May-King An Impression – Last Month in MLB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May-King An Impression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Another Impressive “First Impression”

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

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

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

Now let’s look at some individual May performances.

Brycae Harper - 13 May home runs.

Brycae Harper – 13 May home runs.

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

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

The pitchers got into the act as well.

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

    Corey Kluber - whiffed 18 on a very pecial day.

    Corey Kluber – whiffed 18 on a very pecial day.

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

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

Katie Brownell – The “Perfect” Perfect Game

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

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

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

Batting Average (minimum 75 plate appearances)

AL

Jason Kipnis, 2B, Indians – .429

Prince Fielder, 1B, Rangers – .377

David DeJesus, RF, Rays – .368

Chris Colabello, RF, Blue Jays – .368

NL

Francisco Cervelli, C, Pirates – .377

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, D-backs – .365

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – .360

HRs

NL

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – 13

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, D-backs – 10

Four with 9

AL

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays – 10

Price Fielder, 1B, Rangers – 9

Evan Gattis, C/DH, Astros – 9

RBI

AL

Prince Fielder, 1B, Rangers – 28

Torii Hunter, RF, Twins – 25

Three with 23

 NL

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – 28

Ryan Braun, RF, Brewers – 28

Four with 23

Runs Scored

AL

Jason Kipnis, 2B, Indians – 30

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays – 25

Brian Dozier, 2B, Twins – 25

NL

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – 24

Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants – 23

Ryan Braun, RF, Brewers – 22

Adrelton Simmons, SS, Braves, 22

Stolen Bases

NL

Dee Gordon, 2B, Marlins – 12 (1 CS)

Justin Upton, LF, Padres – 9 (0 CS)

Three with eight

AL

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

Billy Burns, CF, A’s – 9 (1 CS)

Wins

NL

A.J. Burnett, Pirates – 5 (no losses)

Max Scherzer, Nationals – 5 (one loss)

AL

Ricky Nolasco, Twins – 5 (no losses)

ERA (minimum 20 innings pitched in the month)

AL

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

Kyle Gibson, Twins – 1.36

Chris Young Royals – 1.45

NL

Shelby Miller, Braves – 0.95

Zack Grienke, Dodgers – 1.05

Mike Bolsinger, Dodgers – 1.05

Strikeouts

AL

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

Chris Sale, White Sox – 46 (37 IP)

Chris Archer, Rays – 45 (35 2/3 IP)

NL

Max Scherzer, Nationals – 56 (43 IP)

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

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

Saves

AL

Glen Perkins, Twins – 13

Brad Boxberger, Rays – 10

Luke Gregorson, Astros – 9

Zack Britton, Orioles – 9

NL

Drew Storen, Nationals – 11

Santiago Casilla, Giants – 9

Jason Grilli, Braves – 8

Mark Melancon, Pirates – 8

 

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

Batting Average

NL

Dee Gordon, 2B, Marlins – .377

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, D-backs – .354

DJ LeMahieu, 2B, Rockies – .340

AL

Prince Fielder, 1B, Rangers – .359

Jason Kipnis, 2B, Indians – .340

Nelson Cruz, RF/DH, Mariners – .335

HR

AL

Nelson Cruz, RF/DH, Mariners – 18

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays – 15

Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees – 14

NL

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – 18

Todd Frazier, 3B, Reds – 16

Paul Goldschmidt, 1b, D-backs – 15

Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Marlins – 15

RBI

NL

Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Marlins – 44

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, D-backs – 43

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – 43

AL

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays – 39

Nelson Cruz, RF, Mariners – 38

Prince Fielder, 1B, Rangers – 38

Stephen Vogt, C, A’s – 38

Runs

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays – 43

Brian Dozier, 2B, Twins – 41

Mike Trout, CF, Angels – 38

NL

Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals – 42

Paul Goldschmidt, 1b, D-backs – 39

Four with 34

Stolen Bases

NL

Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds  – 21 (3 CS)

Dee Gordon, 2B, Marlins – 20 (7 CS)

AL

Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros – 15 (9 CS)

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

Wins

NL

Bartolo Colon, Mets – 8-3 (4.72)

Gerrit Cole, Pirates – 7-2 (2.11)

Micheal Wacha, Cardinals – 7-1 (2.27)

AL

Felix Hernandez, Mariners – 8-1, 1.91

Dallas Keuchel, Astros – 7-1 (1.76)

Four with six

Strikeouts

AL

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

Chris Archer, Rays – 82 (68 IP)

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

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

NL

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

Max Scherezer, Nationals – 85 (71 2.3 IP)

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

Saves

AL

Glen Perkins, Twins – 19

Houston Street, Angels – 17

Three with 15

NL

Drew Storen, Nationals – 16

Four with 15

______________________________________________________________

Finally, MLB standing as of May 31

AL East

Yankees          26-25   .510

Rays               26-25   .510

Orioles            23-26   .469     2.0

Blue Jays        23-19   .442     3.5

Red Sox          22-29   .433     4.0

AL Central

Twins              30-19   .612

Royals             29-19   .604     0.5

Tigers              28-24   .538     3.5

Indians            24-26   .480      6.5

White Sox        23-26   .469     7.0

AL West

Astros              31-20    .606

Angels             27-24    .529     4.0

Rangers           26-25     .510    5.0

Mariners          24-26     .480    6.5

A’s                  20-33     .377   12.0

 

NL East

Nationals          28-22     .560

Mets                28-23     .549    0.5

Braves             25-25     .500    3.0

Marlins             20-31    .392     8.5

Phillies             19-33   .365     10.0

NL Central

Cardinals         33-17     .660

Cubs               26-22    .542     6.0

Pirates             26-24   .520     7.0

Reds                22-27   .449     4.5

Brewers            17-34   .333    16.5

NL West

Dodgers          29-20    .592

Giants             30-22   .577     0.5

San Diego        25-27   .481     5.5

D-backs           23-26   .469     6.0

Rockies            22-26   .458     6.5

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

 

I tweet baseball @David BBRT

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Roy Gleason – From the Ballfield to the Battlefield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Inspiration for the JPA

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

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

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

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

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Paul Konerko – He Came to Play!

