Utley, and Chase Utley each hit home runs in Monday’s Phillies-Braves contest.It was the first time in history three players with their last name starting with “U” hit home runs in the same game.Betcha you didn’t know they collected stats like that!
Most Likely to Turn into “Wolf Man”
Josh Reddick of the Oakland A’s gets this designation, with his outrageous beard and hair length. What the heck is he trying to prove?He makes Jayson Werth look relatively clean-cut.
In a really classy gesture, Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez presented catcher John Jaso with a new Rolex watch for his role in King Felix’s perfect game last August.However, Hernandez could certainly afford it, since he recently signed a deal with the Mariners worth $175M over seven years.
Newest Family Act
The Upton brothers stole the spotlight for this year’s Opening Day family act, as they both joined the Braves during the offseason.They hit the tying and go-ahead home runs in the 9th inning of a game against the Cubs on Saturday, the first time since 1996 that brothers (Cal and Billy Ripken) homered in the same inning.B. J. and Justin were among 63 players and 25 managers/coaches on the Major League 40-man rosters who had a relative who has also played in the Major Leagues.Go to the “Articles” page of this website to see the complete list.
By Richard Cuicchi | March 31, 2013 at 06:35 PM EDT | 2 comments
It’s not the quite the same as being at an actual Opening Day baseball game, but my son’s and my ritual for that day is just as special.For several years, Lee (now age 35) and I have “reserved” Major League Baseball’s Opening Day Monday to spend the entire day over-dosing on baseball.For both of us, everything else is a lower priority that day—work, wife, kids, weight-watching—I mean everything.
It’s the day we get rejuvenated for the upcoming, grinding 162-game season.It’s the day our fantasy teams look like sure bets to win the season title.Before the first pitch of the day, it’s the only time when all the Major League teams, including our favorites, are in first place.More importantly, it’s the best of days my son and I get to share our common passion for the “grand old game.”
With cable, satellite, and internet TV packages nowadays, one can literally watch every game played on one of baseball’s “holy days.”And that’s exactly what we do.The schedule for Opening Day usually has games starting at 12:00pm, 3:00pm, 6:00pm, and 9:00pm.One TV will have the premier game on for each time slot, and a second TV is used to switch back-and-forth between other concurrent games.We’ve been known to also have MLB’s internet-broadcasted games running on a personal computer, just to make sure we aren’t missing any great plays.
With the first game starting at noon, we get to do our tailgating (on the back patio) prior to that, which is usually when we grill the BBQ ribs and start the beers.Hot pastrami and swiss sandwiches, muffalettas, potato salad, and ice cream usually fill out the rest of the menu for the day.We don’t settle for just hot dogs and peanuts that you usually get at a stadium game!
At some point in between the games on TV, before we get too many beers and too much food in us, Lee and I will get out the baseball gloves and play the proverbial father-and-son “pitch and catch”.It may be the only time we do it during the season (as we have been known to burn out our arms in about 20 minutes), but there’s nothing like sharing that kind of moment.
Before the day is over, we’ll have debated who will prevail in the AL East Division--the Yankees (my favorite) or the Red Sox (his favorite), made our predictions for the teams in the playoffs and World Series, and planned our annual trip to see some Major League games during the summer.
I missed the opportunity with my own father to enjoy an occasional game of “catch.”One reason was that the game of baseball was not something he relished; but another factor was that his farming activities were essentially a “sun-up to sun-down” job, when I was growing up.But that’s okay—Dad taught me about a lot more important things in life.For example, always a very practical person, my father frequently reminded me as a youngster that if I knew my Catechism lessons as well as the backs of my baseball cards, I’d have a better chance of getting a “box seat” in Heaven.
Hence, I consider myself blessed to have a son who equally shares a passion for baseball and lives just across town, so that we can experience this kind of day and create these fond memories. Lee and I keep talking about one of these years we’ll actually attend a real Opening Day game together in a real Major League city.But, nah, it probably wouldn’t be the same…
Do you have a similar experience you’d like to share?Have you ever attended an MLB Opening Day game—what was that like?
By Richard Cuicchi | March 24, 2013 at 06:58 PM EDT | No Comments
A Major League team returns to play in New Orleans for the first time in 14 years.The Miami Marlins will play its Triple-A affiliate, the New Orleans Zephyrs, in an exhibition game on March 30, as the Marlins wrap-up their 2013 Spring Training season.
While there has been a 14-year drought since the last such exhibition game, there is actually a rich history of Major League Baseball events in New Orleans. The Crescent City was the spring training home of the Chicago White Stockings as early as 1870.The Cleveland Indians had the most significant spring training presence in New Orleans, by hosting their camps for fourteen seasons between 1902 and 1935.
The New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, and Boston Red Sox also called New Orleans home for spring training seasons prior to the movement to Florida and Arizona by all the Major League clubs.
More recently, on their trips back to their home towns following Spring Training, Major League teams routinely played exhibition games in cities that did not have big league baseball franchises at the time.
On April 6-7, 1967, the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds played an exhibition series at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium. Pete Rose, a budding 26-year-old star, played for the Reds.On April 1, 1974, the Atlanta Braves faced the Baltimore Orioles in an exhibition game at Kirsch-Rooney.The Braves’ Hank Aaron hit a home run, only three days prior to his tying Babe Ruth for career home runs at 714.
