Baseball Roundtable’s 2015 All Star Ballot

MLB will announce the 2015 All Star vote this Sunday, so it’s about time for BBRT to share its (my) All Star ballot.  I prefer to vote late in the balloting, just in case some player has made a late-June/early-July surge that puts him over the top or has suffered a late slump that let’s other contenders close the gap.  So, here’s my ballot (statistics through July 2 – the time of my vote).

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Catcher

Buster Posey – Giants

The two-time All Star and 2012 NL MVP gets BBRT’s vote based on his solid .304-13-56 stat line.  The only other tempting candidate was the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina – clearly the best defensive catcher out there (seven consecutive Gold Gloves) and a solid hitter (.286-2-27 in 2015). If I was building a team, I’d probably take Molina for what he could mean to the pitching staff.  For the 2015 All Star Game, I’ll take Posey’s bat.

Tidbit:  Through July 2 of 2015, Posey was hitting .364 with runners in scoring position and .438 with two outs and runners in scoring position.

Paul Goldschmidt - lumber, leader and speed - leads BBRT's NL All Star ballot.

Paul Goldschmidt – lumber, leader and speed – leads BBRT’s NL All Star ballot.

First Base

Paul Goldschmidt – Diamondbacks

Easy choice here, Goldschmidt brings it all to the ball park – average, power, speed and defense. His line through July 2 – a league leading .352 average, with 20 home runs, 65 RBI and 15 stolen bases. And, of course, there is that Gold Glove (2013 defense).

Tidbit: As of July 1, Goldschmidt led the NL in average (.352), runs scored (56), walks (63), intentional walks (18) and on-base percentage (.468).  

Second Base

Dee Gordon – Marlins

Might have gotten a little more offense from the other second sackers in contention for the BBRT vote – but Gordon’s 26 stolen bases stole this vote.  And, as of July 2, he was hitting .345 – with an NL-best 114 hits. Other candidates I considered were the Cardinals’ Kolten Wong (.287-9-36, with six steals) and the Giants’ Joe Panik (.316-6-30, with three steals).

Tidbit: It’s troubling to note that Gordon’s average has dropped each month this season. He hit .418 in April; .393 in May; and .304 in June. Still his hot start earned the nod here.

Third Base

Nolan Arenado – Rockies

The 24-year-old Arenado looks to have many All Star games ahead of him.  This year’s .287-24-68 (he leads all of MLB in RBI) line enabled him to edge out the Reds’ Todd Frazier (.283-25-54). Frazier does have eight steals to none for Arenado, but Arenado has won the NL Gold Glove at third base in both his previous MLB seasons. BBRT likes players who can flash “lumber and leather.”

Tidbit: Arenado hits righties and lefties equally well.  This season, through July 2, Arenado was hitting .287 versus right-handers and .288 versus southpaws.

Shortstop

Troy Tulowitzki – Rockies

Tulo is hitting .319-8-41 and that’s a lot of offense from the shortstop position.  Still picking Tulowitzki over Andrelton Simmons of the Braves (.269-3-29) was a close call. Simmons, after all, may be the best infield defender on the planet – and won a Gold Glove in each of his first two full MLB seasons (2013-14). A little better batting average or a touch more speed on the bases (Simmons has one stolen base in three attempts) probably would have swung my vote.

Tidbit: Simmons may be garnering the “glove-work” headlines now, but before Simmons hit the big leagues, Tulowitzki had picked up a pair of Gold Gloves at shortstop (2010-11).

Outfield

Bryce Harper – Nationals

Giancarlo Stanton – Marlins

Sterling Marte – Pirates

The first two votes were relatively easy – Harper (.339-24-58) and Stanton (.265-27-67) can both carry a team – and have 51 home runs and have a 125 RBI between them. They’ll give the NL offense some real punch. (Stanton’s 27 dingers lead all of MLB, as does Harper’s .705 slugging percentage.)

Picking Starling Marte for the third spot added some speed without sacrificing power. Marte’s .288-13-48, with 16 steals, edges his teammate Andrew McCutchen (.295-9-47, with five steal)s – but barely. This is another case, where, if I was setting up a team for the long haul, I’d probably take McCutchen, but Marte earned my vote for this All Star squad. (Of course, with Stanton’s recent hand injury, McCutchen would also make the BBRT All Star starting line-up). And, how can you not vote for a guy named Starling?

Others in the running, but not that close, were the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson and the Reds’ Billy Hamilton – one for exciting power (rookie Pederson’s 20 homers, but .243 average with 95 strikeouts), one for super-exciting speed (Hamilton’s 40 steals, with a .230 average). Still, batting south of .250 kept them behind my three choices.

Tidbit(s): Bryce Harper hit 22 MLB home runs as a teenager, the most very by a teenie-bopper in the NL and second only to Boston Red Sox’ Tony Conigliaro’s 24 dingers before age 20. Giancarlo Stanton has hit five of the ten longest 2015 MLB home runs (through July 2) according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker. Starling Marte hit a home run on the first pitch he ever saw in the major leagues

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AMERICAN LEAGUE

Catcher

Steve Vogt – A’s

The A’s Steve Vogt is having a breakout season at age 30 – hitting .290 with 13 home runs and 53 RBI through July 2. He edges out the Blue Jays’ Russell Martin (.262-12-38) and the Yankees’ Brian McCann (.265-12-49). Besides those two veterans already have 10 All Star appearances between. Give the new guy a chance to shine.

Tidbit:  With runners in scoring position (through July 2), Vogt is hitting .365 with 7 home runs and 46 RBI in 74 at bats.

First Base

Miguel Cabrera –Tigers

If two consecutive MVP Awards and a Triple Crown aren’t an automatic All Star vote, what is?  Perhaps, Miguel Cabrera’s .345-15-53 line through July 2. I did consider Albert Pujols’ AL-leading 24 home runs, but Miggy’s all-around game is better.

Tidbit: Miguel Cabrera has finished in the top five in MVP voting in seven of his 13 MLB seasons.

Second Base

Jason Kipnis – Indians

Kipnis earned the BBRT vote with a league-leading .347 average (and league-leading 108 hits), six home runs, 35 RBI and ten steals through July 2 – but this was one of the toughest calls in the balloting process.

Also in the running were the Twins’ Brian Dozier, with 16 home runs, 40 RBI and an MLB-best 61 runs scored through July 2; the Astros’ Jose Altuve (.298-7-33, with an AL-leading 23 steals); and the Red Sox’ Dustin Pedroia (.306-9-33).

Tidbit: Kipnis also leads the AL with 26 doubles.

Third Base

Manny Machado – Orioles

If I could split a vote, it might be here. Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado are that close. The basic line: Donaldson .300-19-52; Machado .302-16-44.  So, why give the edge to Machado?  An eleven steals to three edge, and a one Gold Glove to none edge. Once again, BBRT respects the combination of “leather and lumber” – add a touch of speed and you get my vote.

Tidbit: Machado hit .365 with eight home runs and 22 RBI this June.

Shortstop

Xander Bogaerts – Red Sox

This vote could have gone to Bogaerts (.297-3-35, with four steals); the Blue Jays’ Jose Reyes (.272-4-27, with ten steals); or Jose Iglesias of the Tigers (.320-1-11, with nine steals). Let’s give a nod to the youngster – get someone in the lineup whose name starts with ‘X” – and give the forlorn Red Sox nation something to cheer about.

Tidbit: In 2013, Bogaerts was the USA Today Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .297 with 15 home runs at AA and AAA.

Mike Trout - a five-tool player for the BBRT AL All Star ballot.

Mike Trout – a five-tool player for the BBRT AL All Star ballot.

OF

Mike Trout – Angels

Adam Jones – Orioles

Brett Gardner – Yankees

Here BBRT’s vote(s) went for all-around players who could deliver power, defense and speed. That channeled my support to Mike Trout (.303-21-44, with nine stolen bases), who brings all the tools every day; Adam Jones (.292-10-37, with four Gold Gloves); and Brett Gardner (.304-9-39 and 15 steals).  With this OF, the AL would have plenty of offense and plenty of speed to run down anything the NL sent to the OF.  Others in the running were Tigers’ slugger J.D. Martinez (.281-21-51) and the A’s Josh Reddick (.287-11-49 and a solid defender).

Tidbit(s): Mike Trout is just 23-years-old and this will be his fourth All Star game); Brett Gardner led the AL in stolen basis in 2011 (49); and Adam Jones has won Gold Gloves in each of the past three seasons.

DH

Nelson Cruz – Mariners

Cruz brings a powerful bat (.303-20-48) to the DH slot.  Actually, the only other DH I really considered was Alex Rodriguez – making history and having a pretty good season (.280-15-45), just a bit shy of Cruz’ marks.

Tidbit: In 2011, Cruz and Ian Kinsler became the first two teammates in major league history to homer in each of the first three games in a season.

So, there’s the BBRT All Star ballot. Hope it gave you some food for thought.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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MLB June in Review

July is with us, and that means it’s time for BBRT’s traditional look back at the previous month in MLB. So, what happened in June? First, a few items that BBRT found of interest – and then the statistical review.

Albert Pujols led the AL in HRs and RBI in June.

Albert Pujols led the AL in HRs and RBI in June.

He’s b-a-a-ck!

One of June’s big stories was the resurgence of 35-year-old Angels’ slugger Albert Pujols, who hit .303 for the month and led the AL with 13 home runs and 26 RBI. (The Tigers’ J.D. Martinez tied Pujols for June runs driven in.)

He’s b-a-ack to back!

On June 19th, the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez became the 29th player in MLB history to join the 3,000-hit club. The last player to join the 3K club? Yankee Derek Jeter back in 2011. A-Rod’s hit marked the first time back-to-back new members of the 3,000-hit club have come from the same team. A-Rod also became just the third player to go yard for his 3,000th hit.  The last one to do it?  You guessed it. Derek Jeter – so Rodriguez and Jeter are also the only players to hit back-to-back (in a way) homers for their 3,000th safeties.

He has arrived.

Mets’ rookie pitcher Steve Matz announced his arrival in the big leagues with authority. He made his first MLB start on June 28 – going 7 2/3 innings (2 earned runs) as the Mets topped the Reds 7-2. AND, Matz also went 3-for-3 at the plate, with four RBI. Take that, DH rule.