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

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

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

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

1. Ouch! Bang! Now, We’re Even!

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

 

2.  Back-to-Back Memorable Jacks

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

3.   Classy Farewell.

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

Congrats to an MLBer who came to play!

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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Quick Baseball Trivia

For your consideration – a quick piece of baseball trivia.

aDCOCKOn July 31, 1954,  Milwaukee Braves’ first baseman Joe Adcock tied a major league record by homering four times in a single game (as the Braves topped the Dodgers 15-7 at Ebbets Field). Adcock notched his four round trippers off four different Dodger hurlers – Don Newcombe (2nd inning); Erv Palica (5th inning); Pete Wojey  (7th inning); and Johnny Podres (9th inning). The big first sacker also doubled – going five-for-five, scoring five times and driving in seven. Adcock enjoyed a 17-season MLB career (Reds, Braves, Indians, Angels), in which he hit .277, with 336 home runs and 1,112 RBI. His best season was 1956, when he went .291-38-103 for the Braves.

Now here’s your trivia question.  Adcock set a record for total bases in a single game (18) that day.  The record stood until this day (May 23) in 2002, when it was broken by, ironically, a Dodger at Milwaukee (versus Brewers). Name this Dodger, who went six-for-six that day, with a still-record 19 total bases (four home runs, a double and a single), scored six times and drove in seven runs in a 16-3 Dodger victory.

For the answer, click here:

 

Saint Paul Saints First Game at CHS Field – If Fun is Good. This is Great.

Teams line up for Saints Opening Day and inaugural game at CHS Field.

Teams line up for Saints Opening Day and inaugural game at CHS Field.

Thursday night (May 21), I was lucky enough to attend the Saint Paul Saints (independent American Association) home opener – which also marked the Saints’ first game and their brand new, downtown Saint Paul, CHS Field ballpark. (I was also at the 1993 first-ever Saints’ – this version – game and, thanks to a computer ticket printing glitch, even got to sit next to Bill Murray (yes, THAT Bill Murray) for awhile. My brother Bob still has the photo, ticket and autographed program, but that’s for another post. Let’s get back to the 2015 opener.)

This post – taking a look at my Saints-CHS Field experience may be of most interest to Minnesota BBRT readers.  To others, if you are ever in the area, you’ll want to take in a Saints game.  As Saints co-owner Mike Veeck would say “Fun is Good!” and, if that’s the criteria, the Saints and CHS Field are great!

Now, there was some concern among long-time Saints Fans that the fancy new digs – replacing aging Midway Stadium – might dampen the Saints’ penchant for quirkiness, irreverence and just plain fun.  Let me assure you, it is still all “fun and game(s)” at a Saints game.  CHS Field is a beautiful ballpark, set in Saint Paul’s Lowertown – the site lines are great, the facilities and concessions top notch and the staff accommodating and friendly.

The fire dancers, as they say, were hot.

The fire dancers, as they say, were hot.

The inaugural game also provided solid evidence that the character of the franchise will not change.  There was the familiar Saints (pig) mascot – this year named Pablo Pigasso.  You could still get a haircut at the ball game. There were mimes, fire dancers, “usher-tainers” and the Saints’ trademark host of zany between innings entertainment, most directly involving fans (like a giant game of spin the bottle, cow tipping, and a “real” tire race). On opening night, there was even a Mardi Gras-style parade (with a band playing, of course, “When the Saints Go Marching In” and a drone “flyover” (actually a fly around).

The usher-trainers were back in full force.

The usher-trainers were back in full force.

The Saints’ family atmosphere also carried over from Midway Stadium, as Saints grandstand regulars greeted each other with plenty of hugs, handshakes and high-fives.  Game one of 2015 was a bit of a reunion for this loyal group, who also go out of their way to welcome new fans to the Saints’ experience.  Saints co-owner Mike Veeck (see more on Veeck at the end of this post) also was personally greeting fans as he walked the concourse – embracing old friends and clearly making new ones.

Great sight lines no matter where you are in this very "walkable" park.

Great sight lines no matter where you are in this very “walkable” park.

So, there was plenty of fun – and there was plenty of “game” as well.  On opening night, the Saints sent the crowd home smiling (actually, we were smiling all night) with an 8-7 win over the Fargo-Moorhead Red Hawks.  The game – before 8.592 fans – provided plenty of excitement: including five home runs (three by the Saints); multiple ties and lead changes; four stolen bases; some sparkling defense (as well as a trio of errors – made by a pair of Saints’ third basemen).  I’ll get to some game action and stats, but first a few observations on CHS Field and the Saints’ fan- and fun-friendly approach to the national pastime.

  • This is a truly “walkable” ballpark. BBRT highly recommends that you walk the entire concourse.  The views are great, especially from the left field berm (where you get a nice panoramic view of the St. Paul city skyline).
  • All the seats are close to the action. The sight lines are great. (And the tickets reasonably priced – basically from five-dollars on the left field berm to $18 for home plate reserved. (There are some premium seats, suites, skuyboxes, etc.)
  • There are plenty of tasty concessions. BBRT can testify to the quality of the Cuban Panini (from the Yum Power Sandwich Lot). Fans I talked with also had great things to say about The Saints Blue Burger (Burger Depot); The Fajita Dog and Chicago Dog (The Dog Park); the malts from Snuffy’s; and the cupcakes from the Gingko cart. And, I’m just touching the surface.  On my list for the rest of the season are: the “Mudonna” Memphis-style pulled pork (Mud’s BBQ); five-patty Grand Slam Burger (Gallery Grill); Walleye Fingers (Fries and Pies): Philly Cheesesteak (Steakadelphia); Burrito (Salsa cart). Of course, there also are all the traditionals – hot dogs, fries, pizza, peanuts and the like.
  • What goes together better than beer and a ball game? How about a local craft beer and a ball game? More than a dozen craft brew houses are offering their best in the left field Craft Brew Corner.
Art with a purpose. Empowered Percussion (303 Prince Street, Suite 312, St. Paul) was exhibiting and demonstrating its hand-built cajon drums on Opening Day.

