Archive for September, 2013

2013 Awards: Managers

September 30, 2013
Babe Ruth with Giants manager John McGraw

Babe Ruth with Giants manager John McGraw

Although there’s still a game left in the regular season (and isn’t it strange that the “play-in” game counts as regular season so that two sets of players get an extra game to pad their stats?) it’s time for me to begin my annual look at the upcoming awards season. As usual, I’m giving you two picks for each award: who I think will win and who I would vote for if I had a vote (sometimes it’s the same guy). I’ll drop these in over the next several weeks (not four posts in a row). This time it’s Manager of the Year.

National League: I think this is essentially a two-man race. In late June the Dodgers were dead in the water and in September they clinched their division title with a great 50 game run. Don Mattingly will (and should) get credit for a lot of that.  On the other hand, the Pirates hadn’t produced a winning season in 20 years. Manager Clint Hurdle led them not only to a winning season but to a playoff spot. I think Mattingly, because it’s a prime franchise, will garner several votes, but I expect Hurdle to win the award. I know I’d vote for him.

American League: The AL is much more wide open. I think there are six candidates that can pick up votes. Joe Maddon at Tampa and Bob Melvin at Oakland did great jobs with teams that were supposed to do well, but don’t really have great stars (quick name two Athletics not named Donaldson). Joe Girardi at New York was supposed to do well, but his team was wretched. But I expect him to garner some votes because the problem was injuries not mismanagement. Considering all the Yankees injuries having this team in a playoff hunt with a week to go was damned good work.  Did you know that the last time Kansas City had a winning record was 2003 and that the time before that was 1993? Ned Yost led the team to a winning record in 2013 (what is it with the Royals and seasons ending in 3?). That should get him a some votes (I’d put him third). But I think the real race will come down to the men at Boston and Cleveland. Last year Boston lost 93 games and this season John Farrell led them to the best record in the AL. A year after a second consecutive third place finish, Boston let Terry Francona, the only Boston manager to win a World Series in the lively ball era, go. After a year in the broadcast booth, this year he took Cleveland, which lost 94 games last season, to the playoffs. Boston still had a number of quality players from the last few years while Cleveland had nothing last year and very little this year. I think the glitz that is Boston will get Farrell the manager award, but I’d vote for Francona.

Other awards to follow as the muse directs.

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Got That Wrong

September 28, 2013

So I see Bud Selig is retiring at the end of next season (2014). He’s been both an interesting and controversial commissioner and it will be fun to see how history treats him. He made a lot of innovations some good some not so good. The All-Star Game as the determining factor in home field for the World Series is a “not so good”. The other two that I want to write about (inter-league play and the wild card) are a more mixed bag.

When the wildcard was first proposed, I had conflicting feelings. Frankly, I liked the idea of creating three division and adding a fourth team. It made for a more interesting playoff. On the other hand, the idea that after 162 games you got a chance at winning the World Series without finishing first bothered me. Well, I got that wrong. The last several years have been exciting down to the last weekend. Why? Mainly because the wildcard was still being determined and out of 15 games, two or three (four this year) still mattered. The division titles are determined, although it came down to the final Friday for St. Louis to clinch the National League Central, but the wildcards are still up for grabs. Well, at least the American League is up for grabs. The NL is playing for home field which isn’t exactly the same, but still makes the game interesting. In the AL there are three teams playing for two positions. So, Bud, I got that one wrong. The wildcard is exciting enough to make a purist admit he made a mistake doubting the idea.

The other issue was inter-league play. Here I really liked the idea. I wanted to see the Cubs play the White Sox in games that mattered. I wanted the Dodgers to face the Angels, the Yankees to take on the Mets, the Cardinals to drive up I-70 to face the Royals. So I was happy it was going to happen. Now they’ve more or less spoiled it by making it an everyday occurrence. Oh, boy, oh, boy the Rockies are playing the Red Sox. Do you really care? I like that they evened up the leagues (15 each) but that necessitated an everyday inter-league game. Too much, Bud, too much.

