Opening Day – A Gift About to be Unwrapped

 

“You always get a special kick on opening day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.”

                                                            Joe DiMaggio

Opening Day ... A Gift Waiting to be Opened!

Opening Day … A Gift Waiting to be Opened!

For players and fans alike, Opening Day is indeed like a birthday present.  However, history shows us that unwrapping that present can be exhilarating or exasperating for players and fans alike.

It can be as exhilarating as Bob Feller’s 1940 Opening Day no-hitter – still the only Opening Day no-hitter in MLB history.  Or it can be as exasperating as Ron Karkovice’s five strikeouts in five trips to the plate on Opening Day 1996 – still the MLB record for Opening Day whiffs.   As we move closer to Opening Day 2015, BBRT would like to look at some of the most exhilarating and exasperating Opening Day record-setting performances – leading off with Feller and Karkovice’s memorable Opening Day “achievements.”

Opening Day No-Hitter – 1-0 and One of a Kind

On April 16, 1940, fire-balling Bob Feller opened the season against the White Sox at Comiskey Park.  After nine innings of work, Feller and his Cleveland Indians had a 1-0 win – and the 21-year-old Feller (coming off a 24-win season in 1939) had his first no-hitter (walking five and striking out out eight).  Feller’s Opening Day performance was a pretty good indicator of what was to come.  In 1940, he would go on to lead the AL in wins (27), ERA (2.61), strikeouts (261), games pitched (43), games started (37), complete games (31), innings pitched (320 1/3) and shutouts (4).

Five Strikeouts – A Victim of Circumstances

Circumstances were clearly working against Ron Karkovice on March 31, 1996, when he set an MLB Opening Day record by striking out five times.

First, future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson (who retired with the second most strikeouts in MLB history) started on the mound for the Mariners – and he was on his game, whiffing 14 batters in seven innings (including Karkovice in the second, fourth and seventh).

Second, the White Sox could muster only two runs on four hits over the first nine innings – taking a slim 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth (at that point in the game, Karkovice had only a mundane three strikeouts to his credit – or debit – for the day).

Third, the Mariners tied the contest in the ninth, and the game went to 12 innings before the Mariners prevailed 3-2.  In those three extra innings, Karkovice struck out against Norm Charlton (tenth inning) and Edwin Hurtado (twelfth inning) to set the Opening Day record.

Of note – at least to BBRT – is the fact that, despite five strikeouts in five plate appearances, Karkovice did not leave a single runner on base.

Seven RBI – Bringing the Boys Home

Being a Twins’ fan, one of my favorite Opening Day records is seven RBI in game one of the season – shared by the Twins’ Brant Alyea and the Cubs Corey Patterson.

On April 7, 1970, as the Twins downed the White Sox 12-0 in Chicago, LF Brant Alyea drove in an Opening Day record seven runs – going four-for-four, with two home runs. It was Alyea’s first game as a Twin and the start of the hottest month in his career.  In 17 April games, he hit .415, with seven runs, 23 RBI, four doubles and five home runs. For the season, Alyea appeared in 94 games, hitting career highs in batting average (.291), home runs (16) and RBI (61).

On Opening Day 2003 (March 31), the Cubs CF Corey Patterson tied Alyea’s record – driving in seven runs, going four-for-six with two home runs, as the Cubs topped the Mets 15-2 in New York. Patterson, a career .252 hitter (12 seasons), seemed to always be ready for Opening Day. In seven Opening Day appearances, Patterson hit .440, with seven runs, 12 RBI and three home runs. The season he tied Alyea’s Opening Day RBI mark, Patterson played in 83 games, hitting .298, with 13 home runs and 55 RBI.

Three Can Be a Lucky Number – Most Home Runs in an Opening Day Game

On April 4, 1988, Blue Jays DH George Bell became the first major leaguer to hit three home runs in an Opening Day game. (The number of three-home run Opening Days is now up to three.)  Bell’s power outburst was no surprise. He was coming off a 1987 season in which he hit 47 homers, drove in 134 runs and was the AL MVP. (Bell would go on to hit 24 home runs in 1988.)  Bell hit all three of his home runs off Royals’ starter Brett Saberhagen (the game was in Kansas City), and drove in four runs as the Blue Jays prevailed 5-3.  Bell hit 265 home runs in a 12-season MLB career.

Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes was the second player to hit three home runs in an Opening Day game.  On a windy April 4, 1994, Rhodes (leading off and playing CF for the Cubs in Chicago) hit three solo shots off Mets starter Dwight Gooden (in the first, third and fifth innings), as the Cubs lost to the visiting Mets 12-8. Rhodes, who had five plate appearances, also had a single and a walk.  At the time, Rhodes had played a total of 107 MLB games in four seasons – hitting a total of five home runs. His MLB career consisted of 225 games in six seasons, with a .224 average and just 13 round trippers (with a high of eight in 1994). Rhodes did go on to hit 474 home runs in eleven seasons in Japan.

On April 4, 2005 the Tigers Dmitri Young joined Bell and Rhodes on the short list of batters with three home runs in an Opening Day game – as the Tigers topped the Royals 11-2 in Detroit. Young started at DH and went four-for-four with four runs and five RBI.  Young hit a total of 21 home runs in 2005 – and 171 in 13 MLB seasons.

BBRT finds it interesting that two of the three three-homer Opening Days belong to DHs.

Fifteen Strikeouts on Opening Day

Who holds the record for pitcher’s strikeouts in an Opening Day game?  Walter Johnson? Bob Feller? Christy Mathewson? Sandy Koufax? Nolan Ryan? Bob Gibson? Randy Johnson? Tom Seaver? None of the above.

On April 18, 1960, Camilo Pascual (known for his sweeping curve ball, but also possessing a fastball “with movement”) took the mound at Griffith Stadium for the Washington Senators (against the Boston Red Sox). In 1959, the Senators had finished in last place in the AL, but Pascual had gone 17-10, 2.64, and led the league with 17 complete games and six shutouts. As the Senators’ Opening Day starter in 1960, Pascual picked up right where he left off – tossing a complete game three-hitter, walking three and striking out a (still) Opening Day record 15 batters.  Behind this sterling effort, the Senators beat the Red Sox 10-1.

In an 18-year MLB career, Pascual went 174-170, 3.63 (often pitching for second division clubs), was an All Star five times, a twenty-game winner twice and the league leader in complete games, shutouts and strikeouts three times each.

Two “Kings” of Opening Day

Perhaps no one looked forward to Opening Day more than Ted Williams – the king of the Opening Day batter’s box.  A career .344 hitter, the “Splendid Splinter” was even better on Opening Day.  Williams played in fourteen openers and was never held hitless.  He compiled a .449 Opening Day average (22 hits in 49 at bats), with three home runs, eight doubles, one triple, nine runs scored, 14 RBI and eleven walks.  His Opening Day on-base percentage was .550 and his season-opener slugging percentage was .837.

The Washington Senators’ Walter Johnson can be crowned king of the Opening Day mound.  On his first-ever Opening Day start (April 14, 1910), the 22-year-old Johnson tossed a 3-0 one-hit shutout against the Philadelphia Athletics.  Sixteen years (and 13 Opening Day starts) later, a 38-year-old Johnson fulfilled his last Opening Day assignment with a 15-inning, complete-game, 1-0 win (6 hits, 3 walks, 9 strikeouts) over the A’s.  Johnson holds the record for Opening Day pitching victories with nine (against five losses) and also threw a record seven Opening Day shutouts.

Jimmy – The Key to Opening Day Victories

While Walter Johnson holds the record for Opening Day wins at nine, it did take him 14 Game One starts (and five losses) to get there.  Jimmy Key (pitching for the Blue Jays, Yankees and Orioles) holds the record for most Opening Days wins without an Opening Day loss – at seven. Key had seven Opening Day wins in seven Opening Day starts.  In those seven victories, he threw 44 1/3 innings, had a 3.05 ERA, gave up 38 hits and just five walks, while striking out 23.

Opening Day Can Be Painful

On April 9, 1990, Astros first baseman and clean-up hitter Glenn Davis (a 1989 All Star) opened the season in a bruising manner – tying an Opening Day (and MLB regular season) record for getting hit by a pitch in a game (three times). Davis came to the plate six times and never put the ball in play – but still made only one out.  For the game, Davis was hit by a pitch three times, walked twice (once intentionally) and struck out once. The Astros lost to the Reds 8-4 on Davis’ historic and painful day. The Opening Day action did help Davis lead the league in one category in 1990 (Hit By Pitch – eight).

Of note to BBRT, Davis finished Opening Day with a batting average of .000, but an on-base percentage of .833.

Whoa! Get Control of Yourself – 11 Walks on Opening Day

Cleveland southpaw Herb Score set the Opening Day record for pitchers walks on April 16, 1957 – when he took the mound at home against the visiting White Sox. Score walked 11 that day – but his performance was not as bad as that figure would indicate.  While the Indians lost 3-2 in 11 innings, Score went the distance (pitchers used to finish what they started – back in the day), giving up just seven hits and two earned runs.  In addition to his eleven walks, Score struck out ten. Score earned the Opening Day call with a 20-9, 2.53 1956 season in which he led the AL in strikeouts. (Score led the AL in whiffs in each of his first two seasons 1955-56.)

Eight Opening Day Homers – The Career Record

Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Adam Dunn share the career record for Opening Day home runs at eight.  While Griffey, Jr., Robinson and Dunn share the overall record, the American League-only record belongs to Griffey, Jr., who hit all his Opening Day shots for the Mariners.  Robinson hit Opening Day homers for the most teams: the Orioles, Angels and Indians in the AL and the Reds in the NL.  The National League-only record (seven Opening Day Shots) is shared by a couple of Hall of Famers:  Willie Mays (all for the Giants – in New York and San Francisco) and Eddie Mathews (all for the Braves in Milwaukee.)

Let’s Get This Party Started

Tom Seaver was the starting pitcher for his team on Opening Day a record sixteen times (Mets, Reds, White Sox) – going 7-2 with 7 no-decisions.

Now, let’s get ready to open another MLB season!

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

photo by: Sonnett

A Few Potential MLB Milestones for 2015

Alex Rodriguez could "hit" some statistical milestones in 2015.

Alex Rodriguez could “hit” some statistical milestones in 2015.

In this post, BBRT would like to take a look at some statistical milestones that may be reached during the 2015 season.  As we do that, it’s no surprise that the player most likely to make a “mark” or two in 2015 is the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez – who has a shot at some significant milestones in base hits, total bases, RBI, runs scored and home runs.  You’ll also find names on the potential milestone markers list like C.C. Sabathia, Joe Nathan, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Carl Crawford, Ichiro Suzuki, LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Buehrle.

Base hits

The Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez is just 61 hits shy of becoming the 29th player in MLB history to collect 3,000 safeties.  He should reach that mark by mid-season and has a chance (if he can collect 140 hits in 2015) to move into 20th place all-time.  (Cap Anson is now at number 20 with 3,081 hits.)

Runs Batted In

Alex Rodriguez needs just 31 RBI to become only the third player in MLB history to reach 2,000 runs batted in.  The others are Hank Aaron (2,297) and Babe Ruth (2,218). This is another milestone that A-Rod, if he stays healthy (he does turn 40 in July), should reach before the All Star break.

The Angels’ Albert Pujols – beginning the season with 1,603 RBI – has a chance to become just the 24th player to reach 1,700 runs driven in. (Reggie Jackson is currently number 24, with 1,702, two behind Frank Thomas for number 23.)

Runs Scored

Alex Rodriguez needs 81 runs to become the eighth major leaguer to cross the plate 2,000 times.  That may be a stretch for Rodriguez, but there are some milestones in between his current 1,919 runs scored (10th all time) and 2,000. A-Rod needs just four runs to tie Derek Jeter for ninth on the list, and 30 runs will pull him into a tie for eighth with Stan Musial.

Home Runs

Albert Pujols should move up the HR and RBI lists in 2015.

Albert Pujols should move up the HR and RBI lists in 2015.

Alex Rodriguez is also on the home run milestone list – not for a new round number, but for his place on the list. Rodriguez is currently fifth among all-time home run hitters at 654 roundtrippers.  He needs just seven homers to pass Willie Mays for the number-four spot.  Beyond Mays, there are the out-of-reach Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds (762).

The Red Sox’ David Ortiz is 34 home runs shy of becoming the 27th member of the 500 home run club.  While Ortiz did hit 35 dingers last season, it was the first time he reached at least 34 home runs since 2007. If he makes 500 this season, it will be late in the year. He’ll probably need to suit up for at least one more season to reach the half-century mark.

Albert Pujols starts 2015 with 520 home runs, good for 21st all-time.  He should vault up several spots this season (Willie McCovey, Frank Thomas and Ted Williams, for example, all sit at 521). If Pujols matches his 29 home runs of 2014, he will move into a tie for 15th place with Mike Schmidt.  (Pujols needs only 16 HRs to tie Mickey Mantle for 16th place all time.)

Total Bases

Alex Rodriguez is just 20 total bases shy of becoming the ninth player to reach 5,500 total bases – and 59 shy of tying Carl Yastrzemski for number-eight all-time. (Number seven is a ways off – Pete Rose at 5,752). Only three players have reached 6,000 total bases in their careers: Hank Aaron (6,856), Stan Musial (6,134) and Willie Mays (6,066).

Stolen Bases

Another Yankee, Ichiro Suzuki, needs just 13 stolen bases to become the 24th player to reach the 500 mark. He is, however, 41-years-old, so 14 steals is not a given. Still, he’s never stolen less than 14 in a season (15 steals in 2014), so he has a chance to reach the 500 mark late in 2015.

The Dodgers’ Carl Crawford is also closing in on 500 steals – with 470 going into the season. Crawford, however, hasn’t reached the 30-steal mark since 2010 (23 last season).  With the Dodgers still facing log jam in the outfield, Crawford (like Suzuki) is a long-shot to hit this milestone in 2014 . (If I had to pick either Ichiro or Crawford to reach 500 this year, I’d go with Suzuki.)

Strikeouts

The Yankees’ C.C. Sabathia needs just 63 strikeouts to become the 31st hurler to reach the 2,500 mark for his career. If he comes back from last season’s knee surgery, the 34-year-old southpaw should easily reach that mark. Sabathia currently stands at number 38 on the all-time K list (2,437) – between him and number 31 are Jamie Moyer (2,441), Andy Pettitte (2,448), San McDowell (2,453), Jim Kaat (2,461), Mark Langston (2,464), Jack Morris (2,478) and Don Drysdale (2,486). If Sabathia can notch 65 whiffs in 2015, he can move into a tie with Christy Mathewson for 30th all time (2,502).

Victories

Mark Buehrle’s first win for the Blue Jays in 2015 will be his 200th career win,

Games Pitched

The Rockies’ LaTroy Hawkins (who appeared in his 1,000th game last season), now stands at number 16 for pitching appearances all-time.  The 42-year-old Hawkins,  who made 57 appearances last season, needs to take the mound in 35 games to tie Trevor Hoffman for tenth all-time. BBRT is betting that Hawkins – who has announced he will retire after the 2015 season (his 21st MLB season) – will make that top ten mark.

Saves

Joe Nathan could take a high five for his 400th saves  this coming season.

Joe Nathan could take a high five for his 400th saves this coming season.

The Tigers’ Joe Nathan – coming off a disappointing 2014 – needs just 24 saves to become just the sixth pitcher to reach the 400 mark. Even with his 4.81 ERA of 2014, Nathan notched 35 saves. If the 39-year-old has enough left in the tank to hold onto the closer’s position, he should make it.  The chances, from here, look to be 50-50

photos by: & ,

Twins Promotions – Enhancing the Fan Experience

Photo: Courtesy of MInnesota Twins

Photo: Courtesy of MInnesota Twins

From baseball bats to bobbleheads to backpacks, the Minnesota Twins promotional giveaways for 2015 seem to offer something for everyone – and that’s no accident.  BBRT had a chance to talk to the Twins Senior Manager of Promotions and Special Events Julie Okland about just what goes into setting up a major league team’s schedule of promotions. Turns out that, while there is plenty of brainstorming involved, there is also a lot of science behind the final schedule of giveaways, events, activities and discounts.

In this post, BBRT will look at MLB’s promotional schedule, with an emphasis on my hometown Twins.  I’ll also include a nod to some particularly interesting promotions from other teams – ranging from the Nationals’ Jayson Werth Chia Pet to the upcoming attempt by the Angels to set the record for the largest gathering of people wearing sombreros to the A’s Sonny Gray solar-powered garden gnome. I’ll include dates to help readers plan their ticket purchases, but keep in mind:

  • This is a preliminary report. As this is being posted, some teams have not released their promotional schedules or have released only partial schedules.
  • Promotional items and schedules are subject to change without notice. For a complete list and up-to-date details regarding 2015 Twins promotions (including dates, numbers of items, activities and eligibility) click here.  For details on promotions and events across MLB, visit each team’s website.

Now that the cautionary language has been handled, let’s get to it.