Art with a purpose. Empowered Percussion (308 Prince Street, Studio 312, St. Paul) was exhibiting and demonstrating its hand-built cajon drums on Opening Day.  empoweredpercussion@gmail.com

CHS Field and the Saints honor Saint Paul’s Lowertown artists’ community with a special outdoor gallery (in the concourse behind home plate) that will feature work from various members of the St. Paul Arts Collective at each home game – a total of 100 artists over the course of the season.

 

 

 

 

 

  • The Saints mascots “Mudonna” and Pablo Pigasso are on hand, as are a host of “usher-tainers.” There is never a dull moment between innings.
  • The Saints have also scheduled their usual diverse slate of “nights.” To give you some idea of the range – July 9 is “Pink It Up Night – A Salute to Jackie Kennedy”; July 20 is Larry Doby Night (first player to break the American League “color line”); and September 7 will see the Fan Appreciation Night Monster Food Truck Rally. Check the schedule, I’m sure the Saints will have a night made just for you.
  • For pre- and post-game fun, the Lowertown neighborhood offers a wide range of bars and restuarants – great places to socialize in the atmosphere of your choice – from hip and trendy to old school.  Get to the neighborhood early and take in the ambiance.
  • Parking is not the problem some predicted. Despite the capacity crowd, I parked just three blocks from the ballpark for $5.  (I did get there ninety minutes before game time, but there is plenty to do in the neighborhood.)

So, there’s my CHS Field experience.  My recommendation – get down there to a ball game as soon as you can.  It will truly be “fun and game(s).”

BBRT Note: Two minor criticisms. 1) As regular readers know, it’s a BBRT tradition to rate the Bloody Mary’s at each ballpark I visit.  Despite a number of alcohol serving locations on the main level, Bloody Mary’s, I was told, are “not on the menu.” 2) The Saints Store and gift stands offered no items commemorating the inaugural game/date (I heard several fans requesting just such an item).

Now, here are a few stats/facts from the game for you first-game trivia buffs (yes, as always, a complete and accurate score card was a BBRT priority).

CHS Field firsts:

  • First run scored – Red Hawks 2B Frank Salerna, top of the 1st
  • First base hit – Red Hawks CF Chad Mozingo, top of 1st, single
  • First RBI – Red Hawks 1B Stefan Gartrell, top of the first on a sacrifice fly
  • First Saints run scored – DH Ian Gac, bottom of the 2nd
  • First Saints RBI – C Vinny DiFazio, bottom of 2nd, on a single
  • First home run – Vinny DiFazio, bottom of the 4th
  • First pitcher’s strikeout – Red Hawks Brandon Mann (Saints’ Sam Maus in 1st)
  • First Saints pitcher’s strikeout – Pedro Hernandez (Red Hawks’ Chris Duffy in 2nd)
  • First pitcher’s victory – Saints’ Dylan Chavez
  • First four-hit game – Saints DH Ian Gax (four-for-four, HR, 2B, two singles)
  • First multi-homer game – Red Hawks RF Joe Dunnigan (two homers)
Mike Veeck - Fun IS Good - just ask him.

Mike Veeck – Fun IS Good – just ask him.

When it comes to the Saints, blending baseball and fun are a family tradition. For those not familiar with the Saints, one of forces behind the team (and one of its owners) is Mike Veeck – whose grandfather was president of the Chicago Cubs and whose father Bill Veeck made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame as an owner of the Saint Louis Browns, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox. As an owner, Bill Veeck gained a reputation for innovation, irreverence (tweaking the baseball establishment), championing social justice and bringing his own version of “play” and “fair play” to life and to the ball park. (For more on Bill Veeck, check out the review of Paul Dickson’s book “Bill Veeck – Baseball’s Greatest Maverick” here.) Mike Veeck brings those same qualities to his own extensive business and baseball resume – and to the Saints. (Check out his book “Fun is Good – How to Create Joy and Passion in Your Workplace and Career.”) If fun is good, then the Saints are great!

BBRT note; Another Saints co-owner, actor Bill Murray is listed in the Saints Yearbook as the “Team Psychologist.” That should tell you something.

 

It's the Saints - It wasn't all PC.

It’s the Saints – It wasn’t all PC.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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.

Ron Necciai – Baseball’s Highest Flying Rocket

On this day (May 13) in 1952, the Appalachian League’s leading team – The Bristol Twins – was about to take the field against its closest pursuers, the second-place Welch Miners. The Miners’ hitters (and the approximately 1,200 fans gathered at Bristol, Virginia’s Shaw Stadium) were blithely unaware of what lay in store for them – and that they were about to “earn” a place in baseball history that will likely never be relinquished. 

necciaiuseStarting on the mound for Bristol was a stripling thin, 19-year-old right-hander (6’ 5”, 185-pounds) with a hard to spell and equally difficult to pronounce name – Ron Necciai (netch-eye). By the end of the night, the Miners would find Necciai’s fastball and curve equally difficult to make contact with (a record 27 strikeouts in a nine-inning game) and Necciai’s name would be hard to forget as well.

Necciai brought to the mound a blazing, moving fastball and devastating breaking ball – as well as a case of painful stomach ulcers that would force him to consume milk and cottage cheese between innings. He also carried with him a reputation as a major league prospect who was finally finding his groove after two less than sterling minor league seasons (5-14, 6.24 ERA for three teams in the Pirates’ system).  Necciai had the proverbial “stuff,” he just hadn’t harnessed it yet. (In those first two seasons, he walked 137 batters in 142 innings.) But that seemed to be changing in 1952.   There were those, in fact, who said he would have gone north with the Pittsburgh Pirates that spring had his ulcer not flared up as the team broke Spring Training.