He was just here – and now he’s gone.

Reds’ CF Billy Hamilton didn’t stay anywhere very long in June – as the speedster swiped a MLB-leading 19 bases (caught three times), despite a .226 average. No one else was even close (Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon had the second most June steals at 11). Hamilton has an MLB-best forty steals through June 30.

He’s still hot.

The White Sox Chris Sale was a popular pre-season prediction for the AL Cy Young Award. Sale lived up to his billing in June, striking out an MLB-best 75 hitters in just 44 1/3 innings – going 2-2, 1.83 in six starts. In his final June outing (June 30), Sale fanned 12 hitters in eight innings and, in the process, joined Pedro Martinez as the only pitchers to strike out ten or more hitters in eight consecutive games. In his eight games, Sale pitched 60 innings, striking out 97 and walking just nine.

He’s almost perfect.

MLB witnessed two no-hitters in June: by the Phillies’ Chris Heston on June 9 and the Nationals’ Max Scherzer on June 20th.  There were a total of four base runners in the two games – and, ironically,  they all got on via hit-by-pitch.  (Scherzer’s with two outs in the ninth.) For more on Scherzer’s game click here – Heston’s game click here.

We’ll have more on June’s player performances later. Let’s first take a look at June’s most – and least – successful teams.

June’s Best and Worst Records

MLB's winningest team plays here/

MLB’s winningest team plays here/

Three teams won an MLB-best 18 games in June: The Toronto Blue Jays (18-9) and Baltimore Orioles (18-10) in the AL and the Saint Louis Cardinals (18-8 – MLB’s top June winning percentage at .692) in the NL. The Cardinals’ strong June enabled them to stretch their NL Central lead from six games to eight – and end the month as the only MLB team with 50 or more wins on the season (51-25).  Meanwhile, Baltimore’s hot month moved the Orioles from third place (at the end of May) to a tie with the Rays for the top spot in the tight AL East (four teams separated by just one game) at the end of June. The Blue Jays needed all of their 18 wins to stay within one game (fourth place) of the Orioles.

Looking at the fewest June victories, the Philadelphia Phillies continued to suffer through a dismal season, logging MLB’s worst June record at 8-19.  As June closed, the Phillies trailed the Nationals by 17 games in the NL East.  The Brewers faced the biggest deficit at the end of the month – having fallen 21 ½ games behind the Cardinals. Over in the AL, the White Sox brought up the rear with only 10 June wins (10-16). Their 33-42 season record left them with the AL’s biggest deficit. They finished June 11 ½ games behind the AL Central-leading Royals.

If the Season Ended …   

So who’s on top?  If the season ended on June 30, the MLB playoff teams would be:

  • AL … Division Champions: Orioles or Rays (playoff to break tie); Royals; Astros. Wild Cards: Loser of Orioles/Rays playoff; Minnesota. (Note: The Angels, Yankees, Blue Jays, Tigers and Rangers are all within 1 ½ games of a Wild Card slot.)
  • NL … Division Champions: Nationals; Cardinals; Dodgers. Wild Cards: Giants; Pirates.

You can see the full June 30 standings at the end of this post.

 

A Few More Items of Interest

Before we get into June and season-through-June leaders, let’s look at a few more items of interest from the past 30 days or so.

  • On June 26, Brewers’ pitcher Kyle Lohse faced off against his original MLB team, the Minnesota Twins. It wasn’t a great performance (four earned runs in six innings, six hits, one walk, two strikeouts), but it was good enough for the win. It was also good enough to make the 36-year-old Lohse – in his 15th MLB season –  one of just 14 pitchers to record a victory against all 30 major league franchises.
  • Prince Fielder joined his dad Cecil in the 300-club.

    Prince Fielder joined his dad Cecil in the 300-club.

    On June 26, Rangers’ 1B Prince Fielder hit his 12th home run of the season (in a 12-2 loss to the Blue Jays). Despite the outcome, it was an historic home run.  It was the 300th of Fielder’s career – and it enabled him to join his father Cecil Fielder (who hit 319 home runs in a 13-year MLB career) as only the second father-son tandem to both hit 300 round trippers.  The other?  Bobby and Barry Bonds.

 

 

 

 

  • Three is not always a crowd. On June 24, the Class A Batavia Muckdogs (off to an 0-5 start) reversed their fortunes. The Marlins’ affiliate sent Gabriel Castellanos (with had a 7-21, 5.15 career minor league record) to the mound against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. Castellanos threw seven perfect innings, striking out twelve Mahoning Valley hitters, before giving way to reliever Brad Lilek, who struck out the side in the eighth. Lilek then passed the ball to Steven Farnworth, who pitched a perfect ninth (one strikeout) for the save – and to complete a 1-0, three-pitcher, perfect-game win.

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STAT TIME

Here’s a few tidbits of information about June team performance:

  • The Oakland pitching staff put up the AL’s best June ERA at 3.06, while Yankees’ hurlers had the AL’s worse ERA for the month at 4.48.
  • In the NL, the Cardinals’ (2.33) and Pirates’ staffs (2.63) both had ERAs under 3.00, while the Rockies (5.39) and Phillies (5.36) both gave up more than five earned runs per contest.
  • Pitching counts. The Rockies topped the NL in runs scored for the month at 140, yet were five games under .500 (12-17) for June. The Cardinals, on the other hand, scored the tenth most runs in the NL (and 19th most in MLB) for June, but had the best June record in all of MLB.
  • Over in the AL, Toronto’s 18 wins were built on a combination of the league’s second-best ERA (3.17 to Oakland’s 3.06) and most June runs put on the board (156). In short, the Blue Jays were hot.
  • The long and short of June home runs. In the NL, the Dodgers hit a league-best 38 round trippers in June, while the Pirates hit the NL’s fewest long balls (13). In the AL, Houston continued to build success on power with a league-topping 45 June homers, while Seattle managed an AL-fewest 17.

Now, here are your month-of-June and through-June individual batting and pitching leaders:

Month of  June Batting Leaders

Average (minimum 75 plate appearances)

Miggy  put up MLB's highest June average.

Miggy put up MLB’s highest June average.

AL                                          

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers – .384

Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles – .365

Kevin Pillar, OF, Blue Jays – .365

NL

Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies – .381

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – .370

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, D-backs – .354

HRs

NL

Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Marlins – 12

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado – 12

Todd Frazier, 3B, Reds – 9

AL

Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels – 13

J.D. Martinez, RF, Tigers – 11
Luis Valbeuna, 3B, Astros – 9

Mitch Moreland, 1B/DH, Texas – 9

RBI

Nolan Arenado's 33 June RBI led MLB.

Nolan Arenado’s 33 June RBI led MLB.

AL

Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels – 26

J.D. Martinez, RF, Tigers – 26

Mitch Moreland, 1B/DH, Texas – 25

NL

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies – 33

Buster Posey, C, Giants – 27

Maikel Franco, 3B, Phillies – 24

 

Runs Scored

AL

Brett Gardner, CF, Yankees – 27

Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels – 23

NL

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies – 24

Todd Frazier, 3B, Reds – 20

DJ LeMahieu, 2B, Rockies – 20

Charlie Blackmon, CF, Rockies – 20

Stolen Bases

NL

Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds –  19 (3 CS)

Charlie Blackmon, CF, Rockies – 11 (3 CS)

Ben Revere, LF, Phillies – 9 (1 CS)

AL

Billy Burns, CF, A’s – 7 (1 CS)

Five players with 6

Month-of-June Pitching Leaders

Wins

Four was the lucky number of victories in June, with 11 AL hurlers and 4 NL pitchers notching four wins. Of interest, at least to BBRT, is that the May ERAs for these four-game winners ranged from the 2.18 of the Cardinals’ Carlos Martinez to 5.54 for Charlie Morton of the Pirates. (Charles Tillman of the Orioles also won four games despite an ERA in excess of five – 5.13 – for the month).

ERA (minimum 20 innings pitched in the month)

AL

Yovani  Gallardo, June's lowest ERA.

Yovani Gallardo, June’s lowest ERA.

Yovani Gallardo, Rangers – 0.54

Erasmo Ramirez, Rays – 1.44

Mike Montgomery, Mariners – 1.62

NL

Jaime Garcia, Cardinals – 1.03

Lance Lynne, Cardinals – 1.09

Jacob DeGrom, Mets – 1.21

 

 

Strikeouts

AL

Chris Sale, White Sox – 75 (44 1/3 IP)

Chris Archer, Rays – 51 (41 IP)

Ubaldo Jiminez, Orioles – 42 (35 2/3 IP)

Dallas Keuchel,  Astros – 42 (42 2/3 IP)

NL

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers – 57 (41 2/3 IP)

Madison Bumgarner, Giants – 49 (39 IP)

Max Scherzer, Nationals – 45 (38 2/3 IP)

Saves

AL

Greg Holland, Royals – 9

Zack Britton, Orioles – 9

Koji Uehara, Red Sox – 8

NL

Mark Melancon, Pirates – 11

Francisco Rosdriguez, Brewers – 9

Brad Zeigler, D-Backs – 9

Mark Melancon, Pirates – 8

 

And now the MLB Leaders Through June

Batting Average

NL

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, D-backs – .354

Dee Gordon, 2B, Marlins – .351

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – .340

AL

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers – .349

Prince Fielder, 1B, Rangers – .347

Jason Kipnis, 2B, Indians – .346

HR

AL

Giancarlo Stanton - MLB home run leader.

Giancarlo Stanton – MLB home run leader.

Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels – 24

Mike Trout, CF, Angels – 20

J.D. Martinez, RF, Tigers – 20

NL

Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Marlins – 27

Todd Frazier, 3B, Reds – 25

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – 24

 

RBI

NL

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies – 68

Giancarlo Stanton, RF Marlins – 67

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, D-backs – 65

AL

Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees – 54

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers – 53

Stephen Vogt, C, A’s – 53

Runs

AL

Brian Dozier, 2B, Twins – 60

Brett Gardner, CF, Yankees – 58

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays – 58

NL

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, D-backs – 55

Todd Frazier, 3B, Reds – 54

Bryce Harper, CF, Nationals – 53

Stolen Bases

NL

Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds  – 40 (6 CS)

Dee Gordon, 2B, Marlins – 26 (11 CS)

Charlie Blackmon, CF, Rockies – 20 (7 CS)

AL

Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros – 21 (7 CS)

Billy Burns, CF, A’s – 16 (3 CS)

Brett Gardner, CF, Yankees – 15 ( CS)

Lorenzo Cain, CF, Royals – 15 (3 CS)

BBRT Note: The Padres’ LF Justin Upton has the most steals without getting caught (15).

