MLB Expansion Drafts – Each Team’s First and Most Interesting Picks

More then you’ll ever need (want?) to know about MLB’s Expansion Drafts – and the first and most interesting players taken by baseball’s 14 “new” franchises.

Eli Grba - first player taken in MLB's first expansion draft.

Eli Grba – first player taken in MLB’s first expansion draft.

Expansion drafts have fascinated BBRT since I was just a kid – drafting Strat-O-Matic teams with my baseball buddies. That interest was reenergized recently when I picked up an expansion team in a fantasy league – having to choose from players left unprotected by established teams. In this post, BBRT would like to take a look at MLB’s real expansion drafts – particularly the first player drafted by each expansion team and how those selections worked out.  In addition, I’ll (totally subjectively) comment on the players I think were the most interesting selections by each team in each draft.

Notably, first-pick selections in MLB’s seven Expansion Drafts ranged from a utility player with only 13 MLB at bats (Bob Bailor) to a former AL MVP (Bobby Shantz). And, when you further examine Expansion Draft first picks, you also find a pitcher who had started Game Four of the previous season’s World Series (Tony Saunders) and a veteran outfielder with a .292 career average (over seven seasons) who would go on to a 20-season MLB career (Manny Mota). But enough teasers, let’s take a look at each expansion team’s first and most interesting Expansion Draft picks.

1960 EXPANSION DRAFT – For 1961 Season ———————-

Eli Grba – RHP – First pick of the Angels, taken from the Yankees.

Eli Grba was the first-ever Expansion Draft selection (the Angels had first pick). The 26-year-old Grba had appeared in a total of 43 games (15 starts) and 131 major league innings for the Yankees in the 1959-60 seasons – going 8-9 with a 4.74 ERA and one save. He was considered a solid prospect (who already had some seasoning), coming off a 1960 season in which he went 7-1, 1.80 at Triple A before putting up a 6-4, 3.68 line for the Yankees.  Grba had a good season for the Angels in 1961 – winning 11 and losing 13, with a 4.25 ERA in 211 2/3 innings pitched.  Grba, however, was out of the major leagues by 1964, finishing with a 28-33, 4.67 (4 saves) record over five seasons.

Angels’ most interesting pick – 20-year-old RHP Dean Chance, taken from the Orioles. 

The Angels grabbed Chance from the Baltimore Orioles’ organization with the 51st pick in the draft.  Chance was clearly a “prospect pick.” Just 20, he already had two minor league seasons behind him (in which he had gone 22-12, with a 3.06 ERA). Chance spent most of 1961 at Triple A, getting into just five games with the Angels at the end of the season (0-2, 6.87 in 18 1/3 innings). In 1962, he was a 14-game winner for the Angels and, by 1964, he was an All Star and AL Cy Young Award winner (20-9, 1.65 with 11 complete-game shutouts).  A nice pick who had an 11-year MLB career, six seasons with the Angels.

_______________________________________________________

Bobby Shantz – LHP – First pick of the Senators, taken from the Yankees.

As much as the Angels went for potential, the expansion Senators appeared to go for experience – using their first pick on 35-year-old lefthander Bobby Shantz; a 12-year MLB veteran, three-time All Star and 1952 AL MVP.  Shantz, however, never played for the Senators. He was quickly traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for RHP Bennie Daniels, 3B Harry Bright and 1B R.C. Stevens. The players the Senators received for Shantz did provide some value. Daniels led the Senators in wins in 1961, going 12-11, 3.44. He stayed with the team four more seasons, picking up 25 more victories. Harry Bright hit .240-4-21 in 72 games for Washington in 1961, then set career highs at .273-17-67 for the team the following year (after which he was traded to the Reds). R.C. Stevens played in only 33 games for the Senators – hitting .129 in his last of four MLB season.

Senators’ most interesting pick – LHP Bobby Shantz (see the full Shantz story below).

Bobby Shantz – The Most Interesting Player in TWO MLB Expansion Drafts

Bobby Shantz - Boyhood Hero.

Bobby Shantz – Boyhood Hero.

Like the Dos Equis beer campaign’s “most interesting man in the world,”  Bobby Shantz was the most interesting player in not one, but two, MLB Expansion drafts – at least in BBRT’s estimation.

First, a disclaimer. As a youngster, I had a personal interest in the 5’ 6 “ Shantz.  My Dad was just 5’ 1” and it looked like I might follow in his (short stride and) footsteps.  Luckily, a growth spurt in my teens got me past my Dad’s mark to an average 5′ 9″. Before that growth spurt, however, Shantz was my assurance that the vertically challenged could succeed in the national pastime.

Let’s take a look at this most interesting of Expansion Draft picks (actually one of the more interesting MLB players period). Shantz – who was still under five-feet tall when he graduated from high school – was a natural athlete, excelling in everything from baseball to diving to gymnastics to ping pong. Still, when it came to professional opportunities, he was considered too small. Fortunately, a late growth spurt (some of which occurred during his military service) pushed Shantz up to 5’ 6″ and just shy of 140 pounds. After his discharge, some excellent results in sandlot ball earned Shantz a contract with the Philadelphia Athletics (most teams passed on Shantz due to his size).  In his first season of pro-ball (1948 … for the Class A Lincoln A’s), Shantz went 18-7, with a 2.82 ERA and 212 strikeouts in 214 innings – showing great control and a baffling curve ball. Shantz was on his way. By 1951, he was an All Star for the Athletics, finishing the season 18-10, with a 3.94 ERA. The following season, he reached his peak. While the Athletics finished barely above .500 (79-75, fourth place), Shantz went 24-7, 2.48 – leading the league in wins and winning percentage and throwing 27 complete games in 33 starts.  The campaign was topped off when Shantz was named the AL MVP.

The following season, however, Shantz fell victim to a shoulder injury that would create problems for him on-and-off for the remainder of his career. In 1957, Shantz was included in a 13-player trade (Athletics and Yankees). He proved a valuable addition to the Bronx Bombers, going 11-5, with a league-low 2.45 ERA (30 games, 21 starts). That year, he made his third and final All Star squad. He also started Game Two of the 1957 World Series, taking the loss in a 4-2 Braves victory.

In addition to making it to the World Series, Shantz also started an enviable streak in 1957.  Remember the earlier note that Shantz was a natural athlete? Well, in 1957, the first Gold Gloves were awarded. In that initial year, one Gold Glove was awarded for each position (not one for each position in each league) and Shantz was the first pitcher to earn a Gold Glove. The following season, Gold Gloves were awarded by league and Shantz won the AL Gold Glove for pitchers in each of the next three seasons. He moved to the NL in 1961, and won four more consecutive Gold Gloves (1961-64).

So, as we look to the 1960 Expansion Draft, we find Shantz – at the time a former MVP, three-time All Star and four-time Gold Glover unprotected by the Yankees. Shantz was the first pick of the Senators, who – two days later – traded him to the Pirates. As a reliever and spot starter for Pittsburgh, Shantz went 6-3, 3.32, with two saves (43 games, six starts).

Then came the 1961 draft. The Pirates did not protect Shantz and the former MVP was again a “draftee,”  selected by the Houston Colt .45’s with the number-21 pick.  Shantz started the first-ever game for Houston (April 10, 1962), beating the Cubs 11-2 on a complete game five-hitter.  He got three starts for Houston (1-1, 1.31) before a May 7 trade to the Cardinals (for OF Carl Warwick and P John Anderson). Shantz had a solid season as a reliever for Saint Louis – 5-3, 2.18 with four saves, and finished out his career as a reliever with the Cardinals, Cubs and Phillies He retired after the 1964 season with a 119-99, 3.38 record (48 saves) in 16 seasons – and BBRT’s vote as the most interesting player in the first – and second – Expansion Drafts.

 

1961 MLB EXPANSION DRAFT ——————————–

Eddie  Bressoud – SS/2B/3B – First pick of the Colt. .45s, taken from the Giants.

The 29-year-old Bressoud had been utility infielder with the Giants (1956-61) – versatile and capable in the field, with a .239 career batting average. Like Bobby Shantz (see above), Bressoud was not to play a single game for the team that made him their first draft pick.  He was traded to the Boston Red Sox for shortstop Don Buddin – which proved an unproductive move.  Buddin played in 40 games for the 1962 Colt .45s, hitting just .163 n 80 at bats before being moved to the Detroit Tigers for cash in mid-season. The slick-fielding Bressoud remained in the major leagues for six more seasons, making the AL All Star team in 1964, when he hit .293 in 158 games as the regular shortstop for the Red Sox. Bressoud closed out his MLB career as a member of the 1967 World Champion Cardinals.

Colt .45’s most interesting pick – Bobby Shantz, taken from the Pirates (see full story in box above).

___________________________________________

Hobie Landrith – C – First pick of the Mets, taken from the Giants.

Hobie Landrith had a dozen MLB seasons under his belt (primarily as a backup catcher, although he did play in 100+ games in 1956 and 1959) when the Mets made him their first Expansion Draft pick.  When asked about the reasoning behind this first pick, Met’s manager Casey Stengel is famously said to have replied, “You have to have catchers or you’re going to have a lot of passed balls.”  Like so many of these first expansion picks, Landrith was not long for his new team.  He played in just 23 games for the Mets (.289-1-7) before being traded to the Orioles for future Mets’ “legend” Marvelous Marv Throneberry. Landrith only played one more season in the big leagues. Throneberry was with the Mets in 1962 and 1963 (his last MLB season) – hitting .240 with 16 home runs and 50 RBI in 130 games. Marvelous Marv later gained fame as a spokesperson for Miller Lite beer.

Mets’ most interesting pick – 1B Gil Hodges, taken from the Dodgers. 

The Mets took 37-year-old veteran 1B Gil Hodges from the Dodgers with the 14th pick of the 1961 draft – bringing a Brooklyn Dodgers fan favorite back to New York. Hodges was an eight-time All Star, all with Brooklyn. He was also a three-time Gold Glover – one with Brooklyn, two with Los Angeles.  At the time he was drafted, Hodges had a .276 career average, 361 home runs and 1,254 RBI.  Hodges got in just 65 games in two seasons with the Mets, hitting .248, with nine homers and 20 RBI.  Hodges, appropriately, did hit the first home run in Mets’ history – on April 11, 1962. He was traded to the Washington Senators (for OF Jimmy Piersall) on May 23, 1963 – immediately retiring as a player to take over as the Senators’ manager (the purpose of the trade.)

1968 EXPANSION DRAFT ————————————–

Ollie Brown – RF – First pick of the Padres, taken from the Giants.