That day in Bristol, a nervous Necciai put it all together – and history was made.  The first inning proved to be an omen, as Necciai struck out all three Welch batters. By the time they got to the top of the ninth, Necciai had a 7-0 lead – and Welch had put only two balls in play – a ground out (shortstop to first) in the second and a second grounder to shortstop in the third that resulted in an error and a baserunner. Only two other batters had reached base – via a walk and a hit-by-pitch.

So, Necciai strode to the mound for the ninth inning – fortified with milk, cottage cheese and a Banthine pill – on the verge of a no-hitter. Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that he had logged 23 strikeouts.  His stomach may have been the only thing in the ballpark that was hotter than his fastball. Necciai proceeded to fan the first two hitters in the ninth (bringing his total to 25). He then notched strikeout number 26 to apparently end the contest and preserve the no-hitter, but the ball got by the catcher (passed ball) and the flailing hitter reached first. So, Necciai stood at 26 whiffs, no-hits, one on and two out. Fittingly, Necciai ended the game by notching his fourth strikeout of the inning and his professional baseball record 27th  for a nine-inning contest.

BBRT Note:  Bristol may very well be the strikeout capitol of the world.  The record for strikeouts by a pitcher in an extra inning game also belongs to another Bristol Twin.  On June 15, 1944, 18-year-old righthander Mario Picone went 19 innings for Bristol in a 3-2 complete game win over the Johnson City Cardinals – whiffing 28 batters in the process. While Picone had a successful minor league career (13 seasons, 129-98, 3.95), in three MLB campaigns, he went 0-2, 6.30. For Minnesota readers, Picone played for the Minneapolis Millers in 1948-49-52-53-54.

Back to Necciai. In his first start after the 27 strikeout effort, Necciai proved his May 13 performance was no fluke, fanning 24 batters in a two-hitter. That start earned him a promotion to the Class B Burlington-Graham Pirates of the Carolina League.  In his six 1952 appearances at Bristol, Necciai had logged 43 innings, given up just 10 hits and two earned runs (0.42 ERA), walked 20, hit two batters and fanned 109 (nearly 22.8 per nine innings).

At Burlington-Graham, Necciai whiffed 14 in his first start and a league-leading 172 in 126 innings, compiling a 7-9 record with a 1.57 ERA. By early August, Necciai – now known as “Rocket Ron” and drawing comparison to the likes of a young Bob Feller – was up with the Pirates, making his MLB debut on August 10.

Perhaps due to his nervous nature, Necciai didn’t fare well with Pittsburgh, going 1-6, 7.08 in 12 games (nine starts), with 31 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings. (Ironically, in his only win – August 24 – Necciai struck out only one batter in eight innings of work, giving up three runs on seven hits in a 4-3 victory over the Boston Braves.) Still he showed flashes of his Rocket Ron reputation (in his final outing of the season – September 28 at Cincinnati – he gave up two runs on eight hits over seven innings, striking out eight), and the Pirates were hoping Necciai would get over his rookie season nerves and “right the ship” in 1953.  It was not to be.

Necciai was drafted into the Army in early 1953, where his stomach difficulties intensified. Given a medical discharge, he returned to the Pirates in April and – pushing himself to make up for lost time and a missed Spring Training – suffered an arm (likely rotator cuff) injury. This, of course, was pre-Tommy John surgery and Necciai never recovered. He never made it back to the big leagues and by 1955 was out of baseball.

However, for a brief period in 1952 – and one May 13 in particular – Rocket Ron Necciai was baseball’s highest flyer.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Getting Off to a Good Start – First-Pitch Home Runs

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

This piqued BBRT’s curiosity.  Who were those 29 first-pitch, first-swing sultans of swat – and what did they do after their auspicious inaugural plate appearances?  What I learned was a little surprising.

 

 

  • Two MLB players have enjoyed the ultimate satisfaction of squaring up for a Grand Slam on the first major league pitch they ever saw: Kevin Kouzmanoff for the Indians on September 2, 2006 and Daniel Nava for the Red Sox on June 12, 2010.

Of the 29 first-pitch-ever HRs, 19 were solo shots, five were two-run homers, three were three-run home runs and two were grand slams.

  • Their first-pitch home runs represent the only MLB round trippers for eight of the 29 players (although this includes Rosario and Twins’ pitcher Tommy Milone (recently sent down to Triple A Rochester) – both still active.

 Angels’ right-handed pitcher Don Rose’s first-pitch-ever home run was not only his only MLB round tripper, it was the difference in the Angels 6-5 win over the A’s at Oakland, which happened to also be Rose’s only major league victory (he went 1-4, 4.14 over three seasons).

  • The most career home runs by a player who homered on the first MLB pitch he ever saw is 195 by Jay Bell (first-pitch HR at 2B for the Indians on September 29, 1986 – 18-season MLB career). The most home runs hit the season the player hit his first-pitch HR is 14 by outfielder Chris Richard (first-pitch homer for the Cardinals on July 17, 2000).  Notably, that first-pitch shot was the only one Richard would hit for the Cardinals (or in the National League).  After appearing in just six games with the Cardinals, Richard was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for pitcher Mike Timlin.  Richard played in 56 games for Orioles that season – adding another 13 round trippers. (He finished the season at .265-14-37.)

The most home runs hit in any subsequent season by a member of the first-pitch-ever HR club is 38 by Bell (for the Diamondbacks in 1999).

  • Seven of the 29 players to hit first-pitch-ever dingers were pitchers (actually eight if you count Gene Stechschulte, who was being used as a pinch hitter when he accomplished the feat for the Cardinals on April 17, 2001).