Particularly, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, New Orleans was hoping to attract a Major League Baseball franchise to permanently locate here and play in the Superdome, hence the city was active in hosting major league exhibition teams.The Superdome has been designed with a baseball configuration, and New Orleans began to showcase it with Major League exhibition games. On April 6, 1976, the Houston Astros played the Minnesota Twins in the first professional baseball game in the Louisiana Superdome.
The New York Yankees appeared in exhibition series in the Louisiana Superdome for four consecutive years beginning in 1980, when they faced off with the Baltimore Orioles in a two-game series on March 15-16.During March 27-29, 1981, the Yanks faced three different teams—the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies.Following their World Series appearance in 1981, the New York played the Montreal Expos and Texas Rangers in exhibition games on April 3-4, 1982, and then followed with the Expos again in a two-game series on March 26-27, 1983.
These “Superdome Series,” as they were billed, were orchestrated by New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and were part of a mini-Louisiana tour, as the Yankees also played benefit games at Grambling State University.Steinbrenner had a good relationship with legendary Grambling football coach, Eddie Robinson.Another Louisiana connection for the Yankees was star pitcher Ron Guidry, a Lafayette native who was a big draw for the games.
In what turned out to be a preview of the 1989 World Series contests, the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s played two games in the Superdome on March 28-29, 1989.New Orleans native, Will Clark, was a standout player for the Giants at the time.The A’s manager, Tony LaRussa, had played one minor league season in New Orleans in 1977, when the Pelicans played the first professional regular season games in the Superdome.The A’s returned to New Orleans on March 22-23, 1991, when they squared off with the Los Angeles Dodgers in a two-game series; and again on March 26-27, 1993, when they opposed the New York Mets for two contests.
In an event billed as “Baseball’s Greatest Rivalry,” the Yankees made a return visit to New Orleans on April 1-2, 1994, to play its long-time adversary, the Boston Red Sox, in the Superdome.The last professional baseball games in the Superdome occurred on April 3-4, 1999, when the Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins played in a two-game series dubbed the “New Orleans Major League Baseball Classic.”Playing for the Cubs was Sammy Sosa, who had finished second (with 66 home runs) to Mark McGwire in the 1998 home run race to break Roger Maris’ all-time record.Sosa would go on to hit 63 home runs in 1999’s regular season.
Also on April 4, 1999, the Houston Astros, the parent club of the Zephyrs at the time, played an exhibition game against the Zephyrs at Zephyr Field.
The 2013 edition of the Miami Marlins team will be in “survival” mode, after owner Jeffrey Loria ravaged the team by trading most of its key players during the off-season in order to lower his team payroll.Many observers feel he has set the Marlins franchise back quite a bit this time. (He had previously dismantled the Marlins immediately following their 2003 World Series title.) In any case, there are a few players to look for in the upcoming exhibition game with the Zephyrs.Giancarlo Stanton is the lone Marlins star left over from last year.At age 23, he has already developed into a legitimate All-Star and is one of the most exciting young players in the National League.Logan Morrison, who prepped at Northshore High School in Slidell and also played with the Zephyrs, figures to start at first base for the Marlins in his fourth Major League campaign.Chris Coghlan, who was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2009, will be attempting to regain his starting job in the Marlins’ outfield, after spending most of last season with the Zephyrs.
For New Orleans fans, what is your favorite memory of the past major league exhibition games in New Orleans?Does anyone think New Orleans could support a new Major League franchise now?Is Jeffrey Loria one of the worst owners in Major League Baseball history?(BTW, Loria’s “family ties” connections involve his father, Walter, who yielded two home runs to Lou Gehrig when they opposed each other in high school; and his stepson, David Sampson, who is President of the Miami Marlins.)
By Richard Cuicchi | March 17, 2013 at 05:20 PM EDT | 2 comments
The Cincinnati Reds teams of the early-to-mid-1970s are noted as one of the most famous teams in baseball history.They were known as the “Big Red Machine.”These teams were prolific on the field and apparently off the field too--sixteen of the players (fathers) had sons who would later play professional baseball at some level.Additionally, a number of the Reds players from the era had other types of relatives in baseball (e. g., fathers, brothers, cousins).
The following quiz tests your knowledge of the Big Red Machine players and their relatives. Answers will be provided next week as comments to this blog post.Check back to see how you did.
1.Which of the following Cincinnati Reds players did not have a son who was a first-round draft pick?
2.Ken Griffey, Sr. and Ken Griffey, Jr. both played for the Cincinnati Reds, but 19 years apart.However, they also played for another major league team, but at the same time, the first such occurrence in baseball history when a father-son combination played together. Which team was that?
c.Chicago White Sox
d.New York Yankees
3.This former Reds player during the Big Red Machine days, who also had a major league son, attempted a brief comeback to the major leagues in 1992 at age 48, 12 years after he first retired.
4.This father-son combination, one of whom was with the Reds during the Big Red Machine days, is the all-time leader in career appearances by a father-son combination
a.Mel Queen, Jr. and Mel Queen, Sr.
b.Ross Grimsley, Jr. and Ross Grimsley, Sr.
c.Pedro Borbon, Jr. and Pedro Borbon, Sr.
d.Tony Cloninger and Darrin Cloninger
5.What did the following players of the Big Red Machine era have in common:Pete Rose, Hal McRae, and Tony Perez?
a.They were coaches in the major leagues
b.They were managers in the major leagues
c.They wereall-star selectionswith the Reds
d.They led the Reds in an offensive category at least one year
6.Each of this father-son combination was a broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds.
a.Harry and Todd Kalas
b.Don and Daron Sutton
c.Ernie Johnson, Sr. and Ernie Johnson, Jr.
d.Marty Brennaman and Thom Brennaman
7.Which of these players of the Big Red Machine era did not have a brother who played in the major leagues?