Top of the Line

September 23, 2013
Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera

So we now say farewell to the finest of all relievers, the second greatest Yankees hurler (behind Whitey Ford). As a Dodgers fan I find it difficult to say anything good about a Yankees players, but mostly there is only good that you can say about Mariano Rivera.

He started as a setup man for John Wetteland, holding that position through in 1996 World Series. Then he took over the closer slot and became the greatest ninth inning pitcher ever. He’s a full season of saves ahead of number two on the list (Trevor Hoffman). He has 42 postseason saves, 11 of them in the World Series. His WHIP is 1.002 (and he’s still got a week left to lower it).

Rivera was so good that in some ways what you remember are the failures. What I mean by that is simple. His successes are so common, so expected that most people couldn’t tell you a specific moment of greatness, But his failures are so few that they jump out at you and you remember them. The blown save in the 2004 playoffs against Boston was mentioned when Rivera last played in Fenway Park. I remember the ninth inning of game seven in the 2001 World Series when Rivera threw away the ball and Arizona ended up winning the Series. But name another Rivera failure. They’re hard to find.

I remember that immediately after the 2001 Series Rivera blamed the loss on Scott Brosius. Why do I remember that? Well, it’s the only time I remember Rivera not being a class act. That’s another thing to remember about him. He was always a classy player (so the odd time he wasn’t sticks out). Try and think of a modern player who did 19 years and was, with the one exception, entirely classy. Not many are there? That may be as important a thing to recall about Mariano Rivera as his pitching statistics.

So now Rivera rides off into the sunset and sits on his porch in his broken bat rocking chair (one of the great gifts ever) and enjoys his retirement. In five years he’ll make the trip to Cooperstown for enshrinement. I hope he enjoys his retirement. He was better than we non-Yankees fans wanted. He was greater than we baseball fans could have ever asked for. Simply the top of the line. Enjoy your time off, Mo.

A Sad Good-Bye

September 21, 2013
Todd Helton

Todd Helton

It’s the time of season when we say good-bye to a lot of players. Some of them voluntarily ride off into the sunset, while others are sent packing. A third group gets relegated to the minors and never surface again. This year we’re saying a voluntary “good-bye” to three quality players: Andy Pettitte, Todd Helton, and Mariano Rivera. I’ve done Pettitte. Here’s my take on Helton (Rivera to follow).

Helton is the finest player in Colorado history. His only true competition is Larry Walker and Walker spent a lot of quality playing time in Montreal. Helton will end his career with a .300 batting average, an OPS in the .950s, and currently has an OPS+ of 133. He’s got 368 home runs, 4277 total bases, and a week left to play. He’s not going to get 3000 hits, but he might make 1400 RBIs (he’s got 1398). He has a batting title, a slugging title (who knew?), an RBI title, and led the league in doubles. He’s an excellent first baseman leading the National League in assists, range factor, and fielding percentage at various times. He’s seldom played for a winner (he made it to one World Series), so he’s missed much of the limelight that other players receive. Colorado is kind of an obscure team anyway, mostly famous for balls in humidors and Coors Field, but Helton still made the All Star team five times. And he just pulled off the hidden ball trick.

But, of course, there’s Coors Field and some people think he’s gotten unfair advantage in his playing career. So did a lot of people and we now have stats that are supposed to take care of factoring that in. But whether they do a good job of it or not, it really doesn’t make a lot of difference to me. I look at the high mound of Dodger Stadium and note no one but Sandy Koufax put up his numbers. I look at Fenway Park and note a lot of people couldn’t bounce doubles off the “Green Monster” the way Wade Boggs did. And Mel Ott had the Polo Grounds, but so did a lot of other players. So I don’t think a park alone should be a determination of the player’s career. Let us celebrate Helton because we know he’d be a great player no matter his park. Enjoy the time off, man.

A Second Retirement

September 20, 2013

Just saw on NBC News website that Andy Pettitte is set to announce his retirement (again). He retired back in 2010, then came back in 2012. Maybe this time it will be for good, although he’s still a pretty fair pitcher.