By the position they were playing, here’s the first-pitch home run hitter count: pitchers (7); pinch hitters (7); left fielders (4); right fielders (3); first baseman (2); shortstops (2); designated hitters (2); second baseman (1); catchers (1).  Among the pinch-hitters and DHs, the primary positions played when they appeared in the field were RF (3) and LF (2); third base (2); pitcher and first base (1 each).

  • Seven players came through with first-pitch HRs as pinch hitters. The most interesting of these was Gene Stechschulte. The 6’ 5”, 210-pound Cardinals’ right hander is the only MLB pitcher to homer on the first pitch he ever saw, while being used as a pinch-hitter.  Stechschulte’s homer (a two-run shot) came in the sixth inning of a Cardinals’ 17-4 loss to the Diamondbacks (April 17, 2001). It was only Stechschulte’s second professional at bat – and his second extra base hit.  He had one minor league at bat (in 204 games) collecting a double.
  • Only two players hit a second round tripper in the same game in which they achieved their first-pitch HR. On July 23, 1964, A’s shortstop Bert Campaneris went three-for-four, with two homers, two runs and three RBI as his Kansas City Athletics topped the Twins 4-3 in eleven innings. On August 2, 2010, Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia went four-for-five with two homers, a double, three runs and three RBI as the Blue Jays topped Tampa Bay 17-11.  Arencibia is the only member of the first-pitch-ever HR club to also collect four hits in the same game.
  • The 29 first-pitch home runs have been pretty well split: 15 by American Leaguers and 14 by National Leaguers, as well as 15 by the home team and on the road.
  • If you’re superstitious, a first-pitch home runs is a pretty good sign. The team whose rookie achieved the historic blast has won 21 of the 29 contests.
  • The Cardinals have had more players homer on the first pitch they ever saw than any other team – four. The American League leader is Toronto with three. Washington has seen the feat accomplished in both the AL (Senators) and NL (Nationals).

Finally, the list:

Walter Mueller, RF, Pirates … May 7, 1922

Clise Dudley, P, Robins (Dodgers) … April 27, 1929

Eddie Morgan, PH, Cardinals … April 14, 1936

Bill LeFevbre, P, Red Sox … June 10, 1938

Clyde Vollmer, LF, Reds … May 31, 1942

George (Sam) Vico, 1B, Tigers … April 20, 1948

Chuck Tanner, PH, Braves … April 12, 1955

Bert Campaneris, SS, Athletics (KC) … July 23, 1964

Brant Alyea, PH, Senators … September 12, 1965

Don Rose, P, Angels … May 24, 1972

Al Woods, PH, Blue Jays … April 7, 1977

Jay Bell, 2B, Indians … September 29, 1986

Junior Felix, DH, Blue Jays … May 4, 1989

Jim Bullinger, P, Cubs … June 8 1992

Jay Gainer, 1B, Rockies … May 14, 1993

Esteban Yan, P, Rays … June 4, 2000

Chris Richard, LF, Cardinals … July 17, 2000

Gene Stechschulte, PH, Cardinals … April 17, 2001

Marcus Thames, RF, Yankees … June 10, 2002

Kaz Matsui, SS, Mets … April 6, 2004

Andy Phillips, PH, Yankees … September 26, 2004

Adam Wainwright, P, Cardinals … May 24, 2006

Kevin Kouzmanoff, DH, Indians …September 2, 2006

Mark Saccomanno, PH, Astros … September 8, 2008

Daniel Nava, LF, Red Sox … June 12, 2010

J.P. Arencibia, C, Blue Jays … August 7, 2010

Tommy Milone, P, Nationals … September 3, 2011

Starling Marte, LF, Pirates … July 26, 2012

Eddie Rosario, RF, Twins … May 6, 2015

 

winery 1Note: Apologies for being a little late with this post.  I’ve been out of town, on the road and a little distracted – see the photo to the left. Despite the lure of the Napa Valley, I did find time to take in a UC Davis baseball game – which the home squad won 10-2 over CSUN (see photo at the end of this post). I hope you enjoyed the first-pitch homer factoids.

AGGIES

 

 

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

May Day – A Look Back at MLB’s April

Opening Day, of course, leads to opening month.

Opening Day, of course, leads to opening month.

It’s May 1, which also means, it’s time for BBRT’s look back at the previous month in major league baseball.  This means touching upon:

  • the expected and unexpected – like the Dodgers (expected) and Astros (unexpected) sitting atop their respective NL and AL West Divisions;
  • the ups and downs – like the Mets’ eleven-game winning streak and the World Champion Giants’ eight losses in a row;
  • a few unique events that caught BBRT’s attention – like Nelson Cruz’ 483-foot home run (longest in the majors so far this year) and Paulo Orlando’s first three MLB base hits being triples; Mark Teixeira finishing a game a year older than when he started it; and
  • more.

First, however, I’d like to honor a May 1 anniversary that really brings home how the game has changed.

On May 1, 1920, the Brooklyn Robins (later Dodgers) took on the home team Boston Braves (later Milwaukee and Atlanta) in a 26-inning contest that was suspended due to darkness with the score tied 1-1.  It remains, in terms of innings, the longest MLB game ever. It is not just this game’s length that makes it special. On that day, 95 years ago, both starting pitchers (Leon Cadore of Brooklyn and Joe Oeschger of Boston) went the distance – each throwing more than 300 pitches.  And, as far as pace of game issues, it took the two squads just 3 hours and 50 minutes to complete 26 innings.

What prompted this look back was the Twins-Mariners contest of April 24, when the Mariners topped the Twins 2-0 behind Felix Hernandez.  Not only did both starting pitchers go the distance (Phil Hughes for Minnesota), but the game was completed in a nifty two hours and three minutes.

These days the likelihood of two opposing hurlers going the distance is pretty limited. In April, MLB saw only five complete games – and, in 2014, the 30 MLB teams achieved a total of only 118 CG, just 2.4 percent of games started and just under four complete games per team.  Here’s a look at the “devolution” of the complete game.