Ollie “Downtown” Brown, a plus defender with a strong arm, was the first pick of the expansion Padres – and it worked out well for Brown and the team.  A part-timer with the Giants (181 games from 1965-68), Brown became a staple in the outfield for the Padres.  In 1969, he played in 151 games for San Diego, hitting .264, with 20 HR’s and 61 RBI.  He did even better the following season – .292-23-89 in 139 games. He was a regular in the Padres’ OF until he was traded to Oakland in 1972. Brown stayed in the majors through 1977 (13 seasons), putting up a career average of .265, with 102 home runs and 454 RBI.

Padres’ most interesting pick – 1B Nate Colbert, taken from the Houston Astros.

The Padres took Nate Colbert with the 18th pick of the 1968 Expansion Draft and, while he had a .133 average in 39 games with the Astros (1966 & 1968), he immediately began living up to his potential with the Padres. (In 1967-1968, Colbert had hit 42 home runs at Double A and Triple A). The 23-year-old hit .255 with 24 home runs and 66 RBI in his first season in San Diego and went on to earn three All Star berths and hit 163 home runs in six seasons for the team. His best season was 1972, when he went .250-38-111 for the Padres. Colbert gained further fame on August 1, 1972, when he hit a record-tying five home runs in a double header.  Adding to the “interest factor” for BBRT is the fact the only other time that feat was accomplished (by Stan Musial on May 2, 1954), Colbert (then 8-years-old) was in the stands.

_________________________________________________

Manny Mota – LF – First pick of the  Expos, taken from the Pirates.

Manny Mota, the Expos’ first-pick in the 1968 draft, played only 31 games for the team before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mota and Expos’ SS Maury Wills were traded to the Dodgers for OF/1B Ron Fairly and IF Paul Popovich in mid-June of the 1969 season. Mota was with the Dodgers until 1982 (an All Star in 1973), becoming one MLB’s most adept pinch hitters; while Wills (who started his career with the Dodgers) stayed with LA through the 1972 season. Fairly was a Montreal regular (and a 1973 All Star). In six seasons with the Expos, he hit .276, with 86 home runs and 331 RBI. Popovich was immediately traded to the Cubs for OF Adolfe Phillips and RHP Jack Lamabe. (Phillips hit .216 in 58 games for the Expos that season, Lamabe spent the season in the minors and never pitched in the major again.)

Expos’ most interesting pick – Maury Wills, taken from the Pirates.

The Expos selected Dodger SS Maury Wills with the 21st pick of the NL Expansion Draft.  The 36-year-old Wills was a five-time All Star, two-time Gold Glover, 1962 NL MVP and had led the NL in stolen bases six times. He’d spent most of his career with the Dodgers, but in the year preceding the Expansion Draft, he had hit .278, with 52 steals for the Pirates – who did not protect him in the draft. (Wills was traded by the Dodgers to the Pirates after the 1966 season, reportedly over a disagreement over payment for a team post-season tour of Japan.)  The 36-year-old Wills got into 47 games for the Expos (.222, 15 steals), before being traded back to his original team (the Dodgers), where he hit .297 with 25 more steals. Wills retired as a Dodger in 1972, with a .281 average and 586 stolen bases.

____________________________________________________

Roger Nelson – RHP – First pick of the Royals, taken from the Orioles.

Roger Nelson had gone 4-3, 2.41 in 19 games (six starts) for the Royals in 1968 – after starting the season 3-0, 1.29 at AAA Rochester. At 24-years-old, he already had 6 years of professional experience when the Mariners made him their first choice.  Nelson started 29 games for the Royals, going 7-13, 3.31. He was with the team for three more seasons, his best being 1972, when he went 11-6, 2.08 at a starter and reliever. After the 1972 season, he was traded (along with OF Richie Scheinblum) to the Reds for Of Hal McCrae and RHP Wayne Simpson. McCrae would spend 15 seasons with Kansas City, compiling a .293 average for the team, earning three All Star selections and leading the  AL in doubles twice (54 in 1977 and 46 in 1982) and RBI once (133 in 1982).

Royals’ most interesting pick – RHP Hoyt Wilhelm from the Chicago White Sox.

Future Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm was already 46-years-old, a four-time All Star and had appeared in more than 900 games when the Royals made him the 49th pick in the AL Expansion Draft. Who would have thought the ageless knuckleballer still had four seasons (including one All Star campaign) left in his arm. Apparently not the Royals, who quickly traded Wilhelm to the California Angels for a pair of catchers – Ed Kirkpatrick and Dennis Paepke. Kirkpatrick hit .248 with 56 home runs in six seasons with the Royals, while Paepke got in just 80 games (.183 average) in four Royals’ seasons. Wilhelm split the 1969 season with the Angels and Cubs, going 7-7, 2.19 (14 saves) in 52 appearances. In 1970, he split time with the Braves and Cubs, going 6-5, 3.40 with 13 saves and making his final All Star game. Wilhelm retired after the 1972 season (his 21st MLB campaign) having appeared in 1,070 games (none for the Royals), with a 143-122 record, 228 saves and a 2.52 career ERA.

_________________________________________________

Don Mincher – 1B – First pick of the Pilots, taken from the Angels.

Don Mincher had established himself as a steady source of power when the Seattle Pilots made him their first choice in the 1968 Expansion Draft. In nine MLB seasons (Washington/Minnesota/California), Mincher had hit .248, with 130 home runs (despite averaging just 98 games per season), topping 20 homers in a season three times. The 31-year-old played in 140 games for Seattle in 1969, hitting .246, with a team-leading 25 home runs and 78 RBI (second on the Pilots to Tommy Davis’ 80). The Pilots, of course, moved to Milwaukee (to become the Brewers) in 1970 – but Mincher did not make the trip. The Pilots’ leading source of power was traded (along with infielder Ron Clark) to the Oakland A’s for pitchers Lew Krausse and Ken sanders, OF Mike Hershberger and C Phil Roof.

Pilots’ most interesting pick –OF Lou Piniella taken from the Indians. 

Wow, the Pilots had several interesting picks – Mike Marshall, who would go on to set records for relief appearances in a season in both the NL and AL; two-time batting champ Tommy Davis; and a 28-year-old outfielder named Tommy Harper, who would lead the AL in stolen bases for the Pilots with 73 in 1969 and join the 30-30 (HR/SB) club in 1970.

For BBRT, their most interesting pick was a 25-year-old outfielder named Lou Piniella, taken from the Indians with the 28th pick. The Pilots traded Piniella to the Royals (appropriately on April Fool’s Day) before the season opened (for RHP John Gelnar and OF Steve Whitaker).  The Pilots looked a bit foolish when Piniella went on to earn Rookie of the Year honors with the Royals – and then enjoyed an 18-season MLB career (.291 average, 102 home runs, 766 RBI), as well as a long career as an MLB manager.

1976 EXPANSION DRAFT —————————–

Ruppert Jones – CF –  First pick of Mariners, taken from the Royals.

Ruppert Jones began his professional career at age 18 (1973), hitting .301 in 61 games for the Royals’ rookie-level Billings (Montana) Mustangs. The next season – at Class A – he hit .320 with 21 home runs and 24 stolen bases.  In 1975 and 1976, he held his own at AAA (.243-13-54, with 12 steals; .262-19-73, with 16 steals). In 1976, he was called up to the Royals and made his MLB debut in August, but hit just .216 in 28 games.  The Mariners, however, recognized Jones’ potential and made him their first choice.  In his initial season with Seattle, Jones got in 160 games, hitting .263, with 24 home runs, 76 RBI and 13 steals – earning his first of two All Star selections (he was also an All Star with the 1982 Padres). Jones was with the Mariners for three seasons, before being traded to the Yankees in a six-player deal in November of 1979. Jones hit.250 with 147 home runs and stole 143 bases in a 12-year MLB career.

Mariners’ most interesting pick – Outfielder Dave Collins, taken from the Angels.  

The Mariners used their number-14 pick in the 1976 Expansion Draft to add some speed to their roster – in the form of 24-year-old, switch-hitting outfielder Dave Collins. Collins had spent a good portion of the 1975-76 seasons with the Angels, getting into 192 games and hitting .265 with 56 stolen bases. In 1977, he hit .239 (120 games) for the Mariners, and swiped 25 bags.  After the season, the Mariners traded Collins to the Reds for LHP Shane Rawley. Collins went on to a 16-year MLB career in which he hit .272, with 395 steals (a high of 79 for the Red in 1980.)  Collins hit over .300 thee times, with 1980 his best overall season – .303 average, 79 steals, 94 runs scored.) What makes Collins most “interesting” to BBRT is that he is one of a handful of players who played in the short-lived Senior Professional Baseball Association (for retired and released players over age 35) and made it back to the major leagues.  (For the story on the SPBA, click here.)

_________________________________________________

Bob Bailor – Utility – First pick of the Blue Jays, taken from the Orioles.

In 1975 and 1976, Bob Bailor got the proverbial ”cup of coffee” in the big leagues – 14 games and 13 at bats with the Orioles. The versatile player had put up some pretty good minor league numbers – with a solid average and plenty of speed.  (In 1975, he hit .293 and swiped 21 bases at AAA.) Toronto made Bailor their first choice in the 1976 Expansion Draft and he responded with arguably his best MLB season, In 1977, Bailor put up a .310 average, with 5 home runs and 15 steals in 122 games; while playing all three OF spots and shortstop. Bailor hit.264 over an 11-year MLB career (four seasons with the Blue Jays) in which he spent time at every position except pitcher, catcher and first base.

Blue Jays’ most interesting pick – DH Rico Carty, taken from the Indians.  

While the Blue Jays went with diversity (of positions) with their first pick, their most interesting pick might have been a more limited player taken at number ten – Designated Hitter and former batting champ (.366 for the Braves in 1970) Rico Carty. Now here’s where (and why), it gets interesting – and yo-yo like.  The 37-year-old Carty was traded by the Blue Jays TO the Indians (for OF John Lowenstein and C Rick Cerone). Carty went on to a .280-15-80 season as the Indians’ primary DH. Then, during Spring Training 1978, the Blue Jays traded LHP Dennis DeBarr to the Indians FOR Carty.  The DH hit .284-20-68 for Toronto in 104 games before being traded TO the Oakland A’s (for DH Willie Horton and RHP Phil Huffman) in August.  In 41 games for Oakland, Carty hit .277 and added another 11 round trippers. That gave the DH a respectable .282-31-99 season. Then, in October 1978, the Blue Jays again ACQUIRED Carty (for cash this time). In 1979, with Toronto – his last MLB season –  Carty hit .256-12-55.  Carty probably should have retired one year earlier. In his 15-season MLB career, Carty hit .299 (204 home runs, 890 RBI). a .300 average would have been nice.

