The Particulars on Some Veterans Worth Watching in 2014

In a January 22 post, BBRT called out a group of MLB prospects I’ll be watching in 2014. In this  post, I’ll touch upon about a dozen veteran players BBRT thinks are worth some special attention in 2014 – for the most part, players who face particular challenges and whose performance may be particularly important to their teams’ fortunes.

Justin Verlander ... ready to rebound in 2014?

Justin Verlander … ready to rebound in 2014?

Justin Verlander, RHP, Tigers … The Tigers’ 31-year-old right-hander (2011 Cy Young Award Winner and AL MVP) had his second worst MLB season in 2013. (He did lead the AL in losses with an 11-17 record in 2008). He finished 2013 at 13-12, 3.46, while striking out 217 in 218 innings. Verlander’s velocity was down in the first half, but he found the old heat late in the season, posting a 2.27 ERA after September 1 and enjoying a post season in which he pitched 23 innings, giving up just one earned run and striking out 31. It certainly looked like Verlander was back on his game. But then came an off-season injury and “core muscle surgery.” It’s disturbing that the Tigers have not defined “core muscle.” Verlander says he’ll be ready, but it makes you wonder if seven straight seasons of 200+ innings (Verlander led the AL in innings pitched in 2009, 2011, 2012) may be taking a toll. BBRT will be watching, but is betting Verlander will be back at or near the top of his game. How good can that be? In 2011/2012, Verlander went 41-15, 2.52 with 489 strikeouts in 489 1/3 innings. Verlander should reach 16 wins and 200+ whiffs in 2014.

 

Halos need a big year from the big guy.

Halos need a big year from the big guy.

Albert Pujols, 1B/DH, Angels … The Angels have a big investment in 34-year-old Pujols, who started his career (as a Cardinal) with ten straight seasons (2001-2010) of a .300+ average, 30+ homers and 100+ RBI, three MVP awards, a batting title and two HR crowns.   He barely missed another .300-30-100 season for the Cards in 2011 (.299-37-99), when he was on the disabled list from June 20 to July 5.  Since signing a 10-year/$240-million contract with the Angels before the 2013 season, Pujols has suffered from planter fasciitis and turned in seasons of .285-30-105 and .258-17-64.  Pujols says he is healthy now – and the Angels need a return on their investment if they are going to contend for the division crown.  BBRT will be watching to see if a healthier Pujols returns to form. BBRT expects a bounce back, but not to his early career levels. Still, a .290-32-104 season would suit the Angels fine, and that seems well within reach. One thing is for sure, a true professional, Pujols is determined to let his bat silence his critics in 2014.

Note:  While watching Pujols, BBRT will also be keeping an eye on another big-time Angels’ investment – Josh Hamilton, who turned in a disappointing .250-21-79 season in the first year of a five-year/$125-million contract with the Angels.

R.A. Dickey, RHP, Blue Jays … The Blue Jays acquired 2012 Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey after his spectacular 2012 season – when the then NY Met translated his hard knuckler into a 20-6 record, 2.73 ERA, NL-leading 230 strikeouts and a Cy Young Award.  To get Dickey (along with catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas), the Jays gave up high-potential prospects catcher Travis D’Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard, as well as catcher John Buck and outfielder Wuilmer Becerra.  The Jays signed Dickey to a two-year/$25 million contract extension.   In 2013, Dickey went 14-13, 4.21 for the Jays, striking out 177 in 224 2/3 innings (and winning a Gold Glove award). The Blue Jays were and are hoping for more from Dickey.  However, if you take 2012 out of the equation, his 11-year MLB record is 55-63, 4.31.  Dickey’s knuckleball will remain fun to watch, but a return to 2012 form seems unlikely for the 39-year-old.  Still, Dickey appears recovered from neck and upper back pain that hampered him early last season, and 15 wins from this work horse would not be unexpected.

La Troy Hawkins, RHP, Rockies … Colorado Rockies have indicated the 41-year-old Hawkins will be their closer for 2014.  In 2012, his 19th MLB season, Hawkins went 3-2, 2.93, with 13 saves for the Mets.  Hawkins has kept his career alive by filling a variety of roles (for ten different teams) – full-time starter (twice starting 33 games in a season for the Twins), closer (twice saving 25 or more games), set-up and middle/long relief (six times appearing in 65 or more games). If he stays healthy, the ageless Hawkins (imposing on the mound at 6’5”, 220 lbs.) should be fun to watch.  If he pitches in 57 contests for the Rockies, he will become one of just 16 pitchers with at least 1,000 appearances.

Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Orioles … Jimenez, with an inconsistent delivery (and similar results) can sink you or save you.  The Orioles are hoping they are getting something closer to the Jimenez who went 19-8, 2.88 for the Rockies in 2010 than the 9-17, 5.40 Indians’ hurler of 2012.  Last season, Jimenez was somewhere in the middle at 13-9. 3.30 for Cleveland.  He’s a gamble – but one with lots of upside.  Worth a watch in 2014, as his fortunes will have a lot to do with the Orioles’ ability to contend in the tough AL East.

 

Derek Jeter ... How high will  retirement tour fly?

Derek Jeter … How high will retirement tour fly?

Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees … Okay, so “everyone” will be watching the 39-year-old Jeter’s retirement tour.  What can you say about a player whose resume includes 3,316 hits, an AL Rookie of the Year award, 13 All Star selections, five Gold Gloves and a World Series MVP award? Of course, the “Jeter Watch” is focusing on more than his retirement (although Mariano Rivera set the “gift” bar high).  The Yankee captain is coming off a 2013 season when he was put on the DL four times (primarily traced back to his 2012 post season broken ankle) and played only 17 games.  Can he get back to form?  Don’t bet against him. Remember, Jeter is just one injury-plagued season away from leading the AL in at bas and base hits.  There are, however, a lot of miles on Jeter’s legs – 2,602 MLB games over 19 years.  For the Yankees, the question is will he look like the “Jeter of Old” or just an old Jeter.  BBRT expects Jeter will get into 130 games and turn in a .280-.285 average.  Then again, well rested, he could surprise and go out at .300+. Either way, the future Hall of Famer will be a veteran to watch this coming season.

Jeter factoid: In his first professional game (Rookie-level Gulf Coast Yankees), Jeter went hitless in seven at bats, with 5 strikeouts – and he finished the season at .202. Apparently, he made some adjustments over time – and we can expect he will adjust well in 2014 as well.