– In 1900, 82.3% of games started were complete games;

– 1925 – 49.2%

– 1950 – 40.3%

– 1975 – 27.2%

– 2000 – 4.8%

– 2014 – 3.9%

For a look at BBRT’s take on how the approach to pitching has changed over the years, click here to go to a post from May of 2012.

Now let’s take a look at some April observations. A number of things have gone as expected – The Dodgers and Cardinals, for example, sit atop their divisions and the Cubs, Mets and Padres all look improved. There also have been a few surprises – positives like the first-place Astros and Yankees and negatives like the last-place (defending World Champion) Giants and slow-starting Washington Nationals.

If the post season began May 1, the playing field would look like this:

AL: Division leaders – New York, Kansas City, Houston.  Wild Cards: Detroit , Tampa Bay/Boston (tie).

NL: Division Leaders – New York, Saint Louis, Los Angeles. Wild Cards: Chicago, Pittsburgh.

For the month, only the Saint Louis Cardinals played  .700-or better ball (15-6, .714) and only the Milwaukee Brewers ended the month below .300 (5-17, .227).

At the close of April, the closest race was in the AL East, where only one team was below .500 (Blue Jays 11-12) and only 2 ½ games separated first and last place.  The biggest gap between first and second was in the NL East, where the Mets finished April 4 ½ games ahead of the Braves and Marlins – and only the Mets were above .500.

For full standings, go to the end of this post.

Winning Streaks

No team got off to a better start than the Kansas City Royals, who shot out of the gate by winning their first seven contesLos Angeles Dodgers vs. New York Mets - April 25, 2013ts.  The longest winning streak during the month belonged to the Mets, who took advantage of a ten-game home stand to fuel an eleven-game winning streak – in which they won five one-run contests and outscored their opponents 57-31.  Note: The Mets nearly completed a perfect 11-0 home April. They lost their first home game – to the Nationals by an 8-2 score – on April 30.  The hottest team at the close of the month was the Houston Astros, who won their final seven April games.

Losing Streaks

On the negative side, The Brewers went the longest before their first victory – starting the season with four straight losses.  Milwaukee also shared April’s longest losing streak, an 8-gamer stretching from April 15 through April 22. During the streak, they scored a total of only 21 runs – with nearly half  of those coming in a 16-10 loss to the Reds on April 21.  The reigning World Champion Giants also suffered through an eight-game losing streak –  April 10 through April 17 – during which they were shut out three times and outscored 43-15.

Those Surprising Astros

Jose Altuve - Like the Astros, flying high.

Jose Altuve – Like the Astros, flying high.

Between 2010 and 2014, the Astros won 308 and lost 502, never finished higher than fourth, and ended up an average of 34 games out of first place. The Houston squad ended this April in first place in the AL West – staking their claim to a competitive season on the strength of their pitching. Houston ended April with the AL’s lowest ERA (3.04). The staff was led by starters southpaw Dallas Keuchel (3-0, 0.73 ERA) and righty Collin McHugh (3-0, 2.92) – a pair who showed their potential last season, both posting winning records and sub-3.00 ERAs for the 70-92 Astros.  Offensively, the team’s 103 runs scored area respectable eighth in the AL.  Notably, Houston led the AL in both home runs (29, tied with the Orioles and Yankees) and stolen bases (also 29) through April 30. Who is leading the charge?   A big guy and a little guy who both play up the middle.  Six-foot-four CF Jake Marisnik – hit .379 in April, with 2 home runs, 10 RBI, 12 runs scored and eight steals.  Right there with him was last year’s NL batting champ, Jose Altuve (at five-feet five-inches currently the shortest MLB player), who hit .367, with two  home runs, 16 RBI, 13 runs scored and  a league-leading nine steals for the month.

Ahh, the DH

As you might expect – given the DH – the top seven run-scoring teams for April were in the AL – led by the Toronto Blue Jays (122 runs)The retooled San Diego Padres – not known in the past for offense – led the NL with 105 runs (thank you very much newcomers – Kemp, Upton and Myers).

League Leaders – Runs Scored (through April 30)

AL

Blue Jays – 122

Royals – 119

Red Sox – 113

NL

Padres – 105

Nationals – 103

Dodgers – 100

The fewest runs plated in April? The Phillies in the NL with just 63 and the White Sox in the AL at 64.

Hitting .300 – AS A TEAM

Mike Moustakas - hit .356 in April.

Mike Moustakas – hit .356 in April.

The Kansas City Royals hit .306 – as a team – for April; twenty points ahead of the next best mark (Orioles and Tigers). The NL’s leading team batting average for the month was the Colorado Rockies’ .280. The Royals line up on April 30th included six .300+  hitters:  Alex Gordon (LF-.303); Mike Moustakas (3B-.356); Lorenzo Cain (CF-.329); Eric Hosmer (1B-.310); Kendrys Morales (DH-.315); Salvador Perez (C-.326).

The Rangers and Phillies had the lowest team batting averages for April, at .210 and .223, respectively.

A Couple of Free Agent Pickups that Really Worked Out

The off season saw the  Mariners signing free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz (the 2014 AL HR leader) and the Red Sox signing (the then soon-to-be) outfielder Hanley Ramirez. In response to the old “Where are they now?” question – they are tied for the AL and MLB lead in both home runs (10) and RBI (22) through April. To go along with the power, Cruz is hitting .322 and Ramirez .293

RBI Leaders (through April 30)

AL

Nelson Cruz, Seattle – 22

Hanley Ramirez – Boston – 22

NL

Giancarlo Stanton, Miami – 21

Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona – 20

HR Leaders

AL

Nelson Cruz, Seattle – 10

Hanley Ramirez, Boston – 10

NL

Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles – 8

Todd Frazier, Cincinnati – 7

Joey Votto, Cincinnati – 7

Trades Can Work Out, Too

Dee Gordon - Looking even better in a Miami uniform.

Dee Gordon – Looking even better in a Miami uniform.