1992 EXPANSION DRAFT ———————————–

David Nied – RHP – First pick of the Rockies, taken from the Braves.

By the time of the 1992 draft, David Nied looked like a true prospect. In 1992, he had gone 14-9, 2.84 at Triple A and then 3-0, 1.17 in a call up to the Braves.  (In five minor league seasons, Nied had a 57-36 record, with a 3.26 ERA). The Rockies couldn’t resist and made Nied their number-one choice in the Expansion Draft. That first season, the 24-year-old Nied went 5-9, 5.17.He did start the first-ever Rockies’ game and pitch Colorado’s first-ever complete game and shutout.  The following year, he improved to 9-7, 4.80. Then in 1995, an elbow injury proved the first step in shortening his career (he was out of baseball by age 28).  In parts of four seasons with the high-air Rockies, Nied went 14-18, 5.47.

Rockies’ most interesting pick –  Vinny Castilla, taken from the Braves.

The Rockies used the number-forty pick to take a promising young (25-year-old) shortstop with just 21 games MLB experience from the Braves. His name was Vinny Castilla and in 105 games at SS for the Rockies in 1992, he hit .255, with nine home runs and 30 RBI – but there was much, much more to come. Castilla was moved to 3B and, in nine seasons with the Rockies, hit .294 with 239 home runs and 745 RBI – topping 40 HR’s three times and 100 RBI five times. Castilla had a 16-season MLB career, hitting .276, with 320 home runs and 1,105 RBI.

____________________________________________________

Nigel Wilson – OF – First pick of the  Marlins, taken from the Blue Jays.

Being the Mariners’ first choice in the 1992 Expansion Draft was one of the highlights of Nigel Wilson’s MLB career – which was comprised of 22 games and 36 plate appearances, over three seasons (1993-95-96) with three teams (Marlins, Reds, Indians). That’s not to say Wilson had not shown promise.  In 1992, he hit .274, with 26 home runs and 13 stolen bases at Double A Knoxville.  This after a .301 season (12 homers, 27 steals) at High A Dunedin in 1991.  In 1993, Wilson got in only seven games for the Marlins, going zero-for-sixteen – although he did hit .293 with 17 home runs and eight steals for the Marlins’ AAA farm club.  Somehow, that minor league success never translated to the majors. Wilson’s final MLB line shows a .086 average (3-for-35) with two home runs and five RBI. Wilson did go on to have three seasons of 30+ home runs in Japan.

Marlins’ most interesting pick – RHP Trevor Hoffman, taken from the Reds.

Yes indeed, the Reds left Trevor Hoffman (who would go on  log 601 MLB saves) unprotected in the 1992 draft – and the Marlins grabbed him with the number-eight pick. Hoffman had not yet pitched in the major leagues and, in 1992, he had gone 7-6, 3.41 as a starter and reliever at Double A and Triple A. While the Reds didn’t protect him, the Marlins didn’t keep him. (Two wrongs don’t make a right.) Hoffman got in 28 games for the Marlins (2-2, 3.28, 2 saves) before being traded to the Padres (along with two minor league pitchers) for Gary Sheffield and relief pitcher Rich Rodriguez. The rest is history, 601 career saves (552 with San Diego), seven All Star selections, 14 seasons of over 30 saves, with a high of 53 in 1998.  I don’t think Hoffman will be wearing a Marlins’ hat when the HOF finally calls.

1997 EXPANSION DRAFT ——————————————–

Tony Saunders – LHP – First Pick of the Devil Rays, taken from the Marlins.

Signed by the Marlins in 1992, Tony Saunders made it t0 the major leagues in 1997 – after several strong minor league seasons. Between 199 and 1996, Saunders went 34-15, with a 2.85 ERA in nearly 400 minor league innings.  In 1997, he went 4-6, 4.61 in 22 games (21 starts) for the Marlins – and got a start in both the National League Championship Series and World Series. In his first season with the Devil Rays, Saunders went 6-15, 4.12 in 31 starts. The following year, his last in the major leagues, he went 3-3, 6.43 – before a broken arm (May 26) cut his season (and eventually his career) short. (In 2000, he broke the arm again during a rehab assignment.)

Devil Rays’ most interesting pick – Brooks Kieschnick, taken from the Cubs.

Okay, I thought of going with Saunders – based on his pitching in the World Series shortly before being given up in the draft. However, I was afraid you’d think I was getting lazy (this is a pretty long post), so I went with Kieschnick.  You’d be right to ask why, particularly since Kieschnick spent all his time with the Devil Rays in their minor league system. Kieschnick piqued my interest because he was a bit of a jack of all trades.  In 2003, while with the Brewers, Kieschnick became the first player to hit home runs as a pitcher, designated hitter and pinch hitter in the same season. For his MLB career, Kieschnick played 784 games at pitcher, 50 in the outfield, four at DH and two at 1B – and none for the Devil Rays.

____________________________________________________

Brian Anderson – LHP – First pick of the Diamondbacks, taken  from the Indians.

Twenty-five-year-old southpaw Brian Anderson already had 58 major league appearances (20-16, 5.25 ERA) under his belt when the Diamondbacks made him their first choice in the 1997 draft. Like Devil Rays’ first pick Tony Saunders, Anderson pitched in the 1997 post season – making a combined six appearances in relief in the American League Championship Series and World Series. He pitched well in both, going 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in ten innings. Still, like Saunders, he was left unprotected. The southpaw had a solid season for the expansion team in 1998, going 12-13, 4.33 in 32 starts. He stayed with Arizona for four more seasons ending his Diamondbacks’ tenure with a 41-32 record and 4.52 ERA. Anderson pitched for four teams in 13-season MLB career, going 82-83, 4.74.

Diamondback’s most interesting pick –  LHP Brian Anderson.

This is based on his World Series’ performance (see above) – just weeks before he was left unprotected in the draft.  Kind of a cop out, but I did need to recognize that the 1997 draft included two pitchers who, just weeks before, had been on the mound in the World Series.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research; The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

Why We Watch Baseball – Always Something to See

 

clev2seatsThere are plenty of reasons to watch baseball.  You know what I’m talking about: The powerful bats of Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson; the glove work of Andrelton  Simmons and Kevin Kiermaier;  the speed of Jose Altuve and Dee Gordon; the mound work of Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arietta.  There are also the unfolding “stories” of rookies like Kevin Story and Jeremy Hazelbaker or veterans like Bartolo Colon and David Ortiz.

Yesterday, April 22, we saw examples of another group of reason we watch baseball –and should never leave early. I’m talking about those unique events and plays that make so many games memorable.

  • Fans in Chicago saw their White Sox complete a unique 9-3-2-6-2-5 triple play. For those of you who don’t keep score, that means the ball went from the right fielder to the first baseman to the catcher to the shortstop back to the catcher and, finally, to the third baseman. It all started with the Texas Rangers having the bases loaded with no outs. The hitter (Mitch Moreland) lashed what looked to be base hit to right, only White Sox’ right fielder Adam Eaton ran it down. The runners were moving (assuming the safety), so Eaton fired to first baseman Jose Abreu, who put the tag on Texas’ returning base runner Ian Desmond (who overran the bag and was tagged out in foul territory). Abreu then threw to White Sox catcher Dioner Navarro (to prevent the runner on third from scoring). Navarro saw a Rangers’ base runner Adrian Beltre (who started the play on second base) stranded between second and third and fired to White Sox shortstop Tyler Saladino. At that point, Prince Fielder, the Texas runner at third, broke for home. So, Saladino threw back to Navarro, who threw to third baseman Todd Frazier to get the retreating Fielder for the final out of the triple play.  Great play, cast of thousands. THAT was worth the price of admission. (The White Sox, by the way, won the game 5-0.)

Any triple play news reminds BBRT of the time (July 17, 1990) that the Twins completed two traditional 5-4-3 triple plays in a game (the only time a team has achieved two triple play in  a single game) – and still lost 1-0. For the price of one admission, Boston fans got to enjoy the Fenway atmosphere, witness a home team victory and see history made.

  • Yesterday, fans in New York saw a little better base running than those in Chicago, as Yankees’ CF Jacob Ellsbury completed a clean steal of home in New York’s 6-3 win over the Rays. The steal came in the fifth inning off Rays’ starter Matt Moore.  With two out, Ellsbury and NY SS Didi Gregorius singled – and then were moved up to second and third on a balk. With LF Brett Gardner at the plate, the infield playing back and Moore pitching out of a full windup, Ellsbury saw an opportunity.  On a 3-1 count,  he broke for the plate as Moore went into his lineup.  Ellsbury was safe on a diving slide, and the pitch was ball four.  Again, that one play well worth the cost of a ticket.

Straight steals of home take BBRT back to 1969 when I was privileged to see Rod Carew steal home at old Met Stadium. (He swiped home seven times that season – one short of Ty Cobb’s AL and MLB record.) It also reminds me of the ironic (or iconic) fact that Babe Ruth stole home more times than Willie Mays or Maury Wills.

  • While fans in New York were treated to Ellsbury’s speed, Pittsburgh put on a power display last night. The Pirates 8-7 win over the Diamondback in Arizona featured home runs by SS Jordy Mercer, RF Gregory Polanco and 3B Sean Rodriguez. The special treat? They were three of the six longest home runs hit so far this season (as measured by Statcast). Mercer’s was the year’s longest at 466.1 feet; Polanco took over the number-five spot at 460.7 feet; and Rodriguez  powered in at number six at 458.5 feet. How likely was this? It was the first homer of the year for Mercer and Polanco and just the second for Rodriguez. Worth the price of admission? Maybe not in Arizona, but still a sight to see.

Back on September 14, 1987 – in an 18-3 win over the Orioles (in Toronto) – the Blue Jays hit a single-game record 10 home runs. The hitters:   C Ernie Whitt – 3 HR’s; 3B Rance Mulliniks – 2 HR’s; LF George Bell – 2 HRs; CF Lloyd Moseby; CF (replacement) Rob Ducey; DH Fred McGriff.  Love to have had that ticket.

Even as I write this post – while watching the Twins on TV – a unique point of interest is emerging. National’s starter Tanner Roark is pitching a two-hit shutout.  No so unusual, but he’s also fanned a dozen in just five innings.  And, he has already fanned every Twin in the starting lineup at least once.  History being made? Who knows.  Clearly a performance worth watching.