8.Which of these 1970s Reds players did not have a relative in professional baseball, neither major nor minor leagues?
9.Ray Knight, who played in the Big Red Machine era, was married to:
10.This son of a Big Red Machine era player had the following relatives in baseball:his father was a player and coach; his brother was a minor league player; and his son was a batboy during the World Baseball Classic in 2006.
c.Ken Griffey, Jr.
d.Terry Crowley, Jr.
The book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives, is a fantastic reference book containing extensive research about baseball’s family relationships.Family Ties can be purchased at TheTenthInning.com or online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
By Richard Cuicchi | March 10, 2013 at 09:41 PM EDT | No Comments
In my interview with Ed Randall about my book Family Ties on his New York-based “Talkin’ Baseball” radio show on March 3, he asked a very insightful question about whether the Major Leagues of past eras had as many baseball relatives as what it seems to be today.My answer generally explained that relatives playing the game began in the earliest days of Organized Baseball and has steadily increased throughout the years, but my sense from the data collected in the research for my book was that there has been a significant increase in the last 20 to 25 years.
I further cited to Ed a statistic from Family Ties that there were over 190 players in the Majors in 2011 who had a relative in professional baseball, including those players whose relatives were only drafted or only reached the minor league level at the time.That’s about 25% of the players in Major League Baseball. No other major professional sport has that level of penetration.
I believe this increase in the number of baseball relatives is primarily rooted in the salary potential for major league players since free agency began in the mid-1970s.I assert that the generation of professional baseball fathers, whose careers ended in the 1980s and 1990s making respectable salaries, began encouraging their sons and creating the environment for them to also pursue the lucrative sport.Furthermore, Major League Baseball allows for the drafting of players out of high school, so the opportunity for 18-year-olds to begin their professional careers at an earlier age than other professional sports (although that seems to be changing, particularly in basketball) added to the appeal.Another reason for the increase is due to the fact that baseball’s expansion since then has created opportunities for more roster spots for players in both the major and minor league levels.
Who are the examples of today’s baseball family tree producing more fruit, so to speak?
Travis D’Arnaud got a lot of attention when he was traded to the New York Mets in the R. A. Dickey deal over the winter.The Mets are looking to re-build around All-Star third-baseman David Wright, who recently signed a long-term deal.Travis, a much-needed catcher, figures to be in those plans.Travis’ brother, Chad, is currently with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Brett Bochy, son of San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, is in camp with the Giants.The right-handed pitcher seems poised to get to the big league club sometime in 2013.Bruce would be the first big league manager to have a son on his team since Cal Ripken, Sr. managed his two sons, Cal Jr. and Billy, in 1988.
Tim Wallach is the third base coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and his son Matt is currently in the Spring Training camp with the team.Tim has two other sons who will also be bidding to become Major Leaguers:Brett is currently in the Cubs organization and Chad is playing baseball for Cal State Fullerton.
New Red Sox manager John Farrell faced his son’s team in a spring training game last week.Jeremy Farrell drew a walk in his only plate appearance for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Other Major League brother prospects (with brother’s name in parenthesis) include:Braves’ Cory Rasmus (Colby), Diamondbacks’ Mark Reed (Jeremy), and the Diamondbacks’ Jon Owings (Mark).
Additional Major League prospects who are sons of former big leaguers (father’s name in parenthesis) include:Cubs’ Michael Brenly (Bob), Daniel Fields (Bruce), Rockies’ Parker Frazier (George), Pirates’ Mel Rojas, Jr. (Mel, Sr.), and Cardinals’ C. J. McElroy (Chuck).
Contributing to the growing number of family relatives in baseball in recent years are situations where some current players are representing a third generation of professional ballplayers. The Marlins’ Derek Deitrich has appeared in Spring Training games this season, and his grandfather was former major leaguer Steve Demeter.Other current minor leaguers with Major League grandfathers include (grandfather’s name in parenthesis):Colin Kaline (Al), Aaron Pribanic (Jim Coates), Andrew Garcia (Dave), Deion Williams (George Scott), Scott Thomas (Lee), and Nolan Fontana (Lew Burdette).
Another noteworthy fact to support the case for an increasing number of potential Major League ballplayers:over 75 amateur players were drafted in 2012 that had a baseball heritage within professional baseball.
Furthermore, in my research for Family Ties, I found countless examples of father-son and brother-brother combinations in professional baseball, neither of which ever made it to the Major Leagues.These cases were not included among the over 3,500 names I already have in the book.
However, despite my anecdotal evidence cited above, a more comprehensive, quantitative study of my assertion (that there are an increasing number of baseball relatives in Organized Baseball) would be warranted to provide conclusive proof.That’s probably a topic of another research project…for another day.
Who is your favorite Major League father-son or brother combination?
By Richard Cuicchi | March 03, 2013 at 08:56 PM EST | 1 comment
The recent loss of slugger Curtis Granderson by the New York Yankees for 10-12 weeks may yet be another nail in the coffin for the team.This bad news is following on the heels of a disappointing off-season that saw three of their 2012 starting position players signed by other teams, the loss of Alex Rodriguez to off-season surgery, and only two free agent players signed.The relatively “old” team did not re-stock with any younger players from outside the organization.