The Miami Marlins picked up second baseman Dee Gordon in a trade with the Dodgers – and couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome. Through April, Gordon was leading all of MLB in batting average (.409) and base hits (38) and was second in the NL in steals with eight. Gordon is one of three players who closed out April at .400 or better.  Joining him in that rare air were another second baseman – DJ LeMahieu of the Rockies at .406 – and the AL batting leader, Baltimore CF Adam Jones at an even .400.

Batting Leaders

AL

Adam Jones, Baltimore – .400

Jose Iglesias, Detroit – .377

Miguel Cabrera, Detroit – .373

NL

Dee Gordon, Miami – .409

DJ LeMahieu, Colorado – .406

Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles – .383

Stolen Base Leaders

NL

Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati – 13

Dee Gordon, Miami – 8

AL

Jose Altuve, Astros – 9

Jake Marisnik, Astros – 8

George Springer, Astros – 8

Jacoby Ellsbury Yankees – 8

If You Really Like Offense

Now, if you really like offense, check out the Blue Jays and Red Sox in the AL.  The Blue Jays led all of MLB in runs scored in April (122), while the Red Sox were third (113).  They reversed the order when it came to runs given up.  The Red Sox gave up the most tallies for the month (119), the Blue Jays the third most (115).  How did this go in the W-L columns?  The Red Sox were 12-10, the Blue Jays 11-12.

If you have an NL interest, the Padres (as noted earlier) scored the most runs (105) and the Brewers gave up the most runs (118).

Team Power – Or Lack Thereof

Only two teams reached 30 home runs in April, the Dodgers with 32 and the Reds with 31.  The Orioles, Astros and Yankees tied for the top in the AL with 29 April dingers. At the bottom of the long ball list were the Twins and White Sox in the AL with 12 home runs and the Phillies and Marlins (despite Giancarlo Stanton) in the NL with thirteen.

Nationals Under-Achievers

Most analysts expected the Nationals to run away with the AL East, largely based on the strength of their pitching staff. Oops!  Through April, the Nationals had given up the fourth-most runs in the NL, on the way to a 10-13 record (fourth place). But, the pitching may not be to blame. The Nationals 3.69 ERA was the NL’s fifth best.  The team, however, led the major leagues in errors (24) and 24 of the 107 runs (22%) the Nationals gave up in April were unearned. Over in the AL, two teams in the West tied for the lead in errors at 21 – the Athletics and Rangers.

ERA Leaders (through April 30)

NL

Cardinals – 2.43

Pirates – 2.95

Mets – 3.33

AL

Astros – 3.04

Royals – 3.10

Yankees – 3.23

Strikeout Leaders (pitching)

NL

Dodgers – 202

Padres – 198

Pirates – 195

AL

Yankees – 208

Indians – 202

Red Sox 191

First To Four Pitching Victories

Seven pitchers picked up four wins in April, but the surprise was that the first to get there was 41-year-old Mets’ starter Bartolo Colon, who  picked up that fourth win on April 23.  Colon went 4-1, 3.31 for the month.  The remaining four-game winners were:  Garrett Cole (Pirates, 4-0, 1.76); Zack Greinke (Dodgers, 4-0, 1.93); Matt Harvey (Mets, 4-0, 3.04); Felix Hernandez (Mariners, 4-0, 1.82); Michael Wacha (Cardinals, 4-0, 2.42); and Alfredo Simon (Tigers, 4-1, 3.13).

Among qualifying ERA leaders, the Rangers’ Nick Martinez has the lowest mark in MLB (0.35 ERA in four starts), while the Reds’ Anthony DeSclafini holds sway in the NL at 1.04.  BBRT finds it interesting that all sub-1.00 ERA are in the AL, with its DH.

ERA Leaders (through April 30)

AL

Nick Martinez (Rangers, 2-0, 0.35)

Dallas Keuchel (Astros, 3-0, 0.73)

Chris Archer (Rays, 3-2, 0.84)

NL

Anthony DeSclafini (Reds, 2-1, 1.04)

Max Scherzer (Nationals, 1-2, 1.26)

Adam Wainwright (Cardinals, 2-1, 1.44)

Strikeout Leaders

AL

Chris Archer (Rays, 37 K/37 1/3 IP)

Felix Hernandez (Mariners, 36 K/34 2/3 IP)

Cory Kluber (Indians, 36  K/ 34 IP)

NL

Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers, 43 K/31 1/3 IP)

James Shields (Padres, 41 K/31 IP)

Johnny Cueto (Reds, 38 K/37 IP)

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A FEW OTHER OBSERVATIONS

One Very Cold Start

Evan Gattis, Houston’s new designated hitter, was anything but that to start the season – at one point even striking out eight times in eight plate appearances over two games (losses to Cleveland on April 8 and April 9).  The DH, in fact, didn’t get his first “H” until his 23rd at bat – and he had 13 strikeouts in those first 22 at bats.

And, On the Other Hand …

Adrian Gonzalez - a blazing start.

Adrian Gonzalez – a blazing start.

Dodgers’ first baseman Adrian Gonzalez  started 2015 as hot as Evan Gattis was cold.  Gonzalez went deep in the first three Dodger contests of the season – topped off by a three-homer game in LA’s 7-4 win over San Diego on April 8.  Baseball tracks pretty much everything, so we know that Gonzalez became the first MLBer to hit five home runs in a season’s first three games.  In those first three contests, Gonzalez was ten-for-thirteen, with five home runs, two doubles, seven runs and seven RBI.

 

Four Strikeouts on Just Twelve Pitches

Oakland 3B Brett Lawrie had a tough night on April 7 – just his second game as a member of the A’s.   After going one-for-four on Opening Day, Lawrie took the collar in game two (0-for-4).  It’s how he did it that drew notice.  Lawrie came to the plate four times in the 3-1 loss to the Rangers and struck out four times – on a total of just twelve pitches. Lawrie faced three different pitches, had a nice balance of six called strikes and six swinging strikes. His final swinging strike also marked the final out of the contest.