Interested is some baseball trivia and haven’t taken the BBRT quizzes yet?  Click here for Quiz One and here for Quiz Two.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

Rookies with 35 or More Home Runs – Could this be a Trevor Story?

StoryOne of the top “stories” (pun intended) of the 2016 MLB season has been Colorado Rockies’ rookie shortstop Trevor Story – just 14 games into the season, Story has an MLB-leading eight home runs. That got BBRT to thinking: How many long balls would Story need to put himself into a top-ten spot on the all-time rookie leader board?  It appears a season of 35 home runs would do it – and that reaching the mark can portend a pretty long and successful career.  Let’s take a look at the past rookies who have reached 35 home runs.

 

 

 

 

ALL TIME ROOKIE SEASON HR LEADERS

49 HR … Mark McGwire, 1B,  A’s, 1987 – Age at start of rookie season: 23

Mark McGwire, who played in just 18 games for the A’s in 1986 (three home runs, nine RBI), retained his rookie status for 1987 – and he made the most of it.  McGwire played in 151 games, hitting .289 with an MLB (and AL) rookie-record 49 home runs and 118 RBI.  His performance was good for an All Star berth and the AL Rookie of the Year award.  Note: In 1985 and 1986, McGwire had hit 47 home runs and driven in 218 at A-AA-AAA.

McGwire went on to hit 583 home runs and collect 1,414 RBI in 16 MLB seasons – leading his league in HR’s four times (high of 70 HR’s in 1991) and RBI once (high of 147 in 1998 and 1999). McGwire was a 12-time All Star.  Nickname: Big Mac.

A little known fact about Mark McGwire – he was an AL Gold glove winner in 1990.

38 HR … Wally Berger, LF, Braves, 1930 – Age at start of rookie season: 24

Although he moved to CF in 1931, Wally Berger started out in LF with the Braves. He made the team in 1930 – after hitting .355 with 40 round trippers in the Pacific Coast League (then AA) the year before.  In his MLB rookie season, Berger hit .310, with 38 home runs (tied for the NL Rookie record) and 119 RBI. The 38 home runs was Berger’s career high. Berger was a four-time All Star in his 11-season MLB career – during which he hit .300, with 242 HR’s and 898 RBI. In 1935, he led the NL with 34 HR and 130 RBI.

Berger was the starting CF for the NL in the first MLB All Star game (1933).

38 HR …. Frank Robinson, OF, Reds, 1956 – Age at start of season: 20

Frank Robinson broke onto the MLB scene as a 20-year-old in 1956 by hitting .290, with 38 home runs (tied for the NL rookie record) and 83 RBI.  (In three minor league seasons, Robinson hit .320, with 54 home runs.) Robinson was an All Star and NL Rookie of the Year in 1956 – and he never looked back, earning his way into the Hall of Fame.  He ended his career in 1976 with a .294 average, 586 home runs and 1,812 RBI. He was an All Star in 12 seasons and won just about every award possible: NL Rookie of the Year (1956); NL Most Valuable Player (1961); AL MVP (1966); World Series MVP (1966); All Star Game MVP (1971); AL Triple Crown (1966); Gold Glover (1958). Nickname(s): The Judge; Pencils.

Robinson was the first African-American manager in both the AL (Indians 1975) and NL (Giants 1981).

37 HR … Al Rosen, 3B, Indians, 1950 – Age at start of rookie season: 26

Rosen’s strong minor league numbers, .328 average and 86 homers in five minor league seasons, earned him a call up to the Indians in 1947-48-49.  His service was brief, however, 54 at bats in 35 games – and he retained his rookie status when he opened the 1950 campaign with Cleveland. Rosen clearly delivered on his promise in that rookie season – .327-37-116; and he scored 100 runs and drew 100 walks. Rosen played ten MLB seasons, hitting .285, with 192 HR’s and 717 RBI. His best season was 1953, when he hit .336, with 43 HR’s and 145 RBI – all career highs. Rosen was an All Star in four seasons and the 1953 AL MVP. He led the AL in runs scored once, home runs twice and RBI twice.  Nickname(s): Flip; The Hebrew Hammer.

How the (All Star) game has changed. In the 1954 All Star contest, Al Rosen played 1B and 3B, had three hits and a walk in five plate appearances, scored twice, drove in five runs and hit two homers – all while playing with a broken finger. Rosen is one of only five players to hit two home runs in an All Star Game (Arky Vaughn -1941; Ted Williams – 1946; Rosen- 1954; Willie McCovey – 1969; Gary Carter – 1981) and one of only two players to drive in five runs in an All Star Game (Ted Williams – 1946; Rosen – 1954).

37 HR … Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals, 2001 – Age at start of rookie season: 21

Albert Pujols started the 2001 season with the Cardinals – following just one minor league campaign (A – High A – AAA) in which he hit .314 with 19 homers and 98 RBI. The 21-year-old rookie did even better at the major league level, hitting .329 with 37 home runs and 130 RBI – earning a spot on the All Star team and the NL Rookie of the Year award. That began a string of ten consecutive seasons of a batting average of .300+, 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI. He almost has an eleventh. In 2011, the string was broken when he went .299-37-99. As this post is being prepared, Pujols is still active (16th season), has been an All Star in ten seasons, NL MVP three times (2005, 2008, 2009) and a Gold Glover twice.  He has led his league in runs scored five times, hits once, doubles once, HR’s twice, RBI once and batting average once.  He has a career average of .311, 562 home runs and 1,708 RBI (all those may change by the time you read this.)  Nickname(s); Prince Albert; The Machine.

In 2002, Albert Pujols played first base, third base, shortstop, left field, right field and designated hitter for the Cardinals.

36 HR … Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox, 2014 – Age at start of rookie season: 27

Jose Abreu joined the White Sox in 2014 after ten seasons as a star in Cuba (640 games, .341 average, 178 home runs, 583 RBI). The White Sox’ investment paid immediate dividends, as the 27-year-old MLB rookie hit .317, with 36 home runs and 107 RBI – making the All Star team and earning AL Rookie of Year honors. Abreu, still active, followed that up with a .290-30-101 campaign in 2015.

In 2010, playing for Elefantes de Cienfuegos, Abreu hit .453 (66 games), with 33 homers and 93 RBI.  His batting average and home run totals for 2009-10-11 were, respectively: .399-30 in 89 games; .453-33 in 66 games; and .394-35 in 87 games.

35 HR … Hal Trosky, 1B, 1934 – Age at start of rookie season: 21

In 1933, Hal Trosky blossomed at AA Toledo, hitting .323 with 33 home runs in 132 games – earning a call up to the Indians during which he hit.295 in 11 games.  Still a rookie in 1934, Trosky got into 154 games and hit .330,with 35 home runs and 142 RBI. He went on to an 11-season MLB career, hitting .302, with 228 homers and driving in 1,012 runs.  His career-best season was 1936, when he hit.343, with 42 HR’s and 162 RBI.

Hal Trosky never made an All Star team – blame the likes of Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx.

35 HR … Rudy York, C/1B/3B, Tigers, 1937 – Age at start of rookie season: 23

Rudy York showed his power potential early.  As a 21-year-old he hit .301, with 32 home runs at A-level Beaumont; then, at 22, he hit .334 with 37 home runs at Milwaukee (AA). In 1937, he was in the big leagues to stay – and he responded with a .307 average, accompanied by 35 home runs and 101 RBI – all in just 104 games. York went on to a 13-year MLB career in which he was an All Star in seven seasons and hit .275 with 277 home runs and 1,149 RBI. In 1943, he led the AL in home runs (34) and RBI (118), while compiling a .271 average.

Rudy York has the distinction of being the only hitter ever struck out by Ted Williams. On August 24, 1940, Williams came in from the outfield and pitched the final two innings of a 12-1 Red Sox loss to the Tigers (in Boston). It was Williams’ only career pitching appearance (he gave up one run on three hits) and was historic for Rudy York because he became the only player ever struck out by Ted Williams (on three pitches). Ironically, York went 4-5 with a double, two singles, a home run, three runs scored and five RBI off the regular members of the Red Sox’ mound staff before facing Williams.

35 HR … Ron Kittle, OF, White Sox, 1983 – Age at start of rookie season: 25

In 1983, White Sox rookie OF Ron Kittle started off his MLB career with a bang – a .254-35-100 season and the AL Rookie of the Year award. Despite a steady show of power over 10 MLB seasons, Kittle would never again reach 35 homers or 100 RBI. He wrapped up his career in 1991, with a .239 average, 176 home runs and 460 RBI.

The year before Ron Kittle made the major leagues to stay, he destroyed Triple A pitching,  In 127 games for the Pacific Coast League Edmonton Trappers, he hit .345, with 50 home runs and 144 RBI.

35 HR … Mike Piazza, C, Dodgers, 1993 – Age at start of rookie season: 24

In 1992, Mike Piazza earned the proverbial cup of coffee in the major leagues by hitting .350, with 23 home runs and 90 RBI at AA and AAA.  In 21 games with the Dodgers, he hit .232 with just one home run. 1993 would be a different story.  Piazza hit .318, with 35 homers and 112 RBI for the Dodgers – earning All Star recognition and NL Rookie of the Year honors. The ride continued for 14 more seasons – all the way to the Hall Of Fame.  While he never led his league in any category, Piazza was an exceptional offensive performer – an All Star in 12 seasons and nine-times a Silver Slugger Award winner. He retired after  the 2007 season with a .308 career average, 427 home runs and 1,335 RBI. Piazza topped 30 HR’s nine times, 100 RBI six times and a .300 average ten times. He holds the record for home runs as a catcher at 396.

Mike Piazza is lowest MLB Draft pick to make the Hall of Fame. He was chosen in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft – which means 1,389 played were chosen ahead of him.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

photo by:

Immaculate Innings and More – Pounding the Zone

They’re called immaculate innings – striking out the side on nine consecutive pitches. Not that rare a feat – it’s been accomplished by 75 different pitchers. Rare, however, is the hurler who pitches an immaculate inning more than once in a career. That list is limited to four – and they are all Hall of Famers: Lefty Grove – who did it for the Athletics; Sandy Koufax – Dodgers; Nolan Ryan – Mets & Angels; and Randy Johnson – Astro & Diamondback). BBRT note:  Nolan Ryan is the only pitcher to throw an immaculate inning in both the AL and NL.  The Astros were in the NL when Johnson threw his for them.

  http://

 

SANDY KOUFAX TOSSED A RECORD THREE IMMACULATE INNINGS

Why bring this up today?  Because April 18 is the anniversary of the date (in 1964) when Dodgers’ great Sandy Koufax became the first – and still only – pitcher to throw three immaculate innings in his career.  Koufax’ third  nine-strike, three-strikeout inning came in the third inning of a 3-0 loss to the Reds in LA and his victims were the 7-8-9 hitters: SS Leo Cardenas, C Johnny Edwards and P Jim Maloney.  Koufax gave up three runs on three hits and three walks (and six strikeouts) in that game.