Pitching Leaders Through June

Wins

NL

Gerrit Cole, Pirates – 11-3 (2.20)

Micheal Wacha, Cardinals – 10-3 (2.77)

Three with nine wins

AL

Dallas Keuchel, Astros – 10-3 (2.03)

Felix Hernandez, Mariners – 10-4 (3.05)

Four with nine wins

Strikeouts

AL

Chris Sale, White Sox – 141 (103 1/3 IP)

Chris Archer Rays – 133 (109 IP)

Corey Kluber, Indians – 127 (110 2/3 IP)

NL

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers – 140 (107 IP)

Max Scherezer, Nationals – 130 (110 1/3 IP)

James Shields, Padres – 116 (97 2/3 IP)

Saves

AL

Glen Perkins, Twins – 25

Houston Street, Angels – 23

Zach Britton, Orioles – 22

NL

Mark Melancon, Pirates – 24

Drew Storen, Nationals – 23

Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals – 23

 

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Finally, MLB standing as of June 30

 

AL East

Orioles             41-36   .532

Rays                 41-36   .532

Yankees           41-37   .526     0.5

Blue Jays          41-38   .519    1.0

Red Sox           36-43   .456     6.0

AL Central

Royals              44-30   .595

Twins               41-36   .532     4.5

Tigers               39-37   .513     6.0

Indians             25-41   .461     10.0

White Sox        33-42   .440     11.5

AL West

Astros              46-34   .575

Angels              41-37   .526     4.0

Rangers            40-38   .513     5.0

Mariners            35-42   .455     9.5

A’s                    35-45   .438     11.0

 

NL East

Nationals          43-34   .558

Mets                40-38   .513    3.5

Braves              26-41   .468    7.0

Marlins            32-46   .410     11.5

Phillies              27-52   .342     17.0

NL Central

Cardinals          51-25   .671

Pirates              43-33   .566     8.0

Cubs                40-35   .533     10.5

Reds                35-41   .461     16.0

Brewers           31-48   .392      21.5

NL West

Dodgers           44-35   .557

Giants              42-36   .538     1.5

D-Backs           37-40   .481     6.0

Padres              37-42   .468     7.0

Rockies            34-43   .442     9.0

I tweet baseball @David BBRT

 

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Why I Love Baseball – John Murphy on Line Drives and Life Lessons

Baseball Roundtable is proud to present a guest post – for the BBRT Why I Love Baseball page – from John Michael Murphy – for whom baseball has been a combination of line drives and life lessons.

JohnMurphyLine Drives

Murphy was selected by the New York Yankees in the sixth round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of Sacred Heart University (SHU) – the highest MLB draft pick in the history of the SHU baseball program.  His collegiate honors include all conference, all region, and All American awards. Murphy led the SHU Pioneers to four Northeast Conference (NEC) championship games, culminating in NEC titles in 2011 and 2012.  As senior team captain, Murphy led SHU in batting average (.367) slugging (.565), on base percentage (.442), doubles (13), home runs (4), walks (26), and stolen bases (29). Murphy also stroked plenty of line drives in the renowned Cape Cod League, where he batted .308 with four homers, 16 RBIs and six stolen bases in 104 at-bats – making the All-Star Game before a hamstring injury cut his season short.

Life Lessons

Murphy took what he learned on the baseball field to heart, and you can read about the life lessons he garnered from the national pastime in his guest post.

Murph’s Laws of Baseball (Murphslaws.com)

Murphy has now launched a website – Murph’s Laws of Baseball – dedicated to sharing what he’s learned about baseball’s line drives and life lessons.  Here’s how he describes it:

With a pro career coming to an end, I look forward to passing on the information I’ve gained over the years that have allowed me to be successful on my journey of baseball and life. Through drills, articles, and swing analyses from a professional level, I am excited to further baseball fanatics’ knowledge of the game.

Want to learn more?  Click here to visit Murphy’s site.  Want a look at how Murphy analyzes the hitting stroke?  Click here for his guest post on the Be A Better Hitter website.  Now, for a look at baseball’s life lessons, read on.

 

Why I Love Baseball – Line Drives and Life Lessons

By John Michael Murphy

 

Throughout my years of playing baseball at the Little League through professional levels, I learned many different life lessons.  Baseball has taught me about character, responsibility, work ethic, and the value of maintaining dedication to a goal. If I hadn’t played the sport I love for the last 20 years of my life, I don’t know where my life would be today.

A commitment to going about my business the right way – both on and off the field – is something I will always have with me as a result of playing this game. Being respectful to everyone on field, in the dugout, or in the crowd not only reflected my respect for the game, but also helped me form positive habits and attitudes related to how I treat those outside the game. Having respect for the world and people around us is something that is lost in today’s society. We tend to be selfish and care about things that are only beneficial to ourselves. The way we think and behave determines our character. By playing the game of baseball, I learned to behave in a respectful manner – ensuring I would not embarrass myself, my team and coaches and, most important, my family.

Baseball, particularly at the collegiate level, also taught me a lot about time management, setting priorities and following through.  Managing responsibilities and priorities in collegiate athletics is a challenging task.  Having class all morning, going to team workouts, going to practice, back to class, then finishing work and studying will force you to develop good habits. The time management skills I  developed  – going from freshman year where I struggled with the process, to senior year, where I didn’t have to think twice about where I would be at any hour of the day –  have served me well.  Being able to balance tasks and set priorities makes my everyday life easier and I have baseball to thank for that.

Baseball also taught me a lot about setting, and keeping your eyes on, important goals.  Having and sustaining the motivation necessary to reach a goal is what creates successful individuals. Baseball motivated me more than I could ever imagine. Once I was able to realize my ability, my goal setting never stopped. In high school, my goals went from making varsity to playing Division 1 baseball. Once those goals were achieved, my targets were elevated, progressing into wanting to start as a freshman in college to playing professional baseball. By setting those goals and letting nothing come between me and the process of achieving them, I allowed myself to realize that success, in any task, is achievable if your work ethic, mindset, and actions are all goal-based.

Along the ride, I have made some of the most amazing relationships. I have met and made best friends who will always be a part of my life, no matter where we end up. Meeting those coaches and players, learning how to manage my days, how to work towards goals, and how to handle myself in a professional manner are all part of who I am today – and why I love baseball.

Almost Perfect – Heartbreaking Stories From the Ninth Inning

_MG_2010Last night (June 20), Nationals’ right-hander and 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer came within one out – within one strike actually – of pitching the 24th perfect game in major league history. He entered the top of the ninth with a 6-0 lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates – having retired the first 24 batters, striking out 10.  In the ninth, Scherzer retired the first two batters (RF Gregory Polanco on a pop out to the catcher and SS Jordy Mercer on a liner to center) and then worked the 27th hitter (pinch hitter Jose Tabata) to a 2-2 count.  Tabata fouled off three 2-2 pitches before Scherzer lost the perfect game in perhaps the most painful way (in more ways than one) possible – by hitting Tabata with a pitch (a breaking ball to the elbow).  Scherzer then got Pirates’ second baseman Josh Harrison on a fly ball to left, completing the no-hitter.

Scherzer the Third Pitcher to Lose a Perfect Game on the 27th Batter – But Still Record a No-Hitter

Surprisingly, Scherzer is not the first pitcher to lose a perfect game by plunking the 27th batter (on a 2-2 count) of the contest.  On July 4, 1908, New York Giants’ southpaw Hooks Wiltse retired the first 26 Phillies before hitting Philadelphia pitcher George McQuillan with a pitch on a 2-2 count.  There was a little more pressure on Wiltse – and he had to work a little harder to preserve the no-hitter.  The Giants/Phils game was a scoreless tie through nine innings, and Wiltse went on to pitch a hitless tenth (preserving the no-hitter) as the Giants won 1-0.  Wiltse finished the 1908 season 23-14, with a 2.34 ERA.

The only other pitcher to lose a perfect game on the 27th batter and still record the no-hitter was Milt Pappas of the Cubs. On September 2, 1972, Pappas and the Cubs held an 8-0 lead over the Padres – and Pappas had a perfect game going as the Padres batted in the ninth.  After retiring the first two batters, Pappas walked pinch hitter Larry Stahl on a 3-2 pitch (Yes, he too was within one strike of perfection).  Pappas retired the next hitter. So, while he lost the perfect game, he did save the no-hitter. Pappas, who recorded 209 MLB wins (versus 164 losses) in 17 seasons, had his best year in 1972, going 17-7, 2.77.

 

Ten Pitchers Who Lost a Perfect Game and the No-Hitter with Two Outs in the Ninth

In MLB history, thirteen potential perfect games (including the three already noted) have been lost with two outs in the ninth inning.  Here’s a look at the ten additional games, with a little extra detail on those that were “a little extra painful.”

Armando Galarraga, Tigers

Perhaps the most heartbreaking of these instances occurred on June 2, 2010, when Detroit Tigers’ righty Armando Galarraga found himself on the mound in the top of the ninth 26 outs into a perfect game – holding a 3-0 lead and facing Indians’ second baseman Jason Donald. Galarraga induced Donald to ground to right side of the infield (Galarraga had just three strikeouts in the game) and first-sacker Miguel Cabrera moved to his right to make a fine play, spinning and throwing to Galarraga covering first (who clearly beat Donald to the bag). Umpire Jim Joyce called Donald safe, a mistake he admitted and apologized for after the game. Galarraga retired the next batter– CF Trevor Crowe – on a groundout. Joyce’s call, despite the post-game mea culpa, stood, and Galarraga joined the list of pitchers losing a perfect game on the 27th batter.