While you’re tuning in the Bombers to watch Jeter, keep an eye on Mark Teixeira as well. A wrist injury (and subsequent surgery) limited the power-hitting first baseman to 15 games last season.  The Yankees need his bat to come back.  Still, there are some disturbing signs beyond the injury. Over his first seven MLB seasons (2003-2009), Teixeira hit for a .289 average.  Over the past four seasons, he has averaged just .249.  Still, as recently as 2011, he hit .248, with 39 home runs and 111 RBIs.  That would make the Bronx Bombers happy, and strengthen their lineup considerably. Keep an eye on the 34-year-old (turns 34 in April). 

Koji Uehara, RHP, Red Sox … Uehara, who turns 39 in April, was presented the Red Sox’ closer role in 2013 after injuries to Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan.  All he did was record 21 saves, along with four wins and one loss, a 1.09 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings. He then added a record-tying seven post-season saves and an ALCS MVP Award.  Uehara was successful as both a starter and closer in Japan (a twenty-game winner as a rookie in 1999, 32 saves in 2007) before joining the Baltimore Orioles in 2009. In five MLB seasons, he is 9-10, 2.42, with 35 saves.  It seems doubtful he can be as dominant in 2014 as he was in 2013, but BBRT and Boston fans will be watching. Notably, Boston does have a backup in place having added Edward Mujica (37 saves for the Cardinals last year) in the off season.

 

Prince Fielder - looking to re-energize hit bat in Texas.

Prince Fielder – looking to re-energize hit bat in Texas.

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Tigers & Prince Fielder, 1B/DH Rangers … These two are on the watch list together because they were traded for each other “one-for-one” in the off season – and both will be vital to their new team’s success.

Kinsler is a three-time All Star, who is considered a “plus” defender, and  is a two-time member of the 30-30 (HRs and SBs) club.  Kinsler is looking to bounce back from a 2013 season in which he went .277-13-72, with 15 steals.

Prince Fielder, on the other side of the trade, is a power hitter who has averaged .286, with 32 home runs and 97 RBI per season in his nine MLB years. Fielder is a five-time Star and a member of the 50-home run club (Prince and his father Cecil Fielder are the only father-son members of that prestigious club).  Like Kinsler, Fielder is looking to rebound from a pretty good (but not up to expectations) season – .279-25-106.

BBRT will be watching to see if either of these players performs well enough (or badly enough) to establish a clear winner in this trade.

Francisco Liriano, LHP, Pirates … Did the Pirates really find the flaw in Liriano’s explosive delivery? 2013’s 16-8, 3.02 record (163 strikeouts in 161 innings) seems to say so.  But we’ve seen this before.  (Liriano is, in fact, a two-time Comeback Player of the Year.) Liriano made the AL All Star team as a rookie in 2006, and ended the season 12-3, 2.16 with 144 whiffs in 121 innings pitched.  That season, unfortunately, ended early and was followed by Tommy John surgery. Liriano missed the 2007 season, then went 6-4, 3.91 in 2008.  In 2009, he fell off to 5-13, 5.80.  But he seemed to straighten out in 2009, going 14-10, 3.62 and topping 200 strikeouts, while winning the Comeback Player of the Year award.  His comeback was short lived. In 2011-12, Liriano went a combined 15-22, with an ERA over 5.00 both seasons.  Then came the 2013 Comeback Player of the Year II season with the Pirates.  Given his track record, 2014 could be interesting.

Others to watch:

David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox … Big Papi is 38 and coming off a .309-30-103 season, leading the Red Sox in all three categories. The Sox need solid numbers – and continued clubhouse leadership – from Ortiz to repeat as AL East leaders in 2014.  BBRT will watch to see if age starts to catch up to the game’s top DH.

Joe Mauer, 1B/DH, Twins … Mauer is the only MLB player to win three batting title as a catcher (2006, 2008, 2009) and carries a ten-year, .323 average into the 2014 season.  Concussion issues have resulted in a move to 1B for 2014.  BBRT will be watching to see if the less stressful position can lead to another batting title.

Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers … A thumb injury and a PED suspension muddied the waters for the five-tool Braun – a former Rookie of the Year (2007), MVP (2011), two-time member of the 30-30 (HRs/SBs) club and five-time All Star. He seems to be handling the pressure well, and BBRT expects a strong return for the 30-year-old in 2014.  BBRT will be interested in the fan reaction, as Braun works to rebuild his reputation.

Raul Ibanez, OF/DH, Angels … In 2013, Ibanez (then with the Mariners) rapped 29 home runs in 124 games, tying Ted Williams for the most homers in a season by a player over 40.  Ibanez who turned 41 in June of last year, is with the Angels now and, who knows, may make another run at the record.

Mike Trout, OF, Angels … Can he finally win an MVP Award?  If the Angels make the playoffs it’s very likely.

B.J Upton & Dan Uggla, OF & 2B, Braves … Two players who both played more than 125 games and hit .184 and.179, respectively. Upton signed a five-year/$75 million contract with the Braves during the 2012/13 off  season, while Uggla signed a five-year/$62 million contract before the 2011 season. The questions?  Can either or both return to form? (Uggla is a three-time All Star and Upton is a three time member of the 20+ HR/20+ SB club.) And, how much patience do the Braves have?  As it stands, the Braves have a lot of money invested below the Mendoza line.

BBRT’s 2013 MLB “Young Star Team” – born in the ’90s

BBRT often goes “old school” in this posts, reflecting on past stars and accomplishments – like the recent post (September 25) on Satchel Paige.  Today, however, BBRT will look forward and touch on an entire line up of reasons why I have great expectations for the future of the American past time.

In this post, BBRT unveils its 2013 YOUNG STAR (All Star) TEAM.  The qualifications are straightforward.  Each selectee must already have excelled in the major leagues – and must have been born in the 1990s.  (Basically, it’s a team of  “Young Stars,” 23-years-old and younger.)  This youthful squad, I believe, would be a contender – and, together, these players will give fans plenty to watch, and get excited about, in the years ahead.

So, here is your 2013 Baseball Roundtable Young Star Team (birth dates in parenthesis).

YS CCatcher

Salvador Perez, Royals – age 23 – 6’3”, 245 (May 10, 1990)

Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez is already being touted as one of the best defensive catchers (throwing out approximately 35% of attempting base stealers and showing a quick pick off move) in baseball, and he also looks to be maturing (very quickly) as a hitter.  Perez started his minor league career in 2007 at age 17 – and (from 2007-2012) hit .287 with 20 home runs in 343 minor league games. He was first called up to the Royals in August of 2011 – and hit .331-2-21 in 39 games.  In 2012, he again topped .300 for the Royals, with a .301-11-39 line in 76 games.  It appears KC has handled Perez, a 2013 AL All Star, exactly right – this season he has played in 138 games, hitting .292 with 13 home runs and 79 RBI.  He now has a career (3-year) average of .301 in 253 games.

