BBRT Looks at the 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

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It’s official – the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) Hall of Fame ballots are out and the debate(s) can begin.  This year’s traditional ballot includes 15 holdovers from last year, along with 19 newcomers.  The basic rules for eligibility are that a player must have played at least ten seasons and be retired for at least five years. A player can remain on the ballot for up to ten years, but must receive at least five percent of the vote in the preceding year’s ballot to  remain eligible after the first year on the ballot.  Each voter can vote for up to ten candidates.  Election requires that a player be named on at least 75 percent of the ballots cast.

In this post, we’ll take a look at how BBRT would vote – if I had a ballot – as well at whom BBRT expects the BBWA to vote in.  Notably, BBRT tends to be less stingy then the BBWAA voters.  I’ll list a full roster of ten candidates (in order of my preference) who would receive my vote.

Spoiler Alert:  BBRT anticipates that four players will be elected.   I’m fairly confident about one first-timer (catcher Ivan Rodriguez) and two returnees (pitcher Trevor Hoffman, outfielder Tim Raines).  I also think 1B Jeff Bagwell has a very good chance to get the 75 percent necessary (he reached 71.6 percent a year ago), but he may be hurt by the fact that Tim Raines is in his last year on the ballot. Some of the more conservative voters may feel a need to choose between the two.  However, I’m including Bagwell on my list of projected inductees.  First-timer Vlad Guerrero is my dark horse for 2017.   I believe is is HOF-worthy, but BBWAA voters are notoriously tough on ballot newcomers.  BBRT note:  Last year, BBRT correctly predicted Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza would be elected.  However, I also incorrectly predicted a third inductee – Trevor Hoffman. 

BBRT’s Halll of Fame Ballot – If I Had One – With the Players Listed in BBRT’s Order of Preference.

Group One – Should Be No Doubt

Ivan Rodriguez (C – 1991-2011) – First year on the ballot.  Nicknames:  Pudge/I-Rod.

Ivan Rodriguez baseball photo

BBRT’s top choice on this year HOF ballot. Photo by Keith Allison

Ivan Rodriguez played 21 MLB seasons, putting up 2,844 hits, a .296 average, 311 home runs and 1,332 RBI. He was a 14-time All Star, 13-time Gold Glove Winner and won the AL MVP Award in 1999. Notably, his 2,749 hits as a catcher are the MLB record for the position. If any of the first-timers on the ballot capture the necessary votes, it’s likely to be I-Rod – with his combination of leather (13 Gold Gloves) and lumber (seven Silver Slugger Awards).  The BBWAA has, in the past, shown a tendency to demand more of “First-Ballot” candidates, but BBRT thinks Rodriguez has the goods and that the BBWAA will agree.  Rodriguez played for the Rangers (19991-2002 and 2009); Marlins (2003); Tigers (2004-2008); Yankees (2008); Astros (2009); and Nationals (2010-2011).

Ivan Rodriguez’ best season:  In 1999, as a Ranger, Rodriguez hit .332, with 35 home runs, 113 RBI and 116 runs scored in 144 games – earning a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger Award and the AL MVP Award. 

Trevor Hoffman (Relief Pitcher, 1993-2010) – Second year on the ballot, 68.3 percent support last year.

Trevor Hoffman baseball photo

His 601 saves should open the doors to the Hall this year. Photo by SD Dirk

In BBRT’s opinion, Trevor Hoffman should have been elected in his first year on the ballot. He is one of only two relievers in MLB history to reach 600 saves (601) – trailing only Mariano Rivera (652) all time. Hoffman and Rivera, in fact, are the only closers to reach 500 saves. (Note: Hoffman was also the first pitcher to reach the 500- and 600-save mark.)

Hoffman led the NL in saves twice and reached 30 or more saves 14 times (with a high of 53 in 1998). He had a career record of 61-75, with a 2.87 ERA over 1,089 1/3 innings in 1,035 games – averaging 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Hoffman, by the way, made his final All Star team at the age of 41, in a season in which he recorded 37 saves for the Brewers.  Hoffman pitched for the Marlins (1993); Padres (1993-2008); and Brewers (2009-10).  Hoffman’s 600 saves should be enough for the Hall..

Trevor Hoffman’s best season: In 1998, Hoffman appeared in 66 games for the Padres, converting 53 of 54 save opportunities.  On the season, he was 4-2 with a 1.48 ERA, striking out 86 hitters in 73 innings, while walking just 21. He was selected to the NL All Star team, finished second in the Cy Young Award voting and seventh in the MVP race.

Group Two – Debatable, But Clearly Deserving Support (and would have BBRT’s vote)

Lee Smith (Relief Pitcher, 1980-970) – 15th and final year on the ballot, 34.1 percent last year. Note:  When the HOF election rules changed from 15-year eligibility to 10-year eligibility, Smith was one of the players already on the ballot to be grandfathered in at the 15-year limit.

BBRT firmly believes Lee Smith has earned his place in the “Hall.”  However, last year, Smith got only 34.1 percent of the vote, just a slight increase over his 30.2 percent of the previous year.  While BBRT feels Smith has a strong case for the Hall, he’s not likely to make the 40-point leap it will take to get in. But consider his case.

Smith’s 478 saves put him third on the all-time list (he was number-one when he retired after the 1997 season). Smith led his league in saves four times and made seven All Star teams.  He recorded ten seasons of 30 or more saves and three campaigns of 40-plus saves.  Smith reached 30 or more saves in a season with four different teams (Cubs, Cardinals, Orioles, Angels). He had a 3.03 lifetime ERA and 1,251 strikeouts in 1,289 innings pitched.  Smith is also one of only three pitchers with more than 800 games finished lifetime (Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman are the others).  Couple all of this with the third most saves all time and Smith gets BBRT’s vote.

Smith pitched for the Cubs (1980-1987); Red Sox (1988-1990); Cardinals (1990-1993); Yankees (1993); Orioles (1994); Angels (1995-1996); Reds (1996); and Expos (1997).

Lee Smith’s best season:  In 1991, as a Cardinal, Smith went 6-3, with a 2.34 ERA, 47 saves, 73 innings pitched, 67 strikeouts and just 13 walks (five intentional). He was an All Star, finished second in the Cy Young Award voting and eighth in the MVP balloting.

Mike Mussina (Starting Pitcher, 1991-2008) – Fourth year on the ballot 43.0% last year. Nickname: Moose.

Mike Mussina built a 270-153 record, with a career 3.68 ERA and 2,813 strikeouts over 18 seasons. While only a 20-game winner once (in his final season, at age 39), Mussina won 18 or 19 games five times, leading the AL with 19 wins in 1995. In his first three full seasons  in the major leagues (1992-94), Mussina put up a .700 or better winning percentage each year (.783, .700, .762). His record over that span – for the Orioles – was 48-16.

Mussina was a five-time All Star and a seven-time Gold Glove winner. He recorded a .650 or better winning percentage in nine seasons, with a career (and league-leading) high of .783 in 1992. While the lack of a Cy Young Award on his resume may hurt him, he finished his career 117 games over .500 – and history says 100 or more wins than losses should be good for a ticket to the Hall. Mussina appeared in 23 post-season games, with a 7-8 record and a 3.42 ERA. He pitched for the Orioles (1991-2000) and Yankees (2000-2008). BBRT believes Mussina deserves (and will eventually be awarded) a spot in Cooperstown, but is unlikely to close the gap between 43 percent and the necessary 75 percent in this year’s voting.

Mike Mussina’s best season:  Mussina may have saved his best for last.  In his final season (as a Yankee), at age 39, he recorded his first twenty-win campaign.  That year, Mussina went 20-9, 3.37 – and proved his durability by leading the AL in starts with 34, logging his 11th season of 200 or  more innings pitched and earning his fifth Gold Glove

Jeff Bagwell (First Base, 1991-2005) – Seventh year on the ballot, 71.6 percent last year.

bagwell

BBRT thinks it should be “Baggy’s” year.

In his 15-season MLB career, Bagwell collected 2,314 hits; smashed 449 home runs; stole 202 bases; and put up a .297 average. He also earned a Rookie of the Year Award (1991); a Most Valuable Player Award (1994); one Gold Glove; and four All Star selections.  He twice recorded seasons of 40 or more homers and 30 or more steals.  Bagwell drove in 100 or more runs in eight seasons, leading the league with 116 RBI in 1994 and reaching a high of 135 in 1997. He led the NL in runs scored three times, with a high of 152 in 2000. His .297 career average was bolstered by six seasons over .300. Bagwell was also one of MLB’s most durable and dedicated stars, playing in all 162 of the Astros’ games in four seasons and in at least 155 games in ten of his fifteen MLB campaigns.  Bagwell, who played his entire career with the Houston Astros, stands a good chance of reaching the 75 percent threshold in 2017.

Jeff Bagwell’s best season: Bagwell won the NL MVP Award, a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove in 1994, when he hit .368, with 39 home runs and 15 steals.  He also led the NL in RBI (118) and runs scored (104) in the strike-shortend campaign. (The Astros played 115 games.)

Tim Raines (Outfield, 1979-2001) – Tenth and final year on the ballot, 69.8 percent last year. Nickname: Rock.

BBRT is predicting (hoping) Tim Raines makes it in his last year on the ballot.

BBRT is predicting (hoping) Tim Raines makes it in his last year on the ballot.

Tim Raines returns for his tenth – and final –  year on the ballot.  After getting 69.8 percent last year, Raines should gain enough votes for induction in 2017.

Raines hit .294 over his 23-season MLB career, collecting 2,605 hits, 1,571 runs scored, 170 home runs, 980 RBI and 808 stolen bases (fifth all time). He was a seven-time All Star; led the NL in stolen bases four consecutive years (1981-84); had a streak of six seasons with at least 70 steals; won the NL batting title in 1986 with a .334 average; led the league in runs scored twice and doubles once. How much of a threat was Raines on the bases?   Over 23 seasons, he averaged 35 steals a year (and that included six seasons in which he played in less than half his team’s games).  Over his MLB career – from age 19 to 42 – Raines averaged 52 stolen bases for every 162 games played. In 34 post-season games, The Rock hit .270 with one home run, six RBI, 18 runs scored and three steals. Raines played for the Expos (1979-1990 and 2001);White Sox (1991-1995); Yankees (1996-1998); A’s (1999); Orioles (2001); and Marlins (2002).

Tim Raines’ best season:  Despite his  1986 batting title (.334 average), BBRT thinks Raines’ top season was 1983 (Expos) – 156 games, 179 hits, .298 average, league-leading 133 runs scored, 11 homers, 71 RBI, league-leading 90 steals.

Group Three – Get BBRT’s Vote, but Possible BBWAA Reservations are More Understandable

Jeff Kent (Second Base/Third Base/First Base, 1992-2008) –  Fourth year on the ballot; 16.6 percent last year.

BBRT believes Jeff  Kent is a deserving candidate.  Kent holds the all-time MLB record for home runs by a second baseman (351 of his 377 career round trippers were hit while playing second base). He has a healthy .290 career batting average; his 1,518 RBI are 54th all time; and his 560 doubles 27th.  Kent, in fact, has nine more career RBI than Mickey Mantle.

Kent was a five-time All Star and the 2000 NL MVP.  As primarily a middle infielder, he hit 20 or more home runs in 12 seasons (a high of 37 in 2007) and topped 100 RBI eight times. He hit .276, with nine home runs and 23 RBI in 49 post-season games. Kent has the credentials, but BBRT has a hunch the writers will make keep him on the bench – a couple of Gold Gloves, at this traditionally defense-oriented position, would have really helped his case.  Kent played for the Blue Jays (1992); Mets (1992-1996); Indians (1996); Giants (1997-2002); Astros (2003-2004); and Dodgers (2005-2008).

Jeff Kent’s best season: With the Giants in 2000, Kent put up these stats:  159 games; 196 hits; .334 average; 33 home runs; 125 RBI; 114 runs; 12 steals. His performance earned him the NL MVP Award.

Vlad Guerrero (Outfield/Dedsignated Hitter – 1996-2011) – First time on the ballot. Nicknames: Vladdy/Vlad the Impaler. 

When your nickname is Vlad the Impaler, you better put up some solid offensive numbers – and Vlad Guerrora did. BBRT’s dark horse candidate for induction this year (the stinginess of the writers with votes for first-timers may hurt him), Guerrero put up a .318 career batting average (2,147 games over 16 seasons), 449 career home runs (including eight seasons of 30+ and a high of 44 for the 2000 Montreal Expos) and 1,496 career RBI.  Guerrero had 13 seasons with a batting average of .300 or better (a high of .345 in 2000), 10 seasons of 100+ RBI, six seasons of 100+ runs scored and four campaigns of at least 200 hits.  Known (sometimes criticized) as a free swinger, Guerrero actually never struck out 100 times in a season.

In 2002, Guerrero missed joining the 40/40 club by one home run – hitting .336, with 39 home runs, 111 RBI and 40 stolen bases. He led his league in hits once, runs once and total bases twice, while making nine All Star squads and earning eight Silver Slugger Awards – and the 2004 AL MVP Award.   Guerrero hit .263-2-20 in 44 post-season contests.  Guerrero played for the Expos (1966-2203); Angels (2004-2009); Rangers (2010); and Oriioles (2011).