During the upcoming season, fans across MLB will have a lot to choose from when it comes to promotions. By the time the season is over, for example, Twins fans alone will have gone home from the ballpark with:

  • 40,000 hooded sweatshirts;
  • 40,000 bobbleheads (Brian Dozier, Paul Molitor, Phil Hughes, 1965 vintage);
  • 40,000 baseball caps, 10,000 bomber hats, 40,000 stocking caps;
  • 10,000 adult jerseys (Torii Hunter) and 10,000 kids jerseys (Danny Santana) – sizes limited on jerseys;
  • 10,000 drawstring backpacks, 10,000 reusable water bottles;
  • 10,000 ceramic steins (Fathers’ Day – Men 21+ only);
  • 10,000 plush toys (Twins mascot T.C. and Target mascot Bullseye);
  • 20,000 reusable grocery totes;
  • 45,000 magnetic season schedules, 60,000 poster schedules; and
  • 10,000 pairs of flip flops.

Fans also will have had a chance to enjoy such events as Fireworks Fridays and the Midwest Music Showcase (Wednesdays), along with unique activities and discounts associated with Knothole Kids Days, Student Days, Senior Days, Military Mondays, Dollar-A-Dog Days – and the list goes on.

It is, indeed, an ambitious schedule with something for everyone.

Okland indicated that setting up a new season’s promotional calendar begins as soon as (or even before) the gates close on the previous season.

“It’s really a year-round process,” Okland, who has been with the Twins for twelve years, said. “We’re constantly looking for new ideas, what’s trending with our fans, what’s worked for other teams. We’re always looking for that next big idea.”

Okland added that promotions and events have become increasingly important as the Twins, and baseball overall, find themselves competing not just for the entertainment and recreational dollar, but also for the potential ticket buyer’s time and attention.

The Basic Criteria

The overriding focus of the promotions and events schedule is to “enhance the fan experience,” whether through giveaways, unique activities or increased value, Okland said.

“The final decisions are based significantly on analytics,” she added.  “We look at such factors as day of the week, time, the opponent, anticipated weather, past successes and which fan segments each promotion will appeal to. We also coordinate with Ticket Sales and Services to ensure giveaways and promotions are balanced among our various ticket packages.”

The basic criteria for promotions and events outlined by Okland were:

  • Adds to the fan experience;
  • Safety (particularly for kids items);
  • Attractiveness to specific demographics (with an emphasis on kid-focused, but offering something for all demographics over the course of the season);
  • Usefulness, shelf-life and potential exposure;
  • Quality;
  • Price point;
  • Generation of incremental ticket sales.

All promotions must meet these criteria, but there are additional factors that come into play, Okland said.

Anniversaries, Holidays and Achievements

Anniversaries, holidays and specific player and team achievements play a role in the development of the promotions schedule, Okland said. Among the 2015 examples she cited were a vintage bobblehead (August 1) giveaway honoring the 50th Anniversary of 1965 Twins’ AL Championship team and a Fathers’ Day “Minnie and Paul” Ceramic Stein giveaway (first 10,000 males over 21).

Picking Players To Be Featured

When picking on-field personnel to feature in promotions, the Twins look toward players who had good seasons the year before, recently reached (or will soon reach) career milestones or have a strong connection with fans and the community.

“Brian Dozier and Phil Hughes had good seasons last year, and they are part of this year’s schedule of promotions,” Okland said.  Dozier is featured in two promotions – a Dozier baseball bat giveaway (May 31) and a Dozier bobblehead giveaway (July 25). A Hughes bobblehead is also on the schedule (July 11).

“It’s also Paul Molitor’s first year as manager and we wanted to get him out there,” Okland said.  “You’ll see him on our magnet schedules (April 17-18-19) and we’ll also feature a Molitor bobblehead giveaway (June 19).”   BBRT note: Molitor is the only individual featured on bobblehead promotions in two MLB cities this season.  The Brewers also will honor the Hall of Famer with a bobblehead giveaway (June 28, in a game against the Twins).

The Twins also are celebrating the return of Torii Hunter – a long-time fan favorite – with a Torii Hunter (adult) jersey giveaway on June 6.

Bobbleheads – Baseball’s Most Popular Promotional Item

While it is impossible to determine exactly how many bobbleheads will be given away at major league baseball parks this season (some teams have not yet released their full promotional schedule, others do not list the number to be handed out or use an “all fans” or “while supplies last” descriptor), BBRT can say with confidence that the 2015 MLB season will feature more than 125 different bobblehead promotions and fans will go home with well over than two million bobbleheads.  (Note: The Sports Business Journal reported that, in 2014, MLB teams handed out 2.59 million bobbleheads.)

A review of 2015 bobblehead giveaways announced as this post is written indicates teams will be featuring at least: 73 current players, 35 formers players, two managers, one former manager and one team-owner/commissioner.  In addition, three teams (Giants, Diamondbacks and A’s) will be handing out Hello Kitty bobbleheads), one team is offering a “Peanuts” bobblehead (Yankees), three teams will send fans home with vintage bobbleheads (Twins, Brewers, Phillies) and a pair of announcers will be recognized in bobblehead form (Vin Scully, Dodgers and Harry Caray, Cardinals).

The season’s most unique bobblehead may be the Rays’ Evan Longoria bobblehead that plays the star third baseman’s walk-up music. A few other 2015 bobblehead notes:

  • The Rays will determine the player to be featured as their final bobblehead offering of the season through a fan vote.
  • The Reds will be distributing a bobblehead with three players on a single bobblehead base – the 1990’s “Nasty Boys” bullpen of Randy Myers, Rob Dibble and Norm Charlton.
  • The Yankees will be handing out a Babe Ruth bobble head.

For trivia buffs:  According to bobbleheads.com, the first MLB player-specific bobbleheads – featuring Mickey Mantle, Willie MMauys3ays, Roger Maris and Roberto Clemente – were produced in 1960 and sold during the 1960 World Series. Various sources indicate that the first MLB team bobblehead giveaway took place on May 9, 1999 – with the San Francisco Giants handing out 35,000 Willie Mays bobbleheads to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Candlestick Park.

 

Being Minnesotan Counts

Okland added that there is also a focus on promotions that are consistent with what it is to be Minnesotan – noting that past successes, in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, include Rapala fishing lures and outdoor grilling tools.  For 2015, fur bomber hats, stocking caps and a Twins BBQ branding iron reflect what it is to be Minnesotan.

Finding Sponsors

While the development of promotions is the first part of her job, Okland said she also must work with the Corporate Sponsorships Department to secure appropriate sponsors for each promotion. “Occasionally a sponsor will come to use with an idea – like, this year, Target asked to do the Bullseye plush (stuffed animal – August 29 & 30). For the most part, however, we develop the ideas and then work to secure appropriate sponsors.”

One example cited by Okland was the Twins’ May 7 Flip Flops giveaway (the Twins are the only team featuring a flip flop promotion this season), an idea she successfully sold to “The Beaches of Fort Meyers/Sanibel.” Okland noted that some sponsors do have preferences– like DQ®, which has joined the Twins as a sponsor for three decades of baseball cap giveaways.

Most Popular Items

Okland said traditional items – like bats, caps and bobbleheads – remain the most popular, with bobbleheads well in the lead and still going strong.

“Bobbleheads are the only items we’ve seen fans line up the night before for,” she said.

It’s Not All Just Giveaways

Okland added that efforts to enhance the fan experience are not focused solely on giveaways.

“We also work to incorporate activities fans that fans will enjoy beyond the game,” she said.

Fireworks are popular with Twins’ fans – and the team is hosting Friday Fireworks after all Friday home games between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Okland said.  BBRT’s review of scheduled events around MLB provided a solid indicator that fireworks are truly “not just for holidays” anymore.  MLB parks will play host to more than 150 post-game fireworks displays during the 2015 season.

Among the other popular fan experiences Okland discussed were:

  • Knothole Kids Days – with discounted tickets, player autographs before the game and a chance for kids to run the bases after the game.
  • The Midwest Music Showcase, with popular local bands performing at every Wednesday home game from May through September.

And, not all of the special events scheduled by the Twins take place inside the ball park.  The Twins also offer “Wine, Women and Baseball” for female fans. These events include a Skyline Deck or Skyline View ticket plus (at the Loews Minneapolis Hotel) pre-game wine tasting, light appetizers and desserts, “Pamper Yourself” stations and a complementary gift. (May 29, July 30, August 28).

Theme Days/Events

MLB teams, including the Twins, also develop “theme” events, days, weekends or series – again designed to enhance the fan experience, recognize specific groups or causes, build the team or MLB brand or appeal to specific demographics.  Among the Twins “theme” events already scheduled for 2015 are: Jackie Robinson Day (with MLB, April 15); Diversity Day (July 7); Armed Forces Appreciation Day (July 12); Softball Day (July 30); 1965 AL Championship 50th Anniversary Celebration (August 1); Back to School Weekend (August 29-30); Fan Appreciation Weekend (October 2-3); and Kids Appreciation Day (October 4).

Okland urged Twins fans to watch for upcoming announcements of additional theme events for 2015. One such announcement came during the Twins/Gophers recent Spring Training game, when the team noted that Friday, May 1 will be University of Minnesota Night at Target Field. (Fans purchasing a ticket in this special package will receive a maroon and gold Twins cap.)

Value Discounts

There are also plenty of “value” discounts available to Twins fans for 2015 including, among others:

  • Schweigert™ Dollar-A-Dog Days (Wednesdays), with one-dollar hot dogs;
  • More For Your Money Mondays – with a ten-dollar food and beverage credit with a Skyline Deck ticket;
  • Thirsty Thursday Nights – 5:30 to 6:30 (before Thursday home games), with discounted beverages and appetizer specials at the Town Ball Tavern, Hrbek’s, the Club level outdoor pub and the Gate 6 Bar.

Student Days (Wednesdays) and Senior Days (all weekday day games), with discounted ticket are also popular, Okland said.

Military Mondays have been very well received and we’re especially proud of that promotion,” Okland added, noting that, on Military Mondays, active military and veterans (with valid ID) can purchase half-price Home Plate View tickets for themselves and up to four guests.

Putting It All Together

Okland said that when you put it all together – giveaways, activities, events and discounts – MLB team promotions create additional excitement around the ballpark experience. That, she said, is good for the fans, the teams and the game.

Check Out that Promotions Schedule

As you can see, there is a lot going on at the ball park, BBRT urges all fans to take a look at your team’s promotions, events and discounts schedule.  Find what appeals to you – and add something new to your personal experience “at the old ball game.”

To close, here are a few 2015 MLB promotions that drew BBRT’s interest:

  • Among the most popular giveaways across MLB (besides bobbleheads) are t-shirts, magnetic schedules, caps, replica jerseys and reusable tote bags.
  • Bobbleheads may be all the rage, but players are being recognized in a wide variety of ways including: the Nationals’ Jayson Werth Chia Pet (August 5) and the Rays’ Evan Longoria Rubber Duck (April 19).
  • Ten teams are handing out a total of 14 Garden Gnomes – featuring ten players, one manager, two former managers and one mascot. Only the A’s, however, are featuring a solar-powered garden gnome (Sonny Gray, June 20).
  • Beyond the traditional baseball caps, a wide range of headgear will be handed out at MLB parks this year – fedoras, cowboy hats, stocking caps, floppy hats, beach hats, bomber hats, batting helmets and more. Only the Angels, however, are including a sombrero give-away in their schedule (as part of their Cinco De Mayo Celebration and an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people wearing sombreros).
  • Fans can score a replica of Fenway Park (Red Sox, April 27); the Astrodome, circa 1965 (Astros, April 18); and Petco Park (Padres, July 18).
  • The San Francisco Giants will be handing out a “snow” globe on April 15, featuring their three most recent World Championship trophies (2010-12-14) and the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • The Phillies will take us all back to our youth with a Wiffle® Ball and Bat giveaway.
  • Want to build a great pitching staff? In 2015, the Dodgers are giving one away, in the form of a series of Cy Young Award Collectors’ Pins: Don Newcombe (April 13); Don Drysdale (April 27); Sandy Koufax (May 14); Mike Marshall (June 18); Orel Hershiser (August 29); Eric Gagne (September 14); and Clayton Kershaw (September 20).
  • The Mets will pass out “Thundersticks” to all fans on September 19th and – no surprise – the crosstown Yankees will be at Citi Field. The Rays are hosting similar giveaways (for youngsters) on June 24th   and July 29, only they have chosen to use the less-aggressive term “Rays Cheer Sticks.”
  • No matter what you call it, dogs are increasingly welcome at the ballpark – Bark in the Park (Braves, Reds, Mets, Royals, Mariners, Rangers, Rockies, White Sox); Pups in the Park (Nationals); Pups at the Park (Dodgers); Pooches in the Park (Cardinals); Dog Days of Summer (Giants, Padres).
  • The Twins and Blue Jays have taken different approaches to their hoodie sweatshirt giveaways. The Twins’ promotion will take place on their home Opening Day (April 13), while the Blue Jays have scheduled their hoodie promotion for the final home game of their season (September 27).

Coming soon, some rookies and prospects BBRT will be watching in 2015.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

BBRT – 2015 American League Predictions

It's getting closer every day!!!

It’s getting closer every day!!!

James Shields has finally signed, pitchers and catchers are heading for Spring Training and it’s time to take a look at what
expects in 2015.  We’ll start with a look at the American League – and BBRT’s predictions for the standings and contenders for the major awards.  Coming soon:  NL predictions.

Let’s look first at the standings, where – thanks to one of the most active off seasons ever – BBRT expects some new faces making the playoffs.  We’ll go over the  basics first, and then consider the division races team-by-team.

AL EAST

The Red Sox added offense and depth and look positioned to once again make the trip from worst-to-first.  The Blue Jays, also active in the off-season,  should provide the toughest competition – led by newcomer Josh Donaldson.  The Orioles lost a couple of key offensive pieces (Nelson Cruz/Nick Markakis) and were pretty much non-participants in the off-season marketplace, which may put them out of the playoff picture.  New York has too many “age & injury” questions and Tampa Bay is short on offense – and likely will miss Joe Maddon in the dugout. Predicted order of finish:

Boston Red Sox

Toronto Blue Jays (Wild Card)

Baltimore Orioles

New York Yankees

Tampa Bay Rays

AL CENTRAL

Possibly the closest division (top-to-bottom) in all of baseball, the White Sox appear to have made all the right moves in the off season. Still, it wouldn’t surprise BBRT to see less than a dozen games separating these five teams at the end.   The White Sox added pitching and offense, while Detroit lost some key hurlers – paving the way for Chicago’s rise. Still, Detroit – behind David Price, Justin Verlander and Anibel Sanchez – may have enough to hold first place. The Royals, who had so much go right last year, seem unlikely to make another Cinderella run, but have enough talent to be in the hunt. Cleveland and Minnesota are good enough to cause problems for the top of the division, but do not appear ready to challenge Detroit and Chicago.  Predicted order of finish:

Chicago White Sox

Detroit Tigers

Kansas City Royals

Cleveland Indians

Minnesota Twins

AL WEST

The Angels and Mariners are the powerhouses – and LA will be hard pressed to hold off Seattle.  BBRT is picking LA, but this is an LA/Seattle toss-up – a lot may depend on Josh Hamilton’s performance when he returns to the Angels’ lineup. Oakland traded away too many All Stars in revamping their team. Houston is on the rise, but with a long way to go.  Texas has too many injury concerns – but, if healthy, could surprise.

Los Angeles Angels

Seattle Mariners (Wild Card)

Oakland A’s

Houston Astros

Texas Rangers

Now for the Awards:

MVP:  Mike Trout, Angels.

Contenders: Robinson Cano, Mariners; Jose Bautista, Blue Jays; Miguel Cabrera, Tigers; Jose Abreu, White Sox.

Cy Young Award: Felix Hernandez, Mariners.

Contenders: Chris Sale, White Sox; David Price, Tigers; Yorlando Ventura, Royals.

Rookie of the Year:  Rusney Castillo, Red Sox.

Contenders: Francisco Lindor, Indians; Steve Souza, Rays; Carlos Rodon, White Sox; Ryan Rua, Rangers.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Here’s a more detailed look at how BBRT sees the AL 2015 races.

 

AL EAST

First – Boston Red Sox

Big Papi should have plenty to smile about in 2015.

Big Papi should have plenty to smile about in 2015.

Worst – to first – to worst – to first again?  Three years ago, the Red Sox finished fifth in the East (26 games out), two years ago they topped the division and, last season, they dropped back to fifth (25 games out). It looks like they have put the pieces in place to get back to the top of the AL East in 2015.  Offensively, key additions include free agents Hanley Ramirez (slated to move from the infield to left field to accommodate the Red Sox’ depth) and 3B Pablo Sandoval.  Toss in the likes of DH David Ortiz, 2B Dustin Pedroia, rising star RF Mookie Betts, early Rookie of the Year favorite CF Rusney Castillo – and more – and the Red Sox have a solid, and deep, lineup. They also have considerable OF depth (Allen Craig, Shane Victorino, Danial Nava, Jackie Bradley, Jr.) from which to make a trade – particularly for pitching.

The rotation does not have a true ace, but with newcomers Rick Porcello (who won 15 games for the Tigers last year), Justin Masterson and Wade Miley joining Clay Bucholz and Joe Kelly – and a bullpen featuring closer Koji Uehara, Edward Mujica and Craig Breslow – it should be enough to bring Boston home on top in the East.  If any members of the projected rotation falter, prospect Anthony Renaudo is waiting in the wings.

Key question:  Which Clay Bucholz shows up – last year’s 8-11, 5.34 version or a healthy version of the 2013 All Star?

