Posts Tagged ‘Joe Mauer’

A Great Age for Hitting Catchers

July 3, 2013
Joe Mauer's Wikipedia picture

Joe Mauer’s Wikipedia picture

Ever look over a list of  Hall of Famers? One of the things a lot of people mention after doing so is “Geez, there’s not a lot of third basemen in the Hall.” That’s true. But it’s also true of catchers. Excluding 19th Century players, there are a dozen each third basemen and catchers in the Hall. It’s a hard position, catcher, to play.

But we are living in a great age for catchers that can hit. There have been a few of those, but not many. In the 1930s you found Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, and Gabby Hartnett playing at the same time. In the 1950s there was Yogi Berra and there was Roy Campanella. Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk overlap in the 1980s. And in the last 15 or so years, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing a new group of them that may (or may not) be as good, but are certainly a deeper pool of fine hitting catchers. Going back to the turn of the century, Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez were still productive players. In the 21st Century we’ve added three more.

Did you know that prior to 2006 catchers won only three batting titles: Ernie Lombardi twice and Bubbles Hargrave? Since 2006 catchers have won four. Joe Mauer has three and Buster Posey one. And this year Yadier Molina (who has in the last few seasons resolved any doubt as to which Molina brother was the best) is leading the National League. He probably won’t stay there, but to have a catcher leading the NL on 1 July is amazing.

So let’s all set back on our Fourth of July break and enjoy a ballgame. And while we’re at it, take a second to revel in the quality of good hitting catchers that are available to us. It’s very rare.

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Random Thoughts for the Midpoint of the 2012 Season

June 13, 2012

As I will be gone for the period leading up to the Fourth of July, I decided to post my midseason thoughts a little early, realizing that they may be out of date by the Fourth.

1. The American League East is starting to come around to what we expected. Tampa and New York are in first, Toronto is falling back. The strange teams are Baltimore and Boston. Did you really think Baltimore would be only one game out this late in the season or that Boston would be last? Both fooled me. Of course if you think about it Buck Showalter is a heck of a manager and the Red Sox are really starting to age. So maybe I shouldn’t have been fooled.

2. Whatever happened to Detroit? Weren’t they supposed to run away with the AL Central and then pummel the opposition in the playoffs? There are three aspects to baseball: offense, defense, and pitching. Someone forgot to tell Detroit you had to be able to catch and throw the ball. Oops. I’m not surprised by what’s happened to the Twins, but I’m saddened. They traditionally do more with less than anyone else and it’s finally caught up to them. Joe Mauer has his average back above .300, but the power seems to be gone. He’s 29 and that’s getting into the age range where catchers start imploding. And Justin Morneau seems to suffer a power drought also, although his average has begun climbing in the last month. Even Ron Gardenhire, a really good manager, isn’t going to get this team into contention.

3. So Albert Pujols was a bust was he? OK, he’s no longer Superman, but he’s not Clark Kent either. It looks like he’ll keep the Angels in contention and maybe get them to either a division title or a wildcard. Can Texas be stopped? Maybe. They remind me a lot of the 1950s-1960s Yankees. The ’50s-’60s Yankees had a series of good enough pitchers who could hold the other team down until the hitters simply bashed the opposition to death. Sound like the Rangers? The difference is that Texas has no Whitey Ford and I don’t know how much that will hurt them when the season draws down. Right now, Josh Hamilton is my MVP.

4. Does anyone understand what’s going on in the National League East? I’m not surprised that Philly is in trouble. Other than their pitching they weren’t all that strong anyway. The team is aging and Chase Utley can’t stay healthy. Hunter Pence isn’t going to be able to carry them and Jim Thome is apparently through (although I’d like to see him catch Sosa on the home run list). It seems the Mets have peaked (sorry, Bill) but maybe I’m wrong on that. I say that because I’m not really sold on either Washington or Atlanta so it’s possible the Mets will come back to win the division. If either they or the Nationals do, it will be one of the season’s great stories. And R. A. Dickey, my current Cy Young favorite is another great story for 2012. I’m not certain a knuckleballer can maintain the pace Dickey is setting.

5. OK, tell me you had Pittsburgh. Sure you did. Me too. I think the Pirates will fall back, but maybe they’ll finally finish over .500 this season (and I’ve got this great bridge in Brooklyn that I’ll let you have for a song). I still think the Cardinals take it, but Cincinnati might prove me wrong. Geez, is Joey Votto having a great season. I guess he’s my MVP right now, but then Lance Berkman was my MVP midway through last season.