Vlad Guerrero’s best season: In 2002, Guerrero his .336 for the Expos, leading the NL in hits (206), while bashing 39 home runs, stealing 40 bases, driving in 111, scoring 106 and drawing a career-high 84 walks (versus 70 strikeouts).  He also led the NL in total bases with 364.

Edgar Martinez (Designated Hitter/Third Base, 1987-2004) – Fifth year on the ballot, 43.4 percent last year.  Nickname: Papi.

We’ve seen some prejudice against designated hitters in past voting, but Edgar Martinez clearly, and expertly, defined the DH role. In fact, in 2004, MLB renamed the Outstanding Designated Hitter Award the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award.

In an 18-season MLB career, Martinez was named to seven All Star teams; won a pair of batting titles (hitting a high of .356 in 1995); topped 100 RBI in six seasons (leading the league with 145 in 2000); and scored 100 or more runs five times (leading the league with 121 in 1995). He finished his career with a .312 average; 2,247 hits; 1,219 runs; 1,261 RBI; 309 home runs; and 514 doubles.  Martinez played his entire career for the Mariners.

Edgar Martinez’ best season: One of two here, In 1995, Martinez led the league in batting average (.356), runs scored (121) and doubles (52 doubles), adding  29 home runs and 113 RBI.  In 2005, Martinez put up a .324 average, 37 home runs, league-leading 145 RBI and 100 runs scored.

Larry Walker (OF, 1989-2005) – Seventh Year on the Ballot, 15.5 percent last year.

BBRT’s tenth – and final – selection, came down to Larry Walker’s three batting titles versus Billy Wagner’s 422 career saves – and it was a tough call. Back to BBRT’s admiration for “lumber AND leather,” Walker’s seven Gold Gloves were the difference maker. If you could cast 11 votes, Wagner would also get a BBRT nod.

Walker played 17 MLB seasons and retired with 2,160 hits, a .313 average and three batting titles.  Between 1997 and 2001, he hit .350 or better in four of five seasons. The five-time All Star hit 383 home runs (a high of 49 in 1997) and stole 230 bases  (a high of 33 in 1997).  Walker’s years in hitter friendly Colorado may be hurting his vote totals, but BBRT believes if you add his Gold Glove defense to a trio of batting titles, you have a Hall of Famer. Walker played for the Expos (1989-1994); Rockies (1995-2004); and Cardinals (2004-2005).

Larry Walker’s best season: In his 1997 NL MVP year (Rockies), Walker hit .366, with a league-leading 49 home runs. He drove in 130 runs, scored 143, rapped 46 doubles (led the league in total bases at 409 and slugging percetage at .720) – and even threw in 33 stlolen bases and a Gold Glove.  

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So, there are BBRT’s ten choices.  Now, let’s look briefly at the remainder of the ballot – in alphabetical order – since just making it on the ballot deserves recognition.

Casey Blake (3B/1B/OF, 1999-2011) – First year on the ballot.

Blake had a .264 average, with 167 home runs and 616 RBI over 13 MLB seasons. A solid utility player, his best season was 2004, when he hit .271-28-88 for the Indians.  Blake played for the Blue Jays (1999); Twins (2000. 2001, 2002); Orioles (2001); Indians (2003-2008); Dodgers (2008-2011).

Barry Bonds (OF, 1986-2007) – Fifth year on the ballot, 44.3 percent a year ago.

No doubt about Bond’s credentials – .298 average, 2,935 hits, MLB-record 762 home runs, 1,996 RBI, MLB-record 2,558 walks. He was also a 14-time All Star, his league’s MVP a record seven times, and eight-time Gold Glove winner.  In 2001, Bonds hit .328, with an MLB-record 73 home runs and 177 RBI. And, I could go on.  Still, there are those PED’s – and elephant in the room that will keep Bonds out of the Hall.  We can expect him back on the ballot next year.  Bonds played for the Pirates (1986-1992) and the Giants (1993-2007).

Pat Burrell (OF, 2000-2011) – First time on the ballot.

Bureell hit .253 over 12 seasons, but showed some pop – 292 home runs and 976 RBI over 1,640 games. Burrell, whose nickname was “Pat the Bat,” hit .282, with 37 home runs and 116 RBI for the Phillies in 2002.  He had four seasons of 30+ home runs for the Phillies and finished seventh in the 2005 NL MVP balloting. Burrell played for the Phillies (2000-2008); Rays (2009-2010); and Giants (2010-2011).

Orlando Cabrera (SS/2B, 1997-2011) – First year on the ballot.

Cabrera was a two-time Gold Glover at shortstop, who could hold his own at the plate (.272 career average, with 123 home runs and 854 RBI).  He also flashed some speed, with 216 steals, including five seasons of twenty or more. His best year was 2003 (with the Expos), when he played in all 162 games and hit .297, with 17 home runs, 80 RBI, 95 runs scored and 24 steals.  He played for the Expos (1997-2004); Red Sox (2004); Angels (2005-2007); White Sox (2008); A’s (2009); Twins (2009); Reds (2010); Indians (2011); and Giants (2011).

Mike Cameron (OF, 1995-2011) – First time on ballot.

Cameron was a three-time Gold Glove centerfielder with a bit of speed and pop (278 career home runs and 297 stolen bases to go with a .249 average over 17 seasons). Cameron’s best season was 2011, when he was an All Star for the Mariners, hitting .267-25-110, with 38 steals and a Gold Glove. Cameron playeds for ther White Sox (1995-1998); Reds (1999); Mariners (2000-2003); Mets (2004-2005); Padres (2006-2007); Brewers (2008-2009); Red Sox (2010-2011); and Marlins (2011).

Roger Clemens (Starting Pitcher, 1984-2007) – Fifth time on the ballot, 45.2% last year.

Like Barry Bonds, Clemens has Hall-worthy stats:  354 wins, 4,672 strikeouts, seven Cy Young Awards, 1986 AL MVP. Clemens was a five-time 20-game winner (led the league in wins four times), seven-time ERA leader, five time league leader in strikeouts. Clemens also has 12 post-season wins, with 173 strikeouts in 199 post-season innings. His best season was 1986, when he went 24-4. 2.48 and won both the Cy Young and AL MVP Awards for the Red Sox.  Yes, he’s got the numbers, but the PED controversy stands between him and the Hall. Don’t think the BBWAA is ready yet, but he’ll continue on the ballot. Clemens pitched for the Red Sox (1984-1996); Blue Jays (1997-1998); Yankees (1999-2003, 2007); and Astros (2004-2006). .

Carlos Guillen (SS/2B/3B, 1998-2011) – First time on the ballot.

Guillen was a three-time All Star and put up a .285 average with 124 home runs and 660 RBI over 14 MLB seasons. His best season was 2007 (Tigers), when he hit .296, with 21 home runs and 102 RBI.   Notably, he was coming off a 2006 season, when he went .320-19-85 for Detroit. Guillen played for the Mariners (1998-2003) and Tigers (2004-1011).

Derek Lee (1B, 1997-2011) – First time on the ballot.

Derek was a first basemen who could flash leather (three Gold Gloves) and lumber (331 career home runs) and – in his prime – a little speed (from 2002 through 2005, he stole 67 bases). Led finished with a .281 career average (15 seasons), 331 home runs and 1,078 RBI. In his best season (2005, Cubs), he led the NL in hits (199), average (.335) doubles (50), slugging percentage .662) and total bases (393).  He also had 46 home runs, 107 RBI, 120 runs scored and 15 steals – and he earned a Gold Glove.  Lee has a good chance of returning for a second year on the ballot. Lee played for the Padres (1997); Marlins (1998-2003); Cubs (2004-2010); Braves (2010); Orioles (2011); and Pirates (2011).

Fred McGriff (1B, 1986-2004) Tenth- final year – on the ballot – 20.9 percent last year.

Known as “Crime Dog”, McGriff  was five-time All Star; who bashed 493 career home runs (led his league twice, hit 30 or more  home runs in a season ten times); topped 100 RBI eight times (career total 1,550); and put up a  .284 career average over 19 seasons.   In 2001, at age 37, he had perhaps his best season – splitting time betweeen the Rays (then Devil Rays) and Cubs – going .306-31-102.  McGriff is not likely to get in this time, despite his 493 round trippers (seven more certainly would have helped his case, as would a couple of 40+ HR seasons.  First base is just a highly competitive spot when it comes to the HOF.  McGriff was a top slugger at his peak (1988-93), but for most of his career more of a steady power source.  He played for the Blue Jays (1986-1990); Padres (1991-1993); Braves (1993-1997); Devil Rays (1998-2001, 2004); Cubs (2001-2002) and Dodgers (2003).

Melvin Mora (3B/OF/SS, 1999-2011) – First time on the ballot.

Mora was a two-time All Star, who surprised a lot of people with his .340-27-104 season for the 2004 Orioles.  Over 13 seasons, he averaged .277, hit 171 home runs and drove in 754.  Mora topped 25 home runs twice, 100 RBI twice and a .300 average twice.  His best campaign was the 2004 season already noted. He was also a .400 hitter (six-for fifteen) in nine post season games for the 1999 Mets .He played for the Mets (1999-2000); Orioles (2000-2009); Rockies (2010); and Diamondbacks (2011).

Magglio Ordonez (OF, 1997-2011) – First tie on the ballot.

I expect Ordonez, a five-time All Star, to stay on the ballot for more than one year.  Over his fifteen MLB season, Ordonez was a hitting machine – .309 career average, 294 home runs, 1,236 RBI. Further, in his best season (207 Tigers) he led the AL with a .363 average, hit 28 home runs, drove in 139, scored 117, collected 216 hits and smacked a league-leading 54 doubles.  Ordonez hit over .300 eleven times, launching 30 or more home runs four times, driving in 100+uins seven times and scoring at least 100 runs four times. He played for the White Sox (1997-2004) and Tigers (2005-2011).

Jorge Posada (C, 1995-2011) First time on the ballot.

Posada is a five-time All Star, who hit .273, with 275 home runs and 1,065 RBI in 17 seasons with the Yankees (solid numbers for a backstop). Perhaps more critical to Posada’s chances for the Hall are his 125 post-season games – .248-11-42 – and four World Series Championships. Then there is also that 2007 season, when he hit .338, with 20 home runs and 90 RBI.   I expect he will back on the ballot next year.  Posada played his entire MLB career for the Yankees.

Manny Ramirez (OF – 1993-2011) – First Year on the ballot.

Manny Ramirez played 19 MLB seasons, collecting 2,574 hits, a  .312 batting average, 555 home runs and 1,.831 RBI. Ramirez was a 12-time All Star and led the AL in average (2002), home runs (2004) and RBI (1999) once each.  Ramirez won nine Silver Slugger Awards, including eight consecutive (1999-2006), hit .285 with 29 home runs in 111 post season games and was the 2004 World Series MVP.  Ramirez clearly put up HOF-caliber numbers, but two PED-related suspensions will hurt his chances. Not this year, but he’ll be back.  Ramirez played for the Indians (1993-2000); Red Sox (2001-2008); Dodgers 2009-2010); and Rays (2011).

Edgar Renteria (SS, 1996-2011) – First time on ballot.

Renteria is a five-time All Star, three-time Silver Slugger winner and two-time Gold Glover. Over a 16-season MLB career, he hit a credible .286, with 140 home runs, 933 RBI and 1,200 runs scored. Renteria’s game also included speed on the base paths.  He stole 294 bases, including a high of 41 for the Marlins in 1998.  Renteria also hit .252, with three home runs, 23 RBI and nine steal in 66 post season games.  He was the MVP of the 2010 World Series (with the Giants), hitting .417 (seven-for-seventeen) with two home runs and six RBI.  He’s got a chance to return to the ballot. Renteria played for the Marlins (1996-1998); Cardinals (1999-2004); Red Sox (2005); Braves (2006-2007); Tigers (2008); Giants (2009-2010); and Reds (2011).

Arthur Rhodes (SP/RP, 1991-2011) – First time on the ballot.

If endurance were the key quality, Arthur Rhodes would have a shot at the Hall of Fame.  He lasted 20 years in the major leagues – running up an 87-80, 4.08 ERA record, with 33 saves. Rhodes was an All Star – for the first and only time – in 2010 (at age 40). That season, he went 4-4, 2.29, with 50 strikeouts in 55 innings (69 games) for the Reds.  His best season may have been 2001, when (as a Mariner) he appeared in 71 games, going 8-0 with a 1.72 ERA and three saves. That season he struck out 83 batters in 68 innings.Over his career, Rhodes took the mound for the Orioles (1991-1999); Mariners (2000-2003, 2008); A’s 2004); Indians (2005); Phillies (2006); Marlins (2008), Reds (2009-2010); Rangers (2011); and Cardinals (2011).

Freddy Sanchez (2B/3B/SS. 2002-2011) – First time on ballot.