The Yankee offense has reason to worry in 2013.They led the American League in several key offensive categories last year—home runs, total bases, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage.A team that slugged 245 home runs last season lost the following players who contributed significantly to the total: Nick Swisher (24), Russell Martin (21), Raul Ibanez (19), Eric Chavez (16), and Andruw Jones (14).
Losing Granderson (44 home runs) and Rodriguez (18) for good parts of this season will further exacerbate their offensive woes.Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner were added through free agency, but they combined for only 27 home runs in limited action last season.The Yankees could easily be at a point to hit only half of last year’s home run total, which would place them roughly at the bottom of the American League.They won’t likely be able to out-slug their opponents as they did last year, often winning games with 6-8 runs.
Long-time Yankee stars Derek Jeter and Marino Rivera are coming off major surgeries from last season, and their full returns have some elements of doubt because of their ages.Veterans Robin Cano, Mark Teixiera, and Ichiro Suzuki will be forced to shoulder the load this year. (Note: Yankee fans lost a few heartbeats over the news this past weekend that Ichiro was involved in a car accident in Florida. However, it turns out he was not injured.) The issue of an aging team has been looming for several years now. The free agent market was not utilized to address the problem for 2013, and player development within the Yankee system in the near-term does not appear to be a promising solution either.
In past years, the Yankees would have surely gone after free agents like Josh Hamilton, the Upton Brothers (B. J. and Justin), and Zack Greinke in the offseason to bolster a weakening team.However, the Yankee GM Brian Cashman seems intent on keeping the team’s salary below the cap to avoid paying the luxury tax.Why, when you have the Yankees’resources?WWGSD (What would George Steinbrenner do?)
It’s not as though the Yankees’ farm system has a bevy of upcoming stars in their farm system. USA Today Sports Weekly recently had a column featuring the “100 Names You Need Know,” which focused on up-and-coming prospects who are most likely to make it in the major leagues.The Yankees only had two players included.Baseball America had three Yankee players in its recent “Top 100 Prospects” list, but they were all estimated to reach the majors in 2015. By mid-season, it’s very likely outfielder Brett Gardner will be the only player in the Yankees regular starting lineup under 30 years of age this year.
Ironically, what many observers feel is a “suspect” pitching staff may turn out to be the strongest component of the Yankee team, given the forecast for the offense.CC Sabathia is really the only rock-solid starter going into the season.However, if the aging Andy Pettitte (40) and Hiroki Kuroda (38) can give the Yankees a bunch of innings, then maybe the Yanks will be more competitive than the skeptics think.These two veterans were effective in 2012, but there are reservations about whether they can repeat strong performances of prior seasons.Furthermore, Phil Hughes’ back problems will need to be nonexistent, and Ivan Nova will have to get his arm strength back in order for them to replicate some previously successful seasons.
The likelihood of the Yankees changing their style of play from “bashers” to “grinders” does not seem likely either.Only Gardner, Suzuki, and reserve Edwin Nunez have any substantial speed on the bases, so employing stolen bases, sacrifice hits, and hit-and-run plays as core parts of the offense are not plausible.Besides, Manager Joe Girardi would have to change a big part of his game-management approach.I don’t see that happening or him being successful if attempted.
The competition in the American League East Division will be even tougher in 2013.Toronto made significant additions to its team with jaw-dropping, off-season acquisitions.Boston figures to be better than last season as well, with new manager John Farrell and some new and healthy players.Buck Showalter’s Orioles seemed to turn the corner last year with a squad that made the playoffs.The Rays have always been a pesky opponent for the Yanks.So, even if the Pinstripers could field the same team as last year, they would get fewer wins due to this upgraded competition.
I know the die-hard Red Sox fans are really feeling a lot of empathy (tongue in cheek) for the Yankees’ current situation going into this season.They are just chomping at the bit for the Yanks to have their turn at a below-.500 season.Plus, they will never forgive “Youk” for now teaming up with the Evil Empire.After all, the Yanks have been in the playoffs for the last 18 seasons, except for 2008 when they still won 89 games.
I saw in the news that Paul O’Neill just turned 50--maybe he could suit up again for the Yankees to replace Granderson! But wait, Johnny Damon’s only 39 years old—I’m sure he’d like his old position back!
As a Yankees fan, it pains me to have to write this gloomy, but truthful, blog post.However, I’d love nothing more than to say at the end of the season, “I was wrong about the Yankees!”
Let me hear from some of you other Yankee fans.Any Red Sox Nation folks want to chime in here?Will the Blue Jays live up to the pre-season expectations?
By Richard Cuicchi | February 24, 2013 at 11:34 PM EST | No Comments
It’s not soccer’s World Cup.It’s not the Olympic Games.At least, right now.The third installment of the World Baseball Classic, which begins on March 2, is supposed to be baseball’s answer to these two classic sports events.The inaugural WBC debuted in 2006 and generated results that seemed to be on track to reaching the potential that the USA’s Major League Baseball and several international countries intended.However, today there seems to be as many skeptics about its future success and appeal as there are optimists.