6. The Dodgers are in first. Read that again. The Dodgers are in first. See what happens when you get rid of Frank McCourt and his wife. Maybe Magic Johnson is really “magic”. Actually it’s a really weak division and Arizona was a fluke last season. Maybe San Francisco can catch LA (please, God, anybody but the Giants) but they’ve still got to learn to hit. I’ve never been a particular fan of Tim Lincecum, but I’d hate to think he’s through already. So right now, is Don Mattingly manager of the year?

7. As of now my choice for biggest surprise of the year is LA and Detroit gets the nod as the biggest disappointment.

8. There used to be a saying that whoever was in first on the Fourth of July would win the pennant. As we’ve gotten more and more playoffs that saying has gone the way of the dinosaur. My guess is that about half the teams currently in first will win the division and maybe one or two others will get a wildcard. Don’t ask which because I don’t have a clue.

Adios, Jorge

January 13, 2012

Jorge Posada

Now that I expended all my Spanish, except for words like Taco, burrito, and refried beans, on the title, it’s time to bid farewell to Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. Never been a great fan of either the Yankees or Posada, but it’s tough to overlook his accomplishments. So now the Core Four are down to the Dynamic Duo (or is that Batman and Robin?).

I’ve always been sure that Posada was overlooked when it came to the great Yankees teams of 1996-2010. This was Derek Jeter’s team. Or it was Mariano Rivera’s team. Posada sometimes seemed to be the guy who wasn’t Joe Girardi. That’s kind of a shame. He was not just good, but was a key part of the team. He wasn’t Bernie Williams cool or Paul O’Neil fiery or Tino Martinez clutch or even Chuck Knoblauch error-prone. He was, however, always there, always contributing, always available.

In some ways he wasn’t a typical Yankees catcher. He wrote children’s books (can you seriously image Yogi Berra doing that?). I read one. It was pretty good (Heck, I even understood it). He was, despite a notable accent, quite articulate. He was a major conduit into the Hispanic community.

Part of  his problem was that he was almost never the best catcher of the era. For the last decade of the 20th Century both Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez were better and for much of the first few years of the 21st that was still true. By the time they were fading there was Joe Mauer. And he was also a Yankees catcher. Consider this pedigree: Wally Schang, Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson. Quite a legacy to live up to, right? By and large I thought Posada lived up to it quite well. So he wasn’t Yogi or he wasn’t Dickey. Well, almost no one else has ever been either, but to be mentioned with them is quite a feat. And that’s not taking into account that his wife  looks like this:

Laura Posada

So from a non-fan of the Yankees, Adios,  Jorge. You were better than we anti-Yankees types wished. You were also better than we baseball fans could have hoped for. Enjoy your retirement.

A Franchise Best

May 20, 2011

Griffith Stadium, home of the Washington Senators (and the Homestead Grays)

The loss of Harmon Killebrew and SportsPhD’s comment about Killebrew being the greatest Twins player got me to thinking. In some ways SportsPhd is right, but if you look franchise-wise (in other words all the way back to 1901) the answer has to be Walter Johnson. So that brings up the question of an All-Twins/Senators team. The slash is there to remind everyone that for much of their history, the Twins were in Washington. So I decided to figure one out for myself and share it with a breathlessly waiting world. Now I’m no Twins expert so I’m willing to admit that this list is probably flawed. It fact, it may be greatly flawed. It was also put together quickly with only a couple days reasearch. So you might want to take it with the proverbial grain of salt. But, it’s my best shot on short notice.

Now the caveats. This is a little easier because I decided to look for only a starting lineup plus a rotation and a manager. If you try to put together a 25 man roster you notice just how weak the Twins/Senators have been at certain positions (like thrid base). That’s actually fairly common. Try it with your own favorite team and see how quickly you start asking yourself “Do I really want to put this guy on the team?” Because the Senators were formed in 1901 there is no need to discount 19th Century players. Also, you’ll notice that the Twins have more players making this team in a shorter period than the Senators. Frankly, the Twins have been better than the Senators, so I’m not concerned with the percentages here. Feel free to come up with your own players and disagree with my selections.