Sanchez was a three-time All Star in his ten season MLB career, which was cut short by shoulder and back injuries. Sanchez’ chances to remain on the ballot will similarly cut short by injury.  However, it is notable that he retired with a .297 career average, three All Star Selections and the 2006 NL batting title (.344 for the Pirates).  His best year was 2004, when he hit an NL-leading .344, with six home runs, 85 RBI, 85 runs scored and 200 hits – as well as a league-leading 53 doubles. Sanchez played for the Red Sox (2002-2003); Pirates (2005-2009); and Giants (2010-2011).

Curt Schilling (Starting Pitcher , 1988-2007) – Fifth year on the ballot, 52.3 percent last year.

Schilling is a six-time All Star, with 216 career wins (three seasons of 20 or more wins) over a 20-season MLB career. He recorded 3,116 strikeouts (three seasons of 300 or more whiffs), led his league in wins twice, complete games four times, innings pitched twice and strikeouts twice. He was also the 2001 World Series co-MVP – and has an impressive 11-2, 2.23 ERA post-season record (19 starts). He is on the cusp for the HOF. However, his outspoken views, Mike Mussina’s 270-win total (likely he will gete in before Schilling) and the lack of a Cy Young Award may be working against Schilling’s vote-getting capacity. His best season was 2001, when he went 22-8 for the Diamondbacks (with a 2.98 ERA).  That year, he lead the league in wins, starts (5), complete games (6), innings pitched (256 2/3).  He’ll be back for another shot. Schilling pitched for the Orioles (1988-1990); Astros (1991); Phillies (1992-2000); Diamondbacks (2000-2003); and Red Sox (2004-2007).

Gary Sheffield (OF/DH/3B/SS, 1988-2009) – Third year on the ballot, 11.6 percent last year.

Sheffield is a nine-time All Star (in 22 MLB seasons) with 509 career home runs (topped 30 home runs in a season eight times , with a high of 43 in 2000); a 292 career average (hit .300+ in eight seasons); and 1,676 RBI.  He also won 1992 NL batting title (.330); topped 100 RBI eight times; topped 100 runs scored seven times. His best season was 1996 (Marlins), when he hit .314, with 42 home runs, 120 RBI, 188 runs scored and 16 steals.  Sheffield has the offensive numbers, but defensive questions and the shadow of PEDs are likely to keep him on the outside looking in.  He should return fo the ballot.  Sheffield played for the Brewers (1988-1991); Padres (1992-1993); Marlins (1993-19998); Dodgers (1998-2001); Braves (2002-2003); Yankees(2004-2006); Tigers (2008); and Mets (2009).

Sammy Sosa (OF, 1989-2007) – Fifth year on the ballot, 7.0 percent last year.

Sosa hit 609 home runs in 18 MLB seasons – winning two HR titles, topping sixty three times and also hitting 50 one year.  In the four seasons from 1998 to 2001, Sosa averaged 60 home runs and 149 RBI per season. His career numbers include a .273 average, 609 home runs, 1,667 RBI, 1,475 runs scored and 234 stolen bases (a high of 36 steals in 1993). Sosa was the 1998 NL MVP (Cubs), led his league in home runs twice, runs scored three times, RBI twice.    His best season was 1998 (Cubs), when he hit .308, with 66 home runs, a league-leading 158 RBI and league-leading 134 runs scored – and even tossed in 18 stolen bases. So, why is the seven-time All Star not in the Hall?  The PED shadow has darkened his chances.  He’s very close to being dropped from the ballot, but may gets a small boost this year. Sosa played for the Rangers (1989, 2007); White Sox (1989-1991); Cubs (1992-2004); and Orioles (2005).

Mike Stairs OF/1B, 1992-2011) – First year on the ballot.

Mike Stairs enjoyed a 19-year MLB career, hitting .262, with 265 home runs and 899 RBI.  His place on the ballot recognizes his ability to fill a role at the major league level. His best season was 1999 (A’s), when he hit .258, but slugged 38 home runs and drove in 102. In his career, Stairs hit 20 or more home runs six times and topped 100 RBI twice. Stairs played for the Expos (1992-1993); Red Sox (1995); A’s (1996-2000); Cubs (2001); Brewers (2002);  Pirates (2003); Royals (2004-2006); Rangers (2006); Tigers (2006); Blue Jays (2007-2008); Phillies (2008-2009); Padres (2010); and Nationals (2011).

Jason Varitek (C, 1997-2011) – First time on the ballot.

A three-time All Star, Varitek caught an MLB-record (tying) four no-hitters.  His resume also includes a Gold Glove and Silver slugger Award (both in 2005) and three All Star selections. For his 15-seasn MLB career – all with the Red Sox –  Varitek hit .256, with 193 home runs and 757 RBI. His best season was 2003, when he hit .273, with 25 home runs and 85 RBI. In his Silver Slugger/Gold Glove year, he hit .281, with 22 home runs and 70 RBI.

Billy Wagner (RP, 1995-2010) – Second year on the ballot, 10.5 percent last year.

Wagner is a seven-time All Star, who amassed 422 saves (fifth all-time) in a 16-season MLB career.  He had nine seasons of 30 or more saves; a career ERA of 2.31; 1,196 career strikeouts in 903 innings; and 47-40 won-lost record.  His best season was 2003, when he went 1-4, 1.78 for the Astros, saving 44 games amne fanning 105 batters in 86 inings.  BBRT thinks he belong in the Hall (based on his 400+ saves) – and hopes that momentum starts to build.  Wagner played for the Astros (1995-2003); Phillies (2004-2005); Mets (2006-2009); Red Sox (2009); and Braves (2010).

Tim Wakefield  (SP/RP, 1992-2011) – First Year on the ballot.

Wakefield didn’t make the majors until age 25, and still logged 19 MLB seasons. He finished with 200 wins (180 losses), a 4.41 ERA and 23 SAVES.  While those numbers are not likely to put Wakefiled in the Hall, a 19-year MLB career is to be celebrated.   His best year was 1995, when he went 16-8, 2.95 for the Red Sox and finished third in the Cy Young Award balloting. Wakefield pitched for the Pirates (1992-1993) and Red Sox (1995-2011)).

Coming Soon – A Look at the “Today’s Era” ballot.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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

 

 

 

2016 World Series Game Two – Random Thoughts and On to Wrigleyville

Game Two of the 2016 World Series is behind us and the Indians and Cubs move on to Wrigley Field tied at a game apiece – should be one heckuva weekend in Wrigleyville!

Jake Arrieta cubs photo

Jake Arrieta – Game Two winner. Photo by apardavila

Yesterday’s game saw the Cubs tie the Series with a 5-1 win, finishing just ahead of the weather thanks to a one-hour early start.  If you had to pick a “hero” or two, they would be: 1) Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, who got the win after taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning, giving up just one run on two hits, while striking out 6 in 5 2/3 innings; and 2) Cubs’ DH Kyle Schwarber – back after a six-month post-surgery layoff – who continued to surprise nearly everyone by collecting two hits and a walk, scoring once and droving in a pair. His role at Wrigley (he has not yet been cleared to play in the field) remains to be seen.

 

 

Here are a few random observations about Game Two.

A Rough Start for Both Pitchers

The way Game Two started out, it looked like a long night all around. The Cubs scored off Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer (who had ten stitches in his pinky finger nine days ago) just three batters into the game. After CF Dexter Fowler grounded out pitcher to first, 3B Kris Bryant singled to center and 1B Anthony Rizzo doubled him home. The Cubs’ first run of the Series came courtesy of (as they say in the Windy City) Brizzo. No more damage was done, but Bauer needed 29 pitches to get out of the inning.

Cubs’ starter Jake Arrieta pitched a scoreless bottom of the inning, but seemed to have trouble locating his pitches in the 43-degree weather. Arrieta gave up a pair of walks and threw just 10 strikes in 23 pitches. Early on, it looked like a short night for both starters.

How Do You Spell Relief?

There was plenty of work for the bullpens, as both starters ran up the pitch counts early, Cleveland starter Trevor  Bauer (12-8, 4.26 in the regular season) lasted only 3 2/3 innings –  giving up two runs on six hits and throwing 53 strikes in 87 pitches. Cleveland Manager Terry Francona then used six relievers to finish the contest, and they gave up three runs, two earned – on three hits and five walks – over the final 5 1/3 innings.

Jake Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner (18-8, 3.10 this season) settled down after a rocky, two-walk, 23-pitch first inning.  He took a no-hitter into the sixth and exited after 5 2/3 innings (one run on two hits and three walks, with six strikeouts).  The Cubs’ pen (Mike Montgomery and Aroldis Chapman) outpitched the Indians’ relievers – giving up no runs on two hits and two walks, with four strikeouts over the final 3 1/3 innings.  Notably, both Montgomery and Chapman were in-season acquisitions – Montgomery from the Mariners and Chapman from the Yankees.

HANK AARON AWARD

MLB yesterday announced the winners of the 2016 Hank Aaron Award for the best offensive player in each league.  Your worthy pair of winners? The Red Sox’ David Ortiz in the AL and the Cubs’ Kris Bryant in the NL.

David ortiz photo

Big Papi – big bat and big smile in his final season. Photo by Keith Allison

Ortiz, in his final MLB season, had a tremendous season.  As the Red Sox’ DH, he hit .315, with 38 home runs and an AL-leading 127 RBI. He also led all of MLB in slugging percentage (.620) and doubles (48), collected 80 walks and recorded a .401 on-base percentage. In the process, he set the single-season records for a player 40-years-old or older in home runs, RBI, doubles and extra base hits (Elias Sports Bureau). The Hank Aaron Award is a pretty nice – and well-deserved – retirement gift; and a great way to top a 2-yedar MLB career.

Over in the NL, the Cubs’ versatile (3B/of) Kris Bryant earned the Aaron Award. The 24-year-old Bryant, in just his second MLB season, hit .292, with 39 home runs, 102 RBI and a league-leading 121 runs scored (and threw in eight stolen bases).

A final thought/rant.:  I believe MLB should add to the stature and visibility of the Hank Aaron Award by moving the announcement to after the World Series. Consider the time frame for Rookie of the Year (November 14); Manager of the Year (November 15); Cy Young Award (November 16); and MVP (November 17).  I would like to see the Offensive Player of the Year (Hank Aaron Award) in that same time frame – when it would not have to compete with World Series’ hoopla and coverage.

Game Two Turning Point

There are those who may point to the Cubs’ three-run fifth as the turning point in this contest.  I think that came in the top of the third after Indians’ starter Trevor Bauer, trailing 1-0, had retired Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant and had Anthony Rizzo down no balls-two strikes. He was just a pitch away from a 1-2-3 inning. Bauer ended up walking Rizzo; LF Ben Zobrist followed with a single to center (sending Rizzo to second) and DH Kyle Schwarber slapped a single up the middle to plate Rizzo and give the Cubs a 2-0 lead. 2B Javier Baez then fanned to end the inning. What did that mean in the game?

  • It ran up Bauer’s pitch count, getting the Cubs that much closer to the Indians’ pen.
  • It provided Arrieta a little breathing room and a chance to settle down after early command issues.
  • It gave the Cubs an emotional lift, especially since the runs was driven in by the 2016 post-season surprise player – Kyle Schwarber.

Z is for Zobrist

Veteran Ben Zobrist, who collected three hits in Game One, added a single, triple and walk in five plate appearances. He is now five-for-eight (.625), with a double and a triple in the Series. During the regular season, the 35-year-old Zobrtist hit .276, with 18 home runs, 76 RBI and 94 runs scored.

World Series Flashback

burdetteIn the 1957 World Series – the first I ever attended – Milwaukee Braves’ right-hander Lew Burdette started Games Two, Five and Seven. Three starts in eight days versus a highly-favored Yankee squad that included the likes of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard and Moose Skowron. Burdette tossed three complete games – winning all three (including shutouts in Games Five and Seven), giving up only two runs in 27 innings (0.67 ERA) Note: It appears the Indian’s Corey Kluber could pitch Games One, Four and Seven if this Series goes that far.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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

Top 2016 Regular Season Award Candidates – And a Bit of History

First, a disclaimer.  Baseball Roundtable has never claimed to be the best prognosticator – although this year I did get seven of the ten playoffs teams correct in a February 8 post. I missed the Indians and Orioles in the AL (had the Astros and Tigers) and the Nationals in the NL (had the Cardinals).  My predictions for the post season, made October 3, were less accurate – although I still have a chance to be right on the World Series winner.  I have the Cubs winning the Series (just against the Red Sox). Surprises for me?  After an offensive slump in September/October, I did not expect the Blue Jays to get past the Rangers. (Note: the Jays scored the fewest runs in the AL after Aguste 31.) I also underestimated Terry Francona’s ability to manage a pitching staff.

So now, I intend to sit back and enjoy the rest of the post-season – and root for a Cubs/Indians World Series – and (in this post) present BBRT’s selections (and predictions) for MLB’s major 2016 regular season awards.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

National League ROY – Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers

Corey Seager photo

Photo by apardavila

The competition for NL Rookie of the Year comes down to a pair of young, power-hitting shortstops – Corey Seager of the Dodgers and Trevor Story of the Rockies.  Seager gets the edge, largely because Story’s season was interrupted by injury.