Another position move for former catcher Wil Meyers

Another position move for former catcher Wil Myers

First Base

Wil Myers, Rays – age 22 – 6’3”, 205 (Dec. 10, 1990)

Okay, I cheated a hit here to get a strong bat in this slot – moving Myers in from the outfield.  However, Myers has already proven his ability to switch positions (he made the 2010 Midwest League All Star team as a catcher), so BBRT is confident the 22-year-old can make the transfer to first base.  (Unfortunately, rising star first sackers Freddie Freeman of the Braves and Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs were born just a little early to qualify for the ‘90s squad.  Freeman was born September 12, 1989 and Rizzo August 8, 1989.)

Myers, acquired by the Rays in the James Shields trade, was called up to Tampa in mid-June of this season.  At the time, he was hitting .286-14-57 at AAA Durham.  He was in his fifth minor league season (a total of 445 games, .300 average, 78 HRs, 316 RBI).  In 2012, at AA/AAA, Myers hit .314-37-109.  In 2013, Myers (an AL Rookie of the Year candidate) played in 88 games for the Rays and put up a .293-13-53 line, adding 50 runs, 23 doubles and five steals.   He gives the Young Stars a solid, power bat at first.

YS 2bSecond Base

Jose Altuve, Astros – age 23 – 5’5”, 175 (May 6, 1990)

Just 23, Altuve already has more than 350 ML games and one All Star selection under his belt.  The shortest current major leaguer, Altuve launched his professional career at age 17 (hitting .343 in 64 Rookie League games).  Since day one, Altuve has shown speed and bat control at every level.  (He is also considered a “plus” defender with soft hands, a good arm and solid baseball instincts.) In 382 minor league games, Altuve hit .327, with 24 home runs and 119 steals.  He played his first game for the Astros on July 20, 2011 and has never looked back.  In 2011, he hit .276, with 7 steals and 26 runs scored in 57 games.  In 2012, he upped his average to .290, with 33 steals and 80 runs scored.  In 2013, he continued to hit and run, with a .283 average, 64 runs and 35 steals.  He also notched 31 doubles, five home runs and 52 RBI.  Altuve is a good table setter to put at the top of the  “Born in the ‘90s” line up.

YS 3bThird Base

Manny Machado, Orioles – age 21 – 6’2”, 180 (July 5, 1992)

Manny Machado (what a great baseball name), was being groomed as the O’s shortstop of the future before his call up August 9, 2012 (at the age of 19).  The Orioles needed help at the hot corner and Machado was assigned the third base job (a position he had not played professionally).  He adjusted well, proving a defensive asset.  The teenager also held his own at the plate, hitting .262, with seven home runs and 26 RBIs. There was, however, plenty more to come.  This season, Machado has become an offensive force – .282-14-71, while leading the AL in doubles (51), scoring 88 runs and tossing in six steals for good measure.  Once he learns a bit more patience at the plate (113 strikeouts versus 29 walks this season), he is likely to move up among the game’s elite hitters.

ys ssShortstop

Jean Segura, Brewers –  age 23 –  5’ 10”, 200 (March 17, 1990)

There were several choices available for the Young Star team at this critical position.  BBRT is going with the Brewers’ Jean Segura (acquired by Milwaukee from the Angels in the 2012 Zack Greinke trade).  Signed at 17, Segura’s six-season minor league stats include 399 games, a .312 average and 139 stolen bases.  In 2012, he got in one game with the Angels and 44 with the Brewers, hitting .264 with 13 steals, showing flashes of stellar defense, as well as some defensive lapses.  In 2013, Segura lived up to his promise – making the NL All Star team, while stabilizing his defense, and hitting .294, with 74 runs, 12 home runs, and 49 RBI.  He was second in the league with 44 steals (trailing Eric Young by two), and likely would have led the league in that category except for a late season hamstring injury.

Other contenders for this spot were the Cubs’ Starlin Castro (May 24, 1990), the first player born in the 1990s to play in the major leagues.  Just 23, Castro is in his fourth ML season, carrying a .283 average in 606 games, two All Star selections and the 2011 NL hits leaderships. Segura passed Castro on the basis of the latter’s declining batting average over the past two seasons (.307 in 2011/.283 in 2012/.245 in 2013) and defensive lapses.  Also in the mix were Detroit’s Jose Iglesias (January 5, 1990), who this year could become the first player to win Rookie of the Year in a season in which he was traded (from Boston to Detroit).  Iglesias put up a .303-3-29  line in 109 2013 games, but has tailed off a bit in the second half (he hit .330 in 63 games with the Red Sox and .259 in 46 games for the Tigers).

Outfield

Mike TroutMike Trout, Angels – age 21 – 6’2”, 230 (Aug. 7, 1991)

Just 21, Trout has spent all or part of the past three seasons with the Angels and is already a two-time All Star.  Called up in July 2011, he hit .220 with five homers, 20 runs scored, 16 RBI and four steals in 40 games.  Trout then started 2012 in the minors, but after hitting .403 in 20 games at AAA Salt Lake, it was clear he had nothing more to prove. Trout was back with the Angels by late April.  A .342 hitter, with 23 home runs and 108 steals in 286 minor league games, Trout has proven to be a true five-tool MLB star; adding power and patience as he matured.

In 2012, Trout appeared in 139 games, winning AL Rookie of the Year honors, while hitting .326 with 30 home runs and 83 RBIs, leading the AL in runs scored (129) and stolen bases (49) and playing sterling defense.   In 2013, he has avoided the “sophomore jinx,” going .323, with 27 home runs, 97 RBI and 33 steals (caught only seven times), while also leading the AL in runs (109) and walks (110).   From BBRT’s perspective, he can be the new generation’s Willie Mays – and the leader of the BBRT Young Star team. He’ll bat in the three-hold for the Young Stars.

YS HARPERBryce Harper, Nationals – age 20 – 6’2”, 230 (Oct. 16, 1992)

Harper, the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year, has been recognized not just for his talent, but also for his hustle and work ethic.  A major-league regular by age 19, Harper played only 134 minor league games – hitting .292, with 19 homers, 64 RBI and 27 steals.  He earned his first MLB All Star berth in his rookie season (the youngest position player ever selected to an All Star squad) as a replacement for the injured Ian Desmond.  He ended his rookie campaign at .270-22-59, with 18 steals and 90 runs. Harper, who goes “all out, all the time,” suffered hip, knee and rib cage injuries in 2013, but still made his second All Star squad and hit .274, with 20 home runs, 58 RBI, 71 runs and 11 steals in 118 games.