I looked up his stats. He’s 255-152 for a .627 winning percentage which sits neatly between Hall of Famers Eddie Plank and Chief Bender. His 255 wins is 42nd, just between Red Faber and Ted Lyons. He was 40 more strikeouts than Sandy Koufax (Pettitte’s career is much longer). Those are all good things. So are the 19 postseason wins (five in the World Series) and the 183 postseason strikeouts (56 in the World Series) and the five rings (and two Series losses). They weigh well for his chances for Cooperstown.

But then there’s the high ERA which still bothers a lot of Hall of Fame voters and more than that there are the steroid allegations. Those weigh against his chances for Cooperstown. I have to admit I have no idea which set of stats will prevail in Pettitte’s case.

Anyway, enjoy your retirement, Andy Pettitte. But do me a favor, stay retired this time. I’m getting tired of writing this post. 🙂

ESPN’s 100 Best

September 16, 2013

While looking up some stuff on ESPN’s MLB section I stumbled across a list touted as their 100 Greatest Major League players. They give a list of 100 players ranked 1-100 in order, then throw in 25 “honorable mention” players. You can find the entire list at ESPN’s MLB section, but here’s a rundown of some of the players.

Below is a 25 man roster with 2 players at each everyday position, two DH’s, five starters (one of which has to be a lefty), and two closers (there were only two on the list). The number beside each name is the player’s position on the list:

1b–Gehrig (11), Pujols (19)

2b–Hornsby (15), Morgan (20)

ss–Wagner (10), Ripken (31)

3b–Schmidt (16), Alex Rodriguez (18)

lf–Bonds (3), Ted Williams (4)

cf–Mays (2), Cobb (6)

rf–Ruth (1), Aaron (5)

catcher–Bench (27), Berra (56)

dh–Musial (8), Mantle (9)

starters–Clemens (7), Walter Johnson (12), Maddux (13), Young (17), Randy Johnson (23)

closers–Rivera (67), Eckersley (116)

Notice that it took all the way to the “honorable mention” list to pick up a second closer. The “honorable mention” list ended at 125 and did not include any other closer.

A couple of comments now:

1. The highest rated player that had no position on the “team” I put together above was Rickey Henderson at number 14.

2. The player who played the earliest was Cap Anson at 88.

3. The last player on the 100 was Phil Niekro and the first person (#101) on the “honorable mention” list was Luke Appling. Roy Campanella was the end of the “honorable mention” list at 125.

4. The list did include a handful of 19th Century players (Nichols, Galvin, Keefe) but was mostly 20th Century.

5. The list also included a handful of 21st Century players so it wasn’t one of those fogey lists that says the last great players were in the 1960s or 1970s (or pick your own decade).

6. Both the steroid and banning issues were ignored. Bonds, Palmeiro, and Rose all made the list and Joe Jackson was on the “honorable mention” list.

7. The entire list is available on the ESPN baseball section if you’re interested in the entire thing. If you disagree with parts of it (and I certainly do), take it up with ESPN.

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Al Reach

September 12, 2013
Al Reach while playing with the Athletic of Philadelphia

Al Reach while playing with the Athletic of Philadelphia

1. Alfred James Reach was born in London in 1840, but came to the US as a child. He lived in New York.

2. Between 1861 and 1864 he played second base for the Eckford of Brooklyn, one of the three premier Brooklyn teams of the era (the Atlantic and Excelsior were the others).

3. In 1865 he joined the Athletic of Philadelphia as their second baseman. He was paid $25 for “expenses” when he joined the Athletic. Sources speculate that he was the first professional player (others choose different players as the first professional).

4. He led the National Association of Base Ball Players in runs scored in 1868 and finished second in 1867.

5. In 1871, the initial year of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, he hit .353 and helped lead the Athletic to the first championship.

6. His career tailed off from there, ending after 1875 with a .247 average, no home runs, 89 runs scored, and an OPS+ of 73.

7. In 1874, while still active, he opened a sporting goods store. By 1883 it was the largest sporting goods store in the US.

8. In 1883 the Worcester, Massachusetts team moved to Philadelphia. Reach purchased the team (now the Phillies) and ran it through 1899. In 1890 he served as manager for 11 games (he went 4-7).