Dave Stieb, Blue Jays

Dave Stieb, flirted with history multiple times.,

Dave Stieb, flirted with history multiple times.,

On August 4, 1989, the Blue Jays Dave Stieb took a 2-0 lead and a perfect game into the ninth inning against the Yankees. Stieb started the inning as though ready to make history, striking out pinch hitters Hal Morris and Ken Phelps on nine pitches.  Then the number-nine hitter, center fielder Roberto Kelly, broke up the “perfecto” and the no-hitter with a double to left.  Second baseman Steve Sax followed with a run-scoring single, before left fielder Polonia grounded out to end the game.  So, Stieb lost the perfect game, the no-hitter and the shutout – but did get the win.

This one was especially painful because, just one season year earlier, Stieb had been on the mound one strike away from a no-hitter twice (in consecutive starts) – producing nearly identical, disappointing results. On September 24 (against the Indians) and September 30 (versus the Orioles), he lost no-hitters with two outs in the ninth inning and two strikes on the hitter (2 and 2 counts both times).  Stieb did get two complete-game shutouts, 1-0 over the Indians and 4-0 over the Orioles. The games were his final two starts of the 1988 season, so he had the entire off-season to contemplate his bad luck.

Stieb finally recorded a no-hitter on September 2, 1990.  Stieb, by the way, was a seven-time All Star, who won 176 games in 16 seasons.

Ron Robinson, Reds

Reds’ right-hander Ron Robinson was one strike away from a perfect game on May 2, 1988. He had a 3-0 lead, two outs in the ninth, nary a base run allowed and a 2-2 count on Expos’ pinch hitter Wallace Johnson – and then hung a curveball that Johnson hit for a single. Tim Raines followed with a two-run home run, and Red’s closer Joh Franco was brought in to get the final out.  So, on the verge of a perfect game (with two out and two strikes in the ninth), Robinson lost the no-hitter, the shutout and the complete game. In his nine MLB seasons, Robinson recorded just eight complete games and two shutouts – but had a respectable 48-39 record, with a 3.63 ERA and 19 saves.

Here are the other pitchers who lost perfect games with two outs in the ninth:

Tommy Bridges, Tigers

On August 5, 1932, the Tigers’ Tommy Bridges gave up a single to Washington Senators’ pinch-hitter Dave Harris after retiring the first 26 batters.  Bridges then got the final out for a 13-0 win. Bridges went 194-138, 3.57 with 200 complete games in 16 MLB seasons.

Billy Pierce, White Sox

On June 27, 1958, the White Sox’ Billy Pierce retired the first 26 hitters he faced and then gave up a double to Washington Senators’ pinch hitter Ed Fitz Gerald before striking out AL 1958 Rookie of the Year Albie Pearson to gain a 3-0 win. Pierce, a southpaw, was a seven-time All Star and two-time twenty-game winner. He won 211 games in 18 MLB seasons.

Milt Wilcox, Tigers

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth – in an early season game (April 15, 1983) – the Tigers’ Milt Wilcox had yet to allow a White Sox hitter to reach base (and had struck out eight). Pinch hitter Jerry Hairston ended that with his first hit of the season – a clean single. Wilcox retired the next batter (CF Rudy Law) for a 6-0 (one-hitter) win. Wilcox won 119 games (113 losses) in 18 MLB seasons.

Brian Holman, Mariners

One April 20, 1990, the Mariners’ Brian Holman retired the first 26 hitters, shutting down the defending World Champion Oakland A’s, before giving up a first-pitch home run to pinch hitter Ken Phelps. It was, notably, Phelps only home run of the 1990 season and the last of his 123 career round trippers. Holman then struck out Rickey Henderson for the final out in a 6-1 Mariners’ win.  It was one of only two complete games in Holman’s four MLB seasons (37-45, 3.71).

Mike Mussina, Yankees

Mike Mussina, notched 270 MLB wins.

Mike Mussina notched 270 MLB wins.

On September 2, 2001, the Yankees’ Mike Mussina squared off against the rival Red Sox at Fenway Park. After eight innings, Mussina and Red Sox starter David Cone were locked in a 0-0 duel. Mussina was hadn’t allowed a base runner, striking out twelve. Cone had given up just four hits and three walks (fanning eight), while holding New York scoreless.  The Yankees pushed across a run in the top of the ninth and Mussina went to work on his perfect game – notching a ground out (pinch hitter Troy O’Leary) and a strikeout (2B Lou Merloni) and taking pinch hitter Carl Everett to a 1-2 count before Everett singled to left. Mussina retired Trot Nixon for the final out, in a 1-0 one-hit win.

Yu Darvish, Rangers

On April 2, 2013, Rangers’ Ace Yu Darvish stifled the Astros without a baser runner for 8 2/3 innings – fanning 14. All he had to do to gain perfection was retire the Rangers’ number-nine hitter, light-hitting shortstop Marwin Gonzalez. Gonzalez hit Darvish’s first pitch up the middle – through Darvish’s legs – for a single. It was Darvish’s 111th pitch and he was relieved by Michael Kirkman, who finished off the 7-0 win.

So, there are your pitches who got within one out of perfection, but couldn’t quite close the deal. Now, I’d like to add two honorable mentions.  A no-hitter truly “lost” with two outs in ninth inning of a World Series’ game and a perfect game lost in the 13th inning.

Bill Bevens – A Near Fall Classic No-Hitter

On October 3, 1947, Yankees’ right-hander Bill Bevens was on the verge of World Series’ history.  Bevens went into the ninth with a 2-1 lead over the Dodgers and had yet to yield a hit (the Dodgers had scored one run in the fifth inning on two walks, a sacrifice bunt and a fielder’s choice). Bevens sandwiched a fly out and foul out around a walk to Dodgers’ center fielder Cal Furillo (Bevens’ ninth walk of the game) and was just one out from a World Series’ win and no-hitter.  That’s when the wheels came off. The dangerous Pete Reiser was sent in to pinch hit for pitcher Hugh Casey.  Al Gionfriddo, pinch-running for Furillo, stole second and Reiser was walked intentionally – putting runners on first and second with two outs, the Yankees still with a one-run lead, the no-hitter intact and Cookie Lavagetto pinch hitting for Eddie Stanky (Eddie Miksis was also brought in to run for Reiser). Lavagetto doubled to right on Bevens’ second pitch, both runners scored and Bevens lost the no-hitter and the game.

Harvey Haddix – 12 Perfect Innings – For the Loss

HaddixFor a real hard luck story, there’s the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Harvey Haddix (who is not even on the “lost a perfect game or no-hitter in the bottom of the ninth” list).  On May 29, 1959, Haddix took the mound against the powerhouse Milwaukee Braves (who had won the National League pennant the previous two seasons and came into the game again leading the league).  Haddix retired the first 36 hitters in order, carrying a perfect game into the bottom of the 13th.

Unfortunately, the Braves’ Lew Burdette, despite giving up 12 hits and fanning only two, had held the Pirates scoreless. Felix Mantilla led off the 13th by reaching on error by Pirates’ third baseman Don Hoak. Slugger Eddie Mathews bunted Mantilla over to second, which led to an intentional walk to Hank Aaron, bringing up Joe Adcock. Adcock rapped a 1-0 pitch over the right field fence for what appeared to be a three-run home run.  However, the Braves, in celebrating the tension-filled victory, forgot how to run the bases. Adcock passed Aaron between second and third and, after some deliberation, Adcock was called out – changing his three-run homer to a one-run double. So, despite 12 perfect innings, Haddix lost the no-hitter, the shutout and the game itself.  But he did etch his name forever into baseball lore.

I tweet baseball @ DavidBBRT

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Raley Field – Home of the Sacramento River Cats

This Tuesday (June 16), another ballpark was added to BBRT’s list of “Baseball Venues Visited.”  This time it was Raley Field in West Sacramento, California – home of the Triple A, Pacific Coast League (PCL), San Francisco Giants-affiliated Sacramento River Cats.  The third-place (Pacific North Division) River Cats were taking on the division-leading Fresno Grizzlies (a Houston Astros’ farm team).  As always (well, at least, almost always), there was something special to see during the game.  I’ll get to that, but first a few observations on the Raley Field and the Triple A experience.

When you get to Raley Field the first thing that strikes you is the large parking areas that adjoins the stadium and the fact that parking is free.  No, that is not a misprint; River Cats’ fans enjoy free parking.

Raley Field and Sacramento's Tower Bridge.

Raley Field and Sacramento’s Tower Bridge.

Once in the ballpark, you’ll notice a similarity to Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.  Considered one of MLB’s finest ballparks, PNC offers a picturesque view of the golden/yellow Roberto Clemente (Sixth Street) Bridge, which crosses the Allegheny River beyond the outfield wall.  Adding to the vista is a view of the downtown Pittsburgh skyline. At Raley Field, the view beyond the ballpark’s outfield perimeter includes the golden/yellow Sacramento Tower Bridge – a vertical lift bridge across the Sacramento River.  The bridge, which opened in 1935, is on the National Register of Historic Places – and it’s a beauty.  Fans also enjoy a view of the downtown Sacramento skyline beyond the bridge.

The stadium opened in May of 2000, the first season of the current Sacramento River Cats’ franchise (the relocated Vancouver Canadians).  Raley Field has approximately 10,600 permanent seats, and plenty of room for additional fans on the berms beyond the outfield fences. The team has averaged better than 8,000 fans per game in every year of its existence and the River Cats have led the PCL in attendance in 13 of their 15 full seasons in Sacramento (2000-2014).

Overall, Raley Field is picturesque and fan-friendly – ample concourses, plenty of traditional and unique food choices, reasonably-priced seats (for the most part), baseball just one level shy of the majors and some of the friendliest staff and vendors I have run across. More on the Raley field ambiance in a bit, but first a look at Monday’s game and the Triple A experience. Note: If  could improve on thing, it might be the on-field lighting – an issue at many minor league ballparks.

The very first pitch of the game, which I attended with my son-in-law Amir, illustrated the range of experience and talent you can expect at Triple A – where you will find a combination of rising prospects, rehabbing major leaguers of varying skill levels and players (both former major leaguers and career minor leaguers) looking for one more shot at “the show.”

RaleyPeavyIn Monday’s game, the first pitch was thrown by the Sacramento River Cats’ Jake Peavy – on a rehab assignment (back strain) from the parent San Francisco Giants.  The 6’ 1”, 195 pound, 34-year-old Peavy (you’ll see why all that data is important in just a minute) is a former Cy Young Award winner and three-time MLB All Star, with all or parts of 14 major league seasons and 139 major league victories under his belt.