Red Sox Fact: Brock Holt provides the Sox protection around the Diamond. In 2014, he played 39 games at 3B, 35 in RF, 12 at SS, 11 at 2B, eight at 1B and eight in RF – hitting .281, with four homers, 29 RBI and 12 steals (finishing eighth in Rookie of the Year balloting).

Second – Toronto Blue Jays

Jose Bautista will again lead the Blule Jays offense.

Jose Bautista will again lead the Blule Jays offense.

Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays will count on their offense to take them to (or near) the top of the division.  The key to that offense will be new 3B Josh Donaldson – acquired in a trade with the Athletics.  Donaldson hit .255 with 29 home runs and 98 RBI in pitcher-friendly Oakland last season (after .301-23-93 in 2013). The 2014 All Star should find Rogers Centre to his liking.  There is plenty of power up and down the line up with RF Joe Bautista, 1B Edwin Encarnacion and free-agent newcomer Russell Martin behind the plate.   SS Jose Reyes will provide some speed at the top.

The pitching is not as strong as the offense – but is sound.  Four returning starters – R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchinson – were all double-digit winners a year ago.  The off-season trade of 11-game winner J.A. Happ opens the door for either Aaron Sanchez or Daniel Norris – two high-potential youngsters. The bull pen will likely be led by new closer (now that Casey Janssen has left via free agency) Brett Cecil and may include Sanchez if he doesn’t make the rotation (Sanchez has closer potential). Newcomer Marcus Estrada and Aaron Loup provide bullpen depth and a return to form by 2013 All Star Steve Delabar would be a plus.

Overall, it looks like the addition of Donaldson and Martin will enable the Jays to improve on their third-place finish of a year ago – grabbing a Wild Card spot or even unseating the Angels.

Key Question:  Will 22-year-old Dalton Pompey – who hit .231 in 17 late season games for the Jays – be able to handle the regular CF spot?  Pompey is a plus defender and hit .317 in three minor league stops a year ago.

Blue Jays Fact: The Blue Jays have MLB’s longest current post-season drought – having not earned a berth in the post-season since 1993.

Third – Baltimore Orioles

Basically non-participants in the off-season marketplace, the O’s will feel the loss of free agent outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.  In 2014 the pair combined for 54 home runs (25.5% of the O’s total)  and 158 RBI  (23.2% of the O’s total). Still, there are reasons for optimism: 1) The Orioles have Buck Showalter, who knows how to get the most out of his resources; 2) They did win the East by 12 games a year ago, so they have a bit of a cushion in the quest to repeat; 3) They have some players returning from injury who could close the offensive gap left by the Cruz/Markakis departures.

There is still the potential for a potent offense, with returnees CF Adam Jones and RF Steve Pearce.  A strong return from catcher Matt Weiters (Tommy John surgery). a rebound by Chris Davis (who hit 53 HRs just two seasons ago) and a year of good health from 3B Manny Machado (.278-12-32 in 82 games a year ago – knee surgery) could also boost the Orioles’ 2015 success.  The middle of the infield (SS J.J. Hardy and 2B Jonathan Schoop) is dependable and defense should remain a Baltimore strength.

Even without a true ace, starting pitching may be the Orioles’ “ace in the hole.” The rotation features four double-digit winners with 2014 ERAs under 3.75:  Chris Tillman; Wei-Yin Chen; Bud Norris; and Miguel Gonzalez. Closer Zach Britton (37 saves and a 1.65 ERA) will lead a bullpen that also features quality arms in the likes of Brian Matusz, Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter.

Baltimore will be in the hunt, but BBRT sees the Birds falling short of the post season.

Key Question: Will 1B Chris Davis rebound? Two years ago, Davis put up a .286-53-138 line. Last year, Davis declined to .196-26-72, struck out in 38.4 percent of his at bats and faced a 25-game suspension (positive test for amphetamines associated with the Adderall).

Orioles Fact:  Baltimore led all of MLB in home runs in 2014 (211) and has topped 200 dingers in three straight seasons.

Fourth – New York Yankees

There’s trouble coming to the Big Apple – Jeter is gone, as is closer Dave Robertson (free agency) and starter Huroki Kuroda, who led the team in games started (32) in 2014.  The Yankees still do have some big names (and a big payroll), but that is both a blessing (proven players) and a curse (age and injury concerns). Among the starting nine, it’s possible incoming shortstop Didi Gregorius (trade with Arizona) will be the only player under 30.  The 24-year-old will be a defensive improvement over Jeter, but still is a work in progress at the plate (.226-6-27 in 80 games for Arizona).   The fact is, the Yankees have plenty of question marks in the expected line-up.  In the outfield 37-year-old Carlos Beltran is coming off one of his worst seasons ever (and elbow surgery). First baseman Mark Teixeira hit only .216 and will be spelled by newcomer Garrett Jones. While C Brian McCann contributed 23 home runs and 75 RBI, his .232 batting average was 40 points below his career average.  There are bright spots.  CF Jacob Ellsbury and LF Brett Gardner delivered power and speed as expected. Switch-hitting 3B Chase Headley continued to flash a solid glove – although it’s unlikely he will ever match his 31-homer, 115-RBI campaign of 2012 (the only season he’s topped 13 home runs).

On the mound, particularly given Kuroda’s departure, the Yankees need healthy seasons from Masahiro Tanaka (13-5, 2.77 in a season interrupted by an elbow injury) and oft-sidelined Michael Pineda. A healthy C.C. Sabathia (coming off knee surgery) would significantly improve the Yankees’ outlook.  Other likely starters are former Marlin Nathan Eovaldi, whose upper 90s fastball offers significant promise, 36-year-old Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova (coming off Tommy John surgery). In the bullpen, 6’ 8” flamethrower Dellin Betances looks ready to step into Robertson’s closer shoes. The Yankees added quality to the pen with free agent Andrew Miller. David Carpenter, Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers and Justin Wilson give the Yankees plenty to choose from in filling out the relief corps.

Looking at the roster, it’s hard to see the Yankees being a factor in 2015.

Key Question:  Will Alex Rodriguez be back and, if so, what will the 39-year-old have left in the tank?

Yankee Fact:  In 2014, the Yankees were the only AL team to not have a single player receive a vote in either the MVP or Cy Young Award balloting.   (Note: While Tampa Bay’s final roster did not include vote-getters in either category, CYA votes did go to David Price, who played the majority of his games with Tampa before the trade to Detroit).

Fifth – Tampa Bay Rays

If you’re going to examine the Rays, you have to start with their strength – the pitching – because offensively there just isn’t a whole lot to talk about.  Let’s look at the Rays’ rotation.  While they are missing a bonafide number-one guy – thanks to last year’s in-season David Price trade – the Rays have three starters who could fit into the number-two or number-three role on most teams: Alex Cobb; Chris Archer; and Jake Ordozzi.  By mid-season, the Rays hope to have Matt Moore back from Tommy John surgery. Moore, 17-4, 3.29 in 2013, would slide into the number-one spot. Backing up the rotation is a bullpen led by Bryan Boxberger, pressed into the closer’s role due to Jake McGee’s off-season elbow surgery.  McGee went 5-2, 1.89 with 19 saves and 90 strikeouts in 71 1.3 innings last season – and should return sometime in May.

The Rays offense was 27th in runs scored a year ago, and little was done to address the problem.  In fact, potential offense was traded away when 2013 Al Rookie of the Year Wil Myers was sent to San Diego as part of a three-team multi-player trade and two-time All Star 2B Ben Zobrist (arguably the face of the franchise) was sent (along with SS Yunel Escobar) to the A’s for C/DH John Jaso, prospects and cash. Escobar will be replaced by free agent signee Asdrubel Cabrera, who should be an upgrade. What qualifies as the heart of the Rays’ offense beats through 3B Evan Longoria (.253-22-91). James Loney is steady at 1B, possessing a good glove, but lacking the power you expect from a corner infielder (.290-9-69). Similarly, CF Desmond Jennings appears slotted into the leadoff spot, but doesn’t get on base at the rate you expect at the top of the order. The other two OF spots will likely go to Steven Souza and Kevin Kiermaier.

The Rays starting pitching will keep them in games, and could bring them home as high as third place.  But there just isn’t enough offense to get them into the post-season.  Souza (picked up in a trade) could surprise. In three 2014 minor league stops, Souza hit .345-18-88, with 26 steals. He was voted the International League’s (AAA) Rookie of the Year AND Most Valuable Player.  At the major league level, Souza went only 3-for-23 with the Nationals – although two of his hits were home runs.

Key Question: How much will the Rays miss previous manager Joe Maddon’s 11 years of managerial experience (twice AL Manager of the Year).  Maddon’s replaecment 37-year-old Kevin Cash (former major league catcher and Indians bullpen coach) has no managerial experience.

Rays Fact: The Rays’ 96 double plays in 2014 are the lowest total ever in a 162-game season.

AL CENTRAL

First – Chicago White Sox

Wow!  No really, wow!  The White Sox are poised to make the jump from fourth place to first in the AL Central – and they did it with a combination of free agent signings, trades and the development of home-grown talent.

Chris Sale - an early Cy Young award favorite - will lead the Sox' rotation.

Chris Sale – an early Cy Young award favorite – will lead the Sox’ rotation.

Consider the rotation.  It’s led by potential Cy Young winner Chris Sale (the Sox first- round pick in 2010) and Jeff Samardzija (picked up in an off-season trade with the Athletics). The number-three spot goes to Jose Quintana, with John Danks and Hector Noesi likely to round out the starting five.  Waiting in the wings, but needing a little more seasoning, is the Sox’ 2014 first-round draft pick Carlos Rondon.  The 22-year-old moved from Rookie League to AAA in his first minor league season – and could find his way into the rotation some time this season.  The bull pen – a trouble spot last season – is in good hands for 2015, led by free-agent signee closer David Robertson, who saved 39 games for the Yankees.  The Sox also added a solid set up man (again through free agency) in Zach Duke.  These two moves will enable the Sox to develop the bull pen roles (last season, three different relievers each reached double-digits in save opportunities for the Sox, who had 21 blown saves).

Chicago also upgraded its offense, adding free agents Melky Cabrera (OF) and Adam LaRoche (DH) to complement Rookie of the Year 1B Jose Abreu (.317-36-107), RF Avisail Garcia, SS Alexei Ramirez and top-of-the-order catalyst CF Adam Eaton. The Sox also added flexibility to the roster, signing free agent Emilio Bonifacio, who hit .259 in 119 games last season (Cubs/Braves) – and spent time at all three outfield spots, as well as second base, third base and shortstop.

They also picked up left-hander Dan Jennings – 0-2 with a 1.34 ERA in 47 appearances in 2014 – in a trade with Miami.  BBRT Note:  The Jennings acquisition might not have the impact of some of the other ChiSox moves, but I wanted to include it so I could point out that LHP Dan Jennings was traded away by Marlins GM Dan Jennings (no relation).

Key Question:  What kind of season will Avasail Garcia (torn labrum early in 2014) put up? Garcia showed promise in 2013 (.304-5-21 in 42 games), but did not fare as well in the injury-interrupted 2014 campaign (.244-7-29 in 46 games).  Garcia did hit .312 with power in the Venezuelan League and has been labeled by some as the most underrated hitter in the Sox line-up.

White Sox Fact: Chris Sale is only the fourth White Sox pitcher to record two consecutive 200 strikeout seasons (226 in 2013/208 in 2014). The others are Javier Vazquez (2007-08); Tom Bradley (1971-72); and Ed Walsh (1907-08 & three consecutive 1910-12).

Second – Detroit Tigers

The Tigers need a healthy Miguel Cabrera to win the Central.

The Tigers need a healthy Miguel Cabrera to win the Central.

The Tigers added some offense, but may have lost/given up too much pitching to finish atop the division.  The key loss was Max Scherzer (18-5, 3.15), who signed with the Nationals.  In addition, they gave up 15-game winner Rick Porcello in the trade for outfielder Yeonis Cespedes (22 HRs and 100 RBI for Oakland/Boston a year ago). The Tigers went right to work to replace Porcello – via a trade with the Reds – adding Cincinnati’s 15-game winner Alfredo Simon to the roster.  Still, Simon is 33-years-old and has only 51 starts in seven major league seasons, so he is not a sure thing.  Detroit also picked up right-hander Shane Greene from the Yankees (as part of a three-team deal also involving the Diamondbacks). Greene, the Yankees’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013, is considered to have a high ceiling.  And, keep in mind, the Tigers still have David Price, Justin Verlander and Anibel Sanchez in the rotation.

The bullpen – which had the AL’s highest batting-average against last season (.270) remains a question mark.  Closer Joe Nathan had 35 saves, but also a league-leading seven blown saves and a 4.81 ERA. Others in the pen are likely to include Joakim Soria, Joel Hanrahan, Al Alburquerque and promising youngster Bruce Rondon.

The offense still looks potent, with hitting machine 3B Miguel Cabrera, DH Victor Martinez, 2B Ian Kinsler, LF J.D. Martinez  and Cespedes providing plenty of power (a combined 114 home runs in 2014). Defense up the middle should be improved with the return of Jose Iglesias at shortstop, Alex Avila at catcher and the addition of CF Anthony Gose (via trade).

So why not pick the Tigers to repeat?  Three reasons – the suspect bullpen, questions about Verlander and, finally,  injury concerns. 1B Miguel Carbrera had ankle surgery in the off-season; DH Victor Martinez had knee surgery; SS Jose Iglesias missed all of 2014 with stress fractures in his shins; C Alex Avila has suffered multiple concussions; relievers Bruce Rondon and Joel Hanrahan have had recent elbow surgeries (2014 and 2013, respectively) and starter Anibel Sanchez’ 2014 season was injury-shortened.  Lots of talent, but also lots of potential for problems – likely to bring the Tigers home in second place.

Key Question:  Can Justin Verlander reverse a trend that has seen his ERA increase in each of the past four seasons (from 2.40 in 2011 to 4.54 in 2014) and his strikeouts per nine-innings drop from 9.0 to 6.9 in the same time span.

Tigers Fact: The Tigers appear to have turned up the speed dial.  In 2014, the Tigers stole 106 bases, fourth in the AL.  In 2013, Detroit stole only 35 bases – the lowest total in all of MLB.

Third – Kansas City Royals

A lot of things went right for the Royals in 2014 – in both the regular season and the post season.  After the departure free agents James Shields, Billy Butler and Nori Aoki, they’d have to go even better for Kansas City to make the post season in 2015.  Still, the Royals 2014 success was based on a blend of speed, defense and pitching (particularly the bullpen) – and there is still considerable talent in those areas.

The offense will be led by returnees LF Alex Gordon (a team-leading 19 home runs and  74 RBI a year ago); 3B Mike Moustakas; C Salvador Perez; and CF Lorenzo Cain.  The Royals are hoping free-agent signees Kendry Morales and Alex Rios (who both had off-seasons in 2014) can rebound and replace Butler and Noaki. The defense will be there again with the Royals boasting plus defenders nearly all around the field.

On the mound, KC will miss Shields, but 23-year-old Yorlando Ventura (14-10, 3.20 a year ago) seems ready to step into the number-one rotation spot. Number-two in the rotation cpould very well be Danny Duffy (9-12, with a 2.53 ERA).  Rounding out the rotation are veterans Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie and free-agent signee Edison Volquez. The bullpen is one of the best in baseball, led by closer Greg Holland (46 saves and a 1.44 ERA in 2014) – who is preceded to the mound by the likes of Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Luke Hochevar.  How good can the pen be?  In 2014, the Royals were 65-4 when going into the seventh inning with a lead.

Kansas City has enough going for it to stay in the chase, but Detroit and Chicago may be just a bit better.

Key Question: Will either corner infielder (1B Eric Hosmer/3B Mike Moustakas) have the breakout season the Royals have been waiting for?

Kansas City Fact:  The numbers show the Royals focus getting the ball in play and making something happen. In 2014, Kansas City recorded the AL’s fewest walks and the fewest batters’ strikeouts – as well as the league’s fewest HRs and most stolen bases.

Fourth – Cleveland Indians

The Indians notched 85 wins a year ago with a combination of strong pitching, acceptable (but not spectacular) offense and – unfortunately – a defense that led all of MLB in errors (118).  BBRT expects more of the same in 2015 and, even if the defense improves, the Tigers and White Sox will still outpace the Tribe – which had a quiet offseason.

The offense will again be led by LF Michael Brantley (.327-20-94), with support in the power department from 1B/DH Carlos Santana (27 home runs), C Yan Gomes (21 home runs) and free-agent signee Brandon Moss (25 HRs for Oakland). Cleveland could use a rebound season from 2B Jason Kipnis (who went from .284-17-94 in 2013 to .240-6-41 last season) and DH Nick Swisher (who had knee surgery in August).

The pitching staff looks to be in better shape than the offense, with Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber (18-9, 2.44) leading the way.  The remainder of the rotation will be drawn from Carlos Carrasco (who had a strong second half), Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, T.J. House, Gavin Floyd, Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin.  The Indians’ rotation logged a second-half ERA under 3.00 in 2014 – and the Indians are counting on that to be a portent of things to come.  The bullpen should be a strength again in 2015, led by closer Cody Allen (24 saves and 91 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings). Last season Allen, Bryan Shaw, Scott Atchinson and Marc Rzepczynski (love that name on a uniform) all made at least 70 appearances – and manager Terry Francona can be expected to work the bullpen (effectively) again in 2015.