Infield: Almost from the beginning, first base was the biggest hurdle for me. There have been a lot of good Twins/Senators first basemen: Joe Judge, Mickey Vernon, Kent Hrbek, Justin Morneau. None of them are really at the very top of any chart concerning great first basemen. OK, that means none of them are Lou Gehrig, but none of them are particularly close either. Ultimately I went with Hrbek because he was a solid first baseman, his 3-2-3 double play in game 7 of 1991 was one of the greatest plays by a first baseman I ever saw (and the Ron Gant body slam was a play for the ages) and he could hit well. I’m fairly sure that Morneau is probably (“fairly sure” “probably”, how’s that for certitude?) better, but until he can stay healthy and put in enough years I have to go with Hrbek. Second, short, and third are all fairly easy with Rod Carew, Joe Cronin, and Gary Gaetti being obvious picks.

Outfield: I was able to pick a left, center, and right fielder without having to double up on right fielders and drop a left fielder or some such thing. Kirby Puckett in Center Field is an obvious choice and for me Tony Oliva gets right field over Sam Rice. Yeah, Rice has a longer career, but Oliva’s is better, but over a shorter period of time. Old time Senator Goose Goslin get left field for this team. Did you know that Goslin is the only player to appear in every Washington Senators World Series game?

Catcher/DH: You know this is going to be Joe Mauer don’t you? If you think I need to justify that, you haven’t been paying attention to the American League. DH is where I put Killebrew. He wasn’t much of a fielder, but was best at first. I thought long  and hard about him there and if I was certain I was leaving out a great player, I’d move Killebrew to first. 

Starters: Of course this list begins with Walter Johnson, but you guessed that already, right? It’s amazing how far the drop from the team’s best pitcher to its number two is when Johnson is your number one. The rest of the list is good enough, but somehow just completely pales when compared. It’s also a little strange to see such an uneven list when you try to find five starters. I went with (alphabetically) Bert Blyleven, Jim Kaat, Camilo Pasqual, Johan Santana. I have some reservations about both Pasqual and Santana. Pasqual’s numbers don’t look all that great if you just stare it them, but if you recall how awful some of his teams were, he gets better quick. And Santana just wasn’t there very long, but when he was  he was great.

Relievers: If the quality of starters is uneven, Twins/Senators relievers are amazingly good. There’s a long tradition of quality relievers going all the way back to Clark Griffith and the early years of the franchise. I took Firpo Marberry because he was one of the first truly great relievers and went with Rick Aguilera as the other one. I sort of miss putting in Jeff Reardon or Joe Nathan, but I like the other two better.

Manager: Tom Kelley was easy for me. Bucky Harris won in 1924, lost in 1925. Cronin was in charge in the 1933 loss, and Ron Gardenhire hasn’t won yet. So Kelley’s two wins are double anyone else in franchise history.

As a rule I’m not a big fan of these kinds of lists; there are just too many variables for me, or anyone else, to consider all of them. You inevitably leave off someone you shouldn’t and look like a total fool (trust me, Idon’t need a lot of help with that anyway). They are, however, kind of  fun.  So remember that when you look this over and go “What was he thinking?”  or rather “Was he thinking?”

Ernie, Bubbles, and the King

July 21, 2010

It’s really hard not to like Joe Mauer. He’s a heck of a hitter, he’s a darned fine catcher, and he seems to be a good teammate and a thoroughly likeable human being. He’s now won three American League batting titles. No other AL catcher ever won even a single batting title. The National League’s batting title has been owned by a catcher three times and, depending on how you look at it, one possible. Here’s a very brief look at the men who, other than Joe Mauer, have won batting titles while spending much of their time behind the plate.

Ernie Lombardi

Ernie Lombardi won National League batting titles in 1938 with Cincinnati and again in 1942 with the New York Giants. Lombardi was a big, largely immobile catcher who could hit a ton and ran like a turtle. He’s sometimes regarded as the slowest man to ever play Major League baseball. A joke attributed to Dizzy Dean goes that Lombardi was so slow that he could turn a triple into a close play at first. Maybe, but he did have 27 triples during his career (mostly played in Crosley Field and the Polo Grounds, both of which had huge outfields). For his career he hit .306 with 190 home runs, a .460 slugging percentage, and 1792 hits over 1853 games. On the field he’s probably best known for being bowled over by Charlie Keller during the final game of the 1939 World Series. Unable to get up (the reason tends to change with the author who’s telling it), he let two more runs score before being able to regain his balance and senses. He took a lot of heat for the play, but the series was a Yankees sweep. He was part of the 1940 World Series champion Reds and made the Hall of Fame in 1986. There’s a nice fairly detailed biography of him in Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract. And before someone asks, as far as I know he is not related to the Green Bay Packers’ Vince Lombardi.