Seager, the Dodgers’ 22-year-old shortstop was a 2015 September call up and – while not getting enough playing time to lose his rookie status – hit .337, with four home runs and 17 RBI in 27 games.  (In four minor league seasons, Seager put up a stat line of .312-62-278 in 390 games.)  In 2016, Seager proved his late-season 2015 performance was no fluke, playing in 157 games, and hitting .308, with 26 home runs, 105 runs scored, and 72 RBI. He made the 2016 NL All Star team and played a key role in getting the Dodgers to the post-season. He is the real deal.

Seager’s main competition for the ROY Award comes from the early-season rookie “story” of the year – Colorado’s 23-year-old shortstop Trevor Story. After hitting .340 in Spring Training, Story started the season with a bang (several bangs, in fact).  He homered in his first four regular season games (six home runs in those four contests).  Story went on to tie the MLB record for rookie home runs in April with ten long balls – finishing the month with a .261 average, ten homers, 19 runs scored and  20 RBI in 22 games. Unfortunately, in early August, Story suffered a thumb injury that required season-ending surgery. He ended 2016 with a .272 average, 27 home runs, 72 RBI and eight steals in just 97 games.

BBRT Selection:  Corey Seager    

BBRT Prediction:  Corey Seager

Brotherly Love (of the long ball)

The Elias Sports Bureau reports that Dodgers’ SS Corey Seager and Mariners’ 3B Kyle Seager are the first brothers to hit 25 or more home runs in the same MLB season. Corey finished 2016 with 26 round trippers, Kyle with 30.      

American League ROY – Gary Sanchez, C, Yankees

Gary Sanchez Yankees photo

Photo by apardavila

Timing may prove to be everything when the votes are counted for AL Rookie of the Year.  BBRT expects a very close vote and gives the nod to Yankees’ 23-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez – although the fact that he played in only 53 games may work against him. The stats, however, back up his candidacy: a .299 average, 20 home runs, 34 runs scored, 42 RBI and 24 walks drawn (again, in just 53 games) – with virtually all of the damage done after August 1.  Couple that with his praiseworthy work behind the plate and you have a deserving Rookie of the Year candidate. Before his August call up, Sanchez hit .282-10-50 in 71 games at AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  BBRT side note: Sanchez was called up to the Yankees late in 2015 – made his major league debut on October 3 –  and (few fans may realize) was included on the Yankees’ 2015 post-season roster.

The fewest games ever played by a non-pitcher in a Rookie of the Year season is 52 by Giants’ 1B Willie McCovey in 1959. He played his first game on July 30 and went to post a .354 average, with 13 home runs and 38 RBI.

BBRT sees Sanchez’ main competition coming from Tigers’ RHP Michael Fulmer (acquired by the Tigers from the Mets in the July 2015 trade for Yeonis Cespedes). The 23-year-old Fulmer went 11-7 (26 starts – 159 innings), with a 3.06 ERA.  Timing may be important here. Fulmer, who got his first start April 29, was 9-2, with a 2.50 ERA at the end of July. In August and September, Fulmer went 2-5, 3.59. Fulmer needs to hope the voters remember his May performance – when he went 3-1 with a 0.61 ERA (two earned runs in 29 2/3 innings).

BBRT Selection:  Gary Sanchez    

BBRT Prediction:  Gary Sanchez (in a very close vote)

From 1992 through 1996, the LA Dodgers had a record five consecutive Rookie of the Year Award winners: 1B Eric Karros (1992); C Mike Piazza (1993); OF Raul Mondesi (1994); SP Hideo Nomo (1995); OF Todd Hollandsworth (1996).  

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MOST VALUABLE PLAYER AWARD

American League MVP – Mookie Betts, RF, Red Sox

Mookie Betts photo

Photo by Keith Allison

This is a tough one to call – Mookie Betts, David Ortiz, Jose Altuve, Mike Trout and, perhaps, Josh Donaldson can all make a good case.  However, there is a need to narrow it down.  As BBRT considers these candidates, I remind myself that this is not the award for best player of the season – but, rather (by its own definition) for most valuable player (to his team).  So, despite another stellar season by the Angels’ CF Mike Trout (.315-29-100, with 30 steals), the Angels’ fourth-place finish becomes a factor.  Then there is David Ortiz’ unbelievable season – in which he pretty much demolished the record book for accomplishments at age 40 or over with a .315-38-127 line. Big Papi slips a bit on my ballot because of his role as DH, but he is likely to get an emotional boost in the actual balloting based on his career, age and attitude.  His leadership – on and off the field – has long meant a lot to this team. Then there is Josh Donaldson, a key element in Toronto’s 2016 success, who put up a .284-37-99 line, with 122 runs.  Still, BBRT sees his impact a bit short of either of the two players on my list I haven’t touched upon yet – Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve.

Altuve led the AL in batting average at .338 and base hits at 216, while also smacking 24 home runs, scoring 108 runs, driving in 96 and stealing 30 bases – all the time serving as the spark plug for the Astros’ offense. Just 26-years-old, the 5’6”, 165-pound Astros’ 2B already has two batting crowns, two stolen base titles, three consecutive 200-hit seasons, a Gold Glove and four All Star selections – and he seems to just keep getting better.  What he doesn’t have is an MVP Award – and I don’t think it’s coming this year. (It might have, if the Astros had made the playoffs.)  BBRT’s choice for AL MVP is Red Sox’ RF Mookie Betts – who did a little bit (a lot, actually) of everything. Betts hit .318 on the season, launched 31 home runs, scored 122, drove in 113 and stole 26 bases.  How does all that flesh out?  He was second in the AL in average, runs scored and base hits; third in doubles, fourth in RBI, sixth in stolen bases.  Betts is just 24-years-old and, like Altuve, just seems to keep improving.  Betts would get BBRT’s vote (if I had one) for AL MVP.  If he doesn’t win it, I expect it will end up as a career-topping tribute to the performance and presence of David Ortiz.

BBRT Selection:  Mookie Betts   

BBRT Prediction: David Ortiz

 You could make a pretty good All Star team of players who have won two or more consecutive MVP Awards:

        C –    Yogi Berra, Yankees (1954-55)

        1B – Albert Pujols (2008-09)

        2B – Joe Morgan, Reds (1975-76)

        3B – Mike Schmidt, Phillies (1980-81)

         SS – Ernie Banks, Cubs (1958-59)

         OF – Barry Bonds/ Pirates (1992), Giants (1993); Giants (2001-04)

         OF – Mickey Mantle, Yankees (1956-57)

         OF – Dale Murphy, Braves (1982-83)

           P –    Hal Newhouser, Tigers (1944-45)

           Bench:    Roger Maris, OF, Yankees (1960-61)

                             Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Tigers (2012- 13)

National League MVP – Kris Bryant, 3B-plus, Cubs

Kris Bryant photo

Photo by apardavila

Really not much of a race here.  Yes, there will be votes cast for Nationals’ 2B Daniel Murphy (.347-25-104), Dodgers’ SS Corey Seager (although the votes cast for Rookie of the Year may work against him) and Rockies’ master of leather and lumber 3B Nolan Arenado (who led the NL in home runs and RBI for the second straight season and is likely to pick up his fourth Gold Glove).  However, Kris Bryant should win the NL MVP Award hands down – he was the most valuable player on MLB’s winningest team.  The 24-year-old Bryant, the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year, played in 155 games, hitting .292, with a league-leading 121 runs scored, 39 home runs and 102 RBI (not to mention eight steals).  In the process, he started games at 3B, LF, RF, 1B and SS. Bryant’s contributions – at the plate and all around the diamond – pretty much define the term “MVP”.  His presence made manager Joe Maddon’s job a whole lot easier.

 

BBRT Selection; Kris Bryant   

BBRT Prediction:  Kris Bryant

BBRT RANT

Here’s a BBRT rant you have heard before, but BBRT is nothing if not consistent.  I believe we need another major award in MLB – recognizing each season’s best position player (to include the DH position).  Pitchers have the Cy Young Award – recognizing each season’s best pitcher.  There is, however, no equivalent award reserved for the best performance by a position player. While some would argue the MVP Award serves that purpose, the fact that numerous pitchers have won the MVP over the years argues against that contention. I believe we need a position player award equivalent to the Cy Young, as well as the MVP Award (based on contributions to team success).

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CY YOUNG AWARD

National League Cy Young Award – Max Scherzer, RHP, Nationals

Max Scherzer photo

Photo by apardavila

BBRT sees the NL Cy Young race as Max Scherzer, followed by “Pick a Cub,” the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez, and a pair of Giants (Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner). Why separates Scherzer from this very talented pack? The Nationals’ righty:

  • Led the NL in wins (20 – the league’s only 20-game winner);
  • Led all of MLB in strikeouts with 284 (30 ahead of Justin Verlander’s second-best total) and WHIP (0.97);
  • Topped the NL in innings pitched (228 1/3); and
  • Turned in a 2.96 ERA – one of just eight qualifying hurlers to come in under 3.00.

That combination is enough to give Scherzer the edge in a very tough Cy Young Awqrd race.

For a list of contenders, look first to the Cubs’ staff.  You have Kyle Hendricks (16-8, with MLB’s lowest ERA at 2.13); Jon Lester (19-4, 2.44, with 197 strikeouts in 202 2/3 innings); and Jake Arrieta (18-8, 3.10). Then there’s the Marlins’ young star Jose Fernandez (who died in a tragic late September boating accident) at 16-8, 2.86, with 253 strikeouts in just 182 1/3 innings.  Finally, you have Giants Johnny Cueto, who had an all-around solid season at 18-5, 2.79, and Madison Bumgarner (15-9, 2.74, with 251 K’s in 222 2/3 innings).   There’s lots of talent here, but I think Scherzer’s numbers stand out from the small crowd at the top of the NL.

BBRT Selection:  Max Scherzer   

BBRT Prediction: Max Scherzer

A few Cy Young Award “firsts:”

      – First winner – Don Newcombe, Dodgers (1956)

      – First southpaw winner – Warren Spahn, Braves, 1957

      – First relief pitcher winner – Mike Marshall, Dodgers, 1974

      – First rookie to win the CYA – Fernando Valenzuela, Dodgers (1981)

       – First to win CYA and MVP in same season – Don Newcombe,                         Dodgers (1956)  

       –  First shared (tied) CYA – Denny McLain, Tigers & Mike Cueller,                  Orioles (1969)

        – First pitcher to win the CYA in both leagues – Gaylord Perry,                         Indians (1972)/Padres (1978)

American League Cy Young Award – Rick Porcello, RHP. Red Sox

Rick Porcello Red sox photo

Photo by Keith Allison

Rick Porcello of the Red Sox is an imposing presence on the mound at 6’ 5” and 205 pounds.  Well, the big guy had a big year in 2016 – leading all of MLB with 22 victories (against only four losses). In his 33 starts, Porcello recorded a 3.15 ERA (fifth-best in the AL), 1.01 WHIP (second-best in the AL) and fanned 189 batters (AL’s eighth-most) in 223 innings pitched (AL’s fourth-highest).  Also in the mix are the Indians’ Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14, with 222 strikeouts in 215 innings); the Tigers’ Justin Verlander (16-9, 3.04, with a league-leading 254 K’s in 227 2/3 innings); the Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ (20-5, 3.18), and Orioles’ closer Zach Britton (47-for-47 in save opportunities. with a miniscule 0.54 ERA in 67 innings). BBRT has to go with Porcello’s 22 victories and .846 winning percentage.  The most likely pitchers to sneak past Porcello would be Britton and his perfect record in saves or Verlander (those 250+ strikeouts will garner a few votes).  As an aside, 2016 saw Porcello (in his eighth MLB season) record his highest-ever numbers in wins, winning percentage, innings pitched and strikeouts – and his lowest-ever season ERA.

BBRT Selection: Rick Porcello  

BBRT Prediction: Rick Porcello

In 2016, eight MLB pitchers qualifying for the ERA title finished the season under 3.00 – and all eight were in the National League (with the two lowest ERAs belonging to Cubs’ hurlers Kyle Hendricks at 2.13 and Jon Lester at 2.44).  The lowest qualifying American ERA went to the Blue Jays’ Aaron Sanchez at 3.00.

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MANAGER OF THE YEAR

American League Manager of the Year– Terry Francona, Indians

Terry Francona photo

Photo by Keith Allison

Okay, John Farrell did take the Red Sox from worst to first and Rangers’ Manager Jeff Bannister overcame lost time by Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Colby Lewis (not to mention Prince Fielder’s injury-forced retirement), but BBRT leans toward the Indians’ Terry Francona for AL Manager of the Year. Francona led the Tribe to the top of the AL Central (BBRT didn’t even pick the Tribe to make the post season) with a 94-67 record.  Francona pushed the Indians to the top despite a series of injuries (Michael Brantley, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, Yan Gomes). In the process, he earned continued praise as a manager who effectively handles a pitching staff under stress and uses position-player platooning to adjust for injuries, balance playing time and put winning combinations on the field.  I expect the voting will be close, but Francona should edge Bannister for the recognition. (Side note: Jeff Bannister was the 2015 AL Manager of the Year and only once has a manager received this recognition in consecutive seasons: Bobby Cox, Braves, 2004 & 2005).