The major issues holding back unabated optimism for the event starts with concern for the selected players’ injuries while preparing for and competing in the games.This concern stems mainly from the individual Major League clubs’ ownership and management, and in some cases players’ agents, who don’t want their star players to risk injury.They feel that the players may not be ready to play competitively in WBC games in early spring, overlapping with the Spring Training season when they supposed to be on a training regimen to reach Opening Day readiness.Major League Baseball (the overarching organization) heartily endorses and sponsors the WBC and has established guidelines that leave the decision of whether to play in the WBC in the hands of the individual players. However, in 2009 (the second year of the event) and again this year, many prominent players declined invitations to play, with suspicions they are being influenced by club officials or agents.
As a remedy to the player risk situation, there have been suggestions that the WBC play its games at the Major League All-Star break in July or following the World Series in November.However, these times bring a different set of issues that would have to be overcome.
Consequently, when the premier players in Major League Baseball are not on the various countries’ rosters, it puts a damper on the enthusiasm of their respective fans for attending and following the event.Of course, this mainly affects the USA and the Latin American countries, who currently supply the large majority of the players in the major leagues.
However, the composition of the player rosters would probably not matter much to the fans of the teams from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.I believe they are as rabid about baseball as Europe’s fans are about soccer.I had the opportunity to attend the 2006 WBC first-round tournament in Orlando and got to see Venezuela and the Dominican Republic square off.Their fans’ nationalism and fervor for their respective countries’ participation in the event was overwhelming.My son Lee, who also attended the games, was quoted in the Orlando Sentinel at the time, “it was like a Mardi Gras atmosphere there—before, during and after the games.”
Unlike the Olympic Games and the World Cup, American fans and sports media seem to be lukewarm to the international competition of the WBC.The fans certainly don’t exhibit the national pride of the Latin Americans for baseball.Some believe this relates back to the USA’s team roster, without many of its MLB’s stars.There’s almost a feeling of “if we can’t field with our best team, then the event must not be important.”That is certainly not the case for the Olympics or the World Cup!
MLB is interested in the growth of international baseball as a way to expand the game and draw new participants. In 2000, the last year baseball was included in the Olympics, there were only eight qualifiers for the Games.In 2013, there are sixteen teams in the WBC, with another twelve teams who competed in qualifying rounds.Can you believe countries like Germany and Spain are now promoting professional baseball?Nevertheless, the World Baseball Classic reminds us that baseball heritage for many Major League players over the years originated from the Latin American Leagues.
Personally, I believe the World Baseball Classic is good for growing the game, and it should be embraced by all stakeholders involved.I would like to see more of the elite players from Major League Baseball clubs, as we did in 2006.In my mind, risk of player injury in the WBC is no greater than in regular Spring Training exhibition games.Players are in year-round shape anyway.While it is perceived to be risky for pitchers who participate in the WBC, does that means 12-15 pitchers have to get in “game ready” shape earlier?Is that so terrible?For similar reasons, I believe springtime is the best time of the year to conduct the WBC games.If our true all-stars were filling the rosters, perhaps the USA would follow the lead of some of the other countries in displaying more national passion and pride.
So, the WBC isn’t there yet, relative to these other international sporting events.We’ll just have to wait and see if that changes.
I would be remiss in not trying to associate my “Family Ties” angle to the World Baseball Classic.While scanning the rosters of the teams who will participate in the upcoming WBC games, I noted a few players that had relatives in the Major Leagues:
Dominican Republic – Erik Aybar, Robinson Cano
Puerto Rico – Brothers Yadier Molina and Jose Molina; Ivan De Jesus, Jr.
Italy – Jason Grilli, Drew Butera
Canada – Cale Iorg
Mexico – Brothers Adrian Gonzalez and Edgar Gonzalez
By Richard Cuicchi | February 17, 2013 at 09:03 PM EST | No Comments
Justin Upton has joined his brother B. J. with the Atlanta Braves for the 2013 season, following both of their trades to the team over the winter.They will be the first set of brothers to play as major league teammates since 2009, when Adam and Andy LaRoche played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Adrian and Edgar Gonzalez suited up for the San Diego Padres.
The Uptons will be expected to keep the Braves in contention for the National League East Division title in 2013, replacing 2012 regular outfielders, Michael Bourne and Martin Prado. Along with incumbent right fielder Jason Heyward, B. J. and Justin will make up a potent offensive triple-threat and likely allow Braves fans to more easily forget their long-time favorite son, Chipper Jones, who retired at the end of 2012 after 19 seasons.
The Upton brothers and Heyward will comprise one of the most athletic outfield trios in baseball during the upcoming season.Their combination of power and speed was demonstrated in 2012 when Heyward posted numbers of 27 home runs, 82 RBI, and 21 steals; B. J. generated 28 home runs, 78 RBI, and 31 steals with the Rays; and Justin, in a down year, posted 17 home runs, 67 RBI, and 18 steals with the Diamondbacks.Just a year before, Justin had an MVP-type season when he slugged 31 home runs and 88 RBI.Heyward was a Gold Glove winner in 2012, and the Uptons also use their speed well to roam the outfield.B. J. is the veteran (8 years) of the trio at age 28.Justin is 25 years old (6 years), while Jason is 23 (3 years).
Despite their on-the-field prowess, both of the Upton brothers come to the Braves with some baggage.B. J. was signed by the Braves as a free agent from the Tampa Bay Rays, where he was known as a moody player.He had some well-chronicled run-ins with his manager and teammates, who criticized him on occasion as being lazy. Over the winter, the Diamondbacks seemed intent on trading Justin, despite his being one of the best players on that team.They reportedly became disenchanted with Justin because of his work ethic and finally convinced themselves in 2012 he would not live up to his potential.Those may have been real problems, but keep in mind these two gentlemen starting playing at the highest level of baseball at very young ages.I’m betting they’ve matured and will benefit by getting a fresh start with the Braves.And having each other as teammates to provide challenge, support, and confidence when needed.