Harper earned additional BBRT respect on May 6, 2012, when, after being welcomed to the big leagues with a Cole Hamels’ pitch in the back (which Hamels later admitted was intentional), Harper extracted “old school” retribution – going to third on a single and then stealing home.

If Harper avoids serious injury, BBRT expects he will add power as he matures, significantly upping his HR and RBI totals.

ys pUIGYasiel Puig,  Dodgers – Age 22 – 6’3”, 245 (Dec. 7, 1990)

For BBRT, Cuban defector Yasiel Puig is Mike Trout with “attitude” – and regardless of how you feel about that attitude, he is (and will continue to be) an exciting player to watch.  Puig played in only 63 minor league games before his June 3, 2013 call up – hitting .328-13-52 with 21 steals. His 2013 line reads .319-14-42 with 11 steals in 104 games for LA, playing a key role in the Dodgers comeback to win the division. (He does need to hone his base running skills – caught eight times in 19 attempts- but Puig clearly has five-tool potential.)  He also plays with emotion and confidence that can often rub the opposition the wrong way.  He backs up that attitude with talent and a commitment to winning that holds promise for a long, successful MLB career – and makes him a key part of the 2013 Young Star team’s five-tool outfield.

 

Starting Pitchers (Tie)

ys j FERNDEXJose Fernandez, RH, Marlins – Age 21 – 6’2”, 240 (July 31, 1992)

Cuban defector, Jose Fernandez – who boasts a mid-90s fastball and a sharp, overhand curve – made the jump to the Marlins in 2013, after only 55 minor league innings (27 games in 2011/12), with a minor league 14-2 record, 59 strikeouts and a 2.02 ERA.  He proved to be all that was advertised, going 12-6, 2.19, with 187 whiffs (vs. 58 walks) in 172 2/3 innings before a late-season shutdown by the Marlins

 

 

 

 

ys mILLERShelby Miller, RH, Cardinals – age 22 – 6’ 3”, 215 (Oct. 10, 1990)

Just 21-years-old and with four minor league seasons behind him, Miller received a late 2012 call up to the Cardinals and impressed – 6 games, 13 2/3 inning pitched, 16 strikeouts and a 1.32 ERA.  He earned a spot in the 2013 Cardinals’ rotation in spring training and delivered on his promise – 15-9, 3.06,  and 169 strikeouts (vs. 57 walks)  in 173 1/3 innings.

Lots of quality hurlers came close to making the Young Star team – a few of the 1989 birth class include the Mets’ Matt Harvey, White Sox’ Chris Sale, Giants’ Madison Bumgarner and Rays’ Matt Moore.

 

YS Trevor RCloser (with a back-up plan)

Trevor Rosenthal RH, Cardinals – age 23 – 6’2”, 220 (May 29, 1990)

Pickings were a little slimmer for a 2013 Young Star team closer.  MLB teams like hurlers to “mature” before taking on that responsibility.  Given that circumstance, BBRT looked to the potential of the Cardinals’ Trevor Rosenthal, whose fastball has topped 100 mph.  Primarily a starter in the minors (66 games, 48 starts, 22-14 record, 3.53 ERA, 293 strikeouts in 285 1/3 innings), Rosenthal has pitched solely in relief since his call up in July of 2012.  In 74 2013 appearances, he pitched 75 1/3 innings, striking out 108 )vs. 20 walks), with a 2-4 record, three saves and a 2.63 ERA. In his 1 1/2 MLB seasons, he has whiffed 133 hitters (27 walks) in 98 inning, with a 2.66 ERA.

 

 

ys PacoPaco Rodriguez, LH, Dodgers – age 22 – 6′ 3″, 220 (April 16, 1991)

Rosenthal’s preference is to be a starter, so just in case, our 2013 Young Star team has the Dodgers’ Paco Rodriguez  in the wings.  Rodriguez began his professional career in the LA system in 2012, appearing in 21 games, with a 0.92 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings pitched.  That performance earned Rodriguez a September call up to (the first 2012 MLB draftee to make the majors).  He appeared in 11 games (just 6 2/3 innings), with a 1.35 ERA in the final month.  In 2013, Rodriguez appeared in 76 games for the Dodgers, with a 3-4 record, two saves, a stingy 2.32 ERA and 63 strikeouts (vs. 19 walks)  in 54 1/3 innings.  Paco is the Young Star team’s closer in waiting.

Looking at established closers, both the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel and the Reds Aroldis Chapman were born in 1988 – under 25, promising lots of good years ahead, but too old for the Young Star team.

So, there’s BBRT’s 2013 Young Star Team.  BBRT welcomes any comments or additional nominations for the  youthful squad.

The Baseball Reliquary – The Mardi Gras of Our National Pastime

The Baseball Reliquary is the Mardi Gras of our national pastime – a free-spirited celebration of the human side of baseball’s history and heritage. 

Reliquary  (rel′ə kwer′ē)

Noun- a container or shrine in which sacred relics are kept and displayed for veneration

How do I describe the Baseball Reliquary?  It’s really not a place.  While its “home” is in the state of California (Pasadena), the Reliquary really resides more in the heart of its founders, honorees and members – who take joy in celebrating the character and characters of our national pastime.  The Reliquary leads that joyful (often irreverent) celebration through its Shrine of the Eternals, its collection of historic artifacts, and its traveling exhibitions.

The Shrine of the Eternals is the Reliquary’s best-known element and its honorees 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 noted surgeon, a labor leader, more than one best-selling author, a statistical wizard and even the sports editor of the Daily Worker (American Communist Party newspaper).The honorees are each unique in their role in – and contributions to -   the national pastime, but they all share the distinction of having made a significant impact on the game.

The Baseball Reliquary’s Collection of what BBRT would term “art-ifacts”is as diverse as its Shrine honorees.  The collection includes (but is “oh-so not limited” to) the Walter O’Malley Tortilla, the Roger Bresnahan Potato, the Eddie Gaedel Jock Strap,  a Babe Ruth cigar, a Mother Teresa autographed baseball (a whole case actually), a heat-twisted 45-rpm record from the White Sox’ ill-fated Disco Demolition Night, and a piece of flesh from Abner Doubleday’s inner thigh.

The Baseball Reliquary’s Traveling Exhibits have included baseball art, photography and literature; and have covered such varied topics as Latino baseball history, baseball in foreign policy, baseball literature and even the self-defining “Lasordapalooza.”

So, back to the question, “How would I describe the Baseball Reliquary?”  If I had to put it in 25 words or less, “The Baseball Reliquary is the Mardi Gras of our national pastime – a free-spirited celebration of the human side of baseball’s history and heritage.”