The Indians have the talent to be above .500 again, but – unless they can tighten the defense – will also find themselves once again out of the post season.

Key Question:  Is Brandon Moss fully recovered from off-season hip surgery, and where will he play (RF/1B/DH)? Note: In 2015, Moss hit .268, with 21 home runs and 66 RBI in 89 games before the All Star break, but just .173-4-15 in 58 games after the break.

Indians Fact: Despite an 85-77 season, just three games out of a Wild Card spot, the Indians drew 1,437,393 at home last season – the worst home attendance in all of MLB.

Fifth – Minnesota Twins

The Twins suffered their fourth consecutive season of 90 or more losses in 2014 – and starting pitching was the club’s most significant weakness.  The rotation rang up a 5.06 ERA, the worst in all of MLB, while the team’s 715 runs scored were seventh-best  in MLB and fifth in the AL.

The Twins worked to address their pitching needs by signing free agent Ervin Santana (a 14-game winner for the Braves in 2014).  He joins 16-game winner Phil Hughes at the top of the rotation. The remainder of the rotation will likely be drawn from Ricky Nolasco (who pitched with a sore elbow early in the season and then came back from the disabled list to record a 2.93 ERA in five September outings) and 13-game winner Kyle Gibson.  Candidates for the final spot include Tommy Milone, Mike Pelfrey and prospects Alex Meyer and Trevor May.  The bullpen will again be led by closer Glen Perkins (34 saves), with a supporting cast likely to include Casey Fien, Brian Duensing, and Caleb Thielbar.  The Twins could use some power arms there.

Offensively, the Twins show signs of life.  2B Brian Dozier hit 23 home runs and stole 21 bases. Danny Santana CF/SS hit .319 in 101 games, 3B Trevor Plouffe provided 14 home runs and 80 RBI, OF Oswaldo Arcia started to live up to his promise (20 homers) and Kenny Vargas looks poised to do some damage from the DH slot. In addition, the Twins added free agent RF Torii Hunter (returning to the Twins from the Tigers), who is a professional hitter (.286-17-83) and a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. Still, how well the Twins go may be determined by three-time batting champion 1B Joe Mauer, a career .319 hitter, who hit only .277 last year. The Twins need a rebound from the hometown favorite.

The Twins of 2015 will be improved, much more competitive, but not ready challenge for a playoff spot.  If all goes right – Nolasco and Mauer return to form, Arcia and Vargas continue to develop and Hunter provides the expected leadership, the Twins could push .500 and make things difficult for Central Division competitors – and the Twins have some big-time prospects in the pipeline, so it shouldn’t be long until fans see meaningful September baseball.

Key Question:  When will the Twins fans see OF Byron Buxton and 3B Miguel Sano, two of baseball’s top prospects?  The pair is sure to generate plenty of offense and excitement once they move to the big club.

Twins Fact: In 2014, Twins’ right-hander Phil Hughes walked just 16 batters, while fanning 186 (in 209 2/3 innings).  That 11.63 strikeout to walk ratio is a modern MLB record.

AL WEST

First – Los Angeles Angels

The Angels led all of MLB in regular-season wins a year ago and should contend again this year.  In fact, they may have enough to hold off the fast-charging Mariners in the AL West.

2014 MVP Mike Trout hopes to lead the Angels in a West Division repeat.

2014 MVP Mike Trout hopes to lead the Angels in a West Division repeat.

Offensively, the Angels will look to 2014 MVP CF Mike Trout to lead the way – he’ll be flanked in the outfield by lead-off hitter Kole Calhoun (who hit .272 and scored 90 runs in just 127 games) and (early in the season) Matt Joyce. LF Josh Hamilton may miss the first four to six weeks of the season following shoulder surgery. 1B Albert Pujols remains in the clean-up spot, but he is 34 and showing signs of wear (.272-28-105 in 2014). Pujols, however, is still one of the game’s most reliable run producers.  The Angels will have to replace 2B Howie Kendrick’s team-leading 181 hits, but the Angels did lead all of MLB in runs scored last season, and the line-up hasn’t changed that much, so they should be okay.

Starting pitching will again be an Angels’ strong point (and the key to holding off the Mariners). Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker, Garrett Richards and C.J. Wilson combined for 60 wins a year ago (although knee surgery will delay the start of Richards’ season).  Andrew Heaney (picked up in the Kendrick trade) is considered a top prospect.  Others in in the running for a rotation spot are Hector Santiago and Nick Tropeano. The bullpen is solid, led by closer Houston Street (41 saves, 1.37 ERA for the Dodgers and Angels in 2014), with support from free-agent signee and key set-up man Joe Smith, Fernando Salas and Kevin Jepsen.

The Angels may have just enough to retain the AL West title – but it will be a horse race.

Key Question:  How soon will OF Josh Hamilton and SP Garrett Richards return?  These are key cogs in the Angel machine.

Angels Fact: In three full MLB seasons, Mike Trout has never finished lower than second in the AL MVP voting.

Second – Seattle Mariners

It should be an exciting season in Seattle, with a well-balanced Mariners squad making it to the post season – and, perhaps, even knocking the Angels off the top spot in the AL West.

A stronger line-up may bring Seattle a division title and FelixHernandez a Cy Young Award.

A stronger line-up may bring Seattle a division title and Felix Hernandez a Cy Young Award.

The Mariners made one of the biggest free agent moves of the off season, signing AL home run champ Nelson Cruz (Orioles) – whose bat (.271-40-108) will slide nicely into the DH role and cleanup spot for the Mariners.  And, Cruz will be surrounded by power, with 2B Robinson Cano and 3B Kyle Seager likely to hit in the number-three and number-five spots, respectively.  The Mariners’ outfield will be revamped for 2015 – and we may see some notable platooning.  Candidates include: Dustin Ackley (14 HRs/8 steals), James Jones (27 steals in 108 games), Austin Jackson and newcomers Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano.

The rotation looks solid, starting with 2014 AL ERA champ and perennial Cy Young Award candidate Felix Hernandez.  Hisashi Iwakuma won 15 games last year and is a solid number-two. Then there are a host of talented young hurlers – James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Reonis Elias – not to mention off-season pickup (via trade) J.A. Happ, an 11-game winner for the Blue Jays last season.  In the pen, closer Fernando Rodney sometimes creates excitement via the base on balls, but he did save 48 games in 51 opportunities. The rest of the pen has shown the ability to get the big strikeout when needed.

The Mariners appear ready to make the post season and possibly move the Angels off the top of the AL West.

Key Question:  Can the Mariners improve young (24-years-old) C Mike Zunino’s plate patience? In 2014, he hit 22 home runs – but walked only 17 times, while striking out 158 and hitting .199.

Mariners Fact: The Mariners made the fewest errors in the AL last season (82) – one fewer than their main AL West competition – the Angels.

Third – Oakland A’s

Another WOW! (See the White Sox write up.)  Gone from the Oakland A’s are 2014 All Stars 3B Josh Donaldson, P Jon Lester, OF/1B Brandon Moss, C/DH Derek Norris and P Jeff Samardzija (voted to the NL 2014 All Star team before being traded to the A’s), as well as P Jason Hammel, SS Jed Lawrie, OF Jonny Gomes, IF Alberto Callaspo and C John Jaso.   In their place are 2014 All Star reliever Tyler Clippard, as well as 1B/DH Billy Butler, 2B/OF Ben Zobrist, 3B Brett Lawrie, 1B Ike Davis, IF Marcus Semien, and SP Jesse Hahn.

Ultimately, Billy Beane has dismantled 2014’s AL Wild Card team and put together a markedly different lineup for 2015 (the pitching remains more stable).  Still, there is potential here (as well as plenty of positional flexibility) – and Beane always seems to have a plan.  The A’s will look for offensive punch from Butler at DH (.271-9-66 for the Royals); Zobrist (.272-10-52 for Tampa Bay), Lawrie (.247-12-38 in 70 games for Toronto); and Davis (.233-11-51 for the Mets/Pirates) – and have hopes that Semien will blossom.

Ultimately, the A’s will go as far as their pitching takes them.  The rotation will be led by Sonny Gray (14-10, 3.07) and Scott Kazmir (15-9, 3.55). Jesse Hahn went 7-4, 3.07 with the Padres last year and looks like the real deal.  Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz and Chris Bassitt will compete for the final two spots, but their run likely will be temporary, as the A’s are hoping for mid-season returns (Tommy John surgery) by A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker, who went a combined 26-18 in 2013 (but did not pitch in 2014).  Sean Doolittle (22 saves) will close, supported by Clippard, Ryan Cook, Dan Otero and Eric O’Flaherty.

Overall, the starting rotation looks sound (especially if Parker and Griffin return as expected) and the bullpen has potential. However, the offense looks thin in the power department – and there is the question of how well (or how soon) all the new faces will gel.  Billy Beane, however, has proven the skeptics wrong in the past.  Still, BBRT thinks a third-place finish is giving the A’s the benefit of the doubt.

Key Question:  Will Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin return on schedule and in-form –  and will that free up Beane for even more moves mid-season?

A’s Fact:  In 2014, the A’s drew the most walks in the AL (586), while A’s hurlers gave up the second-fewest walks (406).

Fourth – Houston Astros

The Astros delivered a 19-win improvement in 2014, and should improve again – although not enough to contend – in 2015.  They have some exciting young players in place, and more on the horizon.  Key to the Houston offense are returnees 2B Jose Altuve (the 25-year-old captured the AL batting title, hitting .341 and collecting 225 hits, while also stealing an AL-best 56 bases), DH Chris Carter (37 home runs), RF George Springer (20 home runs in 78 games) and newcomers C/OF Evan Gattis (22 home runs in 108 games with the Braves) and Colby Rasmus (18 home runs in 104 games for the Blue Jays).  Newcomer Jed Lawrie is also expected to provide some pop from the shortstop position. The Astros will still strikeout a lot, but the offense should be improved.

The starting rotation will be led by the left-right combination of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, who combined for 54 starts, 23 wins and a 2.84 ERA in 2014. The third spot in the rotation likely goes to Scott Feldman (8-12, 3.74). After that, the most likely candidates being Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock. Relief pitching should be improved with the addition of free agents Pat Neshek (7-2, 1.87, 6 saves for the Cardinals) and anticipated closer Luke Gregerson (5-5, 2.12 in 72 games for the A’s).  There is support available from among former closer Chad Qualls, Josh Fields, Tony Sipp and Will Harris.

The Astros look to be better in 2015 (following up on a 19-victory improvement in 2014) – and could reach the .500 mark if the back end of the rotation can surprise and the relief staff delivers as expected.

Key Question: What will the Astros get from the corner infield positions?  In 2014, 1B Jon Singleton, a major power-hitting prospect, delivered 13 home runs in 95 games – but hit only .168 and struck out 134 times in 310 at bats.  On the opposite corner, 3B Matt Dominguez turned in a .215-16-57 line – after .214-21-77 in 2013.

Houston Fact:  In 2014, the free-swinging Astros finished fourth in the AL in home runs, but 14th in runs scored.  (That may be partially attributable to their league-leadership in batters’ strikeouts.)

Fifth – Texas Rangers

If they get healthy, the Rangers have a chance to make some noise – and prove this prediction w-a-a-y wrong –  in 2015.  Last season, they plummeted to last place in the AL West – and the fewest wins in the junior circuit – driven at least in part by injuries.  RF Sin Soo Choo (ankle/elbow), 1B Prince Fielder (neck), SP Yu Darvish (elbow), SP Derek Holland (knee surgery) and DH Mitch Moreland (ankle) – all missed time in 2014.  The Rangers need these players to return  healthy.

The offense should again be led by 3B Adrian Beltre, who not only delivered a .324-19-77 line in 2014, but is a four-time Gold Glover at the hot corner. 1B Prince Fielder is coming back from neck surgery that limited him to 42 games in 2014, but is only one year removed from a 162-game, 25-home run, 106-RBI season (Detroit, 2013). RF Sin Soo Choo delivered .242-13-48 in 123 games, but topped 20 home runs as recently as 2013. Also expected to contribute are speedy CF Leonys Martin (31 steals) in the lead off spot and C Robinson Chirinos (13 homers in 92 games). A rebound from SS Elvis Andrus would also help and likely LF Ryan Rau has hit wherever he has played and went .295-2-14 in a 28-game call up.  All in all, there is solid offense available.

The pitching will be led by Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, who both missed time in 2014. The remainder of the rotation looks to be Ross Detwiler, Colby Lewis and Nick Tepesch. Matt Harrison and Martin Perez – both coming back from surgery – should be available in the second half. The bullpen features closer Neftali Perez  (13 saves – after recovery from Tommy John surgery), Tanner Scheppers (elbow injury last spring), Kyuji Fujikawa (Tommy John surgery 2013), Shawn Tolleson (2.76 ERA in 64 games) and Martin Perez.

If the stars align – and return to the field healthy – the Rangers could climb as high as third place.  There seems, however, to be too many questions to expect that.

Key Question:  What does the future hold for once top prospect Jurickson Profar, who missed all of 2014 with a major shoulder injury and should start 2015 in the minors?

Rangers Fact: Texas had notched four consecutive seasons of at least 90 wins before dropping to 67 in 2014.

 

Coming soon – a look at the National League.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

photos by: jbrownell & , , , , ,

Hall of Famers Who Went Out On Top – As World Series Champions

When Pedro Martinez is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this coming July,  he will join a “club within a club” made up of the ten Hall of Famers who went out on top – pitching to their last major league hitter or taking their last major league at bat while playing on MLB’s biggest stage,  in the World SeriesWithin that group, there is an even more unique set of players – just three – who retired as World Champions, all three making their last trip to the plate for a World Series winner. 

BBRT will take a look at just how those players finished up their careers, but – for those in a hurry – here’s the list without the detail.

Hall of Fame players who made their final major league appearance for a World Series winner:

  • Joe DiMaggio – 1951 New York Yankees
  • Johnny Mize – 1953 New York Yankees
  • Eddie Mathews – 1968 Detroit Tigers

Then there are the seven additional Hall of Famers who came to the plate or went to the mound for their final major league appearance in the World Series, but whose teams did not come away champions:

  • Frank “Home Run” Baker – 1922 Yankees
  • Bill Terry – 1936 Giants
  • Travis Jackson – 1936 Giants
  • Jackie Robinson – 1956 Dodgers
  • Sandy Koufax – 1966 Dodgers
  • Willie Mays – 1973 Mets
  • Pedro Martinez – 2009 Phillies

The fact that seven of the ten players who finished their MLB playing careers in the World Series come from the Yankees, Giants or Dodgers should be  no surprise; those teams represent three of the top four franchises in terms of World Series appearances:

  1. Yankees … 40 World Series/27 Championships
  2. Cardinals … 19 World Series/11 Championships
  3. Giants … 19 World Series/7 Championships
  4. Dodgers … 18 World Series/6 Championships

Now let’s look at the list of players who went out on top.  First, the three whose final appearances earned them World Series Championship rings. 

Joe DiMaggio (The Yankee Clipper) – Hall of Fame 1955

xx JNoe DimAggioLast major league appearance: With the Yankees, October 10, 1951; Game Six of the World Series (versus the New York Giants)

What can you say about the Joe DiMaggio?  He was indeed a “champion.” He came in a champion as a Yankee rookie in 1936 – manning center field for every game of the all-New York World Series, as the Yankees topped the Giants in six games.  And, he retired as a champion – manning center field in every game as the Yankees (fittingly) again topped the Giants in six. In between those bookends, DiMaggio played in eight more World Series – with his Yankees winning seven of them.  In a total of 51 World Series games, DiMaggio hit .271, with eight home runs and 30 RBI.

How well was Joltin’ Joe seeing the ball during his record hitting streak?

In 1941, Joe DiMaggio ran off a still MLB-record 56-game hitting streak.  During the streak DiMaggio went 91-for-223 (.408) with 15 home runs and 55 RBI.  How well was he seeing the ball?  In the 56 games, DiMaggio struck out only five times.

DiMaggio was an All Star in each of his 13 MLB seasons (1936-42 & 1946-51, in a career interrupted by three years of military service).  He was a three-time AL Most Valuable Player (1939, 1941, 1947) and a two-time batting champ (1939, 1940).  He also led the AL in home runs (twice), triples (once), runs (one) and RBI (twice) – compiling a .325 lifetime batting average, with 361 home runs and 1,537 RBI.

DiMaggio’s final plate appearance in the major leagues produced an extra base hit – a stand-up double to tight center, with DiMaggio gliding gracefully into second base –  in Game Six (final game) of the 1951 World Series.  It came in the eighth inning off New York Giants’ right-hander Larry Jansen, who had led the NL with 23 victories during the season.  It was the sixth hit of the Series for the Yankee Clipper, who hit .261, with one home run and five RBI for the Series.