BBRT: Selection: Terry Francona

BBRT Prediction: Terry Francona

National League Manager of the Year  – Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers

Dave roberts dodgers photo

Photo by Malingering

This looks like a three-way race between the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, Nationals’ Dusty Baker and Cubs’ Joe Maddon.  All three managers had plenty of talent on the roster – and were expected to make the post-season.  BBRT gives Roberts the edge here for a couple of reasons.  First, Joe Maddon and Dusty Baker were already proven commodities. Maddon and Baker are both three-time Manager of the Year Award winners, while Roberts came into the season with one game of managerial experience. (Roberts filled in when the Padres fired manager Bud Black in June of last year.  He managed one game – a 9-1 loss to Oakland – before Pat Murphy was hired as manager and Roberts returned to the coaching staff.)   As a Rookie manager, Roberts led the Dodgers to a 91-71 record and the NL West title.  Not only that, he did it despite placing an MLB-record 28 players on the disabled list during the season – including staff Ace Clayton Kershaw (who, at one point, went 75 days between starts).  Bringing the Dodgers home in first place, despite an ever-changing lineup, bench and pitching staff (LA used 31 pitchers, including 15 different starters) give this rookie manager BBRT’s vote.

BBRT Selection:  Dave Roberts    

BBRT Prediction: Dave Roberts

MANAGER OF THE YEAR TRIVIA

Established in 1983, the Manager of the Year Award has gone to 44 different managers.  Here are a few tidbits:

     – La-La Land: The first ever Manager of the Year Awards (1983) went to Tony La Russa (White Sox) and Tommy Lasorda (Dodgers).

     – The most MOY Awards (four each) have gone to Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa. Cox won his awards with the Blue Jays (1985) and Braves (1991, 2004, 2005). La Russa won with the White Sox (1983), A’s (1988, 1992) and Cardinals (2002).

     – The first manager to win the award in both leagues was Bobby Cox (see above bullet).

     – Bobby Cox is the only manager to win the award in consecutive seasons

     – 47 MOY Awards have gone to first-place finishers; 15 to second-place finishers; four to third-place finishers; and one to a fourth-place finisher.

     – The only manager to win the MOY Award with a team that finished under .500 was Joe Girardi, who managed the 2006 Florida Marlins to a 78-84 fourth-place finish. (BBRT note: Girardi was fired after the season, despite winning Manager of the Year.)

Coming Soon – A look at the Baseball Hall of Fame 2017 Today’s Game Era ballot.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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

Just Arrived in the Mail – Blackwing Pencils’ Limited Edition Tribute to Joe DiMaggio

My Blackwing Volume 56 tribute to Joe DIMaggio's hitting streak. (No, the ball didn't come with it. That was off my shefl.

My Blackwing Volume 56 tribute to Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak. (No, the ball didn’t come with it. That was off my shefl.

I seldom write about products in these BBRT posts (except, of course, for baseball book reviews), but every once in a while I see something unique, fun and baseball themed that I’d like to share with readers.   This is one of those times.

I think I’d finally found the perfect pencil for keeping score at the ball park – The Blackwing Volume 56, which pays tribute to the 75th anniversary of Joe DiMaggio’s record-setting, 56-game hitting streak.   As regular readers may know, BBRT can be old school – and this pencil feels, smells and looks like it belongs tucked into an old-style scorecard.

The pencil features a blue pinstriped barrel to reflect the Yankees’ iconic pinstriped uniforms, and it’s imprinted with a gold “56.”.  While the Yankee Clipper’s baseball legacy includes a spot on 10 American League pennant winners and nine World Series champions, 13 All-Star selections, three American League MVP Awards, two batting titles, two home run crowns, and the Yankees retirement of his number (five) – the number DiMaggio may be best known for is “56”

From May 15, 1941 through July 16, 1941, “Joltin’ Joe” hit safely in an MLB-record 56 consecutive games. During the streak, DiMaggio hit .408, with 91 hits, 15 home runs, 56 runs scored and 55 RBI.  DiMaggio had 34 one-hit games during the streak; 13 two-hit games; five three-hit contests; and four four-hit games. The Yankees went 41-13 (two ties) as DiMaggio scorched AL pitching.

You can see Blackwing Pencils’ video about the streak here.

The DiMaggio streak tribute pencil is selling fast, but if you are interested they may be available here.

The Blackwing Volume 56 is just one of Blackwing’s tribute offerings.  They have also created pencils honoring such individuals and events as Pultizer Prize Winner John Steinbeck; writer, artist and environmentalist John Muir; and the 50th Anniversary of the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.  Each of these pencils is designed to reflect the character of the honoree or event. For example, the Blackwing 725 pencil celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Newport Festival with a lacquer finish inspired by the Fender Stratocaster that fueled the Festival – called one of “50 Moments that Changed Rock n’ Roll” by Rolling Stone magazine.

Going forward, I hope Blackwing will honor additional baseball performances or players.

A Brief Look at Blackwing Pencils’ History

Blackwing pencils were favored by award-winning creators throughout the 20th century. Despite a cult following, Blackwing pencils fell victim to a cost-cutting culture in the 1990s and were discontinued. That didn’t stop devotees from paying as much as $40 per pencil for unused stock. In 2010, Palomino Brands (a division of California Cedar Products Company) drew from nearly a century of experience and quality commitments to access the world-class materials and production excellence necessary to bring Blackwing pencils back for a new generation of writers, artists, and others seeking a quality writing instrument and unique writing experience.  For more on Palomino and Blackwing, click here.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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

 

 

MLB in Oakland – Fans Come for the Action, Not the Ambiance

Sunday, May 17th, I took in a game at my 28th major league ballpark – as the Oakland Athletics took on the Chicago White Sox at Oakland’s O.co (Overlook.com) Coliseum – and while (at many levels) it wasn’t very pretty, for a baseball fan, it was a pretty good time.

My son-in-law Amir and I had great seats for the Oakland-Chicago contest- (Thanks to my daughter Elan.) Note the tarp covering the third deck seats and "Mount Davis" in the outfield - part of what you get when you're housed in the last facility serving MLB and the NFL.  The A's fans were loud, loyal and knew the game. One fan noted that "Fans come

We had great seats for the Oakland-Chicago contes.  (Thanks go out to my daughter Elan.) Note the tarp covering the third-deck seats and the warehouse-like  “Mount Davis” in the outfield – part of what you get when you’re housed in the last multi-purpose facility serving MLB and the NFL teams. The A’s fans were loud, loyal and knew the game. One fan cautioned  “Don’t expect anything fancy here. Fans come here to see the game – not to be seen at the game.

The A’s came into the game with the major league’s worst record and an MLB-leading 38 errors. In dropping the contest to the ChiSox by a 7-3 margin, the home team added four more errors, and made it 14 consecutive games with at least one fielding miscue. In short, it wasn’t a very pretty game – and it wasn’t played in a very pretty setting.

Like all baseball games, however, there was still plenty to see – and remember.  I’m a fan of the artful 6-4-3 and 4-6-3 double plays – and we got to see one of each. Notably, one of those was started by A’s shortstop Marcus Semien – on a tough short-hop grounder that could easily have handcuffed him. Earlier that same inning (top of the fifth), Semien had made his MLB-leading 13th error.

washington2BBRT Note: Three days after this game, the A’s hired former Twins’ infielder (and former A’s coach and  Rangers’ Manager) Ron Washington to work with the A’s players on their defense. Washington played six seasons with the Twins and also played in the majors with the Dodgers, Orioles, Indians and Astros. In addition, he was an A’s coach for eleven seasons (1996-2007) and managed the Rangers for eight seasons – taking the team to its first World Series in 2010.

Max Muncy, promoted to the A's (from AAA Nashville)  April 25 hit his first MLB home run May 17.

Max Muncy, promoted to the A’s (from AAA Nashville) April 25 hit his first MLB home run May 17.

We also saw an impressive performance by former Athletic Jeff Samardzija, who came to the White Sox from the A’s in an off-season trade that included Semien. Samardzija (pronounce that one) earned the win with a solid eight innings, consistently reaching the mid-90s with his fastball.  In addition, we witnessed a sliver of history, as A’s first baseman Max Muncy rapped his first major league home run – a two-run shot to right center in the bottom of the fourth, just out of the reach of a leaping Adam Eaton. Oakland’s leadoff hitter Billy Burns (great baseball name) stung three singles and “burned”  (couldn’t resist that one) Samardzija and the Sox for his third stolen base. Oakland reliever Dan Otero got a well-deserved mini-standing ovation from A’s fans who appropriately appreciated his 3 1/3 one-hit innings of relief.

But, this post is really more about the Coliseum than the game – which, as you will see as your read on, is a bit ironic.

If you want to step back in time – to an era in which all ballplayers weren’t millionaires, when fans spent the time between innings talking baseball (as opposed to texting or taking selfies), when attending the game was all about the action and not the amenities, when a complete and accurate scorecard was a source of pride, and when a double play was more important than a double martini – the O.co Coliseum may be just the ticket for you. 

As my son-in-law Amir, who joined me at the game, commented, “This (O.co Coliseum) seems like the home of blue collar baseball.”  And, as I learned from talking to Oakland A’s fans, despite their complaints about the condition of the Coliseum, they take pride in the fact that it is their ballpark, home to their team and “makes the game the thing.”  As I was chatting with fans in the line at the Herradura Bar concession stand (more on that later), a gentleman in a A’s jersey, jeans and an A’s cap cautioned me, “Don’t look for anything fancy here. Fans come here to see the game – not to be seen at the game.”  (The  “like at some other ballparks” seemed implied at the end of his comment.) That turned out to be a wise observation.  From BBRT’s perspective, the A’s deserve (need) a new or at least improved home, but there is an atmosphere at the Coliseum that makes a ball game at a not-so-pretty stadium a pretty good experience. In this post, I’d like to share a few thoughts on my first visit to Oakland’s Coliseum.

The O.co Coliseum (originally known as the Oakland-Alameda County Stadium) opened as the home of the American Football League’s Oakland Raiders in 1966 and began its tenure as a home to Major League Baseball when the Kansas City Athletics moved west in 1968.   While baseball facilities around the major leagues have changed over the years, the Coliseum seems to have remained firmly rooted in the 1960s (or maybe as far forward as the 1970s).  As a long-time Twins’ fan who remembers the days of Metropolitan Stadium (original home to both the Twins and Vikings), my visit to the Coliseum was a somewhat nostalgic journey back in time.

Getting There

First, there’s an old saying that “Getting there is half the fun.”  Clearly not the case for many of today’s urban ballparks. Driving downtown and finding a parking spot (particularly for a midweek day game) can be a frustrating and expensive experience. The good news in Oakland is that getting to the Coliseum is not likely to test your nerves. The ballpark is close to major freeway exits (off Interstate 880) and (like the old Metropolitan Stadium) has its own parking lot ($20).  The ballpark is also accessible via BART, transit buses and even Amtrak has a Coliseum stop. Take public transport and you’ll be traveling to and from the game with a host of other baseball fans.  In short, the Coliseum is one of the most accessible ballparks around.

The Parking Lot

The Oakland experience starts in the parking lot.

The Oakland experience starts in the parking lot.

BBRT suggests that, to get the full Oakland A’s experience, you drive to the game – and pack some food, beverages, music and, if possible, a barbeque grill. This, by the way, is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that, for many A’s fans, the game-day  experience starts in the parking lot, where tailgating is energetic and popular. The bad news is that, while many MLB facilities have moved into downtown areas, or seen the nearby neighborhoods develop as pre- and post-game food, beverage and entertainment destinations, the Coliseum is firmly entrenched in an industrial park. The parking lot is, out of necessity, the pre-game destination of choice. Translation – Pretty much the only choice.  But, it can be a good one.

Our stroll from the “D” section of the lot again took me back to the early days of the Twins, when the Metropolitan Stadium parking lot would begin to fill up (and the celebration of baseball and Minnesota’s short summer would move into full swing) well before game time.  As you cross the Coliseum’s ample lot, you are pleasantly assailed by the smell of grilling sausages of all ethnicities and the sound of music of nearly all genres. Baseballs, softballs, bean bags and even an occasional football (the Oakland Raiders do share the stadium, after all) fill the air; green and gold Athletics gear provides the color; and an often booming base line is complemented by plenty of laughter and animated baseball conversation. All of this works to get fans truly “ready” for the game ahead.

Inside the Park

Once inside the ballpark, there is again good news and bad news.

Good News: Ticket prices are reasonable (the A’s are in the bottom-third of MLB in terms of average ticket prices and MLB Team Marketing Reports found the A’s to have the sixth-lowest total cost for attending a game. We had great seats – between home plate and third base, just 26 rows from the field – for just $46 each.