Do I have your attention?   If so, click here   http://www.baseballroundtable.com/the-baseball-reliquary/  for the full (and FUN) story of the Baseball Reliquary – and how you can become one of its card-carrying members.  (These first few paragraphs repeated for those who get to the full story via a different link.

BBR

 

 

Through May – Surprises, Disappointments, “Or Nots”

Brewers’ Jean Segura – 2013 Surprise “or not.”

Today, BBRT takes a look at the first two months of the MLB season – some surprises, some disappointments and some “or nots.” 

For example, it appears the Pittsburgh Pirates – who are working on a string of 20 consecutive losing seasons – are a 2013 surprise.  They finished the month of May thirteen games over .500 (34-21), tied for second place in the ML Central.  But there’s a big “or not” with this surprise.  The Pirates have proven their ability to turn around a good season in the second half.  In 2012, for example, they were sixteen games over .500 on August 8, only to finish four games under for the season (the “fade” seems to be a Pittsburgh pattern).  BBRT is hoping the Pirates surprise and stay in it until the end.

Here’s a few other surprises, disappointments and “or nots.”

  • Surprise and disappointment – the upside down AL East.  As BBRT looks at the season, many of the surprises at the end of May are consistent with the surprises noted in the end of April blog post, like the upside-down AL East. Most analysts saw the finish – from top to bottom – along the lines of Toronto (active in the off season), Tampa Bay, Baltimore, New York, Boston.  As we entered June, the teams stand in reverse order, with the Red Sox on top.  However, the Yankees, who have led the division much of the way, are starting to show signs that age and injuries may derail their season.  Still, they are getting some key players back, and may still surprise BBRT.
  • The Braves’ Justin Upton, whose power was an April surprise (.298, with 12 homers and 19 RBI), turned disappointment in May (.211-2-10).
  • The Braves and Nationals remained a surprise/disappointment combo – with Atlanta leading the favored (and disappointing) Nationals by six games at the end of May.  The Braves/Nats were expected to fight it out for the division title, but health-related disappointments (Strasburg/Harper) are not helping the Nationals as they work to catch up.
  • Not surprising is Tigers’ third baseman’s Miguel Cabrera’s pursuit of a second Triple Crown (Avg.-HR-RBI).  A bit surprising is that Orioles’ first baseman Chris Davis seems like the main obstacle in that pursuit.  At the end of May, Cabrera let the AL in batting at .372, with Davis second at .356; Cabrera led the AL in RBI with 61, with Davis second at 50; and Davis led the AL in home runs with 19, with Cabrera second at 16.  Really, if it weren’t for Cabrera, we might be talking about Davis as a Triple Crown threat.  A bit of an “or not” for Davis.  His numbers are not a total surprise, the 27-year-old had a breakout season in 2012, going .270-33-85 in 139 games (playing catcher, first base, DH and both corner outfield spots).
  • Brewers’ shortstop Jean Segura is another early season surprise with an “or not” aspect.  Segura finished May at .354, with eight home runs, 22 RBI and 15 stolen bases.  This followed a 2012 season when he went .258-0-14, with 7 steals in 45 games.  The “or not?”  The 23-year-old has shown plenty of promise, with a .313 average in 399 minor league games, a spot in the 2012 All Star Futures Game and this past season’s Dominican Winter League Batting title.  And, think about this.  Segura was an Angels’ prospect, included (after playing one game with the Halos in 2012) in the trade that brought Zack Grienke to LA from the Brewers.  We could have seen Segura and Mike Trout in the top two spots Angels’ line-up.
  • Despite the Braves’ success, the Atlanta outfield has to be considered an early-season disappointment.  BBRT already noted Justin Upton’s April slide.  Then there is B.J. Upton’s horrendous start – hitting .145, with four home runs and just eight RBI through May.  And, of course, Jason Heyward’s .146-2-8 start.  A positive surprise for the Braves has been catcher-outfielder Evan Gattis.   The 26-year-old rookie with the storied past ended May hitting .281, with 12 homers and 32 RBI.
  • Another surprise – with an “or not” – for BBRT is 43-year-old Mariano Rivera’s 1.77 ERA and AL-leading 19 saves through May.  Age apparently is ignoring Rivera’s arm and cutter.  The “or not?” Shouldn’t be too surprising, Rivera is headed for the Hall of Fame as the all-time saves leader.
  • There are a couple of surprising closers in the NL –  the Pirates’ Jason Grilli and the Cardinals’ Ed Mujica.

 

A tip of BBRT’s cap to surprising saves leader Jason Grilli.

May ended with Grilli leading the NL (and all of MLB) with 22 saves and sporting a miniscule 1.09 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings.  Why a BBRT surprise?  Grilli is no new-comer.  He’s 36-years-old and, over his previous 10 big league seasons, he was 21-26, with just five saves and an ERA a bit north of four.  Still, over his three seasons as a Pirate (2011-2013), he has fanned 165 hitters in 116 innings.  This late bloomer has clearly come back even stronger from a severe knee injury that sidelined him for the 2010 season. 

Jason Motte, who saved 42 games in 2012, was penciled in as the Cardinals’ closer until shelved by an arm injury.  Number-two and number-three choices Mitchell Boggs and Trevor Rosenthal fell short of expectations, leaving number-four choice, Ed Mujca – with six saves in seven MLB seasons –  to step up.  Step up he did, since moving up to closer in mid-April, Mujica has notched a surprising 17 saves (good for second in the NL through May) and a 1.88 ERA.

  • The Texas pitching staff is an April-May surprise, finishing May with the lowest ERA in the AL (3.44), with all five starters under 4.00.
  • The Brewers’ Carlos Gomez is another early surprise, hitting .321 with 10 home runs, 27 RBI and 11 stolen bases through May.  This from a player whose highest previous average was .260 in 2012.
  • The Diamondbacks’ Patrick Corbin is a surprise to BBRT.  The 23-year-old hurler ended May at 8-0 with a 1.71 ERA (following a 2012 mark of 6-8, 5.54).  On the disappointment side of the coin, 2012 Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey (now of Toronto) finished May at 4-7, 5.18.
  • A few other good surprises through May (you can look up the numbers): Orioles’ third baseman Manny Machado; Mets’ pitcher Matt Harvey; Red Sox’ hurler Clay Bucholz; Phillies’ outfielder Dominic Brown; Seattle pitcher Hisashi Iwakawa; the Arizona Diamondbacks; the Cleveland Indians.
  • Some notable disappointments thus far:  the Angels, Dodgers and Blue Jays; Angels’ outfielder Josh Hamilton; 2012 Cy Young winner David Price; Giants’ Hurler Matt Cain.