Johnny Mize (The Big Cat) – Hall of Fame 1982

zxx Johnny Mize54Last major league appearance: With the New York Yankees, October 5, 1953; Game Seven of the World Series (versus the Brooklyn Dodgers)

Johnny Mize hit 359 home runs in a 15-season big league career that was interrupted for three years of military service.  (Mize played in the majors from 1936-42 and 1946-53.)  He was a ten-time All Star who led his league at least once in most major categories:  doubles (once); triples (once); home runs (four times); batting average (once); runs scored (once); RBI (three times); total bases (three times). In 1947, while with the New York Giants (Mize played for the Cardinals, Giants and Yankees in his career), Mize hit .302, leading the league in home runs (51), runs scored (137) and RBI (138).

Injuries and age slowed Mize, who was traded by the Giants to the Yankees in 1949 (at age 36).  Mize proved valuable as a part-time player and pinch-hitter, helping the Yankees win five straight World Championships during his years with the team (1949-53). Mize, in fact, was the star of the 1955 Series, when he played in five of the seven games: hitting a pinch hit home run in the ninth inning of Game Three; going 2-for-3, with a home run and a double as the starting first baseman in Game Four; hitting a three-run homer in Game Five; and picking up a pair of hits and an RBI in Game Seven. Overall, Mize hit .400 for the Series, with three home runs and six RBI.

 How good was Johnny Mize when it came to bat control?

In 1947, Johnny Mize rapped 51 home runs, but struck out only 42 times.  He is still the only player to have a season of  50+ homers and less than 50 strikeouts.  The next season, Mize proved it 1947 was no fluke, hitting 40 home runs and fanning only 37 times.

So what about Mize’s final MLB appearance?  It came in the eighth inning of Game Seven of the 1953 Series.  With the Yankees up 2-1, the 40-year-old Mize was called upon to pinch hit for Yankee starting first baseman Joe Collins (with two on and two out). Mize, facing Dodgers’ reliever Clem Labine, grounded out to first. Mize went 0-for-3 as a pinch hitter in the Series, but he still retired a World Champion.

Eddie Mathews – Hall of Fame 1978

xx Eddie MathewsLast major league appearance: With the Detroit Tigers, October 6, 1968; Game Four of the World Series (versus the Saint Louis Cardinals)

The left-handed hitting Eddie Mathews was an All Star at third base in nine of his seventeen seasons – during which he hit .271 with 512 home runs (twice leading the NL) and drove in 1,453 runs.  He also led the NL in walks four times and on-base-percentage once.  He hit 493 of his round trippers as a Brave – and Mathews and fellow HOFer Hank Aaron hit more home runs while teammates (863) than any other pair in MLB history. Mathews chose a Milwaukee Braves’ cap for his HOF induction.  No surprise there, Mathews played for the Braves during their last season in Boston (1952), for all 13 seasons they were in Milwaukee and for their first season in Atlanta (1966) – the only player to take the field for the Braves in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta.  Mathews last MLB at bat, however, did not come with the Braves, or even in the National League.  His final trip to the plate came in a Detroit Tigers uniform – during the 1968 World Series.

How sweet was Eddie Mathews swing?

None other than the great Ty Cobb once said, “I’ve only known three or four perfect swings in my time. This lad has one of them.”

Before making it to Detroit, Mathews made a stop in Houston. Mathews was nearing the end of his career as the 1966 season closed. His output had dropped from 23 home runs and 95 RBI in 1965 to just 16 homers and 53 RBI in 1966.  In the off season, the Braves acquired third baseman Clete Boyer from the Yankees and sent Mathews to the Houston Astros – where he didn’t stay long (but long enough to hit his 500th homer run – this one off another future HOFer, Juan Marichal).  In mid-August of that year, the Detroit Tigers, in the middle of a pennant race and having lost starting third baseman Don Wert to injury, picked up Mathews in a trade with the Astros. Tiger manager Mayo Smith indicated they were looking at Mathews not only for his ability to fill in at third base, but also for his veteran leadership down the stretch.  Mathews played in 36 games for Detroit (3B/1B/PH), hitting .231 with six homers and 19 RBI, as the Tiger finished just one game behind the Red Sox.  Mathews was still with the Tigers as they won the AL title in 1968 – primarily playing first base in an injury-interrupted season.  In that final campaign, he hit .212, with 3 homers and 8 RBI in 31 games.

Now for that MLB final at bat. Mathews played in only two games in the 1968 World Series.  Leading off the eighth inning of Game One, he pinch hit for Don Wert and became strikeout victim number 14 in the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson’s World Series record-setting 17-strikeout performance.  (The Tigers lost 4-0.)  Mathews’ final major league plate appearance came at Tiger Stadium on October 6, with Gibson back on the mound for the Cardinals. Mathews, fittingly, started his final game at the position he manned for so long – third base. Gibson was again masterful, giving up just one run (five hits, two walks, ten strikeouts) in an 8-1 Cardinal victory. Mathews, however, held his own – going 1-for-2 (single and a popup) before drawing an eighth-inning walk in his last ever major league plate appearance. Detroit went on to win the Series four games to three – and Mathews ended his career a World Series Champion.

DiMaggio, Mize and Mathews, there are your three Hall of Famers who went out as World Series Champions.  Now, let’s look at the seven HOFers, who came so close – finishing their careers in the World Series, just not coming away with that championship ring.

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Frank “Home Run” Baker – Hall of Fame 1955

Last major league appearance: With the New York Yankees, October 6, 1922; Game Three of the World Series (versus the New York Giant).

Frank “Home Run” Baker’s reputation as a power hitter became so ingrained that he remains better known as Home Run Baker than Frank Baker. He earned his nickname in the 1911 World Series, when he hit a game-winning, two-run home run in Game Two (as Baker’s Philadelphia Athletics beat the New York Giants 3-1) and then rapped a game-tying home run in the ninth inning of Game Three (which the Athletic won 3-2 in eleven innings). BBRT note:  These home runs were especially meaningful, as only three home runs were hit in the entire Series – won by the Athletics in six games – and Baker’s 11 regular-season home runs led the American League in 1911.

Notably, Baker went on to prove himself worthy of the “Home Run” nickname – leading the AL in home runs not only in 1911, but also 1912, 1913 and 1914.  He also led the league in RBI in 1912 and 1913.  Regarded as one of the top power hitters of his era, Baker not only led the league in home runs four times, but hit over .300 six times, three times topped 100 RBI and twice scored more than 100 runs.  Baker finished his 13-season MLB career with a .307 average, 96 home runs and 987 RBI.  He played with the Philadelphia Athletics from 1908-1914 and with the New York Yankees (1916-1919 and 1921-22.)  BBRT note:  Baker was out of major league baseball in 1915 due to a contract dispute with Connie Mack, who then sold Baker’s contract to the Yankees.  Baker also sat out the 1920 season due to a family tragedy.

Ironically, in his final two seasons, “Home Run” Baker was a teammate of the game’s newest premier power hitter, one who would change the game and the record books (and also be better known by his nickname) – Babe Ruth.

How did Frank Home Run Baker respond to pressure?

In six World Series (25 games), Baker hit .363 with three home runs and 18 RBI.

Baker got only one at bat in that 1922 Series (in which the Giants Swept the Yankees in four games), grounding out to first as a pinch hitter (for pitcher Waite Hoyt) leading off the eighth inning of Game Three.

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Travis Jackson (Stonewall) – Hall of Fame 1982

Bill Terry (Memphis Bill) – Hall of Fame 1954

Last major league appearance(s): For the New York Giants, October 6, 1936; Game Six (final game) of the World Series (versus the New York Yankees)

BBRT put these two Hall of Famers together because they took their last major league swings in the final game of a World Series – for the same team on the same day.

Giants’ first baseman Bill Terry’s last at bat came in the eighth inning of the final game of the 1936 World Series, against Yankee right-hander Johnny Murphy (9-3, with five saves and a 3.38 ERA in the regular season).  There were two outs and the Giants were down three games to two and by a score of 6-5 in Game Six. Terry, who had a single in his first three at bats that day (driving in a run in the seventh inning) grounded out to second to end the inning.  (The Yankees went on to score seven runs in the top of the ninth to put the game and the Series away.)  Terry hit .240 for the Series with no home runs and five RBI.)

When did Bill Terry tell his manager about hit retirement?

Bill Terry the player retired after the 1936 World Series, but he didn’t have to tell his manager.  Terry was not only the Giants’ first baseman, he was also the team’s manager.  Terry served as player-manager of the Giants from 1932 to 1936, bringing home two pennants (1933, 1936) and one World Championship (1933). He continued to manage until 1941, capturing one additional NL title (1937).

Travis Jackson, who made it to the Hall of Fame primarily on his skills at shortstop, started all six games of the 1936 World Series at third base – and ended his career just a bit earlier than Terry.  Jackson was lifted (by manager Terry) for a pinch hitter in the seventh. In his final major league plate appearance, Jackson popped out to second to lead off the sixth inning against Yankees’ starter Lefty Gomez.  Jackson ended the game one-for-three and hit just .190 (4-for-21) for the Series.

A little bit about these two Hall of Famers, who retired as players in the same World Series contest:

Like Jackson, Terry was an accomplished fielder (he led the league’s first basemen in putouts and assists five times each), but he earned his way into the Hall of Fame primarily with his bat.  The big left-hander hit .341 over a 14-year career with the Giants. He ended with 154 home runs and 1,078 RBI.  He was on the first NL All Star team (the Al;l Star game was inaugurated in 1933), and was also an All Star in 1934 and 1935.  Terry hit .295 in three World Series (16 games), including .429 in a losing cause in 1924.

What was Bill Terry’s greatest season?

In 1930, Terry led the NL with 254 hits and a .401 average – and also notched career-highs in home runs (23), RBI (129), and runs scored (139). Terry remains the last National Leaguer to hit over .400 for a season. 

Jackson was considered one of – if not the – best defensive shortstop of his time; with wide range and a powerful arm.  While Jackson never led the league in any offensive category, he still finished in the top ten in the MVP voting four times in his fifteen seasons.  Much like Terry was a solid defender, known for his skill with the bat, Jackson was a solid hitter, known for his glove.  Jackson hit over .300 six times (.339 in 1930), knocked 21 home runs in 1929 (10th best in the NL) and drove in 101 runs in 1934 (seventh in the NL). He finished his career (1922-36, all with the Giants) with a .291 average. 135 home runs and 929 RBI.

How good was Travis Jackson’s glove?

Travis Jackson was selected as MLB’s Most Outstanding Shortstop by The Sporting News in 1927, 1928 and 1929.

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Jackie Robinson – Hall of Fame 1962

Last major league appearance: With the Brooklyn Dodgers, October 10, 1956; Game Seven of the World Series (versus the New York Yankees)

Jackie Robinson, of course, is best known for breaking MLB’s color line (April 15, 1947), but he did much more than that in his ten seasons as a Brooklyn Dodger.  He was a six-time All Star, the first-ever winner of the Rookie of the Year (1947), National League MVP (1949), a batting champion (.342 in 1949), twice led the league in stolen bases and helped the Dodgers to six World Series appearances and one World Championship (1955) between 1947 and 1956.  Robinson came to the major leagues at age 28, after attending UCLA, playing professional football, serving in the military, spending a season with the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs (where hit .387 in 47 games) and one with the Dodgers’ Montreal Royals minor league team (where he hit .349 and stole 40 bases in 124 games). For his MLB career, Robinson hit .311, with 137 home runs, 947 runs, 734 RBI and 197 steals.

How good an athlete was Jackie Robinson?

Jackie Robinson was UCLA’s first four-letter athlete – baseball, basketball, football, track.

In his final MLB plate appearance, Robinson made the final out of the 1956 World Series.  It was Game Seven and Robinson was facing the Yankees’ Johnny Kucks with the Dodgers trailing 9-0 in the bottom of the ninth, two out and Brooklyn CF Duke Snider on first base.  Robinson struck out, but Yankee catcher Yogi Berra dropped the ball and had to throw Robinson out at first – ending the Series. Robinson started at third base and hit clean-up in all seven games of the Series, going 6-for-24, with five walks, five runs and two RBI.

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Sandy Koufax – Hall of Fame 1972

Last major league appearance: With the Los Angeles Dodgers, October 6, 1966; Game Two of the World Series (versus the Baltimore Orioles)

If anyone ever deserved to top off their career – and final MLB appearance – with a World Series Championship, it was Dodgers’ southpaw Sandy Koufax.  Not only did he lead his Dodgers to the NL pennant in his final MLB season, he was also a unanimous Cy Young Award winner – leading the league in wins (27), ERA (1.73), games started (41), complete games (27), shutouts (5), innings pitched (323) and strikeouts (317). But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Sandy Koufax spent his entire (too short) 12-year career with the Dodgers – in Brooklyn from 1955 to 1957 and in Los Angeles from 1958 to 1966. It did take this Hall of Famer awhile to find his groove. Let’s divide is career into two twelve-year segments.

  • In his first six seasons, Koufax won 36 and lost 40 – in his final six, he won 129 and lost 47.
  • In his first six seasons, his ERA was 4.10 – in his final six, 2.19.
  • In his first six campaigns, Koufax pitched 691 2/3 innings, walking 405 and fanning 683 – in his last six seasons, he threw 1,632 2/3 innings, walking 412 and fanning 1,713.
  • In his first six seasons, Koufax three five complete-game shutouts – in the final six, he tossed 35 shutouts.
  • In those final six seasons, he tossed four no-hitters, one a perfect game.

In that final six-year span, Koufax led the league in wins three times, winning percentage twice, ERA five times, complete games twice, shutouts three times and strikeouts four times. Over his final six seasons, Koufax also made the All Star team every year, won three Cy Young Awards (1963, 1965, 1966) and was the NL MVP (1963). In post season play, for his career, Koufax went 4-3, with a 0.95 ERA in eight games (seven starts). He was the MVP of the 1963 and 1965 Series.

So, why the early retirement? Koufax suffered from chronic arthritis in that potent left arm – and pitched most of his final two seasons in significant pain and at significant risk. Told by doctors that continuing to pitch could end up costing him full use of the arm, Koufax chose to retire after the 1966 Series – at the age of thirty.

What did the opposition think of Sandy Koufax?

After facing Sandy Koufax in the 1963 World Series, Yogi Berra, an astute judge of pitchers, said this:  “I can see how he won 25 games.  What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”  (Koufax finished 25-5, 1.88, with 20 complete games, 11 shutouts and 306 strikeouts in the 1963 season.)

Koufax’ final MLB appearance came on October 2, 1966 – in Game Two of the World Series against the AL Champion Baltimore Orioles.  The appropriate ending to the story would be for Koufax to have finished in a blaze of (fastball) glory, earning the victory and eventually leading the Dodgers to the World Championship.  It didn’t go that way.  In his final game on an MLB mound, Koufax gave up four runs on six hits and two walks (before Ron Perranoski took over in the seventh). Koufax, who struck out two in his six innings, took the loss, as the Dodger fell 6-0 (on their way to being swept by the Robinson – Frank and Brooks – led Orioles).  In his last inning, Koufax gave up one run on three hits (a triple by RF Frank Robinson, singles by 1B Boog Powell and 2B Dave Johnson) and an intentional walk (CF Paul Blair).  The last batter MLB hitter Koufax faced was Baltimore catcher Andy Etchebarren, who hit into a third-to home-to first double play to end the inning. Koufax did deserve a better line that day.  Only one of the runs was earned, as Dodgers’ CF Willie Davis made three errors (leading to three unearned runs) in the fifth inning.

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Willie Mays (The Say Hey Kid)Hall of Fame 1979

Last major league appearance: With the New York Mets, October 16, 1973; Game Three of World Series (versus the Oakland A’s)

Willie Mays was an All Star in 20 of his 22 seasons, as well as Rookie of the Year (1951), twice NL MVP (1954, 1965), four times the NL leader in home runs, four times the NL leader in stolen bases, a batting champion (1954) and a 12-time Gold Glove winner.  He did practically all of this damage for the New York/San Francisco Giants (for whom he hit 646 of his 660 home runs and stole 336 of his 338 bases). Mays chose a San Francisco Giants’ cap for his induction into the HOF.  Still, when Mays made his final major league appearance it was not as a Giant, but rather as a New York Met.

Mays was traded to the Mets – and back, of course, to the city where he started his MLB career –  early in the 1972 season. His very first game in a Mets’ uniform was, fittingly, against the Giants – May 14, 1972, at Shea Stadium.  Mays homered in the fifth inning to break a 4-4 tie in a game the Mets eventually won 5-4. In his two seasons with the Mets, Mays played in 135 games, hitting .238, with 14 home runs and 44 RBI. For his career, ”The Say Hey Kid” played in 2,992 games, hitting .304, with 660 homers, 1,903 RBI and 2,062 runs scored.

Now to the 1973 post season and Mays’ final MLB at bat.

Mays got into just one game in the 1973 NLCS, picking up a single in three at bats in Game Five, as the Mets advanced to the World Series by topping the Reds three games to two. Mays started Game One of the 1973 Series (in Oakland), playing centerfield and batting third. He had a single in four at bats in what would be his only start in the Series.  In Game Two, Mays came on in the ninth inning as a pinch runner for Rusty Staub  (with the Mets ahead 6-4) and stayed in the game in center field.  The A’s tied it up off Tug McGraw in the bottom of the inning. Mays popped out to first in the top of the eleventh (off Rollie Fingers), and then hit an RBI (go-ahead) single off  Fingers in the twelfth inning. The Mets scored three more times in the inning, and won the contest 10-7.  (That twelfth-inning tie-breaking hit would have been a fitting final appearance, but Mays would get home more at bat in the Series.)