More Good News:  The grass is brilliant green, the ball stark white, the sky deep blue and the field in major league shape. Very simply, you are at a baseball game – what could be better (Okay, maybe a doubleheader)?

Bad News:  The fact that the Coliseum is the only remaining stadium to serve an NFL and MLB team does baseball fans no favors.  To reduce seating for baseball (the Coliseum holds approximately 63,000 for football and 35,000 for baseball), the A’s have covered pretty much all of the upper deck seats with a green tarp that appears to have seen better days. (See the photo at the top of the post.)

Even the bullpens are "old school" at the Coliseum - located on the field in the ball parks wide foul territory.

Even the bullpens are “old school” at the Coliseum – located on the field in the ball parks wide foul territory.

Then there is the infamous (among A’s fans) “Mount Davis.” In 1996, additional seating (including luxury boxes) was added in centerfield (part of the efforts to lure the Raiders, who had fled Oakland for Los Angeles in 1982, back to Oakland). These added seats gave baseball fans a center field view worthy (or unworthy) of the stadium’s industrial area location. Oakland fans I talked to reminisced about the previous outfield vista – the hills above the Coliseum – and referred to this outfield section as “Mount Davis” (a negative reference to the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis).

More Bad News:  The stadium’s concrete walls could use a good power washing (both outside and in the concourses) – and it wouldn’t hurt to paint over the graffiti in the restrooms.

Food and Drink

Good News: The A’s have what is likely MLB’s most fan- and family-friendly policy regarding outside food and beverage. You can actually bring in your own food and non-alcoholic beverages. The family of four sitting down the row from us had brought in two shopping bags full of goodies – from sandwiches to chips to soda (plastic bottles – no metal or glass containers).They were munching the whole game – and never reached for their wallets. (I was jealous – and it was a lesson learned for when I get back to Oakland.)

Bad News: If you don’t bring in your own food, the choices (and ambiance) fall short of the unique fare and facilities at many ballparks. (I might be a bit spoiled by the food and facilities at Minnesota’s Target Field – which you can read about by clicking here.)

What could be more "old school" than a Malt Cup (with wooden spoon) balanced on an accurately kept scorecard.

What could be more “old school” than a Malt Cup (with wooden spoon) balanced on an accurately kept scorecard.

Good News:  In January 2014, the Coliseum signed up with a new food service provider and food choices are said to be on the upswing. A few recommendations BBRT received from fans and A’s staff: Visit the “Bar and Grille” in section 215 (sit-down service there); Try the Brick Oven Pizza or Calzones; While at the ballpark, don’t miss the Garlic Fries; If you like ribs, try Ribs & Things (section 104); You can fill up on the Super Chicken Nachos; The double corn dog is a winner.  For BBRT, a visit to the Coliseum cries out for traditional (old school) ballpark fare – hot dogs, polish sausages or brats; Cracker Jack; peanuts; malt cups (with wooden spoons); beer; and maybe a “stretch” to those Super Chicken Nachos – all eaten at your seat, while balancing an accurately maintained scorecard.

Good News:  There are plenty of vendors working the aisles – and, unlike some ballparks, they didn’t seem to disappear in the late innings.  You don’t really have to leave your seat (and scorecard) if you don’t want to.

OakBloodyBad News:  BBRT, as regular readers know, likes to try (and then rate) the Bloody Mary offerings at each ball park.  The Herradura Bar (Section 126) was recommended as a good spot to order up the prerequisite beverage.  How was it?  Look at the photo to the left. Enough said, back to beer and peanuts. For a look at some other ballpark Bloody Marys, click here, here and here.

The Fans

Good News:  It’s all good news here. A’s fans are knowledgeable, loud and love their baseball and their team. They appreciate and applaud good plays by the home team and visiting team, heckle with gusto when appropriate and seem to spend less time on their smart phones than fans I’ve seen at other ball parks. While they are more than willing to express their frustration with the early portion of the 2015 season, they are also quick to acknowledge (and point out) that the A’s have a pretty consistent record of success – and a reputation for getting the most out of their budget and players. (And, they’re right about that. The A’s can look back to first-place finishes in 1971-72-73-74-75-81-88-89-90-92-2000-02-03-06-12-13 and, in 2014, made the post season as an AL Wild Card team).OakRace

In short, the A’s have a reputation for putting a consistently good team on the field. For more on that, rent the movie “Moneyball.”

Ultimately, while attending an Oakland A’s home game may not be that “pretty” – it’s likely to be a pretty good time. I’m looking forward to my next California trip – and hoping the A’s are in town. If you get out that way, I suggest taking in the Oakland A’s experience.

Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals 2015 Electees announced

ReliquaryNewIf you follow Baseball Roundtable, you are probably aware of the fact that BBRT is proud to be a member of The Baseball Reliquary – a free-spirited organization dedicated to celebrating the human side of baseball’s history and heritage.  The Baseball Reliquary is truly a fans’ organization, committed to recognizing baseball’s place in American culture and to honoring the character and characters of the national pastime. The Reliquary pursues that mission through its collection of artifacts, traveling exhibitions, ties to the Whittier College Institute for Baseball Studies and (perhaps, most visibly) through its own version of the Baseball Hall of Fame – the Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals.  For more on the Baseball Reliquary, and why you should become a member, click here.

The Reliquary’s Board of Directors recently (May 4) announced its 2015 Shrine of the Eternals electees – each year, the top three vote getters (all Baseball Reliquary members may cast votes) are honored.  The induction ceremony for this 17th Shrine “class” will take place beginning at 2:00 p.m., July 19 in the Pasadena (CA) Central Library’s Donald R. Wright Auditorium.  Before we take a look at this year’s electees,  BBRT would like to share what the Baseball Reliquary has to say about its highest honor.

Similar in concept to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Shrine of the Eternals differs philosophically in that statistical accomplishment is not the principal criterion for election. It is believed that the election of individuals on merits other than statistics and playing ability will offer the opportunity for a deeper understanding and appreciation of baseball than has heretofore been provided by “Halls of Fame” in the more traditional and conservative institutions.

Criteria for election shall be: the distinctiveness of play (good or bad); the uniqueness of character and personality; and the imprint that the individual has made on the baseball landscape. Electees, both on and off the diamond, shall have been responsible for developing baseball in one or more of the following ways: through athletic and/or business achievements; in terms of its larger cultural and sociological impact as a mass entertainment; and as an arena for the human imagination.

The diversity of past honorees is a clear indication that the Baseball Reliquary and its member-voters are living up to the stated criteria. Past inductees include (among others) a one-armed major league outfielder, a pitcher who once threw a no-hitter while high on LSD, a team owner who sent a midget to the plate, a man in a chicken suit, a member of Major League Baseball’s 3,000-hit club, a manager who won eight World Championships, a surgeon, a labor leader, a statistical wizard and more than one best-selling author.

So, who are the Reliquary’s 2015 electees?  Diversity rules again.  The 2015 Class of the Shrine of the Eternals includes a baseball card designer; a West Coast minor league legend; and an MLBer who faced prejudice with his own brand of courage.

For BBRT, this may go down as the Class of the Killer B’s – (Sy) Berger; (Steve) Bilko; (Glenn) Burke. Here’s a look at the three electees through excerpts (in italics) from the Baseball Reliquary’s announcement.  For more detail, as well as a full listing of nominees and their vote totals, visit the post on the Baseball Reliquary’s web site by clicking here.  At the end of this post, I’ll also include a few comments on 2015 nominees that did not get elected, but did receive BBRT’s vote. Note: BBRT did cast votes for Berger and Burke.

 

Sy Berger (1923-2014) – “Father of the Modern Day Baseball Card” – 31% of the vote.

bERGERBorn in the Bronx, just blocks from Yankee Stadium, Berger joined the Brooklyn-based Topps Chewing Gum Company as an assistant sales manager in 1947 and headed its sports department for half a century.  During his tenure, he designed and oversaw the production of some of the most innovative and revered baseball cards of all-time.  He is often called the “Father of the Modern Day Baseball Card” for his work on the 1952 Topps baseball set, which he designed (with help from Woody Gelman) on his kitchen table and which for the first time incorporated team logos along with facsimile signatures, statistics, and personal information on the players.  This same format continues to the present day. 

Berger would remain with Topps as an employee for fifty years (1947-1997), and would serve as vice-president, and then consultant and board member.  He was still working as the company’s principle liaison between the players, teams, and leagues until his retirement in 2003.

 

Steve Bilko (1928-78) – West Coast Minor League Legend – 31% of the vote.

bILKOBilko was not a star in the big leagues.  Over a peripatetic ten-year career, he was a regular for only one season (1953, with the Cardinals), and he appeared in more than 100 games only one other time (1961, with the expansion Angels).  He could hit for power, but struck out too often.  He had no speed.  To explain the lingering mystique of this moon-faced, lumbering first baseman, we must look at the Pacific Coast League, with franchises located along the West Coast and featuring a prolonged weather-friendly playing season, competitive pennant races and playoffs, and a rabidly partisan fan base. 

 

The PCL produced great baseball until the Dodgers and Giants relocated to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, in 1958.

In those waning years of PCL supremacy, Bilko was the slugging star for the Los Angeles Angels, who wowed fans with mammoth home runs and exceptionally fierce strikeouts.  He led the PCL in home runs for three consecutive seasons from 1955 to 1957, winning the league Triple Crown in 1956 with a .360 average, 55 HRs, and 164 RBI.  He was by far the biggest sports star in Los Angeles history prior to the arrival of the Dodgers. 

Recognizing his popularity with local fans, the Dodgers added Bilko to their roster as a gate attraction for their inaugural campaign in Los Angeles.  The Angels (the American League expansion team) did likewise in 1961, providing Bilko with a final chance to awe the fans at his old haunt, Los Angeles’s Wrigley Field.  For those who saw him play in the PCL, he will always be remembered as a superstar.  That his glory years coincided with the demise of a much-loved league adds a last wistful touch to his legend.

BBRT note: In ten MLB seasons, Bilko played in 600 games and put up a .249-76-276 stat line. In 13 minor league campaigns, he played in 1,533 games – hitting .312, with 313 home runs. As noted above, in 1956, with the Los Angeles Angels, he captured the Pacific Coast League Triple Crown with a .360 batting average, 55 home runs and 164 runs batted in. He followed that up, again for the Angels, with a .300-56-140 season in 1957.  Bilko was inducted into the PCL Hall of Fame in 2003.

Glenn Burke (1952-95) – Crossing the Barrier of Prejudice – 31% of the vote.

bURKEBurke was a fleet, capable outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics during a four-year major league career from 1976 through 1979.  He was the first big league ballplayer to publicly acknowledge he was gay.  Although his public disclosure came after he had retired, Burke’s sexual preference was well known during his playing days, and he encountered widespread homophobia from locker rooms to board rooms. 

While never given an everyday opportunity with the Dodgers to show his mettle, Burke did make one lasting contribution to popular culture while with the team.  After Dusty Baker’s 30th home run at the end of the 1977 season — a feat which made the Dodgers the only team at that time to have four different players hit 30 or more taters — Burke raised his hands in celebration at home plate.  As Baker crossed the plate he reached up, slapped one, and the high-five was born.  

Having appeared in just over 100 games for Los Angeles during parts of three seasons, Burke was sent packing to Oakland.  Returning to his hometown didn’t make Burke’s life any easier.  A’s manager Billy Martin made public statements about not wanting a homosexual in his clubhouse, a clear reference to Burke.  After just two years with the A’s, Burke quit baseball in frustration.  He became active in amateur athletic competition after baseball, competing in the 1982 and 1986 Gay Games in basketball and track. Burke died of complications from AIDS-related illness in 1995.

A documentary, Out: The Glenn Burke Story, was released in 2010.  

BBRT note: In 2013, Burke was among the first group of inductees into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. Burke was also honored at a press conference prior to the 2014 MLB All Star game.  How good could Burke haven been? We’ll never know, but in 600 minor league games, he hit .293, with 48 home runs and 214 stolen bases.

So there’s the 2015 Shrine of the Eternals inductees.  Now here’s a look at those who got BBRT’s vote, but didn’t make the final three.

_____________________________________________________________

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson (1935 – *)

Johnson was one of three females to play for the Indianapolis Clowns during the declining days of the Negro Leagues.  Johnson took the mound to the Clowns for three seasons (1953-55), running up a 33-8 record.  Her exploits are chronicled in the children’s book A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie “Peanut Johnson, by Michelle Y. Green.

Rube Waddell (1876-1914)

Rube Waddell is pretty much granted the title of the zaniest player in MLB history – but he was also one of the best (at least when he was focused on the game). Waddell was known to wrestle alligators, leave a ball game to chase a fire engine, miss a game he was scheduled to start because he was fishing or playing marbles with neighborhood kids, bring his outfielders in to sit on the grass and then proceed to fan the side – and frequently do battle with owners and managers.  Waddell was more interested in the freedom to enjoy life and do things his way than money.  But, when Waddell was on his game, he was arguably the best pitcher of his time. The 6’1”, 195-lb. lefty led the AL in strikeouts six consecutive seasons (1902-1907) – by a wide margin.