Peavy’s first pitch was taken by Fresno second basemen Tony Kemp – 23-years-old, 5’ 6” and 160 pounds – just two years removed from Vanderbilt University, where he was the 2013 SEC Player of the Year, a 2013 Baseball America All American and on the 2013 SEC Academic Honor Roll.  Kemp, taken in the fifth round of the June 2013 MLB draft, came into the contest having compiled a .313 average in 263 minor league games (for five different teams in the Astro’s system).  The baseball distance between Peavy and Kemp, who started the game just 60’ 6” apart, is part of the beauty of minor league ball – especially at the AAA level.

The game itself was fairly-well played – a 3-1 victory for visiting Fresno, with each team collecting five hits – and Sacramento making the only error.  Peavy took the loss, but took a positive step toward a return to the Giants’ rotation. He got in trouble with two walks and a two-run double in the first inning, but then settled down and gave up just four more hits and one run over the next six frames.  Peavy’s final line was seven innings pitched, five hits, three earned runs, two walks and five strikeouts. In 20 1/3 rehab innings, he has walked six and fanned 20.

kempThe star of the game – who also ensured there was something special to see – was Kemp. The diminutive second baseman walked to lead off the game, stole second and scored the first run. Then in the bottom of the fourth, with the River Cats having scored once (making it a 2-1 game) and having a runner on first with one out, Kemp turned a nifty pivot on a 6-4-3 double play (faithful readers know how much BBRT loves 6-4-3 and 4-6-3 double killings). Finally, Kemp led off the top of the fifth by scoring the game’s final run – crushing a ball off the center field wall and dashing around the bases for an inside-the-park home run after the center fielder took a slight stumble. The kid can fly – but that seems to be a patern for Astros’ second sackers (see the sidebar below).

The Houston Astros’ boast the smallest player currently active at the major league level – 5’6”, 165-pound second baseman Jose Altuve. How good is the 25-year-old Venezuelan? In 2014, he led the AL in average (.341), base hits (225) and stolen bases (56).  Well, the Astros may be cornering the market on small, speedy second sackers. Listed at 5’6” and 160 pounds (165 pounds by some sources), Tony Kemp currently plays second base  (and some outfield) for the Astros’ top farm club – the Fresno Grizzlies.  How good can the 23-year-old be? As of June 16, he was hitting .364 with five steals in seven games at Triple A – after hitting.358, with 15 steals in 50 games at AA Corpus Christi. In 2014, Kemp (taken by Houston in the fifth round of the June 2013 draft) hit .316 with 41 steals at High A and Double A.  No matter how you measure them, Altuve and Kemp appear to be real “keepers.”

Now, just a bit more on Raley Field and Monday’s game.

  • Check out the clock/timer above the Coors Light sign - annoying.

    Check out the clock/timer above the Coors Light sign – annoying.

    The new pitch clocks (and pace of game rules) were in force – being introduced at the AA and AAA levels to allow any glitches to be worked out before implementation at the major league level. That means clocks counting down between innings and pitches – one large digital timer above the centerfield wall and one on the wall near each dugout.  Allowable time – two minutes and twenty-five seconds between innings and pitching changes, twenty seconds between pitches. BBRT’s appraisal – distracting and annoying, but I am more than a bit old school.

  • We had great seats – just beyond third base, practically close enough to pick the third-sacker’s back pocket – for just $18 each.
  • Some great food choices – just a few examples include: a Fajita Chicken Rice Bowl; Chili Cheese Fries; Pulled Pork (barbeque) Sandwich (I had this and added onions and horseradish for a sweet and spicy treat); Hawaiian Melt Panini; and even Garden Salads. All in addition to tradition ballpark fare. (We were there on dollar hot dog night.) Note: Several fans swore by the “Loaded Fries” – French fries, nacho cheese, bacon, sour cream and chives.
  • I’d also suggest a visit to the Beer Garden (in the left field corner). You’ll find a host of great “gourmet” beer choices, mixed drinks, sliders and lots of great baseball comradery.
  • The Inside Pitch – The River Cats’ magazine – with scorecard inside is FREE.
  • The River Cats had a between inning pop fly catching contest, where a youngster had a chance to win – a free hair cut?
  • Attendance at the game was a bit low (6,214 – and that seemed a generous count). The reason became a bit more obvious in the seventh inning, when the loudest cheer of the game went up after the scoreboard announced the Golden State Warrior’s 105-97 NBA title-clinching win. Apparently, quite a few stayed home to watch that one on TV. (And, it was a Tuesday night.)
  • I spent some time rooting for Fresno starting (and winning) pitcher Asher Wojceichowski (want to see that name on a jersey – and I am a Karpinski).

RaleyBloodyFinally, BBRT likes to review Bloody Marys at all the ballparks I visit. Raley Field’s wasn’t bad – and, in terms of relative value, was worth the $8.  I received a generous pour of vodka and, although a standard Bloody Mary mix was used, the bartender “custom-spiced” it.  Plenty of bite, but a little short on condiments (two olives and a lime slice) as compared to some other ballparks that add such items as celery sticks, pickle spears, peppers, beef sticks and even bacon.  Still, a satisfying Bloody Mary – and great with pulled pork.

So, there’s a look at my night at Raley Field – all in all, pretty darn enjoyable.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Congrats Chris Heston – and Some Rookie No Hitter Observations

HestonCongratulation to Giants’ right-hander Chris Heston, who yesterday (June 9) threw a no-hitter as San Francisco topped the Mets 5-0 at New York’s Citi Field.  Heston fanned eleven, while allowing only three base runners – all on hit-by-pitch.  It was the first no-hitter of 2015 and the 288th no-hitter in MLB history.  Heston also collected two hits and drove in two runs in the game – just another reason BBRT hates the DH.

The 27-year-old rookie tossed the no-no in just his 13th major league start (15th appearance) and, according to STATS is the 35th MLB rookie to toss a complete game no-hitter. Notably, with Heston’s gem, the Giants became just the second team ever to record no-hitters in four consecutive seasons – Matt Cain (2012), Tim Lincecum (2013 and 2014). The only other team to record no-hitters in four consecutive seasons was, appropriately, the Giants’ archrival, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Dodgers were less democratic than the Giants, however, with all four no hitters credited to southpaw Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.

A few other rookie no-hitter bits of trivia:

  • Only one MLB pitcher has thrown a no-hitter in his first-ever appearance. That would be righty Charles Leander “Bumpus” Jones. Pitching for the Reds, Jones no-hit the Pirates (7-1 final score) in his very first appearance – October 15, 1892 – the final day of the 1892 season. Jones came back to pitch for the Reds and Giants during the 1893 season, but went 1-4 with a 10.19 ERA. He never returned to major leagues, but did pitch in the minors until 1900.  (Note: When Jones tossed his no-hitter, the pitching distance was 50-feet.  The current 60’ 6” distance was adopted in 1893.)
  • The very first pitcher to throw a no-hitter in his first start was southpaw Ted Breitenstein of the Saint Louis Browns, who no-hit the Louisville Colonels of the then major league American Association on October 4, 1891 (like Jones, his chance came on the final day of the season). It was Breitenstein’s sixth appearance.  Breitenstein lasted longer in the big leagues than Jones, logging 160 wins, 170 losses and a 4.03 ERA between 1891 and 1901.  He led the NL in ERA once and complete games twice in his career, while also topping 20 wins in three different seasons (and losing 30 once). Like Jones, Breitenstein tossed his no-hitter when the pitching distance was 50-feet.
  • HollomanThe only MLB pitcher to toss a no-hitter in his first start (his fourth appearance) at the current pitching distance was Saint Louis Browns’ right-hander Alva (Bobo) Holloman, who held the Philadelphia Athletic without a safety on May 1, 1953 (6-0 final). A 30-year-old rookie, 1953 was Holloman’s only MLB season, his no-hitter was his only major league complete game and his two singles that day his only major league hits. He ended the season 3-7, with a 5.23 ERA. Holloman pitched for five different minor league teams in 1954, his last season on the field.

A “by-the-way” for BBRT’s Minnesota readers, yesterday’s hero (Heston) does have some tenuous Minnesota ties. He was initially drafted (out of community college) by the Twins in the 47th round of the 2007 draft, but choose not to sign.  He also declined to sign with the Nationals (29th round in 2008), before agreeing to terms with the Giants (12th round, 2009). Heston had a 46-45 record (3.56 ERA) in six minor league seasons.  He was slated to open the 2015 season at Triple A Sacramento until Matt Cain went on the Disabled List.  Heston is now 6-4 on the season, with a 3.77 ERA.

A No-Hitter – Lost in More Ways than One

HawkinsNobody ever took a worse beating in a complete game without giving up a hit than the Yankees’ Andy Hawkins, who allowed no hits in a complete game against the Chicago White Sox on July 1, 1990 – and still ended up on the wrong end of a 4-0 score (and eventually even lost his place in the record books, but more on that later.)

The 1990 contest went into the bottom of the eighth tied 0-0, with the Yankees having managed just four hits – all singles – off two White Sox hurlers.  In the meantime,  Hawkins had held Chicago hitless and scoreless through seven innings – giving up just three walks.  He got the first two outs in the eighth before Sammy Sosa reached base on an error by New York third baseman Mike Blowers. Sosa stole second and Chicago’s Ozzie Guillen and Lance Johnson both walked, loading the bases. Then an error by New York LF Jim Leyritz – on what appeared to be an easy fly ball hit by Robin Ventura cleared the bases (and left Ventura at second). DH Ivan Calderon then reached on adropped fly ball by RF Jesse Barfield NY’s third error of the inning), allowing the fourth run of the inning to score. Hawkins then got the final out (Dan Pasqua) on an infield pop-up-. The Yankees failed to score in the top on the ninth and Hawkins got a loss – despite not giving up a hit (or an earned run).  Hawkins’ final line, 8 IP, 0 hits, 4 Runs, 0 ER, 5 walks, 3 strikeouts and a loss.