There have only been approximately 110 occurrences of brothers playing as teammates in all of baseball history. In most instances, brothers have played only one to three seasons as teammates.You’d have to go back to the 1920s and 1930s to find a pair of brothers who played in the same outfield for an extended period of time.Outfielders Paul and Lloyd Waner played together for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1927 to 1940.They wound up as the only pair of brothers to make the Hall of Fame. Cal and Billy Ripken (1987-1992, 1996) and Joe and Luke Sewell(1921-1930) were other exceptions to the short tenures.
One of the other more noteworthy brother combinations in the outfield occurred in 1963 when Felipe, Matty, and Jesus Alou played in the same outfield in the same game for the San Francisco Giants.Prominent brothers Joe, Dominic, and Vince DiMaggio were contemporaries as outfielders in the 1940s, but they were never teammates.Brothers Sandy and Roberto Alomar played together for brief periods on three different teams, including the Padres, Indians, and the White Sox.
While it remains to be seen how B. J. and Justin will fare as teammates, Braves fans are rightfully optimistic the Uptons will eventually be among the ranks of “best brother teammates,” for many years to come.
By Richard Cuicchi | February 11, 2013 at 06:38 AM EST | 1 comment
New Orleanians know of a locally-produced song whose refrain is “ain’t there no more,” which refersto popular businesses and landmarks of the Crescent City that ceased to exist over the years.The recent announcement by the New Orleans Hornets basketball franchise that they would be changing their mascot name to the “Pelicans” for the 2013-2014 season evoked memories by many local baseball enthusiasts of the former New Orleans Pelicans baseball club.
The last time the Pelicans name was associated with a baseball franchise in New Orleans was in 1977. Let’s take a nostalgic look back at that time, the team, and its players.
Prior to that team, Organized Baseball had not fielded a baseball team in New Orleans since 1959, the last year of existence for the previous New Orleans Pelicans who had a near continuous presence since 1887.When minor league baseball owner A. Ray Smith offered to relocate his Triple-A Cardinals franchise to the city in 1977, folks in New Orleans thought it only natural that they would have a professional baseball team again, possibly even a major league club.In fact, at the time, the city had a relatively new stadium, the Louisiana Superdome, where such a team could play.The planners and designers of the Superdome had conceived and developed a baseball configuration, in anticipation of eventually getting a major league baseball team. Securing the minor league Pelicans in the city again seemed like a good next step.
The 1977 Pelicans finished with a 57-79 won-lost record, placing last in the four-team West Division of the American Association, a Triple-A league.The attendance at Pelicans games was 217,957, outpacing all teams in the American Association except the league champion Denver Bears (288,167).
So, who were some the players for the New Orleans Pelicans in 1977 and whatever became of them in baseball?
Outfielder Benny Ayala made the American Association’s post-season All-Star team in 1977.He led the Pelicans with 18 home runs and finished second in RBI with 78.He went on to play 10 seasons in the majors, appearing in two World Series with the Baltimore Orioles.
As a rookie, Pat Darcy pitched for the Cincinnati Reds in the 1975 World Series against the Boston Red Sox.However, he appeared in only three games for the Pelicans in 1977, but shortly afterwards he was out of baseball due to injuries.
Steve Dunning was a first-round draft pick (2nd overall) in 1970 for the Cleveland Indians and went straight to the majors from Stanford University.He hurled 10 complete games in 24 starts for the Pelicans, but led the team with 13 losing decisions.He wound up only winning 23 of his 64 career major league decisions.
Of the pitchers on the Pelicans team, Pete Falcone had the most extensive pitching career in the big leagues, as he posted a 70-90 major league won-lost record over ten seasons.
Outfielder Dane Iorg made his major league debut for the Philadelphia Phillies on April 9, before being sent to New Orleans in mid-June in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals.His major league playing career covered 10 years, and he appeared in two World Series, with the Cardinals in 1982 and the Kansas City Royals in 1985.His post-season batting average was .522.His brother, Garth Iorg, was also a major league player.
Second baseman Ken Oberkfell made his major league debut with the St. Louis Cardinals on August 22, 1977, after being one of the key players for the Pelicans.He had a distinguished 16-year major league career, batting .278 and appearing in two World Series, in 1982 with the Cardinals and in 1989 with the San Francisco Giants.Oberkfell returned to New Orleans when he managed the Zephyrs as a Mets Triple-A affiliate in 2007 and part of 2008.
Catcher John Tamargo hit 10 home runs and 42 RBI for the Pelicans.He also returned to New Orleans in 1998 as the manager of the Triple-A Zephyrs in the Astros organization, when they won the Pacific Coast League championship. Tamargo’s daughter played for the Colorado Silver Bullets (a women’s professional team from 1994-1997), and his son is currently a minor league coach.