How good was Waddell?  In 1902, he joined the Philadelphia Athletics in June – making his first start on June 26 (with just 86 games left in the season.) Waddell proceeded to win 24 games (the league’s second-highest total) against seven losses, with a 2.05 ERA.  Perhaps more telling is that, despite his shortened season, he led the AL with 210 strikeouts, fifty more than the runner-up (none other than Cy Young, who had 16 more starts than Waddell).

In 1904, Waddell set a modern (post-1900) MLB record with 349 strikeouts that stood until 1965.  Waddell, elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946, finished with a 193-143, 2.16 line – leading the AL in strikeouts six times, ERA twice, wins once and complete games once. For more on Waddell, BBRT suggests: Rube Waddell: The Zany, Brilliant Life of a Strikeout Artist, by Allan Howard Levy and Just a Big Kid: The Life and Times of Rube Waddell, by Paul Proia.

Pete Reiser (1919-81)

Combine Willie Mays’ skill set (younger folks, think Mike Trout) with Pete Rose’s hustle and Yasiel Puig’s on-field abandon and you have Pete Reiser. In his first MLB full season (CF, Dodgers), a 22-year-old Reiser dazzled defensively and led the NL in runs scored (117), doubles (39), triples (17), batting average (.343), total bases (299) and hit by pitch (11) – tossing in 14 home runs and 76 RBI for good measure. Unfortunately, unpadded outfield walls, helmet-less at bats (the fiery Reiser was a frequent target) and aggressiveness on the base paths (Reiser twice led the NL in stolen bases) took their toll.

In his ten-season career, Reiser endured five skull fractures, a brain injury, a dislocated shoulder and a damaged knee.  He was carted off the field 11 times during his career (six times unconscious) and once actually given last rites at the stadium – and he played on. The three-time All Star retired as a player with a .295 career average, playing in 861 games over ten seasons. No telling what he might have done with padded outfield walls and batting helmets.  Pete Reiser was a true – and talented – gamer. For more on Reiser, try Pete Reiser: The Rough and Tumble Career of the Perfect Ballplayer, by Sidney Jacobson.

Denny McLain (1944- *)

MLB’s last 30-game winner (31-6 for the Tigers in 1968), BBRT views McLain as the Pitcher of the Year in what baseball analysts often refer to as the Year of the Pitcher.  And, he wasn’t a one- year wonder.  McLain won 20 or more games three times, captured two Cy Young Awards (1968-69) and one AL MVP Award (1968).  McLain, who ran up a 131-91, 3.39 record in ten MLB seasons, was a colorful and complex a character off the field and on.  His life experience provides a tale of ups and downs – from being selected the 1968 Associate Press Male Athlete of the Year and Sporting News Major League Player of the Year to a six-year prison stint.

McLain is likely the only former major leaguer whose bio includes such varied terminology as MVP, Cy Young Award, All Star game starting pitcher, World Series opening game starter – as well as pilot, Capitol Records recording artist, talk show host, author and ex-con.  McLain’s story gives baseball fans plenty to talk about – and you can learn more by reading I Told You I Wasn’t Perfect, by Denny McLain and Eli Zaret.

Oh, and just one more bit on Denny McLain.  He started the 1966 All Star game (vs. Sandy Koufax) and retired all nine batters he faced (Mays, Clemente, Aaron, McCovey, Santo, J. Torre, Lefebvre, Cardenas, Flood) on just 28 pitches –striking out Mays, Aaron and Torre.  That alone justifies consideration for the Shrine of the Eternals.

Effa Manley (1900-81)

The first woman enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, during the 1930s and 1940s, Manley ran the day-to-day operations of the Negro National League Newark Eagles (owned by her husband Abe Manley) – at a time when baseball, on the field and in the executive offices, was considered a “man’s domain.”  Effa, often thought of as a light-skinned black, was actually white.  She, however, grew up with a black stepfather and mixed-race siblings and was active in the New Jersey branch of the NAACP and Citizen’s League for Fair Play.  Effa Manley deserves recognition for overcoming both racial and sexual barriers as she exercised leadership in the national pastime.

David Mullany (1908-90)

David Mullany was the inventor of the Wiffle® Ball (1953), which ultimately changed backyard baseball for millions of young (and old) players and fans. I know I loved my white perforated plastic ball and yellow plastic bat – and played more than one backyard World Series opener with them (without shattering a single window).  Today, there are Wiffle Ball fields, leagues and tournaments.  The company is still operated by the Mullany family and you can learn more by visiting their website (www.wiffle.com)

Charles M. Conlon (1868-1945)

One of the greatest baseball photographers ever, Conlon produced a tremendous library of portraits and action photos of baseball’s greats, near greats and also-rans. Conlon’s 1909 photograph of Ty Cobb sliding into third base with spikes flying and teeth clenched is considered by many to be the greatest baseball action picture ever taken. His photos appeared regularly in such publications as The Sporting News, Baseball Magazine, and the Spalding and Reach Base Ball Guides, but it was the 1993 book, Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon that finally brought the full impact of his contributions to the fore.

Vic Power (1927-2005)

In 1963, baseball held it first and only Latino All Star Game – October 12 at New York City’s Polo Grounds – featuring such Hispanic stars as Juan Marichal, Roberto Clemente, Louis Aparicio, Tony Oliva, Minnie Minoso, Felipe Alou, Orlando Cepeda and Vic Power.  In pre-game ceremonies, Vic Power was honored as the number-one Latino player – such was the power and popularity of Vic Power.

During his 12-year MLB career, Power proved a capable hitter (.284 lifetime average) and a flashy fielder, who won seven consecutive Gold Gloves at first base. Power’s contribution to the game went much further, however, Power served as mentor to many of the Latino/Hispanic player entering major league baseball in the 1950s and 1960s. Power was a trailblazer for today’s generation of Latino stars.

John Young (1949-*)

A 6’3”, 210-pound, left-handed first baseman, John Young hit .325, with four home runs, 60 RBI and 26 stolen bases (in 29 attempts) in 99 games at Single A Lakeland (Tigers’ farm team) as a twenty-year old (in 1969). The first-round draft choice (16th overall in the 1969 draft)  truly looked like a player with promise – and, in fact, enjoyed a big league cup of coffee with the Tigers in 1971 (two games, four at bats, two hits, one run, one RBI, one double). A wrist injury derailed his playing career, but didn’t dampen his love for the game and he went on to a long career as a scout. It was during his scouting days that Young developed a concern for the decline of baseball among young people – particularly in the inner cities.  In response, Young came up with the concept for the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program. Officially launched in 1989, the RBI program is now supported by all thirty MLB clubs and is active in more than 200 communities – annually providing more than 260,000 youngsters the opportunity to play baseball and softball. (The program also includes educational and life skills components.) A few RBI alumni in the major leagues include: Carl Crawford, Justin Upton, CC Sabathia, James Loney and Manny Machado.

So, there’s my 2015 Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals ballot – and I’m already looking forward to next year.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Catch of the Day – Worth Another Look

Twenty-six years ago today (April 26, 1989), Giants’ left fielder Kevin Mitchell made a spectacular bare-handed catch of a long line drive – ironically off the bat of Saint Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Ozzie Smith, an eventual 13-time Gold Glove winner known for his truly acrobatic play in the infield. BBRT thinks it’s worth another look.  Hope you enjoy it.  Note: Mitchell was better known for his bat than his glove.  He was the NL MVP in 1989, leading the league in home runs (47) and RBI (125), while hitting .291.  

Oh, and just to show I wasn’t exaggerating about Smith being “acrobatic” in the field, here’s another little video snippet.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Twins Opening Day – From Festive to Restive

As the game time approaches, the sun seems a little brighter, the sky a little bluer, the grass a shade greener.  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!

                                                      Baseball Roundtable … March 26, 2013

 

OD scoreboard

April 13 was the Minnesota Twins 2015 (Home) Opening Day and, as usual, the Twins did it up right – to a point.  

 

BBRT note: The Twins came into their home opener six games into the season and already five games out of first place, so the level of optimism may not have been quite as prevalent as at some earlier Minnesota home openers – but the excitement surrounding the thought that Baseball Is Back still ran high.  

As is tradition, the day started with free breakfast on the Twins Plaza – and what says spring and baseball more than hot dogs, chips and ice cream in the morning, especially when accompanied by blue skies, plenty of sunshine and Twins’ mascot TC the Bear.  Breakfast was served from 6-9 a.m., with additional festivities (music and concessions) planned on the Plaza and at the Target Field (light rail) Station beginning at noon  The Plaza started to fill up before noon (the gates opened at 1 p.m.) – with nearby eating and drinking establishments, as well as parking lots, drawing big crowds even earlier.  (A word of advice from BBRT, when the Twins have a sell out – and this game was sold out – on a work day, get downtown early if you don’t want to spend some time looking for parking.)

The mood was festive, with most of the crowd outfitted in Twins-identified gear, concessions stands on the Plaza doing a brisk business and DJ Madigan spinning plenty of upbeat tunes from the balcony above the crowd.  (The mood would later go from festive to restive, but we’ll get to that.  Let’s enjoy the moment for now.) Photos with the various statues of Twins’ heroes or sitting in the “big glove” seemed the order of the day.

The Twins hoodies proved a popular Opening Day giveaway - for all 40,000+ fans.

The Twins hoodies proved a popular Opening Day giveaway – for all 40,000+ fans.

By one p.m., the Plaza was full of happy fans waiting for another Target Field Opening Day tradition, the opening of the gates by Twins’ legends.  What better way to enter the ballpark then through a gate opened that day by the likes of Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek or Tom Kelly?  To top it off, once you got past the metal detectors, you were handed a free Twins hooded sweatshirt – a true Minnesota-focused promotion.  For a look at BBRT’s post on 2015 Twins’ promotions (and some unique items other teams are giving away), click here.  Day one of the 81-game home season was off to a great start.

Once inside the ballpark, fans rushed not to find their seats, but rather to secure a seat or place in line at one of Target Field’s many food and beverage locations. From Hrbek’s to Barrio to the Town Ball Tavern and from Red Cow to Kramarczuk’s to Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen, they were all kept busy – and for good reason, the food and drink options at Target Field remain exceptional.  (For BBRT’s recent post on 2015’s new Target Field food and beverage offerings click here.)

Shrimp corn Dogs - new ballpark food.

Shrimp corn Dogs – new ballpark food.

I made my way to Hrbek’s, where the new College Daze Bloody Mary – garnished with everything from cheese to pepperoncini to a slice of pepperoni pizza – was proving quite popular.  It seemed mandatory to have your picture taken with the new drink before consuming it.  I’m sure social media, like the tip of the pizza slice, was saturated.  My pre-game choice was the Shrimp Corn Dogs – jumbo shrimp (served on skewers) fried in jalapeno corn batter with a Chili Lime Aioli for dipping ($15).  Great shrimp flavor, just enough “zing” and a complementary tart sauce; and light enough to leave room for the obligatory Opening Day (old school) hot dog later in the day.

Then, with my freshly purchased scorecard in hand, I went in search of my seat – Section 213, Row 1, Seat 14 – and was pleasantly surprised.  I was just to the right of home plate, second deck, first row; and the view of the field was great.  It was also, particularly for Minnesota, a perfect day for an Opener.  Game time temps above 60 degrees, sunny, clear blue sky with just enough clouds to give it some depth.  And, as always seems to be the case on Opening Day, the grass was crisp green, the batting practice balls stark white and all the colors in the stadium (logos, bunting, base lines, etc.) especially vibrant.

As we all waited for game time, we enjoyed: a brief performance by recording artist Shawn Mendes; the introduction of both teams (players, coaches, videographers, trainers, etc.); the National Anthem (actress and singer Greta Oglesby), with two American Bald Eagles from the Minnesota Raptor Center present and a follow-up flyover by a pair of Minnesota Air National Guard F-16 fighters.

Meeting the team is an Opening Day tradition. The loudest and longest ovations went to Torii Hunter, Joe Maue and Brian Dozier.

Meeting the team is an Opening Day tradition. The loudest and longest ovations went to Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier.

BBRT would note here that the largest ovation during the introductions went to Torii Hunter (starting in right field), returning to the Twins after seven years (Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers). The 39-year-old Hunter previously starred in center field for Minnesota (six-time Gold Glove winner and two-time All Star while with the Twins) and the team won four division titles during his tenure.  The fans clearly loved his style and his smile – and the applause intensified when this quote from the returning Twin appeared on the scoreboard: “This is where I need to be.  This is home to me.”

BBRT: Hunter’s popularity was also evidenced by the large number of new and old “Hunter – 48” jerseys in the crowd.  Sitting next to me were a father and son (about 2 ½ years old) in matching new (no pin stripes, the little extra gold trim) Hunter home jerseys.  Although, I must say, the youngster cheered loudest for his personal hero – Brian Dozier.