MLB added insult to injury the following year, when the MLB Committee for Statistical Accuracy officially defined a no-hitter as a game “when a pitcher (or pitchers) allows no hits during the entire course of a game, which consists of at least nine innings.”  Since Chicago was leading – and did not bat in the bottom of the ninth – Hawkins’ no-hitter – despite being a complete game – was erased.  So, he not only lost the game – he ultimately lost his no-hitter as well. Ouch!

The double loss was indicative of Hawkins’ 1990 season, when he went 5-12, 5.37.  For his career (10 seasons – Padres, Yankees, A’s), Hawkins went 84-91, 4.22. His best year was 1985, when he went 18-8, 3.15 for the Padres.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

A Bad Day at the Ballpark … Zero-for-Ten

Bad day at the office?  Probably not as discouraging as the day LA Dodger center fielder John Shelby had on this date (June 3) in 1989.  On that day, Shelby not only had to work overtime, away from home in a losing cause – his Dodgers lost to the hometown Houston Astros 5-4 in 22 innings (7 hours and 14 minutes) – he also tied the MLB record for the most at bats without a hit in a single game.

ShelbyShelby, a switch-hitting outfielder, started the contest in center field, batting sixth. He came to the plate ten times, faced six different pitchers and contributed four outfield fly outs, one infield popup, two swinging strikeouts and three ground outs (one a fielder’s choice, when the Astros chose to force the runner at second, but did not turn a double play).  For the day, a neat zero-for-ten … tying the MLB record for most at bats without a hit in the game.

BBRT Note: Shelby’s truly “off-day” tied the record for futility set by the Mets’ Wayne Garrett on September 11, 1974 – when he went zero-for-ten in a Mets’ 25-innning 3-2 loss to the Cardinals. Garrett’s performance could be judged slightly less futile, since he did draw a walk in the first inning, before running up is “O-for” day.

Shelby started the game hitting just .163 on the season (his averaged dropped to .153 by game’s end) and had gone hitless in his previous 16 at bats.  He also found some bad luck on the bases. Remember that fielder’s choice that put Shelby on first?  It came in the third inning and Shelby (who eventually advanced to third base) was thrown out catcher-to-pitcher trying to score on a wild pitch. Had he scored, perhaps extra innings would have been avoided and, of course, he would have missed his chance at the record book.

For those who like more background – as I know many BBRT readers do – Shelby ended the 1989 season with a .183 average, one home run and 12 RBI in 108 games. Over his eleven-year MLB career (Orioles, Dodgers, Tigers), Shelby hit .239, with 70 home runs, 313 RBI and 98 stolen bases.  His best year was 1987, when he hit .277, with 21 home runs, 69 RBI and 16 steals in 120 games for the Dodgers.

A few additional facts about the game:

  • The Saturday night game ended at 2:50 Sunday morning.
  • The two teams were back on the field 10 hours and 45 minutes later, for a Sunday afternoon 1:35 start – a game which was won by the Astros 7-6 in 13 innings.
  • The losing pitcher in the 22-inning game was the Dodgers’ Jeff Hamilton, who started the game at third base.
  • The winning run was driven in by Astros’ shortstop Rafael Ramirez – on a line drive to right field that tipped the glove of first baseman (pitcher) Fernando Valenzuela. (In the 21st inning, Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda moved 3B Jeff Hamilton to pitcher and first baseman Eddie Murray to third base, bringing in pitcher Valenzuela to play first.)
  • The two teams used a total of 44 players.
  • The two teams went scoreless for 15 consecutive innings – the seventh through the 21st.

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May-King An Impression – Last Month in MLB

We’ve just turned the calendar on another Month and May is gone. That means it’s time for BBRT’s traditional look back at the previous month in MLB. They say April showers bring May flowers – but what does May bring?  If you’re a baseball fan (particularly if, like me, you are a Twins fan), this May brought a shower of surprises. In this post, BBRT will recap some of the month’s performances, look at some statistical surprises and throw in a few diversions that impressed me along the way,

Let’s start by considering the teams with the most wins in the month of May. Only two teams notched 20 or win over the course of the month – the Minnesota Twins and the San Francisco Giants.

Lots of surprises at Minnesota's Target Field - like first place at the end of May.

Lots of surprises at Minnesota’s Target Field – like first place at the end of May.

The Twins were the real surprise, going 20-7 (.740) – MLB’s best winning percentage for the month – and closing May in first place in the AL Central. (Full MLB standings as of May 31 can be found at the end of this post). How surprising is this? Over the past four seasons, the Twins have gone 265-383 (averaging 96 losses) per season – and they started 2015 with just one win in their first seven games. I promised both surprising and impressive, so here are a few things I found impressive about the Twins’ May performance: 39-year-old (soon to be forty) RF Torii Hunter led a fairly balanced offense with a .333-6-25 month, RHP Ricky Nolasco won an AL-leading five games (5-0, 4.25 ERA) after going 0-1, 18.00 in April, RHP Kyle Gibson had an AL-low (among full-time starters) May ERA of 1.36 (three wins and one loss) and closer Glen Perkins saved an MLB-high 13 games.

Then we have the less-surprising and defending World Series Champion Giants, who ran up an MLB-best 21 wins (nine losses – .700 pct.) for the month. The Giants moved from last at the end of April to second (just ½ game behind the Dodgers) at the end of May. Looks like the Giants/Dodgers rivalry lives on!

More surprises?  How about the continuing success of the Houston Astros – who averaged more than 100 losses over the past four seasons (232-416)?    The Astros finished April leading the AL West by four games – and, closed May with a 31-20 record, still holding a four-game margin over the second-place Angels.

May-King An Impression

Houston Astros’ 22-year-old prospect Derek Fisher made quite a May impression. On May 30, Fisher made his first appearance for the Class A Advanced California League Lancaster JetHawks – having just been promoted from the Class A Quad Cities River Bandits of the Midwest League. Well, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and Fisher took it.  

The 6’ 1”, 207-pound Fisher, who started in left field and batted second, came up in the first inning and ripped a solo home run to right.  In the second, he came to the plate again – this time with the bases loaded – and scorched a Grand Slam to center. The JetHawks’ offense continued to pulverize the High Desert Mavericks pitching staff and. in the third inning, Fisher came to the plate with the bases loaded once again. He had already cleared the fences in right and center, so this time he drove a homer (his second Grand Slam of the game) to left.  In his first three innings played after his promotion, Fisher – hit to all fields, went three-for-three, rapped three home runs, scored three runs and drove in nine.  Pretty good first impression.  Oh, and later in the game (a 16-3 Lancaster win), Fisher rapped a bases-loaded double – giving him 12 RBI for the game (a new California League record.)  

While at Quad Cities, Fisher had gone .305-6-24 in 39 games. Fisher also is a former High School Gatorade Player of the Year (Cedar Crest High School, Lebanon, PA) and college Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American (University of Virginia). Impressive? Indeed.

On the other side of the surprise coin – the disappointing side – no team lost more games in May than the Boston Red Sox (early and popular AL East favorites). The Red Sox went 10-19 in May, ending the month at 22-29, in last place, but just four games out of first.  Other teams losing 19 for the month were less surprising – The Marlins went 10-19 in May, while the A’s went 11-19.

Michael Wacha- part of a pitching staff driving the Cardinals to MLB's best record through May.

Michael Wacha- part of a pitching staff driving the Cardinals to MLB’s best record through May.

Through May 31, only three teams were playing .600 or better:  The Saint Louis Cardinals (33-17, .660); Minnesota Twins (30-19, .612); Houston Astros (31-20. .608); and Kansas City Royals (29-19, .604). On the other end of the spectrum, four teams were performing at an under .400 pace: The Milwaukee Brewers (an MLB-worst 17-34, .333); Oakland A’s (20-33, .377); Philadelphia Phillies (19-33, .365); and Miami Marlins (20-31, .392).

 

So what’s it all add up to?  What if the season ended on – in this case – May 31? Your playoff teams would be:

  • AL … Yankees or Rays (playoff to break tie); Twins; Astros. Wild Cards: Royals; Tigers. (Note: Three AL Central teams.)
  • NL … Nationals; Cardinals; Dodgers. Wild Cards: Giants; Mets.

Another Impressive “First Impression”

On May 6, as the Twins took the measure of the Oakland A’s 13-0, Eddie Rosario made his major league debut – and he got off to a pretty fast start.  In his first at bat, in the third inning, the rookie right fielder hit a Scott Kazmir fastball into the left field bleachers – becoming 119th player to homer in his first MLB at bat.  More significantly, Rosario become only the 29th MLBer to homer on the very first pitch he ever saw in “the show.” For more on first-pitch-ever round tripper – including two first-pitch Grand Slams, click here. 

Just a few final team observations before we look at some individual performances and surprises.

  • Through May 31, no team had scored more runs than the Blue Jays (268) – who had scored 35 more runs than the second-highest-scoring AL team (Rangers) and the highest-scoring NL team (Diamondbacks), both at 233. The Blue Jays (six games under .500), however, had the AL’s worst ERA through May at 4.59. Fewest runs scored? The Phillies at 157.
  • The Houston Astros led all of MLB in home runs through May (68), with the Dodgers topping the NL at 64. The fewest? The Phillies again at 27, while the White Sox (with the DH) had the AL’s lowest total at 32.
  • Only three teams were hitting .270 or better through May – the Royals (.278); the Giants (.272); and the Tigers (.272). The Brewers had the lowest team batting average through May at .228.
  • From the mound, the Cardinals were the only team to carry a sub-3.00 ERA through May – at 2.73 (followed by the Pirates at 3.14 and the Dodgers at 3.16). Over in the AL, the Rays set the pace at 3.36 (followed by the Royals (3.40 and Astros (3.54).
  • The surging Twins proved they “pitch to contact.”  Through May, the Minnesota pitching staff had the fewest strikeouts 281 and the second-fewest walks (117 – only the NL Mets were lower at 103). Leading MLB in K’s was the Cubs’ staff at 476, while Houston led the AL with 464.

Now let’s look at some individual May performances.

Brycae Harper - 13 May home runs.

Brycae Harper – 13 May home runs.

Nobody raked the baseball more in May than the Nationals’ RF Bryce Harper, who put up a .360-13-28 line for the month – which made him the May leader in HRs and RBI (tied). But, we’ve all been waiting for this type of breakout from Harper.  There were, however, some impressive offensive performances and a few surprises in May.