The Game Will Age You

On April 10 (and April 11), the Yankees and Red Sox engaged in the longest game at new Yankee Stadium  – 6 hour and 49 minutes (19 innings).

  • The game started at 7:05 p.m. on Friday and ended at 2:13 a.m. on Saturday; and included a 16-minute light failure delay.
  • The teams used a total of 42 players.
  • Seventeen of those players were pitchers and they threw a total of 628 pitches (332 by the Yankees, 296 by the Red Sox.)
  • Yankees’ first baseman Mark Teixeira (born on April 11, 1980) started the game as a 34-year-old, and finished it at age 35.
  • The Red Sox took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth, a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the 16th and a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the 18th – and gave up the tying run each time – until winning it 6-5 in the 19th.
  • The Red Sox’ Steve Wright pitched the last five innings – blowing two leads (16th and 18th innings), before earning the win in the 19th.

Triple Your Pleasure, Tripe Your Fun

On April 9, 29-year-old MLB rookie Paulo Orlando started in left field and hit in the eight spot for the Kansas City Royals.  In the bottom of the third inning, facing Chicago southpaw John Danks, Orlando walked in his first-ever MLB plate appearance. One inning later, the right-handed hitter achieved his first-ever MLB at bat and lashed a triple to deep center.  It was his only hit in a one-for-three day (remember that number … three.) His triple, however, was a sign of things to come.

Orlando’s next start came on April 12, against the Angels, in Los Angeles. The 6’ 2”, 210-pound rookie was once again manning left field and hitting eighth. This time he collected two hits in five at bats. His first hit of the day came leading off the top of the sixth.  Like his very-first (and until then only) MLB hit, it was a triple to deep center.  Sensing a pattern here?  Orlando picked up his second hit of the game in the eighth and switched things up a bit, lacing the ball to left field for – you may have guessed it – a triple.   So, after two games in the major leagues, Orlando had three hits – all triples. He was the first player ever to log triples for his first three MLB hits.

Slam-A-Rama

On April 21, the Brewers and Reds tied an MLB record by hitting a combined three grand slam home runs in a single game – as Cincinnati topped Milwaukee 16-10. The first grand slam came off the bat of the Reds’ Jay Bruce with two outs in the top of the third inning. One inning later, the Red’s Todd Frazier went deep with the bases full – again with two out.  The Brewers countered with a grand slam by Elian Herrara in the bottom of the sixth.  Overall, the game featured seven round trippers.

It was only the fourth time in MLB history that three grand slams were hit in a single game. The first time was in a 13-11 Texas win over Baltimore (at Baltimore on August 6, 1986) – featuring grand slams by Texas 2B Toby Harrah, Baltimore DH Jim Dwyer and Baltimore LF Larry Sheets.   The following season (June 3, 1987) saw the first NL three grand slam game, as the Cubs topped the Astros 22-7 in Chicago.  Cranking based loaded homers in that one were Astros’ CF Billy Hatcher, Cubs’ LF Brian Dayett and Cubs’ 3B Keith Moreland. Then on August 25, the Yankees became the first (and still only) team to manage three grand slams in a single game on their own – as they topped the A’s 22-9 in New York. The slams went to 2B Robinson Cano, CF Curtis Granderson and C Russell Martin.  The three Yankees totaled 16 RBI in the game.

The Fresh-Faced 100-100 Club

There's really not stopping Mike Trout - unless he wants to take a breather.

There’s really not stopping Mike Trout – unless he wants to take a breather.

On April 17, when Los Angeles Angels’ center  fielder Mike Trout came to the plate in the top of the sixth inning of a tie game (1-1) against the Astros, he was thinking “contact” not “history” – but he quickly made both.  Trout made contact, taking Astros’ pitcher Roberto Hernandez deep for a 3-1 Angels’ lead.  He made history by hitting his 100th career home run – becoming the youngest player ever to amass 100 career homers and 100 career stolen bases. Trout was 23 years and 253 days old, beating the previous mark for reaching 100-100 (Alex Rodriguez) by 56 days.

Not Exactly a Pitchers’ Duel

On April 11, the Minnesota State (Mankato) Mavericks (NCAA Division II) won the first game of their double header against the Bemidgi State Beavers 10-9 – but compared to game two, that was a pitcher’s duel. In the second game, the Mavericks  plated 41 runs (to “just” 20 for Bemidgi State). In a game that went eight innings (mercy rule), the line score looked like this:

 

Minnesota State     3   6   10   0   3   0   4   14      41   35   2

Bemidgi State        0   7     1   0   3   7   2      0     20   21   6

Minnesota State swept the four game series at Bemidgi – outscoring the home team 88-34.

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MLB Standings through April 30

AL East

Yankees          13-9    .591

Red Sox          12-10   .545     1.0

Rays                12-10   .545     1.0

Orioles             10-10   .500     2.0

Blue Jays         11-12   .478     2.5

AL Central

Royals             15-7     .682

Tigers              15-8     .652     0.5

Twins              10-12   .455     5.0

White Sox         8-11   .421     5.5

Indians             7-14   .333     7.5

AL West

Astros              15-7     .682

Angels             11-11   .500     4.0

Mariners          10-12   .455     5.0

A’s                    9-14   .391     6.5

Rangers             7-14  .333     7.5

 

NL East

Mets                15-8     .652

Braves             10-12   .455     4.5

Marlins            10-12   .455     4.5

Nationals         10-13   .435     5.0

Phillies              8-15   .348     7.0

NL Central

Cardinals         15-6     .714

Cubs                12-8     .600     2.5

Pirates             12-10   .545     3.5

Reds                11-11   .500     4.5

Brewers           5-17    .227     10.5

 NL West

Dodgers          13-8     .619

Rockies           11-10   .524     2.0

San Diego       11-12   .478     3.0

D-backs           10-11   .476     3.0

Giants               9-13   .409     4.5

 

I tweet baseball @David BBRT

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