9. He became a millionaire and sold his firm to the A.J. Spaulding Co. in 1892. Spaulding ran both companies, but kept the name of each, thus managing to monopolize the sporting goods world while not running afoul of the anti-trust laws being touted at the time.

10. After 1900, the company produced the official American League baseball while the Spaulding Company produced the official National League ball. Both were made by the same people in the same factory.

11. The Reach Guide was the official publication for the American Association from 1883 through 1892 (when the Association folded), then was semi-official until 1902, when it became the official American League publication. It remained official through 1939. Reach’s company published the Guide until 1927 when Wright and Ditson (the company run by former star and Al Reach opponent, George Wright) took up publication.

12. Al Reach’s brother Bob played a couple of years in the National Association, didn’t do much, but did invent an improved catcher’s mask that Reach marketed. Reach’s son George helped Ben and Daniel Shibe perfect the modern cork-centered baseball.

13. Al Reach died in New Jersey in 1928. In 2012, he appeared on the Veteran’s Committee Hall of Fame ballot. He was not elected.

Tammany and the Team

September 9, 2013
New York Mutual, 1872

New York Mutual, 1872

Back when I was a kid, my Grandfather once told me that there were three things you never discussed in public: politics, religion, and sport. Because you never discussed them, you ended up arguing them. And even worse was to combine any two. Back a long time ago (in blog years) I combined religion and sport when I did a post on Billy Sunday. It’s time to throw in politics with sport and see what we get.

In the 1850s Brooklyn provided the great teams in New York baseball. There were the Atlantic, the Eckford, the Excelsior. They were arguably the three finest teams in the US and none of them were in New York City. That changed in 1857 with the founding of the Mutual. Named for the Mutual Hook and Ladder Company (a local fire brigade) the team began play in 1858. From the beginning it had an advantage that no other New York team could top, it had money. It had lots of money. Why? Glad you asked. You see, the Mutual quickly became the darling of Tammany Hall.

Tammany Hall about 1870

Tammany Hall about 1870

Founded in the 18th Century, Tammany Hall began as a gentleman’s club and quickly became the gathering place for the elite of the Democratic-Republican Party (Vice President Aaron Burr served as President for a while). Now a brief foray into 19th Century politics is in order. The Democratic-Republican Party was the political party formed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The party splintered in 1824 and the part that joined Andrew Jackson’s campaign became the modern Democratic Party. The Jeffersonian Republican Party has nothing to do with the modern Republican Party (which got its start it 1854). Got all that?

Tammany Hall was (into the 1930s) the centerpiece of the New York Democratic Party. If you wanted to be in politics in New York, you had to have Tammany support if you were a Democrat. If you saw the recent movie Lincoln, Fernando Wood, played by James Pace, was one of the principal speakers in the House of Representatives opposing the 13th Amendment. Wood was head of Tammany for a while. Of course one thing that goes with political power is money and that meant that a lot of money ended up in Tammany Hall. One of the things they did with it was support the Mutual.

The Mutual won the National Association of Base Ball Players title in their initial campaign (1858) and did well throughout the period of the Civil War (although never quite up to the level of the Atlantic). The team board of directors, all Tammany men, made sure that the team had the best uniforms, and equipment. Although the league was supposed to be amateur, most clubs had at least one professional and with Tammany money, the Mutual were no exception.

When the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed in 1871, the Mutual joined the league, making them one of the acknowledged professional teams and, because of their backers, one of the most well-financed.