Immaculate on the Big Stage

The only pitcher to throw a nine-pitch, three-strikeout inning in the World Series is the Royals’ Danny Jackson. On October 24, 1985, Jackson started Game Five of the Series against the Cardinals. He threw a complete-game, five-hitter in beating the Redbirds 6-1.  He walked three and struck out five, including 3B Terry Pendelton, C Tom Nieto and PH Brian Harper on nine pitches in the seventh inning. Jackson had gone 14-12, 3.42 in the regular season He had taken the loss in Game One of the Series, despite giving up only two runs (four hits, two walks, seven strikeouts) in seven innings. His Game Five win pulled the Royals to 3-2. They eventually won the series four games to three.

Koufax’  third immaculate inning came almost a year-to-date  after his second such inning. It happend on  April 19, 1963 – when he fanned Houston Colt .45’s 3B Bob Aspromonte, C Jim Campbell and P Turk Farrell (yes, the 7-8-9 hitters again) in the fifth inning  of a 2-0 home win over Houston.  In that contest, Koufax went the distance in a two-hit, two-walk, 14-strikeout victory. The southpaw’s first immaculate inning came on June 30, 1962. That time, he worked the top, rather than the bottom, of the order.  It came in the first inning of a 5-0 no- hit victory over the Mets (in LA) and the victims were LF Richie Ashburn, 3B Rod Kanehl and 2B Felix Mantilla.  Koufax walked five and struck out 13 in what was the first of four career no-hitters.

Pounding the Strike Zone

On April 18, 2012, the Oakland Athletics’ Bartolo Colon had a stretch of 38 straight strikes (from the second pitch of the fifth inning to seventh pitch of the eighth).  The stretch included 17 called strikes, 10 foul balls, 10 balls put into play – and, notably, only one swinging strike. Over the stretch, Colon recorded four ground outs, two strikeouts (one swinging), three fly outs, one pop out and two hits (a single and a double). For the game (he got the win), Colon went eight innings, giving up four hits and no runs, with no walks and five strikeouts.  The A’s topped the Angels 6-0.

IMMACULATE EXTRA INNINGS

Only two  immaculate innings have been thrown after the ninth inning:

  • Sloppy Thurston, White Sox, August 22, 1923 … Thurston, who came on in the 11th inning, threw and immaculate 12th before giving up a run in the 13th and taking the loss in a 3-2 Athletics victory.
  • Juan Perez, Phillies, July 8, 2011 … Perez came on (against the Braves) in the top of the tenth of a 2-2 game and fanned the side. The Phillies scored on a Raul Ibanez HR in the bottom of the inning to give Perez the win.

BBRT side note for Twins fans: While no Twin has ever thrown an immaculate inning, former-Twin LaTroy Hawkins tossed one for the Cubs (against the Marlins) on September 11, 2004. Hawkins came on in the ninth inning to save a 5-2 Cubs win and used just nine pitches to fan three tough hitters: 1B  Jeff Conine, RF Juan Encarnacion and SS Alex Gonzalez.  Here’s a list of pitchers who have thrown an immaculate inning while  facing only three batters in a game – in the ninth inning unless otherwise noted:

  • Jim Bunning, Tigers … August 2, 1959
  • Doug Jones, Brewers … September 23, 1977
  • Pedro Borbon, Reds … June 23, 1979
  • Jeff Montgomery, Royals … April 29, 1990
  • Stan Belinda, Royals … August 6, 1994
  • Todd Worrell, Dodgers … August 13, 1995
  • Ugueth Urbina, Expos … April 4, 2000
  • Jason Isringhausen, Cardinals …. April 13, 2002
  • Rafael Soriano, Rays … August 23, 2010
  • Juan Perez, Phillies, 10th inning … July 8, 2011
  • Steve Delabar, Blue Jays, 8th inning … July 30, 2013
  • Rex Brothers, Rockies, 8th inning… June 14, 2014
  • Sergio Casilla, Giants … May 7, 2015

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research; The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

 

 

Twins Home Opener – and MLB’s First Week

A look at the Minnesota Twins Home Opener – And, at the end of the post, some unique events from the first week of the MLB season.

 

 

“There is NOTHING like baseball’s Opening Day. The day drips with symbolism and elicits emotions across our community, our region, and our nation. Every opener should  be a day game. Every kid should have the opportunity to attend. In my view this, is a national holiday.”

                                                                   Dave St. Peter, Minnesota Twins President

 

od2016The first game of a new season (whether it’s part of MLB’s Opening Day or your team’s Home Opener) does indeed elicit strong emotions.  That may be especially true here in Minnesota, where the return of baseball is one of the most valued rewards for surviving the frigid winter.  Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby once said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there is no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

Here in Minnesota we take a more active approach to winter, but from what I saw on the faces of fans heading for Target Field yesterday, Minnesotans have been eagerly anticipating the return of baseball, their Twins and spring.

Now, BBRT will not ignore the elephant in the room – the Twins’ seventh straight loss to open the season, a not very well-played game and a disappointing outcome for players and fans. This post, however, is more about the opening of a new season and the joy (and optimism) that surrounds the return of baseball each spring.

I’ll also take a look at a few events of Week One (and a day) of the 2016 MLB season that caught my attention.  Here’s a teaser of the kinds of observations you can expect.

The San Diego Padres started out the season by being shutout in their first three games (MLB record), including the most lopsided Opening Day shutout ever – a 15-0 loss to the Dodgers.  Conversely, the Dodgers tied a record, throwing three consecutive shutouts to open the season (full story, click here.)  That caught BBRT’s attention, and I was further intrigued by the fact that after scoring zero runs in their first three games, the Padres turned around and scored 29 in their next two (16-6 and 16-3 wins over the Rockies).

Now to the Twins’ home opener.

PRE-GAME

Home Opener festivities started at 6:00 a.m.  Yes, for those of you from other MLB cities, we “open” pretty much everything we do early here in the Minnesota.  Yesterday, between 6:00 and 9:00 a.m., approximately 1,200 fans made their way to the Target Field (by car, light rail, bus, bicycle and even on foot) to enjoy a complimentary baseball breakfast of brats, hot dogs and coffee – and perhaps share a high-five Twins’ mascot TC Bear.

Twins Fans Elizabeth Wallace and Paul Christensen from Edina showed true Minnesota spirit - enjoying cold pre-game beverages "al fresco," despite chilly temps and a brisk breeze.

Twins Fans Elizabeth Wallace and Paul Christensen from Edina showed true Minnesota spirit – enjoying cold pre-game beverages “al fresco,” despite chilly temps and a brisk breeze.

As game time grew closer, downtown Minneapolis parking lots, local eating and drinking establishments and the Target Field Plaza began to fill – despite a crisp 40-degree day (29-degree wind chill) – with fans wearing a variety of Twins’ gear, as well as an eclectic array of gloves, mittens, bomber hats, ear muffs and hoodies.

By noon the heart of Twins Territory was once again beating in downtown Minneapolis – as was the booming base of DJ Mad Mardigan, who was spinning lots of upbeat tunes for the large, festive crowd that had already gathered in the Target Field Plaza –  in anticipation of the 1:00 p.m. gate opening (3:10 game time). Plaza concession stands were open and doing an ironically (given the weather) “brisk” business and, as is always the case, there were plenty of fans taking photos with the statues outside the ballpark (Harmon Killebrew seemed the most popular), as well as sitting in the giant-sized baseball glove near Gate 34.

At one p.m., another Target Field tradition was honored as the ball park gates were opened to fans (and a new season of baseball) by a host of Twins’ legends, including Bert Blyleven, Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek, Tom Kelly, Jack Morris, Dan Gladden, Rod Carew, and Catherine and Kirby Jr. representing the Puckett family.  Once fan got through the gates and past the bag check and  metal detectors, each was handed a free Twins hooded sweatshirt – a truly Minnesota-focused promotion that many fans immediately put to good use.  For a look at BBRT’s post on 2016 Twins’ promotional items, click here.

"Cluck and Moo" Bloody Mary..

“Cluck and Moo” Bloody Mary.

Once inside the ball park, early arrivals made their way to locations like Hrbek’s, Barrio, The Town Ball Tavern and Two Gingers Pub. At Hrbek’s (near Gate 14), the Prime Rib Sliders were popular and it seemed everyone with a smart phone wanted to take a selfie with the new Buffalo Chicken Wing or “Cluck and Moo” Bloody Mary’s. (Try to imagine a large Bloody Mary topped with a Bacon Cheeseburger on a stick and a chicken wing apparently trying to escape the glass.) One of the more popular early gathering spots was the new Minnie and Paul’s pub in center field – featuring food offerings from Pizza Luce and Red Cow, as well as plenty of beverage options.

The fact is, the Twins have done a great job of making a food and beverage experience part of the fans’ baseball experience.  I highly suggest you go to the game hungry.  Note:  BBRT would recommend the Chicken Tikka from Hot Indian Foods, washed down with a Mango Lassi (non-alcoholic) or Longfellow Lemonade (adult beverage). For a look at some of the new foods and beverages for 2016, click here.

The new Minnie and Paul's pub and The Catch in center field were popular - and in the sun.

The new Minnie and Paul’s pub and The Catch in center field were popular – and in the sun for the whole game.

After a bit of grazing, I made my way to my seat – Section 123, Row 20 Seat Five. Nice lower deck, not too far beyond third base. Other than the chilly breeze (“icy-cold wind” if you prefer), there was plenty of sun and a bright blue sky with just a few start white clouds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We enjoyed the usual Opener activities (and a few unusual ones). Just a few highlights:

  • An MLB video explaining 2016 rule changes.
  • The introduction of staff, coaches and players from both teams (the largest rounds of applause went to Twins’ coaches Eddie Guardado and Tom Brunansky; manager Paul Molitor; and players Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer and Trevor Plo-u-u-u-uffe.
  • The National Anthem, performed by local singer Caroline Smith, followed by an impressively low flyover by a pair of F-16’s from the Duluth-based 148th Fighter Wing of the Minnesota Air National Guard.

odIntroThen came what would prove to be the emotional highlight of the day – the ceremonial first pitch. Twins’ hero, Hall of Famer and seven-time batting champ Rod Carew – who suffered a near fatal heart attack in September  – received a long and warm standing ovation as he made his way to the infield to do the honors. The ovation continued as another Twins’ legend, three-time batting champion and former Carew roommate Tony Oliva delivered the ball to “Sir Rodney.”  Catching the pitch was another three-time batting title winner, Twins’ 1B Joe Mauer.  It was genuinely a feel-good moment – not indicative of what was to come once the pitching began in earnest.