Mariano Rivera – Still surprising at 43.

Musings – Triple Plays, “Basebrawls” and More

TRIPLE PLAYS

Robinson Cano … started yesterday’s six-throw triple play.

Yesterday, in a 5-2 win over the Orioles, the New York Yankees turned one of the most unusual triple plays in MLB history.  It took place in the eighth inning and went like this:

The Orioles’ Nick Markakis and Alexi Casilla started off the inning with singles against Yankee starter C.C. Sabathia – putting runners on first and second with no outs.   Manny Machado then hit a sharp one-hopper to second baseman Robinson Cano, who tossed to shortstop Jayson Nix to force Markakis for out number one; meanwhile, Casilla had headed toward third and was now in “no-man’s land” between the bases; Nix tossed to Yanks’ third baseman Kevin Youkilis to start a rundown that saw Youkilis throw to Nix and then Nix back to Youkilis who applied the tag; the hitter, Machado, looking to take advantage of the rundown, had rounded first and was now in his own “no-man’s land;” Youkilis threw to first baseman Lyle Overbay, cutting off Machado’s path of retreat; Overbay then fired to Cano, who tagged out Machado at second.

In the scorebooks, it went 4-6-5-6-5-3-4.

All of the subsequent triple play media talk reminded BBRT of the day in 1990 (July 17) when BBRT’s Twins became the only team to turn two triple plays in one game.   They came in the fourth and eighth innings of a game against the Red Sox and both were of the most traditional variety.  In the fourth, with the bases loaded, former Twin (then Boston right fielder) hit a ground ball to Twins’ third sacker Gary Gaetti, who stepped on the bag and threw to second baseman Al Newman (for out number two), who relayed to first baseman Kent Hrbek to complete the triple play.  In the eighth, with runners on first and second, Red Sox second baseman Jody Reed grounded to Gaetti at third, and the around-the-horn triple play was duplicated.  The Twins, despite the triple killings, lost the contest 1-0 on an unearned run.

Other triple play factoids of interest to BBRT”

-  Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson holds the MLB record for hitting into triple plays with four;

- In 1962, Mets’ catcher Joe Pignatano ended his six-year MLB playing career by hitting into a triple play in his final at bat;

-  Ron Wright, in April 2002, had a one-game MLB career as a Designated Hitter for the Seattle Mariners.  He garnered three at bats – striking out, hitting into a triple play and hitting into a double play.  Three at bats – six outs – one MLB career.

By the way, Wright was a “glass-half-full” kind of guy, who always referred to his one MLB game as “the best day of my professional life.” For more on Wright, who was a legitimate prospect, see BBRT’s post April 28, 2012 – when BBRT took a look at the best and worst one-game MLB careers.

BASEBRAWLS

A little rant here.  We are seeing lots of “noise” around the recent injury to Zach Greinke, when Carlos Quentin charged the mound after being hit by a pitch.  BBRT noted that almost every bit of sports coverage, in the first or second paragraph, notes that the Dodgers lost their “$147-million pitcher.”  Would we be seeing all this concern, and calls for rules changes and lengthy suspensions, if the injured hurler had been a journeyman middle reliever?  BBRT regrets the injury to Greinke, but sees a lot of over-reaction out there.

 

Joe Adcock, principal in one of baseball’s legendary confrontations.

All this mound-charging debate took BBRT back to July 17, 1956, when Giants’ pitcher Ruben Gomez beaned red-hot Milwaukee slugger (first baseman) Joe Adcock twice in one plate appearance.  In the second inning of a Giants’ 11-inning 8-6 win, Gomez hit Adcock (who had hit eight home runs in the past ten games) in the wrist with a pitch. 

As Adcock trotted to first, words were exchanged and the 6’4”, 210-pound slugger rushed the mound.  The 6’, 170-pound Gomez – who had already received a new ball from the umpire – selected his weapon, firing the horsehide at Adcock and hitting him (a second time) in the left thigh.  As players poured from the dugouts, Gomez, unlike Greinke, thought better of facing his larger and angrier opponent – taking flight into and through the Giants’ dugout, all the way to the locker room.  As reported in “The Milwaukee Braves – A Baseball Eulogy,” Adcock charged right into the Giants’ dugout in pursuit, but was restrained by New York players and coaches – who were joined by uniformed police officers trying to restore order.  Quick-thinking organist Jane Jarvis broke into an impromptu rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which quelled the disturbance.  

When the game resumed, both Gomez and Adcock had been ejected and police officers were stationed (temporarily) in front of the Giants’ dugout.  (It has also been reported that Gomez had retrieved an ice pick from the clubhouse, but was disarmed and disuaded by teammates before he could return to the field.)  Associated Press reports indicated that, after the game, both Gomez and Adcock agreed the incident was best forgotten.  Hmm?  Advice for today’s Dodgers and Padres?

EARLY SEASON SURPRISES – ALTHOUGH TOO EARLY TO DRAW ANY CONCLUSIONS

- Red Sox and Yanks atop the AL East, Blue Jays in last place – although only 1 ½ games separate the pack.

- Kansas City leading the AL Central – and Detroit 5-5 after ten games.

- Oakland proving to be “real” at 9-2, loaded Angels starting at 2-8.

- Many-Snow-Ta weather – which really shouldn’t surprise Twins’ fans at all.

- Arizona atop the NL West (although the  favored Giants are only ½ game out).

NOT UNEXPECTED

- Atlanta and Washington atop NL East.

- St. Louis and Cincinnati heading up NL Central.

 

photo by: Keith Allison

DH 40th Anniversary – A Walk In The Park

Not everyone in the lineup needs one of these – at least not in the AL.

Today, the American League marks the 40th Anniversary of the initial regular season use of the Designated Hitter – a day of celebration or chagrin, depending on your stance on the issue.   (Note:  BBRT is not a big fan of the DH, but I’ve ranted about that often enough.)

A bit of trivia for you baseball history buffs.  Ron Blomberg of the Yankees was the first player to officially come to the plate as a DH – as the Yanks faced off against the Boston Red Sox in Boston, on April 6, 1973.  On the hill for the Red Sox was Louis Tiant, coming off a 15-6 season (with a league-low 1.91 ERA) in 1972) and on his way to 20 wins in 1973.  Tiant, however, did not get off to a great start.  That first inning – and Blomberg’s historic plate appearance – went like this.  Yankee Second baseman Horace Clarke singled; center fielder Roy White struck out, with Clarke thrown out stealing; right fielder Matty Alou doubled; center fielder Bobby Murcer walked; third baseman Greg Nettles walked.  This brought up MLB’s first DH in an historic spot, bases loaded, two outs.  The result was a bit anticlimactic.  Blomberg walked to force in a run.