At age 32, Tony LaRussa was the “old man” of the Pelicans team, whose average age was 25.He made his major league debut in 1963, and the 1977 season was his last as a player.He appeared in 50 games for the Pelicans as a utility infielder, but managed to hit only a meager .188.He became one of the most successful managers in major league history, leading teams to six league championships and three World Series titles.He amassed over 2,700 wins in 33 years of managing the Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s, and St. Louis Cardinals.Tony is a pretty sure bet for future induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Jim Riggleman was second on the Pelicans club with 17 home runs.Although he never appeared in a major league game as a player, Riggleman went on to a major league managerial career of 12 seasons for the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals.
A native of New Orleans and East Jefferson High graduate, Barry Raziano was a 30-year-old pitcher for the Pelicans who appeared in 20 games in relief.However, the 1977 season with the Pelicans was his last in professional baseball.
Randy Wiles, who pitched collegiately at LSU, was a 5th round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973.He appeared in three games for the Pelicans in 1977.However, he made his major league debut with the Chicago White Sox in August 1977, his only season in the majors.
Pelicans’ owner Ray Smith decided not to return to New Orleans for the 1978 season, instead moving the franchise to Springfield, Illinois. New Orleans never did get its much anticipated and desired major league franchise.The Superdome never really did hit the big time as a baseball venue, only hosting an annual college baseball tournaments and some major league spring training exhibition games for several years in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.However, professional baseball did return to New Orleans in 1994, when the Milwaukee Brewers located its Triple-A Zephyrs team here from Denver. The Zephyrs have also been associated with the Astros, Mets, and Nationals major league organizations.This Spring, the Zephyrs will be entering its fifth season as the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins.
Reaction to the Hornets basketball franchise adopting the Pelicans name has been varied.Many old-time baseball fans who recall the baseball Pelicans thought it was absolutely sacrilegious.Many New Orleans basketball fans welcomed the change, because they never really did like inheriting the Hornets name from Charlotte, when the franchise transferred here in 2003.Some die-hard basketball fans thought the Utah franchise should have to give up the Jazz name. Other basketball fans deliberated the Pelicans mascot would not be “fierce” enough, but decided it was more appealing than something like the Mosquitos or the Nutria.However, for Tom Benson, New Orleans Saints owner, who now also owns the Hornets franchise, Pelicans seemed like a logical choice, particularly since he already owned the rights to the Pelicans sports franchise name, a little-known fact that became evident in the recent announcement of the new name.
Even though the 1977 Pelicans only lasted one season in the city, they still contributed to the long, eventful baseball history of New Orleans.Yes, it’s true Pelicans baseball “ain’t there no more,” but thanks to the past efforts of prominent local historian Arthur Schott and, more recently, Derby Gisclair, the Pelicans will always be remembered for its baseball heritage.
I welcome any comments or feedback on recollections of the Pelicans, thoughts about New Orleans professional basketball’s use of the Pelicans name, or even other remembrances of legendary New Orleans locales and institutions that “ain’t there no more.”
By Richard Cuicchi | February 03, 2013 at 09:34 AM EST | 2 comments
Football season is finally over.It’s time to start getting excited about baseball, as spring training camps are set to open within two weeks. While there have been some significant changes over the winter for several clubs, perhaps none will be more impactful than that which the Houston Astros will make in transitioning from the National League Central to the American League West Division. The move is triggered by Major League Baseball’s need to balance out the number of teams between the two leagues.When Jim Crane purchased the Astros franchise in 2011, one of his concessions in the deal was to agree to move the team to the American League.This is only the second time in baseball history a team is switching leagues.You may recall the Milwaukee Brewers made a similar shift (from American to National) in 1998.
The Astros, then called the Colt .45s, were originally an expansion club of the National League in 1962, when the New York Mets franchise also debuted.That was the first time the National League had increased its original eight-team format, going back to 1900.In 1969, the Astros became part of the National League West Division, when Major League Baseball first transitioned to a divisional format in each league.This was followed by the transfer to the National League Central Division in 1994, when each major league added a third division.
While the Astros’ on-field success as a franchise over their fifty-one years of existence is somewhat arguable (compiling a .492 overall winning percentage), they nevertheless played in one of the most notable venues--the Astrodome, developed some spirited rivalries in their division, built a loyal fan base, and created a legacy that includes some of baseball’s most noteworthy players.
The Astrodome’s opening in 1965 put the Astros franchise in the spotlight as the first professional team to play in a domed stadium, even though the team floundered in its first few years. (They were often called the “L’Astros” by some impatient fans and sportswriters.) However, becoming part of the National League Central Division turned out to be favorable for the Astros.Before the move, they had previously appeared in post-season play only three times during their first thirty-years.Then, over the next twelve seasons as part of the Central Division, the Astros had their most productive stretch, when the team appeared in the post-season playoffs six times, including their first World Series in 2005.They developed fiery rivalries with the Cardinals, Reds and Cubs, in what many observers considered the weakest division in the National League.
While Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan is generally regarded as the most famous of the Houston Astros players, other major leaguers who appeared with the Astros include other Hall of Famers: Nellie Fox, Robin Roberts, Eddie Matthews, Leo Durocher, Joe Morgan, and Don Sutton.However, names like Jimmy Wynn, Jose Cruz, Mike Scott, Cesar Cedeno, J. R. Richard, and Larry Dierker resonate more readily with long-time Astros fans.Later, along came the “Killer Bs” (nickname for stars Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, and Lance Berkman) and Roy Oswalt, who led the successful teams of the 1990s and early 2000s.