MISCELLANY

Before we get into the game, a few other observations from 2016’s Game One at Target Field:

  • I know why they needed to add the expanded safety netting. Lots of fans were more interested in their cell phones than the action on the field.
  • Conversely, for the first time in quite awhile, I found myself surrounded by fellow scorecard keepers. (At least four within five or six seats of me.) That was reassuring.
  • Yay, a scorecard is still just a buck – and the Twins Magazine is still free.
  • Stadium blankets come in every imaginable color.
  • It seems everything is “sponsored” these days. We witnessed the “RentersWarehouse Challenge” in the eighth inning.
  • Minnesotans are extremely polite when it comes to standing in line and waiting your turn.
  • A fan near me documented the weather by using her phone to take a video of the steam rising from the wild rice soup she purchased mid-game.
  • Appropriately, one of the between innings songs was Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town.” Unfortunately, they missed the chance to cue up “Cold As Ice” by Foreigner.

THE GAME

Okay, let’s be honest.  It was not a good game for the home squad – a seventh straight loss (the worst start in the team’s Minnesota history). On the offensive side of the ball, we saw the Twins go zero-for-six hitting with runners in scoring position, botch a bunt (resulting in a double play) and deliver some questionably conservative base running (at least in the fans’ eyes). On the defensive side, a wild pitch, a hit batsman, five walks, an error, and two unearned runs. Then, of course, there was the sunny – but chilly and windy afternoon. The fans’ frustration emerged with a scattering of un-Minnesota-like boos and a considerable number of empty seats by the eighth inning. The end result was a 4-1 loss to the visiting White Sox. (There, I told your I wouldn’t ignore the elephant in the room – but I am personally giving the Twins a mulligan on this one.)

THERE’S A LONG WAY TO GO

Needless to say, I have been reading and hearing a lot of post-game doom and gloom.  Let me just say, it is a long season.

“Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.”

                                                               Halll of Fame Pitcher Bob Feller

Stats folks have been quick to point out that of the thirty-eight teams that started an MLB season 0-7, only two were able to regroup and finish above .500; that the Twins have scored only 13 runs in seven games and are hitting an MLB-low  .091  with runner in scoring position; and that Twins’ hitters  and have more strikeouts than hits and walks.  (Then again, the Twins had only one win after seven contests last season and finished in second place at 83-79.)  Yes, it’s a depressing way to start the season – but there are 155 games to go.  Oh, and for those who wonder about such things, the worst start to a season in history belongs to the 1988 Orioles, who lost their first 21 games.

Cold Starts Can Be Overcome

In 1991, The Twins – coming off a last-place finish in a seven-team division – got off to a slow start.  As of April 20, they had a 2-9 record (worst in MLB), were 5 ½ games out of first, were riding a seven-game losing streak and had been outscored by 21 runs on the season. By season’s end the Twins had won 95 games – and had become the first MLB team to go from last place one season to World Series Champions the next.

What of 2016?  Well, it’s time for the Twins to dig deep and put a few wins on the board.

“One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every once  in a while you come into a situation where you want to, and where you have to, reach down and prove something.”

                                                             Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.

So, it’s time for the Twins to go out and prove something.

With that, let’s look at a few unique happenings  from the 2016 season’s first week.

A FEW OPENING WEEK OBSERVATIONS

  • Pinch Hitter(s) indeed – a record falls.

On April 8, the Cardinals used three pinch hitters against the Braves and set an MLB record by launching three pinch-hit home runs in a single game (several teams shared the previous record at two). It started with one out in the top of the seventh and the Redbirds trailing the Braves 4-3. Jeremy Hazelbaker pinch-hit for pitcher Jaime Garcia and tied the game on a home run to right-center off Matt Wisler. In the top of the eighth, Aledmys Diaz pinch hit for 1B Matt Adams to lead off the inning – and gave the Cardinals the lead (5-4) on a home run to left off Eric O’Flaherty. Then, with one out in the top of the ninth, Greg Garcia pinch-hit for pitcher Kevin Siegrist and homered to right off John Gant.  The final?  Cardinals 7 – Braves 4.  How likely was this combination? Garcia had two career MLB home runs coming into the game; Hazelkbaker had one; and Diaz had zero.

  • Pinch-hitter, indeed – another record falls.

The Tigers opened the 2016 season on April 5 in Miami. That meant playing by National League rules, putting designated hitter Victor Martinez in an uncomfortable spot – on the bench. That didn’t stop Martinez was putting himself on the AL home run leader board.  According to the Tigers, Martinez became the first player to go deep as pinch-hitter in the first two games of the season (for at least as far back as the research goes – 1914).

Martinez’ Opening Day homer came in the top of the ninth, a solo shot to center (pinch-hitting for pitcher Mark Lowe) that gave Detroit a 7-4 lead.  It turned out to be meaningful blast, as the Marlins tied it at seven in the bottom of the inning. (The Tigers went on to win 8-7 in 11 innings).

The next day, Martinez was called upon to pinch hit for pitcher Justin Wilson with one on and two out in the top of the eighth (Tigers leading 5-2). This time he delivered a two-run shot to left-center.  (Detroit won the contest 7-3).

  • A Storybook beginning.

Colorado SS Trevor Story staked his claim as a Rookie of the year candidate right out of the gate. On Opening Day (April 4). The rookie went two -for-six, with two home runs and four RBI – becoming the first rookie to homer twice while making his debt on Opening Day. The very next day, he went one-for-four – with a solo home run. Then on April 6, he added a fourth home run – a two-run shot in the first inning. After an off  day, he continued his power surge on April 8, being two more round trippers.  At week’s end (end of play Sunday), Story had played in six games, held a .357 average, with seven home runs and 12 RBI.  For more on some of the records Story set or tied and a look at four other players who homered in the first four games of a season, click here.

  • More Why I Hate the DH.

On April 9, Giants fans settled in for an epic pitching duel – as San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner faced off against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.  They got the expected mound battle, as the Giants loss to the Dodgers 3-2 in ten innings; with the two starters going a combined 14 innings, giving up three runs and fanning 13. What caught BBRT’s eye was Bumgarner’s  home run off Kershaw in the second inning.  It was Madbum’s second career homer off the Dodgers’ ace – making him one of only 15 players to take Kershaw deep twice.  It was also Bumgarner’s twelfth career homer – tying him with Yovani Gallardo for the most among active pitchers.

On April 10, last year’s NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, not only earned his second win of the week (Cubs 7 – D-backs 3), but also hit a 440-foot, two-run home run to left center – the culmination of an eight-pitch at bat against Shelby Miller.

  • An Unruly situation.

Only a week into the season and the new infield slide rule has already had a significant impact on the outcome of two MLB games – prompting early calls for its adjustment.

  • A few team stats over the first week (and a day) – stats through Sunday:
    • The Cardinals led all of MLB in fielding miscues – 10 errors in six games. The Nationals, Tigers and Giants had committed just one error each (Giants in seven games, Tigers and Nats four games).
    • The Cardinals also led MLB in free passes, issuing 31 walks in six games, while the Mets walked just seven in five contests.
    • Toronto pitchers fanned the most hitters (64 in seven games), while Clevelands hard-throwing staff fanned the fewest (28, but in only only four games).When you factor in innings pitched, the Orioles were your K leaders with 10.8 per nine innings, while the Rangers are at the bottom at 5.69.
    • Baltimore had MLB’s lowest team ERA at 1.80; Colorado the highest at 7.98.
    • Colorado led all teams in home runs (17 in six games), while the Angels were on the bottom with just one (six games).
    • Minnesota batters struck out an MLB-leading 72 times (does not include Monday’s Home Opener) – exactly twice as many at San Francisco (36 whiffs in seven games).

A Final Thought on Opening Day

On Opening Day, the sun seems a little brighter, the sky a little bluer, the grass a deeper shade of green. Once the game begins, the ball hops off the bat with an especially sharp crack, the pitches seem to have more zip and whir-r-r than ever and the fielders move with a unique combination of grace and energy.  In the stands, the beer is crisp and cold and the hot dogs steam in the cool of early spring.  The fans cheer on their old and new heroes and follow this opening contest with pennant race intensity – the most intense among them logging each play in the new season’s first scorecard.   Baseball Is Back!

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member:  Society for American Baseball Research; The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance. 

Everyone Loves a Good (Trevor) Story

Last April, BBRT featured a blog post about the historic start to Kansas City outfielder Paulo Orlando’s MLB career. On April 9, the 29-year-old rookie collected his first major league hit – a triple to deep center.  Orlando’s next start came on April 12.  In that game, he collected two hits in five at bats (and scored three runs). Not really unusual, unless you consider the fact that both his hits were triples –  making Orland0 the first player ever to log triples for his first three MLB hits.  Notably, in his next two games, Orlando added two more hits – a triple and a single.  So, after four MLB games, Orlando had five hits, four of them triples.

http://

This season, we’ve all been reading about a rookie who has gone Orlando one base, two games (and more) better. I’m talking, of course, about Rockies rookie SS Trevor Story, who has homered in each of this season’s four Rockies’ contests (which also happen to be Story’s first four MLB games.  In those for games, Story has gone 7-for-19 (.368), with six home runs (his first four MLB hits were homers), six runs scored and 11 RBI. In the process, Story has become the:

  • First player to hit two home runs in an Opening Day MLB debut (the fifth to hit two round trippers in his debut regardless of the day of the season).
  • First player whose first four major-league hits went yard.
  • First player to homer in his first four MLB games.
  • Fifth player to hit home runs in the first four games of a season: Willie Mays, Giants (1971); Mark McGwire, Cardinals (1998); Nelson Cruz, Rangers (2011); Chris Davis, Orioles (2013).
  • First player to hit six home runs in the first four games of a season.

Homers in First Four Games of a Season

Willie Mays (1971)

 7-for-18 (.388); five runs; one double’ one triple; five home runs; nine RBI.

Mark McGwire (1998)

7-for-16 (.438); five runs; one double; fuor home runs; 12 RBI.