Bubbles Hargrave

Bubbles Hargrave was another Reds catcher who won the batting title, this time in 1926, breaking Rogers Hornsby’s string of six straight. For his career he hit .310 with 29 home runs, 786 hits, in 852 games. His batting title was controversial because he only had 326 at bats in 1926. He hit .353 and had only 115 hits in 105 games. Today he wouldn’t qualify for the batting title, but under the rules in play in 1926 he was the winner and I see no reason to dispute his title. For the rest of his career his highest average was .333 in 1923 when he managed to lead the league in being hit by a pitch (12 times). He led the NL in fielding percentage one time and seems to have been a serviceable catcher. He died in 1969.

King Kelly

All the way back in 1886 Mike “King ” Kelly led the NL in hitting at .388.  He also led the league in runs that season with 155 and in slugging at .483.  Kelly was a sometime catcher who played 56 games in the outfield in 1886, 53 behind the plate, and a handful in the infield. Beginning in 1888 he started catching more often than he played any other position. Prior to 1888 he spent more time in the outfield than behind the plate. Usually as a player ages he spends less time catching and more time in the outfield.. Kelly does it the other way. I’m not sure what that says about Kelly or about the catching position in 1880s baeball. For his career he hit .308 with 69 home runs, 1813 hits, a .438 slugging percentage in 1455 games. He also spent 750 games in the outfield and 583 catching, with 277 everywhere else (including 12 pitching performances). He made the Hall of Fame in 1945. He’s generally not considered a catcher when his batting title is discussed. I’ll let you decide what you think.

So there they are, the catchers not named Joe Mauer who have won a batting title. Two of them (counting Kelly as a catcher if you desire) are Hall of Famers. That seems to bode well for Mauer.

Best of a Decade

January 1, 2010

Yesterday I commented on a variety of the top baseball things of the 200’s. Today I give you my all-decade team. These are my choices for best of the decade. One proviso, no one tainted by the steroids scandal can make the team, so no Bonds, no Sosa, no Palmeiro, no Clemens, no Rodriguez. I’m making no judgement on guilt or innocence, but exclude the player until such time as we can determine if his numbers are bogus. If they aren’t, I’ll be glad to change the list, but until then, here they are. The outfielders are designated A, B, and C. The order is alphabetical and nothing else should be construed from the order.

1b-Albert Pujols. This may have been the easiest choice of all. Maybe the greatest First Baseman I’ve ever seen and I can go back to Gil Hodges and company. It’s been a great era for First Basemen and Pujols is clearly the best.

2b-Chase Utley. It’s not been a great era for Second Basemen, but Utley is the best of the lot. He’s a good fielder and a first rate hitter with some speed and power. He does have a tendency to tail off a bit at the end of a season and gets hurt a lot.

ss-Derek Jeter. Yankees captain and sparkplug. Not as good as some people seem to think (he is not the second coming of Honus Wagner) but still one heck of a shortstop. Seems to be on the downside of his career, but still putting up excellent offensive numbers. He may be next to 3000 hits.

3b-Chipper Jones. The Braves seem to want to move him to the outfield but always end up putting him back at third. Good bat, but now in the decline phase of his career.

Outfield A-Torii Hunter. Superb centerfielder. Also a good hitter. Seems to be a positive influence in the clubhouse.

Outfield B-Manny Ramirez. I get a little tired of his act and I cringe when the ball is hit his way, but wow can he hit the ball. World Series MVP and major contributor to breaking an 80 years plus championship drought in Boston.

Outfield C-Ichiro Suzuki. An absolute hitting machine. Most hits in one season, speedy, good fielder, helped make Japanese players more acceptable to US audiences. Between US and Japan he may end up with 4000 hits.

Catcher-Joe Mauer. May become the greatest hitting catcher ever. Certainly already among the best. Also a fine defensive backstop. Has 3 batting titles (no catcher has more and only 1 has as many as 2) and an MVP.

DH-David Ortiz. Dominent DH for much of the decade. Lots of power, little speed, not much of a fielder, but crucial to Boston winning in 2004 (when he was league championship MVP) and in 2007. Seems to be deeply on the downside of his career.