How did Willie Mays fare in All Star games?

Willie Mays played in 24 All Star games, going 23-for-75 (.307) with three home runs, three triples, two doubles, 20 runs scored,  nine RBI and six stolen bases,  He holds the ASG career record for runs, hits, triples, stolen bases (tied with Brooks Robinson) and total bases (40). Ted Williams once said “They invented the All Star Game for Willie Mays.”

Mays’ final major league appearance came in Game Three of the 1973 World Series (October 16 at Shea Stadium). Mays was called upon to pinch hit for pitcher Tug McGraw with two-out and a runner (Bud Harrelson) on second in the bottom of the tenth inning of a 2-2 game.  He ended the inning by grounding to short (with Harrelson forced at second).  The Mets lost the game in 11 innings – and lost the Series in seven games.

_____

Pedro Martinez (Petey) – Hall of Fame 2015

Last major league appearance: With the Philadelphia Phillies, November 4, 2009; Game Six of the World Series (versus the Yankees)

Pedro Martinez, an eight-time All Star, three-time Cy Young Award winner, five-time ERA leader and three-time strikeout leader finished with a 219-100 record, a 2.93 career ERA and 3,154 strikeouts. The right-hander started his 18-year MLB career with the Dodgers, won his first Cy Young Award as an Expo, had his best years (and 117 of his wins) with the Red Sox (whose cap he will wear for his Hall of Fame induction), spent four seasons with the Mets and pitched his final MLB inning (during the 2009 World Series) for the Phillies – a team he spent only a half season with.

How electric was Pedro Martinez’ stuff?

Pedro Martinez, with 760 career bases on balls, is one of only four pitchers to log 3,000+ strikeouts with fewer than 1,000 walks (Curt Schilling – 3,116 Ks/ 711 BBs; Fergie Jenkins – 3,192/997; Greg Maddux – 3,371/999).

How did Pedro Martinez get to Philadelphia and the World Series mound?  In 2008, Martinez career was on the wane, as he ran up a 5-6 record with 5.61 ERA (in an injury-marred year) for a Mets team that missed the playoffs by a single game.  A free agent in 2009, no one expressed much interest in the 37-year-old hurler.  That is, not until July 15, when the Phillies – facing a pennant race (they were the 2008 WS Champions) and  a  shortage of starting pitching – signed Martinez to a one-million-dollar contract.

Martinez joined the Phillies on August 12, after three minor-league appearances. He finished the season with five wins (one loss) and 3.63 ERA; and started one game in the NLCS (against the Dodgers), going seven innings and giving up just three hits and no runs. He started Games Two and Seven (losing both) in the World Series, won by the Yankees four games to two.  Martinez’ last MLB appearance came as the Game Six starter.  He lasted just four innings, giving up four runs on three hits, two walks and one hit batsman, while striking out five.   In his final major-league inning (the fourth), he retied the bottom of the Yankee lineup in order, getting second baseman Robinson Cano to fly out to left; striking out right fielder Nick Swisher looking; and retiring center fielder Brett Gardner on a liner to second.

—–

So, they are your ten Hall of Famer who played their final games on MLH’s biggest stage – The World Series playing field.

* The photos of Mize and Mathews first appearance in Baseball Digest.

 

I tweet baseball at DavidBBRT

Still MLB’s Strikeout King – 129 Years Later

When you think of strikeout artists, a lot of names come to mind –  Ryan, Koufax, Johnson, Feller.  The major league single season strikeout leader, however, is seldom on that list – despite the fact that he whiffed so many hitters, baseball actually experimented with a four-strike rule the season after he set the record.

Matt Kilroy - 513 strikeouts in a single season.

Matt Kilroy – 513 strikeouts in a single season.

The player was Matt Kilroy, the year was 1886, the team was the Baltimore Orioles and the southpaw’s record of 513 whiffs in a single season has stood for more than 125 years. Even more surprising, Kilroy set the record in his rookie season (which began two months shy of his twentieth birthday.).    

Kilroy – a 5-foot 9-inch, 175-pound southpaw – broke into the American Association (considered a major league) on April 17, 1886 (Opening Day) – pitching for the Baltimore Orioles and picking up a 4-1 victory.   Victories, however, would prove hard to come by for the rookie hurler, as the Orioles would end up finishing dead last, with a 48-83 record.   For the season, Kilroy would win 29 games, while leading the league with 34 losses. Overall, he started 68 of the Orioles’ 131 games, tossing 66 complete games, posting a 3.37 ERA and striking out a STILL major league record of 513 hitters in 583 innings.

The rules were a bit different back then. There was no mound and no pitching rubber, but rather a flat, pitcher’s box (rectangle) the front line of which was 50-feet from home plate. (The current pitching distance, from the mound and pitching rubber to home plate, is 60-feet, six inches.)  It also took six balls to walk, but hitters could call for a high or low pitch.

BBRT note:  The modern record for strikeouts in a seasons is 383 by the Angels’ Nolan Ryan in 1973 (21-16, 2.87 with 383 whiffs in 326 innings); while the rookie record is 276 by the Mets’ Dwight Gooden in 1984 (17-9, 2.60, 276 strikeouts in 218 innings). In his MLB career, by the way, Ryan led the league in strikeouts 11 times, walks eight times and wild pitches six times – three times leading the league in all three categories in the same season.

After Kilroy’s remarkable 1866 strikeout totals, which earned him the moniker “The Phenomenal Kid,”  the American Association experimented (for the 1887 season) with a four-strike strikeout rule.  Kilroy’s strikeout total dropped to 217, but he was still effective, leading the American Association in wins (46 versus 19 losses), games started (69), complete games (66), shutouts (6) and innings pitched (589 1/3).  Kilroy’s 46 wins remains the single-season MLB record for a left-handed pitcher.

Here’s a little background on this MLB record holder.

Matthew Aloysius (Matt) Kilroy was born on June 21, 1866, in Philadelphia. He was the seventh of 13 siblings.  He dropped out of school is in his teen years to help support the family, yet still found time to build a reputation as an outstanding amateur pitcher.

Kilroy got his first taste of professional baseball in 1885, with the Augusta Browns of the Southern League, where he went 29-22, with a 0.97 ERA, 49 complete games in 52 starts and 363 strikeouts in 447 innings pitched.  His performance did not go unnoticed, and made his major league debut – and major league history – with the Orioles the next season

Despite winning 75 games in his first two seasons, you will not find Kilroy’s name among the top MLB winners.  Late in the 1887 season, he suffered a shoulder injury in an on-field collision.  The effects of that injury carried over into the following season (1888), when Kilroy went 17-21, 4.04 and dropped to 40 starts (35 complete games – not bad for a sore-armed pitcher and a reflection of how the game has changed). In 1889, he rebounded to a 29-25, 2.85 stat line – matching his 217 strikeout total of his 46-win season of 1887.  Whether it was overwork or the earlier shoulder injury, Kilroy’s arm problems grew progressively worse and in six more major league campaigns, he went 20-34 – ending with a career mark of 141-133, 3.47 – and, as was the expectation of the times, 264 complete games in 292 starts.

Still, 117 years after he threw his last MLB pitch (1898), Matt Kilroy holds the single-season strikeout record for all of MLB – as well as the single-season victory record for southpaws.

Phenomenal Kid, indeed.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT.

A Reader Chimes In – Guest Post From A Fan of the National Pastime

Why I Love Baseball

We Have Passed the Baseball EquinoxBaseball engenders a child-like attachment through all stages of one’s existence. Most of us have loved baseball for as long as we have had any memories at all, and it will remain accessible to all five of our senses until our final breath. How many things can we say that about?  Not even a sunset or a beautiful wine can reveal as many new characteristics each and every day.

                                                                                                                                                                                       Tom Cuggino

 

Baseball Roundtable loves to hear from readers, especially when it’s clear their passion for the national pastime reflects BBRT’s tag line of Baseball is like life – only better.

Tom Cuggino, who provided the quote above for BBRT’s “Why I Love Baseball” page, is one of those individuals. In this post, BBRT would like to share Tom’s comments on his love for the game – and some of his favorite ballpark memories.  But first, a little background on this Tom .  Tom is in his mid-forties, a life-long baseball fan, a family man and a Financial Controller for Cisco Systems. He’s been to games at twenty of the current MLB ballparks, as well as a several of the now “lost” ballparks, including Old Comiskey, Shea Stadium, Candlestick Park, County Stadium and Jack Murphy Stadium.  Here, slightly edited (and with a BBRT comment here and there) are the comments from this welcome guest poster.

 

Baseball memories from Tom Cuggino

I’m originally from the NYC area (Yonkers/Westchester County) and my family, like many in that part of the region, saw several generations residing in the Bronx after arriving from Italy around the turn of the 20th Century.  So, my first love is the Yankees.

My family moved to Chicago when I was in grade school, and I adopted the Cubs as my National League team.  That leaves me with a most unique and blessed perspective as a fan, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

BBRT note: A perspective shaped by the Yankees, with their 40 World Series appearances and 27 World Championships on one hand – and the Cubs with just ten World Series appearances (none since 1945) and two World Championships (none since 1908) on the other.  That seems to cover all the ground between delight and disappointment.

The only book I ever read until about junior high was the Baseball Encyclopedia. I spent countless days of backyard Wiffle (R) Ball with my friends, leveraging full MLB lineups (all results were null and void without a legitimate attempt at the players’ batting stances).  I also fondly recall simulated baseball dice games that we invented – in which each roll produced a different pitch outcome – occupying us for hours on rainy days.

Some of my favorite stadium memories include:

  • Tom Seaver - who went into the Hall of Fame wearing a Mets' cap - won his 300th game with the White Sox.

    Tom Seaver – who went into the Hall of Fame wearing a Mets’ cap – won his 300th game with the White Sox.

    Tom Seaver’s 300th win at Yankee Stadium. Seaver was pitching for the visiting White Sox, and it came on Phil Rizzuto Day (8/4/85). Phil was presented with a “Holy Cow” during the pre-game ceremony, and promptly tripped over it and fell down.  I’ll also never forget how many Mets fans were on hand to cheer on Tom Terrific.  My grandfather and I sat in the upper deck by the left field foul pole and Don Baylor flied out to Ron Kittle right in front of us for the final out. Seaver pitched a complete game as a 40-year old that day.

BBRT note: The 40-year-old Seaver tossed a complete game that day, holding a tough Yankee lineup (Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey St., Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield, Willie Randolph) to one run on six-hits (all singles) and one walk – while fanning seven. For trivia buffs, Seaver was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992 – being named on 98.8 percent of the ballots, the highest percentage in HOF balloting history.

 

  • Fred Lynn’s grand slam at the 50th All-Star game at the old Comiskey Park (7/6/83). It came in the third inning off a lefty, Atlee Hammaker, and remains the only grand slam in All-Star game history.

BBRT note: The AL pummeled the NL 13-3 in that contest, the league’s first ASG victory since 1971. Lynn started in CF and went one-for-three in the contest. Lynn’s third –inning grand slam (with Manny Trillo, Rod Carew and Robin Yount on base) earned him ASG MVP honors. Trivia note: Lynn is one of only two (and the first) players to win the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Awards in the same season (Lynn with the Red Sox in 1975, Ichiro Suzuki with the Mariners in 2001).

 

  • GoodenThe Cubs’ throttling of Dwight Gooden in their 1984 home opener, 11-2 (4/13/84). It was Gooden’s second major league start (his MLB debut had come a few days earlier in Houston), and he wore #61 (later reversed to his familiar #16). Both teams had been awful for many years, so no one could imagine the exciting summer they would both bring us that year as they rose from the ashes. While the Cubs fended off a repeat of their ’69 divisional collapse at the hands of the Mets, they famously blew the NLCS to the Padres after gaining a commanding 2-0 series lead.

BBRT note: Gooden finished the year at 17-9, 2.60 with a NL-leading 276 strikeouts (still the modern-era rookie record); winning the Rookie of the Year Award.  In that April 13th game, Gooden lasted just 3 1/3 innings, giving up six runs on seven hits and three walks. By the way, Tom’s prose led BBRT to look deeper into rookie records – to find that the all-time rookie strikeout record belongs to Matt Kilroy (513 for the 1996 Baltimore Orioles). Kilroy will be the subject for BBRT’s next post.  Thanks, Tom, for spurring that research.

 

  • Game Four of the 1980 World Series in Kansas City. Willie Mays Aikens hit two towering home runs in a losing effort.

BBRT note:  Aikens had a strong series, hitting .400, with four home runs and a triple (among eight this), eight RBI and five runs scored as the Royals lost to the Phillies in six games.

 

  •  Game Two of the 1989 World Series in Oakland. The game immediately preceded the famous Loma Prieta earthquake that delayed Game Three, and oddly (given the natural disaster) featured both of the local Bay Area (Oakland and San Francisco) teams.

BBRT note:  The 1989 World Series may hold the record for nicknames: The Bay Bridge Series; The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Series’ and the Earthquake Series. The A’s won the Series four games to none, outscoring the Giants 32-14.  Pitcher Dave Stewart, who won two games – giving up just three earned runs in 16 innings of work – was the MVP.  Ricky Henderson had nine hits (five singles, one double, two triples and one home run) and three stolen bases in the four games.

 

  • MunsonOn a sadder note, two of my earliest baseball memories were a pair of Yankee games that I attended … sandwiched within two weeks of Thurman Munson’s tragic death in 1979. Thurman was a first favorite player of mine, and was much of the reason I became a catcher for most of my baseball playing life. The first of the two games was actually his final game (8/1/79), against the White Sox in Chicago. Oddly, he played 1B that game. The second (8/13/79) was against the Rangers at Yankee Stadium, and I’ll never forget how surreal it felt to see Brad Gulden behind the plate that night.  It was of little consolation that the Yanks won both contests.

BBRT note:  In that final game, Munson came to the plate twice – he was replaced at first base by Jim Spencer in the third inning with the Yankees up 3-0 – and did not put the ball in play (walk in the first, strikeout in the third).  The following day (August 2, 1979), Munson was killed in a plane crash while practicing take offs and landings in his private jet.  Munson, just 32-years-old when he died, played eleven MLB seasons, was a seven-time All Star, AL Rookie of the Year (1970), AL MVP (1967) and a three-time Gold Glove winner (1973-74-75). A .292 career hitter, he averaged .357 in 30 post season games.  A trivia note – Munson is the only player to win both the Rookie of the Year Award and an MVP Award in a Yankee uniform. The following

BBRT says thanks to Tom – and looks forward to seeing his prose on this page again in the future.

For look at BBRT’s take on “Why I love baseball” – click here. 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

 

 

photo by:

Clark Griffith – Tracing Minnesota’s Major League Baseball Heritage

With the annual TwinsFest in full swing and Spring Training just around the corner, BBRT would like to take a look at the rich family heritage that is the foundation of the Minnesota Twins MLB franchise.

 

THE FOUNDATION OF THE TWINS – It all goes back to Hall of Famer Clark Griffith (center).

 

When Calvin Griffith moved the Washington Senators to Minnesota in 1961, he brought with him more than a ball club.  He brought a family history with deep roots in our national pastime.  Those roots go back to Baseball Hall of Famer Clark Griffith – the only person ever to serve at least twenty years as a player, as a manager and as an owner. Griffith is also the only Hall of Famer ever to have saddled Jesse James’ horse (more on that later). 

Baseball is rich in statistics, so before getting into the life and times of Clark Calvin Griffith, here are a few meaningful statistics and facts:

  • In twenty major seasons (between 1891 and 1914) as a right-handed pitcher, Griffith went 237-146, with a 3.31 ERA.
  • Griffith was a twenty-game winner seven times, with a high of 26 wins (14 losses) for the 1895 Chicago Colts/Orphans (the franchise that eventually became the Cubs). He was a 20-game winner for Chicago in six consecutive seasons (1894-99).
  • Griffith led the NL in ERA once, complete games once and shutouts once. He also led the AL in winning percentage once and shutouts once.
  • Griffith’s major league playing career included stints with the St. Louis Browns, Boston Reds, Chicago Colts/Orphans, New York Highlanders, Cincinnati Reds, and Washington Senators
  • As a manager, Griffith ran up a 1,491-1,367 record over 20 seasons.
  • In 1901, Griffith managed the Chicago White Stockings to the first-ever American League Pennant. Serving as player-manager, he also went 24-7 on the mound.
  • In 1903, Baltimore’s AL franchise moved to New York – to become the Highlanders and, eventually, the Yankees. Griffith was the Yankee franchise’s first manager in New York.
  • Griffith’s managerial career included stints with the Chicago White Stockings (Sox), New York Highlanders (Yankees), Cincinnati Reds and Washington Senators.
  • Ban Johnson, Charles Comiskey and Griffith are credited with being the driving forces behind the successful establishment of the American League – with Griffith playing a key role in getting a significant number of National League players to make the “jump” to the new league.
  • As an owner, Griffith brought the World Series to Washington D.C. in 1924, 1925 and 1933 (World Series Champions in 1925=4).

So, how did this baseball journey begin – and how did the Senators’ franchise end up in Minnesota?  It’s a story of perseverance in the face of difficult times and tough odds, passion for the national pastime and a deep sense of family.  It is – for the most part – the Clark Griffith story.  And, despite taking place primarily in Missouri, Illinois and Washington D.C., it’s a story that  helped shape the future of baseball in Minnesota.