Tiant did settle down, earning a complete-game, 15-5 win.  As a DH, Blomberg added a single, going 1-for-3.  His counterpart DH on the Red Sox – Orlando Cepeda – did not fare as well.  Despite Boston’s 20-hit attack, Cepeda went 0-for-6, with two strikeouts.  Thus began the era of the American League DH – still alive forty years later – much to BBRT’s chagrin. 

photo by: biggertree

Why We Go To The Ballpark – Volume II

Made it to my second game of the year – thanks Nick – and was reminded again (see post of April 12, 2012) of why we go to the ballpark.  Very simply, EVERY game offers something unique for the baseball fan.  Today, April 4, at Target Field (Minneapolis), was no exception.

“The Princess Bride – for a future power hitter?

Before we get into the game, it’s time for a little rant.  First, when it comes to scoreboards, sometimes less is more.  For example, did I really need to know that power-hitting Josh Willingham’s favorite movie as a kid was “The Princess Bride” – ironic choice for a future power hitter; that it’s possible to earn a degree in “Exercise Science;” or that a certain player would like to see Australia, while another “wishes he could sing?”  Note:  During the seventh-inning stretch, we all sing.   Let’s limit the scoreboard to baseball related minutia.

“Unique warm-up technique of Rick Porcello.

Okay, now to the game – starting with the pregame.  Here’s one of those “unique” opportunities.  Sitting in row four down the left field line, I had the opportunity to watch the Tigers’ Rick Porcello warm up.  He started with the regular, stand-up/wind-up, building speed and sizzle.  Then, with the pitching coach watching, he laid down a pad and threw (nearly as hard) kneeling on one knee.  (Made me think of Tim Conway’s short golfer routine).  It was the first time I’d seen this warm-ritual and I’d like to know what purpose that particular exercise serves.  (See photo.)

The game itself was great – starting with the temperature:  sunny and in the fifties, lots more conducive to baseball then Monday’s bone chilling home opener. (See post of April 1, 2013).

My Twins got off to a slow start, giving away two unearned runs in the first three innings.  They tied it in the bottom of the third with a two-run homer by the aforementioned Josh “Princess Bride-fan” Willingham and moved into the lead with a solo shot (into the wind and off the facing of the second deck in left field) by third baseman Trevor Plouffe, dutifully identified as a “Lion King” fan in his youth.  It stayed that way (tight 3-2 game) until the Twins broke it open with five runs in the bottom of the eighth. 

Among the happenings that helped make this game unique:  the Twins (effectively) used seven pitchers (six over the last 3 2/3 innings); while the Tigers (less effectively) used five hurlers (four over the last 2 2/3); Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks got his first major league hit (and RBI)  in the eighth inning, a two-run single; Twins pitcher Ryan Pressly made his first major league appearance in the ninth inning, giving up one hit and also notching his first-ever MLB strikeout (former Twins fan-favorite Torii Hunter).

The highlight for BBRT was the Tiger seventh.  In a 3-2 game, Twins reliever Josh Roenicke opened by walking number-nine hitter, shortstop Omar Infante and giving up a double to lead-off hitter, center fielder Austin Jackson.  Then with runners on second and third, Roenicke struck out right fielder Torii Hunter.  Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire had Roenicke intentionally walk the always dangerous Miguel Cabrera (2012 Triple Crown winner), bringing up the also dangerous first basemen Prince Fielder (with the bases loaded and one out in a one-run game).  Gardenhire then brought in Tyler Robertson to face Fielder and the move paid off, as Robertson struck out Fielder.  This brought up DH Victor Martinez with the bases still full.  Gardenhire again went to the pen, bringing in Casey Fien, who got Martinez to pop out to second base – and a collective sigh of relief went through the crowd.  This kind of tension is what keeps us all coming back to the ball yard.

Like all of you, BBRT is looking forward to many more tension-filled movement over the next 7+ months.

 

Chilly Beginning to Twins Season

Baseball is back in Minnesota – “cooler” than ever.

BBRT was in the stands – on the very chilly third deck – for the Twins home opening 4-2 loss to the highly-compensated Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers.  BBRT survived a brisk wind and temps that my IPhone indicated dropped into the twenties during the game (other sources quoted the low at 34 degrees), but came close to not surviving the $8 price tag on a cup of vendor-delivered hot chocolate.  Among the keys to my enjoyment were long underwear, two pair of gloves, boots and earmuffs – all Opening Day firsts for BBRT. All around me I saw stadium (ballpark) blankets, hoodies, hats with earflaps – and, of course, truly “ice cold” beer.  And I could have sworn I saw a couple of hitters sporting mittens instead of batting gloves.

Still it was baseball and the well-bundled crowd enjoyed the atmosphere of Opening Day.  As for BBRT, I dutifully kept my scorecard up to date until my pen stopped  delivering ink in the eighth inning, when I retreated to the already crowded (Kent) Hrbek’s Pub to catch the final nine outs on the big screen (in a crowd that drew warmth from each other).

Overall, the 3 ½-hour game was less than cleanly played, as the players, at times, seemed to have trouble getting the feel of the ball (2 errors, three wild pitches). Twins fans did get to see a lot of new faces, including the starting pitcher (Vance Worley), who proved his Minnesota-worthiness by taking the mound in bare-armed short sleeves and new leadoff man Aaron Hicks (who helped justify Verlander’s new contract with three early strikeouts).  And, there were MVPs in abundance – Verlander, Miguel Cabrera (also last year’s Triple Crown winner), Joe Mauer (also a three-time batting champ) and Justin Morneau. And, there was the tension of a close game – the Twins left twelve men on base in a 2-run game and just couldn’t seem to get the big hit (or sacrifice fly).  Having twelve batters go down on strikes will do that to you.  For BBRT, the season was officially welcomed in the second inning, with the first (witnessed by me) 6-4-3 (Florimon to Dozier to Morneau) double play.  For BBRT, double plays are a thing of beauty.

In addition, the beer was cold, the hot dogs steaming (as was my breath), the ball stark white against green grass and blue sky, the crack of the bat as sharp as ever, the scorecard cheap and informative, the home team garb plentiful throughout the sellout crowd – and there was a full slate of games being reported on the scoreboard.

So, all in all, despite the cold, there was plenty to enjoy at Target Field.  Most important, however, baseball is back!  BBRT note: Also enjoyed a truly cold pre-game brew with Ballpark Tours operator Julian Loscalzo on Cuzzy’s Bar & Grill’s outdoor patio – a markedly Minnesotan way to precede the opener.  (See www.ballparktours.net for info on this year’s trips.)  Julian’s beloved Phillies opened in Atlanta, where it was reportedly in the 70s. 