  • Indians’ 2B Jason Kipnis hit .429 for the month, with four home runs, 17 RBI and a MLB-best 30 runs scored – after a disappointing .218-1-8 April.
  • Rangers’ 1B Prince Fielder, coming off 2014 neck surgery, started slowly with just one home run and ten RBI in April (although he did put up a .333 average). In May, the power returned, as Fielder went .379-9-28 and took over the AL batting race lead.
  • Marlins’ 2B Dee Gordon came back to earth. Carrying a .400 average as late as May 19th, Gordon’s average had dropped to .377 by May 31 – still enough to lead all of MLB.
  • Pirates’ C Francisco Cervelli’s .377 May average topped all NL hitters (with at least 75 plate appearances) for the month.
  • The bright spot for the struggling A’s was catcher Stephen Vogt, who hit .301, with seven homers and 23 RBI  in 83 May at bats. Vogt  had 38 RBI through May, just one off the AL lead.  The 30-year-old Vogt’s previous season-highs are .279-9-35.
  • Padres’ LF Justin Upton had the highest number of stolen bases without getting caught through May at 10.
  • Marlins’ RF Giancarlo Stanton hit only .185 in May, but still managed to rap nine home runs and drive in 23. Hitting just .228 through May, Stanton still leads MLB with 44 RBI.

The pitchers got into the act as well.

  • 42-year-old Mets’ hurler Bartolo Colon led all of MLB in victories through May with 8 (tied with Felix Hernandez of the AL’s Mariners) – despite a 4.72 ERA. In May, Colon went 4-2, with a 6.00 ERA in six starts. MLB’s other eight-game winner, Felix Hernandez was 8-1, with a 1.91 ERA.

    Corey Kluber - whiffed 18 on a very pecial day.

    Corey Kluber – whiffed 18 on a very pecial day.

  • The Indians’ Corey Kluber, the MLB strikeout leader for May and through May, saved his best for May 13 – the day the Indians officially opened their Bob Feller exhibit. Kluber threw eight innings of one-hit shutout ball in the Indians’ 2-0 win – walking none and tying Hall of Famer Feller’s Indians’ team single-game strikeout record with 18 whiffs. With the performance, Kluber became just the 29th pitcher in MLB history to fan 18 or more hitters in a game – and one of only five to accomplish the feat without issuing a single base on balls (joining Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Luis Tiant and Kerry Wood). An impressive showing on an appropriate day.
  • Only three pitchers managed five wins in May – the Pirates’ A.J. Burnett; Nationals’ Max Scherzer; and Twins’ Ricky Nolasco.

I’m Impressed – and so was the Baseball Hall of Fame

Katie Brownell – The “Perfect” Perfect Game

Here’s someone who “May-ed” their impression on a May day ten years ago. On May 14, 2005, eleven-year-old Katie Brownell – the only girl playing in the Oakfield-Alabama Little League (upstate New York) – took the mound for her team (the Dodgers) expecting to pitch three innings against the Yankees.  Six innings later, the Dodgers had an 11-0 win and Brownell was on her way to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Brownell not only threw a shutout that day, she threw a perfect game and struck out all eighteen batters she faced. She never went to a three-ball count the whole contest and the best at bat of the day went to the game’s final batter, who fouled off three 2-2 pitches before striking out. On July 7, 2005, Brownell’s traveled with her teammates to Cooperstown, New York to see her Dodgers Little League jersey ‘inducted” into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Note: Brownell’s dominance was no fluke, she was coming off a 14-strikeout game in her previous start.

Speaking of impressive performances, here are your May batting and pitching leaders.

Batting Average (minimum 75 plate appearances)

AL

Jason Kipnis, 2B, Indians – .429

Prince Fielder, 1B, Rangers – .377

David DeJesus, RF, Rays – .368

Chris Colabello, RF, Blue Jays – .368

NL

Francisco Cervelli, C, Pirates – .377

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, D-backs – .365

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – .360

HRs

NL

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – 13

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, D-backs – 10

Four with 9

AL

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays – 10

Price Fielder, 1B, Rangers – 9

Evan Gattis, C/DH, Astros – 9

RBI

AL

Prince Fielder, 1B, Rangers – 28

Torii Hunter, RF, Twins – 25

Three with 23

 NL

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – 28

Ryan Braun, RF, Brewers – 28

Four with 23

Runs Scored

AL

Jason Kipnis, 2B, Indians – 30

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays – 25

Brian Dozier, 2B, Twins – 25

NL

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – 24

Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants – 23

Ryan Braun, RF, Brewers – 22

Adrelton Simmons, SS, Braves, 22

Stolen Bases

NL

Dee Gordon, 2B, Marlins – 12 (1 CS)

Justin Upton, LF, Padres – 9 (0 CS)

Three with eight

AL

Delino DeShields, CF, Rangers – 10 (1 CS)

Billy Burns, CF, A’s – 9 (1 CS)

Wins

NL

A.J. Burnett, Pirates – 5 (no losses)

Max Scherzer, Nationals – 5 (one loss)

AL

Ricky Nolasco, Twins – 5 (no losses)

ERA (minimum 20 innings pitched in the month)

AL

Alex Wilson, Tigers – 0.86 (11 games, one start)

Kyle Gibson, Twins – 1.36

Chris Young Royals – 1.45

NL

Shelby Miller, Braves – 0.95

Zack Grienke, Dodgers – 1.05

Mike Bolsinger, Dodgers – 1.05

Strikeouts

AL

Corey Kluber, Indians – 60 (42 2/3 IP)

Chris Sale, White Sox – 46 (37 IP)

Chris Archer, Rays – 45 (35 2/3 IP)

NL

Max Scherzer, Nationals – 56 (43 IP)

James Shields, Padres – 47 (37 1/3 IP)

Francisco Liriano, Pirates – 45 (35 1/3 IP)

Saves

AL

Glen Perkins, Twins – 13

Brad Boxberger, Rays – 10

Luke Gregorson, Astros – 9

Zack Britton, Orioles – 9

NL

Drew Storen, Nationals – 11

Santiago Casilla, Giants – 9

Jason Grilli, Braves – 8

Mark Melancon, Pirates – 8

 

And now, a look at the MLB Leaders Through May.

Batting Average

NL

Dee Gordon, 2B, Marlins – .377

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, D-backs – .354

DJ LeMahieu, 2B, Rockies – .340

AL

Prince Fielder, 1B, Rangers – .359

Jason Kipnis, 2B, Indians – .340

Nelson Cruz, RF/DH, Mariners – .335

HR

AL

Nelson Cruz, RF/DH, Mariners – 18

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays – 15

Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees – 14

NL

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – 18

Todd Frazier, 3B, Reds – 16

Paul Goldschmidt, 1b, D-backs – 15

Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Marlins – 15

RBI

NL

Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Marlins – 44

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, D-backs – 43

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – 43

AL

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays – 39

Nelson Cruz, RF, Mariners – 38

Prince Fielder, 1B, Rangers – 38

Stephen Vogt, C, A’s – 38

Runs

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays – 43

Brian Dozier, 2B, Twins – 41

Mike Trout, CF, Angels – 38

NL

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – 42

Paul Goldschmidt, 1b, D-backs – 39

Four with 34

Stolen Bases

NL

Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds  – 21 (3 CS)

Dee Gordon, 2B, Marlins – 20 (7 CS)

AL

Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros – 15 (9 CS)

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, Yankees – 14 (6 CS)

Wins

NL

Bartolo Colon, Mets – 8-3 (4.72)

Gerrit Cole, Pirates – 7-2 (2.11)

Micheal Wacha, Cardinals – 7-1 (2.27)

AL

Felix Hernandez, Mariners – 8-1, 1.91

Dallas Keuchel, Astros – 7-1 (1.76)

Four with six

Strikeouts

AL

Corey Kluber, Indians – 96 (76 2/3 IP)

Chris Archer, Rays – 82 (68 IP)

Felix Hernandez, Mariners – 71 (70 2/3 IP)

Danny Salazae, Indians – 71 (54 2/3 IP)

NL

James Shields, Padres – 88 (68 1/3 IP)

Max Scherezer, Nationals – 85 (71 2.3 IP)

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers – 83 (65 1/3 IP)

Saves

AL

Glen Perkins, Twins – 19

Houston Street, Angels – 17

Three with 15

NL

Drew Storen, Nationals – 16

Four with 15

______________________________________________________________

Finally, MLB standing as of May 31

AL East

Yankees          26-25   .510

Rays               26-25   .510

Orioles            23-26   .469     2.0

Blue Jays        23-19   .442     3.5

Red Sox          22-29   .433     4.0

AL Central

Twins              30-19   .612

Royals             29-19   .604     0.5

Tigers              28-24   .538     3.5

Indians            24-26   .480      6.5

White Sox        23-26   .469     7.0

AL West

Astros              31-20    .606

Angels             27-24    .529     4.0

Rangers           26-25     .510    5.0

Mariners          24-26     .480    6.5

A’s                  20-33     .377   12.0

 

NL East

Nationals          28-22     .560

Mets                28-23     .549    0.5

Braves             25-25     .500    3.0

Marlins             20-31    .392     8.5

Phillies             19-33   .365     10.0

NL Central

Cardinals         33-17     .660

Cubs               26-22    .542     6.0

Pirates             26-24   .520     7.0

Reds                22-27   .449     4.5

Brewers            17-34   .333    16.5

NL West

Dodgers          29-20    .592

Giants             30-22   .577     0.5

San Diego        25-27   .481     5.5

D-backs           23-26   .469     6.0

Rockies            22-26   .458     6.5

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

 

I tweet baseball @David BBRT

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Roy Gleason – From the Ballfield to the Battlefield

JP AwardIn 2014, BRT launched its own baseball award – The John Paciorek Award – or JPA (which could stand for “Played Just Abit.”)  The JPA recognizes players who have had short, maybe very short, major league careers, but whose accomplishments, nonetheless, deserve recognition.  Just as the emergence of these players on the MLB scene was often unexpected, the JPA is awarded on no specific timetable.  BBRT, in fact, most often uncovers these brief, but bright, stars when researching some unrelated baseball topic.