The “L’Astros” moniker became an even more relevant characterization of the team during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, when they lost 106 and 107 games. These were two of the most disastrous back-to-back seasons by a team in baseball history.Soon after the Bagwell and Biggio era, the Astros started a movement towards a low-budget operation, unloading their better players who had long-term high salaries.In 2012, the club had the third-lowest team payroll at $60.6 million (per ESPN.com).Although the final roster is not yet firmed up, the Astros’ payroll is estimated to be half that in 2013.And this will be a team mainly comprised of relatively inexperienced major league players and a few veterans who would only be backups on most other teams. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Lucas Harrell was rated the top player for the Astros in 2012.I’m sorry, Lucas who?
With all due respect to the teams and fans of the American League East, the Astros will go from the weakest division in the National League to perhaps the toughest American League division in 2013.The AL West’s Angels, Rangers and A’s are expected to pick up where they left off in 2012.Furthermore, the last-place Mariners made big strides in the off-season to upgrade their roster, in order to make more of an immediate impact.I really can’t see the Astros winning many more games than they did during the past two seasons.The Astros’ front-office has undergone a big turnover in the past few years, and in my opinion they are largely unproven in their ability to build a viable club from personnel developed within the organization.Unfortunately, considering factors like the tougher competition in the American League West, the continuance of the club’s low payrolls, and no “Killer B”-type players on the near-term horizon, I envision the Astros will continue to see lean years ahead.
So, what do fans think about the Astros’ move?Has MLB unduly imposed a hardship on the franchise?Can the Astros organization develop enough players to get them into contention within a few years? Did the Astros hire first-year manager Bo Porter because more experienced, veteran managerial candidates were savvy enough to avoid putting themselves into the Astros’ dire situation? Are you going to miss the rivalries in the National League Central? Does anyone see a positive in all this?About the only thing I see is that I can get to see the Yankees play closer to home!
By Richard Cuicchi | January 25, 2013 at 02:28 PM EST | No Comments
John and Jim Harbaugh’s upcoming face-off as opposing head coaches in Super Bowl XLVII will be a first for professional football.John, the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, and Jim, the second-year coach of the San Francisco 49ers, fell short of reaching the NFL Championship game against each other last year, as each of their respective teams lost in conference title games. However, this unique aspect is sure to add yet another level of interest to the Super Bowl game this year.In their only prior meeting as coaches, John beat Jim in a regular-season NFL game on Thanksgiving night in 2011.
Professional baseball is chock full of family relationships among its players, coaches, managers, owners and executives.This past baseball season’s playoff teams featured no less than forty players, coaches, and managers who had relatives in baseball, indicative of the prevalence of family ties in the sport.However, none of them rivaled what the Harbaughs are about to accomplish. In fact, throughout all of post-1900 major league baseball history, there have never been brothers as opposing managers, in either regular-season or post-season games.The only major league siblings to both manage big league clubs, Rene and Marcel Lachemann, never opposed each other as managers.
My research reveals that the closest baseball situations to the Harbaughs’ were several occasions when major league brothers opposed each other in World Series games.In 1920, brothers Doc and Jimmy Johnston faced each other in the World Series for the Cleveland Indians and Brooklyn Robins, respectively.For three consecutive years (1921-1923), Bob Meusel of the New York Yankees played against his brother, Emil , of the New York Giants in the Fall Classic.Clete and Ken Boyer were opponents in the 1964 World Series--Clete with the New York Yankees, and Ken with the St. Louis Cardinals. Each of the Boyers homered in Game 7 of that World Series.
Even though baseball has more family relationships than any other professional sport, pro football’s John and Jim Harbaugh will soon achieve a rare accomplishment!However, when considering baseball brothers as players, who do you think were the most famous or the most prolific set—e. g., the DiMaggios (Joe, Dom, and Vince), Niekros (Phil and Joe), Deans (Dizzy and Paul), Aarons (Hank and Tommie)?
By Richard Cuicchi | January 21, 2013 at 02:41 PM EST | 1 comment
In my recent book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives, I made a case for the Hairston Family being the “first family of baseball." I’m referring to Sam Hairston, father of major leaguers John and Jerry Sr;and Jerry Sr. , father of current major leaguers Jerry Jr. and Scott. Sam also had other children and grandchildren who were drafted or played in the minors, making a total of ten family members in Organized Baseball. The Hairstons are one of only four families to have three generations of players in the major leagues, and one of only two families to have two sets of brothers in the major leagues.
The recent death of Lee MacPhail reminds us that his baseball family was comprised of four generations of executives and front-office personnel for various major league clubs over a period of almost 80 years. Lee is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, as is his father, Larry. They are the only father-son combination to have such a distinction. Lee’s son, Andy, has been a highly successful executive for several major league teams, most notably as general manager of the Minnesota Twins franchise for whom he helped guide to two World Series championships. Lee’s son, Lee III, and his grandson, Lee IV, have also been involved in front-office operations of major and minor league teams.
Certainly, the MacPhail name is more recognizable than the Hairston name. As pointed out in my book, none of the Hairston players achieved All-Star or “league leader” status. Other player-families did—the DiMaggios (Joe, Dominic, and Vince), the Boyers (Ken, Clete, and Cloyd), the Boones (Ray, Bob, Bret, and Aaron), the Bells (Gus, Buddy, David, and Mike) and the Ripkens (Cal Sr., Cal Jr., and Billy).
The MacPhails were actually my runner-up selection to the Hairstons for “first family” honors. I wound up giving the edge to players versus executives. What do you think?