By this point William M. Tweed, known as “Boss” Tweed and leader of the “Tweed Ring” was head of Tammany. Tweed was among the first of a group of political “bosses” who dominated urban (and in some cases state) politics for long periods. The “machine” was a major factor in politics for around 100 years and are generally seen as corrupt, graft-ridden organizations that are one of the country’s shames. But most “machines” had their benevolent side. Tweed was known for his aid to immigrants arriving in New York. His “ward heelers” were noted for finding new arrivals housing, jobs, midwives, etc. Of course they also pushed the immigrants to obtain citizenship and then vote for “machine” candidates for various offices. Some, like the Pendergast machine of Kansas City were noted for making sure one honest man was elected to office, leave him alone, let him do his job properly, then hold him up as proof the “machine” wasn’t corrupt. In Kansas City, the honest guy was named Harry Truman (whatever happened to him?). So the urban machines were a mixed bag. States like Louisiana had statewide machines (the one in Louisiana being led by Huey Long) that had corruption problems but also built roads and bridges and provided free school books to students. Again, something of a mixed bag. But, as far as I can determine, only the New York machine had a baseball team.

Although Tweed served on the Mutual board, he was not President of the board, so it’s difficult to say how much clout he had in team decisions (although it’s difficult to believe that the board would go against him too often). What Tweed and the board did was to pump money into the team. It did some good, but as George Steinbrenner discovered later on, it didn’t guarantee pennants. The Mutual never won an Association pennant, They finished fourth in 1871. The 1872 team (pictured above) came in third. They managed to reach second in 1874, then dropped to seventh in 1875.

What happened? Simply, the Tweed Ring was in trouble. By 1875 the machine had crumbled and Tammany Hall was fighting for its political life. They needed money for survival, not for baseball. Economically they pulled the rug out from under the Mutual and the team suffered tremendous loss of players. They managed to survive the season and when the National League replaced the Association in 1876, they were the team chosen to represent New York in the new league (despite their problems, they were still the dominant team in New York). But their financial problems remained. By late in the 1876 season they were broke, too broke to make the final western swing of the season. This got the attention of National League owner William Hulbert, who moved to have them thrown out of the league. With no league and no financial backing, the team folded. Its name was resurrected in the 1880s American Association team, but that was a different team.

The Original Athletics

September 5, 2013
1871 Athletic of Philadelphia team

1871 Athletic of Philadelphia team

If you follow baseball at all, you know there’s a team in Oakland called the A’s. If you’re a big fan you know A’s is short for Athletics. If you’re a true fan you know that the Athletics played in both Kansas City and Oakland prior to moving to Oakland. What you may not know is that “Athletic” has a long history of use for the Philadelphia baseball team.

The original Athletic (it was originally written in the singular) were formed in Philadelphia in 1860. By 1863 the team joined the National Association of Base Ball Players, becoming the dominant Philadelphia team. In 1868, with a 50 game record of 47-3, they were crowned Association champs. They dropped back to third in both 1869 and 1870. The next year they joined the fledgling National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (note the addition of the word “professional”). The league lasted through 1875 with the Athletic being one of its most prominent franchises.

In 1871, the Athletic went 21-7 to capture the first Association crown. They defeated Chicago on the final day of the season to finish two games up on the White Stockings, but didn’t possess the pennant for another month. There were questions about which games counted in the standings and what to do with ties. Additionally, Boston played 30 games to Philly’s 28. Depending on what the league did with the disputed games and the ties, Boston could claim the championship by virtue of more wins (wins counted over winning percentage in 1871). Ultimately the Association awarded the title to Philadelphia.

They won with hitting. As an offensive team, they put up some of the great numbers in baseball history (but remember it’s a 28 game season). Third baseman Levi Mayerle hit .492 to lead the Association. He also picked up the OBP, Slugging, OPS, and total base titles. He tied for the home run crown with four. Second baseman Al Reach (who later ran the Phillies and a sporting goods empire) hit .353, Catcher Fergy Malone hit .343, and center fielder John “Count” Sensenderfer hit .323. Pitcher Dick McBride had an ERA over 4.50 and the team fielding percentage was good for the era despite Mayerle’s awful .646 at third.

It was the only Athletic championship. Boston absolutely dominated the remaining years of the Association with Philly finishing fourth in 1872, fifth in 1873, third in 1874, and second in 1875. The Association folded after 1875 and Philadelphia was one of the teams choosing to play in the newly formed National League. They did poorly, winning 11 and losing 45. Toward the end of the season they decided to skip the last away swing through the west. They were hemorrhaging money and felt that another road trip would bankrupt the team. This earned the ire of Chicago owner and NL founder William Hulbert. If Philly would lose money by not playing the Western swing, Chicago would lose money if the Athletics didn’t. At season’s end he managed to have Philadelphia (and New York who also refused to make their last Western swing) tossed out of the league.