(Note: Information on  John Paciorek’s career – the inspiration for the JPA – can be found at the end of this post.)

GleasonNow the timetable for these recognitions may not be specific, but that does not preclude the presentations from being “time appropriate.”  With that in mind, BBRT’s second JPA is being presented on this Memorial Day to Roy Gleason whose achievements include eight MLB appearances (Dodgers 1963), a career MLB batting average of 1.000, a World Series ring (more on that later) and a Purple Heart (earned in Vietnam). 

Roy Gleason was a top-rated prospect right out of high school, recruited (for the Boston Red Sox) by the likes of Ted Williams. A big (6’5”, 220-pound), speedy, switch-hitting outfielder, Gleason had his heart set on taking the field for the Los Angeles Dodgers. At least briefly, he lived the dream – signing with the Dodgers and making his major league debut at the age of 20, in just his second professional season (1963). He first appeared in a Dodgers game as a pinch runner on September 3 and, as the season wound down, got into seven games in that capacity – scoring two runs, but never coming to the plate.

Then, on September 28, 1963 – in the eighth inning of a game against the Phillies, Gleason was called on to pinch hit for LA pitcher Phil Ortego (the Dodgers were trailing 12-2 at the time). That first MLB at bat would prove to be Gleason’s only MLB plate appearance and he made the most of it – lining a 1-0 fastball off the Phillies’ Dennis Bennett for a standup double to left (and scoring later in the inning). Thus, Gleason ended his first MLB season – and his MLB career – with a 1.000 batting average, 1.000 on base percentage and 2.000 slugging percentage. And, although Gleason was not on the post-season roster, the Dodgers went on to win the 1963 World Series, earning Gleason a coveted World Championship ring.

Gleason spent the next three seasons back in the minors – where he hit only .213, but showed a combination of power and speed with 44 home runs and 21 stolen bases. Gleason was maturing as a player and a return to the majors seemed on the horizon after he earned an invite to the Dodgers’ 1967 major league Spring Training camp. Gleason, however, received another invite that spring – a draft notice. That invite, as noted in Gleason’s book “Lost in the Sun” (by Roy Gleason as told to Wallace Wasinack and Mark Langill) took the young outfielder on an “Odyssey from the Outfield to the Battle Field.”

gleasonbookBBRT recommends Lost In The Sun – Roy Gleason’s Odyssey from the Outfield to the Battlefield. It’s moving story of dream chasing, perseverance, reluctant heroism, fear , survivor’s guilt, and the inside of major league negotiations (methods and motives) – with a helping of history, politics and cultural commentary thrown in.

 

 

Gleason, it turns out, was the only baseball player with major league experience on his resume to serve on the front lines in Vietnam. In Vietnam, Gleason earned his Sergeant’s stripes, as well as a Purple Heart (suffering leg and wrist wounds when his squad came under attack on July 24, 1968).  By his own admission, a reluctant hero (aren’t those the most heroic), Gleason nonetheless distinguished himself.  A few lines from his citation note that, after being wounded, Gleason “refused medical attention and continued to perform his duties as squad leader until all his wounded men had been evacuated.”  In his book Lost in the Sun, Gleason, describes the moments after he was wounded, “As I rolled on my belly to return fire, I didn’t have time to think about the reason I was there. Why am I fighting to the death – an enemy I didn’t even know – in a world far removed from the small mid-American town of LaGrange, Illinois. The sight of the blood-soaked mud was now the scene, and God … how I missed the lush green baseball fields I’d played on in America.”

Gleason was ultimately airlifted out of the combat area on an Army helicopter – and left behind was his foot locker and his 1963 World Championship ring, but not his major league dreams.

After recovering from his wounds and enduring extensive rehab, Gleason attempted a comeback – performing well in 1969 Spring Training before being returned to the minors. A truck accident (Gleason was working construction between the 1970 and 1971 seasons), however, resulted in an arm (rotator cuff) injury that ended his pursuit of major league career.

As a baseball fan and a veteran myself, I am honored to be able to recognize Roy Gleason for his service and his bright and shining major league moment in this Memorial Day post.

On September 20, 2003, the Dodgers held a special ceremony honoring Gleason before their game against the Giants.  Roy’s military and athletic accomplishments were recognized in a brief video and Gleason threw out the ceremonial first pitch.  Then came the surprise of the day, as Dodger Manager Jim Tracy stepped forward to present the ballfield phenom and battlefield hero with a replacement 1963 World Series ring.  Says Gleason, “I was in shock when he when he handed me the World Series ring, and it remains one of the most incredible instants in my life. I felt like I was finally back to where I always wanted to be – I felt lke I was 20-years-old again.”

By the way, remember I said BBRT often uncovers the stories of brief, but brilliant, baseball “stars” while researching other baseball stories.  Well, Roy Gleason’s name (and story) came up while I was looking into the career of former Dodgers’ (1949) and Cubs’ (1951) first baseman Chuck Connors – who gained fame as an actor (particularly as the star of the popular TV series The Rifleman. (For more on Connors, click here.)  Turns out, Gleason appeared with Connors in a 1966 episode of the TV Series “Branded.” Gleason’s television credits also included appearances in Batman and No Time for Sergeants.

 

Inspiration for the JPA

John Paciorek – signed out of Saint Ladislaus High School in Hamtramck, Michigan (where he had starred in football, basketball and baseball) – appeared in his first major league game on the final day of the 1963 season (September 29) at the age of 18.  The 6’ 1”, 200-pound outfielder had spent the 1963 season with Class A Modesto Colts. The Colts’ parent club, the Houston Colt .45s (that was the current Astros’ franchise name back then) was suffering through a difficult season – they were 65-96 going into that final game.  Looking to the future, Houston had, in fact, fielded and all-rookie lineup (average age 19) on September 27. Youth was still being served two days later when John Paciorek started his first MLB game. The results were surprising – and worthy of recognition.

Playing right field and batting seventh in a 13-4 win over the NY Mets, Paciorek ended up with three hits and two walks in five plate appearances, with four runs scored and three runs batted in.  Perhaps equally surprising is that it was not only Paciorek’s first major league appearance, it was his only MLB appearance.  Back pain the following spring, followed by surgery (he played 49 minor league games in 1964 and missed all of the 1965 season) put an end to his MLB playing days. (He did play in four more minor league seasons.)  Still, you will find John Paciorek in the Baseball Encyclopedia and his is arguably the greatest one-game MLB career ever.  Among one-gamers, he holds the record for times on base and runs scored, and shares the record for batting average, on base percentage and RBIs.  

paciorekPaciorek, by the way, went on to become a high school teacher and multi-sport coach, and the author of two books (Plato and Socrates – Baseball’s Wisest Fans and The Principles of Baseball: And All There Is To Know About Hitting.) You also can enjoy Paciorek’s prose (and expertise)  directly at his blog “Paciorek’s Principles of Perfect Practice” by clicking here. 

A final note. John Paciorek’s insight into the national pastime should come as no surprise. Paciorek comes from a true “baseball family.”  He was the first born of eight siblings and was followed to the big leagues by younger brothers Jim and Tom Paciorek.  (Like John, Jim’s MLB career was short – 48 games for the Brewers in 1987. Brother Tom, however, achieved a .282 average over an 18-season – 1,392 game – MLB career.) 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Paul Konerko – He Came to Play!

Paul Konerko - ChiSox captain was one tough dude - especially against the Twins.

Paul Konerko – ChiSox captain was one tough dude – especially against the Twins.

Yesterday (May 23, 2015), the Chicago White Sox (appropriately) retired first baseman Paul Konerko’s jersey number. Being from Minnesota, I remember the six-time All Star and long-time (2006-14) ChiSox captain as a real Twins’ killer. And, there is evidence to support that observation. In 257 games versus the Twins, Konerko hit 50 (of his 439) home runs (his most against any team), while putting up a .286 average and driving in 136 runs. Konerko also hit 22 home runs against the Twins as a visitor (his highest “away” total) and six against Twins starter Brad Radke (tied for his highest total against any pitcher). It also seemed that Konerko, time and time again, came through with big hits in clutch situations against Minnesota.

Around the league, Konerko is remembered as a quality player, who gave it his all and “came to play” every day.  One of my fondest memories of the “Big Guy” (6’2”, 220 pounds) centers on his toughness.  Here are my personal top-three Konerko moments.

1. Ouch! Bang! Now, We’re Even!

On September 16, 2010, the Twins were visiting Chicago. Carl Pavano, arguably the Twins’ ace with 17 wins, was on the mound and Konerko was playing first base and batting clean-up for the Sox. In the first inning, with one on and two out, Konerko took a Pavano fastball to the face (just below the nose).  (At the time, Konerko was ten-for-twenty seven lifetime –  with two home runs against Pavano.) Konerko went down – stayed down for a while – and then was helped to his feet by the Sox trainer. Despite protests from the manager and trainer, Konerko refused to leave the game. In the top of the second, White Sox starter Mark Buehrle extracted revenge, with Twins 1B Michael Cuddyer paying the price.  The retribution, however, was not complete. In his very next at bat, Konerko hit the first pitch from Pavano 395 feet into the left field seats. That’s payback.

 

2.  Back-to-Back Memorable Jacks

On April 13, 200, with the White Sox at Detroit, RF Jermaine Dye led off the second inning by ripping a 2-1 pitch from Tiger starter Zach Miner for a home run to left center.  Next up was Konerko, playing first base and sixth, who worked the count full and then took Miner deep to left – for a 2-0 Chicago lead.  Back-to-Back “jacks” aren’t that rare, but these were.  It was the milestone 300th home run for both Dye and Konerko.  The White Sox went on to win 10-6 and Konerko went four-for-five with two runs scored and four RBI.

3.   Classy Farewell.

On September 3, 2014, before his last game ever in Minnesota, the Twins showed their class by honoring their retiring nemesis with a video tribute, a large bottle of fine wine (2005 Ladera Cabernet Sauvignon – in recognition of how Konerko helped lead the White Sox to the 2005 World Championship) and a $10,000 donation to one of Konerko’s favorite organizations – Children’s Home and Aid. The Twins tipped their caps to Konerko again yesterday – as they all came to the field for the entire tribute (and jersey retirement) held in Chicago.

Congrats to an MLBer who came to play!

 

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