Nelson Cruz (2011)

5-for-14 (.357); five runs; four home runs; four RBI.

Chris Davis (2013)

9-for-15 (.600); five runs; three doubles; four home runs; 16 RBI.

Trevor Story (2016)

7-for-19 (.368); six runs; six home runs; 11 RBI.

Next stop of the list?  The record for consecutive games with a home run is eight: Dale Long, Pirates (1956); Don Mattingly, Yankees (1987).

So, today, the Story continues.

Opening the Season with Three Straight Shutouts – and How the Game has Changed.

The Dodgers opened this season with three straight shutouts – sorry, Padres’ fans – only the second team in history to do so.  Before 2016, the 1963 Cardinals were the only other team  to open with three whitewashes.  In a reflection of how the game has changed, the Dodgers used at least three pitchers in each contest.  The 1963 Cardinals accomplished the feat by opening their season with three complete-game shutouts. Read on for the details.

The Dodgers have a long reputation for being pitching rich – having captured an MLB-leading 12 CYA honors. The Braves and Phillies are next at seven each. As the 2016 season opened, LA hurlers may have outdone themselves – tying an MLB record by opening the season with three straight shutouts.

Clayton Kershaw got the Dodgers going with x scoreless innings on Opening Day.

Clayton Kershaw got the Dodgers going with seven scoreless innings on Opening Day. Photo: Ron Reiring.

 

On Opening Day (April 4) in San Diego, the Dodgers trounced the Padres 15-0, in the worst opening day shutout loss in MLB history. Clayton Kershaw and two relievers gave up a total of four hits and two walks, while fanning 10.

The April 5 game, started by Dodger Scott Kazmir was more competitive, as LA topped San Diego 3-0. Kazmir and a trio of relievers gave up just two hits, no walks and recorded 11 strikeouts.

Then on April 6, the last game of the three-game series, Kenta Maeda and three relievers topped the Padres 7-0 – giving up five hits, once again no walks and fanning seven. Totals for the three games for Dodgers’ pitchers – 27 IP, 11 hits, two walks, 28 strikeouts. For the series LA outscored SD by a 25-0 margin.

Cardinals Finish What They Start

The only other team to open a season with three shutouts was the 1963 Cardinals (April 9, 10 and 13) – whose three-game opening shutout stretch included two games on the road against the Mets (7-0, 4-0) and the home opener against the Phillies (7-0). Another illustration of “How the Game Has Changed” – The Cardinals string of three shutouts to open the season included three complete games (a two-hitter by Ernie Broglio; a four-hitter by Ray Washburn; and a 5-hitter by Curt Simmons. The Phillies finally put up a run against St. Louis in the sixth inning of the Redbirds’ fourth game (April 14). The tally came off starter Ray Sadeki, who gave up four runs in 7 2/3 innings as the Cardinals won 5-4.

A Record to Shoot For

The Dodgers target in today’s matchup with the Giants (Dodgers’ Alex Wood versus Giants’ Jake Peavy) is to open the game with at least five shutout innings (to tie the record for scoreless innings to open a season) and six to break it.  I’ll be watching this one.

You can find a pair of 99-question trivia quizzes here and here.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research; The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance. 

photo by:

Twins 2016 Season – New Food and Beverage Preview

"Cluck and Moo" Bloody Mary - star of the 2016 Twins Food and Beverage Preview.

“Cluck and Moo” Bloody Mary – star of the 2016 Twins Food and Beverage Preview.

Today (April 5), Baseball Roundtable again took part in a new rite of spring. No, it wasn’t the first robin or even the first Spring Training fastball thrown in earnest.  It was the Twins (Seventh) Annual Media Food and Beverage Preview.  Sponsored by the Twins and Delaware North Sportservice (the team’s exclusive food, beverage and retail partner), the annual event features a look at (and taste of) the upcoming season’s new Target Field food and beverage offerings. This year’s preview once again made it clear that the Twins’ continue to “raise the bar” when it comes for food and beverage at the ball park.  The new offering for 2016 range from the “Cluck and Moo” Bloody Mary (complete  with a dry-rubbed Buffalo Chicken Wing and Bacon Cheeseburger Slider) to Nutella and Strawberry Sauce Pretzel Bites to Walleye Tacos. Let’s take a look at just a few of the new items that BBRT found both tasty and interesting. (I, unfortunately, have neither the space, nor the time, to touch on all the food and beverage items that were presented on Tuesday. For more information on Twins’ concessions, visit the team’s website – here

Cluck and Moo and Buffalo Chicken Bloody Mary’s – A Meal in a Glass

Regular readers know of BBRT’s passion for Ballpark Bloody Marys. Well, the Twins are launching a couple of new ones designed to take this beverage to a whole new level. New to the menu at Hrbek’s (Section 114/Gate 14) is the Buffalo Chicken Wing Bloody Mary ($19) – which includes a Buffalo chicken wing, celery, pickle, multiple cheeses and olives, a pepperoncini and a pepperoni stick.  (Still on the menu is The Bigger Better Burger Bloody Mary – also $19 – basically, the Buffalo Chicken Wing Bloody Mary with a bacon cheeseburger slider taking the place of the chicken wing.) For the really adventurous, there is the new “Cluck and Moo” Bloody Mary. Appropriately, you get the slider and the wing with this one ($23). This is truly a meal in a glass. (I’d ask the bartender to make your spicy.) Sad news for its fans, The College Daze Bloody Mary, which featured a slice of pepperoni pizza, has been released.

Longfellow Lemonade – Refreshment for a Hot Day

The Longfellow Lemondade - as refreshing as it get.

The Longfellow Lemondade – as refreshing as it get.

Sticking with liquid refreshment for now, one of BBRT’s favorites for the coming season is the Long Fellow Lemonade – an icy cold combination of Minnesota’s L’etoile Vodka, fresh lemon juice and Strawberry Coulis.  It was a great combination of lemon tart and strawberry sweet.  But, be careful, I have a hunch these tasty treats could sneak up on you.  (Near Section 111/112.) This drink really was a home run.

Mango Lassi

If you’re looking for something tasty, refreshing and non-alcoholic – the Mango Lassi from Hot Indian Foods (Section 120) is for you.  This cool beverage has yogurt, milk, mangos and unique spices. It was delicious and would go great with any spicy foods.  BBRT sees this as an inside-the-park homer.

Walleye Tacos

Hrbek’s has gone local on its fish tacos, moving from Mahi Mahi to Walleye. The soft shell treat includes mango salsa, Napa cabbage and fresh lime.

Primed for Prime Rib

Prime rib sliders - a juicy treats.

Prime rib sliders – a juicy treat.

BBRT is a fan of prime rib and the Prime Rib Sliders at Hrbek’s were among favorite samplings of the day – juicy thin-sliced prime rib, caramelized onions and horseradish boursin spread on a toasted bun.  Tasty, but be ready to wipe the juice from your chin.

 

 

 

 

Hot Pretzel Bites and Brews

Sweet Pretzel Bites - a true summer desert. Great way to celebrate a Twins home run,/

Sweet Pretzel Bites – a true summer desert. Great way to celebrate a Twins home run,/

Target Field is presenting a whole new take on pretzels and beer at Hot Pretzel Bites and Brews (Section 101). Ice cold beers and a variety of fresh hot pretzel bites: Savory – seasoned and topped with rich beef gravy and Monterey jack cheese; Local – topped with Summit Beer cheese sauce and candied bacon, then dusted with cayenne pepper; Sweet (BBRT’s favorite) – topped with strawberry sauce with macerated berries, a Nutella sauce  and whipped cream.

 

 

 

 

Among the other new foods tasted and previewed:

  • The Loon Café’s (near section 101) Pecos River Red Chili (topped with sour cream, green onions and shredded cheese) and Grape Ape cocktail (a signature drink featuring Pinnacle Citron Vodka, sour mix, and Buddy’s Grape soda).
  • The Legend’s Club’s Buffalo Chicken Poutine and Chocolate Mousse Cup.
  • Senor Smoke’s (Sections 105/205) new Barbacoa and Vegetarian Burritos.

The Twins also unveiled a new pub – Minnie and Paul’s – located in the center field area.  Bright and open, Minnie and Paul’s should prove a popular gathering place for fans.  Among its features will be food from local favorites Red Cow and Pizza Luce, a full bar and selection of draft beers.  Red Cow will offer the Ultimate Red Cow, the Blues Burger, Turkey Burger and Beer Cheese Poutine, while Pizza Luce’s offering will include its Athena Pizza and a special TC Bear Pizza (sausage, Pepperoni, marinated chicken, ground beef, Canadian bacon.)

Of course, many past favorites will be back including Kramarczuk’s Sausages; Tony O’s Cuban; Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen; Mac’s Walleye and Chips; Butcher and the Boar; Izzy’s Ice Cream (which has added Gelato); Hot Indian Foods; Barrio; Murray’s – and I could go on and on.  (Again,visit the Twins Website for more information on concessions – or just wander a bit at the ballpark and you’re sure to come across something tasty.)  Fact is, it’s always a good day to be at the Target Field – especially if you’re hungry.  And, Tuesday was a pretty good day to be a baseball blogger.

Coming soon –  a look a few new foods from other ballparks.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance. 

A Few Opening Day Trivia Bites

OD introsWell, MLB Opening Day – or, more accurately, Opening Days – is at least partially behind us. (BBRT is old school.  I miss the times when Opening Day featured games in Cincinnati and Washington D.C. and the rest of MLB opened play the following day.) This year, Opening Day, even without postponements, was slated to stretch from Sunday through Tuesday. (So, it’s not over yet.) My feelings on Opening Day(s) aside, let’s look at a few notable occurences from 2016 openers thus far.

 

Back-to-Back-to-Back Jacks.

On Monday (April 4), for just the third time in MLB Opening Day history, a team launched three consecutive home runs in their first game of the season. The assault came with two out in the eighth-inning of San Francisco’s 12-3 win over the Brewers (unfortunately, for Brewers’ fans, played in Milwaukee). It included a three-run shot to right by lead-off hitter/CF Denard Span, followed up by solo homers (to right and center, respectively) by 2B Joe Panik and C Buster Posey. It was a somewhat unlikely trio.  Span hit five home runs for Washington last season, has never topped eight in an MLB season and came into 2016 with 37 home runs in eight MLB campaigns. Panik, in just his third MLB season, hit eight round trippers (in 100 games) last season. Posey had shown the most power of the three, with 19 HR’s last season, a high of 24 in 2012 and 102 in his first seven MLB seasons.