Clark Griffith was born November 20, 1869 on a farm in Clear Creek, Missouri.  The family – his father, mother and four siblings – who had moved to Missouri from Illinois were as close to “dirt poor” as you could get.  Things only got worse when Clark was two-years-old and his father was mistakenly shot and killed by a deer hunter. Clark’s mother Sarah Anne Griffith was left alone with five children and one on the way.  The family struggled to keep the farm going – and worried about the ongoing health of frail young Clark.  As he grew older, Clark – suffering what was later diagnosed as malarial fever – developed an interest for baseball, as a spectator and water boy for a local team.

Jesse James and Clark Griffith

After his father’s death, Clark Griffith’s mother would pick up a little extra – and much–needed money – by putting travelers up overnight in their large farm house. One of those traveling groups was made up of Jesse and Frank James and two of the Younger brothers.  On the morning of their departure, Jesse asked young Clark to saddle up the horses and bring them from the barn to the house. It was meeting Clark never forgot, and a story he liked to tell.

As Griffith reached his teen years, his mother – looking for a better life – moved the family to Normal, Illinois and opened a boarding house.  Clark maintained his passion for baseball, but being small for his age, did not play organized ball (not even for his high school team). He did, however, manage to work his way into a variety of pickup games, where the 5-foot six-inch, 156-pound right-hander began building a reputation as a pitcher.

In 1887, the now 18-year-old Griffith made it into organized ball, pitching for the Bloomington (IL) Reds of the Central Inter-State League.  It was there that he got his first big break. During Bloomington’s 1988 season, Griffith was called upon to pitch an exhibition game against the Milwaukee Brewers team from the much more prestigious Western Association. Griffith performed well and came away with a $225 per month Milwaukee contract.  What followed were stops in: Milwaukee of the Western Association (1988-89); St. Louis and Boston of the American Association (1891); Tacoma of the Pacific Northwestern League (1892); and Oakland of the California League (1893).  Griffith’s season with the Oakland Colonels –  when he won 30 games (17 losses), with a, 2.30 ERA and  47 complete games in 48 starts – earned him a late season move to the National League Chicago Colts (Cubs) and, in 1894, he began his National League streak of six consecutive 20-plus win seasons.

Not an overpowering pitcher, Griffith earned the nickname “The Old Fox” for his ability to get hitters out with a combination of sharp breaking pitches, changes of speed and even psychological warfare.

The Old Fox Outfoxes the Competition

“Griff wasn’t very big or very strong and he didn’t have enough of a fastball to knock your hat off, but he knew how to pitch – and he had the nerve of a burglar … The hitters in the national league called him The Old Fox, because they couldn’t figure out how such a slow-balling pitcher could beat them without resorting to tricks.  While the batters fumed, Griff, at all times the picture of poise and confidence, struck them out by stalling until they were nervous wrecks, quick-pitching them when they weren’t ready, by scraping the ball against his spikes and taking advantage of the odd twists that could be achieved with a lacerated cover, and by needling the batters with as glib and caustic a tongue as the game has ever known.

               Ed Fitzgerald, May 1954 Sport (magazine) …  “Clark Griffith – the Old Fox”

The Old Fox was a twenty-game winner seven times.

The Old Fox was a twenty-game winner seven times.

While building a Hall of Fame career as a player, Griffith had also developed a keen interest in – and did all he could to learn about – the business side of the game. He saw baseball as his long-term future – wanting to be a manager, and someday even a team owner. Things took a step in that direction as the new century came around and Ban Johnson and Charley Comiskey consulted with Griffith on plans for the establishment of a second major league – with Griffith assuring Johnson and Comiskey that, if team owners and finances could be recruited, he could bring a significant number of current National League players into the fold.   In a move involving demands from  the Ballplayers Protective Association (of which Griffith was vice-president) and the National League’s apparent unwillingness to negotiate (the players wanted, among other things, to increase the salary limit from $2,400 a season to $3.000), Griffith paved the way for players to move to the new American League. Later, as he looked back on his baseball career, Griffith always listed getting the American League off the ground as one of his proudest accomplishments.  And, eventually, the Twins would play in the American League.

At least partially in recognition of Griffith’s role in that making the American League  a reality, Comiskey gave Griffith his chance to manage – as player-manager of the Comiskey-owned Chicago White Stockings.  And, as noted earlier, Griffith delivered 24 wins from the pitching rubber and the AL’s first pennant from the manager’s seat. Griffith went on to manage the White Sox, New York Highlanders and Cincinnati Reds between 1901-1911.

In 1912, the managerial post with the Washington Senators opened and Griffith, who had managed the Cincinnati Reds for the previous three seasons, saw a two-edged opportunity – to get back to the American League and to pursue the ownership position he had long desired.  He took the job – on the condition that he be allowed to purchase 10 percent ownership in the franchise.  He financed the purchase with $7,500 in savings and $20,000 loan secured by his ranch (bought with his earnings as a player) in Helena, Montana.

Griffith would maintain an ownership position in the franchise (that, in 1961 became the Twins) until his death in 1955 – but I’m getting ahead of myself.  To condense the ownership part of the Clark Griffith story, he was both an owner and manager through the 1920 season.  However, in 1919, he partnered with grain broker William M. Richardson to acquire approximately 80 percent ownership of the team and, after the 1920 season, he devoted himself solely to his executive/ownership duties.  As an owner. Griffith became known for his dedication to the game, recognition of baseball talent, business sense and frugality, commitment to family and (this possibility related to frugality) pioneering role in signing Cuban ballplayers.  Remember these traits; we’ll see them again (in Minnesota).

Coincidentally, just as Clark Calvin Griffith was pursuing an ownership position in the American League’s Washington club, his sister-in-law (Jane Robertson) gave birth to the second of her seven children – Calvin Robertson, born December 1, 1911 in Montreal, Quebec.  Times were hard for the Robertson’s. Money was tight and Calvin’s father James Robertson had issues with alcohol.  As more children arrived – there were a total of seven youngsters in the family by 1921 – life became more difficult.  It reached a point where Clark Griffith and his wife Addie (who were childless) agreed to take in two of the youngsters – 11-year-old Calvin and his nine-year-old sister Thelma. Although not officially adopted, the pair did legally change their names to Griffith.  In 1923, Calvin’s father died (at age 42) and the rest of the family was taken under Clark Griffith’s wing in Washington D.C. Being the first to join the Griffiths in the nation’s Capital would prove a stroke of luck for Calvin and Thelma – and perhaps Minnesota (more on that later).

Calvin Griffith shared (perhaps was influenced by)his uncle  Clark Griffith’s love of the game and and served as bat boy for the Washington team from 1922 to 1925.  Calvin later attended Staunton Military Academy and George Washington University, where he studied and played baseball (pitcher and catcher).

In 1935, he took his first official position in the Senators’ organization – working as secretary-treasurer for the Chattanooga Lookouts, a Washington farm club.  He eventually headed the operations at Chattanooga and then at Charlotte (Hornets) before joining his uncle Clark in the Washington front office in 1941. Over the years, under Clark’s tutelage, Calvin took on more and more responsibility for the team’s operations.

When Clark Griffith passed away in 1955 Calvin and his Sister Thelma Griffith inherited 52 percent ownership of the club and Calvin was elected its president. At that time, the family nature of the baseball business was clearly established – not only were Calvin and Thelma and integral part of the team’s front office (with Thelma playing a key role in the teams finances), their brothers Sherry, Billy and Jimmy also were part of the leadership team.

And the family’s baseball ties went even deeper.  Before joining the franchise’s front office (and eventually heading up the farm system), Sherry Robertson played ten seasons in the major leagues (between 1940 and 1952) as a utility player (OF, 2B, 3B. SS) – primarily with Clark Griffith’s Washington club. His best year was 1949, when he hit .251 with 11 home runs and 42 RBI in 110 games.  In addition, Thelma’s husband Joe Haynes (a veteran of 14 major league seasons as a player) was appointed a roving minor league pitching instructor.  Sister Mildred Robertson served for a time as Clark Griffith’s personal secretary and married future Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Cronin.  Cronin was clearly a good fit for the Griffith/Robertson baseball family.  Consider his ultimate MLB resume: seven-time All Star in a 20-year playing career with the Pirates, Senators and Red Sox; managed the Senators (1933-34) and Red Sox (1935-45); served as treasurer, general manager and president of the Red Sox; and was president of American League from 1959 to 1973.)

Once he took control of the team, Calvin contused his late uncle’s commitment to baseball, business and family – and when the league approved the Senators move to Minnesota for the 1961 season, Calvin brought his team, his executive (family) team and all that he had learned from is uncle Clark Griffith to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  Given the family’s established dedication to the business of baseball, the move to Minnesota made perfect sense.  The Washington club had finished below the league average for seventeen consecutive seasons (topping one million in attendance only once) prior to the move.  The Twins finished above the league attendance average and topped one million fans in each of their first Minnesota seasons. 

So, following in Clark Griffith’s footsteps – and maybe stretching the stride even a bit longer – Calvin Griffith brought major league baseball to Minnesota in 1961.

In his time at the helm in Minnesota – until he sold the team to Carl Pohlad in 1984 – Calvin was known for his dedication to the game, recognition of baseball talent, business sense and frugality, commitment to family and success in discovering and signing Cuban ballplayers. Sound familiar – the influence of Uncle Clark was clearly long-lasting.   What has all this meant for Minnesota fans?   Over the years, we have seen:

  • big league baseball in three stadiums (Metropolitan Stadium, The HHH Metrodome, Target Field);
  • three World Series – with one World Championship;
  • ten division titles;
  • six American League championships;
  • three All Star games;
  • Five Hall of Famers in Twins’ uniforms – Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett, Bert Blyleven, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, and even Steve Carlton;
  • five MVP seasons – Zoilo Versalles, Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer;
  • three Cy Young Award winners – Johan Santana (twice), Frank Viola, Jim Perry;
  • 14 batting titles – Rod Carew (7), Tony Oliva (3), Joe Mauer (3), Kirby Puckett;
  • five home run titles – all by Harmon Killebrew;
  • 16 20-game winning seasons – Camilo Pascual (twice), Jim Perry (twice), Jim Kaat, Mudcat Grant, Dean Chance, Bert Blyleven, Dave Boswell, Dave Goltz, Jerry Koosman, Frank Viola, Scott Erickson, Brad Radke, Johan Santana;
  • Homer Hankies, bobble heads, Bat Day, Hat Day, Stocking Cap Day (even Fishing Lure Day), Dollar Dog Day (I do love a bargain), Nickel Beer Night (won’t see that again), walleye fingers (this is Minnesota, after all), Harmon Killebrew Day (1974), the Thunderdome decibel readings;
  • and much, much more

In short, it’s been a great – and continuing ride.  And, it all started with the Hall of Famer to which this post is dedicated:  Clark Griffith -baseball man, businessman, family man.

Note:  Throughout this post, the Washington franchise is referred to as the Senators.  However, the franchise that became the Twins, was known as both the Nationals and the Senators in its history – sometimes as both at the same time. And, it was reported that Clark Griffith actually preferred the Nationals moniker. Sportecyclopedia.com reports that, in 1956, “After more than 50 years of insisting the team was officially called the Nationals, the team finally changes its name to the more commonly called  Senators.  We’ll save that controversey for another post. 

 

Calvin Griffith and My Family

July 4, 1976 - Me, Calvin Griffith and my dad outside Metrpolitan Staidum

July 4, 1976 – Me, Calvin Griffith and my dad outside Metrpolitan Staidum

I always enjoyed Calvin – and found him to be a fan-friendly owner, with little pretense, lots of passion for the national pastime and a genuine affection for the fans of the upper Midwest.

On July 4, 1976, for example, I celebrated the birthday of my father George Karpinski and my softball team’s shortstop Bill Morlock (yes, they were both Independence Day babies, just about 30 years apart) by tailgating beyond the left centerfield fence at the old Metropolitan Stadium (followed by the game, of course).

Who should show up to join our gathering?  Twins owner Calvin Griffith and former player, manager and then broadcaster Frank Quilici.  We spent considerable time discussing baseball, the Twins and the importance of hot dogs, over a cold brew or two (at least on my part).  The Twins, by the way, won 9-4 on a grand slam by Rod Carew.

Just over a year later, I celebrated my 30th birthday (with my friends and family) in a private box at the old Met.  Back then, a private box was an enclosed area above the second deck, with a formica table top and plastic chairs –  and you could bring in your own food and beverage if you wanted.  Calvin sent an employee – in a bow tie and gold vest – with a special birthday note.  And, during the game, the Twins-O-Gram displayed “Happy Birthday Super Fan Dave Karpinski.” – at no charge.  (Note:  Actually, at first it read “Happy Birthday Super Fan Dave Krapinski” – but that was corrected, after I got my picture.

 

I tweet baseball @#DavidBBRT

Chuck Connors – He Lived The Dream(s)

When Kevin Joseph Connors was growing up in Brooklyn he dreamed of someday taking the field for his hometown Dodgers. If he was like most boys at the time, he also probably dreamed of being a cowboy.  Little did Kevin know that he would live both dreams – and then some.

In his lifetime, Connors would take to:

  • the court under the tutelage of Basketball Hall of Famer John Russell;
  • the diamond alongside Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda; and
  • the movie set across from Academy Award winner Spencer Tracy.

If you are old enough to be aware of Kevin Connors, you may know him better by his nickname “Chuck” – or as star of the successful TV western series The Rifleman.  You may also recall him in such classic movies as Old Yeller or for his appearances in television presentations like Roots (which earned Connors an Emmy nomination).

connersBut this is a baseball blog, so why all this attention to an actor?  To answer that, we need to go back to Connors’ boyhood dream of playing for his beloved Dodgers. Connors made that dream come true – if only for a single pinch-hitting appearance. (And, what would most baseball fans give for even just one at bat with our favorite team – and one line in the Baseball Encyclopedia?)

Connors also went on to play first base for the Chicago Cubs, forward and center for the Boston Celtics, be drafted by the Chicago Bears and earn his way into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame – now the Western Performers Hall of Fame of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

The most compelling reason BBRT is taking a look at Chuck Connors, however,  is that (as NBA Hoops Online notes) Connors is one of only twelve players to play in both the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball – and BBRT has a significant interest in multi-sport athletes.

For a look at BBRT’s favorite multi-sport athletes click here.  You’ll read about:

- Deion Sanders – the only player to hit a major league home run and score an NFL touchdown in the same week;

- Gene Conley – the only player to play on a World Series winner and an NBA champion;

- Bo Jackson – selected as an MLB All Star and NFL Pro Bowler in the same year;

- Carroll Hardy – who pinch hit for Ted Williams, Roger Maris and Carl Yastrzemski and scored four NFL touchdowns as a receiver; and 

- 17 more multi-sport achievers.

Connors signed with his beloved Dodgers in 1940, right out of high school. After a one-for-eleven start for the Class D Newport Dodgers, Connors decided accepting a baseball scholarship to Seton Hall University might be a wiser course of action.  At Seton Hall, the six-foot five-inch Connors played baseball and basketball and, in what would later prove extremely important to his future, got hooked on the performing arts.

Connors went back to the professional ranks in 1942, signing with the Yankees and playing one season for the Class B Norfolk Tars. Later that same year, he enlisted in the Army and served stateside until early 1946 (playing semi-pro basketball in his free time). After his discharge from the Army, Connors joined the Rochester Royals of the National Basketball League, playing in 14 games before returning to the Yankees, who put him on waivers during 1946 Spring Training.  To Connors’delight, his hometown Dodgers picked up his waivers and sent him to Newport News, where he emerged as a power-hitting first-base prospect – leading the Class B Piedmont League with 17 home runs.  In the fall of that year, Connors added to his athletic resume by signing with the Boston Celtics of the Basketball Association of America (soon to merge with the NBL to form the today’s National Basketball Association). He played just two seasons with the Celtics – averaging 4.5 points per game.

Between 1946 and 1949, Connors moved up the minor league baseball ladder – from the B level Newport News Dodgers (1946) to the AA Mobile Bears (1947) to the AAA Montreal Royals (1948-1949). Notably, Connors proved a decent player – and somewhat of a good luck charm. Each of the teams he played on from 1946 to 1949 ended up as league playoff champions. Over those four minor seasons, Connors played in 544 games, compiling a .293 average with 69 home runs.

Connors’ dream of playing for the Dodgers came true at Ebbets Field on May 1, 1949 – when he was called off the bench to pinch hit for Brooklyn right fielder Carl Furillo (who would go on to hit .322 with 18 homers and 106 RBI that season). With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Gil Hodges on first and the Dodgers trailing the Phillies 4-2, Connors hit into a pitcher-to short-to-first double play to end the game.

It wasn’t long afterwards, that Connors found himself back in Montreal, where he finished the season hitting .290, with six home runs, 68 RBI and a surprising 14 stolen bases.  Despite his love for the Dodgers, Connors realized Gil Hodges was firmly entrenched at first base and requested a trade. The Dodgers complied and dispatched him to the Cubs.  The Cubs sent Connors to their Pacific Coast League farm club, the Los Angeles Angels, where a strong start to the 1951 season (.321 with 22 home runs, 77 RBI and eight steals) made him a fan favorite – and earned him a mid-season call-up to Chicago, where he hit just .239 with two home runs and 18 RBI in 66 games.