Notably, another returnee to the Twin Cities joined Hunter in throwing out the first pitch, as the crowd welcomed back the newest Timberwolves’ player Kevin Garnett – a member of the T-Wolves during their most successful seasons and now back with Minnesota after playing with the Boston Celtics (2007-13) and Brooklyn Nets (2013-15). Note: Garnett was a member of the Timberwolves from 1995-2007); and a ten-time All Star and NBA MVP (2004) during that time. Minnesotan Tyus Jones, who recently helped lead Duke to the NCAA National Basketball Championship, delivered the baseball to Garnett on the mound, and Garnett threw the ceremonial first pitch to Hunter.  All three hometown heroes received rousing ovations – and the pre-game excitement continued to ratchet up.

We saw a few too many "meetings on the mound" on Opening Day.

We saw a few too many “meetings on the mound” on Opening Day.

I won’t go into much detail about the game – a 12-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals – it’s been well dissected in the traditional and social media. Let’s just say it started out pretty well for the home team, with the Twins scoring first (Kenny Vargas singling home the doubling Brian Dozier with two outs in the bottom of the first); was fairly crisply played over the first five frames (Twins trailing 2-1 after five); got a little shaky in the sixth, with starting pitcher Trevor May giving up a single and two doubles to the first three hitters and Hunter making a throwing error (still, after seven innings the Twins were down by only 5-3); came completely unraveled in the eighth inning, when Minnesota used four pitchers and Kansas City scored six runs on two hits, three walks, two hit batsmen, an error and a passed ball.  Ouch!  It was at this time that the fans – many heading for the exits – finished the move from festive to restive.  Needless to say, it was pretty quiet – and a bit lonely – in the bottom of the ninth.

Fortunately, in baseball you don’t have a lot of time to dwell on today’s loss (or celebrate a win).  Unfortunately, the Twins have an off day today (Tuesday), but tomorrow they’ll be back at it and working to right the ship.  And, we’ll all have to keep in mind, it’s early and there is always something to see (and, these days, eat and drink) at the ballpark. For example, yesterday Twins’ third baseman Trevor Plouffe started a nifty 5-4-3 double play to end the fourth inning and homered to lead off the bottom of the seventh.  The simple fact is “Baseball Is Back” and we should all enjoy it!

Now, just so I don’t leave my Twins fan readers sharing only the frustration of a 12-3 loss.  Here are a trio of events from the first week of the season that caught BBRT’s attention:

  • On April 7, Oakland 3B Brett Lawrie had a tough night. Lawrie came to the plate four times in the A’s 3-1 loss to the Rangers and struck out four times – on a total of just twelve pitches. Lawrie faced three different pitchers, had a nice balance of six called strikes and six swinging strikes and whiffed on a combination of one fastball (the first pitch he faced), three curves and eight sliders. His final swinging strike also marked the final out of the contest.
  • TheYankees-Red Sox game of April 10 really aged New York first baseman Mark Teixeira. The 19-inning game started at 7:05 p.m. on Friday (April 10) and ended at 2:13 a.m. on Saturday (April 11). Teixeira (born on April 11, 1980) started the game as a 34-year-old, and finished it at age 35.
  • On Saturday April 11, Arizona Diamonbacks’ rookie pitcher Archie Bradley – in his first-ever MLB appearance – drew the unenviable task of facing reigning Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers. Bradley pitched six shutout innings for the victory (one hit, four walks, six strikeouts). You might think a rookie beating the reigning Cy Young Award winner in his first start is what attracted BBRT’s attention, but that would be wrong. Bradley was the fifth rookie pitcher to make his first MLB start against a reigning CYA winner and the fourth to earn a victory. What got BBRT’s attention was Bradley’s single off Kershaw in bottom of the second inning. Since Bradley didn’t give up a hit until the fourth inning, the young pitcher actually collected his first major league before he gave up his first major league hit.  I like that kind of stuff.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Ten Reasons Why I Love Baseball

I’m currently on a road trip – helping my daughter and son-in-law move to Davis, California – so new posts are less frequent.  BBRT will be back in full swing in early December (or sooner). In the meantime, here’s an encore presentation of the first words I wrote for this page – a look at why I love baseball (and why BBRT exists). Hope you like it!


1.  Baseball comes along every spring,  accompanied by sunshine and optimism.

Baseball is the harbinger of better times.  It signifies the end of winter (not a small thing if you’re from Minnesota like BBRT) and the coming of spring, a season of rebirth, new life and abundant optimism.   Each season, you start with a clean slate.   Last year’s successes can still be savored, but last year’s failures can be set aside (although rival fans may try to refresh your memory), replaced by hope and anticipation.   On Opening Day, in our hearts, we can all be in contention.

 2.  The pace of the game invites contemplation.

Between innings, between batters or pitchers, and even between pitches, baseball leaves us time to contemplate what just occurred, speculate on what might happen next and even share those thoughts with nearby spectators.  Baseball is indeed a thinking person’s game.

3.  Baseball is timeless and, ultimately, fair in the offering of opportunity.

The clock doesn’t run out.  There is no coin flip to determine who gets the ball first in sudden death overtime.  No matter what the score, your team gets its 27 outs and an equal opportunity to secure victory.  What could be more fair?   And then there is the prospect of endless “extra” innings, bonus baseball for FREE.

4.  Plays and players are distinct (in space and time).

Baseball, while a game of inches, is also a game of considerable space.   The players are not gathered along an offensive line or elbow-to-elbow under a basket. They are widely spaced, each with his own area of responsibility and each acting (as part of a continuing play) in their own time frame.  (The first baseman can’t catch the ball, for example, until after the shortstop throws it.)   This enable fans to follow, understand  and analyze each play (maybe not always accurately) in detail.   And, baseball’s distinct spacing and timing makes it possible to see the game even when you are not there.  A lot of people grinned at President Gerald Ford’s comment that he “watched a lot of baseball on the radio.”  In my view, he was spot on.  You can see baseball on the radio – you can create a “visual” of the game in your mind with minimal description.    That’s why on summer nights, in parks, backyards and garages across the country, you’ll find radios tuned to the national past time.

 5. The scorecard.

Can there be anything more satisfying than keeping an accurate scorecard at the ball park?  It serves so many purposes.  The keeping of a scorecard ensures your attention to the happenings on the field.  Maintaining the score card also makes you, in a way understandable only to fellow fans, more a part of the game.   That magical combination of names, numbers and symbols also enables you to go back and check the progress of the game at any time.  “Oh, Johnson’s up next.  He’s walked and grounded out twice.”  It’s also a conversation starter, when the fan in the row behind you asks, “How many strikeouts does Ryan have today?”   And, it leaves you (if you choose to keep it) with a permanent record of the game, allowing you to replay it in your mind (or share it with others) at will.  Ultimately, a well-kept score card enhances the game experience and offers a true post-game sense of accomplishment.

6.  The long season.

Baseball, so many have pointed out, is a marathon rather than a sprint.  It’s a long season with ample opportunity to prove yourself and lots of chances to redeem yourself.  For fans, the long season also represents a test of your passion for the game.  Endurance is part of the nature of the true baseball fan.  And, and in the end, the rigors of a 162-game season prove your mettle and that of your team.   Not only that, but like a true friend … baseball is there for you every day.

 7.  Baseball invites, encourages, even demands , conversation.

Reason number two hinted at the importance of conversation, noting that the pace of the game offers time to contemplate the action (past and future) and share those thoughts with others.   I love that about the game, but I also love the fact that whenever baseball fans gather, their passion comes out in conversation – and they find plenty to talk about:

  •  Statistics,  statistics, statistics.  Baseball and its fans will count anything.  Did you know that Yankee Jim Bouton’s hat flew off 37 times in his 2-1, complete-game victory over the Cardinals in game three of the 1964 World Series?  More seriously, statistics are part of a common language and shared passion that bring baseball fans together in spirited conversation.  As best-selling author Pat Conroy observed “Baseball fans love numbers.  They love to swirl them around in their mouths like Bordeaux wine.”  I agree, to the fan, statistics are intoxicating.
  • Stories, stories, stories.  Baseball and its fans celebrate the game’s history.  And, I’m not talking just about statistics.  I’m talking about the stories that give this great game color, character and characters.  Ty Cobb sharpening his spikes on the dugout steps, Babe Ruth’s called shot, Louis Tiant’s wind-up, Willie Mays’ basket catch, Dock Ellis’s LSD-fueled no-hitter.
  • Trivia, trivia, trivia.  This may fall close to the “stories, stories , stories” category, but fans cherish the trivia that surrounds our national past time – whether that trivia is iconic or ironic.  For example, it’s ironic that the iconic Babe Ruth holds the best winning percentage against the Yankees of any pitcher with 15 or more decision against them (17-5, .773).

Basically, I took a long time to say I love the fact that baseball fans will talk with passion about something that happened in today’s game, yesterday’s game, over time or even in a game that took place on August 4, 1947.  And, as a bonus, all this conversation – all the statistics, stories and trivia – make the games, moments within the games and the characters of the game (heroes, goats and mere participants) as timeless as baseball itself.

 8.  The box score. 

BBRT editor’s  mother used to refer to an accordion as “an orchestra in a box.”  That’s how I view the daily box score – the symphony of a game recorded in a space one-column wide by four inches deep.   Some would say the box score reduces the game to statistics, I would say it elevates the game to history.  What do you want to know about the contest?   Who played where, when?  At bats, hits, stolen bases, strikeouts, errors, caught stealing, time, attendance, even the umpires’ names?   It’s all there and more – so much information, captured for baseball fans in a compact and orderly space.  I am, of course, dating myself here, but during baseball season, the morning newspaper, through its box scores, is a treasure trove of information for baseball fans.

 9. The irony of a team game made up of individual performances.

While baseball and baseball fans live for individual statistics and, while the spacing of the players drives individual accountability, the game is, ironically, deeply dependent on the concept of “team.”

Consider the offense.  Unlike other sports , where you can deliver victory by giving the ball or puck – time and time again (particularly as the clock runs down) –  to your best runner, skater, receiver or shooter, in baseball, your line-up determines who will be “on the spot” and at the plate when the game is on the line.  It may be your .220-hitting second basemen, rather than your .320-hitting outfielder.  Yet, even as the team depends on the hitter, he is totally alone in his individual battle with the pitcher.  And, achieving individual statistics that signify exceptional performance also demands a sense of team.  You don’t score 100 runs without a team mate to drive you in (although the statistic remains your measure of performance) …  and, you don’t drive in 100 runs if no one gets on base in front of you.   And, can you think of any other sport that keeps track of – and honors – the team-oriented “sacrifice.”

On defense, the story is the same.  A ground ball pitcher, for example, needs a good infield behind him to optimize his statistical presence in the “win” column.  And the six-four-three double play requires masterful teamwork as well as individual performance –  duly recorded in the record books as an assist for the shortstop, a putout and an assist for the second baseman and a put out for the first baseman.  Then there is the outfield assist – a perfect throw from a right fielder to nail a runner at third earns an assist – even if the third baseman drops the ball and earns an error.  Two individual results (one good / one bad) highlighted, but without the necessary team work – a good play on both ends – a negative outcome in terms of the game.

Ultimately, baseball is a game of individual accomplishments that must be connected by the thread of “team” to produce a positive outcome.

10. Baseball’s assault on the senses.  (Indoor ballparks fall a bit short here).

The sight of a blue sky and bright sun above the ballpark or a full moon over a black sky above a well-lit stadium.  The feel of the warm sun or a crisp evening breeze.  The scent of freshly mowed grass or steaming hot dogs.  The taste of cold beer and peanuts.  The sound of the crack of the bat, the cheers (or moans) of the crowd, the musical pitch of the vendors.  Baseball assaults all the senses ―  in  a good way.

Now, I could go on and on, there are lots more reasons to love this game: its combination of conformity (all infields are laid out the same) and individualism (outfield configurations not so much); its contributions to culture (literature and movies); its strategy (hit-and-run, run-and-hit, sacrifice bunts, infield / outfield positioning, pitching changes, etc.); triples; the 6-4-3 double play; knuckleballs; and more.  But to protect myself – and BBRT’s readers – I’ve limited myself to ten.   I probably could have saved a lot of time and words  had I just started with this so-perfect comment from sportscaster Bryant Gumbel, “The other sports are just sports.  Baseball is love.”  That says it all.

Do you have some reasons of your own for loving baseball?  Or something to add to these observations?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

American Association Rules Change – Is It April Fools Day?

Take your base - it's free!

Take your base – it’s free!

The American Association (independent league) recently announced a new “extra-inning tiebreaker rule” – to go into effect in the 2015 season. The basics of the rule are that, after 10 innings, each half inning will start with the team at bat having a base runner at second base (apparently this rule is already in place in the International Baseball Federation and Can-Am League).  The player placed on second will be the player in the line-up immediately before the scheduled lead-off hitter for that half inning.  If the player starting the inning on second base comes around to score, the tally will count (statistically) as a run for the player and (if appropriate under normal rules) an RBI for the batter who drove him in, but it will NOT count towards the pitcher’s earned-run average.

Maybe BBRT is just too “old school,” but I actually checked to make sure this change wasn’t announced on April first.  This is a short rant, but let me just say, “No-o-o-o!”  (Note: As a fan of the American Association’s Saint Paul Saints. I take a special interest in this rule change.)