The two teams to achieve back-to-back-to back dingers on Opening Day before the Giants were the 1997 Padres (in an April 1 12-5 victory over the Mets) and the 1948 Red Sox (in a 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Athletics on April 19).

The Padres’ trio of consecutive Opening Day homers came at home in the sixth inning. With the Padres trailing 4-0, SS Chris Gomez led off with a HR to left center, Rickey Henderson (pinch hitting for pitcher Joey Hamilton) banged one out to deep left and 2B Quilvio Veras poked one down the right field line.  The outburst apparently got the Padres started, as they scored eight more runs in the inning. Again, there were some unlikely long ball candidates in the mix. It was, for example, one of only five 1997 home runs for Gomez, whose career high was 11 in 1995 and who hit just 60 round trippers in 16 MLB seasons. Veras hit a total of  three HR’s in 1997, never hit more than six in a season and ended a seven-year MLB career with a total of 32 long balls.  Future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson was on his way to an eight-homer 1997 season, but would hit 297 in his 25-year MLB careers.

The Red Sox’ trio of consecutive Opening Day homers involved a more likely combination of hitters than the Giants’ or Padres’ groups. Their outburst, in the second inning, came from the 4-5-6 hitters in the lineup. First baseman and cleanup hitter Sam Spence started it off, followed by SS Vern Stephens and 2B Bobby Doerr.   Spence hit a dozen homers in 1948, and 95 in a nine-year MLB career.   Stephens would go on to hit 29 homers that season, had a career high 39 in 1949 and 247 in a 15-year MLB career. Doerr hit 27 long balls in 1948, was consistently in double figures and ende a 14-year MLB career with 223 HR’s.

Off to a Good Start.

On April 4, Rockies’ rookie SS Trevor Story let his bat tell the story – becoming the first rookie to hit two home runs, while making his MLB debut on Opening Day (we do track everything in baseball) – as the Rockies topped the Diamondbacks 10-5 in Arizona. Story’s homers came in the third and fourth innings, both off Arizona ace Zack Greinke. Story ended his MLB debut two-for-six, with two runs scored and four RBI.

Reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper got his 2016 off to an MVP start, homering in his first at bat of the season (with two-out in the first inning.)

Ouch! & Ooops!

Ouch! When the Dodgers torched the Padres 15-0 on Opening Day (in San Diego), it was the worst shutout drubbing in Opening Day history.  The Dodgers collected 15 runs on 17 hits and ten walks (no home runs). Meanwhile, Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw held the Padres to one hit in seven scoreless innings. (The Padres collected four hints in the game.)

Oops! The Rangers managed to win their April 4 opener (in Texas) by a score of 3-2 over Seattle – despite collecting only one hit.  All three Texas tallies came in the fifth inning off Mariners’ starter Felix Hernandez. 2B Rougned Odor started it off with a walk; SS Elvis Andrus reached on an error by Seattle 3B Kyle Seager; C Robinson Chirinos sacrificed the runners to second and third; CF Delino DeShields drew a walk, loading the bases; RF Shin-Soo Choo walked, forcing in a run; DH Prince Fielder blooped a single (the Rangers’ only hit of the day) that fell between the left fielder and shortstop, scoring Andrus; 3B Adrian Beltre was safe on a error by SS Ketel Marte, scoring DeShields; finally, 1B Mitch Moreland and LF Ian Desmond went down swinging to end the brutal half-inning. Seattle outhit the Rangers 4-1 and punched two home runs, but still lost the contest.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member:  Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

Opening Day – Targets To Shoot For & To Avoid

Opening Day is the most hopeful and optimistic day of each year.  At least for this one day, every team is a contender, every rookie a potential “phenom,”  every fading veteran a potential “Comeback Player of the Year,” and every new face in the lineup or on the bench a welcome addition.

                                                Baseball Roundtable, March 26, 2013

opening dayMLB’s 2016 Opening Day is nearly upon us and, in honor of this annual rite of spring, BBRT would like to revisit some Opening Day targets that players and teams will be “working for” or “working to avoid.”  (Unfortunately, my Twins open on the road, but I will be attending the May 11 home opener.)

 

 

OPENING DAY TARGETS TO SHOOT FOR

An Opening Day No-Hitter – ONE for the Ages.

On April 16, 1940, 21-year-old Bob Feller (already in his fifth MLB season) threw what is still the only Opening Day no-hitter in MLB history – topping the White Sox 1-0 in Chicago. It was the first no-hitter (of an eventual three) for Feller, who walked five and struck out eight. During the season, Feller 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).

Longest Opening Day Pitching Performance – 15 Shutout Innings.

On April 13, 1926, the Senators’ Walter Johnson pitched a 15-inning, complete game shutout (six hits, three walks, nine strikeouts) as Washington topped the Philadelphia Athletics.  The opposing starter, Eddie Rommel tossed the second-most innings in an Opening Day appearance – going 14 1/3, as Washington scored the winning run with one out in the 15th.

Fifteen Strikeouts on Opening Day – Tossing the Hitters a Curve.

On April 18, 1960, Camilo Pascual (known for his sweeping curve ball) 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 an Opening Day record 15 batters in a 10-1 win over the Red Sox.

Two-Squared is Four – Most Doubles in an Opener.

On April 13, 1954, the Reds’ LF Jim Greengrass (there’s a great baseball name), tied the record for doubles on Opening Day with four (in five at bats) as the Reds topped the Braves 9-8. Frank “Pop” Dillon also hit four two-baggers in an Opening Day tilt (for the Tigers) back on April 25, 1901 – as Detroit topped the Milwaukee Brewers 14-13. The Tigers scored ten runs in the bottom of the ninth (coming back from a 13-4 deficit) and Dillon’s final double drove in the tying and winning runs.

Emilio Bonafacio – Off to a FAST start in 2009.

On April 6, 2009, Florida Marlins’ third baseman and lead-off hitter Emilio Bonafacio got his season off to a fast start. In the Marlins’ Opening Day win over the Nationals (12-6), Bonafacio went four-for-five, with four runs scored, three stolen bases, two RBI and an inside-the-park home run. It was Bonafacio’s first career home run and came in his first game as a Marlin (he was traded to the Marlins by, ironically, the Nationals). Bonafacio’s four runs scored tied the Opening Day record, as did his three stolen bases.  Bonafacio finished the season hitting .252, with just the one home run, 27 RBI, 72 runs scored and 27 steals.  

Most Triples – Just Takes a Pair to Win this Hand.

The most triples in an Opening Day game is two – accomplished by six players, most recently Royals’ SS Tony Pena on April 2, 2007, as KC topped the Red Sox 7-1. Pena, batting ninth, went two-for-three, scoring twice and driving in a run.  In his “non-tripling” plate appearances he drew a walk and struck out.

Lucky Number Three – Most Home Runs in an Opening Day Game.

Three players – the Blue Jays’ George Bell, Cubs’ Tuffy Rhodes and Tigers’ Dmitri Young share the record for home runs in an opening day game with three.

On April 4, 1988, George Bell – batting clean-up and serving as the DH –  became the first major leaguer to hit three home runs in an Opening Day game as his Blue Jays topped the Royals 5-3 in Kansas City. 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 went three-for-four with three runs scored and four RBI, hitting all three home runs off Royals’ starter Brett Saberhagen.

On a windy April 4, 1994, Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes (leading off and playing CF for the Cubs in Chicago) hit three solo shots off Mets’ starter Dwight Gooden. Rhodes also had a single and a walk in five plate appearances. Despite Rhodes’ record-tying performance, the Cubs lost to the visiting Mets 12-8. At the time, Rhodes had played 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 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, an All Star in 2003 and 2007, hit a total of 21 home runs in 2005 – and 171 in 13 MLB seasons. He hit a career-high 29 round trippers in 2003.

Seven RBI in an Opener – Some Productive At Bats.

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 – in his very first game as a Twin – LF Brant Alyea drove in an Opening Day record seven runs as Minnesota topped the White Sox 12-0 in Chicago. Batting fifth, Alyea went four-for-four, with two home runs, two singles and two runs scored.  The game, it turned out, would foreshadow a strong April for Alyea.  In 17 April games, he hit .415, with seven runs, 23 RBI, four doubles and five home runs.

Thirty-three seasons later – on March 31, 2003 – Cubs’ CF Corey Patterson tied Alyea’s record. In a 15-2 win over the Mets in New York, Patterson, batting seventh, drove in seven runs, going four-for-six with two home runs and two runs scored.  Patterson, a career .252 hitter (12 seasons), was an Opening Day All Star. In seven Opening Day appearances, Patterson hit .440, with seven runs, 12 RBI and three home runs.

OPENING DAY TARGETS TO AVOID

Five Whiffs as a hitter – Ouch!

On March 31, 1996, White Sox catcher Ron Karkovice set an MLB Opening Day record by striking out five times as Chicago lost 3-2 in Seattle.  Karkovice, however, may have been a victim of circumstance.

First, future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson started on the mound for the Mariners – striking out 14 in seven innings (including Karkovice three times).

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, Karkovice had fanned just three times).

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.

Out of Control – Issuing Eleven Walks on Opening Day.

On April 16, 1957, Cleveland southpaw Herb Score set the Opening Day record for pitcher’s walks, delivering eleven free passes to the visiting White Sox.  Despite Score’s wildness, it was a close contest, with Score going the distance in a 3-2, 11-inning loss. Score struck out ten and gave just seven hits and two earned runs – stranding 14 Chicago base runners.

Opening Day Record I’d Like to See Broken.

How about a six-hit Opening Day? The record is five, and the number of players to accomplish that feat is in the double-digits.  Let’s see someone collect six safeties in an Opening Day game and thin the field.

The Target? Not to be a Target.

On April 9, 1990, the Astros’ first baseman and cleanup hitter Glenn Davis was hit by a pitch an Opening Day record three times. Davis came to the plate six times and never put the ball in play – but still made only one out.  Davis (who led the league in HBP that season with eight) was hit by a pitch three times, walked twice and struck out once as the Astros lost to the visiting Reds 8-4.

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

TEAM TARGET

Longest Opening Day Game- Shoot For or Avoid. Your Call.

On April 5, 2012, the Blue Jays topped the Indians 7-4 in 16 innings – the longest Opening Day contest ever. Guess the winners would shoot for this, the losers would prefer to avoid working overtime for little reward.

THE 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, Williams was even better on Opening Day.  Teddy Ballgame 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 hill.  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.

 

Finally a little, opening day gift to you – because this kind of thing never gets old.

 

NOW, LET’S OPEN ANOTHER MLB SEASON!

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.