Pitcher-Randy Johnson. I saw Spahn, Koufax and Carlton so it’s tough to call him the greatest left hander I ever saw, but he is very, very good. Three Cy Young Awards in the decade, one World Series win and the MVP to go with it, and lots and lots of wins and strikeouts. He’s through now and I hope he hangs it up (I’ll get to see him in Cooperstown quicker).

Closer-Mariano Rivera. The best postseason closer ever, although he botched game 7 of the 2001 World Series and 2 chances to close out the 2004 AL championship. Still he’s just better than anyone else, and he’s not bad in the regular season either.

There they are, team. So who’d I forget?

End of a Decade

December 31, 2009

Today marks the end of the decade whose first three numbers are 200. A lot of people are doing their all-decade this and that. Who am I to go against the tide? So here’s my choice for baseball’s all-decade whatever.

Story of the decade: Has to be the steroid issue. It has tainted the statistics, the record book, awards, and the Hall of Fame voting. Frankly I don’t trust much of anything that happened in the first few years of the decade.

Franchise of the decade: I was tempted to go with the Yankees, who won 2 World Series’ and lost another, but finally decided to go with the Red Sox. They won 2 World Series’, completed an improbable comeback in 2004, and in general took a franchise that hadn’t won in 80 years and picked up multiple rings.

Player of the decade: Albert Pujols easy. No steroid taint (at least not yet, PLEASE GOD), great numbers, a ring, and one of the greatest home runs I ever saw (sorry, Brad Lidge). An honorable mention here to Joe Mauer who may end up the greatest hitting catcher ever. We’ll have to watch that closely.

Pitcher of the decade: Mariano Rivera. What he did in the late 90’s he’s continued to do for this decade. His team didn’t win as often, but as a rule that wasn’t his fault. An honorable mention here also is in order. This time to Curt Schilling. Better pitchers in the decade, but his influence on the winning Red Sox should be noted (and he had a heck of a 2001 World Series).

World Series of the decade: Speaking of the 2001 World Series, it gets my vote as the best of the decade. Several great games including the three in New York and a memorable game 7. One of the few times Rivera failed.

Playoff series of the decade: 2004 American League championship. Down 3 games to none, the Red Sox roar back to win the series 4 games to three. That had never happened before. What a great series and what a great showcase for David Ortiz.

Cinderella of the decade: 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. Came out of absolutely no where to get to the World Series. Would have been a better story if they’d won, but still a nice tale for the grandchildren years from now.

Bonehead of the decade: The tied All Star game. YUCK!!! Then they compound it by making an exhibition game determine home field for the World Series. Incredible.

Footnote player of the decade: Wasn’t sure what to call this, but it’s basically a hymn to those players you love to watch, but know aren’t really going to be anything but a footnote in baseball history. For me it’s David Eckstein. Love the guy’s intensity, his grit, his resolve. His winning the MVP for the 2006 World Series was an all-decade highlight for me.

Hall of Fame vote of the decade: Putting in a whole boatload of Negro League players at once. Great of baseball to finally recognize the depth of quality play in the Negro Leagues beyond just the most famous names and to finally recognize the executives that made the Negro Leagues work. It also gave the Hall of Fame its first female member in Effa Manley.

Manager of the decade: Terry Francona who wins 2 World Series’.

Sportsman of the Year?

December 1, 2009

So Sports Illustrated has chosen its Sportsman of the Year again has it? This time they took Derek Jeter. OK, maybe.

Actually Jeter isn’t a bad choice. He’s also not a great choice. He’s a darned good player, apparently a nice human being, and a leader. Same can be said of a lot of other people in sport. In baseball alone there’s that 1st baseman at St Louis and that catcher at Minnesota that also fit those criteria. The fact his team wins means he has a better team around him, not that he’s a greater sportsman.

There are other choices too. Tiger Woods won no majors, but still won a bunch of tournaments this season (and I’m sure the car wreck came after the decision was made at SI). Roger Federer is good. Tim Tebow fits all the criteria that also fits Jeter, and like Jeter, he wins. Hopefully his religiosity isn’t a problem for them. If so, what would they have done with either Koufax or Ali in the 1960s?

Pro football has its candidates: Brady, P. Manning, Brees, and company. Frankly, if I’d been given a vote it would have been for Peyton Manning (love the “mouthpiece” commercial–top that Jeter). He’s perhaps the greatest ambassador for his sport going.

So Jeter isn’t an inspired choice. Maybe it’s not even the right choice. But it’s not a bad choice. Enjoy the recognition, Derek.