It was the end for the first Association champions. They disbanded. A few years later a new team began operation in Philadelphia. It eventually entered the American Association, winning the 1883 title, but the original A’s were gone. The name was revived in 1901 for the new Philadelphia team in the American League. That team is the one still existing in Oakland.

The Day I Made the Army Team

September 2, 2013
a first baseman's miitt

a first baseman’s mitt

All the way back in 1970, I was in the US Army and stationed at a small base in Northern Virginia. It was really too small to make much of a post baseball team, but there were a couple of other bases nearby and they were allowed to put their teams together jointly to form a team for the Army Tournament. They needed a first baseman and in utter desperation picked me.

Back that far the country was divided into various “Army” regions. It was a carry over from World War II and there were five of them, numbered one through six (minus 2nd Army for reasons I don’t know). Each “Army” was to have a tournament to determine a team that would play in the “All Army Tournament”, There would be eight teams (the Far East–Korea, Japan, etc, Europe, and Southern Command–Panama, Puerto Rico, etc were the other teams) and the winning team would be declared Army Champ.

We did some pre-tournament playing against other nearby Army posts and did reasonably well. We also got in a few games against local semi-pro teams and again did OK. We won more than we lost, but, frankly, we were nothing special. But it’s the Army and new guys transfer in all the time and by the day of the First Army tournament, we’d picked up two really good players (a pitcher and a center fielder who could hit a ton). I hit second (no power but still decent speed) and anchored an infield that was never going to be compared to Connie Mack’s $100,000 infield (more like a buck-twenty).

Then we astonished everyone, no one more so than ourselves. We got on a hot streak and rolled into the tournament semi-finals. We beat a team from Fort Meade, Maryland for a shot at the finals, then actually won the championship against a team from Fort Dix, New Jersey (both were a lot bigger than us so they were considered huge upsets). That put us in the All-Army Tournament held in DC (actually Northern Virginia, so it was kind of a home game for us).

It was a double elimination tournament and we lost game one, so we had to come through the loser’s bracket in order to win the championship. We got on another roll and ended up getting through the loser’s bracket to face Fifth Army champ, a team from Fort Riley, Kansas. In the first game we picked up a couple of  early runs (I scored one of them), then hung on. With the score something like 4-3 (I think, it’s been a long time, team), we got to the top of the eighth ahead. Fort Riley managed to load the bases with one out. That brought about my only heroic moment in my entire baseball career (hold the cheering until I’m finished). I was playing in front of the runner on first, when the batter hit a screamer just inside the first base line. I’m left-handed, so I had to reach across my body to snag the ball for the second out. The momentum of the reach pulled me across the base into foul territory. When I turned I saw the ump with his hand up and heard him call “out, out” (I thought maybe he was seeing double). Apparently I’d managed to drag my foot across first while stepping into foul territory and recorded an unassisted double play (now you can cheer). I looked at the ump, looked at the ball, looked at the base, then flipped the ball to the ump and headed to the bench (not fancy enough field for a dugout). They slapped me on the back, I told the coach, “had it all the way” (ever notice how much “heroism” is sheer dumb luck?), and we went down in order in the bottom of the eighth. Fortunately, so did Fort Riley in the ninth. So there would be one last game. We lost and Fort Riley claimed the title (we did get a nice trophy).

At the end of the tournament, the powers-that-be always announced an “All-Army” team.  We looked over the list, and there was my name as one of the first basemen. I was fairly sure it was a typo. I’d hit OK, but had been nothing super special (I think I hit about .320 more or less, but after all these years that’s a guess). Someone suggested it was the double play that got me on the team. I decided they were right (do you hear TV movie music in the background?) because nothing else made sense.

I got back to post where everyone did their studious best to ignore me lest I get a big head. A couple of months later I was transferred to Germany. I wondered if there was a correlation.