Clayton Kershaw – a shutout and a homer on Opening Day. LET THE PITCHERS HIT!

While Julian may have envied the fans in Atlanta, I was envious of those in Los Angeles, who not only enjoyed the California warmth, but saw HOFer Sandy Koufax toss out the first pitch – and then enjoyed their Dodgers beating the long-time rival Giants 4-0, behind Clayton Kershaw’s complete-game shutout.  They also witnessed Kershaw becoming the first pitcher since Bob Lemon (in 1953) to hurl a shutout and hit a homer on Opening Day.  The result reminded me – one more time – of why I still oppose the DH.  A couple of other reasons:  On June 23, 1971, Phillies’ right-hander Rick Wise no-hit the Reds at Cincinnati 4-0 (one walk, three strikeouts) and also drove in three runs with a pair of homers (he would hit six dingers that year) – making him the only pitcher to hit two homers in a no-hit performance.  Another reason?  The first National Leaguer to hit two grand slams in a single game?  Atlanta Braves pitcher Tony Cloninger, in a July 3,  1966, 17-3 road win over the Giants.  Cloninger also added a single and had nine RBI in the contest.  So, I say, let the hurlers hit.

In a final Opening Day thought – since April 1 was this year’s official Opening DAY (versus March 31, Opening NIGHT) – BBRT offers a tribute to late MLB umpire John McSherry, who suffered a fatal heart attack while working the plate at the Cincinnati Reds’ home opener (against the Expos) on April 1, 1996.  Seven pitches into the contest, McSherry called a timeout and began to walk toward the Reds’ dugout before stumbling and falling.  McSherry, a 25-year MLB umpiring veteran, had been diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and was scheduled to see a doctor the next day. It was reported that McSherry had cancelled an earlier appointment because he didn’t want to miss Opening Day.   McSherry was rushed to a hospital, where the 51-year-old was pronounced dead about an hour later.   (The game was postponed and played, from its beginning, the following day.)

Well-respected and well-liked, McSherry worked a dozen post-season series, including the 1977 and 1987 World Series, as well as the 1975, 1982 and 1991 All Star games. He was behind the plate for Larry Dierker’s July 9, 1976 no-hitter, as well as for the 1977 World Series contest in which Reggie Jackson belted three home runs. He was also behind the plate, doing what he loved on April 1, 1996.

photo by: bryce_edwards

Happy Opening Day!

Happy Opening Day, everyone!  To celebrate, BBRT is sending you this “sweet” baseball song – it’ll take you back to pickup ball on the playground.

 

Opening Day – Optimism Abounds!

Opening Day is almost upon us, and BBRT can hardly wait.

Opening Day … the most optimistic day of the year.

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

There are flyovers, team introductions, and ceremonial first pitches in ballparks adorned with red, white and blue bunting across the nation.  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!

Ted Williams hit the round ball squarely … every Opening Day … to the tune of a .449 average.

As much as BBRT loves the return of the national pastime (see the YILBB page, just click the link at the top of the page), perhaps no one looked forward to Opening Day more than Ted Williams.  “Teddy Ballgame,” a .344 lifetime hitter, outdid himself on Opening Day.  Williams played in fourteen “openers” and was NEVER held hitless.  He  finished his career with a .449 Opening Day average (22 hits in 49 at bats), with 3 home runs, 8 doubles, 1 triple, 9 runs scored,  14 RBI and 11 walks.  His Opening Day on-base percentage was .550 and his season-opener slugging percentage was .837. 

The Washington Senators’ Walter Johnson also was always ready for an Opening Day assignment.  On his first-ever Opening Day start (April 14, 1910), the 22-year-old Johnson tossed a 3-0 one-hit shutout against the Philadelphia Athletics.  Note:  President William Howard Taft, on that day, became the first President to toss out the season’s ceremonial first pitch – caught by Johnson.  Sixteen years (and 13 Opening Day starts) later, a 38-year-old Johnson fulfilled his last Opening Day assignment with a 15-inning, complete-game, 1-0 win (6 hits, 3 walks, 9 strikeouts) over the A’s.  Johnson holds the record for Opening Day pitching victories with nine (against five losses) and also threw a record seven Opening Day shutouts.

Adam Dunn – already has a share of the Opening Day HR record.

As BBRT follows Opening Day 2013 (going to the Twins Target Field opener), I’ll be keeping an eye on the White Sox.  On April 6, 2012, Chicago White Sox DH Adam Dunn hit a sixth-inning solo homer in a 3-2 loss at Texas. While it was just one of forty-one 2012 round trippers for Dunn, it earned Dunn a spot on BBRT’s Opening Day “watch list.”  By going yard on Opening Day 2012, Dunn tied Ken Griffey, Jr. and Frank Robinson for the most career Opening Day home runs at eight (six in the NL for the Reds and two in the AL with the White Sox.)  Dunn has homered in six “openers” – twice starting the season with a two-homer game.  BBRT will be watching to see if Dunn can move into sole possession of the Opening Day Dinger record.

For trivia buffs, while Griffey, Jr., Robinson and Dunn share the overall record, the American League-only record belongs to Griffey, Jr., who hit all his Opening Day shots for the Mariners.  Robinson hit Opening Day homers for the most teams: the Orioles, Angels and Indians in the AL and the Reds in the NL.  The National League-only record (7 Opening Day Shots) is shared by a couple of Hall of Famers:  Willie Mays (all for the Giants – in New York and San Francisco) and Eddie Mathews (all for the Braves in Milwaukee.)

Here are a few other Opening Day factoids:

-  The most home runs in a single Opener is three:  The Blue Jays’ George Bell (1988); Cubs’ Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes (1994); and Tigers’ Dmitri Young (2005).

-  On April 16, 1940, Bob Feller threw the only (to date) Opening Day no-hitter – a 1-0 win over the White Sox at Chicago (5 walks, 8 strikeouts).

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

-  Sixto Lezcano (Brewers) holds the record for Opening Day grand slams at two (1978, 1980).

- The longest-ever Opener took place on August 5, 2012, with Jays topping the Indians 7-4 in 16 innings at Cleveland.

Can’t wait to see what 2013’s Opening Day will hold.

LAST SEASON, BBRT’S OPENING DAY GIFT WAS A VIDEO OF ABBOTT AND COSTELLO’S FAMOUS “WHO’S ON FIRST?” ROUTINE.  WATCH THIS MARCH 31 FOR THE VIDEO OF A SPECIAL BASEBALL SONG THAT WILL TAKE YOU BACK TO THE SANDLOT.