Through all of his athletic endeavors, Connors was a showman (or in some people’s eyes a showboat).  In a May 1951 Sport Life magazine article, Connors was described as “part-comedian, part-time first baseman and all character.”  He was also known as a hotel lobby magician and a great banquet speaker  renowned for his dramatic recital of “Casey at the Bat”).

Connors’ flair for the dramatic – on and off the field – did not go unnoticed by the show business crowd that often attended Angels games.  In fact, in the fall of 1951, one of Connors’ Los Angeles fans tapped the good-looking first baseman for another kind of performance.  Bill Grady, an executive with Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, asked Connors to do a screen test for a small part in the film Pat and Mike (starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy). Connors got the part and a new career was born.  In an acting career that stretched into the 1990s, Connors – probably most remembered for his role as Lucas McCain in the popular Rifleman television series – appeared in more than 40 movies and a host of television series and specials.

Connors made his preference for the Pacific Coast League known in a July 1952 Sport magazine article,

Connors made his preference for the Pacific Coast League known in a July 1952 Sport magazine article,

Connors recognized his good fortune and always maintained his greatest break as a ballplayer came in 1951, when the Cubs sent him to Los Angeles – putting him “right out in the middle of the movie business.”  He saw significant enough potential in acting that when he agreed to his 1952 baseball contract, he signed a then available clause that allowed minor leaguers to waive the opportunity to be drafted by a major league club.  In an article for Sport Magazine, he extolled the west coast earnings opportunities, the weather, and the Pacific Coast League’s salaries, playing conditions and travel accommodations. In the closing paragraphs of that article, Connors said, “I live in my own home in the San Fernando Valley the year round.  I can play golf and go fishing everyday if I want to. I’m two hours from ski country, 20 minutes from good swimming, two-and-a-half hours from a bull fight. I’m near many lucrative income sources.  Do I want to be drafted away from all this … Not me.”

As anyone reading or watching might have predicted, Connors left baseball in 1953 to pursue his acting career – and the rest is history.

The Rifleman - 1958-63 - was one of televisions most popular westerns.

The Rifleman – 1958-63 – was one of televisions most popular westerns.

A few Connors’ tidbits:

– In 1959, Connors won a Golden Globe Award (Best Television Performers) for his work in The Rifleman.

– Connors starred in four television series: The Rifleman; Arrest and Trial; Branded; and Cowboy in Africa.

– In 1984, Connors was honored with a “star” on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

– In a four-season span at AAA (1948-51), Connors’ batting averages were: .307; .319; .290 and .321.

– In 1966, Connors brought his baseball past and his Hollywood present together, serving as an intermediary credited with ending the much-publicized holdout of Dodgers’ star pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.

– Connors was known to turn cartwheels while circling the bases after a home run.

– Connors made guest appearances on television shows ranging from Gunsmoke to Spenser for Hire to the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.

– Connors’ movie credits include such films as Pat and Mike; Old Yeller; Geronimo, Flipper; The Big Country; Solyent Green; and Airplane II.

– Connors is credited with shattering the first glass backboard ever, during a November 1946 Celtics’ pregame warm-up.

One final Connors story, this one shared on the “Our Chuck Connors” website … ourchuckconnors.com  

After a 1946 appearance – reciting Casey at the Bat – representing the Celtics at the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner, Connors was approached by Ted Williams who told him: “Kid, I don’t know what kind of basketball player you are, but you ought to give it up and be an actor.”

Teddy Ballgame always did have a good eye.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Baseball Hall of Fame “95 Percent” Club

Randy Johnson - Big Unit scored on 97 percent of HOF ballots.

Randy Johnson – Big Unit scored on 97 percent of HOF ballots.

The Baseball Writers Association of America’s (BBWAA) Hall of Fame Ballots are in – and so are Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio.  Johnson, named on 97.27 percent of the ballots, joined some elite company.  His percentage was the eighth-highest ever in the official BBWAA balloting – and he became one of only 14 players to receive at least 95 percent support since the first election back in 1936. No playernot even the likes of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron or Christy Mathewson – has ever received unanimous support. (Cy Young, with his record 511 mound wins, was elected in 1937 with 76.12 percent of the vote.) The all-high in balloting is 98.84 percent, achieved by Tom Seaver. (We’ll take a quick look at “resumes” of the fourteen members of the 95 percent club later in this post.)

Over the years, 118 players have been elected to the HOF through the regular balloting; with just 11.86 percent of those reaching the 95 percent support threshold.  Ten of those fourteen have come since 1989, three (Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner) were in the first-ever HOF class, and just one honoree achieved 95 percent support between 1936 and 1989 (Hank Aaron, 1982).

Here’s a breakdown of  “95-percenters” in ten-year increments:

1936-45           3

1946-55           0

1956-65           0

1966-75           0

1976-85           1

1986-95           3

1996-2005       3

2006-15           4

 

Now, a look at the Hall of Fame’s all-time top vote getters.

 1. Tom Seaver (RHP) – 98.84% – 1992       Nickname – Tom Terrific

Tom Seaver won 311 games (205 losses) in a 20-year MLB career (1967-86). He won 20 or more games in five seasons; leading his league in victories three times, ERA three times and strikeouts five times. Seaver finished his career with a 2.86 ERA and 3,640 strikeouts. He was the National League Rookie of the Year with the Mets in 1967, a 12-time All Star, and won the Cy Young Award three times (1969, 1973, 1975).  He threw one no-hitter.  Seaver pitched for the Mets (1967-77, 1983); Reds (1977-82); White Sox (1984-86); and Red Sox (1986).

Tom Seaver fact: On April 22, 1970, in beating the Padres 2-1 at Shea Stadium, Seaver set the MLB record for consecutive strikeouts in a game – fanning the last ten hitters of the contest (five looking/five swinging). In the complete game win, Seaver allowed one run on two hits, walked two and fanned 19.

2. Nolan Ryan (RHP) – 98.79% – 1999         Nickname – The Ryan Express

Nolan Ryan won 324 games in 27 MLB seasons (292 losses, a 3.19 ERA) and holds the All Time MLB strikeout record (5,714). Ryan was an eight-time All Star and a two-time twenty-game winner.  He led his league in strikeouts eleven times (topping 300 whiffs in a season six times) and recorded a league-low ERA twice. He also threw an MLB-record seven no-hitters. Ryan pitched for the Mets (1966, 1968-71); Angels (1972-79); Astros (1980-88); and Rangers (1989-93).

Nolan Ryan fact: Despite his Hall of Fame career, Nolan Ryan never won a Cy Young Award.

3. Cal Ripken Jr. (SS/3B) – 98.53% – 2007            Nickname – Iron Man

Cal Ripken will likely be most remembered for his all-time MLB record of 2,632 consecutive games played.  He will also be remembered for playing them well.  In a 21-season MLB career, Ripken was an All Star 19 times. He was also the AL Rookie of the Year in 1982 and twice was the league’s Most Valuable Player (1983, 1991). He collected 3,184 hits (.276 lifetime average), 431 home runs, 1,695 RBI and 1,647 runs scored. He won eight Silver Slugger Awards (as the best offensive player at his position) and two Gold Gloves (as the best defensive player at his position). Ripken played his entire career (1981-2001) with the Orioles.

Cal Ripken fact:  In 1991, Cal Ripken Jr. won the All Star Game Home Run Derby (and was the AS Game MVP).

4. Ty Cobb (OF) – 98.23% – 1936                     Nickname – The Georgia Peach

A member of the HOF’s inaugural class, Ty Cobb holds MLB’s highest career batting average (among qualified players) at .366, is second all-time in hits (4,189) and runs scored (2,246). Cobb won an MLB-record 12 batting titles (including nine in a row from 1907 to 1915). He hit over .400 three times (1911, 1912, 1922). In addition to his batting titles, Cobb led the league in hits eight times, runs five times, doubles three times, triples four times, home runs once, RBI four times and stolen bases six times.  Cobb played for the Tigers (1905-26) and the Athletics (1927-28).

Ty Cobb fact: Ty Cobb stole home an MLB-record 54 times.

5.  George Brett (3B) – 98.18% – 1999                   Nickname – Mullet

A .305 lifetime hitter (21 seasons), George Brett collected 3,105 hits and three batting crowns – including a high of .390 in 1980.  Brett was a thirteen-time All Star and the 1980 AL Most Valuable Player.  In addition to his three batting titles, Brett led the league in hits three times, doubles twice, triples three times.  He finished with 317 home runs, 1,596 RBI and 1,583 runs scored.  Brett played his entire MLB career (1973-93) for the Royals.

George Brett fact:  George Brett is the only MLBer to win a batting title in three different decades (1976, 1980, 1990).

6. Hank Aaron (OF) – 97.83% – 1982        Nickname(s) – The Hammer, Hamerin’ Hank

Hank Aaron stands number-two on the all-time home run list with 755 round trippers, and number-one in RBI (2,297), extra base hits (1,477) and total bases (6,856).  He was an All Star in 21 of his 23 seasons and the 1957 NL Most Valuable Player.  Aaron led his league in batting average twice, home runs four times, RBI four times, doubles four times, hits twice, runs scored three times and total bases eight times.  He also earned three Gold Glove Awards.  Aaron is one of only two players with 500 home runs (755), 3,000 hits (3,771) and a .300 batting average (.305). (The other is Willie Mays.) Aaron played for the Braves (1954-74) and Brewers (1975-76).

Hank Aaron fact:  Hank Aaron and fellow Brave and HOFer Eddie Mathews hit more home runs while teammates (863) than any other duo – edging out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (859).

7. Tony Gwynn (OF) – 97.61% – 2007                  Nickname(s) – Mr. Padre, Captain Video

Tony Gwynn was fifteen-time All Star in his 20-season career.  A lifetime .338 hitter, Gwynn was an eight-time batting champion, as well as a five-time Gold Glover. He led the NL in hits seven times (topping 200 in five seasons) and runs once.  He hit 135 home runs, scored 1,383 runs and drove in 1,138. He collected 3,141 hits – all for the Padres (1982-2001).

Tony Gwynn fact:  Tony Gwynn put the bat on the ball, striking out only 434 times in 20 seasons (10,232 plate appearances). In his career, he only struck out more than once in a game 34 times.

8.  Randy Johnson (LHP) – 97.26% – 2015                     Nickname – The Big Unit

The 6’ 10”  Randy Johnson won 303 games (166 losses), with a 3.29 ERA, over 22 seasons.  He finished his career second all-time in strikeouts (4,875) and led his league in whiffs nine times (topping 300 in a season six times). He was a 20-game winner twice, leading the NL with 24 wins in 2002. Johnson won the Cy Young Award five times, including four consecutive seasons (1999-2002). He also led his league in winning percentage four times, ERA four times, complete games five times and shutouts twice.   The ten-time All Star threw two no-hitters (one a perfect game).  Johnson pitched for the Expos (1988-99); Mariners (1989-98); Astros (1998); Diamondbacks (1999-2004, 2007-08); Yankees (2005-06); and Giants (2009).

Randy Johnson fact:   Randy Johnson is one of only three pitchers to win the Cy Young Award in both the American and National League (Pedro Martinez and Gaylord Perry are the others).

9.  Greg Maddux (RHP) – 97.20% – 2014           Nickname(s) – Mad Dog, The Professor

Greg Maddux won 355 games (227) losses, with a 3.16 ERA over 23 MLB seasons.  He was an eight-time All Star and won four consecutive Cy Young Awards (1992-95). He also won more Gold Glove Awards than any other player in MLB history (18). He led his league in wins three times, winning percentage twice, ERA four times, games started seven times, complete games three times and shutouts five times. Maddux pitched for the Cubs (1986-92, 2004-2006); Braves (1993-2003); Dodgers 2006, 2008); and Padres (2008).

Greg Maddux fact:   While Maddux finished with 3,371 regular season strikeouts, he only reached 200 whiffs in a season once.

10.  Mike Schmidt (3B) – 96.52% – 1995              Nickname – Schmitty

Mike Schmidt pounded out 548 home runs in 18 big league seasons – and also earned ten Gold Gloves at third base. The twelve-time All Star was the NL Most Valuable Player three times (1980, 1981, 1986).  He led the NL in home runs eight times and RBI four times. A career .267 hitter, Schmidt finished with 548 home runs, 1,595 RBI and 1,506 runs scored. Schmidt played his entire MLB career (1972-89) for the Phillies.

Mike Schmidt fact:   On April 17, 1976, Schmidt tied an MLB record by hitting four home runs in a single game – driving in eight runs as the Phillies topped the Cubs 18-16 in ten innings at Wrigley Field.

11.  Johnny Bench (C) – 96.42% – 1989               Nickname – Little General

In his 17-season MLB career, Johnny Bench was an All Star 14 times, was twice the NL MVP (1970, 1972) and was the World Series MVP in 1976.  He was also the NL rookie of the Year in 1968, when (as a 20-year old), he hit .275, with 15 home runs and 82 RBI – while also earning a Gold Glove at catcher.  Bench went on to hit 389 home runs (leading the NL twice) and earn a total of ten Gold Gloves.  He finished his career with a .267 average, 1,091 runs scored and 1,376 RBI (leading the league in that category three times). Bench played his entire career (1967-83) with the Reds.

Johnny Bench fact:  Johnny Bench was the first catcher to win a Rookie of the Year Award and the first rookie catcher to win a Gold Glove.

12.  Steve Carlton (LHP) – 95.82% – 1994                         Nickname – Lefty

Steve Carlton won 329 games (244 losses), with a 3.22 ERA over a 24-year MLB career.  He was a ten-time All Star and won a total of four Cy Young Awards (1972, 1977, 1980, 1982). Carlton led the NL in wins four times, winning percentage once, ERA once, complete games three times and strikeouts five times (a high of 310 in 1972). He is one of only four pitchers to surpass 4,000 strike outs (4,136). Carlton pitched for the Cardinals (1965-71); Phillies (1972-86); Giants (1986); White Sox (1986); Indians (1987); and Twins (1987-88).

Steve Carlton fact:  In 1972, Steve Carlton won an MLB-record 46 percent of his team’s games – going 27-10, 1.97 for a last-place Phillies’ team that finished at 59-97.  That season, Carlton led the NL in wins, ERA, games started (41), complete games (30), innings pitched (346 1/3), and strikeouts (310).

13.  Babe Ruth (OF/P) – 95.13% – 1936                 Nickname(s) – Babe, The Bambino, The sultan of Swat

Babe Ruth made his mark first as a pitcher and then as the game’s first true power hitter.  As a pitcher, Ruth went 94-46, with a 2.28 ERA in 163 games (147 starts) – including two twenty-plus victory seasons (23-12 in 1916 and 24-13 in 1917 for the Red Sox).  In 1916, he led the AL in ERA (1.75), games started (40) and shutouts (9) – with 23 complete games and 323 2/3 innings pitched.  He threw 300+ innings again the following season (326 1/3) and led the league in complete games (35).  He also ran up a 3-0 post season (World Series) record, giving up just three runs in 31 post-seasons innings (1.06 ERA.)

At the plate, converting to the outfield full-time, Ruth proved even more powerful than he was on the mound.  In a twenty-two season MLB career, Ruth hit .342, with 714 home runs, 2,214 RBI and 2,174 runs scored. Ruth led the AL in home runs twelve times, runs scored eight times, RBI six times and batting average once.  In 41 World Series games, he hit .326, with 15 home runs and 33 RBI.   Ruth played for the Red Sox (1914-19); Yankees (1920-34); and Braves (1935).

Babe Ruth fact:  Among pitchers with at least twenty decisions against the Yankees, Babe Ruth has the top winning percentage at .773 (17-5) – all while with the Red Sox.

14.  Honus Wagner (SS) – 95.13% – 1936                 Nickname – The Flying Dutchman

In his 21-season MLB career, Honus Wagner captured eight batting titles (tied for the most in the NL with Tony Gwynn).  He also led the NL in RBI five times, runs scored twice, hits twice, stolen bases five times, doubles seven times, triples three times and total bases six times. Overall, Wagner collected 3,320 hits (a .328 career average), 101 home runs, 1,733 RBI, 1,739 runs scored, 643 doubles, 252 triples and 722 (or 723 depending on the source) stolen bases. Wagner played for the Louisville Colonels (1897-99) and Pirates (1900-17).

Honus Wagner fact:  While primarily a shortstop, Honus Wagner – a gifted and versatile athlete – played every position except catcher during his career.

So, there’s a look at the Hall of Fames “95-percenters.”   Now, if you are into the rounding of percentages, there are three more players who would have made the cut – all outfielders and all elected in a year ending in “nine”:  Ricky Henderson (94.81 percent, 2009); Willie Mays (94.68%, 1979); and Carl Yastrzemski (94.67 percent 1989).

 

A side note: BBRT’s HOF predictions (made by in early December – see the BBRT Hall of Fame Post here.) were pretty close.  BBRT predicted Johnson, Martinez, Biggio and Smoltz would be elected by the writers – and that they would finish 1-2-3-4 as listed.  The quartet was elected, but they finished 1-2-4-3. BBRT also projected Mike Piazza would gain some traction, but finish fifth in the voting and fall short of election (with 66-68 percent of the votes.) Piazza finished fifth at 69.9 percent.

 

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